Bowling Night! (And a good one!)

213. 234. 279. 726 series.  Ah, yes, a very nice and refreshing night.  I may have learned a little something about not dropping my shoulder and following through.  Just maybe.

And while we were at it, my team considered that the Final Four is in Houston and how great it would be if we could go, and it would be a dream for me.  Two semis and a final for 400 bucks or so?  Sign me up…I think.  Oh, I hope the budget works it out!  It is in Houston and we have some great possible teams- Kansas, Ohio State, Texas, Duke, Pitt, Nova, Notre Dame, Purdue, BYU, Arizona, Syracuse…could be some awesome possibilities!!!!

Sacred Sites and Sounds

This weekend I got to participate in three different faith groups.  I attended a program called Sacred Sounds, Sacred Sites, which invites people interested in the cultures surrounding faith groups to watch, learn, and participate in their symbolic worship.  I attended the Chinmaya Prabha Mission (Hindu), the Vietnam Buddhist Mission, and then attended Congregation Brith Shalom.   All of them were fascinating.

At the Chinmaya Mission, we participated in a tradition puja (or worship service), listened to chanting, watched dancers, observed art from one of their Epics, and discussed the symbolism and philosophy of Hinduism, which all culminated in a sense that Hindu was a way of life seeking after happiness through duty and interconnection.

At the Buddhist Mission, I participated in a traditional silent meditation, observed a traditional chanting service by the monks, watched a Buddhist youth group perform a Lion Dance to bring happiness and a good year, and learned about Buddhism’s drive to connect with oneself, find focus, and learn your self and balance in your interactions with the world.  It was intriguing as claims were made that one could be a Buddhist as well as another faith, signifying it may be more of a way of life.

At Congregation Brith Shalom, I heard the traditional sounds of the shofar (ram’s horn), chanting of Scripture, contemporary and traditional forms of singing, observed Torah procession and the poignant Torah honor, and saw up close the handwritten and beautiful Torah.  We discussed the Shema and the Ten Commandments, the differences between Orthodox and Conservative Jews, and the nature of music as engaging the community.

They were all wonderful and powerful and poignant in their own special ways.  As a hospital chaplain who deals with multiple faiths, I want to know what a worshipful and faithful life is like for other groups.  Each has differences, but there are commonalities.  The role of community, the sacred feelings of awe associated with chanting, the valuing of tradition, and the search for identity.  It was wonderful indeed, and it was a incredible pleasure to participate.  I look forward to having some more meaningful interactions with these faiths and others.  And by the way, we shared in traditional cultural foods at each location- and the foods were knock out winners all the way!

May God, wherever God may be and however God communicates meaning and welcome and identity and purpose to you, bless you with his presence and with a genuine and vibrant life in the present, where God always is.

D & D.

On every Wednesday at the hospital, one of the chaplains is supposed to provide for Donuts and Devotional.  It doesn’t always have to be donuts- and it never will be with me.  The first time I baked a sausage frittata and pumpkin muffins, and this time I will be providing bagels from the Jewish bakery, New York Bagels, and whipped cream cheese.  Those bagels might just be the best in the city hands down.  But this is not what I wanted to write about.

I am stuck, as usual, on the devotion side of things.  What I believe I have settled on are two options: my favorite picture and inviting reflection on dreams and risks (its a picture I have posted before), or a talk-through one of my own dreams realized, dream left open scene of my scrapbook from my year in Florence.  The scrapbook isn’t finished, and partially because I started at the end of the trip and shortly thereafter my grandmother passed and I just didn’t have the heart to start my scrapbook again.  But it has some intriguing quotes and pictures that tug at my heart.  At the castle in Germany, I make the observations that Cinderella’s castle was a reality, and wonder what dreams are a reality for me.  I make observations on friendships and relationships long past but were burned on my heart, almost forgotten amongst painful memories of loss of loved ones and the abandonment by God.  Both the picture and the scrapbook speak to a world forgotten by me, but a world I am trying to find again: a world of dreams, dreams that don’t stop at 17 years old when I kissed my first girl (it happened that late?!), or 18 when I lived in Florence or Osaka, or 20 years old when I graduated as the first college graduate in my family or 27 when I started the career that I love, or when I get married or have kids or buy my first house.

