Posted in Moments of grace

For the first time in forever

Photo by Daniel Lee on Unsplash

Now that folks are vaccinated and venturing out again, I’ve got another wave of people I’m visiting that I haven’t seen in fifteen months. Every church has what I call “homebound” members. I used to call them “shut-ins” but I found out people don’t like that label. It makes them feel old. Anyway, as the pastor, I try to visit my homebound members about once a month and bring them communion since they can’t be with the congregation for Sunday worship. It seems like everyone has a recent story about seeing friends and family for the first time since COVID quarantining. Here’s one of mine.

So B. is going to turn one hundred years old this fall. Her daughter, whose name also starts with a B, so I’ll call her B-two, is her caregiver. The last time I saw them was February 2020. Fifteen, no wait, sixteen months ago. Wow, that is a long time. That’s just nuts. Because of B’s age, B-two was hyper-cautious about going out and bringing home germs of any kind. B-two went to the grocery store twice a month. When she got home, she took off her clothes, put them in the laundry, took a shower, and wiped down her purchases. She brought the mail in from the mailbox wearing latex gloves, and let it sit on the dining room table for a day or two before opening anything. Hyper-cautious is an appropriate word. They went nowhere and saw no one for over a year. They are not tech-savvy, so they did not watch any worship services online. They just. Stayed. Home.

A few weeks ago, their elder let me know that they were ready for a visit. They were vaccinated. I was vaccinated. The door was open. (Elders are folks in our congregation who help me keep in touch with all our families.) Nice. I called and set up a time to visit. Bonus: they would have lunch for me, too!

When I walked in the door, it seemed like no time had passed at all. I felt like I had just been there one month ago. At the same time, I could see (and they could probably see too) how much we had aged. So much and so little time had passed! A time-space anomaly (as often said on Star Trek).

We talked about my grandchildren that had been born, church members who had died and some who were still alive. B is the oldest member of our congregation. I asked her what kind of party she wanted this fall. She’ll probably have a weekend drop-by event for all those she hasn’t outlived. That’s the problem with living a long life. You outlive everyone who you wanted to celebrate with you!

I was there for about 2-1/2 hours today. Lunch was shrimp cooked in a wine sauce, with a green bean bacon side, a nice spinach salad, some peas and rice, and a frozen angel food/sherbet cake for dessert. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. I made sure I did a thirty minute Peloton ride when I got home.

Fifteen months later, I got to see a few members of my church again. They got to see me. I think I got the greater blessing today.

Posted in Dad, Ministry

Lunch with my dad and his friends

At the end of last month, I got to spend a few day with my dad. If you’ve read any of my blog posts, you know he lives on a memory care floor in a very nice assisted living facility in Springfield, VA. I not only got to visit with him for a couple o days, but also got to have lunch with him and some of his friends.

I flew up early on a Tuesday morning, took the Metro to Springfield and walked up the hill to his residence. On my way in, I mentioned to the front desk that I wanted to eat lunch with dad. Eight bucks. No problem; I had a little cash in my pocket. I was all set. That evening, my brother was surprised that I had to pay. They usually offered him lunch when he sat next to dad. Sure enough, the next day, I simply sat there and they brought me lunch. Sweet.

Dad wasn’t awake much the first day and only ate soup and ice cream on the second day. I, one the other hand, had a nice grilled ham and cheese sandwich on my first day there, and some really good lasagna on day two, plus much of dad’s turkey reuben.

But the best part was sitting there with all the other people at dad’s table. Across the way from me was Joe, who didn’t eat much, but often looked and me and smiled. Next to him was Irene, who kept trying to get Joe to eat some of her food. On the second day, she poured her soup into her juice glass and drank it. When one of the caregivers asked, “What are you drinking?” I explained that it was her soup. Both of them just smiled. Hey, when you’re that old and in a place like that, why not?

To my right was Bob, who though most of the food was so-so, even though he ate all of it. Next to him was Millie, who ate her lunch very slowly and deliberately. I must have looked young to her. She asked me, “So how do you like your classes?” At the end of the table was Glenn, who I later found out had been there as long as my dad, close to two years. It took a while, but he ate every bit of his lunch.

