perspective

The Angel Has A Scar

I just spent the last hour or 2 writing a post on Absalom’s hair. Here are the verses: “In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him. Whenever he cut the hair of his head—he used to cut his hair once a year because it became too heavy for him—he would weigh it, and its weight was two hundred shekels by the royal standard.” 2 Samuel 14:25-26. And then I related that to the careful crafting of image on Facebook and Instagram, talking about how we get confused. That fantasy becomes our idea of reality, and the familiar inadequacy of our own layered, imperfect lives gnaws away and mocks our “blemishes” and less than glorious hair.

And I worked and worked. It was pretty uncomfortable honestly. I have COVID so I’ll use that as my excuse. I referenced Narcissus and Dorian Gray. The story is one of pride, as so many stories are. I know that. But what to say about that?

You know, Zoom is not the best thing to happen to these parts of us. Every meeting I have, I end up focusing on the way the skin folds under my chin, wondering if there is a way I can suspend the camera from the ceiling. I sometimes even direct private message someone else in the group and ask if they think I have a condition. And I do these Facebook minis where I wonder when I got so old and tired. And last Sunday, I filmed the message from home and wondered if I was sitting up straight enough or if my shirt was drawing attention, disappearing into the rolls of my stomach. I have no hair and what little I do have is receding. It’s easier every week to shave, there’s less to deal with. I have marks on my face from teenage acne and years of abuse.

I understand why we live on social media. We probably shouldn’t share that last paragraph. But I’ve always loved those parts of us the most, the parts that aren’t quite right, the edges and quirks. The Angel has a scar on her lip where a dog bit her when she was 13 and it’s awesome, it drives me crazy. And some dumb Snapchat filter would erase it.

There was a time when I tried to collect every Morrissey recording and there was this one they called “I know very well how I got my note wrong.” The actual song is heartbreakingly lovely and about a minute and 20 seconds in, the guitar makes a mistake and everyone laughs. It’s one of the best things I own. I miss picking up the pictures and thumbing through them, laughing at the ones where people weren’t looking, making faces, ones I didn’t know I took. The ones that I’d delete now and keep taking until we got one where we all looked great, everyone’s smiling and nobody’s blinking.

Absalom was perfect.

I don’t want us to be perfect, I want us to be human. That’s enough. In fact, it’s way more than enough. It’s honest and broken and flawed and beautiful and most of all, it’s true.

SAD

I don’t know if you know this about me, but March is a very difficult month. There is a disorder called seasonal affective disorder (with a fitting acronym, SAD) and that is a real thing. I don’t necessarily think all officially named disorders are but SAD sure is. By the time February and March roll around, it’s been cold and dark and lonely and by this particular March, we’ve been in a pandemic for over a year so we’re even more isolated than usual.

Anyway, I think it always has been. When I say that I don’t know if you know this about me, I didn’t know this about me for years. Probably, if I had been paying close attention, it would’ve been easy to spot, but we don’t always pay close attention. We’re busy and distracted and if the truth can be told, don’t want to pay close attention. There are wounds and unresolved issues that would be too painful to even begin to resolve, so they stay in the corner or under the bed and we keep running hoping we can ignore them forever. Of course they won’t be ignored and seep out of us in all sorts of ugly ways that get all over everybody and make a giant mess. Sometimes, those ugly ways change.

For a few weeks, I have had headaches and haven’t been sleeping. My mood has been great, not as irritable as you’d guess, but the seep has looked like this, this year, so I am a little like a zombie until 9 or 10 and then again by 5 or 6. I was wondering why I felt like such garbage when Angel reminded me that it is indeed March and obviously I feel like garbage because I always feel like garbage in March. There are a few anniversaries of super sad days in March and even though this year I missed the actual day and barely acknowledged them, the emotions and scars apparently sat pouting in the middle of the floor of my soul screaming for attention. Maybe what they were screaming for was just a little respect. You see, those days changed me. I am a different man now than I was before those days and even though we have made peace and they have been integrated into the massive library of relationships, people, places, experiences, lessons, feelings, knowledge, (and on and on) that is me, they do exist.

