Stories with Heart and Soul

If we can find the stories with heart and soul, then I believe we’ve found something worth hearing. And, they are treasures worth keeping.

There was a movie that came out several years ago called The Straight Story.  It’s based on the true story of a man named Alvin Straight who traveled from his home in Iowa to Wisconsin to see his brother.  On the surface, that’s not much of a story. But, there were a couple of things that made this story worth telling and worth hearing.

You see, Alvin and his brother hadn’t spoken to each other in several years.  They’d fought about something and as a result they refused to be in contact.  But, when Alvin received word that his brother, his only sibling,  had fallen ill and been in the hospital, Alvin decided he should go to see his brother.

Seems simple enough:  except it wasn’t. (No one makes movies about simple things.  They don’t sell tickets.) Alvin hadn’t lived an easy life.  His time in the service, the anger and fear he brought home from the battlefields, the alcohol that gave him some relief from the pain, and stubborn pride had taken their toll on his body and soul.  Due to poor eyesight, Alvin could no longer see well enough to drive. He had bad hips and couldn’t move around very well without a cane to steady him.  Despite these things that might have deterred others from making the trip, Alvin figured out a way he could get to his brother.

He built himself a small trailer and hitched it to a riding lawnmower.  He bought some coolers to take his food in, put in a couple of chairs and some bedding to sleep on.  He also had several large containers of gasoline and all the other essentials he would need for his trip.  And, he set off traveling a few miles each day on his old, but fairly reliable John Deere mower.

Because I highly recommend this movie to anyone over the age of 13, I won’t tell you the whole story and how it ends.  Watch it.  You’ll be very glad you did.

It won’t come as a surprise, I’m sure, to know that this movie has a whole lot of life lessons in it.  Frankly, given what we are often offered by movies today, it was a joy to watch a story unfold that offered something positive, hopeful, and incredibly touching.

It’s a story of determination and vulnerability.  It’s a story of letting go of pride and embracing forgiveness.  It’s a story of sacrifice and love.  I mean, how many people do you know who would hitch a riding lawnmower to a homemade trailer and drive it nearly 400 miles because it was the only way they could think of to get to see someone they hadn’t spoken to in years? I’ve only known a couple who would have done something like that and they were pretty amazing folks.

Some of the best stories I’ve heard and some of the finest people I know have stories with a common thread that is found in Alvin’s story.  They are stories that have a heart and soul.  Because they do, they can speak to the heart and soul of others in ways that will ring true and will touch them to the depths of their being.  These folks and their stories may have things about them that will stretch our imagination or test our ability to comprehend.   But, when we hear them we will have no doubt that what was shared was honest and real.

We can hear a lot of stories everyday without much effort.  Turn on the news or log onto a social media site or sit on a bench in town and listen and watch as people pass by.  There are stories to be heard.  Our challenge these days is trying to figure out if what we’re hearing is real. Is it true? Is it honest? Is it factual? Does it matter? Who cares?  All good questions.  But, maybe we’d better ask another question while we’re at it.  Where is the heart and soul of this story? Where is the thread that is woven and linked with another to create this tapestry?  Is it a tangled web spun to deceive (thank you, Shakespeare)? Or is it intricately and thoughtfully told so that when it ends, we will know that those threads have now become part of our tapestry, our lives, too? And, we will be thankful that is so.

If we can find the stories with heart and soul, then I believe we’ve found something worth hearing.  And, they are treasures worth keeping.

I wish you peace….

You Gotta Have Friends

I think if we spent more time trying to make friends with others we might have have more to smile about. We’d probably have more to laugh about. We’d surely have a few things to cry about. I’m certain we’d all have more love in our lives.

According to Facebook (the ultimate in all-knowing sources) I have over 700 friends. This was pointed out by a friend (one I knew before Facebook) who decided I must be very popular. (Yes, I know sarcasm when I hear it…)

Who knew that many people would want to be my friend (at least on social media)? I sure didn’t. Actually, it had never occurred to me check the number until my friend decided to have a little fun and poke at me.  Nevertheless, there are people who’ve decided that it’s okay to be my friend (or there’s no harm in accepting my request to be a friend) and I’m glad they did.

Of course, not everyone on that list is my “best” friend.  I don’t think you can have more best friends than you have fingers on one hand.  Well, I don’t think I can, anyway.  I do have best friends.  You know who you are and I am beyond grateful for your presence in my life.

Not everyone on that list is a friend I’ve actually seen face-to-face for awhile–like for years and years.  Some of these folks I knew in another state and in another time of my life–like grade school and high school and college (Round 1 at Western Carolina and Round 2 at Gardner-Webb).  Some are people I know from places I used to work and some from where I work now, from church (which is where I work), and from various endeavors in my past and present life.

Some of my friends aren’t even on the Facebook list because they aren’t on Facebook at all.  But, they are my friends no matter what Facebook knows or doesn’t know about them or me.  Thankfully, social media is not the only way we make or get to have friends, and I was fairly good at making friends with people long before I even knew what a computer or the internet were.   But, when we use it well, social media can be a really good way to stay connected to people or reconnect with folks who have added meaning to our lives.

What I find interesting as I read posts and look at pictures and remember how and when and why and where all these people have crossed paths with me is that the people I know come from far and wide.  It is a fairly eclectic, sometimes eccentric, often entertaining, and fairly diverse group of friends.  I can’t fit them all in just a few tidy box and label them.  For the record, I don’t want to.

These folks I know and call friends come from all walks of life.  They have different political leanings that go from the far right to far left and everywhere in between.  They come from different faith traditions and from places where faith isn’t really important to them at all.  Some are Republican, some are Democrats, some are Libertarians, some are Independents, and some don’t care about politics and never will.  At present, these are my most sane friends.

Some of my friends are Smoky Bears, some are Catamounts, some are Tigers (more than one variety of those), some are Bulldogs or Runnin’ Bulldogs, some are Demon Deacons, Wolfpack fans, Paladins, Cavaliers, Volunteers, and of course, Tar Heels.  I even have a couple of friends who love the Blue Devils (I don’t know why, but they do). Some don’t know a bat from a ball or a touchdown from a hole-in-one and they don’t care to know.

I have friends who cut hair, dance, practice law, practice medicine, and teach.  They are accountants, professors, truck drivers, cooks, nurses, pharmacists, realtors, preachers, musicians, singers, actors, small business owners, sales people, broadcasters, and bankers. Some are students, some are between jobs, and some are retired.  Some are doing pretty well for themselves, some are on Social Security, and some barely get by from paycheck to paycheck.

They hunt, fish, play golf, play tennis, ride bikes, ride horses, kayak, shoot pool, run 5k’s and marathons, hike, walk, watch NASCAR, are obsessed with college basketball, and play pickle ball.  They make quilts, paint, crochet, knit, write books, bake cakes, garden, take pictures, coach little league, lead scout troops, teach Sunday school, save turtles, and take in stray animals.

I have friends who volunteer at Habitat for Humanity, Hospice, Meals on Wheels, the United Way, teach ESL classes, serve meals to homeless people, work at the local animal shelter, make prayers shawls and baby blankets, and  tutor children at local schools.

They do things I would never do like scale huge mountains, zip line, scuba dive and sky dive to name a few. They do things I love to do like read, play tennis, hike and travel.  They do things that make me scratch my head and get puzzled looks on my face.  I’m certain I do the same for them.

Who would have thought that a little girl from Surry County, Virginia and Sevier County, Tennessee would get the chance to cross paths with so many interesting and truly incredible people?

You know one of the things I really treasure about my friends–all of them, not just the ones on Facebook?  I treasure that they/you are part of a beautiful, intricately woven tapestry of life–the one I got blessed with.  Whether you are a friend I’ve known since elementary school or one I’ve only recently come to know, you make a difference in my life.  Thank you!

We get the opportunity in this life to be part of another human being’s story.  Sometimes that’s just for a few fleeting moments, but they are moments that can have a profound impact on the life of another person.  Hopefully, if we are doing it well, the impact is positive or, at least, not damaging.

