For many people, ethics is not only tied up with religion, but is completely settled by it. (Being Good by Simon Blackburn)

  • One of the classes at the SFM this semester will be ethics.  I have been thinking about my visits this past week through the eyes of the patients and what I can discern about their religious faith.  One of my goals for summer field Ed was to sharpen my listening skills for a pastoral care setting, such as hospital visitation.  I am on the interfaith team which most days means we see everyone that is not Catholic. I have worked hard to park my own concerns of the day at the door.  However, I cannot park the basic standards of behavior which I adhere to, which is shaped also by my religious beliefs. 
  • Before I enter room, I say a quick prayer of thanksgiving.  When I enter a room, I introduce myself and what my role is.  I make eye contact so I can begin to ‘read’ the situation.  Is the person in pain, are they smiling or frowning, are they in bed or sitting up in a chair?  I tell the patient I came to see how they are that morning.  Then I wait for their response.  That is usually enough to begin a short conversation about their condition at that time.    If it seems appropriate I ask if they want prayers and for what.  I tailor the prayers to there concerns, which usually is not about their health.  Most patients are concerned about something in their life outside the hospital.  If they do not want prayer I tell them my goal was to see how they were and to give them a smile.  That always gets a smile in return and appreciation for my coming to visit.  I am not a religious representative but rather a ‘ray of sunshine’ which will hopefully lift their spirits a little.
  • There was one visit this past week which made me think before I prayed.  The man wanted prayers for his grandson who was being prevented from seeing them by the dead son’s second wife.  He told me that the devil was at work in his family and he wanted prayers for a closer  relonship with God.  First of all, this is not a god I believe in.  My God does not do spiritual battle with the devil in family relationships such as this.  My thought was, how do I respond to this?  It was clear that the man was more worried about the brokenness in his family than he was about his health issues.  I certainly did not tell the man I did not believe the devil was at work in that situation.  What I did pray for was healing in the family relationships, as well as healing for the 
  • I have realized that what I am bringing into the room is all the unique things which make me up, including an active relationship with God.  All the values and  ethical standards which are important to me are present in my body language and tone of voice.  I believe I am walking into the room with Jesus but I am the face of that relationship.  It is that relationship which has gifted me with the ability to be an effective hospital visitor.  It is irrelevant whether the patient even believes in God, they are a person who needs care and I am privileged to be able to provide that moment of caring amidst everything else going on in their hospital stay.
  • In reflecting about ethics and religious beliefs, I am reminded of a man I saw back in June.  He was feeling distressed about his family who needed him at home.  When I asked him if he wanted prayers,me said he did but proceeded to share with me his religious beliefs. He got out his red letter edition King James Bible.  He said he believed every word in it as the absolute truth.  Somehow that took us to his beliefs about homosexuals, which is that the Bible says homosexuality is an abomination.  Furthermore, he felt he was called to tell anyone who is homosexual- such as his son’s high school counselor- that their behavior was an abomination before God.  
  • I believe that God loved that man and it was not up to me to comment on his religious beliefs.  Just like my role was not to do anything that could be construed as nursing care.  I prayed healing for this man and for his son whom he was concerned
  • In October we chaplain assistant’s will be able to watch a webinar about ministry to unbelievers.  Even people who list ‘none’ as their religious preference may want prayers.  Some buried memory of prayer being comfortable may be at work, or it may just be that I am able to help them step outside their medical care for a moment.  In hospice they use the term respite care.  Having someone come in who will listen to you and offer a smile may be very therapeutic.
  • All these concerns and thoughts continue to help me fine tune my visiting technique.  I also stay open to the uniqueness of each patient to learn from each encounter.  This has been challenging and enlivening all at the same time.  I look forward to my visits this fall with the added input of our class work.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10: 27

Yesterday I felt nauseous and headachy, as well as scared and bewildered.  The former symptoms I am sure were due to becoming too hot the day before and becoming depleted in energy.  I was congratulating myself on doing so well at getting my two grand daughters to day care and also getting their things dropped off before going to visit in the hospital.  The truth is I arrived at the chaplain services offices already dehydrated and exhausted.  Donna gave me a bottle of water which I drank while I sat in the office cooling off.  I refilled it to take with me which I was very glad to have with me, like a security blanket.  Nevertheless, I was shaky and slightly confused from the very first visit.  I went into the wrong room and visited the wrong man.  He was glad to see me and we shared a moment of prayer, but it made me feel nervous about my ability to be effective that morning.

