Saturday, March 31, 2012

Plan B

As a former florist, I assisted with thousands of wedding plans. Three brides still I hold a special place in my heart.  

The first called the shop on a quiet mid-week afternoon.  The young woman asked if was possible to have a wedding bouquet in an hour.

"If you choose a simple style and flowers I currently have in stock, we can have one ready." I replied.

"Great. My friend will be down to pick it up and pay for it."

My staff and I quickly put a hand tied bouquet of red roses together, boxed it, and had it waiting at the counter.

The friend gushed over the bouquet. "It is perfect, exactly what she wanted. But, I see she didn't order a boutonniere for her groom. "

"That will only take a moment, if you don't mind waiting."

The woman agreed, and while we designed the arrangement, she told us the story behind the rushed wedding. The couple planned a large ceremony later in the summer, but her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer a few months ago and the disease spread rapidly. At the moment the doctors did not expect her to live more than a few more hours. The couple decided it was more important for her mother to witness their vows rather than to have an elaborate ceremony. The bride chose Plan B and arranged to have a quiet ceremony in the hospital room.

After hearing the story, I told the friend there would be no charge that day. The bouquets were my gift to the bride and groom. The next day the grateful bride called to thank me and inform me her mother had passed a way a few hours after the ceremony. Rather than leaving on a honeymoon, she and the family would be in to plan flowers for the funeral. I offered my condolences and prayers.

"It's okay," she said, "I got to share that special moment with my mother and I have no regrets. She is at peace and out of pain, and I am starting a new life as a wife. And, that's life."

The second story is similar. The couple I finished deciding all the details of the wedding except for the number of boutonnieres.

"We need five boutonnieres for groomsmen and one lady's boutonnier."

"Oh, I'll add that to the list of ladies corsages."

"No, I want it placed in with the men's."

I raised my eyebrows, but did as she asked.

"You see," she continued, "my husband's best friend was killed in a car wreck last week and his wife is standing in his place. She will wear a black dress matching the men's tuxes and she will hold the rings."

This bride also chose Plan B.

And then, the third, my daughter's wedding. Two big questions loomed in her plans. Her dad passed away several years earlier and would not be there to walk her down the aisle, or dance with her for the traditional Father and Daughter dance. She too chose Plan B. Her grandfather walked her down the aisle, and her older brother held the honor of dancing with her. The day was touched with a tinge of melancholy, especially when the memorial candles were lit and the sololist sang, I'll always be with you. The moment passed, and the minister announced the newly married couple to the congregation and the music shifted the light hearted recessional and my daughter and her husband exited the church, and began their new life. 

Even though these brides did not have the exact wedding they had dreamed of, and hoped for, they chose to be courageous move forward, rather than throwing up their arms and wallowing in sorrow and self pity. The pain was still there, but it did not hold them back.

As L.B. Cowman wrote in Streams in the Desert:

Weeping inconsolably beside a grave will never bring back the treasure of a lost love, nor can any blessing come from such sadness. Sorrow causes deep scars, and indelibly writes its story on the suffering heart. We never completely recover from our greatest griefs and are never exactly the same after having passed through them. Yet  sorrow that is endured in the right spirit impacts our growth favorably and brings us a greater sense of compassion for others.

I also witnessed a few young brides fly into a rage when the roses weren't the exact, perfect shade of ivory, or some other plan for their big day fell through. I worried about them. If they had such a difficult time letting go of Plan A and moving with grace to Plan B, how would they face true tragedy and sorrow? After all, life really is all about Plan B.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Life Lessons from a Doggie Door

Scout's troubles began with a roll in the soft green grass of our backyard. What should have been  safe was actually extremely dangerous. Hidden in somewhere that lush green carpet was a life threatening menace.

The issue first became apparent with a large swelling on the right side of Scout's neck. This mass grew at a an alarming pace. The Vet concluded it was some kind of bacterial infection from an unknown source. Antibiotics were administered and the swelling decreased, but never went away.  Another visit to the vet, another round of anti-biotics with the same result.

Minor surgery followed to remove the abscess and as much scar tissue as possible. A cloth drain was inserted and more antibiotics administered. The wound continued to drain for several more weeks.

It was obvious something more invasive needed to be done. The vet referred Scout to a specialty clinic with a large staff of surgeons and state of the art equipment. A CAT Scan revealed a long trail of scar tissue ending at a large mass of infected tissue. The culprit, a foreign object of some kind,  was working its way deep into neck tissue. If it wasn't found and removed it would eventually rupture a major artery or enter a vital organ. It was either surgery or euthanasia.

We didn't have the money for the surgery, but the thought of putting down an otherwise healthy young dog broke our hearts. After an hour of hopeless grieving, I began to pray, not so much for Scout or my self, but for my husband. He and Scout were best buddies, inseparable from morning to night. Loosing our little Brittany would be devestating.  I placed the matter in God's hands.

Less than an hour later we had the money for the surgery. I have been amazed many times over the course of my lfe, yet this one dropped me to my knees in humbled awe. Not that it happened, and from a very unlikely, no impossbile source, but how quickly it was done. 

Even so, the surgery was not a guarantee. There was a 10% chance the foreign matter couldn't be found and surgery in the neck area was risky in itself. I chose to cling to the 90% chance the foreign matter would be found and removed without any life threatening damage. Surely God wouldn't have provided a miracle only to allow it a tragic end. 

The surgery lasted over two hours. The surgeons were ready to give up. Then, with one last desperate incision, the object popped through the muscle. It was a large piece of wild grass, approximately a half inch long and and a quarter inch wide. The doctors were amazed such a large piece could work its way through the skin and burrow so deeply without leaving any outward wound.

