Happy Clean Imagination

“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”

I don’t think I’ve met anyone who has seen God and lived to talk about it. Yet I know plenty of people who perceive God in other individuals and simultaneously embody what it looks like to live and love like Jesus.

Being able to recognize the power of a life set apart and yielded to the Spirit of God, in a measure, is the experience of seeing God. But how does catching that glimpse affect or change us? Or another question I’ve been thinking about: how does my heart become or perhaps stay pure?

I’ve narrowly missed preaching on mercy 2 times this year, and this week I will be preaching on the pure in heart, and I’m not certain why I agreed.

If I were to judge myself, which the Epistles suggest, might be a total waste of my time, I would not describe myself as particularly pure.

Like if purity had a spectrum: from ages to 0-14 I’d rate myself a 9, from ages 14-18, I’d rate myself a 4, from 18-22 I’d rate myself a 7 1/2, from ages 23-27 I’d rate myself a 3. From ages 27-32 I’d fall on any given day between a 5-9.

I offer you this perhaps as a condemnation of myself, but also as an absurd example of how I sometimes and many people probably define purity. Because here is the deal, if I told you just a speck of poop mixed into your bottle of water, you would not drink it (unless perhaps if the money was right) but you wouldn’t drink it with glee, and you certainly wouldn’t call it pure. It could be Fiji water or purified through osmosis, but once the fecies hits the water it is no longer potable.

And this in part is the reason I feel inept at preaching on purity of heart. I know my dark, my motives, my thoughts, my desires and no amount of desire to be completely blameless seems to keep me pure.

Maybe you can relate, maybe you can’t, maybe I just finally need to take myself up on the suggestion of cognitive behavioral therapy and I will be decidedly fixed.

But I can talk about something I do know and have experienced: cleansing.

Psalm 51:2 Wash me clean of my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

51:6 “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 19:12 “Who can discern his own errors? Cleanse me from my hidden faults.”

If it were not for the tangible experience of forgiveness cleansing and the means in which the Spirit employs to convict me and hopefully mold my heart I’d be without hope.

Which is why I think being pure in heart comes with the implication that I will continue to take a bath. I will eagerly subject myself to perpetual pruning, purging, purification, no matter how painful.

I will, in the light, be confronted with the areas and motives I have concealed or manipulated in order to serve myself alone. I will mourn over behavior and repent of thoughts before they even lead to poor conduct. I submit to consequence and wounds on my reputation as ownership of my brokenness while equally holding steafast to forgiveneess upon confession.

And in the positive vain, I set my mind on things above. I think about whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is rightwhatever is purewhatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Whatever I have learned or received or heard, or seen in Christ and those who follow Him– I put it into practice. (Phil. 4:8)

And as I think about those things, and anything else, I put it to the light to see if its real and enduring and loving and if it is not I must do the work to discard it. I do not tolerate the sin in my own life before I claim to have any authority or power to speak into someone else’s.

There is a difference between sharing your struggle, story or victory and trying to use said struggle, story or victory to bring healing to someone else.

But hopefully until then, we allow our heart (the seat of our intentions, imaginations and affections) be continually cleansed by the Truth and reality of a relationship with a good God who offered His Son’s blood. Imagine that.

The Purpose of Our Collective Tears

It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting.

Ecclesiastes 7:2

I don’t know how prepared you are to give of your tears or how familiar you might be with what that entails. I’m going to write a bit about mourning this morning. Grief, loss, and death, I know are not necessarily fun topics to read about. I don’t know a lot about pandemics, the spread of viruses or the long term effects of these things, but I am  fairly confident that if political leaders and people are willing to show any hint of prioritizing stimulating the economy and bailing out large financially irresponsible big businesses at the risk of spreading a deadly virus, it’s safe to say that some compassionate folks may have to take up the business of empathy and grieving.

*Scroll to the bottom if you just like practicals*

And that person might be you or me. So here’s how:

Tears are beautiful. One day, in the Kingdom of Heaven there will be no more use for them. But here, now, tears of the emotional variety are a visual display of our pain and our stress and our empathy. As they are released chemicals are typically released in our body that calm our mind and relieve us of physical pain. In this way they are chemically associated with doing good for the inside.