I wasn’t intending to run (that is no longer what I do) but I was unaware, sort of a waking sleep (that is sometimes what I do). Somebody said, “The unexamined life isn’t worth living,” and I don’t know if that’s true, it seems like all life is worth living. But it becomes true for me if you omit just 1 word, worth. The unexamined life isn’t living. It’s a monotonous loop of repeating the same mistakes, stuck in the same patterns that damage us, settling for the same unfulfilling jobs and relationships, uninspired and exhausted, giving our moments (all of these sacred moments) to simply getting through the day.

The super sad anniversaries don’t break my heart into pieces anymore, but they are still significant and should be treated as such. Everything significant should be treated as such. When did we stop treating these things as gifts and start taking them so for granted, like they were anything less than everyday miracles? We’re alive. That breath we just took, it’s not now and has never been guaranteed. Sometimes we don’t get another. Sometimes the hug, kiss, touch we just hurried through will be the last. The BIG problem is that we hardly ever know they’re the last as they’re happening. We just look back with regret that we missed something beautiful.

You know, now that I think about it, I misspoke earlier. I added an extra word that I’d like to take back. I wrote: Everything significant should be treated as such. Maybe it should have read: Everything should be treated as significant. Not just super sad anniversaries, but everyday conversations, steps, meals.

It likely won’t make March feel like September for me, won’t eliminate the seasonal affect, but it will certainly help make every day, every month more alive, more colorful, more connected full of presence and wonder and love. Then we won’t want to just get through, we’ll want to savor and enjoy this amazing life we’ve been given.

Watermelon Sugar

This is what I wrote last post: “We have the ability to choose life. I know it sometimes doesn’t feel like that, it feels more like there are footsteps marked out for us from which we are unable to deviate. That our lives are scripts where improvisation or rewrites are impossible. That we are powerless to our fate. That it is what it is. That I am what I am.”

Then I read this, by Erwin McManus: “What if we are more than we know and in our disconnection with God have become less than we were ever meant to be?”

And these, also by Erwin McManus: “If you are filled with despair, you fill the world with despair; if you are filled with bitterness, you fill the world with bitterness; if you are filled with fear, you fill the world with fear. Additionally, that’s all you will ever find. No matter where you go, your world is filled with the same energy and intention that fills you. In the same way, when (you are) filled with hope, you fill the world with hope; when you are filled with joy, you fill the world with joy; when you are filled with love, you fill the world with love.”

“Your internal mind-set designs your external world. If you believe the world is full of possibilities, it is.”

“We do not see the world as it is; we see the world as we are.”

Each of these segments are connected tentacles that have the potential to impact our lives on a level we can’t quite imagine. How we see God, the world around us (people, environment, art, etc), ourselves, our worth, simply cannot be understated.

We all stay in jobs and relationships that make us miserable because the pain of change is greater than the pain of staying the same. I know that’s generally regarded as true, but I don’t have to like or accept it.

More likely is, a lie was told and we believed it. I heard a guy say in a documentary that if somebody says something is true and somebody else believes it, it becomes true. That’s hogwash, right? If it’s not true, it doesn’t matter how many believe it, it’s still not true. (Or at least it shouldn’t matter.) We were told somewhere along the way that we didn’t deserve more than this, and for some reason, it played on an endless loop in our heads until it was fact. The lie continued to convince us that we couldn’t hope for more, that there were no possibilities, that there would be no joy. We settled for table scraps when we belong at the table, eating with the royal family as children of the King.

