Fingerprints on the Heart

hug_therapy“Everyone makes someone happy: some by arriving, others by leaving.” When I first heard this, I laughed because it is so true. And then I wondered, Which am I? Which are you?

Like fingerprints, each of us leaves behind evidence of our presence. Like fingerprints, we may not realize they’re being left behind—everywhere. Unlike fingerprints, the evidence we leave behind is on people’s hearts and lives, not their doorknobs.

Recently my pastor said, “Whatever Jesus touched, he transformed.” So true. He left fingerprints everywhere: fingerprints of healing, love, joy, and hope. Like the fragrance of bread baking in the morning or the lingering scent of rose petals, the beauty of a gentle and loving spirit makes life full-bodied and wonderful. The opposite is also true: a disapproving or angry spirit poisons the atmosphere like an unpleasant odor.

Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

The master of ceremonies and bridegroom at the wedding in Cana of Galilee didn’t know where the excellent wine came from, but the servants knew. They had, at Jesus’ request filled six huge jars with water and suddenly the water became wine. Did they ever forget that moment? (John 2:1-10)

Jesus and the disciples were caught in a vicious storm on the Sea of Galilee. Their boat was awash and almost capsizing when the disciples, although experienced fishermen, frantically awoke Jesus. He stood in the wildly pitching boat, quietly speaking to the storm. “Be quiet! Hush!” The wind and waves ceased. “Who is this man?” They were stunned and afraid. “Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Matthew 8:23-27)

“Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. ‘Lord,’ the man said, ‘if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.’ Jesus reached out and touched him. ’I am willing,’ he said. ’Be healed!’ And instantly the leprosy disappeared” (Matthew 8:2-3). Likely this man was universally shunned and abhorred. But Jesus touched him. Unforgettable.

Even during and after the inhumane flogging and brutal crucifixion Jesus left his fingerprints behind. “Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, truly this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54).

Whether it was the mothers of the children that Jesus welcomed, tousling their hair, (Matthew 19:13-14) or the woman caught in adultery to whom he said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more,” (John 8:1-11) Jesus’ purposeful kindness and warm welcome was an unexpected wind straight from heaven, refreshing everyone that was near him.

I remember a couple of my college professors who left fingerprints on my heart. Because of reasons I won’t go into here, I dropped out of college during my senior year. I had to get the signatures of each of my professors to complete the process. One professor in that Christian college was extremely disappointed in me, and said something to this effect.” You came here to serve others, and now you’re going to serve yourself?” The second professor was surprised, but not disappointed in me. He said, “I believe in you, David.” Those reactions are as fresh in my heart as the day those comments were made, and I’m eternally grateful to the second professor who valued me more than my decision.

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We don’t even have to be the ones involved in an interaction to be affected. Years ago, at Walt Disney World, we were waiting in line after a long day for the monorail to take us to the parking lot. Everyone was tired, but most of us were managing pretty well. One boy, about ten, said something to his father, who began yelling at him. We are all instantly uncomfortable, and horrified when the father cuffed the boy on the side of the head. The look of humiliation and anger on that boy’s face sticks with me still. That father didn’t only irreparably harm his son, but left a sickening cloud over the rest of the day for hundreds of people.

Interactions don’t have to be huge like these. Just a friendly smile in the cashier’s line at Walmart or a long stare at someone who’s obese can leave joy or pain in our wake. Thoughtless comments linger after we’ve left like a stench, but warm acceptance brings joy.

A Self-Entitled Generation

Wait! She married herself?

The concept of solo marriage hit the headlines in Italy September 2017 when Italian Laura Mesi married herself. The 40-year-old fitness trainer dressed in a white gown and was joined by 70 family and friends for the self-marriage ceremony, (which is not legally recognized). She paid $12,000 for the wedding, which included a three-tier cake topped with a figurine of just herself on the top followed by a whirlwind honeymoon for one to Egypt.

When 38-year-old Sophie Tanner of the UK celebrated her second wedding anniversary earlier this year, there were none of the usual trappings – no flowers or romantic meal for two; no hastily purchased card sealed with a kiss.

It’s not that her other half is remiss, but that on May 16, 2015, when the PR consultant took her vows on the steps of Brighton’s Unitarian Church, the person she swore to cherish for eternity was, well, herself.

Welcome to sologamy, or the practice of marrying oneself. This trend has been around for the last ten years. Is it catching on? We certainly hope not.

So far, this practice has been confined mostly to women as part of a woman’s empowerment statement. A 36-year old woman named Erika Anderson, from Brooklyn, famously married herself last spring. She said she got tired of people asking her why she wasn’t married, as if there was something wrong with her. “I think it’s hard not to adopt whatever society’s messages are … and I certainly think that one of the messages is, ‘You are not enough if you are not with someone else,’” Erika Anderson said of her decision to self-marry. The 37-year-old, who lives in New York, wed her university sweetheart in her twenties but the pair split when aged thirty after growing apart. Committing to herself, she said, was “an act of defiance.”

