2020: Seeing Clearly

I was in high school when Prince’s blockbuster song 1999 hit the charts. At that time, the year 1999 seemed like an imaginary, far-off possibility. As my friends and I calculated how old we would be when 1999 was finally ushered in, I discovered that I would be in my early 30’s! It sounded so old at the time.

Fast forward to New Year’s Eve 1999 and I wasn’t “partying like it’s 1999,” as the song suggested. Instead, I was sitting home with a 4 year old and a 3 month old…and loving it! King Solomon said There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens… It was a great season. What’s the old saying? The days go slow but the years go fast… 

At the start of a new year, many people find themselves reflecting on the memories,  challenges, changes, and blessings from the previous year. img_1863Others project ahead and resolve to change a pattern, a habit, a belief, or other situation. Let’s do both!

20/20! We’ve all heard the term denoting visual acuity…sharpness, clarity. So is it any wonder that much of the hype and excitement surrounding this particular new year focuses on seeing and projecting ahead? It’s a milestone! Not only a new year…but a brand new decade!

In 1972, Johnny Nash released a song titled I Can See Clearly Now:

I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind

9a356e0b-95a8-4f20-8bed-2c7ef0ad0277As the new year approaches, a primary question I offer is: What will it take for me to see clearly in the new year? In relation to the song, other questions to consider: what obstacles are blinding my true vision or causing distortion in what I perceive? Also…what are some things I can leave behind in this decade as I forge ahead into the next? Please stick with me and we’ll look at 10 things to leave behind and 10 things to embrace and bring with us into 2020.  Let’s leave behind:

1. Comparison: Oh…I’m so guilty. I remember first reading a small laminated copy of the poem Desiderata (Latin, meaning “things desired”) in high school: If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. As an awkward teenager, I really needed to hear that! But peer pressure and the desire to perform, or conform, doesn’t stop once the diploma is in hand and you walk off the stage. With the rise of social media, to some extent we’re all living on a stage! I’ve lived it, I’ve raised two children, I’ve walked side by side with other women, and I’ve seen and talked with hundreds of other people who have fallen into the trap of comparison. Teddy Roosevelt once said “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

The apostle Paul said:

…let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t. -Romans 12:6 (MSG)

No one is immune, but I believe woman are especially vulnerable to comparison. Am I good enough, thin enough, smart enough, talented enough, mom enough, Pinterest-worthy…you get the idea. I challenge you…and me…to stop the comparison and to be mindful of each blessing, opportunity, and person we have in our lives. Celebrate each breath and the ways our bodies live and breathe and move and function. Comparison? Leave it behind.

2. Negative self-talk: It so often goes along with comparison. Again, I’m guilty. It may seem so innocent…unless you really listen: I’m so stupid. I’ll never get better. Nothing good ever happens to me… But listen again to the apostle Paul:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. -Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)

If you believe in the inerrancy of scripture, shouldn’t this verse apply to how we talk about ourselves as well as others? How about the wise words of motivational speaker Christine Arylo: “Be nice to yourself… It’s hard to be happy when someone is mean to you all the time.” I often ask people I counsel if they would speak to a small, impressionable child the way they talk to themselves. Or speak the same words to their best friend. Speak kindly to yourself. Truth…but in love.

3. Discontentment: Part of the terrible triad mix & match equation! Comparison + negative self-talk = discontentment. Pretty sure we could interchange the variables in multiple ways and still end up with similar responses: (discontentment + negative self-talk = comparison, etc…) How quickly and easily we forget that we img_1870are often currently living the life we once wished for or prayed about. Count Your Blessings is an old hymn written in the late 1800s:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

In no way do I intend to minimize pain, suffering, and other difficulties. Life is hard and the world is broken. But there can still be beauty in the midst of the brokenness. Jesus told us that “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33)  Is thankfulness the opposite of discontent? Probably not…but it at least offers to loosen the heavy cloak and lighten the burden of discontentment. Be thankful for one thing today. And then another…and another. And you will find that discontent becomes smaller and more quiet in the coming year.

4. Worry: It has many different names and expressions…anxiety, panic, nervousness, apprehension, fear, dread…  The entire verse from John 16:33 says “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” 

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? -Jesus  (Mt 6:27)

I don’t intend to minimize serious mental health concerns. Bad things happen. Terrible, fear-creating events that are totally out of our control. Anxiety is an ever-growing, increasingly serious, pervasive condition in our society. Thankfully, it is also very treatable with professional help, time, and ongoing commitment. But day-by-day worry is a choice often hidden behind habit and personal experience. Let’s commit to look clearly ahead at 2020 with intentional vision to see our daily concerns and struggles as they are…not minimized and not magnified. Also, pray about and seek to identify the triggers that threaten to steal your peace and create fear and worry. Turn off the news, silence the phone, limit social media. Put boundaries up between you and those people and situations that create anxiety and strife. Then you will be able to see more clearly.

5. Bitterness: As I typed that word, I thought another terrible trio: bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness. (more about forgiveness later…)  Where does one start and the other begin? Possible ways to identify these dangerous feelings: bitterness leaves a bad taste in your mouth or a scowl on your face. Resent = resend. Are you replaying/re-sending the same words, events, and injustices over and over in your mind and heart and attaching chain2faces to the feelings? That’s resentment. Unforgiveness = unforgiving = unwilling or unable to forgive. It’s the inability to let it go and to move forward unshackled from an offense.  Where there is one there are usually the others; and they weigh heavy on your journey. Leave them behind…like unloading rocks from a heavy backpack or taking pebbles off a scale until it’s perfectly balanced. You do it one hard thing at a time. What do you need to take off the scale and leave behind this year?

