Living Beneath the Lighted Cross – A Personal Reflection

Living Beneath the Lighted Cross – A Personal Reflection

By Paul Riddle

Overlooking the sanctuary of Bering Drive Church of Christ, where I worship, is an illuminated cross. To one side, behind a decorative brick wall, there is a light switch, which controls the light that illuminates the cross. Posted on the wall next to the switch is a note, written many years ago by Bill Love, who was minister of that church for over twenty years. The note says, “This switch is always to remain on, out of respect for Jesus, and to remind us that we, his disciples, are called to live under his cross.” The first time I saw that note I was moved – not only by fond memories of Bill, but more importantly by the power of the symbol of the illuminated cross.

The always-lighted cross in my place of worship challenges me to reflect on the relationship between worship and the rest of my life. What light does the cross cast on, say, my Monday morning commute? How about my dealings with patients on Tuesday afternoon? How does it illuminate the way I treat the person behind the counter at the sandwich shop at lunch on Wednesday? The mechanic at the garage on Thursday? My wife when she comes home after a long day at work?

How does the cross illuminate my sense of self-worth? My ideas about what constitutes success? My attitude toward failure (my own failures and those of others)? My decisions about how to use my time, my money, and my talents? By the way, does the cross cast a critical light on that little word “my?”

The lighted cross also stands as a beacon of hope, reminding me that love is more powerful than hatred, that hope is stronger than despair, and that God is deeply and personally invested in me, in you, and in the redemption of all humanity. Far from being merely a pious decoration, the lighted cross is a potent reminder of the bond we Christians share in our Lord, of the sacrifice that forged that bond, of the love that motivated the sacrifice, and of the life to which we who live under it are called – both when we worship together and then go our separate ways to be salt and light in the world.

Diagnosis Cancer

Diagnosis Cancer.

Life expectancy six months.

Or less.

Stunned.

Silence descends

Into my soul

As I realize

My life has come to its end.

I grieve, but wonder why.

When I am dead,

I will not grieve.

But my loved ones will.

Looks like I have the easier task.

Let go. Stop breathing.

Hospice will help me go easy.

I’m afraid, you see.

And when it’s over,

Where will I be?

Dreamless sleep, or

Conscious glory.

Waiting for faith’s fruition,

Trusting the resurrection

And the culmination of all things

Beautiful and blessed.

– By David Martin

The Eagle and the Landfill

The Eagle and the Landfill

By Paul Riddle

Victor (not his real name) exuded dignity – in the best sense of the word. He had been fighting a medical condition for several years that had cost him his job and a great deal of his freedom to do what he wanted. But there was no self-pity about him. Rather, he had a clear eye and a positive outlook. He was much more inclined to give thanks than to bemoan his situation.

As we talked, Victor told me the story of a trip he had made to Alaska. He had always had a fascination with bald eagles, and the opportunity for eagle watching was one of his main motivations for making the journey.

Victor’s first sight of bald eagles was at a landfill, and it was a huge disappointment. His image of the eagle was majestic – like the eagle on the Presidential seal. The eagles at the landfill weren’t like that at all. Picking at garbage – as Victor put it, “taking the easy way,” they appeared to him craven – not at all like the wild, free animals he had always imagined.

A few days later, Victor was graced with another view of an eagle. He and his party were in the back country – far from human settlement. Victor looked up, and there it was – a bald eagle, soaring on an invisible carpet of air, circling, watching keenly for its prey. Moments later, the eagle swooped down, out of Victor’s line of sight, toward its target. Victor said his heart leapt as he watched the eagle. He was captivated by the beauty and power of the great bird.

As our conversation unfolded, it became clear that for Victor, the eagle – the one soaring above, not the ones picking over the landfill – was a metaphor for how he sought to lead his life. He faced the challenges of his condition without complaint, with a positive attitude, and with dignity. I was moved by his story, and I went away from my visit with him feeling that I was the one who had been ministered to. The next time I face a difficult situation, I will remember Victor and the soaring eagle.

Begin with Familiar

When You Speak, Begin with the Familiar

When visiting at the bedside with a person with whom I am not familiar, I try to listen carefully to what the person is saying. Listen as if they are teaching you; for they are teaching you who they are probably without being aware of what they are doing. You can paraphrase to see if you are hearing them correctly. If conversation slows down, you could say, “Tell me more.”

When you speak, begin with the familiar. Not the whole psalm, but just say a phrase like, “You probably recognize this line from Psalm 23, ‘he restores my soul.’” Psalm 23 is familiar and comforting to many . If you feel like the person would appreciate more from a psalm, you could move on to Psalm 32 which speaks of the blessing of sins being covered and transgressions forgiven. “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” In my mind I link these two psalms because of the of the digits 2 and 3, and these two psalms restore my heart and mind to recall how God views me. I like the familiar.

