People Die Just Like They Lived

dying gaulThere is a belief out in the world that people who are dying are different. They look back and see their lives in the sunset and the perspective offers them fresh insight and changes them somehow. It looks really good in a movie and makes a touching story at a funeral.

The reality is both better and worse than that.

As a hospice nurse, I have seen many people die. I tried to understand what drove them in their last days. Many have died with a grave and firm dignity that I envy. Many have died desperately clawing at their lives. Many have died forgiving and being forgiven. Many have died more bitter than they were in life.

For years it perplexed me what they had in common. What does death do to all of us? What do the bitter man and the kind man have in common as they see their lives ending?

The answer, they became even more themselves.

Death really isn’t that transformational. The anxious woman is even more anxious. The caring lady is even more caring. The brave man exhibits previously unknown courage. The coward is even more afraid.

This really shouldn’t be surprising. Dying people are regular people under a great deal more stress. With the rust blasted away by the heat of the moment, the metal below is exposed. Death is, after all, the great equalizer. The rich die and the poor die. The happy and the sad die. The wise man and the fool are both going to die.

That is not to say that these people die the same. Far from it. In death, I want to be the couragious, faithful, and caring man. My hope is that I will be at peace with my own death and will be able to serve those who are going to suffer through my death. The moment I die, my suffering is truly over. I will look my God in the eyes and finally, after many years of waiting, go home. The wait will have been long, but worth it.

Why would anyone feel sorry for me? I get to go home.

Those left behind, on the other hand, will have experienced a profound loss. Doesn’t it make sense that I should make doubly sure that all debts are paid, all that needs to be said has been said, and that every support for those I love will have been attended to.

How do I become that person? The man who serves in death. Because in death I will be just that much more of what I already am, the answer is to work on the me of today. Am I a servant today? All the more so when I die. Am I kind and generous today? I will be that much more when I die.

Don’t treat today like it has nothing to do with your death. If you are unprepared for your death, those you love will suffer the most. Have the courage to face your death today so that when it comes tomorrow, you will be prepared.

We are all becoming more of what we are every day. Age accelerates this change and dying perfects it. Be very careful who you are becoming today. One day you will become that person. I hope you can look at that person in the mirror.

Or maybe I should say I hope you can look your God in the eye on that day?

-Chip

The image of the Dying Gaul is courtesy of Anthony Majanlahti and is used with permission

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A Family Lunch at God’s House

feastArriving at Father’s house is always a bit of a challenge. Many times it is difficult to get the kids ready and get out the door and there is always that nagging feeling that I should have a better attitude before going. Either way, we finally arrive and the kids go to play and my wife drifts off to talk with some friends.

As I wander around and look around at God’s family, my family, I am struck by their…well…their strangeness. Uncle Joe is sitting in the corner quietly watching the mulling mass of family. He clearly doesn’t like crowds, but Father was here so he was will to tolerate them to visit Father again.

Aunt Linda is a gossip and I never really liked her even before I knew that. She reminds me of the witch in Tangled. All of her words are filled with half-truths and double meanings. I carefully navigate the crowd to avoid drawing her attention.

Little Billy found a way to spill koolaid on Father’s couch AGAIN! Seriously, where are his parents? That couch now has more red and blue spots on it than its original color. Father is a really rich guy, why hasn’t he replaced that eye-sore of a couch? Looks like Billy’s mom just saw what he did. She is so mortified that it happened again. Now I feel sorry for her. It looks like I am not the only one who gave a dirty look.

Cousin Norman is cantankerous as ever. That man does not know when to shut up. He very much has a speak first and think later philosophy. I see a number of faces giving him a wide berth. No one wants to be caught in his cross-hairs. Personally, I’ve made some peace with it. He is a jerk, but I can tolerate that most of the time.

Ah, finally someone I want to talk to. Cousin Jeremy (he’s actually my second cousin) is by the fish tank. He is a bit of a dweeb and while gregarious, he gets overwhelmed in crowds (I wonder if he and Uncle Joe would get along). Jeremy and I shake hands and discuss the latest tech gadget or website or something.

Both of us have a history of porn addiction of which we are both on the better side of recovering. It kind of bonds us though we both feel a little uneasy knowing how poorly the family would respond if they knew our history. We may be a family, but we can sure be a judgemental group sometimes. Most of the family would simply not understand.

Hearing the bell in the kitchen (which is the signal that it is time to eat) we call file in and sit at the very long table. The rough-cut wood always felt good to lay my hands on and none of us minded the long wood benches on both sides of the table (except Grandpa Randal, but he was never quite happy with anything).

