Category Archives: Christian Living
I don’t like edits. There, I said it.
I’m the kind of person who does things once and wants to leave it at that. I don’t like having to go back and do things over, take a second or third pass at a project. I want to only put one coat of paint on a wall, file my taxes once, try on a single pair of pants.
Writing a novel is no different. I spend considerable time on the first draft for a reason. I want to get it right the first time. But as any writer knows, once isn’t enough. Twice isn’t enough. Three times? Nope. Not enough. Edits are part of writing. Changes need to be made, mistakes corrected, inconsistencies made right.
I’m delving into the edits for my next novel, Centralia, now. And how’s it going? Let’s just say . . . it’s going. And I’m kicking and screaming.
But no matter how much pain the edits cause, or how much discomfort they produce, I know the changes will be for the best and the book will be better because of them.
I’ll respect your intelligence and assume you see the parallels to life here. It’s a lesson I need to learn over and over again.
I’ve published eight novels now and every one of them is the same story. I dislike the editing. I kick and scream. The book is better in the end.
And sadly, it’s not much different with life.
I’ve tried recollecting my journey through cancer a few times now over the past six years. I have no problem telling about the pre-cancer tests and anxieties, the surgery and post-surgery gloom. Talking about the ileostomy comes easy. But the next nine months, those months when I endured chemo and it’s dark side effects, that’s another story.
It’s a rocky story, one of faith and doubt, courage and fear, strength and weakness. Truthfully, much of those months is a blur to me. There are moments I remember, images, feelings, but mostly, the events of those months reside in a fog, the kind that rolls in off the ocean and distorts the landscape, blurs the fine edges.
I received chemo every other week. It was on Wednesdays and the infusion took about three hours. The nurse would them hook me up to a portable chemo pump and send me home. I’d then receive a steady infusion of chemo over the next 48 hours. On Friday’s I’d return to the doctor’s office to have the pump removed and I’d be free for another week and a half.
The side effects of chemo included numbness in my fingers and feet, an extreme sensitivity to cold, decreased ability to taste, fatigue like I’d never felt before, and nausea. Lots of nausea. After every chemo session the side effects would be worse for a few days, then would taper to barely noticeable. Each round they got worse and lasted longer, though. By the end, I had the side effects the entire two weeks.
I was working during those days, too. I’d have off on chemo days then just work a half day on Thursday, go home and sleep. Friday I’d be back at it but would have to take time off to have the chemo pump removed.
Thus was my schedule for the nine months I received chemotherapy. It was a steady spiral down both physically and emotionally and psychologically.
Looking back on it, those were dark days. Tears came easily. I did a lot of staring, a lot of thinking. My emotions sat on a knife’s edge. But in spite of the darkness the Light was always there. I felt Him, heard Him. I’m not crazy. I did. And in many ways I’ve never felt closer to Him.
The valley has a funny way of pushing us closer to our Father, doesn’t it?
I hear voices.
And my guess is that you hear them too.
It’s okay. Relax. We’re not all taking a swan dive into the deep end of insanity. Voices are all around us, whispering, taunting, mocking, questioning, scolding.
They are the voices of doubt, of fear, of anxiety and worry and apprehension. They are the voices of concern, of timidity, of embarrassment and cowardliness.
They are the voices that hinder us and paralyze us, that keep us from being all that we were meant to be, that keep us from fulfilling our purpose and realizing our dreams.
These voices are weights around our neck, dragging us down, deeper and deeper into the murky waters, closer to the bottom where weeds entangle and drown us.
Do you hear them? The voices of those who doubt us, those who offer insincere apologies, those who feign support?
I hear the voices. They tell me I can’t, I’m not equipped, I don’t have the skills, I don’t have the connections, I don’t have the resolve. They tell me the mountain is too high, the river too wide and water too rough. They tell me my foe is too big, too strong, too skilled.
