Little Hands

I had a profound moment this weekend. I paid a visit to Charleston to see the sun, hang with friends, and attend some sessions of a Missions conference. This past week has been helpful in reflecting about a sense of purpose and what brings me joy. My trip was a nice, not nearly long enough visit and break, but I fit a lot into a lovely weekend. One moment stuck out, not because it was the best moment of the weekend, but it was certainly unexpected.

Sunday morning at the end of church, the entire congregation was called forward to lay  hands in prayer on missionaries who shared throughout the weekend.  I was initially unsure if they wanted everybody to come forward but when it became apparent everyone was, I walked forward and laid my hand as a point of connection on Milton’s (and elder at the church’s) shoulder  to pray. I was standing against the stage and did not have much of a thought about anything.

I pause the story here to say that in all honesty, part of my hope for the weekend was a moment of clarity or revelation regarding next steps in ministry or locale or vocation. I’ve written previously about trying to be an augur to (predict) my future and that trap, but I think this weekend served as a reminder of the will of God (sanctification) and being faithful with what God has already given, being grateful for it, and not demanding something I would deem better. That’s a lot of wonderful things to feel and hopefully hold onto in a whirlwind weekend.

But I want to come back to this one kiss from the Lord.

We are praying. My mind is clear but not focused and suddenly, as my head is bowed eyes closed, standing with arm outstretched, a little hand grabbed my hand at my side without a hint of timidity. I don’t know if there was hesitation, but it felt like the hand grabbed mine so quickly and gently that there was none.

And in that moment, something fascinating happened, for a split second it was curiosity, then a laugh, then a flood of pictures ran through my head. I saw myself praying at a table with I presume, my children. I saw myself reading the bible with them and highlighting the promises of God. I saw eager and excited eyes and was a bit overwhelmed. So, I looked back, almost behind me and saw a boy about 7, holding my hand with his head bowed in prayer.

I smiled, thanked God, and prayed something along the lines of, “Lord thank you for this reminder, please tell me I’m not crazy for wanting to be a dad and having a family.” I mouthed that prayer, but not out loud. Immediately, the little hand gave a little squeeze. Perhaps confirmation, probably coincidence but it felt right, and I felt God’s delight.

I gave God a knowing nod and appreciated the moment as the time of prayer was wrapping up. But then another gift, 20 seconds or so before the prayer was about to end, another even smaller hand slipped between our hands. The little boys presumably 4-year old brother, wearing a backpack, wanted to be connected in prayer as well.

There really isn’t too big of a lesson or metaphor here. After the Amen I looked at a man who I assume was the boys dad and smiled and returned without much of a thought. Thoughts and doubts, you don’t need them when you know you’re known.

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.

To Be A Dad One Day

If I had kids, I see them now.

                My little girl is sensitive and playful, not sensitive as in easily hurt, sensitive as in curious and attentive to the emotions around her and her own. She approaches the world with an intuitive regard for good without suspicion. She likes people and giving compliments. She also likes getting compliments. She’s a little competitive and has these moments when too much newness at once makes her shy. Because of her mom she prefers the familiar. Because of me she is willing to go on adventure, but she asks a lot of questions first and during. Afterward she assumes everyone wants to hear about her adventures and sometimes forgets that the person she tells wasn’t there with her. She carries you with her everywhere. When she meets someone new, it’s as if she is reminding herself in the days that follow that this person will always somehow be a part of her life. As she gets older, she asks more questions about why I lover her mom so much; she would often echo, “that’s why I love momma to.”

                She likes to clap a lot during worship and likes rhythm, neither me nor her mom really have rhythm, but we are thinking about getting her drum lessons. She has a responsibility to people which she probably could not help but learn because that’s the way we are wired. She likes dogs more than cats no matter how much I try to convince her little mind that cats are great. She says dogs are more huggable. She likes to show affection through hugs, it makes her giggle. She agrees with her mom more than with me and she waivers in who she thinks is funnier. She looks forward to bed time because she believes Jesus gives her good dreams. Whenever she has a bad dream, she lays claim to our bed. For a while she would let us know, “Just for tonight.” And she means it.

                As a teenager, she grew with confidence, thank God, still curious, a little more adventurous, a little sterner and more determined. Her mom taught her that. We tried to teach her resilience and have. She holds fast to the stories of our family’s faith and even as a teenager she likes spending time with her grandparents. We are grateful for that. She likes being an older sister, both in looking out for her brother and giving advice. She also holds him accountable to showing up to her events.

                Her brother is smarter than me, so is she, but he enjoys being smart. He’s athletic or at least capable but he says its cooler to be a “nerd.” As a child he trusted us and still does but he didn’t ask for much. He was much more of a content child than me. He dresses nicer than me because of his mom. He’s polite with a dry sense of humor. As a child he was eager to do the activities I was involved in but had more affection for mom. Her balanced was more beneficial to his personality. As he got older, he liked to weigh options and was less feelings driven, but mom taught him to understand and be attentive to how I am wired. She’s a great mom. As a result, my son is very aware. He regularly would ask how I feel about his decisions as a teenager more often than he would ask permission. To which he would always be surprised at the times I would say, “no you’re not doing that.” I learned to give him other options, especially when my no would disappoint him. I admire his independence even being a second child.  66454-fathers-sons-karan-johar-in-conversation-with-sadhguru

                He’s a connector. He calls his grandfather’s for advice, or to be entertained by my dad. He learns fast but also forgets fast. He’s not big into risks and as a kid liked to know how long things would take. He thinks about time too much in my opinion. We weren’t sure how being a middle child would change him. It didn’t really because he felt his younger sibling quite peculiar.

But I think we all did. Such a wonderful surprise in every possible way, making our family a lot less predictable. It’s kind of fun having a child who is unfiltered. I think with the third, we thought we were good parents only to find out again we had much to learn. Our third teaches us wisdom or rather very specific wisdom, that there is not a science, that some days there is total contentment to be left alone and then the next there is a mission from God level of urgency to love our neighbors, while some days refuge from the world is the most important thing on earth. Discerning yet disarming and so joyful. Not the favorite (because there can’t be) but insists on fascinating.

If I saw them now, or saw them more, I’d hold them here.