A Life-Changing Experience | The Philippines

It may shock people to learn that Carrie left me…for two weeks.  She had her eye on another love…mission and traveling so she went out on mission to the Philippines and is having a great time (though I can’t wait until she gets home)!

She left on March 2, but how crazy is it that we are able to communicate moment-by-moment via texting on our cell phones?  That is, however, made difficult by the fourteen hour time difference.  There really aren’t all that many hours when we are both awake to talk, sadly.

She is really enjoying this  trip.  They are staying on the island of Leyte where there is a University.  One of the problems that the people of the Philippines face is that few women are able to get an education in agriculture and they need to feed their country, so Carrie is with a team of people who are working to build a women’s dormitory at the University.

A mission team started the dormitory 20 years go, finishing two rooms.  In a recent disaster, the roof failed and a mission team was needed to repair it: it re-ignited the dream that began two decades before.  Carrie is very excited to be part of the team that is working to take the project further (with local construction crews, too, of course).  Carrie has been loving this project and feels passionate about the need.

It’s not just construction, though. Her team also collected books and clothes, shipping them in advance of their trip.  The United Methodist Church is finding great success in the Philippines and they have many people who want to be trained as clergy, but there is little education for pastors.  They need help educating pastors, so Carrie is also part of a group providing training for licensed local pastors who have not had the benefit of a seminary education.  Carrie also surprised me the other day when she  suggested that we should plan, in the future, to go to the Philippines to teach.  How fun would that be?

It was a long journey to get to the Philippines.  Her car was making some noise so I decided that we should keep her car here so I could get it to the mechanic (and so that she wasn’t driving an unreliable vehicle, of course).  We both had Ash Wednesday services so we couldn’t go up the night before like many people on the team.  We got up early on Thursday morning so I could get her to Chicago O’Hare Airport by 9 o’clock to meet the group.  We left the house at 5:30am and I got her there at 8:45am to meet the rest of the group, but, then, I rushed back to Hudson for a 12:30pm meeting at my church.  It was a really long day for me, but that was nothing compared to poor Carrie.  She traveled continuously for 52 hours straight!!!  I can’t imagine how miserable that must have been with flights, drives, and the seemingly endless layovers at airports.

It was a crazy-long journey for her, but I think the trip, so far, has been worth it.  Based on the photos she is posting on Facebook the food has been one of the most exciting aspects of the trip for her.  Is anyone really surprised?  I, on the other hand, am not very excited about the food I am eating while she is gone.  I’m going to appreciate her culinary skills all-the-more when she returns!

PS: Check out Carrie’s Instagram and Facebook pages to see more!

 

I Have this Feeling…In My Gut, part 2

I guess I should continue where I left off, huh?

I went to the GI specialist on Tuesday.  He was pretty sure it was appendicitis.  He thought that the appendix may have even burst and I’d been walking around with a burst appendix.  He sent me for scans on Wednesday morning.  Upon seeing the scans I was sent straight to the Emergency Department at BroMenn for surgery.


If you are wondering how a person walks around with a burst appendix, it is a good question.  Here is the story of Martha Little, news director for WBUR.  She lived with a burst appendix for weeks!


The appendix had not ruptured so they were able to do the surgery laparoscopically and was in the hospital overnight.  I cannot praise the nursing staff enough.  They took good care of me…and got me home quickly where my wife could continue caring for me.

I’m doing well, now.  I’m in some pain, but I have medicine to help with that.  I’m being well-cared-for and my church is in good hands.  My wife and other clergy are covering for me while I recover, but my congregation is amazing and I can also count on the people of the church to make sure everything and everyone is cared for while I am gone!

Blessings,

Cravings.
our “valentines” (feb 3, before my first surgery): we both had a dessert 🙂

My wife and I are completely different in one major way:  my wife could live without sugar altogether…and I crave it.  After I lost weight,  my wife noticed something about me.  One night my eyes became as wide as saucers when I saw a dessert and she said, “You really are a fat kid inside, huh?”