I used to listen to them (maybe you still do). I thought they spoke truth, reality. I thought they had my best interest in mind and were only there to protect me, to keep me from falling, from making a terrible mistake.
Until another voice showed up, stronger, gentler, deeper. It was the voice of the Creator, the one who made me, formed my inward and outward parts. Sculpted me in His image. His voice spoke real truth.
I made you with my own hands. You are so precious. You are mine. I created you for greatness.
I stutter. I used to stutter terribly, couldn’t string together five words to form a coherent sentence. The voices told me I would never amount to anything because I couldn’t talk. No one would respect me. No one would take a chance on me. No one would want to listen to me blabber on.
And I listened to them. Talk about low expectations. I allowed those twisted voices to penetrate my mind and weave their depressive web around my soul. And a fog overcame me, thick, dense, oppressive.
But that other voice was there, too. You are mine. Reminding me that I was made for more. You are so precious. It led me to a career where I interact with people every day, to a calling where I can express myself like I never dreamed possible.
I still hear the voices, the negative ones, reminding me of the thorn in my flesh, reminding me of the pain and embarrassment that it brings. The voices still whisper, taunt, mock, they still feign concern and offer those insincere apologies. They tell me I can’t, that I’ll fail, I’ll make a fool of myself; they assure me that they’re only looking out for me, protecting me, warning me.
And you hear them too. I know you do.
But we can choose not to listen to them. We can choose to ignore those voices and focus on the only one that matters. The voice of our Creator, the one who formed us and placed every cell and molecule and atom and strand of DNA exactly where He wanted it. His voice tells us we can, that we were made for more, for a specific reason, for greatness. That through Him and in Him we can climb the mountain, cross the river, conquer the foe. We can stand before a crowd of hundreds, even thousands, and speak with confidence and conviction. We can write words that will move and stir and inspire. We can be all that He made us to be.
We can be unstoppable.
Ask any group of runners worth their salt how much they put into their race, into every race, and they’ll all tell you the same thing. “I left it all on the track. I held nothing back.”
Runners train hard for every race and their training is not just running. They do lots of that, but there’s more of a science to the sport than just slipping on some expensive sneakers and going for a run. There’s strategy involved. Whether to start fast and get ahead of the pack, set a pace no one will be able to sustain, or to hang back, let the leaders exhaust themselves, then make a move for the lead at the end.
Which plan they go with depends on numerous factors like where the race is taking place, if it’s a qualifying heat or the finals, who the competition is and what his or her strengths are. How the runner is feeling. Weather conditions. What race is next, if any. Each runner will come to the race with his own strategy, a mental plan of how he wants to run, what kind of time he’s shooting for, and where he wants to place.
But if it’s a race that matters, and most of them do, every runner shares one strategy: give it all you got.
With the exception of some of the elite runners in the qualifying heats, any athlete who doesn’t pour himself onto the track and leave 100 percent of himself there won’t last very long.
In high school I participated in track and field and at times had to fill in and run a leg of the mile relay. That’s 400 meters per runner, once around the track. I wasn’t a strong runner (jumping was my thing) but was at least able to hold my own. I loved the start, the moment that baton hit my hand and my legs began to churn. I felt like I was as near weightless as I could be. I’d take the first turn with ease, leaning into it, my arms pumping, breathing so naturally. By the second turn my lungs were beginning to tighten, my legs beginning to feel heavy. But still I pressed on. Coming out of the third turn it felt as though someone had played a cruel trick on me and filled my shoes with concrete. My lungs heaved, hands tingled. I had to will my legs to move, my feet to find the ground. And by the time I handed the baton off to the next runner I was spent, entirely. I’d done my job and left everything I had on that track.
In so many ways, life is like that race. The longer it goes on the harder it gets. Responsibilities pile up. Challenges get more complicated. Illnesses drop in for a visit. Finances fluctuate, spit and sputter. We deal with family issues, friend issues, work issues. So much competes for our time and the distractions are plenty.
