orphans.

i remember his voice well – he’s got a thick, eastern kentucky accent, but not the type you see with the rednecks on tv. more syrupy and sweet, full of comfort. the type of voice where you just want him to talk all day because it makes complicated things seem simple and simple things seem profound. he said things like “you don’t know what you don’t know,” and it absolutely blows your mind every single time. he’s my spiritual father’s spiritual father, so i guess that makes him my spiritual grandfather – he was the first i heard talk about the church as a family. he talked about God as a Father and he talked about us as kids. he talked about the spirit of sonship and the orphan spirit and how the two weren’t compatible.

 

[i forgot about the word “orphan” for a while – at least as it relates to christianity.]

 

he talked about how, when the gospel takes root in our hearts and we really understand the lengths that Jesus went to to rescue us and how much the Father sacrificed to bring us in, it essentially renders us incapable to continue in what he called “orphan” thinking.

orphan thinking essentially refers to thinking about ourselves in ways that exude insecurity and unsureness – in the context of Christianity, it basically means, “you don’t know that God loves you.” for instance – orphans wonder if they’d be welcomed in a church, because they may have done something that bad that week and fear the presence of God, the way an orphan may have a hard time receiving love because they’ve never been able to please anyone enough to call them “son.”

or, maybe they have a hard time seeing God as a provider the same way that an orphan may have a hard time trusting a guardian to be a steady provider for them.

to be clear, this line of thinking is not saying that people who are actual orphans or have been actual orphans are bad at Christianity – it’s saying that spiritually, we have this tendency to behave towards God the way that earthly orphans tend to behave towards guardians or parents. it’s saying that we have a hard time receiving love – even if we had great earthly parents.

i think that’s just because we’re not used to an idea of love that God employs. we’re not used to the idea that we can or could show up to church hung over or strung out and God would just be happy we were there. we’re gluttons for spiritual punishment, aren’t we? it’s hard for us to grasp that we are harder on ourselves than God is on us. it’s hard for us to say, in the wake of our mistakes, “yes, there’s grace, but…”

 

what if there’s just grace, and that’s it? What if there’s no “but” after the word grace? fun fact – the word “grace” seems to come after the word “but” in the bible. in Genesis, when we read about how God is going to cleanse the world by sending a flood, it says ,”but Noah found grace in the sight of the Lord.” (Genesis 6:8) the law came through moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17,) God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6.)

seriously. do a biblegateway search. it’s always “but grace.”

that’s the thing about God – grace is always greater than what came before. the gift is greater than the curse. the joy always surpasses the suffering.

 

anyway, all this came back in John 14:18, when Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.” the context is that Jesus is leaving – He’s going back to heaven and He won’t be with His disciples in body, but He will in spirit. this is the toughest part of the Christian life in my experience – grasping and living by the idea that Jesus is present, that He never left and He’s never leaving. i’ve written about this idea before, and sometimes i get it. but a lot of times i don’t. a lot of times i don’t let the presence of Jesus be the salve for a long work day or for an ill-advised argument, because i’m so sure (even after 10 years of being a Christian) that He’s just gonna let me have it – how wrong i am, how i shouldn’t complain, how i shouldn’t get involved in business that isn’t mine. and if He did say those things to me, He’d probably be right. but He doesn’t.

i’ve noticed that those voices aren’t loving like Jesus’ voice is. Jesus exudes love – even when He’s being harsh. and to be honest, i don’t know what to do when i’ve screwed up and i know better – because it’s so like us to think we should be condemned and condemnatory towards ourselves, but that’s not what Jesus is like.

it’s orphan thinking to assume that we’ll get berated for the things we’ve done.

sons know that they can come to the Father with their mistakes, knowing they won’t be chewed out even for the things they knew better about. sons know that as they go in the world, the Father is with them, living in them, working out His nature in them.

thoughts.

i had weird dreams last night.

