Mike's Sunday Letter

 With my dad and mom earlier this summer at Scarlette and Tristan's wedding.  Theirs was the 399th wedding in his ministerial career.  Six weeks later Alison and Nelson's wedding was his 400th.  We pray he will have a couple more!
    --with personal notes  
  • As you will read below, my dad had major emergency surgery this week.  As of 9 p.m. Sunday evening, he is making good progress.  
  • Grace Church (my congregation) and Quest Church (sharing the building with us) both took a preliminary vote today on merging.  It was not a formal vote yet (that comes in November) but it was a vote to do everything together that we could legally do prior to merger.  Grace members voted 46-0 for it.  Quest members voted 44-0 for it.  
  • Our family enjoyed the Chinese Moon Festival this week.  Scarlette and Tristan came home for the celebrations.
  • This is my annual week at the monastery in Middleton, Wisconsin.  I am very ready to spend some time in this most holy and gracious of places, and be with some of my favorite people in the community there.  I leave in the morning and will return Saturday evening.
  • Last week I preached a sermon on homosexuality.  A high number of people have asked me for a copy of that sermon.  You may CLICK HERE to access it on the Grace Church website.  If you are in China, try this link:                                    CLICK HERE FOR CHINA LINK.  If you cannot access our church website (as is the case in some countries) send me an email and I'll attach the sermon back to you personally.



September 27,  2015
Game of the Week:  My Dad vs. Death
The way I have it reckoned, there's no way my dad just ups and dies one of these days.  Something (or someone) will have to sneak up on him and kill him instead.  On Friday night, diverticulitis nearly did.
On Thursday he woke up not feeling well.  When you are 86, some sort of ailment or pain is an everyday occurrence:  no big deal.  But what worried my mom was that he was so compliant that day.  When she suggested they go to the doctor, he didn't argue.   He's not normally that obedient.  He finds some way to rebel:  arguing, bluffing his way through some story (made up in his own mind as he goes along,) ignoring the issue by schmoozing and charming the people around him, or simply "not hearing" that someone has spoken to him.
And so it was that his passivity landed him in a bed in St. John's hospital in Springfield, Illinois.  They quickly gave him a diagnosis of diverticulitis.  This is a nasty enemy, aiming to silently tear your gut open and torture you with pain for a few hours before poisoning you to death.  Surgery is a pretty good defense, provided you get medical attention soon enough when the hurt begins.  The agony is wrenching enough that no one merely dismisses it as being too many beans in that last taco.
Protocol in his case called for antibiotics; he would probably feel better in a day or so and then go home.  But on Friday afternoon the bacteria managed to tear open his colon and all hell broke loose inside his abdomen.  The surgeon did emergency surgery on Friday night and told us afterward that it was extremely difficult for an old man to survive this type of thing.  My dad wouldn't be "out of the woods" for 72 hours.  He wouldn't be conscious until sometime the next afternoon.
So after hearing from the surgeon late Friday, we all left for our homes, there being nothing we could do for him at that time.  I finally got home and fell asleep about 1 in the morning, cell phone next to my pillow, dreading a ring in the night...or at dawn.  But there was no phone call.  Finally at 5:30 a.m., I woke up due to my own physical condition (not my dad's.  As you get older, your body always finds some way to start aggravating you when you would rather be sleeping.) So I roused myself and phoned the hospital.
At first they couldn't find him.  Their computers said he was in surgery, so I thought something had gone wrong during the night.  But the surgical nurse said that he wasn't there.  But he also wasn't in intensive care where he had been scheduled to recuperate.  After about 10 minutes the phone operator finally found in him the "recovery room," awaiting an available bed in for the next stop on his hospital marathon. 
I talked to his overnight nurse.  She said he woke up at 6 a.m. and asked what time it was.  Fortified with the information that he was still alive, he then announced that it was time to get out of bed and go home.  She suggested that he just lie there and play with his morphine button instead.  And being the ladies' man he is, he grinned and went along.  He'll do anything to impress a sweet nurse.
My biggest relief came from hearing that he was awake and talking.  Those in the medical hierarchy do all they can to help us.  But the story is never 'set' until the spirits have their say:  our own spirit and the Holy Spirit.  For all the changes in modern medicine, getting well...or dying well...still requires spirit.  

The locus of my dad's spirit is his mouth:  the runaway stories that come out of it, plus those words that engage others, plus his assertions of independence, plus his bravado declarations, plus his pontifications.  

When I heard he had resumed talking, several hours ahead of schedule, I was comforted.  He and God are both up to speed and working full force in this crisis.  That was yesterday morning.  I called this morning and he is still doing well.
Oddly for me, prayer is seldom at comfort.  It just feels like I'm doing nothing more than chattering at God.  Comfort for me comes instead when God messages me back:  whether from the Bible, from the lyrics of a hymn, or from the addled voice of drug saturated old man.  

God is mysterious and speaks in mysterious ways.  Thanks be to God.  


 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I write it when I first wake up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation.  The letter you see published here is usually revised from what the congregation receives.  This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than advising.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS