I Promise to Love, Honor, and Follow

Follow

Photo courtesy of Jens Johnsson on Pexels.com

Taken out of context, the 16th verse of the book of Ruth is often used as a scripture reading at weddings.

Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. —  Ruth 1:16 NLT

But surprise! These are not words of love between two people being married. Rather, it’s what a young woman named Ruth told her mother-in-law Naomi at a crucial point in their relationship.

Naomi and her husband had two sons, and they had lived happily in Bethlehem until a time of famine. Then, attempting to find better conditions, they crossed the Jordan River to a country called Moab. Unfortunately Naomi’s husband died an early death.

The boys grew up and married women from Moab. One son married Ruth and the other married a woman named Orpah. (Note: Spellcheck wants me to change that to Oprah, but it’s actually Orpah. Besides which, Oprah isn’t that old.)

We don’t learn why, but the two sons also died at an early age.

So the three widows were left together.

Naomi made the decision to go back to the family she had left in Bethlehem and entreated her two daughters-in-law to return to their own families there in Moab.

Orpah did so. But apparently, Ruth loved Naomi so much that she made a case of staying with Naomi. And that’s where the verse comes up:  And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. — King James Bible

I get to teach this lesson in Sunday School tomorrow, and I’m so happy. This story resonates with me especially at the beginning of November which is the anniversary date of when my own mother-in-law Rosalie left this earth.

I loved Rosalie every bit as much as Ruth loved Naomi. And without a doubt, I was loved back that much.

Naomi and Ruth, Norma and Rosalie.

I actually had the opportunity to present a tribute to Rosalie on the Mother’s Day the year before she died. I retold this lesson of Ruth and Naomi as I began speaking, “From my lips to your ears, Rosalie, whither thou goest, I will go…”

 

 

Remembering Peaches

Peaches

Peaches and Tim

Peaches. Not the sweet fruit, mind you, but the sweet woman who blessed our family’s life for nearly ten years.

Her real name was Teresa Sharp, but everybody called her Peaches. Our paths crossed when she was working in the nursery of St. James’ Episcopal Preschool. Peaches had been hired to watch over the teachers’ children in the church’s nursery.

We were relative newcomers to Warrenton and when I enrolled my daughter in the preschool, I was ecstatic to learn I could add one-year-old Tim to Miss Peaches’ nursery class.

The following year the nursery class option was discontinued due to insurance reasons. One door closes, another one opens. Peaches became Tim’s daycare provider when I went back to work and Laura started full-day kindergarten.

It was a relationship made in Heaven. She stayed on with our family for years, transitioning from full-time daycare to after-school care.

We all loved Peaches. She was gentle in spirit and strong in her convictions. That sweet smile could melt butter. She was a hard-working, courageous, Christian woman whom I trusted completely.

My favorite story about her is this: Tim had a favorite blankie that he took everywhere. Peaches wasn’t aware that Tim had set his blankie on top of the pile of old sheets and towels that she was cutting up into window-washing cloths. Yep, blankie was suddenly several mini-blankies. Peaches was more upset than any of us was, including Tim. A piece of that blankie rests in my writing room, so that story is never far from my mind.

Peaches’ life ended abruptly on December 13, 1998, when her ex-boyfriend shot her five times as she sat in a car with her children. He shot her teenage daughter and grown son several times as well, but both of them recovered physically.

My husband, a paramedic on duty at the time, responded to the 911 call, but our beloved Peaches was beyond any life-saving help.

The ex-boyfriend fled the scene as well as the state. Of course, the children could identify him as the person who killed their mother, so we were all hoping he would be quickly captured. America’s Most Wanted included his photo and the story in a show that month.

But it wasn’t until mid-February 2001 that Michael Reese was arrested in Daytona, Florida, on another charge and his fingerprints tied him to the Virginia charge.

At the trial, the jury found him guilty and Reese was sentenced to life imprisonment in the charge of Peaches’ murder and an additional 23 years for shooting and wounding the children.

The twenty-year mark of Peaches’ death will roll around in two months. She was one of the most remarkably kind and compassionate people I have ever known. I will never forget her.

People live on in the stories that we tell about them. We have a responsibility to be good storytellers.

You Can Never Have Too Much Heart

Heart

a shell heart…photo by Norma Thatcher

Hearts…they’re everywhere. A stock photo site I use brings up nearly 5000 possible choices. Facebook attaches a heart to a post you say you love. Over a million heart shapes are used online every day.

We see hearts in cloud configurations and in rock shapes.

heart

Heart in a rock by Casey Horner on Unsplash

Baristas may add a foam heart as a finishing touch to your latte.  And sometimes we even find a heart-shaped donut hole!

heart

Heart in a donut hole, courtesy of Charles (Duck) Unitas

There are 122 million sites for heart emojis. That’s where I learned that there are heart emojis for

❥a bullet point as I’m doing here

❥a breaking heart

❥a revolving heart

❥a sparkling heart

❥a smiling cat face with heart-shaped eyes, etc., etc., etc.

But hearts are serious too.

When I cannot physically be with someone who is hurting—whether they’re feeling down, ill, immersed in grief, lonely, or otherwise distressed, I tell them, “I’m holding you close in heart.”

These aren’t idle words; I really mean them. I have my own physical object that represents holding someone close in heart.

The picture at the top of this post shows one side of a shell that looks like half a heart. Below is the opposite side. To me, it’s a perfect replica of a heart which has gathered someone in an embrace and is holding them close.

a shell heart embrace

photo by Norma Thatcher

Life is no simple deal. It’s not always easy. People we love get sick. They disappoint us with their actions. Sometimes they stop loving us back. And people we love die.

Right now someone you know is hurting. They need to hear you say that you’re holding them close in your heart.

Speak up; don’t wait for tomorrow. Make the call, send the card, go for the visit.

And now you know when you hear me say, “I’m holding you close in my heart,” that I really mean it.

An aside: You have my permission to copy and paste or print any of my personal photos used in today’s post for any kind purpose.

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Starbuck’s “how to”

Interesting article on the plural of “emoji”  

Everything you wanted to know about heart emojis but were afraid to ask

 

Loneliness Isn’t Just About Being Alone

Loneliness

Photo courtesy of Sam Austin on Unsplash

My mother-in-law Rosalie once told me, “I wish I had learned how to drive. That way I could go visit the lonely people at the nursing home.”

She was around 90 when she made that statement.

Until she took her last breath, Rosalie had a full life with plenty of loving family nearby, neighbors she cherished, and a church family to support her. But she recognized that many people, especially as they grow older, do not have that supportive circle.

Loneliness isn’t just an aging problem though. It affects us at any age and any stage of life. Researchers now consider loneliness a disease and warn that we are smack dab in the middle of a loneliness epidemic.

Loneliness can creep up on us slowly or be brought about more swiftly by a life change such as divorce, the death of a loved one, a move, a change of jobs, unemployment, retirement, a different school, or an alteration of a relationship (such as drifting away from a spouse or a breakup of a friendship).

A common misconception is that loneliness happens just because we’re alone…living in isolation. While being alone can be lonely, new research studies have demonstrated that a feeling of rejection or disconnection that we internalize is the core of the problem. So we can be lonely even when we’re with other people.

What’s so bad about loneliness that we should talk about it? Because the silence is killing us. According to a recent article in Psychology Today, loneliness is directly connected with:

  • A high-risk factor of premature death from many causes. It’s a higher risk of early death than obesity is.
  • A higher susceptibility to viruses
  • Depression
  • Increased risk for Alzheimer’s, dementia, and depression
  • More frequent bouts of stress, anger, and anxiety
  • Poor sleep patterns
  • Inflammation
  • Suicide

That is a scary list.

In a world overrun by social media where it often seems like everybody is connected to everyone else, we need to consider what that means really. Loving someone’s post on Facebook does not replace sitting down with that friend just to talk. An emoji does not feel like a hug or a high five. Ten tweets a day about where you are, who you’re with, and what you’re doing is not a solid basis for a real connection with another person.

I worry about our world…our lack of empathy, our seeming inability to really talk to each other, our focus on shallow issues when we do talk.

I’m asking myself tonight, “I wonder how many people with whom I’ve had brief contact this past week were lonely?”

And if they were lonely, I wonder if they would have told me.

 

 

What Is Your Face Saying?

Sarcasm

Photo courtesy of Michelle Phillips on Unsplash

I like to think that I have saved some marriages while teaching my public speaking classes.

Well, not through my own words of wisdom, per se, but by the sharing of the wondrous works of Dr. Paul Ekman which in turn led me to those of Dr. John Gottman.

Not familiar with Dr. Ekman? Do you recall the television drama Lie to Me that aired from 2009-2011? The show was loosely based on Dr. Ekman’s work; he actually served as an advisor on the show.

Dr. Ekman was named one of the world’s most influential people by TIME Magazine in 2009. He’s the psychologist credited with proving that the facial expressions of fear, anger, disgust, happiness, sadness, surprise, and contempt are universal.

Along with three other psychologists, he co-discovered micro expressions. According to Dr. Ekman’s website, micro expressions are  “facial expressions that occur within 1/25th of a second. They are involuntary and expose a person’s true emotions.”

So while we may be faking an emotion with our words, our truth is displayed on our faces if someone is watching closely and has studied how to read faces.

Dr. Gottman is an expert in couples’ relational work. He’s been nicknamed “the divorce guy” because, with astonishing accuracy, he predicts divorces.

According to his website, he identified four main negative communication patterns that lead to divorce. They are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

But contempt is the worst. It’s disrespectful and destructive since when we are contemptuous of another person, we’re purposefully attempting to make that person feel worthless and despised.

Sarcasm is a form of contempt. I detest sarcasm. I don’t think it’s funny; it’s just plain mean. Sarcasm is used when someone says something mean in an indirect way. If the receiver of sarcasm expresses feelings of displeasure, the sarcastic person’s comeback is typically something like, “Chill out; I was just kidding.”  “What’s the matter with you; can’t you take a joke?” “Why do you always overreact?”

That makes the sarcasm even worse, since the receiver is now supposed to figuratively wear a sign that says, “I’m just too sensitive.”

Rolling our eyes at another person is a form of sarcasm as is the one word response of “whatever.” (Persons who combine those two double the sarcasm.) I’m upset to know there is an eye roll emoji. 🙄 What, we don’t get enough eye-rolling sarcasm verbally that we now have to have an emoji? Oh wait, I’m being sarcastic. Can’t you take a joke?

Here’s some great advice from the Huffington Post piece noted below:

“Make it your goal to become aware of what contempt is….When you feel the urge to go there, take a deep breath, and say ‘stop’ quietly to yourself. Find another way to make your point. Contempt is a bad habit like smoking or nail biting. With work, you can break it.” — Bonnie Ray Kennan, a psychotherapist based in Torrance, California

Just remember the next time we speak face-to-face, know that I’m going to be watching you. And now you’ll be watching me too.

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Links to articles noted above:

The television show Lie to Me

Dr. Ekman’s micro expressions

Dr. Gottman’s opinion of contempt

Huffington Post’s take on sarcasm

A Pebble in a Pond

pond

Photo by Olivier Fahrni on Unsplash

A great teacher once challenged me to consider the effect caused by tossing a pebble into a pond.

While it’s calming to watch the ripples in the water gently moving outward from where the pebble entered the pond, most of us watch for a while, and then move on.

But think about those tiny surges we set in motion by that one action. The rings move outward and onward until they touch the shore on the other side with an almost silent splash.

The teacher suggested that we are the pebble and the pond represents our life.

We show up (enter the pond) and the initial ripples we create, the strongest ones, are the people whose lives we touch the most.

Those would be our immediate family, our close friends, the people we strongly interact with every day at home or school or work or the neighborhood.

The next outward-bound ripples are the people we still interact with but not as frequently or closely as the first set. These would include casual friends, our child’s teacher, or extended family we don’t see or talk to regularly.

The third set is still part of our universe but even further removed such as people we know to speak to (a clerk in the grocery story, the mailman) but who do not play an active role in our life.

We have an effect on all of these people by how well we treat them. Regardless of which set they’re in, when we interact with people, we have an influence on them.

