For Good

We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. — Romans 8:28, RSV

The challenge coin in the image above is a small(ish) thing that I carry with me every single day. A lot of people get these tokens for far more important reasons, and, if we’re being honest, you can even purchase them. So why is it so important to me?

This coin is a daily reminder for me that I may never know the full scope of my life. Further, it’s a testament to God’s ability to take our worst moments and turn them into something beautiful and edifying. This isn’t some cheesy “lemons and lemonade” theology. I am actually arguing that no moment, good or bad, determines our future indefinitely. What’s more, no moment in our lives should be taken for granted, for it could become a means by which we become characters that advance the story of God’s salvation.

If you read my post about my attempted suicide at age 11, you know that such a moment produces lasting effects. I still deal with depression and suicidal ideation, albeit in far healthier ways than when I was a child. It’s still “there” in my relationships with loved ones, and long ago, I accepted that would be the case.

What I did not foresee, however, was how such a dark experience would enrich my life.

My post on suicide found its way to a Lieutenant Colonel at Goodfellow Air Force Base. For those of you that don’t know, our armed services have a horrific suicide rate. The pressures of training and the things these people have to see take a hefty toll that we still don’t properly acknowledge as a nation. As it turns out, the Lt. Col.’s squadron was going to take part in suicide prevention training two weeks after I posted the article.

A few emails and a phone call later, I was set to travel to Goodfellow AFB and share my experience out loud, in full detail, for the first time ever, in front of 40 or so Airmen. No pressure. I drove down feeling relatively calm, but once I arrived, it became a different story. I realized Dad and I had never talked about this. We never discussed this topic after it happened. I was glad he was there to support me, and to hear that it wasn’t his fault, but I didn’t know how that was going to impact him. On top of that, right before I was to speak, I went to the restroom, where I saw a handicap rail.

Normally, I ignore handicap rails. I am glad restrooms have them. But not this day. This day, I wanted to tear off the wall the very thing I had tried to hang myself from as a boy. Somehow, though, after a lot of shaking and praying, I found myself talking and baring my darker side to a lobby full of total strangers. And Dad.

When it was over, there was applause I couldn’t really hear from people I couldn’t really see regarding an experience I couldn’t really process. I took some questions, bowed out gracefully, and then the Lt. Col. shook my hand. It was in this handshake that he passed me the challenge coin as a token of gratitude. In the moment, I was unable to truly appreciate such a gift from a service member, but now my heart is humbled by it. I am also grateful for the physical reminder that an experience that was so ugly for me had become a means by which I could bless others.

The Scripture verse at the start of this post is used to justify all kinds of theology regarding the will of God and the problem of evil, but I am honestly not interested in that today. Rather, I want to affirm the truth that God honors our trust in Him by taking our moments of pain or weakness and making them into a blessing by which His will may be accomplished.

If had not been the one to attempt suicide at age 11, this particular talk and this particular service to this particular group of service men and women would not have happened. Several in this group had been touched by the problems of mental health and suicide in the armed services. My connection to this base and my experience as a boy led to a moment in which those feelings could be validated and addressed.

Further, if I had not gone through the painful process of being fired from a ministry job, and if I had not chosen to leave my long-beloved denomination, I would not have started this blog. I would have remained in a job that actually discouraged me from sharing this very story of my life. While my life would have been smoother and more comfortable, my purpose would have actually been cut short. My firing led to my leaving. My leaving led to this blog. This blog led to that post, and that post led to a moment of service to those who serve.

In John 6, Jesus ducks a crowd for fear of being placed in a position of power. In verse 15, we see that, “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” If Jesus had allowed himself to be made king, he would have been powerful in a way to which we humans could relate. He would have been like every other person exacting judgment and promoting power from the top down. Instead, he withdrew, in order that he would become the Christ we all needed to see.

Likewise, moments of humiliation or pain in life seem to be causes for shame and disgrace. For God, however, they are fertile ground for our humble participation in His kingdom. If we remain open to His love and Spirit, even in the darkest moments of life, we can rest assured that opportunities will arise in which we can draw on that experience in order to heal and edify others. In doing so, we are also edified and healed.

All of this is why I carry this coin every day. It’s not a trophy or statement of how awesome or brave I am. Instead, it serves as a humbling reminder of God’s undeserved activity in my life. Even when I stumble or fall, God is always working for good, and the same can also be true for you. .

Peace be with you!

Notice The Blurs

And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’…But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ — Luke 12:19-20, NRSV

I went for a walk this past Saturday as part of my new and improved self-care regimen. I recharge by being alone in nature, a church, or some other place or situation in which I can think, process, and just “be.” While on this walk, I looked up and saw an oncoming vehicle with an exceptionally excited dog hanging out of the window. His jowls were flapping away in the wind, and his eyes were squinted in that canine way that indicates extreme pleasure. Sadly, the car was moving too quickly for a picture, so the dandelions I saw in the park will have to do. Anyway, the sight caused laughter to burst from me in a genuine, joyful sort of way, and I realized that if I had been running, reading, or if I had decided to drive to the park, I would have missed it!

This made me think about life and how we miss so much. We trade away large portions of our lives to pursue wealth, stability, and progress. We push through more and more hours so we can get that house or car for a family we aren’t around very much. We blitz through vacations for the sake of “doing everything,” but we actually enjoy very little. We damage our relationships with God and others over opinions, practices, and institutions that are as finite as we are (which I discuss here).

Jesus addresses this non-stop pursuit of worldly things in a parable regarding “The Rich Fool.” This is a guy that spends his entire life building up more wealth and goods than he could possibly need. Hell, he had to tear down and rebuild his storage facilities just to give it all some place to sit (Luke 12:18)! Further, he appears to live by an idea that drives most of us: “And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry” (12:19). After all, if we just get to that mythical “next step,” we will have all we need and we can finally enjoy life, right?

Jesus says no, and I am inclined to believe that He is correct.

At the end of the parable, God tells the man, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” Everything that you and I earn and possess over the course of our brief existence will go to others. The fights we “win,” the cars we drive, the houses we rent or own, the parties we vote for, even the nation in which we live will eventually all pass on in one way or another.

With that in mind, perhaps it’s time we stop going so fast. In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Clarisse tells Guy, “I sometimes think drivers don’t know what grass is, or flowers, because they never see them slowly… If you showed a driver a green blur, Oh yes! he’d say, that’s grass!” Bradbury’s commentary is just as true now as it was then. In the pursuit of all the things we are told are of primary importance, we lose sight of what truly matters.

My prayer for you is that you will take time to slow down and realign with God’s will for your life, and that is that you will actually live it. God’s not concerned about our paycheck or possessions. God doesn’t care if we vote blue or red. It doesn’t bring God joy when we insist on your own way, convinced of our own rightness. God’s desires are that we connect with Him and with each other in ways that honor the gift of life.

If we decide to embrace the path of God, our priorities can realign. We can be free to love and be present with the people God has placed in our lives. We can fight for justice and peace without the pesky allegiances that cause more harm than good. We can pursue our careers and livelihoods without becoming enslaved to them. Life can be lived without always obsessing over the next step, because the current step is all we have. And with God and each other, it’s all we really need.

Peace be with you!