The THING(s)

Wow.  It has been five and a half MONTHS since I have been here.  I couldn’t even remember my password as blog owner!  Hi there.

I need to write because I am LOSING MY MIND.

Matt and I have been squeezed through a wheat-sifter.  Our marriage, specifically.  It has been excruciating and we are a bloody mess emotionally.  I describe our current state as “we’re cleaning out all of the yuck in our wounds so that they can heal well.”  Delicious, no?

As it turns out, we are both overachievers at selfishness.  We are in counseling, we are in shred-apart-this-crap-and-find-the-valuable-hidden-parts mode, and we have decided to deal with some serious cracks in our relational foundation.  It is horrible.  I don’t want to describe how horrible… I’m going to let your imagination do that work for me.

But we are on a journey here.  There are things, amazing things, looming beyond us.  There is a something for the Olson Five to do, and we have to get these foundational cracks repaired (even if we have to dig up the entire structure and rebuild it, which it kind of seems like we are doing, but we’re so covered with sludge and the air is so thick with demolition dust that we don’t really see what we’re doing… we’re just DOING IT).  And we don’t know what the amazing things are that we headed toward, but we are committed to realistically dealing with our crap and moving in that direction.

We’re never going to get there.

It isn’t just a half-glass-empty doubt that punches me in the face in my weak moments.  We really are NEVER GOING TO GET THERE.  We’ll never have it together.  I thought we would by now.  I thought we’d be 10+ years into this marriage thing and have our issues all ironed out so that we can be available for everyone else’s issues.  Yeah, that’s not ever going to be true.  Our issues are immense.  We still CAN be available to others with their issues, but only because we know the deep and painful brokenness of ourselves.  We get you.  We hear what you’re saying.  We are piles of shards and we may never feel put together.  We should probably just snuggle in, razor edges and all, and let Jesus start building a beautiful picture out of our shared mosaic, because pulling back until we are smooth and soft is NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN.  We can’t get there.  We’re a broken mess, and we are painfully aware of it.  And we are healing and being restored, but we’ll never be all set.  We’ll always be a mess.  And there’s a beauty in that, although I have difficulty finding it most days.

So this thing… or things… or whatever God has for us.  It has cost us our blinders, our masks, and our pretty patina that we paint on over our crumbles and cracks.  It has cost us our self-satisfaction and our arrogance.  It has been crazy expensive already, because it is ripping out solid chunks of us that we preferred to keep, thank you very much!

We don’t know what it is.  But allow me to walk you through the insanity that is my dream world these days.

“God knows our hearts for vulnerable children… if He is preparing us for THIS thing, then we’ll need this many beds donated, we’ll need to rearrange these rooms… no these ones… you know, it might work best if we left the master bedroom and switched to the guest roo… WHAT???  This can’t cost us our ROOM!  That’s our room!  I need a break.  <generous mental break>  Okay, so we have OPTIONS for room rearrangements… We aren’t in a position yet to go after any specifics because we have plans this summer that require just the 5 of us, okay… so we have some time.  And then what?”  I can tell you what vehicle switches we’d have to beg a car dealership for, I can tell you what laundry changes will need to take place, I can detail for you exactly how much more cooking I will have to do.  Oh, you should know this – I do not like cooking.  I don’t HATE it… but it seems so pointless.  We eat, then we eat again.  I have trouble finding the glamour in working on something that disappears.  It’s part of my “everything I do needs to COUNT and be BIG!” personal issues.  Meals?  Ehh.  So THAT attitude would need to shift, among every other detail of my life!

I get stuck in places like, “Could I keep my job?  We’d need the money, but if the thing God wants us to do is THIS, then He’d need my time devoted to that…” and anytime the room rearrangements in my head circle back toward booting Matt and me from our own bedroom.

I don’t like not knowing where we are going, but I promise you:  I canNOT handle knowing where we are going.  I really cannot.  I’m going mad just imagining things… can you even fathom how insufferable I’d be if I actually had to make the plans and carry them out?

