CHOICES

CHOICES

*** DISCLAIMER: This post is not about pointing fingers at anyone for past  mistakes. It is about life lessons. And integrity. If anyone happens to recognize any of the people involved, please refrain from commenting. This happened a very long time ago and it is just an example. All of the people concerned are people who, I’m sure, mean well. ***

Many years ago, I was in charge of all of the Wednesday night classes for the children at what was then my church. The Sunday School department was a separate department. My elementary school aged daughter came home from Sunday school one day and was excited to report that her teacher, who I will call Miss Lisa (not her real name) was going to host a class party in a few weeks, I am out on an upcoming Saturday. After granting her permission to go, she RSVPed to this teacher, who is new to that congregation, and I wrote the event down in my daily planner.

A week or so later, my daughter came home with the news that her Wednesday night teacher, who I will call Miss Sandra, (not her real name), had planned a class party on the exact same day and time. Sandra’s home was much more beautiful and bigger than the other woman’s modest house was, and my daughter reported to me that all of the girls at church in her age group we’re going to go to that party instead. Sandra was a long time member of the church, her husband was a deacon, so she was very well-known and respected in the community. She was also of the reputation of having an extraordinarily kind heart.

As the Director of the Wednesday night programs, which Sandra’s class fell under, I Felt compelled to approach her and ask her nicely if she would move her party to the following week or later in the summer. I did not hesitate, because I knew she had a spirit of cooperation. I was sure that she would understand my concern, that the other woman, a relatively new church member, might get her feelings hurt if all of the class members went to the other party.

Unfortunately, Sandra did not see it that way. She informed me that she had plans the next few weeks that would conflict with her throwing a party and she insisted on giving it the exact same day as Lisa’s party. So my daughter told me that she wanted to go to Sandra’s party with her friends instead of honoring her original commitment. I was in a quandary. My heart felt for my daughter.  

I wanted her to be able to go to the bigger party and enjoy pool time with her friends. But I also decided to use this as a teaching moment to try to instill into her a life lesson. So we sat down and I asked her if she thought that was the right thing to do? Unhesitatingly she said yes, because that is what all of her friends were doing. Then I asked her how she thought she wouldfeel if no one showed up at her party? I then talked to her about the importance of honoring her word. I asked her how she would feel, if someone canceled plans with her, just because something better came up?

We did not debate this for long. My daughter has the ability to empathize with others, and though I had presented the case in such a manner that I hopedthat she would do the right thing, I left the decision as to which party to attend entirely up to her, though she was only about nine years old at the time. She said to me this, “Momma, I am going to go to Miss Lisa’s party. I don’t want to hurt her feelings.”

When the day of the do parties arrived, I dropped my daughter off at the very modest home of Lisa, and said a prayer as I was leaving that someone else would show up, because my daughter was the only one there at that time, other than a handful of Lisa’s family members. On the ride home after the party, my daughter told me that she was so glad that she had gone to Lisa’s party, because only one other person from church had attended. It was just my daughter, another student, and the teacher’s family. The other party had been jampacked with almost every other class member. I was very proud of my daughter and hoped that this would be a life lesson that would stick with her throughout her lifetime. As an unexpected bonus, because my daughter and the other young lady were the only two students there, they got a lot of attention and one on one personal time with the teacher that they would not have gotten that the other party.

Fast forward many years, to when I was going through my divorce. My ex-husband and I had long since left that particular church and had started attending a different one. Lisa no longer went to church anywhere. But I ran into her at some functions with friends, and she said that she was also going through a bad divorce. We then met together for dinner a few times to compare notes and commiserate. I had known Lisa for many years, but had  never been good friends with her. Nonetheless, I was hurt, disappointed, and shocked when she betrayed my confidencesto some of our mutual friends and literally stabbed me in the back to boot. Instantly, my mind flashed back to that incident so long ago when I have persuaded my daughter to go to her party instead of the other one. I wanted to scream at her and fling that in her face. That is the human side of me.

