That Broken Road “Not Taken”

Country Road - FREE

THAT BROKEN ROAD “NOT TAKEN”

   Donna and Joey (not their real names) had tried to have baby for five years but were unable. I won’t get into the details but Donna and Joey decided that, rather than undergo fertilization treatments, they would adopt. Within eighteen months, they had adopted siblings—two little boys from Eastern Europe. In the next four years, Donna gave birth to a baby girl and then a boy.

   That was unexpected.

   Donna and Joey’s situation is not that uncommon. It’s uncanny how often couples who cannot have children find themselves expecting after adopting one or more children. There are different theories among some medical professionals as to why this happens and some have no explanations at all. However, here’s what those adopted children have: stable homes with parents who love them. And while Donna and Joey and couples like them might initially never have chosen to take the adoption road if another path had been possible, would they, looking back now, have chosen differently if it meant never having met their precious adopted sons and daughters?

   Doesn’t it seem that perhaps the hand of God might be busy behind the scenes in these difficult circumstances?

   That health scare that put you on the road to a longer, healthier life? That devastating break-up which freed you to meet your true Prince or Princess Charming? That difficult circumstance your errant son or daughter was forced to endure—perhaps reaping what they’d sown—and yet now he or she is a changed person? And while their pain was excruciatingly heartbreaking for you to watch, helpless, from the sidelines, chances are good that neither of you now would wish the trial away. Perhaps that experience even saved a life.

   That difficult, broken road…

   Joseph found himself in that situation. Sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, he eventually ended up in prison, accused of a rape he’d never committed. And yet it was his training ground to learn the Egyptian language, customs and culture—all things handy to know when your destiny is to become the legendary savior of a nation. In the end, Joseph rescued Egypt and the fledging nation of Israel from starvation during the worst drought in history.

   And Esther. Do we think that she, a virtuous Jewish maiden, thought it any honor to be kidnapped and forced into the harem of a Persian king? Gone were her dreams of a marriage to a nice, respectable young Jewish man, raising respectable Jewish children. Instead, at best, she would have children by a man whom she didn’t know and she would watch them be raised according to a pagan faith. And she herself would be confined to the women’s quarters of a palace, never to see her friends and family again.

   There’s a shameful, broken road.

   Nevertheless, Esther, like Joseph, spent her time learning the language, customs and culture of the Persian empire—all in preparation for her coronation as Queen of Persia and, more importantly, as the savior of her people, the Jews, from absolute annihilation.

   Maybe you’re on that road right now. Maybe you’ve run smack into the brick wall of crisis which has forced you down a path you don’t remotely like, don’t want to be on, and would never have chosen. It’s rock-hard, it’s often lonely, and it’s painful beyond description.

   Maybe it’s called “the road not taken” for a reason.

   Perhaps. But still, don’t back up and do not quit; not now. That broken road can lead to a destiny and a destination you just cannot get to any other way—a place that, right now, you only dream of finding.

   Stay the course. And then one day may you say that taking that lonely road “has made all the difference.”

 

Frost Poem

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Disappointment: The Silent Killer of Dreams

Bride in Ruins

   Growing up, there were two kinds of kids: those who experienced disappointment from life’s little setbacks and those who were protected from feeling any of those same disappointments. Fast forward a few decades and now there are two kinds of adults. There are those who face disappointments head-on and bounce back, knowing that life doesn’t always check with us to see how we’d like it to turn out, and there are those who’ve had no practice dealing with disappointment and melt down every time life throws them a curve ball.

   Let’s face it—it hurts to be disappointed. However, “disappoint,” per se, is not an emotion; it’s come to mean that we feel “let down,” so to speak, but that’s not the original definition; the original is much stronger. The word itself means “to be unappointed” or, in a more general sense, to be demoted, removed, rejected—in essence, to lose.

   Disappointments come in all shapes and sizes. We face minor disappointments when we lose a sports game or the car we wanted or a good grade on a test. More serious disappointments—losses—include lost jobs or promotions; lost opportunities for, say, scholarships or business funding; and lost life experiences such as the ability to live where we’d like, to pursue a talent or passion, or to retire sooner rather than later. And then there are the life-altering, even tragic disappointments in life. These include (but are not limited to) lost relationships or broken marriages; business failures, financial hardships and/or the irrevocable loss of a dream; and the ultimate disappointments—a failed medical treatment, a life-limiting disability, or even a death.

