Trauma does crazy things to your brain: cognitive gaps, inexplicable phobias, silence and shut down. But the soul is so resilient and capable. It has a way of healing around good people, safe communities, and the chance to be heard. Given the opportunity, we get up again.
If you’ve grown up in the same town long enough, most people assume you’re the same person you always were. They can’t see past the past version of you.
I wonder a lot: Are we doomed to our former selves, time-stamped to who we used to be? Will the things we’ve done and used to do always drag at at our heels, a permanent anchor?
There are days I keep imagining what other people are saying about me. I imagine a room full of them shaking their heads. “A chaplain? Who’s he kidding? I know who he really is. He’s not the guy he pretends to be. Nobody like him could change.” It keeps me up at night. I mentally argue with them until I’ve finally proven I’m not that same guy. I’ll spend hours inside my own head explaining my side of the story and why you need to know I’m not a bad person and that I’m sorry for the person I was before.
But you know, no one may get to hear your side of the story. No one might believe you’ve changed. Even when you do the right thing, you’ll be accused of wrong motives. And you are still accountable to the wrong you’ve done, as much as others are accountable for how they’ve wronged you.
But there is a grace that says you are different now, and the old you is dead. Buried. No longer you. Maybe no one will know you’ve encountered the kind of grace that has not just changed you, but made you completely new. Your trauma, your guilt, your past, your labels: they’re taken in by grace, by a love that sees in whole and stays. Imagine that. The world may call you something, but you are more. You are new. You are always more.
Dear friend: I know you might have had a picture of how you wanted your life to be, but some terrible tragedy swept it away. We all have a certain picture of how we want our lives to be, and sometimes it gets ripped from our grip and smashed to pieces. Our dreams can get crushed in an instant, no matter how much you’ve planned, with irreversible results.
You might be living in a life right now that doesn’t feel like it’s yours. You might be in a different place than you had hoped for, than you had imagined a year ago, a month ago, a minute ago. Your heart will pull for another chance, another door, another world.
The three hardest words to live with are often: In the meantime.
Yet — in the meantime is the whole thing.
If you’re waiting for your “real life” to start after the heartache, or even after good things like graduation or a wedding or when you get to the big city, you’ll stay in a holding pattern. The time will pass anyway. The tide doesn’t wait.
So I hope you’ll consider starting in the meanwhile.
When a dream dies, it dies. We can mourn. We can pound our chest. We can bleed. And at some point, you can open your hands to another dream. I hope you find it. It might even look a lot like your old one: but you won’t. It’s you that will be new.
You can overcome what’s over, because you’re not over yet.
When the ten count is over: you can count to eleven.
What comes next will not be what you had envisioned. I hope you’ll keep dreaming anyway. I hope you‘ll consider God can do a new thing.
You are free to pursue something new.
Grace is thoughtful. It considers a back-story, an upbringing, their trauma and trials, the whole person, and not just a tiny single slice of their life.
Grace brings wholeness to a hasty judgement; it regards my own flaws first, in light of the grace I’ve also been given.
Grace brings what could be instead of what should’ve been. Grace covers my past and empowers my future. Grace does not shame. It does not enable. It does not condemn nor condone, but convicts and re-creates.
Grace confronts the worst of a person and does not shy away from surgical rebuke. At our worst, we realize how much we must confront the ugliness inside. But grace restores there, in the wreckage. It sees what is both our doing and the undoing of others; it sees both our affliction and the pain that was inflicted. It is always healing the fractured fallen weary sinner.
Grace is what we least want to give but most need to receive. Jesus saw what we deserved, but gave us what we needed instead. That’s grace. Not merely unconditional love, but counter-conditional, unfazed, unrelenting.
It’s super easy to preach “love your neighbor,” but the loving part is crazy hard. I think most people really believe they’re loving and kind when they have to be, but the second someone disagrees or causes inconvenience or looks at you funny, the love thing can go out the window real quick.
What I usually see online or in church or in politics or in marriages is that unless a person fits an exact specification of beliefs and behaviors and likes and dislikes, that person is cast out of the inner-ring. I’ve spent a lot of terrible energy trying to carve others into my own image, overriding their point of view, always waiting for others to “come around.” That‘s no better than hate.
It seems Jesus said that “hate is murder” because when we only accept the people who match our values, we are disappearing them. We’re essentially saying, “Be like me or you don’t exist. I’d rather you be someone you’re not.” This is hate, and it’s crushing somebody out of existence.
