emarkthomas

Trying to live love well through the power of the Everlasting.

A dock.

My family owns land on the Racquette River; a recreational spot that has been in the family for years. Slowly and surely, each generation has added to it and it’s now a lovely spot to spend a Sunday afternoon. Picnic tables, fire pits, a grilling pavilion, a large gathering pavilion, working bathroom facilities, a volleyball court, a swimming area with a dock and floating raft, and all shadowed by enormous white pine trees. During “my weekend” of Monday and Tuesday, I try and get down there as often as I can to spend some time resting and relaxing just by myself.

Last week, the river was being run extremely low; probably the power company that owns the dams downriver attempting to conserve water during a rather dry summer. As I walked out onto the dock and examined the low water level, I suddenly noticed that the rock foundation our dock sits upon was in need of some rather extensive work. To put it bluntly, the foundation is a mess. Nothing a good afternoon of moving rocks about couldn’t fix, though. But I’ll need another day of low water levels in order to do that work. I can’t do it when the water is running high – I just can’t get under the dock or see which rocks need to be moved.

I realized something today: my life is a lot like my family’s messed up dock. Kinda shaky, but functional, and we’re all a bit too busy to focus on where work needs to be done. But remove the water, and there’s a messed up foundation exposed.

I believe that the last nine months removed from the Christian communities I’ve always known were God lowering the water levels for me.

I feel as if I’ve been freed up to do some important work on my foundation, to shore things up and strengthen my hold upon the rocks. Things that just couldn’t get done with the water there.

I’ve had nine months to just rest and be me with Papa, removed from all else. And in those nine months, we’ve systematically covered some fairly amazing and intensely deep issues. I feel more cemented in the Kingdom of Heaven than I’ve ever felt before; more at peace with the Holy One than I ever thought possible. Chains and shackles have fallen off and I’ve been amazed at the freedom that is to be found in the blood of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven. Some of those chains I wrapped around myself, some the world wrapped around me, and yes – some were even wrapped around me by the Church. But all of them have been coming off, with the Spirit showing me why I don’t need them or need to worry about them coming back.

Like an adult who now realizes why bathing is necessary, I don’t need to worry about my childish things returning. I won’t wrap those chains around me again. Like a driver who learns to slow down after a terrible accident, I’ve learned to avoid the world’s chains. And like a man burned by fire, I’ve learned the dangers associated with the benefits of loving and well-intentioned Christian communities. I love that the fire keeps me warm on cold nights, but I don’t like it when the fire burns me. Just because they mean well doesn’t mean that the chains they’re wrapping around you are beneficial. I’ve learned to tell the difference between the ropes that bind us together and the chains that bind me down. The ropes I love, the chains I’ll never again let them use.

I know that eventually the waters will rise again and I’ll enter a season of life where I’ll once again be emerged into Christian communities. A dock, after all, is designed to be in the water. But the work on the foundation during this season will help me to be more grounded, more secure, and a safer place of refuge and beacon of hope for others to see the strength and freedom that the transformative power of the Spirit of the Living God really can bring us.

Not bad at all.

Oh, I’m Lovin’ This!

Amy Mitchell wrote a brilliant post entitled, “Friends with Agendas.” What clinched it for me?

Here’s my message to my non-Christian friends:

I chose you because I like you.  We have things in common, we have kids the same age, I find you interesting and fun, and I like being with you.  This is the same way I pick all my friends, regardless of religion.  I didn’t choose you because I’m using you as my personal mission field.  Should you have an interest in talking about spiritual things, I’m here.  But I enjoy your company and I’m glad to hang with you no matter what we talk about.

That’s just the part that I liked the best, but the entire article is worth reading, in my opinion. I liked it all! Amy, thank you. You put words to something that’s been bugging me for a long time.

Hey… it’s okay.

I remembered today that I’m supposed to be, I guess, the “fallen” guy.

Do you know what I mean there?

Growing up in the North American Christian circuit, there’s always a “fallen” person. You know, it usually goes something like, “Oh, there’s Albert… he’s the one that got caught having an affair with his boss, and then left his wife and kids. He hasn’t been seen in church for months… so that tells you all you need to know, I guess.”

