Humbled by a Handless Stranger NPR (88.1 WVPE) Radio Commentary with Michiana Chronicles

You can listen to this by clicking HERE.


Yesterday at a church we were visiting I was people watching instead of praying and sizing up the congregation. As we sang songs and started up the worship service I was admiring a young mother with a new baby. The young mom was beautiful and had a cute t-shirt and green skirt on. Her young husband stood happily beside her and I kept looking their way. The newborn baby was hard to see as he was tucked safely in his carrier but I kept looking. From my vantage point he had beautiful pale cocoa colored skin, a lovely mix of the black mother and the white father. I loved this little family and wished I knew them.

As a new mom myself I am particularly fascinated by every baby I can lay my eyes on and I love chatting up the parents. I just kept watching this family until I noticed the woman's arm; there was no hand on it! I was stunned, my stomach hurt for her and my mind raced about all the daily tasks of caring for a baby...how could she possibly manage any of it? I kept staring ardently, searching for a glimpse of her other arm. I was desperate to know there was a beautiful fully functioning hand on the other arm. There was not. Tears filled my eyes and I told my husband I was going for a drink of water as I quickly left my seat.

I went to the ladies room to compose myself and to pray a blessing on the little family. I also spent time reacquainting myself with the abundance of blessings in my life I am already aware of and also those I take for granted. Like having hands. My heart hurts even now for them. The day before I had had what I thought was a bad day--nothing really went my way, the baby is teething so all of us are tired and cranky. I know everything important like food, shelter and clothing is taken care of. I have an excellent husband who loves me well and helps out doing more than his fair share around the house. Even knowing this, it still felt like a bad day and I chose to be in a foul mood through most of it. I tried to pray and ask God for an attitude adjustment but I still sulked through the day.

How do you put on or take off a diaper without fingers, with no hands? How do you put a pacifier in a tiny baby mouth, how do you breastfeed or fix a bottle without hands? I asked a dear friend about the woman and if she knew her. She said they were visiting someone there and that the girl was a Rwandan refugee. She had probably lost her hands as a young child. I realize she is probably used to functioning without hands, but I'm not used to it. I was sick with the thought of how many children and adults this had happened to. I was embarrassed with my lack of deep interest in some world events that do not touch me directly. I was disappointed in the kind of person I had been the day before.

I wanted to go to the young mother, to hug her and tell her...what? "Gosh, I'm glad I'm not you and I sure learned a lesson today?" or "God blessed me with you today, I sure hope I remember this lesson later in my life- or later in the week even when I feel sorry for my spoiled affluent little self?" How could I say that? How could I tell her she was more beautiful to me in the story her body now told? How could I ask all of my questions about caring for a baby without having any hands? How can I stop thinking of how lucky I am to get up in the middle of the night- even twice- to hold my crying baby girl and rock her back to sleep? I cannot.

Instead of stumbling for a way to bless her directly, I will tell this story to you, in the hopes you tell someone else and remember it when you are feeling sorry for yourself about something. Remember this young mother and her precious family and if you can, say a prayer that she has all the hands she needs to live a beautiful life.

A 'God Nod' for the Harried, Stressed Out and Overwhelmed

Monday morning started out with the promise of an awful-terrible-no-good-very-bad week. I was still in bed and already I was near tears in stress over the list of things I needed and wanted to do over the next two days. Not even twelve hours earlier I had crowed to a room full of family that know me better than I know myself that I was much improved in the area of jam packing my days. My husband reacted skeptically and I was almost offended. Fast forward to the very next morning and here I am freaking out over my "to do" list.

My husband proved that God exists that fateful morning. John isn't much of bible reader so when I walked back into the bedroom and saw him with his bible open I had to ask "So what is going on here?" He explained that he was trying what his Mom mentioned doing...asking God for help and just opening the bible. I know God had to have whispered to him to get that bible open...which renewed my faith even if that had been it for the day. He frowned at the unexciting pages he had turned to, apologized and said "Maybe you can find something here, I dunno..." I just love this man.

I already felt better just from his thoughtfulness. He was trying to encourage me in the language I like by seeking a biblical solution. I may not agree with a lot of the Bible, but I sure do know what they mean by calling it the 'living word'. Unfortunately I believe it is alive because it often smacks me in the face with truth about myself I would rather not know!

I took a look at the pages, not expecting much from boring old Jeremiah. Maybe Psalms or Proverbs or my favorite Ephesians could have a good word for me, but not...OH WAIT...as I skimmed chapter two I started to see lots of things relevant to my stress that morning. Kind of like the hidden eye pictures you have to stare at to see the secret picture, I started to see way more than I could have imagined. I started to laugh ruefully and read aloud to John, "Do not run until your feet are bare and your throat is dry." We both smiled. "Does that sound like anyone around here?" I decided to cancel some things on my list that morning and spend some time studying this chapter.

