The End of the End

A week ago, I felt kind of like giving up this blogging thing.  I kind of whined and said some stuff that wasn’t so positive and uplifting.

My goal here is to be an encouraging voice.  But, I can not lie to people.  If I am down and not feeling it, I have to say so.  Encouragement isn’t about never being discouraged.  It is about getting up after I feel down.

I hate to type words of discouragement here on these pages but without them, there is no evidence of my words being in any way, shape or form representative of action on my behalf.

Image result for not going anywhere meme

So, in those times when life isn’t all that great and the options ahead look bleak and tough and I’d rather just sit where I am and pout for a while, I’m going to be honest and tell you.

I learned something in my last little pouting session.  I am no more able to quit writing than I am to stop pouring that first cup of coffee in the morning.  The first sentence that flows into an idea or spiritual insight or analogy, engages my mind just like that first sip of hot, bitter goodness in my cup.

There are days my fingers never touch a single key on a keyboard but my mind is always writing, pulling insight from everyday life and searching for a better way to be a better man.

I’d love to be successful at this endeavor.

But, success isn’t measured in articles, miles, readers or a popularity poll.  Success can be helping one person reach a place they couldn’t have reached without you.

The other night, a friend thanked me for the help I have been to him.

I have been successful.  If a man feels better for allowing me into his life and helping him get through something very difficult and destructive in his life, what better success is there than that?

I’ve typed hundreds, I suppose thousands of these articles.  Every now and then, someone tells me that they really needed what I wrote on the very day I wrote it.  I may never hear from them again or know what that day was throwing at them but somehow, God used this jumble of words to help them through it.

I have to keep my eyes on the prize.  This may be about being there (or here) for that one person in that one moment that makes all the difference.  God gives me the words, he brings the readers.

I’d like to think there are millions of people out there that would benefit from what I write.  But, honestly, if they are a lot like me, they don’t want to listen because I write about the need to change and most of the world doesn’t want to do that.  The want affirmation.  I don’t do that.  Affirmation gives the impression that right where you are now is good enough.  It’s not.

I write to move people.  Few want to move.  Most of my life I didn’t want to move. I wanted everything to come to me.

My writing also moves me.  I cannot get up and move every day if I don’t set some goals and put my eye on a target.  The shotgun approach to life doesn’t work for me.  I need to zero in on making today better and just throwing my life at a day hoping something goes right is a waste of time for me.

So, even if I say I feel like giving up, I’m not giving up.  How I feel isn’t going to dictate my next step.  I’m going to make my next decision on what is right.  Feelings, especially to a person that struggles with depression, tend to lie…a lot.

Here I am, where God put me, doing what God allows, to the best of my ability, for however long he asks.

Thank you to all who took the time to encourage me.  I appreciate you all and love the words you poured over my wounds.  Thank you, again.

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What I Am Not Thankful For

Last night was the annual Thanksgiving dinner at our church.  We get together and eat and talk and sing.  We sing a lot.  My voice gets about to the point of calling it a night before we call it a night.

It was a great time.  I met some nice new friends and hung out with some old ones.

The pastor, toward the end of the celebration, asked us to write down seven things that we are thankful for and really spend some time before God being grateful.  I thought that was a great idea and started thinking about my seven things.

But before I could reach for the ink pen and begin to right, something told me to think about the things I am NOT thankful for.

First of all came the things that were bugging me right at that moment.  I don’t hear so well, I don’t see so clear, my back was hurting.  It was the usual laundry list that accompanies someone that has lived hard and made it to just one year shy of sixty.  I am not thankful for the pain, the decay or the inevitable reminders that I ain’t what I used to be.

Then came situations and circumstances I don’t appreciate and see no point to and I can freely say, I am not thankful.

Next I rambled down the road that still has a few regrets lurking around the corners, I stepped in the potholes of misfortune, stumbled over missed opportunities and was nearly splattered by a truck careening recklessly down the wrong side of the road filled with my mistakes.

That was a whole truck load of ingratitude.

I like to tell myself how much more grateful of a man I am now than the one that once occupied this body and it is true.  But, when I look deeper below this thin veil of gratitude, I can see a lot of just the opposite lying beneath the surface.

I Thessalonians 5:16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

There is a huge part of life that I have bundled up in the “Exceptions to Thankfulness” truck.  As long as those things remain there, they will be flying wildly at critical mass through my past, wrecking memories, destroying hope in the future and replacing confidence with regret.  I’ll never be able to enjoy fully the life God has given me, through every single thing that has happened in my life, good or bad, as long as it resides in a possessed semi ravaging the highways and roads of my past.

