Life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.
~ paul, The Least of The Apostles, in 2 Corinthians 1
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
~ Jesus, King of The Universe, and my dearest Brother and Friend.
This entry is an edit of a letter I sent to a friend… He wrote to me regarding how to help a friend of his, who has been through pain beyond what any normal person should expect to endure… That man’s pain is his own private issue. However, this writer shares some of his here, but may you be encouraged. Perhaps you too will find a way to deal with the pain you may have experienced.
I was not aware of the whole story. Wow. Ouch. Any words here that are too pithy or simplistic would deservedly get me a punch in the mouth. This guy has been through some pain for sure. Long answer, but maybe useful. How we respond is vital.
1) By The Way… Sam Harris, the popular “materialistic determinist” was also blown away by 9/11… His answer was to go full over into determinism, he could not reconcile any other way through… I think he is wrong, but this is one option for a human being to follow. However, it really misses what is truly happening, and seriously downgrades the importance of what we are going through, and the value of who we are.
2) Has V….. read, “The Shack,” by WM Paul Young? Could be useful. Another, could be “God on Mute,” by Pete Greig … both explore the issue of suffering deeply, and both come back to the answer: “What God Is Like.” … A deeper classic would be St. John of The Cross, “The Dark Night of The Soul.” If he is willing, I would suggest that he read at least the first two.. they were quite helpful to me.
3) V….. is right, we can ultimately blame God for putting us here. He is the necessary cause, and holds a great deal of responsibility for our pain. The issue is that we have to decide whether we have jurisdiction to judge the motivations or purposes of The Almighty. Yes, we can blame Him. But, I have learned that there is no need to prosecute Him. There is actually something really beautiful about the process of our lives in and through tragedy.
In each step of my life I have come to see that His Great Heart of Love is beyond reproach. Seriously, it has become apparent to me that He is A Great Weaver. And that the things that honestly look wrong to me now, will indeed be seen in their proper context someday, though probably not in this life…. We have choices, and so does God. The beauty is that The Prime Mover and Love Himself does not change and has chosen to never allow Himself to lie (why would Love ever lie anyway?)
4) Now, I have in NO WAY come up on this much evil and death, and offer any solutions. And so I do not even intend to pretend that I understand what this guy is passing through… But, I do have a sense of the unfairness. So, the following is shared so that maybe you can draw some parallels and keep walking through the dark with this guy. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 … further, H…. I know this is hard for you. This stuff causes you profound discomfort. But, if you could walk through it with me, and sift what you can to help V….., my sense is that it will be worth it.
Also, a caveat. I understand that the vast majority of my past life coming apart is my fault. I own this. I was and am responsible for the responses I had to the situations. You know this… I am just going to talk about the pain of it, so as to maybe help you uncover some threads that might help V…. And, even this short paragraph is something that V…. could use. … He too, is responsible for his responses, and it would only make a terrible situation even worse if he decided to fold and give up. Each of us come upon crises of faith. This is to be expected… It is even OK for us to be angry. But, we must be willing to see that there could be an answer for us to find, if we are willing to both look for it diligently, and wait for it.
As you know, I grew up in an abusive and alcoholic home. My mom was doing her best, but was emotionally starved and drinking to handle the pain. My dad had survived his own tough upbringing with parents he could not please, and had serious sociopathic tendencies… I grew up, moved out, and tried to make a go of it, but probably never became an ‘adult’ until about 2010, in my 46th year.
I even really attempted to make a go of it with my dad. His practice was in trouble, and I spent a lot of time just talking through some of the approaches he might be able to take, and trying to encourage him. I thought we were finally getting something of a relationship, but later realized that it was mostly his overcompensation… He was spending time with me, to “normalize” his inappropriate contact with our daughter.
And, the incredible sense of unfairness that came from his violation of M….. (and other more minor things with the other kids) was not the entire story. He, for a very short time, tried to deflect the blame back onto me, and this put me into a crisis. I know you are aware of the fact that the situation wrecked me, but it was deeper than his simple betrayal….
One of the biggest issues was the anger that was poured out on me, by people in the church and in my family who thought I was just on some sort of false vendetta against my dad… I had a number of people making me the ‘bad guy’ in the situation, and have some members of my extended family who have never spoken to me again… And when I showed up at the final court hearing with my dad, there were dozens of people, from the church, sitting on his side of the courtroom, glaring at me as I made my statement… One friend joined me and S… that day. One. It is difficult to explain how unjust this all felt. All of my childhood pillars looking at me as the bad guy, when what was actually happening was that we were agreeing to my dad not going away to prison for 42 years, and were instead asking for 2 years, instead of the 1 year that the county prosecutor had offered. … And, when we found that our 4 year old would have needed to take the stand, we chose to stay with the 1-year sentence.
