Striking Gold – Director’s Cut

I’ve asked 2 good friends and loyal readers to share their favorite blog posts.  Over the next few months, I will be sharing their thoughts and insights that they have shared with me regarding some of these posts.  I hope that what they share will add some new insights to some of my previous posts.

[Wanda writes: As I am getting older and my mortality is hitting me in the face, I realize how important it is to make memories and “moments in time” for loved ones to cherish. There is not enough wealth in the world to compare to sharing a sunset with someone you love – whether your children, parents or good friends. When we make memories, we never really leave our loved ones. Hopefully, the most important part of who we are remains intact, to be shared for generations.]

I knew it for years before she died, but since her death and since going through boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff, it has been officially confirmed: my mom saved everything. No joke. When I say “everything,” I mean it. I have report cards from elementary school, newspaper clippings for when I was on the honor roll in high school, drawings that I did in art class while in kindergarten, and a sundry of other mementos from my early life and childhood.

What’s been really funny to me is to see how some of these mementos have acted like mental dominos, triggering memories of other mementos which trigger memories of others and others and others beyond that. I can get lost in the memories that are conjured up by the smallest of trinkets or even the faintest of smells.

I found a tape of me singing that I knew existed but wasn’t quite sure where. My mom had played it for me over and over again as I was growing up. When I found it after looking high and low, I played it for my kids, who were getting quite a kick out of hearing their dad sing songs like “The Monkees” theme song, “Jesus Loves Me,” “The Odd Couple” theme song, and a few others.

It’s simply amazing to me how these things have the power of transporting me to a different time and place. That seems to be the power of our senses, all five of them, they can take us away to a place and time far away. With a simple sound or smell or word even, we can find ourselves dreaming about something that happened long ago.

I mentioned to someone the other day that I kept a bottle of my father’s cologne and my mother’s perfume right next to my sink in the bathroom. On occasion, when I’m feeling particularly nostalgic, I will reach down and pick up one of the bottles, put it up to my nose, close my eyes, and take a deep breath in. When smelling my father’s cologne, the day that it usually takes me to was a day when my father was in the rehab facility where he eventually died. I had realized how much of a creature of habit he was when he would get upset with me for not giving him specifics about when I would be arriving to pick him up. Smelling my mother’s perfume brings me back to Sunday mornings in church, sitting next to her, sometimes holding her hand, always feeling safe and secure with her by my side. It reminds me of how the house smelled when she was getting ready on all of those Sunday mornings.

One day, I told my dad exactly when I would be there to visit him and when I got there, I walked into his room to find him dressed nicely with a shirt and tie on. I searched my memory to try to figure out whether I was forgetting something. Did we have an appointment with an attorney or someone else that had slipped my mind? I didn’t think so. So, I said to him, “Why are you all dressed up, Dad?” He just looked up at me with a big smile and said, “My son was coming to visit me.” Cue the lump in my throat. What a special day it was and that’s the day that my brain conjures up every time that I take a deep breath of his cologne.

It’s ironic that things like homemade tapes and bottles of cologne might be considered “gold.” Many people might be looking around for the things that have monetary value, but those things pale in comparison to what I’ve found. These are the things from which memories are made. There is no price that could be attached to them, their value is priceless.

It certainly makes me think through what it is that I am leaving for my children. I hope that memories like these are the things that they value above everything else. When we spend time with those we love, we embed that time into our memories, creating moments that we can call up from our memory banks when we want them or need them. Those are the gifts to me and I am so grateful to have had them.

The Whole Story

I’ve been reading all of the news about Ferguson, Missouri and the Michael Brown case with a heavy heart. Race relations has been something that I have written about before on this blog and it’s something that I’ve had to legitimately step back and try my best to learn and understand about. Growing up white and middle class in a fairly affluent community has not allowed me the perspective to see things as clearly as I would like, so I’ve done what I could to try to learn from others whose experience has contrasted my own.

We live in a dangerous society where information is all around us, available to us 24 hours a day. I think that we take that for granted and don’t fully investigate all of the information that comes at us. Once upon a time, it seems that we actually did some fact checking of our own and approached news and information with some amount of suspicion and even, dare I say, trepidation. We would read more than one source, find out as much as we could, and then try to put the pieces of the puzzle together to see what we could make of the story.

I’m not sure what happened, but it seems that we’ve forgotten that there are always at least two sides to every story. It seems like we’re too willing to believe the first story that comes across our newsfeed or on our favorite news source rather than checking both sides for ourselves. And that’s a dangerous place to be.

I learned a long time ago that there is always something more than what appears on the surface. If we always take things at face value, we miss some heavy meaning that lies below the surface. Rarely are things what they appear. Rarely do things fit in the nice black and white categories that we would like to put them in. Although it makes the world seem a little bit more comfortable, at least in the eyes of the beholder, it rarely portrays things as true when we fail to see the grey area in which so much of what happens around us lies.

I am saddened that the life of a young African American man was snuffed out. I am saddened that we don’t know the whole story. I am saddened that incidents like this divide our country and result in political pissing contests. I am saddened that incidents like this reveal more about what lies beneath the surface of who we are as people, because what they reveal shows that we’re really not as far along as we think that we are. Some people believe in evolution, that we are getting better, more refined, but incidents like this seem to constantly point me back to the fact that we are broken, fallen, and sinful people who are in need of redemption and restoration.

I don’t know what the outcome of the Michael Brown case will be. Sadly, like so many cases before, I think that it will be very hard to get the full story. But can we look at this as an opportunity for growth? Can we see what can be learned in the face of tragedy and put away the name-calling? Can we pull the skeletons out of our closets long enough to acknowledge them and maybe even call them what they are?

Tragedy strikes and our first reaction, many times, is anger and fear. But anger and fear cannot win the day, we cannot let it. Anger and fear driving our emotions will only result in hasty and bad decisions. We’ve got to think with our heads and be guided by our hearts rather than letting our hearts be the driver of every situation. When we step back and gain a different perspective, we can move a lot closer to understanding than just diving in with only part of the story.

My heart breaks for the families of Michael Brown, of Trayvon Martin, of every young person whose life has been snuffed out prematurely. Yes, we will learn more of the story as time goes on, we’ll learn that these young people weren’t perfect, but are we? I can only hope that the lessons that we learn won’t be abandoned and forgotten until the next time, because the next time always seems worse than the time before.

The Window

Open-WindowMy family and I recently took a trip to Disney World. I don’t know that it can be adequately termed a vacation as vacations are usually relaxing. It certainly couldn’t be termed “Sabbath” in the sense that it was not a rest. It might better be called a distraction from life, but it was certainly fun.

We had been planning this trip for a year. After my parents died, we kept going and going and going and going and never stopped. My wife and I realized that we needed something as a family to enjoy…..together. We knew that it would cost a lot of money (that’s an understatement) and that a lot of planning would be involved, but we were up for the challenge.

I should really say that my wife was up for the challenge, she’s the one who did the majority (if not all) of the planning. It spoke a little to my own personal growth that a control freak like me was willing to relinquish planning to my wife. I guess that I can chalk that up to 13 years of marriage and the fact that God has actually accomplished something in my life during that time.

Not sure about you, but sometimes, when there is such anticipation and planning involved in something, the expectations that are set can be so high that it might almost seem impossible to live up to them. How do you expect that 6 days can really accomplish what you think it will accomplish, even at the “happiest place on earth”?

Our kids were excited, to say the least, and we talked it up for a whole year. I pulled out the home movies from when I was a kid at Disney, showing them what my experience had been. My wife and I had both had our own personal experiences with Disney as children and had even taken one last trip there together, just the two of us, before we started our family. I think that we both realized early on that there was a possibility of trying to duplicate our own experiences at Disney as children rather than allowing for our children to create their own.

