Each week Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister, and this week we are thrilled to introduce you to Griselda Escobar.
Griselda, tell us how you are currently serving in ministry?
I am a chaplain for Christus Spohn Health System in Corpus Christi, Texas. The hospital that I serve has about 120 beds and an Emergency Department. The Mother/Baby Unit is the main component, but the hospital also has a general medicine floor and one medical Intensive Care Unit. The Mother/Baby units consist of Labor and Delivery, Nursery, Post-Partum and two Neonatal Intensive Care Units.
As a chaplain, I visit patients and their families, and I provide support to staff. Being in the hospital as a patient is one of the most vulnerable situations any of us have to face. Patients are dealing with illness, which is times life threatening. They may feel weak, scared, or many times alone. During these circumstances, patients need to know that someone is there for them, someone with no agenda other than to be a supportive presence. Support looks different from patient to patient. Support can be listening, praying, reading, and crying with someone. It also can be accompanying them outside so they can have a smoke, bringing them coffee or flowers, or simply letting them know someone is available. Chaplaincy has many different looks.
Families experience the hospital differently from the patient and also have the need to share, cry and grieve. Families may feel powerless or helpless when their loved one is going through something they can’t change. Accompanying a family member while their loved one is in the hospital can validate their value as someone who is doing more for the patient than they realize. Accompanying a family member also gives them the freedom to talk about their regrets and guilt safely. When a death happens, my role is to give space to families so that they can grieve even while they are surrounded by strangers.
Another privilege I have is accompanying staff. Medical professionals have very difficult jobs. Theirs is a holy task. Nurses accompany their patients from the moment they arrive to the moment the patient leaves. They are there when the physician, the chaplain, the social worker, and all others are gone. They see the patient at their worse and serve them in nonjudgmental ways, with compassion and with diligence because the patient’s lives depend on their care. Physicians also have difficult jobs in providing life giving care, giving hope when they get the worse of results and knowing when something is out of their hands. All hospital staff daily encounter their own difficulties, pains, and joys, but they have to put all of those aside to focus on the patients they have that day. This is no easy task! They also carry other’s burdens alongside them. Listening to staff who have had a difficult day, who have life circumstances is just as sacred as accompanying the patient who has received a painful diagnosis. Knowing that they are not alone impacts the care they provide their patients.
As a chaplain I am honored to be allowed into people’s sacred spaces and accompany them.
What have been some of the challenges you have faced in your ministry journey?
One of my greatest challenges as a chaplain has been separating myself from the patient and their circumstance. Initially, as I began chaplaincy work, this was very apparent, but now it seems more subtle. I remember one of my firsts calls as a chaplain in which a high school age young man had a fall that caused him to hit his head just in the worse spot. He was declared brain dead. I accompanied his parents, extended family, youth group, school friends, and many people who came to the hospital to visit him. I remember going back to the spiritual care office and asking God for a miracle because I could not imagine what his parents were feeling. I remembered my cousin who died at the age of sixteen and the pain her parents went through and the loss I experienced. I thought of my son and feared I might not have him long enough and wanted to see God do something miraculous. I was taking this family’s pain and making it mine. I was shifting my focus from them to me. I was not called to change their circumstance, or to make it mine, Over time I learned that I was called to accompany them no matter their circumstance.
Today I see this struggle in me in a subtle way as I go home after a difficult day or week and feel sad for no apparent reason, cry because my meal is not as I thought it would be, or struggle to enjoy the moment. I grapple with realizing I’m still carrying someone else’s burdens that are not mine to carry.
Galatians 6 has two passages that were spoken to me through a fellow chaplain and help me in the process. Verse 2 says “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Verse 5 says “For all must carry their own load.” We all carry our own burdens and carrying someone else’s will not cause their burden to be less. When we accompany someone and help out in those burdens that are too heavy to carry alone I bear that burden alongside them, but it is still theirs, and I cannot take it with me. I have my own burdens to bear. I don’t want to confuse my burdens with theirs, because that is not fair to the patient. My life experiences inform how I do ministry, but my burdens are still mine and theirs are theirs.
As a chaplain, I need to be present with the people I accompany as I come alongside them and help bear their burden, but I also need to be intentional about leaving it there in God’s hands, the best hands.
What brings you great joy in life and ministry?
My husband and my son are great sources of joy. They strengthen me, affirm me, and encourage me. Serving alongside them makes all that I do more meaningful. As a family we play together, dance together, cry together, and make meaning of life together. Living life with them brings me joy. Wonder has been one of the greatest gifts I have received in life and in ministry. I find joy in the little things! I find joy in drinking a coffee in the morning with the priest who I work with as we talk about ministry. I find joy in the unexpected hug, the laughter caused by watching my dog explore, playing video games with my son that I don’t understand and that he has to explain again and again, or drinking tea with my husband before bed. It’s the little things that continually remind me of God’s persistent love. These small joys make me feel truly loved.
What is the best ministry advice you have ever received?
Recently, I have been pondering the idea of moving out of chaplaincy ministry into a different ministry position. I read the book Five Hundred Miles: Reflections on Calling and Pilgrimage by Lauren Brewer Bass, and it was refreshing to me at this time of pondering about my calling again. I received so much advice concerning accepting one’s calling through reading the book, and I realized that calling is not always specific. I am not called to be a chaplain, a church pastor, or ministerial professor. I am called. Period. For the last five or six years, my calling has come in the form of chaplaincy and in accompanying other in the setting of a hospital or hospice, but earlier in my life, I answered my calling through youth ministry, children’s ministry, and women’s ministry, even if I did not have an official title. I know that the Lord can call me back to church ministry, or to serve my community through a non-profit organization. I have learned that no matter where I am serving or how, I am answering my calling. This year I will complete, along with my husband, ten years of ordained ministry, and I feel excited, humbled, and blessed that the Lord has done so much in my life and in my family since our ordination. I look back and think of the journey and I can’t believe I am here. The Lord is good, and I am ready for my next journey as long as the Lord is leading.