For Fear of Scars

 

 

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A while back I started trying to grow avocados. Not because I need to grow avocados, but we were eating them on a regular basis, and I know it’s possible to sprout the pits, so I thought, “Why not?”  You can read my thoughts about that adventure here.

The tree above is Alice, and she’s beautiful. She was the first seed to do more than start to sprout. The rest would either start to sprout then die or never even get started. Google told me that when she reached six inches tall I should cut her down to three inches, then plant her when she grew back to six. I was nervous about it but, being the good girl I am, I obeyed. During this time I continued to grow seeds, partly because it was fun and partly as a back up in case something went wrong and Alice didn’t make it.

As the weeks went by, Alive grew in wisdom and stature. Well, at least in stature. The only problem was, she now had a wonky stem. It was lovely and straight for a couple inches, then suddenly stopped and there was an elbow where another stem started. It was also straight, but only after its wonky elbow start. And that bugged me. A lot. I had a second seed that was showing great promise so decided to plant it as well, but this time I would skip the clipping step so my tree wouldn’t end up with a scar.

The photo below is three years later. Both trees are still alive; one is thriving. These trees are only a couple months apart in age, but you wouldn’t know it to look at them. One is strong and tall, almost ready to stand on its own without help, and the other is, well, look at it. It’s puny. Not only is it short, but the stem is skinny. Really, truly, properly skinny. If you’re tracking with me, and I’m sure you are, it will come as no surprise that Alice, the tree with the scar, is the strong one. The tall one. The one that looks like it has a fighting chance to someday bear fruit.

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So who do I want to be? Alice or her little brother Andy? Sure, Andy has a lovely straight stem, but it’s also scrawny. His leaves are brown at the ends, and it seems unlikely that the poor thing will ever have what it takes to be fruitful. I choose Alice. I want to be an Alice. I want to be strong and tall, ready to bear fruit in season. Even if it means a scar or two.

Life is hard, guys. Really, really hard. The only way to come through without scars, sometimes massive scars, is to hide: to not reach out or risk or love. (Although, even that will probably give you scars…) In the end, you might end up with no scars, but you’ll also be without fruit. Nothing to show for a life lived. That’s not what I want. I want a life worthy of the One who made me; one I can lay at His feet when I meet Him face to face as an offering of love. So yeah. Bring on the scars, because they are the path to fruit.

Colossians 1:10– so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;

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Connection

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Recently I was in physical therapy three times a week for three months and needed something to do while my legs were packed in ice at the end of each session. I started taking my iPad so I could work puzzles, read books, or listen to podcasts. I’d return home exhausted and sore, ooze my way out of the car, and hear “prink!” Now it’s become a habit to have my iPad with me, and whether I’ve been to the doctor, grocery shopping, or running errands, as I get out of the car I hear “prink!”, and I smile.

You see, my iPad makes that sound when it connects to a Wi-Fi network. It makes the same sound no matter what network it connects to, but if I connect to the Wi-Fi at the doctor’s office, car dealership, or wherever, it’s not the same. In any of those places I have to decide to connect, go to the settings menu, choose the right network, click, be taken to a webpage requesting I click on something to prove I’m not a robot, maybe enter a password, and then I’m connected. But home? It knows me. My iPad and my house know each other. The connection is there, waiting. I don’t need websites, decisions, or permission. I don’t even need to actually be inside. As I step out of the car, the connection reaches out and says “Hey! I know you!” and my device says, “Hey! I know you, too!” And they connect. Isn’t that what home is all about?

That “prink!” only makes me smile when it connects to the Wi-Fi in my house. It’s the sound that says “I’m home”: the sound that says the work of interacting with the world is done. No decision to make. No permission to seek. Just instant connection. Deep breath. I’m home.

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Marriage: In Sickness and Health

 

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Recently I met an elderly lady shortly after she had back surgery. Three times a week, Ellen’s husband Bill was faithfully taking her to physical therapy. I watched as the therapist patiently sat her in a chair and set a timer on the floor in front of her. “OK, Ellen, lean over and push the button, then put your hands on the floor until the alarm goes off.”

Ellen leaned forward, reached for the timer, and put her hands on the floor. “Did I hit the button?” Ellen asked. The therapist assured her she had. After a couple times of being coached through the exercise, Ellen assured the therapist she understood and the therapist moved on to help the next person. Confusion washed over Ellen’s face as she tried to do the exercise on her own. Bill saw what was happening and moved quickly from his chair a few feet away and sat on a chair right in front of Ellen.

“Lean forward and push the button, Ellen,” he coached gently. “Good. Now put your hands on the floor.” When the timer went off Ellen kept her hands on the floor, but raised her head to look questioningly at Bill. “Hit the button again and sit up straight. Nice and tall now,” Bill said.

