Month: May 2017

Connecting The Dots

Making sense of your life is like playing one of those connect-the-dots games.

You knowImage result for Connecting the dots the kind I’m talking about.  On a sheet in front of you (sometimes in a child’s activity book) you see what looks like a meaningless jumble of numbered points.

By connecting the dots with a pencil in the correct sequence a picture slowly emerges: a clown, a car or some other familiar object.

The picture is in there, but you have to connect the dots to see it.

At one point or another we all want to connect the dots of our life. 

We want life to make sense.  And so we look back on how our life has unfolded up to this point and we connect the dots, usually by telling the story of our own lives.

We might tell it to our family.  We might share it with a friend.

Or… you do what I have done for the past nine years. 

You share it with everyone.  The good, the bad and ugly.

I have continually written about things that happened in my life and symbolically placed dots down and anyone who reads what I have written over that period of time can connect the dots and see from where I came and how I got to where I am today.

Sometimes it isn’t pretty.

We connect the dots of our story with a sense of direction, an ending that explains everything that has happened by connecting the dots as the road that leads to here and now.

There’s just one problem.  We can only connect the dots by looking backward.  We live life forward.  You cannot connect the dots in the future.  

To do anything at all, to take the next step in life, we have to believe that all the dots we’re about to write will somehow be connected.  You have to trust in something, and in someone to connect those dots.

Some people trust in their own ingenuity or intelligence.  Others believe in karma or destiny or fate or luck.

None of these approaches to the future is properly called hope. 

Hope is our trust in God’s promise to connect the dots of our lives through his Son Jesus Christ.

Some people seem to be always on be on track.  They seem certain of exactly where they are going and never appear to give it a second thought. They have never been seriously off track and cannot imagine that the train they’re on could be derailed or be leading to some unexpected destination.

Their track leads straight to the picture of their desired destination, or at least that’s what they believe.  They are counting on “dots” of the future that have not been set yet.

They have not had an off track experience yet. 

They have not had to ask: Where am I? How did I get here? Where do I go from here?

I have had such experiences.  I have had off track experiences that literally have where I am at today.  Had I not allowed God to teach me and learn what I needed to learn from difficult events in my life, my life would be a mess.  The dots that I laid down would not tell a story of redemption.  The view would just be jumbled dots with no definable picture of grace and forgiveness.

Life can be like that.  There are lots of unexpected destinations (dots) in life: divorce, career setbacks, sickness, an unwelcome diagnosis.  Some self-inflicted, some not.

The road ahead is unfamiliar.  It’s not just that you have to figure out how to get to your initial destination.  You’re not sure that there is a destination or what it will look like.  It’s hard to say what makes for a step forward and what makes for a step back.

To return to our initial connect-the dots illustration, you can’t connect the dots yourself.  That’s when you need hope to move at all.  A trust that what you do next will be part of a movement forward.

Steve Jobs once spoke about the importance of connecting the dots. 

This is what he said:

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

There’s just one problem.  Steve Jobs, by all accounts, was not a man of faith.  He was dogged in what you could call wishful thinking.  And in fact, he did not really believe in an afterlife or any deity who was working on his behalf.

All that mattered for him was the strength of our belief in “whatever.”  He was saying we should just go for it with all we have, because this life is all that we’ve got.  Act as if what we’re about to do will work out.

Some of us may be able to motivate ourselves with what we know is nothing more than a lovely fiction: with wishful thinking.  But none of us are Steve Jobs.  

For that matter, we Christians insist that it is not the strength of our capacity to hope that matters.  On the contrary, we recognize that it is the strength of what we place ouImage result for holding on to rope that is breakingr hopes upon that really matters.

For example, if I am dangling from a rope at the edge of the cliff, I can be the strongest man in the world and will still fall if the rope is too flimsy to hold my weight.

God teaches us to move forward trusting in Him.  He can bear our weight.  He will connect the dots.

We may not always see exactly where we are headed or why this or that turn in the road will really take us somewhere we want to be. 

Go forward anyway.  Trust God.

We need to remember that all of these dots that we have placed in our past are able to be used to create a beautiful picture of the grace of God.

God can use all of these things we do to bring honor and glory to Him.

We just need to trust Him to connect the dots.


I Still Have a Chance to Get It Right

I woke up this morning at 4:00 AM. 

I had a dream that was so real and it was a memory that I had buried and forgotten about.

