Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Welcome to Our World

As we again recall the incarnation of our Lord as one who came and walked among us, and whose coming we await again, my prayers are for each one of you that you will have a blessed Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Adorable Couple


Oh to be sixteen and have been asked to the Winter Formal by "the" Boy. To get the perfect dress, and get a mani/pedi. To have the Boy wear the tie that matches your dress. Looking out the window and seeing his car pull into the driveway, only to see his Dad's car too. It is so irksome to be 16 and excited for the dance- you just want to get into the car and go. But the parents are so tedious. The obligatory pictures in front of the fireplace. The lecture about the possible bad weather and the time to be home, and enough gas in the car. The humorous anecdotes about you that the parents tell when CLEARLY you just want to go to the dance, or anywhere else that is not standing by the fireplace listening to the parents have their nostalgic moments. The picture taking is awkward, but since you cannot leave until the parents are satiated, you pose. You are excited, but you are feeling awkward. And you definitely do NOT want to endure the "I remember when I went to the dance" musings.
This time seemed infinite and infernal, and yet, it was only seven minutes from "hello" to " Have a great time" and you ride off into the night. It would be so awesome if it was a really cool car, but even though it is the minivan with the window sticker for your older sister's school and your Mom's teacher bumpersticker, and the Norse plate on the front, it is still a bit of a rush to be headed to the winter formal- "the" Boy and the Happy Girl who said "yes"- ending weeks of speculation by friends whether you would figure out what they already knew. To the Adorable Couple.

Friday, December 19, 2008

How Can This Be?

"How can this be?" are the words we hear a young Mary speak in this Sunday's gospel text. "How can this be?" were the words etched into my brain from the other day when another young girl experienced unexpected events, but in a much more tragic context. She was twenty years old, and in her second year of college, the oldest of eight children in a close-knit and devout family. She aspired to being a high school teacher, and was proud that she had also scrimped and saved from her job at the supermarket to buy a dependable used car. She was home for break from school, and had just had a fight with her boyfriend. Maybe they had been fighting more now that she is away at school. He had left and she was probably feeling more than a little sad and stressed about it all when she began to feel an odd strangeness she had never experienced before. In fact, she felt so different than she ever had before that she called her Mom who was out shopping. The daughter was home watching the little ones. She begged her Mom to come home-NOW!
It had already been a bad day, not just the fight with her boyfriend, but her brother who was a year younger was at the police station with their Dad because he had been mugged, and was slogging through the obligatory investigative police work. In the time it took to get to the house it had all begun to unravel. Mom walks in the door to find her beautiful 20 year old violently vomiting, struggling with slurred speech, but she was able to comprehend that she could not feel parts of her body. And she was terrified and crying. The ambulance was called and the neighbor came over to stay with the others, and in a whir they sped away with the EMT's struggling to keep her breathing.
As I met the Mom in the waiting room I scrambled to comfort, and offer to get whatever news I could. I did not have to struggle to envision all of the feelings and instincts, but instead needed to chase away thoughts of my own. Very quickly, it was even more dismal than before, with the doctor saying there had been a massive stroke, and she was bleeding in her brain, and I ached as the rapid fire questions about health history, meds, and life situation were coming almost too quickly to be absorbed. And the truth is that there was nothing that could explain this. There would be more tests and treatment and maybe surgery but " I am very concerned- your daughter could die."
Desperate phone calls were made. I offered prayer that still seems like it was not enough, but then again how could it be? And she sank to her knees and began praying the rosary, pulling me with her. I know most but not all, but with my arm around her, prayed what I could aloud and joined in silence with her in the rest. She shared that she was focusing on the cross of Christ. And as the repetition moved further along, as she almost feverishly fingered the beads, the peace which surpasses understanding was enough to carry her in the tragic yet sacred space. And then we waited.
The father and brother arrived and after more updating and consoling, I gave them some space while I tried to find out more. I inquired if they wished their parish be contacted, and they asked for the closest on-call priest to come and anoint their daughter. And then we waited. And then a doctor came and shared what more they knew- and it was even worse- that there was no discernible brain activity, the machines were doing all of the heavy lifting. The Mom lurched in the wake of this tidal wave of sorrow, and I caught her before she could fall, her husband and I easing her into a chair as she expelled a visceral wail- how could this be? I ached to my very core for them.
The son was standing off to the side- his parents were embracing each other and praying. He asked if he could go somewhere to smoke a cigarette, not that he was a big smoker, but you know, times like this.. In this day and age, one cannot smoke in the building or on any of the property owned by the hospital.
I took him outside- and pointed about a half a block away to where he could go. There was a light, but chilling rain. We chatted briefly- he was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the day and these new inexplicable things. And in fairly non- chaplain-like language, I offered to this 19 year old that I was so sorry because, frankly this sucked.
"Yeah" is about the only word I can print here from his response, but my putting this into the base vernacular allowed him to let loose of some of the emotions. I asked him if he could use a hug, and as I did I recalled that in all of this, the parents had been hugging each other, but not him. " Thanks, you know I really could." And he latched on for all it could be, and in my mind, I thought that 19 is really not that old. When this kind of thing happens, suddenly it is hard to be an adult. In fact, "I don't want to be a grown-up" would be even more accurate.
I could not go with him for him to catch a smoke, but only stand there as he lurched off into the misty night, having shared with him what he would need to do to come back into the trauma unit.
He returned as the priest was arriving. As I left them to share in this time with the priest, I prayed that the three of them, Mom, Dad and Son would embrace together. I prayed for this young girl, and for all of the staff, many of whom, as nurses, were in their 20's as well. This was within striking distance of their ages, a cold slap in the face even for those who choose this profession. Now discussing the timing of the brain death determinations.
After the priest left, there was the flurry around transferring the girl to a trauma-neuro room during the interim, and it was time for me to hand off to another chaplain. Part of me wanted to stay, wanted to make sure that this family would get everything they needed, this maternal part of me struggled to say goodbye. But the introductions needed to be made, and the status reviewed. Long, deep hugs, and expressions of sorrow and prayer. It would be another chaplain who would discuss the organ donations, and the finality of things, in the dark of night, this cold and unforgivingly blustery night.
Before I ended my time, I circled round the ER, to listen to the nurses, and the clerks, and the security folks, and in that sharing, to be ministered to as I ministered. There had already been two other deaths on my shift, plus the regular pattern of heart attack and traumas, and in general we were all feeling more than a little beat up.
Out of this tragedy, five people received donor organs they so desperately needed- this is the reality of organ donation- it takes a tragedy to bring someone else long-awaited good news.
I drove home, distractedly, mulling in my mind all that had transpired. And it felt like a leaden blanket. And I have prayed repeatedly for this family, and this beautiful girl whose obituary photo allowed me to see her not as the dying girl, whose face was slack, whose eyes were vacant, wired up to so many machines, but a vibrant and beautiful girl with a hopeful smile- I mourn not seeing that girl. I cannot fathom the wrenching grief of the family, or the bottomless pit that something that cannot be quantified leaves for the medical folks.
Henri Nouwen shares that "There is a strong inclination to say, 'Don't cry, your loved one is in the hands of God'.. but are we really ready to experience our powerlessness in the face of death and say 'I do not understand. I do not know what to do, but I am here with you.' Are we willing to not run away from the pain, to not get busy when there is nothing to do, and instead to stand in the face of death with together with those who grieve?" I hope that this was the care I imparted through the power of the Spirit.
And I hugged my own teens a little more tightly reminded yet again of the wonderful blessings and the fleeting nature of it all. Reminded of the words of a sermon by a pastor who buried his own son after his car careened into the harbor- People ask where was God? God was the first to shed tears as his car sank into the water. And the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

There is so much we don't know here- Lord give us the strength to hold on to what we do know- death does not have the last word- none of your words are impossible. And Lord, have patience with us when it is hard for us to embrace these words.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Making Room for Hope

I have been asked to preach in my home parish this Sunday, Advent 4, for which the gospel is Luke 1:26-38. Given all that has happened and continues to happen in the parish and around the world, this was the message that came to me:

