The Small Stuff

As this year fades into history, I’ve been thinking about my New Year resolution. Unlike past years when I’ve concentrated on three or four, I only have one for 2012. It’s simple and probably sounds cliché. I’m going to live each day as if it were my last. Before you roll your eyes at the piety of my goal, it’s not what you may think.

When I was with an elderly gentleman during his final days, he cautioned me that life goes fast until you’re 30. Then it flies until you’re 50 and in a blink you’re 90. Like so many of my patients, he didn’t have regrets about not “achieving success”.  He said the one thing he would do differently is that he would simply appreciate the small things more and not take everyday joys for granted.

Last week, I was with a young mother who only has a few weeks left. Through tears she said she wishes she had more time to hug her children. She didn’t want time to sail around the world or make a name for herself. She shared that the thing she is going to miss most is her sons’ smiles.

So for me, it’s no longer about a lofty spiritual goal or making an unforgettable memory. Instead of coming up with a list of changes I’m going to make or the great things I want to do for God, I’m simply going to bask in God’s love and grace as I appreciate the little things.

I want to savor the daily routine, what seems mundane. I want to relish the laughter of my children, cherish the touch of my hubby, treasure the closeness of my mom, sisters and brother and enjoy close friendships.

In 2012, I‘m going to value the small things as if it's my last day because it’s all the seemingly insignificant stuff that makes this life so amazing.

Katie with her cousin, Ali

Master Untangler

I had to complete a task that I'd been dreading for weeks. It was a tedious job that would require keen eyes, steady hands and tons of concentration. I finally decided that I could procrastinate no longer, so I tackled the mammoth challenge.

Okay, maybe mammoth is a bit of an exaggeration. I mean, the ball of necklaces could fit in one hand. Allow me to explain. We moved a couple of months ago and my daughter, whom I love dearly (just for the record), packed her jewelry in a container with no thought of the consequences. She had varying lengths of silver chains, each with their own charm-keys, crosses, penguins (don't ask), as well as a few chords with pendants. I had no way to tell how many there were. All I knew is that it was a blob of . . . of . . . sheer frustration!!

I know, moms, I could have made her untangle the mess herself . . . but . . . Okay, I have no answer. The bottom line is I decided it was my job to free the bound jewelry.

At first, I decided to shake the mass and  pull a couple of the dangling chains, hoping they would all magically fall apart. No such luck. I then pulled tighter on one that looked like it was rebelling against the pack. This only angered the ball and the others clung tighter. As I sat, trying to decide whether or not to throw it in the trash, I came up with a plan.

Magnifying glass and needle in hand, I formulated my strategy. Each chain was slightly different. I would choose one, slowly trace it's path, untangling it along the way until I freed each one individually. I knew it could take hours, but there was no other way. 

As I went about the meticulous chore, there were times I wanted to change my focus and choose another chain but I stayed the course. When the first necklace was freed, I gained confidence. Five minutes later, a second was rescued and so it went. I discovered that the job got exponentially easier with each release.

Sigh . . . With pride, I lined the twelve necklaces on the table to present them to my daughter.

I opened my Bible for morning time with my Father and  glanced over at my proud accomplishment. I remembered my desperate prayer the day before. I felt like there was a tight ball in my stomach, a mass of stress, tension, regret, fear . . . I smiled as a quiet, still voice reminded me that the Master Untangler is at work.

His vision is perfect, His hands ever-steady as He loosens what needs to be released, tugs at the perfect time and creates something beautiful from a mess. He won't give up until all is free . . . so neither will I.

My Daddy's Loving Legacy

The year was 1970 and I was three. As the sun crept into the horizon and the house became quiet, I skipped to my most favorite spot, baby doll in tow.  I climbed into my dad's comfy recliner. He scooched  over and wrapped his arm around me. I giggled, cooing to my doll as he watched a John Wayne movie. It was a night-time ritual for years. The old recliner formed to our bodies. It was a perfect fit . . . a safe sanctuary. I never wanted to grow up.  

