Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Love and Marriage

Generally we don't make a huge deal about Valentine's Day at our house. Except I love any excuse to eat chocolate. This week my lovely and talented wife and I participated in a panel discussion about love and marriage at my daughter's school. It was part of their chapel program for grades 7-12. It was fun. It also gave me hope.

There were three other couples on the panel, we were the oldest. I resonated with much of what others shared. So while my circumstances may be different, I'm not alone in dealing with the joys and struggles that come with marriage. Two broken people coming together, through thick and thin, better and worse, plenty and want. It's hard. It's good. It's messy. It's joyful. It's painful. I'm so thankful for the woman I married and every experience along the way. I definitely "out kicked my coverage!"

A couple hundred kids heard great insights today in chapel. They heard about the grace and love of God, that is reflected in marriage. They heard about God's design for sex. They heard about His forgiveness for those who stray from that design. They were challenged to use their voices to ask questions and set boundaries. This struck me because when I was their age I didn't really get these messages clearly. So I'm hopeful that a few were impacted by our discussion.

This experience was a great reminder for me of the beauty of marriage and the power of the gospel. It has caused me to want to fight for a stronger relationship with my wife. I want to model what a healthy marriage looks like for my daughters.

Below are the lyrics to a song about relationships, especially marriage. You can watch/listen here. Let me encourage you to press into the hard things, celebrate the joys and struggles and know that there is grace for all of it.

If We're Honest
Truth is harder than a lie
The dark seems safer than the light
And everyone has a heart that loves to hide
I'm a mess and so are you
We've built walls nobody can get through
Yeah, it may be hard, but the best thing we could ever do, ever do
Bring your brokenness, and I'll bring mine
'Cause love can heal what hurt divides
And mercy's waiting on the other side
If we're honest
If we're honest
Don't pretend to be something that you're not
Living life afraid of getting caught
There is freedom found when we lay our secrets down at the cross, at the cross
So bring your brokenness, and I'll bring mine
'Cause love can heal what hurt divides
And mercy's waiting on the other side
If we're honest
If we're hones
It would change our lives
It would set us free
It's what we need to be
So bring your brokenness, and I'll bring mine
'Cause love can heal what hurt divides
And mercy's waiting on the other side
If we're honest
If we're honest
If we're honest
Songwriters: FRANCESCA BATTISTELLI, JEFF PARDO, MOLLY E. REED
© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., CAPITOL CHRISTIAN MUSIC GROUP

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Grief, One Year Later

It has been a year since our family experienced a life-changing loss. My 28 year old daughter, Chasity, died from a heroin overdose on January 28, 2017. The opioid epidemic brought with it this reoccurring nightmare for tens of thousands of families in our country. Over 42,000 Americans died from drug overdose in 2016. The official numbers for last year are not available yet, but everyone knows they are not trending down. This is tragic, heart wrenching and sickening.

My daughter's death, as well as her struggle with drug addiction, has given me a different lens through which I can view others. My propensity to criticize and evaluate is being nudged out of the way by compassion. The "log in my eye" is not completely gone, but I feel differently about the speck in your eye. I have addictions too, ones that are not likely to cause my sudden death, but still they reveal my desperate need to rest in the love and grace of God. Perhaps more honesty about this sort of thing would be helpful in our culture, in our congregations. I believe many American churches have a long way to go before drug addicts feel safe entering the building without condescending glances. Will they hear a gospel shared with authentic love, untainted by judgement? I hope my church is moving in that direction.

One year removed from the shock and pain of overdose death in my immediate family, I'm not completely sure how I'm supposed to be feeling, what I'm supposed to be doing. Before you jump to conclusions (like I often do), let me clarify. I am aware that there is no "right" way to grieve. But I still can't help but sense that I've missed something and I should be ______ (fill in the blank). A wise and dear friend told me it is never helpful to "should" on yourself or others. Still, I'm wondering about this difficult process. It is a process.

After the death of a loved one I have heard others say, "I think about them every day." Well, the plain truth is, some days pass and I don't think about Chasity. I want to be okay with that. The loss doesn't change because it is not front and center in my thinking. My love for her is not diminished. Day by day, moment by moment I have been living my life for the past year, in the shadow that has been cast by her death. I have laughed. I have cried. I have struggled. I have trusted. I have loved. I have been angry. I have been sad. I have been ashamed. I have talked. I have been silent. I have preached. I have whined. I am human. Life does indeed go on, until it doesn't.

The death of my oldest daughter has caused me to look at my other two daughters differently. I occasionally feel fearful around the thought that I will lose them too. I'm not sure they realize, but I have tried to hug them more. I suspect that many parents have a fear of losing a child. Prior to Chasity's death I also had that fear, but it was more theoretical. Experiencing reality has a way of raising awareness and bringing truth into perspective.

This life is short. We will experience loss. There is not really a way to fully prepare for walking that particular road. The presence of trusted friends and family have aided me. My faith and hope in Christ has been extremely helpful. But with humanity comes a frailty that impacts even God-given faith. Although mixed with fear and doubt at times, my faith is still present and powerful. We must live with this delicate tension, embracing our humanity as well as the Divine.

