St. Peter's Blog 'One Hell of a Summer' from St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church – North Wales, PA's Blog

One Hell of a Summer

Sunday, Aug 31, 2014
Author: Pastor Andreas Wagner

Is it allowed to use the "h" word in a church context or newsletter? I have never been a big user of swear and strong words, not before my pastoral training and not now, even when I am in "safe" distance from church folk. And believe me, when that happens, every once in a great while, my daughter Sarah acts as my eternal conscience. "Should you say that, pa? You're a pastor!" "Thanks, Sarah! Thanks for reminding me!" But, as I tried to explain to her, sometimes there are few other words in our human vocabulary that describe as aptly what we're going through than words which are at least borderline bad. I really had one "h" of a summer, and not in the positive sense that this phrase often jocularly carries.

Late in spring we received word that my mother has cancer.  Having dealt with chronic disease and pain throughout her adult life and being tired of it, she decided early on not to go through an ordeal of surgery and chemo therapy and gave her body permission to shut down. As a family, we changed our plans and came for a visit, all five of us. It was a little bit of a surprise. My sisters and I had told her that I would come, only accompanied by Sarah. So now we all stood in front of my parents' home; at that point, 'Oma' was still able to move with her supersized walker. One Sunday we even took her to a restaurant. Our time over there was precious. We were able to play some of her beloved card games, such as "Phase Ten," look at old and ancient pictures (with those 70s bell bottom jeans) and just spend some time together. We even got to some of the stuff that were buried in her soul, still bothering her bit, part of family history, and I hope talking about it helped her a bit.

As my brother in-law had also only recently received major heart surgery, my younger sister had her hands full, to say the least. I thought that I could help out in some hands-on ways with chores around the house, take the edge off her overload. We all pitched in until, one week into our visit, I received a lesson in what it means to have acute lower back pain. I have heard people talk about back pain before, but I can now say that I had no clue what they were really talking about. One night my back just froze and forced me to bend over and seek relief from excruciating pain in some very funny positions. The next morning it was so bad that I could not get out of bed. I mean: really could not! Fortunately, our German country doctor still does home visits, came and gave me a pain relief injection that allowed me later that afternoon to get up. But to say that I walked would be a gross overstatement. I was stumbling forward, my hand desperately holding on to any support wall in close vicinity, just to cross the amazing distance of ten yards to the bathroom! How life can change with one injury! How it affects your mind and your mood! How do people deal with it who live with those things all the time?

It was a glimpse into a dark world that is very hard for healthy people to relate to. I even wondered whether God wanted me to have this experience in order to gain a better understanding. I'm not usually big on those types of explanations, but hey, it is possible. Interesting that I had this experience when visiting my dying mother who has dealt with a boat load full of pain throughout her adult life. What did she really go through? How did it feel when she said (I remember that as a child) she had excruciating headaches, like someone is splitting her head apart? Compassion comes so much easier once you have felt what others go through. The word itself literally means "to suffer with." It is harder for us on the healthy side of life to really know...

It took about three weeks for me to find the right approach that brought me back on the path to health. An osteopathic doctor in Philly who manipulated and rectified my lower back played the biggest role; the following acupuncture treatments helped as well. Within two weeks I went from severely limited movement and pain meds to no medication and almost full range of physical capability. Thank God!

But it continued to be a "h" of a summer for my sister who is the main caregiver at home. My mom continued her decline and is now close to meeting her Savior. The whole business of dying can be ugly. The hospice people there still only come once or twice a week. What is left of my mom has stopped eating and is refusing and throwing up food. God have mercy!

I know many of you have gone through similar times or carried different burdens that were heavy and separated you from your community. You wondered: "Who can understand?" In our Christian faith we believe that Jesus went through "h" for us and really can relate to all human suffering. We also believe heaven to be a place where people find relief from this life's worst ails. May she find peace and relief!

Blessings to all of you, and please don't feel sorry for me (no need). Pay attention to your neighbors in need and thank God for all your blessings!

Pastor Andreas Wagner                   

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