Friday, July 31, 2009

The Quiet Room

I did CPE my senior year of seminary at Northside Hospital in Atlanta. It was an amazing place to be. My supervisor (rest in peace MCB) was amazing and insightful, as was the assistant (thank you LR). And my group was amazing. I had one good friend there (I love you LS) who supported and encouraged me in a way others couldn't or wouldn't. We also had another woman, second career, who was great for the group, and an international, conservative male who confronted and challenged me often. While I didn't always welcome his presence in the group, he helped me grow in many ways I could never exactly name, but know exist.

Chaplaining where I did was a gift. It is the hospital with the most births of any in the US every year. More than 18000 births each year. Unfortunately that also included a fair number of miscarriages and stillbirths (roughly 450 each year).

As such, I did a lot of grief work. Each time I was on call (save twice) I dealt with at least 3 deaths...both infant and adult. I cared for many families in crisis and very difficult situations in addition to patients on the gastro/general surgery floor during rounds.

My first call on my first night on-call was for a death in the ER. The doctors were anxious when I got there, not wanting to tell the family without me present (as a first time chaplain on her first call I was not convinced I was the one they should be anxious to see). Once at the ER, I walked behind the doctors to the "quiet room" where they told two sisters that there 40-something year old sister was dead. Both women cried. One fell into my arms and crumpled to the floor. I rocked and held her there for what seemed like forever before she even looked up to see who I was (namely an unnamed stranger). "Trained" for this situation, I talked with the women and told them what to expect when we went to the room (a body cool to the touch, a tube in her mouth) and when they were ready I took them to the room. I told them it was okay to touch her and to talk to her, and they did. They cried and lamented and told her they loved her.

I spent nearly 6 hours with that family that night. In and out of the ER, trading one family member or friend for another to go and say goodbye. I would leave and take another call (there were at least 2 other deaths that night as well) and then come back and check on them.

I spent many more days and nights at the hospital. I cared for family after family who grieved the death of a loved one. I walked people through saying goodbye. I held them. I gave them space. I told them what to expect. I answered questions. And I listened. I learned many many lessons from my time at Northside, far too many to articulate them all, but each of which is priceless.

I learned that people grieve differently. Some will scream, some will hit, some will cry, some will wail, some will not say a word. Some will want to see their loved one, and some will not. Some will be scared, and some will deny the reality that is before them. And each of those responses is right for them. There is not one way or a right way to grieve.

I learned that most people do not confront death with any kind of regularity, familiarity, or ease. People do not know what to expect (neither from the situation or from themselves). As a caregiver, it is important to walk people through the situation and explain what is happening and what to expect, what might be true for them. Not all people need this, but from my experience the majority do.

I have learned to be a buffer for the family, asking questions and making requests they won't, or don't know they can. For a person that does not need an autopsy, I ask that they be extubated before the family comes in so they look a little more normal. I get the family water and juice and tissues, telling the nurses that I have worked in a hospital and can manage if they show me where to go (assuming they have much else to do). I also let the nurses know when the family has questions or when they are ready to leave and need to do the paperwork.

I have learned that there isn't generally urgency at the hospital. The family can take as much time or as little time as they want. Each hospital is different and if you do work with a hospital, it is good to know their policies (ERs can be hard if they are busy and need the bed, but generally there isn't a rush to move the person and so people can take their time).

I have learned to affirm people and assure them that what they feel is normal, healthy, and ok. Grief takes many shapes. So whether the person has peace, or is angry, or can't believe it, I say it's ok....because it is, and they need to know that, that they aren't expected to feel a particular way.

I have also learned that I need to give myself space to grieve too. It is hard to bear people's pain. It is hard to see person after person get sick and die. And it is important to grieve.

This post didn't go the direction I expected. I meant to start with the "quiet room" in order to share that when I got a call to go to the hospital last night and was taken straight to the family in the quiet room I knew it wasn't good. It's the place the hospital puts you to tell you serious and bad news. This isn't always true, but often. It can be used for a large family or for a loud family that they need to contain and allow space to talk or make decisions, but often it is a private and quiet space so a family can cry and lament and grieve on their own.

