Tag Archives: CPE

Memorial

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Five years ago this weekend…

I know that Memorial Day is a tribute to our brave armed services members past, especially those who gave their lives in service to our country, and I am grateful to live in a place that observes such a holiday.  America is not perfect and the great experiment of democracy is still very much that, an experiment.  This post is not about politics or patriotism, however.  I have other people and events I’m remembering this weekend.

Memorial Day weekend Sunday, 2012, I took the pager for my last overnight on call during my extended unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, or CPE.  We had already celebrated our graduation and I’d presented my final self-evaluation to my peer group and received their evaluations of me during the unit.  This last on-call night was all that stood between me and my final evaluation from my supervisor, an insightful pastor and educator who managed both to bust my chops and to affirm my gifts for ministry during our time together at the hospital. I needed someone to provide both these things for me and I received them in spades from Randy, for whose insights I am forever grateful.

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I’m sure I hoped for a calm night as I dropped off my belongings in the small on-call room with its bed, toilet and sink, desk and lamp (the shower was down the hall and everyone on call took turns taking hurried showers and praying not to get paged while we were in there!).  This was my home away from home 2 nights a month from January through the end of May that year. I didn’t get to spend a lot of leisurely quality time there, as Sunday nights were notoriously busy!  Looking through my notes from the unit I remembered each patient who came through, each page to a room I received, hugs and prayers and tears shared.  And laughs, too, with my peer group and mentors, other staff members, patients and families.

My last night on call was typical of every other Sunday night I spent there, crazed, rushed and filled with the sounds of the pager beeping with one trauma after another…with one notable exception.  Every time I was on call and a code was called because a patient had gone into cardiac arrest, I watched as the transport team, doctors and nurses resuscitated, defibrillated and revived the patient, achieving at least a brief reprieve between life and death.  This last code did not end that way.  The patient did not come back.  It was the only time I saw that happen, and it has stuck with me.  As the chaplain on call, I sat with and attended to the family as the doctor explained what had taken place, offered presence and care while they attempted to absorb the news, and when they asked me to pray, I did so with solemn gratitude for the privilege.

It is a sacred space we occupy when someone dies.  Sharing that space with my own loved ones, and with acquaintances and strangers during my time as a hospice volunteer and working through the extended unit of CPE, honored, humbled, taught and blessed me in ways I am still processing even now.  Presence in that space has informed the ways I interact with everyone in my life, and it will continue to do so until it is time for me to be the one who dies.  I pray that the people who share that space with me and my loved ones when the moment arrives will draw comfort, strength, insight and peace from being there.

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Holding Space

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Learning by doing…

Recently while reading I came across a phrase and a concept that instantly struck a chord inside me:  holding space.  Specifically, holding space in my heart for others as they walk their path in life, especially when that path is a difficult, painful one.  It is actually something I have been learning to do my entire life.

Sometimes I’ve described this concept with the following phrases:

“You are in my prayers.”

“I’ll be remembering you.”

“I’m thinking of you.”

“My heart is with you.”

During my work in CPE, I learned that the work of the chaplain is mostly about meeting and caring for people where they are, walking alongside them in their pain, providing compassionate presence, sometimes without words.  It is often uncomfortable simply to “be” with another person, without trying to fix what they are enduring.  We want to fill the silence with words, or noise, or activity.  Often what is needed is for us just to sit with someone, quietly.  These are ways we hold space for a person in need, or in pain.

I remember the morning a few years ago when my friend’s father was actively dying and ultimately passed away, when my friend and I sent Facebook messages to one another as she kept vigil at his bedside.  Just four months ago, another friend and I exchanged messages and a photo as he lay with his beloved dog while she died.  Even though I was unable to be present with these friends in a physical way, I was able to love and care for them…holding space.

The truth is, I’ve been learning how to hold space all my life…I just didn’t know it was called “holding space”.  And that phrase may be one that comes and goes away, replaced by another “concept-of-the-moment”.  I do like the idea, though, especially when someone is of a different faith tradition from mine, or from no faith tradition at all.  Sometimes telling someone that I am “praying” for them might hold negative associations, if the church has hurt them (which happens so much more often than we want to acknowledge).  Sometimes my own spiritual life is not such that I can truly pray…but I can always hold space.  God hears what I can’t say, and the person I am caring for knows they are being remembered with compassion and tenderness.  I’m holding several people even as I write this, people dear to me who are enduring pain that I cannot begin to imagine.  I communicate as best I can with them, and when we are not talking or writing, my heart is with them…holding space.