As a child, there's no better feeling than snuggling with your daddy, your protector and provider. It saddens me that many don't have happy childhood memories. It's heartbreaking to know that some have difficulty accepting the love and grace of their heavenly Father because they've never experienced it from their earthly one.  I am eternally grateful that my dad modeled God's compassionate love in such a  profound way that I had no difficulty understanding  God's agape love.

Today my dad would have turned 73 so  I thought I would share his legacy. Well, a tiny bit of his legacy, to tell his whole story would easily fill a book. My daddy grew up in poverty, had little education, yet built a successful business through hard work and dedication. He constantly found ways to show his wife and children how much he adored us. 

When I was a child and got a boo-boo, he never said, "don't cry" or "chin up". Instead, he held me and whispered, "I wish I had a magic wand and could take this pain out of you and put it into me." As I looked into his eyes, I knew it was true. I always felt his deep, sacrificial love. 
When I was a sophomore in college and told him I decided to major in psychology, he bought me a huge trophy that  read, "Susan Dulin: Best Psychology Student in the World."  Whenever I doubted myself, I looked at the trophy on my desk. Knowing he believed in me gave me confidence. That was the type of daddy he was . . . always affirming, my biggest cheerleader.

I don't want to romanticize his memory, he wasn't a perfect man. But he had a passion for life. I think he was the happiest when he was racing cars with my brother or riding horses with my sister. His eyes sparkled when he surprised my mom with breakfast in bed or bought her a new car. On Valentine's day, he didn't just send my mom roses, he gave flowers to me and my sisters as well. He looked for ways to pamper us, to show us his love.

Today, as I remember him, I choose not to dwell on the years when Alzheimer's slowly stole his memories, changing his personality, hiding his smile. I choose to remember who he truly was. A beautiful man, strong and vibrant, dimpled smile, caring eyes and compassionate heart. He loved spoiling his children and would do anything to see us laugh. What an awesome example of my heavenly Father.

If you didn't receive this type of love from your dad, know that God, your heavenly Father, loves you beyond measure. He wants to shelter you, protect you and give you wonderful gifts. He loves to hear you laugh. He wants you to know and experience him. To top it off, He's preparing an awesome home just for you. It's as easy as accepting His son, His ultimate gift to you.

Too Much To Bear?

     For as long as I can remember, I've heard, "God won't give you more than you can bear." I think this may be the greatest misconception, the most misquoted scripture in the Bible. It's taken from 1 Corinthians 10:13, but it says ". . . he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear."  It says nothing about daily struggles and crises. Facing sin and overcoming temptation is different than coping with life's heartbreaks.
     There have been many times that God has given me more than I can bear. And working with hospice, I am continually aware of patients and families who have more than they can bear. They face a raging storm that they can't withstand alone.

What about the lady who is caring for her mother with end-stage Alzheimer's and finds out her husband has a glioblastoma, an aggressive, malignant brain tumor? Or the man whose son is dying of leukemia just months after his wife was killed in a car wreck? Do you think they feel they have been given more than they can bear? Single moms, bankrupted businessmen, broken marriages . . . more than they can bear? I think so.
     Thankfully, I've got some good news. God never intended us to bear our stress, our problems, our heartbreaks. David understood this as he wrote, "Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens." Psalm 68:10. Jesus, himself, implores us to give him our worries. "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matthew 11:29-30.  
     My prayer isn't for strength to make it through the trial but
strength to give it to God and trust him to handle things for me. Isn't that what a loving father does? 

 Whatever you are facing today, I encourage you to trust God. Don't waste your energy trying to muster enough strength to face your crisis alone. Give it to your Father. Let him carry your burden . . . let him carry you.

 Before long, you will discover that He has carried you through the storm. He will give you rest. He will give you peace. He will give you joy. Soon you will find that you are free . . . free of your burden, free from the pain. Free to dance and enjoy His presence.

