Called to Meet the Unexpected

I’ve been meaning to write about change

But the thing is, I hate change. Hate it.

I grew up in a family that was pretty much totally opposed to change … our motto could’ve been, “if it’s not broken, don’t mess with it!” I grew up learning to be prepared for anything (which is why I’m usually the one with the duct tape, the band-aid, the snacks, the extra water, the book, the journal, etc.). And apparently it’s not just in my ancestral genes, but also my religious tradition. When asked how many Lutherans it takes to change a lightbulb, we respond, “CHANGE?!?!?” Lutherans don’t believe in change! (Which is rather ironic, in light of our history, Martin Luther starting the Reformation and all, but that may be a topic for another blog post).

“Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.” — Sydney J. Harris

Ironically, what I do every day is talk with people who are largely dealing with the unexpected, with the thing they weren’t prepared for. The new cancer diagnosis. The car accident. The broken leg. The baby born too early.

Someone asked me again this week how I do what I do, as a hospital chaplain, and said “that must be a really difficult job.” But the thing is, I LOVE what I do. I love getting to accompany people, and support them as they meet the unexpected. I love helping people explore the strengths that will carry them through as they respond to something new and difficult.

But, oh, how I hate having to figure that out in my own life. And in the LGBT community, I suspect we may deal with change more often than others. Any time or place in our lives that we don’t fit the dominant paradigm, we have to invent new ways of being, new ways of connecting or making sense of the world. The ground beneath our feet shifts more. And many amazing things open up because of that reality. But it also means change, and loss.

I’ve been reading Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart. She’s a Buddhist nun whose wisdom is a good guide for me right now. It’s tempting to think the best option is to simply stop being vulnerable, to not open yourself enough to another to risk being hurt. But Chödrön says this:

“We think that by protecting ourselves from suffering we are being kind to ourselves. The truth is, we only become more fearful, more hardened, and more alienated. … Curiously enough, if we primarily try to shield ourselves from discomfort, we suffer. Yet when we don’t close off and we let our hearts break, we discover our kinship with all beings.”

That’s a little hard to hear in the midst of a broken heart, or when you’re accompanying someone through a tragic, unfair situation.  And yet, I’ve also seen the truth of it, watched parents on the pediatric floor move past their own grief and fears to extend compassion to others who are in pain, because they realize their connection.

Deep down, I also know that I have to keep loving.

I have to keep opening my heart.

One of the things that helps right now is to step outside my door and pay attention. Change is all around. Some of it is clearly bringing new life from what seemed dead.

New rhubarb

And sometimes it’s hard to tell what will emerge. Last year was the first year my little apple tree actually grew apples (after a few apple-less years, I tried to help out with paint brushes and pollen from another tree … here’s to assisted apple tree sex!)

first apples!

My apple tree spent most of this winter buried. As it finally emerges from the snow bank, I have no idea whether it will bear fruit this summer or not.  And so we watch and wait.

Chödrön reminds us that this is the journey.



“Everything that occurs is not only usable and workable but is actually the path itself. … The source of wisdom is whatever is going to happen to us today. The source of wisdom is whatever is happening to us right at this very instant.”

Mark Twain said that the only person who likes change is a wet baby. That may be true. But I’m trying to practice deep breaths, paying attention, remembering my strength, remembering that I am loved and that I will continue to love.  Welcome to the path.

What helps you meet the unexpected?

About the author: Susan is a Lutheran (ELCA) pastor, serving as a hospital chaplain, and has mostly gotten used to being the “lesbian poster child” in her church. She finds the Sacred all kinds of places — in the mountains, in church, at a hospital bedside, in the midst of a heartfelt conversation, running along the coastal trail, in music that makes her cry and stories that make her laugh.


6 thoughts on “Called to Meet the Unexpected

  1. Wow, I always find myself moved by your writing, and the raw honesty it contains. I agree that people have a hard time adapting to change, we enjoy our routines, something we come to accept as a part of life from an early age, and even nature itself is drawn into predictable cycles that allow us to face with the ever-changing nature of our own reality by providing a world that is – at least in regards to the impremanency of man within the context of eternal time – somewhat static. However, we only grow, realizing our innate mental and spiritual potential, through change, and exposure to new experiences that become the seeds of enlightenment and innovation. We might not like change, but we cannot ignore that it is necessary for life to continue. I dunno, perhaps I’ve been reading too much Pema Chodron myself :-D!

    ~ RJK

    1. Thanks, Ryan! The tension between the importance of stability and the necessity of change keeps me on my toes! If you’re reading too much Pema Chodron, it sounds like she’s serving you well! Intellectually, I get that we have to have change … it creates opportunity, new life, etc. But oh, if only it wasn’t so HARD sometimes! Thanks for your comments, as always! Susan

  2. Yet it is only when in a routine that I can successfully take on change. Otherwise it comes from outside instead of internally.

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