Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Addiction: It's Not Just About Chemistry

The other morning, I was doing some reading in 2 Peter.  This letter was penned by Peter in response to false teachings that had infiltrated the early Church.  While referring to these false prophets and teachers, one line in particular struck me:
"They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him." (2 Peter 2:19, NIV)
Naturally, the first thought is to think of addiction ... the "typical" type ... alcohol and drugs, sex, gambling, etc.  My immediate thought was of how addiction was the cause of my marriage ending in divorce, as is sadly the case in so many relationships.  When my ex-husband's "harmless" marijuana addiction morphed into one of sex, for the sake of my own mental and physical health, I had to draw the line.

But, I also began to reflect on other, more non-traditional forms of "addiction" that seem so prevalent today, especially found in my profession of education and the interaction with children and their families that is endemic.  Perhaps my mind was quick to consider other types of addiction due to several current sad cases in bad parenting I am dealing with as a teacher.  These parents seem "addicted" to a victimology that excuses their children's behavior and, in their mind, removes them from parental obligations.  I see parents using a flimsy medical "condition" to get their kids out of academic requirements ... one case in particular is so odd that I can't help but wonder if the mother doesn't have some form of Münchausen syndrome by proxy.  She seems to obsessively wrap herself in her son's medical problem, piling upon the district a list of doctors and medical diagnoses, and unreasonably demanding that special concessions be made for her child.  She spins like the Tazmanian Devil during a meeting while her husband sits idly by, occasionally adding to the conversation.  (I hope the district pushes back and insists on a clear, authenticated medical diagnosis that connects all the loose strands.)

I have worked with some persons that seem to be addicted to attention, being very dramatic individuals that pounce on any opportunity to relay their current crisis (or "crises"), whipping themselves into a frenzied performance of pity, martyrdom, and a shout of "Look at me!  Look at me!"  (My friend calls such people "LAMs.")   Work problems, generic health issues, "life is unfair", etc. are the typical ingredients in their Soup O' Sorrow.  These are the people I wish to remind that "How are you?" is usually meant solely as a greeting and does not imply that I am extending an invitation for a complete medical history before the doctor comes in the room for the examination.  I have found over the years that the people who truly suffer from debilitating and serious illnesses rarely complain about their discomfort, pain, or predicament.  These are the ones I extend the special invitation of "No.  I really want to know how you are doing."  Only then do those who truly suffer oblige me with details ... and I am honored that they do.

Other people are addicted to shirking responsibility, whether it be for their health, child rearing, how much they themselves contribute to marital strife, and so on.  This is the cliché "Peter Pan Syndrome."  They seem to always find someone or some circumstance that is responsible for their plight.  Addicts take this to the extreme, but even fairly even-keel folks can get wrapped up in this.  "Gee, maybe your speeding through a construction zone and getting a big ol' ticket was not the cop's fault.  Yes, I know they make those pesky traffic signs and cones are small and hard to see.  They must do that on purpose to bring in more revenue for the county."  This reminds me of years back when I worked in a gym.  A woman was buying a membership and, when filling out the credit application, she explained that she did not have a driver's license -- she only had a receipt for it.  Her license had been taken by the police when she got pulled over for a DUI.  She had the nerve to complain about the inconvenience of not having her license.

I had a colleague who seemed to enjoy being her own worst enemy.  She frequently put herself down, deriding herself for just about everything -- weight, appearance, health habits, various "inabilities", etc.  Her posture was one of shame and "don't look at me," with a dreary wardrobe that reflected what she felt inside.  Addicted to self-loathing, perhaps?  Life is pretty tough as it is.  Why be your own worst enemy?  I remember going through a phase of this .... I believe it's called "adolescence."  But, when I started college I knew that, outside of my family, no one would be in my corner but me.  I had better learn to be good to myself.  I'm all I've got.  Yes, improvements can always be made, but why knock yourself out before even stepping into the ring?

Then, there are those that are so competitive ... something I would call addicted to "One-Upmanship."  These are the folks that brag about themselves, having to always better someone else when the other person is perhaps relaying a success or failure, for that matter. 

None of us can escape addiction.  We all have some behavior that we exhibit for various reasons.  I am hardly innocent.  I have my own, which after I've indulged in them, I am forever embarrassed.  "Ooooh!  Why did I have to make that conversation way too much about me!"  "Why am I shoving all this food in my face?  What's got me so upset?" 

And, of course, I know full well that my impatience with and judging of "addicts" is wrong ... another addiction of mine.  Oooops!

