Project Gratitude – My Army

Project Gratitude – My Army

Prayer is a powerful thing, and I am a firm believer in prayer. Today I am thankful for this avenue God gave us that provides direct communication with Him.

In the book of Genesis is the story of Enoch, a man who walked, “faithfully with God.” I believe prayer, in conjunction with other instruments of faith such as fasting and devotion, allow us to experience this same ‘walk’ with God.

Prayer

And although we should pray always, praising His name and in a spirit of thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6), prayer tends to be most common in a time of need.

Much has been said about the negative effects of social media in society, and several aspects of this criticism are valid. I instead want to focus on the positive value of social media, primarily, the ability to rally prayer warriors.

I love the passage in the Book of Ephesians that describes the Armor of God. I think of it as a way to prepare daily against the weapons the enemy uses to distract us from God.

armor

So today, when I went to Facebook and asked for the support of my tribe of prayer warriors, each armed with the knowledge of Christ who lives in their hearts, they responded in full force.

My request was for Lee’s Aunt Mary who recently suffered a stroke. At almost seventy-four years old, the ability to overcome a stroke is made more challenging. Still, nothing is impossible with God.

When over fifty individuals raise their intentions to the Lord, I believe He honors that collective faithfulness. And what a blessing it is to see the response from friends and family as the pray for Aunt Mary. Not only is it tangible, it’s also inspiring and uplifting.

Today I am thankful for Facebook. I am also thankful for the amazing community of family and friends that support me in all I do. It’s a beautiful blessing.

I ask you keep Mary in your prayers. May God’s healing spirit guide her to a full recovery.

Retreat and Surrender

As part of National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo), I am taking part in a daily blog post challenge through the BlogHer website. Today’s prompt:

When you’re having a bad day with your mental health, what do you do to help yourself?


Where do I even begin?

I guess, since this is November, I have to start with Thanksgiving. Not the holiday, but rather the ever-present need to be thankful for all God has given me.

I am thankful for not being afflicted with a clinically diagnosed mental health issue (although I have members in my family who have). I am thankful for not be saddled with a medical condition that requires a daily regiment of medications (although I have members in my family who have). I am eternally grateful for the health and well being of my two teenage children (although I have members in my family who can’t say the same).

Yes, life sucks sometimes. It’s cruel and unfair and it can be consistently inconsistent. Yet for every crappy day, my experience has taught me it can always be worse. I know that sounds quaint or trite, and yes, I know I’m perhaps oversimplifying the big picture; but there is truth in the anecdotal, albeit cliché saying, “this, too, shall pass.”

There is no one right answer for handling adversity or managing those ‘mental health’ days. The prescription for getting through the storm is as unique as our fingerprints. Still, as a person of faith, I believe there is one common denominator.

I used to surrender my crap to really, really loud music. Pop in the Van Halen, turn the volume up to eleven, and just let Eddie’s shredding on his guitar take me far away from where it is I was. When that didn’t work, I’d hand my problems over to alcohol. My happy place was inevitably found at the bottom of a bottle of booze. But ear drum and liver damage aside, what I was truly wrecking was my soul.

booze

Over the last decade, I’ve learned that everything in my life begins and ends with God. To put it in a mathematical analogy, He provides the parenthesis of my minutes, hours, days, years, and life.

(me), where ( = God and ) = God

Not only is this perspective highly effective when it comes to pressing through the tough times, it is absolutely liberating as well. Being able to surrender my problems to the Lord has helped me elevate above the worldly problems that arise and overcome them while minimizing the mental and emotional impact on my life. Please don’t get me wrong, just because I believe in God and have a relationship with Christ does not mean my life is easy and nothing bad ever happens. That’s not what I am saying. Rather, when the *bleep* hits the fan, dealing with it all becomes a less stressful situation because of my faith in Him.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

– John 16:33 NIV

For me, it all begins and ends with prayer. Effective, focused, and intentional prayer is how I get through the ‘mental health’ days. Sometimes God is immediate with His blessings and opens my eyes to the solution I am seeking. Sometimes He’s not, and the blessing is in the growth that results from the pressing through the tough time. Either way, I’ve found that when I make my time with God a PTA meeting (Praise, Thank, then Ask), there is no problem too great for Him to resolve.

PTA

When tough times arise, I now turn down the volume of the world and inebriate myself with the Holy Spirit. It’s not always easy, but that’s the thing with faith; it’s not supposed to be.


nablopomo

Wounded

Writing has always been therapeutic for me. Although my blog has evolved over the past decade when I started writing, it still remains where I go to deal with the lemons life throws my way.

Tonight is no exception.

There is an irony in writing, one that parallels the experiences of my faith journey.  I have found that God is always able and willing to turn our broken into something beautiful. Similarly, the most productive muse I’ve ever encountered is one called pain. Pain has fueled some of my favorite posts, and she continues to move me to write. Thankfully, however, she’s stayed away from me for some time. But she did pop her head into my life this week, and this is what that visit produced.