At the head of the table was Father. A tall and strong man who had a well-trimmed white beard and a flannel shirt, we all respected him. He is hard-working, determined, direct, and hard yet carried a very sweet demeanor all the same. He was the sort that if you woke him up in the middle of the night, he used all of the hardness for you. He never complained about helping. He actually only really got on your case when you didn’t ask for his help.

Far on the other end of the table was our oldest brother Joshua. He was so much like Father but yet seemed to present the sweetness of Father’s disposition first and is less intimidating. He had done some amazing work for the family and had worked with Father to rescue us all a family from great danger! He still was scarred from his work, but he never complained. We all felt a deep debt to him.

But he was the sort who never called in debts. One quality they both possessed was endless generosity. No one seems to know where they made all of their wealth from. The food and help and joy seemed truly boundless. Even though the people sitting at this table were sometimes very difficult to get along with, we all agreed that as long as Father and Joshua were going to serve lunch, then we were going to keep coming. It seemed the Air between them was so crackling with happiness, calm, and peace that we just wanted to breathe it all day long.

Being the very messed up family that we are, it was not unheard of for a fist-fight to break out at the table and for Father to walk over and pick the combatants up and bring them out of the room for one of his legendary “talks”. Most such fights happened only once.

Father spread out his great big hands out and blessed the food. That is not to say he prayed. He just made the food a little more wonderful because he could!

In an instant He and Joshua were in action. Flashing in and out of the he kitchen door with plates of steaming food. It was more of a dance with fluid motions complementing the other’s actions. The serving of the food itself was a delight to behold.

And the steak. Yes, that’s right, steak. Steaming with a simply intoxicating smell. You barely needed your knife it was so tender. Each delightful mouthful seemed a tad better than the last. Combined with a wonderful grape juice and a lovely baked potato, Father had outdone himself.

Some of us fancied ourselves to be good with a grill, but Father put us all to shame. It remains wonderful to me how much he loves to serve us good things. Really good things. It is such a deep part of Him that I can’t imagine Him not being so giving. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Him not taking care of us one way or the other.

As our bellies become full and a hearts happy, I noticed how much easier it was to care for my family. Sure they are a mess, but Father loves them very much. He is just as irritated by their stupidity as I am, but the well of His love for them is immensely deeper than mine.

We are a family because of him. If he hadn’t adopted all of us, we would never have gotten to sit at that table together and enjoy His wonderful food, wonderful demeanor, wonderful Self! As we move along as a family and slowly become more like Father, I think I could grow to even like most of them. One day, even love them.

It’s hard to hear Father criticized because of His adoptive family. We don’t represent Him very well. He knew that He would be criticized for adopting us and He did it anyway. Yet another way He is a great Father.

So, we left. Full from a meal at our Father’s table, we left to face another week of life in a challenging world with a messed up family. Father handed each of us an invitation to be back next Sunday for lunch. I waved to Jeremy on my way out.

I guess I’ll see him next week at our Father’s house.

-Chip

The great family photo above is courtesy of Andrew Lance and is used with permission.

Coping with Groundhog Day Stress

GroundhogWe’ve all been there.

It’s the day before Groundhog Day. You know that family is coming to your house in the morning. You have all the food ready to go. You’ve prepared yourself for the joy and rigors of another holiday season. You’ve battled crowds of Groundhog Day shoppers and waited in long lines at the grocery store. Your time has come.

And yet you still feel stressed.

We’ve watched all the Groundhog Day movies and read all the well wishes on Facebook and Twitter. Surely Groundhog Day has more to offer than this. With the delights of family, football, and weather prognostication coming, why do you look with the upcoming holiday with a sense of dread?

We’ve all been there.

Today you will learn the final preparations you need to deal with Groundhog Day stress. You will be prepared with the tips and tricks you need to deal with tense Groundhog Day discussions and the difficulties of learning that Spring is going to late this year. You, my friend, have come to the right place.

What do I do when Uncle Larry insists that my groundhog is not the REAL groundhog?

It is a common argument in well-intentioned families. Most Americans follow Punxsutawney Phil. While he is the most prominent rodent weatherman, he certainly isn’t the only one. We cannot forget about General Beauregard Lee, Buckeye Chuck, Staten Island Chuck, or the so-called Wiarton Willie (Balzac Billy doesn’t count, he’s not even a real groundhog).

I can remember many a Groundhog Morning when we are watching the celebrations and await Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction with bated breath. In the tension of the moment, Uncle Larry would always be sure to start a fight by aggressively arguing that the REAL groundhog for all predictions is General Beauregard Lee.

