Be Ye Kind

“When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.”
Abraham Joshua Heschel

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Last week I had surgery for a total hip replacement. That has been a long time coming and I can now tell I have parts that move the way they are supposed to.  It’s fantastic.

In these past few days I have been absolutely overwhelmed by kindness and care from so many. At the top of that list are my husband, my child, and my friend Alison, who flew across the country to take care of all of us. And then there is the congregation, and my family, and the school moms, and pastors I’ve never met who’ve held me in their prayers, and old friends around the country who have emailed and texted and messaged, who have baked muffins and sent cards and flowers and chocolate, because they know me well.

I am grateful, too, to the hospital staff.  There they were, taking my vitals, checking in on me, telling me it would be okay when my blood pressure plummeted, putting on the helpful/unsexy white support knee socks, encouraging me through all that initial discomfort  and pain, waking me up through the night as they did their job.

You could say that all those hospital people get paid to be kind and caring. That’s true. As a pastor I know that because, in a sense, we get paid to be kind. It’s a big part of our job.

But what if it were everyone’s job to be kind? What if kindness were the true measure of our worth, and not our social status or our bank account? Wouldn’t that be something?

Kindness is there but it’s usually so small that it gets overshadowed by all that’s loud and angry and grumpy. I’m not sure kindness really works on the grand scale but I know it does on the small scale: helping someone get dressed or making a cup of tea. Bringing a magazine with Benedict Cumberbatch on the cover, and another with the newest, best restaurants. Staying away can be kind; so can stopping by.

Once I’m up and around I’m going to spend more time on the small kindnesses. I can’t fix the world. Hell, I can’t walk without a walker and good meds at this point. But I can be kind, and I will.

And you?

Some things take a long time to heal

Some things take a long time to heal

hip_labral_tear_avulsionWe were talking about health and mental health the other day in staff meeting, and I asked why mental health issues couldn’t just be called health  issues.  After all, many of the diseases that affect one’s emotional life are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, a physical thing.   And then I commented that physical health issues take their mental toll too, and confessed, I think for the first time, that I have been in pain every day for the last year.  That takes a toll.  I get down about it, I get frustrated and angry and discouraged.

We were talking about health because a member of our congregation – a beloved, vivacious woman – committed suicide a few weeks ago, and we are all pretty wrecked about it.  She lived for years with a bi-polar disorder that she chose to hide from many who knew her, and so her choice to end her life came as a shock to most of the congregation.

To say she was vivacious only begins to describe her: vivacious, hilarious, organized, fun, friendly, kind, thoughtful of so many.  That was what she chose to show the world, and that was her authentic self.  But I want to honor the fullness of who she was, and say that the withdrawn, sad parts were her authentic self too, but a part that she chose not to show most of the world.  When she went into the valley of the shadow, she stayed home and hunkered down.  A few of us knew that, and tried to support her as best we could.  She left a note – organized person that she was, of course she left a note – and her sister read part of it at the memorial service.  She assured us that there was nothing any of us could have done to stop her, that her decision had been made, that she knew how much we loved her and how much her death would hurt us.

Some things take a long time to heal.  I still have moments of utter disbelief that she is gone, that next year on July 3 we won’t celebrate our birthdays which were exactly two weeks apart.  I keep expecting to walk into the office and hear her ask what we have for her to organize.  But deeper, I am still so very bereaved that she took her own life.  I do wonder what I could have done.  I do doubt that I told her often enough how much I loved her.  There is a hurt there, a wound of sorrow and guilt and profound loss, and the scar that is left some day will not be subtle.

Sometime about eighteen months ago, I tore the labrum tissue in my right hip – it’s the tissue that lines the hip and is like the meniscus of the hip.  It’s been eighteen months of pain, x-rays, an MRI (aided by lots of Valium), conversations with surgeons who tell me surgery is not an option for me, physical therapy, chiropractic help, and exercises.  I limp and I cannot hide the limp.  On Sunday mornings when I walk down the aisle, everyone sees me limp.  They comment that I’m still limping, a year later, and I say yes I am.  They ask if it’s getting better, and I say yes, it is healing and it is healing slowly.

People like to hear that I’m healing, but they don’t like the slowly part.  Maybe it’s hard for them to see me in pain, although I try to hide it.  Maybe it reminds them that their pastor is not a spry thirty-year-old.  Maybe they’re being empathetic, because I’m not the only one around church who walks with a little wobble.

