Good personal legacies are hard to build

Have you given any serious thought to your legacy? I’m not talking about the material things you’ll leave behind, that relatives are subject to fight over, if you don’t leave a will. The legacy to which I’m referring consists of all things that comprise your reputation. Will people say good things about you after the funeral service and the repast have become history. I’ve written social media posts in the past about writing your story on life’s pages. That is, doing all the good things that will make it natural for people to talk about you in the most complimentary of terms. To be honest, I often wonder if it makes a difference how well we write. There always seems to be someone who dislike you regardless of how gregarious you may attempt to be. Some people are just lemons by nature.

We’re all, at some stage in life, set adrift in the sea of human interaction, expected to learn by trial and error how to get along. What did you do when you had your first encounter with that elementary school bully? Had anyone really given you any sound advice about how to negotiate your way through such a situation? Chances are some primordial instinct kicked into high gear; fright, flight, or attack. If you were able to handle yourself in such a manner that no violence occurred, and you and your nemesis walked away being the best of friends, years later stories would be told of just how diplomatically gifted you were.

I watch warriors on the battle field of politics regularly. I know they’re called politicians, not warriors. Come on isn’t the term politician more appropriate for a time long gone by? These people we elect to office now tend to start drawing first blood long before the first ballot is cast. The idea seems to be to paint the worse picture one can of your opponent, knowing that they will try to do the same. It seems that no matter how pristine a person’s reputation might be before she decides to enter politics, one campaign just might turn them into one of the most foul and un-trustworthy creatures on the planet. I often wonder if the truly trustworthy of qualified people, who would be great at service as a politician, choose to not subject themselves to the political shooting gallery we see in operation today.

Okay, let’s say you’ve been a sterling student throughout all your years of schooling. You’ve also been a faithful servant to family, church, community, doing all you can to lay a solid foundation upon which you can build a good reputation. There just might be someone out there, who will throw some dirt your way, not because there’s dirt to be thrown, but because envy has soured their opinion of you. I’ve heard of people experiencing this kind of assault within their church group. This should be the one place where individual achievement should result in group accolades.

Though good personal legacies might be hard to build, I recall a quote from Mother Teresa that sets the model for how best to build them:

“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”

Do all you can to build a good legacy and let God be the finisher.

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

The hands tell much

Mom's handsHave you ever heard the saying, “The eyes are the windows to the soul?” There are other old adages that are assigned some communicative quality to parts of the body. Recently, as I sat in my mom’s hospital room, a few days before she took benefit of her last breath, I noticed her hands. They were gnarled, yet soft and characteristically old in appearance from four score and five years of journeying. My mom was a lefty, and amazingly, as she fought her last battle, her left hand continued to be dominant. It was the one extension from her frail body that continued to move, grasp, and show some signs of conscience maneuverability. My siblings and I were certain she still had somewhat of a grip on life by the action of that left hand.

As I looked at my mom’s hands, I also looked at mine next to hers. At three score and seven, my hands also seemed worn, more so than just a few years ago. From the tips of my digits to where they connect with my arms, the aging process had unmistakably done its job. From the forearm upwards, the dermal layer seemed less aged. I had never noticed this before. A few days later, I was watching an episode of the British detective mystery titled Vera. I don’t want to sound too morbid; however, Detective Chief Inspector Vera heads up a special squad that investigates murders. In this episode, she had just arrived at the scene of a murder. She estimated the age of the murder victim to be mid-thirties. The forensic specialist on the scene corrected her by saying the victim’s hands indicated that she was in her mid-fifties. The hands told the true story.

Hands. Do you ever really notice them? They are usually the first to arrive at a destination, depending on the position of the feet, of course. They extend outward to open doors, communicate greetings, execute hugs, hold babies. They’re also washed incessantly, drying whatever natural lubricants the body may produce to moisturize them. They are used; they are worn to such a degree that they can’t but project life’s weight of experience. I had a great-uncle, who died years ago. He spent all his life working on a farm. I don’t remember very much about him; however, I do remember his hands. They were strong and rough, as if carved from stone. I don’t ever remember him wearing gloves. The insides of his hands were dark, discolored from years of being exposed to who knows what chemicals and grime. He would come in from a day of exhaustive labor, wash his hands, and they would show no signs of ever being exposed to soap and water. Those were hands that showed age beyond the chronology they represented.

I’m at a point in my journey where I can compare my hands to multiple generations in my extended family. Whenever I hold my five-month old granddaughter, I’m amazed at just how out-of-the-box fresh and soft her hands are. The softness seems almost unreal. Though soft as they are, they are quite durable against the wrinkled hardness of mine. Our hands together tell the story of how generations, existing in God-given harmony, are connected.

Yes, the eyes may be the windows to the soul, but look at the hands of the people with whom you have contact. I’m not asking you to be so obvious that folks might become self-conscious, but subtlety observe the hands; they just might speak loudly of each person’s experience.

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

Can life be without judgment?