One can look around and see many struggling to simply get by. Putting food on the table and keeping up with the bills is constant challenge. There’s plenty to go around, but the surplus always ends up in the hands of a privileged few who control the halls of power. Leaders seem to ignore what’s happening across the vast heartland. Taxes get higher and higher and yet the money coming in is headed in the opposite direction. Lots of promises are made, but promises are broken. People are longing for change. Sound familiar? This is the world of Palestine into which Jesus was born. But Mary is making the best of it. She is, after all, to be married to a man who she hopes will provide for her. She has a plan. But then.. the angel shows up. With confusing news, and interruption.
Mary asks the angel Gabriel- How can this be? This interruption of my plan. What thoughts and fears raced through her head? Like Mary, we cannot reason it, or rationalize it, or grasp how it will be. In the interruptions in our lives- no amount of know-how can make it all clear. Sometimes it is hard to have hope in God’s promises in such times as these. We hear that to this young girl engaged to Joseph come words we now say bring comfort and promise, but for her the angel does not really have very many words. “ Greetings! Rejoice! God has chosen you!”” The Holy Spirit will be with you.” “Nothing is impossible with God.” That’s it.
What was it like for Mary? It is hard to believe that these words were enough. How can these few words be enough to have faith in the promise of the long awaited Messiah, the one who would deliver people from all that holds them captive and weighs them down, to have faith in that same Messiah we await again to complete what has been started?
And I wonder what would it be like if Gabriel came to us with these words, here, now? …. Are these words enough for us? “Rejoice, God has chosen you!” “ The Spirit will be with you” “ Nothing is impossible with God.” Can we trust in God in this time, a time that seems so complex?
Today we’ll hear the choir sing an anthem entitled “Hope for Resolution,” which includes a South African praise hymn sung during the trying times of apartheid, and in these trying times of ours, this side of the cross, but before God’s fulfillment, as we look around our world today, I think we can join in singing that resolution is what we long for.
Meanwhile, can we do as the angel says? For into this world, the angel comes, saying, “Don’t be afraid.” Have you ever noticed that these are the words that are said in Scripture when it is obvious that someone would be terrified? “Yeah, right, don’t be afraid.” Actually, the truest translation is- Stop fearing, stop being afraid, put aside your fears.” Why? Because God is acting even when you can’t see it. Believe. God’s promises will be fulfilled.
The heart of the angel’s message is "Nothing will be impossible with God or for God.” This is the story of faith- a theme continuing throughout the entire gospel story of Christ, and the heart of our hope for today and the world to come. None of God’s words are impossible; none of what has been prophesied and promised will fail to come true. God will do as God has promised- to come again and for us now, to be in our midst through the Spirit. The angel shares words that eventually turn Mary’s fears into hope, in spite of her inability to grasp the game plan or the timetable; words that cause Mary to respond in faith, though I think we can be sure Mary paused.
We are not told she IMMEDIATELY responds, but only that she ultimately accepts in faith what cannot be understood or seen. For Mary, through the Spirit, this means she will be an instrument through which prophecy will live into reality. Through the Spirit, God will use the most unlikely and ordinary person to do the extraordinary. Through the Spirit, God continues to come into our midst, speaking and acting in the interruptions.
How will WE respond?
The interruptions will weren’t easy for Mary, or aren’t for us.
But, as Henri Nouwen writes, “This is the greatest conversion in our lives- To recognize and believe that the many unexpected events are not just disturbing interruptions of our projects, but the way in which God molds our hearts and prepares us for His return. Our greatest temptations are bitterness and boredom. When our good plans are interrupted by poor weather, our well-organized careers by illness or bad luck, our peace by a new war, our desire for a stable government by a constant changing of the guards, our desire for immortality by real death, we are tempted to give in to paralyzing boredom, or to strike back in destructive bitterness.” I would add we are tempted to live in the grip of fear. Perhaps we hear the words, “How can this be?” as “Why me? “
Mary responded to God, by making room, not just in the sense of how her body will change during her pregnancy. First, Mary made room in her heart and mind- for hope, in faith even though it was a plan she could not imagine. She would be tested in ways she could not grasp, or be able to handle alone. But instead being stuck in “why me?” Mary ultimately responded with hope in faith that there is promise hidden in this new event.
So today let’s pause and think of the faith and hope of Mary, and of the promises of God. And ask ourselves- Can we make room for hope? Can we be willing to see promise hidden in new events? To do so, we must be willing to let go of fear and make room for hope in faith.
At the beginning of Advent, the first candle we lit we call the candle of hope. We have since lit the candles of Love and Joy, and now today, Peace. But each week we light first that candle of hope. When we leave today we will step back into a complex, demanding world, with some pretty big issues looming, and big hopes and expectations of how we can fix it all. We may even hope that we can put those things aside as we will focus on the last cards, and the dinners, and the shopping and the wrapping.
But first, especially in this year where many of us have received painful news, unexpected news, challenging news, let’s pause. Pause and see the light of Christ, our promise of hope. Let us not race to extinguish or forget this light.
Let’s make room in our hearts and minds, not for more fear, or questions, or busy-ness, but for hope. Let us live in the faithful expectation of that hope, the hope that was and is and will be.
You see, the paradox of expectation is that those who believe in tomorrow can live a better today, can discover beginnings of new life in the old, and that those who look forward to the returning Lord can discover him already in their midst.
God has kept and will keep promises. The Spirit is with us. Nothing is impossible for God or with God.
Let’s make room in faith for the hope even though we cannot fully see, or understand. The hope that came to us in Christ, the Christ who meets us again this day at the table, the Christ who will come again.
Amen.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Affirmation of Baptism

Today we joyously celebrate the Affirmation of Baptism of LC#2 and 10 others. The youth lead both of the services in all aspects except for presiding. She will be playing her trombone for A Mighty Fortress as the gospel acclamation, and leading the congregation in the confession and forgiveness. Afterwards a party at our house with all of the family and the church staff and pastors. And a moment of bittersweet-ness: fourteen years ago on All Saint's Sunday was her baptism. An acknowledgement we are another step closer to adulthood. And yet how exhilirating to see where our Chicks are headed, and what a blessing they are. Oh, and by the way, in the thrill of all of this is the news that I am "enthsiastically recommended" for endorsement in my candidacy process- plenty to celebrate and for which to make a joyful noise unto the Lord- Enjoy this rendition of the "Fortress" by GLAD.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Go, Silent Friend


At long last, my friend with cancer, who I have blogged about over the last year, has breathed her last. However, through Christ she and not death will have the last word. My fiercely determined friend, with whom there has been intense and personal sharing, more than our fair share of laughs, and more than a couple glasses of wine. Who lived life writ large- big smile, big laugh, big heart. With piercing eyes that could sparkle with great Irish wit, or slay you with the glacial glare if you have hurt her clan. Never afraid to be real and honest and loving- NOW. She has been a friend, a confidant, a client, a supporter, and the person that would tell you that you just did, or were about to do, a really stupid thing. If she had your back, there was little to fear.
In this week I, like many of my peers will be meeting on Friday ( Reformation Day) with my candidacy panel. I hope and pray that I will be recommended for endorsement to continue my studies and discernment. On Sunday, our younger daughter, our spare teen and six other youth will participate in their affirmation of baptism. Juxtaposed between these two days will be the service for my friend. In many ways a microcosm of ministry and life in the community of faith. And it has become time to honor the promise she asked me to make, that week she learned she had cancer. When she swore she would beat it, but just in case, " will you sing at my service?" Our eyes both welled up as I assured her that day was farther off than it might seem.

Gracious God, we give you thanks for the life and witness of one who we so deeply loved and who so deeply loved us. We give you thanks for that ways in which you used her devotion, and her example of faith in good times and in struggle, that helped us to be faithful too. We give you thanks for the saving act of the life, death and resurrection of your Son, Jesus Christ, and the promise that nothing can separate us from your love. May this bring comfort in the times ahead as we mourn our loss, and may we also be sustained by the memories of the gift of time with which we were blessed. In the name of Jesus Christ, our risen Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

A year and a half. The gift of time we shared as friends after that day, the day when I promised and acted as a friend, when it seemed so distant. Any thought I had that this had been forgotten was dispelled when today I learned that the service had been planned. From my friend's notes throughout her illness. Notes now scooped up lovingly and brought to the church, by her devoted hubby. And among the wishes and thoughts, that I would sing a solo, the words she wanted to leave with those who mourned. So after I have assisted with communing the gathered, the post-communion canticle will be this song, sung to the tune of "Londonderry Air," more popularly known as the tune of "Danny Boy."

"Go Silent Friend"
The Iona Community

Go, silent friend,
your life has found its ending:
To dust returns your weary mortal frame.
God, who before birth called you into being,
Now calls you hence, his ascent still the same.

Go, silent friend,
your life in Christ is buried;
For you He lived and died and rose again.
Close by His side your promised place is waiting
Where, fully known, you shall with God remain.

Go, silent friend,
forgive us if we grieved you;
Safe now in heaven, kindly say our name.
Your life has touched us, that is why we mourn you;
Our lives without you cannot be the same.

Go, silent friend,
we do not grudge your glory;
Sing, sing with joy deep praises to your Lord.
You, who believed that Christ would come back for you,
Now celebrate that Jesus keeps his word.


Til we meet again, my dear friend. You have won- Thanks be to God. +

Friday, October 24, 2008

Ocean Wide

I am planning a confirmation lesson in our study of the commandments. We are up to "you shall not bear false witness." Of course, we all know that this is about lying, perjury, gossip, false promises. But it is also about prejudice and our ways of denying someone their true identity as a child of God. This may mean one thing in the middle school cafeteria, but on the world scale, it means so much more. So much is being bantered about these days concerning race, racism, gender, gender bias, that I offer this song by Mark McLachlan.
Ocean Wide

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I Saved the World Today

I have been on a break from blogging. Too many personal things that needed attention, followed by nasty sickness that almost ended me up in the hospital with pneumonia. But the drugs are helping my lungs and the rest of the world is back to the normal levels of insanity we love.
Here in the middle of what is known as the "T" in Pennsylvania, we are bracing ourselves for the final crush toward election day. The "T" is the center and across the northern tier of Pennsylvania, considered to be the more "conservative" area- as in expected to vote Republicans into office. Here, in my corner of the world, people actually disagree about who is the more True Republican, True conservative, True man in the image of Reagan..get the picture? Our area is expected to turn out en masse and offset the "liberal cities." As though somehow those of us who live here are a monolith of Republicans who swarm on command. We could I suppose have been the " vast right wing conspiracy" of days gone by. And now we are bracing because we have learned that McCain considers Pennsylvania win-able and a "must win." And we have gotten a few McCain and Palin visits. Probably more to come. I cringe to see what mail or phone calls await in the "Get out the Vote" frenzy. My neighbor has an Obama sign he brings in at night so no one will steal, maim or otherwise wreck it. The TV, radio, internet, and even gaming worlds are slathered with ads, and bold claims. And in the midst of this I look at our country with the financial structure lurching, with resources in ever greater straits, and wonder amidst the soundbites, where is it all headed? I have watched my daughters' college accounts dwindle frighteningly- so much for saving. I see my friends agonizing about jobs, and health care, and the cost of heating.
And yet in the midst of this, I can't help but wonder whether anyone really believes that somehow a change in the Resident at 700 Pennsylvania Avenue is somehow going to miraculously save the day. I guess in the end, the decision is one of who you think will actually try to effectuate dialogue and action, versus someone who will not; and someone whose running mate you would actually be OK with seeing be the commander in chief if something ( God forbid) happened to the President.
And while I find all of the SNL and Jon Stewart bits entertaining there is a sadness that bespeaks something deeper in us that needs a laugh because the truth is too painful.
All of which made me think of the Eurythmics song, " I Saved the World Today" hence the title of the post. Since the embed is disabled, the best I can give is a link.

