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.