Over the past few weeks (and really years), I have gained a better idea of what a “calling” is all about. We are all called by God to a specific ministry that is unique to our abilities and talents (given by God). No one else can serve in that calling nor can we really serve in anyone else’s either.
This latest reflection came after a visit to the Department of Pastoral Care at Vanderbilt today. I served a practicum last year and visit once in a while. Listening to the stories of what they go through as well as hearing the calls they were getting today made me realize that not everyone could serve in that specific call. It is not easy nor would everyone want to do that particular ministry.
I look at my own calling to the Army chaplaincy. It is not easy nor would everyone want to do it either. We cannot help but follow the path that God has set for us. Our call is unique to us but since it is God ordained, we have the tools and abilities to serve that call.
Okay, maybe this is a bit of rambling but it all makes sense in my head. Maybe I need to go and run some more and mull it over.
Life, as the old cliché goes, is a journey. I will not argue that point but I would change the cliché to say that life is a series of journeys. We find ourselves on paths that lead us to profound truths, experiences, or even change the very being of who we are. I do not wish to overstate this but my time at Vanderbilt University Hospital (VUH) was a journey that accomplished all three things in my life.
So with such an opening statement, where do I go from this point? I have to say that my time at VUH affirmed my calling to chaplaincy. I found I thrived on the varied nature of each day (and each hour). I was not sure what was behind each closed door and as I opened it, I was adapting to changing situations and conversations. In an instant I had to meet people, determined their spiritual need, and minister to them. Some of the visits were short while others lasted for an hour. While that may be part of the affirmation, I also realized that being engaged in ministry outside the walls of the church (and really in places that would not be conducive to ministry) ultimately affirmed the direction God is leading me. While I was not in mortal danger during this chaplaincy, there were parallels as I had to minister “under fire” so to speak – or in other words, I had to minister to changing situations.
Before looking at some of the deep and profound experiences, I would like to begin with Barry Culbertson and the rest of the Department of Pastoral Care. The staff is dedicated to their specific ministry and is professionals. During my time among them, not only was I welcomed as one of them but I learned from their own experiences as they shared how they dealt with situations or I learned from them as I debriefed some of my encounters with them. I appreciated this opportunity because it gave me a chance to see how they would handle something or if I could have done something differently. It has been my experience that while ministers/pastors are often good at guiding congregations, they are not so good at guiding colleagues. This was not the case at VUH – everyone was willing to share and support each other. In addition, my specific practicum was adapted to my ministry direction and me. I was exposed to various departments in the hospital that I would likely encounter in the military including the trauma unit, burn unit, and various ICU units. While there are challenges of ministering in a hospital, these specific units offered challenges of their own and the DPC staff encouraged me to experience the unique “flavor” of each department as they shared how they would minister in those areas.
I also want to reflect on the opportunity to meet with and hear the stories of the medical staff at VUH. My impression of hospital doctors and nurses was that they were clinical and had not room for faith or spirituality. I was completely wrong as I talked with doctors and nurses. They were glad to share their stories and their experiences with me. I found that in most cases, the doctors and nurses had an understanding of God or a greater being who guided them or watched over them. As I had conversations throughout the semester, I became aware that the hands and feet of God (if I can borrow from an Audio Adrenaline song) are the doctors and nurses. The miraculous healings that people hope and pray for come through the hands of these talented and dedicated people. I was humbled to be a colleague of theirs even for a short time.
For the remainder of this reflection, I want to accomplish two things. First, I want to express what this experience has meant to me as a whole and then I wish to share and reflect on several of the most profound experiences during my time at VUH – those experiences and/or people that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
I can usually find words to express what I am feeling but when it comes to finding the words to express my feelings about the practicum I am at a loss. During the past thirteen weeks, I have experienced a range of emotions from joy to sorrow to grief – and a few times within a few hours. I met people in the darkest moments of their life yet they were so fully in God’s presence, that peace surrounded them despite all that was happening. I also met people who had no sense of peace or God and so greatly suffered in those dark moments. To quote one patient I met, “the fertile ground is in the valley not on the mountain top.” I believe that statement could best sum up this experience. The best opportunities for ministry are not when people are at their best or when they are ready (as in church on Sunday morning) but when they need it most – in a hospital or another setting where people are hurting or lost. I have always sensed my calling was not to be a pastor (though I will concede that it may happen one day) and my time at VUH showed me the possibilities of ministry outside of a church. Of course, I have learned that this ministry is not simply evangelizing or sharing the gospel but a ministry of presence. Simply being a person who is not there to take vitals, give medicine, or other medical procedures is a comfort. Being a person who is there to listen and to be a presence is ministry as well. As I sit back and look on this experience, I realize that my definition and understanding of ministry has changed because of the patients I interacted with, the doctors and nurses I talked with, and the chaplains with whom I shared. Ministry is not black and white or even grey but a wide variety of colors that will change with each moment. I appreciate this idea and I will continue to explore and reflect on it in the coming months and possibly years.
So now, to share and reflect on the experiences that has had the greatest impact on my person, my spirituality, and my ministry. Again, I find it difficult to narrow down the experiences but I want to share a few that have moved me the most and continue to spin in my head as I think back on them.
First, I would have to say the two visits I made to the Vanderbilt Neurology Clinic for their monthly Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Clinic were significant to me. The chaplain serves dual roles as a counselor and as a chaplain, with the latter not as prominent. The patients and/or families do not have to meet with the chaplain but some choose to do so. In this setting, the role of the chaplain is to offer words of comfort and assurance, to be a presence, to encourage family members to ensure support, and to hear the stories of the people. While all the patients I met seemed to have a sense of anger about them, the range of emotions was surprising. Of course, this illness is an all but certain death sentence and some of the patients seemed to accept death while others were not ready and still others planned to make the most of the time they had left. Of all the patients, the two most interesting patients were back to back at this past clinic. The first patient was diagnosed and angry (and it would be understandable). She was determined that God would miraculously heal her but she seemed to be isolating herself from living and from her family and her church. She could quote scripture and expressed but a belief but there was something troubling about her spirit. The second patient was also waiting for a miracle but she also planned to live her life to the fullest she would be able to live. She still was involved in church and her family but she also was willing to sit back and just cry. Their stories developed into a sermon for this past Sunday but I am still thinking about their stories and what I can learn from them. What does this mean about my faith? Am I living a faith or merely believing a faith? There is a difference between the two and I wonder what it means for my ministry and for my spirituality. I will be revisiting this experience repeatedly.
I have never been one to hang onto denomination ties or titles. As someone who is not yet ordained, I do not use the title of reverend or pastor – even when I served in this role. On those same lines, while I identify myself as a Cumberland Presbyterian, I realize that my personal theology is a mixture from multiple denominations. That being said, I found I had multiple visits over the course of the semester that have me thinking about those denominational ties and titles. My standard greeting upon entering a patient’s room was “Hello there, my name is Tim and I am one of the chaplains here at Vanderbilt.” There was no denominational identification or did I invoke the title of Chaplain. Some patients would immediately ask what they could call me (which I would understand to mean title) and I would simply respond “Tim”. They did not like this but I am not comfortable with titles. After some reflection and conversation with others, I realize that sometimes people want to address a clergy person by a title of respect because of the office a person holds. In other words, I am representing God as a chaplain or as a pastor so I need to be prepared to take on the title of that office if it will help someone else. Therefore, if life is a journey in which we grow as we go, I need to realize that I have to set aside some beliefs (but not necessarily my theology) for the sake of ministering to others. If accepting a title is comforting, I will accept a title.