We foolishly would try to persuade him that Punxsutawney Phil seems to be the most reliable furry prophet but to no avail. Soon, when the predictions of Spring had come out, we risked an all out fist-fight if Punxsutawney Phil and General Beauregard Lee made opposite predictions.

Obviously, this is childish. We never really considered that it’s entirely possible for Georgia (General Beauregard Lee’s prediction zone) and Pennsylvania (Punxsutawney Phil’s territory) could have entirely different Springs. Once this was established, a great deal of family peace was found.

Is Punxsutawney Phil immortal or not?

Another common fight in my family has been whether Punxsutawney Phil is really immortal. The Inner Circle in Punxsutawney make such a claim and I find no reason to doubt them. That said, there is no reason to be dogmatic about this. It could be that Punxsutawney Phil is a title and a mantle that passes from groundhog to groundhog. Either way, no one doubts the esteemed reliability of the predictions.

Should I risk bringing up the Wiarton Willie incident?

I don’t want to talk about it.

Should I put my winter clothes away if the groundhog predicts an early Spring?

This is a common question among the Groundhog Day faithful. There are many who do take the prediction at face value and immediately show their dedication by preparing for the early Spring. This is well and good except when they use this as an opportunity to mock those who “lack the faith.”

Personally, I wait to see the early Spring. It’s not that I doubt Punxsutawney Phil (or whichever groundhog you follow), it’s that I doubt the Club President’s interpretation of his Groundhogese. Punxsutawney Phil is, of course, always right. The men who speak for him are not as reliable.

Either way, don’t let this be a divisive issue in your Groundhog Day. Let each do what they wish.

How should I arrange the schedule for my Groundhog Day celebration?

Generally, I think this schedule is the most helpful for a delightful time with family on Groundhog Day. We need to take into account this year that there will be a Groundhog Day football game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos. This is a special treat and will effect your usual celebration schedule.

6 AM Everyone should be awakened and should shower.

6:30 AM Eat breakfast. This is a good time to consider how much your groundhog does for you each year.

7 AM Everyone goes to the television to prepare for Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction (be sure to check when he is scheduled to come out, you may need to rise earlier).

8 AM Family will sit and discuss how the prediction will effect their plans.

12 Noon This is the big meal of the day. Some families eat a vegetarian meal to honor the groundhog.

1:30 PM Take a nap to prepare for Groundhog Day football

2:30 PM Watch Groundhog Day (a family tradition for us)

5 PM Order pizza and enjoy a good football game

10 PM Everyone goes home

The Big Idea

We all bring a lot of stress and expectations to our Groundhog Day celebrations, but let’s not forget to enjoy this delightful and wonderful holiday with family and friends. That’s what Punxsutawney Phil would want.

-Chip

Count Vicegrim’s Letters: Chapter 1 Transferred

The Count Vicegrim LettersThe Demon Mudpot’s Annual Review regarding the Temptation of the Patient in His 15th Year

Mudpot,

I would like to congratulate you on your transfer to my department and coming under my superior leadership. Few are privileged to be shown the path of darkness by one as accomplished as I am. You must feel so honored.

A little about me. I have a long and stunning history of outstanding tempting accomplishments. With this letter, I am including a copy of my autobiography, To Hell and Back Again: A Tempter’s Story. I expect you to read it immediately and follow my fine example. In my story you will find a recurring theme that I would like to remind you of. Keep the vermin away from the Enemy’s son. Do not allow them to talk about, consider, or even think of the son. Sometimes such conversation can be managed. More often, it ends in disaster!

Before moving on, I would like to review why you were transferred to me. It was rather sudden, though looking at the severity of the risk, this transfer wasn’t a moment too soon. It seems that your patient, a sixteen year old vermin male, has been labelled as High Risk by the Enemy Reconnaissance Unit.

Normally, when a new High Risk is found, the previous tempter is taken off the case and a more experienced tempter is found. Unfortunately, all of the best demons are tied up with other cases right now, so we will have to make do with you. Don’t be alarmed, I will walk you through this and I promise that no matter how this goes, I will be fine.

One asset you do bring is that you have been with the patient since birth. You know his history well. I would like you to prepare a thorough report of his history and send that to me at your convenience (by that, I mean I expect it on my desk tomorrow). We cannot let another High Risk loose on the world. Ever since the Ravi Zacharias disaster, the lowerarchy has been very keen on High Risks being managed.

