Bad Day Blues

I am having a bad day. 

It’s an accumulation of numerous things totally out of my control. Things have negatively impacted me to the point that I either want to scream or cry out of sheer frustration. But, because I am at work and will continue to be with my client until 9:30 am tomorrow, I do not have those outlets of releasing my frustration open to me.

I have been told, on the rare occasions that I vent online (in other words, I am frustrated because A, B, and C), that I need to “Love Jesus more,” “I need to learn more forgiveness,” or that “this is a time to practice love more.” 

Even when I try to describe what went wrong to someone in person as I try to work through it, I’m told to get over it, or that obviously that person or situation needs more prayer.

I don’t vent much. And when I do, I try very hard, even in my frustration to be focused on the situation, not the person.

So let me just lay it out there, when you are having a BAD DAY, having someone chide you for not loving enough does not make it better. It makes it worse. 

Especially when it has nothing to do with loving someone more! Or when it is someone ELSE who is the one who is harming YOU!

I sometimes think that as a society we have split people into certain categories. Group A can complain and whine and over dramatize every little thing. Group B has to be the one to always comfort and ask questions and NEVER show that you have a bad day and make sure to buck up. On rare occasion, you have Group C that can be fluid.

I’m tired of putting that blasted mask on. I have the right to be honest about myself. I shouldn’t have to hide. I have bad days and some days are HORRIBLE. Some days blend into a week and make you feel like you can’t see the light ever again. 

But: bad days don’t mean I stop loving my family, my friends, my church, or my job. Bad days don’t mean that I’m turning my back on God. Bad days don’t mean that I hate everyone. 

Bad days simply mean that things aren’t going the way I had hoped and planned for. It means that things and people totally out of my control are negatively impacting me. It means that the verbal abuse that I can usually shake off simply got to me this time. It means sometimes it is easier to focus on this little thing that is bugging me than blow up about the big thing that no one knows about. 

I want to tell you– it is OKAY to have a bad day! It doesn’t mean you are a horrible believer or person. It means you are HUMAN. 

Sometimes I have to remind myself of this truth.

But–it is NOT okay to abuse another person (or animal) because your day wasn’t as pretty as you had planned. It is not okay to ruin another person’s day with physical or verbal abuse. It’s not okay to emotionally destroy someone just so you can feel better. That just makes you a bully. 

It is okay to expect someone to listen. Sadly, in this day and age it’s hard to find someone willing. Especially someone is is willing to not say, “Well my day was worse so what do you have to complain about?” (I cannot tell you how many times this happens to me! I swear if I can get through my story without someone hijacking it with theirs it’s a miracle!) 

Most of the time I don’t want a solution, because there is no solution! I just want someone to listen. I want to release the pressure in the cooker that is my life before it explodes. 

I honestly think we all want that. 

I am frustrated. I am having a bad day. I don’t need to be chided by someone who has no clue what else I am dealing with. News flash–no one is perfect! 

I have hope that tomorrow will be better because I have faith in the One who is creating tomorrow. I have hope that my bad day or week doesn’t equal a horrible life. I have hope that things can change. 

I have love for those people who are frustrating me because I know a God who loves me despite how annoying I can be. And I know He loves them just as much. 

And guess what? I still think it’s okay to say you had a bad day! You can be disappointed when things don’t work out the way you had hoped. You can be frustrated that people have lied to you and still love them! Your job can make you want to pull out your hair and you still have the right to say you love it!

Do something to help you smile.

If it’s wearing crazy socks, do it. If it’s petting an animal or eating your comfort food, do it. If it’s binge watching a show that let’s you cry or laugh, don’t let someone make you feel guilty for it. Go for a walk, read a book, color a picture, build a model. 

Take care of yourself. 

It’s okay to have a bad day, just don’t let it make your life bad. 

You are loved. Never forget that.

Do not grieve (JAF Camp 2016)

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I just recently finished serving a week at Joni and Friends Southern Oregon Twin Rocks Family Retreat. This is my fourth year serving at this camp that caters to family with disabilities. These are families who fight for their loved ones so they can get proper medical treatment, education, and spiritual care.

