True Love

Last October, I wrote an article upon the nature of grief after unexpectedly losing a beloved friend two months prior. Everything in my life was shaken and trembled as a result of many difficult challenges, trials, and circumstances that afflicted me throughout last year. I continue to find difficulty in labelling 2019 as a terrible, dreadful year, because there were so many incredible things that took place throughout the year, but those wonderful things are marred by the realities of the tragedies, struggles, and tribulations that were ever present. My life came to a halt in August, and the subsequent months continued to see my life tossed about by the storm of grief and despair. Life as I knew it continued on, but I was still nursing a wound that cleaved my heart in two. I hobbled forward with a limp through life toward new challenges that would bring new tribulations and deeper hurting. My life has never been the same, but, as I sit writing, something is different. Different about my life, different about my perspective, different about myself.

When I got up this morning, my heart was heavy (and remains heavy even now). A deep groaning that cannot be put to words bellowed from the depths of me. A yearning to go back to when things were different. A longing to draw near to that beloved friend. Grief had come to visit me today. I am not surprised by the timing as the days creep closer to that one year mark. This most unwelcome, unrelenting guest has become an occasional traveling partner. A year ago, I cried out to God from the depths of pain and suffering. Uttering my grievances, shaking my fist at God, and making my anger known to Him from the depths of my affliction. A pain that is incomprehensible. The brokenness and frailty of my human nature on full display as I wanted to hurt God as He had hurt me…

The ugliness of death permeates beyond the physical world. Death – grief – sin, tear at the very fabric of God’s design. We were not designed to die. We were not created with the capacity to understand grief. Sin’s corruption opened the door for our suffering, affliction, and our despair. The way our bodies and mind react to death are completely unnatural. When we are being subjected to the waves of emotions brought upon us by grief, we have difficulty explaining them to others who ask of us, “how are you doing” or “are you okay?” The words are never sufficient to describe the breadth and weight of grief. Even with the most refinement, I could not ever truly describe the excuriating pain that I was experiencing. Grief is one of those things you never fully understand until it comes to visit you…

The physical pain of grief has largely subsided, though this morning I could not hold back the tears that burned as they flowed as fire from my eyes.. I have found that it’s the quietest, stillest moments of my life that my mind settles upon my beloved friend. A longing for this person who is missing from my life. A fleeting desire, from the depths of my soul, for things to have been different. The thoughts come unexpectedly, without warning, and it has become bittersweet. I have a more difficult time with ‘happily ever after’ at the end of movies, books, and music now than I did a year ago. The realities of the Christian life tells us that ‘happily ever after’ is not found exclusively here on Earth, but in the presence with our Creator. My heart twists, somewhat selfishly, because I would much rather have my beloved friend here with me today… Yet, my heart and soul rejoice because I know that they are in the presence of God! My friend is made whole again, set free from the suffering of sin’s corruption! Those memories and thoughts bring about wonderful, joyous sentimentality of this wonderful person, and they bring a tinge of sorrow for their absence from this earth.

“Grief is like a bomber circling round and dropping its bombs each time the circle brings it overhead; physical pain is like the steady barrage on a trench in World War One, hours of it with no let-up for a moment. Thought is never static; pain often is.”

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Although we were not designed to experience grief, I am a better man as a result. I am a better man because God deemed it necessary to bring my beloved friend into my life. I am better because God began to draw our hearts together. I am a better person because God has walked by my side every step of this long, agonizing path. Something within me is different, vastly different, and I can feel it. I am not the man I was, nor am I fully who God has intended me to be — yet. I recognize that that was a strange sentence to read, but by virtue, the fact that I am writing this now is evidence that God still has plans for me and my life. The transformative, sanctification process is not yet complete in my life. He continues to draw me toward greater repentance and Christlikeness.

Navigating grief is hardly an easy task. Grief is a violent storm. A raging war. Grief shakes at the foundations of our faith to reveal where we’ve placed our hope. The longer I’ve walked through this process, I have become more aware of how helplessly vulnerable my heart is to the afflictions of this life. However, in the same way, my heart is vulnerable to the work God is seeking to do in my life. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a cynic. Everybody and everything is motivated by their own self-interest. Selfishness. This perspective toward life is highly pessimistic (and problematic). My outlook on life was rigidly negative because, by its nature, cynicism looks for the worst in people. The cynic expects people act on their own self-interest, and cynics are rarely caught of guard because of it. The trap of the cynic’s worldview is in their hardness of heart. A snare that sniffles and suffocates the heart from seeing things from God’s perspective of grace and mercy. Grief would be my undoing.

I have been on a path of unlearning since high school. My self-preservation, coping mechanisms, of cynicism, sarcasm, and skepticism were deeply rooted in the facets of my life as I began down the path toward sanctification. I am a deeply flawed man. I fail (frequently). My hard heart has been one of my greatest hinderances in growing toward Christlikeness… A friend asked me some months back in the (what as at that time) height of coronavirus quarantine what I thought God was trying to teach me through my experience with loss and grief. I’ve honestly given up trying to come up with some rational answer to that question because every conclusion I come to is contrary to the character of God. If God took my friend away to teach me a lesson, then their life was more about me than it was His and that can’t be right. If God took them away because I was not holy or righteous enough, then God’s is cruel which is not true in the slightest. Still my friend’s question has lingered with me as I’ve mulled over my life with introspection. Instead of rationalizing this time of my life, I’ve instead searched the scriptures. Seeking to understand the nature of grief, of death, of God, and of grace. How can I learn from this time, and help those who are experiencing grief? What can we learn about God through our grieving? Scripture speaks directly to our frail, broken hearts. God whispers into our sufferings, and bellows into our lives with hopeful expectation.

I am nowhere near the end of the grieving process (though admittedly, I do not believe that it ever truly has an end on this side of Heaven). The process has changed, and I can see God’s hand at work in my life through this process. I have become more compassionate toward things that I was once cynical about. My outlook on life and on others has begun to swing toward something more optimistic. My hard heart is softening as God stirs in my inequity and works through my brokenness. God is good! He is awesome, powerful, and mighty! He is good, gracious, and merciful! I dearly love my beloved friend. From that very first encounter with them, something was different. As I spent time with them, the more I was drawn to them, and from the very depths of my soul all I wanted was to see God’s best for their life. True love. Not infatuation marketed as ‘true love’ by Hollywood, but the genuine expression of love. God is at the center of the very essence of what we know as love. He is, after all, the one from which we begin to understand love. Thus, as I’ve come to realize through this undoing, I cannot love anyone truly if I am hard of heart. My cynical view toward life has been contrary to the very essence of God’s grace and mercy.

God speaks, even in our suffering. Our afflictions are not purposeless. God may teach us through these difficult and often painful experiences, but that does not inherently mean that God allowed them solely for that purpose. That purpose is beyond our ability to comprehend. However, I rest knowing that there is a ‘happily ever after’ for those who lay their faith in Jesus. There is hope! We, as believers, may hope expectantly for that happily ever after because God is at work! We may share that hope with others by striving to love those around us genuinely. Free of our self-interest and gain. Our hope is for the work God is doing, even now, in the midst of difficult seasons. We hope to see God’s best fulfilled in the lives of others. Even from our suffering, we may hope! Hope for deliverance. Hope for new perspective. For God’s transformative work to be done in our lives. Hope for our lives to be leveraged in such a way that we may serve others as examples of true love!

Teren

The Turning Point: A Story of Redemption

I use to be the happiest, jovial child! I was inquisitive, curious, and carefree! My parents swear that I had such a unique smile that never left me at that time. Looking back, I believe that I had a strong sense of justice. I was very sensitive and could gage right and wrong as well as justice and injustice. I was just a happy kid! This may just be nostalgia but life seemed so much more simple when I was a child. I did not have to worry about what major to take, how I was going to pay for things, girls had cooties (though I always got along with them), and the biggest concern was what fun would be had any given day. I loved Star Wars, and if you accused me of being obsessed you’d be correct, and it filled my vivid imagination. By the time of fourth grade, or 2001 for reference, I was still very much a happy, happy, happy child. However, as I entered fifth grade, that smile that my parents talked about would disappear. In the past few years, when we’ve talked about that time and where I am now, they’ve mentioned that that smile I had never really did return.


 

Family Photos


 

When I entered fifth grade, I found out how cruel other children could be. The way my middle school was set up meant that we had a homeroom that would stay together all day, except for our single elective period, moving from one subject to the next. Around this time, too, my family split from the church we had been attending for reasons I still do not know to this day. We tried a new church, the church I am now attending and serving in, but from around this point forward we were unchurched. Anyway, I spent five days a week, nearly eight hours a day with the same kids who choose me as their victim. They’d tease me, bully me, and would find any means in which to antagonize me. This went on for the entirety of the school year. I distinctly remember reaching a point that I no longer wanted to go to school. I remember fighting with my mom one morning adamantly refusing to go to school. I wanted no part of it. I was completely traumatized, looking back the things the kids would say and mock me with were rather trivial and inconsequential, because I was subjected to it every day. As this continued, I grew more and more spiteful, hateful.

I grew calloused and resorted to fighting back in whatever way I could. I learned how to swear and would throw words back at them. I’d take my anger out on my closer friends because I was hurting. I’d make every effort to toughen up and carry the weight of the pain and suffering. I tried to endure. And Y’all, I failed miserably. I became a very angry person. I hated everyone. I’d take out my anger on doors, walls, my siblings. I was explosive. Anger and hate sat just under the surface and would implode by the slightest issue. Even as I moved on to sixth and seventh grade, the bullying lessened as I got bigger and larger than most of my peers. However, the pain that I experienced as a child lingered and worsened. I isolated myself which led me into greater sins that I will not discuss at this time. I avoided people as best I could. My anger became my most valuable weapon during this time in my life. I also adapted my words to be nuanced through sarcasm to mask the hate I’d spread.

I very truly entered into a self-destructive path between 5th and 8th grade because I had an issue in controlling my anger. I also became a skeptic and a cynic. I trusted nobody apart from myself. At some point between the eighth grade and ninth grade, my entire family began going to counseling for other issues. I definitely wasn’t having it either. Let alone, I didn’t trust this shrink, who is actually a pretty fantastic person whom I have much respect for now, who was trying to invoke in us a change. However, what I needed was this person holding up a mirror to myself and my family to reveal the issues that were dwelling within my broken soul. My tongue spread nothing but hate and lies to those I came into contact with. Y’all, when the Bible says the tongue can either give life or it can kill its not lying! So for a good chunk of my schooling life, I was lost and angry and bitter.

Something changed toward the end of my freshman year. I was reintroduced to the church. I slowly, hesitantly made my way back to the place full of broken people. It would take the rest of my time in high school to begin to change my ways. I was fortunate to have a youth paster who was willing to battle through my transition into a new stage. Y’all my words had become different, they were sarcastic and cruel, but were guised as humor. Through my sophomore year, I was still in my ways speaking sarcasm and being a jerk. I was terrible. I was a mess. I find it funny now, that toward the end of high school that God would place a calling on my life to love others. To make every effort to love anyone I come in contact with.

Allowing God to do a work on our lives is a process. One that takes more time than we might imagine. Even to this day, I have to be careful with how I speak and I admit that there are times when I’ve not kept the sarcasm in check. My attempt at humor is biting, especially when it’s not intended to be so. I can, in all praise to God, look back at where I was then and where I am now as a completely different person! In some ways, I’m still the same but I’m no longer burdened with anger. I am free from the shackles of anger and hate that weighed me down for so many years. Now, I know that I cannot undo the hurt that I inflicted to people, my family, my friends, but I recognize the purpose God has placed upon me. To move from where I was then, and identify those needing love. To build up people, to encourage people, to share unconditional love to all who need it. This takes many forms, a word, a smile, a side-hug (cause modesty), a funny story, a conversation around a trashcan after dinner, and so on. We all want to feel wanted. To feel like we matter. To feel like we’re appreciated. To feel the appropriate kind of physical love (like a hug or a pat on the back). The tongue can do just that, give life or tear somebody down. I never want to be that person again, the one who tore others down. I never will be thanks to the power of Christ’s sacrifice and drawing us to a place of redemption.

So now, nearly done with college and quickly approaching my thirties, I have a purpose before me both at church, work, and at home, to share life with those I come into contact with. I have a purpose in my service to both my high school and college students, to be a source a life to them. Why? Because I know the transformative years that are high school and early college. The uncertainty of the future. The need for a foundation. The fear of what’s coming. I eagerly look forward to being a church where I find myself every week! I love my peers for no particular reason, but just because I love them! I look forward every day to to hear about their weeks, to hear about their wins, to listen to their stories, to play games together, to worship together, to share in the lives! I am endlessly grateful that I have the ability, now, to love people! To recognize those who are needing encouragement! To be a source of life to someone! Y’all, it’s all because of God! Because of Christ! I can smile again! I am happy again! I have love! I have life! I have a purpose! I have a reason for living! I am free! I am redeemed! While that smile that my parents saw as a child has never returned, it’s been replaced by a smile of somebody who has happiness, who has love! It’s a different smile! This is a small part of a larger testimony of what God is doing in the lives of people across the globe. It is my hope, that even as I write this blog for myself, that my testimony may have an impact on all who come across it. God loves you! God wants to do a work in you! He wants to give you a purpose and reason for existing! It is my prayer that through my life God will be glorified and that people will see the work Christ has done in my life! My motivation is not my own glory, because I could not on my own change from my hateful, angry ways, but to be a source of life to people just as Christ has given me a source of life!

 

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up!