“They Did the Best They Could”

The table was littered with crumpled napkins and dessert plates bearing the remains of a homemade strawberry dessert. Our bellies were full and we’d settled into some some real talk–the kind that happens when long after your done eating you sit around the table with those you hold dear and who trust you with the burdens weighing on their hearts.

One of my oldest and dearest friends sat across the table still grieving the loss of his father. As we reminisced I mentioned how much I loved a particular photograph of the two of them. In it, they were captured at a big box store in a town far away engaged in some very childish behavior. They were clearly having great fun evidenced by their beaming faces. Both were laughing. The reflected joy was palpable.

“I loved to make my Daddy laugh,” he said, wistfully, “but, now there’s so much anger.” I saw pure sadness in his lowered eyes. Some hard things had transpired leaving he and his family to suffer sorrow, betrayal, disappointment and an ongoing battle against bitterness that would have been understandable had they succumbed. They hadn’t, but these were hard times indeed.

“He did the best he could.” I responded, hoping to ease his pain.

His response was soft yet swift, “Oh, but, he didn’t.” There was no sign of satisfaction in his eyes over this proclamation. Only sorrow mixed with regret. This conversation took place well over a year ago and I confess it still rumbles around my mind and in my heart.

I don’t know that I will ever mindlessly use that phrase again. Even now if I overhear it somewhere, I hear his response in my head: “Oh, but he didn’t.” We are so quick to say “they did the best they could.” But, was my friend right or was I? Did they do their best? Or, in fact, is that just a trite response when we have no other explanation to soothe ourselves? Is it a myth we use for self-comfort when others have disappointed us with their actions or lack of them?

Do any of us consistently give our best, even to those people and things we love most? Likely not. For a myriad of reasons, we fall short. We fail to be the mothers, fathers, spouses, children, friends, etc that we’d like to think we are or want to be. Because, my friends, wanting doesn’t make it so. If we aren’t intentional about what we do, we too will fail.

I can’t become a master chef by watching the Food Network and wishing I could emulate their skills. Nor can I just post photos of beautiful dishes on Instagram under the moniker “InstaChef.” No. I need to go to the market, purchase the required ingredients, follow the recipe step by step and even then, I may not get the desired result. So, I’ll to try again until I’m satisfied. What may happen down the road is that I grow over confident and fail to read the recipe carefully. I may (because I can be careless) omit a crucial ingredient or use too much of another. I won’t have intended to fail, I just took my eyes off the recipe.

“So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. ” Galations 6:9 Holman Christian Standard Bible.

“We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.”
Hebrews 2:1

Growing up I spent many summer days at the beach, body surfing for hours with my cousins and siblings. Often, I would come out of the water to discover my carefully placed towel “missing.” Upon further examination, I was surprised to view exactly where I had left it. I had been oblivious to the fact that the current had subtly caused me to drift a significant distance from where I had entered the water. Unbeknownst to me I had veered off course without noticing that I had lost sight of my home base. We are strongly warned in the book of Hebrews that if we don’t pay attention, we are in great danger of just drifting away. When we do, we will inevitably fail to give our best.

I hadn’t intended to lose sight of that towel, but, neither had I kept my eye on it. I was distracted by the sun and the waves and my company. When that happened, I effortlessly drifted. When we get distracted by the cares of life, we can easily move away from doing our best for ourselves and those we love. My friend was right. His Daddy, though he most certainly loved his boy dearly, also failed him in some pretty significant ways. He could have done better. He didn’t always do his best. I think he drifted from the shore and lost his bearings for a time. The result for my friend has been some high hurdles to jump over. You and I all have, or will have, similar mountains to climb in our own lives. But our good God is gracious to heal our wounds, day by day, as we lay them before Him.

There will always be a mountain to climb
…and hurdles to conquer

So, what about that “unfinished business?” What about those for whom it’s too late? Too late to give their best, too late to give us their time, their affection, their encouragement, their unconditional love and faithfulness, their provision for our needs. What about that? How are we to come to terms with our disappointment, anger, sorrow and regret, knowing there will be no reconciliation here on earth?

Illustration by Margaret Armstrong from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s
Sonnets From the Portuguese

We can still love and forgive those who’ve failed us in their weakness. We can hate how they hurt us, overlooked us, put others ahead of us or responded from paranoia. Also, when they acted foolishly, selfishly, thoughtlessly or in anger. We don’t need to pretend things were other than they were. We can’t rewrite history. We can’t change what was or wasn’t done, but, for our own healing we can choose to release what we wanted and acknowledge what we actually had. In doing so, we can grow in grace and in mercy, with eyes wide open, to cross over the bridge of forgiveness to the solid ground of peace with God and with man. This is no way negates the wrongs done to us or the heartache we feel, but frees us to repent of our own sin of unforgiveness and to receive the peace that passes all understanding and the healing of our broken hearts.

How can I be so certain of this? Simply because, I’m a sinner, too. I’ve had to release others from the weight of my own unforgiveness, knowing that while I may not make the same mistakes they did, I will surely make my own and so will you. We may, in fact, sin by overcompensating where we were failed. If we were never told “I love you” we may well say it too casually. If we were punished harshly we may err on the side of permissiveness. If we were not adequately provided for we may be prideful in meeting the needs of those we love in a manner far beyond what is reasonable and healthy. Because, we, too, are still being transformed. For that, God allows us a lifetime. As we submit ourselves to His care and leading, He will lead us home where all our tears will be forever dried. In our own lives we can choose to be vigilant, to fix our eyes on Jesus in the earnest hope that others will recall that we did indeed do our best.

It’s a worthy goal.

Sidebar: Even healed wounds hurt from time to time, so, don’t lose hope when yours do. Press forward and through. In the meantime, may I suggest you look into God’s Word for comfort and guidance? Here are some verses to get you started on the road to forgiveness and healing. It’s not easy, but it’s simple.

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. Col. 3:13-15a NLT

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and agner, harsh words and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ forgave you. Eph. 4:31-32 NLT

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. Micah 7:18 NIV

And whenever you stand praying, you must forgive anything you are holding against anyone else, and your Father will forgive you your sins. Mark 11:25 Phillips

Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Find Your People

There’s a subtle lie that haunts most of us a good deal of the time. We look at others and assume they’ve got it going on, but the truth is that underneath even the most polished exterior lies insecurity, struggle, heartache and yes, sin.

“…man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

Driving to a meeting last week I was musing about the fact that I know a lot of people think I have myself “together”. I was quickly reminded of the truth, which is that I am lazy and disorganized and prone to wander. I’m a great starter and less great finisher. What has made the difference in my life is that I’ve recognized my need to be dependent on those around me who remind me to persevere.

Some of my people! Find yours!

Holding it together depends on the Body I belong to and the One who created it. No one part of this body is autonomous. A finger, a leg, a nose, an ear, a foot; they all are useless on their own. Left to our own devices we are pretty useless. We all need to be part of an active body. The individual parts produce nothing, but the parts working together in harmony bring productivity both individually and collectively. It’s why I attend services regularly and am disheartened by those who eschew it saying it’s not necessary to do so. God says it is.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

I’m thankful to acknowledge my need of those God has placed in my spheres of influence. I’ve learned to intentionally seek out people I admire and want to be like, and then sometimes God brings those I never would have sought out on my own. Through each of them, I am encouraged to press on and press in– by those who will confront me when I’m out of order. I rely on them to nudge me when I’m lazy– to get up and move! When I’m weary– I count on them to remind me to keep moving, when I’m discouraged–to press on and when I’m resting on my laurels– to continue on to the next level. When I isolate, it’s easy to convince myself that I’m doing okay–that I’ve done enough. Hence, I need to surround myself with those who spur me on to good works, who by their example remind me to press on to what is good and useful and productive.

Without those God has knit me together with, I confess, I’d be tempted to spend my discretionary hours binge watching Brit-Box far too often. So, believe me when I tell you I am ever mindful of and thankful for my community. I’m not lying. I need you. I say it all the time, but, we need each other. Isolation is always our foe. Kick it out the door. Find your people.

