Into the Unknown

Each day as I made my way into the hospital, I had to pass through the tent at the one entrance that was not blocked, along with everyone else who came into the building. It was like something out of a disaster movie. Every time, the chorus of a song from Frozen 2 came to mind, and I could hear Elsa belting out, “Into the unknoooown …” The campus felt like a completely different place from just a couple of weeks prior. This was the tent where hospital concierges, who used to assist visitors in the now-deserted waiting areas, had to screen everyone coming in for symptoms of COVID-19. They were exposed to more people each day than pretty much anyone working there. The same changes that put them on the front lines left me feeling sidelined. Chaplains were being asked by medical staff to limit our visits only to those most urgent, so we wouldn’t be more potential carriers of the virus from one unit to another. With testing so limited and results so slow, we just couldn’t know for sure how many of our patients were contagious, and Personal Protective Equipment was being closely guarded, anticipating growing numbers of confirmed COVID-19 patients at some future time.

A large white tent with lights inside is shown outside a brick hospital building. A sandwich board sign advises that there is no visitation allowed due to COVID-19.

In late March and early April, more and more often I was told by nurses or doctors that I couldn’t go in to patient rooms where I was called, because the person was a PUI, Patient Under Investigation, meaning they met some criteria for virus exposure, even if we didn’t have test results for them. Sometimes that meant standing helplessly outside the door while I could hear a mother wailing for her dying child inside the room. Other times it meant having to tell the family waiting outside the hospital that I could pray for their loved one from outside the negative pressure door, but like them, I would not be allowed to hold his hand as he died. This was not the case for chaplains everywhere. My seminary classmate and friend Will Runyon is a hospital chaplain in Albany, Georgia, site of one of the worst COVID-19 death rates in the country. I knew that Will had been suiting up in PPE and holding the hands of affected patients, ministering directly to them, being there for them when their families couldn’t be. In the online chaplain groups I was part of, others argued that the only responsible way to do our job right now was tele-chaplaincy from home. I told one of my colleagues, “I don’t know how to be a chaplain during this thing.” And the next day, I was told that I wouldn’t have the choice to be one.  Continue reading “Into the Unknown”

Faith in the Time of COVID-19

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?” Well, where do I begin?! I heard these words from Psalm 42 during our church’s worship service this morning, which I watched via Facebook Live just like the rest of the congregation. Our new pastor, the one we just installed last Sunday, came together with the rest of the church staff and made the difficult decision to cancel any activities at the church until further notice. Anything that brings groups of people physically together right now, especially when a lot of those people are in high risk categories, is anathema. Every day the numbers of those infected by the novel coronavirus and those who have died keep rising. So yes, there are plenty of reasons our souls might be disquieted within us in these strange days. Continue reading “Faith in the Time of COVID-19”

Fasting Toward a Fistfight

The kids noticed right away that my husband and I were not doing some of the things that we usually do every day, and were doing some new things instead. And yes, it was hard not to notice the cross of ashes on my forehead. Of course they asked why. I tried to explain why our church observes Lent, and why a lot of us choose to give up some things, and add new things, in our daily routines. “It’s making a sacrifice of something we like,” I told them, “to bring us closer to Jesus before we celebrate his resurrection at Easter.” It seemed an inadequate explanation, but it was the best I could do on the fly, as we rushed to get homework and violin practice done, before packing lunches and reading the next chapter of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets together at bedtime. By the next day, my Lenten disciplines were in a way bringing me closer to Jesus, but maybe even closer to punching a total stranger. Continue reading “Fasting Toward a Fistfight”

Becoming Into Another Decade

A lot has happened since the first day of 2010. That’s true for the world at large, of course, and probably true in any of our individual lives. I’m a sucker for new beginnings, and for nice round numbers ending in zero, so despite a pretty tough 2019, I find myself very hopeful as we face the beginning of a new year and a new decade tomorrow. It would be easy to look back at the last ten years and see all the things that haven’t turned out as I had hoped or planned. As a type 4 on the enneagram, I am someone who makes great big beautiful plans and goals on a regular basis, and regularly finds myself shocked and embarrassed when I am unable to bring them to fruition. (Hey, remember when I was going to do 40 new things for my 40th birthday? Yeah, let’s try to forget.) But rather than wallowing in my losses and failures (we 4s looove to wallow), I’d like to look back gratefully at all the things I was able to become in the 2010s, and (maybe in a later post) dream hopefully of some things I’d like to become in the 2020s.

