Love part 2: An Uncomfortable Celebration

Footprints…all through my house. 

I stood in the middle of my living room, broom in hand, trying to sweep up the dirt from footprints left by 40 or 50 of my closets friends and family and the more I swept, the more my eyes filled with tears from the joy spilling up out of my heart.  It had rained early on the day of the party and my yard was a mess.  So, we were left with these muddy tracks all through my house.  I tried to follow them as infinite as they seemed, through the kitchen, up the stairs, in and out the front and back doors and then intersecting in the living room where I was standing.  All of these many different journeys met at a cross point in time where I stood, the footprints of dear people letting all their paths cross in my neck of the woods to say that my life matters and that they are better for having known me.  I was undone

It’s not easy being celebrated.  I know that sounds like a silly statement but it’s true, for me at least.  It was my 40th birthday and my wife planned this amazing party for me yet I found myself at points feeling uncomfortable.  I felt so, well, unaccomplished.  I wanted to say, out loud “Everyone!!  Can I have your attention please?  This is great and all and I really appreciate this fine turn out, but could you guys come back in 6 months to a year to give me some time to get my shit together and actually accomplish something and maybe we can have this party then?”  I mean, 40 years of life and all the things that I thought would make my life count for something have all slipped from my grasp like fall leafs in the wind.  Yet, here I stand, at this intersection of these beautiful muddy footprints of a community of people that love me just because.

I have a lot of those You just wait… kind of thoughts/fantasies.  You know what I mean…  Your standing there at your 10 year high school reunion looking down at that spare tire that started growing in your first year of marriage or that career that you could never make happen or that book you can never find time to write and you look around at all your seemingly more successful, more in shape friends and you think to yourself  – You just wait.  I’m going to start watching my carb intake and get in shape, I’m gonna write that book, I’m gonna start that business and come year 11, I’m going to walk in here wearing that suit or dress that I can’t fit into anymore and blow some minds…you just wait.  For me, it all comes back to music.  I have a lot of regret for all that I didn’t accomplish and fantasize often about finally making that record that blows everyone away.  Maybe then we can have a party and I won’t feel so damn uncomfortable.

Yet, as uncomfortable as I felt, that night was like a gentle mountain spring rolling over my dry, parched soul.  I stood in the throws of a deep love offered from a community of folks that love me for reasons that are much deeper than I had suspected.  They didn’t show up that night to celebrate my accomplishments, they showed up to celebrate me.  It was the culmination of something Jesus had been doing in my heart for a long time that started with a question that kept popping up in my head, that I believe, Jesus himself was asking:

What do I believe about myself?

The answers came pretty easy but from day to day, were different:

  • I’m only as good as what I can produce
  • I’ll never get ahead, I’ll always be behind
  • I’m a bad dad/husband
  • I’m tolerated, but not really loved

That night at the party my wife leaned into me and whispered “I love doing life with you.”  It was there, in that moment, that I began to let down my guard enough to allow myself to receive a love offered to me and what I believed about myself began to change.

It all comes back to love…love has to be our ground zero.  And I’m not talking about acts of love.  This is important to understand.  A love that we haven’t received is not a love that we can truly share with those around us.  Thats like telling everyone about how good the new restaurant is in your town without ever having tried the food.  It gets us into trouble.  This is how love becomes conditional.  This is why we become slaves to performance and we project that onto others.  This is where the message of the “you gottas” comes from.

Yes, God loves you but you gotta come to church. 

Yes, he wants to set you free from sin but you gotta try harder. 

Yes, you are his son or daughter but you gotta start acting right. 

Does Jesus want you to stop sinning, attend church and have more faith?  Of course he does!  But not because we are trying to earn something.  We have to start with Love and Jesus himself was no different.  This is what we see in his baptism.  He chose to proclaim publicly that he belongs to the Father and then those words were spoken over him “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.” – Mathew 3:17 (the message)

It was a right of passage, an initiation.  But when I hear the word “initiation” I think of a young man from some tribe in Africa going out alone to prove himself in the wilderness or completing some kind of fetes of strength.  And in our culture we are all about proving ourselves, aren’t we?  Stories of the guy that started out in the mail room and worked his way up the corporate ladder stir something in us, make us work harder.  Because in our world its all about what you can earn, not about who you are.  But these words that came down like a dove from heaven and perched on the shoulder of the Messiah were spoken before he walked on water or fed five thousand with the loafs and the fishes or before he healed anyone.  Jesus began with Love and ended the same.  As he set out to build a kingdom it was Love that laid the foundation and all along the way he invited us into this Love that changes everything.

John 15:9 (the Message) “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me.  Make yourselves at home in my love.”

But still we struggle with this.  We can’t seem to wrap our heads around this most crucial part of this great Gospel that we say we believe.  We preach about it, sing about it, hand out tracks about it, give our money to send people to distant lands in the name of it – but yet we look in the mirror and hate what we see.  We berate ourselves for not being moral enough for sins we can’t control, we, like the pharisees, project an impossible moral code on people that are crushed under the weight of it.  We praise ourselves when we resist some temptation but curse ourselves when we fail.  Few of us are ever really transformed.  All we really accomplish without Love is some kind of moral superiority where by we beat our flesh into submission enough that we keep our shit hidden from the rest of the world.  And then we chase those accomplishments and use them as a covering over our true selves.

Yet, in the soft glow of a sunset and the cool breeze of a mountain peak the kingdom of God calls to us to bring our weak and heavy laden hearts and choose to be swept away by the complete, unreasonable, reckless love of Jesus, and choose to live in the upside down kingdom where the homeless guy that you ignore everyday on the way to the office is first and your boss that you kiss ass to at all the meetings is last.  When we choose to step into the Kingdom of God we enter a different kind of paradigm with a different economy:

  • Where presence is more powerful than performance
  • Where we are less interested in proving ourselves and more interested in offering ourselves
  • Where we give not so that we can get, but because we have been given to
  • Where strength is found in vulnerability

I meet a lot of folks in ministry that all say the same thing.  I wish I could be more _______ fill in the blank.  Truth is, we long for transformation and we should because that is what Jesus has been up to all this time.  But we don’t get transformation by trying harder and white knuckling our way to being better people.  You not cursing at the driver that cuts you off in traffic is not necessarily a sign that you’ve been transformed.  The question we need to ask ourselves is – Do we know how deeply we are loved by Jesus?  

So, after a year of learning about receiving love I have noticed some changes in myself.

  • Sin is less appealing . Now, hold on.  I’m not saying that I don’t sin anymore.  I can still misbehave with the best of them.  But the things that I used to run to have begun to loose their luster for me.  One of the most helpful definitions of sin that I have ever heard came from John Eldredge – sin is a search for life apart from God.  I’m learning to find life in Jesus but when I do go back to old habits it’s not such a crushing blow.  Which brings me to the next thing..
  • I’m learning to have Grace for myself.  I’m still struggling with this.  Folks, I beat myself up a lot but I’m learning to take a step back and a deep breath and take comfort in knowing that “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  (Romans 8:1 NIV.) I am his and nothing I could do will change that.  Jesus goal for me is not for me to stop sinning, its unity and restoration.
  • Joy has become a necessity, not just a neat idea.  “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:11 (NIV)  “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” 1 Thessalonians 1:6 (NIV) “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1:2 (NIV) . If you notice, most of the time in the scriptures Joy is mentioned in relation to affliction.  That’s not because Jesus wants us to be happy about shitty times.  Its because Joy is a vital arrow that we should carry in our quiver.  I need joy!  You need joy!  And when Love is central, joy will come with it.
  • Ministry comes more natural.  I have been in ministry for 20 years in one way or another and for a lot of those years I found myself faking it a lot.  These days are different.  For one, Jesus has led me to trim away faucets of ministry that I don’t need to be doing, and two, because I’m not ministering to earn something from him, I can operate from a place of love rather than duty.
  • I’m ok not being in the spot light.  In years past if I didn’t have a place where I was seen and heard I felt useless.  These days, I am just as comfortable behind the curtain as I am in front of it.  Don’t get me wrong, I love taking the stage and playing a song or speaking, but its not a necessity.
  • I give better hugs!  Not trying to brag, but I give the best hugs around!

I’ll leave you with some more words of Jesus that help us recover more of who he was and what he was after:

Mathew 11:28-30 (the Message) “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

I love this version of this text.  “Watch how I do it.  Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”  What a beautiful promise!  Folks, we make this whole christian thing so damn difficult!  Its really not much to it!  Just stop trying to earn what has already been given and let yourself enjoy the love that is yours for the taking!  

So, back to those footprints.  I’d like to thank all the jerks that tracked all through my house!  Your the best group of jerks a guy could ask for!

 

 

Love: A Jealous Son

My soon to be 6 year old daughter, Tegan, has recently discovered that she has a lovely singing voice and as her dad, I couldn’t be more excited and proud.  I’ve known for a while that she has an ear for music just from hearing her sing a long with the radio but its looking like she might be a little more gifted in music than I had originally thought.  (But then again, I am her dad so objectivity tends to escape me!)

So, a few weeks ago she started tinkering with writing her own songs.  They were mostly made up from random stuff that she likes such as unicorns, fat baby (her beloved baby doll) and rainbows until one afternoon while I was in my office working on some music of my own that she came to me and said “Dadda, will you write a song with me?”  Of course, I was delighted and began to come up with a simple tune that we could write lyrics over.  As I played she started coming up with words and I was pleasantly surprised…I mean, we’re not talking a platinum record or anything but for a 5 year old I was very impressed!

As the days went by she and I spent several sessions forming up her masterpiece.  Well, anyone with 2 kids knows that at this age jealousy is pretty common so I was trying to be sensitive to my son, Gideon, who is her older brother and has a jealous bone when it comes to his sister.  Me and Gideon have always shared some kind of activity together, usually outdoors.  I can say with confidence that I have a great relationship with my 9 year old son.  We have spent a lot of time fishing, hiking, riding bikes through our neighborhood, watching our favorite movies but as I worked with Tegan the last thing that I wanted was for him to feel left out.  At the same time, for now at least, this was mine and Tegan’s “thing.”  I was careful to talk it through with him initially and make sure he understood that I don’t love her anymore than him and that he and I are still buds and will always be.

He seemed fine with it…at first.

The other day she and I were at it again rehearsing the almost completed song when Gideon came in to listen.  She was really improving so naturally I was delighted and expressed that through smiles and words of affirmation as she sang.  I didn’t notice it right away, but Gideon had left the room during one of her performances and after we had finished we came down stairs where I found him laying on the couch with his face buried in a pillow sobbing.  I looked at my wife and asked in a quiet voice “Whats wrong?”  She leaned over to me and said “I think he might be jealous.”  My heart sunk because that is the last thing that I wanted, for my boy to feel left out.  I immediately began to pray as I sat down next to him, “Jesus, give me the words.”  I softly began to rub his back with my hand and said, “Hey bud.  Talk to me.  Tell me what you’re feeling.”  Stubbornly, he said, “No”, somewhat sharpely.  I let it go for the time being.  I just snuggled up next to him, we turned on one of our favorite tv shows and sat there in silence.

Later that night as I tucked him into bed I asked again; “Will you talk to me?  What was going on earlier?”  After a few moments of my gentle prodding he looked at me, eyes wet with tears and said “Tonight while you and sister were practicing you looked at her and smiled and it made me sad.”  Again, my heart sunk.  “Tell me about the sadness,” I said fighting back tears of my own, “Do you think you might be a little jealous?”  He shrugged his shoulders.  He wouldn’t say it but I knew what he was feeling:

Maybe I’m not enough.  Maybe I need to do something to get dads approval.  What can I do to make him smile at me that way?

I said, “Bud, I loved Tegan long before she ever sang her first note and I have always been proud of her no matter what.  I feel the same way about you.  There is nothing that you or sister could do to ever change that.  My love for you guys doesn’t depend on what you do or how talented you might be at this or that…I love you just because.”  After I finished I felt that my words, though they were true, lacked something deep and meaningful.  He looked at me with this look of desperation and I heard Jesus whisper “He wants to know why.”  We sat there for a moment staring at each other as I tried to come up with something to say but my love for my kids is indefinable.  From the very first time that I laid eyes on them I fell hopelessly and madly in love with them.  I’d do anything for them, fight anyone for them, kill for them…but to be honest, I can’t really tell you why.  Call it a fatherly instinct, I guess.  But I’m just completely undone by how much I love those two.

It was in that moment that some kind of secret room deep within my heart where all the reasons for everything are kept locked up was opened.  The words began to flow from that deep place into a deep place within the heart of my son.  I looked at him and said “There is something about you that bursts up out of you when you smile or laugh or tell a silly joke that I absolutely love.  It spills up out of your eyes and face and chest when your doing nothing at all.  You can’t control it or keep it in…it’s what makes you the person you are.  That is what I love about you!  That is what makes me proud to be your dad!”  When I said these words he leaped up out of bed sobbing and wrapped his little arms around me in what was the best hug I have ever had.  I prayed a blessing over him and we said good night.