You know, that guy. Or gal. If you’ve spent any amount of time being alive and being around people, you’ve probably experienced this in some way. I was reminded today that I’m one of those fallen guys.

I guess.

I haven’t been to church in almost nine months, I think. Something fairly close to that. Well, I work Sundays from 8:00 am until 6:00 pm, and then I work evenings during the week. Any time that any local churches have established services or group meetings, I’m working.

To be clear: this is a good thing. I have student loans that need paying. My parents are *thrilled* that I’m working, not upset that I can’t make it to church.
 
But you know, being absent for months on end creates a vacuum about yourself, and into that vacuum goes every little thought and whisper about everything you’ve said or done, and from those comes this idea of what’s going on with your mind and life currently, and boom – there’s the rumor. And if you’re not around to contradict it, then, well, the rumor is de facto truth.
 
And also, being gay and Christian is still kind of a radical and impossible idea to a very large population of Christians. So I get it when people that haven’t seen me in church for months and months read my blog and get, well, upset. I understand that they think I’ve fallen off some kind of wagon.
 
I mean, I think they’re wrong and jumping to conclusions based on outdated and insufficient data and making judgements and assumptions about things that they shouldn’t ever judge or assume without at least coming to talk to me, but hey, I really do understand.
 
We. Are. Human. Beings.
 
I get it.
 
So when a conversation today reminded me that I’m supposed to be in dire straits, on the rocks of faith and foundation and such, I reacted in a human way. I got sad, thinking about the friendships that are being affected by this perception. The people I’ve not heard from, and the activities that are happening that I didn’t get an invitation to, that kind of thing. And then I thought of a friend – one friend in particular – that I really wish would return my emails or phone calls. And then for a second I got mad. (Hey, I’m still human too, you know.)
 
But then I rememered all that I’ve learned in my crazy, messed up twenty-seven years on this planet, and what I’ve learned and seen of Papa and his Kingdom. And I realized that if I saw this friend today, there would probably be this weird, fake kind of, “Hey! How have you been? Sorry about getting back to you… so busy and all…” and I’d respond just the same, and then after a few awkward minutes we’d move on with our days and that’d be that.
 
But as the Spirit moved in my heart, I realized that what I want to do whenver that moment finally comes is to just walk up to him, give him a hug, and say, “Hey… it’s okay. Really.”
 
Because honestly… it is okay. I mean it’s not right, it’s not ideal, and there are hurting hearts strained relationships and that’s just not cool.
 
But it’ll be okay. I really believe that. Because I’ve learned a thing or two about forgiveness and tresspasses in my life, and I’ve seen Jesus’ blood cover some pretty unbelievable stuff and reconcile some massively broken relationships.
 
I’ve learned that no matter what I’m doing with my life, no matter how crazyily bad my decisions may be, or crazily awesome, God’s right there, walking and working with me exactly as I need him to for that season of my life.
 
And he’s doing it with my loved ones too.
 
So really… it is okay.
 
I forgive them, and I hope they forgive me, and I know that Papa’s got a plan, and I trust him.
 
I trust him.
 
So really… it’s okay. I love ya. I do. I love you, family that doesn’t accept my sexuality. I love ya, friends that backed out when it got too weird for them. I love ya. I love you. And I’m not really mad. Sure, it sucks sometimes when I talk with a friend who wants to know what my loved ones think about my whole being gay and Christian thing, but…
 
I know who you all are, really, and I love you, even if we can’t live life together well (or fully) right now.
 
It’s okay.
 
It’s okay.

The Viceroy

There once was a great Queen who ruled over a small but lovely country in a world very much like ours is today. She fulfilled all of the duties and responsibilities set forth for the government in the constitution, and did so lovingly and well, with the heart of a leader who cherishes her people. Among the populace she was beloved, and they trusted her to use her power continually for good.

