That Bum On My Couch

I was in the second-to-front pew at church the other week, and I was feeling the morning blues.

Do you know what I mean? That sandy-eyed, groggy-voiced, brain-not-quite-awake feeling of sluggishness that isn’t really ready for 120 decibels of worship music being emanated directly in front of oneself.

Don’t get me wrong, the band was great. I liked them, really. I’m usually the type to get into the celebration spirit right away…. but that day, I just…. wasn’t.

I tried desperately to focus on the positive side of life, like the two adorable little girls dancing in front of me, carefree as could be. It helped a little.

Then the pastor took the stage, and he told a story.

“Imagine going home from church today,” he said, “And finding a bum fast asleep on your couch. He is stoned, snoring, and you have no idea who he is. What would you do?

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Hmm. Let me guess. You’d try to make him leave. Maybe pat him on the shoulder, say “Excuse me, sir. You’re in the wrong house.” But what if that didn’t work?

You’d get a little more violent, maybe go so far as to poke him, maybe even raise your voice. “HEY, SIR. THIS IS NOT YOUR HOME! YOU NEED TO LEAVE!”

But what if he just went right on snoring? What if he rolled over, looked you in the eyes, said, “Excuse YOU, but this IS my house!” and went back to sleep?

Would you shrug, assume he was right, and just live your life around him? What if he invited his friends over, and they all claimed that this house belonged to them as well? Would you accept that?

You see, friends… your level of persistence shows what you truly believe.

If you truly believe the bum does not belong in your house, you will fight back harder, call your buddies to help you drag him out of your house, maybe get the police involved. You would take as much time as necessary to evict him.

What about your spiritual life?

When temptation, fear, sickness, depression, shame, and the 1,000 other tools of the enemy sneak their way into your ‘house’…. do you accept them?

Do you politely try to evict them, and if they do not obey the first time… or the 12th time…. just assume they are meant to stay? Or do you hold FAST to your knowledge of what is yours, and fight for it until everything is set right?

Do you BELIEVE that God can if He wants to?

Do you believe that He might not be able?

Your level of persistence shows what you truly believe in. “

And that is what I learned on a half-awake Sunday morning, from the second-to-front pew.

Jesus was homeless, too.

I don’t live in the city anymore, but when I did, I never once gave money to sign-holders. I’ve never dropped even so much as a quarter in a Salvation Army bucket. That’s a shame.

No, it’s more than that. It’s a complete disgrace.

I met a homeless man named Richard LeMieux last week, and if I would have judged him by his looks and name alone, I would have laughed and said, “It’s all a game. People with high-class, French-sounding names aren’t homeless. Look at him! He has a dog! Homeless people don’t have dogs. And he has a van. What a lazy bum.”

But then I saw the dejection in his eyes, and the humiliation, and the hopelessness. I knew, even before I had heard five minutes of his story.

This man really is homeless. But that’s not the reason for the pain in his eyes. His heart is shattered because he is alone, scorned and rejected. 

Richard LeMieux was depressed.

Depression is a taskmaster who steers the wheels of many, many….. FAR too many lives. No one sees these lives, because they are too ugly—too unpredictable to look at. Yet denying their existence does not cause them or their problems to disappear, and so they exist, and careen farther and farther into the ever more arid desert of un-lovedness. Richard is one, and it didn’t happen by choice. He didn’t start out homeless.

It wasn’t the choice of the 30 men and woman eating ham around me at the Catholic nunnary, the people who had nowhere to go on Christmas morning.

It wasn’t their choice that EVERY single one of their friends disowned them.

It wasn’t their choice that their business went bankrupt and the bank took all they owned.

It wasn’t their choice to be a victim of abuse, and to live life on the move from city to city, hiding for their life.

And the ugliest part of their reality is that almost nobody takes the time to understand them–and that fact alone is the most undeniable proof that they are unwanted and unloved.

Richard and his friend C–two real people with beating hearts just like yours and mine–sat down together one day, having just seen their homeless friend Adrian being dragged behind a car in retaliation for a drug deal gone bad. This is what they said.


