We have a Leak!

“We have a leak!” Those are frightening words to hear if you live near or work in a facility that produces or stores hazardous material. Dreadful words, if it is your job to make sure that those materials do not leak. Troublesome words indeed, if it is your job to stop the leak and clean up the mess that has been made. Those words can be just as frightening, dreadful and troublesome when the leak is not hazardous and not in a nearby plant, but in your home.

“We have a leak! I can hear it.” The first response in any crisis situation comes from a well-prepared public relations department. I can do this in my sleep, which is good because I still am half asleep. “No, you must be mistaken.”

“No, we have a leak.”

“No, we don’t. Are you sure? Maybe, it just sounds like a leak.”

“It is a leak!”

“How can you be sure? Can you see it? If you can’t see it, you can’t be sure that it is a leak.”

“Get out of bed and see for yourself!”

“Well, if it is a leak and we don’t yet know that it is, maybe it is not a very bad leak.”

“Get in here!”

The time for public relations is done, which is just as well because I had very little expectation of being able to talk my way out of a leak, since she is almost always right about these things. Well, ok, she is always right about these things. At any rate, it is time to get some boots on the ground and do a little reconnaissance.

So there I am standing in the bathroom that I have spent the better part of my life remodeling, or so it seems, and I hear it in all of its frightening, dreadful, troublesome fury. It is not a leak, it is a deafening cascade. It is a torrent of water rushing from the confines of a copper pipe to the sweet liberty of the wall behind my new shower and ultimately to the ground beneath my house.

I need a chaplain. I am spiritually distressed. I hear water dripping, but how do I get to it? Not through any of the freshly painted walls in this room, I can promise you that! Through the bedroom, up the hall and into the other bathroom, I am looking at the wall that is shared with the bathroom that I just left. Looking down, I see wet wall board. We have found our entry point.

After removing a sink, a bathroom countertop and a two-foot by eight-foot section of wall board, I am looking at the water pipes that supply my shower. There is the leak. The good news is the leak is in the pipe and not in one of the joints where I put the pipe together while remodeling the bathroom. It is a small consolation, but at this point I need whatever I can get.

Finally it is time to go to the home improvement store. Getting the few items I need to fix the leak should be no problem. Talking to the man with the gentle voice in the plumbing aisle, I wonder out loud if I should buy a pipe cutter fearing that I might not be able to locate the one that I already have. He discourages me saying that a pipe cutter will add six or seven dollars to my bill. For some reason unbeknownst to me, I let his frugal urgings keep me from purchasing the pipe cutter. Even as I leave the store without it, I know that I am making a big mistake. I know that I will not be able to find it, but I drive all the way home to prove my point. Then I go back to the store to buy a pipe cutter. After that, the repair is easily accomplished.

I did not like having to buy a tool that I knew I already possessed. Having a tool and not knowing its location is frustrating. Having a tool and not knowing how to use it is also frustrating. That happened to me the first time that I used a pipe cutter and it made the job more difficult than it should have been.

As we journey toward Jerusalem during this Lenten season, we face a similar problem, though in a spiritual way. Calvary is not a tool, not something that we can hold in our hand and manipulate. It is a gift—a life changing gift. What God did in Christ makes it possible for us to be in the most profound of relationships. In Christ, God brings us into God’s family. We become sons and daughters of God, children of God, in a way that we were not before Christ, before Calvary, before Easter.

A lifetime is not enough time to experience the mystery and wonder of this gift. Yet, too often we go in the other direction. We are content to store this amazing gift in the garages and utility rooms of our lives. When emergencies arise we go looking for it. If we are fortunate, we find it in the last place we left it. An experience we had long ago at youth camp, a memorable moment in Vacation Bible School, a warm sensation when our first child was born, we remember that God has spoken to us through the years and has been near our lives. Looking back, we remember something exciting and fresh, an encounter with God. But having left it in the corners of our lives gathering dust, it does not seem to fit where we are now.

We know we have it, but we do not know quite what to make of it or do with it. We have often heard about God, God’s love, grace and mercy. Yet, in the midst of our failures and difficulties, we find ourselves unaware of how that love, grace and mercy might repair our lives and point us toward hope.

The relationship that God wants with each of us is not a one time event. It is an ongoing, everyday experience. Often times we hear people talking about what they are giving up for Lent. I wonder if we might not be better served if we took a different approach. What if we added something for Lent? What if each day for just a few minutes we took the time to ponder the wonders of this thing that God has done for us?

The Reality of Hope

Coming to terms with reality is not always an easy thing to do. Sometimes the reality that is before us is such that we would rather avoid it than come to terms with it. Confronting it is uncomfortable and distressing. When we think about it, we are frightened and sad.

Coming to terms with reality sounds like a good thing to do. The very notion of doing so seems to imply maturity. When we come to terms with the situations that arise in our lives we demonstrate our maturity and our ability to cope. I suppose coming to terms with reality is a good thing.

However, I do have some reservations. The reality that I am confronting is my mother’s cancer. The doctor did call it that this week. Before, he had hinted at it, saying it without really saying. This week, he said it. He said that he is as sure as he can be that mom has cancer. I am sure that he is as sure as he can be.

Nonetheless, I still have reservations about confronting this reality. Confronting may not be the best word. I have some reservations about accepting this reality. Hope keeps me from too quickly giving in to this reality. In a way, hope is something of an occupational hazard for me. I am hopeful because I have seen people with cancer receive treatment and respond to it positively. I have seen people who were in bad shape rebound and recover. One day a man lying in the hospital bed barely appeared to be alive. The next day he is sitting up, getting up and talking. No one expected that to happen, but it did. Having seen that sort thing happen through the years on more than one occasion causes hope to take hold. Maybe there are medical reasons for such things happening, but I have seen doctors and nurses marvel at the mystery of an unexpected recovery.

Hope is the nobler reason for my unwillingness to accept this reality. My other reason is less rational. I am thinking this is too soon. There are other things, events and moments that she needs to experience. The image of my grandmother holding our boys in her arms is one that I treasure. That is an image I want for them to have with their grandmother. It is too soon for that to happen. There are still other images that I want for them to create with their grandmother and times that I want for them to have with her, more times that I want to have with my mom. It is too soon.

It is too soon, as if there is somewhere out there a point in time that would not be too soon. The time comes when it comes and we are never ready for it. No matter how prepared we may think we are we are not ready for it. We are not ready because we just cannot get ready to lose, to be without that which we have not lost nor been without in such a permanent way. We do not get ready for such a parting as much as we learn after the fact how the one we have lost remains with us still. Gone to be sure, but present with us as a result having spent a lifetime of giving herself to us, and pouring out her energy, effort and love on our behalf. Still, it is too soon.

It is too soon, because at least for today, the time has not yet come. Today, hope prevails. Reality, any reality, without hope is bleak indeed. We are blessed if we know the one who gives to us a hope that can penetrate any reality no matter how desperate that reality may be. Hoping with that kind of hope is not denying reality. This is true because that hope was brought into the world on the darkest of days under the bleakest of circumstances. That hope was brought to us on a cross and offered to us with the rolling away of a stone that revealed to us an empty tomb.

We are invited to embrace this hope, by denying ourselves, taking up our own instrument of death and following Christ, the one who is our hope. Being hopeful is not denying reality. Hope does not cause us to deny or even avoid the pain and suffering of this life. Hope does see us through such suffering and greets us on the other side.