Can you find five dollars?

Do you have $5?

It’s not that much money. The average person can probably find it laying around the house in spare change or loose bills, even if you’re not much of a cash person.

Or, in the next 7 days, I’d bet many of you will make at least one less than necessary trip to Sheetz, Starbucks, WaWa, or McDonald’s. If you can use some self-control and eliminate one of those trips, $5 is not hard to come by.

About nine months ago, after increasing mobility issues, and having spent months being bounced around a variety of doctors, my dad was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, sometimes more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

It’s been a wild ride over this last stretch of months, but a really hopeful and inspiring moment came in September, when, out of the blue, a friend from the church I grew up in messaged me on Facebook. He was running the 2016 Pittsburgh Half-Marathon as part of a team fundraising for the ALS Association, and he wanted to run specifically in honor of my dad. I was moved to tears.

When Jon and I first talked, his goal was $500. He has since surpassed that with over $550 in donations received and a new goal of $800. This is part of the Western PA Chapter of the ALS Association’s goal of raising $20,000 through the Pittsburgh Marathon, (which they’re over halfway toward reaching). The ALS Association will use that money to fund research into the disease which terrifying little is known about, even 77 years after the diagnosis of the man for whom it is colloquially named. They’ll use it to provide resources to the doctors and facilities who are treating ALS patients. They’ll use it to provide tangible support to ALS patients, and their caregivers and families. I cannot say enough about the virtues of the ALS Association and their mission.

$5 is not that much money. But every little bit helps. If each of my 857 Facebook friends could find it in their hearts and their pockets to give $5, we would raise over $4,000. To help Jon reach his goal, it would take only fifty, just over 5% of my social media connections.

It was during my internship that I met the first person I had ever known with ALS, a  woman who sadly passed away just a month and a half before my dad’s own diagnosis. In the past 9 months, I’ve heard from all sorts of friends whose lives have been affected by ALS, and have lost friends and loved ones from the disease. And whether or not you have a personal connection to someone with ALS, I hope that hearing pieces of our stories, and hearing about the ways that the ALS Association is so helpful, might move you to do what you need to do to find that $5.

Donate to Jon’s Pittsburgh Half-Marathon fundraiser, here:


More info about how to #ChallengeALS

Approval? Was ist das?

“By the grace of God, I have been approved for ordination by the bi-synodical candidacy committee of the Southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia-Western Maryland Synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.”

…Words that sound impressive, but possibly leave you quoting Martin Luther’s small catechism and saying “Was ist das?” or “What does this mean?”

As candidates for ordained ministry in the ELCA, we are in part accountable to the candidacy committee of our home synod (synod being the the geographic governing body similar to a Catholic diocese.) Candidacy committees are made up of clergy and lay members and are tasked with the development and to a certain extent assessment of church leaders going through the process toward becoming a part of one of the ELCA’s rosters.

Candidates have three major meetings and decision points with their candidacy committees. Entrance typically occurs before a student begins seminary studies and is for the most part an assessment of readiness for theological study. Endorsement typically happens after the student’s first year, the intent of endorsement is to affirm the student’s gifts and further discern things that might be growth areas, you need to be positively endorsed before going on internship.  And then, finally Approval takes place as a student is completing their seminary studies and internship; taking into account academic reports, internship evaluations, and the student’s own reflection, approval is the crucial decision point where the candidacy committee is approving the student for ordination (or consecration into one of the lay rosters).

And so, being in my senior year of seminary and rapidly approaching graduation, I met with the candidacy committee for about an hour long interview which resulted in them announcing their decision to approve me for ordination.

Which again leads you to ask, Was ist das? What does this mean? And more importantly, where do things go from here?

Well, I still have to finish this semester, and the spring semester too, after which I’ll graduate with a Master of Divinity degree from Gettysburg Seminary.

