After The Flood

After The Flood

Last September northern Colorado suffered some severe flooding. The high school youth group from Tree of Life is coming up to help in flood recovery/cleanup efforts next month. Here’s a sample of what we found when we went up in October to help in the early recovery efforts. The car is from California. It had been searched for bodies but, according to the sticker on window, there were none in the car. The owners may think twice about where they park it the next time they visit Colorado.

The Rock and Roll Chaplain

Even if they don’t say it out loud i can see it on their face as soon as I introduce myself.  Damn!  Just what I need — somebody who’s going to spout the Bible to me!  Here in my part of Colorado we have a lot of what they call “nones”.  Those are people who, when asked what their religion is, reply “None”.  And, believe me, I see a lot of those people in the hospital.  I serve as a chaplain in an Adventist hospital and no, you don’t have to be an Adventist to serve there.

I hear a lot of… “I’m not religious, but I am spiritual”, “I don’t like organized religion”, “I guess there’s a God, but I don’t see a lot of evidence of that”.  I’ve ministered to Catholic priests and a defrocked Wiccan priest.  But, I am determined not to let their attitude affect my attitude.

So, I assure them that however they believe, or don’t believe, is fine with me.  I’m just there to see if there’s anything I can do to make their hospital stay a little more bearable.  Usually I get an apology and an explanation of why they said what did when I introduced myself.  A couple more questions about family support and all those things we learn to ask in CPE and the stories start to pour out and the non-threatening connection is made.

One thing I’ve found to be useful is music lyrics.  Some of my favorites are from Jimmy Buffet, The Rolling Stones, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash. 

If someone is upset because they haven’t gotten everything they think they deserve in life I pull out this little gem from the Rolling Stones: “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need”.  That gets them to thinking — and talking.

Then there’s “According to my watch, the time is now.  Breathe in, breathe out, and move on” from Jimmy Buffet’s song about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina.  Or the introduction to “Wooden Ships” by Crosby, Stills, and Nash: “if you smile at me I will understand because we all smile in the same language”.

Music plays a part in healing at the hospital where I serve.  We have a volunteer who plays the  harp outside (or inside, if the patient wishes) patient rooms and one who plays the guitar.  And, as one of the nurses on my unit told me one day, a rock and roll chaplain.



All My Life’s A Circle

“All my life’s a circle” says an old Harry Chapin song.  I see that in my own life.  Although I didn’t recognize it at the time, my first encounter with my life’s circle came back in the mid-1990s when I was introduced to a newcomer at my quilt bee.  As we got acquainted I discovered  she and I had both grown up in Richmond, Indiana.  Not only that, she and my husband grew up just a few blocks from each other.  Small world, we both remarked.

Last night, as I looked at the Facebook happenings for the day, I saw a post that said Chris Lake and Ruth Fortis were now friends.  Ruth was one of the Assistants to the Bishop of the newly formed Southeast Texas – Southern Louisiana Synod of the also newly-formed Evangelical Lutheran Church in America way back in 1988 and I was the secretary to our first bishop, Martin Yonts.  According to Facebook Ruth and I had another mutual Facebook friend, Lorne Hlad.  How in the world could that be, I wondered!  I don’t know how these three are connected, but, I feel the circle around me.

A couple of years ago I discovered that Chris Lake, who was my pastor when I lived in Texas, did his internship when he was in seminary at the church in Ohio where Lorne Hlad was a member of the youth group.  When I moved to Colorado Lorne Hlad was the new seminary intern at the church that started the new church I was attending and he occasionally preached at my church.  Once again, it was brought to my attention that it’s a small world.

When my church in Colorado became an “official” Congregation Under Development, the wife of the new bishop of the Rocky Mountain Synod  served as our interim pastor until we called a full-time pastor.  Here comes the circle again — Pastor Kim  Gonia, her husband Bishop Jim Gonia, and Bishop Mike Rinehart, from my Synod in Texas, had been friends in college.  And, oh yes,  the two bishops had been in conversation about me.

It’s been said that you can’t run from your past.  That’s not something I want to do.  It’s too comforting having that circle around me.

How Far Does Your Voice Carry — Take 2

Not long after I moved to Colorado I wrote about how I’d become aware how my voice and/or body language can impact someone else.  Yesterday I was reminded of that again.

I’ve gotten in the habit of treating myself to breakfast (#2 with a large soda, please) at the McDonald’s on Park Street on Tuesday mornings before I do my volunteer gig at the Douglas/Elbert Task Force.  The first time it was because I’d forgotten to get cereal at the grocery so I figured that McDonald’s was a good option.  But, I go back almost every week just so I can listen to the OFL (Old Farts League) discussion of current events that takes place every Tuesday morning at the same tables near where I’ve become accustomed to sitting while I read my book and eat my Sausage and Egg McMuffin.

The OFL is a group of 3-5 retired men who are, shall we say, a little more conservative politically than I am.  Yesterday they were discussing gun control — a big issue here in Colorado.  The most outspoken of the men was telling his buddies how Obama was a Muslim so he didn’t have any right to say anything about gun control seeing as how the Muslims are going around killing Americans all the time.

I must have sort of chuckled as I tried really hard not to go over and slap him silly and the man at the table next to me looked up and smiled.  As I was getting ready to leave he stopped me and made a comment about how the OFL didn’t have the foggiest idea what they were talking about.  We laughed together and I told him I stopped every Tuesday before I went to the Task Force just so I could listen to them. 

Then I noticed the wedding ring he wore on a chain around his neck.  It matched the ring he wore on his left hand and I wondered to myself whether his wife had died and this was a way of keeping her close to his heart.  He was a young man —  maybe 35 or so.  Too young to be a widower.  It occurred to me that he looked vaguely familiar and that, maybe, I had visited with him and his wife at the hospital. 

Maybe he thought I looked familiar, too, and that’s why he spoke to me.  Maybe he needed to talk.  I wish I’d asked about the ring. 

At McDonald’s of All Places!

This morning I decided to  treat myself to breakfast at McDonald’s before I went to apply for my passport.  My boss, the head chaplain at Parker Adventist,  had given each of us the book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying” by Bronnie Ware for Christmas and I carried it in with me to read as I ate my Sausage and Egg McMuffin.  I laid the book on the counter while I got my billfold out my my purse to pay and the cashier noticed it.  She asked if she could take a look at it and then looked at me and asked me why I was reading it.  I told her I was a hospital chaplain and that my boss had given it to me for Christmas.

She told me that her brother had died last year and she wondered if he had any regrets about what he had or had not done.  An interesting question from a cashier at McDonald’s!  A little later she came over to the table where I was sitting with a cup of coffee and asked if she could join me while she took a break.  She wanted to talk about her brother.

I guess you never know where you’ll have a chance to minister to someone!

The Throw-Down Choir

A few weeks go someone at church suggested that we get a little choir together to celebrate Pastor Michelle’s first Sunday with us.  Eight or ten people stepped up.  One of the gals chose four songs for us and we ended up singing two last week and two this week.  We’ve got a guitarist and a couple of kids who play trumpet and trombone have played with us.  This week Pastor Michelle’s future mother-in-law even joined us.

The best part of our little throw-down choir (that’s what our choir director down at Tree of Life in Conroe, Texas used to call it) is the involvement of kids.  Gloria and Clara are really having a great time singing with us.  Gloria is an orphan refugee who was born in the Republic of Congo and spent most of  her life in Kenya.  She and her brother, Saidi, are being fostered by a couple in our little congregation.  Clara is one of the triplets and has cerebral palsy.

But, what really warms my heart is the willingness of my new little congregation to embrace children in our services.  They help usher, read, and serve communion.  It’s plain to anyone who worships with us that we are all God’s children!


Make New Friends But Keep the Old…

When I was in Girl Scouts we ended every meeting with a friendship circle and sang “Make new friends but keep the old.  One is silver and the other gold.”  Even back then the words of the song meant so  much to me, but a couple of days ago they really rang true.

It had been one of those days at the hospital and I left with a plea to my colleague to keep me posted on a situation we’d been dealing with together.  I was no sooner out of the parking lot than I got a text message from her with an update and a question that our head chaplain was going to call me about.  (In my defense I must tell you that I didn’t look at the text message until I got to my son’s store and was safely parked!)  The question was  “Do you know somebody named Bonnie?”  Someone named Bonnie had called the office and left a message asking if it was possible to get a message to me.  When Mike called the number he gave me had a 512 area code — that would be in the Austin area.

I could only think of one Bonnie from my past life and the last I knew she lived on the East Coast.  Driving home later that evening I got to thinking about Bonnie.  We had worked together at Wright State University Medical School — a couple of the first employees, if I remember correctly.  Bonnie was in the Dean’s Office and I was in the Medical Library.  She grew up in Texas and introduced me to “real” Mexican food at a little restaurant in a house near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.  When Dick and I  made the decision to move to Texas in 1978 Bonnie taught me the correct way to refer to San Antonio:-)

The years passed and I heard from Bonnie not long after Dick died.  I don’t remember how she found me then, but it sounded like she’d done it again.  And, she was back in Texas.  I gave her a call and we had a great time catching up.  It seems she had Googled me and found this blog and discovered that I was a chaplain at Parker Adventist so she decided to try calling the hospital to find me.  She’s living near Austin and is also active in a small church.

We’ve both gotten a little more silver in the hair department, but it’s good to know that friendship is still golden.  And, when my granddaughter Emilie’s Girl Scout troop sings the song at the end of their reinvestiture and rededication ceremony next week I can tell them how true those words are.

Just Take a Deep Breath

I remember what it was like to fall asleep the first night of CF camp.  There was so much excitement that first day of camp… unless they’d recently been hospitalized together the campers were all so excited to see each other.  Everybody would meet their counselors and cabin mates for the week.  The counselors had the cabins all decorated in welcome.  After dinner there were games and then the first campfire of the week.  Then it was chest pt time and after that everybody went to their cabins to get settled in for that first night.  In my cabin it usually took at least an hour to get the girls anything close to settled down to take their last breathing treatment of the day and then into bed.  When that was finally accomplished my co-counselor and I would climb into bed and listen to the rhythmic sounds of the oxygen compressors.  We usually had at least three oxygen compressors in our cabin.  The girls needed them to help them breathe at night.

After Dick got so sick it was hard for him to breathe laying flat.  Many nights he’d get up and head out to the living room and his recliner where he’d spend the rest of the night.  I’d watch him struggle for breath when he worked in the  yard.  We had a yard service, but there things he wanted to do and I wasn’t going to stand in the way.  But, it was oh so hard to watch him struggle.  The last couple of times we went to the Frio River Denny II and Steve Bodman always offered to help us set up the tent.  But, there was no way he was going to let them do it.  Our new tent was a lot easier to set up and he was by golly going to do it.  Once in a while somebody would slip over and do something without him noticing but they had to be really quick.

I’ve always taken the ability to breathe for granted, I guess.  Until about a week ago when I woke up one morning and had to admit there was no way I was going to go to the hospital and do my rounds.  I had to do something about the congestion in my chest.  So, I got a work-in appointment at the doctor and found out I had bronchitis.  After getting every single side effect of the medication I stopped taking it after two days and went with an OTC medication.  That didn’t work too well, either.  I missed church last Sunday — something I really didn’t want to do.  Especially since it was Matthew’s last day with us.  Brian and Darla brought me groceries and a bag of Sonic ice and fussed over me.  Finally, on Monday afternoon I had to give up.  I called Brian and he left Darla to watch the store and took me to the new Castle Rock Adventist Hospital emergency department (the ED is open but the hospital is still under construction).  I figured it’d be a quick in and out thing.  But, no, I ended up getting a “free” ambulance ride down to Parker Adventist Hospital and being admitted with pneumonia and a potential  heart issue.  Just great…

Tuesday morning was spent getting a chemical stress test.  I cracked the gals in the stress test lab up when I asked when the male stripper was coming.  For crying out loud there were four of them and me and they were trying so hard to behave with one of the hospital’s chaplains as a patient.  I had to help them out with a little humor.  Then they gave me the injection and BOOM!  I couldn’t breathe and, I have to admit, I panicked.  They called for a nebulizer treatment but the respiratory folks were in the ED with an emergency patient.  They just tried to keep me calm and, finally, it got better and we did the final pictures for the test.

Brian and Bryson brought me home about 8:00 last night after a stop at King Sooper’s pharmacy for my discharge meds.  When we came out of the store (and, boy, was it hard to breathe on the walk from the car to the store and back) everybody in the parking lot was looking up at the sky and lots of people were taking pictures with their cell phones.  There was a beautiful double rainbow!  That just had to be a good sign.  The guys got me settled at home and left and I watched the news on TV and then got ready for bed.  Imagine my surprise when I laid down and started to have trouble breathing.  Then I remembered what Dick used to do.  I got up and got a sheet and went into the living room to sleep in the chair.  And, it worked!  I slept pretty well — three or four hours at a stretch between coughing fits.

I just read on Facebook that my former camper, Heather Fitzgerald Beadle, is back in the hospital in Dallas.  Heather is waiting on a second lung transplant.  She’d been in a Lifecare Hospital while she waited and, then, she and her husband moved to a nearby house his father had bought.  She started having more trouble and now she’s back at UT Southwestern St. Paul Hospital in Dallas.    Time to step up my prayers for Heather to get her new lungs.  She’s a very special person.

In the meantime, I don’t think I’ll ever take another breath for granted.

My Pastor the Viking

Somehow I have traded a pastor who volunteers as an EMT for relaxation for a pastor who’s a viking.  Not sure that’s normal, but I’ve never claimed to be normal:-)

This morning we had the celebratory roast for Matthew Erickson who’s been serving our fledgling congregation for the past two years.  He is actually a pastoral resident at the mothership in Littleton whose primary responsibility has been to get us started in the world.  He’ll be ordained in about six weeks and has been called to a church in Post Falls, Idaho.

After worship today we packed up our church in a box and put out a potluck lunch to celebrate Matthew’s time with us.  I had been over to the mothership last week to talk to their communications person and to work out the little details of how to get our worship bulletins and deposit our offering.  It’s a tradition at Abiding Hope in Littleton (that’s the mothership) to  have a roast for their departing interns and residents.  Pastor Doug had a plaque made for Matthew and his full name was on it.   His middle name is Leif and he’s Swedish and loves all things Swedish — especially Ikea, but that’s another story.

When I found out his middle name I said I wish we had a viking hat to give him and the person who went to the meeting with me said they had one at home.  This morning she brought the hat and a breastplate and I gave it to Matthew at the roast.    The kids loved the hat and ran all over the place wearing it after the roast.

I was able to corner them long enough to get a picture of Matthew and Kristen and their daughters as well as my new bestest church buddies the triplets, but one of the other boys ran off with the hat.

Next Sunday Matthew said he’s going to drive the rental truck to church and dash out right after communion to start the drive to Idaho.  He’ll be greatly missed.  Hope we can make him proud.