How beautiful you are, my love, how very beautiful! - Song of Solomon 4:1

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lesson Number 11: A Four Letter Word and Jesus...

Suffering is the highest action of Christian obedience and I call blessed, not those who have worked, but all who have suffered.  Suffering, is the greatest work in the discipleship of Jesus.
- Hermann Bezzel

     Let's just be completely clear about one thing - this is not what Hermann Bezzel had in mind when he made the statement recorded at the top of this page. But, his message is one that resonates with anyone who has endured any type of suffering.  physical, mental, spiritual, financial, verbal. Suffering is not something to be shielded from - something to run away in fear from - yet, neither is suffering what we all want; well, unless you are a sado-masochist and at this point, I hope everyone reading this post has a little more respect for themselves and others...
     The lumbar puncture/spinal-tap is a moving experience.  Actually, that would be a lie. You have to be completely still and are not allowed to move or perhaps you will be paralyzed, which the ameoba stated would be unfortunate...indeed?!   Alot of people have had tremendously bad experiences with lumbar punctures - I for one found it quite painful (due to the fact that I cannot bend like a normal pretzel in direct relation to my back surgery) and lying immoble in a fetal position for over forty minutes is not what most 44 year old men like to do.  It was nothing comparable to the nerve burn I enjoyed earlier in the year.  That, was as close as walking into the gates of Hell as I would ever like to experience.  Yet, here we are on the third night of me being in the hospital and well, I couldn't run anywhere.  The window was still showing how cold and brutal the outside world was...the metal table with instruments that looked like they were retrieved out of one of the SAW movies they were wheeling into the room showed me how cold and brutal the inside could be.
     I was by myself for this experience.  Missy had gone home to check on the children and make sure her mother was still alive.  I was blest, however, with very compassionate nurses who hovered over me lovingly, held me on my side, gently patted my shoulder and kept me still.  My eyes would shut, open, shut, open, shut. Tears came and went - some out of fear, most from pain.  They would change out my pillow case after the proceedure.  Injection here, stab there.  Total pain here.  Nothing for a moment.  Here is where Bezzel's comment comes into play.  All the while I am lying on my side, curled up and shaking because the muscles I am not allowed to move are now starting to involuntarily move, God blessedly reminded me of His Word.  His eternal Word.  His Word which brings life.  His Word which brings joy.  His Word which heals.  Psalms 23 and 121 were constantly and repeatedly whispered out loud.  Philippians 4:13, the sermon on the Mount - anything and everything I could recall in the midst of the pain was coming through.  It was such a beautiful time.  I kept thanking God that my wife and kids were not having to go through this.  They were not here to see me like this. I was even thanking Him for allowing me the honor of suffering through this.  Now, before you jump ahead and put me on a pedestal, remember the title of this lesson: a four letter word and Jesus.  My four letter word?  PAIN.   And it was all too real.
      Christians.  Non-believers. Ministers. Paino teachers. Librarians. Presidents. We are all humans.  We all experience pain.  We all suffer.  Some of it is of our own doing while other pain is the result of the reprecussions of the words and actions of others.  Other times, well, suffering is actually part of our healing. I know, Benny Hinn and Joyce Meyer, et all, are all upset with me now.  But, it is true. Suffering is part of the healing process - by it's very nature!  We cannot be healed, unless....wait for it, wait for it....we suffer!  This is precisely why Bezzel's comment "Suffering is the greatest work in the discipleship of Jesus" is such a profound statement.  We desire to be like Jesus in so many ways - WWJD, crosses around our necks, t-shirts with scripture on them, ugly-as-sin hats with I "heart" Jesus on them... You get the picture.  We love to advertise our love for Jesus, our adoration for him, even our allegiance to him.  Americans are especially adept at the bumper-sticker theology. But, do we want to suffer like him?  Do we really want to share in the sufferings of the Son of God?
     That is the last lesson in the school of discipleship I am guessing.  No one really wants to sign up for it.  It requires class participation and there is no skipping out.  It just doesn't meet on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  It does not take weekends off.  Suffering requires that we endure pain.  Pain on the outside.  Pain on the inside.  Pain we show in our faces.  Pain we hide in our hearts.  But, it is all there.  It is all real.  And, it is all screaming for anyone who has the ears to hear it and the desire to help us bear our burdens.
     Pain reveals itself - manifests itself - in a variety of ways.  Crying, sobbing, shaking, anger, cursing, hitting, withdrawal, silence.  It attacks the young, the elderly, the innocent, the deserving.  Pain knows no limits, no skin color, no age, no line of demarcation.  Pain is and always will be...until...
     Heaven.  And, that is what I thought of.  A place with no suffering.  No pain.  No crying.  No fear.  No shame.  What pain are you going through?  There is chronic pain.  Acute pain.  Throbbing pain.  But, it's still pain.  Some pain makes you walk a little different; other pain keeps you from walking period.  Some pain causes you to slow down; other pain haults you all together.  But, there is coming a time and a place where that four letter word will never be used or heard from again.  That's something we can all look forward to.
      I use a cane quite a bit lately.  It's a little shameful to be honest.  I am 44 after all!  Who uses a cane at that age?  I wonder what the parents of my children's friends think.  Do they look at me with empathy?  Indifference? Do they really care?  Or, am I just another person to ignore whose sad story would be boring and bring them down? This is precisely why I can say how grateful I am for what God brought me through at the hospital.  The lumbar puncture was just another episode in life where I can listen now to someone tell me what they went through and I can absolutely and unequivocally understand and feel their pain.  Suffering is indeed the greatest work in learning to be a follower of Christ Jesus the Lord.  As his disciples we can share in his suffering, his obedience unto death, and not just label ourselves "Christian."  We are Christian. And, when others suffer, we can be to them what Christ would have us to be - a trusted friend.
     Friedrich Zundel once stated, "When difficulties pile up before you like insurmountable mountains...when behind you, you see nothing but failures...when before you, you see nothing but what is at hand to do.  Consider each single day to be your appointed task.  Leave to God the care of the future." Beautiful isn't it?  I think my day with the lumbar puncture, which I failed to mention was immediately followed by an almost hour long MRI - body now stretched out! - that day was my appointed day to suffer.  And, blessedly, I learned from it.  "Praise be unto God for his indescribable gift!"
     Paul of Tarsus had a "thorn in the flesh" which remained.  God's grace was sufficient. Still is.  We believers need to quit asking God to take things from us and begin to ask him to walk with us through them.  Isn't that what the 23rd Psalm is all about?  I do not know what lies ahead for me and my family.  The most up-to-date analysis on my situation is as follows:  the lesion on my brain is still there (1/25/11).  It is not a malignant tumor.  It may be benign.  Since it is still there, it is not a virus.  Most likely?  The beginnings of MS.  Multiple sclerosis.  I have all the symptoms and the lesion is in the precise location they usually show up when MS is clinically diagnosed.  It sure would explain alot of the things my body has been doing/not doing over the last few years.  We are still waiting for a couple of tests, but that is where they are laying all of their betting money.  Go here to learn more about MS -
     There are a lot of great sites on the web and I am learning as much as possible as quick as possible.  Thanks to all of you who have read and responded to my posts.  This has been a great avenue of healing for me.  And, I am learning.  Which is why I label each post as a lesson.  I hope you will learn with me.  Grow with me.  Mature with me. 
     I would like to leave you with words from a wonderful song, My Immortal, by Evanescence. It is found on their album, Fallen.  The vocalist, Amy Lee, has the most haunting and velvety voice my ears have ever been blest to hear.
I'm so tired of being here.
Suppressed by all of my childish fears.
And if you have to leave, I wish you would just leave,
Because your presence still lingers here and it won't leave me alone.

