We are headed into a difficult week.
We got word a few days ago that Ginger’s father has to have a mass removed from his lung. He’s already survived a battle with throat cancer. When a spot showed up a couple of years ago, they tested and said it was scar tissue. Now there’s a mass. Over the past year, we have watched him begin to slip slowly into Alzheimer’s. Now there’s a mass. Ginger goes to Birmingham on Tuesday to be there for the surgery on Thursday.
For obvious reasons, Ginger carried all of these things into the pulpit with her this morning. She was preaching from the lectionary, so she was talking about Jesus telling the disciples, after they had fished unsuccessfully, to cast out their nets again in deeper water. She began her sermon this way:
On February 3, 1937, she was born in the south the third child of four, the baby girl, and was very cute. However, this particular combination could prove to be a hindrance. As a result of my mother’s birth date, birthplace, and birth order, she was well loved and cared for — even spoiled — until her father died when she was fifteen. Then she (without much choice or option) became the primary responsible party of the household. Her little brother was too young and the others were expressing their grief in a myriad of ways. She had to cast her net, if you will, into deeper waters than she had ever known.
Through the years, my mother continued to take care of her mother and siblings and watched them die one by one. Now she is caring for my father who has Alzheimer’s and who will have major lung surgery this week. Again she is casting a net in deep and unknown waters as she learns to take on my father’s role of driving roads beyond their immediate community and as she faces the possibility of living alone for the first time in her life. She can curl and become immobilized or, like the disciples, she can move into uncharted territory casting her net into waters that seem to be without.
It’s true: my mother-in-law turned seventy yesterday. Of our four parents, she is the last to do so and, because we made a big deal for the other three, she has reminded us for several years that her seventieth birthday was coming. Ginger spent several hours (no, days) selecting, collecting, wrapping, and mailing seventy presents as my mother-in-law hoped she would, since we did a similar thing for my father years ago. Ginger spent an hour and a half on the phone yesterday while Rachel opened her presents with glee. Now, in the first week of her seventy-first year, she is taking her husband to the hospital.
Whatever my father-in-law understands or doesn’t understand about what is going on with him, he is being quintessentially himself. There has never been a day in his life when he didn’t feel “fine, outstanding, wonderful,” regardless of the circumstances. When they talk to him about the surgery, he simply says, “Whatever will be, will be.” This is a man who trusts God with the reckless abandon of a child jumping off a porch into the arms of a waiting parent. Though all of us have a strong sense of God’s presence in these days, he is not feeling the burden of the questions that have fallen on the rest of us. The doctors are operating to learn what is going on inside of Reuben as much as they are to remove the mass.
It’s a strange word. The dictionary gives lots of definitions; two stood out to me:
- A lump or aggregate of coherent material: a cancerous mass.
- Public celebration of the Eucharist in the Roman Catholic Church and some Protestant churches.
In one of English’s little ironies, the word for cancer and Communion are the same.
Our opening hymn this morning was “God of Grace and God of Glory,” one of my favorites. Some of the words in the second verse stuck out for me today:
From the fears that long have bound us,
Free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage
For the living of these days,
For the living of these days.
Whatever happens on Thursday may create as many questions as it does answers. We are living through something that requires faith, wisdom, and courage of us. Though the prospects seem about as hopeful as the disciples’ after a long night of fruitless fishing, Ginger is right: the best we can do is head into deeper water and cast our nets, trusting that God will provide sustenance for the living of these days, whatever they may hold.