This blog post comes from CBF-Endorsed Chaplain, Shirley Massey in celebration of Pastoral Care Week. Chaplain Massey is the Coordinator for Adult Aftercare/Spiritual Support for Burn Survivors at UNC Hospitals’ NC Jaycee Burn Center in Chapel Hill, NC.
I’ve been a chaplain for over twenty years. I have provided pastoral care to burn survivors, families and staff in one of the major regional leading burn centers in the country. It has been a deep calling for me to provide spiritual care for those whose lives have been shattered by a burn injury and the recovery process that can take a lifetime to heal from this trauma. Recovery is not only about the person who received the physical injury, but their family, community and anyone who is part of their life. The pastoral care needs of a burn center staff are also very important and need to be addressed when one works in this type of unit.
It’s not just the physical burn, but the inner emotional injury that occurs with a burn. Medicine can repair the outer body with surgical procedures and the outer body will heal. It’s the deeper wound within the person that takes months and years to heal. This information has informed me over the years in my ministry the importance of pastoral care in a burn center and also the vision to develop aftercare support programs for survivors and their loved one. My personal faith development and my story have informed me that we are never alone and that God is faithful to us in the midst of our suffering. Light will come but the wilderness of recovery may take a long road.
Spirituality is the essence of life. It is what makes us reach within the depths of our individual hearts and find hope. It is the journey we take to recovery when something so traumatic happens in our lives that to go any other way would only bring disaster. Reaching into the inner self is finding the spirit that remembers who we are and how to begin to be born again out of the ashes.
For me, remembering our spirits is like the memories of the earliest dance when I first met the ocean. As the waves of the ocean dance upon the beach, I too begin to dance with my inner self and remember my story. I remember the first time I saw the ocean. I was a senior in High School. I had just graduated and a girlfriend and another male friend drove to Myrtle Beach in the middle of the night. We arrived at the beach about 5 a.m. just as the sun was rising. I remember running out onto the beach, touching the sand for the first time, seeing the vastness of the ocean and breathing in the spirit for “the first time.” I felt like I had been born again in the moment of this first experience. Each time I revisit this memory I remember the exhilaration and anticipation as if it were today. The stories that we remember connect us back to the original beginnings of ourselves. It is like the birth experience. We enter into this world out of chaos; we find our way through the making of stories. Our life stories form who we are. It is in the chaos that we live and remember how to tell others about hope.
In my work with burn survivors and families, I intentionally have practiced in the midst of their chaos, the belief that humans are a complete story – who we are before and after the injury. We are on a quest. We have the injury, we get better, we never go back, and we forever bear the mark of the injury. Spiritual health is not acting like the injury didn’t occur or living with hope we will get back to who we were before the injury.
The hope comes in moving forward with courage as the same yet different. We can go through life with the attitude that I am “once born,” sunny attitude that God or whomever we choose as a higher power is in heaven or in control and all is well. Another way to look at our injury is to see ourselves as “twice born.” We have suffered in the darkness, we have not chosen to go on the detour of life, but to go through it! Part of spirituality is recognizing that being spiritual is not keeping to ourselves, but sharing your story. Arthur W. Frank, in “The Wounded Storyteller” tells us that survivors have something to tell the ill/unhealthy people in our world, but also to tell the healthy people. We can teach healthy people how to live. That’s what telling prevention stories is all about. That’s why we have burn reunions, retreats, peer support programs and support groups, so we can tell our stories so that others may not make the same mistakes and also to demonstrate that out of chaos, real meaning and purpose can be born making the possibility that we can have a new healthier life.
It is a privilege to serve and work as a chaplain. I am constantly reminded of God’s love and grace in each and every case that I am called to be present.