Just a few weeks ago I was running up Bancroft and Telegraph in my cap and gown to claim my masters degree in social work from UC Berkeley’s school of social welfare. I stood in awe of the journey I had been on to find myself in that place. This is a bit of that story…
A few months after my sweet sixteen, I landed a job in a hospital. I worked part-time and on the weekdays you could find me in medical records, and on the weekends I worked in central supply. I am not sure how the teenager in me awakened so early 7-days a week, but there was just something about the hospital that I loved so much. Fast forward to my eighteenth birthday, I had talked my way into an ER job and was officially seeing things that none of my peers could relate too. But working in the ER was thrilling, and I was learning so much about life, suffering, hope, and loss.
Years later at the age of 26, I was working in full-time ministry (which I loved as well), but something was missing… something was calling. I felt the urge to return to the medical field. I was headed towards the route of hospital chaplaincy which I had idolized for years, and began my masters in theology degree at Fuller. I had this idea in my mind of the hospital employee that I wanted to be – someone who wasn’t exactly a chaplain and not so much a nurse… but still someone who was intimately connected to the patients. After so many years of seeing so many things (I always say that my eyes have seen what no eyes should see), I knew that my heart was filled with the passion for patient advocacy, justice, and comfort. And finally, through a longer process than I would have liked, I realized what I could be… a hospital social worker.
I kept this to myself at first as I did months of research narrowing down the best medical social work program I could find. After a while, I knew UC Berkeley was where I was supposed to go. Though when I visited, I found Telegraph horrifying, and the whole city something like what anyone in Orange County thought it would be – there is no word for it upon initial sight. I didn’t want to move to Berkeley and there was nothing for me there, but God’s calling was so overpowering that when I got the call that (this average student) had been accepted to the number one public university in the world, I wasn’t very surprised.
So I sprung from my nice and comfortable bubble and traveled into the “most liberal city” in the world. I won’t lie, the culture shock was more difficult to deal with than I expected. Surrounding me was the most diverse population I had ever come in contact with. And I am not sure what I was thinking when I begged my graduate advisor to let me intern my first year at Oakland’s county medical center. I will never forget my interview with my potential supervisor. She looked at me and said, “Okay, well you’re White… and there aren’t many White people here… are you sure you want to work here?” Of course my “White” bubbly self exclaimed, “yes!” And thank God I did because that is where I finally learned what “social justice” and “racial reconciliation” really meant (but that’s for another blog).
Over these past two years I have been privileged enough to work at different hospitals with homeless persons, victims of violence, children and adults with cancer, families who lost loved ones, and the newly and long-standing disabled. I have called insurance companies, paged countless doctors, and have labored over Internet searches as I have given my all to advocate for patients. I have held the hands of strangers, comforted the traumatized nurse, and sat with the dying who had no one else in the world. And then, my internship ended… and I got hired. How am I getting paid to do these things?!
I am tearful as I write this, because saying all of this is not to pat me on the back, but it is all to glorify and thank the God who created me to be this person. Many people say to me, “Oh, I could never do what you do.” And you know what, I believe them. I don’t think they could do what I do either. Because God has created me to do it.
As I walked across that stage to receive my diploma this past May, so many things went through my mind. I was thankful for the privilege of receiving an education in something that I love and am passionate about. I was thankful that I was celebrating 10 years of being a Christ follower, and that he led me to this wonderful city of Berkeley that I now love immensely. And I prayed… I prayed for you. That you too may find what God has created you to do, and that you may live out that life, all for the glory of God.