“Hi, Mom! I’m OK!”

The young woman was dressed warmly. Her sign revealed her underlying anxiety.

“Hi, Mom! I’m OK!”

She watched the television monitors visible on the street to make certain that she was on camera behind the Today Show anchors. Moving on occasion to accommodate the change in camera angle, she was working hard to let her mother know that she had survived the superstorm we call Sandy.

Work called and I couldn’t continue to watch. So I don’t know if the network probed deeper to hear her story. I don’t know if she had just experienced a time of terror in facing the unknown of this natural disaster or if she had been fortunate enough to have shelter and safety.

One thing was clear, she had shown up to send a message to her mom. “I’m OK!”

Sometimes when we struggle from day to day and hour to hour with dire circumstances, when we know of nothing else to do, we show up. We dress, we comb our hair, and we make a sign. Even though none of those things will really greatly improve our situation, we’ve done something that makes a difference. We’ve acted on behalf of someone else.

While putting on a false face of bravado or failing to address the reality of a situation isn’t healthy, showing others the ways that we are blessed is heroic.

In the past few days, I’ve heard stories from the storm and dramatic rescues at sea. The victims of the tragedies and the survivors don’t deny the gravity of their experience. Yet, they stand before cameras — or speak from hospital beds — in a spirit of gratefulness and in hopes of allaying the fears of their loved ones.

I’ve also heard stories this week of the brave who are facing cancer, surgery, lives of solitude resulting from the loss of a mate or a sister or a brother, and uncertain economic futures. In every case, despite their fears and even their doubts, they stand and they announce to the world that, even though they are hurting, they choose to move on.

And they want us to read their signs . . .

“Hi, Mom … Dad … Dear One … Friend! I’m OK!”

Creative Commons license. Photo by NASA Goddard Photo & Video.

On the occasion of my 37th anniversary

As I went to sleep last night, I resolved to write a post this morning in celebration of Nancy, my loving wife and friend, and our marriage. Yet, as I sit to write this morning, I realize that my celebration can bring haunting regrets to the minds of others.

And so, while I count my blessings — and they are many, I want to pen a few words to those who have suffered in relationships.

1. All relationships have tough passages.

And many, unfortunately, don’t survive. But in those that do, one element emerges consistently. The individuals involved never lose sight of their friendship. It may be stretched and it may be strained. In fact, if may be so stressed that it never is the same again. But the friendship remains.

2. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence — and it has to be cut more often.

Everything good in life requires maintenance. If your past relationships have suffered, look first to learn from the experience. Don’t be hard on yourself. Just be honest. And if you find yourself a little envious of others in their relationships, remember, they have to work intentionally for their apparent bliss.

3. Sometimes, it’s just not within your control.

I’ve had friends come to me and say, “What could I have done differently?” And while there’s always room to improve, sometimes you just can’t do enough. The relationship simply isn’t a fit — or at least not in the way you desire. And sometimes the other person simply can’t invest in the relationship to the extent needed. If that happens, it’s natural to mourn your loss. But investing in wholesome ways in other relationships is the best way to restore your life.

4. The best friendships evolve.

I’m certain there are exceptions. Yet, as I look around, the most solid friendships and marriages have gained strength and momentum slowly. They certainly have good times to point to. But more often, they are rock-solid because of the troubles that have been experienced, weathered, and worked-through. These things take time.

And finally . . .

Nancy and I pray for happiness for each and every one of you. Our marriage is far from perfect. From my view, that’s primarily because I am far from perfect. But today, on my 37th anniversary, I am blessed to say that I am married to my best friend. And I am blessed.

 

Two Balloons

On her way to pick-up our granddaughter, Landrye, from KidsQuest Day Camp today, Nancy stopped and bought two balloons — a black one and a white one.

With Landrye right beside her, she made her way to the foot of the majestic and moving sculpture, Jacob’s Dream.  Towering high above, Jacob’s ladder to heaven is filled with angels — the largest known depiction of this Old Testament story in the world.  As a spot for special moments, this little bit of West Texas real estate is prime.

A guessing game ensued between grandmother and granddaughter, “What is special and black and white?”

The answers tumbled out rapidly,  “A zebra.  A panda.  A white tiger.”