In many ways it is an alternate reality. These beautiful, sweet and wonderful folks welcomed me into their world. They graciously made room for me at their table, shared their food with me and accepted me with no reservations. It was a liberating moment, for no expectations were thrust upon me. All I had to do was enjoy my lunch.

I needed that moment. Not just to be with my dad, but to be with them. Life is so much more than all the stuff I have on my mind. Sometimes it’s just about lunch.

Posted in helping, lessons, Life, Ministry

Lunch and a ride

OK, one more “that time I helped someone” story:

Photo by Oscar Nilsson on Unsplash

This one happened in Florida, late one morning when the intercom from the front office told me, “There’s a man on the phone who wants to talk to the pastor.”

I knew how these conversations usually went. But I wasn’t all that busy and was feeling fairly pastoral, so I said, “OK, I’ll talk to him.”

It was a little different than what I expected. He didn’t ask anything of me other than wanting to have lunch with me. I was free for lunch, so when he told me where he was, I told him I would meet him at the barbecue restaurant just a quick walk away.
When I arrived at Woody’s, I figured that he was the guy standing by the front door, so I introduced myself, we went inside and sat down.

I told him lunch was on me. I was fairly certain a request for help would eventually come, so I was prepared to pick up the tab. When the waitress came, I ordered a lunch special, but he only got a plate of fries and some ice water. Interesting.

As we waited for our food he did most of the talking and I mostly listened. He was an experienced truck driver and was on his way to St. Augustine for his next job. He didn’t have his own truck, but was meeting someone for his next haul.

The food arrived in a few minutes, and while I enjoyed some pulled pork and sweet tea, he launched into a lengthly monologue about driving truck, his experiences and what he hoped his future would look like.

trucks“You know all those orange and blue trailers you see on the road? Those are all beginners. That’s their first job. Trust me, they aren’t making much money. Barely enough to get by. They are just learning how to drive, so when you see them, give them lots of room.” I took his word for it, though I didn’t know if that was a fact.

I did ask, “So how long do you have to drive before you are making good money?”

He said, “At least ten years. Until then, you aren’t making anything. Most drivers don’t last that long. You have to stay clean — no record, no drugs, no alcohol. Most can’t do it. Companies can’t find drivers who are clean and most guys who want to drive can’t get jobs.”

Our conversation went on for about an hour. Mostly about truck, a little bit about family, and of course a mention of church life, since I’m a pastor and all. Then he mentioned that he just need to get up to St. Augustine to pick up the truck for the next job.

I said, “I can give you a ride.” He was meeting someone at a place near the outlet mall. Half-an-hour away, not a problem. Of course, in the back of my mind a voice tried to tell me I probably shouldn’t do this alone. But I didn’t feel threatened and he seemed honest enough, so we headed up the interstate to his destination.

On the way we talked about where he had lived in Florida, his time in the military, his kids, who were grown and living somewhere, and of course a quick mention of wanting to get back to church. In fact, when he was in the area, he would probably stop in.

When we got to the motel, he told me his truck was arriving the next day. I wasn’t going to just leave him there, so I went inside and paid for a hotel room for him.

As I drove home, I marveled at how he chose to spend a couple of hours with me rather than just asking for some help. I don’t know if he had practiced that skill, or if it just worked out that way. But it was effective. I probably would have said no to an outright request, but was willing to help as the need unfolded. Pretty clever. I’ll bet anyone could use that strategy. Invite someone into your life, gradually unfold your need, and let them be a part of your story.

I didn’t come away from that encounter feeling used. Instead, I was fascinated how our lives had intersected for just a moment in time. I learned a lot. Every time I see one of those trailers on the highway, I remember that day and what he told me about those drivers. I also think often about my vocation, and how people seek out a pastor for help. I’m safe, often generous and usually compassionate. I didn’t do any preaching or teaching that day, just bought a guy lunch and gave him a ride. Ministry moments aren’t spectacular. Neither was Jesus. Maybe that’s the point.