Living Out Forgiveness

Living Out Forgiveness

We live in a world where racial reconciliation and bridge building should be at the forefront of what we do. In this story, we see how it’s often the victim that serves to enlighten (and hopefully change) the aggressor. We also see how modeling Christ and extending forgiveness can lead to being cast out and dismissed by your peers.

At the time Mr. Jones found himself being physically assaulted, he probably didn’t think that experience could be used for something positive. Yet God always takes our pains, burdens, and hardships, and uses them for His glory in a beautiful way. Mr. Jones glorified God by living out forgiveness, and we’re all made better by hoping to follow in his example.


jones
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CTRL+Z

CTRL+Z

As part of National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo), I am taking part in a daily blog post challenge through the BlogHer website. Today’s prompt:

If you could redo one moment in your life, what would it be and why?
How would it change who you are now?


I’m a technology geek. It’s partly a result of working in IT for the last twenty-two years. If you’re not familiar with the keyboard command that is the title of this post, CTRL+Z is how you ‘undo’ a command on most computer applications.

Copied and pasted text into the wrong section of your term paper? CTRL+Z. Deleted the wrong graphic from the presentation that’s due in ninety minutes? CTRL+Z. Realized you applied the wrong formula to your financial spreadsheet? Well, CTRL+Z won’t help you there, but whiskey will.

ctrlz

But in all seriousness, today’s prompt is asking what moment in my life I’d most like to CTRL+Z. I wrote last week that I do not believe in the concept of no regrets. Regrets are healthful experiences that, when you step back and look at the fabric of life, allow us to progress as a civilization. I know that’s a weighty statement, but it’s one I find to be true.

There is nothing wrong with making a mistake so long as we learn from it, and in my life I have made many mistakes and I have lots of regrets. Not every mistake has lead to a Disney-esque lesson learned, and not every regret has been life-altering in the direction of betterment. Still, when I look at the road map of decisions that have brought me to where I am today, I see some glaring moments at which I could’ve been better, as well as some ‘what if’ bubbles that rob me of sleep from time to time.

To deliberately sound cliché, I wouldn’t change any of it.

I am experiencing my current life because of God’s divine grace, and because of the decisions, both good and bad, I made over the years. The pattern being; when I was prayerful and surrendered my burdens to Christ, I was blessed with good decision making. In those times I stepped away from God and tried to do life on my own terms, the bonehead moments were plentiful.

Yet our human nature, one that is sinful and proud, which by extension makes us innately greedy for comfort and ease, enjoys harping on those times in our past that slowly eat away at us. It’s the enemy whispering in our ear, “if only” or “what if.” We can’t undo the past, but God can undo our sins. In fact, He already has through His son Jesus Christ. All we have to do is ask Him to forgive us.

So as easy as it would be to say I wish I could undo that time in my life when I had an affair that cost me my first marriage, I use that experience in order to be a better husband in my current marriage. When I think about how I wish I would have been less hard on my kids, I allow myself to feel pride at how wonderful and respectful my children, now young adults, are. That homeless person I ignored on the street out of some meritless sense of fear? I let it serve as a reminder that fear is not from God and that I should be a badass like Jesus was.

If we could undo those moments that make us feel pain and regret, how could we possibly grow as human beings? And if we had no pain and regret, how could we appreciate the beauty that is the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We put too much focus on the CTRL+Z when we should be putting all our effort into the CTRL+S.


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Learning to Let It Go (Repost)

Learning to Let It Go (Repost)

As part of National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo), I am taking part in a daily blog post challenge through the BlogHer website. Today’s prompt:

What is the greatest discovery you have ever made?

The following is a re-post of my blog entry from October of 2011.

“Que pena.” Being from Miami, it’s a phrase I grew up with a lot. It translates to “what shame” or “how shameful”, and it’s the keystone to cultural behemoth that is Hispanic Catholic guilt.

I grew up in an environment in which many things were done not so much out of genuine desire, but rather out of the need to not look bad. Family politics, neighborhood hierarchy, school/church perceptions; they all helped steer the actions – and reactions – of my family circle.

As I think about this week’s topic for Random Writers – What is the greatest discovery you have ever made? – I see how it’s so easy to get caught up in appearances, and how the focus on façade is not unique to any one region, religion, or demographic. Rather, I think it’s part of our innate human desire to avoid the feelings that come with embarrassment or shame. Just like we don’t deliberately seek out activities that will cause us physical pain – “Hey, let me put this marshmallow that’s on fire in my mouth!” – we also look to avoid those circumstances which feel us leaving humiliated.

