A Modern Day Parable

A parable:

Yesterday, I was driving down a road I have driven many times. As I approached a red light, I turned my eyes towards my left. My plan was to come to a stop and make a right turn on red. As this is a path I had traveled often, I was probably not paying as close attention as I needed to. When I looked to the left, all the cars coming towards the intersection were getting into the left turn lane. My path was clear, I began to turn right.

Only after I began my turn, I noticed the barricades, construction equipment, and construction workers. They were patching holes in the street and had the entire street blocked off. My youngest child was with me and said, after I began the turn, “Dad, what are you doing?” I made a mistake. I was not observant. My path was blocked.

I now had several options. The first was just to be stubborn enough to keep on going. I could have pushed the accelerator to the floor and barreled through the barricades, equipment, and people and sped on along my way.

The second option was to open my door, get out of the car, and yell at the construction workers for being in the street working at a time that was not convenient for me. After all, I had somewhere to be; they could potentially make me late. Besides, it was after 5. They should be done working and headed on their way home.

The third option was to yell at my youngest child. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner? Didn’t you see they were there? Why would you allow me to make such a mistake? You need to be aware of what is going on and inform me before I do something stupid.”

The fourth option was to say, “Oops. That’s embarrassing,” put the car in reverse, back into my lane, and wait for the light to turn green and continue my journey utilizing an alternate route.

One option was dangerous and potentially life threatening. Two options would result in the damaging of relationships. One option necessitated humility, opening my eyes, acknowledging my mistake, and finding a better solution.

Open our eyes that we may see.

Your Name Is Dulcinea

Over the weekend, I was able to see a production of Man of La Mancha. It is a powerful story based on the book Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. While there are several layers to the story, the main plot revolves around Don Quixote’s love and admiration for the woman he calls Dulcinea. When Don Quixote sees Dulcinea he knows he has found the perfect woman of virtue and beauty. She has done and can do no wrong.

The only problem is that Dulcinea is actually named Aldonza, and instead of being a virtuous woman she is a tavern wench. She can see nothing beautiful in herself or in her life. Throughout the play, Don Quixote continues to call her Dulcinea and speaks to her of her beauty and worth. And throughout the play, Aldonza continues to argue with him and tell him that he is unable to see the truth.

Near the end of the play, she boldly declares that she is and always will be Aldonza. Yet shortly after that, she is at the bedside of Don Quixote as he takes his last breath. When his companion, Sancho, looks at the woman on the other side of the bed, he calls her Aldonza. Then she stands up and declares, “My name is Dulcinea.”

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All of us have reason to doubt our own inner worth or beauty. All of us have seen the ugliness in our lives, because we are the ones who have done it. We have committed atrocities. We have spoken terrible words. We have given in because we were too weak to stand strong. We have relapsed. We have lied. We have cheated. We looked where we said we weren’t going to look.

And others have confirmed our opinions. We have been reminded by people in our lives of all of our failures. Sometimes, our parents have told us we will never amount to anything. Or they have derided our dreams as unrealistic or fanciful. Sometimes, our romantic partners have told us that we are just good enough and we are lucky they stick around. They cheat on us and tell us if only we were better it would not happen. Or they beat us and tell us if only we would act right. Sometimes, our friends remind us of all the mistakes we have made. Especially when we are trying not to make them anymore. They ask us if we think we are better than they are. They tell us we really won’t last doing the right thing. They tell us they will see us back again.

All of these messages pile up and crush us underneath their weight. No wonder so many of us think, and maybe even say out loud, that we will never be more than Aldonza.

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You are amazing. You may not know it, but you are. I know you have messed up. I know you have made some poor decisions. I know you have failed.

But that doesn’t matter to me. You are amazing.

You are beautiful. All those imperfections that you notice when you look in the mirror do not stand out to most people. I know you think they do, and that is hard to overcome.

But you are beautiful. You are amazing.

You are a hard worker. I see you trying to do the right thing in each situation every day. I know you are tired. I know you are overwhelmed. I know you do not have a 100% success rate.

But you are a hard worker. You are amazing.

