"When you are on the way to do the ministry you think are to be doing, real ministry will happen." Or words to that effect have stayed with me since I began my path towards seminary, these wise words from Dr. Mark Oldenburg (always give attribution).
How true this has been for me in so many ways, and continues to be so. Yesterday was my first shift as a non-intern, i.e. real-live paid chaplain associate. I came to the hospital to find a very tired overnight intern who had an incredibly rough night. We met in the hallway and her "will you get some coffee with me?" was the first of many hallway moments as she needed to share what had been an extremely emotional night with no sleep, and she still had the day shift to work with me.
Not knowing each other, we met first in her processing and then, in the formalities of "who are you, where are you from?" As she shared with me her amazement that people would so openly begin to lay bare their life experience with her, a total stranger, I smiled, watching her do the exact same thing.
As the remainder of the day unfolded, I was off to the ICU to see a patient who had been moved there post-surgery. He was asleep, and his wife was not there, but as I rounded the corner, I turned the wrong way. In doing so , I encountered a cluster of family with a doctor, standing in the hall outside a room, hearing the words, " So that's where it's at right now. Any questions?" They kind of stand there numbly and head toward the waiting room. I catch the doctor to find out that the patient is congestive and very tired and outcomes are not looking good.
As I head toward the waiting room, voices are beginning to rise. I step in and introduce myself. I mention I saw them speaking with the doctor and wonder how things are going. For the next hour I hear the struggles of the sister who senses her sister is at peace and wants to meet God and be reunited with her husband.
Another sister thinks the the patient is "giving up" and needs to fight because it's not her time to go. The sons are in shock and trying to internalize the medical information and make sense of it. They all tell me of the deep abiding faith of their loved one. And I hear the fears and pain of knowing that a visit to the house has revealed that things are labeled with who is to receive them, including several rosaries. Dots are being connected and a sense of potential finality is slamming them in the face. What does it mean to be faithful now? Who are they to be now, for her and for each other? I had not expected to be there. They had not expected me, but our time together ends with prayer and hugs and an expression that I must have been sent to them to hear them in this moment.
And so I head down the hall, to see a patient and I pass a woman with a baby on her lap, and the stroller laden with things, telling a friend " I guess now I am not just the sandwich generation, I am the triple sandwich, between Dad, and my husband and the baby- but we'll get through I guess." I make my visit and am headed back the hallway. The woman is still there, reading Doctor Suess to the baby and trying really hard to be all of the things she needs to be. I wave to the baby who smiles.
The woman looks up and says hello. I ask about her son who is 10 months, and we talk about the universal quality of Dr Suess. I ask her how her day is going. And we talk about her father's cancer, and her husband's work injury that has him laid up, and the baby. I notice she has a case of Diet Coke in the bottom of the stroller and an open can is in the cup holder. After she shares her saga, she smiles and says, " I know it is a lot but we are so blessed.. I know that. We will get through." We joke about how Diet Coke will help, but then spend a minute talking about what else she can rely upon. And I tell her we are there to support her anyway we can and give her a card. We say a brief prayer and I am on my way.
To run into the security guard who wants to ask about the motorcycle accident victim earlier and to tell me how scared the guards were when he came in with the paramedics and how worried they have been for the family.
And the patient who I expect to see for a routine visit request, but she is headed for an MRI and she is having anxiety. We pray in the hall and I write down Isaiah 12:2 for her to take with her- "Surely it is God who saves me, I will trust in him and not be afraid." She tells me later she held the paper in her hands in the MRI because even if she couldn't say the words, she knew she was holding on to them.
On the way to do what I thought I was going to do, the Spirit had other plans. I am humbled and grateful for the ways I was used, along the way.