Today’s Poem: Borrowed Angels

It’s often hard to say good-bye

We kick and cry and wonder why

But better to just give our thanks

For borrowed angels in our ranks

Souls that to us God has lent

Who with us on our journeys went

Until the time came to depart

Leaving a hole within our heart

And while we truly need to grieve

We must give thanks for love received

And finish what we’re here to do

For we are borrowed angels, too.

Work is Not Worth

When I was no longer working as a minister, I hit a downward spiral. I had to reconstruct myself without the foundation I had always had: my work. What I did became who I was, and anyone who knows that story knows it wasn’t a healthy situation.

Fast forward two years, and I have a son. I’m primarily a stay-at-home dad who does some personal training on the side. I love this boy, and I have never been as happy at a job as I am when taking care of him.

But.

When he cries or fights, when he is uncomfortable, I take it personally. I get upset and the self-flagellation begins. I feel like a failure.

In my head, I know that babies are just upset sometimes. I know you can do everything right and they will still cry. But in my gut, I still carry old “scripts” about the “job” reflecting the character and worth of a person. I still see myself in terms of how well I do things as opposed to simply valuing who I am.

This is a common problem. Lots of conversations between strangers center around what one does, as though that indicates something important about the character of a person. A person’s success is measured by their job, their education, their pay, their achievements.

On the surface, this makes sense. We humans like to quantify things for the purposes of comparison. This is great for buying cars, but it’s a lazy, cruel practice when it comes to relating to each other.

So at this point, my personal work is going to center on valuing myself. I, Jordan, matter because I exist, and not because I am the perfect father, husband, writer, or trainer. I am far more than the sum of my accomplishments or failures.

The same is true for you.

Peace be with you!

Leaving Self-Harm Behind

TRIGGER WARNING: THIS POST DEALS WITH A SENSITIVE TOPIC RELATED TO SELF-INJURY DISORDER

My habit of hurting myself started young. Emotions became too intense or unfamiliar and I would hit myself, usually on the head. I had received messages of being bad, and bad kids deserve to be punished, so I would punish myself in a twisted attempt to become a better person. On top of this, I was taught certain emotions shouldn’t be expressed, so an entire range of feelings became unrecognizable and overwhelming to the point that I could only vent them in anger and misery.

Interestingly enough, this behavior didn’t make me a better person. As I punished “the bad kid,” I settled more into his role. Destructive relationships and behaviors became the norm, even as I was able to put forward a clean image when it mattered. Eventually, as an adult, those behaviors cost me a career, a sense of calling, and my sense of self at the time.

Now some might have let things end with that loss, but I was fortunate enough to have the support and access to help that enabled me to put some of my personal demons to rest. My behavior improved and I thought I was making real headway… Until my son was born.

Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled to be his father. I love taking care of him full-time, with some part-time personal training to help pay the bills. I have found, however, that those feelings of not being good enough, that self-perception of being broken and inadequate, were all just waiting for a time to resurface. They did so with a vengeance.

I never hurt my son. Ever. But the hitting started again, and this time I have a couple of knots on my head to show for it. Fortunately, I have an amazing therapist who I was able to see yesterday morning for what became the most powerful step in my healing process that I have encountered thus far.

The thing is, Self-Injury Disorder is far more common than we’d like to think. Maybe you don’t hit yourself. Maybe it’s cutting, burning, scratching, breaking bones, or pulling hair. Perhaps you emotionally wound yourself with harsh words or thoughts, refusing to see the good in yourself but harping continually on any mistake you make. Some of us refuse to take compliments, berate ourselves, put ourselves in abusive relationships, or isolate ourselves from any intimacy, no matter how much we might want it.

My point is that even if you don’t fall within the most commonly held extremes, there is a good chance that you are not loving yourself the way you should. Many of us find creative ways to hurt ourselves, all because we learned somewhere along the way that we are undeserving of love.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

In my session, I was asked to describe the hurt I carry. How heavy is it? What color? Where is it located? Finally…

What shape does it take when you picture it on the couch?

It was my 6-7 year old self. It was a little boy with dark brown hair, bright blue eyes, and a sad smile.

I was asked to talk to this boy. He was asking why he was being hurt. I told him that sometimes those who are hurting hurt others, but it’s not his fault. I was asked what I would do or say. I hugged him and just held on, as words didn’t seem necessary. I was asked how he responded. He cried and settled into me, and I told him it was okay to cry.

I told him I loved him, and I let him go. He needed to go be himself, knowing he wasn’t alone.

At the end of the session, my therapist asked if I would ever hit that boy.

