Mom’s Ailing

I’m having to come to terms with the fact that my mother perhaps has very little time left among us.

About ten days ago, she developed an infection that affected her kidneys, causing them to be ineffective at metabolizing sodium, among other things. This is at least the third such infection in the last 14 months, and it got to the point this week that my sister and I have put her on a do-not-resuscitate, or DNR, order. She’s eating less, and at one point this week refused her medicines. The palliative care nurse practitioner noticed she looked a little sad Tuesday, and asked if Mom felt she was beginning to transition home. She nodded.

Large parts of this, of course, feel like when my dad was ailing ten autumns ago. He went in for open heart surgery, came out of that, developed complications, and slowly sank over the next six weeks: in mid September, he had surgery, and by November 6, he was gone. What feels the same is the slow-motion horror of the train wreck you can see developing and are powerless to stop.

It’s so much different from when Mary’s dad passed this summer, largely unexpectedly. And what feels different from my dad to my mom is that we’ve had 32 years to see this coming. Mom’s Parkinson’s Disease has reached a pretty advanced level, and so it’s entirely foreseen that some complicating factor will start to work on her. Still, it’s not easy seeing her drift away, unable to communicate well, weakening.

And yet, I have to confess to a certain peace about this. Perhaps because it’s been developing for so long, but also perhaps because of what I know. I know, for instance, that I’ve done all I can for mom, and so I really don’t think whether she knows I love her is in question. And all the more, I know there is a restoration of all things that awaits her. There is newness, wholeness, beyond anything we can imagine. Mom will be restored, not only to how she was before the PD afflicted her, but also to what she was always intended to be, in a resurrected body free from everything. This is the promise in Christ: this is the fruit of his resurrection, opening the way for us to follow him into glory. We don’t follow Christ because we get eternal life: we get eternal life because we follow Christ. Makes all the difference in the world.

The medical team hastens to say that the new antibiotics are working better, her numbers are improving, and in any case, it could be some time still, months even, before the end. But for the first time we are talking about an end, which in turn gives me hope for a new beginning. Alleluia...come, Lord Jesus.

 

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Here I Am, Lord. Send Me.

Here I am, Lord / Is it I, Lord? / I have heard you calling in the night / I will go, Lord / Where you lead me / I will hold your people in my heart.

Starting almost a year ago, I’ve been on a path of discernment. I’ve been trying to figure out what God is calling me to in the next chapter of my life, with an eye towards whether I am being called into a path towards ordination in the United Methodist Church. In this blog I’ve talked about discernment, about finding the breadcrumbs here and there and everywhere along the trail, about the times the Holy Spirit pokes me to get my attention, or gives me experiences of affirmation, and even the first steps along the path towards ordination.

This past weekend I took another. Publicly, I have declared myself to be a candidate for ordination as an Elder in the UMC.

If after about 15 months of signals I’m still feeling led in this direction, I think it’s time to make a decision and say, Yep, that’s probably right. In fact, I’ve spent prayer time over the past couple of months reflecting on all the green lights I’ve been seeing, and asking Jesus instead for disconfirming evidence: if this isn’t right, show me now! (And then crickets chirped, and tumbleweeds drifted through…nothing happened.)

In the spring, I was accepted into Asbury Theological Seminary–another piece of doors being opened for me, in fact. Asbury requires four reference letters; one of my four letter-writers told me he was slammed at work and couldn’t get to it for a couple of weeks. But then days later, I got the email saying I had been accepted. I assumed he had found the time and sent it in–but no, come to find out, he hadn’t…Asbury accepted me with only three letters, and apparently, a big enough nudge from the Spirit. I am humbled by that.

My brother Glenn had sage advice, as always: “Go take a class. You’ll know soon enough if you’re supposed to be doing this.” In May I started my first two seminary classes, one online, and one “intensive” in-person class that met at the end of June. I met some wonderful people and had a great experience, including more affirmation…I texted Glenn, “I hate it when you’re right.”

In early July I attended a discernment weekend sponsored by the Virginia Conference. At one point in the weekend we reflected on Matthew 4. We did a lectio divina exercise, in which we read the scripture several times, pausing to listen for what word or phrase God draws to us, or what else we hear. On reading the story of Jesus calling his disciples to go and become fishers of men, what I heard was, “Let’s go fishing.”

On Saturday, I transmitted my Statement of Call to our congregation’s Staff-Parish Relations Committee, which is the first time all this has been public within the church. On Sunday, as the 11am service was wrapping up, Pastor Don called me up front and announced that I had put my name forward…so yeah, it’s a thing now.

I’ve begun to be more public in telling people about this, and almost unanimously, the reaction has been some form of, “Yeah? That doesn’t surprise me. What took you so long?” Why am I always the last to figure things out??

To be perfectly honest I’m a little…nervous? Scared? Intimidated by the prospect of all that’s ahead of me? And I was certainly a little bit of that standing with Don Sunday morning. Oddly enough, the people called “Methodists” have a very methodical process that this will entail. This is a long road ahead: on my current pace, it’ll be about six years to get my M.Div. But I’m also taking steps to make myself available if called sooner: I’ve completed my first interview with the local Alexandria District Committee on Ministry, and they passed me on to the next stage, mentoring with another pastor. In seeking our church’s SPRC recommendation, I put myself in a position to be approved at the charge conference next month, and in line to become a certified candidate this winter…and eligible for assignment as a part-time student pastor thereafter. Yes, while working full-time. Yes, while taking five graduate courses a year.

