When God is Silent, Listen All The More!

Sometimes, I find that God goes silent. Usually, it coincides with my own fears mounting and me shouting for answers. But even when I’ve quieted myself and submitted my fears before Him, I find that I sometimes still do not hear Him. And personally, I find that frustrating! It hurts, truth be told, because it feels like He doesn’t care.

It’s been previously discussed, on this blog, how feelings are not a good metric of truth. In fact, they can be liars! As such, “feels” is emphasize above to draw out the reality that this feeling is not accurate. He truly does care; in point of fact, His silence, much to my vexation, is actually the evidence of His care.

Many people these days have gotten used to instant gratification. With microwaves, fast-food restaurants, delivery services for most everything, and Internet streaming of offered and on-demand content, the average American is flushed with a plethora of instant gratification. If I may be so blunt, even pornography, what often was purchased in a store and carried out in a paper sack, is now available at one’s fingertips. It is not an exaggeration to say that we are ill-acquainted with patience!

In the Bible, we find many times when God chooses to be silent to give someone the time to surrender to Him before He responds. And in our present day, one may dare contest that He is silent, sometimes, just to remind us that we are not Him and that His timing is perfect, even if it requires us to be patient before we see things fulfilled.

While we could postulate for decades, maybe even eons, as to the reasons for God’s silence at times, the conclusion we can always draw is that He does exactly what is needed, for exactly as long as needed, exactly when it is needed. In other words, His actions are perfect, even if we don’t understand them or don’t see them that way.

“So, what does that mean for me? I’m still waiting on His response!”

Aye! That is the rub. But here’s your answer: it means you can trust Him. It means that you should continue to ask, continue to pray, continue to be in His word, and trust that in His time, He will answer you. And all the while that you do these things, keep listening! Keep your ear so near to his voice that even His breath tickles your ear!

Don’t stop listening, and don’t stop being honest. In the last many decades, many of us Believers have been deceived to think that we can’t be honest with God. Some think He won’t hear how frustrated we are. Some think He doesn’t see the grief in our hearts. And some are all of the above and more. But if you read the Psalms, God shows us that we can be brilliantly and boldly honest with Him.

I’ve said, and been told, that God is a perfect gentleman, that He will never force someone to do something nor will He be abusive or anything else evil. At the same time, I’ve not always believed this; my emotions lied to me, and I believed them, and I thought being honest would get me smacked, metaphorically, by the Almighty. But He never does that! Granted, I will sometimes characterize things as a “smack in the head” or “with a 2×4”, but that is only because of how powerfully a realization hit me. He has never been so harsh with me. He will get stern, though; His tone changes, it’s as if His face has gone slack, and He will set me back in my place as a human talking to the God of all creation. But even that is done so lovingly, it would be hard to characterize it as harsh.

Consequently, we can come before God and tell Him, “I’m angry with You for being silent.” We can boldly say, “I feel like you’ve left me alone because You’ve gone silent!” And we can throw ourselves on Him and beg Him, “I need you to show up! Please, please say SOMETHING! Anything!”

Yet, no matter what we do, we do it with the attitude of a child to his/her parent. Now, some had bad parents, but even those with bad parents know how their parents should have responded. So, imagine your perfect parent, and make your requests, let out your frustrations, and listen for your Heavenly Father respond.

He is there, and He has a response for you, be it “yes”, “no”, or “please wait.” He has a response for you, when it’s time for you to hear it. So, keep praying, keep spending time in the Bible, and above all, LISTEN!

“And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.”

1 Kings‬ ‭19:11-12‬ ‭ESV‬‬
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Sometimes, Pain Moves Us Onward

I must admit, I’m a pretty classic human; I don’t like pain, and I prefer comfort. But over the last few years, it’s become clearer and clearer to me that I need to flip that around, and learn to not like comfort and prefer some amount of pain. No, I’m not advocating that I (or anyone else) become a masochist, but there is a truth we’ve lost in modern American culture, and we’ve lost because we’ve gotten comfortable and, frankly, rich!

