Truth: Love in the Waves of Violence

(Heads up – this post deals with intimate partner violence and abuse/abusers/victims. Also, my partner has agreed to let me post this and she’s read it ahead of time)

My partner recently wrote a piece about trauma stewardship and how she has been handling her own history of trauma brought to the forefront of her soul by the intimate partner violence heard through our apartment walls. She’s been diligent in confronting the emotions and feelings and I’m so grateful that she’s working with her therapist to both understand and manage them.

But some days are still difficult for her and random actions, sounds, and images can – in a moment – flip the trauma switch for her. She wrote in her post: “…in the midst of remembering my trauma I was journaling and wrote, “I hate that he still has control over me.”” In spite of her very best efforts and countless hours of therapy, this man is still able to haunt her and control her actions, thoughts, and feelings. Though years and miles apart, he still enacts violence on her. It hurts her to know and live this reality and it hurts me to witness her actions and reactions to the ghosts of his violence.

If I’m honest though, it more than hurts me – it angers me. It angers me that his abuse affects our relationship. It angers me that his violence affects our physical contact. It angers me that he has a voice in our relationship, that he controls the direction of our relationship, that he lingers in the corners of our relationship. It angers me that his misguided, mismanaged anger angers me.

The lectionary gospel passage from Luke has Jesus continuing his Sermon on the Plain, focusing this week on loving one’s enemies, doing good to those who hate, blessing those who curse, and praying for those who abuse. It’s a stretch to say that even the kindest and gentlest people find difficulties following Christ’s call in this passage, let alone someone who has directly experienced pain and violence at the hands of others. As I read my Lord’s words I’m confronted with the steep mountain of Christ-likeness I’m called to climb.

While I know that I’m called to scale this mountain and live out forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation with my enemies – in this case the one who has abused my partner – I really don’t want to. I don’t want to love him or do good to/for him…I don’t want to bless him and pray for him. What I want to do is what he has done to my partner: I want to abuse him. I want to traumatize him. I want to make him suffer as much as he has made her suffer. And that, too, angers me because that’s not who I am called to be: I am not called to reaction, retaliation, and violence – I’m called to response-in-love, forgiveness, and healing; somehow, someway I’m called to both respond in love and flat-out love the one who hurt my partner.

That’s a difficult call to both hear and live into because it’s so counter-intuitive to the ways of the world that I so often witness around me. Violence is countered with violence…abusers are abused…murderers are murdered…an eye for an eye, right? And this call to respond in love is difficult to hear because it feels like I am accepting, allowing, and agreeing with/to his violence. But I don’t want to affirm his actions, I want to condemn them and ensure he never abuses another person. Can I somehow denounce and rebuke his violence – and the violence he’s caused – in a loving, Christ-like way? In the depths of trauma and ripples of violence can I live out Christ’s words found here in the gospel of Luke?

Perhaps I can begin to walk towards love for this man by first choosing to respond rather than react to the ripples of his violence. Perhaps I can love him best right now by resisting the swells of his violence that pervade my and my partner’s life through non-violent means:

  • by choosing to no longer accept the violence he imposed in my partner’s life nor accepting abuse in the lives of others around me. I choose to continue to stand with my partner in her trauma and refuse to accept any excuse for her ex’s behavior. I choose to stand with other victims of violence and listen to their stories
  • by choosing to no longer submit to the violence, instead standing against it in any of its forms, both in the life of my partner and in the lives of those around me. I will stand opposed to intimate partner violence and domestic abuse in all its forms and support organizations that provide safe housing for victims
  • by choosing to no longer seek or enact violence in retaliation or reaction to him or those who act violently towards my partner, myself, and those around me. I refuse to think of doing harm to this man. I refuse to allow violent ideations to control my response to this man. I refuse to allow him to take up space in my brain for violent reasons. Instead, I choose to deny violence in all its forms and remain committed to peace – even with my enemies

I can’t say that I’d be willing to seek him out and offer him a peace offering today, but I can offer him this: I choose to end your violence in my life. I choose my partner and I will walk with her, giving her access to tools to respond to the violence you created in healthy, life-giving ways. I choose to respond in love to your violence by not reacting violently. I choose to respond in love to your actions by doing to you what you couldn’t, by doing to you what you never knew, by doing to you what confuses you most. I choose to pray for you even if I can’t utter a word. I choose to love you even when I can’t. I choose to respond to you in love until you can do it for yourself and those around you.

