Friday, February 5, 2016

A Week in the Hospital Day 6: Sunday – Psalm 71:1-6

Last week (January 26-February 2, 2016), I ended up in the hospital. Something simple spiraled out of control. While in the hospital, I kept up with the daily reading of psalms that I’ve been practicing since the first of the year. The psalms I read were chosen by the Presbyterian Daily Prayer Lectionary. The psalms are sent to my e-mail every morning and I often read them on my phone, then again in my bible. These psalms helped to frame my experience. The following is an account of my hospital stay for friends and family who want to know what happened. [NOTE: This contains some graphic depictions of medical problems. No pictures, just words.]

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For you, O Lord, are my hope,
    my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
Upon you I have leaned from my birth;
    it was you who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you. (71:5-6)

More visits from friends and pastoral counselors. In fact, I called for pastoral care.

It seems to me that most of life can be experienced in at least two ways. The first way encounters every moment as a potential threat. The second sees every moment as a potential gift. This is an oversimplification, of course. But I think most of us encounter life primarily in one of these two ways.

For most of my life, I have walked the first way. I am a fearful person. I’m the first to admit it. Perhaps this is a consequence of being sick so often as a child. Whatever the cause, I rarely trust myself, my body, or my life. I do not take risks easily. I often have hope for other people. I am, perhaps, too trusting. But everything that happens to me seems tainted with the possibility of failure, or sickness, or death. This is why I resonate so strongly with the speaker in psalm 88: ‘Wretched and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am desperate.’

But the speaker of Psalm 71 has a different perspective. Later in the psalm we discover that she is advanced in years. She has lived a long life and prays with confidence that God will save her even in her old age. She can pray this way not because she has avoided trouble all of her life, but because she has survived that same trouble. ‘You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again.’ (71:20)

On Sunday morning, all I could see was betrayal. I wept. I snapped at a nurse who was trying to help. Realizing that I was not in my right mind, I called for a pastoral counselor.

By Sunday evening, I began to see gift. I have aspirated so many times over the last 30 years. Fluid and all manner of things have clogged my lungs. I am so used to it that, sometimes, even knowing that fluid has entered my lungs, I do not go to the hospital. I cough and cough and cough, knowing that if I cough up enough, I will have sore lungs for a few days, but will ultimately survive. But for some reason, this time, I decided to go to the ER. If the spot is an infection, they may have caught it early enough to treat it with antibiotics. No surgery required. I also learned that, despite my many illnesses, my esophagus remains healthy. My lungs are actually fairly healthy. My stomach problems have not worsened. Gift.

More than this, I discovered anew how much my family is loved. Offers of help began pouring in from the church family we have cultivated for six years, the church where Sarah works, and the churches I serve. My two tiny churches have been THE CHURCH for my family and I for the last week. They have given lavishly of their time, energy and money to bring us groceries, to watch the kids while Sarah napped, cleaned or showered. They have prayed and sent cards. Nearly every single person in these two tiny churches has either called or come in person to check on us. They love as naturally as they breathe.

I discovered anew the love of my family. My wife. Her parents and grandparents. My parents, sister and brother. Cards, phone calls, texts, e-mails. At just the right time, all of my loved ones appeared to offer a word of counsel or comfort. At just the right time.

I do not know if I am cured of my pessimism. But I am documenting this in part to remind myself of the possibility of optimism. I could say that God has brought me to the brink of death dozens of times. Or I could say that God has snatched me from the brink of death dozens of times.
Although I was born premature, it is God “who took me from my mother’s womb.”


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