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Joe SewellFolks, I have the great privilege of hosting Joe Sewell today. In his own words, Joe: is a 50-year-old software geek living in West Melbourne, FL, after he and his parents bailed on the Eastern Shore of Maryland when he was 18. His lovely wife, Joy, has put up with him on more than major holidays for 19 years so far. Joe writes about Biblical stuff on his blog, , at Consider This, whenever he gets something to write on. Joe also participated in NaNoWriMo in 2010 and produced a weird self-published book, The Quantum Suicide of Schrödinger’s Cat, available on Amazon and CreateSpace. Joe also contributed a piece for Anne Jackson’s Permission To Speak Freely and for the Not Alone! anthology. He claims to have some other book ideas locked in his head, but cannot seem to find the key at the moment. Joe is scared of kids, but can handle his 5.3-pound Rat-Cha, Cocoa.

[Editor’s note: Joe is the process of creating a new blog, which has not yet launched. Also, my apologies for my tardiness in getting this up. It’s been a busy summer so far.]

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Last year, for Father’s Day, Chad wrote a post on his father. I responded with a comment about my own father. He asked me to do a guest post. I was clueless. I still am, but I’m daring to follow it up for Father’s Day, 2013.

I’ll let the links tell the story so far. Suffice it to say, though, that I have few fond memories of my father. In fact, I hated him for years.

Pop died in January of 1993, in part due to his inability to accept doctor’s orders, in part due to his innate fear of being “lazy.” For him “lazy” was the absolute worst thing you can be. If there was something that “needed to be done” – and that was defined only by his personal definition – and you didn’t do it, even if you had a broken ankle, you were “lazy.” (No, I’m not exaggerating. He walked across the bedroom once on a broken ankle just because he couldn’t think of the term “answering machine.” I heard the bones crunching!)

Pop also followed the greatest commandment of the socially-inbred small-town culture I was born & raised in. That command was “thou shalt not hurt anyone else’s feelings.” Lying through your teeth, or a “little white lie” as it was often called there, was not only acceptable, but expected, even demanded. As a result, you could say and act one way to a person, then turn around and destroy them with gossip and insults behind their back. Denial of the back-biting was, of course, another expected “little white lie.” Of course, when “everybody” does this to “everybody” else, who do you trust? Nobody.

That’s why I could never believe that my father loved me. After all, I was born with what one doctor called “cold weather asthma.” It was worse before I had a tonsillectomy, but even at 50 I have to be careful in the winter, even in my Florida home. As a result, though, I couldn’t be out shoveling snow or moving hay down from the upper level of the barn for the sheep & other critters we had. Because of the low exercise I’ve always been obese, and can’t deal with the heat too well, either, so summer sweat was out as well.

Technically, according to my father’s own definition, I was one of those lazy, good-for-nothing people, simply because I didn’t stink of sweat at the end of every day. Of course, he’d never say that to my face. In fact, he’d deny it to my face. What did he tell others behind my back, though? For years I had no reason to believe that he didn’t hate me because I was “lazy.”

After he died in 1993, I was able to talk with my mother more. They had divorced after 25 years of marriage, because Pop had started down the path of physical abuse. More than likely it was out of frustration, but that’s no excuse. My mother is also 25 years younger than Pop.

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'D23 Expo 2011 - Marvel panel - Shifting the Paradigm' photo (c) 2011, pop culture geek - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Life is full of vicissitudes, vagaries, and chance. While I believe God is sovereign, I also believe that, as C.S. Lewis said, “Free will requires a kind of divine self-abdication.” This does not mean that God is not privy to what will happen, but rather that he purchased our freedom at such a high cost to himself that he often doesn’t step in to stop free acts of others from hurting what we would deem the innocent.

Bullets, and bats, are not transmogrified into harmless rubber. Child molesters are not afflicted with impotency. The world seems to be going straight to hell without so much as a by-your-leave.

Some would point to this, and say there is no God. And on the surface, it sure appears that way. The Bible has something to say about this; namely, that this world is under the evil one’s sway. That we don’t yet see everything under Christ’s feet.

Don’t get me wrong: I want to accept that, I want it to be enough, but I have questions aplenty.

Why did I lose a sibling to abortion?

Why were my dad, and his sisters, subjected to such an unhealthy, abusive upbringing?

Why do I have no relationship with him?
Why do I struggle making lasting friendships?

Why is being a husband, and dad, so hard for me?

Why, God, did you let xxxxx happen, and why didn’t I find out until I was an adult?

Why do you keep shifting my paradigms, and peeling back the layers of my life like some onion? 'layers' photo (c) 2011, rosmary - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

He never answers these questions, except to give selfsame answer he gave to Job:

“Where were you when I made the world, since you are so old?”

What can I say to that? Such is his severe mercy that I must cling to, and grope for, it everyday.

None other has the words of life.

How about you? What are your questions? What do you struggle with in this vale of tears?

Have you been there? You know–that place.

What place?

The one where you’re maligned and misunderstood by those closest to you.

There are ways, and there are ways, to deal with this.

One way is to shut down, hide within. Which means putting on a false face–a facade. But it hurts to hide who you are from those closest to you.

And the self will find a away out.

So what do you do when it doesn’t feel safe anymore to be you?

Like I said, you can hide. But this has a way of festering. Resentment is bound to grow whether you’re conscious of it, or not.

How do I know? I’ve been there. Dealt with that rejection.

I’ve been in a men’s group, and made the mistake of sharing my (personal) convictions about the age of the earth. The group imploded. Made me not want to have friends anymore. Made me want to skip the risk.

I’ve done it with family members, too. When my motives were called into question, when I’ve changed my mind about something… and was rejected. When something in social media spheres happened that was both unlocked, and unasked, for.

Somehow it was my fault.

When a friend of a friend questioned my salvation, and family members didn’t step in to defend me, but rather gave credence to it.

So I learned to hide.

And in hiding, I became vulnerable. When it was no longer safe to be me around those closest to me, I found an outlet via email. At first, it was just this fun thing where I could let my hair down, be me.

That was refreshing.

What I didn’t realize at the time was how much of myself I was investing–how much time, thought, life was going to this unreality.

Because it came to the place where I was constantly refreshing my email, looking for a message, a word, a something to…

Make me feel like me. Because I didn’t know who I was anymore.

I ask you: have you been in that place?

Take it from me: it’s far better to face your fears, risk rejection, and have the difficult conversations. (Consider this: Jesus himself spent his whole earthly life being rejected by his own. Yet in it all he did not sin).

If you’re hiding from those closest to you: take your mask off. Lay down your rapier wit.

It’s time to be vulnerable. For it’s in being thus open that, yes, we risk rejections, but at the same time paradoxically find grace.

Are you wearing any false faces today?

It’s not bad to feel ashamed when we’ve done shameful things. There is such a thing as a healthy regret. We’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t.

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This post is not about that kind of shame. But rather about the shame that we, the culture, and church project. The kind that makes us worry more about our reputations, than about getting the help we need.

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Yesterday was hard. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. In my quest to achieve a better today (all that each of us truly has anyway), I’ve been delving into the root causes of some my habitual behaviors.

Those patterns of relating that are borne of the intersection of nature, nature, and inclination.

What I’m finding is sobering.

I’m finding that seemingly innocuous, well-meaning words have the power to shape the course of a life.

Don’t believe me?

Consider this: as a small child, when I got a scrape, a bruise, a “boo-boo,” in an effort (I suppose) to toughen me up, I was told to say “I’m alright.”

Thing is, scrapes hurt. There wasn’t the “Are you okay?” Rather, I heard “You’re alright.”

Repeat something enough times, and it gets internalized. Becomes a part of our inner monologue.

So it was, on a visit to my grandmother’s house, and while playing hide-and-seek, I fell through the well cover. Did I cry out “Help?” Or “Help me?”

No.

Louder and louder I shrieked “I’m alright! I’M ALRIGHT!!! I’M ALRIGHT!!!!”

But of course I wasn’t–I was a small boy on the verge of falling into a well, with the very real possibility of drowning. Fortunately, my grandmother found me, and kept me from falling down the well.

“I’m alright” became my modus operandi, my life philosophy. Even when, especially when, things were most decidedly not alright. Here’s the thing: rather than toughen me up, prepare for the harsh realities of life, this little phrase served instead to crush whatever empathy my burgeoning soul possessed.

To this day, I have to work at feeling with, and for, someone. Because they, too, are alright.

Even when they’re not.

And that is the big power of little words.

God help me.