Christian life


The past couple of weeks have been stressful and I have been extremely emotional. As I have drawn closer to God, my mind has been attacking my peace, and my once-pleasant demeanor has been covered in clouds of sadness and confusion. This whole Out There thing is overwhelming.

I mean, I put myself out there, and my mind keeps bringing up the past — recent and distant — and I allowed myself to have expectations. As much as I say I want to trust in the Lord, I find that I have been more people/ person-focused than God-focused during this waiting period. As a Christ-follower, I know that there’s nothing worse than to be person-focused, so I have been struggling.

But then I started thinking about the waiting. The waiting is brutal. Waiting on someone else to come to the same decision I have. Waiting on someone to try to see what I already see. Waiting on someone to give more credence to the good years and not the bad year. Waiting on someone to decide, to choose, to apologize, to forgive, to try…

Waiting is rough, especially when you are waiting on a person. And that’s when the light bulb flashed on.  God has called on His children to wait… yes, but to wait on Him. The Bible says to Wait on the Lord and be of good courage. It does not say Wait on this person, or wait on that person. God says to wait on Him, and that realization has made the difference for me.

I believe in my heart and mind that God is in control, and that nothing happens without God’s knowledge or without God allowing it to happen. He allowed Job to lose everything, and to be restored. God allowed Lazarus to die, and to be restored. God allowed the pain and the healing, the sadness and the joy, the death and the birth, the despair and the hope. God has allowed it all, and that is why I can do nothing but wait… and trust.

So I will continue to wait, but now I am waiting on God and God alone. I’m waiting for His peace to cover me, for His comfort to surround me, and for His plan to be laid out for me. There is no person who has my heart and my future in his hands. God’s got me. He’s not dangling His love or His promises or His plan. He knows my weaknesses, my shortfalls, my sins, my pains, my joys, my strengths, my mistakes, my everything, and yet He still deems me worthy of His love and His time and His plan. He’s reaching for me with open arms, welcoming me to Him, forgiving my wrongs, championing my strengths, leading me to a life rich in His love.

God is so good.

Isaiah 40:31 —But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.

Ps. 27:13-14– I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.

Lamentation 3:25 —  The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
To the soul who seeks Him.

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I’m out there… I put myself out there and I am scared as hell… scared enough to use the words scared as hell. I am determined to keep my eyes up and focused on God, and I will continue to take care of myself regardless of what comes next.  I am out there.

As a writer, my goal is always to be out there, to lay my soul on the table, and deal with what comes. I think that’s one reason why I took a far too long hiatus. My heart has been heavy for a number of years… for a variety of reasons. I’ve often said that I love hard and deep. When I love, it is fierce, and I love a lot of people. I love my parents, my sibs, my extended family, my dear friends, my godbabies, and even a few who don’t appear to love me anymore. I ache when they hurt, when they are sick, when they are struggling, and I cheer when they are trying, when they are fighting, and when they are happy. And even though I haven’t mastered the art of loving without ever making mistakes, I will continue to love the best way I know how.

So, I’m out there, and it is hard, and each day gets harder. I cling to my faith in God during this struggle, and I am so often reminded that God is so very faithful to me. God has picked me up from the ground where despair was my only constant, and His love has not failed me.

In the summer of 2013, my family was hit with some hard news that would engulf us for years to come, though we had no inkling of the full extent at that time. I was on vacation with my husband in Key Biscayne, Florida, and despite the beautiful surroundings, my heart was so heavy, and I was slowly becoming undone. One of the things I did on that vacation was to sit on the balcony and look at Biscayne Bay in the distance. I could see these colorful buildings all the way down the coastline — pinks, and greens and blues — and the cloudless sky, and the refreshing water of the bay. It was so peaceful, so I would sit and pray and cry and pray.

