I was reminded recently that I have not written about the second part of our trip to the Holy Land–our extension to Jordan.

After some departed from our group to go back to the United States, the rest of us stayed the night in a nice hotel in Tel Aviv very close to the Mediterranean.  We got up the next morning, and had a very nice breakfast with a great view.IMG_0804


We boarded our bus that morning and crossed from Israel into Jordan.  IMG_1877This was a very smooth process and went very quickly.  We met our guide, John, on the Jordan side. We had to get a new bus and driver as well, and we found that we would have a police officer on our bus!  I think he was supposed to be protecting us, but he didn’t really have much to do, as there was never any inkling of danger.  Good job if you can get it.  (Someone said that sometimes they put police on the buses to make sure the guides don’t say anything against the king, but I don’t know if that’s true.)

After an awesome lunch (no more shawarma, even though it is good–but the best lamb I’ve ever had was in Jordan), IMG_0821 IMG_0820the first thing we did was drive awhile to the Roman ruins of Jaresh, the ancient city of Gerasa, one of the cities of the Decapolis, about 30 miles north of Amman, the capitol of Jordan.  IMG_0828IMG_0822IMG_2061The ruins are beautiful and quite spread out.  It was great to stretch our legs looking at everything, and we spent a couple hours there with John, our guide, who was very knowledgable and also a bit of a comedian.  🙂  We enjoyed him. We met a family at the ruins who wanted to get their picture taken with Rachel because of her long blond hair.  They didn’t speak much English, just enough to tell us what they wanted.IMG_2000

We went into one of the theaters and watched a musical group perform with bagpipes.  They recognized us as Christian tourists, obviously, and performed a wonderful rendition of “Amazing Grace,” among a couple other songs, for us.  This was very moving for me: what a blessing that we could hear a beautiful Christian hymn in this place, and just after the call to prayer from nearby mosques.  God shines through even in the most unlikely of places.IMG_1980IMG_1974

IMG_0832_2IMG_2041IMG_1966After our trip to Jaresh, most of us were tired from our traveling that day.  Walking on the uneven stone pathways of the ruins was a challenge for many of the older people in our group, but everyone did well.  Our hotel that we would be staying at for two nights was back in Amman.  We traveled there and settled in for the night.

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Jordan is a beautiful country.  It’s not a huge country, but there’s a lot of beauty in the deserts and mountains.  I really enjoyed being there, seeing how they live, and I never felt unsafe. It was good for the kids to see another side of life. Jordan is somewhat Western in the cities, but in the country, it does look more foreign to me.  They have a lot of Bedoin nomads.  Sometimes there’s a lot of garbage strewn about. It’s not all pretty. Water is a very precious resource for them, and the water that is there is not clean enough to drink.  (All of Jordan’s citizens drink bottled water.) Our hotel didn’t even have hot water in the mornings (which meant I had a ponytail the rest of the pilgrimage, and therefore not looking so cute!!).  The next day of our visit to Jordan was spent seeing Petra and then on the last day, we went to Maraba and Mount Nebo.  More to come!  More Jaresh pictures here.



IMG_1693Have you ever had a sense of intuition about a situation before you’ve even assessed it thoroughly?  I’ve always been told to listen to my intuition, and so I try to, even though I don’t even know what my intuition is, exactly.  Is it God telling me something?  The Bible doesn’t really say that anywhere.  Maybe it’s my mind looking at a situation and sensing or reasoning through something based on past experience of which my consciousness isn’t even aware. Who knows?  All I know is my intuition has usually served me well, though I have not always dealt well with it.  One particular case stands out in my mind:

I was working an evening admissions shift, as I often did early on at my job in hospice.  I live fairly north in San Diego county, and I remember they sent me pretty far south, probably something like Chula Vista or National City.  So there was traffic.  I always knew something about the situation before I went out, though not always a lot more than a name, address, age, and diagnosis, and I remember this patient was a 50 something year old female, diagnosed with a metastatic abdominal cancer. It was dark, and I had a little trouble finding the apartment, as apartments are often difficult to find in the dark…or in the light, for that matter.  I started to get concerned when I finally pulled up to the apartment, and the office was on the phone with me asking when I would get there…because the patient’s daughter was calling.

Working in hospice is unlike any other kind of nursing I’ve experienced, because you’re alone.  At the hospital, if I can’t put in a foley catheter on some poor gentleman with an enlarged prostate, call someone else–call the urologist, who has special ones, or call a really experienced nurse.  In a home, if I can’t do it, it’s a big big big hassle.  So I did a lot of praying and plunging in.  Controlling my own anxiety is critical.  In a home, I’m the one who is supposed to have the answer about what we should do.  I can call the doctor, or I can call another nurse for advice, but most of the time, they couldn’t think of anything that I couldn’t think of, because I was the one there assessing the situation.  And I needed to figure out how to deal with it.  I got used to it, and even prided myself on being able to handle a lot of stuff on my own.  But in the early days, it’s a lot of pressure.

