“Rocket Science” and Love

It is surely rare when my dreams take on a visible shape in what I see around me.  In other words, in my life I imagine how things would be, and it is rare that how things would be or would have been in my mind actually make it to reality.  For instance, I think about my coming of age.  This may surprise some or maybe not, but I didn’t have the coming of age in my teens or in high school.  I didn’t have some moment where I realized who I wanted to be or even in another coming of age, didn’t just take a chance and peck a girl on the cheek while I was really young.  Not in high school at least.   For whatever reason (perhaps having gone to five schools in six years between 6th grade and 11th grade; or maybe because my teen years were full of other crises that really kept me inwardly focused on me and family) I just didn’t branch out, take risks, have teen drama or even have some crazy teen love story.

But my imagination was always vivid about what it looked like.  It looked like a young kid taking a risk doing something crazy in high school, being a cast off in many ways, but finding himself being challenged to do something completely unlike myself and having a crazy girl love story because of it.  In that girl love story, she would like me, we would make out once in weird circumstances (stay with me, this is not that kind of dream), and then I would find out it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be because I was only a ploy, and then I would take risks and do dumb things because of my anger that people would just write off because I was “just a kid in love.”  Those dumb things would involve some incident of stealing a drink in my young boyish confusion, making a fool of myself in front of others, and playing with revenge just for the fun of it because it would be cool.  And all the while I would still be a cast off, but I would have had a mix of crazy teen experience like…a rash of bad judgments, first kiss, doing something out of comfort zone, being a public fool.. that reflected me becoming something- becoming more comfortable with myself and challenging the norms and finding freedom.  It’s just part of being a teen right?

But my teen life was not like that.  It was very staid and proper and fearful really.  I am extrovert who loves to be in the public eye and enjoys attention and recognition and having fun, but that was far from me then.  All this being said, my imagination above was exactly what I watched tonight with the movie “Rocket Science.”  That  movie is exactly…and I mean just about exactly…how I envisioned my coming of age.  I laughed so hard watching that movie.  I almost cried it was so funny.  That movie played out growing up so well and gave me some very good moments of gut check pain and laughter because of one one teen’s crazy first year in high school in Jersey and with the adventures of the high school debate team and his misguided love story with the debate champion.  I loved it because it played out what I kinda wanted but didn’t get.  Now that doesn’t mean that I wish I could do my life all over.  In fact, I don’t regret that my teen life was full of other family crises (hospitalizations, deaths) any more than another who wishes their loved one didn’t die.  True, I am reminded of the many ways my life has developed well from the coming of age in college, and that means a lot.  But I am also reminded of the ways that I still need to come of age (grow), the adventures I would like to have and how that movie played it out in such a hilarious and cheesy way.

Obviously, if one looks at my life, that would be love.  I have been quite successful throughout my life in everything, but I have not been as playful or adventurous or successful or even memory worthy there.  No funny awkward moments.  No weird meet the parents moments.  No dramatic breakups.  Just strange comings and goings.  I have stopped, started, halted and feared in this respect.  But I do want the adventure.  The ups and downs.  The awkward moments.  The good times and the failures.  The impetuousness and innocent confusion of youth.  I say this because I realize that I love these coming of age movies because in this one part of my life, I still seem to be the freshman in high school with the stutter, afraid to take a risk but learning to come out of my shell.  I have had some experiences after high school, but this movie only laughably reminded me that I haplessly more innocent and confused and inexperienced I am than I would have hoped.  But that’s okay.  That’s really okay I believe.  Sure, I want those adventures (good or bad), and envy at times those who do and wish it were me back in high school that would have taken that risk or had that experience.  But where I am at is really okay, because the goal is not to arrive or force it or figure it out.  I don’t need something else or need to have any other experience.  As the kid comes to realize in the end, after all the adventure, the coming of age is really about realizing you don’t have to figure it out and that I can actually stop trying to figure it out.  In other words, I can just be me and take what comes.  So even though I love watching the coming of age movies because of what I dream of happening, I can let go of figuring it all out and just enjoy the experiences and life I have in front of me.  Now that’s coming of age material there!

Maybe this makes sense for you, maybe it doesn’t.  But it is a great movie, and one of my favorites.  The real takeaway is similar to my statement above about “But where I am at is okay.”  In the movie, the narrator announces close to the end that it was at this point the kid stopped having the voice in his head that was his ideal voice, and instead just started speaking as he was.  In true coming of age style, the great takeaway for all is simply that we can only be ourselves, no matter what our imaginations or the outside world tells us we ought to be, including love.

Texas Tripping!

Well, I am back to Houston.  After a wild Saturday shift, I road tripped Texas for two days and had a fantastic time.  It was needed to celebrate the finish of a great year of CPE and to enjoy the spoils of finishing all of my on calls.  That was pretty cool.  Let me run it back for you and reflect on some of those experiences.

8:25am, Sunday: Tom B. relieves me from duty at the hospital.  We talk about the shift but really, he brings fantastic Taqueria Arandas breakfast tacos- potato and egg, bacon and egg, and cheese and egg.  Our conversation for 40 minutes, even after my on call shift is full of contentment and pure joy in his friendship .  As we sit and eat breakfast tacos together, I feel a sense of peace about my job situation, my life, and the moment at hand, considering I am eyeing a brutal 5 hour drive to Lindale, TX.  Thanks Tom!

11:30am, Sunday: Driving through Palestine, TX I listen to the This American Life app about “When Patents Attack” and listen to how our system of patents doesn’t work for all things internet and network oriented.  Cyberspace it seems is unpatentable, and worse, it creates massive problems for creativity.  Sounded like a mess, but it was really insightful for me.

12:45pm, Sunday: I arrive in Lindale, TX at Twin Oaks Ranch, where the YWAM base (Youth With a Mission) is, and I meet none other than Emeshea Petty, one of my lifelong friends.  We eat lunch at a local Mexican place in town called Posado’s and I have a verde enchilada with a tamale with verde sauce, and they served complimentary sopapillas that were amazing.  So good they were like a drug actually.  But nonetheless, the food and conversation was awesome!  I was content to interact with such a wonderful person who has dedicated themselves to the mission of Jesus.  We continue our conversation after Posado’s at The Art of Coffee, where our conversation takes a tack of reminiscing our memories- particularly what Pepperdine was like and our senior year spring break trip.  That spring break I paid out of pocket to fly to Heidelberg, Germany to meet Cambry, Emeshea and Alyssa and we went to Munich, Florence, Rome, cruise ship to Corinth, Athens, Thessalonica, and Meteora.  Great trip and lots of great stories- you know when you look back and keep saying that what you did was real sketchy but really fun.  Anyway, the lunch and dinner were fantastic.

4pm, Sunday: Emeshea takes me back to the heart of the YWAM base and we go to the chapel, and we sit and hear people playing guitar and singing worship songs and we talk about evangelism and being Jesus to the Muslim world.  An important conversation to have because the conversation is not being had amongst Christians on a good level at many places.  Themes like respect and concerns about the head and the heart come up.  I remember challenging Emeshea about the Muslim religion being “works” oriented and not being a religion of the heart.  So often, I think we go and convert people to the way we are, not necessarily to Jesus.  We convert them to what our culture likes- our culture likes emotion so we tend to think that conversion requires emotion and truly to be known in the heart.  But if you are culture that doesn’t value emotional expressiveness as much as order and submission, maybe we shouldn’t judge for that.  Anyway, a good conversation that really challenged me to think about the larger world around me.  Plus, we talked about whether churches are equipped for evangelism or if they are not even capable of equipping Christians for evangelism.

6:30pm, Sunday: A YWAM worship service.  Lots of singing.  Lots of singing with clapping, dancing, and hands raised.  I am comfortable with most of that, but it was interesting being a stranger who doesn’t know the songs.  I got to see what it feels like to be the odd man out who doesn’t know what is really going on around me and can’t get into the worship experience because I have no familiarity- it is quite an alienating feeling.  But this worship service also has a missionary speaker from the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, replaying their experiences in Mauritania (not all perspectives I agreed with!).  But the service took a weird tone when two trailers of videos were shown for “In  the Face of Fear” and “The Undefeated,” basically reflecting a very conservative, fearful defensiveness towards the world and seeing the world as threatening and full of evil (which it is, but I just don’t think that evil is liberalism or environmentalism or even abortion- I think evil and the powers are that which make us not ourselves and tempt us to become full of ourselves).   It is weird and uncomfortable when I hear that the treatment of Sarah Palin is a justice issue (would the trashing of a poor Hispanic be a justice issue in this group?  In our society…not really!).  Anyway, the service is very worshipful and challenging in thinking about God’s call in my life.  But it definitely has its painful moments.

