Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Relections at Easter

As I search for individuals to interview for my next book, I find myself in a bit of a dilemma. I want to interview those who believe in the next life and have a terminal illness, have faced a life-threatening situation, or are eve on death row. It's the latter that gives me pause.

Matthew 25: 41-45 states: "Then he [Jesus} will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' 44 "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' 45 "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'"

We all know we should feed, clothe, and be kind to strangers, but visit or look after those prison? There is a certain red flag that immediately is noted by most of us, especially if it means visiting or corresponding with someone on death row! But while searching the Internet for death row inmates, I stumbled upon a website that indicates the names and locations of prisoners in three states who are seeking pen pals via snail mail.

I admit that I am somewhat apprehensive, especially because I would not want a convicted criminal to have my residential address. We've all heard the horror stories of unsuspecting women falling victim to incarcerated individuals who prey upon them. But then, there is another side. Sometimes people are innocent, and sometimes they are reformed by faith. We are willing to chance a casual relationship with others who might fall into those categories, but it just seems outrageously dangerous to do so with a convicted felon. Still, regardless of my views on capital punishment, I can only imagine how lonely and isolated prisoners must feel, especially those on death row.

So my dilemma is really how to approach my research. I plan to acquire  a post office box for inquiries about the book and to receive directly related correspondence. This seems like the most appropriate way to make contact, but we all know that anyone could probably find us via the Internet.

But in the hopes that I am not alone in feeling compassion for those unfortunate individuals who may be innocent or are repentant of their crimes, I want to share the website should anyone be interested in making occasional contact: http://www.friendonline.org/. I saw only one inmate, while just scanning the list, who had an email address, and I would certainly recommend correspondence only through a generic yahoo.com or maybe gmail.com address.

As we near Good Friday and Easter, it seems relevant to remember that we didn't deserve forgiveness for our sins and shortcomings, but Jesus was not reluctant to show us the compassion we needed. So, do we comfort or care for those who have done a great wrong and are now penitent? That is something we all have to ask ourselves and decide what Jesus really meant in Matthew 25.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Lent and the Spiritual Journey

I'm ready to admit that I don't know everything, especially when it comes to understanding God. But once in a while, I'm given a little ray of light in the way of wisdom. That occurs mostly with self-reflection which is a focus during the 40 days (not including Sundays) leading up to Easter.




The danger in self-reflection, however, can be to become so consumed with oneself that we lose focus on our creator. In fact, I'm convinced that true happiness only comes when we look beyond ourselves and make the focus on each other and how God wants us to live.




Recently, I read a book called Proof of God which contained a message that I thought was perfect: "church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints." Amen!  You don't have to look far to see that people always fall short of perfection, no matter what they believe.




I always try to remember that others may judge God by my actions. That certainly isn't a fair assessment of God or what it is to be a believer because I cannot ever live up to what others want me to be, regardless of how hard I try. But, I'm still obligated to try, and that is something all of us should maybe keep for self-reflection, too. Expectations are greater, but as I often told my subordinates, never stop trying for 100%, even when you know it's not possible, because the moment you strive for less, the less you will accomplish.




So in this time of self-reflection, I'm going to instead focus on how I can do better and follow more of Jesus' teachings. I'm going to look beyond myself, after acknowledging where I need to improve, and try to do what I think we each have a responsibility to do - make this world a little better place.











Tuesday, March 11, 2014

To Know or Not to Know

Several recent events have resulted in some very provocative thinking and actions on my part: A discussion group on death, a recent article in my local paper about an older man who wrote a guide for those facing loss, and the passing of a beloved brother-in-law.

Many people know that I am writing my next book on dying with faith in the afterlife. I believe it will be the most important book I ever write. While the topic may sound morose, it isn't. It will be written to give peace and comfort to those facing end of life (we all are - just some a little sooner), and a way for those included in the book to leave a legacy.

But what question has this all conjured up for consideration? If you were dying, would you want to know?

For me, it's a no-brainer. For one sister, she isn't sure as she thinks the person who is dying already has an innate sense of what is occurring. No one will need to tell her. That may be true in many cases, but I have reasons in wanting to know if the time for my transition to the next life is somewhat predetermined.

