July 31, 2015

I Believe in Miracles

"Everything's going to be okay."

"Don't worry, it'll all work out."

"It'll get better, just be patient."

"Just trust in God and it'll all be okay."

I hear these phrases all the time.  They are what you say when something terrible has happened.  They're what automatically comes out of your mouth when you don't know what to say.  They are meant to comfort, to support.  Maybe you believe them; maybe you don't.  Until I worked at as a hospital chaplain, these were the phrases that fell from my mouth when things went wrong for friends.  "It'll be okay," I said.  "It'll all work out."  And I think I believed those words.  After all, there were very few times that I'd seen things not work out for my friends.  Why wouldn't I trust that things would work out this time? 

After a few weeks as a chaplain, my thoughts on this changed.  Suddenly, I stopped saying "It'll be okay," to the patients and their families.  I stopped promising that "Everything will work out."  Because I didn't know.  I couldn't make a promise like that.  Telling these things to families was not comforting them or supporting them.  It was lying.  It was ignoring the problem.  It was ignoring the reality of the world we live in, which is that things do not always work out.  People get hurt and do not recover.  Children get sick and do not get better.  Families break apart.  Pregnancies end in loss.  Sometimes, things do not get better.

I didn't really believe in miracles before I became a chaplain.  I subscribed to the "every tree/puppy/baby is a miracle" belief.  I read about "miracles" in the news and thought "Well, that's pretty amazing...but is it a miracle?"  It didn't seem like the miracles of the Bible. 

My thoughts on miracles have changed, too.  I've met parents of a child born at 24 weeks who was happy and healthy.  I've met babies who weren't supposed to last a week, but who have gotten stronger and stronger as the months have passed.  I've met parents who haven't lost hope after months of living in the hospital with their child.  I've met children who, despite scoliosis, spina bifida, amputated limbs, etc. are smiling and happy.  They are the ones who make me happy when I go into their room.  These are miracles. 

Families ask me to pray for miracles.  Some are simply asking - and why not?  There is no harm in asking God for a miracle.  Others sit, refusing to believe that their child will not recover because God will provide a miracle.  I admire the faith of these people, but I mourn for them. 

A year into life as a chaplain, my beliefs and my words have changed.  When I see a family struggling through their child's illness or traumatic injury, I reach out and pray with them.  I pray for strength, for guidance, for healing.  I thank God for the care given to the child by the hospital staff.  I thank God for the child, for the joy he or she brings to their family.  But I do not promise the family that everything will be okay, because it is a promise I cannot keep.  It is a promise that only God can make, for only God can keep it. 

I believe in miracles. I do not expect them. If we expected them, they would not be miracles. 

April 21, 2015

I wonder...

I've been doing a lot of wondering lately.

I blame Godly Play.  I was introduced to this amazing storytelling technique earlier this year as part of my chaplaincy program at Children's.  In it, children (and adults) are invited to "wonder" about the story, allowing them to step into the world of the story and find ways to connect it with their own lives.  (You can learn more about Godly Play here if you're interested.)

When telling parables, we wonder with the kids about what things really are.  We wonder how things connect.  We wonder where we are in the story.  In telling these stories, I have heard some amazing responses from children that make me wonder why I had never seen it that way before.

In my own life, I have been wondering.  I wonder...how do I connect the pieces of my calling?  It seems they have all been falling in front of me lately, but I am still struggling with how to fit them together.  It's as if I have a hundred puzzle pieces in front of me, but no picture on a box to show me what it should look like.  Is this green a tree, or grass?  Is this a bird, a fish, a flower?  I wonder what the puzzle will look like when it is finished.  I wonder if I will ever finish it.

Like with the parables, it is helpful to look at each piece of the puzzle and wonder what they mean.  What are the pieces of my calling?  I know that I am called to work with children and their families.  I know I am called to be an advocate for those children.  I know that I am called to share God's Word with them.  I know that I am called to teach.  I know that I am called to help those in need.  I know that I am called to share my story and to help others share theirs.  I know that I am called to help children find the Holy Spirit in their lives through the art of creation.

Right now, it seems like I am constantly trying to put the pieces together, only to realize that they don't fit.  Am I missing pieces?  Do I have two puzzles mixed up together?

There is no immediate answer for these questions, for these wonderings.  I don't have a simple solution.  I just don't know yet.  But I suppose that is why we wonder.  When we wonder with children in Godly Play, we aren't seeking a RIGHT answer.  We are simply wondering, playing with ideas to see how they fit.  But as an adult, it is so hard to wonder!  I pray for the ability of a child to wonder without seeking an answer, to wonder simply in search of understanding.  That's all I can do.


February 12, 2015

Choosing Happiness

Whenever I am depressed/angry/frustrated/overly emotional, my instinct is to sit on the couch, cover myself in a blanket, and watch episode after episode of Gilmore Girls, The Tudors, West Wing, or some other comfort show.  I'm not one of those people who grabs the nearest comfort food and eats; when I am feeling down, I usually forget to eat.  I don't want to leave the couch.  I just want to snuggle with my blanket and my dogs.

Two weeks ago, I was in the midst of one of those moments.  That day, I had met with the ordination committee for a second ordination interview, only to be told for a second time that I wasn't ready, that they would not ordain me.  I was frustrated, angry, and depressed all at the same time.  That afternoon, I'd played Monopoly with Colin and a friend in an attempt to get my mind off of things.  But now I was all alone in the apartment.  Vegging seemed like a fantastic idea.

Vegging was the option I frequently took.  It's easy.  It's comforting.  It allows you to feel better in the moment, to forget whatever it is that's bothering you.  There's nothing wrong with vegging with things are bad.  

But then I looked over to my sewing machine and my most recent project.  It was a peplum blouse that I had eagerly been working on the day before my interview.  I was particularly excited about this blouse, because I'd made it twice before, and was in love with the pattern.  Not only that, but the blouse's fabric was a cute cotton print with bicycles on it.  All that was left was the finishing, my least favorite part.  Buttons, buttonholes, and hems.  Blerg.  

I decided to sew.

It may seem like a small thing, deciding to finish my blouse instead of laying on the couch.   But when you struggle from depression, like I do, and you find yourself feeling down, you have occasionally have a choice.  You can take the comforting route, the easy route, and feel momentarily better.  But I've found that later, I don't feel better at all.  I lecture myself for being lazy.  I think of all the things I could have accomplished.  And all the good feeling I got from snuggling with my dogs and watching Gilmore Girls vanishes.  

Choosing to sew, wasn't simply choosing to do something instead of sitting on the couch.  It was choosing to not let my depression overwhelm me.  It was choosing to push through the bad feelings and not only be productive, but feel productive.  It was choosing happiness.  

Now don't get me wrong - feeling down and being depressed are two different things.  But for someone like me, noticing that moment when you are feeling down and catching it before it becomes something worse can make all the difference.  When you are deep in depression, that decision is not even there.  Sometimes, the depression has already overwhelmed you, and you can't even imagine happiness, even when it is close by.  Choosing to be productive is not an option, because you are drowning in emotions that you cannot control.  But sometimes, occasionally, you are given a gift.  You are given that choice.

And that night, I chose to be happy.  

January 25, 2015

A Letter to Baby

Dear Baby,

We haven't met yet, but I'm Mommy. Or I will be when you get here. Sometimes I wish you would hurry up already, but I know that you'll be here someday. I'm ready to love you, to hold you and smother you in kisses. Will you have your daddy's blue eyes, or my ever-changing ones? Will you get my nose, with its funny bump in the middle? Or will you have a new face of your own to bring to our family? No matter how you look, I know I will love you.

It's hard waiting, Baby. Sometimes it hurts. I think that you are on your way, but then I find out I have to wait longer. You'll find this out eventually - I'm not a very patient person. I should probably work on being patient before you get here. In the meantime, I keep wondering who you will be. What will you be like when you get here?

Will you scream like I did? Will you suck your two middle fingers, too? Will you be a snuggly baby, or will I treasure those few and far between moments when you are quiet in my arms? Will you love to run and play outside? Will you tell corny jokes like your daddy, that I can't help but laugh at? Will you sit as I read to you at bedtime, telling you stories from the books I loved best when I was little? Will you love to travel, and imagine visiting every continent? Will you dream of traveling to the stars, or will you be happy here on earth, just like your mommy?

You'll change the world, Baby. I don't know who you'll be or what you'll do, but I do know that. I know you'll change my world, and Daddy's, too. I know you'll make a difference in the lives of everyone you meet.

I'm ready to meet you, Baby. Whenever you're ready to come, I'll be waiting with open arms.


January 17, 2015

The Language of Miscarriage

A week ago Thursday, Colin and I sat in the sonogram room of my OBGYN's office, watching as a small, black void surrounding a minuscule white dot appeared on a screen.  The pregnancy sac and fetal pole, our doctor told us.

By my calculations, I was supposed to be eight weeks pregnant, but the baby was only measuring at 6.  Not definitely a bad thing, the doctor told us, but not good.  I was bleeding, too, and terrified.

This Thursday, we sat in that same room and watched as the doctor again performed a sonogram.  There was the cervix, and the uterus.  But that black void and white dot were gone.  By that point, we'd known for a week that our baby had left us.  But it was still so strange to look at that place where it had been visible only a week ago, and to see nothing.

I've thought a lot lately about the language of miscarriage.  "I had a miscarriage," or "I miscarried," women say.  Or sometimes "We had a miscarriage," or "We lost the baby."  That had been my language, too, for our previous two losses.  Though I did not believe that I had done something to cause the miscarriage, the language I used made me the subject.  I lost the baby.  I had a miscarriage.

But this time is different.  This, my third pregnancy and third loss, my experience was different.  The baby was in me for longer.  8 weeks, this time, rather than 5 or 6.  I had a month of knowing I was pregnant, a month of experiencing the symptoms, the pains, the emotions.  A whole month where we thought everything was fine.  And then, last Thursday night, the baby left my body.

I won't be too graphic, but I will say this: I knew that the baby had left me.  I knew it physically.  And in that moment, my understanding of our language of miscarriage changed.  I didn't lose the baby.  The baby left me.  The baby left us.

