Scars

I knew this girl a while back that used to cut herself. I didn’t really get it at the time–it kind of freaked me out, to tell you the truth. It wasn’t until much later that she explained it to me as it was a way for her to control something–some part of her life, because the rest of it was sort of a whirlwind.

I didn’t get how slicing her flesh offered her any measure of relief, but she actually seemed happier when she was doing it than when she wasn’t. It wasn’t until much later on in our rather complicated relationship that I saw the latticework of scars on her arms and legs. It took her a long time to show them to me, and she did the best she could to always hide them.

But once I saw them, I always knew they were there.

A month or so ago, I heard a song on the radio that finally gave me some measure of understanding of this girl, and her need to harm herself.

I think the song is called “Scars,” by Jonny Diaz, and the refrain goes “Praise God we don’t have to hide scars.”

The girl I knew thought she needed to hide her scars from me and the world because once we saw them we would either turn away in horror, or keep looking, and either pity her or think she was off her gourd. Either way, we would look at her differently, and never the same afterward.

She didn’t know she could trust me not to look away, until one day she did. I wanted to cry the first time I saw the scars, but I couldn’t allow myself to do it. Instead I just looked, and said something like “I’m sorry you had to do that.”

I think it’s the same with Jesus.

We don’t want to trust Him with our scars, because they hurt, or because they’re ugly, and we know that if we show them to Him, he’ll look at us differently afterward. Or maybe we feel like He’ll hurt us more once He knows what we’ve done to ourselves, or what’s been done to us by others.

The bible promises us that isn’t true. Isaiah 42:3 says “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”

I think that’s so true.

He sees us in our brokenness, and He sees our scars. He wept for us before we knew Him, and he weeps still, that we hurt.

But a bruised reed He will not break.

I don’t know if that girl I used to know ever trusted Jesus with her scars. It may be she did, and if that happened I praise God for the healing He undoubtedly brought her.

He can bring that healing to you, just as He brought it to me (anyone with a bunch of time to kill is welcome to peruse my blog if you want more details about any of that).

Just know you don’t have to hide your scars, not from Jesus, and not from the people you love.

Praise God we don’t have to hide scars…

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Worship in any language…

There’s something about worship en Espanol. I don’t know what it is. I haven’t heard that much of it, but what I have heard really conveys the passion and reverence God is worthy of so well it really makes a believer want to, well…worship. I want to thank one of our FCC worship leaders (Jorge Pantoja) for turning me onto a few songs that really sort of smacked me upside the head.

I don’t know much at all about Julio Melgar, but his song Creo En Ti makes me want to hit my knees every time I hear it. I would imagine that is precisely what Mr Melgar had in mind. Such a beautiful song of worship.

Secondly, En Espiritu y En Verdad (In Spirit and in truth) is just a flat out great band, worship or otherwise. Great musicianship, and completely spirit-filled. They have a version of the Klaus song “I Give You Glory” that is likely one of the best praise arrangements I’ve heard, in my opinion.

Of course I am not exactly what you’d call bilingual, but I like music that knocks things down in the way of barriers, and if a person or group has a real heart for worship, I believe it can transcend language, and often does.

If you have some time, look up either of the artists I mentioned on Youtube. They are on there, and worthy of your time.

I am also happy to listen to any recommendations, so send them my way…

Reality is a state of mind–or maybe absence of mind. I forget which.

I think people take their entertainment way too seriously, especially “reality” type programming. There, I said it.

Seriously, though. People talk all the time about how heartbroken they were when such-and-such a contestant was eliminated from whatever “reality” show they were part of. They’re so bad off, they can’t stop crying.

It’s the same when a beloved character is killed off on a TV drama. Oh, the humanity!

It’s even worse when an artist of some kind actually does die, whether it be from some natural cause, an OD, or some freak accident. You’d think the world was going to stop turning.

Maybe that makes me heartless, I don’t know. I would just advise people to get over it. Just because your horse got kicked off American Idol does not mean the show is any more or less entertaining. Or true, for that matter. No one with half a mind would actually think those kind of shows are really talent contests–they aren’t. They’re about how limber the texting fingers of viewers are.

They’re popularity contests, for crying out loud. There are clearly more than one or two types of music, and who is the best in any genre is entirely subjective to preference. To that end, I would submit the preferences of adolescent girls with really quick thumbs are not quite the same as people who have gotten past puberty and into adulthood with most of their intellect intact.

Good grief, people.

And does anyone really think the contestants on the Bachelor and Bachelorette shows–having shed their last vestiges of human dignity–really expect to find anything of substance from men or women whose chief qualification for “prizehood” is an aesthetically pleasing countenance and a willingness to lock lips with a couple dozen people on camera?

Zeus’s beard!!

Having said that, I did cry like a 13 year old at a Twilight Screening when Colton got eliminated.

