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.

FIFO

accounting_office-515984_1280It’s there whether we realize it or not. The reaction to the action is certain, even if we suppress it and pretend we are immune to it. Experiences yield emotions no matter how little or how much we express those emotions. If they are not acknowledged, but just jammed down, they pile up to leak out at the most inopportune of times.

We process life through our emotions. The path of our processing starts at the back of our brain and works its way forward. Our first stop along the way is our emotional processor. Many of us, especially men, would prefer not to acknowledge the reality of that stop. We prefer to pass that one by.

From there, the process leads us to logical reasoning. We can evaluate the experience and make future decisions from the knowledge of that experience. Our logic is formed by the information it has to work with to connect the dots for future choices.

If we are making decisions without all the information then we aren’t making the best decisions. The most logical of us would agree that the more information the better for decision-making. Yet, the most logical among us may be the most susceptible to the trap of ignoring the emotions that accompany the facts. The emotions deserve a voice to avoid the piling up of one unexpressed emotion on top of the other until there is some kind of eruption.

Road rage isn’t about traffic, it’s a culmination of emotions brewing over and triggered by the anonymous other driver. Anger is a secondary emotion typically born and fueled by hurt. Anger doesn’t just happen; it comes from another emotions that gives it life. Unresolved hurts or fears show up and are misapplied to present situations since old situations that caused the hurt are finished and done.

Emotional inventory keeps the storage space of our soul in order. Giving voice to the reactions that are certain from actions maintains internal order where chaos would like permission to accumulate. There is a method of accounting that is called “FIFO,” which means “first in, first out.” That’s the appropriate method to inventory emotions from experiences; when they happen, take note of them, give them the credit they deserve and don’t just put them back on the shelf to spill over one day.

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

Life flows from within us and within us needs to be tended to. Above all else.

The Orphan and the Son in the Father

man in the mirror

I came face to face with a real life orphan recently and the results were surprising to me. Let me clarify that this was a normal interaction in the routine of life and not a mission trip to an orphanage in a third world country. This was me offering of myself to help someone else with good intentions of mentoring and affirmation. The reaction, however, made it clear that they didn’t want what I was offering and didn’t mind offending me with deception in the process of them walking out their rejection of my attempted rescue.

Orphans are all around us and sometimes they are us. It is the thing within each of us that scrambles to protect ourselves or provide for ourselves without trust that others will accept us. It’s the void within us that causes us to choose behaviors that are illogical outside of the context that reveals that the choices are being made out of wounds rather than reasoning. The deeper the hurt or more desperate the loneliness, the more confusing the choices to the outside observer. Orphans are not limited to belief or unbelief, but contingent more on healed, unhealed and the extent of healing.

I want to be a father to the fatherless. I want to invest in the next generation. As such, I extend to reach others with the sincere intention of investment and multiplication. From a logical perspective, those that are hurting or needy should be willing immediately to receive what I or others like me want to give them. The problem is that logic isn’t the lens for how they view the offering.

When those that want to invest in others are rejected, deceived or otherwise manipulated, the intention of investment is tested by the reality of the problem. Even the well-intentioned mentor is a human and a work in progress themselves. The reaction that they choose will be critical to the future of the relationship and any hope for impact. The investor has to be a father first and foremost. A father doesn’t reject the son but gives grace to allow for the return of the prodigal. A father doesn’t take offense.

If the potential father doesn’t have tolerance for the choices that are sure to come out of the deep wounds of the orphan, then the father won’t father at all. He’ll spin his wheels  in good intentions and pile on the disappointments that have already had their way within the orphan to re-affirm the lies that the orphan currently chooses as their operating platform. If the father doesn’t know that he is a son and remember as much when faced with the depravity of another, then the father actually becomes the orphan, as well.

Ashes, Ashes . . .

Some things matter, no matter how much society refuses to acknowledge the depth of their impact. The Homer Simponization of fathers and sitcom disintegration of families works out in 30 minute segments, not so much in real life. The devastation of individual lives in the wake of fatherlessness will continue to be felt in the lives of children and grandchildren for generations following the abandonment.

DominoI spent time with a young lady recently as she told her story. It was a life riddled with drugs and destruction culminating in a long prison sentence and the loss of her children. It all started, according to her, when her parents split. She recounts with great detail that the pain she felt as a pre-teen was so intense that she chose hard drugs over even the hope offered in attempting a rehab. Note that was “pre-teen.”

Later in the same day I met a young man who had been suffering seizures since his dad walked out. Literally, the night that his father left, he seized for the first time and has suffered seizures many times since then. Same night. Coincidence?

Fatherlessness breeds heartache at a level which is not comprehensible. The emotional and even physical reaction to the abandonment by the one that was intended to watch over our soul cries out for relief. We cannot easily compensate for the trauma of the leaving.

The children of the first lady that I described were already having physical and emotional problems. One of them had an “anger problem.” Of course he does. And it started with the leaving of his grandfather impacting his mother and now effecting him because of her bad choices made from a broken heart.

Some might read this and dismiss the connection or anecdotally explain that they came from a broken family or absent father or something similar and “look at me, I did what I needed and turned out just fine.” Well, maybe, but maybe that isn’t as easy for others. Some are just wired to feel differently, maybe even feel more. Some are just designed to lead with emotion and passion rather than logic and reasoning. The value of that type of creativity is self-evident but the pain is felt that much more intensely.

There’s only one Cure, there’s only one Remedy. Jesus restores us to the Father that none would be orphans. He takes the broken patterns of destructive relationship and replaces them with His promise of reconciliation. He softens the hardened hearts of the broken-hearted and restores the health of their soul to align with the adoption initiated by His Spirit.

Burning Crude

I found myself in a tough spot stranded in an unfamiliar place recently. I was convinced that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing (and still am), yet the provision necessary for completion of the task at hand had run out. There I was, at five in the morning without money to pay for gas or coffee. I needed gas, for sure, and wanted coffee just as certainly. Yet, for a moment, I had nothing but embarrassment and lack. old-fashioned-gas-pump-hi

It was embarrassing and I guess at some level scary. It’s a bad feeling to be without. It’s a bad feeling to be at the mercy of others to help you out of the hole that you are in. It’s a bad feeling to be out of control.

My frustration, at its core, was with God. He had called me into this, yet His provision didn’t appear to be good enough. He let me down, I thought. Although the situation was solved and resolved in a matter of minutes, the interim of time wherein I was left without impacted me and caused me to decide some things.

I decided that He was out and I am in. He wasn’t providing like He said He would, or at least not to the level of my expectations, so I will take over from here, thank You very much. The days that followed in which I began to strive to solve all of my problems on my own were full of pain and anger. My heart was being squeezed and what was coming out just wasn’t very pretty.

Thankfully, I was able to respond to the dark places of my heart which had been given control over my efforts and turn to the Light. He was always good, had never failed me and had never moved off of His love for me or sovereign provision of my needs.

The fact is that the challenge I faced in a seemingly desperate place took me to a greater depth of knowing His goodness. He was in the middle of it all, calling me further into maturity through burning off the ugliness which had been hidden on the other side of a tank of gas and cup of coffee. My doubtful reaction never changed Him, but it exposed that which needed to change within me.

The Glory of Kings

I often write about people who I have interacted with that may be battling addiction, accused of crimes or locked up. The stories are really never about them, though, they are about the Truth which is revealed through them. That Truth is applicable at every level of society. The only difference between the addict or convict and the suburban church goer is the transparency of Truth in the broken. Church folks are just as jacked up as the outcast more often than not, but they hide it really, really well in most cases.

Conferences, sermons and CD’s are where information can be shared to tempt the listener to come further into the Truth which they are presumably seeking by being there in the first place. The problem is when the seeker thinks that the destination is the message shared by the speaker. When the message becomes the destination, the sacrifice is one of inheritance.

“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings to search out a matter” (Prov. 25:2).  Kings seek out the concealed matters. They chase and they find. They walk in their Royalty through glimpses of the One who makes them Royal.

There can’t be satisfaction with seconds when the available banquet is fresh and abundant. Leftovers are not a Kingdom course. The glory of kings is in the freshness and intimacy of a concealed matter becoming revealed to the king. The king is a king because the King makes it so. The extent to which the king receives his royal inheritance is dependant on the pursuit of the matters of the King.

That revelation is likely never more vibrant than in the broken. Certainly the presence of God is available in the gathering of His church but the concealed matters of the Kingdom are in the places where Jesus says He would be. He said that when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked and serve those that are imprisoned He will be there. “In as much as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it unto Me.” What better place to find the matters which He conceals than to go to the places and people whom He said were manifestations of Him?