Today I read this story about a young man in Belize whose life was radically changed by people loving him and encouraging him when his own parents abandoned him at the age of 12. I was moved by the way I saw God's hand in his life as he described the twists and turns that led him to the place of gratitude and hope where he is now. I can imagine that it took courage for him to write his story down and that there were probably times where he doubted whether he should or not. Sometimes something means an awful lot to us, but we have doubts about whether or not it would mean much to others. It is disconcerting to share our stories when others may discount their value or weight. Earlier this week I read two different accounts written by fathers who lost a child. One to a stillbirth and the other to a tragic car accident at age five. Both commented that they were hesitant to share their stories. They were concerned about somehow cheapening the weight of their experiences with their own clumsy words and even worse, laying them out there for others to criticize or judge - not just their writing, but their very motives for writing in the first place.
I am thankful that each of these people chose to tell their story. SO thankful. I am drawn to stories. True stories. Biographies, autobiographies, historical sketches, blogs, I want to read them all. To me, this is the stuff of life.
In Shauna Niequist's book, "Bittersweet," she writes this, "There are myths that we tend to believe about our stories: the first is that they're about us; they don't matter. But they're not only about us, and they matter more than ever right now. When we, any of us who have been transformed by Christ, tell our own stories, we're telling the story of who God is... My life is not a story about me. And your life is not a story about you. My life is a story about who God is and what he does in a human heart."
Let's be brave and tell His story about our lives - about what He has brought us through and what He is walking with us in today and where He seems to be leading us. And let's not be quick to judge when others share their stories. There are things to learn about God and what He is doing in the world bound up inside each and every person we meet - my bus driver, the woman I pass in the city each day holding a cardboard sign, your son's swim team coach, the mail carrier, my neighbor, the telemarketer. Perhaps if we saw each other that way, if we saw ourselves that way, we'd approach each other with a bit more grace and dignity, and we'd dive deeper into the the greatest story ever told.
No man is an island, but man is it ever tempting to try it out sometimes! There is nothing quite like having to suffer through the consequences of someone else's decision to make you want to bar the doors and windows and give the hermit-life a try. As long as we live on this planet, we will be effected by the decisions of others. Sometimes for good, other times not so much. The same decision-making capability and freedom that God granted you, he also gave to your family members, friends, boyfriend/girlfriend, co-worker, boss, pastor, political leader, and even strangers on the street.
No matter how hard we try, we cannot control those around us or insulate ourselves from their choices. So what can be done when we find ourselves tossed in the wake of someone else's decisions?
1. Take a deep breath. Maybe more than one.
2. Remember that you are responsible for your own actions and reactions, regardless of how you feel or who made you feel that way. One bad decision by someone else doesn't necessitate another from you.
3. Plead with God for a higher perspective and a compassionate heart. It may come right away, but it might not. Expect it. Wait for it.
4. Acknowledge the reality of the situation and the greater reality of God's sovereignty and His promise to work everything together for your good (Romans 8:28). Acknowledge it in prayer, in journaling, in a conversation with someone you trust. Keep acknowledging it until you find yourself dwelling more on what He can do than on what was done "to you."
5. Take one step in the right direction. A step of forgiveness, a step of faith, a step away, a step forward, whatever is the next right thing - do that. Don't wait too long.
Repeat as needed.
Bonus - #6. Thank God for your own freedom to make decisions and even to make mistakes and learn from them. Ask Him to help you vividly remember this moment when you next make a decision that will impact those around you.
When I was a very little girl, close to five years old, I experienced what it is like to be drowning. My parents, my Nanny and Pappaw, my brother and I were canoeing down a river in Florida together. It was a beautiful day and we were having a great time together. Eventually, my brother and I got into the river and took the seat cushions from one of the canoes and used them as flotation devices and we floated lazily alongside the canoes in the cool water. It was a perfect summer day. My brother was a strong swimmer, but I was not. None of us were concerned about this though because we were staying close together and the water was not very deep. The events that led up to me gasping for breath are fuzzy in my mind now some 30+ years later, but I do know that one of the canoes tipped over and my grandparents (who did not know how to swim) ended up in the water. I know that my older brother left me alone to swim over and help them and I let go of my flotation device in the midst of the ensuing chaos. My Dad jumped out of his canoe to go help my grandparents and in the process, his canoe tipped. In the craziness of trying to get the canoes righted and the people back in them, I was quietly sinking below the water and bobbing back up with increasing desperation. I couldn't understand why no one was coming to help me! It was obvious to me that I was dying, but no one else seemed to notice. How was that possible?!
Since then I've learned about something that life guards call, "The Instinctive Drowning Response." You see, as it turns out, drowning in real life looks nothing like drowning in the movies or on TV. Drowning people do not thrash about or yell for help. They can't. All of their energy is being expended on getting above the water and catching as much breath as possible before they inevitably sink back beneath the surface. They can't wave their arms because they are instinctively using their arms to push down on the water's surface in order to leverage their bodies and get their mouths above water. With that being the case, statistics show that half of all children who die each year from drowning do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult who didn't recognize that they were drowning.
Have you ever felt that way in your day to day life? Drowning, while no one notices? Chances are you think it should be obvious. You can't fathom why no one seems to see that you are living on the brink. Survival, just making it through the day, is so consuming your thoughts and energy that you can't understand why others don't sense your desperation, despair, constant struggle.
On that perfect day in Florida, we all got a reality check. Starting with me. Once the canoes were back in place and those who were obviously endangered were in the clear, my father came over to me. In a loud voice he said, "Stand up!" I could not respond verbally or physically. I kept sinking below the surface frantically climbing this invisible ladder that would bring me back up just long enough to gasp for air before I went back under. Finally he grabbed me by my shoulders lifted me slightly and said again, louder and right to my face, "Carla, Stand up!" With my head now being held above the water by his strong arms, I could respond. Coughing and sputtering, I extended my legs and to my unfathomable surprise the river bottom was not far below. I had been drowning in water that only came up to chest. At any point I could have stretched out my legs, found solid ground and caught my breath, but I didn't know that. I had no idea that my salvation was that close, that accessible, and my family had no idea that I was in danger. Frightening, isn't it?
This memory surfaced for me this week while I was watching online as Louie Giglio taught a lesson at the Passion 2013 conference in Atlanta. He shared two different stories from the Bible where people were healed or brought back to life, but the final step in that restoration process involved them "standing to their feet." That is a powerful image for me. Stand up! Bear your own weight! You are not a victim, you have what you need to carry on!
If you feel like you are drowning and no one is noticing, rest assured, the Solid Rock is beneath you. It will require you transferring some of your energy from trying to stay afloat into remembering the One who put breath in your lungs to begin with, and that transfer of thought and energy will feel like a risk - but it is one that will pay off. In Jeremiah 29:13 (NIV) God says, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart." You will also be required to look at those around you a bit differently. The answer is, No. They can't tell that you are in despair, in danger. It isn't always as obvious as you feel like it is. People are busy and their thought lives are complicated (they have their own canoes tipping over left and right), that doesn't mean that they wouldn't come and support you while reminding you of the solid ground beneath you if they knew you needed that help. Find a way to reach out - this too will feel like a risk, but it is one that will eventually pay off. It helps if you reach out to those who aren't also drowning. Someone standing on solid ground is much better equipped to help you find your footing than someone who is frantically climbing that invisible ladder too.
If you are one of the ones standing safely on the Rock, don't wait for those around you to completely slip below the surface before you reach out to them. In real life, people drowning emotionally and spiritually don't look like they are drowning either. They are often spending so much of their energy just trying to get through the day that they don't ask you for help or even know where to begin to describe the peril they are in. Just like I didn't, couldn't respond to my Dad's instruction from afar to "Stand Up!" until he gripped me by the shoulders - others will need you to get closer than shouting distance in order to feel safe enough to try the suggestions you have for their relief from suffering. And you'll need to be close enough to see that they need your help. "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality." - Romans 12:10-13 NIV.
(P.S. - After that day, as a five year old, my parents enrolled me in swimming lessons at a local pool. I was terrified, but at their insistence I learned to swim - a skill that serves me well to this day. If you have found yourself emotionally or spiritually drowning at some point don't be satisfied with temporary relief - get involved in a local Bible believing church, seek biblical counseling, make an appointment with a Christian physician, build your support system and gain the tools you need so that the next time the "water feels too deep" you will have what you need to survive and persevere.)
(P.P.S. - The point of this post wasn't really about physical drowning, but since I brought it up, here is a link to help us notice the signs of someone who is in distress in the water. It is good information for all of us to have!)
GLIMMER: A dim perception or inkling. To appear faintly or dimly.
A glimmer is a powerful thing. In and of itself, it isn't much, but what it alludes to, the hope that it holds out - that is powerful.
We can go through times of intense difficulty, sorrow, heartache, and hardship if we have a glimmer of something better in the future to hold on to. The truly hard times come when we have put our hope in a glimmer of something that turns out to be artificial and doesn't pan out. The glimmer of a potential relationship that might alleviate loneliness. The glimmer of a potential windfall that will cushion a financial blow. The glimmer of a better job that will provide improved working conditions and a good income. The glimmer of a change of scenery and a fresh start to be provided by a move to new place. What is the saying? "All that glitters is not gold." We could substitute "glimmer" for "glitter" quite easily.
Thankfully, God provides many glimmers here on earth worth holding on to. Examples of his grace and mercy and ultimate deity that will not disappoint us. If we open our eyes to perceive the glimmers of eternal hope that God casts upon the waters of our lives, we will gain strength and courage to continue on the journey. Sometimes we need others to point out the these sparkling reflections when we fail to see them. Sometimes we need to be the ones pointing them out to others.
There is a song by Addison Road entitled, What Do I Know of Holy, that contains a line that brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it or sing it: "Then I caught a glimpse of who You might be. The slightest hint of You brought me down to my knees." God has given me many hints of who He is throughout the pages scripture and of my life story, and in nature. What I need to remember and grasp onto is that the reality of who God is (all powerful, all loving, all knowing, ever present, perfectly holy and just) is magnified a million times over from the glimpses of Him I have perceived. He loves me with absolute purity. He protects me with absolute surety. He knows me with absolute clarity. He is in complete control. When we see glimmers of the eternal attributes of the one true God in our lives and in the world around us, they should bring us to our knees, and we should gain strength and hope no matter what our circumstances. The glimmers of God reflect a perfection we can't even begin to imagine.
So when we are tempted to hang our hats on glimmers of things like relationships, jobs, money or greener pastures, let us learn to quickly reject putting the full weight of our hope on them, and instead refuse to settle for a glimmers of anything less than God's perfect will for our lives and the world. He is the only source of light that endures.
1 Corinthians 13:12 "Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely." NLT
SPOILER ALERT - don't read this if you haven't seen the movie and plan on seeing it!!!
I went to see a movie today with a friend. I had been delighted when I found out that she wanted to see the film too. The previews hadn't made it look like a particularly uplifting movie, in fact I was almost certain tears would flow, but I was intrigued by the concept and my curiosity and an open afternoon finally collided. I was right about the tears, but they didn't flow for the reasons I thought they would.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a movie that takes place one year after September 11, 2001. A boy with a condition that appears to be a mix of Aspberger's Syndrome and Tourette's Syndrom, loses his father on 9/11 ("the worst day")and a year later finds a hidden key in his father's closet and decides to find the lock that matches it in an attempt to keep his connection with his father alive. While the subject matter itself is bound to make your eyes well up, the moment that really broke through my defenses happened an hour and forty-five minutes into the movie, after the boy has solved the mystery and realizes it wasn't even his father's key after all. As he is coming to grips with this crushing disappointment, we find out that throughout his 3+ month quest to find the lock, as he knocked on door after door of stranger after stranger all over New York City, all the while feeling like his mother had emotionally withdrawn from him and didn't care about him, he makes a startling discovery. He listens in awe as his mother tells him that out of her overwhelming love and concern for him, she had secretly gone through the hidden maps and treasures in his room until she figured out his plan. Then she had set out to pave the way for her son and his quest, rather than preventing him from pursuing it. To insure his safety, she had visited every address on the list that he had made and met with the strangers she encountered there to tell them that her precious son would be coming one day, looking for the mystery lock that would match his key. She told them about his disabilities. She told them about the profound loss he had experienced. She begged them to be kind.
The boy was stunned to learn of her actions. He had thought that only his father had been able to understand him in such a deep way, and that now that his dad was gone, he was fated to go through life ashamed and abnormal and misunderstood. The realization that his mother had him figured out brought a sense of security back into his life, stronger than he had previously possessed before "the worst day" happened.
