by Dr. Neal Nybo with Dave Franco | January 26, 2020

I awoke to my pager. I looked at the time; it was 6:50 am. A young high school senior who fell off of his surfboard and onto his head that morning was about to be helicoptered to UCLA Medical Center, where I was an on-call intern chaplain. I was to get there as fast as I could. 

And so I fired out of bed, got dressed and raced to UCLA and found that I arrived at the same time the boy was descending the elevators from the heliport on the roof. It also happened to be the same time his dad arrived. His father, who, I would come to find out, was a neck and spine surgeon. He burst through the doors, all 6’7” of him, with a furled brow and a look of intent. He was mine to deal with.

Now, my job as a chaplain was really two-fold. I was to comfort friends and loved ones with prayer and encouragement. And, to corral the loved ones by keeping them engaged so that they did not, in their anxiousness to know everything, get in the way of the hospital staff.

“How do you do, sir,” I said as I approached, “I’m the hospital chaplain and I...”

He looked at me like I was nothing more than merely someone in his way. “Who are you?”

“I’m the hospital chaplain and I—”

“Here’s what I need from you,” he said pulling me to the side. “I need to see the X-rays. Can you get them for me?”

I tried to offer him a seat. 

“Can you get me the X-rays?” he asked again not at all interested in conversation. I knew I could never get what he wanted, but I had no idea how I was going to let him down. He grabbed me by the jacket. “Well, can you can you do it or not?”

“Just a moment,” I said looking at him a little blankly. “Let me see what I can do.” I walked through a set of doors that led into the backrooms of the hospital and stood there wondering what my next move might be. I knew I didn’t have privileges, especially as a young guy in the Master’s program, to ask the doctors for anything like X-rays. Perhaps if I took enough time, he would think that I really gave it my best effort.

Finally, I walked out the doors to find that he was standing there, waiting. “Well?” he said.

I looked down sheepishly, “I’m sorry, sir,” I replied, “I won’t be able to get you the X-rays.” 

“Then what good are you?” he snapped. And then he abruptly walked out of the waiting room. I stood there empty.

“Then what good are you?” he snapped. And then he abruptly walked out of the waiting room. I stood there empty.

His words threw me into a tailspin. They continued to resound in my head and haunt my thoughts and my prayers. What good are you? It was the very question I had been asking myself. And I did not have an answer.

The rest of the week was torturous. I read a picture book to a little girl with cancer. She never left the hospital. I stood beside a family who had lost their father unexpectedly. He went in for leg surgery and died on the operating table. I could only stand with them, rather impotently, as they held his still hand for the last time. 

By Friday, I had answered that father’s question and now, my own. What good was I? No good at all. Whatever a chaplain or a pastor was good for, I knew I wasn’t it. People came to the hospital for healing. I couldn’t offer that. I walked down one long corridor after another on Friday afternoon with doubts in my head and tears in my eyes.

“I think I’m not cut out for this,” I said to myself, or to God, or to the walls—I didn’t really know. And just like that, in a moment’s notice, I felt it come over me—my decision. I would not return on Monday morning. I didn’t know what I would tell my wife. I didn’t know what I would tell my school. Without the chaplaincy, I couldn’t graduate. And I had no idea what I was going to do next. But I knew I would not be a pastor. I wasn’t going to pretend I could help others with all the crises that make up the human experience. 

As I was walking down the corridor that led out of the hospital for what would be my last time, I was turning the corner to the parking lot where the only thing I would see next was a lonely parking structure. Someone was suddenly right in front of me walking in the opposite direction—and we ran right into each other. As I looked up to see who it was, I saw that it was the man, the surfer’s father who wanted the X-rays—all 6’7” of him to my 6’4”. It was quite a collision. His eyes had a full week’s worth of suffering sitting just behind the surface. He was dead tired and in a hurry. Running into me was the last thing he needed. I had blown it again. He would berate me once more. 

Gulp. 

“Sir,” I said searching for something, anything to say. My mind fell upon the truth. “We’ve been praying for you and your son all week.”

He looked at me with resignation. “That’s all anyone can do now,” he said in what was almost a whisper. Then he stepped forward and wrapped his arms around me and hugged me. I hugged him back. Our embrace grew tighter, and that’s when I noticed his shoulders begin to quake. There we stayed, like two men holding on for dear life because both of us were. We cried together. Then we parted.

There we stayed, like two men holding on for dear life because both of us were.

As I walked to the car, I heard God answer the question. This is what good you are. You are My arms when I want to hold someone. You are My mouth when I want to say a word of kindness. You are My eyes when I want to cry with those who mourn.

I walked to my car, and on Monday, I came back to the hospital. 

That man, during the worst week of his life, offered me a kind word and a hug when I needed it. His kindness changed my life. If I have had an impact on any lives over the last twenty years, credit goes back to that father’s act of kindness.


---


Dr. Neal Nybo has been an ordained pastor for twenty years. For the last few years, his passion has been to communicate the gospel through kindness. He speaks approximately forty times a year to churches, non-profit organizations, and companies on the power of one kind act to change a life. Learn more at NealNybo.com


To learn more about the Rock's Community Chaplains Ministry, click here.

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