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.