I had looked forward to it for seven or eight weeks - the invitation to accept in some ways the highest honor of my life, to speak a father's love and a fellow minister's word of faith, to my eldest daughter - the minister - to the congregation she had lovingly and faithfully served for 31 years of her life and now was leaving - to retire - an honor, and deep love from a faithful congregation she had done so much to help teach how to love.
I knew full well not many fathers are ever asked to do such a thing. The awe of it was overwhelming for me.
I had all those weeks to think, and pray about, and work at writing this word for my daughter and her people.
For 20 years, Molly and I had been a kind of ancillary part of that congregation, attending my church of 32 years first, and then driving 20 minutes to be at "church" all over again, in Wayzata, with Molly, and latterly with our second daughter, Tamsie.
Wayzata Church had ministered to me, coming after my own painful departure from parish ministry, to hear the Word, and share in the worship life of another congregation, even as I now, with Molly, had been called to ministry across the world in the years following the dark time of the Rwanda genocide. There in my own brokenness to learn so much of what it is to forgive and be forgiven, and so be made one with dear people with whom I feared I could never be one again.
In all those years, from 1994 to 2014, the Africans were my teachers. And Molly was my teacher. And we learned "the way back" in human relationships.
Now, after all those years, my daughter was asking me to come to her church, on her day of honor, to share in that, and speak to all assembled, the words of Jesus' healing love and hope.
It was daily on my heart, that call, that high call. I pored over the words of Jesus in John 15: "I have a new command for you. Love each other." "I have called you friends." "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."
That is the word I would take to all those people who so dearly loved our daughter, and whom she loved.
I would do it. There was no way I would not do it.
There was a surgery I would have to go through myself, on May 3rd. There would be time. Four weeks to heal, and be ready. I may have worried. I exercised. I tried to sleep. Until the last week. Suddenly, two nights of triple rasping coughs that shook my body, alone in the dark. It hurt. It was exhausting. On the third day I went to chapel. I got my hair cut. I walked and exercised at the Flagship. I was determined. But, I was tiring. By late afternoon, heading home, I was exhausted.
Molly knew, when she saw me at supper, that I was depleted. Something was wrong. "We should go to Urgent Care tonight," she said.
I couldn't argue. We went. They did what they could. "You need to go to Emergency," they said. We went. There were signs of fear and instability. "We need to hospitalize you."
Wednesday night. Only three more days. I knew I needed help. The drip flow of antibiotics plus steroids to clear my lungs, began there.
I worried and I prayed. I went for walks down the hall. I tried to rest. Staff came in, in a long trail. Volunteers came. Chaplains came. What could I do?
"I must be out for Sunday," I told the doctors. "It is my date with destiny. I have promises to keep." They understood. But their job was to make me well. I prayed into the night in the sleepless times.
Finally, on Friday, strength was returning. The numbers began to point the right way. I walked more. I did not quite threaten to run away. But, I was determined. Finally they said, "We'll let you go on Saturday." "Early," I said. "Yes," they answered.
Molly came to help me do what we both felt was important to do. She got me home. I rested. I walked. I collected my clothes. She found my pulpit gown. I read over the sermon before sleep Saturday night.
By very early Sunday, I was moving on my own. Step-by-step. O, praise God. Molly prayed as we pulled out of the garage and headed to Wayzata.
And at church, Kristen at my side, steadying me. Getting me water. Whispering encouragement to me. Anthems. The Scriptures read. There was just the pulpit ahead.
And, in His Holy Spirit, God came and lifted me up, and gave me my voice, and for fifteen minutes it was like the preaching days of yore. The Word became His words. My own heart was emboldened. I was lifted and held. Not once, but twice. A miracle for me - which I could recognize.
It was the Spirit's day, and I was privileged to be part of it. It was all in His hands. That High Day - when God did what He does. And blessed me, and all the people. And my Kristen, who so lovingly had taken a chance on me. And it was all right, ALL RIGHT. TO GOD BE THE GLORY.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES