Where Does Real Courage Come From?

Friday, December 20, 2013

With All His Heart



                                                  Reflections on Luke 15:20-21


So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.
                                                                        Luke 15:20


I wonder what he looks like now.

Are his work clothes still dirty, torn, pig-smelly -- like him? When did he bathe last? Wash his clothes? Cut his hair? The long journey from that distant, once Edenesque, country must have taken its toll. When’s the last time he ate? Is his face lean, sunken – his body skin and bones? Is he sure he’ll make it home?

One bare foot in front of the other.

I wonder if there was mercy along the way. It’s hard to find safety on roads filled with thieves and villains who kill just to kill. Does he care? Did he travel alone? Were there others? It’s not like before when he had transport, money, weapons, courage. All of it gone. Truth be told, he’s nothing more than an afternoon snack for the vultures flying overhead.

How long did it take? Weeks, months?

And what was it like to step back into his country? Was there a glimmer of joy? Was there fear -- fear somebody might recognize him, “Hey, guess who’s back? The man who spat in his father’s face!” Will everybody in town know his story? That infamous son who tore down the streets drunk on dreams, rich in cash, despising his father’s name, embarrassing his family for all the world to see.

He was cocky then. Pumped on hormones and stupidity.

He keeps his head down as he walks. He rehearses his lines again: “I’ve sinned. I am no longer worthy. Make me your servant.” But they make no sense now. Why think himself worthy to be his father’s servant? Why think his father will have anything to do with him? Turn around. Go back – but where? He has no place. His world feels small, wrapped tight in a dark, depressive cloud where questions come that should never come: “Why live? Does anybody care if I live? Really?”

Still he takes steps.

He didn’t see him first. Dad saw first. Almost like he was waiting, watching.

By the time he lifted his head, his father was at full run. Servants flanking to his left and right. Running with the speed of a young man. Leaping like a gazelle in the open field. His arms open. His face radiant. His voice crying out his name. Running at him like he’s not going to stop. Like their old farm shepherd used to do. That dog never stopped until, soon enough, someone was on the ground!

And he didn’t stop. Not until the force of his dad’s body hit his, picking him up, and twirling his thin, almost weightless body into the air with kisses, and laughter, and an almost crazed excitement that made him suddenly break into a shriek of unexpected laughter too. He’d never felt such love before, never.  Nor had he seen it before, his dad running at him like that. So fast, with all his might.

With all his heart.

*       *       *

Dave had done his work well. The news had spread quietly through the church that he and Callie had lost a baby, she was recovering well, but it was a harder road back to health than expected. So, the moment Callie stepped back into church that Thursday morning, she was swamped with well-wishers.

“It couldn’t have gone better,” she told Erilynne, taking a seat next to her after it was over.

“Do you think people understood your need for some time off?”

“I do,” Callie said, “for now. A couple of women asked me when I was coming back. I told them I wasn’t sure. I know I’ve got a grace period, but not long.”

“You okay with that?”

“Yeah, I mean, part of me wants to jump back in now. Just being here today made me realize how much I love what I do. I love these women. I love coming alongside them -- praying with them, counseling them. It is definitely my sweet spot. And plus, it’s what Dave wants.”

“Dave?” Erilynne asked, unsure. “Doesn’t he want you to take time off?”

“Not really. I think he’ll feel better when everything’s back to normal.”

“So, what’s stopping you?”

“I’m not ready,” Callie said definitively. “That was also pretty clear today.”

“What do you mean?”

“There’s a woman who’s been coming the past few months. You probably don’t know her. She gets here late, sits in the back, and leaves before it’s over. I’m not sure how she got my name but she started coming to see me. The last few weeks, she’s been calling my cell phone nearly every day – I think, genuinely concerned for me. But really, she wants to know when we can meet again.”

Callie’s face twisted in annoyance.

“But I get it, I really do,” she went on. “She’s had a tough life. Her father abused her and she says she looks just like him. So, every day she looks in the mirror – she hates what she sees. Then, worse, her second born, a seven year old boy, looks just like her who looks just like him. She tells me everything inside her wants to hate the child and, then, hate herself for even feeling it. She doesn’t know what to do. She battles depression, suicidal thoughts, everything.

“But I got her coming to Thursday mornings. Which is good, she likes it. She’s never been in a church before. So these are really big steps.”

“How’d she react about you not coming back right away?” Erilynne probed.

“She was pretty upset.”

“What did you tell her?”

“I talked to MaryAnn before. Asked her if she’d be willing to see her, pray with her -- which she was. So, that’s what I told her today.”

“That go over well?”

“Not really. But it helped clarify something for me. I’m not ready. Not yet. And I’m afraid,” Callie said, and paused, “really afraid, I might never be.”

Erilynne winced a little out of concern.

“I can’t give her what I don’t have. She’s begging me to show her how to let God come into the most intimate places in her life. Not just tell her – show her. If I had the guts, I’d tell her the truth. I have no idea how to do that. She needs more than I can give her. All these women do. They deserve more.”

Callie put her head down, frustrated.

Erilynne sat back in her chair and wondered if it was the right time to speak up. It’s not always easy with Callie. She’s a trained counselor. She’s brilliant – beyond brilliant -- almost to the point where she uses the skills of her mind to deflect the issues of her heart. Sometimes it almost feels like she’s built huge walls of protection around her. Walls that need to come down. But how?

To help her do the simplest of all things.

So simple a child could show her.

“A few years ago,” Erilynne started, “you gave a Bible study to the women here on the story of the prodigal son. Do you remember that?”

Callie nodded.

“I listened to the recording again last night. It was really well done. You let us see through the lens of the father and how his compassion, his kindness, is a picture of God’s compassion for us. You gave us the unique perspective of the giver and the power that comes in giving. And it made me wonder if you and I could change the conversation a little.”

Callie stared back in a way that was hard for Erilynne to read.

“What if we took the perspective of the receiver and the power that comes in receiving?”

Still Callie didn’t move.

“What if we saw ourselves as prodigal daughters coming home? All of a sudden we look up and see Him running toward us. Running with all His might, with all His heart. His voice lifted in joy. His arms open wide. So all we have to do is open our arms to receive Him. That’s all. It’s so simple – children do it all the time. And then, He comes and picks us up, embracing us, kissing us, loving us because we belong to Him. We’re His daughters. We’ve come home.”

Tears came. She didn’t bother to brush them away.

She quickly bent down, grabbed her purse, and stood abruptly to leave. One last time, she looked straight into Erilynne’s eyes. Hard, angry, hurt.

Like she’d crossed a line she should never have crossed.

“No!” she snapped, “I can’t.”



Thursday, December 12, 2013

Uncommon Sense



                                                          Reflections on Luke 15:17-19


 But when he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!”
                                                                                                Luke 15:17


How long did he stay with the pigs?

Tell me, why does it take so long for common sense to kick back in -- after we’ve trashed it, beaten it down, and mocked its stupid reminders so we could go and do what we should never have gone and done? When it does kick in, why does it take forever long to listen? Listen to the point we act? Act so we can change.

My friends.

He worked with them every day in the fields, side by side. Some of them he’d known from childhood. They’d been with his family that long. He grew up with their kids – played with them. And now, some of them worked the fields too. All of them, hired servants, but really, more like family. More like friends.

They had it better than him now. Their stomachs were full. Their beds warm. Their bodies, their clothes, clean in the morning’s light. Their boss provided for them, loved them. His boss barely gives him the scraps off his table.

Their boss, his father.

Common sense: Go back to him.

How long had it been since he’d given him a second’s thought? Or remembered the look on his face when he grabbed the money and left him standing there? On the road. Crying. He didn’t care then. He cares now. He’s hungry. He’ll die here if he doesn’t do something. Common sense: Go home. Make things right.

But things aren’t right. He admits it. What he did to his father. His life here, the choices he made. The fun, the parties, the women, the laughs, all of it. If he goes back, if he faces his father, he’s got to tell him, “My father, I have sinned…”

The word spits bitter from his mouth. It awakens a sense in him long since gone, dead, buried. From his childhood, he knows these things, he’s always known them. God – the glories of His heavens – the knowledge of right and wrong that makes us want to do right, live right, because He is God. He made us. He loves us.

Uncommon Sense: Get right with God.

Why? Because he has sinned against Him. He has chosen the selfish life. The immoral life. Dishonoring his father. Breaking every law God ever set for our good. He has to say it again. His eyes now lifted up: “My Father, I have sinned…”

Tell me, why does it take so long to hear from our uncommon sense? And when we do, to listen – really listen? But, this time, it moves him. He gets up, he ends his days with the pigs, he packs his few remaining things and begins the long journey home. It’s time to start putting things right. With God. With dad.

