RECOVERY

The Cold Hard Truth About Loving God

What it really looks like

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Loving God sounds easy, but don’t read this if you aren’t brave enough to face yourself.

I always considered loving God from a selfish point of view. I love Him because of all He gives me, for blessing me with life, for sending Jesus to die for my sins.

But to love Him just for being GOD is a lot more terrifying because it causes you to be morally just, but  not at all socially acceptable.

You have to be extraordinarily fierce to love God like you should. And you have to know who He really is.

Ephesians 3:14 calls God the Father from whom every family in Heaven and earth is named, and Matthew 23:9 says we have one Father, and He’s in Heaven.

In John 20:17 Jesus told Peter if he loved Him, “Feed My sheep.”

Sheep are prone to wander away, and to feed them, you must first recognize them, know them, seek them, and find them.  

Feeding His sheep means searching out the lost and the broken, patching them up with the word, and giving them hope in Jesus Christ. It also means feeding them if they need food. Giving to people who need it.

To love God as my Father, I also need to spend time with Him, and love His children.

Wait, what?

Love His children.

To do that, I must recognize that every human being on earth was uniquely designed by God. Even the ones who aren’t like me—the stinky ones, the toothless ones, the addicted ones, the different ones, the sick ones—all people have value and are loved equally by God.

This has never been more relevant than it is right now.

It’s impossible to ignore what’s going on in the world, and why would you want to? If you ignore one catastrophe, another will knock you off your feet.

Look at the opioid crisis. It may have gotten a little better, but we have a long way to go before we beat Big Pharma and heal our land of this sinister presence. Here’s a link to an article I wrote about why I will never be free of it.

If that particular drug addiction isn’t disturbing enough for you, do a little research on meth addiction. It’s also mentioned in the above article, and you can read a story here about a young mother who suffered from both mental illness and drug addiction. I wonder what it would’ve been like if her mother would’ve answered the call?

And I wonder if she’s alive today.

I work with a recovery group every week. It’s as healing as it is draining. If you think the addicted are limited to the homeless and mentally ill, you might be surprised to learn that Debbie who works at the insurance company down the road will trade her body for a hit of meth tonight and show up for work tomorrow morning.

You don’t know what you don’t know.

The human side of addiction is different than you think.

They aren’t all monsters. They’re your family.

It’s not in their control. It’s bigger than they are. They see the damage they’re causing and feel shame and humiliation. Still can’t stop.

They feel betrayed by everyone they love because they’re often left to deal with it on their own, mostly because of their own destructive choices. Doesn’t keep them from hurting.

They desperately seek small doses of approval and love and will give anything to anyone because they know what it’s like to do without. They’ll also steal anything from anyone because they know what it’s like to do without.

They still love their children.

It’s easy to love people who we think have their lives together, but once you find out they have real PROBLEMS, it gets a whole lot harder. The reason? Because then it might involve YOU. And you don’t want to get involved. We all like things easy, no confrontation, no conflict. Smooth sailing until we slide into home at the feet of Jesus.

Well that’s not how life works, Karen.

Real life isn’t always pretty. It’s hard, scary, unfair, and sometimes it’s downright gruesome. It can scar you up pretty bad and leave you with PTSD or something equally hard to talk about. Maybe you don’t know why that teenager has lines up and down her arms, but I do. I also know why she stays locked up in her room all the time. You can read my story about social anxiety here.

What the world needs is to know the truth in all its ugliness, but what we want is a prettied-up version of it, with only the parts we happen to agree with and make sure you leave out the rest.

No one wants to face it ALL, and I have to wonder if we’d be emotionally able to process it if we did take a cold hard look.

Nevertheless, I’m going to continue to get as close as I’m able and maybe get banned from ever writing anything anywhere ever again.

What happens when love turns to hate in the Christian heart?

It does, you know. You can deny it all you want to, until you go into the convenience store that’s owned by a person of the Islamic faith and while they’re ringing up your purchase you’re thinking that not only do they probably not use toilet paper, they also hate all Americans and wish you were dead.

But they won’t ever tell the preacher you bought that vodka and those blunts, so you’re going to keep going.

We all want justice to be done, but who even knows what that is?

We have a media that lies to us on a daily basis, and I guess the side you’re on is determined by which set of lies you choose to believe.

