I saw awful black sin in me tonight, Jesus. How could you love me, one so wicked? I hearken to your voice.
Tonight over a piece of bread I got fumed.
Grace, 4, decided to eat one more piece of bread at the close of dinner. I believed it was a way to get out of helping to clean off the table. Her intent was to walk around and help clear while eating her last piece of bread.
I said, “You put that bread down and clear the table then come eat it.”
Immediately, she did so.
She picked up the bread basket and noticed the crumbs in it. For a fun thing, she flung the crumbs onto the kitchen floor.
I flew off the handle. “Don’t do such a foolish thing!” Out I stormed to get a broom. Grace looked panicked and shocked.
God, I am ashamed to write this. I was dreadful!
She said, “Okay,” trying to make a big voice.
Then she started to run.
I grabbed her and flung her back in a chair but she had bread in her mouth. She choked on the bread. Then, she cried, yelled and choked some more. I lost it. I was dying inside. I couldn’t see straight.
Then and there, I suddenly saw me, the hidden, ugly, scared child within. And me as a supposed adult, the sinful, angry man. I ached inside. I held her and asked her for forgiveness. I did not deserve it a bit, but I suppose with forgiveness you never do.
All this and you know in the end I discovered this: all Grace wanted was to have time with me.
There’s no repairing the damage. All I know is I am a sinner. And death still reigns in my life at times, such as tonight.
Oh God, my God, I am a man in desperate need of you. I was not living out of you but living from sin. Help me, Jesus. Help me.”
Here’s what I heard God speaking to my heart as I listened:
“My son, you had sin within long prior to dinner. You knew that it was time to write, but you chose to rush off and work on dinner. And so you allowed the anger you felt within already to brew. Then, you expressed it toward Grace. You’re harboring anger at Mrs. Smith, your first grade teacher. Forgive Mrs. Smith. She didn’t know what she was doing. And you are in need of Me. Me. The Water of Life. The Fountain of Blessing. Receive Me within.”Journal Entry — February 6, 1991
I read this today, after 29 years, and want to call the authorities on myself for child abuse!
But, Grace, then four, is now 33. We have repaired the rifts and built a solid friendship.
As you see, the losses I had experienced in an aspect of my life fueled my behavior toward Grace that evening. God pinpointed the shame-filled anger I held toward Mrs. Smith, my first grade teacher. In an era before limits on a teacher’s behavior, Mrs. Smith’s rage in the classroom was well known. Parents complained to the principal about her frequently. Many kids went home with stories. I was afraid to tell my parents what I experienced, fearing repercussions from Mrs. Smith in the classroom if she knew I had complained. So, instead, I would lie. When I forgot lunch money, I would say I was to go home for lunch and stand in the middle line. However, since my mom was not expecting me, instead of riding home on my black Schwinn bike, I would ride around and around the block and then return to school. Some days I’d get so scared arriving at school in the morning, I’d leave and ride home again feigning a stomach ache.
Mrs. Smith was one of several adults in my life whose actions stole an aspect of my childhood from me. My anger at her had nothing to do with my daughter Grace. But that is how it goes with projected anger. Lacking the intended target, the anger gets expressed upon anyone or anything within range. It’s like kicking the cat on your way in the door because you had a frustrating day at work– it was not about the cat!
And did you also notice, my whole interaction began when I assumed something about Grace which was not true? Did you notice this? I assumed she was trying to get out of clearing the table. That assumption labeled her negatively in my mind. We carry many assumptions around about people. These can be related to income levels, skin color, uniform color, etc, some of which are racist, and others are prejudices that malign our attitudes and beliefs and behaviors. Assumptions do that, you know. They box a person into what we believe is true and then hold them in the box.
Can you imagine the evening with Grace and me had I instead framed a question? What if I had said, “Great idea on eating more bread! I think I’ll have a piece too. Were you still planning to help clear the table?”
Suddenly, power would have been placed back into her court and she could respond and choose.
So often, we react to what we assume we know.
The only way to avoid living out of assumptions is to see them! Awareness is key. Had I done what Jesus suggested, taken time to pray and write, instead of avoiding self reflection by rushing off to prepare dinner in the situation above, I would have been a different person walking into it. After seeing assumptions, then, we need to process them. Often my assumptions are based upon something else inside of me. And if I can find that, some point of stress within the day, then I can drop the assumption.
Some nights Karen, my wonderful wife will ask me: “Do you need to write out those feelings before bed?” I have big energy and if I am upset about something when heading for bed, that energy will be “in the room.” She can feel it too. In addition, sleeping on negative emotions only makes them uglier by morning. Every emotion resurrects worse than it went down. Time does not heal all wounds, often it exacerbates them.
So, be aware of assumptions and process them. This is a start.
In Oregon this week fires have burned more than 1 million acres and more than 422,000 people live in evacuation zones. Scores of these have been evacuated to places around and beyond our state. Entire towns have been decimated by the fires. So many people have lost everything. One couple decided to come home a day early from a vacation at a cabin on Detroit Lake. The next day their family cabin had burned to the ground.
In the middle of the fires, some ruffians have enacted evil by looting the homes of those evacuated. But others, as sent by Jesus, have stepped in to spread light.
“Friday, trucks rolled up from Klamath Falls, OR to Tangent, OR laden down with hay, oats, and chicken feed. Tens of thousands of dollars worth of donated materials sent by Timber Unity Farmers to help families with displaced animals.”
