Healthcare: Who will pay?

mhBLxSaOver at RevGalBlogPals I wrote a thing… you can find it here (but here’s a sample…)

Without subsidies, they will not be able to afford to keep him at home. His daughter shrugged and said that it will end up costing the government more to put him in a nursing home, because he has no financial resources. “What’s the sense in that?” she asks me. “If we keep him at home, it will cost one-third to a half of the monthly cost of a facility.”

I appreciate your taking the time to read and reflect on this with me.

It’s not my story to tell…

I have learned a difficult lesson in  my work as a chaplain. It is one borne out of walking with others who are hurting or have hurt others… and there are times I would love to share the lessons learned, or the take-aways for me, personally.

But, the problem is, it’s not MY story to tell!

This isn’t because of HIPAA or “privacy” laws. This isn’t because the stories are boring (there are some incredible stories of healing and mercy!) It isn’t because I don’t have permission (there are many who urge me to share what they have learned.)

It is because it is, simply, gossip.

Not in the magazine trade, nasty rumors, oh-no-she-dih-unt! kind of talk. But it is the uncensored and oversharing of someone else’s business.

This week at my hospice, there were a number of patient deaths… some people whom I have followed for many months. By Thursday afternoon, my heart was tired and broken. So much loss. So much sadness. So much unknown.

As time goes by, I will have larger lessons from the collected experiences. But for now… it’s not my story to tell.

You say Goodbye… I say Hello


Almost three years ago, I walked into this office. Friday afternoon, I put the last paperclip, pen, and stapler into office relocation bins. I was a little teary, and it surprised me.

I scolded myself. “Really. This is no big deal.” And yet, it is.

The office movers arrive on Saturday, and on Monday morning, I’ll walk into a new building and new office suite. Everything will be different, from where we find coffee to what our building security access cards look like.

I’m mentally prepared for the chaos of an inter-office move. (I’m planning on chaos, anyway. It means that anything less than that will be encouraging.) I know I won’t have a desk or even a shared workstation to call my own and will be “homeless.” It’s a bit disconcerting. I am not looking forward to it. (Yes – there will be places I can sit down with my laptop… but it’s not the same.) My expectation is that it will take a lot of patience and adjusting to find this “new normal.”

I’ve thought a lot about our expectations in life, generally speaking. Sometimes they are motivating. Sometimes they are devastating to our morale. And sometimes, things go far better than we could dream! With my hospice patients and families, we often reflect on “the new normal” and the “chaos” of enrolling someone in hospice. It takes a while to get your sea legs again!

I’ve spent many hours helping people manage their expectations for their family member’s illnesses. Over and over, I will say, “we just don’t know how long…” And to the extent I can, I try to help folks find appreciation in the moments they have now on the road of loss and change…

Yep. A life lesson. Hits pretty close right now…

Wherever I travel next, I want to pack light and walk gently… and enjoy the gifts of today. And I’ll pay attention to the memories and feelings that they evoke.

Frederick Buechner said, “Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention.”

Yes. Yes indeed. These teary moments have great meaning.

Crossposting: Why I Need RevGalBlogPals

Note: This is a reposting and expanded version of a Facebook post on a private page. It retells some of my own story to ordained ministry. (If you’re a regular blog reader, you can move on now…) I share this story because RevGalBlogPals is a small, grassroots 501(c)(3) organization and can use your support.

Why do I need RevGalBlogPals?

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Our book: There’s a Woman in the Pulpit

I was ordained later in life. Even though I originally went to seminary in the 1980s, I did not complete more than a semester of classes. In the conservative congregation where I was leading ministries and worshipping, women didn’t “do” that. I was told that “good Christian women” don’t become pastors. Something inside me yearned and burned. But I didn’t know any women pastors. So I quit.

Fast-forward 20 years. I’m continuing to serve in my local church. I’m reading Gilbert Bilezikian’s Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says about a Woman’s Place in Church and Family. And I meet my first women clergy at a Walk to Emmaus retreat. Privately and individually, they each said to me, “Why aren’t you going to seminary? Why aren’t you a pastor?”

I was thrilled. And terrified.

As I started seminary, I searched online for “women clergy” and found the fledgling RevGal bloggers. I joined their collective voices on-line. They were patient as I found my feet in ministry, asked my clueless questions, and challenged my tightly held assumptions about gender roles in the church, my patriarchal-brewed theologies, and my limited view of the world. They helped me laugh at myself. They freely offered resources. They cheered me on as I was ordained and began chaplaincy training.

