Reflections On Lent, Day 14

Thirteen is indeed a nasty number.  As I wrote yesterday, many people consider that number to be very unlucky.  I am now one who can be counted among their numbers.  I can write this for two reasons:  First, because this is my blog and I can write anything that I want, and secondly because today was a very great improvement over yesterday.  Yesterday I had a sick granddaughter with frightening symptoms and no diagnosis, a challenging day at work where I was exhausted from lack of sleep and distracted by worry, and was facing an eye test to evaluate some weird visual disturbances that I was having.  This does not make for a party sort of emotional state.

Today we apparently have a diagnosis, which can lead to a treatment.  I got a decent night’s sleep last night (utter exhaustion!) which helps everything, and the eye exam showed no evidence of detached retina, which was the result that I feared most.  So it would be very much in my nature to mutter a desultory prayer of thanks and relief, pour another glass of wine, and return to schlepping my way through life in my traditional pollyanna style.  OK, I’m not that shallow.  Not quite.  But you get the picture.  I live for the groove.  I like the Ansel Adams photo of “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico” hanging on my wall over the worn rocking chair that i bought upon the birth of my daughter 36 years ago and want both to stay exactly where they are for another 36 years.  That doesn’t mean that I’m a stick in the mud.  My friends will tell you that I am quite the opposite.  Still, I have a lifestyle, a pattern of behavior that is my comfort zone.  That comfort zone softens the blows of life for me and, so to speak, sedates me against the pain of life.  It is this rhythm of life that I gravitate back to after the storm subsides, and this rhythm does not include pondering the power and efficacy of prayer.  I only do that when waves are smashing in my windows and washing the soil out from under my foundation.

This is Lent however, the fourteenth day of Lent as a matter of fact, and I have tasked myself, and also feel that I have been tasked by God, to ponder the power and efficacy of prayer when the waves subside, the windows are replaced and the foundation shored up.  So I ask myself now: Was my prayer answered?  I prayed for the life and health of a beloved granddaughter yesterday and today we have great hope that a treatment can be drafted and put into effect, and that a beautiful young life will continue to bless her family until long after I am gone.  Is that an answered prayer?

I don’t know the answer to that question.  Nobody could possibly know the answer to that question.  Could this be purely physical?  Medical science applied to perplexing symptoms with the difficult but ultimately predictable outcome that I have described above?  Yeah, I suppose that could be true.  I suppose it is possible that I believe that some God answered my prayer only because I want to believe that, rather than believe that we are ultimately adrift in a random universe where the only gods are time and chance.  To be honest, if I did believe that I lived in such a universe I probably really would create a god to believe in and wouldn’t blame anybody else if they did so as well.

But I do not have to resort to that.  I worship a God who exists, who walked the earth, who preached, healed, performed miracles, was murdered but rose up out of the grave and appeared to multiple hundreds of people after the Romans had done their worst.  And Romans were very good at building roads and aqueducts, creating a legal system, and killing people.  I’m pretty sure that they killed Jesus good and dead.  This God said that I should pray when I am distressed (among other times) and He will answer me.  I prayed, and He answered.  I am sure that’s how the deal went down.

Of course, there’s still Boko Haram, North Korea, ISIS, repression of Muslims in Myanmar, the raping and killing of women in India and a host of other things that I pray about that have not been answered.  What about that?  The answer if I am hearing God clearly, is that the people of God were in Babylon for 70 years, the Hebrews were in Egypt 400 years, and Jesus has not returned in two thousand years.  Things take time, and God’s timetable is very different from my own.  That’s cool.  I’m OK with that.  God may take a little bit longer to clean up those other messes, but over the last 24 hours He seems to have taken one load off of my shoulders.  Tonight I will pray just as fervently a prayer of thanks as I prayed in supplication last night.  Why?  Because I have faith.

