Monday, June 22, 2015

Coveted Legacy

I live in a land where light and darkness clash and collide like the flashes and rumbling of a mighty thunderstorm. 

Where both the bitter and the free, the hurting and the happy, live together under the sun’s intense heat and sky’s dark clouds. 

Magnificent magnolias sprawl over grass yards that often grow course and yellow in the intensely humid summer, and then brown again when winter sends bone-chilling breezes.  

Old plantation houses and extensive fields of cotton are only mild reminders of a time when enslavement was prominent. For some, racial prejudice and bitterness - even hate  - wedge a constant divider between brothers. Now, we have chains of addiction, depression, and sinful habits. I have seen many from every walk and background, struggling at the surface of their enclosing darkness, gasping for a breath of freedom.

I awake each morning with the mission to live light - cutting through the darkness, hacking against chains of superstition and fear that leave many helpless. (I have my own battles to face, but I find that they are most successfully won when I am actively fighting for my friends too.)

Since I first called this land my own less than a year ago, a war has been waged on my soul like I have never experienced in my life. I have felt both the cold, chilling presence of evil and the peaceful, comforting presence of the Almighty's angels. But in the face of fear and trouble, all the while a holy angel seemed to whisper, “Have courage. You will sing in the face of danger, for your Savior lives.”

And one day, I found that defiant to my surroundings, there could be a constant peace inside. I realized that faith is put to the true test when we stand on promises alone. And I sang - because I believed that light is stronger than darkness, and darkness cannot dispel the light.

Standing in a darkened hospital room in front of me, the meth addict - barely skin and bones - stammers out her anxiety and fears. Her two choices after medical detoxification are rehab or jail. 

Irrational and nervous, she wipes away salty tears and covers her face with both hands. “I am so alone,” she chokes, “there’s no one who cares about me and I have no friends.”

Compassion moves me to her side, placing an arm around her shoulders. “You are not alone. I am your friend.” 

I can feel her face melting into my shoulder as we embrace.

I pause. “Even if you are alone in the world, remember that God has been waiting for you all along. He will always care for you and you are very special to Him.”

“It’s true,” she sobs. “It’s true.”

Hot tears fall on my scrubs, and the frail woman stammers a broken apology for them - but something makes me wish the cotton would stay stained that way forever.

This is the legacy I covet to claim: 

That my life was a light in the darkness of this land, and I trusted enough in the promises that I could sing through any fear.

That my shoulder soothed the tears of those who cried, and that my heart had love enough to call each person friend. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Louder Than Words

Seated at the front desk for the outpatient area of the hospital, many people wander up to the glass window - inquiring about wait time, appearing lost, or asking for coffee brewing on the counter nearby.

Often I enjoy brief and friendly conversation, but something happened one day to remind me of how carefully we must guard the tongue, and one even greater - to live a life that speaks louder than words.

The woman tossed a wisp of her long blond hair back over her shoulder as she approached the window.

“Can I have some coffee?” (the classic question.)

I turn away from my desk to the coffee maker. “Sure. Cream and sugar?”

“Just cream.” She grins through widely-spaced teeth. “Thank you honey.”

I return the smile.

“When will my mom be back from surgery?”

“She’s in the recovery, so it shouldn’t be long,” the nurse nearby looks up from a stack of paperwork.

The lady wipes her lips with a finger and motions. “Good. I’m trying to stay out in the hallway until my mom gets back from surgery. “That woman” back in the room is driving me crazy - rigid, crabby old thing. You know how they get, ya know?” 

I am silent, returning her gaze.

“‘That woman’-” the nurse turns to me. “Isn’t that her aunt?”

I nod. “It is. And I know who she is speaking of.”

When the reputation of her relative lay cradled in her hands, she did nothing to preserve it’s dignity. And the rest of us are too easily influenced, easily prejudiced when a rumor hits our ears or insinuation pulls at a heart-string.

Thirty minutes later, I bring clear, cold ice to the room where the surgery patient has returned. Both family members are present, and my eyes brighten when I see the familiar, pleasant face of a quiet woman sitting in the corner. 

She is elderly, with close-cropped white hair and tired wrinkles creasing the lines of her care-worn, yet hopeful smile. We talk for a few minutes, and my duties call me elsewhere. I wonder what the daughter, coffee still in hand and silent at the moment, is thinking now as she stands nearby. She would do well to guard her words more carefully next time.

I happen to know that one day, that this ill-spoken of woman risked her life to save a drunk driver from a burning vehicle. She suffered for months, healing from burns without so much an ounce of gratitude or thank you from the victim. I have seen her take two grandchildren under her wing and struggle to raise them in this turbulent world of electronics and peer pressure. I have often heard her heartfelt, tearful prayer requests on the behalf of her unbelieving family and friends - and I’m sure this niece is one of them. 

I know the one spoken of, and the testimony of her life speaks louder than words.

