The Weight

Sometimes, it’s hard to be cheerful. We see everyone around us acting happy, and we don’t much feel that way ourselves. It makes sense, actually, when you think about life and its inherent difficulties. Life can be really heavy sometimes. And the thing that makes it worse is that we feel moved to carry the whole thing alone. Or we get help, but it isn’t help that lasts. In other words, we put the weight down for a second, but we pick it right the heck back up again a few minutes later. Because, you know, it’s ours to carry.

two man

Where are we getting our help from? Metaphorically speaking, who is the other person? Because life, by its nature, can be a two person lift sometimes. Who helps you with the lift?

I can tell you who it was for me. It was unhealthy friendships, and bad relationships. It was alcohol, or self-pity, or sometimes it was porn or a huge pile of junk food. These things allowed me to put down the weight, albeit briefly. It felt great for a minute or two, but then it was often worse than before. So off I would go, carrying my own weight and feeling bad about it–and feeling bad for myself.

Eventually, after many miles and many brief stops, I realized the problem was that I wanted to carry the weight myself, because that way I could feel like a martyr about it. I could remain life’s victim and I would never have to change anything about myself. The realization came eventually that the real problem was not life, and not the things that happened in it.

The problem was where I was turning for help. This was made clear to me through the intervention (and intercession) of several people who cared about me, and I realized this because they didn’t just tell me what I wanted to hear. They told me what I needed to hear. And it was tough, and I didn’t want to hear it, but it was what helped.

help

Maybe it’s like that for you. You’ve been feeling the weight, and it’s been like a ton of bricks on your heart. It’s hard to carry, and it feels like there’s no help to be had sometimes. Or if there is, that it doesn’t work very well.

Let me just ask you where you’re turning for help. Who’s the other person in your carry? I’ll tell you what worked for me back a few years ago, and now whenever the weight feels like lead bricks.

pray1

Prayer, man. You may scoff at that two word sentence. It might not feel real to you. It might not happen instantly, and Lord knows that’s what we want in an age when a 5 second download feels too long. Your prayers might feel like pebbles at God’s window.

They’re not.

Our prayers mold our hearts into something God can work with. They break up the old and crusty outside of our hearts and little by little the weight falls away.

It

      won’t

                 happen

                         overnight most of the time. Don’t expect it to.

Expect that you’re having a conversation with God. It might take a while before you get to “the thing.”

Until you realize where the weight comes from, really.

And then one day you realize you aren’t carrying it by yourself anymore. You realize you aren’t carrying it at all.

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Something Old, Something New

dsc_0026_2-smallI’ve had a realization gradually dawning on me over the past few months–it’s been like the slowest sunrise ever, peeking over the Eastern horizon and making me squint to shield my eyes a little bit, so I can keep going.

I’ve always felt I was hanging onto my California sensibilities for many things, and didn’t really care much what people did, provided no one got hurt. In a sense, I still don’t, because it’s true it is not my business and if people want to do gross or stupid things to each other then I am inclined to let them. Free country and all that.

Yet lately I’ve found there are things that I do care about, because I believe the truth that scripture tells me about them. Part of this curriculum I’ve been part of for these last couple years has required that I delve more deeply into the Bible than I ever have before–that I read many textbooks and lectures about it, and that I study and study some more.

I realize this is not going to win me any popularity contests, or make me Mr. Congeniality. Many people I know will probably feel I am going backward in my way of thinking, and perhaps in a sense I am. Let me also say that I am not here to name or discuss issues or politics–nor red ball caps or making anything great again.

What I’m after is simply describing something I feel convicted about anew, and that is the truth of the Gospel and the changes it has wrought in my life. I came to this conclusion on my own, through studying and studying some more. I sought no proof of anything, because for the most part I already believed. I sought only to learn, and I believe I did learn.

I learned that an aged document could be full of truth that still applies to lives today. Those truths do not always mean a path free of obstacles–especially not in today’s climate of…whatever. I learned that I can allow myself to be affected or unaffected by the opinions of others regarding this document and its many versions. I choose to be unaffected, and I give zero craps about whether or not people agree with me. Well, not exactly. I want them to care about their lives and realize there’s a lot more than just the here and now, but I cannot make them feel any particular way.