6. Misplaced anger: Anger gets a bad rap. Appropriate, well-played anger motivates people to rise up to defend their families, their countries, or their causes. To pursue a better life. It fuels passion and creativity. But misplaced or unrestrained anger has the ability to destroy relationships, families, and individuals. It seems to be a common go-to emotion. But it’s really a temperature gauge. A check engine light. It may need a skilled mechanic to diagnose it and shut it down while it’s still just a warning. What, or who, is pushing your button or flipping your switch? Just as a compass points north, misplaced anger points back to something or someone. Often a grave injustice… but sometimes just a drastic misunderstanding. It’s 2020…inspect it, repair it. Put anger in its proper place and use it wisely.

7. Apathy: Shake off the dusty cobwebs of apathy. Apathy is a lack of feeling, emotion, interest, concern, or passion. It’s the whatever or who cares attitude that has become so prevalent in recent years. It is desensitization to the injustice and cares of the world. To suffering and loss…or to growth and achievement. It is neither hot nor cold…simply  lukewarm. Pray for a heart to see and a passion to care about what’s going on around you. Seek motivation to move out of your comfort zone and be aware and engaged.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.  *

8. Overindulgence:  There’s an old saying: Too much of a good thing… It can be finished in multiple ways: is a bad thing, leads to obsession or addiction, makes you miserable, etc… Think for a moment. Consider when something that has brought you temporary pleasure eventually caused you pain, guilt, loss, or other negative consequence. The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:12 “Everything is permissible for me,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me,” but I will not be mastered by anything.  Food, medication, alcohol, television, or even excessive cell phone use can lead us into distraction and escape…away from quality time to invest in relationships and our own physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Seek balance. 20/20.

9. Busyness: Our society is busier than ever. Our days and hours are full of appointments, activities. and various must-do-and-be-at activities. Our schedules are full but many times our hearts and our spirits are empty. And…we are tired, we are stressed, and we often feel disconnected even in the middle of the crowds and busyness.  A few questions to consider: What is essential? What is life-giving? What promotes emotional and spiritual growth or a tangible reward? Check your schedule. I’m not advocating hitting eject on every nonessential activity; nor is it good for you to be  secluded or uninvolved. Just consider ordering and prioritizing your time in 2020. What will really matter at the end of this year…and the next?

10. A bad habit:  Just one! You may have a list of a dozen, but consider one simple habit, quirk, or pattern that plagues you and has likely followed you for years. Too many times we reach the end of the year (or the end of ourselves!) and make unrealistic goals and commitments. Then we become discouraged or self-critical. Let’s forge ahead with 20/20 vision. Set a clear, realistic goal. Don’t set yourself up for failure or disappointment by planning a complete overhaul. Focus on one small change. One bad habit you can drop at the back door of 2019 and enter 2020 with better focus, clarity, and direction. Envision one step, and then another. Be realistic and optimistic. 


Don’t give up now! We’ve talked about what to leave behind in the old decade. Now let’s look at 10 things we should bring with us into 2020 to have a brand new start! Let’s commit to:

1. Reach out to a friend! Someone you haven’t seen since high school, someone you’ve noticed at church, that quiet person at work… You may already have a hundred friends…you may only have one. The number that you have is not the important factor. Quality > quantity. Explore the new and cherish the old! Be real, be honest, be you. And let them be real, be honest, and be themselves.  Laugh, cry, hug, have fun. Be serious, be silly, just be. You may not think you need a new friend, but a brand new friend may need you! 🙂

2. Talk to somebody. A friend, a pastor, a counselor, a stranger… Many people are starving for connection and conversation. Make small talk in elevators and grocery check out lines. Reconnect with high school friends. Talk about the weather and the flowers blooming. Talk about hopes and dreams. Talk about disappointments, pains, and things you wish you could do over. Tell somebody something that makes you happy, sad, expectant, or maybe even a little fearful. Talk about the hard things. Talk about the secrets. Tell your story to someone you trust…even the most painful things. See a counselor if you need to. Everyone needs to be heard.

Where there is no guidance, a people falls,
    but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.  -Proverbs 11:14

3. Read a book! Read fiction. Image result for dr seuss the more that you readRead nonfiction. Read children’s books through your adult eyes and experiences. Read magazines and cereal boxes. Studies consistently show that the majority of people quit reading once they are out of school. But reading stimulates creativity, improves memory and imagination, and enlarges your borders. Oh, the places you will go! Visit a library or bookstore. Look and touch and smell and let the words leap off the pages and into your mind and imagination. Even better…into your heart and soul.

4. Read the Bible. Even if you aren’t a believer… Give it a shot!  It is full of history, wisdom, scandal, poetry, romance, music, and revelation. Challenge it. Open it and enter in questioning, doubting, wondering…   2 Timothy 3:16-17 says All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.  Seek and you just might find what you’re looking for.

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5. Write! A pen, a pencil, a keyboard…it doesn’t matter. Write your story, write a poem, write a prayer, write a letter to an old friend. Writing is like holding a key that unlocks feelings and memories and ideas. Keep a notepad or a space on your phone to jot down quick ideas but later find a designated time to write…let it pour out freely and unedited until your thoughts find their home on paper. “Stay faithful to the stories in your head.” -Paula Hawkins

6. Pray. Prayer is simply talking with God. The apostle Paul’s mandate in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 is Pray without ceasing. Spend hours on your knees in a designated space, pray as you’re going to sleep, pray in the car between errands…but make this year a time to seek God in prayer. Meditate, reflect, sit in silence, and listen. It will improve both your vision and your hearing. 🙂

Prayer is the helpless and needy child crying to the compassion of the Father’s heart and the bounty and power of a Father’s hand. -E.M. Bounds

7. Forgive. I wrote a post a few months ago titled Forgiveness Is Cake. No, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Forgive anyway. Very intentionally. Very specifically remember the person who shamed you, mocked you, bullied you, or outright abused you; and cut the chains that bind you to all the bad feelings, the anger, and the hurtful memories.