One day as I was sitting on the balcony looking across the bay, I noticed that the sky was slowly getting darker above the colorful buildings I’d been watching. There were boats in the bay, and the water started to look a bit aggressive, and it was clear that we were in for an early afternoon storm. I remained on the balcony, observing all that was happening. The wind picked up, the dark sky started masking the colorful buildings, the boats in the bay started moving closer to the other side. From where I sat, I could see rain in the distance, but my side of the bay was dry. Southern Florida is known for short bursts of rainstorms. For more than a few minutes, I didn’t think that the storm was going to even affect our side of the bay. (Just call me Pollyanna…)

Eventually, the darkness and the storm were so intense that I could no longer see across the bay. It was as if there was an impenetrable wall of weather that was set to do nothing but destroy the other side of the bay. Meanwhile, where I stood, the rain and the wind were showing more force on our side of the bay. I should have gone inside to the room if only to save my hair from the madness of the humidity, but I remained on the balcony. The storm came closer, and I slowly backed up, but I remained outside mesmerized by the storm. Ultimately, I moved to the corner of the balcony closest to the door — the only spot that remained dry.

I vividly remember marveling at what I was seeing at the time. I had been praying and crying over what I didn’t know was ahead of me and my family, and I was asking God for a miracle … a miracle of unknown dimensions, a miracle I couldn’t even define at the time.

The storm eventually stopped. People were no longer running for cover. The water in the bay was back to the peaceful flowing. The sun was bright and hot. And as I ventured from the safety of my corner, and moved towards the railing of the balcony, I looked across the bay and I was amazed. The brightly colored buildings were even brighter than before the storm, once again showing off! The sky was clear. It was just gorgeous… almost as if no storm had come at all. The only evidence that a storm had even come through the area was the presence of a few displaced branches and abandoned bikes in the resort, and a huge rainbow across the skyline.

I thank God that I had the presence of mind to stay on that balcony for the duration of the storm. I am so glad that I took pictures during the entirety of the experience, because I have a record of this event that had such an impact on my mind from August 2013 to this very moment. I never doubted that the whole event — from peaceful view to the storm to the bright sunshine — was God presenting me with a sign of His power and grace. At the time and for years after, I believed the sign was specific to the situation with my brother.  I repeated the story to him, to our family, to his friends, and to others as proof that God had a plan for what was to come, for what we were going to endure. I truly believed that though a storm was coming and things would look bleak, that God would make a way, and it would be as if the storm had never happened. That event was powerful for me.

I never shared any of this with the one person who would have understood me better had he known what I was going through, and now, as our lives have taken an unfortunate path, I wish that I had. I wish that we could have been looking at the same symbol of hope.  I now understand that the storm in Key Biscayne was not solely about a singular finite situation.  I now understand that God was showing me a sign and lesson that was deeper than the small frame on which I was focused at the time.  There will always be storms, and sometimes the intensity of the storms will cloud our views — views of the beautiful, views of the possibilities, views of what is far, and views of what is near. We may want to run inside to avoid the discomfort and potential frizzed out hair, but if we can just trust God to put us in a place to watch Him work, we will be rewarded with something beautiful and unexpected.

I am waiting on God to end the storms. I’ll admit, I did not anticipate such a long storm or so many storms. I have ventured from the safe space a few times, and the wind and the rain have pounded me, but I am back in the safe space. I know that God still has my heart. I know that whatever happens at the ending of these storms, God is still in control. He’s helped me grow and learn to trust Him and His ways. He’s also worked enough in my life that I understand that the miracles I think I’m praying for may or may not be in His plan. I truly have no idea.

I am out there, but I am not alone. God’s got me.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m starting to understand that I need to go to church more often. More to the point, I need to go to what I consider to be “my” church more often, not just for the sound preaching and the purely selfless worshiping. Those are great reasons, but what my spirit needs, is crying out for, is the reminder that God can work out any and all situations for His good no matter what the situation looks like to you or anyone else. And one of the my fondest examples of God’s faithfulness is in the life of my dear friend … let’s just call him Jay.

I love seeing how God has worked things out for Jay, and the character with which he has carried himself through it all, especially since I know, at least in part, the road that he has traveled in recent years. Though I’ve known him for over 20 years, I only got to know him in the past 4 years when we were both at Jonestown Revisited. God has absolutely gifted him with more talents than most people could ever handle, and it’s a blessing to watch his natural use of those gifts. His incredible musical talent coupled with his bizarre sense of humor and comedic timing are only out-shined by his unashamed expressive love for Christ.

It is, however, something else about my friend that has inspired my writing today.  He, like myself and far too many others, was a casualty of the madness of Jonestown Revisited. His selfless ministry was usurped by his fellow ministry team members to satisfy one talented but dreadfully insecure woman’s desperate need for accolades and attention. His talents were misused and exploited at the expense of the people sincerely trying to learn how to worship. He was lied to and about by his peers until the Lord saw fit to lead him to an actual church where his ministry could continue and expand, and his future could begin. Despite the treatment he endured, he has managed, at least from all appearances, to have moved without any sense of bitterness to a personal space where no remnants of Jonestown exist. He has managed, somehow, not to become jaded by the unpleasantness of his past experiences but instead he continues to excel in the blessings that are provided him each day. Jay is one of my favorite people on earth, and I love seeing the pure joy in his face, the freedom in his worship, the peace in his heart. Still, I am convicted every time I see him at his church because there is a part of me that’s truly envious because I am, sad to say, quite jaded when it comes to church and all that the word connotes.

Webster’s Dictionary defines jaded  as “made dull or insensitive as by excess…” and “cynically callous”, and let me assure you, that’s an unfortunate space in which to live. I used to love going to church, serving weekly and seeing people who I considered to be my extended family and friends for life. Now, getting to church, even one I like, is quite a chore and personal struggle for me.  And make no mistake, I know in my heart that the only one suffering in this jaded state is yours truly. That’s the trouble with being jaded. It only hurts you.

I carry all the memories of the wrongs I’ve experienced at the hands of church folk, and given what I experienced, I think I’m justified.

–My closest friend in the church turned out to be a missionary in training who was sleeping with several married men in the church and was using my home as the rendezvous spot while I was at work. Why would I ever want to make friends again at church?

–The tithe money was used to fund iPhones and studio time to record personal R&B CDs and, of course, to pay  legal fees for the philandering pastor who was sleeping around and making passes at married women who came to him for counseling. Why would I ever write another tithe check to a church?

–A womanizing man who hit his girlfriend and impregnated several single women in the church was made the sole male ministry leader of a single women’s group after his violent behavior was reported. Why would I ever trust church leadership to appoint godly men and women over ministries?

–The broken, bruised, disgraced loyal parishioners and leaders were left to fend for themselves after being slandered for not supporting the rampant infidelity and mismanagement of funds and spiritual gifts. Why should I ever want to be a part of a church again?

This is what I know from church. My recent past has taught me that church is a dangerous place that rejects truth, blurs the lines, condemns values, encourages moral compromise, and disregards the word of God in favor of assimilation and popularity. Jonestown Revisited taught me that people were expendable and the godly leaders were unimportant, but the truth I’m learning through Jay is that what I think I know about church is not the end of the story. With faith and submission to God, old things pass away.

Jay didn’t carry what I carried away from that place, and God has shown much favor to him. Shortly after he relocated to his new church, he met the woman that he has since married. She is selfless and funny and kind and supportive and everything I would have ever hoped my friend would find, and none of it would have happened had he let himself become jaded. They recently had a beautiful baby (who, whether he likes it or not, now has a chocolate Auntie) and a ministry that is thriving and drawing people to God.

The lesson here, and forgive me for stating the painfully obvious, is that the only ones who lose are those who choose to be jaded. Those of us who choose to believe that the evil we have seen is all that’s available to be seen are missing a world of beautiful possibilities and opportunities. We limit our experiences, we stunt our growth, we reduce our opportunities to witness the truly awesome power of God and what He can do through circumstance.

I often hear about the idea of second chances, and it’s easy to digest the cliché as nothing more than just that, a trite expression that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse. But there is a need for second chances, and not necessarily just for the benefit of those who’ve wrong us, but also for the benefit of ourselves, which is equally as important.  The story does not have to end with what went wrong; it doesn’t have to end with the hurt and the pain; it doesn’t have to leave one jaded.

In truth, when I think about things, my time at Jonestown R brought me many wonderful things, including a great hat that makes me look clever, a virtually free trip to the most beautiful country on earth, 3 years with the most precious little boy I’ve ever known (and miss terribly) and a Hottie nickname to boot,  the opportunity to meet the man of the dreams I never even knew I could dream, and a handful of rich friendly relationships, none more supportive of my writing than Laura and none more entertained by my writing than Jay himself.  With all of these wonderful gifts, I have to question the advantage of allowing myself to be jaded at all.

Perhaps it’s time to open up to what a good church might actually be like. Perhaps it’s time for all of us who are jaded for whatever reasons, however valid, to take a chance, a second chance and let ourselves be surprised by the possibilities.

Sue Monk Kidd is such an inspiration, and a reminder of a recently flickering passion of mine– that is to say, writing. I have neglected this passion, in general, and certainly in the past few weeks, but I was listening to SMK read Firstlight, and I am compelled to write.

I have no shortage of subjects, or words, for that matter. Like SMK, I am drawn to writing out my spiritual journey, in all of its madness, for the eyes of anyone interested in following, walking in, or sneaking a peak at my existence. Sundays usually spark some inner thinking for me.

I continue to venture to a familiar church for a spiritual fix, and I see myself still struggling with the idea of church. I’m looking for something more than just a church experience. I’m still wandering, really, and while I do not enjoy being without a church, my heart, mind, spirit, and sensibilities cannot handle being a part of another farce. I’ve forgiven the people at that other place because 1) God told me to, and 2) expectations of decency have to be abandoned where character is shunned. Still, as much as I long to have that part of my past ripped from my mind, it unfortunately affects how I view the Christian community or what purports to be some faction of the Christian community.

What is most disappointing about the whole tragic experience is to see how little truth and honesty are valued among supposed Christ followers. I’ve come to understand and expect that the words that come from the mouths of most people are not to be trusted at all. This is not a pleasant way to live, to expect that pastors will be predators, friends will fail, and loves will lose their minds and morals. I have been surprised, in both good and terribly disappointing ways, but what I want is to believe again in “the Jesus in the people” that cross my spiritual path.

That idea, “the Jesus in people,” is one that my estranged LKW introduced me to. I believe with every fiber of my being that the Jesus in anyone can do incredible and surprising things. I cannot believe, however, that Jesus or the spirit of Jesus is in everyone that claims Him. Nor do I believe that the spirit of Jesus is always accessed by those of us who call Him “Lord.” I know in my own life, the spirit of Jesus is sometimes hard to find, depending on the day and the circumstance, so I don’t suppose I should be as unsettled as I am. After all, we are all fallible, we all fall short of the glory of God, we all suck sometimes. I guess I’m just looking to be around people that don’t enjoy sucking, who aren’t satisfied with always falling short, who have a clear understanding that the grace of God does not mean we (or He) turn a blind eye to our failures, but instead that we seek to love Him with our whole heart, mind and soul, and to love our neighbors as ourselves, and when we inevitably fail to do all of that, He loves us anyway.

I recently had an unpleasant experience with one of my “church” neighbors. I have to admit, I was shocked by what I termed caustic behavior,  and I was disappointed in her unneighborly way because it was not at all characteristic of my past experience with her.  I crave truth, and however disappointing an experience it was, I was grateful that the blinders have been removed from my eyes. But I have come to understand, by the grace of God, that it is not she who is being unneighborly at all. I am the one who was not loving my neighbor appropriately. It is my job, my obligation to see that, regardless of what is done to me,  I am to care for those around me with the same love I pray God showers on me. That’s what neighbors (in the Biblical sense) do. What’s more, that is what the Jesus in me expects.

