Dancing in the Rain

Holidays are some of my favorite times of the year, especially the ones approaching the next couple of months.  They bring times of laughter, fellowship, and fun.  However, I am keenly aware that these days may also bring times of stress and struggle for some individuals.

Several years ago, I was arduously searching for employment during what was supposed to be a very festive time of the year. I recall the feelings of discouragement and grief over opportunities not opening up for me and confusion as to how the Lord would intervene.  Further, I felt helpless because I could not afford gifts for those whom I loved.

As time ticked through the holidays, I found the Lord revealing to me that it is more important to present whoYOU are rather than what you can provide.  Instead of buying gifts, I spent time making them for my family and friends, reflecting on their talents and interests, and then I implemented my creative skills, crafting collages that centered on the uniqueness of their personhood.  Moreover, as I delivered these creative expressions, I devoted quality time with each individual—decorating, storytelling, laughing, and expressing various forms of love.  To this day, that specific holiday season remains one of the most memorable and treasured (and probably for them as well), discovering how to move effectively and creatively through a very rainy season in my life.

It is apparent that we are entering into a rainy season as we face the ensuing transitions of our morphing healthcare.  Whether we like it or not, we are being forced to modify how we perform our duties as our country encounters an unknown future.  One associate shared how she is coping with all that is happening by quoting the author Vivian Greene: “Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass… It’s about learning how to dance in the rain.”

So, how are you going to “dance in the rain,” especially with the upcoming holidays?  What battles are you facing at this moment where you may have to force yourself to dance, even if it involves only swaying to the music of current obstacles?  Psalm 30:10-12 offers encouraging guidance in these times of effort: “Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me; Lord, be my help.  You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.  Lord, my God, I will praise you forever.”  Thus, call upon the Lord and allow Him to transform your “wailing into dancing”—no matter what you are experiencing.

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Doubt, but Don’t Force God Out

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to journey alongside a trauma patient who not just lost his wife but also his granddaughter within a period of forty-eight hours.  I listened to his story; I mourned with him in his grief.  I held his hand as he asked, Why, God?”  However, even in the midst of this great spiritual struggle, he kept repeating, “I will keep my faith.”

There have been several occasions where we wrestle with our patients’ medical outcomes, coping mechanisms, and support systems.  We may experience a variety of feelings—sadness, anger, relief, or possibly guilt.  We may even find ourselves grappling in our own beliefs about God and His responses to these difficult circumstances.  Like this particular gentleman demonstrated, though, it is okay to doubt God in how He is intervening in a situation, but I encourage you not to set Him aside from the situation.  Since He already knows our every thought, He can embrace our authenticity with Him with these feelings and troublesome thoughts and, thus, guide and carry us through them.  So, why not let them go before God and let Him respond from His omnipotent, omniscient presence?

Shall we pray:

O God of strength,

Support and strengthen us as we continue to serve those whom You place in our care, and help us to hold fast to our faith, even in times of doubt.  As described in the story “Footprints,” carry us when we can no longer walk through the difficult circumstances of life.

In Your name I pray,

Amen

Forgetting but Not Forsaking

Have you ever forgotten something?  Or someone?

Recently, while sitting in my office here at the hospital one late afternoon, I continuously glanced at the time on my telephone, wondering, “When is he coming?”

A few minutes later, I received a call from my husband Jeff, asking “Where are you?”

“I’m in my office,” I responded.

“What are you doing there?” he then asked.

“Waiting for you to pick me up.”

“Oh, my gosh!” he exclaimed.  “I forgot you! I’m already at home!”

While this has brought much laughter to my home, it also demonstrates how even the most significant relationships can be forgotten.  There is no blame here; accidentally neglecting someone does happen.  Likewise, it can happen here in our work environment.  When it does, though, let us not be the first to cast judgment but to extend the grace and mercy of the Lord, remembering to treat others as we would want ourselves.

Let us pray:

O God,

You remember us always, never forgetting nor forsaking us.  Help us to be mindful of others, acting as You would with love.

In Your name I pray,

Amen

Unity in the Differences

I work very closely with two other colleagues who share my love of various sports.  Regarding major league baseball, one of them, like me, is a strong fan of the St. Louis Cardinals; however, the one colleague has a deep heart for the Chicago Cubs—the Cardinals’ biggest rival.  Despite the fun bantering that stirs amongst us, we work very well together, striving as a team to meet the various needs and desires with whom we interact.

In all of our professional arenas, we encounter this type of strife on a daily basis.  We all want what is best for the care of the patient but may disagree on the path to that outcome.  Despite our sometimes differing approaches, let us remembers, as the Scottish philosopher David Hume said, “It’s when we start working together that the real healing takes place.”  May we offer a greater healing presence to all our patients and families by working in unity and not just individually.

Let us pray:

Lord,

Bring us together in our different skills, abilities, and gifts, so we may offer a unified, healing presence to all whom we serve.

In Your name I pray,

Amen

Without You…

Last week, I journeyed alongside a man who was watching his wife go through the dying process.  During my final time of ministry to them before they traveled home, the husband commented to me, “Thank you for all you have done.  Without you here, these difficult days would have been much darker.”

So, as with this gentleman, I want you to know that you do make a difference around here.  In all the different disciplines that you represent, you are greatly appreciated.  You make a difference around here through your actions and words, providing both direct and indirect care to our patients and their loved ones.  Without each of you here, serving in your unique role, the trauma department would not be able to impact those experiencing difficult, dark days the way it does currently.

Let us pray:

Lord,

Thank You for allowing us to serve as Your instruments of healing, bringing our gifts and knowledge to every situation we encounter.  Help us continue to be a light in through the dark times.

In Your name I pray,

Amen

Don’t Forget Your Shoes!

Last week, an associate shared about an interesting call he received at work, which he gave me permission to share.  His wife called him, frantically speaking, “Honey, you will not believe what happened!”

“What?” he inquired.

“After you left for work, our child and I finished breakfast and got ready to go on this field trip together.  When we arrived at school, I felt something weird below.  I, then, looked down and discovered my shoes were missing!”

“Your shoes?!” he asked inquisitively.

“Yes, I forgot to put on my shoes,” she responded, “I am now driving home, like a mad woman, to get my shoes and then have to get back to the school—hopefully in time!”

As caregivers in different capacities, we have a variety of roles in meeting the needs of our patients and families.  However, one of the first concepts that all caregivers should know is self-care, for we are no good to others if our own needs haven’t been met, and this does include your shoes!

Let us pray:

God, You are the Great Caregiver of all.  I ask that You help us to remember our own needs—the “shoes” of food, shelter, water, and restoration—so we may best serve those in our care.

In Your name I pray,

Amen

Where are the Lamps?

During some moments of quiet reflection, I ran across the following illustration:

“In a certain mountain village in Europe several centuries ago (so the story goes), a nobleman wondered what legacy to leave his townspeople.  At last he decided to build them a church.

Nobody saw the complete plans until the church was finished.  When the people gathered, they marveled at its beauty.  But one noticed an incompleteness.  ‘Where are the lamps?’ he asked.  ‘How will the church be lighted?’

The nobleman smiled.  Then, he gave each family a lamp.  ‘Each time you are here, the area in which you sit will be lighted.  But when you are not here, some part of God’s house will be dark.’”

So, how will this place be lit today?  By who each of you are and what you bring to the care of our patients and families.

Let us pray:

Lord,

Guide us today and every day in bringing Your light to those who are encountering times of darkness.

In Your name I pray,

Amen.

Hearing the Call

A few years ago, during one of my phone conversations with my parents, shortly after they returned home to Maryland, I learned that their toy poodle, Muffin, was lying nearby, so I requested my father to put me on the speaker phone. Sensing the audible changes in our voices, I asked with an exaggerated tone, “Where’s my Muffin?” Laughing at her behavior, my father explained that Muffin was wagging her tail excitedly and glancing throughout the room, recognizing the call and seeking me.

