Lessons To Learn

(I wrote this in 2009 when my precious nephew died. I’m still learning the lessons I describe…probably will for the rest of my days.)

Recently a pop star/icon/music legend died. Perhaps you may have heard about it. Over and over I heard people expressing their grief and insisting that he “died too soon.” I think I understand what they were thinking. Twenty years ago my father died. He was only fifty-three. I knew then that was young-ish. Now that I am fifty-two I know just how young that really was.

Yesterday my nephew died from injuries sustained from a fifty foot fall. He was fifteen. That, my friends, is too young. There are some things about this I am not able to wrap my brain around, but here’s what I have pulled out of this mess.

Most importantly, life is brief. Live it. Don’t wait for something to come along to begin to do what you love. Growing up I heard this from my mom. She would tell us, “Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today.” Her use of this phrase typically referred to some unpleasant job, like cleaning our room, that we didn’t want to do. It’s equally good advice for the things we want to do or feel passionate about. Isn’t that how Jake was? At fifteen, he had crammed a lot of living in.

Laugh often. Jake was an imp. I can’t count the many times Julie told me how he made her laugh. There is enough sorrow and pain in this world, but not near enough laughter. It is natural for us to be sad at times, but we don’t have to trade in our laughter and carry around sorrow for forever. Who would be the first person to try and make us laugh at a time like this? Take his cue.

Love Jesus. Julie shared how Jake was feeling that God was calling him to something. At fifteen he was open to do whatever God asked. He didn’t know what it was, but he was going to be ready when the call came. I was told during this week at camp he even had opportunity to lead someone to a personal relationship with the Savior he loved and served. There’s a Christian cliché that says, “Your life may be the only Bible some may ever read.” For me, the page that has Jake on it says, “You can love Jesus. You can trust Him, even when you don’t have all the answers.”

Jake’s life ended while he was doing something he enjoyed, with people he liked, in a setting that was beautiful, aware of the God who created and loved him. Some will ask where God was and is in all of this. God’s voice was in the voice of the counselor who told Jake to be careful and stay on the path. Perhaps he wasn’t listening as closely as he should have. Perhaps he was traveling too close to the edge. We can all relate to that. We’ve all strayed off the path and paid consequences we didn’t count on. I guess that’s the next point. Listen. We need to make sure that we’re tuned in and listening. There’s so much that God wants to say to us if we’ll just quit talking long enough and listen.

Learn. Jake was learning about this magical world of photography. Someone close to Jake felt bad for “teaching” him what he knew. That needs to stop; because if hadn’t been photography, it would have been something else. I remember when Jake was little and into soccer, he had this thing he put around his waist that had a soccer ball attached so he could practice soccer. He always wanted to be better. Learning opens us up to living. So whether we’re fifty or fifteen, or somewhere in between, we need to keep learning—to keep growing, to keep living.

Lean. Sometimes when tragedy hits we have the tendency to pull away and lick our wounds and ask our questions alone. This is not the time for that. It is the time to lean in on each other. When my dad died, he died at home with hospice. Those of us at the house were remembering things about Dad and amid our tears there were funny stories that brought laughter. I noticed that the hospice worker had written in her notes: “Family remembering appropriately.” That night my brother, sister, and I sang together. It was a good time of leaning. As family and friends we have to get better at leaning on one another. I know life can be hectic and full—but let’s not let it crowd out the opportunities to come tighter and draw strength and encouragement from one another.

Yes, he was gone too soon, but he will never really ever be gone, if we learn the lessons from his life. In that way we will keep him alive and let his life make an even greater impact.

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Selah: Still in the Darkness

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In darkness we often find fear. Not seeing…not knowing. Where should we go? What lurks beyond our sight? Panic!

What if God is leading us to a new place of trust…in him?

What if instead of panic and fear that pushes us to run—a foolish choice at best since we cannot see where we are going—God wants us to sit still?

This morning I had a conversation with another believer who was describing how God pushed aside her daily To Do list and offerered her his instead.

And there was only one thing on it.

What if God is inviting us to set aside our busyness and multi-tasking ways and do his one thing?

What if we got still in the darkness—the unknown—believe God’s word and promise, and just wait until he showed us the next step to take?

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13)

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Wednesday’s Word: Laughter!

