A Time to Speak

prophet“And now, Lord, take note of their intimidations intended to silence us. Grant us, Your servants, the courageous confidence we need to go ahead and proclaim Your message while you reach out Your hand to heal people…” Acts 4:29,30

I get confused sometimes.

My heart pounds with empathy as suffering weeps in silence. I reach out to touch the wound that’s not mine to touch. And my fingers linger on the scar as I long for healing to flow forth.

The job of Savior is already taken. 

And I get intimidated sometimes.

Responding to hurt and binding up wounds is often easier than opening up my mouth to proclaim abrasive truth.

Do you follow? I want to be the healer instead of the prophet.

“Christan, you need to stop bringing home your clients’ angst,” a friend told me, the social worker hoping to save my corner of the world. Years ago, I had a 14 year-old client whose story came home with me everyday… whose fragments felt like my own brokenness, for I tried to piece them together in my mind all night long. I stayed awake night after night thinking and pondering and carrying a shame that wasn’t mine to hold. I still think of her.


“Is now the time, Lord — the time when You will reestablish Your kingdom in our land?” (Acts 1:6) Fresh from witnessing the resurrection, Christ’s friends were still feeling oppressed… still feeling taken advantage of… still wanting a political hero to rescue them from Rome… still full of fear at what they might find just around the corner.

Have you waited incredibly long to be rescued?
Have you yearned and longed while injustice rips through the flag of freedom over and over, tearing it to shreds?

“Here’s the knowledge you need: you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. And you will be my witnesses, first here in Jerusalem, then beyond to Judea and Samaria, and finally to the farthest places on earth.” Acts 1:7-9

You will speak and reflect Me among what’s familiar
…and among people and cultures just a tad bit different
…and with those whom you fear and scorn and judge
…and with those you’ve never even thought of before.
That’s what you need to know for now.
You’ll open your mouth.
You’ll speak truth without fearing what others think.
You’ll boldly proclaim My love for those right in front of you,
for those that don’t look like you, for those who make decisions you would never make, and for those you’ve forgotten about. (Acts 1:7-9 paraphrase)

“You will speak, and I will heal,” says the Maker of Heaven and Earth.

Oh. But I want to do the healing. I want to bind up the wounds and see brokenness transform before my eyes. I want to do something meaningful, and healing seems significant.

But the job of Savior is already taken.


Again…
“And now, Lord, take note of their intimidations intended to silence us. Grant us, Your servants, the courageous confidence we need to go ahead and proclaim Your message while you reach out Your hand to heal people…” Acts 4:29,30

I see the accusers pointing at me. I see their hate …and confusion …and fear. Everyone has a story that’s led them to today. But I will proclaim what’s real without intimidation. I will not wait in silence. I will open up my mouth and exchange shame for courage and proclaim a Gospel-driven message of love and wholeness. For now, I will speak.

And I’ll watch my Savior reach out His hand to heal those I love. I’ll see His hand with that deep, deep scar cover the wound. I’ll see Him touch the scars and bring a restoration I never could.

Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:14

 

photo source | john sting, portugal

4 Ways to Uproot Bias

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It was quite a year: 2016 forced us to consider the refugee crisis… the #BlackLivesMatter movement… kneeling during the national anthem… a polarizing, words-heavy presidential campaign season. Yes, we saw numerous headlines forcing us into self-reflection, sometimes catching us off-guard, and we’re still reading similar headlines. What are our gut reactions to the latest stories? How did we get those opinions, and how did we get so confident in our views?

How did we get so… biased?

Five years ago, I conducted an interview with an African American woman on racism, and she kept redirecting the dialogue toward stereotyping. I’m finally beginning to understand why.

It’s getting near impossible to ignore our biases — those thoughts many of us ignore yet are influenced by daily. Current events shine a light on our thought patterns. It’s uncomfortable, for when news stories call us to sort through our own perceptions of people groups, we come face to face with the ugliness of our hearts.

So what do we do about it? We know we were made to live in community, and we want to. But stereotyping and silent prejudices have us facing the highest of relational walls. How do we uproot biases that have been lodged discreetly (and not so discreetly) in our hearts?

I’m clearly not an expert, and I’m stumbling along, but Scripture is full of guidance. Verse after verse, story after story, we see our Rescuer’s heart and His value of community, unity, the marginalized, the oppressed, and misunderstood people groups.

