READ MY $%@#& BLOG!!

cursingWhen I was about 13 years of age, I developed a forked tongue.   At home, I spoke in a manner that was pleasing to my parents.  Outside the home, my vocabulary shrunk and 4 letter words dripped off my tongue like honey.   When I used the forbidden words at school, I thought I was cool.  After all, a lot of my friends spoke the same way.   When I was home, I was nervous that an “F-bomb” would slip out of my mouth and my cover would be blown.   As I look back, this may have been the beginning stages of me eventually living a double life.

As a teenager, I found myself living with a lot of anger – dealing with difficult life circumstances thrust upon me (my Dad’s death, my Mom’s remarriage, moving schools, etc).  I didn’t know how to process it or handle it and my anger and frustration about my situation tempted me to express it verbally with a string of expletives.   In some ways, I felt a sense of control in my decision to curse.  Whereas I could not control the chaos in my home, I could control how I spoke and enjoyed the feeling of being able to say adult words – even when I knew I shouldn’t.   But along the cursing way, something interesting happened…

As I was growing accustomed to cursing, deep down it never made sense to me.   The 4 letter words seemed unnatural coming out of my mouth.  With each word I used, I felt like I was ignoring the intelligent side of my brain.  As I looked at those who cursed around me – they never seemed like the most intelligent in the room.   Slowly, I began to equate ignorance with cursing.  I began to view those that cursed as having a limited vocabulary – and that seemed very unattractive to me – a future wordsmith.   As I cursed, I began to experience this uneasy feeling.  On one hand, I enjoyed the release of anger that the curse words seemed to help with.  On the other hand, I realized that others probably thought I had a limited vocabulary too.   Knowing I did not, this bothered me.

And then one day, I actually thought about what I was saying in the heat of the moment.  This single-handedly stopped me dead in my tracks.   In one enlightening moment, I realized just how silly most of my curse-filled sentences really were.   If you are honest, you have to admit that most of the curse words/phrases that are used are completely nonsensical.   Only when you stop and actually hear what is being said, do you begin to realize just how foolish it sounds, not just to your own ears but undoubtedly to others who are listening.

Here are a few I heard just recently.   Out of respect for others, I will “BLEEP” out the curse word.   You get the idea…

  • “That tastes like (BLEEP)!” 
  • “She’s cool as (BLEEP)”  
  • “What the (BLEEP) is he doing?”
  • “What a (BLEEPING) idiot!”
  • God’s name in vain.   (Can someone explain to me why we do this?   Why is God’s name “damned” while Satan, Allah, or Buddha never get cursed out?  Why in the world do we blame God for traffic jams, stubbed toes, missed flights, and bad news?  Even if it was His “fault,” does trashing His name {one of the 10 commandments, mind you} suddenly warm His heart to motivate His help towards our situation?)

I have been on both ends of the foul language spectrum.  I have heard (and given) all the arguments for why cursing is acceptable/necessary, etc.   “Sometimes,” the argument goes, “a curse word is the only thing that can adequately express how you are feeling in that instance.”   While I understand the sentiment behind that statement, I disagree with it wholeheartedly.   It may be your current choice of emotional release but to say it is the ONLY way to communicate in that setting is a cop-out.   When we are upset, frustrated or angry – we tend to justify (in our head) all kinds of actions (smoking, over-eating, physical violence, porn, drinking, gambling, verbal abuse, etc.).   Just because that is how we normally handle our stress does not mean it’s the ONLY way to handle it.   As a recovering curse-aholic – I have come to realize there is a better way.

One of the original purposes of this blog is to provoke thought.  From it’s inception, it has certainly done that as I have received a fair share of criticism for the various opinions I have expressed.   This particular post will be no different as I am knowingly stepping on many people’s idol and common practice.   Even so, I want to leave you with a thought-provoking list of 7 reasons why you shouldn’t be cursing, regardless of who you are or what’s going on around you.

  1. Cursing is inappropriate and offensive.   Granted, not everyone in earshot will find it offensive but across the board – it offends more people than it does not.   For this reason, we tend to find ourselves only cursing in certain environments and around certain people.   How we speak around children, the elderly and authority normally reveals what we think is most appropriate.   Most people will refuse to curse around those three people groups, thus proving my point – cursing is generally inappropriate and offensive.
  2. Cursing is a bad example.   We know this.   This is why we often will change our language around those younger or more impressionable than us.  Deep down, we recognize that what we are doing (or saying) is not “good” and we don’t want to be the one to teach a younger set of ears a certain word/phrase or vocabulary.
  3. Cursing degrades & disrespects your audience.   Words are like toothpaste, once they are out of the “tube,” you can never take them back.   Negative words have the power to really destroy someone’s morale, esteem & confidence.  Since cursing normally occurs during a time of extreme frustration or anger, this is why we like to use them.  It is our way of not only releasing our pent up anger, but we can hurt our intended target much quicker with a few choice words.   But consider what happens in the process when you choose to curse at someone.   The reason you are tempted to curse is usually because they hurt or frustrated you with something they said or did.   Intentionally or unintentionally, their hurtful words or actions created in you a desire to hurt back.  Unfortunately, this is human nature: hurt people hurt people.   Even if what they did/said was intentional, how does retaliating with negative words help the situation or the relationship?  It merely exasperates the situation, complicates the solution and further alienates the relationship.   Instead of choosing to take the harder moral high road, you become just like them – even if your choice of weapon is a bit different.
  4. Cursing points to a diminished intelligence.   Although I know I will receive criticism on this point, hear me out.   Granted, there are many highly intelligent people that curse.  Perhaps this particular point does not apply to you.  However, may I suggest that when we curse we temporarily suspend our intellectual acumen when we use language that reflects a lack of education, vocabulary or intelligence?  Your choice of vulgar words normally points to a diminished intelligence, verbal laziness or darker heart – none of which are very flattering for the intelligent being you think you are.
  5. Cursing is a spiritual barometer.   Jesus made this clear when He said, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”  (Luke 6:45)  In other words, the words we say are drawn from the well of our heart.   Loving words come from a loving heart.  Angry words come from an angry heart.   Impatient words come from an impatient heart.  Nothing reveals what’s going on in our hearts more accurately and consistently than by listening to what is coming out of our mouths.  So, take your spiritual temperature.   What comes out of your mouth most days?   Encouragement?   Love?   Patience?   Praise?   Or is it merely cursing, complaints, crude conversation, etc?   James, the brother of Jesus, said it best, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.  Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?  My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” (James 3:9-12)
  6. Cursing enflames conversations.   Throwing water on a fire puts the flames out.  Throwing gasoline on a flame merely creates more heat.   Cursing is the gasoline of conversation.   As Solomon once penned, “A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)   Talking through opposing opinions is hard enough with kind language.  Why add unnecessary fuelant when water is needed?
  7. Cursing is unnecessary.  Only the proponents of cursing will argue with this point.   What value does cursing bring to any conversation?   There are plenty of words in the English language (or any language for that matter) to express your current level of frustration or anger.  You don’t HAVE TO use the words in the bottom of the vocabulary barrel to communicate your point.

