Wednesday, December 1, 2010

God Showed Up Between the Grief Spaces

On November 30 I arrived at a senior residence to visit a church member about 4:30 PM. She was seated at the dinner table with another woman, but the tables were not set and food had not yet come for supper. I spoke with my friend, read a Psalm and prayed with her. The other woman at the table seemed glad to be included and reached out her hand to thank me. As I got up I noticed a woman sitting alone at the next table and crying. I stopped and introduced myself as a pastor. Through her tears I really couldn’t understand what she was saying, but I blessed her and walked toward the elevator.

The floor supervisor and social worker were standing in the hallway talking and making calls on cell phones, almost blocking the hallway. As I tried to slip past them the social worker spoke to me. “You’re a pastor.” “Yes,” I answered. “We have a woman whose husband just died and the family has asked for a chaplain. If we get the family’s OK would you stay for a few minutes and visit with her?” Of course I said I would. After a phone OK from someone in the family, the social worker got the woman who had been crying alone at the table and brought her (and me) to her room in her wheelchair.

After I was introduced, I ask her if she wanted to tell me about her husband. She did. As I started reading her a Psalm, two women from the family came in. I introduced myself again, read the Psalm and prayed. In the ensuing conversation I learned that this woman and her husband had moved from out of town to that facility just four days earlier. She was declining and needed more care than her seemingly stronger husband could give her. He was in an independent living apartment and she in a skill care room.

This woman and her relatives all expressed not only thanks for my visit but interpreted it as God specific timing that I would be available as I must have done this often since I knew just what to say to bring comfort. I mentioned that I would be noting our experience in my “God Watch” calendar (where I record how I was most aware of God’s presence each day). They asked if I would include her when I made my weekly visits there.

I believe God showed up in the space of grief between us that afternoon.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

David's New Job and More ...

Elizabeth (Bitsy) is recovering so well that her time in the cast was shortened by a couple of weeks.

Grandma Candy came back to Dallas impressed with how much Sam is growing up and how mature he is.
David (our son, Sam and Elizabeth’s dad, Rachel’s husband – you all probably knew that anyway) accepted the position as Dean of Students for Frank Lloyd Wright Intermediate School in West Allis, WI. He starts on August 24. After 11 years as a teacher and supervisor in the alternative school, this is a great opportunity and a wonderful next step.

It confirms his strong sense of God’s calling to be an educator. It brings together many of his life experiences. Fascination with Frank Lloyd Wright in 6th grade; becoming an “expert” in his own ADHD learning disability in high school; experiential learning at Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, VT; summer work with NYC street kids at Mont Lawn Camp in the Pocono Mountains, PA; teaching Bible to boys and soil management to farmers in Zambia; meeting Rachel and getting a start in professional education at Children's World when he couldn’t find an environmental job; substitute teaching for Milwaukee Public Schools; eleven years of experience with St. Charles; getting a masters degree and teaching certificate from Concordia College (Mequon, WI) and his principal’s license from Marquette University. He and I were talking the other day about the convergence of things that seemed inconsequential or even side tracks when they happened and how they (and the people who invested a lot in him over the years) contributed to this important next step. Nothing is wasted in God’s economy!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Our granddaughter Elizabeth (Bitsy) had surgery on July 7 to lengthen her Achilles tendon, with the hopes that this is the last step in correcting her club foot. Once she got past the post-surgery recovery room, she has done well, and in quite moble with her cast, which she will have to wear for six weeks (1 down, 5 to go). Candy is in Milwaukee this week for some Grandma-Time. Erik and Norm are managing with the dogs in Dallas.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Time for Jesus’ Best Wine for Haiti

I have been meditating on the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday: the Marriage in Cana (John 2:1-11). Then came the earthquake in Haiti, and I was transported in my mind (and maybe my heart) to Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Port-au-Prince (which I gather from the news was destroyed in the earthquake). In 1983 or 1984 (I think, the precision of my memory is deteriorating with age), I was part of a group from First Presbyterian Church in Mt. Holly, New Jersey who went to Haiti. We visited Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral with its magnificent murals of biblical stories portrayed in Haitian folk art. (The picture here is Haitian art of the Marriage in Cana, but not the mural from the Cathedral.)

The one that I had remembered quite vividly was also based on the Marriage in Cana. As I recall, the bride and groom are standing in front of an Episcopal priest. Jesus and Mary are talking to the servants who are dipping wine out of the water jugs. Down in the corner is a voodoo wedding ritual of killing a rooster. Of course, this mural conveyed much more about Haitian culture than it did about the historical setting of the Biblical text. Nevertheless, focusing on this passage this week when the earthquake hit Haiti about knocked me over.

My prayers for the people of Haiti at this time have a personal power as I remembered those I met on my two trips there. The incongruities of the grinding poverty and beautiful art tore at my soul. My wife, Candy’s cousin’s husband is from Haiti and has family there. He is the pastor of a Haitian church in New Jersey, and those people have friends and family there. As I have watched the images on the news, I have tried to see if I recognized any of the places I had been. Only the Presidential Palace was recognizable. But I kept wondering, had I been there? Had I seen any of these people?

In the Gospel story of the Marriage at Cana, Jesus turns the water in to the best wine late in the festivities, after the cheap wine is gone. Haiti has been drunk on cheap wine for centuries: French colonialism, slavery, voodoo, violence, ecological abuse, ignorance, oppression by wealthy business interests, neglect by the international community, corruption in government.

The great outpouring of assistance now is appropriate and necessary. In a couple of months when other places and other crises dominate the news, Haiti will be just barely beginning a recovery. They have no real resources to even get back where they were, much less make any improvements in their situations. But with so much destroyed, this could be an opportunity for a fresh start. They seem to have the best government they’ve had in a long time. Disaster could be a motive for establishing some better policies (e.g. building codes), but they will need lots of outside support for a long time. The possibility of opportunity in no way detracts from the tragic loss of life and hope that has just begun (I suspect disease may yet wipe out at many people as the falling buildings did).

But as Jesus provided the best wine at the end of the wedding, the Gospel story prompts me to pray for that opportunity, for the best wine to displace centuries of bad wine. I have no illusions that this comes from international generosity or ingenuity. I am not talking about a pious revival of religion and morality. But I do believe that somehow, in some mysterious way, Jesus can turn even the polluted water of Haiti’s open sewers into the best of wine. So I pray against the hurricanes and earthquakes that have brought such destruction. I pray for Jesus' best wine of hope and joy.