The apostle Peter, surprisingly, has a lot of relational advice. The man who betrayed his friend, Jesus, and then hid when it really mattered, eventually drank from the cup of forgiveness and grace. (John 18, John 21)

But time often has a way of bringing back our self-protective patterns. And Peter, the guy with the flaring temper and abrasive personality, is openly prejudice as he tries to lead the first century Church. We see him excluding people because of their race and refusing to eat with anyone who doesn’t share his ethnicity. (John 18, Galatians 2)

In true redemptive fashion, God pursues and restores him again, transforming Peter into an advocate for healthy relationships. The one who was an open racist is now giving advice on how to get along with others.

Our Redeemer can do the same transformation for us today. Sure, you may not prohibit someone of a different race from eating with you in the office cafeteria, but are you judging her and feeling superior as you eat together? Where do your thoughts jump when you pass a young man dressed differently than you? In a matter of seconds, we can make judgment calls on someone’s intelligence, value, and worth, all while feeling better about ourselves.

Here are some principles on how to uproot bias in our hearts — even when it’s in there deep.

Bravely Enter into Self-Examination
When we hear about injustice and oppression in our community, we often want to do something. I have been challenged over and over by others lately to first look inward. Sometimes it’s easier to join a movement of mercy or establish a cause for justice than to examine your own heart.

“Get yourselves ready, prepare your minds to act, control yourselves, and look forward in hope as you focus on the grace that comes when Jesus the Anointed returns and is completely revealed to you… Put aside the desires you used to pursue when you didn’t know better.” I Peter 1:13-14 

Choose to engage in self-reflection as you search your mind and heart. Get ready for what you’re about to find. But don’t stop there. Look forward in hope to the grace that’s available to you.

A few questions to ask yourself:
What stereotypes and biases have I been entertaining?
What do I assume about certain people before we’re even introduced?
Why am I scared to self-examine?

Discover What’s Been Missing from Your Narrative
While intentional steps are needed to move forward in combating our bias, it’s worth pausing and figuring out what got us here. What’s your story? What were you not told in childhood textbooks? Were photos of different races missing in articles you read throughout high school and college? From TV shows to history lessons and everything in between, sometimes what’s missing from the narrative imprints our hearts as much as the noise.

“You know that a price was paid to redeem you from following the empty ways handed on to you by your ancestors; it was not paid with things that perish (like silver and gold), but with the precious blood of the Anointed.” I Peter 1: 18-19

Peter urges his readers to remember that the blood of Christ shed on the cross — the heart of the Gospel story — can cover the “empty ways” passed down, which includes our ignorance. Once you see, you cannot un-see. And God graciously restores our ability to live in community as He reveals what has been missing from our life’s narrative.

Be in Relationship with Those Different From You
“Live as those who are free… Respect everyone. Love the community of believers…” I Peter 2:16-17

When we develop friendships with those who are different from us, our view of other races and cultures expand. We still see color, for our creative God has proven His love for diversity in the creation of humans and the physical world. But our stereotypes of others don’t have as much power over us when we’re in relationship with people who represent various histories, values, and customs. Instead of “that Asian woman”, I now see a woman that reminds me of a friend. Instead of “that black man”, I remember the seminary student in my small group. Instead of “that poor white guy”, I think of the man who is a greeter at my church.

Relationships turn people into people instead of just members of a larger group.

Crave Truth
Be hungry to learn more. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. Peter describes it like moving from infancy to maturity:

Be like newborn babies, crying out for spiritual milk that will help you grow into salvation if you have tasted and found the Lord to be good.” I Peter 2:2-3

When we wrap our minds and hearts in humility, when we listen to learn and not refute, truth will prevail. As we enter into the tension of what we’ve always believed to be true compared to new discoveries God is revealing, we can thank Him for stretching us into the community He intended.

Self-exploration and discovery are uncomfortable, but growth is often preceded by discomfort. Listen first as God reads your heart back to you. And then relying on His forgiveness and mercy, move toward relationships and advocate for truth like you never have before.

photo credit | patrick tomasso

#WhatADoctorLooksLike

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167 reactions. 109 comments. 109 comments! It’s quite a response for a woman’s mid-day, quick Facebook post at work.

