Happy Anniversary Elana!

3 years today.  Wow.

  I am grateful for our three years, since it has included being challenged and blessed, encouragement and discouragement, ups and downs, great joys of a new child and great lows with outside influences.  We have enjoyed the laughter and blessing of Ryan and Aiden, great family, trips to California and a great church around us. We have had a mix of emotions and experiences but we still strive to be partners through it all. But there is something about our marriage which reminds me constantly of the cost and reward of our love.  Thank you for your patience and your beauty and your love.  The poem below is from Maya Angelou and I dedicate it to you:

Touched By An Angel

We, unaccustomed to courage

exiles from delight

live coiled in shells of loneliness

until love leaves its high holy temple

and comes into our sight

to liberate us into life.

Love arrives

and in its train come ecstasies

old memories of pleasure

ancient histories of pain.

Yet if we are bold,

love strikes away the chains of fear

from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity

In the flush of love’s light

we dare be brave

And suddenly we see

that love costs all we are

and will ever be.

Yet it is only love

which sets us free.

Bread and Kindness From a Greek Stranger

Over the last couple weeks, I have been reading a book called the Kindness of Strangers, which appealed to me in title alone because of my fascination with travel and my personal emphasis on hospitality.

It didn’t take long to get quite interested in the book- stories of random children helping a stranger to a destination, a desert dweller guiding a lost traveler through Sub Saharan Africa, or a family hosting a unique traveler for dinner. These are the stories that my childhood dreams of travel and the world were built upon and drove me to live overseas for all but two weeks of a year and a half stretch in college.  And when I travelled, not just in Europe and Asia but also in the US, I have found strangers and people whose hospitality and kindness are worth treasuring. 

I remember the bartender at Luigi’s bar in Florence Italy who showed great kindness and hospitality as though he were my friend- Luigi was kind and nice and even though sometimes I was not a patron at his establishment he welcomed me with a drink and conversation to practice my Italian! I remember a family in Montana who let me stay around and get to know their local scene and let me be at home in their house.  I remember a kind Italian in Rome whose calming presence after a robbing attempt brought me equilibrium, peace, and reinstilled my love of people.  But my best story is one that I share with three friends:

I was a senior in college at Pepperdine and chose to fly out to Heidelberg Germany to see Emeshea and Cambry (two of my best friends) and Cambry’s lady friend at the time.  We traveled as a group from Heidelberg to Florence to Venice to Athens to Corinth to Thessalonika to Constantinople and back to Rome.  A glorious and fun trip it was! 

We did have a hiccup though- the weather was so awful that the train to Constantinople could not be continued on the day we had scheduled so we had to adjust.  We instead decided on what would be one of the best parts of our trip- a train over to a town of amazingly shaped mountains and cliffs that monks had built into.  It looked fun and even more fascinating.  But it was not a large train stop like Thessalonika or Florence, so Cambry, Emeshea, Alyssa and I did our best to get off at the right station but those stations were not exactly English friendly, and we did have some Greek skill through our Biblical Greek studies. We got off at a station we couldn’t pronounce and realized after much conversation, that we got off a couple stops early, but too far for a taxi.  It was 5pm, and the next train at this tiny station wasn’t till 8:30. Well, let’s find food we thought.  It wasn’t a bad idea considering the time.  But the town seemed 15 minutes of walking away and we were growing quite hungry.  When we arrived, there was not a soul in sight, no happenings in the town, no movement to speak of.  We walked around wondering if there would be a cafe or any place to get food, and after walking another 15 minutes, we felt dejected and a little worried about the ghost town we had seemingly stumbled upon.

 Just then as we decided to head back to the train station in the fast moving darkness, a elderly lady came out of a home like building and spoke in hand gestures and not so Biblical Greek to us.  Not quite sure what was going on, we could make out a gesture of hand to mouth as though she understood we were hungry, and we recognized a word in her language, artos, bread in Greek. We took her up on her offer and she beckoned us into a small wood floored area full of small tables, perhaps a small community gathering hall.  She then invited her daughter, who spoke some minimal English to help serve us.  She served incredible home baked bread, with honey and cheeses.  I was certain she was using the finest of what she had. They had none other than Xena Warrior Princess playing on the television, and the daughter, about 35 years old as we could tell, asked about our travels and how we had come here.  We are our fill, conversed as best we could for an hour or two, and knew we had to head back to the station.  We thanked our guests profusely in our Biblical Greek and they laughed at our poor but courageous attempts, but nevertheless I could see such joy on their faces. As we left, they have us a flyer for their town celebration the next night, a dance party, and extended an offer to us if we were down the monastic mountains in time.  We were very grateful, overwhelmed by the hospitality of strangers and the fun of communicating with limits of clarity but such depths of care and joy. That little night was the best of all the days and adventures of that trip, and remains one that I cherish.  The kindness of a stranger is what I can truly celebrate.

