What is your message?

We all have a message. God has made us each unique and accounted for. We have our own victories and struggles, and we need to be able to own all of it. 

I have tried to write for twenty-four hours and just couldn’t. Sometimes I am just stifled by the world. Many times I just can’t figure out what the heck is wrong with me. If I suffer, I shouldn’t be suffering, I should have joy. I shouldn’t talk about the pain in the world, or the pain I’m feeling. My message should be supplanted by the one you have for me, your ideas of what God has for me. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me on the inside. I know what’s wrong on the outside. God wouldn’t let me write, and well for good reason. I was trying to write someone else’s message. 

The Jennifer Fulwiler show as I have mentioned so many times before is a source of light for me.  It’s inspirational as it is funny, eclectic, deep thoughts through a Christian lens. But it’s real, it’s who God called her to be. I appreciate it for introducing me to people I would otherwise have never known about, but also for the subtle messages that God provides through Jen’s microphone. I listened to the on demand episode from yesterday, and in the midst of the two hours of taking my mind to a secluded island, I found a gem. Jen had this to say after an interview with a local Christian rapper:

“The message that God calls you to put out there, just do it.”

It was like a knock to the head. What? It’s o.k. to be me? I can talk about suffering? I can talk about ugly things?

I had to reflect on that a bit. What is my message? What am I trying to get across?

And that led me to a song that someone gave me when I first found Jesus. He had listened to it himself and told me that when he heard the song, he swore it was written about me. When I was first introduced to it, I listened to it on repeat five hundred and one times because every word of it was sacred. It was the story of my life…

You must listen to it yourself to understand its depth, but its theme is unmistakable. Why do people think there’s something wrong with me because I am me? Because I question? Because I wonder if there’s a God who cares about me?  Did anyone ever consider that this is just the way God made me? Here are a portion of the lyrics:

Maybe this was made for me
For lying on my back in the middle of a field
Maybe that’s a selfish thought
Or maybe there’s a loving God

After hearing Jen’s commentary today, I remembered the song. It has been a rough week and I have felt myself spiritually lying in that field, questioning, while others think that I shouldn’t be. And I realized, that’s ok.

My message through my writing, my talks, my ministry, my conversion has never changed. I can’t help that. I can’t help that I’ve experienced trauma or that I hate being a working mom or that my son has ADHD or that the world sucks. I can’t help that I cry every time I see a homeless person or an abused child. I can’t help that I identify with the suffering and pain of Christ and it’s where I feel closest to him. My message will never change- It’s o.k. not to be o.k.

There are people out there who need to hear that. That it’s o.k. to cry or be an atheist because you believe God killed your mother. Why are we always trying to save people? Why can’t we let them go through whatever they are going through, why are we always stifling suffering?

I realize that the reason I wrestle so much is because people are uncomfortable with suffering. They don’t want to talk about the hard stuff. They don’t want to hear about my sexual abuse or how it effected me, or my son’s disability or how the things I see at work everyday in the criminal justice system affect me. I work in suffering. I am in the business of suffering. And when I read the next report and the next report that comes in about another suicide or rape, I silently close my eyes, and pray. I understand…

I urge you to think about your own message, your uniqueness. The person maybe you think you’re helping but really are alienating. How you may be trying to play the role of Jesus.

Listen to the song…

Don’t call yourself a Christian if you can’t yourself forgive

“Start tearing the old man down
Run past the heather and down to the old road
Start turning the grain into the ground Roll a new leaf over”

Omaha- Counting Crows

Forgiveness is not optional. It is not conditional or with parameters. It is not just because we have to, it is because we want to. It is because we have a greater desire to be one with the crucified Christ in order for ourselves to be risen in Spirit. There is no height or width in our forgiveness. It doesn’t look the same for everyone. It is a necessity. It is the entire basis for what we believe.

I’ve heard a lot of “I shouldn’t have to” apologies and “I’m right” and “my pastor says it’s o.k.” I’ve heard every excuse. I have taught a bible study for sexual abuse survivors for which I am one, where I continually preached about our necessity to forgive our abusers. It was gut wrenching and one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. But at the end, oh at the end, it was us that were free.

I have decided to take up Pope Francis’s Year of Mercy as a personal mission. I offer mercy whenever I can. And mercy and forgiveness don’t negate consequences. It only requires we be the love of the Lord, His heart, His hands and his feet. So I sent a reply to a former client who had sent me a Christmas card from prison.

“Believe in Jesus, believe in forgiveness, you can walk with Him even behind those prison walls.”

And an excerpt from his reply:

“I’ve long ago given my life over to Christ. Everyday I grow closer to Him. My journey in this place has been pure hell. But God has always seemed to free me mentally from these walls.”

He hurt someone. He will be in prison until he is a very old man. I tried to help him when he was free. But now I know that he was never free. He was not free until he got to prison. 

There’s nothing you can do or say that will change my mind about Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness. There is no verse you can turn on its head or teaching you could show me that would convince me that Jesus was anything other than forgiveness itself. He was, in the beginning, the word, and in him, there is only life.

Someone hurt my son, and I chose to forgive him. And I chose mercy. I chose to see him through the eyes of Christ. And God forgives me everyday. And so I forgave him. There is nothing to understand except the God that lives inside of me. And although my heart ached, I was at peace… an indescribable peace. And we prayed together for this person. And we talked about God’s forgiveness as a family. And my children learned that God values their pain and the forgiveness that was extended through our hands. And it was impossible to cry when my son said to a grown man, “apology accepted.”

