It is far from easy to keep living where God is. Therefore, God gives you people who help to hold you in that place, and call you back to it every time you wander off. Your spiritual guides keep reminding you of where your deepest desire is being fulfilled. –Henri Nouwen
It was 1996. Jan was expecting our third child. We both felt a little anxious about that pregnancy following a miscarriage that occurred in January of the previous year. And sure enough complications developed early on in the pregnancy. My mother had died 5 years earlier in Lubbock. I think it took that long for the reality of that event to sink into the recesses of my heart. Grief coupled with anxiety regarding the pregnancy placed me on the fast track to crash and burn.
I was serving a church in a rural community during that time period. It was comprised of very sweet and nurturing people. They were patient with me as I learned to fly solo as a minister for the first time. (I had been an associate with a large church prior that experience.) But I hesitated to share my personal issues with those that I was called to serve. Where could I turn?
Someone suggested that I contact Hospice of Lubbock. They provided unbelievably good service to my family during the illness and subsequent death of my mother in 1991. They even had chaplains on their staff to provide pastoral aftercare for their clients. I felt a little awkward seeking the services a chaplain. I had been a volunteer law enforcement chaplain at that point in my career for 7 years. Why would I need a chaplain?
I drove into Lubbock one morning and visited with Elizabeth. She listened intently. She asked good questions. She seemed to have a good understanding of our family situation, so she must have pulled a file and done some advance homework. I told her I was not sure how I could go on serving others in grief when I could not deal successfully with my own. She ended our interchange by exhorting me not to watch “dark movies.” It just doesn’t help your frame of mind, she stated. I was not sure if that advice was going to be helpful at the time, but I can tell you that I have not watched many dark movies since 1996! And I have encouraged countless others in people helping professions to follow suit.
Elizabeth gave me a gift that morning. It was the gift of pastoral care. She called me back to where God lives simply by listening and being a compassionate presence. I have been privileged to serve hundreds of people in times of serious illness and death since 1996. I am a terrible record keeper, but I think I have officiated at well over 100 funerals since that time. It is a privilege to serve. It is one I don’t take lightly. But sometimes those of us that are called to serve need someone to bring us back to God lives.
Did I thank Elizabeth appropriately in 1996? I hope I did. (My etiquette conscious mother would have had a fit if I failed to do so!) Sometimes we are given a second chance….Yesterday I assisted at a funeral for a high school classmate’s husband in Lubbock. I shared officiating responsibilities with a very competent Hospice Chaplain. Her name is Elizabeth…And I made sure this time that I thanked her for what she did for me in 1996. Who knows? If she had not served the server, I might have crashed and burned. And I would not have been in Lubbock yesterday doing what I think God has called me to do. It is far from easy to keep living where God is… Who is near you that is about to crash and burn? Can you be a compassionate presence for them?