One Mans Story

A misfortunate soul once asked me to tell him my story. He realized he had made a mistake when my story started out, “Well, it was another hot day in August, 1950 when I was born into this world…”.When I was asked to tell my story about becoming involved with Lifeline Chaplaincy I struggled with where to start. I’ve thought about it for quite some time now and I know I have to start here…

”Well, it was another hot day in September, 1951. My Dad kissed my Mom, hugged my older sister, and held me in his arms for a moment before climbing on the train and heading for his hometown in South Dakota. He had been on inactive reserve in the Army after coming home from the South Pacific during World War II. His unit was called up to fight in Korea so it was back to war. My Mom’s younger brother, Glyndon Hallmark, better known to us as Uncle Frog, came to live with us while my Dad was gone. By the time Dad got back home his young son had grown to know Uncle Frog as the household hero and all round great guy to be around. That affection for my Uncle Frog continued to grow throughout the years.

As I grew into an adult and started a family of my own I failed to notice everyone else growing older as well. Life flew by, as it tends to do, and one day I woke up to find my own kids grown, my parents aged and feeble, and all my aunts and uncles either passed away or ailing. I promised myself I would start visiting my remaining family on a regular basis…and of course I failed. One night my Mom called to tell me Uncle Frog was in a hospital in Denton, critically ill, and not expected to live another week. I drove up the next afternoon. I worried about what to say to an uncle I loved dearly but hadn’t visited in years. As I walked into his room I was shocked. My burly, rough-living uncle was an old and very weak man. When he saw me his eyes lit up and he stuck out his hand….my uncles weren’t the type to hug. I asked him the standard question, “So, how are you feeling?” It felt so empty. He smiled and held my hand. I couldn’t make another word come out of my mouth. I stood there for a few minutes saying nothing then turned and walked out the door telling him I would be right back. I never saw my Uncle Frog again. He died a few minutes later. The emptiness and feeling of failure haunted me for years.

One day I was talking to a good friend who was involved with Lifeline Chaplaincy. His love for the work was overwhelming. I became interested in the work but my natural shyness and fear of confrontation won out and I avoided a commitment. My friend, Mike St. Clair, can be quite persistent. In his quiet, loving way he coached me into signing up for the weekend training. I’ll admit I started the training with no intention of following through and actually visiting hospital patients. After all, I couldn’t even talk to the man I loved as much as my Dad as he lay dying in a hospital room. A funny thing happened on the second day of training. The instructor made a statement which allowed me to let go of all the guilt I had carried for so long. He said, “When you are visiting someone in the hospital you don’t have to talk. You have to listen. You have to be there.” That rocked my world. It was possible I had been a comfort to my uncle by just being there and holding his hand. I completed the training and made the decision to begin the actual onsite portion of training. After two or three shadow sessions I was given permission to make visits on my own. The first afternoon I went to the hospital I had a hard time getting to the elevator. I stood in the lobby for quite a while and then sat in the chapel even longer. Eventually I made it up to the second floor and received my list of patients to visit. It was a long and stressful night. I left the hospital wondering if I had done the right thing. I was a longtime member of Wallflowers Anonymous after all. I had no business trying to do this work. Mike and David Martin encouraged me and kept me going for a couple of months until I began to make the visits with more confidence. I noticed one night that I felt much better leaving the hospital than I felt when I arrived. I realized it wasn’t because it was finally over but because the patients made me feel so good. After that I began to look forward to my visits and my feeling of actually helping grew stronger. Then “it” happened.

“It” was the visit that left me shaking for a couple of days. I had walked into a room to visit a middle-aged man with an infection in both legs. I introduced myself and asked about his reason for being there. Instead of telling me he pulled his sheets off and showed me his legs. It wasn’t a pretty sight but that was nothing compared to the bombardment of anger and profanity that followed. I took it like a man though and left after a couple of more minutes. I have to admit I was ready to quit after that experience but the good I experienced far outweighed the bad.

A few weeks later I picked up my list and sure enough, my middle-aged, leg infected patient was on the list again. I made all the other visits while gathering up courage for “it”. Eventually I walked up to the door to his room, knocked, and quietly entered. I spoke and he didn’t respond. His back was to the door so I spoke louder. There was still no response and no movement at all from the patient. I nearly panicked and quickly came around the bed to see if he was still breathing. He had headphones on and was watching an old John Wayne movie. Whew! He saw me and pulled off the headphones. I apologized for interrupting his movie. He laughed and told me he had that movie, as well as most other John Wayne movies, completely memorized. I told him I could say the same and added the Clint Eastwood westerns to my boast. Our conversation was relaxed and interesting. I totally enjoyed it but eventually felt I must move on. I nervously asked if there was anything I could do before I left. He said no so I went on my way.
Written By: Russell Mihills

Story Submitted By: David Martin

Meet Our Summer Interns 2015

Meet Our Summer Interns 2015

By Dr. Paul Riddle, Director of Spiritual Care

Lifeline Chaplaincy Houston

We are in the midst of the 2015 summer internship, which began on May 15 and ends August 7.