Proactive Aging: A Road Map to Arrive and Thrive

When I made the decision to retire, I was surprised at the number of people who expressed to me their belief that I would be bored when I didn’t have a job to go to everyday.  My response was the same, 100% of the time:  

“…only boring people get bored.”  

But– maybe also people who don’t plan for what’s ahead. If you are currently contemplating retirement, now is the time to begin building for that future. If you have already retired and feel like you’re floundering, it’s not too late to begin.

In a culture where often the first thing we are asked by a stranger after initial introductions is “what do you do?”  is it any wonder that so many of us are largely defined by our work?    I learned early on to view my work as a means to support my life vs my life supporting my work.  For me that meant that while I worked hard to give my best effort, I also endeavored to  maintain a life outside my job.  It was often challenging to manage that goal.

I have a friend who had a very successful career in a field she loved. She retired after some health issues made it difficult to continue, but has since failed to thrive and is largely housebound.  She is an example of one who was so involved in her successful career that she failed to build a life outside of it.  

If you are approaching retirement, here are 10 suggestions to consider :

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gather with others

  1.  Build scheduled activities into your schedule now so that you have a reason to get up and get out when you’re no longer going to work.    I’ve attended a Monthly Bible Study with a small group of women for the last 20+ years.  In addition I’ve long attended weekly services at my church.  Once I ceased working, I added in classes at the gym three times a week and began walking one morning a week with a group of women friends.  These routine activities keep me active and involved in lives outside my own and give me something to look forward to nearly every day.IMG_4788
  2. Kill two birds with one stone.  Exercise your body while staying in touch with friends.  Instead of meeting for lunch or coffee, meet at a park and go for a walk, giving you time to catch up while keeping your body strong and agile.fullsizeoutput_add4
  3. Don’t restrict friendships to others your own age.  If all your friends are your age or older, eventually if you are fortunate enough to have long life, you will face losing many who are dear to you.  Hence, there is a great benefit to having friends of various ages.  I have found many young women who are desirous of being in relationship with an older woman who shares their values and can be a source of wisdom that comes with age.  Multigenerational activities are enriching and expand our horizons.  Spend time with grandchildren while they’re young so you’ll have strong relationships when they age.
  4. Don’t be afraid of technology/social media. While it’s true that social media can be misused, but it can also be a blessing.  Facebook and Instagram have been a means for me to stay in touch with friends all over the world.  Today I was able to converse in real time with my friend who recently relocated to Luxenbourg.  I group text with a several small groups of friends regularly.  And, my granddaughters introduced me to Marco Polo, an application that allows us to send video messages. I’ve been using it for months and recently some of my 30 something friends have discovered it.  This Senior was ahead of the curve!fullsizeoutput_7848
  5. Exercise hospitality at whatever level works for you.  You may not feel like hosting a dinner party but who can’t manage a pitcher of iced tea and a bunch of grapes?  Invite friends over for a movie night or a potluck holiday gathering.
  6. Find a place to volunteer where you can use your gifts for the benefit of others.  We all need a sense of purpose and meaning to our lives.  I spend one day a week with my grandchildren, freeing my daughter to have some time to herself.  I spend another afternoon volunteering at my church, supporting women’s ministries and events.  Wherever your interests lie, find a place to exercise them on a regular basis.  
  7. Remember that isolation is your enemy.  Don’t end up like my friend who believes retiring was the biggest mistake of her life.  Ideally you start building a life outside of your work while you’re still in the game.  But, if you can’t, make it a priority to do so soon after you leave the workplace. cookie 169
  8. Rediscover your partner and the things you enjoy doing together.  Whether it’s going to the gym together, walking your dogs, hiking, travel or movies, make time for each other and for social activities with other friends. 
  9. Rediscover your spiritual side and the faith you may have abandoned. As we near the end of life on earth we are more incline to realize that our spirits need to nurtured and stretched. For me that means reading my Bible in the morning as I enjoy a hot cup of coffee. Ive found God’s Word life giving and able to fill my spiritual tank, enabling me to live with purpose. It means gathering with like minded believers so that we may spur one another on to good work. And, it means feeling prepared for whatever may come.
  10. . Serve others. It may be a neighbor, a friend or someone in your church. Find ways to give of yourself to bless others regularly. Prepare and deliver a meal to a sick friend or a new Mom and her family. If you don’t cook, deliver take out or a gift card to their favorite restaurant. When you make soups prepare a double recipe and freeze half to share with someone later. Offer to babysit your grands overnight and give your adult children a night out sans children. Offer to pick up things at the market for someone who has difficulty getting out. Help with preparations for events you enjoy. The possibilities are endless and as you bless others you, too, will be blessed.

The beauty of retirement is that we have the freedom to choose where and when to spend our time and effort and with whom. It is NOT the time to burrow in for the winter. We are not groundhogs, people.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you’re either preparing to or are already thriving as you age.

Here’s to Blooming in Winter! With a little preparation it can be the icing on your cake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Comforts of Community

Feeling more than a wee bit smug, I  put the finishing touches on my presentation about persevering through the storms of life. (I should’ve seen those yellow warning lights flashing, right?) I was scheduled to speak  to a gathering of women at my church  in 7 days  and was elated to have completed the preparation. (‘So unlike me to be ahead of the curve)  Except for that  nagging little voice in my head  telling me  there was still  something I needed to add. Never the less,  I  had a week to polish and prune and a wide open schedule if adjustments were needed.  No problem.

light road red yellow

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Right…

I arrived home that  Thursday evening  to find my husband in significant pain, but chalked it up to the fact that he had consumed an entire container of salsa with chips, so  we went to  bed praying he’d be better by morning.  When the sun came up, it was clear that was not the case.  His pain had intensified.  I called his physician and although he was overbooked for the day, they fit us in.   His pain was off the charts by the time we arrived at his office and his doc. urged us to go immediately to the ER for further evaluation.

We arrived to a bustling ER and were seen immediately, despite a lobby teeming  with sick and injured patients. He was quickly evaluated and though there  was “no room at the inn” he was moved into the patient area  where he was put on a gurney, in a hallway just across from the desks where nurses and physicians took calls and input information onto their computers. Eventually he was whisked off for an ultrasound and later a CT scan.  Blood was drawn and pain medication was administered.  And we waited.  For hours and hours.

The thing about an emergency room is that you are reminded that many others are far worse off than you are and that gives valuable perspective.  As results came in, it became clear that his gall bladder was the offending organ, an uncommon form of infection as most are caused by gall stones. He had none.  The CT scan showed a lot of inflammation around the gall bladder-  known as acalculous. Initially we expected surgery that night or early the next day.    It needed to come out immediately, but, because of a daily  medication he took, we would need to wait 5 days until that medication was out of his system in order to avoid excessive bleeding.   His white count was 29 which is 3 times the ideal,  indicating a serious infection was raging.  Although the surgery was impossible in that moment, the inflammation needed to be addressed.  As we approached midnight, he was moved to the med-surg  floor and prepared to be  taken into radiology, where a catheter was inserted to draw out infected fluid in order to bridge the situation until surgery was prudent.  The procedure had similar risks, but because it was less invasive there was less risk involved.  It was a short term fix.  In the days that followed, there were heavy doses of antibiotics, painkillers and  intravenous hydration.  Three days later, his  white count finally began to descend.

Over the next several days, I spent long days that morphed into nights at his bedside.  In the midst of this I learned a little more about the meaning of persevering through storms.  I learned that there are gifts to be found.  I learned that the gifts of community are in full bloom when we are confronted by such storms.  Via text messaging, I started three prayer/update chains, one for immediate family, one with Bible Study friends and one with some cousins.  The responses and reassurances of prayers going up on Mike’s behalf were an enormous comfort for me in the long hours I waited alone. Although I wasn’t able to respond in detail, I was able to show my appreciation quickly in most cases.