As I left the room I heard the voice of Jesus say “That is what I have been saying to you all along.”  My heart overflowed!

Days later I thought a lot about that night and the need of my son to know the why behind his dads love.  I have seen the same thing in myself and folks around me that drives us to behave, perform well and basically just to be good moral people.

Why am I loved? Why am I valued?

Where does this question come from?  Could it be that we desire some kind of control? Think about it…

If I know the why then perhaps I can can secure my own acceptance from the people in my life.  If I know the why then I can work to create my own value.  If I know the why I can begin to build up my defenses against rejection.

This kind of control is what causes us to strive and push ourselves to the point of exhaustion.  We see it in our in relationships, in our church communities and in our workplaces.  Grown men and women killing themselves to show that they have value and ultimately to find some kind of love from there peers.  The guy that believes his “why” is his work ethic so he is the first to get to work and the last to leave all the while ignoring his family in the name of trying to give the family that he is neglecting a better life. And then there is that guy in your circle of friends who has to be the funny guy at all the parties because he thinks his “why” is humor.  The woman at the office who shows a little too much cleavage and gets a little to flirty with the single guys because her “why” is her body.  We all have what we believe is the reason that the people in our lives accept us.  The problem is that by chasing the “why” we lose ourselves in the process.  We trade our true identity for something made up, a fake, a poser.

Sad thing is, that guy that over works himself to prove something to his superiors will probably get promoted and eventually move up to the top of his field, but he will have built his career all on someone that he is not.  And that woman that likes to show off her body will probably find a husband but the poor guy will not know who he is really marrying.  And on and on it goes…we are rewarded for our brokenness!  But sooner or later our ability to show the kind of love we are seeking is lost and we start to size up our friends for what they can offer us.

Consider the church as a whole for a moment.  We christians are often accused of being hatful in the public arena because of the stands we take over this issue or that.  We are much more known for what we are against then what we are for.  Now, I know that Jesus said that “the world will hate you because of me” so I’m not suggesting that we set out to make the world love us.  But Jesus also said in John 13 that we will be known by love, as if it should be our trademark.  Instead we seem to be driven by some kind of urgency to protect what is ours by politicizing our beliefs and drawing lines in the sand.  It seems that we live with this “panic” to regain control…(theres that word again).  In all of the causes that we are fighting for and people that we are fighting against, we’ve lost love along the way.

The reason?

Perhaps we don’t really know how to receive the unconditional love of Jesus.  So we reflect that on to the world around us as we lash out against the gay community, muslims, liberals and basically anyone that we disagree with.  We call it standing up for our God and our beliefs but the truth is, we are a broken hearted people that don’t know how deeply we are loved by Jesus.

Before long love is no longer an issue.  We simply use the folks around us to get what we want and to secure the life we desire.  We shift from being lovers to being moral people and as a result, the heart begins to die.  We forget the words of Paul – If you don’t have love you have nothing.  Yet we will be admired by the folks around us for being pillars of our communities.  We will get the pats on the back for how hard we’ve worked.  But when we lay in our beds at night there is our truest self that is starving for freedom and to know that he/she is loved…just because.

I am a part of a community of believers the meets every Sunday and have for the past 3 years with around 150 homeless men and women for a time of fellowship, food and the reading of the word.  It is my church and I love it.  I have learned a lot over the past 3 years about the homeless culture in Birmingham and throughout the southeast.  Most of us see homeless people as lazy, addicted, no good folks that couldn’t hold down a job, and before we began this journey I thought the same.  But you’d be surprised to learn what the common thread of all these folks is.

Its’s not laziness.  It’s not addiction.

The common thread is a deep sense of worthlessness.  They feel no value for themselves at all.  Through abuse they have suffered in their childhood, some kind of tragedy or just a life of poor decisions, they arrive at this place in life were they believe and operate out of one simply message – I am worthless.  Jesus led us out into the streets with a counter message:

You are loved, you matter and you have a seat at the table.

We have seen so many of our homeless friends embrace this message and are changed because of it.  Men and women being reunited with their families, folks on the brink of suicide finally find hope and cycles of addiction end once and for all.  Because when someone looks at you and says “I love you and there is nothing you can do to change that.  I love you just because” it awakens something deep within us.  Hope sparks in the darkness and says Freedom is possible.  Freedom from hopeless striving, freedom from fear of rejection, freedom to offer ourselves, freedom to be loved.  There is power in this kind of love, life changing, world changing power.

For most of us who call ourselves christians, we tend to value the wrong things.  Sound theology, knowledge of the scriptures and church attendance.  We really think that if we can get these things right then that puts us in good standing.

But the question is – do you know how deeply you are loved?

I know what your thinking.  “How can you minimize something like – sound theology?”  Heres the deal, for far too long we christians have put the cart before the horse when it comes to the various faucets of the christian life.  We work to get our doctrines right and manage out behavior first before we give ourselves the freedom of resting in the presence of Jesus and in the assurance of his love for us.  Jesus himself was empowered by the love of his Father.  Jesus began his ministry with love.  We see it at his baptism when God said “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”  (I’ll talk more about that later in part 2). Love has to be our “ground zero”…we have to start there.

In conclusion I want to leave you with an exercise:  Take a few moments everyday to ask Jesus a few questions and then give yourself some space, in silence to hear his answer.  Now, don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear anything at first.  Give it time:

Jesus, do you love me?

Am I really your son/daughter?

Do I bring you joy?

I know they seem like silly questions but your heart needs to hear the answer.  And you’d be surprised at how much your life will change just by knowing that you are loved…just because!

 

Corey, inmate number..

I remember the first time I laid eyes on Corey .  He looked out of place and scared as he walked in wearing those loose fitting prison clothes.  He wasn’t covered in tattoos like a lot of the other guys were and struck me as the kid that might bag my groceries at my local Publix or take my order at the Chick-fil-A and follow my “Thanks” with a “My Pleasure.”  He carried himself with a quiet determination like he just wanted to do his time and get the hell out of that place.   As I watched him take his seat I thought to myself “Damn.  He’s just a kid.”  My heart broke a little every time I looked at him.

Me and my brothers on the Encounter team arrived at the prison on Friday Morning for what we knew would be an intense weekend-long Wild at Heart Boot Camp.  Intense is actually a pretty tame word.  We spend over 48 hours with these 70 or so men talking about wounding and about how God desires to set them free so that they can live free with a heart fully alive.  As they file in and take their seats they are given a name tag for their first name.  (This part is especially important because in prison culture they are not called by their first name by the guards or prison staff.  They are simply known as “Inmate” and on their prison-issued jumpsuit is the word “Offender” followed by a number.)  We do name tags because in the kingdom of God our identity is of great importance; it has weight.  We are known and named by God the Father.

The Prison offers other programs similar to ours set on rehabbing offenders but most of these are simply designed to reduce the recidivism rate which, by the way, is extremely high.  But the Boot Camp is different.  As Proverbs 4:23 says the Heart is the well-spring of life and most of these inmates (and sadly, people in general) have spent most of their lives beating back their hearts, stifling them and not letting themselves feel.  They turn to self-medicating as a way to kill the pain that comes from heartbreak and the wounds that they have suffered.  Many of these dudes grew up with parents that abused them physically and sexually.  They grow up learning that its best just to not feel at all so they shoot up or smoke anything that will dull the pain.  In our society we have been told that drugs are killing our young people.  Nancy Reagan championed this message during the Reagan administration with the Just Say No campaign – but here’s the deal folks, drugs are not killing our young….its the loss of heart that’s killing them. Luke 19:10 says that the son of man came to seek and save that which was lost and what is lost, John Eldredge says, is the heart.  In the course of the weekend we tell the inmates that they are loved and not forgotten.  We tell them through the beauty of story that Jesus is actively and aggressively pursuing them and seeking to restore their hearts.  We tell them that they were meant to be more than just nice church-going law-abiding citizens, that they have a vital role to play in the restoration of the world starting with their own lives.

Back to Corey.

I had just wrapped up my talk that morning on my story and my wounding.  (You can read that here)  In the talk I tell about my not feeling like I was ever enough for anyone and how God was and is healing and redeeming that in me.  Corey sought me out, walked up to me, his eyes bloodshot from crying and said: “How can I feel like I’m enough?”  His question broke my heart, yet again.  I can’t remember exactly how I answered – I was a little in shock by how raw his question was – but in our limited time I tried my best to unpack his question and hear the gist of his story.  His dad was a drug user and spent most of his time when Corey was a young boy in and out of rehab so Corey was raised mostly by his mom.  The wound for Corey was that his dad loved getting high more than he loved his son.  Now, that might not be true but to the heart of a small boy, it couldn’t not be true.  He went on to tell me that his wife who he hadn’t been married too long had left him shortly before he got locked up and I thought to myself “Damn.  Abandoned two times by two people that he thought loved him” and the more he talked the more the tears flowed.  He said, “I’m scared that I’m going to end up back in here.”  I responded, “Why is that, Corey?”  His answer was heartbreaking.  “Because I really want my dad’s approval and I know the only way to get it is to do drugs with him which is why I’m in here in the first place.  He came back into my life just before I got married and all he wanted to do was get high so I thought if I got high with him maybe he will love me.  I know that sounds crazy.”  After he said this to me the guard ordered that he find his seat so our conversation ended as abruptly as it began.  I just stood there and watched him walk away in that saggy prison-issued jumpsuit wishing so badly I could go home with him and try to save him from his piece of shit dad.  I had to walk out in the hallway so I could cry hysterically in solitude.

I’d love to tell you that Corey got out and is doing great but I don’t know where he is today.  But whenever I think of him I ask God to protect him from his dad and remind him that he is loved by God, his true Father.  I and a few of the other men got a chance to surround Corey and pray over him before the weekend ended.  I really believe that Corey had a real encounter with Jesus and something beautiful began in his heart that day – it was awakened.  The Father will always take us back down into our hearts where we must wade through the pain of our wounding in order to restore us, make us whole and bring our hearts back to life.  That is why this prison ministry is so vital!  There are a thousand Corey’s; young men sifting through the ruin of their childhood desperate to find a love that was never expressed, starving for the approval that was never offered and simply left to nurse the wounds the best way they know how.

Through the work of Encounter, these men have a shot….they have a chance to walk in the freedom that only Jesus and His Gospel can offer.  They have an opportunity to leave that prison and reunite with the wives, kids, moms and dads that they left behind.  And the beauty of the Gospel is that it spreads….it will spill over and touch the lives of their families.

We will return to this same east Texas prison in September of this year…just a few weeks from now!  Would you prayerfully consider giving so that this work can continue?  If you want to partner with us financially you can do that here.  Or if you want to volunteer on a trip you can get more info here.

The need is great and you have a vital role to play.  Don’t miss out!

 

