Monday, October 15, 2018

Loss & Gain: RSF&PTL

John Claypool, a now deceased Episcopal priest who wrote Life is a Gift and other books that have been helpful to so many of us who have been pastors, recalled in one of them, after the death of his young daughter, Laura Lue, the helpful visit and wisdom of a rabbi friend. Among other things, the rabbi asked John whether God had done anything at all for him during Laura Lue's illness, dying, death, and now his excruciating grief. John thought long, realized and responded, "Yes, I know that I'm going to make it." From the same or another friend, John also heard, absorbed, and so realized as he was experiencing, that for every loss, even one so grievous, for every loss, there is a gain. John recalled being furious at hearing this said, but then later experienced the ultimate truth of it.

This is Monday morning in Pensacola and, as I write, Linda is packing, and I think last night Kristen also packed and loaded her car, for us to check out of the motel and make our way back to Bay County and Panama City. Kristen's apartment complex at PCB seems to have suffered little or no damage, and they have notified her and other tenants that water and power are back on and welcome home but mind the boil-water order. Ray & Britany called us yesterday to report that they have secured a condo at Panama City Beach and we are invited. This will allow us to go in to 7H, recover some essential documents and a few cherished belongings that we can carry down seven levels, protect other belongings from further water damage, and begin the insurance claim process; the condo unit above ours had roof leaks, water coming in to flood their unit and seep down into ours. So, while apparently not decimated, we are not off scot free. 

Malinda's house down the bay shore a few blocks from 7H, has such major damage that we wonder if it can be salvaged and made livable.

Being at PCB should be quite helpful to us for taking the next recovery steps.

Malinda will be with us at Ray & Britany's and their daughter, our great-granddaughter, Malinda's granddaughter Lilly. I think that will be helpful to Malinda's progress.

At the moment though, Malinda is suffering, or we all are, and Malinda does not realize it, what apparently are common side-effects and after-effects of surgery to repair a brain aneurysm. Seemingly unaware, she becomes angry, combative, sleeps excessively. Last evening as we were turning out the lights and getting into bed, she angrily pushed past her mother, forced her way out into the hallway and, before I could reach her, went through an exit door, down the stairs, out an emergency no-reentry door, and outside, where she got lost, we were not able to find her until, as we realized we had to call the police, hotel personnel, searching, found her outside at the pool area and coaxed her back inside. To prevent its recurrence during the night, I jammed a chair against the door, put down a pillow, and slept on the floor by the door. She is trying it again right now, this morning. Her doctors have assured us, and we pray, this will be a passing thing; but it is for us a taste of Hell to deal lovingly with this and while also having no livable homes to take her back to. Yesterday when I showed her a picture of what Hurricane Michael had done to her house, she studied it carefully and then corrected me: "that's not my house." I fear that for her the physical and mental, and for all of us the emotional trauma, will be lasting. 

And yet for every loss, a gain. For every negative, a positive. For me, us, in all this: love. My first cousin Carol, who was named for me, has visited, bringing Time, gifts, and love. My beloved brother, Walt - - happiest he has ever been in life because, widowed, he and his highschool sweetheart Judy, also widowed and living here in Pensacola, reconnected, and a couple months ago I officiated their wedding; after more than half a century they are still and again so much in love, it so cheers my heart to see them - - Walt has visited, and we have drunk coffee and talked, Judy sent baked deliciousness, and last evening they came and brought barbecue sandwiches for our supper. I'm not going to say that having Walt living close, in Pensacola instead of Louisiana, supremely happy, and thus recovering my brother, makes all this worthwhile, but it's mighty gardenia close.

Last, and I must stop because Linda needs my help, this about the storm. Never before to my recollection have I seen a photograph taken inside the eye of a hurricane at ground level, the trees, mostly stripped bare of leaves and needles, standing back up and feeling relieved, not knowing that shortly it will resume in full force, rip of the rest of their greenery, bend them the other way, and break them off at about eight feet. Such a photograph is being shown on television. I saw it once yesterday and again this morning but've not been able to grab my cellphone and snap it. The sky above is clear. In the near distance the solid wall of Hurricane Michael, curving round and reaching high, moving, the word is inexorably, to resume playing hell.

And, but, we are alive. Every life lost, especially children who trusted foolish parents and stayed the storm, is tragedy and disaster. Most of us are alive. Hurting but alive. For every loss, a gain.

Right shoe first and praise the Lord.


Sunday, October 14, 2018


A numbness sets in, a certain numbness. Or maybe it's the hour, although at this time of day I'm generally an hour or more alert into my morning. But not. So, why?, my, our, story and status are no worse than most around here, in fact, likely better than most. "Here" being the NW Florida Gulf Coast, Bay County, Panama City, St Andrews and St Andrews Bay. "Here" in my mind and my heart and soul even if I'm yet in Pensacola for some unknown duration, a hundred miles from the eipcenter. A predawn muse. 5:12 AM and dark, black as pitch out the hotel room window. Sunday morning and this is how I felt in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. A numbness with the realization that nothing can ever be the same again for me, us, in life.