You matter to me as a person. I know others have cut you down. I know others have told you they don’t like you. I know those messages hurt down deep. But your life is important. Who you are as a person is important. You have gifts and talents to offer that no one else can. You have knowledge and experience that no one else does. You have something I need. And hopefully, I have something you need. Let’s figure that out together. I know what other people have told you.

But you matter to me. You are amazing.

I have heard the stories. I have witnessed the mess. I have walked alongside some of you through the darkest moments of humanity. I know why you struggle. I know why you doubt. I know why you question.

I know why you think less of yourself. But remember this: You are amazing.

Your name is Dulcinea.

I Am Sick of Being Fine

I originally shared this post 3 years ago. It is still true. But at least I use the word “fine” a lot less. I would like to inspire all of us to be more honest when we ask and answer “How are you?”

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I suffer from a chronic illness. It’s called “Being Fine.” I have been fine a lot. Many days I tell people I am fine. In fact, a common response when asked how I am is, “Fine.”

What a crock.

Now don’t get me wrong: most of the time I am feeling pretty good. Most days I am able to cope with all that life throws at me. The majority of the time I am a well-adjusted man approaching middle age.

But when I say, “I’m fine”, chances are pretty good I’m lying through my teeth.

So why do I do it? Why do I tell people I’m fine? I blame two people: me and you.

I blame myself for obvious reasons. If I am struggling I should reach out for help. If I am hurting I should ask for relief. If I am in need I should ask people who have plenty.
But I don’t. I don’t want you to know that I am struggling, or hurting, or in need. I want you to think I am completely self-sufficient all the time. So I blame myself.

But I also blame you. Because when you ask me how I feel, you don’t want to know. You want to hear that I’m doing fine. Because if I tell you that I am fine you can tell me you are fine and we can both go on our separate ways. You see, if I dare tell you I’m hurting, you may just have to open up and talk about your hurts, too.

How much of our hurting could be lessened if we would all be honest? I’m not suggesting we all turn into a bunch of whiners and complainers, but when we are truly hurting perhaps we should admit it. Maybe if we stop thinking we need to put on a mask of invincibility we could avoid the pain that comes from isolating ourselves. And telling people we are fine is indeed a form of isolation.

So how do we overcome this vicious illness?

Be honest with your question. Only ask someone how they are doing when you are ready and willing to hear the answer. Don’t let people give you some brush off answer and get away with it. Look them in the eye and say, “How are you?”

Be honest with your answer. You don’t have to go into great detail. You don’t have to give your entire life story. But you can simply say, “I’m hurting right now,” or, “I just need a little encouragement.”

It amazes and saddens me to know that when I assemble with 2000+ people at church on Sunday morning, almost all of them will say they are fine. And maybe for the majority of them, that is probably true.

But how many people are hurting and putting on a mask for everyone to see? Am I paying attention? Am I missing the signs, the words, the clues that something else is going on? Am I too busy to concern myself with someone else’s life? Are my eyes set on where I am going instead of the person right in front of me? Am I one of the ones pretending to be fine when in truth I need someone to hear me, encourage me, cry with me, pray with me?

I suffer from being fine. I would venture to guess that you do, too. How about we make a promise to ourselves, to each other, and to God to start being honest with each other—it’s the only cure I know.

Go Sit With It

One year ago, I went through a funk. It was a mild case of depression. Nothing was satisfying. I quit doing the things I do to bring joy to my life. I was not sleeping. I had little to no energy. I was going through the motions of work, church, and family obligations.

I can name the events that occurred that led to this. One Sunday in January, I had the unsettling honor of being in the birthing room with a mother whose child died during childbirth. I was able to hold the lifeless child and look on his face. The next week, my cousin was killed in a car accident. After traveling from Maryland to Texas for the funeral, my mother suffered a stroke.

I have been around death and the various details in a number of ways for most of my life. I have been in hospital rooms and living rooms with people as they took their last breath. I have planned and preached funerals. I have talked with and counseled families and friends as they deal with grief. I have walked through the grief of losing my brother.

But there was something about those three events occurring within a 10 day stretch that shook me in a way I have not been shaken before.