 

“You know who the most famous homeless man in history was, don’t you Richard?”

“No.”

“Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head, Jesus said.”

“I should have known that.”

“You, Richard, are in good company.”

“People were afraid of Jesus.”

“Yes, and people are afraid of the homeless today. And they are disgusted when they see a person digging through a garbage can or a dumpster. They’re frightened when someone unclean talks to them—afraid they might ask for money, afraid they will steal their car or rob their house or stab them.

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But it isn’t the homeless they should fear.

It’s the people who have jobs and money—like that truck painter, Gary Ridgeway, aka the Green River Killer. Did you know he admitted to killing forty-eight women in Washington State? He’s the deadliest killer in the United States to date.”

“Yes, I did read that.”

“Can you imagine that one Christmas Eve, Ridgeway got off work early, cashed his Christmas bonus check, went to the mall, bought some presents on his MasterCard, had dinner at home with the wife, and then went out and killed a young woman and dumped her body along the road?

She was one of those disgusting, homeless prostitutes people fear.

H—, maybe the %$@# did her a favor! She would probably have had to sell her body over and over again for ten, maybe fifteen years just to pay for a three-hundred-dollar-a-month apartment, electric and water, and a run-down car!

People should REALLY be afraid of guys like the Tacoma police chief who shot his wife to death in the parking lot at the mall. Or the son of the director of the Department of Corrections for Washington state who raped a two-year-old. He pleaded guilty and got a whole six months! If a homeless guy had done that, he’d get life in prison!

You know, the big thing that sets the homeless apart is that they usually only commit crimes out of desperation. Those with homes and jobs commit crimes out of boredom or hatred or greed.

‘You are not needed anywhere, not wanted anywhere. Nobody cares what you do.’ And you know, unless people have been there—lost, alone, rejected, feeling worthless and unwanted— they just can’t know the numb feeling that drags you down. All the dreams are gone, gone forever. You’re just hoping for some force to end the nightmare peacefully.

Whatever happened to Emma Lazarus’s sonnet on the Statue of Liberty? ‘Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’

Homelessness in this great country of the United States is an abomination!

But the great masses—who are only one paycheck or one stroke of luck better off themselves— even THEY repeat the same great lies about the homeless: ‘They are lazy. They don’t want to work. They are drunks, bums, drug-using, worthless scum.’

If you tell the same lie over and over again about the homeless, eventually it becomes the truth. You tell your wife the lie, then you tell your children the lie. Rush Limbaugh and Mike Savage then broadcast the lie, and politicians who want your vote politicize the lie. The lie just grows and grows.

The homeless are human beings. Okay, so they are people with problems—some greater than others. But there is no problem that can’t be overcome with love, patience and kindness. Given help and a sense of direction, most will help themselves and even help others.”

-Dialoge between C and Richard, Breakfast at Sally’s by Richard LeMieux


Homelessness in America is an abomination! But even worse? My response.

So, what am I going to do about it?

 Love. Not fear.

 

 

 

 

Pain is Holy

“I was on tour, and a friend who was on tour with me went through a really rough valley.

She experienced a miscarriage.

I was with her the day after, and I asked her how she was…. what was going on for her inside. She said, “You know, the only words that keep rising up in my mind are, “I’m sorry… I’m so, so sorry.”

Pain does that to us, ya know?

When we’re stripped low, down to that level, what’s deep within us comes out.

For my friend, it was taking blame. Shame. A deep-rooted part of herself… not created by her pain, but brought to the surface because of it.

We all know the story of Job, right? He thought his life was pretty rough… and then his friends came and made it even worse.

The last thing he wanted to hear was a list of condemnations…. a list of things he had done to deserve to be in this place…. a list of ways he could get out of his painful place and be “back to being a ‘good’, ‘normal’ person”.

The reality is, pain isn’t a wrong place to be. It is a holy place, because

it is a place God uses to bring the hidden places of our hearts into the light.

