Monday, December 28, 2015

Lessons from old people

Yes, that's right, I said "old people." I realize that's not politically correct but every single one of the people who come to mind when I use the term are well aware they are old, so the term may be shocking to you, but I'm pretty sure it isn't to them.

Anyway, I've always been fond of old people. I appreciate them. The first thing I did when I got my driver's license was drive to the nursing home in Arlington and pick up a volunteer application, after which I began visiting the home regularly. I've been interacting closely with old people ever since and have learned a lot of valuable lessons from them.

I'd like to share three of them with you.

1) Never underestimate the value of an encouraging word.

There was a lovely woman named Elaine with severe MS at the home in Arlington who had lost the use of her hands. As a result, she couldn't keep up her long-standing habit of writing cards and letters to friends and family on her own. That's where I came in.

Every week when I would visit, she would have a list of people she wanted to write notes to. In her quiet, tremulous voice, she would dictate words of encouragement to me and I would carefully write them down, address the envelope, and apply the stamp. Elaine's face would light up at the sight of the stack of cards ready to be mailed.

The notes were typically short but always heartfelt. Sometimes she ensured people she was praying for them, that she loved them, that they were special. Other times she thanked them profusely for some small gift they had sent. My weekly visits with Elaine taught me to encourage others whenever there's a chance. And to appreciate the use of my hands.

2) Practice hospitality

I've mentioned my dear friend Miss Esther before. Well, she has taught me a lot about hospitality. I used to open the door halfway when someone knocked, and peer at them half-suspicious and half-expectant, waiting to hear what it was they wanted. "Hurry up and speak your piece," I would think. "You're letting all the cold air in."

But that's not how Miss Esther rolls. When someone knocks on her door, she invites them in. It doesn't matter if she's in the middle of something or if she hardly knows the person or whatever. She holds that door open wide and welcomes them warmly. And once they're inside, she makes sure they're comfortable, she offers them refreshments, and she practices the lost art of making genuine conversation. I want to be like that.

3) Don't be so quick to burn your bridges

Sid and George were roommates. Two of the cutest old men you've ever seen, they shared a small room in a nursing home in Bellingham, and they spent their days playing cards and listening to music together. I loved visiting them because they told a lot of jokes and made me laugh.

One day I arrived at the home to find Sid sitting alone in his room, lost and forlorn and staring at the floor. When I pressed the issue, he said he and George had gotten into a fight about the volume of their music and George had requested a room change.

"I should've turned it down," Sid said. "I miss my friend."

I learned a lot about relationships that day. I learned that personal preferences aren't worth discarding people for, and that when you insist on getting your way you often get more than you bargained for. I don't know if Sid and George ever made up, but they were both very old and I hope they had the chance before one of them was gone. And if you are having a problem with another person, I hope you'll talk to them while there's still time to repair the bridge.

What have you learned from the wise, old people in your life? I'd love to hear about it.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Comment from a stranger

For those of you who don't know, our daughter was born in Ghana and came home to be with us in 2014. Every parent is biased about the beauty and wonderfulness of their own children (and this especially holds true with daddies and daughters), but I think it's safe for me to say my daughter is beautiful.

But you don't have to take my word for it.

No, you don't have to take my word for it because everywhere I go with my daughter, complete strangers comment on her looks. And I mean everywhere. The grocery store, the Post Office, the school, restaurants. Even the street. We literally can't walk down the street without these comments.

"She's just pretty as a picture."

"Oh my gosh, she's the cutest thing I've ever seen."

"Look at that face. What a doll."

Even the scruffy, burly man with only five teeth in line behind me at Wal-Mart yesterday couldn't resist a comment: "&%*$ - she is bee-YOU-ti-ful!"

This has been going on since she came home and it's given me a lot to think about. At first, I was surprised because this kind of thing NEVER happened with my two boys. People never commented on their looks once they were past six months old, so I had never experienced this before. Then I started to wonder if the uniqueness to put it?...exoticness? of her features was the reason she got so much attention. There aren't many black faces in rural Montana, after all.

That probably has something to do with it.

But it hasn't been easy to get my thoughts organized on this topic, because part of me chafes and cringes when people talk about my daughter's looks. Thoughts about women being objectified and beauty being idolized make me want to slap that burly Wal-Mart man in the face and sputter something ridiculous like, "Ex-cUUUse me? My daughter is not some...some...THING who exists merely for YOUR enjoyment you!" (P.S. I would (probably) never say this out loud)

Another part of me takes completely unwarranted pride in the comments, as if I had anything to do with her good looks. Haha. Hahahahahahahaha.

Which leads me to another way of looking at the situation. Rather than being either offended or inordinately pleased, I've started thinking about beauty in a whole different way. You see, when I heard that man at Wal-Mart start talking about my daughter and I turned around, I did not see an exploiter of women or pervert of some kind. No. Not at all. I saw a guy stuck in town running errands and waiting in a loooong slow line who had found something that made him smile. Something that brightened his day. And it was my daughter.

