The Blessing in the Hurt


sadness

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

In the echoes of those words, I want you to hear the story of three individuals.   They are real people, and their stories have stuck with me.   In a way, their stories have become scars.

The first woman lived not far from me in Keene.   Although she has since passed, when she was with us she seemed one of the most crisply dressed and put together.    She looked like your average, next door, church going lady.

What made Emily different was what you experienced walking through her front door.   She lived in a little, one-story Cape not far from Cheshire Medical Center.   The lawn was always pristine and the flower gardens perfect.   The perfection ended at the front door.

Upon entering the house, you discovered that she was what the world commonly refers to as a hoarder.   Newspapers that likely stretched five decades were stacked by Emily from floor to ceiling.    There were dirty dishes, pans, and bags of garbage left everywhere.     There was a path to the couch, to the bathroom, and to her bedroom and beyond that, every last inch was overflowing with garbage.

The smell of must, trash and mold were overpowering.   It hit you when you walked in like a boxer’s sucker punch.    It stained your nostrils and lingered on your clothes for hours.

Emily struggled with mental illness.   In all likelihood, it resulted from the violent death of her husband decades ago.    For Emily, her loss, her grief, and her mourning were so dramatic, that opening herself up to the loss of even the most innocuous of items became more than she can handle.

As she refused to let go of the garbage, I am confident, and I pray that she realized it, that Jesus refused to let go of her.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

In Kentucky, I had the opportunity to cross paths with a young woman who used the Red Bird Mission to obtain clothes.   Although this is not out of the ordinary, because the Mission was the closest source of food, clothes, school, and medicine for miles upon miles.

Cindy’s story hit hard. Cindy first tried Crystal Meth in at the start of her freshman year in high school.   She had dropped out by the time spring arrived.

Meth is a drug can be smoked, snorted, and injected and for most people one use is enough to get you addicted. It was likely that way for Cindy too.  The chemistry behind Meth is just another part of Cindy’s story that makes it so exponentially heartbreaking.   Within a few hours of her first use, those areas of her brain that control all those feelings of worth, joy, and happiness started to decay.   After two or three uses, the damage was complete and irreversible.

The biology that provides the ability to feel confidence, joy, affection, hope, self-worth, and enthusiasm was chemically shut off.     Even after you clean yourself up, if you do, you will likely need some pharmaceutical for the rest of your life to even come close to feeling healthy again.

Although I only knew a small portion of Cindy’s story, even the untrained eye could see that things were shut off.   It is not hard to imagine that she doesn’t feel the goosebumps that you might feel when you hold the hand of someone you love.   She likely doesn’t get all sappy when a tear jerker comes on television.   That little voice inside her head that says your worth it, when the world tells you otherwise, is probably silent.    Her story is a story of heartbreak.   I am convinced that Cindy shared her pain with Jesus, who stood beside her with every hit, and with every attempted stop.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

The third is a man named Kyle.   When Kyle was in his twenties, he married his college sweetheart and together had a young girl.     He went to work with one of the engineering groups at a Fortune 500 company and slowly worked his way up to management.  It was not long before management tagged Kyle as an emerging leader in the organization.

Coming home from a dance lesson, a drunk driver struck them head on in 495 outside of Lowell Mass.   The drunk driver, his wife, and his child died on the scene.   At that moment, everything changed for Kyle.     Although he was successful at hiding it from his fellow colleagues, everything broke.

Kyle died eight years later alone in his home.   Although the medical pros would point to acute alcohol poisoning as the cause.  It is safe to assume that the driver took a fourth life that day.   He died as surely from a broken heart as he did from booze.

I am confident that Jesus wept beside him as his life left his body.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

We have all heard those words a thousand times.   From time to time we have heard the words tossed almost too casually from situation to situation.   Google them, and you will find them beautifully written out in calligraphy or aside kittens or baby ducks.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Some scholars point to the Sermon on the Mount as the most authentic words of Jesus in our entire scripture.   If that is true, then to say they are important is a colossal understatement.    There may be no more important words in our scripture.    At the same time, they are perhaps the most confusing and full of paradox.

