you’ve got a friend (in me).

As many of you know from the rest of my social media presence, my youngest graduated from PreK this week.  It was all the gloriousness you would imagine.  There were caps and gowns, diplomas, pictures, refreshments.  For part of the program her class sang the song “You’ve got a friend in me” from the movie Toy Story®.  It was, as you can imagine, adorable.  And then the big one had her first acting gig in the church musical.  She nailed it. And back to the little’s ballet recital.  Killed it.  And now we ready ourselves for the last week of school. Of course, you can’t go through this time of year, full of its transitions, without some reflection on the months that have passed.

It was a little over a year ago.  I was listening to some music on a run and for some reason I started thinking about what it meant to be merciful. I was quick to realize that I didn’t really have any idea how to describe or understand or even think about mercy. This, of course, was disconcerting to me having been married to the Pastor for almost 15 years at that point. I was at a loss.  So I decided I would spend some time trying to figure out what mercy was, where it was present, how it happened.  And turns out, mercy showed up in all sorts of places. What I discovered is that mercy might be hard to understand because it is that sneaky thing that is always around but not obvious.  But when you start looking for it, when you take the time to seek it out, you will find it’s all around. In the last year I have been enveloped in mercy.

Mercy is your best friend from long ago and also today getting up before the sun does to go to the YMCA with you.  Even though she could go later…because you can’t.  It is a new friend who came along just at the right time and always tells the truth even when it’s not nice.  And reminds you they are there to stick through the best of times and the worst of times. You can feel it when you sit for coffee with someone who has been in your shoes and nods their head in understanding.  You feel it when that call or text arrives at the exact perfect moment from someone you don’t often get to see but the friendship remains none the less.

Mercy shows up in a big blue van driven by a teensy twenty something year old who picks up kids, who look nothing like mine, after school and nourishes them with food, education and love four days a week.  It’s there when those same kids are on stage at your church next to your own reciting lines in the cheesy kids musical that makes you tear up because you know that this demonstration of inclusion and unity is what God intended. And soon those kids aren’t those kids at all.  They are just kids like mine and yours, showing up every week.

Mercy happens when that person who thought she’d never have a baby sees that face on the ultrasound, or even better, holds that person in their arms. But it is also there when you hold someone’s hand as you give them bad news or grieve with them in the losses great and small.

Mercy happens when the Pastor does a funeral for what can only be described as a tragedy and reminds us that the gospel is an unconventional story and we have an unconventional Savior.  And so is mercy.  It’s there in the loud and in the quiet.  In the wins and in the losses.  It’s wherever we show up and remind each other that there’s mercy enough for each of us.

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but that’s my seat.

It was supposed to be a giant ice storm.  That’s what the ladies and gents on TV told us.  A large amount of ice and freezing rain was heading to the metro and we’d better prepare. So schools were closed, patients were moved up, generators were readied, salt and sand was placed on the roadways. Grocery stores were emptied of bread and milk and lots of other things this week in preparation for the ice.  If you actually needed bread and milk, because you were out at home, you were out of luck.  It was being gobbled up by anxious citizens bracing for the ice apocalypse. And then we waited…and waited…and waited.

We did eventually get some ice on the trees and a bit on the roads but it came about 24 hours after everyone predicted and wasn’t nearly as bad as anticipated.  Overall a good thing.  But times like these always make me realize how much we buy into the myth of scarcity.  There will be a disaster and not enough to go around.

So what are the other myths in our lives?  I’ll try to tackle some that I see on a not so infrequent basis.

