Archives

When your friend is dying

sunset-girl-399.jpg

*Update: A few hours after I posted this, I learned that my friend passed away.*

My friend is dying and I’m painting the bathroom.

That’s all I could think about last week as a gallon of Sherwin Williams helped color our bathroom walls blue. Up and down, up and down the roller went until I paused to refill my tray. Some melancholic song was playing on my phone in the background.

Thirty-nine is an unacceptable age to die. And barely 39 at that. You’re not even over the hill yet. Not even halfway done.

I know this stuff happens and that we may never know why, but it still sucks. It’s horrible, heartbreaking and sucks. I’m tired of people having cancer.

My friend has been a fighter from the beginning. We aren’t close, but I’ve known her for about eight years now, first as she and her husband joined our pre-marriage class, then as they joined our small group at church. We went to their wedding and celebrated when they adopted their daughter. I went to an ovarian cancer fundraiser and watched the husband run in teal heels.

But now it’s getting close to the end. No one wants to come out and say it, but it’s true. We can tiptoe around it, talking about how she doesn’t have much time left or how we’re praying for the family as they move forward, but she’s dying. I hate it.

Instead of planning vacations, juggling work and kids, lamenting over house projects and whatever else almost-forties do, she’s getting weaker, frailer and about to leave a little girl behind. And a husband of seven years—such a short time.

Unless something miraculous happens—and I’m not discounting that possibility—she won’t have another Christmas or birthday or anniversary. Her plans for the future are from here to tomorrow. I almost feel guilty as I settle into a new house, making plans for new countertops and wondering where I’m going to hang that picture.

I know I could drop dead in five minutes. Any of us could. But knowing death is around the corner … well, I can’t imagine. Not at 39.

At least she’s had lots of friends visit. That’s huge. I’m kicking myself for not knowing her condition sooner and planning an earlier visit myself. Now it’s too late, no more visitors, although I hope she liked the card we sent.

Things like this always bring up the words “wake-up call.”

“Life is short,” people say, and of course it’s too true. It makes me wonder why any of us waste time arguing about insignificant things or whining about stuff that doesn’t matter in the long run. Life is truly a gift, and today will never be repeated, so why don’t we treat it like that?

In the middle of all the sadness, I can’t leave out the one bright spot, the one thing that makes me happy.

I will see my friend again.

From our time together, I know her soul to be secure, destined for a place she’ll no longer live in pain or be frail or have cancer. The C word doesn’t exist there. I’m still sad and devastated for her family, but content knowing where she’ll be after this. I know not everyone can say that about people they’ve lost, but I sincerely hope whoever is reading this can say that about themselves.

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
—Martin Luther King Jr.

Advertisements

Leaving the familiar: Moving, part 1

IMG_7590.JPG

Our first home. Cute, isn’t it?

This time next week, I’ll be calling a different place home.

All our things should be out of the house I’m currently sitting in, and I’ll likely never see the inside of it again.

I admit it’s a little sad. This is our first home together, and there have been lots of firsts here: first holidays, first guests, first time buying real furniture, first landscaping attempts and first arguments as a married couple. It’s where I fell in love with the coffee shop around the corner and where I trained for our first 5K. We’ve had so many great moments here, along with some tough ones, and it’ll be weird getting used to a different place.

A different route home, a different grocery store, a different spot for the dishes. New neighbors, new paint colors, a new key on my key ring.

IMG_7616

Dreaded moving boxes

I’ve been ready to move for the past few years, and now that it’s happening, the reality of it strikes me during the most mundane moments. Like when I’m walking across our bedroom, unloading the dishwasher or waiting to turn right out of the neighborhood.

A week from now, I won’t be doing that anymore, I think. At least not in the same places.

We’re moving only an hour away, but it’s far enough to feel like a completely different community. I still don’t know where a lot of things are there, so I expect I’ll be GPSing my way through the first couple of weeks or so.

