For the past couple of years, I have noticed my memory isn't as great as it used to be. Yes, participants in my workshops still say, "I can't believe you remember my name!", but I double-book appointments sometimes, and I can't remember where I put my phone while I am talking on it. Everyone says it has to do with aging (and it may also have something to do with medications I have to take after my bout with breast cancer almost five years ago), but that doesn't mean I have to like it. I just have to accept it. Dave probably wishes I wouldn't remember grammar rules when I giggle (politely, I might add) when he makes a minor faux pas.
I've just started watching a new Netflix series about a woman in an accident who awakens in the hospital with amnesia. She can't remember that her husband is the man sitting next to her bedside, despite the fact they both are wearing their wedding rings. I am baffled and saddened by that. How can something so amazing as a great marriage with so many memories be lost by a head bump? I cannot imagine it---from either side---the one with amnesia or the one who is desperately trying to get the loved one to remember who they loved!
Memories have always been such a huge part of my life. After my parents divorced, despite the tough times, I have such amazing memories of music in our house when we were growing up, sitting through days and weeks of watching my dad (who was the orchestra leader) and my mom (who was the piano player) rehearse for the performances of "Jesus Christ, Superstar" in New Braunfels, Texas. When Dave and I went to see the show in Tucson a couple of months ago, the memories came flooding back. I was suddenly 9 years old again! My parents' marriage was already on the downhill slope and lots of tough times were just around the corner, but wowee...if you play a stanza from "I don't know how to love him", I revert back to sitting in that New Braunfels Play House, watching the rehearsals and memorizing every line of every song in that show.
This past week, Dave and I had the blessing to spend a bit of time in San Antonio with my dad. He is 88 years old and in incredibly failing health, so I always tell him how much I love him, despite some memories that are not so great from our relationship when I was a kid. Those things simply don't matter anymore. The memories I want to keep with me are of him teaching me how to fish (those of you who know me well, keep in mind I didn't have as much OCD about touching yucky things back then), reading "A Christmas Story" with us on reel to reel tape each Christmas, going to eat pancakes with him on select Sunday mornings when my mom was "sleeping in", and the list goes on. I cherish those memories with my daddy, and if he passes away tonight or in the next week or month, I have not one regret in the world....only love for him.
Today is a special day for memories in another way, as well.
Today is the day on which my dear friend, Jil , along with her brother Randy and, will lay their daddy to rest in Niceville, Florida. If you aren't familiar with Randall Wise, he was the epitome of a Godly man and happened to be the mayor and heartbeat of Niceville for 50+ years. But what I saw in Mayor Wise was something seemingly so small but worth every cent I ever made as a principal. He took time to talk to and be with people. On Tigress Tuesday and Macho Monday, which Jil had started for Edge's families and friends to show their support by having lunch with their kiddos, Mayor Wise was there to pour tea every.single.time. His smile could light up the room. But when his daughter walked in with her class for the last lunchtime of the day, you could see joy spread through both of them. They'd hug, and once all her kids were seated, Jil would sit with her class. Mayor Wise would grab a lunch from the dear lunch ladies and a tea (you have to have tea in the south, you know), and he would sit down with Jil and her students and talk a little bit but mostly just listen. Watching Jil with her daddy is something I will never forget. As Jil and Randy lay their daddy to rest today, I will be remembering all the beautiful memories Jil has shared with me of her beloved dad who just happened to be the most amazing Mayor around.
Memories can be scary, I know. I have a few of those. I also have sad memories. I make a choice, on a daily basis, to thank God for the beautiful memories I'm blessed to remember about family and friends and my beloved work with educators in so many parts of the world. If I run into you and can't remember your name, though, please just give me a break and tell me what it is. I don't care about you any less.....I'm just getting older and making more memories.
Jil, this one's dedicated to you --- take a listen to Lady Antebellum tell our story.
Dave and I have been attending an Episcopal church in Tucson for the last two years. Our priest, Debra, has had a profound impact on Dave's and my faith. The last few months, after the service, we have participated in a series of workshops called "For God's Sake, Listen!" designed to get us to learn to listen to one another. The first ones were about non-controversial topics (coffee, K-Mart, etc.), but the topics have gotten increasingly more contentious. This past week's topic was on Homelessness. The nature of the forum is we get into groups of 4 - 6 people, write our thoughts, share our thoughts (without any sort of rebuttal from anyone else), then share out about 3 big ideas from the group. At the end of this past week's forum, Debra issued a challenge for us to put our words into action.
