Christmas Memories…

Grandparents graves


Don’t know if you can read the gravestone.  It is the grave marker for both my grandparents in the Riverside National Cemetery for veterans.

My grandfather was SP2 (not really sure what that means exactly).  He was involved in some combat and also was involved in driving General MacArthur, all spent in war in Korea.  He was a silent man, but with a wicked wit.  He loved…and I mean loved his grandkids like nothing else.  They were his pride and joy and in seemingly every picture we have of him, he is carrying, holding, cradling, walking with, smiling over a grandchild.  His humor still reverberates around the Christmas tree and on Christmas day simple because his presence looms so large and he was so impacting, how could the smiles and stories and laughs not keep coming.  We lost him on January 8 of 1999.  Boy, it was tough.  I remember being ready for Christmas, having a red beach cruiser bike ready for him as a gift, when he went into the hospital coughing up blood accordant with his emphysema, lung cancer and such.  I remember staying in hospital waiting rooms, wondering when Kaiser would let him go, not knowing we would never leave.  I got to see him transported to an emergency surgery once, and that time seeing him on the hospital stretcher ripped my heart out.  But that time of mourning, of spending time with family the next couple days, of still getting together in the hospital waiting room on Christmas to celebrate his presence in our lives.  Those moments soften what would have been a dark and lethal blow, and actually reflect the light of God’s presence through a man’s life and death that was not all that religious.  I can look back at that difficult Christmas and recognize my namesake’s love, and even deeper, God’s love and presence amidst my family.

His wife, Lorine (Noe) Goldy, was a hoot.  She was always laughing and smiling.  And actually, she learned to cook after marriage.  She made biscuits that often were rock hard, but tasted wonderful.  She loved sun tea, fried chicken, and apple pies.  She was so supportive of me and was the one strong religious influence I had as a child.  It was her influence that helped me discern my call to ministry and encouraged me to pursue dreams of college, preaching, compassion, and service to others.  It was her church that eventually set me free into true Christian life and service (Arlington Church of Christ), and it was her presence that still motivates our family to seek peace and reconciliation, simply because her heart broke at division- she loved people and couldn’t stand being far away.  It was in December of ’02 (I think) that I lost her.  It was Christmas time once again.  It was early autumn when she spent time in and out of the hospital, and when school finished that fall, I knew I was going home to a death.  She was in a hospice bed in my parents front room for over a month, and I helped take care of her (although my effort was minuscule compared to my parents and relatives).  I remember the labored and difficult breathing, what I now know would be called agonal breathing.  It was painful to hear, as it sounded like she was grasping for every bit of oxygen left that could fit in her little lungs.  And I remember the feeling when I was AOL instant messaging in the living room with my friend Jae Kim, when I heard the agonal breathing slow down and stop.  I remember telling him right over the instant messaging that I thought she just died, and how that was quite difficult and tear filled.  But I remember the family still coming together for Christmas, still sharing the memories, still showing our gratitude for this great friend, confidant, spiritual guide, and woman of faith.  Her presence still motivates me to pursue dreams and do my very best, and to not give up.  Truly, the presence of God is seen in her life and still seen beyond her death.  Sad days surely, but God abides with us still, as she would have vouched for.

And so, I share this because this week I got the opportunity to visit the cemetery for the first time in a couple years as I have been away.  As I work through the time of being unemployed and having good and bad days, it is their presence and memory, my grandparents, whose experience of deathly Christmases keeps me humble and joyful knowing that God’s hands are graceful and abundant, in spite of failure, lack, want, distress, or death.  It is their memory, their experiences that remind me all the time to be grateful, and to be aware of the joy and good in all circumstances.  Praise God for them!

Christmas Eve with the Family

Christmas Eve with my family is the most staunch and favored of traditions.  Games, fellowship, sandwiches, ham, vegetable tray, the loved and treasured singing and enacting of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and of course opening of gifts.  It is one of the great nights of my life, and I get to do it every year on December 24th.

Food (at least one table): The Main Dish- Roast Beef Sandwiches!

