Tuesday, July 7, 2015

On Nursing Home Visits

Early on in my call to ministry I had 1 million reasons why I could not be a pastor. There were two on the top of that list, speaking in front of people and nursing home visits. I could get up in front of full auditorium and act the part of a character with out a second thought but stand up and share my own thoughts, that was down right terrifying, stand up and lead worship, forget it! Nursing home visits were at the top of the list because while I was growing up my own father was in nursing homes a handful of them, always run by the state because when your dad is the bread winner and comes darn close to dropping dead just before age 40, requiring round the clock nursing home care, it's all that your family can afford. I have since been to some private nursing facilities that are much nicer and lack the over smell of nursing home.

Early on as I discerned the call my own pastor was a great help to me. First getting me up in front of the church to talk, giving my ankle a nudge from behind the pulpit when I got going so fast no one could understand me. Then taking me to serve home bound communion which included nursing homes. I can still remember the first one, a nicer nursing home in our area, but not with out the nursing home signature scent. A mix of ensure and soiled Depends. I made it through the communion choking back the vomit that was rising in the back of my throat. Then it felt as if my throat was closing and I couldn't breathe, I left the room with my pastor and ran for the door. If you know me you know I do not run. I made it to the door opened it and gasped fresh air into my lungs like the cleansing waters of baptism. I nearly hurled in the bushes but I collected myself, assured him I was OK and moved on.

Yet here I am today, a newly ordained pastor, doing a few visits a week. I worked in a hospital all last summer and I made it through. A few weeks ago though one of my parishioners was reaching the end of life on earth which meant I had to go more frequently. It started all creeping then, all the stuff you are sure you have dealt with and processed time and time again but you never really finish processing, kind of like grief. Nursing homes are utterly depressing places, many patients shells of who they used to be, essentially awaiting daily the fate we all face, death. I found myself thinking about how lonely it must be, consoled myself with the thought that maybe when it is my turn we will have facebook and I can make status updates like, "Took the Red Pill." Then I avoided it for a week, I can't avoid it much longer than that because it is my job, it is my call, it is in my ordination and installation promises. I cannot tell my people sorry it carries too much emotional baggage for me, I have to do it.

Most of the time I can do it with out a problem. Today though I walked out of both places I was to visit with communion with out seeing who I went to see both were out of their rooms for some reason. As I walked the halls I started seeing flashes of my life long ago, the smells, the sounds, my dad in his wheel chair crying. The being served peas with a fork while legally blind and having little motor skill left to use. The crying, lets just say back when I first started, I met someone who flashed me back instantly to my dad with his cane and crying. It messed with my head so I called my brother the next day who I knew could commiserate. Today though all the images flooded in and I could see a ticking clock on the wall and the waiting and the emptiness and I was sure it would consume me. I needed air, I got outside and inhaled a nice deep breath of... dumpster stank.

I decided I could leave home bound communion for another day because I can't go back in today. I am sitting here thinking about my life, my experiences, and why this is a trigger. It brings some of the darkest places I know, fear, deep anguish, hate, the deepest wounds in my own life, my own personal brokenness with a band aid torn off. And I am left to just stare at it.

In staring at it I think about why it is so difficult, it is because as a pastor we are often facing the most broken and wounded and dark places with our people. We walk with them in crisis and grief. We get called when the allegations of abuse surface and again when they are proven as truth. We get called to sit with grieving mothers holding their still born children. We get called when someone takes a whole bottle of pills. We get called when the world makes no sense. And we sit there with people in the depths of the brokenness of the world and in the brokenness of our lives and our hearts and our spirits. We sit there and then we try to muster up the courage to walk with people out of the brokenness and into the wholeness only grace can bring.

It is down right terrifying every time because even though we do not talk about it  we get a glimpse of our own brokenness and our wounds every time we encounter them in the other. I am reminded today as I look deep into my own brokenness and wounds and all the negative emotions come flooding out threatening to drown me, to take my breath until I cannot bear it any more... that some thing else has grown from this place. My sense of compassion was birthed caring for my ill father, especially in his last year of life sharing fast food meals with him so he didn't have any more peas with a fork. It hurt like hell to see him like that but I could only think about what he was feeling and my own pain seemed small in comparison. I chose to hurt to ease his hurt, something that was not ever modeled for me. It mirrors ministry a lot although with appropriate boundaries I no longer take on the hurt of others. I have a deep rooted need, desire to bring justice into the world. To fight for it, work toward it, through faith. The roots of that justice are planted deep in the hurt of the situation with my father.

I am reminded again and again of the wholeness promised in Jesus. Of the grace only God can give. Of the Holy healing that is like no other. Where negative experiences fertilize the growth of something new, something better, something just.

I have to choose, will I let the fertilizer remind me of grace and allow me to grow or will I stew in it with all that negativity. Today I choose grace and growth even though I know it is going to hurt like hell. Even though I know what it is like to have the holy light of God burn the scar tissue out of your heart to allow for a healing that brings not only scars but also some thing like peace.

Today I am grateful simply to breath and trust in the promise of grace and growth.

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