“Think of one at our house.  Black and white and really special.”

“Snoopy!”

Snoopy

Nancy smiled as she thought of our little dog.  Mottled with black and white fur, she won hearts with her incredibly attractive face and soulful eyes.  Over fourteen years old and a sweetheart, Snoopy was technically a farm dog.  For a number of years, she had been Nancy’s dad’s companion.  Criss-crossing the half-section of farmland, she had proudly chased barn cats and occasional wild turkeys.  Primarily she was known for her tail-wagging.  Standing maybe 8 inches tall to the top of her head, she was a bundle of energy.

When we lost Nancy’s dad, Snoopy moved to her adopted home in the city.  She was a wonderful companion to our old beagle for several years until Tipi moved on to a place in our memories.  Snoopy became the center of our attention and she lavished love on us.

Early this morning, Snoopy spent her last moments with us and on this earth.  Worsening seizures and other complications of a dog whose life would be measured at almost 100 human years brought her to that point of no return.  She left us with her same spirit of sweetness.

The news of her passing was not shared with everyone.

Nancy now turned to Landrye.  “The black balloon stands for our sadness.  The white balloon reminds us of the gladness we feel when we think of God’s care for all creatures great and small.  Now, when we think of Snoopy, we see her released from the pain that her many years brought her.  In our hearts, she’s a puppy again.”

As the balloons left their hands and floated skyward, granddaughter and grandmother felt their sadness and their gladness weave together into a memory.  Landrye understood.  A friend had been lost.

We often measure the passing of someone or some thing loved by releasing only one balloon.  The dark one.  The one of questions.  The one that drains our energy.

Today, Nancy reminded Landrye and me — and now you — of that all-important, all-healing second balloon.

When life presents sadness, God provides gladness.  And that gladness never overshadows the sadness.  Instead it twists together with the threads of difficulties and misfortune to form a fabric that stretches heavenward — our bridge to a loving and caring God.

A Moment of Christmas

We were expecting things to be different this year. Changes in the family have made us wary of almost every occasion.

So it was with no small amount of dread that I awaited the traditional opening of gifts. Certainly, I thought, things just won’t be the same. For one thing, it was coming a day late. And then there was the element of missing people. A few would not be with us. And then there was the fact that the economic downturn would be an obstacle for all that gathered.

But the magic moment of Christmas emerged. The gifts, some modest and some more extravagant, were a side note to the beautiful thoughts and love poured into their selection. After this long-awaited festival of sharing, I chided myself on my earlier anxiety. After all, wasn’t the greatest present in the world delivered in a small family gathering in a stable during tough economic times and horrific political and social stress?

So, while I was still thinking that perhaps Christmas would be unrecognizable this year, I received the greatest present of them all. The moment of Christmas began to sink in.

“Emmanuel” does mean “God with us.” And He is.

Taking Care of Business

Twice this last weekend, I selected a seat in Cullen Auditorium that would give me the greatest vantage point for watching our church children’s musical. For most of the last twenty years, talented, dedicated adults have focused a good portion of their autumn lives on selecting, rehearsing and producing these extravaganzas with our little ones. I applaud them — not with the tongue-in-cheek attitude of “they should be blessed because they’ve had to deal with all those kids.” No, I applaud them because of the incredible ministry they have.

The purpose of the annual event is to allow our children to tell the story of Jesus. And they do that with passion and ability that far surpasses their few years. But another reason for the musical is for these wonderful adults to tell the story of Jesus to these kids through the everyday business of a Christmas program.

During the first matinee, I videotaped the close-up performance of my granddaughter. Sure, there was a larger story — and an official DVD being shot with a wider lens — but my focus was Landrye. I was thrilled to watch her give serious attention to the cues from the directors and to carefully do her part. She really took care of business.

But what brought me to tears, both at the performance and as I sat editing the video that night, was watching her sing, “Tell Me the Story of Jesus.” I don’t know what she may face in her life — what challenges, what opportunities, what sadness, what opportunities. But I know that her song — her request — to hear about Jesus is and will be the most important business she can ever be about.

When she sang, it was if she were singing to me. I just hope that I can take care of business. I pray that, to my dying breath, I can tell her the story of Jesus.