Still, Small Voice (& the Birth of a New Year)

That still, small voice shouts quietly. Don’t you hear her?

Soul Kindling

Happy (almost) New Year, friends! As I’ve considered the dawning of 2017, my deep desire is for the gap between my written words and my actions to narrow. Of course, this is easier written than done! Regardless, I decided to sit down, listen to the still, small voice [I call her Spirit] and write what I heard as a guide for my upcoming year. I believe I will return to these words throughout 2017 as a gentle reminder. May it bless you and/or prompt you to listen to the still, small voice within and write your own guide for the upcoming year.



Do you hear?

A crisp year freshly birthed is calling!

Giggling, this newborn bubbles, “Laugh with me!”

Wide awake, this spry start gazes, “Open your eyes.”

Hungry, this infant year hums, “Feed me health.”

Crying, this bold life wails, “Wrap me close and sway.”

Sleepy, this tranquil…

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What’s Normal?

I often find myself thinking of serious things while I’m doing something that’s not very serious. I’m sure you find yourself in that situation occasionally, too. I was listening to a program on NPR recently, while driving home from the dentist. Terry Gross was interviewing the actor Gaby Hoffman, known for roles in Field of Dreams and childhood parts in other films. She was talking about her growing up as a child and the kinds of people she was exposed to. I found it fascinating when she compared her life style, growing up, to that of people in the suburbs. Suburbanites living in homes with a father and a mother, eating dinner together every night, mother and father going to work each day, were not her normal fare. Hoffman grew up in a residential hotel, surrounded by creative types such as actors, artist and other far-right brain types. When Hoffman speaks of suburbanites, she characterizes their daily activities as being far from her corner of normality.

Most of us have some concept of what normal is. As far back as I can remember, the quintessential picture of normal for a family was a father, mother and children, living under one roof. The father was the bread winner and the mother was caretaker and curator of the family abode. Although I was dirt poor as a child, both my maternal and paternal grandparents operated within that model. My family did too, until my mother became a young widow at the age of 26. This was due to a farming accident that took the life of my dad. There were other markers along the journey of life that reinforced my sense of normality of the family unit: the church; television programs, containing all-white casts; school, and a host of other cultural and social institutions that made clear what a normal family was to look like. In retrospect, I find it awkward that there were countless other models-never accepted as normal- all around me of families that didn’t fit the Judeo-Christian model introduced early in Old Testament scriptures. Ironically, we didn’t fit that model after my father died.

It’s funny how society has for generations made dysfunctionality a pejorative term to be applied appropriately to some families. For some reason, we’ve all been led to believe that the dysfunctional family is the square peg that just won’t fit the round hole in which the so-called normal family rests comfortably. Being a person of faith, I’ve come to accept the “normal” fact that family dysfunctionality goes all the way back to the Old Testament. Let’s be honest, what’s more dysfunctional than one brother killing the other over jealousy of his offering being more acceptable in the eyes of God.

In our current times, we find ourselves challenged to extend the love of God to certain types people who have been around for centuries, but have been under cover because they don’t fit the picture of what normal looks like. These folks include transgender, gay, bi-sexual, etc. The life styles of such individuals are discussed with heated terms across the table. Some camps are convinced their life styles are the result of choice, others (often medical professionals) are convinced they are programmed that way, and that choice has little to do with it. When all is said, and done, isn’t the duty of us good folks, brought up in the Judeo-Christian tradition to love the person despite the sin. After all, isn’t “a sinful state” normal for all of us?

As I think more on the question of what’s normal, I’ve come to the inescapable conclusion, that normal is a state of being dictated by God. It’s a state of being in which few of us has the privilege of existing in on this plain. The normal thing we should be demonstrating in our existence, during our promised three score and ten is to show the love of God all. You can’t get more normal than that, don’t you think?

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Ownership of my cancer is a shared affair

After dealing with cancer for over sixteen years, and having the faith (sometimes not as strong as others) that God will do what’s best, I’ve come to look at many perspective on life. Of course, suffering is one that has been most prominent in my journey. As you can imagine, I’ve suffered in many ways from the side effects of chemotherapy to certain infections that have come on because of my suppressed immune system. Suffering and the pain that accompanies it have been of interest to me. I’ve been motivated to start a chronic illness support ministry at my church. I realize that family and loved ones are in this journey, too; however, I don’t think I’ve devoted sufficient thought to just how my illness has impacted each member of my nuclear family.

