Saturday, September 13, 2014

Freakish Week (4) Prayers in the mix

In all the camaraderie and positive spirits there was only one very visible flicker of spiritual life - one young Muslim man followed through his prayer rituals, often able to leave the ward for prayers in the hospital chapel but occasionally praying in bed accompanied by chanting on his ipad.

I say only one flicker but, of course, I hope there were several others!  On my first morning a friend, who also serves on the chaplaincy team came to visit. I was already behind curtains but his powerful prayer was certainly heard by surrounding men.  He was followed within minutes by another chaplain; then by a deacon from the church and later by my own pastor, whose strong voice committed me to the healing power of Jesus Christ.   I am sure some of this ministry would have been witnessed by those around.

Anyone who knows weakness and pain values kind words of friends, but when they pray for you they open up a tangible dimension of God's grace and love. I admit that I found praying by myself difficult but what a help these praying friends were not only in focusing prayer on me, but bringing signs of spiritual life into our ward.

I know many others were joining in prayer at a distance too.  What difference did all these prayers make?   I shall never know the full reach as Carol and I were given peace and strength but I particularly marvel about the operation itself.  The surgeon warned me that the swelling was so severe that I would likely undergo two operations: the first would pin the bones in position using an external frame in order for the swelling to reduce for a second op. some 8-10 days later. Even on the morning of the op. he thought it unlikely that he would be able to do more than the first holding surgery.  I was given an epidural (which allowed me two hours of live experience!) so I stayed awake for the drilling and screwing.   Afterwards, with obvious delight (and some surprise) he announced he had skipped the need for the first op and completed the whole process in spite of some swollen tissue.  I have no doubts that this was an answer to prayer.


Since, I have seen an Xray of the plate, 12 horizontal screws and two vertical pins holding my ankle together.  I congratulated the surgeon who has brought my messed up bones within half a millimeter of their prior state.  And I praise the Lord who has really been healing through it all.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Freakish Week (3) Experiencing camaradarie

Around me, as I lay in bed, were men of very different ages, backgrounds and personalities. Thrown together at the most basic level there were few secrets between us.  The most personal details were discussed behind flimsy curtains.


Next to me was a born extrovert in his mid-fifties who had suffered an horrendous accident some days before.  Though unable to walk, he commandeered a commode on wheels which he learned to propel (remarkably fast) by his one undamaged big toe;  passing by each bed he had personal words for each man.  It was remarkable not only how positive and encouraging he was with such apposite words but also how well everyone responded, especially the quieter men who seemed grateful to be recognized and included.  He explained to me his philosophy meant that you had to make the very best of what you are given.  'You must move on' he said.


Next to him in the opposite corner an elderly man with knee surgery was having immense trouble coping. With failing appetite and limited ability to respond to nursing care he seemed to sleep a great deal.  Our extrovert took pains to encourage him at every turn.  Applauding every tiny step, calling the nurse (several times) in the night, and sharing his positive spirit with contagious companionship made all the difference to this man who turned out to have great humour.


It was extraordinary to witness how this group of men who had nothing in common before they were thrown together into pain developed bonding with such strong mutual support. In my six days I heard few moans, witnessed considerable bravery and stoicism with such brightness of spirit. Every time someone faced a procedure they were wheeled out of the ward to the sound of good wishes and greeted with concern as they returned.  I know it would have been different without that extrovert and his power of positive thinking. Of course, one challenge I faced from this is to ask what positive influence I would have shown in his absence!   Isn't there a word about being salt and light?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Freakish Week (2) Nursing care

On Ward C8 I seemed to be the only one who had to remain immobile.  Physiotherapists worked busily to keep others active.  Two men had been smashed up by motor-cycle accidents, another as a pedestrian in a car accident.  Others were recovering from hip and knee replacements.  Exercises, practice lessons with crutches and zimmer frames were going on all around me.


