How Many Lives Do You Want To Save?

They’re all around me. Everyday they work on the floor above my office. They pass by my door. They stand next to me in the cafeteria line. Nurses, doctors, APNs, PAs, CNAs, Rad Techs, Nuc Med Techs, Lab Techs, EMTs, Paramedics, and dozens of others who provide clinical services that I don’t even know enough about to identify their titles. I rub shoulders every workday with lifesavers. It’s enough to give one a complex.

I’m not clinical. I find myself saying that quite often in my job as Marketing Director at our local hospital. Anytime I present information to a civic organization or a group visiting our facility, if I’m asked a question that requires a clinical answer, I have to admit that I’m unqualified to answer. That’s for the clinical people.

That’s for the lifesavers.

I wish I were a lifesaver. Well, part of me does. The part of me that doesn’t faint at the sight of blood, or become ill at the thought of a scalpel slicing through someone’s skin. I once came within seconds of passing out as I stood next to my seven-year-old son in the ER and watched a needle being inserted into a gash between his eyes that was about to be stitched up. “Someone grab the mama!” were the last words I remember until I was aware of a nurse holding a cold cloth to my face.

But recently a woman made me feel a lot less like a failure where life-saving is concerned. Her name is Zola, and she works at Mid-South Transplant Foundation in Memphis. Zola presented an educational program on becoming an organ donor. A donor, I learned, can save as many as eight lives and improve the lives of up to fifty more people. I sat a little straighter in my chair and held my head a little higher. I wasn’t such a failure after all. I’m an organ donor. That makes me a lifesaver.

The stories Zola shared about people on the transplant waiting list who never received the organ they needed were heart-wrenching. Twenty-two people die each day waiting for an organ. Another person is added to the national transplant waiting list every ten minutes. And so many people leave this earth without donating those life-giving organs.

I thought how sad it is that so many people go to the grave without using their life-saving capabilities, taking organs and tissues that won’t do them a bit of good and keeping them from others who so desperately need them. I don’t want to hoard life. I want to leave behind everything I can that might save or improve someone else’s life. Organ donor card signed… I’m good. I did my part. Now, I’m a life-saver, too.

But those heroes who work all around me everyday don’t have to wait until they die to save lives. They have the capacity to do it every single day. And they do it. Every. Single. Day. Feelings of failure creep in again. Then I get a call. It’s the American Red Cross. There is a critical blood shortage, and I’m asked to help. I’m called on to save a life.

Not just one life, but three. Yes, one pint of blood can save as many as three lives, and whole blood can be donated every 56 days. I haven’t been nearly that diligent, but I have donated more than three gallons of blood. That’s potentially 72 lives saved.

I’m a lifesaver.

Every 56 days I can save as many as three lives. If I gave plasma I could save lives every 28 days. Donating platelets allows me to be a lifesaver every seven days. That still leaves me outdone by the life-saving heroes that work all around me every day. I can’t match their skills. I can’t save lives every day. I do, however, have life-giving skills I can use every day.

The tongue has the power of life and death.  Proverbs 18:21, NIV

My words have the power to give life, and I almost hoarded them. I almost purposely withheld the gift of life because I was looking for the easy way out. I didn’t want to say anything negative or critical, so I considered not saying anything at all. At least for a few days, during those times away from my job when I had no choice but to speak, I considered fasting from speaking altogether. It would be easier to say nothing because I wouldn’t have to guard my words as I spoke them. If I didn’t speak at all, I wouldn’t risk saying anything hurtful or bitter. I wouldn’t have to think before I spoke, because I wouldn’t speak.

Would refusing to speak be as wrong as speaking negative words? I don’t know. I think it might be; and I think it may be a result of something else that needs to come out of my spiritual backpack. A couple of things, as a matter of fact.

Greed and Self-Interest.

I’ve just recently realized how often I hoard my capacity to speak life into someone because it’s easier to remain quiet. During the Word Challenge I’ve taken during the month of July, I’ve realized that I’m guilty of withholding life-giving words as often as I am guilty of speaking words that damage and wound. I hoard my words because I’m selfish. I don’t want to give up the time it would take to speak those words, and the time it will cost me to engage with the one I speak them to.

I’m greedy with my time, and I only want to serve myself. I need to ask God to remove my Greed and my Self-Seeking. My pleonexia and my eritheia.

My greed. My pleonexia. Strongs Greek concordance describes it as a feminine noun derived from two words: pleion (4119) meaning numerically more, and exo (2192) have. Properly — the desire for more (things); i.e., lusting for a greater number of temporal things that go beyond what God determines is eternally best (beyond His preferred will).

My self-interest. My eritheia. Strongs Greek concordance tells that it comes from the Greek word eritheuo, meaning “work for hire”. Properly, work done merely for hire (as a mercenary), referring to carnal ambition (selfish rivalry). It is described as: acting for one’s own gain, regardless of the discord (strife) it causes. Places self-interest ahead of what the Lord declares right, or what is good for others.

Forget the fact that those around me need life-giving words that I can give. I don’t want to take the time to give them. I want more of my own time for my own pleasures. More time for myself than I need. More time for myself than God wants me to have in light of what is eternally best for myself and for those around me.

Disregard the fact that the withholding of my life-giving words may cause discord and strife. Let me be a slave only to my own desires and place my self-interest ahead of the Lord’s will and what is good for others.

I’ll silently judge those who won’t donate their organs, and I’ll inwardly criticize those who refuse to take the time to donate blood; but, when it comes to withholding life-giving words from someone whose soul is parched or whose heart is broken, I’m just as guilty of hoarding life.

So, do I really want to save lives every day?

Kind words are like honey. They are sweet to the spirit and bring healing to the body.  Proverbs 16:24, NIRV

Thirty minutes to give a pint of blood. We can do that once every 58 days.

A couple of hours to donate platelets. We can do that once every 7 days.

Ten minutes to sign an organ donor form. We do it one time.

But, every day, in a matter of minutes, we can revive a life on the brink of who-knows-what. Time after time over the course of 24 hours we have the capacity to restore hope in the life of someone who is almost depleted of it. We have the ability to infuse encouragement into someone suffocating of discouragement. We walk among throngs of people who just need a few life-giving words.

Father, remove the impurities of greed and self-interest from the blood flowing through my veins so that I may be fit to give life to those in need. Let me not hoard what I can give. Let me speak life.

Let me save lives. Every day.

Note: This post is Part Three of My Big Fat Greek Word Search – a series about the removal of spiritual toxins, or an unpacking of my spiritual backpack.  To see previous posts, follow these links:

Part One – Traveling (not so) Light: Confessions of an Excessive Packer

Part Two – My Big Fat Greek Word Search: Unpacking One Word at a Time

Part Three – An Unrepentant Heart

Part Four – You’ve Reached Your Limit

You’ve Reached Your Limit

Are you done?

The question boomed from the head of the kitchen table as dinner neared its end. We knew it was ending because food consumption decreased and conversation increased. And increased.

Richard would direct his question to the most verbal culprit, and if they hesitated with their answer, they were dismissed from the table with the old “heave-ho” gesture. We filtered through them one at a time until the last of our five children lost interest in enlightening us with their discourse.

During the 90’s, that was the scene at our dinner table. Every. Single. Evening.

They are a conversational clan, our five. I love them dearly, but there were days when their words resounded in my head until I thought it would explode. If only there had been a limit to what they could say each day. Yes, a limit would have been appreciated.  Continue reading

The Art of Introduction

I already don’t want to meet him.

My friend tells me I would adore her fitness instructor and  personal trainer. Yet, not one thing she has told me about him appeals to me.

“He pushes you really hard.”

“He works you until it hurts.”

“He yells at you and tells you you’re a wimp, so you’ll be motivated not to quit.”

