Friday, July 20, 2012

Losing Faith in the hospital

One of the things I love about working with Lifeline Chaplaincy is the diversity of the patients I get to visit.  I have two main assignments with the hospitals I visit, St. Luke’s and Texas Children’s, which both have their own cultures on their own.  I also have a floor assignment and of course the Church of Christ census list and the patients I get to visit. My floor assignment at St. Luke’s is entertaining, I have several unique patients who have 100’s of stories, and most of them can do their best in telling them all to me throughout the week, and I love it.  My Church of Christ patients are no different and the connections we make with our common denomination are very enjoyable, but a lot of time I don’t feel needed in these rooms as I do my floor assignment at my different hospitals.
            When I enter a lot of the rooms that are Church of Christ, I’m going to stereotype here, the patients usually have a great support system, their family is around, their church has made great contact and I’m there in the hospital as an extension of their support group, which is not a bad thing.  I love visiting anyone regardless of their current faith stage and family support.  I minister to everyone I come in contact with in however I can. 
            But, one thing that I really enjoy about the Church of Christ patients I get to see is I get to see them on all the floors they go on.  Wherever they go throughout the hospital I se e them from the emergency room to the 26th floor at the top I visit with them and really get to walk with each patient through their stay in the hospital.  These past two weeks I had a patient I been tracking with, that just broke my heart.  Let’s call this man,  Thomas, to protect his identity.  Thomas is above the age of 50, but below the age of 100.  I met Thomas in Cardiovascular recovery after having a chest procedure one day that left him unconscious at times and under intubation.  The first day I came in I thought Thomas was under, and unable to speak, but the nurse explained to me to go in and talk he could hear fine.  I came in and introduced myself, and my background with the church and why I was there.  I then asked if I could pray with him and hold his arm before I left which he couldn’t speak his eyes lit up at my request of prayer and our bond grew.  Each day this man would be on my mind as I would visit him and get to know him and his family.  I followed him as he progressed and got better each day, I loved seeing his progress and he always asked for me to close our time together in praying.  I was so encouraged by our visits, there’s nothing better than walking in a room and seeing the smile of a patient and knowing they want you there. 
            But, in our last week together, his prognosis declined.  I sat with him at times just in silence, allowing us to reflect on the change of events.  Allowing grief, well to be grieved.  Allowing the heart to hurt, and not having anyone tell you it’s not okay.  I was there to share the pain with Thomas.  Then my heart broke.  One day the visit was coming to close and I asked Thomas if we could pray and he then stopped me.  He said, “Not today, maybe not anymore, anytime I pray things just get worse.”  I know I could have talked about the strengthening of faith, and what pain can do the Christian and the building of character.  But, Thomas didn’t need the God talk at that time.  He just needed someone to sit with him, and feel his pain.  That’s what I did, I sat with him, and looked at him with the eyes that he gave me when I first offered prayer for him two weeks ago when he was intubated.  He saw that I cared and that was our time together. 
            Thomas has left the hospital now, and is recovering in rehab, and is getting better, not only physically, but emotionally, and spiritually.  As I left the room that one day, a song came to my mind by a band that I love, The Brilliance, the song: “Does Your Heart Break?” 

When you see us all alone
Can you hear your people Lord?
Can the blind have sight, have sight?

The world is burning as you're standing by
Are you watching, as your children die?
Did your heart break?
Does your heart break now?

            I prayed for Thomas after I left the room and I prayed this song, and asked God where was He when people lose faith?  When people give so much to God, but lose hope in the battle?  I’m coming to know God more and more, and unfortunately I do it sometime by seeing others lose their faith.  

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Should you pray with this patient?

