Spiritual Flat Tires, Sunsets, Dancing, Saddles, Pie in Heaven, Unconditional Love, Intimacy & Growth
It’s hard to capture a whole year’s worth of thoughts, feelings, events and stories in just a few thousand words, especially in a world where 140 characters is king. So, if your internet reading attention span is limited to top 10 lists and slideshows, this may be a bit much for you... But I’m going to do my best to share with you what I learned during 2014 in under 4,000 words.
2014 was a great year for me. Perhaps my best year yet, and I have many of my friends and family to thank for that. But that doesn't mean it didn't have hardship or loss. And it certainly didn't start out on a good note.
Driving home on a blustery cold New Years Day morning, my windshield cracked clear across. I thought to myself, "well, isn't this a fitting way to start the new year?"
You see, 2013 had not been so great to me. Well, more accurately, I had not been so great to 2013.
Over the course of many months, I had made some poor decisions and continued some unhealthy habits that ultimately pushed a situation to a bad place which could have been easily avoided, had I just listened to the advice of many wise and caring people in my life. My mentor Bill even told me he was concerned about me. He told me I was headed for a crash, and it wouldn’t be pretty. He told me I needed professional help. Ouch.
A big part of why I ignored their advice was because I thought I had it all figured out. I thought I was riding on good tires, metaphorically speaking. When in reality, my tires were balding, and there was a blizzard of historical proportions headed into my life.
Last winter, as many of you experienced firsthand, we broke records for snowfall in Michigan. But last year’s polar vortex was more than just a physical reality for me. It was an allegory of what was going on inside of me mentally and spiritually.
When everything came crashing down, I finally took the advice of my mentor and I’m not ashamed to admit I sought professional help in the form of personal counseling. In fact, I think more people should go to counseling. It has a bad stigma to it, but it is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself. I had come to realize I needed to identify poor habits and start making healthier decisions. God wants us to to have a peace that surpasses all understanding through our faith in Jesus Christ (Philippians 4:6-7). But if we are busy doing things which fight that peace, then we are never going to be able to accept it.
"Worry implies that we don't quite trust that God is big enough, powerful enough, or loving enough to take care of what's happening in our lives. Stress says that the things we are involved in are important enough to merit our impatience, our lack of grace toward others, or our tight grip of control." - Francis Chan
My mentor told me several years ago, “God wants to bless you in this situation. He is showing you joy is in walking with and trusting Him. The agony is from just not accepting his peace.” He also told me that "trusting God means being able to fully accept what He has for you, even if it is the exact opposite of what you want."
Over the course of this year, I finally understood what he really meant by those things.
SPIRITUAL FLAT TIRES
In early February, I was driving home from dinner at a friend’s apartment when I ran over some debris which had been spilled just moments before on I-275. I thought I had successfully avoided anything harmful, but several miles down the road my dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree with warnings of “low tire pressure.” Before I knew it, my car was pulling severely to the left. I managed to get off the freeway and pull into a gas station before damaging my rim.
I was pretty mad. First my windshield, now my tire. “Why God? I’ve got so much work to do. I’m busy. I’m trying to ‘get better.’ Can’t you see that? I don’t have time for this!”
Those thoughts were quickly extinguished as I counted all the ways God has and continues to provide for me in so many ways. However, it definitely revealed the state of selfishness that is rooted deep within my heart.
The following morning I took my car to get new tires. The fact is, I knew for quite some time that all of my tires needed replacing, but I just kept putting it off. I thought “hey, I’m doing okay. I haven’t crashed yet.” I’d made it through several big snow storms by white-knuckling it. I was relying on my own skill. I used to be a professional driver after all.
But this flat tire forced my hand.
After they replaced the tires, I went back to the snow and ice covered parking lot at work and tried to do some donuts... and failed miserably. My tires gripped the wintery terrain with unmatched resolve. I knew my old tires were going bad, but until I experienced this difference, I had no idea just how bad they really were.
In the weeks that followed we got several more big snow storms, and I was extremely thankful for my new tires. And it got me thinking maybe, just maybe, God caused me to get that flat. At the very least, He didn’t prevent it from happening. Perhaps in some divine intervention He may have helped me avoid a future accident by forcing me to get new tires.
