In The Rearview Mirror

After a week at Summer Camp, it’s not unusual for Campers to feel exhausted from their adventures but also, some Campers may feel let down as daily life resumes its normal pace. Empty the suitcases, do mountains of laundry and arrange photos in albums to preserve the precious memories! Is the adventure really over??!luggage

Though I’m glad to have completed my “Summer Camp” week and to be back home, I often feel melancholy as I drive away from my mom’s home. Given her upcoming birthday and the march of advanced years, it’s difficult to ignore the niggling inner voice that reminds me this could be the last time I see her this side of Eternity.

If you’ve already suffered the loss of parents, please understand I’m only halfway there. Considering how my mom embodies my “other self” in so many ways, I can’t begin to comprehend what a huge loss her passing will mean for me! I know this:  every minute we spend together now is more precious than gold. Continue reading “In The Rearview Mirror”

Help to Live

From the first time I heard the euphemistic term Death with Dignity, I thought it surely had to be a joke. This laughable term describes one’s desire to ease into death, much as one might slip into bed one night … and never wake again. hypodermicThe principle adherents of the death-with-dignity mentality are usually individuals who’ve received a terminal diagnosis. Some supporters are hoping to avoid the high costs of dying while others hope to minimize the pain associated with extended illnesses or others just prefer to pull the trigger (so to speak) at a time of their choosing. 

I’ve always argued the notion of death with dignity is absurd. First and foremost, we’ve all been given a terminal diagnosis; the day each of us was born, we were born with the exact same destiny: death. Is that harsh? Regrettably, it’s true. Continue reading “Help to Live”

Bridge To Nowhere

It’s almost impossible for me to comprehend the insane grief a family experiences when one of their members suddenly dies. When that death comes through suicide or homicide, the agony is no doubt compounded many times over. (Thankfully, sudden deaths have been rare in my family.) Two stories from today’s news provide a glimpse into bewildering family tragedies that might have been prevented.

AP Photo/Eric Risberg
AP Photo/Eric Risberg

Most people who ordinarily pay attention to the news are aware of the decision today to move forward on a $76 million funding package to wrap the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge in a suicide prevention net. Hoping to stanch the bleeding (figuratively) − after some 1600 people have leapt to their deaths since the bridge opened more than 75 years ago − the people of San Francisco believe a wide net will dissuade further suicides. While the work won’t be completed until 2018, proponents of the barrier believe people will stop jumping.

As with almost any issue, there are opponents of the project who argue the barrier will detract from the beauty of this amazing structure. One commenter noted this is “spend[ing] money on forcing people to be alive.” Another observes “A safety net … won’t prevent someone from taking too many pills or stepping in front of a train.” Indeed, a barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge-way won’t eliminate all suicides.

I mentioned two stories from today’s news. The second involves a 22-month-old toddler who died after being left buckled into his car seat for seven or eight hours while his daddy worked. (The toddler’s death actually occurred last week.) The child’s father has been charged with murder but people who know this family have expressed their incredulity that the father has been blamed for the toddler’s death. (The facts, of course, have yet to be adjudicated, and the man should be presumed innocent.) Continue reading “Bridge To Nowhere”

That’s The Way It Is

It might surprise some folks that the inimitable Walter Cronkite once hosted a Saturday morning television series. Having transitioned from its beginning as a radio series during the late 1940s, the CBS television series ran from 1953 to 1957. Weekly broadcasts centered around historical events illustrated with dramatic re-enactments. The show was titled You Are There and was broadcast for just over five seasons.YouAreThere

The show usually began with a voiceover from Cronkite and once he had set the scene, eerie music played and another voice spoke (from within an echo-chamber) YOU ARE THERE. (A sample YouTube video provides the spine-tingling effect.)

Today, I’ve been thinking about an historic event based on the You Are There concept. I invite you to “view” it with me.

