For when we sin (for the thousandth time) and feel the need to pull away from our Savior:

You mess up and feel the need to be apart from God via prayer for a while. You aren’t worthy of speaking to God. Why would God listen to you when you’re covered in spiritual slime? You might regret it now, after the fact, but you made that choice consciously, knowingly. You’re still the same person you were when you made your mistake and you can’t change the past! You could have sought God then, but you didn’t. You’re trying to have it both ways: a relationship with God and the pleasures of the sin.

How dare you.

From Ardeth Greene Kapp:

It is often in the valleys with our afflictions that we are truly humbled and better prepared to remember the gift of eternal life for which he paid the price—those times when we feel least worthy, least comfortable about carrying his holy name, and have a keener sense of our imperfections, those moments when flesh is weak and our spirits suffer disappointment for our errors and our sins. We might feel a sense of withdrawal, a pulling away, a feeling of needing to set aside for a time at least that divine relationship with the Savior until we are more worthy. But at that very moment, even in our unworthiness, the offer is again given to us to accept the great gift of the Atonement—even before we change. When we feel the need to pull away, let us reach out to him. Instead of feeling the need to resist, let us submit to his will. Let us bend our will as well as our knees in humble supplication.

This is my message to myself:

How dare you? You have it wrong. How dare you—not for in sin seeking for God, but for speaking for God. How dare you pre-empt the message of His Spirit with self-hatred! He is not angry with you, ready to dole out his wrath, but crying with you for your pain. It is because of that pain, that regret, that ache of frustration for a change that seems so impossible to reach, that you are still worthy to call on His name, and to bathe in the warm and cleansing waters of the Atonement.

There is only one true sin in this world and it is pride. All the rest are merely bumps and bruises for your soul on your path to salvation and exaltation. If you have pride, and refuse to look in the direction of that brazen serpent (to which the path leads), then you are living in sin. But if you are looking in the right direction, and remain humble even as you stumble and trip and fall, and as you try to right yourself and make sincere attempts to step only in the holy places—in other words, if you are repenting of your mistakes, you are worthy before Him, because that is what the Atonement is for.

We are commanded to keep ourselves spotless before the world. But this does not mean we never get them dirty—-but that we continually wash ourselves through repentance and humility.

Christ has many names, but my favorite is Mercy. The hand of Mercy reaches out, still.

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The God Who Weeps over Jess Mariano

God weeps. You wouldn’t think the high-school-diploma-lacking “bad boy” of Gilmore Girls (as apparently you females affectionately and annoyingly refer to him) could teach you about that, or about anything, really, but recently Jess Mariano inadvertently did so.

(If you haven’t yet seen Gilmore Girls, consider it strongly! Though perhaps don’t expect regular theological parables.)

I used to hate Jess. I hated how much Rory found herself attracted to him. I was always a Dean guy (Season 4’s ending did away with that) because he was the type of person I thought I was most like. Not his handsomeness or anything (Dean’s way above my league), but how devoted he was to Rory, how he never took her for granted and served her selflessly. But then she came to take him for granted! She ignored the articles of his affection and instead fell for the guy who was a jerk, who taunted Dean for his cuckish devotion and just pestered Rory with his rebellious presence until she finally gave in and broke Dean’s heart. 

I still hate that particular aspect of Jess. I hate that obnoxious guys get girls. So unfair.

But—over the years, my reading of the story has changed. Matured might be a better word. 

In the show, we understand Jess’s angry attitude a little bit at first. He’s been sent against his will to live with his uncle Luke by his flaky single mother. He never knew his father, who left the two of them shortly after Jess’s birth. The town he’s been sent to live in represents everything that he hates. Nobody understands him, at least in his mind, and he has almost no control over his own life.

But his anger and rebellious attitude rapidly overstays its welcome. He secretly stops going to school every day so he can earn more money at his hourly wage job, explicitly breaking Luke’s rule for him (trying to get him to graduate high school). He’s a jerk to every adult whose path he crosses, even and especially the ones who try to be nice to him. He rejects every helping hand offered and resents Luke for seeking his long-term welfare over his short-term comfort. And he’s an obnoxious jerk to both Dean and Rory as he seeks to steal her away.

He doesn’t have to do any of this. He could be in pain and still make good choices. He doesn’t.

But his arc takes him to a place where I find myself in deepest sympathy. Empathy, actually. A place where I finally understand him.

It took me a few watches, but I finally got just how important Rory was to Jess. She was the only good thing in his life, the only ray of light. Everyone was else was telling him what to do, ignoring his pain, never allowing him to breathe. Rory was the one thing he wanted that he got.

Though he skips school frequently, he remains under the delusion that he can still catch up and graduate at the normal time. He’s a whip smart guy who is reading constantly, even as he hates the structure school boxes him into. But he’s told he’s not graduating. He has to take senior year over again. Worst of all, this means he can’t go to Senior Prom with Rory.

You really have to be paying attention to the show to see just how humiliating this is for Jess, how much pain it causes. It’s written more in what he doesn’t say to her, what he doesn’t do, than what he does.