The medical community has yet another term for this: "spontaneous abortion."  Though our society is very single-minded when the word abortion is used, it does work to explain what happened.  The word "abort" is defined as "to fail, cease, or stop at an early stage."  "Spontaneous," too, is an appropriate descriptor: "without effort or premeditation." It happened out of nowhere.  Unplanned, the baby simply ceased to grow, and left.

That understanding of the miscarriage helps explain my own feeling that I've been abandoned.  I was abandoned, in a sense.  For whatever reason, the baby left my body.  We probably will never know the answer, and knowing the answer won't stop my feeling of abandonment, anyway.

It hurts to be abandoned by someone I'd promised to love and protect.  It hurts to be left.  But it hurts a lot less than thinking I am the reason why the baby left.  It hurts less to say that the baby left, rather than saying that I lost it.

I didn't lose the baby.  The baby left my body.   But it will never, ever, leave my heart.

November 25, 2014

So, what do you do?

It's a question you hear a lot.  When you meet someone new and strike up a conversation, it's bound to be asked at some point.

"So, what do you do?"

It's a question that has become increasingly more interesting (and difficult) to answer.  For a while, it was simply "I'm a student."  Then, it became "I'm a student and a children's minister."  Then I was simply a children's minister.  And all of those answers were fine.  A little out of the ordinary, but nothing that didn't at least lead to further conversation.

Then I left my church.  I wasn't in school, I didn't have a job, and I didn't have an answer to the question everyone asked.  "Well, I was a children's minister."  "I'm searching right now."  These are all correct and acceptable answers.  But it is so disheartening to give them!

Things have continued to change in my life, and among those changes is my answer to that question.  "I'm a chaplain at a children's hospital, I work at a mall museum store, and I am trying to start my own sewing business."

Might be a bit of an overload.

But the answer that I want to give to that question is much simpler.  What do I do?  I do what I love.  It has taken years to come to a place where I can say that I do truly love what all do, all that I do.  I feel fulfilled in my work, and am excited for it to continue.

When you ask someone what they do, typically the question you're asking is "What is your job?" or "How do you spend your time?"  But wouldn't it be interesting if the question we were asking was "How do you feel about what you do?"  And if we were to answer that question and share a bit more of ourselves than the work we do to make money.

I do what fulfills me.
I do what I need to get by.
I do what I want to.
I do what I enjoy.
I do what I have to, but someday I will do what I want to.

I work with amazing people.  I help incredible children (who often in turn help me).  I knit.  I sew.  I create.  I do what I love.

What do you do?

November 5, 2014

Finding Confidence and Claiming Identity

Last April, I wrote about an event I witnessed at the Subway near my church.  An older, deaf man collapsed while in front of me in line.  As other people around me rushed to fulfill positions (a medical professional ran to his aid, someone grabbed a chair for the man, the Subway worker called 911), I stood there, wondering what to do.  Here is what I wrote about this:

What was my role in this moment?  As a pastor, did I have a task I should be doing?  Should I comfort the wife, who was standing by her husband looking frightened and confused?  That would require pushing through the throng which surrounded the man in the chair.  I didn't know her, and she didn't know me.  There was nothing about me that identified me as a pastor, as a person who seeks ways to help.

I've been thinking about this story a lot as I've been getting used to my role as a chaplain at the children's hospital.  Reading this story again, I realize that yes, I could have gone to the wife and introduced myself to her.  I could have held her hand as others cared for her husband.  I could have - but the me of last April would not have done, and did not do that.

What I was missing at that moment was not only confidence in myself, but confidence in my identity.  Sure, it's easy to identify yourself as a minister when you're in your church, or even when you're at a church event outside the building.  But to do so outside of the church, in a completely secular place with people I did not know...that required me to be comfortable and confident in my position as a pastor in the world.  And I was lacking that confidence at that time./

I didn't know it then, but looking back it is so incredibly clear.  I wasn't confident about others seeing me as a minister.  I wasn't confident in claiming that identity among "normal" people.  I wasn't ready to witness their reaction, to wait to see if they would accept me in that identity, or if they would laugh at me and turn away.  I wasn't confident.

To be a chaplain requires confidence in self, and confidence in identity.  When you walk into a room, you do not know the people, and the people do not know you.  There is nothing to identify you as a chaplain, other than your badge (in tiny print).  YOU must identify yourself.  YOU must have the confidence to claim that identity and tell it to those you are visiting.  If you can't claim that identity, then you'll never make it into the room.  There will be people who deny you that identity, who say "You're too young, too female."  There will be people who do not want you to have that identity.  But having that confidence of identity makes you strong enough to risk hearing their denial.  Because you believe in your identity, and others have celebrated that identity that you claim.

I was terrified walking into rooms the first few times I did it.  I'll admit - I'm still a little terrified.  But each time I walk into a room and introduce myself as "Nicole, one of the chaplains," I become a little more comfortable, a little more confident.  And having that confidence allows me to care for those in the room.

If I were to return to that Subway with the experience and confidence I have now, I know what I would do.  I would put my hand on the wife's shoulder and say to her, "My name is Nicole, and I'm a pastor.  Is there anything I can do for you?"