Mother’s Day Finale

The final post to my Mother’s Day Week series is obvious, a climax to the entire series.  You saw this coming right?  You know I am talking about you Mom.  (tears)

Behind this successful young man, there is a good mother.  And what I say today Mom I do not say on my own, but I say it in the voice of three sons, James, Joseph, and Joshua.

Mom, you were there when dad had his seizure, and your presence during that incredibly scary time brought peace.  And you were there when Grandpa and Grandma died.  And you were there when we lost dogs like Yappy and Buttercup.

But you were there during great events too, like graduations from Pepperdine and ACU, and during my trip to Italy, and for that incredible family driving trip from Cali to Kentucky, where we had ham for breakfast, lunch and dinner over and over again.

But your presence has an interesting twist.  While I am the oldest child, we have not always been perfectly tight.  Sometimes, church relationships have made things tough between us, and sometimes, we have probably not always been on the same page.  But you shown me about perseverance in relationships.  You have never quit in our relationship.  You never quit when family relationships were tense and uneasy.  You never quit when it seemed like life was falling apart financially and there were great pressures at home and work.  You never quit.  And you persevere through it all.

You know about perseverance.  You know about the troubles and difficulties in life and yet you continue through and continue to be positive about what life brings you.  Even when churches are not home, you persevere for others, for your nieces and nephews, for yourself, for the family.  Your presence then was always about helping others make it, helping others to feel like life was not going to end right then and there.  This is helpful perspective and presence- it is invaluable.  When crisis happens, you care that people make it and that people get along.  And you will keep people together so that they can persevere through it.  As a chaplain, I get to help families persevere.

And from you I have learned the meaning of family.  You continue to try to give your children what you may not have had.  You continue to focus on your kids, your grandchild, your nieces and nephews.  It is absolutely incredible how much responsibility you place on yourself for family, and it is a sign of how important family is to a good life.  It is not that family is important just because, but you value family because that is where love needs to be found and where life begins.  This attitude and perspective of yours encourages and makes me want to look forward to my own family.  I look forward to the time when I get to bring my kids to you, because I know you will be an incredible grandmother as you are a wonderful mother, simply because you treasure the place of family.

For our family, you have been glue for us.  You have instilled in us the need for one another, the need to persevere, and also, the need to dream.  You have been a constant source of encouragement to pursue more.  You have encouraged me along the way, affirmed the path of each brother, and wanted us to be happy.  For me that has been a dream of being a chaplain and moving away, and you have been a support of those things.   And you have encouraged us to dream of other smaller things, like being an adventurer around Southern California and wanting to drive cross country.  Dreaming is something you do and encourage, and I hope and pray that your own dreams become reality as they have for me.

Thanks Mom for all you do and for all that you are.  Thanks Mom for encouraging me to be what I can be and actually pursue the dreams.  Thanks Mom for being present and persevering and for setting an example that your mom, Grandma would be proud of.  Love you!

My Grandmother Lorine

Mother’s Day Week, Day 7 (albeit a day late).  So this week, I have had the wonderful gift of thanking and telling the story of women who have been incredibly meaningful in my life- Cyndi Pardee, Jacqui Denham, Glenda McDonald, Nugget Skates, Norma Hoch, Luci Bell, and now my maternal grandmother, Lorine Goldy, who from now on I will call Grandma.

I don’t know how much I can express to you about this lady without running out of appropriate words.  My Grandma was a very spiritual lady- she read Scripture out loud every morning out loud.  I cannot begin to tell you how formative this was for me, even though my brothers and I were not raised in one congregation or faith tradition.  To this day, the fact that she read Scripture every morning has been the shape of faith for me.  I try to read every morning because I associate that activity with being faithful.  It also provided the ground for me to see how faith mattered outside of church, for Scripture was the present reality of God, day in and day out.  Thus, I learned very early that Scripture was like hearing the voice of God, and further, that one does not have to have an deeply theological understanding of Scripture for it to become a shaping influence on our lives, for us as humans to yearn for it like the deer pants for water.  Simply from reading Scripture out loud and faithfully every day everywhere.