I Saved the World Today

This is indeed a time in our country where changing landscape for many will call ever more upon us to help those in need, and a time when the message we offer over and against the swirl around us, is needed. And while none of us will "save the world" I think all of us can make little differences, ones we are called to make in the lives of those in our midst. Let us not fall into the trap that things are too big to face.

Monday, October 13, 2008

I'm a Supporter of The Girl Effect

As the parent of two teenaged girls, I am often struck by the vast differences between what my Lutheran Chicks face at their ages, and the reality for much of the world's girls. And so I am proud to support the efforts of The Girl Effect- after you watch this video, or visit their website at The Girl Effect, I hope you will walk away with food for thought.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Greatness of Small Things

So often we think about our actions and interactions in grand scale, the things we buy, the places we go and the actions we take. In part this is because many of us can make hundreds of choices every day and not really think about the immense freedom associated with our decisions. For a fair number of us, we also do not have to engage in serious contemplation about the cost of things or what it will take to acquire them. As our economy has undergone mounumental shift, it seems that our thinking may be reoriented. What if most of us needed to be a lot more intentional and a lot less cavalier? What if both our money and our mobility affected how we acted regarding ourselves and each other?
This week I thought about that even more, as I was a part of my friend's memorial service. Her health care costs and lack of mobility played an overwhelming role in limiting her, or so one would think.
Yet person after person spoke of her lovingly as a caring, insightful and connected person who regularly, as recently as three weeks ago was ministering to all. And doing so in the most touching ways. A phone call to leave a message- thinking of you. A homemade card collage of words and pictures from magazines that spoke to her of a particular person or their circumstance, painstakingly cut out, and fashioned. A cup of tea in the kitchen or on the porch when you stopped by. When people asked what she needed, she asked for new kinds of tea to try with friends. I gave tea, but what I got in return far exceeded the value of the tea. If one was away too long, a tea bag in the mail, with a note to sit and have a cup and call, or just relax.
A quiet ministry of little moments. Moments far more priceless than all the "great things" our culture convinces us we must possess.
My friend at one time had a great many things that she lost, but like Paul in his letter to the Philippians, what she gained was far greater. A faith deeper than almost any I have known, and a true sense of presence in Christ in a self-emptying few of us would seek.
As I sat in a packed sanctuary, I saw the intertwining of all of those little things, almost unnoticeable things many of us fail to even contemplate in our pursuit of great things. And it seems to me that my friend gained the greatest gift, a life in Christ, which she imparted to each of us, even when we didn't see it.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Missing You My Friend

I have not blogged since I went to see my friend as the chaplain. She was vented, but desperate to talk. Her lips movedly rapidly while her teeth clenched the tubes. Agonizingly I struggled to grasp what she wanted to tell me. I figured out it involved "Me." Then I figured out it involved her "Face." Then eventually I figured out she needed something. I tried a white board with letters but they were not big enough. I tried charades. But eventually, after a long ardous process, I figured out she wanted three things, the hair out of her face, to see herself in the mirror and her glasses. The doctor came to tell her they wanted to try a time of weaning her off of the vent. She asked me to stay with her. Just to be there for her, so she was not alone. And then to call her husband, my friend and tell him that she had been transported without her glasses, to spend a few minutes supporting him, as he cried on the phone. For awhile it looked like it might get better. But then the hope started to fade. And her daughter shared with me that if her Mom wasn't going to get better, she rather deal with the loss than the stuck-ness. And to talk with the husband- it is so exhausting and the emotions have a hard time keeping up with what they intellectually are learning. Statistically, MS does not kill you, something else does. But my friend is the exception. And by yesterday they knew there was nothing more to be done. And this morning, the long, exhausting stuck-ness, and struggle came to an end for my dear sweet friend. Once an accomplished flute player, that's how she and her sweetie met- in the orchestra. My Jeopardy-watching buddy every Monday night during LC#2's trombone lesson. And long and humorous conversations about the roller coaster ride of raising our girls. A spark of joy and laughter, who always called me to see how I was doing in seminary. A time when she could connect even when she was trapped in the wheelchair until the schoolbus brought company at the end of the day. A stack of reading by the chair, to pray her way through the bad days. Prayers for your sweetie and daughter as they navigate this new territory. For you my friend, the hard part is done and you are free of the bondage of a horrible disease. Till we meet again.


Friday, September 26, 2008

What Time Is It?



Sometimes I visit Pray as You Go for my morning devotions. I had not been here for awhile but re-visited the site after reading Gannet Girl's poignant stories on her journey in grieving the loss of her son. This week's lessons have been from Ecclesiastes. Yesterday I made a homebound visit to two of our members to share in conversation, a devotion and communion. They are young, in their 30's, but he has battled non-Hodgkins lymphoma for the last 12 years. The cost of the cure has scarred his lungs, and left many other losses, yet they are generally one of the happiest couples I know. He is almost exclusively home-bound because of a compromised immune system. But yesterday's visit was the time to hear that she had been in tears because of a very bad day at work. It was a time to cry and a time to laugh, and a time to heal. So much so that an hour and half passed without it seeming so.
When I walked in the door, my husband told me there was a message from a good friend. It was from our daughter's trombone teacher. G has known my husband since high school, our oldest and their daughter are in high school together. We have socialized for years, and shared the ups and downs of parenting, and his wife's battle with MS over the last 10 years. She received her diagnosis when our daughters were in kindergarten together; next year they will graduate together. K's condition has affected her vision, and her mobility. It has been a couple years since she last drove. She is fully wheelchair bound within this last year. Catheterized within the last six months.
Two weeks ago, she had another episode which rendered her unable to use her arms, resulting in hospitalization, followed by rehab and therapy. Sadly, the conclusion was that she could not return home. Last week the planning began to place her in an skilled facility here in town. On Monday of this week, it was the time to share his pain about suddenly not only feeling like a single parent, but also like a bachelor. Balancing work, the home, the needs of their daughter, his aging parents who live on the same farm lane, and the disconnect of having a 48 year old spouse who will now be somewhere else. It was just too much to take in at once. Latched onto me, sobbing. And it was a time to hear from my daughter's friend about how scared she is that her mom is sick like this. This new and scary reality.
And this is where things were when I pulled into the driveway last night. To get the message K is back in the hospital- in ICU. Could I please call and would I please go to see her.
The day after her transfer to the facility, people were meeting in a conference room across the hall from her, and somehow someone noticed that K seemed unresponsive. She was, and they called a Code Blue. After 15 minutes of no response, they called G at work to tell him what had been transpiring and what did they want them to do? I cannot fathom sitting in my office and getting this call, this totally unexpected call, this life-altering call. He told them if they felt all had been done, he was prepared to accept that death may be at hand. As he shared this with me, his voice sounded different than it ever had, not overwrought, but exhausted and accepting. But then, they called him back to say, she had responded. She was stable, but they needed to send her to the Regional Trauma Center in Amish Country. Which is where she is now, where they are evaluating what this all means, while she is entubated.
And so it is time for me, as their friend, to also be something else, having been asked to see her as a chaplain, to bring those who will be on call up to date, and to visit my friend, and to pray for them and with them.
I confess it is hard to know what to pray for. She had a period of anoxic time, and may be pretty compromised, this may be a time when infection will take hold. It is hard to know whether it is time for life to continue or to end. And like the words of Ecclesiastes, we cannot see the beginning to the end. But it is a time when we seek and hold on to God, to trust that God is walking with them, in their suffering, and bringing consolation in the form of all who are in their midst. It is a time to pray for guidance, and knowledge for caregivers, and compassion. To trust that even when we do not know what to ask for, God hears and will provide. A time to accept that while we may not know what time it is, God does. God doesn't give us all of the answers, but God gives us God's self.
And a time to know that God gives each of us tasks to carry out. May God guide me in this day that I may be who God needs me to be.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

"The Gospel Truth"


"I’ve been running around the country for the last year, going to church on Sunday mornings (waking up early is a commitment for musicians, let me remind you). From Nevada to Memphis to Dallas, and all across Chicago, I’ve been going to meetin'. These eleven songs (and it takes all eleven of 'em) illustrate how I found the Church, and the Christian Faith, to be these days: uplifting, inspiring, generous – and – fearful, bigoted, backwards -so there's much to celebrate, and much to change, both " These are the words of Susan Werner regarding her release this past year of "Gospel Truth." This release is full of wonderful music which I commend to your listening, as well her other work which is of a very different genre. A lapsed Catholic who claims to now be agnostic, she wrote this set of songs in response to a friend's question, after witnessing a gospel singing performance, " Can you have the joy without the Jesus?" In her interview with Chicago Public Radio, Werner notes that there are lots of people who have cobbled together a combination of sacred and secular which is their "religion" for whom the idea that it doesn't have to be orthodox is being recognized in her songs.
She takes on and questions many of the differences and hypocrisy of "religion" versus "God." I listened to this album for a class I am taking entitled, "Song, Mission and Culture," with the task of determining in part, is there gospel in these songs, and while I would love to have been able to have posted music here, you can hear and see both at Susan Werner.com

I have listened to this music now several times.Unlike those who researched her, I did not know anything about the artist when I began listening, but I do know that I recognized alot of what she had to say in my own faith journey ( where I was told women cannot be pastors because God does not intend it), and in the stories I have heard and continue to hear in my work as a chaplain, in the women's ministry at the Rescue Mission, and in the stories I hear from all kinds of people about why they struggle with "religion" versus "God."

