What We Can Learn in a Hurricane

Psalm 86
img_9367It amazes me that Hurricane Matthew happened 3 weeks ago. Feels like forever, yet it wasn’t that long ago. It feels like forever, yet people are still working to get back to some sort of normalcy.

We knew Matthew was coming. Haiti knew it. Florida knew it. South Carolina knew it. North Carolina knew it. We knew it was coming but we didn’t know the impact it was going to have.

We know when something is coming yet we don’t know the impact. That makes it difficult to fully prepare for the storm. For North Carolina, Matthew was supposed to take a sharp turn before making landfall, but he decided to hang around for a little longer. All day and night on Saturday, October 8th, we saw the winds, rain and debris increase as the day went on. By 7:00 that night, there were already videos on Facebook of floods, streets being washed out, cars getting stuck in water, and communities were losing power.
Matthew stayed for a while.

I woke up Sunday to bright blue skies, sunshine and comfortable temperatures. Before I left my apartment complex, the only evidence of Matthew I saw, was some branches, leaves and puddles on the grounds. It looked as if a small storm came through. When I looked towards the sky, it was clear blue, no clouds in sight and the brightest sunshine over Greenville. Was there really a hurricane?

When I looked up, it was as if nothing ever happened.

On Sunday, I went to Town Commons, a local park in Greenville where the Tar River flows alongside the park. The waters were flowing quite rapidly, for a gentle river. Trees and debris were going downstream. A tree had fallen on the beautiful green park and there was a lot of debris and puddles along the walkways and grounds. The water had already made its way over ¼ of the parking lot. The water had already risen to just below the top of the wall by the sidewalk and fence. I walked down the sidewalk knowing that the rising water was just the beginning. I knew walking along the path that the water wasn’t going to crest until later that week. What I didn’t know was the impact this storm would have on the community in the days to come.

Yet when I looked up, it was as if nothing ever happened, even though I knew otherwise.

For the rest of the week, the weather was perfect. Blue skies, sunshine, fall like temperatures. It was picture perfect. Yet every morning, we woke to rising waters, evacuated neighborhoods, flooded homes and washed away streets. Schools were closed. Roads were closed. Streets caved in. Cars were trapped. And the worst of it all, people died.
Yet in the midst of devastation, you could see hope, you could feel a spirit, a sense of community coming together for one another. People came together to fill sand bags, to move retirement communities, to collect food, clothing and supplies. People came together to take care of one another, to offer temporary housing, to raise people up in the midst of the storm.

Wednesday morning, we got the news that the water won’t crest until Friday. Yet, before he knew that would happen, Mayor Thomas had called for a time for community prayer for that same Wednesday. At 12:00, several hundred folks in Greenville gathered together at the Greene Street Bridge for a time of prayer and community. The mantra for that day was “The waters may rise, but we rise stronger.” It was an incredible experience. We were one. We were together. We were lifting each other up in spirit, in prayer and in song. We were img_9382lifting up the sign of hope, hope that will get this community through the storm and floods. While we were there, the National Guard came across the bridge in their big tank trucks. The National Guard and Greenville Police had been touring the streets to see where the worst of the floods were and they arrived just in time to the prayer gathering, for us to pray for them and to say thank you.

These last three weeks, the emotions have run the gamet. Predictions had people worried, scared, concerned. And that is understandable. We all get scared. That’s ok. Predictions had people preparing for the worst and some not preparing at all. I experienced uncertainty. I’ve only been in Greenville for 3 ½ years. I’ve been around floods before but not as close as this hurricane was predicting to have. I didn’t know what to do. Honestly, the most I did was prepared several gallons of water. I lived through snow storms in Boston. Maybe I was naïve. Many folks who’ve been here for a while, were having flashbacks to Hurricane Floyd that wreaked havoc on Greenville and Eastern NC in 1999. It was understandable to consider what could happen with Matthew after Floyd. At the same time, the experience of Floyd prepared the leadership and community for this time.

Why am I bringing up Matthew in the hospital worship service?

There are storms here, every single day. They might not be in the form of clouds, winds, and floods of rain from the sky but there are storms within these walls. Those storms come in the form of diagnoses, death, pain, suffering and trauma.
I think as believers, we can learn something from Matthew as storms gather daily around this community, within this community.

