Community · spiritual growth

Jacob and the Pokémon Card

pokemon-2Imagine you’re an active six-year-old boy named Jacob.

Like any youngster, you have some favorite possessions, and sometimes you’ll bring those items with you to places that don’t necessarily make sense to adults. For instance, one day while you were getting ready to spend the afternoon doing fun things with your Mom you decided to bring along some Pokémon cards. As if you were on a grown-up date, the two of you would be going to the movies and then dining at a nice restaurant. Most adults wouldn’t see the purpose in bringing along a few Pokémon cards, but in your six-year-old mind it was perfectly logical. You had three brand new cards and you wanted to look at them and think about all the Pokémon battles they would win in the future when you spent time with your friends. You grabbed your new cards and followed your Mom to the car.

Once you arrived at the theater, you set your prized cards in the armrest drink holder and adjusted them so they, too, could see the dinosaurs as they roared from the screen. With small popcorn in hand, you sat back and allowed the movie to take you on a spectacular adventure.

As soon as the last dinosaur roared and the credits rolled up the screen, you were pouncing out of your chair imitating the giant reptiles. Your excitement was so fierce and passionate that you left with a dinosaur swagger, not realizing you had forgotten to pick up your Pokémon cards and bring them with you.

It would be some time before you realized you had lost your prized Pokémon cards. Hours would pass before you noticed, and it would be too late to go back and get them. Some might say the cards must not have been as meaningful to you as you claimed, or you wouldn’t have been so careless. Heartless comments like those are made by people trying to justify and distance themselves from pain. It’s actually a sign of self-loathing and fear when someone refuses to have compassion for the disappointment in another person’s life.

But, you are six. You aren’t going to think about these things when you realize the Pokémon cards are gone. What you are going to think about is how it makes you feel. And what you are going to feel is just a whole bundle of SAD.

 

pokemon-1When I first met Jacob he was bouncing around a restaurant patio table playing in the mist falling from overhead water-misters.

It was a Friday afternoon and I was working as a food server. The weather was exceptionally hot, but in spite of the cool dew dropping from the metal rods, there were no other customers dining on the patio. His activity under the drizzling water wasn’t being disruptive in any way, and I was impressed by his Mother’s willingness to endure the heat so he could remain playful after so much theatrical stimulation.

Jacob’s playful personality wasn’t what made him unique, but his eating habits sure did. While dining with his Mother, she ordered for him, and she introduced him to cuisine far tastier than chicken fingers. She ordered each of them a Pina-Colda (albeit, his was a virgin) a seafood appetizer, and then told me they would be sharing the Carnitas Dinner Entree’. I was genuinely awed by the confidence of Jacob’s mother, and by the way he responded to her. He trusted her, complied and seemed to really enjoy the gourmet fare.

Then Jacob stopped bouncing.

I came out to the patio with a standing tray-jack and some to-go containers so I could box their leftovers when I noticed the change in Jacob. The boy who had been so lively was now sitting very still with his head down. I couldn’t see if he was crying for sure, because his little face was hidden behind his baseball cap, but I did see a small hand reach up under the cap, so I guessed he was drying a tear.

“Sometimes we have things for a short amount of time. It just happens that way,” Jacob’s Mother spoke to him.

Jacob didn’t reply to her, and I didn’t say anything. Working as a food server there are many times I have stumbled upon a conversation that I wouldn’t typically be invited to witness.

“Would it help you to think that maybe someone else found them, and that person is feeling very lucky?” Jacob’s Mother tried again.

“No,” Jacob whispered honestly.

“Yeah, hopefully that one will come,” Jacob’s Mother was so calm. She was faintly disappointed for him, but not overly emotional.

Finally, I couldn’t help but say something. I proceeded to tell her how impressed I was with her parenting. I shared examples of the things I had noticed her do with her son. It was then she told me about his disappointment. He had just realized that he had left three of his new Pokémon cards in the movie theater. She told me he was struggling with feeling disappointed.

And my heart welled up with so much hope I couldn’t help but smile.

pokemon-7You see, several months earlier, my son and his wife were visiting from California. They came to the restaurant and enjoyed some drinks and appetizers while I was working. When they were finished, I told them they didn’t have to pay–it was my pleasure to pay their tab. As a joke, my adult son handed me a Pokémon card saying, “Here’s your tip.”

For over four months I have carried that Pokémon card in the notebook I use while I am working. There was no reason to hold onto the card. Time and again, I have emptied the contents and the cash out of the notebook, but each time I would put the Pokémon card back into the money slot. Other food servers even teased me and asked if they could have it.

“Nope,” I replied. “It’s mine.”

But, now, standing on the patio, I wondered if the card was mine, after all. Perhaps, I had just been holding it for Jacob.

I knelt down to Jacob’s eye level and I told him I had something to share with him, and I hoped it might even help him not feel so sad. I told him I had a Pokémon card which had been given to me by my son. I pulled it out of my notebook and I told him, “I want you to have it.”

