I’ve been avoiding heading back to the gross anatomy lab the past few weeks, not because I was uncomfortable around dead bodies, but more because I was uncomfortable around the live ones.

It makes me feel awkward to not be a doctor and to be around med and dental school students who are learning about the human body. I often would feel useless, especially when students don’t “get” what it means to be a Campus Minister. That first day one student asked me if he was making the right kind of cut into his cadaver. Another asked me “Is this a ligament or a muscle?” Fr. Pat, the priest and director of our North Campus Newman Center, has it a bit easier. He actually took the class for a year. He gets a scalpel out and makes cuts! When I’d tell them that I’m not a doctor one or two, actually looked at me like “Well, what the hell are you doing here, then?” And that’s an understandable reaction.

So I had to think about how to be involved with the students beyond the “I’ll catch you if you pass out” phase. Or even the “I’m here if you need to talk phase.” I had to consider my own gifts and talents. I had to consider the students needs.

And I had to not be a pain in the ass to anyone.

So I made “stress guys.” What are stress guys?

Isn’t he cute? And he doesn’t look like me at all! =) He actually has a tuft of purple hair, but mine fell off recently. You can make these yourself with your own logo at National Pen.

He’s a doctor too! See his scrubs! Big teeth for the dental students. And he serves a purpose! He’s a stress ball.

This past Friday, the students had their first exam. So I woke up at the God awful hour of 6:30 (I recognize one 6:30 per day–that one is not it!) to get over to the lab before the students were lining up at 7:45 for an 8AM test.

As they walked in notes in hand, fast-paced and tight as all hell, I threw or handed them “the stress guy.” Reactions were all positive! They ranged from “He’s so cute!” (mostly the females). To “Wow that’s such a great idea!” One dental student said, “This guy is awesome! It’s a shame I’m going to destroy him!” Many laughed. One female student had the best line, “These are so great and they are really helping all of us! Way to go, St, Joe’s. Mike, we have another test on Tuesday. Candy might work there! I’m just sayin!'”

Now that’s a student that I’d like to get to know better. Snarky and smart. And I already bought the candy!

Even the head of the lab, Dr. Dannenhoffer had a positive reaction. “Hey, they like these Cupie dolls!” he bellowed.

My favorite comment came from a student who is involved with us in Campus Ministry already. “Thanks for getting up so early just to give these to us! That means a lot to me. We need your prayers today too.”

I had to replenish my “stress guy stash” after the first section had gone into their exam. I walked across the campus back to my office and as I did an overwhelming feeling of peace came over me. The sun was still rising over the campus and I just stopped and felt such gratitude. It was a feeling of being useful and sharing a bit of my own helpfulness and support. It was also goofy enough to break the tension. I’m sure the students who don’t remember my name will at least remember me as “The Stress Guy.” The counselor/spiritual director side of me knew that sometimes students don’t need an hour of sitting down with me. Some just need a bit of a tension release. The preacher in me felt the spirit of St Francis (or whoever said) say “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words!” I felt smart, and amongst medical students who are obviously brilliant people, I felt amazingly intuitive and intelligent.

But it’s not about me, it’s about these students.

Being on a secular campus is tough. Nobody goes to UB for the Campus Ministry as they might at Notre Dame or Fordham or Catholic U. So it’s up to me to get them to discover us. Numbers at mass are up this year. So that’s a plus. But it’s not about numbers, it’s about influencing a campus with the spirit of the living, breathing God. The God who breaks our tension. The God who occasionally makes us laugh. The God who is restless and cannot bear to not reconnect with us. The God who stretches out his arms in love and calls us to do the same.

Today, pray for all students and campus ministers that they might be able to influence one another and live in the dynamic tension of University Life.