It has been an interesting journey these last eighteen months, one of the body-mind-soul journeys that contains lessons about patience and honesty and good humor, about frustration and hope, about pain and tiredness.  In the last two months I have made peace with the fact that this will take a long time to heal, that some wounds – however invisible to the naked eye – are not easily mended.

Broken hearts and spirits don’t mend easily or quickly.  It is possible that some never mend.  But some will, over time, over months and years and decades.

May we be patient with each other in the mending.

 

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How do we remember?.

To remember something is to put words and actions to the thought “this was important; this mattered; this changed things, for better or worse.”  Remembering can honor, but can also rehash.  Remembering can heal and can re-open the wound.

I don’t think that there’s a formula in remembering that will make it a healing thing rather than a hurting thing.  It may be more about the state of one’s heart, or the freshness of the event.  It may be about the individual’s experience.  It may just be what happens that day.

Today I remember having lunch with a minister colleague, trying to make sense of horrific images on the news.  I remember I was between pastoral calls, and making a plan about where I would go to church the next Sunday.  I remember reaching out to my loved ones, to make sure they were ok, as if any of us could be ok after those planes crashed into those buildings.

But most of the time, I don’t think about September 11, 2001.  Most of the time I go about my life, and occasionally say prayers for first responders, and occasionally grieve with those who grieve.  A friend of mine works at the 9-11 museum in New York.  Because of her work (and, I would say, her calling) she remembers every single day.

The premise of the novel The Giver is that after a cataclysmic, unnamed event, a society endows one person to hold the communal memory.  Only one person remembers the sorrows and horrors and joys of that people.  It’s a dystopian world, as you might expect.  But I remember that day and we  remember that day. For some that is healing, a testament to an ideal of American fortitude and resourcefulness.  For some, that memory is excruciating, and gives birth to reawakened fears and to sorrows that will never end.

I won’t bake cookies for the local fire station today, although if you do, that’s a kind thing.  I also won’t watch the news, because I never watch the news and because I don’t find a recitation of bad things good for my soul.  But I will be intentional about some things today.  I will work to be kind and gentle.  I will not make great pronouncements about things I know nothing about.  I will say prayers.  That’s how I will remember today.

“That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.”          Ecclesiastes 3:15

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Praying for a miracle

candleOnce a month our congregation offers an evening service of healing and wholeness in the Taize style of worship.  I attended the service for the first time last night – for the first time, not because I don’t have those to pray for who are seeking healing and wholeness, but because, really, my colleague is beautifully suited to lead that service and usually at 5:30 on a Saturday night I don’t want to be in church.

But I went last night, in part so that I could experience it but also because a few of us were staying afterwards to decorate for the Pentecost service today.  It was a lovely service and I’m glad I was there as it feels that there is a lot to pray about right now .

So the choir is leading some of the Taize songs, and my mind wanders in a good way.  I start thinking about a friend of mine who has been diagnosed with cancer, and the prognosis is so-so.  I start thinking that I would like a miracle for this friend, which gets me thinking about miracles in general.

Once in my life I prayed for a miracle.  A very dear parishioner in the first congregation I served was in a coma.  It was a cardiac thing, an utter surprise for this healthy, relatively young, fabulous, beautiful, kind woman. She lay in a coma and I stood by her bedside and prayed for a miracle, that she would come out of the coma, that they would shrink her enlarged heart, that her husband and sons would enjoy decades more with her.  But the miracle didn’t happen, and eventually she died and it was awful.

I haven’t prayed for a miracle since, but last night as I was thinking about my cancer-diagnosed friend, I thought about miracles again. What if there was some rule that you could only get one miracle granted in the course of your lifetime?  Would I hoard it for myself or my child or my husband, save it for a rainy day? Or would I be burdened by the miracle and offer it up the first ripe opportunity, and not be weighed down by the decision of when to use it?  Would I not pray for the miracle and then regret it the rest of my life?

I know people who have experienced miracles.  I know people who have experienced answers to prayer that they would call miraculous.  I’ve only prayed for a miracle once, and it didn’t happen.  And I know that should not be proof that God doesn’t grant miracles (or perform them?  I’m not sure what verb to use.)  But it’s hard to ask for something and get a ‘no’ and then be willing to ask again; harder to do that again and again and again.  It leads to a world of disappointment and not a little bit of doubt about the good intentions of the Divine Creator.

Meanwhile the choir finished their Taize song and we had moved on to other prayers.  I didn’t pray for a miracle last night.  Instead, I went to light a candle, for my friend, and for a few others.    I added a little light in the darkness, and in that moment, that felt better than a miracle.