I’m such a hypocrite.

So if these shows are our reality, what is our fantasy?

To the mothers in my life…

I have been really fortunate to have some amazing mothers in my life. It’s Mother’s day today, so I was thinking about them, and I just wanted to take a moment to recognize them and offer my very sincere thanks to all they have meant in my life.

Lila Wilkins, my mom, for showing me that it is never too late.

My sisters, Lee Ann Franc, Valorie Ausen, and Debbie Wilkins, for taking care of me, and showing me how women deserve to be treated.

My mother in law, Linda Whitson, for taking care of my boys, and teaching my wife how to be a great mother herself.

My wife, my friend, and my love, Jennifer Wilkins. For giving me two spirited and wonderful boys, and for being yourself, always.

I love you, baby.

The Gray Haired Man

We stopped at the Circle K on 24th Street and avenue B on the way home from Sunday dinner at Ken & Linda’s place last night. I had a paper to write on the Passion Week and knew I’d be up a little later than usual and would need a caffeine boost so I’d be able to retain my usual literary standard of mediocrity.

We pulled up in front of the store and I could see a few customers in line as I got out of Jen’s car. One of them was a sixty-something older gentleman with long, dirty gray hair and a straggly beard. He was an obvious homeless man by the look of him. I didn’t see what he bought, and I didn’t see him leave the store as I walked in.

I got Jen and I some drinks and as I turned to pay, I could see he was gone. David came into the store just then and told me Jen told him to come and tell me there was a man on the sidewalk outside and I should get him something.

I said OK, and stepped out of line.

I grabbed a sandwich and bottle of water from the cold case as I stood and talked to David.

“Mom said he was by the pay phone,” he said, “but I didn’t see him.”

I wondered how many other people hadn’t seen him? I probably would not have if David had not come into the store. I told David to go back to the car and I would be there in a minute.

I stepped outside and the gray haired man was sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk next to the pay phone, holding an almost-empty bottle of water. He was looking left-to-right, right-to-left and muttering unintelligibly to himself.

I crouched down in front of him and handed him the bag with the sandwich and the water. “I thought you might want something to eat.”

He looked at me almost like he was angry, and continued the muttering and whispering and darting his head back and forth. Jen told me later the woman in the car next to us told her the gray haired man “didn’t like people to help.”

“My name is Tom,” I said. He looked at me for a second and stopped muttering. He held out his hand. I shook his hand and noticed he had lesions of some kind on his face.

“I knew a guy named Tom once,” he said clearly. Then he went back to scanning and muttering.

I listened for a moment to see if he’d say anything else I could understand, and he just looked back and forth, back and forth.

“I have to go,” I said. I wished him God’s blessing and got back into Jen’s car.

As we backed out, we could see him take the cap from the new water bottle and pour a little on the sidewalk. I told Jen we used to do that if or when someone died. We’d pour out a little beer and say, “for absent friends.”

I wondered if the gray haired man poured water for an absent friend, or if he had a friend at all. Either way, I was glad I’d spoken to him, and shook his hand.

Whatever clouded his head had cleared long enough for him to reach out his hand to mine. He’d understood me, and had spoken to me so I could understand him.

He’d known a guy named Tom once. And now again.

It occurred to me once again I have not arrived yet where I need to be. I should not have needed my wife or my son to tell me someone needed help. I need to pray for better vision, and eyes to see.

I need Jesus to break my heart for what breaks his.

I plan to do my best to see people from now on, least of these or otherwise.

Everyone deserves to be seen.

CTE Sucks

I used to think that football players these days weren’t as tough as they used to be, what with all the new rules now in place that prohibit various types of hits, and protect players from certain types of injuries.

I’m beginning to realize that tough has nothing to do with it. The NFL is getting it right with protecting these men. There have been several incidents of suicide from former players over the past few years, culminating in the death of Junior Seau on Wednesday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

One commonality amongst some of the players who have died over the past few years—not just from suicide—has been chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), thought to be brought on by traumatic brain injuries such as concussions, which are extremely common in the NFL.

I’m beginning to thing much more is going to have to change in the way of protecting these men. The eyes of the public are beginning to open to CTE, and it’s my hope that athletes do not continue to die this way, or have their lives and cognitive abilities shortened because of these injuries.

I’m ashamed to say it took the death of a local sports hero—no, a local legend—to make me realize that. I realize it now, though. And as much as I enjoy football, something has to change.

That Dad

I don’t remember my father very well. He’s been gone since 1984, and sometimes it’s hard to picture his face when I think about him. He used to make these Super 8mm movies all the time and would record narration on this cassette recorder he carried like a satchel while he filmed. I don’t have the movies, but I have a few of the tapes he made, and I can hear what his voice sounded like. It’s hard to put that voice with the pictures I do have. That makes me a little sad, when I think about it. It’s also sad that he’ll never meet my wife, or my kids.

My memories of my dad take the form of a series of incidents—specific memories—rather than a continuous narrative. I always had the idea in my head that since my father and I weren’t that close, I didn’t have any of the scars, or wounds, or traumatic childhood memories that many of the kids I knew with absent fathers had to deal with. I didn’t realize how deeply my experience with my own father had affected my life until I really tried to think about it, and remember.

My experience with my dad was not abusive, by any means. Nor was he exactly neglectful in the sense that most people would define neglect. It was just not a particularly loving or nurturing relationship, though I did get that from my sisters and my mother, when she was able to give it.

I can understand the way my father was to an extent, because men of his era weren’t raised in the “touchy-feely” style of parenting you see everywhere today. They expected certain things from their children, and did not expect others. Sharing feelings was part of that. Seems to me most men coming of age in the 1930’s and 40’s simply were not raised to be in touch with their feelings, or anyone else’s. My dad did the best he could with the tools he had to work with. But he was definitely not Ward Cleaver.

He would sometimes bring me places with him, but all I can remember about that was sitting in his truck with the windows rolled up and watching him yell at people (he was a cement mason, and I got to visit a few job sites). I remember he would sometimes get so mad the big veins would stand out on the side of his neck and his face would turn red. I didn’t inherit his temper, thank goodness. I’m hoping it doesn’t skip down to John, either, though he too is very vocal when things don’t go the way he likes.

Other times Dad would take me sailing with him, which was something extremely difficult for me. Actually, I hated it, but was made to go often enough that I became resigned to it, after a fashion–seasickness was the rule rather than exception. I didn’t always puke, but I did always feel like I would be better off if I did. I could tell that it frustrated/disappointed him a little, but he never really said much about it. He had his sea legs, and I just…didn’t. I felt like I should have enjoyed myself, and something was wrong because I didn’t.

Still, I would do my best to elicit praise (or really even attention) from him whenever possible. I would bring him coffee in the mornings on weekends when I was small. I would run to the liquor store to fetch the paper. I would sometimes ask to go places with him I really didn’t even want to go just to tag along, and be with him. I remember riding to Thrifty to get ice cream with him on a couple of occasions when I was small, and sitting on the back of his motorcycle, clutching him desperately. It was thrilling and terrifying at the same time.

I see a lot of that now with David. At 7, he is possessed of a curiosity about nearly everything, and every time I leave the house, he asks if he can come along. It doesn’t matter where I’m going. And I can reach back and see myself doing the same thing with my own father. I wonder if he had the same thoughts in his head I do with David? I wonder if he struggled with the same things I do? The same doubts? Did he wonder about whether or not he was a good father, or if he was messing up his kids and teaching them the wrong things about what is important?

In any case, I can now appreciate what it’s like to be the father of a small boy at + 40 and counting. It’s not easy. And I don’t want to leave the wrong impression. There are plenty of good memories as well. Good and bad, in equal measure.

My favorite memory of my dad was when I was maybe 5 or 6, I think. I would get up early sometimes, so I would be there when he left for work. I would say, “See you later, alligator,” and he would respond, “After a while, crocodile.” Not original, I know now, but it meant a lot to me then. Sadly, the older I got, the less I would get up to see him off, and our little routine soon disappeared.

But for the most part, my efforts were of little avail. I’ve spoken to my sisters about it, and the consensus was that it was just how dad was. He would provide, but it seemed he often would not or could not provide much affection. I can’t speak for all of my siblings, but I can’t remember much but apathy from him toward my life. I was pretty much free to do my own thing. I think I would have been satisfied with even a little validation, but like many of the other things in my childhood, the only place I got it was from my sisters.

The thing that was so frustrating about that was that I wanted him to care what I was doing. I wanted it desperately, but the only time that seemed to happen was when the possibility arose of costing him some money. Like shopping for school clothes, or getting school pictures taken.

I’m sure that much of it was that his work was seasonal, and we often didn’t have much money. Regardless of the reason, what it began to feel like after a while was that I was an obligation, and should not expect to have much spent on me–time, or money, or anything else. I don’t know if that was true, but I do know that’s how it felt. I can still feel it. So I would wear old clothes that used to belong to my brother, or were obtained at thrift shops. If it was new, it usually came from one of my sisters. Dad made it very clear that he did not like to have to “waste” money on things (I know how the preceding paragraph sounds, believe me. I’m just trying for a little clarity about where much of my needs as a child ranked in the household priorities, or at least how I felt they did).

Still, Christmases were not that bad (thanks to my sisters, usually). The interesting thing about them is that they were often more like my parents growing up than my parents were. Anyway, back to my father.

I think the thing lacking most in my relationship with my dad was something I didn’t even know was missing until much later in my life, and when I did, things began to make more sense to me. Well, the plain truth was that he while he provided as best he could, he did not really father me, in the traditional sense. By that I mean doing “dad” things–I’m not implying an infidelity by any means–anyone who sees me and a picture of my dad would know I inherited more than just his road rage.

In my opinion, one the main responsibilities of a father is to raise his son, not just being there as he grows, but participating in his life, and teaching him. He, as a father, is meant to pass on knowledge, and truth. Not just throw a football around, but being there in more than a physical sense. I missed most of that. I would drive off a bridge before I would give David and John that kind of childhood.

Yet…

In a sense, I can’t blame my father that much–he was just about 40 when I came along, and probably thought he was long since done with kids. And when I got older, he was still doing a hard job at a much older age than most of the men he worked for and with. It must have been so difficult. Work was dependent on so many things, and money was tight most of the time.

One of the things I’ve struggled with most since becoming a believer is the notion that Jesus will think of me and treat me the same way my earthly father did. And that assumption helped to generate a great many lies about God, that I’m ashamed to say seemed very much like truth for much of my life.

1. He did not care about me

2. He did not mean for me to be here

3. He did not love me

4. I was not important to him

5. My wants and needs as a child did not matter to him

The Lord has been working on helping me find the truth of these statements, and others like them, which is completely opposite from what I was telling myself.

Interesting how difficult it is to separate my memories of my earthly father with my misconceptions about Jesus. It something that I continually need to refresh myself on, and in truth, it seems like it’s going to take forever. Another useful application of truth to pray for would be the realization that healing is a lifelong process. I know this, but sometimes I don’t know it.

This is something I’ve been battling for what feels like years, and I periodically find myself wandering off into the wilderness, spiritually speaking.

Sometimes I feel like God is not listening to me, and I allow myself to believe that he shouldn’t be. I feel like a little kid, following him around and pulling at his shirttails, begging for attention. The hardest part for me, more often than not, is connecting my head knowledge of God with what I know I mean to Him in my heart.

Because knowing is one thing, but feeling is another.

Lately I’ve been realizing more and more that the healing I’ve experienced is great, but I should by no means think I’ve arrived. I am not complete, and I won’t be until I stand before the Throne and Jesus says “Well done.” Hopefully.

What does Jeremiah say? “Look for me, and you will find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

I will find Him when I seek him with all my heart? Have I been seeking Him with all my heart? Have I really? Have I prostrated myself before Him in prayer, and thrown myself on the altar? Have I earnestly and truly sought his counsel? Have I asked him to be my Father?

The answer is sometimes. When I am at my most bleak, certainly. But have I been sharing the blessings of my life with Him? Of course, He knows well enough how blessed I am, but have I been going to Him in delight at what he’s shown me and done in my life? Have I been running to Him and saying, “Look, daddy, Look!”

No.

I haven’t. I didn’t do that with my dad, either.

When I look at him through my adult eyes, I see that he probably did the best he could. He loved me in the way he was capable of loving. He was not a bad person, but he was older than his years, and so very tired. And in that regard, I need to forgive him his shortcomings. I can’t believe it was so hard to really “get” that. I’ve been working on forgiving other people in my life for a long time, and it never occurred to me Dad was one of those people.

I need to confess my own shortcomings as a son as well, and ask Jesus to forgive them. I don’t know if my father is with Him or not, but I know I’ll find out one day–hopefully not for a long time. I also need to ask forgiveness of my shortcomings as a father. I see with alarming clarity how much of my father is in me now in regard to my work and my relationship with my boys.

I am spending (or expending) so much of my time and energy on my work that I have very little left when I get home. I am not an absent father, but I am often absent in the way the boys need me the most.

That’s not acceptable, not at all.

I think that’s why the movie Courageous touched me so much. It detailed with remarkable clarity the struggle of being a Christ-following father in a world that could often not care less about the edification of its children. The film deals with real issues that trouble every dad, not just Christian fathers. It’s about taking responsibility for the upbringing of your kids, and teaching them the path to follow when they’re young so they don’t depart from it when they’re older.

I told myself often when I was younger that I would never become the father my own dad was, and was not. In many ways I’ve succeeded, but I have also failed.

Thanks to scripture, and prayer, and truth being revealed to me in several ways (including Courageous), I have come to realize that it is not too late to change. It is not too late to make good on my own failures as a father, and to show my kids what God can do in a life.

I tell you this: it is not too late for you, either.

Take your doubts about yourself and about God to the Father. Find accountability as a man, and as a Christ-following father. This is—or can be—the hardest part of the whole thing, but it is also one of the most important. You need to realize you are not alone, and you never were. This will involve supplication, and require humility and transparency. You might not be used to such things as a man, but I promise you in the end the dividends paid through finding the ability in yourself to put forth these things will be enormous.

So even if you are “that Dad,” and told yourself you never would be, you can change.