or….Thanks, God, For the Really Sucky Years
(Welcome to my blog part 1 of 2)
I’m not gonna lie to you….half of what I’m going to tell you throughout this blog site is a lie. What??? Steve, you’re starting out this blog called “Honestly Thinking” by telling me you can’t really be trusted (not to mention the contradictory sentence and bad grammar)?? Yes…and no…and not exactly. I promise to always be honest with you, but that means telling you up front that a big percentage of what I say to you I don’t fully believe myself. In other words, I constantly tell lies to myself. I’m a hypocrite. What I say I believe and what I actually end up doing are often two different things. That’s because what I truly believe in my head doesn’t always transfer to what I truly believe in my heart and vice versa; thus, I continually end up living a contradictory life.
I’m sure that no one can attest to that better than my wife and kids…who constantly witness me making bold statements of faith followed by cowardly actions of selfishness and fear. But that’s part of faith isn’t it? And part of the journey. Certainly every person of faith mentioned in the Bible ultimately led a contradictory life themselves…all except one that is. And while I cannot even come close to claiming the faith that many of them had, I most definitely can identify with their failures. And so I have to be honest with you.
But first a little history behind this blog site and where the decision to start it all began. About four and a half years ago, I found myself sitting on my back porch desperately praying to God. It had been a bit of a rough year and I was looking for some answers. Not just answers about the rough year but also answers about myself. I needed to know who I was, why I was the way I was, and more about my purpose in life. And that’s when God answered me. I won’t say all that he told me at this point other than to say it blew me away and radically changed my life. Though I’d been a Christian for many years, I newly discovered a God who cared for me more than I’d ever known before and learned that some of the things I had seen as my weaknesses were actually some of my greatest strengths.
So after that I naturally did what all good Christians do after hearing a particular message from God…I created a website, founded a 501(c)3 non-profit, wrote a bestselling book, started a series of conferences, and designed a 12 week DVD study curriculum with 7 keys for how you can turn weaknesses into strengths, know the purpose for your life and become a successfully blessed Christian like me (all for just $39.95)!! No, not really. But not for lack of wanting to do something right away.
Instead God basically said to shut-up for a while. He said there was still some additional things he wanted me to learn from him first. “For how long?” I asked. “Three years,” he said. So I’m thinking at this point, “How cool! I get to be a successfully blessed Christian and just sit back and learn for a while.” I’m picturing me relaxing on the porch for hours on end, coffee in one hand, Bible spread open on my lap, sunbeams peeking through the leaves of the trees and shining on just the right verses for me to learn from, and all while angels played their harps gently above me. And, of course, people will naturally notice how successfully blessed I am as they see beams radiate from my face, a product of the constant joy in my heart and the magnitude of wisdom that has constantly soaked into my head. And while I was forbidden from speaking outwardly, my wife and kids would be a great source to practice on as they took every opportunity to sit at my feet, saying, “Teach me, teach me, teach me!!!”
Those three years ended up being the most difficult and heartbreaking years of my entire 47 years on this earth. Depression seems to like to hang around our family, though it was certainly never invited. Our children were no exception to this, while it reared its ugly head in different ways. For our eldest son it was rebellion, substance abuse and outright lies. The year prior he had started to lose his way and, due to the influence of some “bad seed” friends, found himself in trouble with the law. He confessed his crimes, went through the process of making reparations, received an unbelievable amount of forgiveness from the victims, and was able to get his charges dismissed as a juvenile through community service. We had hoped that would serve as turning point for him and that the new year would be a new beginning. But unfortunately, while he had been forgiven by so many and was very much loved, I don’t think he was ready to forgive himself. And shame has a funny way of causing people to continue in self-destruction. He slowly slipped back into rebellion to the point that after turning 18, though he was still in high school and under our care, he proudly announced how we had no authority over him and he could do whatever he wanted. His continued behaviors were not only physically harming himself but also causing all his grades to slip, endangering his future and creating more and more distrust and tension at home – all while his younger siblings watched, waiting to see what we as parents would do. After much prayer, my wife Melissa and I made probably one of the difficult decisions we’ve ever made in our lives. We “tough loved” him out of the home.
As any parent would understand, there is nothing harder than telling your child, your firstborn, the bundle of joy you had once so excitedly brought home, the one whose bumps and bruises you continually cared for, and whom you’d always promised to take care of, that they are no longer welcome in your home. We did immediately offer to let him move back in, but only under a strict contract with the most stringent of rules, but he refused. And so Melissa and I continually cried ourselves to sleep and waited for three months…until finally our son returned home. The good news is that he completely turned his life around. He went clean, graduated high school, has an associate’s degree so far in college, and in fact will be getting married to a lovely young gal in just a few months…and will obviously be moving out under much better circumstances. We got our boy back, we couldn’t be more proud of him, and our relationship has never been better. Happy ending to those difficult years right?