Pray for me. But all the more, pray for Mary: she’s entering into this wonderfully supportively, but also (like me) with very, very little idea of what we’re getting into. This really is a step in faith for us both. 

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good, and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.  (Jeremiah 29:11)

 

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…

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!

Twice In One Day

Tuesday morning I woke up from a dream. I don’t usually remember my dreams: maybe you do, but come the morning I tend to be dimly aware that maybe I was dreaming something, and can never remember the details. Tuesday was different.

In my dream, I was talking with a woman, one of our family’s financial planners. We were talking about plans for the future, most of which I don’t remember now. But where the video recorder in my brain really started was when she started advising me–no, urging me, passionately–that I really need to decide what it is that I’m really supposed to be doing next. I can’t remember her exact words, but it was along the lines of, You need to be doing something that you really, really want to do. And in my dream, what came to mind was Matthew 28:19, the Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all the nations.” That’s the last thing I remember before waking up.

Flash forward about twelve hours: we had finished our office holiday party, and I was talking with our administrative officer in his office about his new Mustang on order, and how good it was that he hadn’t put it off but that he had followed his dream of getting a gorgeous new car. That’s when he said almost the exact same things to me: Don’t wait, life’s too short, if there’s something you really want to do, you should just go for it.

Talk about being hit upside the head with a two-by-four!2x4

Thanksgiving

We were talking about how it’s Thanksgiving this week in the office, and someone made the observation that this year has just been so nuts, so nonstop, that it’s hard to believe it’s late November already. Wasn’t it just April, she wondered?

Yes, it was. Yet here we are. But, of course, it shouldn’t come as a surprise; it’s not like they’ve moved Thanksgiving suddenly. It’s right where it always was.

I am sure some of why we feel this way is down to The World, the mad pace we all keep trying to satisfy it. But I think as well, there’s a sense of being caught off guard: what do you mean, I have to power down and be thankful? It jars us slightly, especially if we don’t live from a place of thankfulness. It’s interesting to see people’s reactions when you ask them what they’re thankful for–and they can’t answer in general platitudes, like just “my family.” Ask someone to get specific: who? Why? What in particular are you thankful for? That’s when they start looking up and away, trying to rack their brains for something specific. That’s when the pause starts coming into the conversation.

It’s an indictment, really, of our failure to live in a spirit of thanksgiving with God on a daily basis. But that’s not how we’re called to live:

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

In all circumstances? Yep. When you’re overwhelmed at work, be thankful for the skills God gave you to handle the job in the first place. Frustrated that the car needs another repair? Then be thankful for having been given the resources even to have bought it in the first place. Disappointed by something your child did? Then for just having that child in your life to begin with: so many would-be parents ache at each miscarriage or stillbirth.

For many, our prayer life is lacking in thankfulness. We have our long lists of things to ask for; how much of our conversation with God is just telling him “thanks” for all that’s actually going right?

After Thanksgiving, we will begin moving into Advent, and we begin to turn our hearts back towards the manger and the One who came to show us the way. Look at the fact that at least five times in the Gospels, Jesus directly and publicly gives thanks to his father in heaven (Matthew 11:25, Luke 10:21, Luke 22:17-19, John 6:11, John 11:41), and then take that as a new direction in your prayer practices. Work more thanksgiving into them, and then I promise you, you won’t be surprised by the fourth Thursday in November any longer, because you’ll be thankful the whole year round.

Happy Thanksgiving…

Calling Prayer Warriors!

I have to take a break from my series on discernment, because there’s just so much on my prayer list right now. I need to share it, and I need to ask for help in getting other prayer warriors engaged on a list that includes:

  • Las Vegas. I mean…wow. I was just stunned at the news this morning. And not two weeks ago I was there–and not only in Vegas, but driving right along the Strip between the site and Mandalay Bay, on our way to and from golf next door. I can’t bear to watch the videos anymore. It just needs to be lifted up and given to the One who can heal it all.
  • The Lisi family. They lost their 22-year-old son Stephen to a car accident about 8 days ago. Stephen was tired, driving late, and fell asleep at the wheel. He was an Eagle Scout in our troop, and David remembers him well from his time as a younger Scout. I cannot even begin to plumb the depths of what Steve and Monica are feeling as parents right now.
  • My mom. She continues to struggle with the effects of Parkinson’s Disease, which has her more shaky than usual lately, and not a little confused sometimes, too. Don’t tell mom, but her brother and her college roommates are making a trip to see her later this month…safe journeys to them and a warm reunion for all.
  • The women of E-182. This weekend my wife will be one of 30 pilgrims making a Walk to Emmaus and furthering her own walk with Christ. I just lift up the pilgrims and the 28 team members supporting them on their walk starting Thursday!
  • Frank. Frank is the brother-in-law of a brother in Christ, Gary, and Frank was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer…very aggressive, limited time left. By all accounts Frank has been a model of facing the end of life, but he still needs our prayers–as does the rest of his family.
  • Another Guy Named Frank. Actually, this Frank walked on Emmaus with me, and has learned of his own bout with cancer: prostate.
  • Elnora. She’s the mother of another Emmaus connection, Rich. She’s on her fourth (!) bout with cancer, and has decided this is enough, she’s refusing treatment. I can only imagine how that must feel to those who love her.
  • John. Another pancreatic cancer victim (seriously, quit it with the pancreatic cancer!), and the good friend of my “sister” Kate.
  • The family of Mickey, who died of cancer this weekend and who was loved by another brother in Christ.

I mean, the list seems to just keep on going! I am convinced I could spend all day in prayer for these and so many others. I just think they could use a little help, too. Won’t you join me?