So we’re in this “we need to heal because we let ourselves get damaged/damage one another and that needs to STOP” phase of life.  And we’re approaching this “if we could be honest with ourselves and open with God about what we’re willing to do in His Kingdom, He might ask this or this or THIS!!!” phase of life that is totally exhilarating and murderously dangerous at the same time.  I think God’s goal is to kill our overinflated senses of self so that whenever we get to the THING(s), He just has to remind us to leave that corpse dead instead of kill it then.  But we experience it this way:  He is killing US.  My arrogance IS me.  It’s part of me!  I can’t be me without it!  Augh!!!  I’m dying.  It hurts and I whine at God incessantly.  For unknown reasons, He still calls me His child and is pleased with me despite my brattiness.  And Matt too.  Our self-importance is the worst kind of zombie; you think it’s finally dead and can’t hurt us anymore, and then it’s BACK!  And creepier than ever!

So… I took a lengthy break from blogging and then popped in to tell you all of this, and that’s literally all I have to say.  I’m a jerk.  But I think we’re all well-acquainted with THAT factoid!  If you want to pray for us, pray that the horrible parts of both Matt and I will just DIE and that we’ll leave them dead and stop trying to resurrect our own ridiculousness.  And you could pray for our marriage.  It sucks, but in the same way as climbing Mount Everest sucks.  “Why are we doing this?  What were we thinking?  This is the worst thing ever!  We’ll never survive!” and then”Whoa.  Look at all of THAT.  Worth it!”  And you could pray for whatever the THING(s) is/are that God intends for us/is preparing us to do.  Because it’s likely going to be so big and epic that we’ll die again.  And I have a pre-recorded whining session for what to say when that happens.  And it will be a place of brokenness and beauty, which is exactly how life is meant to be.  I think we’ll feel fully alive then more than we ever have… but only because we know the deep frailty of ourselves.  We’re in the process of learning that lesson now.

Hi!  I’ve missed you!  I’ve gone crazy without you, dear reader!  Sorry I left and sorry that I don’t know when I’ll be back.

–Jaime

Killing and Poisoning Love

I wish I could cite this amazing resource… but all I know is that our counselor had it and he’s not sure where he got it.

I wish this information wasn’t so incredibly useful… I could keep it to myself and not share this laundry list of exactly what’s wrong with the marriage Matt and me are building and rebuilding.

I wish that one or both of us didn’t fulfill every single item on this list in our marriage, but right now, we do.  That’s going to change.

I wish these things weren’t killing and poisoning your loves too.  Take heart.  We are there with you, and now you know that about us.

I wish these didn’t apply to all relationships – parenting, friendship, family, work, community.  But these poisons and killers can infiltrate anywhere.

I wish a lot of things.  Time to reflect, confess, and then act to make change.  Here’s the list and a summary of each one.  If someone knows the source, please share it in a comment!

Self-centeredness/Ego-centricity:  “Self-centeredness” is closest to a real description of a truly selfish person.  Self-centered means someone basically experiences life mostly in terms of him or herself.  When one is self-centered, he guarantees the failure of love, for love is an attachment between two people.  The self-centered person denies the reality of the other.  He only sees others as extensions of himself.  Others exists to make him happy, serve his needs, and regulate his feelings.  When others fail to do that by having an existence of their own, he has some sort of negative reaction, such as anger, withdrawal of love, controlling behavior, or rejection.  This orientation to another person being more of an object for self-gratification than a person makes a true attachment impossible; love requires two people, not one person and an “object.”

Lack of Observing Oneself:  Psalm 36 says the following:  “For in his own eyes, he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin.”  I John says it a different way:  “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  The inability to see one’s own behavior, especially when one is wrong, is one of the most frustrating qualities that anyone can have in a relationship.  If you have ever had that experience, being in a relationship with someone who could not see when they were wrong, you know there is very little hope to get past any conflict that you might be having.  No relationship or person is perfect.  And any kind of conflict can be worked out, as along as both people involved are able and willing to look at their own behavior and own it.  Taking ownership of our wrongs makes moving past the conflict and getting to a deeper connection possible, and when someone cannot see their wrong, the relationship gets stuck.  The injured party feels helpless, and there is little chance for comforting them by the one who hurt them, because no apology is forthcoming.  The conflict cannot be solved without ownership.  This is why God is so committed to our confession.  It brings us to a better place.  Look to yourself first in any conflict to see where you might be wrong.  That will enable you to see the truth of the situation more clearly.

Inability to Validate Another’s Experience:  Being understood is one of our deepest needs.  We don’t need to know that we are right as much as we need to know that someone understands how we feel and what our reality is.  Making this connection in relationship is called empathy.  When we feel a certain way, we need to know that others validate our experience.  We need to be listened to and understood, not quickly negated for how we feel and what we think.  For instance, how do you feel when someone says, “Oh, come on, that didn’t hurt!” or “Oh, that wasn’t so bad.”?  We immediately go further away inside our hearts and feel a breach with the person.  On the other hand, when someone says something that shows their understanding, we are more open to input about our reality.  “Sounds like that was very difficult for you” is an example of an empathetic statement that draws people closer together.  Taking the time to understand how someone feels or thinks or how an experience was for them is something that builds bonds and connections between people.  The inability to do that destroys connection and alienates the parties.

Play Fair:  It seems that playing fair would be a good thing.  The problem is that fair is what the Bible calls the Law.  In other words, it means returning “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.”  It means that we treat others as they treat us.  If they are kind, then we are kind.  If they hurt us, then we hurt them back.  But Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners do that.  But to you, I say Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6).  It is easy for us to be good to those who earn it.  The problem is that no one earns it all the time, and every relationship has problem behavior.  This is why simple fairness cannot work, for then the worst behavior in the relationship becomes the common denominator.  To transcend this pattern, we cannot play fair and return evil for evil.  The only way for a relationship to overcome the imperfections is to return grace and truth instead of the injury.

Emotional Detachment:  To be emotionally detached is to be out of touch with one’s feelings and unable to be emotionally present in a relationship.  It can be a killer to intimacy, because it feels to the other party that they are alone, even though someone is there.  The Bible says that to love God involves the heart as well as the mind.  When we are out of touch with our feelings and cannot express them to one another, then intimacy is blocked and our experience is of the other person’s heart being far away.  To feel close, we need to be emotionally present.  Our needs, vulnerabilities, fears, pain, and tender feelings must be communicated and expressed.  Intimacy involves our hearts and our minds.  If someone is out of touch with their deep feelings and innermost parts, then shallow relationships follow.

Control and Denial of Separateness:  In Galatians 5:1, we find that freedom is so important that Jesus died for it.  We are not to be under slavery ever again.  But the reality is that many people do not honor freedom in their relationships.  They do not see the other person as a free person from them, able to make their own decisions and have their own desires.  Instead, they see the other as an extension of themselves, and make strong attempts to control the other’s freedom.  Love can only exist where there is freedom.  Our attempts to control what another person thinks, feels, wants, does, values, and believes are destined to drive them away and ultimately destroy love.  Love only exists as we see another person in their own right as a separate individual who is free to do what they want to with what is their own.  When someone says “no,” we are to respect it.  When they have choices and wishes that are different from ours, we are to respect that as well.

“I know Better” and other Parental Dynamics:  Adults in significant relationships are meant to be equals and share the reality of who they are in a spirit of mutuality.  Some people, however, do not want to be equals.  Instead, they one-up the other person and prefer more of a parent-child type of connection where they are in charge.  They have expectations for the other to be in subjection to them and are dominating in their style.  This blocks love in a horrible way, as the person who is subjugated feels belittled, controlled, dominated, and disrespected and the person who is dominating acts as a so-called “benevolent dictator.”  One person dominates with “you should’s” and freely tell the other how to think, live, be and do.  The other person becomes resentful and is driven to become independent from the dominating one.

Lack of Boundaries:  This is a person’s inability to take a stance of self-control and to have a proper relation to the word “no.”  Boundary problems usually show up as someone’s inability to say “no” or to hear “no” from others.  This disturbance either allows people to walk all over us in a way that destroys respect or we walk all over them and trespass against them.  Either way, love is destroyed.  True love respects each other’s boundaries, says “no” when needed, and respects “no” when it is heard.  Another aspect of boundaries involves requiring responsible behavior from each other in relationships and taking a stance against evil when it occurs.  True love cannot grow when evil is allowed to triumph.  When we have the boundaries to abhor what is evil and take a stance against it in our relationships, we preserve the good and help the relationship grow by solving problems.

Summary:  Love is not easy to accomplish.  It is particularly difficult because of our inclinations to do each of the behaviors on this list.  There is a part of all of us that tends to try to please ourselves instead of accomplish love, and in the process, we lose the love that we wanted in the first place.  Love does not just happen; it takes work.  And part of that work is avoiding these love killers and poisons.