Reflections On Lent, Day 13

Thirteen.  An unlucky number, some people say.  I wonder where they got that from.  Why is thirteen supposed to be a worse number than twelve or fourteen?  And it’s not just the ignorant and superstitious who fall prey to the dread of that number.  Have you ever stayed in a hotel room or hospital room numbered thirteen?  Or even been on a thirteenth floor of a high rise building?  I’d be willing to wager that you have not.  It’s a very curious matter and I would be inclined to dismiss the whole thing as fairy tale hocus-pocus, and I am still open to that possibility that such is the case, except that this thirteenth day of Lent finds me very much on a downer.

My granddaughter is sick, and nobody quite knows what is going on.  The helplessness that I feel watching this process play out is infinitely worse than the helplessness that I felt while awaiting an operation for three clogged arteries on the back of my heart.  In that case I knew what the problem was, even if I had no idea why I had the problem in the first place, and what would be required to fix it.  In the present situation I can only wait to hear about test results and pray that God will intervene and secure a complete healing, and pray is exactly what I have been doing along with a whole lot of other people.

But why is it that this still leaves me nervous, unable to sleep well at night and distracted at work?  Prayer changes things, right?  Well, maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t.  The two hundred Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by the nutbag group Boko Haram have not been released, and I have prayed for that.  And what about North Korea?  I’ve prayed that the suffering people of that country would be given relief from rule by a family of madmen, and millions of Korean Christians have prayed the same prayer as well, and for many years.  Nothing yet!  Let’s face it:  praying for something does not mean that what you or I want to see happen will happen.  God, it seems, has His reasons why one prayer appears to be answered in the positive and another prayer does not.

This situation then inevitably leads to the pain of doubt, in my case at least.  Why don’t the suffering minorities under the bloody thumb of ISIS get relief when I and millions of other Christians pray for it?  Is God not listening, or doesn’t God care?  I do not and can not believe that this is the case.  There is too much evidence to the contrary for me to believe for a minute that God is on an extended coffee break and cannot be bothered with insignificant affairs down here.  Any God who takes a vacation would not be much of a God at all.

I believe that God cares.  God hears my prayers and the prayers of everyone in this particular situation, and if I could only see the problem from God’s eternal perspective it would all make sense.  I believe that God will answer our prayers too.  I cannot see the answer now but I will, just as I will someday see the answer to all of those prayers about the Nigerian girls, North Korea and ISIS.  When I finally see those issues in their entirety it will all make sense, and so will the globally small but personally huge issue of one sick little girl in a corner of the United States of America.

In the meantime I must lean on faith.  I believe with all of my heart that God hears our cries and is working in His own perfect way to bring things to a conclusion that we – I – will see, from that eternal perspective to be, in fact, perfect.  It gnaws at my heart that I do not see God acting as I would have Him act, but maybe that is for my own good.  A god who acts as I direct when I whistle him up with a nicely constructed incantation wouldn’t be much of a god either.

God is good.  God hears.  God cares.  God will act and in fact is acting.  This I know because God told me so and I believe it to be true.  I have faith that it it true.  That must, for the moment, be enough.

Reflection On Lent, Day 12

Day number 12 of my Lent reflections.  You’d think that I would run out of things to reflect on.  I certainly would think so!  I mean, how complicated are our lives that we can come up with something new of a spiritual nature every day?  Of course pastors and theologians can do such things at the drop of a hat, but that comes as no surprise; that’s their job and they trained for it and get paid to do it (sometimes too much but usually not enough).  I’m not a pastor and I am definitely not a theologian, so it is most unlikely that these reflections come entirely from me.

That leaves us with the conclusion that they come at least in part from somewhere else.  Now, my wife is not feeding me these topics and themes and neither are my son, my daughter, my brother, nor any other living material being on this planet.  That narrows it down even more to a supernatural source for these many thoughts, and there are only two choices which can be made as to which side of the cosmic supernatural war might be feeding me the ideas that I write about which are wrapped up in my own real personal experiences and written out of my own perceptions of reality.  I will let you, reader, decide from whence my inspiration arises.

