A 9-pin Tragedy.

Surely if you know me you know I love bowling.  And I love being good at bowling.  But this?  Weeks of 160’s and 180’s with small glimmers of hope in those high 210’s?  This is not the way it was supposed to be when I started this league.  I finished with a 212 average and really bowl well by bowling with feel, not accuracy.

Now I am averaging 200 and barely making 620 series these days.  I am not sure what the problem exactly is.  But I know that there are a few factors.  First, I have completely changed what type of ball I throw, because I lost enough weight in my fingers that throwing my big hook never had the same grip.  And considering the alley I bowl in favors the straighter shot, a new ball was needed anyway.  Second, I got a new ball rather than redrill the old one.  It was beat up- this one is fresh and is mine from the get go and is drilled appropriately.  Between a different bowling style (big hook to straight in) and a different ball, it has been a difficult go of resetting myself and finding my style and how I through this new ball.

I show glimpses here and there.  I rolled a 236 and 212 tonite but sandwiched that with a 176 that was really inconsistent.  When I can manage to sandwich three good ones together, and surpass the 650 mark on a regular basis, I will be pleased again.  At least I would love to roll a couple 700’s in a row.  But it is slow progress.  Exactly what I don’t like.  But I need to learn to be pleased with the 620 and roll that consistently before I cry foul about not getting those 700’s.  Or it could really be a tragedy in the making.

Am I really this serious about bowling?

So this is what it feels like?

So this is what it feels like to be downtrodden?  To be crushed, deflated, depressed, twisted, and emptied of life.  This is what it is like evidently.  Because after that shift yesterday at the hospital, I feel every bit of it.  Four deaths, people with Stage 4 cancer, heart attacks, burn victims whose skin was peeling off and whose rooms smelled like burned flesh, families in denial, and helpless elderly ladies whose husbands died too suddenly.  It really felt like too much.  It took me to the end of my rope, emptied me out like balloon slashed by a butcher’s knife.  It felt brutal.  By the time 8pm came around, I had nothing to give any of my patients and had nothing to offer in terms of care and love.

In fact, what I felt was being empty of meaning.  I felt like I was helpless, disengaged from the world, and horribly broken.  These families were broken and the sights I saw and the sounds I heard and the smells I smelled broke my heart- broke my heart because those sights and smells and feelings were too much.  So this is what it feels like.  To be broken and empty.  It feels like being run over twenty times and then being snapped like a twig and thrown into a fire.  It leaves no energy, a lack of emotions, no motivation, and an overwhelming languishing.  It left me feeling unable to talk through a whole conversation, because I just wanted to get away and curl up into a ball.  It was hard to want to be with people- hard to smile and hard to enjoy much.  So this is what it feels like- to be broken, empty, and downtrodden.  I know now.

God in the midst of this brokenness, thank you for people who made the recovery a healing through their hospitality, welcome, and listening.  May you continue to be found, even as an intimate stranger, in the midst of the brokenness.

A Sense of Gift and Grace

So, at a baby shower recently, I watched as a five year old vigorously helped her mother ripping open gifts and loving everything her mother got.  She was thrilled.  And then, after opening another gift, looking it up and down and all over, proclaimed to the world that “Hey, it’s made in China! That’s so awesome!”  I laughed so hard at this proclamation because she got a kick out of something so small and ordinary and normal, but to her it was a sense of gift.  In a way, her gratefulness in life allowed her to see something usually sense in such a negative light with such a profound sense of the gift and its value.

Another story.  I was helping with Wednesday bible class at church and after watching a child open a door for another, said that “Ladies go first, gentleman last.”  Looking to stump like a good adult, I asked what was second.  He proclaimed without a thought and said “horses.”  He then walked away without giving it a second thought while I was thrown aback by his quick answer.  It is foolishness in a way.  But again, to have the sense of gift- really a sense of grace where gratefulness and an open regard to the world are the norm- is to open ourselves to a world of wonder, that we can be thankful for and positively embrace, even when those things are foolishness.

