Dear Jonah: This message is for Him, a letter of Thank you, Dear Jonah Stop Your Sulking. As I Child I felt unloved and most of the time the only thing I could do was sulk because I thought it was my fault. At the age of 14, I experienced real fears for the first…
When I lost all hope following my parents divorce, my scarce understanding of God miscommunicated my need for Him. In turn, I put my hope in all the wrong places; where pleasure I received was tangible but not eternal; where love was lusted but not grounded; where joy wasn’t joy, but instead was the duplicitous mirage of permanent Earthly bliss.
I longed for connection, but the very picture of connection had been convoluted and misshapen by the brokenness of my family’s divorce. Relationship lost its identity and I was redefining it for myself amidst an internal trauma that was as punitive as it was inevitable. The trauma incurred an internal crisis at 11-12 years old which subconsciously renegotiated the first 10 years of my life as I tried to make sense of the sudden thrust of painful change and coercive emotional agony. My thoughts were looking back instead of forward, hoping to aid my past in keeping my present from completely dilapidating. But the longer the present continued pulling me forward, the more narrow my hope became that my past had a chance of surviving the excruciating present. When my motivation to retain the past was exhausted, I couldn’t handle the pressure of such a threat, and that is when my picture of intimacy, closeness, security, and safety was crushed into despair. There was no place in the back of my mind where I felt I could hide my hope because I understood there was no going back to what was, and understanding that merely procured more hopelessness.
FALSE IDENTITY IN HINDSIGHT
Looking back as a 29-year-old man, I understand my parents’ divorce does not define my life. What I can admit however, in honesty, is that my parents’ divorce was a turning point for me as a human being. What I mean by that is that as a boy becoming a man—and as a boy interpreting the emotional incursions of divorce into the reality that is life—I came to understand that what defines a person is what material we’re made out of. After moving to college, I came to unavoidably experience internally and what I was not made out of. I was not made of internal strength, will power, any kind of belief system, or some image the world made of me. My mind had realized that my exterior had all along been a concoction of external influence, peer pressure, and the desire to people-please. But that was all a facade, not my identity. During my two-year stint in Florida, I learned so much about what I had been holding up in front of me for so many years, and I came to understand more clearly how heavy it was to hold up something that had never been me to begin with. You see, in my mind, my identity had begun with my parents’ divorce because my mind had overwritten the first ten years and redefined who I was based on the newfound pain. That was my premature response to dealing with trauma when I was doing everything I could to refuse the reality taking shape. Moving to California after that helped discover the next piece of the puzzle in finding myself.
THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD
Realizing who we aren’t is no one’s epilogue; it is merely a cliff note alluding to the cantankerous reality that is human life in a corrupted world. Realizing who we are, on the other hand, is the body of our story on Earth. This is what I came to understand after I left Florida and found myself in California.
Jesus Christ is my Lord and my best friend. But I didn’t know that until I moved to California and felt His presence come alive in me. If you’re wondering what that feels like, I can’t promise you that what it felt like then and what it feels like for me today is what it would feel like for you. God’s presence is like so many things. For me, it’s like wiping the dust and dirt off of my glasses and my eyes and peering into the world without distraction or filter. His presence feels like clarity, the way it feels to look out a window into a brutal rainstorm to witness what the beauty of danger looks like without being harmed. His presence brings satisfaction to the soul even if it doesn’t bring complacency to the body. God’s presence reveals the beauty behind everything, even disaster, and it opens my eyes to witness the majesty that is behind His creation: His fingerprint, His signature; His love.
OUR PAST IS A VEIL TO THE PURPOSE OF OUR LIVES
The reason why it’s important to keep the past in mind is to understand as a witness the way God works through pain, suffering, challenge, trauma, adversity, confusion, and doubt. But the past isn’t the dictionary of our soul; our past is the veil in which, when removed, reveals the true beauty in believing there is more to this life and its agonies than merely leaving the veil draped, mystifying the purpose for why we’re here. We’re not here to hold up facades or to be defined by our pain; we are here to learn, understand and receive how God works, speaks, and lives in our hearts—that even in every moment of Earthly pain—with Jesus, we hold a higher purpose through our pain.
Everyone has a story to tell, and everyone’s past plays a significant role in the way we choose to move forward. The problem is, we cannot move forward if we choose to live in the past. This is why hindsight is a blessing: We’re able to look into the past to remember why our present is so important. The past isn’t meant for dwelling, but just as reference points and clues towards improvement. Our pain is a way of reminding us why we wouldn’t want to make the same mistakes again. Even doubt rather than belief is significant in pointing out to ourselves why we are skeptical about one thing but more open or receptive to another. The veil of disbelief, for example, covers over not only our lack of belief, but over our ability to witness meaning in life beyond the value we place on our jobs, marriages, or families. When we live for these things, we depend on them for our happiness. But these things will always disappoint, sooner or later, causing us pain. This is the veil of skepticism at its worst. When we must objectify the meaning of our life to circumstance, we have forgotten purpose altogether, disparaging our present by declaring that our every breath is as meaningless as the pointless suffering we must battle stoically without belief that our suffering happens for a reason. In other words, if we depend on circumstance rather than hope and purpose in something beyond this life and this moment, then we set ourselves up for disappointment, constantly pleading for our present to live up to an expectation that it could never achieve.