Somebody knows how that virus got out, and whether it was manufactured or came from a bat that a human was crazy enough to eat, and if they haven’t been murdered already, you can bet it’s on the agenda.

Maybe it IS caused by something other than what we’ve been socially influenced to believe, and we’re all about to be led like sheep to the slaughter, but somebody better decide on a conspiracy theory and stick to it so we can fight. Otherwise we’re all going to die. Or maybe not. Who knows?

We want to believe the police are there to serve and protect, but how can it always be true if what we’ve seen with our own eyes tells us a different story?

No one who has the internet missed the knee on the neck. No one will ever forget that. And it was big.

Big enough that we can’t run from the truth anymore.

If you were raised in the South, there’s a ten out of ten chance you were raised in a home with at least one racist.

Maybe a non-violent, “just joking around, I have friends of every color” kind of racist, but still a racist.

If you’re as old as I am, you can probably remember a whole lot more than you tell about the separation of blacks and whites and how it really looked back then. You might even want to say we’ve come a long way since then, because up until recently, you probably believed it was true.

It’s time to step out of your bubble of denial.

And I’m not just talking to white people. I’ve been a recipient of the other end of racism. It also exists. The words “cultural appropriation” come to mind. If anyone ever read my articles, I’d get slammed for that one. Lucky for me, I pretty much go unread. It’s still true though.

Pretty much nothing has changed since the sixties if you’re talking about attitudes. Maybe some laws have changed influencing equality in the workplace and schools. But PEOPLE haven’t changed. And that’s what’s wrong.

It’s a HEART problem. It can’t be solved by changing a few laws.

I was in my late teens when I realized I’d been lied to all my life. That’s when I knew for certain skin color was not a determining factor in the value of a human being. I never embraced a racist point of view, but the culture I grew up in dictated my life.

I had black friends growing up and I honestly never understood why they lived on the other side of the tracks and couldn’t come over to play at my house. But I heard the disparaging comments about the color of their skin. I heard the “n” word.

I don’t blame my family. My father was a good man. He had black friends. After he died, several came to see me. They told me of ways Daddy had helped them, been there for them, fed them, clothed them.

It was those conversations that started the change in me.

Nothing made sense to me until I understood that it was culturally unacceptable for Daddy to acknowledge what his heart knew. We were all the same.

I mentioned that the truth isn’t pretty. It’s hard, and it’s ugly, and no one wants to face it. That doesn’t make it less TRUE. That’s how I grew up.  

We did that. We were that. To some extent, we still are that.

And white privilege. I’ve balked at that so many times. I’ve been one of the ones to say it doesn’t exist, because I’ve worked hard for every single thing I’ve ever gotten and my life sure hasn’t been easy.

But it’s not the same.

When you’re white, you have a certain expectation that things will go a certain way, and they usually do.

If you get stopped by a police officer, you can be reasonably certain you won’t get dragged out of the vehicle and thrown down into the street unless you’re running your mouth or threatening in some way.

It probably won’t happen because of the color of your skin.

When you’re black, you can’t have that same expectation.

You can also expect to be looked at first if there’s a crime committed, and you happen to be in the area. Your color is associated with poverty, violence, low education levels, reliance on the government, and with mouthy bad attitudes.

Did I get this information off a statistical study?

No. I didn’t have to. I’m white. I know the associations. I hate that it’s true, but it is.

And the truth is very ugly.

I would like to see our nation band together to change the truth. To fix the heart problem. To learn to love God by loving His children, the way that our parents (while saying the n word at home) taught us to sing that old song—“red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight….”

But no. I recently read that this old song is racist too.

Apparently the “red” and “yellow” are racist terms. To be fair, I don’t think they were back when I sang the song.

Back to where this started, we must love the unlovable, pick up the fallen, go for the weary, feed the hungry, nurse the sick, protect the helpless, nourish and teach the children. Like the other old song says, “Rescue the Perishing.”

The Bible says in Psalms 97:10 that to love God means to hate evil. All forms of racism is evil, even the hidden ones, including the thoughts going around in your head when you encounter someone different from you.

I know I can’t love God without serving Him by serving others, and without fighting for the rights of others who are weary of fighting for themselves. This battle for equality can’t be won unless we all stand together against the enemies of hate and prejudice.

Violence and hate isn’t the answer and never could be. The only answer is love.