Many people have experienced not getting to tell their story, or having their questions minimized or invalidated when they attempt to reconcile their Sunday school faith with their lived religion, that taking of faith to the next level- of doing more than blindly accepting and parrot-ing the code. My experience of listening to Werner was not one of hearing total rejection, but looking for affirmation that it is OK to question, that the intersection of faith and life is messy. She looks back on getting all "cleaned up" to go to Church, which I think represents putting on the right appearance even when it is not "alright." Getting there late, as the "not quite good enough." Praying to be "who they are supposed to be." Wondering if we are still loved children of God if we are not? Not happy with being told a judgmental answer. Yet on Sunday morning she thinks there is somewhere she is supposed to be.

"I know you’d damn me if you could.. if your God is so great, why is your heaven so small?" reminded me of the phrase our Dean used recently, the "idolatry of certainty.” Werner's query, "Someone somewhere excluded you?" confronts the process where though we all want to be loved and affirmed, the question becomes- by what process? This evokes the "God is on my side" philosophy that I too take issue with. Many of her songs strike me as being prophetic about the need for greater understanding and compassion, and reflect honest responses when this is not received. "How do you love people who want to shove you in front of the train? You’re bleeding- they hold their prayer meeting...Loaded their Bibles and armed their disciples..I can’t find forgiveness..Only God knows and He is not taking sides. I hope one day He shows us how to love those who will never love us who still we must love." I hear in this the challenge of the gospel message, and it reminded me of leading a Bible study at the Mission where the women studied the Good Samaritan and openly discussed their challenges in seeing others as their neighbor. Werner strikes me as trying to reconcile her own lack of acceptance with her belief that she is called to do more.

And in the midst of her reflections, she exhorts God, "Deliver us from those who think they’re you." I see this as being more than just about one denomination despite the references. My take on "lost my religion- because I saw too much and got off track" was more about abandoning a particular construct or experience than defintively abandoning God. In part because other songs wonder about the cosmic, and not wanting it to be rationalized, as well as her urging in response to what "some might say", she counters with "I beg to disagree." There is honest questioning about God- she is not ready to deny categorically, and she desperately wants to see the God with a human face and the time and place where everyone will come together, evoking eschatological hopes. While she is clearly disillusioned by the imperfection of her experiences with "religion," I see a person who is seeking faith and a meaningful understanding of God not just for herself but in community, who is challenging us to respond. Even if I am wrong about Werner, I suspect she is indeed proclaiming gospel for others that it is OK to not have it all figured out, to wonder why words and actions seem incongruous.

In my experience, a faithful response to someone seeking is first to truly listen, not just to the story, but the person behind the story. And to be willing to engage our faith in questioning- if our faith must be totally nailed down to be upheld, what does that say? As someone with an interest in urban ministry, and chaplaincy, I expect these are the stories that, if permitted rather than discounted, allow for real relationships with people and God to flourish, and as Tillich writes, " It is in helping others experience God, we experience God for ourselves."

So I wonder, when we encounter people who boldly challenge us to hold our "church" up to the bright light, do we stay and talk, or do we look for the escape hatch?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Ministry in the Hallways

"When you are on the way to do the ministry you think are to be doing, real ministry will happen." Or words to that effect have stayed with me since I began my path towards seminary, these wise words from Dr. Mark Oldenburg (always give attribution).
How true this has been for me in so many ways, and continues to be so. Yesterday was my first shift as a non-intern, i.e. real-live paid chaplain associate. I came to the hospital to find a very tired overnight intern who had an incredibly rough night. We met in the hallway and her "will you get some coffee with me?" was the first of many hallway moments as she needed to share what had been an extremely emotional night with no sleep, and she still had the day shift to work with me.
Not knowing each other, we met first in her processing and then, in the formalities of "who are you, where are you from?" As she shared with me her amazement that people would so openly begin to lay bare their life experience with her, a total stranger, I smiled, watching her do the exact same thing.
As the remainder of the day unfolded, I was off to the ICU to see a patient who had been moved there post-surgery. He was asleep, and his wife was not there, but as I rounded the corner, I turned the wrong way. In doing so , I encountered a cluster of family with a doctor, standing in the hall outside a room, hearing the words, " So that's where it's at right now. Any questions?" They kind of stand there numbly and head toward the waiting room. I catch the doctor to find out that the patient is congestive and very tired and outcomes are not looking good.
As I head toward the waiting room, voices are beginning to rise. I step in and introduce myself. I mention I saw them speaking with the doctor and wonder how things are going. For the next hour I hear the struggles of the sister who senses her sister is at peace and wants to meet God and be reunited with her husband.
Another sister thinks the the patient is "giving up" and needs to fight because it's not her time to go. The sons are in shock and trying to internalize the medical information and make sense of it. They all tell me of the deep abiding faith of their loved one. And I hear the fears and pain of knowing that a visit to the house has revealed that things are labeled with who is to receive them, including several rosaries. Dots are being connected and a sense of potential finality is slamming them in the face. What does it mean to be faithful now? Who are they to be now, for her and for each other? I had not expected to be there. They had not expected me, but our time together ends with prayer and hugs and an expression that I must have been sent to them to hear them in this moment.
And so I head down the hall, to see a patient and I pass a woman with a baby on her lap, and the stroller laden with things, telling a friend " I guess now I am not just the sandwich generation, I am the triple sandwich, between Dad, and my husband and the baby- but we'll get through I guess." I make my visit and am headed back the hallway. The woman is still there, reading Doctor Suess to the baby and trying really hard to be all of the things she needs to be. I wave to the baby who smiles.
The woman looks up and says hello. I ask about her son who is 10 months, and we talk about the universal quality of Dr Suess. I ask her how her day is going. And we talk about her father's cancer, and her husband's work injury that has him laid up, and the baby. I notice she has a case of Diet Coke in the bottom of the stroller and an open can is in the cup holder. After she shares her saga, she smiles and says, " I know it is a lot but we are so blessed.. I know that. We will get through." We joke about how Diet Coke will help, but then spend a minute talking about what else she can rely upon. And I tell her we are there to support her anyway we can and give her a card. We say a brief prayer and I am on my way.
To run into the security guard who wants to ask about the motorcycle accident victim earlier and to tell me how scared the guards were when he came in with the paramedics and how worried they have been for the family.
And the patient who I expect to see for a routine visit request, but she is headed for an MRI and she is having anxiety. We pray in the hall and I write down Isaiah 12:2 for her to take with her- "Surely it is God who saves me, I will trust in him and not be afraid." She tells me later she held the paper in her hands in the MRI because even if she couldn't say the words, she knew she was holding on to them.
On the way to do what I thought I was going to do, the Spirit had other plans. I am humbled and grateful for the ways I was used, along the way.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Mixed Bag of Musings

I haven't been blogging much, perhaps because I am trying to adjust to the new school year for three of the four of us. Trying to juggle six classes, five of which take up 18 hours in 2 days. Giving thanks for the one online. Trying to adjust to being away from home each Tuesday night in my "crash" room. Realizing that I don;t quite have the right packing system yet. Invariably there is something I need, or think I need. When I am grumpy about what is not clicking I make myself take a big gigantic reality check.
For one thing, the items I did not have/bring, I have at home, or I could have gone to the store to get. And yes, I would have been really tired and not wanted to, but I had a car, and money and choices. And I was only responsible for myself, not a family. And I have a safe, dry, climate controlled place with nice neighbors.
And I have the freedom to be educated, to choose my religion, anad to choose my attitude.
So yes, I do have a "TV stand" made of milk crates, and I have a camp chair in my "living room" and a classmate let me borrow her spare TV. Spare TV, for how many people is that a foreign concept. Yes, I am using hotel shampoo and soap from my trip to Minnesota this summer, but I have them and clean water.
This list could go on, and indeed when I was done, I really felt kind of puny about my momentary grumpies.
But perhaps the best part about it all, is that after the 18 hours of class in two days, I get in my car and come home for the next five. Home to a place that is not at all about my stuff, but my family.
Some may know that I have blogged here about my girls from time to time, my Lutheran Chicks who text me each day when I am gone, and call each night. LC#2's birthday is September 11th. This year, my track running, trombone and guitar playing, Japanese culture freak is 14. I got her a red calligraphy yukata to wear and this weekend will be sushi. She can't decide between marine biology and being an ESL teacher. Every day a new adventure. And in another few weeks she will be confirmed on All Saint's Day, the same day she was baptized fourteen years ago. So in honor of her, here is a re-post from last year that reminds me just how inconsequential the rant above is:

This week people across the nation marked the anniversary of the tragedies which unfolded on September 11, 2001. September 11th holds another importance to me- my younger daughter was born on September 11th and was an elementary school student in 2001 when the world seemed like it was falling apart.

It was, in the tradition of the school, her day to be the line leader and the snack person. And it all started out like any other great day. And it is almost always clear and sunny on her birthday, as it was that day.

She had been dropped off with her cupcakes and dressed in red, her favorite color. Her older sister was also at school and my husband and I were at work. The way it worked out, my secretary was on a family trip ( about a mile from where the plane went down in PA). So I had public radio on and I was vaguely listening as I waited for a client to come for an appointment.

As the appointment began there was a report that a plane had crashed into the Trade Center but the assumption was it was a small plane. Hmm. The client came and we met. When I finished, I called our lawfirm’s main office and people were frantic. Get to a TV, they cried.

So, still wondering, I walked down the street to the coffeehouse and on the TV, the now infamous plane clips that are etched into our collective memory were rolling. I got a coffee and as people were wandering in and sitting down to watch numbly, the first tower collapsed. I watched it as though it was a surreal vision, but it had really happened.

