When I was in the first grade a tornado came dangerously close to our elementary school. I remember our teacher yelling in his "mad dad" voice about the need to stay covered, to hide our faces, to protect our heads. I remember the way the doors rattled, propped up with wooden doorstops which were valiantly trying to do their job. I remember the dust and scattered paper, the discarded practice spelling lists and milk carton straws skittering down the orange carpeted hallway. I crouched in that hallway, my hands pressed to the back of my neck, my nose buried in the smell of the fabric softener embedded deep into the fibers of my clothes as I crouched, knees to nose. And I was too stunned to even cry; too overwhelmed to even react. The community tornado siren was wailing, the wind was blowing, and I was a scared six-year-old.
Ever since then, I have been plagued by tornado dreams. Before college graduation, when I had no idea what my future held, I would wake my roommate up with eerie moans because the tornado was coming, and I couldn't make my way to a place of safety. In seminary, when I was completing a student pastorate with a supervisor who questioned my motivations and "gifts for ministry" I would often dream of that tornado on Saturday nights before driving to Indianapolis on Sunday mornings. And in one of my most telling dreams, right before leaving the congregation I had pastored with my whole being, and facing a ministry commission who questioned my commitments, I dreamt that a tornado was coming and R. and I were sheltering the Misses T. and B., seeking safe haven in the church as the sky grew darker. And the church leaders locked its doors and said we'd have to go elsewhere.
Tornado dreams have nested in my psyche; and whenever I am at my most fragile, Morpheus summons that familiar symbol to sprout in my dreams; to remind me that there are things which need to be tended to, upheavals which are on the horizon.
My work is hard now. In addition to the constant companion of burn-out which I have come well acquainted with in the past year, our small not-for-profit hospice is, like many not-for-profits in this economy, struggling some. In our own black Friday last week five people had positions eliminated ("right-sizing" they called it...apparently "down-sizing" is a little too much of a bummer). Thankfully, my job was spared, but tasks were "reassigned" and change is imminent. Our office is somber. There are whispered exchanges. There are tears. There are some recriminations.
There is a little nook between my colleague's desk and mine. We store boxes there, keep trash cans for medical shredding there, stow extra CD players there. All day today I found myself wanting to crawl into this hideaway, to huddle in tornado drill fashion, protecting my head and waiting for the wind to pass. My thirty-six-year-old self reverting back to her six-year-old safety mechanism.
It's windy right now friends, and the sky has sort of a greenish tint. I'm vigilant. And I'm edgy. And my burned-out, desperate soul doesn't know right now where to seek shelter.
Or, perhaps more importantly as a chaplain, how to offer that shelter to the ones I am called by God to serve. And this frightens me the most.