Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Water, in Jesus' Name

It has been a long day. Wednesday during the school year is my busiest day of the week, with the day filled from first thing in the morning until well past early evening. Today, for example, I was up early enough to get myself ready before the kids assail our two bathrooms getting ready for school. Claudia is out of town on a fairly extensive series of training and speaking events, so I do my part in transporting kids to school and then I'm in the office by 7:30 AM. I meet with one of our new staff members to begin work on his ninety-day ministry plan, transition in five minutes to our regular staff meeting, followed by a brief lunch and a second early afternoon meeting.

It is now mid-afternoon, and I am receiving texts from three of our children with specific requests they have in mind. At 3:00 our son Mike (20), who is living semi-independenty stops by the office to talk about how we can assist him financially in purchasing a winter coat. After our discussion I transport him to a friend's car across town and come home to take care of tasks that have accumulated throughout the intervening hours. I take three of our kids to a store so they can buy what they need and return home to provide some emotional stability for our second youngest son, Dominyk (13), who is more agitated than usual tonight. By 5:30 we are heading to church for Wednesday evening dinner, followed by music practices and confirmation (a class which I instruct). By 8:00 it's time to exit church and head for the local grocery store to purchase items for tomorrow's Clergy Day Apart, a gathering of area United Methodist clergy once a month, hosted at our church. I have three of my kids with me, and I enjoy spending purposeful time with them. We arrive home, I check in with those who have been home already for some time and enter my bedroom, where I sit at my desk to check late-arriving emails and await my wife's arrival online so we can chat for a few minutes before bed.

She appears, we exchange pleasantries and synopses of our days, and then she asks if I've heard anything from our newest "son." This "son" appeared at our house sometime about a year ago, a friend of our three ninth grade boys. It wasn't long before he was staying regularly on weekends, and then nearly every night. Finally he just stopped going home and made our home his. We told him he was welcome to stay here, but that he would have family responsibilities like anyone else, that it had to be OK with his mother, and that he had to keep in regular contact with her. We want to be supportive of him, but not disruptive of his family origins. It has really been an interesting series of months, and Claudia and I have noticed no negative difference in our family as a result of his presence. He is one of ours.

Recently he contracted a cough (which has been spreading throughout our family and elsewhere) and became quite ill. He asked to go to his step-dad's house (where his mother and a couple of half-siblings live), and I transported him there on Monday night. I realized then that he must be quite sick to ask to return home. In the meantime he has seen a doctor and received a prescription.

When I asked our kids on Tuesday if they had heard from him, they said, "He went to the doctor, but they don't have any insurance, and his mom doesn't have money to buy the medication." I must confess I was rather uncharitable in that moment, probably saying more than I should have, something to the effect of, "Well, if his mom's husband has enough money to drink a six-pack every night, there should be enough money to buy a sick kid medication." I didn't belabor the point, though, and didn't want to demonize his family in front of my kids, so I said nothing more.

So, Claudia asks me, "Have you heard how XXXXX is doing?" I said, "No." The last we had heard is that basically he was still very sick, but had no medication to take. Contrary to my reclusive character, I picked up my iPhone and texted him, asking him if he was still sick and if he had his prescription filled.

At first I received no text back, so I continued with my online conversation with Claudia. Ten minutes later an apology appeared, "Sorry I was sleeping." So I asked him again ... and in a series of text messages discovered that nothing had changed. He was still very sick but did not have the money for the prescription. I determined from him where the prescription had been electronically delivered, and asked him to be ready in ten minutes.

I'll have to admit that I was not necessarily thinking to myself, "This is what I need to do because I am a Christian." I was thinking rather ignoble thoughts about his legal caretakers, and wondering how it is that he had become one of my children over the course of the past four or five months. This is one of my kids, I thought to myself, and there is no way in hell I am going to let him suffer through an excruciating cough, fever and symptoms of H1N1 without doing something about it.

And then I was startled by his next text: "But can you get a water first? That would be great." What? I paused. I glanced at the text frame on my iPhone. What was the source of that request? It was almost as though the gospel text affirmed my intention to do the right thing. A "cup of water, offered in Jesus' name." I assured him I would buy him some water when we picked up his meds.

At 10:30 PM I was pulling into the mobile home park where his family lives, where he sat on the steps awaiting my arrival in the dark. As he ambled over to the car I could hear his wracking cough, and as he opened the door and sat down I inquired, "Como estas?" (he is Hispanic and bilingual). "About the same" was his linguistically tortured response. Our drive to Walgreen's was a quiet one. My son Ricardo (16) was with us (I thought XXXX would be more comfortable with one of his friends along with me), and we drove in contented silence.

As we entered the store I asked mijo ("my son" in Spanish) if he had picked up a prescription before. I could tell by the look on his face that he had probably never done this before, so I led him through the process. I greeted the pharmacist who glanced at my middle-aged, graying-around-the-temples caucasian form and the two young Hispanic men with me. I indicated as discreetly as I could that I would be paying for the prescription, and confirmed that there was no insurance. The pharmacist instructed XXXX as to the dosages and frequency of administration. As promised, we walked to the open cooler and I asked XXXXX to pick out several drinks to take with him. In addition we purchased some ibuprofen and cough drops.

In the car I went through dosage instructions once again, handed him the two pills he would need to take right away, and reminded him that he needed to take one per day afterwards. He nodded his understanding. Minutes later we were back at his step-father's mobile home, and as he opened the door to leave I reminded him that I would text him tomorrow to check in with him, and that we wanted him well again because we missed him at our home. His muted "thanks" were acknowledged, as he stepped back into the shadows of a cool, late September night, going "home" again, but not really.

By the time I returned home XXXX had texted again to tell me he had taken his medications, and wanting to make sure he knew when to take the next dosage. I confirmed the directions and told him to get well soon.

You know, it's a strange world we live in when a $70 prescription, three bottled waters, two bags of cough drops and one bottle of ibuprofen offered in Jesus' name late on a fall night cures more than flu-like symptoms. And I'm not talking about "mijo." I'm talking about myself.