A Few Words About 5%

Days come around when everything is a mess.  The bills can’t be paid.  My clothes are looking ratty and two sizes too small.  My kids seem to have lost their minds.  My wife seems to have lost her mind.  I have definitely lost my mind.

The lawn mower won’t start.  I can’t find a hammer.  I can’t remember where I put my keys.  My shoe strings are tied in knots.

A piece of siding has blow off the house and settled in “Who Knows Where, Missouri”.  There’s a wet spot on the ceiling and the garage door opener isn’t working.

I’m out of milk.  I’m out of coffee.  The microwave is on the fritz (people should say that more, fritz is hilarious), the oven doesn’t seem to ever get to the temperature I set it for and the fridge is about as cold as a summer day in St. Louis.

There are days like that and then, everything goes wrong!

By the time bedtime rolls around, my mind is full of solutions that are impossible, detours that are impassable and budgets that are improbable.

Yep, there are days like that.

I don’t like days like that.

But, I have weathered months and even years like that.  There are times that coming home from work meant kicking back and repairing two cars, a lawn mower, a leaky roof and figuring out the weird smell in the back of the yard.

Who wants to quit work and go home to that?

I’m sitting here today looking over my overwhelming list of what awaits me over the next few days.

Based on past experience, I can do that the things I have to do with a broken leg in a heavy cast while standing on my head on a bed of nails.

It is hard to go through those times.  The answers seem so limited.  The future seems so bleak.  The work involved seems too enormous for any one human to push through.

Here’s advice from one guy that has been through it and can manage to go through it (although grudgingly) again.

Pick out ninety-five percent of it and say, “I don’t care if it ever gets done.”

That’s right. Set it in you mind it is just there and will never be taken care of.  Throw it on God’s lap and say, “I can’t do it.  It’s up to you.”

No, this doesn’t magically leave you with nothing to do and it doesn’t make you wake up to a care-free world tomorrow.  But, it DOES leave you with a small pile of 5% to tackle today.

One thing at a time, one day at a time.  We, addicts and alcoholics and any other twelve stepper has learned this difficult lesson.  If the rest of you life is too big of an obstacle for you to climb, then just climb today.

I’ve been through this.  Grab hold of the one thing that must be done today.  Hang on till you push, pull, twist or beat it into submission.

Then move on to the next contender in your 5%.

Here is something that happens a lot, that 95% pile that is sitting in God’s lap either took care of itself somehow due to unforeseen solutions that miraculously appeared because your tunnel vision was forcing you to stare at the impossible solution, problems became obsolete just because they weren’t problems at all, just perceived things that could happen in the future, other problems that were taken care of due to the 5% you were working on successfully and also God’s intervention.  I believe all these things are God’s intervention.

The next step is to repeat the last step.

Luke 12:27 “Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 28 And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?”

I’ve found that doing this never increased my faith in me much.  I am still a procrastination, irrational, mistake-prone jughead like God created me for some crazy reason.  But it certainly has exponentially increased my faith in him.  My faith still must look like a BB in a box car to God but it has grown multitudes over the last decade.

I’m no life expert.  But, I have been through some mighty big messes.  The seemed like they would literally kill me.

Here I am.  Looking at my day, knowing stuff will go sideways and upside-down and I can do this.  I can do it because I have God’s lap to lay it in.  He’ll hold it as sure as I’ll sit and hold twenty toys and balance them precariously if my grandson asks me to.

After I tire of holding them, I quietly put them where they belong and he doesn’t even notice.  God’s done that for me.  That’s what he does.

That’s what he’ll always do.

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It’s January Fifteenth

Well, here I am again, smack in the middle of January.  This is the hardest part of the year for me.  The distractions of the holidays are past, the days are short, the air is cold and the man known as Mike Ridenour feels more melancholy and down.  There have been some pretty rough January 15th’s in my past.

Thirty-one years ago, when January 15th rolled around, I was sitting in rehab beginning my third day of what I was afraid would be a very short sobriety from cocaine that was bound to end in tragedy.

Two days ago marks thirty-one years of being drug-free.

You might think that would be the end of my self-inflicted pain and addictions but it isn’t.  I’ve often been found at this time of year in slavery to one thing or another trying desperately, but in vain, to find some way out of my misery.

Psalm 55:4 My heart pounds in my chest.
The terror of death assaults me.
5 Fear and trembling overwhelm me,
and I can’t stop shaking.
6 Oh, that I had wings like a dove;
then I would fly away and rest!
7 I would fly far away
to the quiet of the wilderness.

Yeah, I tried to sprout wings in all sorts of ways, ways that made the dark darker, the cold colder and the hopelessness more hopeless.

Sprouting wings is not practical, effective or possible.  Yet, I tried to find some way to escape out into the great unknown where it has to be better than here.

The great unknown.

It isn’t better.

I cannot run or fly from what is inside me.  I cannot medicate it nor pacify it.  It is there.

On this very morning it is there.

I’m not going to even contemplate flying this morning.  I’ve learned that the only way I can chase the darkness is with light.  The only way to devour the cold is through the fire.  The only way to shatter hopelessness is to find hope.

I have to apply these things to my mid-winter depression or whatever it is that smacks me in the face every single January directly on them.  I can’t do that from the distance I put between me and the part of me that tries to drag me down.  I face it with my hand firmly planted in the hand of God, my feet resting on his salvation and my eyes looking the winter monster right straight in the eye.

Psalm 55:16 But I will call on God,
and the Lord will rescue me.
17 Morning, noon, and night
I cry out in my distress,
and the Lord hears my voice.
18 He ransoms me and keeps me safe
from the battle waged against me,
though many still oppose me.
19 God, who has ruled forever,
will hear me and humble them.

I’ve finally learned that this isn’t a quick prayer and I’m good time of year for me.  It is morning, noon and night and then some.  It is a time for me to firmly establish a long, healthy walk with God throughout the entire day.

What once swallowed my faith and spit it out on the ground in a gross, unrecognizable glob is not the victim of it.

Once, I realized that this dark time lasts only for a while and that God is perfectly happy to walk along beside me and show me that the limits I place on him can be stretched further and further with each passing day.

That day over thirty-one years ago, the day I sat alone in that hospital ward pondering if this was the end of me or not, the day I thought I had lost it all, was the day that I slowly began to turn away from my own understanding.

Now, it took time for me to figure it out and I am still doing a lot of figuring.  There have been some pretty bad winters for me over the past three decades.  But, this morning as I sit here and look around me at the ones that come to visit this time of year every single year, I’m not thinking about wings. In fact, I’m thinking about taking them fishing and letting them see just how happy I can be, even with them around.

They are weak and I intend to keep them that way.  I’m not going to feed them.  I’ll not be giving them what they want.  I’ll just cry out to God and he will humble them.

I don’t pretend they aren’t there.  I’m satisfied knowing they are finally small enough to be used as stepping stones to better days.

 

Snow? I Doubt It

It is going to snow here, allegedly, anywhere from 0″-12″.  My whole life has been lived in Missouri, for the most part.  The weather here is a little unpredictable.

That may be an understatement.  I believe this is where they send weathermen as punishment.  If the weather here isn’t unpredictable, then we have just never in the last five decades had a decent weatherman.

I can’t tell you how many times big snow was predicted and the storm divided like the Red Sea and went right around the Gateway Arch, to the north and to the south and left all the poor kids leaving their sleds behind to go to school with nary a dusting.

It’s jokingly referred to as the “Arch Effect”.  It has happened with severe weather, as well, so it isn’t always a bad thing, whatever is going on that inexplicably makes weather take a detour around us.

The stores will be busy today, selling ice melt, snow shovels and all the ingredients to make french toast, which appears to be the food of choice for days we might possibly get snowed in.

I’ll believe the snow is coming when I see it.  Yep, I’m Show-Me through and through.

I’m sitting here this morning doubting we’ll get much, if any, of that white powder falling from the sky.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it came but I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t.

Which brings to mind another doubter, Thomas.

He’s been much maligned because he said he’d believe Jesus was alive when he saw it.

But Thomas was just a regular guy when it came down to it.  If my best friend, the president, the most profound scientific mind of all time or the head of the Bigfoot search committee told me they saw Jesus walking around in the streets of Troy, Missouri, I know I would doubt.

I’d think it was all just wishful thinking, hallucinations or delusions.

Sure, Thomas had seen a lot of miracles.

John 20: 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”
28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.
29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

Think about this.  Thomas was one of the original twelve.  God knew all along he was a skeptic at heart just as he knew Judas’ loyalty was an issue.  Yet, he chose Thomas.  Thomas isn’t known for a lot in the Bible except his change from skepticism to belief.

This belief was strong enough that he was willing to die for it and that is just what he did.

Here is a miracle of the scripture.  God wrote the story of the life of Jesus in real life, with real people that had real feelings and thoughts.  He knew we would need to address doubt in our hearts and minds.  He gave us Thomas, the skeptic, the doubter, the realist, to show that the miracle of Jesus standing up in that tomb, stepping out into the light of day and walking back into relevance was not wishful thinking or a story or even a mirage.  It was real.  He touched the hands, the wounds and he believed what he saw!

This wasn’t all about Thomas way back at the beginning of A.D.  It was about us, the doubters, the skeptics, that can’t see, that can’t touch or feel.  Jesus even spoke right to us, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

I still have my doubts about the snow that is looming in the near future.  But, I have no doubts about Jesus.  Thomas addressed them for me.  He’s kind of a hero that way.  It had to be tempting to just go along with the crowd.

I don’t feel like I have not seen anymore.  I have seen my life without Jesus and I have seen it since he has taken a high place in my heart.  I can see him.  I can see his power and mercy and love for me.  He’s here.  Working inside me and removing my doubts one day at a time.

I Don’t Want To Go To Work

OK, I don’t want to go to work today.  I really, really don’t want to.

I’ll bet you want to know why.  Well, I’m going to tell you even if you don’t.  That’s how it is for writers, we get to say it even if no one wants to listen.

See, work did some restructuring.  No one lost their jobs but a LOT of people aren’t sure of what their job is any more.  Most of them don’t like where they will be doing it.

As far as I know, I’m going to just be plugging along doing the same stuff I’ve always done…too much.

So, the ones affected are terrified as to how the change is going to impact their job and, in some cases, their whole lives.  The ones least affected are worried that something else is coming down the pike and they will be cast into the midst of seeming chaos.

I guess I could worry about that, too.  But I’m not.

I’ve been in far worse situations.  I’ve sat across the table looking at a man as he explained they could hire two guys to do what I do for the same salary.  So, I was being let go.

Me.  The guy that held down a job no matter how ridiculously I live my life, how irresponsibly, no matter what.  I kept a job and suddenly, I was unemployed.

When I found out, the wind came out of my sails.  I had, in a few short sentences, a handshake and an envelope with severance pay in it, become somehow less of who I was.  I felt like crying, screaming, running, crawling, curling up in a ball and jumping off the roof all at the same time.

Honestly, I went from being depressed to hurtling into the darkest depression of my life that lasted many years.

Even when God intervened, I had still lost part of myself.  I couldn’t be quite as grateful as I ought to be because I felt un-restored, lost and quite afraid of what was going to punch me in the gut next.  I was afraid.

Even though God provided, I was afraid.

For some reason, I thought that at any minute, the rug would fly from under me and I’d fall and God wouldn’t be there this time, next time.

When God brought me to this opportunity, this job, I was still that same man.  I came into this building afraid.  Some people saw it as moody, arrogant and obnoxious, but I was afraid.  I didn’t think I could do that whole losing a job thing again.

But, I will sit in my office today and not be afraid.  I will see fear all around me.  But, I am not going to be fearful no matter how strong the tide of fear gets.  After all, a little fear can swirl into a great big storm of fear, dragging all who feel it in.

Isaiah 35:4 Say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, and do not fear,
for your God is coming to destroy your enemies.
He is coming to save you.”

The enemy is fear, depression, anxiety, addiction, grief and the whole rest of the list of things that take over humankind’s lives.

Make God your god!  Do it now, right now while you are still getting ready for a day of uncertainty.  These things are coming for you but God is going to destroy them and save you.

Just make God you god.

Put the job behind him.  Put those people behind him.  Put that uncertainty behind him.  Put anything that has caused you not to see him behind him, so that HE is the prominent figure in your thoughts and actions, hopes and dreams and your reasons to get up in the morning.

No, work isn’t where I want to be this morning.  But I’m not going to be there alone, even if I am the only one that shows up.  God is coming with me and my enemies are cruisin’ for a bruisin’ today.

Finding Joy

Yesterday, I hung a light fixture for my dad.  Well, recently I have hung several but there is one type that seems impossible to install without a great deal of aggravation and frustration and maybe a few other “ations” that elude my mind at this moment.

