My Dinner (A Good One)

My dinner tonight: Moroccan Beef Stew with Toasted Almond Couscous!

The results: fantastic!  It came from the site Meal Planning 101, and this meal was just plain good.  It has a mix of dry herbs like turmeric, cumin, cayenne, and coriander that are all very good and gives it some great complex flavor.  The almonds are all toasted and give a nice crunch, and the couscous is simply good.  On a scale of 0-5, 5 being the best things I have ever cooked, this would be a 4 out of 5.  Really, really good.

The Galveston Youth Retreat

Friday

6:45pm: I board the bus after throwing in an awful lot of stuff that I don’t think I will need like a sleeping bag and extra clothes.  I find that my seat in this large church bus is in the very back. And I am sitting alone.  No worries.  I am still plenty excited.  Commence 45 straight minutes of playing Scramble on the iPhone.  Wow.

8:45pm: Scrambling like mad to get the snacks ready for the night.  Particularly those cookies that look so good that you just spoon out of the mix and onto the pan.  Yet, in my “competition” with Chelsea and Molly, I see that after 20 minutes of cooking that my cookies are burnt on the bottom for some reason and the others cookies are perfect and fabulous.  Yikes, not a very good start.  But there are lots of M&M’s and pretzels and all sorts of wonderful snacks too that I munch on a little too much.

9:50pm: Chels and Molly and I are finished (we were the cooking support all weekend) and the kids have done their first session, learning about the schedule and the “wailing wall.” Now, it is a chance to hang with the kids and laugh and sleep.  I talk with one of the kids about his schooling, his work at a pizza place, and his desire to work hard and earn money to attend Texas Tech.  I can tell he’s gonna be great all weekend because he has a good humor.  Gotta love it.

Saturday

7:00am: Way before the kids are up I am the first one to be mulling around the house.  I go outside where I see the wonderful beauty of Galveston and the beach.  I walk down to the beach and sit at the top of the house on the balcony taking in the smells and sights and sunrise and nature began to waken.  Absolutely beautiful- nature reflecting the touch of the extraordinary creation of God.

8:00am: Breakfast for 30.  A pig on the griddle for bacon.  Light, fluffy biscuits throughout the oven.  Enough scrambled eggs to make me wish I had never seen a chicken.  But we are having fun in the kitchen, laughing and telling jokes.  I got a chance to catch up on Chels’ life and also connect and learn about Molly’s life in Abilene.  Good folks.  Breakfast is great.  No sooner than breakfast is done we are working on lunch and dinner.  60 potatoes to prep for baking.  Yikes!  All rolled in olive oil and then foiled.  Good stuff.  By the way, I was snacking the whole time.

11:00am: While I am prepping in the kitchen I get to listen to the kids as they learn from the Steve the youth minister about listening to what their lives are saying.  They look through their past stories and their present- the future stuff comes later.  Seeing these kids reflect about their lives as teenagers and claim some of the pains and blessings in their childhoods is a blessing to me.  I am impressed by their openness, and by their willingness to engage their parents as well at this retreat.  It is a time of growth for all.

12:30pm: As I am doing a trailer full of dishes, the kids come over during lunch time and we have “fun” with the dishes.  Meaning, we had a sarcastic humor battle for 30 minutes about how I was not washing the dishes efficiently and how I could do better, while I then humorously answered about their inexperience and “youthful” naivete.  Hilarious 30 minutes!  The back and forth…the sarcasm…the smiles…wonderful!

2:26pm: The beach had beckoned, and I surrendered myself to its gentle waves.  I got in and body boarded for almost 2 and half hours.  The whole time I got to hang with one of our youth, Nick, who I love being around because he is funny and has had some difficult times.  It is an honor to be a part of his life and show that Christian men can be normal, fun loving human beings too.  But really, it is just good to be able to body board with him and give him the courage to try something new and have fun too!  A side note: 2 and half hours at the beach including 20 minutes of sweet frisbee playing means a little burn on my back- but not bad!

9:35pm: I watch as each family and youth pray for another youth and their parents as they end their sessions.  They pray for each other and leave blessings, or notes, on their wailing wall.  A great opportunity to watch kids grow and speak some of their own voices, some in simple prayers, some in longer and more complex prayers, but it was incredible to watch the kids reflect some of the closeness with their families as well.