   We tend to think of “disappointments” as relatively trivial things, but they’re often not minor losses at all. Moreover, the effects they can have on our emotions, perspectives, and expectations can, the end, be quite devastating and destructive.

   The sad truth is that we can’t escape loss and disappointment; it is, unfortunately, part of the human experience. But what happens when we can’t seem to cope with disappointment in any form? For example, what happens when we get the trophy in Little League just for participating—no actual winning required—and then we don’t get the promotion just for showing up for work? What happens when we get to retake the test over and over in high school but in college we get a big, fat, non-negotiable F ? What happens when, as kids, mom and dad never tell us “no” when we want something and then the boss tells us “no” or the police tell us “no” or the person of our dreams tells us “no”? Does that mean “maybe” or “keep asking”? Or is it time for a meltdown because we didn’t get our way?

   What if we just can’t deal?  

   What often happens is that “dealing” with a disappointment means that it’s someone else’s fault. For example, what happens when we lose a position because we didn’t do the job? Is it the boss’s fault, a co-worker’s fault or our mommy’s fault? Do we get angry and demand a “safe space” or do we put on our big-boy pants, hit the asphalt and find another job? But what if the disappointment is someone else’s fault? Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t—I wouldn’t know—but I can say with some certainty that burning buildings or bridges won’t make the situation any better.

   Here’s a thought: If we can’t handle the relatively minor disappointments of life, how will we ever be equipped to handle the big disappointments—especially the ones over which we have no control? The economy tanks and so the business fails or the layoffs begin—what then? Will a meltdown get us another job? (Insert Jeopardy theme here.)

   What if we experience repeated disappointments? That does happen—a difficult subject in school with multiple failures or a difficult boss at work who evaluates everyone poorly? Do we pitch a fit and blame the teacher or boss? (Well, maybe—for about five minutes.) But do we quit?

   Repeated disappointments and failures are the worst, the most debilitating. Sometimes, in the face of failed dreams, broken relationships or multiple rejections, it’s difficult not to take those losses and failures personally. Sometimes people quit, stamping themselves “NOT GOOD ENOUGH!” Sometimes people get angry and rage at themselves, at others—even at God. And sometimes people simply lose hope—any expectation at all that they might succeed or that things will ever get better. Sometimes repeated disappointments can even lead to despair.

   Or not.

   If we learn to manage our disappointment over small things, then we’ll be better equipped to handle the larger disappointments life likes to sling.

   Furthermore, the ability to deal is not a talent, it’s a skill. The ability to cope without a meltdown can be developed—and it needs to be.

Hopefully, we begin to learn this while we’re younger rather than older. It’s wonderful to protect our children but there’s a rather big difference between protecting them from actual danger and protecting them from hearing that they lost a ballgame.

   The bottom line is that we’re not doing ourselves or anyone else any favors when we don’t deal well with disappointments. Here’s life truth #36: The inability to handle loss and disappointment only breeds more loss and disappointment.

   Disappointments and losses will come—Jesus even said so.

   Don’t let them destroy you.

  

  

The Grind

Teacher Meltdown

THE GRIND

   I once knew a teacher (whom I’ll call Sophie) who hated her job. Sophie’s retired now, and I’m certain she’s much happier, but before she retired, she was often in deep distress over the nearly impossible circumstances at her job. (She worked in a different district than I do.) And the fact is, Sophie had a lot to be unhappy about; she worked in a very “challenging” inner city district where students frequently didn’t come to school and when they did, they were either beating each other to a bloody pulp or disrupting any given class they had because they’d missed too much of the class to be able to do any of the work in it.

   Now, I know what you’re thinking: why didn’t Sophie just get another job somewhere else if she hated hers so much? Good question; I don’t know—she just didn’t. I do know that she once said she couldn’t start over because that would mean a significant cut in pay and she just couldn’t afford that.

