Wednesday, December 19, 2012

When the unthinkable happens

   There are times throughout the course of our lives when we see or hear something that shakes us to the core of our souls, and if we're not careful, it can have such an impact upon us that we can even begin to question how any loving God could allow such things to happen.

   Just recently, we all witnessed an event of this magnitude unfold before us as the news broke about the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary.

   I can't even begin to imagine what the family members of these little children are going through, or what they will go through in the years to come. Nothing that any of us have experienced - no matter how tragic - can even begin to compare.
   I can't even begin to understand how anyone could do somethning so incredibly evil, and I can't imagine any group of victims that would be more innocent and undeserving of such an act.

   What's equally as horrific to me is the reactions of those who would attempt to use this event as a opportunity to promote their political or social agendas within just a few days of this incident. I think of the families of these beautiful chidren, and how painful it must be for them to not only have experienced such a horrific loss, but to then see the pictures of their children being used by people who care more about their own agenda than they do about the heartache these families are enduring.

    It is out of our own anger and frustration that we respond the way that we do. I understand that. But before we even consider speaking out about what we believe the solution to this problem is, we need to first consider, and respect, the need for these families to have some privacy as they attempt to work their way through the unimaginable pain, loss, heartache, anger, and confusion they are certainly feeling.

   As I attempted to gather my own thoughts on this, I could only come up with one answer that made a difference in my mind. Would it help these families to know that answer? I don't know. At this time, probably not. But it's true, and it's comforting for me to know.

   The only way any of this can become even slightly less painful is if we can remove ourselves from the situation for just a moment and look at it from an eternal perspective. Please know that as I write this, I absolutely despise the evil act this man carried out. I can't help but to see it as the most despicable, cowardly, evil thing that anyone could possibly do.

   But know this: He didn't win. Evil didn't win. In fact, within a fraction of a second, in the twinkling of an eye, evil suffered a convincing loss. You see, these children, these completely innocent victims, are today in paradise. In Matthew 19:14, we read;

 "Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

   I didn't know the man responsible for these horrific acts, nor have I heard much about him. But judging by his actions, I think it's a pretty safe guess to say that when he took his own life, he went to a very different place.

   But here's the amazing and beautiful truth about what is the reality of today. These beautiful little children are in the presence of God Himself, where they will reside for eternity. The beauty of what they are seeing, feeling, and experiencing is just as far removed from our understanding as are the acts which sent them there.

   If they could speak to us at this very moment, I truly believe they would say something very similar to this: "It is so incredibly beautiful here.......Please know that we are so very loved, we are so very safe, and that we will never again feel pain, or illness, or fear. We are in the arms of Jesus Himself, and we can't wait till you get here so you can see it for yourself."

   I believe that they also know where their killer went, and as unimaginable as it may sound, they would want us to forgive him and move forward. After all, the evil he inflicted upon our world doesn't even come close to the evil he will be the victim of for eternity.

   We're only human, and we can only see events like this from a human perspective. It will hurt for a very long time, because these children aren't coming back. But if we believe, we will be with them again, and that will be the most beautiful homecoming we could ever imagine.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

The 400-lb Gorilla

   Have you ever heard the phrase "They're ignoring the 400-lb gorilla in the living room?" I'm sure you have. In fact, I'm quite certain you're heard it used on many occassions. It's a cute little phrase that causes genuine laughter whenever it's spoken. Why? Because it's rediculous. I mean, nobody could possibly ignore a 400-lb gorilla in their living room, could they?

   Can you even begin to imagine the kind of damage that a 400-lb gorilla could do if left alone to do whatever he wishes in your living room?

   Worse than that, can you even begin to imagine the kind of damage that a 400-lb gorilla could do to you and your family if you allowed it to roam free in your home? And I'm not just talking about the physical damage. Imagine the emotion and psychological damage that would be inflicted upon you and your family.

   You'd all all be living on edge, doing everything you could think of to avoid upsetting him. No room in the house would feel safe. After all, a 400-lb gorilla could make toothpicks out of any door you might install, no matter how secure it may look.

   On the outside realm of the rediculous, your only hope in being able to live peacefully with this monster would be if it came and went as it pleased. When it was in your home, you'd weigh everything you did, but if it left to go hunting (or whatever 400-lb gorillas do for enjoyment) you could walk through your home freely. Of course, you'd always have one eye on the door just in case he returned, and you'd immediately feel your entire body tense up whenever he did.

   You might be wondering by now where all of this is going. I mean, nobody here would believe for a second that I'm really trying to come up with feasible ways to live peacefully with a 400-lb gorilla, would you?

   Of course I'm not. But there are people who attempt to do so every single day of their lives.

   Rediculous! you might answer.............but unfortunately, it's the truth.

   What I'm talking about here is people who live with abuse in their homes. Be it physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional, it all has nearly the identical impact on the hearts and minds of it's victims. It's my personal opinion that psychological abuse is the most destructive, because there are no physical signs of abuse. There is no evidence that can be shown in court, unless of course the abuser is foolish enough to admit to his deeds. And trust me, they rarely are. In fact, the denial of abuse itself becomes part of the abuse.

   The sad part is that the vast majority of the people who will read this will fit into one of just a few categories. As sure as you're sitting there, you either:

1. Have been abused.
2. Are being abused.
3. Have been abusive.
4. Know a very close friend or relative who fits into one of the above categories.

   And what do all of these have in common? They are almost always ignored.........just like a 400-lb gorilla in the living room.