So there I was, my patient, her adult daughter, and it’s not good.  She’s vomiting, and I hate vomit.  I really hate vomit.  She hasn’t had a bowel movement in three weeks.  Yes, three weeks.  Three weeks.  An alarm goes off in my head.  Three weeks.  Not only is that abnormal, but that’s really bad.  She’s vomiting, so that means that she is completely blocked, and it’s going the other way.  Not to be too gross, but some people end up vomiting stool.  And you don’t want to do that at all.

That’s where my intuition kicks in.  It’s telling me that she’s blocked by cancer, and we’re not going to be able to deal with this easily at home.

So I called the doctor.  I figured I would page him, take her vitals and assess her, and he would call me back by the time I was done (since it was evening, they didn’t often get back to you really quickly).  Well, he called me back in less than five minutes.  I felt that she should be moved to our inpatient center, that she was in crisis, and I told him so.  He asked me, “is she impacted? Did you assess her?”  No, I hadn’t, and I hadn’t had time to before he called me back.  I said no.  I don’t know what all I said to him, but nothing sounded quite right.  He told me he would find it hard to trust my skills if I hadn’t even done that, that I seemed incompetent.  So my heart sank, I felt ashamed, and I said I would check to see if she was impacted and call him back.

Impaction is when a person gets so constipated, and stool gets so backed up in the rectum that the person is physically unable to get it out themselves.  The process for assessing an impaction is very sophisticated and technical; it involves sticking your finger up the rectum to see if you feel a lot of stool.  If you do, she’s impacted.  The process for dealing with impaction is even more sophisticated and technical.  It’s called disimpaction, and I’ll leave that to your imagination.  It’s not pretty, and it’s not fun, for the nurse or the patient.  Please, God, never let me get impacted.

I checked her.  She wasn’t impacted.  I gave her nausea medicine.  I called the doctor back.  He didn’t trust me, and he didn’t believe that she wasn’t merely constipated.  Maybe he didn’t have a bed for her in the inpatient facility, I don’t remember, but I think he just wanted to keep a bed available for a patient who wasn’t assessed by a cuckoo nurse.  He sent me some suppositories.  Still ashamed, I didn’t argue.  They weren’t going to do anything, but I wasn’t going to get anywhere that night with him anymore.  I lost trust.  It was my fault.

All I could do was give her daughter instructions on how to get through the night, and send another nurse out the next day to see her.  I did that.  They were disappointed that I couldn’t fix it, and I was too, but they weren’t mad at me.  At least they knew we wouldn’t abandon them.  The nurse came the next day and promptly sent her to our inpatient center.  I don’t know what caused her constipation, whether it was fixed or not.  I am pretty sure that she stayed in the inpatient center a couple weeks until she died, so it probably was not easily fixed. My intuition, as inconvenient as it was at that time, may have been right.  I just needed to learn the self-confidence and assertiveness to back myself up, admit how I was wrong, and move on from there.  It was a good lesson to learn.

Small is Beautiful 

For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—  that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.  Romans 1:11-12

Our church is small. We have one service every Sunday, and our sanctuary seats 200. We don’t fill all the pews. Our numbers are not particularly declining and not particularly growing; they’ve been about the same for several years. We pay our bills, we support our pastor, and we have very little debt. Sometimes people come around and try to encourage us: “oh, you have a new pastor, now you’ll grow.” It’s easy to fall into the trap of being ashamed of being small. But I just shrug. While I always want everyone to hear my pastor’s wonderful preaching, I’m not sure that what we could have is better than what we do have now. I’ve been in bigger churches, but I’ve never been in one I’ve loved more. This is what I love about being beautifully small:

  • I know my pastor, and not just his name.  Have you ever wondered how many people who go to Saddleback mega-church really know Rick Warren?  I wonder.  They see him preach every Sunday, whether in person or on a screen, but he doesn’t know their name. He doesn’t know most of his parishioners’ struggles, and he doesn’t pray for them, except maybe in a collective sense. How could he? How many of Joel Osteen’s parishioners have been over to a BBQ at his mansion? I would bet not many. If you have a problem for which you need pastoral support, what do you do?  Call your pastor’s cell phone?  If you’re a member of Saddleback, you probably have a pastor under the pastor, or maybe you call the hotline, and they get back to you. If they send someone out to your bedside at the hospital at the worst moment of your life, have you even met that person before? Have you heard him preach? Do you know if he’s theologically trained, and do you know his kids’ names? Yeah, it matters. Faith is personal. I know my pastor, or I’m getting to know him anyway, and he’s getting to know me. I have his cell phone number, and I could call it if I need to. He knows I wouldn’t call unnecessarily, and I know he would come see me anytime if I truly needed him. I know he would comfort my family and me with the Gospel if he were there with me at the worst moment of my life.
  • I know the people at my church, and not just because of a “small group.”  We don’t have small groups; we don’t need them.  We don’t organize ourselves generationally–I know the two-year-old, I know the teens, and I know the 80 year-olds.  We have lunch together sometimes; I’ll be sitting at a table with a 40 year-old, a 60 year-old, and a 70 year-old, and we’ll have a wonderful time talking about life. In a small church, you know everyone else, their struggles and their joys. You pray for them by name. You know when the person who sits near you every Sunday in the pews isn’t there, and if she misses a couple Sundays, she might get a call or a card. You weep with a friend when they’re sick, when their husband passes away, or when they’re having a bad day. You’re a community of support for each other. You rejoice in the births of grandchildren, in new jobs, in travels and retirements. Sure, you don’t know everyone equally well, but you know most people who stick around. It’s no small thing to walk with people through all the times of their lives and to love them.
  • My congregation makes me a better person. Because people know me, they can talk to me. We gently challenge each other’s attitudes sometimes. Recently, I’ve had conversations with people at church about being able to forgive others who’ve wronged you, about confidentiality in church relationships, about whether being “comfortable” at church is a good thing, about the perspective you take when God doesn’t answer our prayers in the way that we want Him to, about dealing with people you disagree with. These personal relationships in the context of faith are very meaningful. After all, being a Christian doesn’t mean you’re suddenly perfect; we can always grow in Christ together.
  • We can properly care for people as individuals. We do have some homebound parishioners, and in a small congregation, they can be seen and loved on a regular basis by people they know. Even our sick and frail elderly who do come to services yet know that they have people who care about them and ask how they’re doing on a regular basis. If something comes up, we know about it, and we’re there to help.

The measure of a congregation’s health is not whether it is growing; it is whether the Gospel is being properly proclaimed and the Sacraments are being rightly administered. The Gospel grows a collection of people into a community of love. God loves us and shows us what love is. We are taught to love. We love each other. May we always continue to grow in faith, hope, and love.

Christ’s church and real Christians never boast of great achievements. His kingdom is not of this world. Here the great achievements belong to tyrants and crooks. God’s successes in this world are always modest, for His triumph is in the realm of the spirit.  -Rev. Richard Wurmbrand in Reaching Toward the Heights

Great Joy

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11

Our new pastor was installed on Sunday, June 7, 2015.  It was a day of amazing joy.  It brought to a close a chapter in our church that was filled with a lot of different emotions. It’s been just a little over six months since Pastor Matt left for a new call in Rhode Island.  One of the last things we did together was celebrate the Lord’s Supper on the Mount of Beatitudes.  It was a beautiful and fitting goodbye. This Sunday, Pastor Jeff was installed as our new pastor.  The first thing he did as our new pastor was feed us the Lord’s Supper. So that showed us Pastor Jeff’s priorities, right in line with our own.  God always chooses the right pastors for His people. IMG_1886

The installation was a beautiful ceremony embedded within a Divine Service. Each pastor who attended the installation put his hand on Pastor Jeff and gave him some words of advice or encouragement, most from Scripture.  My favorite piece of advice: “do not be afraid to be Lutheran!”  I don’t think that Pastor Jeff will have a problem with that, but it does take courage. We had 20 pastors attend Pastor Jeff’s installation, so this took awhile, all the while Pastor Jeff is kneeling.  The installing pastor, our circuit visitor, quipped this is why we need to install young men like Pastor Jeff–they’re the only ones who can tolerate kneeling for so long! IMG_1887After that, the pastors laid hands on Pastor Jeff, there was a prayer, and he is our pastor.

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Luke 2:10

We put on the altar our Christmas parament, which says Great Joy.  It is white, and we needed red for an installation service, but we added some red on the top and sides to make it right.  Having a new pastor is part of our Great Joy, but really our Great Joy is  having our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Without Him and His crucifixion and resurrection, a pastor is meaningless.  But a pastor means something because he delivers Christ, our Great Joy, through the Word and Sacraments. IMG_1768

This is the difference between joy and happiness: happiness is fleeting, but real joy never leaves you, even when things aren’t going your way, even when your pastor takes another call.  Real joy comes not from having any earthly gains; it comes only from God.  It is one of the fruits of the Spirit. My pastors bring me joy because they bring me Christ.  Sometimes they bring me happiness too, because they’re kind and caring and tell good jokes. Real joy is not in who my pastor is, though, it’s in his faithfulness to the Word of God and the Lutheran confessions. If he is faithful, he brings me Great Joy no matter who he is and no matter if he occasionally disappoints me.  Similarly, my church community brings me happiness because of their love and support, but there is always an undercurrent of joy in our relationships because we are walking in Christ together.  We are blessed that God brought us a new pastor, one who will serve our Lord faithfully and with courage.

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield. Psalm 5:11-12