I thirst after .... what?  We all thirst .... after many different pursuits and distractions.
"but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."  (John 4:14)

Lord, quench my thirsts.  May you well from within me, bubbling your Spirit through to the top.  And help me to be a drink of cool water to those I meet in this hot, parched desert of Life.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Grandma's Hands

[Thanks, R!]

Grandma, some ninety plus years, sat feebly on the patio bench. She didn't move, just sat with her head down staring at her hands.

When I sat down beside her she didn't acknowledge my presence and the longer I sat I wondered if she was OK

Finally, not really wanting to disturb her but wanting to check on her at the same time, I asked her if she was OK. She raised her head and looked at me and smiled. "Yes, I'm fine, thank you for asking," she said in a clear voice strong.

"I didn't mean to disturb you, grandma, but you were just sitting here staring at your hands and I wanted to make sure you were OK," I explained to her.

"Have you ever looked at your hands," she asked.. "I mean really looked at your hands?"

I slowly opened my hands and stared down at them. I turned them over, palms up and then palms down. No, I guess I had never really looked at my hands as I tried to figure out the point she was making.

Grandma smiled and related this story:

"Stop and think for a moment about the hands you have, how they have served you well throughout your years. These hands, though wrinkled shriveled and weak have been the tools I have used all my life to reach out and grab and embrace life.

"They braced and caught my fall when as a toddler I crashed upon the floor.

They put food in my mouth and clothes on my back. As a child, my mother taught me to fold them in prayer. They tied my shoes and pulled on my boots. They held my husband and wiped my tears when he went off to war.

"They have been dirty, scraped and raw , swollen and bent. They were uneasy and clumsy when I tried to hold my newborn son. Decorated with my wedding band they showed the world that I was married and loved someone special.

They wrote my letters to him and trembled and shook when I buried my parents and spouse.

"They have held my children and grandchildren, consoled neighbors, and shook in fists of anger when I didn't understand.

They have covered my face, combed my hair, and washed and cleansed the rest of my body. They have been sticky and wet, bent and broken, dried and raw. And to this day when not much of anything else of me works real well these hands hold me up, lay me down, and again continue to fold in prayer.

"These hands are the mark of where I've been and the ruggedness of life.

But more importantly it will be these hands that God will reach out and take when he leads me home. And with my hands He will lift me to His side and there I will use these hands to touch the face of Christ."

I will never look at my hands the same again. But I remember God reached out and took my grandma's hands and led her home.

When my hands are hurt or sore or when I stroke the face of my children and husband I think of grandma. I know she has been stroked and caressed and held by the hands of God.

I, too, want to touch the face of God and feel His hands upon my face. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Daniel's Gloves: God Works In Mysterious Ways

[Thanks, J, for this little gem!  I checked it out ... it is a true story.  See info at end from Snopes.]


It was an unusually cold day for the month of May. Spring had arrived and everything was alive with color. But a cold front from the North had brought winter's chill back to Indiana. I sat, with two friends, in the picture window of a quaint restaurant just off the corner of the towns-square. The food and the company were both especially good that day.

As we talked, my attention was drawn outside, across the street. There, walking into town, was a man who appeared to be carrying all his worldly goods on his back. He was carrying, a well-worn sign that read, "I will work for food." My heart sank. I brought him to the attention of my friends and noticed that others around us had stopped eating to focus on him. Heads moved in a mixture of sadness and disbelief. We continued with our meal, but his image lingered in my mind. We finished our meal and went our separate ways.

I had errands to do and quickly set out to accomplish them. I glanced toward the town square, looking somewhat halfheartedly for the strange visitor.I was fearful, knowing that seeing him again would call some response. I drove through town and saw nothing of him. I made some purchases at a store and got back in my car. Deep within me, the Spirit of God kept speaking to me: "Don't go back to the office until you've at least driven once more around the square." And so, with some hesitancy, I headed back into town.

As I turned the square's third corner, I saw him. He was standing on the steps of the storefront church, going through his sack. I stopped and looked, feeling both compelled to speak to him, yet wanting to drive on. The empty parking space on the corner seemed to be a sign from God: an invitation to park. I pulled in, got out and approached the town's newest visitor.

"Looking for the pastor?" I asked.

"Not really," he replied, "just resting."

"Have you eaten today?"

"Oh, I ate something early this morning."

"Would you like to have lunch with me?"

"Do you have some work I could do for you?"

"No work," I replied. "I commute here to work from the city, but I would like to take you to lunch."

"Sure," he replied with a smile.

As he began to gather his things. I asked some surface questions. "Where you headed?"

"St. Louis."

"Where you from?"

"Oh, all over; mostly Florida."

"How long you been walking?"

"Fourteen years," came the reply. I knew I had met someone unusual. We sat across from each other in the same restaurant I had left earlier. His face was weathered slightly beyond his 38 years. His eyes were dark yet clear, and he spoke with an eloquence and articulation that was startling. He removed his jacket to reveal a bright red T-shirt that said, "Jesus is The Never Ending Story."

Then Daniel's story began to unfold. He had seen rough times early in life. He'd made some wrong choices and reaped the consequences. Fourteen years earlier, while backpacking across the country, he had stopped on the beach in Daytona. He tried to hire on with some men who were putting up a large tent and some equipment. A concert, he thought. He was hired, but the tent would not house a concert but revival services, and in those services he saw life more clearly. He gave his life over to God. "Nothing's been the same since," he said, "I felt the Lord telling me to keep walking, and so I did, some 14 years now."

"Ever think of stopping?" I asked.

"Oh, once in a while, when it seems to get the best of me. But God has given me this calling. I give out Bibles. That's what's in my sack. I work to buy food and Bibles, and I give them out when His Spirit leads."

I sat amazed. My homeless friend was not homeless. He was on a mission and lived this way by choice. The question burned inside for a moment and then I asked: "What's it like?"


"To walk into a town carrying all your things on your back and to show your sign?"

"Oh, it was humiliating at first. People would stare and make comments. Once someone tossed a piece of half-eaten bread and made a gesture that certainly didn't make me feel welcome. But then it became humbling to realize that God was using me to touch lives and change people's concepts of other folks like me."

My concept was changing, too. We finished our dessert and gathered his things. Just outside the door, he paused. He turned to me and said, "Come Ye blessed of my Father and inherit the kingdom I've prepared for you. For when I was hungry you gave me food, when I was thirsty you gave me drink, a stranger and you took me in."

I felt as if we were on holy ground. "Could you use another Bible?" I asked. He said he preferred a certain translation. It traveled well and was not too heavy. It was also his personal favorite. "I've read through it 14 times," he said. "I'm not sure we've got one of those, but let's stop by our church and see." I was able to find my new friend a Bible that would do well, and he seemed very grateful.

"Where you headed from here?"

"Well, I found this little map on the back of this amusement park coupon."

"Are you hoping to hire on there for a while?"

"No, I just figure I should go there. I figure someone under that star right there needs a Bible, so that's where I'm going next." He smiled, and the warmth of his spirit radiated the sincerity of his mission.

I drove him back to the town-square where we'd met two hours earlier, and as we drove, it started raining. We parked and unloaded his things.

"Would you sign my autograph book?" he asked. "I like to keep messages from folks I meet."

I wrote in his little book that his commitment to his calling had touched my life. I encouraged him to stay strong. And I left him with a verse of scripture from Jeremiah, "I know the plans I have for you," declared the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a future and a hope."

"Thanks, man," he said. "I know we just met and we're really just strangers, but I love you."

"I know," I said, "I love you, too."

"The Lord is good."

"Yes, He is. How long has it been since someone hugged you?" I asked.

"A long time," he replied. And so on the busy street corner in the drizzling rain, my new friend and I embraced, and I felt deep inside that I had been changed.

He put his things on his back, smiled his winning smile and said, "See you in the New Jerusalem."

"I'll be there!" was my reply.

He began his journey again. He headed away with his sign dangling from his bedroll. When you see something that makes you think of me, will you pray for me?"

"You bet," I shouted back, "God bless."

"God bless." And that was the last I saw of him. Late that evening as I left my office, the wind blew strong. The cold front had settled hard upon the town. I bundled up and hurried to my car. As I sat back and reached for the emergency brake, I saw them, a pair of well-worn brown work gloves neatly laid over the length of the handle. I picked them up and thought of my friend and wondered if his hands would stay warm that night without them. I remembered his words: "If you see something that makes you think of me, will you pray for me?"

Today his gloves lie on my desk in my office. They help me to see the world and its people in a new way, and they help me remember those two hours with my unique friend and to pray for his ministry. "See you in the New Jerusalem," he said.

Yes, Daniel, I know I will...

If this story touched you, forward it to a friend!

"I shall pass this way but once. Therefore, any good that I can do or any kindness that I can show, let me do it now, for I shall not pass this way again."

My instructions were to send this to four people that I wanted God to bless and I picked you. Please pass this to four people you want to be blessed as well as the person who sent it to you. This prayer is powerful and there is nothing attached, please do not break this pattern, prayer is one of the best gifts we receive. There is no cost but a lot of rewards, let's continue to pray for one another.

God bless and have a nice day! "Father, I ask you to bless my friends, relatives and e-mail buddies reading this right now. Show them a new revelation of your love and power. Holy spirit, I ask you to minister to their spirit at this very moment. Where there is pain, give them your peace and mercy. Where there is self-doubt, release a renewed confidence through your grace, In Jesus' precious Name. Amen."

Here's the background on the story from Snopes:
Origins:   We first saw this story circulated on the Internet in 2001. Although many copies omit mention of its author, the essay is the work of Richard Ryan, the assistant pastor of the Old Capitol United Methodist Church in Corydon, Indiana. It first appeared in the July/August 1995 issue The Corydon Democrat magazine and has since been reprinted in a few inspirational collections, including A Third Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Pastor Ryan wrote the account of his meeting with Daniel the day after the event, when the encounter was still fresh in his mind. Indeed, the memory of that day in 1993 has not much faded through the intervening years, as I discovered when I spoke to him. Daniel's gloves are "still sitting in my office today," said the pastor, who is bemused by the number of folks who have dropped by to see the discarded hand coverings, which he describes as "an ordinary pair of work gloves." Daniel was a real person, a weather-beaten traveller the pastor brought back to his church and introduced to others. As for this modern-day Johnny Appleseed who spreads the gospel as he treks through the countryside, though we've yet to locate news stories about a fellow walking from town to town handing out bibles, we can't help but believe Pastor Ryan's claim of having handled the autograph book Daniel carried and having seen the many notations other well-wishers had added to it over the years. The version which has come to be part of the ongoing lore of the Internet is almost word-for-word the first draft the pastor produced. Apart from the end section that begins "If this story touched you, forward it to a friend!" (which was added by some anonymous forwarder during its journey from inbox to inbox), the only difference is the elision of the original ending line: "God bless you, Daniel, wherever your feet take you."

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Heaven: Will Pets Be There?

The ongoing debate ... "Do our pets go to heaven?

In my family, that has always been a "for sure thing."  Our logic: How can such a loving creature not have a soul and not be deserving of a place in heaven?"

Maybe you saw the recent "debate" via signs between a Catholic and a Presbyterian Church.  It was a popular item that got passed around the Internet.  Here are two from the series:

The "heated" debate ended with Beulah Presbyterian asserting: "Dogs are animals.  There aren't any rocks in heaven either."  The Catholic church fired back with "All rocks go to heaven."

This question ... well, "settled fact" for me ... comes to mind in the wake of my mother having to put her dog down yesterday.  Sadly, it was just 3 months ago that she had to put another dog down.  She has lost two beloved dogs in such short time.  The first dog was quite old and had been ailing for some time.  It was expected.  But yesterday was a shock.  Toby, a 95-lb "American All-Breed" had blown out a knee about a week ago.  He had torn a ligament in one knee chasing after a squirrel.  Mom had him scheduled for a $2,000 knee operation this coming Friday, both of them facing 16 weeks of recovery and rehab.  But, then on Friday he blew out the other knee.  There would be no way Toby could make a come back from that.  So, sadly my mother had to make the grim decision to put down an otherwise healthy 6 year old dog -- still so full of life and love. So unexpected.  So painful.  Now my mom struggles with a silent home with no cold-nosed, tail-wagging greetings.

Last night, against my better judgment, I did some surfing around on the Internet looking for those tear-jerking, mushy thoughts about dogs.  I'd had a crying-induced headache all day, but still I looked around.  While doing so, I am still able to look down at my chocolate-covered, fur-faced "love bug."  I experienced a few tinges of guilt, wanting to kill her the other day I had gotten so angry.  Now, my heart was melting as I focused on how loving she is and how quick to anger I am.

But, I digress ...

So, I searched around the Internet looking for Scripture as well as sentimental anecdotes.  Most theology-based sites gave a nod towards animals entering heaven.  One heartlessly said "no."  One particularly negative site said basically that, if a pet goes to heaven, its human must be going, too, but that they're aren't that many people going to heaven in the first place.  OUCH!

Naturally, I preferred the "yays" to the "nays."  Here's a nice one I found at Christianity Today.  A parent had written saying: "Our beloved dog died recently.  Should I correct my kids when they say they can't wait to play with Rocky again in heaven?"  Randy Alcorn gave a tender-hearted reply.  Here is an excerpt:
We know animals will be on the New Earth, which is a redeemed and restored old Earth, in which animals had a prominent role. People will be resurrected to inhabit this world. Romans 8:21–23 assumes animals as part of a suffering creation eagerly awaiting deliverance through humanity's resurrection. This seems to require that some animals who lived, suffered, and died on the old Earth must be made whole on the New Earth. Wouldn't some of those likely be our pets?

In her excellent book, Holiness in Hidden Places, Joni Eareckson Tada says, "If God brings our pets back to life, it wouldn't surprise me. It would be just like him. It would be totally in keeping with his generous character … Exorbitant. Excessive. Extravagant in grace after grace. Of all the dazzling discoveries and ecstatic pleasures heaven will hold for us, the potential of seeing Scrappy would be pure whimsy—utterly, joyfully, surprisingly superfluous. … Heaven is going to be a place that will refract and reflect in as many ways as possible the goodness of joy of our great God, who delights in lavishing love on his children."

In a poem about the world to come, theologian John Piper writes:
And as I knelt beside the brook
To drink eternal life, I took
A glance across the golden grass,
And saw my dog, old Blackie, fast
As she could come. She leaped the stream—
Almost—and what a happy gleam
Was in her eye. I knelt to drink
And knew that I was on the brink
Of endless joy. And everywhere
I turned I saw a wonder there.
We needn't be embararassed either to grieve the loss of our pets or to want to see them again. If we believe God is their creator, that he loves us and them, that he intends to restore his creatures from the bondage they experienced because of our sin, then we have biblical grounds for not only wanting but also expecting that we may be with them again on the New Earth.
Dogs are the one animal, I believe, that are truly velcroed to humans, feeling and sharing their humans' needs.  There have been times when I've experienced a dog detecting my feelings.  When I was separated and going through the agony of deciding whether to continue with the marriage or to divorce, one afternoon I was sitting in the living room and started to silently cry.  My dog, who was asleep in the bedroom, suddenly appeared before me with the saddest expression.  She laid her head in my lap and stayed with me.  It is a true friend who sits with you and grieves.  I always refer to that dog as my "psychologist" dog.  She was so tender-hearted ... my 80-lb. "killer dog" Dobermann was actually a "sheep in wolf's clothing."

A few years ago I had two major operations six months apart.  My current dog was my "physical therapist" during that time.  She is a 70 pound crazy dog.  As I was preparing for surgery, I was worried she might hurt me with her powerful, over-the-top exuberance.  But, with the first surgery, she instantly knew I was "hurt" and became docile and tender.  Six months later when I had hip surgery, I still clearly recall the look on her face as she watched me stand up from my chair with crutches -- it was one of surprise and shock, a kind of Piglet "Oh, dear!  Such a big world for such a small animal!" reaction.

During the first week as I teeter-tottered down the hall on crutches one day, I heard her come scrambling behind me.  I feared she would knock me down, there having been many times pre-surgery when she would knock into me as she bounded past me down the hall.  But this time, as she reached me and I cringed, she instantly stopped and heeled in perfect position at my knee (something she had always defiantly refused to do) -- head submissively down and walking slowly at my pace.  I was absolutely shocked!  I thought: "OK, someone stole my dog and replaced her with a super obedient one."  I still marvel at how adeptly and obediently she learned new routines to accommodate my temporary incapacities -- routines that still have pay-offs today.

I have decided that dogs are "zedek": a Hebrew word meaning "righteous" and "as God intended."   All of nature is "zedek", except for us humans due to out sinful, rebellious nature.  I can get so furious with Wild Dog, but I have to remember she is "zedek" -- she's just being what she's designed to be.  It's my ideals I'm molding her to.  The noble "zedek" dog willingly molds itself to the human's will.  Many times when I head to church, I will tell Wild Dog: "Mommy's gotta go to church.  I'm not 'zedek' like you are."

Dogs are amazing.  Think of them in all their capacities and roles: herding, guarding, police work, bomb sniffing, drug detection, companions for the handicapped, therapy dogs for ailing seniors and wounded soldiers ... We have all heard and marveled at their amazing stories of devotion and heroism.

How can an animal so in tune with and so devoted to humans not have a soul?