I felt it — the wreckage that selfishness and pride can cause. I was no distant observer. I was stumbling from the blow, a recipient of the trickle-down effects of others’ choices, wincing with the ache.

I saw it, cried over the pain, then declared war — war on my own heart, my own selfishness and pride, realizing the havoc we can wreck on each other’s lives.

We live and leave behind a trail of wreckage from the selfishness and pride in ourselves that we don’t see or haven’t addressed. Darkness we haven’t had the guts to bring to light or that operates like a secret agent, undetected even by the one in whom it lives. It’s not even only the ugliest of ugly — it’s also run-of-the-mill, daily thinking (even subconsciously) that it’s all about me and making decisions accordingly.

I could no longer make friends with my own self-centeredness. I don’t want my darkness to tag along like a wrecking ball, hurting those closest to me as well as others whose names I may never know. If kindness is a ripple effect, so is my own self-centeredness. I will fight that part of my heart to keep you safe.

The battle begins in my heart and it’s fought not by determining to be good — that just leads me to believe that I’m better than those around me who haven’t decided to be better people. That feeds my pride.

No, the battle is fought by turning away from myself and toward the God who sees the blackness I’m warring against (and what I cannot yet see), loves me still, and changes me slowly but surely into something better. I am humbled and raised up at the same time. No false assurance that I’m a perfect person and no shaming in an effort to make me shape up.

I can acknowledge my selfishness and pride without being bound to it or despairing because of it, because I know that I’m loved and being changed into beauty, and I will participate in that change process.

My heart is steadfast, resting in love and begging for more light to expel my darkness.

The deep south, old folks, and ugly jokes.

I spent several days last week visiting my grandparents in south Louisiana. It’s always good to go back “home” (home is sometimes a relative term) and there is definitely something special about south Louisiana; the land of sugar cane and gumbo, Duck Dynasty and Swamp People. It is a special culture that is unlike any other (the closest it gets is Nova Scotia, Canada, home of the ancestors of the Cajuns). The history of South Louisiana is rich and the people have held onto history, traditions, language, and culture like few other areas of the United States.

I had a lovely week spending time with my grandparents — there’s always a lot to learn and much to laugh about.

I met an 84-year-old man. When he went to 1st grade in the 1930s, the school he attended in South Louisiana still taught everything in French. He still says “bonjour” to people and he walks everywhere he goes (even to the dentist a mile down the road).

I went to the “beauty parlor” with my grandmother, who has been getting her hair done at the same place for the past few decades. It’s like something out of Steel Magnolias. The Deep South is real. I sat around as the old ladies listened to Elvis, perfected hair, talked, and asked if I am married or at least have a boyfriend, and upon learning the answer is “no,” they began to set me up with eligible grandsons.

I met a tiny woman in her 90s. Measuring 4’6″, she wore a crown of snow white hair, perfectly shaped, not a strand out of place. She had on white pants, hot pink shoes, and a pink floral jacket. Her name was Fannie. Anybody read “Miss Fannie’s Hat” as a child? I felt like I met her.

My grandma and I watched TV a lot in the evenings. One night she was commenting on a show and said that she doesn’t like because it has a lot of “ugly jokes.” Of course I knew what she meant – some kind of crude humor or innuendo or something – but it struck me that she used the word “ugly.”

It implies something different than the typical phrases people use such as, “inappropriate jokes,” “bad jokes,” or “crude humor.” I started thinking about the difference that one word seemed to make. Ugly. Something ugly is something not beautiful, not attractive, something we would prefer not to encounter.

To me, “ugly joke” implies that it’s not just a bad joke that we know we shouldn’t laugh at (but kind of want to), but instead something that we actually find repulsive and in no way interesting or attractive. I don’t know if that’s what my grandma meant, but I think it’s a wonderful distinction! If something really is wrong, shouldn’t it be ugly to us?

Then I read Romans 12:9 which says, “Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good.” Abhor is a strong word. The definition is to “regard with disgust and hatred.” So if we are clinging to good and abhorring evil, things that are evil will simply be ugly to us. Unattractive. Repulsive.

The heart of the matter isn’t even making a judgment call on jokes, although I think we often take those types of things more lightly than we ought. For example, there’s Ephesians 5:4: “and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”

I read a quote the other day that was striking and convicting: “We must not amuse ourselves with humor about things that sadden the heart of God.” Just let that one sit for a minute. It gets pretty uncomfortable. It did for me.

But anyway, it’s not necessarily about the jokes, it’s more about how my heart reacts to wrong things it encounters — be it murder, the chance to raise myself while putting another person down, lying, lust, pride, dishonesty. Is there a difference between “bad jokes” and “ugly jokes”? Is there a difference between wrong things and ugly-wrong things?

There’s a difference in the way our hearts come at it. Wrong things are things we know are wrong but are sometimes attractive anyway. Ugly-wrong things are things that are wrong that we appropriately dislike, find unattractive, or abhor. I want things to be ugly-wrong to me! Do I run from sin and wrong because it is repulsive to me?

The reality is that my heart finds sin and wrong appealing. But I have a mighty, mighty Savior who is constantly working in me to make me clean and give me a pure heart that rejoices in the beautiful things and hates the ugly things – a heart that knows more and more of the heart of God.  “Create in me a pure heart, O God.” (Psalm 51:10) And He will.