I don't have a single picture of her, but I'm not sure I'll ever forget her.
She grew up in our church, her parents having met in the choir in the late 1800s. She lived just off Connecticut Avenue for her entire life, first in the family home she sold some ten years ago and then in a retirement community. She's the only older member I've ever brought a can of Heineken to, sneaking it into the home like a high school student with a fake ID. More often than not, I would find her with the Wall Street Journal and a stack of lottery tickets she had recently scratched. She loved taking a cab over to a nearby hospital where she would listen to music playing in the lobby. She was proud of the outdoor furniture she had bought for the home and furious when all the chairs were taken, leaving her with the option of finding a place to sit inside. She loved her church, though she hadn't been there in more than ten years.
And, I loved her. I always knew she would make me laugh. I always knew I'd be greeted with a generous smile. I always knew she would encourage me by letting me know how she was aware of everything happening at the church since she read the bulletin each week. And, I always knew she would ask me to pray for a sound mind. She was so afraid of losing her mind before her body failed.
Two weeks ago, Nancy's health started to change in different ways. Part of her dignity was removed when her body no longer allowed her to do everything she needed to do. She was so frustrated, but still making her aide and I laugh through it all. It was nearly two weeks ago when she told me she wanted to just go to sleep. "I'm ready to go," she repeated often on each of my last three visits.
She said it again yesterday, waking up for just a minute or two at a time. And even though she didn't speak much yesterday, her sense of humor came shining through once more in her facial expressions.
At the end of my visit, we took hands, her aide holding one hand and me holding the other. We asked God to linger close, to remind Nancy that it was okay to let go and that she was not and would not be alone. When the prayer was over, Nancy said, "Amen." She was with us the entire time.
She took her last breath this morning. Her prayer was answered. My heart both aches and gives thanks at the same time.
And now we plan her celebration of life. There will be party favors - a scratch ticket will be given to each person who attends, with a quarter to make the scratching easy. Perhaps someone will win. But I feel like I already won so much through my relationship with this precious child of God.
Thank you, Nancy, for the privilege of being your pastor. You were truly one of a kind. May you rest in peace and rise in glory.
Thanks be to God.
Thursday, March 16, 2017
"180 over 120," she said, before asking if my blood pressure normally runs high.
"I've never seen it that high," I responded. And I wasn't that concerned. After all, the nurse had just weighed me in a very public area, and I knew what came next. I was about to be asked to undress for a full body exam, something I endure every 90 days with the doctor looking carefully at every inch of my skin while an assistant blows up images of my bare body on a screen. The process has worked. Their discoveries have led to my hearing the words, "It's melanoma," four different times.
With all these things in mind, I sought to put her mind at ease, "My blood pressure always rises in this office." The words worked. She showed me to my exam room and didn't ask to take it again.
But I now know that my blood pressure was high enough for me to experience dangerous consequences. I now know she should have sent me straight to the emergency room or at least mentioned her finding to the doctor about to examine me. He's not trained in matters of the heart, as he specializes in skin, but he would have likely experienced a sense of her alarm. Nevertheless, they went on with their routine.
An hour later, I left the office with a sense of relief that no biopsies were ordered. My concern had been transferred to the status of my heart, motivating me to order a blood pressure monitor that night. While the numbers have decreased substantially, they are still more elevated than they have ever been. And just as I can sometimes name each knot the massage therapist finds in my shoulders, I can also name each additional millimeter of mercury.
I'm religious about meeting my personal trainer for strength training twice a week. But, my time for aerobic exercise has been swallowed too often by work. My diet has been enlivened by Girl Scout Cookies and extra treats (have you tried Aldi's version of Girl Scout cookies!!?). We've been hiring a new staff member, and I long to get it right. I'm the medical power of attorney for one of our oldest members who is facing significant health challenges that lead to numerous calls and difficult decisions. Most workweeks have been six days with the seventh claimed by errands and endless to-do lists before seeking to be fully present to my husband since I haven't been all week. And, while I adore nearly every ounce of my work, believing that I really do have the best job in Washington, there is a lot on my plate right now.
I can more than relate to Shauna Niequist's words, "But it's like I was pulling a little red wagon, and as I pulled it along, I filled it so full that I could hardly keep pulling" (Present Over Perfect). You should see my wagon! Do you have any idea how much I'm getting done? I kept convincing myself it was okay because I love what I do so much.
But I now know how heavy the wagon has become. I know now I not only can but must empty the wagon a bit. I now know I need to monitor what's going into my body and stop sacrificing my health for seeking to be the most faithful pastor I can be. I now know I'm on the edge of needing medication for this body that used to have low blood pressure.
I've spent the last four days at a monastery, a place I journey to every Lent in order to read, plan sermons, and pray. I've never regretted coming to the abbey. I love this place. But I almost cancelled last week. How could I go away with one member in the hospital and another member entering Hospice care? Was it really faithful to leave my husband with a snow storm on the horizon? God didn't let me second guess myself for long. And I'm now praying God doesn't allow me to second guess my renewed commitment to taking better care of myself upon my return.
And while this post feels so incredibly vulnerable, I know I'm not alone. I live and serve in a city where we often speak of how busy we are as if our busyness is a badge of honor. I am part of one of the least healthy professions. We clergy love to tell other people how to care for themselves while doing a miserable job of taking care of our own selves. And I suspect I'm in good company when it comes to seducing myself to believe that extra hours in the office or meeting the needs of others are more important than just one hour at the gym.
I don't want the sun to set prematurely on me. I now know I was in serious danger, and I do not want to allow myself to go there again.
I love my red wagon. I adore nearly every single thing that I've placed inside it. But, it's time to take a few things out of my wagon.
What about you?