Before college, my movie tastes were limited to action and adventure (Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, James Bond) with the occasional family-friendly series (That’s So Raven, The Waltons, The Cosbys). I don’t remember seeing (m)any romantic figurehead films.
However, in college, things changed. In a conservative dorm of 50+ females whose gut reaction was horror when someone asked –
“Have you seen Pride and Prejudice?”
-and my response was, “No,” I was soon indoctrinated in all the best clean romance movies because the conversation which followed went something like:
“OMG! WHY NOT?!”
“I just … haven’t ever wan…”
“Well, you must! It’s a classic. What are you doing Saturday night?”
Circle a calendar date, figure out who buys popcorn, call dibs on the dorm Blu-Ray player.
I sat down preemptively cynical, but I was surprised when I found myself liking a particular genre of romance; romantic comedy.
The improbably circumstances made me laugh, and I liked laughing. I discovered that I’d never laughed as much as I could’ve as a child.
Romantic comedy plots are all the same; two people somehow manage to do everything they can to mess up their potential relationship, the world is against them and they are against themselves (their best friend even fails them), yet they defy the odds, fall in love, and choose each other at the end anyway.
In a way, I appreciate these movies more than solely romantic dramas; comedies are full of awkward impressions, embarrassing moments, and fights – basically the stuff of real life. They never portray love as easy or smooth, even though their characters do get the happily ever after as the credits roll.
I just finished reading a book titled Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to Literature. It was written by an ex-English professor from Concordia University, WI named Veith. In his analysis of comedy-centric plots, Veith writes;
“The assurance of a happy ending frees us to laugh at the pain that [a person] does experience at the moment.”
While umbrelled by the romantic comedy genre, we know we can laugh as the characters stumble through life because they are reaching toward each other. We know they will reach each other, no matter what comes between; that’s the genre assurance. As Veith aptly notes;
“The difference is the ending … both comedy and tragedy deal with the extremes of human experience and both put suffering and joy in relationship to each other. In comedy, the pain is transformed by the ultimate joy.”
The comic genre delights the viewers throughout the movie because they watch the characters suffer in hope of the joy that waits for them at the end. Joy is predestined in comedy. Pain is temporary. The quantity of pain is light and insignificant, although still poignant, compared to the happiness. The ultimate message declares, “All the suffering was worth it!”
Do you see where I’m going here?
In his words to the Romans, the apostle Paul says, “What we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later.” (8:18 NLT) Similarly, James reminds his readers, “Your life is like a morning fog; it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” (4:14 NLT).
In our temporary lives on earth, we are free to, in a sense, laugh at the pain of our moment. Not because it’s not painful, but because we have the assurance of a happy ending.
We are destined for joy.
Think of any romantic comedy. The characters don’t know the ending. Their struggles and setbacks are extremely real and hurtful to them, just like our lives are for us. The difference is we know the ending.
In the prophetic book of Jeremiah, God tells His people, “I know the thoughts that I think concerning you … thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you the end that you wait for.” (29:11 JUB)
The end that you wait for…
We are destined for joy.
The epic poet Dante defines tragedy as a story which starts with joy, but ends in pain, and conversely defines comedy as a story which finds its beginning in pain and its ending in joy. By that definition, the Bible is the centuries long divine romantic comedy of the world. Our sin painfully corrupts the world, but yet through Christ’s forgiveness, we head toward perfection and ultimate joy. Everything to thwart God’s romance toward us fits somewhere in between.
Here I am doing everything I can (it seems) to mess up my relationship with God, the world is against God and I, and I can be against God. My friends even sometimes fail me. Yet God defies the odds, falls in love sacrificially, and chooses me anyway.
I need to learn to appreciate the romantic comedy genre of my life – awkward impressions, embarrassing moments, and fights – basically everyday situations. These situations never portray love or life with God as easy or smooth or flawless, but when the credits roll, I’ll have the end that I waited for: Joy Himself.