THERE IS ONLY HOPE, THERE IS ONLY NOW
This is life when our past controls us, when we refuse to learn from the pain of our past rather than use the pain to clarify our present and cling to a reality that no longer exists. This is disbelief in the face of a world that contends a purposeful life—where God uses our greatest hopes to help us reap the benefits of growing through the pain in what we experience—above a life where circumstance will never live up to our hopes or fantasies. Here, we let go of the acrimony of the past and cling to the hope that God instills through strengthening us in His love. Here, we experience His presence and come to know Him not only through Scripture, but through personal testimony, prayer, community, nature, and the actual sensations in our heart and spirit reminding us that not only are we not alone, but that our pain is but a means of growing closer to God by seeking intimacy in the presence of His grace, love, mercy, and compassion.
I am not my parents’ divorce, one of the most painful experiences of my existence. You, too, are not your worst pain. Through Christ, we are made stronger because of our pain and through our pain, and our Lord God promises we will never be alone, nor will we ever be forsaken (Deuteronomy 31:6).
Be encouraged with this truth, and remade with this promise, in Jesus name.
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The Good News.
The Best News!
Our news broadcasts, our newspaper reporting, our general outlook on the world is not so good, to put it politely. Wars rage, conspiracy theories abound, racism and hatred still permeate our world.
And yet we know that Jesus came to die on the cross for our sins that whosoever would believe in him could be saved and have everlasting life (John 3:16). I know you probably knew that news. If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you’ve heard it preached about and quoted constantly. In fact, you may have heard it so often that the good news is not the best news any more. It’s gotten replaced by the news of a job promotion, or that your house finally sold, or that a new baby was on the way. All of those are great reasons to celebrate, but none of them compare to the best news…the gospel. Mark Batterson, in his book “All In,” has said it best:
“The moment you bow your knee to the lordship of Jesus Christ, all of your sin is transferred to Christ’s account and paid in full. It was nailed to the cross two thousand years ago! But that’s only half the gospel. Mercy is NOT getting what we deserve- the wrath of God. Grace is getting what you DON’T deserve- the righteousness of Christ. Everything you’ve done wrong is forgiven and forgotten. And everything Christ did right- His righteousness- is transferred to your account. And then God calls it even.
It’s like God says, ‘I’ll take the blame for everything you did wrong and give you credit for everything I did right.’ It doesn’t get any better than that, and that’s why it’s called the gospel. It’s not just good news. It’s the best news.”
Take the time today to really let the gospel sink deep into your heart and soul. Don’t just tritely memorize scripture or say a few prayers of thanksgiving and think that the gospel has made a difference in your life. Meditate on the immeasurable sacrifice Jesus made on your behalf and remember… the gospel has, is, and always will be the BEST news.
Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for justice sake;
you shall be satisfied.
While in Israel, I was amazed by the circumstances of its people and its property. Israel occupies a large portion of what we consider to be the Holy Land. Interestingly enough, the holiest places within its borders are controlled by various entities, including Muslims, Christians and Jews. Because our guide is an Israeli citizen who respects his countrymen whatever their beliefs and speaks Hebrew, Arabic and Italian (among other languages), he gained us access to sites where others are denied entry. Whenever this occurred, Yossi didn’t revel in his success. He simply pointed out that being respectful of the ways of others and meeting others on their own turf or terms usually leads to peaceful encounters which benefit all concerned. “This is the way to peace,” Yossi would say.
Perhaps this is the reason Yossi exhibited some impatience with his Hasidic Jewish neighbors. I was surprised to learn that they make up only ten percent of Israel’s population. Most of this sect live in their own neighborhoods where they adhere to the strictest code of conduct. Our guide also surprised me when he shared that eighty percent of the population in non-religious. It seemed to trouble Yossi to acknowledged that the holiest place on earth is home to so many non-religious people. Still, Yossi added that the strict rules and intolerance of a few soured many Israelis’ views of organized religion.
As I pondered all of this, I wondered how many of these “secular” Jewish people quietly worked toward change. I wondered how many of them also opened their hearts to something else as Yossi had.
Loving God, help us all to work toward justice with loving hands and loving hearts.
©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved
Even though we may be twins, the circumstances behind her birth did not in any way determine the events of today. As I sat down to write a heartfelt speech my mind began to wander, there I sat a feathered ink pen in one hand piece of papyrus paper in front of me and beside…