Breathe

Saturday morning started with a telephone call from my son. He told me that his grandmother, my mother, was unresponsive and in the emergency room at UT Hospital. The details were few. All we knew at that point was that mom was on a ventilator. I quickly dressed and headed to the hospital.

Leaving the house, I knew that day was going to be long, different and potentially very sad. As I passed the first McDonalds on the way to the hospital the thought occurred to me that I ought to get something to eat. The drive-thru lane at the next one was way too long so I decided to park and go inside. The line inside was longer than I wanted to wait for as well. Turning to leave, my cell phone rang. It was my Uncle John in Texas. This would be the first of many conversations with him on this day. I told him what I knew oblivious to those around me. “She is in the emergency room at UT. I don’t know much, I have not talked to a doctor yet.” The call ended and I heard a man behind me speaking. He had heard my conversation and wanted me to take his place at the front of the line. That seemed strange to me. Something really bad must be happening in your life, if people in McDonalds offer to let you go in front of them. I accepted the offer still not unaware of just how different this day would be.

At the hospital, my sister and I listened to doctor tell us about mom. Mom had always told us that she did not want to be put on a ventilator. My sister was especially bothered that this had already happened. The doctor explained that she had no reason not to do it as there was nothing in mom’s paperwork to indicate her wishes. The doctor then explained that the ventilator was medically necessary as mom could not breathe without it.

Sister and I talked and decided that since mom was already on the ventilator, we ought to see how mom responds to the treatment before we made a decision about whether or not to remove the ventilator.

As the day wore on, nothing seemed to be improving. Doctors and nurses alike were kind, considerate and honest. Their words gave us very little encouragement about mom’s condition. When a person is on a ventilator sedation is required to keep the person from panicking and struggling against it. Mom needed that sedation in the morning. By lunchtime, she no longer required it. She was in effect sedating herself. This was not a good sign.

Sometime in the afternoon they moved mom from the emergency room to a critical care unit. Her condition did not seem to improve. The day was moving on and we had the lingering thought all the while that that we were not doing what mom had told us to do.

Meanwhile, sister’s friends from high school and college started to show up at the hospital. Steve and Brian had been at the hospital most of the day, but now other people from church were sitting in the critical care unit waiting room. Why are all these people here I wondered. They were there to support and love my sister and myself during a very difficult time. Seeing all those people made what was happening real.

Late Saturday evening, my sister and I told the nurse to remove the ventilator. We made it clear that we wanted all treatment to continue. We just did not want mom on a ventilator any longer. We did this not as an act of faith in God, but as act of obedience to mom. It was what she wanted.

After we made the request, I realized my time with my mother was now potentially measured in minutes. No one had given mom much chance of breathing without the ventilator. When the person from respiratory came and removed it, mom would in all likelihood no longer be breathing.

She did breathe though. She breathed through that night and every night since then. Still, she is sick and she has a long recovery in front of her.

After mom had started breathing on her own, I went back to the waiting room. I had long ago lost track of time, but it must have around midnight or later. There in the waiting room were eight or ten folks from Ball Camp Baptist Church. Church! Thank you.

What is Church?

What is church? There are many ways to answer that question. Some would answer it by saying it is a place. It is the place one goes to worship God and study about the things of God. Place can be significant factor in determining what church is for us. Church is that place our mothers and fathers or our grandparents brought us to when we were too young to where we where or what any of it meant. It is the place where we were baptized. It is the place where we made a decision to follow Christ. Our weddings very often take place in sanctuaries, thereby giving even more significance to that place we call church. For some, church is the place where they said good-by to a loved one during a funeral service. What is Church? Church is that place where milestones occur in our lives. Things happen there that we will always remember.

Others would say that church is not primarily a place. It is not fixed or built, but it is something alive and dynamic. Church accepts us when we do not feel so very acceptable to even ourselves. Church sees something in us that is not readily discernible when we reflect on our own lives. Church gives to us well before we give anything to anyone and while we still think we have nothing to give. Church reaches out to us even when we are not certain we like the idea of being reached. Church has a door open for us even while we feel more comfortable somewhere else. Church does these sorts of things because these are the sorts of things that Church has always done. The church did those kinds of things for the people who are there now doing them for people who have just arrived or who are nearby, but not quiet there just yet. All of these sorts of things point toward the grace and acceptance that God offers to us through his Son, Jesus Christ. Church, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, lives with that Grace and offers that acceptance. In so doing, it is Church.

Still others might say that Church is people first and foremost. People who gather at a place and act in ways that God has gifted them and called them to act. They teach. They serve. They give. They hug. They hold onto one another. They believe. They teach. They serve. They feed hungry people. They help those in need. They laugh. They share. They play. They enjoy being together. They hate to someone hurting. They are Church. Without them, there would be no place and no living body of Christ doing the things that Christ would do if he were here.

Each of those answers would sound right to some folks and each of those answers describes Church. While questions about what Church is or even about what Church has been are important and helpful to ask, the question of what will become of Church is perhaps the more important question. What will Church be? Answering that question gets a little more complicated in a hurry. A host of issues and factors come to mind in determining what lies in the future for Church.

For those of us in Church, we have something to say about how this question gets answered in the days ahead. While the specifics of what it will look like may be beyond the scope of our ability to forecast, we can say with some certainty what some of the factors in determining that future will be.

One of the factors that will shape our church will be our praying. By praying, I mean praying for the strength and well-being of Church to be certain, but not simply praying for Church. I also mean being a Church that prays. Collectively and as individuals, our time in prayer, perhaps more than anything else we do, will contribute to what Church looks like in the future. Church belongs to God. Church is what God is waiting on and preparing a place for. Prayer is getting to know God and being known by God. What we do as Church is born out of our relationship with God. Prayer gives God the opportunity to speak into our lives and form us as God would have us to be. If we do not give God that opportunity, then we miss becoming what we might have been had we done so.

Someone might say “pray for the church” or “the church needs your prayers.” While either of those requests might be true and timely at any given point in time, the deeper truth is that we will always need to pray more than the church will need our prayers. Praying is how we know God. We need to know God more and more each day. Does the Church need our prayers? Always, but not as much as we need to pray them.