Author: reneedavis Page 1 of 2

My Name is Bob

For years, my elderly mother’s routine after church is to have lunch with her friends at their favorite restaurant; and every week I arrive at the same time to pick her up. The restaurant is not in the best part of town, so there’s always a character or two hanging around the entrance hoping to score the exiting diners’ pocket change.  And I always do my best to shuffle my mom quickly to the car so as not to be pestered with the unwanted requests.

I have memories of a man I saw for several months of Sunday’s. He was sitting in a wheelchair, each time blocking the sidewalk the diners used to and from the restaurant.  I often saw him mumbling something as people passed by, but with the usual response, people would look down or away, just preferring not to be bothered.  But on a few occasions, I did see the man sitting with a white Styrofoam container on his lap – I assume someone’s leftovers or a meal that had been purchased for him.

One Sunday I arrived to pick up my mom, and the only place to park was right in front of the man in the wheelchair.  Once again he had placed himself in the middle of the sidewalk, so I resigned myself to the fact that our paths would indeed have to cross for the briefest of moments.  As I exited my car, my first thought was – I hope he doesn’t ask me for money

Nevertheless, I readied myself with a few “good deed” dollars and quickly tried to scoot around him.  But just as I dreaded, I heard him mumble something to me as I passed by.  I couldn’t in good conscience be rude and just ignore him, so I turned and said, “What was that, sir?”

The man was filthy – unshaven, smelled of poor hygiene, open wounds – an obvious depiction of months or years on the streets.  As I hesitated, he looked at me and said, “My name is Bob.”  I politely offered a pleasantry, “It’s nice to meet you, Bob”, followed quickly with my reason for immediate departure, “But I need to go inside to get my mom.” 

His next comment made it impossible for me to simply brush off the encounter.  “I’m dying”, he said with a falter in his voice.  I honestly didn’t know what to say to Bob in that moment.  He wasn’t seeking a handout or sympathy, he was just sincerely sharing from the very depths of his tattered spirit. 

I looked into his eyes now filling with tears, and spoke the only words that came to mind, “Well, Bob, if you are dying, tell God you want to be with Him when you go.”  He immediately dropped his head, covered his face with his dirty hands, and sorrowfully said, “Please don’t do that to me.”

I knew immediately he wasn’t asking me not to “preach” at him.  Instead, I sensed he couldn’t believe that a better life after this was something he deserved or could believe in.

“Bob,” I said, stooping a bit to meet his eyes, “there’s nothing you’ve done that can keep God from loving you.  And He wants you to be with Him in eternity.” 

As soon as I said those words, I looked up to see my mom shuffling out of the restaurant on her own.  Torn, I now had to tell Bob that I really did need to go get my mom.  But before I could step away, he asked, “What’s your name?”  I told him, “Renee.”  Then he reached out for my hand.  Reluctantly obliging, I gave him my hand and he kissed it and said, “Thank you, Renee.”

After settling my mom in the car, and before I got in to go, I said to the forgotten man in the wheelchair, “Remember to pray Bob. God’s waiting for you.”  To which he nodded and raised a hand to say good-bye.

I never saw Bob again.  I don’t know if he moved on to another location or took his last breath on this side of eternity.  But I do know that my path crossed Bob’s for a reason that day.  Maybe it was to ease his fear of dying, or maybe just to let him know that God loved him no matter what.  But I can honestly say that one day when I make it to the “other side”, I hope to meet and shake hands with Bob, healed, whole, and happy.

In this time of great despair in our world, it’s difficult to know how we can help.  Certainly, there are those situations where personal involvement is not wise or safe or advised.  But each one of us has the opportunity to say a small prayer on behalf of those we encounter.  We can ask God to reassure hurting hearts of His love, and ask Him to reach into bruised spirits with guidance toward a better tomorrow.  And as we pray, I am confident God will send His angels to minister to those broken “Bobs” who are longing for hope.