When they had finished this exercise the required number of times the therapist came over and taught Ellen the next exercise. “Put your arms straight out in front of you, like you’re sleep walking.” Ellen struggled to understand, first putting her arms out tentatively to the side, then over her head. The therapist patiently helped her get them into the right position, then instructed Ellen to keep her arms straight out while going from sitting to standing, then back again. Once again, as the therapist moved on to help someone else, Ellen blanked on what to do. This time, Bill was close by, ready to do what needed to be done. I watched as Bill sat in the chair across from his wife, made eye contact with her, and raised his arms straight out in front of himself.

“Put your arms straight out,” he instructed Ellen, carefully keeping eye contact. “Now we need to stand up. No, keep your arms out. Good job! Now we need to sit down.”

I watched as, in unison, Bill and Ellen did the exercise. Arms straight out, holding eye contact: stand, sit. Stand, sit. Stand, sit. Occasionally Ellen would say, “I already did that.” Bill would assure her that yes she had, but she needed to do more. I saw confusion on her face when she heard this, but it was quickly replaced by trust. If Bill said she needed to do it, she’d do it.

As I watched this unfold day after day, my heart was moved. This is marriage. The real kind. You know that part of a wedding where you say “in sickness and in health”? This is that. I’m sure decades ago when they promised to love and cherish, for better or worse, in sickness and in health neither of them thought that Alzheimer’s was in their future. It’s not the kind of thing you think about when you’re young and have your whole life ahead of you. You think of hearts and flowers and babies and sunsets. But this. This is something more beautiful than hearts and flowers. This is real love. Love that stands the test of time. Love that is patient and kind, that is not selfish and does not demand its own way. Love that is not resentful. In sickness and in health.

 

**While I used Bob and Barb from my Life of Bob blog in the accompanying photo, this is about a real life couple I met while in physical therapy. Names have been changed for privacy reasons.

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Do the Unthinkable

In light of everything that’s been in the news lately, a couple weeks ago I decided to do the unthinkable. I called my black friends to talk to them about race.

As a white person, I was taught that you don’t discuss race. It’s rude. It might offend, so don’t talk about it. What pushed me over the edge was that I keep seeing African American people on TV talking about what white people think and how we act, and they have it wrong. I’m not like they say we are, and neither are my white friends. It’s frustrating to keep hearing accusations of what people like me think or feel, or what our life experience is like and no one seems to care if it’s true or not. One day I realized, if they are misunderstanding me so much, it stands to reason I’m misunderstanding the African American experience and thinking just as much. So I called. I was scared, but I did it anyway.

They weren’t offended as I feared they might be. In fact, I was thanked. I think I got that response because I didn’t call to explain my point of view or give rebuttal to what’s being said on the news. There are plenty of people doing that in the media and social media. I called to find out their experience, their perspective, and their thoughts. Everyone wants to be heard.

I believe that’s a big part of the racial tension in our country right now; everybody wants to be heard, but no one wants to listen. Making matters worse, it’s the people on the fringe that get all the press. Remember the bell curve from math class? It looks like this:

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The point of a bell curve is that, given a large population dropped into a situation, the distribution of that population will fall in this pattern. In the current situation the people on either end of the continuum (as pertaining specifically to race issues) are the ones that are most outspoken, and therefore that we see most on TV and ranting on social media. That’s a total of 5% of the population (I’m estimating here) talking loudly while the rest of us, of all races, are just trying to keep our heads above water and understand what the heck is going on. Think about that. 2.5% of the population shouting “White people and cops are evil and trying to kill off black people!” and 2.5% of people shouting “Black people are criminals and don’t contribute to society!” while the rest of us know there are good and bad in every group, and most of us are trying our best to do what’s right.

So what’s the answer? Have the conversation. As a white person, I learned a lot listening to my black friends. I had no idea there was as much prejudice as there is because I’ve never heard anyone talking about it, except the ones that are screaming that I’m evil because I’m white. (OK, they don’t say I’m personally evil, but that’s what I hear when I hear them screaming because I’m human, and we take things personally.) I learned a lot, and I’m glad I made the calls.

I’m encouraging my white friends, call your black friends and have the conversation. If you don’t have any black friends, take a minute to think about that. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not calling you a racist. It’s a statement about our culture that it’s possible to live in a country that is something like 12-14% African American and not have your circle intersect with theirs. There’s a lot more to be said about that, but that’s for another day. For now, have the conversation. Ask the questions, and listen. Be humble, and don’t accuse, don’t defend, just listen. Don’t make the excuse that you don’t know them well enough to ask, either. One of the friends I talked to is someone I’ve only known for a few months, and she was willing to talk to me and appreciated that I asked. We’ve had a couple conversations about this, and I’m continuing to learn.

