two weeks and one lifetime ago…

As of tomorrow, it will have only been two weeks… yet it feels as though it has been a lifetime since it happened…

Since Mom died…  Since Mom stepped through Death into Eternity… and really began to live…

Life…    Death…    then Life again…

Life forever… for all of time and beyond what we can even imagine…

For our time on earth is not marked the way God’s time in Eternity is marked…

Our time is determined by the rotation of the earth (day and night) and its revolution around the sun (seasons and years)…  it is the only way we can understand time… it is in fact the way God gave us to understand and mark the time of our mortal lives… But God’s time is eternal and not dependent on such things such as days and nights and seasons and years…

Mom’s time has changed… her time has become eternal…

I’m still stuck in the earthly time of the here and now… seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, years… determined by the earth and its relationship to the sun… at the moment, taking things one day at a time… and some days it feels as though I am just going through the motions…

I’m glad that Mom is no longer bound by her mortal body or mortal timekeeping… I’m glad that she will no longer get old (perhaps I should say older… she was already old the way we measure time and think of age…) or sick or experience pain or sadness… I’m glad that she has been re-united with her friends and family members who died, who entered eternity, ahead of her… I’m glad that she is living in the Light and Life of the Lord…  And I know I will see her again one day…

But for now…

I miss her…

Pre-quel to blog post: “life … the journey … the adventure …”

In Nov 2012, I met with the District Committee on Ordained Ministry for the East Central District of Florida.  At that meeting, the committee members decided to discontinue my candidacy as a candidate for ordination in the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church.  The reason they gave me was that they had “not seen enough growth.”

Such a statement is open to wide interpretation, and did not seem to be really helpful as I processed the committee’s decision.  I had failed to complete the commissioning paperwork so that I might be considered by the district committee for approval to submit the paperwork to the conference Board of Ordained Ministry.  In discussing this in my re-certification paperwork, I acknowledged that I tend to procrastinate, and that I felt that part of the reason underlying my procrastinating on completing the commissioning paperwork had to do with a fear of failing to get said paperwork approved by the district committee, thereby failing to be approved by them.

I figured my failure to complete the commissioning paperwork was part of the reason, if not all of the reason that the committee chose to discontinue my candidacy. And if this was indeed the case, then I think it would have been far more honest on the district committee’s part, and perhaps better for me had I been told something along the lines of:

You have had multiple chances to get the paperwork done for us to approve you and send forward to the BOOM (Board of Ordained Ministry), but you have not done it.  For whatever the reason you think you are procrastinating, we think that perhaps you aren’t really serious and just don’t want to do the paperwork.  We are going to discontinue your candidacy.  If you are serious, and do want to be ordained in the United Methodist Church, you can return in two years to request to become a certified candidate.  This will give you time to decide if you really want to do this paperwork and, maybe even time to get it done.

But then, I don’t really know if this was or was not the reasoning for my being discontinued.  Perhaps part of the real reason also included the fact that the District Committee in the past three years, also seemed (to me) to be trying to guide me towards Chaplaincy and accepting ordination as a Deacon.  While I know that chaplaincy is one way that I could express my call as an ordained pastor, I did not want to be ordained as a Deacon, because I believed that the sacramental rites were a part of my calling, even as a chaplain.

Also, I have never felt called as a chaplain… but rather as a pastor.

Editorial note:  God has subsequently sharpened my understanding of my call so that I now know myself to be called to “pastoral care”.  This understanding of my call fits anywhere God might lead me to serve, whether within the church walls or without, and whether I am call by the title of Chaplain or Pastor.  In any setting, I can minister to others as an ordained minister, while fulfilling my call to pastoral care.  And as sacraments are an important aspect of pastoral care, I would still want to be ordained an Elder within the United Methodist Church.

However, I don’t believe that the District Committee understood my call the way I do…  I do not believe that they “discerned” my call in the same way that I did.  And, while they (supposedly) cannot tell me how I am called or what my call is, it is my feeling that if my discernment and understanding of my call does not match their discernment and understanding of my call, then this could lead them to not continuing me as a candidate for ordained ministry.