Encounter and How God Has Rigged the World

My memory of that moment is so vivid because it was pivotal.  It was the moment that all the other moments in my life at that time had been leading up to.
The smell of barbecue drifted in the air as I sat and watched the frost on my glass of porter style beer slowly turn to condensation and drip down.
I was tired, angry and at the end of my rope emotionally and had reached a point where all my attempts to pull my life out of the ditch had failed.  Nothing was going the way I wanted it to and I felt completely abandoned.
My friend, Chris, sat across from me as I unloaded all the emotional baggage that I had been carrying in isolation for the past few years.  Chris is the founder of a ministry called Encounter…..
“Encounter” because its only after we have a real encounter with Jesus that we know that we are loved and its only when we know that we are loved that we experience the life that Jesus offers. 
Chris and his team walks closely and provides spiritual direction with individuals, couples, pastors and college students.  And that time in my life, I was desperate for some direction.  We sat in that barbecue restaurant for hours and I told Chris everything, my entire story.  He would stop me on occasion to ask a question or two but for the most part he just listened.
With tears in my eyes I was going on and on about how I felt like a failure:
“Maybe I haven’t done enough? Maybe I should’ve finished college?  What if it’s to late and God is angry with me because I squandered all of the chances that he’s given me over the years?”
I looked up at Chris and he was smiling…it was one of those half grins that a person gives you when they know something exciting that you don’t.  He said “Jesse, your God sucks!  He’s distant, judgmental and completely void of grace.  He sucks!”   And he was exactly right!  The next thing that Chris said was something that I will never forget as long as I live – “God has rigged the world in such a way that we get to a point where we can’t go on without him.” And friends, I was at that point.  This spoke to something deep in my soul that I had always hoped were true about God – that he is with me and somehow guiding the course of my seemingly haphazard life, that I’m not alone, that he’s a step ahead on the path, that I haven’t screwed things up beyond redemption.  I can think of about 50 other people who I could have reached out to for advice, good-hearted folks with the best of intentions and it probably would have sounded something like this:
“Yes, Jesse.  You need to go back to school and follow a career path.” 
Or
“You need to take charge of your life.  If you’re not happy where you are change your situation!” (I literally heard that one a time or two.)
Or “You need to go back into the ministry.” (Heard that one too.)
And to be honest, none of these nuggets of advice are bad in and of themselves.  The problem is, they do nothing to address the cry of the heart and the cry of the heart is heard in our stories – Our striving because we believe that life is up to us and ultimately God can’t be trusted; our need for acceptance that we try to meet through being good or hard work; our desire to be loved that we are trying to satisfy through sex; our attempts to self protect because we fear we will be let down – All of this is found within our stories.
I left that restaurant bursting with hope….finally for the first time in a long time I didn’t feel alone.  That night as I drifted off to sleep I had a vision of Jesus in the middle of a dirt road sitting in a chair….not just any road but a road that I have been on for a long time all the while wondering if I had made a wrong turn, made a wrong decision or just ventured out past the realm of God’s grace, like, maybe I’m out of his jurisdiction, as crazy as that sounds.  In this vision I see him sitting there waiting for me and when he sees me he smiles, stands to his feet and laughingly says “Finally!  I thought you’d never get here!”  I had never considered that Jesus could be that kind, that patient and that loving.  Up until that point I had toiled under the rule of this god (little g) that I had in my head, the one that Chris said “Sucks”, the one that only cares about my productivity and success and achievements in ministry.  But that day this caricature began to fade all because I had an encounter with the real Jesus.
That meeting with Chris led to another meeting and then to anther and another and before long I found myself working along side of him and his team ministering through hearing the stories of folks just like me and today there are 2 ministries of Encounter that I am directly involved with:
1 – Campus House
Located just off the UAB Campus, CH offers students weekly meals, small groups and a place to connect.  Out side of the Tuesday night worship meetings, CH is open during the week to give students a place to hang out, maybe do some laundry, get caught up on homework or just hang out.  A few years ago I started helping with CH by filling in as worship leader on Tuesdays and it has quickly become a big part of my life.  You can find out more about Campus House here.
2 – Prison Ministry
I joined this team really not knowing what I was getting into.  Chris asked me to come and lead worship on one of the trips back in 2016 and I agreed to go because I knew several of the guys going and thought it would be fun (as weird as that sounds). It’s a weekend event based on the John Eldredge book Wild at Heart.  We walk these men through the wounds of their life to God as a good father wanting to heal their hurts and give them life.  For me it was life changing….I’ll share more about my personal experiences with this ministry later.  Stay tuned.
Here’s the deal.  You can partner with Encounter through making a donation so that this work can continue – And I’m not asking you to simply give money;  I’m asking you to ask God if this is something that you want to partner in through giving or volunteering.  We believe that God has set apart some folks that will cheerfully support Encounter…the question is, are you one of those folks?  Would you prayerfully consider making a donation today?
In the mean time, reach out to someone that you know is hurting and offer to listen to the story that is their life.  It could mean everything!

About a Girl

The year was 1991 and I, a 12-year-old buck toothed four eyed kid, was in love with a girl named…well, let’s call her Christy.  Christy was 14, absolutely beautiful and way out of my league. She had beautiful brown eyes and amber hair that fell just below the middle of her back, and much like her personality, it was full-bodied and a bit untamed.  She smelled of spring; flowers blooming in the long-awaited sunlight, honeysuckle on the vine. (Is it creepy that I still remember how she smelled?) She was best friends with April, the youngest of my 3 sisters. April was the closest thing I had to a brother and in our younger days we did everything together.  However, as we grew older she spent less time with me, her annoying little brother, and more time with the lovely Christy listening to New Kids On the Block and talking about boys. Obviously I was fine with that….the more Christy came around to see April, the more I got to see Christy!

There was a lot going on that summer, both with my raging hormonal body and with life in general that I won’t get into here.  I was stuck in this place between being a kid and a young man…I felt awkward all the time. I spent most of my summer days, afternoons after school and Saturdays roaming the streets of my neighborhood on my bike running from my preteen angst, thinking about Christy and hanging out with my buds.

There were 5 or six of us that road bikes together in my neighborhood. We were wanna be BMXers jumping every thing that we could put a ramp in front of.  There was this place we called The Dips out behind a nearby elementary school and we would go there almost everyday in the summer. It was where the city had dug out a trench to put in a drainage ditch but never finished it.  Apparently they rerouted the ditch and just left this massive dirt half-pipe in the earth…it was perfect! We played who could get the most air, a game that always left someone injured. Besides riding bikes, the other thing that we liked to do was smoke cigarettes while we sat around and told stories about shit that we didn’t know much about.  There was a store not far away that would sell cigs to minors so we would put our money together and buy a pack of smokes before heading to the dips. I loved that time in my life and I loved my friends…they were a good group of dudes.

It was that summer that one single event would change my life forever and I wouldn’t understand how dramatically it changed me until years later.

It was around that time that a guy we will call Jason started coming around.  He had a short-lived romance with my sister Abby but it fizzled out pretty quick.  Jason had just got his license and drove a cutlass supreme with tinted windows and I thought he was super cool…like Marty McFly cool (Back to the Future was and is my favorite movie). Plus he told me that he did the whole skateboard-car-surfing thing so in my mind, he was boss.  He was sort of a big brother to me in that short time.  I liked having him around but after he and Abby called it quits he would still come over which I didn’t quite understand but I didn’t think much of it at the time. My mom seemed to trust him and would let us go cruising the neighborhood in his cutlass.  Sometimes it was just me and him and he would let me ride up front….I felt like so cool!  One Friday night Jason brought over one of his friends, a guy that April was sweet on, and they were all planning a night of cruising in Jason’s car. The lovely Christy was also there so naturally, so was I. April did not want me tagging along but I had plans to put the moves on Christy that night so I was determined to go.  So, I did what any guy would do who’s trying to hook up with his sisters besty – I went and told my mom to make them let me tag along…and she did! Smooth, I know! So, all 5 of us loaded up in Jason’s car to cruise the streets of my neighborhood. April and Jason’s friend got in back and me and Jason sat up front with Christy between us.  I thought “This is perfect! When the time is right I’ll reach over and hold her hand….it can’t fail!” I had dreamed about her for so long and I couldn’t hold back my feelings any longer…I had to have her, like Romeo had to have Juliet. I would stand at the balcony of her heart and boldly proclaim my love for her

It is my lady! O, it is my love!  O, that she knew she were!

