It was over a year ago when Elizabeth Jones contacted me. She had been reading and interacting with Communicating Across Boundaries for a while at that point, always affirming and entering into discussion in meaningful ways. I am delighted to have Elizabeth guest post today! Elizabeth watched the world come to her through her work as a chaplain in a busy, diverse, city hospital.
Caring, Capable and Conscientious
Caring, capable and conscientious. That’s what I wrote on the fliers several years ago, advertising piano lessons I could teach from my home when my children were small. When I turned 40 and my mother died after several years of uncertain health, I went to seminary with the money I received from her small estate. As I formulated my new, chaplain’s resume, I turned to the same phrase—caring, capable and conscientious.
I enjoyed chaplain internship! I dug right into learning about different faith traditions. This was a natural progression for me, in learning more of how to accompany diverse people in crisis, critical care, trauma and end of life. It sounds rather odd, talking about my years of intensive learning and stressful internship in this way, but I very much appreciated every experience I had: both in the classroom, as well as on the floors and units of the hospitals and care centers.
I no longer serve as a chaplain, since I am now a small church pastor in the Chicago suburbs. But for almost ten years, in several hospitals and extended care centers in and around Chicago, I dealt with patients, their loved ones, and health care staff—on a regular, and sometimes daily, basis.
I appreciate Marilyn’s kind invitation to write a guest post. This blog ordinarily talks about the wide world, and how Marilyn and her friends and acquaintances navigate this world and cross visible and invisible boundaries and borders. Instead, I had the world come to me, in the hospital.
All three of the hospitals where I served were in the middle of multicultural areas, a crossroad of the multicultural communities of Chicago and the surrounding area. One of these hospitals has the distinction of sitting in one of the most diverse ZIP codes in the country. (The U.S. Census Bureau says so.) I never knew who was going to be in that next room I entered, or what situation I was going to encounter next.
People—when they become patients—are so often stripped of everything they have, everything they are. Especially in critical care, this hospitalization experience can be depersonalized. As a chaplain, I tried to bring some personal, pastoral care into each room I entered.
I have a big, friendly smile. It happens naturally. When I’d knock and enter a room, announcing myself as a chaplain, my smile would often automatically turn on. (It still does.) I’ve had people of all different faiths and all kinds of nationalities thank me for my smile and my genuine manner. “Your smile lights up the room. I really needed that,” one older woman told me.
I have sat with an aged senior in Cardiac Care, holding her hand with the chipping nail polish, as her life softly ebbed away. She was a nursing home patient and had no other relatives. I remember an Asian family in critical care, as their loved one had just died—complete silence and intense sadness greeted me as I came into the room. I entered the packed ICU cubicle—wall to wall with a Pentecostal Latino family, who wanted me to pray their brother (and uncle) across the River Jordan. (The waves of grief were palpable…I vividly remember.) And the couple who had just delivered a stillborn, full-term baby. Their first. The husband looked so lost, so alone. My heart still goes out to them both as I see them in my memory.
It wasn’t all end of life. I remember being asked to pray the Rosary with a Filipino family around their ill auntie, lying in the hospital bed. Then, talking haltingly in my schoolroom German with a grumpy old man who just spoke Russian—and Yiddish! (He was disgruntled that few could understand him. But with my cheerful efforts, I believe I made a difference.) The situation with an older Muslim patient, and the 20-something relative wearing hijab and very conservative dress; she earnestly asked me to pray. Of course I did! (And, I talked with her for a good long while afterward, since her loved one in the bed was non-verbal.)
Happy occasions happened, too. Often I would see patients get better, and get released. Also, I loved seeing all the babies. Bless the babies, and their families, as well.
Caring. Capable. Conscientious — The words continued to guide me as I tried my best to be warm and nurturing. I would strive to help, to serve, to come alongside of whoever needed me, or paged me, or stopped me in the hall. Just as I do now, in the suburb where my church is located. Multicultural Morton Grove, Illinois.
Again, the world is coming to me. I hope always to have my heart and arms open wide.
How has the world come to you? Please share your stories through the comments!
More about the author:
– as a pastor at St. Luke’s Christian Community Church, Morton Grove, Illinois
– in various ministry and prayer-related activities
– as a commissioned member in the Federation of Christian Ministries
She holds a Master of Divinity degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and a Certificate in Alcohol and Drug Counseling in Illinois (IAODAPCA). You can find her blogging at matterofprayerblog.wordpress.com