Colossians 3:13 says: Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins say: Your health depends on it…Forgiveness is not just about saying the words. It is an active process in which you make a conscious decision to let go of negative feelings whether the person deserves it or not.

I challenge you, and me, to walk into 2020 unshackled and free. Even if your walk is merely a limp. Don’t do it for them. Do it for yourself and for those you love…for your peace and your freedom.

img_18838. Go! Somewhere you’ve never been! Just go! Fly, ride, hike…travel. Visit somewhere new and different and scary and off the beaten path and out of the box. The mountains, the beach, the quaint little hometown square. The local restaurants, the hidden trails, the cozy coffee shops, the loud lounges, the quiet gardens. Explore and live and laugh! And take lots of pictures!

9. Go! Yes I know I’ve already said that…but go back to a familiar place. Where your memories are warm and cozy or where they need to find peace and healing. Where you met Jesus, where you met your spouse, your best friend’s old house. Your first church, your high school, your first date. The cemetery. Go and remember and see with new eyes. Better acuity. 20/20.

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it…this brokenness inside me might start healing.   -Miranda Lambert, The House That Built Me

10. Move! No, don’t call the realtor just yet! But move your body…stretch your arms, twist your hips, bend your knees and elbows! Walk, dance, tumble, climb… Celebrate your mobility, your flexibility, your strength, your stamina. Someone once said the best exercise is the one you’ll do…so just do it!

Exercise is a celebration of what your body can do, not a punishment for what you are or what you ate.  –unknown/paraphrased

Well…It’s just another 10-things list to consider for the new year: ten to embrace and ten to leave behind. As I neared the end of the list, I realized there were so many more I could have included. There really is no perfect 10. But I think the additional four I would have included to embrace in the coming year could act like a big bow-and-ribbon to wrap around the others as you read back through them: faith, hope, love, and compassion. Wrap yourself in those last four and it will make an all-encompassing beautiful gift to give to yourself and to others. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Col 3:14)

No…it’s not an all-inclusive list of how to make 2020 the best year ever…but it’s a start!

Paul said in Philippians 3:13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on… Consider one thing you can do.

Welcome to 2020…not only a promising new year, but a brand new decade! Press on. With clarity and acuity…20/20

 

*quoted by JFK, ? per Edmund Burke

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friends in Low Places

I was in my early twenties when Garth Brooks’ smash hit Friends in Low Places debuted. There was something about the earthy guttural growl andselective focus photography of man playing electric guitar on stage sweet southern twang of the song, along with that little bite of sweet poetic justice, that felt right at home in my life as an early twenties single woman living in Nashville.  Although I still find myself occasionally indulging in the nostalgia of the newer oldies, the song had a very different meaning to me then than the phrase does now…Because I indeed really do have friends in low places.

Very low places. Hard places. Tragic places. Not  “where the whiskey drowns and the beer chases my blues away” places glorified in the old country song. Years of living, learning, losing, and letting go removed all the glitter and gloss from the drama of broken relationships, revenge, half-hearted commitments, and unhealthy patterns of dealing with life and loss.

I have friends in much lower places than that. Dark, lonely places of loss, abandonment, rejection, abuse, addiction, confusion, sickness, disability, job loss, financial ruin, and difficult diagnosis.

In this world you will have trouble. -Jesus

Well-rehearsed preachers, prosperity gospel, Pollyanna promises, and the proverbial rose-colored glasses can all try to deny the reality of pain, suffering, and loss that everyone will eventually face; but Jesus himself warned us. Prepared us. But He also said:

But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Take heart. What does that even mean? Other nick-fewings-ka7REB1AJl4-unsplashtranslations say: take courage, be of good cheer, be brave, be courageous, have confidence…

I like “take heart.” It sounds active and involved. It lets me choose. It’s almost tangible. I can picture myself reaching out, or reaching in, and taking my heart. Speaking words of hope and encouragement. Be strong. Be brave. Be careful. Be kind. But be alive. Be teachable and be available for strengthening, encouraging, and reassuring…then for offering up as a humble sacrifice.

While we may not choose sickness, cancer, divorce, addiction, abuse, mistreatment, injustice. We can choose to take heart, take courage, be of good cheer, be brave, be courageous, and have confidence.

Proverbs 4:23 says Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

heart brass-colored padlockGuard it. Above all else. It must be extremely valuable. I picture it like an ancient city. With walls and towers to protect against enemy onslaught and invasion…but with gates to swing open to welcome friends, provision, protectors, allies, healers. A fortress, not a prison. Guard it as one would diligently, methodically guard a storehouse of plenty and provision during famine, war, and threats of enemy plunder.

Because isn’t that really what we are up against: famine, lack, loss, wars, and threats of enemy plunder? Not merely threats to overtake peace, joy, and hope…but heart-sickening, soul-crushing blows to us and those we love.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8

But what does that have to do with friends in low places?

In the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul tells us to “Bear one another’s burdens.” Other translations say: carry, share, help, practice carrying, offer a helping hand.

img_8817Loving one another is sometimes hard. Bearing burdens is hard. When they hurt, you hurt, but…Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. 

Being present and available can be scary when you don’t know what to say or do…For if one falls down, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to help him up! 

The world can be amazing and beautiful, but confusing and scary and cold…Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? 

But we are so prone to isolation and secrecy and self-protection…And though one may be overpowered, two can resist.

But we are called to be present to  share the love and hope of Jesus…Moreover, a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  (Ecc 4:9-12)

img_8872Not one in isolation. Not two struggling to get by. But three strands! While often symbolic of a wedding ceremony, what does that look like in our day to day relationships and interactions? Especially with our friends in low places? You, your friend, God Almighty…

I haven’t always done it well. Honestly…I have probably failed more than I succeeded at  the face-to-face ministry of presence. But how I have wanted to be the faithful friend who sits in the ashes in the midst of another’s deepest pain and grief. How I have loved and prayed and lamented! I feel it in my very heart and soul sometimes. Real tangible pain and sadness. My friends in low places have walked hard roads recently. An unexpected loss of a young husband, the death of a child, a distant husband, an unwanted divorce, a congenital heart defect, prodigal children, addiction, tragic financial loss, betrayal, old wounds surfacing, a suicide attempt, a botched surgery, a bad mammogram, a pending biopsy… And more, so much more. Evidence that…yes, in this world we will have trouble.

Courage, dear heart.  -C.S. Lewis

Luke 5 recounts the story of a man in a very low place: Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus.  When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.

This  man was unable to take care of his very basic needs. He couldn’t stand, walk, or get to Jesus. His companions lifted him and bore his stretcher, shouldered his load, and brought him, weak and helpless, to Jesus. The man may have had good intentions. He may have had great self-discipline and solid determination, but in his own power he was simply unable to bear his own weight, make his own path, see above the crowd and confusion, and find his healing. He was in a very low place…but he had friends.

Maybe sometimes the best we can do is to carry our friends on a stretcher to the feet of Jesus.

Consider this: Maybe praying for their physical well-being and peace, as well as img_7254being present and attentive to their physical and emotional needs is a type of guarding their heart…

Take heart. Can you picture yourself reaching out, or reaching in, and taking their heart… Speaking words of hope and encouragement: Be strong. Be brave. Be careful. Be kind. Be alive. Be teachable and be available for strengthening, encouraging, and reassuring… Then helping them offer it up as a humble sacrifice…to a God who sees, cares, heals, and redeems. And what an honor to sit, walk, stand, or simply just be with the hurting and the broken. Shoulder to shoulder or face-to-face, but definitely heart to heart and spirit to spirit.

A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.

Low places…we’ve all been there, are there, or will be there at some point. But what a blessing to be able to cry out, “I’ve got friends!”

 

Another Prayer For My Hometown

In 2017 I wrote a post titled “A Prayer For My Hometown.” img_5200At the time, it was to address a specific situation happening locally. There was an outside hate group that threatened to come in to stir up division and discord…right here at our little town square. It was trouble threatening us from outside our boundaries…uninvited, unwanted, unsupported.

While that was addressing a specific time and event, I’ve noticed something interesting about the post: it has been viewed by people from 35 different countries in the past year. Thirty five!  It is by far my most widely read post. South Africa, Philippines, Russia, South Korea, Pakistan, India, Kuwait…just a few. Queue Walt Disney’s melodious musical tones of “It’s a Small World After All…”

I traveled to Guatemala on a mission trip in college. Since then, I haven’t really traveled very far. I don’t speak another language. I don’t really engage in varied cultures. But as I thought about people from all over the world sitting at their computers or on their phones doing a search for words and prayers for their hometown, the world suddenly became very familiar and very small to me. bd7936c9-c694-477f-a3b3-8c2473696a27It became my hometown, my familiar space, the place where I live and work and worship and love. I saw so much more than colors on a map.

As I have thought about the needs that would drive people to seek and to pray, I don’t believe it’s simply a black and white issue, a right or wrong issue, a peace or chaos issue, or an us and them issue… I believe there is an underlying common theme of human frailty, hurt, and need…and hope. People are hurting, people are searching, but so many people still cling to hope. And sometimes that is enough.

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come…

I don’t really understand war. But parts of the world are always at war. Always. I don’t understand merciless killing or torture or captivity or terrorism. I don’t understand deceit and hatred based simply on appearance or social stature. The band Nickelback imagined it well:

If everyone cared and nobody cried,                                                                                                  If everyone loved and nobody lied
If everyone shared and swallowed their pride
 Then we’d see the day when nobody died.

But that’s just a song. Of course people die. And people do cry. Some deaths are mere echoes and celebrations of a lives well-lived. Some church1tears are joyous and cleansing and freeing. Some tears come from depth of pain and need. King David cried. Jesus wept. I have cried. I imagine you have too. Tears of sorrow, pain, loneliness, helplessness, anger, injustice, and hope. Tears for ourselves and tears for others. My heart hurts for people who are lost, displaced, discouraged, hopeless, or in fear. For people who feel cast aside and forgotten. Unwanted. I see it in the news and pages of magazines. I see it in people’s faces that I encounter daily. Some are in physical wars, others in emotional and spiritual battles. But many are searching for solutions, for remedies, for a moment of peace and hope in a sin-ravaged, war-torn world.

While I don’t really understand actual war,  I know that there are things and people and ideas that are worth fighting for. When I think of all the people in countries where their own government suppresses or sabotages them, where their children go hungry or die from treatable diseases, where the poor are treated as less-than or disposable…What can I do? Are they the ones who are searching for prayers for their own hometowns?

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places…

When I see the devastation and loss and incredible tragedy as natural disasters are unleashed with destructive, uncontrollable, unpredictable power destroying everything in their paths…  When people lose their homes, their hopes, their communities…What can I do? Who is praying for their hometowns?

At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold…

I have recently traveled to several cities close to home where terrible tragedies have brokenchurchhappened. Two church shootings, other public shootings, serious widespread fires, racial unrest, tornadoes, unexpected violent deaths… When people are intentionally wounding others: abusing, exploiting, rejecting, abandoning, killing…What can I do? When people are overwhelmed with crippling fear, crushing anxiety, and debilitating depression…trapped inside their own heads, battling torment, mental health, or addictions….what can I do?

