When I first saw my daughter, she was swept away by doctors and nurses during an emergency c-section.
We didn’t hear her cry for a while. A while was probably 15 seconds. It felt like 15 minutes.
After she was cleaned, she was rushed to the NICU due to some complications. The nurses brought her to my wife for a kiss. My wife wouldn’t see her for 10 hours as they both recovered. It was a bittersweet and frighting time for our family.
Two hours after this exchange, I visited my daughter. Her roar was heard down the hall (a great sign given there were concerns with her lungs). I went into a small room, saw her before me and tried to understand.
She was covered in tubes and wires. She was in a plastic box surrounded by several other newborns. (Fully aware of the pain of the parents around us over the next few days, there was a deep sense of solidarity and prayers as we rotated in and out, visiting our children. Most faced taller mountains to climb than our daughter did and I pray for them and the babies presently fighting and healing in NICU’s at this present moment).
The first words I spoke were, “You are so cute.” Throughout my wife’s pregnancy, I would say, “she is going to be so cute.” I did not premeditate saying this to her. The words just flowed from my mouth.
Amazingly, she stopped crying. The nurse stopped in her tracks. She said, “she knows her daddy.”
In that moment, she wrapped her old man around her little finger. Then she wrapped her hand around my finger.
This was almost 8 months ago.
And every night, she holds my finger. Last night, I reflected on this journey. I was struck by the power of touch. With her crib next to our bed, my hand and wrist tightly fit through the white, wooden bars. This contact helps her sleep. It helps me too.
I know (and pray) there will be a day when she will hold my hand as she attempts to walk. And when she holds on tight before her first day of school. I also know there will be a day when she will let go. She will hold someone else’s hand. I hope this same hand will be offered to help a stranger and to lift up a friend. I pray her hand is opened in peace and not clenched in fear or anger. I pray she feels the love I presently own.
For now, I cherish this exchange each evening. Some nights it may last only minutes, while some nights it continues for hours. Within this touch is love: the love of a father and daughter. It is also the love that God extends to us, and through us.
As I count my blessings each day, this little girl and her heroic mother are on top of my list. I pray that in return, by extending my hand to others, I can be that same blessing for my brothers and sisters in need.
It is the power of touch. From the holding of a finger as a newborn baby to the care of our neighbors, we are invited to love. In this invitation, there is an opportunity. Together, let us recognize the power of our hands, and our touch. Let us be for one another that open hand in a closed world.
I am spending a significant amount of time focusing on vocation. I have been here before, as I tend to be reflective and aware of what Wayne Dyer called “spiritual breadcrumbs.”
Those breadcrumbs can direct us, as it is often looking back where the confusion makes sense.
In my work at the University, I am involved indirectly in some of the departmental efforts for religious vocation. As a Campus Minister, vocation is on top of the charts in what we speak about, right there with academics, relationships, and questions of faith.
We often use the word “vocation” in regards to priesthood or religious life as a brother and sister. How often do we use the word vocation in its truest form as being aware to the sacred voice inside?
For some, this voice directs people into a sacramental ministry. For others and most, it directs us into different roles and responsibilities. The challenge we all face is discerning the voices in our lives to recognize and then follow the true voice within.
After a recent disappointment in a rejection letter from a publisher, I turned to my large bookcase of most spiritual books that are a combination of inherited and purchased resources.
Minutes after receiving the disappointing email, I felt the need to turn to the bookcase. I was grateful to be in my office as I received this notice. I could have easily been walking across campus looking at my phone or sitting in a meeting.
I believe that “no,” led me to that bookcase. There, after opening and closing a few old favorites, I did not feel the inspiration and peace I was searching for in that search.
I started to pack my bag to head home, but I went back to the bookcase and I came upon this small book titled “Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation” by Parker J. Palmer.
I opened the book and noticed my handwriting in the upper right corner. It read “PSB 14.”
This was referring to Dr. Pam Shea-Byrnes. Pam was my boss, mentor and friend who died suddenly on Christmas Eve 2013. In the months after her death, I was invited to go to her abandoned office to take something to remember her by.
I grabbed a few books, an envelope opener and a small plastic paper clip holder.
In the books, I wrote “PSB 14,” to remember where they came from.
Three years later, my old friend gave me another gift.
I am more than half way through Palmer’s intimate and inspiring guide. In sharing his own life and discernment, I find myself relating to his journey.
There are countless spiritual nuggets that can and will need more reflection, but I found this one most important for today.
“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it,” Palmer writes, “listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.”
So many voices. From ghosts of past authority figures, to present authority figures, to our culture, religious institutions, and society, as well as our own human complexity, it is difficult to shut out the loudest of voices for the most silent but important.
It is in that sacred voice that we all possess where we find clarity, purpose and direction.
As I discern my vocation(s), I am reminded to take time to listen. Through prayer, meditation and in the quiet, I search for that voice that is God. I invite you to join me in this discovery as the more we can do this together, the more we will all benefit.