Today or Tomorrow

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.”  How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.  What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil.

Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.

James 4:13-17

Every Thursday my friend Caleb let’s me know that I could die tomorrow.

This has evolved.

On Friday’s we say that we could die today.

These morbid reminders serve to keep us present. Rather than functioning as unceasing evaluations leading to judgments, I believe the inention is to keep us dreaming while faithful to the plans and purposes of God in the midst of the mundane and in the midst of insane.

But telling the difference between the two can sometimes be hard to map or articulate rationally, which is why I won’t try here.

What I will say in regards to James 4:13-17 is this: The Lord directs our steps and while I do believe He cares about our plans, He is equally willing to disrupt them when we have yielded to His will.

At this stage in the game, if I wrote that I was staying somewhere for the next 3 years it would seem inconsistent (though I do want to). I don’t much like 5 year plans, but I have one in mind that doesn’t involve marriage or having a family.

But I won’t boast about pretentious plans. I also won’t pretend like my next move will yield a profit.

Admittedly, I also know it’s not a great time to leave your stable job when you need insurance and are in the middle rehabilitating you knee after surgery. I also am aware that historically I am a better functioning human being when I’m working and have a routine.

But I also know this: Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.

So I’m preparing to do it.

The Tender Year

I have now lived in Charleston, SC for a full year. I have approximately 3 weeks left of my residency. Several weeks ago, I was praying on the beach about my future, my next step in the next season. And it was such an uncertain time of prayer.

This time last year I knew what I was heading into and for how long, with a clear path ahead. It was the culmination of 7 months of waiting.

But this time, this year, I think back on 3 weeks ago and remember not having a clear direction and resolving to pray this, “No matter what happens I ask to be tenderhearted.” And there is a strong part of me that loves that I prayed that prayer.

I love that prayer because it is my desire. I love that prayer because when I gently love and reflect on all the wonderful friends and family and enemies God has put in my life, I find it is in everyone’s best interest that I would be tenderhearted rather than hardhearted.

In Luke 1:76-79, Zechariah the father of John the Baptist prays this part of a prayer over his son:

“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare a way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because the tender mercy of our God by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Tender Mercy

What beautiful phrase, the NIV, NASB, and ESV only translate this phrase into English 1 time in all of Scripture. NKJV has multiple instances of tender mercies in the Psalms and only additionally translated “tender mercies” in the epistle to the Colossians. Why does it matter?

I believe it matters because tender mercy is the gentlest of all mercy offered. It is the kind of tangible mercy offered in the darkness, in death, when we are in desperate need of sunshine, guidance and a path of peace.

Tender mercy is the mercy needed when suffering violence. Tender mercy is the mercy for lost-ness. Tender mercy is the tangible mercy needed when there is no other answer or explanation.

And yes, while I am desperate in my need for mercy for my actions against God and humankind, sometimes we are in need of the most tender mercy for our doubts in our darkness.

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I need tenderness of heart so as  not to become guilty of accusing God of having a wicked character when I have suffered or am utterly confounded by my circumstance.

We need tenderness of heart to mourn more victims of violence in the face of inaction. And while those are left asking why or will this be fixed, without any answer, or worse met with indifference, we remain in need of the tenderest of mercies.

This mercy is only available through the Spirit of God. Humankind cannot manufacture this kind of mercy.

But we can posture, we can kneel. I can move ever so slightly towards the light until I am warmed, softened, embraced, then set free to love and to give what I’ve been given.

Yet, I can only give what I have, and if I have not felt this tender mercy for myself, how can I give it?

I must have it again. I must know it, be immersed, even baptized anew in this maternal, vulnerable mercy.

It’s been a tender year for me. I don’t know how it’s been so far for you. I don’t know if you’ve felt like you’ve been connecting the dots from one disappointment to the next. I don’t know who you’ve lost or how many times you’ve lost them and to what degree of permanence. I don’t know to what extent you have been grieved or have suffered by the routine of mass shootings in America. Through it all, stay tenderhearted.

Let your heart feel hope for the future, for your obedience to the Lord, to follow Christ’s lead, perhaps hopeful for finding romance, perhaps hopeful for one day reconciliation to someone who has moved on the Heaven, hopeful for an end to meaningless bloodshed, hopeful for peace on a path guided by the sunlight in the tender mercy of God.

