Sunday, May 18, 2014

Realistic Restoration



“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.” -- Job 1:21


No one really and completely succeeds at life. We navigate as well as we can, avoiding as many obstacles as possible, negotiating unwelcome twists and turns, hoping not to end up shattered on the jagged rocks at the eventual shoreline. At some point the journey ends and we are what we have become, in part because of what we have overcome.

Inevitably, as Christians, we are restored. As much as possible in this life; completely in the next.

My role through the here-unfolding restoration process is to sincerely seek it; God's role to graciously give it. My role to accept it; His to affect it. My choice to choose it; His to do it. My role to desire it; His to design it. His unmerited grace; my unending gratefulness.

I know that sounds simple, but it can be confusing. Sometimes we put a great deal of effort into self-restoration, as if we can plow through our closets and drawers and then stand in front of a mirror for thirty minutes and apply all the right cover-ups to be convincing. We wink and strike a convincing pose and switch off the flattering light to turn and face . . .  realistic life. Other times we turn the restoration over to someone else, an individual who seems to have it all together or a group that claims they can put it all together for you in 10 not-so-easy-almost-brutal-tough-love steps. Unfortunately, they may judge you more by your practiced poses of self-protection than by your plaintive woes of self-rejection. Depending on how they view you -- from behind masks of rigid self-righteousness or through hearts of tender brokenness --  they do a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, determining whether you are yet broken enough for their repair work to begin. As bad as you know you are, your acceptance of your badness may not look quite good enough for their goodness. Bless you later?

Bless their hearts. It's hard enough for people to deal with their own sins. Do we really have to do the hard work regarding the sins of others? Yes, and with long-suffering to boot. The problem is, most of us are not open about our sinful nature, so when it raises its ugly head, our gracious neighbors find themselves face-to-face with a threatening Cobra and do what comes natural: run for cover.

There's nothing much worse than for those who really know you to find out something really bad about you that they really did not know.

What we need is a bit of interim nakedness between the womb and the tomb. Post-discovery transparency is a great thing and certainly helps protect against continued falling, but coming clean beneath the bright lights of exposure can seem a bit late in the relationship-preservation game.

A few years ago ,when I was trying so hard to prove to everyone that I was "all better now," I focused so much energy on looking like things were all right that I had little energy left over to make sure they truly were. That's a surefire plan for relapse. Simply put, if being right for the sake of the ones around us was enough, we would never end up so wrong to begin with. Anyone who has a weakness for an addictive sin has an acquired immunity to those who rightly warn of impending self-destruction. Our yellow-brick road is just a little more yellow and becomes so bright it seems the only path available. Suddenly we're glowing road-kill.

How many times do we as Christians have to say to ourselves and others that God sees all, hears all, knows all before we believe all . . . that? Why do we relegate Him to being a God of retrospection? He has no need of hindsight.

Truth is . . . we're still naked as far as God is concerned. All those earthly shopping binges to wrap ourselves in the latest robes of life -- whether they be righteousness or wretchedness -- are for naught, if we don't come before Him, in a non-literal sense, disrobed. We might fool each other with the latest cover-the-fall fashions, but we'll never fool God.

At some point, most people who struggle with sexual or relational brokenness, reach a point where they desperately want to be transformed. Maybe the person they were intended to be has faded so far into the past they don't know even where to start looking. Maybe they have been so derided by people who have long since decided this dog won't hunt when it comes to true change that they have no one to turn to. Maybe they have fooled themselves too many times and spent every penny on tickets on the repentance merry-go-round and they just can't drag themselves into that again without some assurance that the ride might have a different outcome. Maybe, just maybe, they reach a point where it's all "You, God."

Good.

Of course we want things to be right with those we hurt and those we love and those we respect. Of course we want those who turned away to turn around.  Of course we want trust to replace disgust and our present sorrow to be gone tomorrow. Of course we want to count our losses, lick our wounds and come out healed. We want. Remember though, wanting is what got us into this mess to begin with, and, if we want restoration, but it does not come because we're expecting it from people who are not ready or able to give it, we can trigger new wants, born of rejection, a sworn enemy of transformation.