With my denomination, that was a completely different story. Some patients would ask what I was meaning what denomination was I a part of. I simply answered Presbyterian, which immediately conjured preconceived notions (as in the “frozen chosen”) or long help misconceptions of denominations. While some patients were guilty of this, I too was guilty of having certain prejudices of various denominations. The daily census that we would follow listed patients but their denominations. I would purposely avoid Presbyterians and Catholics – not out of prejudice but out of familiarity. I wanted to meet and interact with patients of other denominations to grow as a minister. I found that I had certain beliefs about Baptists, or Pentecostals, or Church of Christ patients that were not true in every case. I was surprised as I interacted and shared with patients and I was glad for the opportunity to confront some prejudices (I will call them for what they are). As an Army Chaplain, I am not the Presbyterian chaplain but the Protestant chaplain, which means I will be dealing with members of all denominations. I have to move past preconceived notions and learn to accept others, as I would expect them to accept me.
Perhaps the most difficult experiences I have had were on the trauma unit and the burn unit. In those cases, it was not necessarily the interaction with the patient but rather the visual imagery. I do not wish to go into details but I saw things that I can still see in my mind. While difficult to deal with, I realize that in the Army, I will be seeing similar things. I appreciate having this time to process through such visual imagery while in a safe setting. I can say that the images are uncomfortable and upsetting but I was able to continue to minister to the patient or the family despite what I was seeing.
I have never watched someone die before though I have said good-bye to family members who were on the verge of dying. I found it to be a rather interesting experience to be the chaplain in a room which a patient who was dying. I did not have the emotional connection to the patient that I had with my family member so found myself to be rather stoic or clinical. I was offering comfort and ministering to the family but it was as a “professional”. I reflected on the experience later and I found myself wondering how the staff (especially those on the floors where death is common event or at least more likely) deals with it. I wonder how I will deal with it in the Army. Again, it was an experience that has forced me to think and reflect on my own views and understandings.
Finally, I had the opportunity serve as a chaplain-in-residence (so to speak) aboard one of Vanderbilt’s LifeFlight helicopters. It was an incredible day and I am honored to have had the privilege to work with outstanding people. They are dedicated to their task and they are passionate about what they do. I have had the chance to see patients after they arrive at the hospital who are in various states of recovery but on this particular day I was able to see how they arrive at the hospital and what happens when they initially arrive. I have a slight understanding of protocols involved in air transport of patients but I also have an appreciation of what is involved in the care of critically ill patients from site to site. This experience has given me a better understanding of the medical field as well as a taste of what I might face as an Army Chaplain in the field. It was an incredible day and one I will be processing for some time. People need to appreciate what is involved in the transport and care of people within the medical profession. The folks involved, while it may seem like they do not care, have nothing but the best interests of everyone involved. They are simply being professional in their interactions.
I opened this reflection with a cliché and it fits. My time at Vanderbilt is a journey that has to end. As it does, I can look back and see the person and minister I was at the beginning of the semester and see that I have grown in my ministry and in my spirituality. It is truly difficult to fully explain what this experience has meant to me or where I will go from here. I think that statement is significant and a good statement to end this reflection. If I am not yet able to fully grasp and understand the significance of what has happened, it has a been a good journey. I will be reflecting on my time at VUH over the coming months and I will continue to learn from my experiences. I am grateful to have had this time at VUH and I look forward to the journeys that will come from this one.
So I bid a fond farewell to Vanderbilt University Hospital. As has been my practice over the course of this semester, I ask for your prayers for everyone who enters the doors of the medical center – whether as staff, patients or visitors. God knows their needs and will hear your prayers. If you ever find yourself as a patient at VUH, know that you are in good hands and if you are ever there, be sure to request a visit from one of the chaplains – they are great people.
Today was another interesting day at Vanderbilt on many levels. I have had the most profound experiences at Vanderbilt this semester that have left me richer and thinking deeper than before and as the semester winds down (next week is my last week), I find I will miss the experiences.
Today, I was back at the Neurology Clinic for the monthly ALS Clinic. The chaplain serves as a counslor of sorts to hear the stories of people, offer comfort, and to make sure they have a good support system in the coming months as they face this illness. It is perhaps the most challenging of experiences I have had at Vandy because ALS is almost a certain death sentence and it is difficult to slow down and treat.
Today, in the course of my day, I met two different women who were facing ALS and their reactions could not have different from each other.
The first patient was angry (as many of the patients are when they are diagnosed). She was officially diagnosed about five months ago and immediately joined a new church where people pray for miracles. She fully expects a miracle from God and yet she is isolating herself from her family and her community. She has no support except her church and they are encouraging her to find the sin in her life that is making her sick and confess it. She has a strong faith and can quote scripture and the law better than I can but she is simply going through the motions of belief. Like I said, her faith was very strong and she was a believer – of sorts – but her faith was almost superficial. She appeared to believe in a name it and claim it gospel. I was worried and troubled about her because what happens if her miracle doesn’t happen?
The second patient too had an emotional reaction – she was moved to uncontrollable tears for a time and just needed to weep (Gandalf said the movie version of The Return of the King: “I will not say do not cry, for not all tears are a bad thing). She too was waiting for a miracle and felt she was already healed because she had regained some use of her hands and her emotions were under better control. While waiting for her miracle, she continued to live her life, teach Sunday school, be active in her church, cook meals for her family, and travel. She had a strong faith and could quote scripture and the law but she was also living out her faith.
As has been the case this entire semester, I find myself pondering and reflecting. What does this mean about my faith? Am I living a faith or merely believing a faith? There is a difference between the two and I wonder. Well, there is a sermon in this any way and I am going to work these thoughts into a sermon and preach it this coming Sunday.
Not that I am completely finished, but I had to offer a reflection to my professor over my experience at Vanderbilt. It may suprise you but finding words to express something is sometimes the hardest thing I do. It was in the case but here is my reflection on my experience at Vanderbilt:
I find it useful to stop and reflect on profound experiences as they occur in my life. I have to say that my time at Vanderbilt University Medical Center has impacted my life and my future ministry in many ways. As I attempt to frame the experience in words, I find it difficult to fully explain the impact but I want to offer a few thoughts about the experience and how it will benefit my future ministry.
God has called me into Army Chaplaincy – which is a unique ministry in and of itself. It is difficult to prepare for such a ministry short of being part of the Army in the first place. That being said, there are situations that arise in the Army that I am not sure I would be prepared to handle. Among my fears were facing burned soldiers and frankly dealing with death. Oddly, in this experience, within my first few weeks, I was faced with ministering to several severely burned patients and their families. I had to confront my fears, dread, and move into ministering to them. More importantly, I think this particular experience helped me understand that I need to let the Spirit guide my words and actions as I minister to people. When I first entered the patient rooms, I did not know what to say or do but then I felt words coming to me as I began to interact with the patient and the families – I believe the Spirit was present and guiding me.
The other fear I was forced to confront was death. I have not experienced a lot of death in my life and on separate occasions, I was dealing with impending death. Again, I had the opportunity to face the uncertainty – both of death and my experience in dealing with death – in a safe place with support. I appreciate that I had mentors to guide me and offer suggestions and debriefing as I processed through the experiences. I am not saying that I am fully ready to deal with the next death but I do have some good, sound experience and advice to lean on for the next situation.