And to my dearest partner, I choose to remain committed to you, even as the waves of trauma ebb and flow through your life. Never forget that I (and so many others) are right here with you as you navigate these waters. I pray that they will calm, they will lessen, they will fade away.

May we walk in mercy, love, and action all the days of our lives.

much love. sheth.

Truth: Travel Companion

In the morning, Chelsea May and I are leaving Texas, heading north to new locations (undisclosed for a week!) and new, unforeseen adventures.  I came to Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey to attend seminary, and I’m leaving in the wake of Hurricane Hannah, seminary completed and ready to move into ministry, married to my best friend and heading to new locations and new experiences.  It’s more than I ever dreamed of and more than I ever imagined.

When I landed in Austin I wanted to finish seminary and do ministry in a small town; I had no hopes or dreams of dating – let alone marrying – someone.  But God is funny, and by the end of our first year of classes I knew Chelsea May was going to be a significant person in my life.  While we got along in class, we somehow gravitated toward one another outside of the classroom and we just…kinda stuck together.  Going for late night pizzas…seeking ice cream on summer nights…going to church together…grocery store runs…movie nights and late night discussions.  Honestly, it’s one of those gross, fairytale, romantic montages from a rom-com that shows up on the Hallmark channel late at night.

And I’m okay with that.  I’m okay with the mushiness and the romance and the overly-cute nonsense that we do for one another and with one another.  It’s great – it’s what I always wanted and what I need in a relationship.  But I’m also okay with hanging out in our sweats and doin’ nothin’ on a Friday night as the cats run around the room like banshees.  And I’m okay with the arguments and the ‘serious discussions’ and being grumpy because it’s a Thursday.  I’m okay with all of this and all the unknowns, all the mysteries, and all the for-sures because I love her, and she, me.

Charles Schulz says it best for me as she and I rest up before our trip tomorrow: “In life, it’s not where you go, it’s who you travel with.”  While I’m confident that the future is unknown and scary and a little worrisome, I’m also confident that when I travel with Chelsea May, I know I’ll be fine.  She’s capable.  She’s strong.  She’s confident.  She’s loving.  She’s ready.  She’s trusting.  She can carry my baggage when it’s too much.  She can help navigate my dangerous waters.  She can lead me when I can’t do it.  She can take care of me when I need it most.  She can do all the things I can when I simply cannot do them – and she will – because she loves me.  And she knows that I’ll do the exact same for her at any moment because I love her.

I’m ready to travel to unknown places and unknown spaces because Chelsea May will be with me every step of the way.  I’m ready to travel into these next moments of ministry and life because God is with us both.  I’m ready to go because we’ve been sent.  I’m ready!

much love. sheth.

Truth: Not Advocating.

Earlier this week, Chelsea May and I waited patiently in a building’s lobby as a morning game show played on the TV; we were there for an introduction and potential interview at a small, rural hospital for her future work as a chaplain.  Neither one of us were quite sure what to expect, but she hoped to have some general questions answered and perhaps we’d receive a bit of hope that this location could hold a potential position in her future.  She had been my cheerleader in other things that weekend, but this was my time to stand with her and cheer her on as she explored her calling.

With substantial coffee breath, the man we were to meet with arrived and apologized for his tardiness, then introduced himself to us, “I’m _____.  You must be…Sheth?”  Then, turning to Chelsea May, “And you must be [mumbled/jumbled name]?”  She corrected him, “I’m Chelsea May.  It’s nice to meet you.”  Before she could get that little line out, though, this man had turned to face me and began the conversation: “So you all are hoping to volunteer here as a couple when you move to town?”

Obviously there was a communication breakdown somewhere.  I looked at Chelsea May and she clearly said that she was hoping to do a CPE residency in the nearby large city and she was looking to do her clinical experience remotely, either at this particular hospital or at one nearby.  She wanted to know how she could do this residency without having to drive long distances every day, a valid question with a (hopefully) simple answer.

I’ve heard about women being ignored in conversations.  I’ve heard about women being treated as ‘less than’.  I’ve heard about men ‘keeping women in their place’.  I’ve heard about blatant misogyny but had never seen it in action…

Within the first five minutes I felt a horrible pain in my soul as Chelsea May was ignored again, and again, and again as this man conversed with me – not her.  He remembered and used my name – not hers.  He asked me questions about her and wanted me to speak for her.  He acknowledged that she was present, but not-so-subtly indicated that she should remain silent.  He inferred that she was my partner, that she would follow my ministry, that she would do and say what I would tell her to do and say.  His ignorance said that she shouldn’t/couldn’t work and indicated where he thought her place should be: at home making babies.

