This week was youth Sunday at my church and it was beautiful. The music, testimonies and baptisms all combined into a poignant act of worship. I cried, I laughed, I cheered, I sang and I stood in awe of the amazing work that God is doing in and through our youth. Experiences like those help me put clothes on the word rejoice. I certainly needed that kind of baptism this week.
On August 8th I started working full-time as a chaplain at a large local hospital. My days and nights are now about caring for the sick, suffering, dying and grieving. Last week while I was on call, I walked a mother to and from the bathroom. Twenty minutes before, she lost her infant daughter at the smothering hands of a terrible disease. As we travelled the short, veering hallways of the emergency department, the mother said to me, “You have a hard job.” I marveled that she could be sympathizing with me at such a moment, our feet lightly tapping along a linoleum path leading us to her final kiss goodbye.
In just two short weeks, I’ve witnessed a dozen real-life tragedies. Drownings, frightening diagnoses, avoidable deaths and accidents that rip the family curtain in two. My assigned units are the neonatal intensive care unit, antepartum (high-risk pregnancies) and the adult ICUs. Those hallways are hushed and still, an almost humid density of hope and fear. Saturday morning, I saw a two-pound baby swaddled in pink stretch her tiny hand toward the lid of her incubator. Her wave was a symbol of life’s fragility. Later that day, I sat at the bedside of a dying elderly woman. With every exhale she moaned out a marrow-deep weariness. I held the daughter’s hand and together we prayed for the mother’s release from her earthly body.
It’s my job to walk into these sacred moments and spaces and sit. Sometimes I minister through conversation, prayer and guidance, often through silence, but mostly through listening. I listen to families reflect on the life they have lost or are about to lose. (These moments remind me that sometimes when sharing our lives with others, we downplay our pain if we hear a story that seems more tragic than our own. We shouldn’t do this. Loss cannot be measured with rulers and yardsticks. All loss is loss, capable of shaping us into different people as quickly as the beat between inhale and exhale.) None of the stories that I have seen or heard this month are the same, but they are all meaningful.
I didn’t get much sleep Saturday night because I was at the hospital until 2am, but I made myself get up and go to church. To grieve and to rejoice are both sacred experiences – they acknowledge that life is a gift from a benevolent Giver – so how could I miss an opportunity to balance out all that grief? Worship rejuvenated my weary, care-giving soul. Even with all the tragedy I’ve seen, Sunday’s stories and praise reminded me that life is beating loudly all around me. Singing that Jesus is Healer refilled my vial of hope. This week I return to the hospital grateful to God for the gift of life.
If you think of me, please pray for continued courage and stamina to keep stepping into those sacred moments.
I am just now reading this, and I want to say thank you for bringing comfort in the
nicu and with the high risk pregnancy folks. Thanks for bringing grace and a glimpse of Christ to families like mine. The nicu is an awful place. We had great care and a prenatal diagnosis and I cried every single day.
I wish you’d been around. I think we only saw a chaplain at the Ash Wednesday service at the hospital.
Talk about tough areas for a first assignment! I always found the lyrics from “In Christ Alone” to be a source of peace and encouragement in my work…
In Christ alone
My hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand…
No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry, to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from his hand
’til he returns, or calls me home
Here in the love of Christ I stand
Thanks for sharing this, Corrie. Very well written. I like the juxtaposition of tragedy and rejoicing–your sorrow literally lasts through the night and joy comes with the morning. Do you find that each of these two experiences diminish the other, or does the one draw out the other more acutely? In other words, do the parallel experiences of tragedy and rejoicing, sorrow and joy, temper each other or draw you more fully into the reality of both? Probably some of both at times…