My Vanderbilt clinical setting offered me the opportunity to work with a number of different chaplains from different faith traditions and experience backgrounds. They all approached ministry differently and all had different views of their ministry. In this sense, I was able to learn from them and watch them work with patients as they ministered in various parts of the hospital. I believe observing others as they do God’s work is a great way to learn because God highlighted things for me as I observed and I have incorporated new approaches to my ministry. I have also had the opportunity to talk with a number of other medical personnel about their particular calling and view of their “ministry.” Among the most powerful (for many reasons), was my day with the LifeFlight crew. The flight nurses worked with patients at their worst and probably experience more death than most other nurses (a generalization I am sure). However, they have a unique view of God and faith despite the horrors they witness. I felt a deep connection to the flight nurses especially because they are the closest I will get to an Army “experience” at Vanderbilt. They are literally working on the front lines and to see how they maintain a faith in God despite their jobs is a powerful testimony. I am deeply appreciative of everyone who shared their stories – because I believe our stories are sacred – with me.
Finally, I have to say that this experience affirmed my calling to military chaplaincy. I found myself enjoying and thriving the changing pace of each day – and literally each minute – of this experience. No visit was the same nor was any particular day the same. While I settled into the routine of hospital chaplaincy, there was no routine either. This is one area where I find it difficult to express exactly what the experience has meant to me.
If I have one regret from this experience, it would be that I could not experience more. I was limited in my scheduled day at Vanderbilt. I had profound experiences and interactions with patients but there was so much more I could have experienced and wished I did. I will have to trust the Spirit that I have gained enough from this experience to incorporate it into my future ministry as God leads.
As we prepared to head back to the base, we were dispatched to Murray, KY to transport another pediatric patient (non-trauma). Again, I was in the back and had the opportunity to talk to the nurse as she prepared for this patient. En route, all we knew was that this patient was 8 years old and had flu-like symptoms, dehydration, and a rash. They calculated medication dosages while communicating with Flight Comm to prepare for this patient. The information was sketchy but they had some basics to prepare. I am glad I could not see the landing zone because the helipad is located in the middle of several buildings and at the end of a parking lot (who designs these things???). We touched down and since this was not a critical case, the pilot powered down the helicopter but we exited prior to the power down (file this in the I don’t need to know category but the blades flex while powering up or down and hang lower and could potentially decapitate you. Oh and the tail rotor means instant death so I did avoid that all the time). My first impression was that the hospital was more impressed by the helicopter than anything else because they were not prepared for our arrival. We had to wait on an elevator (we used a public elevator) and then we had a nurse who said she didn’t know why we were there. However, once we were in the right spot, the nurses met with the doctor who shared the complete medical history as she knew it and the nurses began to prepare the patient for transport. The staff did learn their lesson from our arrival and held the elevator until we took the patient down. Again, the patient’s mother was traveling so I was back up front. I am certainly glad that take-off is straight up first because it was close quarters on this helipad. Again, I could hear the conversation among the nurses as they treated the patient who was not so stable. They struggled with IVs as this flight was rough with a head wind. We were traveling lower and at a slower speed to keep the flight as smooth as possible. Again, we were back at the Children’s Hospital and not to compare Vandy with other hospitals (I know they are designed for medical flights) but they have dedicated elevators from the helipads to the various parts of the hospital. Again, upon our arrival, the medical staff went into action and began to consult with the flight nurses and make their own diagnosis of the patient. We also had time to go back and check on the first patient (who was still undergoing tests) which the nurses do not always get to do in person.
After two long flights, we went back over the main pad to refuel, more bathroom breaks, and then a quick snack before heading back to the base in Clarksville. Everyone assumed the day was over and began to debrief and prepare for a shift change in an hour. I talked with the pilot about maintenance of the helicopter and with the nurses about their feelings and how they deal with the patients and potential death (their own and the patient). They simply go into a “clinical mode” where they put aside feelings, beliefs, and emotions and work to care for the patient. At this point, everyone was exhausted (the seats are not overly comfortable for sitting on long flights – weight considerations are more important than comfort) and we had been running on adrenaline (even I was even though I was not directly caring for the patients). There is an emotional component (and a spiritual one as well) to working in this field and I was drained as well. We were just settling in for the end of shift (nurses either work 12 or 24 hour shifts and both nurses were done at 1630 while the pilots work 7 on and 7 off so he was also done at 1630) debriefing when “Life Flight 3, Life Flight 3, respond” came on the radio (there were groans all around). We were being dispatched to Regional Hospital of Jackson to transport a patient to the MICU at Vandy. We headed out again for the 40 minute flight to Jackson which is outside the typical flight area for VLF (constraints are set on fuel capacity for the helicopter but this was still doable). It was the longest flight of the day and the crew had the brief hope of being re-assigned to a trauma scene (the call came in and they perked up) but another helicopter responded so we continued to Regional Hospital of Jackson. It was the most interesting visit of the day because no one in the ER department knew we were coming and we had to wait while someone figured out where the patient was and why we were there. We would be transporting an elderly patient who was very, very sick. The patient had kidney failure, breathing difficulties, and an erratic heart beat among many other troubles. The flight nurses had to deal with a medical staff who was distancing themselves from the patient and did not wish to offer assistance. I became involved in moving the patient to the stretcher as they prepared for transport as well as holding the IV bags. Once we were aboard the helicopter (this time I was able to ride in the back and watch the care of the patient), we took off for Nashville. This was another helipad that someone didn’t think to design with helicopters in mind – trees and sidewalks (that were not blocked off) as well as a communications mast within a few feet of the pad but again we take off straight up so not as difficult as landing. We headed off to Nashville but faced a longer flight with a head wind so the nurses were working on the patient to stabilize the patient and prevent what appeared to be in the inevitable – death as the patient was slowly dying. They were only partially joking when they said they didn’t want the patient to die inbound because the paperwork was horrendous. After sedating the patient and attempting to stabilize the heart rate, they had to do a tracheotomy on the patient to improve the patient’s breathing. I was not prepared to witness that but it wasn’t as bad as I thought. They took the time to explain everything they were doing (since I am a non-medical) person and in the end they stabilized the patient enough so we could arrive at Vandy with no incident. Apparently, it was a busy day as we touched down long enough to remove the patient before the helicopter had to move to make room for additional flights (there are two pads at the main hospital and both were being used quite a bit). As I did all day, I went with the nurses to the MICU at Vandy (again, they have the elevators set up for “code blue” which bypasses everything enroute. Once on the MICU, doctors and nurses came in to begin to work on the patient as the nurses debriefed the medical team. I watched until they began to strip the patient for further medical treatment. I decided the person deserved some dignity so I stepped out of the room during this part and then headed back up to the helipad. We had to wait for our helicopter to come back (Trampes refueled and then kept powered up at Children’s). We loaded hot again and then finally headed back to Clarksville relieved that no more calls would come for us short of a major accident scene. We no sooner landed at the Clarksville base when the new crew came out ready to head out on a new call that just came in. It really was one of those days.
It was an incredible day and I am honored to have had the privilege to work with outstanding people. They are dedicated to their task and they are passionate about what they do. Thus far in my Vanderbilt experience, I have had the chance to see patients after they arrive at the hospital are are in various states of recovery. Today, I was able to see how they arrive at the hospital and what happens when they initally arrive. I have a slight understanding of protocols involved in air transport of patients but I also have an appreciation of what is involved in the care of critically ill patients from site to site. This experience has given me a better understanding of the medical field as well as a taste of what I might face as an Army Chaplain in the field. It was an incredible day and one I will be processing for some time. People need to appreciate what is involved in the transport and care of people within the medical profession. The folks involved, while it may seem like they do not care, have nothing but the best interests of everyone involved. They are simply being professional in their interactions. I invite you to learn more about the medical field before you judge folks. While you are at it, keep those who serve as pilots and flight nurses on medivac helicopters in your prayers. They have a dangerous job but still do it anyway.