Today I write about a mixed bag sort of day.  Have you ever had one of those?  Part of the day causes you to walk on air while the other part has you grinding down the street wearing iron boots.  You feel divided; guilty if you are reveling in the joy that one part of your day is giving you and guilty if you are wallowing in your downer when you have so much to feel good about.  I’m not at all certain how to proceed, so I will just let the Holy Spirit guide me if S/He will, and share my struggle a little bit with you all today.

On the downer side, I have an illness in my extended family.  I will be vague about this because that is my nature and training.  I work in the health care business and we live and die by a code of discretion and caution concerning other people’s medical issues, and even though the family members most closely connected to the party in difficulty are not at all reticent to talk about it, I am.  So you’ll have to take my word for it that I’m worried.  This has been a cloud over my head since I woke up this morning, and it’s been hard to not think about it.

And then there is the day that God has given us today!  The sun is out and I am sitting in a chair with my feet propped up on the hood of my truck in the sunshine.  I pulled a gob of weeds today and I love little more than getting my fingers into the dirt.  I’m even wearing shorts, although that’s causing a strain on the relationship with my neighbors.  They’re all wearing shades to prevent blindness from the sunlight reflecting off of my white, knobby legs!  On days like this I can hardly let anything get me down, and all of this is what feeds my problem.  Am I dissing God by allowing myself to be down on such a day?  Am I dissing my family to be sitting comfortable and warm in flood of sunshine that really shouldn’t be here for one, two, or even three more months?

Trying to work my way through this I am reminded of a story that I once read, I remember not where.  A very saintly woman – we’ll call her “Agnes” because that name sounds so very spiritual – who was known for her spirituality and relationship with God, and especially for her prowess as a prayer warrior for the cause of God, was traveling through the countryside one day and stopped at a monastery along the way where she hoped to find a bed and a meal.  The Grand Poobah of the monastery invited her in with a flourish of hospitality, and threw a great feast to welcome her.  The meal consisted of bread, cheeses, beer and partridges, and Sister Agnes wasted no time tearing into the food and drink with unreserved gusto.  As she began to slam down her fourth bird the Grand Poobah became concerned and gently chided her on her appetite.  “Sister Agnes,” he said, “don’t you think that you should slow down for appearances’ sake?  This could tarnish your fine reputation as a moderate woman of God”.  The Sister lowered the bird for a moment and replied:  “Brother Poobah.  When it’s time to pray, pray.  But when it’s time to partridge, partridge.”

Well, I think God’s telling me something like that today.  When it’s time to engage my family and support them in their difficulty, pray and support.  But when it’s time to sit in the sun or run my fingers through the moist, warm dirt, sit and run my fingers and be thankful for the opportunity.

So that’s what I’ll do.  Pray a prayer of petition and also one of thanks.  God can multitask.  He can chew gum and walk.  He can handle it all just fine.  So I’ll quit cluttering up my life trying to find the ‘right’ response to every situation and just enjoy God’s blessing when everything’s fine and lean into Him when the storms hit.  Thanks God.

Reflections On Lent, Day 11

No, you didn’t miss something.  I did not post a Reflection on day 10.  Some days are so full that you cannot squeeze one more thing into it.  Yesterday was one of those.  Today I was able to get to the task, and here goes:

The sun broke over the eastern horizon with an almost summertime brilliance today.  I know this because even though it was a Saturday morning I was awake at my usual 5 AM.  I could not go back to sleep and so tried my favorite method for catching a few more winks.  I stretched out on the living room sofa and plugged in an old black and white science fiction movie from the 1950’s, closed my eyes and tried to imagine the scenes from the dialogue.  This is a strategy that works nearly all of the time.