According to Lifeline’s mission statement, we are:

“Dedicated to providing compassionate support to the seriously ill, their families and caregivers, and to being an educational resource for crisis ministry.”

One of the ways we fulfill our teaching mission is through our summer intern program. This summer, four students have come to Houston to gain first-hand experience providing pastoral care in the Texas Medical Center Hospitals. Additionally, we have three interns in Fort Worth, working in hospitals in that city under the supervision of Dr. David Martin, Director of Spiritual Care for Lifeline Tarrant County.

Our interns learn by doing, and then by reflecting on what they have done. Each is assigned to a particular hospital and gets to know that hospital intimately through daily visitation with patients and caregivers, and through regular contact with hospital staff members and Lifeline volunteers assigned to that hospital.

Interns spend half their day in classroom instruction and the other half visiting patients in their assigned hospitals. Classroom sessions include case studies, discussions of books and articles pertaining to spiritual care, and other activities.

Weekly reflection essays and periodic case studies drawn from interns’ visits provide opportunities for them to integrate what they learn in the classroom with their ministry practice and their personal spiritual growth. In addition to these activities, the interns spend a week at Camp Star Trails, a camp for children with cancer sponsored by M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Even though our interns are with us for only twelve weeks, they enrich the permanent Lifeline community – staff and volunteers alike – immeasurably. We trust that their experience with us will enrich them as well.

See our New 2015 Interns HERE:

What May Have Happened, Part 2.

What May Have Happened, Part 2.

– By David Martin

Jesus sat under a grape arbor watching children play nearby.  Clusters of  fruit hung down with the promise of sweetness, but a sampling provided only a mouth puckering reaction, as they were not ready for harvest.  Jesus laughed as the young boy spit out the offending fruit, but then encouraged him to try again in a few days.  The lad grinned at the Rabbi and ran to play with his friends.  Jesus had this effect on people, but especially children.  It wasn’t long before the boy brought his friends to the Master, where they begged him for one of his stories.  To their delight, he told them a story about eating grapes before their time, and he concluded his lesson with a wink at the story’s hero.

Such were the days of Christ when life moved at an easy pace, but this happy diversion was short lived.  His friend Simeon suddenly approached Jesus concerning his mother, who suffered with a fever.  The man’s voice trembled with emotion as he pleaded with Jesus to come to his home.

The two men walked down the hot, dusty road, sweat lining their faces.   Approaching a ramshackle dwelling, Jesus noticed a courtyard full of dirty straw, one goat, and a few chickens.  A ladder in the corner beckoned the men upward into a dark room.

There lay an older woman under soiled blankets.  “Forgive me, Lord.  We try to keep her clean, but the fever has stripped her of all dignity.”

“Don’t be afraid, dear friend.  Soon, all will be well.”  Jesus knelt by the bed of the shaking woman, then gently laid his hand on her forehead.  The tremors immediately stopped.  The Master arose saying, “Take her to the waters nearby.  Wash her, and her linens.”  And the woman stood and followed her kindred to the waters.

What Did Happen

Mark 1:29 – As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases.

Why It Matters

When we visit the sick, we follow in the steps of Jesus. We dare to enter the darkened rooms to comfort the fevered brow.  Together we accompany our kindred to the cooling waters of God’s grace through the intercession of prayer, and trust His healing providence.

My Flowers Needed Watering

My Flowers Needed Watering

By Paul Riddle

Emma’s (not her real name) deep, racking cough shook the room. It had persisted over many days, despite the best efforts of her doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, and other caregivers. Although she had great difficulty talking in between coughing fits, she insisted that I stay. Her family, who were usually present, were not in the room, and she wanted to talk.

“This is not going to go on much longer,” she declared. “Not going to go on much longer?” I asked. “I’m dying,” she said matter-of-factly. Thus began a deep conversation in which she did most of the talking and I did most of the listening.

Emma was very much at peace with her life, at peace with herself, and at peace with God. Looking back over her life, she was able to see many times in which God had been there for her, providing protection, opening doors of opportunity, providing needed resources just when they were needed.