But one day the Queen announced that her presence was required abroad. In order to prevent war and certain invasion, the beloved monarch was to join other world leaders in a city thousands of miles away, with the goal of formulating a plan to save the planet’s people from destruction. In her stead, she left her powers with a Viceroy. It would be his duty to perform as the Queen, and rule in her stead, until she was able to return. She warned her people that with such an unstable geopolitical forum, she could not be certain of exactly when her return would be possible.

Months passed, and the Viceroy watched things go rather smoothly. But soon after his one year anniversary of holding power for the Queen, the daily running of the country saw a shift. Instead of weighing options through the Queen’s guidelines and principles, the Viceroy instead began passing laws and making judgements based on his own observations and interpretations. Thus he began passing laws that required people to emulate qualities and circumstances that he believed the Queen admired, rather than looking to govern in a way that fostered the love and well-being that formed the heart of the Queen’s laws. Whenever anyone challenged him on this, he would bully them into submission by reminding them that surely he, as the Queen’s chosen Viceroy, knew her heart and mind much more thoroughly than any other. 

“Surely there could be no one else better qualified to know Her Majesty’s true mind,” he argued, “than me?”

The people’s love for their Queen, and their trust in her, overcame their hesitation to trust the Viceroy, and they submitted to his new rule. After two more years, the average citizen’s memory of the Queen and her true heart had faded entirely, replaced instead with the Viceroy”s propoganda. Even if the people could remember the Queen’s heart behind the government, they had no time to contemplate the gap between the memory and the current reality, for under the Viceroy’s reign the people were divided into two groups: those who became rich with power, stature, influence, and possessions, and those who were oppressed and impoverished.

The rich didn’t want to think too hard on the Queen’s heart, lest they risk upsetting the comfort and stability of their daily lives. The poor had not time or energy to think on the Queen, as heavy burdens were placed on their shoulders, food and shelter were denied them, and false charges of heinous crimes were brought against them at random.

So it was in this sad state that the Queen saw her people when she returned secretly in the night, finally victorious after so many years. From the moment she stepped off the plane and slid into the backseat of her limo, she sensed something was wrong. The elation of brokering a world-wide peace after years of labor vanished, and instead her heart was filled with horror and heartbreak as she witnessed the slums that now filled the streets.

Upon seeing a young man curled up in an alley, the Queen ordered her car to stop. She walked over to the homeless man and knelt at his side. She could see damp spots on his shirt where blood from a severe beating hadn’t yet had time to dry, and it was clear from his face that he was extremely malnourished. When he realized who she was, the young man jerked backwards and his eyes filled with terror.

“Please, Your Majesty! Mercy! Mercy! I’m so sorry for anything – everything! Please leave me in peace tonight! No more!” At his last request, his eyes looked beyond her to her guards, and the terror in them couldn’t keep back the tears that sprang forth.

The Queen’s heart was broken, and she reached her hand out to touch the young man’s face. Once again he jerked away quickly, and cowered against the wall.

“My dear,” the Queen managed to choke out. “Who has done this to you? Which abysmally foolish person assumed they had the authority to treat you like this?”

The man looked incredulously at his monarch, and finally answered her.

“The Viceroy and his men, ma’am. Was it not Your Majesty’s pleasure to have me and those like me just as you see us now?” He held out his hands to indicate the rest of the alley, where faces were peering out of boxes and mounds of trash. “We know that the laws are in place to make the kingdom reflect what you wish it to be.”

The Queen knew in an instant that there was no deceit in the man’s eyes. With one simple hand gesture, she assigned members of her entourage the task of helping the people in alley. With another she summoned the young man to follow her to her car, and with a word she set the driver on a determined course towards the Palace.

By the time she reached the Palace gates, the Queen’s fury had grown red hot. She charged through the doors and into the throne room, where she surveyed the dais before her. A large, dusty throne – her own – was nearly hidden from view by an overstuffed and gaudy chair that was clearly of the Viceroy’s design. The latter she immediately pushed over and left, on its side, toppled to the floor.

When the Viceroy entered, the Queen sat down purposefully and quietly in her long-abandoned post, and simply fixed her gaze on her trembling official.

