When I Only Want to Go Home

There are times when I really want to go home. No, I do not mean the place of my upbringing; rather, to breathe my last breath so I can go to my eternal home. I was experiencing this longing recently. Perhaps you can relate?

Mind you, this is not a morbid death wish, nor is it a grunge rock anthem about how life sucks. Life is precious and creation is beautiful. For me, the crushing weight is the inner loneliness I feel and the gnawing question as to why am I here?

I used to be a pastor. Yes, I preached sermons of encouragement and hope, but I also preached against sin. While I made my share of mistakes, I also did a lot of things right. Yet, in the end, I was betrayed and deeply wounded by certain individuals. I now loathe church politics and want nothing to do with it.

I have been ordained. I worked hard to earn my bachelor’s degree in ministry (graduating with honors) and my master’s degree in discipleship (graduating with a 4.0 gpa). All of this, for what?

I am a theologian, in my own right. I am an introvert and deep thinker, with a melancholy temperament to match. I am not the life of a party, to say the least. Genuine friends are few.

My desire is simplistic: for people to know Jesus Christ as their Savior, and to truly grow in relationship to Him. Yet, when all is said and done, I often feel like a vagabond.

So what do I do when I am feeling weary and useless? What do I do when I only want to go home? I try to look to Christ, and remember that I am not an accident or a mistake. God was actively present when I was being formed in the womb (see Psalm 139). I try to remember that He is at work even when I cannot see or understand. I continue to write, even if readers are few—trusting that God will use my writings to minister to someone’s heart and spirit. Finally, I try to remember my real purpose is to glorify God. If I can maintain this, then I am fulfilling my destiny regardless of the perception of my eyes and heart.

Although I look forward to going home, God has me here for a reason. I do not need to understand, but I do need to trust. Perhaps today was simply to offer some needed hope to someone reading this—like you?

Spring’s Declaration of Our Everlasting Hope

Living in Minnesota, the winters can seem rather long. In fact, some can seem forever. The sky is often gray and dismal, and the temperature biting. “Seasonal depression” is not uncommon here.

March and April can be taunting months. Warm, sunny days and melting snow—then comes another snowfall. Repeat the process. I remember one year this happened several times, and one could sense the irritability in many people (including myself). Although the blustery, lifeless winters would appear to have a stranglehold, spring proves to be victorious as life bursts forth throughout the landscape.

In his book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis tells of the evil white witch who brought perpetual winter to the land of Narnia. Yet, certain citizens (i. e., the Beaver’s) remained steadfast in their hope in Aslan and his promise of the coming spring. Mr. Beaver quotes the ancient rhyme:

“Wrong will be right,
when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar,
sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth,
winter meets its death
And when he shakes his mane,
we shall have spring again.” [1]

Lewis’ series, The Chronicles of Narnia, is an allegorical story of Creation, the Fall, and Redemption. The winter wonderfully portrays the brutal coldness of the witch’s heart, as well as the barrenness and harshness of the ice and snow. These capture well the absolute evil of the adversary (the devil), and the  impoverishing effects of sin: loneliness, guilt, greed, violence, evil, and death. I know Hollywood makes entertainment of these, the education system scoffs at the source of them, and Washington and world leaders make use by exploiting these. Regardless, the reality of these is before us continually.

The situation, indeed, appears hopeless. However, just as the Beaver’s held to the promises of ancient rhymes, we also have ancient promises we can hold onto with confidence.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. ~ Romans 8:18-25

Because of sin, creation was subjected to bondage, corruption, and futility. For centuries, for millennia, creation has been groaning—left to suffer in the ever bitter winter. However, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the sunlight has pierced the dreary skies. The temperature is rising, and the snow and ice are melting. Although the winds still bite, the eternal Spring draws ever closer! At that time,

A new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” ~ Revelation 21:1-4

Although the devil and wicked men sought, and continue to seek, to silence Jesus, His Gospel continues on and will not stop.

As Lewis writes, in a manner as only he could,

“‘It means,’ said Aslan, ‘that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards’” [2]

Darkness will continue to try to smother the light; evil will continue to resist the good; and the wicked will continue to persecute the righteous. These would forever perpetuate the winter; however, the light of Christ has already dawned. Even now the ice is melting. Although the blustery, lifeless winter of sin at times seems to have a stranglehold, when Christ returns His Eternal Spring will prove to be victorious as life bursts forth gloriously throughout the landscape—to never succumb to another winter again.