Perhaps this is in part where they had not “seen enough growth”.  Perhaps they did not believe I had grown enough in my understanding of my call so that it matched theirs.  But once again, I don’t really know if that is true.  I just have a nagging sense that if I had answered the committee members’ questions to say that I felt called as a Chaplain and that I also felt God was leading me towards ordination as a Deacon, that I might have been re-certified as a candidate.

But then again, last year I had been given a contingency, and was asked to seek counseling with regards to “issues with authority figures” and “areas of guardedness”.  Once again, not a very clear directive, as I was not sure what they were referring to when they asked me to work on my “issues with authority figures”.  I was not sure which “issues” they thought I had.  As to my being “guarded” I could only surmise that they were using this term to describe what they felt was an apparent lack of my willingness to be open and vulnerable with them during the interview.  I was honestly not sure what I was doing or saying or not doing or not saying that led them to see me as guarded and having issues with authority figures.  And of course, the committee was not more specific, so I was left to puzzle it out with a counselor.

I did do the counseling they requested, basically determining that the guardedness they perceived was a defense mechanism I used when I was in a situation in which I felt nervous or unsure.  In my paperwork, I also explained that I was not always aware of when I was being “guarded”, and I spoke of how, growing up, I never perceived authority figures as being fallible, which perhaps played into my not wanting to seem weak or vulnerable in other peoples’ eyes:

I think this plays into my guardedness. I know it is important to be self aware, but I don’t like to appear weak to other people, or show something that might make me look   vulnerable. It makes me feel exposed, and I’m not comfortable with that. I’m also not comfortable discussing weaknesses or areas of concern outside of a relatively small group of friends.”  ~excerpt from the “self report” section of my candidacy continuation paperwork

Perhaps this is the area in which the district committee members did not see enough growth.  In my written self report I had shared with them that I did not like to appear weak, or to discuss areas of personal weakness or concerns outside of a small group of friends, but still in my interview with them, I shared openly with them about my tendency to procrastinate, and my feelings of a fear of failure that I believed was the basis, at least partially, for my procrastinating and failing to complete the commissioning paperwork.  In my humble opinion, the fact that I was even willing to share this openly and honestly with them should have been seen as tremendous growth in my willingness to be open, vulnerable and unguarded, with them.

But then, their reason for discontinuing my candidacy was so vague, at least to me, that I can’t even be sure if that was the reason, that they had not seen enough growth in regards to my apparent “issues with authority” and “areas of guardedness”.

Maybe their reasons for discontinuing me included all of the above mentioned possibilities, or parts of them… or perhaps, it was only the fact that I didn’t do the paperwork… and if this is the case, that the reason was my not getting the paperwork done, then they should have been open and honest with me, and stated that as the reason.

At any rate, I have chosen not to wait two years and then re-apply for certification as a candidate for ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church.

I have chosen not to continue jumping through hoop after hoop after hoop as part of the ordination process for the United Methodist Church, which maybe is more for “weeding people out” of the process than encouraging them and helping them to grow as they go through the process.

I have also chosen not to give up on answering God’s call on my life to ordained ministry.

To that end, I have decided to seek ordination through another denomination, through the Free Methodist Church.  After all, it is God who has called me to ordained ministry, not the United Methodist Church.

life … the journey … the adventure …

It is really interesting how things happen in life…

Although I had always gone to church, and from earliest memories, professed a belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, in June of 2000, I had a unique experience during which I felt God’s Presence with me in a powerful way…  Over the years, my faith had changed from “relationship” to “religion”, where I was going through the motions at church, but not growing in my relationship with God… and on this particular day in June 2000, I felt God’s Presence, inviting me to return to a growing relationship with him… indeed, I felt as though I was being physically drawn to God!

I knew that I could refuse this invitation… but I chose not to…

It was an experience that totally changed my life and the way I was living.

