Monday, July 7, 2008
What Wonderful Stones
It started with a searing pain right under my ribs. Needless to say, two days and one 9 hour ER trip later, it was confirmed: I had gallstones. First off, I have to say that I felt like an old woman. I mean, who gets gallstones at 24? Apparently, I do. As scary as surgery sounded, being full of stones sounded even worse. After a short surgery and about a week of recovery, I was as good as new. Minus one gallbladder. I was excited to get back to work at the churches and especially excited about Wednesdays.
Last Wednesday’s lunch started off pretty much the same as usual. We helped unload the tables and tents from the pickup truck and set up the camping chairs. The food soon arrived and as we circled up to pray, we could feel the eyes of the passing drivers upon us. This was a typical lunch at Open Table, a ministry of the Rougemont charge that serves the homeless men and women of Durham. Every Wednesday around noon, about 15-20 men and women, homeless and not, gather for a meal and fellowship on the side of Highway 15-501 in New Hope Commons. Like I said, last Wednesday seemed fairly unremarkable; that is, until she showed up. She was with Francine, a woman who had not been to Open Table in awhile, but had been a regular in former days. Her black hair was matted and everyone was warned not to touch her, as she had just received topical medication. Before you think I’m being cruel, I must mention that this she is a dog. Her name slips my mind now and I’m not surprised because her name was mightily overshadowed by her larger-than-life personality. For the sake of the narrative, I’ll call her Roxy. She scurried from person to person at lunch, wagging her fluffy tail, her bright brown eyes pleading for a scrap of food. When it became clear that she was not going to have any success, she strolled away to entertain herself. Around this time, I stood up to pour myself some more sweet tea and noticed that Roxy had found a good size rock and was busying herself by chewing on it. Several other people noticed this and we all laughed. Her owners shook their heads and said, “Yep, that’s Roxy. But don’t you dare touch her rock. She’s quite protective.” To prove this point, one of the men went over to her and tried to steal her rock away. Roxy growled and covered the rock with her paws. As soon as he backed away, she continued to play with the rock, chewing it and more impressively, rolling it around with her nose. Roxy later proved her attachment and fondness for the rock by fetching it when thrown and rolling it over 25 feet to her waiting owner. Let me remind you that this rock probably weighed no less than 20 lbs. This was a dedicated dog, I thought.
That night, I told my husband about the crazy dog who had come to lunch. As I was telling the story, it occurred to me that this dog was a shining example of simplicity and joy in a world often oversaturated with consumption and materialism. No, I’m not going to try to make any theological stretches about the dog’s actions. Merely, watching Roxy that day made me realize her contentedness with her stone. She had no want for fancy dog toys or gourmet dog food. What she did know was loyalty and the simple joys of life.
The next day, my pastor Doug, Rett and I spent the afternoon doing visitations. One of the places we went was the Extended Care Unit at Person Memorial Hospital. We had tried to visit some parishioners here several times before, but had never had any luck. This day, we did. We found most of the Extended Care residents gathered outside on the patio. We found out that a musician was coming that afternoon to perform, so we sat and talked while we awaited her arrival. The musician, Mrs. Clayton arrived, teal guitar in hand and spent about a half hour or so playing a variety of folksy, soulful songs. After awhile she sat back and announced that she would be playing her last song, a request from her husband. She strummed a few chords, closed her eyes and then crooned out a fabulous version of Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock.” For many people, this song has been forever ruined by the Chevy commercials, but this song is really a wonderful tune. As she sang, the lyrics told their sweet, sad story:
“Stood there boldly
Sweatin in the sun
Felt like a million
Felt like number one
The height of summer
I’d never felt that strong
Like a rock”
Any other summer of my youth, these lyrics could have been my anthem. But this summer, I’ve experienced my first taste of disease and hospitals, homelessness and hunger, inadequacy and fear. Instead of the sure, confident person I have always thought myself to be, I have often found my mind full of doubts, my prayers filled with petitions to God for strength and a steady hand and heart. The stones in my road and been both frighteningly literal and cosmically figurative.
As I thought about my “rocky” week (forgive the pun), I kept coming back to the passage in Mark 12-13. This is the section that tells of Jesus and his disciples coming to Jerusalem for Passover and seeing the Temple. At one point, a disciple turns to Jesus and says, “"Teacher, behold what wonderful stones!” And I’m sure they were! The Temple must have been an amazing sight with towering its slabs of polished marble. What’s even more amazing is Jesus’ response to the disciple. He says, “Do you see these wonderful stones? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” Of course, here Jesus is prophesizing the ruin of the Temple, but He’s also speaking of where we should vest our power.
My stones, some painful, some humorous, some shiny and polished with pride, will all eventually be knocked down. Christ as my cornerstone is the only way to build.