Friday, October 26, 2012

Who will your Pallbearers be?

I'm always running late.  Sometimes it's a few minutes, other times it's fifteen minutes.  I don't set out to be disrespectful of other people's time or to stage a fashionably late entrance, time just gets away from me.  A few weeks ago I did it again.  I was racing against the clock, trying to outsmart the ETA on my GPS, and I arrived a funeral.
It could have been worse, luckily there was an hour visitation prior to the service, so I had a buffer.  I slipped in the pew and looked around the intimate sanctuary at lots of familiar faces from my childhood in this small town church. 
In a small church with members who have known each other for 30+ years, it's so comforting to come home.  I was instantly greeted by hugs, waves and compliments.  This is a group of devoted Christ followers who have prayed me through many of the ups and downs I've had in the wake of my liver diagnosis.  They are loving people and they are fiercely devoted to one another.
However, the funeral was being held for a newcomer among them.  A true prodigal son of one of their own.  He was a man whose ties to the church were there because of his mom.  As a 50+ year old man, he had spent the majority of his life as a nomad.  His primary mode of transportation through one season of his life was hitchhiking.  He had no permanent residence to put on a job application and his meals were never planned out more than a day in advance.  He was homeless and went to great lengths to avoid the dangers of cold weather.
Early on in his life he'd followed the traditional path of husband and father, but for reasons unknown to me, he left and forged a life of singularity.  After creating a life built on little more than the clothes on his back, his reality took a drastic turn two years ago when he received a diagnosis of cancer.
The analysis was grim and in order to add any days to his life, chemotherapy was a necessity.  It is impossible for a homeless man to undergo such rigorous treatment.  At a minimum you must have an address and a bed to sleep in at night.
Once a treatment plan had been established, he moved to my hometown to live close to his mom.  He began to assemble a household brimming with donated furniture and rummage sale finds and he claimed an address in a tiny low income apartment complex on the far side of town.
Chemo was grueling and he got weaker before he would get stronger.  He relied on his mom for rides and some meals.  Friendships grew slowly for him among his neighbors, but time was not a luxury he could afford.  Perhaps if he had been familiar with relationship building or had even experienced the camaraderie of co-workers when starting a new job, it would have been easier, but life as a hitchhiker doesn't teach you to develop forces you only to be friendly in situations that can benefit you the most.  Like me, he was running late.  He arrived at the apartment too late to find friendships that could be based on anything other than pity and compassion.
The cancer grew quickly and it was brutal.  It was ruthless and he died in the hands of his mom and a few of his out of town siblings after his two year battle.  Throughout the two years, there had been several weeks that he had felt well enough to go to church and he was a friendly face among the members of the tiny church.  He was friendly, but perhaps not a friend.
The casket was decorated with one spray of flowers, and beneath it was a patchwork of ties that were among his favorites to wear for Sunday morning church.  As a man of very little means, ties were a luxury.  He looked forward to dressing up and accessorizing, perhaps an opportunity to dream of what his life could have been for a few hours each week.
I must admit I've never been at a funeral without a garden of flowers surrounding the casket.  I have also never been at a funeral where there were not enough pall bearers to carry the casket.  Pallbearers are the people, traditionally men, who carry the casket out of the church and into the hearse and again from the hearse to the graveside.  A casket cannot be carried by any less than 4 individuals.  It requires equal weight distribution on all four corners.  The individuals must be strong and able to bear the weight without dropping it.  This man did not have time to develop friends he could have called on as Pallbearers.  His were men from the audience, they were not men who had 'carried' him through life.  There was no childhood friend weeping as he was eulogized.  This man simply never made it to the right place at the right time to develop those friends.
Who would bear the weight of your casket if your funeral was tomorrow? Would the individuals be picked at random to carry you or would you have taken the time to invest in relationships while you were living that would support you through life and would you make it a mutual investment? Start today.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

It smelled like sex...

Our conversation about pretty dresses and cute photo op's got real very quickly.  The dresses were too short and the necklines were too low.  The music was loud and the heat was stifling, the images flashing on the DJ installed video screens were trashy and the grinding on the dance floor was embarrassing. There were thongs showing (not flip flops!) and guys undressing like Chippendale Dancers.
But the comment that kept ringing in my ears was that 'It smelled like sex.'

