Tuesday, December 01, 2009


Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
The Messenger
December 2009


Some Saturday nights I go to sleep anxious about the next day’s sermon or eager to get as much rest as I can, knowing that I have a long Sunday ahead. But a few weeks ago I went to bed on a Saturday night without a worry in my head, looking forward to a relatively easy and enjoyable day of church. Lauren would be preaching so there would be no tossing and turning about the sermon. We had a couple of baptisms scheduled. Finally, in the afternoon I planned on heading down to House of Prayer in Newark (a wonderful church where I had served as a seminarian) for its 160th anniversary celebration. I fully expected it would be an easy, but memorable, day.

Before I dozed off, did I pray? Did I give thanks to God for the many wonderful gifts in my life? I can’t say for sure.

Around 4:00 Sue woke me up out of a deep sleep with shocking and terrifying words, “I think I have to go the hospital.” I tried to focus as I stumbled around the house, getting ready to leave, my heart racing, trying to make sense of what was happening, trying to stay calm.

In the car, driving as quickly as I could through the dark, deserted streets to Morristown Hospital, I tried to fall back on my clergy training and attempted to be a “non-anxious presence” for Sue. As I tried to radiate calm, inside I was thinking that this was one of those moments when your life takes a turn – the grim diagnosis, the phone call in the night, one wrong move, words spoken that can never be taken back or forgotten. As a priest, of course, I spend much time with people in the midst of those moments. Now, I thought, it was our turn. I believed we were in one of those moments when everything changes.

The emergency room was nearly empty. Apparently the injuries of Saturday night had already been bandaged and the new day’s wave of emergencies had not yet arrived. Once it was 6:00, I called Lauren and told her what was going on and that I wasn’t sure if or when I’d be in church. She told me not to worry about church and to update her on what was happening.

Although it took a few anxious hours, the doctors did figure out what was going on and Sue underwent a brief procedure that solved the problem. Exhausted and relieved, Sue and I stopped for breakfast and then returned home. I looked at the clock in the living room. All of this had happened before noon.

No surprise, we were both grateful that this frightening experience had ended much better than we had dared to hope. Like anyone who has a close-call, we had a renewed appreciation for the simple gifts of our everyday lives – the nice place to live, the purr of our cat, meaningful work, and the company of one another.

As the day went on my sense of gratitude for Grace Church deepened. Since this had happened on Sunday morning, everyone who was in church that day heard that I had taken Sue to the hospital early in the morning. Knowing that (obviously) Lauren couldn’t get to the hospital for a while, one parishioner took it upon himself to drive to the hospital after the 7:30 service to offer us some much-appreciated pastoral care. When I got home and went on the computer, waiting for me was a pile of concerned emails from parishioners. After I sent out a parish-wide email to let everyone know Sue was OK, another avalanche of emails arrived. Flowers were delivered and a dinner was prepared for us. How blessed we are to be a part of Grace Church!

Since that difficult, but memorable, day and with the approach of Thanksgiving, I’ve been trying to be more mindful of the many wonderful gifts in my life. The other day in the New York Times there was a review of a new book called The Gift of Thanks. The reviewer quoted a line from the book that really jumped out at me: “Gratitude is always a matter of paying attention, deliberately beholding and appreciating the other.”

As we approach the end of this year, and look to the start of the next, it is all too easy for us to be anxious about what is yet to come – what life-changing moments will we face, what will be broken, what will be lost. My plan, though, is to be more deliberate, to pay closer attention, to behold and appreciate all the “others” in my life – the people, the places and the experiences that make life so rich and rewarding. On Sundays, during the prayers when I hear the words, “We give thanks for all the blessings of this life,” I am really going to give thanks to God for all the blessings of my life and all the blessings of our life together.