Blog Post: For the Love of a Chaplain: Transplant Edition

For those of you who don’t know, I am a heart and lung transplant chaplain, and a heart patient, and at times, it is difficult to distinguish which is which. I believe that God has called me to be both, and that 99.9% of the time, the two are congruent with one another, and today was yet another example of this congruency. Tuesdays are Transplant Listing Meeting Days, which means that my afternoons are consumed with the lengthy and at times overwhelming details involved with the pros and cons of listing a patient (and their family) for a transplant (or transplants, as the case may be). As I have learned over the course of my seven months of full time chaplaincy, I have so very much to offer, and have been gifted the expertise of both head and heart, theology and pastoral wisdom, dogma and emotional verbosity, and perhaps these are all of the things I was struggling to put words to when I was seeking for a concretization of and validity for my call in the Ivory Tower that was my seminary community.

Now that I have been serving a critically ill – a tertiary care community, as you will – population for seven months, I harken back to my own experiences in the hospital, and all the experiences I have had (both good and bad) with chaplains, and how it is that I got to be here, a less-than-Bible-thumping, rather rebellious, at times theologically unsound yet God-seeking Reformed-tradition-loving Hospital Chaplain. My very first experience with a hospital chaplain was three weeks into my first year of seminary, and I truly and completely believe that God predestined (see what I did there oh wise RCA mentors? A good dashing of Calvin is necessary at this point of my blog post for the sake of the reduction of theological heresy…), or rather knew that I needed comfort in the midst of what likely was the beginning of both the most enthralling and traumatic saga of my life thus far, and guided a man so incredible and equipped to handle my Enneagram “8-ness” (at the time, unhealthy, mind you), but also could handle my “stuff,” as a dear friend calls it. This chaplain, I’ll call him, “R,” a fellow PTS grad, knew exactly what to (and not to say), and in the midst of a crisis – I was about to be intubated, was decompensating rapidly, and was very scared – said a prayer and read Psalm 121, all the while holding my hand. I don’t remember any of this at the time, but he told me this much later on…several years in fact.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills –

from where will my help come?

My help comes from the LORD,

who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;

He who keeps you will not slumber.

He who keeps Israel

will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is your keeper;

the LORD is your shade at your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day,

nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all evil;

he will keep your life.

The LORD will keep

your going out and your coming in

from this time on and forevermore.”

This chaplain followed me through half a dozen heart surgeries and procedures,  new and changed diagnoses and changed prognoses.

The role of the chaplain is not to convince a patient of anything, but rather to cling onto hope for and with them – to know nothing of the diagnosis other than that God is with and for them in the midst of that family and patient’s suffering, whatever the outcome is. Clearly God is with and for me in the midst of my suffering, as I am still here, despite my congenital heart disease, despite my Cardiomyopathy, despite my declining Ejection Fraction, despite the fact that a year after my pacemaker implantation, I no longer can exercise, and am collecting fluid in my ankles, legs and abdomen. Despite all this, it informs my ministry in ways I never imagined in that I am the hope chaplain – I hope in the LORD who helps, who moves my feet toward crisis, who gives me words to speak, moves my lips in prayer, and gives me the proper words to say to those in the deepest of pain and suffering, just as God did for“R” when I was in need of God’s grace and presence so many times throughout my three years of seminary.

May the words of my Heart, and the Meditations of my mouth, thanks be to the faithfulness of God in me, be acceptable to the God who has had faith in me, and given me purpose and continued new life, and pleasing in the sight of the Triune, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

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