Friday, June 05, 2009

It not 11:59, but I wanted to post with this date...

A couple of days ago, Pastor D wrote the following about pastoral care on his blog:

One of the things I love about my church is that they just want me to be a pastor. They want me to preach and teach the Word, administer the sacraments, study, pray, and take care of people. They don't want an administrator, a business man, or a CEO - they want a shepherd. They want me to bring the Word of God to them, the community, and the world in all the ways that I am able. What a wonderful thing.

I was thinking about this because I was talking to a friend recently to whom the notion of "pastoral care" was a strange new reality. This friend of mine has had many good preachers, theologians, and inspiring leaders in the churches he has attended, but never received the kind of pastoral care that I have been taught and which seems to be what I am here to do. How sad that there are so many people who need care, but are not being cared for in this way. And while yes, I know that all the people of God give care (and I am always trying to get my folks to be more active in this way), the pastor is unique. He stands in the Office as Christ's called and ordained representative in that place, the undershepherd of the Good Shepherd. Others may supplement his care, but cannot be a substitute for it.

And that's what my folks want me to be, and to do. As a result, I have missed a lot of my church's "Executive Board" (aka Church Council) meetings lately. This is the group of men and women that have been elected by the congregation to take care of the business aspects of the church. They meet after church once a month, but I am usually talking with visitors and members when they meet. And while I feel bad for not being with them, they understand, and want me to be doing this important pastoral work. And I know they can run the business parts of the church without me - and do it better than me! We trust each other.

How blessed I am to have such a church!

It does not take much imagination to guess that I am the "he." I was glad that he wrote this, because I thought his imagery of being an undershepherd was a perfect metaphor for pastoral care. But I also thought that he fell a bit short in painting the picture of what is this thing of pastoral care. Hopefully he will take my blatant hint and write again so that I could make it more clear here!

Tonight, I was actually able to help him for a change: he needed a short-term baby-sitter because his wife was working an overnight shift and he needed to fetch his son coming back from a field trip. Sounds easy, right? In addition, he suggested we work on a brochure I designed for the church a while ago. We did work. I did babysit. But...well...the evening was once again more about me than anything else.

I received some very disturbing news just before I was to leave. News that is still so difficult to swallow that I am trying not to choke. So, I went over in tears and drove home in tears...hating myself for not being able to compartmentalize my heart so as to set the news aside long enough to serve someone who has given so much.

God's timing being perfect, one of his flock went into labor and he was needed to fetch their children over to another flock's house so mom and dad could concentrate on welcoming the new wee one. Instead of scrambling for someone to stay with his children, there I was already coming over. In fact, I had left early, planning on just hanging out in the parking lot because I didn't want to stew at home.


Does His perfection also extend to the time Pastor D gave me after he finally returned home? It is with great chagrin that I admit I did not leave until after 3:00 AM. We went over the edits I had made to his brochure and then started talking.

Or rather, I started talking and he listened. Listening is definitely one of his strengths. And I would go further to say that I believe his particular kind of listening is a facet of pastoral care, a key role in that act.

I proffer this because not only does he listen, but he listens without judgment, without much comment, with a silence that is almost profound in attentiveness.

He is quick to say that he does not have any answers, but I told him a while ago that he actually does have answers, even if that answer is Scripture. [What I did not say is that it is those answers I crave.] Tonight, he share one particular passage that has given me pause.

I had read to him one of my favorite passages, Isaiah 41:9-10:

You whom I have taken
from the ends of the earth,
And called from its remotest parts,
And said to you, "You are My servant,
I have chosen you and not rejected you.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, sure I will help you.
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand."

When I had finished, Pastor told me to turn the page and start reading in chapter 43:

But now, thus says the Lord,
your Creator, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, Oh Israel,
"Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by my name; you are Mine!
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.

Remember my bumbling explanation of how God can only take delight in us because He sees us through Christ? And if He does take delight, then He truly views us as washed clean by Christ's blood. Psalm 18:19, then, becomes sort of an independent confirmation of what you hear about the cross. It naturally follows. I should know this, trust this. But I guess it is as if, lately, I have been reading the whole book instead of the cover, seeing the whole building rather than just the facade facing the street.

I cling to Isaiah 41 because He has chosen me and not rejected me. It is the same and yet so very much more to read further that He redeemed me and calls me His. Mine is such a strong word, an absolute word, a possessive word.

There have been many times that I have felt as if 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 somehow was for others, not me:

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that this surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.

I admit, I have definitely felt afflicted and perplexed and struck down at times. Who gets rear-ended after just leaving the hospital for a procedure that was excruciatingly difficult at the exact moment she is asking a pastor about a passage in scripture that has been troubling her studies and left her longing for understanding? Yet, I have also felt crushed, broken, left crouched over the pieces of my self, unable to gather them all in my hands. What does that say about my faith? In fact, frankly, this evening I felt sucker punched with the news. But by whom?

