Death is Never Easy

March 31, 2010

Sr. Wantabee was at the hospital Tuesday and called to a room to assist a family where the father was dying. He had a terminal disease for 15 years, had an operation, infection set in and he realized it was the end as did the family that had gathered to walk him through the valley of the shadow of death. Could Sr. Wantabee go and comfort the family? Upon entry, it became obvious that the patient was not in a coma, but was struggling with the breathing process and trying to cough up the gunk that kept forming in the chest. The family was standing by letting their presence be known, holding the hot hand, encouraging him to cough, and generally caring. Recovery was not truly an option but death did not seem that evident either. The family was trying to organize transport to take the patient home and have hospice. Sister Wantabee looked at the scruffy faced patient and the loving people standing around and realized what a miracle life is and that the stranger on the street has a constellation of caring people around them. The interconnectedness of life and the hole death leaves. As the disease claimed the patient’s strength, he could still cast a line and another, who could not cast, but could reel in a fish, would do that. The memories and love flowed. There are many things Sr. Wantabee cannot do but others come along and finish the job. The holes left in our social circles can never be filled, only appreciated. She cried going home.

The Letter “S”

March 28, 2010

Today is Palm Sunday when all the little kids line up with palm leaves and lead the congregation in singing “psalms.” Suddenly Sr. Wantabee realized the difference between “palm” and “psalm” is that funny letter “s.” Because of the “s” the “p” becomes kinda silent and of course, the meaning changes. That “s” could stand for sincerity, songs, sin and savior, she realized.

On Palm Sunday, we celebrate Jesus walking into Jerusalem and the beginning of Holy Week, his last week. The people upon seeing him coming, stripped palms from trees and laid them on the road along with their coats for the donkey he was riding, to walk over. They cried out a psalm, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” They thought that he was coming as the messiah to chase out the Romans. By the end of the week, their chant had changed to “crucify him.” They wanted the pain and discomfort the Romans caused in their life to be removed and when he did not miraculously change their lives their psalm changed. How like today. We want God to be Santa Clause and if the pain or discomfort is not resolved, does our psalm change to bitterness and disappointment in God? What is my level of sincerity today? Can I sing in the pain or do I praise for the removal of pain?

Also it has become very awkward in American culture to talk about Jesus without thinking the “s” of sin. We want to be saved without having to go through personal introspection to see our wrongs, our sins. We welcome a savior but have trouble with the cross. Can I use the “s” word and say I am a sinner and need salvation?

Lastly the “savior” word implies saving, and we tend to want “What a friend we have in Jesus.” Saving from Hell – it doesn’t start with “s” but for sure we think God would never be so mean as to send someone to Hell…or allow the person to choose Hell.

There is a big difference between palm and psalm. Do I wave the palm until it brings pain (sincerity)? Do I sing hosana even when things aren’t going my way? Can I admit I am a sinner and need a savior? sigh. this is a heavy week.

High People in High Places

March 27, 2010

Sr. Wantabee teaches ESL (English as a Second Language) three evenings a week to keep up her teaching skills and to experience “the United Nations.” Often in a class of 15 students there will not be a common language for the students to chat in or translate for each other. We cover the globe with equal representation from Asia, Africa, Europe, Central/South America and smattering from the Middle East. She often shares with them that a wise man from Africa who visited the States to study, told her, “All Americans are policemen! They ask ‘Who are you,’ Where did you come from,” “Why are you here,” “Where do you live,” and “What are you doing?” So she often works with those types of questions.

Thursday Sr. Wantabee had the privilege to meet with a high person in a high place, the top floor overlooking the city. He walked into the lobby and introduced himself, “Hi, I’m First Name.” Sr. Wantabee reflected that she was indeed in the USA where important people who look out their windows and watching people walking the streets like bugs, introduce themselves by their first name. She responded in kind as they entered his office with a wall of windows over-looking the downtown.

How are you?” asked he. Having just come from the hospital where she visited patients, the question did not register quite right. What was being asked for? She responded, a bit nervous being with such high people in such high places.

What do you want from this meeting?” Hmmm, reflected she, this is an important person who does not have time for African introductory chit chat. A very direct American, as she tells her students. She responded equally directly, I need a job assignment so I can go from being Sr. Wantabee to Sr. Gunnabee to Sr. On-the-job. Read the rest of this entry »

Let the Healing Begin

March 25, 2010

Yesterday Sr. Wantabee was at the nursing home and a “healing service” was held. The text was something about Jesus healing a man somewhere in his ministry. Sr. Wantabee could not help but ponder the man in the wheelchair in the back row, in front of her. The man was from Sr. Wantabee’s floor. One side of his body was crippled with a stroke, the final insult from a god who made him with a deformed mouth that needed multiple operations before age 5 just so he could eat, and this god had given him parents who pawned him off to foster homes to raise him. His life was a series of mishaps and worse misunderstandings, filled with rage and rejection. The last time Sr. Wantabee chatted with the man, he had released a long series of vulgar, explicative adjectives to let her know what he thought of this god who had abused and ruined his life so. Sr. Wantabee wondered how he was receiving all this talk. The preacher finished and two ancient guardians of the church sat in the front for the mobile in the audience to approach and be prayed for. Meanwhile two other pastors started at the front of the congregation and gradually were working their way back through the audience of mostly wheel chairs. Do these Lake Woebegone Lutherans truly think there are going to be healings? Back in the day of the hippies, an altar call was given and people who wanted a healing came forward. Can you just go up and down the isles praying and anointing with oil?

Sr. Wantabee bowed her head and tried to calm her doubting heart. The least she could do is pray for this man in the wheel chair, trapped in this service. Deep in prayer, she was startled when her neighbor nudged her to indicate that the leader was calling her forward. Would she feel comfortable helping? Take a bowl of anointing oil and start in the back row with the man in the wheel chair! Sr. Wantabee gulped. Did she believe God could heal? She took the bowl and moved toward the man who swore so prolifically at her God. Read the rest of this entry »

An Unsung “She-roe”

March 23, 2010

Sr. Wantabee was at the hospital this morning. “Please visit…., she had a terrible post stress incident last night, locked within herself for half an hour! It was pretty scary.” The patient, an athlete, had suffered a terrible sports accident 11 years previously, leaving her lying on the ground, trying to rise. Her father had told her that if she stayed down, it better be good or she better get up but as she tried to rise she could see the faces, as if it were yesterday, yelling at her to be still. When they rolled her over, the pain was so intense she vomitted all over infront of everyone. In the ambulance as she was in shock she could hear them radioing about a possible amputation and then about their doubts as to whether she would make it at all. She did make it and there was no amputation but now, 70 operations later, it was still questionable whether the injured area would ever stabilize and be usable. Unthinking friends try to encourage her by wishing they got to live off their mothers and have leisure time. Sourly she shared, what woman wants to be living off her mother as an adult and sitting around in hospitals? What eternal lesson had she not learned to deserve this? Of what value was she?

She did share that as she gradually recovered some women came to her and asked her to coach them in her sport. She had derived great pleasure from this while trying to hide how much she wished she could participate. Her team had even moved up a division. Her new friends flew with her to doctor appointments and drove her places. There was a slight hope that she would recover enough to return to work eventually.

Sr. Wantabee shared her insight from the Sunday reading when she had felt convicted for not doing enough good deeds. Christ had said to Judas who criticized Mary for spreading perfume on his feet, “Leave her alone.” Life is unfair and somehow we never do enough good but Christ says, “leave her alone” oh doubter, she is the person I died for and have a future eternity for. Life is unfair but she has faith, friends and family. Her daily battles with discouragment, dispair and pain may never be noticed by others but God knows. She is an unsung sheroe in my book and His.

Leave Her Alone

March 22, 2010

Yesterday’s text at church was John 12, the celebration at Mary and Martha’s house after the raising of their brother Lazarus. Again, Martha is in the kitchen, serving. Again, Mary is at the feet of Jesus, this time pouring expensive perfume over his feet. She is sharply reprimanded by Judas as the value of the perfume could have greatly aided poor people (or his pocket as John implies). Jesus responds, “Leave her alone.”

Sr. Wantabee as a Woebegone Lutheran wondered where law and Gospel was found in this passage about extravagence. Slowly the light turned on that Mary’s extravagent love and gift of anointing Jesus for his death made her daily “good deeds” look very miniscual. The story was acting as law in her mind, convicting her of her selfishness. Where was the Gospel, the good news. Walking up the stairs, it dawned on her that the Gospel must of course be in the words of Christ, “Leave her alone.” The Marys and the Marthas are both needed in the church, social justice and pietistic love.

This morning she read in her devotions from Amos, criticizing the false piety of the temple people of his time. Yes they demonstrated religiousity by all their church activity but was there there true concern for the poor. Again she felt condemned as she pondered the commentators question in the shower, “Who would she bless today?” She thought, about who and realized that she would be blessed going about her business. Again the words of Christ rang in her ear, “Leave her alone!” It is not about plotting good deeds. It is about being in a good relationship!

Still Unfair

March 19, 2010

Sr. Wantabee was at the hospital yesterday. She visited bed 51 who was becoming a sort of friend. He asking insightful questions, she trying to give meaningful, honest answers and trying to bring a bit of life and entertainment into the boredom of lying in bed, watching TV by the hour until a visitor comes, or a nurse. Perhaps the reader remembers that bed 51 is paralyzed from the arm pit down due to being thrown into the air by a broken water pipe as he tried to help the city replace a sewar lid. The city is “us” and so he could not sue and now with depleted resources is stripped of everything by his medical condition except his faith, family, friends, and some work. Unfair! But today Sr. Wantabee visited because she heard he was close to leaving once his wheel chair was “mapped.” Not knowing what that meant, she bopped into his room to share his joy that the end was near. “What is mapping,” asked she.

In a burst of anger and frustration he shared that he was in the hospital with an ulcer from his wheel chair seat rubbing his paralyzed rump. He had ordered a new bottom which has to be a special deal, a gel filled seat that conforms to his body, and not just an additional cushion, $900!, but that was 3.5 months ago and it had not come. After two months he checked with the company and they assured him it would be there in 2 weeks. It still had not arrived, he could not afford to throw away $900, and so the old chair that put him in the hospital would be reworked. Sr. Wantabee saw the fear and frustration in his face and heard it in his voice. Lord, not only does my friend live with paralysis but the companies committed to helping are negligent. What is wrong with our world. But she said,

“Perhaps if the President needed a special chair, we could get our system to work!” We both had a good laugh at the thought of how much more impacted a president might be if it was his health that depended on the system. “I’m willing to have the same insurance as the Congress, except since I can’t afford anything now, I doubt I could afford what would be offered!” We both laughed as he said,”Right, who’s going to pay for that?” It’s a good thing this is not the end of the story.

Sr. Wantabee shared of her friend in the Homes who thought heaven, picking daisies, sounded “boring.” She had decided that after death she would just go “pooooof.” We both had a good laugh at going poooof and Sr. Wantabee envisioned a little child blowing bubbles and the bubble bursting. “She get a few years in Purgatory for that,” said he. Then we laughed again, as Sr. Wantabee envisioned the lady looking so surprised to awaken in Purgatory. She shared with Mr. Unfair about her discussion with the lady pondering that if we have fun at a basketball game, maybe there would be basketball games in heaven and that would not be boring. He beamed and said for sure he thought there would be basketball in heaven.

Next, Sr. Wantabee shared about a person she had cared for last year who had gone through three divorces, seven children, and who were drawing straws for who would go “get the old fart” for Thanksgiving. He felt very unloved. Several weeks later he had a stroke and died. “My friend, you do not have health and it is unfair, but you do have a wonderful sense of humor, a loving family that visits and cares about you, and a faith that sustains you. You have what is important!” She prayed with him and blessed him on his way and gave him her favorite line, “I hope I never see you again!” He grimaced back at her and said, “I hope I never see you again too, in the hospital!”

Bed 52

March 16, 2010

Sr. Wantabee was at the hospital today. Bed 52 was her last stop before heading home. The woman in her early 50s had a cancerous tumor removed and had not expected the incision to be so big nor so obvious. The next step was radiation and chemo “just in case,” and she was torn wanting to please her various advisors. A faithful husband was unemployed, a daughter with several grandchildren for her and a son married too, about to have another grandchild. Life was pretty good after all. After all what?

She shared how as a young adult she chose adult baptism with the Lutherans. Her Catholic parent married her Protestant parent and the family chaos was resolved by allowing the children to pick their own church. She had chosen Lutheran as an adult and although the baptism was embarrassing, she was comfortable with her choice but had drifted away. Her husband was Catholic but he too had drifted.

Well, actually the two children were from her first marriage that “did nothing for her” and he had three children from his first marriage but they did not relate to their father. The two of them have grown together and “things have worked out well.” She had been thinking that perhaps when all this is over, she would try to find a church that fits…but where to begin?

Sr. Wantabee agreed with this woman, the product of divorce and second chances, that God is not Santa Claus as much as we would like him to be and life is not always “happy ever after.” Churches also are not paradises but the spiritual discipline of weekly meditating, listening to scripture that challenges a person to get outside herself, finding a supportive community is not bad. Sr. Wantabee shared that healing happens best when we are in tune with our spiritual self and in a working relationship with the God of the universe. 911 prayers can be a bit demanding, I need help and I need it NOW. She laughed and agreed that for sure God is not Santa Claus and after she heals, she’ll think about getting in touch with him.

Bed 51, the man who had had a tragic accident and could still chat about faith with Sr. Wantabee, had a birthday today. In their visit he admitted that he had pondered what brought Sr. Wantabee to the hospital to visit. It doesn’t pay. No it’s volunteer. So why come. She comes not because of some great compassion for people “in less fortunate circumstances” than she, she admitted, but because a hospital is a dynamic, active place where each room is like a different math problem. Room 2 is algebra for a half hour. Then geometry for a half hour. Somethings you get lucky and get a calculus problem. They are all interesting people with interesting stories that require Sr. Wantabee think quickly on her feet. Each room is like a different book in the library of life. Bed 51 was labeled, “Unfair,” while bed 52 was labeled, “I’ll think about it.” Heaven cannot be boring.

