A Shell

On Thursday, I had a tough day.  But one thing was cool.  It was the afternoon when I met this awesome 3 year old boy.

He speaks Spanish, and his parents, sweet and kind and reflective as could be, also spoke Spanish.  This boy and his parents had been told that he has pulmonary hypertension, which is a lung disease that can be a silent stalking killer.  A kid may be alert, playful, fun loving, and shortly thereafter die, because it is so fast acting and because it acts up completely unexpectedly.  The first step in medical care: a PICC line, a line that essentially goes straight to the chest through the upper arm.  And his parents asked for prayer for this little child who seemed so scared.  He cried as they were preparing him for the procedure.

And then his parents asked for an emergent baptism, done in the two minutes or so right before the procedure, as those with pulmonary hypertension have a higher rate of vulnerability to coding (having a heart attack) in the PICC procedure.  So I did it.

I have done baptisms before but this one was special.  Not for the actual ceremony.  It had no special beauty or no intricately crafted words.  Sterile water, poured over the head three times in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  I told him before he was baptized that his parents have asked that he be baptized, and that this was a sign that God loves him and that his parents love him too.  Nothing special.  But what was so special, is that I used a shell for the baptism, holding the water that I poured.  And after the baptism, he cried as some water fell into his eye, but he became so intrigued by the shell.  This little sea shell amongst all his toys was the center of his interest.  He pulled it gently from my hands and then observed it a little from a couple angles, finding great joy in its white and grayish blue colors.  Then he moved it to the palm of his hand, and gripped tightly.  His parents were incredibly appreciative and incredibly teary.  But no matter, even when they tried to take him for his PICC line, right into the OR, he continued gripping that shell.

And as he went under through anesthesia, he was found gripping the shell.  And during the surgery, he gripped the shell.  And…almost to my chagrin and bringing tears to my eyes, he came out, and he woke up with the same old boyish excitement, he was still gripping tightly the shell.

A simple shell, white and grayish blue, ridged in some places and flat at others.  But a sign of the love of God and love of family.  That’s something to hold onto.  (And that precious smile I got when I gave him my favorite toy- a punching frog pen is also something worth holding onto.)

Chicago: Day 1

Chicago is cool.  You knew this though.  Chicago has the feel of a very nice city, with lots of great architecture and good people and wonderfully distinct neighborhoods and lots of good sports.  It is a really great city, and while it does lack true oceanside beach, it is has beach from a great lake.  So I can’t argue.  But it is just an awesome place period.

So I came to Chicago because I have a really awesome friend and his wife who are really important to my life and who I want to be.  So I came to spend time with them and catch one of the cities on my bucket list.

I got to listen to a Gospel of Matthew colloquium at Loyola University, which offered me a chance to hear three people talk about their academic work with the book of Matthew.  And for me, it was a really good experience.  While I am not a through and through academic, I have an MDiv and therefore I have some academic in my background.  But it was thought provoking.  How does oral tradition change the way I think about the gospels being shared?  How does Matthew’s metaphor of debts for sin change the way I think about sin?  Are debts a metaphor for sin or is sin the metaphor for debts, and gosh, that would really get me thinking about the importance of the sociological status of our church communities…anyway, I digress.  I enjoyed hearing their thoughts because while I don’t feel like we ought to trivialize the Word of God with endless breaths of speculation, it is provocative to hear that the way I read Scripture may be different, may not be the only way.  Again, it was great to get started with a thought provoking seminar.  And it also provided an awesome opportunity to see the university architecture at Loyola, including some of their buildings right by the great Lake Michigan.

And then it was a Cubs game.  Now, it is on my bucket list, so I was incredibly blessed to be able to see the excitement of a Cubs fans with all their dress and gear and passion, and hang out in the “Friendly Confines.”  And it was great to attend a game outside of Texas, where the 7th inning stretch is just “Take Me Out to The Ballgame” and where they serve a different regional beer (I love Ziegenbock and Shiner, don’t get me wrong) like Old Style (probably even cheaper than anything I know).  It was also cool because I got to sit around for 4 hours and talk life with Cambry, things like church, children’s ministry, the hospital life, Matthew and Mark, dating, and all sorts of storytelling.  And the Cubs won in beautiful fashion, from a 9th inning, down to the last strike Darwin Barney of all people 2 run game tying home run that just got over the fence in left…and then a last strike in the 11th single to score a run.  Crazy exciting way to win a game.  While at the game, Cambry gave me a little bit of a distant tour of the city, explaining the city skyline and preparing me for the fun of Downtown Chicago on Day 2.  Cool, cool, cool.

And did I mention that I got to ride on elevated trains, the L line as some might call it here in Chicago.  I love elevated trains because there is a nostalgia and a Northeastern stigma I associate with them.   It was great!

And to finish it all off, I got to try a Chicago deep dish pizza, which Cambry and Heather ordered as a deep dish with sausage, diced tomatoes, spinach and butter crust.  Pizza you have to eat with a fork and knife.  That’s awesome!  The sausage was like a cake, not just simple fine slices.  The cheese thick and bubbling.  The crust so sweet and yummy.  Amazing pizza.  Like a casserole of pizza, not a “slice” of a pizza.

Pretty cool.  But I don’t write this all to double up on what I posted on Facebook.  Rather, I write this all because it is a way for me to claim how fortunate I am to travel like this.  The world is a great place, and I love having the opportunity to see it and discover it and find all the joy it brings to life.  The crazy thing is that I got these tickets on Southwest for just 199 dollars.  Easy tickets for a small amount of money that I am fortunate enough to have.  And it is by far a small cost to finding great joy in life by exploring the tastes, the beauty, the people, and the world around us.  I appreciate it, and the cool thing is, it was only day 1!

Lust and Temptation

I don’t quite know what to say about this lust stuff (females who don’t quite want to hear please know what is coming!).

Men are way easily tempted.  I can only speak for that.  And I know that when I make myself vulnerable, I am most accessible to the desires that are within me.  I mean, when I am tired and exhausted, the desires within me that want to hurt someone by telling them how terrible they are at something, or the desire to become so self centered (and isolated) and drive everyone away from me- these desires are easily brought to the surface.  As is lust and sexual desires (for all guys, single and married).

Day in and day out, I as a Christian practice purity, and by golly, it is a practice because it doesn’t come easily and must always be given great amounts of efforts and focus.  But when I am tired, when my mind is mush from long days, or when I get really stressed, these are the times when lust finds the cracks in the practice because I am too tired/lazy/weak/stupid (whatever term that reflects exhaustion but also some complicitness) to keep practicing those days.  And this is not about to become some version of Luther’s “sin boldly.”

All I mean to say today is that I need to find rest. I need it because right now I feel so drained, especially after day 4 of crazy at the hospital.  And I feel so wide open to temptation.  Sometimes the solution is being around people and gaining strength that way.  But that can’t always happen.  Yes, I have read books about every young man’s battle and the like, but there is more to it (please don’t ever tell me to read a book about anything as a help to my problems!).  it takes self control.  Self control requires a lot of other things, like boundaries and cautiousness.  Control over eyes, control over actions, control over my schedule, control over many things.

Anyway, I am so sorry that any of you must read this stuff.  But I am a very imperfect guy, as many people know all too well.  It is interesting to me that I cycle so much.  I will go months or weeks in really good shape, but then have a week or two of difficulty and then work it out again for a while.  But right now, I don’t like where I am with the lust stuff.  And it doesn’t mean I don’t like my job or that my job is out of control as much as when lots of events and emotional catalysts happen at the same time.  In this week, a couple deaths at the hospital, very emotional parents, Gramma Janet (don’t ask), preaching, church concerns, getting a dog- it’s all kind of adding up I’d say.  As it were, pray for me to find my balance again from the difficult week.  Pray for me to find some control.  Pray for me to find some pleasure in the right places- and let’s not pretend I am not talking about lust (and all the many things that can come from that, like the words…cna he possibly say them…no…surely not…masturbation, pornography…aaaaaahhhhh, he said them…yes I did).  And do more than pray- share some empathy sometime too, so that this little rut just stays that way!

