Saying Goodbye


By Paul Riddle


Some time ago I ministered to a Vietnamese-American man in his mid-40’s who was dying of cancer. I’ll call him Binh, though that’s not his real name. As Binh’s illness progressed, he lapsed into a coma, and my ministry focus turned to his wife, Anh (also not her real name), who was constantly at his side. One afternoon during my visitation rounds I walked onto the intensive care unit where Binh had been for nearly a month. The nurse told me Anh wanted to see me. When I entered the room, Anh, their two teen-aged children, and several other family members were present.

Anh welcomed me, introduced me to the group, and brought me up to date on the situation. She and the rest of the family had come to terms with the reality that Binh was not going to get any better and that maintaining him on life support was futile. Anh had decided the time had come to withdraw mechanical life support. All of the family were in agreement, and they had gathered for a final meeting with doctors and nursing staff, and to be present when life support was withdrawn and the patient died.

Binh died within minutes after mechanical support was withdrawn. When he breathed his last, Anh, who despite her exhaustion had maintained her composure up to this point, collapsed in a heap, sobbing and wailing. Family members helped her onto the couch, and then into a wheelchair. We all withdrew to a private family room while the nursing staff cleaned up the body and prepared it for a final viewing – a process that took the better part of an hour.

I spent that hour with the family, and was amazed and humbled at the healthy support they gave one another as they adjusted to the reality of Binh’s death. The first few minutes, everyone was in shock, and there was little conversation, just weeping and hugging. Slowly, the tears dried, and people began to talk. Most of the conversation was in Vietnamese, so mainly what I observed was body language. What struck me was how over that hour the family seemed to come back to life after having been cut down by their loved one’s death.

The progression was very clear: shock, weeping, supportive conversation, discussion of details (funeral arrangements, etc.), reminiscing about the deceased, and finally more relaxed conversation and laughter. Anh, who at the beginning of the hour was curled up in the wheelchair almost in a fetal position, gradually unwound, assumed a normal sitting posture, listened with increasing attention to the conversation, began to participate in the conversation, and, by the end of the hour, was able to actually to laugh at an amusing remark made by a family member.

At long last the body was ready. We returned to the room, Anh now walking under her own power. She caressed her husband’s face and kissed it tenderly, an expression of peace on her face. At her request, I offered a prayer, commending Binh to God’s eternal care.



By Paul Riddle

Lifeline Chaplaincy provides spiritual support to patients and their families through the combined efforts of professional chaplains and trained volunteers. One of the advantages of this team approach is that patients benefit from the ministry of several people rather than just one or two. Since God’s Spirit operates differently in each of us, in accordance with the unique set of gifts God has given us, this approach provides multiple opportunities for God to work. The following vignette serves as an example of how this is lived out at Lifeline. The names of patients and family members have been changed, along with some details, to protect their privacy.

One afternoon I received a call to visit a patient at St. Luke’s Hospital. The patient, whom we’ll call Bob, was dying. He had been in and out of the hospital for two or three years with heart problems. He had undergone several surgeries, including a procedure a couple of days prior to this visit. Despite the best efforts of the surgeons and other medical staff, his heart was failing, his vital systems were shutting down, and death was imminent.

As I entered the room Bob was unconscious, sedated and breathing through an oxygen mask that covered his nose and mouth. His wife, Margaret and his daughter, Terri, were at his side – as they had been almost nonstop for several days. We embraced, and they asked me to offer a prayer commending Bob to God. After the prayer we stood quietly for a few moments, Margaret and Terri both gently stroking Bob’s forehead. Margaret said that a Lifeline volunteer, had visited them the day before. She asked me to tell the volunteer how much the visit had meant to her. Terri mentioned another volunteer who had visited them faithfully during previous hospitalizations over the years.

Bob died later that night. Margaret and Terri were with him, along with several other family members. He died well – at peace with God and in the embrace of a loving family. I am convinced that God prepared Bob and his family for his death, and that among the instruments God used to prepare them were the people from Lifeline who had visited them over the years, up to and including that last day.

The God of New Beginnings

When I pray, I usually begin with the words “Gracious God.” These words provide a clue to how I relate to God. Grace lies at the core of the character of the God I worship and serve.

Grace comes from the Greek word charis, which means favor or gift. In other words, God is a giver of gifts. In the Creation narratives, God gives the gift of order to a chaotic realm. Then God gives the gift of life in all its variety and abundance. Finally, God creates Man and Woman and gives them one another as companions – as well as authority over and responsibility for the earth. God also gives Man and Woman the ability to make choices – an ability God never withdraws, even when they choose to disobey God.

When Man and Woman choose to disobey God, there are consequences. The world is harsher. Life is harder. Yet even as God imposes consequences, God gives Man and Woman a gift: Proper clothes to survive (and even thrive) in the world outside Eden.

Time and again, God gives humankind the gift of new beginnings: The call of Abraham; the Exodus; reconstruction after the Exile; the birth of Jesus; people made whole through his ministry of healing; lives transformed through his ministry of teaching and his personal example; Lazarus raised from the dead; the Passion / Resurrection; the Ascension and Jesus’ promise to return; the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost and the kindling of a flame that has yet to be extinguished.