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Countless

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Name them one by one…

My blessings are countless.  Yesterday I was reminded just how blessed I am, through the friends God has placed in my life.  I see Him in their faces, feel His love in their hugs and smiles.  I hear Him in their voices as we sing together, as we laugh, as their sweet words offer counsel, comfort and affirmation.

Meetings both planned and unexpected filled my day, feeding my body at lunch and supper, and my soul throughout the hours.  After running a quick errand I stopped for lunch and ran into my sweet friend Valencia, a member of my CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) peer group from 2012, who has been on my mind for a couple of weeks now.  I was about to sit down and found myself instead scooped up into a long and joyful hug, the kind only Valencia can give!  And then she invited me to join her and her precious daughter for lunch.  We enjoyed a meal and a visit that nourished me in more ways than I can count.  It was a total God moment running into her, a blessing I didn’t realize how much I needed until it happened.

Afterward I proceeded to my friend Clay’s church for a couple of hours jamming at the piano and organ, him playing as I sang.  After the singing came a long conversation and some catching up.  Clay is a former Delta Omicron student, a reminder to me of my own student days and the value of the mentors who guided me when I was young and trying to find my way.  I’m still finding my way in some areas, a work in progress as we all are, and it always amazes me how people like Clay offer such reinforcement without even being aware of it.

After this I had my nails done and then met my friend Tina for supper to discuss “life stuff and musician stuff”.  I’ve known Tina for 30-plus years and sung with her in several ensembles over the years, from college to now.  She is a Delta Omicron sister from our college days, a level-headed, intelligent, grounded woman whose counsel I trust and whose love for God inspires excellence in all she does.  Sometimes I need a gut-check with people like that, and our meal together offered me assurance that some recent decisions I’ve needed to make came from a place of priorities rather than of pride.

If I started counting my blessings right now and did nothing else for the rest of my life, I’d never complete the list!  Yesterday’s encounters, planned and spontaneous, reminded me how much God loves us through the love of other people.  My friends and family serve as God’s hands and feet, His eyes of compassion and His voice of reason.  Gracious God, please use me this way in someone else’s life, that they may see Your blessings through me.

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Stoplights And Sticky Notes

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Encounters with God…

Scripture tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing”.  It sounds simple enough…but who among us has ceaseless hours to spend in prayer?  While I do try to spend meaningful chunks of time with God, more often than not, my prayers come in smaller pieces throughout the day.

I believe that God honors whatever time we offer back to Him, wherever we are.  Oftentimes I’ll read a prayer request on social media, and I take a quick moment right then to lift that person and the need up in prayer, and acknowledge that “One just went up,”.  And anytime I think of it, another one will go up.  The social media prayer army is a powerful tool we have to reach a lot of prayer warriors at one time, and I’ve seen many people join together to intercede on a friend’s behalf in this way.  This is technology at its very best.

Sticky notes live in my Bible, reminders of someone I have promised to pray for, situations needing God’s attention and intervention.  It’s not pretty, but it’s a handy way to remember a request until I can write it down someplace more permanent.  For a while, Jeff and I kept a list of prayer needs on the fridge door, because we knew that was the one place where we’d both see them regularly!  I need to reinstate that routine, especially now, when I am praying for so many needs and situations.

Then there are the “stoplight” prayers.  After I began my extended unit of CPE several years ago, I realized in a whole new way how a blaring siren and flashing lights can signal a life being changed, or ended, often in the blink of an eye.  Anytime I see or hear an emergency vehicle, I say a quick prayer for everyone involved in whatever that crisis or situation is, including the chaplain who is likely to catch that call and help in tending to wounds both seen and unseen.

All of these are little ways I can care for the people around me, the ones I know and love, and the ones I will never even meet.  Ways I can love my neighbor.  Ways I can encounter God and pray without ceasing.

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My Hundred Pound Present

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A reminder of the miracles of weight loss…

For anyone who may not be aware, I underwent weight loss surgery on June 6, 2012.  The process for this was a long and arduous one, filled with moments of both humility and humiliation.  As I wrote elsewhere, the hardest part of the whole thing was making the decision to do it, because I had to “suck it up and get humble for a minute”.  Admitting that I needed help was a difficult thing, but, as most weight loss surgery patients will agree, it really was my last resort.  After battling my weight for decades and finally deciding one last time to begin exercising and eating more wisely, I started that process only to lose 9 pounds before getting stuck and then injuring my “good” ankle (the “bad” one having been broken years before and then surgically reassembled).  Weight bearing exercise was impossible and I realized I needed a drastic intervention to help me reclaim my health.