Notes:

[1]  C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1950), 74-75

[2]  Ibid., 159-160.

Moms, You Rock Stars—Shine On!

This post is meant to, hopefully, encourage moms out there who are striving to be good moms, but who have found that they are, well, human. You are tired; after all, you are awakened in the middle of the night. During the day you are changing diapers, cleaning, cooking, running errands, making sure your children are where they are supposed to be (school, medical appointments, practices, etc.). On top of this, many of you have jobs outside of the home in order to make ends meet.

Some of you feel embarrassed, ashamed, or even like you are a horrible mom, because you see other moms who appear to have it altogether. Their houses are immaculate, yours has toys all over and laundry is never completely finished. Their children are well behaved, while your children are like a bunch of wild monkeys. Other moms seem well rested and always keep their composure, while you caught yourself losing your cool—again—after dealing with another day of criticisms from family, crying kids, crayon writings on the walls, teenagers screaming, “I hate you!” because you have set necessary boundaries.

Moms, give yourselves some slack, and stop comparing yourselves to other moms. You have a tough job that is physically, mentally, and emotionally draining! The dynamics in your home are not identical to those of other homes. It is okay. It is also okay that you have imperfections—EVERY other mom does too. It is okay that your child(ren) do not receive everything they desire. It is okay they receive discipline when they are being unruly (proper discipline comes with being a good parent).

Moms, I trust that most of you are trying the best you can with what you have. You do not have perfect knowledge concerning how to raise each unique child. You might not be rich. Chances are, you have some unchecked boxes of responsibilities and chores still needing to be done. But are your kiddos being fed? Do you consistently tell them how much you love them? Are you teaching them right from wrong, and warning them of dangers? Do you properly discipline them to correct them? Do you comfort them when they are scared or hurting? Are you there for them when they need you? Do you love them so much you would lay your life down for them? If you can say yes to these (sure, probably imperfectly), let me tell you, YOU ROCK, MOM!!!

My mom did not have an easy time raising the four of us (me being the “baby”). She was a single mom most of my growing up years, sometimes working two or three jobs to make sure there was food on the table and a roof over our heads. There were times she felt like a failure because of some the poor decisions my siblings and I made. There were numerous times we broke her heart by what we either said or did. She does not really realize how much of a hero she is to me, even though I try to let her know.

Growing up we were certainly not rich. While we got many nice things for Christmas and birthdays, we had our share of clothes from Kmart and rummage sales. There were seasons we did not get to go to restaurants very often. Nevertheless, my mom worked her butt off to make sure our needs were met!

But I learned some amazing things from this dear lady who never had the opportunity to go to college. She taught me about the Lord, at least the essential basics. She taught me right from wrong, and taught me about the reality of consequences. She taught me about unfailing love and grace, as her love for us continued, even when her own heart was severely wounded. I learned a measure of integrity through discipline (I know what old school butt whoopings are). From her I learned what it means to say, “I’m sorry,” as there were times she would verbally lash out or discipline more than what was warranted. I learned a lot about forgiveness, as she was never one to bring up past faults or rub our faces in our mistakes. I learned not having “name brand” everything really is not that big of a deal (to this day, many of my clothes are bought at Walmart, and I really do not care what people think). Perhaps the greatest things I learned from my mom is compassion and empathy. See, my mom knows what it is like to suffer a broken heart and to fall on hard times. There have been numerous times her eyes filled with tears and her voice cracked when reading a sad story from a newspaper. And times I got on my high horse about something, she would gently let me know that I would possibly have made the same decisions if I had been in someone else’s shoes. Mind you, my mom was not perfect, and still is not. She has made her share of mistakes raising us. However, she has ALWAYS been there whenever I, or my siblings, needed her.

Moms, give yourselves a break. Yes, there might be times your kiddos are little hellions and your teenagers literal nightmares who say hurtful things. Remember, they are also going through difficult things (I am so glad I am not a child or teen these days). So what if on this day you are in your sweatpants and your hair is a mess? So what if you were unable to get today’s dishes washed or every piece of laundry done and folded? At the end of the day do your children know you love them? Do they know you are their safe place? Are they learning that life hurts and is sometimes unfair, but you will never forsake them? If so, know your children will grow and call you blessed. And know that rock stars are at their best when they are pouring themselves out, tired, sweaty, and grimy! Is this not when we cheer the loudest? Likewise, moms, you are at your best when you are pouring your love onto your kiddos—even when you do not look your best, and you are tired. You are rock stars—shine on! Your legacy will be enduring!

Be Willing to Be Kind to Yourself

I was sitting there the first week of intensive outpatient therapy for my depression. A lady sitting across from me shared with the group, “Be willing to be kind to yourself, and speak well of yourself.” While I have come across this concept numerous times since then, it was revolutionary to me that particular winter morning.

It almost seems silly, does it not? Yet how many of us are guilty of criticizing ourselves, sometimes echoing hurtful words spoken to us years—perhaps decades—ago? We  are critical of our size, our nose, our smile, or complexion. We make a mistake or fail at something, and our thoughts go to, “Man, I’m so stupid,” or “I’m never going to amount to anything.” On and on the criticisms come.

What is the “Golden Rule”? Jesus teaches us: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). How do we desire to be treated? With honor, respect, mercy, kindness, patience, and love, correct? But why? Because we are divine image-bearers!

Being kind to ourselves is not the same as being selfish or conceited. Rather, it is being humble but not self-abasing; acknowledging our mistakes and learning from them, but not paralyzing our growth by self-criticism and self-fulfilling prophecies. It is acknowledging our strengths and giftings but not becoming conceited.

When you look at others, regardless what you might think of them, each of them have both strengths and weaknesses. Each of them are God’s image-bearers, even though many pay no thought to Him. Nevertheless, each has incredible value God has bestowed on them. Many of them are oblivious to their true worth and purpose, and all the while being quite self-conscious of their weaknesses (even those who appear to have it altogether).

In the same manner, that person you see each time you look in the mirror also has strengths and weaknesses. That person deserves to be respected and complimented, because that person is also an image-bearer of his/her Creator. That person does not need to be criticized for their appearance or shortcomings. That person deserves to be taught, admonished, and encouraged. Indeed, show kindness to those you meet, Lord knows the world needs more kindness. But remember to be kind to the precious one looking back at you in the mirror. This person deserves some kindness too—not the least coming from you.

For to Us a Son is Given

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” goes the Christmas song. However, for many it is the most loneliest time of the year.” In the midst of all the beautiful Christmas lights, for many this season is very dark. During the calmness of the falling snow, there is an unnerving restlessness within. With talk of “holiday cheer” there is deep sadness. Joy and hope seem as mythological as Santa himself. 

Although we try to decorate this season with colorful and glittering beauty, the fact remains we live in a fallen, broken, and hurting world. We give and receive gifts of fleeting pleasure and delight, most of which will break down and be thrown away eventually—mere reminders of the temporal significance of the things of this world.

Ah, but there is one Gift given to all, but seemingly insignificant to most. In fact, most people will neglect this Gift. We tend to like gifts of monetary value or instant gratification, but this Gift gives us neither. However, this Gift does give what the human heart craves most: peace, joy, hope, significance, and a relationship with God. Mind you, this Gift does not take away all the hurt, pain, and heartache—but it does redeem them for good. Furthermore, this Gift does come with the promise that one day all suffering will cease, and every tear will be wiped away.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. ~ Revelation 21:4 (ESV)

What is this Gift, and who is it from?The Gift is Jesus Christ our Savior, and given to us by God Himself. Oh yes, many will mock and scorn. Politicians and philosophers will continue to give worthless promises of a utopian society that will never happen (the corruption in the human heart will forever prevent this). 

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end. ~ Isaiah 9:6-7

This Gift comes with fullness of redemption and the washing away of guilt and shame. This Gift comes with truth and grace, and teaching us what it truly means to love and be loved. 

This Gift can neither be bought or earned, but it must be humbly received. God will not force anyone to receive it, but to reject it one does so to their own peril.

This Gift is given to you. What have you done with Him? Yes, life will still hurt. Jesus does not promise to eradicate all hurt. Yet, in Him the day will come when all suffering will and tears will cease. For now, He promises forgiveness and His presence.

For to you a Son is given. Have you received Him? 

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. ~ John 1:12

I hope you truly have a very merry Christmas!

Everybody Cries

While many of my political and religious views are quite different than those of the band REM, they have a song I like and have found comfort in. The song is called, “Everybody Hurts,” and it encourages persons to keep pressing on because they are not alone, as everybody cries.

Many of us have learned to bottle up everything inside and to not display our emotions—especially sadness and tears. “Big boys and girls don’t cry,” we are told. Crying is for sissies, we are taught. However, crying is part of being human. Jeremiah the prophet was a tough cookie, as he endured constant persecution. Yet, he is known as the “weeping prophet,” as he cried for his country and coming judgement. King David, was anything but a wimp. He, as a young shepherd took out lions and bears. He took down Goliath. He was a fierce warrior in battle. He was not a dude to mess with. Yet, he tore his robes and cried when friends died or when confronted with his sins. No one is more manly than Jesus! He was gentle and humble, but who could willingly endure the torture and suffering He went through? Yet, we are told He wept.

Perhaps you or someone you know needs to cry. If so, it is alright. If someone needs a shoulder to cry on, let them do so. Do not ridicule or shame them. Crying is a natural form of release. Suppressing emotions and refusing to deal with feelings and situations are not healthy but can lead to mental health issues (e.g., depression, etc.).

“I don’t like crying in front of people,” some will object. That is fine. If you need to cry, play a sad song or watch a sad movie by yourself.  Cry into a pillow. In any case, just as laughing is part of being human, so is crying. It is not a sign of weakness, it is a demonstration of being a person. As REM says, “Everybody hurts sometimes.” 

Cry it out and keep pressing on. Things will get better.

Using Loneliness to Your Advantage (Part 2)

One of the reasons loneliness is so difficult is because we were created for community.

The Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” ~ Genesis 2:18

A helper, companion, and friend. The couple would then have offspring, not only for reproduction but also to create family. Families would become tribes, etc.

However, we know that not everyone is equal in families or societies, regardless how much people say they want “equality.” Even these persons and groups shun and dislike certain persons, whether it’s because of difference of religious or political views, social and economical class, styles or culture, the way persons look, etc. Thus, not everyone has friends or family to hang out with.

With all this said, there are many who do not have family or friends to be with during the holidays. There are others who do, but who feel so disconnected from those around them. Understand, loneliness and being alone are not the same thing. Being alone is simply not having people around. Loneliness, on the other hand, is a sense or feeling of being disconnected, rejected, unloved, undesired, unwanted, and/or ostracized by others. 

Strangely, anyone can be susceptible to feelings of loneliness, whether it is one who is considered the “dreg” of society or the beloved captain of a football team. Regardless, the feelings of loneliness are very real and can be destructive if not kept in check.

Another way to use loneliness to your own advantage is to use it to consider who you are and what you desire to be. I do not mean what psychologists call “visualization” (i.e., if you want to be a rockstar, then picture yourself up on stage, etc.). Rather, who are you as a person? What is your temperament? What are your strengths, weaknesses, skills, and passions? What kind of person do you want to be (e.g., kind, compassionate, mean, or obstinate)? What do you want to accomplish or be remembered for?

Times of loneliness can also be times to consider the deeper issues of life: What is truth? Is there a God? What is justice? Does life have meaning? What happens when we die? Too often we can be influenced by the media, teachers, preachers, gurus, emotions, etc. However, it requires times of solitude to genuinely reflect on these issues. These times of pondering can also aid in observing contradictions and logical fallacies. For example, when corrupt politicians try to lecture society on morality and ethics; when university professors deny absolutes, then decry “injustice”; when preachers talk about following God, but then deny His Word; etc.

Most of us will experience rejection of some form, as well as seasons of loneliness. During these times decisions will be made. Will we allow these trials/fires to consume or purify? Will be become bitter or better? Will we permit the experiences to transform us or the opinions of others to conform us?

Loneliness is painful—at times, emotionally excruciating. But it can be a beneficial discipline—even a healthy forging, if we will endure it. If you are presently going through the fires, truly I know it is difficult, and it is years later that I have come to appreciate the value of loneliness. 

Be still, and know that I am God. ~ Psalm 46:10

And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. ~ 1 Kings 19:11-12

Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” ~ 1 Corinthians 15:33