emarkthomas

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

Monthly Archives: May 2012

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.

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“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

I’ll be much more than okay.

Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.

Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the house of Jacob their sins.

For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,

as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.

They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.

“Why have we fasted,” they say,
“and you have not seen it?

Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?”

Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.

Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.

You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?

Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?

Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?

Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice,
and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-

when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;

then  your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.

You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;

you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,

if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the LORD’s holy day honorable,

and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or spreading idle words,

then you will find your joy in the LORD,
and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.

For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

-from the book of Isaiah

 

When I was in college, I spent my summers working at a Christian family resort in the recreation department. Each morning the Rec Staff met for devotions and then launched the day from there. (Well, sometimes the day launched with a 5:30 am canoe trip, and then we met for devotions after getting back.) One summer morning – my last summer there – we were reading from Isaiah. While my boss talked, I remember flipping a few pages ahead and stumbling across Isaiah chapter 58. As I read that chapter, my blood froze in my veins and I suddenly felt so veryheavy, as if the atmosphere was pressing me down into the thick mats that made up the floor to our climbing wall room upon which we were sitting.

The words on that page shook me to the core, and I remember thinking right then that this section of scripture was going to be very, very important in my life. I didn’t know what it would look like or when or how it would happen, but I knew then that Papa was saying, “This is important. Really important.”

In the timeline of my life, that morning sits just after my radical reorientation towards the Father and the Kingdom of Heaven that came through the discipleship semester and just before the Great Fall in which I systematically lied, cheated, stole, and flushed away nearly every single relationship that ever meant anything to me at all. I mean, sure, I’d had lots of “Falls” before, but they all paled in comparison to the Great Fall. Sitting with the Rec Staff that morning, reading Isaiah, I didn’t have a clue what lay before me. Never in a million years would I have imagined, in that moment, that I’d become the man I am today, having seen and done all that I have seen and done. It would have been incomprehensible to me.

Yet I am me. I’ve been everywhere I have been and done everything I have done, and I’ve crawled broken and bruised back to my Father. In the two years since I’ve had my ups and downs, and gritted my teeth more than once at the horrendous consequences of my actions as they limit my daily life and my dreams of a future.

My future.

That’s been a big thought in my head the last few months. I’ve been praying for Papa to help me realize that my idea of a future may not be his, and to help me accept with joy the future he does have planned, and on his timing. None of my prayers, talks, readings, or daydreams have helped me feel more confident and trustful in Papa’s future than this blog post by Richard Beck in which he uses, you got it, Isaiah 58.

No, I have no clue what my future looks like and yeah, I’ve disqualified myself from quite a bit.

But boy howdy, when I read that passage, I forget all about that.

When I read that chapter of Isaiah, I remember that it’s just not about me at all. It’s about Papa and his Kingdom, and if ever there was good news, well, that’s it. He’s big enough to handle me and transform me from a self-centered idiot that ruins himself and everything he touches into a man that spends himself on behalf of the heart of the Father. And if I never have anything else in this life – no money, no car, no house, no bed, no phone, no family, no friends, even no man at my side – then I still have Papa, and that’s enough.

So even if I’m at the absolute bottom -which I’m not – there’s still a future worth something. God’s still faithful, and that is awesome.

A New Law?

don’t teach me about politics and government
just tell me who to vote for
don’t teach me about truth and beauty
just label my music
don’t teach me how to live like a free man
just give me a new law

i don’t wanna know if the answers aren’t easy
so just bring it down from the mountain to me

i want a new law
i want a new law
just give me that new law

don’t teach me about moderation and liberty
i prefer a shot of grape juice
don’t teach me about loving my enemies
don’t teach me how to listen to the spirit
just give me a new law

i don’t wanna know if the answers aren’t easy
so just bring it down from the mountain to me

i want a new law
i want a new law
just give me that new law

cause what’s the use in trading a law you can never keep
for one you can that cannot get you anything?

do not be afraid
do not be afraid
do not be afraid
do not be afraid
oh, do not be afraid

do not be afraid
do not be afraid
do not be afraid
oh, do not be afraid

Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid.

Oh, do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid.

Derek Webb

It’s Time.

So for the past few months, I’ve felt something *coming.”

Have you ever felt that? The onset of something that you know will change things? It seems that I’m always finding myself in that situation. I can sense when I’ve lingered too long in a place, and if I do nothing about it, I begin to feel that there’s some sort of on-coming storm. And then, invariably, something happens. My dad, or a pastor, or a friend, or somebody finally calls me on stuff. Or else some sort of situation happens and shifts everything, forcing me into action. Something. Either way, in the past I’ve always been the guy that only moves forward in constructive, healthy ways when I’m being forced to.

But lately I’ve been feeling that it’s probably time to grow up.

So instead of wallowing in my rut, I’ve been getting charged up. I began paying (more) attention to things, searching for something. I began pointedly asking Papa for “it.”

I didn’t know what “it” was, but I knew he’d know. Whatever was needed to jolt me out of the rut and get me going, that’s what I wanted. I was sick of remembering better days, and wanted to move again. Live again. Thrive again.

Then I ran across a sermon series online, and I was pleasantly surprised that one of the pastors behind the series was somebody that I used to know in my old life, a fantastic man named Tim. Watching Tim on the screen, preaching a series entitled “Time to Move” infused my heart with a beautiful combination of nostalgia and ambition, and I decided that I was done with waiting for something to come to me.

I’m taking myself to… well, Papa.

I’m jumping into a season of intentional pursuit – just for a season. I’m not looking for a formula to fix things, but instead I’m looking for a bit of discipline and change to upset the balance and help me move onward. That’s why it’s just for a season. There will come a day, probably a few months from now, when my new routine will no longer be appropriate for where I’ll be. And with the fluidity and communication that comes with a relationship with an involved and Holy God, my interactions and routines will change.

With that in mind, I’m enacting a few new rules for this season. Things like getting to bed earlier and waking up earlier, eating healthier, and getting in more exercise. Things like intentially initiating communication with Papa multiple times throughout the day. Not just quick, whispered prayers when I’m frustrated, but rather intential communication. Updates on how I’m feeling, what’s been going on, and the like. As if Papa were a boy that I’d just met, and we couldn’t help ourselves from getting in touch several times a day just to fill one another in with what’s going on.

Also, I’ve added a few intentional prayers for a morning meditation with Papa, something that I want to do before anything happens when I wake up. I made a rough draft of the list tonight:

1) My Matins prayer: Lord God, Almighty and Everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to a new day

2) My family. Parents, siblings, in-laws, in-laws-to-be, nieces, nephews, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins.

3) My bosses, my co-workers, and my community. Both in general and specifically, as things arise.

4) My loved ones from my past.

5) For love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.

6) For my future. Finances, circumstances, relationships, and the like. Specifically for faith to trust that Papa has got all that, and it’ll be just fine. Also, I’ll be praying for my future husband. I don’t know who he is or when I’ll know him, but I want to invest purposefully into him now. To that end, I’m being intentional about becoming the kind of guy he’s looking for, and about praying for him.

7) For a closer communcation with Papa throughout the day; for a constant connection with the Holy Spirit.

So that’s that. For a season – and possibly exactly that – that’s what I’ll be up to. My goal is to be more like Christ at the end of this thing than I am now. We’ll see!