If you’re feeling convicted you should, there’s nothing to be confused about. You can’t call yourself a follower of Jesus if you don’t follow him. 

The crucified Christ lived inside of me today. And He eased my pain. All I felt was His love, for me and for my son. I was Abraham carrying Isaac in obedience to the God I serve. And He, he provided the ram.

Why do we want to kill all the broken people?

Buy the book, like today. P.S. I am not receiving ANYTHING for this endorsement

Sometimes the hard conversations are the ones that we need to have. We avoid them, run from them or sometimes completely ignore them. The longer I walk with Jesus, the more I realize that although he has changed my mind and my heart in drastic ways, I am still me. Although for a long time, I didn’t think it was o.k. to be me. Like today. Until I realized, I am exactly who he made me to be.

There are many people who have opinions on a variety of topics. Suffice it to say I wouldn’t go to a pediatrician to get an opinion on my criminal case. As smart as I am with the brains God has given me, I am smart enough to know I don’t know everything. But what I do know is the system, in all of its ebbs and flows, trials and tribulations, behind the scenes intensity and the story behind the story. I read a lot of commentary on the beast we call our court system. Most major news stories draw tons of commentary on the various opinions of the various people around the world. But if you don’t work there, if you’ve never been on the inside, it’s hard to offer anything but personal or emotion based commentary on the things you have no daily dealings with. I have seen it play out time and time again as I am in the middle of working on a case and am intimately familiar with the details, but the public who is not is able to formulate an opinion without knowing the whole story.

I mistakenly thought that when I came to Christ, everyone was a Christian. But I have found on my journey with Jesus that there are more atheists that are Christians than Christians. They may not know they are Christians, but many of them are. We are not living in the four corners and depths of their hearts. Sitting in a pew may make the seat warm, but most times, doesn’t do much more than that.

I am pushing against an uncomfortable current and God is calling me to do the things He has planned for me long ago in the way that I have been operating in the world for most, if not all of my adult life. Having the toughest cases, taking the most unpopular positions, fighting the big guy, calling out liars, defending the poor and the oppressed, standing up when others sit down, representing the people the public may hate the most. Nothing about that has changed. But to be a Christian and do those types of things is so much more difficult, to be judged by your own. Such a big part of me wants to walk away from this blog, and if it was mine, I would have. Who knows, maybe I will. But for now, in the midst of my discernment, I’ve decided to be me, well because He told me to. I find it monotonous to read pieces of people’s minds that seem regurgitated over and over again like a broken record. There are few people I admire in my line of work and fewer Christians than that. It’s not because they agree with me, in fact most of the time they do not. It’s because they stand their ground without getting emotional, they stand for something, and they can have a conversation about it without telling me they’re right. They don’t have to. I usually discover that through the way God uses them. 

So when I started to read the book, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, the tears couldn’t come out of my eyes fast enough. It was a glimpse into my own feelings and struggles with the system, my current struggle to keep up with a system that devours most people and an honest look about fighting for something, that is so much bigger than you could ever be.

Bryan Stevenson is a young black Harvard law graduate who went on to found Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit devoted to defending poor people on death row in the heart of Alabama. I saw Bryan’s professor Tony Campolo from Eastern Bible College speak at a local event I was writing for, and his story changed my life. Months later I ran head first into this book and remembered the story of a young black attorney from a small bible college who went on to Harvard law. But he didn’t choose to work for a posh firm in New York where he could have made millions. He chose to start his organization in Alabama, defending the most hated men on the planet, because he believed in God and he believed in mercy. People hated him for what he did but he did it anyway, and many innocent men were exonerated and their lives spared as a result of his selfless work.

A quote early on in the book caught my attention and has been sitting in the very pit of my stomach. Bryan’s grandmother told him, “You can’t understand most of the important things from a distance Bryan. You have to get close.” And that set the tone for the book, and for this stage of my life, where often I find myself closer than I ever would want to be.

The book quotes Thomas Merton as saying, “We are bodies of broken bones.” And Bryan asks a poignant and turning point question, “Why do we want to kill all the broken people?” It means more than it says if you take the time to read between the lines.

You need to get and read the book if you are on a search for truth, which is what the book is about. It will change you. It changed me. Bryan gives us so much to think about while showing mercy in a way that I have never seen captured before. He didn’t talk about being Christian in the book, except a few places here and there where he mentions growing up in church and speaking sometimes at churches, but he didn’t have to, Jesus was bleeding all over those pages. 

If we’re gonna be real out here, we need to be honest, and start having some honest dialogue. Maybe I’ll stay, maybe I’ll go. I’m gonna do Christianity the way Jesus is showing me, the only way I know how- real, honest and transparent, being refined in the fire, hurting along the way, but knowing there is someone out there who reads these words and knows they’ve found the truth.

I hope you’ll stay with me on this rocky leg of my journey, as I find myself in the uncharted waters in the boat Jesus is sleeping in. What’s the point of being out here if we’re not exposed? There’s room in the boat for you too if you’re willing to come with me, and maybe take some people with you that you’ve never thought of bringing before.

Till’ next time…