Walking Through the Pain Hand in Hand

Just after Thanksgiving, I was driving down the road by myself and a memory captured me. I remembered back 18 months when my dad had heart surgery. In my memory, we were standing in pre-op and I was considering counsel someone had given me. “Don’t leave anything unsaid,” they told me.

As I considered their advice that day before the operation, I couldn’t come up with anything. There was nothing unsaid, as far as I could tell. We had experienced some significant times and some routine times where the messages of love, respect, affirmation and appreciation were communicated.

That surgery went well, yet my dad coded afterwards. They revived him quickly, but it was a scare. I couldn’t understand why this memory was coming up to the point that it brought tears. Is there something I should have said that I didn’t?

It was within 24 hours from feeling and considering that memory that I got a message from my dad saying that he had to have heart surgery again. Now the memory had my attention as it came right on top of the news. Going into this one, is there something that needs to be said?

As the second surgery approached, I was incredibly uneasy about it. Was it just worry or was God stirring me prophetically?

Two nights before the operation, we had dinner with my dad and details he shared regarding the operation only left me more anxious. I was somewhat disengaged as I battled through the discomfort of disagreement.

The next morning, the day before the second surgery, I sent my dad a text, telling him basically; “I don’t have peace regarding the surgery. Please consider every possibility and it’s not too late to change the plan during the pre-op consult with the surgeon (to be held later that day).”

The grace of God was with me as I sent that message. My dad had the surgery and he died from it. What I believe was God’s prompting to not leave anything unsaid was for me, not him. He was going to have the surgery and his rationale was sound for why he was going to have the surgery. The outcome was tragic, but the torment of “what if” was disarmed from the exchange my dad and I had.

There were other “prophetic markers” leading up to the procedure that weren’t completely clear without the benefit of a retrospective view. Various touch points of God’s insight and presence even as we walked closer to the pain. The pain still came, but it wasn’t as surprising as it would have been otherwise, and I wasn’t alone.

God will walk with us and talk with us and let us in on what’s going on, but He won’t guarantee the outcomes. He’s not a genie, but He is a friend. He’ll be there when trouble comes, and trouble will come. Knowing God isn’t a lottery ticket; it’s the comfort of a Father’s hand to hold. There is comfort in His presence.

 

Our Dads Are a Bridge or a Barrier

In the weeks leading up to my father’s death, I was reminded of a previous surgery he had been through. Eighteen months prior to this most recent surgery, he had been through a similar procedure. Someone had encouraged me to “leave nothing unsaid” as we entered into that previous procedure.

As I had stood by his bed prior to surgery the first time, I considered what it was I should say and I couldn’t come up with anything. My father and I had discussions in the flow of life leading up to that point from which I knew that he knew how I felt about him. More importantly, perhaps, I knew how he felt about me.

My father had told me that he loved me and that he was proud of me with his words and actions. I had heard it from him and I had heard it through others that he had told. I also saw it in is support, presence and contribution to things I did. He proved it by being there.

  • He was my Boy Scout leader
  • He commissioned me as an Army officer
  • He wanted to see my office at various jobs I had
  • He came to court just to watch one day
  • He came to “Bold” men’s meetings I was leading
  • He came on a Quest I was facilitating
  • He was at my book signing when I rolled out my first book
  • He wanted me to come and speak to the men at his church and set up a men’s event

Really, the list goes on and on; those are just what jump out initially. I don’t have any doubts about who my father said I am. He said it and he showed it. His investment positioned me to receive the Truth.

God’s relationship with us is as Father. He wants to be “Abba” to us; not a distant or angry Judge. The realization of His identity as well as ours comes from Him but it is easier to realize when/if our dads agree.

From the affirmation that my father gave me, it was easier to know of the love that the Father has for me. From my dad being there, it’s easier to know that my Dad is always there.

Your father is either a bridge or a barrier to the Father, but the target for all of us is the same no matter if we had a good dad, bad dad or absent dad. The target is to hear from Spirit to spirit that “you’re a son.” Once you hear that, the good, bad or ugly of your earthly father has its proper context and you have your eternal perspective.

Seeking Treasure in the Trouble

We don’t always get what we want. Our prayers are not equivalent to lottery tickets. God tells us that in this world we are going to have trouble. So bad things happen to good people. Not because God is doing bad things to people, but because He loves people enough to let them make choices and there are cascading consequences in a fallen world. The hard things can be good things.

In the Social Media age, the good news and big smiles are on display as we put our virtual best foot forward. Comparison between our trouble and other people’s smiles can feed frustration in the wake of problems. If we choose to evaluate our situation, consequences, problems, trouble, God, etc. in such a shallow manner, we will miss it.

We’ll miss the treasure available in the deep dive. The good stuff is often in the middle of the hard stuff. When our efforts and desires leave us disappointed and out of options, we can tap into more. We can tap into eternity.

The happiness that comes from good things is insignificant compared to the joy that is eternally available despite bad things. The peace that we can know exceeds our understanding and affirms God’s goodness when we choose to be thankful where we would otherwise be anxious.

Whether or not 2017 was your best year ever, there is a depth that is available even as you reflect. Ask God to show Himself in circumstances where you didn’t realize Him. Ask Him to comfort your soul and connect the dots of understanding in the wake of otherwise unsatisfying experiences. Press into Him and wait; He is faithful and He is good.

There is always more in Him and the trials that we face affirm us as much as they do Him. He tells us that we can inherit eternal treasures and share in His glory if we will choose to share in his sufferings (Romans 8:17). Bad things happen, so we can either choose to invite Him into the middle of those things seeking His glory and our inheritance or we can form some bad theology around our shallow expectations.

The Pain of Sutherland Springs is Real

I have to admit that when I when I initially hear news like the news out of South Texas yesterday regarding the shooting at a church, I am numb. The scene, reality and ramifications are abstract when I begin to consider them. The hurt is hard to imagine from the distance of the circumstances.

To make it more challenging, the frequency of these stories has numbed the pain of the reality. Las Vegas was just a few weeks ago and now this. There seems to be one right after the other and it’s hard to get your head around, much less your heart.

Yesterday as I was considering the situation in South Texas, I heard that the pastor of that little church was in Oklahoma with his wife yesterday but heading home. I also read that the pastor and his wife confirmed that their 14-year old daughter was among the dead. That did it for me; the abstract was tangible and my heart broke.

I am a pastor and I have a 14-year old daughter. I wept as I considered their pain and felt the reality of this tragedy. I prayed differently as I processed the human processing of grief. Their lives will never be the same and hers was robbed.

Part of my initial distance was the distraction of gun rights advocates and anti-gun advocates posturing on social media; hijacking the need to connect to the human reality. Political reasons, blame, rallies and reactions make things a Power Point presentation for the purpose of supporting a position. The task at hand is compassion and comfort, not convincing.

In this world, there is going to be trouble. No matter what. We are in a dark world and our only hope is the Light within. That Light within does not have a political agenda, He has a people agenda. He hurts for people and we are invited to agree with Him at times where tragedy seems abstract and politics seem relevant.

The Lens of Grace (from Abundant and Free)

I was raised by an Army officer  and eventually became an Army officer myself. There are many good things about growing up or training in that environment. At the same time, there is a lens through which those so trained see people that can make life difficult. When the mission is critical, judgment of others can be, as well. There can be harsh, rigid assessment of people based on their performance and contribution to the mission.

After my time as an Army officer, I eventually went to law school, passed the bar, took the oath and for a season made a living standing in courtrooms arguing cases. As an advocate, I continually viewed people and their stories through my law knowledge filter. I applied that filter to things that led to the disposition of the question in the case as well as procedures compared to the rules of admission. If the opposing party tried to get inadmissible evidence into the record or question a witness in a way not allowed, I would object. It was part of my duty to my client.

Even though I no longer argue cases in a courtroom, I find myself sometimes thinking like an attorney. I don’t think the word “objection,” but often form a thought regarding something or someone I find “objectionable.”

In doing so, I make a case against another person in my mind. This is particularly true when I perceive the other person has a responsibility to behave a certain way.

The judgment I pronounce is a revelation of the lens through which I see people. I’ve discovered I turn that same lens on myself. I struggle to be satisfied with anything less than excellence, so I struggle to be satisfied. I compare my behaviors, performance, accomplishments and the evidence of my success to an external standard and make a case against myself.

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things” (Romans 12:2).

The judgment I form against others is the standard for the judgment I form against myself. Where I compare them to expectations, I hold myself to those same expectations. Where I give grace, I am able to receive grace. I see people through a lens, and like it or not, that lens is the same for me.

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17)

Because of Jesus, we have a choice: We can labor under the yoke of the law or we can submit to the reins of the truth. Jesus replaced the law with the truth, because the law is a subsection of the truth. The truth is the broader reality. We no longer need the law because Jesus is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Grace is the lens through which we are invited to view the truth. We either see through Moses or through Jesus; therefore, we see ourselves either as guilty or forgiven and will see others as we see ourselves. If you want to know what you think of yourself, consider how you think of others.

From Abundant and Free; Seeing Life Through the Lens of Grace, now available on Amazon.com. 

Honor Makes a Way for Solutions to Disagreements

Last night, the Dallas Cowboys stood together. More accurately, they knelt together. They knelt together in a sign of protest against racism in the United States, and they did it before the National Anthem. As a reminder, that is what all the kneeling was about in the first place, although it has been largely forgotten in the politics and opinions.

In case you didn’t see it or hear about it they came out as a team, joined arms and knelt. Then they stood up. They knelt before the National Anthem ever began and they stood up during the national anthem.

All along, the objection to the protest has been that protestors should stand and respect the flag. Last night, they did. Yet, in an overnight poll in the Dallas Morning News, the initial opinions offered were that 54% of respondents felt “Cowboys should not have knelt at all.” This was a Dallas newspaper, mind you, so this is a biased sampling presumably in favor of what the Cowboys do. I don’t know what the sampling size was, but that result is disheartening.

This poll showed that for some, it was never about the flag in the first place. It was about being right. For some, they aren’t patriotic as much as they are just prejudiced. When you don’t want somebody that is different from you to say anything about their perception or experience based in those differences, you are protecting the status quo, not the traditions surrounding the flag.

We tend to like what we like and want what we want and will often find justifications to protect our preferences. Our preferences are rooted in our perspective and our perspective is limited to our experiences. Those experiences, in this nation, are vastly different. Experiences surrounding race and racism cannot be the same where the there are differences in race. It’s just not possible.

The opportunity going forward is honor. I’ve been a Dallas Cowboys fan for the past four decades, but my admiration of their collective voice last night isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about honor. They were able to show honor towards the flag while also projecting the voice of the perspective that was calling out. They were able to agree about disagreements that they had not all experienced. That’s what the flag stands for, in part; the freedom to be heard in an honorable way.

When 54% say there should be no disagreement at all, there is going to be disagreement. If and when the majority can agree that the experience of the minority is different from their own, then there can be solutions. Honor makes a way for solutions to disagreements.