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

 

The Weight

A Work in Progress

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…

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Don’t Mistake Intentions

I read something today from a United States Congressperson regarding “thoughts and prayers,” and their perceived effectiveness or efficacy in stopping shootings, or maybe it was in offering protection. I don’t remember the exact words, but it occurred to me the statement was sort of missing the point.

I do not believe people offering ‘thoughts and/or prayers to or for people are typically looking to stop something from happening, or make something else happen in regard to situations that are harmful or dangerous to some people and not harmful to others. Speaking only for myself, I’d say that if I offer prayers to someone, or tell them I’ll pray for them, what I’m usually looking to get across is that God offers them solace or comfort through a situation rather than deliverance from it, although God is God and I am not, so if that’s his will I also pray that’s what happens.

It just seemed to me that to disparage prayers from anyone for offering them in a given situation as being not effective or worthless in some way to me implies that the person flinging forth the disparagement does not understand God, or prayers, or the heart of people offering them.

Or maybe that’s just me.

 

Cultural Confusion

I’ve never really protested anything significantly, or felt persecuted because of something I believe or do not believe in.

I remember reading pages and pages about how people in the 60’s protested the war in Vietnam or civil rights for all people. I didn’t agree with all of it, but I sort of understood it.

College in the 60’s–the decade I was born–was pretty tough. I think of things like Kent State, and that tower sniper in Texas.

I don’t believe it’s as rough today as many young people in our culture today would indicate. Seems to me the thing today to do is protesting when someone conservative comes to give a talk of some kind on your campus.

That’s social injustice for sure.

Because conservatism as a way of life means you’re a dirty racist and a persecutor of some kind.

And you hate people who don’t agree with you.

I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but that certainly isn’t true of me or other people I know who are either fiscally or politically conservative.

And I think socialism is such a popular ‘thing’ these days because it sounds great on paper, but…look how great it works in other places around the world.

And no, I am not part of the one percent. I just don’t feel I’m owed anything based on my existence alone.

But that’s me.

33 Years

33 years ago yesterday, three of us walked up Double M Road and cut across the ruins of this old dairy to go play basketball at a nearby elementary school, which we all happened to have attended just a few years before.

Just to the front of the dairy there was a wide dirt spot near a pepper tree that was covered with a puddle of what looked to be blood and some other things. My friend nearly dropped the basketball in it. We could only guess what had happened.

We continued on and ended up just taking free throws for a while instead of an actual game. One of the group wasn’t there and we had an odd number. Our friend had planned to graduate early to join the Marines but we still expected to see him around. We didn’t that day.

The next day we went to school as usual and fairly early in the morning they wheeled in a TV on a cart so we could watch the Challenger launch. We did, and everyone was shocked when it exploded shortly after takeoff.

We got off the bus outside my house as we usually did and one of our peripheral friends was waiting to tell us about our friend we hadn’t seen that day. Turns out the mess under the pepper tree was from him–he’d walked there sometime the night before and shot himself in the head.

All anyone talked about for days was the Challenger disaster and I get that. It was terrible. Yet on that day–33 years ago–all I could think about was my friend Ben.

I remember we sang a song in his memory during men’s chorus and the teacher just let us all cry and hug and all that. There was only about a dozen of us, and a big hole in Ben’s spot.

Yet we sang “Ain’t Got Time to Die” and we remembered our friend.

I thought about him today as we got the boys ready for school and my wife and I for various other things.

But I remembered him. I thought of his shaggy blonde hair and his bass voice and bass guitar. I remembered how nice he was to my mom and sisters.

He was such a good dude.

And there are some things you can never forget.

Always Something There to Remind Me

Here is a thought that came to me moments ago:

I am constantly reminded of the face and presence of God when I see my children.

When I feel the warmth of my wife’s hand on my shoulder as she reaches out to me in her sleep.

When I feel an outpouring of love from friends and family during an occasionally tough season.

When God wakes me up another day.

I am so grateful.

Until

There’s a single line from the movie “The Color Purple” I thought of just now, and I found myself sort of…wishing it on my wife’s former employer, on her behalf. Celie’s family has finally had a huge blowup fight and she curses Mister and says, “Until you do right by me, everything you do gonna fail.”

These people, and the way they do things, has me wishing abject failure on their every endeavor. Then again, justice belongs to the Lord, not me.

Still, for some reason they did ill by my wife. Who knows why?

Yep. Failure for them.

I say this with the realization that it isn’t particularly kind, and likely is nowhere near what my girl is thinking.

It isn’t the ‘Christian’ thing to think.

But I am human and fallible and it’s what I was thinking. Yet I want God’s favor on my family. I think any good man does.

With that in mind, may God reach out to these people and touch their hearts in some way.

Even if they’re withered like salted plums.

Universal Truth

I think the most universal truth there is would be that everyone wants things to be easy. It’s right up there with ‘don’t piss into the wind’ and ‘whoever smelt it, dealt it.’

Truth is truth.

Another truth comes from Coldplay: nobody said it was easy.

Considering what happened yesterday with my wife’s job I get that.

But here’s a truth from the Tao of Tom:

Difficult doesn’t mean it isn’t good.

Of course our present situation will be a little tough.

That doesn’t mean it won’t be good.

From Rend Collective:

What’s true in the light is still true in the dark. You’re good and you’re kind and you care for this heart.

It’s this truth that sustains us.

If we didn’t know in our hearts this was true then we’d be…screwed. Or we’d feel that way.

Yet the promises of scripture are full of truth. There are too many to list in a late night blog.

But what’s true in the light is still true in the dark.

Jesus loves me this I know.

It all comes back to that.

He loves me when it’s hard, and when it’s easy.

Sometimes, knowing you’re loved by the almighty is enough.

It is tonight.

But I still can’t sleep.

I think I’ll get up and read.

Wouldn’t Change a Thing

Like anyone, there have been times in my life where I sometimes think I would wish for a different outcome, given the chance for a redo. Times have existed where pain was real and agonizing, in a literal and figurative way.

Times where loss undid me, and I just wanted things to go black, though I never thought of taking drastic measures myself.

When thoughts of these times or circumstances come (and intrude on my outlook today) it occurs to me that as difficult as the hard times were, they had their part in shaping the person I was into the person I’m in the process of becoming.

And if I changed even one part of my past, it’s very likely none of the pictures below would have happened.

I guess God knows what he’s doing.