My father-in-law and I arranged to catch up again.
After our initial meeting at a café (back in Chapter 6, which I’ve just significantly revised today after I remembered some ‘minor’ details which I’d conveniently forgotten 🙂 ), we emailed a couple of times. My father-in-law’s wife sent me a couple of emails too. She has walked this road of dealing with a cheating husband who left her, so she knew exactly where I was at. Two of the most powerful words when we are living a nightmare are “me too!” Whenever I ran into someone who could say “me too!” about my situation, it was always magical. No words are needed to explain. They just know.
So I went to their home. They had recently moved onto this property.
It is a large acreage in the Australian countryside situated amongst pine forests, wild flowers, kangaroos and other native animals, and plenty of walking tracks. Access to the property is by dirt track. The house only has a couple of in-tact rooms and there are brick ruins all around where other parts of the property once existed but have collapsed over time. They live an unusual, back-to-nature lifestyle omitting many of the modern conveniences of the average person. Very different to my city-slicker upbringing.
We went for a walk. Their young children wearing gumboots ran ahead picking dandelions and green stalks. My father-in-law, his wife, and I chatted as we strolled. I recounted Mr Ex’s recent final visit to collect the rest of his stuff and they showed a very genuine care for me and my wellbeing.
My father-in-law and his wife are unlike anyone else I know. And I suppose, we really have nothing in common. The city mouse meets the country mice. I mean, let’s be honest. I’d never be caught alive wearing socks and sneakers with a skirt. And they would never spend $600 on a Mimco handbag. But, for some strange reason, we were suddenly getting along like old friends.
Something was different.
Something was actually really different.
There was no tension. There was no judging. By either party.
There was just grace abounding!
What the hell happened?
We had both encountered Jesus, that’s what.
And something rather amazing ensued.
For the first time ever, I was authentically connecting with my father-in-law, who I would’ve just a few weeks earlier described as a judgmental and hypercritical dictator.
We both cried.
And hugged a very genuine hug.
And we shared stories of Jesus popping up in our lives.
“If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are gone; and all things are made new.” -2 Corinthians 5:17.
Now, this is a really hard thing to term. When Christians say things like, “I found Jesus” or “I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour,” I can totally understand why that just sounds bizarre to bystanders. Ridiculous. Pious. Crap!
“I let the LORD into my HEART!” “I’ve TURNED from my SIN and now I am SAVED!” “I SURRENDERED to God!” Yikes. That talk just sounds so unappealing. And it makes the speaker sound like they’re joining some brain-washy occult. I get it. It just sounds ludicrous. They give the impression that finding Jesus is some kind of spectacular, flashy, pious encounter and they are now professing a perfect life of purity and cleanliness. They’ve said and done a few things and now they pledge a lifestyle of “not doing stuff”. Something along the lines of “I used to smoke and drink and speak profanities, but now I DON’T because I’m a Christian!” And maybe it is like that for some people, I don’t know.
But in my experience, the whole concept of “finding Jesus” is not about me finding at all. It is much more like Jesus randomly popping up right where I least expect Him. And maybe even when I am totally convinced that I don’t want or need Him. He just casually pops up. And perhaps even kind of scares the bejeebers out of me.
Just like I’d previously discovered, when Jesus died and reappeared again, He popped up in front of his friends who were fishing. A casual encounter. No fanfare and no red carpet. Jesus pops up and asked how many fish they have caught; just like when He pops up in the face of the stranger, like my mortgage broker Shaun with his “me too!” common experiences and comforting words of wisdom, or possibly in the face of that homeless guy I walked past the other day.
People expect to see Jesus in churches.
But newsflash! Jesus spent very little time in church. He was always out and about. Meeting people, walking, on the street, engaging with those on the margins of society. He was dining with the mightily unpopular tax-collectors and talking to – even touching! – outcasts and lepers.
In my experience, Jesus would hands-down choose to sit on a bar stool in a crowded nightclub rather than a church pew.
And He never looks like we expect him to.
When Jesus rose from the dead and came back to earth, Mary Magdalene was the first person to see him. Perhaps the most unlikely, un-special, un-pious person around. And what’s more, a woman! She was near His tomb where his body was buried and Jesus casually walks up to her. She saw Him, but she just thought He was the gardener. The gardener! If Mary Madgalene was thinking Jesus was the gardener, maybe He wasn’t looking like an angel with a white robe and halo of light.
I mean, Jesus had been ridiculed, spat on, tortured, executed and died a ghastly death. But here He is, resurrected. Made new. But Mary Magdalene thinks He’s the gardener! Has there ever been a more down-to-earth, humble man? I don’t know about you, but if I’d just conquered death, I think I’d be going for the Edward Cullen sparkly skin, a puffy cloud to float on, and a rather spectacular array of fireflies to surround me for added effect. But that’s not Jesus. At all!!!
So maybe being ‘made new’ isn’t about projecting an outward perfection to the world.
Maybe ‘new’ can be imperfect. And messy. And unglamorous. And looks more like a gardener than royalty.
Because it’s real.
And with Jesus casually popping up like a pikelet in a toaster, in my experience, He’s actually about making me new. And my father-in-law. And our relationship with each other. New, not perfectly polished in a neatly tied package with a bow.
And if I am made new, then ‘new’ can be scarred. ‘New’ can have touch-up paint. ‘New’ can have stitches.
“New looks like recovering alcoholics. New looks like reconciliation between family members who don’t actually deserve it. New looks like every time I manage to admit when I was wrong and every time I manage to not mention when I’m right. New looks like every fresh start and every act of forgiveness and every moment of letting go of what we thought we couldn’t live without and then somehow living without it anyway. New is the thing we never saw coming – never hoped for – but ends up being what we needed all along.” -N. Bolz-Weber.
If God had hobbies, I wonder if car or furniture restoration would be one of them. He specialises in Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang-style makeovers. He just keeps taking on dilapidated, crappy people and their fragmented relationships with other dilapidated, crappy people and fitting together the broken bits.
And, through his handiwork, the end result is always much better than what it was to begin with. Our loving God keeps reaching down into the muck and grime of our messed up world, pulling out our hearts of stone, giving us a much-needed heart transplant, and resurrecting us from the rubbish piles we land ourselves in through our penchant for grudges, selfishness and pride.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” –Ezekiel 36:26.
Left to my own devices, there’s NO way I was going to be having a heart-to-heart with my father-in-law. HA! That was just not possible. Out of the question.
And even if I had eventually managed to let go of my grudge from the wedding (as unlikely as that is) my stubbornness and pride would’ve stopped me from actually going through with having a cup of tea with him and chatting civilly.
But Jesus pops up, gives me a heart transplant, and resurrects me from my ditch.
And the fact that I truly, honestly and whole-heartedly LOVE my father-in-law today is one of the many, many, many reasons that I believe in God.
God makes all things new.
And here I am, having a heart-to-heart with my father-in-law, genuinely connecting.
Heck, even having a beer with him!
A new relationship.
Catching up, visiting his family on their acreage in the hills, enjoying a laugh together, staying in touch, chatting about what Jesus is doing in our lives and, best of all, defiantly declaring that we are two crappy, stubborn, rotten individuals who are made new by a loving God who specialises in heart-transplants and resurrections.
And this is what God’s still doing for me. He’s making me new. Every day. Over and over.
By the way, just for the record, I’d be a hypocrite if I said that I now have a happy-clappy relationship with everyone I encounter because I am a Christian. That would be the biggest load of bullshit. I still get pissed off. I still get annoyed. I still hold grudges. BECAUSE I AM HUMAN. But I have a loving and gracious God who just keeps picking me up, dusting me off, giving me a heart transplant, and putting me back on my path.