Our parents, grandparents, and further on knew something many of us have forgotten: the art of contentment. Those who lived through the Great Depression, who made it through WWII, who built an incredible breadth of technological advancements that many, myself included, now build upon, all had a perspective of being grateful for so many little things. And their lack prompted a pursuit that drove them to bigger and better.

“But I’m not rich! I can barely afford my groceries.”

While that is true for some, there are others who have enough to eat and still more. Do you get to eat out? You’re rich! Do you have a full stomach at any or all meals? You’re rich! Now, this isn’t to disparage anyone, and I’m not using the term “rich” like American politicians do (in point of fact, our culture makes it almost assured that a politician while be among the very “rich” many of them rant against) . Still, it is meant to cause you, dear Reader, to pause and take a look at your life from a lens many have not had in a couple decades.

The amount of decadence and luxury we enjoy tends to distort our perspective. Take for example the ability to pick up a plane ticket for $30 or $80 and fly to most any major city in the US on any number of airlines. My grandparents never dreamed of such luxury! To be able to access entertainment from dozens, if not thousands, of options all via a large TV screen? My parents had a 27” TV at the height of my father’s career, and it was the biggest TV I’d ever had. Now, that same cost would buy 60” or more in flat-screened decadence!

Again, this is not about shame. It is about awakening ourselves from the narratives of our culture, breaking out of the news media’s diatribes, to lift us from the moans of those who claim we’re lost to “Corporate America”, and to give us a chance to look out at the landscape and ask, “are we really living in a way that glorifies the Almighty?”

Perhaps you have been wasteful, and you can be more considerate of what you buy, what you throw away, and what you hold on to. Perhaps you’ve been so simplistic that you’ve missed how you can bless others. Or perhaps, you’re somewhere in-between, waking up to nonsense you’ve believed and changing your mind from false ways of thinking.

Either way, the question comes: will you choose to accept the pain or will you cave to the comfort?

Let me spin off into one last point; comfort means “to strengthen” or “to give hope to” someone or a group of folks. It used to connote something that helped a person continue on, to get up and keep moving, or to push onward after a setback. Today, comfort is often used to imply “something restful or relaxing”. Where it once was meant to get us up and going again, it has oft become a destination.

“Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” – Philippians 3:13b-14, NLT

What is holding you back? A house? A car? The desire to be married? The desire for a family? Perhaps career goals?

While still holding to the truth of God and living as He has taught us to live, let those things go! Seek Him. It’s not about a city, a building, a particular church congregation, or some career. It’s not even about how many kids you have, whether you homeschool them or not. It is solely about one things and one thing only: Jesus! Are you seeking Him and following His example with everything you’ve got and everything you are?

If you’re doing that, praise God! Keep it up! Keep pressing in, and learn to value the pains He brings, knowing that they always bring blessings either directly (prompting us to remove sin, teaching us something we’ve missed, and/or advancing the Gospel into someone’s life). And if you are not doing that, time to get off the proverbial (or physical) couch and get going! He has plans for you, and they are GOOD!

As a final thought, no one who has ever competed in sports will tell you it was painless. Whether it’s the workouts that build your strength or the actual competition where you give everything you’ve got to bring home that prize, none of it leaves you without pain. Muscles scream, lungs burn, and you sometimes wonder if it’s worth it.

In life, we’ve been indoctrinated to believe that pain is bad. But pain is sometimes, almost always, very good. It alerts us to problems, helps us avoid bad things, and it is often needed to build strength so we can do more and go farther. With Jesus, it is the same; pain helps us remember that sin isn’t worth it. It helps us know when there’s a problem in our lives. And through pain, Jesus often draws us nearer Himself and moves us onward and upward in our life with Him. We may not always understand, but if we know Him, we can trust He has our best at heart and will only do what is absolutely right, best, and necessary (Romans 8:28).

I am learning to embrace the pains He brings into my life; let the tears flow, but press in and through. And in the midst, I find He is moving me and making me accomplish things I never thought possible. But that’s my Jesus, God of the Impossible!

Godspeed! – 1 Corinthians 15:10

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An Apology…

Wednesdays are short-post days, if I have something to post. Well, today, the short-post is an apology. Due to illness and life being extra-busy, I have not been posting with regularity. Consequently, I apologize for my slackness in not having posts every Monday.

I will seek to rectify this in the coming weeks, and I hope not to have a gap again, but should another gap come up, please know it is not from lack of intention but due to a lack of time or energy.

It may be that no one really cares how often I post, but even so, I feel it is important to be faithful to this blog. Hence, I apologize and will redouble my efforts to make sure I keep y’all reasonably accommodated with useful, insightful, or otherwise somehow-inspiring content. 🙂

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Reality & the Struggle of Emotions vs Truth

My life is no picnic, but there is food! Ha ha ha! I’m sure many of us could relate to that sentiment. We live lives that are punctuated by pains and challenges that leave us pained or aching. We find ourselves striving for that moment when we can relax, that place where we can be at peace, or that thing which will help us feel better. But in all of this, we make a crucial error of believing in a false reality.

Many folks live with the belief that what is felt is real. “You can’t help who fall in love with,” is a common refrain. Or “if it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad,” hailing back to the 1990s. Perhaps even more so, “I just have to do something about it!” We feel an impetus, or an impulse, and we feel almost forced to follow it. But is this truly reality?

The Renaissance brought to mankind’s awareness that reason was often a better choice than the transience of emotions. For a few centuries, mankind invested itself in logic and reason, often discounting emotions to the point of suppressing them. And during this time, we saw many good (and bad) things come to pass. We saw the rise of the idea of individuality, the advancement of freedom as morally superior to captivity/slavery, and many of our modern technologies are based on advancements and technologies brought about by logical or reasonable ideas which became realities to help improve the quality of people’s lives.

And yet, in the late 20th century and into this 21st century, there has been an advocacy against reason and for emotional decisions. There has been an effort to elevate a person’s emotional wellbeing above what reason or logic may suggest is best. In many ways, this has almost been a backlash against to over-reach of stoic ideals. However, I would submit that this backlash has, itself, gone too far.

Some have advocated reason and logic to the degree that emotions are bad. This is what the Stoics once believed, and it persists to this day in men and women who seek to eschew emotion and be exclusively rational. But this extreme is also a flawed view, and if one is honest, it is false reality, as well, as recent studies suggest that even the most rational among us still make many choices via our emotions and not our reason.

“Ok, so what IS reality?”

Reality is found in balance, in the Truth. When one examines one’s life, it becomes evident that some emotions are lying, though the fact of that emotion is revealing a truth, and that some emotions are reflecting reality. As an example, one might find themselves feeling alone while surrounded by a crowd of folks. Is this person really alone? Are they really by his-/her-self? Quite to the contrary, but that feeling of being alone may reveal that this person is missing something.

Take, for example, the same person. He feels alone in a crowd. Perhaps it is because none of his friends are there! So, he is missing his friends. Or perhaps, another version, she has friends in the crowd, but she has realized these “friends” have abandoned her and are all somewhere else. Furthermore, perhaps this is not the first time it has happened. Both of these persons’ feelings of loneliness are revealing something to them, even though the feeling itself does not reflect the immediate reality.

Worse yet, sometimes, we attribute our emotions to others. A classically understood example of this is the woman who has been cheated on and now sees a cheater in every man she interacts with. Her world was shattered by a foul example of a man, and that shattering has left her perspective skewed against the truths in front of her.

Since, then, we can’t solely trust reason/logic, and given that we cannot trust emotions, we must seek the Truth between the two. We must look for the Truth between the lines, as it were. Our emotions are not to be ignored nor coddled, but they are to be used as a sensor identifying a potential problem (or a blessing) in our life. Logic then can be a good framework within which we can see our world and evaluate information we’ve been given. And somewhere, logic, emotions, and the Truth can miraculously unite to provide us an accurate view of reality, as we interact with others.

