Tuesday, December 28, 2010

31st day in the hospital

Here's a report from my brother, Kent, after today's procedure:

Today was a good day for Stan. His procedure went well without any
serious mishaps. The doc who did the work was a technical genius. Time
will tell regarding how much it will help his condition. For me, I have
high hopes that he will experience substantial improvement.

Kent is the most cautious in his reports...I'm a bit too positive. Here's my additional comments:

They were able to find two veins leading to the esophagus which they believe are causing the high pressure and resulting aneurysms in my esophagus. They tied those veins as they did the vein that they believed was most dangerous around the bile duct. Took 5 1/2 hours but seems well worth it.

Ok you have to hear this exchange between me and the recovery room docs. I had just gotten into the recovery room and opened my eyes for the first time and saw a half dozen anxiety ridden faces peering down at me. They ask almost in unison, "Do you have pain?" Lacking my normal inhibitions, I starting laughing uncontrollably and couldn't stop. Finally, "Pain? You've been literally digging around in my liver for 5 1/2 hours, I have an unhealed wound to my liver from the last procedure...Pain? Yes, I have nothing but pain. Not a smile from these docs. Me: "Is this an irony free zone or something...doesn't anyone see the irony of your question? (me laughing and them blank stares.) I went on, "There's not a spot on my body that doesn't have pain and if I had one, I wouldn"t tell you where it is because you'd go right there and do a procedure. Yes, I'm in excruciating pain." Still not a smile. Wow! very tough crowd. I'm still laughing about it. I hope that when they get home and are brushing their teeth they finally get it, "Oh yeah, that was irony, we don't get much irony in these parts." (line from movie - can't remember.) I hope you are laughing with me. You are aren't you??? uh oh.

Comments overheard from the nurse's station (directly across from my room.)

1. "Mr. Thornburg is writing again. I wonder what this is about. (I've shared some articles I'm working on..."Honesty vs truthfulness", "How do we create a safe environment so our young children feel free to ask us anything - a working title" - article includes some of your comments, "Unconditional Compassion" - the article about Andy from my first ICU experience -, "A Quaker Experience of Advent" - kindly edited by Jon Holt Friends Journal to publish it next year, Untitled article on spiritual transformation, etc.

2. "What do Quakers believe, anyway? Are they Christians? Whose Got the guts to ask him?" Carl got the short straw on that one.

3. "I can't tell if he's sleeping or praying...how do you know.?" Chad's answer, "If there are several pages of the letter K across his screen...he's sleeping." (Lots of laughter)

4. I think he's a Mennonite.

5. He rides his bike to the wineries. (what I actually said was that I like to ride in wine country because of the beautiful vineyards.... really.)

Ok, enough of this Tom foolery. G'night


Sunday, December 26, 2010

21st day in hospital

I was pretty down last evening and this morning. I began to question the value of my little conversations up here - how petty and insignificant they seemed. Then two things happened to lift my spirits again. First, a young woman walked in to my room today - she is a woman I have seen every day I have spent in ICU in every hospitalization - I have always said "Hello, good to see you," but she had never made eye contact or spoken back to me - she just restocks the medical supplies and walks out - OK, today she saw me and broke into a big smile and said, "Stan, how great to see you!" - she was literally beaming. I said, "Nice to see you too, but I'm sorry you have never spoken to me so I don't even know your name." She ignored my statement and said, "I love coming in the rooms where you are because it always feels good and I feel loved." I was speechless. Then after putting her supplies away, she said, "What kind of Christian are you anyway." I didn't even know she knew I was a Christian. I ask, "What do you mean, what kind of Christian; if you are asking what denomination I am I'm Quaker." She introduced herself and then proceeded to tell me a version of her life story and some of the places she is struggling. We talked for almost a half hour before she left.

I quickly saw that Jesus was undermining my little self pity party, and I began to regain my sense of mission and call that I know is solid no matter what the circumstances. Then later today Steve Fawver (pastor at NVFC) posted some quotes from Evelyn Underhill (wonderful chrstian writer and woman of great power in prayer). Here's the part of his post that so moved me.