I can only live my life reflecting what I believe and act out of the truths that are so evident to me. This is something I have thusfar done with varying degrees of success. I will continue to try, and sometimes I will fail. Because I am just a man, and we do that sometimes–actually all times, eventually.

This is not so for God. He doesn’t fail–not in any way. I kind of feel like my life has been like one of those giant jawbreaker candies. As it melts away, it changes colors and different things are revealed. Different flavors become evident, until you get to the center. I feel I am at my center now, and this is where I want to be, for as long as I can.

This means I’ll serve my family and my God as best I can. This may mean I spend the rest of my life in this Sea Level community, writing blogs and telling people about the miracles done in my life, and the healing I’ve seen. That’s fine with me. I believe if God wants me somewhere else, doing something else, he’ll let me know in some way. I believe this because his Word still exists, with his promises about our lives recorded in it. And I believe God keeps his promises for the faithful.

That’s really what I want to be; one of the faithful. So think of me what you wish. My own beliefs–my faith–has been something that has changed my life. It’s been a gradual change, but a real one. If anyone wants specifics, just ask. I am happy to discuss it.

 

Thanks for the Opportunity

To the men who are the “fathers” of my kids:

I want to tell you something. Science may tell you that you are responsible for the lives of these two young men. You might believe that, and it might even be true—but only in the biological sense. They do not belong to you anymore, if they ever did. They belong to God, and to my wife and I, in that order.

You see, being a father is not just contributing DNA. At most, I believe that is a catalyst for what follows. Being biologically responsible for their lives and being in their lives is not the same, and the former is not worth nearly as much as the latter. For 8 years, I have watched one of my boys grow strongly toward manhood. And as the former Senator from New York once said, it took a village—in this instance, a village named Whitson.

This kid is special: a natural athlete and musician, more talented in every way than I could ever hope to be. I’m sorry for whatever occurred in your life that caused you to become the sort of man—the sort of father—who would eschew any sort of responsibility, and I could not care less if it was because his mother asked you to.

You find a way, in a family. You lead the way.

Yet when I think about the fact that you did shirk that and every responsibility you had with this young man, I am glad for it. Because through it, God called me into this family. I met the love of my life, and her amazing heart has been part of my own healing journey. I get to be the man and father I didn’t have personally, and always wished to be. I didn’t think I would ever have the chance.

I claim the responsibility of raising this young man to know the Lord, and to know me, in all my imperfections and brokenness. To know the real me; the one I’ve been both chasing and running away from my whole life. Now I’m found, and a lot of it had to do with my son. And in the smallest of ways, you are partially responsible for that, too.

And you, unknown father. Your many ignored responsibilities and rampant selfishness make me want to abandon the values I treasure and know to be true and worthwhile for the brief moment of satisfaction I would get from knocking your two or three remaining teeth down your irresponsible throat.

I don’t get to do that, and I am glad. It took me a long time to find peace in my life, and I would not give it up for anything. Instead, I’ll pray for you. I’ll pray you find the absolution you may not have even been seeking after. Brother, you need it, and it is the only peace you will ever find, should you decide you want to really know what life is about, which is loving and protecting those under your roof—and teaching them about what matters most in life, which is knowing and serving the God of the universe, made real in the person of Jesus. Also, I might add, the best place to find healing.

He will not know that because of you. If I do right by him, he will know it because of me, and my wife. Let me tell you something about this boy you left by the wayside. He has a strong will, and an artistic sensibility I can only wish for. He’s got a long way to go, but he’s learning how to loved and more importantly, be loved. No nine year old boy should have to learn how to be loved.

Let me tell you something, and I want to make sure you understand, because I barely understand it myself. Whether or not you support it is up to you. As a father—as a man—if you have a family it is your responsibility to fight for it. Ignoring that responsibility should be criminal. It teaches the kid they aren’t worth fighting for, and that’s what we’re dealing with now. Nine years of abandoned parental responsibility—on both sides of that coin. He doesn’t really even know what love is, but we’re going to teach him.

Do you know what my wife and I did a couple of nights ago? We got on our knees beside this young man’s bed and we comforted him, or tried to. My wife has this amazing and God-given ability to comfort, and even when it feels impossible, she does her best. She tells him every day that he is beautiful and loved. She strokes his hair, and says soft and loving things. I’d like it to be, but that’s not really me. I’m more of a brute. I suppose my wife and I are both strong, but in different ways. We may be weak apart, but we are strong together. We intercede for this beautiful young man every day. That same night I just spoke of?

A very good but relatively new friend pointed out that what I needed to do was fight for my kids, in a very real and literal way. From my knees. I’ll tell you the truth—it was and remains exhausting. I claim that responsibility, too. I will love and protect and pray for my family, my kids.

I’m no warrior. I’m probably nowhere near as tough as you. Yet I will fight the only way I know how, and give my kids the best shot I can. I may have to fight that battle every single night of my life, but it’s got to be the best reason to fight there is.

Neither one of you two did that. May you one day live to realize that, and become the men you can be. That, however, is not my responsibility.

It’s yours.

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If It Takes All Night…

In the course of my adult life, I have dealt quite a bit with those who have suffered many different types of trauma. Typically, this was in the context of a semi-charismatic prayer group, and the trauma sufferers were men and women who had experienced it as a child. They had a different perspective and a lot of years between who they were when the incidents occurred and who they are now. In all cases, they had at least a relatively good support network and a working knowledge of who Jesus was, and how he did things.

I never expected–some ten years later–to be a foster parent on the way to becoming an adoptive parent of a very active young man who in his short lifetime had likely suffered much–certainly much more than most kids his age. My wife and I did twelve weeks of foster training, and it prepared us for some of the things we’ve encountered.

That doesn’t mean it is easy. But what it has done is to make us wholly dependent on God for wisdom, and comfort, and guidance. I believe it’s human nature to want to feel loved in return when you give love, or when you give anything of yourself. It doesn’t always happen. Luke 6 says this about who we should love: “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.”

I have to remind myself there’s a good chance our boy has not had much experience in a loving home, with a loving family. He probably hasn’t had any experience with discipline out of love. Could be he doesn’t know how to be loved at all; how to accept that love is something he has now, in abundance.

He may have some rudimentary head knowledge of Jesus, but if it doesn’t come out of love, it won’t become heart knowledge at all. So what we have to do is show this young man Jesus in a practical way. We make Jesus real to him by showing he is real to us. We do not hide our imperfections and blemishes–rather, we reveal them in the way of edification.

We do not simply pray for, we also pray with him. We show him what a loving family looks like by loving. My wife and I demonstrate what a healthy and Godly marriage looks like.  We discipline because we care, rather than simply punish because we do not. We show affection, and we acknowledge our feelings and their feelings.

We also acknowledge our feelings and our fears and our doubts because they are real and they happen. We acknowledge them from the position of supplicant, because that is what we really all are in the first place. We can talk differences all day, but the truth is that at our cores we are also all the same. Like this young man newly added to our life and family, we are all broken in our own way. Yet we are also repaired in his way, and we need to share that it is a process, and it will take some time, hard as it is to endure.

Everyone knows the story of Moses, fleeing the forces of Pharoah, and parting the Red Sea so his people can escape, and finally be free. Yet do we know the whole story, as described in Exodus? Do we know that Moses, ever obedient to the Lord, was made to set up camp for his people, essentially giving time for Egypt to catch up? God convinces Egypt that the Israelites are lost and wandering: it doesn’t make sense to stop. But then Moses related a message from the Lord, “The Lord, will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14:14, ESV)

That victory did not come in an instant. And there was still the Red Sea before them, and Pharoah. Rather, the Lord told Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea. The water would take care of the rest.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.” (Exodus 14:21-22, NIV)

One of the great miracles related in the Old Testament–the parting of the Red Sea and the escape of the Israelites from bondage.

all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land.”

It took all night.

Not that God couldn’t have done whatever he needed to in an instant, but he didn’t, because he had something for Israel to learn. For us to learn. For me to learn.

He is God. I am not. There is something to learn in all this going on right now. There is something we can take away, even now.

Loving and expecting returns isn’t really love. Loving because we’ve been loved is. Loving as a verb, loving with all our hearts, even when they seem to feel completely the opposite.

We sure don’t always act like we love Jesus.

I think that what we need to do is stretch our hands out over the Sea. It might take all night, but in the end we will cross.

And we will have all of our family, including our newest, with us.

Because he is God. We are not.

 

 

 

 

 

Toward The Hard Things

My desktop background on my work computer is a picture of all three of our boys riding their bikes down 17th Pl toward the intersection with Magnolia–John in the middle with his training wheels, David and Jose on either side.

Just this moment, I was thinking about the work I have before me as their Dad. I was not thinking in an apprehensive way, because there’s nothing to be afraid of. I was simply watching them ride down the street away from me–all at their own pace, in their own way.

Toward the end of the street.

How do I prepare them for that, or help to?

I think the best thing I can do is show them how to be men, and hopefully one day fathers who do not shy away from the hard things.

How on Earth do I do that? I will try to show them respect for people, and respect for life. I’ll try and teach them how to listen to understand, and not just respond. I’ll teach them that God can be real to them, as he is to me. I’ll teach them how much of a blessing a kind word can be. I’ll teach them that God didn’t make people as objects, but sentient and loving beings, just waiting to be recognized for who they are, rather than what they have done or can do. I will teach them that for the most part, politics are so much compost. People matter, not agendas. God matters most of all, not whether America is great, was great, or can be great again.

And because they might want to have a family some day, I will teach them how I came to mine. Through openness to love when it seemed a futile endeavor. Through an open mind and an open heart. Through loving beyond myself. I will show them this by loving their mother as best I can, in every way I can.

I do not worship my wife, but I love her, as my wedding vows said, “as Christ loves the church.” I love my kids as my kids. I am not their buddy; I’m their father, and that carries a hefty chunk of responsibility. Sometimes there will be discipline. That’s OK. There will be a greater measure of love.

Sunday, Jen was staying home from church because she was in pain and more than a little jacked up from her fall on Saturday. There was a bit of a dust up amongst the kids–they are still learning how to relate to one another along with their newest brother learning how to relate to them. On XM63 a song came on, from the band Fee, I think, called “Glory to God.” All three boys knew the words from various places, and they began singing it. Not in perfect harmony, because life isn’t perfect. They sang it like brothers with three different voices, and it was awesome.

It ended up being a pretty good day.

Trail of Scars

Last night I had a dream of a memory, if such a thing is possible. I think I was about the age John is now, and my family was on some kind of camping trip or vacation. There were many tall trees, and a fast rushing river. Our truck/camper was parked near the river and I think my aunt and uncle’s camp was set up right next to ours. My brother, myself, and my cousin (I think) were off playing in the trees, and the older boys decided to have a “rock fight.” Of course I, being the youngest and worst thrower of rocks was the first to go down, with a scalp lacerated and bleeding profusely.

I ran into the camp, to my mother, and all I can really remember is that she held a cloth to my head, first washing my wound in river water. I remember all the blood. If my memory serves, I did not go to the hospital, or any doctor, and was left with a crusty scalp and blood in my hair for a few days. There may have been a scar, but I could not see it because of my hair, which at the time was sort of long and very dark brown.

This morning, I ran my hand over my bald head and I could feel the scars on my head from my trip to Alaska a couple years ago–8 stitches in my head in a Fairbanks ER, scars now a Y-shape about the size of a half-dollar coin. Fell like a drunk in front of a hockey arena completely sober. I could not feel anything from the camping trip more than 40 years ago.

This morning, I realized that scars fade. They really do. Time might not heal all wounds, but it helps you remember that long ago is not now. I am not 4 or 5 or whatever it was. Wounds received at that age no longer affect me the same way they did then.