These families travel across the nation to participate in four days of camp on the Oregon Coast, because there isn’t something like it where they live. While more Joni and Friends retreats are being set up, the need is so great that the demand overtaxes the supply. There are families who plan their whole year around these four days, that is how important it is to them.

This camp is a place where the campers can be kids, and families can focus on just loving each other rather than being on the defense against other people’s curiosity and advice. Here they are eagerly anticipated and accepted. They are not considered ‘other’ or ‘different,’ they are simply seen as someone to love.

Short-Term Missionaries (STMS) are volunteers who come and serve these families. They are all age ranges, from 10-80 at least, who are so eager to love on these campers that they save up all year to attend. This is not a camp where volunteers put in a few hours of work in the kitchen to have a free fun time. No, this is a place where STMS are paired with a single camper and their duty is to be their friend for the week. It’s a place where they are truly missionaries whose mission is to show these campers that they are deeply loved, exactly for who they are. We have STMS who do bake sales, garage sales, mow lawns, build birdhouses, and numerous other things, to raise money, because this retreat is that important to them. $450 is a lot of money for a 13 year old to raise, but they do! And now many of them are raising about that much money again, so they can serve in the next week of camp as well. The STMs love it just as much as the families do.

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All of our camp volunteers (STMS) Nearly a 100 kind spirited people giving of their time and money to serve

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Our whole family camp! Campers and STMS together

This year our camp verse could be found in Nehemiah 8:10, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” But, the verse is right in the middle of a sentence. What the actual sentence says is, “Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”” 

Nehemiah is an amazing book full of God’s mercies and work. It’s about the Israelites getting to go back to the Promised Land, after being put into the chains of slavery due to their sinfulness. It’s about a pagan king who listened to the voice of God and allowed his cup-bearer to leave and build the walls of Jerusalem once again. It’s about the eagerness of the God’s people hearing the words of the Lord once more. It’s about the joy of finding God after years of silence (on the side of the people).

In this section of Scripture, we find the people hearing the Word of the Lord for the first time in years. They were weeping because they hadn’t heard it for so long. But, this was a time to celebrate. The Word was available once more. It was being read from early morning till midday. And the people stood to hear it.

Do not be grieved. Don’t be grieved that before you didn’t understand the Word. Do not be grieved over the past deeds, because now you have the way to make your slate clean. Do not be grieved.

It is a time to rejoice! To revel in what the Lord has done! He has done the unimaginable and it must be savored. He has brought the Israelite nation out of slavery and out of their sin and has brought them back to their forefathers’ Promised Land. The pagan king funded the rebuilding of Jerusalem! How amazing would it have been to be there, to walk back into that land that was your father’s and know that you could come home.

Nehemiah is telling these people who were weeping over the loss of time and of the Word, to not grieve, to rejoice, because that joy of the Lord is your strength. The joy of the Lord is your strength. Rejoicing and reveling in the Lord gives you strength.

These families with disabilities know what it is like to grieve. Some days, it may feel like they can never find anything to rejoice, but then the joy of the Lord strengthens them. And this camp gives them that strength.

But, at the same time, these families know how to rejoice over the little things. Things that might seem inconsequential to us, but are major milestones for their loved one. And this camp helps them rejoice over them.

Joni and Friends Family Retreat is an experience like no other. It is hard to use words to describe it adequately, because there isn’t one thing similar to pull from to compare. It is often compared to Disney, as being the happiest place on Earth, because at camp, the campers can just be kids. No expectations to fit into any mold that one may insist on being the perfect one. No trying to remember the arbitrary rules of society so that one can be accepted. No acting a certain way so that you won’t be laughed at. No explaining why you do things differently than others, why you walk the way you do, or why you can’t speak.

These people at camp, they understand. They look at you, and see simply, you. You. The one God declares Beloved. You, who God created with great love. You, whose beauty can be seen as God intended, rather than as a mark against the plastic perfection of society. You, whose talents are marveled at, whether you can sing or draw, or throw a ball, or take your first walks on screen. You, you are celebrated for being you.

