Once I heard this Francis Chan sermon where he said something like, “Let’s say you have a choice about next year. You can choose to have a year that’s easy and fun, where everything pretty much goes your way and you’re constantly having a great time, but you don’t really get any closer to God. Or you can choose a year with grief and pain, a year that challenges you, a year where you learn to love and depend on God much more. Which one do you choose?”
I really don’t remember picking one. And of course it’s not always a choice between those two things. And yet, I know which one I got.
I remember one time in the thick of it, back in August when my dad was in deep depression and threatening suicide almost constantly, when he wasn’t speaking to me, when the last words he said to me were words that condemned me and I wasn’t sure those wouldn’t be his last words to me ever. I found it hard to make it through the day, to go about my normal life, to talk about what was weighing me down.
On one particular day, I cried the whole mile-plus walk home from work. I cried as I grieved the Dad I remembered, who I wasn’t sure would ever be back. And I cried because dying to myself hurt. I wanted to believe I was such a good person who was kind to everyone and loved The Poor and other people who were Jesus in disguise, and I’d just been smacked upside the head with my own apathy and complacency and brokenness.
I picked up the ten-thousand-pound phone, to steal yet another bit of truth from Anne Lamott, and I called my friend Joel from church. I hate calling people when I know I’m going to ugly cry on the other end. I’d rather be fake as hell but presentable, at least. But I called him, and I ugly cried out the whole story, ending with how I was pretty sure I was a goat, not a sheep, to Jesus after all. Forget Jesus, how could I even face our Super Social Justice Loving Church when a homeless man, my father, had outright cursed me for not caring enough?
Joel listened and made appropriate noises (he is in the field of psychology and everything). And then from the other end of the phone poured the most beautiful Scriptural wisdom, words that saved me all over again.
He reminded me of a few little things, like Jesus didn’t come to condemn us. Satan is called the Accuser. And feeling pain, horror, guilt over how wrong the world is and how you’re a part of it doesn’t mean You’re Doing It Wrong. We’re called to weep with those who weep. And we shouldn’t be surprised when people seem to reject us. Suffering is part of the deal. We are guaranteed trouble – but we are also guaranteed that Jesus will be there with us helping us overcome.
By the end of the call, I was laughing through my tears and joking that all this was God’s gift to me on the ten-year anniversary of my conversion. Surprise!
In the darkness, a flash of light, a glimpse of God’s glory. My friends, it’s been that kind of year.
This year, I started therapy as part of my slow but sure realization that I need to be healed from a lot of stuff: anger, fear, sinful and cruel ways of treating myself and others in moments of stress. I’m a broken part of a broken world. But through the patience and kindness of my therapist, I saw an echo of the great love of my ultimate Healer, who will stop at nothing to help me.
This year, I lamented losing some of my first love for God after ten years as a Christian, and I made a conscious effort to remember the story of how God relentlessly chased me, won me over completely, and continues to cherish me.
I tried to help people, and ultimately my efforts failed. And I learned a little more that, as my friend Joel likes to say, “There’s a Savior, but He’s not me.” Jesus died seemingly a total failure, but the story wasn’t over yet.
Neither was the story with my dad. He and I are reconciled, and he is no longer in such a dark place. I visited him last month in Arizona, a crazy wonderful story I’ll tell some other time. We hugged (pictured above) and talked for hours and he served me fruit salad, and it seemed like the biggest miracle of all.
But there’s one more big fat glorious thing that happened in 2014.
Several people in my life got closer to Jesus themselves. Some of them gave their lives to him, others just leaned on him for the first time. But everyone in my immediate biological and step-family called on the name of Jesus this year. In the midst of all the collective pain, everyone tasted a little of that joy and that peace with which nothing in the world can compare.
And knowing that brings me a kind of deep happiness no circumstance can take away.
Yes, my Jesus, the last ten years have been worth it. And no one gives gifts like you do. Here’s to following you for however many years I’ve got left.