Living Forever Means To Never Age

Only a week before I’d first seen the homeless man in the oversized sweatshirt entering a rear door during a local church service. Gathering a cup of coffee – and being on the receiving end of a hug from a stranger – he quickly and quietly faded back into the landscape of life.

But the next week, as if something continued to pull him to the weekly gathering, he returned. Only this week, he stayed around as the service concluded.

Walking to the back of the room, two others introduced me to him on the sidewalk outside the small, one room church housed in a converted bar.

Extending my hand I volunteered my first name, him returning the gesture. As our hands met, his fingernails, dark and sharpened to a fine point, contrasted the pink nail beds and neatly trimmed edges of mine.

His eyes were surprisingly bright as they projected from the depths of shade of his hooded sweatshirt. He sheepishly smiled as he spoke with the others sharing the sidewalk.

This moment is critical – you want to make a human connection, but not intrude on the other’s privacy. And to be someone without a home, privacy is one of the few items they own and control.

A pause between conversations came between us – and then the remarkable happened.

Reaching into the pocket of his sweatshirt, his hand searched through an assortment of hand-rolled cigarettes. The practice of harvesting the tobacco from unfinished and discarded cigarettes is a common practice for many who call the street their home.

“Want one? I rolled them myself.”

His gesture touched me. Here was a person offering me of the few things in life he had to offer another – a figurative offering of the ‘shirt off your back’ gesture. In doing so, his gesture was to make a connection with another human being.

I thanked him, telling him I didn’t smoke but his offer was most generous.

He smiled, understanding, returning the small white item to his pocket.

Our conversation reignited, him asking me questions and nodding as we spoke. Oddly he asked me my age, to which I replied.

“And you? I said.

He said he never ages. My face must’ve replied before words could be formed in my mind.

“You know, now that I know Christ, I never age.”

I found his words honest and compelling.

“When I’m done living here,” he said, gesturing to the streets around us, “my life continues up there,” his eyes glancing to the sky above.

His perspective was beautiful. Each week pastors preach to share this concept – one that requires us to have a faith in the unseen, a continuation of life unseen by man’s eyes. A pathway that asks us to give when we we’ve little to give, to serve others when we’d rather do something else, and love others regardless of their choices or decisions.

If anything, on this Easter weekend, the words of the man hanging around the edges of a weekly church service should serve as a reminder to live our life as the long play – one not limited to the world we see with our eyes and touch with our fingertips.

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Hugs Transfer Love

Sometimes all it takes is a hug.

Dressed in worn, dark colored sweatshirt, a man attempts to walk invisibly past the plate glass window separating himself from a group of people gathered inside.

“Love on each other,” says the voice from the front of the room. “Go out there and love on others.”

I’m sitting inside a small corner building. Exposed red brick and unfinished walls are patched together with reclaimed wood and particleboard. The floor reveals a large gap tooth where a bar once served patrons late into the night. A church is probably the last thing any former flock imagined for their space.

In modest room comparable to some people’s garage, lives are charged, recharged, and being changed forever.

The man in the blue sweatshirt quietly slips through the rear door. Developing stealth-like skills are, unfortunately, a means of survival for many below the safety net of life.

I notice the oversized blue sweatshirt moving towards a small table with coffee and donuts. The hood is pulled up and hangs heavily around the man’s face. Although well worn and dirty, the sweatshirt is by far the best piece of clothing the man owns on this day.

The pastor continues to speak to the group, encouraging his flock to invest themselves in those outside the walls of the small church. Those inside the wall are here for spirituality, for inspiration, for guidance.

“Go outside these doors,” says the pastor. “Remember who it was Jesus served.”

The acoustics of the room are authentic – words and notes of music dancing and intermingling as imperfectly as the world outside.

The man in the oversized blue sweatshirt turns my way, his right hand stirring the small straw in his cup. His eyes dart away from mine as if not to make eye contact. I understand.

It is then the world opens up. With group focused to the front, a woman walks over the man in the blue sweatshirt and puts her arm around him. She might know him; she might not. But the man in the blue sweatshirts responds. His face looks slightly up and his posture breaks from his effort to remain invisible. He’s touched – and not only in the literal sense. The woman’s touch is one he thirsts for, a validation of his existence – a sign that someone sees him.

I think about the words from the front of the room – the charge to go through the doors and find those who need to hear someone cares, to know someone believes in them, to feel the caring touch of another human being.

The hug is unremarkable to anyone who does not know the story, know the circumstances. But the hug shared in the room that morning is the physical manifestation of a cool drink of water to a man who finds himself wandering though the hopeless dessert of life. To him, the figurative drink of water rejuvenates his heart, his body, his soul. For that moment, he exists thanks to love.