Some years earlier, another young woman named Dominique, at age 22, also married herself.  While Anderson had a public self-marriage ceremony modeled on the traditional kind with friends, a wedding dress, and a ring, Dominique got married in her bedroom by herself.  She had a ring also, but it didn’t go on her finger. She put it in her nose saying, “I breathe my vows every day.”

Dominique went to the Burning Man festival in Nevada in 2011, where she helped about one hundred other women get married to themselves. Now, of course, she is a self-marriage counselor and minister of something called the Temple of Divine Feminine Flow. Through her website, you can purchase a ten-week, self-marriage, self-study program to prepare yourself for the huge step of getting hitched to yourself. If you want one-on-one private lessons with Dominique, it costs $50 per session. Not that she’s trying to cash in on the self-marriage concept or anything.

Whatever it is called, it is not legally recognized.  That is, you can’t marry yourself and then file a joint tax return or claim benefits. At least not yet. Outside of the Temple of Divine Feminine Flow, I’m not sure any so-called religion would recognize self-marriage either. However, that is small potatoes to someone who loves themselves enough to self-marry. Erika Anderson says that when people ask her if she’s married now, she says yes and then introduces them to her other half.[1]

This self-marriage phenomenon is just one more evidence of the seriously misguided people our society is churning out in record numbers. More troublesome are a significant percentage of today’s young adults who have been raised to think the world revolves around them. They have no clue of the long-term consequences of their immaturity. All of their lives their parents have told them they are special, apparently just for being born. A child coming down a slide is praised by his mother for being a hero (for allowing gravity to work?) Teachers in some public schools are forbidden to give failing grades even if students turn in no work or flunk their tests. (This is not hearsay: a current teacher told me this.) After all, we don’t want anyone to feel he/she is less valuable than another student.

Welcome to the self-entitled generation.

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Photo by Infrogmation – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1701065

It’s no wonder that twenty-somethings have no budgets, still live at home, and complain about how difficult “adulting” is. You cannot build a strong nation on people whose major accomplishment is beating their friends in video games or drinking the most alcohol. They have never been taught right from wrong and therefore they bristle when you suggest that their choices are inappropriate. They defy authority while imagining that the benefits that authority provides them are owed to them. You can rewrite history and delete from your textbooks the things and people you don’t like, but it’s still true that those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it.

Although flooding America today, self-entitled persons are nothing new. The world has had its share of those who flagrantly live as though rules don’t apply to them. I think we could say Absalom, son of King David, the first King of Israel, was self-entitled. He grew up in the palace where there were few rules and no consequences for those who broke them. He fostered rebellion against his father, slept with his concubines, and eventually had himself crowned king while David was still on the throne. The Old West spawned gangs of criminals. Italy famously produced its mafia called “Cosa Nostra” (Our Thing). Today’s cyber terrorists delight in wreaking catastrophe. All of this vividly demonstrates how society implodes when people are only concerned about themselves and their comfort.

Whether its professional football players dishonoring our flag or people who think that their Johnny-come-lately whims have more value than the eternal truths of scripture, I’m afraid that we may only be seeing the beginning of family disintegration and the unraveling of justice.

So, what are you going to do about it?

Most of us gripe about it. We commiserate together and roll our eyes about how society is going to hell in a handbasket. We spend our time lamenting what people wear (“I Saw it at Walmart” web site), we ridicule their so-called careers, and cluck our collective tongues at their never-ending stupidity, all the while praising ourselves that we at least have some sense. By the way, the “Going to hell in a handbasket” phrase has been in print since at least the 1800s.

We worry about it. It’s easy to allow these disturbing trends to dislodge our security and steal our sleep at night. We fret who’s going to run the government when these disorganized and dangerously imbalanced people land in public office. We fear that our nation’s moral fabric—already shredded beyond comprehension—will totally disintegrate. We are afraid of those who are different, imagining that they are no longer motivated by human emotions like ours.

We despair of the future, forgetting that God is still God and that there may be other viable futures for us that we haven’t even imagined. We cut off communication with the world and isolate ourselves as though the rest of the world has been bombed and we alone are left in our nuclear fallout shelters.

Could we try this?

Stop seeing others as “them,” and see them as individuals. When we group people together we tend to forget they are humans like us who want to succeed, to be loved, and find meaningful lives. Resist the tendency to jump on the bandwagon when others lump people together and blame them. Instead, look for and find one person you are writing off and start praying for them. Start a conversation. Send a card. Discover what would make them happy and try to make it happen. If you don’t know anyone who you would classify as self-entitled or a lost cause, maybe it’s time to find one.

Ask yourself about the history of the person of whom you are most critical. There are reasons people turn out the way they do. It doesn’t excuse bad choices, but it can explain them. Can we reasonably expect our fractured society to produce emotionally balanced offspring? Concentrate not on what they’re doing, or what you assume they’re doing, but on what you can do to build a bridge to them. Should they be cold to you or sluff off your attempt, don’t be discouraged. It takes time to build trust, and most of us could use some practice at building new relationships. Ask about the meaning of a tattoo or what they love about coloring their hair purple. You will surely learn something you didn’t know as well as starting up a conversation.

