Coming on the clouds...
"Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen"
~ Revelation 1:7
This morning I woke up thinking about the words that I will be sharing during worship today. It's the beginning of another Advent, and I discover that I am still waiting and watching.
The husband of one of my hospice patients believes that he will see the return of Christ in his lifetime. The ninety-seven-year-old man always smiles when he shares this with me, and often, the smile will bring a welling of tears to his eyes, and he will often look upward.
This morning's text tells of the return of Christ as being found among the clouds.
I remember laying on the hillside just beyond our pond as a child, and staring at the clouds, often with my stepbrother, Jimmy. We would watch and wait for shapes to form, and then ask one another if we could see the same thing. Dragons, dogs, and the occasional eagle would appear. The locusts would sing their summer song, and often we would drift away like the shape that once held our attention.
I have realized that as I have grown older that the second coming will need to be big and loud. The world hardly recognized the small child that was born in seclusion. Well, there were those angels, shepherds, a few wise men, and star, but for the most part, Jesus comes into the world through the birth by a young Hebrew girl, in the darkness of stable. The return of Jesus will come on the clouds and we are told to be "ready."
I will admit, there are many things that I have encountered in my life, that when I look back I realize just how unprepared I would have been had the second coming happened. When I fail to stop and help the stranger, or when I abandon the opportunity to give rather than receive. When I look at my closet of clothes and realize the multiples I have of "things," and I talk about what I have, rather than what I could share.
There are too many times, and that does not include the moments when my mind is focused on some goal of my own making, rather than listen to the still small voice offering another way.
No, Jesus will have to arrive in a way that the world has to stop and take notice. The small flicker of a candle cannot compete with the latest LED strobe that spells out words across the sky.
I think in many ways I'm glad it will be bold, because even for many of us who claim to be Christian, we don't know how to be bold for a God who expects us to love one another unconditionally. Instead of allowing for judgement by a Divine being, many Christians today would rather point their fingers at those who don't measure up to what their own God of their making expects. No, for me, Jesus in the clouds finds me once again on a hillside in my mind and being amazed to proclaim, "Look, I see Jesus!"
May we all on this first Sunday of Advent find us living in hope of the One who will return on the clouds!
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2020
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
~ Psalm 27:13 - 14
This morning I took time to walk in my yard and see the changes that are occuring as autumn embraces the breeze, and leaves turn to gold. Over the past week I have been checking in on this monarch chrysalis. When it first appeared, it was a gray color, nearly matching the boards in the fence, blending in, and protecting the miracle that was happening within.
This morning, I can now begin to see the outline of a wing, and the markings that will soon define the wings of the monarch as it appears. It's amazing to think that last week this was a caterpillar, and soon it will soar over the trees.
A few years ago, one of the families from the church I was serving encountered a health crisis while out of town. Don had received a kidney transplant nearly two decades earlier, and as with all things and time, the kidney was slowly falling behind. Don had to be lifted by helicopter from Dallas to Galveston. There, the kidney unit where he got his kidney years ago, was waiting for him to arrive. His wife called and I shared I would be there to meet him when he arrived as she made the drive from Dallas.
I arrived just as the helicopter was approaching the hospital. I watched as the tail spun around, making a soft landing, and the team from the unit, taking him from the helicopter up to where there was a room full of staff waiting.
I stood outside the door as vitals were taken, and initial assessments completed, and then I was invited to sit next to him and wait on his family to arrive. Don was not conscious, and appeared comfortable. I remember making just some light remarks, always remembering that people who are not conscious are always listening. I remind my hospice families of this all the time, encourage them to say positive things to the patient, and remind them that our hearing is the last thing to go when we die. I often will continue to talk to the patient, even after death for some time, thanking them for allowing me to be present for this important milestone in their life, and that I will see them again.
Don didn't stir. I began to hum "Amazing Grace" among the sounds of an occasional beep from a monitor and the rise and fall of the automatic blood pressure cuff on his arm. As I began to hum the song again for the second time, I could begin to hear Don humming the tune along with me. No movement. Not even the slightest lift from an eyebrow. Only the sound of the tune, flowing along with me.
I don't remember how many times we hummed the tune, but I could sense that his spirit was present, and that somehow I knew that "this time," things were going to be okay.
In many ways, I was seeing Don as I do the monarch chrysalis. It wasn't so much as to what my eyes could see, but what my spirit understood, as I listened to his spirit within, still humming, and lifting up a song that brought joy to the moment.
Like the chrysalis, I don't understand how the miracle of this transformation takes place. I guess in many ways, I don't care to know, because of the joy I encounter when wings push forth, and the butterfly emerges.
As I was reminded by Mary, one of the oldest members of the very first church I served who was bedbound in a nursing home years ago, "Don't let this old body fool you. My spirit is good and I am a warrior when it comes to praying for things. Just let me know what I need to pray for."
I am thankful for the miracle of the chrysalis, but moreso, I am thankful for knowing that my spirit, no matter what my body may encounter, belongs to a God whom I will sing to, even when my body is no longer able.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2020
When we miss the end...
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."
~ Matthew 7:13 - 14
I'm not sure what it was about this morning. Walking out, I was greeted by cool weather and a soft breeze that welcomed me. As I let the dogs out, my eyes were drawn to one of the trees in our back yard. "The leaves are gone," I said to myself. "How did I miss that?"
I will be the first to admit that I have not been myself for nearly two months now. I'm not sure if it is the new reality of living during a pandemic, or the fact that I live in a country that has just gone through one the most divisive political seasons since the Civil War. Perhaps it is because I am learning to live with a chronic pain condition, and that instead of waking up in the morning and beginning my day with my normal time of reflection and writing, I now begin the morning slowly pulling myself from my bed, trying to do some stretches that are to help with the pain, and then consider what today's "normal," will be. Whatever it is, this morning I realized that I seemed to have missed leaves that changed, and fell to the ground.
I feel as if I have become a backseat driver to my own life that seems to be driven by someone who looks like me, but does not see the road ahead as clearly as I once was did. The driver doesn't maneuver sharp turns as carefully as I would, or drive slower, when entering areas of my life where moments to reflect should overwhelm the need to push through. Speed bumps jar me, as I realize that I am not as prepared for the ups and downs as I encounter both hills and valleys. I want to get out of the backseat and place myself firmly behind the wheel, but I can't seem to get the driver's attention, and I feel trapped by this driver.
The leaves are gone, and I seemed to have missed the end of a season.
I readjust the chair that I am sitting on while I am typing, as I feel the pain once again, and I think to myself, I must remain in the driver's seat today.
I remember back to when I was married with young children at home while in grad school full time and working several jobs in order to keep afloat. My friends know that if you ask me any trivia questions that involve the decade of the 90's, I will not be able to answer them as this decade seems to be a blur in my life. I remember telling someone that my life was filled with "have to's" and it did not belong to me. It belonged to a person who was in the back seat, being driven by someone else.
I have to stop here for a moment, and let my mind catch up with my hands. You see, I realize that I am sharing what we all know something about. When I was a child I remember telling my grandmother that I was "bored." I can still see her face, her eyes, gazing at me as if I had just blurted a word that would guarantee the taste of Ivory liquid soap in my mouth in the morning after having had it washed out the night before. She said, "People who say that they are bored, are boring people. You don't ever want to be one of those."
I realize that we all are afraid to slow down. We surrender ourselves to the backseat of our life time and time again. Our health begins to suffer. Relationships are strained, and we forget to take the time to reflect, dream, and embrace the life that God, not the world, has for us. For many, it is not until you find yourself pounding on the window of the backseat door, that you realize that you have lost the ability to stop.
I hear the words of Jesus, "Peace I give to you. My peace, I leave with you," followed by the Psalmist, reminding, "Surely peace and mercy shall follow after you."
I am comforted to know that if I surrender all these things that I am feeling, and the perceived expectations of a world that is full of people riding in the back seat, that I will still hear the words, "My good and faithful servant, welcome home," when I reach my real destination.
That when I realize that I have missed a season, not to beat myself up because I missed it, but rather, remind myself that I need to be more gentle and kind to myself in the coming days and weeks. Most of all, to remember that I didn't get in the backseat overnight. It came with moments when I decided to surrender to the expectations of a world that fails to yield, or to slow down, for those of us who really would prefer a different road that takes us closer to where God would really like for us to be.
Stay in your lane, and in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2020
Life's uncommon realities...
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.
~ Revelation 21:4
The text came just a little before 7 am yesterday, "Mom passed this morning at 5:20. Tom and Andie are going to tell my grandparents in person this morning."
It was news that I was expecting, but it came at a time that I was rushing around, trying to get ready for the day, and was already feeling the pressure of a Monday morning that just seemed to be anything but ordinary. My heart quickly turned to Herman and Helen. A sweet couple I have known for some time, who both are in their nineties, and the reality that this morning they would hear the news that their daughter has died. As I lifted a prayer for them while tying my shoes, I remembered the experience that I had, watching my own great-grandmother, stare at an old man in a coffin, and her saying, "I know that I have lived too long when I watch my children die of old age."
"Parents are not supposed to outlive their children."
I have heard these words more times than I can seem to remember. Interesting how these words seem to resonate some great "order," in a world that is filled with imperfect realities. I remember being at the bedside of an eight year old girl who unexpectedly hemorrhaged a few days following surgery. Her mother, who refused to leave the room as hospital staff reopened a surgical incision in an attempt to reach the area, stood and watched. I held her, while a doctor asked me to take her out of the room, only to hear the mother tell me, "No, I'm not going anywhere, I told her I would always be here for her. This is that moment."
The attempts were futile, and the girl died. The scene still plays out in my mind, as I remember the images from the room, the words of the girl's mother, and how powerful her presence was.
I had just visited Dee a few days ago. It had taken all of her energy to convey to me the words she shared during our time together. As I think back now, I watched her form words, and thought how her lips and mouth reminded me of her mother's. Her mother, Helen, has one of the most beautiful smiles, with a laugh, that is undeniably her own. Dee's eyes were reflective of both Helen and Herman, but they were now tired, and slightly dimmed by what was going on within a body. We all knew that this would be our last visit with one another. I remember our tears when I first entered the room. They were both reflective of the love that we had for one another, with the salty reality that sometimes life is simply not following the perceived reality of how children should die once their parents have breathed their last breath, and that golden years should not include watching your children die before you.
I am drawn this morning to think of another child, who had a mother that gave birth to him when she was still a young woman. Who nursed him, and watched him take his first steps. Who smiled the first time she heard him call her, "mom," and would laugh with him, when she found that place on his body that would result in giggles. A mother who would tell him stories, and would scrape the dirt from his knee, providing the healing kiss that only a parent can provide, when that is the only true cure.
I think of how this mother must have scolded him when he did wrong, because we know that all children are shaped by what they are taught, with both good and bad experiences, that are shaped by behaviors, both good and bad.
I know that this mother also watched, helplessly, as this child was taken from her and the friends that he loved when he was a man, sharing about what the world would be like if only people would listen and respond. She saw him beaten, and hung on a cross, while hearing him tell a man near her that she was now his mother because he would no longer be present in her life to care for her as sons are taught to care for their mothers as they grow old. Another reminder, that even in the life that Jesus lived with his mother, Mary, the order of how life "should have been," failed to be realized.
I am reminded each day of the imperfect world in which we live. We live with the results of not just our own decisions, but the decisions of millions around us, and generations that have lived before us. Within our faith, uncommon realities teach us that we must not forget to have hope, and to pray for miracles that cannot ever be imagined.
So many times, I hear mothers and fathers tell me how they feel so "hopeless," while their children suffer, encounter life-limiting challenges, and succumb to their uncommon reality that their child will die before them.
My heart is filled with with sadness for Herman and Helen who have just lost their daughter, and for Dana and John who have just lost their mother. I am also realizing the grief that I am encountering, as I have lost a sweet friend.
