Saturday, September 29, 2012

From Tears to Joy

When I was around 11 years old I watched the movie, "Where the Red Fern Grows". The movie, based on the book of the same title,  is about a boy and his dogs. That is probably all you need to know to realize that this is a sad movie. Most movies that list the characters of  boy and dog are about tragedy and loss. So, maybe it is not a surprise that when I watched this film I cried my eyes out. Big time. However, it was a surprise to me.

Until then I don't remember crying with a movie. But, it was the beginning of a strong pattern with me. I am pretty much known around my house as the one who is going to boohoo during the sad movie.

"Are you crying yet, Mom?" is the common question during a tragic scene.

And "Yes," is the common answer if I can manage to choke it out through the flow of tears.

I've even endured an (un)fair amount of teasing from certain members of my "loving" family over my propensity toward emotional expression while catching a flick. But, it turns out that I get to have the last laugh (or victory "cry").

 Recent research indicates that people who feel the most sadness when watching a tragic movie experience a greater increase in happiness. It seems that identifying with the negative emotions of the characters inspires us to consider our lives more seriously, especially to think on our close relationships. The loss we experience through catharsis moves us to dwell on those we love. And because our relationships are the most important source of joy, we experience greater happiness.

In another aspect of this same study people who simply compared their lives with the tragic lives of those in the movie did NOT experience an increase in happiness. The thought, "Glad it's them and not me!", failed to bring any true thankfulness.  The self focused nature of comparison hindered any change in the happy factor.

The wisest of kings said this:
"It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Pain with Purpose

This is one of those stories I don't want to tell because it makes me look uncaring, clueless, and not very empathetic. It makes me look that way because in that moment I was uncaring, clueless and not very empathetic.

I was attending the University of Georgia, and I was a new believer. Everything about Jesus, God, and the Bible was very alive, real and exciting to me. At that point, I hadn't really experienced anything that would cause me to doubt what I had come to believe. It was a mountain top time of spiritual growth as I soaked in so many new ideas.

The college ministry of our church, Prince Ave. Baptist, went on a spiritual retreat each year. The retreat was a weekend of hanging out, making friends, listening to teaching, worshiping, and enjoying the beauty of the mountain area where we lodged.

I don't know why, but a friend of mine asked if he could talk to me. He had questions. I agreed to listen and try to answer. He shared his struggle to believe God; how he doubted. Did I ever doubt? "Um, not really," I said.

I can't remember much more of the conversation. It didn't last very long. But I remember my discomfort with his questions and doubts. I remember how earnest and real he was in laying out his heart. And I remember how casually I stepped right on his heart or maybe walked circumspectly around it like the Levite passing by his injured neighbor lying in the ditch.

Opportunity lost.

In reality, I didn't have the answers for him. My own well was not very deep. I had not experienced trials and testing that bring perseverance and deeper, richer faith. I had only my early child-like belief. My faith was not bad or poor, it was just immature. It would grow with time.

Still, the regret of not caring enough is there. I didn't take him to our college minister or direct him to someone who could help. I just left him hanging with his questions. Like I said earlier: uncaring, clueless, not empathetic. That part isn't immaturity of faith, but failure to love well.

I'm grateful that God has never once failed to love me well. He didn't leave me where I was. He knew if I was going to be whom He had created me to be, it would take much time and much pain.

The Father didn't fear for me because He knew He would be with me in all of it. And He was and still is. I have that same confidence for my brother from college.

"For this reason he had to be made 
like his brothers in every way, in order that 
he might become a merciful and faithful 
high priest in service to God." 
Hebrews 2:17

In making me more like Himself, I get to be made like my brothers too. I get to know hurt, loss, pain, and suffering. It's not fun. I didn't sign up for it or, at least, I didn't understand fully that is part of the deal. But I experience it.

And when I embrace the pain and trust my Father to do His work in me then I become merciful and faithful like my own High Priest, Jesus. It's not my understanding of systematic theology that ministers to the hurting, but an empathy that comes from having experienced sorrow myself.

Looking back, can you see where the Father has allowed you to grow in mercy toward others? How is He using that in you today?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

By Grace

         Always Earned. Never Given. The Marines.

I saw this motto emblazoned on the side of an 18-wheeler as I was driving on 75 south. Underneath the words was a picture of the Marine sword. I thought the statement was a good one: succinct, true, and captures the spirit of being a Marine. 

I am grateful for the sacrifices Marines and other armed forces make so that I can live and breathe in a country that is free. That sacrifice extends to the ultimate sacrifice of life. So when I see a member of the armed forces I want to remember to say, "Thank you. I appreciate your service and sacrifice.

Because of the Marines, I get freedom to do as I will. But I don't earn the title of Marine without doing the work.

I like to play with words. So when I read that motto, I immediately thought of the opposite proposal that God made to me:

Always given. Never Earned. 
Daughter of the King.

I got into the kingdom family by not being able to earn the title, by not being enough, by realizing I couldn't keep the law perfectly or even nearly perfectly. I recognized my need for a Savior and I cried out to the only true One. Even now, though I sin less, I am not sinless. Rather, it is the righteous robe of Christ that covers me and gives me the status of princess in the kingdom. 

I guess you could say I was born into royalty by the grace of God.