Cultivate a positive spirit. It’s so easy to see the dark side, or the glass that’s half empty. It takes work to see what is right. You may light a lot of candles before one stays lit, but that’s still a good thing. Ask God to alert you the moment you begin to criticize. It probably won’t take more than a minute or two. 😊 God still believes the world is worth saving. People determined to do right have rescued the world more times than history can record it. But they usually do it one person at a time.

 

[1] Thanks to my neighbor, Christopher Zimmerman, Whetstone, AZ, 2017 for the info. about self-marriage. Used by permission.

 

 

People-Watching

The other day I was at Tucson Orthopedic Institute waiting to get two spinal injections. Karon had a concurrent dental appointment and I was alone in the lobby with my cane to steady me. It was a perfect time for people-watching.

At the hospital

Chartreuse phone-croppedA lady in black with a chubby little dog named Yoda talks on her chartreuse phone. (The little dog looks just like Yoda!) A star tattoo embellishes her shoulder.

A hollow-eyed man seems to be with her. A red lanyard circles his neck dangling some kind of badge. His crutches lie beside him. He tries to talk with Yoda’s mommy, but is cut off with her curt, “Shhhsss! I’m calling Mother.”

A gravelly voiced gentleman with silvery bed hair wheels into the discharge area. Although the aide who brought him leaves, he carries on a conversation about predicted thunderstorms and parking meters.

A harried, olive-skinned young man in faded green scrubs hurries by in squeaking tennis shoes as a well-dressed matron makes appointments on her cell phone.Lady on cell phone

A lady recently treated with spinal injections tries to stand up. She waves off the nurse who offers to steady her and promptly collapses on the floor. Some men rush to hoist her up and settle her into a chair. Twenty minutes later she tries to stand again. Again she declines assistance. Again her legs crumple like wet spaghetti! Two different men lift her into a chair. I left before she tried a third time. (Usually such reactions are temporary in case you’re worried about her.)

Two men opposite me (I’m guessing navy vets) chat while waiting for their wives. I overhear them assigning a type of ship to each lady as she arrives. “Yep. She’s a battleship.” “Destroyer.” One slow-moving gal wobbles by. They look at each other and smile. At the same moment they say in unison, “Aircraft carrier!” and break into chortles. Funny stuff to pass the time.

I suddenly remembered another time I watched people and wrote about them. I was in my 30s at a lunch counter in Wisconsin…

At the lunch counter

She sat, stretched to the full height of her six years. Her fragile fingers, smeared with too-pink dime store polish, clutched a fork and partially-demolished piece of cherry pie which gradually spread from the plate to the counter top.

Her mother chain-smoked the time away, nodding periodically to her bright-eyed magpie’s chatter. Behind the almond-shaped, black framed glasses her eyes reflected some other place. Her mind seemed to be far away. Perhaps she was tired.

A young man whose face was cratered with acne perched opposite me like a robin come back too soon. His eyes were full of winter, and his bony hands huddled around the empty cup which had long ceased to give warmth.

An old man in a green sweater had been cornered by a balloon-cheeked woman whose false teeth clacked like castanets.

A frail creature with soda straw hair peered through ashtray glasses at the menu in studied ritual before ordering a small coke. She alternated princess-sized sips with puffs of cigarette smoke aimed through wrinkled lips at some unseen target on the ceiling.

The teen-aged waitress bustled about with ice cubes and napkins, making excuses for dirty spoons. A hair net clung like a refrigerator magnet to her head, her once-white uniform apologizing for being a size too small.

I caught sight of myself in a mirror, hunched over some cherry cheesecake I didn’t need.  I noticed with embarrassment the frayed tee-shirt I was wearing.

We were a semi-circle of strangers from different worlds, careful not to look each other eye to eye, pretending interest in the backs of menus instead.

Now, as then, my thoughts were interrupted by God’s gentle voice, “I love these people.”

God’s interruption

How quickly we judge and criticize those different from us: “Too fat!” “Anorexic!” “Filthy!” “Snobbish!” “No taste whatsoever!” “How can they appear in public like that?” We can be merciless and unrelenting unless someone—or God—stops the flow of our criticism to remind us that we fit right into this group of oddballs.

People sitting in waiting room
People sitting in waiting room

From God’s perspective, everyone is a masterpiece of his loving creation. Each face windows his divergent touch. Every flaw to him is inexpressibly precious.

In our world where so many loud people are building walls and we are encouraged to divide people into groups I need to remember that we all are God’s handiwork. He knows every detail of every single life in every single country in the world and yet he loves each of us completely and unconditionally. When the prophet Samuel was selecting a king for Israel, he had a hard time finding the one God had chosen. That’s when God told him, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height….The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”[1]

What does God see in my heart? It is not my place to label and divide but to accept and love. When God is so hugely gracious to me can I not be gracious to those he loves?

[1] 1 Samuel 16:7