I’m Living in a Haunted House

“Ghosts are the manifestation of the longing of loss.” ― Stewart Stafford

I got to babysit my 18 month old grandson last week. We had a great time together. it was just the two of us in the house. Each time he heard some creak or the “haunted refrigerator” he would stop and prick up his ears. He wondered if someone else was here with us or maybe if his parents were coming back to get him.

Now, every evening, I spend alone in my house. It seems haunted not by sounds but by memories and by empty places that were once occupied. I too keep wondering if the front door will open and someone will come home from a late night at work.

My wife has finished her five year battle with cancer. She has passed away to heaven. We spent all of our energy and attention on this ongoing battle – it was going very well right up until the very end. I hadn’t planned on being here alone when the war was finished.

There’s so much to do. I stay very busy but that never fills in all of the empty places. The house isn’t really haunted. It’s my memory, my heart and soul that’s trying to find a new peace.

We live in a world that works very hard to try and make heaven on earth. When we can’t find it, we often react in terrible ways. We quit, we divorce, we sulk, we walk out, we lose our faith. Heaven isn’t here on earth. Heaven can be brought to earth when we carry its truth in our heart and let it, like a flood, flow out of our life. My mission on earth is to bring the truth of heaven to people I meet each day.

I’m walking on a haunted road of grief these days. But I’m walking. None of us is exempt from pain and suffering. But we must all walk through this world as it is. God has made promises to his people again and again about his constant presence:

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.  – Isaiah 43:2

While these days of grief seem strange and haunted they are passing away. The future, filled with hope, is always approaching. Make sure that you are that representative of heaven’s hope to everyone around you every single day. Grief is always too near.

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” ― Anne Lamott

Scars on Your Head

My wife had a gruesome scar on her head. It was her second. She had brain surgery twice. Her hair grew back and the scar was nice and hidden, but we both knew it there. Now, right after surgery, it’s very obvious. Makes me think about scars in general. All sorts of scars that we all carry around in our heads. Mostly hidden from others.

  • Sometimes our past leaves its mark
  • Other people hurt us and make a mark that never leaves
  • We keep making the same mistakes and those marks keep making scars on our lives
  • Life can deal us a terrible blow that wounds us deeply

Scars can make your life a misery. They can remind you of harm and hurt. But they can also be reminders of healing and hope. Life becomes what it is for the most part because of the way we decide to look at it, to carry it around with us, to use it (instead of letting it use us!).

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” ― Kahlil Gibran

You can keep your scars all to yourself, hidden away, feeling some sort of shame or you can do something else. You can take your scars out of your pocket and help someone else on their road to healing. Take your pain and suffering and offer it as a healing reminder. One day this will be behind you!

“Scars. A sign that you had been hurt. A sign that you had healed.” ― Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Let someone else know they are not alone. Offer a helping hand to someone behind you on the road. Sometimes, only another person who has been where I am truly understands and knows just what I need. Be available as that kind of person. Don’t let your scars get in the way.

Whatever you do, don’t let your scars turn you into a monster, inside and out. Stop looking in the mirror and start looking for someone else who needs some love. They’re probably lying right there on the side of the road you travel every day.

“You can survive on your own; you can grow strong on your own; you can prevail on your own; but you cannot become human on your own.”― Frederick Buechner

 

Let all that I am praise the Lord;
with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
Let all that I am praise the Lord;
may I never forget the good things he does for me.
He forgives all my sins
and heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death
and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
He fills my life with good things.
My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!

Psalm 103:1-5

 

 

 

Another Day To Be In Love

“We don’t need love to be eternal, only to be in our lives here and now.” ― Marty Rubin

One more day to lay in that bed and suffer in silence

One more day to watch from the fog as your world passes by

One more day to see the long train of visitors pass by, unable to express your heart

One more day to sleep alone in a different place, in a new darkness, while your mind slips out the door a little more each night

One more day to be tossed and turned by strangers, no more humiliation left to bear

One more day to see history pass by, a photo at a time and try to remember when you were once so happy

One more day to hear and see from a distance in the shadows

But one more day to be loved by so many

One more day to be the center of the universe

One more day to draw attention away from so much pettiness toward the things that really do matter when all is said and done

One more day to make sacrifice the only option and only tribute

One more day to remind each one of us of what we know in our hearts that all our hope longs for – that eternal home on the other shore

One more day to come awake and in so doing awaken in each one of us one more chance to live transformed

One more day to see what the Kingdom really looks like here and now

 

No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.  – 1 John 4:12

What If It All Depends on You?

