How Are You Doing?

How are you doing?

My answer to this question is evolving. I want my answer to be genuine, understandable, and inspiring. This is a work in progress and a worthy task. I like what I am discovering as I refine my answers.

How are you doing? Most of my life I have said, “Good,” or “Fine.” These are socially acceptable and get me by. But I want to stand out and reach for something greater. When asked this question the late Zig Ziglar would say with gusto, “Better than good!” What follows are some answers I’ve tried recently.

How are you doing? I’ve said, “I love being a Christian.” This one usually gets no response, or a glance at me with a blank expression.

How are you doing? I’ve said, “I have never been happier in my life.” The response has been usually a pause then, “That’s nice.” or “I like that.”

A friend of mine answers this way, “Everything is going RIGHT!”

I like the response I get when I reply, “I’m drinking from the river of delight!”

And one more, “How are you doing?” – “I am thrilled with making disciples of Jesus.”

I remember my dad often responded with, “Fine, if I am the judge.” And he would smile.

When we give thought to our answers to common questions, sometimes they pay great dividends. Recently I asked a caller how they were doing and she replied, “I’ve done better.” I think she had anticipated my asking her how she was doing and her reply got my attention. I took her answer as a cry for help, and a plea for me to hear how she was feeling. That’s what I want to do as a chaplain and as a friend.

Share some of your answers with me. I’ll be listening.

Jesse Stroup

Desert Sand

”There is no wilderness so terrible, so beautiful, so arid and so fruitful as the wilderness of compassion.  It is in the desert of compassion that the thirsty land turns into springs of water, that the poor possess all things.”

Thomas Merton

The patient told of an act of betrayal in her marriage.  Hurt and pain creased her brow and sorrow dripped from eyes to cheeks, then finally spotted the white sheets of her bed.  An automobile wreck had further altered her reality, twisting and breaking limbs.  She faced a long stay in a rehabilitation facility.

The chaplain listened in sorrow.  So much suffering in one life!  The question sprang to his mind, but fell from the patient’s lips, “Why has God put so much on me at one time?

So dry in the room. No fixes. No advice to give as a bandage to her pain. Her suffering had taken his breath away.  Nothing “to do” in the midst of this horror descending into her life.log

However, there was communion.  There was communion and compassion.  And between the two sprang forth the water of relationship.  The patient invited the chaplain to come back.

The room seemed less like a desert now and more like an oasis in the middle of the desert…a place where the lily can bloom once again.

The Lily of the Valley enters with compassion and sits with the wounded in the arid places  That’s all.  And that is everything, for the wilderness is where Christ enters most powerfully.

So the next time someone tells you they are lost in the wilderness, sit quietly with them there.  See what might burst forth from desert sand.

David Martin

Chaplaincy: A Ministry of Presence

Chaplaincy: A Ministry of Presence

By Tom Nuckels, Director of Spiritual Care, Lifeline Chaplaincy Central Texas

“Listening carefully and responding accurately to the story of another is a true ministry. To be understood and accepted by another person is a treasured dimension of human living. It is also the first movement of any kind of care.” Mighty Stories, Dangerous Rituals, Herbert Anderson & Edward Foley, p.45.

I suppose one of the most important lessons I have learned over the last fifteen years of hospital ministry is that of the ministry of presence. I confess that this singular aspect of the care of souls was, initially, a difficult concept for me. I came on board with Lifeline Chaplaincy following thirty years of preaching ministry. Although I saw my ministry within the church setting as highly pastoral, there was that personal need to “do something religious” when I entered a hospital room. I do not think I am alone in this. Most preachers, elders, and other church leaders that I know, when being trained as a chaplain or volunteer, have to overcome their own personal need and agenda to preach, read scripture, or pray before they leave the hospital room. Although these are all good things to “do,” they are not always conducive to a hospital visit. The patient may be comatose, sedated, or may have a myriad of other conditions which are not always favorable for the performance of religious acts that I might have on my agenda as a visitor. Please do not misunderstand me here. I believe all of those things mentioned are important to do when the time and occasion is right for the patient. I also believe that prayer and the reading of Scripture create an atmosphere that helps a patient make vital connections with the Divine and reminds them of God’s love and compassion toward them. However, I have learned to not have an agenda to “do” anything, but to “be” present with a patient when I am at their bedside. So, the ministry of presence is more about “being” than “doing.” It’s about being available to others and coming alongside of them in the midst of their suffering, loss, or pain. It’s about asking productive questions, reflecting back to them in order that they might hear their story in the words of another, and somehow begin to make sense of their plight, and how their story relates to their present experience and how God fits into that story.

