Such is Life

Working with youth, as I do, I often hear the phrase, “That’s not fair!”  Many of the children I have worked with have in fact, suffered through many pains in their lives that were inflicted by no fault of their own, which obviously is not fair.  However, usually when I hear this phrase, they feel that they have been singled out or slighted somehow.  Sometimes they are correct, but most times, they really have no basis for their complaints.

When I have these conversations, I often find myself hoping that as they get older, they will gain more perspective, eventually gaining a better understanding about how life really isn’t fair.  Generally these complaints come up regarding something petty, which is typical of youth.  What is happening in their lives is obviously important to them at the time but  they don’t have a wide range of experiences to draw understanding from.  When you think about it, despite the obvious time where puberty plays its part, and we grow up physically, really the only differences between adults and children are the experiences they have had in their lives.  Growing older gives us more perspective, and in most cases, allows us to compare and contrast what happens to help us make better choices, or to state it more simply, to gain wisdom.

Growing older, or aging, does more than give us more perspective.  Aging gives, but it also takes.  I have seen that painfully clear over the past several years as I have watched how time has slowly been stealing away bits and pieces of my grandmother’s life.  This is a woman who has had to fight through so much.  Her childhood was far from ideal as she suffered tremendously as a result of her own parent’s and grandparents’ internal issues.  She was subjected to many things that nobody should have do face, let alone a child. 

Her body has failed her on many occasions.  She has endured many surgeries, one that technically took her life as she bled internally after being sewn up after the surgery.  The doctor nicked an artery as he closed her up, and didn’t know it.  She was clinically dead for a short period of time, and as a result, had to relearn much of what she knew how to do before the surgery.  She was born with two kidneys; however one of them was never viable. She beat breast cancer with the assistance of a very aggressive chemotherapy regimen.  Unfortunately, the chemicals that killed the cancer cells also had long term effects on her health, which have obviously lessened her quality of life over the past decade or so.  She has fought so hard just to live a normal life at times.

I’m sure some of you are wondering right now why I’m comparing complaining children with my ailing grandmother.  Well, here is the correlation…

She has very recently taken a severe turn for the worse.  I have sat and talked with her and watched her struggle to comprehend what is going on around her.  We can be having a conversation where she is completely engaged, and all of a sudden, she can’t find the words to express what she wants, or has even forgotten what she just said.  Literally, in a weeks’ time, I went from having a great conversation with her to sitting and watching her struggle to finish a sentence.

This is what I feel isn’t fair.  Here is a woman who has lived a long life, has had the opportunity to raise and enjoy her children, grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren.  She has seen them grow, and helped them as they dealt with their own struggles.  But now, all of a sudden, she is having a hard time differentiating between what is real and what is not, as doctors are telling us that she is now suffering, in part, from the first stages of dementia.  She celebrated her 84th birthday yesterday, but it pains me to realize that a week after that, she may not even remember the gathering of her family to celebrate her most current birthday.  Eventually, as her sickness progresses, her whole life will be stolen away, and there is nothing that any of us can do about it.

I guess many people may say, “Such is life.”  Life is so dichotomous not only personally, but collectively as well.  It seems that some people have tremendous highs and lows in their lives while others appear to live a life that progresses with easy transitions, while others seem to live on a perpetual downslope, crashing to the bottom on countless occasions. 

Life gives, but it also takes away.  Each of us learns that as we age, and hopefully we learn from the rollercoaster ride we take as our lives transition throughout our years in this world.  Is it fair?  Absolutely not.  Would I like my life to be easier?  Sure.  Would I take away all the sad parts of my life if I could?  Absolutely not.  Why?  My reasoning is simple.  Without the valleys I travel through, I would never learn to appreciate the summits.  Ultimately, we are refined by the fire that is the difficult parts of our lives. 

I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.   I also believe that none of us are here just by chance.  I believe that each one of us has a purpose for our lives, and as our lives intertwine with others, we have opportunities to grow and learn from those around us.  I believe that there is a grand plan laid out by an omnipotent and omniscient being that sees how it all fits together, but I also believe that we play a part, and our contribution comes about through our own free will.  So, as I hear children complain about how life isn’t fair, and in the same day witness how life is being stolen away from my grandmother, what do I do about this?  In reality, what can I do but hang on for the ride, and do my best to mitigate the extremes.  The cool part is though, I can try my best to put things into perspective in order to help others out with their struggles.  Is that my lot in life?  Who knows, but I do know that as I have gotten older, I have learned to look at life and not to take it at face value, which has served me well, and has also allowed me to use this perspective to help others look at things from a different angle as well.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  But hey…..such is life!