Before you start detailing the plans for all that restoration, remember, it's all "You, God." And He's ready, willing and able. Not only that, but God knows what transformation and restoration really look like. If it was up to me, everything I lost because of my years of bowing to sin would come back, just as shiny and new as it was before I tarnished it. As they say, however . . . perhaps "God has a better plan."

My struggle was a lengthy one and I received a lot of advice through the years, some from people who hadn't a clue what I was going through and some from people who had a clue because they'd been through it themselves. One piece of advice they often had in common:  "You just need to get your life right with God."

And the smugness in me might roll my eyes and declare that advice to be the epitome of dismissive triteness. When all else fails . . . honey . . . "get right with God."

That's awesome.

Or at least it is if you decide that before all others you're going to get right with the Awesome God who created you . . . knows you . . . loves you . . . wants you . . . forgives you . . . and will welcome you now and forever if you will only "get right" with Him. What's trite about that?

In the sense of eternity, everything is interim to Him. No matter what you did today, you're still the naked child in your mother's womb and you are already the one who will depart naked. He sees dust-to-dust all at one time, and that's a breadth of knowledge that can certainly see you through the whole journey if you will just . . . "get right with God."

No matter what you fill your life with -- from sin-driven debauchery to servant-driven self-denial -- there will be lonely times and uncertain times and longing times and hurtin' times. We look for places to go and spaces to fill and things to do that will make life more real. For some, life seems just a home-bound journey and for others of us, it works out more like a tumble through a brier-patch. He sees the beginning and the end, the slip, tumble and the struggle to stand.

And He loves you.

God Bless,

Thom

(For more insight into sexual and relational brokenness, order Surviving Sexual Brokenness: What Grace Can Do, through Amazon.com, where all of my books are available.)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

What Joy is This?



And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. – Luke 2:10-14 

I love Christmas. 

Granted, some Christmas Days turn out better than others and become more memorable, but all of them find their way into the memory bank. Somehow life takes us far too quickly from squirming in our beds in footy pajamas, one-eye-open, pledging to go sleepless and catch Santa in the act . . . to sitting cross-legged in sweatpants on the living room floor, both eyes bleary, yearning for sleep, fumbling in the act of being Santa . . . to rising for breakfast and a peaceful quiet morning with just our one true love again, Santa just a memory. 

The meaningful misery of Christmas mingles with the joy to become the memories which become treasures which last far beyond the gifts. In the meantime, our "little ones" become big ones and beget new little ones. 

Woven through our most treasured memories though is the impact of our own brokenness, a filter through which we cannot help but see the past in hues of selfness. Like Scrooge’s blindness to love of others because of his love of money, many still short of freedom, haunted by the ghosts of the past which remind them of the years they put their own pursuits of pleasure above the love of others, trading away the treasure of trust for something of so little value that it becomes only a plaguing memory and a nagging temptation threatening to rob them of further joy. 

As a result of past recklessness, some are very lonely on Christmas Day. Many long for a repair kit under the tree with which they can somehow magically reconstruct the relationships left in shambles by their past actions, ripped and strewn about like the paper and boxes of Christmas morning. Such a repair kit does exist and has since Jesus took His first breath among us. He came, you know, for the world, which was broken. He came, not because He wanted to rejoice with the got-it-all-togethers among us, but because He looked down and He saw the broken, which, as He knew, is all of us. 

No doubt some are more aware of their brokenness than others. On those days when it seemed I had made so many missteps that the slightest movement might make me shatter from fa├žade to core . . . the breath of heaven gave me hope to try . . . to step . . . to dare to go forward. In truth, the angels who so rejoiced at Jesus’ birth rejoice today in our healing because it comes through Him. 

What joy is this? 

I will spend more time this Christmas, like other recent ones, feasting on old memories than I will in making new ones. Like that one last gift we search for when the space beneath the tree is bare, reconciliation and restoration with some of my children still eludes me. So I will treasure the gift of hope and remember what is worth hoping for. 