The setting is feast time and a group of people have come together to enjoy this time of annual celebration. The host sits at a prominent place with his friends surrounding him. Food has been served and everyone’s relaxing around the table, interacting, laughing, enjoying their food and drink. As hosts are wont to do, this one eventually speaks up and at the sound of his voice, the others perk an ear to listen. He tells them how much he’s looked forward to having this meal … celebrating this feast … with them. Continue reading “That’s The Way It Is”

The Right To Live

Their names (in alphabetical order) are:  George Chen (age 19), Katherine Cooper (22), Cheng Hong (20), Christopher Michaels-Martinez (20), Weihan Wang (20), and Veronika Weiss (19). Two women, four men … daughters and sons, each with a unique story of hope and potential … and each one’s life abruptly ended by the soulless act of a self-absorbed narcissistic killer. Their pictures (shown from an online tribute) show carefree, smiling faces, typical examples of eager, playful young people unafraid of tackling their lives head-on. I doubt a one of them anticipated this.

FROM:  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-27593514
FROM: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-27593514

Following the deaths, one of the parents quickly raged − “Why?” − and then he added an even stronger reaction for the media to immortalize. In part, he said:  “What about [my son’s] right to live?” No doubt, he verbalized thoughts each of the parents had agonized over. I can’t imagine I’d have been capable of speech (certainly not coherent speech) at such a time, and I am dumbfounded to think of the pain of their losses.

However, as a life member of the NRA (on whom the parent cast partial blame), I think a measure of balance is essential. Why is it we in America choose to be so narrow-minded about firearms? Yes, narrow-minded and inexplicably naive. We think if we surround ourselves with Gun-Free Zones that we − and more importantly, our children  −  will be instantly sheltered from possible harm. Yet time after time, it is the very “gun-free zones” we’ve blocked off, zones populated by our precious children (whether at an elementary school or a college) where bad actors insist on perpetrating their crimes!Franklin on duh

Further, this murderous individual engaged in a crime of opportunity and designed his rampage for its most sensational impact. All three of the man’s roommates were apparently close at hand; news reports reflect he killed them in the apartment where they lived. We teach our children to beware strangers, but shouldn’t living arrangements for college-aged men and women be scrutinized for similar stranger-danger? Parents make a foolish assumption that sending their adult-children to college means they’ve moved beyond the age of danger. Not so … as this tragedy proved.

Another aspect of this crime of opportunity:  the secured door of a sorority house effectively convinced the gunman to go elsewhere in search of more convenient and readily available targets. The murderer was looking for easy targets. Because his “aggressive knocking” was ignored, he walked away, wandering just around the corner where he came upon other lives to destroy.

I hate talking about this man and his heinous behavior, but I think it’s crucial that we remember the young people who died at his hand. They did have the “right to live.” That right was stolen from them! They are not the first  − nor the last  −  to have their lives carelessly snuffed out by a bad actor. We must not forget them.

But here’s my most important point:  Do not give this knife-wielding gunman a pass! DO NOT! Blaming his behavior on the NRA or “craven, irresponsible politicians” or even blaming his parents is an open invitation to other bad actors to continue committing such crimes! They won’t be blamed. They’ll have a moment of infamy and a place in history books, but their crimes won’t be directly imputed to them:  they were abused in childhood, their parents (or school teachers) treated them cruelly, their siblings (or school mates) made fun of them. It’s always someone else’s fault that the bad actor chooses evil, don’t you know? Perhaps if we would just take the time to understand them and their deeds, we’d be able to prevent future bad actors?

NO! NO! NO! That’s something this individual apparently never learned! Daily appointments with a therapist didn’t resolve his bad behavior. He had plenty of “understanding.” His social alienation seems to have grown, even as professionals continued their efforts to understand him! Such nonsense!

In this case, the murdering perpetrator was given a pass repeatedly, all his life. Parents, nannies, siblings, therapists and teachers all made allowances for a child who aged into boyhood and eventually to manhood without ever having to be culpable of anything! He aged, but he never developed as an adult with strong adult impulse control! The willingness of professionals to give this boy-man a pass, in spite of his clearly harmful, antisocial actions, allowed him to become an egomaniac who never had to answer for his own behavior. Do not give him a pass!