The Bible refers to the tongue as a “restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:8)  For many, a loose tongue is the epicenter of ruined relationships.   The Greek sage, Publius, once said, “I have often regretted my speech, never my silence.”   How many of us can echo that sentiment?  In the book that bares his name, James warns us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (1:19).  Perhaps we were given two ears and one mouth for a reason.

If you struggle with keeping your tongue in check, remember that language flows from the well of your heart.  Work on your well and begin filling it with better water.   You may have to stop listening to certain music or watching certain shows.  You may have to stop reading certain books or spending time with certain people.  Do whatever it takes to improve your well as you are not the only one who drinks from it.   And consciously change your vocabulary.  Decide now what words you will say when you are triggered to curse.  Instead of using a bad phrase, replace it with a good one.   As unnatural and stupid as it might feel in the beginning, the results are worth the effort.

As many of you know, I used to travel in some pretty judgmental circles.   I used to dwell around “perfect” people.   I was perched atop a pretty high pedestal at one point in my life.  Over time, I became a full-fledged hypocrite and a pretty good Pharisee.   Even though cursing was listed on my moral rap sheet, in typical hypocritical fashion I looked down upon those who cursed.  And then my “perfect” world came crashing down and I was forced to look at my sinful face in a holy mirror.   I realized that I am just a sinful person who happens to struggle like every other person on this planet.  My struggle might be “X” while yours may be “Y” but it doesn’t make one struggle or person better than another.  We all have our struggles and thankfully cursing isn’t my struggle anymore.   It doesn’t have to be yours either.

On a windswept hill in an English country churchyard stands a drab, gray slate tombstone.  The quaint stone bears a sad, yet powerful epitaph.  The faint etchings read:

  • Beneath this stone, a lump of clay,
  • Lies Arabella Young,
  • Who on the twenty-fourth of May,
  • Began to hold her tongue.

Don’t wait for the grave to tame your tongue.  The consequences of loose lips has a price tag you don’t really want to pay.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)

Posted in Christian, General | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The breath in my shadow’s nostril

timeIf you have ever spent time with little kids, you will remember how slow the clock moves for them.   Send a disobedient three year old to their room for a 5 minute “time-out” and they will complain how long they have to stay in there.  If you didn’t know better, you would think (by the sound of their whiny complaint) they had been rotting in their room for days.   Or tell a 10 year old they can have an ice cream cone after you are finished with your errands.   The errands (from their perspective) take “forever,” just ask them.  Recently I heard a young woman (mid-20’s) in Wal-mart tell someone on the phone that she had been in the check-out line for “an eternity.”  I smiled as I heard her description when I realized we were in the express lane.   My belief about eternity is that you experience it in Heaven or Hell.  I can only assume which one Wal-mart would be.

I have noticed that our perspective of time changes with age.   The younger we are, the slower the hands on the clock seem to move.  The older we are, time literally flies – as the saying goes.  How many parents and grandparents have told me how quickly their children have grown up!  As a parent myself, I now understand what they mean.   One day they graduate from diapers.  The next day they graduate with a diploma.   In between those bookmarks is a blur.  

Since the clock ticks and tocks at the same rate for all people of all ages in all time zones, what is it about our perspective that seems to influence it’s pace?  Elizabeth Taylor echoed this sentiment when she penned, “It is strange that the years teach us patience; that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting.”

I recently pondered these thoughts on time as I stood next to Christopher, a friend of mine for the last 24 years.   On Monday night, June 23rd, Chris was living his life like he did every day.  By 6am Tuesday morning, Chris was laying in the ICU trauma unit, literally fighting for his life.   One day he is fine.  The next day, he is not.   One moment, he is healthy, conscious, mobile.  The next moment, he is in critical condition, unconscious and motionless.   Though no one is exactly sure what happened, his nearby mangled scooter seems to indicate an early morning accident… cause unknown.

In a room down the hallway lay another man, half his age.  Another victim of a bike accident.  Another severe head trauma.   Another one fighting for his life.  Chris was wearing a helmet.  The other man was not.   Both now waiting for the one commodity that apparently waits for no man:

Time.

