Good Tears

Today I found myself driving down the road towards my home when a song started playing from deep within “My Likes” in YouTube Music. Years ago I was obsessed for a time with the movie Brave. I watched it with my kids, listened to the music as I drove around with them, and acted generally as a fanboy for team Merida. Even when Anna and Elsa came on the scene, I looked down my nose at them. I had found my favorite Disney Princess and she was a raucously independent archer who had all of the confidence and self-assurance that I wished for my children.

So today, the song “Touch the Sky” began to play and I listened to the lyrics.

When the cold wind is a-calling
And the sky is clear and bright
Misty mountains sing and beckon
Lead me out into the light

I will ride, I will fly
Chase the wind and touch the sky
I will fly
Chase the wind and touch the sky

Where dark woods hide secret
And mountains are fierce and bold
Deep waters hold reflections
Of times lost long ago
I will hear their every story
Take hold of my own dream
Be as strong as the seas are stormy
And proud as an eagle’s scream

Songwriters: Alex Mandel / Mark Andrews
Touch the Sky lyrics © Reservoir Media Management Inc, Walt Disney Music Company

The last few days I have been feeling very strange. This week I will learn if the court is going to help me see my kids before the year ends. I haven’t had the visitation the court set in place since July and I don’t have a ton of hope that suddenly the court will start to care, so I have been down in the dumps. Tack on the amount I have been working and the reality behind why I don’t feel safe conversing with my former partner even over kid issues (see any of the posts about Domestic Violence from October and they’ll paint a picture in broad strokes even if they never describe things in detail (on purpose)) and I have been really really really down in the dumps.

I have been trying desperately to get a hold of my feelings and my emotions to get them in check before any further bad news pushes me down further. I have been trying to understand what’s happening within as something kept feeling off.

I found myself crying as I drove in the car today because I had a moment and finally understood what was happening. Why haven’t I been hitting the punching bag as aggressively and why have I been taking more pictures of nature? Why did I choose to take my camera on my long walk today and why did I spend most of it texting another father in my fatherhood support group? Why?

As I had been walking earlier an angry song came on my phone and I reached within to connect with what has felt like an endless pit of anger for over a year. When everything else was lost, I could dip into that pit to find fuel to walk another mile, punch the bag for one more set, or even to just stew while driving. It has been so constant and a companion for many miles as I have walked. That deep sense of grief, anger, and sadness has been there for the 1,915 miles that I have walked this year (according to Fitbit). The anger has been as constant as hunger, thirst, and soreness as I have walked on and on.

I had reached in and nothing was there. The bucket hit the bottom and I had been worried that I was broken. What does it mean when you reach in to find the angry part of yourself and find nothing is there? Does it mean that you’re doomed to be unfeeling and lost?

I started crying as the words to the song to Brave came on because I recognized something in them: “When the cold wind is a-calling and the sky is clear and bright, misty mountains sing and beckon: lead me out into the light.” Do you know that there’s a growth on a tree on the Catharine Valley Trail that looks like a snail?

There’s also a ton of damage to the ash trees, likely from a combination of ash borers and woodpeckers. The sight is truly tragic, but also beautiful when you are walking around the woods and suddenly bleach white branches pop out of the woods that are so brown!

Do you know that there are green things that are neither evergreen nor willing to turn brown? Do you know that there are these weird bamboo looking things popping out of the ground in the middle of December? Do you know that the moon is almost full and it can look like fingers of bare branches are reaching into the sky to caress the moon as it rises? Do you know how amazing things are out there in the woods today on the edge of winter? Even as the sun continues to fade for a few more days, do you know how beautiful things are our there?

I cried because I reached down within me to find anger and only found the bottom of a well that hasn’t been empty for a while. I cried because I realized that I understood the lyrics to that song at last. In the midst of the cold wind, I heard the beckoning call to open my eyes and see what God had created. Legs that have walked miles have grown strong enough, skin that has known sun and darkness is thick enough, and even my own sense of fortitude has grown elastic enough that I can take time, even in grief, and see beautifully amazing things.

The song has a second verse that goes ” Where dark woods hide secret and mountains are fierce and bold, deep waters hold reflections of times lost long ago. I will hear their every story: take hold of my own dream. Be as strong as the seas are stormy and proud as an eagle’s scream.”