But my grandmother was way more than  that.  She brought smiles to others faces.  Her singing was often known as more hair raisingly strained than melodic, and certainly she never had a problem joking about her voice.  But in all of the unmelody there was never anything but praise.  She loved to sing, loved to sing the classics, not because she was good at it, but because she truly loved God.  But we loved to laugh at her when she sung.

And she was a hoot at church.  She was an extrovert who loved people.  One of the things she loved to do is have monthly potlucks for which she would put together birthday celebrations.  One time she made musical insruments out of old toilet paper rolls, and had the people celebrating birthdays play them to an old tune.  She was hilarious, and would not mind making a fool of herself.  She loved to laugh, loved to play, was self effacing, and thoroughly enjoyed fellowship- good Christian fellowship and laughs was worth being a fool for.

It was my Grandma that encouraged me to move towards ministry.  She affirmed my gifts, encouraged me to keep going, loved hearing my lessons from classes when I came back from Pepperdine.  It was her encouragement that got me to Pepperdine Lectureships one year, where I saw Pepperdine, fell in love with the school, and saw people of faith learning and loving Scripture.  When I went to Pepperdine, she longed to hear me preach and I could not help but be in tears as I preached my first Sunday night at college worship, got it taped, and brought it home for my bedridden grandmother who would die just a month later.  She got to watch her grandson preach, and I could not hold back my tears and joy.

She walked alongside of me in faith.  She placed faith and God in her life in remarkable ways, and thus created life wherever she went.  Thus, she became my partner in life, and my partner in faith.  It must be said that I was her oldest grandchild, and that came along with a special relationship that could only transform my life.  She was my partner as I developed and reached into a life of caring and ministering to others.  She became my best friend during difficult times and I learned from her how difficult times were to be managed and experienced.   Through an honest faith, and honest life, and a life of laughs.  With that, life was truly blessed.

Unfortunately, she could not make it past that Christmas season in my junior year of college.  She went into home hospice care at our house, and died shortly before Christmas.  It was a difficult loss.  It was a brutally difficult time before she died, traumatic to see her completely lose control of her body and lose the consciousness that made her life so vibrant.

But let me tell you this.  Her memory lives on so powerfully in me and in my life.  My ministry is a gift I continually give back to her.  My ministry to families and children is an honor to her.  The glue I have become for my family is a testimony to her.  I laugh because she laughed, and I cry as she cried.  I help as she helped, I love as she loved.  My Grandma laid down her life for me, and up from her memory she has borne fruit for the kingdom of God.  Praise God for my Grandma!

The Actor and the Gang

Mother’s Day Week, Day 6.  So this has been a very interesting series of posts for me this week, because I don’t think I have evaluated my life quite this way before.  Which is why my post tonight is so striking to me.  Before a year and a half ago, I could see only a career in chaplaincy somewhere and a new church as an afterthought.  I could not see myself finding a new church to truly call home, just a place where I could bit my time because finding a good church was impossible.

I could not have expected that I would get to know Luci Bell, Brandi McDaniel, Chelsea Sargent, Amy Fuller, Debra Gibbs, and the many wondeful other ladies at Southwest Central.  Yeah, their husbands are cool people too, but I am struck by the way these wives have become a invaluable piece of my life.  While I could say tons about them all, I must say my share about Luci Bell.