These wounds won't seem to heal,
This pain is just too real,
There's just too much that time cannot erase.

When you cried, I'd wipe away all of your tears.
When you'd scream, I'd fight away all of your fears.
And, I've held your hand through all of these years...
but you still have all of me.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Lesson 10: Times Like These

I am a one way motorway,
I'm the one that drives away
then follows you back home.
I am a street light shining
I'm a wild light blinding bright
burning off alone.

It's times like these you learn to live again.
It's times like these you give and give again.
It's times like these you learn to love again.
It's times like these time and time again.

I am a new day rising,
I'm a brand new sky
to hang the stars upon tonight.
I am a little divided.
Do I stay or run away
and leave it all behind.

It's times like these you learn to live again.
It's times like these you give and give again.
It's times like these you learn to love again.
It's times like these time and time again.

David Grohl of The Foo Fighters, Times Like These

          Wednesday, December 15th, 6AM

     After a pathetic night of little sleep, incessant mechanical sounds, and voices outside the reach of my eyes, I am glad to see the nurse come in.  She is smiling.  (I am actually more coherent now than at any point up to this moment.)  Why do they smile?  Is that a prerequisite class all nurses must complete?  Smile! Talk politely...with a bit of helium added.  Walk with a distinct purpose!  Come straight into the room. State your name.  Bring tidings of great joy - or just another heparin shot.  the nurse is nice enough.  But, it really is too early to be this chipper.  Furthermore, I don't want chipper right now.  I want some answers.  I want some information.  I want someone to tell me what is going on.  Ouch.  Forgot.  The heparin shot. Why can't they put that mess in the IV?
     She takes my vital signs and crisply turns and walks commandingly out of the room.  I am beginning to WANT to wake up.  I am beginning to see and think a little clearer.  I turn my heard to the left and Missy is laying between two chairs in position I am not sure she will want to wake up from.  I chuckle and smile.  I reach for the remote connected to the bed...not because I have had diarrhea on myself again, but rather to turn on the TV.  Local news and weather.  Ahhh.  Reality.  Normalcy. Smiling faces greet me - still to early, but I begin to smile some.  I am feeling tired.  But my mind has yet to quit racing.  If it isn't what the amoeba claims it to be, well then what could it be?  What could it be?
     Pinching the bridge of my nose with my right thumb and fore-finger I try to relieve the building pressure my mind is beginning to collect.  I try and think.  It is a hopeless cause.  Missy awakes.  She looks worse than I do.  Of course, if I had attempted her Ringling Brother's feat of sleeping where people are supposed to sit, wouldn't be pretty.  My mind races back to my first church...Mt. Olivet UMC and two sisters whose names I cannot remember who stayed in the waiting room for one month...ONE MONTH...while their mother remained in at UK after surviving an aneurysm in her stomach (less than 3% survival rate if I remember correctly.  She lived).  Are family members really not allowed to rest?  How can Missy care for me if she cannot even get a half-decent rest?  Poor families shuffling aimlessly through the hallways and pouring cup after cup of terrible coffee made by those chipper nurses...  People are hugging outside my door.  Across the hallway.  They are crying helplessly.  Shoulders are bearing faces up.  Arms are protecting the crying ones as they encircle and engulf them.  Why do people in church not care like this all the time?
     "Good morning, Mr. Housewright!"  This voice was chipper as well, but with a little more relaxed feel.  Breakfast is served.  In bed - not that I want it this way.  I would rather be at home making breakfast.  I would rather be serving...not being served.  Why is that such a hard and humiliating lesson to learn - allow others to serve you.  She leaves the tray for me and is very kind.  As she turns I notice the top half of a tattoo across her neck.  Never would have guessed that.  Ignorance again.  My stomach rumbles.  Quit judging people I remind myself as I hazily recall accusations of drug abuse.  I shake my head and remove the cover to my breakfast.  A quick sniff, a millisecond glance, the top goes back on.  "Where in the h... do they get this food?"  I wonder.  I voraciously chug the two orange juices I have been afforded.  The coffee is among the worst I have ever tasted.  How much is this costing me?  Do I have to pay for this?  Where does the staff get their food because it sure isn't from here...
     Sometime in the morning the amoeba meanders in. The long white overcoats; silvery necklaces all hanging around their necks with some strange round amulet on one end and two places for listening on the other; charts folded and piled on top of one another; new faces - the amoeba has either grown or willfully killed one of it's own and replaced it efficiently; various dialects; no scarf this time...where did she go?
