The Definitive Answer

I was restless and anxious at home.

I came to my office on this Sunday afternoon to seek clarity and to assign meaning to the insanity of the last several days.

My time in church this morning didn’t help me immediately come to the answer.

Prayers and tears for 20 children dead, along with six adults who fell in acts of protection and rescue . . . the murder of a mother . . . the suicide of a young man I personally know who was working hard to overcome addiction . . . the discovery of a cyst in a young woman’s skull that brings her pain, blurred vision, loss of memory, and, now, brain surgery . . . the sudden unexplained death of the adult daughter of my neighbors . . . the serious illness of a young boy and his mother’s loss of a job because she had to choose between being with him or going to work . . . the news that a dear friend has chosen to forego further treatment and to submit quietly to the hand of death . . .

I know that “the definitive answer” to all of these horrendous things would be appreciated by everyone. Most of all, by me.

As I sat in my pew this morning, I found myself longing for a perfect world. I wanted a place where people didn’t kill other people . . . where individuals didn’t argue angrily over things that are of little substance . . . where addiction and mental and physical illness don’t exist . . . where the people behind me wouldn’t talk in church . . . where times together with family and friends and co-workers could be free of conflict . . .

I was longing for heaven on earth. And then it struck me:

  • You can’t have heaven on earth.

But surely we can have glimpses of heaven . . . whiffs of the aromas that escape God’s kitchen . . . a brief caress reminiscent of the Creator’s touch . . . the soothing words of a loving voice . . .

And that would be enough.

Despite my protests and my assertion that you can’t have heaven on earth, I am, of course, completely wrong.

A couple of thousand years ago, an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds tending their flocks and said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all of the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” And almost immediately, a chorus of angels broke out in song, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men and women and children on whom his favor rests.”

Peace came to earth. All of the elements are here. And therein lies the definitive answer.

Preacher Jonathan reminded us today that “hope” is, essentially, “waiting” for better things to come. How better to spend our time than to offer hope in this grand waiting room?

Today, tomorrow, and every day:

  • Peel back the unsightly sores that cover this life so that others can catch a glimpse of heaven.
  • Allow the aroma of Christ to saturate everything about you so that others can’t help but smell it too.
  • Touch someone with the care and concern that can bring emotional healing even when physical healing is impossible.
  • Speak words of peace and comfort.

Sea SideWhen all else fails and you have no words to offer, sit or stand closely by. Presence is a divine and spiritual gift.

After all, “Emmanuel” means “God with us.”

 

 

Two More Balloons

A lot of things change in a week.

Today, as I left to go home, I saw storm clouds building in the east. My first thought  was to get home. Foster Dog would be coming inside.

But things have changed.

When I pulled up in the driveway, I slowed to look for her through the fence slats. For the past three years, she waited there, eager for her walk.

Things have changed.

A week ago today, Zoe (also known as “Foster Dog”) left us. After years of a heart murmur that robbed her of oxygen, last year’s near-fatal spider bite, and the more recent arrhythmia, the big, white dog went to her rest. Nancy continues to peek out the windows to catch a glimpse of her and we both fight the urge to carry out fresh ice water to her every hour or so.

Things have changed.

Nancy took a walk in the neighborhood this morning — her first stroll down familiar streets without Zoe. Each step was more difficult than she imagined.

Not unlike many pet owners, we talked to Zoe – a lot. And even when it became apparent that she was completely deaf, we continued to talk to her. Nancy even sang to her. Not just any song, but one that she created for Zoe. I may have even hummed a few bars myself from time to time.

And, if you follow me on Twitter or FaceBook, you also know that there is some thought out there that Foster Dog talked to me. I would be hard pressed to deny that.

Things have changed.

So about this time last week, Nancy and I made our way to campus and sat for a while at the feet of a massive sculpture. This was one of Zoe’s favorite places.

Nancy brought two balloons — one white and one blue. We released them to the West Texas wind and they flew up and over the trees. White for Zoe’s beautiful fur coat and blue for her amazing eyes.

In some ways we thought it would be a fitting goodbye to a faithful friend.

Things have changed.

As we grow older, we are learning that the best things in life never truly leave us. Good friends, true love, and faithful souls surround us, even as their earthly presence spin away like two balloons in the wind.

Blessings on you as you remember those who have blessed you. Family, loved ones, and those special creatures God sent to comfort us.

Things have changed. But good, like God, always remains.

 

See also, “Two Balloons.”

 

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.

Standing Room Only

Growing up in West Texas, I had a pretty well-developed system for knowing who my friends were. Friends were the guys — and occasionally the girls — you spent time with. Looking back, I’m not sure that the great majority of that time was very productive. But, even today, it seems like quality time. We played ball and pretended we were people we would never be. We shared dreams and schemes and, on occasion, the blame for schemes gone bad. In simplest terms, we were there for each other.

Eventually, of course, I found my best friend, Nancy. And I’ve poured most of my friend energy into that relationship. I’m not certain that she would say that all of that effort on my part has had happy results — or even that there has been all that much investment at times. Thankfully, our love and friendship has grown because of her enormous capacity for others.

I know that similar cues that determine friendship exist in today’s relationships. Perhaps the activities are less strenuous. And now the dreams shared are sometimes those lying broken around us. The happy times are no less happy, though. However, with the pressure of life as an adult, there seems to be less quality time for friends.

Or so I thought. A friend of mine recently went through a period of crisis. I was one of a number of folks who went to his side. Part of our function was to simply be there and absorb the moment with him. If you’ve ministered to people who are sick or who are grieving the death of someone close, you’ve probably heard this activity described as “sitting with” the suffering person.

Years ago, I was mentored in “sitting” by a long-time minister at our church, Brother Horace. A good brother at the congregation had died suddenly. I was dropping off some things at the church office that day as Brother Horace was making his way to visit the family of the deceased. “Why don’t you come with me?” he asked.

I was in my early twenties and, other than family, I had never gone to visit a bereaved family. Reluctantly, I said yes. But in the car on the way to their home, I became nervous. “Brother Horace,” I questioned, “What will I do when I get there? What will I say?”

“Simple. Say what seems right. And if you have nothing to say, just sit. Through the years, I’ve never had any one recall what I had to say, but almost every one remembered I was there. Being there is the key.”

And so it is with friendship. In my friend’s crisis, I came to realize that there was no place for me to “sit.” Those spots were taken by individuals who had been there more often. No, my place was just inside the door. Standing just a bit to the side.

I just happened to run into this friend downtown, recently. And even though my perception was that my involvement was very slight, he was effusive in his greeting. He thanked me over and over for what I had done.

The expression on my face must have been one of puzzlement. He paused as I stuttered, “I really wasn’t that much help.”

He moved closer and whispered, “But you were there!”

Friendship and love can grow in even the shallowest soil. And so I’m called back to Brother Horace’s sage advice. Say what seems right. And if you have nothing to say, just sit. And to that wisdom, I add this corollary. When there is no place to sit, just stand.

Photo Credit: Julia Freeman-Woolpert (stock.xchng)