Open Your Eyes – The Life You Save May Be Your Own

A recent Friday morning in December changed the world forever.  The explosion of gunpowder propelled deadly iron through the chilly New England morning, tearing at the fabric of our nation’s psyche as each successive projectile found its mark, stealing innocence away from us in both a physical and emotional sense.  A troubled young man’s desperation and rage sealed the fate of 27 unsuspecting victims, before ending his own pain forever.  By the time the terror subsided, twenty of these victims, all of whom were a mere six or seven years of age, drew their last breath.

We have all been left asking a myriad of questions since that moment.  More than likely, the most frequent has been why such a young group was targeted by this cold blooded killer?  Others are:  Where do we go next?  How do we stop situations like this?  Why didn’t anyone see the warning signs?  Who is responsible?

Many conversations have instead centered on the perpetually vacillating debate over gun control, which has been happening since our Constitution was signed by our founding fathers.  Many others have set their focus on the struggles resulting from mental illness.  I will lump myself into the others that have asked these two questions.  However, one common theme that I seem to keep coming across is this…Who is responsible for this tragedy?

My answer may surprise some of you.  I believe, to a certain extent, we all are at least a tiny bit culpable.  Why, you are asking, I’m sure?  Here is my reasoning…

There are many individuals that cross our paths on a daily basis who are struggling with something serious.   It may be a health issue, it may be a relationship issue, and it may be a mental health issue.  These struggles are often invisible, as the pain that is generated is internal.  The problem is, we really don’t know who is struggling with what, unless we are in a close enough relationship with them.  There is a great deal of pain in this world, but not all of us share it with others, or show it somehow with our actions.

This is where we come in.  Mark 12:31 says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  The verse before this tells us that we are to first, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.”  This is what is known as the Most Important Commandment, according to Jesus.  To paraphrase it…Love God first with all we are, and then love others like we would like to be loved.

I truly believe that if more of us tried to live by these two verses that we would have fewer instances like the horrific scene played out at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  If we all paid closer attention to others, instead of being so focused on ourselves that we would likely catch these individuals before they become so distraught that they take out their pain on innocent people.  I believe that if we were able to give more of ourselves, or share our love, lives could be touched.

It is highly likely that the young man that gunned down those innocent children and adults had exhibited some sort of behavior that should have thrown up a “red flag” at some point.  I feel confident in saying that at least a few of these clues were given consciously, in an effort to draw attention in searching for someone to help.  There are so many people that act out as a way to draw attention to themselves, looking for some sort of attention.  They really don’t even care whether it is positive or negative, as long as someone is paying attention.

The sad part is that way too often, these clues are either not picked up on or worse yet, ignored.  Many people are not willing to venture outside of their comfort zones long enough to take a risk and to get involved somehow with someone who needs it.  I’m not saying that we have to jump in head first, and become best friends, or spend countless hours together, but sometimes, “a little goes a long way.”

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I am confident that if more of us made the effort to get involved, lives could be affected positively, and the more this happens, the less likely such tragedies will occur.  Almost every time one of these individuals walks into a public building, armed to the hilt with weapons, we find out that people that knew them would describe them as “loners.”  Are they loners by their choice, or have they been kept at arm’s length by our choice, because they were “different” and that made us uncomfortable?  This is where we need to pay attention, and then try to fill in the gaps.  I realize that it is inevitable that horrible atrocities will still be perpetrated by unstable individuals, but in the meantime, I think that I will try to do my best at paying enough attention so that I can somehow make enough of a difference somewhere so that the frequency of us hearing about these horrible stories will become less frequent. It may not be much, but at least it will be something.

Ashes to ashes, Dust………part 2

So, getting back to my point, we are all connected, both physically and emotionally.  We are meant to share ourselves with others in some form or fashion.  It’s not only humans.  Animals are social as well.  All you have to do is (if you have a dog) walk through your front door to know that these connections cross species lines.  Your dog is always happy to see you after you’ve been gone.  As a matter of fact, I believe that dogs are the best visual representation of what true, unconditional love looks like.  They don’t care if you are young or old, thin or overweight, male or female, how much money you have, what the shade of your skin is, what language you speak, or whether you are blind, deaf, or have any other type of disability.

