The Reason for the Season

The season of busy, that is! the season that had/has me too busy to even catch my breath, let alone keep up with my new blogging attempt at finding my voice.

One of the main reasons for this season of busy (in which I’m trying to not be busier than necessary, don’t worry) is that my second year of grad school includes my practicum. An awesome, challenging, invigorating, draining, internship.  My practicum is my “fourth class.” It includes 8 hours of supervised ministry split over two days, almost 6 hours of public transportation each week, 1.5 hours of Theological Reflection (TR) class with my group, one verbatim assignment each week for my supervisor, one reflection assignment for my TR class, and (usually) one additional assignment for my TR class unrelated to the weekly reflection.  Phew.

Good thing I love my site.

I’m a “chaplain intern” at a hospital on the northside of Chicago. It is a hospital that mainly serves the elderly, those with mental illness, and those with developmental disabilities. It is also one of only two hospitals in Illinois that treats developmentally-disabled persons who also suffer from mental illness.  Basically, our patient base is relatively low-income and under-resourced in many ways. As a chaplain (intern), I interact directly with patients and a lot less with families, because there are a lot fewer families around the site.

About a month in now, I finally feel I have my feet wet, but almost every day has brought a new learning opportunity. Here’s a sampling of things I’ve learned and experienced in my first 9 days at the hospital:

  • I’ve had to be comfortable with having conversations with patients while other people (nurses, staff, other patients) are listening. In general, I am so self-conscious about people overhearing my conversations. But now, I have to accept. And still be confident in who I am and my choice of words. The first day there, it was petrifying to have to speak and pray with patients when (if) other people were around. Now, I’ve found that I can do it. Not only can I do it, but I can thrive and hopefully minister well even when someone happens to overhear.
  • I will stumble over the ‘Our Father’ as soon as I try to pray it out loud by myself. Even though I’ve been praying it since I was three. Fact of life.
  • I have entered another world—of mental illness, of involuntary vulnerability, of old age. I can feel my world expanding rapidly. I have limited prior experience with several of the particular populations that our hospital serves.
  • I’ve been feeling out how to help patients draw on their own sources of hope and comfort and not impose my sources on them.
  • I’ve been challenged to stay in the discomfort and frustration of not being able to communicate with a patient who wanted to communicate, but physically could not.
  • I have wrestled with the question of “who am I?” to be ministering with patients who are often vastly different from myself-age, race, life experiences, you name it.
  • I’ve learned that seeing a person in restraints due to medical need causes a visceral reaction in me. He couldn’t express his frustration verbally. It was my most distressing meeting yet.
  • I’ve “learned” firsthand the value of my self-care goal (I have four official “goals” for my practicum). Running on empty is not an option in ministry. Well, I suppose it is if you don’t want to be a minister for long.
  • The list could go on, as I’m sure it will throughout the year.

I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned so far. I’m grateful for my patients’ willingness to let me enter their stories for a brief snapshot. I’m grateful to be an intern at this particular hospital, learning how to be a more compassionate minister with a wonderfully helpful and wise supervisor-mentor.  I’m also grateful to have time to catch up on sleep this weekend.

Thus, good night, friends.

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