Meeting Fellow Journeyers

Meeting Fellow Journeyers

JULY 31, 2016 / LSELLISBLOG

 

Note: Laura Ellis served as an intern at Lifeline Chaplaincy Houston in summer, 2016.

 

I truly love my job this summer. I get be a part of something

beautiful. I am often invited in on the most intimate moments of

people’s lives. I get to share in their vulnerability, pain,

frustration, joy, and hope. I get to meet people from all different

walks of lives and hear a part of their story. These moments are

precious, and they are sacred.

Sometimes however people are less than willing to open up even

after they are handed the talking stick. I have to be honest, not

every person I visit feels the urge to reach for the boxes of tissues,

because they are so touched by the incredible conversation that

we had. Some people invite me in, and then we interact in a few

moments of uncomfortable small talk until it is evident that my

time to leave has come. Patients are constantly bombarded by

people who storm into their not so private space at any and all

hours, and some do not want a chaplain added to that list. Some

patients are in the hospital for quick check ups, and do not need

spiritual guidance in their less than dire hour of need. Most all of

these patients however are polite.

There have been a few patients though, who were not so cordial. I

was doing rounds on my normal floor, following the normal

protocol of what rooms to visit first. It was a routine day. I had

seen a couple people already when I walked into her room. I have

a bit of a litany of an introduction, one that includes the words, “I

Sacred Spaces: Encountering God in the Unexpected

am one of the chaplains here.” Once I said these words however,

the reaction of this particular patient was far from anything I was

used to.

Before this summer I got my hair cut for the sole reason that I

thought shorter hair makes you look older. As it is I look like I am

  1. Maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. I used to

work in a middle school, and one day a teacher stopped me in the

hall and asked what class I was supposed to be in. So I was really

hoping the haircut would at least make me appear that I legally

drove myself to the hospital. For someone who was planning on

playing the role of spiritual caregiver to people usually much

older than myself, I could take all the help I could get. Sadly this

haircut had the opposite effect that I was hoping for. I went from

being 15 to 12 in a matter of a few quick snips. It is possible that I

am being mildly dramatic, but not by much.

Some of the people I visit are acutely aware of my youth. Some of

them even comment on it. Many are excited that someone so

young is interested in hospital ministry. Some seem a little

skeptical. But almost everyone comes around in the end.

My age is something essential to my being that I do not have

much control over, and I had grown accustom to people asking

about it. For some people, there was another elephant in the room

about an aspect of myself that they do not like to see in a minister.

Most people do not mind it, but on that routine day I met

someone who did.

I entered the room and introduced myself as a chaplain to the

elderly white haired woman in the bed. She sat up abruptly,

furrowed her brow, and snarled her upper lip into a face. “You’re

what?” she spat out. I moved closer to her bed and explained

again who I was and why I was there. I thought maybe she did

not understand or hear clearly what I said the first time.

“No. You’re not a chaplain,” she said with wide eyes.

This was a new one for me. I was unsure of what to say in

response. Fortunately, or unfortunately as it was, the woman

filled the empty quiet space for me. She spent the next 5 minutes

informing that I could not be a chaplain because I was a woman.

She told me that she knew the church was changing, but she did

not know it had fallen so far. She was very clear of her disgust on

the subject. She was even generous enough to back up her belief

with Bible verses, which I found very thoughtful of her to really

go the extra mile.

The only comfort she took in our visit, was finding out that I did

not preach sermons or lead my own church. Even though she

became slightly less hostile, I honestly was still pretty eager to get

out of room. I asked my typical parting question about whether

there was anything I could do for her. In my panic, I made the

terrible mistake of mentioning prayer.

“You cannot pray for me,” she said with a laugh as if I had told

the world’s funniest knock knock joke.

This was an incredibly alarming visit for me. As a religion major, I

am used to being in the all-boys club. Up until this point however,

my arguments for women in ministry against someone who

believed differently were always theoretical. The person I was

debating was not attacking me, but an idea. This encounter

however was a personal rejection, and I have to say I did not

enjoy the way it felt.

Even though every fiber of my defensive self screamed to fight

back, and to insist to this 70 year old woman that my beliefs were

right and hers were wrong, I knew that debating would be

incredibly harmful to the visit. More importantly, it might have

been harmful for her relationship with God.

Rejection sucks. I’m certainly not pretending that it doesn’t. I am

slightly disappointed by the fact that I was not able to have a

meaningful conversation with her. And I am incredibly annoyed

by the fact that if I were male, that conversation might have

happened.

But here’s the slightly hard to swallow truth. The truth is that her

understanding of a woman’s role in the church went against my

belief system. The truth is that I wanted nothing more than to

offer my well-rehearsed counter argument. The truth is that her

words personally offended me a little bit. But the truth is that her

beliefs did not harm her relationship with God. And the truth is

that my belief system did not really matter in the situation,

because ministry is not about me.

During training, we were taught to come alongside and meet

someone where they are. This stranger and I were not in the same

place. But as I stood in that dimly lit cookie cutter hospital room

trying to pick my mouth up off the ground at her blatant rejection

of my well-meaning attempts to care for her, I was reminded of

why I was there. It was my job to meet her where she was in her

journey. As much as I wanted to drag her over to where I was on

my personal path, I realized that desire would only appease what

I wanted. The difficulty, yet beauty of our calling to genuinely

love others, is that it is selfless. Or at least it is supposed to be.

May we embrace the people we encounter by meeting them

exactly where they are on their unique life journey. Not to

judge, or to correct, or to pull them over to our own shiny path,

but to meet them where they are as a fellow journeyer and to

ask, “Can I walk with you for a bit?” And let God do the rest.

 

 

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Just One More Lap

Just One More Lap

AUGUST 18, 2016AUGUST 18, 2016 / LSELLISBLOG

 

Note: Laura Ellis served as an intern at Lifeline Chaplaincy Houston in summer, 2016.

 

She waved me inside impatiently even though I tried to discretely

leave the room after seeing that the woman in the bed was talking

on the phone. I walked in the room a few steps and explained

who I was, and that I could come back at a better time. She shook

her head and aggressively patted the couch next to her.

I sat down and was sudden uncertain of where to look. I felt as

though the direction of my gaze would show that I was listening

in on the personal conversation that she all but invited me to

eavesdrop on. I stared blankly at the sink across the room as if it

wasn’t the thousandth one I had seen just like it today.

A few minutes, Cindy told the person on the phone that she had

to hang up because someone walked in to see her. So now I was

not only eavesdropping on her conversation, but single-handedly

responsible for ending it. I started to apologize, but she cut me off

by saying, “I had been talking to that person for over an hour, so

it was time for that conversation to be over. Besides I’ve been

wanting to see a chaplain.”

For the next hour, Cindy told me about the death of her dear

friend. Cindy described them as sisters and that her friend had

shown her love unlike anyone she had ever known. It was

obvious to me that Cindy’s friend was more than a friend, more

than even a sister, but truly a piece of Cindy’s soul.

Sacred Spaces: Encountering God in the Unexpected

She spoke beautifully of her friend for a while until the

conversation took a steep nose dive into talk of her death and

Cindy’s grief. In her mourning Cindy had neglected her own

health, and was hospitalized for it.

After a while of talking she looked at me timidly and confessed

that she had already talked to her church pastor earlier that day.

He responded to her tears by urging her to move on with phrases

like “in a better place” and “ashes to ashes.” I shook my head and

confessed that I probably would not have been satisfied with her

pastor’s words either. She was relieved when I agreed that his

response was not very comforting.

Cindy was a Christian. She believed in God and heaven, and she

knew where her friend was. But regardless of her beliefs on

where her friend went after she died, Cindy was not in that

place with her friend, and that was something worth grieving

over.

As a Western culture, I do not think we allow ourselves to grieve

in natural ways. It is not that we do not know how to grieve. The

problem is that we innately know how to grieve, but were

raised in a society that makes us question if it’s okay to

experience this natural and necessary process, especially as

Christians.

I encountered so many suffering people this summer, but there

were very few who seemed at peace with death. We live in a

culture that defies a significant certainty we all have. I think this is

incredibly detrimental to own our dying, and our grieving

process when our loved ones die. Cindy knew her friend was

very sick before she died, but I think a part of her never expected

her to actually die.

We have this odd habit of removing ourselves from death by

turning it into a distant concept instead of an concrete

occurrence. Then when it is a death that actually affects us, we are

wholeheartedly unprepared to confront it.

The pastor’s response to Cindy’s grief was an incredibly removed

one. Even if the cold hard truth is that her friend is in a better

place and that she was made of ashes and to ashes she will

return, this does not even begin to address that pain that Cindy

was feeling.

