friendship

To Be Human

My dad died 6 years ago today. There are days it feels like only yesterday and days it feels like an eternity ago. These long moments and fast seconds of contemplating his life have passed with increasing regularity. It is in these moments that I find what I can only describe as profound humanity.

It’s not that I wasn’t human before. I was. It’s not that I didn’t understand death. I did. It’s simply that on September 4. 2012 my life lost its softness. To those who did not know us, it would be odd to characterize my father as a soft man. He was rough. He was tough. Most would remember him for his steely personality, full of flair but undeniably unchanging.

They say that the way you relate to your father is the way that you relate to God the Father. A rigid, correcting father leads you to believe in the sternness of God. A kind, gentle father leads you to believe in the caring nature of God. Whatever it might be, your father is your example. And I am no exception to the rule.

My father was no saint. Complicated and wounded, he fought through his life with a determinedness that forged on through every season. His life was a fight, one that would be won through the sweat of his brow and the determination of his mind. He was all steal and all metal. This was the father that I thought I knew.

And then I lost him.

I lost the incessant phone calls full of love and guilt and quiet curiosity. I lost the hugs and the gentle nudges to push forward with my next hare-brained idea. I lost the exasperated giggle when I dramatically retold my most recent hyperbolic interaction with the public in general. I lost the softness behind the steal.

In therapy I’m learning that the hardest part of grief is not grieving your memories, it’s grieving the potential of what you lost. It’s grieving the absurdity of the missed opportunity to argue over the 2016 Presidential Campaign. It’s grieving the loss of his wisdom while planning his mother’s funeral. It’s grieving all the hugs and the phone calls that would undoubtedly filled up the years. Those are the hard moments.

But, yet, even this has been a gain.

For it is in those moments of grieving my father’s softness that I see the softness of others. I’m able to cherish the text message from a friend or the late night phone calls. It’s the joy of hearing a friend’s surfing story and knowing that they will enjoy my latest email gaffe with the full kindness of knownness that only time can give. It’s the full celebration of seeing a dear friend’s face after all the years and enjoying the new wisdom in their gentle eyes.

I am grateful for my father. I am thankful that he showed me what it is to be both soft and strong. I am thankful that I can see both the softness and strength of God the Father through his example.

Mostly I am thankful for the community of people that are in my life, both Christians and non-Christians who have poured their lives into me through these long years. Their softness and kindness rekindling in me the knowledge of how deep and how wide and how high is the love of God.

It’s in these full moments of complicated grief I am able to appreciate what it means to be fully human and to hold on to those who are human with me. What a journey, what a gift to be able to walk alongside them even if our paths are short or our journey tumultuous.

What a gift it is to be human together.

So on this hard day I say:

To my dear, lovely friends, you are both salt and light to me. You are my softness and such a deep part of my strength. You help me discover the depth and heights of humanity with increasing grace and truth. I love you. I am thankful for you. You make my joy complete.  

Finding Family

Today would have been my dad’s 60th birthday.

It’s been a painful but enlightening five years since his death. The time has been full of mysterious joy and overwhelming sorrow. Walking through the grieving process of a parent’s early death is a perilous journey. It’s full of minefields of trauma and grenades of pain. Your hair falls out. Your body gives in. You can’t sleep and, when you do, you’re plagued by nightmares. It’s inescapable, unavoidable pain.

The months following my dad’s death were horrifying. I found myself without a job, without roommates, and without a purpose. My entire existence crashed down at my feet like an avalanche. Like Job, I lost everything. I couldn’t even keep the hair on my head.

But then the miraculous happened…

 

Friends slowed down enough to see my avalanche.

Looking past my facade of “I’m okay”, they saw the rubble I kicked under my shoe and the devastation I so desperately hid from the world, the rebuilding of my life that was going nowhere. They saw past my ‘Christianese’ insistence that “I can do all things through Christ” and my faulty theology that there’s no room for grief in God’s Kingdom.  

Seeing my desperate, sad state, they did what no one had done before. They sat amongst the rubble with me. Brick by brick they helped build back up my life, strengthening me through the process as I learned to have faith and life again.

For me this looked like moving closer to me. It looked like insisting I meet every week for pizza and beer (a tradition we still keep after 5 years) and handing me cookies and chores and hugs. It looked like praying over me but also being the active hands of God sowing hope into my soul when I was empty. It looked like insisting I go to therapy when I was, again, “just fine” and listening to my near constant state of confusion about life. It looked like hard truths and kind words.

It looked like family.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. - 1 Cor 14:4-7

In my early years of faith, church was relegated to a brick and mortar building. It was a place where I went on Sundays and Wednesdays to wrap my head around this ‘Big Guy in the Sky”. It was an idea.

It wasn’t until I walked this lonely road of grief that I finally knew what church was designed to be.

When Jesus says “Go and make disciples”, he’s not asking us to bring more people through the doors of a church. He’s asking us to be THE CHURCH- to sit amongst the rubble of the avalanches and to love well. To leave behind our denominations and our squabbles, our differences and our fear and… love well.

When I think of the Kingdom of God, I see Thursday nights of pizza and kindness. I see chunky baby arms reaching out to hold you and warm apple cider simmering on the stove. I see holding hands as we cry in prayer and laughter that could fill a thousand cathedrals. I see sacrifices both small and wide that show God’s vast, insurmountable love even in the midst of our deepest pain. I see unlikely friendships forged through toil, pain, and perseverance.

When I think about church, I finally understand it's not just a hobby or a building, but a family of love that looks like this:

The family of God is patient.

The family of God is kind.

It doesn't boast.

It isn't proud.

It doesn’t dishonor others.

It isn’t self-seeking.

It isn't easily angered.

It doesn’t keep record of wrong.

The family of God doesn’t delight in evil.

It rejoices with truth.

It protects, trusts, hopes…

It perseveres.

The Good Samaritan and Me

Have you ever been humbled by God? Not just experienced hard circumstances, but rather, had a mirror reflected to show the disfiguring blemishes in your faith?

Last spring, in the midst of our study of Luke, my house church discussed the parable of The Good Samaritan.  We dissected and debated the parable, leaving us satisfied that we knew our neighbor. Resting in the comfort that my faith and love were purer than the Levite or the Priest. I settled into a smug acceptance that I was, obviously, the Samaritan.

It only took a short while to discover that I could not be more wrong.

Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus.

“Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”

He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”

He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

“Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”
Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”

There was a woman who immigrated from Asia to America. Finding her home here, she fought to learn English, become a nail technician, and build a life of her own. Every day she bent over and scrubbed the feet of strangers. Every day she avoided eye contact while pampering those whose lives were unlike her own.  Every day she fought to live with dignity. And all the while, she held the death of her son deep in her heart.  A pain so deep and debilitating, it seeped into every aspect of her life.

A Christian woman sat before her checking her Facebook app and texting whomever would text back. Avoiding conversation, she convinced herself reading the subtitles on the national news was a better way to save both of their dignities. She held as still as possible while getting a pedicure so as not to be engaged in conversation. It was just easier that way.

A gay man came along and sat beside the woman. Seeing the pain in the beautician’s eyes, he engaged her in conversation and sought the answers to the pain he saw hiding in the recesses. He held her as she cried and told her that she was loved and cared for. He salved the pain of her wounds with his friendship. He tipped her well and promised to come back to continue their friendship.  

“What do you think? Which of the two became a neighbor?”

“The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.

Jesus said, “Go and do the same”

You see, I was exactly what I railed against. I was too busy, too conceited, too prideful to step down to heal. It took a sweet friend, a friend who in most religious circles would be rejected, to show me what truly loving my neighbor was to look like. May I seek to be less like the religious elite and more like my friend.