X

His mother sat at his feet, his sister lying next to him, and his grandparents and uncle surrounding them all like a blanket of love.

And the silence of grief filled the room.

The silence was almost tangible, because the silence carried echoes of a personality that made so many smile and reflected the deep trust that God would never let him go. It carried echoes of laughter by his mother, resisting the pounding pressure to become buckets of anxiety. It carried echoes of games played with nurses, chaplains, and his family, including uncles he deeply loved beating. It carried echoes of more coughs than could be counted, but just as many jokes told and nurses razzed and doctors given a hard time. It carried echoes of resilient declarations to keep going, to never give up. Yes, the silence carried echoes of a life well lived and a family well loved.

And we sat in that silence for a while.

Until the chair was moved, and the screech of its drag across the ground broke the silence. It was a short sound, nothing terrible, but it jolted us.

The jolt was enough though. It made space for echoes to become words and stories told. Until the jolt, grief carried in just echoes. That’s where grief starts every time. But after that simple jolt to the silence, there were not only echoes but laughs and memories and proclamations of legacy and storytelling galore.

That jolt got me thinking about how X did that very thing to those he came across in his life. He just seemed to jolt people out of their “silence” and get them moving towards storytelling. His life was full of resilience from the moment he was diagnosed with CF. He filled his life with breaths that mattered, and had a devotion for his family that was astounding. The way he and his mother interacted with staff, you could not walk out of their room without being jolted- probably into laughter- but more so into amazement at the life they created together.

There was a way in which he and his mother faced life with every honesty they could, and refused to back down without some crazy “fighter” mentality. No, there wasn’t a constant refrain that he was a fighter. Rather, there was a constant refrain that he loved his family and loved time with them. He fought not because he was a boxer demanding every round, but a son and grandson and brother who delighted in every moment with them. That’s what jolted us all. That’s what jolted me. I was so moved by his delight in his family, so moved the family’s delight in him, I just couldn’t help but be amazed. The way the family delighted in anything and laughed, it was infectious and invited a desire of so many to want to be a part of them. It meant something to be considered a part of X’s family, and it made my day to hear it. Yes, it was this sense of family and the delightful love that could be present there that jolted us into something better.

Family, faith, fun. This boy and his mother had all of that in droves. They exemplified how Gods delight in us can be lived amidst a group of people who love each other. In the last year, I needed that jolt and that presence. It made me a better parent, a better brother, a better chaplain, a better person- a more joyful person really. It reminded me of Gods presence and made me want to tell people of this family just like in that room, that jolt helped us start telling stories about X.

What a gift from God!

God lived in X profoundly. God loved X profoundly. And he loved God, and his mother, his sister, his grandparents, his uncles, just as profoundly. What a gift to serve them and serve X. Sometimes we just need that jolt right?

My 2018 New Years Christ Like Project (annual update)

This is my New Years resolution list, but it actually is my focus list for life all the time. So don’t be overwhelmed by the length. Many of these things I currently do but it reflects my principles, my hopes, and the places in my life where I can connect myself to my identity in God more and find greater joy. It has been posted as a page on my blog for a couple years and every year I update the practices. This started by being inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, but if you are familiar with that book my project will look differently. What is important about my project is that it is not just about happiness, but more importantly to grow towards Christ and becoming Christ like. Thus, my intentionality guides me towards a life that in every way reflects the deep love and compassion, the awe and the wonder of Christ. So, not a happiness project but a Christ-like project.  I cannot begin to tell you how important this reframe is for me. My life is not my own, and it is not lived for myself alone.  I hope and pray that as I seek to develop myself I begin to see Christ’s image in me and in the life around me. (I do not share because I relieve you need to know the details of my life, but because I share I have accountability and encouragement)

8 Core Principles For Me

  1. Love Christ and his people.
  2. Be compassionate.
  3. Enjoy the process.
  4. Lighten up and have fun.
  5. Claim my voice.
  6. Get out of my head.
  7. Be aware of my body.
  8. Know what I want and need.

Growing Specifically: Habit Improvements

Spirituality

  1. Pray daily.
  2. Engage in stillness.
  3. Start each day with gratitude.
  4. Develop a Sabbath.

Attitude

  1. Laugh out loud.
  2. Practice reframing.
  3. Dare to fail.

Energy

  1. Sleep better. (no phone after 10pm)
  2. Make checklists for the important stuff.
  3. Develop a daily routine.
  4. Call my family weekly.