Call me a wimp and the only thing I’m motivated to do is punch you in the throat. If this appeals to my friend with her personal trainer, she may have deeper issues than her need for physical fitness.

Then, there’s my friend with the nutrition coach. Yeah, I don’t want to meet that one either.

“She tells me everything I can’t eat.”

“She tells me everything I have to eat.”

“I check in with her once a week with a list of everything I’ve eaten and how much I ate. She scolds me sometimes for eating the wrong thing or too much of something, so I don’t always tell her everything.”

I’m not against a healthy diet and a reasonable amount of physical activity, but if my friends truly wanted me to get to know these people who they say have turned their lives around, they probably could have found a more inviting way to intice me to meet them.

My friends need to learn the art of introduction.

If you have a friend you want me to meet, let me tell you what I’d like to know about them before I let you introduce us. I’d like to know what you find so appealing about their character. I’d like to know their most endearing personality traits. I’d like to know what it is about your relationship with them that is so special to you. What makes you want to spend time with them? Because that’s probably what would make me want to spend time with them and get to know them better.

So why can’t we do that with Jesus?

There’s an opportunity for introduction where we often fail miserably. Let me give you an example. Or, maybe I should say, let me share with you a pet peeve. Church signs.

Church signs can send me into orbit. Not all of them, mind you; it’s the trite ones, or the condemning ones. It’s the “we’ve got it right and you don’t” signs. Here are a couple of what I consider colossal failures in the art of introducing the world to Jesus and the church.

CH _ _ CH. What’s missing? U R!

Or this one.

If God feels far away, guess who moved?

They’re not wrong; they just don’t present Jesus or the church as very inviting or accepting.

I don’t want to meet my friend’s personal trainer because I don’t want to be pushed into something unpleasant. I don’t want to hurt. I don’t want to be yelled at and told how I’m falling short.

I don’t want to meet my friend’s nutrition coach because I don’t want a laundry list of everything I can’t have. I don’t want to be told several times a day what I’m required to have, whether I like it or not. I don’t want a checklist that I have to live by and report in once a week to have my progress gauged – to be judged by my performance or lack of it.

But, isn’t that how we can portray Jesus to those people who haven’t had a personal introduction to Him? Isn’t that the picture we give of church to people who haven’t experienced church for themselves?

Do people who haven’t experienced their own relationship with God get a true understanding of what it is we love so much about Him? Or do they see Him as Someone constantly pushing us to do things that are unpleasant, or making us do hard things that can sometimes be painful? Do they see God as Someone who’s going to yell at us constantly because we’re always falling short of perfection?

What about Jesus? Do people who have never experienced Him get an honest-to-goodness look at who He is and what He did for us? Or do we portray Him as Someone with a laundry list of do’s and don’ts? With a bunch of rules to follow? Do we present Him to others as Someone we check in with at church once a week so we can report on all the assignments we believe He gave us, even trying to lie to Him about whether or not we really did those things?

Do my unchurched friends get a picture of my church as the keeper of the gate to heaven? Do they see us church-goers as the ones who decide whether or not they’re good enough, i.e. enough like us, to come and join us?

I’m becoming increasingly aware of how important it is for me to see the church, to see Jesus, to see God through the eyes of people who don’t know anything about them. I want to be intentional about how I portray my dearest Friends to those who have never been introduced to them. I want them to get to know my Friends the way I’ve come to know them over the years.

God, teach me and let me learn the art of introduction.

But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it? That’s why Scripture exclaims,

“A sight to take your breath away! Grand processions of people telling all the good things of God!”

Romans 10:14-17 (The Message Translation)

Teach me to make introductions that will take Your breath away.

Post Script – I do have a favorite church sign:

Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future.

Thank you, Landmark Baptist Church in Forrest City, Arkansas, for that beautiful introduction.

When God Beats Around the Bush

Why does God beat around the bush?