At 38 years old, you would think Chris had plenty left on his clock.  In spite of his severe injuries, he still may.  Or the good Lord could take him tonight.   Only the Keeper of the clock really knows.  

One thing we do know is this:

LIFE.  IS.  SHORT.

In fact, repeatedly in His love letter to us, God seems to remind us of the brevity of life.  Notice what the Everlasting Creator says about our temporary time on earth:

  • “Our span of years is as nothing before God.” (Psalm 39:5)
  • We are “but a wind that passes and does not return.” (Psalm 78:39)
  • “…our days are like a passing shadow.” (Psalm 144:4)
  • Our “days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle...” (Job 7:6-7)
  • Our “days are swifter than a runner; they flee away” (Job 9:25)
  • Our “days are like an eagle that swoops on its prey.” (Job 9:25-26)
  • “Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.” (Psalm 39:3)
  • …humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils.” (Isaiah 2:22)
  • “Like a shepherd’s tent my dwelling is pulled up and removed from me…” (Isaiah 38:12)
  • “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass.   The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (I Peter 1:24-25)

Think about the imagery that comes to mind with each description.   

A breath in your nostril.

     A passing shadow.  

         A wind.  

              A runner.  

                  A swooping eagle.  

                      Grass.  

                          A tent.   

                             Our YEARS are like NOTHING to God.

It’s as if the Heavenly Author does not want us to miss the message:

LIFE. IS. REALLY. SHORT.   

For some reason, we tend to forget this truth until it’s too late.   Too often that reality becomes crystal clear when we are lowering a casket or watching a loved one lay motionless in an ICU bed.   Our poor memory is jarred when we can’t see our children.   Our amnesia lifts when a precious relationship is no longer available to us.   It’s not until we are kneeling next to a tomb or listening to the beeps of the life saving machines in the ICU wing of a trauma unit that we recognize “the most precious resource we all have is time.” (Steve Jobs)

It’s a painful lesson I have learned and re-learned my entire life.  I buried my biological father at age 5.   I attended the funeral of several classmates in high school.  I said farewell to my best friend and youth pastor in college – both of whom died in the same tragic “accident.”  From grandparents to neighbors to co-workers to students… I have heard the mantra like an unwelcome drum beat: LIFE. IS. SHORT.  And thanks to some selfish decisions on my part, I now know a pain worse than death – the loss of relationships delivered via divorce.

What is your relational status?   Some of us are estranged from our children.  Others hold a grudge against a parent.   Some haven’t talked to their sibling in years.  Others have let pride keep us from former best friends.    

The shadow is passing.   

The breath in your nostril is brief.

The wind comes and goes before you know it.

The grass is withering – even now.

What will you do with the time you have left?  

  • Ask for forgiveness.
  • Accept the apology.
  • Spend time with those that you love.  
  • Mend the relationships dear to you.
  • Reconcile relationships while you can.  
  • Say I’m sorry.
  • Tell them you love them.
  • Pick up the phone.
  • Write the letter.
  • Work out the differences.
  • Stop by for a visit.
  • Give up the grudge.

Don’t wait for the ICU room.    The grave-site is simply too late.   

funeral

The only pain greater than saying goodbye to someone before you’re ready is to do so with the olive branch still in your hand.      

I hope I have another opportunity with Chris.  

By God’s grace, I pray I will.

“So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” - Moses (Psalm 90:12)

********** UPDATE **********

Chris went to be with the Lord on July 11, 2014 at 5:24pm.  I was honored to be one of the few friends and family in the room to witness his last breath and watch him step out of time and into eternity.   He is now pain-free and more alive than ever before.

The other man mentioned in the post, age 19, has regained consciousness and is expected to make a full recovery.

One family ran out of time.   The other family was given some additional minutes on their clock.

Remember, “Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.” (Psalm 39:3)

Posted in Christian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Map My Run – death trail version

map my runI decided to go for a run last night.  It’s the first time I have run (without chasing a soccer ball in the process) in a long time. At least since last week.  In the neighborhood I currently live, there are “trails” (think wooded with sidewalks) that weave around townhouses, past tennis courts, lakes and through tunneled roads.  Since this was my first time on this trail, I was unsure as to where it led, how far it went or how to get back home.  Notorious for a poor sense of direction, I figured I better bring my i-phone and i-pod as back up.  The i-pod would undoubtedly distract me from the pain.  The i-phone would allow me to dial 911 quickly or use the google map app for when I get lost.  (Yes, I fully expected this to happen.)

I started out like any serious runner: walking.  Almost immediately, two physically fit white men sprinted past me.  I’m pretty sure they were Kenyan.   Afraid they would detect my novice running status, I tried to give them the impression that I had just finished a triathlon and was in my cool down stage.   I don’t think they were buying it as triathletes do not (I’m sure) run this trail.   Triathletes sweat a lot and I, somehow, was as dry as a Q-tip.  I decided to stretch various limbs prior to my run as I felt that was a prudent idea for a man in his upper upper 30’s.   39-ish.   With 5 years of experience.

After a full 20 minutes of employing every known exercise in the universe (aka stalling) as my pre-run ritual (stretching, synchronizing my watch, getting my playlist together, adjusting my ear buds, praying to the god of oxygen, faking the aforementioned cool down stage, checking for ticks, checking my stocks, checking my email, double knotting my shoestrings, jumping jacks, etc.) – I was finally ready to begin.  Like the majestic trot of a pure breed Arabian racehorse I began the “jog pace” (minus the majestic, pure breed & Arabian part).

I took about 3 steps into my run and remembered the “Map My Run” app on my phone.  I downloaded the app the same time everyone else downloaded it – January 1st, Resolution Day.   Mine still had cobwebs on it.   Apparently there is an option for every type of pace (walk, cross-country, power walk, dog walk, etc).  Though the “sprint” option was tempting (I could die sooner), I selected “trail run” as that most closely resembled what I wanted to do.   At least in theory.  On paper.   Vicariously through someone else.   After that, I hit the “start workout” button and my jog had officially commenced.

At first, it felt great to get outside and be on the trail.  Of course, I was still standing still.  When I actually started to move forward, somehow all hell broke loose with my body. It was as if 44 years of resentment built up and my body was now angry or something.  Shin splints appeared out of nowhere.  My tongue immediately became devoid of all moisture.  My lungs collapsed.  At least they felt like they did.   My legs seemed heavy.  Incredibly, someone – without my knowledge – succeeded in placing lead bricks in my sneakers.   I think I got chicken pox.  How was I going to be the first man to run a 3 minute mile with all of these medical anomalies happening at once?  To make matters worse, the stupid app had a timer on it and I knew time was ticking.  Why do we add unnecessary pressure on our run with a ticking clock?   Is the universe going to explode if I don’t make it home in 30 minutes?   I’m already stressed about my run – I don’t need some ticking metric to point out how slow I really am.   I looked at my watch with disdain.  I had been officially “running” for about 30 seconds now.  This was not a good start.

By all accounts, my pace is slow.   Think turtle with a sprained leg after triple bypass surgery.   Keeping up with the Kenyans (or the Kardashians) is not the goal.  Jogging this trail, I reminded myself, is not a race.  So what if the white Kenyans were in another zip code by now?  This is not a race.  So what if the elderly man in the motorized electric chair is passing me?  It’s not a race.  So what if the seven-year old girl walking her disabled poodle lapped me – twice?  It’s not a race.   So what if I’m already parched within 50 feet of my door?  It’s not a race.   I’m here to get some exercise and lose some weight and enjoy God’s beautiful creation.   Oh, and die of cardiac arrest.

Trail runs are interesting, if I can even call this one a trail.   Apparently, in America, we can’t even allow our trails to be natural.   Just a few suggestions for the future trail makers of America:

  1. First of all, there should be a law requiring neighborhoods to mark their trees.   Ribbons or spray paint would work just fine.   How can I know where I’m going when every tree looks identical to each other?  I mean, they all have bark and green leaves.  How in the world could I possibly tell I was circling the same Pine tree for 45 minutes straight?
  2. Second, there should be signs at every “V” in the trail.  Numerous times I had to choose between going “right” or “left.”  I felt like Neo in the Matrix picking a pill.  It reminded me of the Encyclopedia Brown book series I read as a kid – determining my own ending.  If I went “right,” was that where lemonade and Dr. Scholl’s inserts would be?   If I went “left,” would I encounter snakes, leprechauns or other dangerous creatures?   Which way did the freaking Kenyans go?
  3. Third, where are the helpful “you are here” maps that they provide in the malls?   Granted, they would be impossible to create as even the “you are here” map makers would have no clue where they were.   Even so, it’s the thought that counts.   If you are lost in a mall, at least you are indoors and not far from the food court.  Survival is not a question.   On the trail, sunset was imminent – at least 4 hours away.  That didn’t give me much time to find my way home.

As I continued to wander in the wilderness like Moses, I thought about those wilderness survival shows on TV.  I wondered if I would have to cut off my arm to survive or what animal I’d have to kill and eat to make it through the night.  I mean, it was 68 degrees out and I was developing a slight chill.   At one point, I recalled a story from childhood that may have proven helpful.  It was a beautiful story about 2 trail running children.  Something about leaving food on the ground.  Wait a minute, wasn’t someone trying to kill them?  I really should have paid more attention to my bedtime stories.  Besides, I wasn’t sure how feeding the squirrels was going to help me so I immediately abandoned that train of thought.

About 55 minutes into my “run,” I came to the conclusion that I was officially lost.  Even though I had only traveled about .3 miles from my front door, I began to panic.  I wondered if Park Rangers had been deployed to look for me yet?   Were there teams of individuals canvassing the neighborhood organizing a search for me?   Was the local police chief holding a press conference?  I wonder what picture my roommate provided to show others what I looked like?  Secretly, I hoped a Facebook page was created for me (“Support group for fans of the pseudo trail jogger“).   Then the thought hit me – “What if I became the next Reader’s Digest story?”   Those stories always seem to involve a bear mauling.   This, by the way, is not helpful thinking when you are alone, on a foreign trail, in broad daylight, in the middle of suburbia.   At one point, I was so concerned, I almost drew a panicked self portrait of myself to hang on a nearby tree – left behind as a clue to my whereabouts.  (Note to self: bring a sharpie and paper next time I go trail running.)

As for the i-pod, which was to serve as the ultimate distracter of pain?  It’s final song was ironic, if not taunting.   “You’re only human (2nd wind)” from Billy Joel:

“Don’t forget your second wind
Sooner or later you’ll get your second wind
It’s not always easy to be living in this world of pain
You’re gonna be crashing into stone walls again and again
It’s alright, it’s alright.

Don’t forget your second wind.   Wait in your corner until that breeze blows in.”

Note to self: Update my playlist before my next trail crawl.

As I finished my near death trail running experience, it led me to think about running as a past time.   We don’t time our experience at the grocery store.  We don’t time our dentist or car mechanic.  And yet, somehow, we put this pressure on ourselves that we have to run a certain distance in the speed of light or we are out of shape.

No sir.   No more.  

As for me, I’m getting rid of my watch.  In it’s place, I’m strapping a calendar to my wrist.   It doesn’t “tick” and is much more encouraging and gracious.  

I began my run in May.  If, by the end of June, I’m not back – come look for me.  

Until then, I’m circling the trees and feeding the squirrels in search of some Kenyans… who I have a feeling are back at home “liking” some Facebook support page.

Posted in General, Humor | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Stress relief: Where we go when life falls apart

stress-reliefYesterday was a rough day.  For the sake of privacy, I’ll just say I experienced another significant loss in my life and it left me feeling empty.

We all experience loss throughout our lives; relationally, financially, emotionally, physically, etc.   It’s part of the human process.   We all handle losses differently.   Losing (anything) creates a certain level of disappointment and stress which forces all “losers” to figure out a way to deal with it.   The emptiness we feel from the loss tempts us to find a way to fill the gaping void.  The question isn’t whether we will try to fill the void or not.  Every void begs to be filled.  The question is whether we fill it with a positive or negative, good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate filler.

Some friends of mine, when experiencing some level of stress or loss, bite their nails.  Somehow that makes them feel better.   Others smoke.   Some begin drinking.   Others work out.   Some of us have been known to bury our troubles in our work.   I know a few that comfort themselves with food.  I know a few others that refuse to eat.  I know one lady that cleans her house when she is stressed. (She needs serious help.)  Others become a couch potato.   Some people run to the opposite sex.   Whether it is gambling, sex, pornography, movies, Yoga, books – there is no shortage of void filling activities.  For every 10 people I know, there are 10 different ways that people handle their stress.

As I was struggling with my loss and trying to figure out how to handle it, I thought about some of those options available to me:

  • Bite my nails.   Unfortunately, I wasn’t given the Beaver gene.  My teeth simply lack the mobility to actually do it effectively.   Besides, that wouldn’t relieve the stress for me.  It would just make me slobber on my fingers, mess up my cuticles and require me to eventually sit in some poorly ventilated Korean nail salon while I struggled to breathe amidst the fumes.  The thought of this actually stresses me out more.
  • Get drunk.   Fortunately, this option is not tempting to me. Though I do occasionally drink socially, I have never been drunk and therefore have never used it as a way to drown my sorrows.  With my “luck,” I would end up getting a DUI, thrown in jail and spend my time trying to avoid being someone’s prison girlfriend.   This thought also brings me stress.
  • Do drugs.   Other than the bottle of Ibuprofen in my bathroom cabinet, I wouldn’t know the first thing about acquiring drugs not available in CVS.   Besides, how many Ibuprofen pills would I have to take to relieve this stress?  I normally take 2 for a headache.  So, 4?   (You can tell I live on the edge).   Knowing me, I would go crazy and take 6 and immediately call 911 and tell them to “come get me” in my best Brian Regan voice.   I have never smoked pot or cigarettes or even a cigar for that matter, so the idea of using this as a stress relief option doesn’t make sense to me.   Actually, taking drugs would stress me out more than the stress of my loss.   Then what?  What do you do when your stress reliever causes more stress?
  • Netflix.  Honestly, sitting at home and watching hours of movies sounds very appealing to me.  But I know me, after the second movie, I would be bored stiff.  I’m pretty sure I would develop a bed sore.   Experiencing a loss is bad enough.  Experiencing a loss while nursing a bed sore – that must be unbearable.

These options, while appealing to some, just would not suffice for me.  Of all the available options known to me, I’m embarrassed to admit to you how I handled yesterday’s stress.

I ran…

…to the opposite sex.      (Don’t judge me.)

You see, there is a woman in town who is quite fond of me.  Honestly, she is a beautiful person all around and she has made it clear that she would love to spend time with me, whenever I am available.   She is also a great listener and gives the best hugs.  In light of my loss, I decided I wanted to fill the void with her.   I drove to her home unannounced.   When I arrived, her face lit up when she saw me and immediately gave me a huge embrace.   I could already feel the stress leaving my body.   She invited me to sit down with her and visit for as long as I could stay.   She complimented my appearance and was constantly putting her hand on my knee, seemingly aware of my primary love language of physical touch.   We sat in her front yard on a bench under the tree and talked and laughed.   She was overjoyed by my visit and told me repeatedly how glad she was that I was there.   I was thankful for her time and loving presence.

Our conversation was seamless.   We covered a wide variety of topics and current events – never once mentioning my loss.  We even spent some time looking at the clouds and talking about what we see.   Honestly, I could have spent all afternoon with her.   It was exactly what I needed in light of my rough morning.   Unfortunately, I had to run some appointments and she had her own things to do.   After all, when you’re a 91 year old woman, you have a very busy schedule to keep.

helen sanders

The truth is, we all have our stress reliever of choice.   While many of us struggle with inappropriate stress relieving outlets (like cleaning your house), there are appropriate options out there to help you cope with your disappointments and loss and grow from the experience in responsible, healthy ways.

In the past, it is no secret that I have chosen some pretty self-destructive coping mechanisms.  Instead of facing my problems, I have run towards people or things that merely complicated my stress.  Though they may have distracted me for a moment, in the long run they have added more stress and further complicated the situation.   I have made a conscious effort to stop that and by God’s grace and some much needed accountability, I will continue to make good on my promise.

As I look around the human landscape, stress seems to be a common denominator for every earth dweller.  Everyone seems to have some healthy dose of it, in one form or another.  Emotional, physical, mental, financial, relational & spiritual pressure points abound.   And it seems to be no respecter of age, gender or persons.  Our stress levels are as high as ever and many people struggle with how to cope.  We can blame our problems on things like drugs or guns all we want, the truth is stress is the culprit and our inability to handle it appropriately.