Written by Jesse Stroup

An Easter Heart

An Easter Heart

By Paul Riddle

Ray (not his real name) was a tall man, fifty-something, gregarious, who looked like he had taken very good care of himself. He was in the hospital receiving treatment for a minor infection. Minor, that is, to anyone who has not had a heart transplant. To a transplant patient, there is no such thing as a minor infection. Any bug is a potential threat to life and has to be treated aggressively.

As my new friend told the story of his present illness, he mentioned the heart transplant, and a tear came to his eye as he reminisced about the events of that important day – now nearly twenty years past – when he received his precious gift.

“Some people spend months on the transplant list,” Ray said, “but I was only on it a few days. I’ll never forget. It was Easter Sunday, about 7:30 in the morning, when the call came. “We have a heart,” they told me, “Come right away!” And so he did. Holiday plans immediately went on hold, bags were packed, the car loaded, and they were on their way. “It was a bright, sunny morning, a little cool, the kind of day you always wish you had more of,” Ray remembered, “And I thought to myself, ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever see another one of these days.’ So I savored it, and I thanked God for it, and I prayed for a successful transplant.”

The transplant was successful. Ray said the donor was a 23 year old man who was killed in a motorcycle accident. “I’ve never stopped being grateful for my heart, and I’ve never forgotten what that gift cost,” he said with conviction. “And to think – it happened on Easter! I got a new life on resurrection day, and a part of the man who died to give me my heart lives on in me. That was a God thing!” Ray declared.

As I left Ray’s room, I offered a silent prayer honoring the gift that had give Ray new life, and giving thanks for having met Ray. May I hold in gratitude the gifts I receive moment by moment, as Ray does the gift he carries in his chest.

Speaking the Truth in Love – Honest Conversations About End-of-Life Care

Speaking the Truth in Love – Honest Conversations About End-of-Life Care

By Paul Riddle

 

An honest, timely conversation between a dying person and his or her family members and caregivers about how he or she wishes to be cared for as death approaches can prevent much unnecessary suffering for the patient and anguish for the family. And yet these conversations are hard to have and easy to avoid.

What would be your priorities if you were nearing the end of life? How might you communicate those priorities to your loved ones and those caring for you? Two resources have recently come to my attention that can help you think through these questions and initiate conversation with your loved ones about this important subject ahead of the time of need.

The first resource is a PBS Frontline documentary aired on February 10 entitled Being Mortal, based on the current best-selling book by Atul Gawande. The film follows Gawande, a surgeon, on his quest to become better at talking with his patients about their care when the limits of medicine have been reached. It traces the experiences of several patients and their physicians and families as death drew near. There is plenty of food for thought that can prompt discussions with caregivers and loved ones. You can watch the documentary and view related material at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/being-mortal/.

The second resource is a TED talk given by Judy MacDonald Johnston in 2013. Johnston tells the story of how she helped two of her friends – an elderly married couple – die well, and what she learned along the way. Johnston served as the couple’s trustee, worked with them to develop a plan of how they wanted to be cared for at the end of their lives and what they wanted done with their property, and carried out that plan faithfully. You can watch her TED talk at https://www.ted.com/talks/judy_macdonald_johnston_prepare_for_a_good_end_of_life.   She also developed a set of planning sheets that can be used in planning end-of-life care. These can be found at http://www.goodendoflife.com.

I hope you will check out these resources, and that find them useful.

RECOMMENDED VIDEO RESOURCE ON EMPATHY

The Cleveland Clinic has rendered a significant public service by producing a series of short videos on empathy. The first installment of the series, Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care, which runs about 5 minutes, presents shots of a dozen or so patients, family members, and hospital staff going about their business in the hospital. In each shot, a phrase appears describing the person’s situation, for example, “Seeing Dad for the last time,” “Waiting for heart transplant,” “First vacation in years, starting tomorrow,” “Too shocked to comprehend the news,” etc. The video ends with a question, flashed on the screen, “If you could stand in someone else’s shoes – hear what they hear – see what they see – feel what they feel – would you treat them differently?”

Empathy – the ability to see the world through another person’s point of view, is among the most fundamental skills pastoral caregivers, whether volunteers or professionals, bring to their encounters with patients, their loved ones, and the hospital staff members who care for them. The Cleveland Clinic video illustrates empathy with power, and challenges all of us to see things as others see them, and in so doing, practice the love of Christ. To see the video, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDDWvj_q-o8.

By Paul Riddle