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Category: Hope

Victimhood

Victimhood

During the apex of my physical suffering, I found myself in court, not in my usual role as a lawyer, but as a defendant in a $1 million malpractice lawsuit.  There was no merit to the lawsuit.  But there I was in court, listening to my lawyer argue why the case against me was baseless and should be dismissed.  There I was, barely holding on to life, and listening to the hum and whirl of my infusion pump push formula into my small bowel through my feeding tube, feeling quite angry and quite justified in my anger and self-pity.  The case was dismissed as meritless.  But the anger I felt towards the former client and friend who had betrayed me in my darkest hour lingered.

Victimhood, at its core, is a rejection of the Victim—Jesus Christ—supplanted by the trinity of victimhood: Attention, Admiration and Affirmation.

The former client that betrayed me didn’t seem to care.  He was looking for an easy way to avoid a $1 million judgment against him (in a fraud lawsuit) that he couldn’t pay.  I didn’t lose his case.  I dropped his case after this client stopped paying me and owed me thousands of dollars in unpaid attorney’s fees.  Then, more than 18 months later, another lawyer, who didn’t have malpractice insurance, finished the case and lost.  So, my former client apparently told the lawyers that sued him to sue me for malpractice because he knew I had insurance.  A story of my alleged wrongdoing was fabricated, the body of my work was falsified and then it (and my large insurance policy) was cast into the waters for the sharks to attack.  Fortunately, the judge saw through the subterfuge and tossed the case out.  I won the case.  But would I lose my soul?

I always had two choices ….

No matter how I looked at it, I always had two choices.  I could hate or I could love.  I could forgive or I could hold a grudge.  I could move on or I could seek revenge (if only just reimbursement for the $15,000.00 deductible I had to pay the insurance company for my defense attorney which was a devastating financial blow in light of all my medical bills, not to mention the thousands of dollars this guy owed me).  What should I do?

I learned that there is no joy in victimhood.  In fact, the longer you cling to your status as victim, the more you will suffer.  Yet we see more and more victims every day.  They are all around us.  They are everywhere.  We all know one.  They are like crack addicts, just waiting to get their next fix of sympathy or pity.  But the narcotic effects of attention wear off quickly and soon the victim clamors for another round of condolences.  Complaining.  Crying.  Shouting.  Raging.  Whatever it takes to get that next hit.  But it’s never enough.

It’s a ravenous, insatiable beast.  It becomes an addiction.

Perhaps that’s because victimhood, at its core, is a rejection of the Victim—Jesus Christ—supplanted by the trinity of victimhood: Attention, Admiration and Affirmation.  Victimhood is the polar opposite of everything Jesus offers you.  The victim wants to be thirsty and parched.  But Jesus says if you come to me you’ll never be thirsty again.  (John 4:14.)  The victim wants to be hungry and starving.  But Jesus says come to me and you’ll never be hungry.  (John 6:35.)  Jesus was wounded so we could be healed.  (Isaiah 53:5.)  The victim rejects healing so as to remain wounded.  Jesus was the great and final sacrifice.  (Hebrews 10:1-18.)  In contrast, the victim is the continual and insatiable martyr, egotistically substituting himself for the Savior.

The narcotic effect wears off quickly and soon we clamor for another round of condolences.

Why do we choose victimhood?  And, make no doubt about it, victimhood is a choice.  Like the choice to shoot up or choose any other false substitute for the atonement of Jesus Christ to ease your pain, it’s a very sinister and self-destructive choice that will take you to very dark places.  It’s a ravenous, insatiable beast.  It becomes an addiction.

Jesus taught, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”  (Matthew 5:44.)  Why?  Not because it is some grand requirement to get into heaven.  But because it will make you happy … now.  It’s actually very good therapy.  It’s wise living.

Victimhood is the conscious decision to turn your back on the cross and move far enough away from it that the only mournful voice of pain you hear is your own.

What was I going to do when I saw this friend and former client?  I would run in to him a lot.  In fact, I would see him at church every Sunday.  I decided to experiment upon God’s word.  I stopped praying that God would change him and I started praying that God would change me.  I prayed that God might fill my heart with empathy, compassion and charity and remove the hatred and anger I felt.  I prayed for the courage to hold my tongue.  I prayed for the strength to love.  And the next time I saw him, I hugged him.

I hugged him ….

What did that feel like?

It felt like I was in a holy place.  I felt love.  I felt the love of God come through me and empower me.  I felt his presence, telling me that everything would be okay.  I felt God tell me that I didn’t have to trust this person ever again.  I didn’t have to have a relationship with this person ever again.  I didn’t have to excuse what this person did to me or deny that it hurt me.  I didn’t even have to like this person.  I just had to love him.  And there’s a big difference.

