To Live Well

Gratefulness is not just something you say.
It is something you feel.
And if you feel it, that means someone has impacted you in such a way that their actions are rattling around in your soul, seeping into your heart, and affecting your mind.
photo (5)
Often, then, the best “Thank you’s” come after we take time to notice, to scheme and plot.  What follows may come in the form of home-baked cookies, a hand-written note, or a kiss on the forehead.  We might hug them, we might fill their car with gas.  But if we take the time to think before we thank, then even the words we say, and the sparkle in our eyes will carry a deeper meaning.
To be clear, thankfulness is not something you give away.
It is something you carry within you.
Yet, if you keep it to yourself, it spoils.  Like a harvest of ripe peaches, we are best to share, and to share quickly.  Gratitude is perishable and the quality of it flows out of the deepest part of our hearts and minds.
Though a reflex “Thank you” is proper, it is often too easy.
Stephen King once said, “The most important things are the hardest to say.”
It’s possible that we can’t really say “thank you” unless we sacrifice part of us.
If we take time to let another’s actions crash around in our soul for even a moment, not only does our gratitude grow, but when we reflect on what someone has done for us, our response is much more powerful, not just for the recipient, but for us as well.
“To ignore what they have done doesn’t make them any less wonderful; it lessens me.”
Too often we give the waitress a tip, believing that the size of our gift is a measure of our thanks. But money (like words) is easy to dispense if we have it in abundance.  This is why we say “talk is cheap!”  It costs us little.
Our parents taught us to say “Thank you,” so that we would learn that it is appropriate and proper to acknowledge the sacrifice of another.
We didn’t really understand “why,” we just learned “when.”
Hopefully over time, we have discovered there are people and things for which we really are quite grateful.
My parents, for example, gave me life.
My wife has given me hers.
My friends have given their time, their thoughts, their laughter, and their tears; choosing to be near when I am least likable.
To ignore what they have done doesn’t make them any less wonderful; it lessens me.
To ignore what another has done for us is tragic.
To acknowledge it well, is to live well.
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A Confusing Picture

A Confusing Picture

This is a picture of confusion, of a city not sure what to do.
And of a woman equally bewildered.

She wanders the streets with an umbrella,
fending off rain that isn’t there. Claiming the sidewalk as her home,
though in reality she hasn’t been home in years.

And here, tonight, some of the city’s most gifted, influential men are her audience. Listening to her plea, listening to her plight, listening to her.

She asks for one thing, but needs another.
We gave her neither.
But she gave us pause.

Hopefully, these men went home troubled by what they saw, troubled by what they heard, troubled by what they couldn’t solve. Homelessness is a difficult and disconcerting problem; beset by addiction, mental illness, poverty, brokenness, and sin.
It is messy. It is complicated.
And it is a picture of confusion.

The Mission sends out Search and Rescue vans throughout the night to find those individuals who are unsheltered, broken, and alone. We bring blankets, hot chocolate, sandwiches, and love; conversations, socks, and hope; hope that they can one day get off the street. Hope that they can one day find healing. Hope that they can one day find home.

At the end of the night, some of us have a tradition of sitting in the middle of a street in downtown Seattle for a group picture. The tradition is disconcerting to some. It should be. Last night this woman simply wanted to be in our picture, too.

Afterwards, she wandered back out into the night with her umbrella, still fending off the rain that wasn’t there.
Another lost soul, adrift in the land of plenty.

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Nadine made hats…

Nadine's hands


Nadine made hats.  I met her because she wrote me an apology, saying that she would no longer be making hats.


Actually, she wrote to send in her last check to Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, where she had been donating for years to help the poor, the broken, and the homeless who were living on the cold, wet streets of Seattle.

“Dear Mr. Lilley,

It has been a pleasure to help your mission over the years and now I am departing this world to meet Jesus in the next few months, so this will be my final contribution to your fine cause.


I have a box of stocking caps to get to your women’s shelter before cold weather sets in.” 

My love and prayers,


She is departing to meet Jesus?  She says it as if she will be on holiday to France.  So matter-of-factly; “departing to meet Jesus,” apparently with no plans of returning, or of making more hats.

I went to pick up the hats, mostly because I wanted to meet Nadine.  She had already written her last check, so this would not be a fund raising call.  I went because somewhere in her note I noticed something difficult to describe.  It was something sparkly, something beautiful, something good.  When I arrived at her small trailer, she was surrounded by two friends, and a sister.  (I suspect her sister is actually a third friend, as siblings can, and should be.)

Her bed was in the front room, right next to the front window, so she could look out at a beautiful maple tree.

“This is where I will be when I die,” she said cheerfully. “Looking out at my favorite tree.”

Her concern at that moment was to wrap up all of her obligations, which included a last check to the mission, and to make sure the hats got to the shelter before the cold weather did.  She was racing against cancer, as it invaded her small, diminutive body.  Her body has never taken up much space, and now, having to share it with cancer was just not working.  There is not enough room for the both of them, and since the cancer won’t leave, Nadine was going to move out.

And she did.

Nadine died this winter.

But I am not sad.  For everything about Nadine was cheerful.  The colors she chose for the hats?  Bright and cheerful.  Her home? Bright and cheerful.  More than that though, the walls of Nadine’s home were covered with hearts.  “Ask her why!” her sister said, cheerfully.

“What’s with the heart’s, Nadine?” I asked.

“I was born on Valentine’s Day!”  she said, grinning!

She was born on Valentine’s Day.  This woman whose life was a picture of love came into the world on a day dedicated to love.  For years she made blankets for The Wounded Warrior Project.  She hand crafted pens to deliver to elderly shut-ins, and crocheted hats to deliver to the homeless.

We have not forgotten her, and the love and sacrifice she made for so many who were less fortunate.  Today is Valentine’s Day!  So, today at the Mission we celebrate Nadine!

Thank you Nadine, for being an example to us all of what love looks like!

Nadine's hats

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Lines in the streets, lines in our hearts…

"Fatherhood must be at the core of the universe."  -- George MacDonald

“Fatherhood must be at the core of the universe.” — George MacDonald

Years ago one of my children’s pets was dying and someone had to do what no one wanted to do.

I remember when every teary-eye in the room, including my wife’s, turned to me and silently pleaded for me to some how fix it, to make it better.  I remember feeling the hurt and pain of each child’s affection for this cherished pet.

But I also remember realizing that this is what Dads do; this is what my Dad had done for me, and my pets.
For Sabrina, and Angel, and Whiskers, and Tweetie; and so many more.

Whenever things got difficult or hard, no one voted. We all just turned to him.

And he fixed.
He lifted.
He worked.
He corrected.
He drove.
He paid.

And he prayed.
He carried.
He hugged.
He giggled.
He cheered.
He laughed.

And he believed.  In me.

Before we ever met he committed to caring for me, paying my bills, changing my diapers, pulling my splinters, and fixing my bike.
It was his finances that bought my shoes and my clothes; he paid for every meal; his hard-earned money got me through college, and even today he is still just as quick, just as generous to give whatever he has anytime I am in need.

He lifted me up when my legs were tired.
I rode on his shoulders when the pavement was hot.
We all slept on those long, late-night drives, while he not only stayed awake to get us home safely, but held me against his chest, still sleeping, from the car to my bed.

He built the basketball hoop under the streetlight, and painted lines in the street.
(Only now do I wonder about City permission, or neighborhood diplomacy!)
He taught me how to build a fire, how to fix a broken sprinkler, and how to paint a house.
He taught me how to fix the brakes on a car, and how to fix a flat on my bike.
He taught me how to throw a baseball, and how to swing a hammer.

It was his firm, but steady hand that etched moral boundaries into my conscience.
He taught me right and wrong, and what was good, better, and best.
He showed me how to honor the elderly, and care for the vulnerable.
He taught me of God, and faith; of love and grace.
He showed me how to love my neighbors, and how to love my wife.
He modeled for me how to be a father; how to be a friend.

And me?
I carry his sense of humor.
I carry his work ethic.
I carry his same morals, and his patriotism.
I carry his sense of justice, fairness, and compassion.
I carry his name.
For he is my father.
And I am honored to be his son.

And now, I am a messenger to future generations; carrying his stories, his lessons.
I carry his values, and I carry his virtues to his descendants.
And someday I will carry his body, finally sleeping, finally resting, to a place where he can no longer carry me.
I love you, Dad.

Thank you for loving me before I even knew how to love you back.
Thank you for showing me how to be a man, but more importantly, how to be a Dad.

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Horse Mysteries

Today was my Mom’s birthday. She has been gone 12 years?

At first you can’t live a day without crying, even in public. Then it’s only moments when you are alone, looking out over water, or reading something that reminds you of her. (And reading reminds me of her.) She would stand at the bookcase and consider three or four different titles before she would finally pull one off the shelf and say, “I think you will like this one.”

So I read Jack London’s “White Fang,” and Michner’s “Centennial,” and Dick Francis’ horse mysteries. She helped me discover everyone from Mark Twain to Robert Ludlum. She handed me “The Hobbit,” and she handed me Brother Lawrence’s “Practice the Presence.”

She handed me life. And she handed me a window into other lives. She took me around the world, though I don’t believe she ever left the continent. She taught me history, she taught me humor, she taught me the deep principles and truth that are often only found in exploring the stories of others who have lived before us.

And she taught all of this without saying much more than, “You might enjoy this.”

And I took it like it was candy, for she had gone before me. She had already read it, and she knew I would love it.

I think of her less often now. But one day I will once again stand with her, at a place where she has gone before me, and I can already imagine her smiling and saying, “You might enjoy this.”

And, already, I know I will.Mom bday

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Who Knows Why Geese Go Barefoot

“In youth we run into difficulties. In old age difficulties run into us.” — Beverly Sills

She is like a book that begins with the ending. You know you are looking at the final chapter, but you have no idea how she got here.

She is over 80 years old.
She is homeless.
She is sleeping on a cold, hard sidewalk.
She has a walker.
But not a home.

Her name is Penny, and last week our Search and Rescue van found her late at night, near Seattle’s waterfront.

Instantly I want to know the rest of the story. Answer, please, the questions that flood into my brain, the same questions that flood into yours.
I can’t believe society would knowingly allow this woman to simply fall through the cracks, out of the “safety net.” Thinking “there must be more to the story” is my version of hope. I do this a lot–writing imaginary beginnings to people’s lives, especially lives that are unraveling. If I can somehow imagine that their own choices have contributed to their destruction, then somehow my world is supposed to feel safer.

“She was probably an addict.”
“She probably suffers from dementia.”
“Maybe she is just stubborn, and after she got in a fight with her daughter she went out onto the streets to teach her daughter a lesson.”

As if any of these beginnings make the ending better. It doesn’t matter how she got there. Father Greg Boyles speaks of “A compassion that can stand in awe of what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment of how they carry it.”

But this particular night this 88 year-old woman met another 80 year-old. The Mission.
Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission is 80 years old this week!
The Mission started in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression. It was created specifically to reach out and save those who were most desperate, those in greatest need. (It is strange to think that Penny was an eight year-old girl at the time of the Mission’s launch!)

I don’t, yet, know Penny’s story of her past. And though I do know the story of the Mission’s past, I do not, yet, know the story of the Mission’s future.

Abraham J. Heschel once wrote:
“A test of a people is how it behaves toward the old. It is easy to love children. Even tyrants and dictators make a point of being fond of children. But the affection and care for the old, the incurable, the helpless are the true gold mines of a culture.”

I don’t know if the Mission is a gold mine. But for one brief moment last week, when two eighty year-olds crossed paths, we may have discovered a lost gold mine in the life and times of Penny. And for all of us, we continue to write our future. There may very well be a young eight year-old out there right now who needs us; either now, or 80 years from now. For that reason alone, I believe the Mission’s story is just beginning.

“Who knows why the geese go barefoot?” is an old Flemish proverb, meaning that we can’t know the reason for everything.  It appears as the title of a painting by Pieter Brueghel.  In the musical Hansel and Gretel, their answer is simple:

“The ganders can’t pay so the cobblers refuse.”

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Apparently, you are not my neighbor.


Last night Eugenie and I got a chance to go out to dinner with our pastor and his wife. We headed to downtown Seattle, and had a few minutes before our table was ready, so we walked down towards Pike Place Market and along the way we were repeatedly hit up for change.

One man was different. He was not an addict, instead it was clear he had some slight mental health issues.
His hair was dirty from not being washed for weeks, and his face was covered in stubble. As cliché as it sounds, there really was a thick line of drool dropping down from his lower lip to his sweater; a sweater that was one of many layers donned to fight off the cold. All of his clothes, every layer, was covered in food residue and other mysterious stains, likely from meals and adventures long gone by.

“Can you spare five or ten cents so I can get a bus ticket?” he asked.
“No,” I said. Which is almost always the right answer.

“Someone gave me this” he said, holding up a Starbuck’s card. “They said it had ten dollars on it. I’ll trade you.”
“No, you keep that. You need that more than I,” I responded, thinking that maybe he really did want just a bus ticket.
“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Dave,” he said, almost as if surprised I would ask.

Then he held out his hand to greet me. The same hand that was holding all the change he had collected so far. In this large, dirty, paw of a hand, he was gripping (more like cupping) what might have amounted to three or four dollars worth of change. I shook his fist, with all his earnings, and wished him well.

Dave moved on to another crowd and resumed his quest while we headed back towards a restaurant that proved to be both wonderful and expensive. Later that night I thought about the story of the good Samaritan, and how it was a priest and a Levite that crossed over the road to the other side, away from the man in need. This night it was a pastor of a local church and the president of a rescue mission who crossed over the road to the other side.

Did we do all that we could?
No. Which is almost always the right answer.

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