Blame this man for his crimes … he wielded a knife, machete, or ax to kill three men, wielded a pistol to dispose of another man and two young women, all of them unsuspecting and pretty much defenseless (as well as others who were injured). Forget his name, expunge it from any history book or newspaper, and never speak the name again. He wielded the knife and he pulled the trigger; he did so with malice aforethought. The inanimate tools he used did not commit crimes; a man committed these crimes. Never forget the difference, and …

DO. NOT. GIVE. HIM. A. PASS!

Remember Me

Poet Christina Rossetti wrote a beautiful poem titled Remember. Today, our annual day of remembrance signified as Memorial Day, we honor those who died in service to our country.

My grandfather (Charles Frederick West, 1887-1932) didn’t die on the battlefield but his exposure to mustard gas in the trenches of World War I brought about his death after years of suffering. His grandfather (Samuel P. West, 1832-1864) died during the battle at Spotsylvania Courthouse (Virginia). Both of these men left wives and children behind. (In the picture below, my grandfather appears at right with three soldiers from his company.) FredFrankWestAs I research who I am through the annals from which I came, it’s impossible not to notice the stout character of the men in my past and the stalwart resolve of the women they left behind. Men do not go off to war without acknowledging the stark reality they may not come home. Women (whether mothers, wives or both) can’t fail but know, when releasing their men to serve, that some will not return. Continue reading “Remember Me”

Failure Is Always An Option

Think about the failures you’ve experienced during your lifetime. When I consider my own, I’m always amazed by the important lessons I’ve learned thanks to my most spectacular failures.Failure

Thinking about the horrible events that occurred in Santa Barbara CA over the weekend, I thought briefly about the perpetrator’s life (laid out in his personal manifesto running over 107,000 words). I couldn’t read the entire thing; it’s far too self-indulgent and narcissistic. This young man, who seemed to believe life should be “fair” and who tells about his love for luxury and opulence, will become a footnote in history. Authors and experts may devote volumes trying to understand his damage and why he acted as he did.

But this I know:  his journal clearly shows he was consumed by a huge void of loneliness. He sought to blame someone, apparently anyone other than himself. I’m reminded of the biblical Cain who, having murdered his brother Abel, is given specific judgment by God (read the narrative in Genesis 4.) Cain hears God’s judgment and cries, “My punishment is too great to bear!”

Failure such as Cain’s may indeed carry bitter and unbearable punishment. But this isn’t the end of Cain’s story. The Genesis account tells us Cain had sons, the first of those offspring being Enoch. This is itself a reiteration of Hope … the bearing of children beautifully underscores:  Life Goes On!

Genesis relates that after Enoch had lived 365 years, “Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more because God took him away.” In other words, Cain’s punishment manifests hope and deliverance. Through Cain’s son Enoch, we glimpse the promise of sin and death being − once and for all time − defeated. Enoch was no more because God took him away.

The unfortunate failure of this young murderer from Santa Barbara brings no hope and no deliverance for him (unless one believes his escape from the discontent and misery of this human existence is a positive thing). His life and death  − his spectacular failure, if you will  − may offer a cautionary tale for those who knew him. But what a waste. More than that, what a tragedy for those whom he randomly killed and for their grieving families.

Failure is always an option. What we learn from our failures, from the public shame and disrepute that we suffer, has the potential to bring us great good and redemption. Bill Whittle offers this reminder in his video below.

[tube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlLbFZxrzrc[/tube]

Mighty In The Land

Having family members in town to celebrate Mother’s Day certainly makes the day special. Not only did we celebrate our grandson’s university graduation yesterday, we incorporated another grandson’s (Friday) birthday into the festivities. (Ha! We also celebrated a third grandson’s birthday earlier in the week!)creative_mother’s_day_cards_ideas_printable

Some of our out of town guests left yesterday evening after the celebration. Others exited today … after a houseful of children eating, drinking, scattering toys, running about and only crashing for sleep when they were tied (not literally!) to the beds, the house is unusually quiet now. The quiet permitted some reflection on this celebratory day we know as Mother’s Day.