There are many times when we as God’s children act like Muffin did in those moments. We may hear and recognize the Lord’s voice speaking to us, but we do not sense in His presence. We search all around for Him but are unable to find Him anywhere. It is, during these periods in life, that all we can do is trust in His presence spiritually and know that He is in control, even if we don’t see Him actively working in our lives.

Let us pray:

Lord, in the times when we can only hear Your voice but do not see You actively involved around us, let us remember the words of the prophet Jeremiah, taken from chapter 17 of his book, verses 7 and 8: “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

In Your name we pray,

Amen

Speak Little, Listen Much

Recently, a patient, whose prognosis was very poor, came into the Trauma ICU, and the medical team knew he was not going to survive. Therefore, following up from the night chaplain’s visit, I met the family and offered both emotional and spiritual support to them. During our discussion, they made me aware that they were connected with the religion of Jainism. Having never heard of this faith tradition and even after some research, I quickly realized that I was ill-equipped to respond to any of their specific spiritual needs; fortunately, they had already contacted their religious leader to address these. However, I did observe, in my time with them, the importance of a supportive, listening presence.

Whether it be terminal weans, difficult situations with patients and their families, or just interactions with other colleagues, the impact of one’s supportive presence can speak louder than any words. In the book of James, chapter one, verse nineteen, it states “everyone should be quick to listen [and] slow to speak.” Sometimes it is better to be the quiet companion journeying alongside someone through his or her trials. Thus, the next time we work with a patient, family, or another associate, may we keep in mind the quote of President Abraham Lincoln:
“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

Let us pray:

Gracious God, be our voice in all circumstances. Guide us in our conversations, so we may bring peace and comfort to others.

Amen.

Hope in the Hopeless

The score was 0-0. My soccer team had been fighting so hard offensively to score a goal. We made some great corner kicks and continuously passed the ball around amongst my team members, but we just could not seem to kick the ball beyond the opposing goalie. It appeared very hopeless. Then, a breakthrough. Starting the play, I saw a direct opening within the opposing team and even beyond into the goal area. Thus, I made a hard and fast kick straight for the goal and…SCORE!!!

In this situation, my team was able to find hope in the hopeless. However, there are many times in our lives—personally and professionally—when hope cannot be found. What do we do then?

It reminds me of a set of events that occurred several years ago. While attending graduate school to obtain my masters degree, a few of my peers questioned me about seeking God for my physical healing and even began to pray accordingly. Having wrestled with the Lord regarding His plan with my disability and having prayed this prayer before on my own, I allowed these students to pray for this miracle, but deep in my heart and with much disappointment, I knew that the Lord would not grant this desire—for He had other plans.

One of these plans unfolded at the beginning of my chaplaincy training when I ministered to a mother of a baby that had both physical and mental challenges. After having established a relationship with this mother through a multitude of visits, she shared how her child was born with club feet.

Standing before her, I remarked, “I was born with club feet.”

“Really?!” she replied with excitement, “And you can even walk, too!”

“Yes,” I said, “Through surgery and physical therapy, I did learn how to walk by the age of two.”

Reflecting on this, if I had received my original wish for ultimate healing, I may not have connected with this woman as well as I did, offering a glimmer of hope for her baby’s future. Thus, when I journey through moments of my perception of hopelessness, I have to trust that I will find hope in the Lord in all circumstances, no matter the outcome and when it happens.

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Identity in the Lord

On a recent occasion, my husband and I attended a community meeting at a local church. With him dropping me off at the curb, I headed to the main entrance, and a man ahead held the door open for me.

“Are you here for the Boy Scouts’ meeting?” he asked.

Shaking my head and chuckling to myself, I start pondering, “Oh my! That sounds familiar. Person #562 who thinks I’m a boy.”

Have you ever been misidentified…either by name, age, profession, etc.? Unfortunately, misidentification happens all the time, especially here at the hospital. We strive continuously to identify others properly or possibly to make ourselves clearly known to visitors, but despite wearing badges and specific clothing, families and visitors, who are especially in crisis, can easily become overwhelmed and confused with all the members of the medical team. In these moments of reminding families and visitors of our names and roles with a calming and patient presence, may we use these times to also remind ourselves of our greater identity and role as servants to the Lord.

Let us pray:

Gracious God,

As we serve those who enter through the doors of our hospital, may we not just operate in our roles but also identify ourselves with You through our actions and words.

In Your name I pray,

Amen

Transforming Moments

Lying in my bed at Shriners’ Hospital recovering from a major hip surgery, I recall observing one of my roommates continuously crying.  Despite the nurse’s attempts, nothing would console her.  Finally, after listening to her sobs for several minutes, I mustered up the courage of a ten year-old and said, “Hi, there.  My name is Kristen.  What’s your name?… (pause) … It’s going to be okay.”  Even though the girl never returned my acknowledgement and continued crying, for those couple of moments, I was able to turn away from my issues and my pain and to focus on someone else’s needs.  It provided me such freedom.

We all come to our work on a regular basis, carrying our own issues and pains.  Grief.  Guilt.  Loneliness.  Stresses.  Family issues.  Personal issues.  It is in our time of service here that we can avail ourselves opportunities—even if only brief ones—to set aside our own “baggage” and to step away from it.  Henry David Thoreau once quoted, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”  May these miraculous instants not only transform others but also transform us emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

Shall we pray:

Lord,

You are the miracle worker in all of our lives.  You can transform us and our lives instantly.  May we embrace these moments personally as well as when we care for others.

In Your name I pray this,

 

Amen

Extending One’s Boundaries

A few months ago, Jeff and I went on our honeymoon, flying to Branson, Missouri, and renting a newer vehicle upon our arrival.  On our first evening out, we ate at a local restaurant.  Upon returning to the car from our meal, I heard a low rumbling.

“Did you leave the car running?” I asked my husband.

“Oh, my gosh!” he exclaimed, realizing what he had done, “Yes, I did.”

With much laughter, we quickly became aware that we were not as familiar with this vehicle as we should have been, discovering that it did not require a key to run it and only required the push of a button to turn off the engine.  Throughout the week, we reminded each other to push the button, slowly adjusting to this difference.

Here at the hospital, we as associates experience learning moments on a daily—and sometimes even an hourly—basis.  It is in these moments we are stretched beyond our perceived limits, stretching our boundaries medically, physically, mentally, psychologically, and spiritually.  We strive desperately not to act with errors but acknowledge that, as humans, we do so.  In response to these errors, Albert Einstein offers the following encouraging statement: “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

Let us pray:

Lord, give us wisdom as we continue to learn from our mistakes.  Expand our perceived boundaries, so we can become more like You.

In Your name I pray, Amen

 

Am I Going to Die?

As a teen, for a couple of summers, I spent some time at a camp designed for individuals with muscular dystrophy.  Following these sessions, I received newsletters with updates on the association, various treatments, and sometimes an obituary of one of the campers.  When I saw an article on someone whom I knew personally, I became terrified and asked my mother, “Am I going to die?”

Despite their hopefulness, we encounter many families who “camp out” in our waiting area, wrestling with same question about their loved one.  No matter what age nor experiences you have had with death, it is still difficult to acknowledge.  Death never comes knocking at a time in which we are prepared.  The only hope we can hold is that the peace of the Lord may rest upon them for eternity.

As we take a moment to embrace the Lord’s presence, let us reflect upon the patients who died on our unit and their loved ones who continue to possibly grieve.

Shall we pray:

Lord, as stated in Ephesians, we know there is a time for everything—a time for living and a time for dying.  This is never easy for the families, and sometimes it is difficult for us as caregivers.  I ask that You embrace us with Your love and peace whenever we must face death.  Guide our steps in continuing forward with the care we can offer today and forever more.

