forgiveness: expect miracles

“Everyone says that forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.” – CS Lewis

Forgiveness of grave acts of injustice can feel like an abstract concept to those who have not experienced those acts. ( — PRISM magazine)

Sometimes I write, telling parts of my story, in order take what is anything but abstract for me and try to make it clear to others – to help my fellow journeymen (and women.)

My pastor said yesterday … that anger and the need to retaliate when someone has hurt you is “normal“; as normal as the reflexes a doctor checks when she taps on our knees during a check-up.  Normal.

I hate that word.  I don’t understand the use of it.  It is a bit reckless to say anything is normal these days when people have such diverse experiences.  But think I understand what he was trying to say —  that  a wish for vindication when you have been hurt is a healthy response.  But even that doesn’t sound quite right.  How about a human response?

But what response  should one have to being hurt or abused or rebuked or shamed or yelled at?  To retaliate?  No, I think he means a human response to lighter stuff like being gossiped against is to strike back.   Because when I think about my childhood, I think the healthy response is to shrink. One will cower.  One learns to hide, to disappear, to not be the object of that person’s attention.  Perhaps this response  is not “normal” but it sure was “reflexive” for me. That’s why it is hard to hear that “wanting revenge is normal” if that is indeed what he meant.

Then, as I look back, I see that THERE HAVE BEEN TIMES when I wanted a sort of revenge with my father and mother.

I have carried fear of my father for as long as I can remember and an anger at my mom for not protecting us.  And a kind of fury. I used to have rage dreams and on the really rare occasion I will have them still.  But they are  thankfully now years in-between.

The powerlessness that comes from having a father who never admitted he was wrong creates that anger and sense of worthlessness.

It is not worth trying to explain yourself.

It is not worth needing your own opinion.

It is not worth expending energy because nothing really matters.  Nothing

really matters at all.

I am so glad I am past that.

It’s just too bad he had to died for me to come to this place. I carry a huge feeling of loss that I never knew a sweetness in my relationship with my dad.  I loved him out of fear and a wish to please him.  I know he loved me.  But he just – couldn’t – help himself?

It is true he couldn’t help himself.  I wish he could have let God help him.

I miss him now, as I ponder what could have been.  He really was a dear man, loved by so many around the world who were his friends and never knew the secret rage inside him.  I’m glad that many people didn’t know – in a way – because Dad accomplished many good things.  Helped many people.  Was loved by many.

God why did you take him so young?  Sixty-two?  I hope

it wasn’t simply

so I could live.

No, I don’t think God works like that.

It was simply a convergence of events coming together to give him cancer and take him home.  And my ability to heal, to forgive, well I have to believe that I might have come to it even if my dad was still here.  Perhaps it would have taken longer, but it would have come.

I have forgiven my father and then I think of my mother, who still has a story to tell.  I don’t know if anyone would believe her, but she has so much in her life story that could be helpful to others.  Surely we can’t be the only ones in this situation, caught between a person who does good things and has their secrets A Christian leader who means well but whose home life isn’t right at all.  But that, is her story.   Perhaps one day I can help her tell it.

IN THE END what needs to be said is this.

Forgiveness is what each  Christ follower is asked to do in response to the forgiveness Jesus extends to us.  It is not easy.  It can take a long time.  It often depends on the emotional health of the person doing the forgiving.  It always depends on all the factors surrounding the situation and each person has to sort that out, often with the help of a pastor or a counselor.

I have been in therapy of one sort or another, off and on, for almost twenty years!  Wow, that’s crazy sounding but it’s true.

Pulling back the layers of pain,

the years of stagnation and lack of  healthy growth as a human being,

the crazy mixed up ideas,

the strange perspectives and opinions picked up over the years.

The times of resisting and not being willing to obey God.

And finally coming to a point that one decides for themselves what to do  — without the guilt or coercion of others, but in complete obedience.

It’s messy.  It’s damn difficult.

But it is so sweet, when finally healing, forgiveness and the mercy of Jesus at the cross come down on you.

And you begin anew… and your story continues…

Where does rage come from?

I do not know and I have pondered my father’s strange rage for many years.  I cannot pretend to have answers and obviously I cannot ask him.  But I have a friend who works with incest survivors.  She has a very special ministry. My father always said that he was sexually abused as a child, by a minister in his church.  I never believed him.  But I asked my friend about this and she said:  “When a person admits to this as an adult, they are telling the truth.  They have no reason to lie.”

No reason to lie.  She also said very often anger like that comes from abuse in the past.

I don’t know if it is true but I cannot ignore this:

In Forgiveness: following Jesus into radical loving Paula Huston says: “Regarding the tender souls of children, Jesus says in a passage that can be read as referring either to young human beings or to “baby” Christians: ‘Things that cause people to sin will inevitably occur.  It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.‘ (Luke 17:1-3)  The roots of our adult sin patterns are often to be found in the still-gaping wounds of childhood.”

So my father was hurt as a child.  And I was crushed by his pain and hurt, as he took it out in the form of rage and anger.

At some point we are each responsible to work through our experiences and get to a point of healing.

Again, from Huston,

“Then, and only then (after the process to be sure) we can see the other person as “a human being, no matter how degraded, a fellow soul made in the image and likeness of the God we adore.” (added by me)

God causes his sun to fall on both the good and the evil, and his rain to fall on both the righteous and unrighteous. (Phooey, I can’t remember the reference.)

The longer we shut up our heart against the one that has hurt us the closer we come

to losing our own heart,

our humanity,

even our life.

And for some even our minds.

These things  happened to me in the form of depression, alcoholism, and self-loathing.

And so, for today, I just want you, the reader, to know that there is hope.  It is found in Jesus at the cross if you will spend some time there.  Lay those things down; the heavy burden of pain — close your eyes and picture** putting it at Jesus’ feet.  Give it to God.  Release it when you are ready and be ready for miracles.

MHH

** Some people have a hard time picturing things in their mind’s eye.  If that is true for you I would urge you to watch the movie THE MISSION.  That movie will give you a picture of your pain and lack of forgiveness as those heavy pieces of armor  that the priest dragged up a water fall as penance.  Whenever I begin to forget what my bitterness and anger, lack of forgiveness are doing to me, I can see in my mind’s eye that sack of armor.  No one can live that way.  No one should live that way.  No one needs to live that way.

Blind Sided by a Movie

I was never going to write this review of the movie Blind Side, because I still don’t know how to talk out loud about my response to it.  And I have thought about it  for more than a month.  But I just heard that Sandra Bullock is nominated for Best Actress for her role.  Good for her.  She was brilliant.  She made the movie fly.  And apparently she directed it as well.  So I think the movie will be getting more attention.  I’d like my thoughts out finally and writing sometimes helps me figure out what I think.

Blind Side is based on a true story about Michael Oher a young black  man; essentially homeless in Memphis until he was taken in and eventually adopted by an extremely wealthy white family.  The two children adored Michael and everyone in his life from teachers to family to tutors taught him a little something.  After a lot of work on his part on academics, he qualified to play football in college.  He went to the University of Mississippi. And Oher was eventually drafted by the Baltimore Ravens.

My gut reaction coming out of the movie was dismay.  And then I was dismayed by my own dismay as I heard my mom and daughter positively gushing. “Wasn’t it wonderful.  It was so beautiful.  What a story.  So uplifting.” They genuinely loved it and were inspired.

What’s going on?   It didn’t make me feel good.  It made me uncomfortable. But this is a true story. I kept thinking no wonder the book was made into a  movie they could not have made up better stereotypes for “white wealth” and “black poverty.”

I’m not sure which made me more uncomfortable the white family’s wealthy excess and sense of privilege.  Or the black kid’s poverty, homelessness and disadvantage.   I kept thinking about all the other kids that will never be able to achieve what this young man did — not because they aren’t as deserving, or willing to work, or wonderful like Michael Oher.  (Clearly is if he is anything like the person on the screen.)

But no-one will help them and the System is so messed up.

  • The terrible, terrible schools in inner cities.   This boy got into a private school on a lark of a teacher.  He had a 1.0 GPA.  He clearly hadn’t been learning at school.
  • The danger of living in abject poverty and neighborhoods riddled with crime.  Guns, drugs, illness and lack of proper nutrition.
  • Being homeless and  just surviving.
  • Having one pair of extra clothes so he had to go to a laundry mat to wash them.  Having  no money he had to throw his clothes into someone else’s cycle to be washed.
  • Having few positive role models.

My problem with this movie is that it glorifies a kind of racism where rich white people are honorable, upright, righteous “Saviors” of the poor, black away from the gangsta and drug peddling culture and a drug addicted mother. My problem with this movie is that African-Americans are so often portrayed  like this in movies, especially black men. I have a problem that Leigh Anne Tuohy (played by Sandra Bullock) welcomes a homeless practically mute “Big Mike” (played by Quinton Aaron) into her family’s life.  The movie glorifies Tuohy while Oher is lectured, tutored, fed, dressed and loved like a big pet or a prize poodle.  Bullock shines while Aaron has perhaps twenty lines of dialogue.  Kind-hearted but imperfect whites save the lost black boy.  The movie really did make the Tuohys out to be generous and good people.  And I am sure they had good intentions.  And Michael Oher clearly has made something of himself which is great.

All’s well that ends well right?

Actually, not really.  Michael Oher is one boy**.  What is my problem with this movie?  It made me uncomfortable.   Uncomfortable with how wonderful everyone will think it is and overwhelmed by how sad it made me feel.  It made me miss Dr. and Mrs. Cosby.

You may not agree with me, my mom didn’t.  But I hope that I have made you think.

Be friends, be well.

Melody

THE FACTS

Among the 50 largest cities in the nation, Memphis has the highest poverty rate, approximately **18 percent, with many of our children living in extreme poverty.   No other city comes close.  The percentage of college graduates in Memphis is below 24 percent, a figure in the lowest quartile. And perhaps most problematic of all, the economic segregation in Memphis is crushing:  in an $87 billion local economy, minority businesses generate only $1.3 billion (1.5 percent) of the total.

[Observations from a year in Memphis City Schools, by Dr. Kriner Cash, written in Aug-2009]

For Everything there is a Season

It is George Bernard Shaw that said what is the true joy in life,

“the being used for a purpose

recognized by yourself as a mighty one;

the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap;

the being a force of nature

instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances

complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

I am starting to feel a such a sense of self-loathing because I need more to do with myself.   Do I have an utterly solipsistic life?  Not to be overly dramatic, but the care and well-being of my children is simply not enough.  I have wrestled with the demon and shame of that for nine years, since I quit working  at InterVarsity and began to take care of my kids full-time.  Even at the beginning, when I was trying to decide I never believed it would be enough for me.  And tho there have been wonderful moments, it has not been satisfying, not really.  How do you live with the knowledge that you should not have made the decision that you did?  I could hardly admit that after walking away from a really amazing job.  But my situation at work had grown intolerable and seemed impossible to fix.  So after nearly a year of soul-searching  — I quit .  I chose to become an at-home mom. Even while I was changing diapers and wiping noses, singing songs and cuddling, wiping away tears and reading stories — all thoroughly wonderful things, mind you — I struggled.  Though I know many, many women (and some men) do find it to be full of purpose, I was confused, very lonely, sad and missing my work.

Of course I questioned myself!  For all those years, thirteen at InterVarsity and nine years of being at home, I was searching internally for a sense of  my purpose.   At IV I was constantly pushing people and myself to try new things more out of a sense of my need for change and overworking as well.  I was frantic and dissatisfied most of the time.  So I don’t want to give the impression that WORK was a panacea or mecca.  I have searched for ultimate purpose my whole life and I still am looking.

On one level, have a father who was so dynamic and incredible made me expect more — of myself, of my work, of my life.

I think this blog was in part trying to sort that out.  Talk about things that are important to me.  Wrestle with ideas, doubt, passions and self-absorption, say something important or  at least interesting.  It was a venue for my poetry and a way to get feedback on it.

I once was a human dynamo, even while learning the hard way how to treat others with the dignity and with the care they deserved.  I had failures which I feel deep sorrow.  I could name the people whose lives I hurt as a leader or manager and I have such regret. But at the time I was so full of my accomplishments that it didn’t slow me down.  While I was making mistakes I was also accomplishing a lot (some of it good, a few things I consider great) and people were affirming and promoting me.  As I have mentioned at other times, I had altercations with another leader and that conflict became too much for me .  It wasn’t worth it after a while.  I had reached a place of resistance and no-where to go in the organization without running into this person.  I guess you could say they ‘won’ if it was a competition (which it felt like) and I lost by walking away.

When I left work to be at home  full-time, I was at first almost giddy with how simple it was.  Uncomplicated.  The sameness of the days was a relief after all that unpredictable infighting and conflict!  And then it wasn’t so great.  More like Ground Hod Day, if you have seen the movie.  The same day over and over, the alarm ringing and waking to realize it is THAT DAY again and again and again.

“Don’t waste life in doubts and fears; spend yourself on the work before you, well assured that the right performance of this hour’s duties will be the best preparation for the hours and ages that will follow it.”  — Ralph Waldo Emerson

What being at home did, with one day indistinguishable from the next, was to strip it all away — shattering the persona I had created and forcing me to look hard at my internal grid work.  I had to face and try to understand my family of origin.  While caring for my kids,  the successful person that I had been was unimportant, even irrelevant.  And I had no choice but to face myself — look in the mirror and frankly I wasn’t very happy with what I saw.

Through it, I was overcome by a deep, deep depression.  It hit most powerfully over two months and because I didn’t know what was happening to me I thought I was going mad.  Crazy.  Cuckoo.  Insane.  And I was utterly helpless to help myself.  I couldn’t make decisions.  I couldn’t sleep.  I couldn’t DO anything.  I had no energy, my mind was sludge, my heart felt like it might stop.

I remember talking to my dad on the phone, sitting on my backporch in the beautiful warn summer sunshine, saying “Dad, I just want to be happy.”  That was June.  He mailed me a plaque that said “You are the one Jesus loves” and  at the time my skin crawled at the thought!  I had absolutely lost any idea of God’s grace in my life or belief in His  individual love for me.  I was in the pit of despair and I did not believe it.  If I were the only one that existed, I would be loved by Jesus.   Little did I know this was to become a theme over the next years as I began to fight with God over his approval and affirmation.

In October my parents came to visit and I had manage to get myself functional.  My dad acted wierd and kind of mean, but he has always been slightly mean so I thought nothing of it.  Then in November he was diagnosed with brain tumors and we discovered his tumors had made him behave oddly for some time.

By May of the next year he was dead, but he was “gone” long before that.  After surgery, chemo and radiation he was gone.  He never said my name after his December surgery but he did call me Linda, once.  My mother went into treatment that April and was sober to see my dad die.  We’re all grateful for that.  Her alcoholism, his illness and death, my depression, my own alcoholism which I couldn’t accept, continuing to care for three young children…  You can imagine it was an ugly few years.  I am most grateful for Tom hanging in there with me and even more than just hanging, he helped fight for me and got me back into a place of genuine health.

