Exaltabo te

I feel as if I were under a pile of things left undone: letters and e-mails and phone calls, conversations and agendas and projects, and all kinds of writing.  (Thankfully not also under a pile of housework, thanks to my sister and my husband!)

I returned from the hospital a week ago.  The verdict was another vertebral artery dissection, but no brain damage of any kind – just an artery in need of healing, and the news that I likely have a collagen 4 deficiency, which is to say, a condition that makes me prone to this sort of thing.  But regular scans and aspirin should be enough to keep this condition from putting me in any real danger.  In the meantime, a dissected artery HURTS, so I am taking medication which makes me unable to focus very well most of the time and makes me sleep more – and which even so keeps me from hurting only so long as I don’t put any stress on the artery by lifting anything heavy or turning or tilting my head to far to one side.  When I am alone, I can be grateful for the pain, insofar as the pain is what took me to the hospital, where we discovered what we needed to know to keep me healthy and alive.  When I am downstairs with the meowing cat and my concerned 5 year old and my almost verbal 13 month old nephew, and the clanging pots and pans and closing drawers and cabinets that signal my diligent husband and sister – then I can only be cranky and not very good company.  I am a much better person when I don’t have to interact with other live people!

I have been trying each morning to sing through a part of the Psalter.  I am using the Daily Lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer, which directed me this morning to Psalms 30 and 32.  It was very timely to sing: “O LORD, my God, I cried to you for help and you have healed me.  O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.”

But I found that I no longer understand the bargaining that the Psalmist engages in in verse 9 – basically asserting that God NEEDS her – that if the singer lives, she will praise him, but if she does not, then she cannot.  I remember the people who said to Jesus, in defiance of any change, “WE are the children of Abraham!” and Jesus’ reply, “God can raise up children of Abraham from these stones.”  The dry bones, the stones, the dust will indeed praise God.  Or, as Dr. Hall reminded us frequently during Ethics lectures last year, “We are grasshoppers, children.”

And so it was not enough for me to sing the final verses of Psalm 30 – that “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy…”  I was glad for the BCP’s direction to then turn to Psalm 32 – to the acknowledgement of my need to confess my transgressions to the Lord.

Especially I confess that sometimes I have found myself believing that it would be possible for my voice to be silenced:  that not being a pastor (or being a pastor!), that not having work as a teaching assistant, that not teaching Sunday school, that not writing – that vacating any particular position or title, that these deaths would silence my praises – that God needed me.  And I give thanks that I no longer keep my silence, groaning all day long.  Instead, I uncovered my iniquity, and found freedom and healing in God’s forgiveness.

God does not need me to be well in order that I might write my blog or even pray for longer stretches without falling asleep.  God does not need me to be well.  And yet, I am growing well.  My life has been restored to me.  Such is the extravagant goodness of God.

“O LORD, my God, I will give thanks to you forever!”


“I hope your stay with us is short!” said the kind lady who took my insurance information, “This is not the best place to be!” But then she continued, “We try to take good care of you here, though.”
Indeed they do.

What makes the hospital “not the best place to be” is the interruption that it represents. We don’t wake up in the morning thinking, “I hope I get to go to the ER today!” Hospital stays interrupt what we think of as our normal day-to-day life. I cannot arrange to have the dryer repaired or the piano tuned. I cannot pick up my daughter from school. I cannot go buy the groceries. Instead, I must wait here. Wait for the pain killers to kick in that may soon make writing this blog entry impossible and reduce me to watching television or playing a video game while I wait for the doctor to return and tell me what (if anything) he sees on my CT scan.

Almost 3 years ago, I suffered a dissection in my vertebral artery – but I didn’t realize it.  I thought I had just pulled a muscle somehow.  About a week later, I had a stroke and ended up spending a week in this hospital. And, as far as life interruptions go, I will attest that the hospital was not the best place to be. My daughter was in preschool only 2 mornings a week, I had just taken on a couple of volunteer positions at the church, my husband I had theater tickets – I had a LIFE!!  But spiritually, the hospital was the very best place in the world to be.