Surprisingly, my expectations of how things would be were not so impossibly high. Like I said, I think that I’ve experienced some amount of personal growth in the last few years, enough to be able to put aside certain things and try to enjoy the moment. If there is anything that can help a person do that better than children, I’m not sure what it is. As I had heard countless thousands of times over the months leading up to our trip via Disney’s own animated feature, I knew that I would need to “Let It Go” in order to really have a good time.

My youngest turns 3 next month, so we knew that she would be free. My own experience of Disney happened at that age (and younger), so I knew that it was possible to enjoy the experience at that age, but I wasn’t sure to what extent. If you’ve been to theme parks before, you’ve probably noticed those parents who want to get the most out of their money and who drag their kids around the parks, completely exhausted and melting down, with an almost Clark Griswold-esque approach, expecting that they had paid the exorbitant fees to get in, so they were going to have a good time come hell or high water.

I had vowed that I wouldn’t do that, but there’s a fine line there. Spending $100 a day to “enjoy” a theme park is a little excessive and I can totally understand a parent’s desire to get the most for their money. Thankfully, I didn’t have to face kids melting down too much. I was super proud of my children (and completely relieved) at the way that they handled the exhausting marathon with much more simplicity than I had expected. It’s a lot to expect, but we had tried very hard to make sure that our kids, at least the older ones, knew what to expect. This trip would involve a lot of physical energy, and we all needed to be up for the task.

We knew that my youngest could be oblivious to some of the things around her, but we hoped that she would connect with at least some of them. I wasn’t really worried going into it, it would be what it would be and there was no amount of worrying or stressing that would change that. After a few hiccups and stressful moments in the first days, we settled in to a groove and found that the kids setting the pace for the experience would be the way to experience it most successfully. Still, I wondered how “successful” this would be. Would they appreciate it as much as I hoped, even the little one?

My fears were never realized, and I think that I figured that out on Day 1 at our dinner experience. We ate at Chef Mickey’s, a character dining experience where we were able to meet Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto. My daughter was wearing her Minnie Mouse dress and when Minnie Mouse came over to our table, I saw my daughter’s eyes light up. It’s hard to fully describe what I saw in those beautiful blue eyes. It might only be described as “magic” as dreams and wishes of a simple few years began to be realized. She looked up at this mouse with such wonder that I realized in that moment that we had made it through “the window.”

You know “the window,” right? The window of opportunity. The one that everyone who has children going off to college tells you about. They tell you that you will blink and that same little girl will be walking towards the podium with her cap and gown to receive her high school diploma. That same little girl will be announcing her engagement. That same little girl will be telling dancing with you at her wedding. That same little girl will be calling you on the phone to tell you that you’re going to be a grandparent. Sure, I may be rushing things along, but from what everyone else keeps telling me, this window of opportunity is small, you can only capture that magic for so long before the window closes and the opportunity is gone.

Ironically, it’s never the stuff that you think that your kids will appreciate that they really hold on to. “What was your favorite part?” is answered with, “swimming in the pool” or something like that. You realize that you could have done that at home for a fraction of the cost, but you also realize that the memories created around this experience are priceless, they can’t be bough or manufactured. You realize that the more you embrace these experiences, the less painful that “blink” will be when you find that your kids are grown up and leaving.

Sure, I’ve got a long way to go before that time, but I’m going to do what I can to keep climbing through those windows of opportunity. It might be awkward sometimes, and I might not always get through the window the way that I thought that I would, but in the end, it’s the fact that the moments were captured and experienced, not how much money was spent or whether everything was perfect. Even in those simply moments, even when nothing seems to be going the way that you planned, those are the moments and experiences that your kids will remember the most. As I look back at my own experiences, the greatest memories were in the journeys, not always in the experiences themselves.

Here’s to climbing through those windows!

Forgive Us Our Sins – Director’s Cut

I’ve asked 2 good friends and loyal readers to share their favorite blog posts.  Over the next few months, I will be sharing their thoughts and insights that they have shared with me regarding some of these posts.  I hope that what they share will add some new insights to some of my previous posts.

[Lesley writes: I love this post for several reasons. Honestly I didn’t know this prayer by heart until just a few years ago, not to mention I hardly considered its significance or beauty. I love the way Jon broke down this prayer, especially the parts about sin and forgiveness. I admire Jon’s raw honesty when it comes to his own struggle to forgive. As he says so eloquently, “Thank God that I’m forgiven and a work in progress, now if I could just come to that place where forgiveness was as easily given as it is accepted.” I was blessed to study this prayer in my small group. Between studying the prayer and Jon’s blog post I look at the Lord’s Prayer in a whole different light. I look at it as God intended, as a daily reminder of how I strive to live my life, all for His glory.]

Our Father….

Who are in Heaven….

Hallowed be Thy name…..

Thy Kingdom come…..

Thy will be done…..

On earth as it is in Heaven…..

Give us this day our daily bread….

And forgive us our sins…..

As we forgive those who sin against us……

Those who sin……against……us……

When’s the last time that you prayed that prayer? When’s the last time that you actually thought about it? I mean, really thought about it….

Forgiveness. It’s a strange thing. We like to be forgiven when we do something wrong. What happens when someone does something wrong to us? How willing are we to forgive them?

Some sins are more easily forgiven than others. We can forgive a lie, depending on how big it is. We can forgive a false word, as long as it’s not said against us. We can forgive a little anger, as long as we weren’t embarrassed by it. But what happens when the sin that we’re called to forgive is more significant. What if someone steals from us? Breaks into our house? Hits our car? What happens if someone takes the life of someone we love? How do we forgive them?

I’ve had my fair share of harboring resentment and bitterness. I’ve struggled to forgive people who hurt me, and most of those hurts were insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Eventually, I came to the point where I realized that anger and withholding forgiveness wasn’t doing harm to anyone else other than me. It’s funny how that works.

But, like I said, the hurts that were caused were fairly insignificant. The only one who ever took someone from me was cancer and heart disease, and it’s kind of hard to be so angry at diseases. They’re just not people. I don’t know what I would do if I lost someone because of another person. I don’t know how I would forgive if someone else took someone that I loved away from me…..

While he was hanging on the cross being ridiculed, laughed at, mocked, and spit on, Jesus asked the Father to forgive those who had put him there. He actually wanted them to be forgiven…..while he was in the thick of what they had caused. No anger. No contempt. No withholding of forgiveness.

As we forgive those who sin against us……

It’s not a good idea to pray things that you don’t mean. I’ve really got to stop and think about this one, am I really willing to forgive? I mean REALLY willing to forgive?

My forgiveness has been tested and left wanting. It’s been tested, but not as much as other’s forgiveness has. I’ve still got a long way to go to really come to that point where that prayer will roll off of my tongue easily without a stutter or a struggle. Thank God that I’m forgiven and a work in progress, now if I could just come to that place where forgiveness was as easily given as it is accepted.

Through the Eyes of a Child

No matter how many times I tell myself that simplicity is a good thing, there is nothing that can drive that point home better than watching my children experience something for the first time. The innocence, joy, and wonderment that overcomes them is enough to make the most cynical and unemotional among us become weepy. It’s just priceless to see it, because it’s been a long time since I experienced things that way.

Do you remember when you experienced something for the first time? In the last few months, there was a video going viral on the internet of two women who were experiencing flying in an airplane for the first time. I imagine that one of the reasons that it went viral was because of the way that it reminded the viewer of what it looked like to be captivated by the wonder of something experienced for the first time.

What has that impact on you? Are there things that can make you feel like it’s the first time all over again? Are there experiences that can bring back that childlike innocence and wonder, no matter how many times you’ve experienced them?

I hope to God that I can always find a way to get back to that place again. I hope that I can still look at things from that “first time” perspective….or at least try to remember what it felt like. The minute that I stop doing that, that I stop remembering what it felt like, is the minute that I need to have someone remind me. That someone has usually been my kids, and boy am I thankful for that.