   Just last year, I had the priveledge and the honor of  being invited to attend an 8-week workshop on domestic abuse offered by Turning Point in Crystal Lake. Turning Point is a home for victims of domestic abuse that offers not only a home for the most at-risk women, but which also provides intense counseling, representation, and assistance to these women in a wide variety of areas.

   I learned quite a bit during those workshops, but two facts have stayed with me, and I think of them every single time I hear about domestic abuse.

1. The average number of times an abused woman will leave an abusive relationship, and then return to that relationship before leaving for good is 7.

2. The first question people ask when they hear of someone being abused is: Why does she stay there? While the question itself is understandable, it's the wrong question. The question should be: Why does he abuse?

   While this blog is far too short to cover all of the reasons for both, the short answer is this: Men who abuse do so because, deep down inside, they believe the only way the woman in their life will stay is if they assume absolute control over them as a person, thereby forcing them to do so by use of fear.
   The other side - why these women stay - can be due to one simple thought. These relationships rarely, if ever, start out by being abusive. More often than not, they begin with the abusive man showering them with love, affection, and attention.

   As the relationship grows, a cycle begins to take shape. This cycle is evident in every single case. There's abuse, followed by repentence, followed by what can be a long period of time of what can be considered as normal behavior.
   As time passes, the women in these relationships often see their abusive mate not as abusive, but as the man they first met, back when he was showering her with love and affection. Or they will see him as the man who seems to live a normal life for long periods of time. In either sense, he's not seen by them as abusive. He's seen as a good, hard working guy who gets angry at times. Unfortunately, the longer these relationships continue, the more difficult it is to end them. As the years pass, homes are purchased, children are raised, and the risk of loss becomes exponentially greater.

   But just as the 400-lb gorilla lives in the living room, so does the abusive side of the men in these relationships. The women will change their behavior, thier lifestyle, and even their friends to avoid upsetting him, and when he does become upset and abusive, they will often blame themselves for causing that behavior - just as if there really was a 400-lb gorilla in the living room, and she decided to go to the kitchen for a snack during his feeding time.

   It's long past time for us as a society to stop ignoring the 400-lb gorilla. If you're being abused, please, remove yourself from the cycle and seek out some qualified counseling. No matter how much you believe it's possible, and no matter how much you change your behavior to please him, you can't change his behavior by yourself.

   If you know someone who's being abused, please, talk to them. Help them in any way you can. But most of all, believe them.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Back to square one

   I have a love/hate relationship with computers. There are times when everything works well, and I love that I'm able to accomplish the tasks they allow me to accompish. But then there are times when nothing seems to go right. For whatever the reason, my computer seems to make it's own decisions, far removed from what I'd like it to do. When this happens, I tend to stare at the screen for a few seconds, wondering what the heck is going on.
   The worst part is when I've tried everything I know to correct the situation, and the problem remains. I then do what most of us do. I go online, type in a Google search that best describes the problem I'm having, then weed through the hundreds of articles posted online until I find something that makes sense. Of course, what I've discovered is that just because something makes sense does not mean that it will correct the problem.
   If I'm not able to find the solution to my problem online, I'll ask friends who have some level of computer savvy if they know what I can do to resolve the issues I'm experiencing.

   I like to think of myself as a patient man, but I'll readily admit that certain computer problems I've experienced have made me want to open my studio window, grab my computer, monitor, keyboard, and any other items I may find on my desk, and launch them out the window, chuckling gleefully as they crash on the driveway below.

   On occassion, I've had to take whatever project I'm working on back to page one. Regardless of how much of my heart and soul I've poured into that project, it's sometimes easier to just start over than it would be to try to trace back through every step I've taken and correct each misstep. When I do this, I'll usually come across a step that I recognize as being the one that sent my entire project into a tailspin, and it all suddenly makes sense.

   When starting over, I'll usually be asked one simple question: "Are you sure you want to delete this?" I can't even begin to tell how how many times I've stared at the screen when that question has popped up and said " really." It's hard to throw away something we've poured so much of our heart and soul into.............but sometimes we have no other choice.

   Ahhhh............if only our lives were as simple as computers.

   If we could only find ourselves in bad situations, and hit CTRL+ALT+DELETE, or ESCAPE, or something, and find ourselves back at the point where a bad decision was made, fully able to start over as if what we had done had never happened, but armed with the knowledge of where we had made a wrong turn.

   Unfortunately, our lives are far more complicated than our computers. Even if we do decide to start over at some point, we'll still have to live with the heartache of knowing where we went wrong, and the damage we've done to ourselves and to others with our words or actions. We will still look back at the time we spent pursuing things we shouldn't have, and wish we would've spent that time pursuing the things we should have. We'll still have moments when we look back over the years and imagine where we'd be today had we stayed on the right path.

   Fortunately, God - in His grace - has offered us a DELETE button. He is always there for us when we feel lost and confused. He's always willing to forgive and restore us.

   No matter where we find ourselves in life, and no matter where we have made wrong turns, we can always depend upon Jesus' words written in Matthew 6:25-34

 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?"

 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. "

   No matter where we might find ourselves, we can always stop and make the decision to " first his kingdom and his righteousness....."

   Will this take away the pain of knowing how we have hurt others? No. Will it remove us from the natural consequences of our actions? No. But it can and will bring us back to square one in aligning our lives to the will of the God who created us.

   At that point, we can ask for forgiveness and know that He has forgiven us. And what's more, we can move forward in confidence, and when we once again come across the same step that sent us into a tailspin in the past, we can take a different step being blessed with the wisdom and knowledge that can only come from having experienced the results of our initial misstep.