A Forward of a Story…

I am reprinting my daughter’s blog today because it is deep and it is touching. I‘m sure you will love it like I did.. I encourage a visit to her blog at http://www.traumamom4.com.

Sonder — noun. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own — populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries, and inherited craziness — an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk. 

I am mesmerized. A medical student asked me to write a letter of recommendation for her. That’s typical. We work closely with students…they ask us to write letters. They usually send us their CV (like a resume for academic folks) and a personal statement. Often times I feel like if I’ve read one personal statement, I’ve read them all. But this student introduced me to the concept of “sonder” in her statement…and I can’t get past it.

Sonder is the wonder that is my life…and yours. It’s the magical understanding that we all live these crazy, complicated, ugly, beautiful, wild lives. It’s the belief that the intersection of my life and yours is as it was meant to be. Our stories collide for a moment, a period, or a lifetime. And it’s actually just so indescribably simple yet complex…all at once.

Maybe I am especially attuned to sonder as I move about my daily work, interacting with dozens of new people every day, all of whom have a powerful story… how they landed in the Emergency Department and became my patient. The stories I hear shock me, bore me, and break me; the bizarre, the mundane, and the tragic. But every single person has a story. And the older I get, the more interested I am in hearing the story.

Talking to a friend today…we talked about our stories, the narrative we create for ourselves, and also the narrative others create for us, over which we have little control. We decided that, in the end, we can’t allow other people’s understanding of us, right or wrong, determine our worth or dictate how we perceive ourselves. Our own story is our best story. And the way we embrace our story has everything to do with how we feel about ourselves.

I believe that every brush we have with another human has the power to change us forever. The fatherly figure my friend and I met in an ice cream shop in Chicago for 15 minutes when we were 17; the friendly lady who I bumped into at the Verizon store in 2010 who prayed over me for a year and remains a friend on social media to this day; the student whose toes I stepped on at a concert who became my research mentee. We are connected with lines some as thick as the rope that holds an anchor and some as thin as a whisper. But connected no less.

My story is constantly changing. Every day, I learn something new. I meet someone new. And I am constantly milling about in this complex world with 7 billion of my friends who have their own beautiful story. It’s infinitely humbling to believe this. That my story is no more difficult or interesting or better than any other.

I love to hold a hot cup of espresso in my hands after dinner. It’s part of my story. Everywhere I go. From New York to Rome to Indianapolis…a hot espresso is the period on a wonderful day. It reminds me of travel and family and friends. As I hold the tiny cup, the moments of the day roll by in my mind; I hold with wonder all of the feelings of the day…joy, sadness, fear, excitement, peace. In just a few sips, I take in the day and feel big and small altogether.

I don’t know where tomorrow will take me. I don’t know who will brush into my life. I don’t know everything about your life, your story, but I know it’s as wild and beautiful as everyone else’s. I know that we will do well to honor the incredible stories that we each hold.

Sonder is just so beautiful.

I Don’t Know

This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.                                                                                                                                                 I John 1:5

The older I get, the more comfortable I seem to feel saying “I don’t know”. Paradoxically, maybe it is the wisdom of age that allows me to see that there is much I do not know. Perhaps it is just feeling more comfortable with myself, knowing that I don’t need to know all the answers. At any rate, suffice it to say that I am not alone in recognizing that we live in a world of many “unknowable” things.

I recently heard a podcast that fascinated me. It was by a scientist, Dr. Michael Guillen, who is a Christian. He discussed, as a scientist, the physics of light. He also made the case that the Bible names God as light itself. He went on to point out that light is a phenomenon that is still not fully explainable. Light is both wave and particle- at the same time.

I cannot do justice to the podcast, so I will simply give you the address of the podcast (below), and you can listen for yourself. My point today, however, is not to try to understand light, or even God. I am simply saying that I am comfortable with the God I know as the infinite creator, and that as a created being, I don’t need to understand everything God made. My job is to marvel at it, study about it, and just be grateful for a creation beyond my understanding.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for an amazing creation. Let us rejoice and be glad in it, Amen

Do You Procrastinate?

Dear friend, if you’ve gone into hock with your neighbor
    or locked yourself into a deal with a stranger,
If you’ve impulsively promised the shirt off your back
    and now find yourself shivering out in the cold,
Friend, don’t waste a minute, get yourself out of that mess.
    You’re in that man’s clutches!
    Go, put on a long face; act desperate.
Don’t procrastinate—
    there’s no time to lose.
Run like a deer from the hunter,
    fly like a bird from the trapper!

Proverbs 6:1-5 (The Message)

Do you ever procrastinate? Yeah, I do too. Some of us are better than others on this, and for most of us, it depends on what the activity is. Typically, the things we put off are the unpleasant tasks. Maybe they are the ones which we feel less confident about. Typically, also, the things that we put off or try to avoid, are the ones that will cost us something extra by putting them off. They get harder to do for several reasons.

One of those reasons is that the task gets bigger in our mind the more we delay it. We build it up beyond the actual difficulty of the task. Possibly, the longer we put it off, the more awkward the task becomes. A time delay may really work against us, especially, of course, if the task is time sensitive. Calling at the last minute, for example, to cancel a meeting, can cause more problems than that same phone call would have two days earlier.  