They announced that the last plane was unaccounted for, but was over Pennsylvania. I felt like Chicken Little; the sky was falling. I frantically called my husband, and found out his government office near the school was in lockdown.

The school called and I was on my way to pick up the kids. Driving on a sort of auto -pilot. As it seemed was everyone else. My kids got in the car and it was as I saw the tear-stained face of my young child, I realized that for her this was as much about her day as anything else.

How much do you share with 7 and 9 year olds? They had heard the whispers of a few things. We talked briefly about what I could say, planes had crashed and people were not sure what had happened but that it looked like someone made them crash on purpose.

When we came home, my birthday girl was wondering why anyone would do such a thing. At the time none of us knew who was behind the attacks or why. But it seemed to come from somewhere in the Middle East. I struggled to find a way to explain why any person would embrace death in this way.

I started by saying that people do not always agree about where other people should be able to live, or what religion they can believe, or what people can say and who is in charge. I used the playground as an analogy for who gets to pick the game, or who gets to be on the swings first, or who solves a problem when there is a fight. And I admit that even though grownups tell kids not to act out, and to get along and share, we do not always do what we tell them to do. And so we argue and we fight, even though we shouldn’t. And we try to settle things the way we want and we do not take turns. And we push and shove.

Heads are nodding and I think I have made a connection. Perhaps a little too well. Because then the birthday girl points out that the difference between kids on a playground and adults is that “ when adults fight, the way they settle things is to kill.”

My eyes welled up with tears as I heard the truth of what she so boldly said- yes, sometimes this IS what adults do. And now.. what to say? To my saddened, disappointed bitter child who at age 7 knows us as we can be?

I tell her she is right, and that when people do this, it is wrong, and that it makes God sad. She laments that this is how things are. And suddenly I find a moment of good news. I ask her to think about the fact she is not the only person born on this day. That there are too many to count. And that if she and every other person born on this day says, “ I have had enough!” They can become the peacemakers. They can help to bring the change our world needs. They can work for peace, not just because it is right, but because they know how awful not having peace is. And all around the world, change starts because one person stops saying “there is nothing I can do” and starts saying, “ I can do something.”


So every year when we get to her birthday, we place flowers in church to honor the peacemakers in the world. And as the events of the past become further into history, the best hope we have of honoring memories is to work, pray and hope for peace. And when you remember September 11th, just as it evokes sadness, remember that there is life and hope and God’s promise.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Thursday, September 4, 2008

I Hope You Dance

Now that our family's issues are under control for now...I confess I love the start of a school year- I always have. This year I am only on campus two days, but am slammed in classes for as many hours as class is offered. So I am staying away from home on Tuesday nights, and coming home late Wednesdays. I tried that this week and have learned how I must live into what this means for my family and for me. By the grace of God it will work just as I got through last spring when I drove every day, six days a week. The Lord provides in so many ways.
Back in the day there used to be the new school clothes and all of the trappings that were necessary to make the "first day of school" splash. The last vestige of that was scoring binders that are different colors inside and out with six pockets
(take that,Scott!)And a new label maker. But as this school year begins, my two new binders are not what has me feeling content.
Instead it is the joy of seeing people who have become my buds, some of whom blog or lurk on mine, as we return for another year, and catching up on the last couple months. The kids are bigger, the experiences have been many, our lives are the same and yet..
The collective nervous energy of the junior year is gone. We have, after all, survived, and perhaps even thrived. Many of us have discerned more about our callings. There are new wives, or fiancees, and a sense that this year will bring new adventures. As I hear of their stories, I am so glad to see how the Spirit moves in their lives! I think for many of us, though I only speak for myself, there is a sense of living into our callings more fully. To share a laugh, a hug, a word of encouragement, a prayer. And to share war stories. I sense that retaining this comraderie in our lives beyond here will sustain us just like those Epistles and letters.
To see professors again who have become a part of the joy and the feeding of my soul in ways they may not even know. To hear how each of us have touched the lives of others, in intentional ministry and in the ways we were sent by the Spirit that we may not even have comprehended.
And there are new faces- the incoming juniors, and those returning from internships or here for their Lutheran year. Many stories to hear and embrace.
A year ago I blogged about the cloud of witnesses. They are still here, but this year, I was inspired by our Dean as she spoke of living the dance, or maybe living into the dance. Her talk was much more emboldening than my writing here, but she spoke of all it could mean to dance as people of the Spirit. In a world of possibility and the gaining of wisdom, of experiencing what it means to live in the here and now. So I leave you with one of my favorite songs, which she referenced in her remarks... The first time I found this song was to inspire a young woman who was a confirmand I mentored.
Comming to seminary can be more than a little life altering, but a year later, I cannot imagine being anywhere else. Wherever life takes you, if you get the chance to sit it out or dance, I Hope You Dance!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The World of the Possible

Thanks to all of you who here or other ways have reached out this past week. This has been a week of great upheaval and yet also a chance for me to marvel at all of the good in our world and to be amazed at the changes afoot in my part of it. For younger daughter, we have now had oodles of high tech tests, tests that would not have been possible when I was a child, growing up in the '60's and '70's. It seems for now the answer is an inhaler which we are now trying to master- when, how often. The sophistication of the technology can amaze me, but it cannot replace the importance of people taking the time to listen, really listen to what someone else is sharing. And for everyone who listened to me, and to her, I give thanks to God.
For my older daughter, we are continuing to look for what she needs, but thanks to technology, on the 'Net and through email, I have ideas and suggestions and a plan. In this world of possibility, I can get these things faster, and see more information in depth before I ever pick up a phone. But in the end, it will take people willing to listen to her, to us, to know who she is and what she needs.
This past week we also lost track of my parents after they left here for FLA for two days. Bad weather took out their phone, cable and internet service and jammed cell phone connections. All of the technology in the world was not helping us know if they were safe at home or in a ditch. Finally I remembered another way to reach them, through a friend who was not affected, who was willing to listen and help out.
All of the technology in the world cannot replace that human component. We need each other to feel human.

In this world of possibility is another exciting development that I hope takes us one step farther, not in technology, but in being human, and seeing each other
as equals. I watched with excitement and emotion, the speech Barack Obama delivered at the Democratic National Convention, a speech filled with possibility, and a speech focused upon our humanity and dignity. A speech about the possibility of a way that is not the "same old, same old." Delivered by a man who has lived possibility.
Who has refused to accept the notion that he is "less than."

As a child growing up in the '60's and '70's I remember a long drive across the state of North Carolina in 1969 to go the Outer Banks for vacation. In those days before the advent of high speed interstate, the road meandered through every little town. It was hot and dusty. It was mid-day, as I peered out the window hoping to see anything of interest that would break up the monotony of the drive. As we wended our way through a sleepy town, I saw two African American men walking down the sidewalk. A white man was approaching from the other direction. When he got within some apparently prescribed distance, the black men stopped, stepped off of the sidewalk into the street and looked away while the white man passed. Then they were free to get back onto the sidewalk and continue.

Being curious I asked my parents, one from Philadelphia and one from NC, why this happened. My mother said it was just the way it was. My father said, but it shouldn't have to be. And then the air was stiflingly silent for what seemed like a very long time. Just the crackle of the radio and the brittle tension of two expectations of the world.

This is one of the stories I remembered as I watched Obama. As I watched as a child who heard and believed that the world as it has been is not the world as it has to be. I do not know how this election will ultimately be decided, but to be in a world where the historically unlikely- a woman, an African American are lifted up, and where people have become energized to see beyond the small window, is thrilling. A world of the possible is in our midst, if we are willing to listen, really listen, to share, to help out and embrace the fullness of humanity as it can be, and as God desires it to be.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I want off of this ride please

I am not a good patient. I am worse at being a parent of a child with an issue. And there are two daughters and two issues. One is with LC#1. She the child of long-standing developmental issues stemming from brain trauma at birth. It is time for another clinical neuropsych eval. And the old evaluator has moved. SO I am starting at ground zero, and know this will be a new time of adjustment for LC#1 who needs this evaluation for the accomodations she may need for college, but also in the back of my mind is the statement that " you should not let her drive without reviewing her status. Even with medication she may be too unfocused, in which case she is a danger to herself and others." Haunting words indeed. And so this is not just a new appointment but a whole new running of the gauntlet. And telling the whole story again. The whole tiring story. And I confess that I get tired just having to again tell about her birth trauma and how she almost died. And I wish this pain had a shelf life that would expire but it does not. And like every other person whose issues are not obvious to the eye- she "looks so normal." So I have to kick myself around to do this. I am kicking myself now. And it is when I am feeling like this that I remember the doctor who was negligent telling me he " understood I thought her delivery was less than optimal."
Until now I have counted myself blessed that LC#2 is issue free. No glasses. No medicines, no allergies, nothing. She decided to run cross-country this year. She started coughing. A lot. We went to the doctor and he said she was a little congested- too soon to say anything. Well, two more weeks have passed. Now there is coughing and trouble breathing. Sounds like what they call " exercise induced asthma." But then she had the day with chest pain and numbness. And I decided to call the doctor. That day a family we know had a daughter who is 19 go out running and drop dead from cardiac arrest. Now we are in the world of EKG's and pulmonary function tests. And I am praying this is really just an inhaler, but it is hard not get my imagination going. And I wonder if we should tell her she just can't run, or if that would be overreacting. And I wish I was stronger, but it is only on the inside this is all happening, as I tell my daughter the EKG is just shiny post-it notes with wires attached. So this morning before the doctor's appointments, my husband and I went out for breakfast, and a man collapsed at the counter and the ambulance was called. And when I took my daughter to the Health Campus for her doctor's appointment they called a Code Blue at the Cafe down the hall.
And I am waiting for my CPE evaluation which needs to be in by Friday, which is now getting picked up on Friday in Lancaster and driven an hour and 45 minutes away to Gettysburg the day it is due before the football game. After this summer, I know all of this is still small compared to the enormous issues people confront every day, including those whose lives were impacted in the places I went today, but I still wish I was getting off of this ride. Now I am done whining because it is time to be praying.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Connections

