More than Words

One of my children felt the need to defend the family honour yesterday.

One of those schoolyard/classroom discussions about ‘my dad is smarter than your dad’ which I heard about in detail during after school pickup. He was sheepish but also certain that this course of action was the right one. “One of the things that we’re supposed to do, Mom, is defend our family. I’m a representative of the Ralph family and it’s my job to defend them.”

I love that about him. 

And what was it about our honour that needed defending, you may ask?

It was a my dad is better than your dad situation. This other kid was comparing parental professions and brought in his interpretation of what it meant that my husband works at a church. 

“Your dad just talks all the time.”

What an interesting perspective. You see, this other kid’s parents are in law inforcement so compared to that I guess he didn’t know or see the value in what working at a church is. 

Is that how people see those in ministry? As doing nothing but talk all the time?

I can just see my ministry friends reading this and shaking their heads. We’ve heard it all. “Pastors only work for an hour on Sundays.” “What do you do for the rest of the week when you’re not preaching?

Ministry can seem elusive to those who haven’t experienced what it means to put your living and earning energy into serving others in this way. 

It’s a lot of words. 

That young boy wasn’t wrong. Ministry requires a lot of words. It requires emotional intelligence and spiritual energy to come alongside people and walk with them as they discover who God created them to be.

Lots and lots of words

Words of comfort, of confession, words of encouragement and truth. And sometimes listening silence. With others doing a lot of talking.

 Large chunk of my chaplaincy training day is words. Listening, searching. And lots of stairs. Lots of words and lots of stairs. 

What got me wondering was not so much this young person’s idea that it was all words (I’ve heard that before), but rather, why this was a bad thing?

Why have words used by people in ministry become something that some look on with derision?

Maybe because words have been used to hurt and not heal. Maybe words have been offered as platitudes for intense pain. Maybe words have been used during that one hour on a Sunday morning to create feelings of isolation and shame.

Or maybe words were offered when what was really needed was self-sacrifice

When I look at Jesus and how he ministered to people, he used words. Lots of words.  He taught, encouraged, admonished, healed, and restored with his words.

But his words without the action of the cross would have been incomplete. His words point the way to the glory of the cross.

As I think about this young boy and his idea that words aren’t enough, I think he’s right. 

Jesus modelled for us a balance of words and deeds. That’s how we can most effectively love people, too. So often what people see are the Sunday morning words and not the Monday to Saturday deeds. 

Because words are first line of interaction, deeds are the love in action. And ministry requires both.

As I hear more and more the discussion about why caring for people spiritually is of lesser importance, I think it’s because others wonder what we do.

It’s complex because the nature of what we do is to be doing, but that doing is often done in secret. 

Often only God sees the doing.

I loved my son’s defending of the family honour. And I honoured him for that. 

But I also told him that often people won’t understand what his dad does. And that this is not a new experience. 

Good spiritual care is often more a sense or memory than a list of needs checked off. It is that conversation. It is that freezer meal, that oil change for the single mom.

Ministry is the work and words twining around one another. The mouth, hands, and feet of Jesus all together.

It’s His teaching culminated by the cross and resurrection. The being with in tandem with the speaking with.

So for my son, “Next time, words, but careful words.” And hopefully through his and all of our examples, it won’t be just words. 


God is in the Room

Yesterday I sat in a parking lot, crying in my van.

This isn’t the first time. The most memorable occasion was when I was pregnant with my first child. I found myself uncontrollably crying in a shopping mall parking lot, feeling perfectly happy but bawling my face off.

This wasn’t like that.

Yesterday was a day where crying in parking lots was the only response possible when interacting with the brokenness of the world.

I’m usually pretty resilliant in terms of helping others with their pain. I’m good in a crisis, level headed, calm. But yesterday was too much feeling hopeless in the face of other people’s pain.

My day started listening to the news while driving to visit patients. A story came on that you feel duty bound to listen to because as Christians we shouldn’t hide our heads in the sand about justice issues, and yet, was so horrible that it took my breath away. The abuses suffered by orphans in refugee camps at the hand of UN peacekeepers.

My heart broke as I heard the stories of young boys, the age of my oldest,  exploited by those who were supposed to protect them, just so they could have the meagerness of what life should grant them freely.

Then the reality of the nearness of life’s hurts filled my morning as I sat with people, in pain physical and emotional, sitting present and feeling hopeless.

A Chaplain once called spiritual care “standing in the wind of someone else’s pain”.

Being present with someone in the hardest parts of their lives means that the force of injustice, brokenness, and helpless hopelessness can leave us feeling battered by our inability to fix or change what’s going on.

I can’t heal that person’s physical and emotional wounds. I can’t exact justice for those orphans a half a world away.

And that’s where the tears come from.

From the feeling that my meager offering of presence isn’t even a drop that registers in the bucket.

That some hurts are too big and too complicated for me to be of any help at all.

So I cried, trying to process, trying to pray, not even trying to make sense of the absolutely senseless. Seeking God in the I don’t know what.

And then the still small voice came.

“I’m there, I’m in the room”

Because even though my presence feels inadequate, God’s presence isn’t.

When I walk into each room, God has gone before me. Whether the person in the room knows or acknowledges Him at all, He permeates this world.

He’s in the room. He’s in the room with them, with me. He surrounds the situation and their pain with a depth of understanding that only the Sacrifice for that pain can know.

The depth that I ache is nothing to the tears that he sheds as he looks upon his creation, that person sitting in the bed. Seeing the depth of their experience where I only see the sliver.

