And Just Like That-My 2017 Story

Our beautiful Beagle boy finally laid calm in my arms after a 30-minute full Grand Mal seizure. He had been in our family since his birth nine years earlier. An injection of valium calmed him down long enough for what was about to come. The cancer had spread to his brain and the seizures he was having daily were unbearable to witness-it had to end today.  I cradled him like a baby one last time.  The vet asked us if we were ready.  Of course not!  But out of love and mercy I nodded to proceed.  The injection worked quickly, and just like that, this once full of life furry friend lay motionless in my arms as his life came to a merciful end.  I sobbed like  little boy and continued to hold him until the vet finally took him from me and carried him out of the room.  Thus 2017 was ushered in.

In January and then again in February I was served with two different lawsuits stemming from a business I was forced to close through foreclosure in 2014.  I thought that chapter had been closed but aggressive attorneys thought otherwise. The amounts of the lawsuits coupled with the legal fee estimates to defend them were staggering.  I had received nothing from the business when it closed and had lost my entire savings that I had invested when it closed down.  These unexpected court actions left me with little recourse.  My finances and credit were now in shambles.  And just like that a lifetime of perfect credit history was now, well, history.

The following March, thinking things could get no worse, things got much worse. The love of my life asked for a divorce after a twenty year relationship.  What began as a Hallmark fairytale romance that others envied had now been reduced to a signature on a legal document.  To save money, with vision blurred by tears, I drafted the legal documents that would terminate my own marriage.  Upon their completion and our signatures, I proceeded to the courthouse and waited in line for what seemed like an eternity waiting to file them.  Upon the clerk’s stamp, I took them up to the Judge’s inbox and deposited them for final signature, which took just one day.  And just like that the air I breathed for twenty years was taken from me. I felt abandoned, unloved and alone.

The following May I was scheduled for my quarterly check-up with my nephrologist.  I suffer from Polycystic kidney disease for which there is no cure.  I was advised by someone close that with the year I had experience thus far perhaps I should cancel-I should have listened.  I was informed the disease had now progressed to stage Four and I was nearing the need for dialysis.  And just like that an otherwise health-minded man was forced to consider life-altering choices and my own mortality.

In a mere span of just five months every aspect of my entire being had come under severe attack.  I had lost a dear friend, I lost my financial security, I  lost my health and most tragic, I lost the love of my life and best friend.  I was, and in many ways, still am quite the mess.  Any one of these life-changing events would be enough to take down the strongest of men.  But seriously , all in one year?  I was left alone in a 2000 square foot house with empty rooms having nothing but the haunts of the past as a companion.  Funny thing-I never realized that quietness could echo!  Few knew of the numerous challenges I faced this year.  More than one person, perhaps not fully disclosed, reprimanded me for wallowing in self-pity.  My closer friends shared concerns over what I might do.  After all, many have pulled the trigger for much less.

It would be at this point in the story that some, just like friends of Job, would ask how I could still trust in a God who had allowed such destruction to overcome me.  I will confess that God and I had some serious “come to Jesus” conversations as I wrestled for answers or purpose.  If this is what perseverance looks like, I wanted no part of it. But as a long-time believer I knew that faith was not based on feelings or emotions but on knowledge and trust.  My heart wasn’t in it, but I forced myself to find words of hope within the Psalms.  David and I became close friends. He could cry out and lament to God over his turmoil in one breath and confess his hope and faith in the very next breath.  David always went back to what he KNEW to be true even when he was hiding for his life. In a twisted irony He who allowed these things to invade my 2017 was the One who I had to turn to and lean on in order to survive them.  I have surely walked this year through the valley of shadows but Christ has been my comfort and His spirit has been my  lifeline when I had little sense or worth, purpose or direction.

I can now see some light as I enter 2018.  The demise of my marriage prompted me to write a book that has already made an impact in other couples’ marriages.  Claiming a promise of healing, my last check-up on my kidneys revealed the progression of the disease had halted for now-I am claiming a miracle.  The Christmas and holiday season which had left me with old familiar and painful memories of years past was spent with my children, all alive, healthy and well.  And my first gift, the announcement of a new grandchild’s arrival this coming Summer, brought tears of joy, the first in a long while.  My faith sustained me through an impossible year and I now see some sense of purpose and a restored reason to continue the race the Apostle Paul describes. I know I am not alone.  Many this year suffered tragic and heart-wrenching losses-death of spouses or loved ones, serious illnesses, broken relationships, unemployment and the list is long.  When you are shut in by the surrounding thickness of storm clouds it is challenging to see the sun or feel its warmth, but yet it remains.  I want to encourage-no, implore you to seek shelter in the hope and promises of God’s Word and the comfort of His Son, Jesus.  David understood it while hiding in caves-the Apostle Paul got it while singing songs in prison chains.  I’m no David or Paul, but I get it too.

May the hope, the comfort and the love of our Father bring you into a glorious, prosperous and healthy new 2018.  May His will and purpose be revealed in your spirit and inspire you to do great things this year!  May you find in Him the strength and courage to boldly face and navigate the storms that may pop up out of nowhere with full knowledge that the Son is always there!  Happy New Year!

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New Beginnings from Old Endings

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It’s one week into the New Year and I’m guessing many of us have already broken at least one of our resolutions. Typically the new year signals the start of new beginnings, change of habits, a renewed focus on things we prioritize as important in self-improvement.  New Years and birthdays are good opportunities to reflect on the past, take inventory of our lives and make adjustments as we move into the future. For many these are exciting times, but for others, they are unwelcomed detours.

A wise philosopher is quoted as saying that new beginnings often come disguised as troubled endings.  You may be embarking on a new job but only because you were unceremoniously dismissed or laid off from the one you loved. Perhaps you are starting the year off debt free but only because your prior financial situation resulted in bankruptcy. Maybe you are in a new relationship but only because of a recent heart wrenching separation or divorce. Indeed some new beginnings are only a result of painful endings.

New is described as recently originated or produced, not seen before.  We love the idea of driving a new car or moving into a new model home.  But new is also defined as unaccustomed or unfamiliar.  New can be intimidating or scary. New can be unwelcomed and dreaded requiring changes which were not of our choosing. The world turns, our environment and circumstances shift, we adapt and prepare to move forward but it is not without trepidation. Fear of the unknown and not being able to see the path before you is only welcomed for haunted house adventurers, not everyday people.

In the original new beginning God made everything new and perfect-man was a new creature, the earth he inhabited was new, the sun, moon and stars all new and good.  Then man did what he does best, he inserted his own will into the equation and messed everything up and became separated from God. So God came up with a New Covenant through His son Jesus, the best New we could possibly welcome.  The Word as always has much to say about newness and starting over from the past and should serve as words of hope and encouragement when read.

Jeremiah 29:11; I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and a future and a hope.

2 Corinthians 5:17; Anyone in Christ is a new creation. Old things are no more and the new things have come.

Isaiah 43:19; Look, I am doing something new and it springing forth even now, do you not see it?

Lamentations 4:22; The steadfast love of the Lord never ends! His mercies are new every morning.

Ephesians 4:22; Put away your old self, your old former self with its corruption and evil desires, and be renewed and put on the new self created in the likeness of God.

Job 8:7; Your beginning my have been small but your new latter days will be great.

Isaiah 40:331; Those who wait for the Lord will be given new strength.

Ezekiel 36:26; I will give you a new heart and I’ll put a new spirit within you.

Revelation 21:5; He who was seated on the throne said “Look, I am making all things new”.

I like many of you know the joy of being given a new opportunity because of something I worked hard to achieve. And I also know the pain of a new beginning due to a less than perfect ending. I write from a first person point of view because in most cases I am the first person, reporting from inside the storm.  Some of the most encouraging words we have to live by today were written by an Apostle while he was in chains and sharing his sleeping quarters with rats. It is only through the Word that we can embrace new beginnings with a renewed sense of hope that a sovereign God will see us through our new surroundings as we eagerly await the ending of this life on earth in exchange for a new home in a new kingdom where everyday is a new and refreshing beginning that will never have a painful ending.  Happy New Year.

 

 

 

 

Great at Being Not-So-Great

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It seems I’ve spent much of my life striving to be great at one thing or another. As a young boy I was awkward and lanky so I practiced various sports and ended up on several teams, but I have no MVP or other trophies to show for it. As a newly married young adult I strived to be a good husband but the marriage failed and ended up in a divorce. I was blessed with three sons and I really wanted to be a great dad but it took me over twenty years just to learn how to be an adequate one.  I tried hard to be a great model employee throughout various careers but am familiar with the words “sorry but we have to let you go”. So I thought perhaps I’d make a better employer than employee and bought a business but that business failed and left me starting over. I have always wanted to be a great musician but I only sound okay when surrounded by truly great musicians.  I’d like to think I’m a much better grandpa than I was a dad, but if so, I am far from great.  I love writing and want to be a great blogger but you won’t find In My Own Words in the top 500 of any category. I think most of us want to believe we are great Christians but I am fully aware of my failures and shortcomings in that area of my life as well.  In summary my road to greatness is littered instead with mediocrity and failure, being efficient at many things but truly great at nothing.

As we end the old year and usher in the new many of us take this time to reflect on those things we have accomplished and those that remain in need of improvment. For some it is a welcome inventory as they have the personality to be highly motivated by goals set for self-improvement. Yet for others it is just another smack in the face reminder of just how non-great they and their lives remain as from year to year nothing appears to be any better-same income, same struggles, same habits, same mediocrity, just  new year. You wanted to lose twenty pounds but gained ten.  You wanted a raise but was instead laid off. You wanted to strengthen a relationship but see it slipping away. It is not very surprising that the beginning of the New year is ushered in with so much alcohol and partying-it deadens reality for those fearfully dreading yet another average year.

So how would one describe greatness? Would it be being the very best at something? Being highly achieved or esteemed?  Highly educated or degreed? Ranking at the top of any given corporate ladder? Having the most accolades or awards?  Although greatness is something most of us want to aspire to, our definition of greatness is a bit different than what the scriptures tell us.  In fact the greatest man to ever walk our planet showed us what His words on the subject looked like in action.  In the book of Matthew, chapter 20, the mother of James and John approached Jesus with a bold request that her two sons be awarded seats at the left and right of Jesus in his kingdom, places of the greatest honor. Of course when the other ten disciples heard of the request they became infuriated and lost their tempers, something I can relate to. So, Jesus gathered them and settled them down and taught them a hard lesson, described in the Message Bible like this: “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to become great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done. He came to serve, not be served-to give His life…”.  Earlier in chapter 18 Jesus held a child on His lap and told them that whoever would  humble themselves like the child would be great in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Humility, meekness, servant, slave-not words we would find in any dictionary associated with greatness but that is the way it is with the Christian faith. The things we would achieve often require the exact opposite actions our world would dictate. Want to be first? Go to the end of the line.  Want to get great service?  Pick up a pitcher and fill the glasses of others. Want to be publicly acknowledged? Take a seat behind the curtains. These are lessons I am still learning on my journey to greatness.  I may never achieve that greatness here on earth in spite of my best efforts. I may never have the life or success that others would want to emulate or pattern. Few ever find the brass ring of being a pro athlete, a Grammy winning artist, a Pulitzer author or Parent of the year. I just have to believe that if we run and finish the race we are in, if we get back up when we stumble, if we help others up along the way, we will have a great reward handed to us by the greatest of all time, Christ, our example. Let it be so as we enter and embrace the challenges of a New Year.

As a caveat, I want to take a moment to thank all of you who have opted to receive this weekly blog.  My hope and prayer each week is that God gives me words through my own experiences that even one person is needing to read to help them in their situations.  It is humbling to know the expanse of readership In My Own Words receives globally. I wish you the very best God has to offer you in 2017.

Much love and prayer, Joe Hill

 

 

Recapturing the Lost Wonder of Christmas

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The tree and its collection of unique ornaments that would rival a Macy’s window creation remains packed away in boxes.  The lights and animated reindeer that was part of a Griswold-esque lawn display is hibernating in storage. Except for a Hallmark movie or a rerun of an old holiday classic on TV, there is little evidence that Christmas is just a couple weeks away.

