Friday, September 06, 2002

Yesterday she was little and she was getting plastic tubes put in her ears. For some reason her little Eustachian tubes retained fluid and it messed with her ability to hear properly. It gave her earaches. Little girls with earaches are very unhappy little girls. They are also very tearful little girls. The doctors were going to have to put her to sleep and that made it “surgery.” I don’t think she was even five. Five year olds should not have to have surgery. I remember holding her in the rocking chair and telling her all about what the doctor was going to do and what it would be like. She was a little bit afraid but not too much. She seemed to be at peace because she knew that I knew what was going to happen. And if it was ok with me then it was ok with her. We sat there that night and read, “Curious George Goes To The Hospital.” Old George sure got us through a lot of tight spots back in those days. I’m indebted to that little monkey.

I wonder if they have a book named, “Curious George Gets Left At Home While His FiancĂ©e Goes To Martha’s Vineyard To Study For Three Months.” I am thinking that they probably do not. But if they did I would put her on my lap tonight and stoke her hair while I read it to her. I doubt that it would carry the same magical powers that it did so many years ago. But I would try. Oh how I would try.

In August of 1983 I got on a big bus and left with teenagers for Washington D.C. She was sad to see me go. And she was worried about me. I packed my bags and got on the bus and left her tearfully watching from her mother’s arms. That evening I opened my suitcase to find something to sleep in. Instead I found a small stuffed animal. It was her favorite one. She knew that I would be gone for a long, long, time as kid clocks go. It was important to her that I have something to love me while I was away. It worked. That little bear wasn’t more than a few feet away from me all week.

Now she is 21 years old. I am not at all sure how that happened seeing as how it’s only been a couple of years since that trip. But I lay the calendar next to her birth certificate and sure enough it’s been 18 years. Life is funny. Funny strange, not funny ha-ha.

Another man holds the keys to her heart tonight. I do not feel badly about that. He’s quite a guy. I’m in the middle of writing a marriage ceremony that I will speak over them in just 4 months and 5 days. When I give the word they will become a real life married couple. He will make her smile on that day. But today he is making her sad. And that makes me sad. The sun has always been a little brighter when she smiles. When she cries I too have seen the clouds and felt the storm. He is packing his bags and he is going away for a little while. A long, long, time as lovers clocks go. I would not be at all surprised if he finds a bear in his luggage when he arrives on the island. He might not understand but I’ll be happy to explain it to him.

What is a father to do when the kids move out of the reach of Curious George? What do you do when a surgeon cannot fix her ache? I think that in a case like that a father takes the next afternoon and evening off. I think that he forgets about work and responsibilities. It would be a little ridiculous to pick her up and rock her and read her stories. Instead he takes her to dinner and he talks to her like the adult she has become. He tells her that he is proud of her and of all that she is becoming. He tells her that it is a wonderful thing to slide into second place behind this new young man. But that is the only lie he tells her. He is speaking the truth when he tells her that his heart is filled with joy to see how happy she is. He is being honest when he talks about her future with this new gentleman and how bright it is. And he has zero regrets. You see, this is the day he has raised her for. He is seeing his dream come true. He does not want to turn time back. He does not want her to remain single and in his home. Life is too good and God’s gift of a mate is to enjoyable for her to miss!

And yet still… there is a strange sadness. A hole has developed in the father's heart and it is as empty as her room is about to become. Those walls are covered with posters and pictures, the emblem of a teenager turned adult. The walls of the hole are plastered with silent memories of gleeful moments gone by. A smart father will take the hole and make it bigger. He will stretch it and pull on it and tug it wide open. A smart father will make that hole wide enough for two people to fit into. It will hurt a bit at first. Stretching and pulling most always hurt. But when it is all done... when the stretching and pulling and tugging are enough... his little girl and her husband will both fit quite comfortable inside it. And then the pain will become the fullness of joy.

Hey, it’s called life and it happens. You do life or it does you. Good things often taste bitter-sweet. I have a small poster I purchased and stuck on my refrigerator door. It is a quote from John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester. John lived from 1647 until 1680. My math tells me he died at 33 years old. Three children will do that to a man. Anyway, the poster says, "Before I was married I had three theories about raising children. Now I have three children and no theories." Truth is often poetic.

Speaking of poetry, how is this one. For 3 months she will say goodnight to her Romeo over the phone. She will learn the secret of how precious love is and how important it is to savor every moment of your lover’s presence. He will learn the same things. And he will also learn that there isn’t another woman on the face of the planet that can hold a candle to the one God has given him. The tubes? They fell out. Curious George? He got stuffed into a box in the back of the closet. They were just construction materials I used in the creation of a work of art that would leave Rembrandt awestruck. She is the painting. This new young man… he is the frame. And together they will decorate the hall of my soul.