Sometimes, the disease, the illness and death can be predicted. We can prepare for what is coming and start the process of treatment and/or grief. As a chaplain, I can assure you, just like the impact Matthew had, we will never be prepared for the impact disease and death will have on the patient and families. I hear families all the time said, “I’m not ready.” It is rare that I find someone ready.

As a trauma chaplain, I know patients and families are NOT prepared for a trauma. In a 010_10split second, a trauma changes your life. You are never prepared for it. You can’t be. There is no way to predict being hit by a car or shot at. There is no way to predict a motorcycle collision or a head-on car crash. There is no way to predict someone falling and hitting his head. There is no way to know that when you wake up in the morning and have breakfast with your loved one, that one of you will be paralyzed by the afternoon. There is no way to predict when a split second changes your entire life, forever.

I bring up Hurricane Matthew because it wasn’t the storm that had an impact on me, it was the way the community came together. As I said, the community gathered together that following Wednesday for prayer and support. The community gathered together every single day, to help one another. All faiths, all colors, all people came together to support and help one another to get through the storm.

As chaplains, we hear all the time, “God doesn’t give you any more than you can handle.” But I have to remind families, I have to remind patients that even though we want to believe this statement to be true on so many levels, we have to remember that God does NOT prepare us to handle the storms alone. God doesn’t give us any more than we can handle, knowing that we are NOT meant to handle it alone.

God made Eve for Adam. God made the disciples to help Jesus. God made the church to help the people. We are NOT meant to handle the storms alone.

After the hurricane, we had perfect weather for several days. After the storm, all you had to do was look up to see the blue skies, the sunshine and the bright moon and stars.
Every single day, I see the storms that my patients and families and staff face. I see families that come together. I see families in the waiting areas come together to support one another, in prayer, in emotion, in tears, in grief, in celebration of small milestones. I see the epitome of strength that comes out of the depths of the souls of the patients and their families. In the midst of the most challenging of times, the hardest of circumstances; in the midst of shock, grief, trauma and death, I see hope. I see communities that come together to help one another, whether it’s in the patient’s room, the conference rooms, the waiting areas, the churches or the neighborhoods, I see community. I see God. I see hope.

In the midst of the storm, we can see hope. Yes, something happened. We may be in the midst of a storm, but when we are, look up and don’t ever let it go.

Amen.

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Debates and Hurricanes and a Change of Heart

I watched the debate last night and i have my thoughts about it. I keep wanting to post or “share” something on Facebook about it but in-between the thoughts, memes, and factchecks, I see posts and photos about my state of North Carolina after Hurricane Matthew. I see Tar River inching up by the minute. I see more roads closing or worse, collapsing. Every time I want to post something about the debate, I think about my friends at work who need to be sure they got home to their babies. When I see posts about the debate, I’m reminded about the families having to be rescued from their rooftops. I think about all the families and students having to evacuate their homes. I think about the families of one who fend for themselves, leave home by themselves and have nobody to come home to. I think about the families who survived Hurricane Floyd and are brought to tears and PTSD thinking about that nightmare returning with Matthew.

Every time I think about posting or making a remark about the debate, I think about all the folks that work at the hospital who had to risk their lives to be here to take care of others. I think about my friend, a principal of a local high school, who opened the school today as a shelter.  I think about the Greenville Police Dept, the Fire and Rescue teams, the linemen, the first responders, and all who are risking their lives to free people, to get them to safety, to help them to higher ground, to help evacuate the retirement community that’s right on the river….this is all I can think about. It’s too much to think about but it’s right there in front of me. Add the anger, hostility, judgment, and vitriol from the election and I can’t take it. 

Go ahead and post what you want. Go ahead and think of me in whatever way you want because of who I am voting for but understand this……my heart aches and seeing people sacrificing in ways two people running for president will never be able to comprehend, reminds me of the humanity, courage, strength and the loss and pain in the midst of all the chaos and judgment. I can’t change your mind about who you will vote for or what you think of me but I can change my heart, cast my vote and remember what’s more important at this point in time.

img_9367When you post memes, make comments about candidates and judge their constituents, please add a prayer at the same time. Pray for North Carolina. If I read the numbers correctly, Hurricane Matthew caused 20 deaths and 11 of them were in North Carolina. Pray for my town of Greenville, for Eastern North Carolina and every place hurt by Hurricane Matthew. The storm is gone but the aftermath will remain for quite some time…and I pray the courage and strength will, too.