But I did not do so. Instead I held my tongue. I simply cut ties with her and started avoiding her altogether. For she had also confided in me, and I knew that she was also suffering. It would’ve been so easy for me to turn around and breach her  confidences, as she had done to me. But I do not have a vengeful nature. So I did no such thing. And while we all sit around and laugh about the possibilities of revenge at some point or another in our lives,that is something I leave to God. I don’t know if He will ever enlighten Lisa as to the fact that breaching confidentiality is not a good thing to do. But that is between her and God.

Instead, I simply walked away with my head held high. If I had it to do over again, knowing that she would betray me on down the road, would I still have gently persuaded my daughter to go to her party, rather than the other woman’s party? Absolutely! I do not hesitate in saying that. For my grandmother instilled into me the importance of honoring one’s word. Even if it is it is inconvenient. Even if it is uncomfortable. Even if something better comes along. She taught me the value of looking at things from the other person’s perspective. From being considerate to making sacrifices, to donating her time and resources, the way she lived was a witness to me that reminds me every day of my life to this day, though she has been long gone from this earth for many years.

To me, honor is of utmost importance. There is no substitute for integrity. But having a tender heart, I know what it’s like to have my own feelings hurt, and I try never to intentionally do that to someone else. Please don’t misunderstand: I am not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I can sit around and plot revenge with the best of them, then sit around and laugh about those things with friends over dinner. Like when my friends used to tell me I should put Ex-Lax in my soon to be ex-husband’s food supply. We had many laughs over that – though I never did any such thing – it was great comedic relief from the pain of divorce to consider it. I recognize that this is sinful behavior, and I’ve had many long talks with God about it. For though I didn’t act upon it, it is probably not the best witness. I’m pretty sure everyone knows that I would never do such a thing. And I’m sure hoping that if my ex-husband had any gastrointestinal distress during our divorce process, that he knows I would never do that. 

The point is, that we don’t have to act upon every thought or impulse. Life is about choices! We get to choose whether or not to honor our word. We get to choose whether or not to be spiteful or execute revenge. We get to choose whether or not to consider someone else’s feelings. We get to choose to be considerate or inconsiderate. 

I hope and pray that, with God’s help, I will continue to make good choices. I am an imperfect human being, and I have made my fair share of mistakes. But I do always try to honor my word.

When I was in the seventh grade, my English teacher gave us an assignment of making a slogan out of our last names.  I remember a young man whom I did not think was particularly attractive in terms of the boy girl crush thing, whose last name was bond. He came up with, or borrowed, the slogan, “My word is my bond!” I just love that! After I heard him say that, he suddenly became much more attractive to me, because he said it was such sincerity.And though it is not my last name, I have tried to adopt that slogan, as well.

I am quite sure that I will mess up again soon. I will make a mistake. I will inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings. I will miss the time on an appointment. I will think up a way of getting back at someone who has been unkind to me. I will do something that is not right. It is guaranteed, because I am, like the other women in this story, a human being. I may even do one of those things later today, though I pray I will have the presence of mind not to do so. But I am sharing this story as a reminder that every choice we make does count, somehow, someway, to someone. Let’s try to make them good ones!

“But whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in Him.”

