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We were young, smaller, simple. What we knew was right there in front of us. We just were. Our days filled with dreams, laughter and not a care in the world. We told stories – real and far from real. We cut our thumbs with that dirty old Uncle Henry pocket-knife and claimed blood brothers for life. We built forts out back across the creek amongst the reeds and thickets where we’d sneak off pretending to be in lands far away. We’d tell each other stories, and sometimes we’d share what went on at night back home. Love was assumed. Loyalty a given, and trust never doubted. We had each other’s back before we even knew what that meant. We rarely went home once the sun disappeared; waiting until our mother’s called out our full names several times. Once inside, we left our real and make-believe world behind for Spaghetti-O’s, schoolwork and baths.

We’d ask one another odd questions about what our life would be like in the future. We vowed never to leave a man behind. We even asked the childlike questions about God and had our first real conversations about him. For most of us, we imagined heaven being like never-ending summer. We’d go to stuff with Mom in the morning or she’d tote us off to swim or baseball practice or both in the afternoon. But we couldn’t wait to come home and get together in our yards and forts to simply be and look up at the clouds. There was unspoken permission to be real with each other even as we butchered our way of supporting or chastising each other. We had each other’s back. We hadn’t come to learn about drama or cliques. When we’d get sideways with each other, we’d just slug each other or tumble to the ground in a fight that looked more like a bad version of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling. Then we’d get up, dust ourselves off and one look acknowledged forgiveness even if it happened the next day.

We didn’t know what posturing was or the effects of deception and none of us really cared who was better at sports or school or talented or gifted or better looking or whatever and whatever. We usually just slugged each other on the shoulder. And then it happened. One of us would move across town or away to another city or state. We’d see each other again during Little League playing for a rival team. Time would pass and some of those memories would seem to fade. Or, we wouldn’t have time to layout under the stars or play army in the back yard. We stared to notice girls and we felt weird – a lot. Things just seemed to slowly move apart. It was kind of like the science experiment when we put a half bottle of pepper in a bowl of water and then with a dab of dish soap on our finger we’d touch the water and watch the pepper race to the outer edge of the bowl. Our lives mirrored that bowl. The tight community, our blood brothers, the days of trust, safety and peace raced to the edge of the bowl dissolving like pepper. What didn’t dissolve was our need for each other.

Now, we are in the current life we live, and our childhood of memories long faded away. Along the way from then to know, for one reason or another, are scattered relationships – torn, tattered, repaired, destroyed, broken, strained, convoluted and some estranged forever. We invested in those relationships. Some of us invested wholeheartedly. Some of us invested superficially, but we invested. We learned how to get something we wanted with little given in return. We learned how to take advantage of situations to get what we wanted without recourse. We learned how to live without remorse. We knew how to be thankful, were we? We made pacts with one another decades ago!

We were to face life together! We were to be a team and have each other’s backs. Now we’re lucky if we speak to one another for the fear of disappointment, broken trust as being unloved would appear. We were to ‘one-day’ go deeper in the woods than we’ve ever gone before or to ride our bikes across town where Mom told us not to go. But we grew tougher, stronger and independent just like we were told to. Out of necessity, we learned how to guard our hearts to give ourselves a way out of uncomfortable situations. Our own homes aren’t as noisy today and full of laughter like we remember growing up. Without even noticing, we slowly cut ourselves off from one another, then our own families and suddenly the world. We found peace in our isolation, insulated from anything that could hurt us or our families.

Nothing’s changed in our personalities – some of us are still hilarious, gifted athletically or musically or whatever. We can still hear the great tunes from our favorite beach trip or the sound of the band playing under the colored lights of the pavilion at the lake during somebody’s birthday. What happened? Why is no one around? Why do I feel lost and alone? This was supposed to work out much differently than it has…we dig this ditch and face increasingly difficult life issues alone.

Now we meet in small groups, holding ourselves up as got-it-all-together dudes of varying decades. We do our best to demonstrate authenticity finding it difficult to show the cracks of our façade for fear of judgment and the haunting echoes of “I’m not worthy” – the guilt and shame of it all. We have good intentions but little intention of allowing anyone to see our vulnerability or to allow anyone to help fill in the gaps we once vowed to fill. “I can’t”, “that hurts too much” and “not again” repeat in our minds. We replace those with “I’m good”, “I’m fine and you” and “doing my best”. Does it feel too late when we discover the theology we grew up with ‘fell short of our expectations?’ We stay in religious traditions to keep the noise quiet from our spouses or to give our kids a solid foundation…it’s what we say to ourselves. What did we miss along the way? What happened all those years in between? I’ll tell you…

We never learned to live with each other in relationships of grace. For years, I feel as if I’ve been sounding the bell to those who would listen…only to find few listen, and even fewer do anything about it distracted by the high-energy, ego-validating platforms on phones so many seem addicted to. There’s a rhythm between our own ego, the results you “feel” you must accomplish (and yes you must perform at work as an employee or employer) and your relationships. There’s another room we spoke of months ago once we left the room of good intentions, known as the room of grace. Where is this room?

The small space between the three circles of ego, results and relationships is where the room of grace exists. One of the most liberating feelings is when the eyes are opened, and the burdensome chains fall of those decades long weighed-down shoulders to rediscover the life-giving, non-judgmental, safe relationships we’ve been searching for. We’d forgotten how much we missed the joyful, peaceful, happiness of our youth and how much we’ve needed that back. That life still exists and frankly it never left… we did, and we didn’t even realize it distracted by everyday earthly things. Jesus never left the thicketed fort out back across the creek. He never left our ballfield or our streets when we played flashlight tag and kick-the-can. And, He knows others who are missing those relationships, too and He wants to bring us back together again. Step in the boat.

It’s time. It’s time to finally let go of the hurt, the pain, the wounds of the past and take just one step forward. You can do this. You can do this because He’s holding you up as you take those first few steps. You’re not alone. You’re never alone, and He will never leave you.

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