This is Our Vapor

Life isn’t solely tragic, I know this, hopefully you know this. When tragedy does happen it typically becomes everything. It demands urgency, commands that you be present to either run from it or face it. Sometimes we need to run just far enough to make sure we are safe, sometimes we stand and face it, and sometimes we move towards it.

As a chaplain, there are times when I am asked to move towards someone else’s tragedy because someone has trusted me to be able to, and I also have trusted myself to be able to.

Today a Turkish Muslim family lost a child at 23 weeks. If you know where I live in the south, you might be surprised to hear that there aren’t many Muslims here. There is one mosque here, probably the only one within a 2-hour radius. I sat with the couple, made phone calls, then accidentally saw the child, which was a new enough sight to me that it made it difficult to concentrate on the information I gave them regarding who I contacted and what numbers I found.

But writing this isn’t really about me, it’s about this couple and a grandmother who lost their child and were navigating deep sadness with the sentiment of “I guess this is life” (or “This is a part of life”). And sadly, that statement is true; nothing I could say would change that, so I did the best thing I could do after I left them. I cried and I prayed, and then later I cried, and I write and hope to pray again.

I, like you, have no desire for tragedy to be a part of life. I want to be able to reject it and say outright it is not necessary. But that does not keep it away.

I cannot fend off the reality of loss with a flaming sword. I cannot cure myself nor can they cure themselves of their sadness.

When tragedy comes, we are meant to mourn, and while mourning is not a facet of the Kingdom to come, that is coming, and is near, it is the reality of the in between and that reality is dreadfully painful.

Which is why that reality must also be a vapor.

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James 4:14 reads, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”

Not only is the reality of tragedy a vapor but so are we. Except, we are the most beautiful vapor that could ever exist through the lens of God.

We were vapors worth sacrificing for.

We were bought through an eternal, tragic, act of romance, once for all time.

And through that sacrifice something fascinating happened to us.

We condensed because Jesus condescended.

We became one with the water of the Spirit, one with the river of living water. We vanish only to reappear unforgotten by the Father, as a bride for the Son, as a Temple for the Spirit, as ones the world is not worthy of.

I ran into the father of the child in the parking lot when I came back to the hospital 4 hours later, he had driven to the mosque to talk to the imam about the proper ritual for the child. They told him to take the child home, wash her, and that would suffice for a funeral.

It had been a very long time since the hospital had ever let a deceased child go directly home, it’s just not a cultural or religious practice for most people here. I could see the relief on the fathers face they told him that would be possible.

That relief was beautiful, you know, knowing he could take the deceased home to wash her,

Like a baptism,

Like this is a part of life.

The God and the Ghost of Present Christmas

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I read an Instagram post by Craig Groeschel about Christmas being a magnifier today.  (For those of you who don’t know who Craig Groeschel is, he’s one of those muscular pastors that talks about how he doesn’t have time to dress himself in the morning)  The intent of his post was to state how the holiday can take positive and negative emotions and circumstances and enlarge them. This is why it is so important to fix our attention and affection on Jesus as the center of our celebration especially when we bent toward the negative.

I enjoyed the encouragement and I agree. I actually was weirdly looking forward to working in the hospital on Christmas today. I’m not entirely sure why, maybe the escape, maybe to feel important, maybe to feel more or less alone?

It is lonely you know, being a ghost.

My friends came up with this little joke that I am everyone’s imaginary friend, but I myself am unaware of it. I like the concept, but that is not me. I am no ghost, although I try to be as transparent as one, when I can be, when the risk isn’t too much, when I’m not afraid of rejection or losing someone, when I’m safe, when I’m surrendered.

A patient’s husband said to me today, “You must feel good being able to help people as a chaplain and on Christmas.” I thought this statement curious because I wanted to say, “It feels okay, but that’s not why I do it.” I didn’t try this ministry out so I could merely feel good, although if you constructed a well enough argument I’d probably believe it.

I think I chose it to hopefully find God in it, desperate to find God in myself (the Spirit dwelling within). I think I chose it or rather God called and chose me, so I would live in the fear of the Lord and in the love of God. I think I chose it to be transparent about all my evident weaknesses and hoped I would find warm love in it. And yeah, maybe warm loyal love feels really good, but I often don’t feel that, which is why I wish I was a ghost sometimes.

I wish I was floating in and out of people’s lives unaffected by their pain, yet present to it and to them whenever I wished or they wished. I would be a source of comfort without the feeling. I would be present, without the awareness of when I’m not feeling a comforting touch or hug when I want to be hugged or close to someone.

To be a ghost seems to me to be without a need, to be a gift without holding onto one back. I felt like a ghost sometimes today. I felt like a guilt-ridden sinner sometimes today. I felt like one in need of love and redemption sometimes today.

I am one in need of Immanuel, God with us, and God in us by the Holy Ghost always today.

I need the God and the Ghost

Tying the Knot

I took a massive step yesterday. It actually turned out that taking the step wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be and will benefit me greatly into the future.

I tied the knot, specifically I perfected the Windsor knot with a tie. I tied every tie I own with the Windsor knot so it is one less thing I will have to do in the morning before work. I hope this doesn’t ruin the ties.

I know next to nothing about ties or dressing up or when a shirt crosses over into too wrinkled to be presentable. I normally wouldn’t wear a tie at all, but I’m just not sure wearing a full suit everyday as a chaplain is really helpful.

It’s actually quite fascinating how important aesthetic is when presenting yourself as a minister in a hospital. I only have theories because I have not started yet, but it makes total sense to me. I’m walking into someone’s hospital room at a vulnerable and sometimes scary time. It’s only natural that the person they want coming in to talk to them and pray for them looks like they made a natural effort to look “good” when they got up in the morning.

It reminds me of Jesus’ teaching were he tells his followers when you fast, wash your face. Don’t look miserable when ministering to God or people. Even if you are miserable at least try not to look like it. I think Jesus does this, because even though Jesus wasn’t gorgeous in a GQ sense he knew how to cast a good look.

Not to lessen the crucifixion but as Jesus is dying, mostly naked, bloody, dehydrated, he calls out to John another apostle and says, “take care of my mom.” What a good look on Jesus, admitting that in his present and future condition that responsibility would be better left to John.tying_the_knot_banner

I’m well aware that the title of this blog is typically indicative of marriage which is why I also will write about that as well. I’m halfway through the best marriage book I’ve read, “The Meaning of Marriage,” by Tim Keller. It’s been a great read honestly. I took about a 3 year hiatus from marriage books unless you count the Five Love Languages which I count as a love book and a learning about myself book.

I love the book for its vision of spiritual friendship and the goal of marriage to help make us ourselves and our spouse look more like Jesus. It’s simple in one way because that is really the Christian’s goal in everything, so Tim Keller: “I like your book but you’re not saying anything revolutionary or new. But I’ll give you credit, your reminder is revolutionary for me.”

I think the book has diagnosed and articulated what I’m looking for and what I’m aiming to be. It has been a nice reminder that there is no rush (I say that and have not even read the chapter on singleness).  Despite there being no rush, I think an urgency of desire can be healthy. It can make me the type of person that prays and makes pure and whole choices during my singleness.

But then again I think this entire move has an urgency of desire. I feel like during this week of no urgent responsibility has marked boldly, characteristics that I should not deny.  Here are some of the knots in my personality that I think cannot be untied:

  • I like and need people way too much to spend too much time alone. I get no energy from being alone for long periods of time.
  • I thrive in structure. I did not want to admit this about myself. Part of me feels like I want to be a writer who dictates their own schedule and keep his own deadlines, but it’s just not so. I’ve known I’m not a self-starter and I’m too artistic to really discipline myself. (This is why I seem to have multiple friends now checking in on my diet and fitness although my Mom says I’m doing just fine)
  • I like the water, I think I would like to go to the pool or ocean, everyday  if I have time.
  • I can spend a lot of money on entertainment and food, but I also am capable of spending no money on any of it. Hopefully, starting on Monday I make a few necessary cut backs (For example I spent money to get a bike fixed. I haven’t ridden a bike in at least 4 years, maybe 7, will I this year? Who knows?)
  • I love listening and talking one on one with people. I really can’t help myself. Sometimes I can do a group of 3 or 4 and still be engaged and love it but beyond that I lose focus.

That’s all for now. I will have too much to write about and think about next week when I start work.

Settling the Stages

IMG_0013I’ve been in Charleston for 3 full days settling in, meeting neighbors, sending my brother off back to New Jersey and tonight will be my first night sleeping in my new apartment alone (with Jesus).

It hasn’t occurred to me yet that I’ve moved. It partially feels like I’m staying at a hotel with all my stuff on a short vacation. I’m sure it will feel like it soon, maybe next week, maybe when I start my new job, maybe when its fall and doesn’t feel like a typical Northeast fall, which in the past few years I have grown to love.

I feel like this process will continue in stages. I’m anticipating the break down and crying while asking myself what have I done stage to come soon. We are all waiting for that one with bated breath, hoping it will produce some strong writing and insight. Maybe that’s just me.

I don’t know when that stage comes either, but I can tell you about the stage I’m at. It’s the writing late at night after eating fast food (Cookout) and wondering what I bought at Kohls that managed to cost $60.00 and why I bought it (candles, spatula, chocolate, tootbrush holder). I’m embarrassed for typing that.

I’m embarrassed for not bringing dining room chairs with me or a DVD player or a video game system. I’m embarrassed for leaving behind or misplacing fashionable articles of clothing. I’m embarrassed for being the only single dude, almost only dude walking around Kohl’s at 9 pm not having a clue what to buy.IMG_0220

Maybe scratch all the times I wrote embarrassed above and replace it with inadequate. It’s a reality God wants me in. I must be completely reliant on God, on the Holy Spirit as the source of my breath and my strength, as the one who settles me in.

The truth is I don’t want to be contented, I don’t want to be at rest within myself, or pleased with myself unless I am experience that sense truly from God the Father. I want to be right with the Father reconciled to the Father by the Son as a son.

I don’t want to feel like an idiot or foolish for spending $60.00 at Kohl’s but am willing to if he speaks to me in the process.

This moving process makes Moses’s life make so much more sense to me. God doesn’t give a hoot about my inadequacies. God does give a hoot about my sin versus spotlessness which is why God is willing to wipe those sins away through the blood of Christ. But God does care about our willingness to obey without excuse, without hindrance, without weight.

God cares deeply about my freedom through Jesus Christ to live a life of trust and love. I want both without measure and at any cost. I want it even if it leaves me utterly poor and destitute. I want it more than riches and praise. I want to be faithful, sacrificial, and marked by contentedness in Christ.

And I think part of that process is enduring the stages and meeting God in every moment along the way.

It’s settled. Let’s meet God in our moments before after and during  and even on this stage.

The Charleston Chapter: Chaplaincy

As of this writing, I am 50 days away from moving to Charleston, South Carolina.

If that is news to you, I’m sorry I did not tell you. I’m moving, to start a chaplaincy residency, which will be my first season of full-time ministry, God-willing. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I have a decent idea of what I’ve chosen.

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I already have my apartment reserved, have made some cool friends, and found a church I really like. That all stemmed from 2 separate 48 hour visits.

In a lot of ways this post is a prelude to what I imagine will be a season of a lot of newness. It’s about what I’m expecting.

Here is a paragraph I wrote in my application packet regarding what I expect out of my next year:

“I hope to learn to be both present and immovable in faith for those going through crisis, while offering hope and encouragement. Specifically, I hope to learn how to discern in moments of crisis when to listen, when to pray, and when to advise in an environment where others are learning and listening as well. I also hope that processing these experiences in discussion with peers and supervisors within the context of Clinical Pastoral Education will provide fertile soil to grow in confidence of the ability of God to work through ministers.”

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My goal is devotion to learning and serving from a posture of listening, discerning, and willingness to act. I am excited about the opportunity I have to give my life to Jesus in this way.

But I’m also surprised in the now. I’m surprised by how often over the past 8 months that saying yes to the unknown when I’ve asked God first, has resulted in a contented normalcy regarding the adventure of following Jesus. I would highly suggest trying this out.

But it’s also weird. It’s exposed something ugly in me. It’s exposed that in the past, I’ve expected the bottom to fall out. Whether that expectation comes from circumstance or was learned I can’t wait for that part of me to completely die.

I want to live like God is always for me not waiting for a reason to knock me down. I think that mindset has caused me too often to not take fun risks or steps of faith.

I want to live like my faith in God is flowing from a vibrant relationship that is also evident to others. But even in the season it might not be evident to others I want to be the kind of man who cherishes the will and ways of God even if it hurts.

Because in this next chapter, I think that is who God is asking me to be for others. I’m hoping, I’m up to the challenge.