Life and life

Having found myself once again in several surgery waiting rooms and in different hospitals over the last week, I can’t help but look back on the numbers of hours over my life that I have been in that situation. I have been in hospital waiting rooms as a friend, a pastor, and a family member. There have been times I have been there as a hospital chaplain, caring for complete strangers who are most often there on an emergency basis. In each of these situations, the desires and needs of those waiting can vary greatly.

A hospital waiting room

A hospital waiting room

Some folks just want to be left alone. I respect that, especially because I usually fall into that group myself (although it is helpful to have a friend stop by periodically just to watch my “stuff” while I make a run to the restroom or to get a cup of coffee). Some folks want to be left alone especially by those of the cloth. They don’t want or need Bible thumpers hanging around to, in their eyes, make their bad time worse.

Sometimes folks like or want to pray and want assistance doing that. Other times they don’t want prayers, at least those expressed out loud. Sometimes they just want someone to be present with them, to sit with them in silence or to help initiate conversations to help the time pass. Sometimes they enjoy finding some humor in the midst of the tension.

Sometimes they want to have an additional ear to catch the intricacies of waiting room attendants’ instructions or a doctor’s report. With the hours upon hours of waiting, there are also those moments when information, however clearly and empathetically delivered, is so much and so overwhelming that it’s hard to remember everything or the nuances in which it was spoken, so that even when we think we have it all in our heads (and, at that moment, most probably do) it eludes us when we try to remember everything we were told.

And many times, expressed or unexpressed, we want answers. Some answers come easily. Being familiar with some of these immense health facilities themselves, I know that just being there to direct folks to the restrooms or accompany them to the coffee shop or cafeteria can be helpful. I understand what it’s like to feel like I need to drop bread crumbs as I move from one spot in a hospital to another just so I can find my way back. Keeping an eye on the comings and goings of people around those waiting, even spotting an occasional local celebrity, can be helpful when attempting to divert attentions from loved ones under the knife or even just from the sounds and reminders of the hospital. Yes, even celebrities sometimes find themselves in surgery waiting rooms.

But there are some questions I can’t answer and they are the same questions I have asked. I wonder how it’s going. I wonder what they’re finding. If we are prone to live with worry, there may be an inevitable wondering beyond the immediate moments and hours. What if this surgery doesn’t fix everything? What if they find something they didn’t expect to find? Is/he is going to die? What will I do about that? What are the next steps?

Like many others, I have wondered at times why this is happening to someone I love. And, in those moments of complete self-absorption, we wonder, “Why me?” And if we have any relationship with God at all, the question very well may be, “Why me, Lord?”

That last thought made me scurry to find the words to an old song of that same name written by Kris Kristofferson:

Why me Lord? What have I ever done
To deserve even one of the pleasures I’ve known?
Lord, what did I ever do
That was worth lovin’ You or the kindness You’ve shown.

So, to my surprise, the song isn’t bemoaning the writer’s lot in life, it is recognizing that when we cry out to the Lord (which is entirely acceptable and biblically sound), perhaps our cries of “Why me, Lord?” ought to put the focus on God rather than on ourselves. Why does God bother with us at all and still level abundance upon abundance on us? We take for granted the blessings we have been given and then when we find ourselves in a state of worry (and no one can blame us for caring so deeply about our loved ones) we cry out to God not in thanksgiving, but in lament. It should be the other way around. So thankful should we be for the love given us in our lives that our lament should be turned into thanksgiving.

In an extremely brief conversation with people who took up seats nearby in a large but busy surgery waiting room this week, I learned they were waiting for their 20-year-old son who was undergoing what they hoped would be his final surgery in a process that had been going on for well over a year (that’s a long time in such a young person’s life). In fact, they were not only full of hope, they were convinced of a bright future for the young man. Their smiles had no hint of Pollyanna in them. They were smiles derived from hours upon hours of surgery waiting rooms and worry, but a hope and conviction that all would be well. Clearly, all of their time was not about life and death. It has been about life and life.

A surgery waiting room

A surgery waiting room

Yes, people die. We all die. And that’s another discussion for another time. And a single surgery, even one that lasts for hours, is no guarantee that everything will get fixed or that other surgeries won’t be required.

Waiting rooms are fearful places. They are unnerving locations. They are often lonely and frustrating. But waiting rooms are, more often than not in my experience, places of hope and even celebration. They can be places of worship. They are certainly filled with God’s presence if we are willing to let God join us as we put up our feet, lean back, wait, and rest in the assurance of God’s love.


