Years ago, I read a story about a lady who really, really got it when it came to being life giving.
She took hospice patients as her playing field.
All of them were under the care of professionals, and most of the people had family members around them helping as well.
Hospice is an interesting, mind bending experience. You and everyone around you knows you are dying. There is no hope on the human level for your recovery.
Yet, you are alive.
You don’t have grand plans for the future. All of your personal responsibilities have been assumed by others. You are not expected to be life giving to those around you. There is nothing you need to do except exist and move closer to your transition.
Somewhere there is a major malfunction in your body. You are presumably not comfortable most of the time and are keenly in tune with the pain mitigating processes that the hospice personnel oversee.
In the midst of all of those large, grim, unchangeable dynamics, this lady would offer to trim fingernails and toenails for anyone who wished.
Because in the intensity of pain management and all the other big things, many hospice patients had not been able to care for this small facet of personal comfort and no one around them thought about it.
Having neatly trimmed nails did not make a huge difference in their final season here on earth.
But it made SOME difference, and no one else was doing it, so she did it. And dying people appreciated the presence of someone who saw them as living people and extended this small act of dignity to them.
Bigger picture: Today many of you are in some degree of isolation compliments of coronavirus.
That renders you powerless in lots and lots of ways.
I can’t imagine what it is like to be a bride, planning for months for a big wedding in this window, and having it reduced to a tiny shell of the original dream. And Mom can’t fly in from the other side of the nation for her only daughter’s big, big day.
So we have a choice: focus on what we can’t do, when we want to be emotionally life giving to someone, or look for what we can.
This is my challenge to you ─ to look for the toenails you can clip.
Not literally, of course, because you are quarantined. But somewhere, there are those little things that people are not getting done, that can mean a lot emotionally.
For example, one of the enduring mysteries of this world is people who cannot initiate social engagement. Like write an email and say, “Hey, I just got a promotion at work. I know you prayed about that last year.”
They just can’t. Really, truly can’t. They think about reaching out, write 500 emails in their head, but their fingers remain disconnected from their wishes.
I don't know and they don't know.
But I do know that this anomaly leads to an emotionally diminished life.
So I can initiate. And they are overjoyed when I do and write back quickly.
I wish I didn’t have to. I wish our relationship was good enough that I didn’t have to carry all of it. I wish I understood what was going on that caused highly successful, highly literate, highly electronically connected people to be utterly incapable in initiation.
But that discussion is not for today.
Now, in this mess, they for sure are not going to write that first email to me.
Or anyone else.
So I can trim their toenails for them by dropping them a line with some short story about what is happening in my life, now. So they can respond. And be a tiny bit less lonesome. And have a scrap of dignity.
Will it solve their inner issues?
I so know it won’t. I have proven that over the last 30 years.
Trimming toenails doesn’t resolve the bigger issue of hospice either.
But it is a welcome form of lifegiving.
And somebody did it.
Whose toenails can you trim today?
How can you come in the opposite spirit to the isolation and frustrations of the quarantines?
Copyright April 2020 by Arthur Burk
This reminds me of Rachel Joyce’s books “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” and it’s sequel, “Love Song of Mis Queenie Hennessy” These books are healing stories, stories that help you see someone else’s perspective, and helps you to leave hurtful things behind you. (The sequel is set in a hospice.)
Upon reading this post the first time, I didn’t fancy that living, breathing people were set in the same blogpost as folks in a hospice. My experience with hospices is that by the time you hit them, you should have “blessed your end of life”, if you know what I mean.
I like to think there will be a turn around, not if but when. Like Lazarus in John 11. (There’s a whole process to Lazarus’s story, it gets missed in the hype about the end result.)
But I get this post now!
It’s about helping people!
Dear Arthur, thank you for this article. I have been depressed for a long time and with that have become way over weight. My toenails had gotten so long because I could not reach them. My daughter knew that they were long and she finally could not stand it any longer so she told me she would come over and clip them. I so appreciated her gift. She did an excellent job and it made me feel human again. She treated me with dignity and that made me feel ok about myself. Thank you for listening.
A great new perspective Arthur, that cutting toenails looks different for everyone out of hospice. It has an impact and is life giving to the receiver . We do the 5% of ‘cutting nails’ to-those in desperate need and God will do the 95% that we can’t do.
Thank you for being life giving to the tribe specially In these days. May God bless you and your family.
I volunteered at a local hospice and this story is absolutely spot on! The dying while alive needed to be seen and acknowledged as still living, still some emotional things to wrap up whether with family or with God. The days and hours were sometimes tedious and lonely for them and a volunteer bringing in flowers from the garden or fluffing their pillow was sweetly accepted. He designed us to be the initiators because we have His love to share and overflow out of. What a sweet and timely reminder to do this with all those around us.
I read this blog post a half hour ago while parked at Wawa. A few minutes later I saw a woman, a few spots down, pour water into her eyes. I thought she was having contact lens trouble. Water only makes that a million times worse.
Normally I do not speak up, but when I saw her rub water in her eyes again, I asked her if she needed me to buy her eye drops. She said no. She'd gotten sanitizer in her eyes.
I first thought there was nothing I could do but then remembered I had eye scrubs in my trunk. They are individually wrapped so she pulled one out without having to touch the box.
She smiled as she left and wished me a happy weekend. These are the small wins that matter any time but especially now. I would have missed it had I not read your post. Thank you.
I feel convicted by your post Arthur. In this time of shelter in place I’ve consistently contacted so many people in my church community & beyond to check in to see how they are, if they need anything. Last week I became frustrated & disheartened. All those consistent initiations I made, no one contacted me to see how my husband & I were doing. Only after several touch points over several weeks 3 people respond, “ oh how are you guys?”
I resigned myself to stop initiating for a few weeks to see if anyone contacted me.... in the waiting, Father was showing/whispering to me, “I designed you to reach out, be a Mama, see how they’re doing. This comes with little payback sometimes. Look at My Son’s example. He gave it all! And not everyone initiated back. Look at your life in this context. But it’s not about payback! It’s about what I designed you for, freely give as I have!”
After that word I realized I was being selfish, stubborn. Not that we need to be overzealous mamas who wipe adults noses! But I need to initiate at Father’s promptings without the assumption or expectation that I NEED a payback!
Your post is another reminder! Thanks Arthur
THANK YOU Arthur for this great blog post. SOOOO needed at this time!!
As you get older - I am 64 and so I am speaking from experience - you lose confidence. It's astounding to see how many little things you suddenly can't do!!! I used to be able to carry my groceries the 3 blocks home from the supermarket - now I have to take a rest midway. Your forgettery is often more evident than your memory and you have to double-check yourself on a regular basis. Bottom line is that you lose an element of trust in yourself and that undermines your self-confidence.
One of the lovely facets of self-confidence is ease of giving and I find that I am more hesitant in giving these days - it's sad but it's true. The horror of being a burden is real and the thought that somehow my giving will be a burden is an underlying concern.
"The heart is deceitful above all things" is also so true so I pray that God's truth will trump my truth amen.
Replied by : Arthur Burk
Thank you Arthur. It is hard to even try and keep up with all the revelation and life and baked and half baked potato's you continually serve up each day. Many blessings from Montana. Land of open heavens and wide places.
Thank you, Arthur,
That is truly lovely :)
I’ve know about you for many years but in this last month I’ve connected to your many posts and see your absolute vulnerability and I love it and you. God has His ways of connecting us as family in just the right times. 45 years of believing and you may be the most vulnerable and transparent I’ve met. Thank you for being you.
Bless your spirit!
Replied by : Arthur Burk
A very special article. I will be more focussed on looking for opportunities to 'clip toenails" in Down locking time and trust it will become a good habbit after this time of isolation. Now that i have prescious time available i can think of ways to use it more effectively.
Arthur a special thank you for the deep transformational truths you share with us. It comes from the throne room and its costly for you. I think I can right a book on how your teachings and revelations you shared changed my life and design. I cant get enough because I need it so desperately. I am guilty of not sharing my glory stories.. i feel you are too busy and wont have time to read all the restoration taking place in our lives. I am one of those who keep it to myself and my inner circle with the same heart and just praise God for it.
Thank you Thank you Thank you. God bless you and your family. My life is becoming more healthy and normal as I read, meditate, repeat, pray into these truths. I am living with my daughters house hold in this time. Our Relationship is slowly being restored after years of pain and misunderstandings and lies. God is love and faithful to restore all things back to Him. Glory to our Redeemer, Healer, Bridegroom King ❤️
We have gotten intermittent email so that from our compound here in Uganda where we have been on lockdown with our 120 children ages from 3 to 23. We can communicate with those far away,get to see our email and Facebook, and download some algebra, and chemistry basics for our secondary students. Last night our kids put on a drama of the last super, Jesus praying and being arrested, going before Pontius Pilot and the crucifixion. We are all together. I am thankful for this time with our very large family. This comment isn't related to cutting fingernails just letting you know I appreciate when you share your thoughts and I get to see them. You are such a blessing.
Thank you, Arthur! Amazing story acting as a Heavenly Scrub! The gold of the heart of this woman, her Love is cleansing my inside when i am reading it and renewing me in my walk with the Lord! As for the isolation it is great opportunity to stop so many things in our lives and give more personal attention to our Father, Son and the Holy Spirit! The main task of this time of trial to come the closer relationships with the Almighty One!
The best health to you and your family, and the Spiritual Family.
As always , Arthur hits the nail right on my head. Love and blessings. Glynn Lassiter
Thank you for writing this! I too am the one who mostly do the reaching out. I do at times get tired of doing this. Your post reframed it as live giving, giving me the needed glimpse in order to keep on going.
Amen to bringing out the child within - God help us be brave enough to be childlike so that others can respond in like manner and we can enjoy giggling together - please Lord help us in this amen.
Thank you for such a simple, easy to understand visual! It is easy to feel, even in life before the virus, that I'm not "out there" doing big things. People are blessed by God's love flowing through the little things, the seemingly mundane things. Thank you for your encouragement. I have been blessed so much by your teachings over the years. God bless you
We grew-up in a house where children were taught to be seen, but not heard. For most of our lives together we never learned the art of conversation. We were spoken to ... and just listened. But that is the way that my parents were raised also. The little gift that I was able to give my father when he was in a nursing home and had lost most of his hearing and was drifting in and out of a state of dementia was a few words that I had written in a notebook with a large felt tip pen:
"I LOVE YOU! WILL YOU FORGIVE ME?" Tears welled-up in his eyes and he said, "You are not getting this back." He took the note book. Those words were never heard in our home as we grew-up.
This is SO good. I am not in quarantine, but working at a refugee center where around 250 men are now confined due to the virus. Our tiny team relies on
volunteers, all the more now, and most of our regulars have needed to stop coming. However, there are MANY new volunteers coming because all of a sudden their schedules are free and they are permitted to reach out. This is a HUGE blessing in these days. Yes, toenails are indeed being trimmed in countless ways, and everyone is smiling at the end of the day despite the lack of freedom.
I just called up my local fire department and asked if they needed masks. Now I'm rounding up manly fabrics to make masks for 16 men who serve my community. It takes effort to reach out and call or email, but my world is always enlarged when I do.
Early on in this stay-at-home season, I asked our sweet mailman if he needed a mask. He was kind of stunned that someone would offer. I made him two nice ones, and he gave me a CD of his Southern Gospel quartet--which happened to have three of my favorite Southern Gospel songs on it! He's always been cheery and kind to my children, and now we know he's a fellow believer and we're even better friends. After this is over, we're going to invite him and his wife over for supper.
This season is a wonderful time to reach out to people. Most people are lonely and scared, and they're more open to kindness and friendship.
What a beautiful, lovely thing for her to do. It makes me weep.
I once took a high school class on a missions trip to Trinidad (meaning we tried to be as low maintenance as possible and maybe do some pathetically tiny good while we were there), and one of our targets was a local charity hospice.
On entering, we saw ten sleeping women scattered around the room on cots. Each was badly crippled and in such distorted condition that some almost weren't recognizably human. The kids were a little daunted about how to approach them.
And we found that, as you approached any one of the women and gently spoke, that the heavy eyelids would open, and a beautiful smile would wreath her face. And, invariably, in a thick Trinidadian accent, she would say, "Good Day! Are you well?"
Only two were unresponsive, so I was greeted eight times with the same smiling question. "Good Day! Are you well?" And with royal dignity, each of these infirm daughters of the Most High gave audience to our teenagers, listening and smiling and nodding. We were all undone. Not one of us left the same person as when we entered.
Your friend who tended the nails of the dying was extending great dignity to them during a rampantly undignified season. But I know that SHE also left realizing that the King had dignified HER in a deep, deep way by allowing her to honor those who He was about to take home. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants.
I really do not have adequate words to thank you, but I will try.
Your insight and revelations have changed my life in a big way over the period since the Holy Spirit led my to SLG. I am constantly amazed at how the Lord works and how wonderful He is, above anything that we can think or imagine.
You were born for this period in time, coming through trauma and pain like refined silver, to lift up so many in a humble way that is actually supernatural. Teaching and sharing in a way that it is both milk and meat.
The app is a constant wonder to me.
I appreciate you and your ministry very much.
May you and your family be blessed!
This is a great article, which highlights a few interesting dynamics. One of the "secret sauces" simmering on the back burner of the stove of my recent history, is permission. I've never had much of it in my life and when I did come across some, in times past, I was like a toddler weilding a firehose. Everyone and everything, got wet. In this article you're providing a micro-permission to regard the smallest acts of service, as lifegiving. That cuts against the grain of culture. I'll take it though. Recently I've increased my indulgence in the hobby of photography and as I've shared some of my captures on Instagram and bookface, I've been told in numerous comments how people have enjoyed my sharing them. They have served as a break for some, from the harsh reality of not being able to do what you'd like and the yammering carnival of idiots who are secretly glad for that. I hope I'm right in presuming that, according to this article, they are akin to dropping off a little gift of; This actually happened and someone I'm connected to was there to capture and share it. According to this article, I also have permission to think of it that way. If that's true, I wish everyone thought that way.
Such a beautiful and timely message! I receive it with joy and thanksgiving! Onward and upward! God continue to bless you brother. You are a blessed gift. Thank you for loving God, His people, and continuing to seek Him and choosing to share out of the overflow and abundance with us!
Rich blessings to you in the mighty and glorious Name of Jesus!
Its giving "a cup of water" isnt it.
Thanks, Arthur. Insightful and timely.
Yes..total agreement....I've been calling or texting my clients every few days that I can not see right now....I feel grateful for our techology today that allows such instant ability to stay in touch and to encourage and to even make them laugh!
Thank you Authur