You can even see this in the wild.  Despite the fact that nature is “survival of the fittest,” we have all seen where one animal has become a surrogate parent to a baby of a different species.  As a matter of fact, I was told a story recently about a documentary that followed the first three years in the life of a female leopard.  Leopards and baboons are natural enemies.  But in this program, this leopard killed a baboon.  In the process of dragging her kill up into a tree, she notices that there was a one day old baby baboon clinging to its mother’s lifeless corpse.  This female leopard then took this baby baboon and cared for it.  The baby only lasted a day or so because the leopard wasn’t able to keep it warm enough, but she knew what she need to do, and did it to the extent that her resources allowed her to do.  Even though these two species are mortal enemies, the leopard still intuitively knew that the other, helpless living creature needed help and gave it unselfishly and unconditionally!  The leopard could not speak to the baboon, but because of the intrinsic connection they both had, love was shown.  It may look a bit different in the wild than it does in society, but love is what binds all of our connections.  It’s all about relationship…between each other…between humans and other species, and between all species and the earth.  We are from whence we came…Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Where does this love come from though?  Ultimately it comes from God.  When the earth had nothing on it, he created Adam to have a relationship with because he had so much love to share.  God created Adam out of the dirt of the earth.  By the way, “Adam” is also the masculine form of the Hebrew word, adamah, which means “ground” or “Earth.”  But regressing, did you catch what was said in the third sentence?  GOD CREATED ADAM TO HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH BECAUSE HE HAD SO MUCH LOVE TO SHARE!  Yes, God does have relationships with us, and wants to very much, as hard to believe as it is.  The God that created the universe wants a relationship with you and me!  It’s hard to conceptualize, but it is true.  I know, because I have experienced it in my own life many times. We have to make the first step though.  He is waiting for us to “crack open the door,” and allow him access to our lives and hearts.  It even says that in the Bible.  Revelation 3:20 (New Living Translation) says, “Look!  I stand at the door and knock.  If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.”  He is knocking all the time, but we are usually focused on other aspects of our lives, and we just don’t hear the knock.  Through my experiences, I can tell you that sometimes the knock is very soft, but other times he is practically knocking the door down.  For me, it took me to answer a couple of those harder knocks before I was able to start hearing the soft ones!  God created the door and everything on both sides of it and around it.  He put the door knob on it, chose the color of the door, and connected the door to the hinges so it can swing open.  The only thing he won’t do is open the door for us.  That’s our responsibility.  All he is waiting for is an invitation. When I think about it, I envision it this way…I see Jesus standing on the doorstep, leaning against the door jamb, humming one of his favorite hymns, probably an Elvis version (because those are the best!) of “In the Garden” or “He Touched Me.”  All of a sudden, he hears the latch click, but he can’t see who is on the other side (even though he already knows).  All he can see is darkness on the inside, but his immense love generates an indescribable light that creeps through the crack in the door.

All of a sudden, he can see the reflection of this light in the flicker of an eye.  As the door opens further, he can see a tear drop creeping down a cheek.  Just as it is about to drip to the ground, he reaches out to catch it in the palm of his hand.  He looks down at the drop as it comes to rest in his scarred palm, glances up to catch the gaze of the person on the other side of the door, who now is beginning to push the corners of their lips up into a smile (one that has been hiding for a while), as they realize that they are now face to face with the one person who can change in them what needs to be changed and fix the parts that need to be fixed. They know that they are in the presence of someone who will now walk next to them for the rest of their journey, regardless of what happens from this point forward!  They now realize that because they took a leap of faith, even though they were paralyzed with fear of the unknown, they now will never be alone because they are connected to the source.  The source of everything they will need.  The last part of my vision ends as I watch as the person opens the door the rest of the way, steps aside, and then turns and walks away, arm in arm, with their new friend, until all I can see is the Light of Love as it wraps around all it comes in contact with.

Ashes to ashes, Dust………….

I’m going to go back to my first post, where I talked about us all being connected (This Could Be the Start of Something Good).  If you missed that one, check it out so you know what I’m talking about.