He Made It!

Just a quick follow-up to "Through His Eyes". My friend has been released from his broken body and is now perfect and whole with a strong voice and smooth skin.  He fought the good fight (and what a battle it was), kept his faith (that inspired us all) and finished his race (in first place, I might add). I'm celebrating with his family. . . Oh, happy day!

How Green is Your Grass?

“The grass is always greener on the other side.”  The well-known English proverb is true, literally. I won’t try to explain it, primarily because I don’t fully understand how the optical illusion works; but, turns out, our brains perceive grass at a distance as being more vibrant than the grass under our feet.  

That’s fascinating, but what’s more interesting is how true it is in other areas of our lives. Why is it that we often value what’s just out of reach more than what we already have?  I’m certainly not against having dreams, goals . . . a vision. That’s not the point I’m pondering.

I’m wondering about the discontented person who is always searching for the next best thing. What causes a person to have the wander lust, to even walk away from God, from faith?  Why do the long arms of restlessness wrap around some, wooing them with empty promises?

Maybe it’s not just that the grass over the next hill seems greener, maybe it’s because the grass in their own yard is dried up, crunchy, and dead. I don’t know about you, but I want to ensure I do everything in my power to keep my hubby and children so blissfully content in their own backyard that they are never tempted to stray.

So, what kills our beautiful lawn? Weeds? Lack of rain? Smoldering sun? All of the above?                                           

Weeds may be those irritating naggings. "Did you clean your room?" "You’re late!" "When are you coming home?" Of course, these aren't said in a concerned or even neutral voice. It’s that grading, whiney or demanding voice that drives our teens away. Then there’s the drought . . .  the pouting, silent treatment that drives good husbands to drink. Finally, the blazing sun, not sweet, warming sunbeams, but the unrelenting heat bearing down that melts self-confidence.  

What if we commit, as wives and mothers, to nourish our lawns? Heap on that manure!  Scratch that, let’s call it fertilizer. We don’t want to be accused of being full of poo. Seriously, let’s commit  to  compliment, hug, affirm and gush until our kids roll their eyes and our hubbies beg us to stop. If we put our energy into keeping our own grass green and plush, maybe the grass on the other side won’t look so great after all.

As a final thought, I’m going to concentrate on the One who leads me and my family by the still waters and teaches us not only to stay in our own yard, but to lie down and rest in green pastures. How could any of us ever want to leave?

My But's Too Big

I’ve been thinking about my buts lately. Notice I said “but” not “butt”. I’ll save the latter for another day.  

When I was a teen, my best friend and I begged her dad to let us go on a little road trip. She had a convincing argument and every time he interjected with a reason that it was not a good idea, she retorted, “but Daddy . . .” Finally, in exasperation, he yelled, “Enough! The only butt in this conversation is for whipping.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. My friend didn’t think it was too funny, seems he had used the line countless times throughout her childhood. But I digress, back to my buts. Here’s what my big buts look like.

“I would love to start my second novel, BUT life is too busy right now.”
“I want to serve in my church, BUT Sunday is my one day off.”
“I wish I could exercise more and eat less, BUT it’s just so hard." (For the full effect you have to imagine me saying this in an irritating, whiney voice.)

I’m sure there’s more, but that’s enough to focus on for today. I’m committing to take my big but to God and see what He wants me do. I’ve got a feeling that with him in the picture, my but is not as big as I think. In fact, as I write, I just decided to give myself  7 days to get rid of my big but. Have any buts you need to get rid of?

By the way, there are some buts I’m thankful for, especially this one, the greatest but in the universe.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish BUT have eternal life.” John 3:16 

Got Legacy?

Last weekend, I took my daughter and her best friend to Charleston. One of our favorite things is visiting old cemeteries. I know it may seem morbid, but the ones in Charleston are awesome. As we stood, reading epitaphs from the 1700’s, one caught my eye. It had the standard name, date of birth and death and then simply read “Beloved Aunt of Edward.”