God bless Haiti. Please give them mercy, grace and hope.

P.S. The political storm will be gone on November 9th. What will remain in the aftermath of your heart?

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Empty

Fill me with Your spirit
Fill me with Your love
Fill me with Your hope
Fill me with Your space
Fill me with Your grace
Fill me with Your life

I feel so empty

Fill me with Your compassion
Fill me with Your peace
Fill me with Your touch
Fill me with Your care
Fill me with Your kindness
Fill me with Your life

I feel so empty

Lord, pour your cup over me and fill my soul.

Linda C. Moore (c) 2016

Written after an afternoon of prayer and confession; seeking guidance, wisdom and help.

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I Hate When God Gives Me a Command to Follow

I hate when God gives me a command to follow and one loud enough that i cannot ignore.

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For well over a year now, I have begged for God to take this cup from me because the sacrifice is too great.

When I start following the command, the push back was very real. I lost “friends”, made enemies and created a list of individuals who talked about me on every level you can imagine; behind my back, to my friends and even in front of me.

They questioned my calling as a chaplain…..and as a Christian. Yeah, no reason for me to take that personally.

I’ve been called many names. I’ve seen the RBF mastered by the best. The stares sting. The intentional ignoring of my “hellos, good mornings, hey theres” has gotten to a point of laughter, just to keep my heart protected. They wanted to get to me and I have to admit, they did. All of these behaviors were coming from people who over a year ago, called me their friend. I guess they really weren’t friends.

Don’t think I’m whining. I’m  not. Don’t think their judgement was worse than my personal punishment. I have been angry. I still am. I have cried. i have pushed people away. I have punished myself. I have learned not to trust anyone. I know I’ve pushed back at people. I know I’ve yelled and have been bitter. The very people I trusted, left me alone; but not without punishing me and squeezing all the salt and juice they were able, into my pain.

What would that do to you?

I hate when God gives me a command to follow.

What has God commanded me to do?

To be a Voice for the Voiceless……..

I am an ordained woman minister, full-time vocation called chaplain, with a moderate to progressive theology that i have studied, developed, written, researched and prayed over for almost 20 years.  I have been beside the very people who I have to speak out for; the marginalized, shunned, discounted individuals, who time and time again, are made to feel unworthy and unloved…..and worse, are told it comes from God.

You’d be surprised to know that the most caring, compassionate, spiritual, non-critical support I’ve received over this year, behavior that christians are called to provide for others….was from an athiest.

When I speak for those who can’t, who am I speaking for? Does it matter who it is? The fact that people are being made to feel this way is evil enough without my labeling them, too. Society already has.

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(c) Linda C Moore

 

I know I have work to do on my voice and on my heart. I get that. The anger is real. The brokenness is real. The pain is real. I have not healed.  This hurts to the depths of my soul, deeper than I thought possible and it came at an incredible cost – the loss of someone very dear to me.

I was close to someone for almost a year. Closest I’ve been to someone in a very long time, close enough that he had my trust.  He knew me and I knew him. It was the oddest connection I’ve seen but it felt right. I knew people were talking about it, yet didn’t have the courage to ask.  They didn’t think I could hear them. I knew what they were saying. “How in the world can she support this guy? How can she hang out with him? Why is he hanging out with her? Can’t he see who she is? Are you kidding?” They hated that he cared about me. They hated that I cared about him. I knew they did because I felt the remnants of it every single day.

We came to an abrupt end just over a year ago. The pain of what the other was gong through became too real. Became too close. We were too close. He hurt me. I hurt him. Society won, again. I lost and he lost the only person who understood exactly what the other was going through; the only person willing to be there for the other at any given moment. He needed someone who understood him. I needed someone who understood me. We had that in one another. Now, we don’t have either.

I hate when God gives me a command to follow.

I am a voice for the voiceless because I understand what they are feeling. No matter how 10923783_10153062461492376_192871842928143298_omuch I don’t want to be, i have to be a voice. I understand the anger, the fear, the resentment, the pain and the distrust. I have been given a voice in which to stand next to them and speak up for them; to speak up with them; no matter the outcome.