And then I thought to myself how similar my car tires were to my spiritual tires. In 2013, I was riding on poor theology and the strength of my own will; white-knuckling it down the road of life. And deep down I knew it, but I kept putting off replacing my spiritual tires. The flat tire God sent to slow me down and put me on the right track was my friends and their advice. But I ignored them and it ended in a painful crash. 2014 was the year I began to pick up the pieces.
SUNSETS & DANCING
In addition to personal counseling to help get my metaphorical tires replaced, I attended a conference at the end of February called Storyline. They are very clear in saying “Storyline doesn’t change your life, but what you DO as a result of what you learned at Storyline can.”
Storyline challenges you to redeem your suffering, define your unique calling and rolls in life, and gives you clarity for your future.
It all happened so quickly. I signed up last minute, packed my bags and headed to San Diego. I was fortunate to have relatives to stay with, so it didn’t end up costing much. I was looking forward to escaping the polar vortex and basking in the California sunshine. However, it wasn’t the SoCal getaway I was hoping for. It rained every single day, I got stuck with a minivan for my rental vehicle, and I got a bogus parking ticket. But I loved every single minute of it.
Here are some of the things we explored:
- What makes you tick, what lies do you believe about yourself, what do you really want to bring into the world after you stop people pleasing?
- When we know who we really are, our personal story comes alive.
- Stories get boring when the lead character has no direction.
- A victim mentality will kill any great story and at Storyline we’ll redeem any suffering you’ve experienced, mistakes you’ve made and forgiveness you need to offer others. Don’t bring that pain with you into 2014. It’s time to move on.
I was challenged, motivated and inspired by speakers with amazing life stories. People who had been through tough circumstances and redeemed their suffering. I was refreshed and rejuvenated by the rain and the balmy 50 degree temperatures. During one of few breaks in the rain, I went down to the Pacific Ocean, to Sunset Cliffs in Point Loma. I watched the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. Bar none. I snapped a few pictures and then put my phone away and just took it in with everything I had.
It was a profoundly deep spiritual experience like I’ve never had before. I saw love, grace and forgiveness. I felt them and experienced them, right then and there. They overwhelmed me as I stared into the beauty of God’s creation. All my negative thoughts and victimization, bitterness and regret were replaced with love and grace. I just watched as the sun slowly crept below the horizon, paying attention to every little detail. Words are unable to explain the feeling well enough to do it justice.
Later that I night I went to a concert at the conference, where Ben Rector was playing. I felt alive and restored, and I danced. Okay, it was more of a shuffle. But that’s quite impressive for a white guy like me. But nevertheless, I was given a new song to sing. A new tune to carry.
I returned from the conference with a new bounce in my step. A new sense of meaning and urgency. And it affected every aspect of my life. Professional, personal, spiritual, physical and mental.
One night, less than a month after I returned, I was lying awake in bed, getting ready to go to sleep. I pulled out my phone to have one last look at social media (a poor habit) and that’s when I saw a tweet from a charitable organization I became connected with while I was at Storyline. Seeing that tweet changed my life for the foreseeable future, and quite possibly forever.
— RestoreInternational (@restoreint) March 31, 2014
The deadline was the next day and there were so many questions. But I had been reading the book “Love Does” and I saw all the ways this trip aligned with my passions, my goals and my roles that I had sorted out at Storyline. It was either, wait till next year or dive headfirst into the deep end. And that’s exactly what I did, because “love does.”
Four months of physical training and fundraising flew by and before I knew it, I was off to California to hunker down on my bicycle saddle and ride 500 miles in 6 days to benefit victimized children in Uganda.
Chapter Nine of “Love Does” is titled “Just Say Yes” with a subtext of “I used to think you had to be special for God to use you, but now I know you simply need to say yes.”
I spent 10 days with 10 other incredible people who believe in loving people more like Jesus does. We all said “yes” to something God called us into, and we will never be the same because of the things we experienced together. We said “yes” to helping those in need in Uganda. We said “yes” to physically sacrificing our bodies and our time to raise awareness, all because of the simple yet powerful truth that “love does.”
At the end of the ride, we finished at Bob Goff's house. Bob is the founder of Restore International, the author of "Love Does" and one wild and crazy guy. He is one of those guys you meet and is just larger than life itself. A few of us rode his Mom's old bike off his dock into the ocean. And then we all stood in a line, grabbed each other's hands and jumped into the ocean, together.
Afterwards, Bob circled us up in our sopping wet cycling gear for a big group hug and prayer. He told us to keep our eyes open and look at each other while he placed his giant hands on each of our heads and prayed for us. We all huddled together closely. Everyone was smiling and tears of joy filled our eyes.
I don't believe Bob to be a prophet, but the words he prayed as his ginormous hand engulfed my head felt like they were a message directly from God. As he looked into my eyes, he prayed that we would all take what we learned about loving others and apply it to the relationships in our every day lives when we returned home. I immediately thought of three people, in different situations, that I needed to figure out how to love more like Jesus.
And through the whole experience of training for and completing the Love Does Tour, I caught a dream and the desire to ride my bicycle across the United States next summer to help more people in need, because again, that is just what love does. It doesn’t just say it, it doesn’t just plan it, it does it.
PIE IN HEAVEN
2014 was also filled with loss. Just a couple weeks after returning from my trip, our family lost our Grandma Mitchell just several months before her 96th birthday.
The most amazing thing about my Grandma was not how long she lived, although that is pretty amazing, but rather the fact that she raised 8 children up in the ways of Jesus when her own husband was not a believer. Those 8 children yielded 11 grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren.
She remained in her faith even when times were tough, including suddenly losing her daughter Carol the week after her high school graduation. Three of my uncles are pastors, another one is married to a pastor, and all of the others are involved in their churches in one way or another. Come to think of it, it all makes sense how I ended up working at a church even though that wasn’t my plan.
I had the privilege of spending a day with 10 or so members of my family along with my Grandma in her final days. We gathered around her bedside and prayed, read scripture, and sang hymns. I cannot tell you how blessed I felt in those moments, and still feel, to be a part of such a strong Christian family.
That very same day, we had the chance to go in and say our individual goodbyes. My Grandma was pretty much unresponsive, but the nurse assured us she could hear us and knew we were there. I went in and thanked my Grandma for all she had done for our family and recited to her my favorite verses in the Bible, Romans 8:38-39.
I then leaned in a told her, "Grandma, I really hope they have pie in Heaven. And if they do, you better make us some when we join you, because yours was the best." I swear her expression changed ever so slightly, I think she was trying to smile. I could hear her distinct laugh way off in the distance. I kissed her on the forehead and left the room. I'm pretty sure she's making pies for everyone in Heaven as we speak, because God wouldn't let that gift go to waste.
This is just a fraction of the Mitchell clan who was able to make it to the funeral.
My Grandma had moved into an assisted living home eight years earlier as she began to slow down and the Parkinson’s took over. Over those years, there was always members of our large family coming to visit and help care for her.
The cook at the home where she lived struck up a friendship with my Grandma. When my Grandma was still more alert, she would share tips and recipes. But something else happened. This cook noticed our family. She noticed the love that we had for both my Grandma and one another. It made such an impression on her that she stood up and spoke about it at my Grandma’s funeral. She was crying and barely able to deliver her message.
My Grandma’s funeral was a beautiful picture of the Christian faith that has permeated our family for generations because of her example and guidance. And at the end, the pastor made an invitation to anyone in attendance to accept Christ as their Savior. Come to find out later, the cook accepted Christ at the funeral. I still get emotional just thinking about it. Over the last eight years, she observed a love in our family, which she said was lacking in her own. A love that comes from Christ. Even in the midst of loss, there was a great love on display that caused God's kingdom to expand just a little bit more.
Since my return from the Love Does Tour, I’ve been committed to learning, and practicing, what it means to love more fully. Whether it’s loving those who’ve hurt me or someone I care about, loving someone in need, or loving someone who is being difficult; I’m giving it all I’ve got.
One of the things that pains me more than anything is to witness the subtle, and not-so-subtle, ways that people within the church (myself included) tear each other down. It could be as subtle as a roll of the eyes, or an off-the-cuff remark. We can chalk it up to "letting off some steam," but it pains God and hurts relationships just the same.
What I’ve noticed is that the more I learn what it means to love others unconditionally, and put it into practice, the easier I’m able to identify the times when I’m not loving others as I should be. Which for the record, is quite often.
I don't claim to have figured out how to love unconditionally, but that is a prayer I've started praying almost every single day. "God, show me how to love this person like you do." And when I do this, the things we disagree on seem to fade away. I can begin to look past their imperfections, just like God fully does with me.
The Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians tells them that love is NOT self-seeking. Yet in our world very few things, if any, operate like this. “You give me this, I’ll give you that.” “You do this for me, and I’ll do this for you.” We are often not even aware of the times that we are doing this. We don’t always do it intentionally. It’s just the economy of earthly relationships and earthly love. But this is not how God loves us. His love is a one-way love. And we are called to love others because He first loved us. (1 John 4:7-21)
I’m privileged enough to have recently received an advance reader’s copy of Donald Miller’s new book, Scary Close, which hits shelves February 3, 2015. The sub-title to the book is “dropping the act and finding true intimacy.”
Don uses experience from his own life and others to show the importance of intimate, real relationships. He opens up about his failures and his journey with counseling. He shares with us the importance of making healthy decisions, investing in healthy relationships, and being true to yourself and who you are. Don is in fact the very man who started Storyline out of his own personal journey.
He asks some terrifying questions:
“Can you imagine coming to the end of your life, being surrounded by people who loved you, only to realize they never fully knew you? Or having poems you never shared or injustices you said nothing about? Can you imagine realizing, then, it was too late? How can we be loved if we are always in hiding?”
Don is a lot like me. People have told me this before, years ago. The bad thing is, they were comparing me to the unhealthy Don without knowing it. Don used to think that his ability to isolate from people for long periods of time was healthy. And while it made for some great books he wrote, his real relationships suffered. It is true that us introverts need our alone time, but there is a point where this leads to a lack of vulnerability. You lose the skills needed to carry on a successful REAL relationship with anybody. Just look at what the internet and social media has done to our society and relationships. We are fighting an uphill battle as it is.
“The stuff it takes to be intimate is authenticity, vulnerability, the willingness to take risks on loving people who might not love you back and a general openness about our lives. And I’m learning these core values contribute to more than just healthy love stories, they contribute to healthy families, healthy parenting.”
So I’m committed to being more present, coming out of my isolation more than I’m used to, making healthier decisions, being authentic, transparent and vulnerable, investing in healthy relationships, and dropping the act.
Growth, specifically Christian growth, is often viewed within the church as the process of getting better, or becoming more holy. Perhaps even a measure of doing good and loving others. And as you can see from above, I do see great value in making healthier decisions and loving others, so don't get me wrong in what I'm about to say. But growth to me is all about the process in which we learn to recognize just how sinful we are. We are not in need of rehabilitation, we are in need of a complete and utter rescue. The more often we recognize this, the more we have grown.
"Cheer up; you're a lot worse off than you think you are, but in Jesus you're far more loved than you could have ever imagined." - Jack Miller
In talking with my mentor Bill about my growth over this past year and his contribution to it, he remarked, "Glad that God can use a dirtbag like me. 'I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, and wonder how he could love me, a sinner, condemned unclean.' " I told him "God loves and uses sinners because sinners are all that there are."
It is not through a desire to "be a better person" that I have been compelled to love others. It is through growing in the realization of my own sinfulness and the need for Jesus' complete rescue of me that I am compelled to love God, love others, and do something about it.
Thanks to all of you who were a part of making 2014 such an incredible year of growth for me.
In this life, you may never know the impact your love and support of others will have on them. It could very well change their life and their family tree forever.
So here’s to flat tires from God, sunsets, dancing, saddles, pie in Heaven, unconditional love, intimacy and growth. May 2015 be a year of growth and adventure for all of us.
I leave you with one final charge for the upcoming year:
“Jesus isn't wowed by fancy words. Keep it simple: Love God; love people; and do stuff. That about covers it.” - Bob Goff
Do those things, and you'll most likely find yourself in the will of God... and who knows, maybe one day you'll find yourself preparing to ride your bicycle across the United States, too.
Published by: admin in Life