Saturday, October 18, 2014

Tools of the mind

Before the tower that serves Chicago’s airports could be repaired, I missed a connecting flight and spent the night at O’Hare. I turned down the offer of a discounted hotel, thinking I probably could not afford it. The sad look on my face prompted the United customer service rep to hand me a complimentary personal hygiene bag.

I walked the length of B concourse looking for a gate without a working TV. I found a quiet spot, claimed my space, and opened my gift bag. It contained everything I might need to survive the night such as shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, all of which smelled suspiciously like airport bathroom soap. I also had a shaving kit, a dental kit, deodorant wipes (one for each underarm), something called calming cream, and laundry grains.

I was not sure how I was supposed to use these wonderful hygiene tools. Certainly, I could brush my teeth and apply calming cream, but was I supposed to use the shampoo in the drinking fountain? Perhaps it was intended for me to wash my undies using the laundry grains in the toilet. I did not want to envision the body wash scenario.

What I really needed was food and a blanket. What I had was a bag of tools that were useless in my context.

I feel a bit like that complementary bag. If you open up my brain, you will see some interesting tools. I am packed full of theories on motivation, there are remnants of statistics, and an entire compartment full of research methods. I have many big words, some of which I could still use in a sentence, and lots of memorized stuff leftover from tests. I have a brain packed full of tools, but I have no idea how they are to be used. The only thing I know for sure is that God has a plan.

In some ways, I am at the opposite end of the continuum line that stretches between my mother-in-law and myself. Because of her dementia, Dorris’ tools are losing their effectiveness, even though she still has much use for them. It fascinates me how she can spend four hours in an ER exam room and not realize that she is in a hospital or that it is daytime, or that she quit smoking (insisting that she just smokes behind my back). It fascinates me because later, on our way home, she points to some trees and creates this wonderful one-line poem:

We cannot call those trees beautiful because we must call them splendid.

I do not know why Dorris has to slip away like this, but I do know that God has a plan for her.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.(Jeremiah 29:11, ESV)

I have no idea how God will use the tools he has packed into my brain. They seem to be an odd assortment for any kind of job I know or contemplate. I suppose that none of us really know how God will use us in the future as he can change our ministry as quickly as he creates it. But, I have hope.

And, hope is good because God is all good.

I have no idea how much longer Dorris will be with us – either mentally or physically. It takes enormous effort for her to walk to the dining room and back to the room that is hers, but is often not recognized. So many of the tools God gave her are already gone. In this thought, I struggle to remember that God is good all the time.

Yet, even when I struggle, God is still good.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2: 16-17, ESV)

God promises us a hope and a future. That hope is not tenuous, nor is it thin. It is a hope that comes from the perfect love of our Father. A hope that comes from the saving work of God’s Son and the sanctifying work of God’s Spirit. 

This is a hope that is good – all the time.