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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

HE LOVES ME, HE LOVES ME NOT, YES, HE LOVES ME


 “When I was a kid, my father had this dog that started to get all weak and sickly. He takes it to the vet, he examines it and says a maggot must have laid eggs in the dog's butt. The baby maggots have crawled up, now they've started to grow, and eventually they're gonna eat the dog alive from the inside. He says it should be put to sleep, because it's an old dog anyway. But father won't do it. He takes the dog home, he puts it on the bed, he reaches up into the dog, picking out the maggots with his finger, one by one. It takes him all night, but he gets every last one. That dog outlived my father. That's love, Sam.
                                          from the movie   Addicted To Love
         
He Loves Me,
He Loves Me Not,
Yes, He Loves Me

O
ur definition of love is often shaped by where our heart has been.   Much like how when I eat at El-Patio I smell like Mexican Food or when I’ve been to Java Cafe I smell like coffee, our heart is embedded with the aroma of our past.  Our heart is both a memorial and a current affair, an assembly of prejudices and inclinations based upon both truth and lies.  Like a wounded animal that will bite the hand that feeds it; the wounded heart cannot always be trusted by its owner.   If we seek true affirmation it must come from the outside, it must come from God.
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    While growing up I liked fishing, I had an affair with candy, but I loved my dog.   Charlie was an adorable mutt that looked like a worn-out black and white bathroom rug.  He liked peanut-butter sandwiches and day old scraps but wouldn’t pass up the chance to feast on road kill if it was warm.  Charlie and I shared a common enemy: the school bus.   The yellow monster interrupted my summer vacations and tried to make a rug out of Charlie twice.   He did what I wanted to do: chased, barked, and tried to bite the tires.

     We were on a family camping trip at Loretta Lynn’s when I got the news that my father had shot and killed Charlie, something about worms.  It was a difficult night of crying in my sleeping bag wondering how my loving father could have shot my best friend.  He was the only animal I have ever felt like I loved.  He was the only animal whose loss made me cry.  And very early in life I associated love with loss and tears.

    Because we simply couldn’t afford the vet, I now understand my father actually acted in a very loving way by ending Charlie’s pain but back then I doubted his judgment.   I didn’t necessarily believe eating too many cookies would stunt my growth or sitting too close to the television would give me cancer either.  My parents who said they loved me just seemed to be taking the fun and friends out of life.  The dual role of loving and protecting is confusing to a child, especially a child looking for affirmation.  When I try to understand the dilemma of loving and protecting someone I think about a friend of mine who was recently on a foreign mission trip to the Dominican Republic. 
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     While enjoying his last day on the beach with schoolmates, a few of his friends waded out from the beach into very large waves and, unknowingly, a very dangerous rip-tide current. The next few minutes unraveled into a fight for their lives while they frantically swam for shore.  One of his friends was unable to break free from the rip tide and was dragged out to sea.  For the next three hours his friends and nearby boaters tried to reach him but the large waves kept pushing them back.  His friend’s body has never been recovered.

      In many ways parents must feel how my friend and those boaters felt while they painfully watch the person they love fight for their lives.   They want to help but sometimes there is nothing they can do.  There is indeed a terrible ocean of circumstances that make the task of parenting difficult.  While some parents have the benefit of having been raised by strong “swimmers,” others simply reflect the weaknesses of their own up- bringing.   Some are able to overcome their inadequate childhood and establish new patterns of affirmation and love in their own families, while for others the wounds received in their childhood reemerge in painful waves that negatively impact their own children.   I personally feel like my parents overcame their personal childhood challenges but I realize for many it simply feels as if their parents never attempted to save them, and for some even still, that their parents held them under water. While parents may be limited in their ability, we must also remember they are trying their best to balance guidance with affection and sometimes this is a difficult task.   As a matter of fact, often the pressure to raise a productive child is so overwhelming the parents often forget the power of affection and affirmation and instead focus on discipline and training, or even worse, they do nothing.  Missing the critical affirmation and affection of a parent, the child walks into other relationships in life crippled, drudging along with low self esteem, or often with pain masked either in anger or self pity.