Whenever we put something off, we usually have to pay with interest. It seems it is like a universal rule of some kind. With bills, that may be literally true. With social capital, it works much the same way. We usually have to pay extra mentally, socially, or emotionally for that delay that we made. Those hard conversations that are put off can cause more pain by their delay. We would save ourselves some pain by what we could have done much earlier.

So, while the tendency may be to procrastinate, remember, it almost always has to be paid with interest.

Prayer: Lord, we avoid the hard things. Give us the courage and the nudge to act in a timely manner for our own good, Amen.

Prevenient Grace

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.                                                                                                         Isaiah 55:8-9

I am not a Bible scholar, nor am I a theologian. I am an observer of people and an admirer of grace. I recognize that there is much that I do not know about theology, but I do have a belief about the nature and character of God. He loves people. He loves his creation. He is not bound by our definitions, nor our understanding. He is sovereign, and he can do as he pleases, and I often do not understand his ways. But I trust them.

I feel comfortable with the answer “I don’t know”. I am OK with that position. In fact, in some cases, I don’t even know what I don’t know. The good news is that I do not need to have an answer for everything. I think too often we believe that there must be an explanation of why things happen, or “why does God do what he does?”

That is where this idea of prevenient grace comes in. My understanding of prevenient grace is that even before I have an inkling of who God is, or his power to redeem his creation, God provides grace for us to even begin the quest of understanding.  His grace is sufficient for my lack of understanding.

 I’m good with that.

Prayer: Thank you for the grace that you give, even before we know what grace really is, Amen

Faith and Sight

 Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”                                                                                                                                       John 20:29 (The Message)

This faith thing is pretty hard. God calls upon us to exercise faith in him without ever having seen him. He knows, of course, that this is hard, and that is why he told Thomas- yes, “doubting Thomas”- that he had believed because he actually saw and experienced the risen Jesus. Others, all of the rest of us who have followed in this faith journey, believe without the benefit of sight. Jesus said, that even better blessings are in store for those who believe without sight.

So, it seems that our vision of God must come through other means. It must come in his creation. It must come in seeing the grand spectacle of towering mountains, or magnificent oceans. Better yet, it comes in seeing him in other people. In sacrificial gestures of kindness and heroism. In parents who live for, and sometimes die for their children. In first-line responders who put their life on the line every day for others.

When our faith is flagging, we get renewed in seeing the faith of others. I think that is what Jesus meant when he said, “Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”     

Prayer: Thank you Lord for helping us to see you through others, Amen.

A Talk with God…

I am reprinting this blog from over a year ago when the first wave of COVID-19 was ravaging the planet. I hope the message is timely and encouraging. Enjoy…

I hope today’s reflection, a bit different than usual, does not offend the reader with its casual tone toward God. I think prayer is just a conversation with God, and that he relishes it when we talk with him. Agreeing with God, ultimately, is the way we can have peace and prosper.

So, I had this imaginary conversation with God, and it went something like this…

Me: God, you know I have asked you a bunch of times to curse this Coronavirus to hell, and it still has not happened. This is getting really annoying for folks, and I know that you know it. David used to put a curse on his enemies all the time and you seemed to be OK with that. How come you let the Coronavirus hang around? It is killing people, and freaking everybody else out!

God: Well, it’s not that simple. For example, if I gave you the power to curse stuff to hell, there would be no end to it. You’d find something else that you were mad at and try to curse it to hell too. And you know David. He was a bit of a hothead, but I always called him my friend. In the end he had great trust in me, and great dependence. I liked that.

Me: So, we don’t get to curse the virus?

God: No, you will have to use it as a learning experience. I have formed the human race to be able to solve problems, and to grow from disasters. You know the rules. Trust me, even when you don’t see the outcome, and I will do the things you cannot possibly do.

Me: Yes, I know, but that is so hard. People are hurting. And we are really pretty mad too.

God: Yes, I know, and I love you all. Don’t you think your pain doesn’t hurt me? It was not my intent that humankind decided to stray away from the original plans. But I gave you all free will to make your own decisions. I had to pay a high price, the suffering of my son, to save you all from your bad decisions, your sins.

Me: Yes, I know, and we deeply appreciate Jesus! It’s just that Coronavirus has made life so… abnormal!

God: Yes, but you will be OK. I have given you all not only free will, but an amazing capacity to solve problems and to be resilient in the face of terrible danger. When you all work together to solve problems, it is just so gratifying to me as your heavenly father. You’re a father, you know what I mean.

Me: Yes, you are right, as always. Thanks for listening.

God: Believe me, it is my pleasure. I love it when you talk with me.

Me: Good talk dad.

God: Just keep it up!

Eyes on the Prize

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.                                                                    Lewis Carroll

I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.                                          Philippians 3:14

I have talked before about how important it is for us to realize what direction we are heading. “What am I striving for?” For some, the question is “What am I running from?” I have had many occasions to discuss this with clients, because sometimes, those questions are confusing. Sometimes, people cannot tell the difference.

I have always believed that forging toward a goal is much more energizing that running away from an unpleasant experience. I use the analogy of running from a dog who is chasing you. You are pretty motivated (by fear), to stay ahead of the dog. After a while, we lose energy as our bodies get depleted of the brain chemicals adrenaline and norepinephrine that are triggered by our fear. They are not good long-term solutions because they are meant for immediate crisis situations.

Motivation toward a wanted goal, however, can be sustained for a long time – as long as we can keep our eye on the prize, and get a little encouragement from our support system. Hence one of my mantra’s, “It’s better to go toward the good than try to avoid the bad”.

So, keep your eye on your wanted goal, even if it feels distant. Make sure that you are heading in a direction that is desired, rather than trying to escape something.

And yes, sometimes it is hard to tell the difference.

Prayer: Lord, help us to keep our eyes upon you as we seek direction, Amen

Upon Further Review…

This is the time of year when football watchers hear that familiar refrain “upon further review…”.  I thought it might be a good time to bring back this past blog entry for “further review”. Enjoy!

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the Earth                                                                                         Matthew 5:5

I have always been drawn to the meaning of the word “meekness”. We have typically made the word synonymous with “mild” or even “weak”. One of the definitions I found for the word was:

MEEKNESS- NOUN

  1. the fact or condition of being meek; submissiveness

However, upon further review, I think the meaning is actually quite different than this. Some Bible expositors define meekness as “power under control”. I think this is the sense that Jesus talked about in the Sermon on the Mount. Those who are meek really will inherit the earth, because the meek have power and use it with great discretion. Those who have the attribute of meekness recognize that they do not need to bully others, or intimidate others in an argument. They have enough self-assurance that they need not explain to others that they are powerful in their reasoning. 

Like a strong horse whose power is under control by the bridle, it can summon great strength when it is directed properly by the rider. The key is to understand that the power is available, it is not used recklessly, but for a purpose.

Do not underestimate the power of a restrained response. Especially in these days of anger and social media confrontation, those who demonstrate meekness, may be seen as weak, but their discretion is so important. The restraint that we need these days will be modeled by the meek.

I hope they do inherit the earth.

Prayer: I thank you for the depth of Jesus’ amazing teaching. His are truly the words of life, Amen.

Family

Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another;                            Romans 12:10

This past weekend, my wife had a family reunion with her cousins. Since I have been part of this family for nearly 50 years, I have developed close relationships with her family- my in-laws, and her cousins being part of that group, of course.

It is important to know that this family’s story includes the fact that their parents (and aunts and uncles) grew up in a home in Tiffin, Ohio after their ancestors’ father had died of typhoid fever in 1923. Those siblings grew up in an orphanage (but they never called it that- it was their home), and went on to serve in World War II and on the “home front” during that war. Later, they came home to rear a group of highly successful and responsible children whose heritage and offspring continue to be impactful to this day.

They make it a point to get together as frequently as possible, following the steps of their parents, aunts and uncles, to celebrate family. They share joys, heartaches and love exceptionally well. This “overcomer story” should be, and is, celebrated. What a heritage they have of overcoming powerful obstacles together as a family.

At the end of every family gathering each year, they hold hands in a circle and sing the old hymn, “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds”, a tradition that has lasted now for some 65 years. I have always been amazed by this wonderful family, and I am blessed to be a part of it.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for the power of love to overcome pain and obstacles, Amen.

A Search…

Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being.                                                                                                                        Romans1:20 (The Message)

I remember my college years as a time of questioning who I was, who I was to become, and my faith orientation. Indeed, that is the purpose of college- to question the world, to decide your future goals and mission, and be open about learning new things. I had wonderful hard-working, loving parents, incredible siblings, and a foundation of strong faith. Of course, that was a solid foundation to begin the search for what my career and my faith might be.

I also was in college in the 60’s. For most of you, that quickly explains the need to question everything- that’s what we did. I remember vividly, while taking Zoology my freshman year, the questions of creation vs. evolution, the origins of life, and the presence of a loving God were themes that reoccurred.

As I studied more about the intricacies of life, and human life in particular, I had this clear reassurance that the design of our bodies, and that of the universe, were orchestrated by a masterful and omniscient Creator. The science of Zoology had confirmed my faith far better than any other course of study I might have pursued- including Theology.

Does that happen to everyone? No. In fact, I am still amazed that some people do not see the hand of God in designing and creating the universe. But that’s just me. The fact that it happened for me also gives me a spiritual reassurance. I believe that the Holy Spirit gave me that clarity of thinking regarding science and faith. It certainly was not my brilliance that carried the day. It was my willingness to see science with spiritual eyes.

So for me, science and faith go hand-in-hand. They are not at odds, they reinforce one another. I do have concerns over people who would deny science in the name of faith, or deny faith in the name of science. Again, that’s just me. We all need to run our race of faith and courageously question the world around us.

My faith says that I love people in the process, even if they do not land on the same conclusions as me. And yes, I am not perfect on that, but that’s just me.

Prayer: Father, thank you for the marvels of your creation, and the science to explore them, Amen.