I remember one Christmas when our fourth son, Patrick -- he in the footed pajamas -- clearly confused about Christmas, ignored the gifts and toddled around the clutter clutching a banana he pulled from his stocking. Unable to open it and unable to get help from his wild-eyed older brothers or his blurry-eyed parents, Patrick sat down upon a package, chewed a hole through the peeling and sucked out the banana as best he could. Today, Patrick is a police officer with four children of his own. 

I remember a "very tight" Christmas -- remember a lot of those, actually -- when it became obvious to me that the presents we had to put beneath the tree for our five children just didn't balance out. It was almost 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve and all I could find open was a 7-11, which had a special display of baseball trading cards with an album book. I bought those for Russell and the balance was better achieved. He loved baseball cards, and we still have them here, stored in a cabinet. Russell is married now, with a little daughter of his own. 

I remember struggling to put together toys and bicycles with dawn fast approaching and hopelessness emerging, knowing that if my oldest son, Zach, would just stumble down the stairs with a nod and wink, he could put all those things together in the wink of an eye. But I couldn't wake him. I needed to be the best Dad I could be, almost all thumbs, but with a heart that wanted to give what I could give. Zach is all grown-up now, married with a son and two daughters . . . and he's a contractor. He really can build anything. 

I remember Donovan, the middle son, the hard-to-buy-for son, who never seemed to really need or want much, but was always happy with what he got. I feel a bit of guilt that it wasn't harder to put his gifts beneath the tree and wonder if they were just right. He was a giver himself. Donovan, a former Army Ranger and now a police officer, has moved from protecting us all in Iraq and Afghanistan to protect his wife and two little ones, which is probably what he always wanted to do.

I remember my only daughter -- Lauren -- being a blast to shop for at Christmas. I could wander the mall and find music boxes, plastic high heels, dolls and stuffed animals, and later perfumes and bracelets and trendy things . . . and even occasional pink. Most of all I remember how badly she wanted a set of Quints, tiny dolls all dressed alike and so girly. They were also so tiny they got lost in the Christmas wrapping on Christmas morning and never showed their tiny little plastic faces again. I hurt about that for a long time. No longer the little girl down the hall, Lauren traveled the world, lingered long in China and now works in a mental hospital where she is, no doubt, one of the cheeriest champions any of the patients will see this Christmas. 

I was myself a little one once. One of four in our family. I remember a lot of Christmases. One stands out because it contained all the emotions and angst of which we are capable . . . and proved love to be the greatest of them all. We were living in a very cheap apartment in Lewisville, Texas, falling just a mile or two short of making ends meet. My mother was supporting us as best she could, a stepfather out there somewhere but no longer of consequence, my real Dad only a short distance away in Fort Worth, but immeasurably distant from us as far as Christmas was concerned.  
We needed a tree. Whether there would ever be presents placed beneath it was one of those bridges my Mother said she would cross later. We had no tree and that needed to be remedied above all. 

One evening, after working all day, my mother took the three of us -- my brother was living elsewhere at the time -- across the parking lot and down the alley to the grocery store, where she oohed and aahed over the scrawny trees leaning against the brick wall, ones rejected by all the other shoppers who had bought the best ones earlier. She found a $7 bargain, proclaiming that it fit within a budget we probably didn't have. We dragged it home, set it in the stand, pulled out the boxes of precious decorations, ate sugar cookies and decorated it to the hilt, drowning it in icicles. We stood back and surveyed our handiwork . . . and the tree took a quick bow . . . all the way to the floor. 

We were shocked . . . but she was Mother, undaunted. She stood it up, readjusted the stand, salvaged the decorations and ran a string around the tree, thumb-tacking it to the walls. We sat back on the couch, hot chocolate in hand, and -- smiles turning to shrieks -- observed the tree as it did a slow motion dive-bomb back to the floor. 

Our heads in our hands, we watched as Mother stood it up, peeled back the cheap carpet to reveal a hardwood floor beneath, took out a hammer and nails and nailed the stand right to the floor. Wow . . . Mom! Only a bit later, our hands covered with the stickiness of ribbon candy, we could hear the skritch as the small nails slowly slid free from the old wood of the floor. Tipping at first, the tree gently, like a too-gaudy ballerina, took a half twist, broke free and resumed its reclining position. 