I was hurting in the areas of busyness, gluttony and trying (but failing) to improve myself. Here is what God said to me through Jeremiah chapter two. I truly hope this helps you in your crazy life too.

Verse 5 "They worshiped worthless idols, only to become worthless themselves."

I realized I stay busy to feel important, to take advantage of all the fun out there in life and to feel like I am earning my keep as a stay at home mom. In all my busyness and bother I was wrung out and strung out and no good to anyone.

V. 19 "Your wickedness will bring its own punishment. Your turning from me will shame you."

I realized that while I wouldn't call my choices "wicked" they did end up punishing me because I was so wiped out I was unable to keep my commitment to run with my Dad or serve at the Food Pantry. I also hurt my husband by being a stressball instead of enjoying breakfast with him. When I loose the perspective I gain from spending regular time with God, I am much better at screwing my life up in big and small ways.


V.21 "How did you grow into this corrupt vine?"

Again, I think 'corrupt' is a bit harsh, but I had to take a hard look at how this crazy week happened. I realized all the individual items on my "to do" list were innocent on their own, but when lumped together into two days it was too much. My view had been too short sighted, I needed to step back and look at the bigger picture.

v.23 "You say 'That's not true! I haven't worshiped the image of Baal!' But how can you say that?...Face the awful sins you have done."

God is talking about idol worship here, which I am guilty of when I put myself first in an arrogant way, when I choose to eat food that makes me feel and look unhealthy, when I gossip or judge other people. Our human nature practically requires us to deny any guilt the first time around. Remember me, the girl who the night before was bragging how much better I was about over scheduling my life? Yeah. That was me. Now I do not feel this is an 'awful' sin but it is hard to face reality, even when it is this obvious.

I learned so much from this one 'boring' chapter in the bible...but my favorite, the verse that needs no interpretation was Jeremiah, chapter two verse 25:

"Do not run until your feet are bare and your throat is dry."

Anyone else so frantically busy you have run your shoes right off your feet? I sure would love to know I am not alone!

"BLEEP YOU" Rude T-Shirt Guy AKA Loving Offensive Strangers Out Loud

I may try to look like a lady, but I easily cuss like a sailor. This is not something I am proud of but it is a known fact. The only word I won't use even when I do find situations requiring strong language is the G.D. phrase. Unless I truly want God to damn someone or something, there just isn't any place for that particular combo in my linguistic spiel. It hurts my ears to hear it and it hurts my heart to say it.

So we are clear that bad words do feel fairly at home in my life. Even still, I 'met' someone this weekend who hurt me deeply. I'll call him "Rude T-Shirt Guy". We never spoke he and I, but I feel so badly for him that I wanted to share the discourse RIGHT NOW even though I meant to be stealing a nap while my cherub dozes.

I was driving happily along doing weekend-y things when I passed a pedestrian male wearing a black t-shirt with large block letters that said "F*CK YOU". (There was no asterisk on his shirt however, it was all clearly spelled out for me.) He was a young guy, a bit of a rough looking guy and I thought a lot about him after that.

Who wears that shirt out in public? What kind of man wants that to be the message that defines him on this particular day? I figure he must be unhappy with his life. I wonder who has hurt him so much and so often that he wants to drive away any other people he may encounter. I guess he must not like himself and has little respect for himself to have so little thought for other people. I felt sad that this man's family might have missed a beat in cherishing him, in supporting him, in loving him out loud every day when he was younger. Was he the kid whose father was abusive instead of loving? Or absent instead of present? Was his brain not as sharp as some other people's causing him to have a rough time in school and get made fun of because of it? Did he just think 'living his rudeness out loud' was funny?

I prayed that this guy would know his special gifts for the world, that someone would value him openly and help heal his hurts. I prayed that someone would buy him a better set of t-shirts than the ones I think may be in his dresser drawers.

I also gave thanks for my Dad who raised me well with respect for myself and other people. I was grateful to my Mother for caring about others who were less fortunate, who had developmental disabilities or drug problems...because her life taught me to be kinder, to have more empathy for strangers. I was thankful that education was important in my family and among my friends so that I worked to do well and finish college even as an adult.

This Rude T-Shirt Guy made me think of the invisible t-shirts we all wear. What did my t-shirt say today? How do my words, my actions and my face register to other people? Do I really think my sarcasm is helpful? Am I helping someone by judging their looks or behavior against my own? Do I do myself any favors by judging myself against other people who are prettier, thinner, more polished than I think I am? If I am in a hurry and particularly abrupt with a cashier or a friend on the phone...am I living my love out loud in that moment?

Let's wear a shirt every day that says "YOU ARE WONDERFUL!" or maybe "I LOVE THE GIFT OF LIFE!" or "I Choose to Enjoy Life" even "If there are only small things, I'm grateful for them today!" What if Rude T-Shirt Guy's big block letters simply read "THANK YOU"? How would that have changed his day, let alone mine?

What do you hope your t-shirt said to the people who read it today? What do you think it actually said? Whatever will you wear tomorrow?