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Marriage has no shortcuts

“So what is the secret to a long, happy marriage?”

For the first time in my life, I am the receiver of the very question I’ve asked countless couples over the years.

My wife and I are sitting in a small restaurant in the hills of central Texas. Sharing a table with strangers is normal in this small town – of which we are doing with a young couple. They are, the young girl mentions, celebrating their first anniversary.

“So,” she asks again, “really. We want to know.”

My mind rewinds to a over a decade ago when I asked the very same question to a couple sitting on a park bench and holding hands on an Arizona morning. Both in their eighth decade of life, they both smiled and generously shared a few words of wisdom.

“Don’t try and change the other person,” she said. “Learn to understand a you are different and respect that fact.”

The man, somewhat stoic, revealed a tiny crack of emotion around his eyes as if to agree.

The sun continued to rise, now breaking over the mountain range in the distance.

“And don’t be afraid to argue,” she said. “Learning to disagree, without getting personal, is very important.”

Again I could see his silent agreement.

My wife and I are far from a perfect couple – but maybe that is why we seem to find people asking us about our relationship. We sometimes joke we are an 80/20 balance at best. I love sunrises; she loves sunsets. My idea of relaxing might be riding my bike along a newly discovered country road. For her, a couple hours of peace and quiet alone with a good book is of equal value. I even like my coffee neat; her version is something I’m convinced is a not too distant relative to hot chocolate.

But in the end, we are solidly committed to the 80% — and that starts with each other. Our values, our commitment to our children, our commitment to each other are the rock-solid foundation of our relationship.

That, and we’ve learned that marriage is a long, fluid process.

Back at the wooden table, I see a young couple asking the very questions my wife and I have asked others for years in hope of discovering the ‘secret’ to a happy marriage. But the truth is, there are no shortcuts, no easy pathways to bliss.

As other couples have told us over the years, there will be better days than others. There will also be times you are, so they say, ‘spitting mad’ at the other person. Life — with the demands of raising a family, working to put food on the table, and remembering to pay attention to each other — has a way to pushing your marriage to the limits.

But just like forged steel, many times it is the result of the intense pressure found inside a marriage that creates such a strong relationship in the end. The phrase “for better or worse”, you one day recognize, is not just a string of meaningless words – they actually are a precursor to the building of a long-term relationship.

My wife and I look at each other across the table while the younger couple awaits our ‘pearls of wisdom’. We smile at each other knowing there is no way to ever fully describe what awaits them and where this journey will lead. We only hope that some day, they too, will be on the receiving end of this very question.

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Don’t Ignore Those Closest To You

One day you’ll wake up and be out of time.

“I am so thankful for my parents – how they helped make me who I am today.”

I’m sitting in a classroom and conversation of the value of hard work comes up. My classmates are each professionals here to grow as leaders. The woman behind me is proud, but pauses after giving her parents credit for the adult she now represents.

“I’m not sure I’ve ever told my parents that,” she said.

Isn’t it odd how we’ll easily share praise and credit on others, but many times, when we think about it, we realize we’ve never done the same with those same people? It is as if while we value the important role others play in our lives, we neglect letting them know how thankful we are for them in our lives.

Another student, now an entrepreneur, follows up by mirroring similar feelings.

“My parents, who were both immigrants and teachers with full time jobs, started their own business on the side – and we all worked the business.”

Her voice bursts with pride, not for herself, but for her parents. Her voice is filled with love, admiration, and appreciation for the foundation her parents instilled in her.

She mentions how she never received an allowance, but had to work for every dollar. She jokes they’d put her to work answering the phones as soon as she learned to talk.

“You know,” she said. “I’m not sure I’ve ever thanked them either.”

Most of us wake up each day and spend it carelessly. Not that we are wasteful, but we tend to focus on the little things – appointments on the calendar, remembering to pickup the dry cleaning, or catching up on a missed episode of a favorite television show about people we’ve never met. We’re not callused, but rather underappreciating the evaporation of time. Time, we find, runs us.

But the reality is each of us will run out of time, leaving behind a long list of things we never completed, attempted, or left said to the most important people in our lives. As the old saying goes, we’re not getting out of this alive.

The classroom is filled with strong, successful, but remarkably well-grounded individuals. Each humble, modest in self-evaluation, and willing to help and give credit to others.

But like many, they’re admittedly shorting those they value the most – and they are not alone. For many of us, we’re probably more generous with our word to acquaintances than to those who we leave a powerful black hole in our lives when they are gone. A kind word here, a gentle gesture there. But beyond the passing of a greeting card, do we ever really take the time to sit down with the most important people in our lives and let them know how much they mean to us? If not, what are we waiting for?

Today put life on pause and say thank you. Someone will be glad you did.

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