    "Good morning, Mr. Housewright!  Do you know where you are?  What day is it?  Do you know the month?  Who is the President?"
     Really!?  I have a Masters!  I know these stupid questions!  I may look like crap right now, but I am not dumb.  I hear the man next to me mumble something.  The nurses are trying to sooth him verbally and with smiles.  For the first time I am cognizant of this fact - the man next to me has had a major stroke.  He has lost the ability to speak.  He cannot move one side of his body.  Stroke.  Death of bodily members.  Long recovery.  Partial recovery.  Rehabilitation hospital.  Unable to function properly for the rest of his life.  No family in here for him.  Phone calls - alot - but no one to physically touch him and kiss him on the cheek or forehead.  The amoeba is speaking...
     "We have your results from your MRI last night and they show you have some type of brain lesion on the right front temporal lobe.  Also, your EEG showed decreased brain activity in that same area. We are not certain but that could mean one of three things:  an infection has set up in your brain; you are in the beginning stages of multiple sclerosis; or, of course, you have a tumor. We will need to perform more tests and analyze the data before we can be conclusive to what is going on."
     "What is a brain lesion?" I ask.
     "I'm sorry.  What does that mean in plain English?"
     "Blah, blah, blah, blah.  Blah. Blah."
     "Er, okay.  So, what is next?  What tests do you need to do?"...(I wish someone would tell me what a brain lesion is.  What about my low brain function?  What does that mean?  Some people would find it a miracle there is any brain function at all!)
    "We will need to do more blood tests.  We will possibly look at performing a lumbar puncture in order to remove spinal fluid.  That could possibly give us many answers.  Also, we will more than likely do another MRI, this time with contrast. Do you understand this?"
     I am 44 years old. Not too old (well, I suppose my teenage daughters might refute that claim) and not too young (my wife would certainly agree with the latter...).  Most information we receive goes in one orifice and out the other.  The ear hears a great deal of matter - but the heart and brain only listen to what is important to them.  This time, I am listening.  Intently.  With great interest.  Did I hear tumor?  Did I hear Multiple Sclerosis?  What the!?  I have two jobs!  I have a wife who leans upon me.  I have three children plus a foreign exchange student.  Three teenage girls and a boy who is in the first grade.  I don't have time for medical problems.  How incredibly rude is this moment!   How overwhelming. 
     It is precisely at this moment I realize Missy has been holding my hand through the entire conversation and lovingly caressing my arm.  She has been asking questions.  She is greatly concerned.  What must she be thinking...what is racing through her mind...would I be as gracious?  Would I be as caring and unselfish?  Probably not.  I am a self-centered and selfish man.  I have multiple degrees.  I work two jobs.  I am loved by people.  I am known in the community.  I. I. I. I. I.  Yes, the truth is, Missy is more of a Christian than I ever could hope to be.  She sees beyond herself.  Her needs, though many, are relegated to the "back burner."  Everybody else comes first.  Her heart and life completely describe what a Christian is to be, must be. 
     The rest of the day would pass by - slowly, but uneventfully.  I would get to see my kids and my mother-in-law. They would all hug me and assure me with encouraging and loving words.  But, it was the physical touch of their hugs that would propel me through the rest of the week.  I did not know or have any idea what I would have to deal with.  In the hospital, it is always better to not know - you are fretting and worrying enough.  Hindsight being what it is, I am extremely glad no one told me that day what Thursday night would bring.  Some things are better left unknown.  And, if you end up in the hospital for any extended period of time...where tests would cause great pain...and you are alone ...might I suggest memorizing the Word of God?  The next day would bring many Scriptures to mind and lips, but none would mean more than the words - "Yeah, though I walk through the valley of death..."
     ps- I would find out later that evening that some former members of the congregation we worship and serve with were phoning one another and stating that this was God's doing and he was somehow exacting revenge on me for things I have done. Unknowingly and without any of this information, Rev. Dr. Kevin Kinghorn, would graciously and wonderfully stand behind sacred desk for me the following Sunday.  His message?  Crisis in our lives are never brought on by God to get back at us for sin in our lives.  God is awesome...and God is always on time.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Lesson Number Nine: There's Got to Be a Morning After...

Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud upon their beds. Psalm 149:5
          Tuesday, December 14th, ?, I am moved from my room to have an MRI scan of my brain

          Tuesday, December 14th, ?, Missy tells me about my morning.  And my day. 

     I know by this time (?) I am in the stroke unit.  I have a roommate who has apparantly been here longer than I have.  No one is by his side.  He lies alone.  He doesn't talk right.  His private area is constantly exposed.  He can't pull his sheet up?  Does he know?  Does he care? 
     My nostrils are filled with the stench of multiple odors. Feces.  Urine.  Medication.  Soiled linens.  I have gone to the bathroom once - in a plastic seated toilet fixed between a walker.  That would turn out to be a minute moment of victory.  Soon, I would not get up in time.  I had to keep changing my underwear, my shorts, and the nurses would place clean sheets on my bed.  Humiliating.  Dehumanizing.  Embarrrasing.  Infantile.  "You're a man!  Can't you control yourself?"
     My ears are adjusting.  I hear only unnatural, man-made sounds.  Clanking of metal.  Squeaking of wheels.  Orders being shouted.  Someone laughing at a joke I was not priviledged to hear.  Moans from other rooms.  One man is shouting a woman's name...over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over.  "Hello, Mr. Housewright!  Feeling a little better tonight?  I have your heparin shot."  The happy nurse - what gives her the right - lifts the gown above my belly.  What?  She swabs my abdomen.  Injection.  A bee sting.  A wasp sting.  An asp bite.  "Good job!  I'll be back to get your vitals in a moment."
     My eyes are adjusting.  Missy is with me.  She is holding my hand.  I cry.  I cry more. I cannot stop.  My pillow becomes a holder of tears. My wife holds me as tight as she can.  My alarm on my venipuncture goes off for the umpteenth time.  Let go.  Flex arm open.  Alarm stops.  I wipe my wet hands on the sheets. Missy tells me about my day.
         Monday, April 21, 2005.  St. Joseph Hospital.  I am admitted at 5AM.  Missy and I drove over together.  It was the day after Easter.  I had purposefully postponed my back operation because I wanted to preach the resurrection.  Having been injured at a institutional facility for boys where I worked at while ministering in Indiana I had been in traumatic and crippling pain for over a year and a half.  The surgery went fantastic.  Stayed one night.  Walked without pain.  Joy.  The last few months my pain has returned - often with a vengeance in my hip and lower back.  Two bad disks and a bone spur, etc.  Nothing that Lortab, Cymbalta, 2400mg of ibuprofen, and lots of stretching can't get me through.  Though there is the two canes I have been frequently using more and more...I know now and accept the fact I will never again be able to be the man my family needs me to be.  But, I will never stop trying.

