Thursday, March 28, 2013

It's All In Your Perspective

A lack of grace, I have observed, seems to stem from a few different perspectives.  
One is when we have lived through the sin or trial that we judge in others.  Example -- If we were once ____________, we may tend to be much more judgmental of others caught in that stronghold.  Sinful pride will tell us that we conquered this sin, so all others should too - on our timeline and in the same way.  Somehow it escapes us that, at one point, we were unable to see our own need or a way to get out of it - and God loved us - right there in the mire of it.
If we are currently caught in a sin or trial, we may judge simply because beating the crap out of someone else, emotionally and spiritually, is easier than facing our own failure and (at least our hope is) will draw attention away from our failures and on to those of others.
Another reason for a lack of grace is that it hasn't touched us at all.  When I've never been particularly tempted by a specific sin, never caught in that stronghold, never lived through that trial, it's easy to judge others that are and how they're coping with it.
Sadly, I have exemplified, (and sometimes still do), all of these weaknesses.  They're easy to get caught in.  We like to be right.  And often, we like to be right more than we like to love -so it leads us to a whole multitude of sins.  
I have had a host of black and white, easy answers about the issue of homosexuality - until someone I love told me they are gay.
I had lots of opinions and judgments for parents with a wayward teen - until close friends, who did everything like I thought it should be done, had one.  .... And then I had one.
I had trite advice for those struggling with depression - until it hit our family.
I did not have much sympathy and often had judgment for the plight of the single mom, the parents whose kids had been removed from them and put in foster care, the person living on welfare, the promiscuous teenager sitting on the third row, the divorced person sitting alone...
And sadly, even the mom that worked rather than stayed home, the family that chose not to homeschool, the family that allowed their kids to read Harry Potter or listen to secular music (my list of rules was loooong, I'm tellin' ya') - until I got to know them - until I knew their stories.

I've had a whole host of rules to live by - man/religion-made rules, not God rules - It was easy for me to write off people that didn't follow these rules - until life caused me to see the emptiness of many of them.  I spent so many years encasing myself in a population of people exactly like myself that I couldn't see a bigger picture.  
Love caused me to back up and look at things from a different perspective.
I'm NOT making light of sin.  I know that sin is sin, it breaks God's heart and it must break ours, it destroys people, families and churches and must be dealt with, we need to hold one another accountable and confront sin within our faith communities (iron sharpens iron and all of that).  I'm not saying, "we're all weak and sinful, so let's just give up and wallow in it."  Not. at. all.
But honestly, can we just love each other through that process?  Really love - with our actions, not just our words ("I love you, but...").    Can we admit that some of them may not even be sins?  Can't we remember that, when it is sin, it is God that will break that stronghold, not our tirades or judgments? 
If we loved a little more, we might find people a little more willing to be upfront about their struggles and get help.
I want to see people from Jesus' perspective, not my limited view.  I want to love like He loved --- the adulterous woman, the leper, the demon possessed.  I want to love people the way He loved Zacchaeus, the corrupt tax collector and Nicodemus, the devout Pharisee.  His harshness (and He did have some) was reserved for those who failed to love, those who condemned rather than offered hope.
God help me.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Through Hell's Gate

Today is my husband's birthday.  And if you don't know him, just trust me - he's amazing.  He is perfect for me.  I am confident I'm a much better person than I would have been without him by my side.  As a matter of fact, I believe there are a lot of people that are better people for his influence in their lives.  So, today is for him...

To honor him on this day, I decided to have a "guest post" - our middle, Luke.  A couple of years ago, Luke tried his hand at writing and we found that he's pretty darn good.  He had a brief stint as a blogger, but gave it up for the sake of good grades and a little more sleep.  I'm hoping he'll pick it up again when life is a little less "school-y", because he's good.  Anyway, he wrote this piece and it so exemplifies both the kind of man that Brian is and the kind of kids he has raised, that I wanted to share it on this, the day set aside to honor him.


Through Hell's Gate

The sun was just beginning to rise.  Leaning against my bike at the starting line, I got chill bumps on my arms.  I knew they wouldn’t last for long though, the heat index would climb above 100 degrees before the ride was over.  I wasn’t nervous, maybe I should have been, but I didn’t exactly know the challenge I was facing.

The “Hotter ‘n’ Hell 100” is a cycling event my family and I have gone to for the past four years.  Thousands upon thousands of people come every year, from all over the country, to participate.  The first two years I rode in the 100 kilometer (62 mile) distance, then I found a love of racing, and last year I raced that distance.

This year I haven’t had much time to train.  I’ve only been able to ride three or four times in the past month, and the longest of those rides was only around 36 miles.  So even though I really wanted to, I decided it would be a stupid idea to race.  Apparently that didn’t stop me from coming up with another stupid idea.

