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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Giving the Gift of Openness

Word for the Day
Today’s Word:  Open.

            A few days back we experienced a storm.  What the winter weather really amounted to was a lot of wind, some ice and a flake or two of snow.  None-the-less it was a good evening to stay at home for my wife and I, along with a college son.  As with most of the “storms” over the years we planned to watch some kind of movie, stay warm and enjoy one another. However the storm affected out power, so that the power would go off for a moment and then back on, repeating every few minutes. 
            In our day of modern technology we have “satellite TV” so the movie was one we would “rent” from … well, from wherever satellite TV comes from.  But when the power would flicker, our satellite would reset.  I can still see the words on the screen, “Just a few more minutes,” as the satellite was reconnected and our television was synchronized with the satellite. 
            This process took a few minutes, just like the message said.  About the time it was done and our movie was back on the power flickered off, again.  This happened several times so that we never really saw our movie at all.  It was annoying.  And, when I talked to others the next day about the “storm” I shared how annoyed I felt. 
            One of the people I saw next day was one of our hospice patients.  We “small talked” about the weather and the storm.  His power had flickered as well.  I shared my annoyance.  After all, my movie was ruined!
            “Yes,” he said, “I know.  Every time the power would go out my oxygen would go out too.”  He pointed to concentrator which pumped the oxygen through clear plastic tubing to help his compromised lungs breathe. 
            Suddenly I wasn’t as annoyed about missing my movie.
            This has happened to me many times over the years.  I’m annoyed about some little thing in my life which didn’t work out.  And I miss, or almost miss, the genuine challenge in someone else’s experience.
            I think the first many times this happened I committed myself to change.  I would notice others more.  I would see their troubles and feel their hurts.  And maybe that helped, for a bit.  But it still seemed I missed things.  Lots of things.  I couldn’t be this super-chaplain I wanted to be. 
            We humans are created in a special way.  We have skin and muscle on the outside though which no one can see.  So no one can know what we are thinking or feeling, not entirely anyway, unless we tell them.  There is no “super-human” power of perception.  Someone might say, “God can show us.”  Certainly true.  But that’s God, not us.  We still miss it.  We still miss what God says.
            So I’ve come to a new conclusion.  Two, actually.
            First, don’t deny annoyances.  Just keep them in perspective.  It was annoying to miss the movie.  But I shouldn’t make it bigger than it was.  And I make it bigger when I have to tell everyone.  It happened.  It annoyed me.  It’s over.
            Second, be open.  Until now, it wouldn’t have occurred to me what frustration power outages would be for folks with oxygen concentrators.  But somehow I need to come to every person realizing I cannot see through them to know what they are thinking or the frustrations or hurts which have come their way.  All I can do is look them in the eye, ask some pertinent questions (“How did the power outage affect you?” would be a good start in this case), and listen with an open and "unannoyed" mind.
            As I walk with people in hospice or hospital care – or just in life, I’ve come to realize that no one wants a super-chaplain or any super-human to visit.  They don’t want me to be able to see through them and know their thoughts.  I believe they would be annoyed if I could.  They just want someone who will listen to their story, who will care and will travel along with them.  Now, that’s something I can do. 

Monday, January 7, 2013


Word for the Day

Today’s Word:  Hearing.

            My Christmas was not much different from that of many people.  Lots of things to eat and a bunch of gifts to open and everyone wants to see how the littlest enjoy their presents.  We enjoyed games like “Awkward Family Photos” and talked about Christmases from times past.
            No, my Christmas is like many, except in one way.
            I narrate the Holmes Live Nativity.  Come with me, in your imagination, to a big steel building with a dirt floor originally made as a horse arena.  On one side is a wooden “stable” with a lighted star above.  On either side of the stable are pens, one for some sheep and another for some calves.  With anywhere from 100 to 400 people watching and listening I read the story from the biblical books of Luke and Matthew. 
            Joseph and Mary come to the stable where she sits on a bale of hay and holds the “newborn king” (just a doll with the cold temperatures).  As I read the shepherds, wise men and the angels all move about the scene until they are all gathered up front, surrounding Joseph and Mary and the babe in the manger.  Songs are sung, climaxing in “Silent Night” at the very end.
            I enjoy doing the narration and qualify for the position because I am the loudest in my church.  I have bragged that children or distracting noises cannot overcome my vocal power.  However, I had never met this calf.
            His owner called the four-month-old calf a “runt” but you wouldn’t know that by the sound of the moo.  And, on our first showing on Sunday, he mooed.  At first I tried to talk over him.  But no one could hear my voice because the “runt” drowned me out.  I moved over and looked the calf in the eye and he stopped, for a moment.  Finally I had to just talk in between the moos.
            I thought about how to shut the calf’s mouth or to intimidate the animal somehow so it would know to keep quiet.  But I forgot in the busy moments between showings and started the next one without noticing … the quiet.  The calf was silent.
            His owner had given him some hay.   I don’t know what I had thought – that something was wrong with the calf, or it missed the herd, or what.  But it hadn’t occurred to me that the calf was simply hungry. 
            Wow, I wonder how many other needs I have missed over the years (and I don’t mean runt calves)?  What might look like anger is really depression.  What seems to be pride is really poor self esteem.  The “moo” might not mean what I think. 
            This brings a couple of things to mind.
            First, I ought to measure my response carefully.  If I might be wrong about the source of the “moo,” I need to be careful and thoughtful about how I respond. 
            Second, I wonder what kind of “mooing” people might hear from me.  I think I’m clear, but what kind of sounds do others hear?  What do they think I’m saying?  Does my "moo" drown out their voice?
            Third, “hearing” is more than the vibration of my ear drum.  Hearing involves thinking, asking questions and looking to others to help find answers.  Let's not settle for the easy first answer.  
            In this new year, listen closely.  What might sound like just another moo might be a hidden need, a new story or just something needing your attention.