Something in me died that day. Bob was so good to be there. But, basically I was abandoned.
In the one moment where there might be a bit of validation or vindication, for the years of stuff that I had put up with, with my dad – I was, once again, perceived as the bad guy. The sociopath went to jail (with 41 years taken off of his sentence, due to our agreement), but he was the victim – and I was the perpetrator… No one even expressed sadness over what had happened to our daughter… Even as I write this stuff, it is difficult to stay present. Much within me wants to lash out, but I don’t really have anywhere to go with it.
Not even S… could understand. She did her best, but frankly some of the ways she handled things were very difficult… She did some very irrational things like making me sleep with the boys when we first moved to our new state… I felt very alone in ——. Had some very good people around me, but upon reflection, I was a complete mess…
As it all fell apart over the years, my isolation became more profound. Without whining, what it felt like was that I had honestly sacrificed nearly everything to get my family to safety and freedom, and no one was reaching back to help me. And, a further debacle of going to a psychiatrist that diagnosed me with manic-depression via a 5-question pamphlet (and then put me on some gargantuan psychotropic meds) did nothing to help the situation… Some of what this dude put me on, I later researched and found to be some of the most dangerous medication available on the American market.
On the day she had me meet her at church in Dec. 2008, she lied to me about a path to reconciliation, and handed me divorce papers telling me they were the separation papers and a path to us getting back together (I did not comprehend this as I officially received the papers from the court server), if I agreed to vacate the house and begin a supervised path – and met a list of conditions, which she promised to give me, but never did.
I left the house in good faith, with promises around the table (pastors and court paper server present) that they would get back to me with a list of conditions, and that in 6-weeks we could begin a path of reconciliation. I woke up in a $1,500 bed, in a 3,000 sf house, went to bed that night in a dirty, roadside hotel… I found out within days that my workshop, etc had been totally torn out… I lost everything on Dec. 8th 2008. And this year (2016), I found out that she had even been going to leave since before I started working at I…..… Oh, I probably ‘deserved’ it, in many ways. But, I was so broken and hurting I could barely even think most of the time…. And, even now being remarried, the pain of just knowing that S… basically did not want me since about 1991, was very painful.
So, all of this to say that I get what it is to be so angry and disoriented that one does not know where to go with it. I tried for years to put it into a box, and wrap it up with a bow. And, I denied the creeping question of “WHY THE HELL DID THIS HAPPEN TO ME AND MY FAMILY?” It is a valid question, but I kept trying to pack it up into neat little theological or emotional boxes, with ribbons and bows. And that is not what questions like this require.
Oh, I did some very good work. I know the path of forgiveness. Even in the midst of my forgiving my dad, I had to share my own, very real failures, to my first wife and my counselors. It was a horribly painful time… to be pulling logs out of my own eyes in the midst of the torrent of what my dad had done to M…. and each of us. But, in seeing ourselves as really all in this together, as all of us being human and fallen, forgiveness can grow, and be made firm. … this foundation work is probably what saved my life later.
However, there was this nagging pain… I guess even now, my Reformed Augustinian Dispensational upbringing makes it some sort of ‘sin’ to ask why. I always am tempted to hedge my bets behind some sort of mechanistic, deistic tripe about God being in control, and all things happening for a reason. I was not really even able to ask about why for years.
Then I went to Keswick, and fully surrendered. You know the miracle of my being set free in Him. And for this, I am eternally grateful… But, He was not done pushing me to the edge – and beyond.
In the summer of 2011, He drove me out into the wilderness up in the mountains on the Mogollon Rim, in Arizona, only a few miles from where I had almost died the autumn before (bleeding out from my alcoholic bleeding ulcer). I honestly felt myself being driven along as I walked the 8km or so out through a campground and wilderness area. … I had taken my old wedding ring, and another ring that had represented my own efforts at sobriety along with me, along with a small backpack with a kindle reader, my phone, my glasses, my wallet, an extra t-shirt, some snacks and coconut water.
As I got to the Rim, I realized that I was on some seriously holy ground (seriously). He was there. I took off my backpack and headed about 12 meters forward to a rock that just happened to be flat, and a place to sit. He had placed it there. I took off my shoes, and I sat up on the Mogollon Rim and wept deeply for a long time. I took the rings and threw them off into the canyon, as a symbol of my surrender to the moment… And He met me, quite literally (though not visible with my eyes), and spoke to me in my spirit. He told me that HE would tell the kids that I loved them – each day. Then, it was over. It was time to go back to the cabin.
But, as I got up to go back, I turned around to get my backpack, etc. It was no longer there. Honestly, I had only walked forward about 30 or 40 feet, but everything behind where I was looked different now. It was one of the most mystical moments of my life. Either the backpack was hidden from my view, or I had lost it, or it was physically gone. I sensed Him telling me: “I need you to leave everything on this mountain. Everything. Go home now.” I obeyed, but even my regular glasses were in the bag (I have terrible vision without them… sunglasses were going to be OK until the sun began going down).
I was mildly dehydrated, and it was beginning to get late enough in the day, that I might be in the dark by the time I got home to the cabin in Forest Lakes…. I started home, but was completely disoriented. Honest bro, I am pretty good at directions. I could identify the landmarks, etc. but the land had changed… and only just as I was about to lose my cool and honestly think about making shelter for the night, I caught the trail back to the campground… I worked my way back and the first guy that I met was pretty surprised at a guy walking in out of the wilderness with nothing, sunned, and dry. He gave me some water, and I kept going. I reported my lost stuff at a Ranger Station and made my way back to Forest Lakes. … The stuff was turned in a few weeks later to the Ranger station. The interesting thing is that anything electronic was totally scrambled. Phone, Kindle, and MP3 player were all “functional” but no longer worked… Could have been rain, but the stuff was inside cases inside a bag, inside a backpack. The Kindle had an error code that Amazon could not even track down, and they sent me a new one. Both the phone and MP3 player were unrecoverable. They booted, but did not work. … No one believed me, except my sister, and just kind of made faces about my story with the backpack, etc.
So, here I am looking the fool to the people I had just returned to after years of failure and addiction…
When He changed my name (it really happened) at Keswick, I finally reached out to the kids and S….. I had to have their buy-in before proceeding, and AZ State law required for S…. to sign some papers, etc. for me to proceed. … In reaching out to B…. (our oldest daughter), her reaction was very difficult. She wrote back angrily that this was just further proof of my mental instability, and has had very little to do with me since.
Crazy in the eyes of my parents, and now my oldest daughter… B…. and I were close friends for many years. She would even come home from her dates and sit in my office for extended periods and tell me about her night…
Then, in prayer, He led me to visit the other three kids in the Spring of 2012… this was the trip where you and L…. gave me the buddy pass… I went up and we had a very fruitful visit. I honestly had no idea that I was going to meet my new wife the week or so after I got back from C….. But, the reality is that I pretty much lost M….. due to this. She has written to me and told me about this: just as she was beginning to trust me, I up and leave and go to Asia without notice. She realized that it was a good move, but pretty much destroyed trust and maybe even the potential of a relationship in the future… I am SO GLAD that M…. has a wonderful new stepdad, but it kills me when she calls him her dad.
A… too, has been much more distant since then. C…. seems to be more distant lately, too. And basically, any efforts that I have made to reach out to them, have been ignored or even met with anger (and I have almost only ever done so when released through prayer to do so)…. I am just the crazy man who went crazy in C….., went off the edge with addiction, stayed crazy – changed his name, and up and moved off to Asia in some crazy fit of craziness. I know it’s not true, but it is true that many perceive it this way, and I even understand where they are coming from. At least the very thorough psych workup I had to go through, to come here for my new job helped me to realize that I had some reasonable levels of psychological health and freedom.
And even in coming to Asia, I have been – up until the last few months – absolutely hammered with the anger and fear of the woman He told me He was giving me. It has sometimes been a nearly constant gauntlet of actual craziness… the lies, the totally out-there anger and paranoia, etc. And even in the difficulty, I am quite frankly, honored that He wants me in Asia, and over 200 people have come to know Him through the work HE has given me. Further, the reality that I saved a depressed woman from probable emotional destruction, and a little brown boy from being given away (since M…. could in no ways handle him), has made this a very worthwhile journey.
But the mountain of garbage I have had to wade through here with her, brought me to a place of anger with Him. … He asked me, one time in the kitchen, if I wanted to go ahead and get angry with Him… It is one of the few times I have not been forthcoming with Him since I got free, but yes. I was, earlier this year, quite frankly, at the end of my rope. I mean, couldn’t He have figured out a path to me being over here that did not have to include people thinking I was crazy, changing my name, and taking my four wonderful kids away from me, and then giving me an actually crazy-acting woman (and her daughter who hates me most of the time) to take care of!!!??? I mean, “WHAT THE ACTUAL F–K!!!??? OVER.”
So, my first complete 50 years have been full of relational disappointment that sometimes clouds my ability to think. There are times where I can honestly say that it would be easier if the kids had passed in some accident or something. The fact that they are alive, but not available, is not anything a father who loves his kids can put into words. There are times where I miss the wife of my youth in ways I cannot describe. As you know, she is wonderful in so many ways. I miss making a good living and driving cool cars. You know I would not trade it back… just expressing the profound sense of loss that sometimes comes in.
So, but back to your friend, V…. … there are some things for guys like him (and me) to remember. Part of what we really need is for someone to just sit with us, and mourn. H….., as hard as it might be for you, mourn with him. What happened to him was wrong. It is not the original design. So much of this is way out of the spec for any human being to handle. I know what that edge feels like. We are scrambling for handholds or footholds, and sometimes a scream of “WHY!!!???” is more just a call for help.
Secondly, free will is everywhere, but the freest will is the strongest will. This appears to be sovereignty in some mechanistic ways, but it is just that sovereignty can look as though it is overwhelming others choices when it is not. God did not deal me a hand, and force me to play it. I will admit fully that I am often stumped, angry, and nearly despairing over the unfairness of much of my life. But, for me to both survive and begin to thrive, I have had to stop trying to contextualize this, and/or put this into some sort of understandable plan…
IF it was something that I could fully understand and put into any viable 4-dimensional scenario, I might very well take the opportunity to tell this heavy-handed, arbitrary god to shove off… If I made him anything like me, it would indeed be some sort of comparison, and I think I would tell this god to well and truly f-ck off and get out of my life. I mean, seriously, does he have any idea how much time I spent on my knees and in prayer trying to get my life together after my dad blew it up? Does he have any idea how fricking unfair it was to do all of this to a kid and young man who honestly and sincerely was trying to love and serve him the best I knew how? Does he have any idea how unfair it is to take away a man’s family, house, career, cars, pets, and workshop – all in one day?
But again, God did not deal me a hand and force me to play it. God dealt me INTO a plan that is playing out in eternity and with googals of variables. He is actually UPPING my value by playing me into a very tough game, with some very rough edges. Some of the texture of this life is far from comfortable for me, but when I honestly think about it, I would not want Him patronizing me and treating me like some infantile being that could not face exposure to some of the very worst aspects of this existence – as long as HE walked through them with me.
God is not throwing me into a blender, He is inviting me into the very act of weaving eternity together… This does not make Him cold, distant and arbitrary. It makes Him a Friend Who esteems me more fully than I could ever have possibly imagined… The ultimate test of this is in theology: It SEEMS that it would be more merciful for God to have made us so that we will simply be annihilated if we don’t come to know Him in this life. But frankly, I cannot think of a more terrifying or demeaning terminus. This would be such an incredible downgrading of the value and design of a human spirit… What!? to simply crumple up something made in Their very image and burn it away? No! We will live forever, Him, having imparted immense respect towards us, and infusing enormous value into us, respecting our personhood and choice. And, I think any clear thinking human would rather burn in pain, than cease to exist. And still, His grace is sufficient.
And this leads us to the final point.
Thirdly, and always… what is God like? He is Love. Yes, anything that happens, is indeed ultimately His responsibility. And He may sometimes be arbitrary, but He is not capricious. But, I need not fear this. When I know someone loves me, I can allow trust to grow, and allow answers to be deferred until a better time. I know They have my best interests (and everyone else’s also) at heart. And, the truth is, even in my own life, I have had to do things that were totally motivated by love, that very few people understood… Giving up as much as we did for M…. , was not understood by many – but this is what love does. Love does not prioritize being understood, above simply doing that which is best in the long term.
One more mystical moment from me, and it is a serious thread I hold onto. Maybe you can share this with V…. (actually, any of this or above is fine)… When, things were really coming apart around the situation with M….. and my dad, and then a few times since then, He has spoken to me clearly. It is one of the most comforting things in my entire life. It is a lavish luxury. And it is the thing that keeps me out of the re-sending of the negative (note the similarity to resentment here linguistically) stuff. He has spoken to me clearly: “One day, brother, you and I can sit down – just the two of us – and we can take absolutely as long as you want to talk about all of this. No limits.” What this has shown me, personally, is that Jesus is indeed accountable to me now that I am in His Family. He, like any good Brother, would take the time to share his thoughts, feelings, motivations, and heart on important issues.
But mostly, it is that right now, I would be incapable of even beginning to have an inkling of all the things that are going into that which is working for my good and His glory… Anything He could even begin to share with me would be exceedingly and abundantly beyond anything I could even begin to hope or imagine to understand. But, that Day is coming where I will begin to understand, and I will have forever to work this out with Him, Face-to-face; no hurries, and no more complications to push off my understanding to another day.
So, may this be useful to V….. Would you greet him for me? Would you tell him that I would be glad to chat, if he ever decided that he wanted to dialog via email. I have no idea exactly what his pain is like, but I am definitely not coming at this from an ivory tower. And, it would be my honor to just struggle through this with him, side by side.
Love you bro,
In the space between stimulus (what happens) and how we respond, lies our freedom to choose. Ultimately, this power to choose is what defines us as human beings. We may have limited choices but we can always choose. We can choose our thoughts, emotions, moods, our words, our actions; we can choose our values and live by principles. It is the choice of acting or being acted upon.
~ Stephen Covey