Isaiah 43, therefore, is another passage that I feel was that independent confirmation, maybe you could say the other side of a coin. Certainly walking in fire and yet not being scorched is similar to being afflicted but not crushed. So, this promise of God was not just made one time, but is actually a part of the whole of the life we can have in Him. The life He planned from the very beginning. Definitely something for me to dwell upon.

I sort of joked with Pastor that that passage was not one of the "Jesus" verses in the old Testament that I had learned. You know the ones...Psalm 22, Isaiah 53.... Pastor D very quietly responded that Lutherans see Christ throughout the whole Old Testament.

It is not that my feelings changed, but knowing Truth does yield power against the darkness of this world we face. I am grateful for that answer of Scripture.

Pastor also made a rather interesting observation about Paul. I asked him how a man who wrote about a thorn in his side that he battled throughout his life, who wrote about the fact that the things he wanted to do he did not do and that which he did not want to do he found himself doing, could also write that he was content in all circumstances.

His answer was to consider that perhaps Paul was reflecting back upon his life, that in considering the sum of what he had lived and learned and received in Christ that he was content with how his life had been...thorn and all....

Before I left, he told my about The Litany in the Lutheran Hymnal. It is a prayer, two voices, that covers, well, everything. He asked me if I would like to read it with him. He being the pastor, me the congregation. I am still not sure how I felt about that or how I feel now except to say that there were bits it was hard for me to read, to continue, because I wanted to reflect on the words Pastor D has just read on the Truth I was hearing. For all I struggle with trying to keep up with the liturgy during the services (Pastor D keeps promising me he will have a tutor sit beside me but my tardiness has left me struggling along myself with my cheese-hole ridden brain struggling to get here, flip there, read this, sing that), I found the exchange of The Litany powerfully comforting.

I am not sure if it was the late (early) hour or my distressed state, but when I left, I wandered about Virginia for nearly two hours before I made it home. You would think that with Maggie (my Magellan Roadmate GPS) that would not have been the case. But my cognitive dysfunction sometimes clouds my ability to follow her directions. I ended up going south on 95 and then trying to exit and circle back, but that was the beginning of a frustrating.

I wonder if I had called Pastor D if he would have helped me figure out what I needed to do to get turned around and saved me a couple of hours of fear and tears and frustration. I wonder if such a call after keeping him up so late would have been the final straw I fear is coming to bring this whole strange time of pastoral care to an end for a particular non-flock, non-Lutheran.

I pulled over on some dark, very deserted road and tried to stop crying enough to pray. I thought about trying to just sleep there, but did not feel safe and was probably too angry at my stupidity in navigation to even achieve a restful state. I thought about calling the police for help. You know, some variant of "I've fallen and I can't get up." Say, "I've missed my exit and I can't get home." But I pictured such a call, with me in tears and trembling as violently as I was, more likely ending up with my being carted off to the loony bin instead of escorted home to my birdies and Kashi and the comfort of my own bed.

Psalm 46:10a is another favorite of mine: "Cease striving and know that I am God." Another version (I don't know which one) reads "Be still and know that I am God."

There I sat, stubbornly telling God that I had ceased, that I was still, and He needed to be God at that moment. After a while, I thought of how Bettina chides me when I get angry with myself over being stupid because she says it is the disease, not me. I tried really hard to stop crying, take deep breaths, and think. Cease striving. Deciding that my belief that the bible is literal might actually have relevancy in this ridiculous situation, I turned the car off. I turned Maggie off. Then, I started both up again, punching in my request of Maggie to take me home. Instead of endlessly telling me "When possible make a legal U-turn" and my turning wrong and hating myself for being so confused and wanting so desperately for someone to help me and for this day to finally be over, she came up with a new set of directions to go home from that lonely bit of road. I knew then that I could get home!

Finally on the correct path, I wondered if all that driving around was seemingly my 101st lesson on perspective of late. Just a couple of hours earlier, I had told Pastor D that I felt as if I were on a roller coaster and wanted to get off. Some of the things we have talked about overwhelm me in hurt and others do so in joy. I refuse to write of the response on his face because I certainly didn't want any agreement from him. I wanted assurance that I was not as bad off as I felt! Assent of my observation would mean, to me at least, that I actually am crazy!

Am I? Crazy? Perhaps. Or...perhaps...I have been given the opportunity to bring to the Light that which has been hidden so that He might have victory...and in the process...learn more clearly, more deeply, of that which I have believed since I first learned of Christ's death on the cross.

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