What I’ve learned over the years is there’s a great sense of liberation that comes from letting go of shame, and it ties into what I wrote about dealing with people who don’t believe in you. In my opinion, if you’re not an important aspect of my life, then I don’t really care what your opinion of me is. Therefore, if you think what I am wearing is tacky or doesn’t match, then that’s your problem to deal with. You think I’m making a fool of myself in public, well then I’m sorry you feel that way. You don’t like how I spend my time and money, then just be happy it’s not your time or your money.

Don’t get me wrong. Etiquette, decorum, and basic classiness are important elements of our society. You don’t want to be cutting jokes and making a ruckus at a memorial service. And even if you’re the type to 100% not care what other people think, there are definite consequences for employing that philosophy. Still, there is a sense of freedom and personal satisfaction in doing something the way YOU want to do it and not because your mom or your teacher or your significant other wants you to do it that way.

expectations

The weight of other people’s perceptions and expectations can be suffocating. So, too, can lack of forgiveness. Something else I’ve discovered on this often random but never purposeless journey we call life is that as important as it is to let go of shame, it’s equally important to let go of hurt. You think the idea of being okay with making a fool of yourself in public is hard, try forgiving someone who’s hurt you? It can sometimes feel downright impossible.

To me, forgiveness is like a bolt cutter. This specific bolt cutter, however, requires two cuts in order to work properly. We use this tool to release ourselves from the wrongs we’ve committed, which are attached to us at the ankle like a dead weight. We use it again to let go of the times we’ve been wronged, which are shackled to us at the other ankle.  This weight pulls us under and drowns us. We can’t cut just one and be released from what is dragging us down. Instead, learning to accept the forgiveness of others is the first cut. We learn through example, and we must then take the bolt cutters and forgive those who have hurt us. Only then can we rise to the surface and truly take in a deep breath of fresh air.

let-it-go

I like to think I’ve learned a lot in my lifetime so far, and every day brings a new discovery. Yet, learning to live life according to my own expectations has allowed me to better enjoy life. More importantly, learning to forgive has allowed me to better grow as a person. I think Zac Brown said it best; “You keep your heart above your head and your eyes wide open / So this world can’t find a way to leave you cold / And know you’re not the only ship out on the ocean / Save your strength for things you can change / Forgive the one you can’t / You gotta let ‘em go.


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Frankly, My Dear …..

Frankly, My Dear …..

As part of National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo), I am taking part in a daily blog post challenge through the BlogHer website. Today’s prompt:

If you could be completely honest with no regrets, what would you say and to whom?


As a Christ follower, I do not believe in the concept of no regrets. Regrets are essential to keep us grounded and connected to all human beings with whom we interact. In the same way our nervous system protects our bodies (the feeling of heat helps keep us from being burned), I believe the ability to feel regret mirrors that function for our souls. Regret requires us to be critical and thoughtful with our actions and decision making so as to not hurt others or even ourselves.

All that being said, I am torn at the question in today’s prompt. I immediately think about the darkest time in my life, and how I would react then versus how I would react now if given the opportunity to confront face the person whom I hold held responsible.

Bobby Cox
Thinking of you *used* to make me want to go full-on Bobby Cox.

Being eleven years removed from my personal rock-bottom, and having lived a wonderful, God-restored life since then, I’ve been able to both grant and receive forgiveness and, for the most part, not look back. Still, there is something healthy – in a cathartic kinda’ way – to go through the motions in my mind of lashing out at those who’ve hurt me.

Still, in the end, His instructions as dictated by His word always ring true. As a result, I think my exercise for this prompt goes something like this.


“I’ve been waiting a long time to tell you this to your face. I haven’t seen you since you hurt me, and now it’s my turn to do the same!”

Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. – Luke 6:28

“You looked me in the eyes and told me time and time again that you would be there for me. And when push came to shove, you weren’t.”

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. – Colossians 3:13

“I gave up everything for you. I changed my whole life for you. I made you my priority above everything else.”

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. – Matthew 6:33

“We were perfect together and you ruined everything!”

The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. – Romans 8:6

“You left me there, all alone and by myself. You left me there shattered, and you didn’t even look back.”

Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. – Psalms 30:2


The moral of the story is clear. For every angry, hate-filled, vitriolic, driven-by-revenge tongue lashing the devil urges us to deliver, God has already provided His response to us via Scripture.

We pick and choose what we say and what we reveal to whom according to our human sensibilities, but because God sees all and God knows all, we have no choice but to be completely honest with Him. When we surrender our pain to God and allow ourselves to operate in forgiveness of others, we can rest assured we’re on the path of truly living a life with no regrets.

revenge


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The Stranger

I grew up on the music of Billy Joel. His collection of songs makes up the soundtrack of my youth, and I love putting his music on in the background when I’m doing stuff around the house. It really does take me back to a good time in my life.

I was doing that today and his song The Stranger came on the playlist. I’ve listened to the song a thousand times, but today I listened to it for the first time from a completely different perspective.

Well we all have a face
That we hide away forever
And we take them out and show ourselves
When everyone has gone
Some are satin some are steel
Some are silk and some are leather
They’re the faces of the stranger
But we love to try them on

Stranger

As a Christ follower, I do believe we’re engaged in spiritual warfare every day. Our lives are in the middle of a combat zone, and we’re caught between God’s love and mercy, and the wretchedness of the enemy who will do anything to keep us away from Him. It seems like a no-brainer, right? Who wouldn’t want to be with God? But if there’s one advantage the enemy has it’s that he operates on a plain of existence that’s easily visible to our human brains (and bodies).

I struggle every day with setbacks. From the things I see to the things I do, I know they don’t honor God, but I do them anyways. Why? Because they feel good or provide instant gratification or because they’re easy and fit so comfortably into my pattern of lazy. I truly believe laziness, comfort, and convenience are all tools used by the enemy to distract us and keep us away from God. A perfect example is my being to lazy to set my alarm on Saturday night and oversleeping on Sunday morning, thus missing the opportunity to go to church. As they say, the devil is in the details.

Devil

I know the man I want to be, the man I am trying to be. I see the vision of myself five to ten years from now, living and working in a foreign country, calling God’s will my career. I then try to juxtapose that with the person I am now, with the stranger that lives inside me. The guy who still feels the impulse to flip off the idiot in traffic. The guy who has a Masters degree in the use of the F-word in conversation. The guy who struggles with thoughts of lust and sinful desires (darn you, yoga pants!).

Though you drown in good intentions
You will never quench the fire
You’ll give in to your desire
When the stranger comes along

Yet even though the daily battles are real, it’s still about the journey and the process of walking in faith with Jesus.  God provides so many opportunities and tools along the way to remind me of where I need grow, and to guide me in that direction. Just today I came across this article in Relevant Magazine. It was very thought provoking for me, and my takeaway was how we’re all called to be patient with each other, specifically in the context of social media and Internet comments. This is most definitely an area in which I fail daily.

The culture of hot takes and instant Facebook statuses isn’t exactly conducive to the idea of being “slow to speak and slow to become angry,” but it does provide an opportunity to show grace, humility and kindness. We can demonstrate that the way of the Gospel is different than the way of the world by not being quick to respond with biting takedowns every time something happens that “offends” us.

Then I received an email from my friend. In it, he detailed his recent struggles and how he’s closer to God as a result. My friend’s troubles are real and serious. They’ve cost him a lot, both financially and emotionally. It was a sobering reminder of how blessed I am, and why there’s no reason for me to not overcome my burdens when I see what he’s done (and continues to do) to overcome his. The summary excerpt of his message is below.

This entire experience has reminded me that God can work in our lives. We need to understand that He knows what’s best, and trust Him. I pray daily that God helps me avoid situations and feelings that would tempt me … . I am at peace with what happened, and know that God will get me through the rest of what I need to deal with. … When it’s time, God will provide. I know this now. I’m not happy about it but I understand what I need to do, and I know that I’m not alone. And, the reality is that what I have far, far outweighs what I don’t have – God, family, love, friends, and faith. With these things, I am able to face anything.

The word’s to Billy Joel’s song and from my friend’s email are a reminder of our human nature. We’re imperfect beings loved unconditionally by a perfect God. We will fall and He will pick us up. We will fail and he will forgive us. We will be broken and He will transform us into something beautiful.

Though He may seem, to us, like a stranger at times, God knew us and loved us before He created us. He is intimacy and He is love. When the weight of the battle feels like too much, all we have to do is surrender it to Him, the one who’s been there from the start, and will always be by our side.

Being There

These last several weeks have had me reassessing the relationships in my life. My wife’s surgery left her physically limited for a period of time, but it brought us closer together as a result. My kids spending an entire week with me full time as their mother was out of town allowed me to appreciate anew the young adults they’ve become, and how much I cherish my time with them. Throw in the Thanksgiving holiday, and it’s been, for the most part, a re-evaluation of the priority people in my life.

I received from a dear friend a copy of the notes she took at church leadership meeting, and many of them have hit home in terms of this season in which I find myself. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Life is not measured by collection but connection.
  • Fullness only comes from connected relationships.
  • No matter how much potential my device has, if it goes dead, it’s worthless.
  • A church can be full of people, but without chargers, the church is dead.
  • We don’t have to be perfect. We aren’t the charge.
  • God only wants to know if you’d be willing to be a cord, to connect people.
  • God uses us broken folks to connect those needing His power.
  • What a blessing to be able to connect with someone from our own vulnerable places. He isn’t looking for us to be the solution, just the connection.