As a final note, it is necessary to identify that Truth is used as a pronoun because there is but one real truth, Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah of Israel and the World. Without Jesus as the compass, measure, and standard, it can be easy for one to begin to reason one’s self away from reality or for one’s emotions to gain the reigns again. It is important that one submit’s his/her life before Jesus, accepting His death in your place, and then following Him in all ways. Without this commitment, it may prove to be impossible to accurately perceive reality or to align one’s self with reality.

I pray you have accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, and that you will serve Him with all you have.

— 1 Corinthians 15:10 —

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Fatherhood…Is It Worth It?

A friend recently asked me this question, and honestly, I’d never thought about it. My default response was always, “Of course!” But he knows much of my story and was wanting a more considered response. “With all you’ve had to deal with and go through, would you do it again?” Whoa! That’s no small consideration!

My initial response was basically that strictly “on paper” it makes no sense. I see these scenes in shows and hear folks in real life say things like,” I’m just not ready!” Often, I just chuckle because no one ever is! And if you think you are, you’re probably about to find out how wrong you are or about to foul up without knowing it until later. Being a father, or more specifically a Dad, is not something you’ll be wholly ready for; it is more of an adventure with challenges you’ll have to figure out along the way. Some challenges will even feel impossible!

On paper, a child is prohibitively expensive. A child will test you, leave you sleepless, and will take a toll on your physical & mental health! And that’s an average child! Your kid might be special needs or need extensive medical care at some point! Some children will even run afoul of the law or, at least, be accused of such choices. That doesn’t sound like fun, right?

So, why would anyone have children? Simply put, because it’s not about living life “on paper!”

Some children are surprises (no child is an accident). Some are the result of considering if mom and dad are willing to take the risk and then intentionally getting pregnant. And some are adopted by families who want to share their love & resources beyond whatever children they already do or do not have. But all children are an adventure!

Adventures carry risks AND rewards! And children carry such unique rewards! Sometimes it’s a sweet note. Other times, it’s a surprise hug or a sweet snuggle while watching some Disney show. Then there’s the moments of pride when something you’ve tried to teach comes back out. Or the times when they do something fantastic that you never imagined they could/would. These moments tend to make all the hardship and struggle worth it!

Children stretch you & force you to reveal your selfishness, resulting in either a decision to remain selfish or to sacrifice. If you have kids and haven’t changed, either you’ve not been a parent or you’re lying to yourself. Kids, like any adventure, will change you, if you engage with the adventure!

At the end of the day, the bottom line is this; if you will love your children and do what is best for them, despite what it means for you, personally, then parenthood is totally worth it! But it will require all you can give your children, especially in one modern world that seeks to separate parents from their children and defraud/rip-off our children with lies in pretty packaging.

And, truth be told, we need more committed & dedicated parents, or foster parents, in this world. Our children, biological or adopted or fostered, deserve parents committed to raising them, sacrificing for them, and sticking with them. This doesn’t mean we agree with or condone every choice or impulse, but it means we don’t give up the fight and we hold the line, loving them, and encouraging them to seek the Truth and discourse with us as they grow. And, though this shouldn’t have to be said, it also means you never quit on them; you pray, encourage, dialog, and reach out, even hoping against all odds sometimes. But you never quit.

As a final thought, and maybe I’ll do a separate post on this, our children’s needs shift as they grow. The baby that needed locks on the cabinet has different needs than the teen that has started thinking more like an adult and needs to discuss rather than just being told. This doesn’t change our responsibility to hold the line but it changes how we go about that. Sometimes this reality isn’t obvious, and we all need little reminders now al then.

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Loving While It Hurts

Hollywood lied to me!

That’s likely no surprise to anyone! However, it is a regular event for me to realize that I bought some Hollywood lie! And it’s annoying to find I did so!

In this case, I bought the lie that love is easy & always feels good!Hollywood makes it look so easy to fall in love, to be in love, and to maintain that love. It is such that my kids and I can often predict who will match up, and when, in a given TV show. And as much as Hollywood may try, the reality of life is nearly impossible to portray.

This is not to say that I don’t know how to love. I was married to a good woman until she changed and left. I’ve raised three kids, nearly adults, who know they are loved. And most of the folks that know me would probably be surprised to read this post. Still, there’s a subtle misstep that I am now aware of, and maybe this is a common misstep; hence, this post.