In February, my name will go into the ELCA Churchwide Assignment (which somewhat resembles a sports draft) where the bishops of the ELCA will work together to ensure all of the graduating seniors from all of the seminaries are assigned a region and synod.  Once I’m assigned a synod, I’ll begin conversations with that specific synod’s bishop to figure out which congregation within the synod they serve might be a good fit for me and then I’ll go through a “call process” with an individual congregation, which then hopefully ends in them extending a call to me and then me being able to schedule my ordination. This is obviously an over-simplified explanation, but that is in part because I hope to give a better explanation as I move through each step of the process in the months to come.

The ELCA’s ecclesiology is very specific that an individual is not ordained until they have received and accepted a call from a congregation or other ministry. This is actually an important theological distinction because we see our sense of call as something that is private and public, from God and from the church. A congregation extending a call is seen as the ultimate recognition of God’s call to an individual through the church.

All that said, thank you to my family, friends, and church members who have been supportive through this process. I look forward to sharing more with you as things continue to move forward!

Social Media for Social Ministry

Late last week, I got the opportunity to demonstrate to my supervising Pastor some of the work that I’ve done to establish Christ Lutheran’s social media presence.

When I started my internship, I inherited a Facebook page that had been started by one of the previous interns.  In the past nine months, I’ve been intentional about posting things several times a week, sometimes utilizing a posting schedule to coordinate posting things every day or even several times a day.  While it’s still all in my head, I’ve developed a sort of social media strategy for our congregation in the mountains of Western Maryland.  I’ve brought the page from about 80 likes to over 130.  Our post reach ranges anywhere from 30 to 3000, with our engagement rate averaging around 8% of the post-reach.  Not bad from the limited research I’ve been able to do into understanding the metrics of marketing.

One of the things I specifically highlighted as I was showing my work was how I had paid to boost posts about our monthly free community meals, and how that had resulted in higher than usual engagement from people all throughout the community with no direct connection to our congregation.  A question of audience was brought up: “How many people who might need a free meal are actually on Facebook?”

I countered that he would probably be surprised how many of even our poorest brothers and sisters find time and opportunity to surf the web.

Now here’s the thing, gang, some of you will probably suggest I’m naive, but I’d also like to suggest that maybe I’m not.  I know that there are certainly hundreds of millions of people who have never even touched a device that would allow them to access the internet.  But at the same time, I am always amazed by the people I meet living in various stages and kinds of poverty who DO have access to the internet, even if it’s just an old iPod connected to free wifi at a public place.

And so, I’m inclined to believe that social media CAN be effective as part of an outreach strategy for those living in poverty.

Let’s think about the accessibility of some of the other most common methods of advertising.  The only television advertising most churches can afford is cable access, which requires your audience to have cable TV, a definite luxury.  Churches might be able to afford a decent amount of radio advertising, but, a radio advertising salesperson will tell you the two biggest times people listen to a radio is in the car or at work, times that may not be options for those living in poverty.  Financially, printed newspaper advertising might be the most accessible, but one has to consider that it unfortunately is a dying medium, and more and more people are seeing it as a luxury that isn’t worth even the $.50 or so it costs to buy a paper.

Meanwhile, an internet capable tablet costs $40-$50 at Walmart and wifi is free at millions of businesses and public places all across the country.  And honestly, for those living in situational poverty due to some sort of financial loss, are likely to hold onto something like a smartphone, a laptop, an iPod or something, because they see the internet as a lifeline.  And ignoring all of that, nearly every public library now has computers and internet access, with hardly a cost other than maybe a few bucks to get your library card.

Internet might be seen as a luxury by those who didn’t grow up with it, but more and more people see it as a necessity.  And to assume that those living in poverty are doing without it could be a major act of naïveté.

As I shared my ideas with friend and social media guru, Julie Stecker, Director of Communications for the Delaware-Maryland Synod of the ELCA, she saw a lot of truth in what I was thinking about.

She went even further saying that those who live in poverty RELY on social networking to find food, jobs, and housing.  “Before facebook, their networks relied on being in person, but social media means their networks can be way more widespread and easier to get in touch with.”