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“They” say laughter is good medicine. If that’s true, then being around me must good for other people’s health. Because I make people laugh. Sometimes they laugh with me—other times at me. But it’s laughter all the same.

I remember a conversation I had with one of our foster boys. He got in a fight with another boy. A careless comment ended up coming to blows. As I pulled the details out of him, I uncovered some humor he had missed. We take ourselves to seriously. I pointed out the ridiculous statement that had been made and we both had a good laugh.

On a different occasion I was the one who needed to laugh. I recognized the comedy in the moment, but wouldn’t allow myself to laugh. Instead I adopted a controlling, dominant parent. It was awful—for both my daughter and myself. Laughter would have been much better than humble pie that day.

Perhaps it’s easier for me to find humor because it’s easier for me to see good, and find joy.

I hope you’re able to uncover plenty of reasons to laugh today.

Message Meme: Family Trees

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Have you noticed the growth in companies where you can find your DNA and roots in your family tree? The top ones, according to a google search (now I’m going to get a landslide of ads since they think I’m interested now—whatever happened to just doing research?) are: MyHeritage; Ancestry (because everyone wants a leaf); Living DNA; Vitagene; 23andMe; and GPS Origins. Wikipedia listed the options alphabetically and had 36 in their list.

Have your researched your family tree? Why all the interest? And, does it really matter?

I remember as a child watching with utter fascination as my great-grandmother unrolled a large piece of very old looking paper reavealing our family tree. This historical piece took my family line all the way back to William Bradford. I knew the name because I studied about him in school! My awe and excitement bubbled up and over.

Why do we seek to know our genetic history and connections to the past? I believe God made us this way. Our spiritual wiring is all about connection and relationship.

So it’s not surprising to me that when God gave Moses the fifth commandment, the one that begins to address our horizontal relationships, he begins at home. And he begins with staying connected.

In the commercials for the different DNA searching companies, the people who are telling their stories are finding pride in their ethnicity—in where they’re from and their newly found identiies.

I can’t fill in a lot of the boxes in my family tree. Sometimes that makes me sad. Then I remember my spiritual tree goes back to a garden. Not all my ancestors have pretty stories. But my bottom line is this: I am a child of God.

Point Made, Now What?

Everyone seems to have an opinion. Interestingly, many opinions are being accepted as fact. I have a few opinions I’d like to share.

For example, the media and many voices on social media seem to be telling me the only way to prove I love my country is by pledging my allegiance (repeating a prescribed set of words). This presents an interesting dilemma for a non-credal person. And how quickly do the words lose their meaning when they are said in a fashion of mindless repetition. Do the words still apply? Do they apply to everyone?

And, if I love my country, I will demonstrate certain behavior when a specific song is played. A song few know the words to, or that there are verses we don’t sing. A song that has a melody that is difficult at best to sing. A song that has been a source of controversy since it was written and instituted as the “national” anthem.

Troubling.

It seems to me that my country would be better served by living consistently the precepts that make this country special—a good place to live.

To begin with, I would vote. Recently in my community of 21,249 (according to SIRI) a vote was taken on an issue and only 2,300 people showed up at the polls. If we love our country, wouldn’t we take an active role in the establishment of its governance.

If I love my country, I would be more involved in the process of making this a fit place for all to live, instead of letting those with the money making the decisions. Systems at every level are broken and rather than merely complaining shouldn’t we be working to fix things? This is true at all levels from local to national.

Why do we pass things off, hoping someone else will step up? There is no good reason. I believe this is why we are offered so few choices at election time—resulting in the need to vote for the lesser of evils rather than the persons who will truly represent our best interests. And, why the same people are entrenched in leadership. But this is a matter we can discuss later.

Arguing and resorting to emotionally charged words solves nothing.

I fully believe the principle, “All behavior serves a purpose.” Our country values the right of its citizens to disagree—even protest. Instead of insisting that people stop protesting, wouldn’t it behoove us to address the problem or issue rather than to focus on the method of getting attention, or denying that there is a problem at all?

I believe it was Mr. Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, who suggested that one of the things yesterday’s protest demonstrated was that when people work and stand together they can accomplish much (my paraphrase). But it was equally moving and impactful to witness the dedication of one man, Alejandro Villanueva (the military veteran and Pittsburgh Steeler who chose to come out and stand at attention during the anthem). Neither those who knelt or locked arms, nor those who saluted were wrong. They were each making a point.

