Dispatches

A Blessing – Graduating Residency

Last night my family medicine residency came to its completion. My formal training as a physcian is done (at long last – praise be to God). It still feels surreal. I offered this blessing last night at the beginning of our graduation dinner and ceremony.

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Father God,
We give you thanks:
For long hours, hard work, difficult patients, and demanding training,
For by them you have refined us into ready and resilient physicians.

We give you thanks:
For short days, simple tasks, grateful patients, and gracious teachers,
For by them you have freed us to be refreshed, faithful, and fun.

We give you thanks:
For 3 years of hospital food – that we may have neglected to bless,
For 3 step exams – we’ll never have to sit again,
For 3 years of family medicine residency – completed.

And now we ask your blessing:
On tonight’s food and friends –
may the calories be short-lived and the friendships eternal.
And on tonight’s graduates –
May the Lord bless us and keep us,
With grace, guide our service and attitudes,
With peace, guide our actions and our stillness,
With joy, guide our hopes and dreams,
With love, guide our hearts aright,
Send us forth in your spirit of healing and love.

In Jesus’s name,
Amen.

-Nathan Gilley, Murfreesboro TN, June 29th 2019

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My Family –  Celebrating the Completion of Residency.
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The faculty and graduates of UT – St. Thomas Family Medicine Residency, Murfreesboro, 2019

 

Reflections – At the End of Residency

I come to the end of my residency very soon now (June 28th). You see, after graduating from medical school I, like most newly minted doctors, committed myself to a residency. For me it was a three year Family Medicine residency where I hoped to see numerous patients, treat diverse diseases, and learn essential procedures under the guidance and direction of more experienced doctors called attending physicians (attendings, for short). And, like the doctors that make them up, there are good and bad residencies, and I thank my God that I have had the privilege of being trained in a great residency.

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I was excited but nervous when I interviewed at the Family Medicine program in Murfreesboro. It was one of my last interviews, but also one of my most eagerly anticipated. Before we even interviewed it seemed like the best place for our young family to get the support we knew our burgeoning family would need. Bethany’s parents live about thirty minutes from Murfreesboro, and my dad lived one and a half hours the other way. At that time we had a toddler Elizabeth an infant Lydia, and we knew that despite my plan to spend every spare minute with my family, the majority of my time and energy would be dedicated to my residency training.

After visiting and interviewing in Murfreesboro, Bethany and I knew we were going to rank it as our first choice. The clinic was devoted to helping the underserved and marginalized, including refugees, homeless, and uninsured persons. The hospital was run as a ministry of the Catholic church, with prayer and spiritual care offered daily for patients, and this mission statement: “Rooted in the loving ministry of Jesus as healer, we commit ourselves to serving all persons with special attention to those who are poor and vulnerable…” And the faculty were committed to a residency that maintained the breadth of family medicine training, including obstetrics, pediatrics, adult medicine, and geriatrics. Then we waited, trying to express our interest without seeming desperate.

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Finally, by the grace of God, and the inscrutable match algorithm (a computer program that accepts all the ranked preferences of applicants as well as the ranked preferences of all the US residency programs – and outputs the fate of those doctors and programs) I found myself matched and moving our family to Murfreesboro.

And now, three years later, I look at it from the other side. The UT-St. Thomas Family Medicine Residency Program in Murfreesboro has been all I hoped for and more. Where many programs chew up idealistic doctors and spit out (or defecate) cynical and selfish graduates, my program has cultivated my compassion and joy in medicine. I have felt valued by our faculty, and together we have promoted the dignity of the work we do and the people we serve in our hospital and clinic. Finally, my attendings have encouraged and supported the value and priority I give my faith and family.

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Although I have much to learn, I feel ready to step forth as a family physician. I have been equipped with a solid clinical framework, a repertoire of procedural skills, a healthy respect for what I don’t know, and an awareness of some of the obstacles and work-arounds for providing care to the undeserved.