As Creator, God seems to not only understand our capacity for stress but desires to lovingly address it on our behalf.   A brief glance through Scripture reveals two things:

  1. Stress is not a new struggle for mankind.  It began the day Adam left the Garden of Eden and has just gotten more complicated ever since.
  2. God is in the business of helping us handle it.

When Moses was stressed about his inability to lead God’s people out of slavery, God relieved His stress with 5 words: “I will be with you.” (Exodus 3:12)  THAT is all Moses needed to remember.   For many of us today, we still need that reminder.

When the disciples realized the threats against Christ were a very real and present danger, they were obviously concerned about their own physical safety.   Jesus put their fear into perspective, “My friends, are not five sparrows sold for two cents?  Yet not one of them is forgotten before God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Do not fear, you are more valuable than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7)

When the disciples were stressed about their Master and His impending death, Jesus relieved their stress by reminding them, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”   That promise is still in effect today.

When the Apostle Paul was distressed about his “thorn in the flesh,” Christ reminded him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (II Corinthians 12:9)   That grace, Paul realized, was all he needed.  From that understanding Paul wrote, “I am well content with weaknesses… with distresses… with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (12:10)

Mary, Jesus’ mother, had to be stressed the day she watched her Son hang on a cross.  What greater torment is there than watching your own child die?  And yet, while Jesus hung suspended between heaven and earth, bleeding and dying – He was concerned about His mother’s well-being.   While He could have easily been distracted by His own life-threatening situation, He wasn’t.  Just moments before He breathed His last – one of His final acts was to make sure that someone was appointed to look after His mother.   He didn’t randomly assign a disciple to the task.  Rather, He chose “the disciple whom He loved” to oversee His mother’s care.  (John 19)

It’s not just a cute, church cliche that “Jesus loves you.”   He actually sincerely, genuinely cares about YOU and whatever situation you are going through right now.

Over 100 times in the Bible, God reminds His children to “fear not” or “do not be afraid.”   Apparently, He understands that we are a people under stress and there is no shortage of things that we let grip us with fear.

What is in your life that is currently stressing you out?  How are you handling it?  Know this – you have access to Someone who wants to help you.   And He offers you blanket assistance:

Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

I don’t know about you… but I have some pretty enormous things in my life to be anxious about.   I often feel weary and burdened.   I could use some rest for my soul.  And running to women, drugs, alcohol, pornography, food or Netflix merely distracts me from God’s offer.  A clean house, though important, can’t ultimately solve my problems.

Come to Me,” is the offer of God.   He wants us to come with our weary and burdened stress and He exchanges it for rest – even rest for our souls.

He invites our problems because He knows He’s the only one truly equipped to handle them.

And why does He want to help us?   Why does He encourage us to share our stress with Him?   What could possibly motivate Him to embrace our messy life?

Love.

He actually cares.

Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-8)

“God is good at all times, but He seems to be at His best when we are at our worst.”  – Charles Haddon Spurgeon

“The Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.” – D.L. Moody

Posted in Christian | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Mr. Restoration

photoLast week my company sent me to a home about an hour north of Charlotte to visit with a couple whose home had recently caught on fire.  Apparently the fire began in the garage, quickly spread to the kitchen and traveled through the attic before it was able to be contained.   By the time I arrived on the scene, 3 days later, the flames were extinguished, the smoke had subsided and the homeowner was left with the task of figuring out what could be saved.

My specific job is to meet with the homeowner, work alongside the insurance adjusters and contractors and try to see what fabric-related items can be salvaged.  Traveling through 6 South-Eastern states, I am in fire-damaged homes every week.   To date, this one was by far the worst.   True, the fire was indeed a bad one.   Most of their furniture and possessions were destroyed.  But what complicated this one even more was one added element.   By anyone’s standard, this couple would be defined as HOARDERS.

It’s bad enough to be in a hoarder’s home on a normal day.  It’s truly an eye-opening experience to see a hoarding home damaged by fire.  To say it was a mess, would be an understatement.   There was a pile of clothes (about 4 feet high) in front of the bedroom closet.  In fact, every closet was jammed packed with hanging clothes.  Over 2,000 clothes hangers were found strewn in various rooms.  Dozens (think 15) of empty shoe boxes littered the home.  Even a piano was discovered in another room under another pile of clothes.  (Yes, a piano!)  I understand that many ladies have a thing for shoes.  This hoarding woman is your leader.  We discovered over 600 pairs of shoes from this 1400 square foot home.   From what I could see, she only had two feet.

Being in the home and interacting with this couple was – at the same time – both disturbing and fascinating.  It was a train wreck that I could not stop looking at.   It made me realize why we are intrigued by the various reality TV shows.  As the couple sat outside their home, a half dozen of us men were in the house doing what we could to help.  Two men were focused on structural issues.  Two examined the furniture.   A fifth man, the insurance adjuster, was there to see what could be claimed.  I was interested in the fabric.  (There is a sentence I have never said before!)   Regardless of why our various companies had sent us, we all were there for one primary reason:

RESTORATION.

We all were interested in helping this family restore what had been lost.

Walking around their home was overwhelming.  Every room desperately needed to be restored.   Between the fire, smoke, water and filth, there was literally a gaping black hole of need everywhere we looked.   Privately, we joked that the fire department should have just let it burn.  The project was so daunting, even the trained professionals weren’t exactly sure how to get started.   And honestly, as we looked around – we didn’t see much worth restoring.  The clothes were not particularly nice.  The furniture was not particularly expensive.   Their taste in art work, carpet, and other household items were tacky, at best.  No one thought what they had left was worth saving.  Fortunately for them, none of us “experts” had a vote as to whether we should try to restore their items.   In these situations, value is determined by the homeowner and validated by the insurance company.  Our job was not to place value.   Our task was simply to restore.

