Monday afternoon as we left the hospital I was angry. I was angry that my daughter had to endure another infusion treatment for her Crohn’s Disease – 4 hours hooked up to an IV of God knows what chemicals. I was angry that the infusions, the multiple prescriptions with their evil side effects, the diets, the therapy . . . NONE OF IT is working. I was angry to have just been told that she was going to have to go through her fourth colonoscopy/endoscopy in the 16 months since she was diagnosed. I was angry that she has missed the last month of school and, after getting a semester behind in the spring, looks like she’s going to have to withdraw from her current school so she can go on some kind of home instruction. I was angry that it looks like she is going to have to drop out of the school play, her passion, in which she had earned one of the leads.
And I was angry about more mundane things that get amplified in the midst of other crap. I was angry I had to drive out of the city in rush hour traffic. I was angry that I was going to have to miss two more days of work to take her to appointments, and get farther behind on church stuff, where I feel like I’m just barely keeping my head above water.
And I was angry that God just didn’t seem to be hearing my prayers, at least not in the way I would like, whether they were delivered silently from my knees or shouted in the privacy of my car (or once in the church . . . glad no one came in).
Most of all, I was angry because there is nothing or no one I love more than my daughter, and watching her suffer and lose most of what is important in her life at 16 is breaking my heart.
I’ve taught and been taught that the root of anger is unexpressed pain. Now that I’m the angry one that just pisses me off more. It’s not my pain that’s the issue, it’s my daughter’s. I need to just handle my stuff (remember, those who can’t do, teach).
So as I drove up out of the subterranean hospital parking garage, I was not in a good place emotionally or spiritually. My daughter slumped in the front seat, exhausted from the infusion and the medications that accompany it. I pulled up to the parking attendant’s booth. Of course I had trouble getting my wallet out of my pocket. I put down my window.
That’s when I heard the parking attendant.
I looked up and saw a normal-looking African-American dude in a parking company uniform, sitting there in the little booth. But his words and his manner were not what you normally expect at the parking garage. His gentle countenance matched the soothing tenor of his voice.
“Hello, friend,” he had said. Like he meant it.
God help me but I almost laughed out loud.
I gave him a twenty for the $7 charge, and he counted out the change.
“There you go, friend. Have a wonderful day.” He smiled. It wasn’t the fake customer-service smile you get at the Taco Bell or the Kmart. His entire face – his very being – smiled, not just his mouth.
I couldn’t help but smile back. “You have a blessed day yourself.”
And I drove up the ramp and out into the light. My daughter and I exchanged one of those looks that convey real meaning between people who know and love each other. This one said, “That was weird. But pretty cool, too.”
She fell asleep and I drove home listening to the Clash and the Smiths and other good angry music on the Sirius First Wave channel. But I felt lighter somehow, and it certainly wasn’t The Clash.
We had encountered an angel. Not the other-worldly Gabriel kind of angel or the fanciful winged Hallmark cherub kind. The angel we had met there in the parking garage booth was an angelos – Greek for “Messenger” – of the most real variety. His “Hello, friend” and “There you go, friend” and his warmth were unexpected grace on a day when I was having trouble experiencing any grace at all . . . when I was having trouble experiencing God at all.
Once there was a man who jumped to his death from the Golden Gate Bridge. When police searched his home, they found a note that said: “I’m going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I won’t jump.”
I guess no one smiled.
Now, I wasn’t close to jumping off any bridges on Monday. But I thank God for that angel in the parking garage booth who called me “friend.”
Jesus said to his disciples – both the ones 2000 years ago and all of us who follow Him since, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”
I have preached and counseled other folks many times about how God can handle our anger. About how God can handle our questions and our doubts and our fears. And about God’s promise in Romans that NOTHING can separate us from the love of God.
I need to listen to my own preaching.
I need to listen to the voice of that angel in the parking garage and remember that, in and through Jesus Christ, God has said to me, “Hello friend.”