Take the Shot

Easter came, Easter went. Lent, Holy Week, Resurrection Day.

I have been thinking about wounds, resentment, humility, Jesus, dying, living and forgetting myself.

And as I was thinking about this yesterday, I thought about self-pity because a lot of privileged white reformed guys have been trying to tell me how bad it is. I agree its bad. It’s the product of the sin of pride revealing itself when things don’t go well. When things are going well most privileged white reformed guys are just arrogant, but they don’t like to talk about that sin as much because it hits too close too home.

Photo Courtesy of Richard Van De Water

As I was thinking about this I felt the Lord impress upon me a question:

“When was the last time you took a hit for someone that was really hard to recover from?”

That question, is the question that Jesus willingly walks into time and time again, inconveniencing Himself, foregoing riches and opportunity in order to bring salvation and a Kingdom to the kids (us).

That question is also what Peter faces prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection, and Peter thinks he will be able to answer with selfless action. When the rubber meets the road he does not.

When the rubber meets the road I do not.

I have not taken hits because I have too good a memory of what hits feel like. It’s easier to take a hit for someone when you feel strong or calloused or when you don’t see them coming. It might be harder to get up in these cases, but it’s easier to take the hit.

Jesus took the blow unflinchingly, knowing it was coming, remaining tender. That’s why it’s impossible to save ourselves. We will always shield the blow when there is doubt about the damage.

What if we don’t recover?

That’s the fear, right? What if the damage dealt to my heart because of your sin towards me, my sin towards you, my sin towards myself, what if I deal the blow that I can’t recover from? What if I take the risk and it was not in faith and it all falls apart? What if, nay when I fail again, what if I just can’t will myself to get up?

To get ahead of that, the only way I know how is to take God at His Word.

Then it hit me:

Every time Peter is about to royally screw up, Judas too, Jesus lets them know. Jesus lets Peter know there is hope on the other side. (He lets Judas know it was better he’d not been born). Jesus promises us hope on the other side and through His Spirit He promises to speak to our heart, our mind, to surround a seed of faith with hope so that we will endure even if what we’ve sown dies.

Some of what we sow, it is a sheer mercy that it dies and bears no fruit.

Which is why I’m praying over what I’m sowing and if you want what your sowing.

Lord Jesus, may I sow according to the Spirit and put to death the deeds of the flesh, the ones that are rooted in self-preservation and tries to grasp too tightly. Let me scatter the seeds and trust and do the work with joy and hope (eager expectation of good). Let me lose myself in You and sow good seed into others. Let me be generous not looking out for my own interests but considering others better than myself. Thank you for being good, gently and lowly in Your Lordship. I am need of Someone less harsh than myself.

The Purpose of Our Collective Tears

It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting.

Ecclesiastes 7:2

I don’t know how prepared you are to give of your tears or how familiar you might be with what that entails. I’m going to write a bit about mourning this morning. Grief, loss, and death, I know are not necessarily fun topics to read about. I don’t know a lot about pandemics, the spread of viruses or the long term effects of these things, but I am  fairly confident that if political leaders and people are willing to show any hint of prioritizing stimulating the economy and bailing out large financially irresponsible big businesses at the risk of spreading a deadly virus, it’s safe to say that some compassionate folks may have to take up the business of empathy and grieving.

*Scroll to the bottom if you just like practicals*

And that person might be you or me. So here’s how:

Tears are beautiful. One day, in the Kingdom of Heaven there will be no more use for them. But here, now, tears of the emotional variety are a visual display of our pain and our stress and our empathy. As they are released chemicals are typically released in our body that calm our mind and relieve us of physical pain. In this way they are chemically associated with doing good for the inside.

It is important to keep in mind that the capacity for tears or crying is more important than volume. So like anything crying too much or persistent crying amidst a depressive episode could yield little to no benefit. It’s important to discern and distinguish between the two.

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For instance:

Yesterday, my mom put her cat Tabitha down who was 19 years old and had kidney failure. I cried a bit on my drive to her house thinking about my mom during this season of quarantine, thinking a little about Tabitha and how interesting of a cat she was. Those tears were in some ways helpful because I was prepared to empathize with my mom and imagined what it was like to lose a pet but also adjust in a season when being home a lot and perhaps for a extended season is necessary.

Later on that evening, I cried again while being exceedingly frustrated and uncertain even scared about what decisions to make, feeling like life is still out of my control and being frustrated and double-minded about how to live out what I feel called to in the midst of my current vocation after a season where I already felt isolated for the previous 5 months. These tears were less helpful, but still helpful. In part because these tears were more a response to an unclear uncertain emotional framework that had me stuck on myself. If I was still crying those same tears now they would not be helpful and perhaps self-indulgent.