In my dream, I am watching the events as they happen. It is like watching a movie that you know what is going to happen and you wish you could change the events that were about to take place.  I cannot change it. The reason why the story doesn’t change is because it retells an actual event that happened in December of 1971. 

Why am I waking up in a cold sweat remembering an event that took place over 45 years ago?

Here is the story… I was in fifth grade there was a new boy who came into our class. He was new to our school.  He started about three weeks into the school year.

By that time in school everyone had divided themselves into their own social subgroups and friends.  Everyone already found a place to fit in. You usually hung with two or three other buddies and for the most part everyone got along. We had all grown up together and most of us had the same teachers since we were in kindergarten.

Maybe if he had his picture in our class composite he may have been remembered by more people.  He didn’t have his picture taken.  He missed picture day and I probably would have forgotten all about him had I not had a life event that involved him.

Nobody played with Darrell. He was an outcast. He was alone.

He was shunned by the whole class, and you would be shunned too if you sat with him at lunch or joined him in his solitary games at the fringe of the playground during recess.  It was bad enough to have him in the same classroom.

All you needed to know about Darrell was that he was filthy. Smelled and wore the same clothes almost every day of the week.  Looked like he slept in them most of the time.  He was loud and it seemed to my 10-year-old thinking he was trying to keep people away from him.

He was ignored and over-looked. The butt of cruel jokes and commentary that were so much of the conversations of other 5th grade boys.

I had never spoken to Darrell.

His family had moved into a run-down house just a few blocks from my own and I never once saw him riding his bike or even playing outside. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t tell you if he even had a bike.

Frankly, that’s all I knew about him. And I thought that there was nothing else to know about him.

As the Christmas holiday approached, we drew names to exchange gifts. I was happy I did not get Darrell’s name, I just wasn’t sure who drew my name.

I’m sitting in my 5th grade classroom on the last day of school before Christmas break.  Mrs. Day is my teacher and I am waiting for our Christmas party to begin.

I waited anxiously and noticed that Darrell had given his tattered wrapped present to another student so I knew he did not draw my name.  I saw that he received his present from another student and I waited… but no one brought me a present.  

My name had been drawn by another student that was absent that day.  I didn’t get a gift. And everybody else noticed. The teacher said, “Oh, that’s okay. We’ll make sure you’ll get it when we get back from Christmas.”

Bullies and time had already taught me all too well that you don’t cry in public. Stuff like that wasn’t supposed to matter. I strained to make myself look unfazed, but I remember how hot my face was and that my throat was so tight that I could barely speak.

I felt like I had just gotten a big fat rejection notice.

All the other kids started playing some game. I stood off to the side trying not to vomit.

Out of the corner of my left eye I saw some movement. I turned to see Darrell holding something out to me. It was a book-shaped box containing several rolls of Lifesaver candies. A common Christmas gift in that day. The sort of thing you grab Image result for old Lifesaver Christmas giftat checkout stand when you don’t really want to think too much about the gift. That’s what someone had given him.

He put it in my hand and said, “I want you to have this.”

I just stood there. I didn’t know what to say and couldn’t have said it even if I had known. My throat was so tight I could barely breathe. Finally, I croaked, “But it’s yours.”

Darrell said, “And I’ve already gotten it. Now it’s yours. Everybody should get something at Christmas.”

I just stared at him. Not because I was at a loss for words or was afraid I would cry.

For the first time, I noticed how nice and kind Darrell was.

I tried to give it back to him. He refused and walked away and retreated to the same corner of the room where he would carry on conversations with himself and play his solitary games.

In shame that I carry to this very day, I was too afraid to say anything to anyone. I didn’t even say thank you to him. I hid the gift in my desk and tried to assimilate back into my group of friends. All the while knowing that there was a boy playing by himself in the corner that was a much better person than I was.

Now I wish I could tell you more about Darrell. I wish I could say that we had become fast friends and that maybe I had even helped all the other kids discover what a good person we had in our midst. 

But that isn’t the truth. I have not one single memory of Darrell after that. I learned that his family moved away over the Christmas break. Something I am sure was something he was used to.

In time, the house that he lived in would remain empty and eventually torn down.

I returned from that Christmas break, just as concerned to finding my own place in my little world of Oak Harbor, Ohio and to avoid being the outcast and rejected.

In my own eyes, I was not enough. Sometimes I was blinded by the effort to be accepted. Envy and intimidation blinded me at other times. There were times, I was condescending or competitive or too preoccupied with my own fears and wounds and grievances.

Blindness becomes a habit.

We learn early in life to see only certain kinds of people. The ones who we think matter.

And we learn to look past or look through other kinds of people. 

Those who we think don’t matter.

I suspect we fear the stretching and growth we would experience if we would see people as God sees them.

Darrell may have continued to be the ostracized loner, maybe he moved to Argentina, or been abducted by aliens. Maybe he is the homeless man I pass along the way.  He may even be my neighbor that I don’t know that currently lives a few doors down from me.

He may be a doctor or surgeon that has saved many lives.  He may have been a solider that selflessly fought bravely for the freedoms I enjoy.

He may have become a teacher that changed lives. He may be the guy that works at the local factory.  Maybe he is the mechanic that works on my car.

He may have become a great husband and father that raised good kids.  Kids that accept others who may be different from them.

I have no idea. I’d like to think that many of these options are a possibility.

What I do know is that a young boy that spent a few months in Oak Harbor, Ohio in the early 1970’s was a better human being than I was.  

So why the dream? 

I am coming to the conclusion that even after all these years, I still have a lot to learn about acceptance.  I have more to learn about loving people where they are in life.

I still have time to become a better person.  I still have a chance to get it right.

How about you?

Mending Broken Things

In A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway used this sentence to declare the strength that can be found in the process of healing and mending.  He said, “The world breaks everyon, and afterward, some are strong in the broken places.”  He was referring to the healing and mending that takes place when people recover from the hurt and the pain that this life can give.

I have written about this very issue in reference to my mother, but there are others.  I know many people who are stronger today than they were just a few years ago.

They allowed God to do His work and put in the effort to make this recovery.

This past week I was scrolling on Facebook to come across one of those “Suggested Pages” that so often appear on our feeds.  I always keep on scrolling… I do not think I have clicked on more than one in the past year.  But I came across one that was talking about the Japanese art form Kintsugi.

I clicked.

Kintsugi is the art of repairing broken pottery. Artisans mend the chips and cracks of bowls and saucers, pitchers, and jars using lacquer mixed with gold dust.

Initially, you might assume that the artists are trying to disguise the damage to a Kintsugi and the art of being uniquely flawed - Philip Patston ...piece of pottery by covering it with gold leaf. But these artists aren’t trying to hide anything. They realize that the gold-infused lacquer will effectively draw the eye to the very places where the object has been cracked.

They intend to highlight the broken places. Beauty emerges from the distinctive broken places of each individual object.

In our culture today we’ve received and accepted the notion of beauty and perfection. 

We prize flawless harmony and proportion.

There is a belief that flaws diminish the value of a work of art.

Not so for the Japanese.

The wear, cracks, and breaks tell the story of each unique thing’s life. Beauty is not found in something’s original, pristine condition.

An object’s value lies in the life it has lived. Scars, cracks, and all.

And living always comes with some wear and no small amount of damage.

Rather than hide the broken places from us, the Japanese artists want us to recognize that we are looking at a broken object that has been mended.

Mending a fragile thing reveals the deep love that its owner has for the object. It is held too dear to discard, no matter how much damage it has endured.

This is how God looks at us.  He looks and sees the scars.  He sees the damage that we’ve done to ourselves or that has been done to us by this thing called life.

God sees… us as a work of art.

A beautiful thing.

Instead of gold dust… God uses grace to cover the cracks and to fill in the holes in our life.

In the end, grace mends broken things.

Grace abides and covers our broken pieces.

MendingGod never intended for the fragile things of this world to retain the pristine condition of a newborn. The living God meant for us to live. And living inevitably brings with it wear and breakage.

And so grace reaches its purpose by mending fragile, beloved broken things.

Christ mends the wounds inflicted on us by strangers and lovers, by family and friends, even the blunt force trauma we’ve managed to give ourselves.

None of this is magic. The really big mending projects take a lot of time and a large amount of cooperation by us.

And if the truth be told,  most of the mending will take place when we pass from this life to the next.

And so, in the meantime, Jesus would very much like it if we could give ourselves and each other a break.

We are all terribly fragile and already more than a little damaged.

God loves each of us too much to even think about discarding us.

We see that God eventually mends broken things like you and me.

And the end result is… breathtakingly beautiful.