Friday, August 9, 2019

A Litany of Thanksgiving

Image result for cherI am thankful…so very thankful…and not least that it is this Friday and not last Friday. While I am sure there are other people who for their own reasons wish they could turn back time a few days or weeks or however long (Cher is their patron, uh, saint), I for one am resolutely grateful to be living now and not then.

In many ways. Would not want to go back to my childhood, which was “melodramatic, disorganized, and emotionally exhausting” (Brooks, 75). I certainly do not want to revisit Jr. High, or High School, where I was, in turn, bullied, bullied again, willfully humiliated by the first loves of my life, betrayed by bandmates and ridiculed by classmates and teachers. I flunked-out of two colleges—not really interested in going there. One let me back in and that was not too bad, and in fact, one of my professors there (Dr. Byrd) changed my life. I still talk to him now and then, and he recently had the same surgery I had, but that is as close as I want to get. Another professor (Dr. C____) was like Byrd’s antimatter.

I could go on, but won’t. Suffice it to say that through seminary, early work experiences, early church positions, trying to get published—not even to mention trying to date, get married, have kids, hold it all together—I was not very good at it and abidingly unhappy. I am sure I made most if not all the people around me miserable, as I myself was melodramatic, disorganized and emotionally exhausting.

GLAD to be where I am. Do not want to go back. And not even a week.

Last Friday about this time I got the good medicine, made by Glenmark Pharmaceuticals in Kishanpura village, on the Baddi Nalagarth Road, in the Solan, Himachal Pradesh District, India. I have thanked God for those (presumably) Hindu saints for their good and merciful works for me, a sick Christian. I am so much better and I am so thankful for the healing, release and relief that those good people via the doctors gave me.

And perhaps that is where it started: this weeks’ deep prayers of thanks. The last two nights I have spent long, focused seasons in prayers of thanksgiving; this, after several nights just remembering before God those who made my medicine (“Bless, O Lord, this ointment and the hands that prepared it”). And the doctors and pharmacologists who researched, developed and manufactured the elixir! Surprisingly, I even thanked God for Glenmark’s investors and the medical regulators for getting the stuff to market.
Image result for prayer emoji

Two nights ago, I began with the people in my church who had cooked for me this last month, offered to take me places, brought me groceries, offered to do laundry and take out my trash. Hawthorne Lane, as a congregation, is well-practiced in its compassion and kindness and I am but the latest sick/wounded pastor to have benefited from their care.

Soon, I was thinking about/praying for the nurses, techs, orderlies, janitors, food service workers and, of course, doctors and surgeons and PA’s who tended to me. And even—I am not kidding—the people who conceived, designed, manufactured, patented, sold all the machines, gauges, gizmos and monitors, the tubes, vacuums, hoses, bags, and needles (that one was hard!) that were part of the healing process.

It was one of those moment (and they come rarely for me) when I was overcome with overwhelming and very focused thanks for all of what secured me a successful surgery and recovery. And it did not stop there.
Image result for the Second MountainI have recently been reminded that “(by) one calculation the mind can take in eleven million bits of information in a second, of which the conscious mind is aware of forty” (The Second Mountain, 113). That factoid has informed my prayer life this week: for everything I know to pray thanks for, there are so many other things that have blessed and attended me of which I am completely unaware. I am oblivious to millions of unseen bits of care every second: behind every meal: planters, cultivators, harvesters, salespeople, shippers, receivers, preparers, servers. (I am reminded of Sideways, when the character played by Virginia Madsen said something to the effect that when she opens a bottle or drinks a glass of wine, she wonders about all the people that had a hand in it—the growers and pickers and such. She wonders if they are still alive. She thinks how grateful she is for them providing such a moment to her. I’m hip).

So, several nights (cumulative First Night): Thanks for my medicine-makers in India.

Second night: Thanks for my own congregation and their care, and all the other caregivers, seen and unseen, that blessed me these last weeks.

Third night, which was just last night: all my many “formal” teachers along the way. I called so many names: Barnett, Glenn, Morris, Greenwood, Rowell and Woods at Crieve Hall. Tatum, Doris, Johnson, Campbell, Mathis at MacMurray. No one at MBA (brrrr!). Williams, Stevens, Karnowsky at John Overton.  Drs. Byrd, Tullock, Helton and Mr. Awalt at Belmont. Drs. Stagg, Polhill, Blevins, Halbrook, Calloway, Tupper, Mueller, Tuck, Leonard, Shurden and Hinson at Southern. Drs. Wood, Angell and Talbert at Wake Forest. Drs. Hackett and Gerkin at Emory.

But again, I did not stop there. I thanked God for their teachers, and for the many who have taught me informally, who were congregants, colleagues, supervisors and supervisees. I thanked God for the authors of books that have blessed and tried to educate me: Baillie, Buechner, Heschel, Dillard, Lewis, Norris, Taylor, Winner, Haidt, Peterson, Benson, Brooks, Ware, Abba Anthony and Abba Joseph, Bonhoeffer, Burghardt, Lamott, Dykstra, Barth (a little; as much as I could absorb and understand). I thanked God for columnists and other writers: Parker, Gerson, Grizzard, Amend, Watterson, Shultz, Jenkins. And so many more that I could not remember or name.