 

In Your name I pray,

 

Amen

When Things Don’t Go As Planned

Has there ever been a time when you were trying to function in chaos but eventually had to rely on another person to gain stability?

A few years ago, I had hip replacement surgery.  I consumed a variety of medications during my time in rehabilitation to manage my pain and other medical issues.  By day three or four, I had become quite confused.

One evening, in the midst of one of my future husband Jeff’s visits, I became extremely agitated and initiated a heated but comedic discussion with him.

“Why don’t you take your car to Lens Crafters?!  You know you’re struggling financially!” I asked frustratingly.

“Huh?  Why?” Jeff questioned, quizzically.

“They will give you money for it!”  I responded with much irritation.

“What?!  Can you say that again?” he answered, laughing and realizing that the drugs were probably causing this confusion.

There are many occasions in our daily practices when we bring stability and peace to times of confusion.  However, sometimes our own worlds turn upside down, and we need to turn elsewhere to regain balance.  Colleagues.  Friends.  Family.  Pastors.  Counselors.  Where can you go, though, when you have no person available to approach?  Implement your own resources, and seek hope in your faith, trusting that the Lord will always provide—in His own way and not always in the ones we desire.  Keep in mind the Lord’s statement from the scripture Isaiah 42:16:

“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth.  These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.

 

 

 

Uncertain Future

Several years ago, I was riding in the front passenger seat of my father’s car as he took us on an errand.  With the car in park and him switching his foot from the accelerator to the brake and back again, he asked me, “Can you do this?”

Slowly mimicking his action, I observed the concern upon his face.  How will I ever be able to drive? I thought to myself.  How will this impact my independence in my later years?

 It is in this type of situation that we find ourselves on a regular basis.  Patients can enter through our doors with massive and extensive injuries or with what appears to be minor ones.  However, as they remain in our care, their conditions can change within moments, which then may reflect on the quality of their future.

In every individual’s situation in life, there always remains a slight uncertainty of the future.  Consequently, though, we can trust that there is always a certainty in the hands of the Lord—“plans to give us hope and a future.”  It is this trust that I personally hold with the Lord, and today, I can honestly say that I do drive a vehicle with the use of hand controls and other adaptations.

Let us pray:

Lord, we come before you now and ask for your wisdom and assistance in bringing possibilities when situations appear impossible.  Be our guide today and forever more.

In Your name I pray, Amen

 

 

The Family Beyond the Doors

About thirty years ago, I recall being hospitalized for surgery on my feet and, thus, befriending my roommate who happened to be around the same age.  Before our procedures, we laughed and had fun together dressing as doctors with the hats, gloves, and stethescopes; this greatly eased our fears before entering the operating room.  Several days later, after being told that my new friend had chicken pox, I had to be moved to another room.  I still recall to this day my mother wheeling me by her room, and I stared through the window separating us, waving to her with tears streaming down my face.

As with this situation, families in the waiting area establish connections, especially during the lengthy hospitalizations.  They may rejoice together when their loved ones reach milestones, but they also support and encourage each other through the difficult days they face.  So, let us remember that, while we as associates develop bonds with other colleagues as well as our assigned patients and their loved ones, our visitors are an extension of us—a part of our own family residing right beyond the doors to our unit.

Let us pray:

Lord, as we gather today to unite as one team in serving those receiving our care on the unit, may we also remember how to best care and serve their loved ones.  Let us always acknowledge You as the Father of our family as a whole.

In Your name I pray, Amen

 

Loss

As caregivers, we observe losses on a regular basis with our patients and their loved ones. A family may choose to withdraw care and face the loss of a precious life. Due to their illness or a recent trauma, a patient can encounter the loss of functions in his or her physical body as well as the loss of independence and operating in their normal routines. Besides the physical functions, the patient and family members also face the impact of the medical crisis on emotional, psychological, social, and spiritual levels.

Not only, though, do we observe these losses in those whom are placed in our care, we are challenged with various losses both professionally and personally. We become attached emotionally to patients and their families and sometimes grieve over the different plan the Lord has for their lives. We encounter staffing and leadership changes and wrestle with anger, bitterness, and sadness that accompany them. We face our own difficulties in our home lives and may bring the lingering mental, emotional, psychological, physical, financial, and spiritual effects of them to our place of work.

Therefore, how do we work through these losses and transitions? Besides incorporating our own coping mechanisms, I encourage you to always keep in mind that, during our loneliest periods where we are in the greatest need, it is then that the Lord not only journeys alongside us but carries us through those moments.

Let us pray:

God, in the midst of all the losses and transitions that the families of these patients as well as ourselves are experiencing, I ask that we may experience Your countenance as You carry us in all of life’s challenges.

In Your name I pray,

Amen

Racing Ahead (Version Two)

Years ago, I moved to Indiana from Virginia and served as a resident chaplain for a local trauma center.  Not truly aware of Indy’s culture nor considering the approaching of Memorial Day weekend, one afternoon, I received a trauma page for a male driver in a MVA going over 200 mph.

“Oh my gosh!  Is this guy nuts…driving over 200 mph through downtown Indy?!” I thought to myself as I waited with the trauma team.

After the driver arrived, I eventually spoke to him, asking if he wanted me his family contacted.  Responding affirmatively, he gave me his mother’s number.  When I introduced myself and updated her briefly via phone, she thanked me for calling and hung up immediately.

“What in the world is happening here?!” I reflected in bewilderment as I returned the headset to its cradle.

That evening, as I watched the news, no local accidents matched the description of this situation.  Still puzzled, I continued listening when the sports announcer stated, “Today, at the track, the driver so-and-so crashed into a wall after racing over 200 mph…”

“I was talking to a race driver!!!” I proclaimed loudly in both shock and understanding.

Moral of the Story: Never race ahead without knowing all the details!

 

The Rippling of Care

Have you ever considered the long-term impact our care has upon not just the patients but also their families?  Recently, I went to Cracker Barrel for dinner, and a couple stopped me.

“Aren’t you a chaplain at St. Vincent?” the woman asked.

“Yeah,” I responded hesitantly.

“I’m sure you don’t remember this, but you ministered to my husband and me before he received his new transplant.”

“Really?  I’m sorry; I do not remember,” I replied.  Then, looking to the husband, I questioned, “So, how is the new organ?”

“Great!  I feel so much better,” he answered eagerly.

Reflecting on this incident, the image of dropping a stone into a pond comes to mind.  The dropping of the stone symbolizes the direct contact we offer with those whom we serve, and through that ministry, the rippling of the pond represents all who are affected by our act of service.

So, today and in all the days ahead, may we always keep in mind the difference the Lord has made in each of our lives and, through this, be motivated to continue this rippling effect in making a difference in the lives of the people we encounter.  Furthermore, keep in mind the following quote by John Piper:

“You don’t have to know a lot of things for your life to make a lasting difference in the world. But you do have to know the few great things that matter, and then be willing to live for them and die for them. The people that make a durable difference in the world are not the people who have mastered many things, but who have been mastered by a few great things. If you want your life to count, if you want the ripple effect of the pebbles you drop to become waves that reach the ends of the earth and roll on for centuries and into eternity, you don’t have to have a high IQ or EQ; you don’t have to have good looks or riches; you don’t have to come from a fine family or a fine school. You have to know a few great, majestic, unchanging, obvious, simple, glorious things, and be set on fire by them.”

 

Checking One’s Perspective

When I was a young child, my mother had to perform postural drainage on me at least a couple of times a day.  On one occasion, a neighbor observed my mother doing this—beating on my back to prevent fluid build-up in my lungs, and she became gravely concerned seeing this.  Immediately, she called another mother on the street who knew my family well, questioning her about this possible child abuse.  Upon hearing this, the mother chuckled and explained to the caller the medical reasons for this situation.

