Below you’ll find another preview of my upcoming book about new life and second chances called The _nd. Enjoy!
…Fast forward to the Apostle Paul in his prime. He walks into cities and towns and they change. He makes speaking appearances and shakes up the establishment of the day. He sways the minds of the crowds as he defends this new faith movement. He writes one of the greatest dissertations of faith in recorded history through his letter to the Romans.
Buried in his gospels you find an interesting prayer.
He asks God to take a thorn from his side.
Afflictions take many forms. They can be physical, mental or spiritual. They can be old stories we tell ourselves, passed down through generations. They can be ghosts of failures that refuse to leave when we look in the mirror.
We all tell ourselves stories.
Imagine Paul’s narrative at this point. His life had changed directions. He was now front and center defending those he had chased. At night, when the voices quieted, he was faced with his affliction. He tells us that he prayed before to have it removed and yet it remained.
For God uses our afflictions and they keep our stories headed forward.
Our afflictions are necessary. I’ll take it one step further. Affliction s are required for us to complete our divine callings. We follow Jesus, the one taking on death to save our lives. Is there any reason why we’d expect safe passage? We are told to take up our crosses and follow him.
We are told that, in this world we will have troubles, but Jesus has overcome the world.
Paul writes that his affliction shapes his story. It is a constant reminder of grace. He needed to be blinded to truly see and start on his journey that would change the world and spread faith to the masses.
Often it seems like our wounds are the end.
When the movie Creed was released around Thanksgiving 2015, I went to see it with a friend of mine. Being from the Philadelphia area, any movies connected to the Rocky franchise are required viewing. In the movie, Michael B. Jordan plays Apollo’s Creed’s son.
Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky trains him to be a fighter and instills the attitude needed to win even though, in the end, he does not. He loses the championship fight but wins the hearts of the crowd. There is a scene where Jordan’s character is looking into the mirror. Stallone’s character states that your most important opponent, in the ring and in life, is the one in the mirror.
What do you see?
A father, son, husband, wife, mother or daughter? An employee? An executive? A pastor?
Do you see success or a failure?
More importantly, what do you hear when you look in the mirror? The voices are never silent. Do you hear a parent’s voice telling you that you failed? That you will never amount to anything? Do you hear language that hurts coming from someone you love?
Or do you hear the truth coming from the promises of the Bible?
One of the hardest things you’ll face is a calling to be generative. You may have grown up without a father and now, years later, you are looking at an expecting wife and a little boy who will change your world when he arrives. How do you become a father without a template?
You may be called to start a business or ministry in a new area or part of the world.
We are called to create. It is part following the Creator of the Universe. We are called to stretch our horizons and discover new paths.
Blanket, Gas Pedal, Platform
Our wounds can play different roles in life. They can be blankets, gas pedals, or platforms.
Wounds are blankets when they hold us down. We take them on as our identity and define ourselves by our pain and suffering.
We become victims.
There is a difference between being a victim and becoming a victim. You cannot minimize the damage done by serious wounds whether physical or emotional. The issue is what you do with it. There is a way back, a journey home, a fresh start and new direction.
There is a way to overcome the darkness.
That is shifting your wounds from a blanket to a gas pedal.
Here is something that can change your life if you let it. Your experience, positive and negative, is unique to you. God places these wounds in our lives for a purpose and we must make the connection.
Suffered abuse? Find a small group of abuse survivors and contribute, standing with others facing the same reality. Struggled with addiction? Meet with someone to mentor at a local shelter or outreach agency. Dealt with poverty? Volunteer at a food pantry or consignment shop.
Our wounds are our radar. They steer us, and push us, towards those we can help with our stories. They set us in motion to create, support, and birth new movements.
They can also be our platform.
We build foundations on sturdy platforms and they are often shaped by our moments of hurt.
Check Paul’s experiences throughout his life. Not every speaking stop was a pleasant one. He faced danger and violence at most turns, even dealing with a shipwreck. He did all this carrying his past and his affliction as constant reminder of the power of grace, change, and a second chance.
He built a strong platform without the benefit of internet or digital media. He shared his story, a collective story, of power that changes lives.
The gas pedal pushes us towards building our platform to tell our story.