Since we bought a lesser reality, that reality becomes the lens through which we see the world. There are no possibilities and no joy for anyone else, either. They’ve been replaced with fear, resentment and despair. All of this is all it ever will be. I am all I’ll ever be. You are all you’ll ever be. This marriage, this job, everything stuck in suspended animation. It’s a skipping record (hopefully you remember what a record is and recognize the undeniable beauty of vinyl) that chains us to this moment, never changing. Our surroundings are bleak, unfulfilling and hopeless largely because we are.

I don’t want us to settle. I want us to Philippians 4:8; “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” I think Paul probably wrote that verse because he knows us. As much as we evolve into such a sophisticated species, we stay pretty much the same and spend the moments of our lives thinking about what is false, horrible, wrong, and broken, dwelling on worries of tomorrow and regrets of the past.

We listen to that awful song “Watermelon Sugar,” lamenting the state of music today instead of focusing on how awesome Sea Girls, Strumbellas, Mat Kearney and Cold War Kids are.

I know I write about this lack of imagination a lot, but that’s because I talk about it a lot, and think about it even more. I want the world around me to be lively and bursting with life and color and I’m more and more convinced that it’ll only be that way if I finally acknowledge that this is God’s creation, He’s all through it, and the tomb is empty. It’ll only be that way if, filled with His love and abundance, I am lively and bursting with life and color, or as Jesus says, if I have eyes that see and ears that hear the beautiful music that is already playing all around us.

Funeral

There was a funeral last Friday for a lovely woman.

I’ll sometimes force my sons to attend funerals or memorial services with me, to which they usually respond, “I don’t want to,” because they’re teenagers and human. I usually ask, “why?” because I am their dad and horrible, to which they say, “I don’t like them.” Here, I lie and say, “nobody likes them.”

I tell them that lie because sometimes you have to do things you don’t like and it’s mostly better if everyone else is doing things they don’t like, too. Like eating vegetables or running.

The truth is that I love them. I know how that sounds, but it’s not to be confused with loving death, dying or anything weird like that. I’m not a psycho. They’re thin spaces, and I find thin spaces – where, according to Eric Weiner in The NY Times, the “distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine” – absolutely inspiring and beautiful.

When you stare out of the car window, flowers, grass, guardrails, and other cars blur into one undefined smudge. Nothing is clear. You can’t even tell where the flowers start and the Honda ends. This is like my life. I have a full schedule, see a lot of people, go a lot of places, drop off and pick up from practices, grocery stores, and on and on. Too often, I hurry, don’t stop to listen, don’t pay attention.

Last March when the world stopped turning, I dreamed of a new normal where we would find that we quite liked the slower pace. Instead, almost a year later, the new normal is just the old normal with more Zoom meetings and Amazon deliveries. It’s still a blurry smudge if we’re not careful.

Funerals operate like isolated March 2020’s. They stop us where we are, open our eyes, heaven and earth collapse, and we are invited to see these divine glimpses. Now, maybe we don’t accept the invitation. Maybe we stuff our emotions and check the boxes on what “has to be done,” work like crazy until we can finally get back to work (because who knows if the company will actually be standing if we’re not there to hold it together.) Maybe we numb and check out. Maybe we pretend we’re SuperSpiritual and read from the list of cliches while we convince ourselves that it’s somehow selfish to acknowledge the honesty of the loss and stifle anything that looks like tears and feels like grief.

But, baby, if we do accept the invitation… The clean lines of the Honda, blades of grass and bright colors of the flowers come into focus and we can actually see the beauty all around us that we’re too busy to notice any other time. We cry our eyes out when we need to and often find those tears surprisingly becoming laughter and smiles at the wonder of our tremendous gratitude.

[There is a pink elephant in this room. What if the tears are of sadness but also anger or rage or bitterness or resentment? Then, there is no laughter and gratitude is in short supply. This sort of situation is even more important that we accept the invitation into presence. There’s a character in the movie Magnolia who says, “we may be done with the past, but the past isn’t done with us.” The longer we run from the fact that there are chains around our necks, the longer those chains stay around our necks, strangling us slowly, perhaps imperceptibly, just taking our lives a breath at a time. I know it’s horrible, but we face what comes, dump it on the ground, look at it, and then we maybe pick it up and do it all again next week, but at some point, we leave a little on the ground, we pick up a little less, until the tears feel less like acid and more like peace. It’s not quick and it’s not easy, but we have to believe it’s possible. If the tomb was empty once, nothing is impossible ever again.]

