Several weeks ago, my son came home devastated because one of his close friends told him that his parents didn’t want him to be friends with my son anymore. To the little boy’s credit, he told my son he didn’t care what his parents said, he still wanted to be friends. But the damage was done. My son, who has been diagnosed with OCD and anxiety disorders, could not get it out of his mind that there was an adult out there who thought he was not worthy of friendship with their son. That he was so terrible to be around they preferred their child end a two-year friendship. And he kept saying, “But I don’t understand why.”
Honestly, I don’t either, although I have guesses. My son has had a very rough school year as we have processed new diagnoses, struggled to find the right medication, gone through testing and therapy, and experienced all the joy of pre-teen hormones that seem to throw out any predictability of the aforementioned treatments and wreak total havoc on his emotions. He has had multiple incidents at school which resulted in total meltdowns and fits as he struggled with obsessive worry and anxiety. His poor impulse control has resulted in unacceptable displays of disrespect with teachers and conflict with peers.
While I don’t know of any incidents that personally involve this boy (and I’m pretty certain I would since my son’s school is very good at communicating these things), I can only imagine this friend has gone home and relayed stories of my son’s outbursts and meltdowns to his parents and that was enough for them to decide he was not the kind of kid they wanted their son to associate with.
And that certainly is their choice. While my initial reaction when my son told me was heartache mixed with a healthy dose of anger, time has softened my heart and I am left with just sadness. Sadness that my son has so much he is struggling to overcome and how aware he is that he is different from the other kids. Sadness that he feels ashamed of his differences and worries what other people think of him. Gut-wrenching sadness that in the hardest moments he has cried out to us and to God saying he wished he was no longer here on this earth. It’s really more than a mother’s heart can bear some days.
This past week’s events in Charlottesville have hit a little too close to home. We live just 100 miles, or less than 2 hours away. It’s a town I’ve been to many times. A quiet college town nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Not a place I would expect to see as the location for hate-fueled violence and death.
But it did happen. And it’s a wake-up call for me that there is no place immune to the dark nothingness of bigotry and hatred that infects our world, our country.
I realize that my generation is not the first to witness the fear-mongering and anger that leads to racism and division. But we are the first to see how technology and social media have become a new kind of fuel with the power to fan the flames of hate, causing them to spread further, faster. And as absolutely terrifying as the ones who stand on street corners, boldly shouting their hate-filled rhetoric, or drive their cars into crowds of people for no reason other than they disagree, it’s the people who sit on the other side of their computer and phone screens shouting and cursing and bullying that scare me even more.
Emboldened by the perception of a thin veil of anonymity Twitter and Facebook become a playground of lines drawn in the sand where groups gather on one side or the other and loudly condemn anyone who thinks differently from them. Everyone is put into a group. We are an “us” or a “them”. You are with us or against us. And if you are a “them”, oh boy you are everything that is wrong with this world. You are stupid, blind, naive, evil, a bleeding-heart liberal, a crack-pot conservative, just plain wrong. You are worthy of every curse-word in the book.
And the war cries go out in 130 characters or less, and the troops rally. Friendships are ended at the click of the “unfriend” button. There is no room for respectful debate or common ground. This is where it begins. It is the slippery slope toward bigotry and hatred.
Because as soon as we, any one of us, are able to look down on our neighbor and elevate ourselves — as smarter, freer, better, more enlightened, shrewd, or reasonable — we have placed a foot over the line of intolerance; taken a step closer to fanaticism.
The only thing worthy of our intolerance is hate.
While we absolutely should and must speak out against hate, we also have to guard our hearts and tongues lest we allow the dark nothingness to seep into our words and relationships. None of us are immune to the shadows of hatred, or a heart hardened by anger.
“…Anyone who does not love remains in death.Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters…Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:14b-18, NIV)
What happened in Charlottesville this past weekend is horrifying and unacceptable. That level of hate and anger can only come from those who belong to the evil one (1 John 3:12). If we declare that we belong, instead, to the Almighty Father then we must reside in love. Therefore, let us speak only truth and love, being cautious of what we say, post, tweet, or comment, but let us protect our hearts from the enemy by refusing to judge, discriminate, or look down on others. Jesus calls us to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters, not try to elevate ourselves above them.
