Monday, June 25, 2007

Weekend Snapshots

1) It's a hot, sunny day on a swiftly flowing river. The rapids are frothing and, in the calm spots, the sunlight shimmers off the surface of the river. The river is bordered by forest, a mix of evergreens and leafy oaks. My raft is about to go over another level 4 rapid, and we're all paddling together while our river guide sits in back steering with the rudder and shouting instructions. We're all wearing red and blue lifejackets and yellow helmets, dripping with water from the rapids. I'm laughing while the kids in the front of the raft squeal with excitement.

2) The pride parade is winding through the city with crowds of people on either side. The sun is blazing and the pavement is radiating the heat up into the throng of bodies. I'm riding on a float for a friend's real estate company, throwing beads and t-shirts at spectators, waving at the impromptu community that has formed on the sidewalk. Then, as we pass a group of conservative Christians who are protesting the parade, one shouts up at me, "Jesus hates you!" I just smile because I know better.

3) It's 9:00 a.m., but it's already a little too warm to be comfortable outside. The sun is pouring down between the buildings as cars whiz past in the last wisps of rush hour traffic. I'm walking down the sidewalk in my business attire with my bag slung over my shoulder and my head held high. I've survived another overnight duty at the hospital and it went really well. The thought begins to crystallize in my mind: I'm a chaplain.

4) I look into my friend's eyes and finally find a way to say, "I love you no matter what. You can count on me."

Sunday, June 17, 2007

In my head

I don't want to go in. I don't know who you are or what you'll say. I don't want seeing your brokenness to remind me of my own. I don't want to be that vulnerable, to face the possibility that you might say something mean or reject me. I don't want to feel awkward or say the wrong thing. I'm frightened. And yet, I want to serve you. I want to hear your story and see your eyes looking at mine. I want to learn from knowing you. I want to hold your hand as we both reach toward God.

He's my age. He's my age and a car accident put him in the hospital for six months. Suddenly, out of nowhere, half a year in the hospital, at times barely clinging to life, only now working on learning to walk again. The same thing could happen to me or one of my friends. Will he be able to make a full recovery? Will he be able to return to work or play sports again? How do I help him find hope and strength for recovery after such a sudden and devastating experience? How do we keep from becoming frightened of everything? On what do you construct a solid foundation?

Terminal cancer. She says it calmly, quickly, in the middle of an explanation, and for a moment I hope I imagined it. Then she says it again, and I know it wasn't just a misunderstanding. The first two doctors said there was nothing they could do. The third offered a possible experimental treatment. In the midst of anger and shock, a tiny bit of hope was offered. But the hope is for remission, not cure. It's terminal. How do we face that condition? Yet again, I feel like a snake oil salesman trying to peddle hope with a smile on my face and an ache in my heart.

I can say that life is a terminal condition. I can say that everything is temporary, both good and bad. I can try to cling to the one constant unshakeable thing: God. But it's hard to make that tangible, it's hard to tell that to people when it sounds so trite, even to my ears. So I sit in the silence. I listen. I offer what little comfort and hope I have and pray that simply showing up will be enough.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


I'm taking on a tremendous challenge this summer: working as a chaplain intern at a hospital. I've been assigned a few floors in which to visit and care for patients' spiritual needs, but in addition, I have to do night and weekend duties. The night and weekend duties involve very long shifts during which I am the only chaplain in the hospital. When I'm on duty, I will have to respond to all cases of cardiac arrest and all deaths in the hospital to care for patients, family members, and staff. I'll admit right now that I'm terrified of the first time I get called to care for grieving family members in the middle of the night. I think my instincts will kick in and I'll figure out what to do, but it's still frightening to think about. I'm just thankful for the preparation I got through my hospital chaplain experience over the last school year. At least I now have some level of confidence when I walk into patients' rooms.

The nice thing about doing this chaplaincy internship, though, is that the time when I'm away from the hospital is truly free. I don't really have papers or assignments, and those I have I can do while at the hospital. Unlike working for ASP, there are set hours and when they're over, I leave with no responsibilities hanging over my head. It's a lifestyle I'm not really accustomed to since I've been a student for the last 18 years. I really like coming back to my apartment and knowing that the evening is mine to spend as I please, whether that's hanging out with friends, reading, watching movies, or going to bed really early.