My Apology, Your Band Aid

One of the greatest challenges of child-rearing is “getting it right”. While the goal of raising happy, healthy children absent any blunders or mistakes is a noble one, it sadly is not realistic. The truth is, parents frequently fall short of the parental ideal depicted in 1950’s sitcom reruns. Life is complicated, and its pressures often lead us in directions that result in feelings of parental failure and frustration.

For instance, how many times have we snapped at our children when the issue was more about our state of mind than their behavior? How many times has our stress or impatience delivered a sterner response than was warranted by an adolescent’s lack of wisdom and experience? The self-imposed expectation of “right” reactions in all scenarios can be overwhelming. But what if our focus changed from “getting it right” to simply making things better when we don’t. When our honest communication following a misstep bandages an emotional wound we never intended.

My sisters and I grew up in a home of rigid, harsh discipline, my father’s uncensored anger the driving force. While we never verbally questioned the unreasonableness of his parental rule, our frustration on occasion would betray our faces and expose our feelings of unfairness. To that, a barrage of “because” would commence – the most reiterated, “because I said so”. To complicate matters, my mother was emotionally detached, herself falling into unhealthy, reactionary patterns. Sadly in this scenario, getting it right was not a consideration, and the unattended heart wounds that were left to fester and cause damage were abundant.

From adolescence, my sister and I determined we would not be like our parents. We never wanted our children to be trapped in unfairness and frustration, never understanding the significance of the “offense” or the “whys” behind disciplinary measures. Committed to a different style of parenting, we promised ourselves that our children would experience reason rather than reaction, a sense of nurturing rather than oppression.

Fast forward to adulthood and it became clear that the pressures of life, with regularity, interfere with “getting it right.” Not to the degree of our childhood experiences thankfully, but undesired nonetheless. So what then? How do we address unintended wounds after unachieved goals? How do we mend breaches between the young ones entrusted to our care and our mistakes?

Quite simply, we humbly and honestly offer a band aid – an apology when warranted, and an explanation when needed. Neither action compromises our authority, and will most likely inspire forgiveness after “not” getting it right.

I remember a specific incident when my sister reacted to one of her children in a particularly harsh way. The issue itself wasn’t major, but since it was a new challenge in their relationship, it felt monumental. Hours later and in tears, she confessed to me how her reaction had been unreasonable to the offense. Her son had not acted out of defiance or rebelliousness, he was merely maneuvering a path he had never walked before and made a decision based on his not-yet mature reasoning.

After explaining her undesired reaction to the situation, I asked her what happened next. She shared they both went their separate ways, but after several minutes she knocked on her son’s door for a follow-up – her normal procedure. 

“Then what?” I  asked. She responded that she sat on his bed, apologized for her delivery, and in a calmer manner honestly shared the reasons for her concerns.

“Then what?” I prompted. She shared he apologized for his reaction and agreed that her concerns did make sense. They then hugged, apologized to each other again for the miscommunication, and she left his room, both saying “I love you” before the door closed.

“Then that’s what he’ll remember,” I assured her. Not the blow up, but the purposed decision to address the frustration the confrontation produced. Effects that had the potential to linger and cause emotional division, were soothed through humility and honesty. When her son emerged from his room minutes later, there was no residual anger or tension, because the band aid had been applied and healing had already begun.

Today, my sister enjoys a very loving and rewarding relationship with her four grown children because she implemented the practice of bandaging unintended wounds. And over the years I’ve watched as her children have exercised the same principles with each other, with their significant others, and now with their own children.

Some of our family’s fondest memories, when we belly-laugh around the table, are those moments of stupid mistakes and reactionary blunders. But the hurt is not the theme of their stories, it’s the bond and acknowledgement of growth that takes center stage.

I’ve learned there are several steps to successful bandaging. The first requirement: assessment. After a blow-up occurs, when lines have been drawn and opposite corners occupied, you must assess your reaction based on the offense. Was the reaction dismissive, angry, impatient, or unreasonable? If yes, then consider the response that would have been more appropriate – the response you would have preferred if the roles were reversed.

