Learning to Lie…

it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

~1 Corinthians 13 (ESV)

My Earliest Memory…

My earliest memory is of the day I learned how to lie.  I must have been about two or three – about the same age as our youngest boy now.  It really must be a developmental thing because we’re just now starting to see the “No, Mama, I don’t have a stinky diaper” and the “My brother did it” type stuff that we know to be untrue come out of our innocent little angel’s mouth.  Heartbreaking, but life! When I was that age my family lived in a small log cabin in the upstate of New York.

It’s funny how from that age you can remember certain things as if they were still in front of you, but others are just a void.  Of that cabin, I can vaguely remember my crib, but nothing of the room it was it – the crib was my world I guess, I can see the color of the bars, the mobile that hung above it, my blanket, but it’s as if the crib existed as if it floated in outer space, I can remember nothing outside of it in that room.  I can remember the hallway off of the living room.  At the beginning of that hallway, centered on the floor was a large metal duct cover through which the head from the wood burning in the fireplace was somehow cycled back under the floor in order to heat the cabin.  I have no memory of it, but I apparently burnt my hands and feet badly once on the cover of that duct and every once and a while my mother will rediscover a polaroid photograph of me, nekid, except for the bandages which had just put on my hands and feet at the hospital and a stuffed bunny rabbit, which has been the only thing preventing the countless number of people to whom she has shown that photo from seeing me in all my glory.  I have no idea where my parents slept; perhaps in the same room as my crib was in, perhaps in another room of which I have no memory.  And although there must have been a kitchen, you would never know of it by searching my memory.

The living room of that cabin I can remember as if I were sitting there now.  It had a wood floor with an area carpet and the warm glow of the wood fire would continuously drift out across the dull finish of the hardwood floor like tiny amber waves.  Two chairs on one side of the room, were separated by a small table and on the other an old couch, next to the front door, on which no one ever sat and really only served as a temporary storage area for things coming into and going out of the house.  In between these things, along one of the outside walls of the cabin, was the most prominent feature of the living room – a grand (at least in my mind) stone fireplace.

The fireplace to me was enormous; however I’m certain that should I ever see it again I will be surprised how small it actually was.  In those days however it was probably two or three times my height from the level of the floor to the level of the large stone mantle.   One of my greatest joys in life, I can recall, was my father returning from work at the end of his day, picking me up and setting me on top of that mantle.  He would do so often, always remaining only a step or two away so that he could catch me should I slide off of the mantle, he would place me in the same spot every time.  The far right side, as you were facing the fireplace, make sure that I was seated securely then let go and allow me to remain there on my own.  How grand this made me feel!  How alive!  When you’re two, the whole world is above you – that is your only perspective.  If you want to look at something, 9 times out of 10, you have to look up to do so.  When I was on top of the mantle, I felt as if I could see the whole world and in such a way that I was never able to do on my own.  I sat there on my own, but I knew that I would always need someone to put me there.  That small cabin was my whole world and from that perspective I could see from above nearly everything in it. Everything in the whole world.   It was glorious!  I am certain that this feeling is from where my inclination for climbing trees and flag poles would later come and for climbing buildings and clock towers would even later come.

It was after one of these wonderful moments in which the remainder of this story is set.  My time up on the mantle had expired.  I don’t remember at all how long I was permitted to be there, it never seemed long enough.  My father grabbed me under the arms and lowered me from my favorite spot in the world into one of the chairs next to the fireplace.  I began looking at one of my books when for some reason, I don’t remember why, both of my parents left the room.  Maybe to check on supper, maybe to go off smooching, maybe the house was on fire – I really don’t know, but I know I had a couple of minutes there left to myself.

Climbing up the stones of the fireplace was really not difficult at all.  I can close my eyes and still see the large smooth stones sticking out an inch or two, making excellent footholds, from the mortar in which they were set.  I can even, if I focus, see roughly the way the different colored stones were oriented in the wall – a light one here, dark ones here and here.  The challenge would be upon reaching the top of the stones in the wall and rounding the underside of the mantle in order to get myself on top of it.  It was during the process of doing so, hands and arms and head above the mantle, feet on stones below the mantle and diapered hinny sticking directly out in front of the mantle, that felt my father’s stern voice cut through me from down the hallway.

“Get off of there!”, he hollered.  He may have smacked my butt as well, I don’t recall.

“Oh Boy!” I thought, “I’m in for it now!”, but then the strangest thing happened next:

my Mother, in a voice much softer and more concerned said “Wait a minute.  Are you sure you didn’t leave him up there?”

By this time they had grabbed me and set me back in the chair and I could see on both of their faces that they were each searching their memories in order to confirm that they had actually not left the room and forgotten that I was still on top of the mantle.  I could also see that neither could do so with any certainty.  When they had reentered the room and saw me half on top the mantle and half dangling below, it was not clear to them if I was on my way up or on my way down.  They looked at each other with the same look that a dog got when he had pooped in the hallway and then each looked at me.

“Did we forget you up there?” she asked, almost like an apology.

“Yes Mama” I said.

The rest of that night was quite simply a two and a half year old’s dream!

To Lie or Not to Lie…

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if we couldn’t lie?  How different our relationships would be?  How different the world would be?  I wonder if it’s a coincidence that the happiest, most carefree period of my life, of most people’s lives, ends approximately the same time that we learn to lie.  Things become more complex.  There is a balance which must be maintained that had never existed before.  A balance between conscious and honesty and what we see as securing the things we want or feel we need or deserve.  A balance between telling the truth and dealing with the consequence and lying or withholding the truth and dealing with the consequence of being dishonest.   The risks of getting caught vs. the rewards of getting away with it.  A balance between self and non-self, that was not there before.  Never even a concern.  Now there is a calculus to our relationships that was never there before.  A decision to trust or suspect what people are saying to us.  A decision to trust or suspect someone enough to reveal to them the truth.  With all that thinking, how do we have time for anything else?

My wife said something to me the other day during an argument that we were having that really got me to thinking about the nature of the human condition and our ability to be honest with one and other.  She said “everyone is, to a certain degree, full of shit.  You really can’t trust anyone.”  Almost immediately, she was able to recognize that as a form of negative thinking and it was said during, what we both agreed to later as being,  one of her emotional “funks” as we like to put it, but I’ve been wondering how much truth was in those words.  Is it possible for us to live our lives and be completely honest, even if just with one other person?  Should we?  I’d like to write about honesty and lying, the effect these things have on ourselves and our relationships and the roll of our Christian faith in governing them.

I wanted so badly to tell my wife that why she was wrong in saying that.  I wanted so badly to find the words that would prove to her the error in her thinking.  That we could in fact trust others.  That everyone was indeed not prone to dishonesty and promoting themselves in a unbelievable light.  That she could in fact trust me and, that if we did it right, I could trust her again within the confines of our own marriage.  The alternative just seemed so dreadful, but I couldn’t find the words.  I consider myself to be a relatively honest person, I think most do, but can I be trusted 100% of the time to be telling the truth?  I’m not so sure.  If you can’t be trusted 100% of the time, can you be trusted at all? Are there times when it’s ok to keep things from others if your intentions are in the right place?

I used to brag that the only lie I ever told my wife was that one time, when we were dating, she made me a bunch of peanut butter cookies to take on a business trip I went on.  While I was on the plane halfway to the west coast, I remembered that I had left them behind.  One of the first things she asked me when I phoned her that night from the hotel was if I liked the cookies.  I said that they were the best cookies I ever had and subsequently called back home to make sure that someone disposed of the evidence.  To a very large extent, before the affair, I was very honest in my marriage.  Only one or two other “big” lies can I remember telling along with a dozen or so “no baby that dress don’t make your butt look fat” type things.

This largely changed after the affair was discovered.  Not even so much because I felt entitled to no longer be held to telling the truth in light of the hundreds upon hundreds of lies that it was now evident that I had been told.  What’s notable is that I think my wife expected me to start lying to her, to return the treatment in kind.  She became suspicious and questioned things that she had previously accepted on trust.  I still felt convicted to tell the truth.  The reason I feel as if my level of truthfulness changed after the affair was not about my feeling entitled to now be less truthful.  It changed because I was , as I understood it, counseled to change it.  From very early on, the counselor, the preacher,  doctors, my wife’s case manager, my mother, friends would all provide similar advice.  Something along the lines of “you can’t keep punishing her by being hurt” and that the “first step of forgiveness is not bringing up the past”.  The perception I was given that the outward expression of my pain was in some way selfish and detrimental to my wife’s recovery.  Now, I had a choice to make between allowing myself to convey that pain, purge it, and providing a stumbling block to my wife.  The horrible thoughts, dreams and feelings that I was experiencing were to be kept to myself, least I would now be the one responsible for hurting the relationship.  I’m certain it’s not what any of them were actually saying, but it’s the impression I was under.

I literally had to learn how to lie to my wife.  Each time she asked what I was thinking about, each time she felt me draw away, each morning that I sat in shock recovering from the almost daily nightmares during the previous night’s rest, I had to lie so as not to add fuel to her already burning guilt.  It was about the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do and I can’t say that I was always particular successful at it.  I would fight the urge daily to share with her, to seek her comfort, her council.  She had been the one I’d always gone to for such things, but could not be the one now.  Beyond this, I was also constantly being cautioned about protecting her reputation now, to not spread our story around so that the people of this small town would judge her and also contribute to impeding her recovery.  It sucked!  It was like trying to hold an exploding bomb inside a paper bag.

Certainly this cannot have a place in the Corinthians type of love which Paul speaks of here:

 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

~1 Corinthians 13 (ESV)

and this I find very interesting.  Do you see verse 6 “It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth”?  It does not contrast truth with dishonesty or lying or secrets or anything like that; it says “wrongdoing”- instead of rejoicing at wrongdoing, love chooses to rejoice in the truth!  What if the truth is a wrongdoing?  What then?  Do I rejoice in the “truth” of the “wrongdoing” or do I not rejoice in the “wrongdoing” even if it is the “truth”?  Very confusing, but I’ve said it before – there’s no crap in the bible!  If it’s there like that, it’s there like that for a reason and I would like to know what that reason is.

So what’s the deal anyway about Christianity and being honest anyway?  That should be a simple one right?  I mean, it’s one of the Ten Commandments and all – no brainer!  I started to poke around the bible to confirm this certainty, thinking this would be a simple task.  Let’s try proverbs, surely I’ll find a host of those one line little ditties supporting the notion that honesty is always the best policy.  I start by finding:

The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out.

~Proverbs 10:9 (NIV)

There we go.  Honestly, integrity – too easy, but wait what’s this:

A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.

~Proverbs 11:13 (NIV)

Are you kidding me?  Didn’t they proofread this stuff?  I’ll look some other places.

In Zachariah were told to speak the truth:

16 These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace;

~Zachariah 8 (ESV)

But James tells us to hold our tongs:

If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

~James 3 (ESV)

Here too in Matthew, were told to shut up:

37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

~Matthew 5 (ESV)

Paul will set us straight.  Let us have it Paul:

25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another

~Ephesians 4:25(NIV)

OK, the truth, oh wait:

29  Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

~Ephesians 4:29(NIV)

That sounds like he’s telling us to hush up.  How can I always be honest with my neighbor if I can only do so when it builds him up?  It’s not so up building to say “hey your dog’s craping in my azaleas”!  These verses are like four lines away from each other!  What are you doing to me?  Obviously these people were confused and we need to go straight to the man.  WWJD?  Now well sort this out:

17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness,

~Matthew 19 (ESV)

OK, that’s what I thought.  It’s a commandment!  No lying.  No deception.  No secrets….

20  Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

~Matthew 16 (ESV)

What in the hell!  Y’all are driving me crazy!  Will somebody please just tell me if I’m supposed to speak up or shut up?  Because now I’m not so sure!

Even when it comes to telling people about God’s love there is apparently a time to speak:

9 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

~Matthew 28 (NASB)

And a time to keep it to ourselves:

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

~Matthew7 (NASB)

Obviously the bible is trying to tell us that there is both a time to speak up and a time to shut up, but how are we to know the difference? How do I know when it’s God’s will from me to speak my mind and when he wants me to keep my peace?  Specifically, what I need is biblical example of forgiveness that shows when I’m supposed to speak and when I’m supposed to shut my trap… Joseph!