Debbie. Tammy. Reda. Butch. Judy. We did good.

Wednesday, September 04, 2002

I got mad today. Not just the kind of mad that makes you slam your fist on a table and then it passes. This was mad like... like I want to get in the face of the person that I was mad at and say things that ought not be said. I came very close to doing that. I went so far as to check the parking garage to see if his car was in its spot or if he had left. I am happy to report that he had. Otherwise I'd be confessing more tonight than anger un-acted upon. My "internal monologue" has already been reported missing and I'm 100% certain I would have unloaded on him. This particular "somebody" is a doctor. He is a young doctor. He is arrogant. He is cocky. For some reason I think we both know that we feel antagonistic toward each other. Neither of us have ever mentioned it verbally. But when he looks at me it is a condescending look. When he looks at my wife he looks at her like a patient. When he looks at me he looks like he wants to make sure that I know that he is better than I am. And you know what... I don't respond very well to that. He likes to tell me that he has an inordinate amount of pastors coming to him for treatment. I play psychologist with that bit of information and wonder if he believes that HE has to fix God's people because... well, because God can't or won't. Or maybe because God isn't there to fix anything. Grant it, I'm projecting those thoughts upon him but it sure looks accurate from this vantage point. However, this bit of writing is not about the doctor. I cannot fix his problems though I believe them to be quite deeply rooted. You see, he is a specialist in the human body. I am a specialist in the human soul. I know when I am physically sick and... until recently... I went to him for help. But what happens when your soul is sick and you don't know it? Like an untreated body it becomes sicker and sicker until eventually it is beyond help. It begins dying a slow death. You cannot live long with an increasingly sick body. You can linger for decades with an increasingly sick soul. The odd thing is, many people are dying a slow death of the soul without even knowing that they HAVE a soul. Go figure.

But here is the deal. I know I have a soul. I know I AM a soul. I go to great lengths to take care of it and to nurture it. I feed my soul on the Word of God. I cultivate my soul by interacting with God through the practice of prayer. I try to keep my soul healthy by not allowing it to stagnate. This is done by making sure I am pouring good things out of my soul as well as taking good things in to my soul. That is called "service" or "ministry." I don't know how many words I speak to God during the typical day but I am quite sure that I speak more to Him than I do to any single, living, breathing, human person. Me and God. We talk. And yet... my soul gets sick. I let a smirking doctor get under my skin and I lose my cool. I think thoughts I should not think. I leave the doctors office on my "Hardley" and I say things into the helmet that I would be embarrased for anybody else to hear. (By the way, did you know that inside of my helmet with the face mask down, I am quite the singer? No joke. I have heard myself do everything from Louie Armstrong to The Beatles to George Beverly Shea. I don't know why other people don't notice. Maybe you should consider sitting in front of me next Sunday during our worship time and just listening.) Here I am, a doctor of the soul, and I am ill myself. This, to me, proves something. The world is a sick, sick, place. Evil is real, strong, and present. I am infected with it. I do not like it but it is true. So what am I to do? The bible says that when my heart condemns me that I should remember that God is greater than my heart. (I John 3: 20.) So I suppose I am sick. Very sick indeed. But God's antidote... grace... is stronger than my sickness.

Recently I went to see this doctor because I had a sore throat and other weird symptoms. I had left him last year when I was REALLY sick because he was only making me worse. I went hunting and found an awesome medical man in West St. Louis county. He's helped me survive some really tough times. But I have occasionally gone to "Dr. Disdain" for simple things because he is close. He didn't do any test or check beyond using a tongue depressor and a stethescope. He decided that was enough to diagnose strep thoat and pneumonia. I took his anti-biotics like a good little trooper. After two rounds of pills I was cured. I "used" him. I knew he would give me "The Look" but I decided that was better than driving 100 miles round-trip. I'm going to be driving from now on.

What is the lesson here? The lesson is that we both lose. I lose because "Dr. Disgust" is probably a good doctor who just gets rubbed the wrong way by me for some reason. Conflicting personalities. But I can always find a new doctor. And I have. "Dr. Disturbed" loses because I really, really, love people. And I would have been delighted to do for him what he did for me. I would have loved to introduce him to the medicine for His soul. My loss will cost me about a half a day when I have to see a doctor. His loss.... well, it scares me to thnk of what his loss could cost him. The business of the soul is a very, very, serious business. I pray that one of his other pastor-patients will have the spiritual stamina to do what I could not/did not do. Jesus came not to heal the well. They do not have need of healing. He came to heal the sick. How can you seek healing if you don't know you are sick? This one is bigger than I am. God is going to have to be God today. I struck out at the plate.