Having never received proper parenting, he never learned healthy emotional expression. He bottles up his pain, his frustration, and can’t bring himself to tell any of it to Rory, nor to Luke. Though it’s never made explicit, he clearly feels that he’s failed Rory, he’s failed Luke, and he’s failed himself.

At this time, the deadbeat father he never knew shows up in town. He visits Luke’s diner where Jess works, and almost leaves again without saying a word to Jess out of his own fear and embarrassment. They end up having a single moment together in which Jess knows the man is his father before his father flees the scene. Jess is left stranded emotionally, almost gasping.

Shortly thereafter, Jess flees the town too. He flees Rory without telling her he’s leaving, Luke without graduating high school, and takes a bus across the country where his father lives. His lousy father has no idea what to do with him, and doesn’t even want Jess staying in his place for the night. Even when Jess finally reveals his vulnerability and begs his father for a place to crash for the night, his father is reluctant.

Jess has nothing. Absolutely nothing. And after this we don’t see him again in the show for a long, long time.

In Terryl and Fiona Givens’s book, The God Who Weeps, they write that the main reason God cries tears over His children—exemplified in the Book of Moses when Enoch witnesses God’s tears—is for the pain we feel as a consequence of sin. The natural results we garner when we act against God’s commandments. He weeps for our pain, and especially our unnecessary pain, even though it is completely our own fault.

The idea is intriguing, but not exactly fair. Shouldn’t He be more tearful over the pain of His righteous people? Isn’t the pain that comes from unrighteous choices not only completely deserved, but the whole point of this earth?

But Gilmore Girls has helped me appreciate this idea better. Through Jess I feel like I’ve caught a slice of the eternal perspective

So much of Jess’s pain was self-inflicted. He could have tried to humble himself and graduate high school. He could have apologized to Luke for his attitude once in a while. He could have been honest with Rory, or even respected her and Dean’s relationship and treated her better from the start. He could have worked hard within the structure he was placed and found success long-term and gone to the prom with Rory in the short-term. Maybe he could have married her someday, too. As viewers of the whole show, including the reunion episodes that came out recently, can attest, he never gets over his feelings for Rory, even as she moves on after he leaves.

He could have avoided all that. He chose not to. He deserves his pain, right?

Maybe. But I have come to feel so sad for him, to feel real heartbreak for him. Almost to the point of crying, myself.

Sea of Chaos – Opening

phu-quoc-gray-ocean(image taken from https://abruptdeparture.wordpress.com/)

The city was a sea of gray. The sooted streets of slate diminished by disrepair and the surrounding waters a dismal, drowning taupe in their reflection of the constant clouds. The snow-like powders that went into greasy pipes and the cigarettes that blackened lungs. The silver knives stained from daily use, and the guns a frigid, polished shine. The seagulls picking trash with more discrimination than orphans and ravens feasting on the corpses without prejudice. The hollowed, steel blue buildings darkened by ash, and the fog a hungry ghost, enveloping all of it like a death shroud.

The forces themselves were night and day, a towering mass of neon black versus a quiet whisper’s worth of white, but the people, the heaving waves of people—they themselves, and they alone, were gray.

Roc was one water droplet amongst so many. His little doings, his quest for daily bread, splashed and foamed and got tossed around as one with all the others. We might call him a little one, about eight years old. But there were no true little ones in Oshana, and neither did the city track the years. He and they only knew the local astronomy—day and night, cool and cold, a time to scavenge and a time to hide. He matured as fast as anyone else: immediately, because he had to.

And yet he was different. For his little waterdrop kept crashing down nearer and nearer to the shore. The moon still pulled him back through the lubricated grains of soft, soaked sand, but so also did it let him taste the drier, harder grains. Though he knew that taste had never touched his tongue that he could remember, a deepness inside ached for it like homesickness.

This day dawned in clouds, as it always did. Roc poked his head out from between the bursting garbage sacks that were his fortress and flipped his head both ways down the alley. The stench of urine that was ingrained in cement and brick had performed its duty again: no threats laid in either direction. No hungry bullies to break his thumbs, no drugged-up ranters on a rave, no darkers out for blood.

Like a sparrow he hopped out of the trash and over to the alley’s end. A blast of wind hit his face and he ducked back. The wind died down and he made his way out and over to the city’s edge to perform his morning ritual. He ducked beneath a broken set of concrete stairs once attached to a nearby crumbling structure and stared through the gaps.

The sight of the Bridge never ceased to amaze him. The titanic structure of cement and steel arched over the unsettled sea and disappeared into a wall of fog. Roc assumed, from the painted lanes on the dried tar, that cars were once meant to cross it. But as far as Roc knew, neither cars nor anything else had made that journey since ancient times. Not even the cars of the Rose or the Namers. Nor even the Sea itself.