She could have referenced an experience from a college class she teaches. Or what it was like to be the speaker at a Breast Cancer Awareness Tea. Or treating patients here in St. Louis. Or how she goes about mentoring medical students. Or her recent submission for the medical column of a local paper. Or her fairly recent, annual medical missions trip to Malawi.

But no. Dr. Hooks-Anderson didn’t pause to tell her Facebook friends about good news. Instead, she wrote:

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Dr. Hooks-Anderson is African American. And despite all she has accomplished and how much she is respected, this was still her reality on Tuesday.

What do you say? No, really — what do you say when you’re white?

I first met Denise when she and her husband applied to our school for their daughter. The Director of Admissions at the time, I asked to hear their story of why they wanted to send their little girl to our community. I should have asked them why they trusted us to educate and care for their daughter.

When I read Denise’s post on Tuesday, I wasn’t yet aware of the Delta story. But I’m aware now as I’ve viewed countless #WhatADoctorLooksLike posts swirling around social media. I hope more swirl around and take the world by storm…

rain

…Because when it rains, we pay attention. When it storms, we pause and plan before going about our normal routines. We’re more prone to contemplation when the world shields itself from torrents and the weather has halted our plans. We’re less distracted. We’re more focused.

Sometimes we think a little too much, but maybe that’s not a bad thing in this case. For eventually in our pausing and contemplation, we realize it’s not so much about what we think about bias and stereotyping but how our thoughts materialize into behavior.

What do we find when we pause and bravely engage in self-reflection? What is there to discover when we examine our own hearts?  What makes us assume something about a person before introducing ourselves?

Explore me, O God, and know the real me. Dig deeply and discover who I am.
    Put me to the test and watch how I handle the strain.
Examine me to see if there is an evil bone in me,
    and guide me down Your path forever. Psalm 139:23-24

While intentional steps are needed to move forward in combating our bias, it’s worth pausing and figuring out what got us here. What’s your story? What were you not told in childhood textbooks? What images were missing in articles you read throughout high school and college? Sometimes what’s missing from the narrative imprints our hearts as much as the noise.

Self-exploration and deep digging and discovery are uncomfortable. But growth is always preceded by discomfort.

We’re a culture that wants to say and do something. Maybe our doing is listening as God reads our hearts back to us. We’ll cringe. We’ll deny. We’ll make excuses and point to those who are “worse” than us. But eventually, soaked with God’s grace and tenderness, we’ll shake our heads in shame and boldly surrender to the truth.

 Like a devoted gardener, I will pour sweet water on parched land,
        streams on hard-packed ground;
 I will pour My spirit on your children and grandchildren—
        and let My blessing flow to your descendants.
And they will sprout among the grasses, grow vibrant and tall

        like the willow trees lining a riverbank.
One will call out: “I belong to the Eternal.” Isaiah 44:3-5

He comes every time. The Devoted Gardner comes and restores and then invites us to join Him in the restoring. He transforms the storm we once feared into cisterns of self-discovery and streams of humility. He pours out His Spirit and grows us up into change-agents whose love is a reflection of His own love for mankind.

Might we say, “I belong to the Lord” and have people believe us.

So what does a doctor look like? One of them looks like this:

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photo source | mario calvo

What I Learned from Our Series on Suffering

fontcandy (1) copy 3Although our Series on Suffering officially concluded last week, I’m compelled to share how I was personally changed over the past few weeks. My hope was to help others — either those in agony or those watching another suffer. By posting updates from four years after the initial story, I hoped to point toward perseverance. There’s something about seeing another’s redemption that helps you reach out your hand when you’re drowning. But once again, I found transformation in the mirror.  I entered the series as the facilitator, but I left the student.

I learned…

… Everyone has a story. Everyone. Why do I forget this? Life would be so much richer and more meaningful if I stopped to listen. If I pursued. If I slowed down enough to be a safe place for others. I must remember the faces in my life have identities. Everyone has so much to say.

… People grieve differently.  There’s no consistent, proper way to get real and deal with pain. Yes, there are common rhythms of grief. But I can’t put people in boxes and expect them to convey their distress a certain way. Some friends are more emotional while others are more rational. There’s beauty in this kind of diversity. Why bring judgment into someone’s healing process?

… It’s cowardly to remain silent amidst another’s pain. The fear of offending someone absolutely can not supersede our practice of living in community. Loving others requires us to feel awkward sometimes. I absolutely must get over myself.

… I whine too much. You see, all those thoughts harbored deep within, whether they pour forth from my lips or not, reflect where I’m at. Proverbs 23:7 makes it clear: For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. (NLV)  I’m too self-centered… period… in my peer relationships, my marriage, my parenting. Especially my parenting. There’s nothing like hearing another’s story to put your own in perspective.

… I must fight to prevent my body image issues from impacting my children. I know the standards of 21st century American beauty —  for women and men. I see it everyday at the check-out lane, in Athleta catalogs that invade my mailbox, on television commercials, in the lies I uncover in my own thoughts. I must commit to not complain about the way God made me in front of my son and daughter. I want my children to grow up knowing they’re beautifully created and knowing their identity is in what Christ did for them on the cross. As our world has become smaller through technology, unfortunately our infatuation with one type of beauty has grown bigger. I must fight our culture no matter how daunting the task seems.

… Redemption often looks different than I would have imagined. I believed this already, but I’m convinced even more after presenting these four stories. We pray and claim and beg — and even tell God what to do — and His answer is often different than our original hopes. But He’s purposeful. And He often uses radical, painful situations to convey His counter-cultural message. Regardless, I’ve seen him bring beauty and life to a dying heart. As Jeremy Bedenbaugh, a local St. Louis pastor, says, “Only where the graves are is there resurrection.”

I know God will continue to uncover more lessons for me. And hopefully for you, too. I don’t know what struggle will stare me in the face tomorrow. But for now, I have much to ponder — suffering, healing, Good Friday, Easter Sunday. Come, Lord Jesus. Come to the darkest parts of our stories.

Series on Suffering: Parenting A Disabled Child (Update)

 

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Welcome to Day 2 of *Matthew’s story. Yesterday you met him, the dad who bravely exposed his heart by giving us a glimpse into family life with a severely disabled child. His daughter can’t walk or talk, yet her personality is one who that would dance and converse all day long if she could. Throughout this Series on Suffering, our guests will not only be giving updates four years after their original interview, but they’ll be getting real about some specific aspects:

  • How has your situation changed in the past four years?
  • How have YOU changed in the past four years?
  • What are you still wrestling with?
  • How have you seen redemption come from your suffering?

May we be people who live reflectively. May we always acknowledge how we’ve changed at the core by interacting with our world and the people in it. May we recognize the light of redemption instead of being swallowed up by the shadow.

*All names have been changed.


How has your situation changed in the past four years, Matthew?

In the last four years, we have not had a major life change of any sort. However, there are definitely some significant shifts. First, our daughter has grown physically. She now weighs over 100 pounds and is over 5 feet tall, so it is no longer easy to move her, even with two people. It takes more time, equipment, skill, and people to do the basic tasks, such as getting dressed, bathed, positioned, toileted, and active. And the danger is greater for her or her caretakers to be injured in the process, especially if she is not cooperating. It can be a wrestling match at times, and it can be upsetting to everyone involved. And that leads to the second shift.

Second, Claire is far more emotional now that she is in the midst of puberty. Her emotions swing wildly, quickly. Much of this is related to her high need for a social life. She is a true extrovert who loves people, and she can’t get enough of people, which is a tall order to fill daily.

Another shift is that we can’t travel with Claire any more. It is just too difficult for everybody, and the upsides are so small and so few. So we take very short trips without Claire, and we do some “staycationing. ” Travel is something we look forward to doing someday in the distant future. Claire loves routine. She wishes every day could be a school day with all the people and the routine and the safety and the fun. So, we do the best we can to create an action-packed daily routine, anticipating problems to solve before they happen.

Our life with our son has changed a lot in the last four years. Jonathan is now 17 and very independent. We have had to let go of controlling so much, and we have to dance around his emotions, his needs, and his opinions. In just 18 months, he will be off at college somewhere. That’s a huge change coming soon that we are not looking forward to, but we trust that it will be fine when the time comes. We are starting to think about life without him in the house. It’s a sad reality of a future of caring long term for one disabled adult, rather than two teens.

I think things will feel different if Claire’s mood swings settle down, around the time Jonathan goes to college. We hope that things get better as she matures into adulthood, but our experience so far is that things don’t get easier. Normal just shifts.

Another thing we think about more often now is Claire’s adult life. We don’t have a clue how long she will live, and I’m not sure which is more overwhelming: losing Claire or living with her for the rest of our lives. We try to trust God for that, but it’s a new challenge.

