An Easter Heart

An Easter Heart

By Paul Riddle

Ray (not his real name) was a tall man, fifty-something, gregarious, who looked like he had taken very good care of himself. He was in the hospital receiving treatment for a minor infection. Minor, that is, to anyone who has not had a heart transplant. To a transplant patient, there is no such thing as a minor infection. Any bug is a potential threat to life and has to be treated aggressively.

As my new friend told the story of his present illness, he mentioned the heart transplant, and a tear came to his eye as he reminisced about the events of that important day – now nearly twenty years past – when he received his precious gift.

“Some people spend months on the transplant list,” Ray said, “but I was only on it a few days. I’ll never forget. It was Easter Sunday, about 7:30 in the morning, when the call came. “We have a heart,” they told me, “Come right away!” And so he did. Holiday plans immediately went on hold, bags were packed, the car loaded, and they were on their way. “It was a bright, sunny morning, a little cool, the kind of day you always wish you had more of,” Ray remembered, “And I thought to myself, ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever see another one of these days.’ So I savored it, and I thanked God for it, and I prayed for a successful transplant.”

The transplant was successful. Ray said the donor was a 23 year old man who was killed in a motorcycle accident. “I’ve never stopped being grateful for my heart, and I’ve never forgotten what that gift cost,” he said with conviction. “And to think – it happened on Easter! I got a new life on resurrection day, and a part of the man who died to give me my heart lives on in me. That was a God thing!” Ray declared.

As I left Ray’s room, I offered a silent prayer honoring the gift that had give Ray new life, and giving thanks for having met Ray. May I hold in gratitude the gifts I receive moment by moment, as Ray does the gift he carries in his chest.

Speaking the Truth in Love – Honest Conversations About End-of-Life Care

Speaking the Truth in Love – Honest Conversations About End-of-Life Care

By Paul Riddle


An honest, timely conversation between a dying person and his or her family members and caregivers about how he or she wishes to be cared for as death approaches can prevent much unnecessary suffering for the patient and anguish for the family. And yet these conversations are hard to have and easy to avoid.

What would be your priorities if you were nearing the end of life? How might you communicate those priorities to your loved ones and those caring for you? Two resources have recently come to my attention that can help you think through these questions and initiate conversation with your loved ones about this important subject ahead of the time of need.

The first resource is a PBS Frontline documentary aired on February 10 entitled Being Mortal, based on the current best-selling book by Atul Gawande. The film follows Gawande, a surgeon, on his quest to become better at talking with his patients about their care when the limits of medicine have been reached. It traces the experiences of several patients and their physicians and families as death drew near. There is plenty of food for thought that can prompt discussions with caregivers and loved ones. You can watch the documentary and view related material at

The second resource is a TED talk given by Judy MacDonald Johnston in 2013. Johnston tells the story of how she helped two of her friends – an elderly married couple – die well, and what she learned along the way. Johnston served as the couple’s trustee, worked with them to develop a plan of how they wanted to be cared for at the end of their lives and what they wanted done with their property, and carried out that plan faithfully. You can watch her TED talk at   She also developed a set of planning sheets that can be used in planning end-of-life care. These can be found at

I hope you will check out these resources, and that find them useful.


The Cleveland Clinic has rendered a significant public service by producing a series of short videos on empathy. The first installment of the series, Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care, which runs about 5 minutes, presents shots of a dozen or so patients, family members, and hospital staff going about their business in the hospital. In each shot, a phrase appears describing the person’s situation, for example, “Seeing Dad for the last time,” “Waiting for heart transplant,” “First vacation in years, starting tomorrow,” “Too shocked to comprehend the news,” etc. The video ends with a question, flashed on the screen, “If you could stand in someone else’s shoes – hear what they hear – see what they see – feel what they feel – would you treat them differently?”

Empathy – the ability to see the world through another person’s point of view, is among the most fundamental skills pastoral caregivers, whether volunteers or professionals, bring to their encounters with patients, their loved ones, and the hospital staff members who care for them. The Cleveland Clinic video illustrates empathy with power, and challenges all of us to see things as others see them, and in so doing, practice the love of Christ. To see the video, go to

By Paul Riddle



MAY 15 – AUGUST 7, 2015


By Paul Riddle

One position remains available for the 2015 summer internship in Houston.

For program description, qualifications, and information on how to apply, go to

According to Lifeline’s mission statement, we are

Dedicated to providing compassionate support to the seriously ill, their families and caregivers, and to being an educational resource for crisis ministry.

One of the ways we fulfill our teaching mission is through our summer intern program. Students come to Houston to gain first-hand experience providing pastoral care in the Texas Medical Center Hospitals supervised by Dr. Paul Riddle, Director of Spiritual Care, Houston. Likewise, we have students coming to Fort Worth, to gain first-hand experience providing pastoral care in the Fort Worth area hospitals under the supervision of Dr. David Martin, Director of Spiritual Care for Lifeline Tarrant County.