The fact is, a lot of my past sucked.  A lot of it was horrible.  A lot of it was totally annihilated by my own actions.  A lot of it was painful.  A lot of it hurt others deeply and they did not deserve to be a part of it.

But I must still be thankful.  Without it all, I am not who I am.  I an denying myself to be what God has brought me to be, where God has brought me to be.

The somewhat more grateful man that I am so much more pleased to be these days could not have been without the things I am not thankful for.

Anyone can be thankful for the great things.  Who wouldn’t be thankful for a brand new fly rod?  Well, maybe a lot of people but, if I get the desires of my heart and the needs of life, it is simple to give thanks.  It doesn’t take God to crank it up a notch on that kind of gratefulness.

But God has gone with me through all of my life.  The good and bad, the times I refused to allow him to be there (I am not man enough to push him away), the days his presence seemed so far off, the days I cursed him.

He used it all, every detail, every minute, every pain, every joy, every single thought that raced through my crazy head, to make me who I am.

Today, I want to do more than be grateful for the good stuff.  I want to thank God for it all, the whole big convoluted mess that he turns from chaos into a masterpiece crafted by his hand.

Thank you for all of it, God.

Thank you.

 

The Miracle in the Mirror

I started writing yesterday and I painted a pretty bleak picture. I used to sit around feeling sorry for myself that I had reached such a low place in my life. I was to the place the widow was, use up what was left and die.

From yesterday:

“So I went into Celebrate Recovery and I had nothing. I didn’t even have sticks to build a fire. I was starved and full of death. I was broken and beaten and empty. The extent of my journey has left me in pieces. I was trying desperately to pull them all together and make myself into something more than a pile of useless trash.

Then I was asked to share.”

I’m not writing to say that Celebrate Recovery is THE answer. It is merely where I found my answer and continue to find it every time I attend. God has many ways of providing the answer. But when I walked in the doors, I wasn’t looking for the answer anymore. I was using up the rest of what I had left so I could give up for good.

Like I said before, I was pity party central and I had hit bottom so hard that I was sure I was broken beyond repair. I was just waiting to be swept up and tossed wherever they toss the rest of the shattered people like me. I had tried to hold all the pieces together for so long and the pieces just kept splintering and breaking away in my hands adding more futility to my life when I thought it had reached it limit. I had reached my limit. I was done.

What a terrible place to be. This is the place God saved my life. I dropped my hands to the side and said, “God? You want this mess? You want it? For real? Here you go!”

I expected it to be too much for him. I expected him to fail. I knew in my heart that I had broken his creation beyond all repair. I didn’t deserve to be fixed because now I saw through the lies I had told myself and knew that it wasn’t God that made this mess, it was me. I had simply usurped God’s authority until his purpose for my life was impossible to achieve.

Once again God proved me wrong. In the past, God had started the healing process and I had taken over again saying, “Thanks for the hand, God, but I’ve got this now.” My thick bonehead finally realizes that I will never had this. I wasn’t designed to control my own destiny. I was designed to be transformed and finished by God and his amazing grace. I can’t make myself into more than what God will create from me. If I want to run faster, jump higher and fly, only God can do that for me. I can barely get my backside to the couch in the morning.

Isaiah 40:30 Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. 31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.

When I am tired and weary, when I am about to faint from the stress of life and the dulling drain on my life energy from depression and fear, when anger eats away at me until I am at my breaking point, when my wings are clipped by my flaws and defects, when I can barely walk, when exhaustion makes the next breath a real challenge, God simply says, “Trust me.”

Satan’s greatest lie is, “There is immense power in yourself!” I’ve rode that self-powered bandwagon to the point of wanting this life to be over. There is nothing at the end of that trail but a bunch of wrecked bandwagons and bones picked clean by Satan’s vultures. It is where men go to die.

God challenges me to do the impossible, to reach farther than man alone can reach, to change what man cannot, to perform miracles through God’s awesome power and grace.

Some mornings I sit down at this desk to write and no words come. I stare blankly listening to the coffee pot gurgle and chug. Then I look in the mirror at the miracle, the man that laid in the land of brokenness and shame, hopelessness and fear and see a face that is ready to face a day of new discovery. Suddenly, there aren’t enough words to express what I feel.

I’m not a special kind of miracle. I’m a simple miracle, the kind that God does all the time, the kind God is aching to do for you who are sitting in that place where there is no hope and no future

I’m no longer holding myself together desperately afraid that the Frankenstein’s monster I have created will simply collapse into a pile of useless parts. My hands are free to do what God asks, my feet are free to go where he leads and my heart is able to withstand being broken for his cause over and over again.