This time Mother wept. But only for a moment. Within seconds, the lights were unplugged, her hands were around the trunk in a strangling motion, the front door was open and she was heading down the alley, dragging the evergreen ballerina behind her. We ran behind in horror, believing out lives to be as much in shambles as the shattered ornaments now tossed about in the parking lot. Someone is gonna' see. We followed the trail of icicles, yelling at our Mother to stop. "It doesn't matter. We don't need a tree!" She answered without stopping. "We need a tree . . . and we will have a tree." 

And we did have a tree. She dragged it right through the front doors of the grocery store, where she was spared having to offer any explanation at all. Her tears were overwhelming. She couldn't talk, and the manager of the store really didn't want her to anyway. The presence of coatless and barefoot kids behind her, our heads dropping almost to our knees, didn't exactly diminish the drama. The good people at the grocery store replaced our tree with one that had an actual straight trunk and that certainly cost more than $7. They gave us replacement decorations and plenty of icicles and even candy, which we ate around our new and truly beautiful tree, standing on its own. 

I don't really remember what I got for Christmas that year. Well, at least, what I got under the tree. But I do remember realizing that love can sure overcome a lot, pretty much everything, in fact. And I knew that my mother loved me beyond any humiliation. I still count on that to be true. 

Actually, I really don't remember many of the gifts I've received for Christmas through the years, though I loved them at the time. But I do remember the Christmases themselves and the people in my life that made them memorable. Sometimes memories suffice, girded by hope. Some of us just fumble through life causing harm here and there, creating our own chaos and hurt. But we also give and get a lot of love and sometimes we bring calm and healing. We remember the chaos and the calm, the hurt and the healing and as they wrestle within us, we become something different, and perhaps much better, through the process. But, it is a process, and, as wonderful as Christmas is, the day of peace is often just a bridge over which we cross into the continued work of healing. 

Even beneath the enveloping joy of the ever-present presence of the Savior, Christmas can be a tough time of year for some, a balancing act between cheer and fear as they reflect for just a moment on what life might have been if it had mapped itself a little differently, with fewer obstacles and errant turns. While we join with others in the “what-is-its?” of Christmas morning, shaking packages before we open, we also have our share of “what-ifs?” to deal with. It’s just a part of the package. The broken one. 

I bring you tidings of great joy. For unto you (the broken) was born that day, a Savior. 

May God’s true and abiding love for you make this Christmas truly joyful. 

God Bless, 

Thom

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

We're All Still Naked



“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.” -- Job 1:21


I was reminded the other day that my role in the restoration process is to seek it; God's role to give it. My role to accept it; His to affect it. My choice is to choose it; His is to do it. My role is to desire it; His to design it. He imparts unmerited grace; I offer unending praise.

I know that sounds simple, but it can be confusing. Sometimes we put a great deal of effort into self-restoration, as if we can plow through our closets and drawers and then stand in front of a mirror for thirty minutes and apply all the right cover-ups to be convincing. We wink and strike a convincing pose and switch off the flattering light to turn and face . . .  realistic life. Other times we turn the restoration over to someone else, an individual who seems to have it all together or a group that claims they can put it all together for you in 10 not-so-easy-almost-brutal-tough-love steps. Unfortunately, they may judge you more by your practiced poses of self-protection than by your plaintive woes of self-rejection. Depending on how they view you -- from behind masks of rigid self-righteousness or through hearts of tender brokenness --  they do a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, determining whether you are yet broken enough for their repair work to begin. As bad as you know you are, your acceptance of your badness may not look quite good enough for their goodness. Bless you later?

Bless their hearts. It's hard enough for people to deal with their own sins. Do we really have to do the hard work regarding the sins of others? Yes, and with long-suffering to boot. The problem is, most of us are not open about our sinful nature, so when it raises its ugly head, our gracious neighbors find themselves face-to-face with a threatening Cobra and do what comes natural: run for cover.

