Tag Archives: Hospice

What is Life All About?

Maybe we don’t think about this question and all the questions it generates until we face the end of  our life.    Then the questions come quickly!  What have I accomplished by my life?   Have I been successful?   Has my life made a difference?   For whom?    How do I want to be remembered?    What legacy have I left behind?    When people think of me after I’m gone, if they do, what will they think about? In general, what meaning does my life have?

As one who just went on hospice this week, I think I can speak to this topic with a far deeper insight than I could  have done two weeks ago……

I’ve had a great life!   My office walls contain many awards, commendations,  mementos; three higher education degrees (a Bachelor of Arts and 2 Master’s degrees),   Recently on my 80th birthday reception more than 100 people from all over Kansas showed up to celebrate with me.  They included extended family, friends, colleagues in ministry, etc.–.     I have enjoyed a wonderful loving and caring relationship with my wife Kay the past 4+ years.   She has a deep love for God and a deep love for me that doesn’t stop when the going gets rough, as it is now.  I am so blessed by her love.       In my lifetime  I’ve been able to travel to Russia and have memories and souvenirs from there, as well as traveling to Alaska and other parts of the U.S.       I’ve had reasonably good health up to the last year which enabled me to remain active..    I’ve served many churches  as pastor and earned from them the title I appreciate the most—pastor.    I have awards in both education, including membership in the educational fraternity, Phi Delta Kappa and am listed in Who’s Who in Education. after 30+ years of teaching in high school and college.  In Christian ministry I have the “Honored Minister’s pin: and am a “Minister Emeritus in the region of Kansas—-all highly significant awards.

But what I want to express here is my most important possession, although it is not  really a possession.     I am loved!       I am loved by God;  I am loved by my wife;   I am loved by my children and grandchildren; I am loved by my step-children and step-grandchildren and by many of my  former students and parishioners and by people I have worked with in both the regional church and the  individual parishes I have served.

As I contemplate it, my life has been surrounded by love and all of the accomplishments that I could have made—-are all built around that LOVE.    By the love and support I have received.  Everything I have accomplished has been because someone loved and supported me.   To give every instance as an example would be to write my biography.    However, two of the accomplishments that I am most proud of that  are built around love are my son and daughter.   They came out of  love for my first wife Dee, they were raised knowing that we loved them.    I remember a conversation with them a few years back when I said—“you know we didn’t always do things right when we were raising you—-we made a lot of mistakes.”   Their reply was that the mistakes were not that  important to them now.  What was important they said was that they always knew they were loved and we were there for them when they needed it.  Both of these children are now independent, loving and caring individuals.   They are an accomplishment of love.

The apostle Paul wrote in the 13th chapter of II Corinthians these well-known words.   They apply so well to what I am truing to say:

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.   And if have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love;  I am nothing.   If I give away all my possessions and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love;  I gain nothing…..

Put love at the center of your life.   Give it and receive it freely.   It is the most important possession that  life can give you.   Love is the source of all the meaningful accomplishments you make in life.  THEY COME FROM LOVE FOR GOD AND LOVE FOR OTHERS.  AND WHEN YOU PUT LOVE AT THE CENTER OF YOUR LIFE YOU PUT GOD THERE   BECAUSE  GOD IS LOVE.

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Hope for the “Walking Wounded”

Text:   Matthew 9:18-26

            Remember the TV commercial that showed sick kids and a sick husband lined up outside a closed door—apparently waiting their turn with the doctor?   Finally the door opened and standing there in a white lab coat with spoon in hand to administer the cough medicine the ad was selling, saying…”Next!!….was “Dr. Mom”.

The commercial was trying to cash in on the known fact that in spite of all our advanced scientific knowledge and medical expertise—We all still long to be cuddled, coddled, and cured by the loving care of a parent or other loved one—-no matter what our age!!

            Obviously, Dr. Mom can give us what no one else can give—-Love.   And that is a very powerful medicine for the healing process.