We’ve seen this in play when we advertise our food basket giveaways during Christmas and Easter; 25-35 baskets of food are usually all spoken for in less than a day as people quickly share the information with friends, neighbors, and others in need.  More and more, that sort of communication is taking place via Facebook or other forms of social media.

If the church can establish itself as a “native” of the social media landscape, that means something like a simple post about a monthly free community meal can take flight far beyond anything we might have been able to share on our own without facebook.  I think a portion of our “audience,” of our mission field IS on the internet and facebook, and if we’re finding ways to help feed folks who might otherwise not have had a good meal that day, it sounds like we’re on the right track.

…Just some food for thought for those considering internet and social media as a tool for their ministry.

Wearing the Collar

To be completely honest, outside of worship, pastoral calls, and some meetings and other church responsibilities, I rarely wear my clergy collar.  While I wear a clergy shirt most days, the little white piece of plastic that inserts into the collar to provide that distinctive white square at the neck often resides in one of my pockets, or a cup holder in my Jeep.

Even on days that I’ve been wearing my clergy shirt with the white plastic tab-collar inserted, I often fall into the temptation of pulling it out as soon as I’m in the privacy of my office or Jeep.

That being said, wearing it in public is part of being a witness of the faith and the church as I go about my daily life.  And now that I’ve finally found a couple clergy shirts that fit REALLY well, I’m more inclined to stay “in uniform” as I go about non-ministry related errands.

Such was the case when I took my dog Tebow to the vet yesterday to get his annual vaccines.

After visiting with and administering the shots for Tebow, the veterinarian and I talked a little bit about what it means to have a “rough day” as a vet.  He told me that vets really have to wear a lot of hats.  They are a doctor to the animal, and in many cases a friend to the owner; but at the end of life, they quickly change from doctor to executioner (his words, not mine), and undertaker.

Furthermore,  he reminded me that when people lose a (human) family member, they are often surrounded by a support network of friends and extended family, but that when families lose their pets, it is most often only the immediate family there, or even just a single person.  Without a support network in place, veterinarians might also wear the hat of grief counselor.

I had never quite thought of a veterinarian’s job in that way.

He told me of a day years ago, when late in an afternoon, he had to euthanize three dogs in a row.  His final patient of the day after that was the dog of a (now retired) Lutheran Pastor in the area.  He told me how he had had a similar conversation with that Pastor, that the Pastor had offered to be a resource to him or any families who were really having a rough go of losing their pet, and that he had in fact sent 2-3 families grieving the loss of their pets to that Pastor over the years.

Unfortunately, since my time here in LaVale will be coming to an end in August, I’m not able to be a resource to replace his friend the Pastor whom he had referred families to, but I think he appreciated being able to talk about how stressful his job can often be, and I certainly appreciated hearing his perspective on something I’d never given much thought to.  And the conversation happened because I made the conscious decision not to rip off my clergy collar as soon as I was “done” for the day…

On Forgiveness in the Midst of Darkness

My internship congregation, Christ Lutheran Church in LaVale, MD has three worship services each week, two on Sunday morning, and a much more laid-back and low-key service on Wednesday evenings.  Last night, I preached, choosing to reflect on the Gospel for this upcoming Sunday, Matthew 18:21-35.  I was really thankful for the way that it came together; one of the first commentaries I read triggered me to remember the quote I include toward the end of the sermon and the emotion evoked by it kept me going the whole way through.  We are not always so blessed to have sermons come together like this, but when we are, it is a wonderful thing.

The sermon, in its entirety, is below the break…


Read the rest of this entry

Fading Tail lights…

Up from the amphitheater, campers and their counselors wander back towards their cabins after closing worship. Parents, trying to keep up, find themselves stuck behind the tide of children and young adults. Eventually, everyone: campers, counselors, and parents, make their way back to cabins. Contact information is exchanged, goodbyes are shared, cars are loaded. One by one, headlights and tail lights disappear down the dark driveway, making the journey back into the real world, returning campers to their lives outside of camp. The flow of cars leaving slows to a trickle, until one last car disappearing down the hill indicates that all are gone…

This summer, I was given the opportunity to return to the place that has made such an impact in my faith life as well as my discernment. Lutherlyn, a Lutheran church camp north of Butler, PA is a place that I, and many other young adults, consider to be a second home. Starting in 2006, I have worked 7 of the last 9 summers on staff at camp, serving in a variety of different roles. When I found myself needing something to do this summer, waiting for my internship to start in August, it was a joy and reassuring comfort to hit “submit” on an online application, even moreso to hear the words of Deb, the associate director telling me, “we’d love to have you back, we can definitely find a place for you.”

