Look Behind You

My iPod is on shuffle and I was just getting started on my day’s work when I stopped for just a second to listen and take a breath. I wanted to think about blessings, and see how that would affect the course of my day. Yesterday was pretty good.

I woke up and I took a breath, and then another. Each followed in succession–a chain of little blessings.

I stared at the bright numbers on my bedside alarm and felt my wife’s warm hand on my shoulder. Across the hall, my six year-old had the CD from his VBS playing in his room. Something about his God being so big and so mighty.

Word.

After service, I had the privilege to pray with someone who I didn’t know before but am glad to now. Later, after church, my older boy told me he wanted to start tithing.

When I stood at the front of the stage, I made brief eye contact with my counterpart on the other side and then someone came up to him as well. So great for people to come forward in boldness of faith and humility of spirit. God is always faithful.

My wife and I are a little sore from tearing out carpet and throwing stuff around at the new building, but being able to do that is a blessing, too. I really hope that we have the opportunity to help the people of Yuma and elsewhere to see God with eyes opened anew to possibility.

I’m fortunate to have a job that keeps us fed and housed–many do not.

I have the opportunity to give, but I’m not very good at it in my own right, and pray I will do better–both locally and globally.

The funny thing about blessings is that when they come, we don’t always see them. Sometimes, they are clothed in struggle, or obscured by the world.

Nevertheless, with each person coming into our life in some way–any way–also comes opportunity to show Jesus to someone. They are not obstacles to our ends, but opportunities for ministry. That’s how Jesus looked at them–shouldn’t we as well?

Blessings so often come through hard work, even toil. Shouldn’t we be grateful? After all, Jesus was not afraid to get his hands dirty. Sometimes bloody.

We look at our lives and the world and we want things to change, and change yesterday, so to speak.

They aren’t going to.

Sometimes we aren’t delivered from circumstances–perhaps even most of the time. Yet God is faithful to bring us through them. That’s a blessing, too.

When I look backward and try to follow the path that brought me here today, what I see are jagged and sometimes halting steps. Yet they eventually pick up again. I see path lit by a chain of blessings, like little golden lights.

I will not try to minimize your toil, your suffering. How could I? I don’t know what it’s like to be you. Yet I will promise you this. There will come a point when you are able to stand and look backward. You will see how you got to were you are, and your path will make a lot more sense. It’s easier to see the blessings in your path by the light of your journey.

Psalm 119:105. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

Look behind you and you’ll see where that happened.

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A Few Thoughts on Redemption

In the wake of this business in Manchester, I’ve been wondering something: is anyone beyond redemption? Should they desire it, of course.

If it were up to me, I’d say some people are. People who harm children, for one. I think about these youngsters in England, having hardly begun their lives. I think of these…terrorists, seeking them out with intent and purpose. I think of men like Jerry Sandusky (the Penn State “coach” and chicken hawk ) and others of his ilk. If it were up to me, people like that would have no possibility of redemption. Only justice.

The answer I found was not what I wanted to find. I wanted my position to be justified–I wanted to be right.

People who do evil things should be punished–period. And perhaps society and the law will punish them. Yet punitive punishment sometimes seems like it should be eternal. At least it does to me.

Thankfully, it isn’t up to me. Here’s what just a few scriptures say about redemption, and who can be redeemed:

Ephesians 1:7, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the richness of his grace.”

Colossians 1:20-22, “And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”

Romans 3:24-26, “And are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

Titus 2:14, “Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

Isaiah 44:22, “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.”

Those are just a few verses, and there are many more. The short version is that the answer to my question is “no one is beyond redemption, should they choose to be reconciled before God, with God, because of the blood of Christ.”

No one. That’s why he came, and did what he did. I may not like it, but that ability to redeem when most find it all but impossible to simply forgive…well, that’s what makes him God.

My inabilities and my shortcomings in that way are why I need him–why we all do. We can’t be God–only God can do that.

Redemption is possible for all people.

Do it Now

“25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” John 19:25-27 ESV

My Pastor is currently preaching through the book of John, from beginning to end. He hasn’t gotten to this section yet, but today I was reading ahead and a few things occurred to me at roughly the same time:

Jesus had just been crucified. His mother and those close to him had borne witness. They’d also seen the soldiers who’d done it rolling dice at his feet for possession of the tunic he’d been wearing because they didn’t want to tear it so each could have a piece. Did they recognize something about him, that they would want his bloodied clothing? Maybe, but it didn’t slow down their efforts.

Jesus looks down and sees his family (blood family and in Christ) looking at him and he realizes there are his brother (from another mother) and mother seeing him in his final moments.

