“Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other.
As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other.”
I’ve avoided answering my father’s calls many times in my life, but I was mostly trying to avoid pointless arguments and guilt trips over how I was “destroying him with my hate” or some other delusional rant. After sitting in a weed-saturated hotel and a quiet hospital room close to a year and a half ago while listening to the ramblings of an unrepentant shell of the man I once called a parent, I decided that I had enough. My heart ached for him, but in a different way than it ever had before.
I felt no rage.
I felt no anger.
I felt no resentment.
I experienced a sorrow like I never had before. I shared the words that to this day are probably the strongest words I’ve ever stood by:
“This doesn’t have to be the end.”
“Son, I don’t need that church shit…God don’t want me.”
It’s been a little over three months since I last saw my sister. I’ve been used to hearing things about her life via rumor over the last three years or so. It wasn’t until she was six months pregnant that I found out…through a friend of a friend. It wasn’t until I got a screen shot from her blocked Instagram account sent to me by a student from our church that I saw my nephew for the first time. It wasn’t until I was logged into a friend’s Facebook that I found out she was married. And it wasn’t until I received a message this summer while halfway across the world that I found out she had stolen a car and left the state with my nephew and a 23-year-old from Arizona to sell coke and score five felonies a week after her 18th birthday.
The sorrow was less prominent this time. Rage was far too dominant. However, the rage wasn’t for what she was doing to herself and her life.
The rage came from injustice.
The rage was for the life that she chose to submerge her two-year-old son into. For the life that he never asked for but was immediately surrounded. For the fact that the state police found him in the same clothes he had left in a month before. For the blank stare in her booking picture, completely indifferent to the destruction her innocent child had inherited.
I never thought I’d be ignoring calls from a Nebraska county jail.
I’ve spent the majority of my summer months devoid of deep interaction with others. It’s hard to feel content standing around in the shallow end because nobody wants to meet you in the deep end. I went to Africa and was reminded of the truth that I learned 4 years ago in the Philippines: in a world of brokenness and disorder, truly authentic community with followers of Jesus has the power to sustain even the most hurting of people. Yet I came back and felt that I had none. I slowly watched everyone that I had been close with over the last year of my life drift farther and farther away. And none of it made sense to me. I came home in desperate need of voices to help me process all that had been awakened inside me, and found myself alone.
I can’t figure Grace out.
I suppose I’m not the first person who has ever said that before. It’s hard to forgive someone for the wrong they’ve done to someone else. I have no score to settle against my sister; she does not owe me anything. But I can’t easily let it go when I feel she owes everything to her defenseless son. It’s devastating to see someone ignore the truth that you shape your own life around. When you’ve experienced the purest embodiment of joy, hope, peace, and love to ever exist, how can you watch someone continue to say no to that? How do you go about loving those who you feel only love you back when you’ve met their prerequisites? How do I get frustrated at those people when I won’t own up to the messes I’ve created in my own life?
There’s a finality to Grace that I feel I’m drawn to the most. When Jesus offered forgiveness to the criminal hanging next to him on the cross, the infinite nature of Grace was shown pretty vividly. But right after that, as he neared death, Jesus says the words “It is FINISHED.” Grace was shown as both infinite and permanent in that moment. This Grace reminds me that my own screw-ups can’t change it. It reminds me that it’s okay for me to be flawed and that I can live AND figure it out at the same time. I don’t have to “get” Grace to receive Grace.
I’m entering into another season of change. As my job shifts into a new role, and the landscape of my life has continued to tumultuously change over this last year, I think Grace may be the only thing I can hold on to. As I search for those who I can call friends and companions, I am reminded that doors can be re-opened at any moment. I don’t have any of the security that I used to think I had. I don’t know what this next year holds for me. I don’t know if I’ll be effective in the things I’m being called to this year. I don’t really have the network of encouragers that I thought I had. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.
But I don’t feel scared. And I don’t feel as anxious as I used to. Because the redemptive thing about Grace is that the story has already been written and the story is both finished and never-ending at the same time. And for the first time, I feel free to figure it out as I go.
there’s no chapter to close
if you don’t know where you left off in the book
i’ve heard that the answer is easy to find
but my God it’s so hard to look
i’ve never felt more reassured
and never felt this afraid
i’m wide awake but half asleep
I’m waking up from this screwed up dream
you can’t drown on the shore
but i think i’ve tried
my soul has lived
but my mind has died
this is nothing that i want
this is everything i need
the answers are so useless
if you don’t know how to read
i’m more alive than ever
have i ever been alive?
there’s not a better feeling
have i ever been alive?
i feel the breath of life
and now i think that i’m alive.