Ollie is Dying

Posted November 17, 2017 by reformedcam
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For the past few months, Ollie’d been really sick. He’d been throwing up blood quite often. Sometimes a lot. Sometimes a little. One morning, he really started freaking out. Running around and acting erratic. So, we took him to the vet.
 
That day, the vet found a UTI and some blockage in his digestive track. Ollie underwent treatments for those things and appeared to be getting better. But, after a short while, he started throwing up blood again.
 
At this point, our veterinarian told us we should bring him in for an appointment with an internist/intensivist. This past Monday, Heather took him in for the appointment. The vet team ran an ultrasound and found a mass in his stomach. They told us it didn’t look good. In fact, they told us it looked bleak. Today, we got results back from a biopsy they took, confirming that Ollie has lymphoma in his stomach.
Ollie 1
 
There is a chemo regiment, but given Ollie’s cage aggression and his disdain for veterinarian appointments, it looks like we will not be pursuing this option. His quality of life would be horrific and the chance of full recovery is not good enough.
 
We’ve decided to let him spend his time left with us at home, where we’ll do our best to control his symptoms and pain. When the time comes, in the next 7-8 months, we hope to say goodbye to him here.
Ollie 2
 
If you’ve been friends with me for long on here, followed me on Twitter for some time, or seen me interact with my cat, you know this really sucks for me. He’s been with me for 9 years (OK! OK! 3 of those years were with Heather here in Little Rock while I was in seminary. But he stayed mine! Just ask her about it!). And he will turn 11years old in February. That’s way too young for a cat to die.
This is painful. And it sucks. I’m really, really going to miss this furry goofball.
Ollie 3
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Cats on Couches

Posted May 19, 2017 by reformedcam
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Another addition to the #CatsonCouches seriesDSC_0740DSC_0740

Cats on Couches

Posted April 5, 2017 by reformedcam
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A continuation of the series, #CatsonCouches

Daphne

Cats on Couches

Posted April 2, 2017 by reformedcam
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I’ve been playing around with my camera. Decided I’d make a photo series – you know, for fun. I introduce to you: #CatsonCouches

Here’s the first picture:DSC_0605

Wait for It

Posted March 1, 2017 by reformedcam
Categories: Uncategorized

Ordination services are a special time. They are something people wait for for a long time. Ordination services are a point to which people struggle to make it. Ordination services often hold years of strain, burden, joy, and anticipation. In the end, much like a wedding, they are a giant release for those involved. I have only been to a few ordination services. Some for people I do not know very well. Some for those whom I dearly love. But all of them have held these elements in one sense or another.

This past weekend, I attended – and took part in – the ordination service for one of my best friends I have ever had – Rachel. It was a complete joy to be there, from beginning to end. Throughout the whole weekend, we congregated, broke bread, and celebrated – in both the liturgical and communal sense. And boy did we cry, too.

There is something about these instances that bring such a release of emotion. First, we had a core group of friends coming together. Many of us had not seen each other in months – some for years. Secondly, we did not sleep much at all. From traveling into town to staying up late every night, we arrived and left Jacksonville exhausted. Finally, we were coming together with the specific purpose of ordaining Rachel into her first call – something which she’s been waiting for for 3 years.

I remember sitting at her parents’ house, talking with another dear friend of mine, trying to explain the emotions of the weekend. The best I could come up with was the example of the Grinch’s heart.

grinch-heart

Now it is not like any of us former seminary students had a small heart to begin with, but our hearts exploded that day. We wait so long for these moments. From the beginning of our education together to this moment of our friend being ordained, we waited almost 7 years. Every step in the journey, every moment where something happened, combined to this moment of incredible anticipation. Our hearts collectively grew three sizes this past Sunday afternoon. In our entire group, there was not a dry eye when Rachel was declared a Minister of the Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

We wait so long for these moments. There are ups and downs, twists and turns. Some of the people we knew from seminary have died. Some of them left after just a few months of school. Some of them have left the church. And all of these things build into this massive ball of emotion – whether we realize it or not – that sits in our chest, waiting for a release. And ordination services provide that release. Our emotions come pouring forward and we are provided with a (very often) long overdue flood of emotions.

