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March 1, 2015

The Friday after I retired my friend and younger colleague Chris Barrett called from his hospital bed to ask if I could preach for him the very next Sunday. So on my first Sunday after I retired, I preached at St. James United Methodist Church. The congregation was very gracious to me. All of us were, of course, concerned about Chris, Elise, and their children.

For several years Chris has battled the same form of cancer that my brother-in-law Bruce Cash had. Chris has been in and out of remission over the past several years. The people of St. James have been steadfast in their support of Chris and his family.

Last week I spoke with Chris and Elise by telephone. He was at the University of South Carolina Medical Center in Charleston. He was very sick with a fever of 106. His cancer has returned with a vengeance. Still, the three of us were able to talk and even laugh together. Clare and I along with many others have been praying for the Barrett Family. We will continue to do so.

When I spoke with Chris last week I said that sometimes what we give up for Lent is more significant than chocolate. He agreed saying that he was learning to give up the idea that he was in charge. He had decided that for Lent he would relinquish control.

I commented that Easter was going to come just in the nick of time.

Today, I received a copy of a letter that Chris wrote to his congregation this week.

On our Journey to the Cross it is important to keep in mind that the Cross was not the final word. Beyond is resurrection, the core of the Christian faith.

Please pray for Chris, Elise, their children, and all of the family.

Here is the letter Chris wrote to the good folks of St. James.


My Beloved St. James UMC,

Thank you for the patience and concern you all have expressed through calls, letters, Facebook posts, and offers to help. In addition to all these expressed gifts, we have been grateful for a few days to assess where we are and where we need to get–medically, educationally, professionally, and in terms of maximum support. Though there is still much we don’t know, over the last seven days some answers have come into focus.

First, a medical update… Right now the lymphoma is advanced enough that until we begin a treatment regimen, I will face daily fever spikes. As long as we stay ahead of these with fever reducers, these should not be dangerous. Just unpleasant.

Second, the children have accompanied us to Charleston and then went with their maternal grandparents to the beach. As the weather worked out, the ones in school only missed one full day!

Third, this week I have initiated the process of applying for disability. When I filed for it last week, I put April 5, Easter Sunday down as my anticipated last day. My sincere hope had been to preach the remaining Sundays in Lent and finish by celebrating together the glorious hope of resurrection. Given this past week, I am reconsidering this. It may end up being possible only to preach in person on April 5. This is deeply disappointing to me. But something I believe God is teaching me in these days is that as the disappointments accumulate, we’re called to practice a sort of disciplined joy.

Now, saying this once might have felt like I was just trying to stay shiny and happy. The fact is, I still moan and groan and curse this cancer. I still dread all the goodbyes, even as I hold fast to the conviction that they’re only for a time. It is observing and naming the beautiful things that in past seasons would have sailed me right by that keeps utter despair from taking over. Snow on a porch rail. Children’s giggles. A song on Pandora. A joke by a friend. My wife’s hand on my shoulder. All these joys sustain my genuine joy, even in the midst of real suffering.

As the days go by, I will be in close communication with Steve Brockman and seek to insure that as many people know what’s happening as possible.

Fourth, a bird’s-eye view of the first three considerations means at the very minimum that my family and I face a change of address very soon. Moving to Charleston for care would take us farther from any family. Because the plan all along in the case of my death has been for Elise and the children to relocate to Indiana to be near her family, it makes sense to make that transition now.

I will receive treatment at Indiana University Medical Center, a world class hospital within 30 minutes of where we hope to live. Elise’s mom and step-father will live a few minutes away and be available to help with my care as well as care for our children. Additionally, Elise has numerous contacts in the non-profit community there that will hopefully allow her to find employment to support the family moving forward.

As we pack up our belongings with the help of some dear clergy friends, we do so with heavy hearts. But our hearts also pulse with the joy that is deeper than pain, peace that is sturdier than chaos, love that is stronger than death.

We love you all. And we trust that the God who has drawn alongside us in past seasons will give us the grace we need for the facing of this one.


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