Friday, November 20, 2009

Bowls of Steel

Some of the most moving and teachable moments come when you don’t expect them. In a way, it’s almost like a sneeze. It comes out of nowhere, but it wells up inside you and then demands to be released. Often times, it can be awkward (and sometimes painful) but you feel relieved for having gotten through it and releasing the impact of that moment.

I had such an experience today as I sat down to read “A Simple Christmas” by Mike Huckabee. As most of you know, I had the opportunity to meet him (again!) at his book signing in Indianapolis. This isn’t his first book, but it’s the first book of his that I have read (thus far). While waiting for his arrival, I eagerly began reading it. Some of his stories are little humorous while others are more serious. Today, I read one of those more somber stories and the impact of it kind of snuck up on me (but gave me much to ponder and reflect on).

Mike Huckabee really knows how to tell a story, and the story I just read had to do with his Uncle Garvin. He shared about the good times he and his sister had with him and how they always looked forward to his visits. Uncle Garvin was a bachelor, and fairly well off (and always dressed in a suit). He described him as having to answer to no one, and being very independent.

He said all of that changed when Uncle Garvin found out that he had cancer. In those days, it was pretty much a death sentence (and such was the case for him). Uncle Garvin ended up living with the Huckabees for the last few months of his life. Mike said it was such a difficult time. Being twelve years old, it was a hard adjustment to have to give up your room and help take care of a person who is having his life stolen from him before your very eyes. He said, “In so many ways, I became a man that year. I was forced to face the realities of death and the uncertainties of life. I saw life in its ugliest form, when a disease robs a person of his strength, his pride, his privacy, and his ability to choose even the simplest things. More than being robbed of my youth, I was endowed with an extra dose of maturity and adulthood the very year I would become a teenager, 1968.”

Though, as often times is the case, it’s the hardship that most shapes your character, deepens your faith, and molds you into a better person. He concluded the chapter with these words: “My sister and I didn’t get much that year for Christmas. We had been prepared to not expect much because all our resources needed to be used to care for Uncle Garvin and there really wasn’t time for much else. But in many ways, it was one of our most meaningful Christmas experiences ever, not because it was a happy one, but because it wasn’t. It was meaningful because through it we learned that the real meaning of Christmas is not giving toys but giving God’s grace in person to someone who is no longer in a position to give back. It was a very simple Christmas, and maybe the best one of all.”

The whole time I was reading that precious story, the tears were just streaming down my face. The way he recounts a story with such depth, detail, and emotion always touches my heart. He truly has a way of connecting with people, and it’s no doubt because of such wonderful people, like Uncle Garvin, that shaped his heart and life. Every experience, whether pleasant or painful, has developed his character and enabled him to “pay it forward” to others. I admire people like Mike Huckabee, because they never waste a moment. They cherish every experience and hide it in their hearts; sharing it at just the right moment with others so that their lives might be touched and blessed.

Oddly enough, my kids were watching an episode of “Arthur” on TV as I was reading that chapter. Amazingly, it happened to be an episode where the characters were dealing with the fact that their beloved school lunch-lady was battling cancer. One of the kids ended up writing to Lance Armstrong for help with coping with their friend’s disease. Lance made an appearance in the episode and offered his own advice and shared his story. I just found it stunning that God would bring two stories about cancer, perseverance, and love to my attention at the same time. I never saw it coming, and it was a tender and heart-wrenching moment for my sensitive heart, but it was such a blessing.

When you ponder and empathize with a person’s story, you open yourself up to sharing a portion of their pain. It changes you. It shapes you. It helps you to examine your own heart and gleam from their stories life lessons that can help you on your own journey. For me, it spoke richly of compassion, love, sacrifice, and faith. It also reminded me of my own “Uncle Garvin” (in my case, my Uncle Brett). Like Mike, I deeply enjoyed the few times a year I got to see my Uncle. He was a bachelor too, and was always doing his own thing. And, like Uncle Garvin, he struggled with the inevitable drawback of independence which is loneliness. Mike Huckabee said that Uncle Garvin would bang on a stainless-steel bowl with a wooden spoon in order to summon them to his room for whatever need he might have had at the moment. He said, “It would be years before I came to realize that he didn’t strike that bowl and have us running to his side simply because he wanted us to refresh his water, fiddle around with the covers on his bed, or rearrange the newspapers in the room. That bowl was a cry for something far more important; it was a call for the presence of another human being in that room so that he wouldn’t spend those awful and painful waking moments with a condition worse than a cancer --loneliness.”

