Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Gail has seemed depressed lately and sort of detached. It makes sense that anyone in her situation has every right to feel depressed, and it makes sense that she is withdrawing within herself. But it just doesn't feel right.

I talked with her about it on Sunday and pointed out some odd behaviors which she hadn't noticed. She has done some research, and the medication that she has to take for gastropariesis has side effects of depression and anxiety (what's your choice, madam? nausea and throwing up, or depression and anxiety?).

So maybe that is the problem. Or maybe being on dialysis is taking too much of other drugs out of her system. Or maybe it's a menopausal thing. or maybe... or maybe...

It is so hard to tell what is going on.

And how much do doctors even know about drug interactions? And then throw dialysis into that mix. And then throw blood sugar ups and downs into it. Now try to figure it out!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Wrestling with the Angel

Here is what I said in church on August 5th.

In 30 plus years of singing in choirs, even when only a small percentage of that time has been in churches, you learn a lot of scripture. One of the things I love most is singing in Latin. I took Latin in high school, and I have always loved it. An appreciation of the Latin Mass is one of very few things that Pope Benedict and I agree on.

I’ve sung numerous masses and lots of other sacred texts. Every one of them has been different, and everyone has been beautiful, and they are often hard. Grappling with the music, really wrestling with it always rewards me with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the words themselves and how they speak to our deepest hopes and fears.

A few years ago, we were singing Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, a piece that is not for the faint- hearted. We were all working really hard on it, getting together outside of rehearsal, listening to recordings, studying at home on the piano. But it was just hard. The harmony is very unusual, so until everyone in the group knows their parts really well, it sounds just as weird when it is right as it does when it is wrong!

One day after we had been hammering on it in rehearsal, I was talking with some of the other singers, and we were sort of commiserating over how hard the piece was, and how discouraged we were, and I heard myself saying, “But, we’re wrestling with the angel!”

I’m not sure the other folks had any idea what I was talking about. But I knew exactly what I meant. We were wrestling with the angel, and when we were done, the angel would bless us. And that is exactly what happened. After all our hard work, we had the wonderful experience of seeing the strange wonderful structure of this music fit together perfectly. We did wrestle the angel, and it did bless us.

Gail read you the heart of Jacob’s story just now, and I’d like to tell you a little more about what was going on.

Jacob has an older twin brother named Esau. There is a prophecy that they will both sire nations, and that the nation of the older brother will be mighty and will be served by the nation of the younger brother. This sounds pretty darn good for Esau, the older brother, and pretty crummy for Jacob. So, Jacob tricks their father into giving him the blessing that should have been his brother’s. When Esau finds out, he is so furious that Jacob fears for his life and has to leave home.

Jacob is gone for twenty years, and he is finally coming home with his family and all his possessions. But he is afraid that Esau may still want to kill him and his family. As he gets nearer, he finds out that Esau is headed his way, and he has 400 men with him.

Jacob is terrified. He sends his family and servants on ahead, and he waits behind and prays.

This is probably the most frightening night of Jacob’s life. He is all alone. Esau may kill him tomorrow. Esau may kill his entire family. He may lose everything he has the next day.

That night, in the darkness, out of nowhere, a man attacks Jacob. The man jumps him and they wrestle all night long. As the morning approaches, the man realizes that he cannot overpower Jacob, and he wrenches Jacob’s hip at the socket. But Jacob still won’t let go; he keeps wrestling. His attacker gets desperate and says, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” By now, Jacob has realized that this is not an ordinary man, but an angel, and he answers him, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

The angel blesses him and tells him that his name is now Israel because he has struggled with god and with men and has overcome.

Jacob is reassured that God has heard his prayers, so when morning comes, he runs out ahead of his family to Esau, and bows very low and humbly to him. And Esau, the brother Jacob cheated twenty years ago, the man Jacob has feared all these years, this fierce man with four hundred soldiers at his command, Esau embraces Jacob and welcomes him home and back to his family.

Now, fortunately, I have never been jumped by a stranger and I have never been forced to wrestle till dawn.

But, nonetheless, I believe in wrestling with angels.

Every morning Gail and I battle to get ourselves out of bed so we can take our puppies for a walk. (you didn’t think that I would give this whole little talk without mentioning the puppies, did you?). And trust me, it is a battle every morning. But when we manage to get ourselves up and out, when we wrestle with that angel, that relatively small and innocuous angel, we are nonetheless blessed with calmer, quieter puppies, and we have such a good time with them. Our whole day is better when we manage to get ourselves up, when we wrestle with the angel of our own sleepy inertia.

Now there are lots of way bigger angels in the world who have jumped all of us in the dark of the night, and who wrestle with us when we are alone and terrified.

Gail and I, especially Gail, are wrestling with her kidney failure and her being on dialysis. Like Jacob, we are scared, we are tired, we don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow.

We wrestle with this angel every day and every night, every time she checks her blood sugar, every time I drive her to dialysis, and every time we go to sleep waiting for the transplant center to call, and every morning we wake up knowing that we have another day to get through.

But, I believe that if we keep wrestling, we will be ready when the phone finally does ring, and she gets her transplant.

Now, I don’t want you to think that I am all Pollyanna about this. The angel left his mark on Jacob when he wrenched his hip, and just like Jacob, we won’t get out of this wrestling match unscathed. This kidney thing has changed both of us forever. And rumor has it that getting a double organ transplant is no walk in the park.

