Some of you may remember an actor by the name of Arnold Schwarzenegger. His enemies would often seem to get the best of Arnold and they would leave him lying on the ground beaten to a pulp. Later they would discover that they hadn’t vanquished Arnold after all as he would reappear and with a note of triumph in his voice he would say to them, ” I’m back!!!” Many of us like Arnold’s movies because we know what it feels like to be put down and we have this fantasy that some day like Arnold we will be able to say to our enemies, ” I’m back!!”
“I’m back,” can also be spoken by people who have come home from work or from a trip of some duration. It can mean that we are glad to be home and we hope those at home are glad that we have come back as well.
And then there are the words, ” I’m back,” spoken when we have been out of action for some time and have now returned to what we were doing before we were taken out of action. In this case we might be thinking we will be picking things up where they were when we left.
I left work on January 17th this year not knowing that I wouldn’t be back to work until May 1st. As I recovered my strength in the weeks after I had a blood clot in my leg that lodged in my lungs and almost took my life, I looked forward to the day when I could return to Froedtert Hospital and could say, ” I’m back.” In the meantime while I was recuperating I attended a symposium in early March and I got into a conversation with a lady I had met before. We caught up with each other on what had been going on in our lives. As I told her about my hospitalization and the aftermath she said to me, ” When you go back to Froedtert you won’t be the same chaplain that you were. This has changed you.”
I thought about her words in the weeks that followed that symposium. I thought there might be some truth to what she was saying but I wasn’t sure exactly how I would be different. A few days after i returned to work I sat in the room of a patient in her mid-nineties. She was telling me about how she had always been pretty healthy and active until recently. But recently she had gotten new glasses and she found she still had difficulty seeing. She went to her eye doctor and complained about her new glasses with the hope he would make things right and fix the problem. Instead he said to her rudely, ” Of course you can’t see. Don’t you get it? You have macular degeneration and new glasses aren’t going to fix that.” As she tried to come to terms with this news she realized she wasn’t eating like she used to and she was losing weight. She found she was also having memory troubles and that was distressing her. She didn’t want to be a burden to her son. As she saw the things she was losing she began to wonder what else would she lose beyond what she had already lost and what would happen to her then?
As I listened to her I found myself thinking about my time in the hospital and of how I had lost consciousness and for thirty-six hours didn’t know where I was or what was happening to me. I had been in free fall just as she was now in free fall. I shared with her how in that time in my life I found that God was with me. In the words of Psalmist I found out, ” Oh, Lord, you know my down sitting and my uprising. There is not a word on my tongue but lo, you know it all together. If I ascend to the heights, behold you are there. If I descend to the depths, behold you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand will guide me and your right hand will hold me fast.” I told her when I didn’t know where I was God did. When I didn’t know how far I would fall, God had his hands around me. And I said this was also true for her. God knew where she was. God has his hands around her.
That was when I realized my friend’s words were true. I was not the same chaplain I had been. What happened to me made me see something I hadn’t seen before. What had happened to me made me understand something I didn’t know before. And I was able to give this lady something I probably wouldn’t have been able to give her if I hadn’t spent time in the hospital as a patient.
So, when we say, ” I’m back,” it doesn’t mean nothing has changed and let’s pick up where we left off. It means everything has changed and yet much remains unchanged. For all of you who have come back from surgery or a stroke or a tragedy in the family or the loss of a loved one you may also discover what I discovered. ” I’m back,” means I have more to offer than what I had before. I have more insight. I have more compassion. I have more life experience. I have more to give. So when you reenter the world you had to leave for a time say, ” I’m back,” with a smile. Say it with a thankful heart because now you know you have been given even more grace than you had before.