Mindfulness

  1. Hear the experience of others. (culture, religious, ethnic, etc)
  2. Look up and around!
  3. Be interested in the world. (listen to podcasts)

Marriage

  1. Don’t stonewall.
  2. Scan for successes.
  3. Find fun together.
  4. Be physically affectionate.

Parenthood

  1. Play without phone distraction.
  2. Practice validation.
  3. Develop better patience.
  4. Be a teacher to the kids. (camping, games, school)

Work

  1. Have fun with colleagues.
  2. Learn new skills.
  3. Practice saying no.
  4. Debrief my day.

Leisure

  1. Read daily.
  2. Play board games.
  3. Work on a project at least once a month.
  4. Go off the path at least once a month. (new, strange, etc)
  5. Eat more sushi. (my New Years food resolution!)

Friendship

  1. Be generous.
  2. Focus on others.
  3. Initiate hanging out together.

Money

  1. Spend ahead, not in the moment.
  2. Give to church.
  3. Always have something on hand to share.
  4. Meal plan.

Pursue a Passion: Be outdoors!

  1. Play disc golf.
  2. Get a Texas State Park pass for hiking.
  3. Interact more with my dogs.

A Pediatric Workers Nightmare

On Friday I was called to a unit where a nurse just learned her child, just weeks old, was headed to an ER.

That’s it.

No news, no updates, no words from the ambulance. Just a devastating void of answers, a pregnant with baited breath and tears and grief kinda pause. A terrifying fear filled silence.

And my worst nightmare.

Well, not just mine, but everyone who works in a pediatric hospital who has kids or grandkids shares this nightmare. My child gets sick. My child rushed to the ER. My child far from me. My child without me. My child struggling. It is as though my heart would break just hearing about it and talking about it again. Working where I do, I am always reminded of the heartache caused in the blink of an eye, in a moment, and in between one breath taken and the next silenced breath.

It is not uncommon for people like me to fear that my child has died when he’s not in my bed in the morning. Yes, just because he is not making noise in the room I may wonder if he suddenly fell off his dresser, he stroked, or picked up some random virus from the carpet that caused him to stop breathing immediately. Completely irrational, but feels so real given the story of the nurse above. Now, I’m not actually that overtaken by fear. But the fear is present. The nightmare still in the back of my mind that I hear my child is sick and I’m not there. That is just scary and cuts deep to my heart. And I manage it well most of the time.

On Monday, I hear from a coworker that child died, before she even got to the ER.

Stunned silence. But this time, it’s not the nurse who is overwhelmed by the silence, but me and her staff who instead feel utterly heart broken.

The nightmare begins again.

But even then, my nightmare is but small in light of this baby’s lifeless body in his mother’s arms. I just have a nightmare, she a tragedy. It is a small price for providing a ministry of presence in her silence of not knowing. It is the necessary cost of serving places of pain where Gods hiddenness feels real and the pain of grief more real.

The nightmare realized.

Come Lord Jesus. Come with your light into the darkness of nightmares become real.

When Holidays Hurt

I hope that we are thankful enough people during these holidays. Thankful enough that we are aware and thankful enough to remember.

Holidays are a beautiful wonderful time. They have the potential for incredible joy and lots of family time, feasts, gatherings, secret Santa’s, parties, traveling, songs, and all sorts of other good stuff.

But holidays are also a time of grief and hurt because families are incomplete:

  • Families with loved ones serving in the military far away from home.
  • Families anticipatorily grieving the loss of a dear and core member of the family because of illness, aging, or chronic health issues.
  • Families missing a parent or both parents because of divorce, separation, division, or even death.
  • Families who can’t come together because they are distant or live distant.
  • Persons feeling lonely and isolated with mental illness like depression.
  • Children missing families because of neglect or abuse.
  • Children missing family because their family has to work to make ends meet.
  • Families grieving the loss of a child.

Holidays can be brutal. Are we thankful enough to acknowledge the fragility of life and own our gratitude for the special relationships we cherish and not just the stuff we call “blessings?” Really, the question is, am I? This is just as much personal struggle and desire as it is a soapbox of sorts.

I am particularly aware of the last thing on that list. I am a parent who finds great joy in my children, and I work with families who will lose children and have very few reasons to celebrate when the holidays arrive. One less seat at the child’s table, if not just one empty seat that shouldn’t be. One less hungry finnicky mouth belonging to a beautiful kid. One smiling face missing in the family picture.

Perhaps it is the loss of the child who far outlived expectations of life and lived on that home ventilator till just recently. Perhaps it is the loss of a school ager to an awful virus. Perhaps the loss is a teen who committed suicide. Perhaps it is the loss of a toddler to a cancer that his brother also has. Perhaps it is the loss of a baby due to a sudden and unexplained stoppage of the heart. Perhaps it is the loss of a baby who couldn’t make it to birth, a miscarriage that weighs on that family. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. The list could go on with losses that families carry during this season and feel excruciatingly painful.

Please remember these families. They do not need sympathy but people who aren’t afraid to notice that the family is not complete and that the grief sucks. They do not need your truths (and I believe those truths too) that their boy or girl is in heaven, rather they need people who can invite them to tell stories about that boy or girl that will make them laugh and cry. They do not need reminders to move on, but reminders that you are there and their little one will not be forgotten.

I feel grief for these families, but I also acknowledge the beauty and courage in their grief. I don’t know what the right words are, but my heart goes out to these pained families looking for peace this holiday season, looking for a friend in the chaos, looking for a voice they will not hear again. May they find that voice in the form of Gods comforting love, in the presence of their family and friends, and in their own hearts where that voice will always be cherished.

Reach out to others if you know who they are. For any who might appreciate support, I am thankful to hear your story and your grief if you want to share.

Morning by Morning (9/4/17)

My daily gratitude for:

  1. The many opportunities to help others after the hurricane.  These are good chances to remind myself of what we as humans and as Christians are called to do. Plus, as a person who does work that is emotional and social, manual hard labor feels therapeutic and meaningful.
  2. The awesome volunteers who are blessing those helping with home made sandwiches, snacks, bottled water, free snow cones and all sorts of other stuff. These people are encouragers and supporters and remind me of the many different ways we can be neighbors.
  3. A needed three day weekend.
  4. Scrambled eggs. Delicious!
  5. Steve Sandifer and all the hard work, pastoral care, wisdom, and laughter he brings to our church and me!

Picking Up The Cross of Heartache

(Note: some of the images are not my own but from other friends in Houston.)

The pictures are stunning. Perhaps a kind of remarkable that we don’t like. Sometimes, thinking about the rising waters and flooded streets and burdened reservoirs and bayous of Houston, I just have few words other than oh my. I don’t know how to make meaning of it.

That’s my suburb.  Surely it couldn’t be that much under water right? Stunned silence. But what about the city? 

I can’t even make sense of that.  So much rain and I can’t even begin to grasp the amount of water that fell.  What bayou system could survive 45″ of rain or more? What city has the capability? How did it happen? The many reasons have been shared and bantered back and forth:

  1. Too much rain period.
  2. No zoning laws that safeguard green spaces for water to escape to.
  3. Poor development habits that have overwhelmed prairie spaces that let water sink in.
  4. The flat Houston city scape, which compounds the water building up and gives no help.

We know these things, but it doesn’t change the stunned silence.  Wow. Oh my. Shaking heads.  We feel in shock by how fast the city filled, how the rain kept coming, and how the hurricane just stalled after destroying Corpus and Rockport and Victoria. We knew it was coming, felt prepared, but not that prepared.

And the images still keep coming. Water images that reflect helplessness, like hospitals that can’t take patients in dire need or send their healthy home.

That’s what it is. Helplessness. Many in their homes were helpless as water rose and seeped through cracks, doors ajar, and every gap to destroy their homes, drown their pictures and books and furniture, and pushed them up the stairs or into an attic or on the rooftop. Helpless as they stood watching out windows while neighbors houses filled up.  Helpless to stem the rising water as it forced them out of homes.  Helpless as some were stuck at the hospital where I was, but only able to call loved ones who were evacuating and being flooded out or constantly anxious about what would be lost. Some were helpless as they helped others inside one place, but whose every being wanted to help those in another. Helpless because some were far from home and had no idea what the water would do.  Helpless because toys were lost, homes were lost, pictures were lost, normalcy was lost, and stress and grief were gained. Some were separated from their babies and had little clue as to their husbands and babies and where they would evacuate to because how would they get there.