These stories were a reminder to me of just how precious fellowship is and just how thankful I am for the blessed family and friends in my life who bring me so much joy! It also reminds me of just how great the need is to reach out to those that aren’t so blessed, and who are battling loneliness, grief, and illness. Some of them don’t have steel bowls to bang in order to be heard. For many, their cries are silent for whatever reason. They go unheard and unremembered; or we just become deafened to the sounds because we shut them out for any number of reasons. It reminds me of all the people I saw in the nursing home when I used to visit my great-grandmother in the last year or so of her life. They were aching for attention and fellowship; a simple smile, a kind word, a tender touch. My kids would excitedly run down the hallway as they smiled and watched. Some of them desperately begged them to stop because they wanted to talk to them, touch them, and look at them. Such simple things, but so necessary and fundamental! It was heartbreaking to watch them (and my Grandmother) sit there in the nursing home; just WAITING for those occasional opportunities for human contact and interaction. We underestimate just how precious and important it is! I’ll never forget how Grandma looked at me one time and said, “Never end up in a place like this.” Even though she was blessed more than probably most of the people there (because she had a lot of family that cared for her and visited her) it still had to be incredibly depressing and lonely. I can hardly imagine, and it makes me feel all the more blessed (and all the more guilty in the times I indulge in apathetic pity-parties in what I think are my “low” moments).

As we all approach the holidays, I will do more than remember these stories. I will try to make the most of every opportunity I have to answer the call of a banging bowl. Not only does it mean the world to those who are trying to sound the alarm with their wooden spoons, but it has an everlasting impact on oneself (just as Mike Huckabee shared). You never know if it’s going to be your last moment (or theirs). That’s why it’s important to make every moment count and to have the greatest impact possible! You never know when it’s going to end. For my family and I, Uncle Brett was taken so suddenly and tragically (by accident). For Mike Huckabee, it was gradual and they had to watch the process of death unfold before them each and every day. I don’t know which is more painfully difficult. I don’t think there is any way to compare because each situation is a unique horror all its own. Though, we all stand to gain the same opportunities, which are to grow in faith and maturity and to learn to appreciate and love both friends and strangers even more (which C.S. Lewis talks about in “A Grief Observed”. I HIGHLY recommend reading it!!).

Pain is a raw thing. Like anything that’s raw, it can be a hot and time consuming process to go through the heat and the flames that sear our hearts. But, as one of our pastors always says: “Feel the heat; face the fire; find the gold.” As we feel the heat and the pressure of each trying situation, we are obligated to face them. If we boldly confront the pain and embrace the gold we are meant to find in it, we will be all the richer for it. The heat isn’t a pleasant thing, but through it, we are refined and “steamed to perfection” and it “brings out the flavor” of our character into a better and more savory taste. We have more to offer the world after going through such times of testing, and it’s in that way that those times of pain can be a gift. Though, it’s up to us to make the most of it. It reminds me of a forward someone shared with me about an egg, a carrot, and some coffee grounds. Hot water does different things to each of them. Some are like the egg and they become hardened. Others are like the carrot and they become mushy and fall apart. Still others become like the coffee grounds in which the hot water brings out their flavor and the process ends up producing a beautiful end product. With each object, the effects of the hot water can’t be avoided or undone. The object will forever be changed after coming into contact with the hot water. The only choice we have in the matter is our reaction to the water. So, the question is, which of these three things will we choose to be?

Grace and peace to all of you, my dear friends!! May you all be blessed as you face each day! Every day is a wonderful new day that the Lord has made; one to rejoice and be glad of, regardless of our good or bad circumstances. We have the promise that everything will work out (Romans 8:28). Embrace it and believe it! Cherish every moment and make the most of every opportunity (and may you never look at a steel bowl or wooden spoon the same way again). Above all, allow each experience to shape you in a positive way that will glorify His Name! God bless you all!


Shane Gilreath said...

I struggle with the "find the gold" mentality. In a sense, everything happens for a reason and has a silver lining. I don't and can't always find that, though, without doubt, there are lessons to learn throughout life.

But I admire you dedication to Governor Huckabee. He's certainly an admirable man, president or not.

Melissa said...

Do you think you're a pessimist, Shane? We both know that you're no dummy, so it's not like you're incapable of finding a good lesson in something. Cheer up! :)

Yes, he definitely is admirable and principled. I'm glad that he chose not to fade away after the election and that he continues to bless others by sharing his gifts with the world.

Shane Gilreath said...

No, in general, I don't think I'm a pessimist, but in a certain mindframe, I think we all can be. I just think that our fates are often tied to someone else. So, even something that's destined to be, doesn't always happen, either because we exercise our freewill and choose another door, or someone else does that alters our path. I'm a big believer in freewill, but I think it has consequences.