I hate when God gives me a command to follow because it can come at a painful cost.

Then again, isn’t that the Sacrifice? Isn’t that what Christ did for me? For you?

I didn’t want to write this post. I really didn’t want to. It’s been building up for months now and hit me last night that it needed to happen. I didn’t want to write about what happened. It was just fine staying locked inside of me. I didn’t want to write. Somebody had another plan and commanded that I do.

Maybe it was time I became a voice for me.

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Another Bread Story?

Another Bread Story?

John 6: 35, 41-51

I have a couple of confessions to make to you as I stand before to share God’s word. The first, I will tell you now. I am Baptist. I am use to once a month communion services. When I started attending several months ago, a weekly communion service was a new thing for me. And if you know anything about Baptists, Baptists don’t like change. I use to have a joke. How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb? We don’t know. We stood in the dark arguing that change wasn’t necessary and never changed the bulb.

In my Baptist experience, with the Lord’s Supper….you DON’T make any changes to it. I IMG_5787was reprimanded once as a fresh new minister, when I led communion and distributed the trays to the servers in the wrong direction. I was the topic at the next Deacons meeting. In the last church I served, we lost half out congregation during the summer, so I made the worship personal by changing the presentation of the Lord’s Supper to intinction. Needless to say, I was the topic of the next Deacon’s meeting. So yes, change in Communion is difficult and I’m coming to you today with that background in mind.

Here we are with another bread story. Last week, Jarrett talked about Jesus multiplying bread, worship that is for God and not ourselves, and relationships, most importantly, how God first loved us. He reminded us that what we do is not meant to be about us. It’s meant to be about God, about Jesus. The work we do, the service we have been called to provide, is not about us. It’s not about the church. It’s about God.

That message leads us to this week. You may notice there is a connection from last week’s scripture. Last week’s scripture ended with the first verse of this week’s: verse 35, “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” The bread of LIFE.

This isn’t just another bread story.

This crowd witnessed Jesus feed the 5000 and wanted to know more. The next day, they found Jesus on the other side of the lake, in Capernaum. They asked Jesus to keep serving the bread of eternal life that He mentioned the day before. Standing in front of them, Jesus explained in detail, I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty….I am the bread that came down from heaven. Jesus is speaking about the “I AM” of life, the “I AM” of God that came down from heaven to raise you up, to fill your hunger, your thirst and to fulfill your life. Jesus is the “I AM” of the New Testament. Why? Because he was sent down from Heaven by the “I AM of the Old Testament. Remember?

The phrase, “I AM,” was used as a statement of identification. Before we heard about the manna that came from heaven to feed the complaining Israelites when Moses was leading them out of Egypt, Moses was getting direction from God. He asked God in Exodus 3:13: Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” Do you remember how God responded? God responded in what I believe to be one of the most significant moments in scripture. Verse 14, “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“ I AM WHO I AM.

As an ordained minister, I get asked questions about God a lot, from what does God look like, is God male or female, to does God really love those people. Most of the time, these questions start an engaging discussion about theology. Once in a while though, the questions come after I say something that goes against the theology of the person I’m talking with; the theology they grew up with, the God they believe in, the traditional God with the black and white answers. I might say or write something that does not match what they believe about Jesus. We could be discussing what Jesus meant when He shared this parable, to why didn’t Jesus talk about that topic and somehow it will turn into something more.

I understand when someone hears a theology different from their own, it challenges them, startles them. They will hear I am a follower of Christ, a Christian who believes in Jesus like them, but when I make a statement that goes against their beliefs, they are surprised and wonder how I can say such things as a Christian. Outside of the questioning my faith, I get it. I understand that. I may say something that goes against their tradition. It goes against their traditional Christian faith. We’ve all felt that way. We’ve been through it. I know I have.

I find that people want to put God in a box. All of us have. It might be the God we grew up with, wrapped up in who we believe God is and who we believe God ought to be. People want God and scripture to be black and white, with definitive answers. People get frustrated with me when I say scripture is not that simple and I am not going to put God in a box. My reasoning has to do with God’s answer to Moses in Exodus 3:14. God told Moses to name God as “I AM WHO I AM”. Five simple words turned into an exclamation point of identification. It is clear God does not want to be put into a box and I am not about to put God in a box either.