If you told me in 2012 that my five-year plan would include graduating from a Christian college, joining a church, singing on a worship team, teaching at a Christian school, and staying in Wisconsin, I would’ve laughed and told you, “*bleep* off.”
Well, not quite; I’ve always been too introverted for that, but my mind would’ve retorted that answer even if my face put on a fake smile.
If you told me in 2012 that my five-year plan would lead me into a horrible job situation, a busted relationship, a lawsuit, and debt, that I’d miss the opportunity to say good-bye to my loving, beautiful, favorite grandmother, that I’d spend sleepless nights wrestling with real nightmares and surfacing family issues, I would’ve neatly executed the suicide plans which had stewed in my mind since I was 13 – only this time my attempt would’ve been successful.
If you told me in 2012 that I would someday be gifted with the undercurrent of joy that connects all of life, I would’ve stuck a pin in your hopeful optimism. I’m a vehement pessimist.
I remember looking in a mirror when I was 17 and strangely seeing myself for real. This exhausted, wounded half-woman believing she bravely carried her assorted sin collection, feeling obligated to hide all the sin collections others branded on her.
Those who know me closely know I attended a Christian college as a last resort, a sort of final chance for God to do something with me since I was so cast away.
Few people know that the weeks before meeting God with my older sister in the college cafeteria were rough. Our family dynamics were wildly changing as ancient skeletons fell out of closets. I wasn’t even supposed to return to college for the spring semester, but my dad, who’d been laid off, insisted on our college educations, tossing our offers of family sacrifice aside. The clan of edgy kids I ran with fall semester hadn’t returned. I was taking 21 credits and working a lot. My sister and I fought … in public. The campus library, no less. Quietest place ever, stupidest location for a fight.
It was over quick; I pushed her down the stairs, I think. I was so blind with rage I remember little beyond running and running. Not very fast, but very far. It wouldn’t be the first or last time I ran off campus. Bless my poor dorm sup…
Few people know that my sister cried out to God that evening, frustrated with trying to draw me to herself and God for comfort and life. I didn’t know this part of the story until later. She was exhausted because we were supposed to be knit together wrestling through all the issues side-by-side, and instead we were each alone.
“I give up honestly.” She confessed to God. “I’m just done with her.”
And yet, the tired, done woman who’d given up sat with the angry, running sinner in the dining hall two nights later saying words that pleased the God who hovered over us and between us and in us.
And that God opened my mind and came in, blowing me, my sin collections, and my small, trampled picture of life away with grace, mercy, forgiveness, love, and a supernatural, arresting presence.
I applaud the kitchen staff who valued my soul more than their bedtimes. They let us stay in the dining hall well beyond closing hours. I remember my brother-in-law-to-be getting in his car and speeding to campus to be the first to know and give me a big hug, welcoming me into another, better family. I can hear the voices of all my dorm sisters when I walked in late to devotions, interrupting the conversation with,
“Dude, I just met God tonight!”
They were thrilled, hugging me like a sister.
I can see the first professor my sister and I told lighting up and setting aside time to have lunch with us so he could hear the details.
Dear God, bless all the sanctified individuals who lined up to stay in my life – who still are in my life – despite my fumbling, half-formed theology, fatal dedication to logic, countless struggles, and lists of questions … they are priceless.
I’m five. It takes a village to raise a child, and today I’d like to thank my village.
We are more or less ready to react to what happens with a solid Tweet, a passionate message, a Facebook comment. We are willing to lend a helping hand, food, and clothes to those in need because of tragic circumstances. I see good things come out of our reactions – questions and conversations that may not have happened if we hadn’t found ourselves in the midst of the tragic situations faced by our culture. I see God find people in their aimless wanderings around our sinkhole culture; I see God draw people closer as they attempt to understand where the world is going; I see people walk away from God – even run away – as they fail to grasp the supernatural big picture behind the universe. Things happen that they will say made them leave God, the same things that others claim led them to God. I see more heads in trembling hands. I see more brows furrowed with confusion. I see more tears.
I hear more silence.
