What to do with Amos?

What to do with Amos?

Justice, repentance, communal discipline…justice.

Tonight I tried to provide some thought provoking discourse and thoughts on the Book of Amos.  Really, it stemmed from one experience of an injustice this week when a patient’s family came into the hospital and because of their child’s ALL (Leukemia), they found they would have to stay in the hospital for a long time and they were from the Corpus area- and so the father had to make a choice about going home and working and paying bills for their apartment.  They had asked their landlord or bank for a delay so they could be with their child and pay some of the medical bills, but were denied.  A clear injustice to me where we as people do not seek good and hate evil.  In this sense, this bank or landlord is causing more pain and ruin because of their desire for money, or more simply, greed.  So that is what got me going on talking about Amos and justice.

But I am challenged by Amos, because I participate in a world and a country that is often the ire of Amos: wealthy, at ease, charmed by senses of security, complacent, and self seeking.  I don’t know if what I said was challenging or if I conveyed the call for justice in Amos, but I hope that I got people’s mind thinking a little bit.  For those of you there, did anything strike you?  Do you have any feedback for how I presented the issue?  How can I do better?  I say this because I knew Amos was on my heart but I really didn’t know how to approach it.

I really would appreciate any feedback and thoughts about Amos and the ways it was conveyed.

A Baby and a Baptism

First day really visiting patients, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

I had meaningful visits with six families in our Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (mostly just called PICU).  But one stood out.

A family had requested baptism, and I informed them of the priest’s coming at a certain time and met them at that time in the afternoon.  While waiting for their arrival I got to visit with the Catholic father from India for around 20 minutes or so.  He shared about his experience in America, his training for a couple years, his pleasure and rich blessing of being a priest, shared stories of training in CPE (residency), traumatic blunders, and laughed about my being single and having a number of years before children (always an interesting conversation with a man choosing lifelong celibacy!).

And then the family arrived, and while the mother filled out the paperwork for godparents and such, the father shared with me the story of their child again, and this time he broke down.

“From just a small stick to this,” he said, gesturing towards his comatose daughter.  “It just hit me like a smack in the face.”  Silence for a short moment.  “It’s hard.  It’s so hard…………..if I could take her place I would…(tears)”  What a brutal time for this father.  Literally days ago at a normal checkup when an attempt for blood didn’t work and they were directed to a hospital for a good bloodwork, and then less than 12 hours later they were told to go straight to Texas Children’s.  Cancer of the blood.  Fast acting.  And shortly before their arrival her health began falling apart.  “It’s hard.  It’s so hard.  If I could take her place I would…”  If only he could.  If only he could.

Shortly following this the priest began the baptism.  I have performed these before but the priest was available and they were Catholic.  This little baby was to blessed and brought into the kingdom of God’s grace- only as joyful though as the the baby’s body would allow.  But as I prepared to remove myself as I had taken care of their need, I received a gift.  They asked me to stay and be a participant, if only to share in the prayers and the lifting of holy hands and reciting the Lord’s Prayer.  It was a gift, an opportunity to be a participant in and supporter of this baby and its baptism.  It was probably more ritual than I would prefer, but it was a beautiful baptism.  Anointing, baptism with a touch of water on the forehead, and anointing again, followed by reciting the Lord’s prayer, a Hail Mary, sharing a communal prayer, and a final blessing.  Touching, beautiful language throughout of welcoming this child to the world in love and peace while powerful words like kingdom and grace and presence of God abounded.  This family probably doesn’t understand all the words or even remember the entire thing, but it was loaded with the theology of community and love, and invited the presence of God to surround that baby, in better and worse.  And so it went, a breath of comfort and security in the midst of uncertainty and despair.  A moment for the parents to share their tears as they poured their hearts to God in their love for that little child.  A truly sacred moment as it were, for them and for me.

Keep that child in your prayers.  Keep those parents in your prayers.  Thank you Lord for gifts like a baptism, but ultimately thanks for the gift of that child.

Life in the Hospital…Again!

Wow.  It has been a long time since being in the hospital doing the cool chaplain things.  Well, 4 months.  That’s a long time for me.  But it is good to be back and doing my thing again.

You see, the truth is, I have a crazy cool life.

There.  I said it.  I have a crazy cool life.  And it is a gift.

It is a gift that on my first orientation day I got to learn a lot of cool things about Texas Children’s, like that we have the biggest NICU in the world (175 beds, give or take a few).  Or that there are at least 9000 employees at Texas Children’s.  Or that we are one of the greatest Children’s Hospitals year in and year out in U.S. News and World Report Rankings.

I have a crazy cool life.  On my second day of orientation at TCH (Texas Children’s Hospital), I got a sweet tour of the newest and greatest facility for welcoming babies and their sweet (and oft overloaded) mothers.  In fact, the TCH Pavilion for Women that opens up 141 inpatient beds this coming Monday has to be one of the sweetest 550 million  dollar projects ever.  They have hotel like rooms, extra long couches that turn into beds for both short and tall husbands.  Beds to order that are queen size (although there is a limit of beds available at that size).  Antepartum conference rooms that are big enough and comfortable enough to let antepartum mothers there for weeks and months a chance to get away and have baby showers and other stuff.  The Labor and Delivery floor bathrooms have whirlpool tubs, which are also present for mothers who want to deliver in water (I am not sold on that myself but the option is there!).  It is a beautiful and absolutely gorgeous place- and I am not joking when I say that every room where patients stay in the Pavilion have giant windows with beautiful views- every room then shares a wall with the outside wall which is only glass.  Awesome!

I have a crazy cool life, in spite of the long days and crazy amounts of information I am learning and not learning in these last few days.  Unbelievable amount of info but fun.

I have a crazy cool life.  On the third day on the job I got to share in a visit (the only visit I have gotten to make so far) with a mother and her 5 month old, whom I will call Ryan.  Sociable, pleasurable, people loving, big smiles baby boy.  Kid had seizure activity and mom was anxious and questioning everything about his development.  I didn’t visit with the mom since I was sharing the visit with another chaplain at the time, but I got to play with that 5 month old.  Seriously awesome.  It was good to be back doing my thing.  Babbling with a 5 month old, letting Ryan take up my fingers and teethe, or bounce around with my arms and just hold and look at my hands as though they were some wondrous creation.  Doing my thing, enjoying life with a baby whose smile and pleasure with me and my hands- that was the greatest hand blessing I could ever receive and a wonderful welcome to my job.  And that moment, Ryan holding my fingers in his hands and smiling and bouncing joyously- that is when I realized, I have a crazy cool life.  And it is a gift.

Praise be to God for a crazy cool life at Texas Children’s Hospital.

Success and Failure

Wow, its been a long time since I have been able to post, even though a number of things have crossed my mind and spurned lots of thoughts.  And it has been an eventful week- two days in Galveston, The Point Annual Benefit Dinner, Sunday services, Sunday Care Group with the Pipes, work at Compositech, new employee physical and health screening (with additional shots of MMR and Tdap (Tetanus with pertussis), both of which were way easier than I thought), and possibly some golf.  It is a good week, and one in which leads up to my starting as a chaplain at Texas Children’s Hospital this next Monday.

It is all very cool, very joyful, and very humbling.

But as I have thought about all of this, I have been reminded of the role of success and failure in all of this.  Many people that failure is never acceptable on the way to greatness (not that I know anything about greatness).  We may push ourselves or our kids and never accept anything but success.  But what made the greats so great is that they used their failures and learned from them, as though failure is simply a springboard.

In truth, we must fail many times to be successful, and sometimes even that simple success is fleeting.  I heard a story from a recently billionaire-ized (a word?) woman who said her dad would come to the dinner table and ask how everyone had failed that dad and then applauded each of their failures.  While that is maybe more direct than my preference, it is an important reminder of the necessity of failure in our lives.  In my own life, I can look at my basketball career as an example.  I was a simple shooter with no other skills in high school, but I remember that first time I drove to the hoop and got my ball sent to third row (blocked shot).  But I continued working, learning, and trying all over again, sometimes being an awful failure and being embarrassed.  But I was not deterred, and now am seen more for driving than my shot remarkably. I have learned how to be a good friend by way of failures and successes.  It didn’t work that first time when friends told me about their problems and then with no acknowledgment I asked them bluntly if they wanted to play basketball (yes I did when I was younger!).  It also didn’t work when I showed up late to things I had promised- after failure I learned to get better and better.  In college, I had to practice my humor over and over again, cause I was certainly not very funny at all.  School was in itself an exercise in trying to learn, failing, and then trying another time.  In high school, I played Bible Bowl and my coach would always tell us that failure to remember the answer was only the beginning, not the end, and that life was certainly not over- there was another question, another round, another Bowl, another relationship to focus on.  And certainly, I cannot forget my chaplaincy residency.  Numerous times I came from a visit and repeated the conversation to my fellow residents and supervisors and we looked at different responses, more effective follow ups, more understanding in my behavior- any which way we could turn “failure” into a learning experience.

Failure is a learning experience.  I would not be here today if failure was the end.  But it isn’t and I am privileged to be at this position in my career, in my friendships, even in my basketball play, because others helped me make failure a tool.

Which is the same for faith by the way.  Failure in faith is the opportunity to confess, seek forgiveness, and learn about why I messed up and get better.  In fact, failure can be a real way to reconcile and find our relationship with God again.  Failure in church is an opportunity to grow.  When we fail at an activity that isn’t what we wanted or needed, we can learn from it, learn the weaknesses, and provide something that is better, more faithful, and much more joyful the next time.  That is what evangelizing and sharing my faith are about anyway- taking the risks that include failure so that I might win others, so that I might show compassion to others, so that any human being might see God somehow.  And we keep trying, whether in faith or community, and we grow closer and closer to one another and to God.

Failure is not failure.  It is a learning experience, it is growth, it is only the beginning.

Reading Amos

There may be few books tougher to read than the prophet Amos in the Old Testament.  It has been challenging but refreshing to hear the constant calls to repentance and forgiveness, justice and righteousness that Amos always speaks.

Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream, he calls out in chapter 5.

Selling the poor for a pair of sandals, taking levies of grain from the poor.

The concern for the poor and justice and undivided in Amos.  But, so is repentance.

Amos is full of calls for repentance.  God acts time and after time, but the people do not repent and turn back to him.  Rather, they seem to turn to Bethel and Gilgal and Ashdod and those so called gods.  Like me, who often turns to so called gods of self confidence, possessions and on my really bad days, pleasure in many different forms (eating too much, sexual pleasure, buying more stuff…)  So far through Lent I have been challenged deeply by the need to care for the poor and needy, but today i am touched and deeply challenged by the simple call for repentance.  It is that simple practice of being self aware, and confessing.  I dont do that very often, and I don’t seek forgiveness often, least of all from God.  The confession is not because I wronged God, but because I am farther apart from him because of it and I want a closer relationship with my Creator and Redeemer.  Confession and repentance is then important not just to solve wrongs, but to restore the beauty of relationship.

Repentance and confession have a difficult side too.  All confession must be shared with God of course, but sometimes confession must be shared and sought through my community or my friends, people who can communicate God’s guidance and forgiveness. That is the hard part.  Israel needed to confess to God but also to a prophet who would and could mediate and restore the relationship through his voice.

So then, we are called by Amos (by God’s prodding) to turn back to God, and use each other in the process to find peace and change our ways.  Repent, turn back to God, confess and fill yourselves with justice and righteousness towards others.  True challenges.  What are your experiences with confession and repentance?  How do you pursue these things?

I’ve Seen It All

There has not  been an experience like this in my life but this happens when you are single evidently.  I attended a benefit dinner tonight for the Universityoff Houstoncampus ministry.  At the table with me were good people from a number of churches and places.

And then one of the ministers at the table shared that his church had a singles conference upcoming of I wasn’t already taken.  I shared that I was single and I would think about it. From there the table of mostly middle aged men and women became desperate parents abee hopeful Cupids.  Yes, indeed, three parents offered dates with their children (at least they were my age!).  It got so serious for them that they all wanted to show me pictures of their daughters and one family even gave me a card so they could set up a date.  Those were some good looking daughters as it were.  But I digress.  What a strange night but I can’t lie, I loved the attention.  I have seen it all!!!!!!

More Anticipation

I can’t help but be excited.  I have moved back to Houston.  The church I love and find a home in is doing well.  The hospital I know and love still exists.  There are still beautiful place and wonderful restaurants.  All that is there and is still exciting.  But there is a new anticipation.

I am beginning this new job as a pediatric chaplain.  An opportunity to work with children, families, staff and other chaplains who care and have giant hearts.  It is an opportunity to get settled at a wonderful place and look to expand on what I know and how I serve.  There is a sense of challenge.  But there are other parts to my anticipation.  I will get a full check for the first time in my life- no student work for $8 an hour or less, no residency for $10 an hour.  That gives me the opportunity to really give to the Lord completely for the first time in a while.  It gives me the opportunity to feel settled and relieved about finances for a while while really giving to my church and to other ministries too.  And it allows to cook often too!  There is anticipation in the new opportunities at church, like opportunities to interact with the youth, mentor some of the young children, and participate in the few other activities I didn’t much get to before.

There is anticipation for a lot of things outside of church and job too.  I mean, how about being able to live in the same place for more than two years!  How about getting to develop relationships with nurses and other staff that can be lasting?  And meeting a girl…well, we’ll just ponder that one like Mary did Jesus.

Anyway, as I am in Galveston with a good kid from a family in my church, I just have this anticipation knocking on emotions all day and night.  There is an excitement.  I know it will wane at times, and I know that there won’t always be excitement, but I am loving the anticipation.