I can’t see or feel my scars anymore–they’ve healed.

Even the deepest ones remain only as a thin line, a reminder of the person I was vs. the person I am today. I’ve changed a lot, and this morning I was reminded that the person I was is a big part of the person I am, as stupid as that sounds to say.

To you I want to say do not be afraid or ashamed of the person you were–no matter how rough around the edges, no matter how sloppy. It’s part of who you are now, and that person is good. God designed you to be a particular you, and you had to go through a lot of things to get here, both good and bad. They left their mark on you, inside and out.

But you’re here, and here is a good place to be. I hated my life for so long, in the sense that it was really hard, and really lonely in places.

Yet here I am today. I struggled, but I did not give up. God saw that struggle, and recognized it. He came to me in my despair, and I was forever changed. You can be, too.

The truth is, when we look behind us, there will always be a trail of scars. We aren’t those scars, and we are not defined by them.

We are defined by our response, and what we do with what God’s given us. Whether we think so or whether we don’t, it’s a great deal.

 

 

 

 

Burdens

I remember waking up after my rotator cuff surgery and being/feeling pretty wasted and confused. And in quite a bit of pain. The nurses were struggling to get my blood pressure down. I muttered something like, “my wife…” and then fell back asleep. When I woke up again, she was standing there. I was dazedly watching them drain off some of my blood into something like a little squeeze ball, and the pain was lessening.

Somehow, my pain became more manageable, and my blood pressure went down. I don’t remember getting dressed, but I became aware I was wearing sweat pants or pajamas or something and a button up shirt about 4 sizes too big was sort of draped over me with only one arm through the sleeve. It was time to go home, which was very close, but I couldn’t walk very well.

I got to my wife’s car courtesy of a wheelchair, but I didn’t know how I was going to make it into our apartment. Jenny ended up calling her dad to help, because she couldn’t lift me. I am no lightweight, but Ken held me up and helped me walk into the apartment, my arm over his shoulder. I was leaning quite heavily on him. He helped me to the restroom to pee, and I was afraid (probably he was, too) that I would need help with my pants. Thankfully, I didn’t, and I was able to do my business and get to the couch, where I would spend quite a bit of time over the next month.

I remember being grateful for his help; that he was there when we needed him. Ken and Linda have always been like that, and probably always will be, so long as they are able. They are always willing.

I remember my sisters pretty much taking over parenting duties after my dad was gone and mom was really starting to get sicker. I was a teen, and it couldn’t have been easy. But they all helped with whatever care I needed, and I’d like to think I turned out OK.

I remember when my gall bladder crapped the bed a couple years ago (on Valentine’s Day, no less) because of a gall stone that felt like the size of a watermelon jammed into the neck of my gallbladder. It hurt like the devil was poking me with a pitchfork. Jenny slept in a chair next to my bed for two days, and Ken and Linda kept the boys for two days while I was in the hospital.

I remember also texting with my best friend, who is also a pastor. He asked me if I was ok (because I was the one who messaged him first to tell him I was in the hospital and why). Told him I was a little scared because I had never gotten surgery. He said he’d grab his chaplain’s badge and be right there, which he did and was. And sat with me all night.

Those are just a few of the times I have felt like–and probably actually been–a burden to someone. Today I was thinking about that, I don’t know why. And it occurred to me that helping the people you care about isn’t necessarily a burden, even if in actuality it’s sometimes a  hardship.

Today, our pastor posted a meme on Facebook about hardships, and how they involve (roughly translated) ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Certainly they have in my life.

I don’t know how good I have been at doing similar things, but I hope the answer to that is “ok.” I am, after all, an ordinary person. I am no pastor, no bible scholar. No hero. I am just a man, a person like you are, and I do my best to serve God, to whom I feel like I must also be a burden.

Yet there I go back to my statement a few paragraphs ago. “Helping the people you care about isn’t necessarily a burden.”

