Through Struggles and Twisted Lips

I used to think I was justified somehow in not choosing to lead a life based on the love of God for me, and the love of me for God. It made sense for most of my life–in my mind, anyway–because life had been hard at times, and still was, occasionally. Still is, actually.

And in the fullness of time, I have discovered that is true of everyone. Christian and non-Christian. Catholic and Muslim. Righteous and unrighteous alike, everyone has their struggles.

It’s not a litmus test to gauge holiness or sinfulness. It’s just true.

Even after I did finally choose to live a different sort of life it was true. Struggles come and struggles go. Not God. God stays, once you choose to follow him.

It’s just different when you don’t struggle in solitude. Paid doesn’t seem as painful when you aren’t huddled in the dark trying to ride it out. And it’s funny how God reveals himself and his love once you choose to see those things. It’s been that way for me. I think of several things that I’ve previously struggled with in the way of seeing God in, or feeling his presence.

Since my early 20’s, I’ve struggled with the way my skin looked due to struggling with psoriasis. I felt ugly and in my mind I looked ugly, too As an aside, I’ve since fallen into a medication that appears is going to help quite a bit with that. But God showed himself to me way before that revealed itself as a possible new reality.

One day I was looking at myself in the mirror and feeling kind of woebegone about things. I’d always been hesitant to go shirtless before my wife because of how I looked, or felt I looked. This day, it was as if my wife sensed my feelings and she just looked at me for a minute and then asked me if it ever hurt. She was sitting on our bed at the time and I was in the bathroom. I told her no, and a second later, she embraced me from behind and kissed me.

And she said she loved me.

Some time after that, I had my shirt off in the bedroom as I was changing and my young son wandered in. He looked at my torso and saw the patches of rough skin on my sides and my arms. He asked what they were and I told him they were sort of like owies for daddy. He sat on my bed and I sat next to him. He gently kissed my sides and my arms and said, “better now. Love you, daddy.”

He gave zero craps about my scars, and still doesn’t.

For about a year or so, my wife and I were teaching 3-5th grade Sunday school at church and I remember my face starting to feel weird. This time I thought I was having a stroke, but it turned out to be a run-in with Bell’s Palsy, and my left eye and the left side of my face kind of crapped the bed as far as facial nerves went. The left side drew up in kind of a snarl. Once I learned it wasn’t a stroke I felt a little better, but then I got to worrying that it looked pretty weird, especially since I had to wear an eye-patch some of the time. And worst of all, I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to kiss my wife, and I had no idea when it would get better.

Around the same time, my little boy one day said to me that he loved me with an eyepatch on. But I was weird. I could appreciate that. Not long after, my wife kissed me and we figured out how to make it work. Twisted lips and all, she loved me.

More recently, I had kind of an anxiety attack or breakdown or something, and having come home from work, I was laying on my bed again trying to rest a little. I started freaking out again for some reason, and my wife happened to call to check on me. My older son came in the room to ask me to talk to her and I just shook my head because I didn’t feel I could speak. I actually felt like I was having a heart attack (I wasn’t). He started to walk away and I grabbed his hand and felt moved to place it on my chest for some reason–I guess I wanted him to feel my heart. He seemed a little uncomfortable, but still there for a bit while I started losing my cool again. I don’t remember what he said after that, but it was one of the times I felt a real sensation of God’s presence and my son’s love.

My father in law and my wife got there a few minutes later and I ended up going to the ER, but it was OK in the end. I remember hugging my father in law in our driveway and he was telling me it would be OK and a few other things. Later, my mother-in-law did, too

All of those instances to say that sometimes life doesn’t feel like a blessing. Sometimes it feels like crap. Yet a blessing could be on the horizon, or maybe just hiding somewhere.

It will come, and sometimes from an unexpected place through unexpected means.

And you don’t always see love from God in your circumstance. That doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

It comes through bad skin and twisted lips, which can keep you from seeing the obvious.

It comes through anxiety, and warm hands.

