an open letter to my non-Christian friends.

Dear non-Christian friend,
I’m writing this because I feel like it needs to be said. It’s been on my heart for some time, and I believe, in our current social and political climate, that it cannot wait any longer. Before it gets any worse.

I love you.
I love you because I believe that I am created in the image of God. And regardless of the differences in our beliefs, that means I believe you are also created in His image. “Fearfully and wonderfully made,” the Psalms say. I love you, not because I see you as some ministry token or trophy: we may never have discussed things of the spiritual realm, and may never still, and I’m ok with that. Because you’re my friend. Because we have sat together and shared stories and life and memories with one another. Because we have done good together; because we have gotten into trouble together. Because you are and have been a part of my life and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
I don’t expect every conversation or interaction to be about faith. If we are talking, or hanging out, (or raising a little hell) know that I’m there because I enjoy those times with you. I am not Jesus-stalking you, waiting for just the right moment to pounce on you and denounce your sinful ways.
I love you because my faith calls me to love with abandon, without question or cause or agenda. Because that’s how I believe God loves me. And that’s how I believe He loves you.

I value you.
We have, obviously, different opinions. However, I am not insecure in my beliefs, and I welcome any questions, comments, and/or criticisms regarding my faith. I value your insights, your opinions, your heart; because I believe that they can help me grow, and because if they are valuable to you, they are valuable to me. Even if they are contrary to my own convictions, I am willing to hear them.
I do not have all the answers. I promise to be honest with you when I don’t. I will also do my best to explain why I believe something, rather than simply saying, “The Bible says so.” Sometimes, there are things I believe, simply, because the Bible says so.
I am willing to offer my spiritual perspective, but only if you ask. I will not force it onto you, nor will I expect you to conform to my religious and spiritual worldview. You may be skeptical, or perhaps even angry or hurt by myself or some other Christian, or the Church, or even God Himself (and yes, I realize the paradox of being upset with a god you may not believe in).
I am neither afraid of nor offended by your views. I want you to know that I believe what I do, not because I have blindly accepted the teachings of others, but because I have tested it and will continue to test it (There have been several instances in which my willingness to question authority has caused me some conflict within the Church). I have witnessed things of a miraculous nature and experienced things beyond that of my natural understanding, but please trust that I don’t just accept without question. If you ever want to hear about my experiences, feel free to ask. If not, that’s OK too. I understand, and admire, your skepticism. You want the truth, and for that I will never hold you at fault.

I’m not perfect, nor will I ever expect you to be. I want nothing more than for you to be yourself, to be the person I believe God created you to be. I promise to look for the best in you, and I hope you would draw out the best in me. I’m sorry when I screw up. I hope that nothing I do causes you pain or grief, but if/when I do, I hope you can find the grace to forgive me. If you don’t, that is your choice, and while it will sadden me, I will not hold it against you. I truly hope it never comes to that.

I’m not afraid of our differences. I find joy in our similarities.

I pray for you. I pray that you are blessed and healthy. I pray when you are troubled, sick, or hurting. I celebrate with you in times of joy, regardless of our differing opinions on the roots of such joy. If you are happy, I will laugh with you. If you are sad, I will mourn with you. I hope I can bring a spirit of levity into the good times, and comfort in the bad.

I sometimes wonder, if God could show Himself as real to you, what would it take? (Don’t worry, I’m not planning to go all Elijah and the prophets of Baal on you.) Just a curiosity I’ve had for some time. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

But most importantly to me, I don’t consider you some prize to be won; you are more than a tally mark on a checklist. You are my friend. I am blessed to know you, to count you among my memories and the treasures of my life.

And I am glad that God made you.

Love always,
Jamie

house of pain.

Pain comes in many different forms: physical, emotional, spiritual. I don’t have to be a doctor, psychologist, or pastor to say with an expert opinion this: pain sucks. And I definitely (as definitely informal and with lack of proper credentials as I can) say I have an expert opinion:
As a teenager, every day for about a year, a tendon would pull a piece of bone away from the rest of my knee on both legs (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osgood-Schlatter_disease. Mine is a Type 2 diagnosis. Warning: includes big words that may cause headaches).
In college, I dislocated and tore a ligament in my shoulder playing football. (Seriously, who gets injured playing flag football?! Also, I contend to the medical and scientific community that the shoulder is necessary for standing up, because I definitely collapsed when it dislocated).
At thirty-four years of age, due to the aforementioned injuries, as well as a culmination of various other events that usually began with the words, “Hey, man! Watch this!” my body is hardly a fine physical specimen of a healthy, active lifestyle, and more a walking advertisement for Rice Krispies.
Many people that I know within my Christian circles encourage me to seek prayer for healing, and believe me, I have (which in itself has led to several interesting anecdotes, but that is for another post, perhaps). I do believe that God wants to see His Kingdom manifest here on Earth, and I deeply encourage others to seek out prayer for healing as encouraged by the Word (James 5:14-15).

But what happens when healing doesn’t come? What happens when we take the leap of faith and get no results? What happens when our pain aches don’t vanish, or our depression doesn’t leave, or cancer takes the life of someone we love dearly? What then?

In my experience, the result is usually one of two things: a miracle or an idol.
Not miracles in the same sense as the power of the Gospel demonstrated by healing, but in the sense of the supernatural gift of faith that wells up deep inside and overflows the spirit. I’ve been witness to amazing gifts of a prophetic nature when being prayed over, and while my physical body was not healed in those moments, I am quite confident that the God of All Creation knows me and sees me; all as a direct result of that time of prayer. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).
And then there is idolatry. I don’t mean it in quite the same sense as the Old Testament, golden calf form, but it is idolatry nonetheless. We build identities around our pain. It becomes the lens through which we now view our very existence. We worship it, having conceived in our minds that it is greater than the God of the Universe, that He stands powerless against it. And we believe the lie that somehow the pain of having it removed is even greater than the burden we live with daily. Idolatry is formed out of the lies: that our faith wasn’t enough, or we must deserve it, or worst, that God simply doesn’t care about us. Lies. (Jeremiah 1:5).
I live with pain every day of my life. Most people never see it; some days I try very hard to keep it covered, other days I am so accustomed to it that I barely notice it, if at all. I don’t hide it to build a wall or a lie; there are trusted friends that hold me accountable to honesty and there is freedom in that. However, if I never see healing on this Earth, I’m ok with that. Not because I think I deserve it, or that God doesn’t love me. But rather quite the opposite: I know He has a plan for me, for this. (Also, I have a strange hope that maybe when my time comes they’ll examine my body and wonder how I made it that far!)
God isn’t just working in spite of the pain; He is working in and through it also. We can learn to worship Him earnestly and honestly in the midst of our pain. God sees you. God wants the best for you. He has plans for you, and when we break down our idols and pursue Him from that place of honesty, you’ll hear Him say,

“Hey, man! Watch this!”