Thanks, guys!

I met two remarkable people this week. Two remarkable seventeen-year-olds, actually. Two remarkable seventeen-year-old boys.  In fact, I think I met them both on the same day.  Yes, I am sure it was on the same day.

One, let’s call him Allan, I met in the morning.  I was at work, and he was my last student of the morning.  I had never worked with him before, so I introduced myself and tried to initiate our hour-long lesson.  I held up a card with a word on it for him to read, and he interrupted me, “before we get started, let me just explain that since the tumor I only have about an 85 degree range of vision.”

Wait, what?

“Ah, yes, I replied,” remembering a staff briefing from about a week earlier, “tell me about that.”

“Well, ever since they removed my brain tumor, I can only see things from here to here,” he said, showing me with his hands, “so, when you hold the card, if you could put it almost directly in front of me, that would be great.”

Yes, he’s seventeen.

During our fifty-five minutes together, he joked with me, showed me CAT scan images of ‘before’ and ‘after’ and, remarkably, read, imaged, and spelled many, many words.  it was his seventeenth birthday that day and he was looking forward to spending the rest of his day with his best friend and his family.  His love for them oozed out of his pores. When we finished, he said, “Thank you.”

I met the second remarkable seventeen-year-old boy that same day in the afternoon at a local library.  It was our first ACT Test prep session.  He found me in a little study room just as I was noticing a voicemail from his father.  He sat down across from me as I listened to the message that told me that this young man, let’s call him Robert, has a life-threatening liver disease and is on the transplant list.  He sometimes gets tired, his dad told me, so I should push him, but be aware that he may not have the stamina of a ‘normal’ seventeen year old. I should give him homework, but I should know in advance that if he doesn’t do it, it’s not because he is apathetic, but because he gets worn out.

I ended the call and looked across the table at Robert who was sheepishly rolling his eyes.  “Will you tell me if you get tired?”

“Yes, but I’ll be fine.”

“Ok, let’s get started.”  For an hour we worked through ACT English test questions.  I told him my best strategies and my hottest tips.  He took detailed notes, asked questions, and leaned in with me for the whole session.  He shared with me that before last March he was a typical healthy teenager.  Then, suddenly, he was hospitalized for a week, treated with medication, and put on a liver transplant list.  This was not even six months ago!  And yet he’s sitting with me, preparing for the September ACT, applying to Michigan State University, and planning for his future.  When we finished, I gave him an assignment to do before I see him next week.  He wrote it down, asked some clarifying questions, then said, “Thank you, this helps a lot.”

Two seventeen-year-old boys, who have each learned the frailty of life at a very young age, spent an hour with me one day this week.  They followed my directions, they shared their stories, they smiled and laughed with me, then they thanked me. And here I am four days later thinking about them.  They think helped them, but really they inspired me.

If these two boys, who each know what it feels like to endure a life-threatening illness, can embody hope and resilience, then surely I, who have seen many more years of life and much-less dramatic illness, can, too. These boys weren’t wringing their hands and crying, “Woe is me!” No, they were acknowledging the reality of their circumstances and arming themselves for what lies ahead. Surely they have great parents, but certainly they are remarkable young men.

Thanks, guys.

I Timothy 4:12

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.

The King and I

Then King Darius wrote to all the people, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth:

“Peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed and his dominion shall be to the end.  He delivers and rescues; he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions.” 

I found the wrong side of my bed this morning.  After two long weeks of training, I had hoped to have a refreshing sleep.  However, last night I had trouble winding down, even though I was exhausted.  Then, at 6:30 this morning, good ol’ Chester announced that something was amiss.  “Come on, Chester, go back to sleep.” No dice.  So I got up and took him outside, and good thing I did!

Marching past my house were dozens of teenagers carrying supplies down to the river.  That’s when I remembered an email from yesterday with the word ‘regatta’ in it.  What’s a regatta? Is it today? I went back inside and checked the email — yup, today.  If I don’t move the car RIGHT NOW I won’t be able to leave the house until after 4 and I have two appointments between now and then.

So, I changed from pajamas to sweats (breathtaking upgrade) and grabbed the keys.  In order to move my car I had to communicate with two other humans.  Can I remind you that it is still before 7:00am? As I am weaving among hundreds of cars and being directed to drive through the parking lot and over the grass lot, the ‘low gas’ signal comes on.  Seriously? The last driver left the car below E!

By now I am seriously grumbling.  “Stinking regatta,….inconsiderate kids…house is a mess…didn’t get sleep…”

I parked the car and stomped across campus back to my house.  I spewed a little ugly at the only other conscious person in my path then crawled back into bed.  I tried to sleep, but it wasn’t going to happen.

Finally I dragged myself out of bed, made my tea, grouchily read some emails and checked my calendar.  Then I said almost audibly, “Might as well read my devotion.” (Yeah, my heart was really in it.)  I opened the book and saw that I was supposed to read Daniel 6.  “Seriously? Daniel?”  And here’s the magic…anyone who has lived with me will attest that if I have risen from the wrong side of the bed, you might as well just give me a wide berth for the duration of the morning.  I don’t recover quickly.  I am going to fume and fuss for a while. But not today.

I was reading the narrative about how Daniel was upright and admired.  In fact, he was promoted to a position of power.  Some jealous colleagues created a scheme in which they knew Daniel would be caught — they made it illegal to pray!  Of course, it wasn’t long before they nabbed him and threw him in the lion’s den.  The king, who admired, respected, and even loved Daniel was devastated. His own signet had to seal the opening to the den.

Let’s take a little sidetrack here and acknowledge that the king was not what we’d call a faithful God-follower.  He had witnessed God’s power as David had interpreted his dreams, and was impressed. He had witnessed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego surviving the fiery furnace, but he still hadn’t signed on as a card-carrying member. So, after spending the night fasting and pacing, he ran to the lion’s den yelling out for Daniel, “has your God been able to deliver you from the lions?”

“Yes! My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me.”

And you know, it wasn’t Daniel being alive that got me this morning.  It was the king, good old Nebuchadnezzar. He was so moved that God had protected Daniel — even from lions — that he finally threw his hands in the air and said, “Ok, Ok, I believe.  This God is for real!”  He made a public proclamation that the “God of Daniel is the living God, enduring forever.”

And that, my friends, is what shifted my grumpiness to gratitude this morning. Ok, there is a woman on a bull horn 100 yards from my window starting race after race on my beautiful river.  I am going to have to walk across campus to get to my car.  I am going to have to pray that that car makes it to the gas station.  But, let me put it in perspective: I worship the God of Daniel who actually closed the mouths of lions to protect him.  I serve the God who is living and very active in my life. I love the Lord who endures forever — from Adam to Noah to Daniel to Paul to me.

Grumpiness be gone.  Rejoicing commence.

Blessed at the DMV, a re-visit

On Monday I wrote about privilege; this post from December 2014 — way back near the start of this chapter — talks about privilege, too. Throughout my life I have considered myself to be blessed — to have abundance because of the generosity of God. I will render to God the praise that is God’s, but I will also acknowledge that I have privilege because I am white and Christian in a country that has historically benefitted white Christian people at the expense of others.

I am writing late today, and as I sit at my desk, the sun is setting over the river. I can see it right out my window.  It. is. gorgeous.

Today was a pretty bleak day weather-wise — cold and gray –and the task on the to-do list was also pretty bleak: a trip to the Secretary of State’s office — the DMV.

If you ever want to feel like you don’t live in a free, democratic society, go to the DMV. It’s one of the few places where I feel like I am a pawn. I stood in line to get a number to mark my place in line — no kidding. Then, I sat with that number for over an hour. Of course I made it out with what I came for. I didn’t have to bribe an employee or bring in a chicken or anything like that, but I sure did feel like I was in a prisoner to the system.

I wasn’t alone. Everyone there was complaining — Why does this take so long? I have been here for two hours already! I really had to pay $30 for this piece of paper? 

It’s a glimpse at what people around the world have to go through every single day. A glimpse, not a clear look. Let’s be honest — we’ve got it pretty good. Most Americans have running water, a toilet, a refrigerator, heat, probably air conditioning, and if you are reading this, I will bet that you have access to the Internet. We’ve got so many clothes we can’t decide what to wear to the gym. And, yes, many of us have memberships to gyms. We have dozens, if not hundreds of channels on our televisions. We have the resources to purchase Christmas presents for our families, our coworkers, our friends, and our spouses. We can drive, in our cars, to the nearest pharmacy and pick up a remedy for anything that ails us along with a gallon of milk, a bag of chips, and a pack of cigarettes if we wish.

