Check Yes or No

Before technology took over our lives, before kids could text during class with flying thumbs and barely a glance beneath the desk… we passed notes. Yes “notes” – folded pieces of paper with the contents of our hearts printed for the whole class to see if Teacher caught us passing them across the aisle.

If we had a crush, we might draw lopsided squares next to the words “yes” and “no” following a question written with trembling pencil: “Do you love me?” Then directions for responding: “Check yes or no.”

Remember the heart-pounding, back-of-the-neck sweating, weak-kneed anticipation as the recipient carefully unfolded the paper and read those words? The date of the Emancipation Proclamation escapes us to this day because we missed an entire American History lesson as we anxiously anticipated the reader’s response. That one tiny check mark had the power to make or break social status and self-esteem, and determine whether we would cry on our best friend’s shoulder, or jump up and down with glee as we giggled together next to our lockers in the hallway.  Remember?

I felt that same thumping in my chest, weakness in my knees, and inner angst on Monday as Honey and I drove to Tampa to retrieve the two fifteen year old Ukranian orphan boys we are summer-hosting with Project 143. After being apart for nearly three weeks, I didn’t know what to expect upon our return. Will they want to come home with us? Did they miss us? Will they hug us?

We tapped into modern technology – FaceTiming them on our iphones most days while we were traveling for Honey’s work and my Texas book tour, but with the language barrier, it was difficult to communicate. After several seconds of awkward staring, smiling and waving, we said “goodbye” and put the phone down, wondering what they were really thinking and feeling. Wondering why we missed them so much after sharing only nine days together.

“I bet Pasha ignores us or hides behind the other host parents when we get there,” I said to My Honey over Wendy’s baked potatoes halfway between Jacksonville and Tampa.

“Why would he?”

“Because he’s had a blast with the other kids and we abandoned him and he probably just wants to stay there and not come home to our small, quiet life,” I responded. “Besides, he doesn’t transition well.”

“Hmmm. Well, I guess we’ll just have to see, won’t we?”

When we arrived in our host friends’ driveway, Yura met us at the car with a shy but genuine smile. He hugged us both then immediately mounted his new Ripstik, proudly showing off his balancing skills.Yura bike

Whew! One down, one to go.

I cautiously entered the house where my still-sane-after-parenting-six-kids-for-three-weeks friend, Sarah lives. No sign of Sarah but I heard kid-noise in the game room where I discovered four kiddos hovered around two computer screens, Minecraft on one and a digital soccer game on the other. Pasha’s back was to the door as he focused on the soccer screen. I sneaked up behind him, quickly covering his eyes with my hands in a guess-who gesture.

“Ms. Sarah?” he questioned, leaving my hands in place.

I said nothing. Inwardly pleading with my heart to stop pounding. Father, why do I expect rejection?

“Juliet! It’s You!” pasha bike

Pasha leaped from the swivel chair and attacked me – one hundred and six pounds of teenage boy wrapping me in a hug that squeezed fear to death! That moment confirmed Sarah’s hunch that even though the boys had only been with us a few days, our home was their home, because that’s the first place they landed in America. And our family was their family, because we were the ones who initially bonded with them here. Pasha didn’t let go. He hugged and hugged and hugged me until I became a rag doll flopping into the swivel chair. Then he raced outside to find Honey.

A few days later I sit in church, wedged between them like a paperback between bookends, watching My Honey in the pulpit – preaching the communion sermon.

Jesus, I want them to know You. I want them to want to know You. What does this service mean to two orphaned teens who didn’t grow up in the Christian faith and barely comprehend a few English phrases? How can I use Google Translate to translate Your sacrificial eternal love for them?

As Yura takes the tiny cup from the deacon holding a silver tray, I see the scars. Perfectly straight, white with age, horizontal lines just above the wrist. scars quoteCutting? Why have I not noticed these before?  My stomach knots as I reach for my own symbol of the blood shed for my sins.