Wounded 

Wounded

Changing of the Guard (?)

Uncertainty can be so uncomfortable. What’s next? Will we do this? What about that? I love having a plan, and like John “Hannibal” Smith of the A-Team, I love it when a plan comes together.

When things don’t happen according to plan, however, it can be easy to get lost in the chaos.

Right now, we’re in the middle of a transition period with my daughter and her path as a young, competitive soccer player. There are decisions to be made. There are adjustments to be considered. There is a valley of uncertainty we need to cross.

Normally, I’d be wallowing in my own anxiety. I don’t really care for uncertainty. I’m reminded of a time when my wife suggested we spontaneously get in the car and drive to South Florida. She thought it would be ‘fun’ to just drive until we get tired and then find a hotel along the way. My furrowed brow must’ve said all that needed to be said, because she could immediately tell I was not understanding the words coming out of her mouth.

“So you’re saying we don’t need a reservation first?” I asked incredulously.

“No. We just pull into a hotel and tell them we need a room.”

“People do that?”

With the situation with my daughter, I WANT to know what will come next. What will be the changes with for next season? What will be my daughter’s decision with regards to school versus club sports? Is she going to re-dedicate herself to what’s she’s been working on for the last four to five years?

But all this is like going to the movies and wanting to fast forward to the end just as the movie starts. What fun would that be? What makes a movie great is the story it tells throughout. There are ups and downs. There are plot twists. There are moments that will scare you, anger you, and relieve you.

Life is the same way.

In my faith journey, I’ve learned to replace anxiety with the perspective of anticipation; anticipation in finding out how God – the master screenwriter – will reveal the story’s eventual ending to me. It’s a reminder that just because things are not going great now, they won’t be great again later. It’s in these moments of anxiety that I’ve learned I’m in the middle of a story that still needs to play out.

That’s not to say there are no decisions to make. God calls us to work so that we arrive at where it is He wants us to be. I need to be patient and supportive with my daughter as she weighs her options going forward. I need to find the healthful balance between pushing her too hard and being blasé as a dad. I need to provide counsel, yet ensure the decisions she makes are indeed hers. 

I need to remember the end of the chapter is still off in the distance.

So we will press forward in prayer and in the knowledge that anxiety is useless, especially when we have faith in the story He’s written for us.

What's Next

Getting Back to Bruce

Yesterday my wife and I decided to take an adventure, skip work, and go to Winter Park for a screening of the new movie Divergent. We invested a lot of time and energy to make it all happen.

This blog post started off as a rant. A rant against all the hormone-crazed pre-teens, teens, twenty-somethings, and older women who ruined my movie experience last night. It was originally titled “Just Not Worth It”, and it was going to be a blast at how lust-filled women filled a movie theater with swooning chatter over Ansel Elgort and Theo James. So much so I actually found myself yelling – and I mean yelling – “Shut up!” in the middle of the theater.

I was going to go off on having to wait for hours and hours and hours only to have a tsunami of estrogen capsize my evening. Not to mention the fiasco of how we had to check our cell-phones at the door for the movie screening. You can only image the chaos this caused on the way out. Oh yeah, then there was the 90 minute drive back home.

I was furious, and I WAS going to rant about all that.

But as I started typing, I realized the uniqueness of the evening, and how it did end up being, after all, another big adventure for us.

In the end, we ended up with author Veronica Roth signing our copy of her novel, actor Ansel Elgort signing it as well, and getting to be two of only a few hundred people in the country who got to see the film a couple of weeks before its national release. We also made a new friend while waiting in line, and watched her have one of the greatest days of her life as she met Ansel in person.

Lee

You see, this blog post is not about me expressing my anger over something that is, at the end of the day, inconsequential. This blog post is about God speaking to me through my own words and reminding me about what is important. I’ve been angry all day, and I carried that anger with me in everything I’ve done today. I found myself snapping at people at work – although, truth be told, they really kinda’ deserved it – and I haven’t been able to really focus at all.

I feel it in my neck and in my back. What’s more, I feel it in my gut, mostly because I took out my anger and frustration on my wife as we drove home last night.

Always Angry

It’s not the first time I’ve let my anger get away from me, and I know it won’t be the last. I identify a lot with the character of Bruce Banner, and I know one of my biggest challenges is keeping my personal hulk at bay. Prayer and focus have been crucial in helping make this happen, but I lost sight of that last night.

As I began typing this blog post and found God re-arranging my personal narrative, I know it’s because He wants to see a lot more of Bruce and a lot less of the other guy.

Keep On Keep’n On

You know that saying, “How do you eat an elephant? ………. On bite at a time.”? Life is like that.

Elephant

I find myself at work overwhelmed with tasks. What should take five minutes ends up taking fifteen. What should take fifteen ends up taking an hour. 200 unread email messages in my Inbox. I devote an hour to work through them. My reward: 192 unread messages (because so many keep coming in).

I’ve been here before. About two years ago I was staring at my ever enlarging Inbox. It was in the neighborhood of about 350 unread messages. I felt my throat thicken. I started to immediately sweat and quite profusely. My lungs shrunk. It was a full on panic attack. 

I slammed shut my laptop, slid away from the desk in my home office, and staggered into bed, all the while trying to hide the tears from my wife.

I still get anxious – and perturbed and frustrated and exhausted – but now I do two things when those feelings rear their ugly heads. The first is remind myself to put it all in perspective. There are only 24 hours in a day, there is a quantifiable limit to how much I can do, and no matter how much I try to get done, I will never be ‘caught up’. Besides, I decided a long time ago that work does not define me, and I refuse to sacrifice my time with my kids or my wife for the sake of getting one more task completed.

The second thing I do is pray. I’ve written about this before, and the tenants hold true. There is no point in drowning yourself in anxiety, and there’s a freedom in surrendering to God. God provides and God knows what’s best for us. It’s when we try to do it all ourselves that we falter, and it’s only in taking our burdens to Him – be they work issues, home issues, personal doubts – that we find relief from them.

So when you sit at the dinner table, and the main course is one giant elephant, just remember: one bite at a time.

Surrender

Jesus Was A Badass

Earlier this month I was blessed to be able to get out of our old SUV and into a new car. Modernized technology, better fuel economy, working air conditioner: it was really nice to be ‘out with the old and in with the new’. After many hours finalizing everything at the dealership, Lee and I sat in the car ready to drive it home.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a man waving at us in the dealership’s parking lot. Still focusing on getting the mirrors adjusted and the seat just right, I simply assumed it was someone from the dealership that needed to tell us one last thing about the car. I opened the window, and the young man asked me a question. With a saddened and distressed look in his eyes, he asked if I would call the police because he was seriously thinking of killing himself.

We did call the police*. Our sales rep at the dealership came over and spoke with him (and he was great with the man, BTW). I simply stood in the background, motionless and quiet. I can’t explain why, but I was terrified. I didn’t know what to do nor what to say. I allowed perceptions and ill-conceived notions to cloud my head, and on my way home, I cried because I was ashamed. In a moment of ministry, I slinked into a corner and let others do the work.

If I claim to be a Christ follower, why was it that in that very moment, I did the exact opposite of what Jesus himself would have done? Jesus would have reached out to that man in compassion. I thought only of myself and held back. Jesus would have offered love and understanding. I offered skepticism and cautious hesitation. Jesus would have been fearless (as he always was). I let fear divert me from what He was calling me to do.

We don’t often think of Jesus as fearless. We don’t think of Him as the guy who didn’t concern himself with the opinions of others. You never hear anyone refer to Christ as a badass. But think about it. He really was. He challenged the status quo. He compelled others to think beyond their human limitations, and to act out of love and service for others. He tactfully turned the manipulation of those who opposed him into learning experiences for all. Jesus’ deft way about Him was truly badass.

This morning I was walking into Starbucks, my eyes cloudy and groggy from not getting enough sleep. A man at a table outside the store looked at me and said, “Good morning.” I don’t think I acknowledged him. I remember my first (and selfish) thought being, “I don’t have time for this right now.”

I went inside, ordered my coffee, and waited. Your typical Starbucks routine. As I waited, the image of the man from the car dealership popped in my head. I remembered the redness in his eyes from the crying he’d been doing. I remembered his body language, full of pain and yearning. I heard a voice in my head say, “You DO have time for this.”

The barista called my name. I grabbed my coffee and headed out the door.

“You DO have time for this.”

I turned to the man outside and wished him a good morning. I sat at the table with him and just started talking. I asked him if he’d had breakfast yet (he hadn’t). I then let him speak to me about his recent troubles. We chit-chatted for a while. His name is Ron. He an Italian-German former truck driver who’s apparently traversed Pinellas and Hillsborough counties by foot. He went on to tell me he is a disciple of God. I told him I like to think of myself as one too. Then, as if by instinct, I reached out, grabbed his arm, and we prayed.

Others were walking in and out of the store. I could feel their glances. I could almost hear them think to themselves, “What the hell?” But in that moment, I didn’t care. In that moment, I was obedient to His calling and what it was He wanted me to do. In that moment, I followed Jesus’ example and reached out to a brother in need. I like to think it made a difference for Ron, but I honestly will never know. I can, however, tell you it made a difference for me.

This morning’s experience with Ron was uplifting. It was also personally rewarding. And in many ways, it was very badass.

“But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.”

Acts 20:24 NLT

No Fear

*Lee followed up the next morning with the Pasco County Sheriff’s office and was able to confirm the man had been Baker-acted and taken to a hospital.