Rev. Tarrah Vaupel
Never count them out!
When I was in seminary, I had the opportunity and ability to complete a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). This wasn't an "elective" but was a requirement for me on my journey towards ordination. I learned so much about myself during CPE. It was also such good work to be immersed in the 'on the ground' experiences with people going through various stages and seasons of life. Life changing and life giving indeed!
During the first week or so of CPE, our professor/instructor (who we lovingly nicknamed 'Ninja Chaplain,' gave us the opportunity to choose a cutting from his own plant that he had received during his own CPE experience. At least, I am assuming that is where it came from anyways...because he had a well-matured, well-supported plant that looked just like the cuttings for us to choose from. It grew across the width of his office wall. HUGE!! But I digress... So, the purpose of this act, in my opinion, was to nurture and support this plant...witnessing to its growth alongside our own. The fresh cuttings didn't look like much to begin with but we each got to choose our own for the journey. My plant had a stem and a couple of leaves on the top... I can remember that much of it. I don't remember if there was a developing root structure or not when I chose it but I do remember that the container it was living in was a clear plastic cup that was filled with water. It took me some time to choose a name for my plant, but taking into consideration its purpose, I named it "Little Tarrah."
Over the weeks I watched as the roots grew deeper and deeper into the cup. There were also new branches shooting off the stem and leaves unfurling and stretching to absorb more sunshine. All the while, I was growing myself. Learning the "why's" behind my actions...learning about things that I am triggered by and how to respond from a healthy space instead of from a space of emotional damage or baggage I'd been lugging around with me for decades. I learned much about the different toxic and co-dependent relationships that had rooted themselves so deeply within me that I couldn't even grasp that there was anything wrong with them. I learned how to care for myself and break some of those patterns that had held me hostage for decades of my life...so that I would be able to properly care for someone as their pastor and/or chaplain. #pastorlife With each step of growth I made, my little plant grew stronger and stronger. There was a bond happening between my plant and I...a much deeper one than I had realized at the time.
Eventually, and while still undergoing CPE, it became time to move "Little Tarrah" into a bigger pot with...wait for it....DIRT! YAAAASSS!!!! My little plant had roots strong enough to withstand the move AND actually needed this move for it to continue thriving. Interesting how things like that happen, isn't it? Sometimes, just sometimes, a huge move or change is necessary for us grow too:) I talked to her daily...made sure that she was properly watered and got lots of sunshine. By the time CPE ended, she had grown so big that she was hanging over the edge of the pot and her "vining" process of growth was in full effect.
This little plant...this little piece of myself went with me at the end of CPE. For a long time, I continued to nurture it in the same ways...checking in with myself and my own growth that I had begun and wanted to continue. Until one day, I didn't. It didn't happen all at one time...but it was now living in a corner of my office on a plant stand that truly became "out of sight and out of mind." At about the same time, I poured myself into ministry and stepped into the world as a parish pastor...and had to learn to do this while also being a wife, a mother, a daughter, and a friend. ALOT of stuff to balance for sure. But every once in a while, while in my home office, I would catch my plant out of the corner of my eye, and I would immediately rush to get it water because it was drooping and drying up. I continued this dance with "Little Tarrah" until one day, she looked completely dead. Her leaves had all shriveled and browned...some falling off completely. Her stem was folding in on itself and becoming hard and stalky. I kicked into "save the plant" mode, and tried to bring her back. New pot, fresh soil, more sunlight, more water...ALL things in abundance as I tried to "resuscitate" this little plant...this part of myself. NONE of that worked...she was too far gone:( There was one thing that I hadn't tried and that was cutting everything off until just a stem remained...so that's what I did and back into the plastic water cup she went!
Weeks and weeks passed with the stalky stem in the cup. Her new place of residence was on the window ledge above my kitchen sink with tons of sunshine and lots of opportunities for "chats." Ridiculous sounding, I know...until the ridiculous isn't ridiculous anymore. One morning when I was doing dishes (no I don't have a dishwasher) I noticed that there was a tiny shoot emerging from the center of the stem! HOLY WOW!!! The shoot grew a bit bigger each day but no roots were appearing so I turned to Dr Google for advice on root stimulation. Ground cinnamon was the overwhelming advice given so I grabbed the jar from my spice cabinet and said to myself, "if this doesn't work that's it. She will become soil for a different plant in the future...living on that way." I followed the instructions for using the cinnamon on the barren tips of the stem, planted it in fresh soil with just the "new shoot" above the soil. Then I had to sit back and wait. And I waited...and waited...and waited... But eventually, the shoot got taller and a tiny round leaf unfurled itself. I was giddy with joy! A few more weeks went by, and another shoot began to form which gave way to an even bigger leaf. But this time, the leaf was the same shape that "Little Tarrah" bloomed with when I first got her years ago in CPE.
The picture with this blog post is "Little Tarrah" herself....taken just this morning:) Many people would have just thrown out the dead plant and many more people wouldn't have have gone through as much to try and save her. I simply couldn't do that. Why? Because I saw a part of myself in that plant...it grew as I grew through CPE and if I threw it out, it would have been like throwing a piece of myself away. She simply needed someone to have hope, offer support, and have a ridiculous amount of patience. Patience has NEVER been something that I'm good at. But this definitely gave me an opportunity to practice patience.
I am mindful, dear readers, that sometimes people are in need of that kind of support as well. Especially those who are wrestling with mental health illnesses amidst the storms of life. I'm no stranger to mental illness...I have multiple diagnoses myself. Major Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, and ADHD to name a few. ALL of these diagnoses require support and ALL of these diagnoses are simply a part of who I am...but they don't define me...even though sometimes people do choose to define me through them. #realtalk Sometimes I need more support than I typically ask for...sometimes I have been down the the stalky stem...just waiting for someone to "see me." Through all of the "sometimes" seasons of my life and mental health journey there has also been an "all the time"...and that, for me, is God. God has been with me through it all...even when I tried to hide myself away and not be seen or found. Why? Because I am loved beyond measure and I am a perfectly imperfect child of God. I am a work in progress and I'm pretty sure I always will be and that's OK. Why? Because God's got me...cries with me, laughs with me, rages with me and rejoices with me. When I come to the end of my earthly journey, maybe that's when my "work in progress" will reach it's completion. Until then, God's unconditional love, grace, and support provide me with the resilience I need to keep putting one foot in front of another...even if it takes a week to make a single step. Thank God for that!! And thank you Jesus for giving me so many examples of resilience in the midst of life's raging storms!!
So don't count us out...and don't count yourself out...because there is ALWAYS someone rooting for you and for us. And one day, when our earthly journey is finished...they will lovingly carry us home to live eternally in perfect love, perfect peace, and perfect unity.
PS- if you are looking for a "walking partner" on the journey...I am here and will gladly walk alongside you through your seasons. Just don't run though...I'm not a runner and I won't be able to keep up well ;)