Thursday, April 9, 2015

Salt of the Earth

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. 
(Matthew 5: 13-16, ESV)

Our world recently lost someone who was the essence of the phrase "salt of the earth." My dictionary of clich├ęs describes this phrase as applying to an individual "considered to be the best or noblest of his kind." This definition fits Gil better than any other person I have known, both in its secular and Christian sense.

I first met Gil when I began teaching at the same Lutheran Church where his daughter was the music director. The church had just started a school, and the devil was working overtime to close this ministry. It was open season on the teaching staff.

It seemed to me that everything I did was criticized, and I was certainly not alone. People who had never been to our classrooms were accusing us of being bad teachers. People who had never taught before were certain they knew what we should be doing differently. There were false accusations and constant denigration that interfered with teaching and learning. I wondered why I was teaching, at all. 

Some days, when I brought the children outside for recess, I would see Gil’s familiar face. He donated much of his time and talent to the church each week. If I was on the playground and he was finishing a job, he would come over and visit. We would talk about all sorts of things – stories about kids, about the early days of our church (he was a charter member), and stories about people. In this gentle way, he gave me some joy and bolstered my faith in God’s ability to bring good out of His sinful people and the situations we create. 

In this way, Gil was not just being the salt of the earth. He was salt and light. He was shining a light on God’s goodness and helping me to understand that goodness and to preserve it. He continues to influence me as his life reminds me also to go and be salt and light in this same gentle way.

I know when I stop and ask a church worker how things are going -  I know that when I feel the urge to ask, again, and wait for an answer, that I am blessed to use my God-given faith in a way that was modeled by Gil.

I know that when I look for something positive to say or do, in a negative situation, that I am blessed to use my God-given faith in a way that was modeled by Gil.

I know that when God shows me the joy of talking with people who are not in the spotlight, who are feeling lonely, who are feeling depressed, that I am using my God-given faith in a way that was modeled by Gil.

A good friend recently spoke to my Adolescent Development class about the work she does with at risk youth. She talked about the need each young person has for five people in their life who would do nearly anything for them, five people who care about them, who influence them to help them see that their world can be better. I believe this is true for all of us. Gil was definitely one of my "five." In simple, consistent ways, he showed me he cared and he showed me a better way of living my faith.

I am blessed to know him; he will be sorely missed. I thank God for Gil's faith, his gentleness, his service, and that I could know him for almost a third of his 91 years. God is good.

My new favorite thing about Gil will be to look for him in his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. God is good, all the time.

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ (Matthew 25:21, ESV)

Friday, April 3, 2015

Finding familiarity

Paul received a message from the hospice nurse that Dorris was agitated. His text asked me to go over and see her after class.

I decided to bring one of our cats for a “cat therapy” visit. In an unusual demonstration of empathy, Natalia settled down into Dorris' lap and purred her enjoyment of the scratches and petting. Dorris settled in quite nicely, too.

I began to dig through her closet to find some clothes to wear for her trip to our house for Easter. I found a jacket and asked her if she would like to wear it.

“Yes,” she said, “it has a bit of magnificence about it.”

It is interesting to me how quickly the Dorris I know and love can seemingly leave and then return. In the thirty years I have known her, until her Alzheimer’s, Dorris never, ever gave the impression that she was lost, or somehow not in control of all that was happening around her. I loved that constant assurance.

She is now at the stage where nothing is familiar for more than a few seconds at a time. When I visit with the cat, I must tell her over and over, that the cat does not live in this room, that the cat came to visit Dorris – not the other way around. I must constantly answer her question with the assurance that this room is where she lives and that it is not my house.

Today, I responded to the familiar questions by asking her if she recognized the furniture, pictures, and sculpture in the room.

“Well, they do look familiar -  like I have seen them somewhere before.”

Imagine living in a world where things looked vaguely familiar, but not like home. Then, imagine rediscovering this about every 10-15 seconds. 

It is little wonder that she gets agitated. It is more of a wonder why she isn’t agitated all of the time.

But a nine-pound cat can make all the difference. A cat doesn’t have to be familiar. It doesn’t have to belong. Once it snuggles in and starts purring, that is enough familiarity to keep anyone happy.

Thank you, God, for pets.

On the days leading up to Good Friday, Jesus tried to warn the disciples that change was in the works. His behavior must have been unfamiliar to his followers. Jesus raged in the temple, rode a donkey, washed feet, and allowed His capture.

Jesus’ death meant that, even though, the world was full of familiar things – nothing was, or ever would be, the same again. 

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 
(I John 4: 9-10, ESV)

The fact that our sin could only be appeased by the death and resurrection of God’s Son should be a source of constant agitation, and guilt, and humiliation. Instead, Jesus took these emotions as a burden along with our sins.

Our sin prevents us from making heaven a familiar home. 

God’s love creates the home where we will live, forever, in His most familiar love and care.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 
(I John 4: 13-14, ESV)