Monday, December 15, 2008

Old Man

I remember the first time I met Old Man. I was interviewing to become pastor here in Tiny Village, and he was on the search committee. He told me how long they'd been searching for a pastor, and my first thought was, "There must really be something wrong with them if they've been looking that long." He and I had to negotiate the salary, and I stood up to him and told him I had 10 years experience and wouldn't come here for the region's minimum salary for pastors. We had a few words then, and have had a few words since.

I've worked with him on a number of committees. I was at the hospital the night he caught his hand in a fan on a vehicle he was working on. I was there when he was hospitalized after an accident. We talked several years ago after he was diagnosed with two kinds of cancer. I addressed his fears head on in the usual confrontation style we have with each other. I was surprised and pleased when he threw my words back at me a couple of years later. During that round of cancer, he was treated with radiation, and there were elaborate precautions he was to take when he urinated. He told me it was too much work, so he just went out in the corn field. I told him that years from now scientists would discover these radioactive spots and come up with a complicated theory regarding it being a landing site for aliens. He thought that was hilarious.

Years ago he informed me that he had told his kids he didn't care where I was, they were to bring me back from Timbuktu if they had to to officiate at his funeral. I told him not to worry about it, by then they'd have a pastor he liked even better than me. Several years ago his daughter encouraged him to talk to me about the arrangements for his funeral. His health has been failing, and the last year or so I most often see him when I go seek him out, often in the barn where he goes to hide from his wife. He was in church yesterday, for the first time in several months. I greeted him with, "Hey, Old Man, how are you?" He said, "Not good, I have to go find my seat," and rushed quickly by.

I was out and about this morning, and when I got home there were two messages on my machine. The first came in a little before 9:00. It was OM, and he'd been to the doctor. He wanted me to call his cell when I got the message because he had something he had to tell me. The second came a little after 10:00. It was his daughter, and she wanted to let me know that the doctor told him this morning he has terminal cancer, and has 6-9 months to live.

I sat down and collected my thoughts, and then called him. He was home, and ready to talk, so I threw a cross on over my sweatshirt and headed out the door. (This is my day off, so I was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt.) As I was heading over there, Secretary called. OM's wife was at the church looking for me, crying and wondering how she'd keep going. I told Secretary where I was headed, and she told Wife, who was going over to clean the community building.

OM and I had a good talk. He's relieved to know what's wrong, and very much at peace. I commented about it, and he said he'd been thinking about what I'd told him last time. I was humbled. I don't think of my words as particularly memorable. He asked point blank if I was looking for a new church. I acknowledged I was, and told him that neither one of us needed to worry about the possibility of me leaving right now. I wasn't surprised he'd asked. On my way over I'd been thinking about leaving. I have felt like my work here is done, but now a part of me feels like I need to be here for him and his family. As I keep telling Daughter, God will call us to the right place at the right time. I doubt OM will last 6 months, so I may be able to walk with him through this journey.

When I left OM, I headed to the community building, where Wife was very pleased to see me. She said I was the first person he called, using his cell phone to call me from the doctor's office. Wife is having a very hard time with this. We had a good conversation and I offered her a Protestant prayer before I left (she's Catholic). I spent a couple of hours on my day off doing what I most love: ministering to those God has entrusted to my care. I hope I lightened their burden a little. I know OM ministered to me, because he showed me God has used my ministry to him to prepare him to face this final challenge.

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