Okay, maybe the question is better posed like this: Why is it that God sometimes seems to beat around the bush in answering my prayers? I wasn’t the one bold enough to ask the question aloud, but I can’t deny that I’ve wondered it. A lot.

Yes, this question really was asked in our small group discussion recently, and the conversation that followed was interesting. It usually is in our group.

The whole conversation was centered around the fact that Jesus often spoke and taught in parables, and how a lot of people in Jesus’ day didn’t understand what He was talking about. “Why was that?” a fellow-learner asked. “Why did He seem to be making it so hard to understand? And why does it seem like God is beating around the bush sometimes instead of just coming right out and giving me a straight answer when I pray about something?”

Maybe it’s God’s way of encouraging us to press in to Him. To teach us to dig deeper for His truths and to grow our faith and our trust. Those were points we went on to discuss. And then I remembered something I had read not too long ago. Don’t we appreciate something more when we’ve had to work a little harder to get it? It was a lesson in how we can mishandle blessings if they come too easily.

The conversation floated around in my head for the next day or two, especially the question about why God beats around the bush. Beating around the bush. Where did the phrase come from, anyway?

This idiom came about through bird hunting when participants used to beat bushes to stir the birds from them while others caught them in their nets.

Okay, I had an idea that was where it came from. But, I didn’t really think about the second half of the explanation.

So, “beating around the bush” was the start of the actual capture, but not the end result.

The start of the actual capture. Those times when it seems like God isn’t doing anything but beating around the bush, when it seems to be a senseless waste of time, when He seems to be avoiding anything worthwhile – those times are not irrelevant. Those times are “the start of the actual capture”. When it seems most like God is making it difficult to understand what He’s saying, that’s when He’s really getting down to business, making noise, and shaking things up so something big can happen.

It’s the start of the capture.

God is hard at it, beginning the process of capturing our attention. Capturing our interest. Capturing our curiosity. Capturing our hearts and turning them toward His.

Maybe the next time I find myself becoming frustrated with God for “beating around the bush”, I’d better be aware of what’s about to come flying out of there.

His disciples asked Him what this parable meant. He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables to teach the others so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled:

When they look, they won’t really see. When they hear, they won’t understand.

This is the meaning of the parable… Luke 8:9-11a (NLT)

 

What do you dream of?

I had a dream.

That’s about the saddest statement I think I’ve ever heard. Past tense. Never realized. Abandoned. Like my ballerina dream.

I was eight years old and my dream was to dance for the New York Ballet Company. It was a short-lived dream; murdered with a simple sentence. “You’ll never be tall enough.”

Someone killed my ballerina dream, and that was the beginning of the death of many other dreams. Before long I learned to kill my own dreams. Sound a little harsh? I’d venture to say you’ve probably done the same thing. It’s how many of us have been conditioned. Don’t dream; be realistic. You’ll save yourself a lot of heartache down the road.

I know that’s why my ballerina dream was killed. The one who killed it didn’t mean any harm. In fact, she was only trying to spare me pain in the long run. She knew the odds were stacked heavily against my ever reaching that goal. But, here’s the thing. It wasn’t a goal. It was a dream. I was eight years old. I didn’t know a thing about goal-setting and long-range-planning. All I knew about was dreaming. And I dreamed of being a ballerina.

Do you have a dream?

I’m saying you do, whether you realize it or not. I believe that all believers are given dream seeds, planted in us as we are being woven together.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

Psalm 139:13-16 (New Living Translation)

And I believe our God-given dreams are tied closely to His plans for our lives.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

Jeremiah 29:11 (New Living Translation)

God has good plans for each of us. Each of them crafted as unique parts of The Master Plan He wrote before He laid the foundations of the earth… as He recorded it all in His book. God’s plans for our lives are so much greater than any plans we could ever craft for ourselves. Because His ways are so much higher than our ways, our minds can’t fathom the greatness of His plans for us. They wouldn’t even be realistic. And that’s what our minds know plans to be; a realistic strategy for reaching an attainable goal. Isn’t that all nice and tidy? Isn’t that so doable? Not so with dreams.

