At the hospital, it was a day like any other day. We get in at 8:30 and we check out around 4:30. As I was checking out, ready to go home, I literally had the time card right above the time clock ready to push it in and that call came over the overhead. The code told us that we needed to sit tight.
So, I went through a program called “Clinical Pastoral Education” at Erlanger Hospital in 2016 August and 2017. In that program, it’s divided up into two major sections. One section is actually being a clinical chaplain on the floor. You serve the whole hospital and you do a lot of on-calls, 24-hour shifts. You’re there ministering to folks in crisis. I shared just a little bit about my depressive past with the program director and I was ashamed. But one of the things about Clinical Pastoral Education is that you are going to have some issues to work through or else you don’t go through the program. They know that there are some things that you are going to work through and then you are going to use those as a resource for ministry.
Well, I didn’t really buy into the fact that I could ever use the pain that I had been through.
You see, I lost a brother to suicide in 2010. My only brother. He was four years older than me. So growing up was two Irish boys in New York. We did everything together. When I lost him, to say it was devastating was not even close to talking about the pain. So, that process of going through that was so painful and to see that depression even within my family was so much so that my brother took his life. It was so debilitating and so difficult that it almost pretty much shut me down. I couldn’t really function like I should be able to function. Two times I had to step out of work and take a sabbatical.
There were ministry spots, ministry positions. That was really devastating, really hard. Then something happened at the hospital. Nobody saw it coming. I was just about the clock out at four O’clock. We got this code that says; Nobody leaves. All hands on deck. Clarify what’s happening before you go home. Sure enough, it was a bus crash in 2016 where several beautiful lives of our beautiful Chattanooga kids were killed. Erlanger was the place where folks came. So, they said; “Pastor Caffrey, would you escort this wonderful lady to the back of the emergency room?” As I escorted her and a couple of her family members back we all knew, unfortunately, before we got there that she was one of those parents of those six kids. So, as we walked back to that room and she was afraid that she was, unfortunately, going to find her lifeless daughter. She began to break down on the way. As we got to the door and she turned her head she looked and saw her lifeless, beautiful, bronze skin baby girl, (ten years old) who had left for school like she did every day and this day she wouldn’t come home. So, I was the chaplain on that call. As she collapsed, as a chaplain you learn there are no platitudes, nothing can placate the soul. Nothing can be said, no magic, you just hang in and just be present. You pray that somehow you can foster and represent the presence of Jesus in this horrific moment. I remember the strength that just welled up in me. The Spirit of the Lord spoke to my heart and said; “Carl, you’ve been through some things and what you have been through is not a disqualification of ministry. What you have been through has empowered you to be in moments like this and not want to bail. You’re strong and I have turned your pain into a resource for ministry.” So, all of that humiliation. All of that sense of failure. Yes, I would never repeat if I could ever help it, any of the pain that I went through or my beautiful children or my wife had to go through because I went through it. I would never want to ever have to hold a niece like I held my niece when she lost her dad that night. But I am so grateful that God has given me strength and the heart to want to be there for folks.
You know when you cut yourself and you address that need and take care of it. It’s amazing how God has created the body for that cut to heal. You may have a scar but it no longer draws blood. It no longer causes pain because the body has a unique power to heal itself. The body of Christ is called to come together and to hear each others story. God says that we can not only be forgiven but we can also find healing. I know that’s part of my not only recovery but of my being whole and being well. I can say it is well with my soul.