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By Sunday, the word was out.  Our senior Pastor came and spent an hour with us, encouraging and praying for healing.  Over the next days multiple church staff members came to pray, deliver chocolate and bring encouragement. My girl brought hot tea.    My sister-in-law and niece came briefly, and later delivered a sumptuous meal for me to take home. And one  night when I left the hospital after nearly 12 hours, I asked a security guard to escort me to the 3rd floor of the parking structure. His name was Jesus.  The significance of that was not lost on me.

So. Much. Kindness.

So. Many. Blessings.

The hospital experience was spectacular. The nurses, the nursing assistants, the physicians, the respiratory therapists…without exception we were bathed in kindness and grace. Each new morning I was made  aware of everyday heroes, quietly doing their jobs and blessing those  in their path with  their faithfulness to the tasks given them: worker bees, all –  nursing staff, housekeepers, facility staff, volunteers, cafeteria workers, security guards, parking attendants, lab technicians and pharmacists- the list is long.   Even as I rode the elevators up and down, every employee made eye contact and spoke intentionally. Every single one.  It was like it was a job requirement.  Volunteers played piano in the lobby as I entered each morning and one such morning I found myself singing along…

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God bless the volunteers…

“Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, everything’s coming up roses, everything’s going my way.”  Bringing joy and uplifting hearts, one song at a time.

Over the next week, my  days were spent spoon feeding my patient  bland, pureed food, assisting  with grooming , adding blankets and taking them away, adjusting heat and bed up and down,  calling for more medications or to stop beeping machinery,  meeting with physicians and sending out updates to our prayer partners.  Friends and family came bearing  chocolate, hot beverages, books, cards , plants, dinner and prayers. One such angel walked and fed our pooches twice a day as I manned my post at the hospital.   Encouraging texts flowed in throughout each day, surrounding us with friendship and love even though I was hard pressed to respond with specific updates.  Prayers from Montana, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, California and more and phone calls from concerned friends and family.  We were so covered and felt so loved.

Although he was assigned a shared room, we were blessed with privacy for the first five days.  It was a blessing to have time  and space to spread out with my books and laptop and a chair to rest in.  Then, by divine intervention, an 85 year old Syrian man came in to claim the other bed.  His daughter visited her Father that night and overheard a conversation about my niece who had visited earlier. When the woman got up to leave later, she apologized for overhearing but she had heard the names I mentioned and wondered… long story short, we realized she had actually cared for my nieces two decades earlier when they were very young.  Though she no longer  lives  in the area,  she  had come to see her Father in the hospital and our Heavenly Father ordained that he should be placed in the bed next to my husband. Another reminder that our  God  is in the details of our lives.  She  shared with me that my  nieces had recently been on her mind and heart and after I updated her on their lives she vowed to keep them in her prayers, knowing the Lord is faithful to provide for all their needs. Isn’t our  God so personal  and so kind? I am astounded at His intervention in our lives.

Six days after we first arrived at the hospital, a successful surgery was performed and on day seven, the patient came home, very grateful to be sprung from the annoyances of hospital life while appreciating every individual there who made his return home possible.

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Sometimes community springs up where we are, as it did in the hospital that week. But, deep community is built in the monotony of everyday life when things are going well.  It happens in our neighborhoods, in our churches and in our interactions with others.  But, it doesn’t happen without our making the effort .  The time to build community is now, not when you’re en route to the hospital in an ambulance.  Because when you’re sitting in a hospital and day becomes night and then day again, that’s when your community will prop you up.  When you are fatigued beyond your breaking point, they will deliver a much needed cup of coffee when you don’t even realize your body is craving caffeine or,  a meal when you didn’t realize how hungry you were.  They will close the windows you left open in your mad dash to get help and they will walk your dogs when you can’t get home to do it yourself.  More importantly, they will send up prayers on your behalf when you are at a loss for words to pray yourself.  They will bring comfort by waiting with you in the surgery waiting room and be a balm to your weary soul.   These are the priceless gifts of community.

Get one.

Build one.

 

Enter one.

Tomorrow you may well reap the benefits from the one you built today.