I was stunned as the minutes ticked by and this man talked with me about chaplaincy, a vocation that was definitely not mine but is hers – the woman who was walking with us.  She is the one called to this ministry.  She is the one who wants to work in hospitals.  She is the one who wants to care for the sick and walk them to health or to death.  She is the one who wants to care for people and their stories.  This was supposed to be for her and her calling, not me.

 

 

We endured the conversation through the hospital and steered it to an end because we had to catch a flight.  As the conversation closed, he told me he looked forward to talking with me in the future and was glad to meet me; he barely acknowledged Chelsea May and offered her a cursory handshake.  She and I exited the building and I immediately apologized for I-don’t-know-what…

…for wasting her time…
…for this man treating her as less-than…
…for not uplifting her vocation…
…for this man being a jackass…
…for all men who have treated her in this same manner…
…to all women who have had to experience this attitude and treatment day after day after day.

I apologized for not saying something more direct at the beginning
for not standing up for her and her right to be there
for her and her right to be in ministry
for her and her right to be a chaplain
for her and her right to be an equal.

Chelsea May, I’m sorry.  I’m sorry that this man assumed you would be who you are not and denied who you truly are.  I’m sorry that this man ignored you and deferred to me.  I’m sorry that this man refused your presence, your call, your vocation.  I’m sorry that this man was the epitome of a hypocritical Christian, who “acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle.”[1]

I’m sorry that this wasn’t the first time you’ve experienced this, but is just one of many moments that you’ll undoubtedly forget because it’s such a frequent occurrence.  I’m sorry that men have treated you this way in the past and that you have had to struggle and work and push so much harder than I ever imagined just to have your voice heard.  I’m sorry that we are not – and probably never will be – treated as equals.  I’m sorry that this happens again, and again, and again.

I’m sorry that I didn’t say something at the outset when we both recognized that this man viewed women as submissive beings for men’s enjoyment.  I’m sorry that I didn’t correct him and his thinking…I’m sorry that I didn’t steer the conversation to you… I’m sorry that I didn’t make room for you to stand up for yourself.  I’m sorry that I didn’t end the conversation but instead played the game to protect some future interest, when the higher priority should have been to protect you and your interests.  I’m sorry that I failed you in that moment.

Chelsea May, I hope that I will be better and do better.  I pray that I will heed the Sprit’s voice calling me to advocate for you – and all women – in all situations.  I pray that I will rely on God to empower me to use my influence and privilege for the benefit of others and not myself.  I pray that I will be a true partner with you – lifting up and encouraging you equally in all things in all moments.  I pray that you can live out your calling to serve God in chaplaincy and can face these misogynistic attitudes with strength, boldness, and resilience.  And may we both call out the jackasses when we see them.

much love. sheth.

 

[1] Brennan Manning

Truth: Man.

There was a question posed on Reddit this past Sunday: “Men of Reddit, what’s a thing that can be scary about being a man?”  I thought it was an intriguing question, and the answers that were given didn’t entirely shock me:

  • It is terrifying how lonely middle age is…
  • People expect you to be ‘okay’ in obviously dangerous situations…
  • Expected to make the first move…
  • She (my ex) spread rumours that I was abusive and violent…
  • Being told to ‘man up’ when you’re having a terrible day…
  • You could be the most depressed person on the planet and no one would give a shit…
  • I don’t want to be seen as a thread by people I would never hurt…
  • People don’t believe when we express sexual assault or abuse…
  • The sheer expectation that we can shoulder everyone’s stress…
  • The loneliness of it…[1]

Yes, as a man I’m comfortable walking down the street.
Yes, as a man I’m comfortable on payday.
Yes, as a man I’m comfortable leaving my drink at the bar.
Yes, as a man I’m comfortable accepting a first call to a pulpit.
I’m comfortable when these things happen because, as a man, life is sometimes easier.[2]  But…

If I’m honest, I’d have to admit that this Reddit thread’s answers and the stories surrounding them are not just heartbreaking…they are my answers and my stories as well, landing terribly close to home.  It’s scary as hell to be a man.

