Remembering Who I Used to Be

Earlier this week, a friend I haven’t seen in years sent me a video clip on Facebook he had recently put together from old footage of a group of us scuba diving off the beach of Hollywood, FL in the late 70s.

Back then, we all worked in the advertising department of a discount retail chain creating print ads for irregular merchandise, and battling boredom every day.  But we found our release by diving every chance we got after work and on weekends.  Our objective was always to catch tiny tropical fish for our saltwater aquariums (and maybe a Florida lobster for dinner), but mostly we just wanted to be together on the reef.

The film was a little blurry and shaky, and typically goofy like we always were.  My friend had converted it from 8mm to digital and added a soundtrack with a scratchy newscast about President Carter and some songs we all enjoyed back then.  It flipped the switch on a flood of memories for me.

Understand, I have lived in the Midwest for most of my adult life and haven’t been diving for years. But watching this shaky, silly video, I flashed back 35 years and there I was again.

What came back was more than just the basics of who, what, when, and where.   I smelled the air, felt the heat of the sand, shivered at the first plunge in the water.  I felt the pressure in my ears and the pounding of my heart, heard my breathing through the regulator and thrilled once again to the beauty of the underwater world.    

What’s more, I remembered how I felt then.  What I was conflicted about.  What I found pleasure in.  Who mattered.

We were all young and unconcerned about what life would hand us over the long haul – and in retrospect, it was a load.  On the reef that day, it didn’t matter.  We weren’t concerned that years later all we would have is a shaky film montage – and the feelings it triggered – to remind us of that simpler time.

I smiled and smiled, watching that video, but I cried a little, too.  For the one of our group of friends who won’t see it because he died of cancer 8 years ago.  And for another who won’t see it because our relationship was irretrievably broken decades ago.

But for 4 minutes and 19 seconds, I remembered who I used to be.  And who I still am.

How to Create an Oasis When Life is a Desert

We were somewhere in the Western Caribbean between Jamaica and the Cayman Islands when I first met Erica McNeal.  A group of about 100 of us were considering how to best use the communication gifts God had given us and we were doing it while enjoying the beauty of His creation on a cruise for “Christian Creatives”.  Not a bad gig.

It was formal dinner night and Erica sat down at the same table as me.  She was vivacious and friendly, a genuine “people person” with a winsome smile and that way of focusing on your face when you talk that makes you feel she is truly interested in what you have to say.  That’s a gift I wish I had.

When she told me she was writing a book to help people see the grief process as healthy and natural, I was a little surprised.  I mean, that’s kind of heavy, right?  Then she said she wanted to give people practical ways to respond to their grieving friends and loved ones, and I was skeptical.  After all, that’s a pretty tall order for one so young and lively.  What could she possibly know about pain that cut so deep it required a guidebook to navigate?

Then she told me a little of her story:

“By the time I was thirty-two years old, I had already suffered through radiation treatments and nearly died from chemo to beat cancer three times. I had made life and death decisions about my tiny baby girl born at twenty-two-and-a-half weeks gestation and lost her only 80 minutes after she was born.  And after falling in love, I handed a child I believed in my soul was meant to be my son, back to his birth mother when she decided to revoke his adoption plan.”

What she said next really stunned me, but then it made perfect sense:

“The reality is: the worst pain in life doesn’t always come from illness, child-loss, death, or even grief itself. Often, the greatest obstacles to overcome are the unintended hurt caused by painful words spoken and things done or not done by those in our support system that care for us.”

She knew what people said to her and her husband, often in a well-meaning way, that had stunted their recovery process and wanted to spare others that pain.  She wanted to share specific encouragement and  alternative approaches that would be so much more helpful.

It’s a little over a year later now and her book, Good Grief!: How To Create an Oasis When Life is a Desert, is launching today!  She sent me a preview copy and after I read it, my response was, “Wow, she nailed it”.

Erica challenges the way Christians sometimes view 1 Corinthians 10:13 – that God will not give us more than we can handle.  Her experience is that God will allow us to be stretched beyond our human capabilities in order to show us our need for Him.