As I think about how my disease affects each member of my family, the following thoughts come to mind: My oldest child is thirty-eight years old. She’s a successful business woman, heavily involved in the real estate industry on several levels, including residential, commercial, as well as educational certification of real estate agents. The latter, operating a real estate school, consumes a significant amount of her time. A few days ago, I called her with the news that my cancer had returned. I prepared what I was going to say, making sure I would highlight all the good points. Those points, being that treatment for my cancer has improved by gargantuan leaps and bounds since I was first diagnosed in 2,000. My oncologist will be treating me with a drug that is far from the chemotherapy and the destructive effects that come with it. This new drug is designed to boost my immune system, allowing it to fight the cancer cells with precision, not causing harm to healthy cells. My oncologist also told me that I will go into remission again. He wants to extend my life to fifteen years and beyond. Now, that’s some good news, isn’t it? You would think a smart person who runs a business would evaluate all that I said and respond with a good dose of optimism. There was a bit of silence on the phone. I could tell that the news of my cancer’s return had hit my daughter hard. She resumed her part of the conversation, and said she wanted to be with me when I go in for my first treatment.

My second child is a success in her own right. She’s not the consummate business woman as my oldest, but she’s intelligent and well-educated. She has a master’s degree and has chosen a career in law enforcement. She hopes to provide service to the community in a manner that her family found peculiar at first, but has now come to understand she’s following her path. Every parent must accept the fact that all their children are different. This one is highly emotional. I recall the time our family dog died while this child was off in college. The death occurred at the time she was taking final exams for her last year in college. Knowing how upsetting the news would be to our her, we decided not to tell her. The news of that death would have affected her to the point that she probably would have failed her examinations. This child required me telling her the news of my cancer’s return face-to-face. I didn’t want to upset her over the telephone. The meeting went well, except there was a moment of high emotional activity. Her mom told her everything would be alright, and that she didn’t have to be upset. My daughter’s quick come back was, “I have a right to be upset!”

Our son, oh my son, the outwardly rock of Gibraltar, never lets anyone sees him sweat. I delivered the news to him over the phone, while he was at work. His reply was, “Dad you’re going to be just fine.” I didn’t expect anything to the contrary to proceed from his mouth. He developed this layer of protection around his emotions when he was a little fellow. The layer is obviously porous, but it seems to work for him. He wouldn’t dare shed a tear given any situation that would beg for such a response. That’s just not what strong men do.
Other responses from my two brothers and my sister were warm and supportive. They all have strong faith and believe that God will do what is necessary in my case. If healing is for me, He’ll provide it, but if not He’ll take care of me in other ways. I must admit, I subscribe to that same perspective, too.

My mom has been dealing with Alzheimer’s for the past decade. She’s at a point, where she barely recognizes any of us. I have chosen not to burden her with the news of my cancer’s return. She’s in her own dark room, a space of residence that will only grow darker as time proceeds.

It’s taken me sixteen years, on this journey, to finally realize that family members have a sense of ownership of the patient’s cancer, too. Oftentimes, those of us with chronic illnesses feel alone; we feel that family members really don’t understand what we’re going through. That may be true. After all, one can’t really take a walk in another person’s shoes. They can only walk along beside them offering to listen and lend a stabilizing hand when required. Although all of that may be true, I’ve come to realize clearly that we own the cancer that has stricken my body. My family has some skin in this game.

Post scripts are normally meant as appendages, notes added to a complete letter, article or book. This paragraph isn’t a post script, thus I add no P.S. as its introduction. It serves as an attribute to the most important part of my family, who has been with me through it all, my wife. Oftentimes when I write, my fingers seem to take flight across the keyboard, detached from  my mental center. That’s what happened when I wrote this piece. The lack of mention of my wife in the words preceding this paragraph in no way is intended to communicate a lesser role she’s played in my cancer story. To the contrary, her role has been demonstrative of the vows we took on the day we were married, “to remain with each other through sickness and health, ’til death do us part.” The date of this posting is our thirty-first wedding anniversary. She’s been the proverbial rock, the companion, who’s been there even through times when my over-bearing need for independence has been a slight to her. She has suffered, too. Thank God for the precious gift of my wife, my most valuable co-owner of my cancer. May the love of God sustain us for years to come.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

I don’t see you

I have a confession to make. If the truth be told, there are many of you reading this piece who might be able to make the same confession. What is that confession, you might ask? It’s that I don’t see you. Why would I accuse myself of such, after all, I had a conversation with you just the other day? From the looks of things, I was looking you dead in the eye. We were making contact, socializing to our utmost capability at being the social animals we’re all programmed to be.