It is important to keep in mind that the capacity for tears or crying is more important than volume. So like anything crying too much or persistent crying amidst a depressive episode could yield little to no benefit. It’s important to discern and distinguish between the two.

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For instance:

Yesterday, my mom put her cat Tabitha down who was 19 years old and had kidney failure. I cried a bit on my drive to her house thinking about my mom during this season of quarantine, thinking a little about Tabitha and how interesting of a cat she was. Those tears were in some ways helpful because I was prepared to empathize with my mom and imagined what it was like to lose a pet but also adjust in a season when being home a lot and perhaps for a extended season is necessary.

Later on that evening, I cried again while being exceedingly frustrated and uncertain even scared about what decisions to make, feeling like life is still out of my control and being frustrated and double-minded about how to live out what I feel called to in the midst of my current vocation after a season where I already felt isolated for the previous 5 months. These tears were less helpful, but still helpful. In part because these tears were more a response to an unclear uncertain emotional framework that had me stuck on myself. If I was still crying those same tears now they would not be helpful and perhaps self-indulgent.

Let’s return to loss and grief and death though for a moment. Some of you may have experienced the loss of a loved one. It was a deep loss that you may have not been prepared for and suffered or may suffer still as you learn to adapt to a new rhythm without that individual. Sometimes their loss might still illicit tears or sadness but hopefully, that loss has not kept you unable to find fullness in life.

Hopefully, you found a helpful ritual or prayer or found ways to accept the loss and have been given new eyes of appreciation for others. Hopefully, also, you will be presented with the opportunity to help others walk through their own grief and loss.

My hope is that this will not be a season that you will be called upon to do that, but there is a chance in the coming weeks even months you might know several people who lose something or someone due to this virus.

Not all loss is death, but death feels the most permanent. And in seasons where isolation is already becoming the norm if someone were to die while others are isolated and may not be able to mourn as easily communally, we will need to be diligent in helping to heal those who suffer loss.

We have power to minister and bring healing to others when we stay alert and aware in the midst of our own loss, to not checkout and isolate, but to remain available. To be reminded that others too will suffer the loss of spouse or grandparent or parent or child, that while our grief and loss is unique in the individual or thing lost, the experience of losing is not unique to us.

So a couple of practicals:

-Imagine you are in their position, in the coming weeks it might not take that much imagining (we’ll see)

-Listen more than spouting advice or cliche phrases of optimism (Scripture written in an encouraging note or a timely word spoken gently might be helpful but listen first)

-Pray for them

-Make sure they are fed and checked in on

-Affirm that they are loved, again gently

-Maybe not a reminder for the one suffering, but death is not the end of everything and it is a part of life; death might become more normalized, but Jesus has promised us eternity with Him for those who believe. So yes, a priority on the restoration to or perseverance in their most important relationship.

-Remember God is with us in our tears

Psalm 56:8

You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?

What’s God’s Endgame?

You may have heard about this movie coming out called Avengers: Endgame. It’s one of those low budget independent films, trying to win some film festival awards. I bought tickets to it for the first showing at 5 pm tomorrow. I’m pretty excited about it. You’re probably not going to see it or hear about it much, but I’m hoping to enjoy it.

I’m done pandering…https___cdn.cnn.com_cnnnext_dam_assets_190403144228-avengers-endgame-thumb-imax-poster.jpg

I don’t mean to spoil the previous movie Infinity War, but it basically ended with a whole bunch of characters ceasing to exist, and lest we think the concept or conclusion is unique, the world, or humanity or a day of reckoning is a fairly played out blockbuster movie trope.

Everyone is trying to save the world. Recently corporations who previously were less pretentious about wanting to make money off its consumers have found ways to leverage ads to toot their own horns about being heroes. And I know why they do it. Western culture buys into a desire to appear to be as good of people as possible whilst still satisfying self as our chief end.