I had never thought of things this way. I’m not big into such exercises, but this one got to me. I would never hurt my little boy, no matter how much trouble he got into. I don’t want to hurt anyone, so why does it make sense to hurt myself?

It doesn’t.

If I truly want to be a good person and live a good life, I can’t keep punishing myself for being human. I’ve made mistakes, many of them, but so has everybody else. It’s okay to feel things, intense things. It’s okay to not be okay, but if I have a habit of treating myself as “bad,” then my behavior will mirror that perception. The time has come for me to change the script of my life and understand that all I can do is be the best person I can be in every moment, and that is going to have to be enough.

I didn’t write this to give you some quick fix for your issues with self-injury, and I certainly haven’t been “cured.” I simply wanted to share my story thus far and let you know that you’re not alone. We all have something we need to heal, to make peace with, so that we can live happier, more fulfilling lives. I’ve decided to get help and make this cycle end with me. This won’t be something I pass on to my little boy, and I hope you will take steps toward wholeness for yourself.

There is no shame in telling a friend or family member what’s going on. If they make you feel ashamed, they weren’t much of a real friend/relative anyway. There is no shame in seeking professional help from your clergy, a counselor, or psychotherapist. There is no shame in therapy, medications, coping strategies, or other forms of self-care.

The only shame would be if you kept yourself from experiencing the beautiful soul you already are.

In my spirituality, you are precious and worthy of love because you exist. There is nothing to earn, punish, or harm that will make you more lovable because you yourself, as you are, are a beloved creation and a beautiful part of this world. The only thing left is to get the help needed to help you understand this basic, fundamental, and powerful truth. It may seem daunting, but rest assured that you’re not alone, and there is always hope.

Peace be with you!

** If you are having thoughts of harm or suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255; if you need immediate help, call 911. Don’t wait.**

 

 

 

The Cost of Change

Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.Hebrews 9:22, NRSV

Yeesh, this is a verse that is uncomfortable for a lot of people. The Letter to the Hebrews itself is often a bit… shaky to those uncomfortable with “bloody sacrifice” language who assume Jesus’ life and teachings remove the need for such things. I find, however, that if we look beyond the means of expression we will find a wise and necessary teaching.

If you have ever tried to change… anything, you know that it isn’t easy. Whether it’s a move, a job switch, or *shudders* personal growth, the process of transitioning from one state of being to another can be uncomfortable, if not painful. Imagine, then, the difficulty involved in seeking to live a Godly life, a life beyond our own needs and desires, a life like that of Christ. To change from an inherently selfish way of being (taught and encouraged by the world) to one that is more selfless isn’t easy.

It costs something.

The sacrificial culture of ancient Judaism wasn’t about a disdain for animals or the need to see gallons of blood every day. To sacrifice a living creature to God for purification, for one’s sins and those of the community, sent a clear message about the gravity of our choices. Sin costs life. Holiness requires giving up sin.

While we may not need to spill a poor goat’s blood to bear this in mind (yaaay), it’s a message that is worth repeating. We see movies, read books, and hear stories about people who seem to gracefully and inspiringly turn their lives around. We know we have aspects of our lives that deny who God created us to be, and I believe many of us want to make the changes necessary to be a more faithful, compassionate, kind, and positively productive version of ourselves. There’s just one hiccup.

It’s hard as hell.

We humans fear uncertainty. We love familiarity, and we are creatures of habit. To change, even when we know it to be necessary, is a frightening prospect because the roots of who we are, the habits that define us, will need to shift, and that is not an easy ask.

But it is entirely worth it.

Jesus’ life highlights how painful it can be to seek to do the will of God in every situation. Indeed, persecution and the inevitability of walking the road to the cross make for quite the challenge. Yet the power of transformation, of the healing and resurrection that come with such a life overshadow that difficulty.

The freedom to live a life unhindered by addiction is worth the withdrawals and shadow-work needed to address one’s unhealthy coping habits.

A love life unstained by one’s relationally catastrophic past is worth the facing and acceptance of uncomfortable truths about what happened “back then.”

Leaving work knowing you positively affected the lives of others is worth the horrifying step of leaving a comfortable yet unfulfilling employment situation in search of meaning.

The peace of mind that you and/or those who depend on you are safe because you made that petrifying phone call to end an abusive situation is worth it.

Whatever the specifics, it is true that it is difficult and scary to transform your life according to God’s will for you. It means giving things up that we think we need. It means sometimes accepting unpleasant truths about ourselves or others, and it means surrendering those things that keep us from acknowledging “that of God” in everyone.