I remember another time when I was on tour, and wading through a really dark valley. A friend was with me in the back of the van one afternoon, and asked what was going on for me. I told him, but as I did so, I was constantly bracing myself, waiting for him to offer advice that would prove to me why, if I was a good person, I really shouldn’t still be in this place.

He didn’t say a word.

When I was done talking, he stood up, and made me stand up too. He told me to take off my watch. I did. He said, “I’m going to hug you. I’m gonna hug you now for two minutes, and I’m gonna time it, ‘cuz you’re not going anywhere.”

Now you have to know my friend. He’s a big, masculine, hairy-chested football dude. Not the kind you’d expect to go around hugging people.

I laughed at first, because it was awkward. But a half-minute into it…. I started to cry. Then I started to messy cry, blubbering all over my friends sleeve and just hanging limply, totally helpless.

The two minutes were up, and he hadn’t said a word.

But I knew exactly what he was saying, because his actions screamed, “You are not an outcast because you are in this place. This is a HOLY place, you are worth it, and I care.”

Pain is a holy place, and in the presence of holiness it’s best to just keep quiet.”

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As he told this story, the emotions on Jason’s face clearly showed that this was a lesson he had learned the hard way. And after a moment’s hush, he began to sing the song his own journey through pain had inspired,

“You could see the smoke from a mile away. Trouble always draws a crowd. They wanna tell me that it’ll be ok… but that’s not what I need right now….”

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Listen to the rest of the song HERE, and don’t forget to buy Jason Gray’s new album!

My Best Addiction

Now that you all know I’m addicted to gummy bears….. (and oh happy day, I got a whole 1-lb bag of them for my birthday) I gotta tell ya’ll about my FAVORITE addiction.

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The one I plug into when I get upset at my boss.

Or when I’m preparing to teach.

Or when I’m bored by a mindless task.

Or when I’m driving, sitting, chewing, moping, running, or staring for hours at a blank computer screen.

Pretty much, I plug in all the time. My father loves it. Tiny kiddos love it. Basically, a win no matter who you are.

Am I gonna tell you what it is? Ohhhh no. Watch it on YouTube HERE.

And join the stampede of audio/visual learners!

We’re happy to have you 🙂

(Oh yeah…. and it’s available on Audible for free, with a one-month free trial subscription. You’re welcome.)

I hope you {dance}

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Life is short.

But I’m not afraid. When I die, I hope you dance. I hope you do a full-out jig.

Stop giving me that awkward stare. I’m really not that crazy.

I attended a funeral last fall. Unfortunately, I’ve been at quite a few in the last year. But this one was traumatizing, unlike anything I’ve experienced previously or since, from the about-to-rain suffocation of the low-hanging storm clouds, to the crunching gravel beneath the wheels of the hearse, to the utter silence of the people, to the tomb-like, clammy chill in the air. The ghostly rustle of starched black fabric of the people walking towards the graveside was almost more than I could bear. What was the worst, though, was the total lack of communication and expression. Almost no one–out of hundreds–spoke to the grieving family. Almost no one cried.

And even though the one who died was a jubilant follower of Christ, no one celebrated.

When I die, I hope you dance.

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I hope you hug my family, and cry if you need to and laugh if you want to and don’t feel embarrassed if you do both at the same time. I hope you’ll understand that if your heart is sad, you don’t need to say a word. Just be. And realize the truth.

I am safe from the world of harm, and have the rest of eternity to explore my Father’s nature, to bask in His pure, unspeakable love, to uncover the mystery and beauty of an unseen kingdom.

It is a time to celebrate.

When I die, please don’t wear black. I hope you wear all the colors of the rainbow. Blue and orange and turquoise and yellow and every shade in between.

I hope you sing Blessed be Your Name. I hope you raise your hands towards heaven.

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I hope you clap. I think the Savior deserves that much expression, at least, for redeeming a creature like me and leading me safely home. It’s a home I’ll be ecstatic to be in.

I hope you celebrate. You can celebrate my life, if you really want to, but what I really hope you celebrate is my King.

Celebrate the glories of heaven. I don’t want the pastor to talk about ashes to ashes, dust to dust and all that racket. I want him to tell the gospel message. But don’t use the word “gospel”, please, Pastor. Use simple, everyday words like love, freedom and peace. Explain the Father’s love, because it is AMAZING, and I don’t think I told the ones I love enough about it and how it transformed my life. Vividly display it as best you can, Pastor. Jump around a little.

Get excited!

Tell about the passionate, unshakeable, transforming, peace-oozing love of an incredible Prince of Peace. Talk about His love for the downtrodden….. how He bore (literally carried, experienced, was wounded by) our griefs and carried (took upon Himself) our sorrows.

Make sure you mention that He definitely does not have a thing for flowery words or perfectly choreographed actions. He’s totally cool with the unspoken cry of a desperate heart or the collapsed form of a beggar. It’s the kind of medium He can work with best.

Basically, Pastor, just make sure you let everyone know that His love is here, now, forever and REAL.

When you lower my casket into the ground, I want the kids to have confetti and glitter to toss, because it will be a small chance for them to remember that they can join in the celebration of the angels, even though they are still stuck down here on earth.

I want a cloud of colorful balloons to be released into the air.

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I want the balloons to symbolize my spirit set free from the limitations of my old sin nature and flimsy body.

I want you to remember only one thing when I am gone. Eternity is real. Heaven is pretty unspeakably awesome, and I really hope we can spend it together. Cuz we’ll have way more fun than we ever did here on earth.

I hope that if you never thought about life after death, or a passionate Lover who can’t be seen with earth-eyes but can be felt when no visible person would dare to venture near you, or a Lord who is willing to forgive the darkest sin (trust me, you’ll never know what kind’s I’ve committed. I can talk.), if you never considered these things, I hope you’ll know that it’s not too late!!

There’s this cool love letter around. You don’t even need to go dig it off of some old dusty shelf. You can read part of it here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKmdIdQg3Ks

I hope that if you thought you’d never see me again, you’ll meet the King of Kings, and reconsider.

And when you truly meet Him, you will fall in love. And then, when your heart is at ease like you’ve never known before, and the smile of forgiven wrongs splits your face, and your eyes shine so brilliantly with the light of heaven that you surprise yourself when you look into the mirror, and the overwhelming reality of the love of your Heavenly Father comforts you in a way that you never though could be possible….

I hope you dance.

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I’ll be dancing too.

My Lantern Ignited a Tree

And then it was 2013.

As the first few minutes of the fresh, new year ticked their celebratory circuits around the clock, my friends and I released a cloud of paper lanterns into the night air.

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They floated solemnly at first, and then with a gust of hasty impatience shot straight up until they were only fairy specks against the obsidian sky.

Except for my lantern.

When I lit it, it tossed it’s papery nose into the air, turned a scornful back on its partners high aloft in the sky,

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and instead did a drunken dance across the yard.

And landed in a tree. Where it proceeded to smoke and burn in the most grotesque fashion, and began to ignite the branches.

To which we responded by pummeling it to the ground with snowballs.

Oh, how ironic.

I actually don’t believe in luck. You already knew that, right? But regardless of the fact, since the dawn of 2013 I have lost my smart phone, towed my car to the garage (to sit there helplessly until my bank account awakens from the dead), been stranded in sub-freezing temperatures, seen my friends deal with cruel and devastating situations, and watched the culminating effects of retinoblastoma in my 7-month-old niece.

At a bad moment, I’d say that 2013 has been pretty long already.

But then my mind wanders back to those pre-2013 moments around the bonfire.

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When I stared into the coals and remembered 2012. That rollercoaster year of challenges, and heart-wounds and wondering what in the world was the purpose for it all. The year of hopes dashed, and fears forged and dissolved, and finding out just how different the spiritual world is from the our tiny little world here on planet earth.