Some of the fixtures I put up for him were simple, just remove the old one, undo some wire nuts, re-do the wire nut on the new light and hang it up.

I like that.

I want life to be like that.  Just pull out anger, do some quick re-wiring of my brain and “voila”, a patient and gentle man emerges.

Yep.  That sounds real good.

But most of my life is more like the other light fixture, the one that weighs enough to cave in the ceiling, that has more parts than a Ford and if one single thing is done wrong, the whole works has to be taken apart and re-assembled.

I guarantee you that even though I didn’t say anything out loud that would not have been appropriate for all audiences, it was racing through my mind as that light tormented me every which way but up.

I think it is a pretty good example of the road many of us have to walk.  We deal with addiction.  We get our act together, start putting something positive in place of the old miserable stuff that controlled us before and “Blam”, we hit the switch and it doesn’t work.

I see a lot of people that just leave that light hang there.  It was so close to being new and exciting but it didn’t work so they gave up.

I did that a LOT of times.

If I have learned nothing else over the course of the last several years it is this, try again.

Try again.

Take that whole seemingly useless pile of what looks like it ought to work and doesn’t and dismantle it.  Give it a give going over.  So often, we just had a little piece out of place or a wire not quite connected.

It only takes one small detail to make something not function like it should.  Take it apart and rebuild it, follow the instructions more closely, pay more attention to what you are doing and hang that sucker up one more time.  Don’t just let all that work hang there and walk away.

James 1:2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

I don’t know if I could have hung out with James.  I mean this guy is kind of nuts.  In my book, troubles still don’t mean joy.  But my book isn’t done being written.

See, there were times I would have hung that light up, flipped the switch, been disappointed and walked away forever.  When that trouble came, I experienced nothing but failure.

But yesterday, since I have hung so many lights over the years, I had no intention of giving up, EVER!  I was going to hang that light and it was going to work even if I had to dismantle it a hundred times.  It was going to light up when I hit that switch.

My shoulder kind of ached from that awkward position there on the ladder trying to balance a heavy light, wire it up, turn screws and play the piano (OK, I wasn’t trying to play the piano but I felt like I was trying), my neck was tired of looking up, my arms felt kind of numb, but I was NOT going to quit.

Before long, I was putting the shades on, installing the bulbs and the light switch went on.  Beautiful light filled the room and I sat down in a chair and then the joy came.

I wasn’t doing cartwheels or a cheer or even laughing.  I just felt joy.  I felt joy over a light going on the ceiling.  I sat and looked at all the new light fixtures giving off light and admired the way it made the whole place better than it was.

Joy.

Nope.  Trials and trying over and over again aren’t ever going to be a good time.  But they are an opportunity for me to move over on the other side of my efforts and stand in the light of success and not the shadows of failure.

So, if you relapse, if you get angry and punch a wall or a nose, if you get scared and run and hide when you should have stood, if you fall apart when you should have been strong, if you walk when you should have run, try again.

Have the courage to rip everything apart and see what went wrong and do it right.  Find joy that can’t be found by giving up and giving in.

Why I Need Stress

Stress.  It isn’t exactly what a person wants.  I have never, not one single time, gone to God in prayer and asked for more stress today.  I’ve never told my wife that I want to be stressed out by her.  I’ve yet to ask my kids to stress me out.  I haven’t gone to work, riding in my truck thinking, “I sure hope work is more stressful.”

Nope.  I don’t ask for stress because I don’t like it.

Sometimes I feel like I am pulled in four different directions and at any moment, I’m going to snap because I am at the end of how far I can be stretched.  This tension causes stress.

But, I’m not sure we can survive as a species without stress.  There has to be some outside force that causes us to act.  Without any stress at all, I may not budge from wherever I am to where I should be.

Stress is what makes me go from being hungry to finding something to eat.  Stress is motivating because if I don’t move the stress gets stronger and stronger and I either move or break.  Most people don’t break.

Even me, with the added stress of depression and anxiety, have not completely snapped.  I have gotten into some pretty bad places but the stress of being there caused me to get out.

The secret to living a stress-free life is to just live a stressful life.

That makes no sense because there is no stress free life, no matter what some quack selling a book tries to tell you.

All the people living stress free lives will now type whatever they want in the space below:

 

Wow, they sure are a quiet bunch.