That's what true beauty is, isn't it? False beauty can be exploited, destroyed, even manipulated (Photoshop for example), but true beauty stands incorruptible against all odds and brings joy to our lives. That's why you can be "unattractive" in the eyes of the world and still be beautiful. That's why you can lose your "good looks" to age or disease or whatever and still be beautiful. My good friend Miss Esther is a shining example of that truth and so is my daughter, because when that man at Wal-Mart just had to comment about her, it wasn't really because of her gorgeous was because she brought him joy.

And that's beautiful.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

It's all about timing

There is a Christmas Cactus hanging by a window in the corner of my kitchen. For anyone who doesn't know, a Christmas Cactus is a houseplant that blooms around Christmastime. At least it's supposed to, under the right conditions.

I don't claim this plant completely as my own because I inherited it from the previous owner of my house. Dear old Mrs. Irey left behind several odds and ends when she moved out, including a portable bedside commode and fifteen jars of canned beets from 1987, but my favorite by far is the Christmas Cactus.

Anyway, as I sat at the table eating breakfast this morning, I noticed buds forming on my cactus. The buds start out tiny and white and then gradually become dark pink, and when they are about the size of my daughter's thumb, they bloom. I was pleased to see the buds because their namesake holiday is only two weeks away and if the buds are starting now, that means they will bloom at Christmas.

Right on time, just like they're supposed to. I love that.

If it weren't for other years, however, when my cactus did not bloom on schedule, I might not be able to appreciate the beauty of this perfect timing. One year it bloomed at Easter. One year it didn't bloom at all. And one year it bloomed twice but neither time was anywhere close to Christmas.

This causes me to reflect on my own life. My own "blooming schedule," if you will. When I gave my cactus the right conditions and expected it to bloom at a certain time and it didn't, I was disappointed. But there was nothing I could do. I can't make a flower bloom; that's God's job. So it is with life. We humans try to create the right conditions to achieve a desired result at a certain time, but it doesn't always happen the way we want.

So what should we do in those times? When my cactus doesn't bloom at Christmas, I sometimes glare at it and threaten to chuck it in the compost pile. "You've got two weeks to bloom if you know what's good for you," I might say. But if I were to throw it away, I would never know if it might've eventually bloomed at Easter. Or the next year. Or whenever. So even when it doesn't bloom, I keep watering it and keep hoping.

Similarly, in my life I've been questioning the timing of certain things. Things that will remain unspecified. I've been tempted to give up on them, rather than keep facing disappointment. But if I did, if I gave up, I would always wonder what blooms God might've eventually brought about if I hadn't. So I keep watering, keep hoping, and I trust that God will cause blooms to come whenever He decides.

Right on time, just like He planned. I love that.

"He has made everything beautiful in its own time." --Ecclesiastes 3:11

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Oh the Humanity!

Another mass shooting today. At least fourteen people killed. Is there anyplace safe anymore? How long before we can't go to the grocery store or the Post Office without looking over our shoulder, wondering if someone is going to start a shooting spree?

No matter what your stance on guns is, I think it's safe to say that things have gotten out of hand. I stand by the 2nd Amendment and don't think rounding up all the guns we can find and locking them away would solve anything. If someone really wants a gun, they'll find a way to get a gun. Or, to put it more broadly, if someone really wants to wreak havoc and destruction and ruin a bunch of people's lives, they'll find a way to do that.

But the 2nd Amendment talks about more than just "the right to keep and bear arms." Everyone quotes that little tidbit but can anyone quote the entire amendment? It says: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

I'd like to call your attention to the words "well regulated." Our Founding Fathers believed having a militia (at its core, the word militia simply refers to civilians who are armed, as opposed to people who are armed as a profession, such as soldiers or police officers) was necessary for our country's security and freedom but felt compelled to use the words "well regulated" to describe such a militia.

So how do we interpret "well regulated"? How do we know when we've met the requirements of "well regulated" when it comes to gun laws? I have no idea. But I think it's past time our country stopped limiting its discussion of this issue to "the right to keep and bear arms" and started expanding it to include the entire 2nd Amendment. Many people think this is a Republican vs. Democrat issue. Or a civilized city dweller vs. rural redneck issue. But it's not. It's a HUMAN issue.

As long as human beings are killing each other for sport (Hunger Games, anyone?), we need to be able to discuss it as a human issue. I'm tired of finger pointing. I'm tired of inflammatory rhetoric. There's a whole lot of gray between the black and white of "everyone must own a gun, no restrictions" and "no guns ever, anywhere." I'd like to see our country's leaders put more effort into finding solutions somewhere in that gray area.

And one more thing. If this is a HUMAN issue, we would all do well to remember our humanity. We're all people. We all have hopes and dreams and people we love. We're all frail and weak, strong and courageous at the same time. But when someone disconnects from humanity, I think maybe that's when killing others (or even just hearing about them being killed) suddenly doesn't seem like that big of deal.

Don't ever think it's no big deal.

Exodus 20:13: "You shall not murder."