Let’s return to loss and grief and death though for a moment. Some of you may have experienced the loss of a loved one. It was a deep loss that you may have not been prepared for and suffered or may suffer still as you learn to adapt to a new rhythm without that individual. Sometimes their loss might still illicit tears or sadness but hopefully, that loss has not kept you unable to find fullness in life.

Hopefully, you found a helpful ritual or prayer or found ways to accept the loss and have been given new eyes of appreciation for others. Hopefully, also, you will be presented with the opportunity to help others walk through their own grief and loss.

My hope is that this will not be a season that you will be called upon to do that, but there is a chance in the coming weeks even months you might know several people who lose something or someone due to this virus.

Not all loss is death, but death feels the most permanent. And in seasons where isolation is already becoming the norm if someone were to die while others are isolated and may not be able to mourn as easily communally, we will need to be diligent in helping to heal those who suffer loss.

We have power to minister and bring healing to others when we stay alert and aware in the midst of our own loss, to not checkout and isolate, but to remain available. To be reminded that others too will suffer the loss of spouse or grandparent or parent or child, that while our grief and loss is unique in the individual or thing lost, the experience of losing is not unique to us.

So a couple of practicals:

-Imagine you are in their position, in the coming weeks it might not take that much imagining (we’ll see)

-Listen more than spouting advice or cliche phrases of optimism (Scripture written in an encouraging note or a timely word spoken gently might be helpful but listen first)

-Pray for them

-Make sure they are fed and checked in on

-Affirm that they are loved, again gently

-Maybe not a reminder for the one suffering, but death is not the end of everything and it is a part of life; death might become more normalized, but Jesus has promised us eternity with Him for those who believe. So yes, a priority on the restoration to or perseverance in their most important relationship.

-Remember God is with us in our tears

Psalm 56:8

You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?

Leaves that Heal Nations

In the Kingdom, when it comes, there will be the tree of life that bears different fruits and the leaves of that tree will function like medicine to heal the nations. It is not often when reading Revelation that I know if I am reading a metaphor or imagery or literally, but in this instant, I don’t think it is harmful to believe a literal very large and very happy looking tree fulfilling this purpose.

But the tree as it stands and sways is made and moved by Jesus, in Him it moves, we breathe and have being. In this same Kingdom, in those same eternal moments every tear, every sorrow, all recollection of death and pain will be wiped away.

It is on that hope, I hope to encourage you with these brief words. Jesus came and comes again with one intention, to lavish love on His Bride, His Beloved, His people in restored relationship.

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There is a strange dichotomy at play though, right now. Winter is supposed to pass; it’s supposed to be done with on Thursday. The time of things dying and being laid bare is supposed to be behind us, even during Lent, a time meant to prepare us, a season of repentance of sins, of giving away, of denying our self. The leaves and flowers are determined to make their appearing. And yet the world is slowing down and simultaneously crying out because of sickness.

But maybe the world, the creation and the command of God are all crying out the same thing.

Maybe they are crying out, “Do not be afraid!” Particularly afraid defined as running away or fleeing. We may stand our ground or even be forced into solitude or quiet in these times but the potential for relationship and community and conversation still exist in abundance. The potential for love and kindness and mercy is present.

And though we wait, for the day when leaves will heal nations, perhaps Jesus has left us, His church to heal and bless the nations. 

100% Responsible and Forgiven

Have you ever noticed that blame is never beautiful?

Deferring responsibility may be celebrated, but it only entices others at the expense of creating victims. Forgiveness though, that is beautiful. It has the power to free the victim and the guilty party. Jesus forgave his executioners while it was happening, not holding their responsibility against them for crucifying the One whom they did not know.

Jesus says, “You did it, but you didn’t know, and I offer you my embrace.”

It is beautiful yet fearful. The Psalms state forgiveness makes God fearful because God is the only one that can truly cleanse us from our wrong. And that is terrifying, yet equally terrifying is the Spirit God gives that enables us to forgive. I am presently overwhelmed by this, primarily because of having to take responsibility for myself.

I am responsible for my anger, even rage, for what I do with my feelings, for who absorbs it, for how I act in light of the temptation to despair. I am responsible for what I do with my time so long as God allows me to wake up to new mercies every morning. Nobody else gets to choose what I do with my day or how I heal, except me and God.

No

body

else.

I’m reading the Chronicles of Narnia for the first time and I am currently on Book 4 Prince Caspian. Until yesterday, it was my least favorite of the books, until Aslan came and talked to Lucy. I’ll share the excerpts, you can fill in the meaning.

“I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?” asked Lucy.

The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

“Oh Aslan, you don’t mean it was? How could I–I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that… oh well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you. But what would have been the good?”

Aslan said nothing.

“You mean,” Lucy said rather faintly, ‘that it would have turned out all right– somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I to know?