But you know what? That desire to run hard and leave everything I had, every last ounce of effort I could muster, wasn’t decided going into turn three. No, it was determined long before I felt that baton slap into my palm, long before the race even began. That kind of effort comes from somewhere special, somewhere deep in the soul.
I wasn’t the fastest runner but I can honestly say I never finished a race wishing I would have run harder, wondering what would have happened if I’d only given it my all. There was plenty of sweat and panting and cramping but there were no regrets.
That’s how I want to live my life. With no regrets. With no wishing I would have given more. With no wondering how differently things would have turned out if I’d only pushed harder. When I finish this life, I want to be satisfied that I left it all on the track.
Run this race with me. Pour yourself into life. Empy every last ounce of your being as you run this race. It’s the only way you’ll be unstoppable. Challenges may slow you but they won’t stop you. Disappointments may cause you to steal a glance at those around you but you won’t quit. Failures will come and you’ll run through them.
But don’t expect to find that kind of resolve on the fly. Determine it now. Resolve it today. Promise yourself and everyone around you that you will not stop. No matter what. The finish line awaits. You may not run the best race; you may not run the fastest race; but you will run the hardest fought race. And you will finish.
I’ve never been a big fan of Scott Hamilton. Nothing personal. I’ve never been a big fan of figure skating.
I’m still not a fan of figure skating . . . but boy am I a fan of Scott Hamilton.
The term hero gets thrown around lightly these days and too many people get credited as being one. Only some truly deserve it and in my opinion Scott Hamilton is one of them.
At least, he’s now one of my heroes.
Check out the link below to hear what incredible challenges he’s overcome in life and the faith that has sustained him.
I’m currently doing a mini series of posts called “Be Unstoppable” and Hamilton’s story fits perfectly. He’s seen the darker side of life; he’s met challenges head on; he’s kept a proper perspective; he’s suffered and lived in the valley . . . and he’s ultimately found his strength and courage and ability to press on in God and God alone.
Be inspired by his story . . . and be unstoppable.
It’s all about perspective.
Runners focus on the finish line, at least the serious ones do. They know that no matter how much discomfort they experience during the race–the burning lungs, the aching muscles, the cramps, the fatigue–it will all melt away at the finish line. There is rest. There is acceptance. There is freedom. Spectators cheer, coaches and family rejoice and comfort and welcome. Hugs await, congratulations, claps on the back, water, rest.
The suffering is temporary. Relief awaits. And so the runner presses on through the pain, through the exhaustion, through the mental battles.
It’s about perspective. It’s about realizing this life is temporary, that all the pain experienced here, all the suffering, all the heartache and troubles and misery will end.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve been through cancer. As most, if not all, survivors will tell you, it wasn’t pleasant. There were lots of tears, depression, discomfort, nagging nausea for months, fatigue, more depression. It was a year I’d choose not to relive. But during that journey there were times (when I was lucid and of sound mind and thinking) when I reminded myself that no matter how intense the suffering got it was only temporary. There was an end. There was relief, comfort, rest.
According to the Center for Disease Control, life expectancy in the United States is 78.7 years. That may seem like a long time, and if you have a disease or illness or debilitating condition it’s an even longer time, but looked at from the proper perspective, against the backdrop of eternity, it’s a mere blip, a single beat, a blink.
It’s about perspective.
Any runner, even those of the longest, most grueling ultramarathons, will tell you that to keep your mind alert and your will alive you have to focus on the finish line. They endure what they endure because they realize there is an end, there is a release. Their suffering is temporary. Without that knowledge the race would be futile, the suffering meaningless, every step would be one step deeper into hopelessness.
But with the proper perspective there is always hope.
The apostle Paul had it right when he wrote: I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Read that again if you need to. That’s a right perspective, focusing on the rest to come, the freedom from pain and heartache and sufferings of any kind.
It’s easy to lost sight of that, though, isn’t it? To focus on the pains of life. The burning lungs. The cramping muscles. The aching feet. It’s easy to get distracted by each step and the hardship it brings. To lose sight of the finish line and become preoccupied with challenge of the run.
Then discouragement sets in. That voice in our head, the little man without a heart and no faith begins to whisper. It’s not worth it. You didn’t sign up for this. This isn’t how your life was supposed to turn out. This is more than you can handle.
And we want to give up; we want to stop running, throw in the towel. After all, what’s the use? Misery is all around us. Every turn we take invites another obstacle, another challenge, another adversary. There is no relief.
But it’s so avoidable. Not the challenges, not the pain, not the trials. No, they’re part of life. They come with the territory; it’s a package deal. What’s avoidable is the quitting.
Because it’s a matter of perspective. The finish line holds the promise. There is where rest is. There is the reason for our hope. If we look past the fog, through the darkness, and find the light we will realize that there is more than our present circumstance. And we will press on. We will run. We will conquer. We will finish.
We will be unstoppable.
Normally, we recoil from suffering. I know I do, and I’m not sure I know anyone who actually welcomes pain, outside a few exercise fanatics who live by the creed of no pain, no gain.
At best, suffering slows us down; it’s a hindrance, a hurdle to climb over, a speed bump to bring us to a crawl. At worst, suffering is debilitating. It knocks us to our knees, maybe even pushes us to our bellies, and holds us there, the bully with a knee in our back.
No one likes real suffering. We avoid it, run from it, hide from it, try to escape its awful clutches any way we can. And when we see it coming, stalking us like some creep stranger in a dark alley we either pretend we don’t see it and hope it goes away or start praying it somehow overlooks us.
We tell ourselves that suffering is not our friend, in fact, it’s our enemy, our foe, our greatest villain. It’s a great big, blistered and bleeding, bug-eyed, greasy-haired, stench-emanating monster that wants to shred our happiness and make our life as difficult as possible.
But what if we’re wrong? That’s right, I just asked that. What if we’re wrong about suffering? What if it’s not so much a monster as it is a blessing? Or at the very least a conduit through which blessings may pass . . . if we allow them passage, that is.
I’ve been through cancer, a monster in its own right. And that monster brought with it a hefty helping of suffering. Surgeries, chemotherapy and its awful side-effects, illness, depression, you name it, cancer was good for it. And one thing I learned is that while suffering is not man’s best friend, it’s not a jolly neighbor who brings laughter and happiness, and it’s no where near roses and lollipops, it is useful and can serve a very important purpose.
During my year of cancer battling I experienced God in ways I honestly didn’t think were possible, in ways I certainly had never experienced him before and most likely never would have. Suffering did that. It introduced a new room in my relationship with God, opened my eyes to see him in a different light.
See, during suffering we are most vulnerable, our emotions are closest to the surface, and we see the contrast most distinctly between our own fragility and God’s omnipotence, between our humanity and his holiness, between our weakness and his strength.
And it is during those times that we are driven to him, to his arms, his comfort, his love, his security. We see him as that loving father who tenderly cares for his child and protects her and comforts her and, while not taking the pain away, holds her in the midst of it.
Suffering does that. It opens our eyes and shows us our Father in his true light. It shows us the intricacies of his love, the dependability of his watchfulness, the gentleness of his care.
When we are sick, he is our physician. When we are depressed, he is our counselor. When we are lost, he is our shepherd. When we are frightened, he is our protector. When we are weak, he is our strength. When we are lame, he is our support. When we are bombarded from every side, he is our fortress. We we are burdened, he is our help. When we are lonely, he is our true friend.
Suffering does that. And without it we may never see God as he desires to be seen, or experience him as he should be experienced, or trust him as he deserves to be trusted.
Suffering does not need to be an obstacle. It doesn’t have to be something to elicit our repulsion. Suffering can be a blessing. A strange, odd, rarely understood blessing.
Failure is a part of life truly lived.
Read that again, slowly. Now take a moment to think about that statement, let it sink in and mull it over a few times, turn it over and examine it, inside and out.
Life is not truly lived unless we fail. Unless we take chances, win some and lose some; unless we make mistakes and learn from those mistakes; unless we fall down, get up, brush ourselves off, and get back at it. Without failure there can be no real success.
But our culture sees failure as something to abhor, something to avoid like the a four-armed, eight -eyed creature. It frowns upon failure, condemns it, banishes it from vocabulary. To speak of it is to open the door through which it might pass, so uttering the word is taboo. Failure is not an option.
We’re told to think positive, plan for victory, clean our minds of negative thinking. Embrace only positive! But still failure is there, if you take a risk, a chance; if you step out on that limb, no matter how thick and sturdy it may appear to be, there is always the chance it might break, or you might lose your footing.
From the time we begin to stand we begin to fall. That first action, attempting that first achievement, is laced with danger. It’s not easy balancing on two legs, and yet we try, we fall, we try again. Our little brains learn, form new neural pathways, our muscles adapt, and we eventually attain victory. We stand, then we walk, we run, we jump, we fall, skinned knees, bruised elbows, tears . . . failure is a faithful teacher if you pay attention.
There are those who have achieved much only after they have failed greatly. Those who have gone before us and now serve as witnesses, a great cloud of witnesses testifying that obstacles are only obstacles, falling is only falling, failing isn’t the end, it’s merely part of the journey.
Henry Ford had five business attempts go broke before he founded the Ford Motor Company. R. H. Macy lost seven businesses before getting it right. Thomas Edison was told by teachers that he was too stupid to learn anything and famously failed in 1,000 attempts before inventing the light bulb.
Orville and Wilbur Wright spent years crashing failed prototypes before they had a plane get airborne and stay there. While he was living, Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting and that one to a friend but he plugged on, completing more than 800 works. Theodore Seuss Giessel was rejected 27 times before finding a publisher. And Jack London received 600 rejection slips before selling his first manuscript.
But certainly one of the most well-known failures of our day was Michael Jordan. In his own words he stated: “I have missed more than 900 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Wait a minute. Did you read that right?
And that is why I succeed.
You see, failing does two things for us. One, it teaches us, it instructs us in how not to do something. When asked how he felt about failing so many times to make a light bulb that worked, Edison said he didn’t fail 1,000 times, he discovered 1,000 ways not to make a light bulb. That’s a winning attitude.
Two, failure drives us to not fail again. No one likes the feeling of hitting the ground. It’s humbling and it hurts. Sometimes it leaves a mark, sometimes it even draws blood. By failing our resolve is toughened, our determination steeled. We try harder, train harder, work harder. We don’t want that feeling again.
Top athletes all share one quality: they hate to lose. They’re not winners because they love to win, no, but because they hate to lose. They hate failure. Do they still fail? Absolutely. Michael Jordan summed it up profoundly. But in losing, in failing, in stumbling, they find the fire to press on and seek that next victory.
They realize that failure is part of the game, part of life, but they never let it stop them.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Profound words spoken by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during his inauguration speech on March 4, 1933.
But what do those words mean? What truth do they carry?
There is truth there; weighty truth.
Fear is a master who knows no mercy; it is not a respecter of persons; it doesn’t care if you are rich or poor, famous or infamous, successful or limping along in life. It is out to imprison, to cripple, to paralyze.
Fear has the power to make a grown man stand still in indecision, cause him to second-guess his every move. It inhibits action, stalls progress, brings forward motion to a complete stand still.
Fear produces grisly images in our mind, conjures thoughts of evil and malintent. Promises death, destruction, torment. It’s an uninvited guest who comes with tales of woe and sorrow and harm and injury.