It is true.  I grew up with desserts all around me and I LOVE THEM.  If you’ve ever had my mother’s pies, you understand.
I’ve been acting pretty good the past week or so, but the other night I was craving a dessert.  I dutifully called my wife and asked her if she’d like me to pick up something for her, too…I already knew the answer: “No.” She is so good.  Well, I went out to the nearby Fresh Market and looked at the desserts.  I went there because I knew I could get just one single cupcake, and, from experience, I knew that the calories would be worth it at that bakery.
But, when I got home I didn’t just have just a single cupcake in my bag.  I had a whole Apple Brown Betty Pie and vanilla bean ice cream.  Who am I?  I’m a monster!
But, you know, I think it isn’t just about sugar.  For us who are “fat kids,” I have to suggest, that, in part, it is about memory.  I can almost taste the snickers bar when I am in the check-out line.  I could taste the deep vanilla of the ice cream as I picked it up off the shelf.  Worse, when I go home, the memories of my mother’s cooking is intoxicating: whether it is something universally delicious like Blackberry pie or beef stew or something like depression-era mackeral patties.  It isn’t the culinary genius as much as the memory of that food from my time growing up that makes it so amazing (but, mom, you are also a culinary genius).
church folks, can you almost taste it?
Memories are powerful things.  On Sunday, at my church, we celebrated Holy Communion.  For Christians, the taste of the bread and juice/wine are meant to draw on memory the same way as my mother’s cooking did.  For adults who grew up in the church the taste of bread and juice (wine) takes them back to memories of childhood in the church.  For the early Christians it must have been a powerful reminder of a time when Christ was in their midst doing incredible acts.  For all Christians of all times it connects us to the people who have come before us.  It is a very real connection to them.  It also reminds us of all the people who will come behind us in our living tradition.  Perhaps just as importantly: because there are churches around the world in every time zone that celebrate Communion / Eucharist daily, there are Christians constantly communing with one another and with Christ!  Communion is a very real sign that we are connected to one another and Christ no matter our distance through time and space.  It is amazing, really.
Ephesians 1:3-14 A Call to Love in Troubled Times

 

   
 As I sit at my desk, writing this blog entry; I look out the window to see beautiful clear blue skies and shriveled near dead brown grass. What a shame. The need for rain is at the forefront of most people’s minds with whom I speak. I spoke with a couple people this week who recalled the depression, others with whom I spoke recalled the drought of 1988. This is certainly a troubling summer. The anxiety which this drought is causing is only exaggerated by the uncertainty of the times in which we live. 
Normally in such times, many people have turned to God and their elders; but here we may find ourselves struggling as well. Church membership and attendance is down. At the most recent General Conference it was reported that the average United Methodist is 58 years old. Churches no longer filled with children in Sunday School are filled instead with memories and worry. As we face this fact, we are forced to recognize that the church of yesteryear is no more. We are called by God and add campaigns to “ReThink Church”….but where do we begin?

As a nation, we are grieving as we watch members of what was dubbed by Tom Brokaw “the Greatest Generation” die. These are people who remember the Great Depression, lived through World War II and worked to rebuild the nation into the country that it is today. They have guided us and our parents (or are perhaps our parents). As much as we grieve them individually as they pass, we grieve something else as well: an idea. This generation represents a link to a distant past, a different time. They stand in the American consciousness like a mighty oak: a symbol of strength, wisdom and endurance. When members who were a part of this generation in my church die, I often witness others shaking their heads, asking “What will become of us when this generation is gone”. It is the end of an era.

With all this uncertainty it is no wonder that tensions, in the church and in the nation are high. We are faced with mounting problems. Old solutions aren’t working. So we lash out like a scared and hurt animal- because that is what we are. As we look to the fall and the coming election, I confess I am filled with dread. Yes, I worry deeply about what the results of the election will be when votes are tallied, but I worry as well about the cost of the election- not the financial cost (which will be unimaginably huge) but the psychological and spiritual cost of the fighting which has already begun. 

This Sunday, many churches which follow the Revised Common Lectionary will begin a study of Ephesians. As I reviewed and studied “Ephesians”, I was struck by the ways this ancient text sympathizes with and speaks to our troubled times. This letter, which most likely circulated amongst a number of churches was written after the fall of the temple in 70 AD. The destruction of the temple forced many religious communities to re-think the ways they practiced their faith, and who held religious authority. They were plunged into confusion and uncertainty. Compounding the struggle with a changing religious life was the death of a generation. At the time that this letter was written and circulated, Paul had most likely been executed. The other apostles, those followers of Jesus who walked, talked and learned with him; and who subsequently founded many of the first churches were dying. Faced with new questions and problems, the early church struggled to know where to turn. All too often they chose to turn against one another. 