Thank you,
Dr. Glass – for pointing out my knowledge gaps and encouraging me to always ask at least one more question of myself and my patients.
Dr. Singer – for loving us like your children, and spurring us on in research and comprehensive patient care (even if I occasionally bucked).
Dr. Banker – for being candid about life and medicine and always ready to supervise or teach any procedure.
Dr. Garg – for your keen ability to give feedback, see multiple perspectives and solutions, and help us to see them also.
Dr. Reno – for carefully placed words of encouragement and reassurance that have given me confidence and hope.
Dr. McRay – for encouraging me to take the time for existential moments with my patients, and for delivering my third child into this world with grace and peace.
Dr. Streicher – for helping me learn from my mistakes and then helping me move forward again by sharing your own mistakes and giving me a clean slate.
Dr. Dunlap – for making our residency possible by pouring yourself out, and trusting us enough to graduate us (hopefully).

Sincerely,
Nathan Gilley

St. Patrick’s Shield

This is a prayer I wrote to be prayed when rising for the day. It is based off of an old prayer called St. Patrick’s Breastplate – a prayer that Celtic Christians often use to start their day. I painted this new prayer onto a sheild that I recieved when I was knighted as an eighteen year old (bit of a story there – we’ll save for later). And hung it over our breakfast table to remind us to open our day with prayer.

Here it is:

We bind ourselves today, in life and love, to the Trinity in unity,
By the power of the spirit, and this example:
Christ before me.

We arise today, in the power of Christ’ baptism,
dying to sin and living into Godliness;
Christ when we go down,
Christ when we arise.

We bind ourselves today, in faith and hope, to the Church;
Taking up the obedient disciplines of the faithful;
Christ over us,
and partaking of communion, the body of Christ;
Christ with us.

We arise today, in a world of God’s creation – fallen in sin,
Inspired by the invisible attributes of God in creation;
Christ all around us,
embracing opportunities for laboring in redemption;
Christ on our right,
Christ on our left.

We bind ourselves today, by the love of God for His glory;
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of us,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of us,
Christ in the eye that sees us,
Christ in the ear that hears us.

We arise today, for He is risen,
Christ is risen indeed.

Rites For the Christian Year – From Ashes to Water to Oil

Ash Wednesday

At the conclusion of the Ash Wednesday service, this rite is spoken by the one recieving the imposition of ashes (by repeating and or reading), the first part is said immediately before the ashes are imposed on the forehead in the form of a cross, and then second follows.

Merciful God,
In humble repentance
We mark ourselves with ashes and dust, a sign of mourning and repentance.
You formed us from the dust of the earth and to it we shall return,
We confess we have sinned against you, our creator, in what we have done and left undone.

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[Imposition of ashes]

Righteous Lord Jesus
In humble hope,
We are marked with the sign of the cross, a sign of your faith.
You emptied yourself to become a man, and in perfect obedience you went to the cross.
Grant us this Lenten season to take up our cross and follow you, to Jerusalem and through Good Friday.
Amen


Easter Sunday

Upon entering the church on Easter morning, this rite is spoken by the one remembering (or anticipating) their baptism, the first part is said immediately before the celebrant takes up the baptismal waters and make the sign of a cross over themself. The second part is said thereafter.

Faithful God,
In joyful celebration*,
We touch the baptismal waters, a sign of cleansing and resurrection.
You sunder waters and call forth life, you raise the dead to life.
We confess we have been enslaved in sin, dead in our trespasses, buried.

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Remembrance of Baptism

Loving Lord Jesus,
In joyful remembrance*,
We are marked with the sign of the cross, a sign of your faith
You were crucified, dead, and buried, but by the power of the Holy Spirit you were raised to life.

Grant that we may die to sin and live to Christ this Eastertide.
Amen

*For the not yet baptized, “anticipation” should be substituted


Pentecost Sunday

At the conclusion of the Pentecost Sunday service, this rite is spoken by the one being anointed with oil, the two parts are said immediately before and then after the pastor anoints the celebrant’s forehead in the form of a cross.

Gracious God,
In reverent dedication,
We anoint with holy oil, a sign that we are consecrated and baptized by your Spirit,
You are the breath of life in creation, and the pledge and seal of Christ’s redemption.
We confess we have been unfaithfully in loving you with all of our spirit, soul, and body.

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Anointing oil

Holy Lord,
In reverence and boldness
We are marked with the sign of the cross, a sign of your faith.
You poured out your Holy Spirit on the church at Pentecost.
Grant that we may be sanctified through and through, our whole spirit, soul, and body kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Amen


Purpose of these rites:

I belive our church and especially our children should have tangible ways of worshipping, engaging and understanding the faith. Let’s find ways to allow our children to not just hear, but also see with their eyes, and touch with their hands the proclamation of eternal life that is our fellowship with the Triune God.

2. Mentee and Mentor – Nathan Gilley

Around middle school, by the grace of God, and the diligence of many teachers, I began to make large strides academically (I would later learn that persons with dyslexia who are helped to overcome the difficulties of basic literacy and numeracy- often find more advanced conceptual learning to be relatively easy due to their unique nuero-cognitive design). So in fifth grade I stopped being pulled out of the classroom for special education sessions and by 8th grade I was in all advanced classes. For this remarkable transition I credit the almighty God, who answers prayers and works all things for the good of those who love him.

Yet God did not work this change in my life directly. Rather, as He so often does, God chose to do his good work to me through willing members of the body of Christ. And he continued to bless me throughout middle school and high school with many relationships that formed me into Christ-likeness and began my formation into a missional family doctor:

Dr. David Redd

I had the rare privilege of being taught advanced freshmen biology, and later AP biology by Dr. Redd, a medical doctor, board certified in general surgery and a devoted Christian. He shared a beautiful portion of his testimony with us when asked why he was teaching high school biology when he was a doctor: after completing his general surgery residency he had been working full time as a surgeon while raising his family, but one night he had a terrible dream. In his dream he saw his daughter come to him crying after he had missed her kindergarten graduation due to work. He reached down to comfort her saying, “Sweety, Daddy is so sorry he couldn’t come to your kindergarten graduation…” But as she turned into his embrace she grew into a young woman and sadly said, “Dad, it wasn’t my kindergarten graduation you missed- it was my High school graduation – you’ve missed my life.” When he awoke, he began to pray and discussed with his family about what radical changes they needed to make to heed the providential warning he had received. Ultimately, he chose to cut his practice of medicine back to part time, live more modestly, and start teaching and coaching part time at his daughter’s school.

I was in the first biology class that Dr. Redd taught after his paradigm shift. My classmates and I remember well those first weeks of advanced biology. Dr. Redd was an engaging teacher, a gifted medical artist, and a wealth of first hand knowledge with stories that brought biology to life in unmatched depth and detail. But the depth and bredth we covered was like trying to drink water from a fire hydrant. I remember working with my friend Carter late into the evenings struggling to pack all the molecule names, processes and equations into our memories- after only week of classes. Despite our whole hearted efforts I think we all failed the first quiz (excluding Katherine). But the lessons we mastered were well the worth the struggle. Dr. Redd, taught me several lessons that have stuck with me. Firstly, a lesson about lessons – the most life changing lessons are those our teachers and mentors embody for us rather than teach to us. Secondly, the Christian call is to a counter-cultural value system and way of life that balances family, finances, vocation, and discipleship in a way that the watching world finds at least curious if not unsettling. Thirdly, people can often rise to the expectations applied to them- no matter how high – if given a patient and supportive teacher. Finally, Dr. Redd furthered my passion for science and was the first of many exemplary Christian physicians that God would use to light my own path to becoming a physician while maintaining the primacy of Christ in my life.