I could quote a hundred things from Martin Luther King, Jr but two stand out. The first is:

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

We might not know where this will end if we join forces as humans for a change, instead of fighting as blacks and whites. I have a pretty good idea of where it will end if we don’t, and it’s not good.

King also said:

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

And it is.

I can only love God by loving His children the way He does, or as close as a human can get to that. I can remember the stories of little girls who were forced to sit in the back of the classroom because they weren’t white, and couldn’t come over to my birthday party because they lived on the other side of the tracks.

I still know what it felt like for an old black man to press twenty five dollars in my hand with tears in his eyes and say, “Your Daddy bought me tires for my truck,” and everything that was out of balance in my head righted itself.

The outside isn’t the inside. The skin of a man doesn’t determine who he is.

Skin color, addiction, illness, education, level of crazy—none of these should be a factor in how I love and treat someone else. What matters is we are all God’s children, designed by Him, for a reason. We are all loved by Him.

To really love God just for being God, honor His greatest commandments, in Matthew 22:37-39. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Love my neighbor—His children.

All of them.

Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash

Advertisements
grief, RECOVERY

Six Simple Truths About Grief

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

I talk a lot about grief and recovery. I probably always will. My son was 16 when I found him dead on the couch one October morning. You can’t go through that unscathed. You don’t ever get to a place where you stop talking about it. 

https://medium.com/the-emotional-mess-2/i-found-your-body-426643165555

Love always comes with the risk of loss.

Death happens just like life does. It’s inescapable. I’m not the only one who grieves. I’m constantly learning things that I want to share, hoping it may help someone else.

Here are six simple truths I’ve picked up along the way.

1. It’s deeply personal.

People get caught up in thinking that because I’ve lost a child, I should be an expert on grief—especially since I seem to have survived it. I can’t count the number of times someone has minimized their own grief in a conversation to me, as if acknowledging the extent of  their own pain somehow makes it seem as if they aren’t aware of mine.

They use phrases like, “But it’s nothing like losing a child…”

Mikey, photo by A Bridges

You’re right. It’s not.

Your grief is your grief, just like mine is mine. It’s not “lesser than,” it’s just different.

We all go through things in our own way.

Sorrow is personal and indescribable. The bereavement you feel is unique to you. You don’t have to throw me a bone in the midst of your crippling loss. I already know how I feel. I don’t need your reminder that you know too. I’d like for you to give me the chance to be there for you.

2. Sometimes being there is all you can do.

I don’t have a collection of magic words to say because I’ve been through hell and back. The truth is, I’ve been through hell, and I’m not back. I’m never coming back. I carry hell with me every day.

Let me explain the loss of a child to you:

“When someone asks me when my son died—it was yesterday, it was a thousand years ago, it’s right this minute, it’s tomorrow.

He will never stop dying.

When a person who experiences such profound sorrow says, ‘You never get over it, you just learn to live with it,’ think about this.

They never stop dying. We have to live every second of every day with that.”


It’s an every day for the rest of my life kind of thing. I can’t always summon up the courage to tell you that grief never really ends.

All I can really do is be with you in your sorrow, hold your hand, wash your dishes, and take out your trash. I can listen when you tell me the same story over and over again, because I know there won’t be any new stories to tell. I can hold you when you realize you will never have another opportunity to take a picture or say, “I love you.”

3. There’s just no answer for some things.

God laid it all out in the Bible for us, so it shouldn’t come as any big surprise. Ecclesiastes says that there’s a time to be born and a time to die. Hebrews tells us that we are appointed once to die. Psalms 139:16 says that “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

God knows when our time to die is. We don’t.

It hurts like hell to look at the world and realize some people live to be 100 but you have to bury your 16 year old.

Or your husband. Or your best friend. Or your sister. It doesn’t seem fair or natural. That’s because it isn’t.

4. Death isn’t natural.

That’s why if feels so off when you grieve for someone. How many times have you thought, “This can’t be real?”

Sure, God knew how it would all play out from the beginning, because He made us and He gave us the free will we would use to self-destruct. He knew, but man made the choices. I don’t have to remind you of what happened in the Garden. It’s LITERALLY the oldest story in the world.

You know it by heart. If you don’t, you can find it at the beginning of the Bible, in Genesis 3.

We’re still making those choices every day.

I remember the second I realized that Adam and Eve didn’t pay the ultimate penalty for bringing death upon all mankind. You can disagree if you want to.