To love is costly! This is the thing Hollywood rarely portrays, and it is quite difficult to portray, I think. Love may-well cost you everything! And in today’s world of “me first!”, that is anathema! But that’s love; it takes everything you can give, but it often gives back more. Yet, I’ll get to that part in a moment.

I was recently listening hot some TobyMac, and the song Love Feels Like came on, and for the first time, I heard the chorus anew.

This is what love feels like
Poured out, used up, still willin’ to fight!

Most anyone who has walked my road (spiritually-speaking) with me has heard me say, “I’m worn; I feel empty” or something similar. Well, it’s merely a change of the words to say that I feel “poured out, used up”. And most anyone who has seen me take on a challenge knows that I’m always still wiling to fight, though I have wanted to throw in the towel more than once. It takes more than wanting to throw in the towel to get me to quit.

Yet another song came on after Love Feels Like, and that was Francesca Battistelli’s Motion of Mercy, which contains this nugget

Living for the lost
Loving ‘til it hurts
No matter what the cost
Like You loved me first

If you don’t know what Jesus’ love looked like, then please let me illuminate that! He left Heaven, a place of perfection, to take on human form/flesh, being born as a baby, growing up, and then at ~30 years old, He began His ministry of preaching what was called the Day of Salvation, that God had drawn close and the long-foretold sacrifice that would make man right with God was finally here. He was that sacrifice and He was tortured, brutally beaten, and then hung on a cross for 6 hours before giving up His spirit and dying. He was pierced in the side to confirm death, and blood and “water” flowed out of the wound. He was then buried and 3 days later, He rose from the grave.

So, Jesus love took Him outside His comfort, into quite the uncomfortable human state (mind you: no indoor plumbing then, no central heat, no air conditioning, no bamboo shirts, and deodorant hadn’t been invented yet. None of it!). He lived 30-33 years in this state, and then gave Himself to be brutally murdered. The Bible even tells us that He did this so we could have a chance, a choice, to know Him. Giving everything up, enduring pain, discomfort, and brutality, all to give someone the chance to do the right thing…that’s love, y’all!

Hollywood lied to me, and I’m ashamed that I bought the lie. Even so, thanks be to God Almighty for showing me what real love looks like! And by Him, by accepting His sacrifice in my place, making Him Lord of my life, and relying on His Spirit, I can live that love!

I may feel poured out or used up, but He restores! He fills! And He makes me able to keep going, day after day and blow by blow!

I could probably go on and on, but I am trying to keep these latest posts more brief than in the past. So, let me summarize by saying this, love doesn’t always provide immediate rewards (like TV or the movies often show). Sometimes, it is a lot of giving for a reward in Heaven. Sure, there are the hugs that I get from my kids, the words of thanks, or even blessing, when they realize something I’ve done for them, but quite often, love is for an eternal reward. Because I have trust Jesus with my life, have trusted in His sacrifice for me, and seek to serve/follow Him in everything, I know I will see Heaven.

But for now, I’m content to identify with Christ in His sufferings through my own. I’m content to love, not knowing if I will see the outcomes I have hoped will come out of that love. But I love not for rewards or blessing; I love because He loved me first, and I seek to follow His example.

Dear Reader, if you don’t know Him, I encourage you to dig in and know my Lord. He is worth everything you can give, everything you have, and all that you will ever be or have!

Godspeed! — 1 Corinthians 15:10

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Sentiment, Nostalgia…and Grief

If I may process some thoughts aloud… What is it that causes us to cling to our pasts? It even seems that the worst of pasts is still clung to in the high points, perhaps a unique Christmas or a day when a parent was not they’re usual-less-than-good self. What causes us to hold these breakpoints (if you’ll forgive my geek speak) on our past, often to the point of ignoring or denying the bad parts of those same times.

