Pastor Ebenezer

Pastor Ebenezer
Pastor Ebenezer
Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/

No lights twinkle and no tree can be found in the parsonage. No gifts are bought. The smell of freshly baked cookies won’t be wafting from the kitchen before — or after — Christmas. Yep, it’s December again and I’m a pastor.

I’m blue.

Maybe I’m blue because of my nest; it’s been empty now for over a decade. Maybe I’m blue because of the increased demands on a pastor during this time of year. Though, hard work is not inherently discouraging to me.

Maybe I’m blue because of the memories. My mother who died thirteen years ago, personified Christmas joy and, to be sure, loving extravagance. Maybe I’m blue because my chaplain wife — who will work Christmas Day — and I lead a two-town lifestyle filled with 180-mile roundtrips so that we can both do the ministry to which we’re called. Maybe it’s just the grey weather and short days.

I’m blue but I’m not alone. In this season which demands unceasing happiness in its expectations, many of us struggle. Some feign and fake smiles and laughter and go home and weep. Some move in and out and back into melancholy. Some wear blue like a too-heavy overcoat.

I’m blue but I’m not alone. I’m blue but I’m beloved by God.

And so today, I sit within my azure-tinted mood. I embrace the tears; I feel and notice the weight. I accept it without trying to change it.  I love myself and am kind to myself.

Learning From Fallen Rocks

The zen rocks as they appeared in June 2012. Photo by Tim Graves
The zen rocks as they appeared in June 2012. Photo by Tim Graves

Even from a distance I suspected something wasn’t right. Arriving on the sacred ground which lies part-way up the Coyote Wall trail my suspicions were confirmed. I don’t know what caused the rocks to tumble. Given the storms that I know they successfully endured, I am doubtful that a natural occurrence caused the fall.

I could be wrong.

Not knowing, my mind fills in the gap. I imagine a biker racing down the trails losing control and inadvertently sending the stones to the ground.

I could be wrong.

Not knowing, my mind fills in the gap. I imagine a group of people laughing and kidding around. Getting rowdy, one of the group inadvertently bumps into the sacred altar. Rocks fall.

I could be wrong.

Though I don’t know what caused the rocks to tumble, I find some solace in the attempt to re-stack them.  Did a remorseful biker frantically seek to restore the altar of small boulders? Did she reject antiseptic wipes and a bandage to her knee while she sought to rehabilitate the altar?

I don’t know.

Maybe the laughter and kidding around turned to shock and dismay as boulders tumbled to the ground, the very ground I deem sacred. Maybe formerly joyous hikers’ moods turned contrite and serious as they carefully sought to restore the zen rocks to their former state.

The zen rocks as they appeared in July 2014. Photo by Tim Graves
The zen rocks as they appeared in July 2014. Photo by Tim Graves

I don’t know.

I am not likely to learn what caused this sacred altar to be altered. My imagination can create a myriad of possible scenarios to explain the destruction and the attempt to restore the sacred space to its former condition. None of my imagined scenarios change the present condition of a the sacred site along the Coyote Wall rim trail. (See A Whisper of a Trail and Sacred Ground.)

Conjecture and supposition — my imagination — does not have the power to change the present moment. However, they does have the power to change me.

Each interpretation of the unknown is accompanied by emotions. Some of the emotions have the power to make me miserable. For example, if I chose to imagine (and believe) that vandals maliciously destroyed the tower, give feelings ranging from sadness to hurt to anger to overt hostility a green light.

And so it matters what I choose. I decide who I want to be. And so I choose to focus not on what I don’t know but on what I do know. I know that the rocks fell and have been reassembled in a new way by someone.

I am disappointed and grieve the change in the zen rocks. Those are legitimate emotions; I own them. I hold them for awhile and then I will let them go. Though I know those emotions are my human desire to prevent change, I take note of them. I learn about myself from those emotions.

I recall that during a wilderness time in my life, this sacred ground with its seriated rocks were important to me. I honor their contribution to my well-being. Like the transformed zen rocks, I have changed. I am no longer in that wilderness. Reflecting, I learn that in my humanity, I still fail to live fully in the present. In recognizing and learning from my emotions, I accept myself. Like every one of us, I am on a journey unique to me.

Because I want love to be the vehicle in which I travel, I focus on the zen rocks as they exist today and carefully choose what I imagine. I think about those who re-stacked the fallen rocks. Though I don’t know, I choose to see a group effort at restoration.