When I say, I don’t see you, I mean I’m oriented to acknowledging and dealing with your existence from some stereotype, or some less than completely accurate assessment of what your true being represents. If I just met you, I start our conversation within the confines of some predisposition about you. After all, I’ve seen people who look like you all my life. I’ve seen them on television, I’ve seen pictures of them on the front of the newspaper, my mother and father, as well as others in my social network have told me about folks like you for years. What else do I need to know about folks like you? The truth has already been shared with me by people I know and trust. Their truth deserves the honor of not being questioned or brought into judgment. It’s their experience and resulting wisdom from that experience they’ve passed onto me, so I can have an easier time at dealing with folks like you. It’s, after all, a proven fact that it’s better to learn from the experience of others. That experience lessens the chances of us suffering from the disappointments and pains of life.

My confession has caused great trauma to my psyche. I’ve now come to realize that each individual I encounter, for more than a few seconds, deserves my best effort at “seeing them.” I probably shouldn’t begin our conversations with asking what do you do? That question is an almost subconscious strategy to assess your material value. If you work in a mid-to-high-level corporate job, your value to me has more weight. I want to increase the value of the people within my network of associates and friends. I probably shouldn’t ask you where you went to college, what neighborhood in which you reside, or social clubs in which you have membership. Why shouldn’t I ask those questions, you might wonder? Aren’t those the kinds of questions that solicit the answers which let me know you better. Yes, they are, but why should I ask them within the first thirty minutes of us meeting each other initially. I just met you, and you seem interesting. Shouldn’t I be concerned with knowing the real you?

I want to know the real you. That takes understanding the values, moral convictions and thoughts about life you harbor within. Do these intangibles line up with mine; however, even if they don’t, you deserve to have a fair reading of them by me. My confession has told me that I’ve never wanted to take the time to understand these things about you. It told me that I’ve been shallow; I’ve been quick to judge and move onto the next person I might be able to add to my inventory of worthwhile resources.

I want to see you. I want to be worthy of your time and thankful for the door that God has opened for me to have a view of life from your perspective. I want to see you, whomever you may be.

I’m old and blessed…I hope you will be too.

I have decided…

There’s a song often sung in my church titled, “I have decided to follow Jesus.” It’s a somewhat simple song with the title being the chorus that repeats itself three times into the song. It goes on to proclaim there will be no turning back, and that the following will persist though no one else is following alongside. I meditated on the words of this somewhat easily remembered tune recently, and I noticed something: there is no reason given in any of the lyrics as to why the proclaimer has decided to follow Jesus. Jesus being the universally complete being that He is, there is no reason to give a reason as to why the proclaimer, who renders this tune has decided to follow Jesus. It’s just the right, smart and wise thing to do if one want a quality life here and there.

At this stage in my life, there are several things I do without proclaiming a reason for why. Some of these are as routine as putting my left pant leg on first, having a strong cup of coffee each morning after my shower, and of late something much more critical to my wellbeing. I’ve felt a reemergence of some very strong feelings about my dear wife lately. This has prompted me to search the sacred scriptures, looking to reevaluate what God says about the first institution He created. I was particularly drawn to Colossians 3:19 (“Husbands, love [your] wives, and be not bitter against them.”) Although I’ve heard many expository offerings on this verse, it is providing new insight to me personally. Yes, it’s a command from God. Yes’ I’ve always known that. But now, I’ve come to realize more than ever that, as with any command from God, one must make a conscious decision to succumb to it-unconditionally- for it to work good in your life.

My wife and I are about to have our thirty-first wedding anniversary. Would it be inaccurate to say our marriage hasn’t been perfect? Of course, it would. No relationship is perfect. Even those of us, who have a relationship with Jesus, suffer from imperfections in our relationship with Him. However, we bring imperfection to the table in that case. The good elements are offered by Jesus, not us. Realizing that we bring imperfection to our relationship with Jesus, makes it obvious that two human beings have plenty of imperfection to offer in a relationship with each other, even loving couples joined under the authority and providence of God. That’s why it’s so important to do as God commands, love and respect each other.