One week of pre-summer preparations with the summer’s leadership team, two weeks of training with the entire staff, and seven weeks of life-changing adventures in faith for campers of all ages brings us almost, but not quite, to the end of the summer. Next week, as we prepare to wind down and put camp into “off-season” mode, we welcome one last group of campers: a half-week of “family camp” for our rostered leaders in the NWPA and SWPA synods of the ELCA.

Just two weeks from today, I will move onto the next chapter of my life, putting my dog in the backseat of my Jeep, and most of my belongings in the back of a Uhaul, I will depart for Cumberland, Maryland, where I will begin my year-long internship as Vicar of Christ Lutheran Church in LaVale, MD.

As I pack that truck, the one thing I won’t have to pack are the lessons learned at camp, and the lessons I’m learning because of camp. That second part is important because some of the things that camp teaches you aren’t discrete, one-time lessons. For the more than two-thirds of my life during which I’ve been a camper and staff member, camp has taught me many things, but the verb teaching is not powerful enough in the past-tense.

Camp has continuously, and will continue to teach me things for the rest of my life. In less than a week, my own tail lights will join the procession out of camp, and in two weeks, that same Jeep will head over the mountains to Maryland, but even still, camp will be a part of me, will be teaching me, and hopefully, before too long, those tail lights disappearing down the driveway, will be headlights coming up, leading me back to this place that means so much to me.

Finding a Place for Me – Internship Matching

Spring is an exciting time for middler (2nd year) ELCA seminarians, this is because for those on the traditional 4 year M.Div. track, it is spring of your middler year that you begin to find out where you will be spending your third year on internship.

I’m blessed to be part of the combined LTSG/LTSP internship matching process, which is unique in the level of participation that both interns and supervisors get to have in the decision-making process.  I’ve tried to lay it out as concisely as possible as a way of sharing with others what is happening and will be happening over the coming days.  I’m even using bullet points to try and keep myself even more concise:

  • Early last Fall, all the middlers from LTSG and LTSP planning to participate in the internship matching process filled out a standardized application.  This application is mostly biographical in nature but also has some logistical information as well (ie. do you have a reliable car, do you have geographical preferences and restrictions, what is your family situation, do you have pets? etc.).
  • Beginning in December and continuing up until just a few days ago churches that were interested in working with an intern filled out their own application that is in many ways parallel to the student’s application.  It’s important to note that except in very rare cases, churches need to be able to fully fund their internship: this means providing housing, a monthly stipend, health care, and paying for all of the academic fees.  This can cost as much as $30,000.
  • As internship sites send in their applications, they are forwarded to us as students to review.  Likewise, the sites receive a disk with the student applications for all of the prospective interns.  This way, both interns and supervisors can start to get an idea of who might be a good match.
  • Finally… Sort of… INTERNSHIP MATCHING WORKSHOP!  Later this week (Thursday and Friday) all of the supervisors and all of the prospective students come to the LTSG campus for interviews.  Over the course of a day and a half, you interview with at least 7-8 (and often quite a few more) supervisors.  The facilitators really try to de-emphasize any sense of competition, reminding students and supervisors that the goal is to find the best match, not necessarily their favorite.
  • At the end of the workshop, students and supervisors make lists of everyone they interviewed with.  Interns separate their list into three tiers, the first being those that they’d be interested in working with; the second being sites/supervisors that they’d be willing to go to, but otherwise have some sort of hesitation about; and finally those that they would not be willing to go to.  Likewise, the supervisors also generate a three-tiered list.  Both sets of lists are submitted to the LTSG field ed folks for review.
  • From there it becomes a big logic puzzle for the folks in the field education office, matching up the tiers of the different lists and trying to find a match for everyone; the emphasis here is very utilitarian, finding the most good matches for the most people.  Fortunately, they won’t send you to a place you said no to, and they won’t send you to a place you listed having hesitations about without talking to you first.
  • Once it’s all sorted out, the placements are announced.  Chances are, this will happen in the early part of March.  Moving forward, some internships could start as early as May or as late as September, it all depends on the site and the student.


