One Holy Night

Twas the night of Christmas
And all through the loft,
The mice fell silent,
Not even a cough.

For here in their barn,
A little baby lay,
Where cows chewed their stubble
And fleas had their way.

A young mother shivered
Worn out by her labor,
But God looked down
With pride and sweet favor.

This child she had borne
Was destined for death.
A terrible lance
Would draw his last breath.

Yet the power of heaven
Would triumph at last
Jesus was raised and
His salvation held fast.

So in this Christmas Season
If ill you may be,
Look again at this story
And joyful you’ll be.

For death is defeated
And suffering will pass.
Jesus is here
His glory will last.

David Martin

Ice Storm at Grandad’s House

An overcast sky makes the leafless shrubs even more drear it seems.  Winter has settled into North Texas and that is a good thing.  Scripture reminds us that a seed must fall to the ground and die, if it is to be renewed come spring.  These winter days remind me of an ice storm that shut down the electric power in both my home and the home of my cousins across the pasture.  My Granddad had gas heat and so the families converged for several days while eight children gleefully rejoiced in the forced reunion.  I’m sure our parents were not as thrilled, but they made good use of their time cooking on the gas stove in the kitchen.  Smells of cornbread and bacon cooking in an iron skillet can’t be beat.  The cows were milked twice a day as the chores didn’t stop on the farm where we all lived.  Granddad had an attic above a flight of narrow steep stairs.  Tucked away in the closets and “cubby” holes were old clothes and hats from days gone by.  Once we found some loose change in an old purse.  To the young mind, it felt like pirates treasure!  Our training in right and wrong compelled us to report this to Granddad, and to our delight, he said, “Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers!”  Now that was a glorious day.  Tales were told of the depression years from the adults.  Granddad could spin a yarn, and he would preach an old timer’s sermon, which we could scarcely understand, as he put it in a brogue so thick you could practically ladle it with a spoon.  The fun was in his telling, however, and how he would grin with delight as the grandchildren would laugh at his antics.

Those days are gone, fallen to the ground as leaves fall from a tree.  Grandchildren have been born into our brood, and miles make reunions rare.  A new generation chats back and forth on social media proclaiming how they will never have what the older generation have now.  I seriously doubt this as they hold in their hands computers more complex than the one that put men on the moon.  The future is theirs and us “old” folks do what our parents did when we tried the latest gizmo…shake our heads in wonder at what spring may hold.  It is part and parcel of the great dance of life, winter and spring, summer and fall.

May your Christmas bring you new memories that you will cherish for years to come.

And just think, spring is right around the corner!

Drink Deeply

Drink Deeply
Quotable from James Hollis, Phd.  Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life:  How to Finally, Really Grow Up.
“Feeling good is  a poor measure of life, but living meaningfully is a good one…larger life is found in the savannahs of suffering.  Only in this way do we grow, and do we find, amid suffering and defeat, the possibility of meaning so rich we can scarcely bear it.”
In a hospital room, a pastor told me that he was trying to figure out why he was hurting so much.  He didn’t know what God wanted him to learn.  I felt for him, but of course, there were no easy answers to his multiple health issues.  I listened mostly.  In the end, he told me what a blessing it was to to share with someone who understood, a fellow pastor.
I believe he meant that I allowed him to voice his doubts.  He was a preacher.   A lot of his flock looked to him for answers, and he admitted having few  friends to whom he could talk.  So I sat with him for some length and encouraged him to speak of life, death’s slow march, and his savannah of suffering.
I trust God for this pastor’s journey toward meaning…toward richness, and at last, peace.
It’s a journey we all travel.
David Martin

Early Solitude

Quiet of morn

Flutter of wings

Gentle breeze upon the skin

Purring of pet

Stirring of trees

Clouds hurrying towards the right

Voice of neighbors

Across the way

A cul-de-sac springing to life

God of heaven

Infuse my day

And lead my thoughts aright.

To lift travelers

Shouldering their load

While bringing Christ to light.



By Paul Riddle

A blog posting entitled “We Don’t Know Death: 7 Assumptions We Make About Dying,” by Lizzie Miles, a hospice social worker in Ohio (Pallimed: A Hospice & Palliative Medicine Blog, Aug 15, 2014), recently came to my attention.

