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Confessions of a Sheepdog

(December 7, 2022 from 1:00 - 3:00 a.m.)


Ok, the title was originally “Confessions of a Pastor,” but it sounded too self-aggrandizing. After over 20 years in pastoral ministry, I feel less qualified than ever to hold the office of a bishop. I feel absolutely unworthy of the honor of feeding the flock of God. If I’m at least a useful sheepdog of some service to the Good Shepherd, then God be praised!

Now, on to what I did write almost 50 days ago…


“I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” - Helen Keller

Call me a narcissist. I suppose you’ll be right. But don’t look at your own reflection too long. You may find an equal blackness comprises your own iron visage. Not that this realization makes either of us any less guilty or any less culpable. I only point this out due to my own frustration as I attempt in vain to really see the world as others do. Every time I do try, the lens turns out to be the same old eyeholes of my own skull; the scenes are always scenes from my own experience and journey. My guess is, you have the same struggle.

Only God truly understands anyone other than Himself. The rest of us just have to take His word on things.

So, what is God’s conclusion then? He says that all of our journeys are essentially the same. Our temptations are common. And, the only viable solution is His grace found in the person of His Son.

The end.

Yet, I mourn anyway.

I’m on hiatus. With more gratitude than I can find words to communicate, I lie here at 1:08 a.m. wishing I was tired. As able poets and lyricists have glorified sleep as “the best of anesthetics,” I’ll not attempt any glorification of it myself. But, I’ve come to relish it more than ever.

Two nights ago I started drinking in my sleep. That was strange. I was reared a teetotaler. But in my dream I sat down at a bar and ordered something green. As I took my first swallow of what the bartender told me would “help me do math,” my whole body felt warm and numb and tingling and painless — all at the same time.

Then I saw a familiar face across the room. As I stood up to go speak to this friend, I awakened. I woke to the familiar back pain that has plagued me for the past month. It’s the most recent of my health troubles. I’ll refrain from cataloging my recent ailments, but the irritating illnesses that have annoyed and hindered me for the past 2 months is why I’m 1,000 miles from home right now.

There isn’t much I can do here: play with my granddaughter, talk to my daughter and son-in-law, cook a little, wash some dishes, and take contemplative walks; lots of walks. Several miles a day (at my slow pace) gives me plenty of privacy for meditation. It’s quite a mix of positive and negative realizations that have come to me.

I’m so blessed. It seems in a way that my whole life has been an enchanted one. Yet, I also feel my own mortality and frailty as never before. There was a time when I could drive 100 mph and get nothing from it but a thrill and a smile. Now, though I’m only 48, I take slow almost suffering steps and watch for every uneven place on the sidewalk (to avoid jolting my sore back). Most any movement takes forethought and at least a little planning.

Aware that, my problems are small really — they’re still mine.

Reality check:

There are people who have no job. I’ve got a job that I would love to keep for another 52 years.

Some people want children and can have none. I have 4 beautiful children who seem to love Jesus as I do, and who have much potential for very bright futures.

I have friends who have buried a spouse, and others who have endured failed marriages. I’m 26 years into a honeymoon with a woman I wouldn’t want to trade for any other lady in the world.

I’ll stop with the enumeration of the providential blessings with which I’ve been graced. It just needed to be said that I’m not looking to start a pity party for myself. It seems to me that most men in the world—in fact most men in history—should be jealous of my lot in life.

Still, I find myself sad and afraid. Grateful and with many cheerful moments for sure, but tempered with angst and frustration too.

November 6th I “preached” 3 messages that went about as well as you might expect a man’s first attempt to tame a horse would go. Never-mind the failure of that day in my effort to be used of God to bless others, my inability to think clearly remained after that day passed.

There has been plenty of “down-time” since November 6th — time for me to contemplate the significance of this experience. As a man who struggles naturally to have sympathy or empathy, it’s no surprise to me that God gives me experiences that cause me to consider how others must feel when they have to endure similar or worse inhibitions.

Hebrews 5:1-2 has been coming to my mind over and over. Read it for yourself, “Every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity.”

I’m no high priest, of course. “There is… one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1st Timothy 2:5). But I am a priest. So are you, if you are a child of God. He has called us all out of the world to be a kingdom of kings and priests for Himself. And, if we are to speak to men for God and to God for men, we have to be able to care and understand both. At least in part.

At the beginning of this meandering confession I admitted that I’m at God’s mercy when it comes to understanding anyone other than myself. I should add that I need His grace to understand myself as well. Humans often think and act in ways that are deeply self-deceptive and in ways that reveal a profound ignorance concerning our own nature. I’m no exception. So, as a priest of the Most High God who has been given the ministry of reconciliation, I’m absolutely dependent upon God’s grace for me to know or communicate anything true about the ways of the Divine. This problem is solved (of course) through the instrument of the Scripture and through the indwelling presence of the 3rd person of the Godhead, the blessed Holy Spirit.

But back to the problem of communicating on the level with the suffering creations who walk the road along with me; how does God’s grace solve the problem of human narcissism? How does He teach us to care and understand? The answer is not pleasant. He puts us through suffering. If you prefer, He allows us to endure suffering. Either way it is framed, the result is the same.

So, I once was young and strong and sharp and busy. Now I feel old and weak and dull and useless, at least in my current circumstance.

I used to play basketball — until I tore both of my Achilles tendons.

I used to do pushups by the dozens - now my left shoulder hurts so badly that when I try to do pushups, by the second or third one I can’t even hold my posture correctly enough to call the result a true pushup.

I used to run 3 to 6 miles a day - but my knees started popping and cracking like I had glass in my joints, and I realized that if I kept running I might hasten losing my ability to walk.

I have brought down trees that were 3 - 4 feet thick by myself sawed and also chopped them into firewood. Currently the idea of swinging an axe or bending over to gather an armload of firewood simply makes me shake my head in bewilderment and exasperation. Today I wore a back-brace all day, and sat on a pillow when I did sit. Anymore I almost never sit without a lumbar pillow behind my back. I even had to tell my 3 year old granddaughter this morning that Pop couldn’t pick her up today.

It seems that the list of things I can’t do is outpacing the list of things I can do. I’m not bitter. I am sad. But my sadness is not only for myself, it is for those who I can’t serve (as I have in the past). My sadness is for those who I have to depend on to help me out and who are filling in the gaps. AND, it is for those many others who also have to live with various disabilities and inhibitions.

There was a time when I had little or no sympathy for people’s “supposed” allergy problems (as I saw them as minor annoyances) — that is until I was overcome with my own allergic reactions and had to start getting 2 shots every week and take twice the recommended dose of antihistamines every day just for maintenance. After 8 years of this, I see people’s allergy problems differently. Now I want to do everything I can to accommodate them and their needs. I understand the fear and frustration.

There was a time when I had little sympathy for those who had back problems or who claimed to have debilitating headaches. But since experiencing both with enough severity to cripple me temporarily mentally and emotionally (in addition to the physical limitations brought on by the pain), now I pay attention when someone mentions back trouble or having a headache.

There was a time when I could just take headache powders and push through, but because my kidney function got down into the 50s a couple of years ago, there are certain pain medications that I’m not supposed to take any more. And, Acetaminophen is not nearly as effective as the medicines I took before — at least not for me.

Even social occasions have become absurdly ridiculous for me. Being allergic to dogs and cats, there are places that I just can’t go. Being allergic to pork and beef, there are things that I just can’t eat. Being highly sensitive to dust mites and mold, there are situations where I simply can’t stay. There are just too many “normal” things that I can’t do.

It’s not all tragedy. It’s also ironically humorous. No orange juice - my digestive system turns it into something highly unpleasant. Even though I LOVE Dr. Pepper; no soda for me. One serving starts the echos of the same pain I had when I had kidney stones some 20 years ago. No sugary drinks and no seconds at meals unless I want the return of the frequent chest pains that I had back when I weighed around 250 lbs. So, the man who loves just about every kind of food and used to make sure that no food ever went in the trash often feeds perfectly good food to the dog or else literally just rakes it in the trash to avoid temptation.

And now, almost 1 1/2 hours after I started this entry, I lie here wondering if I will sleep at all tonight. There was a time when I had no trouble sleeping… ever. But, now my racing thoughts keep me up and alert when I should be resting. And I think of how tomorrow, when the sun is shining and I should be out in it, I’ll probably be sleepy then.

Of course. Why not?

But why? Probably so that when some friend or family member or stranger mentions to me (in the future) that they had trouble sleeping, I won’t brush it off as something small and irrelevant, but will instead express sincere compassion and will show genuine patience. Unfortunately there are no short cuts to learning these lessons. Even the conscientious law-keeper who does and says the right things almost instinctively when confronted with the problems of others; yes, even that person needs to endure hardships in order to truly understand and care the way Jesus cares.

Jesus was tempted in all ways as we are and is therefore touched by the feelings of our infirmities. If that journey was essential for the lovely Lord Jesus, surely it is that much more needful for us. We have to suffer so that we will pray for those who are out of the way (as the author of Hebrews expressed it) and so that as we speak to God for them and on their behalf, we will speak from the heart as true priests, understanding the difficult plight of our fellowmen.

I wish there was another way. I don’t believe there is.


Author’s note: I did sleep well after I had finished writing, and my health and strength have returned now. Praise God. Naturally, my brain is still a work in progress — but, that’s nothing new.

Keep smiling! And, let's all count our blessings.

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