Well, Michael Bell, I’m sure I’m just letting the cat out of the bag now, but your wife is pretty awesome.  I think I met her on day one, but it wasn’t that meeting that in and of itself mattered.  It was her presence throughout my year and a half at Southwest Central.  The days where I could come and hang with the Bells on Sunday after church.  The way Luci engaged me about my job and my life.  The way Luci jokes, tells stories grandly, and whose smile is so precious.  Perhaps what has meant so much to me is Luci’s genuineness.  She is not afraid of her story, of her low points in life, of her failures.  She is not afraid to be reflective about her life- from thinking about what it meant to read her daughter a story to the meaning of a church activity for her.  She thinks, she reflects on life, is aware of what is going on within in, and is not afraid to share it.  When I share stories about my work, she is so reflective about what that means in her life.  I can tell that she really enjoys life because she doesn’t let any darkness or any tough story overcome her, but rather she makes meaning of it.  And usually that meaning involves a faith that seems as honest as it is deep.  But this genuineness and reflectiveness about her own story means something else- I can bring my own story, my own sinfulness to her.  Luci has brought a comfort to me that I treasure, a comfort where I know she will hear my pain and struggles of my story and she will offer a touch of that unconditional love of Jesus, and along with it an empathy and compassion that is truly heartfelt.  This is truly meaningful to me.  That openness about her own life encourages and even calls out a openness and reflectiveness about mine.  I remember that day when I flew in from Los Angeles just for a weekend, and on that Sunday I went to the Bells house to watch football.  And I talked with Michael and Luci about many things.  But while Michael had to leave, Luci provided me with the most wonderful listening and compassionate listening about my life and my concerns and cares.  The comfort level I had with her I can only show gratitude for.

And another little thing must be mentioned.  When I am around Luci, I catch her enthusiasm of faith and praise.  I want to worship God because God has caught a hold of her and brought joy to her.  This joy and enthusiasm is something that my life lacked for many years as I was stuck in the bitterness of some of my teen issues.  but with Southwest Central and the presence of Luci, I can also join in praise and find the deep well of joy rising in me.  Praise God for Luci!

But the thing is, it is not just this Southwest Central attending, anime voicing, daughter raising, Dallas going actor that has made a difference- the gang of ladies I mentioned earlier (Brandi, Chelsea, Amy…) bring their own invaluable personality and character.  And I wish I could write about them all.  But I want more than that.  I want you to come to our church and find out what I found out already with Luci and the gang- that these are some incredibly faithful and passionate disciples of Christ, who care about others and understand life and bring joy.  Come and see for yourself.

The Lady Named Nugget

On Day 5, I bring to you someone who actually helped changed the trajectory of my life.  Nugget Skates, a former youth minister no less at Arlington Church of Christ in Riverside California.

I met her on a whim in the midst of a chaotic and dark time.  My grandfather had just died, perhaps a week before and it was my grandmother who invited me out to morun with her- at the time I was worshipping as a Mormon.  I arrived to worship and mourn with my grandmother, and I was introduced to the five boy youth group, Cyndi Pardee (mentioned in blog #1), and Nugget Skates.  At the time, my life was fairly simple: I was thinking about finishing my high school career (I was 15), thinking about a career as an architecture major and architect, going to school at USC, going on a mission trip as a Mormon and having some number of kids with a beautiful Mormon girl (some things are just dreams right!).  But when I showed up to church that day, I was invited out to all sorts of activities at that church, and I found a home to be a kid and teen again, truly welcomed.  And this lady seemed to be at the head of it all.  She was a fairly extroverted yet older woman who loved kids, used words like “lovie”, was sweet as all get out, and was serious about faith.  I was invited to a devotional at her house, a place that soon became a safe place for me through the years, where she led the boys and I in a devotional with the lights dim and encouragements that “what was said here stays here.”  And those boys opened up, and she opened up, and even visitors opened up about their lives- the sinful, the dirty, the helpless, the dark places of our lives.  I was struck by the honesty, the genuineness of this lady whose heart and passion overflowed to these kids and truly developed life in these kids.

She led service events with the youth, led us into mission trips to Mexico to build houses, brought us closer to study in Bible Bowl with 2 Kings and Revelation, encouraged me to read Scripture with precision and passion at LTC, affirmed me as a child of God, and even led me and my dad on a study about Mormonism.  Yes, she thought Mormonism was very bad, even a cult, which I disagree with to this day.  Yet it was her love, her genuine character and passion for an honest faith, open to both doubt and confession and acknowledging of sin.  I learned there that I loved confession, that I loved a community that opened themselves to one another whether they knew each other for a week or 10 years.  That culture, that genuineness, began with her, and her own confession and acknowledgment of fault and failure.  It was her encouragement that led me to become a youth ministry intern one summer at the church under her, and I truly felt a call from her to work with youth.

At the end of my time there as a student in the youth group, I received powerful words during a graduation ceremony from her (and one of her speakers) that sealed my fate- words about my ability to glue to others and hold things together, words about my character of developing friendships, and words about my call to do great things for the Lord- all these words set my heart ablaze for ministry, and entering Pepperdine University.

She has been my mentor all this time.  She has been a light reminding me that I have been called for a great work.  Her presence was genuine, a presence that now reverberates in me as I walk into hospital rooms with strangers who need a genuine and honest presence.  Her presence reverberates in me because I am here because one day I met her, and she sparked the fire burning within me to be a helper, a healer, a presence, a caregiver and compassionate friend of youth.  How this person would be a female youth minister named Nugget in a church of christ I cannot say, but I cannot but say thank you Nugget, and that I owe you a great debt of love and gratitude.

The Memory

Mother’s Day Week: Day 4.

As I continue my series, there are so many that I want to write about but of whom I will not be able to write about.

But, there is one mother, one woman, who I must write about because she has impacted my life simply through memory.  Talk about fruit?  Miss Norma Hoch, a precious lady indeed.  I know relatively little about her, but I know that she meant the world to her husband of many years, Thornley.  Thornley of course is the elderly man that I have lived with in Houston for 18 months or so.  It was because of her compassion and care that he chose to open his house to me when I sorely needed it.  It was because of her missing incredible presence that I was invited in as companion, partner and friend into Thornley’s house.

By the way, if you don’t know her, you are missing something special.  From what I hear, she loved adventure- her trips with Thornley to Italy and England were so memorable that Thornley has old videos and pictures that bring wildly contented smiles at sight.  She loved healthy eating, which is why during al my time, Thornley smirkingly asks to go to get pizza and a “two fisted” burger and barbeque often.  Norma’s presence was gentle and sweet.  When I have seen great compassion and kindness on the part of Thornley, it is usually attributed to this special woman.  When Thornley sends birthday cards every week to people at church, it stems from his special relationship with this woman.  This woman that I don’t know.  But I see her picture in the house, I see the precious and contented smile on his face, I feel the compassion and playfulness of her life.

She is like the woman from the movie Up, Ellie, just as he is very much like that old man in the movie.  And luckily, I happen to be the recipient, like the Boy Scout, of much of that man’s love, love dotted and indelibly formed in the legacy of Ellie.  I have received great love, love that has been shaped and encouraged by the presence and legacy of this wonderful lady, Norma Hoch.  She is a memory, one I haven’t met.  But I certainly have met her.  And she certainly has changed my life.

The Astros Fan

Mother’s Day Week.  Day 3.  So I written so far about a mother in my youth group and a woman who married into my family.  Today?  A chaplain who also happens to be an Astros fan.

Glenda McDonald is one of the coolest people I know.  She is a chaplain for Children’s Hospital Memorial Hermann.  She is a fantastic chaplain not because she is super theological or super deep or superhuman (although she does lean that way sometimes).  She is normal, down to earth, approachable, life loving, adventurous and really super good with kids.  Glenda is extremely playful and even when she is in leadership positions, she reflects a comfort and laid back approach that is very comforting.

I say these things because it was with her that I started my residency (way) back in 2010 at Children’s Memorial Hermann, and she was my mentor.  With her example, I saw that it was okay for a chaplain to be playful, laid back, and fairly normal.  With her I saw that it was okay to laugh in the midst of harsh realities in the hospital.  It was okay to be the adventurous, outgoing, extrovert that loves going to baseball games and doesn’t always need to be the typical chaplain: very introverted and quiet, contemplative, highly theological in conversation.  No, instead, Glenda affirmed that I could talk Astros baseball to a kid, that I could think going to meetings was not always awesome, that chaplaincy could be simple in that it is about being a presence, and that it was okay to really dive into relationships and life with a zeal for people.