Confronted with all of the frustrations of their day, the author of Ephesians opens with magnificent praise for the God of heaven and earth. We, the readers are assured that we have a God who is not removed from our problems but who instead is at work for us. Before the beginning of time, God made a plan. That plan is not broken economies, destroyed temples, failed crops or oppression. The writer explains, “This is what God planned for the climax of all times: to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:3-14 Common English Bible). This is a plan rooted in love and advanced through grace. God has set aside an inheritance for us. 
Inheritance is given based on who a person is not what they do, we are given this inheritance not because we have always made good choices but because we are a part of God’s creation, because we are God’s children and because we are loved. God has planned this inheritance, saving it and setting it aside for each one of us. Though it is given to us it is not ours, for it was first God’s. We, as God’s benefactors have a choice: we can squander that inheritance or we can use it to honor God by participating in God’s plan. 

The writer explains that God’s design for creation is not something simply of another, heavenly realm. God’s has plans this world, this earth. God plans to see this world reconciled with one another and with God. Because of this, as we approach this election we are called to care for all God’s people and all of the issues that effect them. We are invited to labor in love and make wise decisions based not in malice but in the love God has for each of us. I know that as we near the election, my blood will at times boil. I will be filled with indignation and anger. But as hard as it may be somedays, I am not the only inheritor of God’s love and grace. I am not the only person that God blessed, chose and adopted. Indeed all of us, rich or poor, republican or democrat, of every race, gender, sexual orientation and nationality have been blessed, chosen and adopted by God. So let us then go forth endeavoring to treat one another through our words and  actions with the respect due to a child of God.

 
Moving In, Heading Out!

Today I finished setting up the basement / library / office / man cave.  Well, whatever you want to call it, it is the one space in the house that I get to make mine…

That makes three rooms that we’ve opened all the boxes and moved completely in.  Yes, we have a long way to go, but we finally feel like we’ve made progress!  Living Room, check.  Family Room, check.  Library, check.  Luckily June (my mother-in-law) has returned to help Carrie finish the move-in process because I’m heading out to a busy week.  
Before brain surgery I didn’t think much about busy weeks and weekends, but after surgery it is a whole different story!  Moving into the house wouldn’t have been a big deal before surgery, but post-op it felt monumental.  I am leading all three worship services for the first time since my brain surgery…for my last (Farewell) Sunday at the Pontiac church.  My last Sunday in a church would be an exhausting task anyway, but after brain surgery it feels daunting to lead worship, preaching, and greet and talk with people.  Oh, and lest I forget, I volunteered for church camp and leave Sunday afternoon for a full week of being a chaplain.  It will be a recharge and help me get back into the swing of being an active pastor…but holy cow it’s going to wear me out.
Don’t get me wrong.  I’m excited for each and every thing that I’m doing.  This is stuff I love to do!  Oh- and I have plans for resting and taking care of myself, but surgery has sure changed the way I look at my days and weeks.  Every room I unpack, sermon I preach, and kid I hang out with at camp feels like a huge accomplishment (and makes me happy).

It’s getting late and before too many sighs go up into cyberspace, I’ll sign off and go to bed.
Parents, ugh!

Parents are wonderful.  Okay.  I know, I know, if you are a teenager it may not seem like it, right?  I remember that feeling.  As a teen, it is terrible when your parents show up…or don’t show up…look at you wrong…or don’t…or, well, when they speak.  Ugh, how could they be so weird and goofy?

If you are a teenager, am I on the right track?

Let me tell you, at 32 years old I have a different take.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t always have a great relationship with my parents.  Sometimes they get on my nerves and sometimes I get on their last nerve, but, especially this week, I’m SOOO glad they are coming to help me.

First, let me tell you what next week is going to bring for my wife and me.  I have some work and then early in the week we have to go pick up a whole trailer full of stuff in St. Louis and move it to Normal.  Then, on Thursday the movers come (so the house has to be packed and cleaned), We move in and have a half day to unpack and then I have to leave for a wedding rehearsal (fri) and wedding (sat) that I am co-officiating in Pittsfield… then I have to be back Saturday night so I can be rested for my Farewell Sunday at Pontiac… and then Sunday afternoon I start as a chaplain for church camp at East Bay in Hudson, IL.