   Don’t get me wrong—Sophie was a great teacher. She loved teaching history and she was good at it but she found it nearly impossible to make teenagers who didn’t want to be in school anyway feel any affinity for learning about “old, dead people”. She’d tried, but her students didn’t value education and resented having to work—and often told her so. So after a while, Sophie just got tired. Tired of having to confront students on their behavior and tired of the mayhem that ensued if she didn’t. Tired of the lack of support from her administration and even less support from parents. Tired of the endless government interference with curriculum and tired of the endless days of testing.

   Tired of the grind.

   Have you ever had days when the “same ol’, same ol’” just feels like it’s sucking the life right out of you? Have you ever felt like you just don’t have what it takes to do what you’ve chosen to do? Have you ever felt like you’ve “missed it” somehow—destroyed the destiny you might’ve had by making a wrong choice, a huge error, or a hopeless mistake?

   Have you ever felt like you’re just doing time until you can be done?

   We’ve all been there. But the fact is, it’s never too late to discover your destiny or to make course corrections and get back on track to it.  How?  Because our God is a God of “do-overs”!

   For example, Moses got a do-over after killing a man (his fault). Joseph also got a do-over after spending 22 years in prison (not his fault).  Whether you’re ten or eighty, God has a destiny for you.  And it’s a good destiny—one that will give your years life and your life purpose. It will get you out of bed and excited to get moving every morning.  And it will allow you to know that you’re making a real difference in the world which, essentially, adds up to eternal purpose.

   I’m reminded of a young woman who had moved to a new town and had no job or money or husband (he’d died); all she had was an old woman to take care of and no food to feed her. Eventually, the young woman got a job harvesting in the fields, barely making any money, and really just living off of what she was able to pick from the fields and take home.  And she did this day in and day out, day in and day out, day in and… you get the pic; you’ve been there.

   By now, you realize I mean Ruth.  But did you ever wonder what she was thinking during those long, hot hours in the fields?

   How did I get here? Did I make the wrong choice?  What will happen if I can’t work anymore?  Why won’t anyone talk to me?  Where would I be if I’d stayed in Moab?  Will I die here…?

   Long story short: Ruth had no idea that she had an incredible destiny, that someday she’d marry a rich man and eventually be counted as the great-great grandmother of King David! Nor did Joseph, rotting away in prison, ever dream that he’d be in charge of all of Egypt. Nor did Moses, a murderer and fugitive, in his wildest dreams, ever imagine that one day he’d be the promised one who would deliver the Hebrew slaves from the cruel Egyptians. Nor did David, a nerdy, smelly, shepherd boy who was ridiculed by his older brothers, ever imagine that one day he’d be Israel’s most famous warrior king. (Funny how Joseph, Moses, and David were all youngest brothers who initially had problems with those older bros… But I digress.)

   It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, didn’t do or tried to do and failed—God has a plan for your life, a purpose, a destiny—and it’s a good one.  But only you can fulfill it.  No one else in all the earth has the combination of talent, giftings, ability, mindset, personality and life experience that you have. You, and only you, can fulfill the purpose for which God planted you on this planet in the way that he wants it fulfilled.

   If the daily grind is killing you, it’s time to do one of two things: either ask for the grace (the firepower of God) to fulfill your calling without disappointment and dread—or seek your real purpose in life.

   It’s time to be done with “the grind”.

 

 

 

 

But—God.

Ballerina II BUT—GOD. 

   Over the decades as a Christian, I’ve heard endless stories of God doing the impossible, but one of the most amazing is that of a young man who was severely mentally disabled with an IQ so low that, at sixteen years old, he was still in kindergarten. However, the time came when, despite his mother’s persistent pleas for her son, officials insisted that he could no longer attend school; he was simply too big to be in a kindergarten class anymore and his own grade level was far beyond his abilities. Still, his mother never stopped praying for her son’s complete healing and took him to various healing meetings. And one night, the impossible happened: her son was completely healed! Today, he not only has a college degree but three PhD’s.

   Nothing is impossible with God.

   Have you ever felt you’ve been called to great things, impossible things? That would be because you have. But do we really believe that? The fact is that we’ve lost sight of the bottom line: “’Nothing is impossible with God’” (Luke 1:37). Maybe it’s time for a quick reminder.               