So, anyway, as I said before, we are meant to be social creatures.  Think about it.  It actually starts at conception.  The first 40 weeks of our existence is spent inside of our mother’s womb.  We are completely dependent upon her.  There is no way of escaping this.  Then the moment comes where we are transitioned from the warm, comfortable place where we eat, sleep, where we are comforted by her heartbeat, and where we enjoy listening to her talk and sing and do whatever else she does throughout the course of her day…out into this vast, cold, scary world.

Obviously, the dependency does not stop there.  Until we are able to walk and talk and feed ourselves, we are still relying on them to help us get through our day.  We are relational creatures.  If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be able to learn how to do anything.  We learn by observing others.  Yes, there is formal education, but much of what we learn, especially the first five years or so, we are like a sponge.  Children learn from seeing what their families do.  This is especially true when it comes to verbal expression.  Children even pick up their parent’s speech patterns and dialects.  They copy what they hear.  Have you ever heard a child born in the Deep South sound like they were from the Bronx?  I never have!  Even though each of us is fighting to figure out exactly who we are, and the purpose of our life, we spend a great deal of time doing what we can do to fit in to the world around us.  We want to be independent and unique, but paradoxically, we don’t want to be so different that we become ostracized.  I see this a great deal working in the schools.  There is such a desire to belong, but very few seem to know how to accomplish this.  I would venture to say that around 90-95% of kids are obviously searching for answers.  The other 5-10% are the ones that the searchers are following.  It appears that these are our leaders.  It’s hard to explain why the others naturally follow them.  Maybe intuitively, less internal strife is detected within these leaders by the searchers.  Some leaders are obvious because they naturally place themselves there.  It is almost impossible to miss them.  But then there are the ones who haven’t quite realized their gift of leadership yet.  It takes a coach or a teacher to see something in a child and then walk beside them to help mold them.  But the true leaders seem to have it all together and figured out. Obviously this is not entirely true.  There are very few individuals who seem to intrinsically know what they want to do with their lives from the beginning and that are acutely aware of what their gifts are.

Quite honestly, we are actually connected on a level much deeper than this metaphorical example.  It is true that what we say or do does have direct bearing on others.  But we are also connected on a molecular level as well.  The term, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” is truer than most realize, or probably even considered.  There are many chemical elements that make up the composition of the human body, but the greatest concentration of them is found within six elements:  Oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus.  When most of us hear these words, I would venture to guess that if we were asked to tell where these elements are found, I’d say the answer would be in the ground or more simply, the earth.  We think about oxygen and nitrogen and hydrogen being in the air and in our water.  We think about phosphorus and carbon being in the ground.  Calcium is the only one I relate to our bodies right away (bones).

But the question is, is there more oxygen or nitrogen or carbon here now than when the earth was formed?  Can these elements be made now?  I don’t know the definitive answer, but from what I understand, the only way it can be done is to alter the states of these chemicals.  But to simply “make oxygen from scratch,” or carbon for that matter, it is improbable.  These elements have been here since the beginning of time.  Why have we never run out, since we can’t make more?  The simple answer is that when we die, or bodies revert back to their original states – ashes and dust!  We are either cremated or we are embalmed.  The former obviously reduces us to ashes.  The latter reduces the speed of decomposition of the body so that we can go about our tradition of viewing the bodies before entombment.  But eventually the body is reduced to a skeleton.  Everything else eventually breaks down and returns to dust…ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

So, I’m sure some of you are wondering where I have veered off to.  My point here is simple.  In God’s economy, nothing is wasted.  The oxygen we breathe today has been here forever.  It has been breathed in and out by who knows how many people.  The carbon in my body was once a part of someone else before me.  It’s hard to imagine how many times the water I drank this morning has been consumed before today.  Most of us don’t realize it, but it’s true.  Who knows…the chemicals in my body may have been a part of a tree before, or a lion, or a cloud!  I’ll never know for sure, but it’s plausible!

This is a good point to take a break and let you ponder what I have written so far.  Check back soon for the second part…

This Could Be the Start of Something Good :)

The title of the first entry of this blog is actually the name of a song by the band, Daughtry.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the band, it is fronted by former American Idol contestant, Chris Daughtry.  What you will read next is actually the chorus from that song.  The chorus goes as follows…

I know it’s gonna take some time

But I’ve got to admit that the thought has crossed my mind

This might end up like it should

I’m gonna say what I need to say

And hope to God that it don’t scare you away

Don’t want to be misunderstood

But I’m starting to beleive that

This could be the start of something good.

