Holding out for a Hero

I can do anything, there is nothing that I can’t accomplish, I won’t fail and I don’t fail.

hero

 

That’s what I used to think, regardless of so much evidence to the contrary, I believed in myself to the utmost. It got me some good things; I white knuckled kicking alcohol out of my life, got two degrees, and a pretty decent job, and I’m a pretty good dad.  I was proud of myself and what I had done. But it wasn’t enough…

I used my skills and gifts to glorify myself and try to be a hero to all those around me, I was the go to guy, I was the problem solver, and the deal maker. I always wanted to be the fair haired boy (even as a grey haired man.) I have always genuinely enjoyed helping people especially those who were facing great challenges, but I got as much satisfaction from basking in the glory and praise. But it wasn’t enough…

I sucked up as much attention and praise as possible, when that wasn’t enough I sought out other ways to get attention with body building and exercise, with relationships, with everything. Any kind of attention, whether cheap and shallow or deep and real. But it wasn’t enough….

Part of me was in my head standing on a mountain with fists fixed firmly on hips and cape waving in the breeze… this was the person I acted like, the person I thought I had to be. But it wasn’t enough…

Because there was another person also, the one who was afraid and insecure, his green skin barely visible in the shadows, he was the one who was clawing for all the attention and affirmation, but the other guy was getting it all so it could never be enough.

I used to envision a battle between my two selves, the Hero yelling and shaking the Heel, “Why do you make me do these horrible things? Why do you ruin everything we have that’s good?”

The Heel sobs in return, “Why do you always get the credit? Why do you get the glory?

(I know at this point y’all are probably thinking, ‘whoa, little cuckoo,’ and you’re right but… not that cuckoo. I know I’m not really two people it’s just a method I learned in therapy for internal family systems….really)

Then I slipped badly, had everything going for me, and lost almost everything. It was more than the Hero could fix and it plummeted the Heel into despair. I started to suspect that rather than one evil twin, there were two. I always used to blame the Heel for lies and deceit, but it was the Hero who told the lies and lived out the deceit.  (ok. ok.  I know I’m not really two people)

The Hero was arrogant and self-sure and refused anyone’s help, the Heel lived in shame and sin and didn’t think he deserved anyone’s help. I realized that both were bad, because I was broken. The more attention the Hero got, the more shame the Heel felt, it was a vicious cycle I’ve been in for most of my life.

I’ve talked about the shame and the sin and how I let God’s love into my heart to burn away the dark and slimy shame. But I haven’t talked about the other side, what’s the harm in being confident and sure?

It depends on what you put your confidence. They say that nothing kills change like moderate success and my confidence in myself allowed me to enjoy moderate success. Not just in life but in my personal problems as well. I was able to quit drinking as I’ve mentioned and my other issues became smaller and smaller. But never were they gone, they would flare up, I’d do damage control, re-adjust my cape and move on. Each flare up resulted in a broken heart though, or at least two broken hearts only I would never take the time to feel mine, I shoved the pain down for the Heel to deal with.

The Hero never had time for pain, he was busy looking for the next adventure, seeking to glorify himself more.

What broke the cycle? I heard the sermon a couple of months after it happened, a guest minister said something in passing that hit my heart and soul, “If you don’t find humility God will humiliate you.” And that’s just what happened. I was humiliated, God used my brokenness and my sin to break me down. I had already started praying for strength to get better but I was still hiding so much and refused to let the truth set me free. I remember the prayer that did it. “God, make me one man and please take away my secrets.”  Ooops….

Guess what the best way is to take away secrets?  Yup, people found out about me and my secret life and I was torn down.  My mountain crumbled, my cape was torn away, and my hands and knees hit the ground, the hero and the heel were on the same level and finally ready to hear the next message. A bible study about David and Goliath, I had always loved this story, as I love the underdog but I had never really understood the base meaning.

I always thought that David was the hero of the story, but in Bible study that day I realized that David had no confidence in himself at all, he knew he could never beat Goliath. Still, David knew he would win.  All of David’s confidence was in God’s power and God’s strength to defeat Goliath.

So, there I was, on my knees, cape blown into a corner, I was face to face with myself (remember the twin thing?) and I realized that I am powerless without Him.

The best place to surrender is on your knees and I did just that. I prayed hard to God that I could lean on his strength to do something that I could never do on my own. I decided that I had broken my last heart, and that I can’t do anything, that there is nothing I can accomplish, and that I will and do fail without Him.  Suddenly my chest felt lighter and something bubbled up inside me. I felt free, free from the old habits and old ways of getting attention, because I knew that God would always be there for me and always love me, and it’s be enough….