Unsure of what they valued, we brought them bag after bag of clothes from inside the house.   IMG_0379Blouse after painstaking blouse, pant after pant, shoe after shoe – Mrs. Hoarder would tell us (one by one) what she was willing to give away and what she still wanted to keep.   To be fair, she did surprisingly well – willing to give away over 65 bags of clothing.  Sadly, she was not able to part with over 250 bags of clothes – still maintaining her status as a hoarder.  As I looked around, I saw a house full of trash.  The hoarders clearly saw treasure.   I saw a room full of old clothes.  They saw a closet full of “Sunday best.”  In fact, many of the things they wanted to save – I would have thrown away years ago.  Such is the difference of opinion on worth.  On this particular day, I learned a lesson about value and who establishes it.

As I have thought about this family over the last week or so, it seems that we often look at others’ personal lives in the same way.   We tend to stare at their mess in disbelief.  We are shocked to see how they have kept the closet of their heart.  We marvel at their once hidden depravity and ponder at the number of sinful “shoes” they have accumulated over the years.   How did it get that bad?  How did they keep it from others for so long?  As we walk through the rooms of their lives, we are overwhelmed with their black hole of need.  As we gaze into their moral basement, we are left with two burning questions.   The first is asked in a moment of compassion, “How can I help them?”  The second question, if we’re honest, is a bit more transparent, “Do I even want to?”  For many of us, we are not sure we even want to get involved.  I mean, helping a moral hoarder can’t be done from the front lawn.  They don’t need money or prayer as much as they need an investment of sweat.  At some point, you are going to have to walk in, walk around and begin touching the mess yourself – if you truly want to help.  And sadly, for too many of us, we just don’t want that kind of contact with those who are morally messier than us.   We begin ignoring phone calls.   We stop reaching out.  We stop asking dangerous questions like, “How are you?”   We quit giving a hand or our shoulder or our ear or our money in hopes that maybe someone else will get involved.   We abandon those who need us, not because God released us from the relationship – but simply because we got tired of being in the hoarder’s heart.  Let’s face it, it’s just not a comfortable place to dwell.   We prefer easy and those who need to be restored are far from it.

As I read the Bible, I see the thread of restoration running through every page.

  • Adam & Eve: Before our First Parents were even out of the Garden of Eden, God had restoration on His mind.  As He was doling out the consequences for their idolatry, He was also paving the road of restoration back to Himself.
  • Israel: As a nation, they abandoned God and as a result were led into a 400+ year bondage at the hands of Pharaoh’s Egypt.  God never forgot His chosen people and raised up His rod of restoration, the servant of Moses.
  • Jonah: The prophet of God who would rather have died than follow God’s plan for his life.  From the “stomach of the fish” and from the “depth of hell,” Jonah “cried for help” and God “answered” him.   Why?  God could have easily raised up someone else for the task.  But that’s not how God works.  God doesn’t throw away people or His relationships.  We run, God pursues.  We ruin.  God restores.  While we are swimming in our moral abyss, God is preparing our mansion.
  • The madman: In Luke 8, we are told that Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee with His disciples.  His men probably assumed they were on another field trip with their Leader.  Jesus was actually on a restoration mission and not even a raging storm could stop Him.   Waiting on the other side was a man known throughout history as the “demoniac.”  If there was any man not “worth the effort,” it would have been him.  By all human accounts, he was beyond “saving,” just ask the townspeople who lived near him.   In fact, Scripture paints a pretty dim moral portrait describing him as demon-possessed, naked, chained, under guard and living in the tombs.  Literally, his home was the community cemetery.  Within moments of landing ashore, Jesus rolls up His sleeves and gets to work.  With one question, Jesus began the restoration process.   Others treated him like an animal.  Jesus wanted to know his name.  Seconds later, he is a new creation – “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.”   Such is the effect of a messed up life in the path of a restoring God.

I think about restoration a lot these days.   For starters, I’m in need of it.   I’m a man who understands what it’s like to cling to the bottom knot of a moral rope… and then let go.  Again and again.  Foolishly, I have spent time with “bad company” and like the Bible predicted, it corrupted “good character.”  (I Corinthians 15:33)  Like a negligent captain, I have run my moral ship aground and have, as a result, lost my most precious cargo.   The lyrics to the song “In the Light” by DC Talk resonate with me:

I keep trying to find a life
On my own, apart from You
I am the king of excuses
I’ve got one for every selfish thing I do

The disease of self runs through my blood
It’s a cancer fatal to my soul
Every attempt on my behalf has failed
To bring this sickness under control

What’s going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
That I’m still a man in need of a Savior

Ironically, I drive a company vehicle with the word “restoration” on it.   Every day I am in a home that has experienced tremendous loss.  Every day I interact with people who know what it’s like to lose something precious to them.   A few have lost loved ones.  All have lost possessions.   Some have lost hope.   Whether it was fire damage from a stove, smoke damage from an appliance, soot damage from a chimney or water damage from a busted pipe, my entire focus all day, every day is restoration.   As I walk through devastating home after devastating home, the one question that permeates my work is “What can be restored here?”   I find myself asking the same question in life; for me and others.

mr restorationAs I drove off the property that day, I saw the name of the company that was working alongside of mine,

“Mr. Restoration.”

How fitting, I thought.  I was struck with the irony.  Yes, it is the name of a franchise business.  But it’s also the name of my God.   This company restores furniture, my God restores lives.  The business does it for money, God does it for glory.   And this company operates their business just as God operates His, one person at a time.

Whether you live in the cemetery, struggle with an addiction, wrestle with your tongue or your temper or battle a bitter spirit, restoration is on the heart and agenda of God.  And if it’s on His mind and schedule, it should be on ours too.

“This is all that restoration requires most of the time, that one person not give up.”  – Anne Lamott

Then I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten.” (Joel 2:25) 

 

Posted in Christian | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

4 blessings of the Billboard

BillboardI used to have a secret and by all accounts it was a juicy one.  It was the kind of secret that – if it got out – would be BIG news to a large number of people, literally all over the globe.  It was a secret so salacious that it would – without doubt – forever impact the lives of thousands of people – beginning with mine.  It was a secret so potent, so dark, so unbelievable that at first, no one would believe it.  Eventually, when reality set in, most everyone would turn on me for having it and keeping it so long.  Because of the damning nature of this secret and the irreversible damage it would cause, I thought it best to keep it hidden, covered under the proverbial lock & key.  And I did.  For many, many years.   I covered my tracks.  I erased my fingerprints.  I rehearsed and remembered my story.   In the process, not only did I become good at hiding the secret, but I became good at becoming something I never intended on becoming – deceitful.  As I discovered, secrets and deceit always go hand in hand.

And then it happened.

One night, while on vacation in Hilton Head, SC with my family, I broke down.  Emotionally broke down.  As they slept in the next room, I was on the condo floor with my Bible and a bucket of tears – realizing it was time for the secret to be shared.  My guilt, suppressed for years, had taken its toll on my soul.  My secret was beginning to crack.  The safe it was in was no longer safe.   Figuratively speaking, the bodies I had buried were apparently not buried at all.   My skeletons were coming out of the closet and there was nothing I could do – but confess.

And so I did.

In the beginning stages of brokenness, the only ones who knew the secret were the ones that were in a position to help.  That is, until the secret jumped out a window, ran into the front yard, got into a nearby taxi and made its way down the street.  Very quickly, it travelled beyond the walls of help.  Apparently, the town gossip (a ministry leader in town) made it her mission to share it with others and, as a result, my secret was leaking faster than Wiki.   Life, as I knew it, would never be comfortable again.  My darkest sins felt like they were on the city billboard.   The scarlet letter was now permanently branded on my chest.

In the early days, I resented this woman and those who were sharing my secret with others.   Not only did I hate the sin, hate getting caught and hate the consequences they brought – but I hated the exposure that came with it.   My once good name was no longer good.   I had fallen off the pedestal.  All the good deeds I had done were simply erased from the ledger.  It is hard enough to go through a personal crisis or moral failure privately.  It is excruciating to wade through the moral muck publicly.  I can’t even imagine the celebrities (actors, politicians, musicians, etc.) that have to publicly climb out of their immoral fishbowl after national or international exposure.  The pain, at any level, is virtually unbearable.

For me, several years have gone by since the initial exposure.  I have had time to work on my “stuff” and begin to heal from the pain caused by the sin, broken relationships and public fall from grace.   And I have come to a surprising revelation – after the dust has settled.  Simply put,

There is a blessing in the billboard.

Billboards are the highway’s advertisements.  Located off of major roads, they are designed to get the message out to as many people as possible.  Yes, it’s hard to have your sins listed publicly.  It’s really tough to have your long-held secrets shared in open forum.  It’s deflating to discover your darkest stain is mentioned under the guise of a prayer request, the church’s justification of gossip.  And when living in the age of Google and Bing – the search engines used by the planet – a traditional billboard would be a welcomed alternative.

As time has gone on, I have discovered some blessings in the billboard.  There are 4 distinct advantages in having your darkness exposed publicly by the light:

1) For starters, the secret is no longer a secret.  Bad things grow in the dark.  Good things grow in the light.  The cockroach of your secret scurries away from the brightness of the light.   Like hydrogen peroxide on a fresh wound, light has a purifying effect.  Though painful at first, the light will soon become the preferred environment to dwell in.  A secret-free life is a free life indeed.

2) As painful as it is, your past mistakes (publicly mentioned) can help others avoid the pothole you fell in.   Though most of us have to learn the hard way, there are a precious few who learn by the mistakes of others.  Your sins on a billboard help them see the “bridge is out” sign long before they get there.

3) Everyone can fall.   You are in a unique position to show others how to rise again.   If your secret was revealed privately, very few people would know what you are overcoming.  But when your name is in lights – everyone can see that restoration is possible and what it can look like.  Public disgrace can turn into a trophy of grace.

4) Pride is the root of all sin.   We often get into the trouble we do because of pride and pride keeps us from getting help or getting out.  When your world does finally crash on you, a humbling of sorts takes place.  When your private moments are broadcast on a public billboard – it creates a humility that can scarcely be found anywhere else.  And that humbling experience, as hard as it is, can keep you from moving back to the land of secrets.

The truth is, secrets live where God wants to dwell – in the heart.  And God doesn’t share His space well.   When He finds darkness where there should be light, He does what He does best – heart surgery.   And unfortunately for us, His kind of surgery is often without anesthesia.

It’s painful.

It’s public.

It’s necessary.

And it’s motivated by love because He likes His children in the Light – away from the bondage of secrets.

 

“I am not what I ought to be, not what I want to be, not what I hope to be. But still, I am not what I used to be. And by the grace of God, I am what I am.” – John Newton, former slave trader & writer of the popular hymn, Amazing Grace.

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.   It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.   But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.” (Ephesians 5:8-13)

Posted in Christian | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments