Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Love Story

Think for a minute about the greatest love story you can imagine.  Movies have shown us amazing romances, with gifts, fancy nights out, perfect words whispered in the perfect tone of voice.  The books I read in junior high always had the man so in love that he couldn't even notice another woman, his words were always smooth and the sex was magical (yep sex books in junior high).  

One of my favorite love stories though, didn't happen in a book or a movie.  It didn't even happen in a romantic setting.  I witnessed it in white hallways filled with the smell of urine, confused elderly people and grumpy nursing assistants.  The summer I worked as a CNA (certified nursing assistant) was eye opening.  I imagined that the people who worked at the nursing home were there because they wanted to serve someone.   And some of them were, so sweet and respectful to the people we cared for; taking the extra time to make sure they had everything they needed, taking the time to listen.  I didn't know that people who didn't care about the little old people would apply for and get a job like that.  So I was shocked when I saw CNA's who were disrespectful, didn't care or were even mean to the people we were supposed to care for.  Often it was just neglect; hair left unbrushed, faces unwashed.  But their was one woman who lived at the home who was always well cared for.  I remember the first morning she was assigned to my care.  One of the more seasoned CNA's said I wasn't ready to take care of her, she would do her care with me so that I would learn to do it right.  She said it wasn't that I wasn't doing a good job but this woman was special.  So we went through the routine.  Everything had to be just perfect.  The right pillows in the right places, her hair brushed just so, her clothes arranged just right.  This woman couldn't do anything for herself, and she couldn't complain if things weren't done just right.  As we went about our routine the other CNA said "her husband will be here in about an hour.  Everything needs to be perfect by then."  

I think I was expecting a tyrant, but I recognized the man when he came because I had seen him every day I had worked so far.  He was just a regular older man, soft spoken.  He came every day and stayed by her side.  He fed her, brushed her long hair and styled it.  He would sit by her chair, his face close to hers and smile into her eyes as he talked to her.  He would touch her face tenderly--his love for his wife was obvious.  He was also fiercely protective.  The soft spoken man disappeared if he arrived to find she hadn't been cared for like she was supposed to be.  He was her voice, her advocate, her defender.   It was almost puzzling, the way he loved her.  She couldn't give him anything anymore.  She couldn't return his tender caress, his words of love.  She couldn't serve him in any way.   

Ephesians 5:25-28 says "Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ's love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They're really doing themselves a favor—since they're already "one" in marriage." (message)  

I don't know if the man was following scripture or just doing what naturally came out of the love he had for his wife.  But I know it impressed me.  And then I forgot about it.  I was 20, independent,  full of plans for an amazing future.  My (future) husband was going to love me but he wasn't going to need to take care of me.  But 24 years later this older man keeps coming to my mind.  I really think the Holy Spirit keeps reminding me of him.  My awesome plans for my future haven't exactly turned out like I thought they would.  And the independence I cherished has faded down to a low point lately as my health problems have brought on symptoms that make me depend on others more than I really ever wanted to.  I never looked at this old couple's relationship and thought "I want that."  

I'm not big on public affection either.  I cringe when I see friends on facebook talking about how awesome their significant other is.  I always think, "just tell them!  Why are you telling all of us?" (and for everyone I just offended, truly it's not you--it's me.  Keep it up if it makes you happy because it truly is my issue.)  For some reason I'm not different than I was back in highschool when I was still 16 and didn't want my friends to know that I really liked Rick Knowles.   But I am going to make myself (and maybe anyone like me) sick for a minute and publicly proclaim that I really like the man that I married.  

Because I can see now that Rick really does love me like that old man loved his wife in the nursing home.  Lately I don't carry my weight around the house, Rick works all day and then comes home and cooks.  He takes me to the doctor, he takes me to the grocery store, he rubs my head and my back, he researches doctors and treatments online and most importantly he prays for me, with me, and tells me over and over that he would pick me again EVEN IF he knew all of the challenges my health would bring into our lives.    He's thankful to have me in his life in whatever state I happen to be in.   When we first started dating I wanted this exotic romance that would take us on adventures around the world. I wanted flowers and diamonds and fancy restaurants.  Instead I see now that those things make great stories and they're probably fun but they're not really what true love is about.   True love is about being there, it's about laying down your own life for someone else.  For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. And that's what Rick does.  So next time you see him, tell him that he's a really nice (older) man and that you really respect and admire the way he loves his wife.  