I laughed, wondering if Edward was the author of the eloquent epitaph. I mean, really? Is that all she was known for? But then again, if she wasn’t married, had no children of her own and poured her life into Edward, maybe she would have wanted this to be her legacy.  Who am I to judge? Perhaps it was a wonderful and fulfilling life.

Over the years, I’ve attended numerous conferences about grief counseling. It never fails. We always have to write our own epitaph and obituary . . .  my favorite group activity . . . NOT!! The first time I had to do this, I was in my mid -twenties and was horrified. The epitaph . . . not so bad, but to be expected to write the full obituary including place and year of death, cause of death, who was present and then the eulogy. That’s morbid, even for me!

I can’t remember what I wrote then. I wish I would have saved it, but I know each time I was forced to participate in such a morose activity, I got a little more comfortable with it. And, of course, that’s the point. To be a good grief counselor one has to be comfortable with one’s own mortality.

Now that I’m older and bolder (maybe a little more defiant), I refuse to write about the details of my death. I know that’s in God’s hands, and it’s pointless to imagine all the possible scenarios. What I do like to focus on is the legacy, my "dash".
Years ago, I read a beautiful poem, The Dash by Linda Ellis.The gist of the poem is that the year of birth and death doesn’t matter. It’s what we do with the dash between that counts.

Some days, I imagine my epitaph might read, “A bit of a slug, horrible cook, mediocre friend, pretty good mom . . . “ Thankfully, I’m reminded that my identity, my legacy, shouldn’t be about me at all. Ever heard Big Daddy’s Weave’s song "Audience of One"? Love the line, “And as the love song of my life is played, I have one desire, to bring glory to your name.” Isn’t it freeing to know nothing else matters?

I think I want my epitaph to simply read, “Daughter of God, Covered in Grace, Finally at home with Him.”

I'm Suicidal

Today I’m committing to kill myself. I even have a plan. For those of you who don’t have a mental health background, that’s the first question you ask someone who claims to be suicidal. If they don’t have a plan, chances are they aren't serious. If, however, they have drafted a blueprint of how to accomplish the goal of self-annihilation, it’s time for crisis intervention. 

Before you call 911 to send the mental health professionals to my house, no, I’m not really suicidal. But I am going to crush myself today. My plan involves bricks.Yes, I’m conspiring to obliterate my flesh with blocks of cement.

I’ve been wrestling with two issues. Do I have to call them sins? Both are self-control issues, and both involve my mouth. First, those delectable, sugary treats keep finding their way into my hands, then my lips, and eventually, they find a resting place on my expanding hips. Secondly, I’ve been a bit whiney lately, and I’m quite sure my family is weary of my gripping.  So basically, it’s a mouth-war, what goes in and what comes out.

Why don’t you take a minute and ponder what you’re wrestling with. Can’t come up with anything? Shall I suggest pride as a good starting point? I’m convinced that we all have at least one issue, that irritating sin that we think we have conquered to only have it sprout roots, bust through the soil, and overnight turn into a mammoth oak.

What to do? Do we accept that no one is perfect and rationalize that that’s what grace is all about? While that would be easy, I’ve found that the right thing is rarely easy, so back to my bricks.

This morning I read Proverbs 25:28. “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.”  In ancient days, walls were built around the city to protect and fortify. When I let my mouth have its way, the wall begins to fall. My defenses are weakened. It doesn’t happen all at once. One cookie doesn’t hurt. A quiet grumble under my breath isn’t significant. Or is it?

What if every “little” lack of self-restraint pulls one brick out of my wall. One probably isn’t even noticeable. But take a few more out, and before long, I have a gapping hole. It’s like an open door inviting Satan right in. In fact, the Message translation reads, “A person without self-control is like a house with its doors and windows knocked out.”

Today I’m going to attempt to keep all my bricks in place. I’m feeling pretty confident so I may even try to replace the ones that I’ve knocked out. Rebuilding is always more rewarding than tearing down. Right? No one ever said crucifying the flesh would be easy, but I’m going to try, brick by brick.