"The Church is in the world to save the world. It is a tool of God for that purpose. Every one of its members is required, in one way or another, to co-operate with the Spirit in working for that great end: and much of this work will be done in secret and invisible ways. We are transmitters as well as receivers. Our contemplations and our actions, our humble self-opening to God, keeping ourselves sensitive to his music and light, and our generous self-opening to our fellow creatures, keeping oursleves sensitive to their needs, ought to form one life: mediating between God and his world, and bringing the saving power of the Eternal into time"

This reminded me that my delight is to open myself to others, keeping their needs in mind and seeing myself as a mediator between them and the divine. What calling could be more of an honor than that? Then my mind flashed to that wonderful passage in 2 Cor. 2

14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?

"OH God, may I be the aroma of life through you while I am held captive here by my own body." A few days ago I proclaimed triumphantly that Jesus is always here. Always. That is so true, but its true that Jesus is always here for everyone, not just me...for this woman with all her struggles...for my roommate who was dying of aids...for everyone. And the witness (aroma) of Jesus is obvious whether we speak or not. It is not us who are charged with saving the world but Christ in us. Cool eh?

Thanks be to God for God's wonderful grace and power...for God's relentless pursuit of the heart and soul of every living being...for the Divine Light by which we order our worship, or business, our ministry, our very lives.

Monday, December 20, 2010

8th Day in Hospital

God is really blessing my time here. Like last stay, I am having many opportunities for deep, spiritual conversations. Its uncanny. I wish they came this often and easily in the real world. Several of the folks who I spoke with during my last stay have heard I am here again and have dropped in, including the Buddhist nurse who taught me so much about compassion. I spend a good time of the day wiping tears of joy from my eyes because of God's obvious deep work in the lives of folks with whom I talk. I really like that about God. God seems to know that the only way I can faithfully live out my faith in the midst of these discouraging circumstances is to be involved in ministry and have to depend on the Spirit for guidance and discernment. God gives me new eyes through which I can see (like "the condition of all people." I get a glimpse into their hearts and seem to know where their longing lies. It's just a wonderful experience...all God's doing.

7th day in Hospital

Today I was making my “laps” around ICU, pushing an IV pole ahead of me, when I passed a room and heard the sweet words of Scripture being read, words from Psalms 96:
1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam etc.
That passage was followed by these words from Psalm 121
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The LORD watches over you—
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
I froze in my tracks as the words of those Psalms washed over me, bringing such a rush of joy and gratefulness. Obviously, the man to whom the words were addressed was in a coma and his family and friends had gathered to minister to him just in case he could “hear” them from that distant place in his soul. Shortly after the reading ceased, the family began to sing these wonderful old hymns that for many of us carry rich memories and deep meaning. The words from “Blessed Assurance”,” Rock of Ages”, “Tell me the Old, Old, Story” etc. wafted from their room into the hallway where I was held captive, drinking them in to my own soul, and feeling their healing effect on my own despair.
I know I was just a bystander, but it seemed as though those hymns and Psalms were meant for me and that somehow God had guided my steps to be at the door of that particular room at that particular time. I walked on with a sense of praise and joy and new hope, knowing that the One who inspired those instruments of worship was the same One to whom I had given my life, and the One in whose hands I have placed all my hopes and dreams.

16th Day in Hospital

Something very profound happened last Wednesday when I was on the operating table, ready to have a much anticipated procedure and heard the Dr. say, "I can't do this; there's too much fluid in his abdomen." I was crushed with disappointment, almost to the point of tears. But then almost as if he had appeared in person, I was aware that Jesus was there. Jesus was there and it made all the difference. I know It’s nothing new or profound to say that Jesus was there but, for me at least, it is an entirely new and profound experience of Jesus. I have always believed and given testimony to the fact that Jesus is always with us; its one of the bedrock beliefs sustaining Christian hope and engendering courage to be faithful. But I have to say that God has moved me to a far deeper experience of Jesus' presence than I had even imagine existed. And that presence brings with it such profound peace and deep joy that one can hardly contain oneself.

