Yet, Will I Rejoice in the Lord


Sometimes, things just do not work out the way that we had planned. Sometimes, it seems like our best laid plans, our hopes, and dreams, just go up in smoke. You look forward to retirement, only to find yourself laid up in the hospital, struggling through chemotherapy and endless doctors’ appointments. The child you prayed for, is now dealing with high fever and an undiagnosed respiratory illness and you just wish the doctors could find a cause, and quickly. Your wife is having “minor surgery” to remove a benign mass, but during the pre-surgery blood tests, doctors discover “something suspicious.” We wonder where God is in all of this? Why doesn’t He do something? After all, we have prayed and prayed, yet nothing seems to help. I am reminded of the prophet who had like sentiments, but continued to trust when he wrote:

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights…”         —Habakkuk 3:17-19

This is one of my favorite all-time verses. Habbakuk, the prophet, had been asking God lots of questions. He asked why evil people seem to get away with everything while the good people suffer. God’s answer was basically, “they don’t, in the long run.” Habbakuk, as well as us, are limited in what we can see. God is working in the world and we can be assured that nothing goes on without His notice. We, like the prophet, can rejoice in God, even when things do not seem to be working out the way we had hoped. Today is not eternity and we must not confuse the two. If God is in control of my life and the universe, I can learn to trust Him in matters of life and health, even in the tough times. And that is all that matters.


Tom Nuckels




Addressing a Difficult Issue

Addressing a Difficult Issue

Sixteen years as a medical chaplain allows one to hear a wide range of questions.  One question, however, crops up with amazing frequency.  “Is it a sin for me to discontinue treatment?”  This heartfelt query comes at the end of kidney failure, cancer, or heart damage…you fill in the blank.  With the exception of those in the Genesis accounts, we now live longer and better than most preceding us in the pages of history.  Yet many urge loved ones and friends, “You must fight for every day, week, and month.” This kind of advice often flows from the advice giver’s need without regard for the suffering a patient may endure.

I recently asked one gentlemen, “What would have happened one hundred years ago?”  Understanding spread across his face rather quickly.  “Why, I’d be dead!”  He was right, of course.  What follows is this question:  “If it wasn’t a sin then, is it a sin now?”

What has changed?  We all know the answer.  Medical interventions such as gastronomy (feeding tubes), and respirators keep a patient breathing while brain waves have all but ceased.  I’ve seen patients kept alive for years in this nether world. It is a relatively new phenomena.

One might also ask, “Is it moral to allow machines to keep the body breathing and fed when the quality of life no longer resembles anything that human history would consider normal?”

I cannot answer for anyone.

However, here is a question I recommend while you are still in control of your mental faculties.  “What do I want in case I am brain dead/injured without hope of recovery?”

First, prayerfully consider one of the most personal decisions of your life.    Secondly, draw up a Medical Power of Attorney.  This document gives someone the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf.  And last, make your wishes known.  This is done with Advanced Directives.  You can find both of these forms at:

Keep copies in your file cabinet at home and one in the car pocket.  You certainly need to give one to your appointed Medical Power of Attorney, and any concerned family members.  If hospitalized, make sure all hospital staff get a copy of these documents, and places them on your medical chart.

By the way, chaplains and social workers can be tremendous advocates in the hospital environment.  Use them.

May God grant you guidance and peace.

David Martin


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