It’s been several years since Tom died of cancer. He was a good ole country boy; a retired railroader. He and his wife had several adult children who lived nearby. Tom’s house was situated on about an acre lot. The deep backyard gently sloped down to a small creek, bordered by a steep hill. The lush green yard was spattered with mature trees and spotted with ceramic animals, a birdbath, a wishing well and an old antique wagon wheel. Hanging from an old metal children’s swing set frame was a wooden porch swing, where Tom and I had some inspiring heart-to-heart conversations.
Tom’s immediate transparency surprised me. Within the first minutes of my initial visit, he admitted to episodes of discouragement. But he also quickly pointed to his source of encouragement. He handed me a copy of, “The Healing of the Mind and Soul in the Twenty-third Psalm”, by Charles Allen. It was a small pamphlet, about four by six inches in size and twenty-two pages in length. Tom shared, “Whenever I start getting discouraged I read this pamphlet. When you break down the 23rd Psalm and really understand what it means for us to be sheep, and for God to be our shepherd, you get a lot of comfort from it.” It was apparent that Tom wasn’t just familiar with the psalm; he knew the Shepherd.
As I routinely do with hospice patients, I asked Tom and his wife if they had enough help and Tom replied, “If my children waited for me to ask for help, that grass out there would be up to my rear end by now. I don’t have to ask. My kids come in, look around, see and do.”
As time passed, Tom’s condition declined, and he was admitted to our hospice room at the hospital for imminent death, (Before the construction of our current hospice center). Tom’s family was congregated in a visitors’ waiting area at the end of a corridor near Tom’s room. I shared with his children what Tom told me about their love and support. I admitted to them that their examples were not only inspiring but also convicting; that I was challenged to “examine myself,” (2 Corinthians 13:5). Do I come in, look around, see, and do? Do I take away the burden of asking, or do I wait to be called?” What about you?
My fellow hospice social workers and I like to come up with mottos to encourage and guide us; some serious and some humorous. My coworker, Kellie, and I came up with our current motto with a contribution from her nine-year-old son, Carson. Here’s Kellie, “Carson had a reading assignment and they have a test they have to take after each assignment. Carson took the test right away and then he remembered that the teacher had told them not to take the test yet. He was concerned about it when he realized that he’d jumped ahead and did it. He was just going to let it go but I told him that he needed to talk with the teacher to let her know what he did. Afterward, he told me, ‘Mom, I’ll listen better next time’.”
So, the motto of the month currently posted outside our office doors reads: “Performance improvement not perfection. I’ll do better next time; because I’ll listen better next time”. “Improvement not perfection”, because no one is perfect and never will be. As Jesus said to the rich young ruler, “There is none good but one, that is God,” (Matthew 19: 16-17). So where does that leave the rest of us; in the need of mercy and grace, in need of a Redeemer. So let’s stop beating ourselves up and vainly striving for perfection and let’s endeavor to “do better next time”, and the next time and the next time.
A closing word or two to those who desire to be led by “The Shepherd”; we need to “look up” as we “look around. We need to give ourselves first of all to God and then according to his will to others. (2 Corinthians 8:5) We need to listen to and follow the teacher’s instructions instead of jumping ahead, and in the event we do jump ahead all we need to do is talk to the teacher and tell Him what we did.
“Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)
Loren Hardin is a social worker with Southern Ohio Medical Center-Hospice, and can be reached at 740-356-2525 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can order Loren’s new book, “Straight Paths,” online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.