Jesus Ain’t Your Sexy Valentine

 

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Clean water crisis. Human-Trafficking. Immigration. Orphan care. Affordable Housing. Failing Education Systems. Gun Violence. Teen-age pregnancy.

Sitting in this hip coffee shop I can hear twenty-somethings all around me talking about what’s wrong with humanity and how they aim to fix it. Millennials are raising the bar for the rest of us. They’re hyper-aware of societies ailments and far more actively involved in finding solutions than previous generations.

Yet increased awareness presents a serious problem that’s pervasive in “woke” people of ALL ages: It has become the “in” thing to do. Buying TOMS shoes, a week at an orphanage in Central America, sending bottled water to Flint, Michigan, and filling food baskets at Thanksgiving – all such Facebook-worthy ways of serving Jesus. I can’t even count the times I’ve seen a Facebook or Insta post with a white, middle-class high-schooler/college kid surrounded by raggedy-clothed, dirty-faced black/Asian/Indian/Hispanic orphans from their recent short-term “missions” trip abroad.

But if we engage in something that’s uber trendy, we must stop and ask ourselves: What’s my motive?

Write a check. Angel tree. Annual service day at a soup kitchen. Donate clothes. “Like” all the posts by the latest hip justice organization. Put said organization’s sticker on our computer. Run a 5k for awareness. GoFundMe pages. Youth groups spending a day in the inner city. Wear a trendy justice t-shirt. Carry a cool mug inscribed #endhumantrafficking.

And why? Why is there such a BOOM in this movement?

I’d like to suggest we’re crazy about this movement of increasing awareness because it’s easy.

Easy. Appealing. Quick. Non-habit forming. No sacrifice.

One could even say these approaches to following the way of Jesus are somewhat “sexy”: We are seen. We are heard. We look good and feel good with our “service”. Others think we’re incredible. Sexy, right? In fact, we could post any of those hot service opportunities on Valentine’s day with #mytruelove and everyone will think we’re holy.

I’m not bashing those experiences or remotely suggesting they be stopped. I most definitely feel there is a place and a time for such things. The problem, as I see it, is that we (Christians) are mostly looking for a quick, non-painful way to appease our Jesus-driven consciences and we’re much too quick to flaunt it for our own acclaim.

We Christians are FAR less likely to do the long, hard, costly, sacrificial and unnoticeable work that is the backbone of the Christian calling.

But Jesus said:

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14.

He straight-up told us: It ain’t supposed to be easy, friends!!!

Jesus did all kinds of hard, subversive, and not very Facebook worthy things. He hung out with those marginalized by society. He touched people that nobody else would touch. He shared meals with those no one else would. He went to places nobody else would go. Jesus didn’t do sexy things.

If Jesus had a Facebook page, we’d probably scroll right through his posts. It is THAT mundane. THAT uncomfortable. THAT un-sexy.

To go all-in for Christ will most likely lead you to hard, toilsome work with basically no recognition. It’ll be costly and time-consuming. It sometimes costs money, but can also cost friends, reputations, and safety. It’s not usually quick and easy and it’s not usually comfortable.

When I think of the un-sexy way of Jesus, I think of some of these people:

  • A neighbor who has invested YEARS into the life of a troubled, fatherless, high-schooler who doesn’t appreciate it and throws away every opportunity provided for him. But our neighbor refuses to give up and pursues him with relentless love and care. Not sexy.
  • My friend who has visited her father, uncle, and aunt, twice a week, every single week at the local nursing home for over 10 years! As their ONLY living relative, they wouldn’t get a single visitor if it weren’t for her. Not sexy.
  • We know a guy who after Hurricane Katrina sold everything and MOVED to New Orleans. A lot of us did sexy things for Katrina-victims and pasted it all over social media. Our friend LIVED there for two years. Not sexy.
  • We have friends who live in Honduras. They run an organization that works to abolish corruption within the extremely corrupt Honduran government. The work is dangerous – an attorney from their organization was shot and killed in broad daylight by gang members. This work is COURAGEOUS, costly, takes decades, slow progress, and sometimes exasperating. Not sexy.
  • There are many schoolteachers who CHOOSE to work in some of the poorest districts in our city. The pay is poor, their resumes won’t ever be impressive (failing students make teachers look bad – no matter how awesome they really are) but they believe in making a difference in the lives of kids who just maybe need a break in life. They will do this for 20, 30 maybe 40 years and they may never see the fruit of their labor. Not sexy.