The look on Jacob’s face when I handed him the Pokémon card was priceless. To be a stranger who could come along and solve a simple crisis was worth more than any amount of money I might have made that afternoon in tips.

I left Jacob and his Mother on the misty patio and went inside to prepare their bill. When I returned, Jacob was bouncing again, and this time he had things he needed to tell me. He told me that because the Pokémon card was an older card, he would be able to win many battles, but he also told me he didn’t think he should keep it forever.

Because the Pokémon card was a gift to me from my son, he decided I should keep it. “One day your son will have a little boy, and you might want to give it to him,” he told me in all sincerity.

Jacob and his Mother had come up with a two week plan. He was going to take the card for two weeks and then he would return to the restaurant with his parents and give it back to me. This would allow him to win many battles with the card, and I would still be able to keep it for my future grandchildren.

FullSizeRender(5)I don’t know if I will ever see Jacob or the Pokémon card again, but I know I will never forget our interaction. I also know there was something in our meeting for me.

It doesn’t matter what we lose, or how tragic our situation, something is coming to change the dynamics of the story. When we feel most disappointed, as hard as it may be, we have to press on knowing there is a random Pokémon card waiting to be unearthed.

If we could see the contents of everyone’s notebook, perhaps we would let our defenses down and open ourselves up to another. If we knew who was holding the replacement Pokémon card, we would seek that person out and make ourselves vulnerable. But that is not the way it works. Without any knowledge of the contents of my notebook, Jacob’s Mother invited me into Jacob’s disappointment. It was only by her sharing that I became a key player in their story. I had the card to change the story, but I didn’t know what was needed until I heard the story. Hearing the story changed the story.

We are called to live in community with one another. Living in community is not merely sharing pleasant things. We are called to share our disappointments as well as the victories. When we do this we are inviting others to partake in the journey, and their involvement will change the story. Our faith increases and we are transformed into people who win many battles.

 

 

affair recovery · spiritual growth

Gossip, Pride and Adultery

When you are flat on your back, the sky looks bigger. There is no time in my life when I can recall the skies being as luminous as they appear to be now. There are mountains to the east, to the west and to the south. These jagged rocks, corroded with time, have been on earth since the beginning of time. They stand watch over Arizona’s desert, being fully aware that long after I am gone–they will remain. But something about these mountains feels different than other mountains I’ve known.

The difference is ever so slight. These mountains break the horizon, but only doing so as they settle under the heavy hand of the sky. It’s as if the sky is holding them in place, rather than their terrain breaking up into the sky. I lived previously in the California foothills, and when I looked at that terrain it was as if the mountains were creeping up into the skies territory. These mountains seem to submit to the power of that which no man can touch. The evaporated goodness of God holds His mountains in place.

Superstition MountainIn the same way the skies appear to be making the mountains submit, it seems as if they are making me submit. The powerful skies remind me of how small I am, and how big God is. I look up and I wonder: am I getting smaller or is God getting bigger? The truth is, I am not getting smaller, and God is not getting bigger. I was always small and God was always big. But sin inflates us, and we become bigger in our own minds.

It isn’t just sexual sin which causes distortion and inflates the ego. Being blunt, I will say that long before I had an affair, something worse was brewing inside me. Hindsight may be 20/20, but hindsight is only precious to us if we use our enhanced vision to alter the choices we make in the hereafter.

Long before I had an affair, I made poor choices in the relationships I cultivated. What I am about to describe may seem like a common struggle for many women–for many Christian women. That’s partially what makes it disturbing.

I met and began to associate with women whose lives were tinged with a spirit of competition and negativity. It was a brood of judgement, masked under the veil of opinions. The self-righteousness led to gossip. The gossip was poison. I did my best to not participate, but not talking was just a ruse. Even though I held my tongue, just being around such negativity was still involving me in sin in a way I never imagined. Looking back, I wish I had bravely confronted their gossip, and trusted there was a greater good in it for them, and for God’s kingdom. I wish I had been able to see how lovingly confronting them may have changed the choices I myself would make in the time period after.

The reasons for not confronting these women was a form of pride in my own heart.

While I didn’t participate in the gossip, knowing it was rampant and that I was not involved caused me to overvalue myself. Rather than comparing myself to the Savior, I compared myself to these ladies. In short, I had little respect for these ladies, and I was using them. I was allowing them to fill a part of me. I viewed myself as being better than them in some way. They were gossiping and they were filled with negativity–since I wasn’t living in “their sinfulness” I allowed myself to believe I was on a better path. Because of my pride, I wasn’t showing them the love they deserved. 

Perhaps God had allowed me to become acquainted with these women so we could journey a road of revealing deeper issues. What makes one sister talk negatively about another sister? Perhaps in bridging these questions with these women, we could have all grown smaller and God could have grown bigger. Perhaps my confrontation would have made me less prideful and more obedient.

It won’t be a shock to anyone to read that my weaknesses eventually became the subject of their gossip.

Before I entered into the affair, my behavior revealed a woman who was struggling. When my issues with intimacy began to surface, they were met with judgement and gossip. The same words I had heard them speak of about others turned in my direction. No surprise, right? 

The thing that was a surprise was how the gossip actually made me more prideful. My pride was enhanced when the ladies saw my weakness and responded with sin… because they were sinning in a way in which I didn’t struggle. When the women saw that I needed help in keeping boundaries with a man who began to show me attention, there was a small firestorm of gossip. This firestorm made me more prideful. Even though I was a mess of confusion, I didn’t look at myself and what I needed help with–instead, I looked at how these women were involving themselves in the sin of gossip.

My pride grew bigger because, in my estimation, “I could handle” my struggles.  In my mind, I hadn’t actually “sinned” and these women had. It gave me an untrue and exalted view of myself. Sadly, my pride was leading me down a path towards destruction, and I followed with arms raised and heart abandoned. I was in the right–my pride told me so.

Because I hadn’t done anything wrong, I believed what I was struggling with was a weakness which I could manage. I walked forward without accountability.  Shortly thereafter, I was placed in a leadership role and on the payroll of a church. This only made me more fearful of sharing my struggles. I mistakenly believed I was going to have to deal with my weaknesses on my own.  My fear at that time was the threat of losing my job if my weaknesses became known. I closed myself off from telling ANY person of the greatest struggle I have ever had. I decided instead to deal with my internal battles on my own. THAT my friends, is PRIDE.

Not talking to others about my struggle made it easier to stop talking to God.

Talking to another believer would have been a step in keeping conversation open with my Lord. It was easier to deny what was happening when I felt convicted by the satisfaction I was receiving from the attention of another man. I had zero accountability to the one issue which has always been a thorn in my side.

The struggle of being swayed and romanced by the words and the wooing of another man has always been my struggle. I know this more clearly now. I don’t think I understood it as being my struggle, because prior to last year, my prideful self believed that I had it reigned in.  It’s an interesting thing when you cross over into a sin that is “bigger than yourself”, you see yourself in the truest light of grace, or you walk away from the truth completely. I do not think it can play out in any other way. Once you have sinned in a way that you recognize as being BIG, ugly, and inexcusable, you will either repent and have an understanding of grace that is deeper than imagined, or you will continue in your rebellion until you finally abandon your faith altogether.

Entering into the affair was the first time I ever had impulses to give myself to another man, and regretfully I acted on those impulses. But, even without the temptations coming to the surface, I could always feel they were underneath the surface. Somehow I seemed to know that my heart would take me into the pit of hell if I allowed it to lead. I just didn’t know how desperately I needed to talk to others and get help.

The world might look different for a lot of people today, if I had been brave enough to share my struggle. This is why I remember the ladies so vividly, the gossip, and the opportunity lost. Perhaps if I had stood bravely and helped them overcome their negativity, they would have known how to respond to me when they saw my weakness. Perhaps if I hadn’t been so busy judging them, I may have been humble enough to be transformed myself.

The desire to be desired is still there. It’s not pretty, but I am not going to pretend that desire is gone in an attempt to be pretty. If I fail to acknowledge that I am capable of being led down this same path, am I not opening myself up to its possibility? I am a woman who allowed this to happen. I am a new creation, but that doesn’t mean I am so far removed from who I was that I wouldn’t be attacked in the same way. I am not going to lie to myself and believe the enemy isn’t going to try to confuse me again. I am not going to ignore my own weaknesses–that would be pure foolishness.

Above all don’t lie to yourself. The woman who lies to herself and listens to her own lie comes to a point that she cannot distinguish the truth within her, or around her, and so loses all respect for herself and for others. And having no respect she ceases to love.  ~Fyodor Dostoevsky

I am blessed by the way things were brought into the light because I don’t have to pretend anymore. I have faced one of my biggest fears. For years, many years, I feared what I was capable of, and I feared what others would do if they knew the “real” me. Then, coincidentally, at the one time in my life when I was in the most public arena I had ever been, I fell. If I hadn’t been employed by a church, this affair would have ended like most affairs end: quietly, with deeply shredded hearts, battered spouses, and bruised family members.

I consider it a blessing that God allowed my greatest struggle to be revealed while I was in a place where it would not be hidden. Living in a place that is not hidden is good for me, it’s good for my marriage, and hopefully it will be good for the Kingdom.

Gossip, Pride and AdulteryI would rather be flat on my back, looking at the unseen hand of God than exalted to the highest mountain and living in fear of  the damage that could be caused by my own hands. The big sky frees me from the sins I perpetuate on myself. I am small and I am blessed by the enormity of the sky.