When the Bodies Start Piling Up

I wrote this post about two months ago, but I had a really difficult call yesterday, so it seems appropriate to post it now.

Volunteering for Victim Services is really rewarding, but it’s also really hard.

I’ve written about some of the difficult calls before. However, I think the real struggle is that in recent months, I’ve been on two child death calls, a death notification where a young guy was hit and killed by a train, two drug overdoses – one of which was likely a suicide, one DOA with a lot of HIV positive blood throughout the house, two strangulations, at least four calls where the victim had visible, gruesome wounds, and a death notification for a hiker from out of town.

The bodies start to weigh you down.

Add to that the fact that I work for a hospice and have to do death notifications to volunteers on a near-daily basis, and the pressure I was under studying for the LSAT… and it’s a perfect storm of sadness and stress.

I’m not gonna lie. I started feeling pretty messed up after the hiker death notification. He and his family were from out of town, and were in Tucson because they were attending a funeral. And he died. 150 yds from his vehicle. We did the notification for his wife, who was trying so hard to be kind to everyone in the room, but she was clearly in shock. She repeated the same questions over and over again. She kept blowing her nose into a bandanna, and she was trying to take care of everyone around her. There were seven other family members there, and we worked briefly with all of them.

I went home and honestly just couldn’t get back into my life. Before we left, the deceased’s wife said to me, “God is good.”

That’s such a difficult thing to say even in the best of circumstances, because life is horrible and unrelenting. This temporary home of ours really, truly sucks. But within an hour of being told that she’s never going to have another conversation with her husband… never going to hold his hand, argue, or laugh with him again. Within the hour, she said, “God is good.”

And as weird as it is, the fact that she said that effed me up a little bit.

I got up the next morning and listened to a sermon while making breakfast, and, of course, the pastor talked about the story behind the song that says, “It is well with my soul.” It’s a great story, and you should look it up if you haven’t heard about it before… and yet, even having known the story for years, it was as if God was chasing me around with the peace Christians are supposed to feel no matter what. No matter who or what God takes from us, we are supposed to say, “God is good,” and, “It is well with my soul.”

It wasn’t well with my soul.

I could feel the weight of every dead body from the past few months. They were all laying on my chest, restricting the flow of oxygen to my brain.

So what did I do?

I went for a run. Then I went for a walk. Then I drank some wine. Then I did some yoga. Then I wrote. Then, I decided to hell with all of the things nobody would judge me for doing as coping mechanisms… I turned off all of the lights in the house, made a spread for myself on the floor, and pulled out my VHS tape of THE PATRIOT. I popped it in my tape player and spent three straight hours sobbing.

Then I brushed my teeth and went to bed.

Such is the way to set aside the dead bodies and pick up the peace of Christ. God is good. I genuinely hate this place where we live, but God is good.

UPDATE: Yesterday’s call hasn’t sunk into me yet. I know it will. I know it will haunt me for the next few weeks, until it’s replaced with another haunting call.

Yesterday’s call started just before 5:30 am, and didn’t end until 7 pm or so. Then, there was paperwork to do, and I had to return my radio and phone to our office, so I was away from home for something like 16 hours, going non-stop.

During the call, I wasn’t able to eat at all or have any break. Also, because our shift wasn’t supposed to start until 6:00, I hadn’t eaten breakfast or showered or anything. I had gotten up and gone.

The call spanned two different hospitals, a crime scene, and a home. I interacted with tons of people, ranging from the victim and people directly or indirectly related to the crime, hospital staff and people directly or indirectly related to the patient’s medical care, and even a few people at Southwest Airlines. We transported people from a hospital to the crime scene and back, from one hospital to another, and from the second hospital to a home.

Our victim was really, really visibly wounded, which is always difficult to see. She had visible wounds all over her body, and her face was swollen into a misshapen, bruised mess. And she was SUCH a nice girl. Under different circumstances, I could see myself being friends with her. She is nerdy and artsy. She loves steampunk and movies. She hasn’t given up on her dreams yet, like so many people have. She is an extraordinary person, who doesn’t deserve what happened to her – no victim does.