IMG_9945Now we are in the Gospel of John. This is the only gospel where you will see Jesus using the “I AM” statements. Jesus proclaims who He is. “I AM the Bread of Life.” John tells us in the beginning; Jesus is the word that became flesh. In the beginning was the word and the word was with God, the word is God. God is Jesus. The word became flesh and lived among the people. Jesus said, “I AM,” and He upset some people. Jesus upset the Jews and even though Jesus himself was a Jew, they complained. Why? Because they know Jesus as Joseph and Mary’s son, not as the one sent from Heaven. There was still conflict between the Jews and Jesus. And now, Jesus was challenging the traditional knowledge of the Jews, about what they knew of Jesus and what they need to understand now – what matters is Jesus in the present.

How many times have we not believed something, or questioned it because of what we already know? We depend of our previous knowledge, of what we learned before. Sometimes, we need to go beyond what we know and accept the invitation into the unknown. Paul reminds us in Romans 12 when he instructed us not to conform but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. In order to go into the unknown, Jesus is telling the Jews and the reader, not to rely on your knowledge, but transform through your commitment and your faith. The writer of John is doing that here.

For the Gospel writer, there is a purpose to the “I AM” statements. Jesus is getting personal. It’s about relationship. Jesus using the “I AM” statements reminds the crowd and us, the readers, that Jesus is God incarnate. Jesus is the way. Jesus was sent by God. Jesus is the word made flesh.

Why would God do that?

For God, it’s about the relationship, too. The “I AM” of the Old Testament was the God of anger, locusts and frogs, death of livestock and first borns, the God of floods and judgment. But not in the New Testament. God sent Jesus to initiate relationship with us, an intimate relationship with each and every one of us. The word became flesh. God became flesh, in the name of Jesus. You can’t get much more intimate than flesh. God became human. God became flesh to understand us better and for us to understand God as best we can; to trust the God we know now.

Theologian Marcus Borg, in his book, The God we Never Knew, writes of a God who wants an intimate relationship with us. People who grew up in church, likely grew up with the God that we look up to, the God who is out there somewhere, beyond out physical reach, a God more powerful than we can understand. This is the God we never knew as children, doesn’t want to be out there anymore, out of reach, out of sight, out of mind, authoritative and judging. God wants to be in here, in us, with us, through us and all around. God wants to be with the beloved children, the ones called out by name. God wants such an intimate relationship with us, that God sent Jesus to make that possible.

Jesus is taking us there. Here in John 6, this eternal life, the bread that will make us hunger and thirst no more, this taking in Jesus is to get closer to Him, therefore get closer to God. Jesus is being intimate, personal, revealing, both in his relationship to God and in his relationship to us. So much so that Jesus talks of the eternal father who DRAWS us in. Did you catch that? Verse 44: “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me.”

As I started in my Christian faith, it was my understanding that it was OUR decision and OUR decision ALONE that we accepted Christ and believe in God. When we were ready, we come forward, accept Jesus and are baptized. Here, Jesus is shaking our traditional beliefs, going past our knowledge and asking us to look beyond that and see how God is pulling us in. The Father who sent Jesus is drawing us into relationship and we follow. That’s our faith, our faith in the One that was sent and the One who sent him.

God draws us in through the prophets, through the teachings and lessons that intrigue us, that renew our minds, strengthen our hearts. “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”

Think about that for yourself. Did you become a Christian by sitting alone, reading the bible and wondering what all of it meant? Or did it start with someone reaching out to you, inviting you to church, to a picnic, to a softball game. Was it someone who brought you a meal when you were sick or when someone died? Was it the pastor whose messages stepped on your toes or the music that tugged at your heart? Did you learn more about God and the love of Jesus Christ when you worked at the soup kitchen, built handicap ramps, or when you met Harry Albritton?

I bet your life with Christ started when someone reached out to you with a kind heart, helping hand. I bet you felt Jesus’s love in the way someone treated you.