When I need to remember that I can only find strength in submission and can only be lifted up when I’m on my knees I remember the following;

 

1 Peter 5: 6,7  “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

Advertisements

Forgiveness

 

tennis ballI love playing tennis; fresh air, physical activity, and intellectual strategy all come together to provide me with unlimited opportunity for humility under His name (something I always need work on.) I do love the game though and take lessons a few times a month. As I said I get plenty of opportunity for humility when I miss-hit or just flat miss a ball. There’s not much you can do when you swing mightily and wiff or watch the ball scream straight up about 60 feet other than smile, put your hand up, and murmur a sheepish, “sorry,” as the ball bounces back to earth providing punctuation for your flagrant flailing fail. The sweet coach would use her patient voice and tell me that it’s o.k. and provide feedback to correct my error and I’d move on.

On a rare occasion though I get the physical moves right, my body gets in position, my timing is right, and I get a great hit on the ball….. to the exact wrong part of the court and my opponent crushes it back at me. On one of these occasions I walked from the net scolding myself loudly, “That was  so Stupid?!?!”

The coach immediately raised her voice (which I had never heard her do before), “Hey, don’t talk to my friend like that!”

I looked around thinking, “Did she think I was talking to someone else?”

She said it again, this time softer, “Don’t talk to my friend like that…” she left it hanging and I figured it out (as I’m sure you all already have because I give my readers much more credit for intelligence than I give myself) she was talking to me. Wow, my coach who, , I didn’t know all that well was standing up to me on my own behalf. I was floored, what a kind and giant gesture that came in such a tiny package.

I realized that I can forgive others so freely as to seem like a pushover, but that I held myself to a much more rigid standard. I never felt like I could get forgiveness without some sort of acts of kindness or heroism to make up for the bad I had done. Maybe it was my Catholic (sort of) upbringing (As George Carlin said, “12 our Fathers and you’re back on the street,”) maybe it was my love of comic books where I saw Peter Parker living a life trying to make up for letting his Uncle Ben die. Who knows but I have always felt like I had to do something to balance the scales. If you ever saw my ledger you would understand what a weight that is and why I sometimes get so anxious thinking about how to make up for it.

The most welcoming thing about my old church is that every Sunday the pastor would admit, “I’m a sinner.” No holier than thou rhetoric about how he was a sinner, no finger pointing, just that he is a sinner. It made me start to feel something different about myself, I wasn’t really ready to accept it but there was a feeling in the back of my head, the dimmest of lights was starting to shine. Maybe, just maybe, we all have a ledger.

A few things hit me in a row then, I had begun to immerse myself in God’s word, I was curious and that little light in the back of my head was leading me out of a tunnel. On Netflix I switched over from “Orange is the New Black” to “The Bible” and then to “The Son of God.” I started a few different Bible studies on the Youversion Bible App (if you don’t have that get it, now… Why are you still reading? Go download the app, I’ll be here when you get back.)

Hey welcome back, the big thing that kept coming up in my Biblical Netflix Binging and the Bible app was the disciples and Jesus talking about sinners.  Luke, Mark, Matthew, Timothy (I didn’t even know there was a Timothy) and probably a few others that are left out due to my ignorance, all were saying that He came for the sinners, not the righteous. They also repeated over and over what Jesus said, “It is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick.” I was floored. Jesus died for me, not for the guy who was without sin. I realized it, the light was getting brighter, but I still didn’t really believe it, not that I was forgiven.

Then, finally when my sins had pulled almost all of my world down around me I was ready, I was broken down to my knees and sobbing and a friend asked me, “Are you ready to accept that Jesus died for your sins so that you could be saved?”

“Yes,” I sobbed, I wiped away the tears and stood up and felt good, the light was so bright in my head that it shined into my heart. I know this seems like this is the end of the story but it’s not. You all read that I was saved in my last entry (You didn’t read it yet? Go ahead and go back we’ll wait.) But I still have work.

I believe and it feels so good to believe that Jesus died for me to wash away my sins so that I could accept God’s forgiveness, but I still struggle with feeling like I need to make it up, that I need to do something to deserve it.

Enter a guy from my new church, we met for coffee and I told him my whole ugly tale (probably wouldn’t win the ugly tale contest even at church but a runner up at least. Then I told him, “At that point I finally believed that I deserved God’s forgiveness.”