51GqyevRtBL._SX360_BO1,204,203,200_We still market our perception of “goodness” with statements or rather visual expressions of “sex sells.” Now advertises are testing the waters of whether or not “service sells” which leads to a new end which I believe we’ll see play itself out more in the political arena in the statement suggestive of “salvation sells.”

I don’t think people will necessarily peddle the word salvation (in the Orthodox Christian paradoxical sense) but the hope of redeeming and righting of the wrongs of the other side/enemy through politics or human effort is the platform on which humanity is destroying each other.

But then there is God’s Endgame.

On His (Jesus’) shoulders rests a Kingdom that is not passing away. In this Kingdom is the Intercessor who is coming to reign.

Jesus’ Endgame started on the Cross declaring “It is finished,” paying off a seemingly infinite death with His blood. The end of His life leading to the His Resurrection marked the victory over death the grave and the principalities and powers of the age though they still seem to have a pretty significant foothold.

But to what end does this game continue. What are we or rather what is God waiting for. God is clearly patient, God has not destroyed this place, nor I believe God will.

Let me share with you a passage to chew on from Matthew 24:13-14:

But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Two marks of genuine faith are endurance and proclamation. Announcing goodness (Advertising) and Endurance (Quality Assurance). I likely should apologize comparing a life of faith to a Product but in part that is what we are. We are products, creations, children, seed of Heavenly Father because we were purchased through the blood of the Son.

I could write a long explanation through the rest of this blog, poetic, reflective, but God caught me dead in my tracks with this:

You are God’s Endgame.

Jesus reconciling humanity (you and I very much included) to God through Himself no matter how long it takes for us to accept, receive or walk in daily.

I was the joy set before Him and Christ is my exceedingly great reward.

It’s taking a lot longer than 3 hours on a Big Screen to play out, but it’s worth it if the End is my heart fully given over to the Alpha and Omega, Captain of our Faith, Avenger of Heaven, Perfecter of our Faith, Yahweh’s Son, Iron sharpening Iron Godman, child of the Marveling Mary, Lord of the Universe, Jesus Christ.

You, Jesus are the only One who saved the world

You, Jesus the only One to save me

I’ve been rescued by your Love

May my faith be held steady and be made ready

To endure until the End

*Don’t spoil the movie*

 

 

 

Wrestling with Blessing

I’ve often reflected how I tend to be doing the best when I’m writing the most. This is typically true of anyone when they are expressing themselves creatively. We usually are feeling our best when we are fruitful and multiplying, freely expressing our identity through our gifting’s as we believe those gifts to be blessings.

Rarely do we feel our best when we are being pruned (losing part of what we thought was ourselves) or refined  (having our edges or unclean parts exposed and burned away) or disciplined (being taught how to navigate away from wrong into the right)

As I’ve been reading through Genesis and coming up on 5 months in chaplaincy, I find myself still wrestling, perhaps still restless. But in the midst of wrestling with myself and God, I’m faced with my choice. And it’s not so much a choice for vocation or for status as much as choice for disposition. I must choose joy and happiness. Admittedly, that has been historically challenging for me.

I often pin myself under the weight of sadness and introspection and often find the confused muddy version of Jimmy or James or Jim, whichever name they are calling me nowadays, trying to hear what name God is calling me nowadays. Still beloved, I hope?

How did I become so fragile?

How did I become so stubborn?

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I ask myself as I’m coming up on a ford (see story of Jacob) and the Angel of the Lord has challenged me to fight awaiting to see if I will ask for a blessing. The Lord doesn’t punch or slap. God doesn’t seek the knockout blow for his children. But God does test endurance awaiting our appeal for mercy or victory or surrender.

Here’s the thing though: I’ve asked. I’ve asked for blessing, yelled for the cursing to go away, persisted for healing. I still feel my wounds and am tempted to inflict the worst ones on myself, and I can’t do it anymore. I can’t be my own affliction and expect to make it through, wrestling day in and day out hoping the blessing actually sticks. For those of us that are guilty of fighting with ourselves, there is a need to learn the rhythm of grace and self-compassion.

I have this assignment I earned myself: To write about my dreams, which is ironic because some of my friends recently told me they are making dream boards. When I think of the word dream, my gut reaction is anger, then sadness, then stuck.

I don’t know how to stop my nightmares, so how does anyone expect me to make my dreams come true?

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I’ve had so many dreams, believed so many promises, flooded pages with hopes lost:

lost the hopes, lost the pages, lost parts of myself, let go of the dreams.

 

But not God, God’s not lost in the wrestling. God is there in it, and God has overcome me, and I admittedly can do nothing without the Father.  Nor do I really want to.

I also want to dream even if it’s daunting. I want to serve Jesus even if the next step is un-seeable. I want to be able find romantic love even if  right now it’s latent. I want to be confident in Christ even if I capsize. I only want to wrestle with God if we both win. What I find in the love of God is: the dreams that come from the Lord are the ones that have staying power and are vivid. As a team we dream. I think God knew how much I’d like wrestling so God has incorporated it into my walk of faith. I find God won’t let go until He knows I am blessed and beloved.

 

Quit Nice

I’m continuing with a theme of pulling back a curtain of pretension. Perhaps my recent posts have provided some insight into an unintentional social experiment that is now becoming more intentional. I’ve chosen to cut back significantly on being nice.web_logo_large

In part, this might be a reaction to the smiley, often pretentious culture that the south gets billed for. But also because niceness defined as agreeable, pleasant and satisfactory is not enough. If you swim in this territory, I find you relinquish identity, vulnerability and the ability to tell people “no” or let them go.

Kindness however which Scripture admonishes us towards is to be generous and considerate of the other but also for ourselves.

When was the last time you were generous or considerate to yourself in order to better serve another?

Sometimes being generous and mindful of your own being requires confronting or outright rejecting the behavior of someone else. I’m confident that Jesus did this and continues to do this with relationships. Reject destructive behavior in order to restore relationship. I bold-faced the important part in case you don’t like the rejection of the destructive behaviors piece.

I did not come up with this advice. I had to be told this by my friend Hannah. Hannah is awesome. She’s a straight-forward woman who has her Masters in Theology, watches pro-wrestling, likes the Yankees, Super-Heroes, Harry Potter, Disney, cats and dogs and doesn’t tolerate BS and will let you know if you are trying to feed it to her. She’s engaged and if I don’t go to her wedding she would murder me mentally.

I don’t want Hannah to do that, in part because I am mildly fearful of her but also because Hannah is both honest and cares. I wouldn’t call her nice honestly, she also  wouldn’t want to be called nice. But she does take ownership of what’s hers and recognizes misuse and selfishness.

She isn’t afraid to tell you to cut people out, which I have now had to do twice in the last month. She isn’t afraid to tell you to stop doing something and don’t do that again because when you do it you suck. Those things don’t feel nice but they might be right.

It’s something we are empowered to do without changing our internal identity. You can still be an extremely loving and loyal Jesus follower without being overly nice. In fact you do this better when you refuse to subject yourself to the unchecked mistreatment from another human, especially a Christian.

So quit, try honesty and raw kindness instead.

Foolish Loyalists And Prophets

Now is as good a time as any to question which of your loyalties are hindering you. It’s also a good time to question the messages you’re listening to. I’m not talking about becoming a paranoid cynical skeptic because those kinds of people tend to lean into the most uncomfortable, unhelpful assumptions of their paranoia.

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What I am calling into question is what we are quick to believe and who we are quick to defend. Our current American climate I think supplies some evidence to the danger of our foolishness. It’s too easy to take a side of what we feel are our only options. And we become staunch about our side glossing over its potential or obvious evil.

It’s amazing confounding how quick we are willing to discard accountability if it will delay our desire, whether we’ve questioned the validity of our desire or not. It’s amazing confounding how quick we are to demand justice from an institution that consistently proves to us is broken and flawed. It’s disheartening to see how we (me included) so often subject our faith in Jesus to the performance of people.

We only have one perfect savior, and it wasn’t someone in your family or the subject of your romantic affection, or your political or judicial candidate. This doesn’t mean we cease our loyalties or our prophecies.

It does mean, however, that every one of our loyalties and prophecies are foolish.