Instead of racing I decided to do the non-competitive ride with my dad and my sister’s boyfriend, Jeff.  I planned on doing the 100k ride, instead of the 100 mile, but when the routes split, I changed my mind.  I thought “Hey, Jeff’s only been riding for three weeks, if he can do 100 miles, so can I.” So I turned on to the 100 mile route.  It was only 26 miles in, and I was feeling pretty good, but then again, it was only 26 miles in.

27 miles in, we started drafting to save energy.  I took some long pulls at the front, I was feeling pretty good.

50 miles in, I start to feel tired.

63 miles in, we pass through Hell’s Gate, the cutoff point, after that there’s no turning back.

64 miles in, I felt a twitch in my leg.

65 miles in, my legs started cramping. “Oh dang,” I thought, “there’s still a long way to go.”

I started drinking more water and Gatorade than I already had been, trying to get re-hydrated and stop the cramps.  We had to stop every ten or fifteen miles just so I could stretch.  I ate bananas, oranges, and potato chips, but nothing worked.  I couldn’t stay hydrated, it was just too hot.
I prayed, “God give me the strength to get through this, Father just let me finish.” And I kept riding.

Around mile 80 my dad said he was getting concerned for my health, I wasn’t looking so good.  He tried to get me to take the sag-wagon back.  I almost took it, mostly I didn’t just because I couldn’t let myself quit, but maybe a little bit of it was a matter of pride.  It’s a bad thing to have to take the sag-wagon back.  So I told him I wanted to finish, and he let me go on.
The cramps and exhaustion got progressively worse.

Then God said something along the lines of, “I’ve given you the strength to finish, he’s right in front of you.”

My dad never left me.  That whole time, he could have gone ahead and finished in his goal time.  But he never left.  He took pulls for miles on end, so that I could have enough energy to finish.  He slowed down for me when I couldn’t move my legs to pedal because they were so tight.  He shared his Gatorade with me when I ran out.  Most importantly he let me decide to finish.  Had he ordered me to take the sag-wagon back, I would have respected him and done so, but he didn’t, he let me finish.

So, finally, as the three of us came up to the 100th mile, my dad looked at us and said, “We cross together.” So we did, all at the same time.

They had a fire hydrant turned on for the riders to cool off in, so I took off my jersey and walked over to it.  I spread my arms and let the water rain down on me, felt it wash away the sweat and the salt and the heat.  It felt good.  Pure and simple, good is really the only way to describe it.

And I prayed, “Thank you for my dad.”

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

It Grows In the Dark

Sometimes I feel like I'm walking a tight wire across Niagara Falls.

I was not prepared.  I did not know.  I am completely  and utterly inadequate.  Yet, here I am.

We have a child struggling with depression and the aftermath of choices he made in that depression.  It's still relatively fresh - the tip of the iceberg is, at least.  As the months pass, I'm finding that the part we couldn't see was as big as what sunk the Titanic and has been growing for years.

How did we miss it?  How could I have been that blind to his pain?  How could a mother not know her baby is dying on the inside?  I could live here - I could SO just stop right here and wallow in the guilt - live in the vain imaginations of the details.  But I do not have that luxury.  

I will get up, wipe my tears, ask forgiveness for my failure, dust off the mourning ashes - and move on.  This child needs us.

I cannot express how proud of him I am - for his honesty - for his boldness - even for his fear.  That he was willing to strip away every pretense and be honest with us and with the world around him, is something many "mature" adults are still unable to do.  He wants to be whole and complete in Christ more than he wants man's approval.  I love that.

Depression is not a sin.  He did not do something - we did not do something - to cause this.  I believed that on some level before now, but I think my answers were trite and simplistic.  I B.E.L.I.E.V.E. it now.  It's a part of who he is, at least for now.  And God is big enough to either heal him completely, or to be his strength when he is weak.  God's grace is enough for any struggle we will face - His grace is enough as he faces this. His grace is enough as he learns healthy ways to move forward.  God's grace will show him that he is redeemed, loved and accepted.  His grace is enough as we learn how to walk alongside him in this.  

We have much to learn in the days to come. As we learn, struggle, fail, get back up and learn again - as it becomes real in our family, I hope to be able to share that.  I do not believe any of us struggle or find victory for our benefit alone.  It is my prayer that others will find hope and help, as we are.  But one thing we're learning loud and strong right now is that if you want to get better - you have to drag that sucker, kicking and screaming perhaps, out into the light.  

Struggles (even those not of our making), deep wounds, sin, strongholds - these things grow in the dark.  They're nurtured in the dark - both physical darkness and spiritual darkness.  Our enemy will use the darkness to make them seem overwhelming and shameful.  When we are afraid to bring our struggles into the light for the fear of what will happen when others see them, we give them power.

We think we can control it, hide it, master it... we cannot.  

If you love someone that is struggling - especially if it is your child - do not give up.  Do not cast blame.  Do not wallow in self-pity or shame of your own that you didn't see it or haven't been able to help them.  Get up.  This is not about you.  Self-pity is not an option here.  There's a God that saves and He is on our side.  Pray.  Get help from others that are trained and have gone before us.  Allow them the freedom, give them the grace, to be honest and to say even what may be painful to hear.  It is in that place that healing begins.

