Words can mean different things in different locations. This point was aptly made on a family trip to England. After my family finished a big meal in a London restaurant, my teenager leaned back to pat her bloated stomach and announced very loudly, “I’m stuffed.”
I later confirmed that the queer stares from patrons were questioning the appropriateness of her announcement to a crowded restaurant that she was with child.
Another word with various definitions is – “houseguest.” It should mean “a welcomed friend.” However in California, it usually means that the in-laws are coming to drag you and their grandchildren to Disneyland or Fisherman’s Wharf all while looking at timeshares giving away free luggage or a cruise. Generally I urge them to make the cruise a matter of “prayerful consideration.”
Houseguest can be a dirty word, but not as bad a word as I saw it become one night in a hospital ER where I was working. Radio reports from EMT’s told us that a family of stab victims was minutes from arrival.
The family had entertained a houseguest, who, unbeknownst to the family, had begun using crack. Somewhere in the middle of the darkest night this family would ever know, the man depleted both his source of crack and sanity. Wanting the former, but badly needing the latter, he began demanding money and stabbing anyone who resisted. For him, it was “time to kill.”
Dad was first to resist. Mom, trying to protect both dad and baby, was forced to prioritize her protection around baby. As our ER triaged the victims we discovered, Dad died. Baby was straining between this world and the next, but Mom was stable – “stable” being a relative word.
But “big sister,”10, physically OK, had a psyche suspended somewhere between logical and in control and the “whacked out” reflection of her father’s killer.
The staff asked me to watch the child so they could work with mom and baby, so I offered her the solace of the hospital chapel and was a bit surprised when she followed. In the chapel, she began praying. She simply asked God to help her family recover. “Please make everything ok. Amen.”
But then she added a PS using words not employed around a chaplain – at least not in front of another chaplain. She demanded to know why God let her father die. She had a few choice words for her houseguest as well.
Trauma Experts usually say that folks who are able to debrief within 24 hours of an incident are more likely to recover faster. But when she swept the candles off the altar and started overturning chairs, I paged a nursing supervisor. Jeanie answered the call.
Jeannie was the kind of nurse that had not only worked her share of tragedy, but knew personal tragedy. She placed her arms around that child in much the same way I had seen her place her arms around her own son who was paralyzed in an auto accident the year before. She brought her back to the ER where a common allergy medicine coaxed her to rest and began a time to heal.
As we saw her fade into sleep, I sarcastically commented to Jeanie, “I guess this is why we get paid the big bucks.” Already I had begun to wonder how long I could do this business of “walking among the wounded” answering the claims made against God. The family recovered physically, but their “time to heal” would take much longer.
Houseguest can mean different things. Sometimes it can mean overbearing in-laws and sometimes it can mean a welcomed friend. But it can also mean the enemy sometimes lives within. “Houseguest” can define that part of us that invites the unimaginable into our lives.
This houseguest had a guest of his own and had invited the unimaginable into his “house.” It was the ugliest part of him awakened by a substance that invited him to do the unspeakable.
In the end, this girl realized that she too had a choice of houseguests. She could invite the reincarnation of the anger that killed her father into her life and become part of the reflection of her father’s killer or she could invite a houseguest that would initiate a time for healing.
In the wake of so much killing on 9/11, we too have a choice of houseguests. We can invite fear and thereby allow the infiltration of the terrorists into our own homes. Doing so invites the reincarnation of their image into our lives. Or we can seek to reestablish good things in our house. The Apostle Paul invited us to center ourselves on “whatever is true, noble just, pure, lovely, good praiseworthy, think on these things.”