When God Lets Us Walk Away

walking away

A few days ago, I was reminded of a story from Uganda. A lesson I learned. A lesson I’ve had to learn often. Two years ago, summer of 2013, I and 9 other people were in the middle of Uganda. We were working with an organization called A Perfect Injustice. While we were there, we worked between Kampala, Uganda’s capital, and a village called Bombo for 5 weeks. In Kampala, we worked in the streets. In the slums. We fed kids, did devotions with them, taught them, and played with them. The boys in the slums were given the opportunity to move to the orphanage in Bombo when they were able to demonstrate an ability to abstain from drugs, violence, etc. for an extended period of time. They were counseled and before long, they were given a ride to the orphanage.

While we were in Kampala, we got word that one of our favorite kids from the streets, Abdul, would be going to Bombo. We were thrilled. We knew that he would no longer have to fear for his safety every night, as danger lurked around every corner. We knew he would no longer have to beg for food, beg for money. He would no longer have to hide. We could hardly wait to go back to the orphanage to welcome him and celebrate with him. A couple days later, we started the drive back to Bombo. While we were still about 20 minutes away or so, we saw a kid with a backpack walking toward us on the street. It was Abdul.

David, one of the missionaries we were working with, stopped to talk to him. He talked to Abdul for maybe 10 minutes and walked back in the van. We drove off, and Abdul continued his walk. We asked David what was going on, and he told us that Abdul was running away back to the streets in Kampala.

Why didn’t we just pick him up?
Why did David just let him keep walking?

Before anyone asked out loud what we were all thinking internally, David answered. He said that he didn’t pick up Abdul because the boys have to make the decision to stay at the orphanage. He’s brought kids back who have run away before, and they just keep running away. It has to be their choice. The kids have been homeless, living on the streets for so long, that they often don’t know how to handle security. They don’t know how to deal with safety. It’s unknown to them. The unknown is oftentimes scarier than what they know, even if what they know is terrible. At least they know what to expect. It isn’t until they choose to come back and choose to stay that they really start to make progress.

We were crushed. We knew that Abdul was making the wrong choice. If we could, we would just pick him up and bring him with us because we know better than he does. We know what he needs more than he does. And in that moment, in that moment of pain and hurt, I got a glimpse of God’s heart for His people.

God has brought so many people out of some terrible stuff. He has rescued us from our own demise. He offers us security. He offers us unconditional love that so many of us have sought to find in other things and other people. He has given us everything we need. Yet, so often, we run away from it. We go back to what we know. We leave the safety and security of all that He has given us, all that He offers, to go back to what we know, even if what we know is terrible for us. At least we know what to expect. And though He longs for us to return, He doesn’t force us to do so. He has given us free will to choose. It’s the most loving thing He could do for us. When we choose to love, that love is more authentic than if we were to be forced into it. Like the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32, He longs for the day that we choose to return. And whenever we do, He runs to us with open arms, ready and willing to accept us unconditionally.

Weeds

Weed: “An herbaceous plant not valued for use or beauty, growing wild and rank, and regarded as cumbering the ground or hindering the growth of superior vegetation”

Most of you, if you’ve ever had a yard in your life, know what weeds are. And chances are, you hate them. They’re cumbersome. They grow like crazy, quicker than everything else around them. They’re ugly. They take up space, use up water, and absorb sunlight that other, more beneficial, more useful, more beautiful plants could be using. If you’ve ever tried to ignore them, what happens? Do they just go away? Obviously not. What about if you just mow them down? Does that make them go away? Temporarily, yes. Permanently, of course not. If anything, it makes them seem to grow quicker and we end up working harder, wearing ourselves out, just to keep them down. Weeds are nothing more than the results of the roots from which they stem. So how do you get rid of weeds?

Get to the root.

We all have junk in our lives. We all have things in our lives that we wished we didn’t do or things that we wish weren’t a part of who we are. However, we have to come to an understanding that not only do those things have roots in our own lives, but that those things have very real roots in the lives of others also. We have done things, or others have done things to us that cause us to do what we do, think what we think, etc. When we are able to come to grips with that, we can begin to have more grace for other people (and ourselves), and be slower to make hasty judgements and generalizations. I wrote more on that here so I won’t keep going into that.

Ignoring the habits, hurts, and hang-ups in our lives does not make them non-existent. Sure, out of sight out of mind, but when you finally decide to open the front door, you know very well that you’ll be faced with a yard seemingly impossible to weed. Too often we just try to mow the weeds in hopes that others won’t see them. We put on a smile, brush our hair, wash our hands, and act like we don’t have serious hurts in our lives. All the while, behind the scenes, we’re working overtime to keep the weeds down to save face and not be found out. But deep down, we know it’s temporary. Before we know it, those weeds will come creeping back into our lives. When the lights are out. When no one is around.

