Holidays – that time between Halloween and New Year’s Day that encompasses the “major” holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Mostly focused in recent years by retailers and marketers as the time between Turkey Dinner and December 25 to ask for things, get things, spend money and generally contribute to the bottom line of that which drives our ever increasingly materialistic western civilization…capitalism with a generous dose of “good will toward fellow men”. Oh, and throw in a little religion to boot, unless it offends you, then water it down even more so as not to injure.
I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve been caught up in the wrappings and trappings of the season myself. I’ll also admit that I enjoy most of it. I love the lights, I enjoy the food, I certainly like giving and getting gifts, and the time spent with family has taken on new meaning and importance recently. What I once took for granted, I have a new appreciation for. Those things I learned to hate, I am starting to love again. To those people I hurt, I am working to make amends and restore the relationships.
Not too long ago, life was significantly different for me. It was different for those around me as well. For the people who loved me, watching me try to destroy myself time and time again must have been incredibly painful and truly gut-wrenching. I couldn’t see what I was doing to myself, although at some level I knew that what I really wanted was to die. I was stuck between an impossibly bad place and a worse place. I didn’t want to keep living like I was but I didn’t know how to live any differently than I was doing.
Nothing made sense and no one understood. I thought no one cared and couldn’t understand how anyone could love a loser like me. I hid it well for a long time. I hid behind an outgoing personality and a sense of humor. I learned to bury my emotions, deny my self-loathing, and pretend everything was just lovely. Alcohol made that so much easier and worked for a while.
Eventually it quit working and the consequences piled up high enough that I had to decide it was either do something different or continue to die; I was out of options. I made the decision to stop fighting, stop trying to control it all and worked very hard to find and learn humility, honesty, openness and willingness. So far, it has worked pretty well for 1,208 days in a row, on purpose.
The best part isn’t about me, though. The best part is what I see in and from others. I see an amazing woman that agreed to marry me almost a year ago and did so four months ago. I see some fantastic kids of mine that might just enjoy being around me again. I see a couple of other wonderful kids that became part of my family when their mom married me. I see brothers, in-laws, nephews, nieces, parents, and others who come visit and enjoy Thanksgiving Day with my new bride and me at our home. I get to see the smiles, the joy, the laughter, and the kinship that can be credited to God not giving up when almost everyone else did.
Several years ago, I mentioned to my girlfriend (not yet my wife), that I had a dream of all of her kids and my kids being together during the holidays. I’m pretty sure at the time that I gave that little chance of actually happening, and it was another one of those “yeah, right, God; I bet you can’t do this” sort of things. Last weekend, she and I had all of our kids over to decorate the house, then roast hot dogs and s’mores around the fire pit. I was humbled by the power of my God once again.
In my first blog post, Surrender, I mentioned the art of restoring broken pottery (kintsugi). Since then, I’ve learned that what is even more beautiful than the single restored broken piece is a living room, kitchen and back porch filled with people who wouldn’t be there if not for some brokenness. I’ve learned there really is nothing that God can’t use, and I’ve learned a new appreciation for His ability to make the impossible real.
Wishing-Well_BethSmiley – photo credit
I haven’t blogged for a while, and my wife suggested I should, so in my best interest, here we go!
There’s a place just west of Shreveport that holds a special place in my heart. Today it became even more precious.
A little more than four years ago, I reconnected with a friend from my past. At the time, I didn’t realize that would change my life in an incredible way. What was apparent was that this girl was very special to me from the very beginning. One of the first times I came to visit her, we decided to spend some time at the Gardens of the American Rose Center. The grounds are beautiful; the flowers are gorgeous, and there are unique little spots to lose oneself throughout the place.
One of these spots is a little wishing well with a rusty bucket hanging from the reel. We stopped for a few minutes and each tossed in a quarter and made a wish. The two of us walked to a small wooden bench; she asked me what I wished and I told her I couldn’t tell her, of course. I asked her, and she told me that she couldn’t tell me (probably out of spite). At this point, I told her she didn’t have to tell me, because I already knew.
The look on her face when I told her that her wish was for my wish to come true was priceless. I knew I had guessed right, and at that moment, knew something truly special had just transpired.