My professor at the University of Michigan in 1962 remembered his feelings the day of Pearl Harbor: "How different it will all be tomorrow." It's a death, isn't it, a certain, specific death, like walking away from the graveside after the funeral of someone you'd never imagined life without. 

Maybe this is how it feels to be a third-world person. 

Am I sad? The sadness is bottomless. Am I discouraged? Everyone else, especially in my vocation, will be putting on a smiley face and talking about the bright side and recovery; but me? I don't know, I'm not there, I'm not that far along yet. Early last Monday morning, for other reasons entirely, we left home and drove to Pensacola, leaving our lifetime of things in 7H and thinking we'd be back home Wednesday afternoon. But Wednesday, instead of lunch before leaving to drive back home, I watched, on my computer screen, Hurricane Michael churn ashore. Leaving what? Home? IDK, I'm still in Pensacola, I'm not there, I'm not that far along yet. But what I see in pictures is desolation, as though the Eschaton came Wednesday while I was away from home. Left Behind.

From my story, a Metaphor for Theological Reflection: a Navy fighter pilot takes off from his aircraft carrier, flies his sortie, and when he gets back, sees his carrier afire and sinking. Nowhere to land, and his plane is low on fuel.

The theological cycle is Creation, Sin, Judgment, Repentance, Redemption: beginning the TR with Creation: in our metaphor, what is this world like? One word responses, adjectives.


Saturday, October 13, 2018

Job & Michael

Job 1 (NRSV)
Job and His Family
1 There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. 2 There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. 3 He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. 4 His sons used to go and hold feasts in one another’s houses in turn; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5 And when the feast days had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” This is what Job always did.

Attack on Job’s Character
6 One day the heavenly beings [Hebrew: sons of God] came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan [b] also came among them. 7 The Lord said to Satan,[c] “Where have you come from?” Satan[d] answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 8 The Lord said to Satan,[e] “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” 9 Then Satan[f] answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 The Lord said to Satan,[g] “Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!” So Satan[h] went out from the presence of the Lord.

Job Loses Property and Children
13 One day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were feeding beside them, 15 and the Sabeans fell on them and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 16 While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 17 While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three columns, made a raid on the camels and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 18 While he was still speaking, another came and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, 19 and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you.”

20 Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.

Job 2 (NRSV)
Attack on Job’s Health
2 One day the heavenly beings [Hebrew: sons of God] came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan[b] also came among them to present himself before the Lord. 2 The Lord said to Satan,[c] “Where have you come from?” Satan[d] answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 3 The Lord said to Satan,[e] “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.” 4 Then Satan[f] answered the Lord, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives.[g] 5 But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” 6 The Lord said to Satan,[h] “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”

7 So Satan[i] went out from the presence of the Lord, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. 8 Job[j] took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.

9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse[k] God, and die.” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018, a day that will live in nightmares. God - - to whom we give praise and glory for good things, for deliverance, for close calls, for fears that don’t come true, for when our prayers seem to be answered - - for most of us in our rationalizing piety, God will not have to take the rap for Hurricane Michael. For most of us, God will not be cursed; or we may even say, “Well, Hurricane Michael was the will of God.”

And it is undeniable that hurricanes are part of the nature of Creation. Those of us who know the story of Job as an ancient Jewish drama that we are meant to discuss and discern and take sensibly away from, may take a theological view. God the Creator, Author of the Big Bang, has breathed into us life in a universe, galaxy, solar system, world that is filled with beauty, wonder, good things and love; and there is also what we experience as evil in the nature of things. Poisonous, stinging creatures, wasps, spiders, scorpions, mosquitos, serpents, ravenous predators on land and in the sea. Even evil, mean, selfish and greedy humans. What seems to be evil in nature itself: lightning, tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, disease, earthquakes, tsunamis, unbearable heat and cold, wind and storms at sea and on the land. Even, depending on our perspective, the fact that life is short, and we haven’t much time, that we enter life and take our chances and then we die.

Earth and nature are what they are. God doesn’t pull strings and make flashing lights and scary noises like the Wizard of Oz. We might wish God would intervene, or that God had done a better job with Creation, had made all things come together with our benefit in mind, both all of us corporately and each of us individually. But here we are in life, Jobs of the world as it is. If we want to blame, hate and curse God, as Pierre Wolff, SJ has written (May I Hate God?), that's fine, because God who is Grace, is big enough and loving enough to take our abuse, absorb our anger and hatred, and love us still. Counter to Job's wife, you may curse God; you will NOT die, God is Grace.