No dice today, so I gave up at about seven and began to read Joshua Ryan Butler’s “Skeletons In God’s Closet”.  By nine I was finished, my wife was stirring, and it was clearly time for some kitchen action.  Soon we were feasting on bacon, potatoes andchard, and eggs for me, and as we ate I could only stare out of the window at the deep blue sky and sparkling sunlight that washed the landscape that spread out before us.  I knew that this was a day to be outside, and after cleaning up I put on my gardening shoes and grabbed my shovel, hoe, foam kneeling pad and an old Craftsman screwdriver with the business end rounded off into an oval shape by the decades that I have used it exclusively as a weeding tool.

Soon I was kneeling in one of my raised beds pulling weeds.  The soil is wet and loose, and the roots came up with relative ease in most cases.  In other cases I had to work just a little bit harder.  In no time at all I had a rhythm going and the weeds were literally flying into and old trash can that I have kept for just that purpose.

While I was thusly engaged, face to the dirt and fingers actually in the soil, I remembered the Lent project of spending more purposeful thought and time in the things of God.  My mind had been racing from subject to subject; work and its complexities, plans for the spring, projects which needed to be completed at home, and so on.  Now I tried to corral my mind and focus it on God and His ways, and it was not easy.

I think that if I had been born in these times I would have been saddled with the diagnosis of ADD.  I have always had a struggle concentrating on one thing only for any length of time, and today was no exception.  Eventually however I did manage to get my thoughts flying in formation, and this is what I think God told me today.

The dirt the earth, for me, is a reset button.  As the screwdriver blade rooted out tenacious weeds and as the shovel head bit deep into the wet soil I was reminded that the soil is what God made my ancestor Adam out of and soil is what we all will eventually return to, except for Jesus, Enoch, Elijah and V.I. Lenin.  I am not at all sure how they keep that latter guy looking so fresh; seems like some sort of dark art to me.

Anyway, all of the rest of us have dirt in our futures, and as I worked in that dirt today, especially with an eye to coaxing vegetables out of it that would cost me a pretty penny at Whole Foods, I reflected on how God has given us the tools and now we just have to squeeze our sustenance out of the soil.  Even more than that, I felt a weird sort of kinship with the soil.  Yeah, I know:  “Tree Hugger Gone Wild”.  It’s not like that.  I don’t think of that dirt clod as my cousin.  I cannot help but reflect though that we we share the same creator, and that my loving work with the soil will be responded to by an outpouring of sweet, healthy organic and cheap vegetables which will nourish my body as well as my soul.  This is a blessing indeed.

What also struck me was the permanence and stability of the soil.  I have had that dirt back there for at least fifteen years.  I know that dirt well because I carried all twenty cubic yards or so of it back there one wheelbarrow load at a time.  A walking path is the only access that I have to my back yard.  I have no idea where that dirt came from either; it could have come from the Love Canal for all I know or Hanford, which would be more likely.

But every year I return to that soil in the spring and turn under by hand the cover crop that grew over winter and fixed either nitrogen or potassium in its roots, and also turn under the compost that I have been cooking since the previous spring.  Several overpriced bags of compost from Shorty’s Garden Center also find their way into the beds that I prepare for my cold weather crop that I begin my garden with, and then the tomatoes and cucumbers, onions and carrots and green beans that are the crown jewels of my summer and fall dining room table.

I tend this garden the way that God tends me.  I have to have my weeds pulled daily, and some are rooted deep and require a sharp metal point at times to get the job done.  I am good with producing manure.  But God takes that manure, which would burn and kill my soul garden the way that fresh chicken or steer manure would burn my vegetable garden, and he cures it, composts it, and when it is ready He uses it to produce fruit in my own life.  Pests invade my garden and I plant flowers which draw insects that prey on those pests.  In like manner, God plants human flowers in my life which strengthen me to resist the nasty, Screwtapesque pests that would challenge my soul in its relation to the Gardener.