Personally, I’ve got a list of about 10 sites picked out that I’d like to interview with.  They represent a pretty decent variety of geographical locations and ministry contexts.  At this point, it’s basically a matter of trusting in the Holy Spirit to send me to wherever I need to be.

On Dogs and Death…

As I write this, a very special and somewhat unique funeral service is taking place in the City of Pittsburgh.

On January 28, K-9 Rocco was stabbed in the course of pursuing a fugitive while in service as a police dog with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police.  On the evening of January 30, after two days of impassioned pleas for blood donors and attempted emergency surgeries, Rocco succumbed to his injuries.

Pittsburgh is a passionate city.  A city that rallies around its sports teams, its local culture, and most importantly around its neighbors during times of crisis and need.  And so it did not surprise me in the least that Pittsburghers both near and far would be so moved by the sacrifice of a dog whose death may have helped save his human partner’s life.  In the words of Mayor Bill Peduto, “Pittsburgh showed its soul that night, a soul that shines with compassion and recognizes the good not only in every human, but in every being.”

This morning, Rocco is receiving a full police honors in a line of duty funeral.  Dozens of police K-9’s and their handlers have descended on Pittsburgh to pay their respects, and many more police officers and community members are participating as well.

As someone who has a special fondness and respect for members of the emergency services, as well as for dogs, I’m left trying to sort out how I feel about this.  For many people, myself included, our pets are considered a part of the family; the bond between a police officer and his or her working dog is even stronger.  By no means am I saying that I think having a funeral for an animal is inappropriate, but I’m curious how others feel about this particular incident and the loss of pets in general.

If you’re willing to, please share some of your thoughts in the comments area below.  I’m interested to hear how my friends and colleagues  feel.



If you feel like you’d like to read up on the incident a bit more, here’s one of the many articles available from nearly every Pittsburgh media source:

Sermon – Baptism of Our Lord – January 12, 2014

I hope that in this new year, I might be able to keep up with my blog a LITTLE better.  Especially since there is some very exciting stuff coming down the pipe with my internship on the horizon.  But time will tell.

The new(ish) Pastor at my home congregation, Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Delmont, PA offered me the opportunity to preach while I was home for break.  And so, on January 12 (my birthday), I preached at both Sunday services, offering a reflection on the power of water in celebration of The Baptism of Our Lord.

It’s interesting to note that I originally wrote the bulk of this sermon for a preaching class back in December.  As I was working to tailor the message to my home church, news broke of the water crisis in West Virginia, and I felt that that was a perfect way to really bring home my message.


West Virginia has a population of 1.8 million people, just a few hundred thousand more than our neighbors in Allegheny County.  And in a state with so few people, news travels fast.

And so on Thursday, when the story broke of a chemical spill affecting the public water supply in West Virginia, that news spread like wildfire.  It did not take long for a few scattered facebook posts to turn into an onslaught of headlines from across the mountain state and beyond…

“Chemical Spill Taints Charleston Water”

“100,000 Customers without Water in Southern West Virginia”

“Governor Tomblin issues State of Emergency in 5 Counties”

“State of Emergency Expanded to 9 Counties”

“President Obama Signs Federal Emergency Declaration in WV”

“300,000 told not to use tap water”

“4 Hospitalized, Thousands Still at Risk in West Virginia Chemical Spill”

“Famed Environmental Lawyer Erin Brokovitch travels to Charleston”

It took all of a few hours to render millions of gallons of water useless; unsafe for drinking, cleaning, washing; useful only for flushing toilets and putting out fires.  Just a few hours to put the health and welfare of thousands in jeopardy.

Normally, when we pray for those who don’t have access to clean water, we’re thinking of people in third world countries, today we pray for our brothers and sisters just a few hours to the South.

But Delmont is no stranger to water scarcity, either.  It was just a few months ago that many of you received an automated phone call notifying you that your water was not safe to drink.  That bacteria in the Beaver Run Reservoir was not adequately being filtered and that you should boil your water before using it.  That event created panic in the bottled water aisles of the local grocery stores, but was nowhere near the magnitude of what 9 counties in West Virginia are experiencing right now.

And so, with chemically tainted water on the mind, I’d like to tell you another story about a very specific chemical.  A chemical that is threatening our community, and even our church, at this very moment.

Dihydrogen monoxide.

Now some of you may have heard of this chemical compound, but just listen for a few moments while I share with the others some critically important information about it.

Dihydrogen monoxide is a colorless and odorless chemical compound, that is also referred to by some as hydroxyl acid and hydrogen oxide.  According to a reputable scientific source, its basis is the highly reactive hydroxyl radical, which is a species shown to mutate DNA, denature proteins, disrupt cell membranes, and chemically alter critical neurotransmitters. The atomic components of DHMO are found in a number of caustic, explosive and poisonous compounds such as Sulfuric Acid, Nitroglycerine and Ethyl Alcohol.”

“Sounds like any other industrial chemical!” you may say.  But DHMO is worse.  Even the smallest inhalation of DHMO can cause death.  Exposure to it in gaseous form can cause burns, and prolonged exposure to it in solid form also causes tissue damage.  DHMO causes corrosion and oxidation in many metals, and can contaminate electrical systems causing them to short circuit.  It is one of the main compounds present in acid rain and is the leading cause of soil erosion throughout the world.  It has killed millions throughout history and has even been known to wipe entire towns off the map.

And yet. We are exposed to it on a daily basis. And our government stockpiles it in massive quantities, piping it into every building in the country as if we don’t even notice it’s there.

But it occurs to me that I may have thrown some of you off by referring to this chemical in its long-form name. Dihydrogen monoxide, 2 hydrogen, 1 oxygen. H2O.


Some of you may have realized where I was heading with this several minutes ago, and for that, you may reward yourself with a cool glass of water before you head home today.  For the rest of you, I apologize for misleading you, but it was the only way to get you engaged in my story of powerful chemicals and government conspiracies.  And that story was the only way to have an honest discussion about the power of water.

Because you see, water is powerful stuff.

It DOES kill from inhalation, and cause bodily harm in both gaseous and solid states.  It DOES cause corrosion, oxidation, and acid rain.  And it certainly has been part of damaging floods throughout all of recorded history.

But, it also has the power to cleanse.

As Christians, we tend to have a pretty decent understanding of the power of water.  For it is in water that we are baptized.

We are asked on a regular basis to “remember our baptism,” but how many of us actually do? Belonging to a church that practices infant baptism, many of us were baptized so long ago, and at such an early age, that remembering our baptism, as in the specific day and event, is a little bit more difficult.  But hopefully we can all remember A baptism as we remember our own.

I’m sure most of you can remember at least one baptism that has taken place in this sanctuary.  A family gathering carefully around the baptismal font, a Pastor carefully arranging the family so that those of us in the congregation can actually see the baptism itself.

But the story we hear in today’s Gospel is no ordinary baptism.

It is the Baptism of our Lord.

Jesus desired to be baptized by John the Baptist. An extraordinary request not in the sense that it was difficult, but that John recognized Jesus as free of sin, not needing Baptism in the sense that others did. John thought that Jesus should be baptizing HIM.

But John relented and agreed to baptize Jesus, dunking him underwater when…

“…just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.””


The Gospels record three times in which God spoke from heaven in connection to Jesus Christ and his ministry: Jesus’ baptism, Jesus’ transfiguration, and in the temple shortly before Jesus’ suffering on the cross. God was indicating that Jesus’ baptism was extraordinary.