In the past decade, I have become:  Continue reading “Becoming Into Another Decade”

A Prayer for Everyone Eating Christmas Dinner in a Hospital

Dear God,

This is not really where we want to be spending today. There are many reasons we are here with a tray of hospital food, instead of around a beautifully spread table at home with a great big loving family, like all the TV commercials and holiday cards and sappy songs on the radio seem to imply we should be. But here we are. Continue reading “A Prayer for Everyone Eating Christmas Dinner in a Hospital”

The Silences of “Silent Night”

It was two hundred years ago tonight, on Christmas Eve of 1818, that Joseph Mohr’s poem came together with Franz Xaver Gruber’s guitar music and the song “Silent Night” was born. I couldn’t let that anniversary go by without writing about it. We talked about it at church tonight, where my husband played it on guitar for our candlelight communion service. I thought about my visit to Salzburg, Austria years ago, where I saw the house where Joseph Mohr was born, an unassuming old house on an out of the way street. He was born in poverty, to an unwed young woman who worked in textiles. To become a priest, Mohr had to obtain special permission from the pope because of his “illegitimate” birth. I was moved by that story, how someone from such humble beginnings could earn a place in history because of the words he wrote, and when we were in a Christmas shop in Salzburg later the same day, I bought a fragile egg shell ornament painted with the first line of the song in its original German. It has hung on my Christmas tree every year since, in my many different homes across different states and different countries. Continue reading “The Silences of “Silent Night””

T is for Trauma

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

There are not many places you’ll still see a pager in 2018, but the hospital where I work is one of them. I have the small black beeper clipped to my lapel or in my pocket (if I’m lucky enough to find an outfit with pockets that day) at all times when on duty. The tones of my hospital pager are as familiar to me as . . . well, as any sound you’ve heard almost daily for over ten years. I always set mine to “Pleasing Alert” and that particular series of beeps is the most pleasing of all the options, it’s true. There are some times, though, when the Pleasing Alert is not what I hear. If the beeps instead are jarring, tapping out the same rhythm that in Morse Code means “S-O-S,” then I know that this is a trauma call. Continue reading “T is for Trauma”

6. Experience a Total Solar Eclipse

(This post is part of my series 40 New Things at 40.)

IMG_1900

It was the kind of thing that you can’t really plan, not completely anyway. I was just lucky enough to be in the path of a total solar eclipse that happened while I was 40. So I’m counting it! The hype surrounding this “Great American Eclipse” (so called because the moon’s shadow crossed the continental U.S. from Oregon to South Carolina) was incredible. Schools and businesses in my area were closed for the day, partly because everyone wanted to be free to see the eclipse and partly because authorities had no idea how people would react to the sky going dark in the middle of the afternoon. Would people driving simply stop in the middle of the road to gawk at the sun being blotted out, or run their cars off the road in surprise (even though the media had been telling us for months that it was coming)? Would animals run wild, not comprehending what was happening? Would there be mass hysteria?! Continue reading “6. Experience a Total Solar Eclipse”

5. Get DNA Tested

(This post is part of my at-least-year-long series 40 New Things at 40.)

There are some things that still make me feel like I am living in the future. The fact that I can spit into a test tube and some scientist in a lab can use it to examine my DNA is one of those things. Last year, I got my test kit from 23 and Me, one of a few different options in the DNA testing market now. Full disclosure: I chose them because my husband gained a perfectly delightful cousin through DNA testing, whose story was so compelling that 23 and Me turned it into a promotional video (which was filmed on our wedding day, but cousin Jordan still managed to make it to the reception). I wondered if my own DNA results would reveal anything surprising about my ancestry. Continue reading “5. Get DNA Tested”

4. Be the Tooth Fairy

(This post is part of my yearlong series, 40 New Things at 40.)

Some people have asked me for the complete list of my #40newthingsat40, but I didn’t make one in advance. I had some ideas written down before I started, but others I knew would be new experiences that would arise organically because of all the recent changes in my life. One of those happened when my 7-year-old stepson lost a tooth. He was wiggling and pulling at it all evening, and when he brushed his teeth that night, it pretty quickly fell out. He immediately started wondering what the Tooth Fairy would leave him.  Continue reading “4. Be the Tooth Fairy”