On Thin IcePosted: February 4, 2011
After I preached the first sermon of my life as a pre-seminary intern at Church of the Holy Comforter in Lutherville, Maryland, someone said to me, “You’re so lucky! From now on anything bad that ever happens to you can end up as sermon material.” I’m not sure if that’s quite true (I refrained from preaching about the Ravens inability to beat the Steelers in the playoffs) but I admit that unfortunate events are likely to turn up in my writing.
Such was the case with my latest “In Good Faith” article for the Hingham Journal. Sorry Bryna.
On Thin Ice
In the last few weeks I have embraced my inner home health aid. Not willingly, mind you, but out of necessity. My wife Bryna fell while ice skating with our nine-year-old son at the Hingham Skating Pond a few weeks ago and broke both of her wrists. Always the over-achiever, she couldn’t break just one wrist but went for the two-for-one special in the Emergency Room at South Shore Hospital.
With both of her arms in casts, she literally can’t do anything right now. Which is a bummer when you’re an independent-minded working mom with an active lifestyle. Or the husband of said woman.
The worst break was in her right hand – that one will be in a cast for about eight weeks. The left wrist will only be in a cast for five weeks. Naturally, she’s right handed.
The whole situation has been pretty surreal and disconcerting for a family used to a bit more, um, structure. Let’s just say I’d need to be an octopus to get half as much done as Bryna does with two working hands. But, with our newly-minted slacker, I’ve suddenly been thrust into the role of both nurse and Mr. Mom. Or, I guess, in my case Father Mom. I’m not sure whether to file this under “better or worse” or “in sickness and in health.” But either way you get through it because you have to – life doesn’t stop.
Beyond the physical challenges of the situation, when you’re the one who’s supposed to be dishing out the pastoral care, it’s tough to have the tables turned and accept it in return. People at St. John’s and in the community have been quick to offer support: meals, grocery and dump runs, invitations for the boys to come over and play with friends. It has, frankly, been overwhelming but also reassuring to know that there exists a strong community of support for those in our midst going through difficult times.
I think the spiritual lesson here is a reminder of our own vulnerability. We cannot, in fact, do everything by ourselves no matter how many bones we have or have not broken. Which is an especially good reminder to those of us who delude ourselves into thinking we have our lives under complete control. As Jesus puts it, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” Which serves as both a comfort and a relief. He doesn’t demand perfection – and neither should we.
When we hold baptisms at St. John’s, the entire congregation renews its own baptismal covenant just before the baptisms take place. And in doing so we answer a series of questions that gets to the core of our vulnerability with a very simple phrase: “With God’s help.” It is a recognition that we can’t, in fact, keep it all together by ourselves. Oh, we can try. And you can get away with it for awhile; sometimes for most of a lifetime. But inevitably you face a situation in life that reminds you of your powerlessness. Things don’t go according to plan; you get sick; a loved one dies; your beloved cat runs away; or your wife breaks both of her wrists. And in the emotions that follow – the denial, the anger, the frustration – you recognize that your life is not complete; that you do not have it all under control. That we can only get through our earthly pilgrimages “with God’s help.”
I have also learned some things in the past three weeks: referring to Bryna as a “cast off” is not appreciated; neither are references to her lying on the “casting couch.” She does not like to be called “Clubber Lang.” Nor does she think that my getting an extra straw and drinking coffee out of her mug in the morning is romantic. And I’ve discovered that Bryna thinks I’m a much better conversationalist when she’s on percoset.
But the other reminder in all of this – in addition to facing vulnerability – is that we’re lucky. While we’re in the midst of some pretty acute domestic chaos right now, this is all temporary. There are plenty of individuals and families going through situations that are not fleeting; that are, in some cases, matters of life and death. As I pray for Bryna’s continued healing, along with my own sanity, please know that I also hold these others in my daily prayers. And don’t ever hesitate to send along additional names or circumstances.