He immediately pumped the brakes on my story, “Wait, did you say you deserve it?”

I had misspoken because… I get it, but the words were out there and maybe my subconscious was trying to tell me something. “Yea, that’s what I said.”

“You don’t Deserve it,” he said with quiet steel in his voice, “Nobody deserves it, but He grants it anyway.”

Why is it so hard to accept that we receive God’s grace by believing and not through acts, too easy maybe? Maybe it’s something else. I read on one of my Youversion Bible plans on recovering from sin about forgiving yourself. The devotional stated that not forgiving yourself is a form of non-belief, and that when we don’t forgive ourselves it’s like we are making Jesus die on the Cross every day for us. Ouch

The spiritual warfare that goes on in our hearts is such as this; the accuser loves us to not believe that we deserve it. The father of lies wants us to hide in our shame. Our shame and our refusal to forgive ourselves stands between us and Salvation, between us and Jesus, and mostly it stands between us and God’s love. The devil loves the dark parts of your heart so let the light in and forgive yourself.

I’m still not great at it. I’ve broken so many hearts, some more than once. I’ve done so much damage and I start to get anxious thinking, “I have to make it up to them. What can I do?” I start getting mad at myself and hating myself and saying, “How could I be such a monster? How could I have broken those hearts that trusted me and loved me? How could I be so stupid!?!?”

 

Then I take a breath and think of Jesus saying, “Hey, don’t talk to my friend like that!”

So, when I’m feeling really anxious about feeling like I need to make amends or atone for my sins to the hearts I’ve broken. I trust God, and pray to Him that he gives strength and love to those that I’ve hurt and I read the following from Phillipias 4:6,7.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

 

Not Heroic, but maybe helpful?

 

Honestly this one is tough to write and tough to confess but…. here goes.

There are so many inspirational stories out there about people who underwent great personal challenge through the power of God. Stories of people facing down poverty, slavery, rising up against deplorable situations or governments. Stories about people flowing with God’s power and doing His work to break down oppression for the greater good. My story isn’t one of those.

My story starts with shame. All of my oppression came from the inside, mine is a story of continuing to choose to sin and to continue destroy relationships and cause emotional wreckage in my wake.

For comfort I looked in the bottom of a bottle or in the arms of a woman. I always blamed what I did on things in my past or the actions of others around me, but never myself. That way I could shove the crippling guilt and shame down into a dark part of me. That part got darker and deeper until my first glimmer of hope. My daughter was soon to be born, I made a huge mistake that opened my eyes about drinking and I prayed to God, begged that I could beat back alcoholism and be the dad my daughter would need. I never drank again.

But then when the credits were rolling and the happy music was playing on my inspirational film about God’s power defeating a character flaw the movie changed to a horror picture, and out jumped the resurrected bad guy in the form of huge insecurity that would manifest as needing a metric crap load of attention from anyone who would give it in any way.

I would do dark things to get cheap approval and attention that would build my shame and make me have to do more to make myself feel better and so on. I became two people; the hero who could fix anything and was a shining example of human pride, and the heal who would hide in the shadows of my grimy self.

I became a master of lies, I could convince anyone that I wasn’t doing these things or I was just a misunderstanding, or any number of things to make my accuser think it was somehow her fault. It became easy because I had so much practice lying to myself.

Then someone courageous brought me to church, I was afraid to go and resisted and it wasn’t until my actions caught up to me in a serious way that I decided I’d better do something. I started going to church, I ramped up my self-discipline and stopped seeking cheap and easy approval and getting attention for the wrong type of actions. But I made a few mistakes; I still tried to hide what I had done (I figured, “Hey, I’m done, it’s behind me, no point in letting everyone know what a creep I was,”) I didn’t ask God for strength, and I still didn’t believe that I deserved God’s grace and forgiveness for what I had done.

God even tried to tell me to fess up, own up, and basically man up and accept the consequences. One of the first series of sermons was about running from God, we learned about Jonah and the whale. I shook my head in agreement and shouted my, “Amen!” …over my shoulder while running as fast from God as my spiritual legs would carry me. I knew my Whale was lies, deceit, and even trying to hold on to the little bits of my old habits. Then I was swallowed by the whale.

