Saturday, December 21, 2013

When You Finally See Them

                                           "Atticus, he was real nice..."
                                           "Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them."
                                                                     -to kill a mockingbird

Sometimes God gets through to me by the simplest experiences. So even though this story happened  quickly and probably had no effect on anyone else, it's been on my mind the past few days. And even though I've had to learn this lesson a thousand times, I'm praying that this time it sticks.

Thursday morning I took my grandmother to the doctor in Ensley. Okay Ensley, Alabama is rough, y'all. I'm usually pretty comfortable in towns that aren't exactly filled with the upper class but I was a little nervous when I had to stop for gas before getting back on the interstate. (Disclaimer for Clay: I know I probably shouldn't have pulled over but I would rather have gotten gas quickly than ran out completely in the middle of the ghetto. Agreed?) Anyway, the gas station was incredibly sketchy and gross and if I'm being honest, I felt a little above it. But I got out, locked my grandmother safely inside and started pumping.
To my left there was another man maybe a few years older than me pumping gas in his SUV. He was this huge, Escalade-driving, doo-rag-wearing guy that I was trying very consciously not to make eye contact with. I probably couldn't count on my fingers the number of snap judgements I made about him in a matter of seconds. And here's the crazy thing: I didn't even realize I was doing it.
The next thing I know, a homeless man approaches me on my right. He tells me I'm beautiful, asks me my name, how my day is going. I respond but I'm admittedly not overly friendly. He says he's hungry so I grab the cash I keep in my car door for a sweet tea fund and hand it to him. Then he starts to hug me.
Now, I'm in the ghetto of North Birmingham with an 82 year old woman in my passenger seat and a homeless man who thinks I'm beautiful is trying to hug me. When you're in that situation you realize there's a fine line between not wanting to seem like a snob and not wanting to get shanked. Gingerly, I pat him on the back and return the hug, tell him I'll be praying for him, and he goes on his way.

Here's where the lesson comes in: that guy that I was so wary of at the beginning of the story leans toward me and says "Aye, girl, you 'ight?".
Okay, to a lot of people that would be no big deal. But to me, there was a badly needed lesson in that question. Four minutes ago I hadn't wanted to give this person eye contact because of the way he looked. And here he is, going out of his way to check on a stranger who obviously felt out of place. I was embarrassed. There was a kind heart beneath those thick chains on his chest and in my arrogance I had judged him.

For all I know that guy really could have been a thug. But you know what? I believe that God loves thugs. I believe that God loves everyone and I think most people reading this would say they agree. But that means understanding that God loves every democrat, every Auburn fan, every homosexual, every "liberal" or "conservative", every bad driver or slow waitress in this entire world. From the very bottom to the very top, God loves every one. What God hates is not this group of people or that group of people. What God hates is not necessarily what you hate. That's a very dangerous way to think. What God hates is sin. And do you know what that good God asks me to do?
    "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
               And He said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your 
               soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first command. And the second is like it: 
               You shall love your neighbor as yourself."  -Matthew 22:37-39

My "elder brother" attitude can so easily get the best of me sometimes but, thankfully, I serve an endlessly patient Christ. Does He love my sin? Absolutely not. He loves me in spite of it.

I pray that as children of God we all start looking more at the heart of strangers than the clothes they're wearing. I pray that each time I feel a little superior to someone else that I realize we owe the same debt to the same Savior. I pray to finally start truly seeing each person as someone who Jesus loves desperately. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Avoid the Fatal Thought

A couple of months ago, a professor in my family psychology class said something that hit home for me because of a doubt I've been wrestling with for a while now. He was lecturing on resolving conflicts in marriage and he said that if there was going to be one thing we left this class remembering, he wanted it to be this: Avoid the Fatal Thought. Not that I have any personal knowledge of this, but there seems to be quite a few ways for Satan to crawl his way into a marriage. Or any kind of relationship, really. The final straw of a marriage can be one too many compromises, one too many times of forgetting something important, one too many failures, one too many arguments, one too many hard days. My professor argued that all of those things can be worked out... as long as you never slipped into the Fatal Thought, which is this:

Does he (or she) still love me?