I really have no right to complain about the DMV. It’s a pain — yes. I’ve been there three times since I moved to Ann Arbor four months ago — I am starting to recognize the employees. I have to dedicate a morning or an afternoon each time I go there, but it’s the only place I go where this is the case. The only place.

Even when I go to the University of Michigan for health care, I am seen in a reasonable amount of time by some of the top physicians in the nation, if not the world. I go to the Post Office and pay a small fee and my package is shipped anywhere I like. I drop by the library and borrow books, DVDs, and CDs, for free! I travel easily by highway or airline. I am free to get an education, to hold a job, and to vote.

Many in the world do not enjoy most of the privileges that we enjoy. We forget that. We forget that 38% of the world does not have access to adequate sanitation, half of the citizens of the world live on $6 a day, 24% of the people in the world have no electricity, 47% of the people in the world do not have a reliable or adequate food supply (If the World Were a Village, 2011).

I have much to be thankful for — I ate plenty all day long, I drove my car to Bible study where I was free to practice my religion, I came home to a warm house, I went out to the DMV, then came back home to sit at my computer, write whatever I feel like writing, and look out my window at the sun setting over the river. I am blessed — and privileged.

Freely you have received; freely give.

Matthew 10:8

A lesson in perspective

When I teach the elements of literature, I always have to spend considerable time discussing perspective or ‘point of view’.  The way a story is told changes dramatically depending on who is doing the telling.

For instance, slavery, from the point of view of a wealthy southern land owner, was a pretty genius idea.  Free labor that reproduces itself.  Brilliant.

However, from the point of view of the actual human being who was being held against her will, in a barely habitable shack, subjected to rape, physical abuse, and near starvation, it was not such a great idea.

Similarly, perspective is impacted by how close you are standing to the story.

Recently Bill O’Reilly, in an interview with Jon Stewart, argued that there is ‘no white privilege’ because “there is no more slavery, there is no Jim Crow..” From his point of view, “If you work hard, if you get educated, if you are an honest person, you can make it in America.”  It worked for him. 

However, from the point of view of young black man being educated in an inner city school in America, surrounded by poverty and the lack of resources,  it may not seem so simple.  The system doesn’t always work where he’s living.

But this post isn’t really supposed to be about slavery or about white privilege.  It’s about perspective. I recently got some.

I was sitting next to my friend last Saturday after the memorial service for his wife of forty years who had just finished her eight-year battle with breast cancer.  He said to me, “So, what’s this health issue you are dealing with?”  Perspective.  I was frankly a little embarrassed.  Not because he implied that my illness was ‘less than’ breast cancer.  Not in the least.  He was genuinely concerned about me.  However, my internal dialogue went something like this.  Wow.  He has just watched his wife go through round after round of chemo, several surgeries and hospitalizations, not a few brushes with death, and then the final blow.  And I am complaining about joint pain and fatigue.  Perspective.

This past Wednesday I, of course, went to Bible study.  The teacher was explaining that in the Bible there are three time periods mentioned — now, a little while, and when Jesus is revealed.  My internal dialogue went something like this. Right now I’ve got it pretty good.  Yes, I feel kinda crappy most of the time, but I am not really limited from living my life.  And seriously, it’s only going to be a little while until Jesus is revealed.  How do I want to spend that ‘little while’? Perspective.

Now, let me be clear.  I am still living with some kind of health issue.  It, as I told my friend, “slows me down.”  However, as I have explored over and over again in this blog, having been “slowed down” has been a huge blessing for me.  Slow, it turns out, is a pretty good speed for me.

From inside this body, I would say that my life has changed.  In some ways it is less comfortable, but in some ways, it is much more healthy than it has ever been.

From outside this body, I would say that I’ve got a pretty amazing life. I am living with a husband who loves me and supports this grace period.  I live minutes from two very competent medical centers.  I have access to great foods and a phenomenal exercise facility. I have so many friends! I have healthy children and a grandbaby on the way.  And I get to spend a lot of time in my pajamas!

I do love pajamas.

Sometimes we need to move around a little bit, stand in a different spot, and get a healthy dose of perspective.

Romans 8:18

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing

with the glory that is to be revealed in us.