If you are struggling, do not let our Enemy convince you that you will be rejected if you bring it out into the light.  He knows the battle will be won there.  Those that reject you for your honesty are not your friends.  My husband said in a sermon last week, "The enemy does not whisper these (lies) in our ears because he believes them; he whispers them because we believe them."  Stop believing our Enemy.  "Listen to the applause of Heaven" as you choose to stop hiding in fear and shame.

Drag it into the light, expose our Enemy for the destroyer, thief and liar that he is - ask others to help you.

My son is teaching me that bold vulnerability is the place where God lives and works.  The kind of honesty that scares most of us does not scare him.  Okay - that's not true.  It does scare him - terrifies him at times - but he is courageous anyway.  He wants God more than he wants to follow his fear.  

I want to be like that.


Note:  Please know that I never hit "publish" when it involves my children unless they have already chosen to be open regarding the topic and without first talking with them, allowing them to read, edit and approve.  I will never be the one to make the decision to share the details of their journeys publicly - those details are theirs to tell as they, and God, see fit.  

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

God Doesn't Care

I haven't done much public writing lately.  Lots of private - but little public.  Much of what I'm processing lately is very personal and too fresh, so I'm writing - and maybe someday I'll share it.  But here's something God hit me with recently that I have freedom to share.

As most of you know, my youngest is on the work-my-butt-off track to rock stardom.  He is passionate - driven -  and talented.  He'll get there, I believe that.  

One of the things that entails is that he sings in lots of little out-of-the-way, dark, dive-y places around Oklahoma City, for little to no money.  So, that, along with trying to graduate from high school, all of us working regular jobs and trying to help him reach his goal of spending a good portion of time in India later this year, figuring out how Brian can go for the first part of that trip, (and then, just for good measure, some emotional/relational/painful stuff thrown in) means it's a little nuts around here right now for all of us.

A couple of weeks ago, he had a show in OKC and I was meeting him there (already up there for work).  He calls because he's missed an exit in unfamiliar territory, his engine light has come on, the car is acting really wonky (side note: we just paid nearly $2000.00 to fix this old car) and he's in the middle of rush hour traffic.  We shortly got all that settled and him to a safe place, but in the conversation that followed he said something along the lines of, "I'm trying to do what's right, I've prayed about this, but it doesn't seem to matter and things always seem to go wrong because, apparently, God doesn't care about my car."

I didn't have an answer because, honestly?  Honestly, I feel the same way.  

Michael Wells used to say (to God), after a series of really unpleasant experiences that God was clearly strong enough and capable enough to intervene in, but did not -  "THIS is why people don't like You!"  I've been saying that a lot too.

Life is hard.

Life isn't fair.

He could intervene in our inconveniences, our problems, our sickness, our relational battles, our pain - yet, often, He does not.

So - after being struck by what Dylan said, realizing how strongly I also believed it, and meditating on that for a couple of days - I came to this conclusion -- 

God doesn't care about my car.

I think we've fooled ourselves into believing that if we're obedient, if we're faithful, if we follow the rules, God owes us a blessed life.  (And by "blessed", I mean our definition - free of problems, sickness and trials, lots of money and beautiful, intelligent people surrounding us that always do things our way and make sure we feel good about ourselves at all times.)

"He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous."

"In this world you will have trouble." 

He doesn't care about my car - but He does care about me.  

He's concerned with me becoming who He made me to be, becoming like His Son; with us living in relationship with Him and the community of faith, the Church; with us being light in a dark world, salt in a decaying world; beacons that point broken people to Jesus; the hands and feet of Jesus to the marginalized and vulnerable.  And we don't learn that through a life that's always wine and roses. 

How I react - what I learn - when the car breaks down in the midst of a life that doesn't have the time or the money to handle it - He's concerned about that.

Life is going to throw us crap.  Everybody gets it.  It varies from person to person, family to family, but we all get it.  Righteous and unrighteous.  Christ followers and not.  Evil and good.  We all get it.  It's the result of living in a fallen, broken world.  People hurt us, our bodies fail us, stupid people will never go away, our stuff breaks.  None of it was meant to last - and none of it will.

But do we "mourn as those who have no hope?" 

That's what God cares about.  Who am I becoming in the midst of this crap-fest?  

 - Do I trust Him to show me how to have hope when there seems to be none 

 - Will I trust in the One who is enough when I am not 

 - Will I have the courage to be vulnerable again when I've been hurt for the thousandth time

 - Will I continue to consider others when life's difficulties have made me want to just turn inward and live in perpetual self-pity

 - Will I get up again when I've failed horribly, because I follow a God of redemption and    second-chances 

 - Will I rest in the eternal when all things temporal fail me

I do believe He is determined to see us through to the end on THAT. 

He cares about THAT.