In the bleak midwinter, sometimes we could use a belly laugh. Here is one that will resonate with my dear colleagues.

I get a call from the hospital early one morning due to a critical incident with a congregant. With that, I put on my “formal attire”- clergy shirt and Anglican collar, the rest of the “tux” and off I go. The visitation took longer than expected. Having a doctor’s appointment that morning, and running tight on time, I went directly to the doctor’s office to be seen.

I walk in; they go through their ritual vital stats acquisition. The medical assistant asked me how I was doing, to which I replied, “Just fine.” She sits there looking at me and responds, “Are you sure you’re fine?” (OK, I was fine when I walked in here – what does she know that I don’t?)

Tick… tick… tick…

I replied, “Yes, I really am fine.”

Tick… tick… tick….

She peruses me more. “So tell me, what did you do to your neck?” (What did I do to my NECK? I felt around – no lumps, bumps or rash. I had not burned my neck with the curling iron. I had no pain.)

Tick… tick…. tick….

“To my knowledge, I haven’t done anything to my neck.” More assessing on her part, and then, “Well, that is the strangest cervical collar I have ever seen.”

Laughing emoticon with tears of joy

As my brain implodes, I started to laugh so hard I thought they were going to have to give me a breathing treatment. Really trying not to be rude, I gasped, “This is a clerical collar, not a cervical collar – I am an Episcopal priest!” She then looks at me and says, “Well, thank God! I thought I missed something.”

She goes out into the charting area, and I hear her say “Oh… by the way, there is nothing wrong with the neck of the patient in Room 2. She’s just a priest.” I am still laughing – and heck, if I had not been crying so hard, I could have posted a sign and charged admission! (10% of which I would have tithed to the church, of course!)

In the bleak midwinter, we have what I feel are strategically placed celebrations like Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day.  I have been pondering those with whom we share our “belly laughs” as well as our frustrations, sorrows and other varied emotions on a daily basis. In the worst way, I wanted to share my collar story with someone dear to me.

So, this column, this edition, is for all those with whom we yearn to tell our day’s events to – our spouses, significant others, kids, those with whom we share the closest parts of the living of life.  The purpose of which is to say the meekest and most humble of “thank you.” (Meister Eckhart stated that if the only prayer we ever said was “thank you”, that would suffice. I’m sticking to it!)

For all the times you have listened with your “stoles on”, when we come home tired and weary of yet another issue gone wrong in the congregation, thank you.

For all the times when the phone rang at 2 a.m. and we have to leave, because our work is 24/7/365, thank you.

For all the meals you prepared that got cold or reheated 3+ times, for all the times you and the family ate alone, thank you.

For all the date nights and other plans that got cut short, thank you.

For all the times when your friends are taking getaway weekends which you will never get (unless you go without us) because we work every weekend, thank you.

For all the times when personal holiday traditions had to be put aside or long delayed because of the nature of what we do, thank you. (That includes all the little kids and grandkids that have to wait to open presents!)

For all the times when we seem to get all the limelight, and for all the times you are expected to play the role of the unpaid parish leader (insert whatever – musician, Sunday School teacher, etc.), thank you.

For the grace and control you exhibit, knowing that sometimes you have to “fake it till you make it”, thank you.

For your unconditional love and support, for your understanding our moods, for making this journey with us as unsung partners in ministry, thank you.

For all those other unknown ways that you help us make this happen, by prayer, praise, thanksgiving and being our port in the storm (and the one who helps calm our choppy seas), thank you.

Thank you God, for those loving others who make this journey with us. Bless them, keep them, and infuse them with an abiding sense of your love, grace, joy and peace.  Amen!

And to my colleagues … “Hey, what happened to your neck?”

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The Rev. Ruth Paulus is a registered nurse and serves as rector of St. Christopher’s, Fairborn.