Next comes humility. As parents, there’s a self-imposed expectation that we must be the authority of getting it right in all things. But that is not realistic, and, it’s okay to admit that truth. When the dust settles following an unfortunate confrontation, approach your child with a spirit of reconciliation. Be thoughtful of your words, formulating them slowly with the intent of bringing healing to the relational tear. Be careful here not to view the response and message as one in the same. Consider only the method of the delivery. The message of concern may be valid, but the faulty expression should be the focus.

Honestly apologize for your response, convey why it wasn’t the best, and why it probably happened. For instance: I’m sorry I snapped at you. I’ve been under a lot of pressure at work, but it wasn’t fair to take it out on you. Or, I apologize for my reaction. Sometimes I’m not a good listener, and I need to do better so I can hear you.  

At this point resist the desire to preach or emphasize their “part” in the confrontation. Allow silence to marinate your words, hopefully prompting acceptance of your apology. Chances are your child is just as anxious to relieve the tension as you are, and will express their forgiveness, removing the largest boulder from the road to reconciliation.

Once forgiven, prepare to honestly share your concerns about their choice or indiscretion. Start this part of the conversation addressing the consequences you fear may follow their decision. Don’t belittle them or defend your “rightness”, rather speak from the wisdom of your years, and your desire for their happiness and well-being.

“Getting it right” will always be a challenge, and our unsuccessful attempts will accentuate that truth over and over again. But if we redirect our focus to “making it better” when relational wounds do occur, applying band aids of humility, honesty, and patience, then healing will become the theme of the story.

The Story We Write

I attended a memorial service recently.  It was not an overly sad occasion – the departed in her mid-eighties, having lived a full and happy life. She raised two children, and was grandma to 6 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren. Her family described her as caring and devoted; her friends and neighbors remembered her hospitality and the pot of coffee that was always ready for morning and afternoon chats. For those whose lives intertwined with hers, she was remembered as a good listener, and a generous woman with her time, attention, and kindness.

The service was typical in every way, until the pastor stood to speak.  Usually in those settings the left-behind are encouraged to take comfort in their memories, and to consider their own eternal destinations, but this pastor began his commentary by challenging each person with one simple statement –

“You know, just as our departed did, everyone here is writing their own eulogy.”

I think in that moment he captured everyone’s attention, because we became very aware that how the departed conducted her life – her choices to be kind and giving, supportive and dependable – supplied all of the meaningful sentiment for that gathering. She had been writing a story spanning 85 years, and it was one of which she could be extremely proud.

As we go through each day, I believe it’s important for us to remember that our character and actions, the words we speak and the goodness we express, are writing the story that will be shared at our departure. Family and friends may speak on our behalf, but we ourselves will have provided them with the content.

I for one want the themes of my story to be thoughtfulness, generosity, devotion, helpfulness, and humor, to name a few. I want each chapter to inspire good memories that will be recalled and shared with generations to come. I want to write an amazing eulogy now, ensuring that there won’t be enough words to adequately describe how I blessed those who shared life with me.    

Healing Hands

(an excerpt from “Life’s Journey”)

Many years ago I had a dog that wandered beyond the perimeter of the backyard into a field overgrown with weeds. As I watched her make her way back into the yard, I noticed she was limping, favoring her back paw. Understanding she probably picked up a rock or thorn in her travels, I sympathetically called her to me so I could remedy the irritation. But my normally obedient and responsive dog began to slowly and purposefully circle beyond my reach. As I continued to call her to me and attempted to move closer, she deliberately circled further out, avoiding all contact. I was frustrated by her response because clearly my desire was to relieve her of pain – she knew I loved her, she knew I wanted to help, so why then did she continue to avoid me?

