Advent: Hope on My Knees

1UXNOnKMTJGt7lJAenlM_man_prayingSome days it is hard to hope. I say “Come Lord Jesus” in our Advent prayers as a desperate cry, not a uniform response. I need Advent right now, not the Christmas season. I am not ready. I am waiting.

Some days I wait in anger. Anger at the way life is treated… when children are put in dangerous situations, when young lives are cut short because of ignorance or non accidental trauma… when I read in the news about another black life cut short, when I talk to a friend about the talk he has to give his son about how to ‘get along’ in our racist society, when I read responses to recent tragedy that are hateful or aren’t even trying to listen.

Some days I wait in sadness. Sadness when families leave the hospital with empty hands, when lives are cut short by SIDS or cancer, when I read about the death count from Ebola or the treatment of brothers and sisters around the world… when it seems like the world is so far from the Kingdom of God, when I feel helpless to enact change.

And then I’m on my knees, it’s more than I can bear… Come Lord Jesus…

I hope on my knees this Advent. That I can change, that we can change, that systems can change. That there is redemption for a world with so much darkness, where sometimes the here of the Kingdom seems so small in the face of the not yet. My hope come from the fact that Advent has always been for hoping on one’s knees, for praying for a savior to come into a world of oppression and darkness. We need Advent.

It is a reckless sort of hope to be Advent people in this world, but no more reckless than it was back then. To bring life into a world with so much hurt under the oppression of an empire, as refugees in Egypt. To be recklessly hopeful is the only way I know to keep going. The only way I know to face on call or ministering to a family at the death of a child or reading the news. I cannot lie and say that I can bear it, because human hearts weren’t made to, but on my knees I live in hope for the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Come Lord Jesus, when it is more than I can bear. Come Lord Jesus, and make us lights in the darkness. Come Lord Jesus and let us not fear to speak truth to power. Because I would rather live in hope on my knees with those who suffer in this world, than live in a fake peace standing up refusing to see the brokenness in this world. Come Lord Jesus…

When We are No Longer Invincible…

fragile-hiTo be human is to have a certain air of invincibility. To acknowledge one’s privilege is to recognize that invincibility, for some of us, myself included, has been given a few extra coats. Some people have that false armor stripped away in one harsh moment. I am not such a person. Instead I am one who bears witness to that which seemed impossible or statistically crazy, things that only happen to other people until they don’t. I am no longer invincible by proxy.

People can get to this point through different avenues, that gift/curse of knowing you are not immune, that it could happen to you, there are no laws of the universe that would prevent that. My mom was the daughter of an FBI agent, that was her path. I understand now why we didn’t have many sleepovers, never had a bunk bead, and didn’t have a car to share until they could find a really safe one. I already warned my husband that if I see one more baby who’s not breathing in the ED, we will be one of those people with a monitor that tells respiration and heartbeat. And while part of not being invincible is having a much fuller range of anxiety than other people have access to, it also strips away false security and leaves only honest vulnerability behind.

When we are no longer invincible… we weigh risks for what they are worth — the opportunity for growth in traveling abroad versus the momentary fun of riding an ATV or jet ski.

When we are no longer invincible… we know that not all fear is equal — there are different chances of things happening and while we do not court danger, we do not live in daily fear of childhood cancer or ebola while letting our toddler run with lollipops or suck on whole grapes. We control what we can control.

When we are no longer invincible… we don’t assume that someone had to do something wrong for something bad to happen — yes, some injury and illness is preventable but some is not. Judgment is another layer of false security. There is less judgment and more grace for much of life’s tragedy. On the other hand, there is still need for education and awareness is a gentle and respectful manner.

When we are no longer invincible… we do not rely on our own strength — there is too much pain in this world to think we can do it on our own.

If I am being honest, I know that I take turns being anxious and being at peace with what I know. Walking around the NICU I sometimes wonder how anybody gets born in one piece. I also know that, even though God can redeem all things in God’s time, much happens in our world that is not God’s will and to no longer be invincible means I will not ever tell someone that death or tragedy is God’s will. We wouldn’t have Easter if that were the case.

This is an uncomfortable place to reside. It is a more truthful and vulnerable place. It is a more cautious place and never a laissez-faire place. It is a God filled place though. There is more room for grace where our own strength has cracked. There is more grace to share. We cannot know it all, we cannot prevent it all, but we can treat the life we have and the lives that have been entrusted to us with care and caution, because we know that we are no longer invincible…

Practicing Grace

IMG_1078Every once in a while, who am I kidding, at least three times a week, I wonder if I was crazy to do a chaplaincy residency in my first year of marriage. Last week, when I felt overwhelmed, I realized that I sometimes forget that this job is hard in itself — even if nothing else in my life was difficult or changing, being a chaplain in a children’s hospital is hard. This may be stating the obvious to those not in the midst of it, but what one does daily becomes normal.