            This week we, myself and about fifty other chaplains in the Texas Medical Center, spend two days sitting around circle tables listening to an English professor from St. Thomas, go on about well I couldn’t give you a clear concept of exactly what she spoke on.  She came with an agenda and notes, but we engaged in good conversation, but got off track several times.  We talked about violence in patient’s rooms by allowing our stereotypes and assumptions to come into play when we minister.  Of course, there are obvious stereotypes, let me point out a few that I know you should never assume:  1.  Every patient believes in God  2.  Every patient  has a type of spirituality, and knows what their spirituality is, these are two important stereotypes I’ve learned to keep in check when doing my rounds at St. Luke’s.
            The conversations were good at times, and at times redundant with the speaker.  As most everyone in the room had been trained in some capacity to be able to handle their own biases and baggage chaplains bring into the rooms.  So, in a sense the education was redundant in a way, but it was needed to reemphasize things that I can so easily forget in the tedious and emotionally draining days.  But, there was one thing that the professor did, and that was present an ethical dilemma, that before this conversation, I didn’t even consider an ethical dilemma.  She asked us (all the chaplains in the room) what do you do when you encounter a patient who is in comatose.  That’s a loaded question on its own, because so much of what I do as a chaplain is facilitate and lead conversation.  It’s not me talking all the time, but I need the patient to be on my team, the team of conversation.  So, in dealing with a comatose patient I reach a conflict in not being able to routinely visit the patient that I usually do, with the verbal communication that I find so critical to developing rapport and trust during the visit.  But, that’s not where the ethical dilemma ended; the professor proceeded to elaborate on the previously mentioned scenario.  What if you had a patient in comatose, no one else in the room, and on their chart the patient had no listed religious preference.  We then had a few chaplains state that they would say a quiet prayer in the room for the patient.  That offended one chaplain in general who wanted to know more and more about the prayer.  Was it a generic prayer?  Was it a generic, prayer?  The way I believe in the power of prayer, and when I think about what prayer did and has done in my life, I felt agitated to call prayer, well generic. 
            That does raise a great question, should you say a prayer for someone, who is unconscious, with no one in the room, and with no religious preference?  Are you hurting the patient, or violating their rights by saying a silent prayer on their behalf?  That the ethical dilemma I present to you this moment.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

My response to Homosexuality and why I'm Sorry

I know this blog will offend some, but I feel the need to ‘come out’ and share something close to my heart and reach out to the LGBT community.  As many of you know I stand strong in my faith and am currently working in the hospital as a chaplain, but there’s been one thing that’s been near to me for some time and I’d like to share my thoughts, and raise awareness about the LGBT community and what I’ve seen in my life in relation to the development of my faith.
            Growing up I was taught that homosexuality was a sin and besides that there wasn’t much more conversation beside that.  There was no conversation, or dialogue.  In fact I remember sitting in the church I grew up at hearing the word sex and gasps coming out of the audience.  The issue was never really talked about, and growing up I didn’t have a strong stance on the issue either way.  Honestly my first experience dealing with the LGBT community was when I arrived at Abilene Christian University as a transfer student and learned of a group called Soul Force that came out to A.C.U. to raise conversation on the subject of homosexuality.  I attended most of the sessions honestly just wanting to learn more of the issue.  I felt ignorant on the issue and sheltered about never participating in conversation delving into the issue.  My interest continued as I found when I dove deeper I found people that had stories, and testimonies about love.  Most importantly I discovered individuals with a passion deep for God and faith seeking to be understood. 
            Then the issue of homosexuality became more personal in my life as I saw the journey firsthand.  One of my best friends, Brent, came out to me and shared what his story had been.  I remember the day like it was yesterday, we took a walk on the Lunsford Trail around A.C.U. and he told me with a voice that showed authenticity and deserved respect like none other I had ever heard about his experience with homosexuality.  I then listened for an hour or so as he shared his experience and where he had been in his journey.  I listened in awe and amazement as he shared his life that I had never heard.  It was at that moment, this spot, where I knew homosexuality was much more than a black and white issue.  When I saw Brent, who I knew as a man of God, someone who truly desired the will of God in his life, I knew that homosexuality was so much bigger than what we had been making it out to be.  The issue could not be defined as we Christians so desperately seek to do. 
            I also became aware of my past feeling towards the word gay and homosexuality.  The way I had used those terms in the past, now seemed much more than just words, I was hurting people with my language and I had not even comprehended the pain of my words.  When I called something gay, I was degrading my friend.  When I called someone a fag for the way the person acted, I wasn’t loving that person.  I want to say I’m sorry for the things I have said.
            I then knew that I needed to learn more and more about the issue, and that is something I believe the church needs to do as well.  I am not asking for you (the church) to immediately support the LGBTQ community and start your own parades.  I’m asking you to evaluate those you know who are a part of this community and get to know them, not just their sexual orientation.  God created us in His image, we are His beloved, and we are all loved.  When God said come to the table, He wasn’t talking about a select few, because if he was I know for sure I wouldn’t be accepted.  I have stains I’m ashamed to mention, and a past that needs more prefaces than birthdays, but God is sovereign.   I’ve come to know a God that desires to love all of His creation, not just a select few.  Because truth is, if it was a select few, how many of us would get an invitation?  The God I’ve come to know and love is a God who welcome all to His table. 