Chaplain Matthew Atkins

Matthew Atkins came to be the associate pastor at the Church where I grew up, Chattanooga Valley Church of the Nazarene, when I was finishing middle school and starting high school. He served our church in many ways, but most prominent in my recollection was his service as our youth pastor. He was and remains one of my foremost mentors in the faith. Prior to coming to our church he had been an Army Ranger. And while serving at our church he continued to serve in the U.S. military as an army reserve chaplain, he openly anticipated that God would call him back to full time chaplaincy, but for a few years in transition, he and his family made their home in Chattanooga Valley and shared their lives and hearts with us. Matt has taught me several lessons about Christ-likeness (and probably has a few more to teach me yet):

First, Matt taught me about the holiness of play, that we can and should glorify God in all of our activities (especially ultimate frisbee). And to look forward to times of play as an opportunity to disciple and build each other up. For children and teens especially, play creates an incredibly formative opportunity to create patterns of excellence and virtue- to work out being Christ-like under the pressure and adversity of a game. Second, Matt showed me by example the freedom and favor that an attitude of repentance and ready confession brings a leader. In the Wesleyan tradition and American culture a man who is quick to apologize and confesses his sins, shortcomings, and mistakes is a rare and refreshing witness to a God who freely gives a costly grace. Ironically, after Matt left our church to be an active duty chaplain, the faults and flaws that he readily owned up to were quickly forgotten, and the legacy of humble Christ-likeness remained entrenched in our minds. Finally, Matt built on the solid foundation of my childhood to cultivate a passion for Christian service. As a man who grew up in the Salvation Army denomination (yes, they are a Christian denomination), Matt led us to show our faith by our works- regularly finding opportunities to have the youth serve the church and the least of these: the homeless, the elderly, the HIV positive outcast, the person trapped by addiction, or trapped in cyclical poverty. He led us on mission trips locally and abroad. It was one such trip that sparked my passion and love for the Mesoamerican people, culture, and language. A passion that would grow and eventually give geographic direction to my call to missional ministry.

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Under Matthew’s leadership, I was inspired to take up a mentoring and discipling role within our youth group. It began out of a confession to my peers, who already looked to me as a leader because of my calling and because I was a few years older than most of them. I confessed that I had grown complacent in my walk of faith, that I had taken for granted the grace of a loving savior and settled into a faith that went no deeper than regular church and bible class attendance. Particularly, I was convicted by Jesus’ difficult words: “You will know them by their fruit,” (Matt 7:16) and I felt like my life had produced very little that evidenced my faith in my teenage years. That confession, as many confessions will, domino-ed into others making similar confessions and grew into a peer accountability and Bible study group for the core guys in our youth group: Kaiser, Josh, Logan, Corey G., and whenever possible Kenny and Daryl. The depth of vulnerable confession, genuine love, and mutual challenging that we had was unique and blessed. It catalyzed my formation into a mature Christian, and helped me to understand and value the Christian community. I learned many lessons from those years together, but my biggest take away from our small group was that biblical discipleship requires elements of living life together: more than just a once weekly meeting for confession and study, discipleship needs opportunities to live and shape life together: breaking bread, sweating together, facing adversity, and sharing spaces. It is my hope that missional family medicine can be part of creating a community that is knit together in a similarly deep and intimate way.

One particular church mentoring relationship was a peculiar answer to a specific prayer. After learning so much about the Spanish language and Mexican culture during my summer stay in Mexico as a fifteen year old (part of a Jesus Film trip under Matt) I regularly prayed for another such immersion opportunity. But my next summer began without a hint of such an opportunity arising. Instead, on the Sunday before our church’s summer Vacation Bible School (VBS) was to start, a mother and her son who spoke very little English came to our church having just moved from Mexico. One of the adult members of our mission trip to Mexico, had met and ultimately married one of our Mexican co-workers from the trip. That Sunday, I invited the son, David, to our VBS and offered to translate and guide him (as well as I could) through our nightly VBS. I requested all the teacher’s lessons and instructions ahead of time each night so I could translate them with the help of a Spanish-English dictionary prior to that evening’s VBS. That was the beginning of lasting relationship. Through David and his family, God gave me the opportunity to regularly immerse myself in the Spanish language, in the context of family life and church life over the course of most of my high school years. As David mastered English, I became more and more conversational in Spanish, and we both grew in our faith together as we regularly dug into the Spanish Bible together.

