After firing too many personal questions at me, the hospital’s admitting rep barked, “Do you have an Advanced Medical Directive?” When I nodded, she snapped, “We’re gonna need that.”

Having lived my life in God’s loving embrace, I believe I will, when the time comes, walk through the doorway to the other side of life with confidence and peace. I’m also confident that Joanne and our children can make any decisions necessary for my care or my body.

The medical industry loves them because of convenience and efficiency, but no one is required to execute an “AD.” I only have one for my family; they can use it however they wish in the totality of what seems right at that time. I will never give it to the industry.

Rough Answers

The core truth of that episode for me was that a large organization, literally holding the power of life and death, appeared oblivious of my personal space and boundaries. Every day they handle human life. But, in my case, they didn’t show the restraint, respect, or care matching their role and power.

Perhaps my case was unusual. But I felt like I was in an auto body shop; people who did not know or care about me banged, slammed, jerked, and hammered my heart into conformity with their preferences and needs.

Since that day, seventeen months ago, I’ve been increasingly sensitized to a societal disregard or ignorance of boundaries. Our ethos seems to be inching closer to if I see it and need it, I can take it. That leads to the social condition described by an ancient proverb, “The poor man utters supplications, but the rich man answers roughly.”[1]

Too many people live on the receiving end of harsh hands and rough answers.

Do we really not know that the landscape of health, wealth, mortality, property, income, and identity is very personal real estate? If I – regardless of my legal authority or job description – were to ask someone for his or her salary, social security number, credit score, urine sample, or Advanced Directive, I’d do so very gently, carefully, and contritely.

And I would fully understand if they told me to go to Phoenix.

The Restraining Force of Law

Although they were not all Christians, America’s founding fathers accepted the Christian idea of “the depravity of man,” meaning that every human is born with a serious defect, a corruption of thinking and behavior. Because of that, we humans are prone to living a self-centered life, a life that is naturally all about me.

A primary evidence of that “me-ness” is our failure to recognize and respect boundaries. For example, infidelity is far more than a sensual search; it’s also a rejection of boundary lines. How many people, on a sexual quest, pause long enough to consider the terrain of the other person’s health, character, reputation, income, family, or future?

Laws exist because of human depravity; they restrain the rush of anarchy. Today, as so many voices despise and reject law enforcement, I often think of Thomas More’s words to William Roper in A Man For All Seasons: “This country’s planted thick with laws, from coast to coast…And if you cut them down… d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?”[2]

We should all pray that the rampant and increasing lawlessness in our society does not become a hurricane of social chaos. And we should all do what we can to stop the removal of the boundary lines that protect people, property, ideas, and traditions.

What If?

Every religion on earth proclaims a version of The Golden Rule – usually rendered “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It is the most perfect law ever conceived.

So, what if we all…

  • Do to others what we would like done to us?
  • Live slower, more thoughtfully, and more respectfully?
  • Ask ourselves in every situation, “How would I want to be treated right here, right now?”
  • Teach our children to, first, see and then to respect boundary lines?
  • Wait to be invited across a boundary rather than invading it?
  • Stop wearing steel spikes as we walk across territories of the heart?


And finally, what if we all extend kind hands and speak gentle answers?

[1] Proverbs 18:23 taken from the New American Standard Bible® (NASB), Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission. www.Lockman.org

[2] Robert Bolt, A Man For All Seasons, (New York: Vintage Books, 1990). P 66

Boundaries Read More »

Who Cares?

Well into her 90s, Mary Chinn, my mother, continued to walk a mile a day, clean her kitchen floor on her hands and knees, and take care of all housework in the Kansas home she and Dad built a half century ago.

A few weeks ago Mom, now 94, fell in her home one evening and broke her hip. After hip surgery and a couple weeks in rehab, Mom returned to her life in her beloved home. But, it was not going to be that simple. An array of services and personnel seemed to move in with her. They were all fine people and they supplied essential services – meals, laundry, physical therapy, etc.

We were all grateful.

But that beautiful care rode in on cold steel efficiency. For example, a simple medical alert button, worn around the neck, came with requirements that would steal some humanity. My brother Carl happened to be at Mom’s when the nurse gave instructions about the button. He explained it all in an email to our brother Vernon and me,

“Paramedics will go straight to the refrigerator when they come into the home of an elderly patient with a button. They want to see medical care contacts posted right there, a calendar of her medical care, and any DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) letter. But in order for all that to happen, a lot of pictures of grandchildren, friends, missionaries, and funny clippings from 40 years ago must be taken away.”

That Ragged Old Flag

Mom was also told that she couldn’t walk into her own yard; the lawn did not provide sufficient stability; she could trip and fall. Of course, we understood.

But then Mom began to get uncharacteristically cranky. She pushed back against her caregivers. She seemed to need to reclaim her space.

And then Vernon noticed something. Her irritation seemed related to the US flag that has flown from its mount in the front yard for several decades. When Vernon told me that I realized that Mom had mentioned that flag in every conversation I’d had with her for several weeks.

Then we all began to get it.

No one will ever understand Mom apart from Dad. And no one will ever understand Dad apart from his service on the USS Princeton in World War 2. He was on board the Princeton when she was commissioned and he was still on board October 24, 1944 when she was bombed and slid under the water to her grave. Dad was one of the survivors. October 24 was almost as large as Thanksgiving in our house.

That flag meant something – no, that’s not right; it meant everything – to Dad. He knew and followed all the rules of displaying an American flag. And when he fell in his last battle, Mom picked up the flag. She had to carry it; in death, Dad’s mission became hers.

And then one day, strangers, 70 years her junior, walked into her home and told her to stop it.

What Are We Doing To Others?

Institutions can deliver services, but they cannot care. Whatever they design will inevitably dehumanize the very people they serve. Care must be delivered in a human way or it will feel imposed. In other words, a “what” cannot care; only a “who” cares.

Jesus spoke the most perfect law of all time: Do unto others as you would have them do to you.

The pure inability to even see that simple law may be why we end up with a health care system that makes a 94-year-old woman gaze at her own DO NOT RESUSCITATE order every time she goes to her refrigerator. And, of course, we understand that it’s an acceptable trade-off, that she must remove a half-century of photos and corny jokes in order to make room for those officious 8 and ½ by 11-inch papers.

We live in an age of professional caregivers. But those who care must first see and engage those in need. And that begins with the simple and very human wonder of making eye contact. Look at the person. See and anticipate his or her true needs. Stand there until you understand the nooks and nuances of another human’s life. Ask questions of them and those near them.

For example, shouldn’t caregivers give enough attention to know if an elderly person would prefer to fall in her own front yard, caring for the flag, than wasting away in a shivering fetal curl at the nursing home when she’s 106?

What if…we could all actually take time to understand other people’s needs, fears, priorities, and values? Do you think that might help us to do unto others what we would like others to do to us?

Who Cares? Read More »

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