Friday, April 6, 2012

Remembering the Good, Part 4

I remember several conversations with the recruiter from McAfee, the seminary that I attended following my extra-long stay at the University of Georgia.  The recruiter, a family friend, and I had known each other for a long time; he genuinely cared about me and my future.  We talked about my plans, post-college, of which I had none, what my interests were, which seemed to be everything and nothing, (hence the extra-long stay at UGA), and what I thought about seminary, which was “I don’t know.”  He kept talking to me and encouraging me through my doubt about a call and about my academic ability.  I am grateful for his persistence, his care, and his direction towards a path that was much more concrete and much less of an unkempt corn maze.

I am grateful for my seminary professors.  I am grateful for their support during my struggles in the academic world and in life and their celebration of my accomplishments and successes.  I am grateful that they affirmed my call, though the details of that call were extra blurry during that time.  (It’s still a little blurry.)  They were tutors, they were mentors, and they, even still today, will lend me a wise ear as I encounter more of life’s kinks. 

I am grateful for the friendships that I developed in seminary.  Learning with those people, engaging in meaningful, though sometimes difficult debate with them, and sharing with them was and is an honor and a blessing.  I feel like I carry my seminary community with me as constant companions.

I am grateful for my post-seminary chaplaincy training, my Clinical Pastoral Education experiences.  My supervisors and fellow trainees were of significant aid as I searched to find my place and tried, even desperately at times, to discern God’s voice from others.  Chaplaincy is a weird, difficult, and lovely appointment.

I am grateful for my family’s support of my education and my call as chaplain.  They daily see, and put up with, the weirdness, the difficultness, and the loveliness along with me.
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In “remembering the good,” I have also found myself just remembering. 

I remember—

the lady on hospice care who called me to her bedside in her final hours.  She looked at me and called me her angel.  Hers was the first funeral I officiated.

the baby I cradled, off and on throughout one of my overnight stays at the children’s hospital.  Earlier in the day, I promised his mom, who was suspected of hindering his recovery and therefore removed from his room, that I would hold him and rock him in her absence.  I remember his brown eyes and how they looked at me curiously at first and then, as they closed to sleep, in what I hope was satisfaction with my adequate arms.

the boy who came into the ER with a large gash in his forehead.  His mom was unable to watch her son get stitches, so I offered to go instead and make sure he was okay.  I remember leaning over him, trying to calm him, and then realizing that the room was spinning.  I remember the doctor telling me to sit down and find the color that my face had lost.  I don’t remember much else.

the family that allowed me to baptize their baby in the NICU, minutes before the baby was to undergo bedside surgery.

the child whose traumatic injuries  could not be overcome despite the nurses and doctors strong efforts that lasted throughout the night.  I remember the doctor holding out his hand as a stop sign, knowing that the boy needed to be let go.

the young Muslim mother who waited patiently for her Imam’s approval of a medical procedure for her child.  She willingly explained the process to me and then graciously entered into discussion with me about our religions.  We were different but we had a lot in common.  Those commonalities generally revolved around peace.

the older boy who had muscular dystrophy and then was later diagnosed with a brain tumor.  I saw him and his family again and again during their many stays at the hospital and visits to the outpatient treatment center.  A few months after I completed my residency at the children’s hospital, he came on service with the hospice with which I had found employment.  I remember releasing balloons at his funeral.

the ornery man with whom, despite his attempts to remain ornery and disagreeable, held my hand and sang “You are My Sunshine” with me a few days before he died.  I know I remember one smile, but I think I remember two.

standing with many members of a hospice team, including the medical director, at the bedside of a gentleman whose artificial ventilation was being removed.  His daughter stood there too, along with other members of his family, their presence significant due to the daughter’s recent reconciliation with her father.

the man who lived in his bed, confined there because of the absence of legs and the subsequent deterioration of the rest of his body.  He watched my belly grow larger and larger with pregnancy, and would place a look of shock on his face every time he saw me, making himself laugh each time.  I remember becoming visibly upset the day I went in and found him quite ill and in pain.  I had to excuse myself, realizing I was falling apart, apologizing to him in blubbering fashion as I hastily left.

the beloved wife and mother whose husband was concerned about a Baptist chaplain visiting his wife, for fear of what he or she might say to her.  I remember our first conversation, the relief we both felt during our conversation, and the stories he told me of Koinonia Farms, Clarence Jordan, and Millard Fuller in the many conversations that followed.  I remember how he spoke so lovingly of his wife, during our conversations and at her memorial service, bragging about her care and concern for the earth and for equality among humans.
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My tears, as I remember these and more, are not just from grief.  There’s a certain element of guilt mixed in too.  I have spent these past 38 days reflecting on the good and on this Good Friday, a day that normally mixes grief and guilt for me, the worlds that normally intertwine with each other, the outer me (the chaplain), and the inner me (the child), are tangled more than usual.

I’m not crazy about guilt.  It’s too often used as a manipulation tool.  But in a way, the guilt I feel this season is of some relief.  It has originated within me, not given to me by an outside source, and so, I am claiming it.  I am claiming my grief too.  Truth be told, I’m not crazy about grief either.  I hope that the title “Hospice Chaplain” does not imply that I am an expert on the subject.

This day’s entanglement of the inner, the outer, the guilt, and the grief, are all sitting together with me and we are trying to work it all out. 
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I would be lying if I said that my work as a chaplain hasn’t caught up with me.  A few times, in conversation with myself and with others, I’ve labeled my current state as “burn-out,” but that’s not what this is.  I think that the souls of the past are calling to me, forcing me to take pause.

Jesus is calling me, forcing me to take pause.

I grieve—

for those who have suffered. 

for those who have not found peace and yearn for its sweet relief.

for friends and family of mine who are struggling through many difficult trials. 

for the many people who have ministered to me in their last days, though they called me chaplain.

for Jesus Christ, who suffered and died.

I feel guilty—

for not more actively seeking out those who suffer.

for not being a more fervent conduit of peace.

for not being a more attentive friend.

for not feeling sustained by the ample and extravagant blessings that my congregation has given me.

for the suffering and cruel death Jesus Christ submitted to for the sake of my soul.
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As I watch the bright candle, the lone light in the room, leave the chapel at the end of this evening’s Tenebrae service, I find the darkness overwhelming, but more meaningful than it has been before.  The quietness that is present, except for the occasional rumble of the streetcar outside the stained glass windows, is heavy, but clarifying.

The darkness has come.  The silence has come.  I will sit with all this tonight in meditation and reflection, grieving, guilty, but very, very grateful.  My soul, my soul.