Well, I've survived almost three weeks of CPE … the first week and a half were mostly orientation and getting what we need to do whatever it is we are supposed to be doing (computer access, keys, badges, phones, etc.). We just started seeing patients this week but with all of the class and group work we do, there isn't a lot of time to visit with the patients (in all honesty I'm mixed with disappointment and relief over this). I'm beginning to discover (and those of you that told me this you know how thick headed I can be …) that the most important thing about CPE is self-discovery. The patient visits, although good for the patients and the vast majority appreciate and are grateful for the time we do spend with them, are just another tool to help us bring out those things which will help us and those things which will get in our way in our ministry.
One of the things we have to do each week is to prepare a "verbatim" in which we write out, word-for-word as closely as we can remember, a significant conversation with a patient. We then analyze the conversation from the patient's point of view and our point of view and look at the theology of the visit, answering "where was God in this encounter". I handed in my first verbatim today, the patient was one of my very first visits and I was very nervous – you see we have to do a "spiritual assessment" on all newly admitted patients and there is specific information we are to get from the patient to complete the form in their patient records such as "what type of relationship does the patient have with God", "Has the patient be wounded by the church", and "How does the patient view God", but we are supposed to do this in a conversational way rather than from a checklist of questions. So, I had a copy of the questions in my notebook discretely placed where I could see them and make it look like I'm looking at the patient information slip that brought me to this patient in the first place (sneaky, huh?). What made this particular visit significant was that the patient was a Baptist minister … of course I didn't know that as I walked in the room and introduced myself with as much confidence as I had been able to muster in the short walk from the chaplain office to the ward.
What I discovered as I wrote out the conversation we had was that he was able to minister to me in seeing and acknowledging my nervousness and yet I was still able to do him some good, too. He had been hoping that a chaplain would come see him because as he put it: "whenever I visit a church I make sure I introduce myself to the minister first thing since I'm in their house." Within my first two or three sentences, he picked up on my nervousness and asked me, ever so sweetly, why. When I told him I was new, he smiled with a smile as big as all of Texas and reached for my hand and began to share with me his story into the ministry. He was all but tied down to the bed with cords and tubes, but he was as animated as his circumstances would allow. He was so filled with joy at sharing with me I forgot all about my list of questions and just let him talk, which he did for almost half an hour. He finally ended by telling me that he could see the Spirit in me and to trust that God would equip me for his ministry so I didn't need to worry. Then he asked me to pray for him. As I thanked God for our visit and asked for continued healing for him and guidance and wisdom for his doctors and nurses, he punctuated my prayer with loud "ALLELUIA"s and "AMEN"s. We both had tears in our eyes when I finished.
Immediately after the visit, all I could focus on was the draining of my self-confidence when he told me he was a minister. The next day, as I began to write it out, I could see what an amazing encounter it turned out to be. God worked through this to give me the boost I needed to begin to claim the permission to be a chaplain – equipping me for his ministry (I'm sure, though, knowing me, I'll still worry about it a little).
God is faithful and good.