2 Years

March 19 is a tad special for me. Now, it’s not my birthday, August 26, or the day I was baptized, June 4. It’s not even quite the significance of July 27, when I married my wife (can’t wait to celebrate our first anniversary!). But it is a special day to remember.

Two years ago March 19 was a culmination of training, of hard work, of leaving and grieving and returning and grieving again. Two years ago March 19 was perhaps one of my proudest moments and one that spurred my imagination for my future. It also was filled with joy, excitement and anxiety too.

Two years ago on March 19 I started my job as a trauma chaplain at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston Texas.

Two years ago, I found myself starting this job after a guy wrenching 4 months of unemployment after I finished my masters degree and chaplaincy residency at one of the best hospital systems on the planet, Memorial Hermann. (I say 4 months knowing that 4 months may not be long at all for some and so I count myself lucky) 4 months I waited after hearing that the dream job I had applied to at Texas Children’s was denied to me and that I finished second in their search. My heart was torn out and I was confused- it just seemed perfect. And so I set on a journey away from Houston and my home church and the family that they were to me, and went back home to California. And I applied, applied, and applied more. In fact, I found a job offer and held off on it based on a measured wager that Texas Children’s might hire again. And when they offered, I continued my journey by returning to Houston, and feeling grief a second time for my blood family knowing that their presence would be sparing as I lived a half nation away.

Two years ago, I started here at TCH. A job that reflects my skills in listening and support and my heart to serve sick and hurting kids, bind up the wounds of their family, and reflect the presence of God. Two years ago, I started a job for which I now have grown into a unique ministry, one where I serve the trauma units, participate in the Child Abuse Advisory Team, present to clergy in Houston, participate in the BioEthics team, attend dinner dialogues to develop relationships with other faith groups, meet children and families with new diagnoses of cancer and diabetes and brain tumors, and get to meet all sorts of great parents and families. I get to read Scripture to kids, pray with parents, bless the hands of nurses and RT’s and tra the staff as my flock.

Two years ago, I got to start a job that reflects my competencies, my heart for where I find brokenness, and my familiarity with hospitals. And it also was a gift from God in that it allowed me to be a member at my church home where I find my spiritual family, my friends, and my wife.

I may not be a chaplain forever, but two years ago on March 19 I was given a gift of a new beginning at one of the greatest Children’s Hospital, with some of the best staff ever, and supported by family in Cali and family at Southwest Central, I have been grateful to God ever since. Praise be to God!

My Pregnant Wife is Effing Crazy

Wow. I don’t know what to say. Everyone laughs about it right and even share a hearty smile because it’s just what happens to every pregnant mother.

But shedding tears because a car is ugly? Not talking to me because I liked another girl once? Randomly grabbing my face at night because it soothes her? Peeing more than my dog Bailey does on his walks? Being mushy receiving my Valentines cards and notes? I mean, my wife has never been confused with mushy. Ever.

I mean she’s crazy. Like I don’t know how to characterize it. She smiles and and glares in the same look. She’s got that crazy stare. She will push me away and grab my arm and rip me back in the same breath. She wants to cuddle, but then I’m accused of laying on the baby. Give me a hug, firm but gentle. What!?!

She’s got cravings for chicken salad…and Gushers. Cravings for pizza…and apples…and lunch meat…and ice cream…and Girl Scout peanut butter patties…all before lunch.

Choices for her are not choices. They are both-ands. Or she is just confused and forgetful. And I can’t help but marvel at her talent for sleeping…except when she’s having pregnancy nightmares about cheating…or just moving around the bed because she can’t get comfortable…which is like all the time. And she is a little emotional these days. Emotions so complex and varying within seconds that my chaplain emotional intelligence has become as helpless as a broken compass. It’s crazy!!!

Some days I’m not sure whether to be amazed, confused, hurt, inspired, scared, helpless, or when I should laugh or cry. It’s actually all quite humorous.

My pregnant wife is effing crazy. Effing crazy. But I love it, because she is a great mother, and because she is my wonderful wife, and I love her pregnant craziness. I mean, carrying a child ain’t easy for 9 months!! She’s mine and taking care of her is worth every bit of it all! And I love her in spite of and because of the craziness!

Stantons!!!

While I am on Lenten gratitude highs as it were…

How can I not proclaim the awesomeness of Stanton’s City Bites in Houston? I mean, they usually got a great drink selection (both brews and non alcoholic), 9 fantastic burger choices, better than decent fries, and some really great owners and service. And did I mention the burgers?!?! My heart starts fluttering every time I even hear that I get to go this place. The meat is top notch and the burger buns/bread are tremendously delicious….I could really go again tonight even though I just had it this afternoon…wow!

So….I had a Cowboy Brunch today with all the normal trimmings plus an egg and fried pickles on Texas toast. Unbelievably good.

The Miss Piggie with bacon and candied bacon is legit awesome.

The Spicy Chipotle may be one of the best burgers I have had.

Even the kids meal chicken tenders are raging good- I can’t wait for my son not to finish his meal so I can eat it the following day (or for a snack the same day).

And I can’t help but love the place anyway- Elana and I held our wedding rehearsal dinner there and they went all out of their way to make it an awesome night including decorating with string lights (that are still up by the way), sweet fruit trays, shutting down the place…and the owner and manager now say hi and chat with us every time we visit.

Seriously, if you are in Houston, it’s worth visiting cause the food is awesome and the peeps are even better!

Just another Saturday

Just a Saturday. Just another Saturday morning and I am just enjoying sitting around, being lazy, watching Aiden and Leo play while Elana and I do our best to read. It’s a rainy day, one that invites some rest, some napping, and probably some unhealthy eating habits.

But it is a day that leaves me grateful. I have the clothes to wear on a cool or rainy day that make it a relaxing day. I have the possessions at home to make it a passable day- a TV to watch March Madness, toys for Aiden and friend Leo to occupy themselves with for hours, multiple beds so that people can take naps on their own (cause sleeping is a fury of moving parts in our household), a soda to sip, movies galore to watch, a computer to play or work on, a car to get me to fun activities…and those are the basics. I have the money to spend to inject some fun into the day such as a burger at the best place ever Stanton’s, or crawfish for my pregnant but always nuts over crawfish wife…I have the job and cash to allow it. I have good food to snack on and all sorts of other things to make me and many others happy. They are all nice things. And I am grateful for them all!

I don’t think they are the blessings of God themselves, seeing as I believe that God doesn’t bestow material possessions for faith. But, within them all I find gratitude and small semblance of happiness that allow me to see what I am really happy about, friends, family, and a wonderful presence of God at its foundation. I could have all the former and be without the friends family and God and not be happy. Or I could have none of it and still have friends family and God. But as life has it at this very moment of my life, which in and of itself is a gift of moments, I have the surrounding of friends and family, a God who loves me, and all sorts of the other resources (money, clothes, possessions, food, health, etc) to live it out through. And I am indeed grateful for it all, especially for the family, the friends, and the love of God.

Loving Aiden

As we get Aiden back today, I am full of multiple thoughts and reflections about life with him. I cannot express how grateful I am that I happened to run in the same circle as Aiden. I am so blessed that he opened up with me. I always am. I even have those moments like a parent might where you want to throttle them because they make caring for them so easy. 🙂

But seriously, it is a blessing to love Aiden. It’s a blessing because he’s helped me learn how to play with a child, helped me see another form of love, helped me learn to love when it’s not so easy, helped me to laugh and get out of moods. Lots of fun for me and I love it.

There is confusion at times whether I am his parent or not, and how I ought to relate to him. There is uncertainty as to how to be a stepdad (you who are natural parents will never quite “know” how this feels- the joys, the downs, the stresses, the hopes). There is angst from some that I have to be in his life. There is at times anger and vitriol because of my presence in his life. But the one thing that cannot be taken away, denied, scared out, or destroyed is that I love that child.

When I play with him, I can’t help but want you to smile because I want my son to have joy. When I help put you to bed, I can’t say have a good night without saying I love you. When I make breakfast for you, I can’t help but do it remembering my dad making pancakes and breakfast sandwiches and having the joy of being dad. When I go out to the Bounce House or a Texans game, I watch over you and guard you because you are more than a wonderful kid I get to play with. Perhaps I am different than most real parents with you because I can’t take for granted putting on your socks and shoes, cleaning the sheets after you blanketed your own blankets in vomit, or having a funny conversation with you, or riding a bike to the park. I don’t take any of this for granted.

You’re father I am not, your parent I may or may not be, but I can’t help but smile that God gave me the opportunity to love you as though I were!

The God Who Obeyed

Today as I listen to Caleb preach (and act) about Jesus, I am struck by Jesus’ obedience of all things.

Jesus listened to Gods voice and followed it through it through.

Jesus listened even when he didn’t want that burden.

Jesus followed even when it led to pain, hurt, and betrayal.

Jesus obeyed because he was faithful to God and trusted God. Even Jesus had to trust God, because the human experience of life, pain, loneliness, struggle and death is real and overwhelming- for everyone. And in the midst of it, Jesus obeyed and carried his cross.