Fear causes the young boy to see hideous beasts intent on maiming and worse in every innocent, impotent shadow. Fear stirs the woman to accuse her husband of cheating on her, though his actions have been nothing but pure and wholesome. Fear drives a man to work endless hours, convincing himself he’s doing it for his family, when his family only wants him present.
Because of fear, men do not act. Because of fear, children do not sleep. Because of fear, leaders fail. Because of fear, societies collapse.
Fear is a foe that has haunted mankind since the beginning, showing itself in the coverings of Adam and Eve, the jealousy of Cain, the exile of Moses, the insecurity of Samson, the paranoia of Saul, the ruthlessness of the Caesars, the hatred of Hitler, the inactivity of you and me.
But fear has no body, it is not of flesh and bone, there is no blood coarsing through its veins. It does not have a soul or even a heartbeat. It has no eyes through which to watch its victories, no mind in which to gloat in the destruction it causes.
Fear is not real; it is entirely a product of our imagination.
Fear only resides in our minds. It is created from our weaknesses and paranoias, our uncertainty of things to come. It feeds on thoughts, drinks heavily from past experiences, and craves possibilities, but it has no substance.
Fear has no power because it is not real. Fear has no authority because it tinkers in what may happen, not what will come to pass. Fear speaks lots of words about failure and pain and heartache and embarrassment and loss; it is a beady-eyed, round-faced little man who sits in the shadowed corners of our mind and whispers tales of doom and tribulation, but it can offer no promise. It does not speak with certainty, only with conjecture.
And we buy it. We take the bait. Hook. Line. Sinker.
Realize this: fear has no power if we don’t listen to it. It can only burrow into our mind and heart and do its dirty work if we give it the attention it craves.
Yes, some fear is good, normal, and healthy. A fear of fire and its ability to burn may keep us from harming ourselves. A fear of heights and the sudden impact at the end of a long fall may keep us from doing irreparable damage. But that same fear, overfed, overconfident, and bloated on itself will keep the firefighter from climbing the thirty-foot ladder and rescuing a child from a burning home.
That’s the ability of fear to paralyze and render man helpless and hopeless. And that’s the ability we must fight against.
With every trial, every obstacle, every challenge, comes fear. Its there, riding the coattails, chasing the ambulance, hovering in the background. It sees fresh meat and begins to drool, its appetite stirred. And no sooner have you recognized the challenge than fear is there with its dark warnings and groundless promises.
Don’t ignore fear. That is the way of of the fool, the reckless, those who rush into battle headlong and without restraint and cause harm to others. But control fear. For if you don’t, it will control you. It will keep you on a short leash and hinder your ability to live life to the fullest. It will handicap you and relinquish you to the sidelines where you’ll be nothing more than a frustrated spectator.
Fear, when it is controlled, is meant to protect us. Out of control, it only harms. Controlled, it sharpens our skill and focuses our vision; out of control, if dulls the senses and clouds the mind.
We have nothing to fear but fear itself. Wise words to live by, profound words to succeed by.
Here’s another excerpt from The Purpose of Man (Regal, 2009), a collection of writings by A.W. Tozer:
There is another facet of faith for our consideration. That is, we do not believe we are as dear to God as He says we are. We do not believe we are as precious or that He desires us as much as He says He does. The enemy of man’s soul has sold this lie to us to not only beat us down, but to also keep us from the loving fellowship of God’s presence. He cares not a whit for us, but his hatred of God drives him to do all in his power to deny God that which rightfully belongs to Him. If everybody could suddenly have a baptism of pure cheerful belief that God wants and desires us to worship, admire and praise Him, it could transform us overnight into the most radiantly happy people in the world. We would finally discover our purpose: that God delights in us, and longs for our fellowship.
We were made to delight God, to worship Him, to fellowship with him. That is our sole purpose: To delight God. Wow.
“. . . the most radiantly happy people in the world.” That’s attractive! What do you think keeps you from realizing how much God loves you? From fully embracing your single purpose?