A Beautiful Mess

One Saturday morning last fall my 2 year-old daughter Kate bounced up to me and tugged on my shirt to get my attention.

“What is it, Babe?”  I asked.
“Wa-wa. Mess,” she said.
Hmm.  I didn’t think much about it because she’s always playing in the bathroom sink, splashing water all over the counter and herself. Little did I know that she’d taken things to a whole new level.
About an hour later I went to get my laptop, the precious laptop that I use for all of my writing projects.  What I saw sent shivers down my spine.  Water and lots of it.

Editing Life

How do you edit someone’s life? I’ve spent hours asking myself that question all week. I’ve been given four stories, the amazing life stories of four women, and I have to edit them together to tell one big story. I have to decide which parts of their lives mattered most and what to leave out or condense.

They’re all former exotic dancers who found hope, freedom and new life in Christ. Most of them were abused. All were children of divorce. All were addicted to drugs or alcohol. But now, all of them are free.

They’re sharing their testimonies at a banquet for a ministry my friend, Ked, leads called the Refuge for Women, a place that helps women who are trapped in the adult entertainment industry. If you read the Bible, you’ll see that these were the kind of people Jesus loved to hang out with the most, scandalous people, people whom the religious elite wouldn’t go anywhere near. That’s why Ked and his staff have a farmhouse where ladies who’ve made some bad choices can go, work through their baggage and get a fresh start.

So, back to my job. I have 16 pages of single-spaced, rich life story, and I have to get it down to about four pages. I have to edit their lives. Which moments are most significant and help make sense of their life’s journeys? What can I cut?

It got me thinking about my own life. There are plenty of moments I’d love to cut, places I wish I’d never gone, things I wish I’d never done, words I wish I could take back. I can think of dozens of moments off the top of my head that I’d love to take a red pen to and ‘x’ out of my life story.

But I can’t. And neither can you.

Yet, when I look at the stories of these four women, it’s the hurts they’ve endured and the mistakes they’ve overcome that make them so courageous. Their stories remind me that God doesn’t waste anything. The Bible says that “In all things God works together for the good of those who love Him.” In other words, He weaves the good, the bad and the ugly of our lives together for our benefit. Each one of these women are now loving and encouraging other hurting women in ways that only they can do because of their life experience.

It’s funny. I think I’ve learned more about God this week from four ex-strippers than I did in five years of seminary.

See, God makes our stories count. He makes our pain count. He somehow even takes our most selfish, boneheaded actions, and guess what? He can make those count, too, not just for our good, but for the good of others.

God really is the great editor of our lives.

And the best news? That red editing pen? He’s got one. He uses it to cross out our junk and tell a new story. A better story. That’s what a good editor does, takes a raw manuscript, cleans it up and polishes it until it shines.

Freed By Forgiveness?

Imagine your phone ringing one afternoon, and to your utter surprise, it’s a production assistant from a major, national talk show. He wants to fly you to L.A. and book you on the show. You’re flabbergasted. Why in the world would they want you?

“What’s the topic?” you ask.

He pauses for a moment, clears his throat and says, “Mean people.” Not exactly the topic you’d want for your national television debut.

Sound crazy? Something close to this actually happened to a very nice friend of mine.
It turns out she had a childhood friend who’d been carrying a grudge against her for 15 years over the fact that when they were 12, my friend had started hanging out with some new girls, and her old friend felt rejected.

My friend couldn’t have been more surprised. She had no idea that she had even hurt the girl’s feelings. I mean, c’mon. They were 12. But her old friend had been nursing that wound for almost two decades.

As a species, we humans tend to hang on to our hurts. Forgiveness does not come cheap or easy for most of us. Our wounds are personal, so we hold them close. When we get hurt, we want to make someone pay. Ironically, when we hold on to the pain of the past, we’re the ones who usually pay the greatest price.

This spring, my wife discovered a soft spot in the wall of our dining room. I had a sneaking suspicion that we had termites. Fortunately, we caught them early enough before they could do any structural damage, but I couldn’t believe how quickly they could devastate a house. When I popped off the baseboard, I found that it was little more than a paper-thin shell that crumbled in my hands.

It looked fine on the outside, but the inside had been eaten away.

As termites consume wood, resentment consumes our spirit. Bitterness chews at our soul and robs us of peace. And though we may look like we have it all together, inside we’re hollow and fragile.

One of the most powerful words I’ve learned from the Bible is the Greek word “aphiemi.” It’s one of the words used for forgiveness. It is the picture of releasing something completely and never taking it back. Think of cutting a boat loose from a dock and sending it out to sea or a child losing a helium balloon to the sky.

It’s gone forever.

That’s the biblical picture of forgiveness, to just let it go. It’s the grace God extends to us, just as He wants us to extend it to others. Just because someone hurt us in the past, it doesn’t mean we should let them keep on hurting us. When we refuse to forgive them, we do just that.

Forgiveness doesn’t just let our offender off the hook. In a greater way, it lets us off the hook as well. Now that’s a talk show I’d like to see, “Freed By Forgiveness.” All of us are invited to that one.