• This is intended for my fellow Christians who are struggling to process the events at more of a distance. I hope this serves to at least provoke some productive thought and perhaps conversation.
  • This is not intended for immediate consumption by those who are deeply mourning Friday's events in Newton, CT (or a similar tragedy). While this could be helpful in the future, I am (as much as I can be) absolutely certain it would not be timely for those deep in the trenches of grief.
  • This is not intended for those who are processing through these events and do not claim or desire to be Christ-followers.

Last Friday our nation watched as devastating news poured out of Newtown, CT. A young man entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and opened fire on innocent children who certainly couldn't have done anything to warrant such treatment. Adults who had committed themselves to teaching and helping these young ones were also victims of this attack, and deservedly will be remembered for their courage and attempts to protect the rest of the Sandy Hook children.

I am thankful that the nation is mourning this event. It is tragic. It is horrific. No one would want to be a participant in this event and I hope most, if not all, would not even wish it on their enemy. 

I am thankful for the voices calling others to silence. Encouraging the ministry of presence instead of lame, failing attempts at answers to all the "Why?" questions inherent in a situation such as this. I am thankful for the people encouraging those affected to continue asking every "Why?" question that they might have for God right now.

But honestly, I'm also sad. 
Of course I am saddened that 26 innocent people were killed in such an appalling way. Of course I am devastated that so many innocent children will not be able to reach their full potential over decades of life. Of course I mourn for those families who cannot create the memories they had dreamed of and for their children. Of course I mourn for the families and friends who have to figure out how to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and figure out how to keep going.

But I'm saddened by something else. 
I have, by and large, heard no one mourn the 27th. 

This is understandable in that the 27th was not innocent, but was the perpetrator, the murderer. 
I get that. Let me be clear. In no way do I want to excuse or make light of his heinous actions on Friday. I am not suggesting that what he did was okay or that it should be overlooked, ignored, or justified. 

I do not expect all people to mourn the 27th. No, I expect them to continue to call him "gunman," "perpetrator," "evil," "monster," and whatever other derogatory names they choose. To mourn the 27th flies in the face of human thinking. 

But I do expect more of my fellow Christians, those who are trying to take on the mind of Christ.

You see, these names -- "gunman," "murderer," etc. -- all focus on one thing, one action. While they are true to his actions that day, if we aren't careful, we let those words serve as our sole identifier of him, and this is nothing other than dehumanizing to him. Then, in our minds, we trick ourselves into thinking he is essentially no longer a person - unworthy of respect or dignity...much less love or forgiveness.

But we as Christians are taught that there is no other way we should live -- we should be characterized by love and forgiveness. We should be treating each and every human being as a person not defined by what they do but by who they are. 

Now, perhaps you're thinking something like "but our actions come out of who we are!" And yes, that is true in many ways. But I have to ask...
If we truly believe God created all of us in God's image, each and every living human being bears the Imago Dei, then is that not reason enough to deem someone worthy of respect, dignity, love, and forgiveness no matter what their action? 

The Imago Dei is easily covered up within each of us. We bury it with each selfish, uncaring, sinful thought and action. Selfless, sacrificial, loving, gracious thoughts and actions seem to push or scrub away some of the filth that is so successful at hiding the Imago Dei within. But even if the Imago Dei is completely buried within a person, even if there is no outward sign that the Imago Dei is there, does that make it so? I would argue absolutely not. No matter what we do, we cannot rid ourselves of the Image of God that God's own hands instilled within us. In my own theological beliefs, that is part of being human, like it or not.

Perhaps you think we have the power to scrub away or gouge out the Imago Dei that God instilled within you. If so, then we can politely agree to disagree on this particular matter. I just can't imagine having that power as a human being. And personally, that goes against my beliefs about God's amazing grace, love, forgiveness, and continued pursuit of all people.

And if each human being is created in the Image of God, then I am none other than a fellow human being who bears the Image of the same God. And then, who am I to deem someone unworthy of forgiveness? Who am I to deem someone unworthy of mourning? I am not the one to judge. Christians should not be the ones to judge.

Instead, shouldn't we be the ones digging to find the Imago Dei within all others? Shouldn't we be the ones advocating for the inherent goodness, worth, and value within them especially when they have no voice for themselves?

I hope so. 
I hope we can be people who drop our stones.
… people who truly love our enemies.
… people who forgive as Christ forgave those who crucified him.
… people who understand that it is, after all, the sick who need a doctor, not those who are well.
… people who are thankful for the 99 but go look for the one lost sheep. 
… people standing outside in constant search for the one lost son.
… people like the woman searching constantly for her golden coin, hidden in the dust bunnies in the darkest corners of her home.
… people constantly choosing to see the goodness, worth, and value in others, as our God has continued to do in so many creative ways over the ages.

I hope so. 
And if I hope, I must try to make that hope realized. 
I am going to start by mourning the loss of all 27 bearers of the Imago Dei whose earthly lives were stopped so suddenly on Friday. 
A year ago I was driving around Sacramento, trying to decide whether or not I would accept a job offer and move within a week, when I accidentally found myself in the middle of the St. Patrick's Day parade in Old Sacramento (which is quite green and rowdy!).

It is only fitting that I am spending this St. Patrick's Day on-call in the hospital, reflecting on the last year and all of the changes, struggles, blessings, and growth. 

And there is no prayer more fitting than my favorite part of the Prayer of St. Patrick:
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
About four and a half weeks ago I came to Sacramento to interview for a position as a chaplain resident at UC Davis Medical Center.

The interview was on Friday at 1. At 2:20 or so the interview concluded and a current resident took me on a tour of the hospital while the committee members present for my interview discussed their thoughts.

At roughly 2:40 the chaplain was paged and asked to bring me back to the room, the committee wanted to see me.

At about 2:50 the committee asked me to join their current residency to fill a position that had just opened up, stay through the summer, and continue straight into the next residency year, completing 6 CPE units in 1 1/2 years.

When would I start?  How soon would I have to move here?
As soon as possible.  (Well, actually they said Monday would be preferable.  I might have laughed and said it was not physically possible for me to drive to Sacramento by Monday even if I were in St. Louis, packed and ready to go.)
Thankfully we were able to negotiate a slightly later date.

Shocked at the unexpected offer and stunned by the thought of packing up my life and moving 2,000 miles across the country in a week, I asked for some time to consider the offer.  After about 24 hours of wrestling with my decision, talking to family and many of my trusted friends, I decided to accept the offer.

Immediately, I began making plans to make that happen, adjusting flight schedules, staying longer in Sacramento in order to attend a required orientation that is only offered once a month, looking at dozens of apartments online and in person and selecting one of the many options.  I flew to St. Louis where I spent the next few days packing up my room, choosing what I could stuff in my car, what could easily be shipped, and what had to be left behind.  I spent time with my parents, even squeezing in time to go to the zoo and enjoy some good meals together.

Three weeks ago today, I began a 2,000 mile journey to Sacramento, CA with my dog in the passenger seat and most of my possessions in the back.  This 4 day drive would prove to be one of the greatest adventures of my life to date and, in a sense, a rite of passage.  At times I still can hardly believe I have actually MOVED here.  It seems like a long working trip or something.  But, here I am.  Living in California.

So, why California?

Well, there are a few reasons.

1) Timing.  The three(ish) months I spent in St. Louis were good in some ways, but were very hard in others.  I was feeling very purposeless and, as a result, very unhappy.  For goodness sake, I hadn't even been able to find a part-time job as I had hoped.  Sitting around the house, snowed in much of the time, took its toll on me.  I missed being with friends, I missed being productive (surprisingly enough) and most of all I missed being involved in things that actually matter.  Hospital chaplaincy, while very tiring and taxing in many ways, is also very life-giving to me.  I feel as if I am doing some amount of good and am actively working toward the reconciliation I know God desires to bring about in our broken world.  Every other offer I received would have started in the summer (late May and early June) and the summer would have been an unpaid internship.  Instead, I got to start immediately doing what I love and I get paid for all of it.  Pretty good (and rare) deal if you ask me.

2) Diversity.  I have done all of my training in hospital chaplaincy in Texas.  Furthermore, I have spent much of my life in the Bible Belt and all of it in the South.  In order to become a more well-rounded chaplain, I know I need to have a wide variety of experiences.  That means, I need to work with a wide variety of people.  Sacramento is not only out of the south and Bible Belt, it is (from what I have heard) considered the most integrated city in the country.  So, not only is it diverse, but it is integrated.  (Totally different from my minimal exposure to diversity where there is clear separation.)  I have been overwhelmed by the diversity.  Every time I go into Target or Wal-Mart or, really, anywhere, I hear at LEAST four or five languages being spoken.  I frequently see people dressed in traditional Indian or African clothing or Muslims and Sikhs wearing their distinctive garments.  It is amazing and beautiful and I am excited to learn even more about the wide variety of people in our country and how I can better minister to them.