One of my very best friends died several years ago.  We met in high school and I have never known anyone quite like her. In many ways we were complete opposites, but that didn’t keep us from becoming and remaining friends.  I miss her and her quick and quirky sense of humor and her enormous heart for others.  Early in our friendship she asked me why I wanted to be her friend.  You see, she hadn’t made friends easily and it seemed to puzzle her that I would be friends with her.  The answer was simple; I told her that I liked her for who she was.  I didn’t have any need or desire for her to be anything else.  Later, as we grew up and would sometimes find ourselves at odds with each other, that was a core truth in our friendship.

I think if we spent more time trying to make friends with others we might have have more to smile about.  We’d probably have more to laugh about.  We’d surely have a few things to cry about.  But above all, I’m certain we’d have more love in our lives.

Thank you, my friends.

I wish you peace…

 

 

 

In the Wilderness

We all have our version of time spent in the wilderness. Jesus faced his own trials in a barren, lonely, seemingly deserted place. As we Christians come to the end our time in the season of Lent, on this holy day called Good Friday, remember that you are in the Company of One who understands your time in the wilderness, who is with you in that time, and who will always, always love you.

For those of us who profess to be followers of Christ, today is a sacred and holy day. Good Friday is a day that Christians remember the crucifixion of Jesus.

Some of us will find ourselves in church today, in solemn, quiet, reflective worship. We will try to imagine the horrible, painful way that Jesus died on a cross.  We will listen to the words from scripture that Jesus spoke to the criminals who were on either side of him as he and they died an excruciating death.  We will hear the words he spoke to his beloved disciple and his mother, who surely must have ached in every way and whose hearts must have been shattered at the sight of their beloved Jesus dying before them and having no way to stop the torture or agony that he endured.  We will hear the cry of a Son to his Father just before he breathed his last breath, asking in the depths of unfathomable pain why he had been forsaken.

And, at the end Jesus will speak his final words.  It is finished.  Father into your hands I commend my spirit.  Death has come.  The one who loved so much that he would die for all he loved–for all of us–took no more air into his lungs.  His heart stopped and his body hung lifelessly on a Roman cross.

This is not the end of the story. Mercifully, thankfully, this is not the end of the story. We know, we believe, we have faith in the light, love and joy that will be found on Easter morning.

The season of Lent and the days Christians call Holy Week are the days that are set aside to prepare us for what comes next.  From Ash Wednesday until Easter, we can find ourselves in something of a wilderness place.  After Jesus was baptized, he spent forty days in the wilderness where, as a Son of Man and a Son of God, he encountered physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges and tests.  Jesus would know in his way, just as we know in our ways, what it means to spend time in the wilderness.

Last year, during the season of Lent, I lived in the wilderness.  I did not experience the same kinds of temptations and trials that Jesus faced.  These were mine and they were extremely difficult.

I expect that we all have these wilderness experiences where we find ourselves wrestling with things that have overwhelmed us, beaten us, tempted us, scarred us and left us in places of loneliness, despair, misery and hopelessness. Life does that to us.  We do it to ourselves.  And, we can live there for a short time or, for some, the rest of our days.

I wrote about my wilderness time and felt that perhaps it would be okay to share it with anyone who wished to read it.  I offer it only for the purpose of saying to anyone who reads it that when you find yourself in that place you would call desert or wilderness–the most empty, lonely, barren place you have ever been–remember that you are not alone.  You are in the company of One whose spirit and presence is with you.  You are in the company of One who understands and has been in the place you find yourself.  And, you are in the company of One who loves you so much that He would die for you so that you need not ever be alone in the wilderness or on any part of your journey through life.

On this Good Friday, I wish you peace….

 

In the Wilderness

I’ve been to the place where it is barren and brown.  It does not invite me to be there, although I may be kept there for what seems far too long.  I am pushed there by forces that have the power to do so.  While there, I exist in the parched land that has long forgotten the taste of water.

My soul is thirsty in this dry land. My body longs for just a drop of anything that will quench this thirst.  But, the water that I need will not come from the dryness of this place.  It is in the tears that have welled within me that life comes back to me and allows me to emerge from the wilderness. It is a living water that comes from another source, put into me by One who wishes that I live abundantly and beyond the wilderness. 

As the tears fall, they wet the dust.  At first, they are only like a sprinkling on an early spring day.  But, when I give them permission to leave, they come in showers, even torrents–the kind known on hot summer days when storms emerge from the dark clouds and pass over with a force that disturbs, but also cleanses the air and the earth over which it has moved.

With each tear, my thirst lessens. With each tear, my body pushes back against the forces that sent me to the wilderness.  Tears mark time in the wilderness and when enough have been shed, when my cries have been heard, when my soul has been soothed, I find myself able to now leave the wilderness and move into a place of peace.

The journey from wilderness to peace will never be made with ease.  We rarely willingly choose to walk through wilderness.  I was pushed there and could not resist the force.

The steps are heavier in the beginning because of what I carried into the wilderness. But, when I leave, the load I carried will be lifted from me. I no longer have to keep it.  It has been taken from me.  Somewhere along the dry and dusty path, somewhere between the lightest drops of rain and the strongest storms, the Being who is more powerful than the wilderness took away what I brought in.  The Being was the only one who could bear it so that I could leave the wilderness with something else.

I leave with something more powerful than the wilderness or the forces that sent me there.

I leave with love from One who knew the wilderness, too.

I leave because this One could show me the way forward.

 

 

 

Thinking About Things a Little Differently Today

I don’t know the name of the dog, the young man, or the vet tech. But, I don’t think I will ever forget them.  Some things you just don’t forget.

The picture above is of our dog, Mikah.  Mikah is fine.  She’s alive and pretty healthy for a dog who is somewhere around 13 years old.  She is a happy, funny, wonderful, crazy, fur ball of a dog.  We love her dearly.

Sometimes Mikah is the one creature on the planet who reminds me of what pure goodness means.  That doesn’t mean she doesn’t get herself into trouble sometimes–like when she eats plastic toys and other things that dogs shouldn’t eat.  Rather, I’m reminded by Mikah and her simple needs of how joyful life can be when your world is essentially all about loving those around you. I never have to question her love for us.  I know it to be true.  I hope she knows that from us, too.

Last night, I came home and looked at Mikah a bit differently than I typically do. Here’s why.

Last night, my son and I saw something that was heartbreaking.  It was one of those things that can be described as simultaneously real and surreal.  But, when the reality of it set in (which didn’t take very long) we were both reminded of how very fragile life is and how very hard it is to bear witness to its end.

We were preparing to turn off a busy road onto the street leading to our house.  It was about 9:00 p.m. and, so, it was dark.  On the right, we both saw a fairly large, black figure in the parking lot of a local business.  At first, my son thought it was a bear.  We then realized it was a dog.  The dog was limping.

I made my turn and stopped the car.  I was watching the dog in the mirror of the car and saw him next to the road.  I was getting out of the car to see if I could get to the dog, but the dog walked out into the road.  And, he was instantly hit by car.  The car didn’t stop.

I told James to stay in our car.  He asked me if the dog had been hit and I told him yes.  I went to the road but the traffic was steady and there was no way for me to get to the dog without possibly getting hit, too.  So, I waited.  I didn’t know what to do.  I started to go back to my car (I’m not sure why, except I remember thinking about James).  Then I saw a car stop right next to where the dog was laying in the middle of the road.

A young man jumped out and picked up the dog, which was no small task.  He probably weighed a hundred pounds.  He put the dog in the back of his car.  I said to the man that I saw him get hit but I couldn’t get to him.  I said thank you to the man for trying to take care of the dog, but thinking there was nothing he could do.

I watched the car pull away and then turn into the parking lot of the church on the corner, near where I live.  I got back to my car and drove James the short distance to our house, explaining I was going to see if I could help the man with the dog.  James wanted to know if the dog was dead.  I told him I thought he probably was, but didn’t know for sure.

In a minute I was in the parking lot and there was the man with the dog.  And, there was another man who had stopped to check on the dog.  This man told me he was a vet tech and when I asked what he thought, he said he couldn’t detect a heartbeat or pulse.  He was telling the younger man about an emergency animal hospital several miles away.

I asked if the dog had a collar and tags, thinking maybe I could contact the owner if the young man was planning to take him to the animal hospital.  He said to me in a soft voice, “he’s mine.”  And, then he told us what happened.