Recently, I visited at the bedside of the wife of a church leader whom I had known for a number of years. She had suffered with a number of debilitating illnesses, including cancer and diabetes. This would be the last time I would see her alive. As I entered the room, her grown children were there, a grand-daughter was seated making phone calls, and the patient’s husband was seated next to the bed, holding her hand. I now know that the patient was actively dying, as she was in a comatose state, kidney and respiratory functions were rapidly failing as well. I recall not knowing what to say, but remember hugging the family, then pulled up a chair next to my friend. I remember listening to him talk about the sixty plus years of marriage they had together and stories of raising children as well as grandchildren. I remember having my arm around his shoulders while he talked. As other friends and family entered to say their goodbyes, I remember standing over to the side for a couple of hours. When I did finally leave, I remember my friend saying something like, “thanks for being here.” So, even though prayers were said, and some words from Scripture were read, what he thanked me for was being there; being present. And in the final analysis, isn’t that what we want from a friend? We really don’t want to be told how “everything will be okay” when in that moment it’s not. Nor do we appreciate unsolicited advice. What we need is someone to be present and attentive to our needs, to listen, really listen to our stories, our concerns, without fixing us.

I didn’t really say much that day at the bedside of my friend’s wife. I do believe I got it right that day, however. I just came alongside to be with him and his family. I believe I have learned the important role of the ministry of presence. It is enough, at times, to just “be.” It is possibly the most we can do for others in time of their pain. Anderson and Foley are right; listening is “the first movement of any kind of care.” I want to remember that. Thank you for supporting Lifeline Chaplaincy so that we can be that ministry of presence to others.

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak…”—James 1:19

Three Pertinent Questions for Patients

Three Pertinent Questions for Patients

I sometime ask this question near the end of a first –time visit with a patients.

1. The phrase, “With thanksgiving” is used several times in the Bible; for example Philippians 4:6. Can you tell me a couple of things you are particularly thankful for today? Then be willing to wait in silence for the patient to think. Always validate their responses.

  1. Paul wrote the Philippians about choosing what you think about. I call it “directed thinking.” “. . . brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think on these things. Have some of your thoughts clustered around one of these qualities today? If so, then tell me about that. (Then I slowly repeat the list and wait in silence.) Yes, validate their response even if it is a “No.”
  2. When I say “hope” what person or circumstance do you associate with that? Affirm their answer. After a little discussion, I sometimes mention: This passage has helped me refine my thinking about hope, Titus 2:13-14. It includes this thought, “…while we wait the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people who are his very own, eager to do what is good.” Our blessed hope is key here.

This summer I have been charting patient’s responses to these three questions. I use questions two and three with patients who are repeat visits because more trust is needed I feel to appropriately use these questions.

Jesse Stroup

Director of Spiritual Care, Lifeline Chaplaincy Dallas

On Her Own Terms

On Her Own Terms

By Paul Riddle

Several years go, PBS Frontline aired an episode called, “Facing Death.” “Facing Death” takes viewers into the world of several ICU patients, and their families and caregivers as they wrestle with difficult, often heartbreaking end-of-life choices. In each story, the patient was dying, but nobody was willing or able to come out and say so. Doctors, family members, the patients themselves, talked all around the issue but refused to name it, or named it only with great reluctance. In each case, the patient died, and the death was portrayed as a defeat, a failure.

“Facing Death” does an outstanding job of illustrating the issues surrounding end-of-life, yet I was left with a sense that there was a part of the story that was left untold – the story of those who choose to name death and to face it with faith, courage and dignity.

Nina Brewster (not her real name) was such a person. She served as an elementary school teacher in Texas for over 50 years. I knew her during the years near the end of her life, when she was living in Austin. In her eighties by then, Nina was bright, positive, and forward-thinking. She had a wide circle of friends of all ages. She was deeply involved in her church, in several civic activities, and in a professional society for teachers. Single all her life, she had strong relationships with a host of nieces, nephews and other family members. If I live into my eighties, I hope I am the kind of person Nina was.

Nina enjoyed good health most of her life, but eventually time caught up with her and her body began to wear out. Her kidneys began to fail. When her doctors told her her kidneys were failing and that she would have to go on dialysis, she replied, “No, I don’t.” “Excuse us,” her doctors said. “No, I don’t have to go on dialysis,” Nina replied, “and I don’t intend to.” “But without dialysis, you’ll die!” her doctors said. “I never expected to live forever,” Nina responded, “I’m 85 years old, I’ve led a full life, I’m content, I’m at peace with everyone I care about, and I’m confident that the God who is with me in this life will be with me in the next. It’s my time.”