3) Personal Growth.  In my past, I have had trouble being my own person.  That sounds weird, but it is a very true description, and it is true in many ways.  I feel like I need to continue exploring who I am, who God has created me to be, including both my strengths and growth areas.  I have often let my relationships with other people (both individuals and groups) define me, for better and worse.  It is time for me to find confidence in myself not because of the relationships I am in, but because God created me in God's image and calls me good.  So, while I have had many people tell me that I have been incredibly brave to move to a town where I literally knew no one, I think that, at least in part, I moved in order to become brave.  To become confident in the woman God created me to be, so that I can more healthily and fully engage in the relationships that I so highly value.

4) Why not?  I have loved California every time I have visited.  The weather is great and it's beautiful - even the weeds here are pretty!  I am about an hour away from San Francisco (and the beach), about 1 1/2 hours away from the mountains in Lake Tahoe, and about an hour from Napa Valley.  How many times have I heard people say they wish they had done something adventurous when they were young?  I'm young and single and if I am ever going to do something like this, now is the time.

So there you have it.  That is the whirlwind that brought me here to Sacramento, California.  It has been chaotic and crazy, but it has also been a time full of much thought and intentionality.  Now it's time to make the most of it.
Good question! I don't have a great answer to that FAQ, but I do have a general idea what my future will (hopefully!) look like. So, for all of you who are wondering...

My plan is to become a certified hospital chaplain. To do this, I had to complete my Master of Divinity, which I did in December 2010. It's official now - I received my diploma in the mail yesterday! Woo hoo! In addition, I have to participate in at least one year long residency at a hospital in their Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program.

When I realized that my future rent will be 2-4 times as expensive as it has been in Abilene (not to mention bills!), I decided it would be best to move in with my parents for a few months to save some money. So on January 1, 2011 I stuffed my trusty Honda Civic to the gills with my last load of belongings and made the trek to my new home in St. Louis.

I have been laboring (too?) long and hard over my application and plan to send it off this Monday in hopes that someone, anyone, will ask me to join their residency cohort. I plan to send it to 3 hospitals in California (LA, San Francisco, and Sacramento), 3 in New York City, 2 in St. Louis, and 1 in Chicago and perhaps a couple more just in case.

Mostly I am thrilled and excited for a new chapter of my life to begin. But to be honest, this time of limbo has been fairly stressful and I often find myself paralyzed by the fear that it won't work out and no one will hire me. Now let me be clear - the rational side of me doesn't think that will actually happen, but fears are not always rational are they? I am hoping that the moment I send off my application will be a moment of relief. I am pretty sure my fears of rejection have made me place far too much importance on my application which has led me to feel it needs to be absolutely flawless which has increased my stress which has intensified my fears of rejection which...  Yes, I know it's a crazy cycle.  After I press "send" on my emails and drop my application packets in the mailbox (I hope to find one that will make a terrific thud), there will be nothing else I can do but wait.  Here's hoping that helps ease the burden to some degree.

So in very general terms, that is "what's next" in my life.

I have also had several people ask about CPE and the residency and even about hospital chaplaincy in general. Looks like I have my next few blog topics lined up already...
I have compiled a list of things to do before I leave Abilene.  I have the next 34-40 days to complete all the things on this list and would LOVE for you to join me in crossing something(s) off the list!  (Also, I am still accepting suggestions!)  So...if something catches your fancy...or if you have never done one of the activities on the list before...leave a comment, message, or write on my wall and we will make a plan!