I’m filled with grief and sorrow, but there’s another part of me that has grown as strong as the seas are stormy. I’m frustrated I need the court’s help to even see my children, but I know what it means to walk miles and see the beauty in the depths of the woods with the endurance to decide that 6 miles into a hike is exactly the time to go wandering down a hill to get a closer look at that bleached white tree down the hill.

Even now, I want to cry because there actually is pride in the person I am becoming. I reached down for anger and found nothing, but I opened my ears and heard a reminder that I am becoming the person I once dreamed of being. Mile by mile, step by step, I am being reforged into someone that my children and I can look upon with joy and pride. I don’t have to be sorrowful today, for I am becoming exactly the kind of person I would have been proud to be when I was young.

This isn’t the road I would have chosen, but it is the road I have, and I am walking it well.

Judgment and Domestic Violence

“Grateful for God’s forgiving love, in which we live and by which we are judged, and affirming our belief in the inestimable worth of each individual, we renew our commitment to become faithful witnesses to the gospel, not alone to the ends of earth, but also to the depths of our common life and work.”

“Preamble to the Social Principles,” The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church 2016.

What are the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church? Earlier in the preamble to the Social Principles within the Book of Resolutions, the Social Principles self-identify themselves as existing outside of church law. The principles “are a prayerful and thoughtful effort on the part of the General Conference to speak to the human issues in the contemporary world from a sound biblical and theological foundation as historically demonstrated in United Methodist traditions.”

The Social Principles are neither binding by church law nor restrictive of church member behavior. They are a work born of prophetic zeal and idealism which in the end hopefully points us towards a more holistic understanding of the world around us.

Why am I bringing this up during Domestic Violence Awareness month? I would point out at least two things about the paragraph that I originally quoted. 

First, the Social Principles point towards the value of each individual. Yesterday my post pointed out that there should be a place for redemption in the church. Today I wanted to point out that even when redemption takes place, the redemption of another person’s life does not diminish the importance of wholeness and healing in the life of the victims of domestic violence.

Each person has inestimable worth and part of our common work is to affirm that value in the lives of people who have been demeaned, denigrated, or diminished through the sinful actions of others. Victims of Domestic Violence can feel broken, worthless, or even worth less than others. The lives of people who have gone through this experience are valuable and they are worthy of both God’s love and a loving place in God’s community.

Second, I want to point out that this paragraph points out that we both live within the forgiving love of God and are subject to judgment through and by that love. I’m generally not a hellfire and damnation preacher, but I do not deny that judgment will one day come for us all. I believe that God is far more gracious and kind than us, and I also believe wholeheartedly that God’s loving kindness sees and counts every tear and wound inflicted through our broken behavior and actions. 

As a survivor of Domestic Violence myself, there are times when I honestly do not want to be forgiving. In those moments, there are times when I can only move forward by handing my pain over to my loving God. I can let go of a deathgrip on my anger, pain, and hurt because I understand that in time God will take care of things. 

I don’t need to be vengeful for any vengeance necessary is in the hands of a God who is both kinder and better equipped to bring judgment without cruelty. I don’t need to carry anger around in my heart, for the pain which would fuel my anger doesn’t need to rest within me. I can let God care for the situation and move forward with life. 

Judgment may come, but I don’t need to be the judge. Retribution may come, but I don’t need to be dealing it out. I don’t have to do a thing to harm the people who harmed me, for God will care for those who have done wrong. I am a person of inestimable value and I don’t need to cheapen my value by carrying around worthless and harmful things like rage, anger, and hatred. God has those things, so I can move forward with life without worrying about them every day.

If you have been through such pain, I invite you to consider that God both loves you and will one day deal with the sinfulness of the world. There can be  healing and there can be wholeness even after everything that both you and I have gone through. It is not easy to hand over such things to God, but I invite you to consider what life might be like without carrying the baggage of pain, anger, and hatred with you everywhere you go. 

October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

“Test” Photo-A-Day Haiga

The word for the day for the #RethinkChurch Photo-A-Day challenge is “test.” Being myself, I can’t leave well enough alone, so here’s a haiga! This photo describes life with a furnace you don’t own, can’t replace, and just want to go all “A Christmas Story” on but can’t because the kids are home and you’re a pastor.

I call you to fast.
You give up Facebook to me.
I want your anger.