I offered intercessions for counselors, like Larry and Marc, and editors, like Rachelle and Liz and Anne and Jeannie, Bishops Jones, Kammerer, McLesky, Goodpastor, Leeland. For friends like Doris, and Doris; for Paul and Ruth, Mr. Lovett, and others whose hospitality I have never deserved but always enjoyed.

I thanked God for Mr. Sanford, my third grade SS teacher at Radnor Baptist Church in Nashville, TN, who for all else I don’t remember, taught me the books of the Bible. I DO remember that about him.  

So many more I could name and did: my children, of course, my granddaughter and the child on the way, my wider family (including my two ex-wives) and others besides.  

Image result for liturgy of the hoursBut it is so odd.

My prayer life is usually not nearly so focused. I pray the Liturgy of the Hours, which I have on my phone, but those prayers are mostly scripture. These prayers were very different than that. And I wondered why I was prying them. Did I have a sense that my end is near and that I needed to be sure I had said thanks to God for each of these saints and the millions who were saints to them and here we go… to assure God (and myself) I was/am sufficiently aware and grateful? I don’t know.

But I would suggest it as an exercise for anyone: to take a full measure of your indebtedness, to name as many people as you can name, to be as specific as you can to thank God for everyone who has blessed and taught and helped you on your way.  

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Jonathan Swift would be proud

Have been thinking a LOT this last week and a half about Gulliver and the Lilliputians.

Like Gulliver, I made my voyage through deep and dangerous seas with great ease. What might have been a difficult passage from diagnosis to surgery was actually rather routine. And even the matters I was most scared about--the IV, my customary nausea, the cathether--passed quickly and uneventfully. Yes, the catheter was unkind, and I did have to drag it for two weeks, but I was able to negotiate even that inconvenience better than I might have anticipated. Good for me.

And when the doctor said, said again, and reiterated, "No cancer outside the prostate, no further treatments or protocols," I thought, truly (to use another metaphor), I had passed through the valley of the shadow of death and might make a recovery in record time. Only then... My little boat, the SS Recovery, ran aground on the archipelago called The Miseries. 

Somehow, perhaps with some of my post-surgery medicine, I managed to contract some of sort of skin irritation... quite a benign description for the yeast or fungus or whatever it was and the unremitting, well, misery it caused me for 11 days. As effectively as the Lilliputions tied down old Gulliver, I too was held captive, vexed in body, mind and spirit.

Two doctors, one dermatological PA, a steroid shot, two oral meds and later (see to the left), I was no better, and perhaps worse. Think: hamburger. My only recourse at one point last week was an ice pack, in hopes of numb myself enough to sleep. And to wake without claw marks. 

Attempts to see other dermatologists were futile. Two (including my PA) could not see me for another 7-10 days. I was on the brink...

Then, a providence. A church member brought me a meal and stated to visit. She said she had an appointment next morning with her dermatologist and would ask him to see me (I am thinking, no way: these guys are booked-up for weeks on account of giving botox shots).

For her sake, though, he saw me at 1 and prescribed the new medicine, which, he said, would give me pretty quick relief.

I went immediately to “my” Walgreens and, naturally, THEY DID NOT HAVE THE MEDICINE!

They promised to order it and have it next day, Friday. Only, when I called mid-afternoon (when my app showed the Rx as "still delayed," they told me it had not come in and it may be Monday before it arrived. I was livid, pitiful, desperate...told them that it was approaching a medical emergency. They got busy and found another store that did have it.

I had secured the prescription at 5 this afternoon, applied it by 5:15, to find that it burned, I mean. As it has with each subsequent application, though a bit less each time. And in a good way—if that makes sense. It seemed a kind of warm comfort, not least after the ice capades of the previous morning. I was able to sleep for the first time in a week.

Now, a couple of days later, I have definitely turned the corner--though as bad as the condition got, the doctor said and I believe it will take some time to get anywhere near completely well. 

Last night I had a long prayer meeting, thanking God for all the little things that contributed to my finally getting some relief. For my friend, who "happened" to be signed up that evening, and just before her own appointment. For the doctor, God bless him. And Jessica, his assistant--who was so kind and understanding. For the Walgreens that had the stuff (and mercy, I prayed, for those who one way or another broke their first promises). I prayed for the people in Kishanpura, India, who made the medicine: "Thank you, Lord, for the medicine and bless the hands that made it." I  thanked God for the scientists and pharmacologists who developed the medicine in the first place. And if all that sounds silly, it goes to show how despairing I was and how thankful I am.

Challenges remain, of course; but now I am on to the expected, typical challenges that come on the downside of this kind of surgery. The Lilliputions, as it were, have untied me and I can start the next leg of the voyage.   

Thanks be to God, and thank you for your continued prayers.

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