Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?

Like millions of other people, I’ve spent the past few months obsessed with the soundtrack to the Broadway musical Hamilton. If you’re not familiar with the play, it dramatizes the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton, telling the story through modern American musical styles. It is brilliant and funny and moving. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve listened to it, and I still cry every time. Before he puts young Hamilton in charge of a battalion of soldiers to fight a crucial Revolutionary War battle, General George Washington sings words of paternal wisdom and caution: Continue reading “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?”

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N is for No

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

It was the most abrupt end to a patient visit I’ve ever had as a hospital chaplain. I had told the man that his comments were beginning to make me uncomfortable, and that if he didn’t go back to talking about something in which I could actually be of help to him in pastoral care terms, then I would leave. He continued saying inappropriate things, so I stood up to go. As I walked out of the patient’s room, all the visitors and staff members in the hall could hear him yelling at me, “Just one night! I need you! I NEED YOU!” Whether it was his medication talking or something else, he insisted that the answer to his numerous problems was spending one night with “a good woman like you.” I had no problem telling him no. Continue reading “N is for No”

K is for Kids

blessingElli

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

Working closely with children is one of the best and worst parts of my job. Sometimes it means I get to hold a new baby and speak a blessing over her, as I did with my friends’ daughter, Elli, in the above photo. It means playing Legos with the kid whose mom is working one of her three jobs and who just wants some company while he recovers from another round of chemotherapy. It means talking to the very tall 12-year-old boy in the emergency room in a way that lets him know I understand he’s still a kid, and that it’s okay to be scared or to cry. I love being with kids in those moments. Continue reading “K is for Kids”

G is for God

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

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the following exchange with a patient or family member in the hospital:

“Hi, my name is Stacy. I’m the hospital chaplain.”

“Oh, thank you for coming, but I don’t believe in God.”

My response varies. In my early days as a chaplain intern, I would have allowed this to be the end of the visit. But now, with a few years’ experience under my belt, I don’t walk away so quickly. Sometimes I’ll ask them what it means to them not to believe in God. Sometimes I’ll be honest enough to say, “That’s okay; sometimes I don’t really believe either.” But usually, I just breathe a silent prayer to the God I (usually) believe in and offer whatever support I can to the person across from me. We may never mention God again, but God is there.  Continue reading “G is for God”

I’m Hard to Shock Anymore (Even When I Get Asked for a Lap Dance)

I won’t say I’ve heard it all, but as a hospital chaplain, I hear a lot.  There are things people say in the midst of crisis that they wouldn’t say otherwise.  Things that a few years ago would have made me blush or left me speechless, I now take in stride.  When I was called to the room of an elderly patient who was actively dying, I found his children and grandchildren gathered around the bed.  I expressed my sympathies, listened to their stories about him, and at their request prayed for a peaceful passing for him at the right time, as well as comfort and strength for his family.  Before leaving, I asked, “Is there anything else I can do?”  The patient’s grandson, a few years younger than me, asked, “I don’t guess you do lap dances, do you?”  His mother used his full name as she smacked him in the back of the head, looking at me apologetically.  “What?” he said.  “Not for me, for Grandpa!  You never know what might help.” Continue reading “I’m Hard to Shock Anymore (Even When I Get Asked for a Lap Dance)”

About the title, part 2: Jesus

As I mentioned in my previous post, “Jesus Lady” is a nickname I was given at the hospital.  It happened a few years ago, when I was called to the room of a very sick pediatric patient.  They asked me to give voice to their prayer and I did so the best I knew how, after asking them specifically what they wanted me to pray for and what their beliefs were.  When I returned to the room the next night to check on the child, he was, to everyone’s surprise, doing much better.  As I was leaving the hospital the following morning, I heard someone yell from across the parking lot, “Hey, Jesus Lady!”  I turned to see the child’s father, smiling and giving me the thumbs up.  “Great job!” he said.  I laughed and waved off the compliment, feeling that whatever good had been done, it was certainly not within my power to do it.  (If I did have that power, I’d make sure every patient I prayed for made a full recovery, and I can assure you that is NOT what always happens.)  A few of my friends on staff heard this exchange, and teasingly called me Jesus Lady for a long time after that.  Some of them still do. Continue reading “About the title, part 2: Jesus”

About the title, part 1: Chaplain

Other than my first name, “Chaplain” is the one word I get called most often.  Come to think of it, I may even answer to “Chaplain” more often than to “Stacy.”  I began as a chaplain intern in 2006, and since then it has become not only my career and calling, but a huge part of my identity.  Being a chaplain has definitely changed me and what I believe in lots of ways.  I would even go so far as to say that becoming a chaplain has changed the God I believe in, but I’m okay with that.  I was believing in the wrong one before, a god too small, too easy.  And even now, I know my best guess at Who/What I’m worshiping can’t possibly be right.  But since I’m going to err anyway, I’d rather err on the side of grace and love.  That’s what I try to do in the hospital, where God somehow trusts me to walk alongside those who are suffering, bringing their awareness not only to my presence but to the presence of God who is Love, and hopefully showing them in some real way that they are not alone. Continue reading “About the title, part 1: Chaplain”