There is incomprehensible joy when long days and months of patience become fruits of a great desire. It is as though goosebumps emerge from my arms and there is general excitement about everything (Boy, that bagel has to be the best ever right?!). Life seems to both speed up and slow down all at once, in the purest of both ways. Despair or depression or hopelessness or simply uncertainty transform into hope, happiness, excitement, and joy.
This has happened to me, albeit without the biblical version of barren women becoming childbearing (Let it be as you have said, Mary replied!).
I got a job to a chaplain, a pediatric chaplain no less, at Texas Children’s Hospital. It is a hospital that regularly finds itself in the top 5 of almost every pediatric specialty int the US News and World Report Pediatric Hospital Ratings. This year it was number 4 overall behind the giants of Boston’s Children’s Hospital and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. But nonetheless, Texas Children’s is a giant in itself.
And it is a dream, to be sure. It has the elements I wanted as someone dreaming of being a pediatric chaplain. First, it is a new (over the last couple years that is) Level 1 Trauma Center for children- I appreciate and treasure the opportunity to work with emergencies and crises for children and families. I myself tend to work best in crisis, perhaps because I reflect and think too much when given the opportunity (lost in thought often describes me- in fact, most weekly reflections in my residency are 1-2 pages and mine were often 4 or 5). Second, it does incredible specialty work with cardiology among others, but cardiology is one that I have unique family experience with and value that opportunity to work in those unique cases. Third, it is a part of the Texas Medical Center. This cannot be understated because it provides opportunities to be challenged as a hospital to be better, it offers very solid benefits and pay (even compared to my native California), it receives some of the worst of the worst patients and therefore some of the most desperate and support needy, and it provides 30-40 chaplains in the Texas Medical Center from other hospitals who I get to grow with, be challenged by, and mentored by. That is truly understated. One of the key differences between this job and my other job offer was simply that the other didn’t have that broader chaplain interaction. These are the people I am going to look to to help me grow into a board certified chaplain in a year, people who I hope will become a family of sorts. Besides, it is also a place that employs three other chaplains too, so I get to regularly work with other chaplains. Fourth, Texas Children’s has lots of opportunities to interact playfully and meaningfully with children outside of ICU’s. They have great playrooms, they have great opportunities for kids to reach out and try new things (a central radio station where kids can sing and lead, often with celebrities who come to visit!). Fifth, as can be summed up amongst all of this, it is a place of hope (as is the place where I used to be a resident, Children’s Hospital Memorial Hermann). It breathes life into difficult situations, brings the air of possibility to places of impossibility, and gives children and their families opportunities to manage life in the chaos without constant sadness and fear. This is what makes it a strength as well- the fact that it is a place of hope that brings possibility and joy in spite of uncertainty- it brings all sorts of challenges because there are those who still will find walls of impossibility, whose loves ones will still die, whose lives may still shatter, and whose futures still breathe uncertainty. But those are worthy, great challenges that I look forward to enjoying.
But there are certainly other factors at play. It is home to my favorite church, a place I comfortably call home, Southwest Central. It is a place that no matter how much I may say that my family in SoCal means to me, I want to be close to Southwest because they are loving and because they are challenging. The church challenges me to grow, to have a voice, to participate…in the church and the kingdom of God. Another factor at play is the economic situation- less standard of living and better housing for a lower price. Also, it is a place where I find a strange comfort. It has people that have meant much to me for career and calling, such as Virgil Fry, Paul Riddle, Paul Robertson, Glenda McDonald. And it was the place that years ago, a calling was born in a summer internship called Lifeline, and actually, it was amongst that place that I developed a newfound belonging amongst children. So, it is place that with the Med Center and Lifeline, I have always had a strange relationship, one in which a fellow resident mused me and the Med Center would likely be intertwined somehow.
I got another job offer. It was a great job really. It was a pretty darn good hospital that was part of a really good hospital system. It was a place where I would be asked to be the only chaplain because it was a smaller 200 bed hospital. It was a place where I would be asked to take on challenges like creating a volunteer corps, visiting outside churches, synagogues, and mosques to develop relationships with them (something I hope to do already with Texas Children’s because I treasure the opportunity). It was a place where I would be challenged to develop support groups for certain specialties it served, such as cardiology. It really was a great job. And it provided an opportunity to be close to family and close to friends, and would have put in a place to be with a good church, one in which I have very close friends and which seeks the kingdom of God in powerful ways (and some of my very closest friends are sports buffs here, another highly positive thing). But it wasn’t to be.
The hospital didn’t offer a pediatrics unit, although clearly work with children would come through the emergency center, through families of dying loved ones. It wasn’t Texas Children’s. I had always dreamed of being a pediatric chaplain because of how my life had been changed as a child. And because I believe I connect well with children. Rather, I love them so much because I am often childish myself and love recovering my childhood in different ways.
Texas Children’s will bring challenges too- it is not all peaches and cream. I will have to learn the ropes of being on committees, some for very important things and others for not very important things. I will have to make commitments to learning and trusting these other chaplains and communicating well with them. I will have to learn a new hospital, with new units, with new procedures. I will have to grow into becoming professional, becoming certified, participating as a peer with fellow chaplains in brown bag educational lunches, attending professional conferences, and perhaps even teaching or sharing in Texas Children’s annual pediatric conference. And, I will be filling in the spot vacated by another. This brings all sorts of challenges- taking on the unit of nurses who are sad at his loss, interacting with others who feel really comfortable with his nature of conversation and care, and spending time on units as fairly as possible after some got used to having his presence quite often. And there are more challenges. But those would suffice because they lay out some of the fearful, but exciting challenges.
All told then, I have a job. I have a dream job. I have a dream job that I get to shape and that I get to be transformed by. In this time, I feel like the blind man who was asked by Jesus, “What do you want?” I asked, and I somehow received. Praise God!