The past couple weeks, I have been pondering connections. The ending of connections in CPE, the effort to maintain some of them. The effort to stay connected with those who have taken new calls or gone out on internship. Re-connecting with those back at LTSG, and making new connections with those who are just coming to campus. My parents who come to PA for the summer, are headed back to FLA. My daughters, one returning to High School and one just starting, are focused on where their connections are. Calling, texting, IM-ing, emailing, Facebooking, blogging. Our striving- We all are seeking connections in our lives. In the world of Facebook, we join and leave groups, check to see who is available to chat, and write on each other's walls. For what are we searching?
People who share something with us. People who understand what it is like to be us. People who can affirm that who we are or what we do is not in vain, but valid. In our ever faster paced world with technological advances and in modern developments where we can leave our hermetically sealed climate controlled domain for our climate controlled transportation where we drive alone with only the music we want to hear, where we can in so many ways choose “our” world at work and in leisure, there is still that yearning for connection. Just look at many vehicles and you will see our efforts to connect. The ribbon car magnets that urge support our troops, exhort awareness for autism, breast cancer, the local sports team, or so many other causes we communicate are important to us, and we hope to others. The T shirts we don, the bracelets we wear, and for the more extreme, the body art we adorn ourselves with, all proclaim this desire to be known, understood and affirmed, and to connect.
In one extreme case, I now know a man who has the multi-colored puzzle piece autism ribbon tattooed on his neck- he is raising a son with autism. I see them walking through town, some days more of a struggle than others. We have spoken – because of the tattoo. I have heard a sliver of his story, and no he is no longer just some eccentric-looking guy, but a person with a story and a connection. His tattoo practically screams- “See me, see us!” Because if you slow down and look, you'll talk and I can share what my world is like. And then you can't walk on like it never happened.
This human desire for connection and awareness has also manifested itself in the many support groups and awareness events that raise money for the things that impact our lives: ALS, MS, COPD, CHF, ADD/HD, AIDS, MD, CP, and many others. Behind all of these initials and acronyms are the lives, trials and triumphs of real people. Real people who in the absence of connection may feel destined to struggle alone. And because their struggle is not a defined event of getting sick and getting better, they are often isolated by the lack of constant support they may need. But in many ways, many of us give of our time and energy to rally, advocate, and raise support, sometimes with fierce intensity- for our “connections.”
From the other perspective, so often in my own life, and those of my friends and family, I know that it is only when someone we know and love, a friend, neighbor or family member, fellow parishioner, co-worker, is confronted by a struggle that we can personalize what is like to be a: person with cancer, mental illness, auto accident rehabilitation, perinatal loss, .. the list goes on. It is when we can put a face on the situation that it becomes “real.” Like the Velveteen Rabbit who only became real when he was truly loved, these experiences only become real for us when we can see one of “our” people as affected. Once this happens, we may become energized, compassionate, prayerful, understanding. No longer nameless, faceless issues, no longer “someone else”, no longer able to be seen in black and white terms. Because we have a personal connection.
This past semester in seminary this concept came to light in yet another variation, in class when we were discussing the doctrine of sin. What came to light was how much harder it was to criticize the lives or decisions of others when we knew someone who had to confront an issue- decision making among the poor, issues of sexuality, abortion, for example. How much harder to think that the mirror of the law, as we may have previously interpreted it, was one we wanted to gaze into. Because these were people WE knew and loved, not just someone else, and we knew their story.
God knows each and every one of us, and knew us before we were formed in the womb, and we are created in God’s image. So I wonder when we think about ourselves and those we meet, and those we have never met and we contemplate the hard decisions we all make in our lives, does God see us with the eyes we use when gazing upon those we do not know, or with the eyes we use when it is someone we know and love, one of our “connections”?
I think it is the latter, the eyes of a loving parent, who desires a connection with us as much as we seek connection. With eyes that experience the same anger yet anguish we experience when we see the lives of those who matter to us. A God who loves first, and constantly. A God who calls us to see everyone as someone with whom we have a connection. Maybe if we tried to live this out, we would be slower to judge, quicker to love, understand and support, and to do more than just observe, but to reach out for yet one more connection.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gaining Wisdom


This post is the reflection I offered at chapel Thursday at LTSG. It is based upon the daily lectionary reading of I Cor. 6: 1-11 which you really need to read in all of its detail before you read this reflection. For me a lesson to read the lesson for the day you are signing up for before you say “yes.”
To quote Dr. Oldenburg, “ Do you Really want to say ‘Thanks Be to God’ for this text?” We will spend some time reflecting upon it in a moment, but we will not be discussing any of the labels.
To the Summer Greek –ers: You’ve almost made it halfway through in your quest for Greek knowledge. The fact you see me here is proof you can do it. For all of us we are beginning another time of learning. All of this knowledge will help you dazzle parishioners, and peers. And lest you think learning Greek is in vain, I can tell you that in my time as a summer chaplain intern I did have a patient ask me about aorist tense verbs in Greek- no lie! Dr. Carlson did not pay me to say this.
This time last year, I was sitting where you are now, and I was starting to feel like things were not so bad. I had made it through the first week without running away. Turns out that Dr Carlson was pretty OK too. I thought maybe I had figured it out after all. And then, WHAM! I hit my Greek wall. I found out I had to learn 24 ways to say the word “the.” A simple three letter word- 24 ways! And I found myself in need of a helping hand. I remember going to Jason my tutor, handing him my translations and saying, “ If they are right, I don’t know why, and if they are wrong, I don’t know how to fix it.” He was very patient. Thank you Jason, though you may be wondering if you should have helped me. When I hit my wall, I began to ask myself if I was really called, should I really be here, can I really do this? I gave up a “perfectly good job” to be here- I wonder if I can get it back? It all came crashing down, but my friends here helped me, not just to learn the words, but to get me over the stress and to remember it would all be OK. Summer Greek can be that time of bonding in the face of common adversity, but here at Seminary there will also be times where your personal adversities will clash, times when being in close proximity to each other, or having to navigate a group project gone wrong, or that big test on Friday, will create disputes and test the limits of your patience. Community has its challenges, and some day so too will a congregation to which you are sent.
Being here at Seminary is as much about the gaining of wisdom as it is knowledge. So how do we make it? By the grace of God to be sure, but more specifically by being engaged in community with others. Not by judging others, or comparing ourselves and our wisdom or worthiness, but by seeing each other how God sees us- sinners who are washed, sanctified and justified by God through Christ.
In our lesson from Corinthians today, Paul is chastising the Corinthians for their faulty and inflated view of their wisdom. He has been telling them: just as Israel was to purge itself of abominations, so also the church must purge itself of ways of conduct inappropriate to the kingdom of God. Earlier in this letter, he has lost his patience when he asks if he should come at them with a stick in discipline, or a spirit of gentleness. Note to Dr Carlson, please don’t get out the stick. Paul criticizes how they are resolving disputes among themselves. His rejecting of the courts stems from the belief that disputes should be handled within the community of faith. To go to beyond it is to breach the unity of the church. He asks, "Can it be that there is no wisdom among you?” This is bitingly ironic in view of the Corinthians' claim to possess a special wisdom and ability to judge others. Paul calls them on it and says that if they are going to judge the world, surely they should be able to judge trivial matters among themselves. True wisdom we are told is to be found only in conduct that sustains and builds up the community. Rather than live in judgment of one another, Paul urges- remember we are all the same- washed, sanctified and justified and now for you, called to this place.
Here at Seminary, the true wisdom I hope to share with you is that last year we got farther in our time in Summer Greek, and the first year in seminary when we remembered to see our fellow Christians as a part of the community where we all experience joys and struggles in our quest to know God and ourselves better and more deeply. We called it “No Seminarian Left Behind.” So I encourage each of you, to seek the wisdom- that comes in community here in this place. Amen.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Maybe We All Have Encountered the Canaanite Woman