The Death of Martin Luther

“Kate’s anxious foreboding had been realized; the tragedy had reached its climax. Her concern for her ailing, distant husband had not been without reason. The dear man, the grand reformer, the brilliant teacher and preacher, the loving father and faithful husband was no more. Although Luther’s death was not unexpected, it was to early. Too early for the church and for those who longed for her renewal. Too early for the family he had treasured. Too early for the world he had scolded so often. Luther’s death was too early for Kate, with whom he had argued and contradicted yet whom he loved and valued above all women,” (A Reformation Life Katharina Von Bora 173).

His Ferocious Commitment

I went to Phoenix last weekend, and I learned something, so I thought I’d tell you about it.

So… I already knew this before, but when Pastor Aaron talked about it, it hit me as if it was entirely new because I’ve been living as if I didn’t know it.

God is our Lord; we belong to Him. Therefore, He wants to fix us. In a recent sermon, Matt Chandler described it as”His ferocious commitment to making us holy.”

I’ve felt broken lately – not in the normal sense where I’m down in the dumps or sad. Nothing is really going wrong, and there are several things that are going incredibly right… but it’s more like I’m a gadget that’s malfunctioning. I’ve got a relatively neutral feeling when I think about it (although I’ve a discouraged feeling when I’m in the middle of it) , and it’s really weird. My head is malfunctioning. My heart is malfunctioning. My prayers tend to be a futile effort to get God to make my/self make sense to myself. I’ve been trying to convince Him that I need fixing, and it’s urgent, so He should probably get on it.

He hasn’t gotten on it in the way I’d like.

But when I overcome the mental malfunction, I almost understand that He’s on it and I don’t have to convince Him. I belong to Him, and He wants me to work well.

It’s not so difficult for me to believe He’s competent and awesome enough to take care of it, so I have to admit that my struggle is actually to believe He cares to fix me. That’s why I try to convince Him… because I don’t believe He cares for the distress I feel. I don’t believe He uses me regularly enough to have truly noticed my malfunction (like windshield wipers in Tucson). I don’t believe I’m more than a discarded gadget that’s easily replaced.

If only I had a faith the size of a mustard seed.

Just a mustard seed.

About the Spirit

Here are some notable passages from Francis Chan’s Forgotten God:

“We are not all we were made to be when everything in our lives and churches can be explained apart from the work and presence of the Spirit of God,” (18).

“Empowering His children with the strength of the Holy Spirit is something the Father wants to do. It’s not something we have to talk Him into. He genuinely wants to see us walk in His strength,” (48).

“If you share about the Holy Spirit’s movement in your life, do you wonder what others will think about you? Are you afraid of getting ‘too much’ of the Holy Spirit and the possible ramifications of that? (Heaven forbid you gain a reputation for being weird or immoderate!),” (52).

“Even if you can imagine anything beyond the ages, you will discover that the Spirit is even further beyond… St. Basil the Great” (63).

“There are things about God that are mysterious and secret, things we will never know about Him,” (65).

“As members of God’s kingdom community, each of us is given a manifestation of the Spirit in our lives for the purpose of the common good. We all have something to offer because of what the Spirit gives to us,” (76).

“How much do you care? The Holy Spirit has given you a supernatural ability to serve the people God has placed around you. If God cares enough about His church to give you this Spirit-empowered ability, shouldn’t you care enough about the church to use that gift for the same purpose?” (86).

“Please don’t let this reality slip past you like an interesting piece of trivia that might catch your attention for a minute but that you’ll never take the time to really investigate. You are a temple of the Holy Spirit,” (111).

“Jesus suffered a grueling death so that I could have the amazing gift of the Holy Spirit. How dare I take this for granted?” (111).

“…if we never pray audacious, courageous prayers, how can He answer them? If we never follow Him to positions where we need Him, how can He show up and make His presence known?” (150).

“Often in Christian circles we talk about truth in lieu of applying it to our lives… The truth is that greater knowledge does not necessarily equal greater spirituality,” (156).

“As a church, we tend to do this to people who are passionate and bold. We mellow them out. Institutionalize them. Deaden them to the work that the Spirit is doing in them,” (162).