The thing I’ll miss most is the friends who live close by. It’s not like I’ll never see them again, but distance has a way of making it harder to keep in touch. Although I’m pretty good at it and I really don’t want to lose these friends.

I’m ready for this move, and I know we’re going where God wants us. Why there, I’m not totally sure yet, but I’m 90% excited and only 10% nervous.

Over the next weeks, as I Google new vets, research dentists and get used to climbing stairs again, I’m sure the new normal will set in. In the meantime, we need to find a day to make one last trip to that coffee shop.

 

New year, new word

IMG_6677.JPG

For the past three years, I’ve picked a one-word focus for the 12 months ahead of me, and at the end of that time, I evaluate how it went.

I started off with the word “humility” in 2014, followed by “simplify” in 2015 and “calm” in 2016.

Throughout 2016 (it’s weird to talk about it in past tense already), I felt like I wasn’t doing a great job of sticking to my word. I would forget about it many days, despite it being taped next to my bathroom mirror, and there were many times I didn’t feel very calm, either on the inside or outside.

But today as I thought more about it, I decided there have been some changes.

  • There were several times I wanted to get upset about something but remembered my resolve to stay calm and let the upsetting thing pass.
  • I altered my work schedule a bit so I don’t get so crazy in traffic, which has helped me stay calmer on my commute.
  • When a couple of unexpected things came up last year, I tried not to freak out about them (in either a bad or good way), but slowed myself down to process it all and give a more level-headed response.
  • When people annoyed me, I made a more conscious effort to be patient and not get snippy.

I don’t know if I’d call 2016 a success as far as my word goes since I think I could’ve done much better, but at least I saw a little improvement, which is better than nothing.

By early fall, though, I’d already started thinking about my next word and was pretty positive what it should be. I actually thought about using the word last year, but I think 2017 will be a good time for it.

My new word is “balance.”

There are too many days that I feel like my free time just slips by. Too many times I feel like my priorities are out of whack or like I’m barely keeping afloat with all of life’s commitments. I did tackle a bit of this when I focused on simplifying a couple years ago, but now I need to round it out.

I again taped my word next to my mirror, and this time wrote out, in order, what my priorities should be to find that balance: God first, followed by marriage, then family and friends, then work and everything else.

Even though I work for a ministry that starts each day with devotions and prayer, it’s no substitute for my personal time with God—something I’ve gone back and forth with this past year. I’ll get into a routine of reading my Bible every day or praying regularly, then it tapers off, then I do it again, then it tapers off. There’s a huge difference between putting Him first in my life and not, so this year, I’m going to try my best to do it consistently.

Here’s an excerpt from a devotion I read just before Christmas:

The world has become too much a part of us, and we are afflicted with the idea that we are not accomplishing anything unless we are always busily running back and forth. … We believe in having “all our irons in the fire” and that all the time we spend away from the anvil or fire is wasted time. Yet our time is never more profitably spent than when we set aside time for quiet meditation, talking with God, and looking up to heaven. We can never have too many of these open spaces in life—hours set aside when our soul is completely open and accessible to any heavenly thought or influence that God may be pleased to send our way.

Someone once said, “Meditation is the Sunday of the mind.” In these hectic days, we should often give our mind a “Sunday,” a time in which it will do no work but instead will simply be still. …

Time spent in this way is not lost time. A fisherman does not say he is losing time when he is mending his nets, nor does a gardener feel he has wasted his time by taking a few minutes to sharpen the blades on his mower. …

—from Streams in the Desert

After God comes my marriage. I do devote a considerable amount of time to friends and work and other things here and there, but I need to be sure marriage comes before all that. Sometimes that’s easy, sometimes it’s not, so again, I’m going for consistency here.

