Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Like Superheroes in Heaven

I meet a lot of amazing people with equally amazing stories, but I rarely cry.  Yesterday, I was only on my second visit of the day and knew it was going to be a tear-jerker, pretty soon after walking through the door.

I want to share this visit with you, not because I cried, but because he said I could, and you should know this man, and the wisdom he embodies.  I suspect, a man rarely seen, and less often appreciated.

A man in his 60s, lying alone in his hospital room, turned his head toward me as I entered.

It was apparent that he was "handicapped", as he called it.  He said he was born prematurely, one leg was bigger than the other, and what happened to all of the light wheelchairs?

Within minutes, I learned that his brother died on November 1, and "50% of me died that day, too". The floodgates opened.  He used to live with his brother and attend the church where he preached, but then he died, and now he lives in a nursing home.  "Nursing homes are freezing."

Ugh.  I hate being cold and I certainly can't imagine living in a place where I could never get warm. Pretty much my definition of hell, actually.  More tears.

He had multiple medical issues going on, recounted the numerous falls out of his wheelchair, including the one when he hit his head on a table leg and everyone thought he was dead.  But, he said he looked up and waved and said, "I'm here."

Saint Teresa of Avila once said something like, "Even if you have a life full of nothing but suffering, when you look back on it from heaven, it will seem like but one night in an inconvenient hotel."  I sure hope she's right.

I knew I was in the presence of a saint in this man's room.  But, the following confirmed it.

The surrounding circumstances were unclear, but once he was a spirit, floating above his body and the grass.  Do you think you were in heaven?  "I know I was.  The colors are much brighter there than they are here!"  (I hear that a lot)  "Did you know that when you're handicapped and you go to heaven, you're re-done all over?  Like a superhero."

No, I didn't know that.  Not for sure.  I mean, not like you.  Can I share your story with people?  I think they'd really like to know that.

"I'm looking forward to my funeral!  Don't be sad.  I'll be with my brother and the Lord will be at his side.  People will be singing and praising the Lord.  I want the same songs my brother had at his funeral (and he listed them).  I want a blanket on my casket that says, "This lamb went to be with the Lord."

Tears were streaming down my face, and a physical therapist walked in.  And this is what it's like to be a chaplain.  In heaven and at a funeral in one moment, interrupted, and moved along in the next.

So, that was it.  I had to leave, so I left.  Sad, but rich, and with a clearer and more convinced picture of heaven and all of the superheroes who live there.






Sunday, August 13, 2017

When the Song is Over

I usually write when I have a thought or series of thoughts that I can't quite shake.  If those thoughts have the potential to make you laugh or think, I gotta do it.  And, to be honest, I haven't stopped thinking about singing the National Anthem three days ago.  If I hadn't made the mistake of asking my friend to video it, I could have smoothed over all of the rough parts in my mind, and just incorrectly and happily remembered that I sang it perfectly.

But, I did ask her, and so I can't.  I've played and re-played the video, wishing I could have started on the right note (the very lowest one that would actually come out of my mouth).  Instead of blankly staring at the Ross Volunteer Company posting the colors, I wish I would of been busy finding the starting note in my head, and more importantly in my vocal cords, to make sure I got it right!  Man!

A few notes in, I realized that I was committed to singing in a key I never practiced in, and would not have wanted to sing in, at any price.  In the end, the high parts were in a falsetto I never use, and cringe-worthy, at best.  To my surprise, the crowd jumped in on the last note with whistles and applause.  I attributed it to their patriotism, forgiving and/or forgetful natures, gratitude it was over, or glad-it-was-you-and-not-me celebration.  I work with a great group of people.  That would be just like them.

Today, in an effort to make myself feel better, and put it behind me for once and for all, I sheepishly googled "worst National Anthems" and was delighted when YouTube responded by offering the Top 10 American National Anthem Performance Fails.  My youngest was within earshot.  He heard the first sample come through my phone speaker and said, "Is that the worst?" to which I answered in the affirmative.  "Are you on there?"  No (Eyes flash from- phone-to-son-back-to-phone).  A few more samples played, and then, "Is that you?" Grrrr...

I should have brought earbuds.

