Thursday, December 19, 2013

Do I take back the Duck Dynasty gifts under the tree...

Holy cow the interwebs are exploding with Duck Dynasty today as Phil Robertson, their patriarch's interview with GQ was released in which he said homosexuality was a sin.
Link to GQ article with Phil Robertson

So now what do we do with all the Duck Dynasty presents sitting under our tree? Yes, there are several Duck Dynasty gifts under the tee, for my son, who loves the huge bearded, silly, self proclaimed red neck cast. We all do. There I said it. I don't try to hide the fact that I find some reality TV, really fun, especially the kind that involves quirky families that do ridiculous things but you can see genuinely love each other and have each other's backs. The Robertsons are just such a family, and while many things on that show may be staged, I dare you to watch ten minutes of Uncle Si and not get a smile on your face. That being said, I think it's pretty obvious that I don't endorse everything the Robertson family does, nor do we promote those things in our home. I may not agree with what one member of their household said about homosexuality in a recent article, but that doesn't mean I am ready to hit the boycott switch or grinch away the gifts from under the tree. So here is our struggle, our first world problem for the day, how do we handle this ducktastrophe of media, parenting and matters of faith?

There are many things about the Robertson lifestyle that I don't allow or participate in at our house, and I knew the conversations with my kids that were going to happen and what I was getting into from episode one of this show. We don't own guns, we don't eat meat and we don't go hunting, ever. While I don't like that they create calls to lure animals to their deaths, I do appreciate that they respect and have certain sort of reverence and appreciation for the animals that they kill. I can apply the same sort of understanding to the way they read their Bibles as well. It was no surprise to me that Phil Robertson made the remarks to GQ that he did. What is more surprising is that these remarks weren't printed before, or that people are shocked by them. I could have told you from day one, that this was how he interpreted those scriptures.  The culture where he lives and has grown up is very old school, and holds every word of the Bible as inn errant, and absolutely applicable to today. I do not like or agree with the idea that homosexuality leads to beastiality nor do I find that Biblically sound. However, I would have been shocked if he didn't have this understanding of that Corinthian verse. I suspect that most people knew this as well. A&E had to have known this, they were just careful to keep statements like this and reporters questions at bay, or out of sight until now. I was honestly more concerned with his remarks on racial issues in the South. Again, I understand his background as an older, white, southern male, so I am not surprised, but it is disheartening to say the least.  It is well within their rights to bar Robertson from their show, as it was within his rights to make the statement he made, but I have a hard time believing they are surprised by this and haven't edited similar comments out of their show in the past. I have a feeling for them this is less about the dignity of people and more about a public relations nightmare, that it finally got out.

The truth is I know many people, and have friends and family members that would agree with Phil Robertson's interpretation of the Biblical passages on homosexuality, but I am not excusing his statements. This is not the belief of all "true Christians" as Robertson has been quoted as saying, in that light it is upsetting. I may see those passages as talking about a different type of relationship in the cultural context when they were written, but many Christians like Robertson, do not. I do think however that those Christians can still treat people with love and respect, they can attribute dignity to others, even if they don't believe what they are doing is Biblically acceptable. I know it's hurtful when others believe what you are doing is sin, and it sucks, but that doesn't make the people with those beliefs bad people. Phil Robertson should be held to a higher standard as a public figure and now a role model to many, but the man doesn't hide his dirty laundry, or make any excuses.When someone makes these statements with a public platform it makes it especially unfortunate, but it does not make them evil. I have a family member that would agree with Robertson, but was sought out be several transgender coworkers, because said family member was the only person in the workplace who didn't treat them differently or badly. It is possible to not agree with someone's sexual preferences, and still love them. It may not be comfortable, it may not be easy, but it's do able. It's more important to me that you treat people kindly, your actions really do speak louder than your beliefs.

Furthermore, there are a lot of people that I listen to on the radio, and watch on TV and in movies, or read their books, whose values and beliefs I don't agree with. I will let my children participate in the enjoyment of those things, but I will also have conversations with them, and monitor the content. They were big Hannah Montana fans, but I certainly didn't show them the MTV movie awards, or much of Miley's recent antics. We have discussed some of the things she has done, and talked about why we didn't think she made wise choices, just as we would discuss the Robertson's choices on hunting, gun toting and Biblical interpretation.  My son looked over at the laptop a few minutes ago, and asked what I was talking about, and whether there were Duck Dynasty presents. This led to a discussion about what Phil did, and why he won't be on the show anymore. My son said, "but I love Phil, and he does nice things, he gives people meals, and helps people and says Jesus loves you" I said, "yes but he also said some  hurtful things and made it sound like that's what all Christians think, and he is a role model, and he needs to be more careful what he says, because his words can be easily used to hurt other people". We had a conversation, one of many we have had and will continue to have about our beliefs, what it means to be a follower of Jesus and a role model, and how we should treat others. Those conversations are necessary and important no matter what we are watching, or where we are spending our money at Christmas.

Robertson has to face the consequences of his actions, even if he is free to say what he wants. A&E kicked him off the show. While conservative pundits decry A&E's action all I can do is think of Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers, famous Weekend Updates sketch, REALLY?!?!?!. Conservative media is just as bad as liberal media, or in between media or anything else. They all kick people out, bully people, feed tabloids and worse, when someone does something they deem unacceptable. It's up to the rest of us to decide whether we will continue to watch

Now, if Robertson starts bullying or oppressing homosexuals, kicking Boy Scouts out of his church, refusing to employ or insure homosexuals then we will probably turn the TV off, and cancel the DVR recording. We find, the show which will not be named, that follows a polygamist and his family, to be disgusting, and to showcase the emotional abuse of women, so we don't watch it. It's our choice what we chose to watch, and talk about, and what we refuse to participate in, and that we cannot participate in because it appears to us to actively harm people. I would hope that in the coming days, the Robertson family would stand up against violence and bullying of the gay community, even if they stand by their patriarchs beliefs. I hope they would understand that while their father may be a very loving man, these comments will be used to hurt others, and will hurt others, even if that was not intended, and that they have a responsibility to stand against further hurt and hatred.

Another confession, we used Duck Dynasty beards for the kid's Christmas play, because they were less itchy and way more fun to wear. This does not mean our church endorses the show or anything they say, it just means it was a good beard. Having already invested the money we will use them again and do our best to hide the logo, just as we did this year. We hid it just because it didn't fit into the costume, but it made a darn cute wiseman!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I love the Christmas mess!!!!

My house is always a mess. At Christmas though it is chaos. Atop the usual mess is a Christmas clutter, that I refer to as "Christmas threw up all over the house". Unlike most of the year, this added mess doesn't make me stressed out, I love it. I love the chaos and the clutter of Christmas sights and sounds. There are never too many Christmas trees, carols, or nativities. At it's core Christmas is a celebration of the mess that is life, and the one who brings beauty to the ugly chaotic disarray of it all. It's a story captured in plastic figures, ceramic snowmen, and even bears, that make it look so beautiful and lovely. Make no mistake there is beauty, lots of beauty, there is  a baby after all. It is a messy story though, so very messy. It's full of misery, fear, injustice, and heartache, but also hope, so much hope, and God provides and acts in such unexpected ways. It's life, a series of fortunate and unfortunate events, that don't make sense. A series of messiness that never seems to stop. One mess is cleaned up, relief sets in and then a whole new mess springs forth. Christmas is a mess, that I am excited to revel in.

