“I’m Sorry for Your Loss, and Congratulations.”

FullSizeRender 10On Tuesday morning, my boyfriend’s mother died. No warning, no easily determinable cause of death. She just up and died. He and his family were in shock. So I went with him to stay at his sister’s house, while the whole family tried to absorb this news and begin adjusting to their new normal. Time seemed to slow down. The grief in the house was palpable. On Wednesday morning, I sat with Will and his family around the kitchen table as his sister Ginny read us the obituary she was writing. And that evening, Will, his sisters, and their father spoke with the funeral director to plan their mother’s service. A few minutes later, Will invited me to take a walk with him down to the dock on Lake Murray, where he asked me to marry him.  Continue reading

R is for Ready

(This post is part of my continuing series ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

Not long ago, my boyfriend and I took his two sons to a local waterpark, on one of the Saturdays I didn’t have to work. It was a fun day, and I felt quite relaxed as we floated down the Lazy River on inner tubes. But just then, I heard a familiar beeping, and I wasn’t so relaxed anymore. It took me a moment to locate the source of the sound. It was not, as my mind had instantaneously concluded, coming from the pager I carry at work in the hospital. Rather one of the nearby water slides used a very similar tone to let the person working at the top of the slide know that it was safe to send the next rider down. Once I figured that out, I breathed a sigh of relief. Still, after nine years of responding to all kinds of emergency calls that begin with that sound, I had a Pavlovian response to it every single time, a small rush of adrenaline. Some subconscious part of my brain has learned that when I hear that sound, I have to immediately be ready for anything.  Continue reading

“Why Did You Write a Book?”

booksigning16Recently my phone chimed with a message from a friend. It was one sentence: “Why did you write a book?” Such a seemingly simple question, but I thought about it all day before answering. There are so many reasons I wrote my first book, and few of them are simple to explain. I loved to read from a very young age, and loving books led me to want to be an author. That one’s pretty easy. But the whys of writing this particular book get more complicated. Continue reading

The Beginning of Empathy

It has been a terrible week for all of us in the U.S., to varying degrees. We couldn’t catch our collective breath before we had another public tragedy to grieve, and another, and another. I lamented on Twitter that in addition to sick days, our jobs should give us “crushing sadness for the state of our society” days, because I honestly felt such despair and powerlessness that it was hard to get out of bed. And I realized that I say that as someone speaking from a place of privilege. I wasn’t directly impacted by the murders I saw on the news this week, except that I try to practice empathy. It’s messy and I certainly haven’t mastered it, but I keep trying. What I’ve seen lately is a whole lot of people who seemingly have lost the ability or willingness to imagine the world from someone else’s perspective. Empathy is one of the tools God has given us to help in the hard work of loving our neighbors as ourselves. But it isn’t enough on its own. Imagining what someone else thinks and feels is fine, but God also gave us the gift of story. And if we want anything to change, I think it begins with simply listening.  Continue reading

Looking for the Helpers

loveneverfailsIt’s been a week since Orlando. It’s been a year since Charleston. Anniversaries of tragedies can resurface all the feelings of shock, anger, and grief that we initially felt. The grief of public tragedies lately has been overwhelming for me. Through the combination of clinical depression, a deep sense of empathy, and a vivid imagination, I get stuck imagining myself over and over in the place of the victims when I hear the horror stories in the news. I had to stop listening for a while. But still again and again my mind returns to the Pulse nightclub a week ago, and Mother Emanuel AME church a year ago. The only thing that makes it bearable for me is to do what Fred Rogers said his mother taught him to do when he saw horrible things on the news: “Look for the helpers.”  Continue reading

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?

Like millions of other people, I’ve spent the past few months obsessed with the soundtrack to the Broadway musical Hamilton. If you’re not familiar with the play, it dramatizes the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton, telling the story through modern American musical styles. It is brilliant and funny and moving. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve listened to it, and I still cry every time. Before he puts young Hamilton in charge of a battalion of soldiers to fight a crucial Revolutionary War battle, General George Washington sings words of paternal wisdom and caution: Continue reading

Thank You, Star Wars

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We came into the world in the same year, within weeks of each other. So many of my childhood memories are tied to you. Every Christmas, there were Star Wars action figures under the tree. My little brother and I played in a grove of trees we dubbed the Ewok Forest. And I didn’t give him piggyback rides, but Tauntaun rides. When my dad drove our minivan through a Kentucky snow storm at night, the flakes coming toward the windshield looked to me exactly like the stars whooshing by as Han Solo took the Millennium Falcon to light speed. I never outgrew you, as evidenced by the photo of me hugging Chewbacca (after waiting in a very long line) on my 34th birthday. But it wasn’t until this week, as I watched “The Force Awakens” with my boyfriend’s two sons for the first time, that I started to understand how much I learned from you, how much you shaped who I am. And I just wanted to say thanks. Continue reading

The Case for Chaplaincy

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Have you ever met someone who thought that what you do for a living was a waste of resources? Someone who questioned whether your job should even exist? It’s not all that uncommon for me. Some people just don’t get why having hospital chaplains on staff is a justifiable expense, especially in a public hospital like ours, with no religious affiliation. “Those visits should be taken care of by local clergy,” they often say, or, “Lots of patients these days aren’t religious and don’t have any use for chaplains.” Others suggest that nurses could be trained to provide spiritual care, since they spend so much time with patients anyway. This all results from a fundamental misunderstanding of who chaplains are and what we do. One of the reasons I started this blog and wrote my first book was to clear up some of those misconceptions.  Continue reading

Thoughts from the Via Dolorosa

In 2007, I spent two weeks in Israel and Egypt as part of a group from my divinity school. It was the trip of a lifetime, one of the greatest blessings I’ve ever received. Being there, seeing the places where so many stories I’d read in the Bible actually happened, was overwhelming. Sometimes I go back and read my journal from that trip. I filled almost the entire book in those two weeks. During Holy Week, my mind takes me back to the places Jesus walked, where I got to walk, too. I shared my experience of the Garden of Gethsemane two years ago. On this Good Friday, I’ve been re-reading some of what I wrote after walking the Via Dolorosa:

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Living in Imaginary Worlds

Recently I discovered and fell in love with a podcast called Imaginary Worlds. Host Eric Molinsky explores many of the fictional worlds we know from pop culture, but often with a unique and very intelligent spin. It was his five-part series on Star Wars that hooked me (which will come as no surprise to anyone who knows my lifelong devotion to that franchise), and made me think about the movies and expanded universe in new ways. In one episode, historians and Star Wars scholars discussed the cultural/political factors in 1977 that led to the original movie becoming such a phenomenon. Subsequent episodes delved into the “Han shot first” controversy from an ethical standpoint, asked whether the Empire saw itself as evil or was taking what it saw as reasonable steps to bring order to a chaotic galaxy, featured a rabbi who compared the Star Wars expanded universe to the rabbinic commentary on the Torah called midrash, and debated whether “Slave Leia” could be seen as a symbol of female empowerment or was a misogynistic wrong turn in the character’s journey best left forgotten. I listened to those episodes multiple times, then went back and listened to every episode since the podcast began in 2014. It got me thinking about how much of my time is spent in imaginary worlds, not just when I lose myself in fiction, but when I do my job as a chaplain. Continue reading