In the deep disappointment after the procedure was canceled, Jesus was there; I was not alone. Addressing the feelings of anger at the staff's oversight that left me with a bellyful of fluid, was Jesus - forgiving, loving, reaching out to them in their embarrassment and regret. Jesus' response to them translated into my own feelings of compassion and empathy for them.
Jesus' promise in Matt. 28 "And surely I am with you always, even to the end of the world," has become a tangible reality in these days as have the many promises in John that Jesus will never leave us alone. So, if you are still reading, I'd like to just give testimony to what we all know is true, but sometimes in the chaos of everyday life, lose sight of: Jesus is always there. Always! Jesus is always there. Whether one as been faithful or unfaithful, Jesus is there. Whether one is full of praise or anger at God, Jesus is there. When the doctor gives the scary prognosis, Jesus is there. When the letter from the IRS comes demanding money, Jesus is there. When the notice of foreclosure is given, Jesus is there. When the police call with tragic news, Jesus is there. In the midst of conflict with a co-worker, Jesus is there. When relations break down in a family, Jesus is there. When one feels bitter regret, Jesus is there. When one cannot forgive, Jesus is there. In the heat of temptation, Jesus is there. Jesus is always there - always - always. In times of conflict among one's faith community, Jesus is there. In a frustrating meeting for business, Jesus is there. When one is at a loss as to what to do next, Jesus is there. And, more easily believed, Jesus is there in all the good times as well. Jesus is always there. Always.

I'm sure I have said nothing new, but I felt compelled to share this new sense of Jesus' presence with you. If you are discouraged, be heartened, Jesus is there. If you are afraid, Jesus is there. If you are filled with joy, Jesus is there. If you feel abandoned, Jesus is there. If you are brokenhearted, Jesus is there. Always.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Advent, in the Manner Of Friends (Quakers)

Advent, In the Manner of Friends

The celebration of Advent by Quakers (mostly pastoral meetings) is a comparatively recent departure from Friends' traditional avoidance of the rites, liturgies, and language marked by the Liturgical Calendar. This tension between non-liturgical and liturgical expressions makes us ask if there is a way to think about this wonderful season that is uniquely Quaker and that draws upon Friends faith and spiritual practice.

I have a suggestion as to how this might look for Friends. The following article tries to articulate that suggestion by starting with a personal story and then winding its way via the Friends practice of “Speaking Truth to one's condition” to a newly formed understanding of Advent. You are invited to follow this labyrinth from its beginning to its climax in hopes that you will also discover a new way to rejoice in the ongoing miracle of Truth becoming flesh.

I'm alive to write this because a liver specialist listened to me. After he had listened just a few minutes, he called an ambulance without consulting me, and procured the immediate care I needed. Did he listen because he cared about me? Maybe a little, but he listened mostly because he cared about my brother, Kent – a respected colleague – and he knew Kent cared for me. Kent had asked him to listen to me because Kent loves me deeply, profoundly, unconditionally. The physician had the skill and insight to see my condition and “spoke to my condition” in that phone call.

Isn't that how the Kingdom is supposed to work? It is a chain of caring beginning with Jesus' love for us – a love that draws us into a deep love relationship. In turn we care about others even though they are relative strangers because we know Jesus loves them deeply, profoundly, unconditionally; we care about them because we want to care about those whom Jesus loves. So we listen to others and care for them on behalf of Jesus. Because Jesus' love for us is deep, we listen to others with all our hearts. We listen past their sometimes obnoxious exterior; we listen past their shallow ramblings, or their political narrowness; we listen past their masks; we listen through their anger, hurt and resentment, as well as their joy; we listen until we get a sense of their hearts; we listen until we, in George Fox's words, “know their condition.”

Then we "speak to their condition." This may or may not mean that we address their condition directly, it may or may not mean that we share profound insights regarding their lives, but it always means that we speak in response to their condition, and that we speak words insinuated to us by revelation not by cognition. We have no words of our own, just words engendered by Love, words that speak truth and love into their very souls. It may be true that we don't speak directly to them at all, perhaps we just call an ambulance. Perhaps we speak on their behalf to some oppressor or someone who, with cruel intent, has spoken razor blade words meant to shame, belittle, or crush them. We may speak directly to their flagging spirits in discouragement, to their despair in great loss, to their paralysis in great fear, to their ego in its lost esteem, and/or to their souls in their seeking. This is the work that God asks of us as our part of God's mission.

This Truth spoken is not fashioned from our theological formulations, it is formed in the heart of God in much the same way as we were formed in our mother's womb. We give birth to it through our obedient speaking, and the Truth becomes a living thing. It is Advent, the coming, it is the Word incarnate – Christ with us – born of God – in the speaking of Truth.