The un-sexy work Jesus invites us into may be long-suffering, toilsome, tiring and expensive, but we’re not doing it for ourselves – it’s UNTO HIM!

  • What if we mentored troubled kids – any age – and stuck with them through ALL THEIR GROWING years?
  • What if we volunteered with Kids Hope and actually gave a kid hope?
  • What if we joined a refugee/immigration settlement organization and spent the next FIVE years mentoring a new family?
  • What if we talked to our neighbors, learned of their suffering, and prayed with them weekly?
  • What if we made homemade casseroles and brought them to the homeless camps (trust me, they exist) every week?
  • What if we enter in to the roller-coaster life of the mentally unstable – the bi-polar friend, the depressed sister-in-law, the suicidal teen, the homicidal neighbor?
  • What if we mentored those in troubled pregnancies?
  • What if we helped pay the heat bill every winter for a family who heats their home with the stove?
  • What if we gave up eating out for six months just so another family could EAT?

You know what I think would happen if we did some of these things? We’d be tired. We’d be involved with these issues for a really long time and get frustrated with the slow pace of change. We might even get angry at those we are serving. We’d want to give up and quit over and over and over.

But we’d be doing the work of Jesus, for HIM, and for His glory. Not ours.

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Jesus Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24

This is the way of Jesus. And it ain’t sexy.

Don’t make Jesus your sexy Valentine.

13 Reasons Why I’m posting dog poop and not prom pics

Watching ’13 Reasons Why’ has led me to sharing how my dog is always crapping on our rug.

grace pics 095The Netflix hit series, 13 Reasons Why, has created a maelstrom within the media, parental circles, and my mind. The show is essentially about teenage suicide but largely focuses on bullying and teenage angst. Because of my profession as a psychiatric nurse, I wrestle with these things often. Out of curiosity, I watched the show and lost a lot of sleep mulling it over. The best review I’ve read and the one I most resonate with is from Jamie Tworkowski from “To Write Love on Her Arms”. You can read his summary here.

To help sort things out, I consulted my 16 year old and asked her, “What makes kids bully others?”

She said, “They think they’re ‘all that’ – they’re usually the popular kids.”

So I asked her, “What makes kids popular?”

She said, “Bullying others.” (She’s one part smart and two parts cocky.)

“But why?” I asked, “Why do they think they need to do that?”

She said, “It’s classic psychology, mom. Weak people feel they need to put others down in order to elevate themselves. Strong people are secure in who they are and don’t have any need to adjust other people’s perceptions.”

Ahhh – so once in a while she DOES listen to what we’re telling her…

But her choice of words continued to haunt me: “Strong people are secure in who they are and don’t have any need to adjust other people’s perceptions…..”

And I’ve been vexed ever since about what to do with my own social media – the KING of all perception adjustment. I long to be strong and secure, but, at the same time, I had been accumulating all kinds of clever and envy-worthy pics and posts this spring – just waiting for the exact right time to unload them on all my “friends” and “followers.”

I started to wonder if my “friends” and “followers” were more my “victims.” I started asking: How might my social media posts potentially cause harm to others? And when I answered myself honestly (I’m really good at lying when it comes to myself), I realized many of my posts could be considered bullying – making others feel bad about themselves or their situation. It depends who’s looking at it and from what perspective. But still.  I decided to desist from social media for a while.

That is, until my dog pooped on our rug.

Here are the 13 reasons why (in David Letterman fashion) I felt POOP was worthy of my social media feed:

  1. My friend’s daughter, a senior, did not go to her Junior/Senior prom. Not only did she not have a date, she didn’t even feel she had any girlfriends with whom she could attend. She told her mom that prom night was one of the saddest nights of her life. Hearing this, I knew I could no longer post my daughter’s prom pictures. I know we all want to believe that our “friends” and “followers” want to share in the joy of ALL our good news. Yet, studies consistently find that, for most people, a steady diet of viewing all the things other people are doing will actually INDUCE isolation – the exact OPPOSITE of a “social” media. Sometimes, when we think we’re sharing happy news, it’s really throwing daggers.
  1. One of our kids had their heart shattered this past year – a wound so deep, that many months have passed with very little healing. And when the heartbreaker posts pics and captions revealing a life of joy and new love, my child’s wounds reopen. We simply were NOT meant to see and know everything – and all this access to information that we’d be better off without is making us miserable. I don’t have the answer. Parents, should we cut our kids off from social media? Do we throw their phones away? How do we give them nerves of steel to deal with the barrage of images that are undoubtedly way more information than the human psyche can handle? How do I get those nerves of steel? I don’t know – but this cruel media world is why shows like 13 Reasons Why exist. I wish I had a better answer – but I just think sharing a lot more pictures of doggie defecation wouldn’t hurt.  Life is poopy sometimes.
  1. I have never once posted a photo of a family vacation or shared some terrific news and received the response of “Ah! So glad you shared this! Now I know I’m not alone with my incredible life! I feel so much better knowing your life is as perfect as mine!”  When life is going swimmingly, people aren’t generally lonely.
  1. Vulnerability precedes intimacy. We cannot REALLY get to know and understand one another until we know each other’s pain. I realize social media is not the venue to find REAL friends, but, when we share glimpses of reality, photos of hard times, and stories of suffering, our “friends” will see we are REAL and maybe, just maybe, we’d start feeling less alone. Maybe that would put the SOCIAL back in the media…
  1. I cannot take a decent photo to save my life. Social media makes those of us who stink at photography appear headless, washed-out, wrinkly, or red-devil-eyed.   Dang – I hope I’m not all those things…. but it feels like just because we sucky photographers don’t have a $1000 camera and a creative eye, we appear “less than.” I say we need SOCIAL MEDIA REFORM – where sucky photographers get Disney passes or something.
  1. Commonly heard among the young today, “Need a pic or it didn’t happen!” This is our culture – everything must be recorded and shared for verification. So, logic says, most people never have anything bad happen to them. No pics of hardship must mean no hardships have happened. But we all know better. So what will it take to get real with one another? Is it possible to put HONESTY into social media???
  1. I sat by a mom I had never met before at my daughter’s recent graduation ceremony. With tears in her eyes, she shared how she never imagined her son would make it to graduation. He has both a learning disability and social cue deficits – but no one would know this by looking at him. When her son walked across the stage, I cried. When my own daughter walked across the stage, I just smiled – because she was always expected to graduate and to do well. Why do we insist on sharing photos and stories of life-things that are totally EXPECTED?

When we learn of one another’s burdens and hardships, we get to experience in the joy of being overcomers – one of the greatest gifts Christ’s death on the cross affords us.

  1. When I wrote about our piece-of-crap house and the trials of fixing-up a fixer-upper (here), I received responses from thousands of people all over the world. They were all experiencing the same thing – DISILLUSIONMENT from HGTV, home magazines, Pinterest, AND social media pics of everyone’s beautiful homes. This has become a huge area where we are (often unknowingly) inflicting inferiority on one another. By constantly posting our beautiful, clean, and perpetually updated homes, we seem to be conveying the message, “I have it all together – and you, OH LOWLY YOU, with an unfinished basement, with weeds in your landscaping, with mounds of laundry in your hallway, with cobwebs in your corners, and with the PVC piping still spanning your sunroom ceiling which the previous tenants had used for stringing cannabis (or wait – that one MAY be just me….), you are such a mess, YOU LOWLY YOU.”

I actually want to see your laundry room on laundry day. I want to see your daughter’s room after six weeks of simultaneous soccer and musical practice. I want to see your kitchen after making a mother’s day meal. I want to see your bathroom after a full week at work. I want to see your garage the day after a garage sale. I want to see your basement storage rooms.

Because I desperately want to feel less lonely.

  1. At work at the psych hospital, I often ask my patients “What are you finding to be the most helpful part of your therapy here?” Hands down, the most common reply is this: “Listening to, and sharing with the other patients. They get me in a way that none of you (staff) can.”   Ah-ha!
  1. Every dog poops. Every dog owner, every day, picks up dog poop. It’s disgusting. But for me, taking a plastic Meijer bag (which, in and of itself, is abhorrent because you have to deal with all those angry stares from the granola moms at the Meijer check-out when you actually request plastic bags….) then turning it inside out to make a glove for myself, reaching down and grabbing my dog’s fresh, warm poop has to be one of the lowest points of my day. BUT, my days have descended to an abysmal low when said dog poops INSIDE our home – which, as she ages, is happening much too frequently.

Dog poop on our rug is one of the milder stories I could share from our lives right now – things have been pretty bad around here lately – but this is where I thought I’d start.  I almost kicked my dog today.  Almost.  I DIDN’T DO IT, OKAY?!?!  I’m just so sick of crap on our rug!!!  My life is light years away from glamorous, and right on the very edge of repugnant.  Is it just me? I’d be lying if my newsfeed reflected something different.

  1. Vulnerability precedes intimacy. I know I already used this one for #10. I’m just checking to see if you’re still reading (REAL bloggers say you should never write more than 1500 words. I’m already at 1600… but hang with me – the last 2 reasons are the best.)
  1. Some of my lowest, most lonely moments in life came right after getting my diagnosis of Lymphanegieoleomyomatosis (LAM). It’s so rare – only a small handful of us women in Michigan have it, and a not much bigger handful in the whole USA. There was no one living near me that I could talk to. And then…. then, I met my Facebook LAM family! Over 2000 women from all over the world connect via this forum. And I suddenly knew that I could deal with this sucky, lung-sucking, sucker of an illness – because ALL of them were dealing with it, too. Those women from all over the world have given me strength.

It sucks to have to talk about your illness on social media. But now even my sister’s family is deriving comfort, prayers and community by sharing her journey of brain cancer on social media. Posting about your “crap” really does help – in some cathartic, Jesus-y, miraculous way.

  1. The old proverb, “Misery loves company,” is incorrect. It should be, “Misery NEEDS company.” We were not made to do this life alone. It’s often the isolation and accompanying sadness that brings some people to take their lives. We NEED to help each other feel less alone. We NEED to share our sufferings. We NEED to become vulnerable with one another. And then maybe, just maybe, people will see they are not as alone as they thought. And maybe, just maybe, we will put the “social” back into our media. And maybe, just maybe, someone will decide to keep pressing on in life instead of the alternative.

Why I’d give booze/drug money to a beggar:

 

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*He was 5 years old when his mother’s boyfriend sodomized him. When he was 7, the people that lived in his house threw a party where everyone got stoned – so stoned, in fact, that they passed the boy around as their sex toy. A year later, he started smoking weed, too, just to escape the pain. When he was 10, he raped an 8 year-old girl because he thought that was normal behavior. When he was 11, his mom’s latest fling prostituted him  for drug money. At 12, the boy sold his first Ziploc baggie of marijuana. The money kept him from being pimped-out that weekend.  It also offered him a way to escape the pain of his beatings from the boyfriend – by remaining high himself. It wasn’t long and cocaine became the drug of choice. Because he knew of no other way to get through a day, he was soon addicted. He ran away from home at 14. He was incarcerated at 15. His repeated drug offenses combined with his tendency to steal money for drugs were more than any of his extended family or friends could take. He had burned every familial bridge and lost every friend he’d ever made by the time he was 16.

 

By the age of 18, he was a homeless, drug-addicted, high-school dropout with a record of two felonies and five misdemeanors. He couldn’t find a job to save his life.

 

At 19, after a failed suicide attempt, he was admitted to the psych-hospital where I work. It was his third attempt in three weeks. He was diagnosed with “Severe Depressive Disorder, Drug Abuse Associated.” He was done. He wanted out of this hell-hole that many of the rest of us like to call “the good life.”*

 

After he was discharged from the psych-hospital, I saw him begging on the corner of US-131 and Wealthy Street on a frigid, snowy Saturday. I was pretty sure if I gave him money, he’d use it for drugs.  Drug-abuse is the only effective coping skill he’s ever known. It’s what keeps him from attempting suicide EVERY day. I knew that seeing him alive meant he was numbing his pain with drugs – otherwise he’d surely be dead.

 

I gave him money.

 

But it didn’t make me feel good about myself. I felt a pit in my stomach. It’s such a cheap way out of helping the poor, the needy, or hurting. It’s so freakin’ easy to roll down the window and throw someone some cash, isn’t it? Or maybe we’ll opt to take the even easier path and keep the window rolled up tightly, lock the doors, and tell the kids in the backseat, “You see those beggars? They’re scammers. They just use that money for drugs and alcohol. You shouldn’t give money to beggars because they never use it for food or rent. I even read somewhere that sometimes beggars make more per year than daddy does!”

 

We are a busy people – we American Christians – with a million things to do just today.  So instead of parking the car, walking over to him, shaking his dirty hand, and offering the beginning of a nurturing relationship by taking him out for lunch – we either snub him or flip him a few quarters.

 

Getting out of the car and hearing his story will take time. It will take energy. It will take enormous emotional capital. And it will probably take a hellava lot of money (more than a few quarters) to help this guy. Investing in him may take years. Maybe the rest of your life. You will get dirty, tired and frustrated. It’s not going to be easy. But it’s probably the ONLY way you’ll make a difference in this boy’s life and – I’m just guessing here – it’s probably what Jesus would do.

One life at a time.  That’s how we can make a difference.  Just one at a time.  We get out of the car and make a difference.

 

There is simply NO POSSIBLE WAY that we can know a beggars situation simply by observing them on the street corner. There is NO WAY we can know what hell their life has been to bring them to this place. Why is it so easy to assume they are taking advantage of us (we who are sitting in our warm cars) instead of assuming life has beat them into this state of desperation? And when we drive by and refuse them any help at all because of the possibility they are taking advantage of us, we are passing sweeping judgments on all beggars.

 

But today, as I see my friend begging on the overpass, I’m in too much of a hurry. I don’t have time to park my car and chat with him. I wish I did. Because THAT is the only way to truly know and understand his circumstances. It’s the only way to have any hope of offering real, practical, and sustainable help.

 

So on this day, if I refuse to park my car and go talk to the young man, I must choose between the two lesser options: do nothing and drive on by risking that without drugs or alcohol to numb his pain he’ll try to take his life again, or give him money that I know he will use to buy drugs.

 

I’m going to choose to support his drug habit today. And I pray that I will continue simplifying my life to free up time, money and energy so I can actually INVEST in hurting people. I want to be the kind of person that doesn’t put a band-aid on problems (giving money), but chooses to dig deep, work hard, and sacrifice much in order to find lasting solutions.

 

I want to be the one who parks the car and strolls on over for a conversation.

 

 

*This is a fictitious person – made from a composite of people’s stories I’ve heard over the years. Any resemblance to an actual person is entirely coincidental.   But people just like this boy really do exist in my city, in your city, in every city.  And they frequently show up at my psych hospital as suicidal.  Sadly, I’ve even heard more horrendous stories than this one.  Last Saturday, however, I really did give money to a beggar I personally knew at the highway overpass in Grand Rapids.