Victimhood is the conscious decision to turn your back on the cross and move far enough away from it that the only mournful voice of pain you hear is your own.  Not only that but this self-imposed distancing also requires aiders and abettors to feed the hungry, self-centered werewolf that hatred and anger make of us all, thus drawing others away, too.  In contrast, the decision to let go of your victimhood and love is unitive, filling and fulfilling.  It is transformative, ennobling and uplifting as you experience the incredible love of God flowing through you and lifting you to higher ground.

Embracing the sinner is embracing the bloody and wounded Christ.

Embracing the sinner is embracing the bloody and wounded Christ who suffered, bled and died for him and said, “[i]nasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”  (Matthew 25:40.)  As difficult as it is, I would much rather hold on to the Victim than the dark and endless abyss of victimhood.

For more ideas and discussion on this and other related issues, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.

Amazed by Grace

Amazed by Grace

What has three years without food and living on a feeding tube taught me?  Many things.  But today I want to talk about grace. Grace is not a one-time act of rescue.  It is not a one-night-only show.  It is a lifestyle.  It is a partnership with God.  It is the means by which we mortals access the enabling power of God.  Grace is not just an act of mercy or salvation.  It is a process of transformation.  Grace works.  It works on us.  It works with us.

To say that we are saved by grace is true but vastly understated and oversimplified. It’s like saying we are “saved” by oxygen. Grace makes spiritual respiration possible. It feeds the marrow of our souls. It sustains and transforms immortal metabolisms. We are saved by grace, changed by grace, sustained by grace and, consequently, amazed by grace.

Grace is even more than the enabling power of God.  It is the enabling presence of God.  It is the presence of God manifested not only through his Holy Spirit, but also through the kind and helping hands of others. It is the power that has sustained me for the past three years and allowed me to survive. Please watch this seven-minute video to learn more about my journey with grace:

For more ideas and discussion on suffering and utilizing love as a powerful coping mechanism for suffering, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.

It Doesn’t Matter What You Do, It’s Doing It With Love That Counts

It Doesn’t Matter What You Do, It’s Doing It With Love That Counts

dentist-1427291_1920It’s a fact, as confirmed in a recent International Dental Journal Article—there is “systematically a suicide rate among dentists higher than those of other occupations.”  (See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21302740 .) While we don’t yet know why, dentists suffer unusually high rates of suicide and depression.  The two dentists in my life—well, one’s not really my dentist—seem to have bucked this trend on their own and seem to be two of the happiest, kindest people I know.  I think this is because they are both built to love.  Maybe if I tell you a little more about these two dentists, you’ll get a better picture of what I’m trying to describe.

People who are built to love are some of the happiest people you’ll ever meet.  They’re confident, grounded and give off a positive energy.  They make you feel special when you’re around them.  They have a servant-leader mentality.  They tend to love what they do and it shows.  They love what they do because they love who they serve and, so long as they have the opportunity to help and heal others, they’re as happy as a two-tailed puppy.

Many years ago, Dr. Richards, my regular dentist, who I had been seeing for years, was out of town or on vacation or something for the Christmas holiday.  As luck would have it, I developed a very large abscessed gum, which was causing me excruciating pain.  Think of a massive boil inside your mouth, pressing in on the nerves surrounding your teeth.  If felt like Satan, himself, had found the center of my nerve universe and, with a red-hot poker, was continually stabbing me with it over and over and over.

If felt like Satan, himself, had found the center of my nerve universe and, with a red-hot poker, was continually stabbing me with it over and over and over.

Luckily, my next-door neighbor and dentist, Dr. Pitts, had not left for the holidays.  I think Christmas was on a Sunday that year and, being a man, I made the genius move to tough the pain out all week long until Friday night, when, of course, it was too late to get in and see the dentist.  After much pride-swallowing by me and coaxing from the wife, I sheepishly called Dr. Pitts, explained my situation and asked if he had any advice for me.  He told me to meet him at his office in about 15 minutes.

So, as I recall, at night, on a weekend—a holiday weekend nonetheless—Dr. Pitts met me down at his office, lanced the abscess (or whatever kind of voodoo magic he did) and sent me home with some kind of antibiotic rinse that almost immediately relieved my pain.  He didn’t charge me a thing.  And, even though I wasn’t one of his patients, he dropped everything to help me.  I reminded him of this years later and he didn’t even remember helping me, which signals to me that he must help so many people that this just blurred into all the other acts of kindness he has performed over the years.