Advent celebrates the birth of Truth in the form of a living being – Jesus. It is a joyous remembering of the greatest event in human history. But to leave the celebration there, is both to miss the point and, even worse, to miss the joy of sharing in a new Advent born of our obedient delivery of the Living Truth spawned by God and spoken in Love. It is a saving, healing,Truth. It is Truth that, having been born in our speaking, becomes flesh and Like the “Word” in John's prologue, shines into the darkness, and the darkness can neither comprehend it nor overcome it.

Rejoice, for unto us, a savior is born...again...and again...and again.

Friday, July 30, 2010


I was looking away, not paying any attention to my soul, my self of myself, my being of my being. I had always been looking away. Then, unannounced, it washed over me like a sweet and cleansing tide, sweeping away all that had accumulated to bury my center and hide my soul.


Such peace, such joy, such freedom - engulfed by Grace and Truth so deep and so instantly transforming-unmistakably a movement of Divine love.

How wrong I had been about who I was, why I was or wasn't loved, and what it would take to see again. How freeing to lose sight of theological formulae and myths about good and evil dealing in blood to buy my soul.

Without encumbering belief,without a priest or Shaman, without confession, without a prescribed explanation, it came on its own from some deep place of love, directly to my soul. This cleansing, this release, defied the word packed emasculation of Divine purpose and came uninvited, undeserved, and of its own accord.

How arrogant to have believed it could be owned, understood, controlled, dispensed, or shaped it into the shape of belief. How naive to have believed it could be known how or when or to whom it comes.

It does not fall within the bounds of knowledge nor can it be parsed into planks of some far smaller sacred scheme. It is not made of stone, to be worshiped, coddled, or appeased by sacrifice. It is a living entity, active and powerful - a thriving part of the Divine Mystery.

It just is.

While I was looking away, it came. Before I could turn to look it full in the face, before I could register its presence, the source of the flood was gone. In its wake, though, is this new soul, this new heart now overflowing with gratitude that in itself is pure and without object. Indeed it is the unknowable truth that has set me free .

This is Redemption

Friday, February 26, 2010

Companions on the Lenten Journey

We’re heading to Jerusalem. We do it every year. You’d think we would learn. We know what awaits us, i.e. betrayal and crucifixion, death and darkness, suffering of all kinds. Even so, we choose this journey with joy and passion, with deep gratitude and awe, with a profound sense of mystery that surpasses our ability to understand, and an awareness of that great sacrifice – that firestorm of unimaginable love - that works our redemption and brings us face to face with the terrible holiness of the divine.

Easter mornings we rush to the grave and again and again stare in wonder at the empty tomb. We stand, mouths agape at this feat of supernatural strength, fueled by unconditional love, accomplishing what all the sacrifices, piety, prayers, and incense could not even broach. Our heads want to burst as we try to piece it together into some coherent message. Our hearts in turn want to burst as we try to entertain even the smallest notion of the love we
have just encountered. We stand helpless before it, we are unwitting victims of it, we can neither direct it nor control it though we try every theological parlor trick available to do so. Exhausted, we finally just let it go and allow it to be what it is…”For God so loved THE WORLD…”

“Oh God!” “Thank you for this awful and wonderful self-revelation.”

We are not alone on this journey. We are accompanied by hundreds of thousands of believers from every corner of the globe. We are not just sojourners we are brothers and sisters joined in solidarity for this great celebration. There is no distinction. There is no room for labels, for doctrinal snobbery, for claims of exclusivity. There is only room for gratitude for one another and joy at being part of such a great throng. We are marching to the Holy Mountain where God resides and Christ reigns. Our hearts long for justice, for peace, for healing, for a glimpse of
God’s unconditional love lived out among us.

Is this the vision of which Isaiah wrote?

“In the last days
the mountain of the Lord's temple will be established
as chief among the mountains;
it will be raised above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,
"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths."
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

Everyone is invited on this journey! It belongs to no one faith or sect. We will weather the betrayal, suffering, and sacrifice together. Come, join the throngs across our globe on this wonderful, terrible, trek. We will stand stunned into silence before the tomb. We will go crazy with celebration when death’s door makes way for resurrection power.

We will be forever changed.