By now you know, this past week has been nothing short of overwhelming in different ways for all of us perhaps. Last Sunday I accepted another call which brought mixed emotions, and I anticipated that today would be a hard day of sharing that with you and that would be on the forefront. And indeed it still is, but then, on Tuesday morning, everything changed and I found myself on the way to the ER, and navigating conversations and history taking and trying to figure out just what was happening for Michael. By Wednesday, the follow-up to “we just want answers” was frankly pretty horrifying- not only were there blockages in his arteries, medical folks were keeping him “clinically stable” which for me sounded like “we’re trying to keep the whole thing from flying apart.”
I listened, stunned and speechless as I learned that Michael’s arteries were so badly blocked, he should not be living. That our dream trip of hiking in Newfoundland was a blessing and a miracle. The day we hiked up 497 steps should have killed him. But we never knew and the view was spectacular. We were truly clueless- we walk all the time and thought the only thing next week was bringing was a hernia operation. And for that everything was medically cleared.
Thank the Lord for that Tuesday of shortness of breath, legs that felt like concrete and chest pressure. Thank the Lord the ambulance came.
Medications and equipment and decisions, potential outcomes, and side effects were pushing and shoving us around, all demanding attention. And it seemed like at any moment we could just get trampled. But we were shepherded.
Thank the Lord for the phenomenally gifted cardiologists. Yes, they were doing their job, but, thank the Lord that there was this one little enzyme reading in his blood that seemed oddly out of sync. The one they decided to keep monitoring.
Because that one little enzyme reading meant that maybe sending us home for an outpatient stress test was not the best option-it could have been fatal. Thank the Lord there was no outpatient hernia surgery where some poor surgeon would have had an inexplicable fatality. Thank the Lord!
I am not thankful that any of this happened, and not thankful that my husband has now had not just big surgery, but gigantic surgery- 5 bypasses! I am not thankful for coronary artery disease or his family’s history of it.
I AM thankful that in the midst of the textbook definition of overwhelming, God provided. And this is my version of Psalm 100, the alternate psalm for this day. Both psalm 95 and 100 are words we can share so that wherever it seems out of control we can remember who God is with us and for us. God our rock and salvation, whose hand created us, and these words:
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
In the life of people, the psalms take turns praising and lamenting while proclaiming that even in the midst of what seemed almost insurmountable, there was God, providing. It’s a praise that doesn’t depend on “no bad things happen.” It speaks of thanksgiving knowing bad things do happen but God is there with us in it as generations gather around.
We were in God’s hand which provided for us when neighbors took over caring for Toby, and watching the house, and sending food and messages and prayers (even the non-praying types prayed! And maybe they know something more about God! Thank the Lord!)
God provided when my colleagues met me and called me, and enveloped us in prayer and presence. Because I am an only child whose whole family lives elsewhere and I could very easily have sat for hours and days alone. Not so- because God moved in and through them. When one of my colleagues asked how she could help me, words I never imagined in my independent mind spilled forth- “I need you to be my pastor.” And she came- she visited, she prayed, and then she came the day of surgery in the early hours, and prayed and blessed, and sat all day. She had cleared her whole day to be wherever we needed her to be. Steadfast. Enduring. Love. We were in God’s hand and shepherded.
God provided through people we know well and people we barely know, surrounding us with support and offers to call at any hour of the day or night. There was no point in those days where I was not bombarded with prayers and well wishes and meals and consolation. My phone was a constant deliverer of emails, txt messages, Facebook messages and calls. The common terminology for that is to say your phone is “blowing up.”
Even though my phone was “blowing up,” this onslaught of care and love that God ushered forth was greater than everything Michael and I were facing. Who would have thought that the digital age could offer this new vision of steadfast and enduring love?
While we were staring into scary places- bigger than that was God-never absent. There was a quiet power there but it was powerful indeed.
Before his surgery Michael gave me his wedding band to spare it from being cut off or lost. I wore it on my thumb, and every time I remembered it there, I prayed. After surgery and when they had finally taken out the breathing tube, he put his hand out and pointed to his finger. When I asked if his wanted his wedding ring back, for the first time in 25 years since our wedding day, I placed that ring on his finger as he quietly whispered “I do.”
That hand too showed powerful, steadfast love. From now on when I read that God’s steadfast love endures forever, I will have a permanent image seared into my memory and on my heart. And I share these words for other people whose lives face fear and loss, There in the midst, was a profound unimaginable loving presence-God’s unbounded love looked loss head-on and transported us through it.
And all I can do is to come and praise God and tell you about it. Tell the good news!
In the end, this is what God longs for- that we connect with this profound love, receive it, dwell in it, and share it. That’s what the psalm does- it helps those who are grateful celebrate and those who are not, feel it’s possible. I’ve told my story of God, not yours. But each of us, I hope and pray has a story somewhere of God’s love and power to share. Sometimes it's hard to say Christ is powerful when we can barely muster words.
We don’t have to feel powerful to give God power. Instead we’re simply encouraged to take turns telling of those moments of steadfast enduring love, and living those moments where God is with us in God’s pasture together. And God can work through us with each other, being Christ for each other, loving, providing, shepherding, blessing. Giving and receiving.
This kind of power of “God made known” changes the world. It rules when it seems like nothing can. So give thanks to the Lord and bless his name! AMEN