Recovering From Surgery

Thanks for the words of concern and prayers in my recovery from a burst appendix two weeks ago. They’ve all been deeply appreciated. I wanted to pass along a few observations from my convalescence.

  • I really don’t do “recovery” well. I want to be out doing things and when I do, I chafe at getting exhausted. It’s getting a lot better; for awhile I needed a nap every afternoon. Now that’s less the case. I took one yesterday, and then had a hard time falling asleep at night.
  • Saw my surgeon for my second follow-up this morning. I’m healing well, according to him, but not there yet…he wants to see me Monday, and maybe that will be the last time. I’m really ready to be done with this…
  • We definitely have an Enemy, and I’m kinda not surprised he came after me. We go up to the mountain for our Emmaus weekend in eight days, and folks have commented that the Enemy often tries to do something in advance of a weekend. Glad I got to catch that particular spear…
  • It’s amazing to me how much my routines have been upset, and that includes my spiritual ones. I used my commute in each morning as prayer time, and now I’m out of that habit. I have to make time differently for Christ, and that’s been a struggle sometimes.
  • Prayer works. I really did feel bathed in security when I was being wheeled in for surgery, and prayers for healing since then have been answered. The secondary infection that set in has largely disappeared, praise be.
  • The dog really doesn’t understand what’s going on. She’s hurt and perplexed that she can’t stay in the bed with us at night anymore. It’s hard to explain to her that the last thing I need is for her, in the middle of the night, to hit a tender spot or pull on something that doesn’t need tugging on. So we’ve started teleworking together, that seems to let her feel more comfortable.
  • I’d been prohibited from lifting more than 20 pounds until today. Man, I’ll miss that excuse for getting the kids to do things…
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Burst Appendix

Ten days ago, on a Saturday night, I started to feel a little twinge in the right side of my abdomen. Mind you, this was after working in the yard for a few hours at a charity event, and during bowling night, so I figured, I must have pulled something.

It didn’t get better, and I noticed I lost energy: I came home and slept 12 hours that night, and after church Sunday I slept another 15 hours. Something wasn’t right. Monday I stayed home from work, exhausted, but still not in a lot of pain. Tuesday, though, it wasn’t getting better and I figured I should find out what it was. With one bout of diverticulitis in the family this winter, I thought it could be that, and so went to an ER that could take pictures.

The CT scan showed my appendix had begun to burst. I was taken via ambulance to Mount Vernon hospital just before 1, and by 2:45 I was being wheeled back for surgery.

Things like this–sudden, emergency, literally life-saving surgery–can be a little upsetting. My bride was a little alarmed, but I remember feeling very calm about it. I knew I was in the best hands I could be, the healer above all others, and so I didn’t feel fazed at all.

I think that’s a difference from where I would have been years ago. I think I would have been much more assaulted by the feeling of not being in control, of wanting to research the best possible surgeon, pick a different hospital, etc., etc. Instead, I felt reassured throughout the day, reassured that I was being loved and cared for even beyond the walls of the hospital. I put out a couple of Facebook messages, and brothers and sisters in faith responded with a wall of prayer for me. That felt good, that felt welcomed, and as a result I was able to breathe in the gas in the OR without worrying about what came next.

Recovery has been uneven: discharged after 48 hours, and the first couple of days at home were good. Yesterday my drain showed qualitative and quantitative signs of change, so back to the ER to make sure everything was OK. The CT scan showed no structural problems, but they put me on a stronger set of antibiotics to kill off whatever’s still around inside. Part of the hardest thing to do is…nothing, just to sit around and rest and recover. I don’t “just sit around” well.

But through it all, I am being held, I am being supported, and I do believe healing is available for me. These are incredibly reassuring, and I hold onto them through these next days and weeks.

Always an adventure, huh?

Becoming Christ’s Hands and Feet

I’m in the second year of teaching a Sunday school class. We call it Navigators, and it’s for those who are perhaps newer to church, or it’s been awhile, and we cover some of the basic concepts of Christianity (but to a slightly deeper level than just a new members class).

One of the things we try to do is take advantage of opportunities to develop our “mission muscles”–to demonstrate that the grace we learn about in class has a component that leads us out into the world, to bring Christ’s love, in action, to others. One of our classmates, Bob, has elderly parents; his mom was put into hospice care last Friday, and his 90-year-old dad isn’t able to take care of stuff around the house as much anymore. And it had been a source of stress for Bob, that there was stuff nobody could get to while mom was ill.

So last Sunday, Navigators drove three hours to the southern tip of Maryland to Bob’s parents’ place, and spent the day being in service to a brother in Christ. We beat back bushes that had overgrown; we weeded and mulched the front gardens; we removed a torn awning from over the side door; we mowed, we weed-whacked, we generally did whatever Bob said needed doing.

When we were done, I have to admit, the place looked a whole lot better than when we arrived. Bob’s dad was off visiting his mom at the hospital, and so he had a wonderful surprise waiting for him when he got home. But all the more important was the lesson we all learned about going when Christ says “go.” It was a l-o-n-g drive, it rained on the way back, and we probably each had a dozen things on our own lists that we could have been doing with our Sunday. But for one brief day, our worship wasn’t in a church building. It certainly wasn’t mechanical, or uninspired. It was meaningful to us all, to be in service to Bob and his family, and it helped bring the Kingdom Among Us to a family who needed a little extra help.

I slept well that night. It was a good day to be growing as a disciple of Christ.

Dealing With Bad News

What do you do when the plans you were making, around which you’d built your expectations for the future, suddenly crumble and you realize they won’t become reality?

