The phone rings loud on the bedside table near my head, and I wake with that tiny heart attack that only truly jarring things, like middle of the night phone calls, seem to trigger. It takes me a moment to gather myself, to remember who I am, where I am, and what that sound is… and then I grab the phone, hop out of bed and cross the hall into the office where I can finally answer.
It’s a familiar voice, Eli, my colleague and friend from the domestic violence and sexual assault shelter where I volunteer. They’ve just received a call from the emergency room about a sexual assault survivor asking for an advocate and I’m the volunteer on-call this week.
Eli handles himself so very well, knowing that while he is awake working the night shift I am still trying to grasp his words, trying to shake the sleep from my body and my mind. As his words sink in I write down the survivor’s name and start pulling on clothes to head to the hospital.
Though I’ve taken a fair amount of these calls during daylight hours, this middle of the night call is a new experience for me. I live in the upper peninsula of Michigan and while I love it here, this particular night also happens to be yet another night with significant snowfall, and it takes me quite a while to dig my car out enough to get it out of the tiny alley next to our house and up the hill toward the emergency room.
I arrive and check in with the nurse at the intake desk, explaining that I am an advocate from the local shelter. She quickly directs me into the correct room and introduces me to the survivor.
While each person’s specific stories and experiences are different, I continue to be struck by the same things whenever I first walk into a hospital room and begin to talk with the people inside it… the openness, the vulnerability, and the raw, real, presence of complete and unfiltered humanity. What an incredible privilege to be trusted with such a delicate moment in someone’s life. What a privilege… and what a responsibility.
I’ve written about my own call story or vocational journey in various places, on Feminism and Religion as well as other sites, but there was a significant portion of time in which I truly felt called, and wanted to be, a pastor. Years ago, on a “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” I went to work with my mother in her role as the Parish Education Director at our local Lutheran congregation. Fairly quickly the pastor had convinced me to go with her on some hospital and shut-in visits. Looking back now I’ve found that these visits were a large piece of what drew me toward feeling called to be a pastor.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t well suited to the hoops and expectations of ordained ministry in my denomination and, happily (now), I chose to pursue the academic side of things instead. But I’ve always deeply appreciated the privilege of being able to sit with people in some of the very worst (as well as some of the very best) moments in their lives.
My time as an advocate has allowed me to offer support and care to a variety of people in a variety of situations. Being able to enter a room where another human being is anxious, angry, sad, confused, and any other emotion you might think of is a profoundly humbling experience.
Being able to sit with them in silence if that is what they need, or to let them tell their story, to hold their hand, or to let them laugh and tell you stories from their childhood, all of these things can be exactly what is needed in that moment and I have been trusted with that moment.
I don’t always understand why I am trusted with moments like these. I occasionally feel a bit like Moses begging God to send someone else… there must be others better suited to this role, surely there is someone else you can send? But in those quiet moments at a complete stranger’s bedside I can feel God’s presence in that open, raw, fully human moment. Just as God promised Moses that God would go with him to the Israelites, so too can God come with me and give me the strength and presence to accompany another person in whatever way is most needed at that moment.
Dr. Katie M. Deaver, holds a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology with an emphasis in Feminist Theology from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Deaver holds a B.A. in Religion and Music from Luther College in Decorah, IA, as well as MATS and Th.M. degrees from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. She is currently an Adjunct Professor at Elmhurst College and lives in Michigan’s beautiful upper peninsula.