Surprised by surprise

Leaving things to the last minute can be stressful.  It means that there isn’t time to correct mistakes or to make other arrangements.  Such circumstances can force you to put your trust in others.

The saga of my job contract continued throughout the week.  Each day came and went.  Nothing more was said but neither was there any sign of the promised contract.  It was a matter of trust.

The answer came on final day of my contract.  The boss arrived and said that he was launching straight into sorting out the digital paperwork to make my contract permanent.  It was just in time, a day later would have meant an empty pay packet at the end of the month.  An email was sent out to the office to announce my new status, it was as official as it was going to get.

What surprised me was people’s surprise.  Most thought I had been a ‘permanent’ employee for some time.  It was a reminder to me that what we see isn’t always an accurate picture of what is going on in people’s lives.

Sometimes the signs are there, we give off signals that show that things are not quite as they seem.  Body language, bad moods, a tendency to visit the biscuit tin too often.  Such signs aren’t something that we can rely on however.  People may appear to be serene on the surface but in reality be anything but.

Whilst my tendency not to pry on people’s private lives has many benefits there is a flip slide: I am not very good at asking questions about people.  It can look like I’m not interested, that all I want to do is talk about me when the opposite is true.  Showing interest in a person creates opportunities for them to tell us what’s going on beneath their calm exterior.

People’s reactions to news about my job was a reminder that appearances can be deceptive and to be more alert to people’s need to share their hidden burdens.

At the same time the job contract was approaching resolution so was my wait for meetings with Examining Chaplains.

Examining Chaplains play a similar role to the Vocations Chaplain I saw back in May 2013.  They are the equivalent of passport control: they meet you briefly on your journey to see if you have the necessary qualities to be allowed across the border.

I had emailed my second draft of my BAP Registration Form to the DDO at the start of the week.  There was no suggestion of any hidden anxiety in the email, it was fully on show.  The DDO had been very definite about the schedule for my journey seeing me start training in September 2014, if given the green light by Examining Chaplains, a BAP and the Bishop.  But with each passing week the chances of that being realised seemed to diminish and the stress was beginning to build.

Nothing is certain on this journey and I am not taking it for granted that I will be recommended for ordination training.  Yet I have to plan for such an eventuality, even if somethings can’t be put into action until after any recommendation.  Even with the schedule the DDO is working to there wont be much time after a possible BAP in which to arrange a new school for my son and move should God not be calling us to study locally.

Thankfully the DDO got in contact soon after receiving my email with the name of an Examining Chaplain!  The delay in sending me the name of one had been down to there being more people being put forward for such discernment than there are Examining Chaplains available.  With a recent article in the Church Times saying that not enough people were coming forward for ordination it is good news that a Diocese Director of Ordinands is so busy.  Looking beyond the diocese through the lens of social media makes it apparent that the ordination road is perhaps more crowded than some believe.

I set to arranging a meeting with the Examining Chaplain straight away and emailed him that evening.  I looked him up on the internet and became excited.  His profile showed a life that was part of a time and place in history that had strongly influenced me as a child: 1980’s South Africa when my childhood hero Archbishop Desmond Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  I began listening to some of His sermons and was encouraged by the wisdom that was clearly evident.

The next day I became restless.  My struggle to be patient was rising up once again.  I wanted to get on with things not waste time in waiting.  Clearly I hadn’t truly learnt the lesson that God works just as much in the waiting as the doing.

It took tremendous effort not to pick up the phone to call.  Perhaps he was the type of person who struggled with emails or was too busy to have noticed its arrival.  By the following day I couldn’t resist any longer.

I justified the decision to call him by the fact that the DDO had made it clear in her email that she was working to a deadline.  I dialled his telephone number and got his answer phone.  There was no point leaving a message, I had done that with an email, so I hung up.  That evening I tried again.

I felt bad as I made the second call, though it was a warning sign I took no notice of.  I knew where the feeling came from: just as I don’t like to pry into people’s private lives, I don’t like to interrupt them either.  My feelings were compounded when he answered.  Not only had he received and read my email, but I was calling on his day off!  Whilst it was helpfully pointed out that he didn’t need to answer his phone on a day off, I was left realising that my impatience had left a bad first impression.

The week had been full of daily incidents that on their own didn’t amount to much but when coupled together showed each one to be part of a significant whole.  It ended with an act of grace, a call from the Examining Chaplain that showed no sign of irritation.  A date for our meeting was set, a week after my grand tour of theological colleges.  That in itself proved to be a helpful element in our discussion: his voice perked up as I expressed my desire to be open to God calling us to move if that was His will.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that we would be meeting on my birthday!  To be honest, I don’t mind.  I couldn’t think of a better birthday present for me at the moment.

Although if you’re asking I have a few other things on my wish list!

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