If that is true, then the God of the universe cares about me, which is an extraordinary thing. The God whose hands shaped the world and whose breath made it alive cares about me. He cares about you, too.

Don’t discount that, even it doesn’t feel true at times. Even if it feels He isn’t close. I promise you, He is near.

Time has brought me clarity and truth on a few things, and because you’ve stayed with me this long, please take another minute or so and don’t go just yet.

The first thing is that even when I stood in my mom’s hospital room when she was in a coma and weighed about 80 pounds, God was with me and with her in her haze of painkillers. I know because earlier on, I heard her ask him to be. The last two things I heard her say on this earth were “where’s Tommy?” and then “good” when I told her I was there.

He was with me when I was 5 or 6 and bad things happened. I saw and felt the truth of that as a grown man, kneeling at the side of the Colorado river.

He was with me when my friend took his life less than a half mile from my bedroom.

He was with me through relationships that ended, and jobs that were lost. He was with me when I was steeped in my sin, and had no idea he was even there.

My shoulders may have sagged, and I may have felt like I was alone.

He was there, much like when my father-in-law helped me walk from our car to the house, helping me walk with my arm draped over his shoulder.

He was there for me, carrying my burden. Carrying YOUR burden, in the form of a roughly hewn cross.

I wasn’t a burden to him, because helping the ones you love isn’t a burden.

You aren’t, either.

Maybe a more accurate statement would be to say, you don’t mind bearing a burden for someone you love, or helping them bear it. Even when that burden IS the person you love.

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Top 6

So today I want to take a few minutes and not think about a few things that really have been bugging me lately, and concentrate on what I feel is really important, that I am so very grateful for.

  1. For some reason, God sees my usefulness, even when I do not. He has seen fit to allow me to be part of an amazing and spirit filled congregation, at a bible-believing and bible-teaching church, with a pastor I have known for nearly a decade, and consider a personal friend. I get to serve with people I love and respect, and that’s awesome.
  2. At this moment, I have two young men I get to be dad to in my life. They challenge me greatly. They frustrate me sometimes, but at the end of it is a blessing—always, always a blessing and a reminder of God’s love for me. That he chose me to be their father. Me, with parental relationships cut drastically short by life, and only a couple of good, effective fathers (my brothers-in-law) for example in my younger years. I struggle at times, but I know it, and I can pray through it. That’s what I plan to do—concentrate my effort on that area in a way I haven’t always done.
  3. My wife—my lovely, talented, and inspiring wife. I say lovely not just because she is a pleasure to my eyes, but a pleasure to my inner self—to my heart and to my soul. God sent her to me in her boldness, and in her faith. She believes in me, even when I don’t believe in myself. Who does that? Jen does. Even when I’m a giant hairy toolbag.
  4. My job. Everyone who works out here complains about it at times, and that’s understandable. The elements are unforgiving, and the hours are sometimes long. So long that eventually it wears on every part of your life—except maybe the checkbook. And that’s what happened to me. I got weary, complacent, ungrateful, and laid off. Three days later, I was rehired. In a job capacity that suited me and my skill-set. Working for a boss that is a very decent and family oriented man. Working with people that are 4 oddballs, and very colorful characters, but quite the team. I really like them, even when they tick me off with the pranks.
  5. Similar to my first point, for some reason, I was extended a hand to help pull me from the muck my life had become. This hand from a God who welcomed me into the family, but first defeated me in my rebellion, which so desperately needed to happen. See, the thing about abject capitulation; the thing about supplication, the thing about crawling to his feet, with the world dragging behind you like a parachute, is that when you get there—head down—he tells you to look up. He sees you, the real you. The you of addictions, and sin, and meanness, and sarcasm, and misuse of your gifts, and he tells you to look up. He reaches down and lifts your head. He lifted my head—he does whenever it goes down. (this last one is partially inspired by the poem linked at the bottom)
  6. My life, without changing anything

Today, this very morning, I felt like God told me to start living my life with more abandon, and less inhibition. So I’m going for it. Life is pretty good. Make of it what you will. Believe it or not, and any other cliché you want to insert here.

I don’t know how the execution of this inspiration will work out, or how successful I will be. But I do know that while I am not perfect, I also don’t want to be the guy who gets to the end and wishes he’d tried harder.

I’ll leave you with this poem. It’s wonderful, and powerful, and means a lot to me.

 

 

Heart Problem

It seems like everywhere I look lately, there is violence. There is a thesaurus of words related to violent acts. Words like “shot,” or “shot to death,” or “murdered.” Sometimes, refreshing new expressions like “racially-motivated attack. Any incident involving a gun, though, definitely brings out the worst in people. Take the Bataclan shooting in Paris a little while back, for instance. Not going to go too far into specifics, because that isn’t really what I’m after this morning. Today I’m just amazed that so many are doing the blame-game thing already. Just as they did in Paris, and so many other places.

Making the situation a political talking point. It shouldn’t be that at all. For “either” position.

Blame is apportioned and absolved for violent acts. Guns will be taken away, and people will live. Or guns will be taken away and people will die. It’s radical Islam. It’s gun enthusiasts. It’s Wal-Mart. It’s George W. Bush. Skynet has become self-aware.

I do not believe it’s the fault of the gun, however. Or the knife, or Colonel Mustard and the candlestick. I think somewhere along the way, people forgot the value of a human life, if they ever knew it at all.

Violent things are just…expected in this sad world. It’s “the way things are these days.”

It doesn’t have to be.

I didn’t expect to, but I was flipping through one of Stephen King’s Gunslinger novels, and I found a statement I mostly agreed with regarding gun violence, and violence in general:

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I believe our culture in this time has made it commonplace to deny responsibility for our actions, and blame our circumstances instead. Maybe the people we hang out with, or used to.

Except that’s crap, and everyone knows it, whether they admit it or not. Our hearts have become withered things, nearly immune to effect or influence from the death on every side. It’s our hearts, man.

We can’t seem to recognize wrong anymore.

Our circumstances in life can certainly influence our thoughts and opinions, but saying your actions are not a choice–even in a passionate moment–is patently false. We may not be able to affect what happens to us in life to a very large extent, but I believe it is a fundamental truth that we always, always choose our actions.

I grew up in a very blue collar neighborhood in a very blue collar town. Lots of my friends experimented with all kinds of things, and got into all kinds of trouble. You would hear people say things like “he ran with a bad crowd.” Or perhaps, “It’s no wonder that happened. Did you ever see his parents?”

Listen, friend. There are times it may not seem that way, but we really do have the ability to choose our actions, and “I couldn’t help myself” is only as true as you make it. Viktor Frankl wrote that “between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

I believe that statement is true. I know it’s true because with adulthood and the advent of Christ in my life, I find myself making much better choices. I think it came with the ability to stop putting myself first so freaking always. It wasn’t necessarily because I hung out with different or better people. It wasn’t because someone dumped a bucket of “smart” over my head.

It was because I started making better choices, and I stopped believing (and doing) the stupid things people told me to do because it was what they thought was best for me, or true about me.

For example, when I was in eighth grade, I had a teacher tell me privately he thought I should stop hanging out with my friends because they were bringing me down, and minimizing my potential. I didn’t think so then, and I don’t think so now.

I didn’t say anything to him then, but I wanted to tell him to screw himself. The friends he was talking about ended up literally saving my life, just a few years later.

I learned a lot about the value of a human life during my teen years, in lots of ways. If you know me at all, you know that story. If you don’t, ask me and I’d be happy to tell you about it. I have links on here somewhere to my Facebook and email accounts.

I wouldn’t change a thing about my life, good or bad.

My life got me here. It was very hard at times, but it was worth it. And I don’t think I began to explore my true potential until I took the offered hand of a carpenter, rough with calluses and scars.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to realize my full potential, because God made us all to be perfect, and sinless. Our very ancient family chose differently.

So I will never be perfect. Neither will you. Practicing social justice might make you a better person, but you’re still going to make mistakes. At the core of you, and the core of me, we may always be the same person. That does not mean we make the same choices.