Job finds that God is God whether Job understands God or not; and Job does not; Job simply accepts. It is what it is. At least in Job's case, though some forty chapters in the wilderness later, Easter comes.

If this were a sermon I might conclude with Jesus on the Cross, God loving us in spite of us, and, dying, dead, on the Third Day coming straight back and keeping on loving us. But it isn’t a sermon. It’s a blogpost. Life here in the wilderness, in sackcloth and ashes, is what it is. 

He descended into hell,

And as yet, Easter is nowhere in sight. But let us bless the Lord. And let all the people say,

Thanks be to God.


No, I take that back. Easter: Malinda was discharged from hospital yesterday afternoon and is here in the Pensacola motel with us, sitting up in bed, sipping a cup of coffee.


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Job 38:11

We are in Pensacola, where our news about Malinda is not as bright as first seemed and reported. Tuesday immediate post-op was all good, but Tuesday evening she abruptly went into aphasia, with speech and behavior symptoms of stroke, a risk of any medical procedure into the brain. CTScan and brain MRI detected a tiny bleed deep in the brain but otherwise no signs. Physically stable, she was moved from ICU to a regular room on "the floor" last evening, but aphasia continues, though the physicians assure us that it will clear in time. She has a 24/7 attendant, enabling us to come to the motel for much needed night's rest. This is my M Update for this predawn hour.

With pictures, videos and reports about Hurricane Michael, the devastation and heartbreak, it would be obscene to write an everyday blogpost this morning. At 155 mph sustained and reported winds topping 175 mph it is BS to "minimize" this catastrophe as a category 4 hurricane: officially two mph below, Michael was a Five.  So far, we have no idea at all about the status of M's house or 7H and it may be days, surely not weeks, before we can get back into Bay County.

In the Sunday lectionary, our Bible story is Job, from whence Word everything comes home in spirit and in truth. 

Thus far shalt thou come, and no farther, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed.



Wednesday, October 10, 2018

M&M update 12:56 Wednesday 10 October

Eye of Hurricane Michael making landfall across StAndrewsSound between Mexico Beach and Tyndall AFB, below pic at 12:35 noon. 
The tip of the arrow is on our condo.

The result of this morning's MRI is that Malinda had a slightest stroke and it brought on the aphasia and forceful action to get out of the bed last evening. She is back to perfect now, has drifted off back to sleep.

Same pic, smaller size

Dr. T, the neurosurgeon, just came in, 8:18, said Malinda is better this morning (see info below) and that "she is better and she will recover from this, whatever it was. She ordered MRI scan and will look at it and let us know, but was/is optimistic.
Tom 2018 Oct 10, 8:22 AM

"What goes round comes round" applies quite literally this morning to the weather as, from our motel room in Pensacola, I watch Hurricane Michael makes its way ashore. "They," whoever "they" are, count, I think, "landfall" as when the hurricane's eye reaches land, but the weather radar quite clearly shows the storm bands swinging in, round, and back to sea even as I type. 

Hurricane Michael seems to have made, or, judging by what I see on television, is just now making, its forecast turn eastward, now to churn toward Panama City. What are my fears? Visualizing, just visualizing. But it's now a case of stand or sit and watch, isn't it; or kneel, eh. Those I feel, lifewise, directly responsible for are, so far as I can tell, out of harm's way. Wednesday morning stream of consciousness then.

Last evening brought about a frightening episode as M suddenly started forcibly trying to climb out of bed and her speech turned aphasic. The neurosurgeon came rushing in, ordered scans, read them, ordered her team back, and had M whisked away. In a while M was brought back to her ICU room and the doctor briefed us that there was no damage, whatever happened, including the aphasia, was passing, had passed. Two medics, her RN and a technician, were stationed in her room for the night and so, having been up since 1:30 AM, we left the medics our phone numbers and came to the motel to sleep. I mean, to rationalize and self-justify, with the medical community minding Malinda, we two octogenarians must look faithfully after ourselves and each other or we'll be no use to anyone. We will return to the hospital early. 

The neurosurgeon did say that instead of discharging Malinda this morning, she will be keeping her several more days, at least until Friday.   

When we can return home to Panama City will rest on several factors then, both Michael and Malinda, the BCSO having policies regarding return to Bay County after a major calamity.


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Malinda 1

Malinda's procedure to coil and stent the aneurysm on the other side of her brain started at 8:30 a.m. and finished at 4:00 p.m. It was a success, no problems, she is awake and alert. Linda and I are in her ICU room with her right now. The neurosurgeon is sufficiently please so far that she may discharge Malinda tomorrow; or, depending, she may keep her in a regular room one more overnight. The fact that, because of Hurricane Michael, we cannot go directly home to Panama City tomorrow, Wednesday, may factor in to the doctor's decision. This is just an update to inform loved ones and friends.