  • “I did such and such method, (cry it out, shushing baby, swaddle, feed on demand, screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-8-39-30-ametc etc) and my baby was such a good such and such (sleeper, breastfeeder, transitioner).”  Reality check:  Babies do what they want.  We can try all the tricks in the book but some kids sleep well and some don’t.  Some are good eaters and some, who shall remain nameless, just jump up and down on their chair instead of eating during dinner time.
  • That spot in that public place you’ve claimed?  Well it doesn’t actually belong to you.  This happens at all sorts of places.  Someone takes “your seat” at church.  You are “saving” that piece of gym equipment while you use something else.  This is where you “always” park.  Reality check: None of those things are yours.  The church pew doesn’t belong to you no matter how many weeks in a row you’ve sat there.  That leg lift machine you’re saving is going to be used by me now, well, because you’re not actually using it. I get it.  We find security in routine. But I’ve only got so much time at the gym in the morning and you’re wasting it leg press saving guy.
  • “Someone else will do it.”  Giving the money, cleaning up the trash, standing up for injustice, speaking out when someone is doing harm.  Reality check: If you aren’t willing to do it, then why do you think someone else will?  None of us are really braver than you.  Either do stuff or don’t do stuff but don’t let yourself off the hook by assuming someone else will do it.  That someone else thinks you are already taking care of whatever it is.
  • Just because you can post something doesn’t mean you should.  Reality check: As first conceptualized by one of the church girls and then paraphrased by yours truly…”If you won’t say it to someone’s FACE then don’t post it on FACEBOOK.” img_3945 Seriously.  You don’t like someone’s opinions or beliefs?  That’s ok.  But it doesn’t mean you need to attempt to harm or discredit them.  I am almost 100 percent certain that no one’s mind or heart has ever been radically transformed by a hastily penned angry Facebook comment.  Trust me, it’s not easy.  I have about a thousand deleted comments that I thought were not only on point but witty and sharp.  They never made it to publication.  Why?  Because it just doesn’t help.
  • And finally “that’s just the way I am.”  The Pastor knows this is my least favorite myth that people live by.  Reality check:  You are never too old to change.  The person you were in 2016 does not define who you are in 2017.  The person you are today does not control the person you can be tomorrow.  And if you change something about yourself and you don’t like it?  Guess what?  Change again.  My favorite people in life are those who have lived enough and learned enough about themselves to know what to hold on to from each phase of life and what to let go.  That bad attitude you had all last year?  Don’t drag it along to 2017, let’s try something new.  Those hateful things you said?  Do better in the coming days and months.  Living your life as “that’s just the way I am” seems utterly disappointing and fairly sad to me.

There was no massive ice storm.  So maybe take that extra bread and milk and those extra hours at home and see if you can debunk any myths in your own life!  Here’s to living in reality and realizing you can make change in your own life in 2017!

 

empathy in transition.

This week marked the 7th year since one of my best friends lost her father to lymphoma.  She was 35 weeks pregnant at the time.

Loss is a terrible transition.  The Pastor would say that all transitions in life are difficult, even the good ones.  That learning to navigate transition and helping others walk through it is a sign of leadership.  I see that.  When babies are born mothers become grandmothers, husbands become fathers and sometimes everyone loses their mind.  Why?  Because it’s a transition.  A similar thing happens when we transition from caregivers to patients, from leaders to members of the group, from the beloved to the unloved.  I think what we need most in times of loss, in times of transition, in times of need is not advice, is not prayer, is not experience, but is empathy.

What does it mean to be empathetic?  Simply, as Merriam-Webster would say, it is to understand and share in another person’s experience and emotion.  I think we assume that empathy is easy.  That our culture appreciates it and puts it into practice regularly.  I’d like to respectfully disagree.  I believe that empathy is a learned practice and that we have little practice or patience for it.  You see, being empathetic takes time.  It means we are choosing to sit with another in their silence, in their sadness, and attempt to understand.

In medicine we must practice empathy.  Our patients experience pain, loss and transitions we have never been close to experiencing.  Sometimes it’s easy.  When we cut on someone’s body in an effort to cure them we know that they will be in great pain.  It’s not hard to empathize with the hurt that our incisions inflict in an effort to heal.  We may not have experienced pain to the magnitude of our patients but we understand what pain is and can walk with them through recovery.  Sometimes it’s not so easy.  Our patients experience things like stillbirth, complicated medical illnesses that destroy and debilitate, poverty and hunger we may never know.  We can imagine what they may feel and experience, but it is much more difficult to empathize: to understand and share in their grief may be close to impossible.  Finally, our own experience may get in the way.  Someone who experiences pregnancy and delivery in the same way I did is easy to empathize with.  Another who has a more difficult time may get less of my empathy since they aren’t dealing with the daily grind of carrying another human around in the same way that I did.

When Jamie stood up in the front row of the church with her pregnant round belly shooting forward in her black dress and her tears streaming down her face as she said goodbye to her father, I had no idea how to empathize.  I could not even begin to imagine her grief.  I’m sure my empathy in those early weeks and months was pretty mediocre.  But now we have sat together in sadness and sometimes silence for 7 years.  And she has taught me what true empathy is.  It takes practice.  It is uncomfortable.  It means asking hard questions about thoughts and feelings.  It means walking with someone through the most difficult transitions and staying with them for as long as it takes to get to the other side.

So whether you find yourself in the midst of a difficult transition, or you are in the role of walking with someone through that transition, remember empathy is your greatest role as a Christian, as a friend, as a care provider or just as a human.  Prayer, advice, experience all have their place but empathy will reach further than any of those and change you as you change the lives of others.