Turns out, you can teach an old dog new tricks.
The “old dog” would be me. Some may argue that I’m not technically old yet, but I know I’ve already had more trips around the sun than I care to acknowledge.
The “new tricks” would be the simple acts of kindness and compassion.
The lesson? It arrived the last week of October when my mother suffered a massive stroke. She survived six days, then passed away on November 3. Instantly, I joined that group of special, shell-shocked, changed women who’ve lost their mothers.
When we buried Mom, part of me went with her.
The glass half empty.
However, in that odd and mysterious and sometimes confounding way that God gives and takes, He simultaneously refilled my glass with lessons…nay, gifts…of kindness and compassion that I’d never experienced.
So profound were these lessons that when my mind drifts back to that hospital room on the fourteenth floor, the horrible vision of my mother lying there taking her last breaths doesn’t last long. Instead, it fogs and blurs, slowly morphing into visions of the touching acts of kindness I experienced.
His messengers, his tools, his agents for these lessons of kindness were called Darlene, Mandy, John, Doris, Pat, Mike, Amy and Kathy, and probably countless others I’ve forgotten but will remember right after this is posted.
You see, for six days and nights, as I sat by Mom’s hospital bed, one or more of these people was with me, praying, holding my hand, handing me tissues, answering my cell phone, texting updates to relatives, finding pictures, retrieving the nurses, making sure I ate something, and listening with an intensity that allowed me to ignore that I’d already sobbed out the same thoughts at least a dozen times.
Sure, I’d been kind and compassionate before then. When someone died, I’d feel sad for those left behind. I’d offer sympathy, say a few prayers for comfort, send a card, offer assistance, sometimes make a casserole.
But these messengers – Darlene, Mandy, John, Doris, Pat, Mike, Amy and Kathy – demonstrated a whole new level of action and empathy and compassion that I’d never even thought about before.
Applying the Lessons
For those who follow this blog, you know I’ve found meaning in Ephesians 3:18 – “…that you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width, and length, and depth, and height…” (of Christ’s love).
And, that I have revised that verse into my own personal dare: To reach life’s end having lived not only the length of it but also its depth, width and height.
Depth – I think the lesson here, for me, is not only that I need to go deeper when others feel pain, but also to allow them to go deeper. Anticipate their needs. Put myself in their shoes. Let them talk in-depth. I don’t need to have the answers, the wise words of wisdom. All I need to do is listen.
My messengers did that, and when the funeral was over and I journeyed back to Marpennsylginia, then Just My Joe took up the task. He has listened, rubbed my back and held my hand, and has never complained once.
As I’ve already learned, women who have lost their mothers are prone to cry unexpectedly: at holidays, at the whiff of certain perfume, at their own aging reflections as they see their mother’s face more each day, and at each split-second realization that reaching for the phone will not produce their mother’s voice. Having a loving husband with strong shoulders comes in handy at these times.
Height – Years ago, just before my mom was diagnosed with lupus, I thought I was going to lose her, and I begged God to give me more time. He did. He gave me ten more years with her. So, I can’t complain. I can’t ask God to bring her back; that would be impossible. And, I can’t ask Him to take away the grief. That too would be impossible. But I can ask for comfort, for the veil of grief to lift somewhat so that I can establish a new “normal.” And, He is granting it.
Width – I see now that little acts of kindness at such a time do mean a lot. Wondering if you should pay a visit? Make a call? Send a card? Yes! Does a silly little mass-produced card, for example, really mean anything at such a time? Yes!
I spent six days in a hospital, unable to concentrate on anything, especially a book or magazine with messages of more than three sentences in length. When a card would arrive, I’d devour it, study the picture, read the message, ponder the emotion that prompted the sender to make the effort. The card reminded me that others knew my pain, that they cared, and that they understood what was happening.
I could rattle off for you the names of each person who sent a card to the hospital that week, but I couldn’t tell you one single item of food that I ate, how much, or when.
Those simple little cards connected me to others at a time when I felt so alone, so isolated from the world.
Those simple acts of kindness and compassion are everything but simple.
Thanks, to everyone who reached out, sent a card, said a prayer.
