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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The Dignity of Body Odor…

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

~Ephesians 4:23 (ESV)

Uhm… You Stink!…

Last summer I was called into my boss’s office for a private meeting.  I could tell from his affect when telling me to come into his office that it wasn’t to give me a raise.  After I entered his office and closed the door, at his request, behind me, he picked a piece of paper from his desk and began to read it to me.  It was the department’s dress code policy which contained a clause about personal hygiene.  He read the section to me and told me that there had been complaints about my personal hygiene on the job, specifically that I stunk!

Now, my boss is a nice enough guy, but he’s not the most well-spoken person in the world.  It will often take five or more minutes of him stuttering, interrupting himself, realizing that he should justify this or that about what he’s saying and generally just seeming nervous of your potential reaction, just to get a simple point across.  He also has a tendency of describing singular isolated problems as chronic in order to justify his address of them.  Because he fears confrontation, he needs to make problems that he must address, chronic, ongoing etc. in order to remove any doubt that they need to be addressed.  In this way he is able minimize the “I’m being a jerk” factor and the likelihood of confrontation.  The problem is that he’s really not as clever as he thinks he is and these efforts are typically very obvious.

This was to be no exception.  It really didn’t surprise me that I stunk.  I’m not an overly hygienic person.  I clean up nice for church and take a bath when my wife tells me to, but I’m not the sort that gonna spend a hundred dollars on cologne or stand in the mirror a half an hour each day fussin with one of those little sissy beards.  I’m a hick!  I have farm chores to do before I go to work, It was august in SC and I work in construction, on any number of days I probably wasn’t smelling my best by the end of the day.  What surprised me was his assertion that “everyone” in the office had complained about it.  “Wow, maybe this really is a problem”, I thought.

If the man was smart, he would have stopped there, but as was typical, he continued to justify his action by trying to further magnify the problem.  Citing more and more examples of the profoundly detrimental effects of my stickiness to the operation of our office.   “Yeah, even the guys who work for the contractors at the bridge have said that guy really smells”…

“Uhm, wait a min” I think to myself, we had been building a bridge that summer, but I had not been there much.  I typically worked by myself in a truck following other work crews around.  The only few times that I was there was to test the concrete – several hundred yards away from anyone working for the contractor.  That be some wicked BO now!  In addition to this, my boss is a desk jockey.  He hardly ever is in the field and the few times he has been, he certainly doesn’t speak to contractor’s workforce.  Something was fishy here and it wasn’t my armpits!  Then his fatal mistake; “Especially when you in the truck with other people”, he says.  Now there had been exactly once that I was in a work truck with another employee in the previous year.  It was the day before.  My mind reviewed the day instead of focusing on what he was saying – I could tune back in after another few minutes and figure out what he had been saying.

The day before, I had been told to come into work at 4:30am.  They would be pouring a concrete deck at the bridge and it was better for them to do so in the cooler hours of the morning than mid-day.  I spend the morning testing concrete; a process that involves hauling wheel barrows of concrete from the concrete truck to the test area, mixing the concrete by hand with a ice scoop, filling cylinders for test samples etc.  In short, it’s moderately heavy work and even in the wee hours of a South Carolina August morning, to be considered sweaty.  Upon returning to the office later that morning I was instructed to drive one of the engineers to another job site, in a swamp approximately 90 minutes away in order to perform an erosion control inspection – it was 103 deg F, when I preformed the inspection, which involved trudging through ditches in order to examine drainage control systems and bush axing into the brush which surrounded the site.

It became clear to me what had happened now.  The engineer with whom I drove to the swamp site that afternoon is his assistant and a woman.  Women working here is a relatively new happening and I really don’t think he knows how to conduct himself around her.  He’s so concern about appearing intensive to her as a woman that he ends up being overly sensitive to her.  I’ve literally watched this man suspend the work he was doing on a 12 million dollar bridge project and take the afternoon to order her a mouse pad – “Is this color ok? How about this one with the gel on the edge?”  Back and forth from her desk to the secretary’s office, all afternoon, making sure that just the right thing was ordered.  This is a man that took 9 months to get around to ordering me thermometers and other equipment, necessary for me to do my job, because he was simply too busy.

She was not particularly pleased that she had to accompany me that afternoon to the swamp and was a bit grumpy both on the way there and on the return trip to the office.  It was apparent to me what had happened.  In that grumpy state she must have said something about me stinking after we returned in the presence of the boss.  Now he went into “save the princess” mode.  He was going to show her what an effective leader he was – what a tight ship he ran.  As God as his witness, she’d never have to be subjected to the foulness of my stinky armpits again!!!

Now I’m pissed!  Not because of the embarrassment of being called stinky.  I was stinky. I’m stinky all the time.  I actually work for my money.   I probably could pay more attention to my hygiene. Put a little more attention into my appearance and the impression it will produce.  I just don’t really care.   I was pissed because this was being made to look like something that it really wasn’t simply so that he could impress some girl.  I was caught in the middle of some kind of office peacock strut, being put down so that others could make themselves feel good.  But I was mostly pissed because no one could see my side of the story.

What neither of them had known is that part of the problem that day is that I had run out of deodorant and didn’t have the money to buy more until my next paycheck.  Times had been really tight that summer.  I had lost a bunch of overtime by taking off for my wife’s hospitalization and my subsequent hospitalization, she had quit her job and I just wasn’t making the amount of overtime that I had the year before.  Our account was overdrawn, the mortgage was behind, they were threatening to reposes our vehicles, and I literally only had five dollars in my pocket to last us until my next paycheck still several days away.  I can remember later that afternoon, standing in the grocery store with that same five dollars in my pocket.  I had a gallon of milk in one hand and deodorant in the other and stood there seething as I tried to decide if it was more important to not let the baby go another day without milk or to not get written up for offending someone with my BO.

I’ve sometimes wondered since that day, how my boss would have felt if they had known those things.  If he understood the choice that he would be forcing me into that day.  Would it have changed his perspective of the situation?  Would he have reacted less severely?  Choose another issue on which to assert himself?  I’m quite certain it would have made a very big difference in the way that he handled things and I guess the moral to this story (if there is one) is that sometimes people stink for very good reasons.

I wanted to talk about empathy and its place in the process of forgiveness.  Preacher Google tells me that nowhere in the bible is the word “empathy” used, but there is a number of places where it is displayed or instructed.

“compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous . . .”

~1 Peter 3:8 (NKJV)

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

~Romans 12:15(ESV)

Jesus himself shows great empathy a number of times in the gospels:

The Harvest Is Plentiful, the Laborers Few

35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, qlike sheep without a shepherd. 37 rThen he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

~ Matthew 9 (ESV)

Through the Eyes of My Monsters…

You know I decided to write about empathy almost a week ago and have been staring at a blank screen for the last few days.  Maybe awaiting inspiration, maybe I just don’t have a clue about empathy, but then something happened that really served to show me what I needed to be writing about.  My wife and I had a fight last night, actually the last two nights.  It began, simply by my noticing a particularly scowlfull  look on her face and asking what was the matter.  “Nothing” she replied, but I know from experience that regardless of whether or not something is wrong, this will be her first reply.  In a little while, I asked again what was wrong.  Again, “nothing” was her reply.

Really, nothing makes me more nervous that the word “nothing” coming from my wife’s mouth.  The word represents a complete dichotomy with respect to what may be going on with her.  A double edged sword which simply cannot be handled without doing some sort of injury to myself.  “Nothing” may mean nothing, but it has also very often meant “nothing that I can tell you”, secret, horrible things that are anything but nothing.  It’s so difficult for me to distinguish for instance if she’s just frustrated with the boys and nothing really is the matter or if the fact that her face betrays her words means that something much deeper is lurking.  If nothing means nothing and I push too hard, nothing becomes “you’re pissing me off for asking”, if nothing means something and I don’t push hard enough, nothing becomes a very big something in  very short order.  The word literally strikes fear into my heart.

I usually err on the side of the latter that is the assumption that nothing is the matter really means something is the matter and as we got in the bed that night, I asked again. “Baby, what is the matter? Did something happen that you don’t want to tell me?”, then, I don’t know why, I can only attributed it to my own stupidity; I asked the one thing that I know will invariably set her off “you’re not being sneaky again are you?”

Oh Lord, now it was on… I’ll spare y’all the details of the 24 hours which followed this and let it suffice to say that it started with “why the hell can’t you just leave me alone” and ended with “I’m trying to stop hating you” and along the way involved plenty of ignoring one and other, the word “bitch” (me), the word “asshole” (her), the expression “F*** You”, (her) and a lit candle thrown at the wall (me) as well as both of us bringing up stuff from the past.  There was some beer involved, but really not much.  I had maybe five that day starting about 1pm and she had about two.  It was now past eight and both of us were well before our sloppy drunk stage.  Both of us were holding fast to the things that we simply refuse to give up.  Me insisting on my right to be treated with respect and to communicate with my wife when I think that something is the matter.  Her  insisting on me getting past the past and believing her when she tells me that nothing means nothing and to be left alone when she wanted.

Well, on this particular night “nothing” didn’t really didn’t mean nothing and all kinds of stuff surfaced for both of us.  I regret to say that this is really our primary form of communication.  My wife despises talking about things so much that it is often necessary, when I see that something is wrong, for me to incite that type of rage simply to get her to engage with me.  Only then, after this rage and assuming that this process does not also put me into a rage, when all the rage has subsided, do we find the issues have been put out on the table for us to consider.  It’s a horrible way to communicate, I know, but I honestly don’t know any other way.  I debated whether I would write about communication or empathy first and decided to first tackle empathy as the understanding of such was probably necessary for any meaningful discussion of communication.

After the candle, I was done being angry – it often switches off quickly like that for me.  She was still angry, but as I began to speak more gently she eventually backed down as well.  Now what I have just described to this point, could very well have been any one of two dozen nights at my house since the affair, but what made this one special is something she said to me after we made up and were lying there falling asleep.  She talked about a woman at church who recently lost a baby and how it was difficult for her to talk to her.  That she didn’t thing that she should have any right to try to give advice to another Christian give what she had been doing last year.  That she wasn’t worthy.  She continued saying that the therapist had asked her last week about dignity and pride and that she didn’t know what the difference was, but she didn’t think that she had either.

In that instant, something changed in my heart and reminded me how much I loved this woman.  For the first time really since the affair, I saw her not as the source of my pain, but as another soul crying out to the world also in pain.  I felt sorry for her and in that instant, wanted desperately to find a way to give her the dignity and pride that she so desperately needed.

I didn’t really understand the difference between pride and dignity either, so we googled it.  I’m still not sure that I do.  Pride has more to do with a good feeling about something  you’ve done whereas dignity has to do with a good feeling about yourself.  Something like that.  She was crying silently now and I wanted to say something to make her feel better but didn’t know what to say.  “Well, why do you think you don’t have dignity Baby?” was what I managed.

“I don’t know, I just don’t feel like I deserve to”, she answered.

“Because of last year?” I asked.

“Yes” she blurted, “and because of everything.  My whole life”

I’d like to break here in order to share with y’all a little about my wife’s life.  She’s had it pretty rough now.  Like me, she grew up pretty poor, but unlike me, her family was absolutely crazy.  I don’t mean crazy like “Please don’t make me have dinner at the in-laws” crazy.  Crazy like Grandmother killed herself in the attic with a hatchet crazy.  Crazy like Mother has been hospitalized and medicated for depression crazy.  Crazy like Father had schizophrenia and killed himself with a shot gun crazy.  Crazy crazy!

The lattermost of these events (her father committing suicide) occurred in my wife’s presence.  I’ve seen the police report.  Her father, as I have mentioned, was mentally ill and would often abandon his wife and young daughter and simply disappear for long periods of time.  Her parents separated and on the night that he killed himself, he, my wife (then two), his girlfriend and her young boy (also about two) were camping.  No one really knows what happened that night.  The police report says suicide, my wife’s grandfather thinks that my wife’s mother found him there with his girlfriend and shot them, what certain is that my wife and that other little boy spend the night in that tent after both my wife’s father and his girlfriend were dead.  Now clearly my wife, then being only two, has no clear memory of this, but still, can you imagine growing up knowing that? Knowing that you weren’t enough to keep that person from killing themselves?  That you weren’t worth them sticking around, dealing with whatever they didn’t want to deal with?

My wife’s mother had a very hard time dealing with this and placed my wife in foster care for several years following this while she worked on her own recovery.  My wife also remembers very little from this time, but still has always had the knowledge that it happened.  When her mother was stronger her mother took her back again.

At the age of 8 my wife and four other girls were watched by a couple from their kingdom hall (Jehovah witness) the man, who was one of the elders in that congregation, would each day, take one of the girls back to his workshop, where he would molest them.  My wife doesn’t like to talk about it much, but from what I understand I don’t think he had sex with the girls, but it was far more than pats on the bottom and inappropriate kissing.  Think insertion and masturbation that sort of stuff.  When she told her parents, who were also members of the congregation, they did not believe her.  The abuse lasted for almost two years.

I promised myself that I was not going to go off on the Jehovah Witnesses here, but it’s my considered opinion that they’re horse shit!  It’s one of those things that looks enough like Christianity to make you think “yeah, there a little wacky, but they’re Christian enough”, they’ll even refer to themselves as the only true Christians, but at their core they are something very different than Christian and the closer you look the more you realize that the organization is really something very horrible that market’s itself as Christianity.  It’s like one of those bad dreams where you see someone who you think is your wife or your Mama, but then when you get closer they turn into a monster.  Their allegiance is not first to God or Jesus, but rather to a dozen or so men that live in a tower in Brooklyn NY, called the Watchtower.  This watchtower refers to itself as a profit, but has time and time again made predictions which have failed to come true.  They instruct their followers that they are not intelligent enough to understand God’s word and must study it through the watchtower’s publications so that it may be interpreted for them.  These publications also instruct and control virtually every part of the Jehovah Witness’ life.  What they watch on tv, their music, their friends, their medical decisions, financial decisions, how much they should be witnessing, how they should be witnessing, what they can eat, drink, smoke… These “instructions” are so stringent, that they are just plain impossible to follow in their entirety.  None of them can, but they all believe that everyone else is.  The impression that each one of them has is that they are the only “bad person” in the congregation.  If they were a better Jehovah Witness or loved God more, then they would be able to follow all of the rules set forth, but because of their own inherent ungodliness, they cannot.  So each of them do what all the others do which is to watch what they want on tv, read what they want, listen to what they want etc. and then pretend that they don’t.  It’s literally an entire organization comprised entirely of people who in their hearts believe that they are deviant, but God understands pretending to not be deviant.  Terrifying!

Growing up like that has got to take a toll on your self image!  Since a very young age, my wife has been conditioned to think that there was something wrong with her.  That she herself was deficient in some way, which prevented her from knowing that joy which is God’s love.  She knows full well how to play the role, but deep down knows that she would always have to find collateral ways to happiness.  Her association with the Jehovah Witnesses ended when she married her first husband.  Him not being a Jehovah Witness, it was prohibited for them to marry.  When she did, she was “disfellowshipped” a process which involves the intentional shunning of all members of that organization including her family.

That marriage was tumultuous.  When they married my wife knew that he was dying of cancer.  He was addicted to drugs and although they loved each other very much, the relationship was plagued by abuse, abandonment, fights and infidelity.  He died very young and I believe my wife thinks that this too was her fault for abandoning her Jehovah Witness faith.

After his passing, my wife returned to live with her parents and the congregation which had shunned her for leaving to be with her husband.  The quickly arranged for her to marry another single man from the congregation a marriage which produced my stepson.  This was a very unhappy marriage from the beginning and my wife was now wholly depressed, addicted to drugs and willingly participated in affair after affair the last of which was me.  I have also heard things from my wife and stepson which led me to believe that there was physical abuse in this marriage as well.

Now that’s a bunch and I am certain that there will be those that read this and say “Wow!  That’s a bunch!”.  I am equally certain that there will be those who will read this and say “I’ve seen/heard/been through worse!”  And the truth is that yes, even a past like that does not entitle someone to the type of selfishness that my wife has shown, but even I, who most likely am the one person who has the greatest justification to not excuse this woman, has got to read that and think that a life like that is gonna leave a mark.  A spot that Ajax won’t take away.  Time and time again in my wife’s live she has not only been told, but shown how worthless she is.  How vulnerable.  How expendable; “you aren’t valuable enough for me to choose life over death”, “you aren’t valuable enough for me to keep you instead of taking time for myself”, “you aren’t valuable enough for me to respect the purity of your youth over my base need to jerk off while touching you”, “you aren’t valuable enough for us to make a fuss at the kingdom hall in order to stop the man abusing you”, “you aren’t valuable enough for me to stop hitting/abandoning/feeding drugs to/ take you in the woods and screwing you!”.  “I’ll tolerate you as long as you don’t become more of a burden than my use for you will warrants.”  Time and Time again – her whole life!

Should it really surprise me that a person who has been used that much in her life should herself become a user.  That she doesn’t know any other way to relate to people?  That stamped into her mentality is the notion that everyone is full of horse shit!  Pretending to be something just to get what they want from her?  Is it really that far of as step to go from “Daddy couldn’t/wouldn’t protect me” to “God my father can’t/won’t protect me!”?  Should I find it to be shocking that she may also not trust God’s word or will for her.

And how does a person like that find acceptance?  We all crave, need and seek out acceptance for ourselves.  We require that validation that we’re worth something.  Christians seek it in fellowship, Atheists seek for it on atheist message boards, children seek it with other children.  If we can’t find it in our church, we leave our church. If we can’t find in our jobs, we leave our jobs.  If we can’t find it with our parents, we leave our parents.  If we can’t find it in our marriages we leave our marriages.  Where do you go, though, when you honestly believe that you’re not worth anything?  That you have no value?  That nothing decent can recognize anything decent in you? … “Oh, how about a drug dealing scum bag (y’all proud of me that I didn’t say nigger.  I’m trying.  That chapter’s coming) who drives a moped around town because he lost his license and who can’t hold a job for longer than a few months at a time!  He’ll accept me! He can’t judge me!  We can pretend that we’re both not worthless together.  Tell each other tales (true or not) of our woe, pretend to believe each other’s nonsense and use each other to justify what we’re doing!”.  It doesn’t surprise me.

I want to look at this again:

The Harvest Is Plentiful, the Laborers Few

35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

~ Matthew 9 (ESV)

What’s going on here anyway?  When I look at a crowd of people, I don’t automatically feel compassion.  Some of them might have very nice lives!  Better than mine; swimming pools in the back yard, nice cars, wife’s that haven’t cheated on them.  He must of known that some (even most) of them would not follow him, some may have even been going to be responsible for putting him on the cross.  Why would Jesus feel compassion just from seeing a group of people and what is this about harvest and laborers?  What does that have to do with harassed sheep?  Here’s what; when Jesus looked at the crowd, he didn’t only see them with physical eyes as we do – this guy needs a shave and smells like wine, that woman has a reputation, that guy over there has his zipper down, what a dufus!  He saw them with spiritual eyes.  He saw not only what they were, but what they could be.  What they were designed to be.  But they are lost, helpless and need help to find their way home.

That kind of help is not easy to provide.  In fact it’s a lot of work.  I live on a small farm, so I can kind of get the agrarian reference.  We’ve never had sheep on our farm, but I can speak for goats.  You don’t ever trust a goat to do the right thing!  A goat will test a fence like he was going to get paid when he got out!  And once they do, you better not have any place to be that afternoon and certainly no place that requires your clothes to be clean, because if you want that goat back, you are going to spend your day chasing him through the woods, dodging trees, crawling under brush and about wanting to shoot the dang thing before you will be able to cajole him back into the pen.

Now producing a harvest is a hard work to, but at least the cotton doesn’t try to head butt you in the ass.  If you’ve ever kept a garden, then you know that with any sort of crop, all of the work is up front; plowing, tilling, planting, fertilizing, insecticide, hoeing, fighting back weeds and insects and birds and your neighbor’s dog, by the time you get to the harvest your work is pretty much done. It’s exciting.   It’s time for your reward.  Everybody wants to help when it’s time to pick the pick the tomatoes, but strangely enough everyone’s real busy when it’s time to hoe the weeds.  It’s not very dignifying work; crawling around on your hands and knees, trying to yank out he nutgrass without breaking the stem and leaving the bulb to sprout up again next week, flicking grubs into a bucket for the chickens.  There’s not much pride associated with walking out the garden, covered in mud with a basket full of weeds, not nearly as much as walking in the house with a big basket of beautiful beefsteak tomatoes.  But that’s the work that is necessary to get to the point where you get the tomatoes.  In a manner of speaking, we must sacrifice our dignity in order to gain it.  We must look ahead to the dignity that’s to come.

Still though, if Jesus is saying that the harvest is ready, but yet there are so few available workers, well then how did the harvest become ready?  Who pulled out all that nutgrass?  Who fed all the grubs to the chickens?  Who planted all those seeds to begin with?  Surly if there was enough workers to finish all that work, then there should be plenty to spare available just to pick the fruit.  Hold on now, we must not be gardening alone!  Someone else was there.  Someone else has been working.  Someone else is helping with the really tough stuff!  The stuff that for us as Christians is really just beyond our ability to do.  All Jesus is telling us to do is to give one and other the dignity of gathering the tomatoes, placing them in the basket and bring them into God’s house for his glory.

Back in the Bed…

So when my wife said to me last night through her tears, “I don’t think that I have any pride or dignity”.  I need to see that as an opportunity to serve God’s glory by validating her.  She’s telling me what she needs to feel whole.  What she’s always been missing.  Her lack of pride, her lack of dignity, her lack of value is like that nutgrass squeezing the life out of the decent plants, sucking more and more of their nutrients, water and resources away.  She’s telling me that the reason that her tomatoes are withered is that the nutgrass is choking them out and that what I’ve been telling her is that helping her weed is beneath my dignity, I just want the tomatoes.  I really am an ass sometimes.

OK, so she needs pride and dignity, how can I give her that?  I better look at those words again.

I think that in order to understand the difference between pride and dignity we must first take a look at the difference between self-esteem and self-respect.  In the most simple (and I like simple) terms, my understanding of the basic difference is that self-esteem had to do with what you “think” whereas self-respect has to do with what you “do”.  Whereas self-esteem is internal, self-respect is something that is necessarily external to ourselves.  Self-help gurus love to talk about our self-esteem – “What you need to do is reduce your feelings of shame through the power of positive thinking. We can show you how, for just three easy payments of $19.95, but wait, act now and we’ll also send you the egg-o-matic!  Never feel the shame of not being able to peel your hard boiled eggs again!”  Sounds great!  Let me have some of that!  I want to feel good about myself!  Here’s the problem:

Charlie Manson had great self-esteem!

That guy simply loved himself!  Happy as a clam convincing folks to kidnap and murder people.  As long as he feels good about himself, that’s what’s important right?  Sometimes a poor self-esteem is just good common sense!  Self-esteem is what my wife and this man were giving each other when they sat in the woods telling each other about how horrible their lives were and why they so deserved to continue their adulterous affair.   Our thoughts change day to day, sometimes moment to moment, how in the world can we use them to gauge our self-value.

As opposed to this is self-respect.  Self-respect has to do with things outside of us – what we do!  Observable, measurable things that our wacky though process can’t deny.  I’ve kept this family under a roof and put supper on the table as best I could through all this!  My negative thoughts can’t deny that.  Here we are warm tonight with some supper in our bellies.  My wife doesn’t have that right now.  The best she has is; we’re alive despite my efforts.  That’s gotta suck!  I don’t think I could value myself either with that hanging over my head.  The thing is I can’t take it away, she did all that stuff, I can’t simply pretend that it never happened.  Believe me, if I could have figured out a way to make it have never have happened, I would have done so a long time ago.  Still though, it’s over, she’s done, I’ve forgiven her, I have to let her begin that process of learning to respect herself.

Pride has to do with the positive feelings we get from how we see ourselves.  It gets to our self-esteem.  That’s why we can envision both positive and negative connotations of the word pride.  No one want’s to be thought of as a prideful person, but being proud of my kid for making that diving catch a the ball game –maybe that doesn’t  seem so bad.  But what if I’m proud that my kid is so much better that that little girly looking kid in right field?  Like our self-esteem, it’s subjective, a function of things going on internal to ourselves and will therefore always be subject to our internal moods.  I can make my wife feel good about this pie that she baked, or this dress that she looks nice in (and I should) but to what extent will that ultimately alter her sense of self-value.  It may right now, but tomorrow when she’s feeling bad about herself, my compliments will seem fleeting.

Dignity gets at our self-respect.  I have value because, my kids value me.  I have value because, even thought my kids don’t see it, I love them unconditionally, would give my life for them and provide for them to the best of my ability.  Now that’s something real!  Because I can feel like poop about myself tomorrow and our house will still be here reminding me of my value to this family.  I’m not perfect, but I’ve tried to serve God, stay in his word and follow his will for me.  I can’t deny that stuff based on my mood.  I might be able to deny it to others.  Convince others that I a good Christian, a good worker, a good husband, a good father etc.  I can fool myself into improving my self-esteem based on what others think.  Pride in things that I know are false, just because I’ve fooled everyone else, but when I’m alone with God, there’s no lying about it.  Self-respect/dignity has some more girth to it now.  Even when I screw up, I can look at my track record and see that yeah, I may be being an ass right now, but all in all, I’m not so bad.  I can’t challenge it by my wack-a-doodle thinking.  It’s there in front of me or it’s not.  And maybe, if it’s strong enough, my dignity can begin to outweigh my wack-a-doodle thinking.

That’s what I want for my wife!  Dignity!  That’s the stuff!  Where can I buy it for her?  Thing is that you can’t – I checked on eBay.  There’s none for sale.  I can’t buy it for her and I can’t give it to her.  It has to be something she builds for herself.   How does one encourage that? In 2 Kings 4:

The Widow’s Olive Oil

1 The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the LORD. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.”

2 Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?”

“Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.”

3 Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. 4 Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.”

5 She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring.6 When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.”

But he replied, “There is not a jar left.” Then the oil stopped flowing.

7 She went and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.”

All right now!  I know something about the indignity of poverty.  I felt it that day in the grocery store trying to decide between buying the bar of deodorant and a gallon of milk.  What we see here is Elisha helping this woman to develop her own dignity.  A couple of things I can see; first Elisha doesn’t contribute to her indignity.  It’s so easy for us to do so.  It’s so easy to say to ourselves, “oh his armpits stink because he’s too lazy to take a bath.”, or “she hurt me because she’s just evil.”  But that’s not what Elisha does.  He says, straight off – “how can I help you”.  That’s key.  He doesn’t just fix it for her.  He doesn’t just take over and pay her rent.  That’s me.  I want to take over, handle things, fix what needs fixin.  I know what to do and you don’t either have to worry about it.  I’m in control.  I got this.  The problem with that is what I’m communicating is “I’m in control, because you aren’t able to be in control”.  I’m stealing her dignity!

The next thing he does is guide her to consider the resources she does have.  When my wife is well, she is quite simply put the most loving and caring person I know.  She’s a wonderful mother.  Is intelligent, funny and loves God with all her heart.  I forget to remind her of that, because it is so obvious to me.  What I have to remember is that when you have creditors threatening to make your children slaves you tend to forget about the bottle of olive oil you have in the kitchen.

Now Elisha, directs her to her faith.  “What the heck!” the woman must have been thinking “I only have one jar of oil!  Why in the world would I ask all the neighbors for all these jars?  They’ll probably think I’m crazy”.  You see she went and got an ass of jars, not just a few – a testimony to her faith.

Then, behind a closed door, for only her and her boys to see, God provides for this family.  The oil pours and pours and fills each jar that she secured via her faith.  That’s awesome! Even in the old testament God has compassion.  He looks after those who have faith in him.  What’s notable here is that he lets her do it herself.  He doesn’t boar his way in with her saying “here give me that bottle.  This is too important and  you’ll probably just spill it anyway!” He allows her the dignity of  building her own dignity.  He allows her this private moment with God.  Again that’s huge, because had he not don’e so the widow would never had seen that it was on her behalf that God was acting, not Elisha’s.  That she was of value to God as well.  God had her back and not just his buddy Elisha’s.

Now don’t miss the tail ending, because it’s something to which I really need to pay attention.  She goes and tells Elisha, who just says “well alright! There you go!  Pay your bills and get on with your life.”  That’s it and that’s all.  No, “hey check me out!  See how much I did for you”.  No, “see how better you would be if you just were more like me?”.  No, “The reason you got yourself in this pickle is that you were a dope about this or that.”  Just, “well alright!  There you go.”

I need to learn to shut my mouth like that.  I need to stop stealing my wife’s dignity in order to bolster my pride.  I need to stop worrying about my self-esteem and the expense of her self-respect.  Stop fussin about how her nutgrass is choking my tomatoes (that almost sounds a little dirty) and help her fill her own basket with the harvest.  Lord Jesus, please help me learn to do so.  Because at the end of the day I know, that her value and my value are the same.  That my value as a husband is a function of how much she values herself.  That sometimes we all stink and there is a reason for it.  I love my wife and I want more than anything for her to feel the gift of dignity.

Don’t Say It Looks Like a Vagina or They’ll Give You an Extra Week…

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.

~Romans 12:1

I should have listened…

The dorms in which I lived while going to college were really more like apartment suites than what you might typically think of when you picture a dorm in your mind.  Each suite had a common living room, kitchen and bathroom and then 3 or 4 bedrooms in which 2 to 3 students would reside.  On any given night, you could be fairly certain that in one suite or another, somewhere in that dorm, there was a party going on.

I attended one such party one night and met a girl.  Very pretty, red curly hair, green eyes, physically fit…  Now I’ve never thought of myself as God’s gift to women or anything, but I’m also not his punishment to them.  I’m ok looking I guess, but no movie star, so I was a bit surprised, given how beautiful she was, that she decided to come sit next to me on the couch.  She said that she had seen me practicing in the gym (I played volleyball in college and she was on the swim team – their practice ended shortly after ours began.) for a while and always wanted to talk to me.  We drank beer and talked and flirted as the night drew on and I was really starting to get over my mistrust of the situation and beginning to enjoy myself.  Then my roommate came up to me and whispered in my ear that he needed to talk to me privately.  We went back by the communal bathroom where he said “Look man, I’m not going to tell you what to do, but that girl’s crazy!”

“What are you talking about” I objected indignantly, “we’ve been talking all night.  She’s pretty nice”.  I was certain that he wanted me to back off so that he could have a shot himself.

“Like I said”, he said “I’m not going to tell you what to do”.

When I returned to the living room, she was gone.

Two nights later I was returning from practice to find that unbeknownst to myself, that there was to be a party in my suite that night.  As I walked down the hallway which approached my apartment I could hear the loud music; “We don’t have to take our clothes off, to have a good time, yeah, yeah” as well as the people in my apartment singing loudly “we don’t have to have a good time, to take our clothes off, yeah, yeah” – it was a common joke in those days.  I opened the door and can remember being greeted by the smell of cigarette and marijuana smoke and the sight of liquor bottles, beer cans and people doing other drugs (which I had never been particularly interested in nor understood much about) at the dining room table.

My eyes strained to scan the smoke filled living room, in order to see if I recognized everyone there and as they did I noticed the same red-headed girl walking down the hallway from the bathroom.  She noticed me and smiled.  We talked for a while and then she said “let’s go someplace more quiet”

“Oh, well this is my apartment” I said “I’ll just tell my roommates to leave us be and we can hang out in my room”.  I did so and we did so and as we were walking back to my room, I can remember thinking that I was the luckiest guy in the world.

Well, I think that it was obvious to both of us that we weren’t going back there to talk, because as soon as I had closed my door we were kissing and taking each other’s clothes off next to my bed.  I closed my eyes and tried to ignore all the dissonance of the party just outside my door.  Wham!  Something slams into my chest and I’m falling through the air into the bed.  Upon landing, I looked up to see that she had pushed me and was now standing over me, still on the side of the bed grinning.  “Why are you grinning like that” I asked as the words of my roommate from two nights prior began playing on an infinite loop inside my head; “that girl’s crazy – that girl’s crazy – that girl’s crazy…”

“Have you ever been tied up”? she asked.

“No” I replied.

“Do you want to be”? she grinned even wider.

“No not really”? I answered hesitantly.

“Well then I’m leaving” she threatened.

“Wait a minute”

At that time girls carried pocketbooks which were kind of like these big floppy leather bags about the size of a small pillow case.  She opened hers and pulled out these smooth ropes.  I’m gonna tell you what, either that girl grew up in a rodeo (which I doubted) or she had done this kind of thing before, because in just a manner of a minute or two she had me strapped to that bed post and I wasn’t either going to get myself unstrapped.  She sat on top of me and began kissing me again, but only for a short while before getting up and going back into the bag – “that girl’s crazy – that girl’s crazy – that girl’s crazy…”; like he was standing right next to me.  “Lord” I thought “what now a gun, a knife”?  My mind began searching for ways to escape this situation which was increasingly feeling out of control.  She dropped the bag revealing what was certain to be my implements of destruction.  I probably would have fared better against a knife or a gun, but instead of these things when the bag dropped she was left holding a giant cloth diaper, safety pins and a bottle of baby oil.  At that point I really wasn’t in any position to object and I was really just so relieved that it wasn’t a gun she pulled out that I just sort of let my body relax.

She put that diaper on me, squirted that oil all over me and then sat on top of me again, kind of rubbing herself up and down and making baby talk to me.  If I had thought I had a choice at that point, I probably would have just wanted for it to end, but as I didn’t see where I had a choice, I decided to just try to relax and wait for it to be over.  It wasn’t, after all, all that bad.  Weird?  Certainly! But at least I was having sex , it didn’t seem as if I was to be killed and it would eventually be over.  Just have to wait it out…

“The cops are here”! I hear one voice rising louder than the others in the next room.  My apartment was on the sixth floor, but when I looked up at the window I could see the reflections of the police car’s lights flashing there.  Everyone in the apartment gets up and leaves.  The red-headed girl gets up, grabs her clothes and her bag and leaves and I am left in the somewhat undesirable state of being strapped to my bed, covered in baby oil and nekid except for a now very disheveled and loosely fitting diaper.  I wasn’t saved then, but I prayed “Please let them be here for a party in another apartment”, then I hear the heavy fire door from the hallway to my apartment open.  “Please let that be one of my roommates” I hear the static noise that police radios make. “Please let him look around and see there’s no one here and just leave”.  The door to my room begins to open and in walks not my roommate, not a police man, but the dean of residential services – an about sixty year old woman who always prominently wore a cross.  She entered the room and began to scan it from one side to the other.  About halfway through this scan her eyes met mine.  A quick look up and down to survey my situation and then she turned silently and left the room without ever saying a word.  A police man then came in, untied me and told me to get dressed, which I did while trying to prepare an excuse for my condition.  After I did and as I left the room the police man stopped me by putting his hand on my chest and said “The dean wants to see you in her office tomorrow at 9:00am.  She doesn’t care if you have class or not”.

Now believe it or not, I was already, even before this incident, not the dean’s favorite student.  I had gotten in trouble for underage drinking, my grades stunk, there had been a fire in my dorm which my roommate had lit after drinking too much and wanting to learn how to light hairspray on fire.  So as I walked to her office that next morning, I simply couldn’t feel confident about any story that I was able to come up with.  I decided to try a new strategy; I would just tell her the truth, maybe that way I could fool her with my sincerity.  I was just going to tell her about the red-headed girl.  How pretty I thought she was.  How proud I thought it would make me with my roommates that I was the one she choose.  And that she was crazy!

The dean didn’t want to hear about the red-headed girl or my roommates or my pride.  The issue at hand was the immeasurable amount of alcohol which was left behind in the suite and that I as well as all of my roommates were underage.  I didn’t take a sip that night, but someone would have to take the fall.  My choice was expulsion or a 28 day rehab program.