See, stress shouldn’t be run from.  I tried that and all it did was pull harder and harder on me and pretty soon I came shooting back far beyond center like a stretched out rubber band when someone lets go of it.

Stress is often due to a problem.  It seems really tough to deal with when I have a problem.  But when I run headlong into the bad circumstance and do all I can do about it, the stress is relieved.

Sometimes, I can’t fix a problem and I worry.  Worry, feeds stress and I think it injects the stress with some steroids.

Often, for me anyway, stress comes from not listening to God.  I get stressed because I am going the wrong way, making more strain and tension in my life.  It isn’t going to stop until I turn around and leave my selfish and sinful nature and find myself in the place God is moving me to.

Sure beats the slingshot method of being forcefully snapped back in line.

I’m no expert on stress other than I have dealt with a lot of it and have learned that it is going to be there all the time if I am the least bit mentally healthy.  A person with no stress is pretty near dead.

My truck is out there in the parking lot right now.  It isn’t experiencing much stress.  However, it is sitting there taking up space and isn’t much use to anyone.

If I go out there and turn the key, all sorts of things race through its computer.  It begins to do something.  Parts are moving.  It is slowly beginning to take on a little damage.  But it is ready to work.

When I put it in gear, the brake is fighting the accelerator, fuel is being pushed into the engine, the engine is burning fuel, sparks are flying in the cylinders, gears are meshed and turning in the transmission, lights are coming alive and shining into the dark.

There is stress.  The truck wants to move.  It wants to pull.  It is ready to haul.  Without all those things pulling on the truck at once, nothing really works right.

Stop running from stress.  Run toward it.  Nothing relieves too much stress like closing the gap between myself and what is causing it.  Often that’s all it takes, to turn around and look it in the eye.

Waiting For Daylight

Once upon a time, I was a hunter.  These days I fish.  If I don’t want to clean fish, I just let them go, which is ninety-nine percent of the time.  When a person hunts, there is all sorts of cleaning, processing and cooking to do.  Then after you do all of that, you have to clean stuff up.  I hate cleaning.

The one thing I miss about hunting is sitting in the tree stand in the dark, early in the morning.

I sat in silence, almost always alone.  I’d settle in and try to not make a single sound.  I even tried to breathe more quietly.

There, in the dark, the woods came alive.  There were animals moving through the leaves that coated the forest floor.

I’d try to figure out what they were.  Maybe that one was a raccoon getting ready to call it a night.  Maybe that one was a coyote heading for wherever it is coyotes go.  Perhaps that noise was a turkey, stirring on its roost before it not-so-gracefully plopped itself down onto the ground.

I’d try to figure it out but I never knew what was going on around me.  It was dark.

Some mornings the darkness seemed like it would never end.  I’d sit, getting colder by the second, squinting through the darkness trying to see if there was somehow a bit of something I could make out among the shadows.

Then it would happen.

It was amazing every single time.

The sun would give a tiny bit of light and the shadows turned into gray ghosts, playing tricks on my eyes, making me think I saw things I wasn’t really seeing.  I would stare intently, trying to focus on those things in the distance but I just couldn’t quite make them out.

I tried to hurry the sun up above the horizon.  But it never hurried.  It came up right when it was supposed to.  Sometimes the rising was just a dull light that lit up the gray sky filled with clouds.  Other times it was a magnificent light show as its rays bounced off of things and flooded the day with color.  At other times, it just made a spectacular solo appearance as a ball of bright light that burst into the morning sky.

That light turned the shadows and the gray ghosts into trees, fields, fences and wildlife.

That is what I miss about hunting.

I think I might give it a go again minus my gun or bow.  Maybe not, since I’d have to get up before breakfast to do it.

John 3:19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. 20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.

Here is something I need to always remember.  I sat in darkness.  I was cold and everything I heard was mysterious and threatening.  I couldn’t see anything.  The rustling in my mind turned into great big monsters wanting to devour me.  I couldn’t see them.

Then the light came.

It blazed upon the things that I feared.  It shone light on the monsters that turned out to be not scary at all.  In fact, they were just the shadows of things that can’t even move toward me.

The things I was afraid to see, once seen, were powerless.

I need to always step into the light when I am afraid.  There is nothing there to hurt me.  There is only an awesome dawn of a new realization that I am far too afraid of things that have no power over me.

