No matter our age, if we're honest there's this letdown that comes after all the gifts are unwrapped at Christmastime.
Isn't the anticipation of actually giving and receiving a gift, the experience of it all, that brings us the greatest joy? I think the same sort of letdown happens with the unwrapping of people. Each of us is a gift and we all have beauty within, but we're also flawed. When our messes are unwrapped and our ugly behaviors exposed, we disappoint people and ourselves.
2017 has given us some letdowns. Powerful media, movie moguls and those in politics used their power to manipulate and exploit others and it has left us all a bit shocked and disappointed. The number of victims affected by their actions grows everyday. People who publicly champion "women" and then privately exploit and manipulate them is the definition of hypocrisy and it's an unwrapping of facts that hurts and affects us all.
And yet, I too am a wretch, but for the grace of God. If the spotlight of my poor behavior and choices were exposed for the world to judge, I'd be toast. How true are the words from the former slave trader who wrote the hymn, "Amazing Grace?"
Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see.
Whew. Thanks be to God.
Christ pursues us, rescues us and redeems us. Our choice is to unwrap His gift of grace and know that God is not good to us because we are good, but because He is. So how then can we place limits and conditions on how we forgive? How do we forgive the wretches who prey upon us? How can their families forgive them? How can they forgive themselves?
"Today Show" host, Savannah Guthrie, asked that question the day Matt Lauer's dismissal from NBC was announced, "How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly?" And the answer is ...? We want actions with resolutions and sincere change and apologies. We wonder, "What now?" with mixed emotions of anger, sadness and disbelief.
I think many of us may know that the answer is LOVE, but what does that really mean when we are the ones who are hurt? How does that work? What does His love look like in action through us?
Author and radio host, Eric Metaxas, helped me to process the heartache of good humans with bad actions. "This, my dears, is The Human Dilemma. It is the root of all our trouble and all our strife. Not just because of the people we know and love who behave badly, but because of ourselves. How does any human person reconcile his love of himself with the occasional revelation that he has behaved badly, will behave badly, and can't help behaving badly?"
What you have to do if you have behaved badly is to stop, don't make excuses or minimize your guilt. Tell someone who knows how to keep their mouth shut and who is a real friend and then fling yourself onto Christ's mercy. It was the women who came clean to God who Jesus said were forgiven, not the religious Pharisee who said within himself that at least he wasn't as bad as that woman. Admit that you aren't who you thought you were and that you often fail. In other words, repent of your sin.
God longs to restore you just like a parent who loves their child. It is not cheap grace without consequence; it's just that He hung condemned in your place. He has the right to forgive you because He suffered the consequences of your secret sins. You can be totally and completely forgiven.
"He himself bore our sins" in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; "by his wounds you have been healed." 1 Peter 2:24
In the Lord's Prayer I always stop at the part, "And forgive me my sins as I forgive those who sin against me." Nope. I don't want the kind of forgiveness I give. I want God's complete forgiveness. When we confess our bad behavior, our SIN, Jesus washes us clean and remembers our sins no more and it's not due to any memory failure on His part. God forgives us FOR HIS OWN SAKE. "I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for My Own sake, and remembers your sins no more." (Isaiah 43:25)
Mockingbird Ministry recently wrote a piece entitled, "Love the Art, Hate the Artist? The author writes, "We never want to be in the same boat with the dirtbag poets and directors and rock stars. But maybe we always have been. Maybe we've been rowing alongside them all this time. They just experienced the misfortune of having the searchlight expose them first. This knowledge — that none of us do good, not even one — doesn't erase that uncomfortable tension when we appreciate the artwork of a monster. Can we separate the beauty of the work from the ugliness of its creator?"
When I was 17, I was chosen, along with three other teens in the Midwest, to be a part of a summer stock theater company of college students. It was 1984 and the first time I was really exposed to wild theatre parties, which involved the classic combo of drugs, sex and rock and roll. I remember leaving one such party early and then never attending another, but the other female intern, Kelly from Ohio, continued to be invited and continued partying. She did things and had things done to her that were not okay. I cried with her. I said we should go tell the director and stage manager, but they were there, too, and Kelly didn't feel she could. She was ashamed and felt she had contributed and done things she should not have. She "let it go," but I imagine it has always stayed with her on some level.
Kelly's story could have been mine a million times over. I was a theatre major. I was in hundreds of shows and one film. I saw a lot of "stuff" go down. I had a lot of choices about extracurricular actives that would have put me on the inside track and popular and maybe would have brought me more opportunities. But I want to be clear here. THERE IS NO EXCUSE for someone to be used, preyed upon and taken advantage of. And yet, it's also true that we can make choices of who we hang out with and what events we attend and how to enter into a situation. Attention feels like love and we're all starved for it. I thank God that the affirmation of the stage and roar of the applause was my "drug" of choice and the people who "admired me" where in the audience.
Kathy Lee Gifford, of "The Today Show," said words that were so comforting in the wake of Mike Lauer's departure from NBC and sent a text to Matt as soon as the news broke, affirming him with, "I adore you." She then shared about the time her husband was unfaithful with the betrayal and hurt it brought, but also how faith and forgiveness kept her alive.
Gifford said, "When I found out that my husband had betrayed me you question your own judgment. You question and ask, 'Was everything a lie?' And I think we have to fight against that. Because the man we love and adore is still the man we love and adore. No one is perfect. 'We all sin and fall short of the glory of God,' is what scripture says. What we need now is forgiveness and mercy for one another and we don't needs taunts and ugliness. We have enough of that in the world. I send out my love to the person, whoever came forward and to Matt and his family. In my long life the only thing I've been sure of is that only God can heal, only God. There's no bad time to reach out for His help. He guided me throughout my life, through everything.
There was a man who was an advisor to me and Frank throughout our lifetime. And for a long time I had my eyes just on me because I was upset and hurt, which you would normally be. This mentor said to me, 'Kathy if you can't forgive your husband, forgive your children's father. He's the same person, but that's the one you love, the one you believe in'. We're all so broken and we need someone to put us back together. And it is possible. It is so possible."
Girlfriend gets it.
Unwrapping truth the author of Mockingbird continued with, "I am willing to stand in this uncomfortable paradox. Yes, there is still a desperate need for justice. We need the law, the earthly law, to keep us responsible for our actions and to protect the innocent. I dream of a world in which sexual abusers are actually held accountable. That day is not yet here. We have to scrape by and hold onto the little beauty there is in this world. This is all we have. If we can no longer appreciate the art of monsters, we won't have any art left."
Obviously, you don't have to be a monster to be artistic, but that's the case with many. Also, sexual abusers and abusers of any sort are not high on anyone's social list. We do put them in jail and in many cases make them register.
Religion is law and the very first Christmas was the end of religion as we know it. A brave person will risk their life to save another, especially someone they love. God did more than that. He came into the world not to "risk" His life, but to give it. To give it as a ransom for all who would accept Him. He understands abuse and He understands shame. It's all grace. Grace trumps.
It's by the grace of God we can say, "I am what I am." We're all messy on some level, but we're all deeply loved despite our messiness. It's our choice to continually unwrap the grace and love God gives us everyday so that we too might give that same grace to others and live free.
We're all in the sinner's club, but when we receive God's grace and forgiveness, we enter into the Savior's club. And it's a really good place to be.