            I’m here to say I’m sorry for the things I’ve said in the past in ignorance and hate to the LGBT community.  I pray I can do a better job raising awareness and furthering the idea of love towards all in my life, because if my faith has taught me anything, it is to love all, without question. 

            “I've seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up against our most bitter opponents and say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you.... But be assured that we'll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

-Martin Luther King Jr.A Christmas Sermon for Peace on Dec 24, 1967

-Joseph D.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

To love without hate

            What is the meaning of life?  We ask that question so often, and get so many answers.  Sometimes people give you elaborate drawn out answers.  Others just shake their heads and laugh off the question.  But, I am one who thinks about the meaning of life.  I question a lot of time, what am I doing here?  Why did God choose to put me on earth?  Couldn’t I just end up in heaven?  That sounds pretty nice, right God?  But, I accept where I am and I have found something I believe to be the meaning of life, well at least for me.  Drum roll please……  To love without hate.  That’s it!  That’s the meaning of life I have come to personally discover in my life that I try to live out.  It’s pretty easy to do as well.  I’ll show you how!
            Simply, don’t get emotionally involved with anyone.  It’s easier to love that person just on the surface.  You don’t get involved in their life and vice versa, it’s for the best.  You meet and greet and you keep it on the surface, it’s pretty easy!  You are loving that person, just by getting to know them sharing a bit of your faith, and that’s it!  You just loved that person and showed no hate!  Congratulations, you have completed Joseph Austin’s meaning of life and will be cherished! 
            You see, it’s easy to love from a far, not just in distance, but in terms of emotional attatchment.  It’s easy to love people on the surface, because we are taught to present a very nice surface of ourselves.  We are taught to keep our emotions in check and when speaking to others we tell only what we want others to hear, we want them to leave thinking what a great guy/gal! 
            Working in the hospital has showed me again and again what it means to love without hate.  You see I go into rooms, where others confide in me, tell me things they wouldn’t tell their own families.  They share secrets, sin, and hate that has built up for decades.  These are the people are society loves to hate.  These are the people I love to love.
            I believe everyone has demons.  Everyone has scars.  Some are more visible than others, some are physical, while others are emotional, and of course there are many that are spiritual.  Confessing these scars and demons and sharing my own not necessarily verbally, but by just offering a listening ear, by coming alongside my patients is one of the main reasons I enjoy being a chaplain.  When we do this, share our demons, to some we become unlovable, to me we become capable of love. 
            One demon I battle with is explaining my past,  family and past engagement.  Does someone want to make the effort to love me?  I feel as if I have to apologize for my past, to preface others, specifically girls, when one will enter my life, I will have to apologize for my past.  But, that’s not what I will do.  I will and do embrace my past, every scar I have, it is what makes me who I am today.  Last June, I was supposed to get married, instead I’m working in the hospitals going door to door to discover stories behind each door.  To uncover the hearts to the voiceless and the sick.  To bring the good news and the good of hearing to those who need to share. 
            Love those who are near to you, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  As Mother Teresa said,” “It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.”

Thanks for reading