The Story Behind Your Scars

Beneath the surface of this bruise is a vein of backfiring blood running toward a resolution. You see only the external evidence of an internal eruption, but time will prove that bruises fade and scars become the everlasting witness of yesterday's choices.

Behind each scar is a story. Every inch of the journey has been recorded on the canvas of mortal flesh; Skinned knees, amputated appendages, and knuckles bleeding from the incessant knocking on the door of heaven, for mercy.

Hidden in the filter of your photoshopped existence is the Truth of bridges torched by broken promises. The contract was conceived in distrust, but the covenant remains eternal. The smoke of Sinai still hovers over the commitment; the faithfulness of the I Am, when i am not.

Scars are tattoos with better stories. They are narratives written in blood, and the last chapter is still being written. Your story is unfinished. Do not let regret shame you into silence, because the hour is late and the time is now.

Own your story. 

It's the one thing they can't take away.

They can suffocate your dreams, revoke your license, and disqualify your ordination. They can pull the plug on your breathing machine, and spin the narrative into clean categories of black and white and us and them and right and wrong and pure and polluted. They might lock you up in a prison of toxic shame, and write your epitaph with permanent markers. They can start the prayer chain and gatekeepers can sound the alarm of an enemy wolf among innocent sheep. The revisionists can deconstruct your His/Story and you can choose to allow them, [or]

You can let your scars become the evidence of a scandalous mercy that screams of a Creator who uses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and the weak things of the world to shame the strong. Don't hide your scars from your children. Reveal the ashes and reconstruct a better tomorrow. Lean into the dis-ease, and be vulnerable enough to wake up, rise up, take up your bed and walk.

Regret and Gratitude

The other day I was sitting at a table with recovering addicts, listening to the exchange of life stories and mountains climbed. After hearing one man share about all of the bridges he's burned on his way toward sobriety, he stated emphatically, "... and if I could do it all over, I wouldn't have changed a thing! The life lessons have shaped who I am today!" Others around the table nodded, as if to agree.

But I could not.

Because the reality is that I live with an ocean of regret. It is like an albatross chained to my memory, haunting me in my sleep. It's like a reoccurring dream of bridges built and crossed and then burned to ashes by my indifference, neglect, and selfishness. I have sketched the blueprints of a hedonistic empire and chiseled at a foundation of meticulously broken promises.

I carry this weight in my heart, and it slows my pace. My heart beats faster than I can walk, and I'm slowly falling behind and the sun is setting and the hour is late and the course is unfinished and the faith has not been kept.

As I write this, the late winter rains have caused the river behind my house to overflow the banks. The Grand River is expected to continue to rise until water will invade my living room. Yesterday I lifted all of our valuable possessions, including photo albums full of memories. On the kitchen table there are pictures of a cocky teenager who was hellbent on self-destruction. I hate that kid! I want grab him by the throat and get his attention! I wish I could return to Muskegon and tell him to let go of the egocentric aggression, and the narcissistic self-absorption. If I could write an open letter to my younger self, I would emphasize a cautionary dis-trust of choices made with emotion.

There are two dominant streams in my life: Regret and Gratitude.

Regret is the monster hiding beneath the bed of shame. I regret the way I treated my teachers in high school. I regret the way I relentlessly teased Jeremy Leffring. I regret the way I disrespected the different girlfriends of my youth, and the way I pursued attention for vain glory. I regret the way I manipulated conversations to solicit false affirmation, and I regret trusting the promises of a thousand amens. I regret all of the lies that I told, in my efforts to maintain an empire of delusion.

I don't feel like God is angry with me. But I feel like He is disappointed. I don't expect lightning bolts of His wrath, but I have come to expect the icy chill of His silent treatment. The distance is tangible, and the indifference is palpable. I feel reinstated to His Table, but not necessarily to His Triumph.

But on the other side of this ocean of regret, is an oasis of gratitude. We are born with two lungs, and if I inhale from the lung of regret, then I exhale from the lung of gratitude. Because after all of the self-destruction and humiliation, I am still here. It is indeed a miracle!

Several years ago I was involved in a  horrifying car crash that should have ended my life. I was traveling northbound on US 31 near Lake Michigan when I mistakenly took my eyes off the highway. The construction ahead had slowed the traffic to a standstill, and I had no time to stop! I tried to swerve from hitting the last car stopped ahead of me, but clipped the corner of his bumper. My sedan shot fifteen feet into the air, rotating endoverendoverendoverend several times, landing upside down in the opposite direction of travel (across the median)! I was not wearing a safety belt, and my entire vehicle was shattered into a thousand pieces. One witness heard the sound of the crash and saw my vehicle flying through the air, inducing immediate vomit all of the interior of her own vehicle. Such was the disturbance in the atmosphere.

I remember bracing at the time of the collision, curling into the fetal position and waiting for death. I closed my eyes and braced for the darkness. "This is how it ends", I thought. But with each roll and spin and flip, I remained conscious. When I had come to a final stop (upside down), I crawled out of the passenger window and walked away without a scratch. I was barefoot because somehow my shoes went flying with the rest of the car. I just kept shaking my head thinking, "I can't believe I'm alive. I can't. Believe. I'm alive."

I am grateful. I am thankful that despite the crash and burn and fire and smoke and vomit and wonder - there is a Table spread before me in the presence of my enemies. I am grateful. I am thankful that despite my unworthiness, there is the love of a woman, the faith of a mother, and the laughter of three daughters who seal me in this promise of redemption. I am grateful. I am thankful that I have friends like Mitch Schultz, and John Smith, Ken and Bonnie Jane Greene, Dustin Price and Sulkiro Song, AJ Sherrill and Cam Speer, voices of truth in a world of counterfeit. I am grateful. I am thankful for a place to belong, a promise to believe, and a purpose to become. I am grateful. I am thankful for the invitation of the Mercy King to a Table of broken bread and wine in abundance.

Regret < Gratitude

Lost and Found

Several months ago I began meeting with men who are in recovery from addiction(s). At a local city Rescue Mission, we gather in a circle and talk about hope and faith and brokenness. My own experience with rock bottom has given me a greater platform of authority than my degrees. I have been there. I know what it's like to curl up in the backseat of a car and pray for death. I have acquired a taste for self-hatred, and I know the bittersweet warmth of destruction.

But I've also seen the sunrise from an abandoned truck stop in South Carolina. I have watched the tide roll in and out and in again from a thousand beaches and I know that a mild sunburn is good for the soul. I know that gratitude begins where entitlement ends. I have forgiven and sought forgiveness. I am still learning to forgive myself. I am one beggar telling another beggar where I've found bread.

It is in a circle of hope at Guiding Light Mission, where we gather around our stories and reach for resurrection and life. We pray for each other, and laugh and cry and surrender and repeat. Recycling repentance like a squeaky bicycle chain needing the oil of mercy.

I met "Steven" on a cold, Sunday night in February. He was one of three men who openly shared stories of accumulation and loss. He opened up about addiction and recovery and relapse and spiritual bankruptcy. He had a wealth of information from years of experience. Steven was faithful to attend our meetings, and brought his amplified bible with cross references. He showed signs of fruitfulness and hope.

We became good friends. I used to give Steve a ride to work after our meetings. He would be dressed up in his work uniform, carrying a sack lunch for his midnight shift. We exchanged encouraging texts throughout the week, and I found solidarity in his admitted propensity to wander...

Steven shared with me of his dream of opening a non-profit organization that could serve as a safe place for people to overcome their addictions. His own history with drugs had given him a heart for others who were hellbent on self-destruction. I gave him money and time and encouragement. He gave me friendship, and gratitude.

And then, without warning, Steven disappeared.

He stopped coming to meetings and did not return my phone calls. I asked the leaders of the mission if they had seen him, and they were equally concerned. Steven had refused a drug test, and packed his bags... He left the shelter and returned to the streets.

When I heard the news, I stayed awake all night tossing and turning. I prayed aggressively believing that intercession would be the intersection between failing faith and saving grace. The next few days I spent driving up and down Division Street through downtown Grand Rapids. I looked for Steven on every corner - in the eyes of strangers and cops and robbers and shopkeepers. I searched for him on social media, leaving messages for him at every turn.

Why do I care so much about Steven? There are a thousand other distractions that I could exhaust my energy with. Should I just leave the light on and hope he returns like a prodigal to the front porch? Or should I leave the 99 and go hunt down the 1 missing?

Here's why.  Because I've been in Steven's shoes. I have run away to hide in my shame. I have covered my scars with the fig leaves of religion. I have quoted scripture in one sentence and cursed God in the next. I have violently defended the Name of my Savior, and then betrayed that name before the break of dawn.

And I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death. But I was hunted down by goodness and mercy, followed by the Rescuer. I have known what it is like to be lost, and I have experienced the humbling grace of being found. I love much because I have been forgiven much.

I am still looking for Steven. And when I find him, I am going to give him a hug. And I'm not going to ask any questions, or for an explanation. I am not interested in a religious inquisition. I have no desire to extract from him the details of absence. I just want to find him, and then drag him to the Table, and break off a piece of bread and pass him a cup and ask him to do the same for me.

Post Script: I have always been attracted to the margins. The streets. Those whom have been made to feel unwelcome in the American Church.