This being the 100th official commemoration of the day, National Geographic has an article about Its Surprisingly Dark History. The story explains how the founder of Mother’s Day reacted with disgust as the day became increasingly commercialized. (The article’s slightly sensational title doesn’t justify the “surprisingly dark” phrase, in my view, but it was an effective attention-getter and lured me in.)

What struck me most was a comment following the article. Someone had posted: “My mother was evil and almost killed me when I was young. So no, I do not honor her on that day ….” Perhaps even more striking was another respondent’s comment: “You seem bitter and selfish ….” Apparently, Mother’s Day potentially brings out the worst in some people.

Moving onto another web article, Forgiving the Sins of My Father, I was reminded that relationships with parents (not just one’s mother as illustrated in the previously-cited Mother’s Day article) are sometimes terribly complicated and prickly. I’m blessed to be unfamiliar via personal experience with such stories.

A third article I read was part of the World Magazine Amy Writing Awards compilation*. A Promise To Beth relates the story of a twelve-year old boy from Mississippi who lost (over a seven-year period) his father (plane crash), his older brother (auto accident) and his mother (cancer), and who is now in the care of his step-father. In terms of this story’s relation to Mother’s Day, the story highlights the mother’s outlook and grit (while she was battling cancer) as an example of unflagging courage.

Another Amy Writing Awards story on the World Magazine website* is titled An Alzheimer’s Caregiver’s Journey. This story featured a woman who brought her ailing mother into her home and spent eight years caring and ministering to her mother’s physical well-being as Alzheimer’s stole away the older woman’s memory and awareness. As with the aforementioned writing winner, this article is a testament to a woman’s unconditional love and courage under equally difficult circumstances.

*Links to both of the World Magazine stories may only be available by subscription, but I wholeheartedly recommend the magazine!

So what’s the connective link to these diverse stories? Mothers. Fathers. We’re all broken people. We’ve all suffered personal indignities and grief … sometimes (far too often) by the hands of those who are supposed to love us the most. Certainly, such mis-care is reprehensible. The commenter who characterized her mother as “evil … [who] almost killed me when I was young” may well be justified in her venomous attitude. No child deserves being terrorized.

ASIDE: At the same time, consider the number of children who are killed “young” – before they’ve ever breathed a single breath. Should we be surprised children are treated so inhumanely outside the womb when they’re routinely destroyed within the womb?

The second story (the woman forgiving her father) provides more details than the first. This woman’s story is unique, but a common thread repeats: evil, emotional detachment, anger, an adult child wounded body and soul, and an adult parent so damaged that the essence of “relationship” (the connection of persons by blood or marriage) is laughable, even despicable. Though forgiveness brings the hope of restoration and wholeness, it’s an extensive and painful process per the article.

Both writing award pieces further relate how God brings restoration and wholeness through brokenness. Certainly, the young man from Mississippi would never rejoice in the losses he’s endured. How awful to lose one’s parents and sibling, at any time, but especially in childhood! Despite the boy’s devastation, a loving step-father is there to succor him, to sustain and encourage an arm-in-arm understanding of God’s provision.

That same sense of God’s provision runs through the story of a woman loving and caring for her Alzheimer’s-befuddled mother. The younger woman bestowed on her broken mother the same kind of care her mother had given in nurturing a newborn daughter through stages of development into independence as a woman.

I have a point of personal reference here as I witness my Beloved ministering to his mother while her Alzheimer’s progresses. (When I posted about her last October, she was slightly more coherent than she is today.) Visiting with her proves challenging because it’s a guessing game to determine what she’s trying to communicate. (Sometimes, people simply give up in discouragement.) Nevertheless, my Beloved stays connected with her, making effort to engage her mentally, often using silly jokes and lighthearted teasing. I admire my Beloved’s tenacity.