A virgin gets pregnant, today, it's not newsworthy, it's reality TV. Then it was death penalty worthy. Yet we have Mary's reaction, a song of praise. Praise for the God who placed this situation in front of her. Why? How? To make matters worse, she was already betrothed to someone. Now she is knocked up, and her life, her relationship it's all in jeopardy. God provides. Joseph accepts her, accepts this responsibility placed on his shoulders, and embraces Mary. Mary survives, her marriage goes forward, but don't breathe that sigh of relief to deeply, because guess what now, you get to go on a big journey Mary. Take that big, uncomfortable belly and sit your swollen butt on a donkey and head away from your family, to register with your husband's family. Say goodbye to your mom, your midwife, all of it. Your faith, your dedication it's all good, but here is your next adventure. Oh and guess what, now you get a barn for a birthing suite. There was a place of shelter, there were visitors with news of angels heralding his birth, and there were magi with valuable gifts. All of these things encouraged Mary, provided for her family, God kept them going. Things didn't get easier once this baby was born either, then they had to flee for their lives from a murderous king. And we all know what happened when the baby grew up.

Do you ever feel like you have one mess after another with barely a chance to catch your breath? I bet Mary could relate, Joseph too. The story that was written for us all in their story, is so beautiful, so startling. In their story, there is God's provision and protection. In their story there is adventure, anticipation and excitement. In their story there is grief, but there is also grace.

We make a mess of this amazing picture of love God has given us in this story. We turn it into a commercialized fiasco really, but at the heart of all that there is an attempt to see the beauty, to revel in joy, to be childlike again. I think that's why Buddy the Elf is my favorite Christmas movie character. He is on a huge emotional journey, his world has been turned upside down and inside out, yet he still finds the wonder. He covers every surface in Christmas cheer, he sings it loud for everyone to hear. He finds the beauty in the mess, and while it may not be Jesus he sees, his faith in santa even when it seems like maybe Santa let him down, gives him hope. He sounds a lot like some of the Bible heroes.

God entered that mess to give us love and hope. He entered the mess to be with us, not above us. So I hope you can revel in it this Christmas season. I hope you can see past the flurry of appointments, the long list of to do's and just marvel at the miracle. Yes it's a mess, life is a mess, but God brings hope in the midst of the chaos, and the nativity is such a beautiful example.  If you feel like life is hitting you with one disaster after another, grab a cup of warm liquid, google image search baby Jesus and enjoy the silliness that represents that amazing story, but then look at that story, and see the hope, the wonder, and the peace that can come in the midst of mess.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

We can only survive the sharknado of kids and tech TOGETHER

So recently I have been facebook ranting on the group texting debacle happening with some of my daughter's classmates. Here's the thing, I am not doing it to whine, to complain about my life, to say whoa is me. I've got bigger problems than texting and so do you. I have been doing it to put it out there, to start conversations, to hopefully have other parents take notice and think about what their kids are doing online. It's a relatively small fish issue in a sea of sharks, but it's by looking at, thinking about and acting on these small things that we prevent bigger problems from happening.  Otherwise a sharknado develops and no body's got time for that!

iMessage is something you can access with gmail, ipods, iphones, ipads, and probably a whole bunch of other platforms I am unaware of. With it you can send group messages to people from your contacts. It's useful for planning something on the fly, getting the word out fast etc. The problem is, you cannot, at least I haven't found a good way to do it, get out of the conversation once it's started. This isn't normally a problem, you might send out a note, a few people would respond, and then the conversation over. When that conversation goes on for days, weeks, months at a time and includes over sixteen other people, then you might have a problem. Especially if you have no interest in what is happening, and your device keeps binging every few seconds late into the school night and filling up with messages. 191 messages from 9pm-11pm for example, and that was just one night. Yes you can turn off group messaging, but that prevents you from all group messaging. You could block people, but that blocks them completely is a long process, and only lasts for a limited time before you have to start the process all over again. Imagine if you were getting reply alls constantly from one email. It is a storm of craziness you can't run away from.

I was content to just turn off group messaging at night. I was willing to take my responsible kid's tech away because her less polite classmates were screwing it up for everyone, but then they started getting rude. As kids asked for them to stop the conversation, or to take them off the imessage, they were told to shut up, and that no one cared, to go away. I can't leave them alone in the storm. I can handle this with my daughter right now. We can manage it as a family, but what about those other kids? They are still dealing with the annoyance, and now they are being made fun of for it. Why should they have to deal with it too? Why should they be open to bullying for saying please stop this?

More importantly, what about those kids that are messaging late into the evening and being rude? Yes the things they are saying may not be so bad right now, and for the most part the conversation is ridiculous, but I think we all know that things often start small but can quickly get out of control. Shouldn't they be learning that it's unacceptable to pull people into these long, memory hogging, battery draining annoying conversations?  Shouldn't they be told that conversations should remain smaller unless they are about something important?Shouldn't they be held to a set of manners and a standard of decency? And shouldn't bullying of any kind be snuffed out immediately with everything that has been going on lately? They might not realize the impact they are having. They may not even mean to cause problems, they might just need to be taught, or reminded.

I don't have all the answers I am a parenting failure in lots of ways, I'm not trying to judge or lay blame. I am just asking for awareness, for conversations, for ideas. Technology changes everyday, and it's only going to get harder to help kids' navigate it, especially since they learn it all quicker than we do.

So please if you are a parent, a sibling, an uncle, an aunt, a friend of a kid with access to tech, have a conversation with them about how they are using it. Make sure they understand how it works, how they should use it, and remind them from time to time.  Most importantly check up on them. It's a privilege to have this kind of technology and it should come with some strings attached. There should be accountability. We get our daughter's messages on one of our devices. We have access to her email and Instagram. For that matter, we have access and accountability online as married people, we can look at what the other one is doing anytime we want. It's called accountability, and it's important for a family. If we all do this, if we work together on this, then none of us have to be the crazy parent, and our kids don't have to be the kid with the crazy parent! We can all come to the rescue of those that are stranded in the shark infested flood that is technology and bullying.

There is a great website too,, that has tools, research, tech use contracts and so much more to help you navigate this stuff with your young tech user.

If we all work together, no one will need to be swallowed by a shark while holding a chainsaw. (seriously if you haven't seen Sharknado, drown your problems in an hour and a half of cinema gold).

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sermon 8/18- Be Loved and Be Love

Sermon Scripture -Luke 15:11-32 - New Living Translation (NLT)

Parable of the Lost Son11 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. 12 The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. 14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’

20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.[a]’

22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’
This year our youth mission stayed right here in Portland. We joined with our youth from Skagway Alaska and from Oak Hills Church in Beaverton to serve here in our own hometown. It was an amazing week, which our youth will tell you about during worship on September 1st. Today I want to share something that God showed me on that trip, there was a lot, and it was a privilege to lead that adventure, but what really kept coming to me over and over again, was our value and our worth to God and how far he will go to show us that we are his beloved, and how awful it is when we can’t see that. Rembrandt painted the Return of the Prodigal, which has been made even more famous by Henry Nouwen’s book, of the same name. I could quote that book through this whole sermon by the way, but I won’t. It’s a very powerful book, I think I need to read once a year at least, so instead of hitting you with a bunch of quotes from an amazing book you might never read, let’s just say this, read it! This image, and this story that Jesus told, and this loving embrace of the father kept coming to me throughout the week.

We were exposed to a lot of people that have no idea how loved they are and it was painful to see. We saw it in the government housing project where we worked with kids who were so desperate to have love and attention because parents were missing, in jail or just so busy trying to survive and earn a living, they just didn’t have time to spend with their kids. We saw it in the faces of the homeless we worked with at Bridgetown Nightstrike. There they work very hard to treat people with dignity, and let them know they are loved. We saw it at Northwest Children’s Outreach where they had us sort and only keep the best clothes for the kids they distribute too, because they want them to feel their best when they go to school. The place that really hit me the hardest though was an organization called Door to Grace.

