Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Life in the Emergency Room

I guess I spend a lot more time in emergency rooms than most people do. I remember three or four frantic trips to the ER with our kids when they were small, for slings or shots or stitches. We've been very fortunate and blessed with relative safety and good health.

I remember as a boy my family lived across the street from St. Francis Catholic Hospital in Maryville, Missouri. My brothers and I made regular trips across the street to get patched up from injuries we had usually inflicted on each other. My parents didn't allow us to have any toy guns, and that was a big mistake. We made our own weapons, going after each other with tree limb guns and tuna can grenades, with predictable results. I remember one time when we were playing army, one of the neighbor kids hit me in the shoulder with a garden hoe. Mom and Dad took me across the street where the good Sisters knew all the Hill boys pretty well. I remember the doctor bandaging my shoulder while I asked him, "What are you doing?" He said, "I'm putting this on here so that when you take a drink of water, you won't leak." Well, that made sense to me. I was perfectly satisfied with that in depth, medical explanation.

But these days, my frequent trips to the emergency rooms are different. You can bet that when a pastor is called to the ER, it is no small thing, no little boo-boo that just needs a band aid or an aspirin. Someone is in crisis, someone is hurting, suddenly a big question mark is looming over someone's life. Without any warning or preparation, life has become unmanageable, unbearable for someone. I think that's why waiting in the ER is so torturous and frustrating. The rug has been yanked out from under somebody's life. Pain is screaming for attention. Fear is creeping up, clutching at our throats, and faith seems weak and frail.

I'm impressed by the special people who work in emergency rooms. To do what they do, to respond to unthinkable situations, to deal with all kinds of people, almost all of them at their worst, requires a person with a remarkable mix of grace and skill, toughness and tenderness. God bless them all.

When I am called to the ER, I want to bring support and empathy and encouragement. I try to offer whatever practical help might be needed. I can hug and hold and pray. But my main task in the ER is this - just to point out Who else is in that examination room. I know He's there, because I felt His presence in my car, across the parking lot, and walking down the hall. Now He moves silently behind the curtain, comes to each bedside, unseen, yet unmistakably real. And with His touch fear heads for the door and peace settles down like a warm blanket. Pain stops its screaming at the sight of His scars, and faith gets back on its feet again. Even death bows low to the One who is Life. Christ has come, powerfully and personally, and I marvel at His transforming touch.

A friend said to me the other day, "I couldn't handle all that hospital stuff. I don't know how you pastors do it." He doesn't know. He doesn't understand what an awesome privilege we have. Just to watch in wonder - people at their worst, Jesus at His best. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Cold Winter's Night

Home this evening as the snow falls and the wind blows and the temperature drops. No teaching tonight, no meetings or appointments, everything blown away with the winter blast. It's good to be home for a change, just home in a nice warm house with Suz and the kids safe and sound. There is no gift quite so precious as unexpected free time, just an evening to call my own. I'd build a fire if there wasn't already three inches of snow on all my firewood.

Something about this fresh blanket of snow seems to quiet the world, to silence the clatter and chatter of the neighborhood with a peaceful hush. The swirling white wind whispers, "Stop your rushing, forget your plans, take your foot off the gas and slow down. Come on in and warm yourself, put on your slippers and settle into your favorite chair. Have some hot chocolate and some conversation with one you love. Tomorrow the frantic rush will begin again. Savor this cold winter's night, a rare and wonderful gift."

Thank you, God, for this blessed blizzard.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What's That Racket in the Basement?

I have a new love in my life, in addition to my wonderful wife, Suzanne, a great family, and far more friends than I deserve, a new love that has captured a part of me that I never really knew I had. I have fallen for the guitar and specifically my 1996 Ovation Standard Balladeer. Turning 50 last year, I determined to stop putting off the things I have always wanted to do, and high on my own "bucket list" was to pick up the guitar once more. You see, some twenty-five years ago, I bought a starter guitar and took a few lessons here in Sedalia while I was living just down the road in Lincoln. But I never practiced or made any real effort, so after about six months my teacher began to feel guilty about taking my money and gave up on me. I don't blame him a bit, but I always planned to pick up the guitar again "someday."

So, last March I bought some "easy guitar" books of my favorite vintage singer/guitar players from the 70's and 80's, and went down to the basement to practice on our son's long forgotten, severely neglected guitar. It was love at first "twang." Then, in April I found my Ovation on ebay and brought it home. Sweet. I love it.

Well, after six months or so of practicing almost every night, I decided to risk it and bring my guitar upstairs and play a song for Suz and Rebecca, having previously only played for our cat who never sticks around for very long. It went like this.

"Hey, can I play you guys a song?"
"Really? You're going to play for us?"
"Yeah, if that's okay."
"Are you going to sing too, Dad?"
"Well, I thought I would. It's just an old Gordon Lightfoot love song."
"Okay, I guess so. Sure, go ahead."

So I began, not real smooth, plenty nervous, and I had to start over once. Then, as I began the second verse, Suz, who had been working on her laptop said, "Do you mind if I go ahead and print this report?" I said, "No, I don't mind. That's fine, and now I'm going back down in the basement for another six months."

She didn't mean to hurt my feelings, I know, and she's asked me to try again once or twice, but for me, I'm just fine with a one cat audience for now. I have no interest or ambition to play for people or for church or anywhere else. But after a long day, I must say a little guitar time in the basement is a wonderful way to unwind and de-stress.

And, in case you are wondering why my blogging has dropped off significantly in the past few months, blame it on my Balladeer. Hopefully, I can find time for a good bit of both.