We are all wrestling our own angels, big ones and small ones. Some of us are sick, and some of us love someone who is sick. Some of us are facing the challenges of a new job or a new school. Some of us are fighting poverty by working with COPA or visiting people in jail.

It can be tempting to give up in these battles, to surrender to our hopelessness or fear, to just turn over and go back to sleep instead of taking the pups for a walk. But the story of Jacob teaches us that if we wrestle with the angel, if we persevere, if we hang on through that long dark night, then we will be blessed. The story also teaches us that we won’t be alone forever. In the morning, like Jacob, we return to our lives, to our families and our communities, to the life that a loving God has given us.

My hope for all of you here today is that you will fight the good fight, that you will engage fully in your lives, that you will grapple with your challenges and stay the course.

May God give each of you everything you need to wrestle with your own angels, and may God bless you all.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Tahoe Catamaran

Tahoe Catamaran
Originally uploaded by gr8what
We were in Tahoe for a wedding, and Gail and I managed to take a few hours to ourselves to ride on a boat. Nothing makes her happier than being on a boat, so it was a very good thing.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Bad Day at Black Rock

Yesterday was a bad day for me at work. Then I was late getting to a rehearsal for this weekend's wedding. Then Gail was really late getting out of dialysis because her blood pressure was too low at the end.

I reminded myself that the worst day at work is still better than the best day at dialysis.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Who's tired?

I was at a Vision Team meeting a couple of nights ago, and in the circle, I said that Gail wasn't doing very well. She's getting tired and discouraged.

Which is true, but I think I was really saying that I am not doing well. I am tired. I am tired of her being tired, tired of having to make intricate transportation plans to get her home from dialysis, tired of her not carrying her share of household duties, tired of not being able to make plans to go anywhere.

Just tired. And a little weepy.

I remind myself that lots of people have much worse things happening in their lives, but that only helps a little. This is still where I am living, and it's hard.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Sermon Redux

I gave the sermon last Sunday, and I was pleased with how it went. I worked really hard on it, for between 7 and 10 hours probably. Gail helped me trim it down and give it a good ending.

Yesterday in the mail, I got a package that contained three copies of the sermon all laid out really nicely. One normal one, one in large print, and one translated into Spanish! They mail them to people who can't get to church and use them in Jail Ministry, etc. I had no idea that they did that with sermons. It is amazing how much more substantial it looked, all laid out and printed nice like that.

Last night, Grant called me to thank me for the sermon. The church mails it to his wife in the nursing home. He told me that they had given her a permanent that day, and that he was really "wrestling with the angel" to do that, and that the sermon had meant so much to him. And then I got an email from a woman I don't know, saying how much she appreciated it too.

This turned out to be a much more rewarding experience than I expected it to be.

Who knew?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Check-in with UCSF

We usually try to call UCSF at the beginning of each month to see where Gail is on the regional list. We managed to make it a conference call today, so I got to ask all my questions.

On the regional list, she is in the top few people in her blood type. She has been on the list since April 2005.

I never knew that whenever a donor is available, they do the genetic blood tests on EVERYBODY who is active on the list, all the way down.

He said the same thing he has said since she went on the list in November 2006. It could be any day, or it could be a couple of months.

He thinks it is unlikely that she would still be on dialysis by the end of the year, so that postpones the need for a fistula. I am glad about that. I really don't want her to have to have a fistula.

Of course the REALLY disappointing news is that he doesn't think they have WiFi in the hospital rooms. They have it across the street at the medical library tho, so that should work fine. I doubt they will bring me a chai in the library tho, dangit!


For the last couple of weeks, I have needed to pick Gail up at dialysis on Tuesdays and Thursdays. After fretting a good bit, I decided I could get by with a little help from my friends. So I sent an email out to the usual suspects, and asked if they could pick me up at work on one of the days and drive me to Watsonville to get Gail. As you would imagine, the response was whole-hearted and enthusiastic. I had five or six people to choose from for every day. I managed to schedule it so no one had to do it more than once. And I tried to give the people who drove me a nice jar of plum/strawberry jam to thank them.

It has been quite lovely, actually. It is always about 45 minutes transit time, and I rarely get 45 minutes to just chat with people. So I have enjoyed the drive itself.

I always invite people in to see Gail. I think she likes seeing them; it's boring sitting in the dialysis room. I also like for people to know where it is and how to get her, in case we ever need to ask them for help again. At the same time I want to demystify the dialysis process, I also want people to know that this is a serious and sort of dangerous activity. I want them to understand that this is more than just sitting in an easy chair reading a book or knitting for three hours. Their responses have been interesting to watch.

One friend said that she didn't need to go in again. She had picked Gail up before, and she finds it depressing. Not Gail...Gail is fine. But the other folks, who are much sicker than Gail. She didn't have a need to see them again.

Another couple of friends were real sports and came into the treatment room even though they are uncomfortable with medical stuff. They talked a few minutes, eyes wide, and then said they would go save us a table for dinner at an adjoining restaurant.

Another friend who has kidney failure in her family came in and sat and talked with Gail, and was interested in the process. Another one was talking and suddenly said with a start, "Oh wow, I just realised that that is Gail's blood going through there!"

I think it is a real gift that our friends are willing to share the reality of dialysis with us, even just for a brief visit.