…but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved…

Yes, there are some tangible ways I can intervene. I can spend money and time and effort and kind words…but sometimes the bigger battle is fought on a different battlefield. When I can speak, I will speak. When I can give, I will give. When I can go, I will go. But sometimes… I can pray. I will pray. So this is my prayer for my hometown, for me, my family, my friends, my neighbors…and for you and your hometown too:

img_5729Lord, I pray that you will give me an abundance of faith, hope, and love…A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over… (Luke 6:38) I pray for: faith to seek and to believe, hope to want and to know, love to care and to intercede.

In addition, I pray for hunger. Not for satisfaction of an earthly longing, but for an insatiable desire…a hunger for truth, for action, for kindness, for mercy, for justice. He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8) 

Lord, could I pray for world peace and brotherly love, with an end to war and strife? An end to abuse, addiction, murder, and disease? Yes, but you told b5d10f36-f91d-4d3e-906d-b4d2cce03689us in John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  So I pray for God-given peace regardless of circumstances.  For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Tim 1:7) I pray that we will not lose heart but will look to you.

I pray that each member of the church body will arise to the full function you have designed. Lord give us eyes that see worth, value, purpose, and God’s design. Eyes that see your way where there was previously no way. Eyes that see your image on each face we encounter and your hand on each unexpected miracle.

Give us ears that not only hear the cries of the lonely, the destitute, the needy….but also the gifted, those designed for service, the divine ideas whispered to our spirits in the quiet times.

Give us hearts open enough to love deeply but strong enough to be solid in conviction and truth. Sensitive to you and your leading but guarded enough to be aware of the enemy’s schemes.

Give us hands that reach the unreachable, that hold onto truth and hope, and that hold our families, our friends, our brothers and sisters, close and point them to you.

547275cc-c827-4d14-83e0-c081ec2a20a9Give us feet that stand firm on your word, your truth, your promises. Feet that go where you lead and create a path for those who are lost or searching to follow.

So while these may sound like simple personal prayers for the individual, healing begins with one. Encouragement begins with one. Discipleship begins with one. For as I am overflowing with faith, hope, love, and truth…I will be changed, my neighbors will be changed, my world will be changed. I will be praying for you and your hometown.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Prov 31:8-9)

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.   (Mt 24:6-14)

 

On Guilt and Grace…

I’m not a theologian and this isn’t exactly a deep theological post. I am merely a bearer of guilt and a recipient of grace more often times than I can recount. And I’m a firm believer that God uses simple, tangible things to teach our simple minds.


guilt
/ɡilt/
noun
verb
grace
/ɡrās/
noun
2. the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.
verb

A couple of months ago I wrote a post about the hard decision my family had to make about choosing life or death for our old dog. While ultimately everyone said it was the merciful decision, it still caused me to wrestle with guilt and all the “buts and what-ifs.” Was I betraying my dog? Was I being irresponsible or taking the “easy way out”? Was she really ready to go, as many people suggested?

Guilt is heavy. It makes you question, judge, and condemn thoughts, motives, and actions. Sometimes guilt is appropriate and helpful to convict, correct, and even clarify beliefs, patterns, and purposes. It can be saving and transformative…providing you use it as a stepping stone to get safely to the other side of the raging sea and not a millstone tied around your neck, dragging you down to drown with it.

But grace. If you believe there’s a God and He is really concerned and deeply involved in people’s lives, you see things differently. Not perfectly, not always 20/20, but differently.

Now to the totally non-theological part. Two days after the difficult decision, I received a text from a friend who knew I had struggled with the loss of my dog.img_1822 Good news! A friend of a friend had six week old puppies she needed homes for. Free puppies! I would like to say I wrestled with the decision. I prayed about it. I sought all the veterinary or psychiatric advice about trying to fill old paw prints too soon. But I didn’t. With a resounding “yes!”, we committed to a little bundle of puppy joy. We contacted the owner and she confirmed she had a little black and white, blue-eyed puppy she would save for us until I returned from a trip the following week.

img_1821While on the trip I wrestled again. Was it too soon? We hadn’t even seen or met this puppy. What if the owner gave her away before next week? It’s so easy to rehearse unnecessary worries and fears. And this was just a puppy! How often and easily can we get consumed by day to day whys and what ifs! Was it coincidence or a God-inspired reassurance that everything was going to be okay when I found a little token of reassurance in gift shop 200 miles away from home?

Welcome, Maggie Grace…img_1823

My daughter calls it “Jesus-juking” when someone overspiritualizes or credits everything to divine intervention. Let me Jesus-juke for a moment:

  • My friend’s nephew’s friend (complicated) had puppies available at just the right time. Free!
  • We were first told they were all taken (tragedy) but someone wasn’t fully committed and backed out.
  • I went in a store in Gatlinburg to find a small garden flag and found one with the close likeness of the pup’s pic on it. (In the colors and flag theme we were wanting!) It even said “Welcome” on it.  🙂
  • While we were waiting to meet the pup, we visited an old antique store that had an old red truck like the one on the flag.
  • She was even more beautiful and cuddly in img_1824person than in the pic.
  • She snuggled in and fit perfectly in our home and hearts right away.
  • She gets along great with the cat and all the other dogs that come and go.

So ultimately…it’s just a puppy. But healing and happiness can be found in small gifts of the ordinary and everyday sights, sounds, and presences in your life. It’s grace.

There’s a song I really like by Matthew West, “Grace Wins”

There’s a war between guilt and grace
And they’re fighting for a sacred space
But I’m living proof
Grace wins every time
No more lying down in death’s defeat
Now I’m rising up in victory
Singing, hallelujah
Grace wins every time

Words can’t describe the way it feels
When mercy floods a thirsty soul
The broke inside begins to heal
And grace returns what guilty stole

And in the shadow of that shame
Beat down by all the blame
I hear You call my name saying it’s not over
And my heart starts to beat so loud now
Drowning out the doubt
I’m down, but I’m not out

Maybe that seems like a stretch when I’m just talking about a puppy. But it’s really all grace. All a gift. All unearned.

img_1839
My friend, Sharon, who found Maggie for me.