Finding New Meaning

While my mother was struggling through her cancer treatments, she exuded strength. In fact, I remember one trip that we were taking in my aunt and uncle’s minivan in those early weeks after the diagnosis. We were between doctor visits and I sat next to my mom in the back of the van. I just held her hand and did my best to console her. I remember hearing her sobbing softly next to me and feeling so helpless and broken inside, unable to really help her. I asked her what was wrong and she simply said, “I don’t want to be a wimp.

Well, “wimp” is hardly the word that would describe her in the final six months of her life. Her strength seemed to increase and somehow she seemed to hold it together better than the rest of us. When it was clear to us all that her disease would be terminal, it seemed that she willed herself to die. I think that she could have stuck around for longer, but the idea of meeting her granddaughter whose birth was still a few months away was probably heartbreaking to her. Why meet someone who you would have to bid farewell to in no time at all?

After she died, I discovered some Bible verses that she had written down on some scrap papers on her nightstand. They were taken from Isaiah 61:1-3. The verses that always stood out to me, the one that I shared at my mom’s funeral was verses 2 and 3, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”

In the time after my mom’s death, that verse came up over and over again. Even now, three years since her passing, it still continues to emerge from the depths every once in a while. The first time it emerged was during a communion service the night before my seminary graduation (you can read about that here). A friend of mine had the verses painted on a canvas for me as well.

Recently, a friend who lost her husband last year shared the verse and I was struck by something that I hadn’t noticed before. As I read these two verses, I kept looking on them as things that my mom was reading to bring her comfort, and I have no doubt that they were, but the people who are spoken of at the end of these verses are not the ones who have gone on. My mom is not mourning, she is not in despair. Those who mourn are left behind and it is them who need to have their garments turned into garments of praise and to have their spirits turned from despair. It is them who will be oaks of righteousness, planted for the Lord’s splendor.

As I read my friend’s post, I looked at these verses from a completely different perspective and realized that part of my journey through grief is the testimony that I have as I struggle, as I despair, as I mourn. As I exchange beauty for ashes, joy for mourning, and a garment of praise for a spirit of despair, God can use even that to make a difference. In the midst of weakness, I can be an oak of righteousness, displaying not my own strength, but the One who gives me strength.

As my friend reminded me, it was an example of the living and breathing Word of God, continually speaking to us, calling out to us in the darkness, and meeting us where we are, shaping and forming us in the midst of our journey. What a great reminder it served to be for me.

Reminders – Director’s Cut

I’ve asked 2 good friends and loyal readers to share their favorite blog posts.  Over the next few months, I will be sharing their thoughts and insights that they have shared with me regarding some of these posts.  I hope that what they share will add some new insights to some of my previous posts.

[Conveniently, this post is one that was favorite by both of my friends:

Lesley writes: This post is sad, yet beautiful because I can truly relate to what reminders of many loved ones, especially my mom, means to me. This post is special to me because I (not by name) am mentioned in it. I gave Jon a gift, without being aware of what the significance of it would be. This was especially powerful because it was a clear sign and direction of the Holy Spirit at work through our Heavenly Father. This post was steeped in spiritual significance.

Wanda writes: For those of us who have lost one or both parents way too soon, having something that was unique to them can evoke wonderful memories – what they liked, what it was like when you hugged them, and, yes, what they smelled like. Something so simple can soften the blow of not having them with you and can give the gift of stepping back to a happier time when they were still on this side of heaven.]

Having recently passed the 3 year anniversary of my mom’s passing, I constantly find myself surrounded by reminders of her. Most of them were intentionally placed there by me, but there were others who either intentionally or inadvertently helped to set these reminders up for me.

My mom’s favorite flower was the gardenia. Every Mother’s Day, my father would go to the florist and buy Mom a corsage that she could wear. It was made of gardenias. My aunt and uncle, who live not far from where my parents lived for their brief time in Williamsburg, have a gardenia bush in their front yard. After Mom died, some people whom I serve with in my church asked my wife what they could do to help me remember my mom. Her suggestion was to buy a gardenia bush to plant in our backyard. After they came out and planted it, someone sent me a plaque that I put right underneath it to remind me every day of my mom. Right around the anniversary of Mom’s death this year, the gardenia bush bloomed to provide me with a sweet smelling and visually stunning reminder of her.