Pondering the sacred stones, I see an upper spire that grows out of many rocks. Combining my chosen imagined reconstruction with their present state, I am reminded that love is communal. Just as each stone in the altar’s reconstructed form depends upon many others, it is in our mutuality and interdependence that love grows.

Because I chose carefully how I would react to the loss (or transformation, really) of a physical monument, I perceive hope. I am reminded that our individual and mutual hope lies in our one-ness with and appreciation for others and their journeys. Our personal and collective hopes lie in choosing to interpret the experiences of our lives through a lens of love.

___

Related Posts

Sacred Ground July 19, 2012
A Whisper of a Trail October 24, 2012
Evolving Fish Loses Face June 27, 2014

No Big Deal

“It’s no big deal,” I said.

My first colonoscopy was performed on a Wednesday. The doctor was concerned enough with the results that he scheduled a colectomy — an invasive abdominal surgery — two days later. No big deal, I said. I even objected when my wife suggested that I would have to cancel an eye exam the following week. “I can make it,” I said.

Several things were happening when I denied the seriousness of the news the

This is a photo in my pre-op room the Friday morning before my right colon was removed. Photo by Maggie Sebastian
In the pre-op room the Friday morning before my right colon was removed, I still did not exhibit (or feel) intense anxiety. Looking at the photo now, however, I feel some anxiety. Sometimes not-knowing is bliss. Photo by Maggie Sebastian

doctor gave me following my colonoscopy. One, I was starving. My mind was not at its peak. At that point in time I had not had solid food beyond clear liquids for three days. I was functioning on about 500 calories a day; there are only so many cups of vegetable broth you can stomach.

Second, I think I knew at some level. I heard the words the doctor said. I even heard and intellectually accepted the seriousness of abdominal surgery of any kind. With a day-after-tomorrow surgery appointment, I did not have much time to process what was happening. Though, my wife and I talked some about the possibility that the biopsy following surgery would indicate cancer, we had very little time to discuss it. I had life-routines to reschedule and bow out of before surgery.

There were a few quiet tears that Wednesday evening as my wife and I pondered the unknown. It was my son Isaac, having flown in from Oakland to be with us, who raised the question most directly with me the next day. His pastoral tone was reassuring. He allowed me to entertain and discuss as much as I was comfortable with discussing. So, while I did not totally ignore the possibilities, I did not yet have time to explore in depth the magnitude of what I was facing.

I think my mind was protecting me. Human psychology sometimes builds up our acceptance of reality in small bits over time in much the way physical exercise gradually builds up muscle tone. Just as I had an unexpressed just-beneath-the-surface expectation that the colonoscopy would find a problem, I had an expectation that all would be well. Though it is irrational, I trusted my instinct that there was no cancer.

Finally, I think our life-lens matters. That is, the lens through which we view events in our lives colors what those events mean to us. My life lens is colored in hope and love. Even if the worst were to happen there are several things I knew:

  • The Divine would never leave me. My experience of the one that I call God is pure love, is non-coercive, never throws “tests” in our path, or punishes sins with health problems or hurricanes. God is always with us. God feels our pains, our joys, and all that we experience with a depth. Process theologian Monica A. Coleman describes God as, “knowing us from the inside out.”
  • I am beloved. My wife of nearly thirty-five years is my Imzadi, my soul-mate, and my other half. Whatever I would learn about my health in the coming weeks I knew to the marrow of my bones that she and I would face it together.
  • My son, who I told, “you don’t have to come” loves me. He would not only take care of me but he would ground his mother, my wife, by his mere presence. Whatever was to come, his love is of divine origin even should I be diagnosed with cancer and face chemotherapy.
  • My daughter Jessie, who also rallied round us with the advent of this no-big-deal event, would make me laugh. My beloved first-born, Jessie, “gets me” in a way that Isaac and Maggie do not. Perhaps this is because our core personalities have many similarities. Not only did I anticipate her skillful use of humor when it was needed, I knew that she and I would have deep conversations when we were ready. I also knew that she would motivate me. (She was the first one to motivate me to take a significant walk in the hospital hallway post-operatively.)

My life lens and these fundamental knowings, gave me the luxury to slowly come to terms with the fears, anxieties, and significance of the surgery I awaited. These knowings allowed me to lament that God Hides God’s Face From Me without fear of retribution. My family’s loving presence, their patience with my denial, my perception of the divine, and my psychology allowed me to come to terms with my reality on, well, on my own terms.

___

This is the fourth of multiple posts about my experiences of surgery and recovery following a colonoscopy.

