“It sounds like you’ve had a great semester of learning,” he said as I handed him my final project for the semester. I nodded. “Actually, I’ve had a really great year.” As I sat in my Professor’s office for a mini-chat before Baptist Heritage, I started thinking back on my year, then specifically on the semester that just finished.
I learned a lot about myself this year: it’s OK to have boundaries, I know how to preach now and I love it, I love to write, I don’t eat chocolate (too many brands use slave labor), and confidence is not overrated.
I also learned that working with the dying takes a kind of self-awareness that nothing but personal experience can prepare you for.
I arrive at the hospice, having eaten my lunch on the way there from school. I park in the lot at the bottom of the hill, so I can get in some more cardio (gotta fit it in any time it’s possible). I walk up the hill, through the front door and into the lobby where I greet the volunteer receptionists who have become my friends. I show myself to Chaplain Cutter’s office and wait.
“Hey, Sara. We’re gonna have a MDT (multidisciplinary team) meeting and I want you to sit in today.”
Patients are discussed, ranked in order of physical, emotional and spiritual distress; deaths are announced, signatures obtained and the meeting is adjourned.
“All right, Sara. I want you to see Ms. Cole, Ms. Copleland and Ms. Keifer today.”
I walk down the hall, carrying my Bible in one hand and my Moleskine journal and pen in the other, like the seminary nerd that I have indeed become.
I start with Ms. Copeland. I like her. She loves all the old hymns I love and is great for conversation. We chat a bit, say a prayer and I head to Ms. Keifer’s room. She’s nice, but she sure is feisty. I enjoy conversing with her as well. Today, she’s not as chipper as I’ve seen her before. She is missing her husband and is under the impression that she will be going home today. We end our chat with a prayer together, and I leave…
to go visit Ms. Cole.
They discussed her in the meeting, I know all about her. What I don’t know is
what in the world I am doing in her room, alone without Chaplain Cutter to take the lead.
She’s non-responsive, sleeping and in her last days, according to the nurse from the MDT meeting.
I knock on the door, for normality’s sake, walk in and stand by her bed. Her breathing is labored and shallow.
I introduce myself, saying my name and that I’m the chaplain intern and I’ve come to visit for a bit. I tell her what a nice day it is, how blue the sky is and about the nice breeze that greeted me when I got out of my car to walk up the hill. I park at the bottom because it’s important to get exercise time in whenever you can. I love the view from her window; the sun is streaming through the shades and there are some bright yellow flowers blooming right outside her window, as if they exist just for her.
Finally, inner Sara is able to shut me up from the nervous small talk, and I stand, watch and listen for cues on how to be a spiritual presence for Ms. Cole.
It’s a moment as fleeting as the wings of a hummingbird, but something happens in the shift from small talk to presence.
I move closer to Ms. Cole’s bed, and place my hand on the bedrail. Heaven meets earth as I stand there in silence, a vessel through which God has graciously chosen to present God’s self to her. God’s comfort, God’s love, God’s presence have come to be with her for a while and for this while, I get to be the lucky bearer of all. that. glory.
This has been my semester. A wonderful, intimidating, affirming, frightening, encouraging time of learning and growth.
In my introductory preaching class, we learned the importance of knowing our audience before we even begin to start the sermon-writing process. One way to do this is to take several minutes to list the answers that come to mind when you ask yourself “what is it like to be…”
Dr. Younger had us do this for the question “what is it like to be a seminary student?” Our answers were the most ridiculous conglomeration of crazy contradictions, with which we were all in agreement:
exciting/terrifying, uplifting/exhausting, books. My favorite was “seminary is like being punched in the face.”
This semester has been a little of all of that for me. It has stretched me, but stressed me out; encouraged me for future ministry/terrified me of my future in ministry; I’ve learned a ton at the expense of sleep;
but all of it has consistently pointed to the fact that I am being made more like Christ and I want to stay on that trajectory. So as I re-live once more my “great semester of learning,” I hope I can also remember not to be terrified of next semester’s Mentoring for Congregational Ministry, and Clinical Pastoral Education,but instead,
to choose confidence over insecurity,
to capitalize on opportunities to learn and grow,
to be excited for more opportunities to become more like Christ as I encounter oh so many more intersections
of heaven and earth.