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Archive for the ‘chaplain’ Category

I know that’s a terrible title of a blog post. Unfortunately, it’s the truth. I can’t tell you how many books I started last fall but didn’t finish. So, one of my resolutions for the new year is to read more books. I updated my goodreads list, remembered my online library password, and got to work requesting books.

I was so excited when the first book available to me was “When Breath Becomes Air” . I have wanted to read this book for a while now. I cried last night as I finished it because it was over. I didn’t want it to be over.

It was a great book full of life, experience, hope, faith, illness, death, and love. I’m so thankful that the author and his wife worked so hard to get it written and made sure it was published. There were so many beautiful parts that drew me into the book. I found myself drawn to the images of Stanford and the Bay area, a place where Barry and I grew to love deeply. My memory was stirred as I heard him describe his endless nights, rolling into days of little sleep on a rigorous schedule and I remembered what’s it’s like to have a spouse as a medicine resident. My head was challenged as he quoted beautiful literature and poetry to describe his journey of a terminal diagnosis.

In my work as a pastor and hospice chaplain, but also as a granddaughter, I have been at the bedside and watched loved ones draw their last breath. It is a holy moment. The author, Paul’s wife, Lucy graciously includes us, their readers, in the story of Paul’s final moments on this earth. I cried.

I’m thankful for the life of Paul Kalanithi. I’m thankful for the lives he saved as a neurosurgeon and for the lives he is saving by writing his story. My life is changed in a different way after reading it.

What will I read next?

PS, I originally read about Paul and Lucy’s story on Cup of Jo . The blogger, Joanna recently published an update on her twin sister, Lucy.

 

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The last few years of ministry, I have found myself working with people living with a mental illness. The first time I was assigned to the mental health unit of Atlanta’s women’s prison, I was surprised. Perhaps, the greatest surprise for me was the sense of peace I had when working alongside these women struggling to make sense of God, their illness, their world, and incarceration. Then there was Gloria Jean, the homeless woman who wandered the halls of our church & made her presence known in worship. She challenged my own faith and belief systems while sharing her revelations. During my CPE residency, I was invited as the chaplain to lead a spirituality group with our veterans struggling with severe mental illness. I developed a study guide (which I hear is somewhat still used today) for our veteran population in incorporating spirituality into their recovery process.

Why? Why have I been so drawn to this work?

Is it because of my own personal history of the struggle to find balance in health & wellness? For me, at various points in my life, it involved seeing a therapist regularly, exercise, and meditation. When I finally realized I needed to find someone (therapist) to talk to about life, I had to overcome a lot of personal stigma about folks who sought out therapy. Is my attraction connected to helping break down the walls of stigma? maybe.

Does it have to do with the connection between spirituality and a mental health diagnosis? There seems to be a fine line. In the religious community, we freely talk about “hearing God’s voice” yet when we talk about people hearing voices they need help. Do you see the difficulty in this?

I have often wondered if there was more to this story in my past history that I had yet to discover. In a recent conversation with my grandmother, I realized that my great grandmother lived with some significant mental illness throughout her life. The therapy for her was treatment centers where “shock” therapy was often used. It’s painful for me to even think about this but it’s true. The other family truth is that most of us considered her a really mean woman. I wonder today how much her the personality we knew of her was related to her illness or more importantly, how she had been treated for the illness.

I know that the month of May is almost over. But, will you take the time to look through some of these websites to find information, resources that might be helpful to you or your family members? The statistics show that 1 in 4 people struggle with mental illness & 1 in 17 struggle with severe mental illness.

What are ways you can help:

– Read about information & resources available

– Don’t be afraid to ask for help & don’t judge others who ask for help

– Watch your language. We throw around the word “crazy” and “schizophrenic” in every language. Be mindful of the words you use.

– A person may live with a disease or an illness but they are NOT the disease and illness. There is a difference.

Websites to check out:

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/go/may

www.nami.org

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Transitions

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I’m sitting on the verge of another transition. There are five days left of my Clinical Pastoral Education program. FIVE DAYS.

I remember hearing about CPE during my first year of seminary and thinking, “maybe I’ll try that one day“. This year has been incredibly difficult, inspiring, and overly reflective in so many ways. I will walk away from this experience a different kind of pastor than when I began.

I’m thankful for my colleagues who have journeyed with me. I’m thankful for the patients who have taught me. I’m thankful for my family and friends who have encouraged me through the process.

Now, off to writing my final evaluation!!

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Putting Up Walls

Generally speaking, I have not thought that the idea of putting up walls is generally a good practice. In some places, walls acted as fences as a way of keeping people out or retaining people in, depending on which way you thought about it. Walls we build with with our emotions and feelings can serve to protect us or help us hide from revealing our true self to others. Walls, in my opinion, have generally not been a good thing. 

In the movie, The Secret Life of Bees, (Go rent this right now if you haven’t seen it yet*) one of the sisters’ May has a wall built for her in the backyard. Her other sister, August describes it as her “wailing wall”. May has the overwhelming burden of feeling the sadness of the world. Her sisters attempt to protect her from sad news but it has a way of finding her. She writes prayers for the people who are affected and sticks them in the wall. 

In college, my roommates and I turned our dining room wall into a “wall of prayer”. It began with a beautiful puzzle of a butterfly and morphed into being a wall where we placed things we cared about and prayers we needed to let go of. It was a visual expression of the reminder that we cannot carry things with us. We give them over to the One who can carry them. 