Fellowship- we love to hang around.  Tonight it was about catching up with family from my mom’s side, playing pool on the pool table (clearly my uncle Mike and I are the clear favorites in pool).  And it was about playing games- Christmas Carol puzzlers and singing the Twelve Days of Christmas while creatively acting out your given day’s activity!  Some pictures…

(From left to right) Uncle Fred, Aunt Linda, cousin Amanda, Dad, Brett, cousin Chris, cousin Brittany
Middle bro Joseph playing pool!

Awesome pictures, awesome times.  Singing of the Twelve Days got real fun and contrversial and if I could post the video I would.  Otherwise, great night.  Lots of great gifts to open too for all the little ones.  As I bid you goodbye, a picture of some gift opening and the final family picture.  A great night for all.  Thanks family!

Pure joy on Chris' face!

A great family picture to remember for years:

Merry Christmas!

Thanks be to God for the wonderful gift of my family.

Christmas Movies

I have always loved the Muppet Christmas Carol.  It is by far my favorite, though I am by no means well traveled in the field of Christmas Carol versions.  And really, I am not that well versed in Christmas movies.  But for many reasons (one being lots of time on my hands) this year I have watched a bunch of Christmas movies, including replaying my favorite a couple days ago and then watching among others, Elf and of course, A Christmas Story.

Now to be honest, I had only seen a grand total of 10 minutes of A Christmas Story.  I had thought it was a serious, depressing movie about shooting your eye out.  But by the time I finished the movie I had laughed so hard and become so fond of loquacious and enraptured narrators- to say the least of the bumbling father, the snorting brother, the friends like Flick.  It was great!  I was so thrilled to watch something so light but that captured the chaos and ups and downs of Christmas.  It actually felt real.  But I digress.

I meant to write about the Muppet Christmas Carol.  I surely believe that every version reaches us because of our character.  Something about that movie attracts itself to me other than being the one I watch as a kid.  And still to this day, there is something poignant about watching that movie, even as an adult.  First of all the humor in it is fantastic.  Nearing the end Rizzo asks about Tiny Tim, and Gonzo replies, “And Tiny Tim- who DIDN’T die…” and that always get a laugh out of me.  But the Muppet version also has a simplicity that I really value.  Scrooge’s character is quite simple.  The characters are more or less straight forward.  And actually, I quite like the simple theme of joy that pervades it- I am not sure there is a better Ghost of Christmas present, and I really love the joy of all the characters.  It is an enduring simple theme that Christmas spirit may be truly that of joy.   When I watch that movie, I find my personality being more complete with joy not just moments after, but days after.

The joy thing is important to me these days.  I have realized that I am more pessimistic than I always assume I have been over the last four months or so.  I feel less joyful and upbeat, and even though I work in a field that can be a depressing place (the hospital), I have found chaplains who reflect that simple joy of the Muppet Christmas Carol and that second ghost, people whose contentment and joy make being around them satisfying and a semblance of the presence of God.  Part of the lack of joy is the job search, but I think that I have allowed the job search to drain me of some of my motivation, some of the excitement, some of the joy and positivity that I usually have.  The Christmas season, as I see and so much enjoy in the Muppet Christmas Carol and A Christmas Story is that joy and hopefulness are endearing marks of this season and the Christian’s life anyway.  It does not mean that I must always believe things will turn out even better or perfect or that bad things won’t happen to me.  Rather, I think it means that in all circumstances I maintain my presence with a joyful spirit that is positive and persevering, and that in that soul-ful joy my path and journey find more light and life.  I think it means that I smile more often and love being active all the time, that I enjoy life as the gift it is (ala Christmas!), especially since the job is not even close to the full measure of life.

I share this because I was so struck the other day watching these Christmas movies and being so taken by the ever present joy in them all.  I share this because I am going to try to make a greater commitment to being more joyful not as a “New Year’s Resolution” but as the presence of God is calling me more into discipleship.  And because I could use your methods of being joyful, and I know some of you are really good at it.  Any suggestions to reframe my days or change the thought process?  Thanks!