From an old Everclear song, “I will always be weird, I will always be lame.”

That may be so (it is with me), but with the growth and freedom that Frankl mentions, and with faith, and maturity, and the ability to love comes a little wisdom, along with the ability to choose wisely. And we can begin to work on our heart problems.

So that’s me. And yes, to re-iterate, I think we, as a society, have a heart problem.

And I think we can fix it.

I think the answer lies in what this coming weekend is all about–Easter. It’s not about chocolate, or caramel, or finding eggs. It’s about how a man came, who was really a lot more than just a man. It’s about how he gave his life to fix our heart problem, and came back so we could understand why.

You may know me, and you may not. You don’t owe me anything, but I’d like to ask you for a favor, whoever you are.

Find a house of worship this coming weekend. You will hear a message there that could change your life, and help to fix your heart problem.

Please, give it a chance. Go there, wherever “there” is.

Hear the message, and respond. It will really change your life–maybe even save it.

.j

The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Seen

Still image from video shows men purported to be Egyptian Christians held captive by the Islamic State kneeling in front of armed men along a beach said to be near Tripoli

I took a picture a couple of years ago, and the object I was photographing nearly took my breath away with its subtle beauty. I looked at it again today, and it made me think of how easy it is to find beauty when you least expect it.

I also saw the image above, and it took my breath away, too. 20 men–all ostensibly believers–about to die for nothing more than believing in a God a large group of extremists hate with a violent passion.

I have seen a lot in my life. There has certainly been a lot in the News this year–plenty for Conservatives and Liberals to chew on, and get angry about. For my part, the image at the top is the most terrible thing I have seen all  year, and maybe all my life.

These men are Egyptian Christians. Taken captive by ISIS for more or less doing nothing other than worshipping what this group of individuals thinks is the wrong God. I think the terrorists called this video something like “A message signed in blood to the People of the Cross.” Erudite, these people are not.

I found the image online, as well as an article and an accompanying video I will never be able to unsee. I didn’t intend to watch it, but the article mentioned the men crying out at the end, and I felt compelled to bear witness to that. They are marched down a deserted beach, and made to kneel on the sand. The man in the camo with the knife gives his shpiel and  near the end, mentions who the men are (without naming any of them), and what’s going to happen to them. He tells them to cry out to their God. They do cry out here and there, and then are forced into a prostrate position, and their heads are sawed off with knives.

There was even a link to an article quoting Pope Francis that mentioned the men crying out to Jesus in their last few seconds.

They really did die for their faith. Scripture promises they will be raised up again in Revelation 4. After Jesus, I want to meet these people and others who died for the God they believed in (I am not numbering the multitudes of idiots who blew themselves up for Allah among them).

Anyway, that image really made me think–long and hard–about what’s coming. I know many of you don’t believe in a literal bible, and that’s your choice.

That doesn’t change what’s coming, for those who believe and those who do not. In the movie Return of the King, Aragorn says something to Théoden like “Open war is upon you, whether we would risk it or not.” And that’s where we are today. It doesn’t matter much what the President chooses to do (or more accurately, not do), I don’t think.

And I have been wondering all year, what would I do for my faith?

Will I die for it?

Would I cry out for Jesus as some jackal with a knife executes me?

I hope so.

And then I’ve been wondering where all the beauty in the world went off to? Is there any left?

Turns out there is, and it’s everywhere. The world is terrible and wonderful at the same time. And amongst all the strife abroad, or here at home, there are nuggets of beauty among the ashes. I will do my best to consider the beauty that still exists, and the God that has a hand and heart in everything. And I will wait for whatever is coming, knowing that I will not go through it alone.

The image at the bottom of this post is what I was talking about at the beginning. I took it on a patch of dirt and gravel, next to a pile of old and rusted metal and a dumpster.

Beauty amongst trash. It exists. And it’s comforting. It comforts me because to me, in my heart and mind–it is evidence that God also exists. I didn’t need it, but it’s wonderful to see.

And it makes the rest…more bearable.

fl