So I’m thrilled that my mother-in-law is here right now cleaning and helping us pack; my mother and father are coming next week to help us move and then my mother-in-law will be back to stay with carrie and help her pack while I’m at the wedding and camp.

When I was younger I was embarrassed and stressed out by my parents (I still have my moments :-), but as an adult I see blessings in their presence.  It turned out that having parents was actually an asset, who would’ve known?  I am so glad for my parents and my in-laws and all that they do for Carrie and me.  Whether you are young or old, I hope you will, this week, take a moment to think of how your parents are a blessing for your life.  If you are a teenager it may not be easy at first, but there are things your parents do that make your life better, I imagine.  Think really hard about it and you may see that they are a blessing for you!

Title image found at:  http://conflictremedy.com/finding-new-solutions-for-parent-teen-conflict/

Joy in Ritual?

My wife and I divide up many of the household chores and share responsibilities, normally, but since my first surgery on February sixth I have been very limited in what I can do. Over the last few months I have not had to put dishes in the dishwasher, do laundry, mow the yard…well, actually, I haven’t had to do anything but sit in a chair and take occasional walks! My normal routines and practices have been interrupted and the longer I go without doing them, the more difficult it is for me to start again.

Yesterday I finally unloaded, loaded and unloaded, again, the dishwasher. This was the first time I’ve done any sort of chore for quite some time. The really embarrassing thing is that it isn’t even a real chore. I mean, if I’d washed dishes in the sink that might be a real chore, but I just rinsed some dishes off and set them in a machine. Yet, this insignificant task seemed horrendous. I put it off all morning until I knew Carrie would be returning from work, and, finally, when I was at the eleventh hour, I went about a task that, in that moment, felt tedious and painfully slow.

How is it that a task could become so difficult when it is a routine I’ve done a million times and never felt particularly burdened (that I can remember). Well…now, to be fair I need to think back to when I first moved out on my own and had dishes to do (and no dishwasher). The dishes often mounted up and it often came down to eating on paper products before I would get around to washing dishes (I was a terrible bachelor).

Perhaps it is in the routine that tasks and ways-of-living become familiar and do-able. Perhaps, in forming a routine, we make a task more personal and intimate and, in doing so, make it tolerable, if not pleasurable.

The first time we make a bed or pick up clothes or change a diaper or run a vacuum… the list is infinite…. The first time or the first few times we do something we are bound to find it more difficult, but the more often we do it, the more it becomes part of our life-ritual, the more easy and familiar it becomes. One of the best examples is exercise, I think. It was easy to motivate myself to go to the gym the first time, but the next few times it was terribly difficult. I got home from work and I already felt exhausted. The last thing I wanted to do was walk over to the gym and wear myself down further, yet, once I got through a week or so of going to the gym, it became a highlight. It wasn’t until it became a ritual that I could enjoy it and I began to look forward to it!

In our lives of faith we have the same issue. If you are a church, synagogue or mosque-goer, then you may recognize this. If you skip worship one week, it is easier to miss it the next, and getting back to your faith practice becomes harder and harder. Prayer is the same way. Perhaps that is why muslims pray so often and methodically. By praying seven times each day they have built prayer into their life-ritual. The prayer becomes both familiar and easy, in a way.

For many, dare I say most, Christians it is more difficult to pray. We don’t have the ritual. Maybe we’ve developed a practice of saying a prayer before a meal or at bedtime, but do we interrupt our day for prayer or does our day follow our prayer cycle? I’d wager for most Christians it is the former!

I think practice is important in all that we do, if we want balanced and healthy lives. During my most recent stay in the hospital, I was feeling very sore in bed. I mentioned it to my physical therapist. She got me out of bed and tried to move my legs, but they couldn’t move more than a few degrees without pain. My muscles were tight from lying in bed all day everyday for so long! My legs were used to walking and bending and running. They were used to a certain practice, but they were out of practice. If any of you have gone to the gym, biked, or run further than you are used to, then you know what I mean. You’ve had the opposite experience as I: you went beyond your usual practice or ritual.

In life we need balance. If we want to start a new faith practice it is important to do so in a measured and responsible way. We should begin praying, reading the bible, or worshipping in a way that is tenable (sustainable). If you’ve not had a regular prayer life, then starting 20 times a day is likely not sustainable as a new practice, but finding one or two times during your day (or even 7?) might be. Finding 10 minutes each morning or evening to read the Bible is more likely to be sustainable, for most people, than trying to read a chapter everyday.

On the other hand, if we drop our habit, even for a day, we risk atrophy. In any of your life-practices, this is good advice I would wager. If you are a person of faith, I especially commend to you that you heed this advice and develop healthy practices. It maybe difficult, at first, but it will grow you, strengthen you, and help you in all of your other facets of life.























Images found at:  http://allwomenstalk.com/ & http://www.thegospelmatters.com/, respectively.

Scars

In the photo above you can see my incision that it is now beginning to heal. The trauma of getting that scar, twice, now, was extreme and, as you have read in this blog, I have many memories, both traumatic and good, from my time in recovery (both at the hospital and, now, at the Berry’s home). It’s crazy how this scar can be fading so quickly when the experience still feels so fresh.

I feel the scar and the people around me see it. It is a constant reminder of these complicated memories. Yet as the physical wound heals, fewer people now say, “oh my, what happened,” or, “how did u get that scar?”. The physical scar is less noticeable and far less commented on, yet my wife and I (& other family members) will always carry the emotional scars. My wife will always see the scar, whether actually visible or not, when she sees the back of my head.  For my part, I will always feel the scar.  Fortunately, we have a God who understands the memory that lives in scars.

We talk about Christ being on the cross, but that experience came with significant scars. Hanging on the cross, from the outside, seems like a wholly terrible experience, but that terrible moment was proceeded by a life that brought many blessings. The scars of Christ were not just a negative memory, but a reminder of the loving acts committed by Christ, as well. The scars of Christ are reminders of the good that came out of a bad situation.

I think that all of us are confronted by scars sometimes. We all find troubles that leave marks on us whether physical marks or emotional. It is up to us whether we will dwell on the passing negative experience or whether we will find good in the midst of angst and trouble. Christ endured the bad that we would all know the good (His Love). When we experience trouble we must look to Christ, so that through Christ’s wounds, we can experience joy even in the midst of our own pain, our own wounds, our own scars.

Health Checks

Me in the hospital in February 2012 after first neurosurgery.



I suppose everyone has a different experience of the hospital than I do / did, but for me a shift happens at some point during hospitalization. When I was admitted this last time, I was miserable. After surgery, I was hurting really bad. During my first days in a hospital I usually feel as though I need to be there. With this last ER visit and hospitalization, I could only find relief at the hospital and couldn’t imagine going home. As time goes by, though, I begin to feel better and there is finally time when I realize I can go home. A shift happens where my need for the hospital is outweighed by a need to go home.


This time I had so many ‘incidents’ that made me feel bad (like the spinal fluid leaking or migraines) that I didn’t realize how much better I was getting overall! On Saturday the doctor came in and said they were ready to discharge me when I was ready to go. I was shocked. At first I said, “no way.” I mean, I had just had a migraine that morning, but, then, I realized that my pain meds were being reduced, anyway, and there is really very little they can do for the migraines anyway. There was nothing I was getting at the hospital that I couldn’t do at home. It was an odd moment for me and I looked up at the doctor and said, “You know, it seems like it is time to go home after all.” I only wanted to clarify our at home plan for remaining comfortable and healthy.

At my in-law’s home recovering after my first neurosurgery in Feb. 2012



Sometimes it is difficult to recognize our place and what is healthy for us. Whether it is our marriage, a house, a church or organization, or group of friends we can sometimes forget to consider our own health and happiness. I think, especially in marriage, we get comfortable and stop talking to our spouses about healthiness in our relationship(s). Just like in my hospital stay where I constantly evaluated my health and situation with my wife, the nurses & doctors, and with myself; our marriages and other relationships constantly need to have healthy communication and evaluation otherwise we lose track of our health. We wake up one day and realize that we no longer have a healthy reason to stay.


To stay healthy, we can’t just talk about the ‘nice’ things…In the hospital it isn’t easy, at first, to talk about bowel movements or have someone you don’t know help you with a shower; but these difficult conversations are just as important as the easy ones. In marriage, especially, it is easy to just say the “I Love You’s” and forget to talk about the difficult things. Carrie and I try to talk about the difficult things as much as the easy stuff. It sometimes means that we fight. It sometimes means that we get angry or hurt, but, in the end, it always means that we grow in our relationship, know one another more, and have a more solid foundation for the future.


We have to keep an eye on our relationships and we have to constantly evaluate where we are in those relationships and their healthiness.