This is especially obvious in social media, when one wrong word gets you canceled. But it’s worse when it comes to religion. That’s attributing a supernatural superiority to hatred. It gives an awful permission to say, “God said it, not me.” Which is cowardly. And if your god always agrees with what you believe and only likes the people you like—that god is the one you made up to justify your bitterness and to boost your ego. It’s a push-button keychain god that does your bidding. It isn’t the God who will challenge you, stretch you, surprise you, and who loves the people you can’t stand.
No, we cannot love all the things that people do. Yes, I believe in accountability and justice and boundaries. But over all, I want to love my neighbor for who they are and not for my version of them. I believe not in who someone should be, but could be. It’s the same way that I believe God loves a guy like me.
Discouraged, exhausted, beat down, beat up, clawing and falling, it’s so far, but my God, by God, another inch I crawl.
It’s unfair to rush someone into forgiveness. It’s powerful and necessary, but forgiveness is not a one-time moment that magically seals up the wound. It takes a deliberate, daily battle over a lifetime. That occasional angry twitch doesn’t mean you’ve failed at finding peace; it’s only part of the process. Let it happen. It hurts because it meant something. It has to pass through your body, like flushing out poison. No one is allowed to rush your healing, including you. No one can just “get over it.” It’s your pain, your pacing, your tempo. But I do hope to see you on the other side, where there’s freedom. You can take all the time you need, and I’m with you.
The nurse told me that the patient Willard had taken a bite out of another nurse. He had swung at one of the doctors and thrown urine at a surgeon. Willard couldn’t walk; he kept demanding to go home. “Get me a wheelchair, I’ll flop in and ride over you people.” The staff kept trying to get him to stay, to get treated, despite his violent non-compliance, because nurses and doctors have the guts to look past that stuff.
The staff called for a chaplain, and I was the lucky one. I walked in and saw the patient had a tattoo of a swastika on his hand enclosed in a heart.
My eyes locked on the swastika first. The symbol held a terrible place in my memory: when I was a kid, someone had spray-painted a red swastika next to the front door of my dad’s business. Though my dad had tried to paint over it, I could still see it on hot summer days, a scar on the wall and a scar in my head, a mad throbbing declaration of all the world’s ugliness dripping in crimson. I still dream about it sometimes, and in the dream I’ll peer down at my wrists, engraved with the same red marks down to the veins.
The patient, Willard, saw me and said, “Thank God, a chaplain, finally someone who can hear me.”
But I didn’t want to hear him. And a part of me also thought, “You deserve this. I hope you never leave. Then you can’t hurt anyone out there.”
He said, “Look, I see your face, I’m not trying to hurt anybody. You get it? I just want to go home. Fetch me a f__ing wheelchair, would you?.”
Willard got louder. He clenched his fists and waved them around. He went into an f-bomb monologue about the staff, “you people,” about the whole dang world.
I had half a mind to leave. I didn’t have to stay. I didn’t want to stay. I kept looking at that swastika. I kept thinking he deserved to be here, to be sick and sorry and helpless.
When Willard stopped talking for a moment, I said the only thing I could think of.
You can really do the thing. You can really achieve the dream and pursue your goal and find recovery.
But it has to start with one thing. It has to start with letting go of a lot of other things.
Maybe that means your current group of people. Or one person. Or some late night habits. Or the thing you keep throwing money at. Or an ideal version of yourself that’s just impossible.
None of that is easy, I know. I have this habit of starting new stuff and then I quit halfway through. It’s because I look sideways, seeing what everyone else is doing. It’s discouraging. “I could never be that good,” the little voice says. Everyone else seems better. More witty or charming or articulate. I’m missing “it,” you know, the elusive charm they were born with. So I stop doing all the things. “They’re already giving the world what I can barely do myself,” is the voice that keeps me down.
I have to let go of comparison.
I have to let go of some romanticized self.
I have to let go of the fear that I won’t be well received, the fear of silent response, the fear of crickets and tumbleweed.
You can do the thing. It starts with letting go of fears, habits, harmful people, bad advice, even beliefs we once held dear.
You can really, really do the thing. The stuff that hinders can be shed.
Here are my Top Twelve Posts of 2018, including topics like the benefit of grief, dealing with depression in marriage, misogyny in the Bible, people-pleasing, and my brush with suicide this year.
Earlier this year, I called the Suicide Lifeline. I was in pretty bad shape. My depression has been a lifelong street fight and it’s always been ugly. It’s not romantic or glamorous or poetic or anything like that; it’s the kind that makes people leave. But most of the time, nobody can tell I’m hurting just by talking to me. I tend to smile real big and laugh just as loud. Only in small quiet moments, when I‘m not “on,” not performing, there‘s a shadow across my face. A fog. I can pretend to be okay for a long time.
I’m glad I called the lifeline. I didn’t talk to anyone. The phone started ringing and I hung up. But it was enough to get me moving again. Even the possibility of human connection, sometimes, is enough.
There is a moment after crawling out of an episode of depression where I can hardly believe it happened. It seems silly, even. I think it’s because life is so filled with wonder and goodness, it’s hard to imagine giving it up. But when depression hits, it’s hard to imagine why I should go on.
I’m trying to hold on to that wonder and goodness. To remember there is a sun behind the fog. It’s a cheesy thing, I know. It’s also kept me alive. The dark always looms, encroaching, and I am afraid one day it will win. But I’m always glad I survived. I’ve been blessed and hopefully have blessed some. I am glad to know life today. By the grace of God, I am here.
Trust that God is working something in you now, something you can’t imagine, a miracle beyond proportion.
Look beyond circumstances, long nights, broken trophies, mental arguments, the swirl of gossip, the false self-talk that you’ve rehearsed over and over.
Leave yesterday where it belongs.
Don’t cave in to what has happened to you.
God says you are more than that – because you are His.
As hard as it sounds: you are loved, you are treasured, you are written on the heart and mind of your Creator.
Rejoice and revel in what He has done, is doing, will do.
Anonymous asked a question:
I’m only a teenager, but I already feel like my life should just end. For my whole life I’ve felt like I am only a burden to those around me, and feel I don’t deserve to live. Honestly, I cant even get myself to pray because I feel I am undeserving of gods love and insight, and that he couldn’t love someone as foolish as me anyway.
Hey dear friend: I love you. We love you. Stay alive. You deserve life. God loves you. I have experienced God’s love, and while it’s hard to believe sometimes, He does love you. I promise that if He can love a guy like me, He can love anybody. I mean it. I seriously mean it.
Maybe this won’t be very comforting, but I love this study. Almost everyone who tried to jump realized later that their pain was bound within time, within a crisis, rather than a permanent pain. One of the people who survived jumping the bridge said, “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.”
I cannot promise that life gets better. Life can be cruel, unfair, intolerable. People can be downright mean. Failure and rejection will happen. Risks don’t always pay off. You will miss chances and opportunities. Injuries and disease are a real danger. Our brains are often broken by depression and other lifelong illnesses. People will leave.
But none of these things, none of these things, determine your worth as a person. Nothing that has happened to you gets the say on who you are. Of course, life hurts. We’re allowed to hurt. We’re allowed to be mad. We can vent and yell and shake a fist at God. All of that is being human. But all the ways in which life can be unfair do not have a single thing to say about you as a person. You are loved, regardless. You are loved simply because you were born. For me, that’s often enough for the next breath. Looking back, I’m glad I breathed again.
In the end, you can’t really force someone to do anything, even if it’s for their good.
You can’t force someone to respect your feelings or care about your passions or believe your dreams.
You can’t force someone to believe your side of the story, even when you’re right.
You can’t force an apology.
You can’t force someone to engage in social justice or fight for the poor or to become nuanced in culture and history.
You can’t force growth.
You can’t force someone to show up on time, or even show up at all.
In the end, I’ve learned that people will do whatever they want, even if that means stepping on you or neglecting you or abandoning you or belittling you or choosing others over you. I’ve probably done this as much as it’s been done to me. It’s a terrible cycle that leaves us bitter, suspicious, paranoid, and completely jaded.
I’ve also learned that I don’t care if you don’t care. I have to love anyway. I have to be patient anyway. I have to be jaded to being jaded. Because I don’t want to perpetuate someone else’s cycle of apathy and neglect. I don’t want to be one more rung in the ladder of indifference. I don’t want to be a reactionary pawn.
No, I cannot force anything on you, and I won’t. I can only pour out what I have. Even if you don’t care. Especially if you don’t care. I’ll pour out anyway. In the end, our lives will have been given over to dust. I’d rather mine will have been given over to you.
I saw this very slow car on the highway in front of me that was rusted through and ready to fall apart, and for some reason, I got overly irritated at someone driving so slow in such a beat-up car. It must have been going 40 in a 65 mph zone.