Grabbing my phone, I text with flying thumb, barely glancing at the screen half-hidden beneath my flowing skirt. God, I can’t be silent. I must ask, in the stillness of this moment. Will he trust me enough to let me share his pain?

I press “Go” and pass the phone as Google magically turns my English into strange letters and symbols understood only by Yura.

Расскажите мне о шрамы на руке? Tell me about the scars on your arm?

The same sixth-grade heart-pounding, back-of-the-neck sweating, weak-kneed anticipation creeps through my body as the recipient carefully-so-as-not-to-spill-the-blood takes the phone and reads my words.

Do you love me Yura? Do you love me enough to let me know the hurt behind those marks on your arms? Will you look at me with honest eyes and see that I long to know the life you’ve lived and the tears you’ve cried and the pain your young heart has born in your strong, silent way? Check yes or no.

Instantly his eyes meet mine as he drops the phone and instinctively covers the visible marks of his pain.

нет! No!

Oh Lord! I’ve gone too far, said too much, crossed the line! It’s too soon. The trust hasn’t had time to bloom. But, we only have six weeks left. Every moment is an opportunity.

 I pick up the phone, feeling the eyes of a pew full of worshippers on the back of my neck as I, the pastor’s wife, text during the holy communion service.

 I will use humor. That usually works.

Развелев поцарапать вас ? Did a lion scratch you?

 He smiles, almost giggles and whispers in English, “No!”

Whew! Now what?

I text.

Лев почесал меня , тоже. Только мои шрамы на внутренней части. A lion scratched me, too. Only my scars are on the inside.

I wait. Yura smiles again and turns the phone off. He says nothing, but his body moves closer in a gesture of understanding. I can feel his leg, warm against mine as Honey reads from Matthew 26 (NKJV): “Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”but-for-scars

Hands Up Don’t Shoot

“The measure of your compassion lies not in your service of those on the margins, but in your willingness to see yourself in kinship with them.” Gregory Boyle

1 John 318Us and them. It happens in every stage of life.

First grade girls giggle behind tiny hands as the new girl enters the playground. How do they instinctively know that she’s somehow different? Is it her clothing? Her way of speaking? Her downcast eyes? Whatever it is, the new girl instantly becomes one of “them” while the “us” group sticks together like Legos.

Us and them. High school’s unwritten rules keep cliques from crossing over. Decade after decade, teens separate themselves into social groups – jocks and cheerleaders, punks and nerds, this gang and that one – whatever the new trends or groups. No one wants to be a “them” so every Freshman hustles to find an “us” to identify with.

Adult versions of “us” and “them” perpetuate through generations, eating the heart out of a tiny but powerful thing called unity.

I grew up in the South in the 1970’s, where train tracks separated “us” from “them” in almost every town. I cringe to recall the wall-building words that flowed so freely from the otherwise loving lips of church-going relatives. Words used to alienate “them” from “us.” Words so ingrained in our Southern culture that they came out of mouths that simultaneously proclaimed the love and grace of God.

How can God accept worship from hearts segregated by the railroad tracks of skin color, language, income or education levels? Does He really sit quietly on His throne while His children derail one another with hatred? Or does He passionately love us – one and all the same, commanding us to do likewise?

Can we truly love one another while something ugly boils beneath our churchy facades? Ferguson is just one tragedy among millions that take place daily upon our planet. The heart of God is pierced by Every. Single. One. Were we more like Him, our hearts would be pierced as well.

I wept through a deeply touching film last week. It’s the story of a Jesuit priest who moves into Latino gang territory and becomes a conduit of God’s love to effect lasting change in the lives of those who are touched by that love. Father Gregory Boyle not only says, “The measure of your compassion lies not in your service of those on the margins, but in your willingness to see yourself in kinship with them” – he lives it.

In my former life, as the wife of a crack-addicted spouse, I came face to face with my own issues with the “us” and “them” mentality. I was part of the “us” who choose not to snort, shoot up or smoke illegal substances. He rode the fence. Sometimes he was like us – clean-shaven, church going, hard working, and tax paying. When he fell off that fence, he instantly (in my mind) became a “them.”

I could not identify with the lifestyle that accompanied his binges. Nor could I accept his almost pleading statement that his druggie girlfriend was “just like us.” In my mind, she wasn’t like me at all. She was (insert any number of ungodly words that a wounded wife might use), but definitely not like me.

In the drafting of my personal memoir on addiction and redemption, I struggled with some of these thoughts as I processed the truth of God’s healing mercy and redemption of all things lost. Although at the time, the fence-rider’s words caused a scream-and-throw-things reaction, hindsight proves him right. She is just like me – a broken sinner in desperate need of God’s grace. I am no more deserving of that than she.

I can no longer sit in my high and mighty seat looking down on her, or “them.” Whether they are different from me because of genetic makeup or lifestyle choices, we are still kin. The blood of Jesus turns us all the same color. His sacrifice makes no distinction between drug addiction or food addiction. All can be forgiven and restored.

May I invite you to join me in laying down our arms (pointing fingers, judgmental thoughts, words and actions) and holding up our palms in “don’t shoot” solidarity with humanity’s masses? Will we serve the marginalized from a place of compassion because each human being is part of the human clique called “us.”

Jesus shed His blood for each one. Can we be like Him and love without condition? Can we be like our brother, Father Boyle, and see ourselves in kinship with those who differ for whatever reason?

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:18 (KJV)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thank you, Father Boyle (a.k.a. G-Dog), for your example:

If you’d like to see the movie trailer, it’s here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mYEAwtdsYo

You can find his book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion here: http://www.amazon.com/Tattoos-Heart-Power-Boundless-Compassion/dp/1439153159

 

 

 

 

Jesus & Jon (Bon Jovi)

Sometimes I sing along. I can’t help myself. When an ‘80s hair band blares over my YMCA’s loudspeakers, my elliptical machine’s heart rate monitor notes an increase. My aching legs climb those fake hills a little faster.

This morning I happened to hit senior citizen hour at the Y. No one else appeared to mouth the lyrics as Pandora took us back in time. They obviously were not high schoolers in 1986, when our days began with Bon Jovi and Aqua Net hairspray.

“You give love a bad name. Bad name.”

The phrase repeated over and over as my legs pumped faster. Faster, faster faster!

Do we, Lord? Do we give LOVE a bad name? Do I?

colosseum2I came across two guys talking about love today. John and Jon. The first John writes these words: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8 NKJV)

The second Jon sings:                                                                                                        “I play my part
And you play your game
You give love a bad name (bad name)…”

What does one have to do with the other? Perhaps nothing, except for being part of the stew that is my brain. But, I’m asking you to s-t-r-e-t-c-h with me at the end of my workout to make this connection:

John the apostle tells me if I don’t love, I don’t know God.

Jon the ’80s hair band singer says it’s possible for a person to give love a bad name.

Jesus our Savior says “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  (John 13:34 NKJV)

If I am a follower of Jesus Christ, I am commanded to love.

  • If I am unloving (to my spouse, my kids, my neighbor, my church member, myself), something is wrong.
  • If I’m just playing a game, somebody’s gonna see through my facade.
  • If I’m the one giving LOVE a bad name, it’s time to connect to the Vine.

Love is the litmus test. Let’s not give it a bad rap.

“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus (John 13:35 NKJV)

When Love Hurts

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8 NIV

Have you ever loved someone who recoiled with your every attempt to care? Have you worked hard at building a relationship of trust with a wounded person, only to have them disappear emotionally or physically? Sometimes fear prevents wounded people from being able to experience intimacy. Sometimes they are so broken, they can neither receive nor reciprocate. Loving is not enabling. It cannot be forced upon someone or used to manipulate them into doing what we want. Loving is allowing God to flow through us to reach another human heart.