There's nothing much worse than for those who really know you to find out something really bad about you that they really did not know.

What we need is a bit of interim nakedness between the womb and the tomb. Post-discovery transparency is a great thing and certainly helps protect against continued falling, but coming clean beneath the bright lights of exposure can seem a bit late in the relationship-preservation game.

A few years ago ,when I was trying so hard to prove to everyone that I was "all better now," I focused so much energy on looking like things were all right that I had little energy left over to make sure they truly were. That's a surefire plan for relapse. Simply put, if being right for the sake of the ones around us was enough, we would never end up so wrong to begin with. Anyone who has a weakness for an addictive sin has an acquired immunity to those who rightly warn of impending self-destruction. Our yellow-brick road is just a little more yellow and becomes so bright it seems the only path available. Suddenly we're glowing road-kill.

How many times do we as Christians have to say to ourselves and others that God sees all, hears all, knows all before we believe all . . . that? Why do we relegate Him to being a God of retrospection? He has no need of hindsight.

Truth is . . . we're still naked as far as God is concerned. All those earthly shopping binges to wrap ourselves in the latest robes of life -- whether they be righteousness or wretchedness -- are for naught, if we don't come before Him, in a non-literal sense, disrobed. We might fool each other with the latest cover-the-fall fashions, but we'll never fool God.

At some point, most people who struggle with sexual or relational brokenness, reach a point where they desperately want to be transformed. Maybe the person they were intended to be has faded so far into the past they don't know even where to start looking. Maybe they have been so derided by people who have long since decided this dog won't hunt when it comes to true change that they have no one to turn to. Maybe they have fooled themselves too many times and spent every penny on tickets on the repentance merry-go-round and they just can't drag themselves into that again without some assurance that the ride might have a different outcome. Maybe, just maybe, they reach a point where it's all "You, God."

Good.

Of course we want things to be right with those we hurt and those we love and those we respect. Of course we want those who turned away to turn around.  Of course we want trust to replace disgust and our present sorrow to be gone tomorrow. Of course we want to count our losses, lick our wounds and come out healed. We want. Remember though, wanting is what got us into this mess to begin with, and, if we want restoration, but it does not come because we're expecting it from people who are not ready or able to give it, we can trigger new wants, born of rejection, a sworn enemy of transformation.

Before you start detailing the plans for all that restoration, remember, it's all "You, God." And He's ready, willing and able. Not only that, but God knows what transformation and restoration really look like. If it was up to me, everything I lost because of my years of bowing to sin would come back, just as shiny and new as it was before I tarnished it. As they say, however . . . perhaps "God has a better plan."

My struggle was a lengthy one and I received a lot of advice through the years, some from people who hadn't a clue what I was going through and some from people who had a clue because they'd been through it themselves. One piece of advice they often had in common:  "You just need to get your life right with God."

And the smugness in me might roll my eyes and declare that advice to be the epitome of dismissive triteness. When all else fails . . . honey . . . "get right with God."

That's awesome.

Or at least it is if you decide that before all others you're going to get right with the Awesome God who created you . . . knows you . . . loves you . . . wants you . . . forgives you . . . and will welcome you now and forever if you will only "get right" with Him. What's trite about that?

In the sense of eternity, everything is interim to Him. No matter what you did today, you're still the naked child in your mother's womb and you are already the one who will depart naked. He sees dust-to-dust all at one time, and that's a breadth of knowledge that can certainly see you through the whole journey if you will just . . . "get right with God."

No matter what you fill your life with -- from sin-driven debauchery to servant-driven self-denial -- there will be lonely times and uncertain times and longing times and hurtin' times. We look for places to go and spaces to fill and things to do that will make life more real. For some, life seems just a home-bound journey and for others of us, it works out more like a tumble through a brier-patch. He sees the beginning and the end, the slip, tumble and the struggle to stand.

And He loves you.

God Bless,

Thom

(For more insight into sexual and relational brokenness, read Surviving Sexual Brokenness: What Grace Can Do, available at Amazon.com.)