No, I didn’t suddenly become what some might think of as a freaky, weird Christian who ran around telling people they were going to hell if they didn’t believe in Jesus, or asking people if they knew where they’d go when they died… I didn’t suddenly wake up one morning with the supernatural ability to speak in other languages (although, I don’t think I’d mind waking up one morning, suddenly and unexplainably, apart from God that is, being able to speak fluent Spanish)… I didn’t suddenly have great knowledge and wisdom about God and faith and all things religious…

What I did have was an assurance that God loved me… right then and there, no matter what my life was like then…

What I did have was an assurance that God wanted to be in relationship with me, and wasn’t waiting until I was a perfect person (as if I could ever be that on my own) to invite me back into that relationship…

What I did have was an assurance that if I allowed it, God’s Holy Spirit would work in my life and in my heart to change me into the person that God wanted me to be…

And as time went on, and my relationship began to grow again, I had the dawning realization that God had a specific purpose for my life… that God was calling me to become an ordained Christian minister…

God’s revealing of his Presence with me that day in June 2000 set me on a grand adventure and journey… one which I am still on, as I seek to know and follow his will over mine… and as all adventures and journeys with God go, there are ups and downs… times of confusion and uncertainty… times when all I can see are the next couple of steps in that journey… times of challenge… times when decisions must be made… times of surrender of my will to God’s will over and over and over and over again… times of wondering if I will ever “get there”, and then realizing that the journey never ends, that there will always be new places to go and new things to do and be for God, that the only time I will “get there” is when I see my God face to face…

But there is one certainty I have as I continue on my journey and adventure… that no matter what happens, no matter whether I have wonderful, exultant “mountain top” experiences along my way, or whether I feel I am traveling through “the valley of the shadow of death” at times in this journey (or anything in-between those places)… I have the certainty that God is with me and God still calls me and still guides me…

A few months ago, I decided for a variety of reasons, to no longer seek ordination as a pastor with the denomination that I had grown up in, the United Methodist Church…

Instead, I decided to seek ordination through the Free Methodist Church…

I chose the Free Methodist Church because…

1.  Its structure is similar to what I am used to and agree with… Bishops and Superintendents to provide oversight and accountability, and a connectional system, so that no church or minister is out there doing their own thing with no support or guidance; and an appointive system, as opposed to having to be “called” by a church, so that as a pastor, one’s first allegiance is to follow God’s will, instead of following the congregation’s will (it’s great when those two are in agreement, but occasionally, that is not the case)…

2.  Its theology is Wesleyan…

3.  My life, at a very young age was impacted in an important way by a Free Methodist Church pastor, and so I felt a connection to the Free Methodist Church in a way I did not feel toward any other denomination…

To that end, the other evening, at the meeting of our Annual Conference (the South Atlantic Annual Conference), I was accepted as a Conference Ministerial Candidate, and appointed to the Orlando Fellowship (an incarnational, missional ministry team) where I will continue to express my call of pastoral care, currently through being a hospice chaplain.

As a Conference Ministerial Candidate, my journey towards ordination continues, as I enter the final phase of being mentored… in preparation to be fully ordained as an Elder in the Free Methodist Church within the next three years… but even that, ordination… will not be the “journeys end” in answering God’s call on my life…

God will always have an adventure for me, as my journey with him continues…

God will continue to work in my heart and life to form me and perfect me, as God is the “author and perfector of my faith”…

Yes… it is interesting how things happen in our lives… and what could be better than answering the call of the One who loves me more than any human could… answering the call of the One who died, that I might be able to have peace with God… answering the call of the One who is able to take the broken pieces of my life, and create a tapestry of love that through me, reaches out and touches the world… that others may know how much God loves them…

Not All Christmas Memories are Happy Ones…

Tuesday, 1/25/2011

The Call

Got a call today from University Village…  Dad has been sent to the hospital (UCH)…  “Why?”  “He isn’t real responsive… you know he hasn’t been eating or drinking a lot lately… we think he’s just dehydrated.”