There is an unexplainable magic and wonder that ushers in the Christmas holiday. It takes us back in time to when things were simpler, more genuine-where Peace on Earth seemed attainable and the very best of human nature surfaced ever so briefly so that all the world was better because of it.  For many this annual euphoria still exists and is eagerly anticipated and welcomed like an old friend you only see once each year. But sadly for others the season is anything but joyful.  Silent Night becomes just that, silent. Old carols become seasonal haunts leftover from Halloween like the Ghost of Christmas Past except unlike the Dickens story there is little hope of redemption given to its chosen victims. While there is no real evidence that the rate of suicides is elevated during the holidays, it can’t be denied that depression is all the more apparent and intense when you are alone or coming off a particularly cruel year of trials. The hope is that like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life we can find our way through the muck and mire of mental games just in time to celebrate but many will carry their depression on into the new year. Just like the Grinch, someone snuck in during the night and stole our Christmas.

Christmas is the ultimate time for sharing-a dance to a familiar carol, a gift to someone not expecting it, your love with that special someone, memories of past years with old friends, the celebration of an Incarnate baby savior. However when those opportunities to share are removed due to loss of income, loss of health, the death of a spouse or loved one, divorce or separation, the vehicle used to share the holiday is rendered useless, out of order, incapacitated, leaving one feeling lonely and nothing resembling Merry. It is during these times that we as believers in Christ, the Christmas miracle, have to rely on the true focus of the Christmas celebration and recreate our own miracles. It is only through our ability to see and recall the Babe in the manger that we have a chance of recapturing the wonder we so long for at this special and holy time of year.

I have always believed in my heart that the reason Christmas is so wondrous is that God opens up Heaven and releases just a little bit of the holy residue that covered the earth those two thousand years ago on that special night when Christ the Son became flesh and stepped into the world He Himself created. It was the ultimate gift, the epitome of love that the Son of the Most High would enter this world through extraordinary means on a journey He knew would end on a cross. He didn’t come here to turn water to wine, to feed thousands with a few fish or to leave behind quotes that make for good wall plaques. Christ the Christmas miracle came with the objective and divine plan to willingly lay down His life as a once and for all sacrifice that afforded us redemption, reconciliation to the Father and a blessed hope of eternal Christmases in an everlasting Kingdom where sadness, loneliness and depression are forever banished. It is a kingdom according to Revelation where “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for these things will have passed away-forever!”  It is a miracle beyond our human comprehension or explanation. It is the truest essence of Christmas! It remains the wonder of Christmas, if we can but set our sights above the trials and despair of this troubled world.

It would be a bit cruel to identify the problem without offering suggestions on where to go from here.  Lest I be like the TV commercial where I just monitor a problem (“there’s a problem”) here are some things that work for me. I love holiday lights.  There is something about colored lights glowing in the dark that just make you feel good inside.  I recall as kids my brother and I counting light displays on our way to church-a great memory. So now, I go out of my way to take in light displays.  And instead of the same old TV fare I switch over to an old Christmas show or a Hallmark Movie.  Yes, I still watch Frosty, Rudolph and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. It takes me back 50 years to an innocence I cherish, even if there are those days when I resemble Bergermeister or the Grinch. And who doesn’t enjoy the classic holiday songs that accompany Christmas.  Whether it is taking in a concert by Trans Siberian or a local church production, you can’t possibly walk away without at least a tinge of Christmas spirit. One more great remedy for holiday blues is to find a cause, a charity, a need you can adopt to help bring a little Christmas wonder to others who may be feeling just as left out.  It is amazing the healing properties of adopting a family at Christmas or providing a tree or a dinner or a few unexpected toys.  Their joy is infectious and you can’t help but catch the bug if anywhere near. But perhaps the greatest therapy of all is to seek out Church services billed as Christmas celebrations so that the heart, the meaning and the purpose of our celebration is driven home into our depleted spirit so our focus can be redirected to the source of all wonder, the Christ Child, The Prince of our Peace, God with us, the perfect gift for all occasions that like the Jelly of the Month Club from Christmas Vacation, just keeps on giving.  Let the peace of God, which according to Philippians 4 “transcends all understanding”, all hurt, all depression, all loneliness, guard your hearts and minds in the Christ Child.

If you are hurting and not looking forward to the holidays this year, I encourage you with these words and the sincerest of prayers to kneel before the manger and ask for the peace, the comfort, the healing from the source of all celebration and the subject of our reverence, Jesus. Christmas this year may look a little different than in years past but our Father Who is the same yesterday, today and for all Christmases to come will rekindle the holiday flame that may be extinguished so that you can once again warm up to that lost wonder that is Christmas.