Today is Maggie’s birthday. She is three months old. Since we brought her home, she has been lavished with love and attention. She has been taken for walks on the Greenway. to PetSmart, to Petco, to Dunkin, to Sonic. She has received treats and toys, beds and blankets, snacks and snuggles. What has she done to deserve it? Nothing. We love and accept her…chewed blankets, house accidents and all.

img_1840
She brought new life and hope to my son.

Loving a puppy isn’t difficult. Training, disciplining, watching, protecting, going outside in the rain and early morning hours… Well, it’s grace. We all stumble, mess up, and need a little extra care now and then.

She is growing so fast…not as fluffy; long, lanky legs, a little awkward… She’s still growing and learning to trust and to become her real self. But aren’t we all: awkward, changing, imperfect. But hopefully we can rest in the knowledge that we are loved, we are learning, and we are growing in grace. Happy birthday, Maggie Grace.  🙂

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,  because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.  And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.  Phil 1:2-3

 

 

Dogs, Days, and Decisions…

I’m a terrible decision maker. Not that I make bad decisions, I just have a hard time deciding what to do. Something as simple as where to eat after church on Sunday, what color to paint a room, or where to go on vacation can send me into a dizzying tailspin of confusion and indecision. So for someone who has trouble deciding on tacos or pizza, beige or gray, the beach or Boston, what do you do when faced with a decision of life or death?

I made a very good decision about fifteen years ago.

img_7161Sitting at a computer screen perusing an animal rescue site, I saw her. Little bitty ears, bright eyes, and a playful face…I knew we had to have her. So we packed up the family van with a little clothes basket and blanket in the back and drove to the Franklin County Animal Shelter in Belvedere, Tennessee. There in the front office we met the little black and white pup we had seen on the screen. They had affectionately named her Bonnie and she was the unofficial office pup, scampering freely in the office with her other little furry partner in crime. Bonnie had had a rough start: abandoned, wormy, malnourished, found wandering on the side of a busy highway, narrowly avoiding traffic. Someone had rescued her and brought her to safety and nurture. She was 10-12 weeks old when we met her and she wasn’t wormy, malnourished, neglected, abandoned, unwanted, or unloved any longer. She was playful and thriving as she bounced around the office, back and forth between our excited children.

In the van and into the padded clothes basket she went. We had already named her before we even img_7213saw her in real life. No longer Bonnie…welcome home Molly Ann Foster!

We’ve always been dog-people. Molly joined big brother Zack, also a rescue, and the next several years consisted of dog toys, backyard chases, treats, and snuggles . There was the fishing-lure-up-the-nose-requiring-surgery incident, but mostly fun, furry times. It would take hours to list all the love, laughter, memories, and blessings that Molly brought to us all. Dogs are like that. “Man’s best friend.” Also, kids’ best friend…and mom’s best friend. 🙂


Days turn into weeks and months and years. Even as I write this, I feel the weight of  a hard day, week, and year. Today I  made one of the hardest decision I’ve ever made: to let Molly go. It was a family decision along with discussions with the vet, numerous friends, img_7212and even Facebook advice. But I was the one who took her for that last dreadful drive. Honestly, it felt a little like betrayal. But also mercy, compassion, and love.

Actually, it didn’t really feel like love at the moment. It felt necessary, but it also felt like a hard, heavy, ultimate betrayal. Like I was giving up. I was supposed to protect her and make the best decisions for her.

I am thankful for a friend who called at just the right moment.

A friend who loved Molly as her own, who puppy-sat her on our first trip away, who created so much excitement in Molly that it made Molly pee a little every time she saw her. Maybe that’s a little too much information, but funny every time. A friend who had walked the same road and told me I did the right, loving, merciful thing. A friend who believes our pets are gifts from God and who believes we will see our pets again. Maybe some people don’t believe that; but I do. I believe she is free and whole and pain free, and running with her big brother, Zack.

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Proverbs 16:24

When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness. Proverbs 31:26

What would I say to Molly? That I’m sorry. That I tried everything, every medicine, every prayer that I had. That she was so good, so loved, so wanted. That she was beautiful and smart. She was chosen and she was perfect. That I miss her already. That she had a good life and her life made our lives better. What could be a better tribute for anybody? Your life made someone else’s life better.

I don’t cry often but I’ve found myself weepy all day. At the vet, on the way home, in the middle of Sam’s, with every phone call, with every typed word. And that’s okay. It tells me that it matters, it hurts, it’s loss; but mostly it’s love and privilege. I’ll always be a dog lover. They bring out the best in us and model unconditional love and acceptance. I didn’t write the following passage, but I wish I had.

img_7211And on the 9th day God looked down on his wide eyed children and said, they need a companion.
So God made a Dog
.

…God said I need somebody willing to sit, then stay, then roll over, then with no ego or complaint dress in hats they do not need and costumes they do not understand…  Somebody who no matter what you didn’t do or couldn’t take or didn’t win or couldn’t make, will love you without judgement just the same.
So God made a Dog.