He reminded me that my role is to add my presence to His. To bring into the room the knowledge of Him that may be lacking. To bring into the room the hands and feet of His servant. To listen, to grieve, to encourage, to be.

Because I can’t alleviate their pain, but He can.


It’s Normal to Fuss

My son’s gymnastics facility is the loudest place on the planet. Really. Not kidding. 

 A kid’s wilderness dream haven of play structure, sponge pits, trampolines, and decibel level that is unmatched in anything I’ve seen in my life, apart from a U2 stadium concert.

And it’s my pleasure and privilege to take my two youngest children to this wonderland every Monday evening for the next foreseeable future. 

What is my cure for this, you may ask? Why, headphones, audio books narrated by soothing British accents, and the handcraft of my choice. 

But not this week. This week is spent headphones off, listening to the echoing madness that plays out under the rules posting. Foremost of which is “use your inside voice”.

Not my idea of bliss. 

And it was in this state of compromised compassion that it began. 

The observations over the rim of my large London Fog. The sideways glance at the freaking out toddler held in a father’s fussing toddler who hits to get her way. The imperfections of humanity laid out in child-sized packages. 

Please don’t get me wrong. I love children. It’s just that when I get feeling judgemental that I realize a.) how glad I am for my own imperfect-but-not-as-bad-as -them children and b.) how virtuous I feel as a parent. 

Because for certain I would NEVER allow my children to behave that way. I wouldn’t hold them when they were screaming in temper, I would march them out to the car when they so much as fussed. 

Yeah, right.

In the observations of my judgement, I realized some things. 

My stuff is not other people’s stuff, but I and my kids sure do have our stuff. 

But most importantly, how often am I behaving spiritually like those kids?

How often does my Heavenly Father carry me kicking and screaming from a place I want to stay to a place I should be?

How often do I come before him kicking, screaming, hitting, all in my desire to have my own short sighted way in this world?

All too often.

And He parents me through. Always loving, a mixture of mercy and truth, goodness and leadership. 

He’s such a better parent than me. 

And you know how He reminds me that His goal for me is to be like Him?

He sends my daughter to me, through the noise and the chaos, dragging her new little friend (doesn’t know his name) so that I can make his owie feel better. 

A child bringing another child to a loving parent. A parent they trust to bring healing and comfort. 

I hope my daughter learned that from watching me. 

And I hope I learned that from watching Him. 

Taking Stock

One of the most intimidating and beautiful parts of my chaplaincy training is walking with people through their end of life experience. As people are dying, one of the elements that Spiritual Care givers can offer them is the opportunity for an end of life review.

It’s a time where they can look over their life and experiences, find the good and the bad, see where their life impacted others and the world. It’s a beautiful process.

One thing I’ve noticed, in experiences with my grandmother and now with others I’m walking beside, is the natural impulse to look over our lives. In the stories they tell me, stories that they haven’t thought of for years, I can begin to see the people they were and how their experiences shaped them to the people they are now.

Stories of war and peace, family and foes, struggles and ecstacies. All these moments in our lives feed into how we perceive ourselves and our place and purpose in the world.

Seeing the value in these life reviews, I’ve been thinking about how little I take stock and inventory of my life as I’m living it.

Do I take the moments to see where I am, my place and presence in the world?

As my days slip into weeks, how often do I strive to find the meaning in the momentous and minute?

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.

Be very sure now, you who have been trained to a self-sufficient maturity, that you enter into a generous common life with those who have trained you, sharing all the good things that you have and experience.

Galatians 6:4-6 MSG

When I take time to review my life I’ve noticed that I don’t yet have the gentle art of balanced perspective.

Often I see only the terrible failures of self and others.

Other times I puff up like a peacock and hope that my review is being reviewed by others.

God’s words through Paul encourage us toward balance and care in how we see ourselves and our lives.

The idea of ‘careful exploration’ conjures up a minute examination of the most fragile and delicate flour or the brooding of a mother over her newborn.

The delicate and loving fingertips gaining knowledge as they tend to what they’ve been given.

If I review my present life, what would I see?

I would see work, some play, procrastination, juggling, good words and harsh, time with God and times of omission.

I would think highly of myself and badly of myself in teeter-totting measure.

But God encourages us on a different path of discovery. As he deals with us, in truth and gentleness, so we are to come to a better understanding of ourselves.

Don’t be impressed with ourselves and don’t compare. Both swings of the pendulum that lead us to unbalanced thinking of ourselves.

As we review the well and badly done aspects of our lives we’re called to accept and move forward with intention. This is the hardest part for me. I can get caught in the guilt or the pride and barrel down a path of not so wise action.

I can’t be trusted on my own. Maybe you can, but I can’t.

As we make this careful exploration we need to center it around God’s truth and wisdom. Ask him into the process. Seek his truth and balancing of our emotions and impulses.

I’ve found that when God is at the center of my interpretation, the balance is there. I can see where I’ve made good or poor choices and from there can move forward, not locked in guilt or worry.

Because the purpose is for us to move forward. To enter into that ‘generous common life’ with the people around us and as yet unmet.

Our lives are meant to be shared. The good and the hard times set in the context of community add a richness and meaning to what’s gone before and what’s to come.

So often in end of life reviews what has been most meaningful to people is their faith and relationships. How they view God can give them comfort or concern. How they’ve lived in or out of community can be a source of strength or sorrow.

Taking periodic stock of our lives can give us God’s perspective in an unbalanced world. By showing us our blessings and helping us with our struggles, He shines light upon our meaning and purpose as we explore this life we’ve been given.