I am so grateful for the wonders of this world, many of which we don’t expect and come from such wonderful people who aren’t like us!

Morning by Morning (4/12/16)

My daily gratitude for:

  1. Ryan sleeping till 7:30 this morning. It was nice to wake up and relax and get the house in order, although really it allowed us to get ourselves in order!
  2. The upcoming wedding of Stephanie and Josh.  They are a great couple and I look forward to seeing them grow with one another.
  3. Celebrations like National Sibling Day.  These are fun in that it’s so fascinating seeing everyone’s brothers and sisters and seeing all that awesome ancient fashion!

Day by Day (2/11)

My daily gratitude for:

  1. Getting out to Milby Park for dis golf with Josh over the last month.  It’s been great and reenergizing to be outside in good weather and also to have fun with others while doing it. 
  2. The baby girl of Josh and Jacqui.  I can’t wait for us to actually have a little girl in the family.  My parents will make great grandparents to a girl! We can’t wait for her to arrive.
  3. Encouragement cards at church- this has been one of my goals as part of my Christ-like project/adventure.  I have been blessed by the comments and gratitude people have for little encouragement and blessings.  But I have also been humbled to look at our church and see the needs and pains and do something.  It has helped me hear and see what is going on at church, and also to pay attention to those who can’t make it like shut ins and those who are sick.  Thank God for opening my eyes a little and helping me see better those around me.

The Brave Embrace of Holding a Dying Child

You can hold your child, but he/she will die there.

You can hold your child, but the process of getting to your arms, the arms of a loving mother or father, will in fact be the finale of your child’s life.

Do you hear the dissonance that a parent heard?  I cannot imagine this impossibly agonizing offer from well meaning and compassionate medical teams.  Offering to hold a child they know unofficially means accepting the reality of death and accepting the ultimate fate of your child.  But to a parent? What an awful offer, even though they rarely turn it down. 

 It is agonizing because every parent, especially as their child is suffering, wants nothing more than to hold their son and daughter, to speak words of love over them, and cry and will their children to life again.  Essentially, holding is a way for a parent to feel they are helping, that their presence matters and that maybe, just maybe, they can make their child right. But to hold means death follows.  For many parents I work with, they feel as though saying yes to holding means they are deciding when their child dies. Utter agony indeed.

Utter agony that this basic act, this perfectly beautiful reflection of parenthood, becomes a symbol of the unstoppable force of death.

Utter agony that a parent is offered to hold who looks little like they know them, hooked to tubes, cords, machines, and likely swollen and puffy from all the fluids received.

Utter agony that a parents tears, oft reserved for grieving their child, become used to drip over their child as the parents hold their child into its next life.

And yet. And yet! Somehow, some way…it is not just agony.

It is beautiful and sacred.  There may be no more perfect way to transition to life after death than the way a child came, in its parents arms.

It is beautiful because it is the hands and feet and voices of those parents which are the most loving things of this life.  They are the place that child always found love before, where comfort and peace emerged.  

It is sacred because in those moments, a parent holding their dying child hold their children as though they were Gods presence, hands and voice.

Tonight follows a long couple days and perhaps some long weeks.  Often I have heard amazingly brave and courageous parents be asked, “Would you like to hold him/her now?”  And every time, those parents did what their dutiful and faithful love demanded of them: hold gently and cry over their baby, remembering them with all the joy and grief they could bear.

It is beautiful because it is sacred. It is beautiful because those parents bravely continue forward doing that which they were made for. Bravely, courageously, lovingly hold the previous child, and in the process defying the tug that death is an end, and instead proclaiming that they not only hold that child, they hold that child’s memory forever and will always carry it forward with love.  Sacred indeed.

Morning by Morning (11/24)

My morning gratitude for:

  1. The young adults at Southwest Central Church of Christ, who have sustained me and strengthened me and been my foundation as I have become a chaplain.  They have been so supportive and become ‘friends’ in the best way possible.
  2. HEB pre made Thanksgiving meals. Yep, this year we bought our Thanksgiving dinner for $70 (for 6-8) instead of cooking it ourselves.  Don’t get me wrong, I love cooking and baking.  But this year I have a 16 month old who is having separation anxiety and prefers to climb in the oven rather than let me cook in it. So, it’s safe to say given the situation- a Thanksgiving full of a wailing child who can’t play with the oven I am using or after an exhausting sleepless night or having my son desire me to hold him for at least three straight hours because he’s afraid I will put him down- I would rather have someone else make the meal. Period.
  3. The gift of a beautiful sunrise!  
  4. Conversations with kids.  I love having good chats with kids in the hospital!

Morning by Morning (11/23)

My morning gratitude for:

  1. “This too shall pass…or I will.” Shirley McCollum, a friend at church, was talking with me and sharing in my tiredness with Ryan, and this phrase emerged from both of us.  Yes, Ryan is exhausting with his separation anxiety and irregular sleeping habits and wailing at night, but it too will pass…or I will of insanity!
  2. Elana, my wife, who is so dedicated to making me happy and driving me clinically insane by the minute.  She works really hard every morning with the kids to get them to school and dressed and ready for life, and that is a gargantuan effort on its own.  For me, she is incredibly thoughtful even when she doesn’t need to be.
  3. The Lectionary, which our preaching team uses.  It is a gift to have Scriptures already laid out, but it is also a gift to have God speaking through this aged but tested structure of Scripture.  I love how the Lectionary, while laid out with 4 passages each Sunday, allows for both God to apes his wisdom for us, and for us to speak our context and cares into it to bring a message.  I pray we are continually faithful through this method and faithful in our call to preach the gospel.

Morning by Morning (11/21)

My morning gratitude for:

  1. The pool at the apartments my grandparents used to live at.  My brothers and cousins had so much fun at those apartments, it’s where my most memorable Christmas’ and Thanksgivings are, and it’s where they lived, so of course it’s special to me.  And because we lived in SoCal, the pool was the epicenter of activity almost all the time.  I used to pretend to be a submarine, race Joe in laps, and hear my grandparents laugh.  I am grateful for that pool, and I miss my grandparents too.
  2. Waking up to a clean house, perhaps a special feeling only because it is a busy weekend ahead…or because I am a narcissistic clean freak martyr who can’t see a dirty dish without hyperventilating and calling the cops.  Anyway, I love waking up in the morning to a clean house and knowing everything is in its place and ready to be used.
  3. The preaching team at our church.  We have no paid preacher so we are blessed to hear from 4 different voices who are listening for the message from Scripture and the voice of God.  We have growth to do as a team, but I am so grateful to work with a team who volunteer and are passionate about giving voice to the gospel at our church!

Morning by Morning (11/20)

My morning gratitude for:

  1. Carson Henley, who is not only a great friend but whose love for his wife and helplessness without her is so sweet! I am humbly blessed to be around him and learn from him.
  2. Elana’s continued work, research and passion for our possible fostering and/or adoption.  She wants to be a loving welcoming presence to any child who walks through our doors, and that is something I deeply appreciate.
  3. Gabby and her new baby girl (who currently has no name).  I have been grateful to know Gabby through her pregnancy and see her grow as a mother and wife and grow more into her own personality.  Her presence will be missed on the ICU while she stays at home with her baby, but we celebrate and appreciate her new family!

Morning by Morning (11/19)

My morning gratitude for:

  1. Blessing the new Kangaroo Crew ambulances at Texas Children’s Hospital on Tuesday.  As a chaplain, I really appreciate getting to be the person who acknowledges the need for ritual in transitions.  Many of those who aren’t spiritual and those that are really appreciate taking the moment to ask the divine to help them in their passion and compassion, and I love being that person.
  2. Working with families who are in the midst of crisis and or losing their children.  Three times this week people have commented on how I seem to fit so well in my job and that I work with those deep emotions well.  I appreciate the chance to reflect Gods love and peace and help the families see the gift of the child and the gift of their love- one of the greatest feelings ever but one you may only find in heat of a child dying.
  3. Aiden’s laugh, which I heard yesterday at church. It’s great to hear him having fun with friends.
  4. Joyce Van Houten and Carole Green, two ladies (mother and daughter) at church.  They are always so supportive of my becoming a father and they bless me when I see them on Wednesdays and Sunday’s. They bless me by simply smiling over me and being joyful people!