After a night at the Veterinary hospital, Scout came home, one a sad looking little puppy. Half his body was shaved. A huge incision, covered with too many sutures to count, reached from the center of his neck almost to his shoulder, and the most troublesome of it all was the drain tube sutured into the upper shoulder. As long as it was in place he couldn't be without supervision. This meant, no doggie door.  Scout sat for hours beside the door, yearning very obvious in his eyes. We felt like jail wardens.

 After ten days of pining and yearning, the drain was finally removed, and the much anticipated moment had finally come. We opened the doggie door. Scout immediately poked his head out - and froze.

The weather had been picture perfect for the entire recuperation period, until that morning.  The wind howled around the house like a wolf on the hunt. Snow whipped in snarling swirls, laced with pelting rain. I half expected Scout to go out anyway, but he didn't. He retreated to his warm bed and took a nap.  

That simple choice took me by surprise and taught me a lesson about disappointments. I could take them in stride, as Scout did, and patiently wait for things to change, or I could whine and pace, making myself and everyone around me miserable.

I was still mulling this idea over several hours later when I heard the familiar whap, whap of the doggie door.  I looked up. The wind had died down. The rain and snow had stopped and even the sun had peered out from heavy clouds. While Scout was comfortably and peacefully sleeping, patiently waiting for circumstances to change, they had. His joy had only been postponed, not completely taken away.

Now every time I hear that doggie door flap back and forth, I think of patience, of graceful acceptance of what we cannot control or change, and a simple lesson on life from a gentle hearted Brittany pup and a doggie door.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Still on the Hook

It seems I have yet to fully grasp ( or maybe fully embrace) the commandment to love my enemies. References to this directive abounded everywhere I looked this last week. They were in my devotionals, on the Internet, even in the historical novel I am reading, constant reminders to be patient, kind, and loving in return for insults, aggravations, and general rudeness.  Well, I tried. I truly did. So what part am I still missing?

In my devotional, Good Morning, Lord, Joseph Sullivan pointed out that attitude is most important. I should be gracious and courteous when responding to unpleasant and uncertain moments. "Smile at the testy waiter, the high strung executive," and one of my personal daily challenges, "the impetuous, horn honking motorist."

I spend my morning commute writing bumper stickers.  A few of my favorites:

If you want to reserve this road for your personal use, you must call 48 hours in advance.

I have the legal  right to go the speed limit.

Yellow does not mean speed up.

That red light is not a suggestion.  

Am I instead to smile and say a prayer for the guy who just cut in front of me and then slowed down, forcing me to stand on my brakes? And the big truck riding my bumper so close I can't see his headlights? I am to smile and think sweet thoughts, pray even? And the clerk at the check out who acted like she was doing me a favor by taking my money?  I am to be gracious in thought as well as deed? And what about that woman who appears to spend her nights thinking of insults and innuendos to slap me with everyday? As my daughter would say, my feathers were a bit ruffled at the thought. 

Well, Jeremiah 18:20, my next listed reading, answered that question. ....Remember that I have stood in thy sight to speak for them and turn away thy indignation from them. The foot note said this was spoken in the person of Christ. He loved (and died) for those who tortured and killed him. He not only was gracious and loving, He defended those men who treated Him far worse than I have been treated. No one is whipping me with a cat of nine tails and no one is hammering nails into my flesh.

Then the light came on, and I finally got His point, the full message.  Outwardly I may manage to remain polite, and I might be managing my temper better, but I am making judgments. I have failed to remember the old adage, hate the sin, love the sinner. My head hangs in shame.

However, as Jesus told me in The Divine Embrace, it is not how many times I fail, it is how hard I try. It is the effort that counts. And with that in mind,  I will work on an attitude adjustment, try not to judge the driver of the big four wheel drive riding my bumper. I will try to be patient with the older driver putting along twenty miles under the speed limit. I will be gracious and pray for the caustic woman I must deal with every day, and all the other challenges to my vow to love my enemies in whatever form they take.

I don't need to be doormat, but my response should not be anger and judgment. I need to rely on my prior lessons and stand silent to unfair insults, remembering their judgment of me isn't as important as God's. After all when I finally cross over into eternity, it will be His opinion that matters, not theirs. I do need to speak up for injustices when necessary - and forgive often.

However, as in The Woman's Prayer, I am about to get in the car now, about to go to work, about to run errands at the local market, and a whole host of activities that will set me up as a target for rudeness, and try my patience. I need your help Lord, for I cannot do this on my own. I know. I've tried it my way, and it isn't working.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Heart of the Matter

After managing to keep my tongue in check for the last three weeks I honestly thought I had handled the issue of rudeness and defensiveness well, until last night.

The rude woman I spoke about in The Power of Silence, exited the building at the same time I did. Just the sight of her made me angry, even before she sent one of her barbed comments my way. It was then I  realized I may have held my tongue these last few weeks, but not my anger. Normal? Maybe. Right or justified? Not according to Scripture.

Matthew 5:43-48 was in my listed readings this morning. I have read Jesus' admonishment to love my enemies numerous times without more than an intellectual response. This morning the words cut right through my heart. I may be holding my tongue in response to this woman's rudeness, but it is a stony response, not a loving one. Ouch.

So, how do I managed to love her while she continues to throw her well aimed, poisoned darts? Good question, and one of the reasons this commandment is one of the most difficult to obey. I think Saint Paul had the right answer. He mentions all of the things he has suffered. They hurt, he did get angry, but they did not move him. He did not stay entrenched in those emotions, allowing them to come between him and his one all consuming goal, being with God. He let the disappointments and sufferings of this world roll of his back, focusing on his one purpose for existing, spreading the Gospel. I greatly admire his attitude and wonder how can I attain this equilibrium. Prayer is all I can think of.