Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Being a chaplain and a health care worker working with ALS patients and their caregivers is something I never would have imagined myself doing. I have been involved in health care since the early 1980’s. When I graduated from high school in 1975 I knew that I wanted a career in some field where I would be able to help people. Specifically, I wanted to help people who were not in a position to help themselves. Health care provided me with that opportunity. Health care began to lose its personal aide back in the late 1980’s and I found myself discouraged. The emphasis was no longer on helping people. That was still important but not as important as cutting expenses and turning profits.
So, in an attempt to once again devote my efforts to helping people, I entered seminary and began a short career in pastoral ministry. After spending about 8 years in pastoral ministry, I realized that the people in the church that I was serving didn’t want to be helped. Once again finding myself discouraged, I returned to health care and doors of opportunity began opening. Doors continue opening to this day. One of those doors brought me to this course in chaplaincy. What a blessing this has been for me as it has equipped me to provide spiritual care in an arena that hadn’t existed until 2007.
People have always had ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. What was new was a clinic developed just for people afflicted with ALS. This clinic opened in the town where I was once again working in health care and I was offered the opportunity to use my health care skills helping ALS sufferers. What was and still is lacking in the ALS clinic that I work in is spiritual care of both the ALS patients and their care givers. This is where ULC and this chaplaincy course intersected with my current pathway. This course work has helped equip me to minister both a healing ministry and a spiritual ministry to people with very real and immediate needs. Completion of this final lesson will provide me with the credentials and the documentation that I need to bring me to the next door of opportunity – ALS Chaplain.
As an ALS Chaplain, I hope to become the first official ALS Clinic Chaplain in my home State of Michigan. I see myself accomplishing several goals in this role. First, I will be able to use my health care credentials to minister to the physical needs of ALS patients (PALS). ALS is a horrible, irreversible, progressive, neuromuscular disease that can claim the life of its victim in less than a year from the date of the initial diagnosis. ALS attacks people as early as their late teens and always ends in physical death. Care givers suffer as much or more than the PALS. My heart goes out to both. And now, thanks to the training I received in this course, I am equipped to provide physical care to the PALS and spiritual care to both PALS and their caregivers.
It may take a small miracle from God to make this possible. But as God is in the business of connecting people so they can help each other experience grace, peace and healing, I will leave the future in God’s capable hands and seek to be open to more opportunities. This is what I hope to be able to accomplish as a result of taking this course.
One of the most important things I learned through this experience is that God is very big. God’s love is deep, wide and unpredictable. God’s grace extends to those who need it but don’t deserve it. Faith in God is not something that I can take for myself. Nor is faith something that I can give to someone else. God gives faith and hope to those who come into an experience of God’s love. God’s love is very big. As people experience God’s love, they also experience God’s healing and can know wholeness even in a broken body, even in a body ravaged by ALS. I believe God’s vehicle of love, grace, faith, hope and healing is people. In some instances God will reveal God’s self to those in need through the chaplain.
The chaplain isn’t God. The chaplain is a vessel God can use. The chaplain isn’t a healer but the chaplain can facilitate healing. The chaplain can make a broken person whole again but God can make people whole again and sometimes uses the chaplain to begin this process.
God isn’t Catholic, Buddhist, Jewish, Baptist, Unitarian, etc. God is Truth. Somehow, though we can make a mess of God’s Truth, God can and does work through us in all our imperfections, to draw people into the Truth. The chaplain, as a spiritual person, must not assume that he or she has a handle on God’s Truth but must always believe that God’s Truth is knowable. God will draw people into God’s Truth through those whom God chooses to use as God’s servants. The chaplain that God can use is the chaplain who allows God to work by not having an agenda, timeline, plan or purpose beyond being open and available for God to use.
As a servant of God, the chaplain must do his or her best to speak truth. Whether that truth is physical truth such as affirming that ALS is terminal or acknowledging that anger is a God given emotion as is sorrow, the chaplain must always speak the truth. As God is Love, the chaplain must speak the truth in love with great compassion and an open mind, again realizing that it is God who draws people, who changes hearts and minds, who bring spiritual and physical healing and to make love known.
It is important to help people become comfortable with you, the chaplain. Listening and being with the person who is in crisis is essential. Helping the person in crisis be able to express what they are feeling by helping them put it into words is very important. Record your notes because you will refer back to them as you seek to understand and help the person in crisis. I learned that it is important to prepare, to be prepared, to know where you are going in the process of helping, to plan, to be accountable and hold accountable and yet, through it all, to let God orchestrate the changes that will come and to push the person in crisis forward toward a goal of healing and restoration that God will bring.
This course was very helpful to me in the conciseness of the lessons set forth. I also appreciated the use of Scripture at the beginning of each lesson. God’s word is Truth revealed. As closely as I am rooted in God’s Truth, that Truth can be manifested and as I stay as close as I can to God’s revealed Truth in my planning and preparation, I can be useful to God’s purpose for the person in crisis. I think the counseling process can also be simple, concise and equally powerful. God doesn’t need complicated structures to accomplish God’s goals and purpose for the person in crisis.
I would like to suggest for consideration the addition of life examples that would give a life application of each lesson for the student to ponder as he/she ponder the lesson contents themselves. It would have driven home the points of the lesson even more to have had a life story to relate the lesson contents to. Story is such a powerful tool for learning. The biblical story at the beginning of each lesson is huge. The personal application story at the conclusion of each lesson could be what really drives the lesson home for the learner.
What a challenge it is working with people. But what greater fulfillment is there than knowing that what God gave you to work with was used to help people find their way back to God. If God sees fit to use what little I have to offer, my life will be worth it. There are so many needy people and here I am in a small corner of the world hoping to be able to help a few find hope where they see only hopelessness.
ALS is a horrific disease. The end of the disease is death. There is no physical healing for those afflicted by ALS but there is a spiritual healing that transcends the physical. Those who find the spiritual healing that God offers, will find that even though they die, yet they will live. What an awesome privilege to be a servant worker with God in sharing that message.
Thank you for helping me prepare for this ministry challenge. God bless you all at ULC as you continue to help shape students for ministry.
Rev. Brad Norg
The Universal Life Church is a comprehensive online seminary where we have classes in Christianity, Wicca, Paganism, two courses in Metaphysics and much more. I have been a proud member of the ULC for many years and the Seminary since its inception.
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