The days leading up to this post have given me time to reflect and an abundance of examples of this kind of nostalgic grief. I’m struck by new buildings on once-beautiful landscapes, old buildings that are (or will someday soon) come down and be replaced by a new building. I’m struck by a grief I can’t explain nor quantify. I’m struck with a grief of “oh, for that time when…”

What is it that allows, even encourages, mankind to have similar experiences? Perhaps we’re just struck by the passage of time? Maybe we miss a time when things seemed similar? Or maybe we are just sad to see what we’re familiar with be replaced with something else?

My personal perspective, after said reflection, is that it’s mostly a loss of that which is familiar, but I believe that’s connected with our desire to go back to a time when we, now, knew what was coming. We don’t like change, and we like the unknown even less, but let me break these ideas down.

First, we don’t like change! We get used to having things a certain way, and we like things that way! Some of us like to change things up, and not being able to change things up is the loss we don’t like (such as being isolated via the COVID madness?). Others of us like things the way we have them, our organization, system, or way of functioning is what we consider optimal, and no one should change that, least not without our explicit permission.

But beyond that, there appears to be an even more sinister reason. When we look back on “simpler times”, we’re looking back on a book that’s been completed. We know how that’s going to work out. We know the beginning, middle, and ending, like a movie we’ve watched before. And, I dare argue, there are times when we prefer the predictable past rather than the unknown of today or the future.

“Well, that’s all well and good, but do you have a suggestion for how we deal with this?” But of course! What good is identifying a problem if you don’t then direct toward a solution?

This grief we feel is both proper and sinful. The proper side is in the reality that we are grieving that life isn’t what it should be; after all, if you’re a Believer, we are citizens of Heaven, ambassadors of reconciliation, sent by the Almighty, and one day, we’ll go to where such change is no longer a problem and is all positive (if there’s any changes at all; I don’t presume to suggest there is or is not change in Heaven)! For now, though, it is ok to grieve, to cry, to pound our chests in pain, crying out, “I hurt, Lord! I hurt!” The Bible, Psalms quite specifically, gives us plenty of encouragement that this kind of realism with the Almighty is ok! And once we see our Savior, all will finally be made right and we will have rest from that which so plagued us on earth.

Hence, the sinful side will be gone. The sinful side of grief is insidious and, by nature, subtle. It is the fact that in this grief, we can begin to grumble and complain about our present circumstance(s). We look back and find ourselves saying, “Why can’t it be like that, God? Why must I go through this?” And, my dear Reader, that’s not the questions we should ask, though it is natural to ask them. We should be honest with ourselves and say, “I didn’t understand, then, how You would see me through, Lord. But I see how You led me then; help me to see how You’re leading me, now!”

So, where does that leave us? It leaves us with a choice! Will we be real with God when our pains hit? Will we be willing to be honest with Him as to how our heart aches? And will we be equally honest with ourselves that these precious memories aren’t for us to hold as “perfect” but for us to look upon as Ebenezer stones and say, “thus far, the Lord has led me; He will lead me yet onward”?

My dear Reader, I don’t know where you find yourself in life, but I know that my own life has led to me to places where I could barely breathe and where I wondered if I could get up again. This leads me to weep for those of you who read this, experiencing extreme grief. But whether you are overflowing with tears or are on the other side rejoicing at the end of a trial, I can tell you this, a statement that has always helped me, and which I leave off this post with:

“Tomorrow, the sun will rise again. The power that raised Jesus from the grave will help me rise from my bed; and I will take the next step, and the next, following Him.”

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My Life Motto

Recently, I’ve found a few folks have really benefited from this tidbit. Consequently, I’m posting it here for the benefit of those who might be reading here.

In becoming a single-Dad, and since, I’ve found many times when I’m faced with seemingly “impossible” situations. I’ve made a career out of being the guy folks come to when others say something is “impossible”, and one day, as I was driving home from work, I considered what I would say to those who wonder how I can “do this”, being a single parent, working full-time, etc.

Well, there it is! Let me under-pin this with the reality that this only works because The Almighty is the God of the Impossible. Without Him, these are nice words, but they don’t work in every situation. But with God, all things are possible! (Matthew 19:26, I highly encourage you to read it and the surrounding context!)