Aslan

Jesus, I mean Aslan, says “No” to the answer of what would have happened in the past if we had obeyed. Instead he offers a way forward in forgiveness. Because He has already made a way.

Oh how Lucy wrestles internally without an immediate reply, without an answer to the why.

“Oh dear, oh dear, said Lucy. “And I was so pleased at finding you again. And I thought you’d let me stay. And I thought you’d come roaring in and frighten all the enemies away– like last time. And now everything is going to be horrid.”

“It is hard for you, little one,” said Aslan. “But things never happen the same way twice. It has been hard for us all in Narnia before now.”

Lucy buried her head in his mane to hide from his face. But there must have been magic in his mane. She could feel lion-strength going into her. Quite suddenly she sat up.

“I’m sorry, Aslan,” she said. “I’m ready now.”

blameNo.. body… else. Nobody else can have a relationship with Jesus for us, and we shouldn’t want someone else to have it for us. I should want it for myself. I should want his lion heart love for myself because Jesus will not leave me alone especially when I bury my head in my pillow with tears crying out for help.

I made the choice to move back to New Jersey. I made the choice to switch jobs. I made the choice to yell and curse and critique the body of Christ. I made the choice to get my hopes up and make my heart vulnerable and spend time with the dying. I make the choice to be quirky and weird, to dress like I don’t care, to get a cat, to write, to wrestle, to reflect too much, and all of it could become a vapor in a moment because I am responsible but not always in control.

And that’s where the surrender comes. That’s where the “I’m sorry, I’m ready now,” comes into play. I can get up and go. Forget about blame and go and not let love be hindered.

Forgiven much, love much.

I have one more passage if you’ve gone this far. It’s Aslan to Susan, Lucy’s sister, who didn’t believe and could not see Aslan longer than her other 3 siblings.

“You have listened to fears, child, ” said Aslan. “Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?”

“A little, Aslan,” said Susan.

Me too, Susan. Add our little to Christ’s infinite much and I’m hopeful we will be more than okay. I’m hopeful that I will stop getting angry, then exhausted by the restlessness of my soul. I’m hopeful for the breath and wind of the Spirit to overcome me each day, to posture myself to move and live and have my being in Christ.

Responsible, yet forgiven and more beautiful than blame.

Set apart, beloved, no longer hindered by shame

Darkness Falls: Layers in Mental Illness

Most of you probably don’t see in the dark. Some do and to varying degrees.

The next 4-5 posts seek to share candidly about 3 generations of mood disorders and how to find hope, cope or get help. I’m not seeking a comparison about how deep the dark can go. These will be an honest look at my experience, a sub-reality of a diagnosis that I don’t often revisit or own, perhaps to my detriment. Maybe it will provide me or you with help.

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I should also be honest about how and why I am writing. An hour prior to me writing this, I had a meltdown lasting about an hour on the phone with my mom. These have been far too frequent over the last 5 1/2 years but were less frequent for a period of 8 months prior to my move.

I could describe in detail the circumstances that I believe are potential sources of my moods, but I have gradually accepted more and more that my disorderly moods are not always the result of circumstance. Perhaps correlated, likely not caused and I can usually know this by comparison. People who endure much worse react much better when they are sober-minded.

In other words, some people cope better.

I’m likely not one of those people.

Short History

                My maternal grandfather was a postman, who worked a second job because money was tight while married to my grandmother, together raising two kids. He died when my mother was 17 of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Before marrying my grandmother, he received shock treatment for manic-depressive disorder. He received the treatment because he was found wandering New York City unaware of who he was in a depressed stupor. Later in life, it manifested on the manic side in access spending. He told his family not to tell my grandmother under any circumstance when they met of his mental illness for fear that she would not marry him.

I harbor a similar fear. I was prescribed medication one time from one diagnosis after one meeting with a psychiatrist and several meetings with a psychologist for a major depressive episode I had in 2013 during an exceptionally shitty season after a break-up. If I told you this was my only struggle with depression, all you would have to do is look at my various journals from the 5 years prior to 2013 to doubt that it was a one-time deal.

The two snapshots above have a slight tinge of a fear of/potential for heartbreak. And while my heart was broken, the greater concern for me was how I coped. Plenty of people suffer heartbreak, this I must remind myself. I am not the only one to suffer this, even though I feel I level-up by enduring in this arena with more frequency than I desire.

My problem is not the circumstance of heartbreak as much as the moment or series of moments that affect the chemistry within my body particularly my mind.

I understand heartbreak.

I don’t understand what usually follows.