Similarly, when patients come through our hospital doors, all the hospital associates involved in the case are working alongside the EMS, public law enforcement, and other resources to gain all the truthful information about what has happened and how to provide the best care.  However, there are times when we receive the wrong information or conflicting details about what occurred.  Instead of jumping to conclusions in the midst of our uncertainty, let us always remember to check in with other members of the medical team when putting together this “puzzle.”  Most importantly, may we know that the Lord is a God of truth, and He will reveal the truth in all situations in His own timing.

Let us pray:

O Lord,

You are the Knower of all things and understand the truth in all circumstances.  Grant us the wisdom of Solomon as we work with various patients and families, and help us to see through Your eyes of love.  We also ask that, during this hour, You grant us insights in how all these disciplines can better unite together in providing for those whom need our services.

In Your name I pray,

 

Amen

Journeying Through the Memories

Have you ever come across and/or worked with a patient and/or family that triggered a memory for you?  Awhile back, a few of my chaplain colleagues and I were walking down the hallway, and a transporter passed us, going the opposite direction, pushing on a cart a small, crying child with an anesthesia mask near his head.  Instantaneously, remembering my numerous surgeries and the fear I always experienced beforehand, my heart sank, and I totally empathized with this youngster.

I truly believe that it is in these memories which we can relate deeply to another’s pain.  We recall the feelings we experienced in those similar circumstances and can better comprehend their difficulties.  Basically, these are God-given encounters where we can journey alongside those who are hurting.

Let us pray:

Lord, in these difficult moments that we experience, help us to demonstrate your love and care to those who are suffering.  Use our own memories as anchors in which we can better connect and minister to those in need.

In Your name I pray, Amen.

 

 

Stepping into Another’s Shoes

Have you ever believed anything to be so true, even when it’s not?

Having celebrated Easter a few weeks ago, one memory always comes to mind during this time of year. When I was in the fifth grade, my teacher asked the class, “Who believes in the Easter Bunny?” I was the only one who raised my hand. Realizing that something was not right, I spoke to my mother about it when I went home. She explained to me that the Easter Bunny was not real. Upon hearing this news, I accepted it well and just continued on like nothing had happened.

Several months later, near Christmastime, I began preparing my wish list, asking for one expensive gift.  Upon seeing this particular item on my list, my mother commented, “I think this is too expensive.”

“It’s okay, Mom,” I responded, “I will ask Santa for it.”

“Do you remember the talk we had about the Easter Bunny?” Mom questioned.

“No!!!  Not Santa, too!” I yelled.  “I bet you’re going to tell me the Tooth Fairy isn’t real either!”

As I reflect on this incident, it is very similar to the approach we, as members of the medical team, have with families of our patients.  We share these bits of information with families on an as-need-to-know basis, or as we make the discoveries regarding the patients’ conditions and prognoses.  We also sometimes make conclusions that families who hear one piece of bad news understand the full picture of the grim prognosis.  However, like I still believed in Santa and the Tooth Fairy after learning about the Easter Bunny, families may still remain optimistic about the outcome of their loved one’s condition for various reasons: spiritual beliefs, cultural and/or language influences, distrust with the healthcare system, etc.

During these difficult conversations, it is critical for us to make no assumptions and “step out of our own shoes.”  We must come to them with a “clean slate,” learning about them and their perspectives through verbal and non-verbal cues in the midst of the conversation(s).  Most importantly, though, we must rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance and approach the families with the gentleness that the Lord demonstrated with those who are suffering.

What Music Are You Playing?

A few weeks ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to minister to a patient and her family that started receiving care in the Trauma ICU and eventually transferred to the Medical ICU.  When the relationship began, the patient was awake and alert, and her husband and daughter were very hopeful for a full recovery.  However, the patient made a huge decline, and her family changed their perspectives by preparing for the end of her life.  During our various encounters, we discussed her and their faith along with the impact she made on this world, especially to numerous children.

On the day of her death, the family requested my presence and prayerful support during the terminal wean process.  After the nurse and respiratory therapist extubated the patient, I provided continuous emotional and spiritual support throughout the afternoon.  In the midst of reminiscing over memories with her, the family shared their love of music and their ability to play musical instruments.

“I’ve always wanted to be able to play a musical instrument,” I commented to them.

“It is never too late to learn,” the patient’s husband responded.

The family further reflected on how the patient served as the “disc jockey” since she never played an instrument but supported them in this gift.

As the visit came to a close, the husband looked at me directly and stated, “You do play music; you play music in the care you provide here in the hospital.”

What music have you played lately?  How is the Lord using you as an instrument in His symphony of life?

False Assumptions

About a month ago, a page came across my pager, alerting me to a trauma code one from a motor vehicle accident.  Part of its description stated that the patient “arrested on the scene,” and this was followed by the word “compressions.”

Upon my arrival to the ED, I met up with the social worker Sister Cecilia and exclaimed, “Sister, can you believe it?  The police arrested this driver on the scene of the accident and then had to do compressions on him!”

Trying to hold back some of her laughter, Sister Cecilia explained, “It means cardiac arrested on the scene!”

“Ohhhh!” I responded.  “I should have known that.”

It is truly amazing the false interpretations that individuals make when receiving various forms of communication.  No matter how hard one tries, he/she can never absolutely guarantee that the receiver will correctly interpret the intended message.

One “receiver” who will never misinterpret our message is the Lord, for He truly knows our deepest desires—both spoken and unspoken.  So, let’s go to Him now in prayer:

O God,

Guide us all in our communication over the next hour.  Help each speaker to share his or her message clearly, and open our ears to hear these intended messages.

In Your name we pray,

Amen

 

 

The Foggy Times

On the way home from last month’s Trauma ICU unit meeting, I drove away from the Cardiology building along Naab Road, realizing that I could not even see the traffic light at the end of the street.  “How scary!” I thought to myself.  “I don’t remember the fog ever being this dense in Indy before.”

Reflecting on this drive, I discovered that this is what many patients and families experience as well as we as associates at times, too.  Patients and families come through our doors to receive our care but are uncertain about the “journey” of the hospitalization and even experience anxiety, fear, and grief over the medical procedures and processes they endure.  They journey through the “fog” of this hospitalization, not knowing the complete outcome.

As associates, we, too, go through a “fog” when caring for patients and families.  We do not always know the effect of a drug or the result of a procedure or test.  We then rely on our own expertise, knowledge, and skills.

One common guiding force, though, for the patients and families along with ourselves is the Great Physician.  He sees the entire situation—both now and the future—and always shines His Light, especially in the foggy patches of the journey.

Let us pray:

Lord, be the light we need at all times.  Guide us in following You, especially in the “foggy” times of life.  In Your name we pray, Amen.

Creatively Flexible

Have you ever tried to carry or slide a large piece of furniture through a small doorway?  Frustrating, huh?  It may even feel impossible.

This is how I felt when trying to climb into a friend’s van one evening.  As many of you have probably figured out by now, flexibility is not my middle name since my joints do not bend well at all.  I usually comment, “I’m flexible…just not physically!”  When I came to the realization that I could not climb into the front of the van via the passenger door since the seat was too high, I used the wheelchair lift to raise myself into the vehicle, and then in order to climb into the passenger seat, my next challenge was to maneuver myself over the mounted platform between the two front seats.  Sitting on the platform, I slid myself into the passenger seat with my legs hanging the back.  My friend Becky then grabbed my legs and raised them over and onto the driver’s seat.  Realizing that I slid the wrong way to move my legs downward onto the passenger floorboard, I told Becky to lower the front passenger window.  Next, I wiggled myself partially out the window, trying to give myself enough space to lower my legs in front of me.  At the same time, though, due to some anxiety and fear, I instructed Becky, “If I start falling out the window, grab my leg!”  As this process continued, individuals began strolling by us, giving us strange glances.  At one point, I said “Hi, there” to one of them, and Becky and I started laughing hysterically.  Finally, after much effort, I got myself safely and securely into the passenger seat.