Sweetie, I recently heard this song and thought of us.  We’re not broken, just bent, and we can learn to love again!

What Makes Us so Afraid of THOSE people?

I’ve spent quite a bit of time writing some thoughts and comments regarding a recent newsworthy item.  After all of the work and thinking and praying, I’d like to compile them here so that they are in one place.  It’s going to be a lengthy read!  As always, I consider it an act of love toward me anytime you read what I write, and this is no exception.  Thank you for once again caring about me as you tackle this monster post.

The nugget-sized version of what happened: an announcement was released from World Vision, an excellent non-profit that cares for the poorest children in our world.  While they are not taking a position on same-sex marriage, they will now employ Christians from the LGBT community who are in a legal same-sex marriage.  That is to say, brothers and sisters in Christ are welcome to work at World Vision.

I view this as an excellent decision.  World Vision recognized that God desires relationship with all of us.  People who pursue God and acknowledge Him as Lord and walk with Him, being transformed more into His likeness day by day (Christians) are welcomed as employees at World Vision.  Sexuality/marriage is not a tenet of the Christian faith; it is not part of the core beliefs that Christians share.  People can be equally committed to knowing God and interpreting the Bible as accurately as possible, and still come to opposing views regarding marriage and sexuality.  Since it is not central to the Gospel, World Vision decided it didn’t need to be central to their employment policies.

Note:  I have not nor will I state my own views on how to interpret the Bible on this topic.  There are plenty of people shouting their versions, and I don’t need to add to that.  I trust God to parent each one of His children.  He calls all of us to be in relationship with Him and become His children, and we come as broken messes, full of self-worship and sin and destruction and death.  We are so burdened by our sin and we cannot stand up under it.  It destroys us and we need a Savior.  As we accept God’s grace to us, undeserved given our disgusting and unholy state as fallen people, He guides us.  He dwells with us, cares for us, transforms us, and grows us more and more into who He always intended for us to be.  I don’t need to say “this is this and that is that!” about you… I never need my kids to “help” me parent their siblings.  God doesn’t need me to stomp around focusing on naming sin or not naming it.  And so I won’t.  I welcome and appreciate your thoughtful comments on this post, but it would be best for you to show kindness by not stomping around announcing your interpretations either.  Let’s all trust God to call us to Himself and His truth within our hearts and be respectful.  I wrestle with this and you must as well… but let’s not go to that already overly-discussed point in this discussion.

The evangelical bigwigs apparently did not share my view, and several well known Christians began lobbying for the immediate rescinding of support for World Vision and the children they provide for.  For whatever reason, it is trendy right now for people who really do love Jesus to turn around and  treat the LGBT community as lepers; a pox upon the good societies of the world who must be contained, removed, and “fixed.”  These same people proclaimed immense sorrow at all of the children who would no longer receive provisions and care because of those “evil homosexuals.”

That is ridiculous.  If I pull my funding for a sponsored child, I pulled the funding for that child.  If that child dies or suffers unspeakably because I refuse to care for them via the organization I no longer am willing to support and now they are no longer able to fund the programs that care for these dear children, I did that.  Just me.  I cannot point fingers elsewhere and say, “Well, I don’t agree with you and your decision to fraternize with THOSE people, so those kids are going to die now.  So, either lose my support or stop fraternizing with THOSE people to get me to stick around.”  Except that’s exactly what many people did.  More than 2000 children lost support IN LESS THAN 48 HOURS.  And people claimed that the gospel itself is in peril.  I very much appreciate this quote from Rachel Held Evans, who meticulously documented these events on her blog:

I have to ask: Since when? Since when has the reality that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again ever been threatened by two men committing their lives to one another? Since when have the historic Christian creeds, recognized for centuries as the theological articulation of Orthodoxy, included a word about the issue of gay marriage? Since when have my gay and lesbian friends—many of whom are committed Christians—ever kept me from loving God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and loving my neighbor as myself? Since when has a single interpretation of the biblical passages in question here been deemed the only one faithful Christians can have? “

Since when indeed!  I am sorry to report that not even 2 full days later, World Vision issued an apology and reverted back to their former stance because they were so financially pressured that they could not place those children’s lives at risk.  Despite God’s tug at them to expand their work to include all Christians who claim Jesus and demonstrate faith, they had to rescind it because otherwise, children would die.  I encountered many friends who were saddened at this and then a few who felt it was a victory.  After reading a comment about how Christians made themselves heard and it paid off (although it was only a few very vocal Christians who made their threats heard, not all Christians by any means), I wrote this on Facebook today:

“Forcing World Vision to revert to the previous policy is NOT A VICTORY. It is a case of evangelicalism bullying and making threats until it gets its way. I don’t trust evangelicalism for rescue from the sin that would otherwise consume my life and soul… I trust Jesus. World Vision was planning to acknowledge Christians in same-sex marriages as legitimate employees… our brothers and sisters with whom we agree on matters of orthodoxy, but may or may not agree on matters of living out our daily faith. None of the ministries I work for/with check whether my anger or my arrogance or my other sins that I struggle with DAILY are endangering their mission statement.
World Vision was faced with the impossible choice of 1) catering to bullies who threatened to pull funding to children in poverty (an area the Bible is crystal clear about) if they didn’t recant on allowing certain Christians in their doors… but all of the rest of us with our issues are still okay, right? Whew! OR 2) continuing to refuse their brothers and sisters in Christ. These were BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHRIST. We have no right to claim whether their faith is real based on fruit in their life, etc. We do not have the eyes of God and we are not responsible for making His decisions! Although if we were, I think this is what that would look like, and I think it is terrifying.
This painted a “hot-topic issue” as a tenet of the Gospel, and it is NOT. I was heartbroken that a few angry loudmouths portrayed the body of Christ as a bunch of bullies who want our way. We are called to lay down our way and follow Jesus, and caring for children in poverty is certainly a way to do that. Heartbroken.

May I add that caring for the LGBT community is also an excellent way to lay down our way and follow Jesus.  He stood with those who were oppressed and marginalized, and so many American Christians and churches have oppressed, dehumanized, and demonized the LGBT community, as if the very existence of these dear ones that God loves so much that He gave His LIFE for them is a direct attack on our personhood and morals and rules.  Who else do we think we would be better off without?  And since when is that a choice we should even consider?  God is Creator and He is the Potter.  We are just clay to be made with His hands for the glory of His name.  When God calls someone to Himself, He takes responsibility for molding them into who He made them to be.

For whatever reason, the mere mention of the LGBT community makes many Christians scramble for the book of Leviticus and start bashing people with their Bibles.  “You’re bad!  You’re sin!  You’re wrong!  It says so right here!”  Forgive my confusion, but when I read God’s Word, I thought it portrayed ALL of humanity as lost and broken, full of sin.  Why this singling out?  Isn’t that just to make ourselves feel better about our own areas of weakness?  “At least I’m not like YOU!”  But when we are confronted with the weight of our own sin – for me, it’s my anger and my arrogant pride that convinces me that I am better and more worthy than so-and-so because I do these things right… when we really consider the desolation of our hearts when left to our own devices and self-pursuits, we don’t have room to look at anyone else.  If I come to God saying, “I’m better than THOSE people,” I’m lying to myself.  But when I am honest, I come to God with my pain, my brokenness, my life mess, saying, “Here are the shreds and shards.  I can’t even imagine what You can do with me… but I’m Yours and thank You so much for having me.”  And that’s enough.

I think we Christians are also concerned about defending Scripture and our beliefs.  We panic when we feel the Bible is questioned, and we start defending it to the death.  The Bible is truth!  It has no need of my defense.  I need to know it well so as to govern my life by God’s principles as He leads me on the path of His way, but I do not need to defend it.  God uses His Word to penetrate the hearts of men and women and to show us Himself.  Why would I feel defensive?  Truthfully, I don’t get defensive about the Bible because I worry that God is being misrepresented… I get defensive about the Bible when I am being misrepresented!  When we panic and bash people with tidbits and verses to PROVE our faith and shut them up, we are not revealing the Lord God.  We are revealing our fears that stem from any number of trigger areas.  I think the biggest fear is that we aren’t any better… we are just as broken and we know it.   Jesus came to save all of us and all people are qualified to choose Him.  It breaks my heart that anyone would be singled out as “not good enough” to serve Him.  Who among us is not completely undone by our brokenness and in need of a Savior?

