Sunday worship service began at Stroud yesterday at its regularly scheduled time of 10:50 in the morning. It began without me, for I was either asleep or knocked out on the bathroom floor of the parsonage. At our church, we commence with the preaching early on. So at 10:50 I’m in my nightclothes. At 11:10 I’m preaching from Hebrews 11, unraveling my notes at the same time I’m trying to unscramble my brain. I touch my scalp and feel a good-sized lump and dried blood. What happened? Did I take my evening narcolepsy medicine Xyrem (Jazz Pharmaceuticals) and then fall asleep in the bathroom without hearing the six alarm clocks (I kid you not)? And when during the night did I fall and near crack my head on the bathtub while inflicting a substantial rearranging of my tongue courtesy of my teeth? Did I sleep walk? I used to do that as a kid. Why didn’t the medicine wear off as soon as it usually does? Did I mis-measure the dose? Or did the slight fever I went to bed with push me into an unusually deep sleep?
I didn’t have the answers to those things. What I did know was that I was in the pulpit ready to deliver my faithful understanding of the good news of faith — not merely as belief but as obedience and witness. I ditched the planned opening, though not the overall message, and launched into a “these can be the facts of life when you are appointed a narcoleptic preacher.” I shared about how narcolepsy is thought to be the result of destruction of hypocretin cells in the brain that regulate waking and sleeping.
I shared that four years earleier I wrote to my District Superintendent explaining that after I took the medicine, I was mandated to be in for the night. No more would I receive late-night or wee-hours calls requesting that I come to the hospital or to a private home. I had a hard time believing that any church would be eager to accept a pastor who was so limited, so I was prepared for a graceful exit from the ministry. My DS, however, seemed to see the developments as a grace-moment to teach the gathered community of the responsibilities and opportunities of the “priesthood of all believers.” It would be a time to empower the laity and to get back to our roots in which the circuit rider had specific duties but churches in other regards often thrived. Operating in the “ministry of all believers” mode is great theology and very risky obedience. It would take the kind of faith in “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Abraham didn’t know where he was going, but by faith he was “looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” I was diagnosed with narcolepsy in January of 1994. Year after year I was promised that a “miracle” orphan drug was getting closer to the market. Years went by, with one delay after another. Companies were sold. The Food and Drug adminstration required re-testing or new testing. The standards were changed. What would come first — the filling of my cup with “doubt” rocks, or the emptying of petty preoccupations and the re-filling through the spirit of confidence? At long last, in late 2002, the Federal government announced Xyrem would hit the market, subject to individual state approval. Arrangements were made for the drug to be delivered overnight out of one single mail order pharmacy. The drug’s price skyrocketed. And then I watched one state after another, but not Oklahoma, add its approval to federal approval. Various organizations lobbied to keep the medicine off the market here. Eventually, Oklahoma was left as one of only four states that hadn’t authorized Xyrem.
Then in 2006, some three years after neighboring Arkansas had legalized it, Oklahoma finally scheduled the medicine. The call from the drug manufacturer was received as a rainstorm after a long-suffering drought. My neurologist prescribed it, but then then the vision dimmed once more. Doubt reared its ugly head as my insurance company preferred that I take something else, specifically medicines I had already taken that hadn’t done me a whole lot of good or that had horrible side effects. I decided to let doubt be my motivator just as wholeness was my vision. After a lot of back-and-forth, my insurance agreed to pay, albeit on an -expensive-to-me out-of-network arrangement. Soon it is time to inform church folks of my inability to make after-hours calls late into the night, or to drive to early morning events.
Would parishioners consider me lazy? Would they exhibit hostility? Would they believe they were being short-changed in hours? Would I get up in the morning feeling guilty that I can’t do several things other preachers do? Scripture would tell me to approach the challenge not with fear or timidity, but with joyful expectation. That said, maybe I could offer, by God’s grace, certain gifts not possessed by other preachers. Maybe I will be more patient and understanding toward those who ail or suffer. Perhaps I could offer counsel of patience for those who have been told a cure is uncertain or that recovery is far off. Maybe I could extend the ministry of empowering empathy. Is ministry doing certain tasks at certain times, or is it more discerning God’s purposes and with hearts brimmed with agape taking up the cross in accordance with the schedule God sets and the path God lays before us? Despite my uncertainties, church folks adjusted and came to trust what they could not fully see. It came to feel like a personal trust in me, but really it was just people believing, by the power of God’s grace, that God’s Kingdom will come regardless of what state affairs are currently in. Oh, by the way, my insurance no longer categorizes Xyrem as out-of-network and I pay a very affordable $30 per month. “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”