Thursday, May 26, 2011

Smart Choices

Talk650 Morning Show Host Brent Clanton
I look at a lot of news stories in a 24-hour period. This morning we’re talking about the Midwest tornadoes and three consecutive days of tornadic activity, and the Joplin devastation is now being described as Hurricane Katrina without the water. An apt description.

Many of these stories will affect your life, either directly or indirectly--taxes, fuel costs, insurance, the weather, legislation for- or against- things- We have to deal with these things on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

And then you run across a story that just rocks you back on your heels—either because it is so far-fetched as to be comical (like the guy in New Zealand who fell onto a compressed air line, which punctured his backside and sent a jet of air at 100-psi into his body, inflating him like a balloon. You just can’t make up this stuff!)--or it defies rational thought, like the story about a school district in California that can’t figure out how to teach Johnny to read and do math, but they’re going to teach the kids about gender-bending in some species of fish…
Yeah, that’s a life-lesson elementary students need to learn.

You’ve got Oprah’s last show…
American Idol’s latest winner…
The man who shot Congresswoman Gabby Giffords deemed mentally unfit for trial…and why am I not surprised at that outcome?

Elizabeth Smart, aged 14-years
One story that continues to reverberate with me, however, is the Elizabeth Smart saga, which finally came to closure yesterday—although it would seem Ms. Smart already reached closure with her circumstances long ago, choosing to grow past them.

At the age of 14, Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped by itinerant street preacher, Brian David Mitchell, and for the next several months was held captive and sexually assaulted by the man on a daily basis. She was tethered to a cable strung between two trees, and forced to ingest drugs and alcohol. 
At the age of 14.

You might expect that to sour one’s attitude on life.
You might expect an ordeal like that to make you just a little leery of other people.
You might never go to bed again without leaving a light on, and triple checking the locks and windows.

Elizabeth Smart's convicted kidnapper,
Brian David Mitchell
Elizabeth Smart looked Brian David Mitchell in the eye at his sentencing to two life terms without parole, and simply stated a pure and freeing truth: 
“You will never affect me again.”

You lose.
Elizabeth wins.
And with that simple admission, Elizabeth Smart chose to free herself from dwelling in the past, carrying around a burden, and letting her ordeal drag her down.

That’s not to say she might not have nightmares, that she’s never going to be the same again; I’m not minimizing the mental and physical trauma of Elizabeth Smart’s unspeakable treatment.

Elizabeth Smart, 2011
But she’s emerged from this ordeal as a woman of strength, articulate, and caring. She’s a music student at BYU, and she’s going to be working with other crime victims and missing childrens groups. She calls it a “beautiful, new chapter” opening in her life, as she turns the page past this terrible chapter.

Good for Elizabeth Smart.
She’s an inspiration.
She’s an example.
She’s a winner.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Burying Day

It is Saturday morning in my brother’s house. 
The morning we’ll bury my brother.
The sounds of this house are muted, yet distinct: Saturday morning cartoons are softly playing on a TV somewhere, entertaining young children with no concept of the day’s importance. A hairdryer is already whining as the grown-ups prepare for the rigors and customs of the day ahead. 

The kitchen is filled with the aroma of coffee and pastries in quantities to feed the small army of family and friends that have descended upon this house like a hoard of well-meaning locusts. 

A cool breeze is sweeping the front porch, stacked with portable tables and chairs for the after-event that will be staged here. Inside the house, we’re going through the motions of life, as we prepare to celebrate the life of a remarkable man. 
Our hearts are heavy.

It’s interesting to observe how people deal with death and dying. 
My brother would have been somewhat amused to observe this delicate ballet of personalities and idiosyncrasies in play. Each has busied himself with some perfunctory task to busy the hands and numb the mind while our spirits process what has happened. 

Taking the trash to a dumpster…laying out on the counter rows of coffee mugs…or walking a circuit through the house with an infant…there's a lawn mower droning somewhere on the property in an exhibition of lawn maintenance grief therapy; all necessary things to do to distract from the sadness at hand.

We look at life and death in two-dimensions. 
It’s an either-or-equation: you are either dead or alive, by most estimates. We lose sight of the fact that we actually continue to exist on a different plane, even if our physical bodies do not. The sadness we experienced upon the death of a loved one is because of our lack of perspective on the event.

While I am profoundly saddened at the death of my brother, I heartened by three articles of faith which have sustained me through this dark passage in my life: My brother passed quickly, and did not suffer long; he is living on another plane without pain or sadness; I will see him again. I cannot conceive of having to deal with death under any other conditions.

King David was criticized by his friends when, upon the death of the son he produced with Bathsheba, he got out of his bed and cleaned up to pick up living his life. He told his detractors, in effect, ‘my son is gone, and he cannot come to me; I will go to him.’ (2 Samuel 12:23). 
David had the right perspective.

The 19th Century evangelist, C. H. Spurgeon, wrote about this tug-of-war of wills between men and immortals, expressing it as an argument: Who are we to dispute against a Higher Power the way things work? Is our sadness an expression of our selfishness, or a lack of faith in outcomes? Would we rather that my brother remained with us, suffering in his cancer-ridden body, just so he could be near us? 

I take immense comfort in knowing, on this morning of his final interment, that he is no longer suffering, he’s no longer restlessly pacing, no more does he raise up in the middle of the night expressing frustration over some unsolved problem toying with his brain.

The Lord Jesus prayed on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane that the Father would place his Disciples with Jesus in paradise, and not on this earth, full of its pain and problems. He said, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am.” (John 17:24).

When we wish for our loved ones to remain with us instead of making that transcendental trip to the next world, do we not put ourselves in direct opposition to the prayer of Jesus for His Disciples? Whether it’s a lack of faith in our final destination, or simple selfishness on our part, our perspective is shallow, one-dimensional. 

This morning, as the low buzz of conversation rises and falls in the next room, a shower is hissing upstairs, and those stinking Saturday morning cartoons are still chattering in the distance, I am comforted to know that Jesus’ prayer has been answered for my brother. 
He has gone to Him, and by faith I have let him go.

Dr. Craig Clanton
February 28, 1958 - May 3, 2011