Here your ticks are accepted. Here sounds that are voiced are cheered. Here you can run because its just so much, and we will run with you, rather than force you to stop. Here your mask can be left at home, and the real you can be let out to enjoy the world as it was meant to be. Here people rush to meet you. Here hesitation and fear have no place as you are loved. Here people will share their food and their space. Here the need for quiet is understood, but so is noise, and what a joyful noise to the Lord we make together! Here miracles happen on a regular basis, voices are found, friendships are made, love is given. Here, angels tread and God blesses those he calls his.

God’s love for you is your strength. He knew you when he placed you in that womb. He knew your life would be difficult, but he knew he wanted you. You were not a mistake. He rejoices in you, every minute of every day. He knows you and loves you just as you are. He gave you spiritual gifts to bless this world, don’t let anyone get between you and worshiping your Father. Share your gifts!

I know a camp where we are eagerly awaiting to celebrate them…

I highly recommend Joni Eareckson Tada’s biography if you have never heard about this ministry. Joni- An Unforgettable Story

http://www.joniandfriends.org/store/product/joni-unforgettable-story-discount/

You can also follow her radio/video series, many of which can be found here:

http://www.joniandfriends.org/jonis-corner/

For more information about Family Retreat, please see:  http://www.joniandfriends.org/family-retreats/

For more information about volunteering at a Family retreat, please see:

http://www.joniandfriends.org/family-retreats/for-volunteers/

Rape is Rape

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Enough is enough.
Society has failed the victims survivors of rape for way too long.
We have given leniency to those who commit this atrocious crime for so many centuries that it has become a part of our culture.
Just as the knee jerk reaction of our culture is to blame the victim of the rape for “allowing” the crime to be perpetrated against them to begin with.

This HAS to stop!

If an estimated 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men in the United States have been raped according to rainn.org, there is a serious problem. This is not accounting for the numerous men and women around the world who have also been raped. It also doesn’t include the estimated 80% of the 20.9 million men, women, and children trafficked around the world, who are specifically sold for sex (equalitynow.org)

First of all, in my opinion, we need to stop with the legal system’s language. Stop with the “sexual abuse,” “molestation,” degrees of “sexual assault.” It’s an attempt to prettily obscure the nastiness of the crime.

If person A forcefully uses person B in an attempt to find sexual release  (in any form) without person B’s expressed informed consent it is RAPE.

Child molestation needs to be called what it is- rape. I don’t care if there is any physical penetration or not. If you are using a child to find sexual release, it is rape.

If a woman’s or a man’s body is forced to to do any form of a sexual act (including oral, vaginal, or anal) as well as being forced to physically bring about release –it is rape. Even if the person is unconscious or too intoxicated to participate–it is rape.

Rape is a nasty four letter word we as a culture seem scared to use. If a person is willing to forcefully gain their sexual release, they are willing to rape. So let us not be afraid of calling them a rapist because it could irreversibly damage their lives.

They saw no harm in irreversibly damaging their chosen victim’s life, so why should we be squeamish in bringing them to justice?

Out of 1,000 cases of rape, only around 344 will be reported. And out of that 344, only 6 rapists will find themselves behind bars. Only 6 out of a 1,000.

And we wonder why so many rapes go unreported.

And if this Judge Persky who has let a young man rapist (Brock Turner) get off with serving only 6 months behind bars for raping an intoxicated unconscious woman behind a dumpster, does not realize he’s part of the problem, he needs to be held accountable for the next rape Turner perpetrates. Because he will.

Rapists are statistically proven to rape again. If they got away with it once, they are more likely to attempt it again. And now the Judge has given Turner cause to be released. And every single drunk college student has now been given a defense for their actions.

We already blame victims–women– for their rape. Our culture tells them that if they were in a certain part of the city, at a certain time, wearing certain clothes–well, of course they were going to get raped. They can’t be expected to actually be left alone and unmolested as they go about their day, right?

We are so twisted in our reasoning that we actually blame the victim rather than hold the criminal responsible. How has this happened?

The media and the Justice system have helped to heap blame upon the victims, and instead of rebelling against the status quo, we as a society agree with it.

Is it any wonder that so many rapes go unreported? Who would want to have their lives raked over the coals so all of society can blame you for your own rape?