I was struck by a thought today.  I have often heard Romans 1 used as an example of the Bible’s stance against homosexuality, specifically verse 25:  “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.”  And I realized that it is those of us, the people of God, the Christians, who exchange the truth of God for a lie.  We add to the Gospel, pretending there are more rules and more requirements and only we fit the bill for being accepted and loved by God.  The LGBT community experiences HATRED from the Church.  Hatred.  Not from God.  From His people.  That is the sin, that is the lie that we have exchanged the truth to get.  I can’t look beyond that because WE are destroying lives.  Resorting to bullying and threats to get our way?  I don’t teach my kids that whining and threats and manipulation are acceptable ways to get what they want… why would adult Christians who actually know that God is sovereign over all things and Ruler and King still think we can get away with those childish behaviors to get our way?

As you read through Romans 1, Paul writes about “they” and “them.”  People like to stop at the end of chapter 1 with their pronouncements of God’s wrath on others… because if you move on to Romans 2, Paul starts writing much more personally with “you” and “you all” and “we.”  Ouch.  Check out Romans 2:1-4:  “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.  Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.  So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?   Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”

Yep, there it is.  God is God and we are NOT.  It shows contempt for God’s kindness, forbearance, and patience with me when I pretend I am any different than the “theys” and “thems.”  He knows I am not.  He knows where I was when He rescued me.  And I know where I was when He rescued me.  I know what He is working on in my heart right now.  And He doesn’t yell and stomp and say, “You’re bad!  You’re sin!  You’re wrong!  It says so right here!” as He beats me up with my Bible.  He points to truth and who He is and He reaches for me in relationship and calls me to walk WITH Him, out of darkness into His glorious light.

Once we Christians are reminded that ALL have sinned, we take a step back and move to discussing the difference between sinning and staying in sin.  Again, I think this has more to do with our fears… we WANT there to be a big difference between the sins we commit and the sins you intentionally commit in your obvious hatred of God and His ways.  But that’s a big assumption… to imply that your sin is intentional and indicates hatred of God, isn’t it?  There ARE people who actively defy God and turn their back on Him and refuse to listen to His voice calling to them.  There ARE people who choose their way and just don’t care what pain and heartache they inflict on others or God… they want what they want.  But who are we to say that others aren’t JUST as burdened and crushed by the consequences of our sin nature?  Aren’t we all struggling under the brokenness of our world, our families, our hearts, ourselves?

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He was regularly confronting those who told everyone else how they had to live God’s way.  They were Pharisees, experts of the law and the Scriptures, and they had added so many rules to the Law that God had given that it was crushing people to try to adhere to all of those extra rules.  It was done out of a desire for safety:  “God says this, but if I take it further and require THIS from myself, I won’t ever break God’s Law because I won’t even break my version of God’s Law!”  Jesus was very harsh with those who considered themselves experts on how to love God and serve Him best.  I used to be one of those people, and God dealt with me on that issue as well.  In contrast, Jesus showed compassion and mercy for those who came to Him in their brokenness and were honest enough to recognize their need for His help.  As God’s people, we Christians are failing in devastating ways because we are not offering the world and one another that compassion and grace; we are harsh about the rules.

I’ll leave you with this thought:  When I pray about this, which I do regularly because I am horrified at how the Church at large, and especially the American church, has treated the LGBT community and how I myself have been complicit in that, I often try to probe God for hints at how to best interpret His Scriptures.  “Just tell me what You mean!  I’ll go with You, just point me!”  Because I want to be right.  Like a wise Father, He doesn’t play that game with me.  He doesn’t hand me easy answers so I can be right.  He lets me wrestle with His Word, fight with it, engage with it.  It becomes alive and I come to it again and again looking for answers to my questions and discovering that I’m asking the wrong ones.  I think a better question would be “What would you have me do?”  And when I ask that, I hear the same thing every time.

It is from Acts 10 where Peter is repugnant to share the good news of Jesus with anyone who is not Jewish.  Peter reasoned, non-Jews (Gentiles) don’t follow the same rules!  They don’t know the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob!  They are beneath us – we are God’s chosen people!  So God spoke to Peter in a dream.  God showed Peter a giant sheet coming down from heaven full of animals that were considered unclean by Jewish law.  And a voice said, “Get up, Peter.  Kill and eat.”  Peter refused, stating that he had never eaten anything impure or unclean!  And God said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”  That happened 3 times, and then Peter woke up.

