Tuesday, April 28, 2020

COVID-19: Our Own Shawshank Redemption

Have you ever seen "The Shawshank Redemption"? Granted, there's a lot of language and content issues, but there are also many important lessons in it too. I've been thinking about that movie a lot lately because there are a lot of scenes that apply to my feelings right now (and probably to all of us in this current season of life that we're walking through together).

The first clip I want to talk about is this scene where Red is describing being institutionalized:

These walls are funny. First you hate 'em... then you get used to 'em. Enough time passes... you get so you depend on 'em. That's institutionalized.

I know what you might be thinking, but this post isn't about arguing the fact that our freedoms are being taken away in favor of government taking control of our lives. Listen to Rush Limbaugh or the folks on The Daily Wire for that. I'm talking about the heart; the personal stuff. Sometimes, in an effort to cope with tough things, it's common to go to one extreme or the other. In my case, you might have read different posts of mine where I've talked about my journey in becoming more "gray" rather than so "black and white." When I realize that I am going too far to one end or another, I work to get back to the gray zone. Thankfully, I've learned over the years how to recognize it and "reset" a lot quicker (prayer takes care of it!). 

Last week, I realized that I was feeling emotionally "institutionalized"; I had begun living within walls that I'd built up in order to protect myself. At the start of the COVID-19 stuff, I had a LOT of emotions; primarily anger, sadness, and disappointment. I dealt with it to an extent, and then decided to ignore it and move on. However, the emotions that I have been trying to ignore (in favor of "adjusting and adapting", and notoriously being "the strong one") were still there and couldn't be suppressed anymore. I realized that I had gotten so used to "the new normal" that I had been becoming more apathetic. I was like Red in this clip where he cautions against having hope; saying that it was a "dangerous thing". His buddy, Andy, couldn't fathom it. Despite his circumstances, he had been holding onto hope in an effort to retain something that no one could take from him. Actually, I had been an "Andy" up until recently when I realized that somehow I had become numb and indifferent due to too much "successful" adjustment. I've noticed that I frequently switch to "Red" mode when dealing with the possibility of too much disappointment. I don't want to "hope" because it's too "dangerous". So, I start living within the self-protecting institutionalized walls of indifference so that I don't have to be open to the possibility of pain and disappointment. Grief felt like a luxury that I couldn't afford. I didn't have time for it. Why should I mourn, be sad, or open myself up to the opportunity to slip deeper into those emotions and become depressed? Instead, I chose to deny those emotions because I felt it was a waste of time to hurt or be upset about things I couldn't control.

When I realized that my emotions were becoming atypical of my normally empathetic and sensitive heart, I had to take some prayer time to deal with it. I had to pause and question why I felt indifferent and apathetic. I confronted the fact that I stuck my grief in a box and buried it inside without processing it. I knew I had been doing it; it was an old coping mechanism that I had used during the dark days of my divorced years. I learned how to toughen up to the point where I could just focus and forget the pain; refusing to let myself fall apart. However, when you have that box full of unprocessed grief, trauma, and pain, the lid will eventually blow off. Something will trigger it, and it could come when you least expect it; and at the wrong moment in time where you're not prepared to deal with it. Bad things can happen when suppressed emotions come to the surface; especially if you're with other people or in a public setting.

Thankfully, my realization came more privately. It was a text that triggered it and made me ask myself, "Why am I feeling this way?" It should have made me feel happy, but I felt angry instead. My anger surprised me because it didn't fit the situation. It made me get real with that fact that I had been closing the door to "hope" and staying "comfortable" in "the new normal" (even though that "new normal" wasn't "comfortable" at all)! If I embraced the hope of something that gave me joy, that would mean that all the sadness would bubble up regarding all the people and things that I miss. I don't want to think about the sadness of missing people and events, so I've distanced even BEYOND "social distancing". A life devoid of risk doesn't equal safety, folks. It's a life defined by fear and that's no life at all!

As I acknowledged my feelings, brought them before the Lord, and confronted the many lies one by one, I remembered these verses:

And hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. - Romans 5:5 (NRSV).
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. - Psalm 34:18 (NIV).
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. - Matthew 5:4 (NIV).