His brother. His mother. And though it does not say so specifically, I think that the disciple Jesus loved and the mother of Jesus realized that sometimes family isn’t blood. Sometimes family is heart, and spirit, and love. The words of Jesus cause them to realize the truth of this.

The other thing I thought about was to realize some of the last thoughts of Jesus as a man–just prior to his death–were to think of his mother. To provide for her, because he knew his time on earth (at that time) was short.

He thought of his mother, while he hung on the cross.

I thought about my own mother, when she was dying. I don’t know what her last thoughts were, but the very last word I ever personally heard her say was to me, in reference to my presence in her hospital room. She’d asked, “where’s Tommy.” I told her I was there, and she said “good.”

So obviously, considering this weekend, I was thinking about my mother.  I wish I’d thought about her more–appreciated her more–when she was here for me to appreciate and to show love to.

It made me think that all of our time is short, and we shouldn’t waste any of it. I know I will one day have the chance to tell my mom what is in my heart, and what was in my heart at 18 (though hopefully not for a while!).

Please allow me to drop this little bit of wisdom.

Don’t wait to speak love and appreciation to your mothers. Do it now.

I only have a few pictures of my mother. I don’t remember much about when she wasn’t sick. But I think this pic shows what I want to say. Now I’m older than my mom was in the photo, and I’m younger in the picture than my son John is…
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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.

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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.

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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.

 

The Best Thing I’ve Ever Done

There’s been so little good going on in the world lately, today I decided that was what I wanted to talk about–something good. Except what had I done that was good? What was the best thing I’d done? I knew I’d made a ton of mistakes.

What was the best thing I could think of? What was the best decision I’ve ever made? What that I have done has made my life better? For that, I go back to December of 2008.

Ken and Linda came to San Diego for a visit, and we went to Old Town to look at the sites and have some Mexican food. I decided that would be the day I said something to them about wanting to marry Jenny.

We did Old Town for a while, and we had lunch at some place whose name escapes me. I think that night, we also took in the Christmas program at Shadow Mountain Community Church, where David Jeremiah preaches. I remember when I attended there, the Christmas programs were quite extraordinary. I don’t remember the one we saw with Jenny’s parents, though, because I was kind of nervous, knowing what was coming later.

We stopped to get something to eat at Denny’s on the way back–it was the first place Jenny and I had eaten together–right before going to the zoo, and we had breakfast. So that night, it seemed like a good enough place to go with her folks for a late dinner. About halfway through, I decided that Jenny needed to take David to the restroom, and I would text her after I talked to her mom and dad.

After a minute or two, I mumbled something out–I don’t remember what I said. I do remember that Linda did one of those fist pumps people do. “Yes!” The only problem was that I forgot to text Jenny and tell her to come back. She must have waited five minutes in the Denny’s bathroom with her chicken sandwich getting cold.

Worked out for the best, though. At least I think so.

Now that the talking part was out of the way, we actually had to get engaged. I began formulating big plans for that. There would be a horse. An expensive dinner at Seaport Village. Clowns and balloons–Ok, maybe not that. But if you have a cliché in mind regarding a marriage proposal, I was going to do it.

It would be December 22, 2008.

Only one problem–I found out a couple days later, that was the annual Whitson family Christmas. There was nothing I could do–I couldn’t tell her that it was marriage proposal weekend. It would have ruined the surprise. So I drove to Yuma that Saturday, as I always did. It was around lunch time, and I knew everyone was already there, or would be soon.

I had to pick up the ring at the jewelers (it had been sized), and it wasn’t ready yet. So I walked over to the Walmart a couple of stores over to kill some time. I stood in the book aisle and read the ending of Marley & Me (see, I have a dark side. But I didn’t know what would happen to the darn dog at that point), and was soon puffy-eyed and teared up over the grave-digging scene. Big mistake.

Eventually, I secured the ring and went to Ken and Linda’s. The party was already on, and soon after it was time for gifts. The ring was in my pocket in a little ziplock baggie, wrapped in white tissue paper. Jenny and I were sitting on the blue and white “love seat,” and eventually, I figured “what the heck?” I went into the bathroom to fish the ring out of my pocket. I came back and gifts were just about done. David was across the room, and Jenny’s brother and wife were standing with their back to us. Her grandma was on the big couch, but wasn’t looking at us. I told her I had one gift left. I started to kneel, and said something stupid, like asking her what she was doing for the next 50 years or so. 4 year old David crashed into us right then–exactly then. I realized Grandma Marie HAD been looking after all. I slipped the ring on her finger, and that was the beginning of the best thing I’ve ever done. The smartest thing I’ve ever done.

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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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