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How bees carried this patient counselor from Lebanon to VCU

Lea Lahoud, children's book author and pastoral care student. (Photo by Tom Kojcsich)
Lea Lahoud, children's book author and pastoral care student. (Photo by Tom Kojcsich)

The French drama “Of Gods and Men” is what initially piqued Lea Lahoud’s interest in bees. Watching the film at home in Byblos, Lebanon, with her three brothers, Lahoud recalls being mesmerized by the beekeeping rituals of the eight Trappist monks in the film, which is based on actual events from the Algerian Civil War.

“Bees teach us that the impossible can be reached,” Lahoud said. “Despite their little thin wings, they are able to carry their heavy bodies and fly far away.”

The Virginia Commonwealth University patient counseling graduate grew up on the east coast of Lebanon. A devout Catholic, she joined the Lebanese Maronite Order when she was in her early 20s. At the convent where she lived for 12 years, Lahoud maintained 45 beehives. She studied nursing then switched to graphic design and multimedia, but working with the bees inspired her to dream bigger.

In May 2017, Lahoud left her Mediterranean seaside home and traveled 5,800 miles to pursue a dream of becoming a hospital chaplain and providing spiritual care for people when they are most vulnerable. Lahoud graduated from the VCU College of Health ProfessionsDepartment of Patient Counseling in August, but like the bees in “Of Gods and Men,”her journey has not been without challenges.

“Like the bees, we too are invited to be brave and to keep jumping over obstacles to reach our goals,” Lahoud said.

Lahoud published "The Sister and the Bee," an illustrated children's book, in 2016. (Courtesy image)
Lahoud published "The Sister and the Bee," an illustrated children's book, in 2016. (Courtesy image)

When she arrived at VCU, Lahoud immediately encountered difficulties as an international student, especially with hospital terminology.  

“I heard lots of words that I did not understand, especially during orientation week,” Lahoud said. “When I first went to my assigned floor to begin clinical hours, I was looking at the badges of nurses trying to guess what RN meant. I thought, ‘Is it Red Nose? Is it Roasted Nuggets?’”

While the language barrier proved difficult to overcome, she said her most challenging transition was not wearing the religious habit she was accustomed to donning every day. At VCU Medical Center, where she currently works in pastoral care, Lahoud follows a business casual dress code.

“At home in my convent, there are strict rules we must follow, but here everyone is carefree,” she said.

In her community, Lahoud was known as “The Fixer.” If anything needed fixing, such as a chair, shoes, glasses, cars, generators or computers, she was the person to whom people turned.

She brought that self-sufficiency to her role at VCU.

“Since coming to VCU, Lea has taken her own initiative to assimilate and learn our culture,” said Angela Flack, an assistant professor in the Department of Patient Counseling. “She has taken responsibility for her own ability to be successful.”

For a while, Lahoud thought she could fix all the problems she encountered, but she soon learned there were some challenges for which she would need help. “Humans have limits,” she said. “There are many things we cannot fix in life.”

For example, a few weeks ago after working a night shift, Lahoud encountered a person breaking into her car.

“I called VCU Police and I am amazed at how quickly they arrived and how nice and caring they were,” Lahoud said.

After encountering multiple difficulties with her car and being helped by VCU Police, Lahoud drew a picture of her experiences. (Courtesy image)
After encountering multiple difficulties with her car and being helped by VCU Police, Lahoud drew a picture of her experiences. (Courtesy image)

Another time while driving in Virginia, her car tire blew out in the middle of the highway. While she was attempting to fix it, the police arrived to help.

“I am so grateful to the police in this country,” Lahoud said.

Before embarking on her journey to VCU, Lahoud published an illustrated children’s book poignantly called “The Sister and the Bee.” The autobiography chronicles the many life lessons that bees teach.

Through the challenges she faced in the past year, Lahoud relied on her faith, the people around her, and the lessons she learned from her bees to stay motivated.

“Bees were my best leaders in religious life,” Lahoud said. “They teach us conviction. None of them have their own jar of honey hidden somewhere, but all live and share the graces of their lives.”

Like her bees, despite the obstacles Lahoud faced, she persevered. She will soon return to Lebanon where she plans to open a pastoral care program for elderly people at a nursing home built by her monastery. She looks forward to applying the skills she learned at VCU to her chaplaincy practice.

“I am passionate about ministry,” Lahoud said. “My plan is to take what I learned here at VCU to make our elderly community members in our nursing home — Beit Rafqa — feel loved, heard and understood during difficult times in their life.”