By Chet Gladkowski
Growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, I came to expect certain things were “normal”. My “normal” world view said;
- Spaghetti does not come out of a box and it certainly does not come out of a can. Being raised by a first-generation Italian mother, pasta was always made by hand and started with a five-pound bag of flour and a dozen eggs. She never used one of those hand-crank metal pasta machines either; it was cut by hand using a “chitarra”; something that looked like a guitar that took too many steroids. Sauce always started with a pound of beef, a pound of pork, a pound of veal and a pound of Italian sausage. It took hours of hard work and skill. I didn’t know Spaghetti came out of a box till I was 20. I would no more eat a can of Chef Boyardee than stick a hot wrench in my mouth.
- We “NEVER” drove or parked on grass or dirt roads. Cars were new and clean while dirt and grass were filthy. While I have been able to share this valuable insight on numerous occasions with the less knowledgeable, the most memorable and lasting incident occurred when I informed my date that, “Walking in the woods would dirty the bottom of my shoes.” It may be difficult for some to believe, but that that girl became my wife 36-plus years ago.
Time prevents me from giving more examples of my “normal;”
- Leaving church exactly three minutes and forty-seven seconds early was the optimum time to avoid traffic in the parking lot
- Putting mayonnaise on each individual layer (bread, mayo, meat, mayo, lettuce, mayo, tomato, mayo, bacon, mayo, cheese, mayo, bread) was the only way to make a proper sandwich
After getting married we moved to Wilmington, Delaware. Then to Danbury, Connecticut. Then to Scottsdale, Arizona. And finally to Lake Wales, Florida. Imagine the stress and cross-cultural disorientation of landing in Imperial Polk County (pronounced “Poke” and yes, that’s the official name of the county) in central Florida. One of my new found friends in Lake Wales informed me that the three basic food groups here were “Bar”, “B” and “Q.”
As you’re reading this, I bet that you have come to the settled conclusion that not only is my view of “normal” twisted, but you have serious doubts about me as a person. And that’s OK because I have the same exact thoughts about you and everyone else.
So, what really is “normal” for us here in Polk County? And for that matter, everyone else here on planet Earth.
I don’t know where you come from; your color, cultural heritage, if you are rich, poor or somewhere in the middle. What you’ve done or what’s been done to you. But I think we can all agree on something, and that’s this world and our lives are broken. Life and things always seem to go downhill, from good to bad. People get old, get sick and die. Things go from new to old and broken. All you have to do is nothing and your kids room goes from clean and orderly to dirty and a shambles. An orange grove goes from beautiful and fruitful to dead and full of weeds. All it takes is time and nothing else.
So, where does God fit into all this? What are his thoughts, feelings and reaction about this “normal” state of things and our lives? As I reflect on this very important question, I come to two words;
“Jesus wept.” John 11:35
That was his firsthand reaction to experiencing the death of his friend Lazarus and its impact on family and friends. Jesus does not turn away or abandon those hurting people. He personally experiences the loss and enters into their pain. It hits him right in the gut and tears flow from his eyes and heart.
He didn’t stand up and yell, “Well, that’s what you deserve, you and everyone else. I made everyone and everything perfect but you’ve screwed it up. You turned away from God so this is your just deserts. Death, pain and destruction are what you asked for, what you’ve earned, so go ahead and enjoy it.”
And, in comparison to a perfect God, he could have said that and been absolutely right.
But Jesus came looking for “normal” people, just like you and me. Hurting, bleeding, broken, lonely, separated, weak, sick, dying, insecure and uncertain. As we experience this “normal” life, his perspective on pain is not someone that dumps on us; but as God who has responded to comfort and restore. He doesn’t sit in some faraway place and send judgments to ruin us, but comes as a savior to restore us. Jesus feels our pain and longs to restore us and our brokenness before God, each other and life.
But more than just feeling and experiencing our pain, Jesus offers restoration and renewal. His offer is not through what we do but through a personal relationship with him. Instead of a checklist, Jesus says that we agree with him about being “normal” and turn over our weakness and brokenness to him. In exchange, he takes us back and gives fullness of life for our emptiness.
If I were a betting man, I’d bet the farm that we are about the same. I’ve tried to do things right, but I always fall back to “normal.” There have been times when I was going to “get my stuff together,” change my life, walk the straight and narrow path. But I always slid back into the same old habits. Sound familiar?
That’s where the relationship with Jesus comes in. We bring our hurts, habits, humiliations and hang-ups. In brokenness we agree that we’ve failed, can’t fix ourselves and need his help. He takes our “normal,” receiving us as his children and starts the restoration process for time and all eternity.
So, as we noodle on what’s “normal,” let’s run to Jesus. He is the only one that can truly take us and save us from “normal.”