• Hope for a Miracle

    Fe5a48947f37d47fc733c66b629bd842I have several friends dealing with cancer during this pandemic.  Many have been joining me in prayer for them.  Craig Walker thanks us for the prayers; and says tells how God gave a miracle:

    People of faith talk about miracles, but don’t see them every day.   It would have been nice to have had a miracle last week with the surgery on my nose.  For the next few days, I can tell you that I truly felt miserable.

    The term, miracle in reverse, came into my mind a number of years ago after reading one of Charles Dickens books.   I can’t remember which one, because I have read them all.  This master of story-telling described a man who was not of faith.  He did not believe in God or the power of prayer, yet he was convinced that his wife was praying against him. It greatly upset him to think that God might, in a miraculous way, do something bad in his life, even though he didn’t believe in miracles or in prayer or even in God.  He was afraid of a miracle in reverse.

    Sometimes I have been heard to say that an event in my life was a miracle in reverse.  For me that is a light-hearted way of saying that it was bad, and in my mind, was the opposite of a miracle.  For me, surgery last week seemed like a miracle in reverse.  But of course, it was a miracle in the sense that it was life-saving and I could not have gone on living without it.

    HospitalThe plan was that the surgery would continue one week later depending on the results of pathology.  If I did not have clear margins, they would dig deeper.  If I was clear, the reconstruction of my nose would commence.  I prayed for the latter.  I wasn’t asking for a miracle, just that I would be cancer free.  I texted my pastor. He prayed with me and had the whole church praying as well.

    Yesterday morning I received a telephone call from the hospital informing me that my surgery was being moved up a day and would occur at 1:30 PM. I had no idea why, but I was glad to be getting it over with.

    It was not with alacrity that I climbed into the car for the half hour ride to the hospital.  The pelting rain was with us all day and made driving difficult. Cars were maintaining the 6’ rule.  We saw 6 wrecks along the way.  Arriving at the hospital I made my way through the medical screening tents into the now empty main hospital building.  All staff were on the clinic/ER/ICU side of the building.  In the waiting rooms that I passed, there was only one other patient. Departments not dealing directly with the Coronavirus were closed.

    In the prep room I was told that my margins were clear and that this would be a nose reconstruction surgery.  I had the same wonderful plastic surgeon that I had last week.  This week she would be working with a surgeon who was a specialist in facial reconstruction.  The plan was to harvest cartilage from my right ear and then cover it with a long skin flap pulled back from my cheek.

    DoctorsThe worst part of the whole thing was the injection of anesthetic.  Five of the injections were a 10 out of 10 on the pain scale and each one was long lasting.  Finally, I was numb from my nose across the right cheek all the way past my ear.

     There was a lady in San Diego who sat down to eat a plate of spaghetti.  She immediately recognized the face of Jesus made by the sauce and noodles and a picture of it later appeared in the Los Angeles Times.  That was an apparition.

    When the two surgeons took the bandages off, they looked like they had seen an apparition. Their mouths dropped open.  There was a stunned silence.  Then the surgeon from last week said to the other surgeon, “Honestly, I left a big hole there last week”.  Somehow, my body in just one week had grown tissue that now filled in the hole.  She explained to me that that was not something that a normal 80-year-old body could do and that I was amazing.

    They simply grafted a small piece of skin over the wound.  The surgery was over in 40 minutes rather than the planned 2 hours.  It was a miracle.

  • Pandemic Poetry

    It's good to read poetry in a pandemic. A poem of hope that I like was constructed by Kwame Alexander. He gave friends on social media two paintings to look at for inspiration: Kadir Nelson's Heatwave and Salvador Dali's Young Woman At A Window. Both show women inside looking longingly out into the world. People were asked to send in their poetic reflection, and he constructed a poem, combining their thoughts in a style called an ekphrastic poem*. Heat Wave.Kadir Nelson
    Social Distance

    Summer bears down on the city
    like granny's old quilt

    Her potted plant swoons on the ledge out of breath.
    Eyes closed,
    attuned to a second skin of sweat,
    she stretches neck and torso,
    searching for a cool note rising
    from the street below.

    The Fantastical Queen
    Her Crown of wrapped locks
    The jewels in her melanin Sparkle
    her body slick in Brooklyn's summer
    oiled mahogany

    From her window she holds court
    She reigns where dogs interact with rainbows
    For her, plants bow their head down low.
    Hottest Thang In Town
    Stuck inside all day.