Sadly, that was the case last night. After 5 minutes with the family, the doctor came in and shared the news. LB had died. I was with the family nearly two hours as we talked and waited, saw LB and shared prayers, talked and waited, and listened and talked some more all before finishing the final paperwork and heading home.

LB was a dear man, who was gentle and soft spoken, convicted of God's love for EACH person regardless of religion or race. He was committed to justice and not afraid to share his two cents. He was a wonderful man, an insightful professor, and a loving father and husband.

God Bless you LB.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pastor Debbie’s Favorite Things

My SPRC chair had asked me for a list of my favorite things before my ordination party. This is what came of it: (Sung by the "non-singers" of my congregation)

White Chocolate mocha from Starbucks of course.

The Shack, Harry Potter two books she’d endorse.

Sour patch kids are a snack she might bring.

These are a few of her favorite things.

Riding Space Mountain, eating bananas quite frozen.

Third Day and Garth Brooks some music she’s chosen.

“Unanswered Prayers” is a song she might sing.

These are a few of her favorite things.

Cranium with friends is a thing she might do.

Hollering and cheering for UCLA too

Eating fruit that is dried and cheese that is string.

These are a few of her favorite things.

Liver and onions, having no options, when the Trojans win

She simply remembers her favorite things

And all seems right, again

Tilling and planting and picking the fruit

Reading and hiking and sewing to boot.

Enjoying her family at Thanksgiving

These are a few of her favorite things

Teaching and preaching and helping the homeless.

Stretching us all to see who we can bless

Rebuilding the destruction a hurricane brings.

These are a few of her favorite things.

Leading a congregation who has chosen to grow.

A church with more potential than the members know.

People who love and are serving the King

These are a few of her favorite things.

When he calls you, if you answer

If His Love you will share

You can make a difference to all those around

And people will see Him there.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The necessity of reading

I think I’ve mentioned a time or two that life has been insanely busy lately. I am going and working and doing all of the time. I feel so full. The kind of full when you take on other people’s stuff and can’t get rid of it…I have more and more trouble lately letting things go or emptying out so I can be filled again. There just isn’t time.
As part of that, my mind is always concentrated on all there is to do, so there is not a lot of “free space” for creative ideas to come in. I used to be really good at brainstorming a million ideas and then filtering back to what I really wanted to do. Now I have trouble coming up with anything creative, which has been very frustrating.

Today I am waiting for the air conditioning repair guy to come check the ducting, figure out why it is leaking, and hopefully fix it so the house stays cool in the afternoon. I am without internet (yes, this was written on word first) and have been for 5 days (the cable company comes tomorrow) and so I can only do document work or reading rather than the administrative stuff with email (which I desperately need to do!! Camp is only 4 days away!!)

So, I am reading for tonight’s meeting. It is the 4th chapter of “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations” and it is on Risk-Taking Mission and Service. I am enjoying the chapter because it is drawing me into memories of my mission trips abroad, which is a wonderful place to go in my mind! But I am also enjoying it because it is sparking new ideas for ministry….the brainstorming and creativity I have missed.

And somehow it dawned on me…reading is my creativity fodder. I use the ideas of others to spark my own mind and then change and shape their ideas to fit my own plans. And the sad reality is I haven’t been reading much of anything lately. I haven’t been reading for fun or for work. I read the Bible for Bible study and for sermon prep, but I haven’t been reading much beyond that. I hate to state that anywhere where it can be held against me, but it’s the truth.

Fortunately, after the prophetic word that I have not been reading and should be, there is the evangelio (the good news! The gospel!) that I can get back into reading!! I just need to be intentional about it. I need to choose some books and let them work on me. Two parishioners got me a subscription to the Christian Century for the coming year as an ordination gift, so I can start with that, and should probably pick up a fun book too and then hopefully some creative sparks will get my mind in gear!

Where there is grace

We talk a lot about grace in the Methodist church---that free, unmerited gift from God. It comes in many shapes and sizes: forgiveness, help, growth, peace, comfort, reconciliation…the list goes on. We give it different names: Justifying, Prevenient, and Sanctifying. But in general, grace is grace. And as Roberta Bondi told us in seminary: “Accept grace where grace is offered.” For me this has meant receiving gifts of home produce, jams, and flowers from parishioners for no apparent reason, or asking for help at the parsonage time and time again because of various issues. I need grace regularly in my relationships—forgiveness, tolerance, and understanding for my many quirks and flaws.

As a pastor, I see many offerings of grace within the church. There are gentle and subtle reminders of God’s presence and work in individuals day in and day out.

There is one particular offering of grace that has struck me for months now. We have one woman in particular in the church who is “losing her marbles” to say it in a crass way. She doesn’t have alzheimers, more accurately she has “Old Timers” though I am not convinced she isn’t having TIAs on a regular basis, but that has yet to be confirmed medically. Anyway, this woman has a lot of trouble remembering, she doesn’t always track her thoughts, and she repeats…a lot. She is also one of the most faithful disciples I have ever met. She is diligent in prayer and in outreach and gives more than most. She sends cards to everyone for their birthday, she gives gifts to the graduates, makes dried fruit for the diabetics and is constantly doing for others.

It has been extremely hard to see her lose her mind slowly. She is one of those women who is known for being “sharp as a tack” and yet everyone knows something is terribly wrong. She still sings in the choir and attends Bible study twice a week. And I see grace offered each week by other members of the class. This woman shares often, but not always a relevant story, but people still listen quietly…even to the stories they could share themselves they’ve been told so many times. They turn hymnal pages for her when she is on the wrong page, gently guiding her to the right place without reprimanding her or even teasing her.

People have been more than tolerant; they have been kind, warm, and caring. They could easily be frustrated, terse, and snippy with her, but instead they offer grace. And I am grateful, for where there is grace, there is God.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How well do you know Pastor Debbie

At the big ordination party my church threw a few weeks ago, there was a quiz on the tables: "how well do you know pastor Debbie?"

Quite frankly, I thought it was hard. There were some questions even I didn't know the answer to. =) I told R he had to get 80% right in order to marry me! =) With me next to him and my parents across from him, he did well...95%!!!

if you're curious about how well you know me, here's the quiz:

What is Pastor Debbie's birth date? On what day of the week was she born?
What were her vital statistics? height? weight? (then not now)
How old was Debbie when she went to church for the first time?
How many siblings? Names?
Names of proud parents who wrote on Debbie's birth announcement: "We're praising the Lord for Debbie's birth and the joys of this special time in our lives." (Amen to that.)
At what age did she roll over and see snow for the first time? (same age, different times?)
Debbie took lessons on this instrument before she could reach the pedals (hint, hint).
What special accessory did Debbie make in Girl Scouts for her mom that she wore for three different occasions?
True or false. Debbie (in her younger years, of courses) would pitch a fit when she would lose at cards or other games.
What did Debbie "birth" for a play in grade school? (She mentioned this in a sermon)
Favorite grade school sport? Favorite junior high sport? Favorite high school sports?
What color nail polish did Debbie wear on her toes and fingernails when she was in high school?
What position did Debbie hold in her high school graduating class as a result of a high GPA?
Name two roles/jobs Debbie had in high school, one of which she still holds responsibility for today.
What high school did Debbie attend? What college? What seminary?
In what second language is Debbie fluent?
Name at least five places outside the United States that Debbie has traveled.
Had she not been a minister, what occupation was Debbie considering?
Names of her two dogs?
Current shoe size?
yes or no: Does Debbie have a Facebook page? How did she get it?
And who is Rick Sperry to her anyhow?
What did Debbie say to the following: "I wish my congregation knew...."?

Peach and creme fraiche

This was awesome!!! I couldn't find the creme fraiche, so I used an el salvadorean creme....sort of like nata, or a mexican creme like sour cream (without the salt) and it worked fine.