Don’t be too alarmed that the ERU has listed your patient as high risk. Keep in mind that they only identified two of thirteen Apostles and failed to identify Martin Luther, John Newton (who was listed as extremely quite very low risk), Charles Spurgeon, and Billy Graham. Of course they will make excuses about how difficult the prediction process is and how wily the Enemy is. Those scouts (don’t tell them I called them that) couldn’t tell a kitten from a lion.

To be clear, you should be concerned. Your patient has one of the highest risk scores I have ever seen. The scouts sure think that he is a problem that needs to be dealt with. You may not know that there are certain incentives to being the tempter for a High Risk patient. If you succeed, you will be handsomely rewarded. Should you fail, well, I’m sure you can imagine the unpleasant consequences of that. So let’s get down to business.

I read over your annual report and I would rate your tempting as marginal.

What You Did that Was At Least Average

You have done a passable job of getting your patient away from some of the riskiest influences. Getting him heavily involved in sports was helpful as well. I have good intelligence from his coach’s tempter. He does a quite a job of both getting performance and dehumanizing all at the same time. Nothing cements a good vice like winning a football game with it (why do those vermin like football so much!).

It was very nearly thoughtful of you to arrange for your patient to mix with a crowd that vocally dislike church. It is so important to present church services as boring and useless. The only thing better than a vermin outside a church is a vermin who is in a church and hates it. I could sense your satisfaction as he sat not listening several Sundays in a row. This is risky and requires subtlety, but more on that later.

While it was tardy of you to not introduce pornography to him until this year, it is good that you have gotten it in. I don’t want to hear your excuses about the patient’s mother. It is your job to get those images into this home. As it is, you say he is being left home alone more often. Make sure this keeps happening. These are key to shape his sexuality (vermin sexuality makes me want to vomit!). Be careful that he is not found out. It could be disastrous if his parents knew.

Now for a few things that did not go so well.

Your Screwups!

Why did it take so long for you to get this vermin grub exposed to pornography?! We need to take the initiative on this and be the ones teaching about sexuality not waiting for him to hear something in church!!! As it is, he may have ingested some of the Enemy’s teaching. You have blown a very important opportunity by waiting this long.

But with that failure, don’t be too aggressive to make up for it. You must slowly and gently teach him how to look and enjoy this while not getting caught. It is key that he becomes good at deception. You don’t want so much exposure that his conscience overcomes his desire for those images (the human form is so disgusting, I’m glad you have to look at it and not me!). As it is, this can be the seeds of a double-life which I’m sure you can see can be endlessly enjoyable…for us!

Your report indicated that you are trying to get the boy to quit church. DO NOT TRY TO GET THAT BOY OUT OF CHURCH!!! It may seem counterintuative but it is key that you do not alert his family or local church leaders that he is drifting from them. They need to believe that everything he is experiencing is “normal” and that “things are OK.” If they ever suspected that he holds church in the contempt that he does, then they might act to help him. He must stay in church and be bored of it. Church needs to be irrelevant. It is your responsibility to make it that way.

You suggested encouraging a sexual relationship with a new love interest. Because he is in a more conservative family, deal carefully with having sex with another vermin. It can both serve us and work against us. It might alert his family of how far he is drifting if they discover it. It also could deeply root the double life we want in him. Be cautious and look for a good opportunity. Your report didn’t clarify if the parents are cautious with his dating. Clarify it NOW!

Do This or Else!

I am sending a copy of the book Tempting the Modern Human with Sexuality (5th Edition) by the Lord Screwtape. I expect you to read it cover to cover and to follow the plan inside to the letter. Lord Screwtape is a moron, but he can write a good book. For a young vermin like your patient, a quiet sexual perversion is often the way to neutralize him. Read that book and write me immediately upon completion.

Work closely with the demons of his parents and church leaders to make sure they do not see how far he is drifting. Set a strong sense of what is the patient’s private business with the whole family. Work with your patient so that he has practiced that excuse for his behavior so that he can use it at need. “Give me some privacy.” “Stop invading my space.” “I can handle this.” “Why can’t you just trust me with this?” All of these lines are good ones to through adults off his trail. Make sure he is ready for their rude questions.

Remember that none of this matters if you don’t keep away the Enemy’s Son. Remember the maxim, Anything that is not for the Enemy is for usThe more powerful the pleasure they love without the Enemy in mind, the better they will squirm under our thumbs. It is key that the Enemy’s stated feelings for them are never made clear. It is OK for them to say, “Jesus loves me” as long as they don’t really believe it. It is your job to keep your patient from believing.

You are a failure waiting to happen, but maybe I can make something of you.

Count Vicegrim

Image created by Cavin and used with permission