I firmly believe it’s time the majority in the middle take back our country from those who are screaming. Let’s learn that they are the fringe and reclaim our culture, not to what it has been, since it is definitely flawed in race relations, but to something better, grown out of mutual respect and understanding.

Do the unthinkable. Have the conversation.

 

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On Being Authentic

“Hi, I’m Barb. I’ve been married 45 years to Bob. We have 4 kids, one of them’s a doctor, and 7 grandkids. The youngest one is starting 1st grade this year.”

“I’m Sarah. I’ve been married 25 years to Mark. We have 2 kids. The youngest one started college this year, and we’re so excited!”

And so it went around the room. All 18 women, in their 50’s to their 80’s, introduced themselves in this same manner. I was stunned. I now know about their husbands, including some of their names and professions, their kids, and their grandkids, along with various details about names, ages, accomplishments and milestones. What I don’t know is anything about any of these women. I don’t know if they’ve had careers, hobbies, or accomplishments. I don’t know what they like or what they don’t like. I know nothing about them as human beings, except that they are wives and mothers.

As I sat and listened I realize this is not a phenomenon unique to this group of women. I think these roles are so overwhelming and all encompassing that it’s natural, at least to a certain extent. However, I don’t want to be that. I don’t want my friends to be that. In the topical discussion that followed the introductions, I learned little things here and there about some of the other women,  including two of them that have careers. I only learned that because they had to leave as soon as the meeting was done to go to work. What??? Why did you not say that before? What do you do? Are you a doctor? Do you sell Avon? Are you writing the next great American novel? Why do I not know this???

What if we all decided to draw a line in the sand? To stand up and say, “As of today, I’m me. I have accomplishments and dreams. They include a marriage [or not, as the case may be], and great kids and grandkids, but they also include…” Do you think we might have less loneliness? Do you think we might have less depression? Do you think the church might start looking more like The Church? I do. If I knew how, I’d start a campaign. A campaign to help people see themselves as more than their relationships, more than the accomplishments of their family. A campaign to help people reclaim their own identity and accomplishments.

What do you think? Are you brave enough to stick your neck out and introduce yourself as you really are? As who you really are? I think it’s time you try.

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How to Save a Country

As we are being daily bombarded with the latest antics of people who think they are qualified to be our next president, I’ve about had enough. It’s months before anyone gets a chance to cast a vote, and I’m over it already. This has led me to consider how we could improve the whole system, making it less tedious to live through and possibly even give us a better president in the end.

I propose we hold our politicians (and politician wanna-bes) to the same standards to which we hold our children. Get caught name calling? Go to time out. When you think you understand what you did wrong, come tell us about it and we’ll give you another chance. Continue the behavior and the consequences will get worse, ultimately ending with you being expelled from the group. Get caught passing notes when you’re supposed to be doing your work? Go to time out. When you think you understand what you did wrong, come tell us and you may get another chance. Lie about not having passed notes, or blaming others for the notes? Sorry, you’re in time out for a very long time, and will probably get expelled. Blame others for things you have done? Time out. Lying about what you have said or done? Time out. Tell the truth and act in a civilized manner? You get a gold star and possibly our vote.

I think this might work. What do you think?

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More Kisses

Last week started with a personal disappointment. Not life altering, but still… However, less than 24 hours later God sent me yet another kiss.

A couple years ago my son got me hooked on soccer. I have two favorite teams: Sporting KC and Chelsea. (I’m allowed to favorites because they are in different leagues. I’m sure that’s an official rule!) The afternoon after the disappointment I got a call from Brian. He asked if we had plans for the next evening, and I said, “No, why?” He said, “You wanna see some futbol?” I said, “Well, I guess so…” No, I tell a lie. I believe I said “Heck yeah!” Then he told me it was the International Champions Cup, being played in DC between Barcelona and Chelsea. Double heck yeah! I asked how much it was going to cost us, and he said, “Nothing.” Someone had bought some tickets for the game then decided not to use them, so they were giving them away. Hot dog!

The fun magnified when I found out where the seats were. I took a couple pictures. This is the section we were sitting in: 

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Yep. The  seats were so good they are in the “Dream Seats” section. Here’s a pic of how great the seats were:

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So, yeah. The week started with a disappointment, and God turned it around. Did we have to see a match? No. Did we have to see Chelsea? Nope. Did we want to? Oh, yeah… And God knew. It was a whisper in my heart, that I never spoke out loud, because what’s the realistic chance of me getting to see an English soccer team play? With God, all things are possible. Thanks for the kisses, Lord. And if it’s OK to ask, keep ’em comin’!

A bonus photo: this is how I felt the whole night.

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