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In addition to the already mentioned relationships, I was also blessed with an exceptional group of friends at school who were everything the book of Proverbs recommends a young man should seek to find in his companions. At the stage where my formation was the most affected by the character of my friends, Carter, Tom, Joseph and Audrey were the iron sharpening my iron. Megan, Katherine, Janel and Ellie were wise counsel and kind words. Jeremy, Beau, Chris, Matthew, and Jacob were faithful and encouraging brothers. God surrounded me with more friends than I can name here, all of us pushing one another towards excellence and Christ-likeness in everything from poll vaulting to ballroom dance, mentoring classes below us, competing for better grades even while helping each other study, and holding one another accountable for personal devotional and righteous conduct. A praying mother could not have asked for a better group of friends – my mother’s words, not mine.

I thank my God for the countless friends, teachers, family members and fellow believers who were the hands of God forming me into the young man I became as I emerged from the cocoon of Chattanooga Valley Church of the Nazarene and Chattanooga Christian School and took flight towards college.

P.S. – If anyone of you have a good picture or two of this period in our lives please consider sending it to me so I can post it above. I seem to have lost most of mine.

Alpha – Omega; A Scripture Compilation for Kingdomtide

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the LORD,

“who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

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Chi-Ro Alpha Omega – Brompton Cemetery, London, England, UK.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, now the Word was with God, and the Word was God and all things were made through him. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light- the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. But sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. For we all like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way.

But when the fullness of time had come the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. So Mary gave birth to him, her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He taught, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Yet He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;

He said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” So he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For as in Adam all die, so also in Him shall all be made alive. And when He had been crucified he said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. But three days later he was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.

After that he was taken up into heaven, and the LORD said to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” Thereafter, He who is seated on the throne will say, “I am making everything new!” Then he will say these words that are trustworthy and true “It is finished. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” And behold, God has exalted him to the highest place and given him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Edited by Nathan Gilley using the English Standard Version (ESV)

Rev 1:8, Gen 1:1, Jn 1:1,3, Gen 1:3, Jn 1:9, Ro 5:12, Isaiah 53:6, Gal 4:4, Jn1:14, Phil 2:5-6, Luke 2:7, Isa 53:2, Luke 6:27,28,31, Isa 53:3, Jn 6:35, Is 53:5, Phil 2:8, 1Cor 15:22, John19:30, Ro 1:4, Mrk 16:19, Ps 110:1, Rev 21:4,5, Phil 2:9

The idea for compiling this reading was inspired by the two divine utterances of “It is finished.” Once on the cross and once at the end of all things.

Prayer for a Newborn Baby and Mother Immediately after Birth

[Lay hands on infant and mother]

Naked we come from our mothers’ womb
And naked we will depart;
Blessed be the name of the Lord,

The Lord, who with this mother, and through this labor,
has brought forth this miracle of life;
Blessed be the name of the Lord,

[Make the sign of the cross on the infant’s head with the blessing below]

The name that we now put upon this child and family:
The Lord bless her and keep her;
The Lord make his face to shine upon her and be gracious to her;
The Lord lift up his countenance upon her and give her peace.

Blessed be the name of the Lord,

[Prayed over the mother]

The Lord, who knitted this child together in your womb, who creates and sustains all things, uphold you and go with you in the good work of motherhood that you have begun. May He fill you with all faith, hope, and love; causing you to delight yourself in Him, forevermore.

Blessed be the name of the Lord,

The name by which we are saved- Jesus Christ,
Amen.

