Remember that political ad in which the White House phone rings at 3 a.m. and someone has to answer? I know the experience. Sort of.
My phone call came late one afternoon. The caller, a church attendee I knew only casually, said he was at the hospital where his wife, Josie, was dying of cancer and might not last the night. Could I come right away?
Even though this call came many years ago, I'm still embarrassed when I remember that my first thought was something like: Where is our pastoral care staff person? I don't do hospitals. I'm the one who preaches, who leads, who casts vision. Oh, and I'm the one always telling people (from the pulpit) that I love them and care for them.
The caller said his dying wife was terrified. Despite the sedatives she'd been given, she was almost violent and could hardly be restrained. "Perhaps you can say something to her that will help her to relax and go to sleep," he said.
The hospital was a 20-minute drive. As I arrived, a family friend met me and escorted me to the room. On the way she described how Josie was thrashing about in fear. Occasionally she would scream. No one, the friend said, knew what to do. Even the doctors and nurses seemed stymied.
I took a deep breath and entered the room. There were maybe eight people around the bed: a doctor or two, nurses, Josie's husband and a daughter. Then I saw Josie in the bed.
"Josie!" I said as I approached. I said her name firmly, as if to establish my presence with some authority.
"Pastor Mac!" she responded. The circle broke as everyone stepped back to make room for me.
Frankly, I wasn't sure what was appropriate for the moment. It's awkward when even the physicians relinquish their space at the bedside to me. All I can remember is that something ...