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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Advent Thought
Today's Word:  Resilience

In hospice we are often tempted to give the easy and wrong answer. Something like …
“It will be fine.”
Of course not all things will be fine. Even, and maybe especially, in the midst of joyful holiday times like Christmas people struggle and hurt. At times we all do.
I love the Christmas story. In my home are several nativity scenes. But I’m always reminded of what happened after Jesus was born in a manger amid angels and shepherds and magi. King Herod, angry and afraid for his position, murdered all the children under two years of age in Bethlehem hoping to destroy the “newborn king.” My nativity scenes remind me of Good News and of pain.
A phrase haunts me from the King Herod part of the story, a quote from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah who says, “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning; Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more.”
That’s the phrase: “refusing to be comforted.” Try telling the parents of Bethlehem, “It will be fine.” This Christmas season we are dramatically reminded with the tragic and senseless slaughter of children and adults in Newtown, Connecticut. What could comfort these families? Wouldn’t they also “refuse to be comforted”?
Our nation will, and should, seek ways to prevent these things. We want to understand what makes a killer and how to prevent it. My few words can’t do those things. All I can do is remind us all of a couple of truths.
There is always pain, often tragically so: from Newtown to the time of the Nativity and even back to the beginning when Cain killed Abel at the creation. We always need to recognize the reality of hurt in our world. Many of us have pain in our own lives.
But, there is also always joy. For those who face tragedy joy comes neither quickly or easily.   I would never try to tell the Newtown families or the parents in Bethlehem, “Hey you will have joy.”  That's no different than saying "It will be fine."  But joy will come, even there. I’ve seen mourning folks go from crying to laughing and back to weeping in an instant. The crying may dominate at first but humans are created to be resilient and can “bounce back and adapt”** to new circumstances, even tough or tragic ones.
Like many of you I will hug my grandkids a little more this year. I will continue to watch the funny Christmas movies and do all the trivial and enjoyable things of the holiday but also appreciate the relationships I have and acknowledge the pain of life.
No, life will not be “fine” but there will be joy. And joy is better.

**”Bounce back and adapt” is a phrase used by Red River Resilience, a group which works to create community resilience. Check for more information on resilience.
Word for the Day (Advent #3)

Today’s Word:  Story.

Hey, do you watch the Christmas specials?  Maybe you like the animated Frosty or Rudolph.  My kids, when they were kids, enjoyed the “Claymation Christmas.” 
            There are the classic stories in movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Miracle on 34th Street” (I like the original) or “Elf” (a more recent classic).
            Of course the season is full of stories, starting with the one for which the season is named.  At our home we read that story every year and try to visit about it just a little bit.  We ask questions like “Which character in the nativity would you like to be?”
            And, of course, there is Santa Claus.  You might think a chaplain doesn’t like Santa Claus.  Oh, Santa is fine, though the materialism and extreme debt might not be so good.  But do you know the original story of Santa Claus?  Check it out and tell that story about a man named Saint Nicholas of Myra (fourth century Christian Bishop).  He was a great gift giver to the poor and his legend includes paying dowries for three daughters of a devout and poor family so the three would not be tempted to be prostitutes.
            Yes, there are stories.  But you have them too!
            One of my great privileges is to hear the stories of the patients I serve.  What marvelous stories!  And how important to tell those stories.  These stories make up our lives much more than the things we own or do.  Telling these stories is our way of bringing the past to the present and into the future.  And listening to the stories of another person is the most affirming and honoring thing we can do. 
            So tell your stories.  Don’t wait until Christmas or some sad family gathering.  Tell your stories now.  Laugh and cry about what strange turns life has taken.    

Word for the Day (Advent)

            Today’s Word:  Balance.

            Do you ever watch gymnastics?  Perhaps you (like me) watch the gymnasts when the Olympics come around.  Or, maybe, you have a child who does gymnastics or did so yourself.
            The sheer athletic ability is what impresses me.  I see a man do the “iron cross” on the rings and I am amazed at the strength needed.  But I see how that is done.  Or when I see a petite woman/girl do a twisting, turning vault it’s fantastic.  But I see how they accomplish it. 
            The balance beam is another thing.  Here is a four inch piece of wood, which most of us would have trouble just standing upon, and this athlete is jumping and running and landing back on her feet.  It looks like torture to land like that and dangerous if you miss even a little bit. The incredible balance needed is unbelievable. 
            Hey life takes balance too.
            Even our bodies need the right balance of chemicals and nutrients.  If we have too much of one thing and not enough of another we can get sick.  We could die. 
            But I’m no doctor.  And this is a word during our season of “Advent” which means “coming.”  For Christians it is the time they think of Christ’s first coming.  And it’s a sign that the Christmas holiday is soon upon us.
            Does anyone need a little balance in their Christmas?  I sure do.
            I like candy divinity, good leftover ham sandwiches and lots of the things my wife Betty dreams up to make.  But I need to find a balance between enjoying those wonderful goodies and eating “well.”  If I overdo, the “stuffed” feeling and the sleepy fog in my head after overeating takes the fun away.  Balance.
            There’s lots of places balance is important.  We need to balance our time between being with our family or friends and being alone and quiet.  We need balance between our time of celebration and quiet visiting.  I even need to seek the right balance between time off and work – either extreme isn’t good.
            How would you end the following sentence?  “During Christmas I have just too much …. “   Or maybe the opposite, “During Christmas I just don’t have enough of … “  If there is something in your life which is just overdone, make your goal to bring balance right there.  If something isn’t present enough, balance might require some addition. 
            Human beings don’t do well with extremes.  We need balance physically, emotionally, spiritually and relationally.  Just like the poor young lady who falls off the balance beam, losing our balance in life can hurt.  Let’s do what we can to avoid that.  