8:40pm, Sunday- The night finishes with me and Emeshea talking and hanging out with Esther (from Brazil and 18yo) and Jonathan (born in Brazil but has lived here since 3, and 18yo) .  We laugh a lot and talk about the service some, but we talk about views towards drinking and dancing and cultural things that shock us.  It is a really funny conversation that makes me feel old since I was 9 years older than these kids!  Great conversation and I am reminded that I love fringe humor that is both sarcastic and risque!  Love it!  My time with Emeshea, YWAM, and Lindale comes to an end with a hug and gratitude for the opportunity to see one another.

10:00pm, Sunday:  After all the driving I have already done, I end up driving another hour to Terrell, TX, close to Dallas to stay the night with a friend from ACU, David Taylor and his wonderful wife Becca.  This is great because I can see that both me and David are in different places.  I am more confident than the last time he saw me, and he is more confident as well.  Both of us have moved into different places in our lives where we have thrived- me into chaplaincy and Houston, and David into marriage and youth ministry.  Our conversation lasts long into the night, maybe 1am, as we converse about the strange messages I heard at YWAM, my youth ministry, his struggles and blessings in youth ministry, debriefing my night, and talking about the shape and nature of evangelism.  Those two people were true blessings of hospitality and love for me, and really reflected how much support and love I really have in my life.  Truly, in their presence, I realize I am blessed!  My day finally comes to an end at 1:15am on Monday morning, 42 hours after I started my on call shift at the hospital.

8:45am, Monday: Breakfast with the Taylors: homemade biscuits with sausage gravy, scrambled eggs, and mixed fruit (apples, peaches and mangos- hell yes it was good!)- nuff said.  Conversation continues as me and David Taylor reminisce about comps, classes with Thompson, Aquino and Foster, and we talk about the blessing of Abilene friendships.  We part with a hug and more gratitude for friendships.

12:25pm, Monday: Yes, indeed, I see more friends.  I have seen Emeshea, David Taylor, Becca Taylor and now Tim Burdett from my youth group in high school in Riverside CA.  We meet with a hug at McAlister’s deli, and the panini I get (Smoky Southwester Turkey) is fantastic.  I am tired as I have driven so much, but talking with Tim about his year long marriage, his future goals as an engineer and possible missionary to Ethiopia, my work with my brother’s marriage, my ministry in a hospital- all the conversation makes me realize the single biggest insight of the trip.  You know, my friends have scattered all across the world.  That is hard because I am selfish and want them for myself.  But those friends from high school and college and their scattering leaves me content at the same time.  Content because they all have lived into their callings as people of God.  Some to academics, like Cambry, some to teaching music, like Adam, some to hearts for Hungary and missions, like Emeshea, and some to lives of compassion and practical engineering, like Tim.  God has called all of us and all of my friends from high school and college  seem to have heard the call, and seem to have submitted to what God has wanted.  The beauty of this makes me content and pleased that I get to road trip Texas and see not just friends, but the presence of God taking different forms and making a beautiful impact in many lives.

5pm, Monday: I arrive home.  Finally.  Exhausted.  But content and pleased, because my friends are wonderful people, no, faithful people.  As I get to catch up with friends, I realize that God is up to something in all of their lives and I get to be a participant and observer of that work.  In Emeshea’s mission centered life.  In David and Becca’s compassionate and intentional work with youth.  In Tim’s marriage and love for Ethiopia and relationships with his academic training (he is very intentional about using his training in engineering very practically and in being very trusting in all of his life).  And finally, as I realized catching up with all of these people and sharing my story, in myself and my work with the sick and dying of all ages.  So I come back from my trip exhausted, by fully grateful and in peace, knowing that God is alive and well in my friends.  I come back trusting God more, because I have truly loving and caring friends, friends whose compassion and kindness and thoughtfulness reflects the image of God in so many ways.  Thanks friends for the wonderful trip.  700 miles and priceless!  God bless!

The Wilderness

I had a really great day today as I traveled Texas and saw wonderful people.  But I had a tough day and it reminded me of the wilderness I work in:

5 deaths.

A woman raped a month after losing her rocks, her grandmother and brother.

A woman now a quad who is scared and wishes she would just have died.

A woman who saw her husband killed in front of her.

A girl suffering suddenly from renal failure after a beautiful and normal life as a teenager.

A mom guilt stricken for causing her child’s illness by not attending church when she was pregnant and scared she will be called incapable.

An abusive husband and vulnerable wife.

A family afraid they are participating in the death of their loved one by withdrawing mechanical support on him after braindeath.