        In these critical years of childhood we are also beginning to define love.  What does it mean to love somebody?  What does love feel like?  What does love look like?  And we get some pretty bad answers. For the girl whose father whispers “I love you,” as he molests her, love is a painful surrender of control. For the boy whose parents gave him everything but time, love is cheap substitution of expensive things.  For the kids whose parents appeared to set on the sideline when pornography ripped a hole in their heart, when alcohol attacked them like a cancer, or when they painfully exhausted themselves chasing popularity, love is passive.     And we incorrectly superimpose our poor definition of love and less than perfect experience of our earthly parents onto God our heavenly Father.  Corrupting the character of God with the infusion of our poor earthly experiences is a huge, but common, mistake.
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     Rose and I were hanging out at Java Cafe when I started thinking through what love was and how to love when I remembered something I learned from the Chicken Whisperer:  you’ve gotta feel loved before your ready to love someone else.
    
     Two of prettiest girls I know are Blackberry and Rose.  I’ve known them both for almost ten years and I’ve watched them ripen on the vine, having grown up into wonderful maturing Christian women.  They both in some way struggled with missing the voice of affirmation from their earthly father and the wound was deep causing them a large amount of pain.  While some of the pain was the simple feeling that their father never brought himself to bear, they admit much of the pain came from the collateral damage of moving from guy to guy looking for the missing piece.  Their fragile hearts were broken many times leaving them struggling with deepening feelings of insecurities.  

     Rose, is probably my favorite female in the world.  I call her Rose because she migrates toward “Titanic” challenges.   She dug down deep a couple years ago and figured out she could run a marathon and survive without eating meat.  Her body is a well-oiled machine and her hair reminds me of a shampoo commercial.  Her heart is soft like cotton but she can be amusingly stubborn like plastic wrap on cds sometimes.  She jumps on board insurmountable challenges like biking 100 miles as if it was a simple matter of will power and then tries to recruit me for these voyages of death.  When I bring up the facts that we struggled to make a few laps around downtown Dyersburg and that my cushion was sore for three days, she simply reminds me of that fact that Lance Armstrong is proof of the possibility while totally ignoring the obvious icebergs in our path, icebergs like Timmy has no cushion on his tushion.

       Although she is beautiful, she hasn’t always felt beautiful and even went as far as struggling with an eating disorder which might be a product of that missing affirmation from her father, or the absence of feeling truly loved at times.  It is so strange to watch a beautiful woman like Rose struggle with her body image but in the story of the ugly duckling we are reminded how missing a critical piece of information about ourselves leads to the irony of the majestic swan believing they are a misfit among mallards.
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     All our lives we are either trying to get love or give love.  Our definition of love, especially in childhood, is either slowly formed, or distorted, primarily by our interactions with relatives.   Depending on how close these relationships reflect the true and pure love of God they can either equip us or cripple us.  In the absence of affirmation the question of “what’s wrong with me” lingers.  This question must be answered, or the crippled heart will inappropriately, under the disguise of interest, try to earn approval.  Thus the relationship constantly teeters on maintaining a certain level of approval.  Whereas a God affirmed person simply loves for the joy of loving, the doubting heart’s enjoyment of love is shifted to anticipation of how well the other person responds.  This is tragic.  A myriad of circumstances can limit or even completely eliminate any response.  And more often than not these circumstances are not even related to the doubting heart’s efforts.  If my business if failing, I will not be enthusiastic about a great dinner.  If my stomach is hurting, I will not be enthusiastic about a great dinner.  If I do not like asparagus, I will not be enthusiastic about asparagus casserole.  None of these are negatives related to the person preparing the meal but can be received in such matter because a certain level of approval is absent. The success of the relationship almost depends on the world being perfect.   With affirmation the heart is set free to love within a world that it less than perfect.  The discovery of true love is life changing enabling a once doubting heart to become a spring of living water.

     The Chicken Whisperer not only understood love, he defined love.  The Chicken Whisperer had a great father.   And the outside affirmation that came from his father enabled him to do something amazing:  it allowed him to affirm you and me, all of God’s other children, it allowed him to love us completely and deeply, it allowed to him to free us from doubt and enter into the joy for which we were created.   Jesus is the Chicken Whisperer.

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