My thoughts go back to the terminal diagnosis of my late soul-mate and husband, Steve. He fought a very courageous battle with cancer, but we didn't really want to think about, less discuss, his demise. That didn't even occur when he was given just three months more to live.

Some people think that a terminal diagnosis takes away hope and may make the person simply give up. That might be true in some cases, but in ours, we just fought harder. The will to live is strong in most people and they will do whatever it takes to remain in the only place they've ever known, even with faith in the afterlife.

For us, facing the inevitable came a month sooner than expected, but Steve's last ten days in the hospital were bittersweet. We finally had to admit that the cancer was winning even though I vowed to pray for a miracle until his last breath.Nevertheless, I’m glad that we faced this together and had the time to lean on each other (and our faith) for strength. Not everyone is given that opportunity and sometimes there is a very difficult decision when only one person knows and must decide whether to tell the other.


During hist time in palliative care, we tearfully planned his memorial service with our pastor, talked about how to disperse his clothing, forgave any hurts, and professed our undying love for one another. Thanks to our local hospital, we were able to move two hospital beds together and hold hands throughout the ordeal. That alone was one of the most important moments in sharing our lives and love.

There is a desire to avoid a future (or any future knowledge of it) when we understand it will change our world so drastically, but sometimes that is accompanied by peace - the bittersweet moments to which I earlier alluded.

I hate what Steve and I went through. I hate being widowed and separated from the person I loved most in the world and who loved me in the same way. I hate that I have to go on without him. But I also am grateful for our intimate conversations when we could no longer stick our heads in the sand and had to acknowledge the elephant in the room, as Steve liked to call it.

I did not wonder how to handle his possessions, what songs to sing or passages to read at his memorial service, or what he really wanted both for himself and for me. I have not yet been able to do what he most wanted for me in going forward, but grief knows no boundaries, and we were very open about the future without him.

Would I change anything about our last days together? Probably not. It brought us, as a close couple, even closer. In the end, there were no more words to speak. Losing him was the greatest tragedy of my life, but it came with a little peace in knowing what he wanted. That is why I would want to know - to share a little of that peace with my loved ones who will be left behind. And that is what I also hope to give to those who will become part of my book as well as their loved ones who must face the future without them.

In the end, we all know that death is a solitary event. As a person of faith, I expect it to just be a transition, and I expect Steve to be there when it occurs for me. To believe is truly a blessing, just like "knowing" can often be.




Monday, February 24, 2014

Unfamiliar Situations

I recently attended a group whose topic of conversation was about death. While you might think that's a really morose subject, the discussion was (forgive the pun) quite lively.


What was most unusual for me was discussing this subject in a group where there were many atheists or agnostics. I left after the meeting ended feeling somewhat helpless to make a difference, but that wasn't my reason for attending, and the guidelines clearly directed that religion was not a part of it.


Although I clearly stated that I am a person of faith, I really wondered what I was supposed to do. And then I thought, maybe my presence and acclamation were as much a part of why I was there as the research for my next book.


I am not a zealot, but I do have a deep faith. I will never go to a stranger and ask, "Are you saved?" I won't send emails that guilt someone into passing them along with a statement that if "you are not embarrassed by or ashamed of our Lord...." On the same token, I'm not shy about my faith.


I think how Jesus and the apostles brought people to God. It wasn't through cheap rhetoric, but by how they lived their lives, and by their teachings to anyone who was ready and willing to listen. From my experience, that is what truly converts others - not guilt or an in-your-face mentality.


As a Stephen Minister, there is a saying that, "We are the care-giver; God is the cure-giver." In the same way, I believe we are directed to set the example and to profess what our faith is all about to willing recipients of our teaching. My opinion is, if you can't tell I'm a Christian other than my asking if you are saved or through a forwarded email, then I'm not living my life as I should.


So maybe my purpose, and God's will for me, is just to attend and conduct my research about those who are dying with a belief in the after life. Some people in the group are still searching for what they believe, but everyone is willing to say, "I don't know," and some things can't be proved.