Competition: Good or Bad?

March 15, 2010

Sr. Wantabee was on the memory challenged unit today and dropped in to see Joan who had not been at the devotional. She was lying on her bed, waking from a morning nap and invited Sr. Wantabee to sit on the edge of the bed. “I missed you at Chaplain’s Corner,” said Sister. Oh, that’s a bunch of bunk, said Joan. “You don’t follow any faith tradition?” she asked. “I was baptized Presbyterian but I don’t believe any of that,” said Joan. “Did Jesus really live?” she continued to ask.

Well, I think so. He is recorded as a real historical figure and several faiths discuss him. Muslims believe he did not die on the cross but was replaced by a substitute but Christians believe he died for sins. I suppose it is possible to question what that means. Was he appeasing an angry God because of our sinfulness or was he, God coming to earth to communication that in-spite of the separation he will be with us even through death,” commented Sr. Wantabee, trying not to sound too judgmental and trying to leave the door open for Joan to share what she thinks about the separation between God and man.

“I agree that we are separated and all that but just because of a beautiful sunset or trees growing, doesn’t mean there is a God,” rebutted Joan. Trying a new angle, Sister Wantabee gently asked, “You and I have more years behind us than before us. What do you think happens?” “Poooffff,” replied Joan. “You don’t believe you are going to pick daisies do you. That’s boring.” Sister Wantabee had to think. Joan had shared that she like sports. “If I could be sure that death is ‘pooooffff’ but most religions talk of an up or down experience or reincarnation or some afterlife. I don’t know of really that truly support a ‘pooofff’ proof. I rather think it will be like Narnia,” shared Sr. Wantabee. Joan had never heard of Narnia. “It will be meaningful life.”

Joan again rejoined, “Picking daisies is boring!” “Well maybe if you did it all the time but how about a basketball game. They aren’t boring and if no one gets hurt, no tears, no exhaustion. Wouldn’t that be fun?” Joan thought about it for a second and answered. “I don’t believe.” Sr. Wantabee thanked her for her honesty and left saying, “Perhaps you don’t believe in God but he believes in you and I am here to let you know he loves you. See you on Wednesday.”

Basketball in heaven. Now there is a thought. A smile came to her face thinking of all the games she has watched with her children playing. Is it possible to just being playing without becoming angry or feeling lose of self worth for loosing. She sure hoped so because the idea of playing basketball in heaven tickled her fancy – maybe she would be able to make a three pointer. Imagine that! And she did.

“I’m gonna win a Golden Globe”

March 13, 2010

Late Friday evening Sr. Wantabee dragged herself to the car to retrieve her daughter and friend who were out babysitting on the other side of town. As the excited girls climbed in the car, they rejected their bee-bop radio station and requested the classical station. They began chatting about the value of classical music, how scary it is in the middle of the night when it is on and some erie music comes on. Sr. Wantabee’s daughter turned to her and said, “Mom, I’m gonna get a Golden Globe!” In all honesty Sr. Wantabee wondered how much of the conversation with a freshman in high school, close to midnight, was exhaustion from a long week at school.

“Mom, I’m gonna win a Golden Globe!” she reiterated. “I have it all planned. I learned to play the flute in 4th grade, and now I’m working on piano. Next year I’ve signed up for cello and they are going to put me in beginner band while I learn. I will only need to master a brass and then I can write a symphony. Can’t you just hear it? (ummmm, no) It’s going to be beautiful. I can hear it Mom. I can hear it. It makes me cry (by now she is in tears and Sister Wantabee is sure exhaustion is speaking). It’s going to be beautiful and in the middle there is going to be a dramatic pause and everyone will hold their breath and then the cello will come crashing in and build to a crescendo. It will be so beautiful. Brother #2 will write the movie and I will do the music in the background. Brother #1 will handle all the finances. Mom, do you remember how we watched The Ghost and the Darkness and when the lion chased the guy up the tree, I always had to close my eyes cause the music was so scary. Yesterday in my social studies class we were watching a movie about…but the music in the background was soooo beautiful that I started crying. All the kids in the class looked at me. I told them to just ignore me doing my thing but I knew Brother #4 would have cried too. It was so beautiful. I’m going to write a music too. I can see me walking on the stage, accepting the award in a gorgeous dress. It will be so wonderful. I’m going to get a Golden Globe!”

Sister Wantabee’s daughter could see, feel, and hear that whole experience. She knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that she will some day get a Golden Globe award and around that reality, she is building her life, and developing a talent.

Sister Wantabee asked herself, “What dream do I build my life around?”