 Eventually she asked, “What explanation can you give me for the state I find my people in?” With that, she stood and placed her hand gently on the shoulder of the young man from the alley, looking so out of place in the regal room.

The Viceroy stumbled over words and phrases, desperately attempting to explain himself to the Queen.

“Your Majesty – knew that you trusted me, sure that you trusted my interpretation of your laws! The chair – sure that you’d want me to be rewarded and treated with respect and honor as your regent! The people – criminals, my lady! They didn’t love or honor your ways! Not as I did! I – that is – they – er – and the economy! Down, needed forced laborers to survive – and the moral fabric of the nation – shambles! All in all… you know, punish the sinners and reward the faithful! And then -”

The Queen lifted a finger and the Viceroy’s voice vanished as if an invisible hand had been slapped over his mouth.

“Did you forget, or did you ever understand, that the most valuable and treasured thing you were trusted with was care of the people? Of all of the people? That my heart – the purpose of my government and life’s work – is entirely about the human beings in my charge, and their well being?

But your crimes, throne steward, go beyond forgetting my heart. You established a system that lied to my people about everything that matters most. Your government – in my name – taught them that they are not loved. It taught them to fear me as a dictator rather than love me as their Mother. Taught them to expect cruelty and injustice from my hand instead of mercy, love, and provision.”

As she ended her speech, the Queen reached forward and gently drew the young homeless man into an embrace. Her beleaguered subject melted into her arms, won over by the revealing of her heart towards himself and his fellow citizens. With a tear-filled gaze, the Queen fixed her eyes on the Viceroy and ordered he be stripped of his authority and rank.

With a hollow voice the now-rankless man asked what was to become of him.

The Queen stepped slowly forward and said, “Be thankful that you have a monarch that seeks to do well by all of her people. My mercy can be great. Have a care, and search your heart. You may still yet have a future at my side someday.”

Then she nodded to the guards, and the man who had been Viceroy was escorted out.

These Things Take Time: Growth.

Roughly 24 years ago, my mother and father packed up myself, my older brother, and my younger sister and moved us back home. For a few years, my parents had lived in a different town as they focused on building their own family unit, separate from their extended families. But by the time my mother became pregnant for #4 (otherwise known as my sister Jennifer) they’d decided to bring us back home, to the tiny town in which they both grew up. To plug back into the family farm of which my father was a member of the fifth generation. So my grandparents gave them a plot of land, about an acre and a half, on the edge of the farm where they could build a house.

And build they did! We moved into the house when I was four years old. The house was surrounded by red pine trees, because my great-grandmother had hired the town’s young men to plant several acres of them on “the Hill” where her fields used to be. In order to build, my dad had to log out enough trees to make space for a house and a small lawn. And I do mean a small lawn! I remember, at first, the patch of grass around us that disappeared into the dark pine forest which, to a kid, was a magical and dangerous place.

As the years went by and our family grew, so did the need for space. By the time the “Original Six” children of our family were present and accounted for, we had run out of space to play in the lawn. So my grandfather and father logged out a new space for us – a great big lawn that had more than enough room for us.

By that time, though, my older brother and I were old enough to start helping with the outside chores. Such as mowing the new, large lawn. Oh, how I hated it at first! With only a small push mower and such an expansive yard, it really was quite a task. My brother and I shared it, though, and it was never quite too much for either one of us. Although I do suspect that he may have pulled far more than his fair share for me. He was always doing things like that, my big brother. He’s just one of those guys that are just… good.

Anyway, when he left for college, I was left alone in the lawncare department. I didn’t mind quite so much by that point, because in addition to the push mower we also now had a riding mower. The riding mower covered the vast majority of the lawn, but because our house is built into a hill there are sections of the lawn that are too dangerous to mow on a riding mower, so a push mower is (still is, in fact) required to finish the job. With the advance of technology, and with the finances provided by my summer job teaching swimming lessons, mowing the lawn became a refuge where I could listen to my music on my trusty Walkman (later Discman) and just have a few hours to myself.

