Not Okay.

Here’s a truth: God lets bad things happen to faithful people.

And it makes sense to our heads. We know that he works all things together for the good of those who love him. We know it in our heads. But our hearts? We can recite Romans 8:28 all we want, but our hearts are a different story. Our hearts cry to God in agony, asking him why, why he can’t just make it all go away, because it is killing us slowly. Our hearts are wrenched and torn and bleeding in these times, and they tell us that God is nothing but a cruel master. It hurts. It hurts so terribly. To know that God is allowing these things in our lives hurts, because he tells us he loves us. We wonder how someone who loves us could do this. How could you hurt me so much, God? And while we feel like this, hurting, as we are slowly squeezed to death, all we want is simply to be okay. We pray and pray, asking God to please, please just make our hearts okay. Is that really too much to ask, God? And we try many different things to make our hearts okay.

For me, it’s suppressing the awfulness of it all and telling myself that somehow I am okay, that God has a plan in all of this and I will be okay no matter what happens, that it won’t really hurt, that it’s not that big of a deal. For you it may be something else. And it might work for a while.

But then we get angry, because we aren’t okay, and God isn’t making it better, and everything we are trying isn’t making it better either. We become bitter and angry and again ask, “Why, God?” And then we try something else, because maybe, just maybe that will make us okay.

At some point, though, we break. And when we break, there are two things we tend to do: either we conclude that God is cruel, resign ourselves to the fate of never being okay and of being perpetually bitter about it, or we come to the realization that even though God has allowed this to happen, he has allowed us to not be okay, the only comfort and refuge that exists is in him, in his promises. To be quite honest, it doesn’t make sense to me at all, how a loving God could allow such tragic things to happen and at the same time want us to rest in him. But his ways are not my ways.

And if we realize this, we finally see that it’s okay to be not okay. Because we can’t make ourselves okay. But maybe okayness isn’t all there is. Maybe there’s something better. Maybe that something is resting in God through the pain, through the not okayness, because the only real okayness is found in him.

Kicking and screaming and crying and bleeding though we may be, we will never find rest until we realize that.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.

Picture Perfect

He sits in a corner table at the coffee shop staring out a window at the rainy street, alone and impeccably dressed. With his slicked-back hair, clean-shaven jaw, and black Armani suit, this suave man incarnates wealth. His persona oozes calm, collected confidence; handsome, carefully sculpted features decorate his face, probably making him the idol of young, aspiring businessmen and the envy of his peers. Unexpectedly, a look of defeat surfaces in the thirty-something’s deep brown eyes. As he glances haphazardly around the cozy, oblivious café, the soft light exposes lines of worry and stress. They cruelly mar an otherwise perfect face. Slumping over slightly, as though he carries a burdensome cross to his own Golgotha, the conflicted dreamboat man begins to reveal the storm behind his sunny appearance as he turns his head and stares into the abyss of an oversized burnt-orange coffee mug. He soon recovers, though, and hurriedly replaces the creeping hopelessness with his wonted façade of invincibility. Obviously practiced in the art of pretending, he takes care not to unmask his vulnerability for too long and whitewashes the defeat with a hardened expression. By the time he grabs the handle of his empty mug, slides out of his chair, and stands, he has resumed his counterfeit visage: the picture of abundance, masculinity, and sophisticated grace.

 

But pictures often gild the truth.

My Wife Has Tattoos: Marriage, New Birth, and the Gospel

This post details something I think a lot of conservative Christians (including me, especially me) need to be reminded of: Christians aren’t defined by their past. Whether they went to youth group every week, or whether they had sex, did drugs, hung out with the wrong crowd. They are defined by their identity as children of God. Not only that, but we who have grown up in Christian homes, though we often think so, aren’t any better than anyone else. It is the incredible grace and power of the Lord that has saved us, miserable sinners that we are, and all the glory belongs to Him. Let’s never forget that truth.

Unspoken

Image Photo credit: Todd Balsley

by Spencer Harmon

Today is the day of my wedding.  And I am not marrying the girl of my dreams.

If you would have told me when I was a teenager that my wife would have seven tattoos, a history in drugs, alcohol, and attending heavy metal concerts, I would have laughed at you, given you one of my courtship books, and told you to take a hike.  My plans were much different, much more nuanced with careful planning, much more clean-cut, and much more, well, about me.

