When our son was a toddler, we learned a nifty parenting trick. After suffering through meltdown after meltdown whenever it was time to transition from one activity to the next, we discovered that if we gave our son a 5 or 10 minute warning before the transition was about to happen, the meltdowns were a thing of the past. "Tim, it will be time to help clean up toys and say goodbye in ten minutes." "Tim, dinner will be in five minutes, so get ready to stop your video." As long as he knew what was coming and when, he could cope. When he had time to wrap things up or finish on his own terms, he was golden. If the meltdown wasn't completely averted, it was at least lessened in severity.
Don't you wish we had the luxury of those kinds of warnings in life as adults. "Carla, in six months you will not be living here any more and you'll have to start over." "Carla, within the year, that person that you are so attached to will pass away." "Carla, in the next week someone in your family will become ill." Just a little warning, wouldn't that be nice? Just a little heads up so we can wrap our minds around what is coming and finish or adjust on our own terms.
The thing is, these little advance warnings weren't the most valuable things we could offer our son. Yes, they made life a little more bearable in the moment, especially as he was making his way through those toddler years, but it was never meant to be a way of life. After all, we wouldn't always have a warning ourselves. Sometimes we would need to make a transition with little to no warning and we would need him to trust us and spring into action before his emotions could catch up. What we really wanted him to learn were things like - Your Mom and Dad love you and we are in charge. We know what is best and we are working with an agenda that includes more than your immediate happiness, things you just aren't prepared to understand yet. The more you trust us, the more you will see that we have your best interest at heart. We may ask you to do some things that you do not want to do, but it is never out of cruelty. At the end of the day, what we really wanted him to learn to do was to rest in our trustworthiness, and to respond based on our relationship not on an attachment to an established, predictable routine.
The same is true with our walk through life. The routine will inevitably vary, so putting our trust in things always being the way they have been in the past is foolish. Many times God will orchestrate situations in such a way as to soften the blows of painful change. Other times, however, we will be called upon to simply respond in faith-filled obedience, when there is no resemblance of the normal routine anywhere in sight, no promise of how things will be resolved or how long the transition to a new normal will take.
In the end, through the pages of scripture, I have been given three things that are of greater value than a glimpse into the immediate future:
At the end of the day, this is what has been offered to me and it is what I have to offer the world. It isn't a safe, predictable routine, it is a relationship with the One who created all of us and has a vested interest in our future. It isn't an advance warning system of difficult changes that lie ahead and it isn't a promise that life will be easy or pain-free. It is the message of the gospel and it is enough.
Lance Armstrong: "Cancer taught me that pain has a reason and that sometimes the experience of losing things – whether health or a car or an old sense of self – has its own value in the scheme of life. Pain and loss are great enhancers. We have unrealized capacities that only emerge in crisis ... capacities for enduring, for living, for hoping, for caring, for enjoying. Each time we overcome pain, I believe we grow."
Now the pain is of his own making and cannot be overcome through perseverance, but only through repentance. I'm disappointed. Maybe I have no right to be. I don't know Lance Armstrong. I have never met him. Why should I feel I have any right to feelings of disappointment? Because I read his book (multiple times), and I ate it up. Because I followed his story and wanted to believe him. Because he wasn't just an athlete, he chose to be a public athlete. He chose to allow people to rally around him and use him as an example, an idol. He branded himself and his brand was built on hard work, an indomitable spirit, perseverance, and an attitude that refused to embrace the victim mentality or any hint of negativity. Talk about inspirational!
The only flaw = himself. When you make yourself out to be a god, when you tell people that you went through hell and not only survived it, but crushed it under your feet and you did it all on your own merit and effort, well you better be telling the truth.
Yes, I'm disappointed in Lance Armstrong. His life and story, however, has become infinitely more valuable to me now. You see, as a mother, I would never have pointed my son to Mr. Armstrong as a mentor or hero. As someone who puts my faith and trust in Christ alone, I never have and never will encourage my child to place others on a pedestal. I will however, use his journey as a powerful cautionary tale. Right now, my son has no idea who Lance Armstrong is, but in the days ahead I will make certain that he does. I will show him video clips of Lance insisting that he never doped and have him read articles about the financial and personal pain that others were forced to endure as Mr. Armstrong kept up his charade in order to protect his own brand and image. We will sit down together and we will have conversations about why someone would lie and keep on lying, and whether or not we are capable of the same sort of deception (sadly, we are). We will discuss the danger of elevating ourselves and our accomplishments for others to take note of. And we will pray for Mr. Armstrong and we will pray for ourselves.
Revelation 2:5 "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent." (ESV)
2 Chronicles 7:14 "If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (ESV)
1 John 1:9 "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (ESV)
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!)
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
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!