The Forest Gathering

(A story of gratitude)

Standing silent and alone, just off a ridge crest on a flat stone outcropping in a grove of white oaks, I saw them, as they gathered near the river.

Their faces took shape, it seemed, from the gently drifting breeze dancing like river eddies among the pines and hardwoods anchored in the bottomland soil, some with roots that reached from the steeply sloping bank to waters’ edge.

Emerging forms moved in unison with the autumn air, turned pastel with the paint of leaves, downward drifting to their sabbath rest on the forest floor.

To my mind, they were familiar, but I could place no names. Though moving, they were silent, like the rippling coat of a deer running through the hills and hollows of its wooded home.

Their presence brought an air of antiquity, of lives that had always existed somewhere. Yet youthful spirits skipped among them, as well, like adventurous children emerging from an old, abandoned wood-frame house.

Like a Sanskrit circle, the gathering had an aura of utter completion within itself, a universal embracing of life in all its facets, without blurring any of the faces swirling in this forest dance.

Training all my senses upon the ineffable scene unfolding before me, I felt a sense of belonging and hope; a warm and satiated joy like the love of a mother came over my spirit, and I began to feel a stirring deep within to the rhythm of the river and its brother wind.

Yet mingled with this undeniable joy, a sadness came, hand in hand. I wanted to cry, and to be held by the mysterious elders bowing beneath the shadows of oaks, primeval.

Time passed; I’ve no idea how long. The gathering seemed to fade into the colors of the forest canopy from whence it came. Shadows and spirits, once intertwined, now unmingled, leaving outstretched arms and open hands…or were they simply the appendages of limbs angled against an autumn sky?

Standing upon my rock in a state of serenity and peace, I pondered the meaning of this place and all its gatherings, then left with gratitude for the simple enormity of grace, and the ever-open invitation to partake.

DSC09698

Personhood

I believe personhood is inherent and unfading, imparted by God to each of us.

Personhood is expressed fully only through relationships: we need the personhood of others to fully possess our own. Though vocational identity is one component of personhood, it is not most important; we are persons even if we are unable to be productive.

Personhood is not diminished by disabilities, mistakes, or losses; I would argue, not even by death. Diminishment of the ability to perceive personhood does not diminish personhood, itself.

The greatest gifts we can give the world are our personhood, fully claimed and shared, and to honor and support the personhood of others. At times in life, each of us may be less aware of the integrity of our own personhood. In loving community, we should help each other reclaim identity during these times: “If I forget, please show me back to me.”

We should help persons living with dementia to reclaim their identity through appreciating and supporting the pillars of their personhood: those elements of identity that persist, though they may be harder to identify as dementia progresses. We should weave quilts consisting of threads of relational identity with which to enfold persons living within dementia, wrapping them in the familiar fabric of themselves and the lives that have been warmed by their presence.

Personhood lives on, and is brought to light by such compassionate, empathetic actions by a loving community of care partners. I believe personhood is eternally remembered in the mind of God. Let us be of the same mind.

 

image1-3

Places

I believe there are certain places, specific environments for each of us that retain spiritual energy or significance in our lives because of what has transpired there. These may be places where meaningful events have occurred, where we have come into immediate contact with the loving presence of God through relationships with others, through suffering, death or loss, through life-changing blessings, or through other circumstances which have transformed us and brought growth. I feel these places forever are marked with this energy; are hallowed, so to speak, and if possible, we should look for opportunities to revisit such places as life moves on, in a spirit of gratitude, homage and awe.

#gratitude #awe #transformation #restoration

DSC03761

It Is Well

“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows, like sea billows roll,
whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’ “

–Words by Horatio Spafford; Tune, “Ville du Havre,” by Philip Bliss

I consider “It Is Well” my favorite hymn because it resonates so powerfully in my life.  Something solid and true about the hymn appealed to me even before I learned the story of its writing.

Horatio Spafford, a Presbyterian elder from Chicago and friend of evangelist, Dwight Moody, had a successful and lucrative law practice.  Spafford and his family experienced an epic series of tragedies, starting with the death of a son, followed by tremendous loss of property in the great Chicago fire of 1871.

Desiring rest for his family and planning to participate in Moody’s evangelical efforts in Europe, Spafford booked Atlantic passage on the S.S. Ville du Havre.  Due to a last-minute business commitment, he was unable to leave with his family, and sent his wife and four daughters on ahead, planning to join them later.

In a chilling development, the ship sank after being struck by another vessel, and all four of Spafford’s daughters died.  When his wife reached Wales, Mrs. Spafford wired her husband the following message: “Saved alone.”

It is said that the hymn’s words came to Spafford as the ship upon which he was sailing passed over the spot in the sea where his daughters were lost.

