Strengths/gifts: I am intelligent, creative, hardworking, loving, and honest. I am willing to take risks, put myself on the line when doing so is right, and give voice to what others believe but are afraid to say.
Weaknesses: Sometimes I go too deep, for example in my work or studies, that I forget to come up for air. My emotional and psychiatric vulnerability is a weakness, but also a source of compassion, understanding, and first hand knowledge. I speak before I think, often revealing too much or saying something inappropriate or hurtful without intending to do so.
Needs brought out through course materials and feedback from others: Found my small group members who knew me from last quarter, confiding in me, asking for advice regarding their life crises. I wasn’t in the position to give them advice, but did find myself using my counseling skills and my ability to love and understand, to listen to and support them.
My counseling skill, my compassion, my ability to empathize, has been a gift and a curse. I fear opening myself to others this way because I often take on the pain, the burden of the other, without taking care of myself. So, I end up questioning my suitability for pastoral care. Then, how can I completely turn my back on a gift I have? Is it possible to minister this way when as vulnerable as I am?
I identify with the father and the prodigal son. The father, for my heart opens to others in love and welcome. The prodigal son, for I turn away from my gifts, then return with my head hanging in shame, asking for forgiveness and welcome.
In all my classes this far, I have continued discerning God’s call for me. No doubt, I belong in seminary. I enjoy the camaraderie and intellectual challenge. I enjoy learning more about Christian history, theology, and God’s Word. Going to seminary has reminded me how much I love to learn and desire to go deeper in my faith, understanding and knowledge. What I have questioned is my ability to serve as a minister to a congregation. I have had questions about this for awhile. I tend to give too much, to work too hard, leading to burnout and breakdown.
I have a variety of skills and have succeeded in three different professions – as a legal assistant, as a psychotherapist, and as a businesswoman (administrator, analyst and marketing professional). I burned out as a legal assistant and psychotherapist. As a commercial real estate professional, I was able to move from one arena to another, becoming a generalist with experience in property management, finance, portfolio management, asset management, marketing, research and analysis. I enjoyed the profession, though often worked long hours, for it was not emotionally draining (not healing the world) and I could move from one area to another as I became either bored or overwhelmed.
Recently I have begun questioning whether I should pursue the MDiv, whether the MAT better suits my gifts and weaknesses. Both a fellow church member and my husband, upon hearing that I am considering going in academia, pointed out that the Lutheran church is developing a Lutheran high school in South OrangeCounty. My immediate reaction was “No way!” All I could imagine was working with violent adolescent boys. The last job I had as a psychotherapist, a 6’2” boy threatened to rape me during session. He blocked my escape from the office and when I reached for the phone for help, he disconnected the phone. I managed to flee, thinking and moving with agility, but remember the experience with pain. I quit working in the profession shortly thereafter, deciding that I had had enough of working with severely emotionally disturbed adolescents. I enjoyed working with adolescent girls, especially the pregnant and parenting adolescents, and loved my severely emotionally disturbed female clients as much as those struggling with the responsibilities of parenthood. Severely emotionally disturbed girls, even when they are large and strong, are not as effective or as intimidating fighters. I recall the director of the residential facility where I worked commenting as we broke up a fight between two girls that if the fight had been between two boys we would have had to contend with far more damage.
When I mentioned to my father that I was considering pursuing a PhD and becoming an academic at the university level, he responded asking how I would be able to take care of my son and husband up through my son’s college graduation. I was irritated by his response, finding it not supportive. My mother overheard him and got on the phone to contradict his negative response. When I later mentioned my father’s response to my husband, he said that my father had a point. Teaching at a high school level, at least while my son is of school age, and perhaps while I pursue a PhD, does make sense. I might still be able to make time for my family. Actually, I understand that high school teachers have very little free time, spending nights and weekends developing curriculum and grading papers.
In any case, I have no interest in teaching high school. I am interested in going further than a masters level education. I already have a masters. I want to go deeper than you can go with a masters level education. I am not on a tight time schedule. Fuller Extension is offering me the opportunity to be intellectually and spiritually challenged and educated, while still able to take care of my son and husband. I want to prepare myself for PhD studies, while giving myself the room for a break and the ability to pace myself without running myself into the ground.
The fact is, as a mother and wife, I have competing demands on my time and energy. The fact that both my son and I suffer from brain disordersthat render us vulnerable to stressors, contributes to the fact that I must take care of myself and choose a profession, a vocation, that allows me to rest, to tend to both myself and my family, while challenging myself intellectually, emotionally and most of all spiritually. Honestly, I do not know whether pursuing a PhD will assist me in so doing. But I do know that I must study, I cannot not do it. I compelled by something greater than myself, namely God.
I am blessed to have a husband who can and will pay for and support my education. In the past, I worked as a mother by choice, not be necessity. I thank God for this blessing.
How strengths/gifts, weaknesses, and needs will affect your ministry: The key is that I must pace myself. If I have no breaks, no limits, no boundaries, I am vulnerable to mental breakdown. At the same time, I both heed God’s call to pursue this education and see where it takes me. I must be intellectually and spiritually challenged, I cannot thrive without it.
Action Plan, next steps for ministry preparation to build on strengths, deal with weaknesses, and continue to grow in self-awareness: I am seeing a psychiatrist and psychologist on an ongoing basis to deal with mental health issues. I strive to take care of myself. I have a supportive and loving husband, extended family, and friends. I am attending seminary to challenge both my strengths and my weaknesses.
– Written Winter 2006