See the Apostle Paul talks about the foolishness of the Gospel and the foolishness of preaching as the sole way we receive our deliverance and salvation. The thought that God would have his son murdered as the way we come out of this thing eternally alive is a foolish yet an astounding reality.

The command to faithfully pursue the unity of faith within the Body, the Church despite our persistent division and struggle to love seems foolish especially in light of familiar and frequent accusation. But we need the exposing and expelling of darkness as we acknowledge our need for one another’s light. This is the eternal benefit of confession, another foolish invention of God.

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How does admitting my sins contain with it the potential for healing and restoration?

How does being immersed in water bear any evidence on our faith?

How does our love for one another provoke the love of the unfaithful?

 

I don’t have a succinct answer to any of these, but I also know from what I watch and what I read outside of Scripture is individuals we elect don’t know either. They are bound by constituencies, lobbyists and emotions probably more-so than most of us. And the worldly wisdom each of us espouse is flawed.

But Jesus, that sweet loyalty to Him and the foolish prophecy that He is busy reconciling the world to Himself patient for our devotion is audacious. It is real and raw, foolish but completely freeing. When I subtly perceive this kind of loyalty in others that forsakes every other affection, I am left convinced of the goodness and genuine love of God.

Our willingness to look foolish for the Gospel (knowing the true gospel required) contains a great reward. The reward is receiving and revelating love in greater ways.

You become rich in love.

On Loneliness, Loss, and Lasting Love

This is it folks, the blog post that will break the internet. If  you couldn’t tell by the title I’m ambitiously going to person-splain the meaning of life.

But before I get into it and switch gears, allow me to set the stage of the state I am in while I’m writing. I’m eating candy heart grapes and gluten-free pretzels while drinking Arizona Iced Green Tea from a protein shake bottle. I also took the day off today because the hospital offered it to me after working a 24-hour shift on Friday, and I highly considered not taking it, but I did. I took it not because I was tired or needed it, rather I took it because I read a few pages from a book titled Images of Pastoral Care, from a chapter written by Henry Nouwen regarding personal loneliness and the minister.

And to explain a little more, I took it because I believe the greater challenge for me today is not ministering to patients in a hospital, some of whom could be dying. Rather, my greater challenge is how Nouwen puts it “finding the wound of loneliness to be an inexhaustible source of beauty and self-understanding.”

But that’s enough from the guy who has given pastoral ministers one of the clearest images of caring for others spiritual health in the last 40 years. If you want to hear from him I’ll loan you the book.

So let me ask you one question, then I’ll write a little, then I’ll go pay my parking ticket, visit the library, and write an assignment, and then maybe make some time for self-understanding.

Have you ever found the awareness of loneliness or loss to be a source of beauty?

If yes, well don’t read the rest and just write me immediately or better yet call me or better yet come to Charleston and agree to sit and talk with me for at least several hours about this topic and nothing else. I’ll buy you a moderately priced meal.

How can loneliness be beautiful? 

To start, loneliness can only begin to be beautiful with the assurance that it is temporary. If we feel our isolation will never end, all we will see is despair and be paralyzed by fear. Reminding the feeling that it is fleeting even if it seems final, is essential.

What also helps but is not a solution is the reminder that there are worse things than feeling lonely. Feeling incessantly annoyed or tortured is probably worse. But what’s actually worse than being lonely is self-loathing. There is  perhaps nothing worse than not liking yourself, which is why if you combine this with loneliness, its combustible.

I have a theory that people who genuinely like most things about themselves have little problem being alone.

Why is that?

Because they know what they like and feel absolutely no shame embracing that which they enjoy. Sure this could turn into complete selfishness, but there is something admirable about someone is completely secure in their delights.

Combine liking your self with self-awareness, you combine to make a refreshing human being. You’re like a classic Coke or Sprite, your like a refreshing Iced Tea, your like a warm (insert favorite latte), you’re the type of person that its okay to walk around in your underwear in front of. You won’t be creeped out or do anything creepy; you’re content to breastfeed in public without judging the people who might be judging you. You’re (this stopped being helpful 2 sentences ago) contented.