For many it would seem that the garden is a metaphor for my relationship with God, but for me it is deeper than that.  The garden IS my relationship with God in microcosm.  As long as I am able to I will spend the warm – more or less – months of the year out there relating to God in my own way.  I hope and pray that all of you find your own “garden” and allow God to nurture you through it.

What’s For Dinner?

I don’t believe that anything tastes better than something cooked in the great outdoors or indoors over wood.  There is some sort of magic that can be found when a wood fire applies heat to a pot, pan or skillet preferably, but not exclusively , in the setting of the great outdoors.  The items being cooked are almost irrelevant.  When the meal is set and ready to be consumed it is one of the most heavenly sensations one can imagine.  In fact, I believe that meals in heaven will be cooked on wood burning stoves in cabins in some celestial woods, but that’s just my opinion.

I began my romance with outdoor cooking when I was a very small boy.  When my father was not somewhere in the world on a Navy ship we would frequently pack up our 1950 Studebaker and drive to a campground in the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park in the mountains east of San Diego.  We would leave early in the morning, usually well before the sun would come up, and drive about an hour and a half to the favorite family spot.  Many times we were able to get our very favorite camping space; number 36, I think it was.

Time of year was of no consequence.  My brother Brad and I loved running wild in the rocks and fields and canyons and brush-covered hillsides during the summer, but we equally loved the frozen, ice and snow covered winter landscape as well.  In fact, winter was my favorite as far as food went for a couple of reasons.

First, I loved to make the fire that my mother would use to cook over.  I was a little pyromaniac anyway,  and loved to burn pine needles and dried weeds and junk lumber that my father always seemed to restock in our back yard.  Dad taught me how big a fire ought to be and where it should be placed, and then let me burn all that I wanted.  This scared the crap out of our neurotic neighbor, who once called the fire department on me when I was sitting in front of a small fire one afternoon.  I heard the sirens and thought to myself “Man, that’s close.”  Then I heard the “clump clump clump” of heavy boots on our concrete driveway.  Then, what looked to my twelve year old eyes to be a small army of firemen poured through the gap between our house and garage into the back yard.

“Where’s the fire?”  they demanded.  “This is the only one that I know about” I said, pointing to my little camp-style fire.  The firemen looked at each other with a look that I didn’t recognize then, but as I think back on it I now know all too well that it said “We’ve been punked”.  But there they were.  They were firemen, and I did have a fire going.  So they pulled their big hose with the heavy bronze nozzle into my back yard and blew the hell out of my fire.  I was completely dumbfounded by the whole thing, but my mother put two and two together quickly enough.  I really liked the Mr. who lived next door, but I never had much time for the Mrs. after that.

Anyway, I liked to start fires, so my father would give me one match when we went to the campground and it was my duty to get the fire going so that Mom could get the breakfast started.  During the summer that was a small challenge at best.  In winter however, the pressure was definitely on.  Mom would cook on the big steel and stone camp stoves built by the CCC workers during the Great Depression, and in winter they might be covered three or four inches deep with snow and ice.  Dad would give me wood, a hatchet, a knife, and one paper match and tell me to get the job done.

Challenge accepted!  I would chop away as much ice and snow as I could in order to clear the grill and release the steel door which folded down to give me access to the roughly twelve inch wide by ten inch high by two or three feet deep firebox, where I was tasked with producing a cooking fire thick with glowing hot coals that Mom would use to create a king’s feast.  Using the knife I whittled shavings in increasingly larger size until I had a pile of them.  Next I produced small sticks, again of increasing size, until I had a pile of graded pieces of wood at the foot of the stove.  I carefully arranged my shavings and small sticks in the firebox without the assistance of any paper as a fire starter.  Only wimps used paper to start a fire!

Finally all was prepared and I would strike the one precious match on an emory surface and it would flare with its ignition.  I was patient, allowing that initial flare to settle down into an even flame before I advanced the match into the shavings.  Smoke would curl up through the pile of shavings and chips, and then a tiny flame would be established in the filamentous fuel.

At this point I would drop the match and begin to tend my small and fragile fire.  Bit would be added to bit, slightly larger as the fire gained a foothold in my pile of tinder, and in short order I knew that the fire would be a success.  Sticks were added, and then bigger sticks, until larger chunks of wood were added to make a roaring fire before which numb hands could be warmed, coffee could be brewed, and finally a full breakfast of eggs and bacon, potatoes and ham and grits and whatever one could possibly want could be created by the culinary genius that was my mother.

A glorious outdoor breakfast did not have to be a complicated affair however.  One of my favorite meals ever consumed at that campground was as simple as a meal could possibly be.  When I was very young I tried to win prizes by selling Christmas cards to my neighbors.  A company somewhere produced a catalogue of prizes that could be earned by selling certain amounts of cards, and I signed up and set out to push those little-more-than-average cards on as many neighbors as I could con into buying them.

By hook and by crook I peddled one full shipment of those cards and was given several choices of what prize I could acquire from the catalogue.  I chose a collapsable camp oven.  This thing would fold until it was nearly flat, but when unfolded it formed a metal cube that could be set over a camp fire or a Coleman stove and could be used just like a real oven.  It even had a thermometer on the front that told you the temperature within.

So one early morning my father took me and my best friend Wes to do some fishing on the stream which ran through the campground where we always preferred to go.  The state people stocked trout in that stream and I caught one every now and then, but not on this day.  After freezing our little butts off for an hour or so we returned to the campsite and Dad fired up the Coleman stove.  We were going to have pork and beans for breakfast but Dad had forgotten to bring a can opener, so there we were with a big can of pork and beans and no way to get at them.

My father was nothing if not resourceful.  He knew right away that the beans were a lost cause.  We had canned biscuits however, and so the oven was assembled and the biscuits opened up, lined up in a greased pan, and placed in the oven.  In no time at all the biscuits were withdrawn from the oven and placed on top of that cube in all of their golden brown glory.  Dad then squeezed honey out of a bottle onto the top of the uncooperative bean can and we took turns sopping up honey with our warm biscuits and slamming them down the old hatch.

I believe that our breakfast of biscuits and honey a-la bean can was as good as any meal that I have ever eaten.  I can close my eyes and go right back to that picnic site under the oak trees just off of the parking lot at Green Valley Falls and taste the honeyed sweetness of the soft, warm biscuits that we ate that morning.  My father was a Jekyll and Hyde sort of character; sometimes I hated and feared him and sometimes I loved him. I loved him that morning.  I wish that I could tell him that I love him again.  Perhaps I will sometime.

I will conclude this topic with one more tale of a wood cooked meal, but this one was not cooked out of doors.  One Thanksgiving or Christmas, I’m not sure which one it was, in the year 1974 or 75, again I’m not sure which one, my wife at the time and I drove north from Sonoma County California to Eugene Oregon to share the holiday meal with her friends from high school.  Clarice stayed in touch with her friend Kaye and Kaye’s fiance Carl, and we were invited to do the meal with them that year.

Kaye and Carl lived in a huge victorian house with three or four other couples.  It was a sort of urban commune; a thing rather popular in those days.  Kaye was going to college at the University of Oregon and Carl was a hippy, occasionally working at replanting hillsides where loggers had clear-cut the forest, frequently playing a guitar rather badly, and always ready to roll and share a joint with anybody who was ready to party.  When you are the son of a doctor, life can be easy like that.

Clarice and I left our apartment early in the morning and drove straight through to eugene.  I was raised by me father to drive like an automaton when great distances needed to be covered, so we would have stopped to get gas and pee and buy me another quart of beer and that was about all, so by the time that we arrived at the big victorian house we were both pretty well tied in knots.  We walked the wet and grey streets of Eugene with our friends for a while and then, after a meal of something-or-other and a goodly amount of alcohol and marijuana we turned in for the night.

We slept in quite late the next morning, and when we finally did crawl out of bed the activity in the kitchen was already hot and heavy.  Bert, one of the other residents of the house, was in charge of the stove while his wife Evelyn was in charge of what got cooked on/in the stove.  Evie was cooking a turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, yams, rolls, and an assortment of other items on a huge iron wood burning stove in the kitchen.  Breakfast was long past so Clarice and I ate some sandwiches and snacks that we still had in our cooler while we waited for the main event.

Only slightly less impressive than the meal was the process by which it was cooked.  At one point “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” came on the television and we all got appropriately psychedelic to watch it by.  While Willie Wonka was sailing chocolate rivers and Charlie Bucket and Grandpa Jo were floating dangerously close to the huge ventilator fans, saved from being sliced and diced only by releasing their lighter-than-air gas load by frequent belches, we were all drifting between Mars and the asteroid belt, sharing joints and mushrooms and feeling very much a part of the movie.

But every so often some sort of alarm would go off in Bert’s psychedelicized brain and he would arise and go stuff a measured amount of wood into the fire chamber on the side of the oven which housed the turkey that we would soon be devouring.  It was truly uncanny, the way that Bert just knew when another load of wood was needed.  Too much wood and the oven temperatures would spike, and too little would result in the temperature falling below the proper cooking level.  A nice, constant temperature is what was needed, and that temperature was provided by one of the most impressive of stoned slackers that I have even had the privilege to meet.

At last the movie reached its stirring conclusion with Willy and Charlie and Grandpa flying over the city in some sort of cross between an elevator and a telephone booth (younger readers will at least know what an elevator is), and the dinner bell was rung.  Bert and Evie first brought out the turkey, followed by all of the other awesome delicacies that they had cooked and kept warm on shelves over or adjacent to the stove.

Bert carved the bird and we all ate until just before we got sick.  I have to say that it was one of the finest meals I have ever eaten, and even though it was not cooked outside, well, it has to be among the most special of meals because of the 19th century wood stove manner of it’s cooking.  As long as God grants me the blessing of memory, I will never forget those wonderful meals that I have described in this story.  Heaven, for me, will almost certainly contain meals such as these.

Reflections On Lent, Day 9

My Lent reflection for today will be a brief one.  This is necessary because it concerns my work, and I work in the medical profession.  I am on the front lines in the delivery of health care and the privacy rules which surround my line of work are very widespread and very strict.  It is, therefore, the better part of valor to write as little about it as possible.  Still, I believe that I have just enough room to deliver this reflection without stepping on toes or stepping out of line.

I knew that today would be a challenge before I walked through the door. We have been seeing more patients each day lately than we have seen in quite a while, and I knew that one of our swing shift people was taking the day off.  The night shift person had labored mightily to get done what she could but there was still an impressive list of tests to be performed before any of us had picked up a transducer.  Because of a happy innovation in our work schedule however we had an extra person working four hours in the morning, which gave me a much needed opportunity to practice on a new machine that we have recently purchased.

By lunchtime however we knew that our collective goose was cooked.  The printer sounded like a machine gun, so many were the orders for new tests that came rattling through it.  It quickly became obvious that the one swing shift person who would be working this evening was going to be buried with exams needing to be done if I didn’t stay a little bit past my quitting time, and so I opted to do that.  Our student stayed and did another test too, and we thereby managed to get done some of the people who had been waiting the longest for their tests to be finished.

Just as I was wrapping up what I thought was my last test I was told that a patient had been sent over to us to get a test, and if he couldn’t get one as an outpatient he was going to have to go through the Emergency Department.  Happily I was there for two reasons:  First, I saved him from a long slog through the Emergency Department and secondly because he was a young guy and this particular test would have been seriously embarrassing if it would have been done by one of the female techs, and that is all that we usually have at that time of the afternoon.