There was a storm moving into the area last night and the dog had gotten out of the house, he said. The storm frightened the dog, as storms often do, and the dog ran off. The dog, he said, was an older dog and had bad hips.  That explained the limp we had noticed.  The young man had been out searching for the dog.

I looked at the man and told him how sorry I was.  I wish I could have helped him.  I wish I could have kept the dog from going into the road.  I wish he had found the dog just a few minutes earlier.

Not wanting to delay the man from taking the dog on to the hospital where they would tell him what I’m sure he already knew (but equally sure that he was hoping was not the truth),  I said good-bye and again how sorry I was.  I reached into the car to touch the dog.  I guess I thought I needed to say good-bye to the dog, too.

And, then we all left.

I don’t know the name of the dog, the young man, or the vet tech. But, I don’t think I will ever forget them.  Some things you just don’t forget.

My son and I both shed some tears when I got home.  For the rest of the night, we stayed close. There were few words.  There was just a closeness that you just know is needed without having to say it.

As I said, I looked at Mikah a bit differently last night when I came home.  How could I not?  And, I watched my son quietly (which is his way) shed tears over a loss he didn’t have to claim, but did anyway.

I don’t know what to say now.  I can’t tie this up neatly with profound words that turn this story into a life lesson or something philosophical or something that makes it better.  I’m not even going to try.

Today, I’ll just be thinking about things and feeling things a little differently than I might have.  And, that’s okay for today.

I wish you peace…

 

Lenten Writings: In a Place of Brokenness

The following poem was written last year.  I wrote it during the season of Lent, and I wrote it because I was taking some very hard steps on a very long journey of letting go.  When you reach certain stages of life part of what you discover (or at least what I’ve discovered) is that in order to keep living life with any kind of joy, enthusiasm, spirit, or energy then there are things that you have to release.  They are things that you may have kept for many years or things you’ve recently allowed to be part of what you carry and choose to own or claim. Regardless of how long you’ve been holding them, there comes a point when you are faced with the decision of holding them or releasing them.

And, so, I found myself with several of these.  When I finished seminary in December, 2015, I knew that 2016 would be the year that I had to do examine these parts of my life.  I’d put them off and carefully kept them at a safe distance or boxed them up and shoved them in the far corners of the basement of my being.  But, now they demanded my attention.  Each of these things deserved that attention and thoughtful consideration.  They were part of my life, thus they deserved to either be carried on with a different kind of care or they deserved to be released to end their existence in peace.

Either way, it was time to sit with each of these things and listen to what they had to say and what they had to teach me.  With many tears, much prayer, and with great care, that is what I tried to do with these precious but difficult pieces of my life.

The season of Lent last year was the beginning of that journey.  The season of Lent this year has been one of renewal of spirit and care of body in order to move on to the next places and the next experiences that could only be fully embraced and lived as a result of what God called to my attention, what Christ sat through with me, and what the Holy Spirit now gives me the peace and hope to embrace next.

My hope for you is that these words might give you something–hope, encouragement, permission, awareness–whatever you might need to follow the path that is yours to accept.

I wish you peace…

Let Your Heart be Rent

Break my heart into a thousand pieces

Let them fall out of me onto the floor

And lay there in their brokenness.

Let me touch each one of the shards

That will cut me if I do not handle them with great care–with the care they deserve– As they were once something that held and guarded things dear to me.

Break my heart so that I feel the pain in every cell

Let me hear the cries of each part of me

As the pain reaches it and sits there

Knowing that it will not stay

But it knows that I must feel the pain of brokenness

In ways I now choose to accept.

 

Break my heart and let me mourn the loss of what once was

But can no longer be,

What was held cannot draw breath if I am to live

What has been shattered will be washed away with tears of grief,

Cleansing drops that have the power to move what is within

to the place where death takes it once and for all.

 

Break my heart if that is what it takes to make me whole.

If death to self is what must be done

Then do it now.

I only ask that as I allow this brokenness to overtake me

That You be with me, as I cannot do this alone.

I trust that You will hold the pieces with me

That You will give me peace to let them go.

I trust that You will wipe the tears away

That You will bless all as it is surrendered to the dust.

I trust that You will take what’s left of my dust

And form it into the being You meant me to be all along.