When faced with an impossible situation, immediately abandon the option to “give up!” For without that option, all other options, however improbable, become entirely possible!

author: Ben Messer
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Who Am I? The Lost Art of Character Building!

(N.B.: After writing this, I realize it bears a similarity to this blog post from 7+ years ago (https://nerdylenses.com/2014/08/23/a-heartfelt-mind-meld-who-are-you/). However, I believes these to be two sides of the same coin. The below speaks more generally to one’s moral character while the prior post spoke more to one’s identity in Jesus. With that, I hope you enjoy both posts for their unique takes.)

When I was younger, the original Robocop movie came out. While I cannot say that it was a great movie (too much gore), it had a number of great qualities, but one of the most memorable lines, for me, is when Robocop confronts one of Murphy’s murderers at a gas station. Robocop is starting to experience Murphy’s memories, and he vaguely recalls this guy, but he doesn’ t know who he is. So, he says, in a very robotic fashion, “Who ARE you?!”

That question has become a hidden guidepost to my life. Who am I? Who do I want to be? And who am I intent on not being?

Even this blog, if you’ve read through it, shows that I wasn’t always who I am today. Sure, the basic foundation and the subtle lines are there, but if I were a house, the house you see today sits on the ruins of a much more fragile and unstable house that fell years ago. Yet, the questions remain: who am I and who will I be?

Truth be told, I’d love to be the guy who has time to relax, to chisel his abs, to “enjoy the good life.” But my life has not afforded me such opportunities. So, I have to make choices, and those choices are directed by my character.

Over the years, there have been different phrases for it: work-ethic, lifestyle, ethics, values, even morals. But character is made up of all those things, in truth. And ultimately, character is powered by our Creator. Without Jesus, I cannot make consistently good choices. I may make a few ones, but most will be selfish or self-motivated. Even if I play that I’m doing it for others, I’m doing it to make myself feel good/better.

Within Jesus, the Christ/Messiah, I am empowered to step outside myself and make the choices that sometimes suck! Choosing to endure pain because I trust that Jesus’ plan is better than mine, even though I don’t see the payoff yet. Taking an action when the final outcome is unsure. Losing out on an opportunity I wanted because my child needs to experience discipline. Or even choosing to show my child grace, taking the consequence on myself rather than letting it fall on them (a limited case, to be sure). These are all things which Jesus enables me to do, to step outside my selfish, sin-sick self and be moved by His Spirit to do.

So, dear Reader, who will you be? Who are you? Will you step up to the challenge of working hard for your employer or building your business with integrity? Will you sacrifice so that others might enjoy? Will you raise children who do the same? And above it all, will you follow Jesus, accepting His sacrifice and His light yoke while casting your cares on Him, into the unknowns?

Every time I hear The Who’s famous song “Who Are You?”, I am reminded to find my identity in Jesus, and let my character flow from the example He has set (and many supporting examples in the Bible, as well).

Godspeed, as you seek and serve Him, with renewed purpose and perhaps renewed character!

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Discouraged by Challenges

I’m told my Nana had a saying that went something like this, “Discouragement is an opportunity for His Encouragement!” Smart lady! In fact, having never met her, I can still say that my Nana was quite a smart lady due to the legacy she left behind, and some of her recorded teachings that I am privileged to listen to. Such a smart lady, and I can’t wait to get to meet her in Heaven!

But this post isn’t about my Nana! Ha ha ha! No, rather, it is about discouragement. You see, in the time I stopped blogging, I found out that Autism runs in my family. While I don’t know if it runs from my parents, I can say that my kiddos are on the Spectrum. For me, finding out I was Autistic felt like someone had put their hand on my shoulder and said, “you can stop fighting yourself!”

For my kids, it was validation that raising kids can really be THIS difficult! In my view, the key pang of Autism is that it makes it hard to see, feel, and hear others. And to a parent dealing with an Autistic child, it can be hard to know if the words got through. Obviously, I’m not talking about the senses. I’m talking about full-scale connections with others.

