As I continue my life’s journey, I bump into all kinds of situations as a hospital chaplain. Some of these events are rather joyful. Some of them are down right painful. Not too long ago I was called to come in to the hospital’s emergency room in the middle of the night to offer what comfort I could to a family whose child had a severe head injury. While the medical team worked to stabilize the infant, I stood outside the trauma room offering prayers for the child and his family. As the child began to stabilize I received another page indicating an additional situation in the pediatric intensive care unit upstairs on the second floor. I arrived in the PICU and located the patient in question. The situation I discovered continues to surface in my memory weeks after its conclusion.
As I entered the pediatric intensive care unit it was obvious, due to the number of medical personnel present near the patient’s room and the expressions on their faces that whatever was going on was serious and sad. Once I was briefed about the situation, I understood fully its seriousness. Seems this particular patient had been sick for quite sometime. She was only two years old. She had been placed on life support weeks earlier in hopes that something medical could be done to reverse her painful dilemma.
One of the outstanding truths I have discovered about serving as a hospital chaplain remains for me somewhat bitter sweet. I recall early in my career getting off of the elevator on my way to see a patient one Saturday morning only to be met by the patient’s young adult sister seated on the floor in the hall way. She was waiting for her parents to arrive at the hospital to visit their very sick teenage son. I had spent some time with the family days before but this Saturday morning the patient had taken a turn for the worse. When the patient’s sister saw me coming down the hall toward her she exclaimed emphatically, “Don’t let my parents see you!” Often due to the fact that chaplains are called to end of life situations our presence seems to communicate a reality that some are not quite ready to grasp. This was the case then and I wondered what I was walking into that evening in the PICU.
Different people see chaplains in different ways. Some see us as those offering comfort at the bedside. Others perhaps see us a representatives of God. Often when the patient is a helpless child and the prayers for that child seems to have fallen on deaf ears ,the chaplain can feel the frustration and anger being expressed heavenward. As I stood silently just outside the patient’s room I simply observed the comings and goings of the various medical personnel and those who were there to support the patient’s siblings. Soon I was invited to enter the room by the patient’s mother. She asked me to please say a prayer for her daughter.
The decision had been made to disconnect the patient from life support because there wasn’t anything else medically they could do to save her life. I shall never forget the encounter I had with the patient’s father. As I stood outside the room he walked up to me and expressed his anger with God for not sparing his daughter’s life. He indicated that this whole situation was not sitting with him very well. As I listened to his terrible pain I simply said, “I would be upset and angry too!” This was not the time to try to defend God as if I thought I could. God doesn’t need our defense. God, I believe encourages us to be in the moment and listen for the pain and offer the ministry of presence.
What happen next I was not anticipating. The father of the patient asked me if I would be present at the bedside when they removed the life support. This request may not seem like much but believe me it was monumental. In spite of his anger with God he still wanted God’s representative present as he held his daughter in his arms and said his goodbyes. The scripture says to be angry and sin not. If you don’t think God can handle our anger then perhaps your God isn’t very big. His love and compassion overwhelms our grief and our worst situations. My hope is there is a re-union coming where God will wipe away every tear. So hold on my child. Joy comes in the morning!
One Saturday, not very long ago, my wife and I made a trip into Pennsylvania to enjoy a day of whitewater rafting. By the time we arrived at the rafting company we had just enough time to check in and get our raft assignments. With all of the paper work filled out we sat through the instructions on how to manage the various rapid classifications. We secured our life vests, picked up a bucket in which we carried our lunch so it wouldn’t get wet and we carried an additional bucket for the sole purpose of bailing water out of the raft.
We met a very nice married couple from New York and eventually shared a raft with them as we made our way along the eleven mile journey down the Lehigh River. We were instructed to be aware of two kinds of rocks. The first were rocks you could see. Obviously we were to try and avoid these huge boulders . The other rocks we were to be aware of were the ones you couldn’t see that lurked just beneath the surface of the river. You have heard it said, “what you don’t know can’t hurt you.” Well, that isn’t exactly true when it comes to whitewater rafting.
My reflection centers around the unexpected changes that can happen while engaged in the thrill of whitewater rafting. If you have never experienced this sport before it may be a little difficult to describe but I’ll try. This experience is similar to riding a rollercoaster except one never knows the exact path your raft will take while adrift on the river. You are at the mercy of the river and the only way to change your path is to maneuver one’s raft with the paddle you have in your hand. Did I mention the concealed rocks just beneath the river’s surface? All of these various components, river currents, rocks, above and below the surface, other rafters and the water itself that often splashes into the raft together can cause changes that one may not be anticipating.
So here we are setting out on this eleven mile journey in a four person raft with two new friends from New York. The weather is great and accompanying us are about five raft employees, let’s call them guides, who are in individual kayaks giving us various kinds of hand signals while blowing whistles attempting to direct us away from, let’s say, the more dangerous places along the river. As we become better acquainted with our new friends, let’s call them Robert and Jennifer, we discover from one another what we each did for a living. When it was my turn to indicated what my job was I told them that I was a chaplain in a children’s hospital. What I heard next I was not anticipating but I will be forever grateful to have heard what I am about to relay to you.
Robert’s father was a policeman. He expressed a kind of appreciation for him that let me know how much he was respected. Then Robert said that his mother and father some years before had gone on a whitewater rafting trip very much like the one we were experiencing. Robert expressed that while they were on this trip someone fell out of their raft and appeared as though they were drowning. Being the public servant that his father was he jumped in to try and save this person’s life. Then Robert said, “my dad was successful in saving this persons life and this one act forever changed my dad.” He said I remember after he got home he was a different man. As a matter of fact he eventually finished his service as a policeman and entered seminary to prepare himself to become a minister.
I sat there in awe as I listened to Robert share this awesome story about his dad. What is so amazing to me is Robert and his wife are now on a whitewater rafting trip taking a chance to express a story that I asked permission to place on this blog. Only time will tell the inspiration that someone somewhere will receive just by reading this amazing story. How many more lives are experiencing the unexpected, placing them is precarious situation for which they need a savior? Thank you Robert and Jennifer for expressing to us a tender and loving story about a particular course change that has made a difference in the lives of so many!