Picture this: they threw immortality away for the frailty of humanity. They were looking to be gods and the consequences were dire. Immediately, they knew they messed up. They realized they were naked—out in the open where they were vulnerable to attack from every kind of enemy, targets for pain, fear, and death. All of these were new to them. They had no protection other than their Creator.

What did God do? Immediately He covered them in animal skins, so they weren’t naked anymore.

He covered their sin and their shame. There were consequences to their actions, but He covered them, physically and symbolically. It was a picture and a promise of the Lamb that would be slain to cover the sins that created death.

5. All hope lies in Jesus Christ.

What I know about grief—what I REALLY know about grief—is that I couldn’t face one moment of it if not for the fact that God sent Jesus to redeem our lives.

I put my hope in this because it’s all I CAN do.

If I didn’t know there was something beyond this life, I couldn’t go on.

I remember in the early days of horror when I was still very crazy. I went running down the dirt road, screaming at God, “Where were You? I did EVERYTHING I thought You wanted me to do and You still took my son!”

I’d wrestled with my faith since Mikey died. How could a loving God allow death at all? How could God even exist? I said I didn’t believe. I was looking toward the sky and screaming when it hit me.

“I’m screaming at God. I’m screaming at God because I know He’s there.”

I learned that grief is not enough to take away the love of God. God has been with me from the beginning. He has been the constant of my life ALL my life. I didn’t lose faith in Him. I was just mad at Him because I didn’t understand.

I still don’t understand.

What I know is that I don’t have to know WHY anymore. God always provides everything I need to get me through, even when I can’t see it. He’s there, even when I think I don’t believe.

6. The death of someone you love feels like the worse thing you’ll ever go through because it is.

It can leave you confused, lonely, cold, and empty. The light at the end of the tunnel is an eternity where there is no fear of loss or death. It doesn’t exist. There will be no more tears. It’s a promise from God to those who believe in Him.

I won’t have to visit a cold stone to talk to my child. God has prepared a place.

Hope to see you there.

RECOVERY

How do you handle life when everything goes wrong?

Sometimes I wonder if it’s even worth getting out of bed.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Two flat tires.

That’s how my day started. I was driving to work on these fantastic Louisiana roads, and the best I can tell, I went in a pothole.

I’m not sure why it took out two of my tires on the sidewalls, but there were a couple of huge holes looking back at me. This is certainly not how I meant for my morning to go. I had higher hopes than that when I crawled out of bed.

It seems like bad luck comes in waves. First, I caught the hubs cheating. Okay, that’s awful—maybe not even comparable to a flat tire or two. In the end, that one will cost me a whole lot more.

This tire thing was just like icing on the cake.

For a few minutes, I thought about hurling myself into traffic and taking my chances with one of the eighteen wheelers barreling down the road. Luckily, I gathered my wits together and called a tire store instead. $421 dollars later, I was fixed up. They even gave me a ride to the office while they worked on my vehicle!

So, what DO you do when life gets crazy and overwhelming?

One answer (and not a very good one) is to isolate.

Isolating means to withdraw from other people and try to get through everything on your own.
It can also mean to withdraw from other people and AVOID dealing with anything.

Often when we isolate, we use distractions or substances to keep us from acknowledging our mountains and doing the work it takes to overcome. This causes more problems to pile up until our lives become completely unmanageable. That’s 12-step talk, for anyone who hasn’t been through it. Recovery is an amazing thing.

Isolation is NOT the preferred solution but it’s something I’ve tried and made bigger messes with before.

Another choice that you could make (and I’m guilty of this one as well) is VENT.

Everyone knows what venting is, but here’s an explanation anyway.

Venting is when you seek validation, approval, or sympathy by telling your side of a story (often with dramatic emphasis) on social media or to another person or group of people. This is my own definition, just like the definition for isolating, but it’s basically what venting boils down to.

Here are some ways that venting can be damaging:

  • Feelings often change, but once the spoken or written word is out there, it’s out there. You can apologize, but you can’t unsay it. Someone can forgive you, but they’re unlikely to forget.
  • You can hurt someone’s feelings. Maybe you mean to rage about someone and at the time, it doesn’t make you feel bad (even though it should). Collateral damage happens. That person may have children, parents, grandkids, or other individuals in their life that you just victimized unintentionally with your words. It hurts to hear bad things about people you love, whether it’s true or not. It isn’t fair to throw shade on everyone even if a certain person is shady and you want it known. Please think twice before venting!
  • Venting often damages the venter more than the ventee. I don’t think that’s proper terminology, but you get my meaning. It makes you look bad. JUST DON’T DO IT.