Miles lists seven assumptions about dying that families, love ones, and even professionals who work with the dying often make, and how these assumptions can get in the way of good patient care. Her post is a worthwhile read, and she provides what I believe to be a healthy corrective to some notions about the dying, and about the dying process, that are true in some cases, but not in all cases. If you would like to read her post, you can find it at

This article got me to thinking not only about my own assumptions about dying, but also about assumptions in general. Assumptions are ideas accepted as self-evidently true – taken for granted without proof. We make them all the time, about all sorts of things. For the most part, we come by them honestly – based on experience, common sense, testimony from people we consider credible. Assumptions are mental short cuts, and, like short cuts in navigation, they have their limits. Sometimes short cuts help us get to our destination faster, but sometimes they can throw us off course.

I’m grateful to Lizzie Miles for reminding me that, in spiritual care encounters (and elsewhere in life as well), I need to hold my assumptions lightly. When I’m with a patient or family member, or some other person in distress, I’m with a unique individual in a unique situation. No matter how much experience I have, I can’t assume that I know what this person feels or needs, and I can’t walk into a room with a pre-planned response in mind. I can only learn about this person’s feelings and needs, and respond appropriately, by coming alongside the person in his or her uniqueness.

Jesus had a gift for dealing with people in their uniqueness. For example, in his encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, he engaged her not as a member of the Samaritan race, nor as a member of the female gender, nor as a member of the class of persons with complex marital histories, but as an a unique person – as herself. And that made all the difference.

May God grant each of us eyes to see others as they are, not as we imagine them to be, and ears to hear truly their hopes and fears, joys and concerns, as we listen to the stories they share with us.



By Paul Riddle

One recent Tuesday afternoon, my wife, Rebekah, came home sick to her stomach with what she thought was food poisoning. Several hours of worsening symptoms, a phone consultation with our family doctor, and two trips to the emergency room later, the root problem (not food poisoning) was identified, and she was admitted to the hospital for emergency surgery. Surgery brought almost immediate relief, and she began a healing process that would take a couple of weeks.

My work as a hospital chaplain takes me into patient rooms every day, but in this episode I found myself in an unfamiliar role – that of family caregiver to a hospital patient. I came away from this experience with a deeper appreciation for what patients and their loved ones go through when their lives are upended by a sudden, unexpected illness.

Here are a few lessons I learned as a family caregiver, in no particular order:

  1. Before leaving the house to go to the emergency room, make sure you have the following:
  • Patient’s photo ID.
  • Patient’s insurance and prescription drug cards
  • A list of all medications the patient is taking, or the medications themselves.
  • Cell phone and charger
  • Phone numbers of patient’s primary physician, key family members, and close friends you may need to communicate with
  • A sweater or other warm clothing (Hospitals are often very cold!)
  • Reading material (Be prepared for long periods of waiting.)
  1. Know who is authorized to make medical decisions on behalf of the patient if the patient is unable to do so. In most cases this will be the patient’s next of kin (spouse, etc.). In other cases the patient may have designated a surrogate to make such decisions. If you are not the patient’s authorized surrogate, ensure that this person is informed that the patient is headed to the ER.
  1. Establish a good working relationship with the nurses, doctors, and other staff members attending to the patient. Know their names.
  1. Advocate for the patient. Pay close attention to everything that is said and done. Ask questions. Take notes if you need to. If something seems to be amiss, bring it to the attention of the patient’s nurse or other staff.
  2. Attend to your basic physical needs, especially warmth and hydration. The temperature in hospitals is often much cooler than at home, and the air is often much dryer, so it’s easy to get chilled and dehydrated. Have a sweater handy, and drink plenty of water.
  1. Be mindful of your emotional needs. In the midst of the crisis, you are likely to be keyed up, “on alert.” Once the situation is resolved or stabilized, you may find yourself needing extra rest. Allow yourself time and space to “decompress.”

When Rebekah and I woke up that Tuesday morning, neither of us could have known what that day would bring. We are thankful for the care she received from many people along the way, and for all the ways God was with us through this crisis. I hope these “lessons learned” will be of help to you, should you one day have to accompany a loved one to the hospital on short notice.

The Importance of our Compassionate Touch Program

Leo F. Buscaglia wrote: “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”


STORY 1: Methodist Hospital Social Services

I would like ask for help for my patient. He is a 49 year old widowed male admitted to The Methodist Hospital with cancer. He lives in San Diego, California. He was working as an over the road truck driver when he became ill in the Houston area and was subsequently admitted. The man he was driving with left the area with the truck and he found out afterwards that his job terminated him due to his medical condition and inability to drive safely. He is planning on being discharged from the hospital tomorrow and wants to return immediately to his home in California. He has no family available to assist him so he called a friend to ask for a small amount of cash towards his bus ticket to get back home. He explains that his wife and 5 year old daughter were struck and killed by a drunk driver last Thanksgiving Day. He has since suffered from depression for which he sought counseling services through a post-traumatic stress group at the VA and a bereavement group. He has a few friends where he lives but relies mainly on himself. He expects to apply for social security disability soon. He says when he becomes too ill to care for himself, he will have to go into a hospice facility where he lives. He is asking for help in getting some funds to pay for the balance of his bus fare and for a small amount of food along the way. It will take him about 2 ½ days to go home via bus but he prefers this mode of transport since he can stop at hospitals along the way of he needs to. Thanks in advance for your assistance.

Story 2: Texas Children’s Hospital

A social worker writes -

A four year old child suffering from heart failure was admitted to the hospital to await a heart transplant. His hospitalization involves IV medications which will keep him here until he receives a heart and recovers. His mother has been at his bedside every day since his admission. Her husband and children lives out of town and must carry on without her while she waits here in Houston for a chance at life for her son. The family has very limited resources, so they cannot visit often. However, they would like to come to celebrate a special occasion with the child and mother. We are requesting your assistance with travel expense to help this family come together. This will help to encourage the mother as she copes with increasing difficulty of the separation.         –TMC Social Services Department                  


At Parkland Health & Hospital System, we’re known for having one of the most critical and destitute patient populations in the Dallas area, Texas and the nation. We are encouraged by your willingness to help us in our efforts. The parking permits that the Compassionate Touch program has recently provided are already serving Parkland patients and families. Now, a family that comes to see their loved one at Parkland can use their money previously spent on parking for other critical needs.

Historically, Parkland employees have had to “pass the hat” to raise the money to help families pay for these basic non-medical costs related to caring for someone in the hospital.  With the exception of a few small funds that assist a small portion of our patient population, Compassionate Touch is the only program that helps as long as the resources are available and hospital social workers see the need for the patient.

Compassionate Touch may be able to measure the dollars spent and the number of families served, but we’re the fortunate ones at Parkland to be able to see the other immeasurable ways the patients and families benefit from their generosity. We thank you for the opportunities you’ve provided for us and our patients.

Kirk Workman, LMSW

Parkland Health & Hospital System

Social Work Manager


Acknowledgment: Texas Children’s Social Services Department

We are writing on behalf of Compassionate Touch. We are Social Workers at Texas Children’s Hospital. We utilize Compassionate Touch on a daily basis in order to help our patients and their families.

Compassionate Touch fills a vital need for our patients. The financial assistance they provide helps with expenses which families incur while their children are in the hospital or when coming to clinic appointments. These expenses include housing for out of town patients, transportation, parking and meals for a parent staying with their child in the hospital.

Compassionate Touch fills a gap for those patients who have a legitimate need and do not have any other way to get that need met. The family does not qualify for other resources, such as Medicaid’s food or housing allowance, nor do they have personal resources to cover these expenses.

Compassionate Touch and the Social Workers work hard hand-in-hand so that funds are spent wisely and the people served have true needs. Because of Compassionate Touch’s support, many parents are able to stay with their young children in the hospital without fear of how they will pay for parking or feed themselves. As Social Workers who frequently run out of community resources to help our patients and their families, Compassionate Touch is our Lifesaver.

Many Thanks to All of You,

Texas Children’s Hospital Social Workers- Texas Medical Center


Acknowledgment: Methodist Liver Transplant Team

On behalf of the Methodist Hospital Liver Transplant Team, I wish to thank you for your assistance with lodging and parking for a number of the liver transplant patients. Your timely responsiveness to the social workers’ requests and willingness to assist a number of patients is most appreciated.

Liver Transplant patients often need to stay within a short distance of the Methodist Hospital during the transplant evaluation process and after transplant and discharge. This is often financially impossible for a number of the patients who have extensive out of pocket expenses related to transplant.

Thank you.

Philip Seu, M.D.

Director, Liver Transplant Center