Dreams aren’t doable.

I began trying to dream last year and I found it to be one of the hardest things ever, because my mind had been trained against it. For decades I had conditioned myself to think in terms of realistic goals and manageable steps toward reaching those goals. Every part of the process was something I had control of. I couldn’t dream because I couldn’t break free of the goals and plans concept.

I discovered a parallel between plans and dreams, and it has helped me in my quest to learn to dream. I’m still learning. Maybe I will be until my last breath. Old, well-established patterns are hard to break, and control is a hard thing to give up. Control is a vital part of planning, but if we really want to dream we have to relinquish control to The One who creates our dreams.

The formula for dreaming is a lot like the formula for planning. A plan is a vehicle for pursuing a goal. A dream is a vehicle for pursuing a vision. Without a goal there’s nothing to plan for. Without a vision there’s nothing to dream toward.

Plan Dream pic 1

If we each have a God-given dream, we each must have a God-given vision to give us something to dream toward. Our visions are as personal as the dreams and plans God has written for our lives. They’re all fueled by the passions He has placed within each of us. I challenge you to find passion in a plan. If you do, I believe there’s a dream hidden there.

Are you living your dream? Your dream is not about you, it’s about others. It’s about the lives you will touch and the people you will influence. It’s about living out your calling in its fullest, and moving toward the culmination of your God-given vision. When we begin to understand that our dream is the means of fulfilling the unique calling on our lives, we begin to understand that our dream is a gift to be received and carefully stewarded.

Your dream keeps you propelled toward God’s vision for your life, His plans for you, and your unique role as a special piece of His Master Plan for all time. The world sometimes tells us that dreaming is selfish. Self-indulgent. But living out a God-given dream is different; it’s about living an empowered life that leaves this world a better place. Your dream isn’t about being center stage with a spotlight shining on you and an adoring audience falling at your feet. Your dream is a platform on which to serve, with the spotlight on The Light of the World, as you lead others to fall at His feet.

Realizing just how short life is, and what a limited amount of time we have for dreams, we will begin to feel an urgency for discovering our vision and learning how to dream toward it. We will realize our dream for what it is: an outlet for our focus and our energy, because its final destination is the purpose we’re created for. Discovering our dream helps us live with fullness and a sense of expectancy. It helps us discern between good ideas and God-given vision, between beneficial and supernatural.

This time of year we honor the memory of a man remembered for his dream – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His vision and his dream affected thousands during his lifetime. They continue to affect millions more, decades after his life was so tragically cut short. His famous “I Have a Dream” speech is filled with references to the origin of his dream. Read it for yourself and notice the passages of Scripture mentioned in his passionate oration pleading for equality for all mankind. His God-given dream impacted lives. It changed the course of history. Your God-given dream has the same potential, because it has the same Creator and is powered by the same Source.

God has crafted a vision and a dream just for you. They live and breathe at the intersection of your personality, gifts, talents, skills, life experiences and your passion. They will enable you to live more intentionally, more fully, and more expectantly. Living your dream in pursuit of your vision will influence and affect others during your lifetime and long after your earthly life is done. Living out your dream energizes you and instills purpose in you, and you’ll find yourself thinking, “This is what I was made to do!”

I’ll never realize my dream of being a ballerina. Not because I’m not tall enough, but because I never pursued it. Would I have been remembered for it? Probably not. Would it have impacted lives? I doubt it. It wasn’t a God-given dream.

Dr. King will long be remembered for his God-given dream in pursuit of his vision “to make justice a reality for all of God’s children”. Your God-given dream can be the thing you are remembered for, in the years to come and long after your earthly life has ended. What do you want to be remembered for?

What’s your dream?

 

Want to learn more about our God-given visions and dreams? Join us for our Dare to Dream Retreat. Learn more here.