Ugh...these comments were not made by attendees at an over 21 nightclub, these were snippets of real conversations I had with teens following their experiences at several different homecoming dances.

If you haven't talked in-depth to a teen about their recent homecoming experience, you're missing a wide open door into the life of your teen.  I had lulled myself into the comatose cloud of remembering a high school dance as a fun chance to get dressed up, take pictures and sway with my husband (we were high school sweethearts) to 'Heaven' by Bryan Adams.   Those images were not what I visualized when the girls began talking. 

The common link that I kept replaying in my head days after our conversations, was that they were all laced with an attitude of defeat.  These girls knew that the music was not good, they were embarrassed by the risque grinding on the dance floor and they were grossed out by the sexual energy pulsing through the gym, but they felt powerless to change it.  No one was willing to give up the memory of a milestone dance or dress shopping or fun with friends despite the awkward "junk" they knew was part of the dance.

Please don't think that i am suggesting that teens should boycott these dances or avoid secular music, however,  I am suggesting that parents must be clear with their teens about what their boundaries should be.  I've talked before about my very vocal approach to defining what your "lines" will be in a dating relationship.  Parents must also have discussions of "lines" with exposure to media, technology, relationships and general communication with their kids.

These discussions cannot begin in the dressing room surrounded by 15 cocktail dresses.  They must begin in the tween years.  Just as the high school girls accepted the behavior at the dances with a quiet attitude of defeat, many parents are adopting that same attitude long before high school begins.  The constant tension and forced conversations about sassy comebacks and disrespect with tweens are exhausting.  Who wants to fight with their kid everyday with little perceived results?  It seems impossible to break through and your only desire becomes to keep the peace.

Yet staying silent and allowing behavior that you know is unacceptable does not keep the peace long-term.  Apathy about how to approach these issues is perceived by our kids as acceptance.  Why do we go to such great lengths to install car seats, find the best diaper rash cream and advanced preschools for our toddlers, but when they really begin resisting our involvement in the tween years we give up the fight in search of peace?  Are we tired?  If that's the case, we better rest up because our generation will be raising our grandkkids in less 5 years.

Now is not the time to rest.  Begin talking and listening.  Listen to their tone of voice, listen when they want to share something you perceive as insignificant, it's a test to see if they can trust you with something bigger.  The majority of conversations our teens have are via text and Facebook.   With less talking, parents must become more diligent than ever to actively listen to their spoken tones and inflections. 

Teens are spending far more time sculpting their images via social media than they are face to face with their peer groups.  If they are not holding back on what they post on their profiles or what they view on their "friends" pages, how can we expect them to hold back on how they present themselves in person?  As their  virtual image surpasses the value that any fashion accessory might bring to their appearance, the stakes are higher than ever.  Just as the homecoming dance generated a smell of sex and promiscuity, have you had conversations with your teen about the "smell" of their electronic profile or the scent of their lack of modesty?

Whether you are holding back talking about "lines" to your teens due to awkwardness or out of fear that you will expose them to something they may not already have heard about, you are taking on the role of a spectator when you need to be coaching on the field.  My daughter went round and round with me this week begging me to tell her why I "have to care so much."  If that's her rational complaint about our restrictions, game on.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

I fell out of a hammock...

I had one goal in mind and I was headed directly for it.  I approached gingerly and carefully spread out the netting with my fingers while casually testing its weight limits...then it was time to hop aboard the hammock I'd spotted 4 hours prior.  There were a few 'Three's Company' mental flashbacks I had to fight off of John Ritter flipping out the rope swing that I was easing into, but I forged ahead and eased onto the thin green net.

Once I was there it was perfect.  My twisting and adjusting had caused enough of a stir to leave me smoothly swaying from side to side for several minutes.  So relaxing and so comfortable.  In my euphoria I began to believe I should adopt a new form of stress relief and hang these hammocks in every room of our house.  Perhaps we should donate all of our beds to Goodwill and sleep in green mesh nets strung from the ceilings?