It’s okay to cry.

It may be hard to go through a bad time without crying. So, don’t. There’s a lot to be said for the cleansing and healing effects of a good, blubbering, crying session!

Get it out of your system.

Just don’t make it a long-term event. Cry, then stand up, wash your face, and move on with life!

Community.

Photo by Phil Coffman on Unsplash

I find it useful to plug into a community of like-minded people when going through the rough times of life. Ideally, you already have a group like that. If you don’t, seek one out. Look for people that you know or know about who believe like you do, worship like you do, and who will hold you accountable for getting your life back on track.

The truth is it’s YOUR LIFE!

How you live and whether you end well is ultimately up to you. You can hang your head in defeat and quit trying, or you can shake it off and get back behind the wheel.

For me, the most important thing I can do is lean on God.

He’s my constant whether things are going good or not so great. He’s my shelter in a storm and the rock I’m standing on. No wind will blow me away, and no waters will drown my soul if I cling tightly to His hand.

My faith isn’t what gets me through; it’s the One I’m faithful to.

This is why two flat tires and an impending divorce didn’t defeat me today.

There will always be potholes. And there will always be God.

RECOVERY

Today the World Became a Lesser Place

But it didn’t happen without a fight.

I didn’t know Brenda very well. I saw her only three times in my life, twice at church and once at her father’s funeral. But if you ask me how I can speak with authority on this, I have an easy answer. She was LOVED by so many people that I love.

It took quite a while for the cancer to take her body. It never beat her spirit. She fought a hard fight, and she did it her own way.

She was a warrior.

When you’re a kid and you have the whole world in front of you, death seems so impossible! If it’s even a thought in our minds, it’s fleeting. And even then, it’s about something besides US, like maybe a frog that that got run over and fried on the pavement. Never a human, never ourselves. We’re damn near invincible, or at least that’s what our hearts would have us believe.

I can imagine Brenda skipping down the sidewalk, blowing bubbles with gum that cost a nickel at the little mom and pop store up the road. Cancer never entered her mind. She believed in love, life, laughter, and possibilities. The very idea that she would one day leave her own children motherless wasn’t even a tiny consideration.

Photo by Anita Austvika on Unsplash

Yet now there is this gaping hole where Brenda used to be.

Even though she was equipped with guts and strength and FAITH so strong, there finally came a moment when she didn’t have enough of herself left to stand and fight the war that was waged against her body. She accepted the freedom that eternity offered. Her heart was right. Her mind was good. It was her body that failed her.

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

Even though everyone fought to keep her here, when it got closer to the end and pain wracked her small, exhausted body, her family prayed she’d just let go and stop the fight. She wasn’t going to win it. There was obviously a plan bigger than ours. A kingdom stood ready. Her king was waiting elsewhere.

Sometimes it’s hard to see the value in the glass you’re looking through.

In fact, it would make more sense to hurl it to the floor and watch it shatter. To rail at God and ask Him, “Why?” This was no ordinary life you took this time, God! This one was full of hope, promise, and joy. She was a MOTHER, a DAUGHTER, a SISTER! She TRUSTED you! Her whole FAMILY believes in YOU.

I hear the faint sound of wind blowing. Beyond that, there’s only silence.

And Jesus walked on water.

He healed the sick, made the blind see, and turned water into wine. Yet Brenda slipped away from here.

UNHEALED.  

People do, you know.

They die.

And I know that even though the world is a lesser place, Brenda is free.

And if she ever skipped, she’s skipping now. If she blew bubbles, she’s blowing the biggest one ever! I also know she could probably catch that frog that’s hopping by if she wanted to. She’s safe now. It doesn’t hurt. CANCER didn’t win.

Photo by Andressa Voltolini on Unsplash

I just don’t know how to say all that to the ones I love, who loved her so much. They will grieve—pain is part of life in this broken world. It’s all just temporary.

Death will come for us too—then life and eternity!

I can hear my own footsteps as I walk through my silent house. I think about life, cancer, and death. My heart hurts, and there’s a lump in my throat. All the words I could say keep running through my head.

The last time I felt like this, I thought I was dead.

Today the world became a lesser place, and there was nothing we could do to stop it.