On Death

What is it that happens
when the lungs cease to draw breath
and the heart ceases pumping blood
and the body rests?

How does one go from breath and animation
-to waxy stillness-
in less than a blink?

I’ve seen it again and again,
life –
then death(.)

Is it a single moment missed?
Or a collection of moments
invisible?

I search my soul for sight
wanting to capture the holiness
of the end of life as we know it and
the beginning of life
as we have only been promised yet do not
(perhaps cannot)
understand.

Within the goodbye, I hear a soft hello,
a vague, somewhat distant, incomprehensible
hello.
Are we welcoming our future?
Do we see the holy?

Or do we say hello to the nothingness,
to being without form or consciousness?
Energy dies not with the body,
but instead is merely transferred.

Love after love.
Life after life.
Infinity.
But on a closed loop, perhaps.

We may have no beginning
and no end but –
we have our very being within the beginning
and end of all things.

Alpha and Omega.
Creator of all things seen and unseen.
Spirit of life. Witness to death.
Voice of Resurrection.

In the stillness of the hospital room,
where the waxy body lays,
the voice calls forth newness
out of the despair.
It vibrates and echos in my core.

Be still and know that I am God.

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Where are we?

It’s the first day of FALL!

I’ve been hesitant to embrace an early fall this year, mostly because I wasn’t quite prepared for summer to end when the rest of the world decided to end it. (Damn you Starbucks and your pumpkin spice lattes.) It was still warm, so I was still wearing shorts and craving iced tea and swimming and backyard barbecues. I didn’t want to let it go!

But now everything has changed. I awoke this morning and my body said, “Shelby, it’s time. Your favorite season of all is upon us.”

So I got up on this lazy Sunday morning full of autumnal yearning. After sleeping in and skipping church, (because I’m young, not yet ordained, and can still get away with doing that. Gotta enjoy it while it lasts), I made a batch of pumpkin chocolate chip pancakes.
pumpkin pancakes

And now I’m sitting here in the living room, sort of watching the Titan’s game, but really just basking in the fall sunshine streaming through the windows, and I’m thinking about the year so far.

2013. It’s been a whirlwind of a year. I say that every year, but really, I have been challenged in my personal, academic, and social life this year more than ever before. And I don’t think I’m alone. So many of my peers, friends, family, and loved ones have expressed similar surprise at the difficulty the year has brought. There have been wonderful things happening right along side the hard stuff (isn’t that always the case?), and it’s good to remember those things when we’re just feeling so exhausted and down trodden and ready for a new phase of existence.

So I got to thinking about that list. That “25” list I so ambitiously set about accomplishing many moons ago.

Let’s review:

1) Begin a blog to document my experiences this year.
For a beginning blogger, I think I’ve done pretty well with this one! I’m by no means a regular blogger, but that’s okay, because I am a full-time student with four part-time jobs and a LIFE so I am not really feeling bad about not posting everyday.

2) Learn to play Debussy’s Clair de Lune perfectly, from beginning to end.
Ummmm. This has not happened. Let’s just be honest: This is not going to happen. I can play the first page. That’s progress. And I’m proud of myself.

3) Go skydiving.
Still on the to-do list. I think there is a strong possibility I can get it done before 2014, I just have to be intentional about finding time to do it!

4) Write (and actually finish) a short story to be published here for your pleasure and feedback.
I have one in the works. I hope you like it. Wish I could tell you when to expect it, but I just don’t know. These things have to happen in their own time.

5) Train for and complete a half marathon.
Well…. I did one last year, will that count? I still have time to do one in December if I start training now…

6) Hike 20 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
This may have been a reach.

7) Take 12 photos of 12 amazing places.
1. Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, Nashville, TN
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2. Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, NV
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3. Love Circle, Nashville, TN
Love Circle
4. Salisbury Cathedral (Salisbury, Wiltshire, England)
Salisbury Cathedral
5. The ruins of Old Sarum, Salisbury, Wiltshire, England
Old Sarum
6. Platform 9 3/4!
Platform 9
7. Vanderbilt Divinity School, Nashville, TN
VDS

I have five photos left to take of amazing places!

8) Complete 1 round of golf… no cheating.
Haven’t even had the chance to cheat, just haven’t gone. Need to rectify this immediately before it is too cold!

9) Go deep sea fishing.
Nope. Went to the beach TWICE, and still didn’t do this. Still want to. Next year?

10) Begin learning Spanish.
Have taken no serious steps in this direction. Bad Shelby.

11) Rock climb at Climb Nashville.
Nope. Waiting for a groupon or amazon living deal to pop up.

12) Gamble in Las Vegas.
I did that! It was great! See previous post.

13) Tackle the Titan.
I’m concerned about this one. I read recently that there was a serious accident resulting in a woman’s death on the Texas Giant. Not sure how I can get myself on the Titan right next to the Giant after that.

14) Consume an all vegetarian diet for one month.
I have been part-time pescatarian since watching Food Inc. with L in Vegas. If I’m going to do the vegetarian thing for a full month, I need to start now, because the holidays will be VERY hard to resist.

15) Picnic on Love Circle.
Yep! Had delicious food and wonderful company. So romantic!
love picniclove picnic 2

16) Create a backyard vegetable garden.
This one was fun. I was so excited to see actual life springing forth from the ground I had worked so hard to prepare. But so were all the wildlife in my neighborhood, so I didn’t get to enjoy much. At least someone did.
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17) Dye my hair an unnatural color.
Purple, yo.
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18) Be an extra on ABC’s Nashville.
I don’t know whether to count this or not. I got dressed up for the season 1 finale taping (CMA Awards episode), I got to the set, I waited, I waited, I waited… I never got on. I waited four hours, and they never called any extras back. So I had to leave because I had other things to do that day. But here’s the proof I was there at least. Maybe I can get on for season 2 before the year is up…
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19) Eat fish and chips in England this summer. (Thank you Vanderbilt Divinity School!)
Did it, it was awesome. Sorry, no picture.

20) Learn how to make paper.
Not yet.

21) Make a t-shirt quilt.
Not yet. Christmas gift for S maybe?

22) Make and carry homeless “care” bags in my car. Each bag will have necessities and a list of resources that I can hand to neighbors who might need them.
Have not done this. Winter is coming, and with winter months comes Room in the Inn. So maybe I can get this done.

23) Read the entire New Testament in one month.
I plead the fifth. As a graduate student in theology, I read too much about the New Testament, not so much of the New Testament itself. But I think December might be a good month to attempt this feat as classes will end and I will get a much needed break.

24) Boat down and camp on a Tennessee River.
NEED FRIENDS TO DO THIS WITH! C, I’m looking at you!

25) Make one new friend each month.
Ok, Ok, I’m not social. So sue me. I have friends.

New month, new writing stuff!

Folks, we are officially one twelfth of the way through the year 2013.

25 update #1: I took a picture of an awesome place yesterday, so I didn’t miss my January deadline. Hooray!

It’s only a camera phone photo, so it’s nothing fancy. But I think it’s a great place to start documenting the many awe-inspiring places of my life.

ImageThis is the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

It’s a mouthful of a title. But a big place that does such big things deserves a big name.

I am currently serving as a chaplain intern at the Children’s hospital, and let me tell you, it has not always been sparkly and vibrant. In fact, it can be downright ugly and heart stopping. But Good God Almighty, it is a beautiful place.

It’s beautiful in the conventional sense in that someone (or more likely a very large committee of someones) put a great deal of time and effort into designing the building itself. The halls are swathed in “rivers of healing and ribbons of peace,” or some similar saying. It basically means that there are a lot of swirly, flowy, ribbony type elements that make you feel more like you are in a children’s art museum than a hospital. Plus actual patient art can be found on nearly every wall of every floor. There are bright colors, photos, artwork, child-friendly statues, blown glass light fixtures, butterflies, and animals everywhere you look. It is a truly stimulating and sensual experience to walk those halls every day, no matter how tough things may get physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

But it’s also beautiful in the quality of people that occupy the space. The medical staff, social workers, child life specialists, chaplains, receptionists, volunteers, and everyone else who gives their time and energy into making sick kids feel better each deserve a Nobel prize. Seriously. I sometimes look around at these people and think, “This is what the Kingdom of God looks like.”

But I think what has been the most amazing, most inspiring, most affirming thing in my personal experience working in this hospital is my work with the patients and families. I have been present for everything from broken bones to chemo, trauma, and life-support removal. These are real people in real pain, and it has taken me a while to realize that they really know God. I think I had expectations when I first started that I would be serving as more of a teacher, reading scripture and calming fears and anxiety with prayer. I am a master of divinity student, after all. I have deconstructed and reconstructed my theology every which way. I thought I was ready to provide pastoral care. (If you are wondering, you are never ready until you actually do it.)  I vainly thought I could help bring God to these families. I was so so wrong.

What a surprise, and yet how perfectly consistent with everything I believe, to find that God is always already there, and has been there long before I walk into a room. I don’t “bring” God anywhere. I walk in, I listen, and what unfolds before me is a powerful and miraculous story of pain and suffering, which is always infused with great amounts of faith and hope. It is a testament to the human spirit and God’s strong desire for relationship with us that faith can still be found in these places of deepest hurt. I am constantly amazed at the resurrection and new life I see all around me, every single day.

The Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital is a living and breathing miracle here on earth. Even when patients die (and they do die because we live in a world which is continually being redeemed, and we wait for the Kingdom of Heaven while we actively seek to build it), the glory of God and the redemptive work of Christ is still present. This is not to say we don’t hurt and cry and scream our hearts out to God. It’s just to say God can take it. And thank God for that.

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25 update #2: I think I can say that I successfully made a new friend in January. If we want to get technical, she’s been an acquaintance since last semester, and I didn’t really ask her to be my friend until today, Feb. 1st, at the end of our discussion class. It went like this:

Me: Hey, um, S?
S: Yeah?
Me: We should get coffee sometime. Or grab lunch or something.
S: Yeah, we should!
Me: Ok, Fridays usually work for me, but I have to finish a paper.
S: Well let’s do next Friday. Fridays are usually the best for me too!
Me: Ok!

I realize now that this would have been a good place to stop the conversation, smile politely, and say something like, “Have a good weekend!” Instead…

Me: Hey, do you mind if I put you in my blog? (Immediately horrified I even asked her this. What kind of weirdo am I? Ok, I can fix this.) I mean, I just need a new friend. Can you be my friend this month? (Not helping myself out at all. I am sooooo lame.)
S: (smiling), Haha, yeah, that’s fine, I’ll be famous! Let me know when you post it!
Me: (in my head: I KNEW I liked you for a reason! You don’t care that I’m weird!)

Thank you Lord, for S.

Anyway, even though it’s February, I’m going to count S as my January friend. Because I can.

The end.