 – I John 2:5

– Lou Lehman Sams

Waiting in the Presence of Saints

Back in the day when I was a Dental Hygienist & managed a dental office, people would sometimes schedule appointments for cosmetic dentistry. Perhaps they needed a crown or veneers on one or more teeth. They wanted these things in order to protect their teeth or to improve their appearance, & self-esteem. The dentist I worked for did a good job with cosmetic issues such as this, & the end results were usually very esthetically pleasing, with the patients being happier & more content. They were able to chew their food better, or smile more easily, or express themselves in a more confident manner, or sometimes, all of these. However, there was a PROCESS involved in getting to this place of satisfaction. That entailed getting a shot – ouch – did I say that word out loud?!? To re-phrase, they had an injection of anesthesia to numb the affected area, so that they could not feel the pain that was about to ensue as a result of drilling out tooth decay, removing bits of tooth, or filing & smoothing rough surfaces. They had to lie prone in an uncomfortable position, & be totally still for a time that was undetermined by them. They could not even get up to go to the restroom unless the dentist was at an appropriate stopping place, for fear of messing up the procedure. They had a bright light shining down onto their faces, so that, while the dental professionals could see everything going on with them very clearly, they could not see very well themselves. And since they could not turn their heads without being instructed to do so, they could not even see everything that was going on in the room around them. Sometimes they had to make 2 or 3 visits in order to get everything done. At those times, they were given temporary crowns, ones which were only a facsimile of what the real crown would look like. The patients would get tired of holding their mouths open in such an awkward, uncomfortable & unusual manner for such an extended time. Some of them were so very fearful of the entire process that they were given nitrous oxide, a.k.a. laughing gas to help ease their anxieties.

But the choice to have the procedures done was always theirs – they were not forced into the chairs, tied down, or held down by chains. They could have, if they really wanted to do so, gotten up & walked out at any time. But they made a choice, these adult patients, to be still, & let the doctor do his work. They trusted him to do a good job, in as short a time possible & that they would be pleased with the end result. And sometimes they had to wait for extended periods of time in the outer waiting room, just to get in & have the procedure begin in the first place. But they did wait. For they wanted what the doctor had to offer them. They wanted to look & feel better. Once in a great while, there would be a patient with an abscessed tooth or something who did not follow the doctor’s prescribed treatment. What right did that patient, who refused the antibiotics, who refused to have the decay removed, who refused to allow the doctor’s hand to work on him, what right did that patient have to complain when they eventually lost that tooth? In my eyes, they had no right to complain at all.

No patient in their right mind would have squirmed, wiggled, or otherwise wrestle while the doctor had his drill actively engaged inside their mouth, for they knew that to do so might cause him to slip & cause them further harm. And I had occasion to act as the doctor’s assistant on procedures ranging from cosmetic improvements to oral surgery. No one ever enjoyed any of these uncomfortable experiences. And I hated that for them, but I tried to be as reassuring as possible to them while they were being worked on. No one ever begged to get onto the calendar, wished for a cavity, or volunteered for surgery unnecessarily. Going to the dentist was, for most people, considered to be an unpleasant experience that they would just as soon avoid at all costs. Yet still they came.

They sat as still as possible & allowed the dentist to do his work. Most of them did not speak unless spoken to, for that meant further delay in getting through the procedure. They were never left unattended, as either the dentist or his assistant or both were in the room with them at all times. One of the jobs of the assistant was to reassure the patients, & for those who were really anxious, sometimes this meant literally holding their hand while they were being worked on. The patients could not see everything going on around them – the times the assistant turned her back on them to mix a bonding compound, or when the drill bits were being changed out, or when an x-ray was being developed. But they could hear sounds, were cognizant of activity, & knew things were being worked out on their behalf. They simply trusted that the doctor knew exactly what he was doing. They listen for his directions about what to do next – which way to turn, when to rinse, how wide to open, etc. And they followed his directives without question.

So why then is it that we have such a difficult time sitting still & letting the Great Physician perform His work in our lives? Perhaps there are times when He must make us lie still, be uncomfortable, or be temporarily blinded by something external in order that He can remove decay, transform something ugly into something beautiful, or smooth off rough spots within us? Perhaps we are made to feel numb about something that has transpired in our lives because otherwise the pain would be far too great for us to bear? Perhaps we are not supposed to see every little movement that is occurring around us on our behalf? Perhaps …

I have always been a very good patient – in the physical realm. I guess that is because not only was I a dental health professional, but so was my aunt & my mother, so I was trained at a very early age that things will go a lot more smoothly & quickly & comfortably if you will lie still when needed & just relax & trust the doctor. Why then, do I have such a problem with this in my spiritual life? Why do I have such a difficult time when I feel God working on me? I KNOW that the end result will be a new, improved, & better me. Yet I squirm. I wiggle. I protest. I get impatient with waiting. At times I even get up out of that chair & start to head out the door before the procedure is completed.

I hate that bright light shining down on me, exposing all of my flaws! I abhor being confined. I detest being still for extended periods. I dislike not knowing what is going on around me. I deny that I have decay that needs to be removed.

But I know that I will not be happy with the end results if I do not allow him to finish. I know that, if the decay is not removed, excessive pain will result that will eventually cause a part of me to die. So I endure that discomfort. I listen for directions.

Yes, sometimes I misunderstand those directions. Sometimes the anesthetic wears off enough that the pain brings tears. Sometimes I get really, really frustrated with having to lie there for so long, thinking about all of the other things that I want to be doing. At those times, a soothing voice calms my spirit, or a warm hand clasps mine, or I feel a gentle squeeze on my shoulder. Sometimes those things are from the Master Himself. But when He is busy preparing things on my behalf, sometimes it is His “assistants” that help me through.

I am so very thankful for all of the Godly men & women that God has sent to me to help me be still, keep calm, & be quiet when I was having a hard time doing so by myself. For the ones that dried my tears & reassured me that everything was going to be all right. For the ones who sat in that Waiting Room with me, until it was my time to be seen, & for the ones who were assigned the task of helping me through the procedure.

Yes, waiting is very hard, especially for someone as active & hyper as me! My best advice for waiting? Surround yourself with the presence of Godly people who will wait with you as you trust in God to make the restorations you need in your life. But wait on the Lord – He knows what He is doing. Trust Him. The end result is worth the wait.

And if you know someone that is being told to lie still while God is working? Perhaps you can be the one that waits with them. Pray with them. Talk to them. Listen to them. Pray for them. Reassure them. Soothe them. Distract them. Most of all, just be there to wait with them! Be present for them!!

“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God;
I trust in the mercy of God forever & ever.
I will praise You forever,
because You have done it:
And in the presence of Your saints
I will wait on Your name, for it is good.”
-Psalm 52:8-9

~ Lou Lehman Sams

REMEMBERING SACRIFICE

ImageHow many people, getting a reprieve from work or school for the day, host barbecues or go hiking, to the river, or the beach on Memorial Day without ever stopping to think about why we have designated it as a National Holiday? According to Wikipedia, a memorial “is an object which serves as a focus for memory of something, usually a person (who has died) or an event. Popular forms of memorials include landmark objects or art objects such as sculptures, statues or fountains, and even entire parks.” The purpose of Memorial Day is to memorialize our American soldiers that have died in the line of duty. In recent times, people have begun to include well-deserved recognition of military personnel who are currently serving during both Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day tributes. However, the idea behind Memorial Day which was once also known as Decoration Day, was to commemorate fallen soldiers by placing flowers upon their graves.

The unofficial beginnings of this holiday began when women across the nation, but primarily in the South, started marking unknown Confederate and Union soldier’s graves, many of which were unknown and unmarked, after the Civil War. Since they would spend several hours placing wreaths on graves, and transportation was much slower at that time, they would take food to sustain them during the day, hence the linkage of picnicking to the day. I still recall how, when I was a little girl, my grandmother would make the trek over the mountain to the cove where my ancestors settled in 1808 to visit the graves of her relatives on Memorial Day. While they had not fallen in the line of duty, some of them were veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. I accompanied her a couple of times to the old cemetery, where we would stand in silence at the foot of the graves while she prayed or meditated or contemplated and I wondered when it would be time to go back home, so we could cook hamburgers. The process usually took awhile though, because there were always others that she knew there, who had also brought their red-white and blue silk dime-store flowers to the graves of their relatives. Social butterfly that she was, we always had to stop and chat with each one of them and catch up on the gossip since the previous Memorial Day, which is indicative of the social element that has begun to become an ingrained part of the day.