I have followed and observed Dr. Pitts over the years.  His patients love him.  He serves the community, donating his time and products to countless football teams and youth groups.  His employees love him.  He is physically active and takes good care of himself.  He is always propping up others, whether it’s his wife, his daughters, his former teammates, etc.  His Facebook posts are not “Look at me!  Look what I did!”  His Facebook posts are, “Look at this amazing person I’m with!  Look at this incredible person I get to do stuff with!”  He’s happy.

Her jaws were locked.  She was in full fight or flight—actually, just fight—and she wasn’t letting go.

Dr. Richards, my regular dentist, seems to be cut from the same cloth.  I have so many Dr. Richards stories that I could fill a book.  But I’ll just share a few.

My daughter, Abby, must have been about 5 years old.  It was one of her first trips to the dentist and she was so nervous she asked me to hold her in her arms while Dr. Richards worked on her teeth.  Dr. Richards was so nice and kind to her, just chatting it up the way dentists do, when all the sudden I heard this blood-curdling scream come out of his mouth.  As it turns out, my sweet little Abby had chomped down on his finger with a python death grip and wouldn’t let go.  Her jaws were locked.  She was in full fight or flight—actually, just fight—and she wasn’t letting go.

There were no harsh or negative words from Dr. Richards.  No scolding.  Nothing like, “What the heck is wrong with your kid!”  As I recall, he complimented Abby on her strong jaw muscles and made her giggle about the whole thing.

Dr. Richards is patient with me, too.  You see, my body metabolizes lidocaine and articaine faster than a lawyer can take money.  By the time the doc has given me the shot and gets his drill turned on, the numbness has gone and I can feel everything.  Dr. Richards and I learned this the hard way.  So, poor Dr. Richards must give me multiple injections and stock up on the lidocaine, articaine, adrenaline and epinephrine just to keep me numb.  I take about twice as long as all of his other patients.  But never, not once, has he complained or made me feel like a wimp.  He seems to say just what I need to hear to make my bruised male ego feel better.

Dr. Richards has done acts of kindness for my family that he probably wouldn’t want me to write about publicly, so I won’t.  He has helped us out in rough times.  I’ll leave it at that.  He has made multiple trips to the Dominican Republic or Haiti (I can’t remember which one) with members of his staff and family to provide free dental care to those in need.  He has a gift for putting people at ease and making sure they are comfortable.  He makes people feel loved and important.  I don’t know how he does it.  He just does it.  I can’t explain it.  It’s a gift, I suppose.  He’s physically active.  He loves the outdoors.  He is a happy person and I love being around him.  There’s a positive energy I get.  He just exudes it.  The license plate on his truck says, “Dr. Smile.”  That’s a good description.

So, what do these two dentists have in common (other than I think they might be cousins or some distant relation)?  How do they buck the trend that seems to afflict so many others in their profession?  I think they have both learned what I wrote about in my book, Built to Love:

Choosing love adds purpose to an otherwise meaningless existence.  To a heart built to love there are no mundane jobs.  As long as there are people where you work, your work is the most important work on earth.  This is because you will see your work as being larger than the work itself.  You’re not there to build the company.  You’re there as an emissary of God to build others.  And in so doing, you build yourself and experience joy and happiness.

Thank you, Dr. Richards and Dr. Pitts, for serving your community and building others up.  Hundreds of people pass through your doors and sit in your chairs each month.  You are doing more than healing wounded teeth.  You are healing wounded souls.  You are healing a wounded world.

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Everyone, whether they be a Wal Mart greeter, a fast food worker, a teacher, an accountant, an engineer, etc., could take a cue from you.  All it takes is a paradigm shift.  All it takes is the realization that, so long as you interact with people, you have the most important job in the world.

There may be days when you feel empty, like you have nothing to give, like you just can’t give.  But dig deep.  Push through.  Force yourself to get outside yourself.  Force yourself to think of others first.  Stop processing your own feelings and start trying to empathize with those around you.  We were created as conduits, not reservoirs, of God’s love.  The miracle of God’s plan is that the best way you can keep God’s love is by giving it away. It seems that if you want to feel God’s love, you have to share it.  Try sharing it today and that empty void inside of you will soon be replaced with love and contentment.