I’m sure I would have remembered something like that happening at one of the dozens of baptisms I have witnessed.  And you’d think I would have heard if the heavens opened on the day of MY baptism?

But they did.

Because our baptism is the cleansing that unites us with Christ.  And just as during Christ’s baptism, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit, and God claims us. “This is my child, with whom I am well pleased.”  Regardless of what we may think, every baptism is truly extraordinary; an outpouring of love from God bestowing upon us the gifts of grace and the Holy Spirit.

We live in a world where are all too constantly reminded of the negative power of water: The rust on our cars, the erosion of our walking paths…  Just a few months ago, Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the Phillipines with deadly force.   A Typhoon, as I now know, is simply a regionally diverse term for what we in North America refer to as a hurricane.  A storm formed over the ocean featuring high winds and heavy rains, bringing terror and destruction wherever it goes.  Water is powerful stuff.

Throughout Appalachia, we find manmade lakes and resevoirs.  Bodies of water created by dams for the purposes of flood control, electrical generation, or even recreation.  Man’s attempt at harnessing the power of water.  But harnessing water can have consequences; under the deepest reservoirs, one can find abandoned homes, even entire towns flooded for the “greater good.”  And consequences manifest even moreso when we as humans fail to properly harness the power of water.  More than a few floods have been caused by the very dams and dikes that were designed to prevent them.

Water is powerful stuff.

And in a world where we are constantly reminded of the negative power of water, we should constantly seek to remind ourselves of the positive.  Even in the midst of a water crisis in West Virginia, we are shown how lost we really are without water.  Physically, but also, spiritually.

God comes to us through water.

The Holy Spirit comes to us through water.

We are united with Jesus Christ, our savior through water.

In the baptismal waters, we are dunked, and out we come anew.  Claimed by God who looks at us, dripping wet and says “This is my child, in whom I am well pleased.”

Water is powerful stuff.



How I Ended up in the Hospital…

Role reversal is every caregiver’s worst nightmare.

It’s an unrealized nightmare for many; we say we long to be cared for rather than caring for others, but when that moment comes, it’s terrifying, a real-life nightmare.

It all started on Friday morning.  Something felt off, I was sore in a lot of different places, and somewhat lethargic throughout the day.  What I didn’t realize was that my body was gearing up to fight off an infection, and was likely already diverting energy away from more regular functions.

Friday afternoon, I got home from CPE and almost immediately laid down for a nap.  Around 7 or 8pm, I woke up with a twinge of abdominal pain and assumed I was merely hungry.  I made a quick trip to Wendy’s, but found that I was able to eat only half of what I had ordered.  As  the night continued, the pain started increasing, and I began to feel nauseous.  I was beginning to think that I might be passing a kidney stone, as the pain and nausea were vaguely reminiscent of a similar experience I had last summer.  I texted a couple friends to get them in the loop, wanting backup if I needed to go the ER sometime in the middle of the night.  Within twenty minutes of that first text, “I might need to go to the ER sometime tonight” became “I need to go to the ER, NOW!”

Recognizing my history of kidney stones, Gettysburg’s ER did bloodwork and CT scans and gave me some meds for pain and nausea.  Reading my scans, they didn’t see signs of a kidney stone, but assumed I had passed it already, and sent me home.  I was miserable all day Saturday into Sunday morning with what had become a dull achey pain on the lower right side of my abdomen.  Hypochondriac-Jono was playing around with the idea of “What if I’m having an appendicitis?”  But I wrote that off as hyperbole.

And then Sunday at about 1pm, I had just given up on finishing the lunch that I didn’t have much of an appetite for when I got a phone call.  They had done a second read of my CT scans from Friday night, and thought my appendix looked enlarged, and I should come in and have it looked at a bit closer, especially if I’m still in pain.

And so began the whirlwind of hospital craziness.

