Amidst all the turmoil of her divorce, Barbara found her calling, almost lost it when she moved to Colorado but was able to hold on it and today she’s a chaplain and a minister.
At the time when everything was getting so crazy I had a patient one day at the clinic where I worked. She was around 40 and she was just a lovely person, sad, a little teary. I don’t remember the conversation but she looked at me and said ‘you’re a really spiritual person, aren’t you?’ I agreed with her and so we talked about that a little bit. I had been going back and forth about getting a master’s in social work but the people I knew who were social workers were just stressed to the max dealing with systems that were never sufficient. It just wasn’t quite right. Then my best friend wanted me to get a graduate degree in religious studies but I’d already been a teacher and I just didn’t think that was right either. So this patient said, ‘if you like what you’re doing here you should go to seminary and become a chaplain.’ And that was that. She was a minister and that was my calling.
So I started graduate school at the Andover Newton Theological School. I only took two courses and it was during that time that our marriage disintegrated. I moved to Ward, Colorado and I thought giving up my studies was just one of the many things I lost. I had been Ward for some time before I heard about the Iliff School of Theology in Denver but as soon as I learned of the school I went right there, applied, got accepted and transferred my credits. That was my healing.
All the courses, like theology, ethics, pastoral care, were nurturing, healing and affirming. Also they have you take a battery of tests to see before you embark on a three-year graduate degree going into a very low paying field, that this is really right for you. Every step of the way, it always was. It did take me five years to finish the degree – I worked part-time and the commute to school from Ward was an hour and a half each way.
Now, as well as being a chaplain at the clinic where I work, I’m a Unitarian Universalist minister. I like to do weddings. I always wish people well and hope that as the years go by, they can grow together instead of apart. I did one wedding that seemed kind of chancy to me. It was an older couple and the husband had been married several times before. I thought long and hard about that. Am I really OK doing this wedding? I decided it was their responsibility and not mine and I could wish them well and help them to have a nice ceremony. Years later I ran into him and he said, ‘I remember you. You’re the minister who married us. I am the luckiest man alive. We are so happy.’ So you never know.
It has taken a lot of courage and strength to keep moving forward. The Jungian understanding that I can only be myself really helped. The key is not self-improvement, it’s self-acceptance. You have to find yourself and then accept that that is who you are. I am a helper and a caretaker and all my hardest lessons in life have been around boundaries. Where is it healthy for me to help others and where is that invisible line where I’m supporting their dependence? It’s not always easy to see but I just have to accept this is who I am.
I hear of many women who change their careers or who make significant job moves after divorce. In some ways it is surprising that you could have the energy and the drive to do that with all the other changes that come with divorce. In another way it may not be so surprising – I’ve been thinking that maybe with everything else changing, perhaps you are more receptive to the possibility of change and that receptiveness opens up new opportunities? What do you think?