Just as Marcus Borg talked about the relationship that God wants with us, Borg recognized that through the Eucharist, Jesus wants the same thing – to be present within:

To use the Eucharist (Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Mass) as an example, the visible, physical, and human products of bread and wine are the means whereby Christ becomes present in us. Christians have differed about the explanation of the process – whether the bread and wine are changed into Christ’s body and blood, or whether the body and blood of Christ are present “in, with and under” the bread and wine, or whether the meal is a “remembering.” But even the “softest” of these understandings, a remembering, involves bringing Christ into the present. The human products of bread and wine become a means of grace, earthen vessels whereby the sacred becomes present in us.[1]

The sacred becomes present in us……

My guess is this is why you have the Lord’s Supper in the middle of the service, where it can be the focal point, the center of what worship is and not stuck on the end where the pastor will feel rushed to get it done, so everyone is out by 12:00.

And that is what we have here.  Jesus was talking to the crowd, explaining what the bread IMG_0039of life means, a relationship with the Father, through the Son, the one sent down from Heaven. He is the bread and Christ wants to be present in us. God wants to be in relationship with us, around us, within us, through us. “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever;” When we took part in the Lord’s Supper today, we were reminded that Christ extended the invitation to us all, to take part, to remember and to do.

I told you in the beginning, I had two confessions. You know I’ve been attending here for a while but not many of you know that I am a staff chaplain at the hospital. I asked Jarrett not to share that information because I wanted to be able to come to worship and simply be.  But now you know.

I work with the patients that are admitted to the trauma and surgical critical care service. With traumas, I have seen and heard things that I never in my life imagined I would see. I’ve witnessed unimaginable pain and suffering, both from patients and from families. As the lead trauma chaplain, I get the tough questions about God’s plan and God’s will. People will ask me the “why” questions. Families wonder if I believe in miracles and in God’s healing. It is not easy to face a family reaching as far out as humanly possible, grasping for some hope and searching for an answer from me. Or to sit at bedside, listening to a patient in tears, wondering why this happened to her or why God protected him and not his loved one.

There are days I get lost and retreat. I pull away from my center as I am expected to be God’s presence for patients, families and all the questions that come. My faith gets challenged and my heart gets weak. But I recognize that I’m no different than other Christians. We’ve all had our retreats, our weakness, our doubts. We’ve all run away like the prodigal son and daughter. I know I’m not different than others.

But when I started attending here and taking part in the Lord’s Supper every week, I began to realize something. This Baptist who is used to a once a month invitation to the table, needed to be reminded more often of who God is, why I am a Christian and why God sent Jesus to have a more intimate relationship with me. Ironically, it’s because of my calling, my work as a chaplain, that I’ve needed a weekly invitation to sit at the table, beside Christ, beside you and take in the bread. Take in the word. Take in the reminder of what I am here for.

Ironically, it wasn’t until this morning that I realized what was going on for me. I was struggling, having my own inner conflict, a discourse if you will. I want to answer the questions to the unanswerable, to bring comfort and hope to those craving for it. My beliefs and my heart are challenged when I see people suffer in ways that never should have happened, whether in the hospital or in the community. I read this scripture this morning. There was discourse and conflict here. The Jews were in conflict with Jesus. Jesus was likely frustrated because of having to repeat over and over what He meant by the living bread. And don’t forget, the crowd searched for Jesus and found him alone on the other side of the lake. Maybe he was dealing with an inner conflict too.

IMG_6449Through this text, as we hear almost daily, of conflict in our country, in our communities, in our churches and within ourselves, through this scripture, we are reminded of the invitation to sit at the table, together. This invitation is open to all, including the people we are in conflict with. We have been giving the invitation to eat the bread and drink of the cup. And we have been handed the invitation to accept an intimate, close and personal relationship with God, who wants to be in relationship with us so much, that He sent the Living Bread to make that possible.

No, it’s not just another bread story.

(c) 2015, Rev. Linda C. Moore

[1] Borg, Marcus. The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith. HarperCollins, New York. 1989

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“I Have No Idea,” said the Trauma Chaplain

“Winter’s a good time to stay in and cuddle
But put me in summer and I’ll be a happy snowman”

The World’s second most famous snowman, Olaf, sung those lyrics in last year’s favorite movie, Frozen. Olaf loves warm hugs and summer. This trauma chaplain loves warm hugs and has no idea what she feels during the summer but I can guarantee “happy” isn’t one of the feelings.

trauma center signThe summer months at a Level 1 Trauma Center tend to be some of the busiest months for trauma teams and this chaplain is not exempt. My calendar gets locked and my days become a whirlwind blur. During the summer when somebody asks how I am doing, I usually don’t know. I can be exhausted, excited, anxious, angry, overwhelmed, energetic, discouraged, determined, rushed, frustrated or fantastic. I can be feeling any or all of them, in a day or in an hour.