Now here was a guy that had a hard time knowing when to keep his pie hole (ok raisin cake hole) shut!  Y’all remember Joseph, favorite son of Jacob and the kid brother that everyone hated because his father gave him the cool robe? When he had a dream, he was all too quick to go blab about it to his brothers:

5 Then Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Please listen to this dream which I have had; 7 for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf rose up and also stood erect; and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.” 8 Then his brothers said to him, “Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

~Genesis 37 (NASB)

He apparently didn’t learn his lesson, because it happens again and he shoot’s his mouth off again.  This time he even gets in trouble with Dad:

9 Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, “Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 He related it to his father and to his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you havehad? Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow ourselves down before you to the ground?” 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.

~Genesis 37 (NASB)

So his brothers seize him, chuck him in a pit and leave him for dead, then change their mind and decide to go back and sell him into slavery.  Nice guys.  God is with Joseph though and his master can see it.  After a while Joseph becomes so favored by his master that he is made overseer of the master’s entire estate.  When his master goes away, he thinks nothing of leaving everything in Joseph’s charge, but once again Joseph finds himself in hot water:

Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. 7 It came about after these events that his master’s wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.” 8 But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge. 9 There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?” 10 As she spoke to Joseph day after day, he did not listen to her to lie beside her or be with her. 11 Now it happened one day that he went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the household was there inside. 12 She caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me!” And he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside. 13 When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled outside, 14she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought in a Hebrew to us to make sport of us; he came in to me to lie with me, and I screamed. 15 When he heard that I raised my voice and screamed, he left his garment beside me and fled and went outside.” 16 So she left his garment beside her until his master came home. 17 Then she spoke to him with these words, “The Hebrew slave, whom you brought to us, came in to me to make sport of me; 18 and as I raised my voice and screamed, he left his garment beside me and fled outside.”

Joseph Imprisoned

19 Now when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spoke to him, saying, “This is what your slave did to me,” his anger burned. 20 So Joseph’s master took him and put him into the jail, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; and he was there in the jail. 21 But the LORD was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. 22 The chief jailer committed to Joseph’s charge all the prisoners who were in the jail; so that whatever was done there, he was responsible for it. 23 The chief jailer did not supervise anything under Joseph’s charge because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made to prosper.

~Genesis 39 (NASB)

Y’all notice there’s nothing there about Joseph speaking up for himself.  No “hey Master, just to let you know, you’re wife’s getting a little handsy with me”, no “hey, here’s my side of the story”, no “she’s a flat out liar!”.  There’s no account of him speaking for himself at all.  Where’s all the yakkin now, when it might could do him so good?  This time his inability to know when to speak and when to not ends him up in the jailhouse.  But God’s still with Joseph.  He gives him favor with the jailer and Joseph is soon to be made the leader of those jailed with him.  One day Joseph finds himself in the company of the King’s baker and cupbearer, each of whom has just had a dream.  Joseph correctly interprets the dreams

8 Then they said to him, “We have had a dream and there is no one to interpret it.” Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please.”

. . .

23 Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.

~Genesis 40 (NASB)

This time Joseph chooses to speak up, but it has no immediate effect.  Though his predictions come to be true, they are quickly forgotten.  Until one day the Pharaoh has a dream and in order to find favor with him, the cup bearer remembers Joseph:

9 Then the chief cupbearer spoke to Pharaoh, saying, “I would make mention today of my own offenses. 10Pharaoh was furious with his servants, and he put me in confinement in the house of the captain of the bodyguard, both me and the chief baker. 11 We had a dream on the same night, he and I; each of us dreamed according to the interpretation of his own dream. 12 Now a Hebrew youth was with us there, a servant of the captain of the bodyguard, and we related them to him, and he interpreted our dreams for us. To each one he interpreted according to his own dream. 13 And just as he interpreted for us, so it happened; he restored me in my office, but he hanged him.”

Joseph Interprets

14 Then Pharaoh sent and called for Joseph, and they hurriedly brought him out of the dungeon; and when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came to Pharaoh. 15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”

~Genesis 41 (NASB)

So what’s the deal with Joseph?  How come sometimes this guy opens his mouth with the truth and we see it get him up the stream and sometimes he opens his mouth in the truth and he’s made second in command of all of Egypt?  There’s a message there that I’m just not seeing and what I’ve learned is that it’s almost always in the small print, so to speak.  The words that I just sort of glance over trying to get to the juicy parts.  The stuff I just tell myself is there for filler, or to make the story grammatically correct or for stupid people.  I forget that sometimes I’m the stupid person.  I read the story again looking for things that I may have just scanned over before and I notice these versus.

8 . . . Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God?

~Genesis 40 (NASB)

And

16 Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”

~Genesis 41 (NASB)

When I look back on the account of Joseph relaying his dreams to his brothers and also the account of his experience with Potiphar’s wife, there is no mention of God.  No God telling him to share his experiences, no “I get it but the glory really goes to God”, no “it’s not my will but God’s will that this be shared”.  Can you see how with his brothers it was really more of a “hey check me out” kind of thing?  Perhaps a little bit of retaliation for their treatment of him, their hatred of him?  He just has the dreams and boom! Opens his mouth.  No God’s timing, no concern for what God wants shared, just “hey check me out”!  Likewise with Potiphar’s wife.  There is no mention here that God tells Joseph to go blabbing to his master about his wife’s adulterous intentions.  I don’t know why.  Maybe it was part of God’s plan.  Maybe God had another way to deal with her sinfulness.  Maybe Potiphar was just as bad and deserved it.  I don’t know anything about why he wouldn’t, but he doesn’t and if he had, the story may have ended in a very different way.

Y’all ever wonder what would have happened if Joseph had enough sense to keep his dreams about himself and his brothers to himself way back when?  How his story may have been different.  He’d likely still be back home reporting on his brothers labors in the field and we never would have been given one of the greatest bible stories about forgiveness:

16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father charged before he died, saying, 17 ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph, “Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.

~Genesis 50(NASB)

You see that in verse 19 “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result”.  That’s cool!  We can make mistakes (and let others make mistakes) and God is clever enough to turn them around and use them for good.  Like my Tom-Tom.  I know what I want my final destination to be (with God) and it gives me the best route to get there.  Step by step, turn by turn, it even beeps and tells me when the turns are approaching.  How many times have I told myself “oh she (the tom-tom’s female voice) doesn’t know about this shortcut or that shortcut.  That old farm road probably isn’t even in her databank” or simply just drifted off into my own thoughts while driving and forgotten to pay attention to what the Tom-Tom was telling me.  I end up lost in the middle of Newark!

I truly am often surprised that the Tom-Tom doesn’t get angry with me.  “You see, you should have listened” I keep expecting it to say, or “I can see why your first two wives left you, jackass!”  She probably would be within her rights to say so.  I wouldn’t be able to argue.  I thought that I knew better, I trusted myself rather than the instructions I had been given,  and now I’m lost in the middle of Newark, the only white guy in a pick-up truck in the city, with everyone looking like they want to kill me and eat me.  I am a jackass sometimes!

Those words never come.  No “I told you so”.  No “Well now you’re on your own now!”, just a momentary pause and then an new set of perfect directions.  The tom-tom is clever enough to realize that I screwed up and am going to, even more than ever, need her direction.  What a forgiving little gadget it is!

God’s like that too, only his database is infinite.  Whereas with the tom-tom, every once and a while there’s an old dirt road, that it may not know about, God’s directions are always up to date, always perfect and always made with love.  Even so sometimes I forget to pay attention, sometimes I think I know better and I, figuratively speaking, always end up lost in the middle of Newark with everyone looking like they want to kill me and eat me.  Without pause, he just says “well, you’ve gone astray.  Here are some new directions”.  All I have to do is submit my pride and listen:

Wisdom from Above

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

James 3 (ESV)

So looking back at Corinthians 13

 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

~1 Corinthians 13 (ESV)

The truth is that the statement is perfectly self-explanatory – We can tell the truth in a way that is sinful.  It a way that actually does represent the opposite of what love rejoices in.  Telling the truth does not always equate to not doing wrong.  With respect to love; the opposite of telling the truth is not brutal honesty, but not doing wrong.  Say I have a bad dream about the affair and when I wake up in the morning I’m still in a little bit of a funk over it.  I may be unsettled by the dream, preoccupied by it, maybe even a little resentful of my wife for being responsible for me having the dream, but in my heart and in my mind I know it’s just a dream.  It’s not really going to hurt me.  I can still see all the progress my wife has made, how hard she is trying.  My wife, from a place of caring, can see that I’m not right and asks what is wrong.  Now, here there are a number of different ways in which I can serve “the truth”.  I can say “nothing” which really doesn’t mean nothing – untrue.  I can tell her the truth, but let her know that I’m ok, or I can tell her the truth in a way that leverages that resentment onto her, converting my resentment into her guilt – guilt for something about which I have supposedly forgiven her.

Now that’s a tight line to walk, because it makes us completely accountable for the “truth” we choose to share.  If I’m saying that “I’m hurt” that can come from a place of honestly sharing what’s going on with me or it can come from a place of punishing you for what you’ve done to me.  No one except me and God know the truth about where it’s coming from or how the truth is being used.  Near as I can tell there are two things we need to consider before we choose to speak:

Intention

15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.

~James 3 (ESV)

and timing.

do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; 12 forthe Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.

~Luke 12 (NASB)

When you think about it, it’s the same decision which we make when we decide whether or not to share God’s love with people.  When we are witnessing the sower and the field must both be ready.  We can toss our seeds into the weeds and no good will come.  Likewise if we try to witness from a place of “hey check me out!  How holy am I”, even a willing listener may be turned away.  We can tell the truth in a way that is not really doing right.  How can we ever hope to give someone a new perspective, if we ourselves are not sure what that perspective is?

When I think back to my father sitting me up on the mantle, I realize that this is what meant so much to me – a new perspective.  He gave me each evening the gift of a new perspective.  I’ll never forget it.  How it made me feel.  How freeing it was.  How wonderful.  Now some forty plus years later, it is the singular most memorable gift I’ve been given.  The memory which has been with me the longest in life, was his gift of a new perspective.  Once, my wife and I were driving alone together along the highway near our home.  I looked over and noticed her considering the many scars along both of her forearms – the outward reminder of years upon years of self-injury and self-hatred.  She noticed me watching her looking at them and said with shame “look how many there are?”  Without hesitation I replied “look how old they are?”

She still talks about that day.  Still caries that with her.  Like my father sitting me on the mantle, I was able to give her that day a new perspective and I think that’s really at the heart of what “truth” means – a new perspective.  Am I sharing information in order to give someone a new perspective or to confirm their old perspective and if it’s the latter than what’s really the point?  Does opening my mouth serve love or does it serve anger?  Am I withholding the truth in order to build up the relationship or compound my own status of being a victim?

Lord, give me the wisdom to see those things.  To know the difference between serving myself with my words and serving my love for my wife, my family and for you.  Guide me each time I decide to use my tongue.  Please use me, time and time again to give others the wonderful gift of being given a new perspective – a perspective of love, of kindness, of forgiveness, a perspective of you.  And may I never forget the new perspective which you have given to me.

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Boy, You Don’t Know Shit About Farming!…

A fool finds pleasure in wicked schemes, but a person of understanding delights in wisdom

~Proverbs 10:23(NIV)

I stood beside the almost 60 year old tractor staring at the sky and wondered which would come first the rain or sunset.  Either way I’d be done for the day and I had promised myself to get our orchard bush-hogged before going in for the day.  The sky seemed to me unreal, like watching an old black and white film played at a faster speed than real life.  The clouds seemed to just stream by and the air smelled like rain.  The tractor, and old Ford 8-N, belonged to my wife’s Grandfather and had been sitting in the same spot that it had for the previous week and a half.  The battery was dead and we had just got a new one to get it going again.

I hurried to remove the battery terminals of the dead battery and put it off to the side, “I’ll see if I can charge that later”, I can remember thinking.  I grabbed the fresh battery and set it on the half rusted away platform intended to hold it and grabbed the wires to reconnect the terminals.  Red to positive, Black to negative – a universal system.  So handy when you’re in a rush.  I jumped on top of the tractor, turned the key, primed it a little as I tried to get the engine to start.  Chicka-Chicka-Chica-Vroooooooom! Payday!  I threw it in gear and was off to the orchard!