This year in the world, I hear a lot of praying for those who have lost people in every language. I hear a lot more crying and singing in our churches. I hear more stirring messages from pastors personally and professionally affected. I hear more requests for peace, more preached love, more anger at stereotypes and judgments, more pleading. I hear ignorance lacing the conversations of those who won’t stay on top of history and skepticism woven into the comments of those who’ve read everything there is to read on the subject and still don’t know what to believe. I hear more silence.
I don’t see a lot of offense in the church today.
I don’t see many people standing up and declaring that they aren’t going to sit by and react; they want to be proactive. I don’t see many people who want to talk about their relationship with God before someone asks them why they are different. I don’t see many people who will vote. I don’t see many people who are ready to say, “That’s why the world needs God” on all days, not just the bad days. I don’t see many Christians who want to stay on top of the culture, who want to be politicians, fashion designers, actors, business associates, executives, but I see a lot of Christians who don’t read the news, who complain about the presidential choices, the immodesty of clothing lines, the content of movies,
and the corruption in big business. I don’t see many volunteering to pay for wells for those who need clean water. I don’t see many raising money for school metal detectors. I don’t see many take in prostitutes.
The Bible says that the gates of hell won’t win against the church, and that’s a wonderful fact. But does that imply that we’ve gone to the gates of hell and are pounding them in combat? Or does it imply that the gates of hell have slowly advanced forward on the church, and we are holding out against them frantically defending ourselves from frontal attacks? Knowing that we won’t ultimately be defeated shouldn’t be satisfactory for us.
In today’s culture, I see the latter. I see the latter and it makes me sad and angry with us and with myself.
It makes me disgusted when my mind says, “I’ll wait for him to ask about what I believe about God – I won’t offer it.” It makes me angry when I walk by the charity asking for donations, and I won’t give my change. It makes me sad when I hear Christians say that God’s judgment was poured out on Orlando, the same Christians who wept at the school shootings across the nation this year. It makes me upset when I hear “pastor” and “missionary” and “mother” being touted as the highest career callings for young Christians when young men and women want to be police officers, musicians, CEOs, reporters, designers, Marines. When I look at my own heart and find that I don’t even know how to fully defend myself from the attacks of the world, much less find an offense, I weep because God has given me everything I need to form strategies for both, and I don’t.
Knowing that we won’t ultimately be defeated shouldn’t be satisfactory for us.
Jesus didn’t separate faith and culture. It was just as important to Him to show His apostles to pay taxes as it was to show them He was a miracle worker when He supernaturally led them to catch the fish with the coin. It was just as important to Him that tax collectors would meet Him as it was for priests. Holding the children was just as
We are the ones who separate faith and culture, fretting that meeting physical needs or being socially active is a violation of leading others into a relationship with God, thinking that there are full-time ministry careers and … secular careers. Faith and culture shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. Jesus blended the two together inseparably. We’ve divided them time and time again.
We’re in a war bigger than ourselves, yet often we live in a farce, building our weapon stores with study, prayer, and fellowship, constructing our walls of protection around our friends and family, never taking the fight to the gates of hell, but waiting for hell to knock loud and clear on our doors.
I do see some good defense in the church today, and I hear a lot of good defense. We’ve spent centuries learning and honing our defensive game plan, but it’s time for us to get back on the offense.
My brother is a police officer, which, as you might expect, gives me angst, especially during the past few weeks. Because he is a police officer in one of the tougher areas in the state, he deals with many tragic and appalling situations. When I saw him on the 4th of July, one of the things he said struck me;
“Most of the situations – maybe all of the situations – I deal with in my job happen because of love.”
We were talking about how dangerous and risky love is and what makes us reluctant to dive into deep relationships.
I wanted to dispute his statement because I knew he was talking about robberies, drug deals, suicides, speeding accidents – a bunch of crime and sadness, but I couldn’t. The harder I thought about his statement, the more truth I saw.
We love ourselves, we love others, we love things, so we fight and kill and go to extraordinary and even illegal lengths to protect who and what we love. We lie, we hide, we cheat, we steal, we avenge, we take justice into our own hands. We do whatever it takes when what we love is at stake.
At the core of human nature is the God-given declaration that love is worthy of our death; death is eclipsed by love. Love is willing to die.
Humanity will die for love.
This answer doesn’t surprise Christians who realize the poignancy of John 3:16. God died for so many reasons eloquently laid out in other Bible verses and in books such as John Piper’s The Passion of Jesus Christ. However, John 3:16 clearly lays out one potent reason; God died for the love of us.
A couple months ago, I attended the Together for the Gospel 2016 conference. The theme of the conference was the Protestant Reformation, and most, if not all, of the speakers elaborated on the stories of particular Protestant martyrs. I found the theme daunting and chilling. Each suffering death implied the question; would I – could I – die for God?
After David Platt closed the conference with a stirring, emotional message specifically on martyrdom, I rose to sing the final songs, knowing the ugly truth about myself;
If a gunman burst into this stadium right now, I wouldn’t be able to confess Him. I couldn’t face a gun. Not in any situation. I can’t die for God.
Sometimes seeing the truth about myself hurts.
Many Christians have come to grips with martyrdom based on God’s actions for us. I’ve heard Christians say, “Dying for Him would be the least I could do. It’s the greatest sacrifice. He died for me. Why shouldn’t I be willing to sacrifice my life for Him?” That mindset is beautiful and true, but I’m ashamed to say that I don’t have it.
Skip to the 4th of July, an unrelated conversation with my brother, weeks after the conference has mulled in my subconscious mind, after the recent shootings and events, everything came together in my mind.
History, fairy tale, legend, crime, movies, music, and novels show that humanity will die for love.
Romeo and Juliet. Antony and Cleopatra. The Twilight Saga. Jesus Christ. Charles Dicken’s The Tale of Two Cities. Bruno Mars’ Grenade.
This death-for-love complex is a foundation of our nature.
I believe that this integral part of our nature is part of God’s endowed divinity on us. God created human nature deeply ingrained with a part of His personality. We are His image bearers, made like Him. Unfortunately, we often have a backward and warped way of expressing this part of our nature, but it’s still there. We don’t have to look any further than what’s popular in our culture today to see that we still firmly hold to dying for love.
No, I still don’t think that I’m willing to sacrifice my life for God. But I also don’t think my death would be any kind of sacrifice to God. After all, what can I give Him? Sacrifice implies giving up something without assurance of gaining anything. What would I even be giving up without sure gain?
However, the God-given part of me would be willing to die for true love.
If nothing else, recent events demonstrate that real love is incredibly rare and precious in the world. In fact, it barely exists in its true form.
When I see and experience God’s true love for me personally and contrast it to what happens in the world, I think my willingness to die for God becomes stronger and stronger. He alone has a true, genuine, unfailing love for me, and since I am as He made me, I’d die for Love Himself.
“You are not a God in need of anything we can give…” You Are God Alone
Reflecting on the song lyrics for Sunday worship a couple weeks ago, I grasped an amazing facet of God’s character; He never asks, “What do I get from you now that you have me?” If He did ask, the answer would be, “Nothing,” but the point is, He never asks. His actions and statements consistently inform the world, “I am free.”
People are wary of “free” things because they often come with strings attached. A “free” trial expires if you don’t buy the product. A “free” dessert comes only if you answer a survey.
When Jesus died, He gave forgiveness, love, hope, peace, and so much more … for free. These were characteristics of His nature which no one could obtain until He gave Himself away. He doesn’t provide us with a “free” trial of Christianity, hoping we’ll buy the real version three months later. He doesn’t ask us to be anyone special or do anything extraordinary to receive Him.
But that means a person could take everything God has to offer and run, without growing as a Christian and serving God?!
Yes, that’s exactly what could happen.
I would argue that a person who treats God cheaply like this for a lifetime didn’t understand His free gift and therefore, probably couldn’t have actually taken it, but that’s beside the point. Freely giving comes with risks.