Door to Grace works with girls who have been part of the sex trafficking industry. These are girls who have been forced to have sex so someone else could profit. It was explained to us that unlike in international sex trafficking, these girls are usually not abducted. Some are runaways, but many are from bad foster care homes, or families with history of drug abuse, and they have been neglected. No one has told them that they were loved, no one has given them a sense of their value. The pimps prey on that, they promise them everlasting love and a new way of life, but then ask them to do “favors”. Soon these girls are trapped. They are threatened, they are abused, and they no longer see themselves as having any contribution to the world, or any skill set, but selling their body. They are lost. Door to Grace works with girls that fall into the average age range for prostitutes, that age range is thirteen to seventeen. That hurts me to hear, it hurt even more to know it was happening close to our house in Beaverton and all over the metro area, in the high schools, everywhere. They are lost girls, and they have no clue that there is a love for them like no other.

Before Jesus gives the parable of the prodigal or lost son, he tells two others, and Luke’s gospel shows us that he told these stories in reaction to the complaints of the Pharisees and religious teachers. They were upset that he was associating with sinners. The Pharisees didn’t see the value in these people, they had labeled them as unclean or lost. The religious leader’s thought themselves better than “those” people. Jesus saw them differently. And he told these stories in response to the Pharisees’ reaction. Let’s look at the first two:

Luke 15:3-10NLT

3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

The Parable of the Lost Coin8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins[a] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

The sheep and the coin are so important to the one that lost them. They were significant and treasured before they were lost, and the one who lost them didn’t just sit around and wait for them to show up. They were searched for, and much rejoicing happened when they were found. Lost or not, they were significant. That love is what those lost girls at door to grace need to know. It’s what we all need to know. But I think we forget, I think we all get a little lost.
We want to be valued, we want to be treasured by someone. My generation is one of the first that was complimented and praised and presented with trophies just for participating. We crave feedback, good or bad. We need to know we made an impact and we base success on that. If you think my generation is bad you need to understand the ones behind me. They are used to instant feedback. They are growing up with social media that allows their words, ideas, pictures, stories to be instantly liked, shared, commented on, followed and more. I will often see kids posting pictures, screenshots really, of the amount of likes or followers they have received on their instagram pictures. Their value and their worth is starting to be defined by their social media presence, whether they realize it or not, and that is scary. While they can be encouraged by those things, social media is also rife with bullying, comparison, one up manship. I fear our kids are in danger of getting more and more lost, getting farther away from the unconditional love and grace that God wants so badly for them to experience. Many of us as adults get sucked into it as well. We see something so different in this story that Jesus told.

The youngest son forgot the love and the life he had with the father. He wanted to get away from it. He valued the inheritance he would receive more than the life he had, so he did the unthinkable and asked for it early. He valued things that seemed to be better, that the culture, might have deemed more important. The father gives him the inheritance, he doesn’t hold it back. He allows the son to choose these other things, over the life he has for him. He gives him his freedom. Jesus tells us this story, he shows the Pharisees he shows all of us, that God is willing to give us freedom. The son squanders that blessing and that freedom and ends up with the pigs. He doesn’t see his value anymore, he doesn’t see himself as the beloved son. He sees himself as worthless. The son prepares a speech, to ask to not be in the family, but to be a hired worker.

In this painting by Rembrandt, we get such a beautiful glimpse of the father’s response. We see this very tender and loving embrace. What we don’t see is what Jesus talks about in the story, the father, running to his son, while he was a long way off. The father had been looking, watching, waiting hoping. Even though the son had so harshly rejected him, the father longed to have his son back. He ran to him. The father didn’t wait for the apology, he didn’t wait till the son had shown his repentance. He ran to him and embraced him with his love. The son tries to get that apology out there, says he is undeserving, but it’s as if the father doesn’t even hear, he tells his servants to bring the robes, and rings, and markings of the family, to put on the son and he plans a party. I love the way Rembrandt shows the embrace of the father. He doesn’t hold the son out at arms length, he draws him into himself. How much does he value his son, how much does he love him, even in the face of the rejection and the betrayal.

That is a love like no other. In the face of all of that pain, the father longs for and loves his son. He is quick to embrace him with his love and remind him of his value and his place in his family.

We have a place in God’s family. We have value simply because we are his. Each one of us is loved. Scripture says he knows all the hair on our heads. He loves us, he longs to be with us. He gave himself for us in the person and death of Jesus. The Pharisees wanted to reject and call others unclean, but Jesus says, nope, they are just lost, but now they are found with me.

Romans 8:31 says nothing can separate us from the love of God, nothing. Not anything we do can make him stop loving us, that is so beautifully illustrated in this story. Yet all we can see too often are our short comings. How often do we trade our identity in God in for what we see reflected back by the world around us, or our own insecurities. Those girls at door to grace certainly have lost sight, or maybe they never got to see their value, their role as the beloved one, but I think a lot of us have forgotten too. I know I have. They are his beloved, we are his beloved, even those that sold them into their slavery are God’s beloved.

I tell the kids all the time that they are loved by God and created for amazing things, but I have trouble applying that to myself. I struggle to get past my own mistakes and short comings and see the gifts that God has given me, sometimes. I get swallowed up in the things my culture values, I compare myself to others, I feel worthless, I feel lost at times. Maybe you do too.

I think one of the reasons Door to Grace hit me so hard is that in high school I struggled with understanding my value outside of the worth that guys placed on me. At a young age I was involved with a much older guy and things got inappropriate very quickly. I didn’t know how I got myself to that place or how to get out. Suddenly as a young Christian girl, I didn’t know who I was anymore. It was the height of the true love waits abstinence movement and I had failed as a high school freshmen. In my mind I was dirty, I was messed up, I was unclean. I forgot that I was loved no matter what, I forgot that I could find redemption and forgiveness and a second chance. I grew up knowing those things, hearing those things, seeing God’s love, but I got lost. My youth group didn’t help. I didn’t find much acceptance, and grace there, but more shame and condemnation. They only made me feel worse about the whole thing when I decided to end things with the guy. I felt alone and isolated, and when I think about that time now, and I think about those girls at Door to Grace, it breaks my heart. My pain is just a fraction of what they experience. My own family still valued me, I was in a place where if I paid attention I could hear of God’s grace. It wasn’t until I took a walk around a lake in our neighborhood one day, and spent some time crying out to God, in my head, that I could see past my failure and see what God saw in me. I can’t say he spoke audibly to me, there was no Morgan Freeman moment, but that day he spoke into my life, and these thoughts of the story of the prodigal son popped into my brain, and I knew I was loved. I knew I was valued and I knew my life had a purpose and meaning outside of any stupid thing I might have done. I found God’s forgiveness all over again. I understood that Jesus loved me enough to sacrifice himself for me. I experienced grace for the first time in a very long time.

Later that summer we went to a huge national youth conference, and the speaker at one of the sessions told the arena of 8000 teens that those who had sex were like dogs in heat, out of control, unclean, and dirty. I was enraged in that moment. I knew how horrible I felt when I was doing those things. I didn’t need anyone to add to my misery, and I knew there were other kids out there like me. I also knew that Jesus didn’t speak into my life that way. The speaker didn’t know my circumstances, or anyone else’s, he had no right to deny us the dignity that God had given us. He was the Pharisee, and we may have gotten lost, but we were in God’s embrace. I asked the organizers if I could respond. If I could tell all those teens like me who had struggled, and felt alone in their mistakes, that Jesus loved them, that they were important, that they could find love and forgiveness. Amazingly, I was given that opportunity to share that message in front of all of those people. In that moment I felt a calling to continue to share with teens that they were loved, and worthy because Jesus saw them as worthy, because they were loved unconditionally. I felt loved, and it gave me the courage to share with others my story of God’s grace and forgiveness, it helped me share his love.

I saw it then, I understood it then, and I try to communicate that with our students now, but when I look in the mirror I forget. I am more like the elder brother in the story. I can’t see that I am still loved with that same grace and mercy. I forget to apply it to myself. I see the debt I have, I see the mistakes I have made. I see other people having more success or an easier time with something and all I can think about are my flaws, my short comings, my failures. I curse myself. I deny that I am worthy of Gods love, I feel like a hired hand instead of a member of the family. I don’t see God’s grace everyday, I get lost sometimes. Do you ever get lost?

We are called to love the lost as Jesus did. We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, but how can we do that if we can’t see the love ourselves. We have to be loved to love. We have to be able to connect with Christ’s all consuming, all forgiving running toward us with excitement love.

Door to Grace’s day time facility is all about teaching the girls how to accept healthy love, to see that they have other skills and talents and to learn how to use them. They have to learn to accept the love and admiration from the healthy mentors around them. That is hard for those girls to do, it’s hard for us to do.

We always end our mission trips with an affirmation circle. We go around and take a few moments to speak words of encouragement and appreciation to each team member. This year because our team was so large, we only allowed the leader’s to speak about the students. It’s such an awesome, powerful time, to allow each of our teens to get publicly praised in front of their peers. We try and speak the love of God into their lives. It’s hard for them to receive it too. Some get very uncomfortable at first. In those moments in the affirmation circle, they hear it, not through a digital screen, but in person. They are affirmed for who they are, and how God has worked through them all week. What was so powerful too, was that after we affirmed the kids, they affirmed each of us as leaders. What was poured into them, when they allowed themselves to experience that love, came flowing right back out. Kids that had not talked all week in a group setting, spoke freely about their love and appreciation, how they saw God working in us. They were loved, so they could be love.

Do you know that love today, have you realized yet this week, this month, this year, that the father is running to you. God is ready to embrace you with his love. Or have you forgotten? Have you connected with that love, when you read the Bible, or are you just reading another story. Do you feel connected to that love when you come to church, or are you sitting on the sidelines and feeling disconnected? Do you understand your value to God, that he sees you as worthy, or are you letting your mistaken view of yourself get in the way?

Are you the older son, so bored by it all because you have forgotten how amazing grace is? You see him in the painting too, standing off to the side, looking frustrated, an outsider, even though he really is an insider. He has taken for granted the love that has been there for him all along. I feel like I am that son a lot. I forget that this love is for me too. I trade it in for lies about myself and those around me.

Are you the Pharisee, upset to see God lavishing his grace on the lost, wherever he finds them? Do you have trouble embracing those around you? Can you see your enemy as the beloved one?

I hope wherever you are at, you take some time this week to connect with that love, to try and see that love, to seek him out as he is seeking you. I know life is hard, and sometimes we just feel lost and desperate, and alone. Or sometimes things are going a long fine and we forget the grace of God that we once knew. Ask God to show it to you this week. Ask a friend to help you see.

If you are doing just fine, if you are all filled up with God’s love, then please, share that with the rest of us. I have lots of kids in our Sunday School program that would love to hear it from Sunday School teachers. I have teens that need to know it in youth group too. There are amazing organizations all over Portland like Door to Grace, Bridgetown Nightstrike, Northwest Children’s Outreach and so many more where you can be love, be the love of God to the lost.

We look at the world at times and we just see a mess. We need to see that God is running toward that mess, with arms wide open, waiting to embrace us, to redeem us, to renew us, to call us his beloved. We need to be loved and then be that love for others.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Guest Post: This is Not a Suicide Note

Written by the other half of me, the better half, who turns 40 tomorrow, Valentine

“Every generation wants to be the last. Every generation hates the next trend in music they can’t understand. We hate to give up those reins of our culture. To find our own music playing in elevators. The ballad for our revolution, turned into background music for a television commercial. To find our generation’s clothes and hair suddenly retro.” ― Chuck Palahniuk, Lullaby

I read that today and thought that it echoed my sentiments up until about a month ago. A lot has changed in the past month as I have had some breakthroughs in my therapy and improvements from my meds. Over the past year before this I had been journaling a lot to help get through some of my depressing (and darker) times. Sometimes I would put some of my thoughts on the internet – sometimes I would not.

My thoughts returned to the theme of getting older over and over again. I started continually working on one of my journal entries turning it into an essay of sorts. I think I am done with it now. Here it is, along with a couple of other things I wrote/worked on while being depressed.

This Is Not A Suicide Note

As much as you would like them to be, neither your mind nor your body are, or ever have been, lean, efficient machines. Mental illness has plagued you all of your life, and you have constantly had issues with your stomach throughout the years. You have never been naturally coordinated. In your twenties you managed to get a workout plan down that made you seem almost athletic. Years pass though. Time moves on and after 30 everything starts getting harder.

You start moving at a progressively slower and slower pace. If it took you five minutes to walk down the block last year, it takes seven minutes now – but you feel like you’re exerting the same amount of effort. You don’t make any changes to your diet or exercise but you start gaining weight. Muscle groups that don’t get used on a regular basis hurt the next time you use them. Playing a pickup game of basketball leaves you aching and sore.

You try to run a little farther, and eat a little bit better. Things don’t work right anymore and a pain shows up in your knee that was never there before. You give up.

Having a mortgage and family requires more ambition at work.

Kids need stuff.

Kids get hurt.

Kids get sick.

You find yourself at a desk in a cubicle staring at spreadsheets and numbers. Career moves happen. One workplace is traded for another. Income increases but the cubicle walls stay the same. You are stilling staring at spreadsheets and numbers. This was never the way you imagined your life - this was not a part of “the dream.” But here you are, helping support your family. You love them and this is what you are told you must do by the people around you. Stable job equals stability.

Time keeps moving. Now that you are pretty sedentary and don’t really watch what you eat, it shows. People make comments about your belly. You start riding you bike to work because you’re self-conscious and you’re insecure about your body.

The mid-thirties arrive and things are still harder and harder. You’ve made some strides here and there but your body doesn’t always cooperate. Playing basketball hurts more. You take up running again, and you start running farther and farther but then injuries happen. You buy special shoes and take other precautions. You workout more than you ever did before in your life. Even though it is harder than it ever was before, it makes you feel better about yourself. You actually lose the belly.

When you were younger you could eat whatever you wanted at any hour of the day. Now you eat before bed and you wake up with a burning feeling in your chest. Now you’re taking medicine to keep your stomach acid under control. It turns out other things bother your stomach too, and you start cutting those out. No more alcohol, no more peppermint, no more gluten. People tell you to quit drinking coffee… But you ignore them. It’s your only vice anymore.

Work is stressful, but…

You want to have cable and high-speed internet.

You want to have those special shoes for running.

You want your iPhone.

The harder you work at work, the more stress you have. Buying more things helps – momentarily. But then you need a little more money. You work a little harder, you climb up the ladder a bit, get a little more money to pay for stuff, you buy more stuff and then you need a little more money.

You have had anxiety attacks all your life. They got worse and worse, and you taught yourself to deal with them. But now they are happening all the time. You are having them so much the muscles in your chest start getting sore. There are knots in your shoulders and back. It becomes another pain you learn to deal with. Lying in bed at night your wife puts her hand on your chest and asks in alarm why your heart is beating so fast. It’s just another anxiety attack. You have a presentation tomorrow, or you ate too many cookies, or that one person in the office that you can’t deal with is in your head and you can’t think about anything else.

Mental illness is taking its toll - depression, OCD, anxiety disorder. It was always there, you just didn’t recognize it for what it was. After your first child was born you started having suicide fantasies more often. You weren’t sure how you could be so sad when you should be so happy with your life.

Different therapists have had different solutions. Some fell asleep while you were talking to them. You quit some of them. Eventually, you find one you like that helps you deal with these things in productive ways.

Therapy helps, but it is apparent there are chemical issues. There is a family history of mental illness. You’ve started different meds in the past, and quit different meds in the past. You worried about their effect on your creativity. You worried about society’s perception of you. You don’t worry anymore –they are a necessity. They are your new normal. You still don’t tell people though. You try to keep it a secret at work and amongst acquaintances. Only your friends ever get told the truth – if you tell them. You don’t want it to be a secret, but it isn’t exactly a conversation starter. Writing about it on the internet helps.

Depression is the hardest to deal with. The broad spectrum light on your desk isn’t helping as much as you hoped it would. The meds you’re on don’t seem to be effective anymore. Melancholy comes in waves, lasting weeks. Sadness doesn’t even seem to have a reason any more – it is just your state of being. Paxil, Neurontin, Zoloft, Sertraline… 50 milligrams, 100 milligrams, 150 milligrams, 200 milligrams… None of it keeps the suicide fantasies away.

You imagine getting a gun – you know plenty of people that have them – putting the barrel in your mouth or under your chin and pulling the trigger. You heard that if you wrap a towel around your head it keeps the brains from making a big mess everywhere; a courtesy to those that will find you.

You imagine slitting your wrists. To do it right you have to make a horizontal cut, and then a cut perpendicular along the vein to really let it bleed out. If you do it in the bathtub they can just pull the plug and let it all drain away.

You imagine jumping from the Hawthorne Bridge into the Willamette River. The current is strong and supposedly un-swimmable. It’s supposed to drown you. Turns out the Willamette River is pretty swimmable though. That won’t really work. Maybe walking out into the surf at the beach and letting a riptide get you?

You imagine filling the bath, getting one of the radio cassette decks and an extension cord and dropping it into the tub after you’re in it. That might be easier than slitting the wrists - easier to follow through with at least. Once you let go of the radio that’s it.

You imagine running the car in the garage and letting the carbon-monoxide build-up. Someone down the street from you did that in high-school so you know it works.

People keep jumping from the Vista Bridge. That seems to be a sure fire way to get it done. A long drop onto concrete. You haven’t heard of anyone surviving. It disrupts traffic and MAX though – depending on where you land. That makes it hard to keep the suicide low profile. Some people want to put up barriers to stop the jumpers.

When you were young you were idyllic. You thought the world could be changed. Now that you’re older, you’ve seen more of the world. You’ve become jaded to try and protect yourself from the disappointment. Change might be able to happen but it takes time. Nothing much will be different when you die. People will still hate each other and treat each other like crap. Humanity will keep destroying the planet we live on, bringing everyone closer to an inescapable apocalypse that no one can survive because the planet won’t be able to sustain life. Everyone only cares about right now and pays no regard to next year, next month, tomorrow or even later today.

You can’t watch or listen to the news anymore. Even the least biased seeming reports can set you off. Certain music can take you back to another time and place in your mind and some songs can almost make you cry. Like your diet, you have to be careful about what media you consume and when you consume it.

You’re tired of trying to ignore the problems in the world that have no direct effect on you.

You’re tired of pretending the ones that have a direct effect on you don’t.

You’re tired of the extremes on either side of an issue being the loudest and getting all the attention.

You want to be able to yell at all the selfish destructive people in the world, but you’re one of them, doing the same things in a slightly different way.

Even if you do yell, no one will change.

Not overnight.
You turn 40 this year. You have a marathon under your belt – running helps relieve the stress. You want to run another one. In fact, you want to run an ultra if you can. 40 miles on your 40th birthday. You track your mileage and speed and weight and calories. It’s better than obsessing over real problems. 40mg of Citalopram seem to be making you less anxiety prone, but it’s not doing anything for the OCD.

As 40 approaches, you’re getting better at being crazy. (No one else likes you calling it that but you don’t care.) If you make an effort you can catch negative thoughts and challenge them. You can redirect them and avoid the spins and spirals of the past. It is harder then you thought it would be though. It takes a lot of effort and is mentally exhausting. It is harder to wake up in the morning. Once you do get out of bed it is hard to get moving. Some mornings you miss your run. Some mornings you don’t even manage to walk the dog. That dog is your baby and this is the only thing she needs from you and you can’t make it happen. But you don’t spin on it – you challenge. The dog will be okay – she has her pills too. She will get a walk tonight or tomorrow. She is not neglected.

That right there – that was hard for you. That took effort and it made you feel a little more tired. Just writing this makes you tired. Writing this is a way of processing these feelings. You journal to help challenge and redirect the negative thoughts. It works – but sometimes you journal like this. You pull out this document and edit and rework things. This document is a good representation of how you feel, and how you have felt.

This document is not your suicide note – this document is the turning point. You turn 40 in three days. You may have convinced yourself that it is just a number. Yes you are slower. Yes, things are harder. Everyone else goes through the same things. You know this.

On Sunday, when you are 40 years and one day old, things will not be different. You will be the same as you are today, when you are 39 years and 362 days old.

Things will be fine.

Something Else I Wrote About Depression – sort of in conjunction with the last thing, but not exactly
The imbalance of chemicals in my head and the bad things in the world make me feel like I’m under a heavy blanket. It’s early in the morning and the alarm is going off. I know I need to wake up and get out of bed but I’m so tired and the blanket is so heavy.

Instead of pushing the blanket off, getting out of bed and turning off the alarm, I let the blanket muffle the noise. Maybe someone else will turn off the alarm… eventually. The blanket is so heavy.

A part of me thinks I should get out of bed and face the day. The heavy blanket makes it so hard though. I know that by staying in bed I’m messing things up but the other part of me knows how much more I would mess things up if I got out of bed. I’m too tired to be effective to anyone so I might as well stay in bed and spare everyone my inadequacies. Maybe it would be easier to just stay in bed forever.

But there are people in my life that care about me. They coax me out of bed. They try to convince me that I won’t screw everything up. They are supportive and loving and caring.

That heavy blanket still covers me though – they can’t make the blanket go away, try as they might. Sometimes, I just have to make my way through the day under the blanket. Things are muffled. It is hot and hard to breath. The blanket can trip me when I’m not careful. I just don’t know how to get out from under the blanket.

My wife can help. My therapist can help. My children can help. My canine companions help. I wish that my faith in God could help, but it doesn’t present the same relief it once did. I ask God why I have this blanket over me all the time and it seems like I don’t get a response. It makes me feel neglected - unwanted. I end up talking to God less and less.

It feels like I have been under the blanket for months now. I’ve been weighed down. It has been stuffy and the air is stale. I keep getting tripped up. The relief provided by those around me gets shorter and shorter. They can’t all be there all the time.

But now I have new chemicals to combat the ones in my head. It may not go well at first – I have had bad reactions in the past. I will need the help of loved ones and those I confide in to help me with the blanket. It may wrap itself more tightly, it may grow in size, and it may become thicker and more stifling. Hopefully the blanket will become thinner though. Hopefully the blanket will become smaller in size. Hopefully, the blanket will eventually go away.

Please God, take the blanket away.

Sertraline hydrochloride – according to Wikipedia with commentary by me

Mechanism of action for sertraline hydrochloride:

Sertraline is primarily a serotonin reuptake inhibitor, with a binding affinity of 3.3 nanomolars. Therapeutic doses of sertraline (50–200 mg/day) taken by patients for four weeks resulted in 80–90% inhibition of serotonin transporter in striatum as measured by positron emission tomography. A daily 9 mg dose was sufficient to inhibit 50% of serotonin transporter.

Sertraline is also a dopamine reuptake inhibitor, with an affinity of 315 nanomolars, a Sigma-1 receptor agonist with 5% of its serotonin reuptake inhibitor potency, and an Alpha-1 adrenoreceptor antagonist with 1–10% of its serotonin reuptake inhibitor potency. However, though confirming sertraline’s high affinity for Sigma-1 receptors, different studies suggest that the drug actually behaves as an antagonist at those.

Sertraline demonstrated anti-fungal activity against Candida species in vivo.

I hate mushrooms.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Blogging OUR story,not just my own, somewhere else this week

I have the great privilege to be a part of a youth mission team of three different groups, serving in our hometown this week. It has been incredibly eye opening. I am blogging about the trip here:

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A tale of two grandmas

My Grandma is on her way home, her final and eternal home. She is in hospice now with hours or possibly days to live. I'm sad for my grandpa, I'm sad for my uncle, my cousins, and my mom of course, but I am happy. I am happy for my grandmother. I am not happy for her pain, her anxiety or the way she has spent her last few coherent days, but I am happy her suffering is ending. I am happy that she will be restored and made new. I am happy that her battle with untreated, and severe mental illness is almost over and I am happy that someday, I will get to meet the grandma that the rest of my family knows so well.

My cousins and their kids are compiling memories of Gigi, and I am struggling to understand what I can contribute and why our experiences were so different. While I have a few good memories to add, memories of songs, stories, and lobster tail dinners, I have to wade through an overwhelming amount of bad memories to find them.  They grew up seeing the sweet side of her, while I from a very young age experienced the worst parts of her mental illness. I came along a lot later than the rest, and my mom wasn't favored as highly as their dad by Grandma. While they looked forward to her visits and staying at her house, I wondered which Grandma I would encounter. I saw glimpses of the woman my cousins saw, but I also saw something very different. Would I see the one who sang to me, or would I see the one who said horrible things to her daughter, my mother? Would she tell me a story from the olden days or accuse me of trying to blind her and kill my grandfather with my picture book at the age of four? They saw this side of her as they got older, I saw it from the beginning. Their kids remember a sweet old lady, who babysat them, mine remember a scary woman that tried to bite their mother. It's as if we knew two different people. Their dad, was my grandma's favorite, and for some reason my mom, even though she was an amazing kid was never good enough and I knew that she felt that way, I saw it. The last time I saw her, her illnesses both physically and mentally were taking a severe toll, and in the course of a normal conversation about the kids, she started saying spiteful, hurtful things about my mother. So it is hard for me to look past those things and see the sweet doting grandma. My grandmother can really be a sweet woman, but she can also be very cruel.

She suffers from Bi Polar disorder which she has long refused to acknowledge or get treatment for. She experienced a great deal of hardship due to the mental illness of her own family members. She lived through her sister's shock treatments and the suicide attempt that left her sister in a coma for a very long time.  I don't blame her for not wanting to admit she had a problem or seek treatment. The state of mental health treatment during the time she was raised was horrific.

I really don't blame her for all of those things I have heard her say over the years to my mother, horribly cruel things. Nor do I blame her for ripping my niece away from us a day after my high school graduation after calling my mom a horrible mother and telling all my graduation party guests what an awful woman she was. Those things push out my good memories of her, and fill up my memory bank, but I know that's not who she would choose to be. I know she wasn't in her right mind when she said those things. I know that the sweet grandma my cousins knew was the real grandma. The one that I got to see so often was the woman ravaged by mental illness, too afraid to admit that it was there.

I'm glad that the real grandma is getting a chance to return even if it's in heaven instead of here with us. She has suffered a long time, and lived a very full life. Her faith that she held to so strongly for many years will bring her to the God that will make her well. She raised two kids with my grandfather. had 5 grandkids and more great grands than I can count. She taught Sunday School, wrote plays for the church, shared her faith with others and was very generous. She was a good woman, but her illness stole a lot of that from her especially later in life. She has spent her years lately in a home being faithfully visited by my grandfather everyday, and my mom as often as she would allow. Her health has been deteriorating quickly and her body is giving up. It's time for her to go home to the God that loves her, and wants to free her of all of the pain.

So I will try to keep the good memories at the forefront of my mind and honor her in that way. I will try and crowd those other memories out with the memories of the swims in their neighbor's pool, catching fireflies, road trips to visit my cousins and swinging on the tree swing in her front yard.

She had illness but she also had faith. She believed in the same savior that I do. I know he is waiting to welcome her home. My mom found this poem today, and it brings me comfort and reassurance that she will be healed soon. I wish she could have been healed here, and I will never understand why some today are healed and some suffer, but I know Christ is the redeemer, and he will redeem my grandma. I am excited to meet this woman someday, with no fears or reservations about what her mind will make her say, because she will be whole and she will be well, the next time we see each other.

Christ the Healer by my grandma
When the Lord came down from His mountain speaking
The crowds clung to Him still eagerly seeking;
For Christ had captured them heart and soul.
Then a leper came asking to be made whole.
Jesus stretched forth His hand and the man was made well.
When He went on His way, Christ asked him not to tell.

There soon came another, a leader from Rome,
Whose servant was lying so ill at his home.
The centurion was naturally haughty and proud,
But he came to Christ humbly and with his head bowed.
Asking only that Christ speak the words of health --
His faith not his gold was the source of his wealth.

While Christ was staying at Peter’s house,
He healed the mother of Peter’s spouse.
And many others were healed by God.
Through His only son --- Christ’s mercy was broad.
His wonders were many as He healed all those ill.
Even storms out as sea bowed to Christ’s words be still.

As Christ told the Scribes so long ago,
His healing the sick was merely to show
That the main reason for the Savior’s birth
Was to heal all the sins of the men on this earth.
Our bodily ills are ever so slight
Compared to our sick soul’s dreadful plight.

The Pharisees were most distressed
When they observed the men Christ blessed.
They asked the disciples why their Master had dinners
With the Publicans and the worst of sinners.
Christ’s answer to them was sure, strong, and quick --
The Physician is sent for those who are sick.

Christ preached day and night and healed as He went
And prayed to His Father that more might be sent
To carry the Gospel to men of all ages,
We need not be wise men nor eloquent sages.
We need only faith --- God supplies all the rest.
To make us equal to meet every test.

Friday, May 31, 2013

I would rather go to hell than follow a God that excludes gay kids from His buildings

Did you ever play that hand game, when you were little, "Here is the church, here is the steeple"? It says open the doors and see all the people. It never talked about what kind of people, I always assumed it was all kinds of people. I grew up in churches that welcomed all kinds of people, even the janitor with the naked lady tattooed on his arm. Guest preachers of all races, gender, class etc were welcome. Catholic priests could give a message as well as my protestant dad. I guess the rhyme does say open the doors and see all the people, it's doesn't say open the doors and walk right in. It seems today that there are some conditions to be met before you might be allowed in. Sadly there is a perception by many outside of the church that the rhyme is more like, "Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and let in the right kind of people".

I have a scandalous secret for you. It may rock your world, it might even shake your faith. Here it is, every Sunday there are people different from you sitting in your church and I think God himself would welcome them there. You know what, there are sinners sitting in church too.  Really, I know it's scandalous but there are. Your pastor he or she is a sinner. Yep, sorry to burst your bubble, your spiritual guide is not perfect.  Guess what, you sin too. Yes that's right and so do I. None of us is perfect. We all hurt people in different ways, we each have our own level's of apathy, we don't always do the right thing and we are allowed into church every Sunday. We are allowed to come to worship God, and be a part of a fellowship of believers. Regardless of our choices in life, of how we were born, of our socioeconomic class, race, etc. no matter what our faith even,  we are allowed and should be welcomed into the church. This is why I am still smoldering with anger about the many stories in the news this week, about churches considering banning Boy Scouts from their buildings. I am not a big Boy Scout cheerleader, far from it, I am secretly hoping to never have to dress my son up in a scout uniform. That's just because our family can't handle one more commitment and  the thought of being a den mother makes my skin crawl.  It has nothing to do with how I feel about their moral compass. Churches this week, all across the country are talking about kicking out the scouts because they lifted a ban on gay kids. These churches are even considering starting their own scouting programs.

This denying groups of people admittance into your church seems to go against everything I know about Jesus, and everything I have come to love about the church. I am not going to get into whether or not homosexuality is a sin, in this post, or any other. I hate that argument and I hate that it has come to define so much of Christianity. What I think is deplorable about this whole thing, is that churches would think they have the right to keep anybody out, because of their perceived "sin". Jesus came to this earth and hung out with EVERYONE, and he talked about the fact that all of us have issues.  He didn't let people's issues get in the way of his love for them.  He hung out with those that were regarded as the worst, the misfits, the outcasts. If he had issues with a person's behavior he worked that out with them quietly as he spoke love into their life. He accepted them first, reached across cultural lines to make them feel welcome in his presence. He scared off those that were going to cast the first stone.  It was the religious leaders that he publicly chastised, and the salesmen commissioned by the leaders that he ran out of the temple.

You don't endorse someone's choices or behaviors by letting them into your church. You don't get to decide who can come and who can't.  We are the body of Christ. He is the head, the boss. So let's harken back to the 90s, really look at the gospels and think about WWJD. It doesn't matter what people are doing, whether it's sin or not, if they are repentant or not, they can be there, Jesus loves them.

Admittedly, I'm just a youth pastor, or actually Director of youth ministries, some people get upset when the term pastor is used to describe me, even though it's the easiest way to communicate what I do, and most resembles the duties I perform.  All I have though is a bachelor's in Bible, Theology and Youth Ministry, and 17+ years of experience working in churches, and faith that goes back as far as I can remember. I am not ordained, I do not have an expensive seminary degree, or a PHD, I haven't published any books or pastored a big church.  So you can judge for yourself how qualified or not, I am to make these statements, you can discount my opinion, you can cast me as naive. That's fine. I used to get easily offended by that, but I won't anymore, because I have seen far too many people with far bigger qualifications than mine, make horrible, misleading statements about the Gospel. I have heard people with "certifiable authority" say things in the name of Christianity that sound nothing  like the Jesus I know.

If those experts are right, if Jesus is exclusive, and discriminating towards certain "sins" or certain kinds of people,if he isn't full of grace for all, if his love isn't bigger than anything I can muster then I would rather be wrong. I would rather live in my ignorance. I would rather go to hell myself, than be with a God that would deny kids entrance into his church because they are gay.

And one more thing, I may not like what these people are doing, I may not agree with their views, but I still have to welcome them into my church, to my table. So if you disagree, if you take offense, let's get some coffee together, let's share a meal. We may or may not enjoy it, but at least we will be working at trying to be like Christ and isn't that what being a Christian is all about?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Tattoo Story #7- my family tree (please God don't let me screw up my kids)

All work done by Michael Facchini
at Blackhole Tattoo (West) Beaverton, OR
It took three years to complete, but it's finally done and since I can't share these stories from the pulpit, my tattoos are illustrations of the story God has written with me, and this is one I love deeply, so I will share it here.

It's not a family tree in the genealogical sense, but it holds far more meaning to me. It's about the passing on of more than genetic material, it's the passing on of our faith. There is a lot of pressure on parents. It seems there are so many opportunities to screw our kids up. I think that pressure is felt even more acutely when it comes to matters of faith. You want your  kids to develop their own faith, their own moral compass, their own sense of compassion. You don't just want them to be automatons for whatever you program them with, but you have to share what you believe, you have to pass on your values and your traditions.  So you try your best, and then you are bombarded with ideas and advice about what you should do. Are you doing enough, are you doing too much? How can you not screw up their paradigm of faith?

I grew up as a PK, a Pastor's Kid, and though that seems to screw a lot of kids up, I think it worked for me.  I think it worked because while I got a look at how horrible Christians and the church could be from the inside, I also saw the loving example of everyday faith from my parents. They are followers f Jesus, and you can see that in the way that they love others. They didn't worry about the religious acts of faith, so much. We didn't have family devotion times, times where we all got together and read the Bible every night, or once a week growing up in my house. In fact we had to stop praying at dinner time because my sister and I weren't taking it seriously. I once volunteered to pray for dinner in front of the nuns at my sister's Catholic school, and said, "hail Mary full of grace bless us now while we stuff our face". I think that's when we got rid of every night meal time prayers. We did always go to church even on vacation in Disneyworld, which admittedly was a drag, but but it did teach me to make God a priority.  We talked about the Bible, like people talk about sports teams, we prayed when we felt we needed to, and my parents were incredibly generous, loving and Christ like to just about everyone we encountered everywhere. I understood from a very young age what it meant to follow Jesus and have a relationship with God.  I don't feel like I built my house on the rock, that Jesus talks about in the parable. I feel like I grew out of and around that rock.

My faith roots me in God, and always has, that doesn't mean there are not doubts, questions, frustrations etc. There are times I have wanted to walk away from my faith, abandon my calling, and I have yelled out to God. Doubt informs my faith, strengthens it at times, and forces me to delve deeper into the Bible to figure things out. Often the things that send me running away from God soon have me running right back. I am blessed to have experienced a loving, God full of grace and mercy, that forgives, and reveals himself to me. I am blessed to have parents that could exemplify that.
That is what I hope we are giving to our kids, and that is what this tree represents. My faith, grown from the foundation of God's great love, shown to me first by my parents. It's a faith, I hope my kids come to know and understand. God has always been there for me, my rock, my anchor in times of struggle, my joy in times of celebration and in mourning and my parent's example is how that faith first started to form.

I have also been blessed to have many other adults in my life that followed Jesus with a genuine, compassionate faith, and loved me out of the love God gave them, helping to shape me into who I am.  This tattoo is a nod to them as well. There are so, so many, but the Davis family is where I first encountered a Japanese Maple.  One grew right by their doorway. I loved that tree, and I loved being at their house, it has always been a place filled with love and a hospitality like no other.

As for how I share my faith and pass on what I think it means to live as a follower of Jesus to my kids, well, it's not perfect but it works for us. We don't do regular family devotion times, we don't pray at dinner every night, but I think we are doing a pretty good job of passing on a genuine faith to our kids. We pray as we feel led to, when something is tough, and when things are good. We breathe out prayers of relief, and we giggle out prayers of thanksgiving. Elijah always wants to pray with me before bed, "Now I lay me down to sleep", but I don't know how much of that is actually wanting to talk to God and how much is comforting ritual, either way it's okay by me. We read the Bible together sometimes, or when a question comes up. I talk to Tabitha sometimes about what I am teaching at church and ask her what she thinks, or how she would present it. She knows my favorite Bible stories just like she knows my favorite books from childhood. We named them both after Biblical people that we loved and would love for them to be like, and those are some of their favorite stories, they go to over and over again. They also love when King Solomon talks about cutting the baby in half too, but that's a little different. At any given time there are multiple Bibles strewn about the house. We go to church every week, multiple times (because I work there) and sometimes my kids don't want to go and say they hate it. That has more to do with being stuck there for hours on end as I work, and having to get up early on a tired Sunday morning. They know the people there love them, and they have friends there of all ages. We incorporate giving into our holidays and we talk about the importance of living like Jesus in our daily lives. Questions about God come up all the time as we are driving to school or getting ready for bed.  Like I said, our strategy isn't perfect, but they know that God is an important part of our lives, that church is a place of imperfect people, but it's also a place of healing, love, challenges, and fun. Most importantly, right now, they know that they are loved by God and should love others with that same generous, grace filled love.

Elijah's Profile Silhouette
Tabitha's Profile Silhouette
While I don't have a favorite, this piece is a great collaborative of my kids ideas and their Uncle Tattoo Mike's ability to take ideas and make them happen. The signatures are my kids, at I think, their most precious stage of handwriting. It tells you so much about their personalities too, Tab's is careful and thought out, the boy's scrawls up my arm with a backwards J.  They wrote them, our artist transferred them using a copy machine with the stencil ink which is how all tattoo stencils are applied after the artist creates the initial sketch. The tree is a Japanese Maple, my favorite, which are normally short and squat, but had to be tall and gangly like me to fit my arm, which was a challenge. It originally started as just the rock and the tree, three years ago but Elijah was upset there was no grass. He didn't like it floating there, so two years ago we added the grass. There was no room on my arm from the original tree and rock to put a proper border or frame on with the grass, so our artist, Michael, had the brilliant idea to put a silhouette of each kids' profile in the grass to form the border. You can see them in the pictures. AMAZING! This year Tabitha decided that she wanted there to be clouds and sky on the tattoo since Elijah got grass.  Again having no definable border was an issue, but Mike made it work, and I think it has taken the tattoo to a whole new level of greatness. The colors in this thing are awesome. Mike's color saturation is excellent by the way, the skin on this arm seems to not appreciate blue ink, and has had issues healing. The leaves are layered in purples, reds, yellows and oranges, so much color went into those leaves that two years and lots of sun later they are still vibrant. It was amazing to watch it get painted into my arm.
the kid's signatures 

I hope someday they will come to have a family faith tree too, maybe not a tattoo, but an appreciation and an understanding of how their own personal faith developed from the many wonderful people and experiences God put in their life.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

the overwhelming fear that keeps me up at night, and rips at my faith

There is something that terrifies me. It alternates between keeping me up at night or waking me with a cold sweat. It haunts me when days are good equally as much as when days are bad, and for those of you that know me, it’s not zombies, although they scare me a lot too. It’s suicide. Just when I think I have gotten over it a bit, and it’s not at the forefront of my mind, I see the news. This week it was the news of Pastor Rick Warren’s son, and then today two more suicide stories came on the radar.  In Warren’s letter to his congregation he talked about his son having the best medical care and support and a great day together with the family, and yet his son still succumbed to his depression.  Depression can be fatal, just like many other diseases. It can be terminal, and suicide can seemingly come out of nowhere, when the depression sufferer is doing “well”. This is what haunts me, because my husband battles depression everyday. He has been fighting for years to overcome the overwhelming sadness that plagues him, and I know what one of the possible outcomes of that battle can be. That fear plagues me and it makes me feel like a failure as a wife, and a mom, and a leader in a church.  Shouldn’t I be able to relax and trust in God, I guess I should, but lately I can’t. And at the risk of sounding like a drama queen, I don’t want too. Let me explain…

A few years ago I was asked to be at the house of one of the family’s of our congregation when they broke the news to their son, that his father had committed suicide. It is a privilege and an honor to be allowed in people’s most intimate of moments, and be trusted to be a support, and I am happy to do it. This though, was traumatic in ways I never expected. I saw so much of myself and my family in theirs. The widow was so strong in that moment, just hours after a sheriff knocked on her door to inform her that the fears she carried for years were now true. The kids were devastated but they too had an idea that this day could come. Their dad had been battling severe depression for years. I grieved for them and I watched in horror this scenario that could apply to our own family, play out.  He had been in such a good place recently, it seemed things were looking up, but there we all were in tears, broken and mourning.  There’s this weird thing though that many terminally ill people go through, when they know the end is near. They get this sense of relief as they know they are letting go, and a euphoria sets in.  They do better for a bit, better than they have been for a while, because they sense they are almost done battling. Their families though interpret it as them getting stronger. I had heard of this before, seen it in people that were fighting cancer, witnessed it in situations that were almost alien to me, but this was real and in my face and close to home.

Since that day, I have a lot of trouble setting my fears aside on bad days but also when things are good.  There are the really bad days, when he is not himself, or when he talks about feeling like a burden, and I wonder if he is making plans Worst though is a paranoia in the back of my mind when my husband is doing really well, that maybe it’s because he has a plan, and a false sense of relief. I feel guilty that I feel so paranoid. Valentine works very hard to cope with his depression, and be present for our family. I hate second guessing what is going on in his head, or being suspicious of his hard work in managing his symptoms. I don’t want to watch over him like he is a child, or read into every little thing he does.

I try to “let go and let God”, to trust God that he is taking care and helping Val through. I try to trust that He is holding onto our little family and giving us strength. Then the son of the pastor of one of the largest churches in the world commits suicide. The father of two of our church kids commits suicide. Bad things happen to very good people, to people of faith, and to the completely innocent children all the time.  God allows us as broken human beings to make decisions, to do things, even though they are destructive and hurtful.  He doesn’t force us to be good or healthy. He heals some, but not others.  He allows sickness.  He doesn’t promise that those things won’t happen.  He promises that he will be with us, that he will mourn with us, and that he will help us to be stronger as we endure suffering. He turns tragedies into triumphs, as they say. Our stories end up touching other people, our testimonies furthering God’s work. Yeah, I get it.  I have been touched by the stories of people who have overcome tragedy. My faith has been strengthened by their example of faith. I understand that God can work through this. I understand but I can’t process through it right now, it’s not computing in my brain.

I don’t want to be stronger, I just want my husband. I don’t want to endure this so I can have stronger faith, preach better sermons, have lots of blog followers, and write a book about surviving. I just want my kids to have their dad. I want my husband to be at peace now, not in heaven. I do believe that God can heal any kind of illness, but I know that sometimes he doesn’t. I do believe that he helps us through tragedy and suffers alongside us, and those things can make us stronger. I have experienced it, but I don’t want to anymore, and not with this. I want Valentine, here now and until we are really, really old.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, my life is better everyday because Valentine is in it. He is an amazing husband and dad, and if this is what we have to deal with to get the complete package that is him, well, we got a great deal.

So I will keep working at having faith, and understanding a loving God who restores and redeems, and a broken world where people die at their own hand because they feel so miserable and alone. I will tuck my fear away as best I can, and try not to bring it up with others. I will focus on the good, the love of God and the love of my husband. I will do my best to not be drama and let this fear define my day. Jesus said don’t worry about tomorrow…