Word for the Day (Advent)

            Today’s Word:  Ready.

            We hear the question all the time these days, don’t we? 
“Are you ready for Christmas?” 
Of course that means a host of things.  Is the tree up and the house decorated?  Do you have your presents bought, the menu ready for the family gathering and times figured out when the whole family can be together?  You know, just typing those questions got me tired.  That doesn’t seem quite right.  Perhaps being “ready” means more than wrapping paper, lights and sufficient fattening food. 
We could take a clue from our patients.  Most of them are also look forward to Christmas and hope to be ready.  But many can’t shop or wrap or write Christmas cards.  They just want to see the people they love.  They want to be “ready” by being able to visit with their family, their friends, or their faith family.  Everything else is secondary. 
Hmmm.  Maybe we should rethink getting ready.    How about the following?
1.         Get enough rest.  I remember working hard to get everything “ready” for my children to come one Christmas.  But I was so tired that … well, you fill in the blank.  Don’t do it.  Get rest so you can enjoy.
2.         Be people centered.  Do what helps the relationships and visiting.  Find ways to care about others.  The “together” is the best part, right?
3.         Leave lots of free time.  We certainly should plan some events (hey, who wants to come out to the Live Nativity I narrate?).  But it takes even more planning to simply set aside free time.  Free to be with family.  Perhaps free to be alone for a bit. 
4.         The devil is in the details.  He really is!  Don’t let some details destroy your time together.  Who cares if we forgot to defrost the turkey?  Pizza is good and we’re together. 
5.         Have fun.  One of the greatest mistakes we make during the holidays is to put our expectations too high.  That gift we give won’t be as cool as we think.  The ones we open won’t change our lives.  There may not be an extra-ordinary time of family sharing (we can’t control that).  So just have fun, laugh and let the opportunities for good stuff just come as they may.
6.         Repeat after me:  I am not personally responsible for the Christmas joy of others.  (You are only responsible for yourself.)  Yes, we love, serve, help and encourage others.  But we can’t have Christmas spirit for them any more than we can breathe for them. 
So, are you ready?  If that question makes you nervous, maybe you ought to re-think just what you are getting ready for!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Word for the Day: Thanks

If you are a parent you remember trying to tell your young children to say “thank-you.” Perhaps you were even embarrassed when your child wouldn’t say thank-you or even had the audacity to say, “I don’t like that.”
Looking back at those times it isn’t hard to realize that learning to “say thanks” is different than learning to “be thankful.” When we actually feel that thankfulness inside the word “thank-you” seems to come out of our mouth more easily.
There’s a couple of reasons this might happen.
First, we humans are pretty self-centered. It is easier to notice our own pain and needs than someone else’s. That’s just the way it is. And it’s easier to just enjoy something we have, without acknowledging the person who made it possible.
Second, we just don’t know how to say it. Just yesterday someone did for me a small thing and said something to me which was very supportive. I really did appreciate it; so much so that I almost couldn’t find a way to say “thanks.”
Third – sometimes we don’t realize things for which we should be thankful. Let me illustrate. Did you know that I actually applied for the job I now have and love and didn’t get it? I must admit that I wasn’t ready to say to the interview team, “Hey, thanks, you’ve done me a favor!” But they did. I got a couple years of experience doing something which has greatly helped me in being Altru’s Hospice Chaplain once I applied a second time. I can really say – now, not before – that I’m thankful for the way things worked out.
In Hospice work I have noticed the people who are thankful for their lives and appreciative of what is done for them – these folks cope much better. Thankfulness is an attitude (and it is an attitude) which makes us happy. So, be happy – by saying “thanks.”
So, it’s almost Thanksgiving. Has anyone asked you yet, “What are you thankful for?” I will. Ask yourself what you are thankful for. Think about who you should thank, but never have, and then do it. As a way of getting our minds more thankful (and, remember, more happy) I’d like to suggest the following.
After you read this, think a bit, and, if you like, tell us something for which you are thankful.   And try to be specific. Of course you are thankful for your family or your job or … but tell us why. I’ll start.
I am thankful that my adult children can have fun together, and have fun with their parents too. 
 I am grateful I live close to my two little grandsons.

I am thankful that all my families – my family by blood, my work family and my church family – are all loving and supportive.

YOUR TURN. Be thankful. Tell us about it. And Be Happy!