In contrast I lay in total stillness, commanded to lie motionless and utterly dependent on nursing care.  Many of my readers will know what utter dependence means!  It was strange that within seconds of a nurse bending over your bed you knew how kind and caring she or he was. Early on, one nurse who called me 'My lovely' (!) expressed kindness tangibly in everything she did.  I hoped that she would be the one to answer if I pressed the buzzer!   After 24 hours she was the one who brought the bowl of warm water and began to wash me so gently and respectfully.  My back which had been pinned down ever since the accident was lifted and as she bathed it I felt incredibly grateful.  Really, it was a ministry moment of bliss!


To differing degrees all the nurses expressed care and concern.  Not one person seemed unmotivated to care in spite of huge pressures from patient needs, constantly demanding buzzers and (especially at night) staff shortages. I thought of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5 22-23) and how many of these qualities express just such high quality caring: love, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control.  The Christian's motivation is of the highest order - belonging to Christ and living by the Spirit.  I couldn't help thinking how challenging it is to apply that sentence to believers: 'not one person seemed unmotivated to care in spite of huge pressures'.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Freakish Week (1) If only....

Routinely, every 3 months since 1988, I have visited hospital for botox injections to keep my neurological disease in check. Last Tuesday, my latest shots seemed to go routinely.  I had planned out the rest of the day which included visiting a gravely ill friend - I wore my best trousers!  Suddenly, during the last injection a wave of nausea hit me.  Who knows why.  Unconcerned,  I stood and went to the window to take deep breaths. My consultant thought it would be good for me to lie down but I was sure it would quickly pass.  Then, for the first time in my life I fainted.  Alas, as I fell heavily, my right ankle caught in a medical cart and snapped at right angles.  I thought I could see bones sticking through. It certainly felt like that.


Rushed down into A and E it was confirmed that I had broken several bones and would need an immediate binding up in plaster. As they cut my trousers Carol, who by then had been brought by kind friends to the hospital,  commented 'If only you had worn jeans today!' X rays confirmed complex breakages which require plates, screws and pins.   However, until the extensive swelling subsided no further action could be taken.  My bed, to which I had been rooted for 10 hours was wheeled up to the trauma unit C8 where I slid into a 12 bedded male ward, full of suffering. 


'If only' is, of course,  is a tempting response.  'If only I had not stood up, if only the medical cart had not been there, if only I had a clue about what fainting means......'  One of the growth points (of many I need to learn these next days) is to realize: first, nothing should ever be treated casually as just routine.  Life is fragile and each day we should be thankful for the gift of life and alert.  Second, when things go wrong, don't burn up with recriminations which will only stoke up frustration, but accept that the good Lord can work a good purpose through everything that happens to us.  Ps 16 has again been special: 'I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken '(verse 8).   

Sunday, August 31, 2014

NKP proposal - What's that?

This week a proposal is being submitted to the Lilly Grant Foundation in the USA from Northern Seminary.  It bears the initials NKP.   Like many visions it took weeks to take shape.  Indeed, a few weeks ago it had no specific name though large bundles of possible content.


NKP stands for 'A New Kind of Preacher'.  Note, not a new kind of preaching which might suggest a focus on the act of preaching -its technique and design - but on the person of the preacher.


Ever since I wrote Preaching as Worship I have believed passionately that the twenty-first century needs a new kind of preacher.  In the recent past preachers have all too often been lone rangers, who have tended to focus on individuals and operate by delivering 'sermon packages', working with familiar preparation routines in predictable ways, frequently separated from others planning gathered worship.  These ‘sermons in a box’ have often been disconnected from God’s big picture for his church community and his world mission.  Much preaching has often been viewed therefore as a separate free-standing segment of ministry under the preacher’s control.  Sadly, some preachers feel this is a weekly burden by which their total effectiveness is judged.  A recent US survey has revealed widespread disappointment among both preachers and hearers that so much preaching seems to achieve so little.  Unsurprisingly, some preachers can feel defensive and anxious about their preaching.


