Raw Reflections from the Journey

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Relationships – Are They Worth It?

Several years ago, I spoke to a “Single Parents Raising Kids” group. The experience broke my heart because it stimulated a trip down memory lane. After my parents divorced I was raised by a single parent. Tears formed easily as I listened to stories about past and present circumstances. So much pain.

Single-parenting isn't easy. A major part of the challenge is previously broken or currently breaking relationships. Ex-spouses, step-parents, visitation, legal issues.

Relationships. You can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them. Lots of people feel this way. At times, I feel this way.

The final bullet point on the group handouts provoked discussion.

“Relationships: Are they worth it?”

I usually utter some form of that question when disappointed, rejected, forgotten or betrayed. Soon thereafter, the temptation to live as an island (preferably ON an island) begins. But isolation is not an option. Is it?

The Christian can answer simply, “Relationships have to be worth it because Jesus Christ came to earth and lived among us, as one of us, for this very reason.” His purpose was to reconcile a broken relationship between humankind and God; and it was a purpose He accomplished by paying the highest price. 

Consider what Jesus experienced in His relationships — scorn, abuse, misunderstanding, and betrayal to name a few. And still, He died willingly? Even for the scoundrels? Even for me? Yes.

Peter denied Christ three times. The rooster crows, Jesus looks at Peter and he spontaneously wails with grief. Peter betrayed and abandoned his Friend. And Peter, the determined, passionate, and zealous one failed to keep his vow.

After His resurrection, Jesus reinstated His repentant friend and issued this challenge, “Peter, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” Peter replied. “Feed my sheep,” Jesus said.  (John 21:15, my paraphrase)

People. It’s all about people. “Feed my sheep,” “Take care of my sheep.”

Jesus didn't give up on people. So, if I claim to follow Him and walk like Him, neither can I. It’s not easy, but abandoning people is not an option. He didn't just think relationships were worth it He lived like they were. If Jesus can do that, I can do that. I need to do that. I must do that.

What Jesus did, I can do . . .
Lord, You didn't say relationships would be easy. They aren't  Thanks for doing what was right, though, and not what was easy. What You did, we can do. Thanks for counting us worth it, then for asking us to follow You. Please help us to pass that on by persisting in the relationships on our path. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Letter to Lance

Dear Lance,

Your public confession was a good start.  Now, just as you mastered the art of persevering through the multiple and varied stages of a Grand Tour, will you finish what you've begun?

You called your behavior scary, your thinking sick, and admitted that you've bullied many . . . all out of a driven ruthlessness to "win".  This may be the most difficult race of your life, and as you've said before, it's not about the bike but rather your legacy as a man, a father and friend. The word 'ruthless' connotes harm to others.  I hope you will be tenacious rather than ruthless on this journey.

Recovery from a position such as yours is not without precedent.  Christian Church history tells the tale of a man named Saul who pursued and condoned the death of many.  But eventually he did an about face and became one of the foremost champions and promoters of the very faith he persecuted.  Years of exile followed his alleged conversion because few trusted him. He'd harmed far too many too badly.  But eventually he won not only a clear conscience, but also the love and trust of those who'd previously despised him.

Only three paragraphs in and I got religious on you.  Sorry.  You say you don't like that.  Perhaps you have allergies to religion for good reasons?  Many do.  But could I urge you to reconsider; to try to get to know Jesus as He really is and not who you think He is or who others have misrepresented Him to be?  Some transparent and broken men have written a great book to make such an introduction to Him, and to provide a practical guide for the grueling journey of life.  I hope you will peruse it: The Cure.

Lance, your dominance in the Tour de France was remarkable.  Doping aside, you were a master strategist who understood the race, and the tactics it took to prevail.  Now, embarked on a very difficult journey, please pursue the only world religion with the answers you need, because it is the only religion with answers of forgiveness and freedom from guilt.  If you want more, search for what Billy Graham has said on this subject, or better yet, hear from the man himself.  He is still among us.  Presidents since Nixon have sought him for good reason.

Many are guessing and judging your motives for these interviews.  Only you and perhaps your legal team knows the true motives.  But for my money (and perhaps she has begun to get your attention), Kristin has it right in her advice, "The truth will set you free".  That applies to much more than confession.  It also refers to what many believe to be absolute truths that you can bet your life on.

The tears in your eyes as you talked about your children, especially your conversation with Luke, "Don't defend me anymore, Luke" was heartbreaking.  Please do this process well, Lance.  Perhaps you've come off the pedestal in your little boy's eyes, but you can get up there again by getting on your knees in humility.  I hope you're serious about spending the rest of your life apologizing, asking forgiveness, and making amends to those you've harmed.