You have to bush hog an orchard kinda like you would draw a checkers board – down one row in between the fruit trees then up the other, then when you finish with the rows in one direction, you switch directions and go in between each row of trees the other way.  I guess you don’t have to do it this way but the alternative involves cutting down your fruit trees which is kind of self-defeating so that’s the way I do it.  I went down between one row of trees, up another, down another, then halfway up the next I thought I smelled leaves burning.  “That’s funny”, I thought, “I didn’t burn anything today”.  Now smoke, “What the heck”? Now I feel heat, “That’s not good”!  I looked down at the engine block and saw flames.  “Oh, there’s just a little fire on top of the gas tank”. . . “FIRE ON TOP OF THE GAS TANK”!  I must have been quite a sight barreling through that orchard, trying to get the tractor out of gear so that I could bail before the fire shooting up between my legs became an explosion between my legs.

Did y’all know that some old tractors have what they call a “positive to ground” set up.  I didn’t before that day.  “Positive to ground” means, at least for the setup of my tractor, that you don’t put the black wire on the negative terminal – you put the red one.  Universal system my ass!

I finally was able to reach between the flames to put the gear shift in neutral, let the engine stall and started running to the house to find a fire extinguisher.  As I ran out of the orchard I could hear the glass gauge covers on the dashboard pop one by one from the heat.  “Oh, Lord”, I thought as I was running “He just bought that tractor a month ago, he was so proud of it.  Now what’s he going to think of me”?  I’d been trying to impress this man since the day I met him.  I don’t know why it’s so important to me that he likes me; my wife love’s him, he owns the land that our farm is on, maybe I just respect the old country savvy in him.  I’m not sure, but I do know that to date I have not been particularly successful in this endeavor.  I honestly believe the man thinks my name is “Boy, you don’t know shit about farming!!!”

By the time I had returned, fire extinguisher in hand, the fire had put itself out, but there would be no hiding the damaged it had done.  The incorrect installation of the battery had send so much current through the old wires that it melted the insulation off of them and lit them on fire.  The fire had spread to a clump of pine needles that had gotten caught beneath the wiring harness and gauge panel.  The wires and harness was completely burnt up and the gauges would need to be replaced as well.  It was late Saturday evening – too late to go to town and try to find the materials I needed to fix the tractor and I didn’t really have the money to get them anyway.  I left the tractor sit where I had left it in the middle of the orchard and went in the house feeling dejected about what I knew was to come.

The next afternoon after church we were sitting in the yard and I heard the familiar rumble of his old Chevrolet making its way around the curves in our long dirt road.  My wife had phoned him the previous night and told him about the fire, I knew he was coming to see the damage for himself.  He pulled in the yard and we walked slowly over to the orchard as he tried to navigate over the terrain with his cane.  Not a word.  Nothing.  He grabbed each wire and inspected it closely.  He opened the hood and looked under the gauge panel to see the harness walked around to look at the burnt up gauges and their shattered glass covers.  Then, after he had confirmed for himself the damage that had been done, he looked down at the ground, shook his head and said “Boy, let me tell you what: you don’t know shit about farming”! I really wasn’t in the position to argue with him, after all I had just lit them man’s tractor on fire.  “What kind of a fool cannot look at that engine and see that the positive wire is grounded on the block?  My Granddaughter married a fool”!

If you don’t live in a farming community, let me just explain how very insulting it is for someone to point out to you that you don’t really know what you’re doing on the farm, when you live on a farm.  A farm, in my view, is a naturally self sustaining mechanism.  Every thing on a farm has a function a purpose.  Every crop, every animal, every person there has a roll.  Chickens give eggs, Pigs give bacon, Dogs protect the animals and family, cat’s keep the mice/snake population down.  At the risk of sounding sexist,  there is men’s work, woman’s work, children’s work and the result of all this work is the self self sustaining reward of the farm’s production.  I recon this is true for 1000 acre commercial farms as much as it is for our little 210 acre  family farm.  My labor produces a harvest of grain, the grain produces food for the livestock, the livestock produces food for me and that food sustains my ability to preform the work necessary to begin the process again and again.  The surplus from this can be sold, traded or  otherwise reused to secure the money needed to buy more seed, fertilizer, fence post etc. , in order to meet the farm’s needs and allow it to continue to be productive.   There is a rhythmic cadence to it that has echoed for hundreds probably thousands of years.  Farms that are unable to sustain themselves in this way, at least around here, quickly become trailer parks or just sad monuments of the way things used to be.  To a small farm family nothing is worse that something that doesn’t pull it’s weight: a dog that kills chickens, a crop that destroys the land’s fertility, a sickly billy goat kid, who despite being cute, you know should be killed to preserve the quality of your stock, and apparently farmers who accidentally light the tractor on fire.  The insult extends beyond “you’re a dope for doing that” into the realm of  saying that you don’t serve a purpose.  Your simply using up resources and not contributing in any positive way to the farm’s survival.  You’re disrupting that very delicate rhythm and in doing so threatening everything.

What’s worse is for that status to be coupled with being a “fool”, because now not only are you simply using up the farm’s precious resources without contribution, but you can never hope to remedy that by learning how not to.  I wanted to write about our reputation and why we value it so much.  In particular I wanted to talk about why we fear being considered a fool.

Why is it that that word hurts us so badly?  Fool!  Nobody wants to be a fool.  It’s such a silly little word with such a profoundly undesirable meaning.  I’m nobody’s fool, a fool and his money, no fool like and old fool, a fool’s paradise, fool’s gold, play the fool, act the fool, make a fool of, an April fool ; the is like fuel for generating idioms.

It’s clearly not something that anyone wants as part of their reputation.  If you’re thought to be a fool no one will trust you with responsibility, they’ll snicker and make fun of you behind your back, or worse, they’ll use that against you or to try and take advantage of you.  This was and is I think one of the hardest things about being cheated on – it makes you feel like a fool!  I can remember in the beginning not even wanting anyone to look at me.  Going to work, to the bank where she worked, to the market where she used to work and meet him during her breaks; there was no place in this small town where I could be seen by people and think to myself “I wonder how much they know.  They must think that I’m such a fool”!  I’d sit in my office with the guy I work with knowing that his uncle is a deputy and just know that he was privy to everything that happened and wonder what he was thinking as we did our work.

I can remember one time sitting on the marriage counselors couch with my wife talking about this and them both saying “well, why do you care what these small town, small minded people think.  You’re just the gossip of the week and by next week they’ll be onto something else”.  I remember thinking that I would always be the guy whose wife had an affair with her black drug dealer, whether or not it was forefront on their mind.  It’s who I was now.  What’s ironic is that now, several months later, they both are nervous and have raised objections about me writing about this in any kind of a public way.  Why, because if it should effect my wife’s reputation and make her relive her experience of the last year, it would be detrimental to her recovery.  What kind of horseshit is that?

The truth is that extends far deeper than simply wanting to protect our reputations.  We have an archetypical fear about being a fool.  I think not so much because we worry about others might think that we are fools but because we ourselves may.  We don’t want to believe that we are fools ourselves because to do so would be to admit that we have no control over the things that happen to us.  We have no control over the world around us and that’s scary.  We want to be in control.  We want to be confident that we are able to navigate the world around us in order to get what we need.  We want to know that the little scripts we have about how to act and what to do and where to go to get this done or that done are correct.  “When you’re hungry go in the kitchen and open the refrigerator and get something to eat”; What would happen if we felt hungry one day, went to the kitchen opened the refrigerator only to realize that this was no longer the place to find food but rather the place where firewood was stored?  That schema would be threatened and we’d feel an associated anxiety, because we no longer know where to find food when we’re hungry – I hate to see what’s in the woodshed now.  We all have this intricate set of schemas such as this and want to know that we may rely on them.  If we can’t, then we also can’t feel confident that the next time we’re hungry; we’ll know what to do. But if we admit that we are fools, then we must also admit that all of those schemas are questionable.  It’s something that we cannot tolerate considering so we dismiss it and react strongly to anyone else’s suggestions that it may be true.

There is therefore something especially hurtful therefore about calling someone a fool, because we know how much we fear it ourselves. Maybe that’s why Jesus specifically tells us not to call people fools:

Matthew 5:21-22(ESV)

            “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

But then does it himself.

Matthew 23:17 (ESV)

            You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred?

He’s not really meaning the use of the word “fool” is in and of itself sinful, but rather illustrating that the use of words in anger is.  What he’s saying is “hey, I know y’all know that murder aint right, but I’m here to tell you that acting with unrighteous anger in your heart is bad no matter how you let it manifest itself”.  The word “fool” provides an excellent illustration for this, because there really is no way it cannot be taken as an insult.  When he speaks to the Scribes and Pharisees in chapter 23 it comes from a place of righteous not unrighteous anger.  They were fools and I’m sure the word meant as much to them as it does to me.

My poor Little Fool is hanged…

In the third act of Shakespeare’s King Lear, we find Lear and his loyal fool amidst a raging storm.  Lear, who had decided to divide his kingdom proportionately between his daughters and their suitors in accordance with their demonstrated love for him, realizes that once they receive their wealth, their actual love for him was far different than the amount of love he had been shown before.   In a tantrum and going mad he flees one of their castles in order to demonstrate his objections to his daughter’s selfishness.

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!

You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout

Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!

You sulfurous and thought-executing fires,

Vaunt-couriers of oak-cleaving thunderbolts,

Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,

Smite flat the thick rotundity o’ th’ world,

Crack nature’s molds, all germens spill at once

That make ingrateful man!

Now Lear’s fool is anything but a fool.  He’s often referred to as the “wise fool”.  His purpose in the play is, seemingly, to serve as a sort of narrator, however he just sort of disappears after the third act.  In addition, and probably more importantly, he serves as Lear’s conscious.  He speaks openly and frankly to Lear, in a way that Lear would not tolerate from anyone else.  Now, in peril and with nothing to gain fool demonstrates true love and loyalty by still remaining at his beloved master’s side, Fool has already shown his wisdom to us and perhaps foreshadows what’s to come in act 2:

That sir which serves and seeks for gain,

And follows but for form,

Will pack when it begins to rain

And leave thee in the storm.

But I will tarry; the fool will stay,

And let the wise man fly.

The knave turns fool that runs away;

The fool no knave, perdy.

Now there’s a lot there.  Here not only is the fool demonstrating his integrity “but I will tarry; the fool will stay”, but he also seems to be telling us that he is fully aware of the reversal of his own and the king’s conditions.  The word “knave” was often used interchangeably for “fool” but has a slightly different meaning.  It means more of an older, outdated, archaic and unscrupulous person.  Given that and the context in which the word is used, it seems clear that what fool is saying; “the knave turns fool that runs away; the fool no knave, perdy”, is that everything now is reversed.  The king, who most would assume is not a fool – he did manage to become a king after all, has now fallen into peril as the result of his own foolishness and the fool, though in the exact same peril, but in his case via loyalty not foolishness, now speaks words of wisdom.  It is through this council, through this wisdom from the fool and through his own madness, that Lear is able to see his error and regain his love for his one daughter that refused to kiss his butt in the beginning because she knew it was all phony.

Then everybody gets hanged – it is after all a tragedy!  Sorry for the spoiler, but you really should have read it in high school like you were supposed to.

Now Shakespeare’s intention here, in these lines, this scene and really the entire play, is clear to me.  His intention is far nobler than the endeavor to make high school students miserable some 600 years later, though I likely would have disagreed with myself in high school.  What he’s trying to say is that we are often wrong when we assign the designation as fool or not a fool to someone.  Than in some ways we are all fools and we are all wise.  Now I suppose you can be a fool and become a king, but I don’t think that you can be a fool and become and old king and I suppose that you can be a wise man and become a court jester, but it takes, at least to a certain extent, wisdom to show integrity.

We fear being fools because we fear the outcome destine to what it means to be a fool.  Fools end up dead, because they don’t have enough sense to get out of the way of a speeding bus.  Fools end up in the jailhouse because they don’t have enough sense to realize that their not as clever as they think they are.  Fools end up poor, hungry, cold, because they cannot develop the skills necessary to provide for themselves and their families.  Nobody wants to be a fool not so much because they don’t want to be thought of as a fool, but because they don’t want to think of themselves as one.  Bad stuff happens to folks that are fools!  The potential consequences are simply too unbearable to think about.  Paul echoes this sentiment in 2 Corinthians:

2 Corinthians 11 (NIV)

Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

I wonder what my wife’s grandfather would have to say about Paul!  Now here’s a guy who didn’t just accidentally light his grandfather’s tractor on fire; he’s been in and out of jail, has had constant trouble with the law, can’t handle a ship, gets his butt whipped all the time and can’t manage to provide for himself.   That’s how we justify calling someone a fool – by the things that happen to them.  If you end up in jail, you’re probably a fool, because you didn’t have the sense to keep yourself out of jail.  Now we justify to ourselves that it could never happen to us, we could never end up in that horrible wrenched condition, because we are not fools.  We don’t have to worry about it.  Right?  Well not really, because bad stuff has happened to all of us. We excuse these things.  Justify them by saying that our situation was in some way exceptional or that we were sacrificing our outcomes for some higher cause.

Freedom Inside the Jailhouse…

We had to go get my wife’s grandfather himself out the jailhouse only a few month age, because the man refuses to get a driving license and keeps driving his old Chevy around.   To get a driver’s license you have to have a social security number and he is dead against doing so. “That which the federal government subsidizes, the federal government controls” – he refuses to be controlled.  For him it’s about freedom.  He’ll go to jail to preserve his freedom.  And I’m the fool?

That seems to be a common theme here; fools invariably lose their freedom.  Paul ended up in jail many times. At the end of the Play in King Lear, Lear dies in prison of a broken heart.  If my wife’s grandfather had his way, I’d be doing 5 to 10 right now for tractor abuse.  Oxford had 5 separate definitions for freedom:

  • 1 the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants:
  • 2 the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved
  • 3  (freedom from) the state of not being subject to or affected by (something undesirable
  • 4 (the freedom of ——British a special privilege or right of access, especially that of full citizenship of a city granted to a public figure as an honor
  • 5  archaic familiarity or openness in speech or behavior.

What’s ironic, as in the case of my wife’s grandfather, is that we often sacrifice one definition for the sake of another.  Well often sacrifice the second definition for the sake of the third or the third for the second – we do so whenever we stand up to injustice, tyranny or corruption or chose to ignore such for fear of the repercussion.  We’ll often sacrifice the first for the third, by holding our tongue because we just don’t want people to fuss at us for our opinions or beliefs or the third for the first, when we talk to people about something they don’t necessarily want to hear – this is often the situation we face when talking to others about Jesus, we often know in doing so we will be met with resistance, judgment even distain.  How often do we chose not to simply to avoid the reaction?

My point is that the way the word is set up, it really is impossible for to maintain our “freedom”, for each of its definitions, simultaneously.   It is, because of human nature, simply impossible.  We all make these sacrifices one place or another; we’re all prisoners to something, slaves to something: our morals, pride, drugs, religion, money, power, beer.  We’re all fools in one way or another.

As Christians, we are told that true freedom comes only through Jesus. When you think about it in these terms, that makes sense.  I mean, who do you believe is more free; the slave who knows happiness inside his heart or the master, who knows only of anger and selfishness, abusing him? One has attained his freedom in the physical sense, but is a slave to his own cruelty and greed.  The other hides his freedom within his heart, even if he must do so in chains.  Which freedom would you choose?

Because, it occurs to me that we all must make these choices.  Choices about which types of freedom we will sacrifice to preserve others.  Choices about what we will become slaves to – fools for.  It’s not a matter of choosing to be a fool or not, but rather for what will we be willing to be foolish.  Are we willing to go to jail because we truly believe that we shouldn’t have to have a social security number or do we sacrifice our beliefs in order to preserve our physical freedom?  Should I stay in the house and let the weeds take over the orchard, because I may not be the most highly qualified tractor mechanic in the South, or do I get off the couch and try to do what I need to and maybe learn that sometimes old tractor engines are set up positive to ground.  Both choices represent becoming a fool; it’s really just a matter of which we find preferable – for what we choose to be a fool.

A common reaction from family and friends when you are trying to reconcile a marriage after your spouse has had an affair implies that you are a fool for staying; “how could you stay with someone who’s done that to you?, How could you ever trust them again?  They’ll play you for a fool again!  Fool me once shame on me…”  It becomes forefront in your mind – “am I being a fool for trusting this person again”?

I would submit that I am, but I am making a choice.  I’m choosing to be a fool for my family, for my children, for my wife and the love that I feel for her rather than choosing to be a fool for the pain, the fear, the mistrust and the resentment that her affair has caused.  Resenting the affair is not going to erase it from history, nor is holding on the pain that it caused or the fear that it may happen again.  But I love my wife, truly love her and to me not serving that love, not forgiving, not allowing us to move on, to heal, not allowing her to love me because she doesn’t deserve to; these things represent being the far greater fool.

Paul again (the guy could write some now!) in 1 Corinthians 4(ASV):

10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye have glory, but we have dishonor.

11 Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place;

12 and we toil, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure;

13 being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things, even until now.

Is it really so bad to be a fool, so long as we are being a fool for something good, something decent, something worthy of being considered a fool for?  And if it is, than what are we giving up?  Living our lives in fear, hiding from the world, afraid to take chances for fear that someone might call us foolish.  I think that’s the greater fool and it’s not who I want to be.  I want to be a fool for Jesus!  I want to be a fool for my family!  I want to be a fool for my wife!  I want to be a fool for love, for forgiveness, for trust and for hope.

Please Lord never stop allowing me to be a fool for these things and thank you for giving me the opportunity to choose them.  I know that the only thing that will truly make me foolish is to not trust in your love, your plan and your will for me.  Thank you for helping me see that and thank you for being patient with me.

There’s Dog Poop on My Bicycle Seat…

Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease.

~ Proverbs 22:10

Bully…

What does the word “bully” actually mean?  I think for many it conjures imagery such as the Rockwell paintings above – big, stupid kid, who doesn’t know any other means of achieving his goals by any other means, and who himself is likely not even aware of what those goals may be.  We sort of romanticize it.  Tell ourselves it’s something we’ve all had to go through, dismiss it as part of growing up – a sort of rite of passage.  “You just have to stand up to a bully”! we say, “and then they’ll back down, because they’re actually cowards at heart”.  I think we tend to forget how terrifying that act usually is or that it doesn’t always, despite what Hollywood might have us believe, turn out like that.  To a fifth grader, I think we might as well say “you need to stand in front of that charging bull, and then it’ll back down”!  Well ok, but what if you’re wrong?

I also think that maybe the rolls of “bully” and “victim” are not so clearly defined as we might have been led to believe from all those after school specials.  I, and I think probably most if we’re honest, can remember times of both being bullied as well as being bullies ourselves – sometimes in the same day.  I can remember once in school getting pushed down during recess, my cap flying off and then kicked around the playground by the same boy who pushed me down.  I remember the shame I felt, the embarrassment.  I can remember thinking how inadequate I must have been to be the one he chose to pick on, to be the only one of my classmates who was somehow incapable of preventing this from happening to himself.  Why couldn’t I stand up for myself?  Was I just a coward? A loser?  What was wrong with me?  I felt so worthless.  I can also remember, later that day, the younger boy down the street running home crying because I pretended to want to play with him and then wiped dog poop on his bicycle seat.  The truth is that I felt terrible as I did it, but my own need to feel more in control outweighed my desire to be kind to that boy.  I’ll never forget the sound of his crying as  he was pushing his bicycle back home.  Just wanting to get to Mama.  Just wanting to be safe.  Just wanting to be someplace where he knew what to expect and not be squelched by the world around him.  I could hear it for a long time after I could no longer see him.  “There’s dog poop on my bicycle seat”, between sobs, “Do-o-o-g Po-o-o-op on my bi-i-i-cycl-l-l-lle se-e-e-at”! as he disappeared down that dirt road.  I can hear it in my mind like it was happening right now outside and I believe that memory will haunt me forever, because I know one day I will have to stand before the most holy of Gods and explain to him why I wiped dog poop on that boy’s bicycle seat and I don’t know what I’m going to tell him.  I the course of an afternoon I went from knowing exactly how it felt to be abused like that, devalued, the shame and embarrassment, to being the one who would inflect that on another.  Why?  For real bullies it’s the same process, but lifelong.

So when I sit here and write that I think my wife is a bully, it’s not without the understanding that I think to a certain extent we all are.  To a certain extent we all have exploited other’s weaknesses in order to avoid looking at our own.  To a certain extent we all have made ourselves feel better by making someone else feel worse.  To a certain extent we all have made ourselves feel as if we’re more in control than we actually are by exploiting (and abusing) some sort of differential in ability, power or needs.  For the purpose of what I am writing here, let’s just say a bully is anyone who habitually needs to push another down (physically, emotionally, mentally etc.) for the sole purpose of maintaining some sense of being in control over their world or the avoidance of the recognition of one or more of their own inadequacies.  When bulling becomes a lifelong behavior, I think the bully, at some point, stops feeling bad for the kid with dog poop on his bicycle seat.  I’d like to spend some time today, thinking and writing about what a bully looks like, how were taught to deal with bullies and the biblical response to being bullied.

The Anatomy of a Bully…

Bullies are Broken:

First and foremost, I think it should point out that the all bullies are in somewhat broken themselves.  I likely would have no cause to pick on that boy from down the street were it not for my own feelings of being inadequate.  It’s true, I think, that bullies are all at heart scared of something.  Scared of their own sense of not having control, scared of what may be wrong with themselves, scared of being bullied or picked on or judged if they aren’t bullies.  I can literally see the process of this decision take place each time my wife decides to bully.  “Do I actually want to take a look at myself? Consider the things that he says are hurting him?  Weigh whether or not my actions are contributing to the problem?”  Then, I can see that fear wash over her face.  The consideration of the things she’d actually have to bring to conscience in order to do so.  Instinct kicks in and out comes the anger.

“Why do you always have to talk about things”, “There’s nothing wrong with me except you’re picking on me”, “Why do you have to analyze everything”?, “Honestly, you’re just so pathetic”…Eyes rolling, hands waving, head shaking – I’ve seen it a thousand times!  I’ve seen it when we first started dating and she would blow me off to spend an afternoon with her ex-husband, I’ve seen it when we were first married and didn’t get her way about this or that, I’ve seen it during the affair when her behavior became so inexcusable that it was beyond defense and I see it now when the idea of working on this issue or that issue seems so insurmountable to her that she just would rather bark me away.

As I have said, bullies are broken, and my wife is no exception.  She’s been through it now – father committed suicide while she was in a tent with him when she was two and she was not found until the next morning,  placed into foster care as a young girl, sexually abused by a Jehovah Witness elder from her kingdom hall when she was nine, first husband died of cancer when she was twenty, shunned by her parents because she was kicked out of that church for smoking a cigarette – probably my wife needs to start her own blog and I could never do justice to the trials which she has endured  before meeting me, here.  The reason I mention these things is that I know that where my wife is concerned, we’re talking about a lifetime of being shown how little control she has.  Her life has been a parade of event after horrific event demonstrating to her, her complete lack of control.  At some point, I think she learned that by bulling, she could regain that control.

Bullies have a Power differential Which They Lear to Exploit…

Bullies need a way to Bully.  You don’t see many girl scouts pushing around varsity football players – not physically anyway.  A bully needs something; their size, strength, intelligence, indifference etc – on which they may rely to intimidate others.  For my wife this has always been her indifference to our marriage.  For a long time before the affair, I’ve know that our relationship has more value to me than it does my wife.  At times she has gone out of her way to make this painfully apparent.  She uses that.  Hold’s it ransom.  Dangles it in front of me, as if to say “remember, you need me more than I need you”!  Of course the bullies real weapon is fear.  It is only through the fear of them hitting you, making you look stupid, leaving you etc. that they are able to leverage what they want.

This is a technique that she can see herself using, when she’s not angry, we can talk about it, she can see how hurtful it is and she expresses genuine remorse, but the next time she needs to, she doesn’t hesitate to rely again on this strategy.  She knows, that I will never leave and she knows that it’s my worst fear that she will.  She’s been able to leverage that knowledge to control just about any situation.

Have trouble with rules…

In general, I think that this is a fair statement.  If a bully didn’t have trouble with the rules associated with earning money, they wouldn’t need to take mine.  Bullies don’t like rules, they think that the rules should not apply to them or the secretly think that because of their own inadequacies, they are somehow incapable of following the rules as they exits.

My wife grew up as a Jehovah Witness.  I could write another blog about what I think of this religion, so I will not attempt to do so here, suffice to say – they got and ass of rules!  Rules about who you can hang out with, how you can dress, what you watch on tv, serving your country, saving your own life, how to treat people who are not Jehovah Witness.  You name it, they got a rule for it.  Unlike, what I consider to be Christian, Jehovah Witnesses think that their salvation is tied up in their good works – they have to earn their way to heaven by being good.  For them it’s not about their faith, it’s about their works.  The cultural effect that this has on people of that faith is to exact such a stringent standard of behavior that no one could ever hope to achieve it.  The strange thing is that rather than admitting that to one and other, they shift the focus from what actually going on with them, to what it looks like is going on with them.

They watch what they want to watch on tv and then lie to everyone else about what the watch.  They drink what they want to drink, smoke what they want to smoke, eat how they want to eat, put what they want to on their iPods, pray, act, think how they want to, but learn how to make it look like they’re living a devoted Jehovah Witness’ life.  The truly sad thing is that they all believe that the others are.  That they’re the only ones incapable of doing so.  That their faults, their weaknesses, their imperfections are unique unto them.

I see that conditioning even now in our relationship.  Something will come up that we need to talk about, an issue, a problem that I’m having, a result of the affair, and instead of looking at it, admitting guilt or seeing an area needing improvement, her automatic reaction will be to feign anger or indigence.

It’s your fault…

Bullies have a need to feel that the people they are bulling deserve to be bullied, at least while their bulling them.  “Little Runt”, I thought as I was smearing dog poop on his bicycle seat “this will teach him”!  Regardless of if the actual hatred they feel for the person they are bulling comes from prejudice or their own insecurity or fear they need the person that they are picking on to be worse.  Toward that end they are quick to belittle, undermine, denigrate or discredit their subjects.  They have a compulsive need to criticize them, refuse to give them value in any way and are extremely adept at creating conflict.

When I first started keeping this journal, I shared some of the entries with my wife – big mistake!  She called them my “stupid little pathetic writings, so that people would feel sorry for me” .  She collects my failures, shortcomings and mistakes like coins that she can take out, sometimes months or even years, later, in order to justify a decision to not respect me.  One time I shushed her in church because the people in front of us kept turning around and looking at her and one of our boys talking during the sermon – two years later in therapy she brought that up as the reason that I was overbearing and oppressive.  “He doesn’t believe that woman should be allowed to speak in church”, “I told her that woman should be silent and let the men make all the decisions” you name it – honestly, I just didn’t want my family to be a distraction during the service.

I’ve also seen this happen during the course of a conversation.  I’ll say something and she will restate it in a completely misconstrued and deaminizing way.  I’ll object to the way she restated it and she’ll do so again and a slightly less deaminizing way, round and round we’ll go, not talking about the issue at hand, until we can compromise on the most deaminizing interpretation that I’ll let her get away with.  In the pocket it goes for later, but the anger that her original representation rendered remains for the rest of the conversation.

Learn not to care…

Real bullies learn not to care about the folks they bully.  Whereas most people will have some experience bulling, I think human nature is such that we feel sorry for what we’ve done soon after if not during the attempt to bully.  The bully pros are able to do so without regret, without hesitation, without affect.  I’ve seen my wife say and do the most hateful things with a completely blank look in her eyes.  Like an angry snake striking without thought to the damage it will do, instinctive, fear driven and automatic.

Needs to not be thought of as a bully…

Another thing I’ve noticed is that for whatever reason, it’s important to bullies to not be thought of as bullies.  They will go out of their ways using lies, deception, rumor, to create a false reality that justify their behavior to others.  It’s amazing to me the extent to which my wife was willing to go to falsely malign my character to others in order to create a situation where the affair, the drugs, leaving me or just not caring would be more seemingly palpable to others.  To this day I still will hear of rumors and lies about me not letting her spend any money, me being gay so I didn’t want to make love to her, me beating her, me spending all the family’s money on liquor, etc.

I think bullies, contrary to what folks might think are extremely socially adept.  They are experts at reading folks and becoming what they think is expected of them.  They can anticipate what folks want to hear and give it to them in a charming and docile way, thus diverting any sense that they may in fact be bulling someone.  Clearly there is spiritually something very wrong or just plain absent, but they learn to parrot Christian behavior, scripture and conviction.  And the most insidious thing is that they can do all of this in such an evasive way – never giving straight answers or allowing themselves to speak in specifics,  that it completely alleviates them of any accountability – oh I never actually said…

Standing in Front of the Bull…

I remember texting those words to my wife that day that her affair was exposed.  My heart filled with fear as I tapped the “Send” button.  Fear of what her response might be, what action she might take as a result of this.  Fear of what was to happen next.  Fear for what would happen to our boys and me.  I also felt as if I was acting impulsively, despite the fact that I had now spent a considerable amount of time thinking about this, praying, speaking to other men in the church, our therapist.  I felt as if I was writing her something completely unrehearsed, considered or calculated.  It terrified me.

It shouldn’t have, I thought, I mean Christians and Bullies is a no brainer right?  Turn the other cheek and all that.  It felt as if there were to great opposing forces pulling me in opposite directions.  I wanted terribly for my wife to be better, become a loving wife and mother again and didn’t think that could happen if I challenged her, but then at the same time, I couldn’t continue to enable this behavior that was destroying my family’s lives.  I just didn’t know if I was doing the right thing.

Not too long ago, I was sitting out  early one morning with our older boy, waiting for the school bus to make it’s way down our dirt road.  He had been having trouble with another boy on the bus and the word bully had been thrown around.  Waiting for the bus in the early morning light, he said that he was going to “smack that kid in the face” if he gave him any trouble that morning.  No brainer right?  I talked about Jesus telling us to turn the other cheek:

Matthew 5 (ESV)

38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

 and that how as Christians we’re called to demonstrate the love of Jesus to those who hate us:

Matthew 5 (ESV)

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers,what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

 Having talked about these things, I sat back and silently congratulated myself on my response.  “There you go”, I thought “that’s an easy one for a Christian Dad”.  He was so lucky, I thought, to have a guy like me around to answer his questions.  What if he instead was raised by someone who didn’t know anything about the bible.

“Can I ask a question”? he asked.

“Sure, anything”, I said my confidence growing by the minute.  Surly no question could possibly refute this lock clad piece of theology I had presented.

“Did Jesus love his enemies”? He asked meekly.

“He sure did.  That’s kind of the whole point”! said I.

“Well, isn’t the devil Jesus’ enemy”?

“Uh-Oh”! I thought.  That ship sank fast as he asked the question I knew was coming:

“Does Jesus love the devil”?

“Maybe we better ask the preacher”.

Despite thinking that I was doing and saying the right thing that morning, I’m not so sure I was.  When I spoke those words to my son, I could see a look of hopelessness was over his face.  He was asking to be saved and I was basically giving him some kind of biblicaly watered down version of  “hey if it doesn’t kill ya, it’ll make you stronger”.    He looked physically small to me.  His sense of self disgust and self hatred perceptible.  He looked the way I felt the afternoon I sent that text message.  I thought I was counseling him to discipline himself.  That challenging this boy was the easy way out and that he needed to use the opportunity to learn tolerance and self control.  The truth is that he didn’t, at least not from a biblical perspective.

Later that evening, I sat down and actually searched for the scripture that I was pretending to know about that morning.  I searched for the Christian response to bullying and read quite a number of different views regarding the same.  I really wanted an answer to his question.  I read the scripture which I have already presented above from Matthew.  I read in Leviticus 19:18 (ESV):

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

and in 2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV):

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

and in Romans 12: 19-20 (ESV):

 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

and in John 3:15 (ESV):

Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

and in Matthew 5:11 (ESV):

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

 and Deuteronomy 31:6 (ESV)

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.

 and on and on and on – forgive, let it go, be the better person, turn the other cheek, peace, love…  OK, that must be all just take it and shut up right?

Now I read this:

John 18: 19-23(ESV)

19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22 When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?”

 Uhm… What? Are you serious?  You’re killing me Jesus!  Do you remember all the love your enemies and turn your other cheek stuff?  You just told us!  Now you get smacked and you didn’t turn the other cheek!  You tore into the guy!  You stood up for yourself!  What’s the deal?

I returned to the list of relevant scripture and found the following which I didn’t really understand why was included in the list:

Proverbs 13:12 (ESV)

Hope differed makes the heart sick, but hope fulfilled is a tree of life.

I think I miss a lot from Proverbs as the concepts are usually so short and come at you rapid fire just one after another after another.  I think I often find myself just reading to get to the end.  I get a little overwhelmed by the sheer amount of lessons presented so close together and get that “drinking from the fire hose” feeling.  This is one that I’ll never forget.  That’s such a powerful little word isn’t it – “hope”.  I think I tend to forget how important it is.  I tend to get bogged down in the get to work, make a paycheck, keep the boys fed, my wife safe etc. that I forget sometimes to hope and what an amazing gift it is.  Hope, probably one of God’s greatest gifts to us on earth, but what does it have to do bullies?

So what does hope have to do with the plight of those who are bullied?  If it wasn’t for google I’m not sure I’d find anything in the bible.  I Googled  “bible and hope” – 265 million results! It would appear that the bible has a thing or two to say about hope.  I read a couple and then came across this:

2 Corinthians 4(ESV)

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

I like that – for this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison!  Now that’s hopeful!  I thought again of the previous verse; Hope differed makes the heart sick, but hope fulfilled is a tree of life.  Makes the heart sick.  That’s it.  That’s really what it feels like to be bullied.  That’s what I felt like that day on the playground.  That’s how I made the little boy down the street feel when I put the dog poop on his bicycle seat.  That’s how I feel when my wife becomes a bully.  It’s about hope and letting someone else take it away.  I hope that my wife loves me.  I hoped to be popular at school.  The little boy down the street hoped to be my friend.  It’s what the bully really can’t stand, because it’s not something that they can just beat out of you.  You have to choose to give up your hope.  Bullies bully because they themselves have no hope and they can’t stand the idea that anyone else does, in particular someone weaker, less intelligent, less popular or less emotionally tough then they are.  It’s unfathomable to them that this person should be permitted hope when they themselves have none.  The bullying is really just a manifestation of that perceived unfairness.

But now here’s the trick; we choose the things about which we hope.  Not the bully, not our parents, not even God really, we do.  And bullies can’t take that away from us unless we permit them.  There is no power differential on this level.  I hope about what I choose to and it doesn’t matter if I do it with my nose bloodied lying on the ground or hiding under a table or walking home with dog poop on your bicycle seat – It’s my hope!  You can’t have it!  You can’t beat it out of me!  If I don’t want you too, you can never take it away!  And that’s really it isn’t it? The way to deal with being bullied is to remember that.  To remember that it really doesn’t matter if you’re able to “give that bully a taste of his own medicine” or not because he can never win, never have what he really wants, so long as we have hope.  I think the best thing we can do for a bully is to show them how to hope.

So back to Jesus getting smacked by the centurion.

22 When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?

What’s going on here.  I’m no preacher, but I’ve read the bible enough now to know that there’s not really stuff in there that doesn’t need to be.  When Jesus draws in the dirt, there’s a reason for him drawing in the dirt.  When he touches someone he doesn’t need to, there’s a reason for him touching them so I assume that if Jesus stands up for himself here, there’s a reason for him standing up for himself and that I just don’t see it yet. One thing’s for sure; Jesus sure didn’t loose any hope over it.  That is if Jesus even needs to hope.  He knows all things, is all things and can do all things so I’m not really sure what a guy like that has to hope for.  Maybe he hopes for us.  Oh, hey now!  There’s something!  He hopes for us!  Jesus doesn’t have to fuss at this man for smacking him!  He doesn’t need to stand up for himself or keep himself safe.  He’s Jesus.  He could call down 10,000 angels or preform a miracle right there if he wanted and get himself right out of that.  I recon, if he wanted, he could have made some funny fart noises with his hand in his armpit and poof – that guy has a giant frog head or something.  (I think that’s what I would have done) Like I said – He’s Jesus! He doesn’t have to stand up to this guy.  Here’s what I think; Jesus wasn’t standing up for himself, he was standing up for me!  He was standing up for y’all, he was standing up for that little boy down the street with dog poop on his bicycle seat, for all of us.  He was protecting our hope.

And that’s key.  The difference between standing up to what is wrong and retaliation is that one is done in a way that preserves hope and one is not. One comes from a place of love and one from a place of anger.  Now Jesus took a lot during his time on earth, he was essentially bullied from the day his ministry began, time and time again – like water off a duck, but when it came to loving us and loving God he didn’t take crud off of anyone!  Now that’s bad ass!  That’s how I want to be.  I want to love like that, live like that and forgive like that.

The “Lord Why Me?”s…

~But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.

~Psalm 3(NIV)

Being Heartbroken Together…

My wife came out of our bedroom and sat in front of the fire crying silently and I knew instantly what had happened.  This was the second time since the affair that it had.  All the same signs had been there; the cramping, the spotting, the back pain, the weight loss.  She was having another miscarriage.  I went to her and sort of half hugged/half rubbed her back and said “It’ll be ok Baby”, which she tolerated, but I could tell was not comforting to her.  She remained still for only a few seconds then shifted herself so that I would no longer do so.  She had miscarried again and was upset, but nowhere near as upset after the first miscarriage.  She was much less further on this time – only a week or two since her positive pregnancy test.  The first one, two months before was nearly a full trimester when it happened and required her to get a subsequent DNC to remove the remains.

My thoughts drifted back to that day, that night really.  Asking one of the woman from church to watch the boys, waiting in the Emergency Room, then test after test, then waiting, for what seemed like forever waiting for something to happen.  I think we both really knew what had happened; the bloods tests of this hormone was too low, they couldn’t find a heartbeat for the baby, couldn’t see a baby with the ultrasound.  Despite all this we sat together but didn’t say a word to each other. We just sort of sat there praying that we were wrong, but waiting for someone there to summon the courage to come tell us the truth.  “My Baby’s gone, Isn’t it”? I can remember my wife asking one of the nurses.  The nurse looked as if she was going to cry and made some excuse to leave the room quickly. When we left the emergency room that night/morning it was nearly dawn. We still really didn’t have a definitive answer.  We had a lot of “oh that’s not a good sign, but it doesn’t mean for sure”s but no one came out and said “I’m sorry the baby’s gone”.  They left that to the OBGYN who we were to go see the next day.

I can still remember the hour long ride from the hospital.  Silence, but not unbearable silence.  My wife held my hand most of the way and was giving me the most loving looks.  It has always been that way and even as I write this I don’t know why.  That is that when things are good for my wife, her love for me seems to be hit or miss, at some of these times she can be the most loving, thoughtful, gentile individual and at others I think she confuses that stability for strength and pushes me away just to prove that she can stand on her own.  I never did understand it and I don’t think I ever will.  The one thing that I could always rely on is that when things are really bad for her, when she’s really hurting, someone close dies, or something bad like this happens she loves me like her life depended on it.  I had known this by then.  Had seen it many times and knew not to trust it or at least not to fool myself into thinking that it was permanent.

It was cyclical; when things were bad she clung to me like a drowning woman to a life preserver but then slowly as they improved her words became less kind, her actions less thoughtful, her anger came more quickly, until suddenly she was done, leaving, wanted to be on her own, answerable to no one.  I had seen it many times both before and after the affair and even during the course of this pregnancy.  I think that I may represent stability to her.  Safety.  But that safe is not necessarily exciting.  I remember only days after her coming home from the hospital, driving out to the beach and sitting there talking.  She had said something like the affair was all about “perverse pleasure” and those words have haunted me ever since.  I want to be a perverse pleasure! But I’m not so sure that you can be a perverse pleasure and at the same time be a good Papa, a good husband, a good provider and protector… I’m not so sure that you can be safe and exciting at the same time.  Now before y’all start talking about candle wax and whip cream and stuff – that’s not what I mean.  What I  mean is that to someone who is mentally ill, sometimes the addiction is the danger, the excitement of doing something you know is wrong or unhealthy, the throw caution to the wind and just live your life attitude, the stuff you’re supposed to give up when you grow up and become Mamas and Papas!  I just don’t know if you can satisfactorily replicate that kind of “danger high” and still keep yourself and your family safe and even if you could, like any other addiction, the appetite would grow and grow until you couldn’t.

The pregnancy had proven to be difficult to both of us.  She had just stopped taking her medication and I was just getting used to mine.  We were really still adjusting to post affair realities and probably neither was in the right place to bring a new baby into this world.  I was drinking more than ever and prone to fits of anger.  Lashing out, saying the most hateful and hurtful things almost seemed beyond my control and not just with her, I lost my temper so easily with the boys and would find myself screaming at them profanely or grabbing one by the ear and wondering how I let it get that far so fast.  She would still wrestle with these cycles wanting me, wanting our family, wanting a baby one week and then wanting none of it the next.  One night hysterical she screamed at me that she didn’t want this baby and was going to punch herself in the stomach until it died.

Still, one day there were two lines on the stick instead of one and I took it to mean that it was God’s will.  We hadn’t expressly been trying to get pregnant, but weren’t expressly trying not to either.  We used contraception in a way that really did leave things in God’s hands.  Some nights, during the most fertile periods of her cycle we would use it and other nights, including sever on the fringe of that fertility period, we did not.  Each month it was neither a surprise that she was or was not pregnant.  It really could have gone either way.  Let me be clear, and I’m perfectly willing to accept any and all criticism for this; I have always, both before and after the affair and both before and after the miscarriages, thought that another baby would be a blessing to this family.  I know that flies in the face of logic.  I know that a baby doesn’t make an unhappy marriage suddenly happy.  I know they eat a lot and cost about $.50 a pee.  I know. I know. I know.  Still in my heart and in prayer, I know that it is something that I hope would/will happen.  Be nice!

Now, the sun was rising as I pulled down our dirt road, returning from the hospital.  I helped my wife inside and put her to bed and then had to go get the boys from the woman who was watching them.  I got our older boy on the school bus and dropped our younger one off at the neighbors and went to work.  I wanted to take off, but I just didn’t have the time.  I had used up almost four weeks of personal leave between her hospitalization and my own, I was still playing catch  up and just didn’t have any available time to take off.

I can only remember that day feeling numb.  Completely numb.  Not devastate, not depressed, not anxious, not tired, just numb.  I have written before about this “automatic emergency mode” that I seem to enter when things are really bad.  During these times I kind of just know what to do, say the right things and feel a confidence and a strength that I can only assume comes from God.  It’s almost as if I appreciate the dramas as they are happening because I don’t have to worry when they will come.  Here it is, right in my lap and I’m surviving, I’m doing alright, maybe not perfect, but I’m still alive and that says something.  Almost like a parent who instinctively jumps in front of a moving train to push their little on out of the way.  It’s not really heroic as much as it is instinctive.  Only later do you stop and think; “Wow, I could have been another bug on that thing’s windshield”!  For my wife I think it’s the opposite, that is that it is during these times that she needs others them most, but for myself I know that it’s the time that I may rely the most on myself.

Well as we sat there by the fire that morning (that was a flashback within a flashback, if y’all didn’t catch it) I said, almost from habit and yes pretty stupidly, “what’s the matter Baby”?

“This is the worst day of my life” she replied, which really didn’t make sense to me.  This didn’t seem as severe as the first miscarriage two months before.  She was far less far along and wouldn’t have to have a DNC this time.  The previous time she had to carry the pregnancy an additional week before there was an available appointment to have it done.  That week must have been horrible for her I thought, but it wasn’t the case this time.

To be honest neither of those two days I thought, were even close to the worst day of my life, not even the worst day of the previous year, not even in the top five.  It had been a hell of a year now!  My Grandmother, who raised me, had passed and I couldn’t afford to go to the funeral.  Both of my parents had heart attacks and subsequently lost their business, My brother had a brain tumor, my wife’s affair and horrible addiction and the effect it had on this family, her subsequent suicide attempt and my own suicide attempt and now our second miscarriage. I don’t know, it may sound horrible, but although this was terrible, it was at least something that was terrible for both of us, at least something that we were going through together.  It wasn’t the same “my side/her side” alone feeling like during the affair.  We were a couple, a couple experiencing something awful, but still a couple – that was comforting to me. It just seemed to me that there were far stronger candidates for that dubious designation.

It stung me a little that she had said that “this is the worst day of my life” because I felt as if it undermined all the pain that I had been through during the previous few months, but I knew it would be selfish for me to fuss about it just then, so I just said “Baby, we got through this before.  We’ll do it again”.

“Last time was different”, she blurted quickly and started crying more forcefully.

“What do you mean”? I asked.

She talked more to me that morning that she had since coming home from the hospital.  She told me about her anger, her confusion, her ups and downs about loving me.  That she would get these feelings, just a twinge at first and then it would go away, then stronger, becoming a whisper, then a voice, then a scream, then a fantasy of not being with me.  That during some of these times she had prayed that the first baby would be taken away so that she wouldn’t be trapped there.  That she thought that it was because of this and because of all the drugs she was on during the affair that she believed she lost the last baby.  The guilt she had been harboring because of that.  That this time was different.  She wanted this baby.  She was trying to do right by it and was happy about the pregnancy.  She was heartbroken that it was gone, because she thought that she had been given a second chance.

She went to bed early that night and I was left alone with my thoughts.  I considered each of the items on that list.  Each of the tragedies that I had experienced, my family had experienced in the last year and I got myself to wondering about the “Why me” of it all.  I was drinking some, but not tore up.  I just sat there, alone in my chair, sipping a bud light and thinking that if I knew someone else who’d had a tougher year that I had, I’d like to buy them a beer.  The other thing that was foremost on my mind is this cycle my wife had described that swung from feeling love for me to fanaticizing about leaving me.

I wanted to talk about both the “Why me”? and the issue of my wife sometimes thinking that she didn’t love me.

Can You See Me Now, God?…

I read one time about a woman whose bible study group was reading in Malachi:

Malachi 3:3 (NASB)

3“He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness.

in order to clarify the passage, she visited a silversmith in order to learn about the process of purifying silver. She learned from the silversmith that in order to purify the precious metal, it was necessary for him to place the silver in a crucible and hold it up to a hot flame to remove the impurities. The work, he said, was tedious and required his constant attention, because if the silver was left in the flame for even a moment too long, it would be ruined irreversibly. When the woman asked him how did he know when the silver was purified and could be removed from the flame, he said; “Oh that’s easy – it’s pure when I can see my reflection in it”

Isn’t that an awesome story? I don’t know to whom it should be attributed or even if it really happened, but there’s wisdom there which I see as being applicable to this discussion and that is that God always heals us – just not always in the way we expect or want him to. It may not seem like it while he’s holding our crucible over the fire, correcting our impurities and waiting to see his reflection in us, but might the trials we each endure in this life; the physical and mental illnesses, the financial problems, familial problems, lost jobs, cheating spouses, stubbed toes, or anything that makes us say ‘why me’ or ‘why not me’, really just be his way of healing us? Healing what’s really wrong with us? What he knows needs healing?

Thank you God for the trials in my life. For the strengthening and purification that results from it. For the opportunity to trust in you and to know that your way is much higher than my ways. Thank you for loving me enough to see that I am challenged when I need to be challenged and comforted when I need to be comforted. Thank you for not always letting me have my own way. For seeing through what I think I need and providing me what I actually need. Thank you Father for loving me that much. I ask only that you do what is necessary to me so that you may see your reflection in my crucible and I trust in your methods for doing so. Purify me Lord, that I may become what you might will of me. Amen.

Love – Checking the Contract…

Hearing my wife describe that cycle stung me, but not as terribly as you might think.  I had recognized this cycle for a while by then, I had just never heard her herself put it to words.  Hearing her do so was almost a relief.  At least she recognized it.  At least she was willing to hold it and look at – own it.  This is probably the first necessary step on her part toward our reconciliation, because I had realized by then that it wasn’t going to be a flash in the dark for her.  There was not going to be any great “Ah Ha”! moment.  God wasn’t going to open of a “love” fire hose inside of her and suddenly she would be head over heels for me.  It was to be a process, a struggle. For her love for me to mean anything it had to be a free choice and a choice made without influence.

Here’s a little something I just recently realized:

Ephesians 5 (NIV):

Wives and Husbands

22Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansingb her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30for we are members of his body. 31“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”c 32This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

What’s notably missing is “wives love your husband”!  In fact I’m aware of no place in the bible (and believe me I’ve looked.  I also checked the marriage certificate) where wives are instructed to do so.  They’re instructed to respect their husbands, submit to them, but God doesn’t mandate that a wife love her husband – it’s her choice as to if she will do so.  It’s a continuation of the parallel to Jesus’ marriage to the church.  He loves us unconditionally, but we have a choice to accept that love or not.  We have a choice to reciprocate.  It’s the provision of that unwavering love that eventually lead us to choose to love him.  How much have I tested it?  How many times in my life have I turned away?  Given it up or rejected it over the tiniest little things?  How can I fault my wife for being the same as me?  That is for not being perfect, because none of us are.

You see if it were all one way or the other, she loved me completely or loathed me all the time, my choice would be easy – stay and forgive or leave, and I know that, in the biblical legal sense, I am no longer bound to staying, but what I keep feeling written to my heart is that this may be my purpose, my assignment, my mission if you will – that is to love this woman in a way that makes it clear to her that she is in fact lovable and in doing so also see how much she is loved by God and if I’m truly blessed love me in return.  Now I’m not so arrogant as to think it’s something that I can do myself.  I think of myself rather like a tool that He will use to accomplish this.  The same way that was done for me – that He loved me at the times when I was completely unlovable, is from where my love for Him came?  How can I not follow that example?  How can I stop loving this woman, who clearly needs to be loved so badly?  I simply cannot and will not do so and if that makes me week, so be it, if it makes me a fool, so be it, but I simply cannot ever see their not being love in my heart for her.

Y’all want to see the love of a real man in my opinion; check out Joseph of Nazzarath:

Matthew 1(ESV)

The Birth of Jesus Christ

18 Now the birth of uJesus Christ5 took place in this way. vWhen his mother Mary had been betrothed6 to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child wfrom the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling xto put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, yan angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and zyou shall call his name Jesus, afor he will save his people from their sins.” 22 bAll this took place cto fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 d“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

and they shall call his name eImmanuel”

(which means, God fwith us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And ghe called his name Jesus.

Luke 2 (ESV)

            In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

“Betrothed” – not the prettiest of words is it?  It really doesn’t seem very romantic at all – and it wasn’t.  In the Hebrew bible the word is Erusin (אירוסין).  In the modern day sense “erusin” means engagement, but in the times of Joseph and Mary it meant something very different.  In those days erusin was the first of two phases of a marriage (the second being nissuin).  It carried with it all of the laws associated with marriage (e.g. adultery punishable by death), usually lasted about a year during which time the couple was not to unite sexually and ended when the husband took the wife home and the marriage was consummated in the sexual union.

Betrothal was usually the result of a decision made by the parents of the bride and groom.  It was sometimes such that the groom was allowed to choose a bride and have his parents intervene on his behalf and is thought that the betrothal was sometimes effected simply by purchasing the girl from her father, a decision which did not require the woman’s consent nor did it allow her the option to refuse, by paying a “mohar” or price paid for her.

Now Matthew doesn’t tell us if Mary was bought, or chosen, or simple arranged by her parents to marry Joseph, but what’s clear is that this was not some Hollywood story of two people falling madly in love with each other.  She must not have love Joseph, at least not at first, how could she?  She was never given a chance to.  She was betrothed to him and didn’t have a choice and it was during this time of betrothal that Mary became pregnant with Jesus.

Can you imagine how Joseph must have felt when he realized that Mary was pregnant – I can.  If you think your town is gossipy try Nazareth!  Walking around town, traveling to Bethlehem, her all big fat and pregnant.  Can you just hear the whispers, feel the sideways looks?  Wondering who is thinking what about you.  I know exactly how that feels.  He had the option to get out.  He could have divorced her but because he was a man of God he followed God’s instruction to remain with her, support her and to love her.

Please Lord, give me that kind of strength.  Let me love as Joseph did.  The strength to put aside my pride and my embarrassment and my expectations about what it should mean to love someone and follow only your instruction to me.

Indeed, it think that must have been the only way to get your wife to love you in those days; to let her see that you were lovable, and maybe today is not so different from back then, maybe it’s why God doesn’t explicitly instruct our wives to love us, maybe we need to earn it!  Show them that we’re lovable first, show them that they are loved first.  Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to work.  And maybe all that’s happened to me in the last year is God’s way of picking on me and maybe it’s him holding me to the fire, waiting to see his reflection in me.  I don’t know, but it comes about close to making sense to me.

God Bless.

My Very Own Game Show of Grace…

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,

~Ephesians 1:7(ESV)

Triggers…

I read a story once about two monks traveling along a path through the woods.  When the path comes to a place where it is necessary to cross the river, they find a young aristocratic woman standing there.  The woman refused to step across the river for fear of ruining her silken dress and would not allow her servants to put down her packages in order carry her across the river as they might as well be ruined.  The younger monk notices the woman has an angry scowl on her face so he passes right by her.  The older monk sees her, picks her up and carries her across the river on his back.  Upon reaching the other side, she doesn’t thank him but rather pushes him aside and begins to holler at her servants to be mindful as the cross the river with her packages so that she may continue her journey.

This troubles the younger monk greatly as the two continue their own journey.  “How could that woman be so ungrateful”? he thought as they walked along.  “How can anyone be so selfish and rude”?  His spirits sank as he continued to lose faith in the goodness of people.  Finally, not being able to keep his resentment to himself he speaks out, “That woman back there was very selfish and rude, but you picked her up and carried her on you back across the river.  Why?  She didn’t even thank you”!

The older monk thought for a moment, smiled and said “I put that woman down hours ago.  Why are you still carrying her?”

I had heard that story years ago, but only now, as I write these words have I considered it in the context of my wife’s affair and the process of forgiving her.  I wanted to write today about the difference between mercy, grace and forgiveness.

I had a fight with my wife not too long ago.  A particularly bad fight.  She once again said that she was done, she was leaving and was going to find another place to move.  This was not the first time she has done this since coming home from the hospital and I knew as it was happening that she didn’t mean it, but it still hurt badly.  The day began with me going to work.  My office is in the center of our town.  A small town which is really just one traffic light at the crossroads in the center of it.  I generally work in the field so my normal routine is to drive to the office, catch up on email and paperwork, switch trucks and head to whatever job site I’ve  been assigned for that day.  The problem is that; no matter which way I leave from my office, I have to pass something that triggers a memory of her affair. To the North of that traffic light, next town over is our county seat.  It’s the town where the hotel and bar that that they would go is and also the direction that takes me past this man’s home.   To the South, the garage that he used to own and work at and where she met him.  To the East is the dirt road they used to sneak down to meet each other – their “special place” they called it and also my home, to which she invited him while I was away and where he spent time with my children and slept in my bed and to the South is the factory where he ended up working after his business failed and where she had used to sneak to on her lunch breaks and after work to sleep with him in the parking lot.

I’d come to think of it as the unholy cross of screw me – no matter which way I travel each day, there is something there to remind me.  Something to start me thinking about what had happened.  Something to restart the process of my obsessing over this.  Each day, every day, without exception, I have to fight off at least one of those reminders.

On this particular day, I had to go to the North (the Hotel).  I’m not sure why, but this is the most difficult of all the directions. Not only did I have to pass that hotel this day, but I actually had to spend the day parked next to it.  The road crew that I was working with was working there and there was no way around it, I had to be there too.  Right there all day, in plain sight of that hotel.  That sucked!  I thing y’all might be able to imagine most of the things that went through my mind in the 10-12 hours that I was there, so I’ll refrain from detailing them here, but suffice to say the ranged from deciding to just be strong and ignore it, to deciding that the only way for me to get over this was to also have an affair (even downloading a dating app on my phone to assist me to do so) to praying and realizing this was about the worst thing that I could do to my family (and deleting the app) to considering getting drunk on the job to just plane feeling numb.  It was awful!

On the way home that day, I stopped and bought a couple of 24 oz Bud Lights and stopped in the woods before getting to the house.  When I got home, she was already angry.   “Where have you been”? she demanded.  I told her and then she just rolled her eyes and walked away.

“Baby, I’m just trying to get my crazy work day out of my head before coming home” I said, halfway knowing that I was in the wrong.  I was doing this frequently now as was testified by the ever increasing number of empty beer cans in the bed of my truck.  Sometimes, the thought of being able to sit peacefully in the woods, listen to music and have a few beers is the only thing that gets me through my days.

“It’s not like we don’t have beer in the refrigerator”! She snapped, “Why do you need to buy more on the way home”?.  Now I can feel the resentment welling up.

“Why can’t she just permit me this?  Why can’t she just try to understand? Cut me a little slack?  It’s not like I’m off having an affair or doing drugs!  How hypocritical”!  The thoughts raced through my head and I knew that I would not be able to hold my anger much longer.  “I had a really bad day” I stammered and opened another beer.

“What now”? she said sounding exasperated.  She rolled her eyes again and kind of threw her hands up in the air.  I told her about the hotel and having to work outside it all day.  About the thoughts that had gone through my mind, the pain and the anxiety they caused.  I had recently just been prescribed pills for my anxiety as the therapist thought it was becoming an obstacle to our progress.  I’ve never felt anxiety like that before.  It would seem like out of no where.  A couple on a TV show going to a hotel.  A drug reference in a song.  The mention of infidelity on the news; and it would just wash over me, like I was caught in an undertow.   No way to think my way out of it.  Now way make myself feel better, just sudden overwhelming fear and certainty that something wasn’t right.  I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t pray, I trusted no one, even God.  I just remember that feeling of not being able to stand being inside my own skin.  Not being able to stand it even a second longer but having no choice but to.  Telling myself that it would eventually go away, but each time not believing it.  I wasn’t sleeping either as I would continuously have the most horrific dreams.  Dreams about my wife and this man waiting in the woods and beating me, kicking me and laughing as they did it.  Dreams about this man raping and killing our boys.  Dreams about finding them together again in the library, the look on her face as she decided to stand up for him instead of begging me for forgiveness when I did, reliving that day over and over every night.  I dreaded the thought of going to sleep and couldn’t wait for morning each night when I did.  This all was really just starting its take a toll on me.

“You know I’m really getting sick of this” she said “You’re not even trying to get over it.  This all obviously means more to you than it does to me.  He didn’t even mean all that much to me.  I don’t want to talk about it.  I don’t want to answer any more questions about it.  If you can’t get over this I’m just going to leave”!

No my behavior (as you will certainly more clearly see) was far from that of an exemplary Christian on this night, but in the event that you have found your way to reading this because you are a person that has cheated on their spouse and is seeking forgiveness, let me highlight this statement as the almost perfect example of what not to say to the person from whom you are asking forgiveness.  Allow me to dissect it a litter further:

“You know I’m really getting sick of this” – really?  How sick of it do you think I am?  I live with this every minute of every day, not just when I decide to tune in and think of the good old times and maybe feel a pang of guilt or two.

“You’re not even trying to get over it.  “ –  then why am I even here?  Me “trying” to get over it is something very different than you seeing evidence that I’m getting over it.  This is my process – my journey and you do not get to define it for me.

“This all obviously means more to you than it does to me.” – Uhm… Clearly! The question is; why doesn’t it mean more to you?  You tore my life apart over this crap and it just doesn’t mean that much to you?  How do you think that makes me feel?

“He didn’t even mean all that much to me.” – Great!  Because if he did at least I could think that you didn’t through our lives away for someone who didn’t mean all that much!