     Missy begins by telling me that the night before I was complaining of a headache.  My back was hurting, too.  No new news.  The headache, though, unusual for me.  I sat up on our futon as I often do on struggling nights and read to my son, Ryan - he is in the first grade - and I went to sleep sitting up and he laying down with his legs across mine.  
     "Really?  I don't remember any of that?  I had a headache?"
    Missy continues...she wakes up at 8:40AM - Why haven't I woke her up?!  She finds me still asleep on the futon.  She awakens me and we have to rush.  We have five minutes to get ready and drive to work!  It takes me a few minutes to get my pants buttoned.  
     We get in the van.  She looks at me and asks, "Why didn't you turn the heat on?!  Why didn't you defrost the windows?!"
     "I didn't start the van."
     She begins to worry...
     We get to work and she asks our lead pharmacists and manager to watch out for me.  She thinks I may have accidentally taken too many pills.  I just didn't seem right. She walks away from the pharmacy and goes next door to the foot store she manages for the pharmacy.
     I go back to make coffee for everybody.  I spill coffee everywhere.  My pants are still unzipped.  They walk me over to Missy's.  I sit in a chair and sleep more.  Missy calls our Doctor.  She somehows manages to get me to the van and we head to the emergency room.  In triage I am asked questions and my speech is slurred.  I can't focus.  When asked to sign some form my hand can't rightly hold the pen and I basically make a wavy line.  They immediately take me to the back.
     The attending physician is in there immediately.  He believes I have had some sort of stroke.  Something neurological is wrong.  No, it wouldn't be his medications he takes.  Those would have all wore off by now.  He's worried.  Missy's worried.
     They call the ambulance and I am taken to University of Kentucky Hospital.  There I am immediately placed in a small, but very nice room, according to Missy.  It is an ER room.  Clean.  Well lit.  Warm colors.  
     And, now?  Here we are.  One day missing.  And noone is sure what is going on.  As I looked at Missy I could see that she was very worried.  Scared?  Yes.  Frustrated?  Yes.  But, she was there.  And was that all that mattered?  Yes.
     The MRI would come late at night.  From my mobile bed we rolled through hallways, past wandering eyes, stares, glances...some turning away not to be caught looking.  Others, not even caring or noticing.  We go through an elevator and I am transfered to another cart.  Then I am moved into the room and transferred to the MRI table itself.
     MRI's.  Tubes.  Loud.  Clostraphobic beyond words.  Banging.  Eery.  Space.  White.  Univiting.  Sterile.  Technological.  Mechanical.  Uncomfortable - especially if your back and hip are in constant pain.  
     I am returned to my room.  Missy and I watch some TV.  She goes over the story for me again.  Why can't I remember?  What do you think happened?  Do the kids know?  Are they okay?  Thirty six inches to my left the window allows me to see how brilliantly white the world is with snow, ice and 20 degrees keeping it all in check.  The moon shines so magnificently on the world I feel I could sit on top of one of the buildings and read a book.  But, it's thirty six inches.  It's been twenty-four hours.  I am a prisoner of cords, needles, patches, an oxygen tube, guard-rails on my bed, and a nasty habit of uncontrollable diarhea.  I start to laugh as I raise my right hand to my head and run through my hair - now beyond control due to the EEG.  Missy asks what's funny.  I say, I remember a song from that old 70's movie "The Poseidon Adventure."  "There's got to be a morning after."  We both laugh.  There would be a morning after.  
     That night, I drifted continually in a dream-state.  I never truly fell asleep.  Truthfully, I never slept more than fours hours on any given day/night for the rest of the week.  The morning after brought another heparin shot.  The morning after brought the amoeba back.  The morning after brought accusations that I must have surely overdosed.  I had taken too many pills.  "We have many programs to assist you...if you have a problem, of course."  No, I kept repeating, I had not abused any drugs.  I take what is prescribed - and yes, for some it might be too much - but I work two jobs to provide for my family and it keeps me going. 
     I am not addicted - go without for days at times - and much to their chagrin and animosity I went the whole week at the hospital without one pill for anything but what they had to give me.  But, they kept hinting around.  Kept asking questions.  Could you have taken one too many?  Are you sure?  Kept dawdling here and being nosy there.  That is, until the MRI test came back.  They quickly forgot about their professional assessment then and began speaking in different tones.  Not accusatory.  A tad bit more empathy.  The morning after would come and so would a new assessment from the amoeba.  Missy and I - well, we probably wished they had been right in the first place.

Speaking of hospitals, here are three pictures of my mom, Nancy Housewright, who as a teenager spent well over a year within an iron lung as a result of polio.  She had been bitten by a tick.  She was not supposed to live very long.  She just celebrated another birthday.  One, I regretfully say, I was my second day in the hospital...I know you understand Mom, but I still can't believe I didn't tell you Happy Birthday.  So, a week later:  HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!  We love you!!!!!!!!!!

Lesson Number Eight: 24 hours and 36 inches...

     They all want something of me when they come to church. They all expect that I have something to give them. A pastor is a man who is beset by the expectation that he has something to give. And when they all expect that you have something to give, you finally get the idea yourself that you have something to give. Do YOU have something to give?  God help you never to grow so conscious of your ministerial office or your dignity that, as you grow older, more experienced, and mature, you come to be convinced in all "humility" that you have something to give!
     What can YOU give to old "R," who has been lying in the same bed for twenty years, paralyzed and shrunken, and yet is friendly, quiet, patient, even joyful in the Lord?  What are you going to give to the dying young "addict" whose mother has called you to come, and you find him in utter despair? What are you going to give those people in the pews who have been disciplined in suffering and patience for thirty years and more, much longer than you have? What are YOU, who are only a man, going to give to men life yourself?
     But stop your questions! Tell me, what language are you speaking?  Are you speaking the language of the poor in spirit or are you speaking the language of unbelief?  Do you really have nothing to give?  Don't you have something else to give?  Don't you bring with you that Book from the pulpit, which is God's treasure for you and people like you...Does not God have something to give?
     Woe is me.  Am I speaking the language of faith, or is it the voice of the Tempter that is whispering to me, "God's gifts are in your hand; just go ahead and use them?" Get thee behind me, Satan! I have nothing to give, but God will give to me and my brethren, as he did yesterday, and today, so tomorrow, out of the immeasurable riches of his grace.  Amen.
(Heinrich Vogel, Traugott Untreu auf der Kanzel, 1930; quoted in Kampffmeyer, op cit., pp. 89ff.)

     Monday, December 13th, 8:45AM.  Go to work.  6PM. Go home.  Play with the kids...I think...

     Tuesday, December 14th, ?.  A face appears. I am in an ambulance. The face dissappears.

     Tuesday, December 14th, ?.  A face appears.  She has a black scarf loosely draped around an
     olive and oval face.  She is gone.