Rape must carry a steeper penalty for the person who committed it. The victim will live with what happened to him/her for the rest of their lives. Why should a rapist have a lesser punishment?

Rapists tend to become more aggressive with every subsequent rape. Murder tends to follow. So, when they are released after serving the minimum, many rapists have been found to commit rape yet again or other crimes.

It should never be the victim’s fault for the crime committed against them. We tell children who have been forced into sexual contact that they are not to be blamed–because it is not their fault. What age does it become their fault? Because it sure seems to me that is what social media is telling rape victims. At least, if you are a woman. Because they should never drink, never dress a certain way, and never be out by themselves.

It doesn’t stop practicing Muslim women from being raped. Why do you think it would stop the all-American white man from raping a woman?

Rape is not about pleasure. It’s about control. It’s about feeling power over someone who is defenseless to stop you. Rapists gain pleasure from the power of the act, not the act itself. Rapists are bullies who use the most intimate act to exert power and control over their victims.

So. I put it in your court Society. When will you stop blaming the victim and call it like it is?

Forcefully using another person sexually through intimidation, torture, drugs, alcohol, or fear for the safety of others, for your pleasure is one thing and one thing only. It is rape.

When will you, Society, step up and defend the victim from the continual mental rape that you have been heaping on them?

When will you, Society, protect the women, children and yes, men, from rapists?

Stop back logging rape kits. Thousands and thousands of rape kits are sitting in storage because funding and man power aren’t available as well as no “viable” leads. Keep us safe. Catch those who cause harm.

Rape is not a lesser crime. Stop treating it like you think it is. Punish them to the full extent of the law and actually protect the public like you have been charged to do.

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For more information on statistics as well as to receive help if you or someone you know has been a victim of rape, please look at the website for Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network – rainn.org  or call 1-800-656-Hope

Failure is ALWAYS an option

I hate failure. With great passion. Admittedly, I hate it so much I fear to start something just because I could fail. Looking back over the years, I know I have missed some amazing opportunities because I fear to fail.

The world has made me fear. It’s definitely not God’s doing. God wants to push me over the edge because he knows my wings will make me fly. Fear does not have God’s flavor on my tongue at all, it’s acidic and has a nasty back-taste. Where God and his promises are full bodied and effervescent.

I have been contemplating failure a lot lately. Part of the reason is that I am nowhere near where I would have thought I’d be by now. I had this amazing life planned, working in a hospital and volunteering with retirement centers around my community as a chaplain. Perhaps finally doing a little bit of traveling. I never thought that life would be taking the look of what it is right now. I never thought God would place me where he did when he seemed to fill my mind with such dreams.

My life is not bad. I am very blessed to have the job I do, taking care of a lady who is just a few short months away from turning 100. I’ve learned a lot taking care of her. I am an active member in my church as a Sunday School Superintendent and teacher, which still surprises me since I grew up in that church. To think that these people are trusting me to teach them God’s word is daunting and occasionally nerve-wracking. The responsibility is big and I am still learning. Just because I have a piece of paper that says I satisfactorily completed Bible studies in a graduate level school, doesn’t mean that I still don’t have a lot learn.

Sometimes, I desperately miss school. I miss the constructed learning environment where I could fail and learn without it it necessarily making a huge impact on my life. I miss the drive that I had to succeed– not that I don’t still have it, but it seems to be missing a focus on a set goal. Now my drive to succeed sometimes just feels like getting to the next paycheck. Not that inspiring.

Life is about failure. It’s about coming at a situation and finding a way through it. Most time, if we are honest with ourselves, it rarely takes one time through a situation. We usually have to stop and reevaluate our tools and knowledge before attacking it again, perhaps at a different angle.

God gave me dreams for a reason. I think he has given me the ways to put them into action. I just need to learn how to trust him more than worrying about my bank account.

Failure in the science world is seen as a success in many ways. Albert Einstein famously said, “I have tried 99 times and have failed, but on the 100th time came success.” Scientists don’t give up when they meet with resistance. They take notes and then tweak a variable before attempting it again. Their brains- their hypothesis–says that it should be possible, they just need to find a way to make it work in real life.