You might have looked in the mirror this morning and weren’t satisfied with what you saw. Why weren’t you? There’s a better than good chance you made a judgment based on some message that has subliminally programmed you to think that you should look a certain way. Have you ever taken note of just how many commercials are directed at you while watching television? Product pushers have no qualms about telling you how to make yourself the most appealing human being on planet earth: how your hair should look, your skin, your face. They even delve into intimate subjects, by telling you what products you should use to ramp up your love life. The bottom line seems to be that if you don’t use these products, there’s something askew; you can in no way live a fulfilling life. I wonder what people did before all these life-altering products hit the market? And so, some over-paid marketing expert equips you with the information necessary for you to quietly, with your inner voice, judge your fitness for presentation to the world.

To live a life without judgment, being judged and judging others is next to impossible. How many times have you passed someone on the street, in the mall and quietly said, “Why in the world is he wearing that?”; “Why would anyone let her out of the house with that on?” I’m using the term “judge“ here; however, I’m not so sure it’s an accurate phrase. Aren’t judges the officers of the court who decide sentencing? There has been an indictment and a decision about guilt before judging occurs. Maybe what we’re doing when we quietly, or boldly pronounce to someone else that John should never force himself into a pair of skinny jeans is indicting. Maybe what were doing is charging John with some socially criminal misdemeanor that he should have had the common sense to not commit?

Why do we judge, oh sorry, I mean indict others, when our attempts at perfection fall at a point where the mark is no where in sight? Could it be that we’re insecure about our own presentation to the world; that we sorely need to ratchet others a few rungs downward, so we’ll be on top; that we’re just mean at heart? It’s probably all the above and a few more to be honest. Why instead, do we not let compliments and praise flow freely from our very soul, elevating each other to points of joy and happiness. Most people we meet need a little charge of positivity in their lives. Truth be known, so do we. Knowing that we do, should be enough to put us in the frame of mind of being the continual encourager. But instead, many of us carry around a mixed bag of negativity, waiting to freely shower petals of discouragement on that person who dared to wear polka dots, stripes and plaids together.

I was sitting in a Sunday school class recently, listening to the facilitator discuss Jesus’ indictment of the religious leaders during His time on earth. He called them hypocrites. This was a harsh characterization Jesus used to describe the religious leaders, whose job it was to serve and encourage. Listening intently, I couldn’t help but feel strongly that I should never stand in front of the mirror whenever I think or talk about the word hypocrite. How could I objectively think about the word “hypocrite” without feeling a sense of self indictment? The late Mother Angelica, founder of EWTN (the Catholic TV Network) told a story once of a conversation she had, as she tried to evangelize a man. The man was resistant about coming to church. His stance was that the place was full of hypocrites. Her retort was that’s okay, come on, one more won’t hurt.

Maybe the answer to the question, “Can life be without judgment?” should be: Probably not, but wouldn’t it be great to try. Don’t we owe each other at least that much?

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

How did you do it?

Sometimes it seems you’ve struggled your whole life. You were born in 1932, three years after the start of the great depression. The circumstances into which you were born would be considered more than a “little to be desired.” However, the family into which you were born was held together with a strong bond of love. There were eight of you altogether, father, mother, three boys and three girls. This was a small rural, poor farming family, by any stretch of the imagination, in rural Cross County, Arkansas. Being African-American and living in the heart of the Jim Crow South, placed horrendous limits on just how much justice, equality and humanity you could expect.

I can recall, though at the time I wasn’t aware, the various kinds of separate and unequal treatment you received. Unequal though it might have been, you were persistent in providing a home and care for your children: Larry, William, Terri and me. You never seemed to be so discouraged that care for your children was placed on a back burner. As I got older, I could discern the weight of the struggle under which you reared all of us. Somehow, though surviving in dire poverty, you would bring laughter into our ram shackled, no-running water, wood-stove heated abode. I can recall many times when joy would abound. How did you do it, knowing that there would be times when we had doubts about from where our next meal would come?

You only had a ninth-grade education. I think that had a lot to do with you making sure your children received as much education as we wanted and desired. Although you didn’t always know how to support us, academically, your emotional support was always strong and invaluable. All your children went beyond high school in their educational pursuit. Your support was instrumental in making that happen.

You’ve been struggling the last fourteen years with Alzheimer’s. We’ve seen this vicious invader of your body slowly chip away at your ability to remember acts performed just minutes after you initiated them. Conversely, you would have detailed conversations about events that happened fifty years ago. The hard drive would playback randomly and with such eloquent detail. Oftentimes, the struggle under which you were operating was obvious, as we all saw you slowly retreat into some dark corner of your being that we couldn’t reach. Somehow, we all knew you were there, you just couldn’t find a crevice to peek out beyond the darkness. Fourteen years, that’s a long time to struggle with losing your connection to self and all that you love.

Yesterday, your struggling came to an end. You are no longer navigating in an imperfect world with imperfect skills by which to exit. You are with your Lord. Yes, I do believe you’re in a better place. I’m convinced that where you are now is far better than where you’ve been these last few years. Looking over your life (what I’ve witnessed and been told about), I’m still left with the question: How did you do it? I’m sure the answer is obvious to you, and it’s one to which I cannot argue: God’s grace.

Rest peacefully, mom. We all love you.

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