We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed ~ 2 Corinthians 4:8-9
If you had told the 13 year-old me that the 30-something me would be sitting in a 4-season room next a cozy fire and listening to Christian music the day after Christmas while tapping out a blog post on a Kindle, he’d first ask what a blog and Kindle are. When you told him he’d be living in a home that is in a neighborhood he once resented, that he’d be enjoying a snowfall and that he’d have a healthy marriage while raising three daughters (and would have peace in never having a son), he’d tell you it sounds nice, but you’re out of your mind.
Funny how God usees simple moments to put an aimless life on course for its destiny.
He gives us the opportunity and the ability to achieve what we often consider impossible. In fairness, I don’t live an extraordinary life, but it’s a good one. Probably a little above average should you care to do all the math, but I wouldn’t bother. My point is not to stack me up against others or judge according to any sort of standard. Rather, I want to offer up a frame of reference.
I grew up in a home that depended upon government assistance and food stamps. We knew our way around the food bank circuit, which wasn’t anywhere near as organized as it is today. A bounced check was as common as a haircut. Clothes were second hand. Cars were old and oft-repaired. And there certainly was a degree of domestic drama… infidelity, violence, foul language, drugs, alcoholism, mental disorders, you name it.
We, no doubt, were NOT a house that glorified God, let alone gave any thought to doing so.
I think about this as I reflect on the approaching New Year. While this is a time of renewal for some, an opportunity for a “fresh start” of sorts, I like to look at it more as a time of development. I’ve long held to a belief that we are works in progress until the day we leave this earth. And to look at New Years with “resolutions” that are, more often than not, empty promises to be someone “different” is unrealistic.
God made us all to be the people that we are. He’s given us the experiences we’ve had as a way of preparing us for the days ahead of us. And when you frame it that way, He certainly wants us to build upon what He has already given.
A common phrase that I now detest is “hang in there.” I dislike it because it says “whelp, things are out of your control, so just endure and hope someone or something else will change it for you.”
That’s a load of crap.
Somehow, I hung in there through all of my adolescence. Somehow, I hung in there and was never pulled from that home by social services. Somehow, I hung in there, kept out of enough trouble and earned respectful grades.
Somehow, I hung in there, found God, met the love of my life and got into college and had a means to pay for it. That was when I realized there would be no more “hanging in there.” I went to college, reinvented myself while free of negative influences. I excelled despite a very common belief among many naysayers that I should never have been capable of doing so.
I was done hanging in there.
Yes, by God’s grace, I was rising above. And He desires me to keep rising above, for His glory. And God wants you to rise above.
Years ago, while pondering this very thing, I started making “affirmations” instead of “resolutions”. Those affirmations represent the development that is needed inside of me over the coming year. Those affirmations, I believe, are God directed through a certain experience, a chance reading, or perhaps a quote that resonates with me.
The common narrative in each year’s affirmation is the fact that God is on my side and that He is my biggest fan. I read these affirmations daily on my commute to work and anytime I am in my car. They are posted on my sun visor so I can quickly glance at them while at a traffic light or other sort of idling state.
I will be posting my 2013 affirmation by the end of the year. Watch for more on this topic as New Year’s approaches. I am hopeful you will join me in designing your own affirmations, commenting on mine or sharing any other tips, thoughts, scriptures or experiences that may be on your hearts.
God bless you.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. ~ James 4:10 ESV
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. ~ James 4:10 NIV
What do you do when you find yourself in the midst of personal turmoil? When you feel powerless, helpless and desperate? Humble thyself.
It’s human nature to tell yourself that you will “work through it” alone. But that’s the last thing God wants you to do. When you are faced with times of anxiety, He wants you to turn to Him. I found this out the hard way.
I was in a rut of manic emotions where I celebrated extreme highs and suffered extreme lows. I kept so much inside and frequently didn’t even know what I was experiencing. There were many moments I had wondered if my physical and emotional health would hold up. My career was absolutely meaningless and my ambition – the one thing I personally clung to for much of my life – was missing. I really had little passion or desire. I had not been in so dark a place since the year before I had become a Christian.
It wasn’t that I was so full of myself or that I was at rock bottom. I had no answer. So, while at Hilton Head, South Carolina, where I had been invited to present at an industry conference, I sought answers from the one source I could trust and rely upon without reservation.
I was alone, walking along the beach as evening approached. Had been in town maybe an hour at most. At a time that I should have been basking in personal triumph – heck, I was invited and flown to this wonderful location based upon personal merit without having to shell out a single dime of my own – I was feeling lower than low. Down on myself, I stripped to my shorts and ran into the crashing waves.
I stood there and asked God to bring me down. To tear me down and make me feel as small as that morning I stood at the Grand Canyon (some 12 years earlier). And He did.
A wave crashed into me and He knocked me down. I stood back up and dared Him to do it again. Again, he obliged.
I got up and pushed myself out further, praying the whole time. Conversing with God. Asking Him, begging Him to help me snap out of the funk that was my life. To bring about the changes that only He can bring. Whether it was inside of me or others, I needed something to give.