As an adult, I have spent many Memorial Days gathered with family and friends eating barbecue, hamburgers and hot dogs. Sometimes I was at the lake, at a ball game, or, if the weather was bad, I might have gone shopping to take advantage of the sales that somehow seem to permeate every single holiday. Personally, I think it is not a true holiday unless the stores are closed, which gives everyone an opportunity to celebrate. That being said, I do like a good sale, but just do not want them to detract from why we have the ability to take off of work and go shopping!

Regardless of where I am or who I am with, due to the fact that I was raised in a very patriotic family (six of my ancestors served in the American Revolution), I have always made it a point to make certain that there is some mention of why we have the holiday, and to take a moment to reflect on those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms, which is their lives. These brave men and women, were each someone’s father, mother, sister, brother, niece, nephew, son and/or daughter. There were no doubt prayers asking for their safe-keeping offered up as they marched off to war. There were many heart-broken wives, sweethearts and Mommas awaiting a joy-filled reunion that never transpired.

If we pause from our fun-filled activities a moment to actually make a journey to a cemetery on this day of memorials, we see rows of peaceful graves carpeted with green grass marked with tiny American flags and the occasional overdone spray of store-bought flowers. We stop for a moment and offer thanks for their sacrifices, but do we ever actually know what that means? Do we gloss over what must have been very painful and sometimes horrific deaths so that we can hurry off to a game of flag football? Do we neglect to acknowledge the lives of their family members that were forever altered so that we can cut into the summer’s first iced cold watermelons? Do we ever think, for just a moment, about the sadness, fear, and agony that must have accompanied the final breaths of often too-young men as they spilled their very life blood on a battlefield?

Sometimes, even the best-intentioned of us forget to remember. Though I posted a reminder on my social media page as a call to all to pause long enough to reflect on the true meaning of the day, heard the preacher mention it in Church yesterday morning, and have seen media reports about it all weekend long, when I asked the blessing of food at my table last night, I had a lapse that dismays me. As I gave thanks for my table laden with hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, and baked beans, I neglected, as I said the blessing, to mention these fallen citizens to whom I owe a debt I cannot repay. I am writing these words because I could not let this day, officially Memorial Day, pass without calling attention to the place of honor that they, above all citizens in my beloved country, deserve.

It may not be practical for every person to go out and participate in a grave marking ceremony, though many volunteers still effect these rituals across the country. It may not be feasible for each citizen to erect engraved granite monuments. It may not be viable for everyone to take off of work and picnic with family or friends. But it is certainly an attainable goal for all who reside in this still great country called the United States of America to pause, even if only for a moment, on this day to offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the freedoms that have been earned on our behalf by people who fought for them, but who did not live to return home to enjoy those freedoms themselves.

These soldiers, whose lives came to abrupt halts, deserve more honor than the winners of the race at the Indy 500, the Kentucky Derby, the Iron Bowl, the World Series, or the Super Bowl. They deserve more accolades than the volunteers that give their time in the community, the politicians in Washington, or the businessmen who own high rise buildings and jet airplanes. They deserve whatever Memorials we can offer, including this day of honor, because they are heroes of the highest possible sort. They are the ones that fought and gave of themselves until there was literally nothing left to give. They are the ones that made it possible for the poor kid born into the ghetto to rise up and become a millionaire, for the protestors to picket in support of their causes, for the children to spend their summers playing baseball or going to the swimming pool. They are the reason that we can hear a military plane pass overhead and not run for cover. They are our Country’s reason for survival, and I with a grateful yet heavy heart contemplate their sacrifices, and salute them all this Memorial Day weekend.

 

~ L.L.S.