I know I am far from perfect, and my life is a continuous journey in search of daily betterment. In looking back on the road I’ve traveled, I clearly see the mistakes I’ve made and the lessons I’ve leaned along the way. More importantly, I see they are not without value and opportunity. My mess ups serve as an example and reminder to others that through God’s grace, we can overcome the weight in our lives, a weight that oftentimes seems insurmountable.

God uses us broken folks to connect those needing His power.

I was at dinner recently with my cousin and her husband. They were in town visiting, and we had the chance to sit together and get caught up on life. As we started going back to stories from our respective pasts, we realized there was so much about each other we didn’t know. We were connecting new dots in the fabric of our relationship, and helping each other as a result. My pains and anguishes from the past help put into perspective some struggles they were facing, and vice versa. We were there for each other, connected in God’s presence, learning from His plan for all of us.

It was no accident that happened. I’ve always maintained that coincidence is God showing off, and God wanted us to come together in that moment to connect, to be a resource to one another in terms of how we overcome the challenges in our lives. The answer, of course, is His love and mercy. Still, we need to be reminded of that. We need to be able to rediscover that truth in our lives, and we do it by connecting with others; by being there for those we love and allowing them to be there for us in return.

What a blessing to be able to connect with someone from our own vulnerable places. He isn’t looking for us to be the solution, just the connection.

Your challenges, your experiences, your struggles; they not only make you stronger, they allow for the opportunity of someone else to make it through their tough time. Don’t be too proud to share with someone else the crap you’ve been through. After all, when going through a storm, no one wants to hear about someone else’s perfect beach vacation. They want to be reminded the tempest is temporary. They want to feel connected to something real. They need to be recharged to life and His word. Don’t be afraid to be that connection for them.

Storm

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NLT)

Forgiving Ray Rice

I am a Christ follower. I believe in His Word, and I strive – poorly at times – to be a reflection of God’s love and mercy. I am a father to a daughter, in love with the one woman who owns my heart, fiercely loyal to and protective of my little girl. I am a sports fan, often times consumed by the games grown men play, and the peripheral happenings that surround them.

I find these three aspects of my life coming together with regards to the Ray Rice domestic violence scandal. If you’re not familiar with the incident, I will not regurgitate the specifics. Rather, please feel free to link out to ESPN.com for the full story. I am also not here to join in the cacophony of outrage and opinions that has inundated not just the sports media, but mainstream news outlets as well.

Rather, I want to explore the space of what happens next. Not for Ray Rice or his wife Janay, the victim of Rice’s physical assault, but for us instead .

There is a rush to create distance from Ray Rice the man. First, the Baltimore Ravens, Rice’s former employer, terminated his contract. The NFL promptly followed suit and suspended him indefinitely, thus impacting his ability to be signed by another NFL team. Ravens fans sought to return the jersey of a man once considered a beloved member of their franchise, and commercial sponsors severed ties with the former running back. Ray Rice is left a modern day leper, shunned and discarded by society.

Still, in the immediate aftermath of the February incident, and now in the current and upsetting media storm, the victim of Ray Rice’s rage and stupidity, the only person whose opinion really matters, has chosen to display forgiveness. Janay proceeded to wed Ray in March, a mere six weeks following the violent incident. In a press conference in May, Janay stated she, “deeply regret(ed) the role that (she) played in the incident that night,” a comment that left many nervous and confused. Just today, Janay repeated her position of support saying, “I love my husband. I support him. I want people to respect our privacy in this family matter.”

My position on domestic violence is quite steadfast. In discussing the issue with my daughter, I’ve been quite imperative; “He hits you, you leave him. It’s not up for discussion. It’s over.” I am not sure how I would react as a dad at the knowledge that a man struck my daughter. I pray I never have to find out … and that I have sufficient money in the bank to make bail.

I also understand that both positions are not mutually exclusive. You can forgive a person who has wronged you and still choose to no longer associate with that individual. Forgiveness does not mean having to accept or tolerate the status quo, and growth and forgiveness almost always go hand in hand.

Yet through it all, we can look at this scandal through a worldly prism of outrage and contempt, or we can look at it through the prism of instruction we find in the Bible. “Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.” – Luke 17.4

Through it all, it’s been Janay Rice who has acted Christ-like, proverbially turning the other cheek, and choosing love over spite or revenge. The outcast leper is hers to heal and His to redeem.

Janay and Ray Rice
Photo by Patrick Semansky/AP, via abcnews.go.com