We are all called to tell our story. It may not be in the form of a book but, make no mistake, you tell your story on a daily basis. It is seen through the eyes of your children, your friends and your loved ones. It is seen by the random people you meet every day.
Our actions always tell a story…
Edgar Allen Poe created fiction that defined a genre. He made the literary rounds of his time, eventually dying mysteriously in the city of Baltimore and starting a tradition where followers would leave a black rose on his grave for the anniversary of his death. I have a Collected Works of Poe on my bookshelf.
When he ventured into writing about writing itself, he gave us the idea of suspension of disbelief. It was the dividing line when a reader gives in to a story no matter the content. The lovers cause your heart to race, the stormy night makes the corners a little darker, and the fanciful world seems like it is just outside your door.
Think of your favorite book or movie.
Odds are it is a story with a quick suspension of disbelief. Whether a space opera, teen post apocalyptic fantasy, or guy building a baseball field to connect with his dead father. The themes of great stories cross over into our lives and provide an escape that keep us coming back to turn the page or see the movie just one more time.
Maybe you went to a job you don’t like, clocked in and out, and drove home to go through the motions. Maybe your spouse or loved one didn’t acknowledge you when you walked through the door, the house is a mess, the cushions are off the couch for the 1000th time as portable gym mats while your kids do flips from the couch (not that I speak from experience, or anything).
Maybe the paycheck arrived and it is already spent. The student loans pile up. The lenders are calling and the car is two months behind an oil change, but getting one means taking time you don’t have and money you don’t have.
So something has to suffer.
How do we learn to love our own stories?
Embrace the characters- Your circle will expand and contract as the years pass. People come and go but some will stay forever. Find those who make your life full; the dreamers and visionaries, the creatives and the ones that make you laugh. Find joy and the hearts it inhabits. Bring these people close and, when you do, look out for others who could use some joy in their own lives. Expand your circle and make a difference.
Embrace the conflict- It will not always be clear or easy. Some of the most powerful conflict has shifting lines of allegiance. In one of my favorite novels, The End of the Affair by Graham Greene, the conflict is between the author, his lover, and her husband. All sides falter and the humanity of the characters draws you in. When conflict comes, you have two choices. You can run or fight. There is no other option. I tend to procrastinate and, really, it is only another form of running. As the saying goes, if you aren’t moving forward you are falling behind. Always keep moving forward.
Embrace the crescendo– The hero is down on the mat and the ref is counting to ten. The bases are loaded with two strikes in the bottom of the ninth. The big presentation is due and the PowerPoint file is corrupted.
Thunder sounds over a trio of crosses on a hill so many years ago.
You’ll know when it happens. We are all called to a crescendo, to a taste of the edge, to the point where all seems lost. We are called to suffering.
That may make some uncomfortable. It is not a popular message in a world of quick fixes, success strategies, coaching courses and prosperity ministries. You won’t find too many graphics at the local Christian book store with the phrase behind an artistic sunrise print.
We suffer because we are being refined as part of the Greatest Story Ever Told. We suffer because we follow the one who went before us.
We suffer because we are called to do great things, to change lives and spark a movement that will electrify the world.
You may be facing a crescendo right now as you read this.
If you are, I pray you find courage to stand and be in the moment. I pray you love your story and walk forward with suspension of disbelief. As you wake tomorrow, look with new eyes and know you are a part of something so much bigger. Embrace the flow of the story, the characters and the conflict and start writing your own fresh pages.
Maybe you woke up sick this morning like I did. Maybe the kids didn’t sleep or your spouse was out all night with friends. Maybe the week was too long at a job without enough pay doing something you don’t love.
One of my favorite works of literature is Dante’s Inferno, part of the Divine Comedy. The poem tells of a journey through hell and it starts with the narrator getting lost in the woods.
You may be standing in your own woods this morning.
This post is an offer. No sales, no SEO or products. From the time you read this through midnight Sunday, I’ll be checking in.
If there is anything you’d like prayer for, please let me know in a comment here, on Facebook, or any other social media channels.
I know and I believe that prayer is powerful. We’ve seen God answer our petitions more than once these last few months and I know he will do the same for you.
I want to say thank you to everyone who has followed this blog and this story so far. Great things are coming and I’m excited to write about them as they develop in the coming weeks.
Today, Saturday 11/7/2015, is for anyone who reads this and may be struggling. I’ll be praying for you. For as our pastor says, just months after the motorcycle accident that took his left leg and the life of his wife, there is no Plan B. Our faith is Plan A and it is the only plan.
I look forward to hearing from you and, if you feel pulled, offer up the chance to pray for your family, friends, and readers. Let this weekend be about a reconnect, about a movement back to faith and hope.
Have a great rest of your weekend and you’ll be in my prayers.
Ever feel like you’ve missed the party?
As writers, we get this more often than we’d like to admit. We kick around a novel idea in our heads until the next big hit sounds too close for comfort. Our friends nail their first big publication when we’re still chasing ours. A family member lands a promotion.
We send out thirty submissions and, even with an acceptance, wonder about the twenty-nine others that rejected us. We look in the mirror and question if we’re doing the right thing. Life seems to flow past in rapids as we stand in the midst of the stream watching the reflection of the sun on the water.
The impact can range from annoying to paralyzing, yet there is a way out.
I met with a friend of mine this week, Brian Kelly, one of the minds working to make Reading a better place. He spoke about bringing people together to the table to have conversations that may be awkward. He said how everyone deserves a voice, even if they aren’t comfortable in the environment. Put the businessmen on the streets and let those on the streets spend some time in the boardrooms.
Let those supporting the gentrification of cities (get the poor out) meet with advocates for the homeless and start the dialogue.
It is an important lesson to carry over.
Every voice matters. Your voice matters.
When it seems like all the others are at the table already, there is a space for you. When it seems like the power and influence lies with everyone else, it is even more a reason to tell your story. When the weight of the past presses down and threatens you, put the words together and release them to the world.
Forget about timing.
There’s a saying in writing that, the moment you write for the current market, you’ll miss it. The moment you edit yourself in fear of outside opinions, scrap the paragraph and start again.
It also applies in life.
Believe in yourself. Believe in your story. Believe in your worth and know that you matter.
Forget about “timing” and focus on moving, doing, serving, loving, and giving. You be amazed at the results.
Make tomorrow different.
Do it because you can. Because you don’t know if you’ll have Friday. Because somewhere, someone is sitting in the darkness of their home regretting the fact that they didn’t do it.
Ignore the doubts. Silence the critics. Choose what voices matter and keep them close.
Find your idea. Ignite a new passion. Connect with friends and make partnerships.
Do it because it is in your history, in your blood going back through the generations.
Do it because you were called to fight, because somewhere three hundred years ago people decided to rise up and claim their freedom. Do it because this year a soldier didn’t make it home to their family.
Do it because someone believes in you. Your mother. Your father. Your children look up to you and see inspiration.
Close your eyes.
See your goal.
Take that first step. Lace up the sneakers and hit the track. Set up the meeting with the perspective investors and put your idea on the table and know, even if they say NO, it only means they weren’t the right ones and there’s an entire country waiting to support you.
Do it because time is short. Because giving matters. Because tonight a kid is hungry somewhere and your success could inspire someone to give back and their donation could help put food in the fridge. Because a person you haven’t met needs to know your story and understand that
When the sun rises and the alarm sounds, open your eyes. Draw a breath and be thankful because your work isn’t complete. You are needed. You have another chance to make a difference.
Do it because the fear of success is greater than the fear of failure. Because you are worth having a dream, chasing it down, grasping it and never letting go.
Hear that? That small voice in the silence? That voice speaking in your heart whenever you close your eyes and listen? That thrumming in your soul pulses out a beat driving you forward, waiting, coiled and ready to expand and explode.
That voice is the calling. Will you respond?
I’ve made it my goal to find some new and interesting worship songs. I’ve started at The Good Christian Music Blog and worked my way out. Check out “Holy” by Isla Vista Worship.
My book, Lazarus Art, is available for free for a limited time starting tomorrow. If you’d enjoy a book that will change your writing life, check it out. If a friend or family member is a writer, it makes a great inspirational gift. Pick up a copy or two and pass them on!