Though no tragedy as heart-rending as Spafford’s has befallen me or my family, life has seen some depths and darkness.  Some of these lows have been due to my own inner struggles and poor choices.  At times, I’ve sought to captain my own ship, setting a wayward course from God’s will, and winding up adrift.  Alone in a sea of sinking hopes, as the psalmist wrote, “out of the depths” I cried to the Lord.  He saved me and my family through his great mercy, compassion and love.

Philosopher Joseph Campbell said, “where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”  Returning to the place of my sinking, now with Christ as captain, I receive faith’s treasure by the grace of a God whose suffering love brings salvation and new life to his children drifting bereft on a sin-stained sea.

I, too, must wire, “Saved alone.” But here the loss is that of the self at enmity towards God – the saved life arising is Christ, who lives in me.  Now I pray the words of Paul, the apostle: “And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

“It is Well” because you and I are safe aboard God’s vessel, never to be separated from his Love and direction.

May it be so for all of us, dear Lord.  Amen.

Lester Potts 27

Watercolor by Lester E. Potts, Jr., an artist who had Alzheimer’s

“Peace, Be Still”

When I turned the corner into the ICU, I saw him. He was not an attending physician, charge nurse or therapist. He wasn’t an administrator or a chaplain, a resident or a fellow.

He sat and rocked, covered with a blanket. I barely could see what he was holding. Then it came clear.

At that moment, in my mind, he was the most important person in the room.

At Children’s of Alabama (and I’m sure at other children’s hospitals), people can volunteer to rock and hold newborns who have had toxic exposures (such as cocaine) in utero, who have other conditions that might cause them distress, or who have no available parents. Many of these babies cry incessantly – a particularly agonizing sound to this adult neurology resident on the first day of his pediatric neurology rotation.

As many of you know, ICUs can be loud and very busy, with alarms, ventilators, monitors, and staff moving very rapidly to take care of their patients.

Like a sailboat in safe harbor, the old, blanket – draped man sat smiling in his rocker, his hands cradling a little lost person fighting for her life as a neurochemical storm raged inside her brain.

“Peace, be still, little girl. I’ve got you safe and warm here in my blanket. It will be all right.”

He rocked and rocked. The little body trembled and contorted. He kept rocking, whispering, singing. He looked like he had done this many times before. Perhaps he thought of his own little girl or boy at a time when they had needed comfort. Perhaps he thought of himself in his own mother’s arms. Maybe he dreamt of the child he never could have.

Before I left the ICU that day, the little lost daughter had stilled, and was quietly asleep.

So was the old man.

And the chair kept on rocking.

Gratitude for Mentors

Today, I call out my paternal grandfather, Lester E. Potts, Sr., affectionately known as “Big Daddy” (1891 – 1976).

Born of the Blake and Potts families in the Carolina community of Itawamba County, Mississippi, he moved to Pickens County, Alabama with his mother and brother in the 1890s after losing his father to typhoid fever. He was a saw miller and farmer most of his life, and was one of the hardest-working folks you’d ever know. But late in life he retired, and seemed to find that rest we all seek.

It was during this last life chapter that I knew him. He was the best friend of my early childhood. He came to pick me up each Wednesday. We’d go to Mr. Tom Lemon’s store in Aliceville and get goods, and then head to a slough near the Tombigbee River to fish. Sometimes, we’d hike a bit and find us a stick to whittle, and talk about the trees in the river bottom. Mostly what we would do is be together.

He was one of the most authentic people I’ve ever known: an old tree standing strong in the modern day woods, but rooted in an earlier time. When I hear the word ‘man,’ at some level I see the silhouette of Big Daddy wearing his characteristic hat. Frugal to the point of being tight, he was also humble, and required very little on which to get by. “Y’all are over-ratin’ me,” he would say, if given a gift or a compliment.

After he had a major stroke when I was 10 and lingered for 3 months unresponsive, I wanted to be a doctor and do something to help make him well again. This desire became my primary motivation to go into neurology.

Thank you, Big Daddy, for sharing this with me.

Danny and Big Daddy

Celebrating Life Triumphant

Each day we are surrounded by thousands of examples of life triumphant over death — an addict lives another day clean and free, a scientist perseveres believing a cure will be found, an elder rocks an orphaned infant, a CEO builds a Habitat home, an athlete gives up glory for the team, a busy student visits the nursing home, an artist with no arms paints with her feet, a soldier prays for the enemy, a random act of kindness makes the news, a handicapped choir brings down the house, someone gives a hard-earned dime for a good cause, one who is soul-sick catches your contagious smile, a depressed person writes a poem or a song, mercy turns the life of a sinner around, forgiveness comes to conquer a rift, someone learns to love themselves for the very first time, a champion gives up the gold for the one who fell, someone plants a tree in the city, victory is found in surrender, someone reaches out through resentment to offer a hand, racial barriers are breached to find the common good, someone finds himself in another — let’s talk about and reflect on these people, these experiences, these snapshots of grace, and let them change the outlook of our lives.

36002449_2334439796782762_2179742567539671040_n