 

i could tell that i had: just finished True Detective season 1; recently seen and read The Road; and seen an advertisement for an interactive Walking Dead game. in my dream, i remember running several miles to look for an empty house. i found the house and crawled into the garden that sat in a slope alongside it. i had a pair of binoculars and looked down the hill from the house (it overlooked a little valley) and saw that someone down there was bringing out a sniper rifle and had me in his sights. i decided that instead of running inside, i’d run straight towards him – a full-on rush. next thing i knew i was back inside the house. i went over to the front door and saw it standing ajar. right after that, i woke up.

_________________________________________

last night i was debating on whether or not i was going to read my bible before bed. i usually try to do it in the morning (when i’m faithful about doing it, which i’m not always) but this time i was entertaining doing it at night. i think i like bible reading at night because i’m a lot more coherent, i usually can think more analytically about it and draw more out of it. i’m able to process.

so i talked myself into it, but i had a really important realization (again.)

there’s a truth i’ve heard for years, and i always forget, and it always rings true when i learn it again.

“what goes in is what goes out.”

in other words, what you consume is what you exude.

and i realize this applies to your thoughts, too. you really have to protect them. if you entertain nasty thoughts, nasty actions will follow. if you banish nasty thoughts (and by nasty thoughts, i mean gossip, vitriol, anxiety, fear, etc) then your actions won’t align with them. think well, act well, live well.

i think that’s one of the benefits of reading the bible. the bible tells us about God, and as we read about God, we realize that He’s just good. we realize He creates – beautiful things, magnificent things, amazing things. sunrises. flowers. majestic animals. humans. we realizes He’s loyal and loving – in the early books of the Bible we realize His faithfulness to His people, His tendency to act on their behalf, to keep His promises, and to redeem them from the times they fall from grace. we realize who God is in the Bible – and it’s all goodness.

and when we meditate on His goodness – His love, faithfulness, graciousness, kindness, patience, creativity, justice, etc – it grows those things in us. it turns our minds towards good things – and that’s a good thing.

 

so – protect your thoughts. think on good things in the morning and at night.

whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if it is excellent or praiseworthy – think on these things.

3/9/2017

in the last few posts, i’ve written about feeling foggy and unfocused, being broke and how you love and serve people without going even more broke.

it occurred to me (a few workdays and a few dollars later) that the biggest mistake i made was taking on a limited perspective – that when my bank account was sapped dry, i just assumed it was the end of the world and that i’d never make money again and i’d die in debt. that’s my worst fear. when i’m afraid or frustrated the thing i usually need the most is a little bit of release – a good writing session or to spend a little time with a friend or to do something good, fun, uplifting, and distracting. well, factor in the fact that i got myself involved in a situation that had happened at work that was really none of my business and i spent a good few days fighting and arguing and getting myself into trouble and the headspace was made that much worse.

i hate that about negative thinking – it becomes easier to just spiral downwards and its tough to arrest the slide. i was mad because i felt broke and a little out of control which is why i got involved and took sides in a situation that wasn’t mine to meddle in (because i wanted to feel in control of something.) then for three or four more days there was tension and there were tough conversations and tears and sighs and there were days of me being able to think about nothing else because one situation – one little situation that i meddled in – took over my cognizance.

but the good news is that such a slide can be arrested. heck, the story of the last two years of my life is stopping a slide of foreign, negative, dysfunctional and unbeneficial thought patterns.

i think the solution looks different for everyone. often times for me, it’s one of two things: having something to do (usually getting out and working, something where there’s a really noticeable result) or just seeing people who can lift your spirits.

 

i’m in a stage of diagnostics, too – i’ve been trying to figure out how to avoid bad thinking. it’s not easy. my best guess at this point is that we have to learn to let go of being in control and/or being right. money is such a stressor because money feels like a varietal of control. arguments are stressors because it’s a way of validating “rightness.”

my least favorite fights are with people who are unwilling to have honest, thorough discussions to see where the other is coming from (and as i write this, i wonder if sometimes am the one unwilling to see where the other is coming from?) but seriously – my best friends are the ones i argue with and fight with and we can stay friends even if we feel tense and even if we piss each other off, because at the end of the day their friendship is too valuable (and they feel the same way about mine) to sacrifice in order to be right. or maybe it’s not even being right that people are after – maybe it’s being understood. for some people, being understood is worth fighting about. for others, being at peace and not fighting is worth not understanding each other for. the worst possible fights are between people whose priorities differ there.