If you listen to the rest of the lyrics, it is obvious that the song has to do with the beginning of a relationship.  Even though the song has nothing to do with blogging, I do feel as if it really says what needs to be said.  It gives you a bit of a peek into my mind and how I feel about what I’m about to venture into.

I’m going to be completely honest with you all.  I’m not exactly sure why I have decided to throw my thoughts into cyberspace for others to read and ponder.  But I do feel as if there is a vaIid reason for it.  I wouldn’t really say that I feel like this is a calling, but I do feel as if there is something that is leading me into this.  It is particularly odd, as I am not what I would call an avid, or even a consistent blog reader.  I have read very few of them.  However, for a little while I have been considering taking this on.  I know a couple people who do it, so I guess it makes some sense to me.  I don’t really think it has as much to do with the format as much as it is in my desire to write.  I do really enjoy writing, but I don’t get much of a chance to do so.  I have been keeping a journal for about eight years now, but I am very inconsistent with it.  It is very typical for me to go six to nine months without writing a word in it.  So, obviously, I’m not being very efficient.  Over the past month or so, I have had a greater desire than normal to write again.  I did get my journal out a couple weeks ago and updated it, but haven’t written in it since.

This is similar to a few years ago when I started (for no reasonable explanation) to try to write songs, despite the fact that I had no experience at all.  A majority of the stuff ended up being poems.  But during that time, I had stuff coming to me out of nowhere.  To this day, I’m still not quite sure why all those words kept coming, but I’m sure there is some reason.  There were times where I literally had to stop what I was doing to write things down.  Most of what I write will start out by me hearing something in a song or an interview, and my mind just takes off from there, and before I know it, I am half way done.  Obviously it is coming out of my brain, but I get the impression that the lion’s share of it most likely has nothing to do with me, but maybe it will speak to someone who reads it.  Some of my poems have actually brought people to tears, so obviously there is some meaning to what has been given to me to communicate.

When I first started journaling, it was more or less a way for me to document what was happening to me in my spiritual journey, much of which that was new to me at that time.  I’m not sure that what I was writing was particularly meant for others to read, but I continued to write, none the less.  I do, however, believe that the poetry was meant for others.  I have shared some of it, but not all of it.  But what has been bouncing around in my mind recently is undoubtedly meant to get out to others.  Much of what I experience these days I believe can help others in some form or another.  I see a great deal of consistency in a vast majority of the kids I work with, and I think as I learn more about them and the things they struggle with, I feel that my insight will have some meaning somehow.  Some of it is medical, some of it is social, but much of it is simply random musings.

Even though I feel like I’m randomly starting this, over the past couple days there does seem to be a bit of a theme that is surfacing.  It really hit me as I was watching television the other night with my family that we had recorded on DVR.  There is a new series on Fox that is called Touch.  It stars Kiefer Southerland, and he plays a widower who is trying to raise a son on his own.  The problem is that his son has never spoken to him, but the boy is consumed with numbers.  As it is explained in the show, he sees patterns in the numbers that others can’t.  Sutherland’s character has recently realized that his son wants to use him to help others out.  In one way or another, the boy gives a series of numbers to him, and somehow he is supposed to figure out what to do.

As in any show, there is more than one story line going on throughout the program.  Obviously, part of it has to do with the man and his son, but there are other stories woven into the fabric  of the show.  Touch storylines typically show people in other countries along with ones in the US.  Obviously, at first glance, it would seem like the people in these foreign lands would have nothing to do with the main characters, but every time, somehow, all the stories in the program share either a common or very similar end point.

Here is where I feel like I come in.  The older I get, the more obvious it becomes to me that our lives are not really our own.  Everything we do or say affects someone else, no matter how insignificant or extraordinary it may seem at the time.  We are bound together, whether we realize it or not.  Some of us more so than others, but we are not islands unto ourselves.  Humans are meant to be social creatures.  Some are better at it than others, but in the long run, we simply can’t make it through all life throws at us by ourselves.  Whether we are willing to admit it or not, we all will need the help of another person in some form or fashion.

Now that I have all of this out on the table, I will stop for now.  My next entry will go into more depth, and I will explain in more detail why I feel like sharing my thoughts in cyber land is important (well, in my own mind, at least).  I’m also hoping that I have “whet your whistle” enough to want to come back and read more.

Thanks for taking the time to stop by and take a look!