Whether the problems are physical, psychological or emotional, we all bear the brokenness of humanity. Wounds, those inflicted by others and many self-inflicted, complicate our human interactions. We’ll never find complete wholeness in this realm but forgiveness is a good place to start.

The poem below, by Amy Carmichael, was one of my dad’s favorites. When we suffer unbearable scars, it’s a reminder of marvelous, numinous healing available to all.

http://www.crossroad.to/Victory/poems/amy_carmichael/no-scar.htm
http://www.crossroad.to/Victory/poems/amy_carmichael/no-scar.htm

Thank Your Mother

Branches of the military have a Code of Conduct. Private businesses often have a similar set of dos and don’ts for their employees. These rules for behavior promote an orderly operation and enable members of the organization to understand (1) what’s expected of them and (2) where the boundaries are. Having specific guidelines for behavior protects both people and organizations against the “Oops, I didn’t know” defense.

Likewise, civil societies have adopted an implicit code of conduct for acceptable and/or unacceptable acts and behavior. Codes may be prescribed via laws and regulations, as well as a shared awareness of right and wrong. For centuries, public disfavor or implied reproof were sufficient to discourage bad behavior. When social condemnation failed, offenders were jailed.Vacant_Prison_Cell_clip_art_hight

Through the years, a commonly accepted rule for good conduct has been protecting women and children. From medieval times, the inclination of a society to look after women and children was considered chivalrous. (See this previous post about my thoughts on chivalry.)

I remember in childhood the first time I viewed the movie Titanic (1953). This movie presented a societal code of conduct:  the captain would not abandon ship, women and children were given life jackets and placed in lifeboats. One male character dressed as a woman and sneaked onto a lifeboat; eventually they noticed his presence and all considered his bad behavior shameful.

Our 2014 topsy-turvy culture has it backwards now. No question, women (gender feminists) have been party to this upset. God forbid any man should open a door for a woman! God forbid a woman expresses her appreciation for the husband who supports her! God forbid she betrays any weakness, any indication she isn’t totally capable of caring for herself in every aspect of her life! (Reminds me of a small child refusing help:  “No, I can do it!”)

Now, we’ve come so far the culture isn’t just topsy-turvy … it has moved into the surreal, with bizarre demonstrations of just how “liberated” we are. Instead of accepting the protection society used to offer, women have voluntarily turned away from it, to the extent that women and children are now the first to be harmed, jettisoned and ravaged. The strong will always survive, but the weaker among us − most often, women and children − are often used up and spat out.

A newsworthy example of this philosophy run amok was reported this week. More than likely, you’re familiar with the story:  a pregnant abortion counselor videotaped her own abortion as it was being performed. In her comments, she says:  I feel in awe of the fact that I can make a baby. I can make a life …” The truth is, she didn’t make that baby, she didn’t make that life. But she did TAKE that life! She destroyed that life, having it flushed from her uterus with extreme prejudice.

Sure, we can talk viability. This woman was in her first trimester, the fetus was quite small, certainly unable to live on its own at that stage. An infant is also unable to live on its own. Should we destroy them too? There are times when a teenager seems incapable of doing anything on his or her own … i.e. nonviable. If non-viability is the yardstick for who lives and who dies, who takes the measure? Are there stages of non-viability?

Great Grandmother with great grandson
Great Grandmother with great grandson

When a society refuses to protect its most vulnerable, all of us live under threat. When a society refuses to protect its most vulnerable, we have relinquished our humanity. Animals in the jungle don’t have a code of conduct. They prey on the weak, the old, the infirm, the young. When humans refuse to protect the vulnerable among us, we’ve ceded our civility. We have become animals … in an uncivil jungle.

Most people know Sunday is Mother’s Day. I suspect many of us had mothers who instilled within us a specific code of conduct. I know my mother did. (Read about my mother here.) One of the rules she emphasized again and again was our responsibility to care for and protect others, to have compassion for others. She encouraged us, in Christ-like respect, to love others more deeply than we loved ourselves.