     36 inches.  Three feet.  Not far.  My legs are that long.  My head is leaning toward the left. The sixteen electrode patches on my chest and sides keep me from moving around too much.  The oxygen tube itches.  My right index finger beams a strange orange/red color in the dark room.  The sounds of machinery calmly repeating - almost put me in a trance-like state.  My left arm, which has a venipuncture, keeps setting the IV machine off behind my head because I am cutting off it's constant supply to my body.  36 inches. Three feet.  Not far.  My body won't let me go there though.
     24 hours.  One day.  Not much.  Time indeed seems to "fly by" as you age.  My head is focusing forward now.  The doctors - a team of neurologists - are moving together as an amoeba would; close, mingling but not touching; not cohesive but trying to be.  Missy is on the left. She is by my side.  Why am I lying here?  Where am I?  What day is it?  What happened?  Then, the most obvious notification that things are not normal occurs.  The dreaded question.  What I have been afraid of in the few moments this amoeba has been moving toward me - "Mr. Housewright, how are you feeling?  Do you know where you are?  Do you know what day it is?  Who is the President?  What year is it?  Do you know the month?"  24 hours.  One day.  Not much.  An eternity.
     36 inches to the left of me is a wide, ice-covered window.  Through fog - or is it me - I see mulitple buildings across from my bed.  I must be several stories up.  Can't really see anything - I cannot focus for some reason.  Three feet to look outside and see if there was still a world.  Where are my children?  Are they okay?  Who knows I am here?  Okay, my pants are still on...when did I put them on?  Who are you?  A new face appears.  A sweet disposition.  She's not from here. She says something about an EEG.  Electrodes are planted all over my hair.  They aren't too sticky.  The kind woman expresses something about reading my brain waves.  What does that mean?  I look at Missy, she is still holding my left hand with the venipuncture and her eyes tell me it's okay.  It's needed.  There is a look though that is simultaneously unsettling.  Unnerving.  Drifting.  Drifting.  Gone.
     24 hours of one day of my life.  Gone.  Where?  It was as if someone used vanishing cream on Tuesday, December 14 and wiped it clean.  Erased.  Permanently. God?  God?  God!  Yes, He'll have the answer...He is the answer!  But, I am too groggy.  Too unfocused.  Too tired.  God...God...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Lesson Number Seven: The Wisdom and Longing of John Watson

One's heart goes back from this eager, restless, ambitious age to the former days, and recalls with fond recollection the pastor of his youth, who had lived all his ministry in one place, and was buried where he was ordained - who had baptized a child, and admitted her to the sacrament, and married her and baptized her children - who knew all the ins and outs of his people's character, and carried family history for generations in his head - who was ever thinking of his people, watching over them, visiting their homes, till his familiar figure on the street linked together the past and the present, and heaven and earth, and opened a treasure house of sacred memories...  People turned to him as by an instinct in their joys and sorrows; men consulted him in the crises of life, and, as they lay a-dying, committed their wives and children to his care...  Ten miles away people did not know his name, but his own congregation regarded no other, and in the Lord's presence it is well known, it was often mentioned; when he laid down his trust, and arrived on the other side, many whom he had fed and guided, and restored and comforted, till he saw them through the gates, were waiting to receive their shepherd-minister, and as they stood around him before the Lord, he, of all men, could say without shame, "Behold, Lord, thine under-shepherd, and the flock thou didst give me." - John Watson (Ian Maclaren pseudo), The Cure of Souls, (Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching, 1896), New York: Dodd, Mead, 1896, pp. 241 ff.

There is a quite disturbing trend in the church today.  Of course, we would be fools not to recognize the fact that this problem has plagued the bride of Christ for centuries.  It is the desire to move onward and upward, from where we are to where we think we should be.  Luther wrote of this issue when he declared: "Ambitio praedicatoris est ecclesiae pestis...the ambitious preacher is a pestilence to the church."  It begs the question of us all - am I in the ministry to receive or am I in the ministry to give?  Am I a pestilence to the church, or not?

Many bi-vocational pastors will echo these words in one form or another:  If only I had this..., If only I had that..., If only my people were more educated..., If only I made more money..., If only we had more room..., If only our facilities were updated..., If only people knew how hard I worked..., ad nauseum.  The glaring error in these statements is the self-centered nature from which they all flow.  When we begin to look at our shortcomings, or begin to wander in thought about what we would do if we had the resources other preachers have we fail to realize the eternal blessing we have inherited already by answering the call to serve where we are presently.  We should not really think so high of ourselves and abilities - or at least that is what John Chrysostom was probably alluding to when he stated, "Hell is paved with priest's skulls."

God has us where we are, at the time he has appointed, for reasons only Heaven is privy to.  To think we have to be on the internet constantly perusing for a better paying position or one with better provision for our families is to miss the high calling of Christ Jesus.  George Johnstone Jeffrey wrote in This Grace Wherein We Stand on page 86, "There is no more common illusion in our profession than the conviction that we could be a shining success anywhere else than in the sphere which we happen to be occupying... Get it wrought into the fibers of your being that the sphere in which you find yourself is the arena in which you are to win your soul."  And, perhaps, it is this illusion that we would be better off somewhere else that keeps our focus away from our people and our community and places it wrongly on others and places where we shall most likely never dwell.  What is wrong with the place where you are at now?  If you are like every other living and breathing bi-vocational minister, well, there are a TON of things that are wrong!  Most importantly, it is our hearts that are wrong...not the people nor the buildings.

When his son first began pastoring, Friedrich von Bodelschwingh wrote him a letter of encouragement.  In this quite simple letter he wrote: "I beg you, do not look upon Dortmund as a steppingstone, but rather say: Here I shall stay as long as it pleases God; if it be his will, until I die."  What about us?  Are we ready to step over the stone God has placed us on?  Or, are we ready to face the wind and waves of culture while standing steadfastly in the place where we are now?  Do we in our heart of hearts, truly believe that we are standing on holy ground?  Is our faith - that which we preach and shout that others must have - stronger than what we demand of our listeners?  Do we trust God to work through his awesome Holy Ghost in the backwoods as much as the back-rooms of multi-million dollar facilities?  God is alive and well!  He is as active on the farm-to-market road as he is on downtown Broadway.

