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More Miracles & Moments of Grace

The year I spent listening to and writing the stories of military chaplains for Miracles & Moments of Grace was the most satisfying year of my writing life. It was wonderful to be accepted into the military community and a privilege to hear the stories of these "battlefield pastors."

Once the book was released, rather than the elation I thought I would feel, I was instead in a kind of mourning. I didn't want to move on to something else, although I knew I needed to. So, I was elated when my publisher told me he'd like another Miracles & Moments of Grace book -- that he would like to make the concept into a series.

We wanted to keep the same format -- fifty inspiring first-person stories -- so I thought about who I might like to spend my next year with. It didn't take me long to realize that I would like to immerse myself in the kind of stories I had previously done -- stories of deeply meaningful moments that imparted lasting impressions and lessons on the persons who had experienced them.

So, in just a few weeks, my second book in the series will become available, Miracles & Moments of Grace: Inspiring Stories from Doctors. The fifty doctors in this book shared with me the most amazing stories of encounters with their patients -- tender stories, heartbreaking stories, uplifting stories, funny stories -- a wide range of experiences from their practice of medicine. In the book, you'll hear from doctors in many specialties -- internists, ER doctors, surgeons, neurologists, dentists, ob/gyns, mission doctors, military doctors and more.

When we're in that cold exam room facing the doctor perched on that low stool in front of us, we know so little about the doctor's life and probably nothing of their thoughts. This book is a chance for you to enter the mind of your doctor, to experience the moments of triumph and tragedy as he or she does. I was amazed that so many times, it was the patient who taught the doctor something about life and death, not the other way around.

If you appreciated the stories from military chaplains, I can assure you that you'll want to read these stories from the practice of medicine. You may think differently about that doctor in front of you the next time you find yourself in an exam room.  Read More 
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They laughed through their tears

In writing Miracles and Moments of Grace, there was no getting around the fact that many of my chaplains' experiences were of tragedy and sorrow.

Retired Army Chaplain Dick Martin, for example, tells a story of when he was stationed in rural Iowa after serving in Vietnam and was chosen by chance to perform the funeral of a fallen soldier. After arriving at the small Methodist church where he was to conduct the ceremony, he came to realize with a start that he had known the soldier well, a young man who was firm in his faith and proudly serving his country.

Chaplain Martin's was a poignant story about the comfort he could bring to the distraught parents of this young boy. He assured them of their son's strong faith and joyful spirit. He told them stories of their time together. He threw out the scripted funeral he thought he'd be conducting, and in its place, spoke from the heart about the young man he had been privileged to know.

The stories I heard while writing the book tore at my heart. I could have filled a book twice as hefty with stories such as these. But once in a while, I would hear a story that leavened the sorrow with humor for just a moment. These moments are crucial to the morale of deployed soldiers.

In fact, Chaplain Martin recently told an interviewer for an online oral history project, They Remember War, by Robert B. Gentry that in the military "everything is funny."

Chaplain Martin offers this anecdote as his most light-hearted moment of his time in Vietnam:

In Vietnam I would have my services usually after the evening meal, just as it's getting dark. Frequently at night we would get mortared by the Viet Cong. Shells would come flying in and hunker us down in holes our guys had dug. I'd usually have a service not too far from one of those holes.

I went through a whole series of evenings when, just as we would get going on the service, here would come the mortars, so we would jump down in the holes.

After several of those episodes, one guy said, "Chaplain, I think we ought to change the benediction. It ought to be 'In the name of the Father and the Son and in the hole we go!'"  Read More 
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Save the whales

Stan Giles, my chaplain who is in Antarctica right now, sent one last missive from McMurdo Station. It's no surprise that in this incredible place, Chaplain Giles is waxing poetic about creation:

"While this continent is one vast white wilderness (1.5 times the size of the 48 states), punctuated only by a scenic range of mountains separating West from East Antarctica, along the coast, where I’m at, there is some variety including the ocean which supports a few species of seabirds and penguins, a seal population (but no polar bears) and, now that the ice has opened up somewhat, some whales. Orca whales (the kind at SeaWorld) do range here, but the most common are minke whales – a smaller, thinner breed that seems to lope along the ice edge like a foraging land animal in absolutely no hurry.

A few days ago I traveled a short distance to a nearby research station operated by New Zealand. In that location the ice had opened up closer to shore and about a hundred yards out there was a hole about the size of a SeaWorld tank. In that natural enclosure were two whales, swimming around, enjoying the bright summer sun and the warm temperatures (it was about 25 F).

I took a few pictures but not wanting to spend that moment staring through a viewfinder, I slipped my camera in my pocket and just watched for the better part of ten minutes. Had I the eyes of Superman there likely would have been hundreds more, but these two were in my view, oblivious that I was staring at them as they glided along diving for a minute or so before returning to the surface, expelling a cold mist through their blowhole. It was like being at SeaWorld – only colder!