Quick Job Update: Prayers Needed

Just as an update, I called a hospital in Covina,CA on Monday that has had a chaplain opening for their 193 bed hospital.  In fact, I have called the HR lady a couple times and have pursued this opening, but for a while I just had been leaving messages and felt like I should call one more time and then let my discouragement get the best of me.

This time I got an answer and after remembering our first conversation she shared about their interviews this week and that she was glad I called so that I could come in for an interview!  Full time positions with benefits, and I am stoked!  It is a solid opportunity and I really like the hospital and what they do.  On Friday I get to have that interview and the opportunity to show what I can bring and do.  It isn’t in Houston, but it is a job possibility.  I would solicit your prayers for calm for me, for wisdom in answering questions, and for my own trust that God will work this out as he wants it anyway.

Second, I did apply and interview for a part time, 24 hour position at a hospital in Los Angeles that would be a great pay the bill, keep me afloat job while still doing what I love to do.  They said they would notify me by the end of the month.

Also, at a hospital I interviewed and got to the final two with called this past Friday to let me know that they will open another position this next year sometime (after March), and they would like to have me at the top of their list (although no job guarantee- just a guarantee to be in the top 3 and interview again).  A great hospital and a great opportunity if God doesn’t see fit for me to find a job here quickly.

So prayers are solicited.  It just feels good again to be interviewing for a full time position.

Santa To A Senior

A picture of 400 out of 1000 bags being prepared with slippers, robes, lap blankets and children decorated Christmas cards to seniors!   I love being a Santa to a senior, especially when I get to do it with a lot of other volunteers who enjoy helping seniors and needy folks! (I hope you can see the picture- it is from my phone) It is quite meaningful to serve even when I am unemployed and think I am bad off.  A great opportunity to offer love andhumble myself.  Amen!

Bags and bags filled with gifts for seniors

Just for kicks, on the way home I caught a cool sight.  Can you see the blessing for Riverside and for my drive to volunteer (not that God created it just for me, but it was a nice gift from God).  A rainbow in the hill, yes (between the two traffic lights.  I’m not sure it is all that visible).  A beautiful sight anyway, with clouds coming over the mountains like a waterfall into the valley below and graced by a rainbow and sun!

A rainbow in the hills

Christmas Humility

On Saturday night, I attended a performance at Magnolia Baptist Church called the “Living Christmas Tree” that they have done for 30 years now.  It was good- some nice traditional songs and some newer more corny songs (I can only handle so many Lawrence Welk Christmas theatre style songs that are built on quips and trite sayings and predictive humor), but all told, it is a good presentation reminding us of the meaning of the season.  And the traditional Christmas time themes ran through the entire ceremony:

  • Wise men give great gifts
  • The season has been consumerized (for you Steve Sargent!)
  • Lots of focus on gifts and getting gifts
  • Jesus is the center of the season
  • It is a season for families
  • It is a season of chaos
  • Jesus came to save souls
  • God in flesh appearing…

All good insights and themes.  Most of them if not all true and very poignant to having a season faithful to Christ.  Yet, there was another theme that is really important to the Christmas season, in spite of our best gatherings, performances, gift giving, mall shopping, sermonizing the meaning of the season and such.

It is this: The story of Christmas is a humbling story!  Scripture reveals this to us.  God reveals himself to the least of people throughout the birth narrative: an unknown servant hearted girl named Mary (Luke 1:26-38), an old and barren woman Elizabeth (Luke 1:5-20), born in an obscure town (Bethlehem) in a run of the mill region (Galilee), Jesus was born in a meager manger outside of an inn and likely in a cave (Luke 2:5-7), angels appeared not to kings and royal wise men but to earthy shepherds tending their flocks at night (Luke 2:8-9), Jesus was prophesied over as a child by obscure and yet faithful prophets Simeon and the female prophet Anna- none of which were well known (Luke 2:22-37).

So the actions and people chosen to reveal God’s coming and presence were to the obscure, strange, the low.  And the spoken words of these obscure ones and the angels that deliver the messages speak unbelievably about the low being made high, the proud humbled, the rich made poor, and the poor made rich.  For it is to Mary that the angel greets her saying “Favored one and the Lord is with you!”- of all the people, to this lowly Mary.  And of course, Mary’s Magnifcat, the song/psalm she speaks upon her being blessed as a mother of the Son of God.  In the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56), she powerfully speaks:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior; for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant; Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed for the Mighty One has done great things for me and holy is His name.  His mercy is for those who fear him, from generation to generation.  He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.  He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

Isn’t it amazing!  But the message of humility is right there amongst the joy and beauty.  The birth of Jesus humbles our notions of position and status as symbols of righteousness or reflections of our closeness to God or reflections of intimacy with God.  Rather, in the birth God flips the world with a kingdom built on love, not power, built on mercy, not sacrifice, built on servanthood, not being served.  For Elizabeth and Zechariah, the coming of their child John and the following birth of Jesus is a sign that God has given “light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death!” (Luke 1:79) Indeed, the birth of Christ gives life to those who are in the shadow of death, and light to those who in darkness.  Perhaps, it is both cautionary and joyous that God has turned expectations upside down and humbled those who think they are in light or saved or rich or satisfied or high.

Even Jesus later exclaims in Luke 4 that he is here to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight for the blind, let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor- Jesus lifts up the lowly and broken because he establishes a kingdom and pattern of life that takes our wealth, our ability to earn grace, our education, and our status out of the equation for the grace and love of God.  It is the heart that matters.

Thus, I see lots of themes in Christmas, but humility is an important aspect.  Humility is required when our expectations are broken.  Humility is called for when God comes in a baby boy in an obscure place in the world to poor parents.  Humility is called for when God reveals himself to the poor and marginal- women and shepherds.  Humility is called for as we welcome the birth of the Christ who preaches a gospel for all people and all hurts.  Christmas is joyous and does remind us of a second coming too, and in both we are reminded that we have not arrived, that all of us are still seekers of truth and light, and that the powerful fall and the lowly rise.  It is a blessing for me because I am reminded that all those answers I have are only groans of my small faith.  It is a blessing because it relieves me from pursuing status in ministry, counting my education as the key- it relieves of my trust in the world and encourages me to count all as loss for the kingdom of God.  And it relieves my own self absorption to see God in the lowly, the hungry, the poor, the mourning, the meek, and the empty.

This is so important for me because I get so self absorbed during Christmas as many do, and I get so into the meaning of the season that I forget Christmas requires humbling myself to make space for God’s surprising and unexpected work.  This insight may come more important as I become more self absorbed looking for a job, and need to see how God can shape my time as the unemployed for his work and purposes.

The Job Situation

My name is James, and I…I…it’s hard to say folks…I…I am jobless.  (To which readers reply: Hi, James.) I am jobless- I have been gainfully employed and educated over the last 9-10 years and imagined the transition into grown up life much smoother.   But it hasn’t been such and in accord I moved to a place with better job potential and closer family to help that transition.

So, by now, I have moved to Riverside, CA (Southern California) and done three interviews and made plenty of calls about hospital chaplaincy, youth ministry, 911 dispatching and tutoring.  One interview at a hospital for part time (but pay the bill work) has gone down and seems positive but they will get back to me by the end of the month, which they were emphatic about.  It’s a nice post-ICU hospital, but would require some days in Los Angeles and wouldn’t offer benefits, but if they would offer it, I would love it.  I had an interview to help the developmentally disabled adults, which I have experience in, but they wanted a long commitment to the job and those they served, which I knew I couldn’t give and and for which they were very aggressive.  A third interview came for a Sure Prep tutoring place, and now it looks like they will hire me for part time work- maybe 8-15 hours a week tutoring the same kids weekly for a season at a time.  That is great, but not enough, and they are moving slowly.  But as you may notice, those places are not the jobs I want.