What sense do the Blesseds make?     How can we look at the hungry, the hurting, and the grieving and see a blessed soul?    What comfort do Jesus’ words provide for Emily with her stacks of newspapers, Cindy with her meth scabs, and Kyle with his bottle of booze?  I have fought with this for some time.   Over time, I think I have come to grips with it. I have come to see this as two sermons; one for the hurting and one for the rest of us.

Perhaps Jesus was trying to show those who have the luxury of just sitting and listening to the sermon on the mountainside – people like me – that sitting there could never be the total of our faith.   Maybe while comforting the Kyles, Cindys, and Emilys of this world, he was nudging us towards realizing that there is a gift in sharing the hard moments of those around us.

You don’t need me to tell you that nothing feels good about heartbreak and loss.   Nothing feels right.   There had been a few moments (way too few of them) when I did not stay seated.   There have been times when I have been called at the oddest moments of the day, only to find myself in a situation clouded by intense grief.    When I was working towards my first church and first appointment, I often wondered how I would find the right words in those moments.   Over time, I recognized that we only need to show up and be silent.  Words just get in the way.

I have faced a small portion of the grief of others without words, and only presence.   I have felt their tears soak my shoulders.    I have witnessed some of their tears, pain, and heartache.    My heart has broken with them. When the time comes for me leave, it is inevitable that I feel completely depleted.   I sit in my car and feel sapped.     I recognize that it is the hardest thing I do.      I also appreciate the blessing.  I feel blessed because I  know that at that moment, there was a trio of people present;  the hurt, me, and most importantly Jesus.

So maybe it’s time to reimagine this scripture.   Maybe this is the Beatitudes from the version according to Scott;

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, and blessed are those who make allow themselves to break alongside another.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted; and blessed are those that allow the tears of grief to stain their shoulders.

Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth; and blessed are those who are willing to let their guard down, risk being hurt, and open their lives for a brother or sister that hurts.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.   They will find their righteous in a kingdom unlike any other.   They will find their righteousness in an upside world were our King stands along side the hurting, the oppressed, the powerless, and those who stand with them.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy; and blessed are those who practice mercy for the screw ups, the addicts, the hurt, the heartbroken and the forgotten.   Blessed are those who put an arm around the Cindy’s, Kyle’s and Emily’s and tell them they can’t explain their issues away, but they will be there through them.

Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God; and blessed are those who are willing to purge themselves of all the garbage simply to find a spot closer to God. Blessed are those who recognize the noise of our world builds walls of stuff that separates us from being who and where we need to be, and once recognizes them tears them down.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God; blessed are those who are willing to stand face to face with ugliness, pain, violence, crack pipes, and pipe bombs… Or face to face with the aftermath of hurt, disease, drunk drivers, or mental illness.  

Blessed are those who say this is not the way it should be and works to make it better in those who shake.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.   Blessed are those who get beat up, spent up, bruised and tattered along the way.

Blessed are you who are willing to stand up simply for the sake of that kingdom that wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

(The above was a sermon delivered during late 2014.  Some credit due to Rev. Fr. James Garrett for helping guide me down this pathway.  Pic Credits:   ‘As a Sadness Overdose’ by Rafa Puerta, 2008, flickr.com)

Silly Birds, Silly Me.


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Six months ago; the office building in which I reside for 40 plus hours each week, experienced a much needed remodel. Although there were certainly pros and cons that came with this move, one design change has been incredibly welcomed. The remodel brought with it a 50-foot span of windows opening up the world outside of my office. For the first time in 25 years of working; I have windows.   I can see the sun.   I can see clouds.   I can see the weather. The windows have made such a difference in my psyche and my spirit.

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Finding the Way Home


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For those who might have wondered what happen to the Jesse Lee Project over the last year, I found myself on an unplanned vacation or sabbatical so to speak.

In the way of some backstory; several years ago I discovered how effective journaling was in regards to my level of discipleship and overall mental health.   Through being intentional with time spent in front of my laptop, I figured out that I was able to work through some of the day to day struggles of my psyche and my spirit with my fingers on my keyboard.

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