“There are two great tragedies in life.
One is to not get your heart’s desire.
The other is to get it.”
–George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman
In April of 2002, I landed in Johannesburg, South Africa to begin my first call as an assistant Lutheran pastor in a parish of eight congregations. I was met there by two parish leaders, friends who I had previously met when they traveled to California. They were both instrumental in forming the partnership that had created my call. Even though I had just traveled a total of 20 hours on two plane trips; we still had 7 hours to drive to Lwamondo Parish, located in the most northeastern province of South Africa.
I was so excited as we left Jo’burg—my deepest dreams were coming true. The list of unparalleled life experiences I was having was long and poignant:
–It was my first call as a pastor.
–My future supervisor was one of the first Tshivenda women to be ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of South Africa (ELCSA). [With my arrival, Lwamondo became the first ELCSA parish to be served by two women pastors.]
–To add to that, I was told that I was the first white person to move to the former Republic of Venda since the dismantling of the Group Areas Act in 1991. [I subsequently found out that two sons of German Lutheran missionaries had returned to Venda years before I did; but in people’s minds, they were returning home and that was a different kind of event.]
–I was placed in a first grade class to learn to speak Tshivenda and became quite a celebrity.
–Every day I met people who had contributed in significant ways to the dismantling of Apartheid and were now making contributions to the young democracy.
–When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission submitted its report to the government, a mentor who had been personally invited to the worship celebration by Archbishop Desmond Tutu invited me to join him and his family for the service. Not only did I get to hear the bishop preach, but I was introduced to him after the service. (He’s very sparkly in a non-Twilight sort of way.)
There were many other wonderful adventures of life and faith that followed which would cover a lot more space, but for the present reflections, I’ll turn to the topic of how my South African adventure guided me to Loyola. To tell you the truth, sometimes I still find myself amazed at the unexpected paths my road has taken.
Just when I thought I might spend the rest of my life in SA, circumstances crashed in on the congregational partnership supporting my ministry and I found myself back in the US—wondering how to make meaning of the loss of my dream from a spiritual perspective. I joined a spiritual direction group at a Franciscan monastery and after months of inner turmoil and partial healing, I came to find out that among my fellow seekers, one is a pastoral counselor, one is a supervisor of chaplains at a major hospital, and one is a professor of neuroscience. And we were all seeking to find meaning together.
It was in our group processing that they described Loyola’s unique program (they all knew about it and I didn’t) and it was then that they encouraged me to think about it. With trepidation and many doubts, I started the exploration and here I am, thanks to many helpers along the way. Looking back, there were so many things that showed me this was a possibility that has always been there—but just beyond the horizon. The shadows of the loss of my dream were eclipsing my sense of hope in an unknown future.
But with every classroom I step into, and every time a professor or colleague mentions the uniqueness of pastoral counseling, or which each new insight and learning opportunity—I am learning that dreams can be realized and then lost—and then transformed into something new and unexpected. So here I am again—living a dream come true like I did in South Africa. And here I am again, amazed at what hope and resiliency do to the human spirit. And best of all, like my arrival to South Africa, I am on a path to an unknown horizon and all around me are fellow travelers who inspire me to trust in healing, hope and the power of compassion.
George Bernard Shaw is right, it is devastating to lose a dream. I just hope he was able to learn like I have, that we are not limited to only one—that new life, like healing, can emerge at any time.