The other day, I posted a photo on Facebook of a sage bush that is blooming in my front yard. These shrubs are usually pale green, but when it rains a lot (as it has in Texas this Spring and Summer) they blossom with purple flowers. A friend saw the photo and commented that sages are a true resurrection plant. It made me see them in a new way.

In truth, the sages here don’t ever seem to die. They are hearty and drought-resistant. But when it rains, they take on a whole new look and liveliness. Those purple flowers seem to have been waiting for the right circumstances to bring them out. As Summer progresses, the flowers will drop, but the sage will flower again. That is what they do.

In my faith tradition, resurrection is a central belief, yet even those who don’t believe the dead literally come back to life find hope in the theme of resurrection. It isn’t the passing of one soul through many lives – that is reincarnation – but the renewal of one single life or even of a community. In a way, resurrection can be seen as a person or community becoming most fully themselves. That’s why the symbols of resurrection are things like butterflies and eggs and sage bushes – living beings that undergo a transformation but retain the same essence; they stay what they have always been, only better. For some of us, the theme of resurrection is what gives us hope when we face all kinds of small “deaths,” like church attendance going down or changes in leadership. Or bigger “deaths” like racism or the daily indignities of poverty.

Resurrection is hope, transformation, and renewal.

As I work with patients and families at the hospital this summer, the image of my “resurrection” sage is a helpful one. People, too, blossom when the circumstances allow. Many times, those circumstances might be a death or a difficult transition. Sometimes, as I sit with people experiencing grief and pain, they begin to flower with stories, memories, plans, and gratitude. I’ve experienced it at similar times in my own family. In the midst of grief, we’ve recalled old family jokes, planned favorite meals, reached out to disconnected loved ones. And so it is with the families I companion this summer. Thanks to my friend’s comment, I’ll be looking for these resurrection moments every chance I get.

Learning to be and be with

Sometimes you hope for a quiet Sunday and…nope. I suppose that is to be expected. At the hospital, things are changing for people all the time. When I arrived this morning, there were messages of impending demise and patient angst. The operative words have been comfort care and “we just want what’s best for her/him.” Even when those are the sentiments, it can be hard to know exactly what is comforting and what is best.

This summer, I am learning to sit with people through the anxiety, the unknowing, and the pain. Compassion literally means to suffer with – and that is what I am doing much of the time, sitting with patients and their families as they consider hard choices and try to make meaning from what is happening to them and around them. (It is, in fact what the families are doing together for each other – being compassionate.) What we learn in chaplaincy is that we can’t make people’s problems go away, but we can be with them. And sometimes presence is not only enough, it is best.

It is hard when things don’t go as planned. When a father takes a turn for the worse, when a sibling takes her own health for granted, when a neighbor has a terrible accident. You can see it in the eyes sometimes, this feeling that life is changing course but no one has been given the new map yet.

For me, it is a job. I get to go home at the end of the day. (Or in this case, tomorrow morning). But these patients and families are teaching me patience. They are teaching me how to wait and and be present. (Didn’t I recently say I was impatient with my patients? Shame on me!) It is inspiring to see people stop their busy-ness and just BE with each other – a light in the darkness, as it were. They are anxious, they crave information, they want to know what to do. But what they do is wait with their loved one. Being there for one another in the waiting is the one thing no one else can give them.


Tiny Hands

Every day, I watch the strong, gentle hands of nurses adjusting wires, checking vitals. They help the nervous hands of parents hold and feed tiny new ones, becoming more confident as the days pass.

But always, it is the tiniest hands that amaze me. Wiggling in the air, tucked under cheeks, moving in what would have been an in-utero flutter. Their bodies are not developed enough to leave the hospital, but their hands can already get them into trouble as they pull at feeding tubes or try to “help” change a diaper.

Premature babies look fragile and sometimes their hands are covered with IV tubes. I once asked my father, a pediatrician, if it was depressing to work with these smallest of patients who are connected to wires and tubes to help them reach developmental benchmarks that will allow them to thrive. He told me what every nurse and doctor has repeated to me since: No! Babies are stronger than you think, even (maybe especially) premature babies. They don’t know how to do anything but grow and live, so that is what they try to do. Watching their hands, you know it is true. These hands are forever reaching out to grasp childhood.

Buzzy Bees

I woke up this morning with the sore throat that has been making the rounds in my house. Allergies? Cold? No idea. Then, as I was driving my daughter to another soggy day at camp, I realized I forgot to put my reading glasses in my brief case. Argh! This was not a good start to the day.

They say every cloud has a silver lining. And while I haven’t seen anything very shiny in the omnipresent clouds we’ve had this summer, there turned out to be a couple of bright spots to the clouds in my day.

I didn’t have time to get my glasses from home – so I had to get new ones. Had too. Poor me! My forgetfulness got me a whole new look.


Off I went to work with my snazzy new glasses. Meeting, rounds, …then found out that my sore throat was going to keep me out of NICU. No seeing babies today! Boooo!

I was about to sulk for the rest of the day when things got really adorable. And crafty. Because I got to spend my afternoon making these buzzy bee cards to leave with NICU families. Silver linings like this will last me (maybe) two days. After that, this sore throat better say adios and let me get back to work.

Light and Love

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Every Sunday, I light two candles: one for people on my prayer list and one for peace. The prayers are always specific, but some days they are lifted up from more places than just my heart. This was one of those days – the events of this week seemed to rise up before many of us at once, begging for light.

Like most people I know, this week has been one of grief and anger as we learned about the murder of nine African American women and men in their church. As we learned that they were murdered in an act of racist domestic terrorism. As we realized that, although this slaughter was unimaginably horrible, it was not surprising. Because we’ve seen so much of it lately – literally seen it captured on video and widely broadcast.

There is a lot I could say about what happened in Charleston – but there are other people saying it so well whose words I’ve been sharing on social media. (And I highly recommend you check them out.) What I can add is how this event was framed for me this morning. Because after I lit my candles and hoped those flames were bringing a tiny bit of light to the darkness in the world, we had a baptism in my congregation. After reflecting on the hatred we confront in the world and how faith calls us to respond, a joyful, dancing girl took vows to join in the work of helping light overcome darkness and love overcome hate. Together, a community  vowed with her to resist evil, love our neighbors as ourselves, strive for justice and peace, respect the dignity of every human being.

As dismal as this week (and this year and this decade) has been, it is nice to be reminded that we have reason for hope. Dismantling racism – or any kind of evil – takes a team and today a very young girl joined that team. I am betting she was joined by many others as people gathered in congregations around the country to remember the victims in Charleston. In fact, I am betting the team to confront evil got bigger where people gathered in homes and community centers and on street corners to find their roles in peace and justice-making.

On days when hope seems distant and optimism feels false, it might be a candle or a splash of water or a young child reminding us that evil has not won. It might be an unexpected ally, shared bread, or the words of a song. Look for them, these reminders of hope all around us. Darkness cannot drive out darkness and hatred cannot drive out hatred. Only light and love can do that.  

The snarky chaplain

This first full week of being a hospital chaplain has been emotional, inspiring, and exhausting. If only more of my patients could appreciate this. I am here for you, people! Trying to learn something here!!! I am growing impatient with my patients.

By Friday, I realized that most of the people who let me pray with for them are premature babies. Because they can’t say, “no thank you.” Before they are born, their parents are fine with a polite smile and a nod. Silently they say, “nice to see you, but I’m getting out of here soon and can’t think about anything else.”

There are some people who do like to talk. But sometimes they are asleep or getting medical care when I stop by. Can we work on this?!

Why do I feel like this is part of the lesson for my summer…

Water for the Soul

Tonight there is more rain in our city and it has been beating down on the windows of the hospital where I am chaplain for the night. Families are waiting for loved ones to die. Or for emergency surgery. Or they are relieved to hear a baby will survive. While the sky weeps, these families shed tears – of grief, of worry, of joy.

