“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4:8 [N.I.V.]).
Last week I did something I haven’t done since the last Century. Spring was in the air, birds were singing, the snow was melting, crocuses were popping up out of the dead brown leaves of winter. The world around me shouted praises to their Creator for a new beginning. Every Spring brings a new beginning. I too was shouting praises to my Creator for the new life happening all around me and the new life God had given me after recovering from a deep depression and restoring the joy of my salvation. I decided to join in on the newness of the earth by doing an old new thing. Snip, snip! Clip, clip! “Oh, what a relief it is!” I went with my friend Pam to get a professional haircut. After years of having my sister Jane cut my hair, I decided that it was time to cough off the bucks and get a “stylin’” haircut. There is just something about getting a haircut that lifts a woman’s spirits and makes her feel “brand new,” foot-loose and carefree. Besides, my bangs were bugging my eyes and I was growing wings on both sides of my head.
Being a true New Englander, I wanted to get my money’s worth, so I wanted the stylist to cut my hair very short; the way I had my hair during my college days. I found a photo online, of the haircut I wanted, and brought it with me. Before leaving home, I showed the photo to my friend Pam and she asked me, “Are you sure you want it that short?” I told her “Yes, I do.” When I showed the photo to the stylist, she too asked, “Are you sure you want it that short?” I repeated, “Yes, I do.” Then, she asked me if I ever had it “that short.” I answered, “Yes, I did in college.” The stylist then turned to Pam and asked her if I ever had it “that short.” At this point, I was getting a little annoyed and was reminded why I stayed away from beauty salons for so long. “I said I did!” I repeated, “I wore it short during my college days.” I don’t know whether she thought I was not able to make decisions for myself because I was physically disabled or what, but one would think the fact I went to college would mean I was capable of making decisions about how I wanted my hair cut. I just don’t know how people think sometimes. I did not understand what the problem was. The hair will grow back. BUT GOD did not let this short exchange of words ruin my day and I did get the “Lyd Cut” I wanted and it did make me feel “FREE TO BE ME!” Below is the photo I showed Pam and the stylist.
My latest experience at the beauty salon reminded me of another time I went to get a haircut, way back in the Twentieth Century. I got the $10.00 Special, complete with a washing and blow drying. I got the haircut I wanted with no questions asked. I also got a priceless lesson from the Lord that will last a lifetime. As the hairdresser cut the hair in front of my eyes, I spotted a young woman who sat in the chair next to me. She removed the kerchief from her nearly bald head, except for a few growing patches of hair. She came in for her head to be shaved. She explained to her hairdresser that she would be able to grow back her hair when the chemo was over, but until then the patches just “looked weird.” I will never forget this young woman, with her positive attitude and her wanting to do something that would make her look and feel better about herself, no matter what others might have thought. My lesson from the Lord did not stop there.
As her hairdresser began shaving her head, she said, “You have the most beautifully shaped head I’ve ever seen.” My hairdresser also commented, “I was just admiring your head and thinking the same thing. The symmetry is perfect! It’s so round.” The young woman was just beaming! It didn’t take long before everyone in the salon joined in on appreciating the beauty of the woman’s head. This was a “Philippians 4:8 moment” and it didn’t happen in a church full of Christians. I don’t know if I was the only Christian in the room, but I do know that this Christian learned a lot from the rest of the women in the beauty salon that day.
Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” The words spoken by the hairdressers and others were the perfect words to say to a young woman whose outer beauty (what the world sees as beautiful) was being compromised. They did not try to convince her that the patches of hair did not look weird or that the chemo would be over before she knew it. Instead, they all validated and honored her feelings and said something that was true and noble and right, about what they saw that was lovely and admirable and praiseworthy. The results of those words of praise must have been like a breath of fresh air for the young woman, as well as for everyone else. While getting the hair cut and out of my eyes, the Lord also made me see that the world needs more “Philippians 4:8 moments” and they need to begin with me seeing how much there is to be thankful for. Sometimes, it takes the Lord’s help to just look a little harder.
“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse” (Philippians 4:8 [The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson]).
One would think that the people living in the Twenty-first Century would be better able to accept and relate to people who are “different” and would not over-generalize and put people into “boxes.” For example, intelligent and socially astute people would understand that a person with a physical disability does not mean he/she has an cognitive disability as well or a person with cancer still cares what he/she looks like. But, that is just not the case. Even when it is known that the person with a physical disability went to college and has a Master’s Degree, people hesitate to have him/her make decisions for themselves; what style of haircut he/she would like, what he/she wants on a pizza, what kind of wheelchair he/she wants, etc. Why is that? That is the question I have asked all my life and I think I have at least a partial answer. The answer lies in one’s circle of friends; one’s experiences with the people they know and associate with. If your friends are all like you, how can you get to know someone like me – a person with cerebral palsy.
The hair salon where I got a haircut, way back in the 1990s, is in a college town filled with different types of people, from college student to the homeless, from professors to farmers, from Straight to Gay, from any kind of social/cultural group one can imagine. People living in that town and owning businesses are used to dealing with all types of people. I loved living there because I was just one of the crowd of humanity in that town. Perhaps, the hair salon where I got my recent haircut does not have many physically disabled people coming for haircuts there. I don’t know. But the Lord is teaching me to cut people some slack and to be gracious. If this is someone’s first experience with a disabled person, I want it to be a good experience and honoring to God. Trust me, I cannot do this on my own. I need God’s help to make it a “Philippians 4:8 moment” and not let myself boil inside in anger and make it ruin my whole day.
Recently, I have thought about my circle of friends. They are a fairly diverse group, but we have a lot in common. We go to the same church, we are RED SOX and Bruins and Celtics and Patriots fans, we enjoy food and wine, and we enjoy each other’s company. As I thought more about it, I realized, except for “email friends,” I really don’t have friends that are disabled. God knew all about this “missing” aspect of my friendships and has given me an opportunity to have and be a friend to a woman with a disability who does not go to my church. This has turned out to be a real blessing for both of us.
In order to understand what true friendship is all about, I need to look at the “Friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24b), Jesus, and look at His circle of friends and His teachings on friendship. When Jesus was invited to a meal at a Pharisee’s house, He noticed that the guests were other Pharisee-types. This is what He said to the host: “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12-13).
Jesus tells His disciples about what kind of friend He is to them (and us): “Greater love has no one than this, that He lay down His life for His friends. You are My friends if you do what I command” (John 15:13). Jesus calls us His friends and demonstrated His love for us by dying on the cross for our sins. We are Jesus’ friends and we demonstrate our love for Him by keeping His command: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
In Luke 7:34, the Pharisees said of Jesus that He “is a glutton and a drunkard, friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners.‘” They were half right. Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and sinners. Later on in the same chapter of Luke, while eating at a Pharisee’s house, a “sinful” woman came in and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair and anointed them with perfume. Jesus looked into her eyes and saw her desperate need for forgiveness and grace. “Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48). Jesus also looks into our eyes and says to us “Your sins are forgiven.” We can be true friends to one another when we are “…kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
In Luke 19, we find short little Zacchaeus the tax collector up in a tree, because “He wanted to see who Jesus was” (v.3a). “When Jesus reached the spot, He looked up and said to Zachhaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ So he came down and welcomed Him gladly. All the people muttered, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner’” (v. 7). Jesus knew Zachhaeus’ heart. Just like the “sinful” woman, Zacchaeus too was desperate to find the way out of his life of sin. He confessed to Jesus that he would give back all the money he had swindled: “I will pay back four times that amount” (v. 8b). Jesus responded by saying to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (vv. 9-10). Jesus brought out the best in people. In the same way, we can bring out the best in our friends and lead them to Jesus along the way.
Last, but not least, we can’t forget who Jesus called to be His first disciples – smelly, dirty, lowly fishermen. Instead of staying far far away from these germy, slimy, stinky men, Jesus went fishing with them. When Jesus told them where to drop their nets and they caught so much fish that their boat was sinking, the fisherman Peter realized who Jesus was. Luke 5:8 says, “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man!” But Jesus looked passed Peter’s sinfulness and saw what he would become. Luke 5:10b says, “Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.’ So they pulled their boats on shore, left everything and followed Him.” Like Jesus, we need to look past a friend’s faults and see the person God is making them to be. And, hopefully, they will do the same for us.
Who are your circle of friends? The other day, I heard a sports radio guy say that he has no more room for new friends. If someone leaves his circle of friends, then he might consider letting someone fill that spot. How sad!
Your sister and friend in Christ,