God said I need somebody strong enough to pull sleds and find bombs and yet gentle enough to love babies and lead the blind.  Somebody that will spend all day on a couch with a resting head and supportive eyes for the broken heart.
So God made a Dog. img_7158

It had to be somebody who would remain patient and loyal even through loneliness, somebody to care, cuddle, snuggle, and nuzzle and cheer and charm and snore and slobber and eat the trash and chase the squirrels.  Somebody who would bring the family together with an open heart. Somebody to bark, and then pant and then reply with the rapid wag of a tail, when their best friend says, “let’s go for a ride in the car.”
So God made a Dog.

img_7160God said I need somebody who would stand at your side when the world around you collapses.  Somebody to lie next to you during the long nights of pain and sorrow when it hurts to move, to talk, or think, or be.  Somebody to stand guard, play games, snore for hours and repeat as needed.  Somebody to give you strength when you have none of your own.  Somebody to fight when you have no fight left, to hold onto your soul as if it were their favorite toy, playing tug of war to keep you in this world. Somebody to be your companion and guide in this world and the next. Somebody to wait for you on the other side or stand guard in your absence until they can join you for eternity.
So God made a Dog

(From a popular Facebook video)

For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills.I know every bird on the mountains, and all the animals of the field are mine.     Psalm 50:10-11

 

Have you Hugged Your Health Care Provider Today?

I’ve worked in healthcare for 30 years. Well over half my life…closer to 60% of my entire life.

My love for my work created a tangible picture  that wpstethoscopeinspired my husband to go back to school to get a nursing degree in his early 30’s. He actually told me I was the only person he knew who loved her job; so there must be something rewarding in it. And I do! I love my job. It’s more than a job. It’s my lifework and ministry. A high and holy calling, a privilege.

Then perhaps as a combination of her parents’ example and natural God-given gifting and wiring, my daughter went to nursing school and now works in a busy, high-acuity critical care unit. She eventually hopes to be a Life Flight nurse. #proudmom

My son-in-law…medical. My son…not so much. He said he would consider it…if he didn’t have to touch people.  I guess that’s a 19 year old young man for you.

Have you hugged your health care provider today?

wpwheat2

King Solomon said it well:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die…

Some seasons are harder than others. Seasons of struggle, sickness, sadness, lack, and loss. Some seasons are bountiful with God’s greatest blessings and overflow with love and laughter and life to the full. Some seasons are unpredictable but you still can’t help but be thankful for every warm ray of sunshine, hard spatter of rain, and even threatening wind.

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

It has been a great year. I have laughed and danced more than I have deserved. I have felt more alive and have lived life to the full, perhaps more than any season past. But nestled in the shadows of my year-of-plenty, like everyone else I know, have been pockets of grief, struggle, and loss.

I love my job; which means I love the people I see and touch and talk with. I know their stories, their families, their health concerns, and many of their personal struggles. I have followed many through multiple, evolving seasons in their own lives and families. Springs of new life and celebration.  Summers of fun and victory and living life to the full. Autumns of peace and calm, sometimes stagnation. Winters of lack and loss and loneliness. Sometimes in the midst of such intimacy, whether you do it intentionally or not, you become a burden bearer. You sense others’ pain, grief, and heaviness so intuitively and personally that it becomes your own.

Have you hugged your health care provider today?

David was one of my first patients at my current practice.wpwalker A farmer, strong, hardy, rugged…but kind, simple, gentle. Friendly, fatherly, grandfatherly. I first met David after he had fallen off a roof. 70 years old and still climbing and working. His injuries were extensive but he didn’t complain. He just wanted to get better and get back to work! That was ten years ago. This year I watched David’s body slowly ravaged by three different cancers. He left life a fraction of the giant size man I first met.

David is one of hundreds I’ve watched wither away over the past 30 years but for some reason his death hit me a little harder. At one point I told David and his wife that he was like a Timex watch because he “kept on tickin.”  That was in the first few years of his series wphosp2of accidents and bad diagnoses. The last time I saw David I didn’t even recognize him. I walked into his hospital room and had to double check the name on the wall. The sickness had made him a shell of the tough old farmer he had been. I miss David.

It’s not just David. Time and our human mortality have taken so many names and faces and stories. Our bodies are fragile. They age, they break, they die. It’s a hard reality; yet it is both a privilege and sacred responsibility to be an eye witness to the sanctity of life and loss.

A mom who lost her son in a tragic accident. A woman whose young husband died unexpectedly. A child diagnosed with aggressive cancer. A man whose wife abandoned the family. Heroin overdose. Victims of violent crime and every imaginable abuse. Sometimes it weighs very heavy.

Have you hugged your health care provider today?

The next time your doctor is late coming in the room and you’ve been sentenced to play Candy Crush on your phone or scroll Facebook for an hour in a lonely exam room, consider not huffing, rolling your eyes, and complaining when he or she finally makes it in. They know your time is valuable. They don’t enjoy seeing the schedule get farther and farther behind. They probably won’t get lunch and will definitely be late getting home; but after they have just left a room with a terrible diagnosis, signed a death certificate, filed abuse charges, made phone calls, opened up lab results and x-rays with poor prognosis… They will still smile, apologize for being late, and be thankful that you’re safe and have the time that others do not…other chances at life.

Have you hugged your health care provider today?

In an ICU, death and suffering are common realities.wpnurse Sometimes I feel a great  burden for my daughter: 23, full of life, innocent…but now thrown into a world of IVs, ventilators, cancer, addiction, overdose, and split-second life and death decisions. She’s a strong young woman. She sees and she cares. Many people do not. She learns her patients’ names and needs, She feels their pain, their fears, their frustrations.

Jesus told us to bear one another’s burdens. That includes holding a dying man’s hand so he doesn’t die alone. Hugging a family member who is exhausted and at a breaking point from grief. Learning sign language just to be able to comfort that one deaf patient. But does loving and caring and turning the other cheek include being cursed, scratched, manipulated, disrespected, and demeaned? Sadly, it’s a reality.