As far as feeling scared and bewildered, that only got worse as the day went along.  Compounded by my physical situation, the news of shootings- black men in various places shot by police, as well as police in Dallas shot by a sniper- my Facebook account being compromised, Andrew being gone……. By the time I tried to sleep it was almost impossible because of the burden of negativity wearing me down.

When I got out of bed this morning, I was pondering what I could do to be part of the solution to begin to stop the violence escalating out of control in our country.  A couple of things happened.  I saw a picture of two policemen posing for a picture with a black man demonstrating in Dallas before the police shootings.  That seemed very hopeful.  I also read an article in Huffington Post about standing in solidarity with all victims. I wondered again how I could do that and make a difference.  I then read a draft Andew had written with his thoughts about the shootings.   He talked about the gospel story this week which is about the good Samaritan who helped the man left injured along the side of the road.  We have to be willing to be part of the change by loving all our neighbors or we remain a part of the violence. It is difficult to see reconciliation and healing until we are willing to love God with all our strength, soul, heart, and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves, especially in the most distressing times.  I cannot let fear distract me from remembering this commandment.

I then realized I already have a role in reconciliation and healing.  As a chaplain assistant I have the opportunity to touch the lives of many people with a smile, a friendly greeting, some conversation, and may be even some prayer.  I know that some of the people I visit are Episcopaleans.  However, even those people have one thing in common with everyone I visit.  They are vulnerable, broken people, just like me, looking for other people who will reach out and share their journey.  We are all looking to establish the tenuous feelers of connectedness with our ‘neighbors.’  No labels of judgement to help us identify who those neighbors are.   When I enter a hospital room to visit, my effectiveness is measured in how well I can look into the face of the person I am visiting and see myself.  I am no different from the person lying in the bed.  Many days, I am aware that those people had more to offer to me than I to them.  

I feel hopeful again this morning.  I am still rebuilding my body back up after the beating it took on Wednesday.  However, I intend to concentrate on what I am grateful for today.  I have a house in which to recharge my batteries, I have a whole slew of family members who love me, I managed to thwart the person trying to compromise my FB security- without the usual tears and frustration while I waited for Andrew to figure it out, and I have clean water to drink.

I may only be one tiny person in this huge country.  But I AM one person and, like the links in a chain, I am important to the strength of the whole.  I will love God with my heart, soul, strength, and mind.  And I will offer the strength of God’s love to my neighbors,  just as I learn how to accept it when it is offered to me.

Self care

This reflection will be about how to take care of me.  This is in part due to the exhaustion- physical and emotional- that I experienced on Wednesday.  That was my third day in a row volunteering.  Monday I worked from 8:45- 10:45.  I was the lead on Tuesday so had to be there by 7:30am to get all the paper work done.That day I worked until 11:15 because I got started late. Wednesday I worked from 8:45-11:30.  After three days I had seen 60 people.  Wednesday was a day where people really wanted to talk so the visits were longer.  Most of the visits were very meaningful but a few got fairly intense. Consequently, when I finally left the hospital at 11:45am, I was exhausted.  Thankfully I was not volunteering at the hospital on Thursday, today, but I did volunteer a couple hours at the church feeding program.  I am also preparing to preach at St Paul’s on Saturday afternoon and St Margaret’s twice on Sunday.

So this is a very busy week which has been complicated by some vision issues which has made it hard to drive at times.  I know that the exhaustion effects my eyes.  This type of problem has happened many times in the past when I was dealing with headaches.  

We did talk about the importance of self care in our Pastoral Care class.  I need to address several things.  I need to look at each week as a whole and make sure that I am not doing too many extra things outside the home in the afternoon and the evening on days I volunteer.  So how do I define too many?.  On Tuesday, the night I had the vision issues while driving, I attended a vestry meeting in Indio from 7:00-8:45 pm.  I had rested in the afternoon but having to drive home that far after dark was probably too much. So too many probably must preclude evening meetings that end after dark.

On days when I have close to twenty people to visit, I am going to have to closely limit the length of each visit so I am done by 10:30-10:45.  EMC is a big hospital and I do a LOT of walking.  Wednesday was unusual because I ended up seeing several people I knew and ended up talking longer than my usual visit.  These visits are supposed to concentrate on the patient and the here and now. Catching up needs to happen some other time.  What seems enjoyable at the time ultimately becomes an energy drain.  I have no desire to lapse back into the headaches and vertigo.