Waiting on Pearls

Ever had a moment in life when you felt like your world was flipped upside down?  My biggest was when I had to close my hospice house ministry. I won’t go into the details here but it took years of prayers, planning, and fundraising. We were only open a brief two years before we had to close for financial reasons. I couldn’t understand why God provided so many miracles to enable us to open the non-profit ministry only to let it fail. 

The weeks that led up to the closing were bar none the most difficult in my life. The rock lodged in my throat kept me from swallowing. I couldn’t breathe. Brokenhearted, I met with the staff. Eighteen faithful employees were losing their jobs. We had become a family. I had failed them.

But it only got worse. I had to tell patients and their families. Twelve had to leave our beautiful home to go to the hospital, nursing home or out-of-town hospice house to spend their last days. They entrusted me with their care. I had failed them.

The final morning as I was getting dressed, I felt as though I was preparing for a funeral. Fumbling through my jewelry drawer, I glanced at a pair of pearl earrings. Tears flowed freely as I remembered an analogy about pearls that I had read many years before. I went to my bookshelf where I found the well-worn book, Seasons of Life by Chuck Swindoll. There were notes in the margin and highlighted quotes. It favored a used college text book.

 Reminiscing, I determined that I had read it my senior year of high school, 1985. I laughed as I remembered basking in the sun at Myrtle Beach while reading the book. A strapping young man sauntered over and sat down next to me. Not an original pick-up line, "Whatcha reading?"  
When I shared that it was a book about the different seasons we experience during our walk with Christ, he looked confused. I attempted to explain, "Well, right now I'm reading about winter, a season of quiet. 'We will not become men of God without the presence of solitude', I quoted.  

"Well enjoy your solitude," he snickered as he walked away.   

 Moving forward over twenty years, I flipped through and found the quote about the pearl.
One of His preferred methods of training us is through adjustment to irritation.  A perfect illustration?  The oyster and its pearl.  Pearls are the product of pain. For some unknown reason, the shell of the oyster gets pierced and an alien substance-a grain of sand-slips inside. On the entry of the foreign irritant, all the resources within the tiny, sensitive oyster rush to the spot and begin to release healing fluids that otherwise would have remained dormant. By and by the irritant is covered and the wound is healed--by a pearl. No other gem has so fascinating a history.  It is the symbol of stress--a healed wound. . .a precious, tiny jewel conceived through irritation, born of adversity, nursed by adjustments.  Had there been no wounding, no irritating interruption, there could have been no pearl.  Some oysters are never wounded. . . and those who seek for gems toss them aside, fit only for stew.  
Closing the book and placing it back on the shelf, the words ruminated in my mind, "Fit only for stew."  I mumbled a simple prayer throughout the day, "Create a pearl out of the mess, please make a pearl."  I desperately wanted to know that something good, something of eternal worth, was being created through all of the sorrow.   
That was several years ago, and while I still don’t know the reason the ministry closed, I do know God is faithful and is moving in my life. Maybe I’ll write about it in future blogs. For now, I think I may still be in the oyster. . . patiently waiting . . . anxiously waiting . . .waffling between the two. Being humbled. Living simply. Trying to remain faithful. Trusting that God will create a pearl . . . in His perfect timing.

I Feel So Used!

     I’m embarrassed to say that at times I can be a bit of a whiner. One day, in my not too distant past, I was wallowing in self-pity.  “I feel so used! God, why do you keep putting me in situations where people are using me?” It was a pretty pathetic display, but thankfully, I was the only one invited to the pity party. As I sat at my kitchen table, tissue in hand to sop up the free flowing tears, I remembered a sermon my pastor preached a few years back and I had to laugh at my stupidity.
     It was during a winter season of my life, you know the times when God is silent. Well, there I sat, arms crossed, feeling dejected, not expecting to hear from God. My ear perked up when I heard the pastor describe me in perfect detail. “Many of you, from an early age, have prayed ‘God use me, no matter the cost, I simply want to be used by you.’ You cried, your mascara ran, and you meant it, and God heard you. Now you same people sit here, years later. You’re whining, ‘I feel so used. . . Why is everyone always using me?’ People aren’t using you!  God has simply answered your prayer. You are being used!”
      Ouch, the truth hurts. My pastor went on to question me, “Do you now have a right to say, ‘This is too painful. You know I really don’t want to be used after all. What I meant to say was, please use me only if it’s fun, or if it’s rewarding or if it offers some recognition.’  No, you prayed the prayer and God has answered.” 
      I went home with a different perspective. 
     Now obviously I don’t believe in being a door-mat. I’m a big advocate of personal boundaries, self-care and all that other stuff we social workers teach. But unlike a lot of my counseling peers, I don’t think I should put me first. In fact, I’m pretty sure Jesus teaches us to put ourselves last. Dead last.  A big fat zero.
     I’m learning to extend my prayer a little. It’s no longer a simple “God use me.” Instead, I pray, “God use me to show others your grace and compassion. Give me a pure heart that desires, above all else, to be a servant as you were. Crush all selfishness. Use me . . .  use me up until there is nothing left but your love shining through me.”
     So the next time I say, "I feel so used," it won't be a complaint but an answer to prayer.

Who's Waiting in the Next Room?

“Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” I was reminded yesterday of how true this old saying is. I was visiting with a man who has been dying for weeks. Embarrassingly, I prepared his family about a month ago that it could be any day. After all, he has all the signs. I’m not going to describe his appearance. But if you saw him, there would be no doubt. He’s still coherent which is surprising at this point.

His exhausted family has said their good-byes and has been keeping vigil, not for days, but for weeks. This man is a mystery. He has had no food, no drink, nothing by mouth for 18 days. I know, doctors will say that’s impossible, but I'm witnessing it.

Well, I decided that enough is enough. It’s time I escort him to heaven (in a loving way of course.) No, not euthanasia. I just thought I could coax him to let go. So I asked, “If you had the choice to stay here lingering in this broken body or go to heaven and be in perfect health, which would you choose?” He’s incredibly weak and his answer was mumbled, but I understood him clearly. “I want to stay here.”

What?? Not the answer I wanted to hear. Keep in mind that he told me months ago that he’s a believer and knows his Savior. So why on God’s green earth, would he choose to stay here? I just can’t figure it out. Fear of the unknown? Not wanting to leave his family? Maybe. But at this point . . . I simply can’t fathom a logical reason.

Maybe that’s it. Nothing about dying is logical. And while we may think we know how we would respond to my question, we really don’t, not until we are approaching death’s door ourselves.

I wish he, and all the dying, could view it like Helen Keller who said, “Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there's a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see.” Sounds like a lifetime of silent darkness gave her a simple yet profound clarity. She later wrote, “I can see, and that is why I can be happy, in what you call the dark, but which to me is golden. I can see a God-made world, not a manmade world.”

If we could see through her eyes, just catch her vision, all fear of death would be erased. How awesome would that be?

Becoming a Better Lover

Do you want to be a better lover? Before you spit your water out in shock, I’m not referring to intimacy. I’m talking about loving people better, more compassionately, with more authenticity. 

For me, some days loving others comes easy, like digging into that triple layer chocolate cake, days when all is right in the world. Sadly, on other days (I’m blaming fluctuating hormones) it’s easier to stick my hand into a pot of boiling water. Okay, maybe not quite that difficult, but you get the point.

So many variables come into play (other than my estrogen levels) such as the lovability of the person and the payoff for loving the person. Let’s admit it, some people just don't act lovable. But for some bizarre reason, God didn’t call us to just love the lovable. Conundrum.

Before you cast a stone in my direction, I’m simply being honest. Yes, my goal is to achieve God’s agape love, the love that is unconditional and self-sacrificing. But as a mere human, a very flawed one at that, this goal seems lofty.

But alas, I’m determined not to lose hope. So I have a plan. Plans are always good, right? Instead of simply trying to like the person and bestow random acts of kindness on them, which, by the way, I’ve decided is merely my way of easing my conscience, I’m going to focus on demonstrating my love through authentic, genuine communication. Sound cliché? Sorry, couldn’t think of another way to describe it.

So here goes. Maybe you will join me on my journey to be a better L-O-V-E-R.

L   Listen- Simply hear the person’s heart-the dreams, the disappointments, the joys, the hurts. No interruptions, no judgments. Sometimes the best thing we can do is zip our lips.
O  Observe her body language. Does it match her words? Do we need to dig deeper? Should we ask clarifying questions?
V  Validate her feelings. All of them. Yes, the good, the bad and the ugly, even if we disagree. Just because we validate the emotions doesn't mean we are condoning them. I know my feelings are often wrong, but they are still there, festering. Once someone takes the time to listen and understand me, my irrational feelings magically melt away.
E  Empathize. I didn’t say sympathize. Simply feeling sorry for the person isn't helpful. In fact, I hate it when people feel sorry for me. It comes across as condescending. Instead, we need to put ourselves in her shoes. Try to feel what she's feeling.
R  Reassure. No matter what hardship or heartbreak a person is facing, we can always offer reassurance. Personally, I have to be careful that this doesn’t come across as patronizing. A simple “Chin up, everything’s going to be fine” really stinks when you’re facing a crisis. And for the most part, I don’t think citing Scripture is helpful (gasp).  I’m just being honest. I’d rather hear something like, “As hard as this is right now, your life will not always be here. It may take some time, but things will eventually be better.” And a sincere “I’m here in the meantime if you need to talk” seldom falls on unappreciative ears. And of course, the famous “I love you no matter what” (as long as it's genuine) is the best encouragement anyone can hear.

That’s my musing on being a better people lover. Now can I achieve it? We’ll see. Estrogen levels seem relatively low today, so I’m feeling optimistic. Hope you are, too.

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to . . . Hollywood?

