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Monday, November 14, 2011

Such a long time to be gone

First of all, I just now realized that the last day I blogged was the day before I re-entered the hospital!  I started to feel sort of blah that day and the next day I was running a fever.  Went in for an early doctor's appointment and they weren't at all concerned, even though my incision was rather "angry" looking and I was still feeling poorly.  They gave me antibiotics and sent me home.  I took a dose and Tylenol and went to bed.  Woke up late that afternoon and felt worse.  Called the doctor and lied so they would pay attention to me because I knew something was pretty wrong.  Finally he conceded and said I should go to the emergency room.  We went in at 4:30 pm and my fever was around 103.5.  They stuck me in a room that registered 55 degrees, but I was boiling and so was everyone else!  I was finally admitted at around 11 pm.  There was talk of an abscess, but nothing was definite.  For whaterver reason, the nurse was unable to get my medications transferred, so I ended up with no antibiotics for about 8 hours.  That next morning I was really feeling sick and I could see concern in the staff.  They knew they had mismanaged my case.  Sent me to radiology for a drain and when I returned, I had a private room and a LOT more attention.  I discovered at that point that what I did not like was not having information.  Just wanted them to tell me what was going on.  Needless to say, my speedy recovery was brought to a major halt. I was in the hospital for 7 days and basically had to start my recovery all over again.   I'd love to say I'm all better now, but I sort of don't know what that means.  My primary care physician told me she really thought I "dodged a couple of bullets."  I was septic and that is serious.  I also had cancer.  That's serious too.  But I don't think it was my body that took the major hit.  I full well believe it was my soul that was most effected.  For the better and the worse. 
Thank you all for your prayers and your friendship.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Diagnosis What

Ten days ago I had surgery for uterine cancer.  The surgeon said it looked like he expected, early stage, contained and probably there would be no need for follow up treatment.  Good news, right?  Okay, that's how I'm taking it.  I won't know for sure until my follow up appointment tomorrow and receive the pathology report, but I am feeling very positive.  The interesting thing is that I wonder if that's how I'm supposed to feel.  I have had a variety of responses.  Most people downplay the whole thing and even the doctor said at our first appointment, "Well, if you're going to have cancer, this is the one to get!"  Okay...I guess.  A lot of folks tell me stories of relatives who have had the same thing with good outcomes.  Others tell me cheerfully that their (insert relative relationship) who died of cancer x started with this one.  Hmmmm, and that is encouraging to me because?????  This is probably all coming up for me because of a card from a friend with a flyer to the Wellness Community, a non-profit cancer support group in our area.  Today, and if the results are as expected tomorrow, I just don't feel I need a support group.  Not even sure I would feel "worthy" to enter into that.  Now, if they could fix insomnia and other side issues of surgery and major hormonal shifts, I'd be there in a flash!  Otherwise, it feels like my faith communities and friends and family will be support enough.  On the other hand, I'm open, for tomorrow, that could all change. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Shopping as Evangelism?

So, today was the first day that I left theay house beyond walking on our court.  My friend took me to the bank and then we walked around Lafayette a bit, with the goal of going to Patxi's Pizza which serves Blue Bottle Coffee and is open morning, noon and night.  (very dangerous for me!)  For those of you don't who may not know, Blue Bottle makes Peet's seem like Folgers!  Anyway, I digress.  I couldn't resist asking if we could stop in a clothing store on the way just to look around.  Well, we were virtually the only ones in the store and of course, the sales clerks were more than eager to help us.  So, they began to show us a new item that had just come in:  a wrap that could be worn about 10 different ways.  I in my t-shirt and elastic waist shorts was in no mood to try on anything, but happy to watch my friend be Barbie.  In the midst of this, the woman asked my friend what she did.  She said she was a pastor....oh, why did she have to say that? probably did jump into my head.  Then, she came and asked what I did.  Well, at that point, I had to say that I, too, am a pastor.  She was exclaiming and oohing and aahing in a way that is not a common response to my admission of the vocation I have chosen.   She told us she thought it was fabulous.  Really?!  Really!? she exclaimed.  Then she wanted to know where our churches are located.  She asked if we preach sermons.  She lives in Oakland and said she goes to the Cathedral of Light (well, nominally she goes there), but she wanted to come to our churches.  She wanted our business cards.  She just kept going on and on about us both being pastors.  Then, she started telling everyone else in the store that we were pastors.  I suppose this might be remarkable in many settings, but here in Northern California, in this bastion of secular life and the embarrassment over the C-word and the J-word (Christian and Jesus), it seemed downright implausible.  Now, I'll tell you that I've had other people exclaim in similar ways at memorial services, weddings and other chance encounters and I've seen nary a one of those folks enter the doors of a church in the weeks to follow.  But then again, I wonder if I'd really want them to.  I wonder if the church would disappoint them.  I wonder if evangelism is really about getting people in the doors of churches or is it reminding them of Christ and the many ways that each of us is called to follow him.  I wonder....

