To Choose to Love

Nearly 10 years ago, I had forgotten how to be loved well. I have heard it said that we accept the love we think we deserve. It may, to an extent, be true. But I hadn’t always believed that I deserved to be where I was. It was a slow degradation; the result of many bad choices and unkind people, some of whom I allowed into my life and some who forced their way in. However, those led me to enter a span of time where I came to believe that everyone leaves: they leave marks, brokenness… and me.

But then came Moose, this shelter puppy who seemed as broken as I was.  And he chose to love me a LOT. He would panic when he couldn’t see me. Break cages to get to me. Try to dig through doors and bust through fences to be where I was. I’m not saying he was 100% stable; his need was sometimes exhausting. But it also revealed to me that to this little (now giant) guy, I was beloved. I was valuable. I was preferred. I’d never felt loved like that before.

Tonight I realized that Moose represents the first time I really believed any creature in Creation could choose to love me. Every day, in every moment, for his whole life. Even when he was destroying things, killing creatures, digging through doors, breaking cages. Even when I lost my patience or got frustrated at our inability to understand one another. Usually, his purpose in those moments was solely to find a way to get to me and get my attention, my comfort or my care.

This reckless love forced my hand… I made a choice to love this neurotic and somewhat uncontrollable dog right back. I decided to love him as relentlessly as he loves me, without restraint and against the sound advice of my veterinarian and friends who said this young pup was just too much. Somehow, his love slowly moved me and mine him. Moose taught me how to love again, and just as important, how to receive love. He taught me to give and receive affection and comfort. He revealed to me that love didn’t always have to hurt. At least, that’s what I thought.

But as Moose has entered the geriatric phase of his life, I find myself bargaining with God. Because I know sometime, Moose is going to leave. Not because he wants to but because such is the nature of this world. And I find myself in a tug-of-war within my heart to love him well and harder. I fight to resist the instinct built over decades of practice that tells me to distance myself, to harden my heart.

I really don’t know how I can bear the loss of him, and that moment seems to be drawing closer. I recently experienced the loss of my dear Grandma, and that loss has triggered some things I’ve managed to ignore for a really long time. I prayerfully ask God to bless Moose and I with a little more time together; that one devastating blow would not follow right behind the other. It’s freaking hard to just be right now. To allow myself to grieve and mourn in a world that thinks pain and sadness are things to avoid and medicate. It’s even harder to love fully when Death hovers right at the edge with the promise of heartbreak. I wish we knew how to deal with “hard” as a community…

So in this raw and vulnerable state, I’m going to call my heartbreak good because it meant there was tremendous love there. I’m going to continue to love Moose well, even if it is tearfully. I will give thanks to God that I can love so deeply and completely as I do, and that I have received that same love in return. I praise God for giving me the strength to bear the weight of loss. The fatal misstep I see so many make in this time is to believe Loss when she tries to convince us that Love makes us weak, vulnerable and guarantees suffering. Some of the best lies are the ones that are mostly true. Love is all those things; but in these very things I am reminded of Christ, and my desire to grow in Christ-likeness. He LOVES us. He loves us in a way that our ability to love only hints at. He reminds me that those who love do not flee from suffering, but bear it in the most intimate and vulnerable of ways. He reminds me that His greatest victory and manifestation of the strength and might of God was only revealed through His humility and weakness, to the very point of death. But most critically of all, and the one we often fail to see when the veil of Death hangs over those we love, is that Death is not the end. Nor is Death the victor. We are all more than conquerors through Him who loved us… (Romans 8:36-39)

How Do You Love Others

In class, we watched a video like so many other videos I’ve seen shared in the news or on social media: it captured another negative encounter between police and black lives. This time, it was of Dejerria Becton, a black girl who was fifteen years old. The video, I found out when researching, was made by a white boy who was friends with many of the kids at the pool party. He noted that the cop would yell at his black friends while completely ignoring him. It reminds us yet again of the inherent bias against one race to the benefit of the other by those in power. Where white children are taught to trust police officers and go to them in times of trouble or concern, black children are provided a very different lesson on how to interact with cops. The question was asked if I love Dejerria Becton, or any of the other black women who have been murdered through state sanctioned violence, as much as I love my sister or mother. The answer is no; proximity plays a huge factor in the psychology of relationships, of who we feel closer to or further from. But I do love her as I love humanity, and I lament any time where a person is not in possession of dignity. I mourn the injustice we see perpetuated against her, and I grieve the hurt on all sides that results from encounters like this.

It is a core belief of mine that God intended for each person to be in possession of human dignity: to be worthy of respect and treated with compassion. I lament whenever I see or learn of a person who has had their dignity stripped from them; when through actions or words they are told that their value is not the same of others around them and that they deserve to be treated as less than human. This is what we do when we target one population instead of another, when we use language that de-humanizes, when we say that released prisoners have serve their time but they are never treated that way. These things I lament.