I had another great and interesting Friday at Vanderbilt. It seems the routine is interrupted by the not so routine. Today was a mixture of routine stuff and some things that were incredible and powerful. I also realize that I have just 2 more Fridays at Vanderbilt before I am finished and I am sorry to see this experience end.
In my travels, I ventured off the normal visits and headed to the SICU in the Critical Care Tower to visit several patients. I encountered one patient who was grateful that her pastor had visited yesterday but was missing her weekly Bible study for the first time in years. I happened to have a Bible Study from NT Wright in my backpack back in the office and I offered to share in a Bible study with her (the catch is that I usually do not carry Bible studies but happened to have one because I had some free time earlier in the week). She was excited so I headed back and picked up the study and we spent an hour studying the first two chapters of Matthew and discussing them. This was not a routine chaplain visit but it met the need of a patient. Those in any of the ICUs have serious medical issues and are long-term patients. The SICU is not so long-term as some of the others but the stays tend to be several weeks. I was glad to be available and prepared (though I didn’t know what to be prepared for) to meet a specific need of the patient. She smiled and said she was blessed despite her pain and hoped I would come and visit again before she left.
I spent some time visiting with some other patients but I hate to say but they were simply routine visits. Most visits involve some small talk, checking on the patient, and then ending in prayer. I say they are routine for me but I am sure they are meaningful for the patients. While routine, those visits are comfortable too because you know what to expect through the visit and there is not the unexpected twist or turn. Routine is sometimes a good thing but it can also keep us from experiencing the incredible.
A bit later in the afternoon, a referral came into the office. Doctors, nurses, and care partners can place referrals, at a patient’s request, for a chaplain to make a specific visit for a specific reason. I was given the referral to head to the CICU and visit with a patient who was a recent heart transplant patient.
Now as a brief aside, I was excited that this particular floor is closed to general visitors and to visit you either have to check in at the desk, know the code, or have a badge that opens doors. I have a badge that opens doors and I was able to get on the floor with a swipe of my badge. I know the simple nerdy pleasures of life but still pretty cool.
So here is the editorial part (the beginnings of a 7-minute presentation I have to make to my professors). I have found this experience to be profound because it has affirmed my calling to be a chaplain and especially a military chaplain. I have been a witness to or a participant in events that have deepened my faith and stretched my faith and made me question my faith at the same time. I have struggled with theological issues because of death and suffering yet at the same time, my faith in a loving, compassionate, and eternal God has been reinforced. I know I am talking in circles but it is something I continue to process and learn from. I have been blessed by my time at Vanderbilt and look with sadness towards its ending. I know God has taught me deep lessons through this experience and I look forward to utilizing those lessons in the future as I serve the kingdom.
Today was a rather calm day. I started with the daily census and worked my way through visiting patients in the Round Wing. Most of the visits were short and cursury. The patients really were glad that I stopped by but didn’t want anything beyond that. I have learned to know when I am dismissed. Several visits were substantial and we had a great discussion about spiritual needs and it ended with prayer. They were good visits but simply routine today.
I also found myself on the burn unit – which for me is the toughest part of the hospital. Unless you have been on a burn unit, you cannot imagine the smells. We visited several families (in most cases, the patients are sedated for obvious reasons) who are simply holding vigil with a loved one. They are often the ones who need more spiritual care. We met with several families and prayed and simply offered presence. Again, God was present for me as well because the words flowed and I was able to minister despite my feelings and fears on the burn unit. As has been my practice over the course of my practicum, I would like to ask for prayers for the nurses and doctors who are part of the “burn team” (their words) who are caring for these patients and families all the time. They too have a tough job and need prayers.
The highlight of the day came when I traveled to the 13th floor of Vanderbilt (yes, there is a 13th and 14th floor but oddly no 12th floor). The flight operations center is located on the 13th floor and I had the opportunity to have a tour of the facility and learn more about the operations. The crew in the flight operations center is responsible for coordinating not only VU Lifeflight aircraft but any medivac aircraft from the area (there are other ones). They also coordinate the operations of Metro Police and local news aircraft as they fly within the vicinity of VUH. The medical flights take priority over any other flights as they come into the medical center complex. Watching the flight operations crew and the displays in the center, it is like witnessing an air traffic controller center because they know every aircraft that is flying within the range of their aircraft (while I was there, there was an aircraft inbound from Mt. Pleasant) and they are in communication with the pilot.
Of course, visiting the flight operations center included a tour of the helipad on the roof and what a view! You could see downtown Nashville and beyond from the helipad. I learned that the two landing zones could accomodate everything from a Huey to Marine 1 (the Presidential helicopter) to the current EC-135 and EC-145 aircraft that Lifeflight uses. It is a self-contained and self-supporting helipad with fuel lines and tie downs if needed for the aircraft. When the program first began 25 years ago, the entire operation was contained on the roof of Vandy but now they have 4 bases (Lebanon, Clarksville, Tullahoma, and Mt. Pleasant) where the aircraft are based and the crews are housed. In addition to a fully self-supporting helipad, the aircraft itself has a fully-contained system similar to a ground ambulance that allows the medical crew to care for a patient inbound to the medical center. While there is not as much room in the aircraft as there is in a conventional ambulance, the lack of room is made up by the increased speed (and of course the fact that this ambulance can truly go as the crow flies) which is upwards of 165 mph (yes you read that right). That basically translates into 20 to 25 minutes from the farthest point away from Vandy that Lifeflight serves (which is 130 miles). That is a significant increase in speed and thus a patient can arrive at the medical center faster if necessary. I should also note that Vanderbilt operates a fixed wing aircraft at BNA which brings patients from even farther away (Vandy is the best burn unit and trauma center in the region). In fact, one of the families we met in the burn unit had flown in from Chicago this morning on the fixed wing aircraft. That aspect probably does not get as much attention as the helicopters but it is just as critical and important as the helicopters.
Over the past nine weeks, I have made a point to talk to the various members of the medical staff that I encounter to find out their motivation and their passions. I think it is important to hear people’s stories and I learn from them. I had the opportunity to meet with the flight operations crew, the administration team, a pilot (who is flying the aircraft the day I fly in a few weeks) and the medical crew. Of course it should be mentioned that those on the aircraft are paid significantly (due to the high risk nature of their job) and that could a good motivation but I didn’t get that impression from the flight nurses. One of them shared that she finds the challenge of caring for critical patients in a flying ambulance to be exciting but she is also motivated by the fact that they are caring for people who are on the line between life and death. The other flight nurse told me that he feels this is a calling form a higher power. They are both dedicated to their jobs and they are passionate about what they do - I would appreciate that fact if I ever find myself flying on Lifeflight and I am not in the co-pilot’s seat. I continue to appreciate the passion of the Vanderbilt staff and I understand why it is a world-class hospital.
As I sit back and reflect on the day, I realize that there is not such thing as a routine day at Vanderbilt. I appreciate that each Friday I am there, I come away richer and fuller than when I arrived. I appreciate that I can sit back and reflect on the experience and understand the lessons I have learned and I know how to incorporate them into future ministry.