Through those years, I struggled to do the hard work of therapy and if anyone has never done therapy you really have no idea how much work it is.  Weekly and sometimes twice a week at first, which turned into years of work.  I won’t go into all the detail here (too much was happening) but I have had episodes off and on with the depression for these many years.  With medication, several doctor’s care, a hospitalization after a suicide attempt, the care and long-suffering of Tom, much prayer and internal work which became eternal work,

I faced that I had become an alcoholic,

I faced that I needed to learn to love myself,

I faced that all of this around me (stuff & things) mattered not a whit,

I faced my loneliness,

I faced my insecurities developed from a lifetime of feeling my parents didn’t approve,

I faced a pathological need to be perfect,

I faced that I start and quit many things – I’m good at starting things and have more trouble with maintaining them;

I faced that I was tired of being at home, …

_______

Jeez, that makes me one crazy messed up woman that no-one will want to hire.  yes, that’s what the voices in my head began to say.

For everything there is a season,

And a time for every matter under heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal;

A time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;

A time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to seek, and a time to lose;

A time to keep, and a time to throw away;

A time to tear, and a time to sew;

A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate,

A time for war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

I have carried many stones.  Lost so much.  Wept an ocean inside.  Seen death and mourning.

I am ready to dance, to seek and listen.  I am eager to know what it is that I am here to do.  My advent lament was to cry out for God to speak.

James Thurber said:

All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.

Stay tuned as I learn to dance, seek and listen!

I Laughed at Religulous

10/03/08

Recently I sat with friends laughing together at an interview with Bill Maher about his new movie “Religulous.” He is intelligent and quick-witted. He has obviously thought a lot about why faith is so ridiculous to him. Yes, I laughed and I enjoyed laughing, because he is funny and mocking, and that is a form of humor I like and I ‘get’.

But in the end, as I sat with my discomfort settling around me, I recognized that he is mocking us, thoughtful & thinking people of faith, as if we are ridiculous and he did it by finding the most absurd folks possible and listening to them ramble. Yes, I get it Bill – religulous …. You found what you were looking for, ridiculous religious people.

Perhaps he was only having a good time poking fun — it certainly makes for a funny movie — but I am left with people of faith struggling tortuously for a comeback, when they don’t even know that they are being mocked. It’s a journalistic style, but it’s deceptive and mean spirited.

It was all in fun, the movie, and yet it is a sad commentary on religion today and on those who purport to be people of faith. And especially, I think of Christians, because I am one, who apparently are not living a life of integrity, power or higher thinking.

Maher likes to say that Americans are stupid, and as a rule I tend to agree with him. We are like dumb sheep, or how else would be put up with a multi-trillion dollar debt to be passed on to our children, as a result of an unjust war, ridiculous fiscal planning, and unwarranted governmental power? Like the civil rights protest of the 60’s; we ought to be taking a stand on things that matter to us – whatever it might be. But we don’t, simply accepting that this is it. Duh. It is stupid.

Hello out there? Are there any serious and thoughtful, articulate and/or intelligent people of faith? Please stand up!? Or perhaps Maher just didn’t look for them. I know many, many of them. Shame on you Bill Maher.

It comes down to the fact that faith is just that, a stretch, a reach for something that can not be proved. CS Lewis said: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one … Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

Harsh commentary on keeping yourself from loving others. Ultimately loving or believing in God takes strength and for me it is daily work! But in the end, it is a choice I have made, for today, tomorrow, hopefully for my lifetime. I just hope if Bill Maher stuck his camera in my face  I’d be ready to argue against the stupidity and ridiculousness and error of my ideas, I would be able to say:

“I’m not perfect. My faith, often feeble, and slightly awry from anything mainstream, is something that I work out daily with a lot of ‘fear and trembling.’ I have many ‘what ifs.’ My faith is personal and if others’ can’t actually see how it makes me a slightly more involved citizen, kinder & more loving, willing to admit I’m not even close to perfect, to admit I have many doubts but of this I am certain that believing gives my life hope and without it I’d be crushed by this life;  I am willing to change. If my faith doesn’t make be more thoughtful & responsive to others’ opinions and needs, then shame on me.”

Melody

These are my opinions and do not reflect the thoughts of any religious organization.