Sunday, July 10, 2016


My dear friend Nathaniel Brown is 85 and his kidneys have given up the ghost. So he goes for dialysis several times a week. During the hours-long process, blood is taken out of his body, filtered through an artificial kidney of sorts, and pumped back in.  It's tough on an old body, but Nathaniel soldiers on. He lives with his family, but they are not believers and he's more or less house-bound, so he feels acutely the lack of spiritual support.

Every Saturday I visit him and spend some time with him while he undergoes dialysis.  We talk and laugh, share our week's activities, sometimes vent about our struggles. I read to him - sometimes from the Word and sometimes from other works. Every month or so I take him communion.  

Every week he talks until he just can't stand it any more, then he digs his hand out from under the blanket, reaches out to me and says, "Pray fo' me."  And we spend a long  time, praying by turns. Thanking and praising the Lord, praying for each other, for our friends and family, and just talking to the our Heavenly Father.  Here we are, praying at the VA:

Nathaniel and I are very different. Beginning with the obvious: he's a man, I'm a woman.  I'm 40 years younger than he is. He's from the Deep South, I'm a Yankee born and bred.  He grew up in a poor family without a father. In fact, to this day he doesn't even know who is father was. I grew up in an intact, middle-class family, and I just talked to my father this afternoon. Nathaniel's skin is a rich dark brown. Mine is eminently sunburnable. His faith background is Pentecostal/Holiness and mine is Mennonite - an Anabaptist sect second cousin to the Amish. He's a career military man; Mennonites are conscientious objectors. He is physically handicapped and my handicap is neurological. I have long hair; he has no hair.  He's always cold, I'm always too warm.

We are on opposite sides of just about every dividing line there is, Nathaniel and me: gender, socio-economic, familial, geographic, racial, denominational and political.  

There is so much I can learn from him!

The violence we are seeing today in this country, leveled against people on the opposite side of some arbitrary dividing line, is incomprehensible to me.  I just can't wrap my brain around the mindset that "not like me" is a bad thing. And the backlash that says "Because YOU are not like ME, you don't have a voice in this.  You're part of the problem; you can't be part of the solution!" mystifies me just as much.  Everyone is decrying the problem but I don't see anyone proposing a solution.  We're just digging in and entrenching more firmly on "our side" of the line.

A line I don't see.

Why don't I see it?  Maybe because what Nathaniel and I have in common is greater than all the lines in the world. He is a pastor. I am a chaplain. We both believe in God the Father who sent his Son into the world to save sinners, and that is our common ground. "In Christ there is no Jew nor Greek, no slave nor free, no male nor female. You are all one in Christ Jesus." Galatians 3:8.  

Saul of Tarsus was the great Drawer of Lines.  He took his permanent Sharpie marker and made a thick line between "Jew" and "Christian," and the Scriptures say he was taking Christians bound to Jerusalem to stand trial for heresy.  Whole families of Christians. In Acts we see him "Breathing threats and murder" against the church.  But then he had an encounter with the Risen Christ, the Eraser of Lines.  On the Road to Damascus, Saul was physically blinded, so he could no longer see the lines, but had to take people as they were. He became Paul - Apostle to the Gentiles. And he was the one who wrote the letter to the Galatians where the foregoing quote is found.

Nathaniel and I, who are so totally different, really are blood brother and sister. Not the blood that flows through my veins or from Nathaniel's body and into the dialyzer and back, but the blood of Jesus poured out to make us wholly His.  
I don't know what the solution is to the nation's problem; I can't even begin to imagine why the problem exists. But maybe that in itself means that there is still hope.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Expect the Unexpected

Here's the prayer I always pray before I go into the nursing home:
"Not my will, Lord, but yours be done."

I also pray it before going into the big VA hospital up here in Seattle. Every Saturday morning I spend an hour or two sitting with "Pastor Brown," a man who used to be a resident at the Community Care Center (CCC) and now lives with family.  Unbelieving family.  He covets our Saturday visits, prayer, and talking about what the Lord is doing in our lives.

This morning as I was going out the door I saw the box of my pre-filled Communion cups left over from last week’s CCC communion service and said, “I should take Pastor Brown communion.”  So I put two cups in my bag. I was going down the steps when  I had a thought, and I went back up and threw in a third cup, just on a whim.

The way the dialysis unit is set up, there are a series of double cubicles; a single space with two reclining chairs facing each other  about 8 ft apart and a curtain that can be pulled in between for privacy (but rarely is).  Today the fellow in the opposite chair was someone I hadn’t seen before, so I smiled briefly at him and sat down with Pastor Brown. 

We started out our visit with prayer, as always.  He reaches out from under his blanket and I take his hand and we pray over our week and our friends and just praise the Lord. Pastor Brown prays loud, being Pentecostal.  Our friend Al (One of the dialysis techs who is a brother in the Lord) was there, so we prayed a blessing over Al. 

After prayer we visited for a while and it looked like Pastor Brown was going to fall asleep, and I rethought my plan to have communion.  But I’m a firm believer in “Why not?” as a guiding force of ministry, so I asked him if he wanted to take Communion.  “Oh yes,” he said in his Georgia drawl. “I surely would.”  So while I got out my Bible and supplies, Al came over and was talking to the other guy.  “Hey!  You’re back! I haven’t seen you in a while!”

And the other guy said, very loudly, “Well, the LORD….pulled me through.”

He was clearly announcing his allegiance, having heard us praying.  Al said, “So do you know the Lord?”

“Oh yes. Yes I do – I’ve known Him for a number of years.”

Al gave him a fist-bump.  “Me too, brother!”

And I piped up from across the way, “Us too!”

Al shook his head, saying, “MMmmmm, Mmmmm. MMmm. This is a holy corner,” and I pointed an imperious finger at him and shot back “Take off your sneakers, Al, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground!”

And we all busted up laughing.  Laughter is rare in dialysis, and everyone started poking their heads around their curtains to see what was going on.

I said to Al, “Hey, I’ve brought Pastor Brown communion. Would you like to partake with us?” He sometimes joins us in our little communion celebrations.

“I can’t,” he said with regret. “I’m crazy busy and I just don’t have time to stop.”

I saw the look on the other guy’s face and felt a familiar nudge.It made me nervous; I'm very timid around strangers. I wanted to just stay there and take communion comfortably with Pastor Brown.  But God wouldn't let me off, so I went after Al.  “Al, would it be alright if I offered Pastor Brown’s neighbor over there communion?”

Al glanced back uncertainly. “Umm...Sure…you can ask him and if he says yes, just check with the nurse to be sure.”

So I went back and asked him.  Immediately he smiled up at me.  “Oh, yes please. It’s been so long.  I can’t get out any more and nobody from my church comes to visit me. I haven’t had a chance to take communion in almost a year.”

So I asked his name and he said it was Philip.  I began by reading Isaiah 55, and then I went to John 14 and finished up in I Corinthians 11 and read the usual verse there.  Taking the wafers, I handed one to Pastor Brown and said, “This is the body of Christ, broken for you, Pastor Brown.”  And to the other side, “This is the body of Christ, broken for you, Philip.”  He nodded.  Then to the cups. “This is the blood of Christ, shed for you, Pastor Brown, that through His death you might have everlasting life.”  And then over to the other side, “This is the blood of Christ, shed for you, Philip, that through His death you might have everlasting life.”

He had difficulty swallowing the juice, because of the tears that were spilling down his cheeks.  He wept quietly while I was praying, and wiped his eyes and thanked me when I was done. Since I hadn’t examined his beliefs very thoroughly, I made sure to pray the gospel into the prayer.  I do this often with residents who ask for prayer, but whose beliefs I’m not exactly certain of.  It goes something like this: “Lord, thank you for my brother Philip over there. Thank you for his life, and his belief.  I don’t know exactly what he thinks about You, but I know what You think about Him, because you gave your only son…your Most Precious One….to forsake heaven and come down to earth, live a perfect life that we couldn’t ever hope to live, and die a gruesome death that we deserved, so that we could know Him and believe in Him and inherit eternal life. Forgive us, Lord, for all of our sins.  Take our lives and let them be a living prayer of thanksgiving, and let us walk in the good works You have prepared in advance for us to do, with a joyful  spirit and a grateful heart.”

I said goodbye to pastor Brown and my new-found brother and left to go to work.  But as I was walking down the dimly-lit back hallway Al stepped out from behind a doorway and stopped me. “I just wanted to thank you for that…I wish I could have joined in, but I enjoyed what I heard.  That guy...Philip...he’s been coming here for quite a while, but I never knew he was a Christian. Because you’re brave enough to come here and pray out loud like that, he was brave enough to claim Christ. And because you were brave enough to offer him communion, he could take it and enjoy it. Who knows how long it'll be before he ever has the chance again."

Four of us left dialysis like the paralytic, "Walking and leaping and praising God."  I looked back at the way God had planned this encounter from the very beginning, though I had not the slightest clue, and praised Him even more.  
"Not my will, Lord, but yours be done...." 
Not my will, indeed.