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.
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.