A world of dreams that is a reality.  The dream of being loved.  The dream of being held by God.  The dream of taking risks because I want to.  The dream of “home”- a place or people where I have roots.  The dream of intimacy, of trust.  Are these the dreams that get burned on our hearts and become reality?  And what is the role of God in all of this?  How does God find a way into these dreams?  That’s a good question- one to really imagine.  Oh, what D & D has already done!

What a food fan’s night!

So tonight, I started cooking.  And found that I was going out to dinner.  So what did my afternoon look like?

3:54pm: A banana, honey, vanilla smoothie at Smoothie Factory.  Absolutely delish!

5:25pm: I put the finishing touches on Italian Sausage soup.  The ingredients: sweet italian sausage, shredded carrot, shredded zucchini, italian style stewed tomoatoes, cannellini beans, spinach, garlic, and broth.  It is so simple and takes about 20-25 minutes to make once everything is cut and ready in a mise-en-place of sorts.  This recipe is freakin fantastic and tasty it blows my mind!

6:15pm: A restaurant named “Cajun Made” on West Bellfort.  My friend Thornley had a crawfish etouffee.  I had blackened catfish, blackened shrimp, collard greens, a sweet roll, and a really good salad.  That blackening seasoning was so sweet and spicy, I was loving every second of licking it off my fingertips.  And the catfish fillet and shrimp were fresh and tasty.  The greens were spicy and special!  I love this place.  With a real passion.

7:15pm: Dessert from “Cajun Made” that I bought to go.  It is a sweet potato bar.  How do i describe it?  Well, it is sweet potato pie but without a pie crust, but it has a crust of sorts.  I love sweet potato pie.  But that doesn’t do this thing justice.  The best way to describe it is simply love on a plate.  It tastes like rich decadent and creamy pie.  Fabulous!

What a night!  I am well satisfied to say the least!

My Persistent Anxiety

Today, I learned about a child’s funeral from my previous difficult two weeks.  And knowing that has just blown the top of my anxiety.  I feel it in my chest.  I feel it throughout my head and I just can’t focus on much.  My body can’t sit still and my mind is all over the place.  It is a difficult tension to have right now.

But here’s the twist.  Another chaplain and I shared duties and we both shared our love and compassion for this child, and he was asked to do the funeral.  It struck me very selfishly- I was selfish about it.  I was selfish out of my anxiety.  And I think I am realizing this for the first time.  The way that i answer my anxiety usually is through selfishness and I suck all my fear of wanting to care for that child as clearly as possible into a “I need to do that funeral for the family…” sort of way.  Do you see how the selfishness is the exhaust for the anxiety?  The only way I can cover my anxiety is to be recognized and lauded.  It’s helplessness and fear.  Unless “I” get that responsibility, that recognition, I feel like I can’t help that family grieve.  I feel like I can’t help that baby live any longer.  That’s a powerful insight for me.  Now I sort of understand why I would respond like that in the past.  Maybe now I can learn to share in the blessing for my fellow chaplain who will have a privilege to walk with this family once again.

(By the way, this chaplain has words for me.  He has the gifts I need to learn.  I can see his compassion for this family and presence for them.   But I also was the recipient of his interpretive eyes on my project on a particular Children’s floor.  I thought that the only way to know that I was successful was to watch the scores for an emotional question, as though I needed the recognition.  But that “recognition” only covers the anxiety of wanting to help and be faithful and effective.  Instead, that faithfulness and effectiveness, as he looked at it, would be measured by how the nurses and staff responded to referrals and how the referrals changed to be appropriate and helpful and interactive.  And they have.  Once again, anxiety being covered by my selfish desire for recognition so I could feel helpful.  I really am working through this, and I really am not that selfish on the whole- just vulnerable!)

So the anxiety persists.  I suppose the anxiety will sit for a while.  Even at the funeral as I want to cry too.

Tough Times

I knew this would be a tough time in the Children’s Hospital.  But I feel like I have been punched in the gut by the events of the last two weeks.

Event 1: My call shift two weeks ago was inundated with 4 deaths, a person with Stage 4 cancer, and a doctor-patient consult.  Those deaths brought families that were navigating the grief of denial, anger, disbelief, and brokenness.  And I felt it too.  I also saw it, as one of victims was beaten and burned and whose flesh was peeling off by the touch.  And I smelled that grief too.  Full of tears, sweat, and burned flesh too.  Truly emptying.

Event 2: I baptized two babies some time ago.  The family was precious and beautiful.  But those children passes away, one that morning, and another two weeks later.  That second child’s death was brutal.  That family was losing a full piece of their life, both twins, with all the hope of a shared life and the gratefulness of the impossible gift.  Baptizing them was sacred, seeing them die was heartbreak and lament.

Event 3: A family I met on my second call shift back in October came full circle. Another set of twins.  But this time, after 4 months, one child went home.  Yet the other would not get better.  Instead this child would swell to gross portions as the body could not flush itself.  The baby seemed distorted, pained, and helpless.  I watched as a family broke deciding how and when to let go, and when it did, it was truly heartbreaking, painful, and completely emptying.  Helpless, sad, despair, broken, shattered, and speechless.

How do we, I, move forward with the memory still living.  I remember, and cry, and remember and let these lives that have blessed me continue on through my life and memory.   And maybe thank God for their lives, those families, and the blessings they brought.  Even through tough times.

It’s Too Cold

As a native Southern Californian I am not used to cold weather.  In fact, I do not pretend that cold weather is even fun.  I think I might if I had the right clothing but that is just not the way it is.  I have a windbreaker and a thin jacket and that is it.  If it really freezes over, I am in trouble.  No gloves and no long johns.  It really is strange.

Just as a note, it has been around the 35 degree mark, 10 degrees above or below for just about the last month no matter where I have been, whether that is Riverside CA or Abilene TX or Houston TX.  It’s too damn cold.  Cold to the bone.  So so cold.

But friends are helping me out with the gloves and stuff.  (I have good friends.  It takes a lot just to say that.  But the list goes on of good friends, many of which I never realized or accepted were good friends.)  Instead of being left in the cold I get the joy of, well, being cared for.  But it is amazing what being bundled up can do for an attitude.  Instead of being bitter like the weather I act a lot nicer.  Instead of talking about how brutal it is and complaining, I become much more calm and understanding.  And frankly my hands and feet are warmer.   Even the small provision of gloves can be a game changer for me!  So much adjustment for the Southern Californian!

Beaten and bruised?

Well.  This certainly was a day at the hospital.  It is no doubt that going through CPE is sometimes more than you think.  Patient visits can be difficult and emotionally and physically draining.  But the CPE part of the residency?  That can be difficult…

I’m already a reflective person- always thinking about why and what I am doing or going to do.  But this is an exhausting experience.  I started the day pretty cautiously ready for the day, but as I saw the verbatim (a visit that is recorded, written, assessed, and theologized) time coming I just did not feel like engaging.  From that point on, I felt disengaged and guarded- not necessarily defensive but guarded.

And there were a number of complicating factors which went into that feeling.  I felt disappointed that I didn’t have a great verbatim, simply because it just did not have depth and because it was written out of my haste at the end of the week.  That disappointment with myself was added to my disappointment with my supervisor and my group for reasons that may not be so good or helpful or insightful.  I got really frustrated because it seems like instead of exploring our group (especially me) assesses and advises, but does not explore and truly empathize.  They always mean well and really identify with me, but I don’t feel it.  And I am sure, no I know, that I do the same things.  So the disappointment and disengaging grew there.  But add to that the frustration of not knowing how I should use my supervisor’s style appropriately and wanting to engage that relationship, and the disappointment and disengaging grows.  And I realized that I was still disparaged by the moments where I worked with a Lutheran lady and in asking about her desire for communion felt like I did not communicate appropriately and then it resulted in me not feeling like my notes and report were trusted (and that was two weeks ago!).  Really, it came down to not communicating well, not being untrusted- but that feeling has stuck with me, that’s for sure.  During my own verbatim I noticed how disengaged I became, especially as at points I felt assessed and not understood.  In a sense the verbatim left me as the focus and there was a mini sermon given that I didn’t connect with (the point was very helpful for my peers, but not so much for me).  The problem I guess during my verbatim with being understood is that I don’t know how angry I am with God.  In fact, when the conversation got to the god-talk once again, I felt helpless- or that feeling of “not again!”  You see, I am disappointed with where to go in that conversation because it is perhaps not really anger at God (I don’t know if I have really ever addressed God with any feelings or prayers in a long time).  My relationship with God is one of resignation- sometimes I just don’t care what “God” is up to or doing in a visit and if I am angry or in despair because of a suffering child, I direct it at those who allow it to continue and have resigned any role that God may have anywhere in the situation.  And I really don’t feel like trying to figure that out really.  The frustrating part about all of that is that sometimes that goes so well and I seem to have some mysterious relationship with God, one way or another (honest faith, honest doubt, and probably some dishonest doubt).  So all of that was going on within me as well.  Further, I was also struck by the theme of inadequacy, which in all actuality was helpful in identifying where my issues with the ministry in the verbatim emerged from.  But it sounds so ideal to accept my inadequacy and therein I find release and peace.  What about the skills and talents and character I bring to the table?  It is a constant struggle for someone who already has a framework of natural inadequacy and self critique to understand that point.  Not that it was wrong about me, but that the insight of being inadequate just sort of feels like being beaten and bruised and left on the road by the Samaritan.  And then on top of all that?  Or maybe before it all and in it all- tiredness and exhaustion.  Sleep has not been good.  And when that happens, I am so eager to disengage and leave the room and distance myself to a guarded position.

So there you go.  That’s what CPE awareness will do.  All of that going on within me.  A lot of disappointment, disengaging, agitation, and uncertainty.  Uncertainty with myself and my identity as a pastoral caregiver and a person. It’s the struggle between who I am and well, who I am.  Processing this is important- a positive step in the right direction for me.  And I feel like this is just a difficult day in a long string of better ones, especially if I can get a good night’s rest.  But this CPE awareness stuff just hasn’t always felt like release and freedom.  More like being beaten and bruised and left on the road, without a Samaritan.

Back again…

Yes.  This week I have returned to the great west that is Abilene.  Except not as I left it.  I left it on a very hot day on May 30 in 2010 and returned to an 18 degree frozen town.  It has been 8 months since I have been back in Abilene, and I am here to see some of my great friends and family- Jeremy, Chai, the ladies at Grace Home, and my little from BBBS, Blue.  This is quite special.  But it is so interesting.

I have changed a little since the last time I was here.  Abilene not so much.  Jeremy and Chai still live in the same place.  The same really great house with the same great pictures with the same great food and the same great and incredible dog Buck.  The town is still small, and still has that feeling of being too small to me.  It has the same dust drawn areas, even if covered in some version of white powder now.  The town still lacks many of the ethnic food I l love in Houston (Vietnamese, Indian…).  But I no longer come here with trepidation and that feeling of loneliness.  Not because I live somewhere else but because I have changed.  I changed in that…

– I go to the gym on a regular basis and work out and lift weights as though I were actually a self confident person.

– I cook a lot.  When I came to Abilene I thought I wanted to cook but never really did.  I cook all kinds of food too.

– I wear beanies and layer my clothes.  Can you believe I lived in Abilene and never layered clothes because I thought it was uncomfortable, even in the bitter cold.

– I actually can speak my feelings now.  I was so passive and afraid to actually share my perspective much- but now I feel confident give feedback and my thoughts.

– I watch movies.  What?  WHAT?  Yes.  I regularly watch movies on Netflix and go out to the movies at least once a month, which is unreal considering that I refused to go watch movies as a undergraduate and discouraged my family from seeing movies as a kid.  All kinds of movies- dramas, comedies, documentaries…love those in particular.

– I drive a different car- a new car.  No it doesnt mean that I am wealthy but that I was driving something that was older, beat up, and reflected a certain stage of my life in Abilene.  Faded, beat up, and not really fitting into a particular style.  Now I drive a car that is extremely reliable, fun, and at least it is new- so it has a cool look that I can keep up according to how I like and is my car and my car only (no cosigners!).

– I work full time at a hospital doing what I love to do and feel skilled doing.  In some sense I have arrived upon some of my dreams rather than waiting on those dreams.  But that full time job also speaks to a routine I could not have as a student in Abilene.

– Ultimately, I have a more secure identity.  I am still self critical and have my moments of feeling inadequate and unwanted.  But I feel like I have a home, an identity to claim and people who I faithfully claim as confidants and sojourners.  I don’t need to feel lonely going through the small town and to a place of wilderness like Abilene because I don’t need Abilene or any other town or any other friends to make me feel good or successful or faithful.  I can witness to that through my own “home,” my identity.  What comes in those other relationships is somewhat a gift of life.  I find hope, meaning, and significance in my identity- a more confidently claimed identity that begin with emerging from the need to please or find blessing through others.  Thus, I have changed.  Life is more free this way I suppose.  Free enough to let me come back again to Abilene.  Ha!