Saturday, June 27, 2009

When the Tail Wags the Doc, Does the Lord Care?

“I cried out to the Lord in my distress, and he answered me.”

The first phrases of Psalm 120 took on new and extremely personal meaning for me last Wednesday as we drove out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, toward Oklahoma City, Jonesboro, Arkansas, and eventually Montgomery, Alabama. I was driving the Civic pulling the small, antique (originally “Nationwide” brand) trailer containing the wedding gifts and other possessions our daughter and her husband were unable to carry with them to New York last January, while Charley and Martha Roberts followed behind in the Penske truck containing our things and some for our niece/about to be bride from my wife’s mother’s things.

The road climbs steadily out of Albuquerque for a few miles, and then suddenly begins its descent, turning to the left at the crest as the descent begins, and then sharply back to the right perhaps 1/8th or ¼ mile below. I was caught a little off guard by the crest and turn, which I entered at about 65 miles per hour. The trailer suddenly began to swing left and right behind me in rapidly widening arcs. In a few seconds I knew I was in trouble, shortly later, very serious trouble.

Though I was afraid; I did not panic. I tried to think through the problem. “The trailer is swinging. If I can just pull it straight for a bit, maybe I can track out of the arcs.” Other traffic was giving me wide birth (who wants to try to pass a trailer that might slam into you!), so I cut diagonally across both lanes, and then back across both. But the winding mountain road demanded turns, and if any relief was attained temporarily, it was soon lost. “The trailer is trying to run faster down the mountain than the car. If I can just speed up ahead of the trailer perhaps I can force it to track straight behind me, like an artificial pacemaker capturing a racing heart by forcing it faster.” That may have helped for a moment, but eventually the trailer and gravity caught up on the steep grade, and if you think a widely oscillating trailer is scary at 65 mph, try it at 85!

I was more frightened than I’ve every been. I truly thought I might die. I screamed: “God help me!” and later, “Lord, save me!” The trailer’s machinations were jerking the Civic itself back and forth. Between the sensations of being jerked from behind and the panorama of cris-crossing trailers in the mirrors, I thought of several possible outcomes: being drug off the mountain, the car and trailer rolling over and over down the road, the car and trailer turning on their sides and sliding down the road, or just the trailer turning over and sliding down. I was blessed not to have Charley and Martha’s view as the trailer swung to the left, leaving the right tire open to their view several times, 18 inches off the ground! The trailer was literally skipping down the mountain.

Then it was over. I could attribute the change to nothing I had tried, but the trailer calmed down, the arcs became narrower, then disappeared. I was left with only the pounding of my heart and the sensations that vessels in my head or mid-back might split open with each pulse. I countered the pain by holding my breath and bearing down, opposing the pounding pressure in my arteries as my blood pressure soared and then finally calmed. We pulled off at the next exit and caught our breath, shared our views, then, thanks to God, proceeded more cautiously on.

Martha drove the Civic much of the rest of the way, both that day and the next. Her skills as a marriage and family therapist were greatly appreciated in mediating the seemingly star-struck relationship between driver and trailer, and perhaps her gentle touch at the wheel was better for the trailer. We redistributed some of the weight on the trailer, checked with the expertise of some of you (with special thanks to Dave Borgelt), worked to keep the track very steady with gently initiated turns, and completely repacked the trailer, lowering its center of gravity before turning it over to our children. As we met for the wedding of Beth’s niece in Jonesboro, I especially appreciated the reunions with Betty, Tom, Trudy and David, all of whom have survived to this day life-threatening illnesses or trauma. I think most of the obstacles we encounter on this quest will more likely be of the boring, wear-you-down slowly type. This one was acute and terribly frightening.

“I cried out to the Lord in my distress, and he answered me.” Blessed be the Lord.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Pertinent, If Unexpected, Question

“I need to ask you . . . ,” the question began innocently enough as I recently closed my presentation regarding our proposed work in Africa to our church of 19 years and opened the session for questions. What followed, however, was anything but conventional. Mary, one of our senior sisters, mother of one of our elders, wife of a former elder, a godly woman whose ministry is praying for others, had literally stepped forward from her seat in the second row, taken both of my forearms in her hands, looked me in the eyes, and asked her “question”, “I need to ask you . . . for your forgiveness.”

“When I first heard that you wanted to go to Africa, I was very much against it,” she continued. “I told you so, and even wrote you a letter saying that I was sure that you had been called by God to be with us, and that you shouldn’t leave us because he still wanted you here. But I was wrong. I now understand why you want to go, and you need to go. What you want to do is needed and right, and you should go, and you will have my blessing, support and encouragement.”

Mary had from the beginning opposed our thoughts of moving to Africa, and had, as she confessed, even written us a letter explaining that God had brought us to Redlands, and therefore we must stay in Redlands. I had come across the letter the night before as we sorted through papers, tossing, saving, packing. But now Mary saw things in a different light.

She now understood the danger HIV presents to many African peoples, that we might play a meaningful role in helping some communities escape or recover from the scourges of this disease, that it would be good, perhaps even the will of God Almighty that we would move to Africa to engage this ministry, even as he had brought us to Redlands. So Mary would support us in this ministry, encourage us, pray for us. Would we forgive her for having opposed us?

Mary’s “question” and confession were no doubt more helpful in galvanizing the support of our congregation behind our new efforts than her own opposition had been in encouraging similar reluctance in others. Our answer was, “of course”, and the outpouring of encouragement and well-wishing from so very many of you has been very greatly appreciated as we make these transitions. Leaving has proven much more difficult than we anticipated, and your encouragement has increased our appreciation for you while making our going a little easier. Thank you all, and especially Mary, very, very much.