 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

My husband works in psychiatry and drug rehab. They like him there because he is big and can protect other nurses. People withdrawing from drugs like to throw things at their nurses. They like to curse them, throw urine on them, hit them, scratch them. My husband and daughter have both come home with soiled clothes and scratch marks. I’ve never understood how people lash out at those trying to help or comfort them. Actually, I’ve never understood how people can wound anyone so carelessly.

Jesus had compassion on the crowds “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd,” (Mt 9:36) but sometimes it’s hard.

Have you hugged your health care provider today?

Sometimes I think thirty years is too long. People have become too difficult, insurance companies too devious, red tape too thick. I’ve considered the feasibility of retirement…

A time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away;

But every hard day, every painful experience, every grief and loss, is somehow always overshadowed by love and passion and purpose and a glimmer of hope that one life will be touched, helped, changed, or offered hope.

Therefore I will echo King Solomon’s words:

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.  (Ecc 3)

For today, I will continue to find satisfaction in my toil because it is indeed a gift from God.

But…Have you hugged your health carewpkoala provider today?

 

 

 

Father’s Eyes

I woke up early this morning and the house was completely img_7238still and silent. My favorite. The sun was shining, the sky was bold and blue, and it looked like it was going to be a beautiful day as I stood at the back door watching the morning come to life. Four bluejays, a pair of cardinals, a myriad of sparrows, and a squirrel were having breakfast at the bird feeder. A young bunny hopped through the fence and was promptly greeted by another. They immediately engaged in a game of chase…not sure if they were looking for love or for a fight but I still enjoyed the pregame show. My heart welled up to overflowing at the bounty and beauty of all the natural scenery.

Not sure why the words came…maybe because it’s Father’s Day weekend or maybe just seeing the beauty and wonder of creation; but my mind immediately began playing the old Amy Grant song Father’s Eyes:

When people look inside my life, I want to hear them say,
She’s got her Father’s eyes,
Her Father’s eyes;
Eyes that find the good in things,
When good is not around;
Eyes that find the source of help,
When help just can’t be found;
Eyes full of compassion,
Seeing every pain;
Knowing what you’re going through
And feeling it the same.
Just like my Father’s eyes…

The words are pretty straightforward but, looking back, I’m not sure I fully understood the song as a teenager with limited experience and worldview.

What does that even mean? Father’s eyes? Some fathers teach their kids about football, baseball, or fishing. History, space, politics. Relation, interaction, confidence, belief. Some don’t. So they may teach them to do or to be, but what do they teach them to see?

I recently finished studying Genesis. What a way to look at the big picture through my Father’s eyes…eyes that find the good in things, when good is not around; eyes that find the source of help, when help just can’t be found, eyes full of compassion..

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light…And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds…” And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.

And it is so good. I have a shirt that says Life Is Good, so it must be true, right? But sometimes it’s hard too. I read it in Genesis, I’ve seen it on the news and in people’s lives, and I’ve lived it.

…Eyes that find the good in things, when good is not around…

img_7253Sometimes I look at my backyard and marvel. Shortly after we first moved in, I stood in the backyard and cried. Cried. I loved the new house but the back yard was empty and houses were everywhere I looked. I felt so exposed but so alone. No privacy, no comfort. no cozy homey feeling. I was thankful, I was blessed; but it still wasn’t my garden, my Eden, my place to tend and nurture and commune with God. So… we created! Trees and flowers and birdhouses and feeders and cheap yard ornaments… Well we didn’t actually create trees and all the other stuff; but we created space, a habitat, and a view. Sanctuary.

What does all that have to do with Genesis, an Amy Grant song, and waking up too early? Sometimes I feel like the creator of my yard. I look at it andimg_7272 it is good. It brings me joy and peace and comfort. A healthy sense of pride and accomplishment. But like the real world, my little backyard world sees both joy and pain, life and loss.

…Eyes that find the source of help when help just can’t be found...

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  Mt 6:26-29

img_7252Sometimes in the little picture of life, I see my back yard as a reflection of the big world. There is life and beauty and provision; but sometimes there is struggle, sickness, and death. I just want all the animals to have provision and safety and all the plants and trees to thrive. Birds, bunnies, squirrels, possums, raccoons, toads, even a snake  have all inhabited the yard and have delighted us all. (except maybe the snake) But they’ve also seen struggles, loss, bullying, predators, changing seasons. They’ve weathered harsh climate, circling hawks, empty feeders, bigger bullies, a prowling cat, and loud, clumsy dogs.

…Eyes full of compassion, seeing every pain…

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Mt 9:36

Okay…maybe that’s a stretch to compare human spiritual img_7247conditions and worldly struggles to animals in a semi-controlled habitat; but it’s a picture of care that I believe God has put on my heart. The sadness or anger or hurt or injustice or pleasure or satisfaction I feel when I watch life unfold in the backyard is minuscule compared with the heart of God when He sees his creation…both the struggles and the victories, the sadness and the joy.

What does it mean to have His eyes in a sin-sick, broken, desperate world?

There’s a line in a popular contemporary Christian song that changed the way I look at people who may look or act or live differently that I do or think or expect.

One by one the enemy has told them lies and led them off as slaves…

Does that change the way you look at people? It does for me. Addiction, abuse, abandonment, hurt, just plain meanness…

It makes me want to be able to see good, the value, the potential.  It makes me want to have compassion, love, and forgiveness and to walk in truth and love.  I don’t think it’s easy or natural. Sometimes it even hurts. But it is freeing and is one step closer in making you who He meant you to be.

Well…the bunnies came back. I think they’re friends, flirting not fighting. I just watched them chew my sunflowers and then hop away happily.

My prayer is that my concern, my delight, my compassion will continue to expand well beyond my yard, my family, my circle of friends, my church, my community, the world… I pray that I will have eyes to see, ears to hear, hands to help, and a heart to love.

Happy Father’s Day. May you have your Father’s eyes today.