You may have never found yourself in this type of quandary, but I bet you have faced other obstacles where you have been forced to be creatively flexible.  Trying to function well in both your professional and personal schedules.  Accomplishing multiple tasks within a limited period of time.  Meeting the demands of multiple individuals simultaneously.  Completing a project or task without all the necessary tools.  Performing both relational and administrative duties at the same time.

The bottom line is best summarized in a quote by a man named Brian Tracy: “Be clear about your goal, but be flexible about the process of achieving it.”  Focus on the goal, and then work on the process.  Thus, it is in these moments of being creatively flexible that we can begin examining the endless possibilities of reaching the goal.

“The Familiarity of Grief”

Several weeks ago, while walking through Walmart, I took a double glance at a woman that crossed my path, for she greatly resembled my grandmother.  Even though my grandmother died over ten years ago, this woman had her same hair color and style and wore a similar bright red, winter coat.  As the woman crossed my path, I felt the sense of loss and grief rise again within me.

No matter how much time passes, it only takes one familiar object, event, person, or tradition to trigger the grieving again.  Despite the continuance in the grieving, the familiarity in the memories also provides the strength and courage to move forward.  It is in the sharing of the memories that we keep the individual alive, and this aliveness allows the person’s spirit to always reside within us.

Let us pray:

Lord, we frequently work with others who are going through some stage of the grieving process.  Help us to remain attuned to them as they relish in their memories, and allow this time of listening to help them keep the spirit of their loved one alive.  May this time of grieving serve as the bridge to believing that they can continue along life’s journey.

In Your name we pray this,

Amen

 

“Why, God, Why?”

A few months ago, I recall dashing to the Trauma ICU in response to an Adult Code One.  While the medical team was fervently working to revive the gentleman, I found his wife in the hallway, sitting by the window crying hysterically.  In the midst of her sobs, she questioned angrily and frustratingly, “Why would God take away a great man?  Why would He do this?” Holding her, I remained calm and quiet as her body convulsed against mine.  Finally, as she settled down, I looked directly into her eyes, whispering, “I don’t know why God is allowing this to happen, but I do know that He is in ultimate control and will carry you through this.”

Even though this man did survive, I sometimes question God’s plans and purpose for other patients and their families in our units.  While I often do not usually comprehend His future plans immediately, I remind myself that everyone on the medical team can offer a form of healing—whether physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually.  The Lord has given each of us gifts in order to serve, to serve others like He has since the beginning of time.

Let us pray:

Lord, You are the Great Healer.  You breathe life, and You take it away.  I ask that each of us may be a vessel in pouring out Your love and healing to all whom come into our lives.

In Your name we ask this,

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heroes

Do you recall the very first patient you ever served? I still remember it vividly to this day. At that time, I resided near Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in Virginia where I had been assigned to the Women’s unit. I met a woman who had recently given birth and was preparing to take her baby home. Scared to do so, we discussed her concerns as I provided a comforting, empathetic listening presence. At the end of our time together and with her experiencing much relief from her anxiety, she hugged me good-bye. Closing the door, I strolled away, knowing that I had served her well and realizing that I had probably found my niche as a hospital chaplain.

With Memorial Day approaching, many people tend to remember the fallen heroes that fought in various wars throughout the years. What about the living ones who continue to fight today? What about the medical heroes who stand daily on the battle lines for individual lives? Each of you is a hero! You march on the dividing line of life versus death, advocating for the patients an sometimes families as well as journeying through difficult ethical issues.

So, on Memorial Day, take a moment to reflect on your first patient or at least your early years in this career, and remember your purpose for responding to this call to battle!

Let us pray:

Lord, be with us right now. Help us humble our hearts before You. May we take this moment to reflect on the memories You bring to mind. We ask also that You prepare us mentally, emotionally, and spiritually to process the issues at hand.

In all of this we ask in Your name,

Amen.

The Reason for the Season

One morning on my way to get into my van to go to work, it had snowed a few inches the night before, but I knew my motorized scooter could still drive through it.  As I approached the edge of the sidewalk to cross the parking lot, a snow plow crossed directly in front of me, dumping a huge mound of snow in my path.  Oh no!  I was doomed!  The snow pile came up to my waistline, and I knew there was no way to get through now.

The overwhelming feeling described here is frequently experienced during this time of year.  Family gatherings.  Holiday parties.  Traffic jams in parking lots.  Long shopping lines.  Hours spent wrapping gifts.  All of this while still dealing with the continuous flow of stresses with patient/family care and administrative tasks.

Even though this time of year can be full of many to-dos and much commercialism, I encourage you to take some time for yourself alone and really reflect on the true reason for this season.  This is shared in one of my favorite Christmas movies, A Charlie Brown Christmas:

Charlie Brown: “…I guess I don’t really know what Christmas is about. Isn’t there anyone who understands what Christmas is all about?”

Linus: “Sure, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”

Linus goes to center stage, spotlight.

Linus: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were so afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you. Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in the manger.’ And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.’”

 Linus picks up blanket, walks back to piano.

Linus: “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

 

Thank you for this reminder, Linus!
Have a blessed Christmas and holiday season, Everyone, and a Happy New Year!

 

Family Matters

During one of my many hospitalizations growing up, I stirred in my crib as the morning sunlight began peeking through the windows.  Upon hearing my movement, my father, who was laying underneath my bed on the floor, slowly raised his hand up beyond the mattress to where I could see it.  Recognizing his hand immediately, I squirmed even more so with much exuberance.

As I reflect on this incident, it is very apparent the impact that a medical crisis has upon the family.  Most of the time, they desire to remain close and wish to constantly interact with their loved one.  With this time of year surrounded by holidays, let us further take into consideration the impact of the memories on the families as they proceed in offering the gift of life to another/they ride this emotional rollercoaster ride.

Let us pray:

God, support us as we work to better support families.  May we also remember that we all are a part of one family—Your family!

In Your name we pray,

Amen

 

 

The Coach’s Chat

During my years in middle school, my Adaptive Physical Education teacher, Coach Eckdahl, who also served as the school’s football coach, required his students to serve on the football team as managers.  As one of his students, I functioned as a manager by acting as the “water girl” since I moved swiftly on my motorized scooter and carried the water bottles in my basket.

One night, due to much rain, Coach asked another manager to deliver the water bottles to prevent me from getting stuck in the mud.    At one point, when the team had huddled, the other manager dashed over to the players, quickly handed out the bottles, and then returned to the sidelines with the empty containers.  Then, Coach signaled the girl over to him and commented with a smile, “You did a great job delivering the bottles.  Next time, though, give them to our team.”

This illustration of Coach affirming and correcting the girl’s action symbolizes, to me, how the Lord disciplines us.  Serving as the Great Coach, He desires the best for His children, guiding and supporting them through all occasions of life.  With the Holy Spirit and His Word, He offers wisdom in difficult circumstances and encouragement when events do not proceed as we had hoped.  Furthermore, God rejoices with us and brings peace during times of obedience and joy.

So, what instructions are you receiving about your own “game” with life?  How is the Coach chatting with you today?

 

Making a Difference

Have you heard the phrase “actions speak louder than words?” Well, it proves so true in the hospital setting.

A couple of years ago, I was a patient in the hospital.  Having undergone a hip replacement, I was eventually transferred to the Rehabilitation Unit.  Within hours of being there, I found myself having little strength when toileting and constantly falling backwards, hitting my head on the pipe behind me.  Quickly acknowledging this dilemma, my Patient Care Technician resolved this issue by using towels and masking tape to wrap around the pipe for my safety.