In the midst of these things, it is hard to find the presence of God and it certainly feels exhausting as though I were in a dry, parched place when I seek the energy to minister.  It is hard to see that God is still there.  But he was, and I found him with families, amongst caring nurses, and amongst families who prayed their hearts to God and in the sharing of tears.  Certainly, in the wilderness, God is still there, albeit mysteriously.  Amen.  God help us.

“A Single Man”

Just a thought tonight.

I watched a movie about a gay man tonight after he lost his lover of 16 years, called “A Single Man.”  It was intriguing to watch the process of grief the man went through, especially as a chaplain familiar with grief.  The striking thing for me is what I know as a chaplain but hit home as I watched, namely, that his grief was so palpable and sad- a normal experience for the loss of any human being we love.

As I watched the movie, I became aware that though I am a straight man, I have great sympathy for LGBT community.  What is so moving for me is that their experience is full of the same experiences others have with grief, with joy, with relationships, with failure, with success- and they often experience the same feelings of loneliness, fear, excitement, and passion about all sorts of things.  But so many people write off their lives as so different that they do not see them as human beings.  That seems like a fundamental assumption we must make as we look one another in the eye (if we can do that!)- that we are quite similar in so many ways.  That we can empathize with the man, woman or child anywhere because we ourselves are human certainly ought to change how we interact with those who are LGBT.  In the movie, Dr. Falconer has found something beyond any of his experiences that gives him clarity and brings him great meaning.  Perhaps we all share or want to share that sense of connection, of love with someone else, man or woman.  I can identify with that.  So perhaps this is the start of welcoming the “other,” and letting them know they are loved too.

P.S. This stance may or may not be controversial, but I come as a chaplain who cares about respecting people because my job is not to change, but to walk alongside of them during their crisis and/or difficult times.  And LGBT community knows about crisis and difficult times.  Seems like I should at least pay attention with a gentle heart and open ears.

Giving Up Sodas? Really…

Well, folks, I think I am gonna do it.  Well, not completely.  I think I am going to give up any more than 1 soda a week.  The reason(s)?  I just feel like I have to do a better job hydrating myself, and there are other better options out there.  Water.  Unsweetened tea.  Those two options in particular are in my mind.  Plus, I don’t feel great after drinking sodas.  It’s only a short burst of energy.  And another reason is that I drink sodas when I am not feeling great about something or another.  The reason I share this?   Because I will not watch myself if I don’t employ others in helping me out.

This must seem quite funny, to blog about giving up sodas (when it isn’t even Lent!).  And I never have more than one a day nor do I even have them every day.  But I like challenging myself to do better, to be a better person in some way, and I know that sodas more often make me feel worse or give me a weird short jolt of energy rather than actually helping me in my day.  You see, if I give up a little soda here or there, I will need to find other better solutions to the reasons I drink the sodas.  An example would be that I would be encouraged to sleep more if I can’t use a sip of soda here or there.  Another possibility is that I might avoid sodas when I feel tired and sad and actually have something that works better for the mood, like tea.  This is particularly true today as I am incredibly exhausted from a day at work that was hard.  I worked with a family whose mother had a stroke and the daughter felt like she was suddenly losing a rock, a example of the love of God in her life that brought peace and hope and comfort.  The shock and sadness were palpable and I felt the touch of grief myself, knowing what it is like to lose someone so suddenly.  It is interesting that when I have visits like this, I tend to sneak in a soda on the way back to the office and that soda makes me feel weird the rest of the day, which certainly doesn’t help the grieving.  So then, perhaps a slightly different option rather than soda is a small part of changing a larger response so that I can treat myself better.

This is all part of spiritual discipline for me.  It is a chance to learn to find self control in places where I can control as a symbol and practice of the larger issues that arise.  And frankly, it is just better.  So let us see where this goes.  This could be interesting.

Just as an add on thought, I was talking about this with a nurse and we were dismayed by the ease and size of sodas these days.  It used to be (I thought) that smalls seemed like smalls, but now a small is 20oz and a large has become a smaller keg.  And really, soda has become like water to so many people, and I want to avoid that with me.  It is not right and it is not just to those who have little and our answer to their thirst is soda. I doubt Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 about giving drink to the thirsty who the least of these pertained to a land flowing with milk and soda.  Something we should think about as a society too.  So here’s to water and tea.  (I’ll drink to that!)

