Posted in Ministry

How Journaling Heartache Can Lead to Effective Pastoral Care

The morning of our fourth child’s birth, I was three weeks into a new city, new church, and new staff position. Before my wife went back for a C-section, three ministers from our new church came to pray with us.

They said they would stay. I remember saying, “It’s going to be fine. You all go home, and I’ll update you when she’s out.” They prayed and left.

The baby was born successfully. I left the room with our little girl, Blake, and went with the nurses for the weighing and bath in another room. While videoing the weight (as all proud dads do), I began to see changes in her.

The nurses began working frenetically. They asked me to leave the room. A lot more transpired, but bottom line: she had heart failure.

Within 30 minutes, she was en route to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. I left my wife in her hospital room and headed to where my new baby would be.

Upon entering the NICU, two doctors sat me down in a quiet room. I grabbed my notepad to take notes so I could relay the details to my wife over the phone. The doctor looked me in the eye and said, “Mr. Dodridge, it’s unlikely your child will survive.”

I put down my pen and notepad.

She spent the next 16 days on life support. Throughout that time, I wrote in my journal. I wrote down all the raw emotions, including anger and disappointment. I wrote my selfish desires, and I wrote pleading prayers to God.

All wired up day 2

Blake Jules, three days after birth

Through the power of God, His use of crazy awesome medical staff, and a life support called an ECMO, Blake is alive and has recently turned one year old.

But even in the 12 months since, I’ve reread my journal to gain perspective and learn from some broken moments. The journal entries have been a gift.

Since Blake’s ordeal, I’ve already been able to minister to families in our church who had infants on ECMO at the very same hospital. I don’t transpose my journaled feelings on them, but it gives me perspective while ministering. My journal entries give me vivid memories that allow empathy for others.

Other experiences I’ve written in my journal have served me in ministry as well—my hurt when we dealt with infertility, or my anxiety when awaiting news on whether the cancer was in my lymph nodes.

All these experiences have translated to a written record I can access, both to learn from my past and help others in my role as minister in times of crisis.

Journaling can be an ally in ministry and pastoral care.

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How a Baby’s Funeral Taught Me Reliance

For multiple years, through a local hospital’s ministry, I had the honor of conducting memorial services for parents who had lost their babies in utero or within the first months of life.

Each year, these saddened families came and gathered underneath the tent near a graveside marker titled “Tiniest Angels.” Many brought toys or stuffed animals to hold onto or place at the grave marker. In many instances, this was the only memorial service certain families experienced for their child.

littlest angelsPhoto courtesy of Jeff Black @jeffblack76

The first year I spoke at the service, not only had I not lost a child, I was not even a dad.  I couldn’t empathize with their loss. How was I to give hope to these families?

With my inadequacies, never more did I rely on the truth and hope of God’s Word.  It’s something I wished permeated all my actions. Full dependence on God allows Him his greatest work. With my inadequacies, I never gave hope to those families, but God did.

Since then, ministry has allowed me more opportunities to be used by God. And with my parenting privilege quadrupling, I find myself in the same frame of mind I was in while preparing for those memorial services–total reliance on God.

The stakes are too high for me to try to meander through ministry and life with Brian-sized strength to do God’s work.

Like me, you’re not prepared for all the opportunities God will present you. But God provides ample amounts of Himself so we can be used by Him. I hope you and I continue to live in the tension of not being enough ourselves, but serving a God who is enough.

What life circumstances have taught or forced reliance on God for you? I’d like to have the conversation via Twitter or email.

 

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The sixth sense…guest recognition

They have common tells. They’re reading the bulletin feverishly. They’re actually reading the signage in the hallway. They’re on time. They’re sitting in the back. Their eyes are exploring the room. They’re filling out the guest registration card. There are more subtle signs, but as a minister you must hone your guest radar to see these.

Only when leaving my last church did I find out that many people had appreciated my noticing them as guests, and beginning those first conversations with them. While we all have many tasks going on prior to our various church services, I’d argue that spending ten minutes looking for and greeting first-timers should be the highest of our priorities.

As in most cases, it takes a little relational intelligence to figure out how much a guest wants to engage a staff minister. But I have found that most people are thankful for a personal conversation, particularly in large churches. Have I introduced myself to those I thought were first time guests, only to find out they were founding members? Yes. Have I sniffed out a pastor search committee? Yes. Have I connected guests to information they needed, such as restroom location or length of service-time, and have I sometimes connected them with someone to pray? You bet.

This sixth sense will allow you to minister to people, and it will likely get people to attend your church more than once.

What’s are your best techniques for identifying and encountering guests?

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