Jesus doesn’t play games when it came to root issues. In Mark 9:42-48, he talks about gauging out eyes, cutting off hands, and other crazy things if they cause you to sin. He says it’s better to enter heaven with one eye/hand/whatever-else-you-cut-off than to enter hell with both. Now, he doesn’t mean to literally cut those things off/out; he is just really serious about getting to the root issues.

If you’ve ever done any weeding, you know it’s tough work. Getting to the root and getting the weeds out of our lives is equally as tough. It takes some serious work. It’ll be messy. It’ll be draining. It won’t be a quick process. People in your life will likely see you struggle. You may end up smelling terrible. And when you’re too tired to keep going, allow the Gardener to take over. But when it’s all said and done, when the weeds are out, when the soreness wears off, something really incredible will happen. The weeds will leave bare soil. Soil where real beauty can begin to take root. Rich, fertile soil that can begin to feed the good that now has the freedom to grow. Lingering weeds may still want to grow, but when they do, now they’ll be much easier to deal with since the other weeds have been uprooted. You’d have been there, done that.

Like I said, this won’t be an easy process, but it’s a process that HAS to take place. You’ll never know the good your life could be used for until you uproot the weeds in your life. Make room for the flowers.

These thoughts were inspired by a sermon I heard this past Sunday when Pastor Brent spoke on this topic, more or less, at Pearl Street Church.

Starbucks Snippet

Wednesday 12/17
4:55pm

Sitting at Starbucks after work.

My computer and my phone are both dead. I tried to charge them both to no avail.

Two girls sit by me and talk smack about what seems like everyone they know. My headphones are in, so they don’t think I heard them talking about their period.

On the surface, my initial response to my technological difficulties was a little frantic. Anxious, even.
I can’t get my work done. What if someone tries to contact me? Should I leave?

But deep down, my soul likes this. I’m disconnected. I’m OK with that. Solitude.

What if I had my phone charged? What if someone tries to contact me?

The anxiousness returns.

Affected.

12.2.2014

11:45a.m. Starbucks. It’s cold outside. Training day. A nice reprieve from work.

I sit and eat my overpriced sandwich and fruit. Black coffee. I read. Another Bullsh*t Night in Suck City. A Memoir. A man walks in. A drifter. Clearly homeless. Greased hair. Untrimmed beard. Beanie. Long underwear. A coat. Weathered face. Bright eyes.

He sits on a comfy chair. Mumbles indistinguishable words. They could have been more distinguishable if my headphones were not in my ears. My attempt at tuning out the world.

He sits. I notice. I do nothing. I could buy him something to eat. A warm drink. Talk to him. Make him feel human. Value his humanity despite his appearance. We are the same.

He gets up. Bends over—squats—in front of the sandwiches. He fills his coat pockets. Stuffs them. People stare. He shuffles out. People murmur. Flag down an employee.

Minutes pass.

I feel regret.
I didn’t help him.
I prayed this morning. Prayed that I would honor God today.
I remembered too late.

He walks back in. Cops are called. He goes to the restroom. Santa Claus suit. Maybe his mind isn’t right.

He leaves in costume. Cops come. They chase him. People murmur. People stare. Some laugh. I regret. I’m affected. Never again. It won’t happen again.

One Step at a Time

running

I was out on a run today, and in the distance I saw a hill straight out of hell. When I saw it, I immediately had this urge to just walk. “I know that hill’s gonna be terrible and I’ll probably end up having to walk up it, so I might as well walk now,” is what my mind was telling me.  But I’ve been in this scenario far too often. I knew that if I just focused on the next few steps in front of me, it wouldn’t be long before I would be at the hill, and it wouldn’t seem as daunting. I knew I would be able to conquer that hill, but if I focused on the hill while I was still a ways from it, and not on the steps leading to the hill—the steps right in front of me—the thought of the hill would conquer me.

I think life is a lot like this. Oftentimes, you see an obstacle coming up ahead. Something you know will be terrible. Something you may feel completely inadequate doing. Something you feel will be too difficult for you. You see it, become discouraged, and quit. You see it, doubt yourself, and don’t even try. You should, instead, keep your focus on the steps right in front of you. You can do that. One step at a time. Before you know it, you’ll be over those hills. You’ll be conquering those difficult things that we all face in life. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen without resistance. But by the time you reach those hills, you’ll have the steps behind you reminding you that you can do it. You’ll have the steps behind you as quiet encouragers whispering, “Look how far you’ve come. You’ve made it this far. You can go farther. You can do it.”