Talked with Joe…  set up paperwork for Family Medical Leave stuff and left work early…  Called Harrell to go sit with Dad in the ER… left work to get ready and go to Tampa…  Something tells me I need to go…

Dropped my cell phone – can’t see anything on the screen… seems to still be working, but can’t really tell cause the screen is black…  of all days for this to happen!!  I need a working cell phone!!  Stopped by a Verizon Wireless place on the way home…  got a brand new cell phone…  they were so nice, just replaced the whole thing…

Continuing home to get packed and leave…  saw (Pastor) Tony’s car at church… stopped to let him know I was leaving and ask for prayer…

Home…  packing…  dogs going with me…  oh yeah, gotta call Penny…  need to arrange to get keys to her house…

Almost packed and on the way…  ER doc calls…  “How aggressive should treatment be for your dad?” (or something like that)…

“How serious is this?”

“He has had a serious heart attack…  his blood count is very low…  I’d give him a transfusion, but I don’t think his heart could handle it…  he almost kicked me when I touched his abdomen…  kidneys are failing…”

Yep, this is serious…  and at University Village they thought dad was just dehydrated??!!

“Dad is a DNR… and he does have an aortic aneurism that they have been watching for years… at this point in time, what do you think, doc?”

“I think the less done the better for him…  let’s see what happens.  Probably won’t explore the aneurism too much.”

“Ok…  and the man that is sitting with dad now is a family friend…  you can tell him anything you’d tell me…”

Ok…  gotta get in to Tampa…  gotta get Mom to the hospital to see dad…  he is probably dying…  car is packed…  on my way…  stop for gas…

Call Iris to go sit with Mom til I get there…  tell Iris what is happening…  called Mom to let her know that Dad has had a heart attack and is being admitted to the hospital and that I am on my way…  she doesn’t understand what I am saying…  I asked the nurse to tell her…

“You want me to tell her THAT??”

“Yes!  And tell her I am on my way.”

Call Penny and let her know what is going on… Penny is still in St. Pete (at work), but will get home about same time I will…

Got to Penny’s…  unloaded stuff and dogs…  I am glad I brought Buster and Nugget…  it almost feels like they are the only constant in my life right now…  I feel as though I will need their physical presence with me…  dogs are good “people” to talk to…

Got to University Village…  Iris and Raul are with mom…  I tell her Dad has had a heart attack and been admitted…  does she want to go to the hospital to see him?

“Yes.”

Get her to car, and on the way, I call Harrell to find out where Dad is…  he has been admitted and is in a room… cardiac progressive unit or something like that…

We get up there and into Dad’s room… and the waiting begins…

Iris and Raul are with us… and Harrell stays with us…  I walk out of the room, and Harrell comes with me…

“You know what you’re looking at, don’t you?” he asks me…    “Yeah, I know…”

I do know…  Dad is dying… don’t know how long it will be…  I call Celeste and Dena to let them know what is happening…  it is hard to tell them that Dad is dying…  they can’t get here, but would want to know…

Call Gerry to let her know what is happening…  Aunt Pina lives with her…  she needs to come see him…  tonight, I think…  I don’t tell Gerry that she has to come tonight, but she understands…  Gerry and Aunt Pina get there in a short time…

Gerry has also called others, and Billy and Sandy come to visit (say good-bye, without saying good-bye)…

By 10pm or so, Billy and Sandy, Harrell and Millie, Gerry and Aunt Pina, Iris and Raul, and Mom and I are there…  Dad is conscious and able to talk…  but not fully…  and as time goes on, he begins to drop off little by little…  well it is getting late at night…  is Dad getting sleepy?  or going into a coma, to then slip away to heaven?

Mom keeps talking with him….

“Honey, honey… do you know who’s here?”

“No… who?”

“There’s Iris and Raul and Harrell and Millie and Gerry and Pina and Billie and Sandy and Jonelle and…”

“Well, I’ll be damned!!!”

