Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I had a long day.  The night before I got no sleep as I took a young man to the hospital who attempted to take his own life.  I stayed with him in the emergency room and then transported him to an in-patient hospital where he could be safe for a few days.  Not having much sleep the next night brought me to this day.  I took care of my household needs, some family needs, and then made my way back to the hospital for the two hour visit with him. 

I sat in the waiting area about 30 minutes before the allotted visitation time and watched the people go by.  I noticed an elderly lady sitting all by herself in the middle of the waiting area, watching television, and managing to smile at every person that walked past her.  I believed her to be a kind soul, with many stories, and strength. 

I observed another lady, about the same age; sit near her and after a few moments they realized they knew each other from business dealings fifteen years earlier.  They had a wonderful time catching up with one another. 

I will call the first lady Gracie just to make the story easier.  Gracie told her friend that she was waiting for her husband to come out of surgery.  She told the story of how they met and it brought a tear to my eye.

It was 1950 and she had just gotten engaged to the love of her life when he got called to active duty to fight in the Korean War.  Three years went by and communication with him had come to a halt.  No letters, no calls and any inquiries she made came back empty.  She wasn’t sure if he had just changed his mind or had been killed. She said she made the assumption he was lost in battle.  A couple years went by and she did eventually marry and had five children.  In 2008 she lost her husband.

During the funeral of her husband there was a volunteer at the funeral home helping to guide people to where they needed to be.  His eyes gave him away instantly and he immediately recognized her smile.  They embraced and the truth was revealed:  he was the man she thought was lost in a battle in Korea.  The got together about a month after the funeral and renewed their friendship.  Two years later they wed. 

He had been shot and got lost through the hospital system and did not make it home until a year after the conflict had ended.

I wanted to hear more but it was time for me to go check in and complete my visitation for the night.  As I got up I was compelled to stop by the two ladies and say something.  I approached them and apologized for interrupting their conversation and told them I overheard their stories and was so moved that I needed to tell them.  I told them their conversation and their smiles had blessed me and they were almost as giddy as two school girls!  They smiled and thanked me and as I walked away I heard Gracie say, “What an unexpected surprise that was”. 

When the time comes that I begin to enter the autumn of my years I pray that some young person might come along and thank me for something as simple as story-telling or just smiling. 

Solomon tells his son to “…respect your mother when she is old…”  Christ mentioned that the Pharisees had made the law of God void by their disgraceful treatment of the elderly.  Even Elihu, the younger of Job’s friends waited patiently to speak to Job until all the men who were older than he was had spoken.    Leviticus 19:32 says “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly.” 

Throughout cultures and beliefs the treatment and respect for the aging is clear.  In the practice of Confucian, filial piety is one of the primary virtues to be held above everything else:  a respect for parents and ancestors.  This filial piety is reflected in the book of the same title, a conversation between Confucius and his student, Zeng Shen.  It addresses how to set up a good society and that the practice of respecting the elders is key to this success.  The term ‘filial’ is used in Christian churches for the titles of particular clerics whose church is subordinate to one that is larger (filial priest or filial vicar).  In the most general of terms, filial piety simply means to be good to one’s parents.  In the Chinese culture it is considered the first virtue.

In China it is widely accepted that Buddha rose to heaven to spend three months with his mother, teaching her his new ideas; an act of proper concern and respect.  The “Sutra on the Weighty Grace of Parents” was written in the early Tang dynasty (618-907) and talks about the great sacrifices that a parent must make for the sake of their children.  Children are expected to return this kindness though loyalty and respect. Although this particular text would later be determined fraudulent, the message remains strong and truth-filled.

The overall world-wide view of the treatment of the elderly in America is that we tend to consider them a burden and will quickly place them in care facilities.  Whether or not this is an act reflective of the selfish nature of some western civilizations or just a misunderstanding of the child-parent relationship is inconsequential – the fact is that it should force us to closely exam how we treat our older family members.

The commandment to honor thy father and mother is one that deserves close study.  It would serve everyone well to make a list of the ways we can honor our parents and elderly and to begin putting them in to practice today.

The goal of this life-journey is to be in union with God in the beatific vision. The characteristic condition of old age could be an occasion for spiritual transformation and transcendence - for acknowledging the fundamental truth of the human condition, our dependence on God and on his love and mercy. The frailty and dependency of old age, in our Christian past, were understood both as belonging to the given order of life - as inescapable in character - and as having a positive role in disposing us to the fulfillment for which we were made by deepening our awareness of our dependence on God.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Milk - Potty - Finished

I sat down recently with one of the couples that are planning to get married this coming year and have asked me to be the pastor.  I am always honored to be a part of such a wonderful occasion.  I especially look forward to and enjoy the process of meeting and getting to know the couple before the ceremony.  It can be a very special time for them as well as I encourage and, in some cases, teach new ways of communication.  It is a time to be challenged and encouraged.  It is an added benefit if we are friends before they even asked me to marry them.  Sometimes I even cry just a little during the ceremony!

The young lady said something that has been resonating in my soul for a while now.  She said that sometimes she feels he does not love her as much as he used to; and then without skipping a beat she said, “But perhaps that’s really just me not loving myself at that moment and not understanding why someone would still love me”.  What an incredible epiphany. 