“…whatever it means, we ask for Your presence. Come, Holy Spirit, come,” (166).

Placing Blame

Even though I’m pretty well settled with my decision to leave Big church behind, some of my friends are still working through everything, and the dust hasn’t settled in their lives yet.

Which sucks.

I’m thinking back to how badly I was hurting when everything went down with Big church, and I completely empathize with the hurts my friends are working through.

But there’s a mentality I’m hearing circulate, and I don’t like the way it places blame.

The mentality goes something like this: our group is falling apart because of Big Church… individual friendships are being lost, everything is going to hell and a handbasket… all because of Big Church.

But the truth is that a church dissolving doesn’t destroy relationships… it reveals the deficiencies and strengths that were already there.

I know it’s a tough truth to take, but maybe our friendships were actually based on convenience rather than love. And maybe we never valued each other as much as we thought we did.

Since leaving Big Church behind, my true friendships have deepened. I’m willing to admit that I invested more in some relationships than in others… and that the ones I didn’t invest in will be the first to go. I’m not going to blame it on the church.

Or better yet, I’ll blame it on the church, but be honest about something else…

I am the church.

And I am more to blame for friendships dissolving than some abstract organization that I belonged to.

The trouble is that no one wants to accept that blame because it feels like a failure.

Losing some relationships and gaining others isn’t a failure, though.

It’s part of life.

It’s part of our finite existence as vapors.

Cognitive Process vs. Experience

Cognitively processing truths is not the same as experiencing the living God.

Divine stirring of the Holy Spirit in a person’s soul is the ONLY catalyst and driver of transformation.

God is inexplicable.

My relationship with Him is

too deep,

too fulfilling,

too joyous,

too humbling,

too impossible,

too graceful,

too overwhelming,

too consuming

for cognitive explanation.

The Brand vs. the Body

I’ve got to be honest and start this post out by saying that I don’t have any clue as to how to write it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my place in the church, and I think I might have found some traction in understanding a problem I keep running up against: churches are brands.

Planning or leading anything (and sometimes even saying anything about God in private conversations) at a church is equivalent to representing a brand – the bigger the brand, the more exactly you have to align with their strategy and core-values, and the more you are expected to perfectly represent.

I hate that.

I hate it because I can’t and won’t (and don’t even believe I should) represent the brand.

I remember the moment when I realized I’d have to leave that first big church I was at – the one that introduced me to God.

I was leading some youth stuff, and one of the verses the church always gave people to memorize was Romans 8:28 “For God works everything together for good for those who love and obey Him.”


That’s not what the verse actually says.

I didn’t know that for about 3 years, because I represented the brand, and they gave me a list of verses to memorize, with the verses typed out for us.

Dutifully, I memorized the verse. Exactly as they taught me.

And didn’t look it up on my own for 3 years.

You know what it really says? Of course you know. It’s one of those verses that everyone knows.

“For God works everything together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.”

I don’t know of any translation that has it as, “…for those who love and obey Him.”

Because that means something completely different from what the Bible actually says. I know it’s a subtle difference, but it has HUGE implications. In the version the church gave me, blessings are earned through obedience rather than received as gifts.Taking that a step further, we can believe that we’re more deserving of good things (even salvation) than other people are… because we obey.

All it takes is a moment to read the verses that surround Romans 8:28, to see that it isn’t so much about God giving us what we want because we obey Him as it’s about the Spirit, His role in the trinity and relationship to humanity, and the graceful work God does on our behalf (and it’s more than a little about predestination).

“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that God works everything together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”

Romans 8:26-30

When I read the verse for myself and paid attention to the context, I realized that I couldn’t represent that brand.

I never want my relationship with God to fall under a brand’s theological umbrella. I want to know God in a completely personal, honest, and authentic way for the rest of my life. I don’t want to align my beliefs with a brand. I want to align my beliefs with my God. I won’t carve out a place in my heart for lines posted on a church website; that space is already reserved as a hiding place for God’s word.

Which makes me feel like a rogue.

It shouldn’t make me feel that way, but it does.

It makes me resentful that the church isn’t a body like it’s supposed to be.