Lessons from Lexy

today-showWe have a society that seems to believe that the elderly and infirm have nothing to show us or give to us. That’s why I was so touched by a recent story posted on my Facebook timeline about a young girl who befriended an elderly man in the grocery store. It seems this little sprite has a heart for elderly people and she wants to “love ‘em all up before they is died.” I think this girl and my dog, Lexy, are cut from the same cloth.

Found shivering and cold under a pallet in the woods of South Carolina, this pitiful little ball of black fluff has grown to become the kindest, most gentle creature I have ever known. She is not aggressive, hyper or needy. She adores people and cats but is a little leery of other dogs. I used to think this was odd, but as I watched her the other day, I realized that Lexy has a higher “calling” than being just an average dog. She is here to give love and care to those who need it most.

I know. You think I’m making this up, but those who have seen her in action will attest.

We take nearly daily walks around a beautiful dog park here in Colorado. While other dogs chase each other and play, Lexy follows closely beside me happily completing her daily constitutional while enjoying the sights and smells of one of her favorite places on earth. Okay, sure, there’s the occasional swim or chasing of a stick, but otherwise, she follows me, waiting for the time she is needed…

…and the times come nearly every day.lexy

Sometimes it’s the cry of a baby. Lexy hears it and immediately starts toward the sound to find the baby and comfort it. She’ll lick its feet, nuzzle its face, and do whatever she can to help.

Sometimes it’s an elderly person who is a seated alone on a bench. She’ll walk up calmly and “ask” to be petted, licking their thin, soft skin and leaning against their legs.

Just the other day, it was a young man with physical and mental challenges that was being pushed in his wheelchair around the park. When Lexy saw him, she immediately trotted to his side, nuzzled his hand and then sat beside him and waited. She wasn’t looking for food or someone to throw a ball. She wanted to just sit near him and spend time.

Similarly, when my parents lived here, she would do this same thing for them anytime she had the chance to stay at “camp”. Anytime my dad got up to go out of the room, Lexy would walk behind him always keeping a safe distance, but seemingly staying close enough to “help” should he fall. At night, she would diligently watch over my dad and stepmom, moving from room to room to make sure they each were okay, and then taking post in the living room to watch for any unknown critters that needed to be guarded against.

As I read the story on the little girl today I realized what a precious gem both she and my dog are. In a time when people are spending millions of dollars a year to try to achieve “agelessness”and those with physical and mental challenges are still struggling to find a place, there are old souls – human and canine alike – who feel drawn to bridge that gap and let each of these people know they are precious and loved; that they are as much a part of the tapestry of this world as everyone else and those of us who don’t recognize that are missing out on some of life’s biggest blessings.

I know I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know or haven’t already heard. People of faith in particular often have generous hearts and are willing to see beyond age and disability, but just in case, let me share some of things Lexy would tell you if she had thumbs and could type.

  • The older someone is, the more love they deserve: Don’t rush by because they move slowly and don’t stop listening because they already told you that story. Walk with them anyway, listen to them anyway.
  • Those with disabilities see the world differently. Learn from them: Being dependent upon a wheelchair, unable to speak clearly because of a stutter, or being stared at because muscles act on their own accord is challenging enough. Don’t dismiss the person because of the difficulty. Instead, see how much they do despite the struggle. If they can’t speak, sit with them and wait. They will teach you lessons if you only pay attention.
  • Be caring and gentle always: Old age and physical challenges are exhausting. Don’t add to the frustration by demanding they respond to you in your time or in your preferred method. Be adaptable and accepting.
  • Love them until…: I know it sounds daunting, but loving someone doesn’t mean that, like the little girl in the story above, you need to make another person a member of your family (although you certainly could!). Sometimes your time with this person is only a few moments. Offer them the love a dog would show – unconditional and genuine – for the moment they are a part of your world. I guarantee this will make your life and theirs far better.

 

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The Vulnerability of Autumn

04_weird_ways_world_autumn_economy_eversteI held the newspaper clipping in my hand and read the headline over and over.

It was an obituary. Simple and harmless enough, and yet the words on the page held tremendous power over me.

He was dead.

A man that had tortured my youth and reappeared time after time in my nightmares was no longer a risk to me. He could never just appear in a public place and make my heart stop or cause me to run out of a building in search of an adequate hiding place and there was finally a guarantee that he would never be able to hurt me or anyone else again.

I honestly don’t know what the obituary said. I’m sure it had all the typical stuff: loving father, devoted husband, grandfather, yada, yada, yada, but all I as I look back, all I really remember was reading the name and something about his dying.

He had successfully passed from this earth leaving me holding onto feelings of fear, anxiety and shame that I spent decades trying to keep hidden from myself and those around me.

I felt as though I should have been dancing in the streets celebrating the death of my abuser but instead, feelings of anger and frustration welled up inside me. I struggled with worry, concerned that bitterness had taken over; that I was unable to let go of the pain and feel the relief this death should offer me…

…and then it hit me.

I wasn’t able to celebrate or even feel relief from his passing because I had some hard work to do first.

This was a season of autumn – a moment when the armor that I had used to cover up this pain had to be ripped aside and the raw, bloody, painful mess of my memories had to be exposed so growth and healing could begin.

I had to become vulnerable.vulnerability-fishin-boat-1024x565-780x430

Sure, I could have chosen to quickly cover that memory right back up, tack the armor back in place and walk away, pretending that nothing ever happened, but not only was this not healthy for me, it wasn’t what God desired for me. Instead, God desired for me to use this season to heal and prepare for a season of new growth and beauty. He did this for me then and continues to do it now for me and for every single one of us. And just to remind us that this is part of His plan, the Lord created Autumn.

Every year at this time Mother Nature strips herself of the external decoration that blossomed around us from Spring to Summer. The leaves which graced the arms of each tree turn to glorious new colors and then wither and die. The buds hide themselves from the cold and snow to come so they can greet us again in springtime. As humans and people of faith, we also must have times where we allow ourselves to shed our external garments, so to speak, to prepare for the chance to change and grow emotionally and spiritually.

God offered me just such an opportunity the day I received this obituary but as you might expect, this change was not then nor never will be easy.

Joyce Rupp, in her book Fresh Bread, wrote that seasons of change like this are times when we allow ourselves to become vulnerable. Just as the removal of the leaves on the trees leaves each spindly little branch is entirely exposed to the elements, vulnerable to the ravages of wind, snow and ice, when we allow ourselves to be stripped of our exterior protection, we become vulnerable to those around us. Our culture tells us that vulnerability is something to be avoided; that to be vulnerable only opens the door to criticism, rejection and perhaps even abuse. But vulnerability is so much more than that. Without being vulnerable, we would never be able to accept the blessings that God has in store for us – blessings like love, friendship, laughter, art and renewal. Without vulnerability, we cannot grow to be the men and women He designed us to be.

vulnerability-quote-brene-brownIt’s as if we are each a crystal vase. We could choose to be stored safely away in a box, surrounded by bubble wrap, guaranteed never to be chipped or cracked and remain “perfect”, but by making this choice, we also guarantee we would never be able to see the beauty that God has created us nor would we be seen for the beautiful creations that we are. God’s light couldn’t shine through us creating dancing rainbows of light on the wall for all around to enjoy nor could we hold within us the beautiful gifts God designs for us.

It seems odd to be thankful for an obituary, but I realize now that I would never be the person I am today were I not able to use that tiny piece of newspaper to shed myself of some of my protective garments and start afresh. Life is like that. Sometimes it’s the strangest little things that offer the greatest challenges and rewards.

Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us that our lives are full of seasons and each of these seasons has a purpose. Whatever season you are in right now, try to remember that even in the most seemingly desolate of seasons, there is a purpose. Reach up and know that God is there to walk with you through each moment. If you’re finding the season too challenging, reach out. There are people right beside you that are willing to walk with you. If you don’t feel that’s true for you, contact me. I’m here and I’m willing to help guide you to places where you will be nurtured and cared for.

The In-Between Time

I at-work-cookie-monsteram in one of those “in-between” times…between jobs, between relationships, between big events, waiting the next new chapter of my life to begin. Waiting can be a challenging thing. As I’ve stated before, it makes me question my decisions and my abilities and I have to admit that recently I have wondered whether I’ve completely missed the opportunity that the Lord has provided me my being too “me”…

…and then a sermon was preached at my home church which made me feel very much at peace with where I am.

The lesson was on the passage Luke 17:11-19 which tells the story of Jesus healing the 10 lepers. I don’t know about you but I’m sure that I’ve heard this story told in many different ways through the years but the bottom line for the story typically is a reminder of being grateful for your blessings; remembering to say thank you for the gifts you are given. That’s certainly a viable message, but the speaker I recently heard took the lesson so much further I felt I needed to share my thoughts about it with you.

As you may remember, this passage opens with telling the reader where Jesus is. It’s a big_thumblittle piece of information that I have glossed over dozens of times, but that little piece of information is actually quite important. At this time Jesus is on the road between Samaria and Galilee – literally between a group of people that were considered by the Jewish people to be “the bad guys” – the Samarians – and the people considered to be “the good guys” – the Galileans. The lepers were there because they could not live in their home cities due to their illness. It must have been very distressing. Not only were they each afflicted with this horrible disease, but from the perspective of the men from Galilee, they were forced to live with someone they considered to be their enemy – the man from Samaria. Since there were nine Galileans, I can’t help but wonder how long it took for the “good guys” to allow the one Samaritan to be near them; how long the sole Samaritan had to live in isolation before he was accepted by the others. Regardless, there in that “in-between” place, the outcasts became unified to some degree and they created their own community which no longer cast the Samaritan as an enemy, but only as a person similarly afflicted.

When we are in times of “in-between” we often have the same thing occur. People that we dc06ffcce360f8076ab4757eab5e08f9may not have associated with before or not understood now become more a part of our circle if they, too, are in-between. When one sits in an unemployment office or goes to meet with state agencies for assistance, the differences between us melt away. We are all in the same desert waiting for the same drop of water to quench our need.

In this passage of scripture, that drop of water came from Jesus who healed all ten men with a single sentence. Like us,the solution for all of them didn’t recognize differences. Regardless of their status, station or affiliation, the solution was the same and yet their responses varied significantly.

The Galileans, seeing that they had been healed, now had the opportunity to return to the society they had been shut out of. They could return to their church and in so doing, be welcomed back into their community, their homes, their livelihoods. All could go back to the way it was – including no longer having a Samaritan as a member of their community. Things could go back to “normal”.

The Samaritan could easily have returned to his home like the others did; returned to whatever life he had before he became afflicted with leprosy, gone back to “normal”as well, but he chose not to. Why? Because being in the “in-between” changed him.

He was no longer the same man who entered that portion of desert and lived that i-am-what-i-choose-to-becomeexistence “in-between”. He was changed and, more importantly, he wanted to remain changed.

Looking at my life now, I realize this is the same opportunity I have and we all have when we are in times of being “in-between”.

Times like these allow us a chance to re-examine our own beliefs and thoughts and decide if they are ideals we wish to hold fast to or change. If we see that there are changes we need to make or wish to make to our lives, this in-between time allows us to make those changes and choose a new direction; to choose a path that is more in line with where we see the Lord is calling us to go just as the Samaritan man did.

Here’s the thing.

Whether we realize it or not, times of being “in-between” change us just like both the Galileans and the Samaritans were changed. They had to learn to live near one another, to accept the destruction of their bodies, to find ways to survive in a place far from their homes and families and though our in-between looks quite difference, we also have to change. We have to learn to live with the new reality of our lives for however long that new reality exists – a new reality that may include people we previously wouldn’t have associated with or jobs we wouldn’t have considered satisfactory.

60c413fef21aeca2b0a68be83af5df2dBut we also have the opportunity to learn to experience new blessings and mercies we would not have had in our life before the “in-between”. We have the opportunity to find the “there” there – to find joy, peace and the gifts that God provides us each and every day in places we previously didn’t know existed let alone ever thought we would find ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong. Being “in-between”is challenging. I makes us see things we don’t want to see in ourselves and perhaps in others and also makes us change in ways we may not want to change.

We have to remember that God waits with us there just as He walked that road between Samaria and Galilee. He provides the same blessings to all who come near. One of the most significant blessings He provides is the wisdom of those who have been there and gotten to the other side. Our job is not only seeing the blessing of the in-between times and their resolutions, but also being grateful for the presence of these times in our lives and learning from those who are willing to share their journeys with us.

If you’re “in-between”, as I am, be blessed by its presence. If you have learned new things about yourself or your calling during such times, I would love to hear about it. If you have survived the “in-between” and wish to share your experiences, please do!

Bump in the Night

hide-under-bedThe crash from the apartment upstairs shook my ceiling and bolted me awake, heart thumping and sheet clutched to my chest.

The clock on my bedside table read 2:27 A.M.

I sat in the dark trying to slow my heart and sharpen my ears to listen to new sounds, new indications of what was going on above me. Was there an argument? A break in? My mind immediately went to the worst scenarios and started planning for how to assist.

A voice raised and I heard another bang!

My breathing became more shallow to try to make sure my presence wasn’t heard. Silly, of course, since I was one floor down and there no indication anyone was concerned about either disturbing me let alone worried if I heard their activity.

As I closed my eyes and waited, I heard raised voices…

…and then laughter.

All is well. Just some 20-somethings screwing around after a night at the clubs.

And yet, for me, sleep would likely not come for the rest of the night. I was awake with my demons again. Sure, I would likely doze for the next few hours, but my “spidey” senses had been sparked into action.

Now I realize my childhood was not the stuff of horror stories. I wasn’t raised in the inner city, leery of gunshots and drug dealers at every corner. Nor was I beaten so severely I was hospitalized for my injuries or worse yet, forced to live with broken bones to hide the abuse. Compared to that, my life was idyllic, and yet to this day I suffer from PTSD issues stemming from nights like this when the loud bangs led to screaming, throwing of drink tumblers shattered against the wall, glass shards embedded in the wall for years to come and me, cowering in my bedroom praying that the battles outside of my door would stay there.

Sometimes these things ended as quickly as they began. Drunken voices trailed off down the hall as my mother and stepfather made their way to the bedroom to sleep off some of the bourbon from the day. But sometimes the rage came through my door, dragging me from my bed to take care of some forgotten chore or another. Rarer still, but even more frightening,the door would open quietly, softly, the figure of a man – someone my mother trusted and confided in –  would enter to create nightmares in a completely different way.

ptsd-cloudTo this day, despite the years of therapy and work, raised voices make my heart stop in fear. I know in my head that a raised voice doesn’t lead to crisis; that some people just talk loudly out of necessity or habit, but in my heart still resides that irrational place; that basic instinct that has been honed by the fight or flight response over the years and is not convinced the danger has passed. Part of the reason is that despite all of this work, I still managed to marry two me who, in their own ways, helped reinforce those feelings of fear and trepidation. Though I managed to escape the place where my nightmares began, I spent years finding others who would use manipulation, lies and emotional abuse to keep me off balance.

So here I am, a blogger professing faith and confidence in the Lord and in His grace and mercy still haunted by decades-old memories that still have power over me in moments like this. Why is this? Shouldn’t I, as a person of faith, feel secure in the grace, mercy and power of my Lord? Certainly those who don’t believe think that should be the case.

I understand. I have fought this battle for a long time and have heard many atheists angrily shout their belief that the fact that these things happened to me in the first place was absolute proof that there is no god; that a loving god, like the one I profess to believe in, would not allow his children to suffer.

Perhaps they’re right.

But I don’t think so.

As the news blatantly proclaims every moment of every day, nobody is saved from suffering. From the youngest to the oldest of us, the headlines scream the horrible things men and women are able to do to one another out of greed, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or pure evil. But the thing is, God never said that we wouldn’t suffer. Even Jesus, who lived a sinless life and was God had to suffer. He suffered temptation, starvation and dehydration for 40 days in the desert, suffered criticism and anguish throughout his ministry, suffered the loss of friends and family due to illness, injury and abandonment, and then suffered untold fear, pain and physical pain at the end of His life. Jesus came to this earth so that He could experience sufferings from our human perspective in order to give us a true representation that with faith, all suffering could be conquered, not that with faith we would be saved from suffering.

See the difference there?

 

courage-will-follow-when-faith-takes-the-lead

Faith provides each one of us the ability to call upon the Lord and receive His peace in times of fear and strive.  Even in those dark nights when I am awakened by every day sounds that remind me of not-so-ordinary circumstances, my prayers for peace are answered without question.

Perhaps more significantly, unlike some people that may shame us for our fears and insecurities urging us to “get over it” or “move on”, God doesn’t mock  or shame us for being afraid of the things in our lives that we find challenging. In my life, God doesn’t ignore my cries for peace due to my inability to dismiss those noises for the innocent things that they are. He loves me, understands my fear and walks with me through it.

This, my friends, is just a tiny glimpse into the peace Jesus promised His believers; the peace that passes all understanding.

God doesn’t need to know why we need comfort because He isn’t going to try to explain away our feelings of distress or shame us out of expressing it. Our God readily provides peace to us not only because He already knows what our struggles are, but also because He doesn’t need to know why. We ask and He provides.

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Even more importantly, God also gives us the courage to head into the fearful circumstances of our lives. He is that still small voice in our heads and hearts that tells us that we can move forward despite the seemingly insurmountable odds. He does not promise we will always win because the reality is that we won’t. What He does promise is that when we reach out in faith and ask, He will provide the peace in our heart to acknowledge the fear, the courage and strength of character to try despite the understanding that we may fail, and the ability to reach out in faith when there is no visible rope to grab on to.

Here’s to hoping that if you, like me, have demons that go bump in the night, you, too, have the faith to reach out for peace and courage.