The Silent Retreat

For those of you who didn’t know, I spent Thursday and Friday at the Cenacle Retreat Center here in Houston doing a silent retreat.  Part of my reasoning was that I was finishing my residency and going through a transition with jobs that could and is adding lots of anxiety and concern in my life.  I felt like it would be appropriate to go and get settled, center myself for the journey.  And I think it worked.  Here are my reflections through the retreat (remember I am very reflective guy…):

  • The retreat began in the early afternoon meeting with a spiritual director who helped lead me to a critical openness to the day.  He shared with me about being open to God speaking in very different ways- anthills, clouds… which was important because I tend to be blind to God speaking through different avenues. This concern would prove to be very helpful right away as I sat underneath a tree in the woods right after spiritual direction.  I noticed a leaf that seemed to hang in midair, but in reality it was part of a spider’s web.  The beauty that I thought was important for my life was that no matter how hard the wind blew, it would twist and turn and move, but it constantly hung tied to the web, always tied in.  For me this was helpful to know that my life may be blown and twist and turn, but that I would always be connected to God in some way and so that would bring comfort.
  • I noticed, in the same vein as hearing God through different venues, that there were lots of bugs and insects at the retreat center.  I saw bees, ants, lizards, worms- as well as peacocks and squirrels and birds.  It was important for me as I was trying so hard to stay in the moment and not move to thinking about Friday night or next month or what I wanted for lunch.  What helped keep me in the moment was to stay alert to what was going on around me.  The insects seemed to thrive, seemed to love it, seemed to still do their jobs and still live in spite of everything going on.  For that matter, it was quite impactful for me to realize that even though there is a great drought going on,  God still provides for them and their lives still go on.  God still provides no matter what chaos life hands us (ala my life this month).  Plus, those insects live in the moment.  The squirrel plays around, and doesn’t necessarily wonder what will happen tomorrow.  The bee comes to work with all those beautiful coworkers, the flowers, every day.  They just live in the moment.  It was critical for me to see this because it feels like I am trying to move myself into the next day, or the next week, or the next month, or the next job- but I am truly here in the moment.  This also came up in other ways during the retreat.
  • In that spiritual direction, we talked about the chance for a retreat being an opportunity to invite God and wait for God rather than attain and acquire God- a chance to receive God.  This was helpful for me because it led me to a scripture I wasn’t aware of.  When I went, I had picked out a couple passages of Scriptures that could help with where I thought I wanted to go, one of which was Mark 4 where Jesus stills the storm.  The words of the passage were helpful to think about for sure, such as Jesus’ declaration “Peace, be still.”  But the director helped me think about John 8, where the adulterous woman after not being condemned doesn’t speak to Jesus, but waits for Jesus to speak.  But this invitation to wait actually led me more to the key passage of my retreat experience: Psalm 62:1-2, 5-6, 8.  In it, the Psalmist declares, “For God alone my soul waits in silence, for I hope in him.  For God alone is my strength and my salvation, my fortress.  I will not be shaken.  Trust in the Lord O people.  Pour out your soul to him, for God is my refuge.”  That is about waiting because of who God is, not who I am.  It was significant to sit on this passage, to sit with these words throughout my entire experience.
  • I found that the first couple hours were difficult in trying to rest.  I found that I was more comfortable just sitting in silence than I thought, and I didn’t seem restless.  But for some reason I couldn’t let myself sleep or close my eyes in tiredness (which I was after some evaluations at the hospital).  One of my reflections was that rest sometimes can be very bothersome for me because rest for me is ceding control.  Rest requires me to give up my anxieties and control over my life and acknowledge that control is God’s.  Rest requires me to keep my focus on the now, the present moment, and not to let the futures and pasts swallow me up.  One of the ways I saw this need for control come out in other ways was during the end of spiritual direction.  I got a little anxious and fearful in needing to say the right things instead of sitting in the silence and allowing for God to give us the finish.  Instead of being attentive to God’s Spirit moving, my anxiety looked like I was grasping for control of sorts.
  • In terms of the control, I was certainly reminded during my long meditations on Mark 4 on the need to let go of control.  In that time, I felt God was expressing to me that I was called to relinquish God.  But the call was not as much to relinquish control of my decisions (like living spaces) and transitions (like jobs) , but to not be afraid to go with God the entire way.  I heard God’s invitation to not be afraid to go deeper, to let go of needing to control and desire.  The words popped up in my mind over and over of Mark 4, “Peace be still.  Have you any faith?”  It is less a matter of control and more a matter of trust and faith.  I have been growing in my trust with others, and with God to a certain degree.  It was God’s call to not stop trying to let go and stop being fearful.
  • During my meditation on the Psalm 62, I was so stunned by waiting for God in the silence, but I was really led by God to the critical phrase later in the passage, “I will not be shaken.”  This was a powerful awareness for me.  It was as though that phrase spoke most to me in my situation that no matter what storms, decisions, chaos, ups, downs, fears, growths, and transitions come my way, I will not be shaken.  I will not be shaken.  It was God letting me know that he will be here through the next month, but really, that I will never be shaken because of the God I rely on and the God I know will be my fortress and strength.
  • It was further helpful to think about slowing down during the day.  Slowing down was God’s encouragement for me to be more aware and alert in what I am doing- to stay in the now!  So, I practiced slowing down- walking slower, savoring every bite of food (and they had great food!), sitting for longer, making less quick movements, sitting in silence, showering slowly, and reading Scripture very slowly.  In the shower I actually thanked God for every part of my body as I washed.  It was a chance for me to be more aware of God in the moment because everything seemed to be so much better enjoyed slower and in the moment.  Therefore, I was able to be more grateful to God as I slowed down in every activity.
  • God also spoke to me during the Thursday night as I sat down to process my day’s thoughts.  It was as though I realized I was here, not at the hospital, not at home, and thus I was here in the moment.  I was not with anywhere else but with God.  And what brought it home was that at the moment I sat down, the moon was portraited right between two large branches and it was beautiful.  I realized that God’s timing is God’s timing.  What an encouragement to let go of worry about my job!  God spoke to me about letting him do what he needed and not worry about the right timing.  I was able to reflect that I can trust that God will provide when it is right and that I am held by his hands, not mine.
  • The next morning I got up and took a 4 or 5 mile run.  It was wonderful because I used Psalm 62 throughout the run.  I repeated the phrase, ‘pour out your heart to God’ and let that be the reflection during the run.  It was about letting God hear my real concerns and cares for a job, good relationships, a future partnership in marriage, a place to live and sorts of things that I wanted God to hear.  And as I poured my heart out I was comforted by God’s welcome embrace and by the strength that God gave me to keep going in the trust that he will always be my refuge and strength.
  • At the Cenacle retreat, there is a Labyrinth that you can walk.  And I walked it twice, each one giving me more insight and time with God.  The first time I was struck by the reality that I don’t need to worry about where to walk, but that the direction of the Labyrinth has already been chosen by God.  It was freeing that I didn’t need to make choices, but that my path, my journey in life are chosen.  I can give up worrying about my future or having anxieties about anything else.  Rather, my life, like my walk in the Labyrinth, is held by a loving God beyond what I can see or imagine.  It is freeing to not worry but worry about how I relate to what is going on now.  I can’t focus on the next twist, but on my interaction with the present moment.  The second time around, the second day, I realized more that I can only focus on the next step anyway, because when I tried to walk and look at the big picture, I got lost and confused and lost my concentration.  Instead, my responsibility was to free myself and focus on just the next step.  So, first, God directed my journey, not me.  And second, I could not try to get ahead of myself and look at the big picture until I was called to stop in the center of the labyrinth.  I was called instead to focus on the step in front of me.  Called to forget about the big picture of a job and future, and think instead about the moment now.
  • During the morning, I got to enjoy painting and art.  I got to illustrate a Scripture passage and draw images that were meaningful to me.  I got to watercolor my image of God as fortress and Scripture as God’s voice.  I won’t say much about it other than that it was a special time between me and God to draw for 2 and a half hours and dwell in Psalm 62:4-5, 8 for that time and how I pictured my relationship with God.  Here’s the picture (it’s not a Rembrandt picture by any means!):  
  • Last, as I was reflecting later before I left about my spiritual direction and what the day meant to me, I realized that my future was going to have to be shaped an utter honesty about life and relationships.  I cannot pretend and say what I think should be said.  I cannot entertain others by saying the right things, but I must be honest to what I think and feel about life, about others, and especially about God.  I must be honest about relying on God.  I must be honest that it is hard to trust.  I must be honest that I get anxious.  I must be honest that I am scared at times.  I must be honest that this relationhsip or that interaction was really meaningful.  When I do that, I let go of the fear in life and moves towards God courageously, like I have been called to do since my baptism.
Thanks for reading.  It was a blessing to go on this retreat.  To find some rest at least, but also to hear God’s voice just a little.  Maybe it is a blessing to you too!

My Dad’s Back

Today, I visited with a patient’s son who was around the same age as my dad.  And he began sharing not just about the pt’s fall down stairs, but his own upcoming surgery on Friday.  He shared that he had been in an accident, rear ended by a insurance less driver, has lots of back issues, needs a nerve block surgery, and is having a constant fight with his insurance about care.

Did it sound familiar or what?

It was like hearing my dad talk about his situation now.  But what hurt is the realization back in the back of my mind that my dad is human and finite, like all other people.  But it is hard to see our loved ones, especially parents who have been so good at being hard workers who tirelessly worked and avoided stopping- who have been so good at acting as though their life is endless- are found to be vulnerable or weak.  It’s scary to think about a father who is moving on into a different stage of life, and one that I am afraid he will not enjoy because of his back pain and the likely result that he will never fully recover.  Now, I know my dad won’t die tomorrow from his back injury, but the reality is he will someday.  That realization is hard because as a kid I grew up believing my father, just like any other kid would, was invulnerable.  I got to work on that when he had seizures back when I was 14 or so.  That certainly helped me realize the finiteness of dad.  But today, it was difficult.  It was hard.  As I interacted with that man who had so much sadness about his life, I could see my dad trying to survive and make a good life in his life.  I don’t want this back stuff to be the defining stuff of the remainder of his life (10, 25, 40 more years?).  In other words, I want dad to be dad.  But life may not always be so kind, and that is okay, because God will still be there with him, and God will still be here with me, and our relationship will always be full of love, no matter what.

At the Cross: A Sweet Song of Memory

Well, here’s an experience for you.  Just a couple weeks ago, I was visiting with a very old woman, around 90 years old and dealing with the consequences of at least one major stroke.  She was pretty much unresponsive and unable to focus.  Her son was her main caretaker and he had the sweetest attitude of God’s provision and care and love, even in the midst of sadness.  What made the visit, however, when he started telling me that his mother loved to sing and that one song stuck out the most.  And then, with his beautiful soft voice, he began singing the first verse of “At the Cross” and halfway through I joined him because I was struck by something.
As the song began, she perked up, she smiled widely and began soaking up the music and the words as though they were life to her.  And I joined because I was struck by the power of music.  The power lies in the reality that the songs we have sung for 80 years or 40 years or 20 years or 2 years- the songs we have sung since children or since joining Christ have become a part of us and it is always there.  At the sound of the song, at the hearing of these words that have become a part of who we are and what brings us true joy, we are transported to a place of peace, joy, and embrace  (Or music can have an opposite effect if it was a negative sound as a kid).  When she heard that chorus, you could tell that she felt as though she were in front of the cross in the arms of Jesus.  And it brought her a peace that the world, in all its drudges and hurts and pains and evils, could not interrupt.  And for 4 verses I got to sing this precious song and she offered me a blessing.  She allowed me to feel transported to that cross, embraced by its peace, and wrapped up in God’s gentle love.
It was her gift to me.  His voice, and her peace and joy in hearing that song.  It was truly powerful in a way that words may never express but the heart truly knows.  I now love singing with patients when I am asked to.  And actually, it becomes a testimony that where two or three are gathered, there he is.  There is God.  Perhaps like me, hearing this again brings a tear to your eye.  And it makes me want to sing it again.
  1. Alas! and did my Savior bleed
    And did my Sov’reign die?
    Would He devote that sacred head
    For such a worm as I?

    • Refrain:
      At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
      And the burden of my heart rolled away,
      It was there by faith I received my sight,
      And now I am happy all the day!
  2. Was it for crimes that I had done
    He groaned upon the tree?
    Amazing pity! grace unknown!
    And love beyond degree!
  3. Well might the sun in darkness hide
    And shut his glories in,
    When Christ, the mighty Maker died,
    For man the creature’s sin.
  4. Thus might I hide my blushing face
    While His dear cross appears,
    Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
    And melt my eyes to tears.
  5. But drops of grief can ne’er repay
    The debt of love I owe:
    Here, Lord, I give myself away,
    ’Tis all that I can do.
Amen. God be with you.

Food, Blogs and a Movie

I just finished watching the movie “Julie and Julia”, a movie about how two women find meaning and joy in cooking, albeit in two different generations.  Julie begins cooking through a whole year of recipes of French cooking and goes through great food, learns new recipes and techniques, enjoys meltdowns, and realizes how special her husband is as she blogs through those 524 recipes.  It is actually quite tremendous and I love the movie.  It is quite hilarious and actually tackles a lot of interesting subjects along the way.  I like how it addresses the relationship of marriage without hiding the perils along the way when each one sacrifices and supports each other.  I like how it acknowledges the fraught possibilities of the Cold War and the Red Scare in this country with Senator McCarthy.  I like how it addresses the importance of good old butter in our calorie consumed world (a funny consequence no doubt!).  I like how the movie addresses friendship and all nature of those things.  It addresses the reality of humans being humans: failures, frustration, and disappointment in relationships, even heroes (when Julie finds Julia doesn’t like her work). But it kind of addresses identity- in fact, it does a lot.  One person finds true joy and life in the cooking.  The cooking is something so enjoyable, in spite of failures, accidents and sure misery at times when recipes just seem to not work!  But the cooking matters.  And that is how I approach cooking as well.  I find mistakes in my cooking and don’t meet the expectations often for a recipe.  But the beauty is that I love to cook and create and it has given me so much meaning and allowed my mind and heart to play.  And I love play.  Nonetheless, the movie is wonderful and is worth a watch for all.  I never realized Julia Child had such a character but it was brilliant.

And by the way, Meryl Streep once again cements herself as one of the best actresses ever- she is simply brilliant in how much range and depth she gives to all her characters!

The Anxiety

I cannot believe how much anxiety I have about this upcoming career move.  The consequences of whether a hospital says yes or no are incredible for me.

For one, what people will I miss?  Will I be in California or Houston?  That is in and of itself a high anxiety proposition, full of excitement and warmth with one set of people while I grieve the loss of another.  I have mentioned this before but just thinking about that “move” is already tearing my heart out.

Second, what environment will I be in?  SoCal and Houston are different places.  I miss the SoCal traffic lights- it is amazing how annoying horizontal traffic lights can be for someone who has spent their life with vertical traffic lights.  I miss being around Pepperdine and I miss the SoCal culture.  Houston is great too but I don’t know if the humidity and hurricanes are worth hanging around in for a long time.

Third, where will I be in twenty years?  This is a career move that affects the way much of the rest of my life may turn, and that is a great thing.  The opportunities in the future here is Houston will surely be different from the opportunities I get in Southern California, all of which will be good and challenging and give me different insights about God and life.  I look forward to how my future gets shaped just by a simple move in the late summer or fall of 2011.

Fourth, what kind of place will I live in?  I am already anxious because I love the idea of being in my own place, renting an apartment, and possibly even renting/buying a house in a year or couple of years.  That is an incredible proposition considering that I have helped an elderly man for the last 15 months.  Having a place that may look neat and orderly as I like, to be in a place where I can choose my comforts and my leisures is nice.  You know, I have had to live with limited internet at home these last 15 months because the elderly man doesn’t need a fast internet and so often our internet is dial up slow and sometimes even a dodgy connection.  A kitchen where I can have all of my stuff unpacked and use all of my tools is a wonderful idea!  These things do matter and make one quite comfortable and settled and centered for the rest of life.  I am truly anxious to know where I will be living and what apartments are available- and that search is quite exciting but one I want to solve as soon as possible.

Fifth, I am anxious about what kind of job I will have?  Will I be working at a dream job with children in crisis as part of chaplaincy team or will I be working at a smaller general hospital where I am a lone chaplain serving children, trauma, oncology and cardiology.  I am anxious out of what that future picture will look like and how I further develop as a person and chaplain out of that?  Besides, the fact that I am applying as a 27 year old for what I considered my dream job for the last 7 years and one I considered was untouchable until being a seasoned veteran adds to the anxiety.  I want to work with kids and I want to work with really good chaplains!

Sixth, who will be my support system?  How will I surround myself with a support group to debrief all of this work that I do and how will I find energy and life and comfort in the midst of all that my life may bring?  There is a certain fear of leaving the CPE experience where that support is real and visible and almost always present in CPE residents, CPE supervisors, and staff chaplains.

But overall, I am anxious because in all of these things there is a growing fear.  I have lived an unsettled life for quite a while, living temporarily and cyclically in Malibu, Riverside, Abilene, and Houston for the last 10 years.  I have learned to appreciate being flexible and unset, looking at friends and communities as passing and temporary for the moment, but I have never been able to consider setting myself up towards a settled life that has a great deal of permanence.  That is what this is- permanence, the end of education, becoming professional, and leaving youth and becoming an adult (all of which is part of young adulthood).  That scares me because I know what to do when I am only here or there for a short time.  I deep down I want the permanence- but it is actually going to happen now and thus it is full of exciting possibility and nervous unknowns.  God bless this journey and God help me to manage that anxiety!