I can not go back. I can not undo or unsay anything. I have no idea what will come across my path tomorrow. I only have this moment, to live and love and also at times to grieve. Although during the last year our family has experienced pain and loss, there is much for which I am thankful. It is a very helpful thing to consider grief, and at the same time, gratitude. That is a place where I am certain we will also discover the boundless reservoir of God's grace.

[For those interested, I wrote about these circumstances and their impact last year here and here.]

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Destruction of Disconnection

I'm weary. I'm on overload from the current news cycle. Just when I thought it was safe to log onto "the Facebook" I get bombarded with stuff. I get sucked in and suddenly I'm irritated, unsettled and empty. I was just hoping to connect with my "friends."

An issue that is underneath so much of the mess that is filling up your news feed: Disconnection

Technology, which ironically provides the platform for this article, has "connected" us in some fascinating ways. At the same time, it has destroyed genuine, personal, face-to-face life. Various forms of media draw us into a world that is not actually ours.

We don't look into the faces of our friends in the same way we once did. We stare at screens and buy the illusion that we are truly engaging with others. We talk at one another electronically, instead of talking with one another empathetically. These devices are holding our relationships hostage and robbing us of joy.

What can we do? Rant more frequently on social media OR risk authentic connection with other human beings? I know what I need. I know what feeds my soul.

So here here are a few very simple suggestions:

1. Instead of texting someone, actually dial the phone and speak. I realize its still electronic, but you will hear the voice of a live person. Baby steps, right?!

2. When you go to the bank, post office or fast food place, avoid the drive through. Forsake convenience in favor of personal interaction. Take a moment to inquire about the individual on the other side of the counter, really listen to them and smile. Smiles are free!

3. Turn off the TV, walk across the street and visit with your neighbors. Check in to see how they are getting along. Sit on the porch. Ask about the kids or the grand kids. Make a plan to have them over for dinner or take in a local event together. Connect with the people who actually live closest to you. If you go with cookies or a cake, even better. Do this regularly.

4. Eat at least one meal each day with family or friends, around an actual table. While you are eating, talk about real life, your life, not the lives of people on TV you will never even meet. (But don't talk with your mouth full.) Share your stories, your joys and struggles. Laugh. Cry. Hug. Hugs are free too!

5. Make it a point to meet with others face to face weekly. Lunch or coffee, at the park or in your home. Be intentional about scheduling these in-person visits. It won't happen by accident. Don't talk about sports or the weather. Get underneath, to the important things that are driving the ebb and flow of life. Share the things that are behind your sadness, joy and struggle. Pledge to hold your friend's story in confidence. Pray together. These are the things that foster friendships.

6. Move beyond your current circle of friends and engage with people who are not like you - at all. Pick out that person in the neighborhood, at work or at church that you have literally nothing in common with, and befriend them. Spend time listening to their ideas. Learn about their journey and learn from their journey. Don't try to convince them to see everything exactly like you see it. This can be risky. It will likely push you to the edge, which is where growth can happen.

Your presence, as an image bearer of God, carries weight. God has made us for connection. As Christians we want to bring the issues of life into the light with trusted friends, bearing each other's burdens, pointing one another to the cross where we find hope, healing and ultimate relationship.

I would commend to you the book, Befriend: Create Belonging in an age of Judgment, Isolation, and Fear.

Living in isolation, disconnected from others, often brings the illusion of peace. But disconnection is destructive and leaves us hollow. So, turn off your device and go develop some authentic connections. It may not change the latest news cycle, but it will change you.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Gentle on My Mind

Musician and singer Glen Campbell died this week. He had been living with Alzheimer's disease for the last several years. I watched with great interest, and sorrow, the Netflix documentary about his farewell tour. Campbell spent about a year on the road doing concerts after he announced his diagnosis. Although his mind was fading, his musical talent still showed flashes of brilliance. The human brain is an amazing creation of God.

Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia are perhaps the most heart wrenching ailments that I have witnessed.  Nearly everyone I know has been touched by dementia in some form. It is this sort of pain that remind us of the frailty of this life. There is often a tremendous sense of powerlessness that grips the family members of those struggling with Alzheimer's and dementia.

As we witness this level of suffering and brokenness, in the depths of the human heart there is something that cries out, "This is not the way it is supposed to be!" Indeed, this is not how thing were in the garden of Eden. However, it was the sin and rebellion of mankind that started the mess. We have been going our own way ever since. What we experience today, the pain and struggle, is the fallout. Thankfully, God has graciously provided a way for the brokenness to be restored through Jesus. This is the good news of the gospel.

Still, even for the followers of Jesus, there is heartache and turmoil. Watching someone deal with dementia is a vivid reminder. One of the last recordings that Glen Campbell made, I'm Not Gonna Miss You, seems like a haunting and honest statement about this struggle. Take a few minutes to enjoy his musical gift, here.

Thankfully, because of Christ, there is eternal hope and peace that transcends this brief and broken life.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Working on the Broken Things

Several months ago the side view mirror on our car got broken. I didn't jump right in and get it fixed. The shattered mirror, and shoddy attempt to patch it up, was a constant reminder that the problem needed to be addressed.

Eventually my faithful wife ordered the replacement part online. But even after the part arrived, it stayed in the box for several weeks. I knew the broken mirror needed to be fixed but I put it off, hesitant to tackle the work. Was it going to be complicated? Did I have all the tools? It would require setting aside time. So for weeks (actually months and months) we drove around with a broken mirror. Honestly, it wasn't very safe. I needed to take action. Finally, last night I did. It did require effort and the proper tools. But it turns out, I had the tools I needed and was able to get it done in short order.

How is this like my life?

I am aware at times there are broken things, deeper or more subtle, that I chose to ignore, avoid or hide. They might have to do with relationships or wounds in my heart. Instead of taking action I brush them aside, sometimes imagining it will be hard, painful or messy to address the situation. Or believing a resolution is impossible. Sometimes, rather than engaging the issue I attempt to patch the brokenness. This usually creates more brokenness. The truth is these broken things, which can be messy, don't fix themselves and they don't just go away. They frequently get worse with time and contribute to a lack of safety in my life and the lives of those around me.

There is another truth: In Christ, I have all that I need to press into the broken things and work to repair them. It takes awareness, intentionality and willingness to risk. There is a hurtful impact for me and others if I leave things broken, if relationships are not reconciled. But there is great reward in stepping into the hard things, trusting God and His gracious provision. He can repair the brokenness and will meet me in the struggle.

Through the gospel of Jesus Christ I have been reconciled to God. He has fixed my spiritual brokenness, given me His righteousness and the power to live in freedom. However, this is still a broken world. I still make a mess of things at times. Which means there is always work to do, messes to be cleaned up, wounds to be healed. And by God's grace I hope to continue bringing these things into the light and working on the broken things.

[If you are looking for a resource on this topic, consider Relationships: A Mess Worth Making.]

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Fixer Upper

My wife and I enjoy watching those TV programs about home renovations. I'm always amazed by the big reveal in the end. The before and after scenes depict wonderful transformations. By far our favorite show is Fixer Upper. Chip Gaines strikes me as the sort of guy I would hang out with. His wife Joanna is often flustered by his goofiness. Much like my lovely wife, who also has wonderful design skills and shares the same birthday as "Jo Jo." If I had a dollar for every time I heard, "don't make that goofy face" I could buy one of those amazing houses!

I'm currently reading The Magnolia Story, written by this house-flipping couple. Embedded in this account of how the Gaines' met and grew their business is another story of growth. Chip and Joanna share several incidents about growing awareness as they work through life together. The awareness of unhelpful perfectionism. The Recognition of how early life events shaped future actions and perceptions. The realization that God is often working in small ways amid difficulty even though it is unseen in the moment.

I lived much of my life unaware. Even after I came to faith in Christ, I was unaware of what was really in my heart and why I was often struggling to connect with my wife, my kids, and others. The work I've done with Men At The Cross has been incredibly significant in my spiritual and emotional growth.

You see, I'm a bit of a fixer upper. Sometimes I feel like every day is "demo day" (fans of Fixer Upper will get that!). God is at work renovating my life. I could show you before and after photos, evidence of God's grace in my life. Even though the big reveal is still a ways off, I am thankful for growing awareness and the lessons along the way. I'm even grateful for the messiness of the process.

Yesterday was my birthday - 52 years of ups and downs, good and not-so-great, as well as very difficult. I wouldn't change anything. Its all part of my story. Its not flawless, but it is perfectly me.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Adversity and Grace

One of my favorite Christian authors is Jerry Bridges. His book The Discipline of Grace has been so helpful in my life. The crux of the book is an exhortation to rest in God's unfailing grace, rather than our daily performance. It is here that Bridges introduces the oft repeated insight that a Christian must, "Preach the gospel to himself every day." Through this we remind ourselves that our standing before God is all of grace from start to finish, and every moment in between.

The final chapter is entitled "The Discipline of Adversity." I can only assume the author put this last because adversity and trials are so dreadful. Passages like James 1:2-4 are easy to understand but hard to apply when the tidal wave of hardship has crushed me.

Here are a few of the closing lines from the chapter:

"Learning to live by grace instead of by performance helps us to accept the discipline of adversity. For one thing, we realize that God is not disciplining us because of our bad performance but, on the contrary, because of His love for us. We also learn to accept that whatever our situation is, it is far better than we deserve."

Keep this in mind when you are experiencing suffering or hardship. Wade out into God's "river of grace" and stand there. Let the current wash away your self judgements as it pushes you further into the loving arms of your Heavenly Father. Preach the gospel to yourself and receive this truth: Nothing "will be able separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:39b)

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