Saturday, September 15, 2007

Are you proud of you?

The other day I was encouraging my 3.5 yr old daughter, Zoe. My wife and I often take pride in ourselves for parenting in the most modern fashion, even though we have no more a clue about what we are doing and why at times than anyone else ever has throughout the whole of human history. So, the other day I was feeling especially smug when I told Zoe I was proud of her and then asked, "Are you proud of you?" She answered to the affirmative and it did my heart glad to know that I am raising someone with a sense of contentedness with herself. Of course she could be a megalomaniac in the making, but we try not to dwell on that. Truly we do what we can to instill self satisfaction as well as respect for others. But hey, she's 3 going on 15, so we'll take it one step at a time.

Anyway, the rambling point of this is that about five minutes after this shining moment of parenting she totally nails me. After completing some simple task that she had given me precise instructions for she looks at me and says, "I'm proud of you, Daddy.....are you proud of you?" Wow. There it is. Am I proud of me? Me, a forgiven sinner? Me, a totally depraved contorted image of God? Me, the one who goes his own way while craving the sustenance of community? Me, a child of the most high God... yes, even me. I choked out a "Yes, Zoe, I am." though I hardly believed it. "Good job, Daddy!" was all she said.

Though she went immediately to the next shiny thing, part of me remains frozen in that moment. Through Jesus Christ we are forgiven, made whole, redeemed! I preach it every day, almost. Yet why is it so hard to believe? I believe it to be a good thing that we have the knowledge of our sinful nature to keep us in check. But sometimes I wonder if that does not simply equal a theology of unhealthy guilt. I don't want that for Zoe, or for me. So while I seek to save my own soul through my daughter's eyes I hear my heavenly father say, "Good job!" and I know that I have something to be proud of. Now I don't mean to suggest that I am intentionally imposing on my children the burdens I bear, expecting to fix in them the things broken in me. Instead I am saying that it is part of our nature to do just that, and by the grace of God in Jesus Christ I have seen more clearly who I am through the eyes of my child.

Exodus 20:5-6 "I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments."

So we extend the punishment, and even participate in it, when we simply do what we do without considering how we are reacting to, carrying on, or participating in the patterns of our lives. And every now and then God breaks in to free us from ourselves... to remind us that our best efforts may not be good enough to redeem us, but that God's actions are. I am proud of me. Not because of who I am or what I do, but because of whose I am and what God is doing... even through me.

Alleluia! Amen.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Angel in the Parking Lot

As I helped my dad into my stepmom's car to leave the hospital we made fists and I said, "You fight this thing." We punched knuckles, and I turned to walk inside to the ATM for parking money. As I turned my first tears came to me. I sniffled and held back the tide as I walked through the lobby, thinking how many times I'd seen others this way and what I must look like. I made it back out to the parking lot, whimpering under my breath. I almost wanted others to hear me, but I dared not make a scene. As I got to my car a cheapy, clunky charm from a toy cought my eye. It was an angel. For a moment I considered the child who may have lost it as I selfishly snatched it up for my own comfort. As I sat in my car blowing my nose and regaining composure I heard a horn beep but did not consider it. Suddenly a large African American woman appeared outside my window asking plaintively and forcefully, "Are you going to move that car?!"

I wanted to roll down the window and say, "Sorry, I just found out my dad has cancer and I'm a little overwhelmed, SO BACK OFF A MINUTE LADY!" Instead I waived politely and smiled. Really the comody of the moment was too rich and it made me laugh a bit. Besides, she obviously had a need to be there too. I'd like to say that I prayed for her and her needs, but I didn't. I suppose I could still do that. (Pause for prayer - hey, if you are reading this why don't you pray for her too!)

So, then I ended up going the wrong way on 285, getting stuck in traffic on I-75, and then getting stuck on Hwy 41 as I tried to get around it. So I pulled in to a gas station to get some caffein, as I had only had three hours sleep in the hospital the night prior. While in the bathroom a grungy guy with a big tatoo asks to borrow my cell phone. Begrudgingly I say yes, but then he pulls out a note book paper page full of numbers. After the first one fell through I gave him a dollar for the pay phone. All the while I am wrestling with the fact that I am tired and grumpy but none worse for wear by helping him. This is where the rubber hits the rode. This is where Jesus says, "when you did this to the least of my family you did it to me." Did I pass the test?

Probably not. I could have given him a ride somewhere. I could have let him make some more calls. Truth is that I was a little scared of who he was calling and what might be done with my phone number. I was also frustrated over the drive and in need of seeing my kids who I had not seen much that week. So, I fell short of the glory of the Lord. I'm glad to know there is forgiveness for such things, but its stuff like this that actually troubles me as much or more than some of the more global justice issues. I live in fear and do not trust my fellow human being, and I don't think I am alone in that. So what ever happened to God not giving us a spirit of fear but of confidence? Easier said than done when you have a family to be responsible for. Good Samaritan I ain't. Trouble is, I don't know if I have it in me to be one. I think I know how, but I lack the will. And isn't that the cruxt of it all? We know that we are all in this together. We know that human suffering can be aleviated, but for the natural disasters and diseases uncured.

