Your Usual Love

img_0466I love this picture.  It reminds me of how often I get to see something because God reaches out and opens something I otherwise couldn’t open or see.  It reminds me of the might, majesty of God’s love.

It was two years ago for Christmas when two of my girls went together and offered to go with me to get a new cat. I had not had one around for a while. While, I really love cats and wanted one, I just didn’t have the space to manage the litter box, the new thing to welcome in, etc. So, although I loved the idea of the gift, I just couldn’t do it then.

But while I was gone, Karen so changed the feel of our home, made it more spacious, more beautiful, and more possible to add a pet. Plus our other cat, who had been totally an outside pet, had died the day after my departure. And our neighbor had told me if we got another cat, she would help care for it! Her grandkids loved that previous cat, Kizzy, probably more than we did. That cat had been more feral than domesticated.

So, this week, I did this crazy thing. I had found an ad on Craig’s list of someone offering a free cat, contacted the folk offering her, and then went to meet her and ended up bringing her home. I had discovered her on Friday and picked her up on Monday. Kind of a “day after Christmas” present for myself, I’d say. It was an hour’s drive to reach the destination. I had a crate with me, but they said, “Oh she does great in the car” so I just brought “Cat” (that had been her name for 10 years already!) to the car, and put her in on the backseat, with some food and drove off.

Our dog, Zack, was wholly convinced I had lost it, bringing that “thing” into the car. He was sitting on the front seat, also without a kennel. Zack is a fearful animal, so his eyes just got as big as saucers and he kind of hunched up like he was having a seizure and froze in that position for a while. I thought Zack would go into full cardiac arrest as Cat decided to daintily step across the edge of his sleeping bed on the front seat down onto the floor in front of him. I finally reached over and encouraged him to just curl up and rest and he did so. Cat realized another option, seeing my lap available while driving, so, gently crawled into my lap, curled up, and slept the entire way home.

img_0464I knew we had a rare find. What cat likes car travel? Never in my experience.

It was during the drive out to get Cat, that weakness began to enter my body. A bit of a cough, a scratchy throat, and then a slight headache. We arrived home, and my body had begun to ache. I thought I must have eaten the wrong thing. I plopped her onto the back of our couch, brushed her, and she felt like it was the best home for her, so settled down for a nap, and I did the same on the couch below her.
She and I left an hour later to go to Petsmart together. Always a new errand with a new pet. But she loved traveling, and I was pushing myself.

I carried her next door to introduce her to our neighbors, and the grandma saw her and took her into her arms and began to cry tears of joy that there was a new cat to love in the family! Since that time her grandkids have been over twice to meet Sadie, until she is able to go outside more and can visit them.

By the time that trip was over, my head hurt in earnest, I ached everywhere, and felt something like I had been run over by a semi. I lay down on the couch again, and Cat (now named Sadie, or Princess Sadie) knew I was there for her, but actually, she was there for me.

That night I went to bed at 8 pm. The headache had come on with a vengeance, loud noises hurt. My gut was sore. My cough worsened. I slept little that night. I couldn’t sleep with the headache, and Advil hadn’t touched it. And as it took hold, the plans for the rest of the week vanished. We had planned nights out, fun times, away-from-work times, but instead, I spent three days and nights virtually in bed. And Sadie was glad for this. It meant plenty of holding times.
On Wednesday morning Karen’s back began to spasm and so she was hardly able to walk, in pain. So here I was with hot compresses on my head and she was lying down with ice packs on her back. She took me to the doctor on Wednesday morning and I took her to the chiropractor Thursday afternoon.

It is interesting the amount of attention pain demands. There was nothing in me that could pray, find God nor hear God. The pain blurred all my senses. Prayer basically was breathing, for that was all I could manage. I remembered on the Camino when my prayer life became breath and movement for days, which is the essence of the physical basics of prayer. On the Camino I had no words sometimes. Some days, I was exhausted. I was stretched. I was seeking to make it to the next albergue on feet that were tired and hurting, with shoulders strained from the pack, with a heart longing for rest. It was like the very demands of walking and breathing were the spiritual life as well, as if all my life were knit into a whole. There was no separation between what was physical and what was spiritual. It was one and the same. I think that is more true than I make it when life takes hold of me. And this week, it was true again. There was no dissecting of a “quiet time” apart from “other times.” All of it was quiet, was God, was prayer, was the breath of life.

But in that pain, I felt God distant, not near. I felt like prayer was unanswered. I sought healing in my breaths, I sought relief, but none came. But all along the way, as I sought to rest, sought elusive sleep, fought with a headache that claimed my whole being, this Sadie would curl up on my lap, she would crawl onto my side as I lay on now “her” couch, she would place her paw on my chest. Present. Quiet. Loving. It was such a blessing. A little sense of a greater Presence in her smallness.

Because of the nature of the flu there was no watching a movie or reading a book for the first three days. I couldn’t focus on anything. It was this forced down time of another variety. It wasn’t until 1:30 am Thursday morning that my headache broke its stronghold, and I could rest. That previous morning Karen’s back spasms stopped her. There was no working especially as the symptoms of the flu I had shared got her. Instead, our home was this quiet refuge. So instead of our planned date nights, I had healed enough to read aloud from a novel, while she listened lying down. It was then I noticed. The quiet. The peace. The enforced rest had begun to soak into my cells.

Two parishioners and I made a Plan B via text, phone and email in case I didn’t heal for Sunday. I laid low. Did all I knew to heal, and now could add words to my prayers. But somewhere during the week, I realized how much pain got my attention. It yelled. It stomped. It took so much energy. It reduced me to my simplest. I couldn’t “do” and as a result, I rested. Frequently and eventually well. In that rest I was reminded of the line from the Orthodox prayers which says, “but you have shown your usual love for me.” That idea of “usual love” always stood out to me. God really does show us love, all the time. Yet sometimes we don’t expect that, expecting judgment not mercy, so that love stands in contrast to our expectations.
Sometimes in the middle of trying times and pain and weakness and headaches and limitations, we can forget, that even then, we are recipients of love, a deep, undercurrent of love that is deeper than the setback, stronger than pain, more enduring than disappointments. This week has been an opportunity in the midst of illness to receive it anew, even as it came expressed more than once, in the unlikely paw placed upon my chest.img_0467

About Camino Way 2016 Shimer

On August 22, 1981 I married this wonderful woman, Karen, who has consistently blessed and changed my life and days. We are still in love, all the more with the years. We have four daughters, two sons by marriage, and three delightful, wonderful grandchildren. So, that makes me a husband, father, and grandfather all in those sentences. But mostly just a guy who loves my family. Today Karen and I planted beautiful plants in numerous pots. She had come home with the plants and that experience reminded me how much I enjoy simple things and simple pleasures -- like digging in dirt to plant a flower, like sunlight through glass on a spring day, like clean windows -- just washed ours today -- like a melody that won't escape from my heart. I've been a local church pastor for 30 years as of this June, a number that staggers me for I feel about that age on the inside, but clearly that's not the case. Back in 1988 I graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary with an Mdiv-- a time of schooling that has been a foundation for years of ministry. But it is mostly in the building upon that foundation, that has most changed my life. I love people, love seeing Jesus work in people's lives. One of my favorite joys is to pray with someone through some horrible place of memory and see Jesus walk right into their memory world, and turn on the lights in a way that sets their soul free and brings healing. There's nothing like this privilege and I have been there to watch it happen more times than I can count. Between 4 and 7 the associate pastor of my family's congregation sexually abused me, first grooming me, then repeatedly violating my young self. This marked my life. It changed my bearings. It ripped at my faith. It wounded my image of what it meant to be a little boy, and later a man. It has been a point from which I have been in the process of healing for many years now. I'm a survivor, but more than that, I am one who lives beyond what was done. For in the middle of all that stuff, Jesus was calling me, speaking to me, bidding me to follow him to bring change to people's lives within the realm of the very office that was used to harm me. Only Jesus can make light from darkness, hope from despair, and healing from brokenness. I love Jesus. He really is alive, no matter what others may believe. And his life, his presence, his words into my world, his healing power have continued to be the foundation point of what it means to experience life to the fullest. I love writing. I don't really know why on that score for really writing has never been a central tool in my world, nor has it come easily. But I love seeing how words released heal. And I love the way words can connect me to other people's worlds. So, that's why I started blogging. It began because I was planning to blog on a weekly basis when I went to walk the Camino de Santiago last fall. And in order to be able to blog while walking, I knew I had to begin to practice blogging before I was in another country. A friend told me that. Friends are good to help us find ways to live more authentically into our daily lives! So, I started. But what I have discovered is there is something powerful about sharing the story of life with others. So, I have continued. And I love the connections being built through those words. In 2011 I experienced my first seminar in Simply the Story, a bible story telling method that involves those listening in discussion and I decided then -- "this is what I plan to do when I retire." But really-- "why wait until then?" -- so I use this method while I continue pastoring. It sets people free and allows the Word to take root in ways that preaching never has. So again and again I am practicing asking questions and that is good practice for me, because I am frequently better at "telling" than "asking." This has been such a freeing gift. I love training others in this skill. So, a storyteller would certainly be true of me too. Years ago I discovered my mission in life is "the joyful transformation of people's lives through the person of Jesus Christ." And that continues to be where I find my home base, in joy. Where there is joy, I find, there is Jesus, and there is the possibility of transformation. Of course Jesus is in places where there is no joy as well, and once He is there, the place kind of changes because of Him. I love that.
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One Response to Your Usual Love

  1. David Luce says:

    Brian, you amaze me. Every time there is an email from you I wonder what I am going to read! And I couldn’t have forecast the content of your last one. What incredible experiences you have, and Karen too.

    By now I trust that you are both FULLY well again, and that you will both enjoy massively good health during the whole of 2017.

    I have your visit to Dresden in my thoughts. May it prove to be good in every way, both for you and for those you will teach during your time there.

    Roger and I went to a fine bookstore yesterday as I had a Book Token to spend. It was great fun. I now have plenty new reading matter.

    Next week I will be going down to Tonbridge for a Thanksgiving Service at which I have been asked to sing a solo! It will be “How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds” So simple, yet so profound. Then I have the opportunity to preach here at West Bridgford BC on the 15th in the morning. I look forward to being ‘back in harness’!

    You know that I look forward to your next email.

    Much love,

    David

    Like

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