Five Minute Friday: Five

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Gentle Reader,

Tonight for the five lead by Kate, we write on: five.

Go.

Sometimes the crap hits the fan, and there’s no disguising the mess. Or smell.

Car.

Dishwasher.

Dog.

My faithful buddy, the fat and neurotic Benny, has congestive heart failure. He’s somewhere around 12-13 years old, so it’s not entirely surprising. But so hard. So very hard. The kind emergency vet lady gave him lasix pills, which seem to be helping, yet I know that the end of his life is nearer than the beginning. I can’t even start to think about what it will be like without him pressed up against my hip as I sit, curled up in the couch corner, tapping away at the keys.

Blessed are those who mourn,
    For they shall be comforted.

– Matthew 5:4 (NKJV)

This stage of existence is one of steady trouble punctuated by moments, tastes, glimpses of glory. Not one of us has an “easy life,” despite appearances. There is always something. Always tears lurking just beneath the surface, no matter how wide the smile. All it takes is one event or well-timed word to bring them crashing, rolling, down our cheeks.

Christ extends His hands, the ones still bearing the holes. Five fingers on each, wrapping around the back of our heads and pulling us to His chest. His heart and our sobs come together in an silent symphony, a song heard only by the orchestra of two. The lyrics are meaningless to outsiders. The clash of sacred and profane strikes a disturbingly dissonant chord.

Somehow, it is right.

Somehow, there is peace.

We’re trying to set aside just a little more money before we go car shopping, but that’s probably about to fly out the window and into the greedy mouth of a noisy new dishwasher. I can’t stop time’s ravaging effect on the soft, warm little body I see just out of the corner of my eye. I lay my hand on his soft fur, feel the rise and fall of his somewhat-labored breathing that continues only for now. My face is wet. I lean back and imagine myself the Beloved Disciple, reclining on the Savior’s chest that night, in that pause during the dinner, before the horror. He must have known, in that place buried deep in the back of each person’s mind, that the clock was set to shift to a new hour. An unsure hour.

As I know now.

And yet the promise stands,

I will not leave you orphans…

– John 14:18a (NKJV)

I have no solution for this problem, this thing called Pain, that has puzzled the wise down through the ages. I don’t know why things happen when and as they do.

I know only that He has not left me.

Nor has He left you.

Stop.

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Five Years On

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Gentle Reader,

At this hour on a Monday, I’m usually be up to my elbows in Zephaniah.

Not today.

This is a special day.

Five years ago, on a cloudy, cool, early autumn day much like this, I determined that my life had no value. No purpose. Enveloped in a dark, intense pain, unlike anything I had ever felt, I concocted a plan. An exit.

An escape.

Those who contemplate or carry out suicide are not in their right minds. Yes, self-murder is an angry act. In some ways, a selfish act. I get that. What you need to understand is that, in the moment, it doesn’t feel angry and it doesn’t seem selfish. Thoughts get twisted. Emotions get jumbled. To commit suicide is to enact the worst, harshest form of judgment on oneself. People in that pit of blackest dark genuinely believe that the best thing they can do, for everyone, is to cease to exist.

It’s a nightmare of hellish proportions.

There are many things I don’t and will never know, but two things I do, five years on:

  1. Mental illness is as real as physical illness, and just as nobody with a broken bone should be expected to “pray it away,” neither should the depressed, the anxious, the schizophrenic, the borderline. Oh, my, yes, prayer is powerful. But it’s stupid and theologically shallow to believe that therapy is sinful and medication is bad. When a person is too sad to get out of bed, so sad that his whole body hurts, is it reasonable or even compassionate to flip a verse or two at him and then judge him for not having “enough” faith when the problem doesn’t go away? Please. What a load of crap. There’s no deliverance or healing in heaping condemnation on someone, especially when she’s busy throwing stones at herself. 
  2. Satan is real, and he wants to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10). I have been in the midst of evil. I have seen it. I have felt it. Don’t tell me that there is no Enemy. Again, stupid and theologically shallow.

If you’d like to fight me on either of these points, I’m down. Let’s go.

Today I remember. Today I thank God for saving me from myself. Today I sit in the quiet, allowing myself time and space to rest. The war is not over for me. Just over 24 hours ago, I had a panic attack.

But I know in Whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that He is faithful.