The second you let yourself wonder that is the second you're going to put up every defensive tactic in your arsenal. Oh yeah? Well I just won't love you anymore either. That thought makes trying to work it out impossible, makes any positive effort meaningless. Why try to fix it if he doesn't care? Once that thought enters your head, your heart starts telling you that it's not worth it.
The only thing that stands between a successful marriage and a failed one is that- confidence in the other's love. Certainty. Security.

I'm just going to be really straightforward- for months I've let myself wonder about God's love for me. Intellectually, I know He does. If someone on the street were to ask me if I thought God loves me, I would say a thousand times yes. But there has been a small but powerful voice whispering in my head for some time now. Not a voice that says "No, He doesn't." My Enemy is sneakier than that. Instead it is a voice that asks "Are you sure?" My doubt is not if He loves mankind as a whole. My doubt is more selfish. My Fatal Thought is this: Does God love me, individually? Does He know my situation, my heart? Does He listen to my prayers?

Am I sure? Yikes. Well, of course I'm sure. My Sunday school teacher told me. Jesus loves me, this I know... But do I? Is that what I honestly believe?

Here's the glaring issue with the fact that I'm struggling with this: if I'm  honest with myself, I know I'm doubting because I'm not getting what I want. I know how stupid that is. But if life were exactly the way I asked for it to be, if every prayer was answered with a "Yes, you deserve it", I wouldn't question His love for a second. I would go on my merry, ignorant way. But God is a good God and He wants more than a superficial relationship with me. So He challenges me. He disciplines me like the child I am.
This summer I watched two young boys everyday. I remember one day Davies (the 8 year old) asked if he could do something that was ridiculous and I said no. I can't recall the specific request but it involved his new puppy, the pool, and his dad's power tools. He looked at me like I just told him Santa wasn't real and said "You just don't want me to have any fun." Right. Didn't we have a home run derby with water balloons like half an hour ago? But instead of bringing up all the fun things we had done that week, all the trips to the library and the playground and the water park and football practice, I just laughed. Because I realized that this had to be, in a very small way, how God feels when I ask Him the same thing. He has to be thinking "Didn't I just give you a paycheck from the job you begged me for? Didn't I give you a family that loves you? Don't I do countless things for you that you aren't even capable of being aware of?"

I think something I've realized lately is that different people have different kinds of relationships with God and mine should not be the standard for everyone. I think some people have very wide relationships with God- meaning they want to learn everything about Him that they possibly can. They spend hours studying and have rooms full of commentaries and thrive in discussions about theology. That's how they grow, that's how they get their security with their Savior. Others, like myself, have very deep relationships with God. Not that I don't want to study or learn about my Creator- but that's not really how my faith is strengthened. My faith is strengthened through experiences. I gain confidence in Christ when I can look back and say "He led me through that. He'll lead me again." Which is exactly why Satan knows tempting me with this momentary doubt is much more effective than trying to get me to question His existence. And I'd be willing to guess that if you would say your relationship is more wide, you've struggled with wondering if there is a God at all.

I know this post has been mostly questions with no answers and my grammatical errors and wandering thoughts may have made you give up a while ago. I honestly have no answers. I don't know if there are any.

 I do know that the only way to believe He loves me, the only way to be in the middle of a storm and think "He's doing this for my benefit in the end", is to fully trust that He is good. If my God is good, He cannot do me harm. He can tell me no. He can make me face fears I don't really want to face. He can test me. But He cannot do me harm. And as long as I avoid the Fatal Thought, I am secure. If I trust in His unbelievable love for me any trial can be faced with courage, any loss can be returned with joy, and any doubt can be overcome.