By Chaplain Ana Wilson
We all have stories of how we are born, and I am no different. My mom always told me the story of how I came to be and how God protected me — even in the womb. Back in the 70s, my mom lived and worked around the military, and in that time, military men hitchhiked to get places.
Mom was on her way to meet up with some friends and saw a hitchhiker. She pulled up to give him a ride, unlocked the door and the door opened. All of a sudden, the gas pedal slammed to the ground, and my mom had no control over the car. Still she says she felt safe and knew the car was under control by her "guardian angel." Mom didn't know what happened, but she took over control of the car again and kept going.
The next morning, she was watching the news and discovered the person who did pick that man up was murdered. A week later, Mom found out she was several months pregnant with me.
Jeremiah 1:5 states, "I knew you before I formed you in your mother's womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations." How does all of that influence who I am now and how I came to Mayo?
There is a long story as to how I became a chaplain. The short answer is: I never thought about being a minister. Instead I have a degree in education, with certifications in math and science for grades 1 through 8.
Over the years, I've had an "on again, off again" relationship with God, the church and religion. I've been hurt by the church and those who are believers. I've been ostracized, treated as less-than, and declared unworthy because of the way my life started to an unwed mother. Add to that the fact that I don't conform well to traditional church and doctrine. I've been called a heretic, which, honestly, I take as a compliment now. I questioned the church (multiple denominations), and that questioning was met with, "Well, you just have to believe what we teach," and I don't do that well. I want to know why or how we come to various beliefs.
For me, I am a Christian because I believe in the message of Jesus and his unconditional love reconciled me to the one who loves all of us. It is not because I was told to believe a certain way. Jesus teaches us to love God and love our neighbor — even to love our enemy. Jesus also says that what we "do for the least of these, you do for me" (Matthew 25:34–40).
So my belief is that love must shape who I am and that love must be evident in how I offer care, compassion and hospitality to the stranger and the "least of these."
During a difficult time in life, I had a calling from God. I talked to my pastor and faith community who validated my calling. I went to seminary and then continued my training through clinical pastoral education. Between undergrad and the final clinical pastoral education program, I have nine years of schooling. I'm currently working on becoming a board-certified chaplain.
I never saw my life going this way, and I was truly like Moses telling God I "had a stutter" and couldn't do what was being asked of me. My husband and I adopted children from traumatized situations. I really thought my ministry was constant care, devotion and love of these children. I didn't realize this was a "yes, and" ministry. Yes, constant care, devotion and love of our children, and ministry outside of the home. Besides being a mother and wife, I also worked in churches as a youth minister and senior minister. However, I eventually found myself in hospice ministry, which I loved.
I came to Mayo Clinic in a divinely inspired way. I did pulpit supply for a church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. In that church was a mother of one of our chaplains. She called me two weeks after I preached and said I had to apply for this position at Mayo. The sermon I offered touched her so deeply, and she knew I needed to be a chaplain at Mayo. She didn't even know if I had the education or the qualifications, but she felt God nudging her to talk to me. I applied, and here I am.
Because of the sacred moments, death and dying ministry is my favorite. I also love working with the Transgender and Intersex Specialty Care Clinic, as so many of the transgender and intersex patients have been hurt by their religious communities. It is an honor to care for these individuals, and help them reconnect to their spirituality and rebuild the relationship they want to have with God.
So here I am at Mayo Clinic as a chaplain, and I am humbled to care for patients, families and staff. This is a place where all faiths and belief systems are not only tolerated, but welcomed and validated. Because of my personal struggles with faith and the hurt I experienced, I strive to make all people feel valued and loved for who they are, the faith and beliefs they follow, and the life they live. I never want people to feel the way I've felt in the past. That's too much pain for anyone to experience. Yet it is that pain that made me who I am today — someone more kind, receptive and affirming of other people and cultures.
I believe that we are all children of the holy and that we all connect to the mystery in ways that are meaningful to us individually. I don't feel one faith is superior over another, and I think all faiths together are a beautiful tapestry that allows us to see a fuller image of God. I am inspired by our diversity. How we worship, think, feel and connect with our higher power only makes us stronger if we allow ourselves to celebrate what makes us unique and what unites us to each other.
Back to Jeremiah 1:5. Did God know me before I was created in my mother's womb? Was I set aside? Am I a prophet for the nations? I can't say yes to all of those questions. However, because of Mayo, I literally have a global impact, as I care for people from all over the world. I am deeply touched to be trusted with such a sacred calling, and I pray that God's love is evident to all whom the holy places upon my path. I truly believe it takes all of us to show the fullness of God's love. Peace, Shalom, Paz, As-salaamu alaykum.