Unshakable Hope

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

Archive for the tag “Addiction”

Life Goes On

“Life Goes On”

Whether we’re going through the worst of times or the best of times, history and our own experiences show us that life does go on. This is true, but I don’t recommend saying “life goes on” to someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one.

“There is an appointed time for everything.
And there is a time for every event under heaven —
A time to give birth and a time to die…
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4)

I thought about the above passage last week when our daughter gave birth to a beautiful seven pound girl on Wednesday, then a close friend died of cancer on Friday – “A time to give birth and a time to die.”

Those who are grieving and those who are rejoicing have this in common – life goes on for both of them.

life goes on quote
It was a beautiful Friday afternoon in 1996 that the neurologist informed me that I had ALS and would likely be dead in three or four years (so much for predictions). I vividly remember driving home that day in stop-and-go traffic. I was exhausted after three long days of examinations so Mary was driving and I spent much of that long drive home staring out the window at the other drivers. I imagined that they were thinking about dinner or maybe they were making plans for the weekend ahead. In the midst of horrible news, when it seems that our life will never be the same, the world seems like such a cold and cruel place when you look around and realize that life goes on just as it always has.

Compared to life’s great highs and lows, day-to-day life can seem so trivial. When we experience the extreme highs and lows, we tell ourselves that we’ll never again settle for the trivial life. But our emotional or spiritual highs and lows gradually find their old balance, and we return to a mundane normalcy. I think this is the root cause of much of the addiction and depression we see around us; “life goes on” is difficult for many people to cope with.

What’s the answer?

Even for someone that’s been paralyzed by a horrible disease and can no longer eat or speak, “life goes on” can be a great message if you truly learn to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)

I try not to focus on the personal and professional “highs” (or the financial gains) that I’ve missed out on over the last 19 years. Instead, I make a conscious effort to focus on the good things in my life, like our beautiful new granddaughter, and to share in the highs and lows of others. Living vicariously through others is not the life that I envisioned, but years ago I concluded that the only alternative was to throw a pity party and make myself and everyone around me miserable. I’ve been to several pity parties, and I didn’t like the company (me, myself and I) or the hangover of guilt.

Life is hard, but it’s much easier if we surround ourselves with people that won’t only rejoice with us in the good times but will also support us in the difficult times. I’m so thankful that Mary and I have family and friends like this.

For my daughter, her husband, their son and their beautiful baby girl, life goes on.

Lauren and Peyton 2
For the family of our friend that passed away last Friday, life goes on.

But the great news is that the friend we lost was a committed follower of Christ so life goes on for him also.

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:27-28)

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain…” (Revelation 21:4)

Life goes on!

Opportunities In Trials

In the midst of a trial, the greatest temptation we face is to hunker down and wait for the storm to pass. I don’t believe this is ever God’s will.

We tend to view trials as a kind of imprisonment, thinking our life is on hold until the day we’re released from the grip of the life challenge. ALS has made me a virtual prisoner of my own body for the last 18 years. It has been a very cruel warden. But I look around me and see other people fighting illness or trying to overcome addictions, depression, abuse, debt and so many other cruel masters.

We must continue to hope and pray for freedom from whatever is trying to “hold us,” and we should do everything in our power to move toward that goal. But, in the meantime, we should look for opportunities for God to use us right where we are. This is what the Apostle Paul did, and I’m convinced it’s what God wants us to do.

It was from prison that Paul wrote the following: “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel…” (Philippians 1:12)

We don’t usually associate the word “progress” with imprisonment or any kind of trial, but I believe that we should. If we wait until we “have it all together” before we try to help and give hope to others, many will go without help and die without hope.

Would I be a hypocrite telling people that God still heals when I’ve been held in the grip of a terminal disease for 18 years?

Let me answer that with another question: Was Paul a hypocrite for writing about freedom in Christ from the depths of what was likely a rat infested dungeon?

Paul was almost stoned to death by an angry mob and severely beaten other times. He also suffered from what he called “a thorn in his flesh” (many Bible scholars say this “thorn” was poor eye sight). Regardless, it’s unlikely that Paul was the handsome and strong man depicted in the Bible movies. After spending much of his time in prison and enduring countless beatings, he was likely pale and scarred, and probably in pain 24/7. Yet, God used this suffering servant to heal and give hope to others.

The Apostles faced the same trials, temptations and human frailties that we face. Yet, in the midst of trying to overcome their own trials and temptations and battling their own demons, they were feeding the poor, healing the sick and giving hope to others by spreading the good news.

People don’t care about how much we know until they know how much we care. Maybe we wouldn’t have truly learned to care apart from our suffering.

I hope you’re successful in keeping all of your New Year’s Resolutions, and 2015 is the best year you’ve had so far. But we cannot wait for all of our hopes to be fulfilled before we offer help and hope to others.

helping_others1
We overcome as we help others to overcome.

Evil: The Ultimate Opportunist

I recently read a blog post that reminded me of an incident that occurred a few years after Mary and I were married.

I was working for a company that required me to be on-call for one week per month. This was a few years before cell phones were readily available so we still used pagers. I still remember the sick feeling I’d get when I would hear that annoying beeping noise in the middle of the night or during holiday celebrations. I had to drop everything and immediately drive the 30+ miles to work.

Around two o’clock one morning, that annoying beeping noise woke us from a dead sleep. After walking over to the sink and splashing cold water on my face, I called the answering service and heard the message that I was needed at work right away.

While getting dressed, I opened my wallet and discovered that I didn’t have any cash. I quickly looked in Mary’s purse and found that she didn’t have much cash either. I told her that I was going to run by the ATM and get some money on my way to work.

Our bank was located on the service road of the freeway, right on my way to work. It was very convenient, but, even though the location was just off the freeway, it was fairly secluded. At that time, it was the only business in that area; a small building surrounded by dense woods. For this reason, and because the bank didn’t have a drive-through ATM machine, Mary didn’t like me going there at night. That night she again asked me to use the ATM in the convenient store near the front of our neighborhood.

I value Mary’s advice, but the convenient store charged a fee for using their ATM and our bank did not. It’s not that I’m cheap, I just hated paying unnecessary fees so I decided not to take her advice that night.

I had been to our bank’s ATM at night before but never at such a late hour. Other than a few dimly lit lights shining up from the landscaping in front of the building and a small light over the ATM machine, the area was dark and the woods surrounding the building were pitch black.

I parked my car in front of the small building and quickly walked up the sidewalk to the ATM machine. I got an eerie feeling like someone other than the ATM camera was watching me as I punched in the numbers on the keypad. I convinced myself that this was my imagination, but I was still so relieved when the cash popped out so I could finally return to my car and get out of there.

When I was about halfway back to my car, I heard footsteps on the sidewalk behind me. “Could you give me a ride?” the shaky voice of a woman asked. Thinking it was a set up and her boyfriend was going to pop out of the bushes and shoot me, I didn’t even turn around until I reached my car and opened the door.

She was young, twenty years-old at most. I looked over the top of the car as she nervously explained that her car broke down on the freeway. I only heard bits and pieces of what she was saying because I was planning a quick getaway and scanning the hedges in front of the building for any sign of her accomplice. Before even getting my answer, she began sheepishly walking towards my car as if I had agreed to her request.

Still suspicious, I mumbled something about being in a hurry to get to work and moved closer to the open door of my car. “PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME HERE, I’VE BEEN RAPED,” she shouted as she rushed to my car and frantically tried to open the locked passenger door. I unlocked the door.

She asked me to take her home so her mom could accompany her to the hospital.

After driving a mile or so on the service road, she pointed to her car parked on the shoulder of the freeway and began telling me the horrifying story.

She was at a friend’s house watching a movie. She stayed later than she intended and later than her mom wanted her to. While driving home on the nearly deserted freeway, her car stalled so she parked it on the shoulder and turned the emergency flashers on. She waited in the car for about thirty minutes hoping that a police officer or a Good Samaritan would stop and help her. She finally gave up on that idea and decided to walk the three miles or so to a gas station to call her mom.

Thinking it wouldn’t be safe walking along the shoulder of the freeway, she decided to walk in the grass on the inside of the service road. She had only been walking for about five minutes when, seemingly from nowhere, a large man grabbed her from behind and carried her into the woods where he raped her. Following the brutal assault, the rapist fled one way and the traumatized girl fled the other way. Thinking that he might return to look for her, she hid behind the bushes in front of the bank to figure out what her next move would be. This is when I entered her nightmare, and she decided that I would be her next move.

Evil is the ultimate opportunist.

“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

Evil operates like a lion wandering through the wilderness looking for the young, the weak or otherwise vulnerable prey. An evil lion found a physically vulnerable young girl that night.

But evil doesn’t just search for the physically vulnerable, it also preys on the emotionally and spiritually vulnerable; those isolated by addiction, depression, abuse or one of life’s many other challenges that are so difficult to overcome without the help of others.

I can no longer help those in physical distress, but I can still do my best to help those in emotional or spiritual distress by giving them hope. As Christians, we all have the responsibility to help the hurting, even when, maybe especially when, we’re hurting.

If someone came to your mind when you read that, it’s probably the person that God wants you to help.

What are you waiting for?

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)

What Are You Seeking?

I follow a Bible reading plan every year, and the plan I’m following this year begins with John’s Gospel. I’ve always thought it was much more than a coincidence that the first words spoken by Jesus (in John’s Gospel) come in the form of a very profound question; it’s a question that everyone should know the answer to:

“What are you seeking? (John 1:38)

When I read that question on January 1st, I paused to think about what I should be seeking this year. I believe that our New Year’s Resolutions, or lack of, tell a lot about what we’re seeking. The following is a list of the top ten New Year’s Resolutions for 2014. Other than showing that we smoke too much, spend too much, sit too much and eat too much, what does this list tell us about the American people?

  1. Lose weight.
  2. Improve finances.
  3. Exercise more.
  4. Get a new/better job.
  5. Eat healthier.
  6. Manage stress better.
  7. Quit smoking.
  8. Improve a relationship.
  9. Quit procrastinating.
  10. Set aside time for yourself.

Besides being obsessed with our bodies and being guilt-ridden over repeatedly doing the things we don’t like, it seems to me that we’re focused on treating symptoms instead of the disease. I think all of these resolutions are good, but notice that none of the top 10 resolutions are in any way spiritual. Maybe that’s why only around ten percent of those that make resolutions succeed in keeping them. And of that ten percent that succeeds at conquering a habit or addiction, a large percentage of those will simply replace that habit or addiction with an equally destructive behavior. It seems that we’re trying, and mostly failing, to fight the flesh with the flesh.

Jesus and the Apostles tell us that we should be seeking the things whichpeace quote lead to peace. Not “world peace,” but our inner-peace. I’m not a psychiatrist or an addiction counselor, but it seems to me that a lack of inner-peace is at least partially, if not mostly, to blame for the majority of our bad habits, addictions, bad attitudes and other negative behaviors.

“For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace…” “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” (Romans 8:6 & 14:19)

I haven’t yet perfected this inner-peace thing, but I’ve come a long way over the last ten or fifteen years. I’ve discovered that seeking peace through doing things like reading the Bible, prayer, listening to sermons and having like-minded friends, including blog friends, will greatly increase our sense of peace. If our primary focus is on seeking peace—the Prince of peace, we make Christ our partner in overcoming addictions and bad habits and bad attitudes.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Even if you’ve already broken your resolutions, reset your priorities and start over again. Make seeking peace your number one goal and it will increase your joy and hope and give you the strength to conquer your “demons.”

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

Pacing Your Productivity

Our 24 year old daughter, Lauren, is a blogger too; she posts with a group of women at http://sozowomen.com/. I thought I would share her latest post with you.

I have an addiction. It causes me to be on an emotional and energetic high, but when it is all said and done, at the end of the day, I am left exhausted and sitting in a big heap of unrest and heaviness.  It’s an addiction that comes in all forms, to all personalities, and all life stages.  For me, it has looked different in every season of life but somehow leaves me with the same end results.  Ok, I’ll just say it: I am addicted to productivity.  I am addicted to my to-do list, in how much and how well I can accomplish, do, create, become.

productivity pic

“That’s a great thing to be addicted to,” I hear others, “at least you get things done!” Well, no, I have realized that although productivity gives me a buzz in the moment, I can’t seek God at the same time.  This is where the challenge lies.  As I quiet my soul and take my mind off “to-doing”, I find a complete indirect correlation between my productivity addiction and those infamous words that Jesus whispers in my ear. They creep up in my heart and strike a chord—comforting, yet painful.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

-Matthew 11:28-30, ESV

Don’t get me wrong, productivity is good. God loves it (have you read Proverbs 31, yikes!), but when it pulls us away from resting in Him, stealing our peace, we labor (toil, strive) and are heavy laden (burdened, weary). As I read those few verses above, I want to scream, “That’s me! He came for me! He understands!” He came for the weak, the heavy hearted, the one who doesn’t necessarily know how to “find” Him.

We are all on a journey to learn how to constantly hold Jesus’ hand as we walk throughout each day, to find Him in the secret place, to be whole and complete in Him.  Would you join me on this journey? I am going to use these 3 practicals to help me along:

  1. Slow Down.
  2. Pray over your to-do list and what the day holds.
  3. Every time you find yourself focusing on all you need “to do” or heavy situations in life, refocus your mind on Jesus and maybe find a verse (or this one above) to hold on to.

In what ways do you find yourself losing peace? In what ways do you learn to find peace in the midst of labor and busyness?

I'm thinking Lauren will get some help overcoming productivity when the baby arrives.

I’m thinking Lauren will get some help overcoming productivity when the baby arrives.

The Examined Life

When a person goes through a severe trial and/or is immobilized from an accident, old age or a dreadful disease like Cancer or ALS, that person will likely become more introspective than he or she might have been when they were healthier and busier.

Looking back to when I was “normal” (physically anyway), I now think that many of my activities, including my workaholic nature, could be classified as introspection avoidance techniques. I might not have been conscious of it at that time, and, even though I was a Christian, I don’t think I really wanted to contemplate my so-called innerself back then. Maybe this is at least partly why I fought so hard to stay active; working for a year after being diagnosed, enduring painful falls, which caused a bad concussion, knocked-out teeth, broken bones and more cuts, bruises and embarrassment than I can or want to remember.

Obviously I also fought so hard (to stay mobile) because, like any able-bodied person, I didn’t want to be confined to a wheelchair. And I’m sure my stubborn pride played a big part too. Regardless of the reasons, the transition from avoidance of introspection to forced introspection was physically, emotionally and spiritually painful. But it’s also been rewarding to discover truths about myself and about God that I don’t believe I would have found had I not gone through this trial.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates

Whether forced by circumstances, as in my case, or the easier and wiser way of choosing to examine our inner-self, looking into this kind of emotional and spiritual mirror can be gut-wrenching; like the man that pumps out our septic tank, you might not like what you find. But, for the Christian, spiritual and emotional introspection is not optional; it is a must for spiritual growth. As Jesus told the hypocritical religious leaders (in Matthew chapter 23), for us to be right with God, man and ourselves, we must “first clean the inside” (our thoughts and motives…) so “the outside (our words and actions…) will become clean also” (CH 23:26).

I believe this is why, like so many other people, I repeatedly failed to keep my New Year’s Resolutions (dealing with outward actions) – it’s like washing the outside of the septic tank when the toilets won’t flush. (Sorry for the crude example).

I’ve personally observed or know of people who have gone through this reflective process and have overcome years of anger and unforgiveness and/or addictions; they’ve become more peaceful, joyful and hopeful. On the other hand, I know of people who have gone through this process and have become angry (at God and people) and some have even become addicted to drugs or alcohol.

What can account for these varying results?

I realize there are exceptions like a chemical imbalance, but generally speaking, from what I’ve observed in myself and in others, is that we have “tools” available to us that will either help or hurt us (make us more or less Christ-like) on this introspective journey, and I believe the tools we choose will determine the outcome.

Some of the harmful “tools” are:

  • Reading, watching or listening to critical or otherwise negative messages or people – “Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” (1 Corinthians 15:33)
  • Comparing yourself to those who are healthier, wealthier or anything else that we might have a tendency to be jealous of or to covet – “…the message (of God) is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity.” (Luke 8:14)
  • Comparing yourself to your “old self,” the younger, healthier and overall (physically) better you. (I cannot think of a verse for this one, but everyone who has done this knows it is depressing).

Some of the beneficial “tools” are:

  • Surround yourself with encouraging people, especially those that have gone through the introspection process and have emerged more joyful, peaceful and hopeful – “…encourage one another and build up one another… (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
  • Comparing yourself to and helping those less fortunate than you; supporting or volunteering with an organization that helps those going through difficulties – “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me…Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:35-40)
  • I’ve discovered that the most important “tool” is reading the Bible; it is a daily dose of knowledge, wisdom, understanding and encouragement. You don’t just learn about God’s nature when you read the Bible, you also learn about human nature – our nature and therefore the Bible is the ultimate introspection “tool” – “For the word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us for what we really are.” (Hebrews 4:12 NLT)

Whether you’re currently going through a trial or everything is fine with you right now, I hope you’ll accept the challenge to suspend the blaming of your circumstances or the blaming of others and just focus on who you are in Christ. It took a severe trial for me to figure out that this kind of healthy introspection was the only way I could conquer my “demons” and finally “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14)   

If you’ve gone through this kind of introspective journey (in the comment section) please share the “tools” you found helpful and those that you found to be harmful.

In my next post I will share how, through this process, I learned to deal with guilt and regret.

Post #1; Purpose of Blog

Since being diagnosed with ALS (“Lou Gehrig’s Disease”) almost 16 years ago, I’ve become somewhat of a “virtual recluse” (socializing almost exclusively via the Internet and email). I’ve decided to start this blog in a small attempt to counter some of the negative stuff I see and read on other blogs, Facebook and the Internet in general.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from this long trial is that hope, and the joy, peace and faith that always accompany Christ-centered hope, only comes through a conscious determined effort. Or, to put another way, Christian hope is not exempt from the law of decay; it naturally becomes hopelessness if not diligently maintained.

I am not claiming to be some kind of professional cultivator of hope, far from it, but I’ve had my hope challenged many times and I’ve become pretty good at conquering these challenges. I now feel obligated to help others defeat challenges to their hope and this blog will be one of my outlets for doing so.

Actually, my motives are not really that selfless; the truth is that I’ve discovered I lose the battles against hopelessness when I’ve attempted to fight them alone so maybe I can also recruit some people through this blog to help me fight future challenges to my hope. And, as I mentioned, hope must be deliberately maintained so I think this blog will help to stay focused on maintaining my hope.

If you’re like I once was; believing that you could maintain and even increase your hope (joy, peace, faith…) without help from other hope-minded people, I feel for you. Please trust the advice of this once-proud man, you will lose that pride the hard way like I did if you attempt to conquer hopelessness (addictions, depression, faith-challenges etc) on your own. It’s only pride that keeps you fighting these battles by yourself.

assistance,friends,helping,hills,leisure,people,running,togetherness,uphill“Two are better than one…For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up…and if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12) 

Sorry if what I wrote above (regarding pride etc) sounded harsh, but I’m paralyzed and have to type using a computer that tracks my eye-movements; this is tedious and time-consuming so I always take the shortest route possible to get to the point I want to make. Besides, when someone is paralyzed in a wheelchair like I am it’s easier to be blunt and even harsh with people because you don’t pose a threat; people don’t usually hit helpless people in wheelchairs for saying harsh things. I capitalize on this!

Seriously, because I pose no threat and understand what physical, emotional and spiritual battles are like, and probably because I cannot speak, people tend to be more open and honest with me than they would be otherwise. Many people have confessed to me that they’re struggling emotionally and/or spiritually right now. I know of many Christians that, on the outside, appear to have it altogether, but on the inside they’re miserable. These people feel hopeless and are clearly not living the “abundant life” with “joy unspeakable” that the bible describes for followers of Christ.

I would be lying if I said that I felt like I was living that abundant life of indescribable joy and peace all day, every day of the year. I don’t believe we can ever get to the point where we feel like we’re living on cloud nine 24/7, at least not in this life. But I do believe we can retain our Christ-centered hope even through the darkest times. It’s that constant hope that keeps reminding us that, “Weeping may last for the night, But joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)

If it’s possible for a man that’s completely paralyzed and unable to speak and eat by mouth etc, to feel that constant God-given sense of hope, I’m convinced that it’s possible for everyone!

“For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

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