Inside a COVID Patient’s Room

On the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina website this week, I shared some reflections on being a chaplain in these days of pandemic.

“She [the nurse] might be able to hold the patient’s hand, through gloves, as [the patient] died, but the family could not. I waited outside the room with the husband, offering what comfort I could, and hearing him do his best to comfort his children through FaceTime. I felt perhaps more helpless than I ever had in my twelve years as a staff chaplain at MUSC Medical Center. This was my first experience of a COVID-19 death. There would be others in the months that followed, and none of us knows what the months ahead will bring.”

You can read the whole article here.

A Blessing for the Longest Night

Today is the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere, the shortest day of the year. For some of us, this year has felt like a series of long, dark nights. We have done our best to hold on to hope, peace, joy, and love, even one tiny spark at a time, but it hasn’t been easy. As we prepare for the end of 2020, and hopefully much brighter days ahead in 2021, I invite you to take a moment to reflect on all you have experienced this year, and to receive this blessing. 

When you step out into the darkness,
May you remember.
Remember the losses and frustrations and anxieties you have faced.
Remember the resilience and kindness you have discovered, in others and in yourself.
Remember, though you may feel small under the endless sky, that you are cherished by the One who created it.

When you step out into the darkness,
May you feel.
Feel fear and grief and anger, for they are holy and wholly appropriate at this time.
Feel hope and gratitude and joy, for they are holy and wholly appropriate at this time.
Feel your breath, your heartbeat, the love of God surrounding and sustaining you. 

When you step out into the darkness,
May you see.
See how even a single candle in a window is enough to pierce the dark and guide you home.
See planets half a billion miles away reflect the sun’s light, a promise that it’s still there.
See that no matter how long and cold and dark the night may be, the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

Dawn is coming. 

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.)

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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”