Notes From A "Church Kid"
This past Sunday was one of those “not so good days.” I’d had them before. As a matter of fact, this one seemed a bit like “de ja vu.” The day was finally quiet, and the afternoon sun settled onto its perch getting ready to spread its splendor over the community before melting into a sea of pink, orange, and yellow at dusk. Observing it from the eleventh floor of the hospital, we seemed far too close to its balcony during mid-day. Fall, down South has not intimidated the Sun at all. It is still giving us smothering mornings and blinding hot late afternoons. Having a room on the west side of the hospital, didn’t help much.
My son had gone home, and Mom had also left for the evening to try to get some rest. The last day and a half had not been kind to her. Actually, the last several years had not been all that kind. While battling her own health issues, she pushed through as caregiver for her mother while simultaneously staying close by Daddy’s side through his health issues. I had done all I could to help each of them, but some things are beyond one’s control. Watching Maw Maw deteriorate until she passed away earlier in the year was a somber reminder. The circle of life happens with or without us. This weekend was yet another of those scenes in the “old age” drama. This scene, had Daddy front and center stage. There he lay, uncharacteristically quiet. He is a talker, this one. As a matter of fact, our whole family on Daddy’s side are talkers. Oh, and did I mention his sense of humor! Even while in the hospital confused about the events of the last couple of days, he could not resist cracking those corny jokes that are typical of his dry sense of humor. Watching the nurses, doctors, and lab techs laugh at his unexpected one-liners gave me hope. Daddy was fighting whatever was causing these latest mental confusion episodes. At that moment though, he was quiet and withdrawn.
I walked to the other side of the bed and bent close to Daddy’s ear. He and Mom were in such a rush when 911 had arrived the morning before, that Daddy had left his hearing aids at home. I hated having the whole floor be privy to our conversation, so I drew as close to him as I could to try and answer some of his questions.
“How long have I been here?”
“Did I have another stroke?”
“I remember stumbling around trying to find the bathroom but can’t remember. Was it in the middle of the night or day?”
I tried to answer each question as best I could. I explained again what the doctor had just told us and what the results of his tests were. It was good news, but his deep seeded fears were hindering his understanding of things. As he continued to ask questions, one final question cut me to the core.
“Does anyone at the church even know I am here?”
What ensued from that one question was the part of our conversation that gave me that “de ja vu” feeling. Daddy had expressed his feelings of loneliness before and we had embarked on this conversation more than once. You see, Daddy grew up in a time where neighbors were neighbors, businesses helped each other and their communities, doctors and preachers made house calls, church members were like family stepping in to visit and help in time of need. The explosion of mega churches, the creation of social media, the rise of corporate retail over “mom and pop” stores, and the development of a society spoiled by convenience has taken away so much of that personal interaction that turns neighbors into family and strangers into friends. To an eighty-six-year-old man who has spent his entire adult life giving of himself for his family, friends, employers, neighbors, and church, he has found himself a bit lost since his body has become weaker and he has been unable to stay active.
I looked deep into Daddy’s searching and confused eyes. I felt his pain and his loneliness. I am Daddy’s girl in so many ways. The apple has not fallen far from the tree because I too, have spent most of my life in the role of service to family, friends, church and community. Both of my parents instilled this servant’s heart in me from early on. I learned it while “cutting my teeth on the back of the pew” as they used to say. I was the typical “church kid.” We tended to find our worth in “doing.” It wasn’t until I faced my own health crisis many years ago, that I finally understood. My value is not in my talents or activities, but in who I am inside. God loves me not based on what I can do or not do, but just because! He wants me – not my “stuff!” As I searched Daddy’s heart through those handsome dark eyes of his, I saw just a glimpse of myself. Aside from the natural fears that health scares bring, he was experiencing a crisis of significance. It was that familiar look in his eyes that was like “de ja vu.” Daddy had shared his heart’s cry on this topic a few years ago…
It was Mother’s Day. My son Josh and I, Mom, Maw Maw, and two of my aunts and uncles were together enjoying an afternoon meal. Mom was doing what she does best and compulsively – cleaning the kitchen. She has no concept of sitting to enjoy the moment. Serving others is what makes her happy. After helping her in the kitchen, I sat down in the living room with the others. Out of the blue, Daddy began to cry – and not just cry, but sob. This was not a side to him that he often allowed anyone to see, but the sentimental interaction on this holiday (the day that his own mother had passed away many years ago) caused his emotional dam to break.
“I just don’t understand it. I worked my whole life around the church – serving in leadership, building, remodeling, cutting grass, cooking chicken dinners, at fish fry’s and more. Now, I can’t do that stuff and no one even notices. They’re too busy to call, to visit, to check on me. I just feel like what I did all those years didn’t matter. I guess it will all be okay when I get to heaven.”
Daddy rambled on, broken, hurting – feeling lost and alone. We all expressed our thoughts the best we could. The one person in the group that has the most tender heart, stood up, went over to Daddy, and put his hands on his shoulders. It was Josh – my sweet son that has a heart the size of Texas. Daddy has been like a dad to him since his own father was not in his life and had actually passed away when he was only 4.
“Paw Paw we love you! You matter and you are so special! It’s going to be okay. God knows where you are and He cares!”
Daddy didn’t want to just feel important once he was in heaven for his eternal reward, but he needed it then and there – as we all do. We all need to feel valued and loved. We all need to know that we matter! Daddy’s moment of transparency that day had deeply affected me. Seeing him struggle with his significance beyond service was heartbreaking and relatable – oh so relatable for me. I had stepped down from leadership and active service due to my health issues over the last several years. It’s like you’ve gone from 0 to 100 at the drop of a dime your whole life and then something happens. You just can’t do it anymore. I understand what it feels like to be at a standstill while everyone else is moving on. It’s a lonely feeling to be left behind when you have been giving your all your whole life; even lonelier thinking about the end of life and all its uncertainty because you have not progressed as far as you desire or even need.
While in the hospital with Daddy over the weekend, his ongoing struggle with this whole idea of significance resurfaced my own struggles. I have narrowed my focus for quite sometime to try to keep my health challenges in tack in order to help Mom, Daddy and my grandmother. Gone are the days of singing, playing piano, teaching, speaking, traveling. Gone are the days of running circles around everyone on projects at work. Gone are the days of church and community activities, and service. Now, my service is to those closest to me – you know “in Jerusalem” as they say. Someone else will have to think about Judea, Samaria, and the “uttermost parts of the earth.” Isn’t this the way it is supposed to be after all?
I share my Daddy’s struggles and my own from a lifetime as a “church kid.” We could replace the title of “church kid” with coach’s kid, or teacher’s kid, or the boss’s kid. We could include the fireman, the police officer, the doctor, the nurse and their families. Experiences I share are common to anyone who has been in leadership and is also common to their children. “To whom much is given, much is required,” it seems. Don’t get me wrong. All those years of service were a joy for me. They were both my saving grace and my curse I suppose, though, because I bought into the fallacy that my worth was based on what I could do rather than who I was, apart from those things. The look in my Daddy’s eyes – a look I’ve seen for awhile now since his stroke a year ago, and since his body has become weaker, has been a wake-up call for me. We must not be so busy with life that we forget to live. I don’t want to leave folks behind pursuing my own quests. I am encouraging those of you who read this today not to do that also.
Church leaders, please don’t pursue programs and prominence at the expense of people. Not everyone can do what you do. People are fighting battles that no one knows about sometimes. Like I said earlier, we must focus on “Jerusalem” before we’ll ever be able to help Judea and Samaria. Teachers, coaches, bosses, and yes even family members… when those in your circle slow down or must sit down while you are still moving at warp speed in your goals, don’t forget who was there for you early on. If they are no longer at your dinner table, on your pew, a part of your team, or in your board room, don’t let them become an “out of sight, out of mind” casualty. People who have laid the foundation need others to hold them up at some point in life. You’d be surprised how much a phone call, a text, or an hour visit means to those who are home bound, incapacitated, or overwhelmed with family responsibilities. Knowing that others are interested in how you are, how you’re feeling, if you need anything, or simply knowing that they enjoy catching up with you, can mean the difference between pushing through or giving up. You never know what your simple act of kindness can do for someone!
As I was writing this today, I thought about that song “The Cat’s In The Cradle.” It was composed from the perspective of a son and dad but could be applicable in most any relationship. We reach out for interaction, for care, for relationship with one another, but “life” gets in the way; we put things off, and time goes by. Time, unfortunately, is not something you can ever get back. Is that office meeting more important than your child’s ballgame? Is that family vacation more important than a visit with your elderly parents, or sick friend or family member? Is that weekend hanging out with your friends more important than a home-cooked meal with someone you love? Is one more church function on the calendar worth stretching you to the limit in your health or worth neglecting personal time with your kids or your companion? We are all guilty of letting life and what truly matters slip by.
I suppose now that I am on the back third of my life, I realize much more about priorities and people. I look at my sweet Daddy and how hard he worked his whole life. I want him to know it was not unnoticed. I want him to know how much it is appreciated, but even more I want him to know how much HE is appreciated, valued, and loved. Life is all about balance. Significance is not in what we do, or what we have, or the titles we hold. I’ve learned some hard lessons and some valuable lessons as both the “church kid,” and the church and business leader. We make life much more complicated than it should be. Jesus told us how to live. It is all summed up in these two commandments… “Love God with all your heart soul and mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” What more is there? Do this and everything else falls in place.