     Back when I was green, I mean inexperienced and super naïve, I was asked to facilitate a grief support group. Being new to hospice, I thought it was my role to be comforting, reverent and inspirational. One day while enjoying the view from my haughty altitude, I preached to my group, “Grieving is like going through a tunnel. When you’re stuck in the middle, it may seem like a hopeless pit with no escape, but if you just keep going, moving ahead a little each day, soon you will see a light at the end of the tunnel and realize you have made it through the darkness.” I paused to let the wisdom of my poignant illustration sink in.
      Sadly, I was knocked off my pedestal when a widow barked, “What if the light is just an oncoming train and it runs me over!”  The group erupted into laughter.
   While everyone was still dabbing their eyes, Ruth shared about her sister’s “funeral.” Cindy had been an assistant for a well-known movie director/producer in Hollywood. (If I said his name, you would recognize it immediately. I won’t reveal his identity, but think Star Wars.)
    Cindy loved her job and was at the height of her career when she was diagnosed with ALS.  She came back to her hometown of Charlotte where Ruth lovingly cared for her for several years. Cindy expressed her desire to be cremated and that she wanted her ashes scattered at the plantation of the famous producer. The sprawling estate was picturesque with rolling hills and a large lake . . . a perfect resting place.
     After Cindy’s death, Ruth phoned the movie producer’s assistant and shared her wishes. Ruth was surprised to learn that this was not an unusual request. In fact, the producer had recently made the decision that ashes could no longer be spread on the estate. Ruth said she was graciously invited to spend a weekend on the famous plantation. The producer even agreed to a memorial service for Cindy’s coworkers and friends. But ashes could definitely not be spread. Well, Ruth would not be dissuaded. After all, this was her dying sister’s wish and she would make sure it was honored.  
     Ruth shared her reasoning with our group, “I thought it would be too obvious to take a big urn and just dump it. That would be defiant and rude, and I am normally very sweet.” Ruth crossed her legs and smoothed her hair as is trying to convince us of her Southern charm. “You know I didn’t have a choice. I did what I had to do.”
     A dozen quizzical eyes stared at her. Ruth continued as calm as if she was sharing a recipe. “I divided my dear Cindy into eight zip-lock bags. I decided I could take several long walks during the weekend and just sprinkle her as I went. It seemed like such a good plan. 
     “Well, I didn’t consider that my luggage might be examined at the airport. The inspector looked in my suitcase and pulled out the bags. He asked what the contents were. When I answered, ‘my sister’, he shook his head in disgust. He had the drug-sniffing dog brought over. I got really nervous because I knew how much Cindy loved dogs, and I feared that the dog might sense this and sniff her out because of some cosmic connection. I really did not want to go to prison.”
     The group was laughing hysterically as Ruth continued, “Well, the dog apparently did not signal drugs so the inspector pressed further. ‘You must be specific and tell me the contents of the bags’.  I was growing impatient and yelled ‘It’s my dear Cindy!  I wanted her to ride with me on the plane so some of her is in each of my pockets. See!’ I pulled a zip-lock bag out of each of my coat pockets. His jaw fell open. The exchange was getting loud and curious spectators were gathering. I waved the bags in the air, ‘See these are Cindy too!’  To my relief, I gained the attention of a traveling mortician. He approached us and showed his credentials. He examined the bags, even opening one. I sensed the crowd was wondering if he was going to taste and smell the contents. Thankfully, he didn’t. He simply said, ‘This is most definitely cremated remains.’  There were a few gasps. I’m not sure if they were relieved for me or if they were horrified that I was still holding some of Cindy in each hand. Anyway, the mob slowly dispersed and I was finally allowed to board the plane.”  Through tears of laughter Ruth shared that the rest of the weekend went as planned and Cindy’s ashes were now scattered from one end of the famous estate to the other.  
      What did I learn that day?  A dash of laughter is better than a pound of chivalrous platitude.
      In the words of Victor Hugo, the French poet, “Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.” 

Love Notes

    When is the last time you received a love note? A little reminder that someone is thinking of you, somebody cares what you’re going through.  A few scribbled words can turn a mundane day into an unforgettably awesome one. It’s even better when it’s divinely penned. Ever gotten a love note from God?
     At first glance, some may seem like coincidences, while others are obvious, as though God is yelling, “I’m here! I love you!” I’ll give you an example. A few years back, I had a hospice ministry, The Agape House.  My hope was that my dad would be my first patient, but about six months before we opened, he died of Alzheimer’s.  His journey to heaven was excruciatingly long and painful, leaving us with broken hearts and unanswered questions.
     On November 8th, the day he would have turned 65, I sat at my desk, looking over the medical records of a lady with Alzheimer’s. I was to admit her to the Agape House that afternoon. As my eyes filled with tears, I thought, I can’t do this. There is no way I can keep it together . . .  not today. A dark, melancholy sadness welled in my throat making it difficult to swallow. Have you ever had that Does God really care? feeling?
      I flipped open my Bible and a church bulletin fell out. Enclosed was a prayer calendar. I loved the idea of knowing that thousands in my church were collectively praying for the same need. Typical needs were “traveling mercies for a mission team.”  I was astounded to discover that November 8th read, “Agape House staff as they minister to the dying.”
     This may not seem significant. But I knew God was sending a gentle reminder that he knew exactly where I was, what I was going through. And not only did He know, He cared. I knew no one in my church knew my dad's birthday, yet God, in his magnificent mercy, orchestrated it so that many were praying for me on this sad day. Out of 365 days that this could have been a prayer request, should I assume that it just randomly fell on my dad’s birthday? The day I was heading for a complete meltdown?    
     How incredible to know that the Creator of the universe still sends reminders, sweet love notes to his children.