Essentially then, she showed me that it was okay to be me.  And I cannot tell you how much she said, “Just be you.”  She said it when I started the residency.  She said it during the residency.  She said before mid year consultations.  She said it before I interviewed at Texas Children’s.  She said it when I started in the wake of a really good chaplain at Texas Children’s.  Just be me.  She was like me in so many ways that her career and life as chaplain became a model of my own, a life lived out the joy and contentness for my own character and personality.  And she is a big baseball fan.  Loves baseball and the Astros.  How could I go wrong with that!

Obviously you can tell she had quite an impact on me, and I owe her much gratitude and joy because I am where I am because she showed me that it was okay that I am who I am.  Just be me.  Thanks Glenda!

The Wife

Ah, yes, Jacqui Denham.  She is my brother’s wife, a freshly minted Denham family member who luckily got a 2 for 1 discounted special to be in our family. She brings along a son, a cute stud of a 4 year old who makes me laugh like nobody’s business.  However, this post and celebration of her mother(ness) or special woman (ness) is not about her child Will.

It is about the way she shapes a family.  The way she reshapes people.  She transformed my brother.  She transformed him- not changed him, but brought out of him what he always was but may not have allowed himself to be.  She brought out his sense of responsibility, his faith.  A lot of his growth stems from the very fact he met her.  And it has been Jacqui’s ability to handle conflict and new family that I have been so impressed with.  It is not everyday that some random woman joins the Denham/Goldy clan and sticks and meshes seamlessly.  That’s been a drought much like the Red Sox World Series woes from 1918-2004.  But gloriously she broke the curse.  She managed the transition with grace and beauty, and when she has run into difficulty or conflict, she manages and does an exceptional job at dealing with the issues with compassion, concern, and skilled care.  She is indeed a mother, but she is more than a mother (which is why Mother’s Day to me is more about celebrating women who evidence great love).  She has a grace and charisma and passion for God that rubs off on others, brings others near, and encourages transformation in God’s love.  Her time with my brother reflects this.  People are better, they are closer to God because this woman of faith has interacted with her.  And it is because of this kind of character, the character evidenced in Proverbs 31 and in Genesis and in the Gospels that she is able to enter a strange family and adjust and make such an impact.  And I praise God for her.  Thanks Jacqui!

Mother’s Week

So, this is the week approaching Mother’s Day.  I am highly aware that Mother’s Day is both extremely joyful for some and extremely distressing for others (can’t have kids, lost a child, lost a special mother…).  It is inspiring and painful, full of joy and grief.  But Mother’s Day is less a celebration for me of mother’s as much as women who have been significant in our lives, whose fruit may be children, may be the compassion given to poor children, may be their life of righteous and faithful living, may be their gentle interactions that grounded faithful fellowship, or may be mentoring other children.

This week I want to acknowledge these things.  My goal this week is to blog every day  through this week talking about important women in my life for whom I am fruit of lives being laid down.  One a day, which is pretty easy for me.  As I write, remember that these are in no particular order and will represent all kinds of laying down a life, from a mother to a friend or stranger.

So, up first?  How can I not bring attention to Cyndi Pardee?  When I began attending my first Church of Christ, I attended the youth group at Arlington Church of Christ and even joined Bible Bowl, where I met this wonderful young man named Cambry and his mother Cyndi.  Cyndi was special in that she had a wonderfully open presence, a presence that invited trust in young kids and embraced difference and beauty in its many ways.  She had two boys and seemed so down to earth because she laughed and had fun.  Sometimes she made a fool of herself and didn’t mind.  She wouldn’t be afraid to claim her mistakes.  And she had a cool Toyota Previa minivan in which the middle row of seats could turn and face the back row, so four or five kids could actually sit looking at one another on superfun Bible Bowl roadtrips from Riverside to San Francisco or Las Cruces or Phoenix.  That van was pretty solid.