Why are we so busy? It’s summer. Schools are out. People are traveling. Nights are longer. People get angry. Families get together. People get reckless. And no matter what, I promise the North Carolina humidity will cause a few situations that I cannot make up and you will not believe. Oh and we are the only Level 1 Trauma Center on the east side of 95 and the beach is on the other side of us. So yeah, we are busy. No matter what though, there is nobody I see stepping up to the plate and more focused than the Trauma service  I work with. Everybody from nurses, doctors, PAs, NPs, PTs, OTs, RTs, CMs, everyone in-between and this chaplain; we work hard and stay focused on what needs to be done to care for everyone admitted to the service.

I have seen way too many people injured this summer, with injuries from head to toe. With those injuries, I’ve seen lives come to a tragic end. Their families are broken in grief and hurting with unanswered questions and it’s heartbreaking. At the same time, I’ve seen incredible life saving moments, too. Being a part of these moments has been heart fulfilling. The emotions are running the gamut this summer. I’ve cried more tears than I care to admit for reasons that I can’t explain; from unwarranted actions, people trying to earn a living,  families vacationing, friends having fun, and broken hearts trying to ease their pain. On the grateful side, some of these tears are due to seeing miracles standing before me, literally.

As a chaplain, my faith is challenged when families ask me if I believe in miracles. In the trauma world, they don’t come as often as our faith would like. The severity of injuries can block miracles from happening. When families ask me about miracles as they attempt a Hail Mary of hope, I ask what is the miracle they are looking for. What is the healing you are praying for?

The prayers are not answered, at least not answered in the way we would like. For some, the healing and miracles don’t take place until their life comes to an end. For some, the healing and miracles literally have stood before me as they continue to take steps towards a different life filled with new challenges and hope. Individuals who fought the odds, surgeons who did incredible work and faith beyond human understanding, I’ve seen miracles this summer and they too, brought tears. I can’t answer the “why” questions from families. I can’t explain why this person survived and the other did not. I can’t tell you when somebody will die or when they will be able to go home. I can’t explain why, despite the heroic efforts of surgeons and staff, somebody will not see another birthday. Some days, I can’t even answer the question, “How are you doing?” But what I do know is this, I work with an incredibly gifted group of individuals who sacrifice their hearts and minds to do the unimaginable. We laugh and cry, curse and pray. We get attached as we hope for the best. We fight for them with blood, sweat, heart and tears. I get the honor of working with these people every single day. I get the honor of working for a God who gives me the spirit and the words to get through the most painful and most joyous of circumstances.

We are tired and the summer is only two-thirds over. Am I happy now? Not really. It may have to take a miracle to make that happen. But with these folks, I’m willing to work every day to see it through. With God, I’m willing to sacrifice energy and heartbreak, to do what is needed. And in the autumn, this chaplain and an exhausted group of dedicated people will breathe sighs of relief, filled with humility, exhaustion and honor, knowing we did what was humanly possible and we did it together. I might be exhausted, excited, anxious, angry, overwhelmed, energetic, discouraged, determined, rushed, frustrated or fantastic, but as long as I’m working with them, I will be ok.

And every once in a while, a warm hug does help.

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Earthly Fathers and Heavenly Parents

When I was born the nurse told my father, “It’s a boy” and he said, “Shove it back in there.” I should have known then I was going to be a Daddy’s girl. You see, I was the fourth child (an unfortunate glitch in their plans) and the first three were boys. My dad wanted a girl and the nurse wanted to have a little fun with him.

Daddy and MeI was Daddy’s girl and still am. I went with him on side jobs as a construction worker. He helped me when I delivered newspapers on rainy days. Every Father’s Day, Dad and I would go fishing, just the two of us. He carried me back and forth to college when I couldn’t have a car. But he did so much more. My dad saved my life, in ways nobody will ever know.