I‘d like to thank Mike Johnson, Special Projects Director at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, for the following guest post. He gives us a glimpse of what it’s like to invest in people, only have them disappear.

We had a great time at the movie, and not because the movie itself was so great. The fun came from having a big group at a big opener. We came early, and so we played games and talked to pass the time before the midnight opening show.Pregnant Shelby

The next day, our program lost one of those very people. “Julie” had been making noise about leaving, but couldn’t explain why she felt that need, especially at seven months pregnant. By the way, this residential recovery program client was 17 years old.

Julie had a loving and supportive place to live, a gracious and well-designed program to help her process the difficulties of her life, and deeply caring staff. It was all just too much for her. She could not allow herself to love and be loved. The pot of that poker hand was simply “too rich” for her, so Julie folded.

Addiction recovery is a young field of work. Among the learning fronts is how attachment functions intersect with recovery work. We know from the National Recovery Initiative that one of the top 3 predictors of positive outcomes is the quality of a client’s relational connection to staff. So why, then, did a high quality relationship drive this pregnant teen away?

Julie had learned to avoid attachment. Deep in her brain, the abandonment and abuse of her childhood wired up her attachment functions to have a big, big alarm on them. “Look out! This hurts!” her brain said to her– every time she felt love.

A 1997 study by the National Institutes for Mental Health (NIMH) found that people who grew up under abuse and neglect combined were 36 times more likely to have an adult experience of homelessness! Julie literally couldn’t let herself participate in a loving community. She felt an overwhelming psychological need to separate from connection for her own safety.

So what is a good program to do when loving people will drive some away? Stop loving? Months later, we were able to ask Julie about her experience. She said it felt good to be pursued, and that she couldn’t think of a single thing we could have done differently. Her path is simply going to be a lot more winding. But, said Julie, the love did impact her, even if she couldn’t remain in it.

We may be hurt when all our best attempts at love seem unvalued. Jen actually received those attempts, and liked them. She stayed as long as she could. Maybe next time she’ll stay longer.

Mike Johnson is the Special Projects Director at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission.bio pic He is a former Army Ranger with 7 children and 23 years of marriage to Dena.

*This article was first published in the May/June issue of Rescue Magazine.
Used with permission.

God Redeems The Things We Thought Were Lost

The Lord smiled on me today as I sat at my computer at 5:45 pm wearing the same clothes I slept in, teeth unbrushed, hair in a leftover ponytail. (I know that sounds gross, but if you are a writer, you might understand me when I say I was in writer’s mode!) Thankfully, my husband is away and I can get away with it today, otherwise I might become single again!

Here’s what happened: I had just completed this paragraph for Chapter 15, which describes a very brief, very intense relationship that I became involved in after my divorce:

“On a page from October, my journal says, “I want to be understood. I feel terribly misunderstood. This is the first time in my life I have been made to feel as if I’m not good enough for someone, or that they think that of me. How can he just cut me off? Even God says, “Come, let us reason together.” I can see from the verses written in my prayer journal that I was in agony.”

Just as I finished typing that last sentence, I get the following text from my husband,

“I don’t think any human has loved another human more than I love you.”

Honey & Me in Venice

Honey & Me in Venice

Now, he has no earthly idea what I’m writing about, or how I look or smell today! But my Jesus knows. He sees me sitting here at my table, reliving some painful, embarrassing pieces of my personal history. And my loving, personal Savior decided to prompt my husband to send me that text at just the moment I was reminded of a painful rejection from the past. And while my husband does say kind things to me quite often, those particular words have never been said and their impact would not have been as significant had I not been writing what I was writing at that moment!

Jesus, I just weep these tears of joy sometimes at the ways You lavish Your love on me. You see me. You know me. You know that my love language is words of affirmation. And You know that it hurts me to recall those other kinds of words that I’ve heard in my past. Thank You for reminding me so beautifully that I no longer live in the past…That You have redeemed the things I thought were lost. Bless my sweet husband’s heart. Bless The Lord, O my soul! Worship His holy name…