Was He An Angel?

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16  – The 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, September 1, 2013

“. . . for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

Where angels tread . . .
Where angels tread . . .

Andy*, the Harley-Davidson riding, Missouri-born ICU nurse, entered my mother’s room and gently asked her to lift her head. He flipped her pillow.

“Always good to have the cool side,” Andy said.

Until a few days before, I didn’t know Andy.

And, for the most part, I still didn’t.

Was Mom’s intensive care nurse a stranger?

Was he an angel?

In the Christian Testament, the Letter to the Hebrews cautioned, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

Did I show the Harley-owning nurse enough hospitality; did I thank him enough while he cared for my mother? No, I never invited him for dinner, nor did I—as someone might in Biblical times—wash his feet after a long day’s journey or (in today’s world) bring him a Starbucks Grande Caffe Mocha. And yet my thanks were authentic and I made every effort to learn names of the ICU nurses, and to show them respect, and to keep each one within my prayers.

Of course, maybe it’s not fair to think of Andy as “angelic” because I witnessed him turn a patient’s pillow. But his actions were sweet, kind and appeared to my weary eyes to be extraordinarily thoughtful.

What does it mean to be “angelic?”

As I write these words in the middle of August and in the middle of anguish, Mom is non-responsive in a comfort care room at a Sacramento-area skilled nursing facility. On the last day of July, she visited a doctor—another stranger—for more tests, and more attempts to discern the reasons for her bloated stomach, indigestion and constipation. By July’s final moments, she had been handed over to an oncologist’s care—yes, a stranger—and he immediately sent her to the hospital. An “unsettled stomach” was (likely) ovarian cancer.

More in-the-hospital tests were taken. Two days after admittance, Mom faced life-saving surgery to unblock her colon. Without that surgery, she’d rapidly die a miserable death, or so said the stranger who was a surgeon. If the operation succeeded, she might recover enough to eat “normally” and have a quality of life for . . . Continue reading →

Negatives + Positives = Learning

-19,000 + 19,000 + 10,000 – 9,000 – 990 = 10

The calculation above was the response a fourth grader provided when asked to create a mathematical sentence with “10” in it.

school-kids-classroom-raising-handsThe fourth grader’s response was given to my wife a few years ago when she visited that student’s classroom. My wife teaches at Fresno State and, as an education professor with an emphasis in elementary math, she delights in participating with kids in their classroom. For her, working with fourth graders and helping teachers learn how children learn is far more joy-filled than spending time on a university committee.

Often, when we get home in the evening, we’ll talk about what happened in each of our days.

“What’d you do today?”

And so I learned about a fourth grader who confidently used negative numbers in a problem. That little “-” before the 19,000 excited my wife. Negative can be positive! The student understood the complexity of numbers. Numbers are negative and positive and there are myriad ways to solve problems. Wow!

“What’d you do today?” My wife asked me.

This was when I served a church . . .

My day had been spent in a hospital’s intensive care unit, with a woman in our congregation near death. On the prior day, her “plugs were pulled,” and death, whether it would take minutes or days, was not far away.

My wife had been in a classroom with children’s hands waving over their heads: “Let me try an answer!!”

I’d been surrounded by medical machines and white-coated doctors.

One of the dying woman’s sons was there. The decision to remove her life support had been made by him in consultation with physicians and other members of the family. Close, beloved friends were present. Throughout the day, though she was categorized as “non-responsive,” friends held her hands, hymns were sung, and prayers—spoken and silent—were shared.

No one in the hospital said, or probably thought, “Wow!”

And yet, I believe there were more similarities with my wife’s day to mine than differences. Continue reading →