It’s scary, not just because of these things, but because there’s a lot riding on maintaining my manliness.  I must protect.  I must fight.  I must conquer.  I must be the god that is portrayed and passed down because there’s an “invisible male chorus of all the other guys who hiss or cheer as he attempts to approximate the masculine ideal…the chorus is made up of all the guy’s comrades and rivals, all his buddies and bosses, his male ancestors and his male cultural heroes, his models of masculinity…”[3]   I must maintain this idea of ‘man’ and ‘manliness’ because I dare not face the scrutiny of that chorus of ancient voices.

It’s scary because I’m supposed to be an autonomous machine – no feelings, no emotions, no tears (crying is a sign of weakness!) – the world depends on me sucking it up and dealing with it.  I try to talk to women about how weird it is for a man to cry and sometimes I feel like I’m speaking a foreign language to her.  It’s utterly unexpected when a man cries, when a man expresses his heart, when a man exposes his most inner heart.  It’s scary that men don’t have more opportunities to express themselves, and it’s scary that it’s expectedly-unavoidable when men are crushed by the burdens of un-expression.

It’s scary because as much as I’d like to, there’s not a damn thing I can do about this at all.  I don’t want to be emotionally distant.  I don’t want to ‘man up and deal’.  I don’t want to carry burdens because it’s expected of me.  I want to talk, express, cry, be free – but until the world allows me space to do so, I can’t do it.  Until the world admits that my world is scary, I will continue to bow under this weight.  It’s scary because men can’t admit that their world is scary.

Friends, talk with the men in your lives.  Help them to have expression.  Help to carry their burdens – and try to ease their burden.  Help them to overcome those ancient voices of doubt, fear, distrust, and stability.  Help the men in your lives to have friends – real, honest-to-God friends – who talk, share, cry, laugh, and be vulnerable with one another.  Help the men in your lives to understand that they don’t have to do it all…they don’t have to be it all…that they’re not alone.

May God give us vision to see the suffering of the strong.  May God give us hearts to connect to the pain of the powerful.  May God give us the ability to realize that we needn’t be strong nor powerful, but honest and real.  And when we are open and exposed with one another, may we be caring and grateful, offering peace.

much love. sheth.

 

[1] “Men of Reddit, What’s A Thing That Can Be Scary About Being A Man?” Reddit.com; Accessed 12/15/2019. https://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/eaymhi/men_of_reddit_whats_a_thing_that_can_be_scary/

[2] I must say that I’m not comfortable with the idea that, because I’m a man, these things are inherently easier – I’m working for and promoting gender equality so it’s all uniformly easier.

[3] Philip L. Culbertson, Counseling Men (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994), 25.

Truth: Opposition

Recently I went before my presbytery to move forward in my ordination process and had to face a variety of questions about myself and my calling asked by church pastors and elders.  I stood before that fine group of people with my soul bare and naked and I attempted to answer their questions as best I could.  I managed to give an answer to every question, but there is one question I’m still wrestling with: “Tell us about the last time you interacted with – had a conversation with – a non-believer.”

I looked down at the ground, shuffled my feet, and tried to figure out when that last time was… when did I last interact with a non-believer?  Outside of the cashiers and other service-people I had given my money to, I couldn’t think of an honest and real interaction I’ve had recently.

My realization in that moment wasn’t a shock to me because I live in an insular community: I live with, eat with, study with, and recreate with my seminary classmates.  I haven’t ventured out to make friends outside this place because I’ve never before experienced a place where I can so freely ask questions about faith, about God, about church, and not have to worry about my questions.  While I haven’t recently had a conversation with a non-believer, I’ve realized that it’s been a very healthy few years of solely-Christian based conversations.

Seminary has been a place for me to wonder, to grow, to mull…a place where I have been able to get a better understanding of my beliefs, my faith, and my church.  Seminary has been a place where I have been able to discern, discuss, and debate…all while feeling free of judgement, ridicule, and persecution.  I have been able to hone my thoughts, understand who I am, and who I am in relation to God.

But realizing that it’s been nearly three years since I’ve last had a “real world” conversation, I know that I need to step out beyond these grounds and get back into those spaces.  Not because the world needs me, but because I need it.  I need those discussions, those push-backs, those disagreements.  I need opposition to help me grow.

May we find time to sit and talk with people who don’t share our same beliefs. May we make room in our lives for different ideas…opinions…and thoughts.
May we welcome disagreements and respond in compassion and love.

much love. sheth.

Truth: Burning.

