A Mothers Delayed Grief

Eighty four years old and laid up in ICU, yet she welcomed me into her room.  Her story came slowly at first, but tumbled out with tears after her first faltering attempts.  She gave birth to twin daughters.  When her daughters turned thirty nine years of age, one of the pair died after a brain hemorrhage.  Their mother’s grief was palatable, even after ten years, so I sat silently.

There are some things that require no response, but simply quiet reverence with the story teller.  Finally, I said, “Her death still hurts after all these years.”

“Yes.”  The tears fell again as we sat quietly, remembering her sorrow.

“You are the first person to agree with me,” she whispered.

I believe she meant that I was the first not to try to fix her, or talk her out of her pain.  Or even worse, say something like, “God needed another angel in heaven.”  These responses are a sure sign we have grown uncomfortable with a person’s pain, and wish to escape our own discomfort.

Ten years is a long time to wait for a listening heart.  You can be one of these kind hearts.  Most of the time, all it takes, is to press your lips firmly together while waiting silently.

If you know the person, a light touch of the hand can be most comforting.

So, “be still, and know that He is God.”  He’s the Great Physician, and the Master Healer can work through a vessel that is still and calm.

David Martin





By Paul Riddle

Liberation can come in the most unexpected places. One day I was visiting Doug, a patient at Memorial Hermann Hospital, who told me the story of his liberation from a burden he had carried throughout his formative years and into adulthood. Doug suffered from a neurological condition that affected his speech and made him seem “slow,” even though he was actually highly intelligent. This condition also made it difficult for Doug to wake in the morning. (He did just fine later in the day.) Doug’s apparent “slowness” and his difficulty in getting up in the morning drove his father, an Army colonel, to distraction. The Colonel berated Doug constantly, calling him slothful and worse. Other people also gave Doug a hard time because of his condition. On one occasion, an elder of Doug’s church used him as an example, telling a group of young people, in Doug’s presence, “Don’t be lazy like Doug.”


The impact of this abuse on Doug’s self-esteem, to say nothing of his attitude toward the church, is easy to imagine. Then one day, when he was in his mid-twenties, he went to a doctor who was able to properly diagnose his condition. When I asked Doug how he felt when he received his diagnosis, his face lit up. Smiling broadly, he declared, “I felt like I’d been set free! I’d known all along that I wasn’t dumb or lazy, and this doctor confirmed it. It was the happiest day of my life!”


Doug went on to become a biochemist, and to have a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry. When I met him, he was a happy man, content with himself, happily married, and with children of his own. For him, the diagnosis of his condition, which would have devastated many people, was liberating. It freed him from labels he knew didn’t fit him, and it started him on the road to reclaiming his battered self-esteem. Through treatment and education, he learned to manage his condition, and he grew in confidence over the years. He overcame many obstacles, and in time became a positive role model for his children and for his colleagues and friends.


Doug’s story reminds me of God’s infinite capacity to bring redemption out of ruin, to make a new beginning in a story that would seem to have reached an impasse. May each of us have eyes to see and ears to hear God’s word of liberation, wherever it may be uttered.



[Names and certain details have been changed to protect patient privacy and confidentiality.]

By Paul Riddle





A Long Road


By Paul Riddle


The call came late one weekday afternoon. On the other end of the line was a colleague, a staff chaplain in one of the hospitals in the Texas Medical Center. A patient had just been admitted for a major organ transplant, a tricky, high-risk procedure, and wanted a Church of Christ chaplain to come pray with him. Twenty minutes later I walked onto the Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU) and was met by my colleague, who introduced me to the patient, Marvin, and his wife, Jackie. (Names and certain details have been changed to protect patient privacy and confidentiality.)


Marvin, who was in his mid-50’s, had been sick for a long time, and this transplant was his last chance for survival. He and Jackie had temporarily relocated to Houston from another state and were staying in an apartment near the Medical Center while he waited for his transplant – an involuntary exile experienced by many patients who travel to Houston for treatment of serious medical conditions. I had never met them before.


My colleague introduced me to Marvin and Jackie, then left the room, closing the door gently behind her. Marvin told me about his illness, the many limitations it had increasingly imposed on him, and his hopes that this transplant would, as he put it, “give me my life back.” Jackie chimed in from time to time, adding a detail or affirming something Marvin had said. They had been married over thirty years, and their love for one another was evident in their body language, their tone of voice when speaking with one another, and in the loving looks they exchanged. Both were anxious, fully aware of the risks, yet ready for the transplant to take place. They talked, I listened, we prayed, they talked some more, I listened some more, and then I left, promising to stop by the next day, after the surgery had taken place.


When I stopped by the next day, Marvin was intubated and heavily sedated, normal for patients who had just had his type of surgery. Jackie was there, sitting quietly by his side. We talked for a few moments. The surgery had gone well, but the doctors had made it clear that Marvin’s recovery would be a long road. Jackie and I prayed together over Marvin, and I left.


The doctors’ prediction that Marvin’s road would be long was accurate. He remained in SICU for several weeks, receiving around-the-clock intensive care. Jackie spend a good bit of each day by his side. I visited them frequently. Sometimes Marvin was awake, many times he was sleeping. When he was awake, he was always glad to see me and always reached out for my hand. Many prayers were said in that room during Marvin’s stay.


At last the day came for Marvin to be discharged. Though he had made much progress, he still faced a long road. Arrangements had been made to transfer him to a rehabilitation center near his home. He and Jackie were both looking forward to being reunited with the family and friends from whom they had been separated for so long. I visited Marvin and Jackie one last time, we shared one final prayer together, and as I stood up to leave, Marvin took my hand. “You have no idea how much your visits have meant to us,” he said. “God bless you.” “Thank you. You all have touched my life as well. God be with you,” I replied, a tear coursing down my cheek.