So, all of this mourning, grief, celebration, gratitude, looking at an empty place at the table or in the chair… well, it hurts like crazy when our hearts break. But we are awake. Our eyes are wide open to the blessings of today, and open to the blessings of yesterday, when they were here (It was awesome when they were here) and what a gift it was that, of all the people in the world, they were here with us and it was great.

A Bad Back & 2 Bad Shoulders

My back is feeling much better. Several weeks ago, I forgot who I was and what I was about and worked out my ego instead of my body and ended up with a small injury that is slowly meandering it’s way back to health. Who knew that I wouldn’t recover immediately, like Wolverine, now that I’m not 18?

I guess everyone. Anyway. Sometimes our body gives us subtle warnings to get our attention and sometimes it gives red alert total shutdowns. This might not be a red alert shutdown, but it might as well be, because I have received the message clearly. I mentioned months ago on a Facebook mini that both of my shoulders were acting up and now I couldn’t sleep in the position in which I’ve slept for as long as I can remember. An old friend who is becoming a better friend than ever posted a comment, reminding me that she is in fact a physical therapist and could help. Her advice was to stop the traditional moves, start some injury-specific exercises and stretching. Also, she gently scolded me: “you aren’t earning a living walking on your hands or carrying things overhead so there is no need to destroy your shoulder over these exercises.” Of course, I listened (for the most part;) and my shoulders are better every day.

Why do I tell you this? Because our spiritual walk is very much like our physical walk.

At any time, we are doing any number of exercises that work out our egos and “destroy our shoulders.” Usually, these exercises are kept hidden, our pain remains secret and we pretend that we are sleeping fine and that putting a coat on isn’t excruciating. The uncomfortability is the first nudge; low grade anxiety, nagging stress, butterflies, interrupted sleep. This moves to pain; higher grades of everything, guilt, shame, sleep is only possible with pharmaceutical help. Then, there are lots of ways this would go from here. Either our pain will increase into the unbearable, driving us closer and closer to breakdown or we will harden, numb, check out, build thick walls and survive keeping warm under a thick blanket of independence, anger and selfishness.

All of these symptoms can be teachers and all of these steps can be gifts.

Now. Ideally, we don’t hide and we can listen openly to the “physical therapists” in our lives before we get hurt. This is why honesty is so vital. We aren’t alone, aren’t under the weight of secrets and pretense, are able to see some light through the hands and hearts of those who would show us the light exists, however dim it appears to us.

But this isn’t an ideal and instead, we often hide behind an image of capable independence, superhero-esque and bulletproof. Like the kids on my sons’ basketball teams that are arrogant and mean to cover up their towering inadequacies and insecurities, these images are sadly, obviously, charades. Children playing dress up. We exercise our egos instead of our bodies & souls. And we end up injured.

This week, I am struggling through a passage of Scripture that painfully illuminated a blind spot I have. It felt like a sledgehammer and knocked me down. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see where I missed or ignored the first and second nudges; a text, conversation, movie dialogue, and other experiences pointing me to this ramp that would lead me back to the narrow path. Whether I innocently missed them or willfully turned away from them is pretty unimportant now – mostly unimportant because I don’t know the answer – but what is important is that my vision is improving. I see how far I have wandered. And I see how to come back. I have no idea which is the bigger gift, but what’s clear is that the 2nd can’t happen without the 1st. Coming back is awesome but it’s impossible without the revelation that we’re lost. There can be no healing without the injury.

So, here I am today, kind of thankful for the pain.