You can’t love Him if you don’t encourage, lift and support your fellow human beings. However much you learn about God doesn’t mean a hill of beans if you don’t learn about the people you share this planet with. Figure them out and you’ll figure Him out. Get connected with them and you’ll get connected with Him. Take care of them and He’ll take care of you. It’s that simple.  Like Dr. Richards and Dr. Pitts apparently did long ago, make the decision to become built to love today and you, too, will buck the trend and find happiness in a dark world.  Decide today that you, too, will become built to love!

The 2016 Election? “It Just Doesn’t Matter,” Said Jesus (and Bill Murray)

The 2016 Election? “It Just Doesn’t Matter,” Said Jesus (and Bill Murray)

If you are stressed out about the 2016 presidential election, take some advice from Jesus (and Bill Murray) … it just doesn’t matter. Rarely, if ever, will I comment on politics. But as I look around and see the growing angst and conflict permeating society on the eve of the election, I wanted to offer a few words of comfort, regardless of your political orientation.

Two millennia ago Jesus was caught in the cross hairs of a geo-political question that the Jews of his time probably thought threatened their very existence. The geo-political power of the day, the Roman Empire, had conquered Jerusalem and imposed its will on the Jewish people, taking control of everything. The imposition of Roman power was everywhere. In the case of the puppet kingdom, Judea, Herod’s rule and Herod’s forces would have been the superficial, nominal political entity. But everyone knew that Rome was the power behind the throne and that Herod was a puppet leader, really. Many Jews resented this and were looking for a politico-military leader, a Messiah, to overthrow the Roman domination system and restore the divine theocracy the Jews longed for. They wanted to make Jerusalem great again (sorry couldn’t resist that).

The Pharisees would be among those religious extremists who were seeking to restore the greatness and glory of an independent Jewish state and who resented the power of Rome. The Herodians, on the other hand, were a party among the Jews who were supporters of the Herodian family as the last hope for retaining for the Jews a fragment of national government, as distinguished from absolute dependence upon Rome. Herod held his dominion by grant of the Roman Empire. Therefore, the Herodians supported Rome and would be in favor of paying tribute to the supreme power. They were part of “the crooked establishment” (sorry, couldn’t resist that one, either).

Even though the Pharisees and the Herodians were politically at odds, they were united in the dislike of the newly-introduced subversive reformer known as Jesus of Nazareth. So they joined forces in an effort to silence him once and for all. The account in Matthew 22 goes as follows:

16 And [the Pharisees] sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.

17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Cæsar, or not?

18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?

19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.

20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?

21 They say unto him, Cæsar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.

Jesus out-maneuvered this perverted alliance by brilliantly waiving the question and putting it back on them to decide whose “side” God was on. In essence, he rose above the political fray and said “you’re both wrong” and “it just doesn’t matter.” “God is on neither side.” “You’re asking the wrong question.” Jesus realized that the “true” kingdom is not geo-political. It is the kingdom of the human heart. To Jesus, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:21.)

To Jesus, elections or revolutions are not the way to seek or find peace. Remember, trying to find worldly solutions to what are, in essence, the spiritual problems of society never works. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27.) Our hearts get troubled and afraid when we try to control things (or people) outside ourselves. Our hearts get troubled and afraid when we look out “there” and what’s wrong with everything out “there” as the cause of what’s making us feel bad “in here.” That type of outside-in thinking will never make you very comfortable because you cannot control anything (or anyone) out there. And the more you try to control what’s out there, the more frantic and helpless you will feel “in here.”

What if what is going on inside of you matters more than what’s going on out there? What if you looked in the mirror and decided to change the person you see there instead of looking at your big screen and trying to change what’s going on in the reflection of the world you see there? You can’t change the world. But you can change you.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. This is a secret that all of the great spiritual leaders have always known. Politics don’t matter. Personal transformation does. I’m not saying you shouldn’t vote. I’m not saying government is unnecessary. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to elect the very best leaders. But let’s be realistic. At the end of the day, YOU are the problem. YOU are the one that needs to change. Jesus said the kingdom of God is within you. Gandhi is reputed to have said “be the change you want to see.” Michael Jackson (yes, MJ) sang it beautifully this way:

I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
(If you wanna make the world a better place)
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change
(Take a look at yourself, and then make a change)

The election is scary, but who we are as human beings and how we treat each other matters so much more and, in the end, will determine what kind of world we have. What we need is a revolution of listening, loving and caring more than a political revolution.

So when your man or woman loses the election this year, whatever the case may be, take a cue from Jesus, Gandhi and Bill Murray. “It just doesn’t matter.” YOU matter. And if you want to stop feeling frustrated and powerless, take control of your life, change who you are. Stop blaming “the system” and become the change. Transformed people transform the world.