Family and Faith – Narcie on my Mind

 

*Narcie got a great report! Thanks for your prayers; still a long haul and trusting Jesus and counting on you!

Have you ever had a day that has your antenna and ganglia hanging or sticking out all over the place and your sensory overload has you jacked up more than with 4 cups of coffee. Well, that’s this morning for me. I’m a little nervous, more than usual. I have a good friend and parishioner’s surgery shortly and am about to head to the hospital. Then I’m meeting with a family about a funeral then probably heading back to the hospital. Sunday’s sermon is on my mind. The text is about Jesus’ own family thinking he was nuts and I’m wondering how to preach that and make it relevant. I hate to admit it but as I was driving to the church a few minutes ago all these alliterating words jumped out at me as options to think about when it comes to family relationships: Restoration or Rejection; Respect or Rebellion; Redemption or Retaliation – what is it about preachers and our phonetic thinking? Anyway, at the stoplight I pulled out my pen and a business card and scribbled my thoughts down while holding the brake and clutch pedals down.

Two other big deals on my mind this morning are Narcie’s regular 3-month MRI about her brain tumor, and next week’s Annual Conference. We do well dealing with the anxiety about Narcie until a two-week window closes in and I begin to get antsy, ratchet up my praying and my out-of-sight-out-of mind attitude is replaced by front-and-center preoccupation. Vice President Biden’s son’s death this week has kicked things up a notch, and another amplifier about Narcie is that next week at our South Carolina United Methodist Annual Conference I’ll be the Memorial Service preacher.

Memorial Services are primarily in memory of the clergy who died since the last conference session. We show photos of the deceased, and their families, along with Annual Conference members, are gathered to have a funeral service. Sure, each of these individuals already had their own service, but this is one of the United Methodist things that we do. Since we are a connectional church and try to do everything together, we mourn together, too. Actually, Annual Conference becomes every clergyperson’s church. When we become clergy our membership is literally transferred from our home churches to the Annual Conference.

Next week we will remember many individuals who gave their hearts, lives, and families for the cause of Christ, and we will cry. Narcie and I usually sit together during this service and we have cried. She cried buckets, we both did, when Rev. Charlie Summey’s face went across the screen. He had the same cancer as she and had a better prognosis, but he’s dead. The reality hit us and it should everyone: There’s going to come a time when Narcie’s picture, mine, Josh’s, and even Cindy’s will be up there on that screen at an Annual Conference Memorial Service. Over half my family has the South Carolina Annual Conference as its church home, and there’s going to be a funeral someday.

Of course, my prayer for Narcie is that it’s a long time away but since she has her appointment this morning and I’m preaching that sermon next week, I can’t seem to shake this nexus of events. I covet your prayers that her report is good. Her situation is so important to the doctors that they call her in within an hour of the MRI to give her the news. It’s a big deal. Of course, Narcie’s attitude is typical Narcie: “I’m going to do my ministry, show no fear, and live until I die!” But my eyes are welling up as I write this. I want my “little girl” to live for decades more. God bless every parent who’s ever been through this, or lost a child. For years, I thought as a pastor that I had a clue and could help people through their losses. Maybe my ministry of presence helped, but until all this has happened with us, I didn’t know what this really feels like. Your life is forever changed. God bless every parent who carries this, and please heal every child; in Jesus’ name.

When I think of this day and the family dynamics with every situation I’ll face this morning I can promise you that I will choose Restoration over Rejection; Respect over Rebellion; Redemption over Retaliation – and today I am especially going to choose Rejoicing over Remorse, Resurrection over Regret. A life well-lived, however short or long, is a gift to treasure. Treasure the people around you today as the gifts that they are.

Me, Narcie, and Josh at Josh's Ordination

The Yo-Yo Pre-Op Stage

My daughter Narcie wrote recently in her blog “Blessings on the Journey” (www.narciejeter.wordpress.com) about being in the anger stage with her upcoming brain surgery. Denial, bargaining, anger, resignation, and acceptance aren’t descriptive enough to handle the emotional roller coaster of dealing with life’s crud. I have no clue where I am right now, but it’s for sure that I’m pretty tired, no offense, of the well-meaning clichés that abound. I know behind those clichés that you care, are praying, and love us. Please cut me some slack if I give you a wierd look if you say, “God is in control.” My God isn’t a puppet-master. God’s a Savior who sees us through. Nevertheless, I thank you even for the platitudes. You mean well. Sincerely, we thank you, and all the more as the May 10 surgery deadline approaches.

Good God, I just wrote the word “deadline” and it freaks me out. The uncertainty of it all is so scary. Narcie is such a person of faith and strength, but we aren’t pie-in-the-sky sugarcoating types. It’s not that we don’t believe that Jesus can heal her, but, hey, if the amount of faith were the determining factor wouldn’t Lazarus still be walking around? Dead for days and risen – if a tiny mustard seed of faith can make a mountain jump into the sea, surely Lazarus would have enough faith to cure any ailment – right? But, wrong. Lazarus is dead. I have seen plenty of faithful people suffer and die. All the Disciples are dead and gone. Papa Mac and SaSa, Ganny and Gandaddy – they’re dead. I get it even if I often don’t like it – the only way to have eternal life is to die. There’s no Easter without a Good Friday.

The Christian Gospel is no clichéd sham of a utopian existence. The Good News that Jesus brings to me is incarnational in essence, though right now a Christus Victor triumphalism is preferred. So I’ll cling to the Jesus who meets us where we are even when it is in the bewilderment of the walk to Emmaus when all seems lost. The Incarnation proves that Jesus knows all our sorrows and redeems them. As much as I presently deplore the import of Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good for those who love Him,” I am comforted by the fact that we do not worship a God who has been insulated from humankind’s desperate plight. Jesus came to earth to be with us, faced temptation just like we do, and stayed faithful to God’s commands when we couldn’t. Since the wages of sin is death and Jesus didn’t sin, the grave couldn’t hold him. Our faith in his victory seals our own triumph over death and the grave. Therefore, all things can work together for good. Maybe that is Christus Victor triumphalism?

But I want it right now. Sure, I know that the Kingdom of God is already and not yet, both come and coming. I don’t want to wait, do you? I want a Jesus riding in on a white horse in Christus Victor style to save the day, especially to save my daughter – now, by God! Yes, I know someday that miracle will occur and its fullest expression of triumph will be through death and resurrection, but I want Narcie to win the lottery now. Heck, I am very certain that the early Christians felt this way. They faced persecution and martyrdom with a certain hope in Christ’s deliverance through their death, in spite of death even.

Gosh, what keeps ringing in my ears is a swing from Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4 to the song “Seasons of Love” from the musical “Rent.” Paul said (2 Corinthians 4:16ff): “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands… Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” In Philippians 1:21 Paul adds the capstone: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Part of me wants to shout, “Malarkey!” Or, perhaps, I want to say that Paul was speaking from a perspective that only comes with age or severe pain. Surely! I have unfortunately seen the heartache of parents who have lost children. I buried an eighteen month old, a nine year old, and two twelve year old children. There are no words that suffice, only one’s presence and that of Christ can help – the hope and certainty of redemption and reunion. Maybe the whole point of today’s blog is to make the most of life, to make the dash (-) between your tombstone’s birth and death dates mean something – to count each second and treasure them. Listen to the words from “Seasons of Love:”

Narcie Needs Prayer!

I try to write a weekly blog as a part of my spiritual disciplines, but just before Easter I was knocked into silence by personal events. Two weeks ago we learned that our daughter Narcie McClendon Jeter was going to face more uncertainty with a brain tumor. Narcie is the United Methodist Campus Minister and Director at the Gator Wesley Foundation in Gainesville, Florida where she ministers to the students at the University of Florida and Sante Fe College. It is a marvelous ministry! I know that I am biased, but she is amazing, and she has an extraordinary family. She and Mike have been married for 11 years now and are parents of our grandchildren Enoch (5) and Evy (4). We love them so much!

Almost three years ago Narcie was diagnosed with an oligodendroglioma brain tumor. You can google it to find out the particulars because I’m not going to put into print the ominous facts and statistics. I am simply asking you to pray for Narcie, her precious family, and her students. I can feel the tears just at the brim as I write this, and for years I have ministered to people who have been through so much worse, but I’m a Daddy or “Padre” as Narcie calls me. It’s tough, but God is stronger than death, brain tumors, and whatever adversity we might face.

Now, I know facts are facts and that every medical statistic has exceptions. I also know that Narcie comes from good genetic stock of beating the odds. My Dad was given 6 weeks to 6 months to live when he was 48 as his cancer metastasized, and he lived for 38 more years! My most sincere prayer is, “Lord, Please do the same for Narcie. Please heal my daughter!” I want her to live a long full life that goes way beyond her 33 years.

It’s possible, and that’s why Dr. William Friedman, the Director of Neurosurgery at Shands-UF Medical Center, is going to operate on May 10. Please pray for him and all of those who will be working with Narcie to get rid of this thing. Pray for Cindy and me as we seek to support Narcie, Mike, and the kids. We know the facts, but faith is greater than facts. That’s the audacity of Easter! God doesn’t cause pain and suffering. God endures it and beats it. What God does is deliver us from death and the grave!

I know how much courage Narcie and Mike have, and I am astounded. I sense in them the reality of Romans 8:35-37: “Who shall separate us from love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Thank you for your prayers and support for Narcie. We trust in the Lord. All hail the power of Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Narcie’s Blog is called “Blessings on the Journey” and is at http://narciejeter.wordpress.com/

Check out her post on 3/28