The Nightmare of Stilled Water

“Peace be still” he said. Jesus stilled the waters and we marvel right?

But stilled waters scare me.

It’s not the crazy winds and waves that scare me, that I long for stilling. It’s stilled waters that terrify me. Bathtubs, buckets, beaches, backyard pools, bays and all. Please, God, don’t still those waters.

Those waters still and people relax and become inattentive, distracted, and then the waters become un-stilled by children whose cries are lost to those still waters. Those waters still and become like a fragile glass that becomes broken with cries of pain, not cries of wonder. At least chaotic waters mean we don’t take the water for granted.

If you are wondering why this sounds so full of sadness and distress, then welcome to my world of the last month, where our unit has dealt with unending submersions, drownings, near drownings, and parents heart wrenching cries and devastated hearts. No, please don’t still those waters Jesus. Still waters bring pain. Still waters bring the pain of children who thought they could just jump in. Still waters bring the distress of children who became too easily curious about the bucket of water. Still waters bring the grief of children whose cries are no more, or rather whose last breath was full of still water. Still waters bring the brazen annihilating silence after a child didn’t come back up. Still waters mean too much today. Either the invitation to helpless children or the quiet but pained grief after. It’s just too much.

Stilled waters for disciples in a boat brought amazement, still waters for the parents I work with seems only to mean a painful broken heart.

I know Jesus showed himself to have power over wind and wave, the chaotic deep and the gentle shallows. But where was he to still the waters that a child last looked into? Where was he to walk across the water and hold the hand of a sinking child like he held the hand of a sinking Peter? Water is supposed to be tranquil, and still water is a beauty. But tonight it feels like a nightmare, a fragile glass that seems only broken by the broken hearts it reflects. Tonight, still waters is not what I yearn for. It is at least not what I feel.

I have seen many children take final breath. Many of whom have died of terrible awful things. But almost every child that has drowned has hit me hard, because almost inevitably the parent or caregiver talks about the innocence of the water, the seeming harmlessness of it. But in the end, there was nothing but harm hidden in those benign places. Still waters could as well have been code for shattered hearts. This summer has brought so many cries of parent that could wreck a normal person. Tears that don’t stop, fear that won’t be suppressed, and pain that can’t be described.

For these families, I don’t want still waters after chaotic waves, I just want saved children. For these families, and for myself, I want stilled souls, not stilled waters. For these families and myself, I want no more cries from stilled waters, I want smiles and laughs rather than constant reminders of the fragile surface of stilled waters or the fragility of a child’s life.

God help us. God help me. God help us all.

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 (9/15/17)

My daily gratitude for:

  1. Ryan’s snuggliness lately, as he’s been coming to me a lot and hugging me, and in a special moment, hugged me with the first uninvited/unforced “I love you” I can remember. That’s awesome!
  2. The beautiful morning out in the park.  Sunshine and a light wind is quite nice and relaxing.
  3. Our new residents at St Lukes who are helping us at Texas Children’s.  They are a great group, both funny and engaged with our work with children and parents and families. It’s been a privilege to provide their orientation.
  4. The little boy whose hand I got to hold yesterday.  Ventilated and hurt from abuse, it was a gift to hold his hand for a short time. There are many words for the experience but it is a sacred one.

Morning by Morning (9/8/17)

My daily gratitude for:

  1. Our awesome neighborhood that is both quiet and full of kids, with lots of really great people. And it stayed dry enough in Harvey, and that counts for something too!
  2. The encouragement I received for my birthday two weeks ago but I am still loving.
  3. The continuing help of volunteers across the city cleaning up the flooded homes and caring deeply for displaced families.
  4. Our new CPE residents that will be serving at Texas Children’s.  They are a great group and I look forward to getting to know them well.
  5. Pics of Ryan sleeping!!

Morning by Morning (9/7/17)

My daily gratitude for:

  1. Another gorgeous day with amazing fall weather.  What a beautiful set of days we are enjoying after last week!
  2. Seeing resilient and joyful kids around the hospital.  These little boys and girls are hope giving and inspiring.
  3. The smiling boy I met this morning, who has had a challenging couple years but is teach free and smiling full now!
  4. Time with Ryan in the mornings before I get to work!
  5. The Beads of Courage program for nurses and staff.

Morning by Morning (9/6/17)

My daily gratitude for:

  1. Ryan sleeping through most of the nights now.  What a great gift it is to not have a child coming into our room!
  2. Norma Shreck, my boss in Spiritual Care who I find easy to talk to and love her sense of humor.  She also is so committed to supporting us as best she can and is willing to go out of the way for us. Having a positive relationship with a supervisor isn’t a given, and I am appreciative!
  3. A working car for my commute.  
  4. The walk to and from my car to work, which allows for calming, peaceful times and some good activity before and after work.
  5. The beautiful autumn weather we had today in Houston.  Breezy, not too humid, cool(er), and sunny- gorgeous day!

Morning by Morning (8/31/17)

My daily gratitude for:

  1. Tom Sharon, the chaplain who I served rideout with.  It was an absolute privilege and humbling to serve with a faithful and compassionate man who carries himself with understanding, wisdom, and commitment.  I couldn’t have served with someone more encouraging! The Cardiovasular Units are so blessed to have him!
  2. Doug Foster, one of my Church History professors at ACU. Doug was also a mentor and encourager.  I remember he would make us do weekly essays and grade them 1-5, and  5’s were rare but given when deserved.  He helped me learn to write integrating info and history, not just repeating it.  I owe a lot of personal growth to him.
  3. Jeff Childers, another of my history professors at ACU.  He taught more of the history of the NT and religious history.  It was Jeff who helped me integrate and think about other faiths with perspective.  Also, he helped me see that history has many facets and lenses. And that history is fun!
  4. The HBO series From The Earth To The Moon, which I started watching again yesterday and gripped me with fascination.  Well made!
  5. Nick Matthews, an RN who I deeply respect and love for his passion while being laid back.  Happy birthday! (And prayers for your heartache now Nick!)