Villa Grove is a dot on the map, not even a stop – it’s simply a place people drive through, and while there are a few residents within the immediate township, most of the people are scattered around the San Luis Valley.  The residents of the area moved there to enjoy the tranquility of the valley, while others moved there to run away from civilization.  If you mind your own business and don’t get overly friendly, the area is a great place to live.

As a pawn for the USPS, I worked the Villa Grove post office quite often as they were seeking a permanent employee.  The office, situated on the side of the highway, faced east towards Hayden Pass and was prime viewing ground for watching smoke plumes from a forest fire in 2016.  The initial days of the fire were unnerving for people on both sides of the pass as it was unclear which direction the fire would travel. Would it remain on the east side of the pass and head towards Coaldale or would it crawl over the pass and head west towards Villa Grove?

I had a customer come in to the office and she made it clear that she was terrified of what may happen, pounding the counter and demanding that the fire be put out.  She wanted to know why there weren’t more planes and helicopters dropping retardant and water, and why there weren’t more firefighters creating fire lines.  She didn’t want to see the destruction.  She didn’t want to see the dangerous after effects.  She didn’t want people to lose homes and property.  The raging fires were too much for her and she couldn’t see any good in it.

*****

Today I was talking with one of my friends and I was trying to explain why I was taking on more than my fair share of some group work we’re doing together.  And out of nowhere I started to well up with tears because I know this person is facing some big fires in their life, and that’s why I’m doing extra.  The fire in their life is moving along, taking out a lot of old, dead wood and I hate that they have to face the destruction.  The truth is, I’m a lot like that woman at the post office: no more pain, no more struggles, no more danger.  I want the fires out!

*****

That fire on Hayden Pass ended up moving across more than 16,000 acres of land, burning vast areas of deadfall trees and brush – things that needed to burn.  In the following months after that fire, it was difficult to imagine the good that could come from it.  The burn scar had no protection from the rains and there ended up being great deluges in gulches, bringing down dead and burned trees and giant boulders.

As the years have passed, the benefits of the fire are becoming clearer, with healthier trees and grasses becoming more prevalent across the landscape.  The burn scar is becoming less noticeable and, if anything, it makes the unhealthy, non-burned areas more noticeable.  The fire and it’s immediate aftermath were destructive, painful, and left many feeling scared, but it’s made the landscape more beautiful.

*****

I know that my friend has to face these fires. 

I know that it’s going to be difficult, painful, and destructive.

I know there’s nothing I can do to put out these fires –
they’re necessary and have to burn.

I thank God that my friend will be cleared of all the deadfall in their life
and will come out of it with fertile and healthy ground
to grow stronger, deeper, and taller than they were before.

May the fires in our lives burn where they must, and may we face the flames with strength and humility.  May God bring us out of these fires and into growth…into thriving…into beauty.

much love. sheth.

Truth: On Leave.

Out of character, I’ve been pretty defensive lately, keeping my guard up with the people around me.  Part of it is because there are a handful of students who have learned some of the tricks of the chaplaincy trade and they can now crack the toughest shell with ease (and I need to maintain my mysteriousness). 

As she was working on worship bulletins, Carrie was nonchalantly talking with me, weaving her way through my defenses and she asking me the tough questions.  We talked about my feelings (ugh) and she mentioned that I haven’t been my usual, happy self lately.  I responded that I’m a bit behind in classwork…I’m tired of the school’s systems and unresponsiveness to problems…I’m weary of swings too far to the left and too far to the right…I’m feeling silenced because I’m stereotyped as the oppressor.  I said I’m done with the whole school ‘thing’ and want to move on.

“Maybe you’re beginning to mourn the fact that you’re going to have to move on?  Maybe you’re a little angry that you’re going to have to leave?”

*****

A few weeks ago I had come up with the theme for May’s student newsletter – ‘Leaving’ – and I was looking forward to writing on that subject matter because I have some things I’d like to get off my chest!  But as I think about it and the reflect on the conversation with my friend from earlier today, I’m realizing that she’s probably right – I’m mourning the fact that I’m going to be leaving.  The truth is that I’m ready to go, but I’m not ready to say goodbye to these people.  And I’m realizing that I’m not good at leaving.

I recall being in 4th or 5th grade and having to go to church with my parents outside of our ‘normal’ church time.  It wasn’t rushed or an emergency, but it was still a serious moment.  While not given all the details, I recall my parents telling me that the pastor might be leaving and the church was meeting to discuss it.