Christina G. Rossetti wrote a poem which powerfully uplifts and encourages the
long-term pastorate.  It is entitled Send Me.
Use me, God, in thy great harvest field,
Which stretches far and wide like a sea;
The gatherers are so few; I fear the precious yield
will suffer loss.  Oh, find a place for me!
A place where best the strength I have will tell;
It may be one the older toilers shun;
Be it a wide or narrow place, 'tis well
so that the work it holds be only done.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Lesson Number Six: The Longing of Wilhelm Lohe

"What do I want?  I want to serve.  Whom do I want to serve?  The LORD - in the person of his poor suffering chidlren.  And what is my reward?  I serve neither for reward nor thanks, but out of gratitude and love; my reward is that I am permitted to serve.  And if I perish in doing so?  If I perish, I perish...And if I grow old in this service?  Then my heart shall flourish like the palm tree, and the LORD will satisfy me with grace and mercy.  I walk in peace and am careful for nothing." - Wilhelm Lohe, J. Deinzer, W. Lohes Leben, III p. 179; quoted in Wolfgang Trillhaas, Der Dienst der Kirche am Menschen. Pastoraltheolgie (Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1950), p. 66.

In Mark 10:51, we have one of the most astounding moments recorded in human history.  The very Son of God is speaking to a blind man, Bartimaeus, and asks him the most incredulous question one could possibly pose to a visually impaired person:  "And Jesus answered and said unto him, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?"  It is quite logical to conclude that the overwhelming response emanating from the crowd would have sounded something similar to "DUH!?!?"  Yet, Bartimaeus seems unphased by the apparent rudeness of his LORD.  He simply replies, "LORD, that I might receive my sight." Mark concludes this scene with, "And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole.  And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way." (KJV).

Now, here we are some two millennia later and the thought enters my feeble mind:  "What do I want?"  Not that I desire to make light of the question but it is usually asked with the intention of finding out what someone desires as a gift.  Yet, what if you and I were in the physicial presence of our Master and King, Jesus Christ, and he posed the question to us?  "What do you want?"  Or, as previously noted, "What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?"  It is certain from the above quotation Wilhelm Lohe pondered this question in his heart.  Yet, what may not be obvious is that both he and Bartimaeus have something in common - they both are asking a rhetorical question.  

Put it this way:  a blind man needs to see...a minister needs to serve.  It does not take an academic erudite to figure that out.  So, what are we missing?  That we need to seriously look into our hearts and consider the words...what do I want?  Many ministers/pastors or small rural congregations want to get out and move upward to a larger charge.  There would be a financial increase for the family; there would be more resources to attempt all of those ideas you have stashed away for a bigger and better congregation; the facilities would allow you to reach more people and not be embarrasing and require an explanation each time a new person came through the doors; the tribal mentality you have at the small church would vanish and now you could actually utilize terms and methodoligies for leadership you have been reading about online for the last ten years; and your children would not be the only ones who have to do everything youth are expected to do! 

Other servants may actually want to stay where God has placed them.  Only they would desire a change in the current status of physical needs for themselves and their families.  Perhaps their "want" would focus on building programs or seminars on outreach ministries.  These disciples of Christ "want" to stay where they are at...just fix a few things here and there to better serve and minister to the community.

Finally, there would be Wilhelm Lohe...and hopefully, you and I.  Listen again to his words of longing: "What do I want?  I want to serve." What power and purity of intention reside in his heart's cry!  His physical well-being is placed properly in perspective - "If I perish, I perish."  Does he desire a more majestic and proud status?  No.  Lohe yearns to lend his hand to God's "poor suffering children."  Does Lohe want more of this world to satiate himself and his people?  No.  "...the LORD will satisfy me with grace and mercy."  Yet, before you make a final assumption that Lohe was an incredible saint of God, know the following facts:
1.)  He was stationed at one church all of his ministerial life!  From 1837 - 1872 he served in a little German town called Neuendetteslau, near Nuremberg. 
2.)  He did not enjoy where he was stationed!  According to Craig Nessan, Academic Dean and Professor of Contextual Theology at Wartburg Seminary in Iowa, "This was a call that Loehe did not covet...It has become legendary that Loehe commented about the village of Neuendettelsau that he would not even want his dog to be buried there. Loehe desired to serve in a city church, not in a village where the poverty and living conditions were dismal. (1)
3.)  In spite of his distaste for where he resided, his faith in God led him to make a profound and lasting impact on a grand scale.  Professor Nessan continues, "Yet from this unlikely place, God through Loehe launched reforms to the liturgy and mission to the world whose influence continues to this day. The history of the church in the U.S., Australia, and Papua New Guinea would each be significantly otherwise without the influence of Loehe in humble Neuendettelsau. Furthermore, one can only begin to imagine the healing impact on countless human lives made by the diaconal institutions founded by Loehe that have ministered in Germany since the middle of the 19th century to this day." (2)

What do you want?  I hope, through this lesson, you have begun to realize it is not in things, places or appointments that we, as ministers serving in obscurity, find our wholeness...our completeness.  Rather, it is in serving Christ Jesus the King - by way of reaching out to the "least of these" - that we find our greatest fullfilment.  As servants of Almighty God it is not what I want, it is what he wants.  Therein lies the rhetorical nature of the question.  Whatever God wants, that is what I want, and the end result is not bad.  Let the words of Professor Nessan lift your heart and desire to serve his people in your community: "God is no respecter of place when it comes to accomplishing mission. No matter where we are, God can and does further divine purposes in and through us." (3)

(1)  Professor Craig Nessan, Wilhelm Loehe on the Christian Life, from the Journal of Lutheran Ethics, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Volume 10, Issue 2, February 2010 Issue.
(2)  Ibid
(3)  Ibid

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lesson Number Five: Let Me Explain Why I Did That!