And by his obedience, I have incredible joy and incredible forgiveness. By his obedience, I have found purpose in my life wherein I can follow and listen and obey, and take up my cross, both for myself and others. Jesus’ obedience brings joy, forgiveness, purpose, communion, family, and a constant relationship and presence with a God who always keeps his promises.

I am indeed grateful for the obedience, the faithfulness of Christ. May others see that in my obedience and my life.

Waking up grateful…

So yesterday I went to this conference and one of the presentations was about mind and body wellness. Particularly, the speaker asked everyone to start their mornings before even getting up from the bed by thinking of 5 people, letting their image come to mind, and acknowledging our gratitude for them. Short, like 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

It sure is different waking up like that. At least it gives my mind a whole lot less room to carry the frustrations, the chaos, the ups and downs from the previous month, week, day night or even sleep. And it gives my mind something to focus on while I do get ready. And it’s at least more positive! I liked it, and whether or not it’s something I do every day, I can appreciate it.

Who was I grateful for? Wouldn’t you like to know?! But the point that I noticed is that it reminded me of the goal of the day- to be happy. Mornings are probably my toughest time to be happy. I really don’t like them at all. They start in darkness and I usually get up first so it’s already blah. Plus, who really wants to wake up? I wake up and the twenty tasks before me begin. I wake up and remember the stress around my life. I wake up and get caught by the freight train of hopes, desires, wants, frustrations, disappointments. You do it too! But today, being grateful for these people allowed just a small sense of starting the day with a measure of happiness.

That’s nice. Thank you Joe, Mikey, Glenn Harper, my uncle Mike and Elana for a little blessing this morning. And thank you to the other 5’s that will come!

Bless Me Indeed

It seems that just about every day these days, I hear people talk about gratitude. And pretty much, how they are not good at it. Yeah, I get it. We fill our lives with so much, sometimes of good things, and sometimes even of not so good things, and then we are so exhausted or pulled by the busyness that we don’t allow the blessings of our life to pull us forward, to motivate us. Church becomes checklist, not recharge. Tball becomes burden on the schedule, rather than the joy for my son. You know the drill.

It is a perspective that I am supposed to carry, a stance towards life…that still allows for disappointment or frustration but maintains a calm sense of blessing, of the presence of God within it all somehow. It is personal- we all know those heroes of life who always seem positive, who overcome tragedy, disappointments, bad health or just bad luck and say “I’m blessed” when you ask how they are doing. And they truly mean it. Their sense of gratitude, or blessing reaches deep into them and throughout them. It is a personal commitment.

But gratitude is in every way a communal act just as much as a personal act. It requires people around you who claim that gratitude, who wonder aloud about the presence of God or of good things and then point it out…or people who just love seeing through a positive, upbeat lens…not just because but as a response to the greatness of God who have his own Son, a Son full of compassion and mercy and love that overflows into us. When we are surrounded by gratitude and blessing, and people whose eyes are attuned to look for it amongst the cracks, the crazy, the chaos in our lives, it becomes contagious. It’s like smiles or happy people we encounter that drive us insane and annoy us, but almost every time it is because we want to be that and want that attitude surrounding us. It is truly powerful.

All that being said, I am overwhelmed by blessings in my life. I am blessed by a wife who is determined and loving and makes me a better person because she is reflective, honest, and a thinker. I am blessed with a stepson who I will call my own and fight for as my own. I am blessed by a church that loves me, a family if love that surrounds me in spirit if not in presence, and friends that are downright awesomely faithful and supportive. I am blessed by a job with sick kids and their families that regularly reminds me that life is a gift and love an even better one.

But today, on Ash Wednesday, I am struck by the sheer blessing of God whose love is profound and beyond words. Blessed by the love and mercy and abiding presence of the God who is as majestic as the snowy peaks that dot the horizons and as gentle as a soft breeze. Blessed by a God whose Son sees me, you, and every man, woman and child and calls us his beloved, and wipes away tears and holds us in his hands, then bids us to life with him in Heaven. Blessed by a God who is everlasting, whom death could not conquer and who removed the fear of death and anything else that stands in the way of the profoundly and powerfully abiding love of God.

It is this God whom I am grateful for, a God who was present in my Grandparents care, spoke to me through the book of 2 Kings in Bible Bowl amongst the friendship of wonderful friends like Cambry and Nugget, led me on adventures to Japan and Italy that brought joy and friendship and maturity, and has provided for me as I follow him where he leads…to Pepperdine, to Florence, to Osaka, to Abilene TX, to Houston, to
So Cal and family, and back to Houston. He has provided and I can do nothing much but smile and appreciate the fact that this God is good and beautiful, no matter what life brings.