And, special thanks to: Darlene (cousin), Mandy (cousin), John (uncle), Doris (Mom’s best friend), Pat (friend), Mike (pastor), Amy (his wife), and Kathy (friend).
Yesterday I was nominated for the Liebster Blog Award by my lovely and talented friend Cathy Baker from South Carolina!
The Liebster Blog Award is given to bloggers by bloggers, as a way of acknowledging each other and saying, “You’re doing a great job.” (Perhaps Cathy knew I’d been foolishly ignoring my blog…opting to write fiction…so she’s brought me racing back. Thanks Cathy!)
When you receive the award, you post 11 random facts about yourself and answer 11 questions from the person(s) who nominated you. You pass the Award onto 11 other blogs (make sure you tell them you nominated them!) and ask them 11 questions. You’re not allowed to nominate the blog(s) who nominated you! (To get the button, right click the picture on my page and save the picture to your computer. You can then upload to your blog.)
11 Random Facts about Me:
- The one and only time I’ve ever kayaked, I did it BIG: off the coast of Alaska in the Pacific Ocean (What was I thinking?)
- A porch is just about my favorite place in the entire world – There, I can read, rock, nap, eat, converse with friends, write, learn, watch the world go by.
- Besides my “serious” degrees, I’ve studied interior design at the Corcoran Institute in Washington D.C.
- Several years ago, I was a serious bicycler…I once logged 30 miles in one day.
- I once got lost in a desert in Arizona and discovered I was in the middle of a blasting site; have NEVER driven so fast in my life.
- I shot a snake this past spring…because the only good snake is a dead snake.
- I require at least one small piece of chocolate each day or I get cranky.
- I aspire to write an epic story like “Lonesome Dove” or “North and South” one day.
- I have lectured at Harvard University each August for the past 20+ years. Topic: Crisis Communication.
- Most amazing unexpected moment: Watching the sunset on top of Cadillac Mountain with my son as a group of unknowns near us sang “How Great Thou Art.” Amazing.
- Just My Joe and I are building a house in southeast Georgia…yes, of course, with a porch…and it will be back a long lane with views of cows and trees.
The Eleven Questions Cathy Asked Me:
1. Would you rather see a movie at the theater or at home on DVD? Why?
If price were no object, at the theater. I like to make even movies a special time out. (Of course, that would include stadium seating, and uber comfortable chairs!)
2. If someone wrote a book about your life, what would they title it?
“A Day Late and a Dollar Short.”
3. Who’s your favorite singer or band?
Eagles, hands down. Their Greatest Hits album is the best album ever sold in all history. ‘Nuff said.
4. If you had to choose a favorite book of the Bible, what would it be and why?
Proverbs. (Is it okay to confess to being envious of Solomon’s wisdom?) Besides the knowledge it imparts, I love the many literary devices it uses to convey messages.
5. Fiction or non-fiction? Why?
Fiction. I L-O-V-E stories! They make me feel like I’m living many lives, rather than just one.
6. How would you spend a million dollars?
Ten percent to church. Ten percent to Wounded Warriors. Then of what’s left, I’d put half in the bank, and spread the other half out among family and friends. (After I go to Ireland, that is!) Oh, and I’d repair the porch at the crossroads of Potomac Street and Route 68 in Williamsport, MD,…I don’t know who lives there but I have to stop at that intersection every blessed time and that dilapidated porch always bugs me.
7. Walmart or Target?
8. Do you parallel park or drive around the block?
I love a challenge (I’m stubborn): I’d parallel park.
9. What’s your favorite cookie?
Seven-layer cookies. I use them to bribe people when I want something done…they are THAT good.
10. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I’ve been blessed with travel already …but, since one can never get enough, still on my list are Ireland, Scotland and Australia.
11. What recent blessing from the Lord would you like to share?
Eek! Just one? I suppose the peace and pride He placed in my heart when I dropped off my son for sophomore year at college. I used to cry; now I just feel peace and happiness for him.
