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”

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”

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 “R is for Ready”

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 “Looking for the Helpers”

Q is for Quiet

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

quiet shh

Working in a hospital is sometimes enough to make you superstitious (though, like Michael Scott, I try to be only a little stitious). Full moons really do seem to bring out more of the crazy stuff. If someone mentions that we haven’t had a gunshot wound all day, ER staff members would bet that one will arrive within the hour. And whatever you do, don’t say anything to the effect of, “It sure is quiet around here.” In my book, I tell the story of how I got on a nurse’s bad side by jinxing her shift with the Q word. Continue reading “Q is for Quiet”

P is for Prayer

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

“Why do we look down?” I asked my grandmother one Sunday after prayer time in church. “Isn’t God up in heaven? How come we don’t pray looking up?” My childhood question was a sincere one, but I don’t worry so much now about the right posture for praying. As a hospital chaplain, I have seen and participated in countless forms of prayer. I no longer think that God would be more likely to hear us if we looked in the right direction. Anytime we pray — and I believe we all do, whether or not we call it prayer — we are somehow looking for, reaching out for God.  Continue reading “P is for Prayer”

Stacy Crochetcy (It Rhymes!)

crochet

This week, I began a new business venture. I’ve been crocheting for a few years now, mostly making fun things for myself or gifts for friends and family. Over and over, I heard some of them say, “You should open an Etsy shop!” And so I finally have. I’m starting with just a few items, but I’ll be adding more in the days ahead, and I’m excited! If you’re looking for some lovely and slightly quirky handmade gifts, I invite you to check it out at this link: StacyCrochetcy on Etsy

Crocheting is more than just a hobby for me; it’s a spiritual discipline. Sometimes, through the gift of holy imagination, I have conversations with God while we crochet together.  Continue reading “Stacy Crochetcy (It Rhymes!)”

Hope Is Stupid

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I’ve always considered myself something of an optimist. But lately, it sure is hard to stay one. The other night, I had a very emotional conversation with my roommate, and she told me, “You can’t give up hope.” I blurted out, “But hope is stupid! You just keep wasting time hoping for things that never happen and then you feel like an idiot, and all the realists get to say they told you so.” I was, admittedly, in a pretty bad place, in the midst of all the terrible news in the world and a big disappointment in my personal life. Sometimes I just want to be miserable for a while and not have anyone try to talk me out of it. Continue reading “Hope Is Stupid”