 

My newest daughter is now almost 3 months old, but in the weeks preceding her birth, I was motivated to finish working on a concise prayer to be prayed over newborns with their mothers. I completed my first draft a few days before my wife, Bethany, went into labor. After my wife gave birth to our baby girl, Ruth was immediately given to her mother- to snuggle on her chest. Then, as things calmed down, and the necessary nursing and physician tasks were completed, I placed my hands on the head of my newborn daughter and on my wife to recite this prayer.

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The idea for this prayer was born out a desire to have a practical and particularly Christian way to celebrate and mark the joyous occasion of a child’s birth. As a physician I often attend a mother during delivery and become so engrossed in the physical task of guiding, monitoring, and running anticipatory scenarios that before I even think about it, my job is done and I have left the room with a sigh of relief that nothing went off the rails. But I have neglected to acknowledge that God has worked a miracle and allowed me to bear witness. I have missed one of the great opportunities for which I became a physician. To be Christ – in word and deed, at the extremes of life – when our hearts are so naturally ready to receive the grace of God.

Hopefully, this prayer can become a part of my routine, and allow my patients and myself to celebrate, give glory to God, and start a pattern of prayer over each child. I plan to memorize this prayer and routinely ask expectant mothers if they would like for me to pray this blessing over their child after the birth.

Now I just need help translating this into Spanish (because that is the language that the majority of my obstetric patients speak – already (I am presently a resident family physician in Murfreesboro, Tennessee in my third and final year), and although my Spanish is adequate to communicate, it is not eloquent).  For anyone endeavoring to translate this, please note that three scriptures are being drawn from for the above prayer: Job 1:21, Psalm 113:2, and Numbers 6:24-26.

 

Vigil with a Crying Newborn

God Almighty,
Who longs to wipe away every tear, and bring this world to right.

Make me your hand of steadfast love to the distraught,
Make me your voice of peace to the suffering,
Make me your embrace of consolation to the helpless.
Make me Christ to my child and make my eyes see Christ in my child.

Hear our prayers, O LORD,
and give ear to our cries;
Do not be silent at these tears;
For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, who sojourned here with us,

Amen.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

(Revelation 21:4, 2 Corinthians 3:18, Hosea 11, Ephesians 4:2, Colossians 3:12, Psalm 39:12, Revelation 22:20)
Ruth Crying in Daddy's arms
Ruth is 10 days old, and a wonderful baby. She occasionally wants to nurse more frequently than is possible – and find’s her father’s lack of breasts to be very upsetting.

Prayer is a powerful form to reframe our thoughts and expectations into Christlikeness, as well as a call for God to transform this reality into kingdom reality. This prayer is a lot of the former and a little of the later.

Newborns were made to cry, and crying is a good, God-given, form of communication for them. And in the mature human is a complimentary God-given motivation to do something about a crying baby. But when all the actions have been taken and your baby still cries – it time to join with them, and cry out to God. This prayer is meant to be a prayer spoken over or with the urgent and inconsolable cries of a newborn who is fed, changed, swaddled, burped, held – and yet still crying (as Ruth was for 2 hours last night).

After writing this prayer I followed these directions to afix the prayer to battery powered wax candle that we use as our nightlight during these long first nights while Ruth sleeps in our room. I was able to present this to my wife for our use.

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Grace and Peace to us all,

Nathan Gilley, Murfreesboro, TN, USA; October 14th, The year of our Lord 2018

1. Childhood & Calling – Nathan Gilley

As a young child of two godly parents, I was blessed with a deep and early faith in God. My mother was raised in the church as a PK (Preacher’s Kid) and then served in the church I grew up in as a children’s teacher, choir member, and missions director. My mother’s faith was like whitewater – impressive, always moving, visible, and loud. My father’s faith was more aptly described by the Latin proverb, “Still waters run deep.” He rarely spoke to me about his relationship with God, but I watched him physically construct the church building, give sacrificially, honor God with high standards, and exemplify a walk of humble obedience while serving as the church groundskeeper, handyman, soundman, and board member. My parents complimented each other well, and impressed their shared faith upon me from the first moment that God gave me to them, onwards.

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Two things swirl forth in my earliest childhood memories: my home church and the outdoors. Thinking back, I catch glimpses of mission projects, Sunday school, VBS weeks, and church plays. I remember countless hours of Wednesday night lessons and their Bible verse songs taught to me by my mother and my mom’s best friend Miss Helen. I also remember exploring the foothills and hollows at the base of Lookout Mountain, catching frogs and crayfish in ponds with my friend Carter, climbing the poplar trees that towered around my home, and designing booby traps with my brother to spring on imaginary foes chasing us through the dry creek bed behind our house. I never doubted I was safe and loved by my family, and in that fertile ground a seed of faith was planted, and out of that seed blossomed a deep, faith filled love for a good God and His wonderful creation.

As full as my days were of joyful curiosity and freely given affection, my nights were filled with vivid dreams of wonder and terror. These dreams stemmed from a powerful and well cultivated imagination that was fueled by a rich tapestry of Biblical stories, my favorite of which were of Joseph’s interpretations of dreams, Daniel’s visions, and Revelation. One night stands out in my mind. I was falling asleep in my bed when I heard my name called. I dutifully arose and went to my parents’ room and ask them why they’d called. My mom explained to me that they had not called for me. But she quickly added that perhaps it was God who had called, so she admonished me as Eli had Samuel, “If you hear the voice calling again, say, ‘Speak Lord, I’m listening.’” I went back to bed unafraid and eagerly waiting for God to say, “Nathan,” one more time. When he remained silent I decided to go ahead and give him permission to speak, “Speak Lord, I’m listening,” I said quietly in my little boy voice, but I waited and waited until finally I fell asleep in the silence.

Not long after that during a dream I saw my church’s congregation gathered in the sanctuary on a typical Sunday morning. Now, I grew up in Chattanooga Valley Church of the Nazarene, and my family, the Gilleys, had been a part of that Church for four generations and our extended family made up about half of the congregation. In my dream, I saw the instant when the Lord of heaven called His saints to himself in the sky, but my perspective remained in the church building. Many in the congregation went to join their Lord, but to my dismay many people in the church who I knew and loved remained. God impressed that moment and those feelings into my mind, I felt a soul wrenching agony and empathetic torment for those bewildered and lost family and friends. From there the dream continued and I was shown locked books and keys. I no longer remember the details of the later, but I remember awakening with the utter conviction that I was called to ministry. When I enthusiastically explained this to my mother (a kindergarten teacher who knew how often the passionate career hopes of children vacillate) she gave me a non-comital reassurance. I immediately sensed her lack of faith and said with adorable but probably tearful eyes (I cried whenever I disagreed with an adult), “Whether you believe it or not, I am going do what God said, I’m going to be a pastor.” I was five years old.

Shortly after that, my dreams took a darker turn. I had a period in which every night was haunted with nightmares of hell and demons breaking into my ordinary dreams and creating fear, even developing towards periods of sleeplessness. With patience and care my parents, but especially my mother, taught me to pray for peace and protection. I remember us praying together for long periods of time, sometimes multiple times a night, and in those prayers, I learned to lean into the kingdom reality, and immerse myself by prayer in the peace, love, and power of an almighty God who has no rival. The trial passed, but the lessons I learned did not. (Writing this, I am contemplating anew the formative import of the sleepy prayers I pray over my 2-year-old who continues to struggle with sleep).

During that same time period I specifically remember a Kindergarten lesson on jobs (fireman, policeman, teacher, trash collector, doctor, etc.) and knowing with a sort of melancholy certainty that although being a trash collector (who was able to ride on the side of the garbage truck- jumping on and off) was doubtless the best job ever, it could not be my job, because I was called to be a pastor. My mother’s dad, whom we called Paw Paw was a Southern Baptist Preacher, and he was particularly excited to learn of my calling. He had been praying for years, since his own children were coming into the world, that God would call one of his children into the ministry. He told us God had given him the assurance that he would have a ‘preacher boy,’ but after all five of his children were girls, he waited in faith to see how God would answer his prayer.