    She opens all the windows,
    her imagination of freedom
    something to hold onto.

    Only half there
    her mind is far off
    Across the world.

    kayaking quietly
    gazing at glaciers
    watching waves dance
    a boat out to sea

    The sea breeze blowing
    against her loneliness
    Perched up in the hills
    Overlooking a world of fraud
    Soul ready to sail away

    You see, smart women bend

    like stems grabbing at the light

    muscles coat limbs

    as eyelids stalk the horizon

    to calculate what comes next

    drought or a wall of water

    high cheekbones not afraid to climb out

    or crawl up.

    It is the same horizon no matter the color.
    The same sun.

    Guess that's how Rapunzel felt
    Staring freedom in its face
    Terrified of the unknown
    But wanting to escape
    Quarantined by society
    Restricted by these walls.

    Shouting streets stilled
    people's voices wilted like plants.
    no dinner with friends.

    The sea is forever capricious
    A mercurial creature with fickle temperament
    The gentle blue of harbor water hides
    its ferocity Like a wolf in sheepskin

    But, she will not wilt.

    Sometimes as day descends
    The dog can have the fabricated ice,
    the artificial colors.
    She takes the water cool and clear,
    and The city's façade can't hold her,
    from sailing away on the tide of night.

    She sees herself
    in the sky.
    in the muddied turquoise of the curtain
    In the warm turquoise of the window frame
    in the gentle peace that shall not last.

    She is not thinking about the next time
    they will see each other
    She is not thinking about the last time
    they saw each other
    She is not thinking about the empty grocery shelves
    She is not thinking about the furrowed frowning eyebrows
    She is not thinking about the word quarantine
    and why it sounds so social
    She is not thinking about the way her lungs
    hold onto air like making love to molecules
    She is not thinking about the grandmother
    and grandfather in Apt 2c
    She is not thinking about whether clouds are aware
    of their silly shapes and feel self-conscious
    She is not thinking about whether the butter will last

    At the window, she considers that
    She is not who she was,
    and she is not who she will be.
    She is transforming.

    She will be strong and resilient.
    She will be honest with herself and those she loves.
    She will have stories to tell And when she does
    They will no longer shake her voice.

    From here, she will see the anxiety, the worry,
    paint over its bold permanence, like oil and acrylic on canvas.
    From here, She HOPES, offering it to neighbors from a safe distance.
    From here, she SINGS, transcending the dark somber strain
    From here, She BELIEVES, we will get through this
    From here, today will be good, and tomorrow will be better.

    *This community poem was created using submissions by:

    Becky Boling, Northfield, Minn.

    Thu Nguyen, Washington, D.C.

    Tehmina Khan, San Francisco

    Daniela Larsson, Litchfield, Ct.

    Myer Schmitz, Champlin, Minn.

    Katrina Kiss, Oswego, Ill.

    Lisa Sarasohn, Asheville, N.C.

    Deborah Meltvedt, Sacramento, Calif.

    Danielle Evennou, Washington, D.C.

    Maggie Chism, Mich.

    Katherine Shafer, Ypsilanti, Mich.

    Kevin Cheb, Ellicott City, Md.

    Sheba Montserrat, London

    Lorian Tompkins, Clinton Township, Mich.

    Keyan Kaplan, East Setauket, N.Y.

    Abel Koury, Columbus, Ohio

    Charles Sharpe, Bainbridge Island, Wash.

    Josh Lawrence, Portland, Ore.

    Rachael Vella-Garrido, Buffalo, N.Y.

    Sarah Teague, Carbondale, Colo.

  • See Yourself in Worship

    It was so good to gather in worship online this past week. Below is an assortment of photos of our Palm Sunday Celebration.

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  • The Force of Hope

    My friend and colleague, the Rev. Craig Walker writes these wonderful words of hope, inspired by Psalm 42:5: “Put your hope in God”

    It was a couple of Saturdays ago—just before the current virus crisis—that we were in Florida to participate in the Polk Senior Games.  It was a beautiful, sunny, and warm Florida morning as we made our way to the swimming pool, where I had signed up for 6 events.  How could anything be wrong in a world as beautiful as this?