So the message which came home to me is that when things are hectic and seem to be all on the wrong track, it’s just possible that you are not seeing the whole picture.  In my case a long and difficult day made it possible for a young man who is at an age where embarrassment is likely to be most acute to have his test performed under the least uncomfortable conditions that are possible and also saved the time, expense, and perhaps pain from IV sticks or whatever might have happened in the Emergency Department.

So I end my day tired but contented with the way it is wrapping up.  My goal now is to cook, eat, clean up, pour a glass of wine and get busy preparing to lead a book study this Monday.  I’ll lean on God’s grace to keep me sharp while I do that.

Reflections On Lent, Day 8

I had thoughts of beginning this reflection at six o’clock this morning.  I knew that my work day was going to be very busy and that we would be going to some friends’ house to meet with a group from my church, and that this would account for much of my time for this day.  Additionally, I have to have the rear end of my pick up truck photographed and estimated for the cost of repairs.  I was rear-ended a couple of weeks ago and want to get my truck, which I inherited from my father, back into shape.  I am in fact waiting in the lobby of the auto body shop right now while I am writing this.

And then there is the reading and organization which I must do to prepare to help lead a book study five days from now.  I really do hate putting such things off until the last minute; if I am not prepared you can always tell that I’m winging it!  My next four days are wide open, but I get more and more nervous the longer I put off starting to prepare.  And besides, Saturday and Sunday are supposed to be sunny again and I am getting anxious to plant kale and chard and broccoli and onions.  And then there’s dinner Sunday night with my daughter’s family—.

Time is getting away from me, and I have even given up Facebook as a Lenten fast.  Imagine how crunched for time I would be if I spent as much time as I usually do staring at my glowing rectangle, solving world problems with political friends and keeping up relationships with friends across town and also across the globe.  I’m beginning to believe that I have a time issue.

I love to be busy, but this may be a little bit too much.  My friends may have to get by without me tonight.  They really are friends and not connections on Facebook, so they would forgive me my absence.  And maybe the kale and other veggies could wait for another week to get busy growing in my garden in the back yard.  An evening at home, taking a nap and reading a book about God and thinking deeply about what the author is saying about God could possibly be a better way to spend my time this evening.

Well, best laid plans of mice and men.  I got home this afternoon and took a good nap, and then off we went to our home community meeting. We put together an Italian meal that was delicious and had some of the best together time that we’ve had since, well, last week.  We dug into the strange triangle that was Jesus, Pontius Pilate, and the Jewish authorities. There’s a lot of meat on those bones and we chewed on them with gusto.  My biggest take away from the episode concerns the ‘robber’ named Barabbas.  Pilate does not want to kill Jesus but he doesn’t want a riot on his hands either, so he decides to try to cut a deal.  “OK, you want to kill somebody so bad, you can either kill Barabbas or Jesus.”

Pilate was talking to the same crowd that has been howling for Jesus’ head since sunup, so this Barabbas must have been a very bad dude for Pilate to think for a moment that the Jews were going to go for this stunt. They begin to cry “Give us Barabbas”, and I think that a modern analogy would be to cry out “Give us Manson”, or “Give us Ariel Castro”, or “Give us al-Baghdadi (the murderous nutbag who currently runs the ISIS bunch)”.  It literally seems to me to have been a choice between God and the devil, and the crowd chose the devil.

I’m not going to be too hard on the Jews however.  Wouldn’t I have done the same thing?  Wouldn’t you?  When our cultural foundations are being threatened don’t we push back?  I certainly do.  I’ll assume the robe of self-righteousness on the day that I can go 24 hours together without crucifying Jesus with some sin in thought or deed.

So my Lent reflection is to slow down, do what really is important and not be a slave to what only appears to be urgent, and be watchful so that the next time I get to choose between God and Manson or Pol Pot or Mr. Boko Haram or the devil himself, I will be prepared to shout out “Give me Jesus”.