It Might Take Forever

As a practicing attorney, I once had a consult with a potential client. During our first meeting in my office, I realized that the task at hand for this particular client wasn’t as legal as it was something different. Her legal situation, while not particularly egregious, was grim. She had been convicted of a misdemeanor and was appealing the conviction as she wanted desperately to clear her record.

As she sat and poured out her problems, I eventually put my pen down and just listened. The facts surrounding the accusation were simple and the legal defense took just a minute to consider. The chances of winning were slim, at best. The facts surrounding the rest of her life were not nearly as simple. Without going into detail, she had taken some pretty tough hits in life and the result was financial stress, health problems and the challenge of raising two children on her own.

During that consultation, I told her how we would handle her case. As importantly, I tried to give her something to get a hold of for her to begin to handle her life, as well. Simple encouragement that brought hope and perspective. Just pointing out her positives and calling her vision to the truth of the hope of what could be.

We went to trial and lost. We tried – threw a legitimate legal argument at a legitimate legal problem. It was a long shot, though, and I was a little concerned about my client’s confidence and outlook as we left the courtroom.

I started to debrief her in the hallway and she interrupted me. She said, “Mr. Prickett, I am as full of hope right now as I have been in a long time. When I came to your office, I was scared and defeated but you were kind to me. Nobody has said the nice things that you said to me in my entire life. Those words were exactly what I needed to hear.” I listened and watched as a single tear rolled down her cheek. She went on to share that she had signed up for college classes even though “it may take forever to get my degree, but I’m going to be moving forward with positive steps to keep my mind off of my problems.”

There is more to this thing we do, whatever it is we do, than the stuff that we do. Sometimes we just have to stop what we’re doing, put our pen down, and agree with the life that is barely hanging on in the soul of another. Our agreement with hope in the life of another won’t fix all of their immediate problems but it might just get things going the right direction.

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.

We Can’t Fix Everything, But We Can Hope

When I was practicing law, there was a time when I was struggling after I was not able to help a client that I really thought I could help more than I did. To be truthful, I got a little cocky and ran head first into situation that I shouldn’t have. In the wake of a relative failure, I was feeling bad about me. Still in the courthouse following the embarrassing setback, I was still engaged in beating myself up a little bit when I got jerked out of my self-pity by a crying mother and a little girl.

The mom was facing traffic and drivers license charges that, if convicted, would result in a mandatory ten days in jail. When I met with her before court, she had her young daughter with her and we talked about the possibilities. She was completely worn out from her effort and cascading failures. Her tears flowed generously and her sweet, angelic little daughter reached up assuredly with comfort and compassion.

Her despair and her daughter’s compassion drew tears from me, as well. Then, we re-grouped, said a prayer together and went into court. Hope rose following our prayer and the mood started to shift. When the smoke cleared, the most serious of her charges was reduced and she walked out of the courtroom with some fines but no jail time.

This was a victory. A victory against despair and against hopelessness. A victory against the scars that might have come in the heart and soul of that little girl if there had been the difficult conversation of where mommy will be for the next 10 days. A victory against doubt of the very existence of or interest from a God she had been crying out to.

For me, the victory was over the lies regarding my ability to make a difference for and with people. I’m not saying that I did anything legally significant for this little family, but I am saying that I was there to walk through something with them. I was an advocate for the hurting when they needed one and that is an honor.

We are invited every day to extend our efforts beyond our failures. There are hurting mommas and sweet daughters all around us to invite us into the hope and honor of standing with others. We can’t fix everything, but we can hope with everyone.

 

Tearing Down the Important Statues

Perhaps more than the statues themselves, the opinions about statues need to be torn down. The concrete or steel or whatever they are made of when placed along a street or in a park are not nearly as offensive as the stuff that comes out of us regarding them. Keep them or preserve them, it’s all about the heart.

Things that are offensive, especially inanimate objects, don’t have to be. It’s a choice. The security that comes with knowing who you are and being grounded in that identity affords the peace of no opinion. Being grounded in who God calls you and focused on where He is calling you leaves no margin for the distraction of pigeon stands.

Rising up to defend those same objects isn’t anybody’s eternal destiny. The hearts and souls of those that are offended, separated or alienated is in the balance. Every issue is about people and how they are impacted on one side or the other of the divide. Hard stands either way prevents connection, which prevents relationship, which frustrates the point.

Again, this is for Christ followers. If you aren’t a follower of Jesus, none of what I am saying has any weight or bearing. If you are, however, then the invitation to follow Him is at the cost of your need to have opinions on everything but Him. He calls us to care about what He cares about and what He cares about is relationship. Relationship with Him, relationship with each other and relationship with a world needing His hope and grace.

It’s imperative that we maintain First things first while intentionally resisting distractions that pull us towards any seconds. Second things are an enemy of the One thing. Being right, persuasive, passionate or opinionated about second stuff at the cost of gracefully portraying First stuff forfeits relational opportunities that might have eternal implications.

We can care about second stuff, just not much. We can be right about the extras, but we can’t compete to win where there is no lasting victory. Eternal glory is available here and now as heaven and earth collide and the Kingdom of God is revealed. That revelation, however, is not in the competition surrounding issues that divide and don’t unite.

Smelled like . . . Victory

In some ways, I felt like I was visiting an old friend yesterday. I was invited to speak at local organization whose mission is to reach “the drug addict, the alcoholic, the criminally-minded, and the reject of society.” It had been a while since I got to meet and minister to men that were in these kinds of circumstances and, in many ways, it was like a breath of fresh air.

Want to find authentic? Engage people who don’t have any need to fake it any longer. They don’t pretend to be “blessed and highly favored” when they show up at church. They are desperate for God to be real in their lives and in their circumstances. They have played out the alternatives and experienced the consequences and are done. Something has to change.

I loved sharing with and receiving from these men. I taught and gave away a few books, but what I got back was better. The life that rose up from within exceeded anything that I offered.

In Matthew 25, Jesus told us, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

So, according to Jesus, I was invited to meet with Him yesterday. I got to interact with Jesus and He looked like hungry, thirsty recovering addicts and convicts in need of hope and transformation.

I am a professional Christian. I am a pastor and elder at a local church and am the Executive Director at a ministry. That means that I have responsibilities which include everything from speaking to spreadsheets and strategy. The business of ministry is necessary to sustain the viability of ministry. While I am thankful for what I am called to, it can also present problems and pressures like every other thing we call “work.”

It’s the interaction with the people where Jesus tells us He is residing that is pure in offering the breath of life. The benefit to the minister matches the offering to the hungry. I left full of life and love and reminded of why I do what I do. It’s not for the budgets and programs, but for the hope in the promises.

Jesus changes everything and if we’ll serve Him in places where He tells us to find Him, we’ll bring a benefit to the seekers we find there. We’ll get a glimpse of Who we seek in the middle of that service and we’ll be better from what we give away.

Shades of Comparison Leave Us in the Dark

My path to vocational ministry is non-traditional.  Leading up to this transition in my occupation, I worked previously as an Army officer, business manager and owner as well as an attorney at law.  When I first practiced law, my primary focus was in the sphere of criminal defense.  The bulk of that criminal defense practice was representing court-appointed clients.  These were folks charged with a crime who couldn’t afford an attorney.

In those days when I talked about work or now when I tell stories about that time, some people have a noticeable reaction.  They make a face, however subtle, that indicates they can’t pay attention to the details because they are distracted by the arrangement.  “How could you represent those people? They aren’t Christians, and you are, so how could you represent them?”  Many times, it’s just the look, but sometimes it’s explicitly asked.  Church polite, of course, but asked just the same.

By contrast, one day walking out of the courthouse I called my wife and told her, “I can’t believe more Christians don’t choose the practice of law as their place of calling.”  After all, I reasoned, where else are you in a position where broken, desperate people come to you asking for your counsel and assistance?  Where else is light so necessary than in the darkest places of society?

Working closely with those whose lives were in peril of being consumed by darkness gave me a greater appreciation for light.  We all need some realization of darkness to remind us of the Light within.  We also need some realization of darkness to remind us of the darkness within.  The degree of separation between “them” and “us” is less than you might imagine.  A twist here and a turn there in life’s circumstances can lead people into situations both unplanned for and undesired.

The overlap in working with “church folks” and court-appointed folks is more similar than you might think, as well.  Sure, most of the church folks in the relatively privileged suburbs present themselves better than the accused of the court-appointed criminal justice system.  The underlying human condition, however, is just as dark.  People are people.

Here, however, is the biggest difference: Those accused and convicted of crimes realize the urgency and near hopelessness of their condition.  They know they need help.  They know they’re messed up and more often than not are desperate for any glimmer of hope.  The socially acceptable, comfortable Christians often think they have things figured out.  They rationalize that Jesus loves them regardless, and nobody (they hope) knows about their “indiscretions.”  And after all, their flaws aren’t as “bad” as the indigent criminal; likely not even perceived to be as bad as the rumors they’ve heard – and helped spread – about the guy across the pew.

Dark is dark and pretending it’s light by shades of comparison cheapens the grace of Jesus Christ.  He didn’t die for us to be judgmental by comparison or dismissive of the heart in need of redemption.  He wants to transform us from glory to glory, but we can’t go to the next glory believing the glory we’ve already experienced somehow jumped us ahead to a place of superiority.

– From “Transforming the Prodigal Soul” available here