Related Posts

God Hides God’s Face From Me! May 20, 2014
Unnatural May 21, 2014
Out of Chaos May 27, 2014
No Big Deal May 29, 2014
Mortality June 3, 2014
Wiped Memories June 6, 2014
Perseverance June 10, 2014
Scars June 19, 2014

Why do I write about this topic?

Following my surgery I had a myriad of feelings. A myriad of web searches to find the stories of others, perhaps to validate my own emotions, left me empty handed. And, so, I write these posts to process my very real feelings and in the hopes that someone else finds them useful following their surgery and recovery.

Unnatural

Unnatural
Photo by Tim Graves
Cottonwood Canyon State Park, Condon, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

There is a feeling that comes over me when I’m hiking. Even in the extremely short post-operative shuffles that I’ve been taking each of the last three weeks.

I feel connected. I feel literally grounded to creation and the creator that flows through each of us — butterfly, blade of grass, snake, and human. Sometimes I pause in my hiking and just sit for a while and take in the sounds, smells, and images around me.

I feel a part of nature. I experience the divine around me and within me. I sense connections between myself and the tiny bug crawling on the flower.

As I hiked through Cottonwood Canyon yesterday, that feeling of connectedness came over me. The warmth of the sun and exercise — no matter that my pace was still slow — resulted in feeling overdressed. I slipped off my hoody, tying it around my waist. I untucked my t-shirt and flapped it so a cool breeze touched my sweat moist skin.

Bam! That pesky feeling consumed me.

I felt tainted and unnatural. Looking at my incision site, I felt distant from nature. With the neat scar, with its train track motif above my belly button, and the still-scabby area (the result of infection) below, I felt different than that which surrounded me. I felt unnatural.

I feel unnatural.

Photo by Tim Graves
Cottonwood Canyon State Park, Condon, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

That feeling remains and twists itself into a spiral with feelings of bodily violation. I am still grappling with what it means to have foreign hands within me removing my right colon. I perceive and imagine a cavernous emptiness within my abdominal cavity.

I am still struggling with the feeling of violation upon having things inserted into every opening of my body while I was asleep. In the course of screening and healing me, a camera was inserted into my anus, a tube was slid down my throat, and even my urine function was controlled through a catheter tube.

The violation went beyond natural openings in my body. I have two tiny laparoscopic scars one on the left at my waist line and the other just above my pubic bone. The most noticeable, however, is the 2-1/2 inch opening (I measured) that was cut from above my naval to below it. All these things were done to my body while I was asleep, while I had no chance to give or deny permission.

Photo by Tim Graves
Cottonwood Canyon State Park, Condon, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

And, though, I owe my very health and life to the doctors and other medical staff who cared for me, there is a sense of trauma that I feel that I am only beginning to sort through. Much of the time I repress the feelings to enable me to cope with recovery and resuming my daily routines. It is in the quiet moments that horror washes over me! My body twinges or tightens up in an effort to protect itself from that which occurred nearly eight weeks prior. Sometimes the tears come slowly and quietly. Other times I sob horrified at what my mind and body remember and imagine.

The medical staff to whom I feel a great gratitude have nearly completed their task of healing my body but it is the Divine manifest in nature, in the routines of life, in friendships, and in those who love me to whom my further healing depends. It is the Holy Spirit that gently holds my hand, wipes my tears, and patiently listens to my laments to whom I turn now.

Photo by Tim Graves
Cottonwood Canyon State Park, Condon, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

And, though being among the dragonfly and sage offer a healing salve, I still have a way to go in accepting myself — my very body — as natural anymore. But I feel hope.

My life experiences thus far, nature, and the narratives of healing, deaths, and resurrections of my faith assure me that I will not always feel this way. In my becoming I have many partners. In my becoming what is to be, I journey with the divine manifest in each creature, spring flower, and snowflake.

I lie down, sleep, and wake up
    because the Lord helps me. Psalm 3:5 CEB

___

This is the second of multiple posts about my experiences of surgery and recovery following a colonoscopy.

Related Posts

God Hides God’s Face From Me! May 20, 2014
Unnatural May 21, 2014
Out of Chaos May 27, 2013
No Big Deal May 29, 2014
Mortality June 3, 2014
Wiped Memories June 6, 2014
Perseverance June 10, 2014
Scars June 19, 2014

Why do I write about this topic?

Following my surgery I had a myriad of feelings. A myriad of web searches to find the stories of others, perhaps to validate my own emotions, left me empty handed. And, so, I write these posts to process my very real feelings and in the hopes that someone else finds them useful following their surgery and recovery.

 

 

 

God Hides God’s Face From Me!

