Friday, June 19, 2020

Phone Calls

Do you hate phone calls in the middle of the night? Of course you do. But have you reviewed some of the history of the calls you have received? I did and found that although there has been stress, there has also been salvation.

“It’s for you, again,” said one of my fraternity brothers. It was another call at lunchtime from my father, just checking in with me. He called very regularly in my sophomore year in college. Why? I was failing academically, primarily because my priorities were wrong. I had chosen athletics and parties over scholastic achievement. I was getting to class, but not necessarily wholeheartedly. The Dean had counseled me. Many of my classmates had been asked to leave this prestigious, high academic standard school. I was very fortunate to be able to attend, but was not mature enough to know the opportunity I was blowing up.

Dad kept calling and I kept meandering along the sidewalks across campus. I was pretty good as a varsity athlete, even captain of the hockey team. But that isn’t why I was there. This truth evaded me until my junior year when I finally sobered up and headed to class for real. It was a little late in the game, but advancing grade levels made my final GPA worthy for graduate school. I never really gave the persevering love of daily calls from my father as a caring and motivating factor.

Then I remember calling my own son in his freshman year at college. He was wrecking his opportunity just like I had, and I had not even told him of my experience. Like father, like son. He was with the wrong crowd like I had been, drinking and smoking pot and I don’t know what else. “I’m doing OK,” he would say. One day my call was answered after searching him out with a frightening response that he was at the end of his rope and ready to take his own life. I don’t know what had happened, but I remembered the time of great pain he had suffered after very traumatic chest reconstructive surgery. He had hit lows, but not this. I talked him down and sped to the college some two hours north to pick him up and bring him home. My call had been just in time.

The next months would be difficult as we did counseling together and removed all the guns from our house preventively. Unfulfilling jobs lead my son into depression. But connection with a grieving neighbor, dealing with his wife’s death from cancer and a fortuitous phone call brought healing. The call led my son to meet a girl at Elmbrook, the largest evangelical church in Wisconsin. There he found Christ and fellowship with other struggling teens. The sharing and grace brought healing and direction. Within a few months he had chosen to follow his Grandfather into dentistry and his older friend to Montana trout fishing. Both decisions would lead to momentous choices to move to “Big Sky” country with his brother and marriage to Montana girls far from home. My wife still blames our “older friend” for their leaving the nest, West.

For several years we experienced around the clock harassing phone calls from attorneys and collection agencies because of the financial troubles of our younger son in Montana. Bad business decisions had led to multi-business failure and tremendous credit card debt. We had assisted financially through the trials, bringing our phone numbers to the attention of craven and aggressive debt collectors. We would receive “robo” and threatening calls throughout the day, sometimes dozens. I am not sure the intent, other than harassment. Perhaps the offensive, course language was designed to pressure our contribution in solving our son’s troubles. I believe lessons have been learned, but these phone calls has reduced my trust in mankind and their increasingly heathen nature.

Over the last decade, phone calls have been almost the only connection with our older son and wife now living in Oregon with our three grandsons. Thankfully the miraculous technology of “Facetime” has allowed video expression to the adolescent boys voices.

Over the last month our son’s phone calls have been filled with a very frightening drama from Mass General Hospital, where our daughter-in-law has endured brain surgery to remove a massive benign tumor covering her whole brain. Although the surgery went well, subsequent incision and site infections have brought “bring-back” surgery and very stressful consequences. She will survive and heal, but with continued cross- country trips for further invasive procedures and radiation. Our trust is in the Lord and His merciful healing grace.

My career as a hospital chaplain brings phone calls in the middle of the night on a regular basis. I am “on call” for crises in need of spiritual care. These calls come at random and require immediate response. I have to say that as I enter my 70th year, after 46-years serving hospitals, these calls are taking their toll. I just don’t spring back anymore after losing several hours of sleep. It takes a week to be revitalized, given no more midnight phone calls.

I just got off the phone with my Mother-in-law. She calls numerous times a day as her dementia and living alone brings fears and needs she desires us to satisfy. This morning it was the weekly, “take out the garbage” call. Yesterday it was the “do you have any eggs?” followed by when do I take what medications calls. We take these seriously because twice I have responded and found her on the floor leading to hospital ED trips in the middle of the night.

So, how did we live without phones for so long? I guess things just got done a little slower, and perhaps the urgent appropriately took a little lower priority. However, instant communications has also saved lives as it has stressed lives. These are tradeoffs of technological advancement. Call any time; the phone’s always ringing.

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