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My friends and co-laborers from RevGalBlogPals

While I’ve gained professionally from their blog posts, I’ve also benefited personally. Ministry is at times a lonely calling. The outside voices of criticism frequently drown out the Call of the Spirit. And now there are cultural forces at work that demean women in general, and progressive Christians in particular. I could not do my work without a local group of RevGals who are my sisters in ministry and my friends. We ponder, wonder and cry together. We went to Princeton Seminary’s Engle Preaching Institute and continue to study and learn together. We “found” each other because of RevGals!

There’s something else I’ve learned from being a RevGal. It’s OK to not have my stuff together. It’s OK to mess up. It’s OK to work on caring for and preparing my parishioners for Advent, and not have a stick of decoration up in my own home. It’s OK to cry out to God with my hurts as I listen to others do the same. And it’s more than OK to be intellectually and emotionally honest in my spiritual journey. There’s no “fourth wall” in ministry: I am  Called as I am, warts and bruises and all, to serve God. Nothing miraculous. Just a real woman, serving an amazing God.

img_3176As a monthly supporter of RevGals, I receive back so much more than I can give. I write for the blog. I enjoy the books they write. I use their liturgies in worship. I pray for their families as they pray for mine. And I know, without a doubt, that we are bringing diverse, compassionate voices to a world that so desperately needs them.

Join me in supporting RevGalBlogPals. Together we do make a difference in our devotion and our ministries. And if you have a woman pastor, chaplain or clergy member, send them our way! We will join forces for the greater Good!

I Will Hold Your Story

In my work as a chaplain, I am privileged to listen and reflect with those who are brought into my circle of care. I am not the only one who listens to these patients. Nurses. Social workers. Physicians. Nursing assistants. Even the food service and environmental service staff! We all are part of the patient’s journey towards wellness. We provide services, relieve pain and pressure, and make sure the patient’s and family’s needs are heard and met.

Sometimes in hospice work, however, we do not have tasks we can do. We provide the gift of Presence. Of listening. Of hearing and holding stories. It is a privilege and a blessing.

 

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© 2011 Medill DC, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

When the Time Comes

When the time comes, I will hold your story.
I will listen to the words you do not say.
I will honor the memories that spring to mind,
suddenly, wildly, impetuously,
as if they must be remembered.
They must be said aloud or be forgotten forever.

When the time comes, I will hold your story.
I will laugh with you
(even though it hurts to laugh)
until the tears rolls down our cheeks,
and we gasp for breath,
As if you will never laugh again.

When the time comes, I will hold your story.
I will hold mementos and souvenirs.
I will cherish photos with you.
I will look at faces from your youth,
faded on paper, but not in your heart.
I will help you speak their names.

When the time comes, I will hold your story.
I will honor your faith.
I will celebrate the loves of your life.
I will clean my cheeks with my tears.
I will lift a glass in memory of your life.
I will remember…
And then some day,
Someone will hold my story, too.

When the time comes…

Rev. Deb Vaughn, 6.8.2016

Pruning

5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! 8 When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.”
John 15, TNIV

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It’s an old, stately crabapple tree. Every year I wait with anticipation for the first blossoms to unfurl. Every year, it is covered, almost overnight, in these deep pink blooms, and the sound of the bees reveling in the branches is like a dull roar. Every year, the petals drop off and cover the front walk with a pink confetti. It’s the first of many trumpets of spring at our house. And it seemed pretty healthy for an older tree…

Yes, there was some sign of disease. There was some dead wood further out from the trunk, but most of that branch had lots of green leaves, and the crabapples had set on after blooming this spring. To our surprise, in a wind gust Sunday, the branch cracked and fell to the ground, blocking the entire driveway! Yes, it was not the healthiest branch on the tree. But it looked OK. At least, it appeared to be.

As my husband sawed it it apart and cleared the driveway, we saw that part of the main support for this branch was hollow all the way through. It appeared alive on the outside. And it was dead, completely dead on the inside. There was no way to sustain life. No way to support new growth. And much of the rest of the branch was well on its way to self-destruction.

BAM. Critical mass reached. Tipping point engaged. Good-bye, branch!

In my studies in church growth, church planting, and chaplaincy, I have learned about the phenomena of a “sick system.” This is when a constellation of relationships appear to be a healthy system, but are actually a very “sick” system. Under stress, or continued neglect, that which appears to be working for the moment is disastrous in the long-haul.