Of course right as everything seemed perfect in my life, I was on a springboard to get everything I thought I ever wanted, and it was all pulled out from under me. All because of me. That whale swallowed me whole and suddenly my outside was as dark as my inside. I wanted to die…. and so I did.

ring

On my knees, in front of others, through sobs that were equally pain, sadness, and finally relief I let my old self die and was born again through Christ. I accepted that Jesus died for my sins and that I deserved redemption and grace. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

When I accepted that infinite grace though something did change in me, I realized that I have a Father who is always watching over me, and loves me in all things. A light shined on that dark part of me and he rubbed his bleary eyes and realized that he too, is loved. I offered my shame and guilt and pledged not to misuse His gifts, the gifts that I used to glorify myself I would somehow use to glorify God. I still don’t know how I will, but I pray to follow His will and I trust that it will happen.

So, not inspirational, sad, shameful, sorrowful. I’ve hurt so many and it is tough to accept forgiveness for those I hurt, but I am trusting God to take care of those people as I trust him to take care of me. But why would I share this story? Why embarrass myself like this? Simply this, maybe there is someone out there who wants to hold God’s hand, wants to stop running from God but is afraid he or she isn’t worthy. I’m here to tell you that you are, we all are. Jesus died for us sinners, not the saints. There is none so low that God won’t stoop to lift them up.

I pray a simple prayer that I learned while listening to an amazing mother teach her daughter how to pray, “Thank God for something, ask God for something, and ask God to help someone.” Beautiful.

I thank God for His grace and for this chance to rebuild, ask Him for strength in trusting him, and I ask him to help those I’ve hurt to find joy and feel his love.

As I fight my habits of mind that lived through my rebirth and walk away from sin and towards God these words help.

Romans 16:20  “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.  The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”

 

Gone Through a Lot

IMG_9340 - Copy

I’ve gone through many books in my day. When I was at A&M I didn’t have a television so not only did I find my actual textbooks entertaining but I read about a novel a week. Other than the textbooks though, I’ve rarely read for self improvement or to gain some insight about myself…. big mistake. At any rate like I said I’ve gone through a small libraries worth of books. But this book, “Love Does,” went through me.

I got this book at Christmas from someone very special. Someone special that I failed. At Christmas when I got it I judged it by it’s cover and thought it was about love and relationships so I put it in my “read this sometime” pile and moved on.

It wasn’t until my duality and some problems that I’ve had since childhood resurfaced and I caused more emotional wreckage that I picked this book up. I realized it’s not about relationships but about one relationship, the most important relationship, our relationship with God.

This isn’t a book review but if you are interested in moving from loving God to working for God read this book. I’m not personally there yet so I’m focusing on one aspect of the book that became very important to me, and that is how the author shares the many faces of Christianity. My favorite face was the BB gun shooting childhood friend who showed him that Christians aren’t finger pointing starched shirts, or that at least they don’t have to be. It was the boy who lodged a pellet in the author’s leg that showed the path to the church and to God. It made me start to think that maybe I didn’t have to be perfect to be loved.

Let me back up a little even though I just read in a book about 25 mistakes by authors that the flashback is a horrible way to tell a story (it was number 5 I think). Over the past year I’ve had an amazing person in my life, she taught me so much about God’s grace and love. For the first time I started seeing that God is about love and forgiveness and not about accusation. I started to see that maybe a person like me who was damaged and had done so much wrong could be loved by God. I have given in to most types of sin and I was like Oscar Wilde in that, “I can resist anything but temptation.” But I thought that if I just did some good then I could make up for it and earn some love. I secretly never thought that I deserved love, mostly because I couldn’t love myself.

In stead I destroyed love because I sought it out in all the wrong ways.

I’m going to interject here a minute also (probably mistake number 12 in the writer’s book but I haven’t gotten that far yet) to admit something else about myself; I’m a crier. Since I’ve tried to be more open I have opened up the waterworks all over the place. A kodack ad, that “Christmas Shoes” country song, anything can make my eyes water and shower down the tears. My kids have now started to watch for these things and they get ready to comfort me.  A while back my son and I were watching tv and an ad came on that showed a little three legged dog at a pound, when people would walk up he would get all excited and wag his tail, but the people all kept walking past. Each time someone would approach, the poor little guy’s excitement and hope was slightly less until finally he would just sit in the back of his dog run rejectedly. Then they showed him up close, his three little legs jumping and happy as someone was scratching his ear.  Off screen you could hear the pound worker say, “I’m so glad you’re taking him home, he’s been through a lot.” Then the camera pans back to the man taking the dog and you see a veteran with a prosthetic leg and he says, “So have I.” Well of course I lost it, my son was ready and came over to hug me even through his laughter (ok I’m crying a little writing about it now also) but he was like, “Dad it’s a Purina ad!”

