Author Archives: lifelinechaplaincy

Little Did I Know

A Short Story based on a True Story by Tori Treat

Tori

As I stuff this pillow, I begin to pray. I wonder where this pillow will go? Who will receive it? As I sew the last stitch, I cannot help but think that God will use this pillow for a greater purpose than I could even imagine. I put the pillow in a bag with the rest, trusting that it will fall into the right hands.

Little did I know, one of my pillows went to a young man dying of cancer. Through his tear stained eyes, he clutched his new pillow as a token of hope in his hopeless situation. Another one of my pillows went to a cynical homeless woman suffering from severe back pain. As she placed her new pillow under her back, the relief it brought her made her smile for the first time in a while. She cherished her new little pillow for it was now one of her only possessions. Yet another pillow went to an elderly woman who was only alive because of the machine pumping air into her lungs. Unconscious and unaware, the small pillow was placed under her hand. Though she cannot see or understand what is happening, this pillow makes her cold, hard bed a little bit softer.

Another week passes and it’s time to go back to sew more pillows. As I pack my supplies into my car, I suddenly feel a sharp pain in my chest. The pain becomes stronger, and I become weaker. My husband comes running, and everything goes dark.

As I slowly open my eyes, I see this white ceiling of my new hospital room. The doctor explains what a heart attack is, but I cannot even comprehend what he is saying. All I could think about is why? Why me? How? How can I survive this? How will I pay for this? Is this what I deserve? Am I going to live?

The doctor leaves and I lay agonizing in my bed. My health, my future, my life; It all changed in an instant. I hear a tap on the door. A young woman asked if she could visit. She was so beautiful that I swore she was an angel. I told her of my pain and struggles, and she just listened. She did not try to advise me, or inform me, but with each nod of her head, my emotions lifted lighter. She prayed for me, pleading to God on my behalf. As I opened my eyes, she reached into her bag. She pulled out a small little pillow. She told me that kind people from the local churches made these pillows and prayed over them. I began weeping and hugged the pillow tight to my chest.

Little did she know, I made this pillow last week and prayed for whoever would receive it. How could I have known that I would be praying for myself?

After she left, I laid peacefully in my bed. My room did not seem as cold anymore. Though my situation was still dreadful, heavy, and pressing, it did not intimidate me anymore. Holding tight to my new little pillow, I remember that God is right here by my side, sending me exactly what I need right when I need it.

Why My Job Isn’t “Fun” and I Love It!

By Madisen Sallaz Lifeline Houston Summer Intern

MadisenSomething I get asked daily by family, friends and even strangers is, “is your job fun?” My job is not “fun.” My work is with the sick and dying, and let me tell you that there is nothing fun about that. I talk to people who feel hopeless and lost. I work with those who can not even remember a day without pain. I console grieving mothers who have lost babies that they shouldn’t of. I work with people who have been abused or hurt, by people they thought they loved and that they thought loved them. My work is with people born into a death sentence, like AIDS, knowing that the only way to escape the pain is often death, which also usually comes too young. My job is not “ fun.”

However, I love my job. My patients bring me hope. My work allows me to see miracles I never thought could happen. My job lets me see the sick and dying recover. My job brings healing. My work brings me hope. My work allows me to see hope and light in the dimmest and darkest situations. My job allows me to see love, a love someone has for a child that they had never even met. My job allows me to see strength, a supernatural strength like no other. A strength that inspires even the worst forecasts to seem like bright and sunny days. I get to see joy in my work. Joy despite any situation or pain, joy that surpasses every earthly thing.

My job is unique. It allows me to see so many different types of people and in so many different situations, situations that seem hopeless. But everyday, my patients show me hope and life. They show me that in even just a simple prayer or conversation, transformation can happen and real healing can begin. My job is not easy, it is hard, heart wrenching and sometimes downright impossible. It has made me clutch my steering wheel harder and harder everyday. It has me look in the mirror at my tear stained face wondering why God allows such pain. However, my job has revealed to me more about God and the love of Christ more than a class, sermon or book ever could. My work has inspired me to love and love hard. It has inspired to me to be intentional and hopeful. My job isn’t “fun” but I love it.