As the night went on my heart was beating faster and faster.  I kept telling myself “Do it…make your move!!” The time was now….the moment that I had waited for was here.  There she sat just inches away.

But then I noticed something…

Why was she sitting closer to Jason than me?  Why did she move in his direction? Then, much to my horror, I saw Jason’s hand on Christy’s leg.  It didn’t register at first….I thought “Why is his hand there?  Dude, move your hand…she’s spoken for!”, I screamed in my head as we made our way up the streets towards the elementary school. The further we drove the further Jason’s hand slide up Christy’s inner thigh.  I was paralyzed by a mixture of adrenaline, anger and hurt as I began to understand how things really were at that moment. I had made a terrible error in my reading the situation. Jason was moving in on Christy, rounding 1st, and (Hopefully not while I’m sitting next to them) about to get to second base.  Completely devastated, I leaned my head against the window in defeat trying not to watch my surrogate big brother put the moves on the girl that I was in love with and had dreamed about for so long. I knew then why April didn’t want me tagging along…she wasn’t being mean, she was just trying to save me some embarrassment.  We made our way through the streets of my neighborhood not really going anywhere, hence the point of cruising and before I knew it we came to a stop on the street out in front of The Dips, the place where I spent all of my time with my friends. I sat there and wrestled with the reality that the heart of the one I loved belong to another.  “So, that’s why Jason kept coming around.”, I told myself as I sat there feeling like an idiot in a car with 4 people, not one of which wanted me there. Over the years I have really embarrassed myself many times but I don’t think I have ever felt that foolish. I sat there for a minute or two longer and then did the only thing that I could think of…I bailed….Opened the car door and I ran as fast as I could as the tears came streaming down my face.  It was right there, mere feet from The Dips, where I enjoyed being a kid and riding my bike with my friends that the boy that I still was and the man I was becoming brushed past the other like strangers in the night. At that point in my life I had no one, not a single solitary soul that could help me make sense of what I was feeling in my little hormone enraged body, no one to help me interpret the anguish that I was experiencing.

That night I went to bed and buried my head in my pillow and sobbed for what seemed like hours.  The next day, the world kept turning, life went on around me as it did before and I beat back the pain of my heart-break and went on like nothing ever happened.  Because that’s what men do, right? We suck it up and move on and we don’t let some silly crush keep us down. But no matter how hard I stifled the heartbreak I never really got over Christy and even now at 4 am as I write these words I swear I can smell her fragrance – the symphony of spring flowers bursting forth in bloom – and I can still feel that old familiar sting, a pain that is still fresh.

That night, that rejection was like an arrow to my young heart.  Over the years I would receive many more but none would stick as deep as that one.  John Eldredge in his book The Sacred Romance says that the arrows have a message. And for that one, the message was clear:

You’re just not enough

I wasn’t enough for her, I wasn’t enough for anyone.  Not strong enough, cool enough, handsome enough, brave enough…..I just wasn’t enough.  And unfortunately for me, I had no one around to tell me otherwise.

So, I spent the rest of my teenage years and well into my adult life trying to be more than enough for everyone around me.  In my late teens and early twenties that event would lead me to some unhealthy places and bad relationships. It would even cause me to turn to porn, a place where you can get any girl you want no matter how much you fall short.  But all the porn in the world would never truly satisfy my desire to be enough. John Eldredge also says in his book Wild at Heart that in the heart of every man lies the question that begs an answer:

Do I have what it takes?

When we fail to get the answer to that question in the right places we tend to go to some unhealthy lengths to get an answer.  As a young adult I did my fair share of dating but whenever I would find a girl that I liked and who was genuinely attracted to me there would be this thought that would pop into my head, “Ok, what’s wrong with this girl? There has to be something wrong with her if she likes me!” A friend nicknamed me Jerry, short for Jerry Seinfeld because of how quickly I would go from one girl to the next and with every relationship threshold that I crossed over I would lay my question, am I enough(?) at the feet of some poor girl who didn’t have the capacity to answer.

Now, its important to mention, none of these people set out to hurt me.  Christy never meant to break my heart and Jason had no intention of moving in on my girl…or maybe he did but that’s not the point.  It’s just the way life is sometimes. There are events that take place that wound us and we never really recover on our own. We need a proper interpretation of events, of our story.  We need Jesus, the one who came to bind up the broken-hearted and set the captives free to reveal our wounding. I know some might think “Dude, you got rejected by a girl…stop making a big deal out of it!” and that is the kind of thinking that I grew up with.  But like I mentioned in my blog post called Almost, we all have sorrows and we do ourselves a disservice when we belittle them and dismiss them as insignificant.

If we are to follow this man named Jesus, he will always lead us back to the places where we were wounded in order to heal us and make us whole.  (And by the way, men – this is the path to true manhood, to becoming the heroic and masculine dude you have always dreamed of being.) He does this through people and events if we listen and are looking. For me, it was when I finally got to a place where the things I was doing to try to be more, to try and be enough, stopped working and God began to show up in the frustration; All my failed attempts to succeed in music and how I needed so desperately to be desired was nothing more than that question begging for an answer, am I enough?  These are the places where the enemy will show up as well. Yea, that’s right. you have an enemy called Satan and he knows you better than you do including all of the ways that you are wounded.  He is called the accuser of the brethren in Revelation 12. He perpetuates the lie that you are less than, that your evil, that your nothing more than a victim, undesirable, weak, ugly, stupid…the list goes on.  He will use the events in your past to bind you to an identity that is false. But he has been defeated, cast down by Jesus, the hero of our story….and this Jesus will show us our true identity…..

As I sit and write these words today I am confident that I am, in fact, enough, more than enough!  Enough of a dad, a friend, a son, a husband, a lover…I am enough. I have what it takes! That’s not just some self-help bullshit that I learned from Tony Robbins.

It was in Colorado that God came to me on a hillside and told me who I really am and pointed out all the things that I was doing to bury my true self, the self that he created and died to redeem.  He gave me a vision where I had these 2 people in my head, one that I wanted to be, the false self, and one that I was trying to separate myself from, my true self.

Stay with me here…it’s a little confusing.

The 2 of us, my 2 selves, were on a stage in front of a crowd with my true self, the kid that got rejected that night so long ago, sitting on the side of the stage with his head down in shame and my false self taking center stage.   My false self was trying to convince the crowd that I am no longer this kid, that I am no longer the weak little 12-year-old that couldn’t get the girl. I am a strong, confident, self-made dude with the world on a string. I was standing there on that stage trying to make a case for how much better I am than my true self when Jesus took the stage, quickly dismissed the false me and embraced my younger self, lifted his head, awakened his heart and gently whispered,

“This is the Jesse that I created, the one that I went to a cross to rescue and the one that will valiantly fight for the hearts of men and women.  I have bestowed upon him strength and courage. He has what it takes!”

In that moment, In my mind, something extraordinary happened.  I allowed my adult self to go back to that night, to that place where the boy was wounded to pause just for a moment to look upon him with compassion and longing as if to say, “You matter and I need you. I’m sorry for forgetting you, for trying to silence you all these years.”

This has been a long journey for me, a journey where God has led me back to these long forgotten places in order to restore me. This is a journey that we must all take if we want wholeness, the Shalom that Jesus offers us. This is where life in Jesus begins, not with surrendering to the ministry, taking a position at a church or moving to the mission field…as noble as those things might seem, they are only endeavors that serve humanity when we have first taken the journey to wholeness. And only Jesus can take us there.  There is a value in each of us that He seeks to unearth through the work of redemption and restoration. This is what the this gospel you’ve been hearing about is really trying to do in your heart.

Now, my question to you is will you take the journey?

How do you begin? Well, it starts in the questions that you can’t find answers to, in the struggles that you can’t quite get past, in the failures that your ashamed of, in the broken heart that you’re trying to hide from the world.  These are the places were Jesus is waiting. Meet him there…he’ll take care of the rest.

Almost

I am king of the almost.  

I have almost accomplished a lot of things in my life.  I almost graduated high school.  I almost got my degree in music.  I was almost a successful songwriter.  My band almost made it.  I helped plant a church that almost survived but after 11 years, closed it doors….it almost worked out.  The regret that I’m left with has been overwhelming at times as I sit and think about each one of these almosts.  I can’t help but think had I been just a little more committed, worked just a little harder then maybe, just maybe at least one of these almosts would have worked out.  I mean, it’d be nice to have a degree on my wall so that I could show everyone that comes into my office “See, I can accomplish something.”  Or actually attend a high school reunion but they don’t have reunions for the dropouts (which is probably a good thing…not sure I would want all of us in the same room.  The police might have to be called!)

In all these almosts it always seemed like there was something that pulled it just out of reach; weather it was my own bad decisions or just bad luck, something always just didn’t work out in the end.  Even though I have no one to blame but me for most (if not all) of these disappointments, it always left me feeling frustrated at myself and at God.  I mean, why would God allow a church to close its doors?  He’s God.  Isn’t he pro church?  At the end of all these almosts, particularly my failed music career, I always seemed to blame Him thinking that he let me get so close to what I wanted but then he pulled it away at the last minute to teach me some kind of lesson about life.  “Enough with the damn lessons!  Just let me succeed…just once, God!  Can you let me have that?”    

Every single almost is like an arrow to the heart; A wound that I try and medicate mostly through trying to control my life as much as possible to insure that I get the results that I want so that I never have to feel the sting of failure ever again.  I try and have faith that God is somehow steering this misguided ship that is my life but in the end, in my mind, God is the guy who let a lot of good things almost happen so he ultimately can’t be trusted all that much.  It’s a worldview that I’ve created for myself and it’s a shitty way to see the world.  For example, when I’m having a great day spending time with my kids there’s this terrible thought that pops into my head: “Don’t enjoy it too much…it won’t last.  They are going to grow up and leave you or God forbid something might happen to them.  Prepare yourself, Jesse.  God won’t let this good thing last.”  I know that it’s a terrible, Debbie downer way to see things so I try and keep these thoughts to myself as much as possible….even try and hide them from God, as silly as that sounds.    Or my health – say one day I wake up with a new ache or pain.  I immediately think: “Here we go…I’m going to die of some kind of weird, aggressive butt cancer that they haven’t quite identified yet.”  

The good news is that over the past 7 years God has seen this part of me and has began to draw it out and heal those old wounds.  He’s showed me why some of these almosts didn’t work out the way I’d hoped and honestly, it’s for the best.  He didn’t wire me to be on the road every night playing gigs away from my wife and kids…I’d go crazy!  And that church that almost survived?  Well, almost all of those people went on to the other ministries and are changing the world in awesome ways.  So in the end, it all worked out.  

But I’m still wounded and I’m still left with this haunting fear that perhaps it’s all up to me to make my life work the way I want it to.  I didn’t realize how wounded I still was until one day standing out in the middle of nowhere, deep in the woods, all of my suppressed anger and resentment I’d been harboring for so long came boiling out.

It was a freezing cold day and I was 15 feet up in a tree waiting on a deer to walk out in my field of vision.  I’d been tracking a buck in this area for about a month.  There were all the right signs that he was in there and I was going to get him!  This was my 3rd time to hunt this spot and I was confident that today was the day that I would get my chance to kill my first buck.  I’ve only been hunting for about 3 years and I have only killed one doe so this was a big deal to me and my manhood….I needed this.  Well, that day I didn’t just see one buck, I saw 3 bucks, 2 of which were coming down to fight right in front of my tree stand!  They were snorting at each other and moving with a purpose as they got closer to that old road bed I was hunting over.  I thought “Jesse, here’s your chance!  Don’t blow it!”  One was closer to me than the other so he is the one I chose.  I watched all of his 6 points tearing through the brush as he got closer and closer.  I took aim and waited….and then, I fired!  

(Pause for effect)

After the blast of my shot faded into the cosmos he trotted up the hill like nothing happened.  I thought “Did I hit him? Why didn’t he fall?  I did hit him, right?”  I waited for 30 minutes which is what your supposed to do if a deer runs on you.  You have to give him a chance to die otherwise due to adrenalin he might keep running and die way off somewhere and you might not find him.  So I waited for the half hour that seemed like 6 hours all the while trying to determine if I hit him or not.  He sure didn’t act like he got shot but who knows.  Finally after an excruciating 1800 seconds I descended down my tree to track this guy and hopefully find him dead just over the hill.  I went to the spot just 45-50 yards from my stand to look for blood but I found nothing…no blood, no hair, no disturb ground, not a damn thing.  I began to walk in the direction that I saw him run but still nothing.  I’m walking with my face as close to the ground as possible without falling and can’t find any blood.  I walked and walked and walked for hours.  It’s not just the thought that he got away, it’s also the terrible thought that I might have wounded him and he’s out there dying somewhere slowly….the animal lover in me was panicking!  The more I walked the angrier I became until finally I exploded…”You couldn’t just let me have this one, could you?  There you go again letting me get so close and then pulling it away!  That’s just my luck!  Thanks for nothing!”  After the words came out I felt pretty ridiculous.  “How dare you talked to God that way?!” said the little voice in my head.  You know that little voice…it’s the one that helps you fit into society…the one that keeps you from cussing in front of your parents, the one that tells you to not park in the handicap space, the one that tells you to go to church more…that voice.  I felt ashamed of myself and at that point I had given up hope of ever finding that buck.  So, I began to make my way out of the woods.   