To live life as if it was a hypothesis. A possibility that could be made reality. To know that dead ends and sudden twists are great adventures that mean it could still be an amazing discovery. To know with certainty that what you know to be true still has the ability to amaze you when you discover that there is more than that certainty.

It’s interesting. I view my theological inquires- my study of the nature of God and my religious beliefs– as a human hypothesis of God. I have long believed that if I held my beliefs as such, I would be able to be willing to let God show me his true self. My feeble human words can never accurately and completely describe the Divine. The Divine cannot be contained in the failing words that I use. To believe they can, is to shove God into a box, and he cannot be contained. I read all theologians’ writings with this thought, it is their very human attempt to explain an aspect of God that they see. They are bound to make mistakes just like I am. If I have a prayerful heart and ask God to continually show me who he really is, I am less likely to be led astray by theologians whose own prejudices influence their definition of God and salvation.

Perhaps this seems to be very childish view at God from someone who has a Masters Degree in the Bible. But, then again, Christ exhorted the disciples to come like children to him, which is to say, humbly and without artifice. When those who call themselves theologians and have the degrees to back them talk of God, do they do it humbly? Or is it with a certain arrogance that says they know it all? Listen and learn from them, but make sure you always have a faith that is open to God’s guidance. When you speak to others about the God you follow, be honest, say you don’t know everything but what you do know has changed your life.

I have been blessed mightily by the theologians that God has placed in my educational/spiritual life. But, I know that they don’t know it all.

I will always need to learn more about God. And I will never know everything about my faith and salvation until he calls me to his side and explains what it really is. My human hypothesis will then be put to the test, and I much rather hear him say, “Close, but let me show you what you didn’t understand.” Rather than, “Wrong! That is not what I was doing!”

I am attempting to live life as a hypothesis. There is nothing stopping me from trying again, but myself. It’s hard to put into practice though. Human constraints whether real or imagine seem to wrap themselves around me and I hesitate. Why am I willing to do it with the most important aspect of my existence- my faith- but I’m not willing to do it with this very human existence? Failure seems to be knocking whenever I think of going off script.

Makes me want to pull a Mythbusters and blow something up before trying again.

Here’s to living life without fear! May I seek it with a full heart, because God gave me wings and is encouraging me on.

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Humanizing our Demons

We live in a world ruled by fear.
We are constantly reacting to that fear.

We are taught to fear. We cling to stereotypes because it helps us feel safer. We are told to fear the unknown because it is out of our control. We think those who “look like me” are safe, so we demonize those who act, talk, worship, and dress differently.

We now know what to fear. We must fear the “Other.”

The Other.

The non-American (or whatever country you might call home).
The one who doesn’t speak MY language.
The one who dresses weirdly.
That one who prays differently.

They are the “Other.”

We consider them untrustworthy, violent, hate-filled, unschooled, and barbaric. We throw labels at the unknown and wish to believe that everyone who is like the “Other” falls into those labels. We want to believe that the stereotypes are real.

But, heaven forbid, if they dare attempt to label me as “Other.”

It always baffles me when people get offended by stereotypes that they themselves use. I’m not saying that stereotypes and labels are good, not by a long shot. But, we as humans are delusional if we think we can use these “tools” with impunity and not expect to have them thrown back at us.

We need to humanize our demons. Or, more correctly,  what we have deemed to be our demons. The boogeyman that haunts our ideal world. The simple fact of us not trusting those who look and act differently than us.

In our actions of demonizing a culture that we don’t understand nor make any attempt to understand, is in fact demonizing US to THEM. We become the demons of their fear.

Honestly, how can we expect the world to care for the blight of a people group, if we cannot even care to shake the hand of someone who looks nothing like us?

Because we fear, we attack a person rather than an ideal.

The reason I started to think about this, is due to something that really should not have been news. It should have been common decency, but instead it went viral.

A man in the UK made the decision to sit next to a woman in full Muslim garb on a crowded train.
The reason this is so important is that on that packed train, people were making the very distinct decision of refusing to sit near this woman. There were empty seats around her. People were standing because they were choosing to demonize a woman with the stereotypes that have been put on her religion and culture.
This man on the other hand, vocally denounced this demonization by saying, “I’ll sit here!” Even though no other words were exchanged between them for the ride, this man declared that woman as “human” despite the actions of others.
When that woman got up for her stop, she supposedly said a whispered thank you to the man who ignored the mob mentality and rose above it.

This should not have made the news! But, it did because of how rare it is in today’s society for someone to go against the group and against fear based hatred.

What do you think Jesus would have done if he was on that train? Do you really think that he would have been standing in the group of people attempting to ignore the covered woman?

We want to believe that what we know is right. That nothing can be wrong with our stereotypes. That these ‘safe’ labels are truth. And that no one is harmed by them, but rather protected.

It’s time to start humanizing people again. No matter what religion a person professes, they deserve to be seen as human. When we place labels on someone, we remove our ability to see them as human. We no longer see them as a child made by God. A child that God loved so much that he sent his Son to die on a rough wooden Cross to save. We no longer see God’s love when we look at those who we refuse to see as human.

While drastic comparisons are sometimes hard to swallow, it’s also easier to point to instances that have gained historical perspective: One of the most effective actions of the Nazi regime was to dehumanize their enemies. The Jewish people were seen as lesser, in some propaganda they were equated to rats.
The same thing could be seen in the slave trade. Beasts of burden and the lesser race were all labels placed on the kidnapped Africans. These are the same labels that are being placed upon those pressed into hard work under atrocious conditions even today.

We live in a world where placing labels on others gives us power. It makes us feel a pseudo safety that disappears like vapor when people refuse to cave under the pressure of the stereotypes.

In many ways, when we dehumanize others we are in effect demonizing ourselves because we deny the image of God in those we are dealing with.

When we refuse to release our labels and assumptions regarding someone else, we devalue them. We make them lesser in our eyes. We become elitist in our ideals.

We also make it easier to not reach out a helping hand when they are in need. We don’t see them as worthy of our time and money. They don’t belong.

Sadly, the stringing our safety nets of false thinking can devalue the personhood of another person so much that we find their deaths to be acceptable.  Perhaps slightly sad, but to be expected because they were “Other.”

It is much easier to kill someone who is nothing like you. To kill a person who is so vastly different from what is considered safe, is easier than realizing that he is just a man who works hard to provide for his family. Or she’s just a woman who is worried about her mother who is in the hospital.

It’s time to start seeing God when we look at each other. It’s time to start humanizing humanity again. We must not let fear rule us.

The world is only going to change when we start seeing that something worth fighting for, can be found in the eyes of a stranger.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of sound mind.
~~ 2 Timothy 1:7

Grief Illiterate

I have had a phrase resounding in my mind for the last week that I haven’t been able to shake: “We as a culture, are largely grief illiterate.”

It was reporter Maria Shriver, who said this while she and Tom Brokaw were discussing the historic event of Pope Francis visiting the sobering Ground Zero memorial. The reporters talked about how the Pope’s itinerary was not going to have the religious man visiting the site of horrific terror. Because the former Pope had already been there. Pope Francis insisted he would go to Ground Zero, as well as visit with families of those lost on that horrible day 14 years ago.

Another reporter made the remark that with it now being 14 years since the Terror Attacks, the world has moved on. But that it was good to see the Pope taking the time to do something so visual for the families.

As if he was doing it for the PR.

I don’t know the Pope. I don’t know his thought process, but according to the public persona that he exhibits, I don’t think he did it so he would get good ratings.

Perhaps it was Pope Francis’ way of showing the families that they are not forgotten in a world that has moved on. That he still grieves over the senseless act that brought so much pain.

I agree with Shriver. We as a culture are very grief illiterate. We do not know how to grieve. We don’t know how to react when those around us are grieving. We become very uncomfortable.

We, thanks to an extremely misunderstood psychological model of grief, believe that there are 5 stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) and once we progress through one stage we won’t slid back into a former stage.

We forget grief is fluid.

We forget because we refuse to really enter into grief, and when we encounter someone who is really feeling their grief, we declare them clinically depressed. Even in that diagnosis, we refuse to allow the needed action of feeling grief.

There is no timetable for grief.

God has given us this amazing ability to cry. To cry tears of joy and of sorrow, and sometimes within minutes of each other. He has created a physical release for the emotions that must burst forth in someway, to relieve the pressure that has settled upon our souls. Salty prisms that pour out of the windows of our souls, reflecting to all who desire to see our deep pain or unbound delight. God created this gift that we refuse to use properly.

Around the world there are many ways cultures show sorrow over the loss of a loved one. Monuments are built to be a standing testament of their love, belongings are burned so that none other may hold what was once theirs, wailing in the streets for hours to let the world know that someone has died, wakes for people to remember, bodies dug up and paraded through town to show they are not forgotten.

Then there are the ones who in their deepest grief, erase the existence of the loved one from the family: names no longer mentioned, photographs removed.

So many ways to express grief.

Somewhere in between these extremes the American culture lies. Even with our morbid fascination with death, we fear it. It is an unknown, with no clear scientific idea of what is on the other side. With our melting pot of religions and cultures, we have a mishmash of ways to show our sorrow, but also an inability to really let it touch us.

Life and grief must go hand in hand. One cannot hold themselves free from emotions. If you do, you never really connect with anyone. But, it is as if we attempt to not feel deeply. We shush those who laugh loudly, turn away from those who cry, all in attempt to not be touched by the emotional confetti they are spewing.

Sorrow, mourning, and grief aren’t bad. They are cleansing in the most base form. It’s God’s release valve.

He commands us to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) Because a joy shared is multipled and a sorrow shared is divided.

Much like Pixar ‘ s recent movie “Inside Out” says, joy and sorrow must go hand in hand. Joy makes the sorrow easier to handle because it reminds us of happier times, tells us that we can be happy again. Sorrow makes joy sweeter because it makes memories stand out, and teaches us to love deeper.

As a culture, we suck at expressing grief. It’s because we fear to be weak. Grief is all about being ‘weak’ in the face of memories. It’s about letting the memories run you down, chain you and drag you through every moment and conversation. It’s about the release of pressure on the soul and the cleansing of emotions.

Grief sucks. But, it’s necessary. You don’t have to cry to grieve. There is no set rules about how you HAVE to grieve or even when. Just make sure you do, so the pressure doesn’t force a release, ruining other relationships.

We have the ability, we always have the chance, it’s time to stop being illiterate in grief.

Even as I finish this post, we have more to grieve. Another shooting, another school, more senseless deaths. Even when answers might be found it won’t negate the need to grieve. One won’t just get over the shooting, those directly involved will always bear the emotional scars of this day. There will be days in the future when it will suddenly hit them out of the blue, and tears will come. And that will be a release for their beleaguered hearts and souls.

We do not need to be illiterate in grief. Take a moment to realize that Christ himself grieved. He wept over the death of his friend Lazarus, even though he KNEW he was going to bring Lazarus back to life!

Jesus Christ wept. He grieved. He grieved knowing that it was going to be brief. He grieved because it was good to do so.

So, take a lesson from our Savior. It is good to grieve. There is no set time, place, or length to assign grieving. So, please, when you see someone grieving don’t hurry them up, but sit. Stay awhile with their grief, because a sorrow shared is a sorrow divided. Don’t let them feel alone.

“You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same, nor would you want to. ” Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler 

Praying for Saul

You are a young woman in a smoldering town. Clinging to your robes are your beloved children. Your husband was just killed for refusing to bow down to the militants who are pointing guns at you now. 

They are demanding that you renounce your faith in Jesus Christ of the Cross and praise Allah. Your life and that of your children are forfeit if you do not. But, you know the truth. Your life is forfeit even if you do cave. As a woman, you will be raped to the point you crave death. Then, to make an example of you, these Enemies of the Cross will either strap a bomb to your chest or that of your children, and send you to a crowded mall to tear apart the fabric of society. Your children will not escape just because you renounce your Savior. They will be raped, beaten, and given guns to kill others. Perhaps like that poor woman from the town next to your’s, the last thing you will see is your precious son pulling the trigger of that rifle and ending your life. 

You refuse to cave. 

