death

Faith

When I Am Weak…


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“And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I have never known the truth of those verses in my own life until today.  Today—as I returned to grief on the 8th anniversary of my grandfather’s passing, on the heels of the Super Bowl and sex trafficking, Coca-Cola commercial controversies, and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s struggle with heroin reminding me of my dad—I didn’t have it together.

I’m a person who has it together.  I’m self-disciplined, successful by most standards, faithfully married, dad to two great kids, in control.

I don’t need God.  Not like I’ve seen people need him, anyway.  People who know their limits and have felt the failure of having reached them.  People who, by their own doing or someone else’s, have seen their lives spin out of control or take a direction they never intended.  I didn’t have much of a head start in life, probably got started late in fact, but most appearances wouldn’t indicate it these days.  Call it grace, favor, hard work, blessing, whatever you want, but the curse didn’t reach me.

And that has always been my problem.  I have always been my problem—because I don’t worry about things, I don’t feel like there is anything I can’t handle.  I’m not really afraid of anything.

But I do get tired.  And I move toward pain and grief and not away from it.  At first, many years ago, I did it to try to understand, and then to try to take it on or confront it somehow.  Neither worked.  Now I move toward it to heal, and out of that healing, heal others.

I fought back tears all day today.  On the phone with clients, coaching clients ironically, it was literally all I could do to keep talking and listening and asking questions.  And in the 5 or 10 minutes I had between a few calls, I wiped away the tears that wouldn’t wait any longer.

Today I didn’t have it together at all.  Today I wasn’t in control.  Sure, I could have, and probably did, fool the people I talked to all day on the phone, but I was weak.  Tired.  I wanted to go to bed and wake up to a different day.  I wanted to disappear, as much as I ever have in my life, I just wanted not to feel the way I was feeling any more.  I didn’t want to eat; I didn’t want to help my kids with their homework after 11 hours at work; I didn’t want to carry the laundry downstairs for my wife; I wanted to be selfish and withdraw from everything, just for a little while.

And as I reflect on it now, the whole of this day, I am struck by the notion that millions of people wake up this way every day, and go to bed hoping, praying, that when they awake tomorrow it will be different somehow.  Yet for all their will, prayer, desperation, or support, all of their tomorrows become todays, and all of their todays become yesterdays.  All the same.  And they lose hope, turning back to the addiction or medication or withdrawal from the world, or whatever they do.

And I don’t blame them.

Because today I wanted to join them.  Today I would have done just about anything to feel better, to be able to function as I normally do, to push grief to the back recesses of my mind and be at my best.  Just about anything.

But I have too much history for that.  I have learned from the mistakes of others, and do not repeat willfully what I can avoid by example.  So I did what I needed to do.  I ate. I helped my kids with their homework after a long day at work.  I carried the laundry downstairs for my wife.  But there is no way I have done these things well, or in my own strength.  If you have read anything I have written for the past 3 days and received anything from it at all, then you have the Spirit to thank.

Because for once in my life, I am weak.

And I am not at all ashamed to say so.  In fact, I’m writing this to boast about it.  I’m writing this to be thankful for it.

Because someday one of you reading this will think to reach out to me, and you will hesitate because of something you have seen me do, or some attribute or accomplishment I have…  but then you will remember this, and you will find the courage to call or text or push send.

And we will both be glad you did.

Because we will be weak together.

And together is always better than alone.

Faith

I Expect to Die


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I have too much death in my life of late.  Remembrances as anniversaries pass, acquaintances and friends passing away in the prime of their youth, spouses and young children left to grieve and make sense of things that will never fully make sense…  it is arduous.  This life is arduous.

My friend Kelly says that pain is the great equalizer, the one thing with the power to bring us all together.  I agree with that.  I have always thought, and always tried to practice, moving toward pain, not away from it.  That habit has made for some uncomfortable times, some uncomfortable years—my first two years of college were spent emotionally underwater as I tried to move toward my story, toward the pain of my father’s suicide—those times have hardened me, but they have also softened me to the pain of others (one of my favorite concepts is Ezekiel’s heart of stone and heart of flesh).

In short, I would not wish it on anyone, and yet I would wish it on everyone.

We run from our pain, we medicate it, we ignore it, we hide it, we distract ourselves from it…  but it never goes away, because my friend Kelly is right—pain is universal.

And so, surrounded by all this death, I think about my own life, and, yes, your life too.  I think about what I want my life to be like, what I want people to say about me.  This isn’t about being morbid or fatalistic; it is about moving toward pain, and living a life without walls and all the other bullshit we parade out so we don’t have to be real in front of other people.  Yes, it’s hard, and most of us are scared, and even those who aren’t have good reasons to be.  But this isn’t a drill.  This is life, the only one you have.

Have you ever thought about what you want people to say at your funeral?

The more I think about it, the more I realize that I want people to say, “He expected this.”

He expected this.

Almost no one expects to die on her last day.  Almost no one gets in the car before their fatal accident thinking they have an hour to live.  People who expect to die write books, and we all read them and think about how courageous they were (see “The Last Lecture” etc.).

But what I want to know is why I am not like that?  Why are we not like that?  Why do we marvel at it in others and not model it ourselves?

No.  I’ve had enough of that.  I want to live like I expect to die, and I want to do it in such a way that everyone else says, “That guy is crazy.  He acts like he’s going to die tomorrow.”

But it is more than that.  I want to live like I expect everyone else is going to die tomorrow, too.  I want to say the things that will encourage; I want to demonstrate love both for those closest to me as well as those I do not even know; I want to give time, empathy, money, strength to as many people as I can; I want to heal people.

Most of all, though, I want to give people courage.  I want to love them enough that they aren’t afraid anymore.  Enough that they will remember it when they are afraid again.

So if I make your acquaintance, or I reach out to you for no reason, it is because I love you.  It is because I want you to be courageous.

And it is because I expect both of us to die.