As I watch the days of 2023 slowly fade into the emergence of a new year, I'm in awe of the many highs and lows of the current season - the decisions and growth, the setbacks and seeming failures, the victories and losses. The grace of God in every crack, crevice, and minute detail of my life and being. I have tasted immense pain this year as I watched the slow passing away of a loved one, and the accompanying grief endured by my husband. He's the strongest man I know, but I saw him crack as he mourned, and still continues to grieve. I watched him try to keep his tears hidden behind dark sunglasses as he spoke at the funeral. The onlooking world could discern his loss, but none were permitted close enough proximity to hold his heart. In his own perceived weaknesses, however, I saw resilience. I watched him take one step after another into the fog of those hard tasks that accompany losing a parent. He made the arrangements; he took on the responsibilities of directing, planning, speaking, and caretaking. He didn't look to others to do what he could do for himself, and as I've watched him traverse this path of heartache, I'm cognizant of how the fog of pain can so brightly illuminate a person's core, my own included. The question we must all ask is whether or not we will step into the haze of the unknown - into the fog - in order to experience the plot twist of becoming more fully known. Read on...
Coinciding with the unexpected and tragic passing of my father-in-law was the financial attack of a certain man on my finances. Ever had someone in your life whose very existence is a bane on your own? Every time I seem to be down in life, this man's assaults, whether on mine or my husband's character or our bank account, ironically co-occur with whatever pain I might be enduring in a different area. It's astounding actually, yet I know he's not intentionally trying to add to my suffering and anguish; his timing just makes him good at it! That said, as I spoke to the case worker in the county of his residence, I had to laugh at the paparazzi nature of his quest to find out details about my work, my income, and my livelihood. "Fan behavior" as my 18-year-old son would call it, but in all honesty, it's true. I couldn't care less about what this man does, thinks, or says, but yet, here he was poking, digging, and seeking information about my life, work, ministry, and mission in hopes of having me mandated to pay him more money each month. Though I find his allergic reaction to work and employment frustrating, I don't want to spend time painting anyone in a negative light because people do that all by themselves. You do it, I do it, and all of us, at one time or another, can unknowingly make ourselves look bad. I heard a saying once that said - if you don't want to be the villain in my life's narrative, don't be. In other words, how a person behaves is on them, but how I subjectively experience it is my story to tell, and I'm certain I'm the villain in some people's narrative as much as some might be in mine. Guess what? That's okay because they experienced me that way. And others have experienced you that way too. None of us are perfect - not me, not you, and not anyone else who we might deem as unworthy, unlovable, or a lost cause (Romans 3:23-24).
I do, however, want to highlight the ways in which our character and core are revealed in various circumstances like pain, suffering, hardship, and attack. As I have watched two very different men in my life move through hardship, success, defeat, and victory, I'm in awe at how my husband works hard to provide and another man in my life, through our shared daughter, looks for handouts from a posture of entitlement. Because of my academic and professional achievements, one man sees me as a golden meal ticket, while my husband sees me as a queen to adore. One wants to capitalize on my successes so that he doesn't have to work for himself, while another wants to build with me from the ground up. My significant other is a man's man, imperfect through and through, but committed to becoming a better version of himself every day, while other men look for praise and adulation when they've done nothing to earn it. One man judges a book by its cover in an ignorant and fear-based sense of superiority, while the other engages in life coaching to get to know a person's heart and soul before formulating a judgment. The point is - life will reveal our core, character, and soul. What a man truly is will be revealed in times of crisis and success. Luke 8:17 says that "there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open." One man's sins are on open display for the world to see and he begs Christ on the cross of crucifixion for forgiveness and mercy, while another man denies any sin at all and scoffs at the very crucifixion that could save him. Which one are you? Which one am I? It's a question that demands an answer from each and every one of us at some point in our lifetime.
Here's the plot twist though - Jesus wants to save them both. I look at the man trying to get money from me instead of working hard himself, but then the Holy Spirit quietly reminds me to "love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them who hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you." (Matthew 5:44). I cannot fake good and pretend to like someone I don't respect, but I can be authentically myself as another imperfect sinner in need of God's grace. In my core, I want to love my enemies, but I miss the mark some days. I want to bless those who curse me, because if I'm being honest, God has blessed me, which makes it wrong for me to withhold blessings from others (Proverbs 11:25), whether they curse me or not. I want to pray for those who despitefully use me, even when my prayers feel flat and forced. These are the times when I'm most in tune with my need for God's grace. His love, His mercy, His strength. When I rely on just my own, I fall short and step into judgment over others, but that isn't my role. My role is to love even those I consider a thorn in my flesh because I can't, but He can. I simply have to stay surrendered to His love, and when I do, I see the people I once disdained in a different light. A brighter light. This man is no longer the enemy, but another imperfect human being who struggles differently than me. I think about all the love and joy I have in my life, despite significant pain and loss, and I'm just grateful. So, in this moment, the plot twist of God's outrageous love, is that I want happiness for my enemies too. I want everyone to win, even those who, through their own greed, set me up to lose. It's easy for me to love my husband because he's amazing and cherishes me without putting up with my nonsense, but how much harder is it to love the man who feels entitled to my success without having built with me in the mess?
People are complicated and going through so much, friends, but if we really stop to look in the mirror of our own reflection, our very imperfections should inspire us to be gracious to even those who have nothing but contempt for us. The real plot twist is loving those who are hardest to love. No one wins when hate is perpetuated. You can hate me and I can hate you, but those two feelings will never add up to a love that conquers all. No, you can hate me, but because of Christ in me, I must love you, and that is a plot twist I'll take. That is a plot twist that overcomes evil, sin, and hatred. Embrace the plot twist by extending love and grace, not just when it's easy and flows naturally, but when it's the hardest and most undeserved. Those are the plot twists backed be heaven. Those are the plot twists that will save not only you, but others too. Be the plot twist.
"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse...do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written, 'it is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord. On the contrary, 'if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good."
- Romans 12:9-21