Preparing to preach has taken a lot of mental energy.  In the aftermath of the Orlando mass shooting, I want to make my sermon relevant and timely.  Wednesday morning, laying in bed, I got a clear idea of how to end the sermon which has helped drive the rest of it.  I was able to write it this morning.  I am planning to do a condensed form of the heart of the sermon for the Saturday afternoon sermon.  I hope to do that with just my points on a note card. The Sunday sermons are going to be more tailored to that congregation.

Another concern is that I now have logged only 91 hours of the 200 hours I need.  I am not sure how I am supposed to increase my number of hours without totally burning out.  We are going to be gone a fair amount in July also so I won’t be able to work as much.

I will do as much as I am able without becoming completely exhausted.

“When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ “Luke 7: 13

Father Paul Kowalewski preached about compassion on June 5th.  He helped us understand the quality of compassion we can expect from Jesus.  It is not just having pity or feeling sorry for someone who is sick or in distress.  He said that the Greek word splaxna means from the bowels.  Jesus’ compassion is a deep and heartfelt feeling.  Jesus has compassion for a widow who has lost her only son in this passage of Luke.  That meant she would have no standing or protection in the community anymore.  By healing her son Jesus restored the widow’s status and security.

When I visit as a volunteer chaplain’s assistant, I never know who I will find in the room or what their situation may be.  I am finding that this requires me to be very confident in my greeting of each patient.  I go in with a firm voice and a smile.  I am aware that I am representing our loving God, even if the person in the room tells me they are not a believer.  I realized, early on in my time volunteering, that I have something to offer To EVERY patient regardless of their spiritual situation.  One morning I visited a fellow who asked me how far I was going to push religion when I told him why I was there.  I assured him I was not going to push religion at all.  I was just there to find out how he was doing that day and to give him a smile.  That was the first of many such encounters that day.  Many of the people did not believe in organized religion but appreciated that I had come to visit them anyway.  Several were missing family and were worn down by whatever had taken them to the hospital.  Without exception, all the people that particular day seemed glad to see me and many told me they appreciated what I did at the hospital.

I have thought about what it means to have gut deep compassion for the people I am visiting.  As I said in a previous post, I have a very short time to establish a relationship that allows for genuine personal interaction.  I have been paying close attention to non verbal cues from the people I visit, as well as listening attentatively to their tone of voice and the words with which they answer me.  Someone who is in great distress from pain needs a much gentler and gut deep response.  I understand chronic pain and can understand the frustration of getting no relief.  I can also understand how weary one becomes from tests which are inconclusive and require further tests in the hope of reaching a diagnosis.

One day sticks out in my mind.  I was the lead for the inter faith chaplain assistan’s so I went to ICU as well as other floors.  Without exception, everyone I visited that day had a smile on their face when I went in.  There was one lady in ICU who was so happy and kind to me.  Despite her condition she had a smile for everyone who came in the room.

Several people stick out from the rest.  One was a man who was distressed.  He said that he had been beaten up in the jail which accounted for the bruises and cuts on his face. He wanted to know what happened to your body after you died.  I told him a little about the process.  Eventually he admitted he was trying to distance himself from everyone in his family.  So he wanted to know what happened to you body if no one came to claim it.  Then he burst into tears.  He was angry and scared that no one had done anything about him being beaten.  I did eventually pray for healing and peace for him.  However, I think if I had taken some time to ask better questions, to listen from my gut, I might have felt as if I had been able to help him.  

I realize I am not meant to ‘help’ every person I visit.  This is not about me or my satisfaction with my visits.  A large part of this summer is about being reflective about the visits and learning from them.  Another of the volunteer chaplain’s assistants asked me if I was enjoying visiting.  He said he finds that some days are very rewarding and some days he wonders why he gets out of bed because the people are not responsive or want prayer.  I find that those visits are sometimes the most rewarding.  I am learning how to talk to people in ways that challenge me.  Everyone deserves a chance to be listened to and greeted warmly.  Being in the hospital can make you vulnerable and lonely, even if you have a wonderful support system.

The other person I remember from that week is a lady who, when asked what she wanted prayers for, told me she wanted me to pray for the lady in the next room who was in following a car accident and was in a lot of pain from her injuries.  The lady I was talking to was in a lot of pain herself but clearly was not focused upon her situation.  I was very touched by her compassion for a complete stranger.  That taught me a great deal about how we are supposed to care for each other.

This whole week has given me a great deal to think about and ways to guide my interactions with all the people I am tasked with seeing.

“I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Luke 7:9

Jesus did not have to say a word for the slave of the Centurian to be healed.  The faith of the Centurian was sufficient to accomplish the healing.  Last week I pondered what resources the people I visited had to draw upon while in the hospital.  I never assume they have the same ideas about faith or God that I do. Even the people who say they are Episcopalian aren’t all active in one of the local churches.  I spoke with a lady today who has gone to St Margaret’s but no longer has a way to get there.  She spoke fondly of going to the Episcopal Church in the town she grew up in in Connecticut.  However, the more I talked to her, I realized one of her resources is to be able to accept her current situation without wishing for something else.  She seems happy in the senior apartment where she lives and likes the other people near her.

 I go into each room with my faith in God’s power to heal but I listen closely to how each person responds when I ask them how they are doing. I also look at their eyes to give me further clues for how I should respond.  More than half the people I have visited are just glad to have someone to talk to right at that moment.  I don’t always end up praying  but the conversation is often sufficient to put a smile on their face, even if for a few moments.  As with the Centurion and his slave, the relationships built are the conduit for healing.  As a chaplain’s assistant, I have only a few moments to establish that relationship through which God’s grace can flow.  I never assume to know for what a person most desires prayer and consequently, I am always touched by the concerns they have while they are away from home.  I have had a number of people tell me they are good because they pray for themselves.  Those people, however, always seems to appreciate that I came in to check how they were doing anyway.

The person who sticks out in my mind from last week is a woman who is cross addicted on prescription pain killers.  She was agitated and crying when I first went into her room.  She had a hard time, at first, even explaining to me what she was upset about.  When I asked her if she would like me to pray with her she told me she didn’t want to die.  Eventually she told me she had been abused as a child and in her teens began drinking to help her through the day.  She did eventually become sober in 1988.  She remembers how wonderful she felt when her system was finally free of the chemicals. Then in 1999 she was injured and required painkillers.  She soon found herself addicted to the multiple narcotics the doctors had given her.

The day I saw her she was very scared and tired of the fight to get off the narcotics.  She asked me if I could give her communion as long as it included grape juice only.  Even though I could not do that for her, I heard her tell her husband that she was talking to a chaplain and, even though I could not give her communion she knew she was full of God’s body and blood.  I have no idea what that really means to her but she at least seemed to have an intellectual idea of the healing power of God.  I ended up spending about 15 minutes with her and, by the time I left, she seemed much calmer, and gave me a hug for coming in to pray for her.  The person on the phone was her husband who was on his way to see her.  Family was definitely a resource for her.

 I have personal experience with debilitating pain, I am always more alert for the ways people are coping with their pain.  There is nothing so scary as being alone in a hospital with pain for which you cannot get relief. Maybe because I do understand how that feels, those visits always seem to tap more deeply into God’s love for us.  The memories I have of the most painful days seems to guide my prayers with those most burdened with pain.  I will never forget the despair I saw in the eyes of the lady who has suffered with shingles for 8 months.  Nor will I soon forget the young man, who is Episcopalian, who was bewildered by the ravages of cancer when he had lead a very active and healthy life before being diagnosed with cancer.

Today I spoke with a man who hoped I would not be offended that he did not believe in the power of prayer.  I think he was trying to get me riled up and to defend my beliefs but he was surprised when I told him I believe that everyone has different ways of dealing with the challenges in their life.  He did seem to enjoy hearing about why I am an Episcopalian and what kind of God I believed in. His wife was very embarrassed by her husband’s attitudes about prayer and church.  However, I was not fazed by him and enjoyed our conversation.  He thanked me for coming in and for what I do for the patients in the hospital.

No matter what the beliefs of a person I am visiting, and even if they do not want prayer, I believe God honors my faith in his healing love, just as Jesus honored the centurion’s care for his slave.  I do not need to know if my prayers have made a difference because they have made a difference to me.

Did I bring hope?

“.. And edurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Romans 4:4-5

As a volunteer chaplain, I have realized that I have a unique opportunity to bring God close to those who find themselves in the hospital. I can recall being in the hospital twice in the past 2 years.  Both times I- we- had hoped that the doctors would find an effective way to treat the headache pain.  I remember the frustration and fear that nothing would be found to ease the pain.  Even though I had chosen to go to the hospital, I missed Andrew and wished I could go home soon.  When you are in the hospital you are at the mercy of the nursing staff’s schedules, as well as the laboratories and X-ray department.  I needed someone to come in with a ray of hope that my time in the hospital was going to be beneficial.

Remembering those feelings and the need for hope, I took time at the end of one day last week to wonder if I brought hope to the people I visited as a volunteer chaplain.  I believe that the Holy Spirit was poured into my heart at baptism and has lodged there ever since.  I also know that many of the people I visit do not have the same kind of relationship with God in three persons.  Whereas I believe that Jesus is my walking companion upon the way, there are those who find it hard to believe in God at all.

Before I enter a room, I say a prayer of thanksgiving for bringing me to that doorway, and to guide my words and actions.  I never know what I will find but God does.  Because I believe God does it does not matter whether that patient understands or even believes in God as I do.  I can bring God’s love and a sense of hope to each patient by just being with them at that time.  I can look them in the eyes and gauge how they are feeling before I even greet them.  Each person deserves the very best I can bring to them and that requires me to go slowly, not rushing to be done and onto the next person.  I only have that moment to bring God close to them with my body language, my smile and the tone of my voice.  I think that a person who is stranded outside the normal environment has a heightened sense of awareness.  I remember laying in the hospital bed myself and looking at each person who entered hoping that someone would take just a few extra minutes with me.

I visited a man last week who was sitting on the side of his bed when I entered.  He looked disheveled from being in the hospital for a few days and, as I discovered, having come through some heart surgery.  After I introduced myself I told him I  was a volunteer chaplain and had come to see how he was that morning.  He immediately began to talk about his situation. He wanted to talk to someone about whether he had made the right choice to have the surgery or whether he should have just died.  Oh boy, I thought to myself. I asked him where he lived and he began to share his story.  He has no family at all except his ex wife who lives in Palm Desert.  He stays with her in the winter months.  He has a Ph.D in English Literature and used to teach college courses.  But now he paints houses and is living way high in the mountains between Buena Vista and Colorado Springs.  I told him we had a Colorado connection.

I asked him what one thing had made him decide to choose life and to have the surgery.  He had to consider that and finally decided it was the obligation to finish work on the house he was repairing and painting in Colorado.  We talked for a short while and we laughed about something- I don’t remember what- and he eventually admitted he believed in God but he just wasn’t sure what the purpose was for him still being here.  Before I left, I prayed for him asking for a renewed sense of purpose and healing.  He thanked me for coming and told me I was the only person he had talked to in the past 10 days who gave him hope.

I was very aware of God’s presence in that visit.  However, today I had a headache and at first was just going through the motions with my visits. My greeting of the patients was timid and unsure.  By midmorning, I realized I needed to take a break, drink some water, and readjust my attitude.  I thought about the man I had visited the week before.  I knew that I had God at my side and could lift his spirit even for a little while.  In exchange, my spirit was lifted and was even more confident in my role as Christ bearer.  The rest of the morning I took time to consciously invite Jesus into the room with me to help me better care for the people I would find in the room.  Several of my visits were with wives who were coming to terms with the ramifications of a hospice classification for their loved one.  I did pray with one wife who was very upset and  will never know how that affected her.  She thanked me for coming.  I know from our experience with our mom in hospice care last summer, when you are at the point of no return there isn’t anything that anyone can say to mitigate your grief as you live through that time.  However, I know that God was there to watch over that couple better than any of us ever could.

So I am reminded to stop before entering a room and to listen for God’s words before I pray.  Every visit is a chance to bring hope even in the midst of overwhelming grief.

Volunteer hospital chaplain May 17, 2016

I began my summer field work on May 2 at Eisenhower Hospital.  I had not completed the chaplain training so I asked if I could just get started by shadowing for 3 days so I could begin to get the feel for the task as well as begin accruing hours.  It was very interesting watching the various people I was with approach the patients and how they prayed.  One learning for me was that we cannot do anything that falls into patient care, such as putting socks on. As a former nurse, that was hard at first.  The next challenge is learning the hospital.  That is complicated because the old part of the building in being retrofitted to meet earthquake codes.  Fortunately,,all the staff was very helpful if  I got turned around.

I was with a lead today and she had a bad back wihich required her to sit down frequently.  By lunch time we still had a lot of people to see so I volunteered to go back and try to visit the people we were not able to see in the morning, as well as the observation unit.  I had a wonderful time when I could be on my own.  I ended up seeing 10 people in the afternoon.  

It is amazing to spend that much of the day soaked in prayer.  I was nervous about doing spontaneous prayer after having such a hard time with that with the COM.  I guess I was just nervous with them. I asked Andrew for suggestions and they have been helpful. I do have a challenge holding names in my memory in order to say their name in prayer.  I am going to have to work on a strategy for that.  I need to say it before I go in the room and keep my finger on their name on the sheet.

I am going to enjoy this a great deal.