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Post Operation

I am still pinching myself that only four days ago I was on an operating table with a tube in my throat and having my stomach cut open.  Four days!  Since then, I've had some remarkable experiences.  The volume of prayers shared and all sorts of lovingkindness has been offered to me.  My family has been amazing.  Also, the source of these gifts have been many and varied.  Some totally expected and others completely unexpected.  I think that is what is so amazing about receiving.  One puts it out there, and then see who is able and willing to respond in ways that will be helpful and healing.  I do not see all of this as necessarily pre-ordained, but I take every moment and every instance to give thanks for what is.

For those who like a bit more of the nitty gritty, I did want to share that the surgery was deemed "successful."  Took all the parts that were supposed to go and nothing new or unexpected was discovered.  The surgeon felt confident enough to say that though he can't be sure until he reads the pathology report, he feels confident that it was very early stage uterine cancer and that no follow up treatment would be required.  That, of course, would pretty much seal the deal for as good an outcome of all of this as I could possibly hope for.  Once again, praying for what may be and giving thanks for what is.



Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Pastoral Deflections

Disclaimer:  This post is not directed to any individual or intended to be accusatory.
What happens when a pastor ends up being on the receiving end of care?  Well, a lot of reflection and a lot of projection and a lot of rejection.  Here are some lines that I have found somewhat surprising, sometimes embarrassing as I recall my own miscues and sometimes down right aggravating.
1. I'm sorry to hear about that.  I know what it means, but it gets said so much, and it is technically NOT what is meant.
2. I'll be praying for you.  Why not just pray for me?  Now.  In the moment.  Sometimes I think the person will pray and other times I am doubtful.  I'm really okay with phone prayers....I do them a lot!  One has to be careful when driving to not close eyes while praying!
3. Let me know if you need anything.  The great pastoral deflection.  It puts the onus on the person potentially needing care.  Some have said that we pastors don't know how to accept care from others.  I honestly don't think that is true for me, but people in need don't always know what they need and there is so much going on that it would be awesome if people would just say I can do "x" "y" or "z" and then the care receiver can choose.  It is also important for people to realize that sometimes prayer is all and the most that can be done.
4.  Ignore the fact all together.  This is a biggie.  I was just speaking with a colleague who mentioned a friend that never called him, never wrote, never checked in when he was going through a horrible family crisis.  Later on the friend's wife said he didn't call because he didn't know what to say.  That is okay.  Simply offering your presence, voice on the phone or card and the words "I don't know what to say," is really enough.  In fact, it may be the best thing possible.
5.  You are going to feel this or that.  When I had this happen blah blah blah.  You'll be just fine.  All may be true, but in advance, not all that helpful.

The first duty of love is to listen.
Paul Tillich
*
One of the most valuable things we can do to heal one another is listen to each other's stories.
Rebecca Falls

Thanks for listening!




Monday, August 8, 2011

Counting Down

So, on Friday at roughly 11:30 am, I will go in for the full hysterectomy.  I appreciate all the response with prayers, notes, calls, lunches, offers for meals etc.  I feel so amazingly blessed by the community that surrounds me.  I will be working this week but have to start surgery preparation on Thursday so probably will head home mid-day and relax.  Who knows, maybe I will schedule a massage!  If you want to call to check on me, you can reach David, my husband at 925-783-4786.  I am not going to take my cell phone to the hospital with me, nor do I plan to do much communicating while I'm in the hospital.  My main focus will be to rest and recuperate.  I feel incredibly calm and "ready."  Pre-operation doctor appointment tomorrow to check me in for the surgery on Friday.  I will update you myself when I feel up to being "electronic" again. 
Living what I preach! Gail

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Life Takes an Interesting Turn