There’s a definitive outcome that’s produced when one does as God commands. We may not always understand it, but a certain dynamic will manifest itself. If we love as God commands, respect as God commands, hold on tight to all that’s holy and precious, more love, respect and appreciation for what’s precious will occur. We’ll find ourselves enveloped in the good, and not much thought to the reason why such good things are happening. The only thing that’s important is that we are behaving per the command of God. There was a TV show that came on in the 1950’s called, “Father Knows Best.” If that attribute can be assigned to a make-believe, earthly father on a TV show, it should certainly be recognized as a true attribute of our Heavenly Father. He really does know best. If we just decide to do as he prescribes, our lives will be much richer for the good of all around us, especially our spouse.

Some, reading this may think, why has it taken thirty-one years to come to such a realization as I present here? Well, call me slow if you wish; however, I would prefer you call me blessed. My wife and I have been married for thirty-one years. There hasn’t been perfection in our relationship, but there’s been God, and His grace has kept us together. That is without doubt a marvelous thing for which I’m unquestionably grateful. Now, that we’re approaching thirty-one years of marriage, I can publicly proclaim that I have decided, without reservation, to love, respect and honor her unconditionally. Do you remember the old saying, “It’s better late than never?” There’s something truly redemptive about that saying; however, I prefer saying it’s just better when you follow the command of God. I have decided to make love more of a verb than a noun. I think that’s some good advice for everyone.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

We’re blessed to bless someone else

Being old and blessed places you in a position where you’re able to bless someone else. This is a right, an obligation, a privilege and it should be a joy. I often find myself participating in retrospectives, reviewing all the not-so-good, good, and great things that have happened in my life. Anyone who knows me well, is fully aware of the beginnings from which I come. If everyone is born with a spoon in their mouth, I certainly came into this world with one made of tin, surface coated with a bit of rust. However, things are great now, sufficient material resources to traverse retirement years, loving and devoted wife to soothe the rough spots of life and healthy children, with grandkids and one great grandchild to boot.

Just when you think life has set you up to take the easy path, the call to contribute comes knocking at your door. My son, who’s my youngest child, was blessed to be a father for the second time three months ago; he’s also had a bit a rough time economically over the past year. Regular employment has been elusive and he’s been making it by the grace of God. His mom and I have been there to help where we can; however, he wants to support himself and his family on his own. I commend him for that attitude. He just landed two jobs, one at night and another (the better-paying one) during the day. He’s fortunate that both jobs have schedules that will allow him to keep both. Here’s where the call to contribute came to my door. My wife and I talked about it, and we decided to offer our hands at providing child care until my son and his significant other can afford daycare. Although I’m retired, my wife isn’t. She sells health and life insurance. This is a busy time of year for her; it’s open enrollment season for Medicare Advantage plans, meaning she is out of the house every day. This leaves responsibly for the care of my three-month old grandson to mostly me. I must clarify here, keeping him isn’t a daily occurrence.

Taking care of a three-month old wasn’t in the plans for me during retirement. This little tyke is a lot of fun, but him added to the care of a one-year old Shih-Tzu is, at times, is more than a Herculean task for an old codger like me. The dog usually has my attention for most of the times she’s within my line of vision. My grandson being in the house, alters the environment to an extent that my little four-legged charge can’t seem to comprehend. If I’m sitting in my easy chair, trying to give my grandson a bottle, the dog is quick to come with one of her toys. She’s not coming simply to show me a chewed-up, saliva covered trinket, but to solicit my time and energy at playing an exciting game of fetch. When I refuse to reply as usual, she eventually squeezes herself between me and the chair’s arm on the side opposite my grandson. These kinds of shenanigans continue for the entire period I’m caring for my grandson.

Finding a balance of the time available to feed my grandson every two hours or so, change dirty diapers, let the dog out to do her business, and show an appropriate amount of affection to both God-given creatures, is more than a challenge. A challenge, I could handle without breaking a sweat forty years ago. Although physically demanding, this balancing act gives me a sense of satisfaction. I’m tired at the end of a full day, but there’s a warm, comfortable feeling inside. No, this isn’t my idealized version of what a retired grandfather should be doing, but who operates within an idealized version of anything related to this uncontrollable live in which we all live.

I’ve been blessed in more ways than I can count. One of the more valuable realizations in life is to reach the point where you know you’re blessed. That point of realization has even more value when you also understand that you’re blessed so you can bless others. I think babysitting my three-month old grandson, without doubt, fits this bill. One byproduct of this whole experience is that I’m blessed even further with the time I’m spending with this little fellow. Our ages span a huge gap, 66 years to three months. I’ve prayed that I will be around to see him grow for a good number of years; however, I’m a realist, knowing this might not happen. The time is good right now though, and that accounts for a whole lot.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.