A Sock I Used To Have

Our holidays looked a little different in Pennsylvania as the Governor tightened up restrictions, which kept most of us at home. There is much to be said about this, and I’ll say none of it. Not that I think politics should be left out of spirituality or the local church (I don’t), but I want to make a different point here, today.

My gym closed down for a month. Now, this didn’t mean that working out was canceled, but there were some things for which I simply didn’t have equipment. I could do body-weight squats and pushups but not shrugs or deadlifts. Everything looked different, felt different, was different. When it opened back up on the 4th, I was inside doing masked deadlifts as if nothing had changed. Who has time for a step back, even if it is wise?

Maybe there are people who can take 1 month off and not miss a beat, like college kids, but I am not a college kid. I cannot take 1 month off and put the same weight on a bar. However, I don’t have the sense of the gravel in a fish tank, so I did just that, and now if I drop a sock on the floor, it’s lost. It is now a sock I used to have and go to the drawer and get another.

Of course, the thing to do was reintroduce slowly and work back up. Of course. The problem with that is that I am human being and we don’t reintroduce slowly and work back up for anything at all. Patience isn’t a strength. Ours is a culture where “immediate gratification” is the chief virtue. I skip breakfast, eat salad for lunch and dinner, and if my weight isn’t significantly lower in the morning, then it’s a failed experiment. I start a 2021 devotional, read 14 today to catch up for the year, fully expecting a fully transformed life by bedtime. If it’s not fast and easy, we call it not meant to be, and forget it and move on.

There certainly isn’t anything new about this, there are plenty of examples in the Bible. Saul couldn’t wait for Samuel and offered the sacrifices himself. Aaron couldn’t wait for Moses so he made a fancy metal cow. Abraham couldn’t wait for God and Sarah so he took Hagar instead.

In Abraham’s case, he waited 10 years, and it wasn’t quite long enough. Maybe he shouldn’t be judged by me, I haven’t waited 10 years for anything. Zechariah was an old man who had waited his whole life for a word from God and a son and got them both on the same day. I pray for a day or 2, maybe a week every other day, and then move on. Who can wait? On t he other hand, we can’t get stuck, right?

Is it stuck, though? Maybe. Or is it patience? Faithfulness? Again, maybe. I think we might not be able to tell the difference anymore. The lovely Veruca Salt once said, “I want it now,” and we seem to have taken that as a prescription for living a meaningful life. I can’t wait a few weeks to regain the weight on a deadlift, I want it now! I can’t wait for Samuel to arrive or Moses to come back, now now now.

My stubborn impatience has resulted in physical pain, but many other times it has left me in emotional or psychological pain, in spiritual agony. How many times have I left relationships, jobs, situations simply because it didn’t happen (whatever ‘it’ was) in the time I wanted it to be? When something didn’t immediately deliver? When my lack of control was too much to bear and I ran?

I wonder when I will learn to be present and patient. When I will no longer confuse patience with passivity.

My backache will subside, I’ll be deadlifting in no time (with much less on the bar;), but I’m left wondering when the lesson will stick. Hopefully today.

Yesterday

Yesterday was a bad day. My very good friend with the biggest softest most beautiful heart you’ve ever seen wrote to me: “I’m sad about yesterday and how ugly we are to each other.” And all there is to say is, me too. I’m not surprised, though, and so far I can’t tell what is more depressing, that it happened or that none of us are surprised.

But there is this other side of things that came out of me to her and cleared things up for me. Have you ever felt like you honestly don’t know how you feel? Like there are so many emotions, some polar opposites, and they aren’t creating any sort of cohesive environment. Like it’s snowing and you’re warm and sweaty. Or like you’re listening to Britney Spears and enjoying it. It doesn’t make sense, you don’t make sense.

Yesterday was this no good horrible very bad day and as I watched the news and refreshed my browser every 30 or 40 seconds to see new reports of tear gas and evacuation and then broken glass, my heart was indeed breaking but I was strangely hopeful amid the wreckage. Now I know why.