Don’t focus on the daunting, seemingly impossible obstacle or destination in the future. Focus on the next step. One step at a time.

One step at a time.

Good Enough

Reading about attachment theory the past couple of weeks has gotten me thinking about childhood attachment and how that develops over the life span. We’ve read about ideal childhood attachment and what could happen should those ideal conditions not be met. Mary Ainsworth talks about ambivalent attachment which essentially is characterized by neediness and intense insecurity in relationships. This type of attachment is thought to result from growing up with caregivers who are inconsistent in how and when they show love. This leaves the child unsure of when he will receive the love, if ever, that he so desperately needs. There’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s the basic premise. Reading and thinking about this type of upbringing catapulted me into the mind of a child going through this and I started to envision what he might be thinking as he endures the pain of uncertainty and the messages he might be receiving.

Words are powerful. They have the power to bring life, and the power to destroy it. Use them wisely.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” (Proverbs 18:21a, ESV).

GOOD ENOUGH
To know that I am loved
Is to know that I am good
Good enough to be loved
Good enough to be
Good enough.

I hear “I love you always”
But I see I love you sometimes
When conditions are placed
Where conditions were not promised

I was told it would never change
But I have seen how false that is
I have felt how false that is.

I have to be good
In order to be loved.

Because

To know that I am loved
Is to know that I am good
Good enough to be loved
Good enough to be
Good enough.

Stained-Glass Window

skalholt_window_-_5x7_print_iceland_church_colorful_stained_glass_art_f211e1a3


If someone were to ask me what the primary purpose of a window was, I would probably say that, although a window may serve many purposes, its primary purpose is to let light in. Natural light. Sunlight. Stained-glass windows let some light in, but the light is dimmed, discolored, distorted—and gorgeous.

I saw some stained glass this past weekend, and I was caught off guard by how pretty it was. I mean, I stared at it long enough for me to realize that I had been staring at it a long time. As I stared my mind began to race as I thought about how incredible having stained-glass windows in my house would be. I thought about how each piece was colored and then pieced together to form one window. Then I thought to myself, Wait a minute…those are pretty and all, but they kind of stink as windows. Practically speaking, sure they let some light in, but not as much as a clear window. And besides, I’d hardly be able to see out of the darn things! And this is when the gears really started to turn.

If someone were to point to a window and ask, “What do you see?”, how would you respond? Well, if it’s clean, clear, and doing its job correctly, you should not see the window at all; you would likely begin describing what you see outside the window, the light and all that it reflects. If you were looking at a stained-glass window and someone were to ask you the same question, you would likely begin to describe the window. You would continue to gawk at the beauty of that window and what it does to the light. Rarely would you describe the light itself and all that it reflects outside the window.

When we “confess with [our] mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in [our] hearts that God raised him from the dead” (Romans 10:9) we are saved. And although we will serve many purposes, if Jesus is “the light of the world” (John 8:12), then we (Christians), should be the windows through which people are seeing Him. We become windows to the Light. Our primary purpose is to show others the Light. Too often we try to be stained-glass windows. They’re what people want. They’re attractive, they’re cool to look at, they’re whatever. We add our colorful presuppositions into Scripture, we add colors of justification, we may add a hint of fear or maybe even some entitlement to create this hodgepodge that we then try to piece together into one window. But at this point, although we may look more attractive to others, we’re not nearly as useful. The Light is dimmed, discolored, distorted. What people need is a clear window. A window clean, clear, free of anything to detract from its primary purpose.  A window to see the Light and all that it reflects. The Light shines brightest when we stop trying to look pretty and start being completely transparent.

 

[dis]connected

Walking around airports always gets me in a cerebral and contemplative mood. I’m always struck by the diversity in the humanity that exists in the people around me. Some people are saying their last goodbyes, while some are anxiously awaiting their first hello. Some are going home, while some are leaving home. Some are anxious—foot tapping, heart beating, palms sweaty— as they await their first-ever flight, while some can’t wait to end the rigmarole of yet another business trip. I’m also struck by how aloof people are to the others around them. I mean, a woman literally ran right into me as I was checking the arrival/departure board for my departure gate. She, like 85% of the people in the airport, was staring down at her phone. I’m sure whatever she was looking at was very important.

As I walked around the Austin Bergstrom Airport, I saw all the people stuck to their smart phones and I began to think about how incredibly connected we are. We are connected to everything, everyone on this planet. Everything but those closest to us. We become so preoccupied with the false sense of community and [anti]social media that we are slowly but surely losing the very real connection and community that exists right next to us. We are at once more connected and more disconnected to the world around us. We are more connected with the world outside, but are less connected with the people within our own families, and less connected with those we call friends.