Well, another week has gone by and I found myself back at Vandy to be a student chaplain. I have to confess that given the past few weeks, I was hoping for a calmer, quieter day. The last two weeks have offered unique challenges that forced me to reflect on my spirituality and my faith. They challenged me to move to a deeper faith and they challenged me to step up and be a chaplain and a presence.
Today was a departure from the norm but no less powerful or thought provoking than before. Today I spent my time at the Neurology Center observing the ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) Clinic that is held every month. Patients and their familes are invited to come in to Vanderbilt to meet with neurologists, therapists, nutritionists, social workers, and counselors on a regular basis. The clinic is designed to help people with ALS meet their needs with regular visits to as many people as possible at one time. It is a unique offering that appears to be beneficial to everyone involved since it is almost a “one stop shopping” affair.
The first patient was young and brought a long a significant other. They seemed to be a bit numb but I found myself wondering how committed a significant other woudl be who is not married. I am not saying marriage is the ultimate answer but somehow when you exchange vows and commit to another person no matter what, you are likely to stick around through the highs and lows. This visit was not significant for reactions from the patient or family but rather for the issues it raised in my mind. You can read into my thoughts but I believe a committed relationship in which one takes vows is important because it is harder to walk away from something in which you have vowed to be faithful. Just a thought.
The second patient we met with arrived with a spouse. There was a strong 40 year committment with this couple but the range of emotions was much more complex. The patient battled cancer 15 years ago and was angry to be facing this diagnosis now. The spouse was also angry but that is where the reactions differed. The patient didn’t want to talk to friends or family nor did the patient wish to know more about ALS because there was a belief in self-fulfilling prophecy (as in “If I know what could happen, it will happen”). The patient was talking about more holistic approaches to medicine and an understanding of faith but not a deep faith (“I believe in the religion of God not the religion of humans”). The spouse, at the beginning anyway, emphasized the feelings of the patient but later expressed anger and sadness. The spouse chose to talk with close friends and depended on those friends for support and comfort. I believe if the patient was not present, the spouse would express deeper feelings and the spouse needed to. I realized that so often we focus on the patient when we provide care that we overlook the family. This was the case here. The patient, while terrified of a diagnosis, seemed more accepting than the family. We need to make sure we include the family in pastoral care because (especially in this case) the diagnosis will mean the spouse will be alone. It was a tough time to talk with this couple but there are lessons to learn.
The last patient to talk also had a spouse and had been married for nearly 40 years. The spouse did most of the talking because the patient had slurred speech (but no other symptoms from ALS). The significance of this visit was the amount of faith this couple had. They expressed a deep trust in God and a belief that this was part of God’s greater plan for them. They had an innocence about them and it was refreshing but alarming at the same time. I wonder what will happen to their faith when the ALS progresses. However, it is hard not to question faith or worry about it because sometimes that is all we have. I know faith is what keeps us going even when things look impossible or seem impossible.
This was one of those days where it was calm but I walk away with a lot on my mind. I think today’s experience is more in line with what I will see in the Army (of course not the ALS side of things but the clinical counseling outside of a hospital). My supervisor and I focused on spiritual needs but also how the ALS would affect their lives. I observed good clinical counseling and a touch of reality mixed in with spirituality. In other words, ALS simply means a significant change in life and people need to accept that. In the Army, there is a significant change in life as well and it affects a whole family. Today, I had the chance to observe and make notes.
So tonight, as has been my practice since starting at Vandy, I ask for prayers. I have had the privilege of meeting and interacting with so many people over these past eight weeks. Some of the people have witnessed to me and some of them have cried out for a witness. Through it all, I have met extraordinary caregivers who have a passion for people. Tonight, I ask for prayers for those who are diagnosed with ALS, their families, and the doctors, nurses, and other practioners who care for them. They would appreciate your prayers.
“All that I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
I came across this quote earlier in the week and wow does it make sense. When you stop and look around creation, it is amazing and incredible. There is so much to hold in awe – the changing of the leaves, sunsets and sunrises, and of course everything else that is around us. As Emerson says, all those things that we see help us to trust God because we can see how creation works together in ways we don’t understand.
That brings me to those things we really don’t understand or fathom. Over the past seven weeks (and today will make eight), I have been at Vanderbilt University Hospital serving as a student chaplain. I have been exposed to things I really don’t understand yet I can see God in each thing. I realize that, as Emerson says, seeing Creation allows me to accept the things that I cannot understand.
It is really too early to fully process this idea but it does make sense in my mind. Maybe I will revist this when I am awake.
Well today seemed to start out as a normal day or at least as normal as a day can at Vandy. I began to do my visits and round on my assigned floors and visit with some folks. I have learned that our stories are very sacred and I appreciate when someone is willing to share their story. I mean everyone talks to me when I introduce myself as a chaplain but once in a while someone truly shares their story and it is a privilege to hear the story. Today was one of those days when I had the opportunity to hear two stories and they were powerful stories. I cannot share the stories (due to confidentiality) nor would I share the stories out of respect for the patients but it is one of the privileges of serving as a chaplain.
I had the opportunity to meet a patient I prayed for last week. In the midst of the chaos of last week in of all that was going on, I had met a family in the waiting room and prayed with them for successful surgery and healing. Today I was able to follow-up with the family and meet the patient. Here is another one of those things I have learned at Vandy. The patients grant you the pastoral power they want you to have . In this case, the patient appreciated the prayers from last week but did not have any desire for prayer yet as I was leaving, her daughter left with me and asked me to pray with her. As I visit with people, I learn that each person will allow you a certain amount of pastoral privilege but you have to listen to their comments to pick it up.
I had the chance to process through last week with my supervisor and I am still struggling with some of the issues. It was a tough visit and dealing with death is never easy. I am troubled that I somehow entered into a clinical mode but I suppose that was simply my own mind protecting me as I ministered. I am clearly still struggling with it a week later. What really troubled was the various reactions of the family/friends as well as the outside minister they brought in at one point. This person was praying loudly and commanding the person to get up and walk. It was troubling to me because it made a difficult situation a bit worse. I will be processing through this one for sometime. I will say that through this all, I am impressed not only with the professionalism of the Vanderbilt medical staff (and truly the entire staff) but also with their compassion. The trauma nurse was also deeply affected by this experience as she was supporting the family and taking care of the patient. I would ask you to remember trauma nurses in your prayers – as I said before, they really are God’s angels.
The most difficult aspect of my day came towards the very end. I headed back to the office to wrap up my day and Beth, one of the other chaplain interns, was heading to the NICU to do a baptism. It seems an infant was premature and had just a few hours to live because his little body was not developed enough to survive. The family expressed a desire for baptism and I went along to support Beth (she supported me last week). I had the privilege of praying for her in the hallway as she was struggling with emotions and the upcoming baptism. We arrived on the floor and first stopped in the mother’s room only to learn that she did not wish to see the baby nor did she want to be part of the baptism. I am not sure I understand this but then I do understand. I bonded with Sophia immediately and if she were to see her child, it would make saying good-bye harder but then it is her child and maybe she should say good-bye. I am not there to judge though so we went to the NICU to meet the baby and prepare for the baptism.
I am going to pause here and ask you to pray for the nurses who take care of the infants in the NICU. They too are very special and have a difficult job. As has been the case, I was deeply impressed with the level of compassion of these special people and I ask you to pray for them as well. Their job is not easy.