Because she also ended her message with “How are you?” That’s why.

You see, sometimes something really terrible happens and it leads to change that couldn’t happen otherwise. We spend a lot of time pretending that we are just fine, but then we get fired or she leaves or we have a breakdown and there’s no more point in pretending. We run and run until we simply can’t run anymore. Sometimes, the darkness has to be complete before we realize how dark it is and look for a light.

The system has been broken for years, and now there’s no use in pretending it’s not so bad anymore. And only now that we can’t ignore it can we begin to look at how to repair it.

I drove the same car for 16 years and, when asked when I would get a new one, always responded, “Why? It’s perfect.” It wasn’t perfect, had many warning signs it was on it’s last legs, no heat, no air, I couldn’t use lights and wipers at the same time, but they were minor enough that I could look the other way. Then it turned itself off while I was driving. Now I have a new car.

So, I’m sad and hopeful. The car not only turned itself off but burst into flames and exploded. And now maybe we’ll get a new car.

It’s a huge mountain to climb. Where do we start? How do we start? Do the actions of you and me amount to anything? Who knows, but what I’ll do in the meantime reminds me of a joke (more like a story) that goes, “How do you eat an elephant?” “One bite at a time.” What I’ll do in the meantime is take bites. I will Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” AND I’ll love you like crazy. Agape love. Kindness. Gentleness. Peace. Patience. I believe love is way more contagious than any virus, so soon we’ll all be Philippians 4:8-ing and loving each other as if we were made to do it, which of course, we were.

The other way hasn’t worked, we’ve tried it for sooo long, and it is now obvious to everyone. My friend in her heartache reached out to/for me to see how I was, “How are you?” She has a son and that son who is growing up with her, watching her, will see this empathy, this compassion, this care. He will see a new design for life, which isn’t new at all, it goes all the way back to Genesis 1 & 2. But this “new” design will be the one he uses to craft his life and his life will “storm the rotunda” of every building we’re lucky enough for him to enter. It’s this design that can change history.

Maybe it won’t, maybe there will be no reversing our downward spiral. But what empty tombs and Sundays prove to me is that it can. And that is more than enough to eat another bite.

Less The Rock and More Lobot

Last week, I posted “So, Let Me Tell You About Yesterday,” on both of my blog sites. I write on the Bridge page and I write on a page called Love With A Capital L. Both are about spirituality because everything is. What’s different is that on the Love page, I don’t always mention God by name, like the book of Esther, but it’s always about Him. This ‘Yesterday’ post ended up in both spaces, and it received an extraordinary response on both.

I am a man who thinks (or probably more accurately, over-thinks) and I wondered, why? Why do some things strike chords and others swing and miss? Why this one? Why not that one?

Who knows? Maybe I don’t care, maybe I shouldn’t. If too much time is given to thinking about response, we’ll subconsciously (or not) begin to bend and shape ourselves into whatever position we think they’ll like best.

This can happen easily in any creative expression.

The bigger tragedy is how easily this can happen in our greatest creative expressions; our lives.

We look for approval, for the most “likes,” resembling actors on a stage. It’s interesting, the things that mean the most to me are those that are the most authentic, but when the artist attempts to mean the most to me, the very thing that was so appealing is compromised, disappears, and immediately stops meaning the most to me. It’s like the theory that observation affects behavior, so any study of “natural” behavior is impossible (unless it’s secret and invisible and probably unethical).

You know I’m going into the idea that we have an “audience of One,” right? That’s not terrible because that One is the only One who knows who we actually are, so moving towards that vision of us is, essentially, moving towards the version of us that is the most pure and true, the most authentic.