It comes through hugs, and words from another state.

But the love of God is always there, once you choose to recognize that simple truth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Vampires

Last night I was speaking briefly to my wife about a particular issue we’re dealing with–or that seems to rear its head from time to time–and I thought of an incident from the Stephen King novel ‘Salem’s Lot, where two of the main characters want to destroy a small enclave of vampires all at once. I don’t remember exactly why they did it the way they ultimately chose, but what they did was drag the vampires from the small and darkened basement where they were holed up during the daytime into the bright afternoon sun. The vampires didn’t make it to sunset.

I was thinking that’s pretty much what we do with our sins.

We hide them in the dark because dragging them into the light ruins their entire day.

Sin only survives in darkness. And while it is curled up and sleeping in the basements of our consciousness, we go into the light ourselves because we have to function.

We have jobs, or we go to school, or we parent

We often don’t speak of our problems with sin because if they don’t hurt anyone…

Scratch that. They always hurt someone eventually. Us, or those we love.

You can’t destroy your personal vampires if you keep them in the dark. You can’t deal with the issues that arise from sin if you don’t deal with them by confession and repentance. By that I mean telling someone about the problem, and then turning away from it and heading in the other direction.

Just because we like to hide our sins in the darkness, doesn’t mean we should stop at that. Hiding in the darkness isn.t enough. Not by a country mile.

Jesus loves us as we are, it’s true. But he loves us enough not to let us stay that way. He’s a mag-lite in the darkness where we hide our ‘stuff.’

It isn’t enough.

If you really want to rid yourself of sin, of personal vampires, drag those blood-sucking bastards into the light. It’s the only thing that works.

Salem

 

Restored

I was just thinking about Mark 9, where Jesus is about to cast an unclean spirit from a boy who has been inhabited by it for years. Jesus has just seen the boy convulsing and asks: “How long has this been happening to him?”
The boy’s father answers “since childhood,” and explains a little more about the nature of his affliction. Then he asks Jesus “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

Jesus responds “’If you can?’ All things are possible for one who believes.”
The father realizes who he’s talking to and says, “I believe! Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:20-24)

I think that’s how we are with gratitude sometimes. Our kids are ungrateful, and we throw up our hands. Or we’re ungrateful if the circumstances aren’t to our liking. We tell ourselves we don’t have anything to be grateful for, because life is too hard.

Sometimes it is hard, and in those times it can be difficult to feel gratitude. And we forget what we believe and who we believe in.

That happened to me over the past few months, and one day it occurred to me to say “I believe, help my unbelief.” Or perhaps said another way, “I’m grateful, help my lack of gratitude.” Which really means help my selfishness.
God has been allowing me to know I have plenty to be grateful for.

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Life can and will be extremely hard at times. Sometimes things are profoundly dire, and it can seemingly go on forever. It can eat up the years, and what we are left with sometimes is a crappy attitude and a huge pile of years and wounds and lies we believe about God.

Then we have Joel 2:25, which is not exactly the most commonly used verse of encouragement in scripture. But God has promised restoration. “I will repay you for the years the locust has eaten…”

Belief can be restored.

Gratitude can be restored.

The vast pile of years, destroyed by the locusts of life and littering your life with desiccated corpses, can be restored.

Not by you, man. Not by anything you’ve done.

By God.

Years don’t magically return. You’re still old, and you’ve still had a rough life. Restoration is not the same as returned.

He will restore to us the years the locust has eaten. We can look forward instead of behind.

All things are possible for one who believes.

When Life is Rocks

Sometimes I look around me and I see how terrible people are to one another. It can be politically nasty–Lord knows that’s everywhere. We just don’t seem capable of understanding that people are different, but that doesn’t mean they hate someone else.

Also we are killing each other for various reasons at unheard of rates.

We take things from people because we can.

We hurt people, perhaps because in some way that makes us feel better about our own pain.

We prey on weakness, including that of children.

Sometimes our words cause as much pain as our fists.

We forget kindness, even everyday kindnesses.