To this day, I have never forgotten that small act of kindness.  Words can be extremely powerful, but as in this case, actions can even be more memorable.  May this illustration serve as a reminder to who we are and what we do can have a greater influence than what we say!

Let us pray:

Lord, thank You for the different acts of kindness You bestow on our lives—whether directly or through the generosity of others.  May we always strive to offer kindness to others—being Your servants to Your people.  In Your name we pray this, Amen.

A Small Wonder, A Greater Blessing

Last Wednesday evening, I received a phone call from my fiancée, informing me about two rainbows outside that I had to see.  Upon observing them, I was amazed at the Creator’s work, but little did I know that this small wonder would bring a greater blessing.

Following this, over the next couple of days, I worked very closely alongside a family whose loved one experienced a sudden traumatic event, and they eventually chose the path of donation.  On Friday morning after the surgery was completed, the patient’s mother and another family member requested to see the body again, so the Family Services Coordinator, Michelle, and I escorted them to the appropriate room.  During the viewing, the family shared how the onset of the patient’s illness occurred simultaneously with the appearance of two rainbows Wednesday evening and how this had served as a sign for them that he was gone.

After hearing this, with tears in my eyes, I said a final prayer with them, and Michelle and I gave them a few moments alone.  Their story not only affirmed God’s divine intervention in their lives but further affirmed the Lord’s preparation in my ministry with them.  Moreover, He did not display one rainbow but two, thus, revealing to me how He displayed His heavenly light upon this patient while concurrently offering the continued joy of life to another.

Let us pray:

O Creator, You are truly amazing!  Thank You for Your continuous divine interventions, especially in the most crucial times.  Thank You also for the signs You offer, guiding us in our ministry.  We ask that You continue to bless us as we strive to bless others.  In Your holy name we pray, Amen.

A Moment in the ICU

The mother saw her daughter from a distance.  She lay still with lines and tubes running from every direction of her body.  However, the monitor displayed life’s existence through the numbers reading her heart rate and pulse as a ventilator instilled movement in her chest.

The nurse approached the mother and said, “Would you like to hold your baby girl?”

“Yes,” whispered the mother, nodding her head with tears streaming down her face.

The nurse instructed the mother to sit in the rocking chair, and then she placed the baby girl with a blanket into her mother’s arms.

For several minutes, the mother rocked in the chair, cuddling her child and singing lullabies to her.

The gentle and considerate attention that this nurse gave to the mother has been remembered for many years.  Whether it be in the ICU or at the bedside in the trauma bay, giving a family member an opportunity to connect with their loved one is significant, especially as we as the caregivers offer words of comfort, reassurance, a listening presence, and a touch on the hand or shoulder during these difficult moments.  It is the small acts that go a long ways.  May we always act accordingly to attempt to meet the physical, emotional, psychological, mental, and spiritual needs of others.

Let us pray:

Lord, allow Your Spirit to be over us as we meet during this time.  Continue to give us wisdom in how to not just meet the needs of the patients we encounter but also their loved ones.  I personally want to thank You for the way You ministered to my mother and me through the nurse many years ago.  I ask for Your continued blessings over the trauma ministry here at St. Vincent.  In Your name we pray, Amen.

Change

One sunny afternoon, while living in Maryland as a child, I recall my father excitedly announcing to the family, “We’re going to move to St. Louis!”  Almost instantaneously, I burst into tears, realizing the losses that lay ahead, including leaving my best friend.  Simultaneously, though, my younger brother dashed inside our house and returned a few minutes later with a packed suitcase in hand!

Ironically enough, even now as an adult, I still struggle with change—changes in relationships, job duties, life directions, etc.  Despite it being a natural part of life, change has never come easy for me.  How do you handle change?  Every year, when the leaves start changing color, I find myself frequently reflecting upon changes that have occurred in my recent past as well as the upcoming possibilities in the future.  In these moments of observation, I often reflect silently, praying to the Lord for His guidance and assurance.

Moreover, with our ministry concentrating in the changes happening to our patients and their loved ones—whether instantly or over time, I have discovered that our work can best be summarized in the passage of Ecclesiastes 3:1-7:

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak…”

 

 

Nameless

I will never forget the event that occurred recently.  Responding to the page, I waited in the trauma bay with the rest of the team.  The stat flight team rolled the young woman into the room.  She laid motionless, barely clothed, and with no name, no age, and no family.

“Who is this woman?” I thought to myself.  “What happened to her?”

Hours later, while standing at the bedside of this still unidentified individual and holding her hand, I silently asked myself, “How do I pray for this woman, Lord?  What do I pray for?”

Then, with the urging of the Spirit, I prayed quietly, “Lord, be with this woman.  Even though I do not know her, you do.  Show Your face upon her.  Speak to her.  Be with her and her family at this time.  Amen.”

Through this incident, I learned that, when I am limited, God is not.  Where I face limits, He is boundless.  Thus, limitations only exist in man’s mind, not in the realm of the Divine Creator.

Let us pray:

As we journey through life—both professionally and personally—and endure its continuous struggles, may we remember—

You possess knowledge in and with the unknown.

You bring hope to the hopeless.

You offer strength to the weak.

You are the Great Healer when no healing can be found.

You make the impossible possible.

In Your name we pray, Amen.

The Journey from September 11, 2001

This year, we celebrate the 11th anniversary of the attacks that occurred on our land the day of Tuesday, September 11, 2001.  Where were you when these events happened?  How did that day forever change you—personally and/or professionally? 

I remember where I was when the first plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center—in bed.  Awakened by a friend’s phone call to alert me of these unfolding events, the tragedy of this day did not fully register with me until I turned on the news shortly thereafter.  I sat in complete silence and shock as I observed the massive destruction of these planes.  Living in Virginia Beach at that time, I recall driving to an appointment later that morning, listening to the local radio announcer describe the lines of vehicles heading to the navy and army base and thinking to myself, “Are we going to be hit next?  How will the events of today impact Americans in the days, weeks, and months ahead?”

When tragedy strikes, it not only affects those directly impacted but even those non-directly.  Thousands of people lost their lives that day and left numerous mourners behind.  Our nation’s security systems have been forever changed due to the actions of a few.  Americans are now much more educated on terrorism and the catastrophic results it can have on millions.

 So, I then ask, “How do we continue to move forward after this tragedy?” First, we continue to seek the Lord for peace and strength through prayer and Scripture reading.  Proverbs 3:5-6 states, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”  Secondly, may we serve each other as God would, allowing our ears to listen empathetically, our eyes to see the goodness in others, and our lips to speak words of encouragement and kindness.  The power of one’s comforting presence can triumph over the difficult, cruel actions of others. 

Personally, about a year later in 2002, after having discovered my love for trauma while completing my first unit of chaplaincy training, I came across the book God @ Ground Zero by Chaplain Ray Giunta.  In this book, Chaplain Ray shares of his experiences of journeying alongside the responders as well as the victims and their loved ones.  From his insights, I gleaned a new perspective on crisis response beyond the hospital walls and how I could expound on my role as a chaplain.  Later, with September 11th serving as a reminder of my annual start date of my ministry, I know that date has helped defined me as a chaplain who thrives in trauma, chaos, and crisis.  

To move forward from that horrible day in September eleven years ago involves acknowledging how that day changed you and those around you and, with God’s assistance and guidance, embracing what the future holds.  Let us continue to step toward the future in faith, knowing that His glory will one day prevail for all of mankind. 

 

 

The Journey is the Destination

Have you seen the commercials for the Infiniti?  As we travel along life’s highways, the announcer reminds us that “the journey is the destination.”  This also proves true in the medical field.

