As I gaze at the photo taken of my parents the week of their deaths, I imagine they’re in a Harry-Potter-esque animated photo. They’re happy and waving from the bow of the whale-watching ship. “The weather is beautiful! I saw a humpback before you! See ya soon!” Continue reading
You probably don’t remember our brief meeting that snowy night in February 1994. Dressed in overlapping hospital gowns, I was walking the back halls of Detroit’s Sinai hospital with my husband to “regulate” my labor. You were dressed in a black coat and brimmed hat, walking towards us with purpose, when the pain from a contraction took me to my knees. You stopped and waited until I could stand, made eye contact, and said, “I’ll pray the best for you.”
You said it with such authority. It wasn’t a platitude.
Often I think back on that chance meeting, wondering. Who were (are) you? A clergyman on a mission of mercy? Caregiver for a loved one?
I picture you in my thoughts—a tall statue of ebony skin and clothes. I wish I could tell you how comforting your words to a stranger were.
I wish I could tell you how often I pray the best for you.
© Laura Hedgecock 2013
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The innocents of Sandy Hook have not yet been laid to rest, yet snipes of the blame game sound like a barrage in the background. Facebook posts with God supposedly reminding us, often on t-shirts, “I’m not allowed in schools” abound. Mike Huckabee has gone so far as to proclaim that we have “systematically removed God from our schools.”1
God is with us. That’s not something that any outside source can forbid or allow. God cannot be legislated out of schools. Whether we’re Christian, Jewish, Muslim or other, God, Yahweh, Allah, the Divine is with us, always. God was with Principal Dawn Hochsprung, as her only hesitation was to warn others before she confronted the gunman.2 God was with the teachers. From where did they draw their strength to do whatever was needed to protect, calm, and love their young charges?
Are we who yearn for greater religious expression in schools really prepared to teach our children that because they were in school, the staff and children of Sandy Hook faced evil without God’s strength and comfort?
Maybe God teaches lessons whether regardless of what is “allowed.”
Does the heroism exhibited inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School not evoke a semblance of “Love your neighbor as yourself?
I don’t understand why such violence happened. I don’t understand why God allowed it, or didn’t intervene more. I’m not sure how we prevent further violence. I do know, however, that God was there and will be with us as we comfort the grieving and try to make this horrible loss of life matter.
1Nick Wing, “Mike Huckabee Explains Bizarre Claim That God’s Absence From Sandy Hook Led To Massacre,” Huffington Post, last modified 2/17/2012 10:35 am EST, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/17/mike-huckabee-sandy-hook_n_2315340.html.
2Brad Knickerbocher, “Sandy Hook shooting: Stories of heroism, ways to help (+video),”Christian Science Monitor, last modified December 15, 2012, http://www.csmonitor.com/About/Staff/Brad-Knickerbocker.
I’m trying to reconcile two understandings I have about the giving of gifts and trying to figure out if they are opposites or complementary.
Giving the Best that you Have
This is the perennial Christmas teaching. I recently had the honor of playing a street woman in Tom Long’s play, “Nativity on the Square.” My own lines brought the lesson home to me again. When I see that the king of the nativity scene is reluctant to give up his gift, I admonish him, “But that’s why you brought it, isn’t it? That’s why you’re all here…to give him the very best that you have.”
Yesterday, I was again reminded that gift-giving is not supposed to be easy as a friend read an excerpt of Celestine Sibley’s Especially at Christmas, in which Mrs. Sibley related how her mother insisted on re-gifting items to those who needed them more. When the author once protested to her mother that she really wanted to keep a gift for herself, her mother “blithely” (if I remember correctly) explained how that made it a great gift—it was something difficult to give up.
I truly believe this is our model of giving. Giving sacrificially isn’t just financial. True generosity is giving something we’d rather keep for ourselves. It’s the giving of time and talent, when we feel we’re running short of both, to people who might not even appreciate it. It inspires me to give better. It makes me think of wrapping up that spoon rest that I bought for my friend Irene last Christmas but decided it looked too good in my kitchen to give up.
Giving without Even Meaning to…
On the other hand, I also believe we often give exceptionally meaningful gifts without even being aware that we’re doing it. We do it when we smile at a stranger, ask a clerk how they feel, call a friend, or pick a flower.
Example: One summer when I was in bad health, I was more than a little embarrassed by the state of my yard and garden. Dandelions ruled in the lawn, and the sum total of my gardening efforts was to shove a morning glory in the dirt by the mailbox and harass my boys into watering it. One day I was at my mailbox getting the mail (bills), when a neighbor stopped and lowered her window. I braced myself for a “helpful” recommendation of ChemLawn. Instead, the woman said, “I want you to know how much I love your morning glories. Seeing them each morning as I leave the sub gives me such joy.” She didn’t know me, didn’t know I was sick. She, whatever her name is, was probably just being herself but to me she is a gift-giver extraordinaire.
This, too, inspires me. It makes me more aware of the strangers I walk among, aware that small kindnesses can truly brighten a day.
How do these two types of giving mesh? Well, both are giving a gift of ourselves. Both stem God’s gift of a Savior—the ultimate gift.
Can it be that generosity has evolved from a discipline, to a habit, to a joy?
© Laura Hedgecock 2012
Today, among my friends, there seems to be a particular need for prayers. Friends fighting cancer, friends having major surgery, friends waiting while loved ones have major surgery, friends trying to make sense of a high-school senior and recent homecoming king’s suicide.
I take comfort in the prayers they post on Facebook, souls bared in their moments of vulnerability. I’m touched by the love that flows from hearts through the “cloud” to other hearts. It’s a virtual praying aloud, hoping others join in your supplications.
I am particular moved by one prayer today, imbued with love, hope and forgiveness. A friend not only prays for comfort for the family who has lost their teenage son, but for the teenager himself. She prays that he has found the peace he sought.
We humans, however, jealously guard the vestiges of our previous carpets of green, heedlessly and wantonly destroying the new carpets – tearing them apart, pulling pieces away, and thrusting them into bags.
The metaphor isn’t just the carpet. We seem to be much more comfortable with looking forward and looking back. Our inability to live in nature’s moment is symbolic of our obsession with “better.” Looking around, our memories on the past and our hopes for the future filter our vision, leaving us doubting if our now is what we want it to be. Obsessed with “what could be, ” we overlook the beauty of “what is.”
It is not just about stopping to smell the roses – though we should. It’s about remembering, or perhaps even re-gaining, the innocence of our youth.
The innocence of young children and pets (pardon, please, the comparison) makes watching them enjoyable. Ever see a baby notice a ceiling fan for the first time and do a double take? I remember my great nephew running towards a ball when he was barely bipedal. It took several falls and several get-ups, but he went full speed ahead to find the object of his attention. His pure, simple joy of discovery was moving.
This time of year, I especially like to remember my neighbor’s dog, Shade, when he was young. He faced each day with enthusiasm. As the rest of us trudged out to the bus stop each morning, Shade would be on the lookout for whatever gifts nature had bestowed. If he looked up and saw a leaf riding down on a breeze, he would go ecstatic chasing it down. He would be pure joy on four legs, as if to say, “A leaf! For Me! Direct from Heaven! Who would have thought?”
Now when I see a colorful leaf, floating down on a breeze or hanging from a tree above, I remember. They are gifts for me, directly from heaven.
© Laura Hedgecock 2012
“Let Go and Let God.”
It’s not that I have no faith and it’s not as if I’m conceded enough to think my plans for my children are better, safer, smarter or anything like that.
It is just incomprehensible for me to think that God loves my kids the same way, as I do. Maybe He loves them as much, but definitely not the same.
God has so many children—and so many of them are in desperate situations. It doesn’t seem reasonable to expect Him to care deeply over each child’s relatively mundane heart breaks, stumbling blocks, and temptations.
Does God really have the luxury of obsessing over each young person’s dreams and endeavors?
Maybe that’s why He gave kids parents. Maybe my caring, nurturing, praying, ok –obsessing, is doing God’s work.
I feel better now.