And so it was. Nina declined dialysis, went into hospice care, and died peacefully about ten days later. Her final days were filled with visits from friends and family members, laughter, tears, and goodbyes – just as she wanted. Nina Brewster died on her own terms.

[NOTES: 1) “Facing Death,” along with a wealth of related material, can be viewed at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/facing-death. 2) The conversation between Nina and her doctors is the product of my imagination; however, based on my own conversations with Nina about that meeting, it captures the spirit of what actually took place. PR]

Otherwise

When I was recovering from my first hospitalization in 1995, a friend gave me a copy of Otherwise, a book of poems by Jane Kenyon. An accomplished poet who struggled with depression, Jane Kenyon was diagnosed with leukemia and died fifteen months later, in April 1995. The poem from which this collection takes its name invites us to another fruit of lectio divina with the body—gratitude.

OTHERWISE

I got out of bed

on two strong legs.

It might have been

otherwise. I ate

cereal, sweet

milk, ripe, flawless

peach. It might

have been otherwise.

I took the dog uphill

to the birch wood.

All morning I did

the work I love.

At noon I lay down

with my mate. It might

have been otherwise.

We ate dinner together

at a table with silver

candlesticks. It might

have been otherwise.

I slept in a bed

in a room with paintings

on the walls, and

planned another day

just like this day.

But one day, I know,

it will be otherwise.

–Jane Kenyon,

Otherwise, St. Paul: Graywolf Press, 1996.

When I first read this poem, it named for me a reality that the attack of acute pancreatitis had forced home. I was at home recovering, but it could have been otherwise. I was able to walk to the bathroom, but it could have been otherwise. I could pat my sleeping cat’s head, but it could have been otherwise. A kind of gratitude that I had not fully known began to emerge.

You might have the same kind of experience. Once you move through the initial shock at discovering you’re not as you once were, that your body may be changed forever, the diminishment that illness brings may also offer the gift of knowing what could be otherwise. A deepening gratitude, and something that looks like surprise and wonder, may begin to enter, even though your affliction is severe. You no longer take for granted the simplest acts and the most basic necessities. You’re less likely to mindlessly gobble the warm peach and the sweet milk. Your “otherwise awareness” wakes you up to the gift of being in the present. A piercing sense of life’s beauty and grief may release both hope and wistfulness. The growing appreciation of the shortness of your life (even if you live to be one hundred) helps you reorder your priorities. You begin to know that there will be a day when you’re not here to welcome the first north wind of autumn or to eat the tiny new asparagus from the back garden. Paradoxically, you come to know this life as gift and treasure as you learn to let it go. Like Job, you recognize that you’ll become dust, yet you acknowledge that you’re dust fashioned by the hands of the living God.

As you read the text of your illness, you may discover inchoate desires for meaning, for connection, for being fruitful, for loving God, your neighbor, and yourself. You may discover, in short, that there is no place where God is not.

From Mary Earle’s-Broken Body, Healing Spirit: Lectio Divina and Living with Illness

Submitted/Written by Tom Nuckles

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.

About two months later I picked up my list to see the same patient again. I knew he had been fighting the leg infection for several months. My last visit had confirmed the condition was growing more critical. I had only one other patient on my list so I made that visit before going to see him. Again, I felt some nervousness as I entered and wondered if his reaction would be good or bad. When I knocked he looked up from his bed and said, “I knew you would come”. He told me his condition had become critical and the possibility of amputation was being discussed by his medical team. He said he didn’t know why I kept coming to see him but somehow he knew I would come again. He wanted to pray. The man who had no use for religion, compassion, or anything else he thought I might be selling on my first visit was waiting for me….so we could pray. As I write this the lump in my throat and tears in my eyes are just as real as they were that night.

It’s hard to describe the role of Lifeline volunteer care provider as “service”. It is such a rewarding experience it can’t be described. I’m still a quiet and timid wallflower….always will be but I don’t have to figure out the right thing to do or say in a hospital visit. I’ve always prayed for friends or family when they were sick and in the hospital. I’ve prayed for the Lord to place His loving hands on the patient to give them comfort and healing. I figured out finally that the Lord wants nothing more from us than to deliver His blessings.

Written By: Russell Mihills

Story Submitted By: David Martin