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”

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?”

37 in Pictures

June 5th is my birthday. A lot has happened since the last time I celebrated another year of life. There have been some challenging moments, to be sure. I continue learning how to navigate through episodes of depression and anxiety attacks. I’ve experienced disappointments both personal and professional. But as I look back on the last year, the positives far outnumber the negatives. I think it’s safe to say that 37 really has been one of my best years yet! Continue reading “37 in Pictures”

I Picked the Wrong Week to Quit (or “A Perfect Example of Eucatastrophe”)

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Things have been great lately. Really, really great. It’s not an overstatement to say that 2015 has so far been one of the best years of my life. I’m watching my dreams come true, literally. You can almost see it on my face in this picture from my first author event. Since I was a little girl I’ve wanted to be an author, and now I am one. I’ve written a book that I can hold in my hands, and it feels wonderful. People are buying this book and reading it and telling me in social media comments, emails, and old-fashioned handwritten letters how much it means to them.

We had a fantastic party this month at The Charleston Museum to celebrate the print release of the book, and it was everything I had dreamed it would be. Continue reading “I Picked the Wrong Week to Quit (or “A Perfect Example of Eucatastrophe”)”

#BlessedAreTheCrazy: No Longer Protecting Secrets

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This is Mental Illness Awareness Week, and I’m proud to be participating in this synchroblog to celebrate the launch of Sarah Lund’s new book, Blessed Are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness, Family, and ChurchI come from a family in which mental illness — especially depression and anxiety disorders — and addiction have had a huge impact. As a little girl, I remember the great lengths my family went to in order to protect the secret that my mother had been hospitalized for depression. I felt the shame of it, even before I understood what it meant. I was afraid other kids at school would laugh at us if they knew, and any time a group on the playground was whispering, I was sure it was about me and my family.  Continue reading “#BlessedAreTheCrazy: No Longer Protecting Secrets”

ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy: C is for Charting

When I began my first unit of CPE, way back in 2006, I remember the awesome sense of responsibility I had each time I got to document one of my patient visits. I can’t believe we get to write in the patients’ charts, I thought, just like doctors do! Over the next several years and hundreds, maybe thousands of visits, charting became much less exciting. It was part of the routine, something to check off the list of tasks that must be done. “If you didn’t chart it, it didn’t happen,” my CPE supervisor told us. So I charted my visits, over and over and over again. Every job involves paperwork, I suppose, and this is ours. (And yes, when I started out, most of the charting we did was still on paper, writing with an actual pen on a form in a binder. It’s all electronic now.)  Continue reading “ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy: C is for Charting”

Falling

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Here we are about halfway through Lent, and it feels like I have skipped right over to Good Friday and the darkness of the tomb. This has been a really, really tough few weeks. I won’t pretend to know how much of that I caused, how much God caused, how much was coincidence, and how much was a result of the changes I chose to make for Lent this year. There were a few doozies. And by far the most difficult Lenten discipline has been doing one thing. Just one thing. The idea came to me a week or so before Ash Wednesday, when I was thinking about what I needed to give up for Lent, what would really challenge me and help me make space in my life for God to fill. At the moment I had this thought, I was on the couch, “watching” The Daily Show, while I played Candy Crush, in between texts with my best friend, checking Facebook and email every time my phone buzzed with a notification alert. Continue reading “Falling”