But there are many more rings still extending across that pond.

They represent the people who are influenced by the people from our rings.

Think about that: You have an effect on people you don’t even know.

When I taught this lesson to middle school students at the Boys and Girls Club, I used my husband as an example.

Spending twenty years as a volunteer paramedic in our town meant that my husband interacted briefly with many people he didn’t know and never saw again after the emergency.

I told the kids a story of his saving the life of a teenager who had been trapped inside a crashed car. The boy recovered and went on to live his life. Think of the people in the boy’s circles who were influenced by my husband because without him, the boy likely would have died.

Every single person that boy (now grown up) ever impacts the rest of his life goes back to the moment when he appeared in a ripple in a certain pond.

And everyone in the boy’s life goes on to influence their own set of people, and so on and so on.

We each have a tremendous responsibility to be the best person we can be to the world at large. The pond is depending on us. Love is the only answer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Regrets Only? Please, No

Dying

Photo courtesy of JJ Thompson on Unsplash

For eight years Australian Bronnie Ware worked for a company that supplied people to provide personal care of the terminally ill. Her job description as a palliative caregiver included items such as manage medications, assist with showering and toilet needs, ensure patient’s meal needs are met.

She was quite competent in the work but she was even better at something else: listening.

In an interview she said that around the end of the first year in that line of work, she realized that most dying people—those who know they have three days to three months left to live—have deep regrets.

Bronnie began keeping a journal about her talks with those she attended to. She felt called to write about these last conversations in the hope of providing some guidance to the rest of us who still have time to change our lives. In a TED talk, she said that even though she was witnessing the heartache of regret, she felt blessed with these lessons and knew she must pass them along.

From her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, here they are:

  1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” This most common regret is lack of courage in making dreams a reality.
  2. “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” Ware said that nearly every man she cared for expressed this regret of losing time with their family and friends. The women had been of an age where most of them were not a primary bread-winner, so it wasn’t as common then with women. That likely has now changed.
  3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.” They had settled for a life of mediocrity and never reached a level of being the best they could be.
  4. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” Getting caught up in the busyness of their own lives, they let relationships fade away.
  5. “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” Like me, Ware believes that happiness is a choice. Many of those with this regret just settled for pretending they were content and lived lives without joy.

We’re each going to die; there’s no getting around that fact.

The question is, in our last few days, do we want to look back at our life with regret or with overwhelming joy of how we chose to live?

 

 

 

 

Is There A Dog In The House?

dog hug

Photo courtesy of Mattheus Bertelli / Pexels

Today was the best day yet in my volunteer role as a pet therapy representative at our local hospital. Of course, the dog Rosie gets 100% of the credit; I’m just a tag-along with Rosie and her owner.

When I knock on a patient’s door and ask, “Would you like a visit from a pet therapy dog?” usually a patient’s face instantly brightens as he/she responds affirmatively.

The majority of patients tell us how much they miss their own cat or dog while staying in the hospital. As they love on Rosie, the dog owners particularly will weave the story of their dog: name, breed, age, personality traits, eating habits, and how the dog came to be theirs.

Sharing stories of beloved pets seems to make the patients feel better.

What made today special was the variety of patient interactions.

One aged frail woman thanked us over and over again for stopping in. She said, “I don’t get many visitors,” as she wiped tears from her eyes. “Thank you for visiting me, Rosie,” she called out as were leaving her room.

Another room held a patient, her husband, and a grown daughter. As she stroked Rosie, the patient asked us if it’s OK to give a dog table food. Meanwhile, the daughter was looking sheepish. It turns out she likes to supplement the family dog’s food with bacon, hot dogs, and cheese.

We found ourselves caught up in an obviously familiar family disagreement over feeding their dog. But it was one full of gentle teasing back and forth. (“I’m just saying…would YOU want to eat the same thing every day? Dogs like variety too!”)

Laughter filled the room and it felt good to leave the family in better spirits than when we found them.

Due to their medical conditions, understandably not everyone wants to visit with Rosie. But this morning one man was sitting up in a chair facing the door, and even before I voiced my question, he yelled, “I don’t want a visit from a dog! I don’t like dogs. They remind me of my ex-wife!” We smiled, nodded, and kept on walking.

My favorite patient today was an older woman who was waiting on us. Her visitors had seen the “Rosie’s on duty” sign in the lobby on their way to her room and had promised her a visit from a dog. Her face broke into a mega-watt smile as we entered her room.

Rosie has a calm demeanor so (with the patient’s approval) we lowered the side rail, and Rosie laid her head on the bed as the woman stroked her and talked to her.

Petting a dog, hugging a dog, talking to a dog is truly a healing experience for these patients.

The pet therapy program is the best “get well soon” card ever devised.

 

 

 

Loves Me, Loves Me Not, Loves Me

Photo courtesy of Susanne Karl of Unsplash

The wall plaque on display in the store produced a spontaneous laugh so loud that several other shoppers turned to stare at me. I just pointed at the sign that read, “Jesus loves you. But he loves me more.”

A beautiful message followed by an arrogant zinger…hmm, I have to now question why that struck me as funny.

I’m guessing it reminded me of sibling rivalry where we compete for mom’s or dad’s time, attention, and gifts because, surely, whichever one of us gets the most means we are loved the best. Right?

I don’t have a single friend who, as a parent, holds that mindset. We love our children as individuals, treasuring the extraordinarily different gifts they bring to the world.

At my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday party, my husband paid tribute to his mom by saying, “You treated each one of the six of us as though we were the one who was most dearly loved.”

There was a moment of my daughter’s childhood that I vividly recall. She was standing on her bed as I helped her to get dressed. As a five-year-old, she took faith quite seriously, and we were talking about how much God loves us.

With confidence she said, “But God loves good people more, right, Mommy?”

The “does not compute” look of puzzlement spread across her little face as I shook my head no. “No, he loves everyone just the same. He loves people who do bad things and aren’t sorry, people who are mean, and even the people who don’t love him.”

I think up to that point she may have felt that God was like Santa, keeping a list of who’s naughty or nice. And who wants to purposely end up on that naughty list?

In his meditation of January 11, Richard Rohr notes that one of the ways we can awaken our core identity is by “fully recognizing God’s image in all creatures, without exception.” Wow.     

Too often we want to write off people by labeling them as something distasteful or unappealing. I know that I have commented more than once that I prefer not to be around negative people. What if, instead of focusing on the negativity, I looked for God’s image in the person? What will I find?

Loves me, loves me not, loves me, loves me, loves me. And loves you too.

 

 

 

The Faces of Christmas

Photo courtesy of RawPixel.com on Unsplash

About half a dozen years before my mother-in-law Rosalie died, I interviewed her to preserve her life story not just for those of us in this generation who loved her, but also for the future ones who would never have the opportunity to be part of her life.

One of my interview questions was, “Tell me about your favorite Christmas.”

It didn’t take but a few seconds for her to reply, “The last Warrenton Christmas when Honey was still alive.”

Honey was her beloved husband of 67 years when he died in 1995.

And a Warrenton Christmas referred to Christmas at my home. My husband and I had the youngest grandchildren in the family as well as the roomiest house, so it made sense for everyone to meet at our home. And the tradition was cast.

In Christmas of 1994 Laura would have been eleven and Tim was eight; just the right ages for their faces to show joyous anticipation of all things Christmas .

Around the table many faces portrayed happiness at seeing one another. Some faces were tired from having worked busy schedules right up to the big day. A face or two showed the strain of trying to do too much in the week leading up to December 25.

The faces of the matriarch and patriarch of the family showed overwhelming love for each one of us, and there was something else there too.

I call it thoughtful appreciation. It was as if Rosalie and Carroll realized how deeply they were blessed, and they didn’t want a single joy to go unnoticed.

You know, I’m a proactive hostess, doing as much ahead of time that I can. I think each year that THIS Christmas I’ll have time to sit and visit with each person before dinner, but then the day arrives and there seems to be a constant flow of “one more thing” to do.

This year, really…I mean it. I want to be like Rosalie and Carroll were on that day from my past and be thoughtfully appreciative of every single blessing that surrounds me.

I am wishing the same for you.