“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But…the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

― Martin Luther King Jr.

God will always bring you to a point of having to get past yourself when it comes to helping people who are in real need. The parable of the Good Samaritan addressed the question, “Who really demonstrates what it means to love your neighbor?” The religious establishment spent its energy trying to help people determine who was and wasn’t actually considered a neighbor. They ended up teaching all the different ways it was possible to NOT live out your faith.

Jesus used this story to demonstrate that God’s love was to be extended to everyone, even the least of these, even when it came at a cost. Helping people who suffer, especially when it comes at a cost, is one of the most essential ways we come to fully understand our own beliefs about God.

The suffering of others can get overwhelming. It can discourage and depress when it doesn’t seem to end. Especially when we don’t know what to do, how to fix it, the right words. One word for it is Compassion Fatigue. Typically this is used to describe people who are directly involved with others who are suffering. Sometimes, networks of family and friends can start to feel drained and at a loss as the suffering of a loved one continues and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.

The Good Samaritan lived out loving his neighbor, even as a despised outcast, by putting his money and time where his faith was. He demonstrated his belief and was willing to go even farther by promising to return and continue to fund the recovery. Sometimes recovery comes at a greater cost than we imagined:

  • You have to be faithful and follow up
  • People have emotional needs that they’re not even aware of
  • Stop asking, just do something that you’d want done for yourself
  • Every little thing really does count
  • You don’t have to be friends to be a Good Samaritan
  • Don’t stop praying, pray right now, send a prayer

“They never fail who die in a great cause.”  – George Gordon Byron

The greatest cause you can commit to each day is to find a way to love your neighbor in a real way that matters. You will soon learn that if you make this commitment you and most of your own problems will begin to disappear.

 

 

Real Magic

“Real magic can never be made by offering someone else’s liver. You must tear out your own, and not expect to get it back.” ― Peter S. Beagle

You never really know who you are, what you’re really made of, deep down at the root, until you are forced to make sacrifices. Not sacrifices that you get to choose out of free will. I mean when you are backed into a corner and your choices are taken away and you’ve got to set up all night, go without, give it away and keep your big fat opinion to yourself. You’ve got to clean it up again and again just because that’s the way it is right now. No one is asking you to fix it, just help us endure this for now.

Real magic comes when my own suffering fades away into the background as I draw my attention and efforts toward someone else. Not when it’s convenient, but when it really costs something. Even my own blood and guts. Wonder what tearing out your liver feels like?

Transformation always seems like magic in the end.

On Earth As It Is In Heaven

Do you remember what we call The Lord’s Prayer?

Pray like this:
Our Father in heaven,
may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
as it is in heaven.
Give us today the food we need,
and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.

Matthew 6:9-13

That’s a New Living Translation.
Here it is in the good old King James,

After this manner therefore pray ye:
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

We have been going through a life and death illness for the past five years. When that happens one hears everyone’s ideas about why. Human beings are always searching for reasons why. We just can’t help it.

“The Lord’s mercy often rides to the door of our heart upon the black horse of affliction.” ― Charles Spurgeon

In social psychology this human proclivity to look for answers is called attribution. Sometimes…

  • we use our common sense to find explanations
  • we sort out whether something was intentional or accidental
  • actions are based on internal personality
  • other causes are due to external factors (bad traffic!)

I don’t think people would consciously do this with God, assigning him blame for bad news. But sometimes it sounds like it.

We pray our way through every day we have to live. Try to make it count. We thank God and try to walk in joy. Sometimes we feel like old Matisse, sitting in his bed cutting out shapes…

“I didn’t expect to recover from my second operation but since I did, I consider that I’m living on borrowed time. Every day that dawns is a gift to me and I take it in that way. I accept it gratefully without looking beyond it. I completely forget my physical suffering and all the unpleasantness of my present condition and I think only of the joy of seeing the sun rise once more and of being able to work a little bit, even under difficult conditions.” ― Henri Matisse

When I go back and pray the Lord’s Prayer I am instructed to pray for God’s will to be done on earth. This reminds me that I’m not living in a world where God is always running everything. I know he’s not always in charge of my life – I don’t submit to his will every day as I could and should. I still have a free will.

(I’m fully aware this is going to drive my Calvinist friends crazy)

  • I do know that sometimes God intervenes on his own and makes things happen as history and humanity move toward his planned larger purpose for us all. No one stops God from doing what he wants to do!
  • I also know that he answers the prayers of his children. He steps in and acts because of my faith. I can tell you this happens all the time in my life.
  • There isn’t anyone in my Bible who didn’t suffer for one reason or another. It’s the life on earth Adam and Eve chose for all of us and the death that Christ delivered us from.

So, while we live out each day with a dark wolf at our door, we work to make it count. We pray for God’s will to be done in each of our interactions and decisions. We want to be conscious, not oblivious. We want to be aware of opportunities to make suffering count.

“God speaks in a soft voice I can hear better when I resolve to listen and stop putting words in His mouth.” ― Elaine Orabona Foster

Pray for God’s will to be done, in your life, in your thoughts, in your words, in your hopes, in your actions and in every minute of your life right now. Then say yes.

Someone That I Used to Know

Do You Ever Wonder Who You Were Meant To Be?

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” ― Ernest Hemingway

When we experience hard times in our life, it gets difficult to imagine that we are truly becoming who we are meant to be. I often think with regret about bad decisions I’ve made. Don’t we all? I have friends who can’t seem to move on from terrible events that have struck them off course. Moving on and becoming our real self is a steep mountain to climb at times.

“How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.

So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloudshadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

I’m a sociologist who studies religion. One of the significant areas of American religion is our booming self-help industry. This ties in to religion because so many of these groups approach self improvement using religious language and spiritualistic methodologies.

Many point to America as the birth place of self improvement. Our early history is filled with stories of people who came here to start over again. As our economy cranked up we got even better at “selling” not just new and innovative products, but even ourselves – selves that were constantly improving.

Since America is a nation of religious choices – it’s not surprising to see a wide variety of religious beliefs lining the shelves like boxes of cereal at the grocery store. There’s almost everything you could imagine when it comes to religion here in our country.

When obstacles or difficulties arise, the positive thinker takes them as creative opportunities. He welcomes the challenge of a tough problem and looks for ways to turn it to advantage. – Norman Vincent Peale

Peale himself is one of the “fathers” of American religious self-improvement with his positive thinking theology. Maybe you’re familiar with his most famous successor, Robert Schuller who arrived just in time to use the television for his Hour of Power weekly worship service filled with positive inspiration from sunny California.

Here in Houston where I live we are home to the largest church in America, Lakewood Church. Its pastor, Joel Osteen, is a world famous speaker and author who is thought of by most as a proponent of the prosperity gospel – another American invention. In a nutshell this very popular Christian belief promotes the idea that if one has enough faith (usually demonstrated in giving donations), one can experience God’s earthly blessings (healing and wealth).

These two phenomenon: (1) a wide variety of religious choice and (2) the eager desire for self-improvement, have created a special slice of culture that is unique but sometimes harmful to genuine, meaningful and lasting growth.

  • Americans are trained to be pragmatic – we tend to want self-improvement now
  • As we work hard at building our own redemption, sometimes we can accidently leave God out of the picture
  • When we don’t find what we are looking for at one religious “shop” it’s often too convenient to move on to the next one, and never really address our real problems
  • As we try and fail on the latest self-improvement fad, we can grow cynical about those aimed at helping us with our spiritual identity

Eternal self improvement, is it something to accomplish, working hard at spirituality or is it someone to know, someone to know even more each day?

Christianity doesn’t teach self-improvement, instead it teaches becoming more like the one we follow, Jesus. It sounds more like a relationship than a list of accomplishments (to earn God’s love).

For it’s by God’s grace that you have been saved. You receive it through faith. It was not our plan or our effort. It is God’s gift, pure and simple. You didn’t earn it, not one of us did, so don’t go around bragging that you must have done something amazing. (Ephesians 2:8-9, The Voice)

The person you were meant to be was a person who is friends with God.

  • It’s difficult to keep a relationship going if you never talk
  • Friendships work best when you’re open and honest, right?
  • Our best of friends make us want to sacrifice and be better people – they challenge us
  • Friendship is a process not an event, it takes time
  • It’s always worth it to keep working at relationships that matter, they do bear fruit if you’ll stick with it and maybe pull some weeds

You were meant to be friends with God who never leaves you, never forgets you, no matter what you do, say or think.

You were meant to walk with God in this kind of personal relationship each day.

You were meant to be a person who reflects to others the transformation that’s taking place in your own life.

 

“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” 

― Ralph Waldo Emerson