Posts Tagged ‘compassion

14
Jan
19

Blasts from pasts

crossroadsIt is the great boon and the great bane of our wonderful world of instantaneous electronic connection.

You or I can be shuffling along, minding our own business, when SHAZAM! a voice or face from the distant, forgotten past suddenly appears and says, “Hi! How are you? What have you been up to?”

This is exactly what happened to me just the other day.

Fortunately, it was a face and voice I was pleased to see reappear.

In a way not entirely clear to me yet, the 94-year-old mother of my best friend from elementary school suddenly materialized on my Facebook Messenger. After introducing herself, she asked if I was the same guy her son had spent Friday nights with, some 55 or so years ago.

When I told her yes I was, she immediately brought me up to speed on the highlights of her life and Chris’ (her son’s) life since we had last connected.

I had learned some of the particulars about Chris by way of a 40thhigh school reunion a few years back, but a lot of what his mom told me was new.

It was one of those “blasts from the past” that was fun and newsy. I was really glad she took the initiative to find me and fill me in.

That contact, however, made me immediately think about my other best friend from high school: John.

Back in the day, Chris and John and I were inseparable buddies. Every third Friday night we were at one of our three homes, eating dinner, reading comic books, drawing hot rods at the kitchen table, watching horror movies until late, and crashing in sleeping bags on the basement floor.

I liked Chris and John a lot. They were very different people, but somehow they both seemed to enjoy my company, too. We always thought of Chris as the “wild child” of the bunch and John as the more introspective, philosopher type.

Chris ran track and played on the high school basketball team while John and I spent a lot of time hanging out with the high school youth group at church. And yes, it is a total coincidence that there were several cute girls who also attended youth group.

True to his billing, Chris was the first one of us who started smoking in high school. He was also the first one to be arrested by our small-town police department for some not-so-innocent property damage he caused while out late at night with another group of friends.

John and I were no angels, but we generally kept our noses clean, studied hard, and tried to figure out what being a teenage Christ-follower was all about.

Now, as a man in my 60s looking back on those two people who were so important in my life at one point, I find myself wondering how I could have been so utterly clueless about them.

Or how life can take such dizzyingly sharp turns.

What I found out at that 40thhigh school reunion was that “wild child” Chris ran away from home after graduating high school (one step ahead of the law), hitchhiked to Florida, got a job and put himself first through college, and then med school.

He ended up becoming a highly respected cardiothoracic surgeon (inspired by the movie version of MASH) and father of four. His mother told me that he retired from the surgeon’s life because of numbness in his right hand, but then went back to graduate school and was now teaching psychiatry at a local university.

Chris actually now owns one of those hot rods we used to draw at my kitchen table.

Ten years earlier, at the 30thclass reunion, I found out the news about John. I learned that my thoughtful, Christ-following best friend – after fifteen years of battling depression and substance abuse issues – had finally taken his own life in the bathroom of a house he shared with his mother and sister.

His family was deeply saddened by the news, but no one was surprised.

Today these two stories – held up side by side in the clear light of day – trouble me. I am sure the seeds of Chris and John’s outcomes were always there, somewhere below the surface. Those seeds were likely alternately hibernating or germinating while the three of us were young… waiting to sprout.

I am also convinced that some of the twists and turns of their stories (and mine too) were completely random and unpredictable.

I am equally certain that God was/is a part of each of our lives – and yours, too – at every step along the way. My faith teaches me that it is never the case that God listens to and assists some of his children and leaves others to their own devices.

I believe that good fortune or utter ruination are not indicators of God’s favor or disfavor.

But today, as I celebrate the further update on his story brought to me by Chris’ mother from out of the clear, blue Internet-filled sky, I also shed a silent, confused tear for John and the loved ones he left behind as I pray for their comfort.

Lord, in your mercy…

12
Nov
18

It’s Just hair

Well, it’s gone.

We knew the day was coming. Ever since my wife’s cancer diagnosis in late September and the ensuing prescription for chemotherapy, we knew the days of her beautiful, flowing, auburn hair were numbered.

It’s just what happens when those powerful cancer-killing chemicals go racing through a person’s body.

Personally, I was expecting trauma and heartbreak when “HAIR GONE” day came… from me, that is. I knew SHE would handle it just fine.

In fact, anticipating a sky-high level of emotional devastation, I wrote her a lovely little free verse poem called, “It’s Just Hair” to help cushion the blow. (I would share it here, but it is a little too personal and intimate.)

So then, as the stuff began showing up on the pillowcase and coming out in clumps, we realized it was time.

As her hairdresser came to our home one night and gently, lovingly buzzed it right down to the scalp, we were both surprisingly OK. No hair Joan

I went to the utility room, got the broom and dustpan, swept it all up, and tossed it.

BOOM.

GONE.

We looked at her mirrored reflection and marveled at how lovely and round and symmetrical her head is. I made jokes about polishing her “dome” with a cloth now and then.

And then we kissed and smiled, looked each other in the eye and said, “It’s just hair.”

As these things often do, it caused me to lapse into reflection.

Joan with turbanI thought about how easily and how often in my life I have confused form and substance. I mused over the question of why I do that and how annoyingly frequently it occurs. I asked myself, “Self… how is it that you are so quick to recognize the difference between ‘hair’ and ‘her,’ when it comes to your spouse, and yet are often so slow to grant others the same grace?”

And then I got global and wondered, “Am I the only one who puts unreasonable confidence in outward, surface appearances and punts on the hard work of diving a little deeper and trying a little harder to understand the souls of other people?”
And I thought, “Naaaaaah. Probably not.”

I also realized it was time to pull out 2 Corinthians 4:18, commit it to memory and try, yet again, to live by its wise guidance: “… because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”

Abundant blessings;

04
Sep
18

Leashed Justice

Dog with a leashWhen it first happened, I felt kind of righteous and empowered.

A little later, I began to be unsure.

Later still I just felt bad. And more than a little ashamed of myself.

You see, in my community here in Overland Park, Kansas we have leash laws. This means that when you have your dog out on a walk, you are legally obliged to have him or her on a leash.

It’s not a good idea. It’s not a suggestion.

It’s a LAW.

And happily enough, most people comply with the leash law.

But now and then there are a few folks we meet on the trail who don’t.

When I meet them, I try and speculate on their reasons for ignoring the leash law. I wonder to myself:

  • “Maybe they are new to town and aren’t aware of the leash law.”
  • “Maybe they have extraordinarily well-trained dogs who stay right by their master’s side, or else who come immediately when they are called.”
  • “Maybe their last leash broke and they haven’t been able to afford to go get a new one yet.”

Normally the sight of an unleashed dog wouldn’t bother me. However, the last dog we had (dearly departed little Molly) was VERY aggressive toward other dogs when we were out for a walk. Molly would viciously growl and snap at them and tug on the leash as if to say, “Let me at ‘em! Let me at ‘em!”I worried that an unleashed dog might forget their careful obedience training and respond to her aggressiveness with similar aggression.

Because, you know, they are dogs… animals directly descended from wolves.

So there I was the other day, happily walking Rosie on the walking trail when what did I see but a lab/something or other mix walking up the trail toward us, unleashed. Trailing behind her was her master… holding a folded up leash in her hand.

I paused and had Rosie sit down next to me, warily regarding the other dog. It approached and began sniffing Rosie in a curious, “Hey, what are you all about anyway?” fashion.

As the owner approached I said, tersely, “Is that dog OK?” Meaning is it friendly.

She replied, “Oh yes… she’s fine.”

To which I responded, “You know there IS a leash law in this community.”

The woman seemed a little taken aback by my abruptness. She looked at me and said, “Yes… I know.”

Unsatisfied with her obvious lack of remorse, I pressed the attack. “Well, then maybe then you should try to OBEY IT!”

Bending down to clip the leash on her dog, she sighed tiredly, said, “Have a nice day,” and continued down the trail.

Like I said… my first feelings following that encounter were feelings of righteousness and empowerment. I mean, what the heck?! A law is a law, right? I’M following it… you should too!

But the further the event receded into the past, the worse I felt. Yes, of course, I stood on the side of legality in that situation. But what had I demonstrated to that person by the way I chose to handle the situation? Did I demonstrate kindness? Or compassion? Or anything even remotely Christ-like in the way I responded to her and her dog?

Being the pastoral type that I am, I immediately began flashing back to Paul’s words in Romans 7 and 8. I heard an updated version of his description of the life devoted to serving the LAW compared to the life devoted to serving the SPIRIT.

In those passages, I’m pretty sure Paul wasn’t talking about leash laws, but he might as well have been.

But then here is where I went from being mildly mopey about the whole thing to being ashamed and embarrassed; it was the point at which I asked myself, “OK, caped crusader… you seem to be more than willing to speak out loud and clear against the injustices of suburbanites ignoring leash laws. But tell me… are you just as willing to speak out against REAL social injustices? For example, injustices like systemic racism, or economic injustice, or sexism, or homophobia or hunger? Are you willing to risk consequences that might be more serious than a sullen scowl from a neighbor?”

I sincerely hope my answer to that question would be “YES.” And heck, maybe I am preparing myself to do exactly that.

But for now, I think I will pick a different path for our morning walk… making sure I ALWAYS have my dog on her leash.

 

Abundant blessings;




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