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Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.” (John 14:21)

In the hit television drama “Breaking Bad”, high school chemistry teacher Walt is trying to set up a big buy of his amazing quality methamphetamine. The buyer is reluctant to deal with Walt. This is because Walt employs Jesse Pinkman, a former student of his who sells Walt’s drugs. “You can’t trust drug addicts,” the buyer tells Walt.

Sitting in a fast food place with this dealer, the  manager and also a man who is really a major player in the drug world, Walt explains why he works with Jessie. “I trust him,” Walt says, “He’ll do what I say.”

While Walt is far from being Jesus, he DOES have the same approach as our Lord when it comes to who he associates with. One of the followers of Jesus asked him “Lord, why are you going to reveal yourself only to us and not to the world at large?”

 Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say… Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me.” (John 14:22-24a)

I’m a little like Jessie Pinkman. I have my own dependencies. What I have come to realize, however, is that if I want to have a connection to Jesus, I have to get rid of them.

Unlike Walt, part of of doing what Jesus says involves dealing with my personal character. If I don’t, the attitude of Jesus toward me will be the same as the major buyer of Walt’s meth: He won’t let me into His world for fear that I may betray Him.

It’s getting more and more difficult in American culture to do what Jesus says. For me and I am sure others, part of the problem is that we want to fit in and have friends.

However, I think in my case the real issue is that I know that I can pretty much do what I want in America in the moral sphere and not worry about recriminations. In fact, the only abuse I would take in the US now is if I failed to join in on the fun.  In essence, the boundaries against immorality are now gone.

What keeps me from disobeying Jesus now is that I value His friendship more than I do the fleeting pleasures of my dependencies.  With this attitude in place, I have done pretty well of late dealing with them.

The rest of the world doesn’t know what they’re missing!

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“The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’.” Genesis 2:18

The politicians tell us today that there is a war on women. I think that the greater conflict is the battle between the sexes.

It’s no secret that traditional marriage is a difficult thing, and in our age even looked down upon. One fellow told me that he thinks men today think that women are just too difficult and have given up on them. I don’t really know what women think about men, but if the media is to be believed my friend’s opinion may hold true for them as well.

Pop star Sam Smith has written a poignant song about an offended lover which exemplifies a relationship gone bad.

You and me, we made a vow
For better or for worse
I can’t believe you let me down
But the proof’s in the way it hurts

You say I’m crazy
‘Cause you don’t think I know what you’ve done
But when you call me baby
I know I’m not the only one

The betrayal and pain seep from these lyrics. But what stands out even more to me is the how the two people view each other: they both think the other one is nuts, although a case can be made that the offending party is only saying this to their partner to cover their lie.

It is not easy to figure out what to do, but the classic movie “I’ll Be Seeing You” (1944) may give us a clue.

The film opens with World War II soldier Zach Morgan (Joseph Cotton) riding a train full of other service men obviously on leave. Mary Marshall (Ginger Rogers) sits down across from him and they strike up a conversation.

Mary tells him she is going to Pine Hill to visit her uncle and his family and Christmas. Zach says he is also going to Pine Hill, to visit his sister.

Thus, “I’ll Be Seeing You” begins with the two future lovers lying to each other. Mary is actually a furloughed prisoner at a penitentiary. Zach is definitely not from Pine Bluff and he is an orphan.

As their relationship develops, Zach fesses up to his reasons for lying to Mary. He wanted to be with her.

On the other hand, Mary keeps quiet about her prisoner status, and is reassured by her aunt that she should not tell Zach. They will be together such a short time, she explains to Mary, and the matronly aunt says that she should “have fun like other girls.”

Unlike Mary, Zach confesses to Mary his own furlough status from a hospital, where he is being treated for his psychiatric issues. Mary proves to be a kind and caring woman, encouraging Zach that he can overcome. In fact, it his her voice in his mind that helps him stave off a relapse when he is alone in his room.

The film shows Mary to be someone who is treated somewhat harshly by the justice system. She reveals to her 17-year-old cousin Barbara (Shirley Temple) the reason why she ended up in prison.

Her boss had tried to rape her in his apartment, and in the struggle she accidentally pushed him out a 14th-story window. Although it is clear she acted in self-defense, she is convicted on a manslaughter charge and sent to prison for six years.

In this context, Mary and Zach both fall deeply in love with each other in a few days. Unfortunately for them, and of course unknown to Zach, Mary’s furlough ends shortly after the New Year.

She has to go back to jail to serve three more years. He thinks she is a traveling saleswoman and has to go back to work.

Furthermore, when Zach tells Barbara before his own leave taking that he intends to marry her cousin , she discusses Mary’s true situation, not knowing that Zach is not aware of it.

Zach becomes cold to Mary as they prepare to separate. After Zach refuses to admit what is troubling him, it dawns on her that he now knows the truth. The train leaves with Mary unable to explain.

Arriving home, she encounters Barbara, who is distraught and apologetic. This does not help Mary, however. She forgives Barbara, but she lies on her bed, weeping and forlorn.

All is not lost for her, though. At the end of the movie, Mary is shown walking toward the prison doors in the night. The camera reveals the eyes of a figure hovering nearby.

It is Zach, who embraces Mary and tells her he knew right after the train left he was wrong to leave as he did. He apologizes and says he understands why she did what she did to receive a jail term (although it is not clear in the film why he knows this). He vows to Mary that he will be right there waiting for her until she gets out of prison.

Zach’s gracious behavior toward Mary illustrates a statement made by Jamaican singer Bob Marley:

“If she’s amazing, she won’t be easy. If she’s easy, she won’t be amazing. If she’s worth it, you wont give up. If you give up, you’re not worthy. … Truth is, everybody is going to hurt you; you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for.”

Zach understood Marley’s sentiments.  He knew Mary was imperfect. But he loved her and wanted her anyway. Zach appreciated that he too was no prize. The value Mary had for him made her worth the wait.

Although both men and women were created in God’s image and for each other, we are both fallen human beings, and have been for a long time. It seems that we forget this truth in our perception of the other sex.

Why this is the case is complicated. I think at the root of the war between men and women is a more cosmic struggle: the one between God and the evil being known as Satan.

When Adam and Eve sinned, God pronounced a curse on Satan, the perpetrator who engineered their demise:

“… I will cause hostility between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring.” Genesis 3:15

In some fashion, though we ourselves are culpable, men and women are in no-man’s land, caught in the middle between God and Satan.

Sam Smith’s lyrics also reveal another truth: men and women want and need each other. He writes:

For months on end I’ve had my doubts
Denying every tear
I wish this would be over now
But I know that I still need you here

This is the dilemma. Dutch theologian Desiderius Erasmus is quoted as saying, “Women. You can’t live with them and you can’t live without them.” I imagine women could say the same thing about men.

If my friend’s observation that men have given up on women is true, then I can see from my male point of view at least one solution to the battle of the sexes. They should heed the words of Bob Marley and imitate the actions of the fictional Zach Morgan.

Men and women ought to be less demanding, realize we are all on a journey ad find a partner that is worth suffering for and endure. We do need each other.

words of Bob Marley and imitate the actions of the fictional Zach Morgan.

Men and women ought to be less demanding, realize we are all on a journey ad find a partner that is worth suffering for and endure. We do need each other.

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Summer Fruits

“What mighty praise, O God,belongs to you in Zion. We will fulfill our vows to you, for you answer our prayers. All of us must come to you.Though we are overwhelmed by our sins, you forgive them all. What joy for those you choose to bring near, those who live in your holy courts. What festivities await us inside your holy Temple.” (Psalm 65:1-4)

When I recall this summer, one of the things I will remember was the amount of time I spent with God. And the movies.

By the beginning of July I was toast after a long year as a university educator. I had several weeks off, and I intended to sleep a lot and get time alone with God. I pretty much accomplished both.

I did have an agenda with the latter goal, I was seeking God’s leading on my life. What I learned at the end of many hours in the Bible and Christian books and prayer was that God was more interested in me seeking Him: period.

The flicks I watched tended to convince me of this, also.  I am drawn to biopics, and the one’s I have seen this year have centered on the failed lives of musicians, real and fictional.

Before the summer I had seen “Jersey Boys”, the life story  Frankie Valli. I wanted to see it because I had gone to the show in Las Vegas and wanted to see how the movie treated his life.

Both the play and the flick noted Valli’s messy life, although the former focused more on his music, which made it better in my view. The singer was involved with hoods and had a failed marriage. A later relationship ended when the woman decided she would always be second in his life to his career.

Despite his success, I walked out of “Jersey Boys” thinking how badly Valli’s personal life was in shambles, even at the end.

Another flick I saw this summer was a fictional treatment of a singer who is in a rocky relationship with a pop star, played by Adam Levine. In “Begin Again” Gretta (Keira Knightley) is a gifted songwriter, but one who doesn’t care so much about fame. However, she is discovered by Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo), a down and out record producer who sees her perform a song impromptu in a small club in New York .

Dan is only there because he has gone on a bender after losing his job with an indie record label, one he helped start. Add this catastrophe to his failed marriage and non-relationship with his 14-year old daughter Violet, and it is obvious that Dan’s life is in the toilet.

Gretta is in the pub for similar reasons. She has just moved in with her fellow British pal Steve because she has walked out on her budding rock star boyfriend Dave Kohl (played by pop sensation Adam Levine). The insightful lyricist has just figured out that her boyfriend cheated on her after he plays her a new song which has infidelity as a theme.

Gretta is at first reluctant to perform at the club or anywhere else. She is pushed on to the stage by Steve and when Dan attempts to convince her to let him produce an album for her, the best she can say is that she will think about it.

However, Gretta calls Dave the next day and agrees to come under his wing. What happens next is nothing short of brilliant. Dave and Gretta’s plan for their collaboration is extremely creative.

Their imagination and use of their talents are what makes the story in “Begin Again”. From their vision comes a new life for them and for several other characters in the film.