"If the Spirit of God detects anything in you that is wrong, He does not ask you to put it right; He asks you to accept the light, and He will put it right. A child of the light confesses instantly and stands bared before God; a child of the darkness says - 'Oh, I can explain that away.' When once the light breaks and the conviction of wrong comes, be a child of the light, and confess, and God will deal with what is wrong; if you vindicate yourself, you prove to be a child of the darkness."-Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, March 23rd entry.

Having been in the ministry in one form or fashion for over twenty years I believe I am safe to claim that one of the greatest obstacles a small church pastor will face is that of desiring to justify their behavior. Notice we are not discussing the issue of behavior. There is no need to bring certain sins or attitudes to our attention. What is vital and critical however is the issue of justifying said sins and attitudes. Chambers brings this to our attention by stating this type of behavior - justifying ourselves - is a direct result of still living in the flesh. Or, to put it another way, to remain carnally-minded.

Paul discusses this very issue and takes the Corinthian church to task on it in 1 Corinthians 3:1 and 3. He claims: "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ...for ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men." Lest we forget, the letter to the people of Corinth was not sent to derelicts and was hand written and sent to believers in Christ Jesus the Lord. Paul was communicating with his own...he was preaching to the choir! And, that, is precisely Chambers' point in this particualr entry.

Chambers was both a proponent and fanatic of what we might call practical Christianity. In other words, what a man believed with his heart, he lived out in the flesh. He practiced what he preached. Too many ministers demand holiness and sanctification of their people. They hold their "little flock", as Watchman Nee eloquently put it, to a higher plane than themselves. Of course, Jesus knew we would desire this modus operandi of misplacing our personal responsibility and accountability of our behavior upon other people. Psychologists today call is "transference." And, wow, do we as ministers have an easy target - the poor souls saddled with our idle preaching week in and week out as we verbally criticize and publicly cry out against their sins and shortcomings while completely neglecting our own beams which jet out of every orifice of our bodies. "I can do that, you see, because I have a 'calling.'" (Insert knowing chuckles at this point of the previous sarcastic remark.)

Seriously, however, listen to the impact of Chambers' comment on - "Oh, I can explain that away:" Those are words of a child of darkness. Try to vindicate yourself and you remain a child of darkness. As a pastor - a shepherd of souls - for a microscopic portion of humanity, it is up to us to not focus on the failings of God's people. That, thank God, is his business! That, thank God, is the business of the Holy Ghost! Our focus must be on the frail "sarx" that we find ourselves combatting each and every day. Consequences be what they may, the minister must set the tone for the people of God by sanctifying himself daily - moment by moment even. Why else would God have the Levites purify themselves FIRST before they set out to purify the Israelites SECOND? We dare not explain away what cost the very Son of God his life.

We are children of the light. As such, and with the great noteriety that is forever reserved for the small-church pastor -whether you want it or not - we must be in the light as he is in the light. (Thank you DC Talk.) The people of your community need to know you are one of them...not embarrased by them...not ashamed of them...and, definetely not talking ABOUT them. Even though the word is not found in the Bible, I do believe in the concept/idea of the term incarnate. God became one of us. The Word became flesh. "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father." Wouldn't it be beautiful for his church if the ministers would be able to look the church and the community in the eye and say, "If you have seen me, you have seen Christ."

Confess sin - you do not have to advertise it on a billboard - to a select group of extremely confidential and loving Christians. Depend upon them to hold you accountable and not let you justify yourself when sin raises it's ugly head in your life. Do not seek to vindicate yourself. Chambers writes at the end of the March 23rd entry: "You will never cease to be the most amazed person on earth at what God has done for you on the inside."

Charles Gabriel, the author of nearly 8,000 songs, was a common man like you and I. He was raised on a farm in Iowa and learned about music from his father. He lived a somewhat normal life, but was affected by sin as we all are. He was married twice, his first marriage ending in divorce and suffered many setbacks in his life. Yet, because he chose not to conceal or justify his moments of rebellion he was able to pen such wonderful hymns as "Send the Light", "Calling the Prodigal", "Higher Ground", "He Lifted Me", and "I Stand Amazed." It is the last song I wish to close this post with. Just a couple of verses from his song and the incredible words of the chorus:
I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how He could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean.
He took my sins and my sorrows, He made them His very own;
He bore the burden to Calvary, and suffered and died alone.
When with the ransomed in glory His face I at last shall see,
'Twill be my joy through the ages to sing of His love for me.
How marvelous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be:
How marvelous! How wonderful! Is my Savior's love for me!
I Stand Amazed, Charles Gabriel, 1905