"The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."
I first heard this quote from Frederick Buechner's Wishful Thinking when I was a student at Saint John's School of Theology∙Seminary (SOT∙Sem), and I've never forgotten it. It perfectly describes my years in parish ministry and my work now as a chaplain.
I have learned so much from my patients about living in the moment. One of the stories I like to tell is about a couple who was facing challenges associated with the husband's chronic heart failure. At first, his wife kept saying, "We're just going to take it a month at a time. We'll see what happens." Later when his health took a turn for the worse, she began saying, "Just a week at a time." Eventually, she was saying, "We're just taking it a day at a time." And at the end, as he was dying, she curled up in bed with him and was whispering in his ear, "Just a minute at a time."
Life is precious! When I walk into a patient's room and am able to share, even with somebody claiming to have no faith or religious background, amazing things happen: GOD IS THERE. Sometimes words are unnecessary and all one needs to do is be present when accompanying people through pain. Working with an advanced heart care team, I assist people waiting for transplants and offer them hope as their bodies are visibly deteriorating. It makes me deeply grateful for Saint John's and its grounding in Benedictine values, especially for Benedict's teaching on listening with the ear of the heart.
My first class at the SOT∙Sem, on religious aesthetics, gave me words for my experience of the world's beauty and sanctity. It was a tremendous discovery! And it led me to the dignity and vulnerability of all human life, which is such an integral part of Catholic faith. I have found that many people, patients and colleagues alike, can relate to it. Even as my Catholic faith nourishes me with the sacraments, with community, and a vision of an implicitly holy world, my sense of spirituality has broadened to encompass understandings of God, mystery, the self, and physical and spiritual health that even agnostics, atheists, and purportedly non-religious people understand.
Christians bring a special dimension to chaplaincy. We can discuss quality of life issues with a sensitivity that people appreciate. Sitting on an ethics team with doctors and families making decisions about health care, I use what I learned at the SOT∙Sem. And, working for an agency of chaplains which serves a variety of institutions such as hospices, hospitals, juvenile delinquent detention facilities, jails, and oncology clinics, I am able to engage people where they are, in need of both physical and spiritual healing.
Upon graduation, Deborah went on to complete her Clinical Pastoral Education at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, MN. She became a fellow at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and at the University of Washington as a chaplain working in oncology generally with patients undergoing bone marrow transplants. She has completed her board certification since then and has received her assignment as Chaplain at the Cancer Center where she works with oncology palliative patients and is on the palliative care team. She is currently seeking additional certification in palliative care for this assignment.
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