My mom loved lighthouses. I think they were a reminder to her that even in the midst of the darkest, stormiest, foggiest night, there was still the light of Christ shining through in the midst of the storm. She had lighthouse soap dispensers, lighthouse candles, lighthouse tissue holders, lighthouse stained glass ornaments, and tons of other things throughout the house. In fact, the house was decorated solely by her, and she made it her own. Lighthouses were a big part of that decoration.

After she died, I found a picture of one of the lighthouses in North Carolina. It seemed a good reminder of her and a way to honor her, so I had it framed and put it up on the wall in our house. It’s a constant reminder of the same thing to me that I think lighthouses were to her, that in the darkest and stormiest of times, God is still there shining light in the midst of it all.

Mom loved the beach too and the theme of lighthouses and the beach together bring a smile to my face. I have some great memories of going to the beach with her during the summertime growing up. She always prided herself on how long she could make things last and she had this beach chair that she had for what seemed like 20 years. Somehow or another, she managed to keep it in great shape. While cleaning out the garage at my parents’ townhouse, I discovered the chair and it both made me smile and broke my heart at the same time.

Not too long before the 2 year anniversary of my mom’s death, a friend of mine who didn’t know my mom gave me a gift. It was at a time when I was particularly struggling with my own grief and loss. All that she knew of my mom was what she had read in my blog or shared in social media. Needless to say, when I opened up the gift, I was incredibly surprised to find a set of windchimes. Tears came to my eyes as I recalled the many times that I had sat in the kitchen or living room of my parents’ house in Connecticut and listened to the windchimes that my mom had hung up out on her porch. She loved windchimes and it was such a fitting tribute to her. But the amazing thing was that my friend had no idea how fitting it was, she just saw them and felt like she had to get them for me.

In the midst of grief, it’s really easy for those who haven’t experienced it to say, “Just move on, get past it.” It’s easy for others to condemn the stories and the tributes and reminders that we have of those we have lost. But once you experience it for yourself, you have a deeper understanding, it makes you much more sensitive to what loss is all about.

I don’t think that these reminders are a bad thing. I don’t see them as means by which I hang on to the past, they just act as reminders of all that I had with my mom, all the love that we shared together. But they also serve as reminders to me that death is not the end. Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” We have this hope in Jesus Christ that we will once again be reunited. As I look at all of these reminders, that thought alone can bring a smile to my face.

Facing the Inevitable

Robin-WilliamsOver the last few days, I’ve read article after article, seen news story after news story, as people have remembered Robin Williams. Who was he? What were his struggles? What were his triumphs? How did he come to the point where he ended everything?

As I’ve read the articles, I’ve agreed with some, been encouraged by others, and downright objected to others. As someone who writes a lot, I kept asking myself whether or not I had anything to add to the conversation. I have vowed that I don’t want to be “that guy” who simply writes to jump on a bandwagon. I only like to write if I feel that I’m saying something different.

As I’ve waded through all of these stories, two things have stood out to me. The first had to do with all of the talk about whether or not suicide was a selfish choice. The other thing had to do with how suicide was being portrayed, how were people addressing this issue of someone ending their life?

There is so much stigma connected to the word “selfish,” that it’s hard to look at it with fresh eyes. I was doing what I could to try to understand exactly what someone would mean to say that suicide was NOT selfish. I had some conversations (1 live and 2 digital) with people who had been personally impacted by someone close to them committing suicide. I wanted to hear from them about something that was troubling me, because from my vantage point, suicide seemed selfish.

While every single case of suicide is different, it seems that those who take their lives may actually believe that their actions are unselfish. They may feel that they have been a burden to those whom they love and who are caring for them. They may feel as if the only way to find peace is to end it all. The notion of selfishness comes out more from the survivors than anything else. We ask ourselves, “how could they do this to us?” Didn’t they care? Yes…..they cared, sometimes too much.

This whole tragic end to the life of a loved and respected person has brought into the limelight the way that we handle depression. It has been becoming more acceptable to talk about it, to share your need for help, to find medication, and to just educate about depression overall. I have heard too many horror stories about how people in very visible positions have been treated with their own admission of depression, especially pastors. It’s a travesty to think that we fail to extend grace to those who brains are being affected by something. If those of us who follow Christ really believe that sin tainted the whole world, why should our brains be somehow resilient, resistant, or immune to the impact of sin?

A lot has been written about Robin Williams’ freedom, primarily with a Tweet that the “Genie” is now free (based upon the character he played in the Disney animated feature “Aladdin”). It’s true that he is free from the earthly demons that plagued him, from the depression that drove him down, from the addictions that constantly beckoned him back like the sirens to Ulysses, but it doesn’t negate the fact that there has been a tragic loss of life, that there is a family that is now short one family member, and there is one more statistic to show how deadly and dangerous depression and mental illness can be.

Personally, I have been grateful to see more discussions opening up to the severity of depression, primarily discussions among those within the church. Having had parents who struggled with depression and struggling with it myself, I am grateful that we can begin to talk about something rather than sweeping it under the rug or simply labeling whatever fits our comfortable world. Depression is easily overlooked and unseen, while it’s not any one person’s responsibility to see it in others, we all need to keep our eyes open to the people to whom we are the closest.

I mentioned the other day that a young woman shared her story in our corporate gathering time this past Sunday. She shared how she had hid what was going on inside of her from everyone around her. It’s not the hardest thing to do, especially when those around you aren’t really paying attention. We are a distracted and busy society that only slows down when we are forced to do so. May we take such a tragic situation and learn something from it, not that will keep for a day, a week, or a month, but that will sink in for a lifetime.

Timing and Provision

As I look over the landscape of my life, my various degrees, accomplishments, moves, and so many other things, I constantly marvel at the timing and provision of things. If there is anything that can convince me that “God is in the details,” it’s doing a reality check to see everything that has “worked itself out” in my life over the past 40+ years.

When I was going into my senior year of high school, I got very sick. At first the doctors thought it was mono, but tests came back negative. After much searching, poking, and prodding, they discovered that I had pericarditis, an inflammation of the outer lining of the heart. It was viral, so it couldn’t be treated with antibiotics, so I had to wait it out. Not a very fun way to spend the summer, but I made the most of it and was better in time for school in the Fall.

I applied to one college for early acceptance and found out in December that I was accepted. I also found out that this school guaranteed a financial aid package that would work for every entering freshman. Somehow or another, I went through all four years of college with my dad’s meager salary, with my part-time jobs, and managed to have a fairly minimal student loan accumulation at the end. I paid it off in about 3 years and found out that the guaranteed financial aid package that my college had offered had started and ended with my class.

I graduated from college and got a job, a much easier task then than it is now. After a year, I went back and got my master’s degree, paid for in part by my employer. We were a small enough company that there were no major requirements for reimbursement. I just told the administrator how much I needed and she cut a check. No complications. No grades required. It was easy. I paid as I went and got my second degree debt-free, something that I didn’t fully appreciate until many years later.

I got married and my wife started her master’s degree in counseling. She was about halfway done when we up and moved to North Carolina. I was worried that a good portion of her work would be lost. We prayed about it. I did my research, and we found a school that would accept all of her credits. In fact, she got an additional 2 credits because 2 classes had been worth more at the new school than they had been at the old school. We paid for it as we went, again staying debt-free. I still don’t think I fully appreciated it.

I started thinking about seminary for myself before we left North Carolina and moved to Virginia, but it moved to the top of my priority list once we made that transition. I knew that there were a lot of things that I did not want to do or become when I finally started into seminary. One of the things that I committed to was not being gone from my family for 4 weeks a year, the plan that had been outlined for me by my school. So, I decided to take classes at a branch of my seminary that was located about 2 hours away to supplement my classes and ensure that I could finish my program in the allotted time without having to extend it.