So the points have been made. If we merely continue to protest without dialogue and moving toward change, we appear as petulant children. We deserve better—our children and future generations deserve better.

Heavy Hearted

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Apolitical. That’s how I would describe myself.

Early in my ministry, I was told that this was the route I was to take, and the lot I was to accept. Over the years, I have often wondered how so many of my colleagues missed that memo.

During political campaigns I have dodged nearly all the polarizing conversations. I have avoided endorsing candidates or issues. Rarely, if ever, have I even had private conversations on such matters. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to express myself. To the contrary, I have had to bite my tongue or leave the room on numerous occasions.

Perhaps that’s why I find writing this right now so difficult. Maybe it’s also why I have been recently struggling to write at all. I’m a jumbled up mess of feelings and opinions with no outlet. I have had no voice, and now I’m afraid to speak.

Yet, here I am.

And you might find it humorous where and why I found my motivation to break my silence.

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Star Trek, Next Generation.

My husband is a Trekkie from way back. Yesterday, on his day off, there was episode after episode on our TV. And episode after episode explored topics of importance and interest in ways that laid out the issues and left the observer to come to their own decision and awareness. My suggestive mind then dreamt the entire night in Star Trek fashion.

As a result I woke up this morning in a exceptionally malleable state. Not always a good thing for someone as naive and impressionable as myself. And probably not the best time to go scrolling through Facebook.

But I did.

And what I read nearly broke my heart.

First, there’s this whole health care mess. I read a lengthy post by my friend Jules in KC. She has an amazing way of piercing my heart with her words and her photographs. Her honest response reminded me of an exchange I had at our local hospital as I paid a bill that I could not afford. I looked at the clerk, who was only doing her job–and in a completely professional manner (this wasn’t about her at all)–and said, “It might be cheaper to just die.”

I couldn’t believe I used my ‘out-loud’ voice in such an inappropriate manner. My mother would have been appalled.

But it’s how I felt…and that feeling came back in a overwhelming rush as I read my friend’s response to a proposed bill that’s being rushed through congress.

You see, I’m one of those people whose life defines pre-existing conditions.

Then, in the comments of her post someone made a statement about the way we shuffle people off to nursing homes and rely on expensive medical procedures others ultimately pay for (like knee replacements) instead of just sucking it up and plodding on. I’m not sure what planet this guy lives on, but my mother’s husband has severe Alzheimer’s disease, is military veteran, and they can’t get any assistance, nor can they afford to put him someplace where professionals can keep him safe and deal with his erratic mood swings. And my husband has lived with chronic moderate to severe back pain (think bulging and herniated discs, spurs up and down his spine) since the 80’s because we have never had insurance coverage that would have allowed us to address any of it.

And I know our situation is a drop in the bucket compared to others. We are aware of loving couples who have had to “divorce” or been forced to live together unmarried (both which go against their personal convictions) to be able to just cover medicinal needs.

Our system is broken and it doesn’t seem anyone knows how to fix it.

So today my heart is aching and breaking…unfortunately, it is a pre-existing condition.

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Pursue Peace

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(This was written right after the tragic events in August in Charlottesville. I thought I posted it–perhaps it needed to percolate a little longer and be posted on International Peace Day. Perhaps.)

I will confess, I wrestled with God yesterday morning as I woke early and headed to my computer to make the revisions I received as He roused me from my comfortable slumber.

Before I climbed into bed I had been watching and reading all the news coming out of Charlottesville. My heart and mind were troubled…confused. I don’t understand hate–especially not the kind I was seeing and reading about.

I made it through the service…prayerfully and not without tears. Heavy-hearted, but less afraid. God is still in control–even if I don’t know how that will play out–and I choose to trust.

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Earlier in the week, when the focus was on the crisis with Korea, a phrase from an old hymn came to mind: “For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on Earth, goodwill toward men.”

The song came back to me this morning. I know it’s a “Christmas” song, but the words (feelings) are powerful and poignant.

 

Bottom line: God is not dead nor does he sleep. The awareness and presence of God is what is truly supreme.

I’m holding onto that and looking for places where I can plant seeds of peace, of healing. I want my life to be one of those ringing bells the song speaks of–waking and alerting others to the God of peace.