Finally, knowing what was best for her, I sternly commanded her to lie down. Hesitantly she obeyed, but as I made my way toward her I sensed her desperate desire to ignore the command and again move out of reach. As I began to lay her on her side I was met with resistance and defensiveness, and as I began to examine her paw I received a response I had never experienced before – my dog growled at me. Though I had always been a loving and caring master to my friend, in that moment her pain was so great she could not allow herself to be vulnerable to me.  She was resigned to experiencing ongoing, continual pain rather than risk the anticipated pain of removing the irritant. To her benefit, the love I felt for my friend would not allow me to leave her in pain. As I soothed her fears, assuring her of my concern and promising only my best, she became vulnerable, opening herself to my healing hands. After I removed the deeply imbedded thorn the relief and liberation was apparent as her walk was renewed and her enthusiasm returned.

Just as my canine companion was required to be vulnerable in order to exchange her hardship for my help, on life’s journey I have been required to be vulnerable to a loving and caring God in order to experience forward motion. Certainly there were times I circled far beyond His reach, deliberately avoiding exposure of my wounds and the touch of His healing hand. I am aware of many occasions when I growled at God’s desire to address the source of my pain. Simply put, I was afraid. But when the thought of living with ongoing, continual pain scared me even more, when the prospect of limping through life finally became too much to bear, when I accepted the possibility that He did not want me to remain in pain, I was able to assume the risk of vulnerability in exchange for a renewed and fulfilling journey.

If you are walking in pain, I promise that God wants to bring healing and relief to your burden. You may be afraid that it will hurt too much to let Him touch the tender spots, but once His hands have finished their work, I know you will experience all the hope a loving God intends. Perhaps now is the time to ask for the touch of His healing hands.

Dear Younger Me

Most everyone has heard the saying – if I knew then what I know now – a line usually followed by a barrage of what-might-have-been regrets filling our minds.

I wondered the other day what advice 60 year-old me would have given 20 year-old me as I stood on the doorstep of adulthood decisions – choices that would shape and impact my life’s journey.

I pondered my successes and triumphs, and was pleased with those accomplishments. I also mulled over my mistakes and failures, as well as missed opportunities. Sadly, when stacked side by side, my successes didn’t measure up to the missteps I’d made along the way – decisions and compromise that took me down unnecessary paths of hardship and regret.

After weighing the if onlys and what might have beens, I decided the advice I would have given younger me was – you get one chance to get it right the first time. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we can get through this life error-free, but I do think a purposed approach to decisions and crossroads can keep us on the path of steady ground rather than slogging through the trenches in knee-deep mud.

God has equipped us with tools to get it right the first time. We call them “nudges” or “impressions” or “conscience”. There are moments on our journey when conscience will tap us on the shoulder and plead it’s case – nagging us in the quiet moments or causing our heart to pound wildly when it knows we are about to abandon its truth. Innately human beings know good decisions from bad, and understand right from wrong, and God never misses an opportunity to emphasize the “right” ones on our behalf.

Because He desires that we live the best life possible, God continually nudges us in an effort to reveal the direction that will bring the greatest benefit to our journey. But nudges and impressions and conscience must be recognized, then received, then responded to in order to experience their effectiveness.

Taking some time to imagine where I could have been emotionally, relationally, professionally, and spiritually if I had responded to the nudges right away throughout my early life, has challenged me to waste no more time on getting it right the first time in this stage of life. With God’s help – His grace and favor active in my heart and mind – I will do just that.

Several years ago Christian band Mercy Me released the song, “Dear Younger Me”. Take a moment to listen, and ask yourself, what advice would you give younger you. Then ask, is the current you willing to listen, and ready to respond to God’s helpful and valuable nudges.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-l70C3ePyIQ

Simplify

When my nephews played Little League baseball, I regularly attended their Saturday games. The two fields they played on were on the direct path to the snack bar, so sitting on the bleachers I observed the continual trek of players and coaches, parents and siblings, heading to the hot dog grill and snow cone machine.

One spring afternoon I watched as a young girl – maybe 7 years old – walked by with her puppy on a leash. He was quite young and rambunctious, and she was doing her best to manage him well, but his interest in the crowd was apparent.

Sliding off the bleachers, I walked over to the girl and asked if I could pet her puppy. She agreed, and as I reached down to scratch behind his ears, I asked what kind of dog he was. She sweetly announced, “He’s a mixed-up German Shepard.” I smiled, amused by the matter-of-factness of her response.

Of course I understood he was a German Shepard mix, but the simplicity of her child’s-perspective made the explanation pure and uncomplicated.

I’ve thought of that encounter numerous times over the years, and have shared the story with many. I’ve often pondered how much fun our days could be if our approach to life was simplified whenever possible. If when an impromptu tickle monster chase ensues, the dishwashing is postponed. If when our sons/grandsons build a fort with the sofa cushions, we grab a flashlight to join them on the adventure. If when our daughters/granddaughters set the tea party table, we don a silly hat and sip pretend tea while making real memories.

And may we also be mindful of the kid within. May an occasional Friday night find us at the local Dairy Queen reminiscing over childhood memories, instead of watching the week’s news in review. Once in a while, may we gather friends at the park, tossing a Frisbee instead of contemplating what tomorrow’s schedule will bring.

On its own, life can be complicated enough. But when chances present themselves – may we try to simplify. May we enjoy, may we laugh, and for the moments we’re given, may we live uncomplicated.

The Lesson I Learned from a Can of Olives

This month I lost my uncle. He was 81; my uncle for 61 years. When you’re a kid, simple gestures can leave a lasting impression; seemingly every day acts producing life long memories. That was true of my Uncle Harold.

When I was about 8 or 9 years old, my family weaved in and out of financial hardships – my dad being laid off with great regularity. So the “essentials” of the day were what we knew, with little possibility of “extras” or “treats”. In one of the leanest times my family paid a visit to my Uncle Harold and Aunt Joan – then in their late twenties. As the adults visited, my uncle brought out a can of unpitted olives, poured them in a bowl, and set them down in front of me and my two sisters. I don’t remember his exact words, but they went something like this… these are all yours. We were overwhelmed with excitement – we loved olives, and it was a whole can just for us! Feeling rich in that moment, we happily ate every last one. As a young adult my Uncle Harold showed great generosity, a quality that spoke not only to his sensitivity and spirit, but also made a forever imprint on a young girl’s heart.

As the years progressed, my uncle routinely demonstrated great generosity by having me and my sisters babysit his two daughters – always having the refrigerator and cupboards stocked with all sorts of goodies that we were encouraged to enjoy. One time he even asked us to take his girls to the state fair – probably knowing it would be our only opportunity to go ourselves. And his tradition of generosity continued as the number of family nephews and nieces grew – Uncle Harold placing a crisp twenty dollar bill in an envelope for each child at our Christmas Eve celebrations. It was a moment of pure exhilaration when Uncle Harold made his way through the room with the special holiday envelopes in hand.

His generosity not only touched my hope-starved heart as a kid, but it taught me that the simplest kindnesses can have an incredible impact on the path a person may choose in the future. All my life I have remembered the feeling I got from that can of olives, and I’ve developed a desire to share that feeling with others who are working hard at doing life, but might be hope-challenged in the process.

As an adult, if I pass a child’s street corner lemonade stand void of customers, I’ll pull over, ask for a fifty cent cup, take a sip of “the best lemonade I’ve ever had”, and hand the child a five dollar bill. The thrill on their face when they realize they’re accomplishing their goal is priceless.

At a recent lunch with co-workers, I witnessed a young teenager outside the pizza parlor walk briskly to open the door for an older lady trying to exit the restaurant with an armload of take-out pizzas. The lady expressed her appreciation, and the young man, who looked like his spirit was heavy, continued on his way. Realizing that the young man might just need to hear that his good deed “mattered”, I left my table, stepped out the door, and called out to him. As he returned to meet me, I explained that I had seen his kindness and was impressed by his thoughtfulness – consideration not seen much now days. He smiled, surprised and appreciative. Then I pulled a ten dollar bill from my pocket and told him to do something nice for himself. I sensed that he was stunned. But more than the appreciation for the gift, I hope he remembers how that moment felt, and purposes to look for opportunities to pass it on to others.