Last night on CBS News  “On the Road” I saw another example of the power of love to heal.   It told the story of a man and woman, both in their 70’s,  who both needed heart transplants and were deteriorating rapidly health-wise and were barely able to take care of themselves.   They found each other, fell in love and now the doctors are astounded—what medicine could not do to heal their hearts has been done by their love for each other.   They are healthy and thriving and enjoying life!   The power of love is astonishing!!

Jesus message that he brought about God and showed by his ministry is that our God is a God of love!    The power of that love to heal a broken humanity is still present in the world.    Our wounds can be healed and so can the wounds of others through our loving them as God loves them.

The theme of this sermon, based on the text read, is that not only does love heal us, but it helps us to heal others.   We not only may be healed by our faith in the love of God for us—-but we as a church can participate in the healing of others through that faith and love for God.   Faith and Love heals!   Without love that comes through faith in God’s love for us; without specific caring, ‘making a healing connection’ is often impossible.   Faith and Love open up that connection between a healer and the one who desires to be healed!!!

That is what we see in the story of the woman hemorrhaging that is our text for today.   Jesus’ love and compassion for the woman and the faith that the woman had that he could heal her is what led to her healing.    It was a dangerous thing for this woman to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment—-especially with her condition, because she was ritually unclean and would spread that uncleanness to this Rabbi that she touched.   Yet she did it!   She did it out of faith that she could be healed by this loving Rabbi.    And Jesus turned and addressed her directly—-but with profound gentleness and love, and offered her encouragement to “take heart” and opened his own heart to this woman by addressing her as “daughter.”   While Love is not the cause of the healing that takes place, it is the only environment in which healing can occur.   And the woman’s faith in the healing power of Jesus’ love for her led to her healing.   Jesus told her:   “Your faith has made you well!”

            The faith of the woman was demonstrated by her actions—-just to touch the fringe of his garment would be enough.

 Faith and love are what link together the healing power of God with the wounded parts of our lives today, also. Through faith we can also receive God’s healing touch on our own woundedness and then pass it on to others around us.

And we are wounded in many ways and in need of God’s healing power today.          

            There’s a story told about a company of soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, who were surrounded and were facing fighting there way out..   The company commander ordered one of the men to get in a jeep and drive it.   The man objected:   “Sir, I’m wounded”.   And the commander answered:  “Son, we’re all wounded—-get in an drive!!”

            And so it is with our world today.   All of us, in a sense, are among the “walking wounded”

Some of the wounds are self-inflicted:

We betray a marriage partner that we love and suffer the loss of trust by that person and perhaps the breakup of a marriage and family.

In our relationship with those we love, we take actions that strain those relationships and result in our loneliness, fear, remorse, and misery.

We act to take revenge for a supposed wrong and invite the revenge by the person toward which we aimed our actions—-and both are harmed and wounded.

We abuse our bodies with substances that are harmful to us and reap the result of poor health, sickness, death.

We work long hours and neglect our families to the point they turn away from us and leave us lonely and feeling unloved.

But some of the wounds are ones over which we have no control:

An accident, heart attack or cancer strikes us or one we love quickly and our lives are changed in an instant.

An accident leaves us crippled for the rest of our lives.

A stroke takes away our ability to do what we love to do and changes our lives forever.

We lose a loved one in a tragic accident or illness and are left alone and hurting.

We lose our jobs through lay-offs when a new employer takes over a business and are left bitter, disappointed, and anxious as to how we will care for ourselves and our families.

In my work as a hospice chaplain I was taught to assess patients for four types of what we called  “spiritual pain.”   They are:

Meaning painwhat significance do our lives have?   What meaning does our life have to us and to others/    Whatever has significance for our lives defines our reason for existence.   If we can find no meaning, then there is no reason to continue to exist, and we are in “meaning pain”.

Forgiveness Painmore often than not the most challenging person to forgive is not someone else, but ourselves.   However, all of us have been let down, dishonored, abused, lied to, cheated on, and somehow diminished in life and spirit.   Forgiveness is not condoning that, denying it, or forgetting these wounds.   Forgiveness is the willingness to let go of the other person’s “jugular”  as someone has said.   We need to surrender the right to get even with another.   And don’t forget that we need to forgive ourselves–sometimes the hardest thing to do.   If we don’t, we are in “forgiveness pain”.

Relatedness PainThis is pain caused by a strong sense of separation and alienation from loved ones or from a job or a role or an identity. It often happens when roles change from caregiver to the one taken care of.   Or when we no longer can perform our occupation that has defined our existence.

Hopelessness Pain Referred to as the “terminal illness of the human spirit.”   It is to believe what the Italian poet, Dante, wrote over the gates of Hell in his poem, The Inferno.   “Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here!!!”    Sometimes the loss of hope is not connected so much to one particular event but to a cumulative set of losses.    “Hopelessness”  pain is the worst pain of the four types.

In Hospice I also saw another kind of pain that I would add to the above list—-Religious Pain.   That is pain that has been experienced at the hands of the church or at the hands of fellow-Christians, or even a pastor.   It leads to the spiritual pain of feeling that God has abandoned us—that God no longer loves us!     That is Hopelessness pain to the nth degree.

When dying persons are experiencing one or more of these types of pain we found in hospice that it is not possible to give enough morphine to ease the pain of the patient.    Not until these 5 types of pain are eased could we ease the physical pain of the patient.

Yes—-truly all of us are “walking wounded” in a sense—-either through self-inflicted wounds or by those over which we have no control—-or both   All of us!!

 Just as the woman with a hemorrhage reached out to Jesus in faith and was the recipient of his love and healing—-so must we reach out to claim his love and healing power for ourselves and for others.  

Remember that our faith links the healing power of God with the wounded parts of our lives and the lives of others.  

We need to reach out to God’s  love for us  for the healing of ourselves.

We need to reach out to God’s love in prayer for the healing of others.

We need as a church to be a “healing place” where the love of God may be felt and seen in our actions towards each other and toward others.We need to be a “nurturing” place for the wounded people of our world. Remember that the mission of the church is  ” to live the Great Commandment in our community and beyond.”

 

Let me close with this story—-and a challenge…….

            A holy man was having a conversation with God one day and said,  “Lord, I would like to know what heaven and hell are like.”

The Lord led the holy man to two doors.   He opened one of the doors and the holy man looked in.   In the middle of the room was a large round table.  In the middle of the table was a large pot of stew, which smelled delicious and made the holy man’s mouth water.

The people sitting around the table were thin and sickly.   They appeared to be famished.   They were holding spoons with very long handles that were strapped to their arms, and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful.   But because the handles were longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths.

The holy man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering.

            The Lord said, “You have seen hell.”   

They went to the next room and opened the door.   It was exactly the same as the first one.   There was a large round table with the large pot of stew which made the holy man’s mouth water.   The people were equipped with the same long-handled spoons, but here the people were well-nourished and plump, laughing and talking.

            The holy man said, “I don’t understand.”

It’s simple” said the Lord. “It requires but one skill.   You see that they have learned to feed each other.   That is why it is heaven.

There’s a world out there beyond our doors and even within our doors that’s dying because they haven’t heard and experienced God’s love for them through Jesus Christ and directly through us.   They are “walking wounded.”  

 Will you feed them?  Will you nurture them with your love and God’s love for them?   Will you aid in their healing through your love and God’s love for them?   Will you be healed yourself by God’s love for you?

 

Hope in the Midst of Despair

Back in the “good old days” (that didn’t seem so good then) of  the late 20th century we seemed to have a “motivational icon” for every decade.   For the 70’s it was a “Smiley Face” with the words “Have a nice day!”.   In the 80’s we sang “Don’t worry, be happy” with Bobby McFerrin.   For the 90’s we were told by Nike to “Just do it!!”

Those days seem to have gone away in the first decade of the 21st century, haven’t they?   We’ve experienced the sea-change of fear brought about by the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon;  executive wrongdoing on a massive scale that cost many their homes and livelihood;  wars in Afghanistan and Iraq resulting in the death of thousands of our young men and women;  the threat of nuclear weapons development by Korea and Iran—our sworn enemies; high gas prices; mortgage failures.   What should the icon be for the first decade of the 21st century?–an “orange alert”?  Taps being played at a gravesite of our young men and women killed in the wars?   a foreclosure sign?  the song “Brother can you spare a Dime?”

The pain and suffering we see  is enough  to drive us to despair and a company called Despair, Inc. has tapped into it to make a buck by selling “pragmatic pessimism”.   For example, they market a glass mug with a line in the middle that says “half-empty”.   Also  lithographs that feature beautiful photos with depressing twists, such as a photo of a dark sunset with the saying:  “DESPAIR:  It is always darkest just before going pitchblack! ”  or a photo of a lightning storm, saying:   “PESSIMISM:   Every cloud has a silver lining, but lightning kills hundres of people each year who are trying to find it”

Despair, Inc. has tapped into a truth that all of us know and few of us want to admit—Pain and suffering is a grim reality for human beings.   It is part of the human condition.

In my work as a hospice chaplain I saw a lot of pain and suffering along with valiant attempts to alleviate it by palliative care specialists every day.   We all know that no amount of wealth, no measure of security, no low-fat, oat-bran diet can defend us against suffering, pain and eventually death.   At birth there is the knowledge that this new life will eventually end.  Good or bad, rich or poor, we know that pain and death are just a word, a mistake, an accident or an illness away from us all.    Depressing?  Exactly!   Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide with over 9 percent of Americans affected by it every year.

We’ve all known some amount of despair, haven’t we?    It happens in times of stress like a move, a job loss, an extensive illness, a loss of a loved one through divorce or death, an economic downturn or a natural disaster such as hurricanes, floods, forest fires.    While this despair usually lifts in time it is very stressful at the time and can leave us broken and in fear of our very lives—feeling like we have been abandoned by God.

This is not just a 21st century feeling—-it is part of the human condition and has been with us through the ages.   We see it in Psalm 22, our text today,  written hundreds of years before the birth of the Christ.   The Psalmist feels he is surrounded by enemies, broken in body, and spirit.  He cries out for help with the words:   “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”   In the midst of pain and impending death the psalmist seeks the intimacy of a relationship with God, but God seems so far away from helping him.   However he remembers that God HAS been a help for others and for his nation in the past; but just now he feels he is surrounded, tortured, and almost dead.   He hears the sarcastic taunts of his enemies ringing in his ears, “He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him” (v.8).   No wonder he asks  WHY?

When we our those we love are in pain or are suffering, we also want to know “WHY?”    I remember a hospice patient, a man in his late 40’s dying of MS who told me:   “Chaplain, when I see God after I die I have only one question for God:   WHY!!!

But when we cry out for answers to the “WHY?” question we seldom receive them.   Perhaps it is because we are asking the wrong question.   THE QUESTION SHOULD NOT BE “WHY?”   but “WHO?

Although God may not answer the “why question,   God is not silent.   Someone has said “What God whispers to us in our pleasure, he shouts to us in our pain”.   And what God shouts is:  “I am here for you!   I will help you through this time!  Trust me!

This is what the Psalmist acknowledges.   This is what Jesus acknowledged on the cross when he said:  “Into your hands I commend my spirit” right before his death.   The answer to pain and suffering is not in the “why” but in the “Who”.  God will be with us if we trust in God’s presence.   And as Paul says:   “If God is for us, who can be against us?”   If we draw near to God he will draw near to us.

I love the words of a hymn that tells us this.   “I was there to Hear Your Borning Cry”.

I was there to hear your borning cry, I’ll be there when you are old.

I rejoiced the day you were baptized, to see your life unfold.

I was there when you were but a child, with a faith to suit you well;

In a blaze of light you wandered off to find where demons dwell.

When you heard the wonder of the word, I was there to cheer you on;

You were raised to praise the living God, to whom you now belong.

When you find someone to share your time, and you join your hearts as one;

I’ll be there to make your verses rhyme from dusk till rising sun.

In the middle ages of your life, not too old, no longer young.

I’ll be there to guide you through the night, complete what I’ve begun.

When the evening gently closes in and you shut your weary eyes,

I’ll be there as I have always been, with just one more surprise.

I was there to hear your borning cry.  I’ll be there when you are old.

I rejoiced the day you were baptized, to see your life unfold.    Amen.