“I am not worthy to be your son.”

“Make me like my friends. Fed. Clothed. Warm. Alive.”

But, even now, the bitter taste remains. After all he’s done, why should his father – let alone his Heavenly Father -- even give him audience? And if he does, why say yes? He’s not worthy of it. He doesn't deserve it. And for the first time, in a long time, he knows it.

*       *       *

It was the last time Erilynne saw Callie at the hospital. She was discharged the next day and, soon enough, Erilynne knew she’d be calling – pushing -- to resume her position at church. But what would she tell her?

In her prayer journal, she wrote:

I am terribly confused. Again, I say, Callie is good at what she does. She seems strong and confidant in her relationship with You. This is what makes her a good Bible teacher. It’s why women seek her out for counsel and prayer.

So why can’t I hear the sound of You in her? It’s like she knows You for others but doesn’t know You for herself.

Years ago, at a dinner party, Callie’s mother made the strangest comment to me. “She’ll hide in the shadows if you let her. Always living somebody else’s story. Not her own.” At the time, I didn’t think much of it. But it stayed with me. And now, I wonder. Is this the real Callie? Not the gifted Christian leader but the one hiding in shadows? I feel like this is the one I met at the hospital.

And now, she’s scared. She needs me to pretend I never saw her like that so she can go on being what everyone needs her to be.

Two very different people.

Father, I don’t know what to say to her. Help me help her. Give me wisdom. Scatter the shadows around her and bring the light of Your Son into her heart. Through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen

Erilynne texted me at work Wednesday morning. “Guess who’s coming to see me this afternoon?”

“Perfect timing if it’s Callie,” I wrote.

“It is.  She wants answers. She’s back at the women’s Bible study tomorrow.”

“What are you going to say?”

“Don’t know. Grasping at straws, pray.”

A little after four in the afternoon, Erilynne sent me an email that was part letter and part journaling.

Thad-

Callie arrived a little past one. Relaxed and easy going. We sat in the kitchen, I made some tea, and we chatted for a while. Mostly about what she’s been doing since she left the hospital ten days ago. Dave. The kids. Getting back into routine. She’s still a bit overwhelmed by all the cards, flowers, and meals that keep on coming.  She said she never expected it in a million years.

“You are very loved,” I assured her.

She gave a quick nod and admitted, “I’m nervous about tomorrow.”

“Are you ready to come back?”

“Yeah, I think I am,” she said, but the push was gone. And then she told me it’s why she’d come. “But is it ok just to be there and not do anything?”

I couldn’t hide my surprise.

“I need some time,” she said. “I know this is going to sound crazy to you. But I’m going to say it and hope you understand. Are you ready?” I nodded, not sure where she was going with this. “I don’t think I’m a Christian, not really.” And then she looked at me – waiting for a reaction. Wondering if she could go on.

“It’s ok,” I whispered.

Then she said, “You know, I’ve been to the psych ward before. Not as a patient but as a counselor to other women. So I decided, when I was there, to use my counseling skills on myself. What I said to them, I said to me. Do this. Pray this. Read this. Try this. All common sense principles from the Bible. It may have helped others…” She shook her head, looked straight at me, almost hard.

“I actually laughed out loud.”

“Why?”

She didn’t respond at first. She sipped her tea. She changed the subject. I’m telling you, she’s the prodigal daughter. Stuck at the pig sty. Having no idea how to get home. She rambled a bit but eventually circled back.

“I have a hard time receiving. I hate being the center of attention. I’ve never felt worthy, never, of anybody’s love – let alone God’s. And now, after what I’ve done, I don’t know what to do. I mean, I’ve got all the answers for everybody else.”

And then she pointed to her heart and shook her head.

“But it’s not here.”

I felt, at that moment, like Callie was actually stepping out of the shadows. The deepest sense we have – that call to be right with God – had somehow awakened in her. And now, I could see in her eyes the question I’d been hoping she’d ask. Not wanting to presume, I said, “Can I help?”

“Would you mind?”

I told her I’d love to. I think the prodigal daughter wants me to help her home. Amazing, huh?

Erilynne




John 15:1-11, the Vine and the branches. "Is He everything to you?