An old time preacher, Henry Moorhouse, once said, “It is a wonderful thing for a pastor to suffer, that he might learn how tender people can be.” What was true in the mid-nineteenth century is still true today. And it is true in two different ways. In the first place, despite some of the bumps and bruises I have accumulated throughout my life (even some pretty significant ones like losing ninety percent of my vision and having to give up a musical avocation due to a bum jaw), I don’t think I have ever suffered in quite the same way that I have in this past month. This has been a different sort of suffering.
I remember when I was pastoring in St Albans, VT and had my first kidney stone. That was eye opening. I had been awakened in the middle of night with intense pain – I was sure I was dying! Kerrie relates how I kept telling her how glad I was that she married me and that she had been such an awesome wife… Roberta from church had rushed over to our raised ranch to sit with our babies while Kerrie rushed me to the ER at Northwestern Medical Center (where those babies had all been born). One morphine drip later and all was well. On that occasion, I learned something about physical pain that I had not known before. The human body was capable of experiencing FAR MORE pain than my life experience had led me to believe was possible. I would rather break a bone than have another kidney stone as bad as that one had been.
Well, this business with swallowing and speech challenges has taught me something about how much psychological pain and tenderness we can experience as people. And it is quite a lot more than I have personally experienced up until now. As I write this blog I am sitting at home and do not have my personal study notes at hand – they are in wild stacks and files in my very cluttered office at church. But you may take it as a fact that by far the most frequent command that God gives his people concerns fear – “fear not, do not be afraid, be courageous, be very courageous…” If you were to count up all of the imperatives God’s Word calls you to obey, this group of commands is the most statistically preponderant: Do Not Fear!
Let’s tease that out for a moment. What is the immediate and explicit effect of sin upon the human condition? Adam and Eve apprehend their complete exposure and… they are afraid and hide. A significant aspect of our flawed human condition involves our giving way before those things of which we are afraid. In this broken world, much of our struggles find their root in this very natural but unpleasant response. We all struggle with fear now and then. And I have been both humbled and blessed to have experienced more fear in the past weeks than I have ever experienced before! For all of you who have shouldered far heavier burdens in this life, you have more of my sympathies than ever. And more of my admiration for your courage as well.
But there is another way in which I have seen the tenderness of people through this hopefully short chapter of my life. Ms. Judy from church set up a “Meal Train.” The “Meal Train” website allows one to set up an account for a family that is going through some difficult period. Friends, neighbors, and family can sign up on that website and bring a meal by the house. And over the past three weeks, Kerrie and I have been truly blessed by how many people from church have brought meals by. It has been a huge relief for Kerrie (who is our culinary genius) – who has been able to focus on taking care of me. And the food has been absolutely delicious!
We have also been blessed with restaurant cards and meals brought by from neighbors in the community. On Tuesday the 29th, one of our parishoners, Justin, brought by some authentic Persian kabobs. And then some old lacrosse players stopped by with a spontaneous delivery from an area restaurant! For my part, the shish kabob was heavenly – it was so tender I could eat it! My son Nat, a true carnivore, had a little bit of everything. After finalizing his plate he exclaimed, “I am having five different kinds of meat for dinner!” We have been eating like kings and feeling a whole lot of love. Thank you so much to all of you who have come alongside us in these and other ways.
On Wednesday evening the 30th, Kerrie and I took a ride to the Good Will store in Thousand Oaks. I had been going for walks with Kerrie up and down our street. I was very unsteady on my feet and wanted to buy a cane. Holding hands with Kerrie on our walks gave some stability. A cane in my other hand would help me that much more. For $2.50 I was good to go. Someone’s old cast-off was getting a new lease on life.
There were two songs that ran through my head with some regularity during these days of more physical activity. One was a contemporary praise song by Jeremy Camp, “Same Power.” One of the verses would play on a loop as I forced myself to walk to one more driveway without resting…
I can walk down this dark and painful road
I can face every fear of the unknown
I can hear all God’s children singing out
We will not be overtaken, we will not be overcome…
The other song was of an altogether different genre. Al Jarreau’s “Boogie Down” had me funk-steppin’ with that second-hand cane:
I can be what I want to
And all I need is to
Get my boogie down…
I got my certain and my sure ‘nough on
And I’m puttin’ on my really for real
You face that curtain with your best stuff on
You are the winner and you’re gonna feel…
Thank you Lord that despite the large and small fears that present themselves to us, we can face whatever greets us on any given day. Thank you that you faced and overcame our worst and greatest fears at Gethsemane so that you could ultimately free us from fear – even the fear of death itself (Hebrews 2:15).
May God bless each of you as you face your fears and get your boogie down – becoming the amazing person God has called you to be.
N.B. Sharp looking cane – the price was right. Be good to yourself – click on the hyperlinks for “Same Power” and Al Jarreau’s “Boogie Down.”