“For many of these families, the animals they evacuated represent their livelihood. Keeping them alive and safe is important not just because Oregonians love critters, but because for some, these animals are going to be their first step to rebuilding what they’ve lost.”
The Detroit Fire Department lost their station and one of its fire engines to the fires. When the Aurora Fire Department heard about this, they gave the Detroit crew one of their engines filled with medical supplies and much else for them to rebuild.
Volunteers took their tractors, excavators to the ridge above Scotts Mills, an Oregon community, and began to cut a swath of land free of bushes and trees to create a fire block. These men were not firefighters, but neighbors. Their actions spared this area.
The Oregon Convention Center opened its doors, long closed due to COVID, to families and their pets. Countless family members and friends are housing evacuated families as well.
At one point, a local 911 operator sent out the callback order to all the firemen: “Pull out, go home, save your lives.” He did this because two fires were due to converge. Had this occurred, it would have created a perfect firestorm which none would survive. Moments after he made the call, in what he later called a divine act of grace, the wind died. The two fires moved away from each other.
So many have lost homes, possessions, jobs, and others their lives. Before the fires came, already stress was high between job losses, depression, pandemic rhetoric and fear. Now, everything is smoky — our air, our hearts, our emotions. Yesterday we had the dubious honor of the worst air of anyplace in the world. This is when we need to guard all the more against projecting emotions onto one another.
Working at my office on Saturday, I heard what sounded like screams and yells from outside in the parking lot. On Saturday nothing is open around my office, so I went and looked out the 2nd story window down onto the parking area. There was a young man on this phone and a woman, the one yelling, on her back rolling around, beside her pick up truck in a parking space. Then, as I watched for a moment, she sat up, yelled at him again as loud as she could, and then began to hit her head against the side of the truck.
For a moment I thought, “perhaps he has this under control.” But, he looked very young, confused and afraid more than in control. All kinds of assumptions went through my head, but since I knew none of them to be true, I prayed, “Lord is this really your idea?” I got on my coat, and walked outside and down the stairs to where they were. I knelt beside her.
Her wild eyes, filled with tears looked at me from her round face. She had beautiful, styled, curled black and white hair which hung to her shoulders. It looked good for having been lying on the surface of the parking lot. She wore make up now streaked with tears. Without an introduction, I placed my hand on her head and began to pray in tongues. This is a language of intercession. I felt she needed some instant work. As I prayed, peace flooded her, she relaxed, her eyes cleared for a moment. I said, “What’s your name?” She told me. I told her mine. Then, I prayed more, binding self destruction, anger, but saw within her this complex battle raging possibly caused by childhood abuse.
I paused prayer, and suddenly she leaped up and ran across the parking lot and up behind the building I had exited at the second level, screaming, “I want to die! I don’t want to live any more…”
I chatted briefly with the young man, Chad, still on the phone. He told me he was an ex-boyfriend. He cared but didn’t know how to help. He was trying to call her relatives. I followed this displaced, hurting soul and found her lying in the dirt behind a fence. I knelt beside her and just spoke gently to her. “It seems like you need other help than I can offer today. Should I call the paramedics?” She shook her head. But Chad must have called.
Three officers arrived and spoke gently with her as well. I felt they were the best help at this point, so told her I was going back to work but would pray for her. The police soon left, and after about a half hour, I started to leave as well. As I was pulling out, I heard her yelling again. So, I pulled into a place near her truck in which she was now sitting. I got out of my vehicle and walked over.
“You know, yelling is a very ineffective form of communication” I said. She smiled.
Then, she looked at me and quietly said, “I always hurt people. I hate this about myself.”
“I bet. How did today’s upset begin?” She told me. It was a simple mistake made worse by a comment from Chad. Then, following all the narratives in her own head about how terrible and awful she was, she lost it. In the conversation which followed, Jesus met her. Injured as a child in many relationships, she still acted out from those places of hurt. We talked about how much Jesus loved her and how to let him inside more.
“That little girl who was yelling and throwing a tantrum here,” I said, “she needs your love not hate. Sometimes the best thing to do with negative voices is to tell them they have no right to you. Say, ‘Get out! I’m not listening!’ And tell them to stay out.”
She looked up at me, shyly and smiled, saying, “That’s what my grandma is always telling me.”
“Well, Grandma knows the truth then.” I laughed.
Instead of an emotionally ravaged person, screaming at life, Jesus had righted her. She she was peaceful, centered, and calm. We spoke for another 20 minutes. I prayed for the filling of the Holy Spirit and prayed for her healing. I gave her my business card and said, “Feel free to call or text me. I will be glad to be praying with you and I have many resources to counselors to help. Keep in touch.”
What if I had come with assumptions about this young woman instead of just coming to meet her where she was? What if I had acted from my own long day, unprocessed hurts or judgments? Like Eli the priest in the Old Testament who rebuked Hannah for being drunk when actually she was simply a person in emotional distress (1 Samuel 1:12-14), I might have come with an agenda. Instead, I approached with curiosity, perhaps because I have learned a few things about assumptions, for I was so good at them; perhaps because Jesus caught me at the right moment.
Jesus is sending others as well as I listed above connected to the fires.
Everyday, around you, there are many, many hurting people. Be open to how Jesus might want to align your life to bring a little light into one of their lives. It might be through a prayer, a word, a gesture, an act of kindness. God has positioned you as his vessel to make a difference in this world. It is full of stress right now and full of many, many lies. So, it is helpful to be a person of truth, of grace and love in the middle of what is dark and difficult.
Friends, spread the light.