Cindy was not doubting her faith because of this tragedy, but her

pastor’s well-meaning yet misguided words of theology seemed

to have that effect. As a church and a society we too often give

people parameters for grief as if such a thing could fit in a cookie

cutter box. Maybe it’s time we drop the too often recited church

dogma long enough to actually see the person suffering as a

person not an answer to a theology essay.

I am reminded that Jesus’ response to the pain, disappointment,

and grief of others was compassion. When we read the story of

Lazarus, we often focus on the miracle of resurrection. But let us

not forget the very human emotions that happened.

Both Martha and Mary blamed Jesus for not preventing

Lazarus’s death. And then all of them, including Jesus, wept. If

this story happened today, I wonder if someone would tap Jesus

on the shoulder and urge him to stop crying, by reminding him

that Lazarus is after all in a better place.

The saddest part of Cindy’s pastor’s remarks are that they ended

the conversation. They were easy answers to difficult questions.

In a way they were more for the pastor than they were for Cindy.

I’m sure these words felt like the right things to say at the time,

but really they just saved the pastor of a possible uncomfortable

conversation of doubt rather than the openness that Cindy

craved.

In the middle of my visit with Cindy, she asked me to join her for

some exercise. We did slow laps around the ward as we talked

about God, the grieving process, and better ways to care for

herself through it.

Every time we would finish another lap and approach her door

Cindy would look at me and say, “Let’s do just one more lap.”

Doing one more lap means that we are not afraid to face the

reality of the honest emotions that people feel in times of

hardship. More than that, it shows that perhaps it is okay to feel

these emotions in the first place. This is what ministry is. This is

what grief is. This is what life is. When we are met by people

who are willing to turn one lap into 20, we are given

permission to confront the hard moments in life with openness.

May we embrace the difficult questions with our running shoes

laced up and a willingness to do as many laps as it takes. And

may we always be looking for the sacred spaces in our everyday

lives where God dwells in the ordinary moments and invites us

to join in with the divine for perhaps just one more lap.

 

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When Jesus pulls up a chair

When Jesus pulls up a chair

JULY 26, 2016 / LSELLISBLOG

 

Note: Laura Ellis served as an intern at Lifeline Chaplaincy Houston in summer, 2016.

 

The job of a chaplain is an odd one. Chaplains appear as a beacon

of peace in a place that is often marked by despair, pain, chaos,

and disappointment. Chaplains meet people in war, hospitals,

prisons, and in places where to many people, God seems faint.

Chaplains have the audacity to insist on the presence of God in

situations that often seem to go against the very character of

God.

Meeting God in situations of pain seems unexpected to many

people. Sometimes it is unexpected to me. But time after time I’ve

been amazed at the sacred spaces that God creates within

situations of suffering. It is here where God dwells defiantly, and

where opportunities for sacred conversations appear. I love

these spaces, though sometimes I’m slow to catch on to the

opportunity for sacredness when I first enter a room.

“I’m doing as well as a dying man can do.” That’s how he started

our conversation. He said it with a light hearted laugh as if the

humor of the whole thing was on par with a Marmaduke comic. I

had never encountered someone who began our visit with a dark

joke about their own immortality, particularly not before I had

even had the chance to sit down.

He quickly invited me to pull up a chair. Once I had, and he

changed the conversation to pleasantries and things that did not

include his bleak future. After a few minutes, there was a lull in

the conversation and he abruptly said, “Thanks for stopping by.”

This sentence though phrased in a polite way, is anything but

subtle. Anytime a patient says “thanks for stopping by,” what is

really being said is: “I don’t want to talk to you anymore. Please

leave.”

Though I was a little disappointed, I knew he had a right to say it.

People constantly come into the not so private space of a patient’s

room, most of whom they cannot not ask to leave (think doctors).

There are a few people however who do not technically have to

be there (think chaplains). Before I leave a room however, I

customarily ask if there is anything the patient needs that I could

do for them. On this particular day, I asked the man if he would

like a prayer.

I often do not mention prayer, because I think it affirms the

stereotype that people have of chaplains. Many people think that

chaplains come to the hospital strictly to kneel at the bed side

with a 10 pound bible, pray for healing, and maybe throw in a

mini sermon about repentance. I’ve learned this summer that

chaplaincy can be a lot more than that. I love prayer and I think it

can be an important part of a visit, but I tend to let the patient

come up with the idea on their own.

I’m not sure what made me mention prayer that day, but once I

did, the man laughed. It was deep and hearty as though he were

truly amused. I must not have hidden my look of surprise very

well, because he quickly apologized for laughing and confessed

that he was not a very religious man.