Then my daydream was interrupted by a cramp developing in my lower leg.  Hmm...the hammock vs. bed idea was losing footing and I was just 13 minutes into the ride.  I tried to concentrate on the beautiful view of the river in the distance and the rustle of the Fall leaves all around me.  It was working, sort of, until I knew I needed to go to the bathroom soon.  I fought it off as long as I could and finally crawled out of the hammock and found the facilities.

I was attending a leadership conference I had been invited to be part of last summer by a speaker who presented at our teen girls purity retreat at Springbrook Community Church last year.  It was an honor to be invited and the focus was on renewing leaders and offering them a time of rest and reflection.  I had been looking forward to the weekend for months and although I knew very little about the agenda for the day in advance, I was euphoric when I heard the afternoon was unstructured time meant for personal rest.   (This should explain my excitement about the hammock!)

After a few hours of back and forth time in the hammock, it was time for me to attend my previously scheduled private prayer appointment  I must be honest that when I saw that I had been assigned a prayer time and a prayer partner for 45 minutes late in the afternoon, I was resistant.  The idea of prayer with a stranger felt weird and I was really enjoying my time in the hammock, the thought of climbing out of my cocoon again to talk about my private stuff felt anything but relaxing and renewing.  The rule breaker side of my personality was screaming in my head to ignore the appointment and claim I didn't need prayer (the rule breaker is pretty arrogant, I know!) but the people pleasing side of my personality won out and I dutifully climbed down and showed up in time for my appointment.

I thought I knew what I needed.  I was tired and I needed to rest, not to drag out a bunch of prayer requests and dump them on some unsuspecting volunteer.  I wanted to stay safe and unflustered and clean of the messy emotions that prayer could stir up.  I didn't know what I needed, but God did.   As I knocked gently on the door, a beautiful blonde woman opened the door and welcomed me in.  She explained that the next 45 minutes were mine to use as I wanted, no hidden agenda, no specific requirements that had to be checked off, it was a gift and she told me she was blessed to offer it to me.  Hmmm....that rule breaker persona, I'm glad I didn't let her take the lead. 

My prayer partner sat down and I spilled my guts.  I let loose of those issues I'd been balancing in my mind and heart all week.  I talked about hurts and frustrations and joys and fears.  I talked about you, my new readers, and my deepest desire to lift you up and leave you refreshed and thinking about your journey through different lenses.  I shared about "my" teen girls, those I have met and those I am yet to meet, and how I can pour into them about how valuable they are and how deeply they are loved by their creator.   As I let my faucet of toughts and feelings flow, the urgency of my words ebbed and flowed,  much like adjusting the settings on my watering hose.  It went from a fine mist when I let out the "safe" subjects to a heavy spray when I let out the deepest desires of my heart.  Through it all, my prayer partner listened and she prayed.  As we wrapped up, she gave me a "charge" a scripture to ponder and to propel my ministry. It was a familiar one, and at first I was a little frustrated by her lack of originality (arrogant rule breaker personality alert!), but as I've assessed and reassessed this week, I realized I was given the scripture to view through different lenses also.

She prayed Jeremiah 29:11 over me, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper  you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  This verse is a favorite among teens.  It's on most every graduation card and we use it frequently to build one another up in times of stress.  However, when I heard it again being prayed over 40-year-old me who is feeling really old these days, it seemed out of place.  Then I let it sink in and I heard something I'd never paid attention to before.  I listened to the pronouns,  it doesn't say that a plan has been prepared for me, it says that "I know the plans I have for you."  Wow, talk about personalized.  I used to love a red monogrammed sweater I wore in the 80's, because it was specific to me.  It had my initials on it, no one else's.  That is what Jeremiah 29:11 is to me, an assurance of a personal monogram. 

God has my plan already created.  He knows what it is and He holds it.  Last weekend my plan wasn't to get out of that hammock and allow a dear woman to pray for me.  I kicked and screamed and tried to resist, but He knew better.  I wanted to choose what was easy over what was messy and emotional, but He had already created another plan for me.  My job is to be obedient.