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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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.

send me

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.

 

 

Unlearn…

Nobody asked me for my opinion about “kneel gate,” but I’m going to give it anyway. Yes, kneeling the way athletes have been doing of late is patently offensive to a person who can look at the flag and see it for what it is, or has the potential to be. So viewed through a patriotic lens, people are going to get mad about what looks like people metaphorically peeing on the flag.

What a friend helped me to realize is that isn’t necessarily the case. Sure it could be, because there are always going to be jerks out there, but I don’t think it is in regard to this situation. The reason for the protest, shortly spoken, is that racism is a real and present danger in our country. It has had it’s share of blame in the recent and fairly recent deaths of several young men of various colors.

What I was thinking is that if racial and racially based motives have been learned, they can also be “unlearned,” which they must be if there is any hope for us at all. I believe that is true of African-American and Caucasian alike.

We have much to learn, and much to unlearn.

So yes, I find the current protest trend offensive and disrespectful. I am just not sure that’s done by kneelers with prejudice and malice aforethought.

Athletes have a forum that is limited as to means of protest. They are entitled to do it, should they feel the need to do so. The constitution gives them the right to burn a flag in protest, should they wish to. I believe what they’re doing to be stupid and odious, but that right to do so is what so many fought and died for them to have. So if you don’t want to offend someone, or have your motives questioned, find another way. There are lots of ways to say lots of things. Even for athletes.

I am able to see that cries of oppression sound hollow if the people making them are highly privileged rather than oppressed. While outrage in the other direction is for me a bit easier to understand. Because the flag…well, I remember saying the pledge of allegiance in the second grade and getting all verklempt.

I saw a picture of my uncle wearing his uniform and a bronze star some time after that.

So I remove my cap when the national anthem is played and I stand with my hand over my heart.

You have a right to do otherwise. Just don’t be surprised if people find it offensive. Lots of people are offended by lots of things these days. If you’re doing something offensive and demeaning to something others hold highly regarded–whether deliberate or not–there will in some way be a consequence of that offense.

So it is with racially motivated offenses.

Unlearn, people. Unlearn.

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 my 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.

Path

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.