What am I saying really?  It is in these small things, these ordinary and foolish phrases that I am reminded what it means to have a sense of grace.  To open ourselves to the world in trust and wonder, and suspending the need to please or be pleased or succeed.  To have an unconditional regard for the world, in all its childish foolishness and find laughter among the ordinary and gratefulness amongst the darkness.  I look back to a movie I watched not too long ago, “The Soloist.”  In that movie a homeless man has an incredible gift to play music, whether on a violin or cello.  It is an amazing gift.  Beautiful gift.  But so many in the movie, including the main character, Robert Downey Jr., come with a sense of duty to that gift rather than a sense of grace.  They try to help him show off and proclaim his gift as part of the friendship- but the key is in the grace of giving unconditional regard to this man in his perplexing and isolating mental disease and being present with him.  Instead of finding the gift amongst the popularity and performance, it is the grace of being grateful for that man, for the notes that powerfully dance off his strings, and being foolishly open to the applause of wings of birds and the beauty of relationship.  Instead of looking at the world as a gift if it meets conditions, we instead open ourselves to life in a way that treasures those gifts- the people, the music, nature, friendship, presence, community, faith- because they are gifts in and of themselves.  To open ourselves like that with a beautiful gratefulness is to have a real sense of grace.  It is not easy.  I have trouble thanking God for those small and ordinary things and find myself drawn to bitterness and cynicism.  But I want that measure of grace.  I want that sense of grace where I find myself open to the world as a gift, not as an enemy or competitor or duty.

Journey with me God, journey with us, and let us see your grace which permeates this world, and find the grace and the gifts of life in and around one another.  Amen.


Inadequacy, Shame, and Loneliness

So it started just the other day.  It started when I felt really frustrated because I spent almost all day in CPE didactics and then supervision and then NICU rounds.  By the time I went through all of that I had a seeming small amount of time for visits, perhaps only an hour and a half.  I felt frustrated by the lack of time to visit.  It was a mix of being perplexed, being hungry for more, and disappointment.  I was disappointed because when I only have that small amount of time, I feel anxious while I am doing visits because I feel the pressure of all the needs that I cannot take care of or even begin to take care of.  On a normal 4-5 hour visit day, there are more needs than anyone could handle.  But on those minimized days, I can barely follow up with the major report needs and I cannot even take care of those tasks I have been given like seeing all the Children’s Center admits.  It seems too much.  But I feel like I am failing my duties to the patients and at times I feel like I cannot follow through with the tasks that I have been given- if that is the case I struggle with being disappointed but also feeling like a disappointment.   That’s a real issue.  I doubt my supervisors would be upset because they are fully aware of the issues.  They know I have a full slate.  But I feel like I am letting down, not keeping my duties.  That s frustrating- and I don’t seem to reframe those days and look at them as a gift or simply days I don’t do visits or see them as okay period.

That frustration, errr, inadequacy continued the day after.  I wanted to talk through my frustration with someone, but instead of processing and seeking to release, I held the emotions in and let them eat me all day long.  That led to me not speaking much, not engaging much, not interacting much with my peers.  It led to me putting distance between me and others.  It led to me being resistant to speaking at all- resisting the chance of participating in conversations and sharing my stories when everyone else was sharing theirs.  it is a major issue.  I just held in all my thoughts and emotions.  It was powerfully bitter and isolating.  But I just don’t know how to debrief and process.  Or in some situations I just am afraid.  Perhaps ashamed of sharing my inadequacy.  Perhaps I am ashamed not of being inadequate- but ashamed of my loneliness.  I know and have always known and have always treated myself like an inadequate failure.  That’s pretty normal actually.  But I am ashamed because I just don’t have any intimate friends with whom to talk.  No relationships with which to share my pain.

It then becomes a matter of loneliness, inadequacy, and shame.  And then I start being bitter and resisting others.  I don’t use my group then.  I don’t use my supervisors then.  I don’t seek help or seek release.  And I turn it all inwards and then play with all the possibilities of removing myself further- which usually are attention grabbers from others.  But that is shameful in and of itself- because instead of debriefing and taking the initiative to get help, I shut down my pain until my actions scream in unhealthy ways for attention.  That is both isolating and shameful.  That’s kind of sad.  I hope to keep progressing, but it always seems to be the same cycle.

A Sermon Well Done…

Yesterday I preached at church.  It was the first time since I have been attending this church.  And it was new, challenging, and really fun.  But it was also agonizing.  I don’t remember spending so much time editing and practicing and then changing up the grammar and making spontaneous additions where I needed.  But I did.  And it was crazy.

The way the sermon went was vastly different than the thing I started with.  It was well done really.  I spent much less time than I realized I would looking at the manuscript.  I had a manuscript but I guess there was just a natural-ness about speaking that I felt so comfortable and had fun preaching my sermon.  Instead of feeling wooden (to me), it felt natural, it felt engaging- at least I felt that others were engaged and that my style was connecting.  It also felt relieving to not have to speak from the pulpit, to walk in and amongst the people, to make jokes, to look up and ad lib from the script and then catch up with the manuscript without missing a beat.