In the scriptures, before Elijah passed his mantle to Elisha, they crossed through the waters together. In like manner, I remember wading through the baptismal waters to my Paw Paw, giving my confession of faith before the church, and then being put under the water and brought up again- dying to sin and resurrecting in Christ. Pawpaw loved to teach and encourage me, he never let me forget that I had testified to a call on my life, and he prayed regularly for my future (he made it his practice to pray daily for all his children and grandchildren). His advice, prayers, and legacy were carefully, gradually, and thoughtfully put over me like Elijah’s mantle was given to Elisha.

Capture2

As my parents discerned that God truly had a call on my life, they began to pray and discuss what steps they needed to take to be in obedience to God’s plan for our lives. So, after I completed Kindergarten at the local public school, my parents made the hard decision to move me from Chattanooga Valley Elementary School to a small Christian school called Chattanooga Christian School (CCS). My new school emphasized Christian formation and biblical education. This was a hard decision because my mother was a devoted servant of the public-school system, and had taught at Chattanooga Valley Elementary School for many years before having my brother and I. But they listened carefully to what God was leading them to do even though it had a cost – both financial and social.

In the years to come their decision proved to be truly providential, at CCS God further refined my call to include foreign missions and grounded my faith with a thorough working knowledge of the scriptures. Another formative time in my elementary school years were my family’s visits to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to be with my younger cousin Samantha. Sam was diagnosed with retinoblastoma cancer when she was six weeks old, she went on to have cancer nine times before she was eight years old. My stays at St. Jude brought me face-to-face with the hellish nature of disease and the hope filling power of doctors who treat their patients with love and compassion. It was then that I began to see that the future I had felt God calling me towards might not be a simple pastorate or even typical missionary work I had envisioned. I began to dream of being a type of missionary that could help all kinds of broken people feel better; like the doctors and nurses who joked and played games with my cousin and I when she was feeling well, but also comforted and gave us hope when she seemed to be slipping away.

This desire to tangibly minister to the brokenness of the world resonated with the call that God had placed on my life. And one day, on the long drive back from Memphis, Tennessee (St. Jude’s Children Hospital) to Flintstone, Georgia (Home), I asked my father about the feasibility of such a calling, “Dad, do you think I could be a missionary to help people know about God and a doctor to help the sick people there too?” And with unwavering support and affirmation that would characterize my parents’ attitude towards my calling my Dad answered, “Sure.” My brother, not to be left out, decided to combine his dream job with an altruistic twist to help the sick children, “Dad, I think that I’ll still be a dump truck driver, but between loads, I can also pick up all the sick children (in the spacious dump bed) and take them to the hospital.”

With the medical missions goal in mind and with an insatiable curiosity about the world, I worked hard to be the best student I could. Unfortunately, despite enjoying school, having great support at home, excellent teachers, and doing my best, I struggled to read and write, even into the second grade. My first academic obstacle was unveiled when my mother insisted I be tested for learning disabilities and found out I was in the first percentile for dyslexia. My parents did not allow this to become an excuse (in fact- I did not even learn I was dyslexic until much later) they only assured me that although I needed some extra help, if I worked hard and faithfully, I could be what I dreamed. After my testing, I was placed in special education classes and my mother worked with me one-on-one every day for 2-4 additional hours after school. This went on for several years. In time I could work around my reading and writing mix-ups and slowly I caught up with my peers. This trial taught me the power of persistence, determination, and hope.

Nathan Gilley, October 14th 2018, Murfreesboro TN.

Sojourner, Come In

At the beginning of our marriage, for our first Christmas gift as a married couple, my wife and I created a guest book for our home. I crafted a leather binding and my wife bound up the pages. Our first page contains this invitation:

Book intro

In these pages and dispatches, like our home, we hope to provide a glimpse of God’s inbreaking kingdom. We invite you to come in, and hope you will find our words to be life giving.