Peter’s dream wasn’t really about animals.  God was sending someone to bring Peter to some Gentiles who needed to know the good news that Jesus was the Messiah, the One to bring justice and the Kingdom of God.  Peter would not have been willing to tell them because he viewed those Gentiles as lesser than him.  So God addressed that.  And that is exactly what He says to me when I pray about this.

“Jaime, do not call anything impure that I have made clean.”  I cannot see people’s hearts.  I can’t see who He has made clean.  I don’t have that information and I never will because I AM NOT GOD.  I need to trust Him to be Him and to teach me how to build relationships with others, just like He does, so that I can walk with them be with them on their journey to which He calls them.  He has made me clean, and that is truly remarkable.

The Secret Truth About Trying Harder

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Little by little, day by day, we write truth on each other’s hearts!
Deut. 6: 4-9: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

I was driving all 3 kids somewhere and decided to address a concern with one of them.  Sometimes, I talk to them privately and one-on-one, but if it won’t be embarrassing and everyone could benefit from the discussion, it helps to do it with all 3 of them present.

We talked about the problem behavior and I asked, “Why did you do that?”

As usual, my child answered, “I don’t know.”

That’s an honest answer.  I can’t always explain the reasons I make a bad choice either.  Neither could the apostle Paul in Romans 7:

15 I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;  23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.  24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

I explained to my child that I think the problem is that their heart is selfish.  They want to do whatever they want to do, and that means that sometimes they disobey even though they should obey.

My sweet child said, “Well, I’ll obey now.  And I’ll stop disobeying.  I’ll try harder.”

And then it occurred to me to tell them a truth I often forget to portray.  Trying harder doesn’t work.  The selfishness in our hearts doesn’t go away when we try harder to be selfless.  It is easy and commonplace to say, “You need to try harder, do better.  You can do it!”

But I’ve been discovering that trying harder doesn’t make me better and I can’t do it.  No matter how good I try to be, Romans 7:21 rings true:  “Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.”  The evil is inside my heart.  That same evil of choosing self over good is inside my child’s heart too.

So I spoke truth to all 3 of my children, perhaps for the first time on this topic.  “Trying harder doesn’t work, honey.  Because your heart will still want to be selfish.  What you need to do is let God change your heart.  You can choose to listen to Him, and He will remind you when to obey.  And He can change your heart so that you actually want to obey.”

I don’t know if that made sense, and I didn’t get to pursue it further because we had arrived at our destination and gotten out of the car.  I’ll need to tell this truth again.  I think the lesson today was that *I* needed to tell the truth.  The truth that just working harder isn’t successful.  Right now, my kids are already bent toward being people-pleasers.  They want to do the right thing and make others happy.  And they don’t want to get in trouble.  So they won’t hear that truth and think, “Woohoo!  I don’t have to try at all!”  We DO have to try.  And they know that.  But we can’t expect our efforts to be enough to fight the evil that is already in our hearts, constantly suggesting that we choose ourselves.  And we can trust that the voice of God, no matter how quiet, will speak the truth.  “I’ll help you.  I’ll soften your heart.  I’ll forgive your sin.  I’ll help you turn toward Me.  I’m here.”

In or Out?

This blog is ultimately an archive for my children.  I haven’t known how much to say about Matt and I’s marriage lately because I haven’t wanted to document the difficulty.  I still don’t want to, but it isn’t going away, so I may as well publicly acknowledge it.

We are dangling by our fingernails.

That’s a precarious image anyway, but since I bit and ripped my nails off since childhood and have never experienced anything but stubby and crazy-looking nails, it feels especially precarious for me.

This morning in the shower where I do all of my best thinking, I saw an image of a wet/dry vac.  If you’ve done any sort of home remodeling, you’ve battled with one of those things.  They are heavy, they need constant filter changes, and they are used to suck up disgusting sludge and yuck to remove it from your living space.  And then you haul the entire thing – full, heavy, and gross – up or down a staircase (why don’t we ever need those things on the first floor of a structure???)  You dump out the yuck and bag it up and send it away with your friendly waste management professional at your earliest convenience.  Our comes on Mondays.  Repeat.

