Caregiving as an Act of God


In the beginning were the caregivers.
And the caregivers were with God.
And the caregivers were God.

On March 27, 2023, I found myself sitting at a round table in the sixth-floor atrium of the Critical Care Tower at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) receiving a tutorial from a total parenteral nutrition (TPN) educator. I was there with my mom, and we were charged with learning how to connect and disconnect my dad to TPN (liquid nutrition) so he could be discharged from the hospital and still receive the care he needed to survive.

The very same morning, a mass shooting occurred at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, located just down the street from VUMC. While my children attended different schools, they were in the vicinity of concern due to the mass shooting, and both were placed on lockdown.

The victims of the shooting were brought to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital and VUMC, so as Mom and I sat learning how to use needles without infecting my dad in the process, we heard sirens and helicopters, and saw movement and real-time response to the crisis that was ensuing in my hometown.

As a parent and a daughter, my nerves were tingling. Cortisol was coursing through my veins. I couldn’t keep my left leg from bouncing up and down; I checked my phone every five seconds to see if I needed to respond to anything. My paid work at the time was to help lead a group practice of mental healthcare professionals, so I was also working, along with our leadership team, on a statement of safety, care, and concern for our staff. In that particular moment, I was quite literally surrounded by the need to give care—to my parents, to my children, to my coworkers, to my community, to myself.

Dad had been in the hospital since the beginning of February, first in Texas, and then in Nashville after being transported via air ambulance to Vanderbilt given the rarity of his condition—a 3.5 cm tumor on his pancreas, requiring a 12.5 hour surgery to remove the tumor and reconstruct his stomach, pancreas, and intestines. While I tried to trust that my children were safe and okay, I didn’t know that for certain, and all I kept thinking and feeling was, “This is impossible. The system has failed all of us.”

Though Dad was first sent home from the hospital on March 27, he quickly returned, and all told, he was in the hospital between February and June for more than 100 days. Mine is a real-life example of what approximately 43 million Americans are living with in the day to day—providing unpaid care to both children and parents in a country in which legislators refuse to provide paid family leave, build infrastructures for paid childcare, and pass safer gun laws.

I couldn’t be fully present in mind, body, and spirit at the hospital that day to receive the TPN education I needed to help my mom and dad for fear that my children and their teachers and school staff were vulnerable to gun violence—and this is not an isolated, one-day event or feeling. The longer we go without common sense gun legislation, the more stress we parents feel as we send our kids into a society that refuses to protect them. The feelings and thoughts of impossibility remain.

And I have health insurance, a generous and supportive work environment, a caring and present spouse who is an equal partner in all things parenting and home, access to food, money, and shelter. I’m also a socially constructed white woman, which adds a measure of privilege and power that women of color, the majority of the ones offering care in our country, do not have.

The social reality in which we caregivers find ourselves is a complicated, overwhelming, and exhausting one, to say the least. In caring for my dad, I added hospital visits to my daily routine, communicating on CaringBridge to the vast and beautiful community who was praying for my dad and our whole family, meal planning for my mom and brother, and more in addition to working a full time job, caring for our children, and showing up as a partner and spouse.

I felt torn between being with my young children and husband at home and with my parents at the hospital. And my body had its own ways of telling me it was being pulled in too many directions. I got a strange virus that sent me to bed for a full day. I had trouble sleeping. Many days, I couldn’t keep the overwhelm and anxiety at bay. I’m still finding ways to process the acute trauma from this time while still working outside the home, mothering, and partnering—not to mention, being a friend and a human, and sigh…

But if we believed that in the beginning were the caregivers, and the caregivers were with God and the caregivers were God, would society change? If our very understanding of God centered on the caregiving role of God, the caregiving acts of God, the caregiving that is, in fact, God, would that be enough to shift our culture toward a more communal and therefore compassionate model of care for the caring?

They call us the sandwich generation—those of us raising young children and taking care of aging parents. Here we sit and stand and lie and sometimes crawl smack dab in the middle. And what a perfectly luscious, ripe, messy middle it is.

Not barren or isolated but teeming with opportunity for love and enrichment, creativity and ritual, holiness, and sacrament. The very work of God.

All of these changes, for Mom and Dad and for my family and me, have me thinking about life and relationships and community and mystery and certainty and love. And how when we say yes on a wedding day, we can never know what the future holds. We can only know that Love holds us every step of the way.

In the Book of Ruth from the Hebrew Scriptures, Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, urges Ruth to return to the land of her mother instead of remaining with her on the journey to Bethlehem. Ruth refuses and responds with the well-known passage:

“Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord do this to me and more so if even death separates me from you” (Ruth 1:16-17).

So often this story is used in wedding ceremonies, but if there were to be a ceremony or a ritual marking the sacred devotion we have to and with our people (beyond the marriage relationship) in both sickness and in health, this would be the scripture I would choose.

How many times did my mom urge me to go home when I was at the hospital? How many times did Dad try to rebuff my care?

And how many times did I echo Ruth and say, “I will not abandon you. Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay.”

Not because I had to leave part of my family to tend to another but because taking care of anyone is taking care of everyone. Parents and children and those of us who stand in the sacred in between are not in opposition as some might have us believe. Instead, all of our care matters and influences the other. Any hope for wholeness begins here–in media res–in the hospital with my parents and on the kitchen floor with my kids and everywhere in between. It’s both/and. It’s everything and all. It’s a lot and it’s holy. 

This week’s sponsor of Mothering Spirit is Be A Heart Design, a modern Christian lifestyle brand that creates beautiful products to help both adults and children grow in faith. Check out their Easter basket bundles and other beautiful items in their Easter Shop!

Posted in

Claire K. McKeever-Burgett is an author, creative contemplative, and spiritual leader who has dedicated her life to bridging spirituality and social justice. With a background in English and Professional Writing from Baylor University and a Master of Divinity from Vanderbilt Divinity School, she has served as a clergy, led congregations, and facilitated transformative writing, movement, and liturgical practices centered on healing and embodiment. A mother, certified birth and postpartum doula, and a yoga, dance, and martial arts instructor, Claire lives with her family in Nashville, Tennessee. She writes regularly on Substack, and her book, Blessed Are the Women: Naming and Reclaiming Women's Stories from the Gospels (February 27, 2024), shares stories of women from the Gospels in their words, with their own names, interwoven with Claire’s personal story of growing up as a woman with a vision and a voice in a conservative, Southern Baptist, male-dominated world. Claire’s writing invites people to pray, dance, sing, and create along with women in ways that help them heal from religious and theological trauma and find a place of welcome and peace within a reimagined, woman-led faith.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.