The next four years were filled with life. Good, bad, sad, happy, angry, joyful times happened, breakups, funerals, happiness, and the clutter of passing days marched on. I lost the last thing I cared about and through much pain and humility, learned I was worthy to my God and myself, then He gave me a new life.
Last Saturday I married that girl.
Today we returned from our honeymoon and went back to that wishing well.
I got to tell her both our wishes came true that day…
My wish was that we would return to that spot after we were married.
God is so good.
I think I’ve figured out how to get rich. I’m pretty sure I could make a billion dollars if I invented an instant oven. No more wasting all those long minutes waiting on the microwave to warm up frozen dinners, reheat leftovers, or pop popcorn. I’d have people knocking down my door to throw money at me.
No one I know likes to wait. Especially me. Waiting for anything, good or bad, is a royal pain in the butt. I don’t want to wait to start my weekend plans, and I certainly don’t look forward to getting a tooth pulled, but in both cases, waiting is required. Sure, one is anticipation and one is dread; nevertheless, we wait.
But back to my invention. I’m not THAT old, but I remember the days when a hot meal or beverage meant using fire or electricity on the top of the stove or in the oven. I’ve spent a bit of time camping without a camp stove. Gathering wood, building a fire, and warming food up in this manner is even more time consuming. Technology, for the most part, seems to be a response to lack of patience.
Automobiles replaced horses, who had to walk, run, eat, and rest; air travel is even faster than cars. Ovens and stoves replaced woodburning stoves; microwaves can now cook almost anything (with notable exceptions). Few restaurants had drive through windows back in the day; now they’re ubiquitous. We rent movies instantly and no longer even have to drive to the video store. Companies are even experimenting with drones to speed up package deliveries so we no longer have to wait for the delivery truck.
Instant gratification. I didn’t have to be taught impatience. I learned that very early in life. I remember sneaking under the Christmas tree along with my brothers (guilt by association) to sneak the tape off the gifts until my mom learned to hide them, sometimes better than we learned to find them. I heard someone once say, “I want what I want when I want it.” That’s me, except I added “…and I want it now.” I think this had something to do with my efforts over the years to change my feelings. I knew what to do when I felt down and didn’t want to, or was feeling up and wanted more.
Immediately. Now. No waiting. Fast results. Watchwords of the advertising community.
Patience is hard.
Patience isn’t natural.
Patience takes work.
Patience is crucial.
Patience is valuable.
Patience is a virtue. It is described numerous times in the Bible. God saw fit to address impatience because we as humans are impatient. From Proverbs to Psalms to Isaiah, and again in the New Testament, patience is addressed. 1 Corinthians 13:4, starts out, “Love is patient…”. Ephesians 4:2 contains, “…be patient…”, and Proverbs 14:29 reads in part, “Whoever is patient has great understanding…”.
Patience is something that we learn by having to use it. I don’t learn to be patient by getting what I want when I want it. I learn to be patient by realizing and understanding that my waiting and lack of immediate answers is exactly what is supposed to happen. Recovery programs use sayings like “One day at a time” and “If you pray for patience you will be given many opportunities to practice it.” Acceptance is one of the hardest principles I have been asked to face.
I remember as a child, our family would take vacations. From the time my parents told us about the impending trip, the anticipation began. We would study the road atlas, prior to the internet, read the brochures that were mailed from our destination, and, as the time approached, we would begin packing and planning for the grand journey. The morning of the departure would arrive, and the next few hours or days were filled with seeing new places, enjoying new experiences, and living life in the moment. Although I remember the “destinations”, for me, the preparation and the anticipation are now my favorite memories. It was like an extended version of Christmas Eve.
I’ve spent a lot of time waiting for tomorrow. I’ve spent years waiting for the next thing. Along the way I think I’ve missed some things alongside the road. Although I still miss the patience train often, I try to appreciate the now. Today I choose to pay attention and enjoy the journey, making memories along the way.
I’ve heard it said that it’s about the journey, not the destination. The truth is it’s about both.
“Hope is patience with the lamp lit.” – Tertullian
One of the things that I’ve struggled with is something that I can never really change. Other than its presence in my mind, it doesn’t exist. But in it is all that I know. All of the memories, good and bad, all of the successes and failures I’ve had, and all of the sins and wrongs I’ve committed, as well as all the miracles I’ve seen and been a part of. Although it exists only in my memories, I cannot deny it has a very real impact on me today.
It would be easy to sit here and write a litany of past transgressions and victories, putting words on a screen that extol the virtues of a new found life and perspective, but that would be far too simple. My demons know my name, and what they whisper in my ear will not have the power and depth of those that whisper in your ear. From my experience, it is clear that each must come to terms with those whispers; that each of us must find the rebuttal that is required to quiet the voices.
Coming from a perspective that teaches me the truth of forgiveness and salvation in Christ, I understand that the price of my transgressions have been paid in full, and that they have been obliterated, forgotten, and completely eliminated; that they will never be held against me by my Savior and Father (H.P. for my recovery friends).
That’s not where I get stuck. It’s in the real, day to day memories and how all those little things stack up in a way that only I can see. It’s in how I can beat myself up regarding some very bad choices I made in the past in regards to the way I treated people and the damage that is evident in those relationships today. It is in the “unfinished”…the tasks and goals I set for myself years ago that remain like the partially glued together pieces of the model ship in the box that has a hull and a deck, but no masts, sails, or rigging.
Words and phrases such as “If I only would have…” or “I never…” or “If I had done…”, regret, shame, embarrassment, and failure echo in the empty hallways of the past that I never entered. It is easy for me to envision how much “better” things could be; how much “happier” that I would be had I just been… well… better at predicting the future.
I’m thinking that’s really where I get stuck. If I’d only known then what I know now. If I had, I’d have finished the educational goals I set for myself long ago, rather than wait until I’m 49 years old. I’d have never bought that first beer when I graduated from high school a week after my 18th birthday if I’d known that a very long, painful struggle with alcoholism was on its way. I’d have bought some of that stock from the department store I worked one Christmas and hung on to it.
We all have these “ifonlys”.
I’m not sure exactly where it came from, but I heard something a couple of weeks ago that made a lot of sense.
Fear lives in tomorrow, regret lives in yesterday, and gratitude lives in today.
I can’t change the past; my yesterdays can’t be modified, changed, or deleted. I don’t have a Doc Brown DeLorean with a flux capacitor to go back and make changes. By the same token, I can’t go see what tomorrow holds before I get there. At the very least, I wouldn’t understand it.
What I’ve learned over the past few years is that what I can do with my past is use it. Use it to understand my today. Use it to see why God has blessed me with an understanding for broken people. I can remember, not forget, the choices of yesterday that weren’t very wise and try not to repeat them. Most of all, I can begin to understand that God, in His infinite wisdom and omniscience, can use all things for good (Romans 8:28).
Sometimes it’s really hard to see the “good”. Once again, that would mean being able to see the future. Impossible.
All I have is today. And I can choose gratitude over fear and regret. Grateful for everything that has worked together to put me exactly where I am today.
The thing is…
My limited ability means that sometimes, even when I can’t see it at the time, God was there in my yesterday. He’s in my future. I can’t go back and I can’t see the future. All I have is today.
That’s where I find God.
One of the most beautiful and powerful verses in the Bible is Exodus 3:14.
Not “I was.”
Not “I will be.”
I never really understood the word fear, and I still don’t. But there’s a few things I’ve figured out that work for me. As I think back, I remember being afraid of certain things when I was a little kid. I remember one of my fears was deep water, and one swimming pool especially. There was this pool at the local YMCA where I took swimming lessons one year. The only thing that made it different was that it was a very large pool and it was inside a huge cavernous building that echoed. I’m not sure why, but that place scared me. The water was deep and dark, and that huge building just seemed to make the water deeper and darker. I didn’t like it one bit.
As I grew older, my fears grew up. To this day I am terrified of tornadoes. But I know why. Can’t see ’em coming. I know when the weather gets tornadoey, but I can’t see anything but the sky above me for all the trees. You can’t fool me, though, I’ve seen the Wizard of Oz. Those tornadoes don’t come straight down on top of you. They twist and turn and snake their way toward you, ripping up mobile homes on the way to destroy your house. And you can’t see ’em coming. When I see things going past my house that normally wouldn’t be, like trash cans, sheds, and fences, I shut myself up in a tiny room with a pillow over my head.