Lance, I would love to do some therapy with you, and/or serve as a spiritual mentor/director.  Why?  Because the essence of your diagnosis in my mind is megalomania, and that's something I know about from personal experience.  It's an awful sounding word, but it gets the gist of what you've been about, and what many of us have been about when we put ourselves at the center of our own lives, and justified any means necessary to get what we want.

Humility to confess is a beginning, but this is one saga that your strength and tenacity won't win alone.  You need help from beyond yourself.  Some of that help may come in human form, but some will necessarily be Divine.

Do I forgive you?  I have to, for myself, because unforgiveness is one of two things that the human soul can't bear (the other is guilt).  And that's where forgiveness begins, as a decision to not hold something against another or to try to exact 'justice'.  It's not my place.  Plus, those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

Can you and will you forgive yourself?  And will you truly come to the end of yourself so that you can come to the beginning of God?  I would offer that as your only true hope to "win" this race the rest of your life.

You're a strong man, Lance.  And that's a liability when it comes to the humility necessary to live a life of remorse and restitution.  Again, it takes one to know one.

If you really do this in a sincere and deep way it will likely be one hard stage after another.  But as you said in "It's Not About the Bike", your life is about one long hard climb.  Well, you were prophetic, because you've put yourself in quite a hole.  But don't believe for a second that you can't climb out.  Just don't try to do it alone.

Please do this right!  While the world revealed its hunger for a hero by following your 'miraculous' comeback from cancer, and amazing athletic domination, what the world really needs from you now is genuine testimony of the power of grace and a humble story of redemption!

God bless, and Carpe diem!

Monday, January 7, 2013

How to Work Well with our Worries

Did you like the last post?   I just couldn't resist the prank!  For those of you that missed it, the title suggested something curious, "The Value of Worry" and then left the body of the blog empty.  A couple of people responded.  "Jeff, there wasn't anything there."  Exactly.

But, to be intellectually honest, I must point out that research says there is some value to anxiety.  The Yerkes-Dodson law in psychology says that moderate amounts of anxiety bode well for performance.  A bit of nervousness before a test, public presentation, athletic performance, etc. moves us to try and to pay attention.  Absent anxiety we might take a lackadaisical approach.  And too much anxiety can be disabling.

What got me thinking about this was the blessing of seeing some black numbers in our business, personal and non-profit account at the end of the year.  That led to the challenge of making some year end purchases and allocations (either give to ourselves via IRA investment or give to Uncle Sam).  That led to reduction in the business account balance, which led to  . . . WORRY!  How are we going to build that back up for first quarter taxes, and other budget commitments?  Are you following?

The sad thing is that I know better.  We have a long decade of trusting God for provisions behind us.  Still, anxiety surfaced.  Thankfully, it wasn't disabling . . . but rather just enough to move me to something productive.  More about that in a moment.

Back to 'worry' for a minute.  I hate the word.  I hate to say it and I hate to hear it because it comes with unpleasant feelings.  When I worry I feel anxious, scared and yucky.  And when others worry I get frustrated because that time is being wasted.  Let's get to a solution!  My problem-solving muscles kick in and I want to advise action or take action to "do something about it".

But sometimes there isn't something to do.  Or is there?

How many of us invite Jesus to conversations about worries.  "Lord, I'm worried about _____.  What would you have me know about that? What is your perspective? Is there something you would have me to do?"

Waves of hope were followed by troughs of worry and disappointment as we surfed a complicated deal to sell our home in Maryland this past fall.  Close the deal before the end of the year and avoid a significant tax assessment.  Close in 2013 and we'd had to come up with a significant number.  Upon confiding my "worry" to a friend he prayed for me to faith for provision either way.  God didn't show the answer.  He didn't assure me about the solution, but He did calm my spirit by reminding that He saw the situation, had it in hand, and would be with me/us through the duration.  Sounds a lot like His voice, "In this world you will have much trouble, but take heart for I have overcome it."  Notice that He didn't reveal what He was going to do.  Rather, He provided Himself and reassurance that He had it in hand.

Thus, I conclude that while wallowing in worry is wholly unproductive, that a little bit is good so long as it moves me to "cast my anxieties on Him who cares for me".  The result is a reminder that my Provider is present.

(Note: The house closed December 19, which was eight years to the day of the first time I walked through it to approve the purchase contract.  And we were thankful that it didn't close until we'd relearned the lesson that there is no value in worry other than to move us to dependent listening prayer. That strengthened our relationship with our Provider and Friend who consoled and soothed us with His presence throughout.)

Does God always solve things the way we'd like Him to? No.  Does He remain present no matter what?  Yes.  "Do not be afraid or discouraged, for I am with you, wherever you go."

Pressing on,