Maybe we have all encountered Canaanite women. For me the most dramatic example of this was Denise. She was separated from her husband, who kicked her out and recently released from a mental hospital with a post-traumatic stress diagnosis. She had lost her home, her job, custody of her daughter and the last shreds of her dignity. But she was convinced her daughter was being abused by her husband. She was loud, in need of medication and volatile. When she brought her emotional wave into the office, she frustrated my secretary, angered my fellow lawyers, and embarrassed everyone else in her path. No one listened to her, or believed her- she was a mess.
She would call or “stop by” incessantly, demanding my time without regard to my sense of priorities. I wanted to make her go away. But what if she was not just unstable, but also right about her daughter- the cause of her ceaseless desperate crusade? For the first two years I represented her, I resented her. Yet, I could not bring myself to dismiss her, even when I was told I could. I stuck it out. She fought with me, but she begged me to help her. She gained greater stability, and in the end, she was right, and we were able to prove it. We regained custody and she could start the healing process for herself and her daughter. It was not immediate, but in legal circles, two years was pretty close. I came to change my mind about mental illness- no longer a blanket excuse to ignore. I completely identify with Jesus and the disciples. But what about Jesus?
Jesus should not act in this irritated and insensitive way, right? I think it would be easy to focus upon this as an inquiry into why Jesus acted the way he did. “See, even Jesus had a bad day.” It could certainly help justify what we do or do not do at times. After all, we have had those days too, when people have argued with us, or chewed us out. We are tired, and just want to get away from it all. We want to live out the Corona beer commercial where the person sitting on the beach gets to throw that ringing cell phone into the sea- NOT NOW!
Yet, someone blurts into our world, like this woman. Maybe it is the homeless person who doesn’t take the hint and keeps following you asking for food. It could be the person who starts coming to church, but then becomes a whole lot more needy than we care to see. Whatever it is, these people mess with our world, and they point out our impatience, as well as our prejudices and self-imposed limits on caring. Who are our “Canaanite women”? We want a God who will love and accept us, BUT the road stops short at our barriers- substance abusers, AIDS victims, migrant workers, or ___________. We can tell ourselves that we’re like Jesus. It’s not like Jesus was doing nothing- he was doing some good stuff, and he had a mission and a people.
But let’s not get comfortable with this story as proof that we get to slack off in carrying out God’s mission. Because this is not the gospel message. Because here comes that Canaanite woman, and she takes the picture everyone is looking at and turns it upside down.
She is a social outcast on many levels. She has no man. She belongs to an ethnic group that is despised. She is poor. She probably smells. She has a child who is a freak. She is yelling out constantly- she makes everyone uncomfortable. Jesus could hurl a racial slur. After all, no one would think twice. But instead, he just tries to ignore her. She keeps on crying out, and now the disciples are begging him to make her go away. So he has her yelling on one side, and the disciples whining on the other. Oy!
So he tries to tell her she is none of his business. Yet she has the audacity to challenge and seek not a just a meek request to be nice to her. She demands to be called an equal. She not only dares to insert herself into Jesus’ group, she argues with him. She even goes so far as to tell him what his mission really is. And it hits him. Suddenly, his tone and focus change. He has been surrounded by leaders of the people he came to save, who reject him. His disciples are his insiders, but fail to grasp who he is. He is surrounded by people who just want something, but have perhaps no plan of commitment.
Until now, Jesus has basically focused upon the chosen group, for better or for worse. And although the official message is that everyone is equal, the reality of this in practice hasn’t quite taken off.
In this time of groundbreaking politics in this country, it all sounds kind of familiar- some people should know their place, wait their turn, go home or get lost. Race and ethnicity make us uncomfortable. We believe in ideals, but…
“Give me your tired and your poor, your restless masses yearning to breathe free, but.. maybe not so much.
We could focus on why Jesus acted like he did at first, but the gospel message is in what he did next. And this is what WE are called to embrace and live out. She kept pushing. She used his logic against him. And Jesus was moved. He could have grabbed the picture back from her and turned it “right side up.” But he didn’t. This woman who had nothing to lose, and who had nothing to give other than her soul, was laying it all before him, bowing down and worshipping him. While she sought him as a desperate parent, she called him what none of those who should know him did. She called him “lord”- the word of total faith and commitment.
This story pivots in a new direction. The living out of the universal claim that God’s will and salvation, and God’s message of love, mercy and forgiveness, are not for a few, but for all. Even and especially those who may challenge our view.
The Jews despised the Canaanites. They were the bitterest of enemies. Yet this woman they want to dismiss is instead a heroine of faith- persistent and extreme, and an example of total commitment. Her life may not be ours, but her faith example should be.
This commitment to faith will not always be easy. This aspect of the story is also true. But God stands with us, and is calling us. Luther in Freedom of a Christian, notes that through Jesus Christ we are freed from bondage to sin. And in this freedom, we should be inspired to do good things out of love and worship of God. Who does God care for? This is who WE should care for. Not just those like us, but those NOT like us. Not just those we like. But also those we may think we have good reason not to like.
We often pray in our prayers here for “those whom it would be easy to forget.” Today we are urged to live this out. Let us not forget all of the “Canaanite women” but strive to embrace our faith and to carry out God’s mission of love, mercy and forgiveness, and of equality for all.
Amen

Monday, August 18, 2008

Overcoming Barriers

David at Here I Stand asks an interesting question that has caused me to do a little more reflecting on my summer. He states, "Begging the question of the week: What can you do to help overcome the barriers of faith, prejudice, racism, or classism in the communities in which you live?"

I have blogged before about bridging the faith divide with a Muslim family in crisis. Here are some other snippets of my summer, and honest statements about my responses, for better or worse.

Scenario 1: My largest frustration is in my perception of the lack of sensitivity or concern for those who are not Caucasian European lineage. At times it seems as though these people do not receive the same attention or care, because it is a bother. A gentleman from Mexico was brought into the ER, not on the trauma side. I got a call because family is here to see him and they need to be showed to “somewhere.” I ask the patient’s name and go to meet them. There are two gentlemen. One is the man’s brother and the other is a friend who speaks English. I place them in the large consult and go to find out who is the doctor and nurse. The man was found collapsed and non-responsive by the brother. I find the doctor and let him know family is here in case he needs information or wishes to see the brother who lives with the patient. He does not seem terribly interested even though everyone is trying to stabilize the patient and wondering what is happening and complaining about lack of information. I find out what I can share and go back to family. I also get contact information because no one has gotten it. The patient will be going to ICU at some point, and it is not looking good. “I have contact information for family– do you need it?” seems to be greeted with “if you want to.” No one seems concerned that he may not make it through the night and who might need to be called. I wonder if the mindset is that this is just another Hispanic, maybe it’s drugs- he has vomited all over the room. Turns out he had a brain lesion that herniated. I mention there is a friend who is translating, and am told that is a relief because it is one less thing she has to deal with. Stress of the moment or genuine sentiment? After the patient is as stabilized as can be, and I have again reminded the doctor that family is here, then he comes. I introduce him to the brother and translator. The doctor asks background, the thing he needed 40 minutes ago. He looks at the translator- he never looks at the brother. When the family finally comes to the room, the brother is told there is no reason to stay. Still no one seems concerned about them. I ask if they want to stay, but they seem OK with what has been communicated. Usually there is some question about whether family wants to stick around. I confirm that they will be called if there is a change. They go home.
The next day, I wonder if I should visit. I look to see where the patient now is and find out that there was a Code Blue and the family was called and told there was not much to do and the brother called off the efforts. We were not called, either then or later when family arrived. They faced all of this alone. Coincidentally, I ran into the family at the elevator- the translator recognized me and called out to me. He tells me the patient died. I ask him to express my sympathy to the family- they are tearful and express gratitude. They thank me for all I have done- for caring about them. The translator thanks me for pronouncing the man’s name correctly. Not trying to not trying to make it be an English name. This tells me the perception of the group about others they have encountered. They are on the way to Mexico for the funeral. I am glad to have been there- I just wish that the same degree of care and attention devoted to others by staff had been shown to this family.


What did I do? I brought it up to my supervisor who passed it on to the Vp for Diversity. This incident has passed, but the ongoing training has not.

2. People in the ER are poor and dirty. The staff are joking about it, but not in the presence of the people in question, but at the other end of a very large department. What did I do? I left the circle of conversation and went to stay with the family. I observed to see whether the buzz moved to where it could be heard until they were discharged. It did not. It was a rough night in the ER so I did not use that time to speak up, but to be aware and stand with the family. Maybe they would not talk that way in the chaplain's presence.

3. An increasing number of Hispanic families are at the hospital. There is plenty of charting to let medical staff know the family or patient are Spanish speaking only. But somehow this is not communicated to pastoral care staff in fulfilling visit requests. This makes visiting difficult for non Spanish speakers. But what I saw happening was that rather than trying to arrange for translation or see how far they could go in meeting needs, these visits were being pushed aside. What did I do? In one instance, I made a visit and was able to use my limited Spanish conversational skills and pen and paper to determine that the patient had a church and desired her pastor and made the contact. In another, I tried to visit and met with the daughter. She and I talked about how her mother was doing, set up a time for me to visit when the daughter could translate and ministered to the daughter regarding her stresses. I raised the insufficiency of the communication of language needs.

4. An Amish father came to see his son on the pediatric floor, but was clearly lost. I escorted him to the check-in desk. The clerk gave him an ID and told him he could enter. She did not offer to take him to the room which I knew was far away. So I stayed with him and took him there. On my way out, she thanked me, saying she wondered if he could find it, because " you know how they are" - a people who opt out of parts of culture? who leave school after 8th grade? I said that all I knew was he was an anxious father who was being asked to process a lot of information in a stressful time, and since as a parent it would be hard for me too, I guess I did know "how he was." She stated she hadn't really thought about it that way.

I wonder why others do not make a greater effort to understand. Even with questions about why people’s names are different, a lack of sensitivity to proper pronunciation disappoint me. Often I have not shared this disappointment. I have tried to answer questions when I have been asked in a neutral way, not self-righteously. But I wonder if we are called to love all God loves, if we can see that there is more than surface level. While many times, I can only focus on my own work in this area and encourage others, I wonder if there will be times to be more prophetic.

While I could spend a lot of time wondering why others " do not", I could more effectively focus upon what I can do now that God has sent me, which may be focused upon honoring others as created in God's image one-on-one, or may be working with others to highlight injustice and work to overcome it. And I think that my job is not to make others be like me, or to defend my God, but to meet people where they are- this has meant be sensitive in prayers, use of religious resources, obtaining Qur'an's, rosaries, hand held prayer labyrinths, and honoring traditions that seem diametrically opposed, including the right of a Jehovah's Witness to refuse a blood transfusion that would save his life.