I was silent as I got in my truck and began my hour long drive back home. But soon the tears of remorse came as I thought about what I said to God in those woods.  It was like something was in my heart that needed to be exposed.  At that point I was pretty hungry so I decided to stop at a fast food place to get some late breakfast and try and forget about all that had happened.  I pulled into a drive through and placed my order.  The girl at the window said it would be 5 minutes or so before my food was ready and asked that I pull over to the side.  As soon as I parked I heard God speak:

“Do you still not believe that I am good?”

I began to sobb even more and answered “No Father, I don’t. I’m sorry but I just can’t believe it.”  When my heart heard those words I immediately felt his presence and It wasn’t condemning or mean, it was refreshing and soothing like I was being held.  I felt overwhelmed by his love and acceptance.  And for the next several days I pondered what I really believed about God.  

One of my go to things when I’m trying to dial in and hear the Lord speak, or in this case process what he has already said, I listen to some music or a podcast. God always seems to speak through those 2 things for me.  My go to podcast is Ransomed Heart by John Eldredge.  I have been reading his books and listening to him for years and God always seems to speak to me through him. I tuned in to hear part one of a segment on New Ways to Experience God.  John opens the segment with reading a passage from The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis, one of my favorite books.  It’s a story about a boy named Shasta who was kidnapped from Narnia when he was a baby.  In the story he meets up with a talking horse, also from Narnia, and they escape Shasta’s kidnapper and go on a journey back to Narnia.  Along the way, Shasta gets lost in the woods and feels a presence walking next to him in the darkness.  Here is the passage from the book:    

The Thing (or Person) was going so quietly that he could hardly hear any footfalls. What he could hear was breathing. His invisible companion seemed to breathe on a very large scale, and Shasta got the impression that it was a very large creature. And he had come to notice this breathing so gradually that he had really no idea how long it had been there. It was a horrible shock.

It darted into his mind that he had heard long ago that there were giants in these Northern countries. He bit his lip in terror. But now that he really had something to cry about, he stopped crying.

The Thing (unless it was a Person) went on beside him so very quietly that Shasta began to hope he had only imagined it. But just as he was becoming quite sure of it, there suddenly came a deep, rich sigh out of the darkness beside him. That couldn’t be imagination! Anyway, he had felt the hot breath of that sigh on his chilly left hand.  

If the horse had been any good – or if he had known how to get any good out of the horse – he would have risked everything on a breakaway and a wild gallop. But he knew he couldn’t make that horse gallop. So he went on at a walking pace and the unseen companion walked and breathed beside him. At last he could bear it no longer.

“Who are you?” he said, scarcely above a whisper.

“One who has waited long for you to speak,” said the Thing. Its voice was not loud, but very large and deep.

“Are you – are you a giant?” asked Shasta.

“You might call me a giant,” said the Large Voice. “But I am not like the creatures you call giants.”

“I can’t see you at all,” said Shasta, after staring very hard. Then (for an even more terrible idea had come into his head) he said, almost in a scream, “You’re not – not something dead, are you? Oh please – please do go away. What harm have I ever done you? Oh, I am the unluckiest person in the whole world!”

Once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face. “There,” it said, “that is not the breath of a ghost. Tell me your sorrows.”  

After I heard these words I could hear the one who walks beside me asking me the same thing..”tell me your sorrows”. I immediately thought “Come on, God.  I don’t know if any of my problems qualify as sorrows.”  He pressed me “tell me your sorrows.”  So I did…for a couple of days I wrote down all the times I felt he had let me down, no matter how silly they might have seemed, I still wrote them down and with each one I felt that old familiar sting, that old ache of abandonment. I love the first statement that the “thing” that walked beside Shasta said to him “I am one who has waited long for you to speak.”  God has waited a long time for me to say what I was really thinking not the religious bullshit answers the I use to explain away all the disappointments in my life to make myself feel better.  You know what I am talking about…”Well, I guess it just wasn’t God’s will….He works all things to the good of those who love him.”  We’ve all said it in those moments of disappointment because that’s what we’re supposed to say not what we are really thinking.  But what if He has waited long for us to say what we really believe about him?  Perhaps it scares us to really say out loud what we truly believe about God but what if that is the one thing He is waiting on?  

I told God all of my sorrows, all the ways that I felt abandoned by him or just let down and he made no effort to defend himself. One might think that part of this exercise would’ve been for him to go through each one and make a case for himself but that is not what happened….that didn’t need to happen.  He simply revealed his goodness.  He unveiled his heart…the heart of a father that has long since loved and cared for me in every heartbreak, every failure….every almost.  In that moment he absorbed all of my anger, pain and hurt and I was left with the overwhelming assurance that he is good and always has been.

I’m starting to see these sorrows not as symbols of a fathers betrayal but part of a beautiful tapestry woven in fabric made up of moments and days and years at the hands of one who knows how it feels to be broken hearted, one who knows very well the sting of betrayal…my betrayal and what He desires most from me is intimacy and you can’t have intimacy with someone if you hide your brokenness in the name of reverence or respect.  Intimacy is a beautiful thing but before the beauty comes the ugliness…the ugliness of honesty.  And folks, we have to wade through it to get to a place of wholeness.  Maybe you’ve been kicked around by life and just can’t get a break.  Maybe the suck up in the cubicle next to you got the promotion instead or maybe your not getting the respect you feel you deserve at home from your spouse or your kids.  Maybe for you it’s worse…Perhaps your hiding the wounds of abuse in your past, maybe the betrayal of a spouse or you lost someone close to you.  No matter how big or seemingly insignificant we think our sorrows to be, they are still our sorrows and there is one who has waited long for you to poor out the anger and frustration that you’ve been harboring.  

But for the pious and religious that refuse to wade through the ugliness they will experience a different kind of almost….they’ll almost know God as the good father that he is and almost know how deeply and recklessly they are loved.  They’ll almost be free of self hatred and almost be free to trust that the Father’s heart towards them is good…..almost.