In today’s world, we don’t give things away for free because of the risk involved: people ripping you off, taking advantage of you, and encouraging others to do the same. God risked His life and lost it for the world. He lost it gladly. It was part of His plan.
Free doesn’t mean cheap; free things are frequently priceless. I’ve never paid a person to encourage me, but their words do priceless things to my heart, spirit, and life. I’ve never paid for a hug, but it gives me the priceless feeling of friendship, which in its genuine form is also free. Sunsets are free … there are many more examples.
God doesn’t need anything from us in exchange for His free gift. He doesn’t even “need our hearts and lives,” like I’ve heard some evangelicals claim. He doesn’t need our worship – if He really needed it, He could form His own rock band.
Instead, God loves us. Being needed is not being loved. In fact, it is so far from being loved that it might as well be hate. Being needed means your presence is necessary, whether you’d like to be there or not; it means being inconvenienced; it means being asked to meet demands, deadlines, and expectations. Being needed means collective failure if you can’t do it and results in pride if you can. Sadly, saying we need God is often the way we convince ourselves we love Him.
Being needed is not being loved.
We are not necessary to God’s existence. We can’t be there for Him. He doesn’t inconvenience us or ask us to meet His expectations. He doesn’t fail when we don’t accept His free gift, and we can’t be proud if we do.
I’m guilty of suspicion in relationships. This character flaw has never been more obvious to me than during the past several months, partially because I’m surrounded by the most genuine love I’ve ever experienced (that of my church) and partially because I’m actually trying for the first time to establish good relationships.
My fall-back thought at the initiation of a relationship is, “What do you need from me?” My second thought logically follows, “Can I give you what you need?” So, I realize a person’s need, perceive that I can’t meet it, and back out of a relationship, or keep it at an acquaintance level. Or I’m pushed aside first for being unable to meet their needs before I can determine to back out.
But God’s relationship with me isn’t like that.
After practicing “You Are God Alone” two nights in a row in my bed, I finally grasped the meaning of the line, “You are not a God in need of anything we can give,” and all these thoughts followed.
Because God doesn’t need – it’s not part of His nature – I can honestly see the supernatural grace He possesses in selecting me. He wants me in spite of myself. He alone can genuinely love me because He genuinely doesn’t need me.
When I truly grasp that passion and desire, I want to give and praise and thank and love and live for Him – not because it’s my obligation, not because He needs it, not because He’ll love me any more than He already does, not even because I owe it to Him, though I do – simply because … how could I not???
I had to re-blog this fantastic explanation of what pleasing God means in our lives. Recently, I’ve been learning this lesson myself as a recovering habitual people-pleaser. For more helpful thoughts on the subject, read Pleasing People by Lou Priolo, which I found simple and thought-provoking.
Most of us are in one way or another. It’s a very human way to be.
I like it when people like me, and the best way to ensure people like me is usually to keep them happy, and keeping them happy involves pleasing them; so I do it.
But even beyond the basic reality of pacification, I find fulfillment in making people happy. Investing in the lives of others and seeing the positive results of my investment are incredibly rewarding. I feel that I have something of value to contribute to the world–that I have worth as a person–when I can help other people.
So, I like to please people because I hate conflict and I find it fulfilling.
But pleasing people is dangerous.
I find fulfillment in making people happy.
It’s dangerous because pleasing people often involves displeasing God. For, while not always true, it is often impossible…
As a child, I played with GI-Joes. One brand of GI-Joe that I especially favored was Hasbro, the flexible, high-quality, and close-to-authentic replicas of military soldiers.
Genuine Hasbros were distinctive for many reasons, one of which was a cheekbone scar cast into each model. When my younger siblings and I searched for models at garage sales, we scanned each carefully;
“Does it have the Hasbro scar?” we asked.
If the GI-Joe had the scar, we knew that it was a Hasbro and eagerly added it to our collection.
Scars are identity marks.
Every person has scars, internal and external. Scars are from car accidents, broken hearts, fights, traumatic falls, sports games, wars, beatings, lost hopes, and destroyed relationships. They tell stories that most people don’t readily share.
But like it or not, scars form who we are.
Jesus has scars. His scars identify Him to us as our crucified Savior and Conqueror of death.
Before his crucifixion, Jesus was beaten to an unrecognizable pulp. During his crucifixion, Jesus was nailed to the cross, and following his crucifixion, Jesus was stabbed in the side to prove his complete death. This horrible, grotesque death left Jesus with scars post-resurrection for a reason.
One of the greatest individual confessions in the Bible comes from Thomas, who personalizes his shaking faith when he identifies the risen Christ and declares;
“My Lord and my God!”
How did Thomas recognize Jesus? By putting his fingers in the nail marks in Jesus’ hands and by touching the spear wound in Jesus’ side. Jesus’ scars were meant to be purposefully shared with the world.
“Well, I’d rather wear my scars than cover them.”
I used to tutor a man who was open about his past. He praised God’s grace in his life, emotionally recounting various stories. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the way parts of his past reminded me of mine. When he asked me about my past and God’s changes in my life, I mumbled something about not being ready to share or about how we should discuss his upcoming papers.
He sighed in frustration at my closure;
“Well, I’d rather wear my scars than cover them.”
That phrase stayed in my mind for so long that I eventually added it to my quote book. At first, I assumed he was cocky because nobody actuallywants to display their scars.
Except Jesus did. Jesus invites Thomas to see and feel his scars, a very intimate experience. Thomas’ response is an incredible increase of trust and assertion of truth. Jesus let his scars be instrumental in Thomas’ whole-hearted confession and surrender. He didn’t hide them.
I know about hiding scars; I struggled with cutting.
I’m not writing to explain why I cut – I’m not sure I understand why – but I knew that I should be ashamed of the struggle, so I wore an armful of bracelets.
I thank God for ending that struggle. But even after meeting Him, I wasn’t very open about the experience. In college, I normally wore an armload of bracelets to hide the couple lingering scars I had.
I only have two scars I can still see now, but to me, they remain embarrassing signs of weakness, of things that went wrong without my understanding, of my struggle with depression. One man’s bold encouragement and honesty didn’t change my perception.
But Thomas said, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails … I will never believe.”
And Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands, and put out your hand and touch my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:25 & 27). He recognized Thomas for seeing and believing, but blessed those who believe without seeing.
We want everyone to be in that “those-who-believe-without-seeing” group. It’s comfortable to us if we don’t have to share raw, painful wounds or embarrassing scars within our faith conversations. It’s easier if I don’t have to show people, “Look who I was. Look what God changed. I was as good as dead, but He picked me for love.”
“Look who I was. Look what God changed. I was as good as dead, but He picked me for love.”
Many Thomas’ are in the world. People won’t trust us and our God unless we are honest about what we’ve experienced, inviting them to see our injuries and believe. Our scars mean that God’s grace brought us to the other side of whoever or whatever wounded us – even if it was ourselves.
Now, I’m not putting the scars I gave myself as the result of my depression on the same level as the scars Jesus received to purchase the salvation of the world; that’s blasphemously degrading to what he suffered as my innocent, perfect Savior. However, I think there is a point to sharing the stories behind scars, no matter how they are received, in order to open a conversation about God.
We live in a society where experience is one of the ultimate authorities. If we haven’t suffered and we can’t share our experiences, people assume that our faith, that our God, doesn’t work in the real world.
No scar is coincidental; scars are gifts that contribute to the testimony of God’s grace, help, strength, saving power, and protection in our lives. If we don’t share our scars, fresh or ancient, we’ve lost a part of the beautiful story God entrusted us to tell a world of aching sufferers.
I chose Kahlo’s “Wounded Deer” (above) because of how much I admire her artistic self-portraits of personal reality. The Las Vegas Informer magazine states that “her pain and suffering is shown through her paintings which have bold and rich colors and outstanding symbols and animals.”
This past week, I attended T4G, an amazing, challenging Christian conference about the gospel, leadership, Christian heritage, the fundamentals of the faith, current issues, and so much more. Any godly immersion is always a positive, but still overwhelming experience for me because there is so much I still have to know! And yet, I already have all the answers to all of the world’s most pressing questions.
I’m not sure if all of the allusions of this poem, written two or so years ago when I was very young, confused, and excited, work within my biblical theological framework currently, and I suppose at some point all analogies crumble, but when this mostly forgotten, slightly rough draft, modern piece composed on a train trip back to Detroit popped up on my Facebook feed today, I felt extremely grateful.
Going back to the moment that God filled my mind makes everything I perceive within or outside of my understanding pale, causing me to change my focus and creating a larger room in my excitement and questions for the greater glory; God chose me, and I am God’s forever and forever.
It wasn’t the first time I was on the train at 5am today –
and, like every day, I had a ticket for the early trip
and left in the morning, going backward.
I didn’t intend to be traveling backward – I never do –
but I asked one passenger which way the train was facing
– he pointed –
then, I noticed his glasses slipping off his nose,
his upside-down newspaper.
His shirt was inside-out.
I didn’t follow his finger.
Dare I trust an idiot’s directions?
Not many people talk on the early morning train, going backward.
The wrong corners of buildings appear first.
I never see the warning signs.
The trees run away.
It’s dizzying – so dizzying
but it mesmerizes me into complacency –
I just stay there.
Moving is admitting a mistake.
Switching seats screams for stares.
And, in the awkward train jolts of the uneven aisle, I might
I might drop my baggage.
My precious things might break; my neatly-foldeds might scatter.
No, I have to stay there, whizzing backward, ashamed to turn around.
She has moved into my space. Very gracefully, it seems.
Baggage all intact, she sits across from me, facing forward.
I put one on, too.
Eye to eye to eye to eye.
Our knees knock.
She smiles again.
I take mine off.
It’s awkward to be face-to-face with a forward, smiling passenger
when I’m going backward.
I try not to look up and meet her eyes.
She obviously asked intelligent questions.
I was the idiot.
She says, cheerily, “I’ll be going to the dining car. You?”
And then, she’s gone, baggage still intact.
Another woman gets on and sits next to me.
She obviously doesn’t mind the early morning train,
She doesn’t speak, but I’m satisfied. She is like me.
Our minds have married into the dizziness
mesmerizing our synopses, clipping and reattaching the grey brain matter.
“What do you take the train for?” she asks.
I was happy with quiet, but now I say, confidently,
“I always take this train.”
She is happy with quiet now.
By and by, she says,
“I get mental treatments at the hospital that way a ways.
I have to take this train.”
I am suddenly startled with the quiet.
Our minds have not married.
She hasto be here? Don’t we all choose to board?
I tug the conductor’s sleeve.
“Do I have a ticket for tomorrow’s train, too?” Do I have to stay here?
“You have the ticket. I just run the train.”
He turns around and continues running the train.
I’m sick of seeing the trees avoid me.
The odd corners are wrong.
I don’t understand the signs.
Dizzy, I get up and walk toward the bathroom.
With my hands, I turn the faucet on.
I splash water on my face.
When I look in the mirror, I see
water droplets sparkling down my cheeks,
catching on my bangs, plinking into the sink like diamonds in a wishing well,
slipping down the drain.
The mirror tells me that my glasses are sliding off my nose.
My hat is backward.
I’m only wearing one earring.
The train stops.
I hold tight to my baggage because I feel I’m getting off.
“Watcha doing?” the conductor shouts, angrily.
He tries to grab my arm.
“We’ll take-off again!”
Suddenly, I have switched. Very ungracefully, it seems.
I’m on another train now, trembling.
I’ve dropped a suitcase – it just fell from my watery hands.
My clothes unfolded.
Stumbling around, I hear,
“You may not want to stand there.”
Pushing my glasses up my nose, I see
a Man lay down his LIFE magazine.
“You’d be standing backward.” He says.
I can’t speak.
“Are these your things?” He bends down to pick up
He doesn’t flinch at the weight, the missing,
He says, “Sit close to Me.