The year I drank the deepest draughts I have ever received from the bottomless well of the Father’s exuberant love for me.

The year I experienced the Holy Spirit’s power in ways far beyond the vision or imagination of man, and sat back time and time again without a word to say that could begin to describe my amazement.

The year I cast the lies of the devil far from me, and danced the dance that only the ones who are truly free can know.

The year I did things way beyond myself.

And as I sat there by that fire, do you know what the pervading thought in my mind was? POWER. Even though 2012 was one of the harder years of my life, the POWER of the Glorious King was clearer to me than ever before. He was unstoppable, beautiful and overflowing with passionate, personal love. And unlike our years, He never changes.

Somehow, I’ve got a feeling that 2013 is gonna be a good year.

But my bull-headed laptop computer declares that today is August 3, 2012. So we’ll have to wait and see.

“Look among the heathen, and regard, and WONDER marvelously! For I will work a work in your days that you will not believe, although it is told you.” Habakuk 1:5

beyond the GALAXIES

Last night–er, morning–, I laid out on my roof in my -20 degree Coleman sleeping bag and watched a meteor shower.

I counted twenty falling stars….. and then I stopped counting and just gazed at the glory of the skies and tried to figure out the meaning behind it all. In case you’re wondering, I didn’t come to any monumental conclusions.

I stared up at the galaxies twinkling far above the hectic earth, and asked the Father, “Why?”

He said, “My ways are not your ways, neither are my thoughts the same as yours.”

My heart shivered, and I nodded, “Yes. I already understand that, Father.”

No. You really don’t. As FAR as the heavens are from the earth, so are my plans different from yours. You cannot understand how far the heavens are above the earth. You cannot understand me. You haven’t lived to see a thousand years come and go as swiftly as one of these shooting stars–look, there goes another one now!”

It was over in an instant, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t begin to fathom a thousand years passing by so quickly.

Then today arrived, and 20 (plus who knows how many more) lives were lost, and hundreds of hearts were shattered into dust, and the nation reeled with pain and the depressing implications behind it all.

When life crushes all but the very last 1/100th of an ounce of breath out of you–and you really don’t care whether that last bit of breath is snatched from you as well or not–there are no answers. There just aren’t. You cry and breathe and sometimes find the strength to hope for better days, and sometimes don’t.

Tonight I thought of the stark contrast between those people’s worlds and mine as I goofed off with two of my precious nieces.

What if it had been me?

What if I was the one who got the call, or saw the blood-splattered walls, or heard the last gurgling yet piercing cries of desperation? What would I do?

What if I was the one who had that split-second chance to stop all of this, and missed it?

Life is short… so effortlessly, terrifyingly, short.

I decided to live recklessly in the moment. We hugged and ate cookies and acted crazy. We danced around. We laughed at our own jokes. We dressed up in weird clothing and shot pictures.

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We LOVED.

And we didn’t find a reason to explain away the pain that stood so hauntingly close every time the news came on. They weren’t our questions to ask, because the wounds are not our own….

this time.

But in the past, they have been. And then I was the one who cried, and breathed and sometimes found the strength to hope for better days, and sometimes didn’t.

And when the wound had been given time to heal just a bit… just enough that I could move again, I was the one who had to make a choice. Where was I going to run?

To blame?

To denial?

To numbing it out of my head?

To the reckless belief that there is something more than what the eye can see?

I tried them all, believe me. It was a rocky path. But in the end, I chose the Father, and crawled to Him on torn up hands and knees like a little baby, slobbering and crying and sometimes spitting up in His face.

He was patient, and carried me when I couldn’t walk.

He offered hope, which was a dangerous gift to recieve. It meant laying down my ideas of how my life should be, and accepting the unknown. But the peace that came was unbelievable! It can’t be understood by logic… only felt with the heart. Because his love was woven through it all, and love is a heart thing.

He offered hope in return for trust, and I was loco enough to recieve it. And that is where the process of finding answers begins.

But sometimes they never show up.

Not in this life.