All week I'm doing the devotions for our daily morning devotional time in the Baptist Health Medical Center chapel. Since this is pretty much the only thing I'm writing this week I thought, "why not?" Be edified (or failing that entertained). :)
Good morning, I'd like to welcome you to our time of devotion. We gather here every morning but Saturday at 8:30 for a time of prayer and reflection. You're welcome to join us if you're able. We'd also love to spend some time visiting with you today. If you'd like a visit from a chaplain, please call 2569 from any hospital phone.
A few weeks ago my family and I moved from our tiny apartment into a larger one across town. We had been packing and preparing for weeks in advance but we still weren't ready. My friends and I moved two horse-trailor loads, two full suburbans and about four pickup-truck loads full of stuff. And we've got most of it moved now.
You never realize the shear amount of how much junk you've accumulated until you have to carry it, piece by piece. We carry it in one plastic bag at a time, day by day we accumulate. Then, when we move, we feel the weight of it. After my (loyal or gullible) friends moved the washer, dryer, refrigerator, and sleeper sofa up the 25 steps into our new apartment a new realization dawned on me. I was poised on the landing about to make the final trek up the last few stairs, four boxes stacked precariously in my arms: gravity doesn't want these things up here. The universe in fact is exerting very strong forces of attraction on the matter inside the boxes (books, bookends, various contents of various drawers, cooking utensils) to pull them down to the ground. Eventually entropy will prevail and the order I have created through the contrivance of a staircase and a 2nd floor apartment will come apart and the planet will suck anything left "up," down. The most sickening part of it all is that I know we'll only be in Little Rock for another year. Then we'll be doing it all over again.
A number of my friends are moving as well. One friend just finished dental school and called me that same weekend on his way to his new home in Georgia. He wanted to tell me about his move. My friend is in the Army who is paying for his dental training. They're also paying for him to move. While we were unpacking boxes so we'd have enough to go back the next day and pack some more, he told me of the movers who came and packed up his 2000 sq. foot house in five hours. It took three men that long to box up, wrap up, and label every item they had accumulated over the course of four years there. It took them another three to load it all onto a semi-trailor. Amazed he asked what it would have cost him were he not an Army officer, if the military weren't footing the bill. $12,000. "Jason," I said, "don't tell me these kinds of stories. I'm never going to be able to afford anything more than u-haul on a minister's salary, so next time just spare me the misery of knowing what I'm missing."
My truck and help was enlisted by another couple of friends moving from here to North Carolina. They needed to pick up a "baker's rack" from yet another couple who were moving from Little Rock to San Francisco. The first couple was moving from a small apartment to a larger home on the East Coast that would be able to accommodate said rack. The other couple was moving from a 1000 sq. foot condo to a 450 sp. foot apartment on the West Coast that would scarcely have room for air and the books they would need for the medical residency and theological degree they hoped to pursue there, let alone superfluous kitchen accouterments.
While we looked through the gutted condo we talked about movers. The San Francisco couple had packed themselves and were waiting for their movers to arrive. We all agreed that it was probably faster to let other people pack your things for you than to do it for yourself. It's simply too hard to take the hundreds of artifacts that populate our homes and put them into boxes without thought. Each item has a history, each one a piece of our history, it is attached to our minds by the strings of a thousand lineages, lines that trace back through our lives and we can't help but rattle that web when we move, awakening the spider of memory that crawls back from some forgotten corner to remind us where we got that vase, remember the time we bought this paint set at that art store in Beijing? Oh, what about the class we read that book in? Do you remember the professor and the way he would always lecture about everything but what we had read? Do we have to keep this magazine rack? Do you really think your mother will notice if it gets lost in the move? Do you remember when I told you to get those shoes? When you were afraid your feet were too swollen and wouldn't fit but they did?
The essayist and poet Wendell Barry says that making a home is about more than a place where you stay. It is a place in which you create artifacts of shared experience. Indeed our homes become repositories of thousands of tiny (and not so tiny in the case of the sleeper sofa) shared moments between us and those whom we love.
When we come to the hospital, often our minds are focused inward, on the pain or disease that brought us here. But when you're forced to stay here for days, weeks, months, you are pulled from that web of memories, all those artifacts that tie you to your history and the events and people who have shaped you. The body you have trusted and lived with your whole life no longer seems trustworthy. It's easy not to feel like yourself. It's easy for others to treat you differently than you're accustomed to.
Even though for most of us, the move to the hospital is a temporary one, it has some of the same side effects. I know lots of folks who spend time in the hospital bed going through the dusty cobwebbed boxes in the corners of their minds. Sometimes a move to the hospital reveals feelings, emotions, experiences that have been left unpacked in the closets of our hearts. Old buried hurts between us and others sometimes return to the surface.
We've been unpacking steadily now for about two weeks, taking things out of boxes organizing books and inevitably, it happens that something comes up missing. And you never realize it's missing until you need that hair straightener, that paint can opener, that extra box of rubber bands and then the search is on. Sometimes when you come to the hospital, you're so caught up in the crisis that has brought you here that you don't realize what you've lost in the move. Your clothes, the comfort of your home, and perhaps most importantly your control have been lost in order to help you medically. It's all too easy to lose your motivation to work to get better as setback after setback undoes the progress you've worked so hard to make. It's also very easy to lose a lot of your personhood in the process. When everyone is so concerned about how your body is feeling, it can sometimes feel like no one is concerned with the way the rest of you is dealing with all of this.
As Dr. Karen Treadway who teaches med-students in Boston said in a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine: "the dilemma that will face all of you as you go on in your training. As you acquire more medical knowledge and responsibility, you will focus more and more on the problem and forget the patient attached to it."
But it is at these times, I am happy to remind you that we have a physician who understands what it means to be human and what it means to have others treat him like he's not. As the author of Hebrews says in ch. 4 v. 15
For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.
It is at those times when we feel our life has been turned upside down, when we feel most dissected and dehumanized by the machine of medicine or the monster of disease that we may take comfort in the God who has always been about finding and restoring that which was lost, no matter how far we may have moved. Let's pray.