As I think back on this movie and that powerful, sob-filled (mine) moment when the mother's loving care was finally revealed, I can't help but reflect on the Lord and His unfathomable goodness to us, his children. We go through life developing a certain level of assurance in something... a social status, a loving family, a job, a talent or intellectual capacity, a close friend... and one day, inevitably, our assurance is shaken to the core. Either by loss, or betrayal, or a lifting of the blinders that we've worn revealing that the firm foundation we've built our identity and security on is at best shifting sand and at worst a trap door. BUT GOD...
After our brutal awakening, as we grasp for whatever shreds of hope we can find and try to claw our way back to a feeling of assurance in this messed up world, we are prone to feel that our intangible God is cruelly unwilling or sadly unable to help us or to offer the same kind of assurance that our tangible earthly idol always had. So we strike out on our own, looking for a way to get back what we've lost, or a close assimilation of it, or if that doesn't work then something that will numb us and make us forget it ever existed in the first place.
All the while, God is working behind the scenes on our behalf - protecting us, providing for us, and preparing us for the day when we will find ourselves spent, with nothing to show for it. That day, when we feel the most hopeless, the most devastated, the most disappointed and the most forgotten... that will be the day when we will finally be ready to look back and see Him for who He has been all along: The One who knew us best, who had a plan for us from the beginning that could never be thwarted by any earthly loss. The One who is the true source of our assurance, who had granted us that precious family member, friend, talent, job, etc. - for a season - but that it was never meant to become an idol, distracting us from the Gift-Giver Himself. THEN we will rejoice and REVEL in this new assurance, that the God of the universe never left our side and never will and that He understands us and knows us better than we know ourselves. That He can and will meet our every need.
" And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see." I Peter 1:5 (NLT)
"If God is for us, who can be against us?" - Romans 8:31
Almost a week ago I read a blog entry by a missionary in Africa that I have been pondering ever since. Of an elderly African woman who has endured far more than her fair share of suffering, she wrote:
I live with these human eyes, and with these human eyes of mine I label. I label one thing as good and one thing as bad. I label moments as blessing or burden. And I forget that all this labeling, it is not my right, not my place, not mine to do. To declare what is a gift in my life and what is a curse is to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, to sit in the garden full of abundance and beauty and choose the forbidden. The knowledge of good and evil, that was never intended for me.... Suffering, pain, loss, shame – all these things I have blamed on a broken world, Satan even. But can’t a broken world and even Satan only give what God allows? Suffering, pain loss and shame are only these things because I label them as such. Because I, a sinner, choose to eat from the tree, choose to turn away from nail-scarred hands and ignore the grace and miss the gift. He is beautiful and everything He creates is beautiful and if I choose to label it suffering I am choosing to miss the beauty that is freely offered me."
This shocked me and sobered me and disturbed me. The things this African woman has faced in her life - all of her children, dead due to war and corruption - surely I am not to hesitate to label this as "bad" simply because I am not God and do not possess the entirety of His wisdom. I have enough of His wisdom in the scriptures to know what God called "good." The opening chapters of Genesis, God created everything pertaining to the Earth and called it good. He created man and then surveyed everything He had made and called it "very good." This is before sin entered the picture. God's creation in its purest form = good. Why would I ever label the effects of war, corruption, disease, or disaster as good? God can bring beauty from ashes, but that doesn't make the ashes themselves beautiful.
When I hear the woman laughing through pain and saying, "whatever He wants," I do not hear joy over her situation, for it is not a good one or a joyful one. Rather, I hear a woman who is willing to endure unjust suffering without rebelling or blaming. A woman who knows that God is in control and she is not.
There is a difference between suffering for the cause of Christ and suffering due to the fallen state of the world. Christ showed Paul, "all that he would have to suffer for his Name," (Acts 9:16). This type of suffering happens because we are going against the grain of the world in obedience to God and it is good - it is very good. If we do not experience this kind of suffering, we aren't following very hard after Him. But watching a loved one waste away from cancer, seeing children sold as slaves, witnessing or living in extreme poverty due to injustice - God never called this good, and I think I have every right to call it evil, awful, horrible!
God is allowing (not condoning) the corruption of His creation - FOR A SEASON - and during that season He is preserving His church by promising to work all things together for our good and His glory - even the evil, awful, horrible stuff. We are not to despair or mourn as those who are without hope and we are not to whine or complain because He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world, but we gotta call a spade a spade!
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!