 

anyway – i don’t really know why i’m writing today. i don’t have a point to make exactly. sometimes i think the real motivation of my writing is to capture a headspace or a mood (in this case, peace and joy and a little understanding of human interaction) and bottle it up to access later, and as always, i hope someone else can glean from it, too.

love people – money not required.

just this morning, i stumbled upon a website called moneyless.org. i found it because i was google searching “loving people without money,” not as in “how do I love people who do not have money?” but more as a question of, “how do I love people when I don’t have any money?”

it’s probably a terribly obvious question, really.

but i was faced with it when a fellow approached me on monday evening as i was walking around, telling me a story of how he and his family needed gas and if i had any money and could help out. i was hesitant to – because earlier in the day, my bank account was all but bled dry by an oil change, other car maintenance, insurance, and a water bill. i felt that if i ever had a good excuse not to give, that was the day. but i did (don’t applaud me.)

i’ve wrestled with the idea of giving money for such a long time – and so many times I’ve said no to so many people who asked for money. i don’t like giving money.

heck, i struggle with talking about generosity because it sounds so much like a horn-tooting thing to do, and i’m so insecure that any time i share an anecdote about someone who asked me for money or anything, people will perceive it as horn-tooting. i hate tooting my horn. really. promise.

anywho, so this guy asked for money on monday night. i obliged and i even prayed for him this time (something i’ve never had the boldness to do before.) then this morning, on my way to work, i got gas. a fellow outside the station asked me if i could give he and his fiancee a ride to the transit station, that she’d been in the hospital for six weeks and that they had to stay at the shelter last night. i suspected that giving them a ride to a place only a few blocks from where i was going was the least i could do, and i could afford that – i wasn’t able to oblige their need to get back to Prestonburg – but i could at least get them to the transit center. i wanted to offer something else – maybe a few bucks to cover gas or a bus for the way home, or a place to put their stuff, or a meal, etc…but i couldn’t quite reconcile the idea with my financial situation at present.

i think that the most difficult thing for me to reconcile is the idea that i have debt at present and my own financial state isn’t great. i’m developing a savings account for the first time in years, trying to make sure that when big bills roll around, i have cash on hand to take care of them, and to take steps towards financial freedom. then there’s the part where they asked if i could drive them to Prestonburg, and i knew i couldn’t because my car gets around town, but the second i get on the interstate, i risk a lot and i’m basically waiting for something to go wrong with my car.

(thanks for sticking with me this far, i’m thinking out loud this time, not really trying to make a point, at least not yet.)

what i’m about to say i don’t say to make myself feel better…in fact, in a lot of ways it may make me feel worse.

i think the bible models or lays out a way of helping people that isn’t contingent upon money, but upon genuine care and love.

Jesus sent His disciples out to preach and heal the sick and explicitly told them not to take money (see: Mark 6 and Luke 9.) in fact, He basically sent them out to be couchsurfers.

in Acts, the church lived in such a way where money and goods were shared and people weren’t ambitious to be rich – and those who did have ambition to be rich had it come back on them…hard. (see: Acts 5.)

in Acts, we have perhaps the only explicit instance of the disciples of Jesus bring asked for money, and they didn’t oblige the request for money, but they did pray, and met the beggar’s truest need – healing of his body and his soul. (see: Acts 3)

maybe the Bible has a view of the needs of people that is transcendent and much bigger than money. maybe it’s a sad truth that we use money to meet a lot of needs in our day and age. but maybe it’s true that just giving money to people is actually the cheapest form of love – it doesn’t require you exercising your faith to pray, it doesn’t require you changing your plans and giving someone a ride instead of just giving them money for gas or a taxi, or actually go to a restaurant and buy someone a meal (or giving them leftovers!)

