I have found that as often as I help others to see God, there the moments where I am amazed at the God at work in others. One example of this came when I visited Mary. Chronically ill with COPD, CHF and Lupus-any one of these would be enough to bear. She was having a bad day and was very tearful. As we talked about her feelings, her tears were not for what the future would hold or where she would be, but in the missing of people who she so deeply loves in this life. She shared how her one daughter was never emotionally expressive, and even into adulthood had never expressed love toward her mother as a hug or embrace. It was only since Mary has been sick, and her granddaughter asked “Mommy, why don’t you ever hug Mimi (her nickname for her grandmother)? As Mary tells it, her daughter was so struck by this, that she came over and hugged her mother for the first time in memory. A new pattern has now taken root. Mary tells me that even though her illnesses are a lot to bear, she would live every moment of them again just for that gift. She went on to tell me about her other daughter who is deaf. When her daughter was growing up, someone was talking about a person who died as “being called home by God.” She communicated with her mother, in great fear. She had literally interpreted someone hearing God call to them. “I can never go to heaven because I will not be able to hear God.” Mary shared that she told her daughter, “We hear God with our hearts not our ears.” Mary had never heard this, she says, and has no other idea how it came to her to say this but for a loving God using her to reassure her child.I sat in awe as she shared this story.
In several of my encounters this week, the theme seemed to be people needing to be heard, and loved and to know that they are worth it.
The young wife of an abusive substance abuser who is in the Trauma Neuro Unit. He rode his moped into an electric fence while intoxicated at a level approaching comatose. She is frustrated and feeling disrespected. She is trying everything she can to help him turn around. She is the only one trying and it is sinking in. She is juggling what she thinks faith demands and what her head tells her is reality about their relationship. She is thinking this may be a time to regroup while he is here in the hospital, but wonders if she can. When he checks himself out AMA, she is there to pick him up. I pray for them as they are leaving to walk their hard journey.
The woman who has survived ten gunshot wounds who reveals that has tried three times in the past to kill herself, but now when someone tried to kill her she realized she wants to live, but hopes God still loves her even though she has not been who she should be.A woman who knows she needs to start a new life in a new place to be safe.
The patient who is being emotionally abused by her adult son who lives with her, but sees only that she must return to this toxic environment. She needed someone to give her permission to change. Even when this happens, she is not sure she should. ”I need to go to counseling- maybe that is the answer”, as if there is a magic thing she can do. Change takes strength. Even if life is bad, it is predictable. Fear of the vast unknown. But she ends up leaving with him against all advice.
The woman on IICU who has rarely been visited has a vent so she cannot speak, only mouth words. She has been called "difficult." I read lips pretty well so I take a shot at it. Between reading lips and a note pad we do pretty well and begin to see her regularly. One day I was unable to visit, because she was asleep. I should have left a card, but I did not. The next time I came she had tears in her eyes. I asked her if something had upset her and she mouthed,” I thought you forgot about me.” I explained what had happened and told her that if I came to visit and she was not awake, I would leave a note for her.
As these people thank me for listening to them, being with them and praying with them, I am keenly aware that the pattern in their lives is that they are not being listened to, and they have perhaps come to expect that they are not worth the time.
I spent an afternoon hearing about perinatal loss.I find it refreshing that perspectives are changing about an issue that has been significant in my life and the lives of my friends. One of my friends learned that her baby was anencephalic and could not live. She and her husband were also told that she could die trying to deliver since the skull would collapse. She had to travel to terminate the pregnancy, a begin to mourn this loss on many levels. It was compounded by her family’s response- several of them did not talk to her for years and called her “killer.” I remember many conversations about what God expected. For myself, the near loss of our daughter was more traumatic than most else in my life. The hospital wanted to spare us the pain in case she died, so they did not give her name to the newspaper- her birth was never announced. Hearing “oh, dear, everything will be fine” from a pastor who just did not want to think about the alternative was painful. Both my friend and I wondered if there was anyone willing to listen to our real stories.
I am continuing to process the events in the life of my friend with terminal cancer. She is not only a friend of 19 years, and a member of my church, and a client, she is one of the people who encouraged me to explore whether I was being called to ministry. After the initial wave of shock and pain, I have realized she will not see my ordination. I have visited as a chaplain, as a supplement to our pastors and Sunday administered communion carefully- swallowing is a problem, so a little bit of wafer in a little bit of wine on the end of a spoon. For now her seizures have stopped and she is somewhat more alert, but this glimmer will not last. The family persists in a mode of positive fighting for life. Even as four stage 4 metastatic cancers wield their power. They do not want the parish to know. So we minister to them in a kind of secrecy.
My friend is not always oriented in reality and conversations may involve a few repetitive phrases. She is starting to lose her hearing in addition to her memory. But I am sure she can hear God with her heart. And God is saying to her and to each of these, " I love you and you are worth it."