My friend Ryan took me to Gettysburg ER and sat with me.  The ER doctors confirmed that my pain was in the area near my appendix, and that I had a higher than normal white blood cell count, which normally accompanies an infection such as appendicitis.  I sat and waited for almost two hours while the surgeon who had to be paged from home came in to look, and confirm my worst fear, the appendix had to go.

I’ll be honest and say that by this point, I didn’t exactly have the most faith in Gettysburg Hospital, but my greater concern was my heart.  I have a somewhat serious heart condition, and if I was going into a surgical procedure, I wanted it at a hospital that had a cardiologist in-house 24/7, and since MY cardiologists are at Hershey, I wanted to go there.  There was quite a bit of pushing and assertiveness that needed to take place, but before long, paperwork was being processed to transfer me to the ER at Hershey Medical Center, where I would be evaluated and eventually go into surgery there.

Since I was an “emergency” patient transfer, I had to ride to Hershey in an ambulance.  I’ve been in the back of an ambulance quite a few times, but never as a patient.  Let me just say that if I’m ever being transported as a patient in an ambulance again, I hope I’m sick enough or in enough pain to not notice how bumpy and uncomfortable it really is.  When you’re NOT in that much pain, you’re able to notice just how unpleasant it all really is.

Anyway, I arrived at Hershey, where I was met by my brother, sister-in-law and nieces.  My nieces were concerned as to why Uncle Jono was at the hospital, but seemed relieved to find me sitting up in my bed in the ER where I said goodnight to them before their mother took them home, and my brother Josh and I began our long evening at HMC.

I got evaluated by the surgical team, and consented to the emergency appendectomy and put on the schedule.  They transferred me up to a room so I could wait in a bit more peace than was to be had in the ER.  It was scheduled for 1am, but I think I ended up going down at about 2:30am, and having the surgery itself at about 3am.   By 4:30 or 5, I was back in my room and beginning the road to recovery.

One of my mentors, Greg Larsh, a staff chaplain assigned to HMC’s Heart & Vascular Institute was one of the first to visit me.  It meant a LOT to see him (and the variety of other chaplains that visited me during my stay.)  I was doing really well, and appreciated the visit until he offered to pray for me.  It was at that point that I broke down and started crying…  It had sunk in at that point.  I was on the wrong side of the bed.  I was supposed to be the one offering prayer, not the one being prayed for.  There was a role reversal happening where I suddenly became VERY aware of my own weakness, and got a much better sense of what some of my patients go through in the hospital.

After spending all day Monday in the hospital, I was discharged Tuesday morning.  My brother brought me to his house for a bit, and then brought me back to Gettysburg where I’m now mostly happily recovering for the rest of the week.

Anyway, I wanted to take a few moments to thank the folks who have done so much for me the past couple days:

  • Stephanie Zinn who was going to take me to the ER on Friday night (and took me to dinner just a few hours ago.)
  • Julie Stecker who actually DID take me to the ER on Friday night.
  • Ryan Kobert who took me BACK to the ER on Sunday afternoon.
  • Andy Wagner, who made the phone calls to make sure that my on-call shift for Sunday night was covered (yeah, I was supposed to be the on-call chaplain that night, haha) and the chaplain associate who was my backup that actually covered the shift.
  • My brother Josh, and my sister-in-law Cathleen who helped me figure out what I needed to do to get transferred to Hershey.
  • My parents, who have been immensely supportive, despite being three hours away.
  • The EMTs who transported me to Hershey.
  • All of the doctors, nurses, and other folks at both Gettysburg ER and Hershey Medical Center that played a role in my care over the past few days.
  • The Penn State Hershey Department of Pastoral Services.  I got visits from several chaplains, including my supervisors, all of whom were immensely supportive.  I look forward to getting back on the floor with you guys!
  • Everyone who has posted supportive stuff on facebook, called me, or sent me texts.

Thank ALL OF YOU.  One of the wonderful “fringe” benefits of dealing with adversity, is that you get to fully appreciate the things you have.  I am grateful for all of the friends and family who have helped me out over the past few days.  If all goes well, I’ll be back in the hospital to finish out the last chunk of my summer CPE next week!