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We’ll Miss Making Him Smile

We’ll Miss Making Him Smile

We'll Miss Making Him Smile
We’ll Miss Making Him Smile

My little friend and fellow tube feeder passed away a few days ago.  His name was Gabe (short for Gabriel).  Gabe had a very difficult life.  Born several months premature, his brain didn’t develop normally.  Burdened with cerebral palsy, quadriplegia, epilepsy and a host of other major health problems, Gabe also suffered from the inability to eat or swallow food.  Hence, he was a tube feeder like me.  He was only with us for shortly beyond half a decade.  Yet, in those 2003 days, he taught us all so much.  His angel mother, noble father and loving brothers and sisters taught us even more.

At Gabe’s funeral on Friday, Nanette, his mother, told the story of how Gabe’s older brother, Samuel, said he would miss Gabe’s smile.  Nanette, trying to offer Sam comfort said, “You’ll still see his smile in our pictures, in our videos and in your heart.”  Sam replied, “No, mom, what I mean is that I will miss making Gabe smile.”

What did this beautiful family learn in the 5.48 years of sleepless nights; through all of the vomiting, retching, and convulsing; after five solid years of changing diapers; with all of the carrying, lifting, and transferring … in and out of bed … in and out of the chair … in and out of the bath … on and off the exam tables … in and out of their arms; after more trips to the emergency room, the doctors’ offices, and the hospitals … more than you or I could ever comprehend; with no rest, no reprieve, no grand vacations?  They learned the wisdom of the ages.  It’s in giving that we receive.  It’s in building others that we’re built.  It’s in lifting that we’re lifted.  It’s in giving away our love that it’s received … and retained.  This wonderful family didn’t just teach this from the pulpit at the funeral on Friday.  They have been teaching those of us who know them for years now.

Despite all of their challenges, you would struggle to find a happier family.  Rarely did I ever see one of Gabe’s brothers or sisters without a smile.  They are living examples of the thesis that our happiness depends not upon what circumstance does to us but upon what we do with our circumstances.

Gabe’s family, which includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., has corroborated the thesis of the Dalai Lama, who said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.  If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”  And of Confucius, who taught, “He who wishes to secure the good of others has already secured his own.”  And of Kahlil Gibran: “I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy.  I woke and I saw that life is all service.  I served and I saw that service is joy.”  And, of course, the central message of Jesus from Nazareth is confirmed, as well:  He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”  (Matthew 10:38-39.)

Gabe and family, thank you for reminding us that a life of suffering is not about what you can learn but what you can teach.  And thank you for teaching us all that all happiness is a choice—the choice to personify Love regardless of circumstance.

Be The Reflection of God’s Goodness

Be The Reflection of God’s Goodness

Be the Reflection of God's Goodness

Be the Reflection of God’s Goodness

Whether or not you believe the doctrine of the incarnation, one thing it clearly teaches us is that when God wants to perform his greatest miracles he does so through the instrumentality of human flesh.  This should ever remind us that we are God’s hands.  Ordinary men and women matter.  They can make a difference.  They can be instruments of kindness and generosity.  They can be the modern-day incarnation of God as they reveal his loving and abiding presence to others through their empathic kindness and thoughtful acts of service.  They can remind the world that God still exists, that there is still goodness in this world and that miracles continue to happen.

Your goodness to others reminds others that there is a God.  Be the reflection of God’s goodness.

Look someone in the eye today and tell them how much they mean to you.  Tell them why and how they have made a difference in your life.  And then say, “Thank you.”

Faith is a Decision

Faith is a Decision

Faith is a Decision

Faith is a Decision

Faith is a decision.  It’s the decision to keep loving, to keep being kind, to be patient, to think of others, and to do your best to follow Jesus, regardless of your circumstances, regardless of your trials, despite how you feel, and despite opposition.  It’s moving forward.  It’s being the person you know you’re supposed to be … without waiting. So many people wait.  They say, “I can be kinder when ….”  They say, “I will be able to give when ….”  And then they point to circumstances, situations or people that allegedly hold them back as the justification for holding back.  Faith doesn’t wait.  It acts even though the circumstances aren’t ideal, even though there’s opposition, even though there is less than perfect understanding, even though there is doubt.

I feel terrible on most days.  With a paralyzed stomach and gastrointestinal system, you constantly feel nauseous, bloated and gross.  I have constant chronic nerve pain from my malnutrition.  The vertebrae in my back grind on each other–sometimes with every move.  It would be so easy for me to wait.  It would be so easy to say, “I can be kinder when … I feel better.”  It would be so easy to say, “I’ll be able to give when … I’m not so sick.”  But when you realize you may never be free from nausea, sickness and pain, you realize that you either must move forward and push through the obstacles or sit and let the obstacles hold you back.  You also realize that there will always be obstacles.  But you have to move forward.  You have to keep living.

You don’t have the option to say, “I’ll be a father when ….”

You don’t have the option to say, “I’ll go to work when ….”

You don’t have the option to say, “I’ll be a good husband when ….”

You play with the kids … when you’re sick.

You go to work … when your insides are bubbling like a cauldron.

You go on walks with and listen to your wife … when you feel like puking.

You go on with life.  You choose to live.  Despite how you feel.  Faith is the decision to push through and do the things you know you need to do and be the person you know you need to be.  It eliminates excuses.  It runs from rationalizations.  It hides from hesitation. Jesus was well aware of our human tendency to wait for things to be ideal and convenient.  But fair weather discipleship is not discipleship at all, as we learn from this account in Matthew 8:

18 Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandment to depart unto the other side.

19 And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.

20 And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.

21 And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.

22 But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.

What did Jesus mean when he said to the excuse-maker “let the dead bury their dead?”  I think one possible meaning is that if you choose to let circumstance hold you back, you are not living.  You might as well be dead.  If you choose to let the inevitable obstacles of life prevent you from getting on with your discipleship, from doing what you need to do, from being who you need to be, you’re not living.

So reach deep down inside and stop making excuses.  Don’t wait for the sun to shine.  Don’t wait until you feel better.  Don’t wait until the clouds have parted.  Don’t wait until you understand everything perfectly.  Don’t wait until all of your fears or worries are resolved.  Just get on with it.  Move forward, even if you don’t know why, even if you don’t know whether it will work.  Have the courage to do what you need to do and be who you need to be, despite how you feel and in spite of your circumstances.  That, my friend, is faith.  THAT is what moves mountains.

 

Empathy Takes Many Forms

Empathy Takes Many Forms

Empathy Takes Many Forms
Empathy Takes Many Forms

Recently our family attended Robinhood: A Tale of Rotting Ham at the Macks Inn Playhouse in Island Park, Idaho.  If you are ever in Yellowstone Country I would highly recommend it.  The prime rib is excellent (I remember from times when I could eat and the family confirms that things haven’t changed).  And the low-brow, fun-loving mockupastiche (that’s my own word) that follows dinner is hilarious.  Think of a clean, family friendly Saturday Day Night Live skit-type genre.  Going there has now become an annual family tradition—the highlight of our annual trip to the family cabin, in fact.

As I was watching the show and thinking about how my sides hurt from laughing so hard, it dawned on me that I’ve never really told the owner (who also stars in the show) how much the show has meant to me and my family.  At the meet and greet with the cast after the show I’ve always said things like, “Great show!” or “Loved the show!”  But that’s so shallow.  It doesn’t make a connection.  It doesn’t express how much this has come to mean to me and my family.

But now that I see everyone and everything differently, I decided that this year I would let the owner know what I really thought.  I waited until all the other guests had filtered out of the theater and the meet and greet was largely wrapped up and then I pulled the owner aside.  All throughout the show I put myself in his shoes, trying to imagine the pressure of being the boss, cooking for all those people, having the pressure of entertaining them, and then cleaning up afterwards.  And he might just have to do all of this on a night when he wasn’t feeling particularly funny, when he was feeling sick, or when he was just feeling tired from the grind and trauma of life that we all experience.  I put my empathy skills to work and realized what an amazing person and performer this guy really was.

So, after the show, I told him how I felt.  I told him how hard I thought it must be to just gut it out every single night and put on a show, even when he might not feel like putting on a show.  I told him what an amazing gift he had and how much it meant to me and my family.  I told him how much I appreciated him.  He expressed some deep and sincere thanks to me.  And then I left and walked out to the parking lot to join my family.  The owner came out a few minutes later, chasing me down with some cinnamon rolls that they hadn’t been able to sell at the show.  He handed the family an entire tray of them.

As I lay in bed that night I thought about what an amazing gift of empathy this man must have.  How do you make people laugh?  You must be able to speak the language of the people.  That takes empathy.  You must find a common connection.  That takes enormous empathy.  What makes a comedian funny is that he “gets it.”  He or she hits the nail on the head with incisive, spot-on insights that tap in to our common experience.  You can’t do that without a lot of empathy.

And then I thought about how we develop empathy, and realized the eternal truth that empathy is the product of deep abiding pain, suffering, loss, hurt or grief of some sort.  Sure, with some people, it’s just a gift.  But with most, it comes the hard way.  It comes from being a single mom, being underemployed at a job where you deal with the abusive, disrespectful and ungrateful public, or suffering tragedy, illness or tremendous pain.  It doesn’t come easy.  It doesn’t come cheap.  When you think of a lot of the great “funny” people that have lived—take, for example, Robin Williams—you realize that, behind the curtain, there’s a veil of tears.  There’s deep understanding and compassion for the human condition.  And, for some, their hearts are just too enormous for the world to contain, or so it seems.

So hats off to all those of you who make us laugh!  Hats off to my friend who runs Macks Inn Playhouse in Island Park, Idaho.  Thank you for sharing your gift with the world.  Thank you for channeling your tears into a brilliant, empathic form of communication that brings us to tears, feeds our bellies, and is balm to our wounded souls.

Empathy takes many forms.  Comedy and laughter is one of the best.  Empathy is also reciprocal.  Empathizing with another person seems to provoke empathy from them.  That is how we move beyond the superficial peripheries of “polite” social discourse and drill down to the core of each other.  That is how we become built to love.  That is how we slowly and gradually build a world that is built to love.