The Struggle of Grace

Val sent me a text message this afternoon at work.  It said that she was sick over a child abuse case in the news that was going around Facebook.  I try to avoid the news in general but, in a slow afternoon, I decided to look it up.

In a trailer home just outside Coatesville, PA, three-year old Scotty McMillan was beaten to death by his mother and her boyfriend. The abuse happened over a few days and started when Scotty refused to eat his breakfast.  Local news coverage is here.  I’ll warn you, the details are enough to give you nightmares.  Authorities stated it was the most severe case of abuse they had ever seen.

So the child’s mother and her boyfriend are both facing murder charges.  The prosecutor has said he will ask for the death penalty.

Is he right?

As someone who follows Christ, I stumble over grace.  We know the concept. We understand forgiveness and redemption. It is freely given for those willing to take it.  We talk with friends, life groups, peers, and family members and nod with sage understanding.  Yes, grace.  Grace.  Grace for all!

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Then this happens.

As a father, my heart burns with a desire to see punishment. Look up the news article and you’ll see pictures of Scotty.  He was a beautiful, innocent boy who did not deserve to be tortured.  As a man, I want justice.  Child abusers are monsters in the purest form.  No child deserves physical violence.

It is a philosophical tug of war.

The Bible tells us, forgive seventy times seven, don’t let the sun set on your anger, love your neighbor. We tell ourselves such trite lines as hate the sin, not the sinner, patting ourselves on the back for being a solid judge of character and putting ourselves in a position of power, not humility.

We jump on our pedestals and hold grace high above those who need it.

I guess I’m not there yet. I feel more like Peter, ready to pull his sword and strike at the threat against Jesus. It is a walk, a battle, and a process.

Scotty has returned to his true home in the hands of his Creator.  He’s running and playing in a paradise greater than anything on this planet.  He is finally safe. His mother and her boyfriend will pay for their crimes. Their sin will be judged.  Maybe some out there can forgive these people.

I want Scotty to have not died without a purpose.  I want his killers to face justice, in this world and the next.  I want one parent reading the news coverage to hesitate the next time they feel angry enough to raise their hands against their children. These horrific events can create a ripple effect across the world.

Grace makes for a great sermon topic, book, and podcast. We can talk a good game but, can we live it?  When we face true evil, how do we respond?

No one is perfect.  We have our own scars and we are works in progress.  The first step is recognition, as anyone in AA knows. One day our lives will end and we will fully understand grace, we will meet Scotty in heaven, we will be new creations.

Until then, the struggle continues.  What if it was a little boy you knew and loved? The imperfect man in me wants retribution for Scotty’s death.

And I’m okay with that.

~Matt

Soundtrack inspiration:

 

Interstellar

I love movies.  In college, on my off hours, I would sometimes go catch a movie by myself.  I’d pay the matinée price, get popcorn and a soda, and imagine I was a critic at a private screening.  The best films, like the best novels, offer the viewer a chance to escape reality for a few hours and get caught up in a story. Movie fans tend to identify with their favorite actors and actresses.  Being a writer, I have my list of screenwriters and directors I’d love to meet one day. One of the men on that list is Christopher Nolan.

Nolan directed the most recent trilogy of Batman movies, Memento, Inception, The Prestige, and his newest film is released in the US tomorrow.  It’s called Interstellar and you can find the trailer below:

The Guardian published an interesting profile on Nolan today.  It is a detailed examination of his work habits and personality.  The story below stuck with me.  In the quote, composer Hans Zimmer talks about Nolan approaching him with a short story, a concept behind the movie itself, and asking him to put together a piece of music around the story.

On the paper was a short story, no more than a precis, about a father who leaves his child to do an important job. It contained two lines of dialogue – “I’ll come back” “When?” – and quoted something Zimmer had said a year before, during a long conversation with Nolan and his wife at the Wolesley restaurant in London. It was snowing, central London had ground to a halt, and the three of them were more or less stranded. “There was no movie to be made, there was no movie to discuss, we were talking about our children,” said Zimmer, who has a 15-year-old son. “I said, ‘once your children are born, you can never look at yourself through your eyes any more, you always look at yourself through their eyes.”

Two parts stand out to me.  First, Zimmer is dead on with his quote about children.  They do shift our perspective.  I constantly judge myself against Carter and Aiden’s expectations. I weigh myself against their ideal father.  Expectation can be a cruel judge and we are often our largest accuser.

The second part is the two lines of dialogue from the story.

“I’ll come back.”

“When?”

A statement and a question.  The essence of faith, of family, and life. We live in this vacuum, this convergence of promise and inquiry. What is faith if not the eternal asking of the question? Family and marriage exist on this plane of longing. As men, we check out mentally and emotionally more than we ever know.  I know I’m guilty.

Something about those two lines burrows deep into my soul.

Nolan says, in the final paragraph:

“I’ve always believed that if you want to really try and make a great film, not a good film, but a great film, you have to take a lot of risks. It was very clear to me that if you’re going to make a film called Interstellar, it’s going to have to be something extremely ambitious. You push it in all the possible directions you can. Not for its own sake, but because you know that if you’re going to try to add something to the canon, besides fiction films and all the rest, and live up to the promise of that title and the scale of that title, you really have to go there.”

As you go through this week, consider where you are checking out and who is waiting for you to return.  Think about what risks you could take and what directions you could push.  For some, it may be large-scale like training for a marathon.  For others, it is calling that friend you haven’t seen in years.

Maybe even finding the strength to get out of bed tomorrow.

Never give up on your own story. Be ambitious. Make something special. Why settle for ordinary? Go to that place, come back, and you’ll never forget it.

~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration:

Picks of the Week- 11/3/2014

ScriptureAnd do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Romans 13: 11-12

The night is nearly over, the day is almost here.  That’s one to tape up by the bathroom mirror and read every morning.

Family Activity: Give Thanks

November, more than other months, is the time to remember what we are thankful for.  In the hustle of life, we can forget about these things. Sit down with your kids and have talk about what they are thankful for, even write it down if they are old enough.  We spend our days looking forward and wondering about what we don’t have.  Too much time is wasted without the blessings in front of our face.

Marriage Activity: Set Goals

I feel guilty writing this as Val and I do not do it enough.  You can get caught up in daily life and forget about the future or, even worse, worry about it. Every journey needs a destination. Sit down, make a list, and keep it somewhere easily accessible. The end result is easier to chase when you can see it on paper.

Feel Good Story: David Shipman

While scrolling through Facebook one day, Shipman passed an interesting job posting.  He hesitated and scrolled back up.  After applying, he found himself in an interview with Ringling Brothers, eventually getting the job as a ringmaster. Now he gets to travel the world and make people happy.  Shipman loves his job and his journey should be an inspiration for anyone considering taking the chance to chase something they could love.  You can read Shipman’s profile article here.

Val’s Bag of the Week:

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Medium Utility Tote: Offered in new fall prints and exclusive prints, too, this tote is the perfect size for groceries, laundry products or hauling holiday gifts and goodies. It does double-duty in the pantry or linen closet for all your storage needs. Add a Medium Top-A-Tote lid to make it even more functional. If you spend $35.00, you get this for $7.00.  You can find this bag and other specials at Val’s personal site.

Worship Song:

 

 

Writing Our Story

We’ve officially reached that time of year.  Halloween has passed. Time is running towards Thanksgiving and Christmas. We approach the days we’ll spend with family, eating, laughing, trading stories and gifts. 2014 is nearing an end.

Time keeps moving and these are the days we take stock of our lives.

So where are you in your story?

We are a society that values our prodigies. We like our athletes, singers, actors and actresses young.  We constantly strive for the next best thing.  I’ve read research saying that traditional job applications are over, that employees will need to present portfolios showing their best work and past experience will mean nothing. Employers are moving towards contract-based work with applicants proving their current value.  What can you do for me now not What have you done in the past.

We are pushing the past away for the sake of innovation.

So what if you’re not on the younger side of things?

It is the lesson to never lose hope. The world can always be changed.  Our work is never done. Experience, no matter what society says, carries value. The next movement will be created in a fertile mind, whether it is in its second, third, fourth, fifth, or sixth decade of life.

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Your story is never over. As long as you are breathing, you can speak life into someone you love, into a situation that needs fixing, into a family that needs peace.

My grandmother is 97.  When my grandfather passed away two years ago, she placed a rose in his coffin.  Her story was not over.  She’s a woman with a soul of iron, stronger than I’ll ever be, and a foundation of a family.  She raised two girls for years while my grandfather fought in WW2. She worked various jobs well past the usual retirement age.  She loved deeply and fully and still does to this day.

She’s one of my heroes.

So, no matter where you are, remember your story is not over.  The scenes may change, the circumstances shift. Money comes and goes. Jobs change. Living situations vary and people move in and out of your life. Keep creating. Find your passion and make time to see it through.  Keep doing the work.

We are all called to something special and must have the determination to see it through. Sometimes, in your darkest nights, that can only come from God.

~Matt

Soundtrack inspiration: