Sunday, February 12, 2017

Holding Why Like How

I just have a few thoughts I'd like to string together from the strange and wonderful world of chaplaincy I live in.  From hospital rooms to memorial services to nursing homes to hospice suites, the unexpected and perpetual inspiration are my constant companions.  I offer them to you, that you may share in my joy and wonder.

Several things stand out from this week alone.  The most surprising went like this...

I was doing my routine rounds on my floor, assessing and attempting to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of my patients, when I came to the door of a patient I met briefly in the lobby the week before.  At that time, he was in the admissions process, but looked highly uncomfortable, so I approached him to see if he needed help.  He said he really needed to lay down, so I checked with the unit where he was going, took his stuff, and then him, and that was all there was to it.  At least for me.
But, this day, about five minutes into our conversation, he asked, "What's your name, again?"   He lit up when I told him.  He said, "Oh!  You're Heidi!  We met in the lobby the other day."  I said yes.  He said, "You were my angel."  I wrote about you in my notebook.  I write down the names of people who take care of me so I can pray for them.  He started thumbing through one of the two notebooks at his bedside until he found the entry.  He read it out loud, beginning with, "I had just prayed to God to send someone to help me.  Then an angel came to me today.  Her name was Heidi...Thank you Lord, for my Hidy."

I know I am not an angel, but it doesn't hurt my feelings to be confused with one.  If there is an angel in this story, I'm pretty sure it is him.

Hebrews 13:1-2  Let brotherly love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

To have met someone for five minutes and a week later to see your name in their handwriting, in their notebook, in their prayer of thanksgiving, there are no words (although, I'm using plenty of them, anyway).  How often are we used by God to answer the prayer of another, without our knowing?  I imagine this feeling to be a hint of what our introduction to heaven will be like, with many a "Huh! and "I had no idea!"

I think this language suits us very well.  We have no idea.  We have no earthly idea.  And I'm coming to the conclusion that this is an important part of the solution for living with any sense of peace during our sojourn here.  It seems that most believers have long accepted they don't know how God does what He does, on any level of creation.  As one of my patients recently told me, "I could give one of my students a million dollars and tell them to go into the lab and produce a seed, and they couldn't do it."   Anyone who has "grown" a child without knowing how can agree.  We know we can't so much as create a knuckle or a fingernail from our own knowledge or power.

If it wasn't so painful, it would be funny to realize that we who understand so little about how things happen, could be so demanding and insistent about why they happen.  What if we could treat why like how?  Maybe, we could at least try.  Resting only in the mind of God, they are equally beyond our ability to comprehend.

(I wrote a song inspired by this idea.  The link is at the bottom of the post if you'd like to spend more time with this idea.)

Sometimes, I get a glimpse into how limited my viewpoint really is.  Recently, I visited with a patient a couple of times before she died, and went by the church to drop off a card on the day of her funeral. Here is the limited viewpoint part...I was actually surprised to see a hearse parked out in front.  Even though I knew she died (that was why I was at the church after all), I was still picturing her in the bed where she laid, in the room where we visited.  I hadn't "moved" her out of that room in my mind.  And if I had thought to, what then?

I realized, not for the first time, that this is one of the harder things about being a chaplain.  It is easy to get stuck in a moment of suffering or death.  We don't usually get the rest of the story. We are "for a moment".  Of course, I realize the impossibility of having it any other way, but still.  I will rest with the words of a beloved priest and coworker, "It is what it is."

I guess that's what it all comes down to.  At least for the people who have lived a lot of life.  One of my nursing home residents, who has gone from regular attendance at worship and Bingo, to passing entire months in her bed, said it best in her prayer request... "To accept my life, as it is."  

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12

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