Wet/dry vacs have an in/out button.  You can suck things in like a normal vacuum, but you can also push “out” and have all of the disgusting yuck in the can blow out with impressive force.  I have not ever MEANT to push the out button… so you can imagine my response when the vacuum expels grossness all over a place I just cleaned.  Ugh.  More hauling, more filling and emptying, more stairs.  It is drudgery and hard and you are sore and cranky during and after.  But for a wet/dry mess, a wet/dry vac is your go-to tool.  Because the yuck must be removed.

That’s my marriage right now.  Matt and I have intentionally pushed the “out” button.  There is so much yuck contained in us, between us, and around us.  We want it out.  But now that it is coming out, it is EVERYWHERE!  And it’s gross and painful and hard and we fight the temptation to just suck it all back in and pretend it is contained and handled, stewing inside of us.  We don’t want it in or out!  We want it AWAY!

I don’t feel lovey today.  I don’t feel loved today.  I don’t feel much at all, except for revulsion at all of the yuck that we are surrounded by.  Somewhere in this sludge, the man I married is here and also experience revulsion at all of this.  We have that in common – we see the crap, some of it is being seen for the first time, and we hate it.

We recently sat our kids down for dinner and I said, “Guys, do you know what divorce is?”  The kids shook  their heads.  They didn’t.  I explained that it is when 2 married people want to stop being married to each other.  They pay some money and go to the courthouse and say, “we’re not married anymore.”  And then they live in different houses and don’t spend time together anymore.  Sometimes they have kids, and their kids live at one house or the other house, or they bounce between houses.  The twins nodded with recognition; they have friends who have two households.  I explained that the kids often think it is their fault, but it NEVER is.  They can’t make choices for the adults, and adults can be selfish just like everyone else.

Then I said, “Guys, we just want you to know that Mommy and Daddy are not going to get divorced.  Ever.”  And Matt chimed in, “Never.”  We pointed out what they already knew, that we have been fighting and talking about LOTS of hard things lately.  And that we are doing that because we love each other and we love them and we want to fix our family.  We know that they know about that, and we’re sorry that it is hard, but we have to work hard to deal with hurt feelings so that we can be strong in our love.  But we aren’t going to quit.  The kids smiled, nodded, and said, “Cool.”  Then we ate dinner.  And that was that.

It was scary to make that promise to my children.  Now my “out” is gone, and Matt’s “out” too!  But we already made that promise, the day we took our wedding vows.  There are reasons for divorce, good reasons, important reasons, necessary reasons.  But we don’t have those reasons.  We have two selfish people who are tired of all of the crap.  We have two broken people who come from messes and bring messes to this mess that we call our life together.  And we are both sick of the crap.

Instead of tossing one another, we’re expelling the crap.  Because THAT is the problem.  We’re getting it all out, and then we’re going to remove it instead of stew in it forever, and we’re going to get better.  And no, we don’t feel like getting better.  But we must.  Because we can’t live like this anymore.  And we can’t be apart.  We are both crafted specifically as mirrors for one another.  We see the real one another when we look at each other, and it hurts.

After hearing some particularly harrowing details of the pain we have inflicted on one another, our counselor recently asked us, “So… why are you still together?”  And we answered with the truth.  “Because we HAVE to make this work.  If I left this relationship, I’d just take my same crap to the next one.  And I’d likely pick someone with the same crap I’m dealing with here.  And Matt would do the same.  We aren’t going to find something better… there isn’t something better.  We’re the mess.  We need the help.  We need to be healed.”

And damn it, healing sucks!  Yay, let’s tear off the scar tissue, dig out the festering infections, and strew them around to look at and examine!  It sucks.  But I’ll tell you what, the alternative kills.  Because leaving all of that in there is going to kill us.  So we’re pulling it out and we’re dealing with it and we are utterly overwhelmed with our own depravity.  Truthfully, I think we are most overwhelmed with each other’s depravity!  But ours is there too.

So we’re “in.”  But our crap, the deeply rooted traumas and terrors and arrogance and selfishness that destroy us?  Those are OUT.  Well, they are in the process of coming out.  And our kids know that we’re in it to win it.  Not just slog through for decades so we can fakely claim we were “together.”  We want to win.  Which means we need to be shredded first, so all the yuck can be lifted out.  We hate it.  But this is what we have to do.  And Matt and I are NOTHING if not stubborn enough to stick it!