After a recent dinner, Haven and I went to Michaels to buy some Elmer’s glue (a critical ingredient for slime, the latest elementary-school craze). We wound up coming home with a lot more than glue . . .
As soon as our car doors open, a voice calls to us across the parking lot. A homeless man on the curb outside Michaels asks if we’d like to buy a paper for a dollar, which will go toward the night’s hotel room. Since Haven has always enjoyed supporting our city’s street vendors, I give her a dollar and she gladly swaps it for the paper.
Delaying our entrance into the store, the man begins sharing with us an honest glimpse into his life: his late nights on the street gathering enough money for a room; his days finishing his degree at Lipscomb University; his dream to become a child psychologist; his former life as a soldier in our nation’s armed forces; and a vague reference to his wife’s poor health. As Haven and I are taking in this couple’s situation, I’m struck and touched by the absence of self-pity in the man’s account of what has become his life. Somehow this man and his wife exude joy and freedom as they tell their sad-but-true tale.
After several minutes of one-sided conversation, Haven and I eventually head into the store, and halfway down the main aisle toward the much-anticipated glue, Haven pauses, leans into me, and buries her moist eyes in my chest. This couple's struggles are a lot for both of us to take in.
We press on, find the glue, locate my 40% off coupon, pay, and walk out with glue in hand. “Do you know Warren? He’s a minister at Harpeth Hills,” the homeless man asks as soon as we exit the store. I do know Warren, which leads us into a discussion of mutual friends and common church experiences, and also greater insight into this couple’s life: limbs amputated after an encounter with a roadside bomb; home foreclosed on by the VA after the 2010 Nashville flood; wife battling lung cancer and Alzheimer’s; the sum total of their worldly possessions stuffed in a pair of backpacks at their feet.
But there’s more to their story than struggle. Each day the same sun that rises and shines upon us also shines upon them. And each night angels descend with the darkness and surround them with hope and help.
The wife, Edie, tells me how she and Steven began fighting with one another after losing their home. Edie soon tired of the arguing and instead began speaking hope into their situation. “God will send his angels to help us," she'd repeatedly tell herself and Steven. And according to this couple, every night for the last 7 years, God has sent his angels to help. Then Edie adds, “And you are our angels tonight.” I’m convinced it’s the other way around.
Steven picks up where Edie leaves off and continues counting their blessings. One Sunday when the bus didn’t pick them up, they walked all morning until they finally arrived at church—Steven’s leg bleeding where the prosthetic attaches to his flesh. Upon their mid-service arrival, the congregants parted like the Red Sea as Steven and Edie were welcomed to the front. There Dave, the minister, grabbed a wet towel and washed the wound. Steven’s protesting was silenced by Dave’s insistence, “If Jesus can wash feet, so can I.” The church took Steven to the hospital and then took up a special contribution to cover a two-week stay in a comfortable hotel.
This is the same church that, upon Edie’s diagnosis of lung cancer, pledged to surround her with prayers for healing. “Don’t pray that I’ll be healed,” Edie protested, “but pray that the pain won’t be too much to bear and that I can die singing praises to God in this church. I want to go out of this life the way I’ll be coming into Heaven.”
“When she dies,” Steven adds, “a part of me will die.”
“But you’ll be alright,” comforts Edie. “I’ll be watching over you.”
Haven and I can no longer keep the tears in our eyelids. We cry with this bruised and battered couple. We embrace. And we finally go our separate ways—Steven and Edie to their hotel, and Haven and I to our home.
But first Haven and I spend a few moments in the car feeling the weight of the strangely beautiful moment we've just experienced together. We sit beside each other and weep some more. Finally, when I can see clearly enough to drive out of the parking lot, Haven speaks fervent words through her sobs: “We take almost everything for granted.”
Yes, we most certainly do. But these rare, up-close glimpses of gracious, joyful survivors like Steven and Edie have a way of putting things back into their proper perspective . . . all because God used a simple trip to the store for Elmer’s to remind us of the glue that holds us together.