But most of all let us love with our actions. If you are appalled by the hatred and violence happening across this country; if you are worried about the future legacy we are leaving for our children; if you are concerned about the quality of people in leadership positions, get up and do something to spread love. Write your elected officials, volunteer at a local hospital or first-response unit, donate to the Virginia State Police Association Emergency Relief Fund in memory of the fallen officers, pray for the families of those who were killed, speak to your children about acceptance, tolerance, and love.
Close your laptop, and power-off your phone. Sit face-to-face with someone who thinks differently from you. Buy them a cup of coffee and have a real conversation. Stop trying to decide who is an “us” or a “them” and instead let it be we who come together to trample condemnation, judgement, anger, and fear.
It’s been nearly 21 years since our fist date…officially together for more of my life than not. It’s crazy to think about. Last week I was thinking about what I wanted to say about 17 years of marriage with the only man I’ve ever loved. I had this nice story I was going to tell about the antique rocking chair he gave me when our first child was born, how it’s been broken and repaired, much like our marriage over the years. A sweet analogy, but I’ll have to save it for another time.
Because everything changed for me on Monday when I got the call from my husband that he was on his way to the ER. And then three hours later the text that they were admitting him.
He’d had a stroke.
I was in the middle of teaching a class when I read those words on my phone. To be completely truthful I hadn’t expected it to be anything serious. He’d started experiencing numbness on his left side two days earlier, but since he had absolutely no other symptoms we thought it might be related to a recent surgery on his elbow and didn’t worry too much. Then Monday, when the numbness hadn’t gone, he went to the clinic at his work and his blood pressure was through the roof.
That’s when they sent him to the ER.
Even at that point, while I was starting to get more concerned, I really didn’t think it could be anything too serious. Because until it happens to you, you don’t believe it will.
He’s only 43 and he’d had a stroke. The only person I ever remembered having a stroke was my grandpa but he was sick from before I was born. Strokes only happen to elderly and very sick people, didn’t they?
As I made arrangements with my boss to end my class early and jumped in the car to start the painfully long drive from Centreville to Winchester there was one thought that kept going through my mind: Does he know?
Does he know how much I appreciate everything he did for me the last two weeks?
Does he know how his presence comforts me?
Does he know how much I respect him and admire him for all that he’s overcome?
Does he know how much I need him in my life?
Does he know how much I love him?
Because the thought that plagued me and left a knot in my stomach was that I couldn’t remember if I’d said these things lately.
We’re pretty generous with the “I love you’s”, the hugs and kisses, and even the occasional cheeky text message. But they are scattered among lots of “did you remember to buy the milk?”, “have you seen the scissors?”, and the ever-popular, “what do you want to do for dinner?” So sometimes the other things seem to get lost in the shuffle. Sometimes you say and do those things every day and you wonder if the intent behind them is truly felt. Had I sat him down, looked in his eyes, and said how I really felt about him lately?
I thought about the night before and how we’d had a tense conversation about finances. It wasn’t an argument, but let’s suffice to say that there was frustration felt on both sides. While we hadn’t gone to bed angry, I couldn’t fathom the idea that that would be our last real conversation.
Oh God, please, don’t let that be the last thing we ever talked about.
I’m not going to sit here and tell all of you how important it is to tell the people you love how you feel. To never go to bed or part angry. To set-aside differences, forgive old wounds, and restore relationships before it’s too late. It’s been said a million times by every other person who has faced a medical scare, walked away from a near-death accident, survived cancer, or lost a loved one too soon. So I won’t say it again.
Because the truth I learned this week is that until you are driving like a bat-out-of-hell on the interstate to get to a hospital room; until you are there in that hospital room waiting for test results; until you hear the word stroke, or heart attack, or paralysis, or cancer, or worst of all, “I’m sorry we did everything we could,” the reality that last night’s conversation may have been the last one doesn’t fully settle into your heart, branding itself there forever.
Until that moment we may know intellectually all that is possible, but we don’t truly feel it. We don’t believe it could be us.
I’ve cried a lot of tears this week, taken a lot of deep breaths, and said a lot of words to God. I even laid in a hospital bed next to my sweet husband and told him that if he died and left me to raise our three kids on my own I would kick his a$$ when I got to heaven. Because humor is a coping mechanism for me.
But the heart’s intent behind all of those tears, and deep breaths, and prayers, and joking was simply this: I can’t imagine my life without you in it. I don’t want to do life without you in it.
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I’m so very grateful that we get more time. That we are here today, celebrating 17 years of marriage. That today I can make sure he knows. And tomorrow, and the next day.
Because I don’t know which conversation will truly be our last, but God help me, whenever or wherever it is, I will not have to wonder again if my husband knows he is the love of my life.
Who enjoys a good love story? I know I do. Whether it’s in a book or movie, I love the experience of watching a love story unfold, it just feels good to witness that love.
When I think about some of the best love stories I’ve read or watched, there are a couple of things they have in common. And as it turns out there is actually a formula that authors and screen writers use to create the perfect love story. According to Writer’s Digest there are four crucial basics that every love story must have:
A hero and a heroine to fall in love
A problem that creates conflict and tension between them and threatens to keep them apart
A developing love that is so special it comes about only once in a lifetime
A resolution in which the problem is solved and the couple is united
Tomorrow is Easter, a day that makes up a key chapter in the greatest love story of all time. The story of a Father’s love that knew no limits.
If we look at those four basics of the perfect love story we can find each of them in the story of God’s love for us.
Number one: A hero and heroine fall in love. Of course, the hero in our story isn’t your average hero. It’s God. You might say He’s the hero of heroes. And before each of us was even born, He had already fallen in love with us. God created us specifically to be in relationship with Him and He has loved us from the beginning. Now, unfortunately we took a bit longer to recognize and accept this love. But if you are a believer, I want you to think back to when you first discovered God’s love and how you felt when you first accepted Him into your heart. And if you aren’t sure you’ve gotten there yet, that’s OK, it just means your love story is waiting to happen.
Number two:There is a problem that creates conflict and tension between them and threatens to keep them apart. Boy does our love story have this. In fact it has thousands of years of problems and conflict. But it all started in the garden when Adam and Eve chose sin instead of love. Over and over God’s people have chosen something — or someone –over Him. Often that someone else we choose is ourselves. Our own selfish desires. And if this love story were a movie or book, I imagine even the most devoted hero would have given up and moved on. But not our Hero. He continues to pursue us. He continues to forgive us. He continues to love us.
Number three: A developing love that is so special it comes about only once in a lifetime. Now this is the part of our story where we start to get closer to today’s chapter. While from the beginning God’s love for us could easily be categorized as “so special it comes only once in a lifetime”, it was really the day that God himself chose to walk on this earth in human form that changed everything. When our Hero decided that the best way to win our love was to meet us where we were, to become just like us, and tell us in His own words, from the lips of His own mouth just how much He loved us… I mean there had never been anything like it to come before, and there has been nothing like it to come since. Jesus Christ was that once-in-a-lifetime expression of love.
And so, that brings us to Number four:A resolution in which the problem is solved and the couple is united. Now remember, our conflict, the thing keeping us apart from our Hero is our own sin. So what did God do to resolve this? He made the ultimate sacrifice. He took all of our sin, nailed it to a cross and died. On a day, nearly 2,000 years ago, when the skies turned black, God looked down from that cross and said: “I love you more.”
And let’s pause for a moment and talk about passion. It wasn’t in our list, but every good love story has an element of passion in it, right? That day that God said “I love you more” and took from us the very thing that was keeping us separated? The Bible tells us that in that moment the “curtain of the temple was torn in two, the earth shook and the rocks split, and tombs were broken open!” (Matthew 27:51-52). There was so much passion in God’s love for us that at the exact moment He took away the thing that was tearing us apart, the moment He took on our sin, the whole world shook.
As beautiful of an example of love as this story is, it would be kind of a sad ending to the greatest love story of all time if it just ended there at the cross. Of course God, our Hero, doesn’t leave anything unfinished. He doesn’t leave us lost and alone, weeping in the realization of what love did for us.
He came back. He was resurrected. He made sure we knew that He was not leaving us for good; that His death was truly a resolution to what had been keeping us apart and now we could be together forever. Our Hero was raised from the dead and got up and walked among us once again so that we could hear from his very own lips these words: “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
Today we celebrate the greatest love story of all time. And you know what makes it even better? We are part of that story. We are not simply moviegoers or bystanders to this love story. We are the heroine, the bride of Christ. We have been united with our great love, with our Hero because of Easter. Because of His death and resurrection there is nothing, nothing we can ever do to make him stop loving us, to give up on us, to leave us.
Now, go and live that story, it’s the story of your life.
It’s been a hard couple of weeks to be an American, to be a human, to be a Christian. Tragedy has struck families and communities in Michigan, Louisiana, and Dallas. Innocent people were terrorized in Bangladesh and nearly 300 lives lost in Baghdad at the hands of terrorists. And I know the list doesn’t end here.
It’s easy to ask “why” and “how” when we read headlines and see videos of senseless tragedy, hate, anger and death. It paints a grim picture of the world we live in and feelings of doubt and worry over the future our children will inherit.
I know many Christians who feel the world no longer offers hope for change, or they feel things can only get worse, and they have started predicting, and even praying for, the end times.
But I’m just gonna say it out loud: I hope they’re wrong.
That my fellow Christians praying for Jesus to come back tomorrow, don’t get to see it in their lifetime. And here’s why:
In the midst of the tragedy and loss, I still see hope.
At the perimeter, in the headlines, we live in a dangerous world where evil gets center stage and every morning you hold your breath waiting to hear what horrible tragedy struck overnight. It’s hard to have faith that anything will ever change, that evil will ever be destroyed or at least slowed down.
But on the inside, below the headlines, in communities and homes and hospitals and churches, there is another story. It is a story where volunteers rally around grieving families who have lost their homes, possessions, and loved ones, providing for their basic needs.
It is a story where children are selling lemonade to raise money for cancer research and teens are spending their summer vacations serving in impoverished communities to build churches, teach the Gospel, and share love.
It is a story where marriages are being restored, friendships repaired, and forgiveness is offered in abundance.
It is a story of hurting, lost people finding healing through a community that loves and supports them in the name of Jesus Christ.*
These are the real stories I see Every. Single. Day. And I am filled with hope.
They are not attention-grabbing, headline-stealing stories. They are not even stories of hundreds of lives and hearts being changed in a single week. They are about one at a time: one life given to Christ, one heart healed, one relationship restored.
There’s an old song that we used to sing at summer camp every year when I was kid. I’m pretty sure they still sing it.
“It only takes a spark to get a fire going.
And soon all those around can warm up from its glowing.
That’s how it is with God’s love.
Once you’ve experienced it, you spread His love to everyone.
You want to pass it on.”
On the inside, in our schools and churches, homes and communities, there is a glow, a radiating warmth. It is not extinguished in the midst of tragedy, loss, pain, and anger, but rather it becomes a beacon of light and promise.
Because a candle burns brightest in darkness.
And there are so many who are called and driven, with a sense of urgency, to spread that light, not because of their own desire or goodness, but because The Light is so brilliant it cannot be contained.
There are more lives yet to be touched, healed, warmed, welcomed, comforted and loved. There is still so much work to be done. I believe God is entrusting us, using us to do more for Him before it is all over.
And I am filled with hope for the future.
*The examples in this post are based on real people and events I have witnessed in just the last 6 months.