Having been a patient several times in my life, involving many recoveries from various surgeries, one specific surgery and recovery that sticks in my mind relates to this quote.  At the age of ten years, I underwent a four-hour intense hip surgery that forced me to live in a body cast for a few months before relearning how to walk again.  When the time arrived for me to begin physical therapy, using a walker, I recall the intense pain and difficulties I experienced.

Specifically, the physical therapist, Cindy, instructed, “Now, Kristen, all I want you to do is stand.  You do not need to take any steps.”

After a few moments of painfully standing, I said, “I want to try walking.”

“Okay,” Cindy responded.

I took two steps and then had to rest.

From this as well as other recoveries, I find myself setting the “bar” high.  For example, in the situation described above, I desired to walk across the room even though I had not walked for a few months.  Thus, I learned that it was not as significant to walk across the room as it was to progress forward in the healing process.  This event allowed me to recall a quote by Greg Anderson: “Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.”

In the Trauma/Neuro ICU, many of our patients and their loved ones endure “rollercoaster rides” during their time here, going two steps forward and then one step back.  Hence, they wrestle with a plethora of emotions, including disappointment, joy, despair, relief, hope, and gratitude.  Having observed and experienced the cycles on numerous patients’ care, we as caregivers have the unique privilege of describing and emphasizing the baby steps in the hospitalization process.  The American novelist Don Williams, Jr. best summarizes it by stating: “The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet, our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.”

 

 

The Power of Prayer

Several years ago, while completing his residency, Dr. Tom Cypher, a friend from Maryland, was struggling with patience, so he began to specifically pray to the Lord for patience.  One night, during an on-call shift, a nurse commented to him, “Tom, when it is crazy down here in the ER, I always know that you are the one on-call.  We always get slammed on your shifts!  Why is that?”

“Well,” Tom replied, “It may be because I have been praying to God for patience, and it appears He is answering my prayers.”

Grabbing the physician by the collar, the nurse stated assertively, “Never pray for patience!  Always pray for wisdom! For when you pray for patience, God will flood you with numerous trials until you learn patience.”

No matter what prayer is spoken, do you find yourself relying on this “lifeline” to survive through a shift?  It may be to work through difficult relationships possibly with patients, families, or even colleagues.  It may serve as a beckoning for divine intervention or wisdom in how to best care for a declining patient.  It may allow you to express your frustrations regarding malfunctioning equipment and/or software.  Prayer is one tool accessible to all that permits you to know you are not a solo traveler on this journey of life.

Let me close by sharing a prayer by St. Francis for all of us:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is darkness, light.

Where there is sadness, joy.

Driving through the Medical World

Recently, the brakes on my fiancée’s car went out.  Attempting to maneuver it to a local repair shop, Jeff slowly backed the vehicle up, but this resulted in him pressing hard on the brakes to eventually force the automobile to stop, thus, making a loud screeching noise.  Deciding then that it was unsafe to drive to the shop, he attempted to return the vehicle to its original parking spot, but despite slamming the brakes again, the car continued moving forward—traveling over the curb and eventually stopping on the downward slope with its tail hanging in mid-air.  At this point, I felt like I was watching a live clip from America’s Funniest Home Videos!  After many more efforts, including manual exertion, Jeff eventually returned the car back to its original spot.

Now, as I reflect on this humorous incident, I realize that this can symbolize both what our patients and families experience as well as we as caregivers.  For the patient and/or family, they may experience a traumatic event(s) that results in a long-term recovery.  Then they progress forward in their healing process for a few days but suddenly code and have a huge setback.  This sometimes forces families from the decision to consent for medical interventions to the decision of whether or not to perform comfort measures only.  As caregivers, we become frustrated when a patient has done so well and then takes a turn for the worst.  We struggle when we do not accomplish the daily goals of care and when the various disciplines start not working together as a team, thus, forming conflicting approaches in the treatment plan.

 This “pendulum” cycle can be frustrating, overwhelming, and draining on all parties involved in the medical field.  So, where can we go for stability in an unstable world?  I would encourage you to pause for a moment, asking God for wisdom on the next steps to pursue.    As quoted by my fiancée, Jeff Higgins, “Stopping is as important as going.” Taking a pause can sometimes be as or even more productive than intervening with medical treatments.  Though patients, families, and caregivers may feel like they have either lost control or not gained any ground in a difficult situation, may we always remember and believe that there is One Who always maintains control!  May we always know that God can take control of the wheel of life and bring peace out of the chaos!  Oh, and one last thing, Jeff wants us to know, “Don’t drive a car without brakes!”

 Let us pray:

Lord,

There are many times when we try to direct patient care to result in the outcomes we desire.  Help us to surrender the leading to You, for You know what all the patients, families, and staff need at every single moment.  Guide us today and everyday.

In Your name we pray, Amen.

Searching beyond the Cover

My family has always described me as a very neat person, striving to always maintain physical order in my room.  As a young child, I never wanted anyone to disturb the tidiness of my room, especially when I was gone.

When my younger brother Andy was around one or two years of age, he loved to go in my room and play with whatever toys he could find.  Particularly, since my books were on a shelf where he could reach, he entertained himself with pulling all of them off the shelf and then sitting in the midst of the pile, flipping through the pages to look at the pictures.  Therefore, when I returned home from school, I would frequently find my room to be a MESS!  Then, as an impatient soul, I became angry at him, frustrated that I had to constantly clean up after him.  As time passed, either Andy messed up my room less and less, or I grew more tolerant of this habit.  I further looked over this trait of his and began admiring more and more of his positive characteristics—his humor, kindness, genuineness, helpfulness, and protection.  Today, even though we do not live physically close, we share a strong sibling bond and love for one another—one that I hope we will continuously treasure in the years to come.

Now, who in your life possesses characteristics that drive you ABSOLUTELY CRAZY?  It may be a family member, friend, acquaintance, patient, or even a colleague.  What about that individual gets beneath your skin?  Is that trait (or are those traits) the only one(s) that he or she has?  I challenge you today to pry further into getting to know the person beyond the surface.

 As you begin your soul searching, take a moment to reflect on the statement that Angela Hunt writes in her novel The Note:

 “’People are like newspapers,…and most of them don’t want to open up when you first meet ‘em.  They’ll show you their front pages, maybe even let you read some ads on the back page.  If you take a little time and ask the right questions, you might be trusted enough to peek at the masthead on page two.  But if you really want to read everything, you’ve got to convince them to open up all the way.  Not until then will you be able to read the fine print of the soul’ (95).”

 Remember the famous saying: “Don’t judge a book by its cover!” Search beyond their “covers,” and discover what they can offer to this world.  Moreover, trust that the Lord has allowed you two to cross paths for a purpose, even if you do not understand it immediately.  Even though he is my brother, I looked beyond what I considered to be Andy’s “flaws,” and I can honestly say it has been a life-changing, life-enriching experience!

Pushing beyond the Disappointment

Growing up, my family and I spent many summer evenings in Canton, Missouri, visiting a few elderly relatives.  Learning many new games, we spent hours playing cards together.  Once every summer, my great uncle usually took the kids fishing at a local pond.  With various appetizers and drinks in our midst, we also chatted many late afternoons about life’s happenings before adjourning to the dining room for the main course.

On one particular evening, after my great uncle had constructed bug boxes for the kids, we decided to head outside at dusk to catch lightning bugs.  Upon this outing, Mimi, my grandmother, exerted tremendous determination in catching one herself.

Finally, one flew near her and lit up.  She quickly grasped her hands around it, yelling, “I caught one!”  When she slowly opened her hands, though, the crushed bug laid still in the palm of her hand.  From that point forward for the rest of the night, disappointment hung in the air.  Even though Mimi gave it her all, her all did not prove to be a success nor was it enough.

Have you ever had a time or times in your life when you have given it your all, and it was not enough nor successful—maybe at work or even in your personal life?  How have you handled the disappointment?  Even though my family and I can now chuckle at Mimi’s attempt to capture the lightning bug, what has helped you move forward beyond the trials of life?