Kissing the faces of your beautiful children, you tell them to be strong. That God loves them and that you do too. You look into the eyes of the vicious leader of the pack, and see the eyes of the handsome young man who walked 10 miles to flirt with your cousin. Neighbors and old friends are in this group of ISIS soldiers, people who frequented your husband’s shop and broke bread with you. Now their hands ran red with the blood of their friends while their eyes raged hate. 

Quoting your Savior, you pray in a loud voice that seems to be amplified, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Looking at these men who you once knew to be gentle friends, you say with a smile filled with peace, “I forgive you. The God of the Cross loves you more than you can hate. You may kill me, but he will still love you. I pray you find him soon.” 

The bullets ring out from the man’s gun, and your last thought is that you and your children will be standing in front of God before your bodies will even hit the ground. While hate may have taken your bodies, it didn’t take your faith. 

What is your first reaction to this fictional story? It is hard to read, probably as hard as it was to write. This story, while not based on actual first hand accounts, is similar to what is happening in the Middle East wherever the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria  (ISIS) soldiers go. Centuries old Christian towns are being razed to the ground, Christians are being forced to renouncing their faith or being killed, many times they are still being killed.

No matter what religion a person professes, if they oppose ISIS they are often tortured and killed.  Numerous Muslims are also being killed if they try to protect their Christian neighbors or are from the wrong tribal group.

If you look at the International Christian Concern group on Facebook, post after post is about the men, women, and children who are literally meeting the sword point at the hands of ISIS who demand they “Praise Allah or die!”

While I have not yet had my faith tested at sword point, I know thousands of my brothers and sisters have died because they refuse to turn their backs on their Savior.

We are told by Jesus that the world will hate us for loving him. That what he suffered would be our lot if we decided to follow him. He suffered the worst agony a man could while hanging on that brutal cross, suffocating to death.

But, even as he gasped for breath, he forgave the very men who were killing him.

That is what we must strive for. Instead of being like Simon Peter eager to use his sword at the soldiers,  no matter how hard it seems we are to lay down our lives.

Instead we are called to be more like Ananias who was called by the Lord Himself to Damascus to show a blind and stumbling man the way to God. Saul was a zealot, the most righteous of the Pharisees, and he self-righteously and perhaps gleefully carried out the executions of those who professed to follow that man who proclaimed to be the Son of God. It was his duty to weed out the blasphemy.

But, one day, Christ asked Saul, “Why are you persecuting me?” In other words, why are you killing my followers?

Can you imagine if God called out a man, a devout man, from the camps of the enemy? A man that who is known for his zealous religious beliefs to be confronted by the very Savior whose followers he is actively killing?

God has done it already! So be praying for that Saul in the ISIS camps. Pray they will listen to the voice and visions that are calling them away from Allah. Pray they will be confronted by the horror they are creating. Pray that God will create massive change throughout the hearts of the enemy.

Pray for ISIS. Not that they will be killed, but that they will be changed. That they will find Jesus Christ and accept him as their Savior.

Pray for the Pauls in the making. That they may speak loudly of the love of Christ to what was once their own followers.

Pray for the Ananias’ who are being called before the very men who would kill them. Pray for their steadfast faith that they will stand firm in the face of fear.

Only God can do the impossible. Only he can change hearts. And he will.

The young man looked at the bodies of the woman and children he had just killed. The words she had spoken reverberated through him, shaking him to the core. 

He didn’t understand these Followers of the Cross. How could they still smile in the face of death?  They weren’t the first to die by his hand. Nearly all of them had died with dignity. A dignity that he never saw on his fellow soldiers. There was a certain peace that he could see on their faces that never made sense. 

A month later, the young woman’s voice still echoed through his mind. He hadn’t slept well since. He kept seeing a man in white who kept beckoning to him. 

The young man didn’t want to listen to the dream man, but he was curious about him. After they had busted down the door of another Christian family, he had found their Holy Book, prominently on the table where the old husband had died. He had been reading it whenever he could, even slipping it into his Quran cover.

He was starting to believe that the Christians might have had something. He was starting look for this man in white. He was hesitating to pull the trigger now. And eventually he stopped. 

God was calling him out to change the world.