Nobody Wants to Go to Bethlehem

When Mary is in the ninth month of her pregnancy she and Joseph have to go to Bethlehem to register for the census decreed by Caesar Augustus.  I can’t imagine that Mary was pleased to have to travel to Bethlehem when she was so physically uncomfortable.  When she discovers she is going into labor in Bethlehem and there is no room at an Inn she must have gone from irritation to panic to think that she would have to deliver her baby in filthy and cold surroundings.  I would think at this point in time Mary did not want to be in Bethlehem.

And yet as Mary delivers her baby and he is wrapped in strips of cloth and he is laid in a manger she sees that what the angel had promised had come true.  This was no ordinary baby.  Angels proclaimed his birth to shepherds.  They came to see him, to kneel at his manger throne, and then to go to tell others what they had seen.  At this point Mary was glad she had gone to Bethlehem in spite of the drama and the trauma.

I talked about this last week at a cancer support group meeting.  I spoke of how their having to come to the cancer center for treatment was like having to go to Bethlehem.  They didn’t want to come for treatment.  They had experienced many unpleasant and traumatic things.  In spite of the fact that none of them wanted to be in this place and this situation I wondered if they had made any discoveries like Mary had.  I wondered if they had discovered something new about themselves or the world in which they lived.

As I asked them to ponder this thought one lady said that she had found out she was stronger than she thought she was.  She had discovered the truth that we don’t know how strong we are until we have to face our time of testing.  It is then we find out that God has given us more strength than we thought we had.  Another lady said she had found the opposite to be true.  She had always been very independent and self sufficient but now needed to ask for help and needed to depend on others.  She didn’t like being weak and vulnerable but had also found out it wasn’t totally negative.  We talked more about how being vulnerable can open the door to let people show their love to us.  It can deepen relationships when children can now take care of their parents and let their parents know how much they appreciated the care they had received when they were young.  And so the group went on talking about how they didn’t want to be in Bethlehem and yet had found many things that had deepened their understanding of life and lifted their spirits.

Perhaps you also know someone who doesn’t want to be in Bethlehem.  You know someone with cancer, someone in a nursing home, someone going through a divorce, someone going through a difficult transition, and they could use a visit.  Maybe you could be the one who could sit with them and let them talk about all the reasons why they don’t want to be in Bethlehem and then see if they want to reflect on what they have found in their Bethlehem that might have taught them something they didn’t know before.  Something hopeful, something uplifting, something life giving, something that helps them see that God is there with them.

Blood Everywhere

The patient has been struggling with internal bleeding for a number of years.  Her doctors have struggled to locate the source of her bleeding.  They have removed some of her intestines to reduce her bleeding.  In the mean time she has constantly had transfusions to keep her alive.  In our last visit she said that the doctors are now considering if they should remove her stomach to control the bleeding that is taking place there.  They don’t know if this will stop the bleeding or if it will just continue in another place in her body.

As she contemplates whether she should consider more surgery she is wondering about a number of things.  Since her quality of life has been so poor she is wondering if she should stop trying all these medical interventions and just let her life come to its end?  She is wondering will she ever regain the energy she needs to be a real mother to her children and a real wife to her husband?  As a deeply devout Christian she wonders will she ever be able to use her God given gifts so others can see how every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of all gifts?

As she poured out her questions and her anguish and her struggles to find her way I realized she was not only bleeding internally, she was also bleeding from her heart.  As her spirit struggled to understand and tried to find where God was leading her her faith was also losing blood.  She was bleeding everywhere.

As I thought of how she wanted to live and serve her Lord and carry out her calling I thought of the last hours of Jesus on the cross.  I thought of how he was nailed to that cross.  He was bleeding from his wounds.  He was also bleeding from His heart that He could no longer walk freely among the crowds.  He could no longer touch the sick.  He could no longer sit and teach the crowds.  He was helpless.  And yet He was still able to be Himself.  He was still able to love.  He was still able to endure.  He was still able to be patient.  He was still able to trust.  And the thief next to Him saw that and asked Him to remember him when He came into His Kingdom.  The centurion saw it and confessed Him as his Lord.  The women saw it and hung onto that love until they saw Him again on Easter Sunday.

So I asked my friend to consider that image of Jesus on the cross.  If she cannot be the wife and mother she wants to be can she be a patient who touches the lives of the nurses and doctors who care for her?  Will they be touched by her strength and her ability to endure all the pain and stress that have come into her life?  Will other patients see her suffering and be encouraged by how she is enduring hers?

Sometimes when we are bleeding internally and spiritually and there is blood everywhere there is no where else to turn except to the blood of Jesus that also flows everywhere.

She Had a Dream

I had visited this patient a number of times and we had talked about many things that had deepened the trust between us.  So when she asked me if I had ever heard people talk about seeing light at the end of the tunnel or special visions of the life to come I said that I had.  I mentioned a visit in which the niece of a patient was telling her aunt that she had dreamed that she had seen a number of relatives  who had died putting table cloths on tables and making preparations for a banquet.  The aunt who had terminal cancer sat up and looked at her niece and said, “They are getting ready for me!”  From the way this patient responded with such joy and eagerness I could tell that her niece’s dream had touched her deeply.

As I shared this story the patient said, “My mother had dementia and was in hospice care.  She had suffered much for a lengthy period of time.  I had sat at her bedside many days.  I had prayed frequently that she could be delivered.  I had prayed frequently that when she passed she would give me a sign that she was OK.  On the day she finally died I went to her house.  I was exhausted and my eyes were dry and red from weeping.  I went to bed and I dreamed that I was walking on the streets of a city.  It was windy and dirt and trash were blowing across the streets.  It was not a pretty city.  I came to a coffee shop and I went in.  There was no one at the counter so I followed a hallway beyond the counter until I came to a back room used for banquets.  My mother was setting the tables with beautiful china dishes and silver ware.  When my mother was still well and healthy she and I would often go shopping and look at the china dishes.  She loved fine things and she loved working in a coffee shop and serving people.  When I woke up I felt such joy.  After all she went through and after all I went through in my inability to help her I felt like my prayer had been answered.  I had gotten my sign.”

I share this story for a couple of reasons.  While we as Christians believe that we get to heaven by believing that Jesus loves us and forgives us all of our sins there are also personal things that happen to us as we lose loved ones that make us wonder about how  things shake out in the process of leaving this world.  We also wonder if we can bare our souls and ponder our questions with some one who will listen to our stories and not dismiss them as improbable or impossible.

While I have full confidence in what the Scriptures reveal to us about the life and death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus I also believe that our God can  use dreams and signs to comfort the hearts of His people.

I encourage all of you to be kind and open to people as they open their hearts to you.  They may have a story they need to tell and a dream to share.  You will be blessed by their story and they will be blessed by your allowing them to share it.  Who knows what we will see or hear if we believe that our God is unlimited in what He can do.