In other words, your happiness is not dependent on others but you allow it to be heightened and appropriately saddened given the person and circumstance. You’re soul is malleable rather than easily broken.

So you can use loneliness as a method of further self-discovery. This is the type of person I must become, and I must become it quickly and joyously and love God and others all the more for the opportunity.

But, what of loss?

How can loss be beautiful? 

Get your friggin’ softest tissues ready.

Anything you lose sucks to varying degrees. (Except excess weight, I guess). Especially when you lose something you think you need, keys, phone, family, kids. Like it sucks to misplace those things for five minutes but the loss I’m talking about is the kind of loss that implies permanence.

Loss sucks so much, I got to this part of the blog, and I don’t even want to write about it and part of the reason for me writing is to write about it. That’s how much I try to avoid it; I even am trying to avoid writing about it. (Snyder’s of Hanover gluten-free pretzels are great by the way; I wish they would pay me to say that).

Yet loss is inevitable. And worst of all, it usually if not always comes despite our intent. I won’t go so far to say that all loss is unintended because that is not the nature of what I’m trying to convince you and myself of.

If loss is inevitable and loss is painful and it’s something we, I included, try to avoid how exactly do we beautify it? Well, like loneliness, the effects of loss are temporal (what I mean is you can’t permanently lose the same thing twice) yet the love of that which was lost is enduring.

Love has this enduring quality and while you cannot change or really replace that which was lost, whether it be a parent, a sibling, a child, a spouse, a potential spouse, a friend, a pet, a vocation that gave you purpose, love need not die because of loss.

The loss of any one of those things may yield unbearable weight or heartbreak and most likely will. That heartbreak is real and it stings. We may yearn that we were lost in the stead of whom we lost. And the temptation becomes losing ourselves, to lose our identity in that which we lost. To become the person that our broken heart makes us vulnerable in believing: that we are irreparable, irreconcilable, impossible or unworthy to reconstruct. And the lie of loss is not the same as the loss itself or the love of the loss.

The lie of loss tries to tell you all is lost, but all is not lost. Even if in the moment, or in the season, or in the seeming lifetime it feels like all is lost, all is not lost. You are not lost if you are reading this. I mean in the metaphorical cosmic, what is the purpose of my existence, schema you might be lost, but that too is temporal. Our potential for being found is far greater than our propensity to wander away.

The love of the loss is our potential for gain.

How is love allowed to last?

See the divine nature of love is recognizable by its endurance. It’s recognizable by the lengths it pushes us to, and by the length and depth it propels others into. Love has this amazing potential to infuse tangible, powerful hope into the darkest of situations. The demonstration and resource of love provided to us by Jesus gives new strength, new life, and it need not end. Love doesn’t have a salary cap.

But it also has the attribute of self-forgetfulness that gives us additional strength to recognize our losses and loneliness as unique, yet equitable when met with love. It acts as currency to others in the midst of loss and the feeling of loneliness.

38710813_440696929773474_7108082828050432000_nBut the only way we can even begin to be a dispensary of this kind of love is to lean into the divine love of God, as the well we drink from. We drink as much as, even more than we might think we need throughout the day so our loss and loneliness won’t dehydrate us, leaving us so poor and empty that we lose sight of beauty and self-understanding.

The goal of lasting love in spite of loss and loneliness is not to erase existence; it is to thrive in spite of the suffering that comes with existing. It is so that if we lose a parent and yearn for that intimacy, we adopt a widow or widower; it’s if we have lost a sibling, we befriend a lonely stranger who yearns for loyalty; it’s if we lose a child, we find strength to be able to lavish love on one’s not lost, providing hospitality and family to the orphan. It’s if we lose a spouse and suffer heartbreak, we don’t crumble so far inwards that we close ourselves off or run from the viable love of others around us.

Sometimes allowing ourselves to be loved is the only salve that will heal us in time. I don’t think this blog will change the internet, but I hope it provides us with hope to give and receive divine love as our defense against loss and loneliness in a lasting way.