The adults met in the sanctuary and us kids went (unsupervised) to the gym to play.  As the evening progressed, it began to sink in that if the pastor left, his daughter – my best friend – would have to leave as well.  My heart dropped slowly through the evening, and I didn’t know how to process those feelings.  I ended up using anger and frustration to express my sadness and heartbreak, and from then on I’ve been protective of leaving moments.

Leaving for college was disastrous.  I intentionally have zero contact with any woman I’ve previously dated.  I slowly let friendships die off if they – or I – move away.  I’d rather cut off, cut out, or destroy any relationship than have to face the process of leaving gracefully.

I know that’s not a healthy way to live, and I think that’s why I’ve been wrestling with all kinds of feelings lately.  I don’t want to be defensive, angry, and holding back my feelings for people – but it’s a whole lot easier than remaining attached and doing the work to maintain relationships.  And it’s a whole lot easier than having to show my feelings and be vulnerable.

I don’t know how to leave gracefully. 

I don’t know how to say goodbye to some relationships and foster others.

I don’t know how to acknowledge that I won’t see most of these people again.

I don’t know how I’ll manage to be in ministry without these talented, loving, Christ-like people by my side.

This hurts my soul…and raises my defenses.

My God,
help me to leave this place well.
let me humbly return.
guide my heart to the new
and bring me often to old.

much love. sheth.

Truth: Intent

Last night I attended my first last worship service as a seminary student.  It was quite the affair as it was the first worship service for the incoming students.  Allen read scripture with power and clarity and Carrie filled the room with her bright, angelic voice.  Jonathan and Jacob sang some melodious sonnet and we all enjoyed the feast with Dr. Lord presiding.  Kallie and Rachel meticulously ensured that it all ran without a hitch.  Dr. Wardlaw, from the pulpit, preached with honesty and conviction while making us budding preachers jealous of his giftedness (he told me he just had a lucky night).

All of the ‘stuff’ changes from year to year – texts, songs, presiders, sermons – but there is one moment all students have experienced: reciting the Declaration of Intent.  It’s this small paragraph we recite in unison as incoming students but will probably never glance at again.  And why would we?  We’ve paid our tuition, attended orientation, made friends, and signed the book.  We’re in and doing the thing.

That small paragraph is a lot like those terms of service agreements I casually breeze through whenever I’m updating my computer.  I don’t read the words – I just check the box and trust that I haven’t sold my soul to Dell.  As I was in my pew last night listening to the incoming students recite that paragraph, I couldn’t help but take stock in my own declaration: have I been living up to those words?

There are five big things in that paragraph: live responsibly; be persistent in pursuing learning; diligence in prayer and praise; responsive to the needs of others; open to others equipping me for service.  These are great ideals and I appreciate that we are to commit to them, but, like those terms of service, I have glossed over them.

Sure, there have been periods when I’ve been consistently pursuing all of the things I said I would.  There have been moments when I’ve had to put them aside, quickly picking them up again when I could.  But honestly, there have been times when I’ve failed miserably in my declared intentions.  I have not always looked out for others, nor have I always lived responsibly, and no, I’m not always open to the suggestions of others.  Seriously, sometimes I’m an ass.

My saving grace is that it’s a Declaration of Intent, not a Declaration of Requirement.  I said those words with hope and determination to act in those ways, but I am in no way required to live that life all the time.  Because I can’t – I can’t do all of those things, all of the time, for all of the people.  I recited and signed with intention, and I’m going to fail.  On more occasions than I’d like to admit, I’ve received abundant grace from faculty, staff, maintenance members, the occasional squirrel, and my fellow students.  They all know and recognize my intention to be all I said I’d be, but they also know I’m full of faults. 

Grace…mercy…pardon…reprieves…they all come into play in seminary life.  While I should work towards those declared intentions, I will be sure to fill my life with grace and mercy, both for myself and others.  If I intend to do anything in seminary this year, let it be living and giving in grace and mercy, full of forgiveness.

.much love. sheth.

Truth: Disappointment.

As a child I received my fair share of spankings.  My parents never doled them out in anger and rarely did they act in the moment.  And they never truly hurt – the mere thought of the punishment was what caused me to cry – getting caught was never a happy moment.  While spanking was a good punishment for a time, the act ended when I started laughing as my mom was spanking me and she discovered I had placed magazines in my pants to ease the blows.  My punishments shifted to having my Gameboy taken away, being sent to my room, or denied having friends over to play.