“Begin Again” will inspire those who find themselves at a crossroads to use their talents and ingenuity to take the next step when their lives are shattered. Dave and Gretta’s original thinking is a model for people who need to find a way to pull themselves out of the slough of despond.

Finally, there was the movie about the life of “The Godfather of Soul”, James Brown. “Get On Up” reveals the harsh nature of Brown’s upbringing and how it influenced his approach to life. The singer, born in 1933, was the son of a 16-year old mother and a barely adult father. The film shows the violence and immorality surrounding Brown in his youth. His mother eventually left the family and moved to New York. His father is portrayed as an abusive husband and parent. The movie shows Brown spent part of his childhood growing up in a brothel.

I felt sad for James Brown after viewing his story. It is said that it is lonely at the top and “Get on Up” emphasizes how true that was for him. His only true friend was singer Bobby Byrd, who helped Brown get into music. As Byrd’s role in their singing group diminishes and Brown’s shines, their relationship in the film becomes more like one between a boss and a subordinate.

Great men and geniuses like Brown seem to have a certain arrogance that drives others way. As the story in “Get On Up” develops, Brown grows more and more authoritarian and tyrannical in his personal and business life. The end result is that he alienates just about everyone around him.

Even as a famous entertainer, Brown can’t seem to avoid jail time. He ends up in the pokey after firing a rifle at one of his business enterprises and leading police on a high speed chase.

Valli, Brown, the fictional Gretta and her producer Dan inspired me to reflect on my own losses. By July I had no strength left and was trying to figure out how to maintain my health with changing insurance rules. In many areas I felt hemmed in. I couldn’t move. I felt I was growing old. I felt alone and abandoned.

The one common denominator in the terrible lives of all these musicians was that they did not have God in their lives. My discovery while doing all the reading and praying was that I did not need direction from God. I needed Him. I needed to give Him my life.

I had supposedly done that in the past–many times over. But this time, when I decided to quit trying to manipulate my circumstances and let God do what He wanted to do, I really meant it. 

I was hoping for great miracles and a change of environment. None of that has happened. What HAS happened is that I have more joy in just knowing God every day and trusting Him.

One of the authors I focused on this summer was Catholic priest Henri Nouwen. He wrote, “Your search for communion often takes place too far from where true communion can be found. Still, communion is your authentic desire and it will be given to you. But you have to dare to stop seeking gifts and favors like a petulant chhild and trust that your deepest longing will be fulfilled. Dare to lose your life and you will find it.Trust in Jesus’s words.” 

I am trying to do that minute by minute.

After all the searching for God’s leading I was led to the simplicity of believing that God exists and that he rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6) . Just as simple is my understanding that I know God loves me and that I can trust in that love.

I am not Catholic, but I went to Mass this afternoon, a week before Labor Day weekend, to honor a Catholic friend in the hospital and to pray for him at his old church. One thing this service emphasized throughout was the need for the forgiveness of sin. No drums, no hands in the air and waving, no complicated theological sermon. Just the simple Gospel.

 My prayer at the end of the summer is Nouwen’s:

“Dear God, I so much want to be in control. I want to be the master of my own destiny. Still I know that you are saying ‘Let me take you by the hand and lead you. Accept my love and trust that where I will bring you, the deepest desires of your heart will be fulfilled.’ Lord, open my hands to receive your gift of love. Amen.”

 

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They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” Luke 24:32

The Scriptures have many metaphors for our walk with God. The use of the term “walk” to describe our relationship to God is apt. For example, the Bible sees our relationship with God as a journey, one that we takes with Him.

Father Henri Nouwen refers to this when he writes:

“Dear Lord, I will remain restless, tense and dissatisfied until I can be totally at peace within your house. But I am still on the road, still journeying, still tired and weary, and still wondering if I will ever make it to the city on the hill. With Vincent Van Gogh I keep asking your angel, whom I meet on the road, ’Does the road then go uphill all the way?’ And the answer is ‘Yes, to the very end.’  And I ask again ‘And will the journey take all day long?’ And the answer is ‘from morning to night, my friend.’”

Today I was wrestling with a matter and said to God, “Lord, I don’t know the way.” Immediately the words of Jesus came to my heart. Those words from Scripture told me “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man goes to the Father except by me.” (John 14:6)

Peter learned this truth when he saw Jesus walking on the water. He asked the Lord if he could come to Him and Jesus beckoned him to do so. A stormy sea is not your normal road on which to take a walk. Peter became frightened and began to sink, but when he looked to Jesus he was rescued.

The Life Recovery Bible comments on Peter’s fear:

“Courage isn’t the absence of fear. Courage means we take advantage of the little strength we find within ourself, and that we stubbornly stick to God’s program for us.  Courage doesn’t mean being free of fear. It means finding enough strength to take the next step.”

I don’t know the way, but Jesus does, and with Him I can take the next step.

Nouwen also notes that the Scriptures use words for the term ‘home’ both in the Old and New Testament.  The journey is meant to take us “home”, another metaphor.  Our home is where he is. Jesus has made his home in us. Thus, even though I am far away from my family at this hour, my true home is where Jesus resides—in my heart.