Dave and I accepted Debra's challenge to get into action instead of just talking about it. We had a pretty amazing experience on Tuesday (which is "date day" for Dave and me) when we took a few bags filled with water and snacks down to a park near the University and also to a street corner. Instead of doing the typical "roll your window down and hand the bag to someone in need", which I had done on a few occasions in the past, we parked the car and walked over to some people who were clearly in need. I want to start by saying I had "assumptions" that water, a granola bar, and some fresh fruit would be what is best to put in those sacks, but that is MY assumption. We wanted to hear THEIR truth. We had some really amazing conversations with Bernard, Darnell and Cass, who all had unique stories to tell. Bernard has some mental illness issues, but he could stay present with us when we asked, "If we come back here next week, what would be most helpful for you?" He didn't miss a beat. "Jerky....and some blankets" was his answer. He sleeps at the park and has all his goods there with him. Dave is going to give him one of our tents as well so he can keep some of his stuff under one roof. Despite his mental illness, Bernard said he is really good with plumbing and other handy-man types of work. Darnell and his friends said they needed gloves because it gets cold at night. Cass needs a bike, which we took him today. We had a long conversation with Cass about his abuse in his foster home and then how he lost most of the use of his right leg when it was almost broken by people in his group home. He goes to the Gospel Rescue Mission sometimes to sleep, but they can only stay there for a week at a time before they are "kicked out". I asked him how many people give him a hard time about holding out a sign for help when the Carl's Jr. has a "Now Hiring" sign up right across the street. He looked me in the eyes, and he said, "All day...every day". But we learned it is isn't as simple as that, as he needs to get surgery on his hip before he could get a job in which he would stand all day.
Dave and I have not quit talking about them and what we can do to sustain and continue this ministry that truly ministered to us. We are blessed and can't thank Rev. Debra and Church of the Apostles for pushing us out of our comfort zone.
Many years ago, in Niceville, Florida, I was in charge of a ministry at our church called Signs of the Spirit. I called it "sign language on steroids", as the youth learned how to represent a contemporary Christian song through sign singing and a bit bigger movements, in some cases. One of the favorites we performed was Casting Crowns' "If We are the Body". One of the verses talks about a traveler coming into the church, only to find "...the weight of their judgmental glances tells him that his chances are better out on his own". But if we are supposed to be the body of Christ, shouldn't our arms be reaching out to those in need? Shouldn't our feet be going to help those less fortunate than we are?
For once, we put our hands, feet and heart where they were supposed to be, and for that, we are forever blessed.
Tuesday is date day for Shelly and me. I asked her what she wanted to do and her reply was “I want to go and take care packages to the homeless.” After Sunday's "For God’s Sake Listen", we both had a better appreciation for what homelessness meant to others, and it had begun in us a slightly different way to view this real human problem.
So we put together some sacks with water, a granola bar, and some fruit and headed downtown to find some individuals to share them with. As we got closer to the area, my impression was that we were going to just hand them out through the car window as we came upon those that looked like they could use them. Well, Shelly had a different idea. She wanted to go greet them and spend some time talking with them. My insides started churning, as this was not what I had envisioned.
As we neared the park near Speedway and Stone, there were several small groups of folks that appeared to be homeless. We saw one man by himself on the far side of the park, and Shelly said "Let’s start with him". I immediately asked, “Are you sure? I don’t think he looks well and might possibly be talking to someone" even though he was clearly alone. I wanted to just go find someone else who might be a little safer. Shelly said, “You can stay here – I’ll just take this over and you can watch from the car”. Well, I wasn’t going to let her go alone, and I know after 27 years to marriage, that she was going to do it anyway. I told her to wait while I locked my wallet in the car and we could go together, that I would be right behind her, literally right behind her!
As we approached the gentleman, he was busy sorting through his array of what can only be described as garbage in a heap around him. There was some sort of blanket, maybe a tarp, several cardboard flat boxes, empty food containers, papers, etc. I wondered how can anyone live like this. Shelly approached him and began a conversation. He was wearing pajama bottoms, a tattered sweatshirt, a flip-flop on one foot and a sock on the other. He looked as if he had not seen a shower in a very long time. He had been talking to either himself or to someone or something around him. We assumed he was suffering from some type of mental illness.
As Shelly offered him one of the care packages that we had brought, we learned that his name was Bernard. He took the package, then held up one finger while he searched his area. After a minute or so, he came back with an orange that he had in his “home” and gave it to me. Apparently he felt the need to give us something in return. We talked with him for 10 or 15 minutes trying to find out if he was OK, and what could we bring him. He said he could use some beef jerky – food and protein that would not go bad so quickly. Shelly asked how he was going to eat, and he said “God will provide”. We asked, "How do you know?" He looked at us for the first time and said “Well, He sent you”. We looked at each other and both thought the same thing... that his faith was what was keeping him going. He had not only one Bible in his goods, but two! We thanked him for his time and said we would be praying for him.
As we drove home, we talked about meeting him and his situation. That’s when it occurred to me that I don’t think God sent us for Bernard, but He sent Bernard for us.
Many of our assumptions about the homeless were just that – assumptions. Until we took the chance to spend time with them, to listen for God’s sake, did we truly see His presence.
What are your assumptions? How do they typically pan out? Just for today, perhaps we can try to avoid succumbing to our assumptions and rather find out the real truth in an honest manner.
Go home by another way
In the Bible (Matthew, chapter 2), the magi, who have been sent by Herod to check out the birth of this new baby in Bethlehem, were warned in a dream to go home by another way instead of reporting back to Herod. I have always loved Epiphany for so many reasons, not the least of which is this reference. It speaks to me on so many levels, namely that we have choices; that what we thought was a great idea turns out to be maybe not the best idea; and lastly (but not at all least) that James Taylor wrote a song about this very act.
1. We have choices: I believe wholeheartedly that God directs me if I ask Him, but He also gave us free will, and I have made some pretty crazy choices in my life all in the name of free will. I am so grateful God doesn't shake His head and say "tsk-tsk" when He sees me exerting my free will in a manner which will very likely not turn out in a stellar manner. When I was a school counselor in Florida (at the best elementary school in the panhandle, by the way), I made up a chant:
We always have a choice, no matter what I do.
I make the choice and I can't blame you.
I had the students memorize it and say it in their best "like a big fat whale in the ocean" (low, low voice), "like a tiny mouse" (in their highest pitched voice), "like a cheerleader" (with a "Yea!" at the end of each phrase), in slow-motion, in speedy motion, and in several other funny ways that helped them imprint those words into their memories. And yet....their own guidance counselor still made ridiculous and poor decisions every now and then, despite being the "adult in the room". The fact of the matter is we all make poor choices sometimes, but the best part is we can learn from them.
2. What we thought was a great idea may not be the best idea: How many times did we start on a journey (proverbial or literal) only to realize it might not be the best idea? I can't imagine what it must have been like to be sent by Herod to check out this new baby in a Bethlehem manger and then to report back to him. As soon as I would have seen all the miracles of the birth of baby Jesus, I, too, would be thinking, "What the what?? I can't go tell Herod the baby Jesus is here, as he was only going to start killing all baby boys under two-years-old!" What would I be willing to risk to go forth and tell the good news versus returning to Herod with the news that, "Yes, indeed, that Jesus baby is in Bethlehem. Go kill him since you're so paranoid"? Sometimes the things I think are good ideas that don't pan out are likely God's way of saying, "Uh, nope. Shelly, that wasn't what was best for you." I have gotten that tap on my shoulder a few times in my life and I am happy to say I have begun listening to those taps a bit more in the last 20 some-odd years in my life. What about YOU?
3. James Taylor wrote a song about this very act : Sorry if it sounds trite, but this song has always touched me. Have you heard it? It's called (no surprise) "Home by Another Way". My favorite part is the line that says "Maybe me and you can be wise guys too and go home another way." He also talks about how any king who would slaughter the innocent will not cut a deal for you. I have always loved this song but no better time than to listen to it again than during Epiphany. I am grateful for songs like this that remind me to steer clear of deals that might be too good to be true. We need to use our faith and spiritual advisors to help us discern what might be a good idea or not.
Just for today, maybe we can think about the magi and their task to be sent by Herod. Would we be willing to listen to angels tapping us in our sleep to warn us to maybe not return to Herod with the news of Jesus's birth? I sure hope so!