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.

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.

fire chile geyser andes landform water vapor geothermal energy geographical feature geological phenomenon volcanic landform

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.

Thanksgrieving and Believing

The eventual end of grief is an eternal promise we look forward to. In the meantime, Jesus assured us that happiness is available to those who grieve because of a present promise for comfort.  For any comfort to come, there must be a hope. Sometimes that hope is cloudy.

Sometimes grief which would love to linger is lightly carried away by the wind of the Spirit. Sometimes, God places you in circumstances that no emotion you could feel is adequate.

This week I received two phone calls virtually simultaneously to respond to, circumstances completely opposite and unfamiliar to me. One was to the West Wing of the hospital to the Labor and Delivery unit, the other call to the East Wing, the Emergency Department. Both instances had to do with babies, one joyous, one tragic.

I responded to the situation I felt I was needed least first. A family was adopting a healthy baby girl from a woman who delivered the baby, and the birth mother requested I pray a blessing over the baby and the adopting parents. So, I prayed, had no parental advice to really offer and affirmed the sense of joy in the room, despite being unaware of any dynamics as to how this situation came about. I was happy to be a part of it, but lingering in my mind, was the other call I knew I would be responding to immediately following that moment:

A one-month year old without a pulse that would not make it.

For 3 hours I offered prayer and presence and became witness to parent’s and grandparent’s grief. I offered some of my own grief but mostly I observed, stood silent, waiting on God.

Together, we’re all waiting, not always in grief, but we are all waiting.

Waiting for Life

In 2 Samuel 12:15-16, there is a Scripture that is concerning: “After Nathan returned to his home, the Lord sent a deadly illness to the child of David and Uriah’s wife. David begged God to spare the child. He went without food and lay all night on the bare ground.”

The child doesn’t make it. After 7 days, the child dies. David mourns for 7 days then stops once the child dies because David is aware that the child will not return to him. God’s grace was enough to spare David’s life but was not extended to David’s child. It seems utterly cruel, doesn’t it?

the-prophet-nathan-confronts-king-david

In Scripture, the prophet Nathan affirms that the child’s death is the result of David scorning the word of God. This theologically seems like a bad look. It would be much easier to explain the circumstances using the Devil as the scapegoat doling out punishment for David’s sin, but Scripture does not give us this luxury.

Instead, we get a God that seems willing to employ extraneous means to keep his people tender-hearted. And this, I feel, is a viable tactic of God. God will use grief and the worst of circumstances, perhaps circumstances God authors, to return humanity to the love of God.

I will by no means try to explain the why nor use this or any tragedy to try to convince us that these are demonstrations of love. Rather, they are circumstances that give us pause, cause us to reevaluate, to seek what’s preeminent, namely seek God, the Author.

There, at the end of our grief, is resurrection life and belief.

Willing But So Weak

I had one of those deathbed Jesus moments last week. I was with a patient while they died whom was reconciled to God the week before. I did not save the man, all I did was remind him that God was willing to forgive him because of the work of Jesus Christ.

All I could write, after the patient expired just prior to 3:00 AM was, “I watched a man live.” Dying and living and dying and living again. This is what we profess as Christians. We reincarnate twice as new versions of ourselves. The first time we likely look no different(spiritual new birth). The last time we are promised a glorified body to house an eternal spirit.

In between we die a thousand little deaths, with a thousand degrees of heartbreak, with a thousand more disappointments, mingled with hundreds of thousands of things to be grateful for. Our life becomes challenged by what we are willing to focus on. Do we choose to focus on that which brings us life and light or the things that remind us of our dark and weakness?

H7AwHxA

What we focus on dictates how we live out our salvation. Will I barely make it through each day or will I function in faith and confidence in the power of the Spirit?

My first learning goal in chaplaincy formation was to become comfortable with death/loss. I’m changing it to become more acquainted with resurrection life after death and loss. Little joy is to be found in the losing and the dying, perhaps none. The hope of the resurrection is what our lives need when we are consumed by our own weakness. The alternative is to fixate on our dying disappointments that intrude on our endeavor to live and love.

I Am So Weak

Admittedly, amid this endeavor, I am so weak. I am increasingly more aware of my sin-f-illness, accruing the debt of its deadly wages.