In the end, I feel I often have more questions than answers, but I trust that God will guide me, and give thanks for all of those who strive to love our neighbors, whoever they may be.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Long and Winding Road Takes Another Turn

Our time for the summer unit of CPE ended a week ago at the Regional Trauma Center in “Amish Country.” A time for us to wrap up our reflections ( though mine are still resonating). Time for contemplating this context of ministry which is in a city(though arguably not a New York or even Philly-sized) which serves a county of a half a million, plus a neighboring area. Where our diversity includes not only several racial or ethnic groups, but a distinct religious sector, the Plain Sect faiths. A place where many may see the county as one way, the days of old, in spite of the rapid, burgeoning growth in divergent paths. In the past, most towns could count a traffic light or two, but now bypasses, sprawl and transience are phenomena of the last fifteen years. Where the trauma bays is far more frequently in use than ever before. Here are some random thoughts from the group.
One of my team mates brought up how the ER staff treats people who are intoxicated- the “drunks” – and how he found himself buying into their vibe and banter even when he felt he should not. It is easy to understand- the staff have seen lots of pain and crisis when people drink and drive. It is hard to have to clean up a person who chose this path. My peer stayed and joined in. And I thought of that fire in the courtyard with Peter and the others- denying Christ. What you do to others, you do to me. What about those it is hard to love? We talked about how easy it is to see Jesus’ ministry and our calling to carry it out, in a sanitized movie-set way. The truth is that the ER and much of the work we do here on the eight floors is a very real composite of the demoniacs, lepers, drunkards, gluttons, prostitutes, blind, lame.. these are not people somewhere else, but here in our midst and we are called to minister to all of them.
And while much of our work is valued at the time, who knows for whom the message is a fleeting glimpse. Some may see their crisis as the catalyst for a quest, while others know they can or will not, and some will outright reject. Our sharing centered around remembering that Jesus was not only loved and adored, but rejected with a cry to “Crucify!” One of the struggles for some has been wondering how their work will bear fruit, who cannot see their presence at the moment as sufficient, a single step in a much longer journey. Sometimes our work is done in very visible ways, and at other times when perhaps only God knows we have been present. Some wrestle with not having an affirmation of their care. Others struggle with knowing that they see a person leave who is going right back into the crucible that sent them here. And I think of the rich man who walked away, those who were healed who never said thanks. And those who do the things they do not want to do, and cannot do the things they know they want to.
For myself, I know that what I have gleaned here can, and will hopefully, carry over into ministry and relationships in a variety of circumstances and contexts. But I also know that the immediacy of this care in this context, where I am Spirit led and sent into roles I could not imagine, to be in liminal moments where I am in awe of God’s presence, demonstrating compassion to those it is easy to forget, is an experience I am drawn to. Times where mere words seem insufficient. While my peers wrapped up their unit and moved on, I am continuing as an on-call chaplain while I return for my second year in seminary, with a new ID, and new discerning to do. When I began my process of discernment, I assumed I would be ruling things out that did not seem like my ministry. Instead I have found that I am ruling things “in” which I think means that I am becoming more a person open to the Spirit’s leading, and less a person who wants to tell God how I think it ought to be. I am energized to see where the long and winding road will take me next and who my fellow travelers will be.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Laying Down the Burdens

A page to the Behavioral Health section of the EMD- an anxious, upset patient, who is not in need of inpatient care. I’m told she seems to be having a crisis involving faith-maybe the chaplain can help her. I arrive and the nurse begins explaining, “This woman came in and she’s upset and shaking and crying. She looks exhausted. She keeps saying she has committed a sin, but she says she can only talk to a saved Christian. She asked me if I am one and since I won’t answer her she tells me I can’t understand. She can only talk to a saved Christian. I tried naming all of the really big sins and she says it isn’t any of those. Who knows. She’s in there (pointing to one of the rooms). (The doctor comes out of the room, shaking his head, rolling his eyes. The nurse tells him that I am the chaplain. He speaks to me sarcastically. ) “Good luck! Maybe you’ll get farther than I did. Who knows? ! ( he saunters off irritated).” The nurse says, “She’s nice. We told her we could give her an antidepressant. She refused it. We’re discharging her, but you can talk to her here for awhile. (I knock and enter the room.)” She looks up with tear streaked face. “ I’m Carolyn, one of the chaplains here. I heard you wanted to talk to someone, May I join you?” She assents. She is crying and wrapped in a blanket, hunched over. Her hair is pulled back, but a couple defiant strands have come undone and are loose around her face. She is an African American woman in her 30’s. She looks at me with tired eyes and then puts her head down. I pull up a chair facing her and sit down. I ask “what’s going on? You seem troubled.” She puts her head in her hands.” I’ve sinned..I don’t even know where to start. “ “ Take your time. You can start anywhere.”
Her husband is in jail.. has been for a while now. In and out of jail. (she tells me his record).He’s on work release and she has to take him to work construction early and then she watches her grandkids for my daughter who works 6 to 6. Then she picks up her husband and gets him back to the prison. It is a lot to do. “ An’ I’m just tired, you know? I’m worn out an’ I just can’t do it no more.” She’s been doing this for years now. It’s been a long time and a lot to do.“ And I’m trying. An’ I went to my pastor because I needed to talk and he rebuked me! He said I was committing a sin.” ( crying) The sin? He told her she was committing the sin of selfishness. “Well, I believe, you know, that pastors speak the Word to us. They can rebuke us if a person needs it… he told me that I have to be strong for my family and for my husband. My husband has been an addict. I used to be too. He’s been doin’ OK. And I want him to stay clean. My pastor told me if I quit doing all this my husband might backslide on account of me. That if my husband backslides it will be because of my selfishness. That God will hold me accountable in the judgment.” It is up to her; if her husband backslides, it is on her. God will judge her.
“ I don’t mean any disrespect to your pastor, but it seems like you’re not sure if it really is all up to you. Does it seem right to you?” She is not sure. She tells me she knows she has been selfish in other ways and the pastor, he knows.“ Are you sure I am not keeping you from your job?” I look her in the eye and tell her this is my job. “I can stay as long as you need.” Previously she and the pastor had a tiff she thinks is connected. “See we were supposed to go to a ball game with the pastor and his wife. And they got the tickets, but then we couldn’t go and we had to pay them for the tickets. I got some money but I didn’t use it to pay him all at once I paid it over awhile. And he got mad and said I was selfish. ..I used the money for things we needed and I did get it all paid back, just not right away. But that was selfish of me, I accepted that rebuke. I think that he is holding that against me. But I don’t know. “ “ Do you really think you are being selfish? It almost sounds like you’re expected to be perfect.” She responds,“ I need to be a good Christian.”
After awhile I ask, “ You’ve told me a lot of what you are doing. How about your husband?” She shakes her head, “He’s not doin’ much.” So I wonder,“ You are trying to be a good Christian, but can you be good enough for two people?” She pauses. “ Not really.”“ How does it feel to have to work that hard? Besides tired, how else do you feel?” And the tears roll. “ Angry. !” She is angry at her husband. When I ask what she would say to him if he was here, she sits more erectly, almost bristling and proclaims, “ I’d say ,’you need to straighten up and come home and be the man you’re supposed to be!’” How was that to say that? “ It felt good. Mmhmm.”This is what she had shared with her pastor and is that when he told her about the sin of selfishness. Preaching overfunctioning as a virtue. She is just supposed to be strong. After all her pastor’s daughter is very ill and in the hospital and he still is the pastor. She sees he’s tired and needs to be forgiven. But she isn’t sure if there is forgiveness for her. So we talk about how we are all imperfect- God knows this. And I proclaim that she is in fact as loved and forgiven as the pastor, as any of us. We talk about what she can use to be strong, and she mentions prayer and trusting in the Lord. We talk about Jesus telling us about shouldering burdens. About how good it has felt for her to talk with someone and to say things and not be judged for them. To drop off some of the burdens she’s carrying. I encourage her to consider counseling- she has rejected an anti-depressant. She is in recovery and taking a pill is not a step she is willing to take. She’ll think about it. We join hands and pray-
“Lord, I thank you for M, who is trying hard to be a strong wife and mother, and provider for her family. She needs strength. She has many responsibilities Lord, and sometimes they weigh her down. May she remember that you tell us you are there to share our burdens, to lighten our loads. When she is feeling weighed down Lord, help her to turn to you. Lord, M is trying to be a faithful servant. May she know that you are right here by her side on the journey, each step of the way. Lord it is hard to admit we cannot do it all, help us to trust in you. Lord, you tell us that you love and forgive us. May M know that she is loved and forgiven by you. Lord, we pray for M’s husband and her family. Guide them in their lives that they may grow in faith, and be restored. We pray for M’s pastor and his family, that you may bring comfort and healing to them in their time of need. Lord, we pray that you will guide M and place in her path those who can help and care for her. Help her to make decisions that will help her. Lord you tell us that we can cast our cares on you, and that you will give us peace. We pray for your peace for M now. Even when we find it hard to come to you, we thank you that you hear our prayers. .. We ask all this in the name of your risen Son, Jesus Christ. Amen. We sit in silence holding hands for while and then she feels a little better and is ready to go. She hands me the blanket. I show her out, watching her walk back out in the great unknown. I will be praying for her. It was a challenge to honor her theological framework regarding accountability on the Judgment Day, and the authority accorded to the pastor. Even when I first met her, she did not ask me if I was a “saved Christian.” My mere title gave me a role. I was trying to balance offering her space to explore without denigrating her shepherd or tearing apart her framework. Even if what she was using was causing trouble, to take it away or dismiss it would leave a person with limited systems with nothing. As God’s representative with the ability to rebuke or admonish, can the pastor deny God’s forgiveness? God desires mercy not sacrifice. She should not have to be a total sacrifice to atone for another. She is in need of grace. We learn from God and from others. The yoke is not intended to increase burden. This framework of getting right with God may have helped her in recovery. She does not speak of any others who are a resource to her. Maybe faith that she is clinging to is in place of people in her life. Unless she comes back to the hospital, there is no way of knowing where the road will take her. I also wonder if she feels she still is repaying God for her earlier “sins.” And I wonder some more as I live out the prayer- placing it in God’s hands.