I mourn, and I believe God mourns, when there is injustice. Deuteronomy 10:18 says, “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.” Do we not take a people and make a clear majority of them orphans and widows through our “justice” system? I feel I have a sense for where God’s heart would fall on this issue, and what kind of reconciliation he seeks so that there will be justice for the marginalized. This is because God is not an unjust God.

Lastly I grieve; I grieve for the suffering inflicted on Dejerria, I grieve for the man who felt he was entitled to treat others in the manner he did. I grieve for all the children who cannot be children because their bodies are viewed as a threat purely because of the color of their skin. I grieve that our society cannot benefit from the true gifts that a massive percentage of our population might be able to offer, that we cannot be a community in commune, because we are too busy imprisoning people who have no reason to be behind bars.  I grieve because there’s people out there who would tell Dejerria, “you’re lucky, it could have been worse,” and that there are people who see this and still insist that there haven’t been systemic issues over race for fifty or more years. And this grief ends with me being angry that Dejerria doesn’t feel loved by all the people in her community. That this is the brokenness that we work to reconcile.

So, I move towards loving Dejerria and any of the other black women who have been murdered through state sanctioned violence, not the way I love my sister or mother but the way I love a fellow creation made in the image of God: as no more than myself or less than myself. I love them as a critical part of a community that is not whole without them in it. I love them deeply.

God is with those Who Mourn

I thought that this class on death would better equip me, but more often then not it highlights how ill-equipped we are to deal with death. How inadequate words are. How necessary the feeling are as you experience grief when you are the one dying or when you are the one who lives on after they’ve passed.

As I look back on past experiences with death, anger is so frequent and so stifled. Our professor says it is okay to be angry at God; that pastors or ministers often discourage it but it’s sometimes a place people have to move through.

I thought quite a bit about it and as I reflect on God’s character, I think my professor is right. As long as we take it TO God. As long as we have a dialogue with Him about what this loss means and what we do with how we are feeling and where His place in that is. Because ignoring anger doesn’t make it go away and stifling it doesn’t put out fires of that kind. However, if we tell people they can’t take their anger at God TO God, they end up taking it out on others.

Yet if we take what we are feeling TOWARDS God, TO God, how differently might things turn out? We get to pour out what we are feeling and maybe God will respond. Maybe your relationship with Him, like many that weather a storm, will be deepened.  Take for example what Mary says, which sounds like there might be a little accusation mixed in with her mourning. Yet she takes it to Jesus:

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” John 11:32

How about grief? Psalm 102 is a prayer of an afflicted person who then laments to God. Here’s just a tiny peak at what that looks like:

“Hear my prayer, Lord; let my cry for help come to you. Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly. For my days vanish like smoke; my bones burn like glowing embers. My heart is blighted and withered like grass; I forget to eat my food.” Psalm 102:1-4

See, I think what we see in that Bible is not that we aren’t supposed to feel the things that we feel when we mourn, but that we are supposed to feel it with God. Furthermore, I think that God is there with us in this mourning, whether we acknowledge Him or not (like the theologians I wrote about when looking at the Holocaust). I was at a lecture by Cath Livesay where she made the point that God doesn’t lose His voice, but we sometimes lose our ability or willingness to listen. You might call out for God while your heart still isn’t ready to hear what He has to say to you; just because you aren’t hearing from God doesn’t mean He isn’t with you.

 

Bravery or Courage?

Bravery is defined as feeling or showing no feeling; being fearless. But courage? Courage is defined as having the strength to act in the face of pain or grief, to do something even when you are fearful. So while they sound similar, courage certainly seems like the more preferable attribute.

If I had to choose, I’d pick courage over bravery every time, although there is certainly a time and place for bravery.  However, at some point or another we will all reach a place where we are overwhelmed by what appears to be insurmountable grief, or one of the myriads of pains that mankind is plagued with. It is in those moments where “fearlessness” stops being applicable. We can be debilitated or conquered by our emotions, our minds, our bodies, or we can be courageous, moving beyond ourselves.

It makes me think of the Romans verses in which the Greek equivalent of “hyper-conqueror” is used, but it’s usually translated as “overwhelmingly conquer.” This verse makes me think not of how FEARLESS they must have been, but how courageous. Even in the face of pain and grief their faith gave them courage; they would not be separated from their love of God which was anchored in Jesus Christ.

Romans 8:36-39 “Just as it is written, “For Your sake we were being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Jesus Mourned

As I walk through this class and the death I am surrounded by I realize how ill equipped the average Christian is for those who are dying and those who have lost someone to death. They might even experience shame over their own experience with grief. Perhaps we should consider Jesus’ response to the death of his friend as well as those in mourning:

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept.” John 11:32-35

Are some of us not able to relate to Mary in times of loss, going to God and saying, “Lord, if you had been here, this person I had love would not have died.” While it is true that Jesus later, because he was moved again, raised Lazarus from the dead, this was not his first response. Jesus’ first response was to weep with them. He mourned with them. He did not try to get them to skip over the natural state of broken heartedness at the loss of the person no longer sharing this life with them, or ignore the fact that their day to day life would be radically transformed by his absence. He wept with them.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4