When I encounter times of disappointment, an image forms in my mind of me riding a bull, trying to overcome the battle but eventually being thrown to the ground.  As I rise again to proceed in the fight, I hear the whispering of my father’s words: “Attitude is everything.”  Hearing this, along with the supportive relationship of my heavenly Father, I regain the stamina to continue the fight.  Hence, while believing and trusting in not just the Lord’s guidance but those whom have mentored and spoken wisdom to us through the difficult circumstances, may our attitude towards any outcome that follows demonstrate one of relinquishment to their impartment in our lives!

The Balancing Act

During my middle school physical education class, I recall my instructor teaching the class how to juggle, using very lightweight pieces of cloth.  I had little difficulty keeping two cloths in the air because I was only focused on those two items.  However, when a third cloth was added to the mix, I was totally thrown off of my “balancing act” and could no longer manage my load.

Do you experience this quite often at work…or even in your personal life?  Maybe even just going back and forth between these two realms?  When life becomes too stressful and you feel overburdened, how do you cope?  I would like to suggest the acronym “HELP”:

H – Have a few moments to just breathe and calm yourself

E – Examine the situation or conflict again, exploring the various angles or perspectives

L – Look to another for assistance or insight, even if it’s just to vent your own concerns    or frustrations

P – Pray to the Almighty One, for He provides everlasting support, strength, and wisdom

Let us go to the Lord right now:

O God,

Be with us always through all seasons of life, especially during the difficult times.  Help us to find a sense of balance physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually.

We ask this in Your name, Amen.

FIDO

Recently, I attended a conference where there were several display cases outside the meeting room. Trying to look at one particular book, I maneuvered my power chair close to the table—actually, too close! I bumped into the table, sending one whole stack of books flying to the ground. Glancing around and seeing that no one saw my act, I quickly drove away, thinking to myself, “Fido.” I learned this term from my parents who heard it from a speaker, meaning “Forget It, Drive On.”

Here on the unit, with much bustling, never-ending activity, we perform a variety of tasks every hour—both routine as well as those with which we are less familiar. Unfortunately, as we fulfill our duties, mistakes do happen—ones we cannot forget and require us to expand our learning. Therefore, when an error occurs, I encourage each of us to “Fido”…”File It, Drive On.” File these instances into our memory bank as learning moments, and drive on to your next task. Let these times serve as opportunities of growth in your expertise—opportunities to place your life as well as others’ into the Lord’s hands as well as opportunities to receive His grace and glean from His wisdom. Therefore, put your best effort into your work today, and always FIDO!

Heroes

Do you recall the very first patient you ever served?  I still remember it vividly to this day.  At that time, I resided near Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in Virginia where I had been assigned to the Women’s unit.  I met a woman who had recently given birth and was preparing to take her baby home.  Scared to do so, we discussed her concerns as I provided a comforting, empathetic listening presence.  At the end of our time together and with her experiencing much relief from her anxiety, she hugged me good-bye.  Closing the door, I strolled away, knowing that I had served her well and realizing that I had probably found my niche as a hospital chaplain.

With Memorial Day approaching, many people tend to remember the fallen heroes that fought in various wars throughout the years.  What about the living ones who continue to fight today?  What about the medical heroes who stand daily on the battle lines for individual lives?  Each of you is a hero!  You march on the dividing line of life versus death, advocating for the patients an sometimes families as well as journeying through difficult ethical issues.

So, on Memorial Day, take a moment to reflect on your first patient or at least your early years in this career, and remember your purpose for responding to this call to battle!

Let us pray:

Lord, be with us right now.  Help us humble our hearts before You.  May we take this moment to reflect on the memories You bring to mind.  We ask also that You prepare us mentally, emotionally, and spiritually to process the issues at hand.

 In all of this we ask in Your name,

 Amen.

Kicking Forward with the Truth

Since his early teenage years, my father was an avid swimmer and lifeguard.  One summer, when he was not attending swim practice, Coach Keller hired Dad to manage and lifeguard a small pool and clubhouse.   During one afternoon, while cleaning up around the pool deck after closing, my father began tossing some kickboards towards the clubhouse to quickly tidy up the place.  Mistakenly, though, he tossed one a little too hard and sent it through one of the huge windows of the clubhouse.

“Oh no!” Dad thought to himself, placing his hand to his forehead.  “What am I going to do?  This will take up most of my summer earnings!”

Suddenly, Coach Keller walks out across the deck, notices the broken window, and asks my father, “What happened here?”

Dad then confesses honestly to his wrongdoing, and Coach responds, “Oh.  Okay.  Well, I needed to purchase a new window anyway.”  Dad felt so relieved!

How many mistakes do we make here at the hospital?  Confessing to these not only enlightens everyone to the dilemma and helps us all to work together as a group to correct them; it also lightens the emotional burdens of the particular individual.  In John 8:32, Jesus states that others “will [eventually] know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  Free from possibly so much guilt.  Free to take corrective measures.  Free to move forward and perform better in the future.  So, the next time a mistake happens, consider the following: What went wrong here, and what needs to “be set free”—now as well as later in the future?

Pushing the Limits

Living in an apartment several years ago with my family, my brother Andy and I decided to explore the complex one afternoon. Strolling along various sidewalks, we came across a group of pre-teen girls who had already proven to be very unfriendly during our few weeks of residing there. I attempted to escape their bullying behavior but, soon thereafter, found myself lying on the sidewalk after one of them shoved me. Andy then dashed back to our apartment for our mother’s assistance with the situation, especially in helping me up off the ground.

Have you ever felt like this here at work—pushed to the ground so much that you could not stand on your own? It may have been from the heavy demands in patient/family care that day. It may have resulted from the lack of cohesiveness in the various disciplines. It may even have occurred, during one of those days, when you dragged heavy emotional burdens from your personal life into the hospital.

As your chaplain in the Medical ICU, I have learned that it is not the physical task that is overwhelming but the number of tasks that require accomplishing simultaneously and even the emotions tied to them. This is what causes the emotional stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue. When the demands of meeting others’ needs becomes so great that we can no longer care for our own needs, this is when we lose focus and stability because, without any self-care, you will eventually lose the ability to provide care, period.

An anonymous author once wrote, “Setting healthy boundaries means sometimes saying ‘No.’” The word “no” is not bad in itself; it just establishes the “fence” for maintaining the space we need to maintain our physical and emotional health. So, what boundaries do you need to set in your professional and personal lives? What do you need to do to establish them? As one who struggles in setting boundaries, I know this is not an easy concept to live out, but I will take this journey with you in enhancing our physical, emotional, mental, and even spiritual well-beings by firmly grounding one post of the “fence” at a time!

 

Memories That Will Always Be

A couple of days ago, I attended a conference covering the issue of grief. During his presentation, the speaker shared various memories of his mother and how she (and their relationships) was affected later in life by Alzheimer’s disease. Particularly, he commented on actions of hers that he did not like at that time, but he missed them today.

Suddenly, upon hearing his stories, tears arose to my eyes as I recalled different memories with my grandmother, Mimi, who also was diagnosed in her later years with dementia. One vivid memory I have is when Mimi would sit in her armchair with her head tilted back and her hands clasped together in a praying position. She then would sing the following verses loudly but off-key:

“We three kings of orient are

Oh, who traveled, oh, so far…”

Whether these lyrics were correct or not, I remember always thinking how badly her singing sounded and how much I would long for her to quit at any time. However, to this day—several years later, whenever I hear that song, I cannot help but to think of her and the wonderful impact she made upon my life.

When working with our patients and families, have you ever experienced encounters that “struck a chord” with your past? How do these memories still affect you to this day? May these moments be ones where you allow the Lord to comfort, carry, enrich, and bless you as you serve His children!