We wait for it. We wait for it in desperation. We wait for it in anticipation. We wait for it as if the day will never come. We wait for it, hoping the day will never end when it comes. We wait for each other and with each other, praying the entire time. We wait for it to be our turn. We wait for our friends’ turns. We wait for God to call us. We wait for calls/jobs to say, “Yes. You.” We wait for it.

On Empathy

Posted February 8, 2017 by reformedcam
Categories: Religion/Social

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Empathy, any chaplain will tell you, is one of the greatest tools of providing spiritual care. And it is a tricky tool to master. The Merriam-Webster dictionary has two definitions for empathy, but the one I am looking at reads, “The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” In other words, empathy is the attempt to walk a mile in another’s shoes.

Perhaps you know this, but part of my job is teaching empathy. With my position at Prayers Of the People, I go to churches and train people who want to be Lay Ministers and Spiritual Care Volunteers in Houston-area hospitals. These training sessions are two-fold, which you can read about on our website. But to save you that trip, let me explain that the first training is a 9-hour didactic session held in the church. During this first session, my boss and I do our best to go over the basic rules of a spiritual care visit as well as some of the tips. Empathy is the most difficult thing to understand without experience.

Just a couple of weeks ago, we trained thirty new volunteers to start this ministry. As we went through our manual, I covered the topic of empathy vs. sympathy. In our manual, there is a picture of a girl who is covered in mud, with a an upset expression on her face holding a puppy, also covered in mud. When we approach this picture, the trainees are asked, “What do you want to do with this girl?”

Over time, my boss – the President and Executive Director of POP – and her predecessors have found the most natural answer to be, “Clean her off!” in some form or another. And we acknowledge it and say, “Of course. She is very dirty. It does look like she could need a bath. But what if she does not want a bath? What if she is upset because her mother just told her to come inside and clean off and she is not ready to do so?”

This changes the conversation every time. Because if the girl does not want to get clean, then why should we want her to be clean? What about her feelings and desires? What about her intentions for the rest of the day? Why should they be ignored?

And this is a basic way to explain empathy. Empathy starts with listening to the other person in the conversation. What do they want? What does that person need? What are they feeling in this moment? How can we validate those feelings without dictating what we think they need?

When I did my unite of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) – a training course for chaplaincy in hospitals – here in Houston, I had a hard time grasping what empathy meant. For whatever reason, I needed a definition, but could not come up with it. It was not until the end of that 11-week unit that I grasped what empathy meant. For me, it was finding a situation in which I could relate to the other person, without verbalizing it. If the patient was experiencing incredible pain, I tried to remember a time I felt incredible pain. If the patient was missing their animal, I thought about how much I wanted to be on the couch with my cat snuggling on me. If the person was experiencing the loss of a loved one, I remembered when someone dear to me died. The key is to never verbalize the remembered experience, but simply to sit in those emotions with the person in the room. I just remembered how complicated my emotions were at those times and let them sit in theirs.

Perhaps the best example of empathy in the Bible comes from the Gospel of John, chapter 11, verse 8: “Jesus began to weep,” (NRSV).

Jesus arrives after Lazarus’s death. And he is approached by Mary and the people who had come with her weeping, causing him to weep. To be clear, Lazarus was Jesus’ friend, but it was not Lazarus’s death that caused Christ to weep. It was the weeping of others. He related to the crowds around him, causing him to be in their shoes. Jesus wept because he felt the pain of others.

Empathy helps a chaplain sit with people in all sorts of incredible positions. It allows the chaplain to walk with the person through the fog of it all – without guiding. Empathy helps to understand what the person really needs and how they could get to where they are going. Empathy helps chaplains care for the other person the way Christ cared for those he loved. Empathy is one of the greatest bridges for all human interaction.

