I love serving. Maybe it is just part of my DNA, I don’t really know. But what I do know is that I find no greater satisfaction than feeling like I helped someone, encouraged someone, and empowered them. With each person I connect with, I always hope that with our encounter, they are better. I know that I am. Even as an introvert, engaging with people in a positive way gives me the greatest of joys.
Imagine being surrounded by people who also at one stage or another were willing to put their life on the line to serve others and protect freedom. Imagine the light in their eyes and the sense of honor they carry. Can you see the flicker of inspiration? Now imagine this same person was now homeless with nowhere to go. That same person who wore a uniform indicating a place, a rank, a skill, now does not have an address. Does not have a place where mail can be sent. No longer feels the sense of team and band of brothers camaraderie that defines military service. It is perplexing.
For the next five months, as a part of the ordination process, I will be serving as an interim chaplain – a chaplain intern is the official title. My place of assignment? The homeless domiciliary for the Tuskegee Veterans Administration. I am so honored to serve with these heroes in their own right and to now walk with them in their brokenness, confusion, and sometimes frustration. I also hope that in some way my work with ARM and the National Guard may serve as a bridge and resource to help some of these heroes find housing options if they desire.
Today, my heart was broken. As much as we are able to resource our veterans in Tuskegee, there are also shortfalls. I discovered that there are no female chaplains full-time at the VA. There is a growing number of woman veterans and many have been sexually abused. But there are no women who are in an official chaplain role for them to see and with whom to talk. I visited the nursing home/community center: a place over forty veterans call home. Some are doing quite well and in good spirits. Others are trapped in their body and unable to speak or write. I peered into their eyes seeing the desperation of wanting to communicate. Others are not happy to see a chaplain; we remind them of guilt they carry.
After visiting the nursing home, I went to the homeless domiciliary where I am still trying to find my place and role. What do I say? How can I help? What am I to really do? It is amazing what happens when you look lost. I’m sure I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was reading a bulletin board trying to figure out what to do. A guy walking by noticed and struck up a conversation. He was eager to talk and our conversation was easy. Minutes later I was approached by John (not his real name). He too was eager to chat and exuded friendliness. A woman, which is rare, also stopped to chat. She possibly had a stroke and although you can tell she is incredibly intelligent and inquisitive, has a difficult time speaking. It is clear but takes several seconds for her to form her phrases and then speak. What I learned is that they don’t see too many chaplains. Word was spreading that I was going to be there and people were asking me about services (like devotions/worship, etc).
I have been touched, humbled, and my passion to serve heightened. Today, I felt like I was back in ministry. Sometimes, I get removed from the people with whom we are serving and forget what it feels like to be in relationships, to experience joys, pains, and to walk with people in their brokenness and their successes. I am nervous about the time commitment but energized.
As I close, I hope you will think about what service looks like for you. How can you reach out in your sphere of influence? Even the most put-together people have something they are struggling with and deep down, we all want to be known. As the Spirit and love of Christ washes over us, I hope and pray that people are touched by our love, compassion, and gentleness.
Blessings – lisa