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Monthly Archives: May 2013
Graduation isn’t a day or an event; it’s a life-long process.
On Wednesday, I will walk in my own graduation ceremony for the very first time. My story includes a lot of bumps, bruises, scrapes, and screw-ups. One of those was dropping out of college 19 years ago.
I left high school early, by passing the G.E.D. test, and enrolled in college with a 10th grade education. I had only been in college for six weeks when I realized that walking out on the college placement exam to go to a Steely Dan concert turned out to be a really poor choice. What seemed like a great idea at the time severely affected my class assignments and landed me in the most remedial classes available. Since I failed the math portion of the exam, I was stuck in a math class that began with an introduction to the decimal point. On top of that, I had the wild idea that a full time job at Waffle House, making money now, was better than having to wait four years to move out of my mom’s house.
My idea of graduation at that time was very low; I viewed it as unimportant. I wanted to grow up fast and get on with living my life my way. I didn’t view the ceremony or the achievement as valuable, in fact, I thought I was pretty slick cause I would be making money and living the grown up life way earlier than my peers.
Fast-forward almost 20 years, and the guy who used to think graduating was a joke is now walking around the house in a cap and gown acting like he’s the guest of honor. I think I might have slept in them if they didn’t get wrinkled in the process.
Now I get it. Now I understand the value of the graduation celebration. It’s not about the pomp and circumstance or the important speakers. It’s not about the turning of the tassel, the receiving of the diploma or the pleasing of the parents. No, it’s about the journey that it took to arrive here. It’s about the hardships you endured and the little victories that kept you going. It’s about the lessons learned outside of class as much as the ones learned inside. This graduation ceremony is more about the last 19 years than it is about anything I did in class.
Yes, I worked my tail off to get that degree and I can’t wait to receive it. But this ceremony is about all the graduations I forgot to celebrate over the last 36 years.
Life is a series of graduations. The question is, “Were you invited, or did you sleep through the celebration?” Nothing in life that is endured and learned is void of a reason to celebrate. A very good friend of mine once explained how we often train and fight really well, but do a terrible job of resting and celebrating.
The truth is, you’ve graduated from the school of hard knocks; your G.P.A. has awarded you the honor of valedictorian; and you’ve earned a master’s degree in being you. Have you ever celebrated it? Do you consider making it through the terrible twos without strangling your kids, a graduation worth celebrating? How about getting your driver’s license, or losing 20 pounds? Do you view persevering through a failed adoption or a divorce as celebration-worthy?
What you believe about the things you’ve graduated from will greatly determine whether you celebrate them or just skip out early and go to Waffle House. Don’t quit and miss hearing your name called. You’ve worked too hard to miss the celebration.
Everything in your life has joined together to knit you into an amazing specimen of value and purpose. You have graduated from some of the hardest schools in the world. Do you understand how valuable your experiences have made you to the ones who have yet to walk that path?
All across the world, brave Americans are on guard so we can take the day off. They are losing sleep and even their very lives in order to grant us the blessing of a relaxing day at the lake. This country isn’t free by choice, by vote, by victory, or by chance. No, this country is free by hardship and death. God has blessed this country for sure, but it has not come cheap. Great men and women, who chose to give themselves away to the cause of liberty and freedom, have paved the road for us that leads to peace. Let us honor them today, through prayers and parades, and make sure to enjoy this extremely expensive freedom.
Never forget that on any given day there are people on guard so you don’t have to be.
“I’m standing alone in the shower as the hot water is washing over my body and my mind is flooding with old memories of past mistakes. It’s always around this time of night that I feel like I just can’t handle life. I want to be the nice, happy boy that I pretend to be on Sundays, but I just can’t find the strength to manipulate my life/mind Monday through Saturday to conform to such a reality. Why is it that every night around this time I find myself thinking of suicide or more practically, how to simply feel something.
Every night at that point in my life I would crave affection and love. What could it hurt for someone to just say that they love me and mean it? I had no answer for that. It caused me to dive deeper and deeper into depression where suicide was on my mind and my body was in a state of constant numbness. This numbness drove me to experiment with cutting. What a simple thing. All it was was taking a sharp blade and moving it back and forth along the skin. What a feeling it gave me as I would see the red blood pouring out of my flesh like a geyser gushing from the ground. For a week I could feel something. Even though it was pain, I could still feel normal. That was all I wanted.
I would cry at night alone and pray to an invisible God who never seemed to change anything. I thought to myself, is this really what my life was meant to be like? Was I meant to be sad, lonely, and depressed for the rest of my life? Is this what it will be like at the end of my life?
BUT GOD! These are my favorite two words to be put together. And this is where God decided to show up in my life. You see, I was trying to live my life my way, for my pleasure, when I should have been seeking God’s plan for my life. Because it really is not my life! God simply gives me a chance to play in the game.
As I began to bend my knee towards Christ and His love, I started to understand why I was sad and lonely all the time. I was sad because I did not truly know my savior. I was lonely because I did not have Him as a friend. I went through this trial in my life because He wanted me to. He uses this story in my life to encourage those around me. He let’s me share His love to others because He gets the glory for it. If this is God’s will then who am I to backtalk God? I am nothing.
I know that you who are reading this story might be going through a tough time, and you really don’t want to hear about God’s plan for your life. I understand what it is like and I know how you feel towards God. The anger and isolation you feel from the world. Like you are no good and that you don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Let me just say that you are right. You and I are nothing in the grand scheme of things but God is. We cannot change the world but God can! We have nothing to offer Him but God chooses to use us! He uses our weakness so that He gets the glory because this world is all about him!
I do not write this story so that you feel bad about yourself; but I write this story because I want you to know that you do not struggle alone! You are not the only one being told lies by the devil and believing them! We are a band of brothers who must come alongside each other to build each other up for His glory. Let me encourage you to talk with a brother in Christ about where you are in life and how you hurt. Because when we are at the end of our rope, we find the Cross of Christ! It is at the Cross where we find rest, peace, comfort, joy, fulfillment, and Love! That is where true healing comes from, at the foot of the cross.”
“Last week I had the privilege of witnessing an incredible woman die gracefully. In severe pain and struggle, she taught me more about perseverance and success than any of my mentors ever have. Her name is Beth Russell and she changed my life.
Beth has a wonderful husband and two amazing sons. I’ve had the honor of investing in her boys, who are now young men, for about 5 years. In that time, I have observed grace, received encouragement, and experienced love that seemed to grow in adversity as opposed to shrinking back. Yet as much as I’ve learned over the years from her encouragement and faith, Beth taught me the most in the last 10 months of her life.
In June of last year, Beth was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. At that time she stepped off of my board of directors at IRON and FIRE Ministries in order to give all of her efforts to fighting the disease. Because I was uniquely invested in her sons’ lives, I was very close to the struggles and pain of the process. Through many procedures and 8 rounds of intense chemo, Beth continued to be thankful. Yes that’s right, thankful. Not for the cancer, but for the many incredible things that were happening in spite of it and for all the years of blessings she had lived.
Beth wanted to be healed; yet she also wanted God’s best for her. And she considered life or death a win-win situation. You see, she had an appreciation for the good being done even amidst the bad. She focused her energy on appreciation and love instead of frustration and loss.
People from all over the world were hearing about Beth and being inspired to press on and not give up. They were finding encouragement through her hardship. Her attitude was affecting nurses, doctors, pastors, teachers, children and especially me. In the middle of incredible physical pain and ongoing side effects from the chemo and the multiple surgeries, Beth kept smiling. She kept asking how everyone else was doing. But most compelling to me was how she never complained, not once in 10 months.
You see, lately I’ve been complaining a lot. I’ve been frustrated that things aren’t easier in my life. My wife and I have a 22-month-old boy and a 6-week-old girl and we’re just tired. I’ve been fighting hard to invest in over 60 young men who will change the face of our world, but it’s exhausting. I’m in school, I run two organizations, and I am trying to raise thousands of dollars for our mission in a bad economy. My attitude had begun to get pretty cranky. That is, until last week.
I watched Beth smile the day she died. It wasn’t a smile born out of good circumstances. No, her smile was born out of a deep belief that her life was bigger than what was happening to her, it was more about who was with her.
Today, let’s take some time to consider the hard things in our lives. Then let’s commit to looking around at those we are blessed to share life with. Your life doesn’t just affect you and neither do your struggles. How we perceive hard things and how we react to them directly affects those around us, to their benefit or their detriment. So let’s seek to consider how we might encourage others to press on, as we ourselves press on, maybe even with a smile. Blessings.”