Being Good

I spoke to a mother today who spoke about how difficult it was to know she was a good mother because of the helplessness in the hospital and the voices that shamed her about why her child made it to the hospital, which by the way is not her fault at all.

Over the last couple days, I have seen her struggle to feel capable as a mother.  I have seen her reflect over her guilt and her self proclaimed bouts of depression over being a good mother.  As we talked, and I probably do more talking than I should as a chaplain, she shared that she has to make such a conscious commitment to hearing the good voices, of the child in the hospital bed waking up on some mornings and running around the house yelling “Happy Boy”, or hearing her kids tell her they love her.

I could not agree more about the conscious commitment.  Particularly about us as human beings.  Sure, I see lots of people in the hospital who because their child is sick feel incompetent, unworthy, incapable or unloved.  But as people outside of that sphere, we often do the same things.  We often feel incapable and incompetent, and so we run and hide, fill our minds with so many other voices or things that we don’t have to interact with any of that.

Even though our society tends to be more self fulfilling or self serving these days, I think that has a lot do with the desire to escape the feelings we have of being incapable or incompetent or unlovable.  For those without faith, perhaps the self serving theme solves the problem by individuals trying to be the first to love self and moving from there.  For many others, whether they are into self loving or self loathing, either directly or indirectly we are dealing with these feelings of inadequacy.

And so we have to make a conscious commitment.  To what though?  To do more self care?  To visit the massage parlor every week to feel good about myself?  To go to the gym more often, to eat with people more often…whatever we might do.  To what?  A conscious commitment to the voice of God crying out that we are the beloved of God, that first and foremost, beyond the love of ourselves from self, we are loved by a God who goes out of his way to make inadequacy adequate, to make weakness strength, to make death redemption.   That voice of God for this mother I believe is the child running around yelling happy boy.  That voice of God may be the friend who says he is grateful to have you as friend simply because you are created by God.  This conscious commitment may not require being alone with God in a silent retreat for days, or may not require time in solitude (as my favorite writer Henri Nouwen suggests), but it may require awareness of the voice of God in your life, wherever that happens.

You (and I!) are good because God created you that way.  And we require conscious commitment to remember that, because that will sustain you through broken times and dark valleys and burning deserts more than any good self care or self love or addiction or anxiety can.  At least its the best I can say at 10pm during a long week when I have seen some of things I have seen at the hospital.


Let me just say, I am not blogging enough!  There are things each day where I start reflecting and think I should blog, and then I get home and 9pm rolls around and I just don’t feel like doing a thing.

I of course have started a new job, as of one month ago tomorrow (or today if you are reading on the 19th).  This new job is a really great job, in which I get to bless people lives, be a participant in some really cool things and some really sacred times for kids and families.  But it is an exhausting job, both physically and emotionally.

Kids die.  If you don’t like this, you still must deal with it.  I deal with it on most days and feel somewhat in control of myself.  But kids die, and that is certainly hard to accept.  Kids die from abuse, choking on grapes, child abuse, and cancer.  Kids die.  And kids do suffer.  Kids suffer all the time from mitochondrial disease, cancers like leukemia, hypoplastic heart disease, and respiratory issues.  Kids do suffer, and they suffer more often than the outside world really acknowledges.

So yes, my job is emotionally exhausting because it seems like every day, God chooses to place me in a situation that challenges every bit of my worldview and yours I’m sure that says, “Kids, especially mine, don’t get sick and certainly don’t die.”  The world is fallen.  Or like a friend at church says during prayer requests all the time, “The world is still a mess.”  It is, and it seems like I encounter it every day in the unique way that I do.  (In fact, I truly believe we all encounter this truth every day in our own unique ways- mine is the hospital with families).  And so I come home after 10 hours of working in our fine Pediatric ICU where many of our traumas and neurological and general medical issues come (there is a Cardiological ICU, a Hematology Oncology Unit and a Neonatology ICU too).  And each one seems to drain and I try to give and I try to give and at the end of the day I still give something to my last couple patients because I was trained well at Hermann with my C.P.E. 24 hour calls.

But at the end of those days, physically I am wiped out too.  I don’t want to go to the gym.  I don’t want to run around with errands.  I don’t want to cook a meal or other things like it sometimes.  I am physically emptied.  But I have to called to something special in order to really get myself going, or simply block out exhaustion until I have cooked and gone to the gym and then look at the clock and see 9pm.  Now, some of you mothers have just said, how did he describe my life so well?  I understand that my work life may only scratch the surface of long days and stress and being a wonderful mother- but I can’t lie, I am exhausted.

Between physical and emotional exhaustion, it is easy to get scared by little things.  Like just recently for the first time, I didn’t complete my eye exam at 20/20.  When I put my right hand over my right eye, I could only see down to line 3 on 8 lines.  I was freaked and overwhelmed and really thought I was going blind by nightfall.  As I look back it was quite funny, but the chaotic anxiety was created out of exhaustion.  Really, I am just a fallen creature.

But as it is, in all the exhaustion, I find some good news.  I am just a fallen creature, who has limits and boundaries and finite resources.  When I leave work, I have neither solved all the problems nor seen all the needs.  When I feel the most exhausted, I am freed by the fact that I don’t have to still have something left in the tank.  Truly, we do have limited physical and emotional resources, and so my care is but a sign of a much more perfect and loving care by a Creator whose son is beyond describable compassionate and who perfectly enjoys taking my patients burdens AND mine.

I worship a God who actually shines through not when I am surprised and overwhelmed that I can’t keep going.  Rather, my God shines through when I am aware of my limits, my finite ability to care for all the needs I encounter- when my cracked clay jar is maybe too broken to really hold water.  Why?  Because when I am truly emotionally and physically exhausted, I get to, or I have to, depend on God and depend on God’s people to help me recharge, to help me understand, to help me debrief, to help me smile, to help me see the beauty of a God who carries me past exhaustion.  The exhaustion is a reminder of my finiteness, and God’s boundless compassion.  The exhaustion, though cool as it may be as a badge to brag about in front of others, is only a sign to point to God and his truly good love for his creation.  Now I can sleep to that.

Water Into Wine, Wine Into Ministry

Yes, Jesus turned water into wine.  It’s a pretty cool miracle.  And yes, Jesus is at parties of some kind in so many stories in Luke it’s fair to ask how Jesus ever got anything done.  These are the interesting tidbits of Scripture that intrigue me.

Partially because of my experience over the last couple days.

I went to a wedding rehearsal dinner on Friday and then performed a wedding in the evening the next day.  As I told a friend, the couple themselves were pretty spiritual people, but many of their friends were the fringe kind of Christians.  By that I mean that they are pretty solidly good people, people who would take a bullet for a friend and help someone in need and who like to have fun, but also people whose spiritual beliefs end at “I believe in God and Jesus was cool too I guess.”

So there I was at the wedding rehearsal and the wedding, the chaplain at a pretty non-religious event.  At the rehearsal dinner, for the first 30 minutes I was the weird chaplain in the room who was like that pastor who doesn’t drink, doesn’t curse, lives a tight life, and generally doesn’t have fun.  At least that is how I was treated.  (Okay, so you’re right, they were close!)  So of course I find myself with 30 people and loads of alcohol.  At the wedding, similar, just more people and lots of dancing (you know us Church of Christers- we don’t even let visions of sugarplums dance in our heads, let alone ourselves at a party).  But here’s where things took an interesting turn.  As I had a beer or glass of wine at those events (after the wedding of course), people’s perceptions of a minister changed.  Many of the people at the rehearsal dinner, even though who most distanced themselves from faith, brought me into their circles of conversation, and most asked about what chaplaincy was like and some even started sharing about their own experiences of health issues or hospitalizations.  One guy shared about his life going away from his family and entering the new world of a big city.  One young woman talked to me for 20 minutes about her own story of faith, while drinking a mixed alcoholic drink of course.  And another talked to me about the life of partying that she seemed to be stuck in, where I got to encourage without high on my horse judgment.  It was as though I was turning water into wine with these people and becoming more accepted and welcomed, simply because I shared a little (I had two beers at the rehearsal dinner, I will be honest).  It wasn’t simply that I was turning water into wine simply to be accepted or that I was turning water into wine for fun, but that it became a moment for me to minister to them in small ways and reflect back a life where faith was cool and not so tight.

And the same thing happened at the wedding, although instead I had two glasses of good red wine- I can’t help but take in good red wine!  After the wedding, when I had sat down with some folks who then were seeing the chaplain, the minister, drink with them, I became their minister.  One couple talked to me about their difficulty getting into a rhythm for going to church and felt distant and perhaps unfaithful.  I got to offer them acceptance, not to make them feel good, but to encourage them to keep trying and not fall away completely.  One guy told me about his family and his frustration with his father not allowing anyone to enjoy themselves and how Jesus actually seemed like a guy who encouraged people to have fun but to have fun well and to have fun for the purpose of community.  Another young woman shared about her father’s illness.  In all of these situations, none of those people would have shared if I would have kept myself distant.  As I see it, as a Christian we live differently, but not so differently that our lives look burdensome and bitter, but rather so different that they are joyful and life giving.  In these wedding situations over the weekend, in showing a life that was different but a humanity that was common, I was able to do more pastoral care and ministry than on most nights of the rest of my life.  By the way, just in case you were thinking it, not one of these people I mentioned were drunk at the time of the ministry, so they weren’t just in a drunken stupor able to be talked into any conversation- rather the conversations were all voluntarily started by those people.

There are obviously limits to this.  Moderation matters.  Caution is helpful.  I can’t just drink every night or go to parties all the time, but at certain points in my life, I can point to moments where the common humanity and a typical activity for most people may actually be the most Christian thing I can do, or may be the best way to glorify God in those situations.  That’s Jesus weeping right?  Or Jesus attending a dinner with the tax collector Levi?  Or simply Jesus actually becoming human.  In that sense I, and any others for that matter, get to turn wine into a ministry situation every now and again.  That truly is a blessing.  It at least was worth it last weekend.

Perhaps you have had moments like this too.  Maybe it wasn’t drinking but a time you shared with some non-Christian how hard a particular thing was (like being a Christian, or fighting certain behaviors).  How did God work through you in that time?  If you don’t agree or have a different stategy, then share with me why, and I would love your feedback.

Child Abuse Awareness Month

So, just a couple days ago at Texas Children’s Hospital, we began our activities for raising awareness for child abuse- aptly named Child Abuse Awareness Month.  It is quite meaningful to think about.  Consider a couple facts:

  • Houston leads the nation in non-accidental traumas, many of which come under child abuse or violence towards children.
  • Texas Children’s cared for over 1,200 children last year whose cases involved child abuse- at our hospital alone!
  • 13 children died of child abuse at our hospital last year, and 8 have already died from similar abuse situations already this year.

These truly are sobering facts to me.  One of the activities we did at TCH was that we tied a blue ribbon on our playground fence for each one of the 1,200, and a black ribbon for the children that died.  Now, when one passes our playground, you cannot help but see the size and scope of the memorial.  And of course, that includes heartbreak.

In most places(if not all) in the world, people have formed a worldview that children shouldn’t die.  And in most places (if not all), there is a perception that children are cared for and that any abuse is inconceivable.  But there are some people who consider it okay to sexually abuse a child to feed their own power, or beating a child because they have demon, or verbally demeaning their child because of looks or interests, simply find it okay to hurt children when they are out of control with anger and fear and passion.  But it’s not.  It is not okay, it isn’t just, it isn’t right, it has no integrity, it is selfish, and it is really evil.

The anger I see on nurses faces when tying a blue or black ribbon is tremendous, as is a staff’s indignancy towards parents who have absolutely torn apart their children’s lives to find fulfillment or find “right” punishment.  Their is anger everywhere in the hospital and around the support systems for these kids, as there should be.  But the rub  is that there will never be a time without it.  No matter what kind of education and training people may receive, or how much awareness is raised, there are those who commit child abuse and will still abide by the same excuses and who are still driven by the same emotions.

There may be few solutions, but there are memories and memorials, which are callings to remind that evil cannot overtake our lives, that darkness never reigns forever, and the God’s love and the love of humanity is more powerful than any violence can be.  Justice will happen, even if all we can do is celebrate and mourn the lives with a blue and black ribbon.  At least, we as Christians trust so.