Sunday

8:15am: Another early wake-up for breakfast.  Instead, we are having a John 21 experience: some loaves and fish (communion too) on the beach off a grill, similar to that passage of Scripture.  A beautiful experience.  For 45 minutes as me and Michael Tucker get the grill ready, I get to grill on the beach in solitude with the wind and beach at my back.  (It so happens that the wind blows the grill over with the fish on it…or close to it because I save it with the back of my hand…and get a nice burn on some of my fingers!) The beauty of the experience in communion with the water behind us, reminding us of the simplicity of fellowship and the meal we share with Christ, but also the complexity of discipleship and forgiveness offered to Peter in that passage.

11:30am: Sleep.  Weird sleep.  Deep sleep.  On the way back to Houston I am beat, and so beat that I fall asleep and my jaw is hanging down the entire time, for the humor of my fellow youth on the bus!

12::00pm: I say goodbye to the youth and find myself blessed with the hugs and thank yous of parents and kids whom I deeply appreciate and treasured getting to know.  What a blessing they were to me through their humor, their commitment to growing in their discipleship, and their courage in engaging a wailing wail for how their life- its past hurts and pains and blessings, its present struggles and striving, and its future possibilities and hopes- how their lives speak to them, and thus, how God may be speaking through the intricacies of their lives.  And it was a pleasure to do it all as a support!

Thanks Steve Sargent, Chelsea Sargent, Molly, the Watsons, the Tuckers, the Montoyas, the Suarez’s, the Cunninghams, Ashley, Sherrita, and the Gibbs! (Btw, I can’t go this entire time without a shout out to one of my favorite people: Gregory Gibbs- I love how that guy knows how to love and have fun and how he makes you feel welcome- I loved his presence all weekend long!)

Beauty and….God.

I am struck this morning in Galveston by the beauty of the beach. The beauty of gentle waves retreating back into the water. The rich beauty of a fresh sun reflecting it’s rays off the soft swells of water. The beauty of a deep silence as nature and birds rouse for their daily dance before the sun. It simply is amazing. I am struck by beauty perceived by the senses of sight and sound and smell. The ocean beckons with it’s cal of gentility, refreshment, life, and a touch of the divine.

Hearing the rolling waves, watching roused birds traveling the skies toward the beach, and taking in the beautiful stillness emerging from the ocean and sky, it is hard not to see God in the beauty. God is found in the beauty of life- especially for someone like me who is driven by my senses and perception. I find in beauty the touch and mark of the one who is beautiful. But more than finding God as beautiful, I find God in the beauty, because beauty reflects peace, contentment, and awe. God will be where I see those things. I find God in the beauty of this ocean because I see God working towards this end in our lives- seeking to allow peace and beauty within the rising and setting of my life. God wants us to see the beauty of creation and wonder with awe at what beauty will be wrought in our lives. God wants us to see the beauty, because I find myself fully content there and I find God there!

The Symphony

I thought this was interesting.  I went to the Symphony on Friday night and listened to two Mozart pieces and a third piece called Scheherazade by Rimsky Korsakov (correct me if I’m wrong!). Well, let me describe how I felt attending that symphony:

As the music started playing I felt lightened, and I smiled with one of the more peaceful smiles I have ever had, and my heart genuinely floated when hearing the music.  I was taken into another world it seems.  It was sheer amazing!

You see, this is not the first symphony I have ever attended but I feel this way every time.  And for someone who didn’t really do a whole lot of music when younger, it is an experience that is new and fresh.  I can’t tell a Mozart piece from any other composer or musician.  I don’t know notes, can’t understand what makes pieces so complex or how the music is even composed.  But it all sounds beautiful.  This kind of music touches me so deeply because it is where I find God’s beauty manifested in great ways.  The harmony, the play between deep dark notes and lighter ones, the blast of Scheherazade- it is as though God is speaking to me calming and soothing words.  That’s what is so special.  I don’t know classical music, but I feel classical music.  Just about all symphonic pieces do this for me.  I find the release, the pure and genuine joy there.  I think it is really about the experience of hearing these incredible instruments.

As I reflect more, this reminds me of the pure joy I find when I am connected to others and to God.  I feel so special, like floating, when I am connected to others because it s evidence of the greater beauty of God.  Hearing an instrument reflect God’s beauty reminds me of how us humans, and myself, can reflect God’s beauty when used to the greatest of ability- we play ourselves and make a beautiful noise that makes my heart flutter.  I certainly love the Symphony and this music and how it brings a sense of joy, peace and beauty of God- but I love it even more when it is people who in being who they are reflect that same joy, peace, and beauty of God!

A Good Day

Took a day off today.

Played a round of golf and while I shot an 89, a wee bit higher than normal, I struck the ball really well and had lots of fun.

Watched the first round of the Masters and enjoyed watching beautiful golf at a beautiful course and rooting for Tiger Woods to do well.

Made fish tacos for dinner.

Watched a basketball game to finish the evening.

Oh, and I polished my resume that I will begin turning in as I apply to hospitals over the next couple months!!

A good, contenting day!

My Daily Examen

I thought I could open up my thoughts for my daily examen today:

1) What was I most grateful for and what was I least grateful for today?  I think the time I was most grateful was getting an extra 40 minutes of sleep this morning.  Instead of going to the gym I felt really exhausted and chose to go the gym.  It was an excellent decision that allowed my body some refreshment.  I think I was least grateful when I went to church this evening.  I wasn’t looking forward to it much and was feeling the clinginess tonight from Thornley.  I wasn’t so hot on going to a kids class when they are so rambunctious and so bold faced in misbehaving purposely.

2) When I give/receive the most love?  When did I give/receive the least love?  I received the most love today when I called my friend Jeremy Hegi and had a conversation that was fairly affirming and I felt accepted and cared for.  I also received a lot of love when a dear friend at church noticed that I was coming across as down or sour- just saying so felt like love because he bothered to care.  I gave the least love to Thornley this evening.  I didn’t seem to want to be a part of his life tonight and probably gave him the silent treatment most of the night.  I received the least love from another ‘friend’ who just didn’t seem so interested in having a conversation.   By the way, I received a piece of cake from one of the people I cooked for and that was a lot of love too!

3) What was the most life-giving for me today?  What was the least life giving moment?  The least life giving moment was going through a didactic about becoming board certified as a chaplain.  it is what I want to be and believe I can reflect the effective chaplaincy that it requires- yet because of my difficult consultation last Friday I actually had more and more anxiety about demonstrating those skills and competencies.  The bad memories increased my anxiety as a pattern for what might happen, even though that won’t happen when I go before the committee for board certification.   The most life giving moment happened twice actually.  I had a visit with an elderly man who lost his index finger, but loved to tell a story about his family coming from Germany, being involved on the Civil War, being captured and then volunteering for the opposing army for $100!  I loved hearing his story!  The second visit was with a man who had a stroke and lost his ability to speak.  He could only say yes or no, even though he understood and comprehended what I was asking.  I spent 30 minutes communicating through yes or no questions, presence, and sharing a prayer.  Those were beautiful times.  As an aside, I felt like there were a number of life giving things today.  I was affirmed by a nurse for doing the best I could to cover my areas, blessed in true conversation of friendship with a peer over lunch, and welcomed at church by a couple people who I really appreciate.

4) When was I most and least connected to God?  To others? To myself?  I was most connected to God when I read Psalm 81 today as part of my Lenten reading commitment.  It was a real blessing to hear God cry out to Listen to my voice.  I was also quite connected to God when I prayed with that stroke victim from earlier.  I was least connected to God when I was at church (of all places) with the kids.  I usually gain energy being around them but when they disrespect each other and the teacher and don’t want to listen, I feel empty.  I felt most connected to others today during lunch with my peer, Russell, who really talked with me and had a really free, caring conversation.  I also felt connected when my friend asked me what the downness was all about- I felt genuinely cared for.  I felt disconnected from others when I was around Thornley tonight.  When he feels most clingy, I feel like I can’t always connect with others or that others disconnect from me.  Just a thought.  I felt most disconnected from myself in that didactic about board certification (for chaplains).  I am a good chaplain, who provides faithful and open, loving and gentle care.  But for a few minutes, I felt like a scared dog who wants to shrink back for fear of abuse.  That’s not me.  I also think all this stuff with Thornley isn’t me either.  It is as though I act as a kind, engaging person with everyone else who entrusts others with my life happenings, but with Thornley I don’t share or talk at all.  I think that has something to do with being clingy (if I tell him I am going to a game, he has to watch that game on TV just because I go.  If I go out to dinner, he wants to go, but if I eat in, he wants to eat in together.  He doesn’t dine with anyone else nor does he ever ask anyone to dine with him.  So if we eat with anybody I have to ask.  If anything needs to happen, he just says whenever your ready which makes me feel like he is just a tag along and not another person.  Clingy?  Perhaps?).  Nonetheless, that behavior isn’t me and it must change.  I am felt most connected to myself when I was with a man whose son was in a major car wreck.  When he talked of his belief that God was providential in giving him gifts and talents, providential in allowing him this gift of survival, but yet knowing that it was okay to feel in pain, feel sorrowful, and hurt because of the trials that God may allow, I felt most at home with myself.  I knew my history and understood that I too believe that God works within the world and has some method of sovereignty, but that the way he chooses to be sovereign leaves us sometimes in a wilderness: AND THAT’S OKAY to say about God.  Plus, in that visit he asked me how I was gifted by God, and I was aware for the first time that my greatest gifts are adaptability and flexibility and openness, not necessarily empathy (although I am skilled at that too!).

5) When did I notice the fruits of the Spirit?  When was there a lack of those fruits?  I struggled today and over the last couple days to maintain some of Lenten commitments.  I have lacked the fruit of self control and patience, especially this afternoon when I got home.  I caved in to feeling pleasure to satisfy my feeling down and desolate.  I do reflect that today during lunch when I was with Russell and with Tom as well, and we shared stories and laughter, I had a true sense of joy, not often known in my life.  I also reflect that I saw in myself the fruits of gentleness when I helped put together sandwiches for the church at church tonight, when I washed dishes, and also when I interacted with a baby at church.  And love was certainly present in my interaction with the stroke victim and the father at the hospital.

6) When did I experience “desolation” and “consolation”?  Desolation I experienced during that visit with the father of the accident victim.  Actually with him I found both desolation and consolation (comfort).  It was emptying and sad, but also freeing and comforting.  I experienced consolation when I caught up with an old friend who now works close, who by chance was walking out to his car at Smithlands and made me feel accepted as a friend during my long trip to the car where I felt exhausted.  And writing this blog, well, it has been a consolation.  Being able to write that I am a faithful and effective chaplain who does great work is a consolation.  And just knowing that I will be off tomorrow means that I am experiencing great consolation now!

The Final Four: Here We Go!!!

68 teams and down to this.  Gotta love the craziness.  Gotta love the way these teams play.  I love the players left too: Matt Howard, Shelvin Mack, Jamie Skeen, Brandon Knight, and Kemba Walker!!!  This is absolutely awesome!  I didn’t see VCU or Butler here, like everyone else, but they deserve to be here and make for some really thrilling anticipation!

At last, the anticipation becomes reality and the Final Four is here!  And I’m going!  My predictions just before I head off:

Butler over VCU  AND   Connecticut over Kentucky

Looking forward to it!

A Tough Time

This was a long week.  But it got longer this week when I went to my consultation committee for my CPE experience.  Everyone who goes through CPE goes through the consultation around the Medical Center.  The meeting is a great opportunity to better your ministry through the feedback of other already certified and experienced chaplains.

Yet my opportunity was not as fulfilling as I was hoping.  We got stuck talking about one issue for almost the entire time.  The group got stuck talking about more personal issues than actually discussing my pastoral care and ministry issues.  The more we talked about my personal issue, namely, the history of wilderness in my life and sometimes feeling alone and distanced from God, the more I felt awful and terrible and barren about my life, even though I think I have made great strides and grown in my relationship with others and God.  It felt like I was heard as someone who had made no progress and who still saw himself as lonely and uncared for and empty of God’s presence.  The more we talked the more I felt like I was back to being the early CPE student and felt that my current state was disregarded as meaningless.

Further, I felt humiliated at some point.  I felt humiliated because I felt I was acknowledging the insights of my group that in a particular visit I was interpreting and forcing the patient to my opinion than letting them air their feelings and fears.  I acknowledged it not only in that visit but a great temptation that I have been working on throughout my CPE program.  But I felt like my acknowledgment wasn’t enough.  I felt like they had to go further to prove that I wasn’t putting the patients’ needs at top priority and had to make me say that thee visits were about me more than my patients.  Some of that is true- and I acknowledged that.  But it was frustrating and humiliating as I felt like my own admission of my pastoral weaknesses was exhausted to feeling hurt.

Now, they did give me helpful insights and helped me understand myself a little more.  They helped me understand why I might have some difficulties in friendships and that I can forced intimacy in pastoral visits.  But those things I had already acknowledged and written about before I got there.  Yet they still gave me helpful insights, but along the way the process felt more hurtful and angering and frustrating.  This is supposed to be a helpful time, an opportunity for growth and exploration.  But this was not the way it was supposed to go.  It was real, real tough.  And I am still feeling it course through my veins today.