These acts were certainly good for my attitude and were well-deserved, but honestly they were fairly rare for me as I was a pretty decent kid.  When I did mess up, I would end up having a talk with either one of my parents and then the hammer would fall in judgement.

In my final years of high school, my parents began to use the most detrimental punishment of all: “We’re really disappointed in the way you acted.”  There was no consequence, no physical punishment, no spanking – just that sentence.  And it truthfully hurt me more than any other punishment I had experienced.  If I messed up or did something wrong, they’d tell me that they were disappointed by my actions and then leave me alone.  And my heart would break.

I believe my parents – either when they were spanking me, grounding me, or speaking truths into my life – were not disappointed in me, but disappointed by my actions.  They knew that I knew better, yet I chose to not be better.  I knew not to swear or yell or lash out in anger, but I did.  I knew that there were certain people I shouldn’t hang out with, but I did.  I knew not to smoke, drink or chew (or go with girls that do), but I did.   My short-term vision couldn’t see the long-term danger of these people, actions, and things.

 

When it comes to my spiritual life, I think God is oftentimes disappointed in my actions.  God knows I can do better.  God knows I can be better.  God knows that I know better.  But sometimes I choose to not do what I should.  Nothing I do surprises God, but when I make those choices they bring disappointment with them.  Like my parents, God isn’t disappointed with me, but is disappointed with my choices.

Life is challenging, difficult, and filled with all kinds of ways for us to slip up and miss the mark.  God wants us to be good, decent, loving, kind, generous, and forgiving but knows we’ll screw up on occasion.  More often than not, we will do the things we know we shouldn’t.  But we should always remember that God loves us and wants only the best for us.

May God give us the ability to learn from our mistakes, and never wallow in disappointment, but get back up and try to be better.  May we generously and lovingly forgive when others disappoint us.  May we know that God loves us and is never disappointed in us, but in our poor choices and actions.

much love. sheth.

Truth: Hidden.

The church I’m attending is doing a summer series titled “Hidden Figures” – it’s about the small, not-well-known people in the Bible who have had major impacts on the people around them.  I haven’t thought about most of these people – Micah of Moresheth, Ananias, the daughters of Zelophehad (and others) – but they’ve had lasting impact on the formation of my faith and that of my Church.

As I’ve been thinking about these hidden figures, I’ve been reflecting on those hidden figures in my own life – the people who have had a lasting impact on who I am (and who I’m becoming).  People who, at the time, I didn’t know were molding and shaping me into the person I would become.

The teacher’s aides who tutored me when the teacher was too busy for me.
The lunch ladies who gave me free meals when I forgot my money.
The elderly couple who took my brother and I to eat at the fanciest restaurant we’d ever been to (they had live lobsters – a big deal for a 9 year old).
The twenty-something who took time to mentor me and take me to Elitch’s.
The old ladies who bought me lunch after church and check in on me.
These were all little things that people chose to do for me that stuck with me, showed me I was valued and loved, and taught me that I should do the same.

 

There’s this verse in Hebrews, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Heb. 13:2, NIV).  I think it could be reworded: “Do not forget that strangers, in showing you hospitality, are angels and you didn’t even know it.”  The truth is, most of these hidden figures in my life were angels for me.  They gave me hope that I was smart enough and I could learn my multiplication tables.  They showed me that I won’t ever go hungry if they’re around.  They gave me something good and nice for no reason at all, other than because they loved me.  They knew the importance of guidance, mentorship, and discipleship.  They let me know that I was valued and visible to them.

I should acknowledge the people who do so many small things for me that I don’t fully recognize as being impactful in the moment.  The janitors, housekeepers, and groundskeepers who maintain the facilities around me and keep me safe and healthy.  The administrative assistants and secretaries and finance office people who do all the paperwork to keep things running.  The nurses and assistants who do 99% of the actual work in doctor’s offices and hospitals.  The people who send me cards in the mail just because they were thinking about me.

And I should also keep in mind that I may be someone’s hidden figure.  I may not always know it, I may not always intentionally be doing something, but I will nevertheless have a lasting impact on most of the people I come across.  I need to be mindful of my actions, my thoughts, and my words and be as loving as I can possibly be to all the people I meet.

May we all see the hidden figures who have made us who we are today.  May we be thankful for those who have had positive impacts on us and forgiving of those who have had negative impacts on us.  May we have eyes to be more aware of those around us who are hidden in our day-to-day lives and acknowledge their impact on us today.

much love. sheth.