Friday, July 8, 2016

Lose or Learn

I have been spending a lot of time on Facebook lately. (Yes, more than usual. I have had a lot of time on my hands.) And I know enough to realize that just because a good quote is attributed to a famous person (usually Einstein, Mother Teresa or Mark Twain) it doesn't mean they actually said or wrote it. Even back in biblical times, people credited writings to someone more prestigious than themselves, probably to get a bigger audience. Bible scholars even have a word for such writings: pseudepigrapha. That's the category for all of the gospels and epistles excluded from the Bible that were that were obviously written long after the apostles died. Some are plainly bogus, like the Gospel of the Birth of Mary, the Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of Peter which features a giant talking cross!

But sometimes a quote is so good, it doesn't matter who said it. I read one recently that was attributed to Nelson Mandela but upon further investigation, I could find no reliable source. But the quote is a vital truth nevertheless. It goes, “I never lose. I either win or learn.”

In a few seconds on US-1, I broke a number of bones and ripped or punctured a number of internal organs. I spent 40 days in the hospital and 100 days in a rehab center, recovering and then relearning how to walk. I am still in therapy.

I could look at this time as a big loss: loss of peace of mind for my family and friends, loss of health, loss of mobility, loss of a car, loss of time ministering to people, loss of income and loss of money due to medical bills. They are depressing to think about.

But, while acknowledging all those real losses, it is more fruitful to look at what I have learned. I have learned that we take a lot of things for granted: being able to walk, talk, eat, groom yourself, decide when and what to eat. We even take the ability to breathe for granted, as I found out twice, once when my right lung collapsed at the accident and once in the hospital when I threw some pulmonary emboli and lost the ability to breathe with my left lung.

I learned how important the love and support of family and community are. I shall never forget waking up from my coma to find my wife holding my right hand and my daughter my left. I shall never forget the joy of seeing my son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter when I got out of ICU. I was similarly buoyed up by visits from my brother and mother, my Episcopal bishop, colleagues bringing me communion and anointing me with oil, parishioners from both churches and a captain from the jail telling me 500 inmates were concerned about me. The community organized fundraisers for Julie and I to help us with the bills.

I learned how different it is to be a patient rather than a nurse. I always thought I was an empathetic nurse and tried to see things from my patients' points of view. But that is quite different from actually experiencing what it is like to be put on a bed pan, receive a bed bath, be transferred painfully from bed to wheelchair, and be awakened at 3 am to have your blood drawn.

I learned how vital it is to have God in my life and to trust him. I learned how helpful it is to have a God who understands firsthand what it is to suffer. I may not have been able to see the purpose of my suffering at times but I never doubted there was one. Or more than one. I am still learning this.

And I learned that sometimes the right thing to do, the healing thing, is hard and painful. The first time I was seated in a wheelchair, my task was just to sit upright for 2 hours. The last half-hour was excruciating. Walking was complicated (you would not believe how many rules there are!) and exhausting. Using stairs is painful. Going from sitting to standing or from standing to sitting hurts.

We all want a life that is easy and painless. But during those periods, we often take things for granted and forget to be grateful for all of our abilities and gifts. We forget that transitions are usually painful but that sometimes doing the right thing is hard and hurts. We look at what we have lost and fail to see what we still have and more importantly, what we have gained.

To paraphrase the Dread Pirate Roberts, anyone who tells you that life can be painless is selling something. That's why, as odd as it seems to the rest of the world, at the heart of our faith is God on a cross. But also an empty tomb. You can't have one without the other.

Be grateful. Be loving. Be trusting. Be humble. Be prepared for things to be hard and hurtful, especially when you are undergoing a change, even if it is healing. But as Paul said about the advantages he had before his Damascus experience, “...I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ...” He didn't see these things as a loss because what he gained was so much more valuable.

We never lose. We either win or we learn more about God and his grace, his forgiveness, his healing and his love.

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