Thursday, February 27, 2014

But I Don't Want To!: A Lesson in the Discomfort of Grace

If you look up the definition of grace online, you get at least 4 different definitions. Grace can be a verb ("She graces our presence often"), a noun ("His smile was coupled with an undeniable grace"), an adjective ("They were very graceful dancers"), or an often misunderstood principle (defined as "cheap grace" in an article here by John MacArthur).

So what is grace? Well, it's all of the above, and MORE.

Everyone has been used and abused by people in life. EVERYONE. It's not fair, it hurts; it makes us angry, sad and sometimes causes us to desire revenge. Or, if you're anything like me, you just want to cut yourself off from whatever or whoever caused the pain and abuse.

I have had two events this this months (in the last two weeks, actually) that have left me hurt and clinging onto the Lord for his Peace and Strength:

1. The first event was an accident. I was babysitting for a family, and water was spilled all over my computer, rendering it useless. I explained to the parent that it had been an accident, but that I was gonna need a new computer. She was very apologetic, then asked me to look around for how much the cost of repairing it would be. I responded in kind, along with prices of what it would cost to get it repaired. Turned out that it would be cheaper to buy a new computer than get it repaired. I asked for $600. She came back very aggressively, telling me that I was "crazy if [I] thought [she] was just gonna write [me] a check for $600." She wanted to do her own checking, and I completely understood. We talked more on the phone, and I explained to her that I was not trying to deceive her (she had mentioned being taking advantage of in the past, which I kind of expected after seeing her reaction to me), but that my once functioning computer was now useless. It was an accident and very unfortunate, but these were the facts. She told me she would give me the price of what my computer would be worth if it was working. I despaired. How was I supposed to buy a new computer (and replace all my lost work) with the cost of a 5 year old computer? I knew then and there that I was out at least $600. Unemployed, with no money to replace a tool that I used almost exclusively to find work.

2.The second event was mostly unprofessional and disrespectful. I  was in contract negotiations for a new job. Having been jobless for almost 5 months now, I was over the moon but trying to keep my feelings out of it (I get my hopes up WAY too often and then I come plummeting into a depressive fog when things don't work out). We were about a week into negotiations, my terms had been met, and I emailed the family to thank them for being flexible with the pay (they came up $5/hr!); I was excited to work with them. All we needed to do was get together, sign the contracts, and get to work. I sent my last email on a Thursday. We had discussed finalizing things by Saturday and meeting for my first day (as well as signing the contract) on Monday. I never heard back from them. I emailed them, no response. I texted them, and they told me I would be hearing back from them soon...I never did. Monday came and went, and here we are on Thursday, still having heard nothing from them and honestly not expecting anything either.

Both of these events were pretty hard blows. I am now out a computer, and not even close to landing a job. In my last post I addressed my bouts with depression. These events definitely had the potential to do so. I cried...alot. I talked with my dad about everything, and expressed how I was feeling. Being the wonderful man that he is, he encouraged me to show grace to the people who had done me wrong. Being raised as a believer, I knew exactly what he meant. For those of you reading this who are not believers, let me explain you a thing ;)

Grace to the followers of Christ is a discipline. It's the idea of "loving your enemies" and "doing good to those who wrong you." It sucks. It is everything that you don't want to do when you've been wronged. It's more than the Golden Rule, it's about going beyond yourself and your's the ultimate gift. The gift that Jesus exemplified when He died for all us.

I wanted nothing more than to berate the people who used and abused me this month. I wanted to just stop and pull away from the family whose son accidentally ruined my computer; to call the family that stopped negotiations without a word and tell them how disrespectful they were in doing things the way they did.

And let's be honest: I have a right to be upset. I was used. I had been treated wrongly. But that's the point, isn't it?

In MacArthur's article, he sights many verses that serves as definitions of grace, but Luke 6:27-36 (NIV) was the clearest to me:

"27 "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."

Pretty straight forward in theory, right? Sucky to actually have to act it out.

So how did I react to the two events?

Well, I very reluctantly (even though I knew it was the best and right thing to do in the situation) called the mother of the boy who ruined my computer and told her not to waste her time. My computer was not worth anything, and I had a computer that I could borrow (thanks, Dad!) until I could afford to buy a new one. I also told her that our working relationship was way more important to me than money (that was definitely the hardest part since I honestly didn't want to ever see her again). She gave me a check for $120 and I have worked for her since then. It was awkward the first time I saw her, but she was obviously impressed by the grace I showed her (even though she probably wouldn't call it that) and she even overpaid me to show her appreciation.

I never tried to contact the other family further.

At the end of the day, I know I acted in accordance to the Scriptures and how the Lord calls me as a believer to act. It was uncomfortable, but I fully trust my Heavenly Father, and I know that all these hard knocks are good things that are ultimately shaping me into a person that society can handle.

Just kidding.

Not really.

Peace and love to you all!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Musings from Mary Oliver

Hello, all! Welcome to my blog.

To those who know me, it is no surprise to hear that the past four months of my life have been incredibly difficult. I have battled depressive episodes, a lack of vision, and an overall feeling of loneliness. I have no doubt that I will be tempted to endure many of these seasons in has proven that once you've experienced one bout of depression, it is very likely that you will again. And let's face it, we all know someone who is constantly plagued with these battles.

I refuse to be one of those people, though. I am slowly but surely scraping my way out of the Chasm of Misdirection and Loneliness. I am taking steps in the right direction. I am making my way to some sort of starting point. (Some would argue that I'm already at the starting point). I look forward to being able to look back on my 23rd year of living and saying, "Man, that was a painful time in my life. But you know what? I am so much stronger because of it." Sounds cheesy, yes, but it also incredibly relevant to anyone you meet...try and ask someone if you don't believe me.

So what does one do when they are feeling down? When they have cried their eyes out, or even worse, are so numb that they are unable to cry in the first place?

I myself am a big prayer, and I would encourage you to try it if you haven't before. To me, there is no relief like feeling the Lord's arms around my body. The cold breeze I always sense when I am deep in prayer, seeking the Lord and asking the Holy Spirit for his direction.

Poetry is also a grand way to gain some relief. I've always enjoyed reading poetry, but I never fully appreciated it's purpose and power until now.

Recently, a dear friend of mine handed me two books of poetry (whose titles escape me, I apologize) by Pulitzer Price-winning poet, Mary Oliver. Visible from the top of the books were fragments of neon-colored Post-It notes; my friend had selected poems that she felt would be encouraging to me (what an awesome friend, eh?). You will find these poems below. Most of them are just a few highlighted stanzas, but one of them, The Journey, is the full text.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
(final stanza)

Whoever you are, not matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh
and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Humpbacks by Mary Oliver
(final verse)

Listen, whatever it is you try
to do with your life, nothing will
ever dazzle you like the dreams 
of your body,

its spirit
longing to fly with the dead-weight bones

toss their dark mane and hurry
back into the fields of glittering fire

where everything,
even the great whale,
throbs with song.

The Journey by Mary Oliver
(full text)

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice-
though the whole house
began to tremble 
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though the melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds, 
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world, 
determined to do
the only thing you could do-
determined to save
the only life you could save.

I hope these encourage and inspire you as they did me. Thank you for reading this post. Not all of my updates will be this deep, but it's always good to hit the ground running, and I hope that this lifted your spirits.

Have an absolutely wonderful day.