I long for the day when there will be, "no more death," and a time when mothers and fathers will no longer encounter the reality that their child has died.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2020
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
~ John 14:3
Yesterday I visited a close friend in the hospital who has decided to only proceed with comfort care as she has exhausted all treatments. I had not seen her in some time. When I entered the room, I was greeted by one of her children. We all seemed to recognize the journey of this life is drawing to a close, and tears just naturally began to gather in our eyes, as we smiled, hugged and said our initial words.
One of the things that they don't really teach you about ministry in seminary is that your presence as a pastor in a faith community, can create lasting relationships. I thought about meeting this person's parents when I first interviewed for the position as "Pastor," for this small faith community near the Gulf. They were among a group of elders that reached out and welcomed me. I enjoyed listening to their stories of growing up in Kansas, going to the "city" for the first time, never having seen stop lights, and what it was like to encounter traffic while trying to cross a street without knowing to wait for the signal to change. Over the years I met their children, grandchildren, buried this friend's husband, and I visited them all at various times when a health crisis would arise.
While I have not served this faith community in some time, our relationship has continued, often in light conversation and "howdy-do's."
Yesterday was the culmination of all of these experiences. It was the reality that a milestone was going to arrive whether we were ready for it or not, and that final words, lasting words, needed to be shared.
I always remind people that I am in the business of teaching others how to say, "Good bye." It still remains hard for me at times to say "Good bye" when it comes to my own friends and family.
I am reminded that our faith continues to bring us closer together, and that eternity has already presented itself to us. I sometimes wonder how different these milestones would be if we realized that our time in eternity means that we just have a change in location, and that death is the means by which we move. It is not a finality.
Jesus tells the disciples that he goes to prepare a place for us. I have to remind myself that there is that place for my friend, and for me.
While I will miss this person, and I am sad for all those who love and care for this person, I know that eternity will be a greater blessing knowing that we will all be together once more.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2020
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
~ Isaiah 43:19
Howard Thurman is quoted as saying, "Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
One of the most radical demands for you and I is the discovery that as Ecclesiastical people we live our lives as seasons, or as passages that create our life narratives. When we are born, we begin our B
As I looked at them, I was reminded of how different our lives were then, and then turned to realize the woman that she is today. Emily continues to work for a non-profit that helps people with mental illness and addiction, while also attending nursing school full time. This morning she walked in after spending the night with a coworker that had to have an emergency C Section, with no one available to be with her. Emily volunteered to help, and was present for the birth of the baby, and was the first person to hold the baby. I just smiled as I shared, "You were the first person to show this baby love."
I think back to the first months of her life, getting up in the middle of the night when she would cry, taking her to her mother so that she could be fed, then taking her back, walking the hallway, and sometimes sitting in the rocking chair while thinking about who I had hoped she would be. I remembered many of the dreams that I had for her, and how I had hoped to protect her from so many things of the world. God has blessed her with gifts I never knew she would have. She is living her life in a way that it is bringing life to others.
Besides the dreams that I had for both my son and daughter, included in those dreams was a prayer that included the people that they would fall in love with later in life. My prayer for those that would fall in love with them was simple. "Dear God, keep this person safe from harm, protected for wounds that would prevent the person from loving completely, while giving the person eyes only for my child, and a heart that knows and is filled with the love of God while sharing that love with my child."
I know for some parents, watching their children grow up and move out on their own, somehow makes their life less meaningful. I am simply reminded that for each of us our lives continue to change. Each day I encounter folks who are at the end of their journey, and I am reminded that at some point we all will encounter daily "new normals," as we age and come closer to the end of our life.
Whether we realize it or not, we are always passing from one chapter to the next, gaining and losing someone, some place, something.
As Thurman reminds us, we are to discover the things that make us "alive."
I have always found that finding ways to unconditionally love, recognize the sacred among one another, and a desire to ask God first, seems to help me remain focused on being my best self, for myself, and others. These things also what that make me, "feel alive."
While losses remind us that life is not always perfect, we cannot let them disillusion us from knowing that each day is an opportunity. The question is how do we choose it as a passage, and live our life more fully each day, rather than as a loss that we will never move beyond?
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2020
Rev. G. Todd Williams lives in the Houston metro area and is a Hospice Chaplain at Essential Hospice, Webster, Texas, and is an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor.