My friend, role-model, and father passed away early this morning a little after midnight. His fight was over and he was ready. He sat up one last time as if to say, “It’s my time. I’m coming home.”
The house seemed empty today when we returned from all the breathless running around one does after a loved one takes their final breath. Even though he hasn’t been home in a few weeks it seemed he had just left the house. Keys, hats, computers, movies, his chair all still in their proper place. It seems this is still his house, his home. But…it’s not. Sure, there are memories and experiences. A lifetime of highs and lows to relive for the rest of our time on this shadow side of eternity but he has moved and left a forwarding address.
I sit in the quietude with his presence still lingering. I think about all of the rough days he’s had over the last 8 months, the noises of the machines which were keeping him alive. After we received the phone call we drove over to the hospice house to say our; “Goodbyes.” The room was so still. No beeping, whirring, pumping, dripping, nurses checking in. It was motionless and the silence was deafening. My mother began to fill the atmosphere with soft cries, and soft words to her best friend and lover of the last 40 years. My brother and I standing in the background, witnesses to a heart affair which is rare in this world. Finally, after a few more kisses from her on his hands and cheek, we left all thankful we’d never see that room again and that he had moved on to his permanent address.
And now, we are left to carry on. To occupy a house which isn’t home without him. To learn to adjust to a new normal we didn’t choose. To loosen our grip on this world, this place, because we know home is waiting for us on the other side.
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.
I drove to the dump today on my way to a meeting. When I opened the door the stench of heat, humidity and heaps of garbage smacked me in the face. As quick as I could I deposited my trash into the container and left. There’s nothing quite like the smell of a dump in the middle of July. I’ve lived in a lot of places but the dumps in July seem to share the same aroma no matter where I’m at. To put it delicately, they all have an unpleasant smell, or they stink!
I was talking with someone this week about unpleasant people and the way they try our nerves, disturb our stillness and negatively impact our lives. We all have those people in our life, those folks whose attitude, demeanor, demands and difficult ways give off an unpleasant aroma.
How we handle these foul folks reveal more about us than they do the other person. It’s easy to respect someone who respects us, compliment those who say nice things, return kind gestures and empathize with those who care. However, for the ones who stink it’s easier to get in and out of their presence as quickly as possible and avoid if doable.
To respect, speak kindly, act generously and care for these smelly ones takes a conviction in the deepest part of ourselves that gracious, grace-giving, living isn’t about the other person, it’s about who we are and want to be.
When I was a student at Trevecca Nazarene University one of the classes I took was a spiritual formation class. On the first day, the teacher of the class lit a candle and told us it represented the presence of the Holy Spirit, alive, moving and not be captured or coerced. He lit the candle at every class. For some, it was probably hokey but for me, it was my first step into Contemplative Christianity which eventually led me to become a Benedictine Oblate (http://www.osb.org/obl/intro.html).
Another discipline we would learn and one I still do to this day is praying Psalm 46:10; “Be Still and Know I am God.” We would sit quietly and begin by quoting the entire verse and then let a word(s) drop off after saying each phrase multiple times…
“Be Still and Know I am God
Be Still and Know I am
Be Still and Know
When we arrived at; “Be” it was understood we found ourselves, our true selves, only in God. God wasn’t number one, he was the only one and everything else found its place in Him.
I follow this rhythmic prayer, often praying; “Be Still.” many times between rising in the morning and going to bed at night. It focuses, settles and comforts me or rather the words open my spirit and remind me I am because God allows me to be.
To Listen –
Hard conversations aren’t easy, they’re not supposed to be.
Life isn’t easy, it’s not supposed to be.
Talking about life and our disappointments, challenges, battles lost is incredibly difficult.
We grow up thinking life should be one way and when it turns into something else, something bitter, repugnant, and not at all like our dreams the spirit of life can be sucked out of us.
I spoke with someone this week who couldn’t wrap their minds around life and how unfair it has become. They’ve done their best to accept the defeats, travel the road that isn’t their choice, find the silver lining in a dark and devastating world.
When someone like this crosses our path we must remember it is not our duty to; “make them feel better,” or “try to convince them all is not as bad as it seems,” or suggest that their suffering is; “God’s will.”
Our part to play in their story is to listen without judgment or unsolicited advice. A reassuring touch, a bent ear, a vulnerable spirit, a reminder that there are people who are God’s grace, kindness, and presence embodied and available to them.
Presence Equals Influence –
In a few weeks, the community organization I work for and a pregnancy center in Bedford county Tennessee will be hosting a breakfast for dads. I met with the director of the pregnancy center today to go over the details and take a tour of the facility. It was a productive time together and I was able to see and feel the heart of the woman who has dedicated her life to save every child possible, help every family possible.
At the breakfast, I will be speaking with the dads regarding their importance to their families, especially their children. One of the mottoes we use at the Fatherhood Engagement Project is; “Presence Equals Influence.” If you’re not present you cannot have the impact on their lives of those who need you most.
Presence being a prerequisite for influence is not just true for dads but for us all. There are so many ills in our society today. At times it can be so overwhelming figuring out where to start and what to do to help. We give up before we’ve even tried.
If our lives are to be a positive influence in this desperate world the first thing we have to do is show up and then believe we can make a difference with what happens next.
Drowning Out –
One of my favorite sounds is rain on a tin roof. One of my least favorite is the tail pipe extensions folks are putting on their vehicles. These extensions turn normal sounding cars and trucks into loud, ear-piercing, window rattling, jet planes driving by.
This past weekend we finished placing a tin roof on our porch. Last night, around 5pm, a thunderstorm brought some much-needed rain into our area and I went outside to sit and listen. Often, around this time each day, drivers of the above mentioned boisterous vehicles have gotten off work and are driving by the house.
Yesterday evening, however, I noticed the rain on the tin roof drowned out all other noise. The trucks and cars I recognized as being converted were no longer obnoxious. My closeness to the tin roof protected my ears, my nerves and the stillness of my spirit.
Wisdom tells us that presence is influence. The closer we stay to our source of comfort and peace the less distracted and deafening the chaos and craziness of this world can can be.
Never Alone –
Yesterday I wrote an anxious post about going to the dentist (https://thewannabesaint.com/2016/07/20/an-anxious-word/). Everything turned out okay. The procedure went fine. I explained to the doctor when I met him a few months ago about my claustrophobia and anxiety disorder. He was more than understanding and went out of his way to make sure I was comfortable. He even allowed Beth to come in to the room stand by my side when I was struggling to stay in the chair during the most painful and invasive part of the surgery. When Beth and I arrived home I crawled in the bed and have slept most of the last two days.
In between my drug induced naps I’ve thought about Beth and the dentist giving me all of the support I needed while going through this traumatic event. They both asked me often; “If I was doing okay? Did I need to take break? Was I okay to continue?” They knew it was my hardship to endure but they made sure I knew I was never alone.
Often times people we love and care for experience dangerous and debilitating seasons and moments. Our first desire is to take their pain away, battle their demons for them. However, most times we don’t have the ability to suffer in their place. What we can do is be there, for as long as they need, find out what we can to help and do it. Above all, by our presence and prayers let them know they are never alone.
An Anxious Word –
I didn’t sleep well last night. I am facing a real fear today. At 9:00AM I will be walking into a dentists’ office for oral surgery. There are a lot of people who are afraid of the dentist but for me; someone who’s diagnosed with severe anxiety and clinical claustrophobia, there is a growing anxiety and sense of dread that’s been building for several days. Beth has taken the day off to help me through this which is one more reason I love being married to someone who accepts me and all my baggage.
Waking up early this morning, after a night of tossing and turning, I sat on the couch and began the morning portion of the Daily Office. The first words each day are; “Let’s begin our morning in silence.” I took deep breaths and, like everyday, recited a section of my favorite Psalm, 46, which says; “Be still and know.” Then my prayers and readings began. I have most of the Daily Office memorized after many years of using it but the chosen Psalm for the day was a surprise. It was Psalm 46. I recognized it immediately and the words gave me a greater sense of calm and assurance. It was a settling word in the deep places where my anxiety seems to flow from…it didn’t take away the fear but it gave me wisdom, truth, to counter the fear within.
I don’t know what kind of shape I’ll be in the rest of the day so I wanted to write this post out of thankfulness for God’s word always being what my soul needs to hear and to ask, if you think of me, please say a prayer.
This morning, I went into a store and was met with a booming voice coming over the store’s speakers. “Would the Grandmother of Jason please come to the registers? Would the Grandmother of Jason please come to the registers?” My first thought was a woman who had become enamored with her shopping list and had let her grandchild wander off. An elderly person passed me, approached the registers and the grandson hurriedly went up to her and declared; “I didn’t know where you were! I was looking for you!” When the child began to speak I could tell he had a learning disability and the grandmother, instead of being embarrassed or frustrated, told him calmly; “I was over there. I knew where you were.” She continued talking to him and they began walking through the store together. I smiled at the gentleness of the grandmother. She obviously was familiar with these situations and knew what to do to help the young man feel safe, to know she was near, he hadn’t been forgotten.
Reflecting on this sweet moment I wondered if this is how God sees, understands us. There are events we consider traumatic and chaotic. We panic and question; “God where are you? Have you forgotten us? Have you left us in the middle of this mess with no way to find you?”
God, on the other hand, is right there, with us. We may not see him but we’ve never been out of his sight. In his way, in his timing, he steps into view and we run, relieved and cling to him telling him how worried and alone we felt. He smiles, puts his arm around us, his voice and presence soothing our soul and we walk together along life’s path.
“Blessed are those…who walk in the light of your presence.” Psalm 89
This Psalm was part of my Vespers (evening) prayer. Even as I prayed this Psalm I took notice that the light of summer is quickly fading. Soon, too soon?, I will not be able to do my evening prayers on the porch overlooking the fields in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania.
The prayer phrase that arose from this Psalm was simply “let me walk in the light of your presence.” For a contemplative, prayer is more listening than talking, more penetration than ovation. We still our minds and allow the text, most often a Psalm, to speak with words we could not form.
“To walk in the light of your presence” brought with it an insight of light and presence being the same. There is no light without presence and no presence without light. God is the light and the presence. He does not bring these things with him they are him. To be without him is to be without light and presence. Only in his light do we know what it is to be present and know presence.
Almost all of us have the experience of being in a mall or office building when the electricity fails and watching people gravitate to the small emergency lights while they wait for light, life?, to be restored. A shared memory of the power going out at home yet walking into a room, flipping a switch and expecting light to illuminate our surroundings.
Maybe walking with God is this way? Sometimes his light fills every space and we are aware of his presence almost without searching. Other times we try and recreate a moment where God seemed near only to “flip the switch” and nothing happens. Those times when the presence seems to recede and we look for even a sliver of light, enough to see by until life is restored.
Light must be present for it to do us any good. A light in a room we were in doesn’t shine in the room we are in presently. A light in a place where we might go is useless unless we end up in that space. God’s light, his presence are present, in this moment and yet we often want him to shine in a place we are no longer in to see what we’ve left behind or could have been. We long for light to reveal to us where we might go, some day, some time, in the future.
Perhaps we should learn to be content to walk the part of the path we are presently travelling. Let the light and the presence accompany us presently. We cannot walk where we were and walk where we are going if we are walking where we are…
just a thought…
light and presence,