We just lack the will to give, to do more than survive, to truly live as Christ calls us to. I am hopeful that I might come closer to that way of living, and often I believe that I am. One thing is for sure, if I can't change me I sure as heck can't change anyone or anything else. Maybe the angels will help. If nothing else, I bet they get agood laugh while they watch. Or maybe there are no angels, just children dropping toys and others taking them as symbols of divine hope. Then again, maybe those things are one in the same.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Holy Communion

Dad's home now. He's been diagnosed with Mantle Cell Lymphoma, an aggressive form of cancer originating in the bone marrow. He's already begun chemo, and will continue for 6 months. Assuming it is in remission at that point there will be a bone marrow transplant. I spent the night with him last Thursday, his last night in the hospital so far.

During the early morning hours he came in and out of sleep. At times I sat watching him wishing there were words or questions to ask that might unlock the secrets of life as he knew them. I wondered about the pieces of his life I wil never know. Stories from childhood I never before cared to hear... a clear understanding of the nuances of buying and selling a house... the joys and sorrows of life choices that I have felt the reprocussions of but will never know about.

Friday morning they brought in his breakfast, and he shared it with me. I offered to go get my own, but he was not hungry enough to finnish it. We had been talking about life and faith, and as I look at his muffin I thought of the sacrament of communion. I must have stared too long because he cut it in half and gave it to me without even asking if I wanted it. Then he took two styrophome cups and told me to get some water for us, even though he had his big hospital jug already. So it was not a fruit of the vine, but it was a common cup. And the water of baptism that flows through and over us filled us that morning, of that I am sure.

Perhaps it was just a symbolic moment that touched emotional chords. Even so, God's presence was known in our union. Each in our way felt peace. For him it was the knowledge that no discretion of earlier days could challenge my love for him. For me it was the knowledge that God's power and providence runs deeper than the waters than seem to overtake us. In that moment we had enough peace to know that all will be well in God's great end. I believe that to be sacramental. Though I have a high apreciation for the sacraments and believe it crucial that they be administered in the rightly, coporately and in conjuction with scripture, I believe our communion was holy. I believe we experienced the presence of the living God in our unspoken liturgy, and I believe all the heavens rejoiced with us.

But then again, maybe it was just a muffin. It was a pretty good muffin for hospital food. Nah, could't of been just a muffin. Maybe it was more like... manah? Either way, may God be praised. And that is the good news. My dad and I can honestly say, "to God be the glory" even in the midst of this. I pray that we can remain as resolved. I pray that we will have some times of joy yet to share in the holiness of this time of suffering, amd I pray that my faith might be as strong as his.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

He said "Thank You"

I'm at Northside Hospital in Atlanta, GA with my father. He has an enlarged spleen and is awaiting a biopsy over the Labor Day weekend, which means it wont happen till Tuesday. I've been here through the night. Its Sunday now. Presently he is zoning on Demerol. Primarily I have been helping him sit up or stand or navigate his way to the can. I've also been interpreting treatment for him and keeping him from driving the nurses crazy. The pain has him somewhat disoriented, and he has a mild form of Parkinson's that makes it hard for him to access the words he needs to adequately express his thoughts when he gets stressed. In the midst of all of this we shared a prayer a little while ago.

We were talking about how he was glad to have me here and to receive care from me as a son and as a minister. I expected him to expect me to pray, but he began with a "Dear God" and I awaited like a child at Christmas to see what would follow. I truly expected to hear doubt and anger. My dad's been through a lot in the past few years with what he thought was carpal tunnel or tendinitis that lead to a diagnosis of Parkinson's followed by a car wreck that fractured vertebrae in his lower back and neck. About 8 years prior he lost his father in an accidental vehicular homicide and lost his job while spending extended time caring for his mother after that. He has not been active in a church in years, through his faith in the living God is sure.

So he held my hand in a way that suggested we might pray, said, "Dear God, thank you for all that you have given me. Thank you for the good care I am receiving and for my health. Thank you for giving me a good wife who treats me better than I deserve. Forgive me for not always treating her the way I should. Thank you for Zachary's willingness and even desire to always be here for me, even though I was not always there for him...particularly in his younger years." And the prayer went on from there. I prayed for peace, for healing, for a release from pain, and for a knowledge of God's presence. Fairly standard stuff, mind you, but sincere all the same.

After that we talked a little more about the fact that we have not prayed like that before. We have a family blessing that is as dear and sincere as it is wrote. We had family devotions on certain Sundays that we did not go to church as young children. I have prayed for him in recent years, but we have not prayed together. Not like this. We talked about how hard is not to ask why. Why would God do this after bringing him through so much? I assured him that God does not "do this" to people and that God, through Christ suffers with us. We talked about that a little and I asked him if it really helps to consider Christ's suffering. He said that it did, but as the next round of meds kicked in he said he thought God might be preparing me to help others as they suffer. I choked back tears and said I sure as hell wished he'd let me practice on someone else.

He's sleeping now, snoring actually. I fully expected a lab tech to come as soon as he went down, but God is gracing us with a few extra minutes. So, here are a couple more thoughts in response to this holy moment. In the event that my sister reads this, I want the record to be clear that she is the one who has been there for him the most. My brother and I have done our own thing in our own way, and we all love our father. I've done my part to stay in touch, as I have not been in the same town for a while. I'm closer now, but still two hours away. Still, Staci gets the stars in her crown for physically being there the most over the last two years. It is true that I've been an encourager, even if from afar. So I guess that counts for something. The other thing to note is that even though he was not physically there for me as much as I would have liked during adolescence, it was then that he encouraged me from afar. I never doubted his love.

So it is. So it shall be. For this I give thanks.