One of my favorite songs is “The Steadfast Love of the Lord.” It includes these words: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases / His mercies never come to an end / They are new every morning / Great is thy faithfulness / The Lord is my portion, O my soul! / Therefore I will hope in him. Working from memory I have trouble remembering whether that last line should be “hope in him” or “trust in him.” No matter. Both words ring true. Steadfast love and faithfulness also lie at the core of the character of the God I worship and serve, and they form the basis for my trust in God and my generally hopeful outlook on life.

The themes of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, and the hope those elements of God’s character evoke, run through many of my favorite biblical stories: the Prodigal Son; the Woman at the Well; the Woman Caught in Adultery; Peter’s denial and subsequent restoration; Thomas; Paul’s persecution of the church, conversion, and subsequent ministry.

How do these elements of God’s character inform my life and ministry? I believe they find expression in several convictions that guide my way of being in the world and my way of relating to people. First, I try to respond to the grace God has extended me by extending grace to others. Second, I believe God provides what is needed. A patient’s mother, who had been struggling with the fear that she might not be present when her daughter dies, said to me: “I realized something the other day. When my daughter dies, she will not be alone – even if no one is in the room.” This is a statement of faith in God’s provision. Third, I believe God’s business (at least as far as we humans are concerned) is redemption. Near the end of Revelation the voice from heaven declares, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5). These three convictions are grounded in a fourth: God loves me regardless of my present circumstances, regardless of my choices, and regardless of my present state of mind. Because I trust in God’s steadfast love, I can have hope even when there seems to be no hope. Finally, I rely on God’s grace to sustain me when I fail to live up to the convictions I profess.

A Blessing Prayer

What is a blessing

but a rain of grace

falling generously

upon those who are in need;

And who among us is without need?
May this day be a pathway strewn with blessings.

May your work this day be your love made visible.

May you breathe upon the wounds of those you live and work with.

May your breath be the breath of God.

May your own wounds feel the breath of God.

May you honor the flame of love that burns inside you.

May your voice this day be a voice of encouragement.

May your life be an answer to someone’s prayer.

May you own a grateful heart.

May you have enough joy to give you hope,

enough pain to make you wise.

May there be no room in your heart for hatred.

May you be free from violent thoughts.

When you look into the window of your soul

may you see the face of God.

May the lamp of your life shine kindly upon all who cross your path.

May you be a good memory in someone’s life today.

Excerpted from Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully through the Hours of the Day by Macrina Wiederkehr

Submitted by Tom Nuckels

What’s for Supper?

Kevin Thompson is a banker and quoted his wealthiest client about raising kids,  “Frequency of family dinners is the number one predictor of SAT scores.”  I say family meals without the TV on contributes greatly to one’s physical, mental, and spiritual health this includes empty “nesters.”  I commend to you Kevin’s article “What’s for Supper,” Sept. 17, 2015 which appeared in the Boerne, TX newspaper. 
Submitted by Jesse Stroup

The Master’s Touch

The Master’s Touch

By Paul Riddle

Victor’s room looks out on a small courtyard. From his bed, he can see other buildings and a sliver of sky – just enough to be able to tell whether it’s clear or cloudy, rainy or fair. This limited view is as much as he has seen of the outside world since he was admitted to the hospital nearly two months ago for a surgical operation that was supposed to be routine but instead was followed by serious complications.

The first time I visited Victor, at the request of a close friend of his, he was looking longingly through the window, trying to take in as much of the scene as he could. It was a raw day, and a cold rain pelted the windowpane. Victor had a trach tube in his throat and could not talk, so he communicated nonverbally through facial expressions, a few mouthed words, and by writing on a pad he kept constantly within reach. During our first visit, he was somewhat reserved, as though he were feeling me out. Was I there because it was my job, or did I actually care? Would I come back? Was I worthy of trust? The second time I came by, he recognized me immediately and welcomed me. A bit of the initial reserve was still there, but the atmosphere of the visit was warmer.

A few days later, I visited Victor a third time, and a breakthrough occurred. He let me into his life. I noticed a sketch book on a table near his bed. I asked him about it, and he gestured for me to hand it to him. He opened the sketch book and began to thumb through it, revealing page after page of excellent pencil sketches, many of them portraits. I asked him about the people he had drawn, and he wrote out his answers, telling me a bit about each one – who they were, what his relationship was to them, and why he had drawn them. Through his sketches, I came to know Victor in a way I could not have done otherwise. His portraits, and his comments about the people he had drawn, revealed a sensitive, talented, caring soul. I value the gift he gave me in opening this special door into his world and inviting me in.

Although Victor can only see a little of the world outside his window, he is able to see a much bigger, wider world in his mind’s eye. With a skilled hand, he draws pictures of those he loves.   Through his art he honors the people he draws, and he reflects the work of the Great Artist on his heart.

Paradox Poem


In sadness, joy.

In pain, relief.

From horror

emerges delight.

In loneliness,

Find solitude.

Within busyness

Resides peace.

Out of rage

Springs forgiveness.

Revenge bows

Before humility.

Injustice swirls,

So justice might abound.


Cries out for peace.


Brings compassion.


Allows us to see the whole.

Life precedes death


Death gives

Way to life.

David Martin

August 12, 2015