“I don’t want to talk about it.” – You think that might be part of our problem to begins with?  Of course you don’t want to talk about it!  You’re the one that screwed up!  Who wants to talk about their screw ups?  I on the other hand need to talk about it.  I need to know that I’m at least that important to you.

“I don’t want to answer any more questions about it. “ – How can I forgive something when I don’t know what I’m being asked to forgive?  I don’t ask stuff that I don’t need/want to know.  I don’t care who has the bigger penis!  What y’alls favorite position was or your pet names for each other.  I need to know what STDs I’ve been exposed to.  Is he a danger to my children.  Are these actually my children.  And is this really over!

“If you can’t get over this I’m just going to leave” – I refused to be subject to a deadline with respect to this.  You hurt me about the worst way that you could and now, if you want to reconcile that you’re going to wait, for as long as I need you to, in order for me to rebuild, one brick at a  time.  The brick wall that was my trust.  The wall that you smashed to bits with a wrecking ball by doing what you’ve done.  Forgiveness is one thing, but trusting again is another.   They don’t necessarily come together.  Forgiveness is my choice, but trust is something that we both must rebuild.

Chuck in a another statement like “oh, by the way I decided that it would be ok for me to hang out with him again” (which she hasn’t ever) and this would have been about the exact most detrimental thing to say to me!  To be honest, I don’t remember exactly how I responded to this, but I know it was in anger.  Probably very much as I have written above only far more explicative.  I was truly angry and I must have said the right wrong thing, because she got up, waived her hands at me and said “that’s it!  I’m done” went into the bedroom and slammed the door.

I sat there for a while, maybe two or three beers and tried to think how I was ever going to forgive this woman when she was so unwilling to give me the space to be hurt by what she’d done.  I thought about our therapist talking about how forgiving was a choice.  A conscious effort to choose to let go, but how could that be possible when it was constantly in my face, constantly reminding me, every road from where I work poisoned, my home poisoned, my wife seemingly unremorseful and combative.  I thought of my ex-wife.  She had cheated on me and left me for another guy and I was eventually able to forgive her, but that was different.  That was the kind of forgiving where you don’t have to live with it everday.  It was also a kick in the gut, but that pain got old and I just sort of eventually let go of it.  This is here every day.  I have to deal with it every day.  It’s not simply a matter of “Oh sorry it didn’t work out for you.  Have a nice life” this was still my life and I just couldn’t see if she wasn’t going to give me some space to be hurt how my life was ever going to be any better.

One of the Best Wrong Ideas I Ever Had…

Then it occurred to me, that what I was being asked for wasn’t forgiveness, it was grace.  With my first wife I didn’t have to offer her something that I didn’t believe she deserved, I just had to choose to stop letting what she’d done hurt me.  I just had to let go.  I didn’t have to keep loving her, live with her, provide for her, pretending to our children that she hadn’t done anything… I just had to let her go and the pain went with her.  Grace is different than forgiveness; I can remember thinking, because it requires reciprocity.  We cannot accept God’s grace until we admit to ourselves and to him that we require it.  That we admit that we suck, admit that we have done wrong, admit that we need and believe in him and come to him in faith.

We don’t get to say “OK God, I want your forgiveness, but I don’t want to talk about what I’ve done wrong.  Why do you have to keep reminding me that I’m a sinner?  I just want to pretend like my sin is no big deal and get on with having a loving relationship with you.  I may do it again, but it’s really no big deal.  It didn’t really mean that much to me anyway.  Just get over it already”!  What the heck?  Whereas forgiveness is one sided – “I’m not going to let this hurt me anymore”, grace is two sided – “I’m going to let this go and I’m going to continue to love you, but I need you to acknowledge that you’ve done me wrong”.  Without that second side my grace is meaningless.

I thought that to be very profound so I took a minute and proudly posted my “eureka” moment  in that great repository of global knowledge for all to share otherwise known as Facebook as my status, before heading to the bedroom to dazzle my wife with this inescapable biblically inspired logic.  Surly now she will see the error in her ways and fall to her knees begging my forgiveness!  She wasn’t terribly impressed, nor should she have been because it’s horseshit (I’ll explain why in a minute).  She was still pretty angry and that she was unwilling to listen to me simply infuriated me.  The rest of the night was a bit of a blur for me.  A collage of beer and rage.  I do know that it was her car which bore the blunt end of it.

I hated that car.  A jeep Cherokee, which I used to like.  It was a good reliable vehicle, all wheel drive which was good for getting up and down our dirt road after the rains.  Sturdy,  well built, rarely gave us problems.  But it was the place where most of their meetings took place.  The place where they would make out and have sex and talk about why they both deserved to be doing what they were doing.  I hated it!  I hated driving my kids to church in that car in which they had sex.  The car that had been privy to conversations and witness to activity that I knew I would never know about.  I hated the memories that it must have represented to her, about them, about times when she thought that what she was doing was good, times that she was glad about what she had done.  I had mentioned these things to her before and she had tried to trade it in, but our credit stunk and we had no money for a down payment, so it just didn’t seem like it would ever be possible.

I went outside, without planning to do so, and just say that car, parked there, mocking me and I went wide open on it!  Outside of my control, there wasn’t going to be any stopping it.  I simply didn’t care.  I didn’t care that it was stupid.  I didn’t care that it would cost us money.  I didn’t care that my wife would probably call the law.  I beat on that think like it slapped my Mama!  I smashed the baby’s toy tractor across the tail lights.  Picked up a wooden palate and tried to smash the windshield. Beat on the side panels with a milk crate until it broke apart cutting my hands.  I kicked it, hit it with my hands, threw anything I could get my hands on at it and continued like this, without thought, without consideration of consequence, fueled completely by rage, until I lost my balance from being drunk and hit my head on a nearby block used for chopping wood.

When I came back in, my wife was completely silent.  I went to bed in anger and passed out until the next morning.  When I woke up the next day she was gone and when I remembered what an ass I was I texted her some sort of heartfelt apology, but no reply. I called and texted but nothing.  I had begun to settle in with the realization that I may have pushed to hard and that this time might be for real.  That she may have left and would not be coming back and that it was really my own stupid fault.  She hadn’t, although I deserved it – that’s mercy.  Mercy to me means not getting what you deserve as opposed to grace which means getting something you don’t.

Then about 9:00am she called me crying.  She said that she had been in town to withdraw the remainder of our money out of the bank.  We had some automated bills coming up and only a few dollars remaining to get us through my the next paycheck and had previously decided to withdraw the rest of the money for food and gas before it all got sucked up by AT&T and Direct TV.  On the way there she said that she had decided that after doing so she was going to wreck that car into a tree, intending to total it, so that we could buy another one with the insurance money.

I about got sick!  Is this what I had driven her too?  That she felt as if she had to risk her life like that?  Risk the life of our boys Mother just to appease me?  Lord! I had been so selfish and hateful!  She continued talking though to tell me what had happened at the bank.  She said that she had gone to withdraw the remaining 40 or 50 dollars which we believed we had left, but when she had gotten there she saw that our balance was over $5000.00.  Our income tax check had been deposited.  We weren’t expecting it for a long time, if ever, because her ex-husband, although not calling our boy or sending a single support check for the previous year, decided that he was entitled to claim him on his income tax return.  When we did the same, the IRS rejected our return and we had to request some kind of audit.  We honestly thought we would never see that money.

She continued saying that when she got back to the car, there was a message from the car dealer who she had visited a few weeks prior which said that he had just found a car that we could get for $2000.00 down.  Now y’all might not believe in miracles or you might not believe that what I have just described represents a miracle – it was a coincidence, the money was coming anyway, car dealers will always call you back trying to make a sale, but you have to admit that the sheer timing of it all is profound.  It’s something that I have noticed; that whenever I’m truly down and out, truly needing, God finds a way to provide and whenever I’m having more than I can handle, more than I am able to be smart with, he finds a way to bring me back down to par.  We went that afternoon and bought a new used trailblazer.

I’m Almost Out of Eraser…

The truth is that we all are idiots.  We all make mistakes and if you don’t believe that ask yourself if you would ever buy a pencils with no eraser.  We all know that we are fallible so why is it that we have such a hard time accepting that other are?  Jesus showed us how to do it.

Check this out y’all:

Luke 23 (KJV)

33And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.

34Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.

35And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God.

36And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar,

37And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself.

38And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

39And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.

40But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?

41And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.

42And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.

43And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.

Y’all see the order that that happened.  It’s not like I had thought at all!  Not, like most would expect I think – that is; someone asks for forgiveness then you decide if you want to forgive them and then forgive them or not.  Jesus offered forgiveness first:

Forgiveness is offered:

34Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

then asked for:

42And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom

and then granted:

43And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.

I had it backwards.  I always thought that one forgave first, then decided whether or not to extend grace – like some bonus on a game show!  “Hey not only am I not going to call the cops (mercy) I’m going to absolve you of your responsibility for doing what you’ve done (forgiveness) and oh by the way, I’m gonna through in a new car!(Grace).  The advantage to this scheme is that you can kind of gauge how that person is doing with the mercy and forgiveness and then decide if they deserve your grace.  Looks good on paper, but it’s just not how God wants us to be.  Paul tells us in Ephesians:

Ephesians 1:7 ESV

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace

Forgiveness comes through grace and if it weren’t for God’s grace, we would have no grace at all.  It’s what he expects of us – that is to allow his grace to live through us.  It should be living in us and dying to get out.  We should, once we’ve know that grace, take every opportunity to share it with others.  Isn’t that what it means to be a Christian?  To bring his love where it is least expected?  To demonstrate that grace which has been extended to us?  Why do we think that we’re permitted these special circumstances under which we are permitted to not offer grace?  Were told time and time again, in God’s word, that that grace should consume us, set us on fire, guide our ever decision, govern our every reaction.  What else should matter?  Still though, we cling to our hurts, our excuses, as if they offer us greater comfort that being shown that grace ourselves.  What idiots we are!  How petty! What hypocrites! I can do better. I know I can! I know I can let his grace, his forgiveness, his love shine through me onto my wife and I know that we can be happy again.

The truth is that my wife showed very little grace that night, although she showed plenty the next morning.  That doesn’t excuse me from my own instruction to show grace, to forgive like Jesus forgave.  Her lack of doing so does not exempt my responsibility for doing so.  I don’t make her choices.  I can’t and I wouldn’t want to if I could.  What I want is for her to choose to show me grace, patients, love and remorse, but if I force her into doing so, it becomes meaningless.  What’s necessary if for me to detach my ability to forgive from her apparent want for and thoughts about the extent to which she needs to be forgiven.  It really has nothing to do with her.  It has to do with me, with my pride, my hurt, my anger and false perception that she must earn my forgiveness.

One More Little Problem…

One more thing before I close this chapter; I know that all of this applies equally to the man with whom my wife was cheating as it does to her. If I’m willing to offer her forgiveness, I will also have to do so to him as well. Dear God, if I knew it was not your will I would pray for anything but!  But it is isn’t it?  I need to don’t I?  I have to be willing to show him the same forgiveness as I’m trying to my wife.  The same as you have shown me.  This nigger!  This filthy, drug dealing, snake eyed, fat, lazy nigger, about whom I fantasize about what I would do to if I ever caught setting foot on my property again, invading my life, my home, my children again.  There is no part of my life that he hasn’t touched!  No part that he hasn’t poisoned to me; my house, my bed, my wife, my children.  He deserves my forgiveness.  Does it have to be? Please, tell me there’s another way!  Please tell me there’s a loophole!  Please tell me that I can keep this hate, just for a little while longer.  I can’t can I?  I’m not sure I can do it!  I’m not sure I’ll be strong enough, my faith great enough.  Please be with me.  Give me your strength.  Show me your love as I try to do so, as I try to serve your will, as I try to love the thing that I hate them most.

I’m not ready to do this yet, but I know it’s coming.  Not only with respect to this man, but with respect to the hatred it’s given me for all people of his race.  I know it’s wrong.  I know I can do better, but I still need it.  I still can’t let go of that hate.  It’s on my list, but I’m not ready to write about it yet.  Y’all pray for me as I pray for his strength to do so.

Enough for tonight.