While I understand I can’t fix this and that this is more or less just me complaining, I do know that I can make a change in my own life. I can choose to be more connected to people. I can choose to be less connected to this false sense of community and connectedness that I find on social media. While I can’t make a difference in the world at large, I can make a difference in my life. And that’s good enough for now.

Darkness vs. Light [but a little less cliche]

“Don’t let your eyes get used to darkness. Put your hope in what is true.” – JJ Heller, Back Home

Darkness vs Light is a comparison used often in literature and all throughout Scripture to signify good and evil, or some variation of it. As I thought about that idea, I realized how deep that metaphor can run. When we are in a dark room or just a dark place in general, it’s typically a little unnerving. Most of us would not say we are necessarily afraid of the dark, but we’d have to admit that being in complete darkness is a little less than desirable, and we would much rather be in the light. However, our eyes do this funny thing when, after being in the dark a while, they begin to adjust. We begin to get comfortable with the darkness around us and it’s not so scary. If we stay in the dark for long enough, it’s almost as if we could see. Granted, we still can’t see nearly as well as we could if we were in a completely lit room, but we can see enough to get around.

Wheels turning yet?

If the wheels aren’t turning in that beautiful noggin of yours, let me help you out a bit. In our lives, when we are living in sin or in a “dark place”, at the onset, it’s a little scary, unnerving. However, when we stay in those dark places, we begin to grow comfortable. Our perspectives begin to shift and we begin to think to ourselves, “Well, this isn’t so bad anymore.” We fool ourselves into thinking that we can manage this on our own, without the Light that we used to know.

Sometimes these dark places come unwillingly. Someone rapes, molests, or abuses you. A loved one is killed. A spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend cheats on you, you lose your job, and the list goes on. The darkness is real. The darkness is thick. The darkness is scary. However, after being in this darkness for long enough, it becomes comfortable. It becomes familiar. Our eyes adjust in the darkness.  

I like to think of this idea as being comparable to waking up in a dark room. Our eyes open, but the lights are still off, the curtains still drawn. There is a light switch that we can choose to turn on, but we know that it will cause discomfort to our eyes that have adjusted to the darkness. It will be uncomfortable, some might even say painful or harsh. But ultimately, we know that the light is necessary to see clearly.

I would encourage anybody living in a dark place to, first find the light switch. The source of light. Once that Light has been found, turn it on and let it lead you. You may need to squint, or even close your eyes for a time, and if that’s the case, find someone you trust who can lead you until you can open your eyes and walk on your own.

 

Toy Story 3 Will Never Be the Same

I’ve watched Toy Story 3 a bunch of times, but when my class and I watched a while back, I saw it in a completely new way. For the few who haven’t seen the movie (shame on you), the toys mistakenly get taken to a day care when they were supposed to go into the attic. The toys thought they were tossed out and resigned to the fact that they would be day care toys for the rest of their lives. Initially, aside from Woody, the toys thought it was going to be great to be in a day care. They would constantly have kids playing with them, and when those kids grew up, they would have more to play with them. They saw no flaw in that life.

Woody knew where he belonged. The others were ok with settling for replacements. A cycle of replacements. The idea of having a constant cycle of people “using” them and making them feel loved for a time seemed nice. But I wonder if the toys still had this deep longing. A deep longing to belong. This longing to be Andy’s. To be where they knew they belonged all along. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll remember that the “replacement owners” left the toys feeling broken, used, and hurt. While the thought of them was initially intriguing, they brought nothing but pain and destruction.

“No owner means no heartbreak”–Lotso.

While this may be a tempting mantra to follow, we cannot deny the fact that it feels good, it feels right, to know that we have a place to belong. It feels good to know that we are not orphans after all. It feels good to know that Someone loves us and cares about us, even if nobody else does. It gives an undeniable peace and rest to the soul. However, I know it may be difficult or scary to trust God as the place where we belong, especially if you’ve been hurt before by people close to you. But the beauty of God and His love is that He’ll “never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5b), even when it may feel like He’s not there for a time. He’s always there. “His love endures forever” (Psalm 100:5). When the toys realized the pain that the replacements caused, they spent the entirety of the movie trying get back to where they belong. With Andy.

Their story is our story. We are in constant need of redemption and are constantly finding our way back to Him. He’s there and He’s waiting with open arms like the father of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-24. The beauty of the gospel is it doesn’t matter what we’ve done or how far we run. When we turn back and go to Him, even while we are far off, He meets us where we are and loves us unconditionally (Luke 15:20).