I told him it was fine that he was not religious, and we did not

have to pray. He looked at me surprised as if he expected me to

recite the Roman road at any moment. As someone who

considered himself non-religious, I hardly saw a point in

responding in a typical religious manor. Would sort of

conversation would that lead to? Not a very open or honest one I

would guess.

Once the man realized I was not planning on preaching about the

immanence of hell, he felt comfortable to open up about the

things he did believe. He spoke beautifully about the connection

he felt with other people. He thought we were all connected in

intricate ways and our purpose was to care for one another. We

talked for a while about these connections and he expressed the

peace it brought him in the end of his life.

As he looked at the ceiling with eyes gleaming of joy, he reached

out to hold my hand and told me about how he overcame his fear

of dying through a metaphor. He saw himself as a baby bird

pecking its way out of an egg that represented his terrible disease.

Once the bird hatched, it had a new perspective and purpose, just

as he thought he would have a new purpose after he died. He

was not sure what this new perspective was yet, but the idea

brought him peace.

It was a beautiful conversation where I believe God was very

much present. Before I left, the man expressed his gratefulness

that I had taken time to listen to him. All I did was create a safe

space that provided him the opportunity to share his thoughts. I

did not reveal some hidden epiphany for the man. I merely

listened and gave him the opportunity to process his own beliefs

and find peace in them.

As he squeezed my hand and I said my goodbye, I felt the

presence of God radiating from this man’s face. Our

conversation had been sacred indeed, but I could not help but

feel a little surprised that this self-expressed non-religious man

looked so much like Jesus to me.

Chaplaincy often involves meeting God in places where we least

expect him to be. And so does everyday life. I believe that the

presence of God is in everyone and every situation. People

sometimes tell me that they’re looking for God, as if our creator

enjoys playing hide and seek with his creation. I’ve seen a lot of

tragedy this summer and I understand the moments when God

seems faint. But I have a defiant belief that even in these

moments, he is there.

The truth is that a chaplain is typically the last person a nonreligious

man wants to see, but he invited me to pull up a chair

and sit with him for a while anyway. I in turn was accepting

when his world view did not perfectly match mine. And together

we had a beautiful conversation about spirituality.

When we create spaces that are safe and non-judgmental, when

we meet people where they are and choose to hear about what

life is like walking in their shoes instead of condemning them

for not being like us, when we expect to meet God in the

unexpected, we create sacred spaces. It is in the moments when

we allow someone who is different to sit with us for a while

that we invite Jesus to pull his chair up a little closer too.

 

Written By: Laura Ellis

 

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What My Boston Terrier Taught Me About Theology

What My Boston Terrier Taught Me About Theology

Now that I have your attention, what does a dog have to do with faith, after all?  Here’s the deal.  In the mornings, I sit in my prayer nook, looking over my backyard.  Butterflies flit about on hot summer mornings.  Hummingbirds occasionally visit my feeders, and bright red Cardinals steal seed (and I don’t mind at all).

My Boston Terrier sits by my side on the love seat, eyes half shut and content.  She is named Blue because one eye is blue, and the other black, making for a bizarre alien appearance.  Boston Terriers have a blunted face, squashed as if they have run into a brick wall, and their snoring is a bit disconcerting while I am trying to enjoy quiet moments with the good Lord.

Yet I accept her noise as part of the song of life.  Her presence comforts me as well, and I cannot resist stroking her soft coat.  This crusty west Texas farm boy has to confess loving old Blue, now 12 (and in dog years that makes her about 84).  I feed her, give her medicine and keep her water bowl filled.  She does nothing to deserve this really.  In fact, she is a bit of a pain.  When we go on vacation, we have to pay Pets Plus a fortune to babysit her.

But I love Blue just the same.  This morning I thought that God loves me like I love this silly dog, except a whole lot more!  I don’t do anything to deserve it.  I make funny nosies, complain, and as I age, I must admit that I am not a candidate for GQ magazine.  But just like old Blue, I let God’s gentle caress come to me in moments of quiet and rest.  God will take care of me, feed me and lead me to quiet waters.

Not a bad deal for God’s creatures, and are we not much greater than the beasts of the field, or the pets upon which we lavish so much affection?

Much more, indeed.