But that is beside the point.  She had a way of teaching Scripture and making Scripture come alive in Bible Bowl.  Scripture seemed cool because she cherished it.  But I will tell you the biggest reason (aside from being the mother of Cambry, one of my bestest friends, and a true man-crush if I were allowed to have them) that I include her.  She welcomed me.  Whenever I first met her, and when we were in Bible Bowl and I wasn’t a clear member of the church yet, and when I still visit her house when Cambry is home, I feel welcomed.  I feel genuinely like I am a friend of hers, and that she wants me to know that I am special.  That is true fruit.  That welcome is what I try to extend to others in my job as a chaplain, my role at a church that needs/wants to grow, and my friendships.  Welcome is a part of my life because I recognized it in her and her son, and it was so significant that I wanted to reflect that to others in gratitude.  That is fruit from laying down one’s life.  Thank you Cyndi!  May God bless you and all those you touch!


Well, I can’t help but laugh and be humbled when a friend tells his mother about possibly moving in with me, and upon hearing my name says, “the James Denham?” in response to the fact that she somehow has been reading my blog!  It is these kinds of things that truly humble me.  And make me joyous too.  I get to communicate to so many people, as do the people whose blogs I read.

Well that is my aside.  What I have been thinking about lately is my eyes.  Literally, my eyes.  During my employee physical, a number of things happened- blood drawn, a TB test shot, MMR immunization, Tetanus update immunization shot, movement tests, and drug screening.  But even with the dreaded shots and my stifling fear of needles, it was the vision test that had me anxious.

So, I was asked to look with both eyes and read the bottom line of that letter lined poster paper 15 feet away, with all its gloriously random T’s and V’s and E’s and P’s and D’s falling in rank together .  I read all the lines, even the bottom with the greatest of ease.  And then I was asked to place my left hand over my left eye, and I read the letters perfectly, even down to the bottom line.  Then I was asked to put my right hand over my right eye, and by this time I knew the letters on the bottom because I am a pretty sly guy with good memory (it is fairly easy for me to remember license plates I see- gloriously random alpha-numeric labels seem to be easily memorized in my head).  But something was different this time.  And panic set in as I realized that this time I could only remember the letters, but I could barely see the third line of 7.  The bottom lines faint, the middle lines blurred.  It didn’t seem real.  I have always had perfect 20/20 vision and been a benefactor of it- played sports all the time, and depended on my eyesight to be such a good (wink wink), disciplined (wink wink) and oft ticketed driver.  It has been the base of my confidence and surety.  And given the choice of a sense to keep with all the others going down, I would keep my sight.  It is precious to me.  But this time.  But these last four lines I couldn’t decipher.  Panic truly set in.

Immediately I was internally unseated as my mind began churning the possibilities: it is a simple loss for the day, I must have slept on my stomach with my head on hands and a hand in the eye…my eye surely is just inflamed or has something in it…I’m losing my eyesight fast because of some disease…I’m going blind in days….aaaaaaaa…..I’m gonna be blind by church tonight….aaaaaaaaaa….I’m gonna die! No, it didn’t get that far, but it did get to the blindness.  It sure scared me.  It sure made me anxious.  I have never worn glasses, never even worn contacts because I can’t stomach putting something that close to my eyes- seriously I can’t even give myself eyedrops of Visine.  Yes, you can say the obvious, I am a pathetic man.

But the loss of sight.  The possibility of losing my sight for good.  That possible future, now ever possibly real, is bleak, or in other words, coming into view. But what is more  than this, and probably the more serious, is the move towards gratitude.  I won’t go blind by next week (yeesh, I might want to strike that just in case).  But it has created in me a new sense of gratitude for the thing that I treasure so much that I don’t ever acknowledge.  I can be grateful about my sight because the reality is such that it may not always be there.  I can sing praises to God for his wonderful creation of sight, for I have seen some really majestic stuff in my days: the Alps near Interlaken Switzerland, the Arizona desert, the Grand Canyon, that stream in the Sierra Nevadas, morning sunrise at the beach, that girl I liked in college, a snowball fight, the bricks colored siena at sunset in the city named after that brick color at sunset in Italy- Siena.  Indeed, thank you God for my sight, and not simply for my sight but for my taste, and for my hearing, and for my touch, and for my smell.  I thank you God for the gifts I have received through those senses, for those senses are only gifts at the moment.