I live with the daily reminder that my mother gave me Life. In a sense, this Gift was everything she had. I also live with the confidence that she’d have died in my place, if necessary. There is no other gift so precious as the Gift of Life.

Thanks, Mom. I’m forever grateful.

Love That Will Not Let Me Go

It’s a week since we celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus. I’ve been contemplating this amazing event all week, trying to look at the event through unjaded eyes. We have a tendency to celebrate the day and then move on through our lives … as if this pivotal event has relevance exclusively on Easter morning.

Think of it! Jesus died on Friday and was buried and numerous people who followed him went to the grave that Sunday morning, expecting to see his body still lying in that grave! But he wasn’t there!

ThePowerOfTheResurrectionWhere did they lay his body? Where have they taken him? Those were the queries of his followers. We flesh-and-blood humans aren’t so different even these many years later. Wouldn’t you have similar queries … wouldn’t I? His followers knew Jesus as flesh-and-blood and even though he had demonstrated he was God in the flesh, they viewed the crucifixion event as each of us would. It was final. Say goodbye to the dream.

Yet when the news came that Jesus had risen, many of them scoffed; they thought it was nonsense! After people who had seen the risen Lord reported it to the disciples, those witnesses were ridiculed. (Haven’t you heard? People don’t rise from the dead! Dead means dead!)

Except that for forty days after his resurrection, Jesus continued walking this earth. FORTY DAYS! Forty days during which he shared meals with his followers. Forty days during which he showed them the nail-scars in his hands and his pierced side. Forty days during which he comforted his followers, opened the whole of scriptures to help them understand the consistent message had always been there … and they’d been oblivious to it. Forty days during which he could bolster their confidence that he was who he said he was … and all of it was REAL!

I can imagine what it must have been like to wake up the Monday morning following the Resurrection. If I’d gotten any sleep at all, I’m guessing I’d wake up and be immediately flooded with memories of Friday and the terrible, awful images of Jesus hanging on the cross … or his dead body as it’s removed from the cross and hastily laid in a borrowed grave. But wait! My gradual wakefulness reminds me there’s more. The women say he’s alive! I pinch myself. Maybe I’m even like Thomas (doubting) who declares he won’t believe Jesus is alive unless he personally sees (and touches) the physical scars Jesus bore in his body.

When I awaken the next morning, these same reminders flood my brain. But there’s more! The eyewitness account has come of a couple walking along a road who meet a man they don’t recognize and he opens all the scriptures to them, explaining all that happened to Jesus was necessary according to scripture. He sits to eat with them and eventually they realize he is the risen Jesus!

Next morning, same thing. More stories of a corporeal Jesus appearing (sometimes out of nowhere) to his followers and teaching them and feeding them and loving on them. Followers are beginning to meet with each other and bring the news:  “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.”

But it takes time. The Good News has to sink in … Jesus is risen, it’s all real, it’s all true!

Eight days pass. Eight whole days of the disciples getting together and processing the truth before them. The doors were shut, clearly a private meeting. We don’t know what was said, but we have a pretty good clue their conversation centered around this amazing Resurrection event. And this time, Thomas is with them in the room. Though the doors have been shut, Jesus is suddenly standing in their midst. He quickly invites the doubter to press his fingers into the nail-scars and trace the scar in the Savior’s side!

When you wake up tomorrow morning, consider Thomas. It was eight days of hearing others talk about their encounters with the Savior. But for Thomas, touching those scars were proof. Jesus graciously stepped up to Thomas’ challenge. Touch me, friend. Know for certain who I am.

Even after this appearance and confirmation to Thomas (and the others), Jesus continues to walk among them, for another 32 days! Do you think their lives were affected by walking with the risen Lord that month? I certainly do. They had been his peers for the three years they’d shared with him … now they looked at him as “My Lord and my God” (as Thomas had declared after seeing the scars).

This is the love that will not let me go, the love that gives ALL (sacrificially) even though I don’t deserve it. This YouTube video also reflects how such love translates into action for an entire family and what an example of sacrificial love it is.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Im9_iAQhd5E[/tube]