I had intended to be blogging about my Doctor of Ministry program that I started last month, and I still may do that.  However, life has thrown a curve ball and I am now in the throes of the medical system that I have counseled so many other people through.  About two months ago I noticed some things going on in my body that seemed irregular and I'm not one who freaks out but I am attentive.  So, I saw my primary care doctor who said, "well, you can't be doing THAT."  To which I replied, "well, but I AM."  So she sent me to an ob/gyn.  I was to see her the week before I left for Decatur/Atlanta.  The day before my appointment I got a call that that doctor had a family emergency and wondered if I could see her the next week.  I told them I'd be in Atlanta so they suggested I see one of her colleagues.  I did and he read one test and did a biopsy.  The next day or so (now Thursday and I'm to fly out Saturday), he called and said I needed to have a D and C.  He suggested I could do that in Atlanta.  Well, it requires sedative and I figured I should do it before I left.  So, naively I asked, "Can you do it tomorrow!?"  He didn't laugh but said he'd have to find yet another doctor to  do it, if possible.  In an hour (an hour!) he called back and said a wonderful woman doctor could do my procedure.  I did it the next day, was a little woozy and tired, but they told me it was okay for me to fly as long as all else was normal.  It was.  Please know that all through this I kept waiting for the good news.  They kept downplaying every step of the process.  The next call I got was in Atlanta saying that what the D and C revealed was cancerous cells but they were pretty sure it would be contained to the uterus.  However, to be sure and to determine whether I should stay for both classes or come home two weeks early, they wanted me to have a PET/CT scan.  Now my main concern was that I had to drink crap.  I don't ingest nasty stuff easily or well.  It wasn't that bad.  I had 12 exceedingly close and good friends praying and encouraging me and I felt totally calm about it.  Got results two or three days later and they confirmed that this was contained and not an urgent/emergency situation.  Whew!  I realize it sounds selfish, but I did NOT want to have to leave my classes early.  I would have left if it was in the best interest for me and my health, but I am so glad that it was not the case.  It was an answered prayer.  There have been all sorts of little moments and glimpses and encouraging signs along the way.  I know now that I will have surgery on Friday, August 12 at 11:30 a.m.  I feel very calm and faithful about this.  It will be abdominal surgery, so I'll be sore and tired and unable to laugh easily (that's hard for me!)  One of my main comforts is knowing that I am absolutely not the first or the last person to go through this, and I do not go it alone.  I am grateful for my faith and my faith communities.  I also think our medical system is totally screwed up!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Everything Changed, Nothing Changed

If you are a Presbyterian, at least a Presbyterian who tracks happenings in the denomination, by now you surely know that Amendment 10A received the affirmative votes of 87 Presbyteries required to amend G6.0106b in our beloved Book of Order.  Even though many have commented over the last week, I have been rather silent on the subject until now.  Before I comment any further, let me just include for you the new language that will appear in our Book of Order on July 10, 2011:
To replace the present text of G-6-0106b with this:

G-6.0106b. Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003) pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidate's sincere efforts to adhere to these standards.

Also, to be certain, most of you have read at least one newspaper article, probably seen the video from our current Moderator and/or from our Stated Clerk.  All of this info can be found by Google searching the denomination, 10A, going to the PC(USA) website, etc.  Providing links once more to all of these resources is not my purpose.  However, I want to share a bit about what 3 churches in the Bay Area did last evening in response to the events of the week.  One of my pastor friends was talking to me about giving her congregation an opportunity to speak, to ask questions, possibly event to have further knowledge and as much of an objective view as possible, so that if they were at the school, or the market or the gym, and someone mentioned this action, they would have a perspective that was not exclusively that of the media's.  I suggested to her that maybe our churches should partner to sponsor such an event.  We agreed that it should happen rather soon, in order to be timely. 

So, we announced it, found a space, got the Moderator of our Presbytery to agree to attend, collected a variety of resources from a broad spectrum of the denomination, media and the Office of General Assembly.  We had no idea if anyone besides us pastors would even show up.  Much to our surprise, 30 people were in attendance, and we met and we prayed.  There were some people there for whom the vote and the long season of exclusion of LGBTQ members was personal.  There were some people there who were overjoyed.  There were some people there who believed that our church took a step back and a step away from Biblical teaching and ethical standards.  There were some people who were relieved.  There were some people who were quiet.  There were some people who were very vocal.  But the most surprising part for me was that people gathered at all.  People got in their cars and spent their precious, nearly the price of gold, gasoline to drive to the church.  People gave approximately two hours of their time on a Sunday evening to be there.  People made themselves variably vulnerable.  People care. 

It occurred to me in the meeting that everything has changed has a result of this vote.  It is monumental.  It is groundbreaking for our church.  But at the same time, nothing changed.  People still disagree on the subject.  People are still misinformed.  People are still being marginalized.  People are still passionate about their faith and the interpretation of Scripture.  People are still people...Imago Dei people.  Created in God's image.  Mudborn, nmesh people.  People who get it right and people who get it wrong.  And that is never going to change.....

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Letting Go and Living Lighter

I have recently been doing a lot of meditating and praying about living with less.  It is a very difficult thing for me to do.  It's not that I feel I'm particularly needy of things, but I just become unconscious of how much stuff we have, how much money I spend on things, and in a less material way, just how doggone needy I can be!!!  In total, I do not like any of this about myself.

Back in October 2010, I attended CREDO, which is a national program for parish pastors that was started by the Episcopal Church and has been adapted by the Board of Pensions of the PC(USA).  Every day we had a worship service and the first service was centered on the story of the disciples fishing and not catching much of anything.  Jesus appears on the scene and tells them to put down their nets in the deeper water.  Silly Jesus!  What does this son of a carpenter know about the intricacies of fishing.  Nonetheless, whether out of respect or just desperation, the disciples do what he says.  Low and behold, the catch is so large they can't even hold all the fish in their nets.  Part of their livelihood is being destroyed by the abundance of their haul. 

 What stopped me in my tracks and pulled me up short was the short verse in Luke, verse 11:
So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.  What could this mean to me?  And now, in my covenant group, we have been exploring the theme and practice of pilgrimage and one of the aspects is to hold things lightly and to consider what one must let go of in order to travel.  This can all be metaphor, or it can be real.  Or both. 

For me, I don't think the letting go or leaving everything is a metaphor.  It feels very, very real to me.  But that is about as much clarity as I have.  In a somewhat silly and concrete way, I'm considering my month long trek to Atlanta for the introduction and  Dmin. coursework at Columbia Theological Seminary.  What if I travel lightly?  Only take a carry- on bag.  Maybe I won't even take my whole makeup case (horrors!) and I'll travel with only 1 pair of shoes.  This sounds silly even as I write it.  Oh what a privileged problem to have.  But it is a process and a part of being a disciple, of traveling along the road toward Christ and making something more of myself. 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Memorials and Memory and Martin

I do believe that the hardest work and the best work I do is centered on pastoral care at death and presiding at memorial services.  For some reason, God seems to think I'm up for the task, as I've had 5 of these since the end of September.  That is a bit much for any pastor and congregation, but especially when the church is only 150 members to begin with! 

The longer I'm in ministry, the more I realize how complicated death and dying really are.  The impact is broad and it effects much more than just the immediate family and loved ones.  Grief is sneaky.  Last Saturday when I got word that one of our members had died, I wasn't prepared for my own reaction.  It hit me hard and fast.  The timing of the news was complicated by the fact that we were in the middle of a Session (governing body of the church) retreat day.  This person was known and loved by nearly everyone gathered.   Pardon my flippant nature, but it was one of those "know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em" sort of moments.  I waited until lunch time and tried to gather everyone around the table at once to share the news.  It was a bit like herding cats.

This is the WORST part of my job.  I really don't like to deliver what is labeled as bad news.  We pastors are supposed to be in the business of GOOD news.  I believe that the avoidance, the ADD nature and the inability to get everyone to settle down to the table was no accident.  As much as I detest delivering an undesirable message, the people don't really want to hear one either.  So people were inside, outside, in the bathroom,  in the kitchen, etc etc.  Finally, everyone was seated and I could do what I had to do.   One of the Elders told me later that she knew, and that's why she didn't come quickly.  She didn't want to hear it.  And maybe if she didn't hear it, then it wouldn't be real.  The news would cease to exist.

Of course, over the last week, we know that ignoring news, keeping our head in the sand, failing to know what is happening, doesn't prevent it from being real.   Although I was only 5 years old in 1964, I have to imagine that a lot of people were doing the same thing with regard to Birmingham, Memphis, Washington, D.C. and the news that kept coming about a man named Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  People didn't want to hear about de-segregation.  People stayed in the kitchen while there were marches and protests and the like.  People failed to hear the news....the good, the bad, and the ugly. 


We don't always get to choose our news.  Probably not ever, really.  But what we get to do is respond.  We mourn, grieve, stand up, sit down, write, pray, keep silent, shout aloud and remember, always remember.   

