Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Selling Love in a Tent

There is a Valentines Day tent set up in the parking lot of one our local retailers today. They are marketing flowers, candy, stuffed animals, and a wide assortment of heart shaped objects just waiting to be purchased. Valentines Day is big business. I won’t be visiting the tent today.  I have already ordered something I thought to be unique and fitting for the occasion.

Valentines Day is supposed to be a day that represents love. Actually I think there is significant history behind the occasion that has some true substance to it, but such meaning has been lost in the shuffle.  Now we set up tents and market love. I am of a mind that we should avoid the retail trappings of Valentines Day and express real love to all of those whom we care deeply about.  I even have an idea how that can be accomplished.

If we want to show those we care about that we love and value them, it can be accomplished in one simple action. Listen.  I mean really listen. Listen without interrupting. Listen with our eyes as well as our ears.  Ask good questions and wait patiently for a response. 

In recent weeks, I have experienced the power of listening.  After listening carefully to the life story of a friend, I was told: “I feel like I have really been heard.” My friend felt valued and affirmed in a substantial way. I was actually surprised and taken back. I had to process that event for several days.  I think I had forgotten just how healing a listening ear can be for another person.

A few days later during a conversation over coffee another friend said: tell me about your mom and dad. (My parents have been deceased for decades.)  No one has asked me such a question in years. Once again I was taken back. I nearly found myself speechless. I don’t think I responded very well, but nevertheless I felt heard. And at that point I realized from being on the receiving end that being heard is profoundly healing.

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner.  Feel free to go to the tent, if you feel so compelled. There is no shortage of coconut filled chocolates or heart shaped objects to fit any person’s interest. But I am of a mind that a listening ear might very well be the best Valentine’s Day gift you can give the love of your life or a good friend. Your commitment to listening to that person’s story will impact their heart long after the candy has been consumed and the stuffed animal is collecting dust on a shelf somewhere.  After all love real love can't be sold in a tent. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

She Slammed on the Brakes and Told Me to Call for Help!

It happened over 20 years ago, but the lesson it is still imprinted firmly on my mind…In my role as a law enforcement chaplain, I was riding out with an officer on the day shift.  This particular officer had just completed a role in a lengthy undercover narcotics operation.  She had now returned to the patrol section, so I was assigned to interview her.  It was our desire as chaplains to do a better job serving officers working in deep undercover assignments. 

We had a very pleasant discussion that morning.  In fact at one point we drove through a new neighborhood where some beautiful new homes were under construction.  The streets in that development wound around well off the main thoroughfares. During our tour of homes she suddenly slammed on the brakes and said: We have just been shot and you have to tell dispatch where we are, so that they can get help to us. What is our exact location?  I failed the test. I am mean I failed with a flying "F."  I had no clue what street we were on.  This was a brand new sub division in the city!  I was instructed that in future ride a longs I would always know our precise location. I must say that the test was highly effective. Twenty years later I always know our location during ride a long.

It occurred to me today though that I don’t always know where I am in life.  And that is an equally important question. Where am I on the journey? Where do I find myself at this very moment?  How can I know where I am going if I don’t know where I am right now?

It is quite possible to go through life enjoying the beauty of our surroundings without giving much thought to where we are or where things are headed.  If we are suddenly ambushed by life’s circumstances, it is harder to cry out for help. We lack a sense of self awareness.   During such a situation an understanding of our past, or dreams for the future are not nearly as important as grasping where we are at this very moment.  How can we call for help if we don’t know where are in this very instant?

As I look back on it, I realize the officer I was with that day was experiencing hyper-vilgence.  The inherent danger of undercover law enforcement has that effect. But that is not all bad.  There is a life learning curve there. It is important to know where we are in life. Where am I? What I am thinking? Where am I going? And why am I making those choices today?  We never know when we may need to slam on the brakes and call out for help! 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Denying Someone the Power of Compassion

Yesterday as I lectured at a theological institute in Torreon, Mexico I noticed a lady sitting on the front row eagerly following everything I was saying in English. (My translator was taking everything I said and sharing it in Spanish as I delivered the lecture.)  Naturally it was reassuring to see that at least one person could understand my message in English. A little later in the day I learned more about her story.

Johanna (not her real name) was arrested in Texas years ago for very serious offenses.  She ended up in one of the state facilities that incarcerates female offenders in Gatesville.  I don’t know what all took place during her years of incarceration, but I do know that a church in that area took a special interest in her.

Once she was released she came back to her native Mexico. Johanna is an instrumental part of the theological institute today.  Additionally she is coordinating major efforts to reach out to the poorest among the poor in the area in and around Torreon, Mexico in the state of Coahuila.  I think she is an impressive lady to say the least. Her actions have the wheels in my head turning…

It occurs to me that we all have a past.  All of us… All of us have done things that we seriously regret.  Some have criminal records like Johanna. Others have made huge relational mistakes that have led to divorce or other forms of family breakups.  Everyone has a past.  Will we let our past offenses cripple us?  Do we consider ourselves sidelined in God’s service, because we perceive ourselves to be broken and thus inferior?

Could it be that we view ourselves as a life coach for others?  In our minds, they should be sidelined!  We take it upon ourselves to remove them from the game of service, because their flaws are particularly heinous in our minds. If someone had done that to Johanna, the poorest among the poor in this area of Northern Mexico would be denied the power of compassion.  Such thoughts keep me awake at night.  We need Johanna and others like her. Today when it is my turn to lecture I will view her with a deeper level of appreciation.