you let me down again

Disclaimer: This is a difficult subject for me to write about since both of my parents are alive and well and read this blog regularly. But this blog and what I write isn’t always about me–above all it is about the things that we all go through and deal with as humans, and the good that can come out of understanding the complexity of the human experience.

How can people who share the same DNA be so different? How can the people who raised you, who literally gave you life, who taught you everything that you know, etc. feel like such distant strangers sometimes?

I don’t know a single person who has never been let down by their parents. But I think it is important to acknowledge that we have let them down too, that we all let people down in all relationships. Sin has separated us from God, but it has also separated us from each other and because of that we will always be less than our best to each other.

There is something about the parent-child relationship that is particularly difficult to cope with, though. I think it must have something to do with your mom or dad being your first “savior,” the one who picked you up when you fell, the one who provided for you when you couldn’t provide for yourself. Or maybe you saw that in other peoples’ parents and resented your own for not being so selfless. Selflessness, of course, is a choice–a way of life, a habit. It does not come naturally to us. And even when we practice selflessness daily, we’ll never hope to be perfect in it because we are not perfect–and neither are our parents.

A dear friend pointed out to me today that no matter how well or how poorly our parents show us love, it can never compare to the way that God shows us love. Parents, bless them, are still human–whether they or their children are willing to admit it. And as such, they are broken, are prone to failure, and, despite all magnimous efforts, love conditionally. God’s love, however, is unconditional. The best that we humans have to offer is but a tiny reflection of the perfect example of God’s love for us through the sacrifice of Jesus. He set the example of complete selflessness.

My church is starting a 7 to 1 campaign to connect 1 child with 7 adults that they can count on for spiritual guidance. In looking back on my time growing up in church, I realize I didn’t have that. I could choose to resent that fact or I could choose to let the past be history rather than baggage and to forgive my parents, my family, my friends, and myself 7 times 70 times.

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, when my fellow believer sins against me, how many times must I forgive him? Should I forgive him as many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, you must forgive him more than seven times. You must forgive him even if he wrongs you seventy times seven.'” –Matt 18:21-22 NCV

7×70 by Chris August

I’ve been living in this house here
Since the day that I was born.
These walls have seen me happy
But most of all they’ve seen me torn.
They have heard the screaming matches
That made a family fall apart.
They’ve had a front row seat for the breaking of my heart.

Seven times seventy times.
I’ll do what it takes to make it right.
I thought the pain was here to stay
But forgiveness made a way.
Seven times seventy times.
There’s healing in the air tonight.
I’m reaching up to pull it down,
Gonna wrap it all around.

I remember running down the hallway, playing hide and seek.
I didn’t know that I was searching for someone to notice me.
I felt alone and undiscovered.
And old enough to understand
Just when I’m supposed to be learning to love
You let me down again.

I lost count of the ways you let me down
But no matter how many times you weren’t around
I’m alright now, cause
God picked up my heart and helped me through
And shined light on the one thing left to do
And that’s forgive you, I forgive you.

Seven times seventy times if that’s the cost I’ll pay the price.

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who says?

Who says you can’t go home again? Who says you can’t go back? The same people who say clichés are better than original ideas…

“The Plan,” my plan, was never to go back home. But, two months ago, that is exactly what I found myself doing.

I moved back to my hometown, back into my mother’s house, back to a place where the streets and the houses are familiar. I expected as much. And I was more than a little bummed at the prospect of what I believed to be starting back at the beginning in many ways. What I didn’t expect was to find unfamiliar faces and unfamiliar feelings of belonging in a place I’d called ‘home’ for 18 years of my life, so much so that this place has become ‘home’ again for very different reasons.

I know this city. I grew up here. I know all the good short cuts, the best local wateringholes, etc. These things are all the same. The people are not, however. I never expected ‘home’ to feel so fresh, new, unchartered, or exciting. This is at once the home I grew up with and a brand new one I’m experiencing for the first time. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the geography.

I had another ‘coming home’ experience recently. I visited a city and a country that I was able to call home for only a short time. Reconnecting with old friends felt like making new ones, where only the scenery had remained the same. But I have learned that grace is bigger than our differences, bigger than the time and space that separate us–big enough to turn strangers into friends over and over again.

But having that background friendship enabled some of the richest conversations, what I like to call ‘soul dredging,’ that I’ve experienced in a while. My heart really thrives on times like those and I will continue to cherish that time. Since I moved back home, things had begun to look very black and white, finite, and sure. But on that trip back to what once was home to see people who once were strangers and had since become the dearest of friends, I let all the color into my life that I had been missing out on. It was just what I needed to rejuvenate my soul, but who knew?

Why does this happen? Why do I continue to find the best life in the in between spaces, where I am least inclined to find it? I still don’t know. I count it among the many unfathomable mysteries that grace has authored in my life. And, like most of what I can’t explain in my life, it is very, very good.

We have lived separate lives, my friends and my home and I. We’ve experienced different people and different things which have irrevocably changed our spirits. Why should we still seek friendship in one another? Why should I find a different kind of ‘home’ in the same place with different faces? Why should we still find something within us that binds us together as kindred spirits? The answer isn’t logical. But to me, it is simple.

Grace. Grace forever and always, abounding and boundless. Grace helps us hold on to the things we didn’t know we’d lost.

no apologies

During a recent outbreak of severe weather, I found myself  huddled in the basement with only my computer and the dogs for company. With nothing better to do, I began to clean out my email inbox which was beginning to look a little full. In the process of deleting old newsletters and updates, shipment confirmations and time-sensitive information which has since come and gone, I came across some old correspondences from upwards of a year and a half ago.

What I found was something similar to cleaning out an old desk drawer. I found emails in my own words written in a voice I didn’t recognize anymore. Some of them made me cringe and think: “That was a really dumb thing to say,” “I can’t believe I ever cared about stuff like that,” and “I should have used spell check.”

Looking through these old emails and hearing an echo of my former self reminded me of when I used to keep journals as a child. They never lasted for very long; I would write a page or two and then get bored with it. When I would find them later on I used to throw them away, embarrassed at my poor handwriting, seemingly stupid subject matter, or lack of relevance.

But I have learned, since beginning this blog, that my mistakes in writing (much like my mistakes in life) can’t really be thrown away. They are an irreplaceable part of who I am today as a person and as a writer. I don’t write the way I used to and that is a good thing. But I will not apologize for the mistakes I made along the way, and I am learning how to appreciate them rather than simply tolerate them.

Those emails and journals still make me cringe, but now I recognize that they are a part of me now as much as they were a part of me then. They are a reflection of a former self and they cannot be erased, as much as I would sometimes like them to be. And that is just the nature of beast we call ‘growing up.’

I mean, really, how can you judge how far you’ve come if you can’t see where you started?

dear Judas

To all the Judases out there, I have a request. Please, for the love of all things holy, stop what you’re doing.

First, a little background:

Who was Judas? Judas was the disciple of Jesus who sold him out to the Jewish priests (who had accused Jesus of heresy and treason) for 30 pieces of silver. Peter may have denied Jesus 3 times, but Judas gave Jesus’ enemies the initial tip. He was the inside man, the informant.  

Apparently during all of his time walking around with Jesus and listening him teach, he didn’t hear a word of it. In one ear and out the other. He spent time with the man, and he appeared to support his work by all accounts. But it is important to note one key difference between Judas and the other disciples: nowhere in the Bible does it ever record Judas and Jesus having a substantial conversation.

What this infers is that Judas didn’t spend very much of his time getting to know Jesus at all. He watches and obeys for a while, but he does not truly know the character of the man he follows and claims to act on behalf of.

All this talk of Judas brings to mind Westboro Baptist Church and Anders Breivik, the main inspirations for this post. Westboro Baptist Church is often in the news for their picketed protests, which include soldier’s funerals and anything relating to homosexuality. Anders Breivik is the Norwegian man who detonated bombs and opened fire at a youth camp in Norway in part because of a crusade against Islam.

A friend of mine recently said to me, in response to Westboro’s recent activities, that “Christians aren’t helping their cause” and it saddens me to say that he is right. In Matthew 26:24-25, Jesus says, “But how terrible it will be for the person who hands the Son of Man over to be killed. It would be better for him if he had never been born.’  Then Judas, who would give Jesus to his enemies, said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, surely I am not the one, am I?’ Jesus answered, ‘Yes, it is you'” (NCV).

People like Breivik and Westboro are the modern-day Judases, betraying and crucifying Jesus all over again. And that makes those of us who know Him well hurt deeply on behalf of ‘the cause,’ which should be to show the love of God in our actions toward others. But I also feel the need to say that you don’t have to wield a gun or picket a funeral to be considered a Judas…

Max Lucado, I think, says it best: “A church will never die from the immorality in Hollywood or the corruption in Washington. But it will die from corrosion within—from those who bear the name of Jesus but have never met him and from those who have religion but no relationship”

We are not at liberty to decide whether or not someone else has made a choice to follow Jesus, which is an intensely personal committment, so I can’t say that the affiliates of Westboro Baptist Church or Anders Breivik aren’t Christians. But I can definitively say that they don’t yet fully know the character of the God they claim to represent.

Jesus’ main message was that of love and there is no hate in love, period. Christians are people who understand the teachings of Jesus and choose to emulate Him. By that definition, not all who claim to be Christians actually will be.

So beware the Judases.

the problem of pain

How quickly we forget the feeling of pain once we’ve healed from the hurt.

I am now at a place in my life where I am not debilitated by pain. But it wasn’t always this way. I have lived through events and experiences that, at the time, I honestly thought would kill me. Who can say they haven’t experienced that feeling at some point? The point is I lived through it. I always woke up the next morning, even when I went to sleep the night before fully believing that I would never have the strength to lift my head from the pillow again; even when I earnestly prayed not to have to wake up at all.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about God’s hand in our everyday human lives. Some people think God is the great puppet master, controlling everything that we do and experience. I don’t. God is all-powerful, yes, but that doesn’t mean he is all-controlling. C.S. Lewis in his book The Problem of Pain puts it this way: “His Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to him, but not nonsense. This is no limit to his power.”

How I was ever able to get out of the pit of my own sorrows is nothing short of a miracle. I did all the right things: I tried to take my mind off of it, I went to therapy, I poured all of my energies into my work, I took up a new hobby or two–but no matter what I did the pain still lingered and there were always times when I was dangerously left alone to face my demons. So how did I ever get over it?

I believe God gave us highly functioning brains and free will for a reason. I couldn’t have healed from the pain in my life without the ability to reason. But I now realize that reason alone wouldn’t have done it either; I could never have fully recovered by thinking my way out. When you’re hurting that much, you can’t see the big picture; you aren’t thinking clearly. When you hurt so bad you can’t breathe, where does the strength to carry on come from?

Looking back, I can’t tell you what force compelled me to wake each morning when I no longer had the will to get better. I can’t put a finger on what would compel me to stop crying mid-sob, rest my swollen eyes, and sleep. I honestly don’t know how I was ever able to get free of the grip of pain and suffering. I don’t know where the light at the end of the tunnel came from when I had lost all hope.

I have learned that human beings can only go so far in their understanding of the world and of their lives and then comes God. I am now able to see that I healed through nothing of my own doing. I did all I could. And then God stepped in. I don’t know how He did it, but I know that the power to get up and move forward could not have come from my own will, not when I was in that state.

There are things in this world that I can’t explain, forces at work in my life and in the lives of others that I can’t begin to understand. And I choose to see God in those things. My life is not in the hands of some nameless, random order of the universe. There’s no way. Something intelligent is at work behind the mysteries of the world, of my own life. When I no longer have the answers, I choose to attribute the resolution of the problems to God.

What other explanation could there be?

progressive Christianity

What an oxymoron, right?

Some say that Christianity and the Bible represent an archaic belief system that has no place in our modern world. On the whole, I would have to say that I agree with this statement but only because of the way some Christians chose to interpret the Bible and the teachings of Jesus.

It is true that God is the same yesterday and today, now and forever. But I am coming to find that the God ‘who was and is and is yet to come’ is that way because there is no part of his personality that doesn’t fit into the human experience.

The major recurring themes you see throughout the Bible–the covenant (promise), grace, justice, redemption, unconditional love–are universally recognizable to human beings across time, space, and situation. I may not have ever met anyone from Thailand or Indonesia, but I’m pretty sure that it is a universal trait in humankind to perceive and acknowledge these particular themes in our lives, or at least the inherent need for them to exist.

I mean think about it: would God create human beings with the ability to evolve and grow if He wasn’t capable of being understood by them at every stage of development and level of society? Or maybe I should have said, ‘could’ He?

So what’s the point of all this? The argument that as humans evolve, grow, and change so does their society, and so does their understanding of their God. Actually no, a better way to put that would be to say that as humans change, their relationship to their maker should change, evolve, and grow along with it. Basically, God is big enough to be recognized on all levels of human understanding.

The problem: religion. Organized religion resists change simply by virtue of the fact that it requires subscribing to certain absolutes. If religion was anything but black and white, how could it ever claim to have the right answers to anything?

So when I stumbled upon this website called “The Center for Progressive Christianity” (linked under the ‘Words of Wisdom’ column to the right), I was impressed with what I found. I could tell you what they believe, but check out the picture at the bottom for yourself to see their 8 points in list form. I could talk about each one of these points in detail, but my favorite one is number 5: “Find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is more value in questioning than in absolutes.” Because honestly, if you’re going to live your life for someone else (God),  shouldn’t you know all there is to know about Him? Shouldn’t you be able to ask why, and expect to find the answer?

If there is one thing I’ve learned in the past year or two it is that my God is too big to be boxed in by religion. Plain and simple.

I’ve also learned that some people need a set of rules to feel in control of their lives, and can identify with what the major religions of the world have to offer. Some people are content to stay where they are, accept that there are things they can’t know and are willing to keep their heads buried in the sand.

I’m not one of those people, however. And I am happy to discover that there are others out there just like me who believe that nothing is off limits when it comes to discovering and learning about the God of the universe.

 

“Every sect is a certificate that God has not plainly revealed his will to man. To each reader the Bible conveys a different meaning.” –Robert Green Ingersoll

one day at a time

Today I Will Make a Difference
by Max Lucado

Today I will make a difference. I will begin by controlling my thoughts. A person is the product of his thoughts. I want to be happy and hopeful. Therefore, I will have thoughts that are happy and hopeful. I refuse to be victimized by my circumstances. I will not let petty inconveniences such as stoplights, long lines, and traffic jams be my masters. I will avoid negativism and gossip. Optimism will be my companion, and victory will be my hallmark. Today I will make a difference.

I will be grateful for the twenty-four hours that are before me. Time is a precious commodity. I refuse to allow what little time I have to be contaminated by self-pity, anxiety, or boredom. I will face this day with the joy of a child and the courage of a giant. I will drink each minute as though it is my last. When tomorrow comes, today will be gone forever. While it is here, I will use it for loving and giving. Today I will make a difference.

I will not let past failures haunt me. Even though my life is scarred with mistakes, I refuse to rummage through my trash heap of failures. I will admit them. I will correct them. I will press on. Victoriously. No failure is fatal. It’s OK to stumble… I will get up. It’s OK to fail… I will rise again. Today I will make a difference.

I will spend time with those I love. My spouse, my children, my family. A man can own the world but be poor for the lack of love. A man can own nothing and yet be wealthy in relationships. Today I will spend at least five minutes with the significant people in my world. Five quality minutes of talking or hugging or thanking or listening. Five undiluted minutes with my mate, children, and friends.

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