Marvin’s journey of healing continues, now in a place closer to his home, closer to the company of those closest to him. I feel honored to have shared a part of his and Jackie’s journey during their sojourn in Houston. A part of him and Jackie remains with me, and I am thankful.


log road.jpg

Prayer for the Sick


May the Almighty God—

who, from nothing but the power of his Word,
brought into being all that exists;

who, by merely inbreathing his Spirit/breath,
gives and sustains both mortal and immortal life;

who, through Mary’s womb became one of us and
one with us in the person of Jesus Christ;

who entered into the realm of death,
but not under the power of death;

who was raised out from death on the third day,
defeated the devil and burst the bonds of death;

who now lives forever in the power of an indestructible life
who on the last day will make us forever like himself
in the immortality of the resurrection body—

mercifully smile on our [brother/sister, NAME].

Pour your oil of anointing and of healing,
And your abundant  grace on [NAME],
And so doing, may the everlasting God
show his kindness,
demonstrate his power,
manifest his kingdom,
display his goodness,
give occasion for giving thanks,
and bring praise to himself.

Through Jesus Christ.

by Edward Fudge


Submitted by David Martin





Lifeline’s Flagship Training Workshop


By Paul Riddle


“Ministry in Times of Illness and Loss” is a two-part training course for spiritual caregivers. Intended primarily to train Lifeline Chaplaincy’s pastoral care volunteers, the course is open to all persons who have an interest in developing spiritual care skills. Men and women involved in ministry, church leadership, and helping professions such as medicine, nursing, counseling, and social work have found this training to be highly valuable in both their professional practice and their personal lives.


Part 1 (formerly called “Creating a Healing Community”), is a 15-hour intensive workshop designed to equip beginning pastoral caregivers with basic skills and concepts that will enable them to provide competent spiritual support to patients and families dealing with serious illness and loss. Registration fee: $ 50.00, payable at the door.


Topics include:


  • Loss and Crisis
  • From Casual Visit to Spiritual Encounter
  • Emotions 101
  • Perceptions and the Interpersonal Gap
  • Basic Listening Strategies and Communication Skills
  • Story Listening
  • “Why Me?”
  • Grief and Grieving
  • Self-care for the Pastoral Caregiver
  • Effective Hospital Ministry


Part 2 (formerly called “Advanced Listening Skills) is a 7-hour seminar designed to equip experienced pastoral caregivers with advanced skills and concepts, which will enable them to provide an enhanced level of spiritual support to those in their care. Lifeline volunteers are required to complete Part 2 within one year of completing Part 1, and participants who are not Lifeline volunteers are encouraged to do the same. There is no registration fee for Part 2.


Topics include:


  • Life Commandments
  • Listening For and Responding to Spiritual Injury and Distress
  • Story Listening in Pastoral Conversation
  • Personal Theology of Suffering and Loss


For dates and locations of upcoming Part 1 and Part 2 workshops, and to register, please check the Training Calendar at http://www.lifelinechaplaincy.org/calendar.htm.




The Giveness of Things

The Giveness of Things (A compilation title of essays by Marilynne Robinson, 2015)

My new favorite author points out the mysteries of life and meaning in the above mentioned book.  Chief among her points is the yawning mystery of the universe.  The more we peer into the void, the more strange the creation appears, and if the creation is thus, how mysterious must be the Creator?

Job 38:4 has that Creator asking Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”  Job’s eventual response is to lay his hand over his mouth in a rousing renewal of humility, sadly lacking in the majority of the book named, ironically, after Job himself.

Caregivers could borrow some of Job’s humility as they tend to the sick.  Loudly asked by many, “Why me,” in the throes of some illness, there is little comfort to be had by cliched bromides.  Nor can the sick answer satisfactorily.  We all face the grim reaper, and if by good fortune, it comes swiftly in the night at a ripe old age.

But the hospital room reveals no good luck, if there is such a thing.  If there is not, then all is according to some plan, according to many of my patients.  I am not immune to such pondering.  It is human at its most basic to search for meaning in suffering.

My fall back position is to walk out of my house in the evening and gaze at the majesty of a star lit sky, wondering at its beauty and complexity.  With faith, (another gift I cannot fathom), I trust that Power which created it all, and worship what I cannot understand.

Perhaps it is best to follow Job’s example, and clasp a hand over our mouths in silence.

Then Job replied to the Lord, “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”  Job 42:, 1,2.


By David Martin



person staring and looking into starry sky.jpg

A Diversity of Gifts

A Diversity of Gifts

By Paul Riddle


Some time ago I had an uplifting phone conversation with one of our volunteers who had just completed her first round of hospital visits after being on leave for awhile due to illness. She said her rounds had gone well and that she’d had several in-depth conversations with patients and family members. The energy and enthusiasm in her voice reinforced her report that it had been a good day. I had visited several of the same patients earlier in the week, and we compared notes.


As the volunteer talked, I felt a sense of joy for her that her medical issues were behind her and that she was well enough to resume visiting. I also felt a sense of camaraderie with her – the kind of fellowship one feels teammates or long-time work associates with whom one has built up a lot of trust. It was good to have her back – good for the patients, good for her, and good for me.


These thoughts led me to reflect on our model of ministry here at Lifeline — a model in which each of our patients in the hospitals we serve is visited by me and by several volunteers over the course of the week. This model provides some structure, but more importantly it takes advantage of the fact that God has equipped each of our visitors with a unique set of gifts – a unique expression of the Holy Spirit. As a result, a diversity and multiplicity of gifts are brought to bear in ministering to each patient and family member. The result is a multiplication of blessings and better care.

It is a pleasure to be associated with people in whom the Spirit of God is so clearly at work.