Our interns learn by doing, and then by reflecting on what they have done. Each is assigned to a particular hospital and gets to know that hospital intimately through daily visitation with patients and caregivers, and through regular contact with hospital staff members and Lifeline volunteers assigned to that hospital.

Interns spend half their day in classroom instruction and the other half visiting patients in their assigned hospitals. Classroom sessions include case studies, discussions of books and articles pertaining to spiritual care, and other activities.

Weekly reflection essays and periodic case studies drawn from interns’ visits provide opportunities for them to integrate what they learn in the classroom with their ministry practice and their personal spiritual growth. In addition to these activities, the interns spend a week at Camp Star Trails, a camp for children with cancer sponsored by M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Even though our interns are with us for only twelve weeks, they enrich the permanent Lifeline community – staff and volunteers alike – immeasurably. We trust that their experience with us will enrich them as well.

The Heart of a Child

The Heart of a Child

Paul rocks back and forth in church.  He’s tall and stocky.  His appearance does not belie his developmental deficits.  I like Paul.  He has the heart of a child.  While singing hymns, his rocking swings in pendulum to the beat of the music.  He shows no embarrassment.

A couple of weeks ago, the congregation was led in a soaring song of praise for the majesty of the Creator.  Paul fell to his knees, then put his face on the ground with palms down on the floor.  I wanted to fall down beside him in this unabashed display of affection, but self consciousness prevented me.  That was my loss. I believe my new friend,Paul, has it right.

Jesus, in Matthew 18:3, told his audience, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

I don’t suggest that I’m not going to heaven because I don’t fall on my face as my friend, Paul, did in worship.  I am suggesting that such displays are a pure example of what Jesus is suggesting to each one of us.  We are to come to God with unrestrained adoration in our prayers and actions.

And yes, we could cut loose from time and let out some hearty praise.  Of course, life is scarred by pain and death.  I wouldn’t pretend otherwise.

Yet there is much for which to be thankful.

As we approach Christmas Day, give some thought to the most precious of gifts, and like the wise men, fall down and worship.

David Martin



By Paul Riddle

“Coming alongside” is a key image we use in Lifeline’s training to describe the art of spiritual care. We come alongside persons who are hurting where they are, not to fix or make the bad go away, but rather to support, to be the embodiment of Christ’s love, and to walk with them awhile on their journey. The story below illustrates what coming alongside looks like in practice:

One day I was called to “come alongside” Serena, a young woman whose baby boy had been born with serious complications. Serena took pleasure in showing off her new baby. She spoke glowingly of her love for her baby, what a blessing he was, and how good God had been to the family through this ordeal. Despite her upbeat tone, I sensed that there was a lot of anxiety just beneath the surface. We were standing by the side of the baby’s bed in NICU, looking down at him, and I placed my hand on Serena’s shoulder as she spoke. At one point in the conversation, when she made a remark about how good God had been to her and her family, I said, “Yes, God is good, but I imagine this is still pretty scary for you, isn’t it.” Serena, who had been standing very erect and seemed somewhat tense, relaxed visibly. Tears came to her eyes and her face reddened. Nodding, she wordlessly buried her head into my chest. I held her as she cried quietly, and after a few moments she broke the embrace, reached for a tissue from a nearby box, and dabbed at her eyes. “It sure is,” she said, “Thanks for understanding. Would you please pray for my baby?” After the prayer, we visited a few more minutes, and as I was preparing to leave, she said, “I really appreciate your coming. God sent you at just the right time.”



By Paul Riddle

People who express interest in Lifeline’s pastoral care training often say things like, “I want to know what to say when I visit someone in the hospital.” Behind this question is often a desire to find a “silver bullet” that will make the patient’s situation better. Experienced spiritual caregivers have learned, however, that what patients and families need most is not “healing words” but rather a listening ear. This poem, from an anonymous author, has been in Lifeline’s training curriculum for years. It embodies as well as anything I know the spirit we seek to instill in those who come alongside persons who are hurting: LISTEN.

Author Unknown


When I ask you to listen to me,

And you start giving advice,

You have not done what I asked.

When I ask you to listen to me,

And you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way,

You are trampling on my feelings.

When I ask you to listen to me,

And you feel that you have to do

Something to solve my problems,

You have failed me, strange as that may seem.

Listen: All that I ask is that you listen,

Not talk or do – just hear me.

When you do something for me

That I need to do myself,

You contribute to my fear and feelings of inadequacy.

But when you accept as a simple fact

That I do feel what I feel, no matter how irrational,

Then I can quit trying to convince you

And go about the business

Of understanding what’s behind my feelings.

So, please listen and just hear me

And, if you want to talk,

Wait a minute for your turn – and

I’ll listen to you.