I’ve got so far to go, so far to grow but I am not heading toward death even as this body refuses to fight the aging process. My future holds only life and the mystery of what God’s miracle will do in it today and tomorrow.

 

Nothing Left

For most people, making a good life just seems like common sense. Be a good man and a good life will naturally follow. Be an evil man and things are going to go downhill from there. Black and white makes for sharp contrast and one stands out firmly against the other.

But living the life of a good man means I have to forsake many of the things I want. I want some of those things that evil men get to experience. I want what is not good and I strive and struggle to find a way to bring them into my life. Of course, they stand out like dark towers in a landscape of light. They don’t belong but rather than bring my towers down and create a life full of beauty, I dim the lights, making the good look a little hazy and the bad look not so out of place.

Of course, on the outside, the lights are on and God is at home in my life but in my living room, I sit in the dark and my mind begins to focus on things that destroy me. I focus on how I can get away with doing what I ought not to be doing, how I can secretly squander my relationships, how I can have the things a man shouldn’t have and how to keep God from finding out I am cheating on our deal.

This is how sin begins. I have lived in self-imposed darkness and complained about the darkness to God as if he is responsible for me shutting him out so that I can live in my sin. The things that were once small and seemingly harmless have grown into things that consume me and leave me shriveling up.

1 Kings 17:1 Now Elijah, who was from Tishbe in Gilead, told King Ahab, “As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives—the God I serve—there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!”

The Jews had fallen away from God in much the same way. They lost their faith and thought they needed to create their own new way of finding spiritual peace and God sent a guy around to tell them what the problem was. They were a lot like me. They didn’t listen and so God told them how it was going to be. Things were going to get bad. Some people say God is pretty cruel to do this and that God was unfair. The truth is that God has told his people all along what happens if sin is allowed to fill in the place reserved for God and he isn’t lying. He doesn’t change his mind and go back on his word even if the consequences are severe. But God isn’t the one that chose famine. The Jews chose it. I chose it.

Sure, I shook my fist at God and screamed at the sky about my poor situation. I cried and whimpered. I got angry and was afraid. But I still held tightly to what was hurting me when the whole time God’s hand was open and ready for me to let it go so he could take it away. I’ve been to point that I couldn’t go on but still I was sure that God has forsaken me and had just left the building, a building full of traps and hazards that were bound to kill me.

1 Kings 17:10 So he went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the gates of the village, he saw a widow gathering sticks, and he asked her, “Would you please bring me a little water in a cup?” 11 As she was going to get it, he called to her, “Bring me a bite of bread, too.” 12 But she said, “I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.”

So I went into Celebrate Recovery and I had nothing. I didn’t even have sticks to build a fire. I was starved and full of death. I was broken and beaten and empty. The extent of my journey has left me in pieces. I was trying desperately to pull them all together and make myself into something more than a pile a useless trash.

Then I was asked to share.

I had nothing. I was nothing. I was worse than nothing. My nothingness was like rotting filth. But these people expected me to be what I was and welcomed me in. I knew Celebrate Recovery couldn’t help me and they knew it could.

I had come there for one last shot and then I was going to die. So I figured, “Why not? I’ll share just this once. I’ll show you all that I am too far gone and hopeless.”

1 Kings 17:13 But Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid! Go ahead and do just what you’ve said, but make a little bread for me first. Then use what’s left to prepare a meal for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the lord, the God of Israel, says: There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!”

So I shared the tiny bits of what was left of my life. To my surprise, there seemed to be a bit more every day. The life that once was nearing its end was beginning to flourish. Then it occurred to me that as I obeyed God and shared, not just with money but with time and energy and just my honest words, that sin was losing its grip on me. The darkness was fading farther and farther away and I am now living in the light of day. I am growing again.

An Attitude of ‘Attitude’

New Hope for Dry Bones

Often, I am no fun to be around.  I like the be the guy telling jokes that make people roll their eyes while trying to keep from laughing.  You know, I like the ones that are just so terrible but still funny at the same time.

Unfortunately, I’m not always that guy.  At times I am filled with anxiety and worry.  A lot of this has to do with expectations and what I want things to be or what I want people to do or, in general, what I want.

When I get preoccupied with things that I feel need to change, focused on the things my life lacks and generally dissatisfied, I live, as a good friend of mine likes to say, with an attitude of attitude.

When I have an attitude, there is generally not a sane reason to put the word ‘good’ in front of it.  Bad…

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The Beginning of the End

Well, I guess it is time to face reality.  I’ve been at this writing thing for quite a few years now.  People have just lost interest in it all.  My readers have fallen off to barely a third of what there were last year at this time.

I’ll  be making a decision on whether to continue this blog or just call it quits.  There are only a handful of people that read this and I think they will fall by the wayside as others did.

Thanks to those that took the time to read.

My Understanding of My Lack of Understanding

As I kid, I liked bugs.  I was particularly amazed by the Praying Mantis. I kept a few in my room in jars for the summer, feeding them grasshoppers and house flies that I worked hard to catch out in the yard or buzzing around the house.

Mom was probably happy when bugs and lizards were no longer residents of my bedroom.

There was a big spider one summer in the backyard by the grapevines that wove a beautiful web almost like magic.  One day, for some reason, I decided to tear it down just to see how long it took to spin.

The very next morning, a huge web reaches from vine to vine with a perfect geometric pattern.  There was, what I perceived to be, a very tired spider resting on the woven silk.

For a while, we had some bee hives.  Bees never cease to be interesting, even when they are managing to sting you through a beekeeping suit.

Bees, spiders, grasshoppers, flies and praying mantis’ (what is the plural of mantis?), all have complex reasons for existence.  For a while, I thought bees just existed to keep you on your toes running barefoot through clover.  I dug a stinger out of a foot more than once.

But all these things fill a role and have a function in the eco-system.  Many scientists proclaim that if the bees disappear, people disappear.  They are that vital in the things that allow us to exist on good old planet earth.

Man may think he is the ultimate creation but he is dependent on a little honey bee to swarm and thrive.

Bees, however, don’t have a clue that they are supporting all of mankind.  They just do what they do.  They take their roles in the hive, go to work every day, scout for nectar, give the good news of what they have found and the whole hive benefits.

They don’t know that I hang in the balance of their success.  But knowing or not knowing makes no difference, they must do what they do regardless whether they understand the whole story or not.

For a while, I gave up on God because I couldn’t understand him.  I started doing things other than what I ought to be doing.  I knew I was doing those things and I understood that I was wrong but I did it anyway because God just didn’t make sense to me.

Ecclesiastes 11:5 Just as you cannot understand the path of the wind or the mystery of a tiny baby growing in its mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the activity of God, who does all things.

We may think we understand all there is to know about a baby in the womb but no one has figured out how to create life from nothing, how to reproduce what happens inside a person to create life.

It is a mystery.  I don’t get it.  I don’t get a lot of things.  The activity of God makes no sense to me at times, just like a bee passing me as I mow the lawn may wonder what kind of fool I am when I should be out gathering nectar and not mowing it down.

I am no smarter than that bee when I try to comprehend the complexity of what God is doing!

But, still, I know just as sure as that bee knows, that I am to find what is good about life and share it with all who will listen.  I know to do what is good and righteous, even if I don’t understand what in the world God is doing and can’t figure out why he is doing it the way he does.

He is God and I am not.

I should do what I should and be thankful I am not required to be God.  I’m far too simple to handle something so complex.  Even if you don not acknowledge a god of the universe, it is clear that it all is hanging in a tightly knit balance of multitudes of variables and that if one changes, this all turns into one gigantic mess.

I believe it is being held together not by chance or luck but by the hand of the one who created it all.

But even if you can’t grasp that or refuse to grasp that, give God a chance.  Don’t shut him out because your understanding isn’t big enough to rationalize what God is doing.  Take a step back and imagine more than you can imagine and be willing to accept that God isn’t logical or put in a box that we can neatly pack in the closet labeled as “God”.

As I buzz around the world seeing what God does trying to put my definition of what that is to his actions, I am limiting God.  He has no limits and I can only see a part of what he is up to, maybe the most insignificant part.

So, all those times I gave up on God because I did not understand him, I should have put more faith in him because he was handling what I cannot understand.  When I am confused, he is not.  When I am lost, he is not.  When I am tired, he is not.  When I am powerless, he is not.

He is all the things I cannot be even if I do not understand.

I Forget

I forget.

I forget what I came into the room for, where my glasses are and where I put my car keys.

I forget to turn off the lights, pick up after myself or to do the one chore around the house that desperately needs to be done.

I’d forget my head if it wasn’t screwed on.

I forget.

I forget that everything always seems to work out even though I feel like I am being swallowed alive by a giant monster of circumstance.  I forget that God has always had my back, my past, my present.  I forget that there is no storm I have not survived.

I forget.

Psalm 107:25 He spoke, and the winds rose,
stirring up the waves.
26 Their ships were tossed to the heavens
and plunged again to the depths;
the sailors cringed in terror.
27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards
and were at their wits’ end.
28 “Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.
29 He calmed the storm to a whisper
and stilled the waves.

Life gets, at times, monotonous and easy, predictable and I forget that I need God every second of every minute of every hour of every day.  I forget that when I tried to usurp his authority, my life was a mess and he rescued me.

I forget.

I forget until the storm comes, until the wind howls, until the earth shakes fear deep into my core, until the lightning in the sky is blinding and the clouds begin to swirl.

Sometimes, I even forget that God has this, that he may even have made this to remind me of who he is, of who I serve and who empowers me.

Yes, I forget.

I forget that simply crying out, “Lord, help!” brings him back into the place he belongs in my life, knocks me off his throne and puts my faith in something greater than I or anyone else.

Mark 4:39 When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41 The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”

I forget how many times Jesus has stood up and rebuked my lack of faith yet he keeps silencing the storms just when I think things are completely out of control forever.

I forget that when I am terrified, he is there.

I forget that even the things that are seemingly above anyone’s control or influence obey him with just a word, the same words that began all of creation calm the storms in my life.

How can I forget?  Yet, I forget.

Psalm 107:29 He calmed the storm to a whisper
and stilled the waves.
30 What a blessing was that stillness
as he brought them safely into harbor!

I forget those blessings that come after the chaos, turns to calm, the riots turn to peace and my troubles turn to joy.

I forget that I have always, always been brought safely to the harbor and he will not stop bringing me home…EVER!

I forget.

Remember.

Anyone You Would Like To See Judged?

I’m amazed that people exist.  We are forever and a day doing what we shouldn’t. Even the “good” among us seems to be hiding treachery and deceit.

We so easily lose sight of right and wrong.  We reason away right and justify wrong.  Then we have what the world has today, a big muddy mess of morality so infused with immorality that even the most heinous of acts is being rationalized into what is acceptable.

It isn’t the first time civilization has watered down godliness to resemble something far, far from God.

Psalm 106:19 The people made a calf at Mount Sinai;
they bowed before an image made of gold.
20 They traded their glorious God
for a statue of a grass-eating bull.
21 They forgot God, their savior,
who had done such great things in Egypt—
22 such wonderful things in the land of Ham,
such awesome deeds at the Red Sea.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and cast judgment on you.  When it comes to judging self-centered perversion of God’s plan, I have plenty of room right in my own yard.

What I am going to do is challenge you to be honest with yourself.  I have to daily look long and hard at myself and dig around for the things that are catering to my own desires and pushing God aside.

Sometimes it is a big old golden cow.  Most of the time it is a judgment or an opinion that makes me feel things God would not have me feel about other people.  It can just be a little thing.

I hear people ask, “How can a God of love allow the things to happen in this world if he is such a great guy?”

I have to agree.  How in the world has he not just blasted us into tiny particulate matter never to breathe again?

There is so much misplaced faith, faith in country, faith in men, faith in my personal moral code, faith in my inner self, faith in the TV preacher with bad hair, faith in the president, faith in the people that hate the president, faith in exercise, faith in going green, faith in going orange, faith in mustard seeds, faith in everything but God.

God asks for my all and I answer with, “Yeah, but not this.”

It is not for me to judge the lack of faith in the world today.  It is for me to intercede, to honestly care about what happens to the ones that are so far from where God wants them to be.

Psalm 106:23 So he declared he would destroy them.
But Moses, his chosen one, stepped between the Lord and the people.
He begged him to turn from his anger and not destroy them.

Moses had some guts.  He stepped between God and his judgment.  There is an obvious parallel here but I am going to stick with Moses.

I have to be honest, there are times I would like to stand back and watch some judgment happen.  I’m not naturally inclined to step in between God and judgment.

But God’s goal in all this creation isn’t judgment.  It is communion.  It is to raise up a bunch of people willing to put themselves between God and judgment because they love others and they love God.

So, day after day, I try to root out the things in my life that are false idols, justifications for doing other than what God would have me to do, justifications to do nothing, prayers full of self and not others and anything else that diminishes my communion with the one qualified to judge in order to become a chosen one willing to stand up for others unconditionally.

I think Christianity has become too much conditional love and not Christ-like love for all.  I feel the desire of others to see judgment and to see it soon.

I’m afraid that the voices crying out the loudest for judgment may be the ones that regret it most.