Friday, December 9, 2011

Where's My Concern?

An old friend of mine posted a heartbreaking video on bullying this week on facebook.  And in the comments one of his friends remarked about how different high school would have been if we could have all just been ourselves.   The post and conversations got me thinking about bullying and the pain of high school.  Not so much reflecting on my own experience but more about reflecting on my cluelessness. 

I think I’m clueless because I don’t have any memories of my friend being bullied.  All I remember is that he was such a nice guy.  I remember that he wasn’t ever mean to me.  I remember liking him so much and I just assumed everyone felt the same way.  And I think that’s why there’s so much pain when you’re bullied.  It’s usually completely undeserved.   You’re just a person who doesn't fit the mold in some way and that makes you a target.  For me, it was that I was tall and skinny and got good grades.  (Or maybe it was because I was a nerd and didn’t know it—ha-ha)  The other thing that I thought about was that part of what was so painful about not fitting in and being picked on is that it always seems like everyone is in on it but you.  Everyone else is cool, everyone feels the way the bully feels about you.  My cluelessness shows that this isn’t always the case.  It makes me think that there were lots of times when I felt like everyone was in on some meanness when in reality most of the school was completely unaware of the target on my back. 

Another friend posted the other day about her son being bullied.  Kids are stealing his things, hiding his school supplies.  Who knows why he’s the target.  And the emphasis was on teaching our children to be kind.  But teaching kindness isn’t enough.   We can teach kindness until we’re blue in the face but without the ability to empathize, it falls on deaf ears.  This takes me back to my cluelessness and the grief I feel about that.    I feel like I’m a pretty empathetic person and this shows that I completely missed some big clues.  So if empathy isn’t the key, and kindness isn't the key, what is?  I don’t have a simple answer.  I remember the pain of my daughter being excluded from a clique for the first time and all of these girls were kind, empathetic girls, one on one.  They had nice parents who taught them the right way to treat people.  But they still specifically excluded her.  I’ve seen my son on both sides of the equation, being labeled or excluded because he didn’t fit someone’s idea of who he should be and I’ve also known how painful it is to watch your child single another child out as the object of his taunting.  He was taught over and over that it was wrong.  It was addressed every time it happened.  Yet he did it anyway.  And if I’m honest I know I’ve done it…I think most of us could remember a time when we joined the crowd and someone else walked away hurting.

Philippians 2:3-5 says, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had." (NLT)

I was clueless about my friend being bullied because I was so concerned about myself.  But beyond my selfishness there was one other part (just one—yeah right) part of Jesus’ attitude that I didn’t have and I think it’s absent every time we see cruelty or bullying.  Jesus suspended judgment as he interacted with the world.  Yes, he called people, especially the Pharisees, on their wrongs.  But he knew everyone's heart and he could have walked around excluding everyone who was different from what he KNEW was right, but he didn’t.  He decided instead to walk in love and embrace people right where they were at.  He knew that this kind of genuine love can do far more than bullying can even pretend to accomplish.  He didn’t hang out with a particular type of person; he had friends from every social group.  He didn’t care what other people thought of him because of who he chose to hang around.   I cared.  The opinions of the very people who were mean to me still mattered.  And this concern captured more of my attention and energy than what was going on in the lives of my friends. 

I wish I knew of a simple way to teach this to children, but I don’t.  I guess it needs to start with me.  Really, it needs to start with all of us.  I need to take my eyes off of MY life, MY issues, MYself, and really start seeing others with Jesus’ eyes.  Eyes that are humble, full of love, full of empathy and full of compassion.  I need to drop my attitude and take on Jesus’ attitude that only God’s opinion and priorities matter. 

And to my friend, I’m sorry that I didn’t see when others were bullying you.  If I could go back I would see with new eyes and be a better friend who was aware of what was going on in your life because you matter—both to me and to God.