I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and forevermore. – Psalm 121


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9 comments for “Life and life

  1. Julie Overman
    August 5, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    Amen. Thank you.

  2. Ted Faszer
    August 5, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    Most of us aren’t very good at waiting. I’m not. We prefer results, answers, action. Illness, pain, and uncertainty often force us to wait and listen. If we’re open and attentive, we may hear God’s still, small voice.

    I love the wisdom of Emily Grimes, the hymn writer:
    “Speak, Lord, in the stillness while I wait on Thee.
    Hushed my heart to listen in expectancy.”

    Thanks for your gentle, timely reminder, Gretchen!

    • August 5, 2015 at 1:36 pm

      I appreciate your insights, Ted. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and the hymn. I’ll have to see if I can find that one.

  3. Barb
    August 5, 2015 at 1:39 pm

    I have been in oncology sales for 30 years and totally appreciate still the overwhelming feelings walking into a new hospital. I am not allowed to go into the infusion centers now, but I have experienced the love flowing in those infusion centers. Some people, as you said, want just to get their chemo and quietly read a book. Some want to find support with the other chemo patients. When news comes around of a cancer patients death — the idea that these patients have experienced and are experiencing being a cancer patient — well, it takes a strong group of fellow patients to help each other through the grieving of one of their chemo buddies.

    When I had my colon resection, God gave me so many blessings. A doc friend of mine got my daughter into the recovery room against hospital rules — Julie had to see me as soon as possible to know I was alive. An administrative assistant had helped me through finding the right surgeon — he probably saved me from having a colostomy bag. She directed visitors away from visiting me when I just needed to rest after the surgery. A surgeon that I had seen as a possibility to do the surgery (I chose another surgeon) still came by after the surgery to provide his support.

    I found out my boss at the time asked all members of my district to say a prayer for me, as they were at a meeting the day of my surgery. They all sat and had a moment of silence for me.

    My neighbor went grocery shopping for me post surgery, taking one of the kids with my credit card. She also brought over pizza for my kids a couple of times.

    I realized how blessed I was during this diagnosis and surgery with so many people providing something. Even the smallest gesture was such a blessing.

    When I returned to work after seven weeks of recuperation, I was amazed at the number of my docs and nurses I called on, who provided so much support and kind words as I was struggling to get on my feet. They helped put to rest the scare of having to wait and watch to ensure the cancer didn’t come back. I remember one doc saying “barb you have dodged a bullet.” Another one said “barb you are cured.” Another doc (an African American doc working at Howard university hospital — a great black academic center in DC) talked with me before my surgery about getting on top of all the depressive side effects of the anesthesia. He called me post surgery at home to give me a pep talk, to tell me that I could recover and I needed to put that stubborn attitude into place as I forced myself to get up and walk when it would have been easier to rest. He has his wife me on her church circle’s prayer vine. He saw me the first week back to work, and he told me it was time to go home and rest when he saw the discomfort in my belly. He said all in due time.

    Gosh, I could go on with all the blessings I’ve seen as a result of my own experience as a patient and as an oncology rep, witnessing the blessings coming to cancer patients.

    Gretchen, I know you’ve heard this before from me. Godwinks! Even in my time of fear and struggle, God was winking letting me know he was providing for me in so many ways.

    • August 5, 2015 at 1:41 pm

      Thank you, Barb. You come at this from several interesting perspectives. It’s nice to know that others have similar thoughts about waiting rooms and surgery.

    • August 5, 2015 at 1:44 pm

      It’s probably not necessary, but I feel like I should add that sometimes colostomy bags are necessary and folks who find themselves with one, no matter whether they are permanent or temporary, should not think less of their doctors for that situation. I’m thankful you didn’t have to deal with that, Barb, but I’m also thankful that some people do if it helps them to heal faster.

  4. Susan Hurst
    August 5, 2015 at 6:48 pm

    First things, first…are you and Terry ok??

    In all situations, I ask God how I can glorify Him through what’s going on with me.

    He always nudges me. I love Him for that, and much more!

    • August 5, 2015 at 7:08 pm

      Absolutely, Susan, we’re fine! My recent surgery waiting room experiences have been with friends and colleagues. But thank you so much for your concern!

      And, yes, God was nudging me this past week and now I’ll be watching a little more closely in the days ahead to see how things unfold!

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