The Pastor’s Pen – April 15, 2018

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‘…thief in the night…opioid addiction’

April 15, 2018

Scripture: Matthew 11:25-30

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

 

In a recent article in Time Magazine as well as listed on numerous government and private websites one can find the following:

FACT: No one is immune from opiate addiction…for opioids are no respecter of status, privilege, age, sex, occupation, or socioeconomic status.  It is not just the poor or unfortunate among us…absolutely everyone has been affected by this epidemic that is raging all around us…

FACT: In 2016 nearly 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, roughly as many as were lost in Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined…all in one year…

FACT: The average life expectancy in the United States declined in both 2015 and 2016…

FACT: more than 122 people die every day from heroin, fentanyl, and oxycodone…far more than that come close but are revived with first responders administering Narcan or naloxone, a life-saving antidote…

FACT: Opioids are a class of drugs that include heroin as well as commonly prescribed pain-killers including oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl, and others…

FACT: Opioid use tends to increase as the body adjusts to its effect and more and more opioids are required to achieve the same feeling of painlessness and euphoria…

FACT: Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States…

FACT: In 2012, over 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids, which is more than enough to give every American adult their own bottle of pills…

 

I didn’t know her at all before we went on the trip.  For several years we had been taking our church youth group on annual mission trips to serve unfortunate and needy folks in communities all across the Northeast and this trip, all the way out to Lansing, Michigan was really the first chance I had to get to meet her.  At first she was quiet and kept pretty much to herself as she watched and listened to the group of kids who had spent many days and hours together.  She was new and unsure of if, or how, she fit in with this bunch of church kids.  And as we traveled up through Niagara Falls and over across Canada and down into Michigan, she slowly began to open up and find her own voice and personality.

But it wasn’t until we got to the school where we would be staying in Lansing that her true colors and delightful personality began to reveal itself.  Soon after we arrived and while we were waiting for all the other churches and kids to arrive we relaxed on the lawn and rested while some of the kids began to play with a football we had brought along. And I don’t think I had ever seen a more rambunctious and fun loving one as this new one…and not only could she throw a ball but she was every bit as competitive and fearless as any of the rest.  And she began to work her way into my heart as only a daughter I never had could.  She was bright, fun, and one who could always make you smile.

But she was also full of mischievousness as we soon found out!  Pairing up with Erin Becker, and supposedly under the night time supervision of Irene Wood, I didn’t find out until the next morning how the two girls had somehow managed to sneak out of their rooms and get together with a bunch kids from other churches along with a hose and sprinkler left out somewhere by someone.  And so, as it was, quite late that first night Irene and the other female youth leaders had to deal with this first of many harmless, fun, and sometimes annoying incidents.  But oh did we love her spirit, her love of life, the joy that radiated from deep within her soul.

And the years went by, and decisions were made…some good and some not so good…and as all the kids grew older and began to drift away from the church we began to lose touch and our trips and time spent together became fond if not bittersweet memories.  And due to all manner of factors, most of which were unavoidable, and some of which were so unfortunate this delight of a child grew into a troubled older teenager who began to experiment with things most harmful.

And many were the times we tried to intervene, many were the prayers and pleas sent out on the part of those who loved her so, but the die seemed cast, the road seemed selected, and more than one of us threw up our hands and felt compelled to just ‘give it up to God’, whatever that means.  And then there was a faint glimmer of hope as she sought out real help and spent time in and out of drug rehab…always helping others who were in there for the same reasons, and always well-loved by those who were battling along beside her.

And those who had given up hope allowed themselves to begin to hope just a little once more.  She was older now, and a little less joyful, but still devoted to those of us who had first found her on that school lawn in Lansing throwing pin-point spiral passes.

And then…the morning of the tragic phone call came…she had been released from rehab and was seemingly finally on track to pick up the responsibilities of caring for her newborn child and making her way forward in life when she had that one last hit of heroin that was one too many.  She knew as soon as she had taken it and cried profusely as she sobbed her apologies to her grandfather who held his dying granddaughter in his arms…the deepest sense of sadness, regret, and hopelessness descending over him like a cloud that would never lift.

And many were those who cried as well, as I so sadly presided over the funeral of this one I had loved as one of my own.  And each one of us there I am sure searched within our own hearts for understanding as well as forgiveness for not doing more, for not watching more closely, or doing something, anything that would have prevented us from the dark sadness of that moment.

Christine Spinney is one I shall never forget…as well as one to whom I am forever indebted to for bringing me face to face with the harsh realities and possible costs of loving as our Lord loves us.  And I give thanks as well that her death forced me to take closer notice, to be far more vigilant, and far more careful when hearing the slightest whisper of distress or need…

Our Lord tells us to come to him…whenever we are troubled or carrying burdens that are heavy…for it is in his embrace…in the arms of love and the comfort of the abiding presence of his Spirit that we can find some semblance of rest.  Our Lord tells us to take the yoke he has fashioned for us…the one that fits us so perfectly that we hardly know it is there…the one that best takes advantage of our own unique strengths, gifts, passions, and abilities.  And he tells us to put it on, and then to turn to him in order to learn from him.  He asks that we receive his instruction in how to live our lives in such a way that we look like him, that we sound like him, that we act like him in every circumstance into which the Spirit leads us.  For it is in taking on his yoke and offering up our lives in the service of his love that we are able to realize the full import of the work that lies before us as well as the urgency of his heart in reaching out to these who so need to again find hope in the healing power of God’s love.

The epidemic that is ravaging our homes, our neighborhoods, and our communities across America shows no signs of abating in the near future.  Children, adults, friends, and strangers will continue to die all around us.  But in those instances where we are blessed, both as individuals and as the church gathered to be engaged with a brother or sister in need let us never draw back in fear or timidity…for the strength and healing energy that accompanies our acts of prayerful compassion and sacrifice on their behalf comes not from within ourselves, but rather directly from our God of Grace and Love.

Let us never fail to be the brother or sister to one in need whenever the Spirit allows us to hear their cry…

…amen

 

 

“FACT” References taken from: TIME Magazine March 5, 2018, ASAM – American Society of Addiction Medicine – Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts and Figures

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

 

One response to “The Pastor’s Pen – April 15, 2018

  1. Pingback: Third Sunday Lord’s Table – April 2018 | Patterson Community Church·

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