In terms of the jobs I want, like chaplaincy or crisis ministry, I have looked into hospitals, fire departments, police departments, prison units…lots of looking but no finding and certainly no success.  I have been officially turned down by Cedars Sinai, a dream location for me, UCLA, Kaisers, among others.  It does feel hard and hopeless at times.  It feels at times like I will never get into chaplaincy because my experience at a Level 1 Trauma Center across the country is seemingly unrespected in SoCal.  There are still two hospitals I really have a strong interest in that could offer an interview.

And its hard to keep the spirits high.  Of course it is.  There are days where I don’t even feel like praying because I feel so incomplete and inactive.  There are days when I feel like the impossible is possible, but those days feel so few and far between.  Even seasonal jobs I am not getting calls back for because of being over qualified.  So I am stuck it seems.   And stuck feels like the right word.  Because it just doesn’t feel like there is any forward momentum being made.  I am stuck because there are bills to pay and no work to fulfill them.  I am stuck because I want to be independent more or less and find myself shakingly dependent.  I feel stuck because it seems there is no end in sight, and worse I feel stuck because with no end in sight I have no skills to enter other areas.  And I feel stuck because I am not doing what I really like, no love doing, and generally don’t have some of the freedoms to pursue the other things, like golf, trying new restaurants, sightseeing, or even driving to see friends.  Although to be fair, I am intentionally trying to do as much of the things that I love just to help keep the spirits high.  So I am not high and dry yet.  Not yet at least.  And I feel stuck because I am at a church which has some good people, but they aren’t fulfilling to some of my needs (good solid bible classes), are pretty conservative (women’s roles), have way too many video studies led by other preachers and teachers, and also have all my family there (I like a little separation!).  I feel stuck because I don’t believe I would place membership there (but they are trying hard, which I respect!).  I feel stuck for very selfish reasons because I have some credit card bills and student loans that I am very excited to start paying off as I get paid like an adult and not a student, but can’t move on those.

It sounds depressing and sad, because certainly when I moved here it seemed like some places sounded like good opportunities, and now many have fallen apart.  And while there are difficult days and nights, some sleepless and some full of anxiety, there are good moments where I feel like I made the right decision, and even if I ever feel that’s in question, I have days and times that reflect great blessings of the move.  God is still present and my family is still worth being around, no matter how many broken boundaries and well intentioned mishaps happens.  It is nice being around my dad and not seeing him use a walker, not seeing him in constant 10 out of 10 pain, and putting to rest some of my concern that he will never recover to a manageable point.  So there is good happening- family, dad’s health, new church growing on me despite my best attempts to shake ’em, growth in reading Scripture daily- among others.

But the job, oh the job.  There is one outside of chaplaincy possibility that I moving into hot pursuit mode at the moment is a 911 dispatcher job.  I posted my resume on a county website and there is some interest, and it looks like they want to pursue it.  It seems interesting to me, fulfills some of my acute interest in crisis work, is benefitted and paid decently well, and would be a good temporary job (by that I mean a year to 2 years or longer while I work the chaplaincy thing out).   But it is a county job and will take a while to get through to day 1.  So it could be a while.  But it is a good hope as long as I can prove my multitasking and calm demeanor in the midst of crisis- thank you Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center!  So we will see.

I blog all this wanting prayers.  Wanting prayers for jobs somewhere so that I can at least relieve the pressure of paying bills.  I am excited to move on to the stages of paying things off and playing more golf and having a house, but if my silent retreat back in August still speaks to me, it speaks of patience and waiting on God.  The message then is to be patient with the big picture and try to handle the little I can get at first.  Pray for a little something so that I can pay those bills, be a little less anxious, and get back to the outgoing, cook a lot, get involved lifestyle I like (or any lifestyle that fits for that matter!).  Pray for the two jobs at the hospitals, that I can find contacts that can arrange for interviews.  Pray for the dispatcher position as a way to expand myself or simply that it moves quicker (I would write quickly but it is a county/government job so…yeah).  Pray more importantly that during this difficult stretch where life seems far from settled and simple, that I might find life abundantly, in whatever manner that may look.  Thanks to all those who listen, have listened, and pray!