Helpless. When hurricanes or tsunamis or floods come, there is little more to feel but helpless.  And regardless of whether your home was lost, the anxiety and dreaded worry filled almost all with grief. Regardless of a death toll, the grief is real in Texas between Corpus Christi, Houston, Beaumont, and every town in between. 


This is typically where many ask about God.   

This is also typically where many tell those that grieve, “They are just possessions.” Or they say things like “you have your life at least.”  Perhaps “what is the worth if a man gains the whole world but forfeits his life.” Perhaps they say more atrocious things like “God will make it better” or “Don’t worry” or “Gods got a plan for this.”  

I will not say that. I am a hospital chaplain who sees children sick and dying almost daily and knows not to hide grief and helplessness.  

Perhaps when Jesus asks us not to hide our light under a bushel, we might not just imagine him talking about our joy.  Our pain and sorrow do not need to be hidden.  As challenging, as stunned, as grief stricken or angry as we are, we live that.  

We live it because God speaks through those to everyone else. God doesn’t speak solely through happiness. Gods speaks in the grief of a people who wrestle, who get their nails dirty in mud, who climb in boats from their kitchen doors and shake their heads towards the heavens. God speaks in the heartache of memories lost through waterlogged photo albums and the tears of people evacuated twice over because of Hurricane Katrina or the Memorial Day floods.  

In Matthew, Jesus rebukes Peter for telling him grief and ugliness would not be so.  Jesus rebuked him for denying the cross of pain and grief he, and we are called to bear.  No, losing your stuff is not the cross you bear. Grief and sadness and shock and heartache are.  Will you see with more honest eyes? Will you pick up your cross and follow Jesus into the grief and pain and trust that God is there? Will you share your burden trusting that God will speak and that Gods love still shines? Will you lament and trust that God listens? Pick up your cross and follow me. This is not a post encouraging you to gladly accept Gods plan of losing your house, or not a post encouraging you to be minimalist or resigning yourself to lives of pain or woe. Those responses aren’t denials of self, but rather ways we keep ourselves and our eyes untouched.

Deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me.  Dare to experience it all and see it all with honest eyes. Did you feel the hand on your back from your friend comforting you as you tore out water logged carpet from your home? Did you deny yourself the pleasure of your own comfort and serve the broken hearted? Did you see the love in your neighbor eyes for you as you hurt losing your sons pictures or your late husbands belongings? Did you see differently? I hope I am. 

When Jesus tells us to deny ourselves, one way to hear it today is that he dares us to give up our way of seeing. Where is God here in our helplessness? Where not? Did we see God in first responders? Did we see God in people on boats rescuing families from neighborhoods? Did we see God in the chaplain who hugged the nurses who were scared for their children out there? Did we see God in the prayer circles, the hugs, the outstretched hands, the church showing up to demo your home, or the loads of musty laundry the neighbor is doing for everyone? Did we see God in the tears cried or the laughter shared in friends homes while we waited out the flood? Pick up our cross and see that somehow even the grief of Jesus cross opens space to see God is still there. 

Be heartbroken, grieve, be stunned into silence, and feel the sadness of the flood. Let Gods love come seeking you there in your brokenness, not just in your victories. Gods love can find you, even when you feel so broken and grief stricken. I don’t always know how, I struggle sometimes to see it, and I don’t understand sometimes, but we still are challenged to pick up the cross of trusting Gods love will go with us.

Yes, Jesus challenge to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow me means a lot of things. But this week, it means being willing to see that we are never separated from Gods love in Christ, whether in death or life, joy or grief, sorrow or relief, height or depth, baking sun or whelming flood. God is here.  God is here in the hands, the feet, the ears, and the heart that surrounds us. God is here and speaking through it all. And regardless of how high the flood waters, I have to grieve and trust that God does not recede when the waters rise or rise when the waters recede.  I am called to bear that cross, be heartbroken, and be still.  