Written By:  David Martin

 

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The Healing Touch

The Healing Touch

WHAT MAY HAVE HAPPENED

Jesus and his followers were walking a dusty street.  Children danced about them with glee, giggling as Jesus would would toss them dried figs.  Once a dog snatched the sweet treat in mid air, and the happy band added their laughter to that of the children.  It looked like another joyful day to listen to this unique rabbi, who had such an appeal to the poor of Palestine.

But then came the cry, “Unclean!  Unclean!”  The crowd around Jesus froze in their tracks as the diseased man approached, then shrunk back dismayed as Jesus strode forward to meet the leper.

“Has he taken leave of his senses again?” one man snorted derisively.   Another, this time a woman, implored, “Let us see what the Master will do.”

Jesus glanced at his followers, now a full fifty meters behind him, as the leper fell to his knees and begged, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean!”  The heart of Christ went out to the man, while his anger burned bright at the pain of a fallen world.  The crowd saw his jaws clench for a moment, then his shoulders relaxed as he said, “I am willing.”  He reached forward with his hand, and to the horror of the crowd, touched the rotted flesh, saying, “Be clean!”

As if by magic, (or should we say), by the power of God, the man’s leprous hands turned from white to a healthy pink.  He leapt into the air thanking and praising God, while some of the women began to creep closer for a glimpse of yet another miracle performed by this very strange rabbi.  Others stopped following that day, no longer willing to risk exposure to the worst disease known to humanity.

WHAT DID HAPPEN

Mark 1:40-45 (MEV)

40 A leper came to Him, pleading with Him and kneeling before Him, saying, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.”

41 Then Jesus, moved with compassion, extended His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I will. Be clean.” 42 As soon as He had spoken, the leprosy immediately departed from him, and he was cleansed.

43 He sternly warned him, and sent him away at once, 44 saying, “See that you say nothing to anyone. But go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” 45 Instead he went out and began to proclaim it widely and to spread the news around, so that Jesus could no more openly enter the city, but was out in remote places. And they came to Him from every quarter.

Are you suffering illness?  Ask for healing.  It may come as you hope, or health may arrive in other surprising ways.  But by all means, ask.  The anger of Jesus burns, not at you, but at the illness that afflicts you.

He is willing to heal.

Written by: David Martin

 

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Diagnosis Terminal

Diagnosis Terminal

Cancer.

Stage four.

No more.

I will be no more.

Surgery removed much

In an effort to buy time.

But the cost was high.

A feeding tube was inserted

No more eating.

No more.

How much more time?

No one could tell him.

Forty-eight seemed so young.

And he had a sixteen year old at home.

He wanted to see him graduate, no less.

But no more.

Too much pain.

Too much sickness.

Too much.

No more of this,

But more of that

Which he struggled to say.

As he spoke of God

Heaven and hope.

More.

Written By: David Martin

 

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When Helping Literally Hurts

When Helping Literally Hurts

Pulling a double shift at the hospital wasn’t a habit Nurse Gambol wanted to develop, but the comp time was nice.  Heading out to the parking garage, Wendi heard the screams of a female.  What she saw sent a jolt through her body.  Two young men were beating a grey headed woman.  Wendi never hesitated, and yelled at the two perpetrators, “The police are on their way!”

Later, in the hospital room, she admitted this wasn’t the best idea, for the attackers turned their attention to her.  The ensuing assault ended with a stab wound, a split jaw, and the fracture of her fourth and fifth vertebrae.

Fortunately for Wendi, someone else had witnessed the crime and called the police.  Her life was ebbing onto the concrete floor, but the emergency room was only steps away.  Though Wendi survived, she lives in constant pain, clinging to life for her three grandchildren, whom she adores.

In addition to her physical scars, she lives in fear that her attackers will be released someday to revisit the horrors of the crime.  Violence does it work on the mind as well as the body.

As a chaplain, I feel that if the patient’s spiritual resources can be identified and brought to bear, healing can begin.  While listening to this woman’s story for twenty minutes in jaw dropping silence, I wondered.

But I drew a deep breath, and felt my body relax.  One cannot not undo history, nor can I heal the deep psychological scars from such a horrific crime.

However, I could listen and offer to pray.  How does one describe the holiness of Wendi’s tears as I prayed, her hand trembling in mine?  Such moments can only be experienced when the Great Physician is invoked.

The power of that experience is sacred ground.  LifeLine chaplains bring the healing of Christ to the broken body, and the wounded spirit.

It will change you…for the better.  II Corinthians 1:5 – “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort, too.”

WrittenBy: David Martin

 

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