I’ve come to a conclusion about fear. I’m afraid of one thing. So far, all of my fears have this one thing in common. Snakes, tornadoes, deep scary water, spiders…all of them. But before I get to that, some may say that it is good to have a healthy fear of say, for example, tigers. I think the term for this is respect. I respect a tiger enough not to go running around in their enclosure at the zoo. I respect the law enough not to take things I want out of the store without paying for them. What I think that all fear has in common is that all fear is really about one thing. I believe for the most part that we are all afraid of the unknown. Insecurity, illness, injury, accidents and death make us afraid. We don’t know what will happen, we don’t know what to do, and we just don’t know what to expect. Someone once said, “I’m not afraid of the dark, I’m afraid of what I think is in the dark.”
Then there was another fear. One that I was “supposed” to have. After all, I was taught to fear God. Oh, I know, there’s probably about four words for “fear” in Greek and three more in Hebrew or whatever language it was written in, but guess what? I understand English. There is ONE word for fear. I’ve seen it watered down to mean awe or respect, or any number of those kind of justifications, but I was taught that I should FEAR the Lord. To put it very simply, to fear means to be scared of.
Now that I’m older and have managed to make it this far and get some experience from life, I think those people who taught me to be afraid of God were wrong. Here’s why. The first time fear is mentioned in the Bible it was right after Adam and Eve disobeyed God and they hid from Him, saying they were “afraid”. Fear entered the world at the same time sin entered the world. Fear and sin walk hand in hand on this earth.
Someone once told me that the phrase “fear not” is written in the Bible 365 times, one for every day of the year. One particular truth about fear is 1 John 4:18 (NIV) – There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
Fear and God just don’t go together.
I think that when I’m afraid of the unknown, I’m looking away from God. See, that verse tells me that perfect love (God) drives out fear, and I can’t be made perfect (like God) when I’m afraid.
In other words, they just don’t go together.
The unknown is what I fear.
When I get wrapped up in the worry, the insecurity, the lack of control, the unknown…FEAR…what I think I’m really doing is something that God really doesn’t appreciate.
I make my fear bigger than Him.
I make it an idol.
I make it my god.
You see, when I realize and understand that there really is no unknown, there is no fear.
When I was a kid, I quickly learned that not long after Christmas or a birthday, some of those new toys that I got as gifts didn’t last very long. I’m old enough now that I can remember when things were actually made to last, nevertheless, stuff got busted. The reality that they were no longer “any good” was driven home by seeing them go into the trash can. Most of the time, which I realized after I had my own kids, the toys just mysteriously went away and I never much thought about it again until I saw that Evel Kneivel motorcycle selling for $200 online and wondered what ever happened to mine.
Broken things weren’t any good, and the only thing to do was to get rid of them, unless they could be fixed. Some were easy to fix, with only a bit of glue or tape or creative craftiness, some were more difficult to repair, and some just weren’t worth the effort. It didn’t matter much in the long run, because I outgrew them, got new ones at the next birthday or Christmas, or occasionally managed to share with my brothers. With three boys all within five years in age, our house was kind of a revolving door of new toys.
As I got older, the toys started to cost a bit more and I actually had to pay for stuff once I “grew up” and started working. The new stereo I put in my car, the stuff for the new apartment like furniture and appliances, and eventually the new truck and even the house. Slowly it occurred to me that these new toys, possessions, belongings, or things I cared about were in some way valuable, not only in a monetary sense, but intrinsically as well. They were WORTH getting fixed.
I’m not looking at this in a material way at all, because not everything has value to me according to what it cost or what I paid for it, but some certainly do. I’m not going to take my truck to the junkyard for a turn signal that burns out, but I would also be devastated if I lost a simple guitar pick that I wear around my neck on an inexpensive chain. See, this guitar pick has been around for at least 42 years. It belonged to my Dad, who died when I was 6 years old. I don’t really know if he ever used it, or even touched it, but I know it was HIS. And that makes it precious to me.