I need to greet the dawn of each new day with expectation of the unexpected, excitement that I can see what was once invisible and the beauty of life stepping out of darkness into God’s glorious light.

It is about sun up now.  Enjoy this day.

Why Do I Do That Stuff?

One thing about people with addiction that I have seen over the years is, they usually don’t know why they do the things they do.

Once I saw that, I began to see it in other people.  They don’t know why they do the things they do.

Clearly, we all do wrong and we all (protest if you must but I will guarantee you do, too) keep doing it.  Oh, we may stop doing this or that but often we must substitute a lesser wrong for a big one.

I guess you call that baby steps.

Baby steps are good but as I grew older and my legs grew longer, I had to stop taking baby steps.  Just doing things less wrong yet not right was not for a big full-grown man.  It became time to take big full-grown man (I’m talking about me here, you ladies should not behave like full-grown men, there are quite enough of us running around mucking things up) taking big steps that babies can only dream of taking.

God doesn’t bring from death to life to crawl and toddle through the rest of my life.

He brings me to take big steps and that involves coming to big realities in my life that I did not know existed.  That means I have to figure out why I do dumb stuff, wrong stuff, evil stuff and just plain start doing more things right in the first place and going back to try and fix things a lot less.

The problem is that when I look back to attempt to see why I do the things I do, it is clouded by guilt, shame, pain, hurt and all sorts of other stuff that I’d rather not deal with.

Not dealing with it, though, means it is always there.  It doesn’t just go away over time.

Until someone suggested (told me and assumed I would go) I attend a step study at Celebrate Recovery, I was blasting away at the bad things in my life pushing them far enough out of the way that I could take one more baby step.

After a lot of pushing and shoving I was basically right where I started, just on the other side of the room.  Recovery was wearing me out and I was pretty tired of the whole thing.

John 2:25 No one needed to tell him about human nature, for he knew what was in each person’s heart.

No one needs to tell Jesus what is in our hearts.  He knows.

He knows when I doubt him.  He knows that I think evil thoughts, that I lust for things I shouldn’t, that I am crying inside and don’t understand why, that I feel like exploding and letting the carnage happen.

That used to scare me.  God knows how bad I really am.  He KNOWS.

He can’t love me.  I must be defective and not useful at all.  I’m lost.

Oh, but even as Jesus roamed this planet, he knew every man.  He knew their hearts.  He knew the evil, the decadence, the unworthiness and the hopelessness.

Yet, he went through with it, loved us, died for us, made a way for us, even though no man deserved it, not one!

So, there is no fear in knowing that Jesus knows.   He has proven that he loves all of mankind and like it or not, I are one (I know that is bad grammar but I think it sounds funny if you say it out loud).

I sat down in that Celebrate Recovery step study, I went to the town of  “Why” with some strangers, a friend and the one that knows my heart.  We dug around and found out that I am not just some evil person randomly doing acts of treachery, deceit, violence and lust.

I learned to push aside the curtains of guilt and shame and go past the point I made bad decisions and became a victim of my own actions.

Yeah, I learned a little bit about how I think and how to recognize when that thinking is going off the rails.  I learned to spot when depression was taking over my reality.

Oh, there are lots of things I still have to learn.  But, I am learning a lot about why I do the things I do and that helps a LOT to keep me from doing them in the first place and not spending all my time trying to fix everything I have broken.

There’s a lot more time to smile, a lot more time to feel peace, a lot more time fixing a problem head-on rather than trying to fix it by worrying.

It is hard.  Lots of people quit when the curtains of guilt and shame close in on them.  But if we persevere, those curtains are torn down and burned in the fire of redemption.

Time to Drop the Yet

I’ve often heard said, “God has never failed me yet.”

I’ve done a little digging to see if that exact phrase is in God’s Word because it troubles me a little.

It didn’t trouble me in the past.  It was easy for me to say, “God hasn’t failed me, yet he might.”

I was a little weak in the faith category and I must confess I still am, although exponentially stronger than I once was.  I was more of a God has kind of failed me, but maybe not, but he still might, I totally doubt him kind of semi-believer.

Oh, I believed that he had done great things.  He probably didn’t do those things for me.  I believed he had sent his son to die for my sins.  And maybe it was enough to cover my sins, maybe not.

But, I doubted he was engaging with me in any sort of personal way.

So, I gave in and I kind of tested God.  There were a lot of times I felt he had failed me.  Maybe you haven’t ever felt that way but I sure have.  I have shook my fist at the sky and mumbled, grumbled, shouted and wept in the aftermath of what surely must be the failings of God.

But as time marched on, purpose emerged from the pain.  Power burst forth out of weakness and faith became immovable bedrock that my relationship with God was built upon.

But still, I uttered the words, “He has never failed me…yet.”

Yet, I may do something so bad, so wrong, so awful, so big that God’s love cannot climb it let alone cover it.

Yet, I must doubt because I am from the Show-Me State where we have to see it to believe it.

Yet, I cannot comprehend that there exists love that is unconditional.

Those three little letters…Y-E-T, they are starting to bug me.  I really feel like it is time to drop them from my faith, from my thoughts, from the words I sing, from the affirmations of faith in God alone.

God’s love has NEVER failed me.

There is no need to place a disclaimer on the end of the sentence.  There is no reason to allow myself a shadow of a doubt.  There is no need to imply conditional love.

His love will never fail me.  His promises will never fail me.  His word will never fail me.  His strength will never fail me.

He will NEVER fail me…period.

Psalm 109:26 Help me, O Lord my God!
Save me because of your unfailing love.

He is unfailing.  He will always be unfailing.  He has always been unfailing.

I need to hang on to this and drop the “yet”.  I need to take that next big step that roots doubts and fears out of my heart and stand up, stand strong and know that no matter how bleak things look, how ugly the future may seem, how tough today may be, God has already not failed.  He has already won the victory.

I do not need to doubt what has already been done.

He will never fail me.  My faith is in the right place.

 

And She’s Buying a Stairway to Heaven

I remember getting the sheet music to Stairway to Heaven and bringing it home to learn to play it on my guitar.  It didn’t sound right.  The sheet music was written for piano and it didn’t sound like the Jimmy Page version.  Later, I learned to play it for guitar and it still didn’t sound like Jimmy Page.

I got tired of trying to sound like Jimmy Page and developed my own style.  Everyone told me they could hear some Jimmy Page in my playing.  Go figure.

Back to the sheet music, it had the piano notation and also they lyrics.  Mom sat down and read the lyrics (which I thought were really cool lyrics).

“Whaddaya think, Mom?”

She said, “Sounds like someone that wants to sound spiritual but doesn’t know how.”

You know?  For all the cool ways the lyrics flowed, for all the nice rhythm, for the beautiful way they rode the melody on a long journey from note to note, they really made no sense.

There’s no buying a stairway to heaven.

It took me a while to realize that this not only applies to a monetary pass into the pearly gates but it also applied to any other pass to the streets of gold.

There was no list of things to do to buy my way in.  There was no sacrifice, no magic spell, no image to uphold, no mountain to climb, nothing I can possible manufacture to buy my way in.

Only Jesus can buy my stairway to heaven.

John 1:51 Then he said, “I tell you the truth, you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man, the one who is the stairway between heaven and earth.”

He alone has made a way for me to get to heaven.

So, just as there’s no buying my way into heaven, through Christ, no rap sheet of sins I’ve done, no disbelief from my past, no amount of evil I have succumbed to, nothing, NOTHING can overcome the way Christ has freely given.

No down payment, no problem.  Christ paid it ALL!  Every bit of it.  I am not in debt of any kind.

I’m not motivated to serve him because I OWE him something, that I can somehow pay him back for what I did.  That’s impossible.

I serve him because of who he is and who he is transforming me to be.

If I look at my service to him as paying off a debt that I owe him, as returning a favor, I’ll quickly become overwhelmed by futility.  I can’t do it.

But the stairway he has purchased for me by paying my debt, leads me home even if I stumble I won’t come tumbling all the way back to my old self.  Even if I believe I have fallen and am walking the same ground I used to walk when I was in sin, I am not.

He will catch me, even if I don’t want him to.

Mom was right, that song is trying to be spiritual without knowing how.  Unfortunately, a lot of Christians are doing the same, striving away, not to serve God because they want to be like him but trying to pay off a debt that cannot be repaid.

I guess that’s why so many Christians don’t sound very Christian.  Their emphasis is on paying a price, not being like Christ.  I’ve been that way.  Sometimes, I still am.

But today, I’m not buying anything.