The rehab was nice.  We played a lot of sports.  Ate well.  Learned Yoga and other stress coping mechanisms to deal with our addictions.  I was about the youngest person there and way over my head when it came to the stories these people were sharing.  Hard core drug addicts, people who had been abusing alcohol for years, housewives who were outside their minds because they no longer had the pills and the booze to help them through their day.   I can remember at one meeting one such housewife, a tiny wispy woman weeping softly as she spoke and saying “I just don’t think I’ll be able to do it” then suddenly the large black man sitting across the table from her stood up so fast that his chair flew across the room from the back of his legs hitting it.  His very large muscular arms tapered  just to a pointed finger in her face  and he screamed “Then hit the streets and die Mother Fucker”!  I’ll never forget that.

Part of that program was that during your first week there you had to take a psychological screen, I guess to see if you were a drunk because you were crazy or crazy because you were a drunk.  They would take us away from the group, four or five at a time and the rest of us waited on a couch outside the psychologist’s office as each went in.  I was the second to go in for my screening, which I didn’t know at the time would include a Rorschach inkblot test.  As the door opened and the person who was screened before me exited the psychologists office he said to me “don’t tell him it looks like a vagina or they’ll give you and extra week”!

OK, so why am I (over) sharing this story?  Well, to a certain extent because I want you to see that I get that sex is fun.  I wasn’t always a Christian husband and a father, there was a time for me too where sex was, well, just sex.  I’m not particularly proud of it, but I understand the value that “just sex” represents to folks.  The real reason however, that I decided to write about this very embarrassing event is to make this point; what if the story didn’t include sex?  Would it have been as interesting, as entertaining, as humorous?

There is something singularly engaging to us as humans when it comes to sex.  Why?  Why does this funny little tingling in our genitals mean so much to us?  Why are we so much more interested in stories that include sex?  Why does Hollywood try to work at least one scene with sex into every movie?  Why does it predominate our thoughts, permeate our self-values, and influence our decisions so greatly?  Monkeys, who are what like a handful of chromosomes away from us, will do it in the zoo right in front of their monkey parents and grandparents.  They don’t worry about how big their monkey penis is or if their monkey boobies are not as perky as they used to be.  They do it just the same as eating, sleeping or breathing.   What is it about those extra few chromosomes that makes it such a big deal to us?

Why is it that this particular thing about my wife’s affair  hurts me so much?  What is it that she received from this man in the hotel, or the woods where they would meet or his home or my home that was of so much value to her that she would be willing to destroy our entire family to get it?  If she had eaten with another guy, talked to, had a drink with or about anything else with him, I’m certain I would be over this by now, but the image of them in that hotel lying together, her opening her legs for him, kissing and rolling around the bed, still torments me.  I’m not sure that I ever will.  Why?

The answer to a Christian is easy; because God said so is why!  You become a man and wife and you share the same flesh.  You belong to one and other.

Mark 10:8 (ESV)

And the two shall become one flesh.  So they are no longer two but one flesh.

However, this still leaves one with the haunting question of why.  Why sex?  Why not eating or going to church or any one of the innumerable other things that could be reserved for couples in love.  Even in the non Christian sense;  I’m sure that there will be more liberal readers who will look at this and say “well yeah!  You’re right.  It’s really not a big deal.  It’s just sex and society has made it a bigger deal than it is” – to which I would respond : “if it’s not a big deal, then why would my wife, along with countless other adulterers throughout history, be willing to throw away everything for it?”

The truth is that sex is a big deal to us, because it really is a big deal.  The difference between me and a monkey is that I know the consequence, good and bad, of sex.  I’ve seen my baby being born and known that it was the ultimate result of that act.  I’ve seen my family be torn apart and known that it was the result of that exact same act – just a different actor.  We know to revere sex, because we know what the results, good and bad, of it will be, even when we pretend that we don’t.  I’ve often heard that as humans we confuse the concepts of sex and making love.  And that’s true.  I’d like to spend the rest of this chapter speaking to the difference between the two.

Let’s Dance!…

In the 1984 movie Footloose staring Kevin Bacon.  Bacon’s character (Ren McCormack) moves to the fictional small mid-western town of Beaumont to live with his mother.  Shortly after arriving, Ren (an avid dancer back in Chicago) discovers that act of dancing is illegal in the town of Beaumont and had been since the preacher’s son had been killed in an automobile wreck returning from a dance.

Later in the film, in an attempt to persuade the town leadership to allow his high school class to hold a prom, Ren reads several verses from scripture before the city council on which the preacher sits.

2 Samuel 6:14

And David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod.

2 Samuel 6:16

And as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal Saul’s daughter looked through a window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.

Psalm 30:11

Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness;

The preacher is moved by Ren’s references, but he council votes to keep the ban.  Later the preacher has a change of heart when he witnesses the public burning of books they decide may be dangerous, in a similar way to dancing to the youth of their community.  They have their dance, the bully kids get their asses kicked and all is right by the end of the film.

Two inescapable truths may be gleamed from watching the film. First, always make sure you’re shoelaces are tied before playing chicken with your uncle’s tractor and secondly, and perhaps more important to what I am writing now, when we try to sanction evil by limiting the ways by which it reveals itself instead of examining the source of the evil itself, it will always find collateral ways to manifest, sometimes through the very means by which we tried to control it in the first place.

Doin the Squishy Dance…

Perhaps it is less coincidental than I thought that I often will refer to the act of making love (still using the terms interchangeable) as doing the “Squishy Dance”.  Like the vertical type of dancing discussed in Footloose, the squishy dance has gotten a bad rep as it has been misused in so many ways of expressing evil, that we sometimes confuse it for something dirty, sinful or lewd.  In fact God tells us time and time again in scripture that he wants married couples to have sex – often:

1 Corinthians 7 (ESV)

But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

Nice!  That sounds like Paul is telling us to have sex all the time, non-stop, except for short, mutually agreed upon breaks, to pray.  If this were true, I think that eventually I’d very much look forward to the prayer breaks – just to catch a breath!  Of course, it’s not what he’s saying.  Like so much in the bible we have to look at the greater context in which it was written.  I want to write about that in a moment, but first I want to write about the squishy dance in my marriage.

My therapist said once that when it comes to sex and intimacy; women are like a slow cooker and men are like a microwave.  To which I responded “just so long as I get something for supper!”  but I got her point.  I’ve thought a lot about that since her saying so and I’m not so sure that I agree.  I mean, my wife wasn’t so much the slow cooker when she was running off to meet this man in the woods each day.  Or leaving my bed after making love and driving to his to do the same with him.  She was the microwave and there has been times when I have been the slow cooker.

It’s funny how in my own marriage we’ve come full circle when it comes to making love.  When we were first married (OK, even before we were married) we made love all the time, nary a night would go by where we didn’t.  Good stuff!  Roll around on top of each other, making out in corners, falling off the bed good stuff!  Then marriage and it was still good, now we had my young stepson around but we still found opportunities here and there.  Then we became pregnant and money got tight.  I was out of work, my wife just had the job at the bakery and we were hurting money wise.  By the grace of God, I was able to find work shortly after the baby was born as a construction inspector, but we were several months behind our mortgage and car payments.

I remember discussing with my wife this very concern.  I had the opportunity to work a lot of overtime that summer and wanted badly to bring us up out of that hole, but I didn’t want to do so if it meant jeopardizing our marriage or our family.   She agreed that it was important for me to do so and promised that she wouldn’t let it affect our marriage.  I worked 80 to 100 hours a week that summer and subsequent fall and we were able to pull ourselves out of that hole, but her promise went unremembered  as to date she still sites this as the biggest reason for the affair.

At the time that she began the affair we were making love infrequently, maybe once a month or less.  I’d like to blame it on just being tired from working so much, but I know it was more.  It was something going on inside of me.  The birth of our son coupled with my sudden assumption of the responsibility of Christian head of household, husband and father came only shortly after my own becoming a Christian.  Not only was I learning what it meant to be a Christian by myself, but now I was also concurrently trying to learn what it meant to be a Christian husband and father.  Central to all of this was the notion of the loving Christian husband with respect to the difference between sex and making love.  I know, if you google it there is like 1000 pages; making love is about forever, screwing is about tonight, making love is about the “us”, screwing is about “me”, making love is about love, screwing is about lust.   I had heard the comparisons a thousand times sex/making love and to be honest, although like most guys I imitated that I understood, I really, also like most guys , was just pretending to in order to impress girls with my sensitivity.

Now, learning to be more like Jesus, I thought back on what sex used to mean to me – it was all tied up in pride and conquering, control, ownership and my own pleasure.  It sickened me that I could ever think of it like that and I simply couldn’t bring myself to desire that with my wife.  I’m not sure that it will make any sense, but I was afraid to make love to my wife for fear of finding myself just “screwing “ my wife.  I was aware of the biblical instruction not to deny my wife sexual pleasure, but this conflict was always forefront to me.  Nagging me.  I wanted desperately to correct it, but I didn’t know how.  The notion of treating my wife in this way literally made me sick to my stomach and although on the nights that we did make love, everything was fine, I would keep slipping back into that fear and night after night it just seemed so easy to make an excuse and push it off one more day.

It was about the time that the affair started that I began to pull myself out of this.  Through prayer and reading the bible and speaking to other Christian men, I finally began to see the difference between making love and just screwing.  That it was ok to want to make love to your wife, desire her, want to be with her in that way and that you weren’t degrading her or doing something to her by doing so, but by then it was too late.  The affair had started and although she would have intercourse with me about as often as I would initiate it, her heart just wasn’t in it like it was before.  It was routine for her, quick, she rarely expressed pleasure during it or affection afterwards.  Her body was there but her heart was somewhere else.  She allowed me to screw her, but wouldn’t make love to me.

When she came home from the hospital and again when I came home from the hospital, it was almost every night.  I remember being surprised, I didn’t think that I would be able to, but it just meant so much that she wanted me, it seemed so controllable – we weren’t making love before, but now we are, we must be ok, that I was able to get past the “I wonder if she’s thinking about him” and the “Once you go black…” stuff.  She was with me and that was enough.  But then, what may be surprising, is that her interest faded not mine.  Now it’s not as bad as all that, but my favorite joke these days is if my wife wants to have sex, I know it’s time to change the oil in my truck – if it’s oral sex, I renew my license!

She frames it as if it’s just circumstances, but how many headaches, upset stomachs, toothaches, and other symptoms can you have before you become your own episode of “house”?  The truth is, and I know it, that she’s in the exact same place as I was last year.  The act of intercourse for her, had become something dirty, risky, taboo, and animalistic that she’s now afraid that to do so with me would represent some sort of perversion.  Furthermore, she’s afraid that shes that she has perverted the act of making love to such an extent to herself that she will be unable to become excited about doing so without that danger, that lewdness, the excitement that she is doing something wrong and just doesn’t care.  I suppose that I should take consolation that my wife doesn’t want to lie down until she can be certain that she can do so without “screwing” me, but still, I miss the intimacy.

This is complexed, of course, by my own ego and low self-esteem – “well, she was about to give up everything last year, for a little piece of drug dealer nigger ass, what’s so bad about me”?  I saw the texts!  I know how much she wanted that singular encounter.  But when it comes to me… excuse after excuse, to the point where I don’t even think she realizes how obvious it’s become.  She must know by now, that this is the singular most way by which she can show me that she’s on board now.  If we could roll around like we used to, fall out the bed every once and a while, would show me that it wasn’t a “once you go black…” sort of thing. You’d think that, if she really wanted forgiveness, she’d take every opportunity to show me how important I am to her, but still, night after night; a toothache, cramps, tired, you snored too much last night, I’m worried about this or that, “ We can if you want to, but…” – OH, the kiss of death – “we can if you want to”!  I’d rather just a “No”!, “we can if you want to” – there’s a whole communication there that says; “I don’t want to, but if you’re gonna force me?  I know the bible says…  I know the therapist says… I know if I really want to show you I’ll…, but no matter what anyone says, I really would just go to sleep”!

That sucks!  Because it’s not the “willing to” that I’m really after, it’s the “want to”.  It’s the “I can’t control myself any more”, not the “ok, just do what you want, I’ll lie here an endure it to prove something to you”.  I want the, can’t keep my hands off you, totally under the influence of love, don’t care if the kids walk in or not, take me now, kind of, let’s get it on! And I don’t want any kind of make you feel guilty, the bible says so, wifely obligation, thing about it!  I want my wife to want me, not because the bible says so, not because she’s undertaking some penance, but because she wants me and nothing else!  But what does that really mean?

Remember Paul?…

I said I was going to get back to it, so now I am; what the heck was Paul talking about in Corinthians anyway?  Here it is again:

1 Corinthians 7:1-9 (ESV)

But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

I think what’s important to understand when reading this is that Paul is speaking to the leaders of the church in Corinth, a community about which Paul has concerns may be going astray.  They had become fragmented and were beginning to develop their own separate theologies and would therefore bicker amongst each other often.  Some of them write Paul, saying something like “Hey!  Check us out; we’re so holy that we’re not even going to get married if we’re not already, or won’t even have sex with our wives if we are!”  They knew Paul himself was celibate and likely thought they were impressing him by deciding to do so as well.

Paul is basically telling them that there idiots.  “Why in the world would you want to put yourself in the way of temptation just to say that you can resist temptation” he is saying.  “It works for me” he says, “but that’s me, not everyone.  It lets me devote myself solely to Godly pursuits, but if someone is going to burn themselves up with lust from abstaining – it’s better that you permit yourself this diversion with your wife then end up being with some hooker somewhere!” – I’m paraphrasing.

But what is Paul actually talking about.  Surly he must be referring to a very orderly and respectful, missionary only type, only to make babies sex and even then we probably shouldn’t let ourselves enjoy it.  No way he’s talking about the fun can’t keep your hands off each other, fall off the bed, roll around the floor, mind blowing, earth shattering, pleasurable sex like we see in literature and the movies!  Right?

Y’all check out this steamy erotic poetry:

How fair is thy love, my sister, my spouse! how much better is thy love than wine! and the smell of thine ointments than all spices!

Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon.

A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.

Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire, with spikenard,

Spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices:

A fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon.

Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.

I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.

I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night.

I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?

My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him.

I rose up to open to my beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock.

I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone: my soul failed when he spake: I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer.

Hey now!  That’s some good times right there!  You got to pay extra to see stuff like that on cable right? It’s from the bible!  It’s from the Song of Solomon 4:9 – 5:6.  The book documents the journey from courtship to consummation of two young lovers and is also thought to be a parable of the relationship of God and Israel.  My point is that God gets that we dig sex – he wired us that way!  What God wants if for us to have sex in a way that is glorifying to him.  Serves his will for us.  Like the town folk in Footloose had to rethink how they felt about dancing and the evil it represented, we (I) have to rethink God’s and my own feelings about sex.  I need to find a way to make sex in my marriage glorifying to God.

Here, I must confess that I’ve always had a feeling like I’ve been a little bit jolted by the bible.  We’re told as Christians that the model to follow for our marriages is that of Christ and the Church.  He is the head of the church just as I am the head of my family.  We align ourselves under him just as my family is to align themselves under me.  Our allegiance to other gods, whether they be gods made out of golden statues, or drugs or money or beer, is akin to marital infidelity etc. – but Jesus never had to find a date to the prom.  Jesus never had to talk to a girl for the first time with that cacophony of nonsense streaming through his mind:

“Oh, she’s pretty!  Should I talk to her?  She probably wouldn’t want me anyway.  Don’t stare.  Don’t look like you’re trying not to look.  What’s the score of that game on the TV behind her?  She looked at me!  She looked for just the right amount of time – not too short like she had to look away in disgust and not to long like I’m standing here with my zipper open – just right!  Was that a smile?  She’s coming over.  What should I say?  How’s my posture?  How’s my breath?  Remember to look at her face.  Her face!  Don’t look down, that looks unconfident.  Don’t look at any other girls – they hate that!  For Goodness sake’s don’t look at the ball game on the TV, she’ll think your disinterested.  Her eyes!  I’m looking at her eyes.  Ok I’ve been looking at her eyes for a while now, it’s getting a little creepy.  I should look away for a couple of seconds.  Where should I look?  Not the floor, not the game, not at other girls…Oh my God, I’m staring at her boobs!  Her Boobs!  How many times have I told myself not to stare at their boobs?  Now, here I am, just meeting this girl & I’m staring right into her strike zone!!!”

There’s no biblical example for that.  Jesus didn’t have to worry about helping the church out with housework, or the chruch’s time of the month, or squeezing in a love life with the church in-between homework, supper and the baby getting up at night.  Jesus never experience the issues of closeness and validation that you associate with sex after an affair like I have, the issue of trust and violation after being molested and learning to trust that level of closeness again like my wife has.  Jesus never had sex, so how am I supposed to model my sex life after him?

So what am I missing?  There should and probably is a model for this aspect of Christianity that I’m just not seeing.  If I know that God wants me to have sex and to do so in a way that is glorifying to him, then I need to find an aspect of Jesus’ relationship with the church which parallels this.  When I think about glorifying God, I think of worship.  To most folks the term “worship” refers to that first 1/3 to 1/2 of Sunday service where we sing songs in order to connect with God, but that’s not really all it means.  When the bible talks about worship, it usually speaks of it in the context of one of three categories.

Repentance & Humbling:

Psalm 8 (NASB)

3 When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
4 What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
5 Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty!
6 You make him to rule over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
7 All sheep and oxen,
And also the beasts of the field,
8 The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea,
Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.

9 O LORD, our Lord,
How majestic is Your name in all the earth!

Thanksgiving and Praise:

Ephesians 5 (NASB)

19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.

and Service:

Philippians 2 (NASB)

14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15 so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom youappear as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. 18 You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.

I think that there is a parallel to be made between marital sex and the Christian notion of worship. i.e. sex is worship.  Y’all catch the epigraph (anyone even slightly impressed that I know what “epigraph” means?) to this chapter?:

Romans 12:1(NIV)

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.

In fact, in researching this post, I discovered that the expression “I worship you with my body”, used to be part of the Anglican wedding vows.  Sex is worship.  It’s worship in the sense that we are spiritually connecting to someone far more importantly than physically connecting with them.  It’s worship in that when done as it is intended it serves not to serve our own pleasures, but rather to glorify the person we are with and the relationship before God.  It’s worship in that it should reflect this same cycle of humbling ourselves, celebrating each other and serving one and other.  That it requires us to come to one and other with pure intentions, love in our hearts and a willingness to attend to one and other.  Sex is worship.  If we’re not using it to worship God then who are we using it to worship?

I’ve heard this cycle of worship described as a kitchen sponge.  That is before the sponge may be used to do anything productive, you need to squeeze out any of the filth that may be trapped inside (repentance), only then will the sponge be able to soak up more clear water (Praise) and be used to clean something which needs cleaning (service).  You cannot skip any of these steps as to do so would render your sponge useless.  If you refuse to squeeze out the filth, the sponge will not be able to clean anything and will begin to rot from the inside out.  If you do not submerge it in clean water, it will quickly dry and the open pores within it produce a void inside of us.  It will remain a painful reminder of how empty we are inside without God’s love.  We may begin to try to fill the pores with other things, money, work, drugs, alcohol, sex, pride, anger… but the toxicity of these things will eventually destroy us as well.  Finally we can squeeze the sponge and soak it in clean water, but if we refuse to use it to clean something, well there’s really no point to buying the sponge to begin with.

Sex is like that too, but now you have two people with two sponges and you may not always be in sync.  One may be ready to wipe the stove, while the other is trying to squeeze the filth out of itself.  It requires patients, timing and understanding.  One sponge may require cleaning more frequently.  One may require more time to soak up the clean water, but their pursuit is one and the same (to clean the stove) and when they are able to sync, able to work together, able to understand each other’s limitations and strengths and needs, when they learn the ways in which they might complement each other, compensate for each other and satisfy each other’s needs, they are also able to accomplish that task together in a far better way than either could do alone.

I think that’s really it; sex should not be used as a proof of love or evidence of this or that in a marriage.  It should be used as a way to celebrate one and other.  A way to help each other meet our needs.  Complement and complete one and other.  It shouldn’t be about he we did it five times this week, so we must be doing ok.  It should be hey let’s celebrate that we’re doing ok by coming together in this way, by opening ourselves to each other in this way, by allowing our love to manifest itself the way that God intended it to.  Good sex is not about tying each other to the bed, it’s not about feeling good about yourself by getting the prettiest girl to go home with you, it’s not about making yourself feel valuable by devaluing someone else.  It is, above all else, glorifying yourself, your spouse and God. It’s about connecting with them not just on a physical, but a spiritual level.  It’s about celebrating the love God had given you in a way that satisfies not only yourself and your wife, but God such that you all will become closer to one and other.

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.

Pig Crossings, Pirate Ships & Other Phallic Symbols…

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them…

~Matthew 7

Red Flags…

I read a story once about a train wreck in Norfolk Va which occurred in 1905.  The train was approaching a draw bridge which had been washed out by rains and although a red flag was set out to signal the engineer to stop, the flag itself had faded, through continuous use in the sun, to the point where its color had become indistinguishable from white.  In fact, my understanding is that at this time the traditional flags used to communicate with train engineers were red for stop, green for caution and white for go.  The problem is that in time both red flags and green flags fade to white.

I heard a joke once about a guy from the city speeding down a country road who finds himself approaching a farm woman trying to drive a steak with a red flag on it on the side of the road approaching a turn.  When she sees him she begins waiving her arms excitedly and yells “Pig! Pig”! Thinking that there is no way he’s going to let this small town nobody insult him like that, the man purposely speeds up as he passes her into the turn.  His fancy sports car corners the turn at the high speed as it was designed to but then runs into the farmer’s pigs crossing the road.

In the 1988 movie “RainMan” Dustin Hoffman portrays an autistic individual named Ray.  In one particular scene Ray becomes confused while crossing at an intersection when midway through the sign that had instructed him to walk begins blinking red and displaying “don’t walk”.  He stops in the middle of the crosswalk, blocking angry motorists from proceeding, until his brother is able to help him to the side of the road.  Although meant in humor, the overtone of the scene demonstrates the consequence and potential danger of interpreting warning signs in too literal of a manner.

The stories surfaces all kinds of imagery for me.  Imagery about red flags and what they actually mean.  When they should actually be used.  What happens when we don’t recognize them.  What happens when we think we know better and what happens when they’re left out too long.  After the first bout I had with my wife’s mental illness when we were dating,  I can remember reading anything that I could get my hands on regarding supporting loved ones who were struggling with depression, bipolar affect disorder, borderline personality disorder or otherwise mentally ill.  Invariably, the advice offered in each centered around learning to together identify the “red flags” for that individual.  I sat down and listed one out.  I’ve memorized it over the years – refined it.

Medication: I’m sure most have heard this before, but often, when a person with mental illness is on their medication, they feel so good that they begin to believe that they don’t need their medication and when they’re off it, they feel so bad that they don’t believe that the medication can help.  I’ve seen this cycle dozens of times in the past few years with respect to my wife and not only from her perspective.  This trick works on me too.  When my wife is on medication for a while and doing well, I begin to think; “well, maybe she’s better now.  Maybe she doesn’t need it anymore”.  I stop advocating for her to take her meds and then see, time and time again, why she needed too.

Sleep:  My wife can sleep now!  Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m the exact opposite.  I’ll sleep on average maybe five –six hours a night in good times and in bad times just a few hours here and there each night.  My wife, even in good times, likes her rest.  “How do you think I stay this beautiful”? she’ll joke, but honestly, the woman will sleep 10-11 hours at night and then think nothing about taking a 2-3 hour nap during the day – and that’s when things are normal.  During times of bad depression, I’ve seen her spend three consecutive days in the bed.  I once had to literally pick her up out of the bed after three day to get her to go to work.

Creativity:  My wife is a very creative person.  She studied art in school, generally loves things like quilting, decorates the most beautiful cakes, will just take a stick and a pocket knife and whittle a walking stick that folks would probably pay good money for.  When things are good, her appetite for these things is ferocious, when things are bad they fall by the wayside.  I’ve seen her chuck dozens of her walking sticks into the campfire.  She’ll put up all her quilting stuff leaving several projects unfinished.  The joy of baking and decorating cakes becomes drudgery to her.  Not being very creative myself, I’m not really sure that I understand this transition, but I think it has to do with her not wanting to feel pride in anything that comes out of her.  One thing I am certain of is that when my wife leaves herself no creative outlet, it’s time to start wondering what’s not being let out.

Church: When things are good, you’d think my wife was married to a preacher.  She’s involved, supportive to other members of the church, want’s the boys to be involved in youth functions etc. When things are bad it’s like pulling teeth to get her to go.  Excuse after excuse as to why she doesn’t want to go.  People who the week before she loved, now are medaling and phony, everything that’s said during the sermon is nonsense… I’m certain that this is indicative of something going on at the higher level of her faith, but in terms of what is tangibly observable, this is one of the first things I see.

Language:  My real wife uses expressions like “you’re a stupid head” when she’s angry.  I’ve seen her speak kindly in the face of abject disdain.  She’s a master of the “kill-em with kindness” technique.  In general her speech is thoughtful, gentle and positive.  When things are bad though, I can tell by her words sometimes before her action that they are.  More and more profanity  begins to creep into her vocabulary, the things she talks about are less and less positive, her words become more and more hopeless.

Work: I’ve seen my wife go from loving her job to hating it, and everyone associated with it in the course of only a few days.  When things are good she has an excellent work ethic, she’s dedicated to being good at whatever she does, is honest and dedicated to helping others.  When things are bad she becomes more and more dissatisfied with her job, begins to talk more and more about what she should be entitled to and becomes more and more critical of her superiors and coworkers.  She’ll use the slightest excuse to leave a job or make sudden drastic career choices without any notification.

Social: We’ll go through periods of months where it seems like several times a week we’re having people over the house for BBQ or just to hang out by the fire and/or visit other couples/families and then suddenly there will be long periods where she just doesn’t want to go anywhere, do anything or see anyone.

Money:  Even when times are bad, my wife is really not a spender.  She doesn’t go on big depression inspired shopping sprees (what that people call it “retail therapy”) What I do notice is a few things, she suddenly becomes extremely interested or disinterested in the family finances – how much money we have, how much this costs or that costs etc.  She also will tend to hoard cash.  Now I am particularly sensitive to this since most of that cash used to go to the purchase of drugs, but I think it extends even beyond that.  The last time she said that she was leaving and then changed her mind and decided to stay, she confessed that she had collected over $400 cash which she had been carrying around.  She had told me that she just wanted to put it aside to make sure that we could pay some bills, but she otherwise has no interest in our family’s finances.  I think she does it so that she will have funds to access should she decide to start using again, or run away or what have you.  I believe that, subconsciously, she’ll bank rolling her next break down.  Not know how or when the money is to be used, but still assuring that she will have access to it when needed.

Time: When trips to the dump (only 4 miles away) begin to take five hours, something’s not good.  It doesn’t always mean she’s off having an affair, but something is off.

Facial expression:  It infuriates my wife that I can tell from her face what’s going on inside her head, despite what she is telling me.  I’m extremely good at this and know when she is not telling me the truth about what’s going on inside her.  She insists that it’s my imagination, but I have been able to do this successfully and with a fairly good accuracy for a very long time.  I don’t always know what’s going on inside her, but I always know when what she is saying is not matching her expressions.  When I see that they are often different, I can usually be pretty sure there’s something not right.

Anger:  When things are not right with her, Ill see my wife fly off the handle and show a disproportionate amount of anger at the simplest, most seemingly benign things.  It’s as if the anger is already there and welling up to the point where she can hide it any longer, she’s hard pressed to find an excuse for it and will pounce on the first thing that comes along on which she feels as if she might justify unleashing it.

Contempt:  not just for me (although there is plenty of that too) but for about anything that she might perceive would dictate to her what she should do or how she would behave.  Contempt for the police man who just pulled her over because she ran a stop sign.  Contempt for the preacher because he would say that something she wanted to do was sinful.  Contempt for folks in our church for living their lives a certain way.  When my wife is not doing well she is literally dripping with contempt and distain for anything and anybody that may reminder her that she’s going astray.

Those are the major players, save one which I going to talk about next.  The truth is that it was difficult for me to even write that list because the signs tend to blur together to me now.  I’m not so sure anymore what is the actual observance of a red flag or what is my intuition anymore.  I’ve been doing this for such a long time that it’s become something of an instinctive reaction.  Like Pavlov’s dog no longer needing to identify the actual presence of food.  This process has become so automated to me that sometimes I just know something is wrong, but don’t even know why.  For me, it has always been something proactive that I felt that I could do.  I look for these warning signs and they will give me some indication of what to expect next.  The allow me to feel, at least a little, that I have some sort of control over this entirely uncontrollable and unpredictable cycles, which associate themselves with my wife’s condition.  They exist, I think, as much if not more for me than they do for her, because frankly by the time we get to seeing the warning signs that process has already begun and I’m still not sure how to stop in.  There is a flaw, therefor, inherent to me using them – they have value to me.  I’m vested in what they are telling me and the’re interpretation will always be made through my very unbiased eyes.  Like these photos (below), my reaction to them is a function of not only what they try to tell me but how I receive them, my mood and view of the world at the time that I see them.  On our dirt road on the way home from work one day, I stopped and took this picture:

it was a cold grey winter day and I was on my way home from a particularly difficult day of work.  I looked at the now bare cotton field and felt my soul just sink.  “How drab” I though, “How dead and depressing”.  Two day’s later, on my way home from my men’s bible study group, my spirits were higher.  I stopped to look at the same field and took the following picture:

Same cotton field, same camera (phone) same photographer (me) only now my frame of mind was more positive.  I found the bible study uplifting, the weather, though still winter, still cool, still dormant, was beginning to reveal hints to encourage the hope of spring to come.  The air was cool, but the sun felt warm on my elbow perched out my truck window.  The field seemed not so much dead now as sleeping, resting, preparing itself for the crop to come.  I felt my soul rise, in response to the exact same baron cotton field and once again fill with hope.  Same field.  Same sign.  Different meaning.  The difference was me.

The last red flag I wanted to talk about is music.

Music Soothes the Savage Beast?…

Music:  This is a big one.  When my wife is in a bad place, she’ll listen to the same few songs over and over.  Johnny Cash hurt, Papa Roach Last Resort, Lincoln Park, Numb are on the short list:

Johnny Cash, Hurt

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel

I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real

The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything

What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end

Papa Roach, Last Resort

Cut my life into pieces
I’ve reached my last resort
Suffocation
No breathing
Don’t give a fuck if I cut my arm bleeding
Do you even care if I die bleeding
Would it be wrong
Would it be right
If I took my life tonight
Chances are that I might
Mutilation out of sight
And I’m contemplating suicide

Linkin Park, Numb

I’m tired of being what you want me to be Feeling so faithless,

 lost under the surfaceI don’t know what you’re expecting of me

Put under the pressure of walking in your shoes

[Caught in the undertow, just caught in the undertow]

Every step that I take is another mistake to you

[Caught in the undertow, just caught in the undertow]

I’ve become so numb, I can’t feel you there Become so tired, so much more aware I’m becoming this,

all I want to do Is be more like me, and be less like you

Can’t you see that you’re smothering me Holding too tightly, afraid to lose control

but there are probably others which she has learned to not reveal to me.  There is a certain anger and hopelessness to the type of music my wife listens to when she’s not doing well.  It’s not just the lyrics, there is a message conveyed by the heavy angry tone of the music itself.  Frankly, it scares me! Beyond the actual songs she listens to there is the sense of angry defiant entitlement with which she does it that I actually find more concerning.  I’ve written about this elsewhere; what does the type of music we listen to say about how we see ourselves?  Do we use music to justify our feelings or allow music to dictate our feelings?  Do I like country music because I identify with the guy who loves beer and his truck and his dog and wife is cheating on him or am I the guy who loves beer and his truck and his dog and wife had an affair because I like country music?

The issue presented itself again this weekend, which is why I’ve decided to write about it now.  When my wife first came home from the hospital we discussed, at the therapist’s recommendation, the things we saw as red flags.  At that time my wife begrudgingly agreed that her music was clearly one of them.  We together went through her iPad and delegated the songs which she identified as being negative in that way and we also had a discussion about what type of music we say as being appropriate to listen to when the boys were present.  Although she agreed to all of this, there have been several times in the past few months where she would make comments about how I made her take all her music away and how she was only allowed to listen to my music now etc.

Each time she said something like this, I stopped and we had the conversation again.  “You told me that that music was a red flag”, I would say and she would agree, probably just to end the conversation.  She continuously just said that she was no longer interested in music.  Well a week or two ago I told her that I didn’t want for her to resent me for not liking the same music as she did and I asked her if she wanted to put some music that she liked back on her iPod.  My only conditions were that she remained mindful of the music which she played in front of the boys and to understand that if she listened to the same song about cutting yourself over and over again that I was probably going to suspect that something was up.  She agreed and went through the computer choosing songs she wanted on her phone.

We were at the neighbors how Sunday afternoon/evening for their daughter’s birthday party.  Probably our best friends and with children about the same age as ours, we will often go over there or they will come to our house to eat supper, hang out by the fire and have a couple beers together.  The party had ended and most of the guests had gone home but we stayed later, our kids playing together inside and then falling asleep there, having a few drinks by the fire.  They have this radio that you can plug your phone into in order to listen to the music stored on it and we were using that as we talked.  My wife decided she wanted to play some of her music.

Now this was fine with me.  I made a joke to my neighbor about being sorry for what she was about to make him listen to, but I really did want to not be a jerk about her music.  I wanted to show that we had come to the point where I trusted her enough to not automatically assume that the music she was playing necessarily meant that she was using drugs again or having another affair.  I really didn’t think it was a big deal.

When she put the music on it was such a blatant contrast to mine that the neighbor said something like “what in the world kinda music is this” and we got to talking about our musical tastes.  He, like me and like most of the folks around here has simple tastes in music.  Songs about beer and dogs and fishing and girlfriends is what we like and don’t really have any bother for other kinds of music.  His wife grew up in the city and had a taste for that club, boom, boom, boom, kind of music and my wife likes her skinny little millionaire musician, screaming at me about all the angst in his life music.

It began as lighthearted, but got a little ugly fast.  I said something like “I just don’t understand how anyone can enjoy listening to this stuff”.  To which my wife said something like “I’m just so sick of country music.  Why is it that the only thing that people listen to around here is country music”?  I said “uhm, because we live in the country”.  I saw rage wash across her face!  “I haven’t always lived in the Fucking Country”! she snapped and sternly chopped the air in front of her with the back of her hand facing me.  “You haven’t always been a fucking hick”!

Well actually I have, but I wasn’t fixin to argue that point with her just then.  I grew up poor in the country.  I was good in school and that took me places.  When I met my wife, I had just gotten a job with one of my degrees on a military base and had to wear a tie and Sunday shoes to work each day.  Maybe she though I was someone else, but I felt about as out of place there as anyone could be. I never fit in with my John Deer ball cap and suit jacket and never knew how to remedy that.  To my friends back home I’d become this fancy engineer at the DoD and to folks at the DoD I would always be this simple hick from the woods.  I didn’t fit anywhere.

What concerned me is how quickly and how angry she’d become over a simple disagreement.  Now we had been drinking, so I wasn’t going to snap back.  I knew it could get out of control fast, but I felt that like a stab in my gut.  Why would she get so angry just because I didn’t like her music?  There must be something else behind this.  This must be a red flag.  I just sort of looked away for a couple of minutes and pretended not to notice her momentary loss of control.  She, I could sense, was initially disappointed that I didn’t react back with anger, but realized that her anger really wasn’t warranted and tried to proceed as if it didn’t happen.

So the question I face, and still haven’t answered as I write this, is what does all this mean?  Where did that all come from?  Have I been somehow doing my wife a disservice by remaining vigilant about these “red flags” or is this an attempt of her’s to bully me into thinking that they are meaningless so that I can no longer see what is going on with her?  Is this white flag really a white flag or is it one that has faded to white from red or green?  Does this need to be a red flag or has the time come to put this one away?  Is it just keeping us standing in the middle of the intersection holding up traffic?

It occurs to me that someone in my situation has to be particularly careful regarding the difference between using these things to judge and using them to exercise good judgment.  I could easily fall into the justification of disguising punishment and unwillingness to forgive as being indicated by “red flags” – well it meant this before so now you better listen to my kind of music.  This doesn’t mean however that I can simply ignore possible warning signs.  Not when it comes to the safety of my wife and the boys.   I simply don’t have the luxury of saying “well I’m not going to judge you for smelling like pot when you come in from driving our boys in town”.  This is not to mention my own risk of being played to be a fool again, but even Sigmund Freud said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.  It’s a thin line to walk and I believe that I need a divine guidance to do so.  Still I’m not sure how.

I don’t see where the term “red flag” is used anywhere in the bible.  There’s plenty about warnings.  In fact if you take the term “red flag” to mean a warning, you might think of the entire bible as one giant red flag.  Still though, I had a hard time applying biblical truths to my particular situation.  When  warnings should be headed and when they become obstacles to our faith and growth.  In Luke there is the story of Lazarus and the rich man:

Luke 16 (NIV)

The Rich Man and Lazarus

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Here clearly we are being told to look for and heed warnings which are given to us.  The consequence of not doing so seems pretty severe!  But then in Matthew there’s this:

Matthew 14 (NIV)
Jesus Walks on the Water

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Now Peter was a fisherman.  He probably knew all about red flags.  He knew exactly what the wind and the high waves meant.  We put flags on the beach today to indicate the same.  It was clear to him that his situation was precarious.  Only by ignoring those signs though, by putting his faith in Jesus and not what he thought he knew about the dangers of this world was he able to actually walk on water.  For a short time anyway and then as soon as he remembered them again he sank into the very dangers they red flags were to warn him about.

What the heck!  Do we heed to the warnings of these red flags or don’t we? Are we supposed to trust our own internal warning mechanisms or aren’t we?  To what extent should I rely on my own God given sense to say “Hey! I’ve been to this rodeo before”?  God please!  Tell me what to think.  Tell me how to use this judgment which you have given me!  Tell me how to protect my family and myself and still forgive this woman who would have destroyed all of it!  Thing is; I believe he already has:

Matthew 7(NIV)

True and False Prophets

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

That it isn’t it – you will know them by their fruit? When you think about it; fruit doesn’t grow overnight.  It doesn’t all of a sudden appear because the tree gets angry or has a few drinks or is having a bad day.  Fruit is the product of a season’s worth of growth for any tree and even if it is damaged beyond being eatable from weather or injury, in any particular season, if the tree is capable of producing good fruit, it will do so again the following year.  In fact, I don’t have any control at all about the type or quality of the fruit of any tree in my orchard produces.  I can’t say to an apple tree “listen, if you don’t give me an orange this year…”.  I can’t tell a sapling “listen, bushel of apples this year or else”.  I can’t say to a crab tree “listen, the apples you gave me last year were bitter. This year how about some yellow delicious”?  The fruit is a function of what that tree is, not of what I want it to be.  I have nothing to do with it, but I am a fool if year after year I keep going to a crab apple tree expecting something sweet!  Neither can a tree hide it’s fruit, not for any significant about of time anyway.  Likewise, if my wife is still cheating, still using, still playing me for a fool; sooner or later those fruits will become apparent to me.  I don’t have to worry about what every little sign might mean, because at some point I will know her by her fruit.

Pirates Oh My!…

I’ve read some about the origins of the expression “red flag”.  It would seem that the color red being used to indicate danger dates back to the times of the ancient Greeks.  The term has roots in locomotion history and avionics and American military history, but the first use of the term that I can see is from the days of the British armada; travel and commerce on the high seas and pirates!  Now we all have a certain image in our minds when it comes to pirate flags – black, skull and cross bones etc., but did you know that it is likely that the original pirate flags were red?

While most pirate flags are usually associated with the color black (a color associated with death) it is thought that the earliest were red (indicating that the ship would fight to the death, with no quarter given or expected.).  In fact, it is likely that the common nickname “Jolly Roger” used for pirate flags is a English perversion of the French term ”joli rouge”, meaning “pretty red”.  Now this was all very interesting to me, because, although I never really read it in the history, it means that there was at least a period during that transition where you didn’t if a pirate ship was expected to designate itself with a red flag or not.  There are a number of other countries with red flags, but I can’t think of many with black.  Therefore, for some time, before pirate flags were all black, one might see a red flag in the distance and before approaching close enough to actually see the insignia on the flag, but only to the point where you could note the flag’s color, there was no way to tell for certain if you were looking at a pirate ship or a ship from Switzerland.  You could only see the red.

Now I put myself in that lookout’s place; alone, high up in the crow’s nest, been  up all night and the sun now just rising.  Maybe the captain was a little extra liberal with the crew’s rum ration last night.  Now, half way between dark and light I look out along the horizon and see something.  Is it a bird or a flag?  It’s a flag.  What color is it?  It’s so hard to tell in this ever-changing sunlight of dawn. “Oh Crap! It’s red”! Now what?  It’s probably you’re but either way right.  You can let it go and if it’s actually a pirate ship that gets close enough to attack – that’s on you, but if you sound the alarm and your shipmates end up firing on Switzerland – that’s probably not gonna look good on a resume either!  Your eyesight is not what it used to be and contact lenses are still a couple centuries from being invented…

Point is that it’s not a simple decision.  A red flag doesn’t necessarily mean that something is wrong.  It means that something may be wrong.  It means that in this situation, things fit that there may be something wrong again, but it doesn’t mean fire you cannons.  I believe that is what, in its origins, the sight of a red flag meant; wake up!  Pay attention!  Do your job!  You cannot simply ignore every red flag you see, nor can you fire upon each!  It’s simply a sign that means now pay attention.  Likewise I cannot go through my life oblivious to what has happened in the past and the dangers that certain signs I learned then might mean now, but I also can’t tie my guts up in knots every time my wife wants to listen to a song I don’t like.

My judgment will always be flawed.  It would always have been flawed before the affair so I’m not blaming it on that.  It’s flawed because I’m human,  because I don’t know nearly as much as I think I do, because my own pride and anger and weaknesses will always represent a cloud around it. A cloud which will always prevent me from actually seeing the insignia on the flags I see until long after I can see their color. That’s why I need a buddy in the crow’s nest with me.  It’s why I need good friends now, why I need to write here.  It’s why I need to pray; because any other person’s eyesight might be just as faulted, just as limited as my own, but God’s eyesight is infinite.

God Bless.

Abandoned Barns…

first take the plank out of your own eye

~Matthew 7:5

I should have read the book. . .

 When I was in High School, I had to read The Old Man and the Sea by Earnest Hemmingway.  It was truly an inconvenience, as I was certain that my time both could and should be better spent on going about the very important business of my teenage life; tending to pimples, thinking about girls, resenting the world for not seeing that I was right about everything and listening to music.  Clearly, anyone could recognize that the productivity of any one of these things ought to have far outweighed what minimal benefit might, by some remote possibility, be gained from the hours upon hours of being sentenced to the reading this ancient text.  I mean, in what possible way, could a 14 year old boy identify with an old fisherman?  I wasn’t a fisherman, and I wasn’t old, surly reasonable English teacher should be able to see that and correct such a grossly inappropriate assignment.  Alas, mine did not.

Half enraged by this injustice, I did what I believed any sensible person being in the same unreasonable position would do, and am certain that countless others both before and after me have done as well – I waited until the weekend before and read the cliff notes.  Now, the foolish ninth grader would have just left it at that, but of course I was far more savvy than that (remember, I was 14 and knew everything).  You see, teachers now-a-days (then-a-days) were hip to the whole cliff notes thing.  They would get a copy themselves and read it, just to be aware of what information was contained in the condensed version and what was left out.  The test would assuredly contain at least some questions on the material which was left out.  “Oh, what joyful bliss it must have been before teacher-kind had gained the knowledge of the existence of cliff notes”.  I can remember thinking to myself as I picked up the actual text to devote about 13 and a half minutes to flipping through the pages, looking at the pictures and skimming for additional information.  “I simply was born at the wrong time.”

You know, it’s funny how we all have this collection of things within us; images, conversations, memories etc., which end up staying with us always, but we never really know at the time that we experience them that they have become part of us permanently.  We take them out from time to time to think about them, evaluate them, relive them, and then we carefully wrap them back up and put them away again for safe keeping, until the next time we fumble across that fuzzy little box in which store them inside us.  I don’t know why and I don’t know how those things are chosen.  I just know that they’re there, some good, some bad, some completely non-memorable in any way, there, remembered, in that tiny box and I can open it whenever I like.

I was given one such content of my little box that night, while skimming through the actual text of Hemmingway’s book, I happened upon an image which forever became a part of me.  I tried to Google the actual image for about an hour to no avail.  I guess I wasn’t meant to find the actual one again, but it was not entirely dissimilar to the one alongside this text.  It spanned an entire full page around the center of the book and can mostly be contrasted from this picture by the perspective of the man within the actual frame of the page.  I can remember thinking how tiny he was in comparison to the actual raging see surrounding him.  How precarious his situation actually was.  So tiny, so lost, so helpless – how alone he must have felt.  His tiny boat seemed to be his only hope of survival with the storm relentlessly aggressing against him.  The sea seemed like such a great power to me.  Filled with dangers, some know and some unknown, some willing to confront him and some lurking below, waiting, bidding their time until he was the most defenseless.  Everything is against him.  Everything hates him.  Everything trying to destroy him.  No one on his side.  Every move, every placement of his oar, every single decision to stop and take a breath or wait and react again to his ever changing surroundings; potentially could be the difference between his own destruction and victory over that which would destroy him.  How out of control he was! Was he even aware of how much danger in which he was?  I was terrified for him, and then I realized that I was actually terrified for me.  His world was my world; his fight my fight.  The loneliness I was attributing to him, was actually coming from me.  I couldn’t see it with fourteen year old eyes, buy I was that old man. To a certain extent we all are.

I thought of this image again, when my wife’s affair finally became apparent.  After months of lies, and blame and horrible attempts to defend herself by hurtful words and bullying, even she, the master of justification, could no longer deny the time, the money and the love, which she stole from our family to give to this man and to her addiction.  She had backed herself into a corner and had created such an intricate web of lies that even a response to the simplest of questions, required the approximate 15 second pause in order to retrace that web.  What does/could he already know?  Did he see me somewhere today?  What had she said before?  Will this lie contradict a previous one?  Could she deny the previous one?  Back off it?  Play games with semantics?  “I didn’t actually mean . . .”  I had studied her so long, that I could actually see the thoughts going through her head.  I could time her response and I could gauge the truthfulness of that response by her response time, her demeanor and her affect.  I’m quite sure that I will be told that it is not possible to truly know what another person is thinking, but I was able to do this, with great accuracy, for a very, very long time.

I’m trying to forgive her.  She’s apologized for the affair, for the drugs, for the stealing from our family, for the neglect and endangerment of our boys through her actions, but still becomes very angry when I have difficulty trusting her.  I think it’s very difficult for someone who has never been cheated on to understand that sense of betrayel.  That which was actually taken away by the affair; and that is, that seemingly, for a moment, I was no longer alone in that boat.  There was someone there with me.  Another set off eyes to watch out.  Another set of arms to row.  Someone on my side, looking out for me, caring for my interest.  It’s the ultimate level of trust to give someone your whole heart like that and it’s the ultimate level of betrayal to realize that they’ve indiferently tossed it into the ocean and gotten on someone else’s boat.  That they werent really on your side, but rather just one more unknown, uncaring, peril of the sea.

What I have to remember is that marriage is not about being in the same boat, but rather about two boats finding each other.  My wife has her own boat.  Her own fight.  Her own fears and insecurities.  She has her own mind.  Her own will Her own relationship with Jesus.  She has her own fuzzy little box of experiences, some good, some bad, some hardly memorable, stored away inside of her somewhere.  Her fight is not and can not be my fight.  Just as mine is not and can not be hers.

I’ve written before the affair about this very thing, so I’m not sure why it’s been so hard for me to see it since then.   Marriage is not about two people being on the same boat.  One just rowing and directing and the other just sitting, along for the ride.  Life would be much easier if it were, but I guess that would deny the person you love of their own personage.  Kind of like God has given us free wills to choose to love him or to choose not to.  He could have just banged out some “Yes Sir!”, “I love you” robots that always did what he wanted, but where would be the fun in that?  I think that what God wants from us, is the same thing that we want from our wives – that is that we choose to love him.  He could force us, if he wanted to, but how much would that really mean?  I can program this computer or my phone to automate my life, to do just about anything I want it to, to send me “I love you” emails or text messages all day long, but it’s never gonna mean as much as when my two year old wants to come sit on my lap and let me love on him.  The “want to” is everything!  I suppose that I could spend the rest of my life feeling sorry for myself for what she’s done to me.  I could spend the rest of my life leveraging that hurt and the guilt which she feels for inflicting it to make her behave exactly as I like.  I suppose I could bop her on the head, tie her up and lock her in my workshop to prevent her from every choosing to hurt me again – Oh, Come On Now!  It’s not that creepy!  I wouldn’t bop her so hard and I’d bring her food and watter.  I’d clean up the place.  You know – get rid of the spiders and mayby put up some purple curtains or something.  I could let her out in the sunshine once in a while, just make sure she still loves me and hasn’t hurt me anymore and than safely wrap her up and put her away again for safekeeping.  Ok.  It is a little creepy.  The point is; I could do these things, I could force her to act like she loves me, but where would be the fun in that?  The “want to” is everything.

Abandon Barns. . .

My assignment this week from my therapist was inspired by the Lonestar song “From My Front Porch Looking In”.  I was asked to consider the perspective of an unbiased, third person spectator, standing on my front porch, observing my family inside (now that’s a little creepy) I was to consider that observer’s impression of me.  What do I look like from the outside?  What is my role in my family?  What am I doing right?  What are my shortcomings? Then to reflect about my own understanding of what it actually means to be the Christian head of household.  Not for nothing, but all my wife had to do was write a letter to her father!

The truth is, that the first part of this is actually fairy easy to me.  I know how I see myself from the outside.  I’ve known for a while, because of a little hobby I’ve had since our marriage started having problems.

I work for the DOT in one of the most rural districts in South Carolina.  As such, I spend a lot of time in my work truck driving between job sites through back country roads.  On one such road, during a particular assignment I had, during the time that our marital problems started becoming apparent to me, I kept driving past this same old barn.  Over and over, I would pass it as I drove from one end of the job site to the other going about my work and each time it would call out to me.  Grab my attention.  Try to speak to me.  It would give me a little bit of a haunted feeling.  Not overwhelming, but rather very subtle, like an image that you end up dreaming about because you’ve seen it during the day, but didn’t have time to stop and think about.

I stopped and took a picture of it with my phone.

Now, I don’t fancy myself an artist.  I don’t know much about photography.  It was never really about trying to be a photographer or an artist.  It was about needing to stop and consider these old barns.  I pass dozens of these type old abandon barns each day while driving down this road or that road.  Some of them would speak to me and some of them would not.  I started taking pictures of the ones which called out to me during my down times on the job.

After collecting more than a few, I started putting them on my Facebook.  Filed in a folder titled “I don’t know why I take these pictures”, but the truth is that I knew exactly why I took them.  I just didn’t think that anyone else would understand.  The reason is simply; they exist.  Furthermore, they exist despite their obvious mistreatment. Forgotten, abused, neglected, no longer valued, still they exist.  It’s likely that not a person in the world would care if any of these structures crashed down into a pile of kindle sticks during the next big storm save the inconvenience of having to clean up the mess.  They’re probably viewed as nuncences, eyesores, unusable blemishes simply wasting space.  Their owners would most likely rather that they not be there and regret that they were ever put there to begin with.  Still, they exist.  Perhaps more accurately; they refuse not to exist.  Despite being unwanted, there they remain.  Despite the end of their maintenance and repair, they stand.  Despite absence of respect shown to them, they respect themselves enough to not yield to this world.  To not listen to those who would say that they are worthless, without purpose or without value.  They exist, and each day that they do is a testament to their creator.  A faith in the skill and love and intent with which they were built.  As if each straight line that remains is saying I was built with purpose.  I do have value and regardless of what this world tells me or how I may weather because of it, it cannot take that away.  To me there is a grace about them and I think each one is beautiful, but it’s not the reason I photograph them.  The photographs are actually self-portraits.  I see myself in each one.  These barns understand me.  They understand how I feel in a way that I haven’t been able to convey to anyone else.  Not my wife or my therapist or the doctor prescribing my medicine or anyone else aware of my situation – they understand me, because they are me.  I’m one of them!

So what I see when I look through that front porch window is a man, sitting in my chair, reminding very much of these structures – weathered, cynical, mistrusting; all as the result of a long period of neglect and mistreatment, but still having faith.  He’s still holding on to the confidence that he has a purpose, that this family has a purpose, this marriage has a purpose and that that purpose was designed, with a loving intent, by the hand of his creator.  I still exist; and because I exist, I still have hope.

Beyond the man in this chair I see a family rallying about him, who loves him and needs him to be whole again.  They are not perfect.  In fact some of their imperfections are blatant, but they need him.  They desperately need his leadership, though they themselves may not think so. They desperately need for him to realign himself beneath Jesus Christ.  They need now, more than ever to see his reliance on God.  That faith in God’s strength, not our own is what must happen to survive tough times.  It has to be more that simply hanging a “as for me and my house” sign in the living room and making everyone go to church and say grace before supper.  It has to be lived, every day.  It’s alive – a living breathing thing that cannot be simply imitated.  It has to live in me before I can expect it to live in my family.

You see, from the moment we say “I do” we become the spiritual leader of our homes, whether we actively do so or not.  There is no “Oh, this is too hard.  I’m just gonna take a little break for a while from leading my family.” You just are the spiritual leader of your family. That’s all and that’s it!  Now you can be a good one, or you can stink at it, but you’re still the leader.  You set the tone.  You determine how welcome our loving God is in your home.  It’s your job!  You don’t ever get a coffee break, you don’t ever go on vacation and you don’t get to clock out until, well, it’s time to clock out.  Welcome to the company!

The man sitting in that chair needs to remember that.  He needs to know that there is no excuse, no amount of hurt, no amount of disrespect or mistreatment that entitles him to neglect that responsibility.  It is the very purpose for which he was built.  It bites, but he simply doesn’t get to say “I’m just too hurt right now to be a good Christian, but y’all just go ahead and do it without me”.  He puts his family’s mortal souls in danger each time he does so, because they do align themselves beneath Papa.  If Papa isn’t aligning himself beneath Jesus Christ, then who are we all lining up beneath?  So how does he do that when he fells incapable?  Well, he remembers that he is incapable.  At least he’s incapable on his own?

Enough with the barns, back to the boats…

I was saying before, how marriage really isn’t like two people in the same boat, but rather more like two people in separate boats.  I picture myself again in the sketch from Hemmingway’s book – Alone on that boat, in the raging sea during a storm at night; afraid, lost, hopeless, exhausted and about to give up.  Then, in the distance, very faintly, I can hear the voice of my wife calling to me.  It makes all the difference, because now there is hope.  Hope that I will not be alone.  Hope that she is still looking for me, wanting to be with me, wanting to love me, but where is she?  I can’t find her?  I can’t bring her to me.  The sea is too vast and she could be floating anywhere in her boat.

We desperately try to find each other, but cannot.  We try to see one and other, but the night is too dark.  We call out for each other but the storm is too loud.  We paddle frantically trying to get to the other but we keep going in opposite directions.  The hope begins to fade.  The loneliness returns, in fact, the dashed hope makes us feel even more alone then before.

Then, in the corner of my eye I see a spark, then it is gone.  Where was it?  There it is again.  I can see it in the distance.  It’s far away, but it is constant.  At that very instant I just know that, no matter what, my wife will decide to row toward that light. I too decide that no matter what, I will row toward that light.  We may be rowing at different paces.  We each may be knocked off course, from time to time by different waves or obstacles in our paths, but no matter what, as long as we are both rowing towards the light, we are also rowing towards each other.  I suppose that why they have lighthouses to begin with; that is to help those lost at sea to find their way home.

For my wife and I to find our way to each other, we have to each find our own ways home first.  God’s light is clearly there for us both to row towards.  His path home is straight and his promise is that the light house will always be there for us.  For me, being the spiritual leader of my household is about my own unwavering pursuit of that light.  No matter what.  No matter how far away that light may seem or how rough the sea or brutal the storm, I need to keep that light in my sights and row toward it.  I can pray that my family will follow that example and also row toward the light, but I cannot row their boats for them, because to grab their oars would mean to let go of mine own, lose control of my boat, and lose sight of the light entirely.  That plus, my wife’s boat is pink and kind of girly looking and the other fishermen would make fun of me.

Now if that sounds selfish, and on the surface it does (i.e. that I would put my own pursuit of God before that of my family’s) I have to point out that, in my view, this is the only time that a Christian man should put something else above the needs of his family – that is his own need to pursue God’s will. I cannot lead if I myself am lost, and without God I am lost.  It’s what I’ve been doing wrong I think, is worrying too much about my wife’s boat instead of my own.  “You’re not doing it right”, “You’re going the wrong way”, “You’re rowing all wrong”, “Oh, here just let me do it for you!!!”, “Stop pulling away and just let me show you how!!!”

“My boat?”

“Oh!  It’s over there on the rocks.”

You see, it just doesn’t work.  I have to keep my own boat straight, lest I myself lose sight of the lighthouse.  I have to live my life in such a way that makes others want to live their lives in the same way.  That’s the difference between leadership and control.  That is what I would most like to change about my thinking, because although I think I’ve always known this, I sometimes have a tendency to forget, when it comes to leading my family.

What I tend to forget is that God assigns our value to us.  We don’t assign it to each other.  It’s not how we are loved in this world that evidences our worth, but rather how we love, how we forgive each other and ourselves, and how we choose to live our lives as Christ would lead us to, which does.  That my wife choose to have an affair with her drug dealer has absolutely nothing to do with God’s love for me.  It should have nothing to do with my love for God, and yet it does.  I still feel like a fool for trying to obey God’s will when she chose to reject it.  I still feel as if she will see me as naive and pathetic for trying to serve him, for praying for his guidance and trusting in his plan.  I’m still so afraid that she still might think that her plan is better and once again use my faith against me.  Make me choose again between being feeling loved by her and loving God.  That loving God isn’t cool and that she wants to be with someone that’s cool and fun.  It’s a horrible choice to have to make and I’m not sure I’m strong enough to do it again.  Where can I find the strength?

And now, a few words from the man upstairs…

Ephesians 5:24-33 (New International Version)

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for 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.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself,

Colossians 3:19 (NIV)

 19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.

1 Peter 3:7 (NIV)

 7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

And my personal favorite:

Hosea 3:1

Then the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods. . .

Oh yeah.  That’s right.  I suck too.  I sin too.  I’ve fallen short of the Grace of God too, and yet there he is, still loving me, still forgiving me, still standing right by me.  Hey, that makes me feel kind of valuable!  I mean, Lord knows there must be something there for him to put up with all my nonsense and still think I’m worth loving.  No, not just worth loving, worth dying for.  Me. What the heck was he thinking? Who am I?  What possible reason could he have for wanting me?  And yet he does and that gives me value.  Here is the change I have to make; to remember this always and not just sometimes.  That my true given value is in that God loves me, not my wife, not my children, not my therapist or any single person on this earth, but that God choose to love me, to call me, to die for me.  His plan for me is perfect and may or may not involve the repentance of my wife.  I pray that it does, but cannot hang my own self-worth upon it.  My job is bigger than that.  My purpose is more than that.  I am, and will always be a child of God and as such have value.

Oh that I could simply write those words directly into my heart and simply love and forgive as Christ would.  To not have to struggle with this pain, when I know it is completely unhelpful.  To put aside my pride and just love like he did.  I’m not sure that any of us could ever do that perfectly in this life. Still; that I exist gives me hope, that his purpose for me is real and that his work in me is ongoing.