We met the little infant and it was heart breaking. Not only was he tiny but he was not fully developed. He had no eyes and his lungs were barely functioning. He was simply struggling to live. We offered a prayer for this little infant before the father arrived and proceeded to go through the baptism. It was difficult and definitely an emotional experience. I am not sure the father was fully aware of the situation or perhaps he was simply distancing himself as well. In this case, I know God was present and that God would take care of the soul of this little infant. My supervisor had mentioned once that he used the phrase “What God gives, God receives”. I know that God will receive this little infant and keep him forever. I am not sure that comfort can be found in those words now but someday the family may find comfort. We offered a baptismal certificate (and the father accepted) and the NICU staff took pictures as well. We all did what we could to make a difficult situation better.
Here again, I will praise the Vandy medical staff. The NICU staff stayed close by to not only witness the baptism but to offer comfort and support. I have noticed that many of the Vandy staff join in prayer with patients and will participate in events like today. I am sure they receive comfort from it as well but I also believe that they are expressing their own spirituality. I have often heard that doctors and nurses are not spiritual or believers but I would disagree with that statement. I have met and talked to some of the most spiritual people I have ever known. Some of the doctors and nurses do their jobs because of their faith. It has been my honor to work alongside of these amazing people for the past seven weeks. They truly are incredible people who are dedicated to their patients and their well-being as well as serving God.
As I reflect back on the day, I see God’s hand in so many places. I see God’s grace, love, and peace in so many places. It was another day of roller coaster emotions but another day that strengthens my faith in God and my trust in God’s will. I can’t say that I fully understand God’s will but I can say that I see God at Vandy and I am comforted knowing that God is present. My chaplaincy internship continues to help me grow not only as a chaplain but as a believer. This is preparing for me for my Army chaplaincy as well as confirming my call to chaplaincy. I will close by simply asking you to pray for medical staff in hospitals. They do heal through God’s power and they are miracle workers through God’s power but they need prayers to keep going. I ask that you pray for hospital chaplains as they are bridging the gap between God and home. They often are called in to support families during the most difficult times and are not always parts of celebrations of miracles and healing. Their role is important and they are often overlooked (but they won’t complain).
Okay, first I know chaplaining is not a real word but it fit the title of the blog so get over it. Seriously, today is one of those days when I am going to be both in the same day and it is interesting to stop and reflect on each aspect. I have said it many times but I will say it again here. I know I am not called to be a pastor of a church. God has made that clear to me from the beginning of my call. Of course, that begs the question then what parts of pastoring am I not called to? If I stop and think about it, I realize that aspects of chaplaincy and pastoring are the same. There are visits and spiritual support and prayers and a ministry of presence.
When I wear my pastor hat and my chaplain hat, I do all of those things. I pray for people, I visit with people, I have conversations with people about all manners of things, and I have a ministry of presence. So what parts of the pastorate do I not feel called to be part of? Good question.
I really do find the nitty gritty details of daily church operations to be tedious. I know they are necessary but they are not for me. There is too much going on that gets in the way of ministry yet I understand it is all necessary to keep the church going so ministry can happen. While I have been told I am improving with my preaching delivery, I do not necessarily find joy and peace in preaching. I struggle with the messages and often find I am working at the last minute to put a sermon together. Finally, I hate politics. There is no discussion. I hate the politics that exist in the local parish and in the judicatories that exist above it. Last week was a reminder of that as I worked around the room and politicked for the church during a presbytery meeting.
Please don’t get me wrong. I think pastoring is important work and there are people (men and women but that is another blog) who are called to pastor. I deeply respect them as they can work in the local parishes and serve God in that manner. That is not my call and I appreciate that I realize this before it is too late.
Today is just one of those interesting days when my pastor and my chaplain interact as I serve in both roles in different settings. I usually am an intern chaplain at Vanderbilt on Fridays but today I have to visit a church member in the hospital before surgery so I am also serving as a pastor. I appreciate the opportunity to reflect this morning on my roles and how they interact with each other and how they differ.
God in God’s infinite wisdom and mercy has called each of us to service in a specific way. I invite you to pray and reflect and listen to God’s call on your life.
I have had the benefit of stepping back and reflecting on Friday’s experience at Vanderbilt. I find that I have a concern about becoming too clinical. That’s right. I wonder how I would feel if the roles were reversed and I was facing the death of a loved one and the chaplain came in and offered prayers for an ease of passing. Did I give up on a miracle too quickly?
These are interesting questions to consider and reflect upon. In the army, these are questions I am going to have to deal with. At what point are you too clinical or is it okay to be clinical. If I grieve and mourn the passing of each person, I will be drained and ineffective yet if I don’t, I will become cold and distant. There is a fine line to walk and consider. There is a point where we have to distant ourselves for our own sake but did I give up?
Of course, I also realize that perhaps the sons wished to be angry with God but God is not available and the chaplains represent the next best thing. Perahps they took out their anger on me for that reason and it was not personal.
I have to pause and reflect on this in the coming days. I am grateful for the experience to grow as a chaplain and that I can reflect on these experiences.
I am still processing through my Vanderbilt Friday. This morning as I was running, I was thinking about the experiences of Friday and how to work through them. Of course, when I was done running, I came home and pulled out my Bible and my concordance and began to look at some scripture.
“The setting of a great hope is like the setting of the sun. The brightness of our life is gone.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Have you ever experienced a time when the brightness of your life seemed gone? If you’ve lived for more than 30 seconds, I’m pretty sure you have. Of course, there are times when sorrow or grief seem to overwhelm us; when crushed hopes and sudden disappointments seem to take all happiness from our lives. But for the Christian, I don’t believe this should be a permanent darkness.
As I’ve passed through various dark and seeming hopeless seasons in my life, I have found much comfort in the Psalms. The writings of the Psalms are full of emotions… sorrow, anger, pain, tears, despair. They are real. And they seem to “connect” to my life in a powerful way. There have been many seasons where I’ve simply “camped out” in the Psalms and have met such sweet comfort there.
In Psalm 42 David says to himself:
“Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God; for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.”
But, what does it mean to hope in God? When hopes seem gone like the noonday sun and the brightness seems forever gone, what do we do?
First, remember that God is sovereign. No matter what circumstance you face, nothing takes Him by surprise. He is in control, and as the writer of Psalm 71 states, He is worthy of our confidence and praise.
Second, remember that God is perfect justice. Psalm 37 assures us that evil will be punished and that even the prosperity of the wicked is fleeting. Wait for the Lord, He delivers those who take refuge in Him.
Third, remember that God will be with you. Psalm 139 reminds us that even darkness is not dark to God.
Turn to God for comfort and peace in the midst of sorrow. Only He can give joy and rest. His compassion is new every morning. His tenderness is great towards His children and the storehouses His mercies can never be emptied. Even in deep grief, God is our hope.
How good God is! Remember that even when with eyes of tears, we watch our hopes and dreams die, we can trust and rest in knowing that joy and brightness will return; for it does not rest in anything but Jesus Christ. He alone is our hope, our strength and our comfort.
It is inevitable that we will have seasons of grief and sorrow but we have the means to work through them with God’s word and God’s presence in our lives.
Today was a powerful day at Vanderbilt University Hospital and a busy one. It turns out that there were just three of us today and it was a full moon (if you believe in such things – I do after the day I have had) so the day was busy though it started calm.
