I think I was two when I first discovered there were people in the world who cared for others for a living. My direction was instantly clear. I was going to become a nurse.
I spent hours as a child coloring in the anatomy coloring book I got for my eighth birthday. My dad took me on a fun field trip to the blood bank and, while my mom hid in the bedroom, dissected frogs with me at the kitchen counter. In high school, I took all the math and sciences I could and spent the summer after my junior year as an apprentice in the research department at Providence Portland Medical Center. As part of my apprenticeship requirements, I spent time with employees in many different departments: floor nurses and case managers and hospital administrators. I spent a day on the road with a home healthcare nurse and connected with nurses working in hospice care.
That summer was deeply inspiring but also clarifying. I headed off to my senior year of high school knowing my long-held expectations for my life were shifting. The pace and pressure of hospital nursing seemed beyond my ability to maintain, and my heart felt drawn to work in hospice. By that point in my life, I had also become a pianist and worship leader, and a full-time career in nursing would have crowded out those growing callings. I trusted God’s hand on my journey, believed that no part of my uniquely created makeup was a waste, and took the steps that seemed clear at the time.
I spent my college years taking a mix of classes in science, music, and religion; spent a few years as a chiropractic assistant and office manager; and then shifted to a life as a stay-at-home mom. I’ve been able to pursue part-time work as a musician and worship leader, but my caregiving skills have been focused primarily on my family as I’ve served as teacher/therapist/nurse/cook/guide to my daughters over our years of homeschooling and family life.
About 10 years ago, I became aware of the field of therapeutic music. This community includes specialists who use music to be present with the sick and suffering in different ways. Some work with the cognitively impaired to elicit memory and connection. Others work specifically with patients in hospice care for the purpose of end-of-life comfort. I had been following two separate threads of vocation—music and healthcare—and the possibility of weaving the two together was both exciting and empowering.
Following a sabbatical year of travel aboard our small sailboat, our girls began the transition from homeschooling to public high school. This year, for the first time, both my daughters are in school full time as a sophomore and junior at McMinnville High School. And this fall I went back to school as well, taking weekend classes every two months through the Music for Healing and Transition Program and learning to play the harp. I’m more than halfway through the coursework and then will have a couple of years to complete my practicum hours and other graduation requirements.
In addition to the many fascinating things I’m learning about neuroscience and the role of sound and music in humanity, I’m recognizing myself in so much of the training, finding my way of being in the world validated even as I continue to hone it. Our training deviates from much of traditional medicine in that we don’t seek to use music to cure or fix disease. That role is already held by many competent music therapists. Rather, we seek to use music and our own calming presence to create a space for healing, for wholeness. This feels like a natural extension of the movement of the Spirit in my life.
Both experiences in pastoral care and in my own personal life have called me to deeper intention of presence in the face of pain. It takes courage to be with pain that has no cure. To sit with a friend after shattering loss without trying to fix or explain the suffering. To confront the reality of trauma and its damaging effects on the human psyche. To face my own mortality and that of my loved ones.
Healing, a movement toward the shalom of God’s restorative power, can happen anytime, anywhere, even when a situation has no cure. For many, the gift of music can help prompt and nurture this healing. Music can be a balm to soothe the anxious or hurting; a buffer between the vulnerable and their own raw emotions; or a path of connection for the numb or grieving on which they can meet themselves at the deepest levels, open up, and let the work of the Spirit transform. But, just as nursing is not the only way to care for people, music is not the only way God brings healing. In the midst of impossible circumstances and wrenching loss, the creative presence of God’s power restores our relationships, connects us more firmly to God’s gift of grace, and offers us the hope of life abundant.