When will I stop paying what I cannot afford to give?

Are there any riches I have saved in an eternal account toward the wealth of knowing Christ?

If I have any wealth from heaven, I would like to invest it in service to the Bridegroom Christ who is both my Creditor and Debt Payer, in the prospect of marriage and family, in service to the Bride, the Church. Treading on bankruptcy in Spirit does not seem to offer the generous hand I hope to give.

Yet here I am, a chaplain, who prays daily with people teetering between their first life and final breath, some trying to make restitution for their next inhale, hoping to love better or love more or love longer. I try to assist them in their desire as I forget my own failure to also love better, love more and love longer. Only to become more self-aware of ineptitude in the torment of my own ego.

I am willing to experience more freedom and wholeness at any cost. But does it ever cease to feel like I grasp at ethereal concepts? I want reality, but I am weak. I want love and to give it, but I am weak. I want to let go, but I am weak. I need help because I am weak. But I am willing for the Spirit of Christ to intervene. Maranatha

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.

 

 

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.

pexels-photo-260024

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.

images

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.

Saint Listener and Hearing Different

If you are looking for a good cry, I would suggest seeing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” the new Mr. Rogers documentary.

If you’ve been wanting to feel like you’re endeavor to love and to be a compassionate human being falls far short of perfection, I’d also suggest watching the movie.

What I found most amazing about the film itself, was how the director managed to make the movie feel like it was listening to me, as I watched. The movie feels like it wants to draw real identity out of the viewer while withholding judgment.

And through viewing the film, I felt both extremely inadequate yet aware of the essentials of feeling known in any given relationship.

main.jpg

The essential component is listening, it’s always been that. Waiting or giving pause before you give an answer or assuming I know better has consistently been more effective than rushing to a conclusion.

This also is my dilemma as of late. I’m afraid to listen to God because I’m afraid it will require much time only to lead to a painful answer. And as I am prone, I’d rather just take the pain than hear the answer. Because the answer or direction of God is  unchangeable whereas I have this enduring sense that I can get used to the pain.

But it is not the way of God to keep us in pain. It is not the way of God to extend our suffering unnecessarily. He would rather us joyful in loving obedience than wallow in unwarranted suffering.

Yet this is what humanity, as well as myself, frequently chooses. And more frequently, we choose this by assuming the worst in others without understanding them. We also assume the worst in ourselves without hearing God’s perspective on reconciliation and comfort. We are prone to ignore desperation and are hesitant to relieve another’s burden. We want people to get what they deserve before we actually know if they really deserve it.

Whereas Jesus wants to give what we don’t deserve even when we don’t realize how much we don’t deserve it. This is the whole point of the cross and the offer of resurrection life.

Live in light of the goodness and generosity of God.

But this burns us.

shutterstock_442888018

It’s unfamiliar to be in that bright. It’s both freeing yet scary to live that vulnerably. To live completely unshackled or unhindered is easy until we remember our own wounds. Then we succumb to  moments where we hear the wrong voices, the lies and perhaps even our own self-destructive opinions of ourselves.

And then this leads to our “lacking in confidence” choices or simply our indecision. We paralyze ourselves or harm ourselves or harm others and we spread the wounds rather than relieving them. Healing hands rush to the side but are cautious yet gentle to the touch.

Urgency can lead us to the who or what but patience must check us before we assume we know what the problem is. And this is my problem, slow to the who or what and then hasty to assume the problem.

I think the season and vocation I am entering into is both intentional and essential. I will be with people everyday who I will have no idea how to minister to, while trusting that Jesus has gone before me to minister to them already. I will just step into what He has already been doing.

Now to embrace that work in myself. Step into and agree to what God is already doing. I have known that God is at work in a place of depth I am unfamiliar with and because I am unfamiliar, I encounter more fear of the unknown and I’m tempted to fall back on the familiar. I hope God continues to be relentless in breaking through me because I know it is for my good.

Whether it is the difference in someone else or difference in yourself, in order to demonstrate love both to self and other, discovery is required. We must risk our time and presence in intimacy (not romantic, but sometimes necessary depending on the relationship) in order to have compassion and to enjoy the other.

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.

1504639655161

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.”

IMAG1563

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.