Stories of Comfort and Hope

Open House

People who celebrate anniversaries and graduations oftentimes have an open house.  In the paper or by email or face book they let it be known that they are going to celebrate their anniversary and all their friends, neighbors, and relatives are welcome to come to their open house.  There will be sandwiches and cake and much laughter and sharing of memories.

But would you be willing to have an open house in which you opened your heart and your life to some of life’s hardest experiences?  Would you welcome cancer and heart disease and unexpected tragedies to teach you about things like pain and loss and resilience?

Last week I attended a symposium on aging and all the things that come with this time in our lives.  One quote I want to share with you was written by an author by the name of Florida Pier Scott-Maxwell in her book “The Measure of Our Days”. She says, “You have neat, tight expectations of what life ought to give you, but you won’t get it.  That isn’t what life does.  Life does not accommodate you, it shatters you.  It is meant to, and it couldn’t do it better.  Every seed destroys its container or else there would be no fruition.”

Isn’t it true that we do have tight expectations of what we want our lives to be.  We work very hard to put together the kind of life we want to have.  We create our nice safe cocoons where the wind and the storms are held at bay.  And then without warning or asking our permission some illness or tragedy shatters our cocoon and leaves us shocked and enraged.  No one calls us to see if we are free next Wednesday evening so we can be told that we have stage four cancer.  We get no time to prepare or think about the implications.  Like people after a tornado has passed we crawl out of the wreckage of our homes and we try to comprehend what has just happened.  Numb with shock we start sorting through the wreckage and hauling debris to the curb.

When the seed is planted in the ground no one tells the seed, “You are going into a very dark place.  You are going to get wet.  You are going to get warmed up.  You are going to swell and burst your shell.”  All you know is that when you go through this process of being planted you discover there is life inside you and a green shoot breaks the surface of the earth and you grow and bloom.

I don’t think we will ever see anyone announcing an open house in which they invite adversity to come into their life but do keep your heart open when life shatters your heart.  Keep the image of the seed being shattered in your mind so you understand that what is happening to you is not to destroy you but to make you stronger and wiser and more compassionate than you were before life shattered you.

The Energizer Bunny

Some TV commercials are hard to get out of your head.  The commercial about the energizer bunny is one of them.  It is just stupid the way this mechanical bunny keeps walking while beating on a big base drum.  Over flat surfaces and over obstacles nothing can stop this stupid bunny.  He just keeps walking and beating on his drum.  It may be stupid but you can’t get the image out of your mind and you remember the name of the batteries that power that bunny.  So the next time you need batteries for your smoke detector there is a good chance you will buy this brand.

Last week the image of the energizer bunny popped up in my mind as I was visiting with a patient.  She was recovering from shoulder replacement surgery.  She was still in considerable pain.  She was still taking quite a bit of pain medication.  In a few days she would be discharged from the hospital and would be going to a rehab facility where she would face weeks of physical therapy which would be painful and stressful.  She was going to have to climb a tall mountain to get back to the point where she could care for herself again.

As we talked about the difficulties that faced her she said,” This isn’t the first time I’ve had to face challenges.  I have had more surgeries than I can count.  I have been up and down dozens of times in my life.  Somehow I have found a way to keep going.”

As I heard her say this the image of the energizer bunny came to my mind.  I said to her, “You remind me of the energizer bunny.  You just keep going and going.”  She laughed when I said this and she said, “I don’t know if I’m the energizer bunny.  I’m not going as fast as he does.  I’m only beating the drum with one drum stick.  But I am still going.”

What is it that keeps us going?  Is it the strong will that our God has given us to keep going at all costs?  Is it our desire to live long enough to see a grand child graduate from college?  Is it our conviction that our God is with us and within us no matter what challenges we face?

In Romans chapter eight the apostle Paul tells us that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.  He didn’t know about the energizer bunny commercial but he had the same image in mind as he looked at the challenges that we all have to face.  If God is for us then we can keep walking and beating the drum.

Lessons Learned

As the patient talked with me I learned that he was a retired fire fighter.  He told me that he had terminal cancer and was doing his best to stay alive as long as he could because he has a four year old son whom he dearly loves.

He told me that he has learned a number of lessons about life that have been both important and painful to him.  One lesson he has learned is that he rushed into burning buildings to save strangers and he was too busy to spend time with his children and his family and they became strangers to him.

It is very painful for him now to look at his older son who has a son the same age as his four year old and realize he let precious moments pass him by when he could have played with him and taught him about love and the importance of family.  It is so painful for him to realize that this moment in time is gone and can’t be recreated.  And yet what joy he now finds in having the time to sit with his four year old as his son says, “Let’s play,” and he can say, “Yes, let’s do that.”

As he older son complains about all the work of raising his child, the diapers and the lack of sleep, he smiles and says to his son, “Enjoy him.  Play with him.  These are the best years of your life.”

How often we make discoveries that give us new insights and yet leave us with regrets that we didn’t learn this sooner.  I have come to believe that some of these things happen to us not because we didn’t want to learn but because we weren’t ready to learn.  When we are young and focused on mastering our job and advancing our career and making money so we will have something to retire on we don’t see the other things in our lives that are also important and need our attention.  It may be only later in life that we can see more clearly that we could have put more time and effort into family and relationships.

As this man poured out his heart to me I hoped that he might gain some more insight into what might heal some of the pain in his heart.  I hope he will continue to rejoice in playing with his four year old son.  I hope his apologies to his older sons will help them to be able to forgive their father for the mistakes he made when they were young.  I hope they will take a look at how they are being fathers to their children and find the time to play with them.  I hope we can all learn that in God’s eyes it is never too late to learn lessons.  In our regrets and in our pain may we never lose sight of the grace that our God pours upon our hearts letting us know we can always learn.  We can always be forgiven.  We can always go forward.