How have YOU changed in the past four years?

I think we are tougher. We can handle some really big problems with relative ease. Sometimes we listen to our peers talk about their troubles with their kids or spouse or mother-in-law, and we can’t relate. Their troubles seem so petty, so easy to deal with. It’s hard to empathize, and we can get resentful or just disengage from them. We’ve lost quite a few friends over the years due to the vast differences in our problems.

Kelly and I have to be allies. Our marriage must have unity and love. We must care for each other. It’s a do or die situation. In reality, our marriage has gotten stronger in the last four years. We have learned that our spouse is not the enemy. We go after problems, instead of each other. It’s not that we don’t argue, but those arguments usually end in unity, as we face our problems side by side.

Another change is that my wife and I have had our fair share of medical problems in the last four years. Our health is essential to the family, so we are getting the medical care and taking care of ourselves better. It’s all related to sustained stress and exhaustion. Again, it’s a do or die situation. Neither one of us can afford to be sick or diseased or die. It’s a team issue.

What are you still wrestling with?

Our condition is chronic. We are still dealing with the relentlessness of caring for someone with so many needs. Maintaining life requires both of us working hard and being super responsible. We don’t get much free time. We don’t have much of a social life, not many friends who we do fun things with. We sometimes feel like we are not individuals with hobbies, dreams, choices, etc.

My wife is running two small businesses: The larger one is the busyness of caring for Claire’s physical, intellectual, and emotional needs. It’s a full-time job. In addition, she runs a part-time business (15 hours per week) tutoring kids, who also have special needs academically.

In addition to the daily hard work of meeting our daughter’s needs (as well as the rest of the family’s needs), there is always the weight of responsibility for Claire. Her physical survival, her emotional wellness, her intellectual stimulation, and her overall development are each heavy and relentless. So, even on our occasional weekend getaways, there is always a heavy sense of responsibility that never leaves. We know that someone must always be looking out for every need (seen and unseen) in Claire’s body, mind, and spirit. And each year that goes by, Claire is more and more aware of what she needs and how much she depends on others to help her. If she is not cared for well all the time, she can get very scared, very sad, very sick, or all of the above in a really short period of time. She is fragile in one way or another, especially now in the middle of puberty.

How have you seen redemption come from your suffering?

Claire touches people in deep ways everyday. She brings great joy to people each day, That alone is a whole lot of redemption.

In addition, Claire’s special needs have created a need for selflessness in our family. Any small amount of selfishness is glaring. That has caused trouble, but it has also created character. Our son is a kid who has grown up around people caring for another person. It’s the norm. He has seen dozens of PTs, OTs, PCAs, RNs, and babysitters who care selflessly for his sister. His parents require him to pitch in and help around the house because it’s what we all must do. He has been raised in a house where prayer is essential to get through the normal days, as well as the really rough times during surgery recovery and other times of sickness. He has character beyond his years because of it all.

All these young women who come to help Claire are learning about family life. So many of them — young women in their 20’s who are often engaged to be married — get to witness up close what a strong marriage and family looks like. They see the reality, and they see that we all love each other and work together most of the time and pray and somehow make it work. Many of them tell us how valuable that is because they come from broken homes and have never seen a family eat meals together, cook and clean together, play games together, and tease each other and still like each other. Kelly mentors them in an informal but powerful way.

We know that God provides in times of great need. We know that things always get better because God redeems the hard times. So when Claire had a full spinal fusion surgery two and a half years ago, we knew that God would sustain us in the difficult recovery that was so difficult for so long. It got better. Good things happened both physically and relationally because of the tough times.

We believe that Claire’s life, no matter how long it lasts, is bringing love to many people and building the character of many. All of that honors God.


My goodness. I’m reading Matthew’s update, and I have a range of emotions. Do you, too? How does his story challenge you? What steps does it motivate you to take? How are you challenged to love others, pursue community, and sacrifice more? We have a lot to process already, and our series has just begun.

Join me next Monday as we peek into another type of heartache… the all-too-quiet suffering of miscarriage. Do you know someone who has lost a baby before her child’s lifetime even started? Do you have a friend who tried to move on, but the grief won’t loosen its grip? Yeah, me too. Together we’ll come to listen. We’ll come to learn.