Other things get broken, too. Like people. People get broken, rejected, devastated, addicted, hurt, and abused. People hurt other people, and people get hurt by others. We hurt ourselves and we even let ourselves be hurt, knowing full well that it will be painful, but we do it anyway. We make choices that are fraught with undesirable and even horrible consequences; we do things that we absolutely know beyond doubt that we shouldn’t do. We lose health or independence, or see loved ones die and want to scream “Why?” to God and believe He’ll be angry with us for blaming Him, or for even daring to not be happy with Him. Filled with regret, remorse, guilt and shame, we hide it for a while. Perhaps we get so good at faking it that no one ever “really knows.” We put on a happy face when we go to work or church or have friends over, but when we close the bathroom door and get in the shower, the tears won’t stop. Sometimes we use things to get rid of the feelings. Drugs, alcohol, food, sex, exercise…the list is endless of the things that we misuse to try and not feel. We end up broken on the outside because the cracks on the inside just don’t stay there.
But people aren’t toys. We weren’t created to provide entertainment for some divine puppetmaster in the sky who doesn’t really care what happens to us. Our Creator doesn’t toss us in the trash because we’re broken. He takes us as we are, with all the shattered pieces, broken parts, hurts, and busted insides and loves us. He knows what it feels like to be broken; to feel not only physical pain, but the unbelievable weight of the sins of the world that weighed Him down that day on the cross. That is why He understand what broken feels like.
The other thing that I’ve come to understand is that, like that guitar pick, I have worth simply because I’m HIS and He loved me long before I existed. I’m also valuable because I’m broken and a great price was paid for me while I was still broken. Sometimes we don’t see this too clearly. We see the people who are homeless and living on the street, those who suffer with mental illness or disabilities, the ones addicted to whatever, or the people who sin differently from us. Just like me, they are loved by my Creator as they are.
Today was the last day of the very best year of my life. The year started out with hope and false promise, with lies and dreams, and with expectation and fear. At the time I had no idea what would transpire, but I thought I had everything figured out and life would unfold in just the way I planned. Someone once told me that if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.
In retrospect, I remember only sporadic details from the past 364 days. Most of them aren’t pleasant and I have to really force myself to stop and think of the good times. There are many, but for some reason the dark parts seem to loom dismally over my recollections. The choices I made, the pain I caused that I can only imagine, and the utter hopelessness stand unobstructed in the memories of not only the past year, but previous ones as well.
Despite myself, during the past year something changed. Something deep within myself that has affected me and all those around me. Three very important people in my life that were left feeling abandoned and replaced by self-serving choices are now cautiously beginning to trust and believe. An amazing relationship that was almost shattered beyond repair has become much more beautiful in the gold of healing, grace, and mercy that now fill those cracks between the pieces of what once was. Many more who wanted nothing but the man they knew long ago are discovering that the man is different; perhaps better than before.
The thing of it all is, I did none of it. All I did was quit fighting. Surrender. Finally admit that all my years of trying to steer my own ship only resulted in crashing it on the rocks time after time. I learned that there was Someone who knew where the rocks were and how to avoid them. Someone who, despite the inevitable storms on the horizon and the ones that appear from nowhere, could safely captain the ship. The winds of life are going to keep blowing, sometimes strong and sometimes weak, but standing still just isn’t possible.
Perhaps the most valuable thing I learned is that my brokenness doesn’t define me. It describes me, but through this past year I have come to terms with my brokenness. I realize that it is in the broken pieces and the cracks that can be mended and filled by God to make this old clay jar something much more precious than it was before.
There is an art form in Japan called Kintsugi. When a clay vessel is broken, the artisan restores the piece by filling the cracks with gold. The vessel becomes more precious and beautiful than it was before, but only because it was broken and then restored by someone who saw the beauty that was within.
The grace and mercy of a loving, caring Artisan not only mends the pieces and fills the cracks of a broken and busted life, but creates something much more precious, beautiful and valuable. He takes my brokenness, my past, and my hurt and uses it for His purpose. That simple truth is why this past year has been the best. Yet.