Well, not exactly. Because while we were busy dealing with the issue with our son, our daughter was slowly slipping into her own form of depression. Our family’s genetic predisposition, combined with hormonal changes, combined with a medication she was on, combined with the stress of seeing her brother “kicked out” of the house along with other life circumstances, caused our once fairly outgoing and self-confident little girl to no longer see herself as the valuable, beautiful, and very much loved person she was. Not long after our eldest son returned home, our daughter reached a point of such inner pain that the only way out was to consider, and even eventually attempt, ending her own life. What followed was a series of months of going between inpatient and outpatient care, multiple ER visits (including a night of me watching staff pump an overdose of drugs out of my little girl’s stomach), and ultimately a couple months stay in out of state residential care. The residential care did wonders for our daughter but as anyone who has struggled with mental illness, or has family who has struggled with it, will know the healing process still takes a long time. Thus it was over another year of continual therapy and healing before I daughter began to once again see herself as the wonderful, valued person she is.
Now I’m not gonna lie to you and tell you that those years were really such a “blessing.” Quite frankly, add in the fact that my wife battled with multiple incidents of kidney stones (including her own visit to the ER), a couple property thefts, and various other financial hits, and I’d have to say those years really sucked. And I’m not gonna lie to you and tell you all things are rosy now either. Life is hard and the following years have been no exception. And I’m not gonna lie to you and say if given the option I’d do it all over again, because I wouldn’t. And I would never wish that kind of pain again upon my children or wife. Those years sucked for them, too. But I wouldn’t take it back again, either. For in those years, I truly did learn a lot…especially about myself. I learned about the judgmentalism that existed in my heart, especially toward other parents or anyone else whose family struggled. I learned about my own arrogance and the demand for perfectionism that can be a destructive force, not only on myself but on those around me. I learned about forgiveness…of others and myself. I learned about communication and the importance of really (and I mean really, really) listening. I learned about the value of community and how important it is to have people around you who will walk with you through the most difficult of times. I learned about how lucky I am to be married to Melissa, as we grew closer during that time than ever, and I watched her grow in strength and beauty after having to go through situations that no mother would ever dream of. I learned what it truly means to be willing to “sacrifice” your own children on the “alter” of God’s will and I learned about prayer – the kind of stuff you can never get from just a sermon. And I learned a lot about “religion” verses simply real living. So in a strange way, I’m really kind of…thankful.
And so that’s what this blog was born out of. It’s an opportunity to share a bit of what I learned and a bit of what I’m still working through. And while it will be a lot about experiences from those three years it will also go to other times of learning in my life as well. Now I’m not gonna pretend to have all the answers because I certainly don’t. So I promise to be honest when I simply do not know. And I promise to truly listen whenever you might disagree. I’m also not gonna pretend to think that my suffering even compares to what many of you may have gone through because some have gone through so much worse. I am very aware that some reading this may not have had the kind of happy endings that we had. Some of you may have children who have lost their way and you are still waiting for them to find their way home. Some of you may have family who also sought to escape their own inner pain and are now permanently gone from your life. And for that I am so, so sorry. I am certain that I could learn a lot more from you than you could ever learn from me.
So some of you may be asking, “Steve, if you were only told to shut-up for three years, why are you just writing about all this now – a year and a half after that?” Because of something else I have been working on…a book. No, not one that comes with a 12 week DVD curriculum for only $39.95 and not even one that was born out of my biographical experience. Instead, it was born out of the deeper questions that I asked. For during those three years I spent a whole lot of time on my knees; but being the weird person that I am I didn’t just ask the why questions but the why behind the whys. I didn’t just ask, “Why God?” or “Why me, God?” but instead asked questions like “Why you, God?” And to my surprise he answered, and it also changed my life. And so a year and half ago I began writing this book, not with goals of becoming some kind of bestselling author, but to simply get this stuff out of my head. But I promised myself before even starting a blog that I would at least complete up through a certain number of chapters in the book (a much longer process than I had anticipated) and that has finally happened. The book is still in progress but the working title is Rethinking God: Because God is Bigger, Closer, and More Real Than You Think. You can actually read the introduction chapter to it here. The best way to describe it at this point is that it is a philosophical, scientific and theological examination (or re-examination) of the nature and character of God. I am telling you this because occasionally throughout this blog I will also be including excerpts from it or will provide adaptations of its content. One key takeaway concept from the book is that we all obey God some of the time but we obey reality, or our perception of reality, 100% of the time. It is only when we make God our reality that we obey him all the time. I say this because, as I said at the beginning of this post, I live a contradictory life. While I’ve come to truly believe that many of the concepts I present in the book are a reality, I still struggle to live it out. Thus, I’m still honestly thinking it all through myself and promise to tell you the truth about that as well.
There you have it. Welcome to my crazy blog. My goal is to post weekly but quite honestly I will quite likely not stick to a perfectly regular schedule. You can help me out by commenting on my posts, signing up for my various social media outlets and sharing with as many people as possible. In my next post I will explain even more about the birth of the concept of “honestly thinking” when I share about how I was such the “rebel” and got kicked out of Vacation Bible School at age 5.