In a parched land, water is longed for. Once the ground is soaked, water begins to rush across earth and stone, reshaping the landscape and making us wish it would stop. And yet, when the water recedes we are left with something new. Tears are the same – they can be necessary and unwelcome, allowing us to feel both relieved and exposed, connected and vulnerable. Like flood waters, tears can form us. They carve rivulets across our souls to remind us that love was there.

The New Rules

These are the new rules that will help me survive CPE this summer:

Pacing: I have been spoiled, I know. Before this summer, I worked mostly from home at my own pace. Took breaks whenever I pleased. Spent most of the day sitting at a computer. Now I am on my feet most of the day, have set office hours, and hardly any time for breaks. How do people who work in offices get their laundry done?! I start every day exhausted and end every day revved up from the encounters I’ve had. To make it through, I’m going to have to use my non-work time wisely. On the other hand, my legs have never seen so many stairs in a single day. That’s good, right?

Eating: See above. I used to eat whatever I wanted whenever I was hungry. Now, I pack a lunch and hope not to forget my travel mug for routine caffeine reinforcement. Some of you will remind me that I could eat at the hospital cafeteria. Go ahead and eat there if you want, I will not be dining there very often – one visit taught me that. On the other hand, every Wednesday is Hot Cookie Day! Cookies as big as my face.

Don’t be afraid to be stupid: This gig is so completely new to me. Everything about it, from the actual patient visits to the technology. I required a remedial lesson in using my pager today. And it isn’t even that complicated. There is no time to be proud in this job, so I hope people can put up with lots of repetition and forgetfulness on my part until things become routine.

Use on-call time wisely: I will have my first overnight on-call this week. (Perhaps even as you are reading this post?) That means spending the entire night (after a full day of work) at the hospital answering calls to emergencies – from 4 hospitals, actually. My colleagues and I have been reminded over and over not to make extra work for ourselves because things actually do happen in the middle of the night and we need to have the energy to handle them. Does catching up on missed episodes of The Daily Show use too much or too little energy? I will let you know, because that is how I plan to use my time in the sleep room. Until I crash from exhaustion. Anyone who knows me well knows that I fear lack of sleep more than just about anything else.

Washing up

Starting this week, I will be spending every weekday in two areas of the hospital: antepartum and NICU. Those are my floors, my peeps, my rounds. Unlike some floors, the folks I see are likely to be around for a while, so I might get the chance to form some relationships – unlike, say, someone admitted for surgery who might leave in a day.

In preparation for this I have purchased a large vat of lotion. Because, as anyone who has spent time in NICU will tell you, there is a lot of very thorough hand washing involved. Very. Thorough. Not just soap and hot water (controlled by foot pedals so you don’t get your filthy hands on the handles) but special picks for cleaning under every fingernail. But you have to save the lotion for the end of the day – none of that is allowed in NICU. No jewelry either. Just bare, scrubbed hands. But also amazingly strong babies who don’t know any better than to keep trying.


Fetal demise. It doesn’t sound very nice and it isn’t. To know that your longed-for baby will be stillborn, that you have to go through labor and delivery with no happy outcome, that family is gathered outside your room waiting to console you…which will only affirm your deep sorrow.

And yet…in the midst of this sorrow there is love. There is a community gathered to grieve together. The true meaning of compassion is suffering with and that is what we do when we stay by the side of those who endure loss. We can’t make their pain go away. And ignoring it negates the very real agony another feels. But sitting alongside…there is nothing more affirming.

A blessing helps. A prayer helps. But really, it is the cohesion of family and friends that carry any of us through. Our presence is a reminder that God is with us in the midst of loss and pain – not just for the pretty parts, but the hardest, ugliest, cruelest parts. It is through these relationships to the divine and the human that endings are transformed. Into hope. Into connections. Into the future. Into affirmation that we are made for each other, to suffer and love together.

For any person who experiences a loss too soon, or any loss at all, the best any of us can offer is to sit and suffer with them. There is no way around grief, only through it. And although there are as many “right” ways to mourn as there are people, it is the people who mourn with us that make it possible for us to emerge from the other side. This summer, I am a sitter. One who will suffer with. But I am a stranger, and really this sitting and being is is a path open to any of us.