Prior to that, I had only stayed overnight in a hospital one time: when my daughter was born. I hadn’t given the hospital very much thought, really. But sitting in the bed day after day, my brain too cloudy to even knit, I started slowly calculating – the number of people on my hall, on my floor, in the hospital – the hundreds and hundreds of people whose lives had been interrupted. Which is to say, hundreds and hundreds of cranky people in pain and wishing that they were somewhere else altogether. Hundreds and hundreds of people having the realization that they were not in control of their lives.  And moving in and among these patients – these people whose main purpose was now to wait to arrive at the indeterminate, ever moving target of getting back to whatever they were doing before – moving in and amongst the impatient and the trying to be patient and the somehow miraculously patient were the doctors and nurses and technicians – the people who had chosen to be here in the time of interruption, to welcome us to what felt like, and hopefully would not be, our Hotel California.

There was a tremendous grace in these people – generally cheerful without being chipper, everyone who worked here made it clear that they only wished to make me feel more comfortable, to encourage me, to give me the information to cope with what had just happened and to move forward.  Their love and dedication to us, their patients, was not dependent upon how difficult or easy we were, how cranky or agreeable.  We had not done anything to earn their devotion – we had simply shown up, and they gave us the best they had.  In hundreds and hundreds of rooms, every hour of the day.

So, without reference to the interruption that being in this place represents, without reference to the insistent beeping of the monitor in the room where I wait for my CT scan results, this is in fact one of the very BEST places on earth to be.  The hospital is a holy place – a place where love and care flow freely, and where any necessary indignity is accompanied by an apologetic smile and sympathetic humor.  I am surrounded by God’s grace.  And while I do hope that I do not stay here very long today (because I hope that they find nothing on the CT – I am hoping to hear that I have simply pulled a muscle rather than dissected my vertebral artery again), I am grateful that this place is here at the ready for each and every one of us who found ourselves needing the care that the staff so graciously provides.

Finding my way

For some weeks, I have been on walkabout, as a friend says (she feels that the word “journey” is over used amongst spiritual folks – I get her point.) Certainly “walkabout” is a better word than “pilgrimage,” because I have no idea where I am headed – only that I was feeling led out of the church family that had been my haven for more than four years. It can be a lonely feeling, not knowing what I am looking for, or where I am going to find it. Thankfully, I have had many friends supporting me as I wander out in the wilderness.
One of those friends, Michele, sent me an encouraging quote today: “You don’t need to know where you’re going to know you’re headed in the right direction.” Just the word I was needing. In a culture that values certainty, it is good to know that I have many friends who do not expect that from me.
Michele’s quote reminded me of something we used to say in Divinity school: “I am on a ‘need-to-know basis’ with God.” The idea was that we felt pretty sure that what we were up to in that moment was something that pleased God – even that God had led us to this place and time – but the future was murky. And that was ok, because we trusted that God would give us what we needed to know when we needed to know it.
I am so blessed to have been in a threshold place for so many years – to be day by day on a need-to-know basis with God. And I do not mean that in an inspirational greeting card sort of way – it has been difficult, no doubt – as when the Israelite people agreed to the covenant with YHWH, I am blood besprinkled. Also like the Israelite people, I am not entirely up to the challenge on many days, and I can get weirdly nostalgic for my days of enslavement in Egypt.
But most of the time, I am aware that I have come a long way from those adolescent days when, listening to the words of articulate atheist drummer and lyricist Neil Peart, I misunderstood the phrase “The point of the journey is not to arrive,” to mean that the idea was to avoid arriving anywhere, as opposed to what he most likely (and more wisely) meant: do not focus so much on the destination that you forget to be present to your present. Certainly I was pointedly avoiding arriving for many many years. Now, instead, I am freed to be in the moment by the assurance that my arrival is in the hands of One more competent than myself.