Friday, January 7, 2011

Another wild and wacky week in the world of ministry

My mother used to say there'd be weeks like this!  Well, not really, as I don't think she has a clue what I do.  Most people don't.  There are lots of folks who are even regulars in the church who think we sit in our ivory mini-cubicle offices and study scripture and write a sermon for the one hour of the week that we actually really do any work, though many would not call what we do on Sunday morning work.  This is not at all what I did this last week.  My week went more like this:
I make every effort to keep my Monday as a Sabbath day, a day set aside for loving God and enjoying God forever (metaphorically speaking).  I would actually probably do better if I turned off every electronic device, did not ever answer my phone, shut off all brain waves and put myself in some sort of flat line state or secluded myself in a sound proof room.  Nonetheless, I did try to take Monday as my day off.  Tuesday always starts with one of my favorite parts of the week, which is supervising the Pastoral Intern.  We have taken to doing our supervision while walking.  It is good to get out into the community and keeps us from being completely sedentary, which is a job risk in pastoral ministry.  The rest of the day was spent doing my favorite part of ministry:  administrivia.  Oh how I love it! 
Wednesday was a typical day of the unscheduled but very important interruption.  One of our deacons sent a message that prompted me to abort my arrival at the office and to detour to one of the local skilled nursing facilities.  Rather than arriving at the office at 10, I got in closer to noon.  The visit was important.   Then someone who would have been waiting for me while I was at my  interruption, didn't show up til after I arrived in the office.  We rescheduled.
Next was some lunch and walking to local businesses asking if we could put up posters publicizing the upcoming John McCutcheon concert.  All in a day's work!
Thursday looked to be a mellow day with some meetings in the community.  We were looking forward to where we might be connecting as a church with the life of the community. work of the Rainbow Community Center.   This was the highlight of my week.  Probably partially at the expense of the pastoral intern, who was amazed and exhausted by the "visioning" work that we were doing.  How is it that having conversations, being relational and simply hearing what someone is excited about in their work, is considered work?  There was no agenda.  There was no desired outcome.  We did not emerge with a ten point plan of execution.  We just connected.  And while we were there, we ran into a member of our church who is a member of the Putnam Clubhouse (they're housed in the same building as the RCC) and we got an impromptu tour of the facility and heard more about their work as well.  Score!
So, no, my mother never said there'd be days or weeks like this.    And if she had, I'd never have believed her!



Monday, January 3, 2011

a new start

I do not do new year's resolutions, but I am forever and a day trying to restart my blogging efforts.  I tried to move over to wordpress, but it just wasn't working for me.  So, here I am, back on blogspot but under a different title.  Writestuff.  That's what I intend to do:  write stuff.

For starters, I will share with you the introduction to our church's annual report:
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’ – Ezekiel 37: 1-3
Upon getting to the task of writing the annual report, I posed the question to some people and asked “Does anyone ever read these reports?”  If you’re answering this in the affirmative, then I know that you are sitting down and reading this right now.  If you don’t read these reports, well, then I’m writing to thin air and the persons for whom that applies have no idea I have posed the question. 
Several of my friends responded and said that they read every word of their church’s annual report, and even go through the financial report line by line.  One of my friends said they no longer do one at her church (idea!) and yet another suggested that I write it in the style of a Christmas letter.   But the one response I got that caused me to pause was this one:  “You are simply documenting the work of the Spirit for another year in another place!”
So instead of obsessing on the budget numbers, the new members received, pledging units increased, number of new programs or classes or concerts held, how would I document the work of the Holy Spirit in this place over the past year?  Wow, that is a challenge.  I’m not sure I can do it for the church, but I know when my own heart was moved and the times when I felt a quickening that could only be attributed to the Divine, the Holy or something other than myself….
....celebrating the 50th year of music with Dale Scovill and friends
….installing officers for the class of 2012
….seeing the sanctuary full of joyous concert goers
…..knowing that the Women’s Support group walked the labyrinth in December
….witnessing the steady, unwavering and skillful staff of this church
….hearing the joyous laughter and even a supportive tear of the quilters on Wednesday morning
….celebrating the life of Craig Lyon, Phyllis Oetting, Jim McCombs, Carol Oetting, Dick Day
….walking the hallowed grounds of hospital and nursing home
….struggling prayerfully with the tough questions around the table at a Session meeting
….hearing the boisterous, dancing worship of Casa de Gozo on a Sunday afternoon and evening
…learning and teaching and being blessed by the unique gifts of pastoral intern, Lindsey Reed
…children, I always find something redeeming and Spirit-filled in the children of the church and of the Children’s Center
…intellectually and theologically challenging conversations
There are so many more ways that I saw the Spirit alive and at work that even though I thought it might be a struggle to name more than two or three, I now realize I’ve only begun to scratch the surface. It is one of my jobs to notice the breath of the Spirit enlivening and quickening all around, and to name them for you.  The other challenge is for you to do the same, give thanks for what you've noticed, name them for each other and share them with the community so that indeed, these bones shall live!