When I am at a low point I tell myself that our first year of marriage shouldn’t be this hard. I ‘shouldn’t’ have to deal with negotiating work difficulties, bearing witness to traumas and death, spending way more group time discussing my feelings than in the last five years of my life combined. We shouldn’t have to deal with the figuring out how to gracefully fit into each others families, praying for vocational discernment, and have friends move away all at the same time and the resulting tears, quiet periods, or frustration. Oh “shouldn’t” what a loaded word, and really not a useful one.

Then I realized, we’ve been given room to practice grace. I remember talking to a good friend of mine when I’d been married for just a few weeks, and I told her how my husband was doing considerably more dishwashing than me and maybe I should stop him, and she told me that many habits are set in the first 6 weeks of marriage and not to mess ;). In similar form, we’re practicing grace.

We’re practicing early to express our feelings and to know how to ask the other person what they’re feeling. We’re practicing seeking out the other when we need comfort or tears dried. We’re practicing boundaries and what to share and what to keep at work. We’re practicing praying for each other throughout the day. We’re practicing finding joy in hard days. We’re practicing how to make time for Sabbath. We’re practicing showing each other grace and receiving grace in return.

Yes, there are things I would change. Primarily, I wished we lived in a world where no child got hurt or died. I wish we always understood each other and our families and always communicated in healthy and open ways. But that’s not always going to happen, and as I’ve learned in my residency, “practice makes better.” If in these first months we are making habits and patterns that will be harder to change later on, I would prefer, in the long term, that we work them out in grace. Better now than when things get harder or in later years when little people are added to the mix. I want to make a habit of grace.

To have and to hold, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health — or when work is hard or easy or family is complicated or dealings are simple, when friends move away or new friends emerge, there is never a day that goes by where grace is not needed for the journey. Thanks be to God for the opportunity to practice and an example to follow.

Do (Not) Go Gentle into that Good Night…

lament

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I frequently get that Dylan Thomas poem stuck in my head when I’m on call at the hospital. It’s probably partially due to the fact that I like this poem, but it also swims around in my head as a question. Do (not) go gentle into that good night. How do we grieve? How do we let people go?

I’ve watched those who do and don’t go gently into that good night and some parents who do both for their child. I’ve almost prayed this poem under my breath, watching from the edge of a trauma room, standing beside a parent, willing a child to keep fighting. Do not go gentle into that good night!

I’ve been beside parents who kick and scream and physically fight the universe and those who collapse in like a black hole just opened up inside them. I’ve had times I was called in as chaplain with the hopes of calming a parent down or at least helping them lower their volume, but sometimes I just keep company and bear witness as someone rages against the dying of the light. We are not always called to quiet grief.

I fear that sometimes our faith traditions teach us to grieve quietly, to always go gently into the good night. To offer words of comfort before words of mourning, to try and cut off anguish at the pass, like that’s even a possibility. On the other hand, I sometimes see that our not going gently is refusing to accept the pending reality of death, of putting a child through pain that will serve no benefit. I believe that the Psalms offer a different perspective to both approaches

Walter Brueggeman, an Old Testament scholar, writes about Psalms of orientation, disorientation, and new orientation. He explains that disorientation is the season where we experience pain, alienation, suffering, or death. During these times we can feel all sorts of negative emotions from resentment and frustration to even hatred and rage. A previous worldview is coming apart and a new one is being formed. We move from disorientation to new orientation slowly as we question and create a new world with God and creation, but one that doesn’t have all the easy answers it had before.

The problem, he states, is that we live is a world of disorientation but insist on singing songs of orientation. This, some might say, is a bold act of faith in a world of disorder, but it also might just be numb denial when we cannot handle the disorder of this world. I tell parents sometimes that God is big enough to handle whatever we throw at God. There is no honesty God cannot handle. The Psalms of disorientation teach us that. There is some pure honesty in there that I, personally, would be afraid to say to God.

I think the Psalms offer an example of how to (not) go gentle into that good night. To rage at God can be an act of faithfulness. It is faith to call out to a God because you believe God is there to hear you. There is faithfulness in the lament, in the voicing of pain, in not moving on to comfort and new orientation so quickly. I believe that when we are not in denial of the disorder of this world, that we can be open to learn when to give in to grief and when to keep raging against the dying of the light.

While I realize that I write this from the perspective of a hospital chaplain, there is not life without disorder, and how we approach God and our brothers and sisters in that disorder is important. Do we, as a faith community, leave room for lament? Do we try to soften grief too quickly? Do we focus so much energy on the fighting death that we do not know when to surround and comfort a person so that they are able to let their loved one go gently to God? Do we as a community only sing songs of orientation in a world of disorientation? How can we make room for grief and honest conversation with God and each other? How do we (not) go gentle into that good night?