There is time for everything under the sun. Yes, even a time to be sad. It dawned on me that if I was denying my grief, I was shutting out Jesus. Do I not want Him to be close to me in my brokenheartedness? Would I really say "no" to being BLESSED in my mourning; denying the COMFORT that He promises? Oh, Lord, forgive me! I want and need you to be close to me! If this broken heart means that you are close, I am so grateful! Bless me in my mourning and comfort me! Turn my tears of sorrow into joy (Psalm 30:5).  I know that it's ok to cry and fall apart sometimes. If I want to continue feeling empathy and compassion for others' pain, I have to remember not to fear my own. Like another clip from another movie that I recently shared with a friend:

It's not their pain you're afraid of. It's yours, Charles. And as frightening as it can be, that pain will make you stronger. If you allow yourself to feel it, embrace it, it will make you more powerful than you ever imagined. It's the greatest gift we have: to bear their pain without breaking. And it's born from the most human part: hope. - Professor Charles Xavier; X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Grace and peace to you, my friends! Remember, this is just a season! Spring is coming; both literally and spiritually! Winter is ending; renewal and rebirth is coming! "Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." - John 12:24. Much good is going to be produced from this time of suffering together (Romans 8:28). We'll all love and appreciate each other more. I'm sure we're going to have moments where we feel like Joseph; deeply moved at the sight of our loved ones that we can hardly contain our tears (Genesis 43:30). I fully anticipate that I, and many others, will be crying with joy when we get to go back to church again, see family and friends, etc. It's all ok! You can cry because you miss them now and you can cry when you finally get to see them later! Jesus is there in our joy AND sorrow! Don't forget: "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." God bless you!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Going Further In; Fighting This Invisible War

Yesterday, I was taking an hour to pray. During that time, I kept thinking about the song that we've been singing at our Easter play practice these past few months; a song that I listen to every day during my commute to work. The song is, "Could You Not Tarry With Me". I found a version of it on YouTube that you can watch here (if only you could hear our cast sing it!). The words are so powerful! Give it a listen! It's about how Jesus asked his disciples to keep watch with Him for ONE HOUR to pray; and how He also asks US to do the same and not sleep our lives away.

I began looking up the scriptures regarding this scene. I really wanted to meditate on it. One of the first things I noticed was something that I may or may not have previously heard in a sermon before. He took the disciples with Him to the garden pray, but then he only took Peter, James, and John with Him when He went further in to pray. They got the same instructions; to stay there, watch, and pray while He went a little further....because there are some things that only HE can do (and do alone).

As I was thinking about this, I was thinking about how close these three disciples must have been to Jesus; and had the honor of going deeper with Him than the others. You have Peter, the "rock" on which He said He would build His church. You have James and his brother, John. John was "the disciple whom Jesus loved" and to whom He designated as the one to care for His mother, Mary, while He was dying on the cross. These three also contributed to the books of The Holy Bible. With the exception of Matthew, what other disciple did so? There's no book of Andrew, Thomas, etc. It made me think about that some more; about how their faith, depth, and intimacy really set them apart from the others. They went "further in" with Jesus.

The sad part is, close as they were with Jesus, they still gave in to the flesh and allowed sleep to overtake them. They weren't vigilant to keep watch; and not just a physical watch either. It was much more than that! Jesus told them to keep watch so they wouldn't fall into temptation. Prayer was supposed to be for their own benefit as much as anything else. When you are prayed up, you are powered up! You are prepared for whatever is to come; whether it's temptation, hardship, persecution, etc. Jesus knew what was coming, and He knew that His disciples should be on guard physically AND spiritually!

Each time that Jesus returned from one-on-one time with the Father, He kept finding them asleep. Though, we can hardly "tsk tsk" the disciples when I KNOW we all are guilty of this too (who hasn't fallen asleep during time where you're SUPPOSED to be praying? I have!). As so often happens, we are vulnerable and unaware when we are in that state. We are probably more prone to do impulsive things when we wake up and are still sleepy.