It was during that season of life that I began to open my eyes to the neglected sections of my parent’s property. I began to view the abandoned pasture next to our house as potential. I began to view the sloping hills down to the stream as potential. The old horse corral on top of the hill, behind the house, that never got used anymore? Potential. So over the period of two years, I slowly but surely began to extend the boundaries of the lawn. Areas that had long been left alone to grow up to brush were cleared out and mowed. The beautiful stone wall was cleaned up and became a breathtakingly beautiful backdrop for the property. Trees were pruned and thinned, rose bushes and lilac bushes planted, and the stumps of the old pine trees removed.

Eventually, we possessed a beautiful and expansive lawn that really was quite something when it was taken care of.

Now, all these years later, I find myself 27 years old and here again, for the foreseeable season. The lawn has only gotten better, and with my eyes and hands it’s going to improve even more. My mother and I spent yesterday morning (Mondays and Tuesdays are my weekends) planting a beautiful flower bed in front of the deck. When the bulbs come up, it’ll be spectacular. We had some leftover gladiola bulbs, so I walked the lawn looking for just the right spot to plant them. I reached the far corner of the lawn, up on the hill, where my mother’s rose bushes are really taking off. I stopped and surveyed the property from its highest point, and suddenly I realized something: that the old cow pasture the adjoins our lawn on that side is just that now: an old cow pasture. And that big, beautiful cherry tree that stretches out its branches so? Well, there’s no reason for it to be on the other side of the fence now, is there?

And come to think of it, there’s no reason why we can’t move that fence back a good twenty feet now, is there? At one point there was a massive brush pile there, composed of all the branches and stumps of the trees from clearing out the space for the house. But that pile is gone now, and even the traces of it can easily be cleared away to bring in the lawn mowers. And as I stood there under that cherry tree, standing in land that until just that moment had only ever been thought of as ugly pasture, I realized that when this little plot has been given the same treatment the rest of the lawn has received… it very well may be the most beautiful spot on the property. Looking to my left from  that massive tree I can see our house and the lawns, looking so nicely mowed and green. And looking to my right, on the top of the hill, I can see the entire town stretched out below with the lovely river snaking right through the heart of it.

My breath caught in my chest as I imagined my family, ten years from now, laughing and playing under that cherry tree, with the incredible view going on for what seems like miles.

And as I thought about that, it suddenly hit me: life is this. My walk with Papa, and my walk in this world, happen like this.

With a lot of work and enough time, something beautiful and brilliant is fashioned. Not overnight, but over years.

With a lot of work, and enough time.

Beauty, truth, wisdom, knowledge, grace, patience…. growth.

Growth takes time.

These Things Take Time: Grief

On Monday afternoon, climbing out of the refreshing river after a spectacular game of backyard kickball, a friend pointed to a black band on my left ankle and asked about it. I explained to her how it used to be the necklace of an old and dear friend from college, Jilian, but that she had died in a car accident. Her mother gave me the necklace to remember her by, and since I was too big to use it as a necklace I opted to wear it on my ankle.  

It didn’t hit me then, but as I thought over the day later that night I realized how miraculous that exchange was for me. You see, I told the story quickly and lightly, with a smile on my face and a warm glow in my chest. I reacted to my friends’ responses with the simple explanation that it was quite alright; thinking of Jilian only filled me with happy thoughts and wonderful memories. The entire topic of conversation lasted approximately a minute and a half, and then we were on to other things.

But five years ago, the thought of Jilian gutted me. The feel of her necklace on my skin, new and unfamiliar to me, served as a constant and jarring reminder of her death. The world was all wrong, would never be okay again, and that’s all there was to it.

Days slipped into weeks, and weeks into months, and months somehow turned into years. I kept breathing, kept living. Sometimes I lived better than others, but live I did. The moments where my brain forgot to focus on the heartbreaking loss grew longer and more frequent, until entire weeks would go by without me thinking of her. Then I’d be getting dressed, slipping on a sock, and my fingers would linger on the fabric of Jilian’s necklace on my ankle. For a moment my heart would twinge, then my lips would crack a small smile, and I’d remember something random that she’d once said or a warm memory we’d shared. Then I’d pull my shoe on and go about my day.

