Friday, December 12, 2008

Low Reserves Revisited

Well, the challenging week continues, but I'm beginning to see some daylight.  I took yesterday off, declined to meet with some people over important issues because I knew I shouldn't trust my insight in this exhausted state, and then worked outside in the flower beds for much of the afternoon.  I cleaned out the beds with summer/fall plants, now dead from front.  Onto the compost heap.  I looked sadly at the house plants I had put on the front and south facing porch, thinking it might protect them adequately from the more extreme cold and realized many hadn't made it.  Each of those houseplants had a history.  Many came from the funerals of my mother and father in law, two years ago.  Others were rescued from my mother who systematically kills every plant ever given her. Another is a now 8 foot ficus tree I had grown from a 1 footer, acquired about five years ago for my office.  That ficus may make it, but another is gone.  So, more onto the compost pile.


Then I began to pull some weeds from the new beds we put in this past fall, and started placing newspaper down and covering it with compost to put a good barrier against others growing.  Didn't get too far--just don't have the physical strength right now to do too much.  But being out in the sunshine helped. Getting a few things cleaned out helped.  Tossing things on the compost heap helped.  All part of the cycle of life--even the most tenderly cared for plants eventually die, but in their death, they can bring life again.


My grandson in France seems to be responding to the huge doses of powerful antibiotics being pumped into his system, and all are cautiously optimistic.  The church administrator at my church has very likely experienced a miracle of healing.  A diagnosis of rampant and quickly fatal liver cancer from two and a half weeks ago is suddenly, "Well, the biopsy shows NO signs of cancer, but I don't trust it and want you to have another." 


In a couple of hours, I'll head to Dallas to do a wedding rehearsal and enjoy an evening there along with what should be a beautiful wedding on Saturday.  My Beloved, as always loving and supportive, has agreed to take the lead in this wedding and just let me be the tag along.  He's really better at these than I am, and I will ride gratefully on his strength for these two days.


My sermon for Sunday is ready and waiting for me on my pulpit.  My article for next week will be sent to the newspaper editor soon.  There's a sense of completion here that really helps.  I know I still need a long, long break, much sleep and sunshine to really recover again, but have a sense of hope again. Thank all of you for praying.

Bless and Curse Not

A few weeks ago, a horrific terrorist attack left a number of people dead and wounded in Mumbai, India. I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to this--it was just another piece of bad news filling the newspapers and airways. My inner response, "It doesn't really affect me anyway." Then I got an email from my oldest son who has been doing some graduate work in France. One of his classmate's father was injured in the attack. Although the whole description of the attack is too long to print in full, here is a snippet of what happened after the terrorists entered a hotel restaurant and began to shoot:

"The terrorists then rounded up anyone alive (about 20 people) and made them climb the service staircase to the 18th floor. On reaching the 18th floor landing they made the people line up against a wall. One terrorist then positioned himself on the staircase going up from the landing and the other on the staircase going down from the landing. Then, in a scene right out of the Holocaust, they simultaneously opened fire on the people. My father was towards the center of the line with his two friends on either side. Out of reflex, or presence of mind, he ducked as soon as the firing began. One bullet grazed his neck, and he fell to the floor as his two friends and several other bodies piled on top of him. The terrorists then pumped another series of bullets into the heap of bodies to finish the job. This time a bullet hit my father in the back hip. Bent almost in double, crushed by the weight of the bodies above him, and suffocating in the torrent of blood rushing down on him from the various bodies my father held on for ten minutes while the terrorists left the area."

After further description of the horrors and the eventual rescue of the four who survived this particular attack, my son's classmate wrote this:

"How do we fight such hate? How do we inject humanity into such monstrosity? How do we convince those who think they kill in god’s name that no God would condone such barbarity? How do we maintain our own values and humanity when faced with such hate and provocation?"

Yes, how do we fight such hate? Do we fight it with more hate? With more violence? With escalated wars? There are no simplistic answers here and I'm not naive enough to suggest them. But it surely does answer the question that many Christians are encouraged to ask during Advent, that time of waiting for Christmas. The question: "Does the world need a Savior?" How do you answer it? What will you do when the Savior appears? What will you do when the Savior appears and is not what you expected? What will you do when the Savior appears and instead of destroying your enemies he says, "Bless those who persecute you.  Bless and curse not." 

Just a few words to ponder as we prepare for a week of celebration, family, gifts and fun. Be sure and attend a Christmas Eve service--hear again those words and remember, "Christ the Savior has come!"

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Even Fewer Reserves

So, yesterday morning I write about my state of being so empty.  Yesterday afternoon, my son who lives in France phoned to tell me his youngest son, Samuel, is in the hospital in Fontainebleau with a high fever that they can't bring down and a possible kidney/bladder infection.  I told Jonathan that he developed something like that when he was four or five but no cause was ever found.  Later, Jonathan phoned again and said that the pediatrician over there would like the medical records of what happened to Jonathan in the early '80s.  So I began to make phone calls to see if they could be retrieved.  Little luck so far. 

So, here I am, a pastor who knows how much comfort is found in sharing such things with others and asking for prayer.  And I find myself almost paralyzed by the need to ask for that kind of support, although I have let a few know about this.  I suspect this is both a symptom of my deep exhaustion and a wish not to focus attention on myself when there are so many others who need it.  I have a memorial service to do this afternoon for a family whose mother died Sunday morning.  I spent many, many hours with this great family, finding myself blessed by their love for their mother/grandmother (seven children, and a huge number of grandchildren, great's, nieces, nephews, in-laws, etc.).  I want to give them all that they deserve in this time of final goodbyes.  These are such holy moments, times when we are especially open to the probing, cleansing love of God.

It can and should become a time to focus on the glory of God.  I have heard so many grieving people say to me, "Does (the deceased one) know what we are doing?  Does she/he see how much we loved her and are trying to honor her memory?"  I would say, "I'm betting they don't care--they are so caught up in the presence of the true unveiled glory of God that that of us which lives after death before the physical resurrection is really uninterested in whether you got the details right of the service."  The services are not for the one who is dead, but for those who are living, who much come to a place of peace about their loss and prepare to move in and live in ways that honor the memory of the one they loved so.

So, guess I'd better get to work.

If you do read this, however, please pray for my grandson, Samuel.  All of us are worried about him. 

Monday, December 08, 2008

No Reserves

It's a tough, tough time for the nation.  We are well into a huge economic crisis and the people who are going to get hit the very hardest are those living on the edge with no reserves to fall back upon.  The more vulnerable ones live paycheck to paycheck, sometimes even taking out payday loans to cover emergencies--and those loans have unbelievably damaging interest rates, thus pushing already precarious financial positions into real calamity.

No reserves--that's the problem.  Nothing to carry us when blow after blow comes.

That is how I'm feeling right now.  No real reserves after a very challenging few months as well as a very blessed few months as pastor here.  I serve such a wonderful church.  These dear people offer themselves as examples of Christ Incarnate in their joy and service and loving response to all coming their way.  Even so, the energy drain continues on me, and everyone knows it.  And I just can't figure out how to get filled up again.  It's like the financial crisis--a precarious situation moves over into real calamity when there are no reserves to call upon.

It's easy to list the challenges and responsibilities on front of me.  And frankly, most clergy would love to be in the situation I'm in--and therefore I have a very hard time complaining about it, although of course I do. 

We'll know more later this week, but I do believe we have seen a healing take place in one of the members of my church.  This morning, spending time in prayer before being able to find the energy to leave my bed, I was thinking about the time that the woman with the long-lasting hemorrhage touched the edge of Jesus cloak and Jesus felt the energy go out of him as she became well.  Of course he would rejoice in her healing--and did so with gracious words of invitation into his family of faith.  But was he exhausted afterward?  Perhaps that is why his ministry was so short--those few years in which he gave all was all he could possibly muster.

I have long held that healing can only take place in extreme cooperation between God and the person in need of it.  It cannot be outwardly imposed on someone who really, really doesn't want it.  Many say they want it, but few really do.  Many are called, but few are chosen.  Few really, really want the kind of holy responsibility that comes with being healed by the hand of God.  Few truly wish to live a well persons in a world that encourages sickness of heart and mind and soul and body. 

Will God restore my reserves?  Or better, is God interested in restoring my reserves?  I think so.  But I don't think God will fill my well any more than financial accounts miraculously turn from red to black just by wishing it.  It takes cooperation.  It means lining myself up with holy habits that promote the rebuilding of the reserves:  rest, sabbath, time to read and reflect, time outside, laughter, order--in many ways, being a bit more selfish with my time and energy.

No quick fix here.  Wish there were.