Then I had one of those rare, National Geographic moments as one of the whales stood up, so to speak, on a fin and looked over the ice for what seemed like a long time, but was certainly only second or so. I’m told they occasionally do that looking for a sleeping seal or a misguided penguin that they might snatch for a snack.

And in that moment I came face to face with what has to be one of the most gorgeous of God’s creatures. I was reminded of a song by Matt Redman, taken from Psalm 150, that has the refrain 'let everything that has breath praise the Lord' and I have that moment frozen in my brain.

That moment with those two whales is a gift that I’ll always be able to pull out of my experience bag and mentally replay and treasure.

It’s not rare to find some people who mock those committed to preserving the environment, including those who would 'save the whales,' relegating them to the extremist range. No doubt there are some like that, but my belief has always been that we are stewards of God’s creation as it speaks and even shouts of His glory. I call it the theology of ecology. Plus, does anyone really want to live in a dirty world?

Antarctica is unique because this is one part of the creation that cannot sustain life and therefore has remained quite literally pure. There is no other place where the entire ecosystem - air, water and land - has been almost entirely untouched by human hands.

As a result, here you are breathing the purest air on earth, with no pollution and no humidity – part of why the mountain range in front of me stands out with such clarity. While 43 miles in the distant, it seems so close. Divers tell me that the ocean here is the cleanest in the world with 400–500 feet of visibility.

Thus it is a wonderful laboratory for research. The Antarctica Treaty calls for the removal of all human debris and so quite literally all human trash and waste (and I mean all!) is packaged up and shipped back for disposal in the U.S. They are serious they are about preserving the environment.

While here I was able to attend some science lectures and engage with a number of scientists whose research brings them here. My background in such is minimal and so I could only understand them around the edges, but I am more and more convinced of a Creator God whose handiwork is intricately woven together on both a large and a small scale. Those two whales that I watched, in some way, speak of the Creator God – of which mankind stands as the pinnacle of His creation."

You can certainly see why Chaplain Giles had a story to share for Miracles and Moments of Grace . His story, A Single Death, is a moving tribute to his wife's brother, a Marine who died in Vietnam.  Read More 
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A homily from waaaay down under

One of the chaplains in Miracles and Moments of Grace is posted to Antarctica at the famous McMurdo Station for two months. Chaplain Stan Giles, a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard, is sending dispatches (otherwise known as e-mails!) home from the icy south. I thought you might like his latest missive, a homily, really.

"We all need to feel appreciated! I was reminded of that by a conversation I had a few days ago.

Each year fuel is brought in here on a vessel (with a huge ‘No Smoking’ sign!). There is a narrow window of time in which the sea ice melts sufficiently for an icebreaker to chop a path for two ships to safely traverse – a fuel ship and a later cargo ship. While the cost of doing business here is enormous, it would be even greater if everything had to be flown in versus a shipped in.

Anyway, the fuel ship docked and the chief engineer attended worship and invited a few of us for a tour. It was a fascinating tour and afterward the captain invited us to join them for dinner. This was a U.S. flagged ship (apparently a requirement when moving government goods) and it had a traditional captain’s dining room. The food was excellent.

The next evening I came to the chapel and there was a man sitting quietly in reflection. I didn’t bother him, but I wanted him to know I was around. A few minutes later he introduced himself as one of the two cooks on the ship. After he mentioned it, I recognized him. He lives full time in Florida, travels in 60-day increments and rarely gets to attend church. Surprised to see a chapel here at the bottom of the world, he took advantage of it for some private reflection.

I visited with him for a bit about his family, his faith, etc. and then he began telling me about his job and how he came to travel the Seven Seas cooking. He took great pride in his work – but it was work that demanded long hours and obviously long durations away from home. When we were finished I asked him a question – 'Do you feel appreciated by the Captain and crew?'

He admitted that it was a question he’d never been asked, and he paused to think of the right response. I was expecting a ‘no’ answer and was formulating a response when he picked his head up out of his worn hands, smiled and said, 'Actually I do. Almost everyone always says thank you!'

I was reminded of the Apostle Paul’s writings, which tell of the importance of everyone in the church and, by extension, of any large complex organization. In watching this very complex organization work together to provide scientists a platform for research, I see daily the absolute importance of everyone – drivers, cooks, dishwashers, maintenance people, heavy equipment operators, cargo handlers, finance people, janitors – everyone here contributes in some way and absent any one of those groups, among others, things would soon grind to a halt and there would be no research.

I was reminded of just how powerful those two words are: "Thank you." Or as the Kiwis would say, 'Thanks, mate!'" Read More 
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