It also occurred to me that right BEFORE the prayer time in the garden, Jesus had told a prideful and boastful Peter that he would indeed deny Him three times. Despite his insistence that he would never do such a thing, it most certainly followed later. Peter was also the one who chopped off the ear of the servant of the high priest. This all makes me wonder; would Peter have acted the same way if he had heeded the Master's words to WATCH and PRAY so that he wouldn't fall into temptation? Would a more wakeful and watchful Peter have stayed calmer than a groggy, sleepy, half-conscious Peter who impulsively drew his sword and struck? Quite possibly! Though, even then, Jesus graciously covered Peter's mistake and healed the man's ear.

How about us? Will we go further in with Jesus? What's our relationship truly like with Him; especially in this crazy time? Will we "watch and pray" so that we don't fall into temptation, or are we just going to sleep our lives away (or binge watch TV and play video games)? Is ONE HOUR too much to ask? Probably, unless you're talking about hours upon hours of mindless internet, TV, movie, and video game time. Turn it off, folks! Put the controller, phones, and tablets down for ONE HOUR! We MUST be vigilant, because this isn't a physical battle here! We're not warring against flesh and blood; this is an invisible war against the evil forces at work (and I'm not just talking about COVID-19 here!). Wake UP!

Tomorrow feels like a big day for this! People everywhere are going to be gathering to worship, pray, and listen to a church sermon (as usual). The only thing that isn't "as usual" is that it's all going to be done online. I hope the internet can handle this big of a Jesus party, because the church cannot be stopped! Amen! Our church will be one of them, join us! Additionally, check out WRSW at 2:00 p.m. for a time of prayer. My wonderful friend, co-worker, and boss (Envoy Kenneth Locke) will be on that program leading us all in prayer! I hope you all will gather around the radio (like our parents and grandparents used to) so that we can pray as a church body TOGETHER! If we want to see repentance, breakthrough, healing, and revival, we MUST be praying! Our prayers will rise up to heaven before the throne of God if those of us who are CALLED by His Name are taking this seriously!

Grace and peace to you all, my friends! Stay vigilant and pray! Don't give in to the temptations of fear, panic, and impulsivity! Go to the Lord in prayer and you'll find peace that surpasses all understanding and strength for today! The Lord will "give us this day our daily bread." Count on Him for your manna; all your daily needs! He knows them and will provide for them! Trust Him! Go further in! Jesus intercedes for us and brings it all to the Father! Watch and pray! God bless you all!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

What's "Inside" and "Staying Woke"

The poem (minus the man's name for privacy reasons).

Just a few minutes before our office closed today, a man walked in; a man I don't recall ever seeing before. I said "hello" and asked what I could do for him. He said, "I wrote a poem today. You want it?" My brain was kind of stuck for a second because it obviously wasn't a typical or expected statement/request. I said, "Uh...yeah...sure." What else could I say?! I figured it would be best to be polite and humor him. I also had a twinge of curiosity and a vague sense that this was something God ordained; as if Jesus Himself were asking "do you want what I have for you today?" I wasn't going to say "no" to a message from the Lord; even if, by chance, I wouldn't like it!

He took out a pen and paper and started writing. I was still intrigued, but a little nervous. I was second guessing my "yes" because his demeanor suggested that maybe he wasn't quite with it. I had doubts as to whether or not this "poem" was going to be anything legible, coherent, or even appropriate. I decided that no matter what, I would just smile, nod, and thank him for sharing. I assured myself that it was going to be ok and that this was going to be meaningful in some way.

He handed me the piece of paper and I started to read it. As I deciphered the words, I wasn't fully grasping or digesting it all yet. I was hoping I didn't look weirded out or confused; I didn't want to offend him. He asked me if he should submit it to the newspaper and I just said, "Yeah, sure. Go ahead and take it to them." I tried to hand the paper back to him and he told me that that copy was mine; that he had wanted to bring it to me first (I don't know if he meant it specifically for me or for our office as a whole...but it works either way). I was still kind of stupefied by the random event and could only manage to be like, "Oh, ok. Thanks!" 

As soon as he left, I slowly read it a few more times. The more I read and studied each word, the more it dawned on me that it really was a message from the Lord for me. I had so many questions to ask that man, but he was already gone. I just sat there for a few minutes; contemplating and crying. I was amazed; wishing I would have asked him more about what inspired him and caused him to bring that word to me! That's because I had been trying to sort out some thoughts and feelings earlier in the day; regarding the very issue that he named! Not only does my work at the Salvation Army deal with those entrenched in alcoholism, but there are friends and family members in my life that are affected by it as well.

I doubt there is a single person out there who isn't being affected by someone's alcoholism, drug addiction, rage addiction, gambling addiction, etc. Whether it's someone close to you (or even yourself) this "poem"describes us all. Inside every person who does the destructive action is the condition/addiction at work inside of them (which reminds me of what Paul talks about in Romans 7:14-25). Alcohol, drugs, behavioral patterns, bad choices, cycles, and evil spirits are all contributing factors to these strongholds. However, underneath it all is a PERSON... the REAL self. It's the human being that's been forgotten, buried, suppressed, stifled, and hidden beneath the mess. It reminds me of something Kanye West recently said: 

I’d say when you go to sleep, would you agree that you are asleep when you’re asleep? And when you wake up, would you agree that you’re awake when you’re awake? Would you agree that those are two different states? People who don’t believe are walking dead. They are asleep and this is the awakening.

Those whose souls are lost (or who are in bondage in some way) are asleep... real life "walking dead." They are in a spiritual coma. Somewhere deep "inside," they are aware and wanting/trying to wake up but...they can't or won't. Maybe they're actively trying to break through, stir, and open their eyes; or maybe they're not. Either way, they are still there; even if it's just a shell of a person who is almost too far gone. Almost. As long as there's still breath, there's still Hope; there's still Jesus! 

Finding JOY again in the midst of tough emotions
This poem was the answer to the cries and burdens of my heart! I am so grateful for the messenger that God sent to me! Lately (particularly today) it has been a struggle; a maddening, frustrating, saddening, struggle. It all eventually reaches a boiling point that feels like something beyond what I can tolerate. Exhausted by emotions, I tearfully fall apart and wonder how I'm supposed to continue empathizing. How can I come back to a "relation point" in order to continue extending grace, mercy, and forgiveness to those whom I just want to shake and say "WAKE UP!!!" ?! Even when I make the choice to be led by the Spirit, my sin nature screams inside for justice and all my "feelings" collide into each other and nag at me. I tell myself to grin and bear it as I help the homeless man who is demanding that we drop everything for him and meet his needs; and then abuses whatever "help" he gets and continues to suffer the health consequences due to always picking up the bottle. I tell myself to keep on "helping" him and others; even though they don't appreciate or deserve it (after all, this may be all the kindness and "reward" they'll ever get). I try to tell myself not to get mad at that selfish and ungrateful friend or family member that squanders every act of kindness or "second chance" that they get; spitting in our faces and lying/betraying us at every turn with no remorse or repentance. I suck it up and prepare myself to keep sacrificing more and turning the other cheek because the Bible says love perseveres and never
This was the "verse of the day" in my Bible app.
fails. I want to act in faith and love; yielding to the Lord out of worship and obedience to Christ. I have to take my thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) and choose it; even though my "feelings" are raging and screaming "I'm sick of this! It's not fair! Why won't they stop and why aren't they reaping what they've sown? Where are the consequences and justice? How much worse does it have to get before they hit the so-called rock bottom?!" Every lamenting Psalm in the Bible echoes my questions and pleas; reminding me that the Lord is as merciful as He is just. He hears us crying out; just like the story of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8). He's going to take care of all of it. In the meantime, it's vital to contend for the "awakening" and healing of every person; and continue overcoming evil with good (Romans 12:9-21). Prayer and compassion wins out; not hate, bitterness, and vengeance.

Grace and peace to you, my friends! I'll keep saying "yes" to the Spirit; and I hope you will too! I'll keep saying "yes" to love, compassion, and mercy. Even if the pouting, disgusted, disgruntled, and agitated sinful nature inside me whines and protests, I'll keep praying for Jesus to put my inner "Scrappy Doo" ("let me at 'em!" lol) in her place. It's a constant struggle to get my "feelings" to match my actions. However, as long as I still CHOOSE the facts and promises over my feelings, I won't "gratify the desires of my sinful flesh" (Galatians 5:16). I'll be kind and compassionate; forgiving as Christ forgave me (Ephesians 4:32). I'll remember this day (and this poem) forever; a reminder to "stay woke" so that I won't have to be like the ones that I'm hoping to see awakened from their own sleep. Amen! God bless you!