    In Senior Games, I compete against men in my own age group, ages 80-84.  For a few wonderful hours, I forget that I am an old man with a variety of aches, pains, and medical conditions. It is like rolling back the hands of time. Just a few days before we left for Florida, I had managed to pull a muscle in my back and I was unable to bend over.  Thus, I could not go off the blocks but had to start in the water.

    FreestyleWhen they called the 50 yard freestyle, I jumped into lane 4 and held on to the wall, awaiting the start. I was seeded second out of five competitors. The guy in lane 5 was also 80, had a faster seed time, and was starting from the blocks.  I knew that I was really going to have to move to beat him.  I hoped that I could do it, but that was about all.  Now I learned years ago in my military officers training, that hope is not a plan.  That is correct.  But what I discovered since is that hope can be a driving force that can be used to overcome the obstacles of life.

    Towering over me and high on the blocks, my competition was poised to unwind like a spring, while I could only push off gingerly from the wall, not too hard—I needed my back to last.  So what did it matter if he beat me? It did not really matter. It was all about fun.  It was about trying to win the gold medal, rather than the silver, when you are an old man.

    The starting buzzer went off and I was immediately confronted with a tidal wave of Biblical proportions as all 240 lbs of him came down right next to me.  When I could see again, he was half a body length ahead of me.  I had no plan, and only hope that I could make up this distance.  And make up the distance I did.

     We were now swimming head to head. One thing that you need to know about senior swim meets is that they are kind of boring.  Lots of people spread out all over the lanes with little excitement. But once in a while, two swimmers will be evenly matched and will fight it out, head to head, stroke for stroke.

    That’s exactly what we did.  This caused undue excitement among the spectators.  The oldsters jumped to their feet, roared their approval, shaking their canes into the air. There was a crowd of gray-haired admirers lining the edge of the pool, shouting encouragement as two 80 year old thundered down the lanes, each trying to beat the other.

    Everything was going fine from my perspective. I was surprised at myself for keeping up with him.  But then I realized that we were coming up to the wall.  Because of my back, I would be unable to flip my turn and that would cost me about half a body length. It did.  Now I was looking at his belly button when I breathed, instead of at his head.

    The 50 yard freestyle is a very quick race.  It’s down and back in less than a minute.  So I had less than half a minute to do something.  I immediately employed the method taught me by world-class coach Jason Bradbury.  When faced with having to go all out, the tendency is to tighten up causing the swimmer to slow down.  I did the opposite.  I lengthened my stroke and increased my kicking cadence.  The noise of the crowd even came through my earplugs.   I slowly gained until we were even.  Then just a few final strokes and a lunge for the timing pad.  I looked up at the scoreboard.  Lane 4 out touched lane 5 by less than a second.  I won. It truly was a minute of hope.

    In our present health crisis, we need hope.  Yes, planning is paramount, but let us not leave out hope.  Hope was the driving force that got people through the 1918 flu crisis when 650,000 Americans died.  Hope was the force that Americans used in World War II when they had to turn the tide of battle in Europe and the Pacific at the same time.   Hope will carry us through.

  • What about the Church? – Alpha 11

    What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word ‘church’?

    1. We've covered a lot of aspects of the Christian life, and you’ve had a chance to experience some of what this means. How has God been working in your life during these weeks of Alpha?
    2. What are some important characteristics for Spirit-Filled church?

    1. One of the images from the talk today is that the church is God’s family. What do you think your role or contribution could be to this family?
    2. How has your view of the church either changed or been confirmed during these weeks?
    3. The Greek word for church is ‘ekklesia’ which means ‘a gathering of people’. Which type of gathering have you experienced personally – large: celebration event, medium: congregation gathering or small: cell group.
    4. Nicky said, ‘we cannot be Christian alone’. Do you agree with this or not? Why?
    5. Do you think a person can thrive as a Christian without attending church?
    6. There seems to be so much division between churches and sometimes within churches. What do you think about Meldenius’ quote: “On the necessary points, unity; on the questionable points, liberty; in everything, ”?
    7. In our world of emails, Facebook, MySpace etc, we seem to have lost the gift of each other’s presence. Professor Gordon Fee wrote, “Nothing else can take the place of presence, not gifts, not telephone calls, not pictures, not momentos, nothing.” How does church help us regain this gift?
    8. Holy Communion (also called the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist) is a way that Christians offer thanks to God, remember the Second Coming of Christ, and celebrate unity. What are your thoughts about this tradition?
    9. What is the most important thing that you will take away from the Alpha course?