   “Then the Lord said to Abraham, ‘About this time next year I will return, and your wife Sarah will have a son.’ Now Sarah was listening to this conversation from the tent nearby. And since Abraham and Sarah were both very old, and Sarah was long past the age of having children, she laughed silently to herself. ‘How could a worn-out woman like me have a baby?’ she thought. ‘And when my master, my husband, is also so old?’ The Lord then said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh? Why did she say, “Can an old woman like me have a baby?” Is anything too hard for the Lord?'” (Gen. 18:10-13).

   A “baby” equals a dream, a promise, a heart’s desire. It also represents, as with Sarah, the sign of a fulfilled covenant and the promise of a covenant to come. 

   The same message came to Jeremiah from the Lord. The Lord had instructed Jeremiah to buy a field from his cousin and to store away the deed. Odd thing to do but God meant it as a sign that, although Jerusalem would be destroyed and the Israelites exiled to Babylon, the time would come that He would again restore His people to their land. But as Jeremiah sees the city and nation about to be destroyed, he is in despair and wonders how anyone could ever own land in Israel/Judah again, so Jeremiah questions God as to why He had him buy the land in the first place. But it was a prophetic sign of a future covenant which the Lord would make with His people. So essentially Jeremiah was asking God: “How can You do that—fulfill your promise—when Jerusalem is about to be destroyed??” God’s answer: “‘I am the Lord, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything too hard for Me?'” (Jer. 32:26-27).

   In the book of Luke, the angel Gabriel visits Mary to inform her that she will become pregnant with the Messiah through the Spirit of God and have a baby. Mary responds by asking how she can get pregnant when she’s still a virgin. The angel tells her how it will happen (as soon as she consents), and then gives her a sign to believe in: “‘What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s already in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God'” (Luke 1:36).

   In Matthew 19, there is the account of the rich young ruler who leaves sadly after deciding he cannot give up his possessions and follow Jesus (who was testing his commitment by asking him to do that). Jesus watches him go and comments to His disciples that it’s about as easy for a rich person to get saved as it is for a huge camel to go through the tiny city gate known as the “Eye of the Needle.” Knowing how impossible that would be, Jesus’ disciples, astonished, respond, “‘Then who in the world can be saved?'” (vs. 25). Jesus’ answer? “‘With man, this is impossible, but with God all things are possible'” (vs. 26).

   The disciples were panicked at the thought that salvation would be as difficult to attain as a camel getting through that gate (which evidently had never been done before), and so Jesus uses that analogy to illustrate that there is not even the smallest fraction of a chance that man could ever achieve salvation on his own. Nevertheless, what is completely impossible for man—even for privileged or righteous men, is possible with God. And Jesus doesn’t qualify His answer either; He doesn’t say, “most things are possible with God”. It’s “all things are possible with God.” And it’s “all things are possible,” not “will be”; they’re all possible now. And this is all true whether we see these things as possible or not.

   So—dream dreams! Let your visions be conceived—no matter how impossible they might seem, remembering that “nothing is too hard for God.” And while you’re waiting (pregnant…), do as the Lord instructed Abraham who was awaiting the fulfillment of God’s covenant to give him the Promised Land. God said to Abraham, “’Take a walk in every direction and explore the new possessions I am giving you'” (Gen. 13:17). God tells Abraham to “explore” (NIV: “Walk through the length and breath of the land…”)—get a vision of it. Keep it before your eyes in order to hold onto the dream. And we should do the same… keep the vision of our “babies,” our dreams, before our eyes. We need to remember that, like Sarah and Elizabeth, we’re never “too old;” like Mary and the rich ruler, the impossible will not be attained man’s way; and like the people of Israel in Jeremiah’s time, not even our own sin or self-imposed destruction will stand in the way of God fulfilling our dreams in His own (sometimes incomprehensible) way. This is good news because it means that even if we can’t figure out how our vision could possibly ever come to pass, all we have to remember is that “all things are possible with God” and that our part is simply to hold onto that truth.

   In the meantime, as the Lord instructed Habakkuk, “Write [your] vision, make it plain… so that the one who reads it [you] may run with it [do it]” (Hab.2:2).

   It’s time.