Primary Them

Posted February 1, 2017 by reformedcam
Categories: Politics

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Today, the Senate voted on whether or not to confirm Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. Senator Mark Warner (D – VA), Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D – ND), Senator Joe Manchin, III (D – WV), and Senator Angus King (I – ME) all voted in favor of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. This post is why I want them all to be “primaried,” with no exceptions. Get them out of the Senate.

From 2006 – 2008, I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine. For the first three months, I trained in the town of Rokytne (Rok – it – ney), just outside of Kyiv (Ukrainian spelling here, folks). It was a wonderful place. But my heart lies in the town of Vysokopillya (Vee – so – ko – pill -yah) in the Khersonska Oblast’. Vysokopillya is where I spent the majority of my two years serving as a Youth Development Volunteer. When people as what a YD Volunteer does, I joke and say I was an over-glorified teacher. But it was more than that. After school, I ran a basketball club at my assigned school. I helped facilitate (at least for a time before the town government lost interest, which made me lose interest) a peer-led HIV/AIDS education group. I helped a little bit with the camping group, but was mostly along there to hang out with my Ukrainian friends who were the real facilitators.

But I can tell you what I did best of all while I was there: I made friends. If you know me, this should come as no surprise. But that is a rare feat for Peace Corps Volunteers, particularly when there is a language barrier. However, I was fortunate enough to find a group of people my age in my town who took me in as one of their own. Dennis, Yana, Sasha, Tanya, Ruslan, and many others. We bonded quickly and hung out a lot.

Along with my friends, there is my host family. Vova, Ira, Sasha, and Misha. My host family quickly became my second family. They sheltered me for the first three months I was in Vysokopillya and were always ready to support me whenever I needed it. When my mom, stepdad, and two sisters came over to visit, my host family embraced them and loved the hell out of them. It was a magical evening for me, having these families together. The homemade vodka (samohon) from Vova helped, of course.

With these people, I laughed, I cried, I hiked in then-Ukrainian-owned Crimea, I rode on trains, and I made friends and family for lives.

And the vote for Rex Tillerson put the lives of all of these people in immediate danger. Right now, as we talk, Russian-backed forces are shelling the Ukrainian town of Adviidka. This town is in the Donyetsk Oblast’, in the Eastern area of Ukraine. And, if you look at a map, between Vysokopillya and Adviidka, you might think, “Hey, that’s far!” Until you remembered that Ukraine is only about the size of Texas. And the distance between Avdiivka and Vysokopillya is comparable to that between Houston and Dallas. And then, if you take into account that the Khersonska Oblast’ region is immediately north of Crimea, you find it is directly in the line of an all-out Russian invasion.

It’s no secret that Putin wants Ukraine. Likewise, it’s no secret that Tillerson is a friend of Putin. And, Tillerson has said he opposes the sanctions that have been put on Russia in the past few years. For my friends and adopted family in Ukraine, this makes for a very dangerous set of circumstances.

And, I said it: none of these things were secret. Yet Warner, Heitkamp, Manchin, and King voted in favor of Tillerson. Now, I don’t pretend to think they have the same vested interest in Ukraine as I do. But, should they not have a vested interest in national and international security? Ukraine is the one of the last significant borders between Russia and Europe. If Ukraine falls, Russia has a significant launching point into the rest of the former Soviet states in the region. Belarus is already controlled by the dictator and Putin-puppet Lukashenko (though those relations might be cooling). And if we give Ukraine to Russia, which loosening of sanctions very well might do, Russia will have direct access to NATO members Bulgaria, Romania, and Poland. Significant parts of Europe will be primed to fall. Combine that with this administration’s disdain of NATO, and we have some serious concerns for national and international security.

So primary them. Get significant competitors in. We should not and cannot have Senators who would look at the facts of a Tillerson-as-Secretary of State and say, “I’ll give that a ‘Yes’ vote.” At best, Tillerson is a businessman who has little understanding of international affairs. He has spent a significant amount of his career bending and twisting the law to get his way. At worst, Secretary of State will be the fall of Europe as we know it. Whichever happens, it should be Warner, Heitkamp, Manchin, and King who take the blame.