Stop Go Stop –
Yesterday, on my way to a community men’s group in Shelbyville, TN I came upon some road construction. The line of traffic wasn’t too long and there was a man holding one of those signs with “stop” on one side and “slow” on the other. After a few moments he turned the sign around and we began to creep along. Suddenly, after only flipping the sign around he did it again! The car in front of me slammed on its breaks as did I. Raising my shoulders and my hands as if to say; “What’s happening?” I watched the sign man walk across the road to a county work truck in the other lane, throw his sign in the back and hop in. The man was done working for the day. His job was finished and he left the rest of us to figure out how to untangle ourselves from his mess. Eventually, traffic began to move and soon we were all back on our way to our destination.
On the road of life, there are people & happenings which slow or stop our progress. This is not always a bad thing. Rest and reflection give us time to renew and make sure we are still headed in the correct direction. However, there are those times when people are only concerned about themselves and put roadblocks in our way because it makes life easier for them. Wisdom allows us to know the difference between the two and how to navigate around them and get moving again.
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Earlier this week someone took something that didn’t belong to them. I knew who it was but had to figure out how to ask for the item back without humiliating or embarrassing the person in front of his peers. At first, I asked the group if anyone had forgotten to return all items they had used. Nothing. So then, standing next to the man who had the item, I said; “Okay, who has (insert item name)?” The man started to laugh and gave it to me while the other people in the group laughed with him. “I almost got away with it,” he said with a chuckle in his voice. I breathed a sigh of relief because I knew I couldn’t let him walk away and a confrontation could have a detrimental impact on the progress we’ve made. Obviously, he’s still a work in progress but aren’t we all?
Good choices. It’s the cornerstone of all the services our organization does with males. Without good choices, life is harder than it needs to be and can exact a tremendous and painful toll. Old habits, ways of thinking, choosing the best isn’t easy but not impossible. Grace, kindness and an opportunity for forgiveness are things we all need.
I heard a story today about a chaplain who worked in a veteran’s hospital in the 1950’s. There was an African-American soldier in the hospital who had lost a leg in the Korean War. The physical therapists had worked with him trying to get him used to wear a prosthetic leg. Both the soldier and medical personnel tried everything they could think of but nothing worked and the soldier was ready to give up and live life with one leg and crutches for the rest of his life.
The chaplain was made aware of the situation and stopped by soldier’s bed one night to see if he could be of any help. “I can still feel my leg, my real leg!” the soldier cried. “It’s a phantom pain.” replied the chaplain, “It will go away in time.” “That leg!” retorted the soldier gesturing toward the prosthetic one, “will never be ‘my’ leg.” After visiting with the young man the chaplain prayed with him and asked if he could take the prosthetic one with him. The soldier responded with a shrug.
The next day the chaplain returned with the same leg except it was painted a shade of brown to more closely match the soldier’s own skin tone. “What did you do?” asked the perplexed soldier. The chaplain, hoping he hadn’t offended the young man said he took it home with him and thought painting it might make it seem more palatable. “That’s all you did?” asked the soldier admiring the leg. “That’s it.” smiled the chaplain. The chaplain helped the young man to the side of the bed, attached the leg, helped him take his first few steps and from that day forward the soldier made remarkable progress.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. The chaplain helped the soldier not by insisting he use resources given to him by the hospital but by listening and understanding what the soldier was going through and then adapting his help to the soldier’s personal, unique need.
Too often we see people who need assistance and we automatically assume there are places and resources that are available. We surmise that if someone wants help enough they’ll figure out how to get it. The truth is everyone’s story is unique and unless we listen, understand and are willing to personally get involved many will go on suffering and being blamed for doing so.
Today, at a county health council, I had the privilege to listen to a man speak about an abusive childhood which was saved by someone who cared enough to take him under his wing and become his mentor. He described how this older gentleman would take him out for breakfast some morning and listen, just listen. This went on for several months. Finally, it dawned on the young man that he wasn’t being judged or given unsolicited advice, his mentor was there to hear him. He listened to the good and a lot of bad, the smidgen of positive and a plethora of negatives. The young man, at last, ran out of words to say and the mentor slowly helped him work through all the challenges and difficulties which result from growing up in an abusive and neglectful home. This mentor made all the difference in his life and as a result, the speaker now helps run a multi-county mentoring program and has improved the lives of countless young men and women.
It was a great reminder that most times the greatest gifts we can give another is presence and listening. Too often we see our role in the chaotic lives of others as telling them what to do, how to do it, advice that will make things better and shape to look more like ours. The speaker said today; “I didn’t need someone to tell me all the things I needed to do. I needed someone to let me get it all out so I could sort through it all and figure out what to keep and what to throw away.”
Presence and listening. Two of the greatest and perhaps least used treasures we possess.