It was well done.  I preached 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, a text that could be a deathwish to a first time preacher at a church- but I delivered it with honesty and genuineness, at least I hope so.  It was a text that cuts near to me about self-centeredness and humility, the old identity and transformation.  It hits near to me because I am a very self centered person.  I know what it is like not to meet some people because I like feeling comfortable and interacting with the chosen few.  I don’t like sharing with people I don’t like, or people who are a little different.  The housemate I have is a wonderful person, but it is so hard to share my things because I get worried about whether my dishes will be clean, whether I will get any of the food I buy- but that is all a bunch of distrust and a lack of intimacy- the profound problems with self centeredness.  The question I must always ask, as I invited my congregation to think about: where does the power of the cross transform me?  Where must the power of the cross transform me?  I got the message from my sermon.  Hopefully others felt the same.  But it was a sermon well done in review.  Thanks be to God!

A Little Prayer

So at church I help with a children’s bible class, and recently I was asked to be prayer partners for one of the kids.  My little guy is Steven, and a wonderful kid he is.  We got to talk for more than 30 minutes about all of the things going on in his life- all of which I could identify with in my childhood in one way or another.

He asked me to pray for his family- for his sister and his mother.  And immediately I could tell how normal it was for him to come out of a broken family and to not have his dad around.  But there was no sense of brokenness from his voice- perhaps a smidge of disappointment.  He wanted to hope he could go home to Guatemala at some point.He asked for prayer about school and about those darn TAKS tests.  He is a good and smart kid, but sometimes these tests can be overwhelming and intimidating.  They make him feel like he isn’t going to pass- which is not exactly the best way to go into a test.  And the sense of industry and initiation that his age of children seek- the TAKS test deflates those needs, and instead of being productive and making do on their own, they find their growth stifled.  It’s a sense of fear and being scared.  It was an honest request.

And of course, he asked for prayers for Valentines Day.  And I truly identified with him there.  I pray about my hopes and dreams for Valentines Day all the time, and I will be thinking about his efforts too.  Funny how those things work.  He is trying- he is becoming a young man- with all the ups and downs…and I love every bit of it.

Lord, hear his prayers.

“My Little Child”

“Because of the gracious love so perfectly revealed in the life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.”

And so it begins.  A life with God- among his people and in God’s story.  It is a precious moment to be a part of, sacred even.  And I got to to do it this past Saturday.  Two twins at my NICU, both barely new to the world and fragilely in critical condition.  The parents invited me to baptize their babies, fresh into the world and perhaps soon to be exiting.  But that baptism meant so much.  To them, and to me, it meant that they were inviting God into their lives in a significant way, as well as naming God’s precious and fragile grace to them.  It also reflected welcome and love.  It was all those parents could do for those children- they could baptize them and share in my prayer that God would hold their children in his arms like he has done for all other creatures during their dark and fragile times.  It betrayed a sense of desperation and uncertainty- for the world was caving in on these parents and all they could think was God’s mysterious presence in the world and meant that even in their short moments these precious babies might not be alone and without love- and that presence was given even if they are not aware.

I imagine though in those times that I baptize that in those small little hearts and minds, they hear the voice of God who tells them, “Little child, I am here, and I always was and will be.”  It is not that God wasn’t there before, but now they have been announced and welcomed into the kingdom of God.  It is like a noisemaking toy before a baby is forgotten when a child looks away.  The toy is still there like God’s presence, but that baby may not know it.  Maybe then it is as though at baptism God’s voice whispers to that baby, “Little child, I am here, and so are my people- here for you, my little child.”  Maybe I am off on that.  Perhaps.  Nonetheless, I know that in baptism the people watching and the parents affirming are making steps of faith, proclaiming their gift and announcing their desires, and confessing God’s mysterious presence in the world, even when little day old babies die.  That’s sacred.  That’s worth participating in.

A Blind Man and a Leper

Don’t ask why I live with an elderly man who is very sweet but very different.  Don’t ask why he leaves things on the counter open all the time.  Don’t ask why the coffee sits made for four days as warms up a little at a time.  Don’t ask why he refrigerates everything.  Don’t ask why he doesn’t seem to be able to throw anything away much to my chagrin.  Don’t ask why he always says life is wonderful.

At least I try not to ask.  We are such different people.  I am a chaplain whose task in life since birth was to lament and bowl.  He is blind, 85 years old and looks at everything very simplistically.  I love technology…and he is a little distant from it.  I hear well, and perhaps a little too well.  He,is well, hearing impaired.  He loves to thank God, and I love to lament God.  He loves to talk and debrief and share the little things of the day, and I am a silent type who keeps his cards close.  But we manage I think.

But in some ways I wonder about how I communicate.  I think I am so concerned about letting him in on everything I do.  I afraid of being parented again.  I fear that I will lose some of my own control- or maybe my independence.  I know that often I am uncomfortable because I am not sure I trust him with that information.  You see, I share myself when people seem not only genuinely concerned but also listen and hear my joys and struggles and concerns.  With this man, his genuine interest comes across as nosiness sometimes.  I don’t want him asking how my date went.  I don’t want to answer about how my day went and all the deaths or jarring visits I had.

What I think this means is not that I want to hide my entire life from him, but that I don’t want to feel like he needs to know everything- that he is clingy.  I don’t like feeling like someone is clinging and I usually try to avoid being that to others.  I actually want to interact more but need to find a way to not be a leper who excises himself from others (specifically this man) and instead interacts with more honesty as I would to my others friends.  Genuine honesty…letting him know what is too far…letting him know boundaries.  Because perhaps the blind man who sees my presence as companionship isn’t too far off.  Perhaps I can let his presence be a companionship too.  If I can allow myself to trust that I will be honest later on.  And that may help both of us too.  A blind man and a leper.  Hmmm…

Asking why in an answerless world…

Today at the hospital I watched a three day old child go through surgery.  Desperate, critical, emergency surgery.  I watched almost speechless as this little vulnerable and needy creature became even more desperate.  It was hard to believe that such a tiny and fragile and beautiful child could be in such a critical condition.  Many ask, “why a child God?”

That child is beautiful, but that child is terribly sick- and while terribly innocent too.  I felt awful.  I felt empty.  I felt strangely helpless and dispossessed from any sort of security.  It was as though my heart was sucked out of me- I mean my body was cold and my chest was tight.  I genuinely felt for that child and for his poor young mother who could not do anything but be overwhelmed by the mess and chaos she got herself into as a teenager.

What I didn’t feel or what I didn’t do was ask why.  I have felt much anguish in my life and much distance from God.  But I seem to have stopped asking why.  I don’t ask anymore- perhaps out of a sense of hurt or a sense of resignation.  Perhaps it won’t solve anything.  Perhaps I believe that God won’t answer.  Or all of the above really.  What I do know is that I don’t ask why because it just doesn’t help.  It can be therapeutic, but for me no matter what happens I must believe that God cares, that God sits there with me (and us) in the pain and the anguish, and that God is a god of compassion.  I don’t ask why anymore- not because it is not good (because it is a good thing for us to lament) but because I will never get answers to why a 3 day old baby gets sick unto death and I myself must be able to move to claiming what I can experience- to what I can believe.

A Note on Civility

Sure, I am very saddened by the shootings in Tucson- saddened by the loss of lives (not the loss of a judge by the simple idea of a life lost); saddened by the news that at least 12 others are wounded; saddened by the frightful things seen by those eyes around that supermarket.

But I am also angry.  Yes, at the gunman; his horrible actions are devastating in bringing fear and arrogance and terror upon others.  But I am really angry because I saw it coming.  No, I didn’t predict that this exact event was going to happen.  But I, like other reflective observants, could foresee this kind of behavior when our society allows and encourages the kind of bitter, dehumanizing rhetoric to fly at others that in our speech we consider villains and enemies.  Politicking will be politics, but the fear monghering by many in the recent years has been shamefully appalling.  When we as a society allow others to not just express our beliefs in free speech but rather to express the lack of humanity, intelligence, and barbed attempts at attacking others faith or patriotism, we encourage people to take the law in their hands.  When free speech becomes so sacred, when “America” becomes so sacred, when the Constitution becomes so sacred, when “what’s mine” becomes so sacred, and when my opinion becomes so sacred, the others are villains aren’t they- they become enemies that we not only verbally attack but we can or must shoot or bomb?

When I watched the last two years of a presidency and the last election, full of anger and hatred and belittling and highpitched rhetoric, could you see that someone who wasn’t for new health care would take the law into their own hands?  Could you look forward and find that hatred has become a sort of coin in this country that is as good to any bank?  Could you see that civility was surrendered long ago- not by one party or a faith or a person, but by a society (and I don’t buy that it’s because we lost God- see religious persecution in the colonial times or Ben Franklin’s life) and really our world?  Could you see that we were on our way to losing respect for each other simply as human beings?

I hope we can now…