And before I knew it, I was standing on the banks of the river explaining the memorial necklace with a smile and a heart full of joy and love before jumping back into life, my face bright with a smile that can only come from real, authentic happiness.

Somehow, in the five years and four months since she died, my heart healed.

I don’t know when.

But it did.

Grief… takes time.

But eventually, it’s okay.

“All right, then, I’ll go to hell.”

Absolutely brilliant post here by Rachel Held Evans.

Definitely worth reading! She uses an excerpt from Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in which Huck’s mind, filled with the biblical teachings of the day, had him frightened of going to hell for helping the slave Jim escape. But as he thinks things over, his conscience gets the better of him and he determines to go right ahead and help Jim anyway, uttering the phrase, “All right, then, I’ll go to hell.”

Evans point, I think, is that sometimes in order to authentically follow the Holy Spirit and be true to whom he’s created you to be – in order to live and love well as called – we have to act in a way that may seem like a betrayal of what’s currently being taught and held as biblical.

My absolute favorite part of her post:

The Bible has been “clear” before, after all—in support of a flat and stationary earth, in support of wiping out infidels, in support of  manifest destiny, in support of Indian removal, in support of anti-Semitism, in support of slavery, in support of “separate but equal,” in support of constitutional amendments banning interracial marriage. 

In hindsight, it all seems so foolish, such an obvious abuse of Scripture.

…But at the time? 

 

Ah, my chest seized up and tears nearly sprang to my eyes! I think she hit the nail right on the head there – I believe, I truly and firmly believe, that the living out of the gospel and the advancing of the Kingdom comes from living and loving well with each other, and that doing so is far more important than just about anything else.

It reminded me of two posts:

1) Richard Beck’s Orthodox Alexithymia 

2) My own post Value People

I guess I just really can’t stress enough how important I think it is to, well, value people. It’s a theme that’s been inescapable to me these past few months.

Hmm… a thought… I’ll keep you posted. Until next time!

We’re okay, you and I. Really.

mercy speaks by Jesus’ blood
hear and sing, ye sons of God
justice satisfied indeed
Christ has full atonement made

Jesus’ blood speaks loud and sweet
here all Deity can meet
and without a jarring voice
welcome Zion to rejoice
welcome Zion to rejoice

all her debts were cast on me
and she must and shall go free
all her debts were cast on me
and she must and shall go free

peace of conscience, peace with God
we obtain through Jesus’ blood
Jesus’ blood speaks solid rest
we believe and we are blessed

all her debts were cast on me
and she must and shall go free
all her debts were cast on me
and she must and shall go free

should the law against her roar
Jesus’ blood still speaks with power,
“all her debts were cast on me,
and she must and shall go free.”

-Derek Webb, “She Must and Shall Go Free”

Hal Lindsey, I’m Sorry.

Dear Mr. Lindsey,

Yesterday I wrote an open letter on this blog accosting you for preaching on the sanctity of marriage and attacking my view of it, and the heart behind doing so was anger and contempt. I attacked you with your history of divorces and felt very smug and self-satisfied doing so.

Then a brilliant friend of mine said something about logs and splinters, and the Spirit of the Living God prompted my heart, and…

I am so sorry, sir.

I don’t know your story; I don’t know your heart. It’s not my place to judge you at all. I was way out of line with the gospel of Jesus Christ; my behavior did not reflect that of an agent of the Kingdom of Heaven. I must confess that my disagreement and frustration with your teachings still stands, but the way I reacted and where I went with that reaction was atrocious. I am sorry.

Yours,

Ethan

I’m mad.

Dear Hal Lindsey,

I just watched your latest episode of “The Hal Lindsey Report” in which you go on – at length – about the sanctity of marriage and the evils of same-sex marriage.

To be honest and frank, it kind of ticked me off.

A lot.

And not just because I disagree with you about same-sex marriage, but also because I find your four marriages rather hypocritical.

Why can’t I have one when you can have four?

Please… just…stop.

Sincerely,

Ethan

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