May we all desire to be influencers in this life, and follow the example of my Uncle Harold – with our hearts aware and our shelves always stocked with cans of olives.

Thanks Uncle Harold for the memories, but more importantly, for the life lesson.

Right Turn, Wrong Direction

When I was a newly licensed driver, a joke was played on me by my uncle. I was asked to run an errand; the person I was to meet would be standing in a driveway several streets away. With great emphasis the directions were explained; with great responsibly I tucked them in my memory. Off I went – proud, confident, independent.

Per my instructions, I turned right at the first street, then right at the next.  At the third corner I made another right, followed by a final right at the fourth street. As I unwittingly completed the full circle, my uncle laughed gleefully in the driveway as I embarrassingly pulled up in front of his house. Unproductive directions had brought me right back to the starting point.

In this story, the directions were obviously meant for fun. But in life, how many times do we allow unproductive patterns and habits to move us in circles – emotional, relational, and spiritual choices that keep leading us back to the same old place – places that make us feel foolish and ashamed, defeated and unsuccessful.

We are meant to live in forward motion. God intends life to be fulfilling and rewarding. But we must first identify the turns that are unproductive and repeated, and then purposefully plot a new and successful course. In my life, I have discovered the best directions for navigating my most rewarding journey come from the God who knows me best and desires to see me happily moving in forward motion.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of stopping and asking for directions.

I Kicked a Rock

My life motto is – “you know what would be fun?” At 61 years of age, I still try to find moments of fun and whimsy in every day.  In the hectic pace of adulthood, I consider those moments “necessary exhales”. While my antics at times raise the eyebrows of the responsible and serious, I also think my kid-like spirit often draws them into the possibilities of “play”.

At break time I usually walk with a couple of co-workers. Twice a day we circle the business complex, clocking in about a mile with each walk. One day a round rock on the path caught my attention. Having my break-time tennis shoes on, my inner kid thought – “you know what would be fun?” And at that, I kicked the rock, watching it roll about thirty feet ahead of me. Once I caught up to the quarter-sized stone, I kicked it again, while still maintaining an adult-like conversation with my walking companions.

The rock rolled another thirty feet. About forty feet from where it stopped, there was a large storm grate in the middle of the parking lot. Suddenly my inner-kid wondered, “Can I sink the rock in the storm drain?” Another kick of the rock put me about ten feet shy, and with the next kick, I shot past the grate by about twenty feet. Not to worry though, because two more storm grates loomed just ahead.

The rock kicking continued on each walk for several days – the kicks became about as natural as the steps themselves. The playful moments never hindered our pace, and our co-worker conversations never suffered because of my momentary play time. Quite honestly it seemed like my fun went unnoticed. That is, until the day I sunk a rock.

On that mid-morning walk, about twenty feet from the target I reared my foot back then quickly forward, my shoe tapping the rock with just the right force and trajectory to roll it straight into the opening of the storm grate. I was thrilled. But even more exciting than my inner-kid celebration, was the reaction of my co-workers. As they watched the rock roll, and then disappear between the metal bars, our conversation stopped and their arms went up in a touchdown formation, both of them shouting out a very enthusiastic, “Whoa!”

I realized at that moment, that everyone’s inner-kid wants to come out and play. But sometimes they just don’t remember how to get started. That day was the awaking of my co-workers’ inner-kids. And now, many of our walks include each of us spotting a rock and taking a shot at a storm drain – each of us ready to celebrate a much needed moment of play.

Whimspiration’s challenge to all the grown-ups whose inner-kids have been silent… bring them out to play!

Unstable Stability

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