I recently heard Dan Hazeltine, the lead singer for Jars of Clay, quote Walker Percy, who said, “Bad books always lie. They lie most of all about the human condition.” This literary critique coincides with a bit of advice a mentor of mine, Dr. Jim Gardner, once gave me over lunch at the university I attended. He said it’s better to read a well-written, non-religious work of literature that provides insight into the human condition than it is to read a shallow, half-baked religious book filled with spiritual superficialities.
Both Percy’s critique and Gardner’s advice speak to both the importance of embracing the truth of the human condition and the danger of avoiding our humanity. Both statements also beg the question: So what, exactly, are the realities of our collective human experience that we’d do well to embrace? Here’s a modest start to answering that question:
So as we navigate the week, let’s not expect everything to go according to plan, and let’s not be surprised when life’s twists and turns affect us. Instead, let’s remind ourselves that we're not bigger than life, and then let’s give ourselves a break. Cut ourselvs some slack. Offer ourselves grace. Care for our hearts. Repeat after me: “I don’t have to be superhuman (your turn) . . . and pretending I am will always diminish and never enhance my true humanity (your turn again).
Here’s to a humble, healthy, happy week,
I still recall the summer I discovered I no longer had a heart for baseball. After coming to this realization, I endured the remainder of the season, broke the news to my father, and decided to walk away from the sport I once loved.
It's relatively easy to walk away from something like baseball. But walking away isn't always a viable option in other endeavors. Maybe you're working at a job you barely endure on good days and utterly despise on bad days, but you stay because you have bills that won't get paid without it. Every day you show up to work you're reminded of the emotional burden--the pain--of losing heart.
Losing heart is always painful--never more so than in relationships. Whether it's a best friend who moved away in elementary school, a first love that broke our heart in middle school, or disconnectedness with a spouse or an estranged family member in our adult lives, we've all agonized over a relationship that's lost its heart. Similarly, for those of us who pursue (or who at least appreciate the idea of pursuing) a spiritual way of life, we've almost certainly experienced seasons in which our heart for God and love for people seemed next to impossible to find.
Whether we lose heart for a hobby, a career, a relationship, or a spiritual way of life, we find ourselves searching for answers: Is there a way out of this barren place? How can this love be rekindled? How can I reclaim my heart? Here are a few ideas, humbly offered by a fellow searcher:
1. THINK BACK. Remember what it was like in the beginning. Allow ourselves to recall with fondness the love, the passion, and the energy we had on our first day on the job, in our first year of marriage, or during our first awakenings to a spiritual way of life.
2. TURN BACK. Let's not stop with reflecting on the fond memories of those former days; rather, let's act upon them--the first act being a mental one. Allow the memories to move us to a moment of decision. Acknowledge that we truly desire to reacquire what we once had and have since lost. Decide to find our heart. Become willing to rekindle the love and reawaken the passion we once had. And commit to doing what it takes to get there.
3. GO BACK. Then it's time to act upon the mental decision we've made. If we truly wish to feel the way we felt at first, then let's do the things we did at first. Too often we convince ourselves that we're going to feel our way into acting; we'll do what we did at first once we feel like we felt at first. However, we humans aren't particularly good at feeling our way into acting; we're much better at acting our way into feeling. So even though we don't yet feel like it, we begin doing what we did at the beginning--those extra things that aren't technically a part of our job description, the thoughtful acts of kindness we did for our spouse when we were dating, the times of prayer we carved out in our schedules when our spirituality was first sparked. We go back with our feet, confident that if we take these decisive steps then our heart will eventually follow. We step out in hope that the pain of losing heart will slowly but surely be replaced by the joy of reclaiming heart.
Revelation 2:5 - So remember [THINK BACK] where you were before you fell. Change your hearts [TURN BACK] and do what you did at first [GO BACK].
Have an abundant day,