And it seems like there is no hope and we are just whiling away our days.

It’s like the desert, where I work and live. So unmercifully hot, and barren, and sparse.

There is this one area at a particular test site, where there is gravel spread out across the ground, and twisted metal from various things–relics of a time gone by. There is rust, and damaged wood, and a couple old chairs.

Old garbage, long forgotten.

This place seems forsaken, and bereft of hope.

But there’s this one spot, and it makes me think of hope. It makes me think of beauty from ashes when the rest of the place makes me think of waste and uselessness.

Tiny flowers, purple, fragile and beautiful reach out from the rocks, in the midst of nothing of use.

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I think that’s us sometimes. We don’t feel useful, we don’t feel beautiful. We’re waiting to die.

Yet like these flowers, we can reach out of the rocks and detritus of life.  And when we reach out of those rocks, we find there is a hand reaching back to take ours.

We don’t have to lie under a pile of rocks, and there IS hope, no matter what the world may look like, and sometimes is.

The hand reaching out to you and throwing the piled rocks to the side belongs to Jesus, who knows a thing or two about how hard it gets.

Don’t despair–things will turn around. Hold tightly to the promises made by God. He has plans for you (Jeremiah 29:11).

Cling to hope, even when all you see is rocks.

Hebrews 10:23 “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”

Who Will Go For Us?

Sometimes (even now), I get a little frustrated with the blazing, glacier-like speed of my life’s “metabolism.” I want things to go the way I have envisioned them, and feel that I know where my affinities lie, and what I should be doing with my life.

I think now that the first thing I should realize is that God doesn’t give a rip about what I think my affinities are, or how I should employ them. He knows who I am, and how he made me, and to what end.

I just need to be faithful on my end, and kick my expectations and inhibitions to the side and ask God to reveal my course.

“He who hath the steerage of my course, direct my sail.” (Romeo & Juliet)

I need to develop a posture of listening, and turn to these words from Isaiah.

“And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8)

But I need to be careful, too. Because he will.

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Yeats Confuses Me

I think it’s true that as a people, we have come to an unprecedented time of opportunity. What we could accomplish because of the advances in so many things seems to be near limitless. Yet in many ways, it also seems we are devolving in a way. And today I was thinking of that old Yeats poem, The Second Coming, written just after WWI. I think it is also surprisingly timely today. But it’s also quite confusing. No one ever said Yeats was the arbiter of truth or clarity about life, but his work does–at least in my instance–make a brother think.

Yeats

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

the ceremony of innocence is drowned;

the best lack all convention, while the worst

are full of passionate intensity…

This poem says much about war, and the chaos it brings. In many ways now, we as a people are at war. “Anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

And I think about who the enemy is in this war. Many these days would say it was the President. Yet if one follows in and believes scripture, and in the sovereignty of Jesus, we must also consider what scripture says about the state of things. I don’t know that this president, or any president, is named.

From Ephesians 2: 1-3–

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Like the rest of mankind. To me that suggests none of us are blameless, whether donkey or elephant, progressive or conservative.

among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.

If it feels good, do it. If it’s right to you, how can it  be wrong? Must all things hold to the same order?

What about the ceremony of innocence being drowned? I don’t know about there being a ceremony of innocence. In other words, a ceremony or graduation which at the culmination declares us innocent. Why would we need a declaration of innocence? Aren’t we innocent until proven guilty?

Sure, in a court of law. Except that is not what this is. It’s a world where to many, life has no sanctity, no matter the color of skin, or the tenets one holds to. No matter the age, or gestational status of a person.

In the immortal words of the poet and prophet Ice T, on the latest Body Count album, “no lives matter.”

And I think that’s where we are today. Culture and many beliefs would dictate that life is not significant. To some it seems like climbing to some height and raining bullets onto a group of people–or into a group of people–is the thing to do to ensure that your life means something in the end, even if what it means is that you’ve taken life as part of your own life, and ensuring that you are noted, and a part of history.

No lives matter.