 

Confessions of a Chaplain

Reflection by Tori Treat, 2017 Tarrant County intern.
Tori
I am not God. I cannot heal your diagnosis. I cannot speed up your recovery. I cannot change your age old family dynamics. I cannot even understand them. I cannot make your nurse be nice. I cannot make the doctor be more gentle. I cannot lift your financial burdens. I cannot take away the pain of your childhood. I cannot make your pain stop. I
cannot make your parents love each other. I cannot make your siblings visit. I cannot make your wife speak kinder. I cannot make your husband stay. I cannot take away your confusion. I cannot rescue you from your guilt. I cannot take away the pain in your heart.
With God, all of these things are possible. But in case you haven’t noticed, I am not God.
But I am human. I am capable of compassion. I can greet you with a smile. I can ask you what’s going on. I can sympathize. I can validate your feelings. By validating your feelings, I tell you that I hear you and I care, and that you are justified to feel the way you do. I can connect with you. I can be a vessel sending you to God, who can heal in ways that neither of us can understand. And even when I leave the room, He will not. God has been with you before me and He will be with you after me. Because it’s not about me, and what I can and cannot do. It is, and has always been about God.

Reflecting back on grief at age 10

First Summer reflection from Kate Herring – Abilene Christian University student

Kate

I have some new shoes, a new outfit, a new bow, new teachers, new classmates, new schedule, new normal. The first day of school no matter what year of school it is always a frightening time, but that was the least of my worries. The first day of fifth grade was spent clinging on to the hope that my uncle would wake up. My little mind sits silently in the waiting room of the ICU because I am too young to go back and see him. I pray and plead with God for Him not to take my uncle away. I sing and promise that if God does this for me I will spend the rest of my life serving him and doing the work of the Lord. I am only 10 years old and my uncle is the one that tells me I am beautiful, makes me laugh with his silly jokes, and is a father figure to my cousins who needs one. My little family needs him. The nurse gave clearance for us to go back to his room clinging to the hands of my loved ones we sang “it is well” as a family around his bed. But, it was not well with my soul. I need him. My family needs him. But, a couple moments later God took him from me. When my mom told me he passed, I did not cry nor let out a scream. I just stood in disbelief. My precious Uncle left this earth and now is with Jesus, probably singing off key. I don’t understand this, and I don’t know what to think. My ten year old brain is going insane. He is gone. His body is dead. We won’t see him on earth, but we will see him again. It wasn’t until eight years later, I came to terms with my uncle’s death.

I never thought about God weeping. I never thought about how He comes and hurts alongside of us. In John 11:35, Jesus’ friend has passed and “He wept.” Jesus came and broke down just like I did when my uncle passed. But earlier in the passage in John 11: 25-26, Jesus is comforting his friend’s (Lazarus) sister and he makes a promise,  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

As I read this, the song ‘It is Well’ popped into my head and the memory of my uncle. Form this learned: it is okay to weep, it is okay to mourn, but it is not okay to forget the promise. Jesus resurrected my uncle from his sins, so death is not the end of his life… but maybe just the beginning. Jesus has resurrected me from my sins, so that I may live after death and one day see my uncle again.

Until then, I am stuck in a broken world that can foster pain. In this pain it is okay to weep, it is okay to grieve, because this world is only the beginning  and it is not my home. So with a longing in my heart to see him again, I patiently wait on this earth clinging on to the promise that Jesus is the resurrection and life… So, death where is your sting?

Finding God in Our Mortality

 

With each passing year, death seems more tangible.  Physical losses shout loudly to those of us who have traveled not years, but decades.

I noticed weakness first in my hands.  In the first half of life, hermetically sealed bags of food were torn, ripped and defeated with aplomb.  Now, scissors find their way onto my fingers before morsels can be applied from bag to tongue.  The strength is no longer accessible, and though I dutifully squeeze a rubber ball, time and age seem to have their way.

Gary Shandlin, a comedian of note within my generational orbit, recently died.  He was just 66. I say “just” because, at 60, it seems so “around the corner.”

Why do we begin to notice obituaries?  Our mortality beckons us to consider the kingdom of God, and how we participate in its existence.

I am drawn to the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 25.  Here Jesus describes his followers as those who visit the sick and those in prison.  Often modern preaching focuses on negative aspects of those who will miss the kingdom of God, while omitting the theological fact that kingdom work is in place to happen now!

Bono, of the band U2, once said:

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house.  God is in the of silence  a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives.  God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war.

As a hospital chaplain, I might add:  “God is in the hospital room.”  It is there that the sick…people just like me, like you…consider their mortality.  When we arrive in those rooms to connect, God is already there.  The kingdom of God is among us.

So join me in re-imagining communing with God in the everyday—sometimes mundane, sometimes dramatic—daily lives we live.  There we are invited to find a most uncommon Presence, one already blessing us in surprising ways.

–David Martin, D.Min.,BCC

david fb post

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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