Atypical and the Typical

I’m watching this Netflix show Atypical. It’s on its 2nd season and it’s about a teenage boy with autism trying to figure out love and life while navigating his parents failing marriage. Every episode is sad but good. I imagine there are a dozen of shows like it but my friend Victor who is clinical therapist, college professor and an awesome person got me hooked on it.

IMG-0286I like it because it feels raw which isn’t the most helpful thing for me because life itself is as raw as can be right now. I’m around people who are dying, getting terrible news, and asking me questions about why they are suffering and why the world is the way it is. I twiddle my thumbs, listen, pray, basically do anything to avoid giving an answer that they likely wouldn’t remember 15 minutes after I leave the room.

But I do find that people do want me, more specifically a person, to hear them while they are in the hospital. They want a person who will petition God for them in calm sincerity.

Wouldn’t any of us want that? Don’t we though? I wanted that this morning in church because I hurt, and God sent a young man to pray for me, gently, calmly, letting me know he heard me. It made things better.

Made things better than what? I’ve been here only a month, how bad could it be? It’s not bad.

I’ve found this place to be familiar and difficult to adjust to. It’s hard to have the energy to connect when I spend most of my weekdays literally sitting and talking to people at their most vulnerable. I need to join a sports league. I need routine. I also need to relearn myself.

That is why they train you to be a chaplain. After spending two weeks talking to people and hearing their fears and desire for reconciliation and questions for God, you, unless you’re very numb or rather, I who is very not, find that I have a responsibility in the time I am not at work to be very careful to make sure I am well.atypical

I have found that: You become more self-aware and your feelings are heightened. You find that “alone-ness” is more palpable when your house is empty and quiet and lacks touch. You find when your sick even if its only for a day  that you are anxious about what you would do if it was more. You find that rejection from the opposite sex feels the same in a new place as it does in an old place.  But you also find out what you like. You find out you like being in the ocean on a body board for a little bit as often as possible. You find that you actually like movie theatres a lot. You find that any communication from friends is worth gold to you. You find reading and writing are so intricately apart of you that if feels like you’re dying if you’re not doing it.

So that was a long paragraph.

But I only have one more thing to write. Things aren’t bad at all actually. Things just are and sometimes we get bad news or news we didn’t want. We might find out time is running out on us, but God holds us in the time we have.

And while I hope I have a lot more of time, and I hope it still holds hope and love and family, I am called to remain faithful to Christ in today. This call to faithfulness I am finding is both typical and atypical.

 

 

How do you write about yourself?

For a vocation that is supposed to require me to minister to hurting people, I am also required to do an enormous amount of self-reflection. And as a result I am now writing about myself, writing about myself.

I was asked to write a personal mythology. Because the word mythology is used, I’m writing about myself in the third person for the assignment.

The assignment did not specify for me to write in third person, but I am choosing to because I write too much about myself outside of my job. So I thought as a creative exercise I would try to step back and summarize my life in less than three pages by stepping outside of myself.

I wouldn’t say it is challenging , but I will say its tiring. It’s tiring because I spend so much time visiting my past trying to work through it and workshop it, only to keep realizing I can’t change it. I wonder what God thinks when we keep revisiting old things. I wonder what people are like who never have time to revisit the past and are solely fixed on their future.

I want to be that way, but I don’t think the process I have signed up for will let me.

For me, life is not laid out in stages of boxes that I can check, only to never look at again. Even if the seasons have past, the experiences and lack of answers seem to keep looking for closure. Which, I think is what death is about.depositphotos_2189599-stock-photo-dying-sunflower

Scripture says in John 12:24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

One of  my goals for the first 3 months of this residency is to be comfortable with things that die, specifically become comfortable being in the room with death.

Why?

Well in part simply because I have to. I don’t think I can work day in and day out and once a week overnight at a hospital as a chaplain and avoid encountering this. But my goal is more than encountering it which is inevitable; my goal is to become okay with it while maintaining the confidence in Christ that it is not the end.

I want to become okay with it because notice what the Scripture says, “unless the gran falls in to the earth and dies; it remains alone.” Doesn’t that portion of statement fascinate you? I don’t want to be alone. I don’t even want to be alone in my apartment (Just get a cat already).