I closed YouTube more grateful than I have ever been for Christina Aguilera, Michael Bolton, and Cuba Gooding, Sr.

Before singing (like for a whole month and every day beforehand), I asked God to bless my singing of the National Anthem, and was really hoping that if He wanted to humble me, it would be in a less public, less observable way than during that 1 minute and 20 seconds.

I guess God knew that was a powerful set of minutes.  Those minutes could deliver some ripe and tasty humble-fruit that could make enough humble pie to serve myself and the nation I was singing for.  Maybe for years.

And this all reminds me of a 12-year-old girl we met last weekend.  She was a guest at the rental house next to ours on the Colorado River.  If she had a volume knob, it was turned to Max.  You couldn't not notice her.  She seemed to run wherever she went and had as much to say as volume to say it with.  She baited her own line, took her fish off the hook and threw them back in the water, like somebody who'd been working on a fishing boat for thirty years.  Her expertise was volunteered when any one of us lacked 100% confidence in any moment.  I think she's the only the person who could take a fishing pole out of my 8-year-old fishing expert's hands to see if he had something on the end of his line, which is exactly what she did.

I was equally intrigued and annoyed by her bouncing back and forth between our dock and theirs, and with her total lack of self-consciousness.  She ushered the relaxation off the dock with her bounding, volume, observations, and opinions.

But, when we got back from the beach one evening, their stuff was all cleared out.  They were gone.

The following morning, I found an old styrofoam cooler by our dock that I hadn't seen before.  I lifted the lid and found this floating inside:

    
And although it looks like a piece of paper, wet from floating in an old styrofoam cooler with shrimp in it, it tastes like humble pie.

We spent the weekend enduring this beautiful, outspoken fisher-girl and she left us with what she had.  And took the time to write a note.  And wished us well.

God doesn't need to put me on a stage in front of 2,000 people to humble me.  He just needs to surround me with people who are better at being people than I am.  And He does.
                         

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

39 and NOT holding...

Today is my last day in my thirties.  Tomorrow is my 40th birthday, and I don't think I could love that idea any more.  For real.  This surprises me because I've heard forty bad-mouthed my whole life.  I think of black balloons and pending hospitalizations from spontaneous bodily disintegration.

But, if 40 is old (which it isn't), and old is wise (which it can be), I'm celebrating that.  The wisdom of growing older, of knowing more and more who I am and what I'm about.  That is an incredible feeling.

If I had to deliver a 40th birthday speech to the whole world in ten seconds, I think it would be this:

Some things need doing better than they've ever been done before.  
Some just need doing.   
Others don't need doing at all.
Know which is which!
(author unknown)

and 

Let your God get bigger, and try to imitate the God you believe in.  

The End.

Ecclesiates says "there's nothing new under the sun", but I still experience things for the first time, all of the time.  In a couple of days, I'm supposed to sing the National Anthem for more than a thousand people (Pray for me, I'm terrified!).  In the past month alone, I made a meatloaf without a recipe and it was delicious (A miracle worthy of investigation by the Magisterium), attempted reading War and Peace (and decided it was in the "things that don't need doing at all" category), had a patient climb out of a hospital bed to get on her knees for prayer, did my first podcast, made a new friend, and peed in a Gatorade bottle. 
   
If I live to be 85-90 (my loose ideal), I can only imagine what that list will look like by then.  Or maybe I will be like my 99-year-old patient who is still "disgusted with her prayer life".  If I die tomorrow, I am grateful for the list, so far.

In the next 40 years, I want to learn Spanish well, continue learning to play the guitar, walk the Way of St. James, and keep the better-than-good things I already have, which are many.  In a word, relationships.  

I have friends, family, and an incredible job as a chaplain in a healthcare system.  Meeting people, learning their stories, and sharing in their joy and pain, are among my greatest privileges and treasures.  

But, I start and end my days at home.  My priority, crowning achievement, greatest challenge, inspiration, thrill, and triumph is living under the same roof with these people.


If they were not who they are, I would not be who I am.  At the end of my life, I pray that if I haven't done anything else, I've done well by them, and by all whom God has entrusted to me. 

And so I pray.  


Amen.