Surgery prep happened during the same period I was completing an extended unit of Clinical Pastoral Education at our local teaching hospital.  The timing was totally a God thing, and I am convinced that each effort enhanced the other.  My unit of CPE placed me in a peer group of strangers who poured unconditional acceptance and support into me throughout both my hospital experience and the concurrent surgery preparation, becoming treasured friends and chosen family by unit’s end.

My hundredth pound came off on January 6, 2013, which in the church calendar is Epiphany.  That’s one sure way I’ll always remember the date, because it was an epiphany indeed!  It was also my 7-month surg-i-versary.  More pounds came off in the months that followed, and I was grateful for every one of them.  I still am, even though I have experienced some “bounce-back”, as many weight loss patients do.  I am working to get the pounds I want rid of to go away once more.  It’ll be a lifelong process, as will blood tests for nutrient levels and tweaking my nutrition.  I knew going in that these things would be part of The New Normal.

I decided I wanted to treat myself to a Hundred Pound present, to commemorate my journey and to have a tangible reminder of God’s faithfulness along the way.  So the search began for my chosen symbol, a small diamond cross pendant.  I knew what I wanted, and as a lifelong jewelry horse, I was a pretty savvy shopper.  It took a while to find just the right thing…but, like losing that hundredth pound, it was worth waiting for.

The thing is, I’ve never been one to wear a cross.  For a long time, I just couldn’t bring myself to wear the symbol of crucifixion.  I realized over the years, though, that the cross is a symbol of faith, hope and new life, not just a picture of Christ’s torture and death.  What better symbol could I choose to remind me of my own hope and new life than that?  And what possible symbol could be a better reminder of God’s constant companionship, comfort and help along the way as I adjusted to The New Normal?  What better reminder of second chances and redemption?

Because, for me, the weight loss journey has been very much a spiritual odyssey.  There has been a lot of prayer, especially during those early days after surgery, when my recovery took longer and involved a lot more pain than I had anticipated.  There have been many long nights of the soul when I cried and leaned into God because I had come to the end of myself.  And as I have experienced bounce-back and regained a few of the pounds I had lost, there is renewed prayer that God will help me minute by minute to make wise choices, and that He will comfort the hurting places that I want to feed with unhealthy foods.

I wear my cross often, usually paired with a diamond heart that Sweet Pea gave me for our 15th wedding anniversary.  My fingers find their way to my charms throughout the day, touching them and remembering the love, comfort and hope they represent.  Thanks be to God for second chances!

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Over The Rainbow

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Maybe the rainbow IS the pot of gold…

East Tennessee summers are known for producing sporadic, sometimes intense, pop-up storms, especially in the heat of the late afternoon.  Often those storms come and go in a matter of minutes, and sometimes, if we’re blessed, we can spot a rainbow in their aftermath.  I was fortunate recently to be able to see and photograph a rainbow on my way home from work after such a pop-up thunderstorm.

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A couple of years ago at the end of my extended unit of CPE, Carolyn, a member of my peer group, painted a watercolor for each of us as a gift and as part of her peer review.  Her artistic vision captured each of us as some element or scene from nature.  One of us was an ocean, one of us was a mountain.  Her vision of me was that I was a rainbow.  I was flattered and touched by her assessment of me and her ability to see my true colors (pardon the pun) in this way.

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I’ve often heard the old tale about there being a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  It’s a nice thought, but I am not holding my breath waiting to find that pot of gold anytime soon.  Which end is it supposed to be at, anyway?  The front end or the back end?  Not really the point, I realize…but my mind works like that sometimes.

I think maybe the rainbow is its own pot of gold.  It’s a beautiful treasure, a gift from God, like His very own brushstrokes across the sky reminding me of His promise never again to destroy humanity with a flood.  I think of the many kinds of floods in my life…floods of trouble, illness, death and sorrow.  “When it rains, it pours,” as the old adage states.  But in my floods I know I am never alone.  God is not going to drown me, and He is not going to abandon me in the midst of the pouring rain.