You see, it wasn’t my dream to marry a girl that was complicated.  I never dreamed that I would sit on a couch with my future wife in pre-marital counseling listening to her cry and tell stories of drunken nights, listing the drugs she used, confessing mistakes made in past relationships.

This isn’t my dream – it’s better.

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A Great Perhaps

That wonderful feeling of an enormous, new hardcover volume, weighty and glorious in my grasp. Tenderly, I open the cover, unveiling a whole new world: kind of like one of those pop-up birthday cards I used to get as a little kid. Really, though, it’s just a bunch of tiny black symbols on a pristine white page. The power of those little black strokes astounds me–they can make me laugh, they can make me cry, and they can make me do everything in between. This binding of papers strewn with ebony lines and curves may change my life; it may leave me disappointed. And no doubt, it will educate me, make me a better writer. Fused together to create a possibly brilliant, probably witty, and hopefully beautiful story, these words may cheer that beating heart of mine or they may sink it. Either way, it will be my home for the next few hours: at varying times my cave, my castle, my mansion, my bungalow, my boarding house, my asylum, my closet. And who knows? Maybe I’ll discover a few secret passages along the way.

“I go to seek a Great Perhaps.” –François Rabelais

Who Am I?

We are, we are, we’re caught in the in between 
Of who we already are and who we are yet to be 
And we’re looking for love but finding we’re still in need 
It’s only what we have lost will we be allowed to keep 
And we’re waiting but our eyes are wandering 
To all this earth holds dear 

~

I’ve decided I don’t really like birthdays.

I can hear you gasping. Yes, I get presents.

I don’t like birthdays because they show me who cares enough to remember me. And more often than not, I’m disappointed. I expect my friends to remember my birthday. I expect them to say something like, “Happy birthday, I’m so glad you’re my friend.” For some reason, it’s a big deal to me. And when they don’t, it hurts. I feel like somehow a part my identity hangs on whether my friends remember me or not. Silly, I know.

But my friends don’t give me my worth.

Sometimes I feel like I’m not good enough. Not cool enough. Not funny enough. Not hardworking enough. Not outgoing enough. Not kind enough. Not pretty enough. Not smart enough. Just plain not good enough.

And you know what? That’s the truth; I’ll never be enough. But the beautiful thing about Christianity is this: I don’t need to be enough. What I do doesn’t give me my worth. Society doesn’t give me my worth. My appearance doesn’t give me my worth.

I don’t need any human being or any earthly thing to know who I am. To know I am loved. To know I am cherished. Everything that I am is God’s. He gives me my identity. He gives me my worth. My incredible Savior, my ever-patient Lord, my Counselor, my King, my All-in-All.

~

you’re my beloved

God created me, knit me together–

I am His workmanship.

lover I’m yours

God called me out of darkness and into his marvelous light–

I am His lighthouse.

and death shall not part us

God has broken my bondage to sin–

I am His servant.

it’s you I died for

God calls me his friend–

I am devoted to Him.

for better or worse

God has given me a spirit of power and love and self-discipline–

I am no longer fearful.

forever we’ll be

God has adopted me into his royal family–

I am His obedient daughter.

my love it unites us

God has a plan for me, the best plan I could imagine–

I trust Him.

and it binds you to me

God has given me life, and life abundant–

I live for Him.

it’s a mystery

God chose me–

I am His.

love of my life

look deep in my eyes

there you will find what you need.

 

Why Christian Music Can and Should Be More

[Disclaimer: I understand that the message of most Christian music is very biblical and can be encouraging; just allow me to articulate my thoughts. And when I say “secular music” I’m excluding most top 40 like 1D and Katy Perry and Beyonce–that’s another topic altogether.]

Just something I’ve been thinking about lately: why have I become disenchanted with most “Christian music”? Why is it that I find listening to secular music so much more enjoyable than most Christian music?

My speculations are 1) most mainstream Christian music is all the same, and 2) the songs aren’t real, aren’t from the heart of the musician; they sugarcoat the Christian life. When I turn on Christian radio, all I hear from the music is, “Woohoo God saved us, let’s go share it with the world, we may have troubles but we have victory through Christ.” And yes, that’s true. But the Christian life is so much more. Fine, make songs about our victory in Christ and our calling to share it with others, but why can’t you write about other aspects of the Christian life? It should encompass our struggles, our hurt, our joy, our pain. But it seems like the only message we get from mainstream Christian music is “you shouldn’t be struggling or feeling hurt or pain because we have Christ.” The truth is sometimes we don’t need to hear that. Sometimes we’re angry. Sometimes we’re worn. Sometimes we feel like failures. Sometimes we just need someone to hold us. Sometimes we need to hear something like “I wanna see you be brave” or “Can I be blamed if I’m angry? / Can I be saved if I’m barely clinging to hope?” or “Smile in the age of worry” or “Truth ain’t somethin’ you can just outrun” or “I won’t give up on us” or “There’s so many wars we fought / There’s so many things we’re not / But with what we have / I promise you that / We’re marching on.”