As is my practice, when I arrive I check the daily census and prepare to go and do my rounds/visits. My first visit of the day was a powerful visit to a patient who was waiting tests to determine the day of her surgery. She knew she was going to be at Vandy for a while but she was confident and secure in her salvation. Because of this, she had a sense of peace about her that was both refreshing to me and comforting to her. She assured me that while she was okay if God decided it was her time, she was content to be alive for a few more years. It was a good visit and I stopped back around to see her later in the afternoon to see how she was doing. I am looking forward to checking on her next week when I am back.
My first visit was a routine visit as were the rest of the visits for the first part of the afternoon. I moved from room to room providing spiritual support and prayer as needed. Some conversations were rather superficial while others went deeper into theology. I allowed each patient to guide the direction of the conversation and I was satisfied with my work.
I called and learned that a patient was to be removed from all support and the family was requesting a chaplain to be present. After calling one of the other chaplains, I headed to the floor and we met with the family who was present. We offered prayers for the patient as well as the family while joining hands during the prayer. We excused ourselves and stepped into the hallway and maintained a presence should we be needed but I was troubled as I heard family members yelling at the patient to get up and walk out of the hospital. Looking at the attending nurse, she just shook her head and indicated that short of a miracle, there was no hope. We continued to minister to family as they arrived at the hospital and continued to maintain our presence nearby. I felt awkward when one of the family member’s pastor arrived and began to pray for healing and knowing that God would heal the patient – this contrasted with our prayer that asked for comfort and peace and out the patient into the hands of God. We left to continue our rounds but came back when we were paged again. The patient’s brothers and sisters arrived and asked us to join in prayer again. Their understanding of the situation was better and they were worried about her salvation. Prayers were offered and I remained while life support was withdrawn and good-byes were said. It was very difficult but I am grateful for the experience despite its emotional nature. God gave me the will and the words to speak as I remained present for the family. I won’t say that I was clinical in my approach but I was emotionally withdrawn which surprised me because I am usually a very emotional person. I was able to distant myself from my own personal feelings in order to minister to the family in their time of need.
I prayed for the patient’s nurse as well during all of this. I was very impressed with her spirituality in the presence of one of the most difficult floors at Vanderbilt. She was detached to a degree as she would have to be but yet she was upset at losing a patient. I am honored and blessed to work among God’s angels and healers. The staff at Vanderbilt are incredible in their dedication, their professionalism, and their love of people. They really are God’s angels.
However, this was not all that was happening during this time. In my travels around the floor to minister to family, I encountered another family who was holding vigil in the waiting room while another patient was in surgery. Again, not my usual approach but God lead me to pull up a chair and sit with them for a time while they were holding vigil. I offered prayers and comfort to them and listened to their stories. They were all from out of town and simply needed someone to be there with them and pray. God lead me to the floor without a doubt to minister to many families. I was grateful again for the guidance of the Spirit to simply walk up to someone as the “chaplain” and offer prayer and comfort in the name of God.
Not long after, there was yet another family in a similar situation and I again offered prayers and comfort. God was using me to reach out to people who were not sure what they needed or how to get it at the time. I would hope that my words of prayer and comfort helped but more importantly, I know my presence was more important. I know that I represent God in a very clinical (but yet one of the best hospitals in the world) and my presence alone is a comfort. I know that I am not a doctor or a nurse but I also understand that I am part of the healing process and I thank God for that opportunity.
It was an incredible day but one that was emotionally draining as well. I am processing through the experience and I know that I will be for some time to come. I need to step back and look at the experience and reflect on what I have learned and what lessons I need to learn. I am grateful for the opportunity to minister in a challenging situation. It is not easy but it is the reality of the ministery I am heading for. Much of my future ministry will be outside the walls of the church and in very difficult situations. I am thankful that God is giving me the experience I need to prepare me.
Another week has come and gone as I work through my CPE hours at Vanderbilt University Hospital. As has been the case, this is a tremondous experience that is shaping me in ways I have not yet begun to fathom. I can say today that the experience has affirmed my calling to chaplaincy. There is no doubt in my mind that I am on the right path.
As far as days go, today was rather calm and quite – at least in a hospital setting. There were not a lot of patients to visit so I worked my way through my list. Part of the fun of the visits is I am doing post-surgical visits on Friday afternoon after lunch and afternoon meds. People are a little goofy when you come visit but they appreciate the visits nonetheless.
The challenge that I am finding is how to handle the visits. Some people do not seem interested in talking about themselves or how they are doing. Today, I spent the better part of 30 minutes in a deep theological discussion about Calvinism with a patient. She had surgery for kidney cancer but was not at all interested in discussing that. Rather, she wanted to talk about the differences between Calivinism and Arminianism. I enjoyed the discussion but it led to another discussion with my supervisor, Rev. Barry Culbertson. What makes a visit a vist? When should we, if at all, make the patient talk about their hospital stay? He and I lean on the side of not worrying so much of making the patient talk about themselves but allowing them to lead the discussion and follow them.
That was today’s plan. The visits were simple and enjoyable. The patients were happy to have a chaplain visit and I believe I met their needs. Since today was such a slow day, I had the opportunity to talk with Barry at length about the visits. It has been a tremondous asset to have his experience and insight at my disposal.
This morning, I attended the worship service in the Rhea Chapel at Vanderbilt University Hospital. I will confess that I have never attended a worship service outside of a traditional church gathering on a Sunday morning so this was a new experience. While it is part of my learning contract for the CPE program, I did want to experience other forms of worship.
The first thing I noticed was that most of the people who gathered to worship in the chapel would prefer not to be worshiping in that place at that time. That is to say, most of the people were there because a loved one was in the hospital and while they wanted to worship, the did not wish to leave the hospital to do so. In my experience, most people choose to be in a place of worship because they want to be rather than because there is no place else to go. However, that did not stop one person from expressing their gratitude to God and praising God during the worship. There is a powerful message in that.
The second thing I noticed was that the people who gathered in worship had no pretence or pretext to be there. Not always, but there are times when people come to worship to be seen and noticed. They wish others to see them in prayer or the like. You have seen people like this in your own church but this was not the case here. The people who gathered didn’t care if others noticed them or not – they were there to pray and to praise God.
The worship service was very simple and focused on prayer and music. The message was short so the service could focus on prayer and music. While I am not sure this service would fit in a regular church setting nor be appropriate or expected, it was perfect for this setting. The people needed the assurance of prayer and the ministry of music to reach them in the various needs. I am humbled to have been part of this service and again, God has spoken to me through the service. I will remember this when a need arises for a simple service in the midst of loss or battle. God trains us for what we need though we may not realize it at the time.
Like everything else I have done at Vanderbilt this semester, I find it to be affirming of my specific call to ministry. It seems that God is using this experience to continue to affirm this military chaplaincy call. Of course, I am not going into this placement with that mindset. I was excited to be able to do CPE hours close to home but it seems God is speaking to me through this time at Vanderbilt. Like today’s experience, I learn something new each time and I look forward to going each time.
I had another fulfilling and filling day at Vanderbilt University Hospital. For one thing, I am being affirmed in my calling to military chaplaincy (or just chaplaincy as the case may be). Today, I felt guided by the Spirit throughout my visits and the right words just poured from my mouth. It was definitely a productive day.
The highlight of my day would have to be the 45 minutes I spent visiting with a retired Presbyterian chaplain. I had little information on him other than he was Presbyterian but it turns out that we had an Army connection as well. He shared some of his experiences with me and we talked about ministry. He wanted to share what he learned/gained from his chaplaincy experience with me and I appreciated it. It is providential that we happened to link up in this way through an otherwise random encounter.