There were times I had to wonder how stupid I was (and I am sure the other people along the shoreline were wondering too!). There were times some of the waves took me so far under and pushed me so far under, I found myself fighting for air.
I battled in that unique meditation for a good 45 minutes. Finally, I left the water, exhausted and saltwater in my lungs. There were no answers in my head, but my heart had felt relief of sorts I still can’t explain.
God convicted me. No matter how deep I go or how high I climb in this world, I’m still an itty bitty little spec in God’s grand plan. I’m refined with each and every moment, yet specifically designed for it!
To Him be all glory.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. ~ Jeremiah 29:11
Despite a lifetime of bold and larger than life dreams, I am very aware that I perpetuate a prevailing narrative that is riddled with self-loathing, doubt and a self image that is truly quite the opposite. In actuality, I’ve always put myself in the role of the underdog (which may be why I often am one of those who is rooting for underdogs to rise above). However, rarely have I been the underdog that “shocks the world” and I honestly could not handle it if I were.
The moment a spotlight gets anywhere near me, I call myself undeserving. I begin to look around for an exit and formulate the strategy that gets me out of there as quickly as possible. Why? Because I feel unworthy, inadequate and irrelevant.
As I ponder this, I am reminded of one of my favorite books, Generation X. The author of this book, Douglas Coupland once remarked told the Boston Globe that…
I just want to show society what people born after 1960 think about things… We’re sick of stupid labels, we’re sick of being marginalized in lousy jobs, and we’re tired of hearing about ourselves from others.
In the book, the characters intentionally withdraw from popular society, loathe their “McJobs” and ordinary life. They seek acceptance for how they are, not what the world wants them to be. What I ultimately realized is that we all seek relevance, an ability to fit into a bigger picture and to achieve a sense of personal belonging.
We don’t necessarily want to stand out from the crowd, but we do want to feel accepted. To have meaning. To know we are significant.
And that’s why I turn to this passage from Jeremiah. Today was not a great day. Been a rough couple in fact. There are some days that I feel pinched into meaninglessness. But I need to be mindful that I am here for a reason. A servant of God. To Him, I standout – whether I seek to be or not. He accepts me just as I am and believes me to be relevant.
To Him, I belong. And to Him, be all Glory.
Do you have passages that you retreat to when you have similar feelings or there are moments in life when you feel less than adequate? Please share them. I’d love to hear.
I really need to sit down and write out my testimony that sparked this idea. It’s been in my head for a long time. I’m sure it looks to many observers that I’m merely just “making another blog” but there really is a more inspired purpose. In due time, I promise.
For now, let me provide a bit of an appetizer. It comes following an N.D. Wilson post I read over at Desiring God called “Stories are Soul Food: Don’t Let Your Children Hunger”. In that post, he opines…
Bible-believing Christians frequently have a deep mistrust of fiction. In particular, they have a deep mistrust of, ahem, magic. This is impossible for me to understand…
I guess I had never really considered that distrust, but now that I think about it, yeah, there is a certain degree of that. I can’t even count the number of times that I’ve heard of a story “not being theologically accurate” or “downplaying the Biblical implications” etc. Unfortunately, too many Christians are quick to denounce something that has tremendous potential to glorify God simply because it does not meet with their personal – human – tastes and desires.
Probably the most relevant works during my lifetime are those from the Left Behind series. I read all the tomes in that series after they had all been out for quite some time. I was somewhat appalled at the number of people who offered “medicine faces” of disgust when they found out I was doing so. So quick were they to judge that they ignored the fact that – whether theologically accurate or not – those books impacted the world and – more importantly – God’s kingdom. Do you know how many Christians were saved or restored because of their newly instilled concern for their eternal salvation?
Neither do I, but if I were a gambling man, I’d wager that it’s a lot!
I have three beautiful girls who all have their own streaks of imagination and creativity. Do I frown because their two, three and seven-year-old drawings are not Biblically sound? Absolutely not! I encourage them. I use them as springboards for deeper discussion (as deep as you can get with a child anyway). I think Wilson would approve of this tactic, especially when he suggests we should…
Feed your children stories that will keep their eyes wide with wonder when they look out their front windows or wander their yards. Feed them stories of joy and hardship and courage and tragedy and triumph. Give them heroes, real and imagined. Give them a taste for goodness, for truth, for beauty.
Now, if you are wondering if I am posting this simply to go to bat for stories and to harp on those who view with too narrow a scope, perhaps I am. But the more important thing I hope you take away from it is this:
As Wilson asserts, were are more than a “mechanical soulless machine”. Why do we insist on giving “them a list of facts to tick off, like we’re trying to communicate a party platform to new recruits, like they’re nothing but brains ready for programming”?
Stories, when they are well-told and anchored in Light, provide a real sense of Truth and an outlet for application of those facts (the verses we memorize, the creeds we recite, the prayers we offer and the dogmas to which we subscribe). Those stories can turn hearts, move souls and most importantly, win warriors for Christ.