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