It’s also true, however, that what we give still pales in comparison to the effects of that change. To align ourselves with Christ, to walk in the way of selfless love and action, is worth the cost. His way is one of unity with the Divine and each other, and that’s something this world is in desperate need of.

Sure, we don’t have to use blood-soaked Levitical language to describe the difficulty of change. It may be enough to say that transforming into more Christ-like people is exceedingly difficult and requires that we give up certain things. But I think the severity of the author’s words in the Letter to the Hebrews is a great acknowledgment and reminder of what’s at stake in our choices.

After all, to walk in the way of Christ will cost our life as we know it, and I for one am so glad.

Peace be with you!

Balance

the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people‚Äôs weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away. — Ezra 3:13, NRSV

You’ve probably heard it a million times. “Life is about balance.” Whether it’s off-setting your diet with a cupcake, your exercise with a day of sloth-like relaxation, or your attempts at holiness with the odd swear word, it seems balance is something we appeal to more and more frequently.

When reading Ezra 3 this morning, I was struck by the last paragraph. The Israelites have returned to rebuild Jerusalem, specifically the temple. Having been in exile, you can imagine there are mixed emotions when confronted with the reconstruction of God’s house.

Many of the Israelites raise a shout of praise (3:11), while the older generations, “who had seen the first house on its foundations,” began to weep (3:12). What struck me is that this is all that is said.

No one corrects the mourners.

No one rebukes those who celebrate.

All of the emotion, whether joyous or grief-stricken, is held in a single, glorious tension. The entire mash up of sound rises on the air and simply… is.

To me, that is the balance of life.

It’s not how often you nap or do goat yoga. It’s about fully experiencing the broad range of emotion and beauty and pain that this life has to offer. To live a balanced life is to find peace in the tension between our greatest joys and deepest sorrows, knowing a well-lived life is comprised of both.

We are in a world afraid to feel, and afraid to hurt. Our culture forces down “negative” emotions in favor of the “sunny side up” approach to everything, not realizing that to paint pain as abnormal is to reinforce unhealthy emotional processing and coping mechanisms.

My prayer, then, is that we will instead accept this Scriptural representation of balance. I hope we will be bold enough to feel, to sing, to laugh, and to grieve. I hope we will decide, no matter the experience, to just “be” in it. After all, we only get one chance.

Peace be with you!

From Within

there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defileMark 7:15, NRSV

I’ve always looked at this teaching with an emphasis on the “all foods are clean” thing (Mark 7:19). After all, it means I can enjoy bacon guilt-free and it represents a shift from religious box-checking to a more transformative spirituality. But the last part… the “defilement from within” part… that didn’t truly sink in until recently.

We as humans always look to external causes for our inappropriate actions. It’s never our fault. It’s the unclean “stuff” out there that got us.

We see this when the media crucifies an assault survivor for what they were wearing; we hear it about the victim of a careless police officer for what they may or may not have been doing out so late in that neighborhood OR we see the same logic used to justify the assault on a police officer. After all, there’s this back story…

It’s never our fault.

I’ve done this in my own life. Old habits die hard, and all the more so when changing seems too scary or painful. There was always a reason, whether it be my childhood, my losses, or my depression.

We always look for external sources of trouble and salvation. We don’t want to be responsible for our mistakes because then we might be responsible for fixing them. Jesus rightly criticizes this attitude.

Agreeing with James (4:1-3), Jesus asserts that “it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly(Mark 7:21-22). Our desires and our fears produce the evil we enact in the world. Other people or situations may stimulate or add specificity to these things, but our response is ours alone.

Now this is not a guilt trip or a statement about my own perfection. I am simply indicating that this passage has taken on new life for me because I now understand that I must heal what is within rather than waiting for something from without.

When many of us entered into faith, we are taught that God is a Savior, which is true. But what often follows is the expectation that God will do it all, which is actually a blatant denial of free will. God gives us the means and awareness, and He is with us always, but to change and grow and leave behind our harmful practices is our work. We must desire it, initiate it, and see it through while relying on God’s grace to keep us moving with compassion for ourselves and each other as we all embark on our roads to healing.

For me to change, I have to want it. If any of us have habits in need of changing, it must be us that seek to enter into that process with God. God’s already where He needs to be, He’s just waiting on us to meet Him at the station.

Whatever is plaguing your life, and whatever negative habits or behaviors are manifesting in you, I pray that you will know that it is never hopeless or too late. All that you need to make the change is already with you, waiting for you to find that motivation and get started. Is it your relationship with your family, friends, or kids? Your relationship with God or yourself? Are you simply sick and tired? Whatever it is, may the grace of God light a fire within, and may we all choose to take a step into that transforming Light.

Peace be with you!