Here’s my game plan for achieving balance this year:

  • img_6679Pete and I are going to start reading YouVersion’s Verse of the Day as our devotional time together. We weren’t crazy about the devotional book we went through last year, and the verse will be good because we can access it on our phones no matter where we are.
  • I’m going to go through A Passion for Purpose, which gives you a one-page devotional each day. I started it once and really liked it, but never finished.
  • I want to create a Gratitude Jar. More on this later, but my hope is that it’ll keep me focused on all of life’s little blessings and remember what’s important.
  • I’d also like to finish reading Margin. Mom and Dad got me this book maybe two Christmases ago, and I’m ashamed to say I haven’t finished it. I think I have 4 unfinished books at the moment, but this one is all about balance and I’ve already underlined lots of stuff in the parts I’ve read.
  • img_6676I want to be more diligent about praying for my friends and family. I just got a new planner that came with a small dry erase board where you can write down your prayer focus for each day of the week. I already wrote down friends’ names in each space for the first week of January.
  • And finally, to build on my goal of simplifying from 2015, I want to give more thought to things I say yes to. I can’t do it all, and I don’t want to spread myself so thin that I do nothing well.

Although I think all of these are good goals, I’m not going to beat myself up if I miss a couple of days of devotional reading or forget to pray for so-and-so on Tuesday. I don’t want to be so lax that I’m not working toward balance, but I also know I’ll need grace now and then.

Let’s see how it goes!

A case of post-election anxiety

a-case-of-post-election-anxiety.jpg

In first grade, I drew a picture of Ross Perot, an independent presidential candidate with big ears. (Looking back, they weren’t that big, but they did stick out a little.) It was 1992, the year George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton, and the world went on.

Eight years later, in the 2000 race between the younger Bush and Al Gore, I remember standing in line with my parents at a local church, waiting to vote in the kids’ election—basically a paper ballot that didn’t mean squat but got you a sticker. Bush won and the world went on.

This year is different.

Granted, I’m older now and pay more attention to the news, but never in my lifetime can I remember America feeling so divided. And not just divided, but on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Reading my Facebook feed 24 hours after the election was like listening to one of those commercials where a fast-talking announcer lists all the potential side effects of a certain pill.

May cause panic attacks, rage, relief, upset stomach, fear, tears of joy, heart burn, depression, pride, thrill, surprise, total contentment, complete disgust, indignation, hope, poor word choice and the desire to move to Canada.

People are all over the place with emotions. For many in my own circle of friends, anxiety is one of them, no matter who they voted for:

What’s next for our country? How will the next four years affect us and the next generation? What will happen to the economy, to education? Will we be safe?

I heard a local pastor say recently that no matter who’s in office, God is ruler over all: “You didn’t vote Him in, and you can’t vote Him out.”

He’s immovable, unshakable, and no matter how chaotic things get, He is constant. Whatever is on the horizon for America is no surprise to an all-powerful God who created this country and all the people in it.

“You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.”
—2 Chronicles 20:6

The job of president is certainly important and its impact far reaching, but God is so much bigger than that. If we allow Him to penetrate our lives one by one, He can bring order where there’s chaos, peace where there’s restlessness—no matter who’s in the White House.

Maybe you were on cloud nine as Donald Trump emerged as our next president this time last week. Maybe his win over Hillary Clinton has been a hard pill to swallow. Maybe you’re still processing. Whatever the case, our response matters. Your response. My response.

Are we trusting in God’s sovereignty? Do we believe He has a plan in all this?

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”
—Proverbs 19:21

On a more personal level, how are we treating others—fellow creations of God Himself—a week after the election?

Are we kind and compassionate toward the other side? Are we open to constructive, civil conversations, or are we busy unfriending those who don’t agree with us?

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
—James 1:19

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
—Proverbs 15:1

The future of America is a big question mark for all of us, but not for God. He knows what each day holds and tells us not to fear. He is God and we are not, and all the bickering and anxiety in between will get us nowhere.

Keith Scott: What do you do when a shooting hits home?