(Don’t get too upset yet. If you’ve gotten this far, please read the rest of the post. It’ll clear things up a bit.)

More than that, you can tell a lot of secular music is written from personal experience. For example: “And who do you think you are / Runnin’ ’round leaving scars / Collecting your jar of hearts / And tearing love apart.” You think someone just came up with that out of the blue? No. They were hurt. Scarred. And we can relate. Because we’ve been scarred too. What about Headlights by Eminem? (Speaking to his mom) “And I think of Nathan being placed in a home / And all the medicine you fed us / And how I just wanted you to taste your own / But now the medications taken over / And your mental state’s deteriorating slow / And I’m way too old to cry, that —- is painful though.” Those words come from a deeply hurt heart.

(Warning: that song has a lot of swearing in it. I’m not endorsing any of this music. I’m just using it to illustrate my points; bear with me.)

So we finally come to my main point: secular music is so much more relatable and real, but it never gives a real solution. We have the solution; thus, I believe Christian music has the potential to be way more powerful than any secular music could ever be. Christians have just as many real, hard struggles as everyone else, but we have hope. Christian artists need to start getting real and honest in their music while keeping the undercurrent of the hope we have in Christ. The music they’re making now has its place I suppose, but it should be deeper–raw, real.

This, I believe, is why I love Tenth Avenue North (along with Switchfoot, Gungor, and the occasional song by more mainstream Christian artists) so much. TAN (and their video journals) actually got me thinking about all this stuff. Their music is so raw. So real. And because of this, it’s so much more powerful. When I was hurt by someone really close to me (probably the worst I’ve ever been hurt before), I didn’t need Mandisa shouting “you’re an overcomer” in my ear or the Newsboys telling me “God’s not dead.” I needed something like “Worn” or “Times” by TAN, or “Wayward And Torn” by Gungor. Something raw, something real, something deep, but also something that gave me hope.

Anyway, this is just something I’m thinking through right now. You should check out Tenth Avenue North’s music and video journals. They’re absolutely incredible.

A Reminiscence

I heave a bittersweet sigh.

Today Jim-Bob brings me to the junkyard. He is reluctant, but it is time for me to rest in peace. After all, Jim-Bob and his family have made my days here pretty darn good.

I took Jim-Bob to the movie theater on his first date with Mary. I witnessed their first kiss. I took them on their honeymoon to Florida. I heard Mary’s cries as we rushed to the hospital where she gave birth to little Johnny. I rolled down the driveway, helpless, as four-year-old Johnny accidentally put me in neutral and we bumped into the neighbor’s ditch. I felt little Johnny’s tears drip onto my seat when he broke his arm at the park. He scratched me terribly the first time he rode a bike. I brought little Johnny to his guitar lesson every week, and beheld his grumpy morning face when he didn’t want to go to school. I brought Jim-Bob, Mary, and little Johnny to Yellowstone and climbed  mountains with them. I was there when little Johnny met his best friend, and my body has grown rusty from that humid, salty ocean air on days spent with them frolicking at the beach. I took little Johnny on his first drive when he turned fifteen (the duct-taped rear view mirror serves as evidence) and nervously stood by during his road test a year later. I brought them to church every Sunday morning without fail and heard every “Are we there yet?” and “I’m hungry” spoken on family road trips. I was there. I saw it all.

And now it’s time for me to say goodbye.  Maybe I’ll find another family in the junkyard; one of my very own. But for all the wonderful times we had together, Jim-Bob, Mary, little Johnny, and for all the hard times: thank you. Before I go, I just want to tell you: you were fantastic. Absolutely fantastic.

And you know what? So was I.

~

Something to think about: what if we had belly buttons on our foreheads?

Fun fact: I was born on Waffle Day. Also today is National Peanut Month. I hate peanuts. But it’s okay if you like them. I won’t judge.