A hundred yards down, the lanes wrapped around a towering lighthouse rising out of the fog. Once as white as its light, the beacon’s bricks had been charred and stained by a mix of pollutions. Its duty of illumination had turned dark. These days Roc had only ever seen it used to spot people trying to leave the city by boat. But it held no fear for him, like it did for so many other kids. He was more afraid of what might lie beyond that wall of whiteness than what was here in the city.

The armed men who stood guard at the Bridge’s entrance—people called them the Sentinels—well, they didn’t scare him either. The Sentinels were silent men, nameless and still, like a legion of chess pieces, or rows of gravestones. He understood what they did, but not why, and that mystery was part of the gravity that drew Roc here every morning. Nothing about their manner ever gave away their reasoning. Roc had never even heard them talk. They hefted their big guns casually, almost lazily, as if waiting for something to do.

No one had tried today. Not yet, anyway.

Roc leaned out to lick the dew off the rusted metal rail and suck air in through his nose. Condensation produced the cleanest water he’d ever tasted outside the saloons, and the sea’s salt purged the urine from his nostrils.

Drawing back, Roc saw him. He was here again. The other observer, the one across the street. The rough-cheeked, black-haired man with the eyepatch and the motorcycle and the dark jacket. Roc had seen him here many times, but not every day, and considered him a deeper mystery than the guards. Especially those gloves on his hands. Even Roc, as little and obscure as he was, knew gloves were illegal. The man must have been either powerful or fearless. Roc guessed just fearless. But the fearless in Oshana either died quickly or became powerful.

Either way, a good person for a friend, Roc thought. And even though they’d never spoken, that’s how Roc thought of him. Maybe not a friend, but an ally. Maybe not an ally, but a protector.

Something about the idea was comforting. It just felt right—or close to right.

Today, more than any day before, the man’s left-eyed gaze on the Bridge seemed to go far beyond the cement and steel. Deep into the fog, into places and feelings Roc was blind to.

Then they heard footsteps and a racked whimpering. Both heads turned.

A teenaged girl wrapped in rags was shuffling down the middle of the street. She clutched a threadbare shawl around her neck. Cotton, with more holes than cloth. Probably provided only the illusion of warmth. The fog had buried the slip-slip of her footsteps and her bloodied, ragged breathing until she was nearly parallel with Roc. This close he could see the snot running down the shivering cheeks, dripping even into her lips. She passed through the two observers like they were open gates.

Roc’s heart beat a little faster. He knew what was about to happen. She was nearing the real gates. There was no defined line to cross, only the dried puddles of brownish-red stain that stretched across the intersecting streets. Once in a spate of hard thinking, Roc had figured that this vague area created a space of uncertainty that attracted the runners. If you were trying to cross, but hoping for the best, you would never know the exact moment. Maybe you’d even feel a little hope. The Sentinels weren’t going to do it! Not this time! This time you were special, and you were the only one who’d get past, the one who’d get to see lie beyond the Bridge, and inside the world of fog.

And of course that would be the last spark of electricity that surged through your brain, because then your brains would be spilled out onto the ground.

At the last second Roc turned away, and looked up at his friend’s lightly bearded face across the street. The mouth he saw was open but empty, like it was trying and failing to muster words. The shoulders below it were tense as if about to lunge. The man did not.

The successive cracks rang out and Roc’s whole body jolted, like it always did (because you never knew just when). He looked just in time to see the girl perforated with bullets. Her scream died pitifully as she collapsed. Blood pooled around her and added a new layer to the shapeless stains.

Roc looked to his friend again. The mouth had closed, but the jaw was quivering as three of the Sentinels ventured out to retrieve the girl’s body. One raised his gun on the eyepatch while the other two dragged the girl’s body by the arms over to the water’s edge. They lifted her over the short concrete barrier and dropped her fifty feet into the drink. Roc heard a splash. They resumed their post without speaking.

How many skeletons must lie sleeping on that sea floor, Roc thought.

On the other side, that one eye was so fixated on the girl’s burial that the man did not hear Roc approach from the side—the first time the boy had ever worked up his courage to do so. Today he needed to know why this man did it. Why he watched, like Roc did.

Roc could have explained that he watched because there were things you could do that made you stop moving, that made blood come out of your skin. And that if you followed those rules, you could keep moving, and keep your skin together.

But Roc did not explain. Could not.

“Why?” he said to the man.

The man answered, and yet in such a manner that Roc wasn’t sure if he’d been noticed at all.

“I need to see myself,” the man said in a hollow voice that shocked Roc for its mildness. “I need to know myself.”

Roc was close enough to really see the man’s remaining eye—a shining sea-blue of an eye that stood out all the more against the blackness of his hair, beard, and jacket—and see how its beacon-like light was directed inward. Roc was close enough to see tears trickle out of that eye, and down into the wilderness of his unshaven cheeks. Roc was close enough to tug on that jacket if he wanted, to get him to look down at the child who had wanted safety and security and companionship all his life but never even knew the words to describe it.

“The city is clothed in its own nakedness,” the man whispered.

But it didn’t help Roc, for, despite being mere inches away, Roc was still not close enough to understand.