If you find yourself worn out, pressed on to the point of being crushed, just so very done with it all – I understand. Sweet friend, I know you’re exhausted. I know you just want to stop the hurting. Jesus Himself felt the same way, that night in the garden when He sweat drops of blood. He knows your agony.

Fight on. Keep going. Take your pills, pray, see a counselor, do whatever you need to do. Get the help that you deserve. Yes, deserve. Because you have value and purpose. You were placed on this planet, in this context, in this generation, for a reason. Anything else is a lie. You don’t have to listen.

I pray today for you, fellow scarred and bruised and bleeding and small sojourner. I stand with you, little sheep who’s wandered so far and wonders if the Shepherd will ever come. He’s already there. You may not feel Him. You may not see Him. But He’s there. He lifts your head and beckons you to look in His eyes. In them is fire.

In them is all the strength you need to slay the beast.

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Voiceless: a Review

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Gentle Reader,

A few months ago I was contacted and asked if I’d like to review the movie Voiceless in advance of its October release.

Battling his own inner-demons, Jesse (Rusty Joiner: Last Ounce Of CourageDodgeball, “Days of Our Lives”) encounters a young, pregnant teen overcome with grief that, after an impulsive abortion, has her family blaming Jesse for more than just her final decision. Jesse’s wife Julia (Jocelyn Cruz: Strike OneThis Is Our Time) must come to terms with her own choices and decide if she can support her husband as opposition mounts against him. Comedian Paul Rodriguez also stars as Virgil with James Russo as Pastor Gil.

I have mixed feelings about this movie. On the one hand, I appreciate the fact that the overall tone is thoughtful and the filmmakers resisted tying up everything in a neat bow at the end. On the other, what should be an emotionally-charged story falls flat in many places.

Thoughtfulness is both the strength and weakness of Voiceless. Jesse Dean is not presented as a perfect action hero, but as a normal, flawed human being. In fact, all of the characters are relatable. Of special note is that the manager of the abortion clinic isn’t a crazed, bloodthirsty killer. She believes that she is helping women, just as Jesse believes he’s helping them. Though there is clear moral right and wrong on display, nobody is cast as a villain. A movie like this could have easily gone that direction.

Unfortunately, these good elements somehow come together and make for a plot that moves at a snail’s pace. I found myself thinking, “Come on,” more than once. I think that we, the audience, were supposed to have a sense of taking part in Jesse’s struggle, but instead we’re treated to lingering shots that cause already-slow movement to drag. I think this comes down to editing rather than a story flaw; a good 10-15 minutes could have been shaved off, making for a film that packed more punch.

Not that I wanted Voiceless to be loud or in my face. I actually liked that it was on the quieter side. There were some moments that needed to land hard, though, and didn’t quite get there. Example: Jesse’s interactions with a pregnant teen and her boyfriend needed to feel more urgent, like there was truly something on the line. Additionally, when he and his wife finally come to the moment when they discuss their shared past, instead of feeling shocked I thought, “Yeah, saw that coming.”Voiceless crawled where it shouldn’t have and sprinted where it needed to slow down.

I genuinely can’t decide what I think of the main character being male. Abortion is not a women-only issue, for sure, despite what some claim. Yet I wonder how I would have felt if a lone man stood outside Planned Parenthood the day I visited and tried to convince me not to go inside. Like many of the women in the movie, I probably would have ignored him and thought that he didn’t know what he was talking about. Now, years later, I know many men who ooze compassion for women in that position. Still, I think it would have been more powerful for me to see a woman reaching out to her sisters.

The story itself is one that is lived out in every town, big or small, each day. How should Christians respond to abortion? Is it enough to pray for the people involved in offering that service and for the people who take advantage of the offering? Should we protest, and if so, what form should that take? We see Jesse wrestle with these questions. We see him get it wrong more than once. We see the other Christians around him get it wrong.

But ultimately, they do something. That, I think, is the point of Voiceless. Sitting inside our comfortable churches, piously and hollowly praying for people doesn’t do much good, but neither does violent protest. Our hearts must move from both coldness and extreme zeal. We must love as God loves, act how He acts.

I recommend Voiceless, whatever your views on abortion, on the grounds that it is something different. It’s not a perfect movie, but the filmmakers deserve credit for avoiding a condemning, judgmental tone and for striving to contribute to national debate in a thoughtful, positive way.

My journey to faith. (15)