Church had always been a source of replenishment for Emma. Reflecting on the years when she was raising her children, juggling the demands of being a single parent and holding down a full-time job, she said it was always important for her to go to services at church anytime the doors were open – Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night – even when she was bone weary. “What was it about church that caused you to go even when you didn’t want to?” I asked. “My flowers needed watering,” she said simply.

“My flowers needed watering.” That phrase was Emma’s metaphor for what church meant to her. It was where she went for replenishment. It was where her friends were. It was where she encountered God in special ways. It was home.

I must confess that Emma watered my flowers that day. I was moved by her forthrightness in facing her approaching death, and I was uplifted by her simple trust in the God who had been faithful to her in so many ways over the course of her life. I told Emma how much her faith encouraged me, and her face, worn with illness, brightened. By God’s grace, we both received a blessing that day.

Announcement of Lifeline Chaplaincy Summer Interns

By David Martin

For the fourth year in a row, Tarrant County is hosting interns in our local hospitals.  This year’s interns are Sarah Ritchie, Molly Minor and Paul Figel, all students from ACU.  They are energetic and eager to learn.  Paul is pre-med.  Molly is majoring in Speech Pathology, and Sarah is a nursing major.  None are planning to be chaplains, but all are entering some area of medical care or rehab.  In our training, they are learning how to listen more emphatically, and to recognize spiritual distress.  Further, they are taught how to provide spiritual support and comfort.

During the summer, they will visit:  Cooks Children, Plaza Medical, Mansfield Methodist, Harris Methodist, and John Peter-Smith (JPS).

JPS is a level one trauma center and the interns have been invited to shadow the ER chaplains one evening in addition to their regular rounds in that facility.

One week in June, they will serve as counselors for Camp Star Trails.  This camp serves pediatric cancer patients and their families in a beautiful location near Brenham, Texas.

All of these activities stretch the participants, both mentally, spiritually and physically.  Please keep them in your prayers.

Why I Like Working with Interns

Why I Like Working with Interns

By Paul Riddle

Since 2002, one of the highlights of each year for me has been supervising Lifeline’s summer interns. University students (most of them undergraduates) come to Houston for twelve weeks to gain hands-on experience as pastoral caregivers in the hospitals of the Texas Medical Center. Two weeks ago, my 13th class of summer interns began their work.

Our interns receive intensive instruction and orientation, have lots of interaction with professional chaplains and Clinical Pastoral Education residents in several large teaching hospitals, and they spend many hours visiting patients and reflecting on their pastoral encounters.   Like all students, they read books and write papers (mostly verbatim and weekly reflections). They also spend considerable time processing the visits they have made – internally, in writing, and in group discussion and individual supervision.

Pastoral care is hard work – physically, emotionally and spiritually. Our interns become skilled listeners as they come alongside persons whose lives have been upended by serious illness. They learn to be fully present with the people they visit, to pace themselves, and to practice appropriate self-care.

Perhaps the most important skill our interns learn is self-awareness. They learn to listen not only to the patient, but also to their own inner voice – the thoughts and emotions that the visit evokes in them. They then reflect on these thoughts and emotions in light of their life experience and personal theology, and out of these reflections come insights that help them grow as persons and become even better equipped to provide support to those who are hurting.

Lifeline’s internship is not only – or most importantly – about learning to do hospital visits. It’s mainly and most importantly about becoming a certain type of person – the kind of person who is able to come alongside a person who is going through a difficult time, and to be the presence of God for that person in that moment. As the Apostle Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 1:3 (as rendered by Eugene Peteson in The Message), “He [Jesus] comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be thee for that person just as God was there for us.”

Why do I like working with interns? Because I get to watch them grow into the kind of people Paul describes above – the kind of people who “come alongside” when it counts. The kind of people whose “coming alongside” makes a difference for good.

A wise person once said that there’s no such thing as teaching, only learning. No one can force knowledge or wisdom into another person. The role of a teacher is to create an environment in which learning can take place. That’s what the Lifeline internship does, and that’s why I like working with interns.

Drought and Flood – By David Martin

Drought and Flood

Written By: David Martin

Last fall
Diagnosed with cancer
Texas was dry
And hot.

But this spring
In my fourth series
Of chemo,
Rain pours from the sky.

Night after night
Rivulets etch the window
Of my hospital room
Mirroring the tears
That stream down my face.

I am tired, O Lord.
The lightning from the storms
Feel like the pain
In my body.
Flashes of disruption
To my peace.

Is it so much to ask
For the storm to cease,
The pain to stop
And calm to return.

Yet the rains come.
The storms rage
While my body feels dry
Hot and parched.

So I pray, Dear God!
Dear God, how I pray.

Let the storm cease
And spring to come.
When new life bursts forth
And song comes again.