NY Daily News.jpg

Photo credit: NY Daily News

Just two months ago, I wrote a blog in response to a string of shootings across the country. I mentioned how these shootings are hitting closer to home.

But none have hit as close as Tuesday’s shooting in Charlotte, just half an hour away from me. It was a mile from UNC Charlotte where I went to college, half a mile from my old apartment and one neighborhood over from where I used to babysit. Close.

It’s the latest story adding fuel to the fire of deep-seated emotion, stemming from a history of racially charged clashes between police and civilians. Anger, grief, distress, a tiring fight for justice all come to a head, exploding in chaos.  

As I browsed through pictures of protesters and police officers who flooded a main road shortly after the afternoon shooting, I couldn’t help but think about all the times I drove down that exact road on my way home. Like thousands of others, I’ve also driven tons of times on the same section of I-85 that was filled with adrenaline as protesters and police with shielded helmets held up traffic for miles. I still have friends who live in that area.

After more protests last night, I thought about the many times I’ve walked the same sidewalks in uptown overflowing with shouts, busted windows and tear gas, and the time my dad stayed in the same hotel caught in the thick of violence. The protests had been so peaceful hours earlier.

The danger of watching events like this unravel on TV, the radio or online is the distance. All these shootings may start to blend together and seem to follow the same script: man dies, people outraged, tension between police and civilians.

What makes the Keith Scott shooting different for me is the proximity. For months, I’ve watched similar scenes unfold in other cities, but now it’s in my own community. I knew we weren’t immune, but it’s still surreal.

It’s strange seeing pictures of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police cars with smashed bumpers and broken windshields as protesters stand on top of them. It’s crazy seeing video of our officers in riot gear, holding back what could be their own neighbors in a time of emotional turmoil.

It’s not that I didn’t care about the number of shootings before this one, or that I didn’t comb the news for more details when this happened before, but now I care even more. Now it’s not fading into the background as quickly as it would if it happened elsewhere. Now I feel more sad about a community being divided. Now I feel more aware and more responsible for what’s going on around me.

So what happens when something you’ve experienced only from a distance actually hits home?

Personally, I wonder what I can do to help alleviate the tension, to understand the two (or three or four) sides better, to be part of a solution. But what exactly does that look like?

For me, it’s trying to show compassion when discussing anything regarding race or policing. It’s listening to people who see things differently, and letting it sink in. It’s fighting the temptation to draw my own conclusions to a story five minutes after it happens. It’s owning the issue and realizing that even if I’m not directly involved, things like this still affect me and where I live.

Most of all, it’s remembering we’re all God-designed with inherent worth and loved beyond measure, no matter what our race, occupation or background may be. That alone is a good place to start, and a good thing to share with others who may not know it.

What about you? How can you help prevent this kind of tension where you live? What can you do to unify your community now—before another victim’s face, another officer’s name, becomes the new story?

wsoc-2-crop

Photo credit: WSOC

Annoying people are like livers

boy-666803_1920.jpg

We all know people who get on our nerves—people we need extra mental space to be around or try our hardest to avoid. Sometimes we ignore them, hoping they’ll get the hint, but they rarely do.

Maybe these are people who have no concept of personal space. Maybe they go on and on about some hobby you don’t give a squat about, or constantly flake on plans they made with you. Maybe they take advantage of you or treat you like an idiot. Maybe they can’t take social cues, like when you’re trying to leave a conversation and they keep talking.

In your head, you’re yelling, “Go away!” But to be polite, you keep nodding and try not to let your head explode.

A friend of mine would refer to these people as “livers.”

The liver isn’t a pretty thing but has lots of important functions. It regulates chemical levels in your blood and breaks down nutrients. It stores and releases glucose. It removes bacteria and other harmful substances from your bloodstream.

In short, ugly but important.

Or, applied to people, annoying but valuable.

Early on in the Bible, we’re told that “God created man in His own image.” Ephesians 2:10 calls us His “workmanship,” His masterpiece.

Think about that for a second—you are an expression of God’s work, created in His very likeness. … And so are the annoying people in your life.

God creates each person uniquely and loves every single one of us. Every. Single. One. He creates us with specific talents, personalities and desires. He has a purpose and life plan for each of us.

We are not mass produced, but carefully made by the God of the universe. And He doesn’t play favorites like we do (Romans 2:11).

I love what Psalm 139:14 says about our worth: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” But that doesn’t just apply to me; it applies to everyone around me, too. Even the ones who don’t get social cues.

So next time your patience runs dry and you think you’re going to implode from being around so-and-so, remember these two things:

One, you probably do annoying things, too.

And, more importantly, that person causing your near-implosion is a masterpiece formed by God Himself. … Heck, maybe that person is part of your life to help soften your edges.

Think about how you’ll respond next time someone gets on your nerves. Then try to see that person the way God does—as a valued reflection of Himself.

More than a relationship status

MIMZ4PUM2F.jpg

The Huffington Post recently published an article called “Getting Married Is Not an Accomplishment,” written by a woman who got engaged a few months ago.

Here’s the gist: of course marriage is something to be excited about, but so is furthering your education or landing a great job. Marriage is exciting, and staying married is for sure an accomplishment, the author writes, but a successful woman isn’t defined by a ring on her finger.

I scanned hundreds of comments on the story—some applauding the author, some vigorously disagreeing—but what really caught my attention was this nugget from the story:

In general I have noticed that I tend to be questioned much more about my relationship, engagement, or wedding than my job or related accomplishments. And, this didn’t just start in the last three months. It has always been the case that I was more likely to be asked “So, when are you getting engaged” or “How’s everything going with Craig” than “How’s your job going?” or “What have you been working on lately?”

By nature, women tend to be more interested in relationships, so it makes sense that we get quizzed on that more than school or jobs, or that we focus more on relationships when talking to other women.

Most conversations I have with my female co-workers—besides the ones that are explicitly work-related—revolve around relationships. Not just boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife relationships, but relationships with family, within our churches or other friends. Even in talking about travel plans, cooking disasters, kids, how one friend is getting her master’s or how another is doing with the nonprofit she started, many of the conversations hinge on our relationships—the people in our lives who play a role in all of the above.

I also know I get more excited when a friend gets married than when a friend gets a pay raise. Graduations and promotions may signify a new chapter in life—and that’s certainly worth celebrating, but jobs and education aren’t typically as final or life-altering as uniting two people for the rest of their lives.

At the same time, I know how annoying and frustrating it can be when people only want to talk about relationships—and this time, I mean the boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife kind—especially when you’re single.

Before I was married, I had a few friends and relatives who seemed interested only in my relationship status. Did I have a boyfriend? Why not? Was I interested in anyone? There’s more to me than that!, I’d think, faking a smile. Can’t you think of anything else to talk about?! Ask me what I’m reading, what movies I’ve seen lately, if I have any trips planned, what I think of college, how my car is holding up, what paper I’m writing, where I got my fetching new bag, any number of things.

(Post-marriage, the questions keep coming, but with a slight variation. Do I have kids? Why not? Do I want them? … But that’s another article for another time.)

As for the Huffington Post piece, I agree that a woman shouldn’t be defined by a piece of jewelry on her left hand, and neither should a man. As a Christian, I think our worth lies in Who created us, not in what we do or who we marry.

But instead of discussing whether marriage is an accomplishment or not, I think we can take a broader look at how we see people. Is she your “single friend” or your tech savvy friend? Is he “unsettled,” or does he just have a fierce passion for travel? Is she a soon-to-be wife, or did she also just publish the best book you’ve ever read?

Are we putting so much weight on one aspect of a person—like relationship status—that we neglect seeing that person as a whole?

Think about how you characterize your closest friends. Is there another way to look at them?