The spiral, the way the world gets colored, the greyness of moving on, the process of not being able to decide what to buy at the grocery store and having to leave the grocery store so people won’t see you cry, going to the gym and enduring a similar cycle, coming home from work to immediately nap, eat fast food for comfort and so you have one less decision to make, getting angry at God for why you’re wired the way you are rather than enjoying the presence of the Holy Spirit, the increased difficulty of seemingly everything, going to pro wrestling training begrudgingly because you paid to do it and owe it to your past self even though all joy is sucked out of it in the present.

The loss of self, the wandering around in New York City wishing you knew who you were or never wanting to go back to NYC for the fear of running into one person in a city of 8 million.

That was my life during my major depressive episode in 2013, it was not because of a break-up, it may have been correlated, but the disordered mood was nothing new, just a deeper layer.

If you or someone you know struggles with mental illness or would like more information regarding support or getting help click here (National Alliance for Mental Illness)

Feargiveness

Sorry for cursing in my last entry. I’m not much of a verbal curser. I probably curse 10 times a year. I had a swear jar at work when I worked in construction where I put a quarter in every time I cursed or every time someone thought they heard me curse. There were six quarters in it over the course of close to two years, two of those quarters because I accidentally said curse words in Portuguese. I don’t curse because I love words too much. I don’t want to waste them. When I do curse, I am confident God will forgive me and hope I don’t take forgiveness for granted.

With that said, let me tell you about the hell of a night I had.

Chaplaincy can be utterly terrifying. After working a normal 8-hour day of visiting patients and family, I responded to two calls that occupied my time from 6:45pm-midnight.dvinfernohomerclassicpoets_m

The first call, a patient was dying, 20-25 family members gathered in the ICU.  I prayed with the patient and most of the family before they removed his breathing tube, then after he passed away I prayed for the family. The two minutes I walked away from the room was when he died. I walked up moments after feeling goose bumps from the changed air of one less person present. Death is still surreal to me.

There was a part of me that wanted to be in the room when it happened, but someone dying also feels kind of like an intimate moment. Afterwards I stood around, got ice waters for family, tried to remain available and then 45 minutes later, I left.

I got a call from the switch board operators to visit another patient who was not dying but wanted to see a chaplain at the other hospital (the one I sleep at). I drove back, stopped at Taco Bell (where else? I had a coupon I had to use). And arrived on the patient’s floor at 10 pm.

And I walked into darkness. You’d think being in a situation where there is death is dark, but what’s darker than bodily death is walking into a room that smells of cigarette smoke body odor from someone who is somewhere between alcohol withdrawals and dehydration. main-qimg-d00c0f2057a768e32f242967ccfed9a8-c.jpg

He also took an hour and a half to tell me his life story in third person, which consisted of getting saved, going to prison, solitary confinement, being a bouncer for a strip club, getting married five times, having 7 sons from different wives, persistent substance abuse, witnessing a church bus driver molest a 9 year-old girl, paying for his son to have a failed threesome on his birthday, 18 consecutive seizures, renouncing Jesus and probably something else I missed. (He gave me permission to share his story, but part of me wishes I never heard it)

We prayed, he worshipped Jesus for 6 minutes or so while I sat and thought about how nice it would be to go to sleep in a world where shit like this didn’t exist (also I literally just wanted to go to sleep). Instead of sleeping I wrote about it at 1 am trying to find God in it.

Instead, or perhaps in showing Himself to me I have this Scripture from Psalm 130:3-4 making rounds in my head:

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    that you may be feared.

I’ll be honest, after hearing the guys story I kind of felt like this guy doesn’t deserve salvation. I then reflected on my own life and realized I also don’t deserve salvation.

But one terrifying attribute of God is the depth and length of forgiveness Jesus Christ offers us. Most of us aren’t even fully aware of the depths of our sin. For some us, the surface sins are enough to overwhelm us.

Forgiveness terrifies me because if God is real and is as holy and good as He says He is, the psalmist of #130 is right, if God kept a tally of how much mine and your actions suck, we wouldn’t be able to stand. If I kept a tally of how much the actions of some people I would like to call friends suck, I would cut them off completely.

Instead of fearing the implications of forgiveness, we are tempted become users. I let myself be so used by some people. But, so does God in ever greater quantity and in darker depths of quality. God ascribes purpose to the blood of his Son. That costly blood cleanses our guilt, our conscience only for us to likely use again, to accidentally attempt to re-crucify.

Okay maybe you don’t, but I do. And yet I have tried to make it my job to minister forgiveness to people in the midst of their filthy, shit-stained, sulfur-scented dump heap of a life as they drain oxygen from this fallen world.

Yet in that darkness, in that pit Jesus promises to reach in and love us with a light that is simultaneously as bright as the day and as subtle as the flicker of a single firefly in a field at night.

During the minutes in which this patient of mine uttered the words, “Thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus, thank you for your presence again,” on repeat; I sat there tired, numb, wondering what I am also most afraid of.