The filters I use that make me look like a cat or like I’m always supercool, pensive and mysterious aren’t me. I have rough skin and deep creases around my eyes from years and years of smiling. The sweater I wore on Sunday makes me look much better than I actually do. I get angry and am awfully mean to me from time to time, thankfully much less than I used to. I shave my head because it’s thin and moving backwards, less the Rock and more Lobot from Star Wars. I like to think my jokes are all pretty terrific and could edit a short YouTube video that makes me compare favorably to Dave Chappelle, but in real life, well… you know, probably he’s not even that funny all the time. (On second thought, he probably is.)

The idea here is not to point out all the ways we’re messy, or to advertise my faults. It’s not even to stop using filters. It is to love, and be loved, anyway. It is to see those rough edges. It is to dance with who and where we are right now, even as we acknowledge that we are, as my friend says, “perfectly in process,” moving (sometimes slowly) towards who we’ve been created to be. One of the coolest aspects I learned about the Scriptures were their absolute commitment to honesty. Not everyone is shiny, nobody is perfect. (Well, One is.) They yell and scream and shake their fists at God. They often make terrible decisions and aren’t always the heroes of the story. But it’s real. And Beautiful. Just like us.

So, Let Me Tell You About Yesterday

So, let me tell you about yesterday.

The Angel & I took the boys to school and left immediately, driving north to Scranton (home of Dunder Mifflin Paper) for the funeral service of a friend’s father. He (James Chickson) was a terrific dad, husband, and man – exactly like my friend. At the Bridge, we would call men like him bull elephants, and the world doesn’t have enough of those, so we gathered to mourn. It was a catholic service and as a general rule, I find catholic services a little sterile and impersonal (just me, just my opinion, but I am very messy, overly sensitive, mushy and untraditional, so I would), which this one was…UNTIL my friend stood to give the eulogy. He was beautiful. He was all of the things we love about him, and probably all of the things we loved about his dad. It was awesome and exhausting, just what a funeral service should be.

Then we came home, picked my boys up from school and had some ice cream because ice cream is perfect for a broken heart.

Then at the dinner table (dinner after dessert is also perfect for broken hearts…well, any hearts, really), we discovered that there were new PA COVID restrictions that would, among other things, “pause” school sports. It was then that my boys expressed their emotions in what is sometimes the only appropriate way, with tears of sadness and rage.

Now, I know school sports are comparatively minor in relation to the widespread wreckage COVID has wrought, but it is absolutely real to them. And to me. Because we all have those comparatively minor’s, right?

Once the tears stopped and we were able to re-focus and gain a smidgen of perspective, then I began the phone calls to the core group of the Bridge to discuss what we would do, if anything, to address the new restrictions. Again, a small church in Annville is comparatively minor in the grand scheme, but it is my family and it is definitely doesn’t feel comparatively minor.

We are losing loved ones, businesses, homes. We have been disconnected and isolated, and that leaves us raw and exposed, sensitive to very fine points. I remember months after the flood took our house, I had an appointment where I would need dress socks. I rarely wear dress socks and now that I needed them, I realized, I didn’t have dress socks. The pair I had was lost in the flood. I was working, driving on a major highway towards State College, when I realized this insignificant detail (big deal, stop anywhere and pick up a new pair) and had to pull my truck off the road when my sobbing made driving impossible. Everything was overflowing, all of the months of “What are we going to do????” and utter powerlessness to answer had crested, and dress socks pierced the thin shell that barely kept it all on the inside.

High school seniors have lost proms and graduations, weddings have been moved, suspended, our lives have been radically upended, and we know that a missed dinner & dance for upperclassmen is nothing in relation to 200,000+ dead in this country alone, countless more worldwide. But that doesn’t make a canceled school dance hurt less. There isn’t a finite amount of love and care in our souls, we can deeply feel all the things in this human experience. There isn’t a cause/effect relationship where ignoring our pain leads to an increase in empathy. I would suggest if there is a relationship, it’s an inverse connection, where turning the blind eye to suffering (in any and all forms, even our own) leads to a practiced desensitization to suffering (in any and all forms).