Nouwen writes, “When Jesus says ‘make your home in me as I make mine in you’, he offers us an intimate place that we can truly call ‘home’. Home is that place or space where we do not have  to be afraid but can let go of our defenses and be free, free from pressures. Home is where we can laugh and cry, embrace and dance, sleep long and dream quietly, eat, read, play watch the fire, listen to music, and be with a friend.  Home is where we can rest and be healed. The word ‘home’ gathers a wide range of feelings and emotions up into one image, the image of a house where it is good to be: the house of love.”

The priest points out that millions today are homeless. They do not have this place of love. This point of Nouwen’s is brought out every day in our news  as the influx of Central American children plays out on our southern border here in the United States.  These children bring with them poverty, disease and trauma. Having no home is a tragedy of immense proportions. For those of us who follow Jesus, we always have a home with Him.

A recent pop song sung by American Idol winner Phillip Phillips could have been penned by Jesus. It talks of home.

“Hold on, to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m going to make this place your home

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m going to make this place your home. “ (Written by Drew Pearson and Greg Holden).

“This place” is whereever Jesus is. Whatever road He goes down, I’m going with Him and He with me.

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Matt Saracen

“The Lord gives both death and life; he brings some down to the grave but raises others up. The Lord makes some poor and others rich; he brings some down and lifts others up. He lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump. He sets them among princes, placing them in seats of honor. For all the earth is the Lord’s, and he has set the world in order.”(Hannah, I Samuel 2:5-9).

Matt Saracen stands at the door of his girlfriend Julie, his face caught appearing as if it is a mouse caught in a trap. She has just told the always-under-control former quarterback of their town’s championship high school football team that his father has been killed in Iraq.

In the television drama “Friday Night Lights’, Matt is the everyman, nonplussed while dysfunction reigns around him. He is concerned but unmoved while watching his friends from the team get in one fix after another.

Matt has enough to deal with on his own. Now graduated,  the young man has held it together all during high school as he watched his grandmother fade away with Alzheimer’s, except he has done more than watch. The young man is her caretaker. Dad’s off playing soldier and his Mom is nowhere to be found most of the time.

Although both Mom and Dad make occasional forays into Matt’s life, he really doesn’t know either one of his divorced folks. They co-wrote the book on absentee parents.

Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper rolled into one, Matt is now the signal caller who is blindsided by an onrushing defensive end called “Death”.

In the aftermath of learning the news of his Dad’s passing, Matt still carries on– distant and in-check. Surely, he has just taken a hit of the kind Joe Theismann received from Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor on national television during a game between the Washington Redskins and New York Giants. (The damage to Theisman’s leg shocked everyone and caused even he-men NFL players to gag.)

Yet, Matt sits at his Dad’s wake in silence. Julie tells him,”You haven’t moved from that chair in an hour.” Matt calmly replies that this is no problem because people are coming to him. That’s Matt Saracen: always in control.

He isn’t always staid, however. The rigidity in Matt’s demeanor begins to loosen when a representative of the military shows up to pay respects to his Dad. The impeccably dressed soldier tells the son that everyone says his Dad was quite a man, with a wonderful sense of humor. Matt walks away in a huff.

He goes drinking with his old football buddies and expresses to them how he feels about his Dad. Hanging out at night at a football field, Matt says:

“I gotta get up there in front of everybody and say good stuff about this man. And all I really want to say is, ‘Here lies Henry Saracen, his mother annoyed him, his wife couldn’t stand him, and he didn’t want to be a dad, so he took off to be in the Army because that’s the only way he could come up with to get out of here and ditch all your responsibilities, and no one could call you out on it, and that worked out great so you just decided to enlist four more times, and that ended up getting you killed, and now here you are. And all you left behind is a mother with dementia, a divorced wife, and a son that delivers pizza. Thank you for coming, 100 people I do not know.’ You know what the worst part is? Even if I did get up and say all that, I don’t even know if I’m saying it to him, because I don’t know what’s in that damn box. It’s a closed casket — might be someone else, someone funnier or a bunch of rocks.

As a result of the push from his old pal, the loser alcoholic and immoral former fullback Tim Riggins, Matt insists upon reviewing his Dad’s remains. Saracen, the man whose emotions are so hidden that he appears to be without a face, begins to unravel when he sees that indeed his Dad truly does not have one anymore. For once, his eyes fill with tears.

The independent Saracen at least does the smart thing under cover of politeness. He runs for help.

Saracen keeps an appointment, even though he is late. Matt makes a late-night visit to Julie’s family, headed by Eric Taylor, his former football coach. Matt has been invited to dinner, but that isn’t why he is there.  Picking at his food,  Matt slowly reveals his true feelings in front of the caring and stunned Taylor clan.

At first, he reverts to form. Telling Julie’s Mom Tami that he doesn’t like carrots and the meat  touching his vegetables, he stands up and apologizes for being rude. “I’m just having a ‘moment’ here. I’m just having a moment,” But he  finally admits, “I don’t think I’m ok.”

Weeping and his profile marked by excruciating pain, Matt half unintelligibly tells Mr and Mrs. Taylor, as Julie watches in shock, “I hate him. I don’t like hating people. But I spilled all my hate on him so I don’t have to hate anybody else so I can be a good person…you know, to  my grandma…to all my friends…to your daughter. That’s all I want to say. I just want to tell him to his face that i hate him. But he doesn’t even have a face.”

But that’s as far as Matt will go in revealing his emotions, at least in public. Saracen excuses himself and heads out the door into the night, sobbing as runs down the street.

Julie, crying, tells her Mom that she  wants to go after him. But Erik Taylor, the tough yet inwardly tender coach, goes instead. Catching up to Saracen, and in his strong masculine voice yelling, “Matt!”, Erick gets the boy’s attention. “I’m walking you home,” he says. The two head down the street, with the normally unaffectionate Erik’s arm around Matt.

Somehow, Matt’s decision to open up to Erik, Tami and Julie pays off. He has a kind of epiphany.

The next day, at the grave site, with family, friends and military trappings surrounding him, Matt eulogizes his Dad. He tells a funny story about Henry Saracen, one he observed as a six-year old. Matt acknowledges that his Dad was indeed funnier than he let on.

“I guess he was private in that way,” says Matt. “But one thing he was not private about was his service.”

He was in the army for 20 years and that was something he was proud of. He missed some of my birthdays and he missed a lot of me growing up, but I think the point is I got to grow up. And I got to have those birthdays. You know, he went to do a job that many people don’t want to do. Because of that we all get to be here and we all get to grow up. And we get to have our birthdays.”

One by one, Matt’s closest friends kiss him, touch him and leave the scene. Only Saracen, Julie and a couple of soldiers and gravediggers remain. The latter begin shoveling dirt on the casket.

Matt stands up in his suit and takes the shovel from one of the diggers and begins to shovel dirt. Eventually, he is vigorously pitching dirt alone. Only Julie is there with him.

Matt is burying not only his Dad, but his own painful demons and past as the screen goes black.

This episode, called “The Son” was rated by Time Magazine as the best show of the 2009 television season. I can see why. I have never been so moved by a scene as I was when watching Matt at his Dad’s funeral. I admit to weeping over it, and I am not the only one.

Entertainment columnist Shirley Li wrote about the deep effect the episode had on her. In an article entitled “I’m Still Not Over…Matt Saracen from ‘Friday Night Lights’ in ‘The Son'”, Li notes:

“To be honest, you can just say the words Friday Night Lights to me, and I’ll probably start tearing up. FNL fans know what I mean: The series as a whole was just the perfect mix of heartwarming and tragic storylines, and as a crier, I’m particularly vulnerable. Coach’s “we will be tested” speech in the pilot? Sobs. The Mud Bowl? Waterworks. Tyra getting into college? Niagara Falls on my face.”

But nothing made me bawl more than season 4′s “The Son,” which centered on Matt Saracen and his struggles to grieve over the death of his father, a man he hated. I didn’t need a Kleenex for this one; I needed a towel.”

And I still do. Because anyone who has lost someone understands how hard it is to grieve and to go through the numbness that happens in the aftermath. And for Matt — awkward do-gooder Matt Saracen, number 7 and former QB1 — his father’s death doesn’t just numb him, it destroys him.”

Even as I wept, I was trying to get to the core of my feelings and learn why was I so emotionally affected by a cotton pickin’ TV show. What I have learned is that I could relate to Matt on so many levels.

I had my own absentee Dad and experienced the same emotions as Saracen did in “The Son” growing up. Yet I also, like Matt, have come to an understanding that my father made a  contribution despite his imperfections. I  continue to grow in admiration of him as I get older. Unfortunately, it’s too late to express my feelings to Dad, so I am left, like Matt, shoveling dirt on old pain.

On the other hand, I could also understand Henry Saracen, who I have seen alive dealing with his son on FNL. I have in some ways become Henry, and my own Dad. I am separated by hundreds of miles from my family as I give all my time to my job. The year before I took this position, I was at home but unemployed. The pressure on our  already stressed family was immense. Finding no position that would support us locally after 9 months of unemployment, I left town in search of work.

The financial pressures have lessened, but my absence from my kids especially troubles me. They are growing up, as Matt Saracen did, without a father present in the home. I am afraid that they will have to go through the same experience that he did in “The Son”.  I don’t want them to have to deal with that pain.

I just hope  they stick with God, and me. I don’t have the answers. God does, though.

The Bible tells the story of a woman named Hannah who had a family situation that was not optimum. Her husband had another wife. Although Hannah was her husband’s favorite, she was childless. The second wife, who was fertile,  made Hannah’s life miserable by trash talking about the latter’s barrenness, The other wife, Peninnah, did this  to deal with her own pain over having to play second fiddle to Hannah in her husband’s affections.

The taunting brought Hannah to tears, and not just once. The Scriptures say she wept every time she experienced Peninnah’s attacks, and was so distraught during these occasions that she couldn’t even eat.

At the beginning of its discussion about Hannah, the Life Recovery Bible notes;

“Living in a dysfunctional family does not automatically mean that an individual will turn away from God. Neither does turning to God guarantee that the problems of a destructive family situation will go away. Reaching out to God, however, does ensure that we will have a far better chance of coping  despite the devastating circumstances.”

If I were writing the sequel to “The Son”, I would have Matt Saracen on his knees in prayer. This is the action Hannah took in her grief. She prayed. God answered her prayers and gave her a son.

Yet, despite the answered prayer, Hannah still had to give up being physically present with her child. In fulfillment of a vow to God, she sent her son Samuel off to be raised in the Temple in Jerusalem.

As a result, in God’s plan, Samuel became the leader of the nation of Israel from all of this.

It’s hard to understand why the barren Hannah would have to give up a son when she finally gets one after years of pleading. But my experiences as an educator help me grasp it some. As a teacher, I occasionally tell my students when they question me,”I know what I am doing.” God tells us the same thing.

I don’t understand why I experienced the things Matt Saracen did as a child or why I have become Henry Saracen. It’s complicated.

But God has a plan, and He knows what he is doing. The Scriptures say He loves me, and I have to rely on that. But my response to my circumstances shouldn’t stop there. I have to do more than passively receive His love.

One of the most oft-quoted Bible passages of all time tells me how I should respond. Not only that, it tells me why.

 “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.  And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else.” (Romans 8:28-32.)

God is a much better Father than Henry Saracen, my own Dad and me. I can trust Him to take care of my life and the lives of those I care about.

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“But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you;  you are the helper of the fatherless (Psalm 10:14).”
 
re·sil·ience Listen to audio/rɪˈzɪljəns/ noun
 
[noncount] 1 : the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens
▪ The rescue workers showed remarkable resilience in dealing with the difficult conditions.

 2 : the ability of something to return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, pressed, bent, etc.
▪ the resilience of rubber ▪ Cold temperatures caused the material to lose resilience. (Source: Merriam-Webster English Language Learner’s Dictionary)
 
Dan Berchinski has resilience. His main squeeze Rebecca Taber does, too.
 
The Army lieutenant stepped on a hidden land mine in Afghanistan in the summer of 2009 and lost both legs, in addition to suffering a broken jaw and shattered arm. He is now back in the States recovering.
 
At his side is Rebecca Taber. Her relationship with Berchinski is portrayed in the Washington Post this week. 
 
She is a typical young woman in Washington, D.C. where she works and lives, and where Dan is rehabiltating. Like many young people in D.C., Rebecca is smart and determined.
 
She is a former student body president at Yale, has a coveted job at a D.C. consulting firm and is currently on loan to the State of Delaware in an importan post. However, her main focus is Berchinski.
 
Before he went off to war, they had met and romanced a little. However, the relationship did not seem to have much of a future.
 
After Dan was sent home, Rebecca was determined to be his friend and stand by him. She visited him in the hospital several nights a week after work.
 
The friendship has blossomed into romance. When she is not working, she is with Dan.
 
Dan himself has suffered none of the trauma usually associated with the returning combat soldier.  Greg Jaffe of the Post writes in his article “Love After War”:

Dan carried some anger about the war, which he thought was bloated and wasteful. But he considered himself lucky. He felt responsible for Yanney’s death (note: a soldier under his command) who died shortly before Dan was injured), but it did not haunt him. He experienced no nightmares, no post-traumatic stress disorder and none of the memory loss associated with traumatic brain injury. He still had his hands.

 Later in the article, Jaffe says:

The truth is that Dan is mostly fine. Doctors at Walter Reed view him with admiration and some puzzlement. He has been able to set aside his trauma and move forward with humor and little regret.

A lot of that can be credited to the influence of Rebecca. She set up a white board in his room where she wrote personal and professional “to-do” lists for him. He now maintains them by himself.

He is venturing into business. In the future, he and Rebecca want to attend business school a Harvard or Stanford together.

How many of us could have the resilience of a Dan Berchinski or a Rebecca Taber?  When all hope seems to be gone, what is left?

I doubt many of us think we would have the inner moxie to carry on as they have. I don’t think I have it in me to do what they have done.
 
 One man I admire in the Bible for his resilience is David.  He seemed to bounce back a lot.
 
Once his family members and those of his combat comrades were kidnapped by some raiders while David’s troops were out campaigning. The men thought of stoning David because of his poor leadership.
 
What did David do? He got on his horse and led his men to recapture all their families. (I Samuel 30:1-19).
 
Then there was that “thing” with Bathsheba. He was resilient there, too.
 
“Come on”, you say. This was one of David’s darkest hours. What is there to celebrate about adultery and the murder of your lover’s husband?
 
What is honorable here is that when David and his affair were outed, he didn’t sit in his room drinking a Guinness. He”manned up” and took responsibility.
 
