In last week’s episode 8, I was going to comment at the end about my interview with Charley and Ruth Shirley, but our executive producer, Carol thought that would detract from what they had to say. So rather than prattle on (Carol hates prattle), she suggested I put my comments in the show notes, which I did.
At the end of the show I mentioned that today’s episode would be about the four levels of relationship skills, which I’ve been looking forward to discussing.
But in our production meeting this week on the top floor of our international headquarters here in New Berlin, Wisconsin, Carol suggested we put that off to next week, and instead for today, I should share those observations I had about the interview last week with Ruth and Charley. I so often don’t know what I’m doing, but Carol does, so I’m going to trust her judgement and go with her instincts.
The more I reflect on that interview, the more it strikes me how it’s a wonderful example of what great relationships look like. It illustrates principles that would be helpful for all of us to consider in our relationships.
You don’t necessarily have to have listened to the interview in episode 8, but it would be more powerful if you could, if you have not already done so. You can also go back and listen after this episode. But I’ll summarize parts of it as we who along today.
The interview last week started with me reading a Facebook post from my friend Charley Shirley that he wrote in September 2012 about his wife and youngest daughter. I’ll just read what he wrote; it’s not long. Charley writes the following:
“I absolutely cherish my wife, Ruth. About five weeks ago she and my youngest daughter were driving back from the East coast where they had just dropped off my oldest daughter at graduate school. As they drove west they passed through Youngstown, OH.
“The city is a special place and holds some of my most cherished memories of my life. Youngstown is where my first wife, Bev, was from and where we got married one bright sunny September day almost thirty years ago. We went on our honeymoon and a couple weeks later we were back at our home in Dallas, TX.
“Tragically, late one Saturday night just five months after the wedding, we were driving home from a Bible study. A drunken driver lost control of his truck and broadsided our car. Bev was critically injured and after lingering in a coma for six days died from her injuries. The funeral was back in her home town – Youngstown, OH and that is where she was buried.
“Several years ago I was talking to my youngest daughter about Bev and mentioned that if she was ever near Youngstown to please go by the grave and pay her respects. So Lucy and Ruth found the cemetery and located Bev's grave.
“The marker was overgrown with grass and Ruth, ever the gardener, worked diligently to make it tidy.
“So, while Ruth clipped weeds and grass, Lucy snapped this picture. I cried when I saw it. Ruth cleaning Bev's grave marker.”
So that’s the Facebook post that caught my eye, including the photo that Charley shared. Fast forward six years later to late 2018 when I interviewed Charley and Ruth. I’ll summarize the interview, which you can hear in its entirety in Episode 8.
I asked Ruth and Charley what the story behind the Facebook post was like for each of them. Charley started by talking about Lucy calling him at work while she and Ruth were near Youngstown, Ohio to get directions to find the grave, which was a bit of a challenge. Anxious to get home from their thousand mile road trip, Ruth spoke about initially not wanting to stop. But she knew it would mean a lot to Charley, and also to their youngest daughter. So she did.
Once they found the grave marker, Ruth cleaned it up with the only thing she had – her car keys. While she did, Lucy snapped a picture of Ruth cutting weeds and grass from around the grave marker. Ruth talked about how this moment deeply affected her and Lucy, how they both cried, and how Ruth described it as standing on “Holy Ground.” Ruth also talked about the profound effect this had on Lucy.
Charley talked about the shadow that Lucy cast while taking a picture of her mother cleaning the grave marker. He saw a connection in this shadow between Lucy and Bev, as they were both the second child of their respective parents. He summed it up best when he said the point of this story for him was about healing. How what his 2nd wife, and 2nd daughter, did to honor his first wife brought closure to a tragedy that happened over 30 years ago.
That was the interview in a nutshell.
I came away from our time together with several important lessons and principles about relationships that would serve all of us well if we practiced them in our relationships.
1. Healing often takes time. Sometime a long time. It had been over 33 years since Charley’s first wife, Bev, had died. And this graveyard story of a few years ago contributed to Charley’s healing. We need to be patient with others and ourselves with the time it takes to heal. For Charley, and for some of us, the healing comes from clarifying what our future holds.
2. It pays to listen well to people, especially the people closest to us. On the way home from Connecticut to Wisconsin, Lucy REMEMBERED what her dad had said, “If you ever are near Youngstown, Ohio…..” Lucy had a holy curiosity about her dad’s past. She asked about Bev. She wanted to know, because she realized that this particular relationship is an important part of his life. And her relationship with her dad is an important part of hers.
3. To care well usually takes sacrifice. I felt for Ruth in this story. After moving your daughter into a 3rd floor apartment on a hot summer day, and then start off on a thousand mile road trip back home, and then to take a time-consuming detour to look for the grave of someone you never met, well that’s sacrifice.
4. Sometimes the best care we can provide is when we have limited resources and don’t know what to do. Ruth and Lucy had difficulty finding the cemetery, and then the grave. But the difficulty didn’t stop them. All they had were car keys. Ah, the car keys.
5. It’s okay when our first inclination is to not inconvenience ourselves for the sake of another. That’s normal. Ruth was very transparent in saying she felt guilty about her initial reaction. What is beautiful is when we move past our first thoughts because we know we can honor and bless someone if we don’t give in to our basic human preference for convenience. Hats off to Ruth!
6. God at times uses symbols within events to let us know he loves us, cares for us, and that he is there for us. The picture of Lucy’s shadow over Ruth cleaning Bev’s grave marker. Ruth cleaning up what others have ignored. For Charley, it “closed the loop,” as he put it.
Lucy’s shadow in the picture represented the future he wondered about over 30 years ago. Because he was able to move well through his grief after that tragic event happened, he was able to re-marry. He was able to have children, one of whom cast a shadow over both the current and former wife. Lucy’s shadow connected the three of them to bring closure to the tragedy that happened so long ago
7. We really are all connected to each other, if for no other reason than we all come from the same source, God himself. Some day in eternity we will see all these connections, some of which we don’t quite understand in this life. For those of us with a relationship with Jesus, we will see Bev one day, and I bet she will thank Charley for sharing the story of their 21 months together. She will thank Ruth and Lucy for honoring her the day they cleaned off her grave marker. And all of us will give thanks to the Lord for the relationships he gave us, which if we look carefully enough, we’ll see, all point directly back to him.
8. There are things God is doing in our lives that at times we just cannot explain. Why did Charley survive the car accident and Bev didn’t. The feeling of “Holy Ground” that Ruth talked about over Bev’s grave. Lucy feeling a connection with Bev, her father’s first wife. Unrelated to her by blood, but somehow related by spirit in ways we cannot explain.
Shadows really do connect us.
Before I close, here’s the he main take-away from today’s episode, our show in a sentence
We can be agents of healing when we listen well, when we inconvenience ourselves, and when we use the limited resources available to us.
To respond to today’s episode, how might God be preparing you to be an agent of healing in one of your relationships? Where do you need to sacrifice your needs in order to help someone find closure to a difficult part of their life?
Coming up next week
In next week’s episode we’ll talk about four levels of relationship skills. Relationships require skill, and the good news is that anyone with the right heart can learn those skills if they want to. We’ll show you how.
Quote of the Week
Life only really begins when it ends here on earth, that all that is here, is only the prologue before the curtain goes up.
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Resource mentioned on today’s show
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