We’re dealing with that this weekend. We had some very disappointing news come into the family–shattering news, really, to the one making the plans–and it’s affected us all. I wasn’t the one making the plans, but this news has consumed almost all of my spare brainpower ever since.

When something like this hits, everything feels different. Things move in slo-mo. Brains race. Even, I’ve noticed, food tastes a little differently. Our primitive instincts begin to kick in, we get afraid, we fear. We lash out at anyone or anything we think got in our way.

At times like this our faith in God goes one of two ways. We can get angry with him–how could you let this happen? What kind of God claims to love and then ruins my plans?

Or we can get our egos out of the way and put more faith in him. We recognize that God might not be the actor causing the sudden crisis…but we recognize that he certainly can use it, that he has a plan for us, and that even if we can’t see what that is, that he still loves us.

Easier said than done. When we feel we’ve been wronged, there’s a part of us that likes to play the victim. That’s a whole lot easier than recognizing any role we may have had ourselves in the downfall of our plans.

The good news is, though, that even when we’re angry with him, God still loves us. And that, odds are, he wasn’t the one behind our misfortune. Remember, we have an enemy who wants to wreck our plans and sow discontent and drive wedges between us and God. But in the depths of our crisis, how hard it is to see anything else.

Sometime, yes, new plans will be made. This weekend’s devastation will be surmounted, even if we can’t forget it. And in the midst of it, that hope may seem so distant. But it’s there, waiting for us to discover it with new hearts.

The End…?

The celebrations of only a few days past feel like they may as well have been a hundred years ago. No palm branches waving in joyous greeting, and now the crowds aren’t adoring, they’re hostile, or at best, utterly apathetic. The procession winds its way to Golgotha and the Roman soldiers do what they do best: keep the process moving, don’t let anyone interfere, and get on with the execution efficiently and quickly.

How did we wind up here, when only last night we were preparing to celebrate the Passover meal? How did we wind up here, when only days ago he was cleansing the temple and restoring God’s righteousness? How did we wind up here, on a windswept hill, at the foot of a cross, watching his blood run like rivulets down the rough wooden cross?

When he told us last night that the bread and the cup were his body and blood given for us, I had no idea that he really meant his body and his blood would be sacrificed. I thought it was another of his parables, just another saying that we didn’t really understand, and now he’s not going to be able to explain them ever again, is he.

The crowd and the soldiers are taunting him: “If you’re so mighty, come down off that cross yourself!” I’ve seen him heal the sick, cleanse lepers, even raise Lazarus from the dead. I know he’s powerful. So yeah, why does he just…stay there? Why doesn’t he summon the power of God and break free? What on earth holds him there?

I can’t imagine what he’s going through. The pain of the nails, the slow suffocation of hanging on the cross, every breath shallower and shallower, as he grows weaker. And he’s probably not the last of our circle to be up there: so many of the brothers have faded away already. They’re scared, and they have every reason to be–I wonder how long before the authorities are knocking on my door.

All that he taught us…all about God’s kingdom, all about love and mercy and repentance, everything he stood for, is now ebbing away with his fading heartbeat. It can’t be, but it’s ending, here on this hill, on a criminal’s cross.

It is ending…isn’t it?

Baby Steps

Lead me through the darkness / Lead me through the unknown / Oh, lead me, Holy Ghost. (MercyMe, “Ghost”)

I’ve written before about my very much ongoing efforts at discernment, to determine if perhaps I am being called into ordained ministry after five decades on this planet. I guess it’s time for an update.

Over the past couple of months I’ve started private mentoring and counselling sessions with my pastor, to try to gain insight into what’s going on. They’ve been very helpful sessions, which have explained some things and given me other things to think about.

At this point, it seems to me, that there’s enough “there” that I need additional help in working through the prospective call. And so I have taken the first steps down that path, by submitting my name (and the first bits of paperwork) to begin the formal process of discernment in the United Methodist Church.

When I hit Send on that email, I had a sense of reassurance, that this was the right thing to do. My first hurdle will be the District Committee on Ministry interview, which could be later in the spring; they will either pass me along and assign me a mentor to undergo the discernment exercises, or tell me I’m not ready. I find myself hoping to be passed along to the next stage. We’ll see.

If I were to go through with this, it could be another decade (!) before ordination. Lots of work to do between now and then, and that’s a bit intimidating. But it hasn’t scared me off yet. On to the next stage.

Our Growing Community

Tonight we brought our sister in Christ, LaRae, down off the mountain from her Emmaus weekend. She walked with 27 other women on E-184¬†and, as with every other such weekend, had just the most tremendous experience of God’s love in new ways that she had never experienced before. Some thoughts came to mind today at different times.

First, when we were seeing all the pilgrims looking so happy and radiant, it really brought joy to my heart. And that’s not just a saying: I mean it brought a touch of the divine, a moment of connection of heaven and earth, and I found myself tearing up a little because they were getting to experience it too. All I wanted to do was shout praises for what Christ was working in their lives.

Later, we welcomed LaRae into the Sydenstricker community of Emmaus with her Fourth Day Dinner. I remember my own, two springs ago, and I think there were perhaps 8 to 10 people around the table–some of them not even from our church. Instead, tonight there were 21 folks gathered. There is a wonderful new energy about our Emmaus community that is simply so refreshing to see, and rewarding to experience.

LaRae is already talking to her husband about his walking on the men’s weekend this spring, the one I’ll be teaming on for the first time. And there were a couple of other names tossed out as men who need an invitation. Who knows, perhaps we can get out to a couple dozen before long!

De Colores!