  • Go to the Zoo and feed the giraffes!
  • Frontier Texas
  • Feed the ducks/geese (if they haven't all flown away)
  • movie @ the Paramount
  • Eat at The Beehive
  • Eat at Lola's & Deutschlander's Catfish Co. in Buffalo Gap
  • The Water Spout (with Leslie?)
  • Eat sushi takeout from Bonsai at the Mahfood's house
  • Go to Cypress Street Station with friends
  • Game Night with friends
  • Get coffee with various friends
    • Rachel Brown
    • Kelsey Evans
  • Go for a walk around ACU's campus
  • Go to Mary's Palataria
  • Eat at Harold's
  • Eat at The Pizza House in Clyde
I have a weakness for pop music and music awards shows.  
Here are my relatively short responses to the many performances.
  • Rihanna:  The dramatic nose dive into the floor was the best executed part of her performance.  I love her music; it is quite catchy.  She just hasn't quite perfected singing live.
  • Enrique Iglesias: Did anyone else see when the words his lips formed didn't match the words my ears heard?  That laugh was the only redeeming part of this performance.  Well, that and his good looks.
  • Blackeyed Peas: Congratulations to the guy with the mohawk - he finally got a (brief) moment to shine.  But...the guy with the long hair didn't sing at all, did he?  (Notice I don't know either of their names...but I know Fergie and Will.I.Am)
  • P. Diddy's new trio:  The rapping seemed forced...but those ladies can sing!
  • Miley Cyrus - Boring.  Neither a train wreck or anything special.
  • Kid Rock: Sappy ballad with cheesy background pictures.  Strangely, he was one of the only ones (the only one?) who had a pitch perfect performance
  • Katy Perry:  Vastly overrated.  Am I the only one who notices she can neither sing or dance?
  • Justin Bieber:  Hello, puberty!  Yeah, I'm pretty sure his voice cracked multiple times.  What was up with the crazy necklaces? Also, I think I saw him lip-singing a little bit at the end. (A word on his acceptance speech: a town of 30,000 is not the smallest town in the world.  I'm just sayin'.)  (A word on his second acceptance speech: With all due respect (to Michael Jackson, not you Justin!), I am pretty sure you might be overestimating Michael Jackson's influence just a teeny tiny bit.)
  • Bon Jovi: Please stick to singing your old songs - then we are all singing loud enough to drown you out.  It's nothing personal, you're just getting old.  Also, when singing old songs, ending it a different way than usual will result in an awkward moment where the crowd almost drowns you out with the original ending.
  • Pink: Thank you for having a sense of humor...and butchering the ending of your song...all while pregnant.
  • Ne-Yo: You are so very smooth...but I was a little confused by the Broadway musical feel.  That said, he can both sing and dance.
  • Taylor Swift: First, the straight hair and bangs makes you look much older...and a good bit like Hilary Duff.  Second, this was a better performance than usual, but you still aren't very good at singing live.  Third, never ever ever sample (and ruin) a song like "Apologize" again.  Ever.
  • Christina Aguilera: You have an amazing voice and I love you for it.  That is all.
  • (Aside: Rascal Flatts - you are starting to look ooold.)
  • Usher: You are quite the dancer.  Sadly, you can't sing perfectly while dancing.  I appreciate your willingness to change the melody or not sing at all to make it easier on your audience's ears.
  • (Aside: MUSE WON!!!  I love them dearly.)
  • Train:  What possessed you to wear those skin tight glitter pants?  Also, please work on your stage presence - it is just...weird.
  • (Aside: Michael Buble, did you really call your fiance "Kid"?  Yuck.)
  • Ke$ha:  You are strange.  I hate that your music is catchy because every fiber in my being wants to hate it.  Your scantily clad blond mullet men will surely hunt me down in my nightmares.  Creepy.
  • Santana:  You still got it.  Gavin Rossdale:  Not so much.
  • NKOTB & BSB:  Not the best vocal performance, but a fun walk down memory lane.
Okay, I have such a wide variety of interests...truth be told, I love dancing (although only at home in front of my dog!) and I have enjoyed watching So You Think You Can Dance in the last year or two.  I've especially enjoyed this season...there are few people that I don't really enjoy watching.  But last night's show was closed by one of the most fun-to-watch performances I've seen on the show - a hip hop routine by Alex Wong (accompanied by the show's All-Star Twitch).  The thing is, Alex Wong is trained in ballet...not hip hop.  Last week fellow competitor Billy Bell also did hip hop and showed us that, really, not everyone can do it!  It was obvious he was not cut out for it.   This week, however, Alex Wong put on an exhilarating performance that seemed quite natural, actually.  Between this performance and last week's (which the judges labeled the best performance on the show in all 7 seasons), Alex has quickly become one of my favorites this season.

You should take the time to watch this performance.  Of course you might not like the music...but if you can't recognize the awesomeness of this routine...well...our friendship might be in question.  :)