Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Relishing Moments and Sharing Wounds

This is my column which was published in The Arab Tribune on Wednesday, May 2, 2018.

This has been an emotional few weeks for me.

I do tend to have a little rush with the coming of spring, but my recent highs and lows are not just because spring keeps coming (after I have gotten my winter clothes back out … again).

I suppose it started with Easter, when the biggest crowd of the year gathered at church to rekindle our joy in the resurrection and our faith that Christ is alive. Then in the middle of that same week, my best buddy (since the age of 15) had surgery to get a new kidney.

It’s a day I have spent much of my life preparing for, because he is a walking miracle and I knew the time would come. His parents were told he wouldn’t live past the age of 8, and he’s made it to 52. I love that way he proved them wrong, but now it was time for that transplant. He’s had a bumpy recovery, but for the new kidney, so far so good. He’s taught me many times how to be full of life, and he’s teaching me again.

As if that were not enough, by the end of that same week my daughter got married. I was giddy. I have performed hundreds of weddings in my life, but I had exactly one moment in time to be father of the bride.

I laid awake at night planning my speech to toast the happy couple. I got to walk her in, I got a big kiss on my cheek … all the things I had dreamed of. The emotions continued, too. It was a small backyard wedding, so naturally we have family party after family party for the relatives (one down, two to go!). Being the extravert I am, I loved meeting my new son-in-law’s folks in Mobile the weekend after the wedding, and wishing the two newlyweds off on their honeymoon cruise.

But to balance the bliss, on the way to Mobile we spent the day in New Orleans, where my wife and I performed the funeral of her dear aunt who died at the age of 88 (you do know, of course, that New Orleans is not on the way to Mobile).

So I’ve had a couple of weeks of big emotions, which I can’t describe without a dad joke. I felt like the circus clown who is always stressed, because every day was “in tents.” They were intense indeed.
Just in case you think Easter, a kidney surgery, a wedding, a funeral, and a weekend of meeting the in-laws were enough, the church I joyfully serve paid their last loan payment on the campus we have been on for 18 years. I had no idea how emotional it would be for me to be there for the photo op at the bank and announce our mortgage burning ceremonies. It was unreal.

Now that all of that is over, I have something to say. Relish the moments. Life is not perfect, love is not perfect, and people are not perfect. Give up your expectations on that. Just let the love of God show you how to see life more perfectly. Enjoy the moments of your life because they will never come again.

I also have something to reflect on. In my roller coaster since Easter, I could hardly sleep at night. Can you imagine how emotional their post-Easter experience was?

Jesus’s followers had spent three intense years with him. Then there was all the betrayal, denial, and arguing around the table before a horrible crucifixion. The first apostles, the women, had told them what must have seemed like wild tales of his risen appearance. So they didn’t know what to feel.

They were behind closed doors, locked away “out of fear,” the scripture says. Then Jesus shows up. He started out with a word of peace. Then he showed them his hands and side, and the disciples threw a party.

Can you imagine the emotions? Mine don’t even compare. This year, in the wake of Easter with all my wild experiences, crazy sensations, and gut reactions, I saw something in this story I’ve never seen before. When Jesus showed up, what did he have to show for it? His hands and side.

I guess I thought Thomas was the one that had the bright idea of sticking his fingers in the holes of healed and resurrected flesh because he was the kind of person that wanted proof. But now I see that maybe he was just plain excited. His doubt was mainly because he wasn’t there the first time Jesus swept in.

Would you have believed it? Showing off his hands and side was Jesus’ idea, not Thomas’s. He did it for the others a full week before Thomas asked for it. That’s because his answer to fear and doubt is grace. We give Thomas a bad rap, but this story is not about the depths of his doubt. It’s about the joy of Jesus’ gift.

When I got in touch this year, in my own little way, with all the emotions of the stunned disciples, I began to read differently Jesus’s comment to Thomas,“blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Maybe it was less of a reprimand and more of a bridge, leading to the next words, which are the key words of the book of John, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe.”

This was not finger-wagging, it was a setup. That’s how grace works.

Jesus could’ve done some other miracle when he popped in that day. He could have changed water to wine again, or multiplied loaves and fishes, but no. No tricks. Jesus showed his wounds, because it is healed wounds that reveal the power of resurrection.

That’s true for us, too. Sharing the love is not just about words and it’s certainly not about miracles. In the wisdom of God, it’s the fleshly, the real, and the practical that makes the difference. Share your wounds.

Not too long ago, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the famous wrestler-become-actor, spoke publicly about his and his family’s struggles with depression. His mother had once attempted suicide, and he reflected on his feelings after that. “Struggle and pain is real. I was devastated and depressed. I reached a point where I didn’t want to do a thing or go anywhere. I was crying constantly.”

When I see “The Rock” on TV, I see someone quite strong, so I was surprised. But I admire him even more. He had the courage to be real, to be honest. His healed wounds can become somebody else’s healing grace.

He said, “We all go thru the sludge and depression never discriminates … [it] took me a long time to realize it but the key is to not be afraid to open up. Especially us dudes have a tendency to keep it in. You’re not alone.”

Openness is not sign of weakness. It’s a testimony of strength. I myself have overcome depression. You may be surprised that a preacher would say that, but don’t be. It is how God grabbed hold of me. It was a living nightmare, but it led to a depth of prayer.

Do you have wounds in your life? See his hands and side. He joins us in our woundedness. Join him in the emotions of those resurrection moments, and share your healed wounds with someone else. Believe. Trust.

Steve West is a husband, father, minister, musician, and writer who pastors Arab First United Methodist Church. His blog, “Musings of a Musical Preacher,” is found at