And everyone in the room cracks up laughing… mom is scandalized…

“Have you ever heard him talk like that??!!”

And we laugh…

People have to leave…  it is late…  Harrell will stay with Mom and me…

the waiting continues…

 

Wednesday, 1/26/2011

Dad is in Heaven

Mom has been awake all night…  and except for when she needed to go to the bathroom, she has sat by his side, holding his hand and looking into his face…  she has not slept…

Dad finally dropped off to sleep last night…  I don’t think he will wake up on this earth again…

Harrell has slept off and on, and I have dozed off for very short times…  but not really gone to sleep…

Eight in the morning and both Harrell and I try to get Mom to go back to University Village to change clothes or get her meds…  she won’t go…

“I am not leaving his side!”

So that’s that…   we continue to wait…  Harrell goes home and tells me to call…  he needs to sleep a little, shower and change clothes…

Gerry and Aunt Pina come back…

We continue to wait…  Mom sits by his side, and continues to look lovingly into his face…  Dad’s breathing is calm…  Dad is peaceful… I know Dad will not wake up again…  I just don’t know how long it will be before he takes his last breath…

At around 11:25am, Dad takes his last breath…  I did not look at the clock to be sure of the time…  but I know it was about that time based on the time of the phone calls I made…  to Harrell, to Celeste, a text (“Dad is in heaven”) to Pastor Tony, to Dena (did I call Dena, or did Celeste?  Not sure), to Iris, to “Pastor” Michael (he shows up, has a prayer with us, sits for a short while and leaves… he has never really been a pastor to my parents), to Adolpho (funeral guy)…

Mom is glad that Dad is at peace…  Aunt Pina says that she did not expect to outlive her little brother… I am sad… have cried some… know that more tears will come over time…

Mom is not ready to leave the room… the hospital personnel tell us we can have as much time as we want…  others besides Michael (who did not stay for too long), have come, but I don’t remember who now…  I think Harrell came back…  maybe Iris…  Gerry and Aunt Pina are there…

Dad is in heaven…

And in an instant, a person becomes a memory…

The Gift of Presence…

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”  He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”        ~Mark 14:32-34

Some thoughts:

1. Jesus knew he was about to die…

2. Jesus asked his closest companions to “keep watch with [him]”…

a. Jesus was not asking them to be his bodyguards, to protect him…

b. He did not want them to watch so they could warn him to make an escape…

c. It seems Jesus only wanted his companions to be “present” with him…

What did their “presence” give to Jesus?  Why did he want or need it?  Perhaps an aspect of his humanity is showing itself as he faces the death he knows is coming…

What does our “presence” give to those with whom we wait and watch?

A seventeen year old, wanting his mother’s “presence” as the time of his death approaches says, “Mom, I know I’m dying.  Just wait with me.”   And then over the next few days, he gradually slips into a coma…  but there are family members and friends near… waiting.

How many others want the presence of someone else with them as their time of death draws near?  What does the presence of other people bring or give to those who know they are dying?  And how hard it must be to be that other person, that witness, who can do nothing to stop the inevitable…  Who can only wait and watch, with no power to change the coming events.

Why is this important for the one dying?  Maybe because the one dying knows that he or she does not face death alone if someone else is waiting and watching with them… The dying walk through death’s door, letting go of one hand to reach out and grasp another…  Love takes them to the door, gives them strength as they pass through it, and meets them again on the other side…

The night before he dies, the seventeen year old briefly wakes from his coma…  Family and friends are gathered around.  Perhaps for him it is one last time that he can look on those he loves and see that they love him.  He slips back into his coma, continuing his journey…  knowing he is not alone.

His younger sister is asked if she wants to sleep in his room, with him, that night.  She says yes, and so a cot is set up.  That night, as she sleeps, she is given the privilege of being the one who is “present” with her brother…  But she does not know this…  She only knows that she is receiving the gift of his presence with her, a presence that she knows she is losing to death…