The real reason for the visit

I thought I knew why I was there.

I mean, I go to visit people all the time. I visit folks who are first time worshipers with us. I visit others who are struggling with problems. I visit some who are recovering, sick or dying. I visit some just because that’s what pastors do. On site pastoral care is part of the job. But sometimes I learn the reason for my visit after I arrive.

I recently thought I was visiting a couple who had decided to join our congregation. Because of travel, hurricanes and family deaths, our meeting had been postponed for a while. We finally got together and had a really good conversation about church, ministry, the future and some of the uncertainties of life.

As often happens, ninety minutes passed like a moment. As I prepared to bring the conversation to a close and head home, something blipped on my radar. We had both lost a father in past three months. Her brief comment about grief, stress and sadness made me pause. I believe the Holy Spirit nudged me to stay, inquire, and listen to my friends talk about their loss. That’s the reason I was there.

Everything else we talked about, everything else on the agenda faded away as we shared stories about the last days of our fathers. She needed to speak. I needed to listen. Stories needed to be told. Stories needed to be heard.

I am thankful that I decided to simply listen. I wasn’t there to process a new member. Or answer their questions about our church. Or find out how they wanted to be a part of their ministry. I was there to listen to a grieving daughter mourn, remember and thank God for her father.

And I was there to mourn, remember and give God thanks for my father, too. Sometimes I forget that I am still processing this life-changing event from just a few months ago. Life moves on at such a fast pace that it’s easy to forget that we need time to figure all this out.

So, was this visit more for me or for them? Who knows? Probably both.

“She’s not here.”

I was just trying to do my job. Just doing pastoral care the best I know how. I figured if I timed it right, I could stop by to see one member in the hospice house and make another home visit before Good News Club this afternoon.

I walked into the hospice house and headed for the room I had just visited yesterday. It was empty. Oh boy. I’m glad I visited yesterday. She must have passed. The room was empty, clean and ready for the next patient.

As I walked out, I stopped by the front desk and asked about the person in room 2. “Oh, they moved her.” Really? “She was transferred to Fish.” Fish is short for another hospital in the AdventHealth chain. That’s unusual. Why would you move someone who was in the last hours of their life? I asked, “I know you can’t tell me much, but why would they move her?”

Someone who appeared to be a nurse said, “I don’t know. I hadn’t seen her.” Another front desk person said, “There could be a thousand reasons.” Another apologized, “I’m sorry.”

When I got to my car, I tried to call, then texted the daughter. A few minutes later I got a phone call fro her. Her mom had died last night. That’s what I thought. But why didn’t anyone at the front desk or nurses station know that? Why didn’t anyone care to pass along that important detail?

I started to call the hospice house, just to let those at the front desk know that one of their clients had died. But I didn’t. Why waste my time?

I’m glad that God knows when a single sparrow falls to the ground, much less one of his loved ones. By grace, she was someone! By grace, so am I.

The best and the worst

After two worship services this morning, I headed out to Stuart Meyer hospice house (in Palm Coast, FL) to see Kay. By the grace of God I last saw Kay on Wednesday, the last day she was awake and aware. I was glad to talk with her, give her communion and pray with her. Within hours, the doctors found a brain tumor and plans were made for hospice care. From that time one, she was unconscious.

Early this morning, I realized I’ve known Kay for more than twenty years. Before we built a new sanctuary, and before we paid someone to be an office manager, she was a volunteer, answering phones and helping me get ready for Sunday morning. I did the memorial for her husband ten years ago. I will soon do hers.

A lot of pastoral care happens on the extremes of life. I am there at birth and baptism, and then at death and funerals. In between I get to be a part of weddings and marriages, confirmations and graduations, and birthdays and anniversaries. I get to share in the best of life as well as the most difficult times.

That’s what makes this job pastor so unique, interesting and rewarding. I get to ride the waves of celebration, wade through the muck of disappointment, cradle a new life in my arms and hold a hand one last time before their last breath. The words of encouragement, hope, strength and comfort are always my Lord’s and never my own as I represent Him in times of both life and death, beginnings and ends, joy and sorrow, and laughter and tears.

I began my day by holding a newborn baby in my arms and welcomed her into God’s family. I ended it by holding the hand of a child of God about to take her last breath in this world. What a privilege to experience both!

And one.

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If I can, I try to meet members of the congregation when they check in at the hospital for surgery. Just to pray and be with them as they wait for their name to be called. Show up times are usually early in the morning, but I’m up early anyway, so I get to about 90%. I’ve been at the local hospital often enough lately that the receptionist commented today, “Oh, he’s here all the time.”

Now that the days are getting shorter but the time hasn’t changed yet, it’s dark, really dark when I arrive. The first wave of patients arrives about 6 am, so the place is already hopping by the time I arrive. Today, the family was there before me, already staged and ready. I immediately get to the prayer; you never know how quickly their name will be called. Then we have time to chat for a bit. Usually other family is there, so I get to meet and get to know them, too. Continue reading