I need a wall today. 

There’s been a lot of sadness around here this week. A young woman my age lost her father. Grown homeless men lamented that there are still not jobs available and there’s even more competition for the work force now. An injured soldier took his own life. Hundreds of people are living in what is now know as “tent cities” just two hours from my own apartment. A friend’s grandmother is sick. A town is rattled by gunfire from one of their own and I have friends in the town (who are safe thankfully). And it’s only one hour from where my parents live.

So this morning, claiming the new day, I put these up on the wall and ask God to be with those I cannot be with today. I’m asking God to offer comfort and love where there is sadness and grief. I’m asking God to be with those without hope right now. 

I need a wall.

 

 

*Or read the book which is even better…. (more…)

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Venturing Out

Most of my family members are still pretty amazed and shocked that I spend my days working in a hospital. It was well known by friends and family members that hospital rooms usually made me feel weak in the knees and nauseated. My friend Clay would laugh and remind me of the time when we visited him while on a late night shift in the ICU and I quickly had to excuse myself. Keep in mind that this wasn’t but a few years ago.

I’m growing…. I spend most of my work hours in the hospital and many of those in the ICU… and I haven’t passed out yet. Often times, there are special events at the hospital and today was one of them.stanfordThe Stanford Blood Center was hosting a blood drive today. I managed to avoid the “host” standing in the hallway inviting people to come in. I tried walking other hallways, not making eye contact, or briskly walking past her in order to keep from engaging in conversation with her.

Let me just say, I think blood drives are wonderful and I’m thankful we have them. But, I had never given blood. I guess it goes back to a friend of mine in high school. Tony decided it would be a good idea to give blood instead of going to class one day. He had one of the unfortunate adventures of getting up too quickly and well, ended up getting sick in the library…. in front of everyone. Yep, that sealed the deal. I hate needles and I hate throwing up. There have been lots of opportunities to give blood. In addition to high school, there were college blood drives, grad school blood drives AND when I first started working at PBC, we had a blood drive in our parking lot. I would just see the blood drive mobile and get weak in the knees.

So, I thought I was doing pretty good today when I had made it through the day without giving blood. Until this afternoon, I had my Friday afternoon hot chocolate and was headed back to the office to finish up paperwork. I walked down the hall, prepared to retreat another way when I realized that her table had been moved. “Yes! Another successful dodge” I thought to myself. Not quite. I spotted her. She saw me. She said, “You know, you should really consider donating blood today.” “Um, I can’t” I replied. “Really?” She inquired. Ugh. Here we go. “Well, I’ve never given blood, I’m scared of needles, I get sick walking past here, should I go on?” I replied. “Oh, they are very good. Just go on in and talk to them. YOUR blood can help 3 people. We’re trying to store up for the holiday season.” Dang. Okay, so all these boundaries I’m trying to develop in CPE…. out the window. I find myself walking in the auditorium and…..

I have to say that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Forty-five minutes later I walked out of there with a lovely pink bandage, new tshirt, and best of all (wink, wink) a gift certificate for Baskin Robbins. Yep, I gave a pint so I can get a free pint of ice cream. There was only once when I thought about walking out. I was in my “lawn chair” when a patient I work with walked into the room inquiring about giving. He recognized me right away and could tell how nervous I was. I kept thinking, “don’t throw up. don’t throw up.” And, luckily I didn’t. I have to say, I’m pretty proud of the new venture today.                img_45791              

Free tshirt. Delicious food. More free ice cream. Count me in. (Well, I will proudly say I can’t give again until Feb 6, 2009 and that is okay with me.)

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Not Forgotten

In my current job as a CPE Chaplain Resident, I have the wonderful privilege of meeting some of our country’s finest heroes. I have a new appreciation for the men and women who have served and currently serve our country. I hope that each of you will take a few minutes to thank the veterans in your life. 

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  In thinking about our veterans, I remembered my first trip to Washington, DC with my family in 2005. Of course, my favorite day was the first day we arrived. My mom     couldn’t wait for us to see the monuments. Indeed, they were beautiful. My favorite was the World War II monument that had been recently opened. It was sad to me though, that so many of my friends from PBC would never see the memorial built to their service. 

 

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One of the most moving sights was the memorial built to the Vietnam veterans. In fact, my uncle’s best friend was killed in Vietnam. I had heard about Paul’s death and it’s impact on my dad’s family all of my life. However, when dad found Paul’s name on the wall, it was a beautiful moment. My family stood at the wall and cried. How could you not feel anything in witnessing a memorial to our country’s bravest heroes? 

The greatest fear that I hear coming from the mouths of Vietnam vets even now is that we won’t remember. Statistics show that only 1% of our population is affected by this war. We haven’t heard about it on the news lately. Yes, I do want to bring our soldiers home and soon. The reality is that we aren’t prepared to bring them home and help them to recover through what they have experienced at war. We, as Americans and as Christians, should welcome them home with open arms. We should be giving them (and all vets) a safe place to talk about what they have experienced. We should continue to encourage our government and systems to offer the resources they need. Our women and men need to know that we will be there to support, encourage, love and thank them for their service. We will not forget.

Happy Veteran’s Day to my friends, patients, family and mentors. We have not forgotten!

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