My Dad worked six days a week and my other parent stayed at home. I had to live a very sheltered childhood. My guess is because I was the girl. I had to come straight home from school. Most of my time was spent alone in my bedroom or in the fenced in back yard. Those two places were where I felt safe. I studied a lot, played with my dolls and stuffed animals and pretended they were family. I couldn’t play sports, be in girl scouts or get involved in after-school activities. Oddly enough, my brothers were able to do all of those things and then some.

My brothers thought I was spoiled because of what my Dad did for me. To this day, they will never understand why I am not. They will never understand what went on at home when they weren’t there. My Dad saved me. He understood what happened. He was the only one who could. Dad saw it on myIMG_0112 face and heard it in my voice. Every day after dinner, he’d go to the store and take me with him. For a brief moment, he got me out of the prison. He would take me with him on construction work side jobs. He put a bamboo fishing pole in my hands around the age of three and a few years later, we started our Father’s Day trips to Buckroe Beach or Nags Head Pier. Where we went depended on the mood at home. If the mood was good, we’d go to Buckroe. If it was bad, we’d go to Nags Head.

My brothers thought I was spoiled because Dad got me a hand me down car after I got my driver’s license. It wasn’t because I was spoiled. He did it to free me. That car got me to an afterschool job. That car got me involved in school activities. That car got me out of the torment, at least for a little while. Even though he hated to see me go, Dad encouraged me to go away to college. He knew I needed to find a way to get away.

My Dad loved me. He tried to protect me as much as he could with the limited resources he had. He did all he could until he left this earth. He loved me so IMG_9161much that he had to die on my birthday, another day that we will share for eternity. I’m still not sure if I’m happy or sad for that but every birthday now is a flashback to hearing my phone ring in the early hours of my 27th birthday and hearing “your dad had a heart attack.” I now have a constant memory of sitting outside the funeral home that same night because I didn’t want to see my dead father on my birthday. He was my superhero and on this day, he left me alone, unprotected. That was the only time I ever got mad at him.

I am not a mother. I can’t be one. I’ve heard that you become the mother that raised you. Maybe that’s why I can’t be a mother and even though it saves me from some pain, it still hurts. I love and adore children. They are beautiful little people with incredible spirit and love, more than most adults I know. I sometimes wonder if this is a reason why I became an elementary school teacher, a children/youth minster and a chaplain. As much as I love and care for children, those times of teaching and ministering helped me to see I could have broken the cycle and been the mother I never had. I will never know.

A few people were quite critical and angry of my Mother’s Day blog post, asking churches not to celebrate it. A small portion of my reasoning is due to what is written here. My childhood showed me what motherhood was and still is based on behavior from this past Christmas. I can’t celebrate pain. However, this is not just about me.  I am also speaking for the millions of women who can’t have children and are treated as less of a woman because of it. Those that were critical said, “You can’t understand the importance of Mother’s Day because you aren’t a mother.” Yes, you are right. Remember though, you will never be able to understand what I am feeling (and many others in the congregation) because you are.

I was also speaking for the many fathers sitting in the congregation who know mothers will get more recognition than Dads will. Yesterday on my Facebook page, I wrote, “I pray that churches will recognize and celebrate fathers with the same excitement and fanfare they celebrated mothers. Fathers sacrifice too.” Some thought I was being contradictory between mothers and fathers. I wasn’t. I want to be sure if mothers are going to be recognized, fathers need to be too. You see my father saved my life. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be here today. Some may regret that today but most days, I don’t. Because of him, I knew what a father’s love felt like. I knew what a parent’s love really meant. I knew what sacrifice was. I saw what it meant to be called “Dad” and if we are going to honor one parent, we certainly need to honor both because Dads deserve it too.

Because of my Dad, I went away to college, found Christ and learned about my 34119_410586482375_508132375_4308202_7667062_nHeavenly Father’s love too. Both taught me about sacrifice, security and unconditional love. God is the father I miss and the mother I never had.

No, I don’t understand loving mothers and you will never be able to understand me. What I do understand is God sacrificed more than any of us will ever be able to know and He still loves us all just the same.

Despite who we want to honor as our parents, we all have a Heavenly Parent who watches over us. You and I are brothers and sisters because of what was sacrificed for you and me. Our Heavenly Father, our Heavenly Mother, whichever one we look to God to be, let that be the very One we celebrate today and every day. I think that’s the One who deserves it. Don’t you?

 

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