Tuesday, April 25, 2006

This is the Body of Christ, Broken for You

"The body of Jesus Christ, broken for you, take and eat."

I said these words over and over as people walked to the Table to receive the Sacrament.

Some people take just a tiny crumb from the loaf of bread and dip it gently into the bread. It is as if they are afraid to come to close to the sacred. "We are unworthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table," will be the words of the prayer I will use at the end of the Sacrament, and it is as if these are people who know too well their unworthiness.

Others will come and take a large chunk of the bread and drench the bread with wine from the chalice. It is as if they are starving for spiritual food.

My son comes through the line. There are three elders with me serving the Sacrament, each holding one half of a broken loaf, or holding a chalice of wine.

He comes and takes the bread.

It is a tiny piece.

"The body of Jesus Christ, broken for you, take and eat."

He does not look at me as he takes the bread, and he moves onto the elder next to me to dip the bread into the wine.

He was in tears when we drove up to the church. I know it is a difficult thing for him to do, to cry in front of his father. Sixteen is such a difficult time. And like many of the things that overwhelm him, it was such a small thing.

People think pastors and their families are perfect.

We are not.

We are frail.

We sin.

We say hurtful things.

We do hurtful things.

We are human.

We laugh.

And sometimes we cry at the Table of the Lord.

I had been waiting for almost two weeks to share some advice with him. On the way to church the opportunity finally presented itself. But the gulf between an adult and a teenage child is so vast. He has no idea how much I understand what he is going through. Soft words of counsel sound to him like harsh words of criticism. I know that he is not stupid, but I also know that he lacks wisdom and experience. These will come only with pain and suffering.

It would be a lot easier if he would listen.

But he won't.

Growing up takes time. No matter how much others around want to help, it is something one must do at one's own pace, and along one's own unique path.

My son attended the first service, and then disappeared for the day. His absence worries me throughout the other services.

Throughout the morning, people chat with me about their lives.

Anne says her daughter's pregnancy is not going well. She is dehydrated and ill, and eating poorly.

Bakers have bought a new house and asked me to conduct a blessing on their home.

Charlie and Donna have brought their 14 year old nephew into their home. He was being used by his guardian as free labor in an abusive setting until the boy almost committed suicide. Now they are going to become the legal guardians.

Ed is having some difficulties with his daughter as the family adjusts to Ed's divorce.

A family came and asked me to conduct a baptism for their child.

Fran tells me that her father will not be going to the Senior's feast, and he probably needs to go.

Georgia was not in church, but her mother tells me she is doing very poorly.

I conducted a new members class between services.

I attended the the youth group meeting this evening.

My son and I watched a baseball game on television.

So many concerns, but the one who concerns me most is my son.

Family life is not easy -- not for pastors. Not for anyone.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A Prayer for my Son

Almighty God,
Watch over my child.

In an age of violence, teach him peace.
Fill his soul with harmony rather than discord.
Protect him from injury, harm and sudden death at the hands of others.

Watch over my child, dear Lord.
In an age of materialism, selfishness, and greed,
Let him see beyond the things of this world so that he may see a glimpse of things spiritual.
Let him value others above himself.
Let him seek wisdom above wealth.

Watch over my child, dear Lord.
In an age of lust, let him know love.
In an age of gratification, let him know restraint.
Keep him sexually chaste and self controlled.

Watch over my child, dear Lord.
As he grows, guide him.
As he stumbles, hold him.
In his times of anger, love him.
In his times of fear, touch him.
In his times of foolishness, teach him.
When he strays from your path, retrieve your lost sheep.

Watch over my child, dear Lord.
Do not grant all the desires of his heart,
But grant all the needs of his soul.
Let him know sacrifice and discipline
So that he may know strength and faith.
As gold is placed in fire to be refined,
Give my child pain and suffering
So that he may lose those things in his heart and mind that are harmful to his soul.

Watch over my child, dear Lord.
Give him love for the beauty of the world you have made.
Give him love for the family and friends.
Give him love for the stranger in his midst.
And above all, give him love for you,
That he may know you,
Serve you,
And glorify you.

Watch over my child, dear Lord.
Forgive his parents when they have failed in the nurture of this child,
And quiet their worries and fears.
May they, trusting in your love for their child,
find rest and peace in the knowledge that you are with him.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Murder Suicide

(This happened a while back, but I've been waiting to post my feelings about it because I did not want anyone searching the Internet in an effort to figure out who I'm writing about).

As far as I know, I have never met the woman.

In fact, even as I write my diary entry, I cannot remember her name. Her brother is a member of the church. John and his wife Sherry have been to the church twice since the attendance records have been kept. They came for their daughter's baptism, in 1992, and for their son's baptism, in 1994.

John and Sherry have not been in church since I've been the pastor here.

I called Maria, the mother of the woman who died.

The woman died 2 days ago. She was killed by her husband, a police officer. They were married in a Las Vegas wedding five weeks ago. When she returned from her honeymoon, her body was covered with bruises. She admitted to her family that her husband was abusive. Ten days after the wedding, the woman had moved out. Then a few days ago, the husband convinced her to join him for a trip to Universal Studios in Orlando, which she did. They were going to talk about their relationship.

The woman left her parents' home at 10:30 AM.

At 3:30 PM, she called her mother and asked for help to get home.

Ten minutes later, the parents were in the car and beginning a 3 to 4 hour trip.

But even then it was too late. Five minutes after making the call, the woman had been killed by her husband, who then put the gun to his head and took his own life.

I will do the funeral Monday.

What a tragedy.

(My diary's entry for the following day)

I listened to the stories of the family and wondered how it could have happened. All the signs were there, but the family was not knowledgeable enough to understand. The man abused her violently.

Before they were married, he bought an engagement ring. Then he took her to the jewelry store and showed her a ring. The woman said it was too large and said she wanted to see others. When they returned home, the man pulled out the ring he'd bought earlier. It was exactly the same ring style as she had rejected earlier, and again she said she needed a smaller style. To this he picked up a chair and threw it at her and broke several glass shelves.

When the family confronted him about his violence, he begged them not to tell the police, because it would mean immediate termination from his job on the police force. "And if that happened, I'd have to kill myself."

This is just one of many clues to how sick this man was.

I will be doing her funeral Monday afternoon.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Mary Has Died

Mary died at 3:12 AM. Jim had left at 1:00 AM. The family had set a limit of midnight last night, so I assume Jim was reluctant. Later in the day, when I visited the family, I found a way to sharing with them that some people won't leave until the family leaves. It had been the case with my own mother. She did not want to die with me and Dad around. "What's important," I said, "Is that you were always there in life, when it was really important."

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Standing on Holy Ground

I stood on holy ground. Gathered around Mary's bed were her husband, children, and sons and daughters in law. And me.

I arrived at 11 AM. I'd visited Vernell at Jackson Hospital. She had returned to the hospital in her ongoing battle with cancer. We'd had a long visit and when I left I called to check in with the office. Before I made it to the next stop, Hialeah Hospital, my secretary was calling me to tell me that Mary Jean had called to tell us that her mother was dying.

I went to the 6th floor to find one of Mary's sons in the hallway. Jay told me, "Mom's getting ready to pass away."

We walked to the bed in the intensive care unit. I spoke to everyone for a few minutes, and then had prayer with the family gathered around the bed.

There is nothing more that can be done for Mary, and she is returned to her semi private room so the family can gather around her.

We wait.

At times her heart rate slows to 30, and there is a minute or more between breaths. But still she hangs onto life.

Before I know it, I have been with the family for 3 hours.

The nurses administer morphine to keep her comfortable. They begin with a rate of 2 cc, then increase it to 3, then 6, then 10. It is a form of euthanasia. The morphine will keep her comfortable, but it will also hasten death.

Yet it does not.

There is no small talk around the room. Often times, there is. It is a way of finding comfort in the face of death. This family, however, simply waits in silence. I watch them from a corner. There are times when I can tell one is in prayer. Jim sits constantly at his wife's side, holding her hand. Jay strokes her hair. Mary Jean rubs her hand. Kenny paces slightly. George and Harriet are in laws, and they are often outside in another waiting area. From time to time, one of the children speaks to Mary, talking about love, or telling her, "It's OK."

And it is.

In this circle of a family, they don't need a minister. They are ministering to each other.

But I stay anyway, feeling welcomed to this most sacred place.

From time to time I find myself in the hallway with one, or in a lobby with another. There are times of one on one pastoral care. Each seems to have some important comment to share, a story to tell about Momma, or a question about what happens next.

By 8:00, Mary is still alive.

It cannot be much longer, but we've been saying that for a long time. The family suggests that I go ahead and tend to my own family, and they thank me for having been there throughout the day. So I leave. I would like to stay, but they are right. It is not necessary. God is there, and they are there for one another. They have all they need for the facing of this hour.