I am new to church and sometimes worry that people will look at me next to them and think, “Oh great that weird crying guy is here, the pastor is just talking about the pot luck diner for Pete’s sake.” But honestly I know they are welcoming and as comforting as my kids. In fact this past Sunday a friend who knows that I have stumbled mightily as I began to learn what it is to be a Christian came up to me while I was wiping a way the tears from an inspirational song to hug me and offer support and encouragement.

I know God sent her, to show me that I don’t have to do good, I don’t have to be perfect to be loved. God loves us no matter what. In my job I work with men who have committed the most serious of crimes, some of these men beg for forgiveness and I know they shall receive it. I feel my role right now is to treat them with the humanity and to see the infinite grace that God has granted them. And yet I hesitate to receive that grace myself because I don’t feel worthy.

I remind myself of that book whose cover I judged and the bb gun toting young christian who God loves, of the woman who God sent to encourage me after I fell, of the men who have taken lives for greed or passion who are seeking and deserving God’s grace and I feel stronger.

I also think of the little three legged dog from the Purina commercial and I know  that when we feel that we don’t don’t deserve Jesus because we’ve “been through a lot” we have to pan back and remember, so has He, and He went through it for us.

I did stumble but God was there to pick me up and hold me in his love. When I have a setback of my own making I like to read the following;

Isaiah 40: 30,31  “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

 

I pet my Fish!

FullSizeRender (4)

Just yesterday I heard the tiny little voice of my baby girl burst out in hysterical and bubbly laughter, that laughter was coming from my little toddler daughter’s room, and soon she came bounding out of the room herself. Her giggles sounding like a thousand little silver bells as her bare feet slapped against our concrete floors. She beamed up at me as her golden curls formed a halo in the sunlight, “Dady, I pet my Fish!”

I shook myself and noticed that she was drenched (mostly her arms) and dripping on the floor. “Kiddo what?”

“Daaaaaddyyyyy,” she was already learning the overly patient tone she takes with me, “I pet my fish.” More giggles exploded out of her in such a rush that I was carried away in their current, and soon I was shaking with laughter also, “Well, ” I gasped between guffaws, “Did he like it?”

She squeezed her soaking arms together and stomped a foot, “Yes!” She had just gotten the fish as a reward for using the potty for the first time. Sure, the potty was on the back porch so that she could… well, go, “Outside,  just like Lion King Daddy!” Her mother was a little mortified (but not as mortified as she’ll be when she reads this, it’s a dad’s job to embarrass his daughter though) but we had made a promise so we went and got her a fish, and, when you’re 2 (ish) and you get a new pet, you hug it and pet it.

I swear that was just yesterday but somehow last night about 13 years flashed by (I must have hit snooze)  and today was her first day of high school. Whoa. Now, I’m an admittedly over protective dad (I get it from my mother, we didn’t have any corners or sharp objects in our house until I was about seven…teen and mom couldn’t watch my sister’s track meets because she was on the relay team and my mother couldn’t watch her run with sticks), and as overprotective as I am I was would obviously worry about her starting high school. Visions ran through my head of all the potential dangers of high school. What if someone is mean to her? What if she doesn’t meat a deadline? What if she gives her heart so someone who doesn’t deserve it? What if she gets a B? (I tell my kids that I never got a B all through high school, luckily they haven’t asked yet if I ever got an A)

Here’s the deal though, all of those things are going to happen. And in these times we have to trust our kids and trust that we’ve taught the right lessons and that our kids will be strong enough to take on bullies and broken hearts and even B’s. There is a greater trust though, one that is essential, and that is trust in God. As over protective as I am I offer my fear up to God and I trust that he will challenge us in ways where he needs us to be stronger, and in ways that will bring us together. My baby will go through things that I can’t fix or even understand, but she is tough and I trust God’s plan and love Him for being a protective Father that still knows we have to risk to live and grow.

So when my baby texted me this morning to say she was on her way, I prayed (well first I cried but then I prayed) that God would give her the strength and the wisdom to navigate her classes and classmates. I also said a little prayer that as she grows and matures, last week she told me that I have to learn to love myself before I can truly love someone else…. I’m workin’ on it kiddo, but I prayed that as she grows into a woman she keeps some of her whimsy and silliness and continues to be the kind of person who would still “pet the fish!”

When I’m feeling anxious and need to remind myself that God’s got it, I remember  John 14:27- Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.