Birthing Babies and Lent

Lent is the get-ready season for Christians, in more ways than one. It’s a season for needed spiritual reflection about every facet of our lives. On this Wednesday “Hump Day” of the week I am reminded of just how important Lenten season is. I got to the office at a little after 6:30 am this morning and had a wonderful time of lectio divina praying the Scripture and listening to God, then… Well, let’s just say it’s been busy: a conference call with the Executive Committee of the General Commission on Religion and Race; the landline phone ringing while being on my cell; and vice versa with clergy wanting to put their name in the hat at the last second about moving, churches saying they want their pastor to stay in one instance and go in another. Another DS called and wanted a clarification about something in the Book of Discipline. Another just called about a Cabinet Policy about Clergy Housing. There were four or five unexpected drop-in people – all good, papers to sign, “How are you doing?” kind of stuff. A typical day in the life of a District Superintendent.

It is never boring! There were two instances of me trying to be the ringmaster of a three-ring circus trying to schedule important meetings with all the interested parties. There were two calls from pastors worried about some family issues so we prayed over the phone. A clergy friend called offering baseball tickets which I‘ve learned is something to ask Cindy about later. Anyway, you guessed it, my Quiet Time with the Lord ran out about 9:30 this morning, so here I am typing because there’s finally a lull, but second shift is coming. Some of you have asked how I can write a weekly blog. My answer is that I have to. It’s a part of my spiritual discipline, electronic journaling, if you will.

I need to use every means of grace there is to get ready for the unexpected, to handle the tyranny of the urgent with a Holy Spirit imbued calmness. I bet you do, too. There, of course, is the blessing of God-guided boundaries, and the knowledge that God doesn’t put on us more than we can bear. Even better is the blessed hope that God will give us strength for whatever befalls us each and every day. Therefore, all the more reason to spend a Holy Lent in preparation, not just for our day-to-day dilemmas, but also for the emotional barrage of Holy Week. Ready or not, here it comes!

I should know about getting ready. Some of you know the story of our children’s births, and some of you don’t. All three were born in the small but beautiful hamlet of Cheraw, South Carolina, and they were born in three different locations. That’s pretty hard to do in small-town South Carolina, but it happened. Cindy went into labor with Narcie and I called her doctor whose office was an hour away. We had taken the hospital tour, and done the child-birth classes in that fair city. He asked me if I had timed the contractions and I had. They were three minutes apart! He said that was mostly impossible with a first child so he suggested she might have indigestion or something like it. He said we could go to the local hospital so they could check her, and call him back if we needed to.

Well, the local hospital didn’t have a doctor on site. A local General Practitioner, Dr. Jim Thrailkill, was called in. Seventeen minutes after our arrival, and just a few minutes after Dr. Jim got there, we had a baby girl! Whew! The quick delivery was great for Cindy, but it didn’t go over that well with her mother. Her goal in life was to be present for her grandchildren’s birth, then she missed it. Two years later we were expecting our second child. We went back to Florence, SC for the pre-natal doctor’s visits and the hospital tour, but we took the childbirth classes at the tech school across from the parsonage in Cheraw.

After the midwife/instructor heard the story of Narcie’s quick birth, she decided that I should read an emergency childbirth book. I finished it a few weeks before the due date and the next day I came in from doing some pastoral visits. Narcie was two years old and asleep in her room. Cindy was in the bathroom and promptly said, “I think this is it!” It was February 25, 1982.

Good thing I finished reading that emergency childbirth book! I dutifully called the doctor an hour away, and the friend who was going to watch Narcie while we went to the hospital. The friend got there and, “Boom!” both the baby and the book kicked in and I got on the delivery end of things and the baby was already coming. Thank you, Jesus, for that book and what it said about turning and dipping a baby’s shoulders. Thank you, Jesus, for prompting me to finish reading it the night before! I delivered Josh wrapped him in a towel, suctioned out his nose and mouth with an ear bulb syringe that had been sitting in the medicine cabinet ever since Narcie’s birth. Josh cried. I called the Cheraw Rescue Squad and went outside and got thoroughly sick. They cut the cord on the bathroom floor, and Cindy’s mother got another phone call saying that she had missed another birth.

When Caleb was born fifteen months later we decided to skip going to Florence. We hadn’t made it yet anyway! Cindy simply looked funny one afternoon so we headed to the new hospital. The old one had been turned into a nursing home. Dr. Essman was waiting on us, and Caleb took a whole hour! Since Cindy’s folks lived an hour and a half away, they still didn’t make it! All three of our children were born in little Cheraw, SC – one in the old hospital/nursing home, one in the parsonage bathroom, and one in Chesterfield General, one baby each for my three churches where they were each baptized in descending order of size. I was glad I had three churches instead of four!

The moral of the story: Just like Lent, it’s good to be prepared! I’ll be spending some extra time with the Lord in the morning! I won’t be birthing babies, but I’ll be preparing for New Birth!

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Birthing Babies and Lent

It is always a good thing to be prepared. Life is filled with twists and turns so we better have contingency plans for the unexpected. Today I’m between two dates that remind me of how life comes at us in unexpected ways. February 25 and March 5 are Josh and Narcie’s birthdates respectively. On March 5, 1980 we were almost ready to have a baby. However, it was about 3 weeks before Cindy’s due date and she began having some sort of discomfort. We weren’t sure if it was labor or not, especially being so long before the due date and a first child at that.

We called Cindy’s doctor whom she had been seeing for the prenatal care and told him what was going on. He was in Florence, SC, about an hour away. It was around midnight. He asked how far apart the alleged contractions were. I replied, “Three minutes!” He also asked how long the supposed contractions had been occurring. I told him, “Maybe an hour.” He thought that wasn’t long enough to get to that 3-minute stage of labor so he surmised that it was “false labor.”

Nevertheless, the panic in my voice gave him concern enough so that he advised us to go to the local hospital in Cheraw and have Cindy examined. Then everyone could go back to bed, or so he/we thought. After arriving at the hospital, which didn’t even have a doctor on site, we were there just 17 minutes when Narcie was born. The doctor barely got there! Our best laid plans of her being born at the fancy hospital in Florence by a familiar doctor went for naught.

Two years later we were expecting our second child. We knew the drill but decided to do childbirth classes once again. We were also determined to make it to Florence and have this child in the right hospital. The person who taught the childbirth class suggested that I might read a book about emergency childbirth, given our 17 minute experience with Narcie. I read the book and finished it. The very next afternoon I came in from visiting people. Cindy was indisposed, so to speak, and Narcie was asleep in her room. Cindy firmly but with her usual sense of calm said, “I think this is it.”

I got on the phone with two important people: her doctor in Florence and Lynn Koon who was to watch Narcie while we were away. As Lynn walked in the door I urged Cindy to get ready to leave, post-haste. She said she couldn’t move, so there we were! Josh was born in the parsonage’s bathroom. The emergency childbirth book came in handy as I delivered him. I did everything I was supposed to do, even using an ear-bulb syringe from the medicine cabinet to suction out Josh’s nose and mouth so he could breathe. It was both exhilarating and overwhelming.

I was a wreck. Cindy was as calm as usual. After dialing 9-1-1, I went outside and got thoroughly sick. Cindy’s mother whose hope was to be present for at least one of her grandchildren’s birth had missed both. The unexpected happened once again.

We did learn from the experience. With Caleb’s birth we decided to forget about making it to Florence. At the first sign of labor we made it to the new Cheraw hospital, and after an hour Caleb was born. Cindy’s mother didn’t make it then either, but it was close. They lived an hour and a half away. Whew! All three children were born in Cheraw, in three different places, which is quite a feat in a small Southern town. The unexpected occurred, ready or not.

So it is with much of life’s experiences. Life comes at us full speed and there’s no stopping it. The best we can do is to get ready. Lent is the season in the church year that helps us do that. It is a time of reflection as Jesus makes his journey to the cross. It is a time of devotion and pondering, saying “No” to temptation and “Yes” to God.  Come what may this year, I want to be ready!

Advent and a New Grandbaby

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My daughter, Narcie, is GREAT with child. Our granddaughter’s due date is December 9, but we’re all hoping it happens this weekend. The first Sunday of Advent would be wonderfully appropriate. Advent season is one of my favorites, but not because of Christmas. The season is actually less about Jesus’ first coming as it is a preparation for His second advent. Sure, it can be adapted to prepare us for the holidays and the stress of having everything purchased and prepared, but Advent season is really about Judgment Day, not Christmas Day.
I thoroughly enjoyed the movie versions of The Chronicles of Narnia. The books by C.S. Lewis were formative in my faith and especially my understanding of God’s nature. Aslan is one, if not the main character in the series. It doesn’t take much imagination to view this lion as Jesus, the Lion of Judah. He is at once ferocious and frightening, but also one who in great strength lays down his very life. Aslan is no ordinary pussycat. Aslan is to be worshipped and feared. Aslan is loyal, kind, and caring. The word that keeps coming to mind is “strength.” He exudes strength.
I like singing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” but it’s also good to know that Jesus-Meek-And-Mild is Jesus-the-Christ. He’s more like William Wallace in Braveheart than Fred Rogers in “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” I take great comfort in Jesus who pardons and is lenient, but I also serve a Risen Lord whose strength is a bewildering mixture of humility and power.
 
I literally don’t want to throw the Baby (Christ Child) out with the bath water, but it’s Advent season that corrects the soft-serve Jesus that captures the rest of the Christian year’s attention. Jesus-the-Judge is a Lord who inspires me to service, not out of fear, but out of a desire to pay homage to the One who is worthy.
 
Advent makes me think about the end of life and its measure. In The Imitation of Christ, St. Thomas á Kempis wrote: “When we stand before the Judge Eternal, he will not ask what we said but what we did.” Advent-living forces me to think about the eternal consequences of my actions. Christmas-living lets me live in a fantasy world until January when the credit card bills come due.
 
The ultimate Advent message is to get ready for Judgment Day. Watch your actions, cram for your finals, love God and neighbor, serve the poor, give away earthly treasures to gain heavenly ones, be good stewards of planet earth, and love, love, love! There’s more, of course, but that’s enough for today and tomorrow ad infinitum.
 
Someone summed it up well when they asked these questions: “When you stand at the Pearly Gates, would you rather be told you believed too much or you believed too little? When you stand at the Pearly Gates, would you rather be told you cared too much or you cared too little? When you stand at the Pearly Gates, would you rather be told you tried too hard or you didn’t try hard enough? When you stand at the Pearly Gates, would you rather be told you were too forgiving or you were too judgmental? When you stand at the Pearly Gates, would you rather be told, “Well done, thou hyper-hopeful and risk-taking servant,” or “Well done, thou sober and play-it-safe servant”? Judgment Day is coming, ready or not.