A Grateful Gift

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And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

John 14:3

On Monday, August 30, 2010, I officiated my first funeral at The Lutheran Church of the Covenant.  It was an end to a stressful week in which I had at one point seven people hospitalized.  The lady whom I buried was 91 years old and had been in deteriorating health for quite some time.  I first visited her one month into my call at Covenant.  She wanted to meet so that, in her words, “I could go ahead and bury her.” 

But over the course of time we had wonderful visits and I grew quite fond of her.  As she lay in the hospital I reflected on my own mother and her final days.  Her two adult children were able to take her home, where she died early Thursday morning.  Both of them were admirably well composed throughout the dying, the arrangements, the viewing, the service at the church, and the committal at the cemetery. 

It was a fabulous service with four traditional hymns:  “Abide With Me,” “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me,” and “How Great Thou Art.”  Another parishioner also sang “The Navy Hymn” as a solo.  I preached from the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John, highlighting that as God’s people, we want to be where God is (see the text above).

It is in situations like this that I give thanks again to God for my mother because, in dying, she made me a better pastor.  She prepared me.  Going through that experience has helped me to accompany others in their grief.  I am not detached or indifferent to their emotions because I KNOW what they are going through.  My compassion is genuine and hopefully gives comfort to those who mourn.  It is a gift my mother has given me and it keeps on giving, to use a cliché.

I thank you again, Mother, for all you were and all you continue to be.

Father’s Day

Father’s Day is a bittersweet day for me.  First of all, my dad died when I was only 13 years old, so for the overwhelming majority of my life I grew up without a father.  Secondly, my son, who is now 41 years old, is autistic, so he is a perpetual child.  I love him dearly, but we have never grown beyond the point of my taking him to animated movies, and our conversations are limited by his limited language skills.  I can’t relate to those friends of mine who have grandchildren and whose adult children regale them with gifts on this day.  My sisters and my nieces wish me a Happy Father’s Day.  My wife gets me a card and takes me to dinner.  But I never have enjoyed this day to its fullest.

Someone once told me I should be thankful that I never had to go through the anxiety of having to watch children grow from infants to adolescents; that I’ve never had to go through the heartbreak or disappointment of seeing a son become addicted to alcohol or drugs or be arrested or have a child out of wedlock.  Perhaps.  But having to live the joys vicariously through others children is just as heartbreaking.

Again, I feel the need to stress:  I love my son.  He has been a blessing to me.  He has taught me patience and shown me unconditional love expressed not verbally, but in his actions and reactions when I am in his presence.  Yet there is a part of me that will always ask, “what if?”

I used to often dream of having lengthy conversations with my son, of being able to throw a baseball back and forth, of enjoying a sporting event together.  I still dream them, although far less frequently than in my younger days.  The question I ask myself more often now is, “what is God trying to teach me through all these experiences?”  I guess that is my quest.

I am thankful.  I continue to listen to God’s Word.  Hopefully, I am learning with each day.

Diversity

I am doing a panel presentation on the gift of diversity in the church on Saturday, May 22.  Inasmuch as I am a passionate advocate for diversity, I am often distressed by these types of conferences because it seems that we are always preaching to the choir.  The people that attend them are already in favor of diversity in the church and so no hearts are being changed.  How can we have diversity of thought at a diversity conference?  That is the question. 

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