Sure, he grieved over his sin. However, his attitude was more than “sorry that I got caught.”
 
He fasted and prayed and begged God for the child he had fathered with Bathsheba. When the baby died, David had the fortitude to carry on and even comfort his wife Bathsheba. (II Samuel 12:1-25).
 
He made the best out of a bad situation by acting honorably, and so did God. In fact, out of that whole mess Solomon was conceived and born.  You may know him as the wisest man to ever live, the author of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. 
 
 What enabled David to bounce back from his defeats? The Scriptures indicate it was his humility with and hope in his God.
During the Ziklag affair, when he himself was weeping and his men were ready to take him out, the Scriptures say he “found strength in the Lord his God (I Samuel 30:6b).” During the Bathsheba incident, he admitted his sin, didn’t shoot the messenger (Nathan the prophet), and even had the courage to comfort his wife Bathsheba.
 
Shortly thereafter, David went back to being the king and the commander of the army. The Life Recovery Bible says of him:
 
To David’s credit, even though he had made some poor choices, he made a dramatic comeback. He went back to doing the things he should have been doing all along. After a relapse, we would be wise to follow David’s example.
 
Sometimes even bloggers must show resiliency. As I was writing this earlier, I lost a good part of the text I had written. I hate when that happens and think if never returning to piece it back together again: it’s too much work!
 
Therefore, I went and made a cup of tea and read a book. I figured that perhaps God might have some other message here to write later if this particular piece of writing was important. I didn’t expect the message to come so soon.
 
It came from my book,  called “The Judas Gate”, a thriller by Jack Higgins. In the chapter I was reading over my tea, there is an encounter between the antagonist and a priest.
 
Jason Talbot, has just lost his grandfather, a nasty old man whom he hated. The priest is trying to convince him to forgive the man.
 
The priest tells him:
 
“Forgiveness is everything. Christ even forgave Judas when he stepped in through the gate at the Garden of Gethsemane to betray him.
 
Jason replies:
 
“Well, as he hanged himself, it didn’t do him much good.”
 
The priest answered:
 
“Because he couldn’t forgive himself. Once he stepped through that gate -The Judas Gate as it has become known -there was no going back. It is the same for all of us when our actions betray our loved ones, we also betray ourselves.” 
 
Had Judas accepted the forgiveness of Jesus and forgiven himself, perhaps things would have been different. As it was, Judas saw himself as having no hope in this life or the next, went through with his awful task and then killed himself.
 
When Dan Berchinski was laying on the battlefield with horrible wounds, he told his fellow soldiers that the man who had died in the platoon was the lucky one. He felt with his injuries that his life was over.
 
Little did he know as he lay there that out of it all he would get a Rebecca. Post reporter Jaffe writes:
 
Rebecca sometimes wonders whether she would have felt the same attraction to Dan if he had come back from Afghanistan intact. She lists the qualities in him that she most values: his strength, his humor, his ambition. “I am still kind of torn whether these sides existed or whether the injury brought them out,” she said. “The qualities I admire most in Dan weren’t immediately apparent to me.”
 
Indeed, the last sentence in the Washington Post article reads,”Without his injury, she never would have dated him.”

The Art of Manliness blog discusses resiliency today. It says we are more resilent than we think.

The title of his piece is “This Too Shall Pass”.  He goes on to cite studies of how resilient we are after horrible events, which would explain Dan Berchinski’s response. He also mentions how life is filled with “peaks and valleys”.

I am not sure about that. It seems for a lot of us, life is one big crevice from which it is impossible to escape. Things seem to go from bad to worse.

In those circumstances, it becomes really easy to lose hope that there will ever again be any happiness. All we have from all appearances is another day of struggle ahead.

It is pretty hard to bear, whether you brought the circumstances on yourself or this corrupt world just treated you unfairly.  What to do?

In the former case, we ought to learn from Judas, who did not forgive himself. Perhaps others may not ever forgive, but Jesus does.  Indeed, He died so he could offer it to us, so how can we reject it!

The Scriptures do not say it, but David probably forgave himself, too. How could he have ever gotten the strength to get back in the saddle at home or work again otherwise?

Who is as isolated and alone as an orphan? God says he sees what’s happening with those who are alone in their misery and takes care of them.

He is  the only hope we have that life will get better. His support is  the only reason we have to get out of bed in the morning.

When we do, the “woe” has to go and the hope has to flow into our bloodstream with our morning Joe.  The truth that Jesus is on our side is the reason we can still have hope in this life.

For a pessimist like me, that’s hard to fathom, but man, it’s the only way to keep going. My message to myself is, “Why not show a little humility and believe Him for once?”

 

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“Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well (3 John 1:2).”

“The cowards never started

The weak died on the way

Only the strong arrived

They were pioneers.”

In the movie “About Schmidt”,  Warren Schmidt is reflecting on his life after visiting a memorial arch to the people who crossed Nebraska to settle the west. Among the other exhibits is a sign with the above quotation.

At the close of the move Schmidt, played by the indubitably great Jack Nicholson, is driving home in his RV from his daughter’s wedding in Denver to Omaha. He went to Denver, not to attend the wedding, but to try to convince his old maid daughter not to marry the loser she intends to wed.

His thoughts are recorded in a letter to a foster child he sponsors in Tanzania.

Dear Ndugu,

You’ll be glad to know that Jeannie’s wedding came off without a hitch. Right now, she and Randall are on their way to sunny Orlando,  on my nickle, of course. As for me, I’m headed back to Omaha. I’m driving straight through this time, and I’ve made only one stop. The impressive new arch over the interstate in Corney, Nebraska. An arch that commemorates the courage and determination of  the pionneers who crossed the state on their way west. You’ve really got to see it to believe it. And it… kind of got me thinking,  looking at all that history and, reflecting on the achievement of people long ago kind of put things into perspective. My trip to Denver, for instance is so insignificant compared to the journeys that others have taken, the bravery that they have shown,  the hardships they’ve endured. I know we are all pretty small in the big scheme of things. And I supposed the most you can hope for  is to make some kind of difference. What… what kind of difference have I made ? What in the world is better because of me ? When I was out in Denver, I tried to do the right thing,  tried to convince Jeannie, she was…making a big mistake but…I failed. Now she is married to that nincompoop and there is nothing I can do about it. I am… weak. And I am a failure. There is just no getting around it. Relatively soon, I will die. Maybe in 20 years… maybe tomorrow… It doesn’t matter.Once I am dead, and everyone who knew me dies too, a little, it will be as though I never even existed. What difference has my life made to anyone ? None that I can think of. None… at all.  I hope things are fine with you.

Yours truly,

Warren Schmidt

Warren has had a tough time of it. He has recently retired, his wife  has died, and his sense of purpose has dried up.

One day he sat at home watching TV and saw an ad for the support of African orphans. Warren is moved (and a little bored), and writes a check.

Throughout the movie he poors out his adult thoughts in letters to a six-year old boy. As a woman whom he met at an RV park told him, Warren is sad, lonely and even angry.

Warren, however, has sold himself short. In the movie, despite a few quite human mistakes, he proves his character.

He calls a close friend to tell the man he forgives him for an affair he has discovered his wife was having with him 30 years before. During the wedding reception, he compliments his daughter’s new husband and is completely gracious in a speech he gives.

Even the attempt to strongly dissuade his daughter from marrying is an act of courage. He endures her abuse and anger for his efforts.

Yet, he tried to save her from herself. It is she who has made the choice.

Unbeknownst to Warren, the transparent letters he has been writing to Ndugu have worked a healing he did not know about. As he walks in his office after arriving home, he opens a letter from Tanzania.

It is written by a nun and conveys Ndugu’s pleasure in receiving Warren’s letters. Ndugu wishes his friend a good life and health, and although he can neither read nor right, he has enclosed a “painting”.

The drawing shows a picture of two figures, one adult and the other a child, standing in front of a huge sun ball. They are reaching toward each other and grasping one another’s hand.

Warren begins to cry, then smiles.  Nicholson perfectly captures Warren’s emotions and own healing at that point. The movie ends, since there is nothing more to be shown or said.

Early in his own suffering, Job felt as Warren did. He wanted God to kill him. Furthermore, like Warren he considered himself too weak to go on:

“But I do not have the strength to endure. I do not have a goal that encourages me to carry on. Do I have strength as hard as stone? Is my body made of bronze? No, I am utterly helpless, without any chance of success.” (Job 6:11-13, New Living Translation)

Even great athletes sometimes get discouraged when things go wrong. Peyton Manning, the stellar quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts , got very upset when he was recently disabled by neck surgery.

Manning had played in over 200 consecutive games and was a football “Iron Man”. Without him, his team is floundering.

“I walked around for a while angry, in a bad mood. … ‘Woe is me,'” Manning told The Indianapolis Star on Friday. “I’ve gotten over that. It doesn’t do any good. I’m learning to deal with it and trying to have a good attitude. I’m not walking around looking for any pity party.” (from NFL.com)

What seems to be helping Manning is that he does indeed have a goal:

“I do hope to get healthy, and when I’m healthy and cleared to play, I want to be out there,” Manning said. “This is new to me.”

Health is a great goal. I have determined that this is my aim for the coming year as well.

This summer as I sat in the midst of a group of pastors, elders and a pastoral intern, the latter of all people made the most poignant statement about what my objective should be.  To paraphrase, he said I needed to do the things that lead to health.

At the time of that meeting, different areas of my life were in poor condition. One of the unsound aspects has led me away from my family in the coming year.  This intern’s comments, brief and almost drowned in the statements of the others in the room, were the most significant of all.

What will give meaning to my life in the coming months is to get healthy: physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, financially. The list could go on.

With this end in mind, I hope to give my life new energy. When I reach my aims, I want God to be up there like the Spanish language broadcaster who, after a score in a soccer match, yells into the micophone:

“GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!”

I suspect He will. I bet I’ll get a letter or a postcard from God that heals my soul.

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