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“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.”
My name is Jesse Vaughan and I am a freshman at Norcross High school. I am a member of the freshman group and went through the 20 weeks of boot camp and combat training with IRON and FIRE. This group was a huge encouragement for me, and it prepared me to be more of a warrior for Christ.
At my school we had started studying evolution in my biology class. As soon as I heard the topic, I knew this could give me the opportunity to share Creationism and the power of God. The wednesday before we started this section on evolution, Jeff had given an analogy explaining how macro-evolution is impossible. Seeing that this topic had come up in the classroom, I turned to my friend and just asked, “Do you believe in evolution?” He said, “Well yes, it’s what I have been taught my entire life.” So I told him, “Oh I don’t.” And he says, “Ok, what do you believe.” This then gave me the chance to say, “Devin, I believe in creationism and that God created this universe,” and I also shared the analogy Jeff had shared with me.
After that, five kids in my class must have been listening because they turned around and said, “Wow! That makes a lot of sense!” I then pulled up the Bible app on my phone. I went straight to Genesis one to show my friend and this other girl in the class said, “Oh, is that the Bible app where you can set it up to where it emails you a verse every day or something?” I said, “I think so but I haven’t set it up.” Devin said to me after that just jokingly, “I guess you’re not a good Christian without that app.” This gave me the chance to look up Ephesians 2:8-9 which says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works so that no one can boast.” I said after that to my friend, “You see, that would be a work and my salvation is not by works but is the by the grace of God. After that the girl was saying, I really need to write that one down and Devin just seemed very curious but did not say anything else as the lesson then started.
About twenty minutes into this class, we started a worksheet which required us to answer questions true or false to see prior knowledge on this subject. I saw the questions and then asked my teacher, “What if we do not believe in evolution?” She said, “Well, what do you believe then?” I said, “I believe in creationism and that there has to be an intelligent designer, which is God.” I stated that the evolution theory seemed illogical to me based on the fact that nothing cannot become something, and that something which came from nothing could ever turn into the world we live in today. I also stated in Genesis 1:1 it says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” My teacher then said, “Jesse, just put whatever you believe; but in this class it will not be right.” After this first day of evolution, to my classmates in biology, I am now known as the Christian kid; and I am also trying at every chance to debate this theory in order to share more about Christ. God has showed me I am a light into my school and am there for a big reason.
The week after this, my baseball coach had invited the whole baseball team to go on this retreat at his church called D-Now. Out of many players only seven agreed to go, and I was one of them. God had spoken to us all and now on wednesday mornings we are having a Bible study. Two of my main targets at Norcross have shown interest and will start coming to our BIble study including Devin, the kid I had talked about before. The original seven guys and our amazing baseball coach have recognized we are starting a movement at Norcross High school, and I cannot wait to see what happens!
“Several years ago, I would have told you that I thought a brotherhood was just a group of bros that do stuff together. A group of guys that are all good friends with each other. Maybe date some of the same girls, play the same sport, do some of the same drugs, or study some of the same stuff.
I wanted to be a part of something like that. In middle school and most of high school, I had friends, but I wasn’t a part of any of these “groups.” I always felt like I was naturally excluded from these brotherhoods, figuratively (and sometimes literally) standing on the outside of the circle, looking in and listening. If only I could be part of that circle!
It was only when I started becoming part of these groups of friends that I realized that I still wasn’t satisfied. This multi-friend phenomenon I built up in my mind wasn’t as fulfilling as I imagined. I was still missing something.
I was on Young Life work crews at camps for three straight summers, where I experienced and learned an astronomical amount of important things about life, including what a true friend is. But after every single time I was on work crew, instead of dwelling on and living out the most important things as I returned to real life afterwards, I spent all of my time either clinging on to the long-distance friendships that began at camp, or exhaustingly working to get the friendships I had at home to fill the void left in me after I had to leave camp and the friends I made there.
These are just a few examples of how I’ve spent my entire life continually searching for people I can develop relationships with, thinking that such relationships would satisfy the longing inside me.
I just didn’t get it. And despite all of the truth God instilled in me off and on throughout the next four years, I still didn’t get it. The idolatry of interpersonal relationships had completely poisoned my brain, and only a complete and utter embrace of truth could cure me. But I ran away from the truth and continued to chase after the lie that this world is more important than the next.
A wise friend once told me that the universe is rigged so that anything that doesn’t revolve around God completely falls apart. In my life I can say with certainty that I have spent far more time thinking about my relationships with other people than my relationship with God. And only in the past couple months have I realized that this is not normal, this is not natural, this is not the way God intended life to be. These fragile, meaningless friendships I had weren’t satisfying because I was missing Jesus the entire time. Everyone around me was on a pedestal above my Father.
I was loving, pursuing, worshiping my best friends, my work crew friends, my girlfriend. I was trying to serve earthly gods I had crafted in my mind from a desire for acceptance and love. And when the respective universes surrounding those gods always fell apart, it never hit me that they fell apart because those people were not gods. They are broken, sinful people like me. They couldn’t handle all of my struggles. They didn’t have the answers to all the questions I asked them. And they weren’t the creator of the universes that revolved around them in my mind, and therefore everything fell apart. Voids were left in my soul when those universes fell apart, and instead of running to the only One who could help me, I rushed to fill that void with more idols, more earthly persons I could love and worship and yearn for love and acceptance in return.
As I said earlier, I was missing Jesus the entire time. And it was right under my nose. Every time I went to church or went to youth group or spent my summers at Young Life camps, my Father was calling for me to cast away my idolatry, run back to Him, and to immerse myself in His perfect love and holiness.
I know now that a true brotherhood is a group of men which is centered on God. A group of men in Christ who gather to spread God’s glory in this world, where each member ensures that he and his brothers are keeping the only true God at the forefront of their lives. And I invite any of my brothers that are reading this now to pray for me and for each other. Idolatry is one of the most formidable weapons used against our identity in Christ, and God knows I could use some help in keeping Him at the forefront of my life, thus ridding me of the idols that have corrupted my mind for so long.”
My struggle became, “God where’s the justice? Where’s the fairness for me?”