NKP aims to nuture by forums, peer learning and fresh resources a new kind of preacher who sees this bigger picture and dares to open up their lives to its implications. 


You can imagine my excitement about NKP because it will allow ideas in my last book to be fleshed out on a bigger scale in the metro-Chicago area with preachers of both genders with differing ethnicities, cultures, contexts, and denominations.  Well, after all the conference calls, prayer (oh yes) writing and editing we need to wait and see if the proposal is accepted.   I shall be sure to let you know.  And if it is, it means a busier five years ahead for me!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Classical surprise

As I shared once in a past post, we sometimes play table-tennis and enjoy a cup of tea at a community session held in a local Methodist church.  Over the last two years we have developed several friendships (though with sadly little improvement in table-tennis skills).  This week we played a couple of games to our usual standard (!) and retreated to the kitchen hatch to order our teas and a dairy-free bun.  In front of us a man with a guitar slung round his shoulders was also ordering tea and cake.  Carol, as is her wont, started talking with him and asked him what he played. 'Oh, classical' he answered. 'It would be wonderful if you could play for us!' she cheekily asked. 'OK', he replied, 'where shall I sit?'  'Sit with Michael and me' she invited.


As he unpacked his guitar we learned that his name is Tom and playing the guitar is his profession.  To the amazement of all, but especially us sitting so close, he began playing some Bach, followed by yet more Bach - 'Jesu joy of man's desiring'.  The classical guitar makes such delicate sounds as each plucked string enriches gorgeous harmony.  The beauty held us captive, with neighboring tables joining in. Here was an expert musician so generously sharing his skills with us. I asked him about his repertoire.  He mentioned many of the greats and the joys of transcribing their music for the guitar.  Recently, he said he had grown fond of Chopin.  Then he began to play a piece that I last heard my father play on our family piano decades ago.  So evocative!


Soon he left to play at a concert elsewhere in the village. 'You know so much of this music began in the church', he said. 'It's wonderful to be able to bring it back in'.  Surprises by definition are unexpected. Tom's visit and willingness to give, just like that - expressing the beauty and power of music - stand out as a highlight this week.  Oh, I like surprises like this! 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Odd anecdote (5)

Changing the tone abruptly, my old memory bank has been jogged (uncomfortably) ! My last odd anecdote about knocking the main front lamp in church as I handed back flags to standard bearers has reminded me of my years in the Boys Brigade aged 11 to 16. I enjoyed playing the bugle immensely and belonging to the band took us not only on regular church parades through the streets of Gloucester, but also brightened up town processions and fetes in the area.

However, there was much to distract as you paraded through the crowds. On one memorable occasion, I think somewhere in the Forest of Dean, we led a procession and I was given the task of marching at the front of the buglers to give them notice of impending action by throwing my bugle aloft in my right hand before pressing it to my lips.  This clear signal was intended to bring all the buglers simultaneously into crisp united rhythm with the drums. Readers will anticipate what happened!  Distracted along the way I realized too late that our big entry was upon us.  In movement so swift that no one could possibly follow, I ended up with a mournful solo squeak before the ragged ranks eventually caught on.  The bandmaster sighed deeply.


In spite of this I was later promoted as Lance-Corporal and was sent on a training course.  One exercise involved learning how to drill the company...'.by the left, quick march', etc!  New officers had to take turns.  I remember the hall was large with a well polished floor.  I guess 40 or 50 fellow officers formed the ranks. It had been carefully explained that as they marched down the hall we needed to give adequate time to command 'About Turn'.  This seemed so obvious for ranks to be able to turn and march back in orderly fashion.  Whether it was the legacy of my bugling faux pas I am not sure, but I regret to say that I left it far too late.  In panic, I shouted just as the first rank was trying to avoid the wall giving the second rank little other option then to slide into them.  Total disorder followed with about a quarter of the lads on the floor.  The commanding officer sighed very deeply.


I think moments like these have helped hone (!) my leadership skills - certainly the ability to cope with public embarrassment.