So, your state trooper husband dies leaving you with four young children, what do you do?
Somehow, "become a minister" is not what would pop to my mind. But there you have it. Kate Braestrup decided to take up her husband's dream of going to seminary. She winds up serving as a chaplain to the Maine Warden Service.
I ran across a copy of her book Marriage and Other Acts of Charity and thought it sounded interesting but saw she'd written another book entitled Here If You Need Me. I thought I'd better get up to speed with her story, so read the latter first.
She's very similar to Anne Lamott, although she's a Universalist Unitarian, so she's even more to the left. In Here If You Need Me, she takes the reader along with her on her calls. We are there with the parents of the little girl who wanders off in the woods to find her dog. We are with the team as they search for the man who rode off on his snowmobile and hasn't been heard from for nearly two days. We see how she lovingly deals with the families who are waiting anxiously and the men in the Warden Service who must deal with grisly things. (There are happy endings, too, thankfully.)
She also looks at the process of grieving and widowhood and single motherhood, all in a wry and humble way.
In Marriage and Other Acts of Charity she examines honestly how hard marriage can be. In her role as minister, she sometimes will give pre-marital counseling and refuses when people want their vows to read they will be faithful "as long as our love shall last." Love is a choice. An act of charity. Marriage is hard work and sometimes love will come easily and naturally and other times you will have to choose on a daily basis to continue to love your spouse. Interestingly, she finds that many couples shy away from using "until death to us part" as part of their vows, especially in situations where one person is in a dangerous line of duty. It feels like invoking death during a marriage ceremony is inviting disaster. But, she urges people to make that pledge. Because, let's face it, all marriages end. However, the marriages that end with death are the ones that worked.
Finally, I particularly loved the conversation she had with a gas station attendant. His wife had recently died of cancer. Even when it was terminal and there really wasn't anything he could do, a well-meaning pastor had told him, "Don't give up. There's always hope." This put the onus on this poor husband to keep hoping, keep trying. However, sometimes knowing there is nothing more you can do is very freeing. Rev. Kate and he talk about falling out of an airplane without a parachute. You pretty much know that God is not going to reach out and catch you in a giant cloud. Knowing that this is the end would perhaps free you enjoy your last few seconds, maybe even sate your curiosity. . ."so this is what it's like to fall out of an airplane. . ." Maybe you could even fit in a couple of back flips on the way down. I hope if I am ever falling out of an airplane that I remember to do a back flip.
Overall, if you are a fan of Lamott, you'll like Braestrup. If you're only going to read one, Here If You Need Me is the stronger of the two.