Tuesday, January 15, 2013

If only

It's been a weekend of saying "if only."

It began about 1:00 on Sunday, just about the time the Atlanta Falcons kicked the game-winning field goal over the Seattle Seahawks, following Seattle's furious fight back from the brink of total domination.

If only the defense could have made a play in the last 30 seconds, they'd be playing again this Sunday.

If only the Seahawks had held a lead earlier in the season against Miami. If only they had found a way to beat Arizona or St. Louis or one of the other teams they should have beaten this year. Then they would have been the NFC West champs and had home-field advantage, and they're still playing this weekend against San Francisco.

If only they actually showed up in the first three quarters and played like they're capable of. If only Chris Clemons isn't hurt in the game against the Redskins.

Any number of tiny details, had they gone the other way, and Seattle is still in the hunt for the Super Bowl. Which made the loss bitter, and the response a litany of "if only?"

But then Monday morning rolled around, and I took a call from a church member who is also the local school librarian. In a broken voice, she told me that a young mother in the community had killed herself over the weekend, taking a gun to her own head to end her life. And that her two daughters and their dad were in the house and heard the shot, and he went in and found her dead on the floor.

This mother used to bring her daughters to the activities at our church. Her youngest was part of our children's group, her older daughter came to the girls' Bible study led by my wife. More recently, that youngest daughter had come to our youth group in the last few months.

Last Thursday I went to the Middle School for a band concert. At the intermission I was standing near the front and saw this mother near the back, standing by herself. You know the thought that runs through your mind. "I should go say hi." But then somebody wanted to talk to me, and the concert began again, and afterward you have to pick up your kid and it's all chaotic and you never do go say "hi."

And there's a whole new slew of "if only."

If only I had gone and said "hi" on Thursday. If only our kids' program had been healthier, and the Bible study hadn't fallen apart in turmoil at the end. If we'd been able to keep them in our loop, instead of losing them when our church went through some hard times a few years ago.

But, no. There's really no blame to be had, no great lesson to be learned. Not knowing the explanation behind the act, there's no knowing whether we could have made a difference. The only truth is that a woman was distraught enough to end her life, and she's left behind a grieving, broken family. The mind begins to run down the "if only" road, but I can't go there. Yes, I wish I'd talked to her on Thursday, but there was no reason to believe at that point that this would happen. So I can't regret my choices that night.

What I do take away is this: we're surrounded by hurting people. And we need to love them. And we need to be involved in peoples' lives. And we need to look them in the eye and say "how are you doing?" And we need to realize this isn't a game. And we need to take the chance when we have it, because there may not be a tomorrow. We're not responsible for the actions of other people, but we can at least let them know we care.

If only we can do that, then we're going to make a difference.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Lord, Have Mercy

There is so much in ministry that is functional. Pastors do things. We create things. We write things. We organize things. We preach sermons. We plan Christmas Eve services. We meet people for coffee and talk about stuff - usually, somewhat important stuff. Sometimes we blog about life and other important things. We pray, we read, we update our church's facebook and twitter status. We go to meetings and retreats. It can be a busy life.

And then. . .sometimes we just sit. We sit with the woman, the single mother, who is dying of cancer. We sit and hold her hand, and say a prayer, and offer words of comfort (that she may or may not hear) and we modestly avert our eyes when, in her confusion, she rolls out of her hospital gown. We offer kind words to family members who stop by. We read scripture. But mostly, we sit, because there's not much else to do. And we promise her that she is held firmly in the grasp of God, so she can let go when she feels ready, because, really, it's all good.

But we sit, with death. Nurses come and go, because they have stuff to do. But we mostly sit.

And we realize that this is the real stuff, the place where life is at its most real and most raw. Everything else feels like treading water. These are the holy moments. And so we sit, and, if we are wise, we mostly keep our mouths shut.

And then we say a few halting words, and head out into the bright sunshine, but our hearts are heavy, because we carry the burden of death with us.

Lord, have mercy on a friend who is going home, and have mercy on those who care for her these long days and long nights.