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Lay Visitor Workshop Reflections

11 June 2009

Yesterday, I felt the intense need to GET OUT of the house.  I’ve been confining myself there due to the “service engine soon” light being on in my car–though it sounds and runs just fine, you don’t want to mess with that too much.   Until I can get it in to the shop to be checked out, I don’t want to cause any further damage (if there even is any).  Last night, after my husband returned home from work, I hopped in his car and headed out to Borders with every intention of studying my Spanish.  Take a wild guess at how much of that I actually accomplished?

If you answered, “Little,” you’d be right.  As I sat there, Mosaicos text in front of me, mentally preparing for a voyage into Mexican español, I felt blank.  No Spanish motivation existed in me.  Knowing that my Bible was in my bag, too, I felt compelled to put the Spanish off and pull out a pad of paper to reflect a bit on my lay visitor training (don’t believe I’ve done that just yet).  I want to share with you what I scribbled down in the hustle and bustle of the Seatle’s Best at Borders:

Though I haven’t gone on any visits with Pastor Ted of late (or for many months), I have given considerable thought to my role both as a lay visitor (now) and a chaplain (in the future).  How can I best serve God, the good people of the Bridge United Methodist Church, and the people of the world on a broader scale?

My lay visitor training workshop at Lancaster General, in an ironic twist, took place a week and a half after my surgery and just a day prior to being admitted to the hospital for five days due to complications from surgery.  For whatever reason, I haven’t actually had the motivation to sit and write about that experience.  Today, as I glance back through my notes from the workshop, I’m struck by how my observations as a patient both in day-surgery and (what felt like) a long period of hospitalization, mirror the common-sense advice given by Staff Chaplain Peter Jupin of Lancaster General at the workshop.

One pearl of wisdom shared with the 30+ lay visitors in the workshop was this:

The hospital is increasingly a place of [only] crisis and acute care.  It is not a place of rest and quiet.

I can attest to that truth from my own experience.  As a rule, hospital ministry is one carried out “on the run” in a complex environment.  On my first night after admission to the hospital, I ran head on into this sad fact.  In the first place, I was in extreme pain (and writhing around as though that would ease the pain).  Even the scant few moments of sleep I achieved were interrupted, rather abruptly, by nurses and so-called “patient care assistants” checking my vitals and waking me up to ask if I was resting comfortably.  Actually, I wasn’t.  And the pain medicine coming in through my IV every 8 minutes wasn’t doing the trick–sadly, my nurse seemed overly cold and detached from my cries for help–to the extent that she just stood there, looking at me and patronizing me with comment like, “Well, you’re on a really high dose of morphine.”  That was true.  I knew that was true, but it didn’t help.  If it was working, I would have been more than happy to leave her to her other patients and seemingly more important work.  I would have LOVED to stop having to press my call button and be a bother to her.  I WANTED to shut up and go to sleep.  HAPPILY.   Finally, after what seemed like an eternity on a pain med that wasn’t working (but was making me compulsively rub my face), the doctor switched to another that did the trick.  When my pastor and mentor, Ted, came to visit me the next day, he could keenly sense the intense pain I was feeling.  His visits were short, but vital, to my spiritual and mental well-being and sanity such as it was.

Jupin also shared with us the challenges presented to a patient upon admission to the hospital for “care.”  I certainly experienced each and every one of those mentioned before this recent health complication, but reading back through them makes clear how harrowing an experience even a short period of hospitalization and sickness can be.  Questions like, “Who am I?” arrise along with impossible confrontations with vulnerability, betrayal by the body, loss of control and status, a heightened sense of anxiety–all of these lead a patient to a place of transformation and even transcendence and bring about a profound search for meaning unlike one is likely to come by in the course of everyday life.

I am always amazed at how effortless Ted makes visitation, prayer, and the “higher calling” seem.  His excellence as a pastor has no doubt been acheived through a lifetime of experience, learning and prayer that is unmatched by my somewhat recent realization and short 27 years of life.  Still, I find myself frustrated at my lack of experience and knowledge.  I suppose that will come in time.

Jupin further shared with us some of the guidelines of and for visitation.  I can share a few here with you:

Be a non-anxious presence.

Bring a mindfulness to the visit.

Acknowledge and validate the situation the patient is in.

Be prepared.

Don’t be in a hurry.

Do not over-stay your welcome, either.

Avoid giving medical advice (indeed).

Don’t make the visit about you.

Don’t make promises that you cannot deliver on.

Hear what they feel.

He also shared with us some fascinating and even illuminating quotes.  One, from St. Francis of Assisi, goes something like this, “Preach the Gospel always, sometimes with words.”  I must comment here, as an aside, that every time I hear or read a quote attributed to this Catholic saint, I can’t help but be moved.  Were I a Catholic (which I emphatically am not), I think I’d find St. Francis to be my favorite saint.  I’m amazed at how Divinely inspired this man was.

And so–as I look back and reflect upon what I learned in the training workshop and from my subsequent observations “from the mouth of the lion,” I find myself compelled to ensure that I, each and every day, ask of God:

“Lord, make me sufficient.”

After all, sufficiency in the face of devastating circumstances is something we don’t truly understand from our limited perspective and something that only God can truly make us.  Sufficiency can carry with it a less-than-stellar connotation.  But I think it fits.  It’s not that one ought to seek perfection–sufficiency is quite literally enough.

So Lord, please make me enough.

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