Jesus is announcing that there is so much in my life, in my desire, even in my “innocence”, in this world that must be subjected to a dying, in order to bear much fruit. In order for me to find life and love and genuine friendship and fullness of life, I like Jesus, must enter that fullness of life through death.

Well that’s nice, but what in heaven does it mean when a Christian says some whacked out jargon, “die to yourself,” “be dead to sin.” Because in theory I get it, but if something dies, isn’t their finality? Isn’t their loss? Isn’t their ending? If I have died to something how in the world does the pain, the sin, the stubborn refusal keep coming back? Butterfly-Life-Cycle_Christina-Whitefull

Does the apostle Paul really mean it when he says he dies daily and exhorts us to do the same? Unfortunately, yes, it means I have to suffer loss and ending, and taking the life out of the things that would otherwise kill my love for God and others.

You and I must do this daily with our greatest temptations and fears because the life available on the other side is far more abundant. I know this in part from experience, but I also know because of this internal hope that has gripped me. There must be something better than the fading false promises of the temporal.

The temporal just can’t be it because Scripture also declares that God has set eternity within our hearts. That is why the closer we get to death, the more aware we should become of the eternal but also the present.

How does any of this help you or I write about ourselves?

I think it simply helps us to write or tell our stories with hope. When you have surrendered the false myth that death leaves a permanent sting, I think we are free to embrace with confidence the promise of life through Christ to give us and others something worth reading and remembering.

Then once you write about yourself have the courage to let others read you. You might give them courage to find fullness of life and the courage to let something die that needs to so it doesn’t remain alone.

When the Game Slows Down

My orientation into chaplaincy has begun. Who knew orientation could feel so disorienting? While inundated with information, it is amazing how many golden nuggets of truth and wisdom I have received in a weeks time. One statement I am fixated on, even though I have not  yet visited a single patient is this: “The game will slow down.”

It was an analogy for perceiving and understanding the dynamics of a room whether it be just a patient or an entire family is present when ministering in the hospital.

I felt this analogy helpful even though I am not particularly excellent at any one particular sport. I do feel like I have the mental capacity to comprehend what the chaplain who shared this meant as it relates to me in the sports of soccer, wrestling, and racquetball.

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The gist of the statement: “the game will slow down” pertains to our mastery of craft or vocation or even hobby. It has relatively nothing to do with ease as much as it has to do with familiarity with yourself in a given situation.

In other words a sport might become exceedingly more difficult based on who your opponent is, but the confidence you have in your ability or in the case of chaplaincy, the confidence of God at work through my availability should not be shook by the difficulty of the task in front of me.

And because I am not shook I can perceive. Or to say it another way, I can evaluate the circumstances of those I will minister to without becoming so introspective about whether or not I am capable.

And while I entirely understand this, I am reminded of something that happens to me whether it be in soccer, racquetball, and when I was training as a wrestler (never when I performed). Inevitably, these moments would come, often expected, in which my resolve would gas out completely in the middle of competition mode.

It is not through reaching a limit of physical exertion as much as I hit the wall of mental distraction. I become so preoccupied with something other than that in which I am competing only to get bogged down by this other area of life that makes me feel incapable.

I can talk about it because it has happened often enough in the past that it feels so real as I write. Sometimes I could be fully engaged in a game and then an idle thought about failed interpersonal relationships or fear of performance in another area of life has now  interrupted my current activity.

And the game in which moments before I felt extremely capable and in control has now become secondary to the internal mental crisis that chose to interrupt me.

And now for the why I am writing about this.

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I am writing to point to God, perhaps as to how he might view this program we’ve got going on down here. Not that God or we should equate life to a game by any means, but God is watching this thing unfold in slow-mo. In His infinite patience, God gives us time and space to learn to relate through the reconciliation purchased by Jesus Christ.

And some of us are so obstinate to the greatest offer we could ever receive while breathing: unrestricted access to the throne of God.

But if the games end is standing before that throne, which sadly I think many professing Christians often forget or maybe some have entirely abandoned, then I’m endeavoring to stand before that throne faithful.

And however slow it may take to attain it, in Christ’s mercy, may I attain.