"I consider myself to be a deeply flawed person, and I identify with those whose character flaws have led them into grave troubles, whose momentary impulses have caused lasting harm."
- Cary Tennis
I really like that quote, even though Cary Tennis and I don't really share the same politics or ideas about life. He is more liberal than I probably will ever be. I don't recall him saying anything that leads me to believe he is a Christian of any flavor (but I cannot prove that). I do like to read his advice column, Since You Asked, though. Cary and I have shared some of the same life experiences. More important than that, he is very articulate and well-thought-out in his writings. He understands many things about the human condition. If he doesn't know something, he will say so. He understands something about grace and second chances. More than I do, I'm pretty sure.
Some of you know that I have been working on the Never Beyond Poster Series with People of the Second Chance. If you are unfamiliar with the project, you can get more info by clicking here. I really don't know what I expected when I agreed to participate in this project. I'm sure, since I was new to POTSC and still in my "honeymoon phase", that I thought it would be some nice, warm, fuzzy feel-good experience. I did not stop for one second to think how I would be personally challenged by this project. I felt God pushing me towards it and for once I didn't stop to try to negotiate. I'm not saying that following God's leading by jumping out in faith is bad. But stop and think about some of the places He has taken you when you've done that. Those types of growing experiences were not on my current to-do list when this project came along.
I also forgot to do the math when they said 25 posters at 1 per week. Six months. That is six months. I can't even commit myself to a 10-week Beth Moore Bible study (granted, the Bible study requires me to show up somewhere other than home and the POTSC project can be done alone, in the dark of the night, in my bedroom), and yet I jumped in feet-first to a project that will take six months of my effort. Do you know that I am a quitter? Or "non-finisher", if you want to be all touchy-feely about it. Do you know that I turn around when I see a mountain in my way, only to find out MUCH later that it wasn't a mountain at all - it was a speed bump that I had amplified in my mind without investigating it.
Here I am. Me. Committed to a six-month project of extreme personal challenges. And after only three weeks, I am questioning my ability to make it through this without my head exploding right off my shoulders. I never did check to see if POTSC had a HazMat crew.
So what's the problem?
The problem is not the characters that POTSC has chosen to suggest giving a second chance to. The problem is not even telling hard truths about my life. I'm a semi-reformed drama hog. Throwing the real-life tragedies out there for public consumption is not as hard for me as some of you might think (I think there is therapy for this condition). And finding redemption for myself and the "villains" we've been using as examples appeals to others because 1) we want redemption for ourselves and 2) most people like a good come-back story. So that aspect of the project is sort of win-win for me.
The problem for me - and here is where the Cary Tennis quote fits in - is that my deep flaws make it excruciating for me to live this whole grace/second chance idea in everyday life. My momentary impulses seem dangerous. Holding onto my character flaws is leading me into grave trouble. And my willingness in some situations is totally flawed, if the willingness exists at all (it seems to be either "yes, but" or nothing).
Making the grand gesture of offering forgiveness to somebody (whom you most likely will never encounter in a personal way) who is considered irredeemable by a whole culture is one thing. But what about offering a second chance to somebody who is only a villain to your little group of friends? What if none of your friends want to offer grace to this person who has been hurtful? Do you step out and offer a second chance to someone who might not even feel like they want or need grace from you, even if it means alienating your friends? See, this is where my flaws come rushing out big-time. I want to stand up, saying that I am part of People of the Second Chance, AND I want to do whatever it takes to keep my friends happy. I like making people happy. But sometimes I think that leads to my character flaws chasing each other in circles.
We can talk here about how doing the right thing can be lonely sometimes. Yes, I know. I've done some very hard "right things" in my life. I ended up with a big dose of integrity and nobody standing beside me. God was there, yes, but where were the other people who had been cheering me on until it got real? Not in my personal zip code, that is for sure.
I knew when God pushed me into this project that it would not be an academic exercise. I knew He was going to make me work and He was going to dig His fingers in deep to the clay He is molding. I just didn't know it would look like this. Maybe I thought I would have a little bit more of a buffer.
Not only is God giving me opportunities that I'm not fond of to show grace on a daily basis. He is digging deep into the heart of me. Names and faces of people I had not thought about in years have been running through my head. People who have done things that changed the course of my life in hurtful ways. People I had hoped to never think about again. God keeps saying, "Carolyn, what if this person's face was on that Never Beyond poster? Would you offer him/her a second chance?" I didn't know the answer, so I tried it out. Amazingly enough, I have been able to find pictures of several of these people on the internet. I've copied them into a red poster I made on Publisher - making it look like one of POTSC's "Never Beyond" posters.
I think if unwillingness had a sound, it would be a combination of screeching brakes and fingernails running down a blackboard. That is the sound I hear in my head when I look at these photos of my personal villains. Can you hear it? It is so loud that I think it must be audible to everyone in a 25-county radius plus 30,000 feet of airspace. And the pleading? Can you hear the pleading? Please, my God, the One Who Says He Loves Me, don't force me to let go of that. This anger is the only thing that has been holding me up for years. If you pull the thread of these resentments out of the fabric of me, I will fall apart completely. Pulling THIS splinter out could cause me to disintegrate, oh Father. Do You want to destroy me?
Okay, before you all start whipping out Bible verses that prove that God loves me and does not seek my destruction, just hold on. I know that. But I don't always feel that. There are times when He asks me to do things that I am sure will break me beyond repair. That makes no sense, I know - why would the Great Healer break me beyond repair? It is just a feeling. Not a fact.
Knowing that feelings aren't facts is what is keeping me committed for this moment to going ahead with Never Beyond series. I think for me, I will start thinking of it as the Great Beyond Project. We are certainly going beyond any territory I have ever covered before.
Is anyone else feeling personally challenged by this project?