Here Are My Nominations for the Liebster Award:
1. Cynthia Howerter
2. The team at Daily Writing Tips
3. Daily Bread of Life – Devotional
4. Psalms 20:4 – Felicia Bowen Bridges
5. Bethany Kaczmarek at Marred and Reformed
6. Tamara at Rockie Mountain Writer
7. Come Go Home With Me at Dee Dee Parker
8. Fresh Faith with AnitaAgersBrooks
9. Story Writing Studio at storywritingstudio
10. Ann Eisenstein at anneisenstein
11. Melissa at theinspiredroom
My 11 Questions for Them:
1. If money were no object, where in the world would you live? (Be specific!)
2. What is your favorite color?
3. What household chore have you been ignoring the most and why?
4. If you could return to age 20 again, what would you do differently for your future?
5. Do you play a musical instruments? (If not, what hobby do you enjoy most?)
6. What is your all-time favorite book? (Bible and cookbooks do not count)
7. What is the most wonderful unexpected moment you’ve ever had?
8. Mountains or Ocean?
9. If you had to be stuck in a hospital bed for three months, and so did another…who would you want in the next bed?
10. If you could have lived any time in history, when would you have wished to live (assuming good health)?
11. If your house were on fire, what one possession would you grab on your way out?
Thanks Cathy! I hope this helps other bloggers! Even more, I hope I did this correctly!
The Dare: To reach life’s end having lived not only its length, but also its depth, width and height.
It happened again.
I came across one of those you-must-do-this-before-you-die! articles.
This one, a list: “The World’s Most Picturesque Villages.”
It pulled me in—a bee to nectar.
Sixteen “quaint” villages that I must experience, it says.
I love quaint! It implies homey, welcoming—culinary surprises, visual delights, people that you can run up to and hug, adopt for life.
A quick assessment: I’ve only seen five of the sixteen villages.
Thirty-one pitiful percent.
And, given my place in life, the demands of work, more-pressing priorities, and—in many cases—the risks involved in visiting certain countries, it’s safe to say I’ll probably never even achieve fifty percent of the list.
That feeling of “coming up short” set in again—the resume with gaps in experience, the table service for seven.
Visiting these locales, I guess, is more within the possibilities of people with great wealth and leisure time, as depicted on the TV show, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Money is no object.
Those people own it all, do it all, see it all.
I’m not one of them.
So, I did what I do so well…I cranked the rationalization switches to full-blast:
- The locales are so distant. The list was created by the American news media, which means that their list inherently would be devoid of anything great about America, particularly quaint villages.
- I have different priorities for my money and time—trips to be with Just My Joe, tuition payments for the Prince, a soon-to-be-published novel that demands my attention.
- Flying is such a chore these days. ‘Nuff said on that one
Why do I feel the need to rationalize my way out of envy?
The Bible teaches us that the way we change envy is by changing our perspective, by living a life of purpose.
Galatians 6:4 tells us: “Let everyone be sure to do his very best, for then he will have the personal satisfaction of work done well and won’t need to compare himself with someone else.”
Strive to be Rich in Purpose
When we strive NOT to keep up with the neighbors, but rather to be the people we are meant to be, won’t we then find ourselves rich in purpose?
I’m convinced that a life rich in purpose includes The Dare:
- Depth. Look inward. How well did you live? Quaint is a matter of the heart and of a perspective that comes from within. Note to self: Focus on becoming a person of contentment.
- Width. Look around. How well did you love? Can’t I offer “quaint” to others? I can cook a feast for friends, welcome them into my home, make them feel special. How quaint. How wise. Note to self: Focus on becoming a person of wisdom.
- Height. Look up How well did you learn to let go and trust? I’m rather sure that the word “quaint” does not appear in the Bible (please let me know if I’m wrong), yet the secular world sure likes to assign the word to descriptions of the Bible’s wisdom (“quaint fables,” “quaint teachings”) thus implying something homespun, unsophisticated, NOT to be taken seriously. How silly the world can be! Note to self: Focus on becoming a person of godliness.
Rinse and Repeat
Once again, my focus:
Become a person of contentment.
Become a person of wisdom.
Become a person of godliness.
I think if I can do this, I’ll be the Bill Gates of a life rich in purpose.
To learn more about The Dare, follow this link where all entries are listed in reverse chronological order: http://dlkoontz.com/category/the-dare/
Posted by dlkoontz on Jun 27, 2012 in Blog, The Dare | 12 comments
“The Dare: To reach life’s end having lived not only the length of it, but also its depth, width and height.”
He stood there.
More accurately, he stood out.
He was braced, feet distanced soldier-style, body erect, on a grassy island about 2′ x 2′ in size between the traffic and median divider, trying to practice perseverance, restore pride.
His clothes were tattered, dirty. His scruffy beard spoke of hard times, little access lately to the joys of grooming. His reddened, raw skin revealed it’d been a long day in the sun.
He mustered all his courage to look passersby in the eye, while they, in turn, glued their gaze to the traffic light, avoiding eye contact.
His cardboard sign, which looked like it was penned by a child, announced, “Will Work for Food.”
He’d lost his job, his wife, his kids, his home, his car, his wallet, his hope, his rabbit’s foot.
Okay, I don’t really know that. My editor would scold me for changing ‘point of view’ as there is no way I could know he was practicing perseverance, mustering courage and had lost everything.
But then, that’s the dilemma of encountering such folks, isn’t it?
We try to tweak our point of view to make it more palatable. We remove the unknowns by assigning knowns or probables to them.
We evaluate before we act.
They’re drug addicts.
They’re God-fearing, hard-working, tax-paying, family-loving solid citizens who’ve succumbed to the hard times of this recession. Heck, wife Madge and the kids are waiting over in the nearby woods and none of them have eaten for three days.
That’s the point, isn’t it? That we never know. And still, we must make snap decisions.
I’ve worked in—and just outside of—four large cities in my life (Washington D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, Cleveland) so I’ve seen all sorts of scenarios once street people (vagrants? bums? angels in disguise?) pocketed a little money. So, you never know.
But, does it matter?
I did what I usually do when I encounter such folks. I reached into my purse for the McDonald’s coupons.
Yep, I long ago learned to be ready. I didn’t want to subsidize an addiction—booze, drugs, worse. So, I kept McDonald’s coupons in my purse. The recipient’s only choice would be to trade the coupon for food. As you know, there are McDonald’s around every corner.
But this time, I came up empty.
I’d forgotten to stock up.
And in my wallet? One twenty-dollar bill.
I’d have to give him cash. Cash that I needed a little more than a few weeks ago before I’d lost one of my clients. Cash that I intended for cat food, milk, printer paper, all of which was on my shopping list.
Then my stomach growled and I felt his hunger. Funny how that happens.
Yes, I’d have to give him cash.
But what if I was unknowingly helping an addiction?
The Dare: Depth. Width. Height.
Depth: Look inward. If I were he, I’d be scared to death. Imagine living like this day by day. And what about his inward? The man may be hurting deep down in his soul. His turnaround may hinge on someone, just one person, extending kindness.
Width: Look around. This stranger resided outside of the circle of my everyday. Outside my comfort zone. Should I, the introvert, let him into my circle? Surely the money I could give him, when combined with the rest he collected, might help him get out of this situation.
Height: Look up. WWJD?
Okay, that one clinched it, made me chuckle. Jesus would tell him to climb in the car, take him out to dinner, give him a bed for the night, and toss in a parable and a pair of sandals, no charge.
“Truly I say, whatever you did for one of the least of these my brethren, you did for me.”
Was I serious about “The Dare”..?
“Give and ye shall receive.”
But isn’t that a selfish reason for giving?
You never know what it will cost to give.
But, what will be the cost of not giving?
I gave him the twenty.
And told him thanks (for helping me see more clearly).
I think I felt us both expand in depth, width and height.
Posted by dlkoontz on Jun 20, 2012 in Blog, The Dare | 10 comments
“Dare: To reach life’s end having lived not only the length of it, but also its depth, width and height.”
During a recent meeting to refinance my mortgage, the loan officer asked about my current income.
I looked at the coffee mug I was suddenly squeezing.
I had come to hate this question. It seemed so intrusive, so evaluative – a mother-in-law questioning your childrearing skills, a dentist inquiring about your flossing routine.
I knew he wasn’t judging me. He had arranged several mortgages for me in the past, and as per our routine, we chattered with the comfort and candidness of old friends rather than as loan officer and customer – he even told me about his wife’s illness, her fears, her struggles.
But still I hesitated. The truth was discomforting: that I’d lost one of my clients, becoming a poster child for the recession.
My income had dropped.
And, I had no other immediate prospects, save a few temporary writing/editing gigs.
I had seen other people flinch at this information. They’d study me with that quiet, assessing look, the one we all give the house that’s been on the market too many months or the student who has been in college too many years. The conclusion: There must be something wrong.
But nothing was wrong.
In fact, something was right.
Something right that meshed with The Dare.
Depth: Look inward. I wanted two situations in my life now more than I wanted the impressive income: (1) to spend more time with Just My Joe (significant other), and with the Prince (son Matt) while he is home from college for the summer, and (2) to spend more time writing.
Width: Look around. I still had one client that I’d worked for, for almost ten years. So, I was still producing, still making an income, still using my education. As long as I was blessed to be able to work for this client, I would. And, I would work hard for them. Sure, the living is tighter. But when is enough $$ ever enough?
I’d spent 25 years of my life thinking, “Just a little bit more, just a little bit more.” And each time, the little bit more just set me up with a richer lifestyle, with more things that failed to satisfy, and true to form, I’d begun the “just-a-little-bit-more” chant all over again. An addict never satisfied.
Height: Look up. I had to have faith in myself, in God, in Just My Joe, that this would work. When you feel called, nudged, needled to make a change, to step into the unknown, shouldn’t you have faith that it will work? When one door closes another door opens.
In 1993, the year my son was born, I first earned a six-figure income. Nineteen years ago. I can’t even imagine what that would equate to today, when adjusted for inflation. And yet the money was nothing, NOTHING when compared to holding my newborn.
It took me a long time to realize that situations make me happier than things. An organized home. Parents within driving distance. A son who is happy, fulfilled. A man I trust and respect, and who loves me despite my flaws. Time to watch the sunrise from my porch, rich cup of coffee in hand. A view of clumsy cows ambling through a pasture. A ramble on a 4-wheeler through nature so thick that I’m encased in green. Clinking glasses with friends or my surrogate sisters over a lunch of salmon in an upscale restaurant. Pets that soothe me on tough days.
A few years ago, I gave serious effort to creating a Bucket List. It was eye-popping. Under the category “To Own” I’d listed four things. Under “To Do,” I’d logged thirty-six things, and under “To Visit,” a dozen destinations. Doing and going outnumbered owning by about twelve to one.
And so it is that I’m living a little more frugally… but happily.
Back when I worked crazy hours, I was focused on life’s length, thinking that I’ll write “one of these days.” Now I’m basking in the depth, width and height of actually doing it.
It’s Writing Monday…
The final installment on the gloomy voices that plague writers and anyone involved in any creative process:
Gloomy Voice #7 – Publishing will change you; you’ll lose your grounding, your sense of self.
The truth: Publishing can actually humble you.
I believed, before I sold my first book, that publication would be instantly and automatically gratifying, an affirming and poignant experience, a Hallmark commercial where one runs and leaps in slow motion across a meadow filled with daisies into the arms of acclaim and self-esteem.
The reality was that my son was home sick from school the day my first book came out, the New York Times did not call, and I had to take my cat to the vet.
I was very grounded that day and fully ensconced in my daily life.
Four books later, I still am.
Even promotion of your books can be humbling. Take book signings, for example.
In short, I failed miserably at it.
I always failed to appropriately prepare in advance because I’d never have the answers to the most-asked questions I’d receive, like: “Where is the bathroom?” and “Do you know what time the bookstore closes?”
Humbling, for sure.
No, publishing will only change you for the better. It will humble you, further define you, satisfy you.
Well, satisfy you, that is, until you realize that you have to write a second book, then the whole cycle will begin again.
And you’ll be right back where you again.
Changed? Yes and no.
But humbled, for sure.
Join me on Wednesday as I explore further “The Dare” because “length” isn’t the only way to measure a life: http://dlkoontz.com/2012/06/14/eighteen-words-that-soothe-and-dare-me/
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