I bring all of this up because what I notice is that we often say the words, “but other people have it much worse than me/us,” as a way of minimizing or trivializing our own pain & suffering. At funerals, we say the person is in a much better place or that God has a plan (which are both true) and pretend that we are fine, that are hearts aren’t shattered. In the Scriptures, God asks us for 1 thing above all. He asks us to bring who we are, everything we are, honestly and without pretense, to Him. He says that He doesn’t want our sacrifices, He wants our hearts. He weeps over the death of a man He intends to resurrect to validate the suffering of his community.

The Bible says, as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death… and it’s that through that makes all the difference. We can’t walk around, or avoid, or fake that it’s not the shadow of death. We can’t get through anything without going through. My beautiful buddy’s eulogy had very evident pain and loss, and it also had a lived-in gratitude that his dad was his dad, and I’m pretty sure the 2nd doesn’t come without the first.

So, I guess what I’m saying is this: Sometimes you need ice cream to ease the ache of a broken heart, or screaming rage for a 3-week break from basketball, or an offering of bitter tears over dress socks. There are no comparatively minor’s with God. There is only us, and that’s enough.

119

Psalm 119 (which is a really really loooong Psalm) says:

Turn my eyes from worthless things and give me life through Your Word (v. 37)

I pondered the direction of my life, and I turned to follow Your statutes (v. 59)

Your Word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path (v. 106)

As pressure and stress bear down on me, I find joy in Your commands (v. 143)

Those who love Your law have great peace (v. 165)

We’ve been talking an awful lot about commands on Sunday mornings, which can easily be understood as a gospel of works. This sort of gospel is not “good news” at all because it’s based on us getting it right, on us doing all the things, checking all the boxes, earning and climbing higher and higher. How high? Who knows? Just higher. 1 John 5 continues in this vein, so what do we do with that? It sounds like a “have-to” situation.

It’s not a “have-to.” John refers to it as a “proof” of faith, an outward representation of an inner reality. If we get a nice new coat on Christmas morning, we’ll wear it. The wearing is the proof that we have it. I can say all day that I have the best new coat ever, worth more than all the money in the world, but how will you know if I never wear it? Why wouldn’t I wear it? That would be odd.

I bought a new sweater 2 weeks ago and it’s thick and soft, what my mom would call cozy warm. I haven’t worn it yet because it hasn’t been cold enough in those 2 weeks, but I can’t wait to put it on and show it to you. It seems strange to have this awesome sweater and ask, “Do I have to wear it? How often? Around who? What if I don’t?” I am looking for any excuse to wear my new sweater. I’ve been checking the weather every night.

This coat or sweater is our gift, it’s free, and whether we wear it or not, it’s ours. BUT it gets cold. John and Psalm 119 (maybe, probably written by Ezra, the priest) make it sound like following these commands is pretty integral to the kind of cozy warm life we’d like to have. I like peace. I sometimes feel pressure and stress bearing down on me. We all do, it’s 2020. It would be cool to have joy in 2020 instead of upset stomachs and headaches.

This Psalm stood out me because I’ve been pondering my life quite a bit lately. This isn’t very unusual, I am a ponderer, and when I do, I look for practices that line up with the values that carry more weight with me. For instance, I go to the gym most days. If not carefully monitored, ‘most days’ easily turns into ‘every day’ and my body and spirit suffer. One of my core values is to be a healthy man (physically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually), and no rest days compromises that. So I turn and add some structure to help me pursue that particular value.

These commands are our coats and sweaters, our rest days. They are the tangible bricks that build the walls of our lives. We put on Love. We put on honesty and Sabbath and not wanting our neighbors donkeys (which is another way of saying, we are grateful for what we have). These things aren’t the point, Jesus is, but 2020 has been very cold and we’ve been so distracted by that cold, we’ve been missing that BIG point. Maybe remembering our coats and our rest days, maybe some Psalm 119-ing, would be just the thing we need to focus again.