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I Had Absolutely No Idea Where I Was

March 24, 2014

We’re back to school after the Spring break, so I’m back at my desk, readying for class.  To start this week, I’m going to post an entry from my last book “Gas Tank Chronicles” and share a story back when I was a single fellow, roaming the countryside in a beat up Dodge Aspen, speaking at small churches from California to Georgia.  This particular situation occurred in rural Maryland, after a long day of meetings and ministry:

I walked out to the trailer and fell into bed that night, worn and weary from all the day’s activity.  I would be speaking three times the next day, so I was eager to get a good night’s rest.  It was while I was sleeping soundly that night that the stillness of the barnyard was cut by an urgent knocking on the door.

There has always been a strange thing about me when it comes to being brought out of a deep sleep.  When I’m awakened in this manner, I’m instantly and fully alert – well, at least for a minute and a half.

Knock knock knock knock BANG BANG BANG

I threw my covers off and shot up to a sitting position, wide-eyed.

“Yes?  What is it?” I called.

“Brother Brad, this is Beatrice.”

My mind clicked and the name registered in an instant.  I remembered a girl named Beatrice from the country church meetings the previous day.  She was a dark-haired willowy girl about my age, and she reminded me of an owl for two reasons:  her head constantly swiveled back and forth when she talked with people, and she suffered from insomnia, mostly from a childhood fear of the dark.  The pastor assured me he was not exaggerating when he had told me she averaged over thirty cups of coffee a night.  She must be on an important mission to be crossing an unlit cornfield field at this time of night.1bbb

“Brother Brad,” Beatrice called through the trailer door, “my daddy’s coming out of surgery within the hour and we think the doctor may say that he has incurable cancer.  My whole family’s over at St. Mary’s.  Would you come to the hospital and be with us when the doctor breaks us the news? We need the support and I can’t get Pastor Curtis to answer his door.”

I was rubbing my eyes with my fists.  “Uh, sure.  Give me a minute or two –“

“The directions are on the front porch of the main house,” she called as I heard her voice fading and her footsteps running away.  “Taped to the screen door.  I gotta go.  Please hurry.”

I called loudly as I ran my hand through my hair and fell out of bed.  “Right.  Okay.  On my way.”

I stumbled about in the little trailer (avoiding the dead hornets on the floor) and threw on a hooded sweatshirt and some old jeans as quickly as possible.  I didn’t even take time to comb my hair – this sounded pretty urgent.  The Aspen bounced and jostled across the field as I drove to the farmhouse and pulled up to the front.  Sure enough, Beatrice had left directions taped to the screen door.  I grabbed the paper, and, with a flashlight in the interior of the car, (my Aspen’s interior light bulb had broken long ago.) I sped to St. Mary’s Hospital.

I didn’t know how late is was whenever I pulled my car into a space at the hospital and made my way to the entrance.  I was pretty bleary and in need of about a gallon of coffee.  In fact, I could’ve just chewed the unbrewed coffee beans, I was that tired.   My alertness had worn off, and I was getting kind of wobbly.

And I was having trouble speaking.

“Hello, I’m clergy … I guess… yes, “  I said at the receptionist’s table which was marked ‘Patient Information’.  I rubbed my eye and cleared my throat and tried to put any sort of formal words together.  “Um, let’s see.  Could you direct me? For I need help, you see.  I’m here to be with Beatrice’s family. At this time of need. In their lives.”  I sounded like a Grade A undiluted imbecile.

The older lady behind the desk looked at my oversized hooded sweatshirt and patched jeans and smiled benevolently.   “Well, yes, certainly.  They’re right over there, sir,” she said, pointing to a huddled group.  “Here, why don’t I walk you over?”

I was escorted over in the vicinity of the family who stood together, talking lowly.  I started to approach the group when Beatrice came over and waved her hands.

“There’s no need for you to come over right now, Brother Brad, because the family’s making, er… arrangements, in case … well … “ she crinkled her eyes and swiveled her head,  “… you know.  Look, I’ll call you when the doctor comes out and gives us the news.  We’ll need you to be ready, okay.”  With that, she turned on her heel quickly and strode back to the family meeting.

Not knowing what to do, I shrugged and shuffled over to a secondary waiting room, a cool quiet room with a long wall of dark glass and a crucifix just inside its entrance; Yes, this was a Catholic Hospital, I sleepily remembered.   I was impressed at how orderly and neat everything was.  The St. Mary’s people really made sure their visiting friends and family were made as comfortable as possible, I realized as I settled into one of the nicest, softest sectional sofas ever placed in a hospital waiting room.

I closed my eyes and I was relaxed quite deeply.  And I fell asleep.

No, it’s better to say that I was out.

Out.

Dead-to-the-world, brain-shut-down out.

I was so far into miles-deep slumber that I don’t remember dreaming at all.  I was sawing logs like nobody’s business, and drifting farther and farther away from this world.

In the middle of my deepest delta stage of sleep, I heard a small cough in front of me.

As I said, whenever I hear a noise, I usually pop right up and am responsive. Well, not this time.

Oh, I was awake immediately all right, but when I looked ahead of me I was looking straight into the face of a white-and-black robed figure.  A nun, about fifty years of age with cat-eye glasses, was wearing one of the most saintly and sweet faces I had ever seen. “May I help you?” she asked softly.

I blinked, totally confused.  Where was I?

The nun took up my whole line of vision – she must have been standing only about two feet from me.  As I looked up in my crumpled position, I was… well,  awed by the presence.   There was quiet ambient music in the background.  Soothing stuff. The music.  Her robes. 

Is she an angel?

Have I died?

“I…uh…”  I was unable to communicate.  Who was she?

I looked around.  A nice well-lit room… a cross… a comfortable place to rest… am I in Heaven?

She turned her head to one side.  “Is there someone here you wish to see?”

I stared hard at her. Get your thoughts together, boy.   If this really was heaven, this angel would have a pretty good idea of Who I’d wish to see. 

Waaaaait a minute, now…since when did angels wear out-of-date glasses?  Why would they need glasses?

That was actually my sleep-slogged reasoning, so you could tell I was in a pretty deep stupor.  I rubbed the top of my scalp slowly, mumbling to myself.  I wouldn’t give up, though, fighting to get awake and reason this out before I moved a muscle.  Then it hit me, sprinting to the reasoning and rational part of my skull.  Hospital.  Family.  Dad’s in an operation. 

The fog wouldn’t go away, though.  I looked over and saw the family still huddled and talking.  “I’m … well, I am clergy.  I’m with them, those people … over there.”  I gave a half-hearted gesture in their direction.

The nun took a long look at my clothing and smiled a little less.  “And what are their names?” she asked gently but crisply.

I was blank.

I had no idea what Beatrice’s last name was.  In fact, at this time of the night, I couldn’t even remember Beatrice’s first name.  Again, I pointed weakly.  I am not making this up.  I pointed over toward them and said simply: “Th-them. Those people. There.”

The nun looked at the family, who coincidentally had their backs to me and were still talking animatedly.  She turned around and looked at me, this time with no smile at all.  I figured out what was in her mind:  A homeless guy wanders in here to steal a little sleep, pretending he’s with a nearby family.  A crasher.

She reached out to take my hand and lead me out the door, and I had no way to explain myself.  Thankfully, Beatrice came over at that instant.    “Brother Brad, would you come over and sit with us now?  The doctor’s going to talk with us.”

The nun glanced at Beatrice, leveled a long authoritarian stare at me and turned quietly away. To this day I believe that she thought that Beatrice was showing benevolence to an uncombed homeless man trying to get a waiting room nap.  However, I was led to the family, who amazingly enough treated me with the utmost ministerial respect despite the fact that I looked like Larry Fine of the Three Stooges.

P.S. Beatrice’s dad was free of cancer.

My hospital incident was the beginning of a series of events that began putting a new lesson in my heart: I had better have a good sense of humor about myself.  Humility is a powerful part of a person’s ministry, and with the humble attitude comes an ability to laugh at oneself, no matter how embarrassing the situation.  This was a good thing to understand as soon as possible, for from the first day in Clarksville, Georgia to my final days when I finally puttered to a stop in central Ohio, something unpredictable and unusual continually happened on the circuit.

To me.

Through the time I was on the journey, I realized that I was going find myself in situations where I had absolutely no control, and not only would I totally rely upon the Lord Jesus for instruction and peace, I had to rely upon Him to give me the spirit of self-effacement.

———-

I want to thank the good people from around the world who have been in contact with me about this blog.  Thank you to my international friends in Britain, Germany, Japan, Canada, and other countries.  Thanks also to the students at the universities and the folks in churches and schools across America who have written me with words of encouragement.  I hope that these entries are a blessing and a help today!

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