Saturday, June 12, 2010


I know, my chaplaincy year is finished. However, there is so much on my heart and in my memory that keeps bubbling's like this time-release capsule. Sometimes the space between the incident and the understanding is outside of linear human time. That's what happened in this case.

During my last two on-call evenings, there were a total of three separate stabbing traumas. I met each of the stabbees and to my surprise, their stabbers were family or close friends. Since this whole year I only witnessed one other knife-meets-flesh incident, this spurt of stabbings caught my attention. I never did meet the specific person who stabbed, nor did I ever hear the full story around the situation. I prayed for wholeness and healing and left them in God's Love.

I recall from scripture the presentation of Jesus in the temple, when Simeon says to Mary,
‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ (Luke 2:34-35)

I imagine that Mary must have been perplexed at this post-blessing dismissal. What must it have meant to Mary that her child was to be a sign that ... the inner thoughts of many will be revealed? What kind of perinatal pastoral message was Simeon saying?

In the world of flesh and blood and trauma bays and CAT scans, the doctors managed in all cases to sew up the patient, repair the torn kidney, heal the bruised ureter, and in general, bring whole-body-ness with Spirit-inspired medical skill. However, I can't help but wonder if their soul was also pierced.

I know that my soul was pierced, or nicked anyway, as it was with every one of my pastoral visits with patients, families and staff.

I pray that by the time these folks' inner thoughts are revealed there may be a message of God's universal movement toward well-being. I pray that they can find reconciliation. That forgiveness will rain on their lives and drench them in redemption.

That's all I can do and be and that prayer is enough in this moment.

The Invitation

Friday was our last morning report.

Nathan shared this memorable poem. It's a poem of reframing, which has been a profound lesson for me this year. Reframing from "just chatting" with someone to "providing pastoral care." Reframing from "visiting the sick" to "witnessing the suffering." Reframing from "making someone feel better" to "connecting in the other's deepest pain."

Thanks, Nathan, for sharing The Invitation:

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.

It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life's betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain!I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithlessand therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see beauty even when it's not pretty, every day,and if you can source your own life from its presence.
The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, book cover

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”

It doesn't interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn't interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

by Oriah Mountain Dreamer
copyright © 1999 by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Who are you inviting in this moment?

Thursday, June 10, 2010


The inside page of Conspire! magazine, vol. 1, issue 2//summer 2009 was Dispatches From The Front.

"Acts of profligate love, reckless hope, defiant goodness, paradoxical uselessness, and holy subversion undertaken or imagined by stumbling disciples, graced fools, uncertain insuragents and other foot soldiers in the peacable revolution."

The article lists "acts" that call me back to the Gospel. "Hang out with the folks who will inherit the earth." and "Let your yes be yes." and "See how the lillies of the field grow." Except for the military references, this could be the job description of a Chaplain. I pasted it on my wall this year. One of the "acts" that I have circled, highlighted and pondered is this,

Become disinterested in numbers

And, I've taken this to heart. This has helped me learn to simply be. Allow the pager to direct my day (when I am on call) and allow the interruptions by families, patients, colleagues and staff to occur. This has not been an easy thing for me. One week, I took this feeling, this inner trigger that "someone's getting more calls than me!" to supervision and explored it. My supervisor guided me with this wisdom, "Pay attention to the relationships" and the "numbers" will take care of themselves. And they have.

Without too much strain, I've kept my "50 visits per week" covenant. Some weeks were more (highest = 107) and some weeks were less (lowest = 37), but on average I made about 60 visits. I've learned about not getting competitive. Some of my colleagues sweep all their floors every week - like around 80 or even 100 on average. Some have fewer visits - like around 30 or 40. And so, I refrain...

Become disinterested in numbers.

That being said, I have learned something by looking at my numbers for the year.

141 Deaths
79 Life-threatening Traumas
2,549 Pastoral Visits
59 Health Care Power of Attorney Assistances
28 Pharmacy Assistance interventions
60 Over-night "On Calls"

What does this tell me? One, that there is quite a bit of uncertainty in life. Two, that there is no shortage of human need. Three, I have much to be grateful for.

I have learned that:
  • even after 141 deaths, there really is no pattern to how families grieve. Some are short (7 minutes) and some are long (3 hours plus). Some are emotionally draining and some are puzzling. All are as unique as fingerprints.
  • while a gun shot wound is often cause for being in the trauma bay, it doesn't kill you. Bee stings might. Unhelmeted motorcycle accidents might. Being stabbed by your cousin might.
  • even if I ask the patient some deeply thoughtful open-ended question, they may just want to know what time of day it is. They may just want to know that someone has fed their dog. They may just want to watch TV with someone.
  • we don't make "magic mouthwash" in the pharmacy anymore. Most other prescriptions are very, very expensive.
  • 60 on-call nights spent in the hospital means two months not spent at home.
Become disinterested in numbers.
I'm grateful for God. I'm grateful for the opportunity to learn from all 3,158 recorded visits and all the visits that were not recorded.
And they were on their knees, worshiping him. They returned to Jerusalem bursting with joy. They spent all their time in the Temple praising God. Yes. - Luke 24:52-53

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Long View

My colleague shared this prayer for Morning Report meditation.

She explained, she had been sad one afternoon, feeling a bit helpless from her recent pastoral care visit. (I know that feeling, I thought, it's pretty common around here.) Then someone shared this with her, she said, and it lightened her heart.

I, too, share this prayer here because it lightened my heart. It has since has been the source of not a few memorable conversations.

It Helps, Now And Then, To Step Back And Take A Long View

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

By Archbishop Oscar Romero, a human rights activist from El Salvador in the 1970s

How are you taking the long view in this moment?


Code Trauma: 60-ish yom, motorcycle

These pages send chills down my spine. It can't be good, I think. This one, it turns out, was good, relatively speaking.

He was speaking when he arrived, neatly deposited by the helicopter EMS crew. Thankfully, he wore a helmet and his injuries were more-or-less contained between earbone and buttbone. A cut across here from the smashed windshield, a bruise along there from the handlebar, broken rib(s) from the signpost and lots of confusion in the brain from the endo he performed.

Shortly after his arrival, I met his wife, his companion rider and his son in the conference room. I joined them "to be with them at this time" while we waited for medical updates from the doctor.

As we waited, his rider friend expended his nervous energy talking and keeping us all amused. Rider Friend is a motorcycle driving instructor. He described looking in his mirror and watching in horror as his friend, the patient, forgot to "look ahead of the curve instead of down at the pavement in front of him." This resulted in his untimely endo-deposit at the bottom of a ditch which inconveniently occurred near a bridge.

Rider Friend explained in detail some of the nuances of piloting motorcycles. He tells all his students to "approach any intersection, any oncoming car, any stopped vehicle, any pedestrian, any truck... pretty much anything - AS IF YOU ARE INVISIBLE. Because you are," he reiterated. Over and over he tells us in myriad ways "Even if you had flashing neon signs, people in cars don't see you. You could be naked with torches on fire coming out of your ears and they don't see you. YOU ARE INVISIBLE, so act like it."

I'm comforted by this guy's insistence on defensive driving. I'm hopeful for his friend in the trauma bay by this guy's explanation of the protective gear that they wear. I'm captivated by the patient's wife's infectious laughter at Rider Friend's description of her husband's blooper. (Too bad he landed on his head, I think.)

The doctor arrives, saying that Mr. Patient will be okay. He's got a few stitches on his face and had a bad concussion, so they are keeping him overnight. We all breathe a sigh of relief.

I reflect, how is God invisible to me? How often have I looked right directly at God and not seen God? God is naked in front of me with torches coming out of God's ears, but I don't see God.

I pray, God, open my eyes to see you around me. Awaken me to your presence and fill my heart with Love.

Then Solomon spoke: God has told us that he lives in the dark where no one can see him; I've built this splendid Temple, O God, to mark your invisible presence forever. - 1 Kings 8:12

How is the invisible God in your midst in this moment?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Let My People Go

Every visit a story. A smile, a tear, an emotion. A hope, a fear, a repulsion. A dream, a loss, a pain. And every morning in Morning Report we pray for patients, families, staff, colleagues and other loved ones who are on our minds and hearts.

Whoever has been "On Call" leads our time together. We grab any written prayers from the Prayer Box in the Chapel to add to these prayers. When I am the reporter, I write the names of the prayer receivers on a slip of paper to share these with the team.
Afterwards, I have put the names in a little jar on my desk. Sometimes when I have a particularly difficult night, or if there is someone heavy on my heart, I write a prayer on a note and add them to my jar. This keeps my prayer people in the hospital and I tend not to take them home.

Since we had a graduation ceremony today, I decided to hold a little prayer ritual to let these people go!
We found an empty place in "the 'hood" parking lot, remembered the many, many people whose names were in the jar, and set them on fire (the slips of paper, not the actual people!) As the ashes developed and the smoke rose, we talked about all these folks who have ministered to us this last year. I can still smell the smoke on my hands even as I write this blog.

The man murdered at the nearby shop. The teenager driving when the car was T-boned his girlfriend was killed. The young adult who dove into a pool and was paralyzed from the neck down. The colleague who... The mother who... The baby who... The nurse... the doctor... the chaplain...

May all these people rest in Love.

May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice. Psalm 141:1-3

Who's in your prayer jar at this moment?