the more i think about it, the more i think money is cheap. it’s a band-aid. it doesn’t really treat the problems people face. it can help in certain cases (medical bills, car repairs, food, etc) but as someone who’s given money to people before, I don’t really feel like I’ve helped much (and don’t get me wrong, I realize that you don’t do it so you can feel good about yourself – that’s not the point – but I feel that I’ve been genuinely ineffective.)

so where does that leave us, then?

my first thought is that maybe we should look to meet the need beneath the need. for example, maybe what people need more than a meal is to be welcomed at a table and to be talked to, interacted with, and heard. that costs a lot more than a few bucks – that costs a good few minutes, that costs putting your plans on hold for a little while while you talk to someone, get to know who they are, where they’re from, etc.

my second thought (and perhaps this is simply fundamentally incorrect) is that maybe we can’t meet every need. maybe you can’t give a ride to everyone who needs one or buy a meal for everyone who needs one or put gas in everyone’s car. perhaps the best thing we can hope for when we are approached with needs is discernment. because i’d hate to espouse such a cynical view that we never help anyone because we never trust anyone – imagine if Jesus had done that. but i (almost equally) hate the thought that we’d try to help everyone and meet every single need that we’re met with – that’s unrealistic, and it also creates a sense of guilt or sadness when we aren’t able to help.

my conclusion – to bring it back to the original question – is that i’d like to stop thinking of money as the only way of loving people. we love people with our time, with our service, with our intentionality. loving people is a long game sometimes. sometimes the best thing to do for people is to bring them into a group, to make them feel welcome, to not walk on the other side of the street when you see them coming your way.

i don’t know, though – i don’t have a conclusion here. if you’re reading this and you have thoughts on what to do when strangers ask for help – please share. it’s not the most straightforward of issues.

 

fog. ache. numbness.

i used to think that i was the only one who ever experienced mental fogs. that inability to focus on a singular idea, or really, any idea at all. or maybe it’s the inability to stop thinking about a single idea and get your mind onto something else. it comes up every so often and it’s relentless when it does – it hits me for days on end. i try to write and nothing comes out. i try to read and nothing inspires. i listen to music and nothing moves me. sometimes i wonder if it’s depression. i don’t think it’s that extreme.

but i realized that other people feel it too. so then i thought it was just something that creative people feel – the inability to get started on your work; to see the image in your head; to find the first word; to hear the first note, etc. but something about that (or perhaps it’s simply my own framing of the issue) feels terribly patronizing to people who wouldn’t consider themselves “creative.”

so i guess i’m at this point where i realize everyone has fog from time to time. and that’s okay.

the concern, really, should be if we don’t recognize it. the concern should be if we give credence to the lack of inspiration, if we don’t recognize that we’ve become temporarily blind, numb, call it what you want – whatever it is, it’s okay to wander a little bit but don’t we want it lifted?

someone famous once coined the phrase: “the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.” (a brief google search tells me this was Elie Wiesel, don’t @ me if i’m wrong.)

that’s what’s so scary to me about this feeling – it inherently carries an ache with it. it’s a numb ache. an aching numbness. the thing i hate the most about the feeling is that i feel nothing at all. and that’s alarming because i know that the worst thing any of us can do as people is to stop caring.

it’s alarming but it’s also reassuring for the same reason – i don’t feel good about feeling foggy, i don’t feel good about feeling nothing, i don’t feel good about feeling uninspired. the numbness and the ache play off of each other and it’s kind of miserable but at the same time, it helps me know that something will break it.

we hate numbness because we know that feeling is important.

feeling is important because we want to see a better world and if nothing hurts, then nothing gets better.

so we ache a little but we hurt a lot and when we hurt a lot, we love a lot and in the deepest love and the deepest hurt come the deepest satisfaction and the greatest healing, so we’re able to carry on and keep on trucking when we feel nothing at all because somehow, in this mess of inexplicable, perplexing emotion, we know that when we feel nothing, it’s a sign we should be feeling something and that keeps us going and moving on until we feel it again.

ache a little.

love a lot.

hurt a lot.

heal a lot.

make the world better and more loving.