This recent experience was necessary for me at just this time. Crappy behavior is everywhere, at every church, so if I’m looking for the crapless church with the crapless people (with the crapless commute?), my search will be long and arduous. What has to be different, this time and from now on, is how I react, how I understand, and how I deal with what is presented to me. So for now, I’ll keep venturing to the church, but I’ll carry with me the idea, the goal, of being a good neighbor, of loving what I think is unlovely, and of trying not to suck as much as I did yesterday.  That’s where I am…today.

“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for” (Jeremiah. 29:11 MSG)

Who wouldn’t like that verse? Seriously, that is a great verse, not just because of the sentiment but because it takes all worries and planning out of our hands and into God’s. I love that verse, but if I’m completely honest (a terribly annoying habit of mine), I haven’t always found contentment with that verse. It’s hard to, really, when events within and beyond our control seem to be the only events present, and they’re not particularly enjoyable events. It helps to look at the verse in its proper context.

The children of Israel were in one of their not so great situations. They were living in exile in Babylon, and they were living under oppression, but God told them to (essentially) live like they were free. He told them not to let their lives stop just because their current circumstances were less than desirable. He says in verses 5-7, and 10:

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper…” This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place…”

Imagine living in a space that is so far from what you want, from what is comfortable, from how you thought you should be living, and having God tell you that not only will you continue in that space for some period of time, but that you need to learn to get comfortable in that space for said period of time. Clearly, that instruction would have met with a curious and confused little black girl! I think if presented with that instruction, my brows would have furrowed, my hips would have moved to one side, and G-fab Reese would have made an appearance (well, as ghetto fabulous as I’m capable of being… showtunes and all). That call to be better than our circumstances dictate is contrary to all human reasoning, really. Even if we’re able to keep from complaining, it seems like doing anything even remotely productive would be challenging at best. It’s so easy just to sit and wait idly until circumstances, rather, until God changes our circumstances to something our minds determine to be “better.”

But when you know the circumstance isn’t going anywhere for, uh… 70 years, idle waiting, not to be confused with patient waiting, is not the answer, the call or the solution. It’s kind of like God is saying, “I know you don’t like it, but it’s all for a purpose. I’m going to surprise you.” And all you can do is obey Him, knowing that He knows what He’s doing. This is the essence of faith, and faith has its own rewards.

He goes on to say in verses 12 – 14

Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. [b] I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

That’s probably my 2nd favorite part of the passage, verse 14 especially. He knows we’re in a banished, exiled state of being, rejected and shamed, but He promised to bring us back to our Jerusalem, “the place from which I carried you into exile,” the place where we once felt the greatest peace and security and strength. I suppose that my Jerusalem is actually Jerusalem, the place where I felt the most serene in recent years. My relationship with Him was so clearly defined and the closeness to Him brought about a renewed spirit, energy and overall purpose in my life. But like Peter, I took my eyes off His eyes, and I started to sink. Gracious God that He is, He pulled me up, bringing me back to “the place.”

So for me living in that space like a free person has meant a letting go of so many things, and in recent weeks I have let go (FOR GOOD) a host of situations and relationships. It’s meant a good deal of deleting and discarding — phone numbers, email addresses, emails, pictures, memories, and beliefs. It’s meant coming to the understanding that moving forward cannot be contingent upon answers and apologies, that knowing the whys and why nots doesn’t change the what is. God’s will is done, on earth as it is in heaven, and I have such a better appreciation for God’s plans for my life now that I’m out of (or at the tail end of) my exile, and that appreciation came only after I had accepted God’s call to let go and live in that space.

He did, however, allow one why to be revealed to me recently. I could have learned this information several months ago when a friend of mine wanted to share, but God knew that my heart would not have been able to handle all that comes with this knowledge in relation to my situation. Instead I learned less than a week ago that the one who really escorted me through the door to the darkest period in my life has escorted another young woman through an even more life altering door, and he handled it in a less than stellar manner. I have nothing but sympathy for the mother and child, but I praise my Lord in heaven that He spared me this fate. When I told my Nikki about this turn of events, she cried because she immediately saw the hand of God in my life. God had to rip me from a difficult situation aggressively to keep me from putting myself in a similar situation, because I wasn’t going anywhere otherwise! And I sat in the exile doing little to move on until very recently. But now I see clearly that I have a hope for a future that I had actually given up on what seems like 70 years ago.

(This is not to say that God no longer has plans for this new “family”, it’s just not a future that has anything to do with me.)

I think about my future so much these days. I think about God’s mercies new every morning. I think about my changed heart. I think about what real love looks like, feels like, acts like, and I smile knowing that my future isn’t, thank you Jesus, in my hands at all. God’s got it, and He’s revealing it bit by bit to me, cautioning me to wait expectantly on Him and His timing, all while I learn to live in this space. He knows my heart, my hope and my future. What could be better?

There is a wonderful woman in my life going through cancer. She had a tumor rapidly growing in her abdomen, and she was in horrendous pain. The doctors insisted she have surgery to remove it and several parts of her body directly affected by it. She was also told that she had to have chemotherapy for any hope of long-term survival. The tumor that had grown in her abdomen in 3 weeks was the size of a football when it was removed. She’s now preparing herself for the chemo, which, at best, will make her sick while it makes her better. She says her experience is to teach others how to go through struggle, to give praise in the midst of pain, and not to question why. Throughout everything, she’s done nothing but give God glory. She’s ready for whatever He has in store for her.

That’s how Christians are supposed to handle pain. This I understand. It is not, however, how I handled mine, but I thank God He’s been so gracious and patient with me. For me, well, I’m including writing as my way out. That’s how I describe much of my writing these days, and this post will be no different. The truth is simple, and the simple truth is that I was hurt by people and circumstances, I hung on to the pain a little too long, and I’m moving on…now. I would have loved to have healed and been able to move on long ago, but I allowed the pain of the minor and major blows against me to infect my life, which caused more damage than perhaps necessary. Wow, that really is simple. Actually, I can make it even simpler – I didn’t trust God to be all that I’ve known Him to be, and I fell into the mother of all ruts, depression, etc.

Sure, the details aren’t pretty, and I’m terribly sorry about that, but that’s what pain looks like, and Christians, of which I am one, need to stop judging one another for how we each deal with pain, and instead help one another through the pain with the Word and prayer and all that good stuff we learn on Sunday mornings and on radio shows and the books we read. Yes, watching someone go through stuff without any sort of grace (or minimal amounts) is ugly, especially when we have seen a better side of that person. And yes, behaving as the worst part of ourselves is so contrary to the way God instructs and guides us to be that it’s actually embarrassing. But what happened to loving my neighbor as myself? How often do we look at how we handle our own pain? Ride in a car with someone in hurry when there’s a backup due to an accident. We go absolutely nuts on the road because we might be late for dinner or a movie or whatever. Meanwhile, someone else has just had an accident!

I can’t say enough how much I appreciate Stephanie W’s words to me – sister to sister – about my need to forgive. That’s what standing up for Christ and what showing the love of Christ looks like. That’s what being “there” for someone looks like. Maybe her words were off the cuff in her mind (I don’t know), but God used her to light a fire up under my hind parts, and I know in my heart that the hand she held out to me was the hand of Christ reaching down into a pit I was settled in, and her voice was the inspired by our Lord to say, “You don’t have to stay here. Get out! It’s not pretty in there and you don’t have to stay.” That means something. Aren’t we Christians supposed to be the hands and feet of Christ?

The Word talks about doing the difficult thing in Luke 10:29 and following.

“…so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.

31 “By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. 32 A Temple assistant[a] walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.

33 “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. 34 Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. 35 The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins,[b] telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’

36 “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.

37 The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” NLT

Maybe it takes a relative stranger to have any impact at all. Maybe that’s why we travel the world to minister to people thousands of miles from our homes, when there’s a broken person across the street. How could anyone be trusted to care for people on the other side of the world when we aren’t willing to care for people across the street without judging them first? And what is it that we think when we see them in a state of brokenness? Is it easier to understand the brokenness in a foreign language? Or maybe it’s that the pain of our right next-door neighbor looks a little too much like our own pain.

Christians have such a bad rep these days. So much is going on in churches and around the world that makes Christians look like the worst of all offenders. We are better than that, though. We are pushing people out of the church doors and away from God, and we have no care or concern for the brokenness we’ve created and caused. We have to stop, and stop now. And we need to stop making excuses for ourselves and stop omitting parts of the Word for our own purposes. We need to turn our eyes back upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face.  We need to believe in His power to change hearts and lives. We need to get tired of sitting in that space that looks exactly like the space without Him, because if we get too comfortable, there’s a world of pain to be had.

What I hope comes from my experience is that eyes are opened to the future, not the past. Nothing can change what has happened, but we can change what we do, how we handle people, pain, experiences, etc. in the future. If we can stand in support, even when we’re not in agreement, we can help in the healing process. If we can accept that sometimes words really are enough, and that silence isn’t always golden, we can help in the healing process. If we choose to listen to a friend and NOT gossip and judge afterwards, we can help in the healing process. If we can understand that it’s enough to have someone pray for us even if we don’t actually hear them do it, we can help in the healing process. If we can choose to forgive before things get way, way out of control instead of waiting for some sort of apology or mea culpa from people who sadly are not self-aware enough to apologize for bad behavior, we can help in the healing process. But most importantly, if we can see God in all of His greatness and realize that it’s all about Him, we can be healed.

The sun is emerging again. I’ve been on this ebbing and flowing journey for what seems like have mercy too long, and so much of it has seemed to take place in a murky, winding tunnel, requiring me to learn to feel my way through a dark space for longer than I thought I could manage. Much of that darkness was detailed in my last blog, and sharing that level of detail was a struggle for me.

As a writer, words are my life’s breath, and self-expression makes my heart beat. Writing gives me energy, is my purpose, but it had been over 30 days since I had posted prior to Recon or not. Essentially, I didn’t want to put down on paper (or screen) the pain that I’ve alluded to elsewhere, for a host of reasons. I figured that I would heal by distancing myself as much as possible from the source (or the largest part of the source) of my pain, praying not quite deliberately enough to my Lord, regularly visiting with my therapist, and candidly sharing with those around me… and most of that helped.

It was the sharing, though, that tripped me up a bit. The uncensored sharing of still tender feelings can often help the healing process. The challenge arises when the hearing of my experience contrasts and even contradicts the living of another’s own experiences at the same source. It seems that speaking my pain netted me sympathetic, unbelieving, or apathetic looks, but not the spiritual direction and encouragement that my broken spirit craved. The truth is that people — friends, family, etc. – either don’t want to hear about your pain or they have no idea how to help you through your pain, regardless of any religious, familial, cultural, or gender-related connection you think you share. And retelling pain transforms pure brokenness into perpetual bitterness and a heart of unforgiveness in the minds of others and in some case in the reality of life. I was concerned about my tone and how it made me feel to really have those feelings.

But after writing and, more importantly, posting that entry, the burden I’ve been carrying became just that much lighter, and some of what has been clouding my mind started to clear a bit. I’m grateful because the clarity pushed me to resume daily Bible study, and the Word is steeped in the spiritual direction and encouragement that I, sad to say, had hoped to get from others. And I saw something sort of ironic in the Word, specifically in Job and in the book of Psalms.

Okay, so I’d actually read Psalms in the past, and for a while there, I was living off Psalm 37. Holla! But it wasn’t until I read Psalm 40 recently that I understood why I need to write down the raw truth of what I’ve gone through and am going through. Psalm 40 is like a pre-Wordpress blog from David. In it, he writes about

  • his pain and regrets (v12 “For innumerable evils have compassed me about; my iniquities have taken such hold on me that I am not able to look up. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart has failed me and forsaken me.”)
  • his enemies (v14 Let them be put to shame and confounded together who seek and require my life to destroy it; let them be driven backward and brought to dishonor who wish me evil and delight in my hurt!”)

as well as

  • his adoration for his God (v5 “Many, O Lord my God, are the wonderful works which You have done, and Your thoughts toward us; no one can compare with You! If I should declare and speak of them, they are too many to be numbered.”)
  • and God’s faithfulness (v2 “He drew me up out of a horrible pit [a pit of tumult and of destruction], out of the miry clay (froth and slime), and set my feet upon a rock, steadying my steps and establishing my goings.”) AMP

Similarly, Job speaks freely:

  • of his pain (Job 7:11 — “I cannot keep from speaking. I must express my anguish. My bitter soul must complain.”)
  • of his wish that he’d never been born (Job 14:13 – “I wish you would hide me in the grave and forget me there until your anger has passed. But mark your calendar to think of me again.”)
  • and his useless friends (Job 16:2-6:

 2 What miserable comforters you are!
 3 Won’t you ever stop blowing hot air?
      What makes you keep on talking?
 4 I could say the same things if you were in my place.
      I could spout off criticism and shake my head at you.
 5 But if it were me, I would encourage you.
      I would try to take away your grief.
 6 Instead, I suffer if I defend myself,
      and I suffer no less if I refuse to speak.”) NLT

The entire book details Job’s anguish in the midst of living in the space God allowed, his acknowledgement of the sovereignty of God, dialogues with curious friends, God’s eventual response that reiterates His overall authority, power, and will, and ends with Job’s subsequent retraction of all his complaints.

Neither Job nor David holds anything back because their God — my God – is willing to hear our raw emotion, the heart of our pain, the truth of our experience. It’s not like God can’t already hear what’s in our minds. It’s not like He’s sitting around wondering, “How’s Reese doing after leaving that church? I wonder how she’s handling the loss of those friendships. I wonder if her heart is healing at all. Oh look, she got a great deal on those Mary Janes at Loehmann’s.” God knows my heart just as He knew David’s and Job’s and yours, and it seems to me that if He didn’t want us to feel freedom to express all aspects of our hearts, He wouldn’t have given us the capacity to experience them.

Now, I don’t actually presume that Job, David and I are on the same spiritual level. And clearly, they spent more time praising God than complaining about those who hurt or wanted to hurt them. But Job got an entire book, and David got to hurl stones at the giant that was his source of contention, and watch him die, so all things considered, we’re not exactly equal. I am, however, still learning to walk with the same character that these men of God possessed, and I understand that any space away from God and that posture He instructs me to assume is not a space I need to spend a whole lot of time in.

So God and I are working together to move on to the next space. And He’s using some special people and situations for His overall glory. For instance, I went to church for the first time in a month, and the sermon presented was all about … Forgiveness. Coincidence… I think not.

Then, after the service, my friend Jon’s lovely bride Steph stopped me for a chat, and she mentioned that she had read one of my blogs. I cringed and sort of alluded to the fact that I’m working some things out on the blog and in my head, and she smiled warmly, motioned to the pulpit, and said, “Ooh … forgiveness…” and I got it.

See, sometimes you need someone to stand beside you in the mirror when you’re wearing those crazi pink Crocs to help you see how they are not working for you and you need to get something new. You don’t need people to sit by and quietly let you keep wearing them while they’re talking behind your back, and you don’t need people to tell you how good they look on you,  and you don’t need people to tell you to defy fashion and to keep wearing them, and you don’t need people who will shun you for owning pink Crocs. You need someone who will say, “Naw, sweetheart. Let me show you something different.”

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