The Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
Joshua 24:1-18 (As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord)
Psalm 34:2-3, 16-21 (Let my soul glory in the Lord...Taste and see the goodness of the Lord)
Ephesians 5:21-32 (Paul of Tarsus' often quoted and more often misunderstood treatise on married life)
John 6:60-69 (The Bread of Life Discourse, conclusion: "Do you also want to leave?")
And - James 4:1-17 (What a Christian Feels: 'Whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes himself an enemy of God')
On the eve of my son's 17th birthday last March, I posted in this journal a brief mention of the brother he has but has never known.
It was on this day nineteen years ago that a paradigm event for my wife and I came to its terrible end. Our first child, Adam Robert, was delivered stillborn in the 9 o'clock hour of the morning.
We had set out for a walk in our neighborhood the previous evening. We hadn't quite made it out the door when my wife's 'water broke' (as it's colloquially called), and before I knew what was happening, we were on our way to the hospital.
Within an hour of our arrival we were given the bad news by a doctor not our own (her OBGYN was on vacation at the time). During the long dark night of the soul that followed my focus was, out of love and necessity, on comforting my wife. Just the same, the nagging questions started to pop up. What had gone wrong? What did we do to deserve this? More importantly, How would we ultimately push through our panic-stricken, shock-numbing grief?
Looking back now and seeing where all this has taken us has been revealing.
For my wife, it was a big event that shaped her focus on health, holistic living, and ultimately, healing. Within two years she would lose one ovary and give birth to our (now seventeen-year-old) son. She has become acutely aware at various stages in her life about the effect much of modern lifestyle has on the body, and how that affects the mind and spirit as well. On her own she developed in her working memory a virtual encyclopedia of symptoms to ailments that would rival many professionals - and has a good handle on what she can treat.
For me, Adam's passing turned my focus in ministry formation toward bereavement. During my years as an active deacon this became being the parish minister at wakes. Since then, it has shifted to assisting at the funeral liturgy through my musical abilities. I don't see it stopping there. Not that I'm going to become a professional mourner (believe it or not, such a thing has been known to exist); but rather, continue to develop the lessons learned and the abilities I have to use them in the future.
In all of this is the bittersweet reminder of what was expected; what was supposed to be nineteen years ago. Truly, if Adam had been born in the normal course, everything would be different now. I might not be writing here; we might have been dealing with other 'soccer moms' and who-knows-what else; and our boy might not even have been named Adam!
Today's Sign for Our Times:
Actually, I found the text (minus the bogus phone number) on one of the type of sign one might use to advertise a garage sale or a political candidate; the type that has two small rods that you push into the ground. I found it at the end of an expressway exit near home. Thanks to a few Internet entrepreneurs, you can design your own signboard; as I've done here.
I know I asked questions of God back then - so many times I lost count. And there was a big issue - our pastor at the time never called or came by to offer condolences or guidance or even prayer. But in the depths of grief and despair, to whom else could I go?
Several ministers I know have occasionally preached that God offers many people a "second chance." Let me take this one step closer to what I sense is reality. In Jesus, God has offered everyone a second chance. Further, in his infinite love, God has offered us third, fourth, fifth, who knows how many chances. And we may never 'get it right' in our human vision. The way I see it, the biggest of life's lessons have come through difficult times. There's always a choice - to wallow in the pit or burn in the fire, or to rise above it and sharpen the resolve to do better.
As for me and my house, we shall rise...and serve.