The Hospital Drain

The last three days have been very difficult at the hospital.  So much so that I need to be very careful about what I say and how I say it this week.  (Isn’t it convenient then that I am preaching this week on James 3, which is about taming the tongue?!?)

On Monday I visited with just three families, and one of those I met just for 10 minutes.  The other 7 hours were devoted mostly to two families of children being declared braindead and/or moving towards that conclusion.  One mother couldn’t handle it well.  She shook, she yelled, she screamed, she pleaded while calling out to the bed ” (name), get up, you will be okay, (name)!, (name)!” all while falling off her chair and practically becoming overwhelmed with emotion.  She had to be essentially held while flailing and screaming in her grief.

Day 2 wasn’t much better.  One PICU visit to one of the families from the previous day.  6 traumas and pages elsewhere in the hospital.  Some minor, some not so.  A baby in the NICU struggling after a recent birth to beautifully loving parents.  Kids getting hit by cars.  Kids getting gashed open by BBQ grills.  Kids in car accidents.  Constant go and constant call from the pager.

Day 3, perhaps the more difficult.  A mother afraid to cry in front of others who I could only hug and cry with.  A mother desperate for prayers for a daughter who may not make it in much longer in the world but yet is prepared for long life through a trach.  A fther trying desperately to not cry and be positive in front of his pained daughter.  The family in the ICU I have been working with- who essentially have brought back my confidence after what was seemingly the most confidence busting, low self esteem inducing, self doubting temptation that was the family that didn’t like me from two weeks ago- this family was going through an excruciatingly difficult and emotional third day of waiting for braindeath.  It was brutal, if only because by this time I had baptized the child, provided prayer for parents who felt like they didn’t know how to pray, affirmed the unity of family brought together in tragedy, and assisted in reframing tragedy through meaning making and storytelling.  Well, to this family I added more.  A grandmother lost in her own past of drinking and drugs and now facing the grim future of life without her kids and granddaughter because she chose to bring pain to them years ago.  And she wasn’t quite with it.  And I sat with her and talked with her for many hours, going from tiredness to exhaustion to joy to sadness and back to exhaustion.  She wanted to smoke.  She wanted to borrow money.  She wanted to smoke some more.  She wanted someone to buy her food.  But she also wanted to share how worthless life is to her as a burden to others who can’t share her grief and who should just keep drinking her life away.  It was brutal as the day went on and the mixed emotions of praying for a deceased child and connecting with a family who told me that I had done an incredible job for them over the many days and they truly were grateful for my support which brought tears to my eyes, all on one side, and the exhaustion and sadness and frustration on the other.

These are the days that may require the most empathy, and they surely do because they reflect an important truth- that we are all like this in many ways.  Death is truly at work in us, but life also.  Our families are messes in themselves, filled with gossip, slander, backbiting, grief, anger, sadness, disenfranchised grief, despair, and yet also often filled with joy, happiness, empathy, loyalty, tears, unity, laughs, and stories.  We are people filled with many good things and many bad things, many hopes and many fears.  So it is in me.  And you.  The reason these days are so hard is not that they are simply sad situations.  Rather, it is because they are all too familiar.

Labor Day Weekend Fun













So, I asked my roommate Ben if he and his girlfriend and her roommate would like to all have dinner.  They amicably said yes.  So I did my best…

Portabello Grilled Cheese Dippers, Homemade Tomato Soup, and a starter Caprese Salad (alternated layers of different colored tomatoes, basil, and sliced mozzarella cheese for those who don’t know).  And good wine of course.

Good dinner and good conversation.

Backing that up, I got to hang with some of my favorite people over the last two nights, but the last night was the best.  Michael & Luci’s homemade pizza and….NERTZ!  Yes, I love this game and up to this point did not know any of my friends who played in Houston.  But these wonderful people do and are good at it.  So we played around 25 hands of Nertz, which was fantastic and fabulous and loads of fun trying to play solitaire faster than your friends.  Between that and Friday night’s foodfest and a good service at church, it is a great weekend.

And now I can attempt to become the greatest Nertz player ever…well, not exactly- those Bells can play.  And so can Caleb too?  Exciting!

Anyway, it is a good weekend.  Very refreshing and very needed after a long month and change since I got back from California.