The tears formed faster than the words as I looked out the window, yearning to see Mt. Adams, who hid behind a four-day expanse of grey. “God hides God’s face from me,” I weeped.

***

Eight weeks ago tomorrow I had my first colonoscopy, a screening procedure for colon problems including cancer. Two days later, the surgeon performed a colectomy in which my right colon was removed. I am just now feeling like myself despite a still-not-quite return to my full energy level.

In my fifty-five years, I’ve been blessed by remarkably good health. Yes, I have the occasional cold, spring allergies, and the typical aches and pains related to aging beyond twenty-five. This was the first time I have been hospitalized since my tonsils were removed as a child.

So, for me, six days in the hospital was a jolting surprise. After enduring clear liquids and the colonoscopy preparation, I was planning my first meal following the screening procedure only to have that hope dashed. While still recovering from anesthesia, the doctor told me that I would need abdominal surgery. I am told — though I do not have a clear memory of this — that my response was a concise, “Oh, f**k!”

Mt. Adams emerges from behind the clouds on day six of my hospitalization.  The view is through the window of Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital. Photo taken with my iPad.
Mt. Adams emerges from behind the clouds on day six of my hospitalization. The view is through the window of Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital. Photo taken with my iPad.

***

The six days in the hospital, followed by nearly seven-weeks since have been filled with experiences that can in turn be described as humbling, frustrating, confusing, painful, discouraging, and sad. I’ve felt blessed, joyous (when the biopsy results came back negative), guilty, reliant on the skill and ethics of medical personnel, and extremely dependent upon my wife who was my primary caregiver. Fear, embarrassment, gratitude, bewilderment, and even a healthy dose of paranoia (presumably the result of narcotic painkiller) have visited me. Feelings of bodily violation initially washed over me as I emerged from the first thirty-six hour post-operative fog.

My iPad in hand, I began searching online for the experiences of others from my hospital bed. I wanted empathy. I wanted to know I was not alone. I wanted assurance that my feelings of trauma were typical. Though  I could infer that to be the case, from the blogs and articles I found, explicit sharing was hard to find. My plan is to process my experiences here for selfish reasons and in hope that someone else may find camaraderie in my words. (This is the first of multiple posts.)

***

As a Christian minister, you might expect that I would have been constantly aware of God’s presence. I was not, at least in name.

The Divine One was present with me throughout surgery and recovery whether or not I was cognizant of it or not. I felt the warm embrace of friends across the nation (and a few in other countries) via social media. Though I interacted little, “likes” and comments sustained me as digital evidence of love. I felt wrapped in a divine embrace, whether called positive energy or prayers.

I felt the empathy of medical staff even when they disturbed me from sleep to draw blood. The presence of my children who flew and drove great distance to surround me in my bed assured me that I was loved. And, of course, I felt the kindness of my wife who slept in a chair in my room during my entire hospitalization. The touch of her hand on mine and her loving stroke across my head was God’s loving presence with me. It was in her voice and eyes that I was grounded. It was she in whom I  trusted even when I woke from a painkiller-induced paranoid dream.

And, so, on that fourth day in the hospital when slight movements still caused me excruciating pain and I craved water and real food, I called out to God. Mt. Adams, serving as metaphor for the One who sustains and journeys with me, failed to respond. Hiding behind heavy grey clouds, Mt. Adams avoided my gaze. Tears gushed from my eyes faster than my words, “God hides God’s face from me!”

On the fifth day of my hospitalization, the sky began to lighten and though Mt. Adams did not emerge, sun peaked from behind the clouds periodically. On day six, my final day in the hospital, the divine peak showed its snowy face to me.

God’s face peered at me.

The snowy smile reminded me that God was always with me, feeling each of my many emotions  with me,  even when I could not see Mt. Adams. The Divine One had never abandoned me even when my thoughts were Maslowian in their focus on survival.

I cry out loud to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy mountain. Psalm 3:4 CEB

___

This is the first of multiple posts about my experiences of surgery and recovery following a colonoscopy.

Related Posts

God Hides God’s Face from Me May 20, 2014
Unnatural May 21, 2014
Out of Chaos May 27, 2014
No Big Deal May 29, 2014
Mortality June 3, 2014
Wiped Memories June 6, 2014
Perseverance June 10, 2014
Scars June 19, 2014

Why do I write about this topic?

Following my surgery I had a myriad of feelings. A myriad of web searches to find the stories of others, perhaps to validate my own emotions, left me empty handed. And, so, I write these posts to process my very real feelings and in the hopes that someone else finds them useful following their surgery and recovery.