Sunday, November 16, 2014

Three Simple Words

A little back story on how I came to write this post.  Our annual men's retreat was last week and the Saturday night speaker was baseball great Darryl Strawberry.  I'm a baseball fan and Strawberry's Mets had won the World Series 28 years ago just after my dad died.  So while I expected other speakers to be good, I was attending because of Saturday night.  Then Saturday morning with Bryan Loritts happened.  

The thing is, in his second session, he spoke on a topic he hadn't planned to use.  So in a way, neither of us planned to have that encounter ... but God certainly did.  His topic was forgiveness and, by the end, I was ready to do something I'd been putting off for well over two decades.  It comes as a very personal letter, but I've decided to write it here as part of the Crooked Path.  

I'm still working through my perspective on forgiveness, but Bryan made me think in a way I couldn't just push it aside any longer.  He helped me see that forgiveness doesn't have to mean restoration.  It also doesn't mean we forget evil done against us or stop prosecution or other legal action.  It doesn't mean we grant absolution in every case.  But it does mean that we don't let "it" control us any longer.  Some of you might think what I'm about to write is silly - something I don't really need to do.  But I'm doing it for my own reasons because leaving it unforgiven needs to stop.  Twenty-some years is long enough.  So, just a few weeks after I marked the 28th year without my dad, I'm putting this out there on my blog.  It's just three simple words ... but simple doesn't mean weak and it's time I wrote this letter.

Dear Dad,

I forgive you for leaving us too early.  I was just twenty-three and only married for six months.  The next year was pretty tough on any number of fronts.  No Sunday dinner with you and Mom and Pete.  No visits or laughing or joking.  No chance for my young bride to cement her relationship with you and for me to see you through her eyes in a deeper way.  Nope - all of that gone with a single phone call on a Saturday afternoon.

I forgive you for not taking good enough care of yourself to see seven of your grandchildren ... eight really since Stephen was just a baby when you left us.  They are some pretty terrific kids, especially the two girls (or should I say young women) who live in my house.  I realize you may not have lived this long, but the loss is still very real even if you'd had only a few years with my girls.

I forgive you for not being around when I finally finished my undergrad degree and pressed on to grad school.  I know you'd have been proud of the man I've become, but it rings a little hollow when I can't hear your response.  Just once, I'd have loved for you to sit in on a Sunday School class I taught.  Sure we'd have had our differences, but I know we'd have found common ground in the same God and Savior.  I know you would have challenged my thinking ... yet I can only project that because neither of us had the chance

I forgive you, Dad, not just for dying too soon but for all the years you put ministry first and for the lessons I learned that had to be unlearned.  I spent quite a bit of time with a very skilled counselor who told me to do this decades ago ... but it took a long time and an unexpected encounter at a retreat to finally break that dam.

I love you Dad and I still miss you.  But looking for your affirmation and praise can't happen anymore.  It's time for me to consummate the forgiveness and let it go.  You left a big imprint on my life for the twenty-three years I had you and in the twenty-eight since I said good bye.  Your legacy will continue still ... but my perspective will change because I've finally written those three simple words:

I forgive you.



Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Little Perspective Please?

I'll tell you right now, I'm not quite sure where this is headed.  But the thoughts and images are strong in my mind, so I really feel like this is the topic for this week.  I'll do my best to get where I need to be, but it might be a bumpy ride.  So I'd encourage you to take a little perspective, please and know we are all more than the sum of our parts when we want to work collaboratively.

It's election season, just in case you haven't muted enough commercials, wanted to drive through a sea of vision-polluting signs or been tempted to send back unwanted junk mail with yesterday's coffee grounds.  There are few things more divisive in our country than an election.  In my own state of North Carolina, we've just won the dubious honor of hosting the most expensive US Senate campaign in history.  The two primary candidates and their backers have poured over $100 Million into a race for an office that lasts six years and pays $176K per year.  I know, I know ... it's never about the money, but if anything screams for a little perspective, this obscene and disgusting expenditure does.

The Raleigh Rescue Mission could have served over 3.5 Million meals with that amount of money.  Samaritan's Purse could dig about 250K fresh water wells.  And I could go on and on with organizations such as Compassion International, Doctors Without Borders, and thousands more worthy and dedicated organizations seeking to bring relief and hope to a world so often devoid of it.  Yet the $100MM spent in North Carolina for a temporary political battle is what we get.  And if I look at it in perspective, it makes me angry and sad.

I realize some will tell me I've given over to a "social gospel".  My response would be to say, "What is more social than the True Gospel?"  Perhaps I'd quote James talking about the nature of true worship - giving to the orphans and widows in their hour of need.  Perhaps I'd remind them that a full belly with clean water and sanitary sewers will be far more open to the Gospel than somebody who doesn't know where tonight's meal comes from and never thinks about tomorrow's food.

But to put it all in perspective, I'd say we've become a nation obsessed with power and control - and I don't care where your political, spiritual or ideological lines are drawn.  We think getting "our man/woman" in office is the fix.  We want our agenda to move forward without giving thought for the love we are commanded to have for everybody else.  In other words, we've lost (or vacated) our perspective on the altar of something different.  And I believe we've grieved God greatly in doing so.

I've lived over half a century now and I have many people I call "friend" who don't believe as I do on multiple fronts.  The "better" friends share a common faith, albeit across a wide variety of denominations, that our Hope is only in Jesus.  I don't think I mention that enough to them, so perhaps I'm the one who needs some perspective.

The Crooked Path has room for many, and the call from the Father is to invite people to travel.  We won't always talk or look the same (how boring would that be?) but we should be united in the goal to further the cause of the Cross and our mutual disdain for squandered opportunities to love our fellow man.  I believe that's where it starts.