Last month, my distraught daughter entered her grandmother's ICU room in a Catholic hospital, searching for a place to hang a sentimental picture of sunflowers.
When my wife suggested she use the lone nail protruding from the wall above my mother-in-law's bed, the nurse blurted out a surprising question: "Where's Jesus?" She meant the crucifix commonly found in Catholic institutions.
In answer to her perplexing question, my wife tactfully suggested that she search for Jesus in one of the dresser drawers where my father-in-law would likely place any Catholic symbol that offended his very Baptist sensibilities.
The nurse found strength in that crucifix, and she did not take solace in the fact that someone — especially a Protestant — had shelved her Jesus. So, she launched a frantic search and recovery effort, shuffling dresser drawers and lacing her questions with possessive pronouns, "Where's my Jesus? Where's my Jesus?"
Her actions seemed a bit funny at the time, but given a few days' hindsight, the whole question of "Where's my Jesus?" makes sense to me now.
It started making sense during the first hour of my current 60-day deployment to a local Air Force base when, in three separate incidents, I misplaced my wallet, my military ID and my laptop. My consecutive search for each loss pushed my blood pressure higher and pegged my anxiety level to the max.
My successive losses left me feeling discombobulated and wondering, along with the nurse, if I was beginning to lose my Jesus.
But the truth is, my consternation came from much more than the misplacement of worldly possessions. In addition to my mother-in-law's catastrophic stroke and my deployment, I'd just sent two adult children packing under the ultimatum given by nearly every parent to nonworking adult children: work or school or out.
With all of this, I felt myself falling behind in my deadlines for my creative writing degree when suddenly my elderly but very active stepfather died.
It's no wonder that halfway though writing this column, I buried my face into my forearms, praying that somehow I'd not lose "my Jesus" in all of this. My prayer brought to mind what my mother used to say whenever I'd lose something: "Go back to where you last remembered seeing it, and maybe you'll find it."
Where did I last see Jesus?
Fortunately, I can report he's not missing. I saw Jesus in the eyes of the newly baptized family in my church last week. I also felt him jogging beside me last month down a rainy stretch of an Oregon beach. And in the hospital, I saw Jesus in the eyes of my father-in-law as he wiped the brow of his wife of 56 years.
My Jesus had been with me all the time. I hadn't lost him. He wasn't stowed away in a drawer. He was with me.
I don't know what you call the strength that sustains you in your moment of greatest need, but I call that strength Jesus.
You might have another word for it. Perhaps you call it love or family or Spirit Guide. But whatever you call it, I think we can borrow a page from my Baptist theology, which tells me that once you get your Jesus, you can't lose him.
Norris Burkes is a former civilian hospital chaplain and an Air National Guard chaplain. Write firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.thechaplain.net. You can also follow him on Twitter: chaplain — or on Facebook at facebook.com/norrisburkes.