My mind today - and for many months now - resonates with two distinct pleas:

Be your brother’s keeper.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” Proverbs 18:21

And when others speak ill and your good name is slandered when your best effort has been made to pursue the right course: may the testimony of your life be a greater witness.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Written in October 2014

A black holster attached to his belt, hidden in the folds of a checkered button-up shirt creaks as the firm thud of a long stride in thick heavy boots crosses the sweltering hot pavement under the sun. His shock of golden hair moves slightly as he turns his head to the side, smoothly surveying surrounding people under tinted sunglasses with the air of one who fears nothing.

I look up at his expressionless face. I would guess him to be impassive, stubborn, emotionless if I didn’t know him better. But I do. There is more than what meets the eye - and that is an understatement.

He comes from “good stock,” as my great-grandmother Amy would have said. His grandfather’s life was one marked with incredible faith and courage, receiving a medal of honor for his bravery in saving 75 of his comrades in a World War II battle. Although passed for years now, his grandson was left with a strong impression of his love and belonging. A picture of an old couple is proudly displayed on his dresser, framed book cover of the aging yet patriotic Desmond resting against the wall above his bed, and various curiosities from the war scattered throughout the nooks and corners of a completely apparent man’s room. A well-used rag lies crumpled on the bed stand, nearly touching two framed photos of a girl holding a bouquet of wildflowers who was living a thousand miles away yet close in heart. Behind the swinging bedroom door rests bathroom piping, several tools, and a hefty brown boot to cleanse the room of spiders.

His parents are godly as well. Together they have taken a small, forlorn Adventist church in the city and brought life, light, and song again to fading brick walls. They live humbly, yet beautifully because God is their fortress and delight. Many generous, unselfish acts on their part for the sake of others go unnoticed and will never be widely known, but I know the Lord marks every one of them.

Together with this family, I join in leading song service at church, accompanying on the keys for prayer meeting, standing by the bed of the dying, offering supporting comfort to those who grieve, visiting church members in their homes, knocking on doors I am almost scared to see open, and connecting with the people of the south. And every time, the tall eldest son is there, quietly standing with his family and committed to taking up a torch carried by the generations before him.

Quickly and quietly he responds to counsel. My heart sank on the last morning of one of my visits to the south as I heard his dad speak to him down the hallway.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea Chris to take the day off and allow another point to be added to your work account. I know you want to see her, but you already have a good number of points stacked against you for not working on the Sabbath.”

“Yeah,” I hear him say. “You’re right.”

I see him for fifteen minutes during his lunch break, and wish with all of my tearful heart that he could only drive me to the airport and we could talk along the way. Instead he disappears out of my sight into an enclosed factory building and I know it will be good-bye for months.

After a long day working in a new area of profession - the electrical field - a lady from church might call and ask him to stop by the church and record Sabbath school songs for the upcoming week.

“Doesn’t she know you have a life and work?” he would be asked. “It was a long day!”

But he doesn’t stop to ask himself if he will go or not. He goes because he lives a life of willingness to help others. To him, there is no other option.

To balance with his serious consciousness is a keen sense of humor with a frequent development of corny jokes, leaving friends and family alike shaking their heads with indulgent grins. Somehow he manages to voice what everyone else may secretly think - but is too timid or proper to say - and gets away with what others never could.

When I fuss at misleading 50% off price signs at Hobby Lobby, he puts his warm hand on my shoulder assuringly, “It’s okay - don’t worry.”

Like an unshakeable pillar, his confidence prompts me to explore new adventures.

Standing ten feet in the air and about to balance on two trembling ropes, I know that the hook and cord above me will prevent a fall, but the only reason I venture is because of him.

He smiles and beckons. “You can do it.”


“Mutts,” I hear the title pronounced loudly across the hallway.

Turning a corner in the house, I see long legs stretching across the living room floor and tanned, calloused hands circled around the little bodies of two brown Chihuahuas, voice now turning higher-pitched and soft. “Yes, you are so cute, sooo cute,” he ruffles their short hair and tilts his head down to kiss their tiny faces over and over again.

Peeling back the crusty shell of his sometimes potentially intimidating outward portrayal, there is a heart of gold. One that will give without gain. One that lives unsefishness, and feels the sting of sorrow yet trusts in a better tomorrow. One that surrounds me in his arms and fills my heart with comfort. I marvel to have found such a treasure.

“You’re a good man,” I look up into the handsome face and lightly touch his tanned arm.

He turns to me briefly with a quiet laugh, eyes shifting from the road to my mine. His look of love says more than words possibly could.

As the miles pass, and the surrounding country-side marked with picked cotton-fields and spreading magnolia trees speed by, I settle comfortably into the passenger’s side and breath a sigh of contentment.

With each passing day, I fall more in love with this young man who sought and won my heart. I marvel to realize that he was the one I prayed for growing up, petitioning God that He would make him strong and noble and true. And He did.