If you’ve ever wondered what to say (or not say) to someone who is grieving, what tangible ways you can help and support them, how to specifically pray,  even how to recognize warning signs that they may be succumbing to depression, it’s all in this book.  She also outlines a process she calls “breaking it down”, where she gives an example of how to  use the Bible as a road map for lowering anxiety and stress, a simple but very effective exercise that has application to other areas of life.

As Erica says,  “Learn from the triumphs and tragedies of others.  Life is too short to experience everything yourself.”  This book will help you do that.  It is convicting but never condemning, enlightening but never trite.

Giveaways

As part of her launch this week, Erica has some great giveaways.  If you purchase a copy of Good Grief between June 11th – 16th at http://amzn.to/goodgrieflaunch and send your receipt to goodgriefgifts@gmail.com, you’ll have a chance to win free books, gift cards, podcasts, study guides and more.  Go to Erica’s website at www.ericamcneal.com for details.  And be sure to follow Erica on Twitter:  @toddanderica .


Befuddled by Technology

And… technology tripped me up once again.  If you are a subscriber to this blog and got notification that I had posted about “How to Create an Oasis When Life is a Desert”, I apologize for publishing it prematurely.  Erica McNeal’s book does not launch until Monday.  I will re-publish the post then.  Aaaaaack!

The Significance of a Single, Well-Lived Life

While our culture values flash and sizzle and the goal of many continues to be fame and fortune, one trait always equals success in God’s economy:  faithfulness.  I am privileged to have been raised by a father who modeled that trait every day of his life and continues to do so at almost 90 years old.

This remarkable man, Wallace Rivers, is featured today on Jeremy Statton’s blog: www.jeremystatton.com/wallace-rivers.  Won’t you stop by and read about him?  And while you’re there, enjoy all the other great content Jeremy has to offer to help you “live a better story”.

“Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children.” Proverbs 17:6 (NIV)

A Lesson from Smudge the Dog

Last Sunday I came home from church and Smudge, our 15 ½ year old Jack Russell terrier, was SO glad to see me it was, well, ridiculous.  Dancing around, doing spins, leaping in the air, yipping like a puppy.

I was kind of pleased at first – I mean, who doesn’t want to get that kind of crazy-happy welcome?  (I am pretty awesome.)  But then she just wouldn’t calm down.  She IS a Jack Russell.  I wanted the mayhem to stop so I reprimanded her firmly.

Didn’t work.

Then, you know what I realized?  SHE DIDN’T HAVE ANY WATER.

She was glad to see me because she knew I was the answer to her problem: She was thirsty, I was the source of water, and that made her happy!  She trusted that now that I was home and she had my attention, she was going to get what she needed.

That didn’t initially occur to me because it wasn’t the kind of reaction I might have had if I were dependent on someone else to meet my basic needs.   I would have probably been all whiny and dramatic, maybe trying to elicit guilt or pity to get what I needed.

But not Smudge.

I started thinking about whether that would be a better approach for me as a human.  What if when I am confused or fearful, instead of praying about it in a whining, begging kind of way, I truly believed that prayer would reveal the answer to me and I got excited?  Seriously, that’s not my default response.

How humbling.

And yet, isn’t God the source of all that I need?  Maybe not always what I want in the moment, but truly what I need?  What if I really came to grips with that and with the fact that when I pray, I have God’s attention, and He is far more faithful to give me what’s best for me than I am to give Smudge what’s best for her?

I’m going to try that.  I’m going to pray and focus on the fact that God knows and wants what’s best for me and I’m going to choose to be excited for that.  I may not dance around and spin.  I certainly won’t yip like a puppy (how undignified), but I’m going to trust that He’s the Giver of all good gifts and He wants to give His best to me.

It worked for Smudge.  She got a full bowl of clean, cool water and lapped it up appreciatively.

How do you approach God – exuberant and expectant like Smudge, knowing you’re going to get what you need?  Or tentative and apologetic, like me?  Have you ever learned a lesson about God from your pet(s)?  Please share in the comments!