Morning by Morning (8/21/17)

My daily gratitude for:

  1. The excitement around the first day of school in the neighborhood.  Maybe it’s the parents relief or actual excitement from the kids, but it’s always a fun time seeing the kids look for school busses, share about their teachers, and plan their days at school!
  2. Ryan talking more and more. It’s really cute to hear him talking in sentences and developing even more personality!
  3. Andrea and David Engle who have started my birthday week off with the first card.  It’s an early gift of joy and I’m grateful for how attentive Andrea is to both these small things and the Word of God.
  4. The parents and kids who courageously stare down all sorts of disorders, diagnoses, and diseases and dare to live life their way still.  I marvel at them and the way enact Gods grace.

Morning by Morning (8/5/17)

My daily gratitude for:

  1. Ryan. Wow, 3 years old.  You are amazing my son, and I say that to mean you are a gift from God and my gratitude for you explodes each day, whether watching you nap or play or splash water or vacuum or smile! I love you and wish you a happy birthday! 
  2. Seeing Ryan’s fearlessness on jumping in the water at the pool or the beach.  His courage extends past my comfort level but I marvel nonetheless! Watching Ryan’s joy is priceless.
  3. Hanging with our friends in Galveston for the weekend!
  4. Barbara Brown Taylors book, An Altar in the World.  So thought provoking and meaningful and a book I would encourage for anyone.

Morning by Morning (8/2/17)

My daily gratitude for:

  1. Feedback from families.  I cannot tell you how awesome it is to have families come back and hug me and share stories and express gratitude.  And also how awesome it is to have someone in the moment of crisis tell me they appreciate my calm and tell I’ve been helpful.
  2. The song Amazing Grace that I sing to Ryan when he needs calming or relaxing whether I am holding him in the shower or not falling asleep. It’s my version of the Jesus Prayer for him and I’m hoping it trains him to think about God when he needs calm.
  3. Mikey Weesner, who celebrated her birthday yesterday and is an all star friend and all star colleague in youth ministry.  She may be quiet and always helpful, but what often goes unmentioned is how she reflects Gods grace through wisdom and self reflection.  She is more respected and loved than she knows or gives herself credit for. Happy birthday!

The Dirt Under His Fingernails

We love stories.  It makes sense too.  We love the back story, the comical, the meaningful, the narrative that makes the core of any person. Stories speak volumes about who we are. And we as chaplains, staff at a children’s hospital, and caregivers, we have embraced it.  Stories bring us to tears and make us smile. Stories tell us what people value and what those parents and child loved. We love focusing on a story, especially the tragedy, and it’s understandable.

But what about this little boy today who went to be with God after an incident at a pool?

If I told you about this child today, you’d probably be moved by the tear jerking story. I do too.

If I told you about the circumstances, you hear the tragic story of a future that will not be. I do too.

If I told you about this little boy, you’d probably be saddened, distressed, and heartbroken.  I do too.

But there is more. There has to be.  A boys life becomes defined by this one story of why he ended up here in the hospital dying. But it’s just one story, one narrative, one expression of his life. Is that fair to him?

This is convicting for me. I say this because after his family said their final goodbyes, I sat next to him and held his soft hand.  I said a prayer for him and told he was precious and loved.  And then I noticed his fingernails.  His fingernails had dirt under them.  His fingernails carried many stories of play and fun and a boy being a boy.  His fingernails told stories that his hospital story could not.

I couldn’t help but imagine the stories it could tell. Perhaps he was digging in the flower beds looking for worms.  Perhaps he was throwing dirt with other kids while laughing all the while.  Perhaps he was running with his parents and fell to the ground, bracing himself with his hands and then reaching to his parents to be picked up. Perhaps he was helping his parents water plants.  Perhaps he climbed a tree and collected his dirt from its branches. The imagination runs.  Just from dirt under his fingernails. And I needed it.

The dirt under his fingernails opened wide his story, and opened my mouth in a smile. Because I had been gifted with a story. Not just the story of heartbreak or the story of tragedy.  I was gifted with the story of a boy, whose life was worth remembering just as much as his death. I was feeling so taken by the tragedy that I almost missed the opportunity to just see him as a boy. The tragedy and the the boys life are not disconnected as you may think I am saying, but one often trumps the other.  We are challenged to hold them together in tension.  Tonight, among the tears and the devastation, I am grateful for the dirt under his fingernails that reflected his laughs and his play. Tonight, in my grief, I still am grateful for a boy and his playful hands.  

(May God open my eyes to these ordinary treasures, to see the dirt under all our fingernails, and see the stories they too represent.)