No one can prove to me that there isn't a Heaven anymore than I can prove there is one. I believe it because it has been revealed to me that there is - much like when Jesus asked Peter, "who do you say that I am"" (Matthew 16: 15-17).  Peter's response, "you are the Messiah, the son of the living God," was rewarded with Jesus' affirmation that this was a revelation, a gift of knowledge from God.


So when I attend another discussion session, I am confident that God just expects me to be present and He'll tell me if I need to do anything. Just like with Stephen Ministry, I'm just a care-giver; He is the cure-giver.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wow! What a snowfall!

It seems strange, but adversity often brings out the best in people. Maybe it is because we share such a common bond at that time, realizing that whatever malady occurred to someone else, it could happen to us. And even if it does happen to all of us, there is a strong desire to help each other.


This is also the time that the Golden Rule, Matthew 7:12, might be most often practiced: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets" (NIV).


During the last few snows this winter, as with previous ones, I have been the recipient of many kind gestures. That includes suddenly discovering that someone has anonymously cleared my drive and walkway. At other times, young neighbors, and even my driver for Deffenbaugh recycling, have stopped their cars and jumped out to help me as I've tried to do the task myself.


I am always grateful for assistance when I need it, but also sorry when I haven't been able to acknowledge or thank someone who has bestowed a kindness without my knowledge. So today when I heard shoveling outside my door, I quickly made it a point to encounter the person doing the good deed. This time, it happened to be a young man who lives across the street.


We didn't know each other's name, but I made a point of introductions. He refused any token of appreciation from me, but as secretary to my home owner association, I vowed to recognize his and other's efforts by placing a note on our community's yahoo group.


So many times we experience kindness from our fellowman. Sometimes it is anonymous and sometimes not. Those who do such selfless acts deserve to be appreciated, and I for one, vow never to let the goodness in the world and those who make it a better place, go unnoticed.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Remembering

Today, January 26, is my 41st wedding anniversary. I use the term "my" because my husband is no longer able to celebrate with me. But, just like in all the years since his passing, I have placed flowers on the altar of our church where we were married, and my sons and I will go out to dinner tonight. Since they remain the closest physical connection I have to Steve, it's only fitting that we honor this day together.


I don't recall any reference in the Bible about wedding anniversaries or their celebrations, but I do know that weddings were celebrated as glorious occasions. Today, the ritual is often accompanied by dinner and dancing which is very much how weddings were reportedly celebrated. Remember Cana, the site of Jesus' first miracle to turn water into wine.


So I celebrate this day as somewhat bittersweet. While there is still an incredible void left from the most tragic loss in my life, the memories that we created together will never perish. So, although the time with my soul mate was cut short, I will continue to honor this day as something special and revel in seeing other great marriages continue.


Perhaps it is vicariously that I still believe in true love as a gift from God. I was most certainly blessed and I fervently pray that that all who are similarly blessed will understand with gratitude what they have been given.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Resolutions Every Day!

I'm really not one for making New Year's resolutions, mostly because I think it's best to look at ourselves each day and decide what we need to do differently tomorrow. How can we make this world a little better?

My 7th grade science teacher said something that has resonated with me throughout my life. "We aren't the same person we were yesterday. Cells die and new ones replace them." It's a very subtle process, but it makes sense. It also gives us an opportunity to lose some emotional baggage (hindsight is always 20/20) and realize that each new day brings new opportunities.

So what is my resolution for tomorrow? I'm going to awaken with the goal to contact my son, Chris, who just had hernia surgery this morning, and see what I can do to help him and his wife. I'm then going to return a call to my brother-in-law in South Carolina and arrange to send a copy of the latest Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Wives (in which I have an entry) to my sister-in-law. That's two good deeds for the day, although they are just for family.

Tomorrow, I will awaken and probably decide where to shop on Thursday for some great buys in clothing or other necessities that I can then donate. I'm sure that Kohl's and maybe the grocery store will be on that list. After that, well...you get the idea.

My blog focuses on "why we are here." To me, it's simple. We are here to care for one another. That isn't a one day or even a yearly goal. It's on-going, just as I think resolutions should be.

Happy 2014 (every day)!