And I turned inward. I isolated. I didn’t talk. I hid behind the word “fine.” I was basically entering into the Walking Dead phenomenon, only without the entertainment of the actual TV show.

And this went on for months. After a powerful sermon at the church I attend, I decided to take a chance and reach out for help. I wrote a card detailing my despair and emptiness and actually signed my name to it. It was difficult spelling out the letters in my name on that card.

Someone called me. We talked. We prayed. I decided to go speak to a trusted spiritual advisor. His name is Randy. I told him I was unsettled. He asked me why. I detailed the events of the previous weeks and months.

He responded with a simple question: “You know what I’m going to tell you, don’t you?”

My answer: “You’re going to tell me to go sit with it.”

“Yes. Go sit with it.”

“Go sit with it” ranks right up there with “Do the next right thing.”

Randy is a well-respected, educated, wise, insightful, spiritual man. He thinks before he speaks. He does not let words fall out of his mouth carelessly.

But all he had for me was, “Go sit with it.”

I wanted advice. I wanted healing. I wanted the words that formed the magic solution to cure all that ailed me. I didn’t want to go sit with it.

But that was his counsel. What does it mean?

It means that there are seasons in life when we will be unsettled. We cannot avoid it or prevent it. We also can’t pretend like it’s not happening. We can’t simply sweep it under the rug or hide it in the closet. We must go through it.

It means that there are some issues that cannot be solved simply. They must be experienced and endured.

It means that sometimes we need to be silent in order to hear God. We need to be still to be aware of God’s presence. We may not always get the answers we want, but at many points in our lives we do not need answers. We need presence.

It means that I have to accept that I cannot solve everyone’s problems. I cannot be the hero for everyone in my life. And that is not what I am supposed to be anyway.

It means that I need to recognize how I participate in the suffering of the world. And how I can partner and walk alongside others as they participate, as well.

There was no magical solution. There was no simple solution. There wasn’t even a moment when everything got back to normal.

But every morning brought a new day.

And sometimes, that is all we can hope for.

Symbols Matter

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Symbols matter.

Certain images are forever etched into our memories both individually and collectively. That’s why people were so upset when this image:

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Or this one:

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Were co-opted with rainbow imagery.

It’s why people asked me why I would dare make my facebook profile picture yellow equal sign on a blue background (or pink on red).

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It’s why some people wear a cross with Jesus on it and some wear a cross without Jesus on it. It’s also why some people do not wear a cross at all.

Symbols matter.

Sometimes, the meaning of a symbol can change. The fact that the Christmas tree was once a pagan symbol is largely irrelevant. The cross was used a torture device and now it is a symbol of God’s grace and mercy and His presence in the world.

Some symbols are filled with conflicted meanings. The U.S. flag for many represents colonialism and oppression. For many, it represents freedom and courage. For others, it is simply a symbol that unites a country of diverse people.

But the meaning of some symbols cannot change. Some symbols are not conflicted in their meaning. The Confederate flag is a symbol of white supremacy and treason. It is the flag that flew for the army that seceded from the Union. It is the flag that was flown in defiance of the Civil Rights movement. While there are some people who may have grown up without that realization, it does not change the fact that the heritage the flag refers to is one of hate.

The flag coming down from the South Carolina statehouse today is an important move. May that flag never fly in a public place again. And for those who wish to use their right to fly the flag at their home or on their vehicle—go for it. You can do that.

But ask why that symbol is so important to you. Why do you need to fly a flag that represents hate and treason to show your pride? Why can you disregard the experience of generations of people who recognize that symbol as one of oppression?

We are repulsed by swastikas. We feel a sense of apprehension or anger when we see pentagrams. We are even convincing ourselves we are seeing ISIS flags at gay pride parades.

Symbols matter.

If the symbols that are important to me anger you, it falls to me to act out of love and understanding. I must ask you why. I must learn from you what your experience is.
If the symbols that are important to you anger me, it falls to me to act out of love and understanding. I must ask you why. I must learn from you what your experience is.

They are important. But relationships are even more important. If my symbols are affecting our relationship, then work must be done. Tough conversations must be had. Humility and love must be present. And a desire to be in relationship must be greater than a desire to be right.