A sobering experience would involve visiting a woman who had surgery on her broken arm. I stopped in to visit with her and during the course of the visit she revealed that her son was struggling with some troubles and some of those troubles lead to her injury. Following the Spirit lead me to know that she wanted prayers for her son more than for herself. This is one of those cases where I don’t really remember what I prayed – I just know I prayed and the words of my prayer were the right ones. I was definitely an instrument of God during this visit.
The rest of the visits were equally productive but just shorter and routine. I met with some folks and offered prayers as I met with them. I listened to their stories and ministered as God led me to minister. Incredible what can happen when we stop and listen to God and hear God’s small voice.
Of course, having the opportunity to process and debrief with my superviser is also very useful. I am on such a mountain top high when I am done for the day that I do need the chance to process through things to understand what happened to see what I can learn from them. I am beginning to realize that everyone needs to have this opportunity – to process and debrief so you can grasp what has happened.
The best part of the day???? Are you ready for this??? I get to ride (as the chaplain of course) on the LifeFlight helicopter in three weeks. I will be a member of the crew for the entire day and go where they go and support them in their vital work. I am looking forward to this for sure so stay tuned for that blog.
Amazing. Awesome. Powerful. Incredible. Unfathomable. Those are just a few words that come to mind when I try to grasp my day at VUH. I had an emotional day with visits to many patients. I want to share a few of their stories with you.
I don’t know if you are aware or not but Vanderbilt University Hospital is spread across multiple buildings with multiple floors and multiple elevators. As I travel between floors and buildings, I often encounter familiar faces. Today, I encountered a Metro police officer on 4 different occasions as he was dealing with various issues (nothing personal). I struck up a conversation with him and found out that he was on the 3rd hour of a 12 hour shift and things weren’t looking good. I offered to pray with/for him and he agreed. We stepped off the elevator and I prayed for his safety, for his peace, and that God will guide him. I was honored to pray directly for someone who works so hard to keep me safe.
I spent some time on the “round wing” and then up to the trauma floor where I visited with a family and a patient. She was involved in a car accident that had some terrible consequences (I do not wish to reveal more in order to protect her privacy). I spent a long time just listening to the young lady (her family left the room to allow us to visit) and again, I am amazed at how God works. Just telling someone – a stranger – her story seemed to strengthen her. We prayed – and when I say we, I mean we both prayed – and then we prayed again with her family.
As powerful as those experiences were, I have to say that the middle of my day brought the biggest surprise. The DPC received a direct request from a floor nurse to visit a patient. I headed up and it turns out that the patient was saved at age 11 but never baptized and he was concerned. While he was not in the process of active dying, he was in poor health and wanted to make sure he was right with the Lord – just in case. Well, I am not ordained but I began to call the other chaplains to see what we could do. While this is not the ideal situation, it was decided to go ahead and do the baptism. We wrote a short liturgy and several of the other chaplains and myself headed to his room. With his wife present, we worshiped God and baptized him. Afterwards, we all laid hands on him and prayed. If that was not powerful enough, when we were finished, he and his wife were both crying. No matter what your theology of baptism happens to be, in that moment, it didn’t matter. God was certainly present.
Amazing. Awesome. Powerful. Incredible. Unfathomable. Those are just a few words that come to mind when I try to grasp my day at VUH. I had an emotional day with visits to many patients. At the end of each Friday, I am a different person than the beginning. I am blessed and transformed by this experience in so many ways. I pray that I will be a better Army chaplain for the experience. Thank God for on the job training!
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. –Matthew 6:19-24 (NIV)The last enemy to be destroyed is death. –1 Corinthians 15:26 (NIV)I have been thinking about death a lot lately. Not that I plan to die anytime soon but given the experiences of the past few weeks, it is inevitable. I experienced someone’s – a complete stranger – death at Vanderbilt a few weeks ago. One of my classes this semester – though called Practicing Our Faith and Forgiveness – has been a lot about death. My journey to the Army has me focused on the inevitable ministry of counseling soldiers as they face death and deal with death. Then there was my morning run in which I encountered a loose pit bull growling in the middle of the road and had a vision of death which was followed by my fastest running time yet! I am not somber or upset, simply it has been on my mind.On top of all of this, I have been listening to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on my drive to and from Memphis. In fact, the scripture verses for today’s sermon come from the book. Yes, there is scripture in Harry Potter. So I listened to the end of the book this week and something occurred to me. In fact, a sermon began to develop from the close of the book and I want to share with you this morning, two different stories of death and then in light of these scriptures, what lessons we can take for living.The first story comes from Albus Dumbledore – the head master of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. You see in his early life, he desired the three deathly hallows more than anything else. These 3 things, when united, would make someone the master of Death. His treasure was not laid up in heaven but in earthly matters that could only lead to death – and in this case, it was the tragic death of his younger sister. He stored his treasure on earth.The other death story is Harry’s death – sorry if you haven’t read the book but yes, Harry dies. In the climatic closing chapters of the book, Harry comes to the realization that he must die to save his friends and ultimately defeat He-who-must-not-be-named. It is a noble death – the kind that Jesus refers to as one of the greatest things you can do for another. Harry realized that his treasure was not on earth but somewhere else and this is what lead him to lay down his life for others.So what can we take from these stories. Well, the obvious is that Christians have to be poor and miserable because we cannot store things up on earth, right? I don’t think so. I don’t think that is what this scripture is saying because frankly, if we did, there would be very few Christians in the world. I believe most people would prefer to be a little comfortable. No, I think this scripture, and in light of our gospel today, is telling us that it is okay to have things, it is okay to have a car, a house, a savings account, and even air conditioning but we can’t let those things rule our life. We can’t spend a lifetime pursuing those things because when we do, death wins. When a person is so consumed by treasure that he or she will do everything and anything to get treasure, all that awaits is an empty death. My NT professor, Mitzi Minor, puts it better than I could when she says that we all know people who are breathing but not really living. That is the first lesson, pursuing treasures on earth leads us to be merely breathing and not living life abundantly.The second scripture is more interesting to me. You see, death still takes us because God has not yet fully destroyed death. We all will die but we know there is something else on the other side. I think we all help destroy death when we share the gospel with someone. I think we all help death die when we live rather than just breathe. And there is where panic sets in because people often dread having to share the gospel with someone else. It makes us uncomfortable but it shouldn’t because there are other ways to share the gospel. You see, if we, as Harry did, lay down our lives for our friends so they might live, we are sharing the gospel. If we offer a smile to someone on the street rather than look down or look away, we are sharing the gospel. If we offer a hug or a kind word to someone during a bad day, we are sharing the gospel. If we do a random act of kindness with no desire for recognition, we are sharing the gospel. I am not saying that sharing the gospel and offering to pray the “sinner’s prayer” is not important; what I am saying is that when we live our life abundantly in spite of death, we are sharing the gospel. When we live in spite of death, we are storing our treasures in heaven and we are serving God because we are living. It is when we keep going despite everything, we are destroying death because we know that death is on its last legs and there is hope.I have been thinking about death a lot lately but not out of fear or a sense of panic. I have been thinking about death in terms of defeating death – that is not avoiding but living abundantly so when it comes, I have no regrets and death takes nothing from me. I believe this is our challenge as Christians – to live so death takes nothing from us. Let’s stop merely breathing and start living! Amen.