• Merry Christmas everyone.
  • This is my first letter since early November, due to hand surgeries (see letter below.)  It is good to be writing again.
  • We spent last Friday night with my parents who visited us on the way to Terre Haute to see my brother Jim.  It was the first time I have tried to cook for someone (other than myself) since the surgery.  A big milestone.
  • We have spent Christmas Day in Lisle, with all three daughters and their families.  Jie and I will stay here until tomorrow--to celebrate grandson Sean's first birthday.
  • Jie has a brief trip to New Orleans scheduled with her Chinese scholars.  We'll leave after church December 31 and return the evening of January 4.

December 25, 2017
At long last I am far enough into my recovery to begin writing you my Sunday letter again.  In my line of work, I usually talk about resurrectionRecovery is different from resurrection.  Recovery is the gradual moving backward into normality.  Resurrection, on the other hand, is a sudden thrust forward into a radically new normality.
The whole loss of normality for me occurred in early November, when I had two surgeries to reconstruct my left hand (due to osteoarthritis.)  I am left handed:  ugh.  In the surgery's aftermath, my two-year old grandson was more competent than me at things like brushing is teeth, combing hair, and eating with utensils.  Jordan had to dress me in my robe and vestments before worship services; Dora had to sign my name on all the documents at the church; and Jie had to wash all the dishes.
Strangely, I didn't miss any work, other than the day of my surgery.  And if I abstained from pain meds, the doctor even allowed me to drive...one-handed.  After three weeks, I could type on the computer keyboard, if I removed my braces and cast. 
I worked so hard to accomplish everyday tasks that I became prideful.  And I now believe that I owe the rest of the world some of my hard-gained wisdom, (for when some of you lose the use of your dominant hand.)  Here's my list:  1) When it is impossible to dry your back after a shower, throw the towel on the bed, then lie on it and wiggle.  2)  When you can't button your britches, wear sweatpants.  3)  When you have to preside at a funeral and can't tie your tie, show up early at the funeral parlor and let the undertaker do it for you.  Those folks put two or three neckties on some poor guy every week.  4)  Don't try to open a jar of salsa three weeks after hand surgery...it won't taste that good.  It is okay if salsa sends pain up your nostrils, but never through your hand.  5)  If you are the one responsible for keeping the carpet clean, try and talk your spouse into getting a robotic vacuum cleaner.
Sometime around week 3 of my recovery, Jie decided to order one of those robots that vacuum the rug.  I was only taking a low dose of painkiller that day, so I was perfectly capable of getting the thing out of the box, charging it up, and pressing the start button.  I was, however, on enough painkiller that I wasn't up to reading the directions.  The robot seemed cute and I had fun watching it work.  But then I'd get bored, put it back in its "charging station," and do something else.  I must have accidently hit the wrong button one day:  the button that tells the robot to start vacuuming again once the batteries are recharged.  I had to leave the house for a while, and when I returned several hours later, the robot was missing from its charging station.  Did someone steal it?  Did I forget where I put it?  Did it get loose and fall down the steps...take off down the street?  I eventually found it lying "dead" under the kitchen table.  But no worry:  I took it back to its charging station, plugged it in, and it fully recovered...faster than I have.
The most curious thing about this recovery period has been the slowing down of my thinking.  I have also felt waves of depression and lost most of my sense of humor for a few weeks.  (Which is the main reason I temporarily stopped writing this letter.)  As my physical movements have been radically compromised and slowed, my mind and spirit have mirrored that pace.  It has taken me 3-4 times longer to think of a sermon, to respond to a problem, or to answer correspondence.  That is partially related to waking up 8-10 times a night with discomfort.  But it is also due (I'm convinced) to the holistic nature of being human:  the body and the mind insist on staying in sync.
So, to all who have been patient with me (and that would be a LOT of people!) these past weeks, to all who have literally given me an extra hand, and to all who didn't let me see you roll your eyes when I've muddled through some answer or sermon:  thank you.  I hope this essay is a sign that I am indeed getting back to normal.  And...Merry Christmas.  --Mike

 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


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