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”

How Did This Judgmental 1950s TV Housewife Get in My Head?

I’ve been married all of six months. Everyone says the first year of marriage is the hardest, because of all the change it brings. Some of those changes I knew to expect. But one thing I was not prepared for was all the guilt. I’ve been surprised by the guilt that comes from not meeting all these expectations I didn’t even realize I had for myself as a wife and (step)mother. I am an unapologetic feminist, and didn’t think traditional gender roles carried much weight in my psyche. It turns out that on some level, they do. It’s like I have this horribly perfect housewife from some old TV show (because nobody is that perfect in real life) breaking into my thoughts, constantly telling me how I’m screwing everything up. Continue reading “How Did This Judgmental 1950s TV Housewife Get in My Head?”

3. Do Back-to-School Shopping for a Child in Need

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

I love shopping for school supplies. As a child, I looked forward to it every year. If I close my eyes, I can still clearly picture my very first school bag, bright red with silver buckles, emblazoned with the logo of the 1981 movie version of the musical Annie. (It looked kind of like this, except I don’t remember the main image being cartoon Annie and Sandy.) It helped me through the difficult first day of kindergarten, when I was homesick and missed my mom and a mean boy told me I had a fat belly. Pretty much every year, I would get a new backpack (except when my grandparents got my brother and me L.L. Bean backpacks, which lasted and lasted) and a colorful assortment of notebooks, folders (I still miss my Trapper Keeper), pencils, erasers, and other supplies. When I grew up, I looked forward to going back-to-school shopping with my own kids. Continue reading “3. Do Back-to-School Shopping for a Child in Need”

2. Take an Aerial Fitness Class

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

I was worried, unsure whether my newly-40-years-old-and-overweight-for-nearly-all-of-those-years body could handle this. Before I signed up for the class, I emailed the owner of Aerial Fit Charleston to get her honest opinion on whether someone as old and out of shape as I am should really try aerial fitness classes. Would the materials hold my weight? Would I be able to keep up with the rest of the class? Would I make a fool of myself?  Continue reading “2. Take an Aerial Fitness Class”

On No Longer Being “Young”

It’s been way too long since I’ve written here. A lot has changed in my life in the past few months. When I started this blog a few years ago, the tagline read, “A single thirtysomething hospital chaplain learning (and unlearning) about life, death, God, myself, and other things along the way.” The “single” part changed in a big way when I got engaged last August, and in an even bigger way when I got married and became a stepmom to two young boys in March. Those changes (and others) have made it difficult to find time to write, but today I must. This is the day I lose another part of the tagline. As of today, I am no longer “thirtysomething.” And officially, according to one group that has meant a lot to me over the years, today I no longer qualify as “young.” The above photo was taken on my honeymoon, when I took a drink from the Fountain of Youth. Obviously it didn’t work. Continue reading “On No Longer Being “Young””

This Body of Dust

If you ever feel like you don’t have enough insecurities about your body, try looking through some bridal magazines. And then go to a store and try on dresses like the ones in those magazines. Look in the mirror and notice that your body looks so different in the dresses from those women in the magazines that you might as well be two different species. Voilà! Instant body insecurities! It sure worked for me, anyway. It doesn’t help that while cleaning out my closet the other day, I came across a picture of me from the time just over a decade ago when, for about a year, I was as close as I will ever come to my ideal weight. That picture tortured me maybe even more than the pictures of models in magazines. My eyes filled with tears looking at it as I thought, That’s the body I want to get married in. Why couldn’t I have had my wedding then?! I obsessed about how much better that body would look in my wedding dress (and my wedding night lingerie) and in all the hundreds of photos that will be taken of me on that day. But instead, I will get hundreds of photos of this body I have now, the one that is regrettably far from ideal. Continue reading “This Body of Dust”