This is where, as I look back retrospectively, that I see God’s hand moving the pieces in such a way that I could never have orchestrated on my own. I mostly took my biblical languages and Bible survey classes at this remote location. I started into Hebrew with a professor who was raised Jewish and had become a Christ follower. He brought a unique perspective to the classes and I appreciated having him throughout all of my Hebrew studies and for two out of three of my Old Testament survey classes. Right when I finished Hebrew, he finished teaching at the seminary and moved to the “left” coast. Very convenient timing for me.

I started into my Greek studies at the same location with a professor who I felt incredibly blessed to have had. He was a kind and humble man whose brilliance was masked by his overwhelming and charismatic personality. I took my Greek classes with him, even doing an independent study with him, and when I had finished my Greek studies, he also finished teaching at the seminary and relocated to the Twin Cities. Very convenient timing for me once again.

The missions committee at our church agree to help fund my seminary education, providing nearly half of the funds for my whole 4 ½ years. Between that financial help as well as the scholarships that I was able to obtain through the school, I was able to complete my seminary education with no debt as well. I was amazed as I looked back and saw that between my wife and I we had 5 degrees collectively which were 100% paid for.

I say all of this not to gloat or boast at all, but to give glory to God for his provision. I replay these events in my mind over and over again as a reminder of all that has been accomplished for me. I’m not trying to promote a “name it and claim it” theology, but I am grateful that in the midst of everything that happens in our world, God saw fit to allow for me to go through this journey with assistance in so many ways. I am grateful that my struggles were limited because of these provisions (that’s not to say that my struggles were limited, because I certainly had my share of other struggles).

Over and over in the Old Testament, we see God’s people on a journey. Along that journey, they would set up reminders of God’s provision to them, they would remind themselves that in the midst of dire and dark circumstances, he had managed to provide for their needs. I’ve tried to set up similar reminders, remembering that in the midst of storms and valleys, God did not abandon me but was there with me, lightening the load, providing things that I couldn’t, and helping me to know that in the midst of a great big world, he still knew the number of hairs on my head and cared even for me.

Further Thoughts on Place

This past Sunday, a young woman shared her story of faith and doubt in our community of faith’s corporate time together. I had heard bits and piece of it before she had stood that morning, but I hadn’t heard all of the gory details that she shared. A story of rejection, of hurt, of pain, of doubt, of abandonment, and finally, redemption and restoration.

As she shared her story, she looked around and started by saying that she didn’t fully realize until that moment that part of the story that she shared, part of her rejection, took place in that very room. As she talked about a gang of middle school girls who bullied her and said some heartbreaking things to her right there in that room.

She shared her story for a few minutes and when she was done, she received applause that continued…..and continued…..and continued, until the whole place was standing. There in that room, in that moment, redemption had happened.

It wasn’t until later that I fully appreciated what had just happened. The very place where this young woman had been rejected, the very place where she felt that her faith had died was the very same place where new life was given. There in that middle school cafeteria, the place that had probably haunted her memory for years, new memories were made. As she courageously shared her story, the story from life to death back to life again, she saw a room full of people who saw her as she is, a forgiven child of God. She was affirmed in her honesty. She was affirmed in her bravery. She was given a new start.

Isn’t it just like God to take the very source of our hurt and turn it around? How hard it is for some of us to face certain things because of the memories that those things conjure up for us, yet he sees fit to use some of those very things to remind us that we are not in control, nor are those things or those circumstances. He is the one who is in control. He is the one who can turn things around.

I’ve seen it happen in my own life, and I am reminded that God cares about the little things. Sparrows don’t fly or die without him knowing about it. While we shouldn’t be so consumed with some of the trivial things in our lives, we also shouldn’t be surprised when God shows up in some of those places where we least expect it. God is in the redemption business and there’s nothing like seeing it played out right before your eyes.