Loving ourselves is perhaps one of the hardest loves to experience.  We see and feel so many flaws and errors and it is not unusual to expect that we would project that on to others – resulting in a doubt.  Of course the man in the relationship quickly said he has not stopped loving her or declined in his love for her but still it is a true feeling and I encouraged him to recognize it as a feeling and then to talk it out.  Feelings are often hard to put in to words and too many times we find ourselves choosing the wrong words to describe how we feel – it is only through conversation and patience that we can possibly develop the correct and accurate language for our feelings at any given time.  The human language is just too limiting.

My former brother-in-law and his wife had a marvelous way of raising their young daughter.  Their first child hardly fussed at the dinner table.  Although she could hear well they decided to teach her sign language right away. They knew that children know what they want but they don’t exactly have the software installed yet that allows them to articulate it using their new-found lips and tongue.  Instead of fussing and crying because she wants milk, and instead of having mom and dad get frustrated and at the end of their rope trying to figure out why their child is fussing – my niece would simply use the sign for milk and all would be well.  The same for ‘potty’, ‘sleep’, and ‘finished’.  Finding the right combination of words to describe what we want and what we are feeling is difficult and often leads to misunderstandings, arguments, resentments, and feeling unloved.

We often think that God would not possibly love us because we cannot love ourselves.  If WE see all that is wrong with us certainly God does, right?  So how could he possibly love us if He knows the truth about us?  We can hide it from others but not from ourselves and not from God.  And when we do seek Him and try to share what we are feeling we lack the words and we feel like we fall short of reaching Him.  The same with our human relationships:  We simply fail at communicating, accurately, the way we are feeling and we often times let our mouths get us in to more trouble!

This young lady was able to discover that perhaps what she initially perceived as a lack of love from someone was actually her lack of love and respect for herself, projected on to someone else, and reflected back to us all distorted.

Thank God that we can communicate with the Holy in ways other than words.  Sometimes it is music, or the words of some other inspired individual through books or prayers or scriptures.  Sometimes it is through actions like helping others or maybe just taking a few moments to breathe deep and look around you.  These seemingly simple actions, like the simplicity of the sign language for milk, or potty, or finished, are sometimes all we need to get our message across.  Sometimes we just try too hard when the answer is actually pretty simple.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

My uncle, over the past couple of years, has been sending out randomly scanned photographs of my grandparents to the family.  My grandparents were wonderful people. They truly were. They touched thousands of lives during their long journey here on earth.  They endured incredible hardships and battles as well.  I love the photos and each time I see them I can hear my grandfather’s voice, his beautiful whistle, and my grandmother’s unique vocal character especially how she said my name.

I have OFTEN said that every single person and circumstance that has crossed in to or across our life path are now an important thread in the fabric of who we are.  I still totally believe that.  I learned that lesson from my grandfather.  Not in those words for those are mine that my spirit was able to finally put together to express some of what I learned from this amazing man.  Even our pets have made a profound impact.  By removing any of these threads we weaken the strength and integrity of the fabric and of who we are.  By ignoring them we, in essence, tear out that thread.

Have you ever been laying there in bed, trying to sleep, and found your fingers playing with a loose thread in the quilt?  They are usually tough almost fishing-line thread.  Very hard, and ‘hurty’ if we wrap them around our fingers and try to pull them out.  But eventually we do pull them out and unfortunately the integrity of the blanket has now become compromised beyond the point of no return. 

That is what it is like when we ignore or try to rip out any part of our life journey, any person, and any circumstance, which we have encountered.  We discredit the importance and the impact they or it made on our hearts, our souls, our spirits, our nature, emotions, memories, and our human integrity.  We expect much from our relationships with other humans.  They need to live up to our expectations or they suddenly are not worthy of being in our inner circle. 

And in the same respect we often fail to realize the impact we have made on others.  Too often we fail to recognize the size and importance of our very own fingerprints upon humanity and this present world.  We also put a lot of pressure on ourselves for not living up to our own expectations.  Our lives have not worked out the way we thought they would or how we planned.  Maybe the world did not change to suit our needs so we reach down and start pulling out threads, causing minor holes at first but then losing more and more of the threads until a square is gone, then another, and another.  Each thread in the fabric having a significant impact on the person we see in the mirror and on the choices we make.

I know that some of your threads are negative.  They have been abusive, cheating and set out only to deceive you.  Some just wanted something from you and gave nothing in return.  There are threads that we have tried so hard to forget but whose pain and torment haunts us every waking moment.  We can’t run far enough away – we can’t hide from it – it’s always there.  So we try to pull them out and eventually what happens is that we lose our own identity and purpose.  We totally lose sight of any purpose for our existence.  When we lose enough of the threads in our very own fabric we lose ourselves.  We become lost, lonely, scared – seeking a way to totally destroy the now worn quilt of our own existence.

But if every person and circumstance that you have encountered in your life truly does make up the person you are today – how many threads in the fabric of others has your name on it?  Do you know the impact you have made on others? 

My grandfather knew he made an impact because it was his gift to humanity for the positive impacts people made on him…and sometimes it was his response to the negative as well.  He was a good soul – a giving soul – a soul who knew the power of the spoken word.  He was a man who believed and lived as though every single soul was worthy of life and of life in abundance.  Sound familiar?  It’s on purpose:  Christ came so that you may experience life in abundance as well.  Stop yanking on those threads and start living again.