I’ll take your baggage.”
On Valentine’s Day weekend, I made heart-shaped cookies with the people at the home where I work as a caregiver. We watched Titanic, epic love story of the 20th Century, and colored glittery valentines. As days go at the home, Valentine’s Day went well. I like days where the home feels cozy, warm, and loving.
Sometimes going out of the home ruins that feeling.
Sometimes we’re out in public together and someone walks a wide circle around us. Or someone gets quiet and hurries past us. Or adults pull their staring children away from us.
I want to cry because these people are often so unloved by the world. I watch them as they’re thrilled to be able to even pick up a crayon and draw a light, crooked line on a heart, or dump a cup of sugar into a bowl for cookies. I see all the effort that it takes them, and I want to accuse God;
“YOU made them unable to walk and talk.”
But my conscience won’t let me.
The complicated part of my conscience that wants to accuse God for the world’s problems is the same part that proves God’s existence and love. It’s the God-given longing inside of me that screams;
“Things shouldn’t be this way! People shouldn’t have to live with these challenges! The world is cruel to them!”
That’s the desire that God created which groans and cries for love and perfection. It’s the hole in every human that uncomfortably yells, “Something is wrong. Something is missing. There’s something more.” God created this desire in us to cultivate a discontentment for anything less than Himself and heaven.
We’ll all know God and heaven when we see them because they will be the satisfaction of that ingrained craving we all had on earth, that craving for ourselves and everyone around us to be healed and whole, kind and fulfilled, peaceful and happy, loving and loved.
In the meantime, whenever I see something awful, something that should never, ever happen to a child, a nation, a masterpiece, an animal, a friend, and even myself, I need to re-focus on God. Instead of accusing Him, I need to sink into the part of my created being that screams;
“THIS IS WRONG! THIS IS UNFAIR!”
I need to take a deep breath and let those words be true.
The fact that I recognize wrong and injustice proves that there is a right and a just: God. He loves the world.
God created this desire in us to cultivate a discontentment for anything less than Himself and heaven.
Love is most truly love when the people I’m holding crayons in hands for and changing and feeding can’t (and probably won’t) do anything for me in return. God teaches me to genuinely love by allowing people who can’t always return love into my life.
Sometimes people in public do stop and talk with me and the people I support at stores. They normally say something like;
“Wow! I could never do that type of work!”
“I admire you for caring for them! I’m just, it’s… that’s just not for me.”
I want to retort;
“Oh, so you could never love someone that can’t always love you back?”
“What?! Loving and helping people isn’t for you?!”
Sometimes people smile at me and say;
“You know, it must be rewarding.”
And I want to say;
“Rewarding? Like having a plate of the dinner I just made flipped on the floor? Like getting slapped when I help someone pee? Or holding someone back as they throw my head against a wall?”
These answers are contradictory. On one hand, I want to tell others that I love helping and caring for people and that they should be involved and interested, too. On the other hand, I want to point out all the struggles I face when I’m supporting people because I’m selfish and human, too.
Love means continuing to serve when you’re undervalued and overworked.
Love is allowing your sleep to be interrupted by your fragile friends who are screaming for help as a storm rocks their boat. Love is staying up when Nicodemus comes to talk late at night out of fear of being discovered in your company. Love is not sending the crowds away to go and find their own food. Love is looking on each person with compassion because they need guidance and instruction, and they usually don’t get it in the ways that they need. Love is healing the ear of the man who wants to kill you. Love is being pleased and crushed to bruise and break yourself for the good of others. Love is stretching out your arms and dying in the worst way possible so that people can one day be healed and whole, kind and fulfilled, peaceful and happy, loving and loved.
God teaches us true love by allowing people who don’t always return or appreciate our love into our lives, and He shows us how to love them anyway because that’s what He does for us.
I’m immensely privileged to be allowed to show God’s love to the people who don’t always love me. I’m blessed with a conscience that recognizes the injustices in the world. But most of all, I’m gifted with a God that loves me when I don’t always love Him and rights every injustice in His perfect time.