The bottom line: when the pressure comes for new growth and new direction, faking it doesn’t make it any more.

I’ve been reflecting on this as I read the latest round of op-ed pieces on church health, church growth and church sustainability. Millennials will engage if we do x, y and z. Boomers and Busters need a program which includes a, b, and c. I read lots of church gurus’ suggestions and mandates. I hear about innovative approaches. I meet passionate, praying, and caring pastors who are following the latest trends and hoping this will be the “multi-vitamin of Jesus” that their anemic church needs. And… I note that the very cancer which has been dogging their footsteps has never been treated.

What might this “cancer” be? Self-centeredness. Anger. Self-righteousness. Prejudice. Misogyny. Homophobia. Transphobia. Entitlement. Exhaustion. Fear of change.

Church… we gotta get over ourselves. That’s the plain facts. The issues we “church people” argue about are not only unimportant, they don’t contribute to the overall health of the church! People OUTSIDE the church really and truly don’t care about our sacred cows and holy hobby horses. They DO NOT CARE.

Really… NO ONE CARES if you had Sunday School at 9 and worship at 10:30 since Solomon built the Temple.

NO ONE CARES if you wear robes/collars/vestments/T-shirts/open-toed shoes.

NO ONE CARES if you use a rock band/pipe organ/bagpipes for worship. (OK, maybe I do care about the bagpipes.)

NO ONE CARES what version of the Bible you use.

NO ONE CARES if you do all sorts of things for God, but never just sit and BE with God.

NO ONE CARES who uses which bathroom.

No one, that is, EXCEPT the people who perpetuate the system. (cough cough: look in the mirror :cough cough)

It’s simply comes down to this… if we (and I am the first in this line of “we”) do not grapple with the things which make us ineffective and dilute the power of the Holy Spirit in our churches, our lives and our world, we will never change. And, more importantly, we will not succeed in bringing about change and hope to those who are desperately seeking it. And if we (and again, I include myself!) do not consider where we have made the Church into a hobby and not into a passion, we doom our energies from the start.

I don’t think we (ahem — I) need a another new start or a new program. The journey to healthy growth begins in the heart. It is the pushing, the challenging, the reshaping, the pruning by God. It is the consistent, guiding hand of God. And then. when I’ve mastered some baby steps in change, it points to other places where I need to prune some more. A lot more, actually. It’s shaping the pastor who prays and leads and prays some more.

The result? Pain. Loss. And amazing new growth. In myself. In the work that God calls me to. In the people around me that God cares about more than I possibly can. That’s what I’m going for. Change that means God gives… and takes away.

Blessed be the Name of the Lord…
You give and take away,
My heart will choose to say,
“Blessed be the Name of the Lord”

Blessed be.

Baby Goats and Sunshine

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Cute kid! (Photo credit RevDebVaughn)


Friday afternoon I snuggled a kid. She nuzzled into my arms and contentedly looked at the world around her.

I didn’t know goats would cuddle! I thought of them more as the Tigger-y type, bouncing and jumping around. And they do. But they also snuggle.

Her owner-shepherd had hoped to bring the kid inside to see his mother, who is a resident at the facility where I was seeing patients that afternoon. Unfortunately, she was not a “therapy goat” and so she and her owner hung out in the parking lot.

There was a parade of people who came to pet the kid. The little goat must have wondered what all the fuss was about as she looked at all these smiling humans… Ears wagged. The occasional bleat. And then she contentedly snuggled and snoozed in the midst of the hubbub.

I drove home thinking about my day… It was warm, sunny and breezy. It’s spring. The season of new life, new growth. (And allergies!) Yesterday’s brown branches show new buds today. Flowers that I didn’t see budding have popped open in all their glory. Overnight, I see the differences in my yard. It’s invigorating!

It’s easy to see change as the seasons flip from winter to spring. But in the every day moments where my calendar is full of routines and phone calls and errands and charting… I don’t see growth. I forget what things were like just a few weeks ago. I doubt that things will EVER be different.

There’s a parallel here between the changes we notice in nature, and the ones within us. Changes from the work of God’s Spirit in us. Changes from within our hearts where our attitudes, our dreams, our words are transformed. Much of the time, the work of the Spirit is slow, gentle and inviting. And other times, like the blast of an icy wind gust, we are dramatically and utterly different.

And in those in between times, when we’re not sure what’ showing on, or what crazy change is coming up next? It think that it’s not a bad idea to snuggle a goat…