One of my kids is particularly difficult in this respect. Sometimes, it feels as though words go in one ear and out the other. Other times, it’s like I have been talking to myself. For my child, though, things reverberate and thoughts scramble against other thoughts like a big mosh-pit. My child’s intention is to hear me, to do better in life, to improve behaviors. But when I speak, my child’s mind spins! And often, a simple conversation spins off an essay in my child’s head. This is a key challenge of every aspect of the spectrum, the ability to manage thoughts and ideas and communicate them in a meaningful way, coupled with the child’s self-impression.

So, when I say, “You need to work on your paper.”

My child hears, “Me. I have something to work on? Oh yes, I forgot about that project I wanted to finish, it was so much fun….wait, paper, but I was working with styrofoam…..no, the paper for school. Yeah. I do. But I can’t. I’ll never get it done! It’s too big, and that styrofoam ship; I can finish that! But you want me to work on my paper, that paper, I did all the work, why should I have to write it all down! It’s in my head, isn’t that enough? I’ll never finish it, in fact, I’m already late, so what’s the point? I’d rather finish my ship, I can do that!”

Consequently, it becomes a battle to get my children to get things done, and the hardest part of the battle is grappling with them in love. There’s the internal desire to “just do it!!!!”, to want to force them to just do their work, but force doesn’t communicate love. So, how do you loving battle someone? I’m reminded of the various movies or TV shows that deal with some supernatural aspect and there’s often a showdown wherein a loved one is possessed by some evil being or power. The battle has to happen, but you can’t harm your loved one, it’s not their fault evil is using them. (Don’t take this too far, but when it comes to special needs kids, it tends to be a good analogy.)

So, how do you fight in love? Well, you stand, like Gandalf, on the bridge between the Balrog and the Fellowship of the Ring, and you dig your sword into the ground and declare, “You shall not pass!”, even if it means you will not see the light of day again. I have truly come away from such emotional battles and gone right to an hour-long nap! In the midst of it, you seek to feel where they are at, try to see what might be in their head, and try to call out the man or woman you know lives inside of them! You remind them of all they are, of who the Almighty made them to be, and you remind them that this battle isn’t between you and them, but between their will and what’s right.

So much easier said than done. And as such, here I am today, woefully discouraged after many battles with my child. Recently, there have been many challenges we’ve had to face, and for so long, my child had stood tall, committed to excellence, pursuing a noble next-task. But today…well, the last few days, my child has begun to lapse back into old habits of self-doubt, self-depreciation, and doing the bare minimum.

I’m angry because I know my child can do better. I’m anguished because I know there’s more behind this, and some of it is my child’s own struggling with “I can do it.” My child wrestles with being abandoned by my child’s mother; it is a struggle, of my child, to reconcile the lack of love (and some truly unloving moments) my child’s mother has communicated. And I don’t know which, if any, are the present challenges, but it’s all mixed in together.

So, ultimately, I am discouraged. I know my child and so much that my child is capable of. I and others have seen it, now and again! And then, days like today, I feel like I’ve just lost all progress; 10 steps forward, 11 steps back.

It’s moments like these that I need to remind myself of my Nana’s words. I am discouraged, but He is Encouraging. I am looking at today, this moment, and seeing the pain and the frustration, and the loss that is in front of me. He sees the whole of history, the pains, the loss, the joys, and the wins! He sees how this plays out. He knows where we’re going and how we’ll get there. To me, we’re on I-40 headed East. To Him, we’ve got a cross-country tour with an international circuit after that.

I’m chuckling and crying, as I write that last part. The paradox of life (perhaps everyone’s life) is how often I find myself burdened by the present but lifted by His grasp of the future! My heart aches for today, for the challenges that are present, for how tenuous some improvements are. Yet, I hope not in this world but in Him. As the song says “Jesus Christ, my LIVING hope!”

So, today will finish, and tomorrow will come! And regardless of both, He will be in control, and His plans are perfect! I rarely understand them, but I am always amazed when I get to glimpse at how He has led me to a certain moment; it is always just what I needed, exactly when I needed it, presented precisely how I needed it, so that I could continue to serve Him, once more!

All He provides is all I ever truly need! I don’t know why I would ask for anything more than that!

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