Except they really do. I believe that. Even with the turmoil my life has occasionally been, I believe it. Even with the second law of thermodynamics (entropy), I believe it. Even with the pontifications of William Butler Yeats (things fall apart, the centre cannot hold) I believe it.

I believe it because of Psalm 22, and the depiction of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53.

I believe it because of the 40 or so words of the apostle Paul to the Galatians:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20, ESV

Consider also Psalm 139:16: “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

Yet with all that, murder is still murder. And each of our lives matter. We can make something of them. We can matter, too, even if it is only to God. So, yes, Mr. Yeats. Things do fall apart. But I disagree with you on whether or not the center can hold.

I say it can, if we make Christ the center. If we hold life as sacred–created by God, to be taken by God. Not by a madman or madmen, to whom a human life is nothing. That person has their fame now, their infamy.

And an empty eternity to think about it.

 

 

Down by a River

A friend shared an article today about faith and baptism. Or perhaps salvation and baptism, better said. Before I had any real notion about what either meant, they both seemed little more than something “religious” people did. For my part, now that I understand just a little more about faith, the two are intertwined for me like DNA strands.
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I had a deep curiosity about “why” in all forms, but mainly I wanted to know why life seemed to be slipping through my fingers without much participation on my end. I wanted to know why things hurt, and bled, and died. I wanted to know why, if God so loved the world, did he create so many people to be jerks?
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I began to learn things about Jesus, and I wanted to know more. But I also knew me at the same time, and that I wanted to forget. I’d been both chasing and running away from that guy my whole life.
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I began attending church, out of curiosity. I had friends who went–good friends–and I wanted to know what it was all about. I’d also known people who were hypocrites about faith, and church, and Jesus, and I didn’t understand how the two could exist at the same time.
So I heard the gospel. I heard about God, and creation, and Jesus, and death, and resurrection. I asked God “why?” and it was like he said “come and find out” in my heart.
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At first my faith was like an old-fashioned lantern that had just been lit inside me, and the…little lamp adjuster thingy was slowly increasing the brightness within, but not by my hand. I knew that the increasing brightness within was edification, and Jesus quickly became more than a concept. More than a metaphor. More than everything else.
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Because Jesus stirred faith within the deep parts of me, as the light increased within me, I began to see “why” and I began to see God and I began to see myself coated with the mud of my life. It cracked sometimes when it dried, and I looked like an old dried-up river bottom. But there was always more mud.
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What to do about the mud?
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I heard someone talking about Jesus washing feet in the upper room and while it sounded gross (because feet are gross), getting the dust and dirt washed off also sounded wonderful. And while the dirt covering me was metaphorical in nature, it still needed to be washed off. Because I knew that it would eventually be the death of me otherwise.
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One day by a river, I asked Jesus to make me clean. I accepted him and asked him to accept me, in all the mud and muck and grime of my life. He said “come to me, all who are weary” and I was weary. He talked about finding rest for my soul and I knew that was what I wanted. My words were not poetic and were not arranged in a beautiful bouquet of words–no, there were tears and great, wrenching sobs. But it was the real me, and unlikely as it seemed to me, that was what he wanted.
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I could see all this mud, and I wanted it to go away, to be far from me. What to do?
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I talked to people who knew a lot more about all that stuff than me, and it was not long after that a very close friend helped me take a walk down three steps into a pool of warm water. I went under dirty as a wet dog after a backyard roll and I came up different. Cleanliness than became less of a concept and more of a reality. But I also realized that Jesus saw me in spite of my dirtiness, my darkness. He’d always seen me, and wanted me.
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It’s the same for you.
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He doesn’t say “Come to me, all who are ready.” You’ll never be ready.
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He just says come to me.
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Come to me tired from your journey not yet over. Come to me dirty and I will make you clean. Come to me hurting, and covered in lies about yourself and about me and let me reveal the truth.
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Having faith is just the beginning. Baptism is the next step on the path. The picture below is where I began my walk. Literally.
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