I passed and pulled up next to the car, and I got a glance of the lady inside. Suddenly I felt terrible. She was a rundown tragic mess, mascara all over, like she had just heard the worst news in the world. Her shoulders were fallen into a heap and her mouth was open and her eyes were glass and mist. She was staring into nothing.
I’ve been there. I know what that’s like. When the world is gray noise. When you’re completely numb and unable to see how it could possibly get better.
I got behind the lady again to follow her and make sure she was okay. She got off the highway safely. I thought that if other drivers were going to get mad at her, they could get mad at me first.
I thought about all the other times I had judged too quickly, how I hadn’t slowed down for the other person to see them, to ask how I could help. I had gotten it wrong a lot. I didn’t pause to get the whole story. It all changes when you know what a person is going through.
Most testimonies have a turning point: “And then I met ___” or “Someone reached out” or “I got this text at the perfect time.” It seems random, but those people and encounters and messages of encouragement happened on purpose. Someone made a choice to reach out, get involved, get near another person’s heartache, and help them for one more step. It was enough to get them moving again. Maybe it was no big deal for the person who reached out. But to the person they helped, it meant everything. It was the turning point. It was the beginning of seeing new light, of finding a new dream, the start of healing. A little bit of your time and wisdom might turn someone’s life around. I’m thankful to those who pressed in and breathed life.
I took a speech class in college because of my stage fright. The professor, Mr. Johns, was about the most encouraging guy on the face of the earth.
There was a girl in the class who was just like me. She was the class because she wanted to overcome her fear. In her first speech, she burst into tears and couldn’t stop shaking. I thought I had it bad, but this girl came undone at the seams. I was worried that we’d have to call an ambulance for her. She wanted to stop but the professor got up right next to her, nudging her to finish. Some of the others stood with her and we cheered her on, rooting for her, clapping and fist-pumping and even saying “amen” the whole way. She finished the speech.
By her final one, she could do it up front by herself. She knew we were still with her up there.
I’m all for love and patience and understanding and compassion —
But there’s also a time to say enough is enough. There’s a time to vent, weep, scream, shake a fist, and to simply be mad. There’s a space when things aren’t okay and the injustice is still a fresh wound and no one is supposed to tell you how to feel. We need to grieve before jumping to commentary and those extra little points of debate and platforms and policy. We need to grasp the magnitude of what happened without rushing to a better place, so we can do the hard work of healing deeply, and to ensure that justice is not forfeited for the sake of politeness. Sometimes love has to be outraged, because it won’t sit down and take anymore of this. Sometimes love has to get up and fight.
Everyone has a vision for your life. Everyone knows who you ought to be. Everyone has advice, the right answer, the easy fix.
But no one can bear the burden of those expectations. You can’t be enough all the time, not even for yourself.
You will disappoint people. You will disappoint you. It happens. It hurts. And that’s how it goes. The eventualities of life have a way of creeping in, regardless of best efforts and right motives.
You will get crushed by the weight of others’ plans. But you’re not obligated to respond to everyone’s criticism all the time. There’s no pleasing everyone. Some will have already made up their mind about you, no matter how much you sing and dance. Your side of the story won’t always be heard. Your intentions will be negatively filtered and your words shot down at first glance. That’s okay. Criticism is important, but you can’t speak on what you didn’t say. You can only mean what you did say, and mean it well.
Be encouraged, friends. You are doing a good thing. A new thing. By the grace of God we do our best and get up again.
I imagine that when Moses split the Red Sea, there were two groups of people.
The first group was composed of victorious triumphant warriors saying, “In your face, Egyptians! This is our God!” They were pumping their fists and thrusting their spears.
The second group was composed of doubtful, panicking screamers running full speed through whales and plankton.
I’m a Screamer. I’m a cynic. I’m a critic.
I’m a Peter, who can make a good start off the boat, but falls in the water when my eyes wander.
I’m not endorsing a halfway lukewarm faith. I believe God wants us to have a robust, vibrant, thriving relationship with Him. But as for me, I’ll be limping to the finish-line.
I’m more of a Thomas than a Paul. I’m more Martha than Mary. I’m more David than Daniel.
Yet the Warriors and Screamers all made it through.
It’s not easy to have faith the size of a mustard seed. But Jesus promised that this would be enough to move mountains, and I’m learning to be okay with that.