Better than Before

Some years ago we lost…well, materially, just about everything.

A series of tough breaks and the decision to transition my career had us on the ropes. 

We went from having two cars down one. Despite our best efforts, our home was foreclosed on. In every expression of the word, it was awful. 

 Photo Credit:  Bryan Minear

Photo Credit: Bryan Minear

My wife and I found ourselves donating plasma so we could buy groceries. We had to pick and choose which bills to pay and what not to pay. We had to trust God around every corner for day to day things. There were moments where we had no idea where provision would come from, except that it would sometimes show up in our mailbox. The stress of that time was incredible, but the faithfulness of God had never been more real.

Life was hard. 

I transitioned from ministry and back into teaching. As a man, wanting to provide for his family, this season spread me thin. It was immensely humbling.

I was recovering from some of the gravest disappointment I had ever faced in the local church. I felt wronged, mismanaged, and sorely misunderstood.

I made the move, but it was not easy. 

I went to church, a different church, but it all hurt. Not in a surface way, but in a super, subcutaneous way – under the skin, in the heart.

I knew where I was. Not that I had wanted to be in this predicament. For a good amount of time, I struggled to see beyond the emotional weight of the situation. I was angry and broken.

My wife had taken to quoting “Pride and Prejudice” to me when we’d talk about experiences of the past, “That savors strongly of bitterness, my dear.”

It came down to this: I was unable to reconcile my experience with my convictions.

To help you understand, ministry has long been both my occupation and my calling. As a pastor, leading the church is not just what you do, it's very much a part of who you are. “Church Hurt” is a specific kind of hurt. The wound is never surface; it cuts to the quick. It invokes a spiritual ache that is hard to describe.

I knew this road to recovery would take some time, but I had no idea it would test me so much.

There I was, teaching art again. Something I had done right after college. But I taught in the toughest school in the city. I’m talking hard-nosed kids from the streets. The school was (and still is) in an incredibly impoverished and struggling area. Art has been a love of mine for many years, but I didn't like it this time. And it wasn't because I hated the school or the students. I just couldn’t see past my circumstances.

For a solid year, my wife endured my poor attitude, as we welcomed our 2nd little girl into the world. 

I was delighted to have another beautiful, baby girl. When the school year came to a close, I was approaching the two-year mark in my time away from ministry. Time gave way to relief and I was longing to lead in the local church again. I agreed to take a position somewhere new. 

The next 18 months went by quickly. While the church we were at had been struggling, God began to turn things around. We served faithfully and saw the church nearly double in size. Then, at the turn of this year (2017), we were blindsided by a family emergency. The course of action was obvious and, albeit hard, but necessary, my family and I chose to move back to Tulsa, OK to be closer to my parents.

In the midst of our move, however, we were still on the road to financial recovery. While traveling over the holidays through the beautiful state of Kentucky, the transmission suddenly gave out in our car…while barreling down the road at 65mph. And so, without a car to call our own, we packed our things, said goodbye to the people we loved, and moved back to the Midwest.

We had no assurances. 

No jobs.

No vehicles. 

No house. 

But what we lacked for in natural things, we knew God could and would provide. 

After speaking with some incredible friends, they agreed that we could live with them (and their two kids), until things panned out. (Thank God for selfless friends who live and love sacrificially!)

Within 3 weeks of our arrival, my wife landed a job. Not just any job, she was hired on at a church we love and now call home. 

Then, along came the means to purchase car. No, it wasn't a sexy, speed wagon, but we found it and in 3 hours’ time, it was ours. At this stage in the year, we, a family of four, had effectively survived for 3 months without a car!!! (For the record, I don't suggest this. We opted not to finance a car because we did not want to go into debt. So, we held out until the timing was right.)

Our living situation was good, but having a house filled with 8 people, four under the age of six, can test you as an adult. There was this nudge in our hearts to look for a house to rent. This was major. It had been 4 years since we had owned a home, and this was a sore spot for me.

Am I the only one who finds house hunting to be a full-time job? We looked and looked, but everything either slipped through our fingers or cost more than we could manage. So, we prayed. I prayed that God would grant us just the right place. My wife, a highly motivated (and pretty) woman, came upon a lovely place in a part of town well beyond our current means. But as it happened, 2 weeks after discovering it, things worked out, and we moved in.

At this rate, we were almost 3 months into our move. While my wife was employed, I was not. I had been furiously looking for work since our arrival to Tulsa. I wanted to work as an artist. After all, I had gone to school for it. Be it art making, design, museum curation, etc., I was chasing every lead I could find, yet nothing seemed to pan out.

So, I watched my girls. Me, a grown, 35-year-old male, watched my 2 daughters, ages 2 and 5, while my wife got up each day and went to work. It was a humbling and precious time that allowed me to understand the role my wife had been playing in our lives for the past few years. Stay-at-home parenting is a full-on gig, not for the faint of heart.

This routine carried on for a near 3 months, and then, I got a job. But not just any job, I scored a position as an artist and designer at a local agency. And while I was so grateful to begin work, this opportunity meant my wife and I would have to travel in opposite directions every morning to get to work. As you might have guessed, this meant I would need my own car to get there. A car we didn’t have.

God’s faithfulness was revealed yet again, when someone gave us a a car. Please understand, that up until the last few weeks, I’ve been Uber-ing rides and renting cars to make my way to work. My dad even graciously stepped in to help me for a few weeks until it all came together.

If you’re reading this, I want you to know that the last four years have tested me more than I ever thought they would. And now, in a matter of five months, God has provided my family and I with work, vehicles, and a home, where there were previously none.

But more than the things He has restored, is the man He has restored. My passion to serve my family and others is stronger than it has ever been. This is, perhaps, the greatest miracle of all: the joy I have found in trying times. I still have days where I struggle, but they do not define me, God does. His declaration over my life is final.

Some seasons are really hard, but the difficulty you face does not negate the goodness of God. 

Trials may endure, but so does His faithfulness. 

In the times where life seems to suck, no hard season can overshadow His magnificence. There’s not a moment where any circumstance or emotion will outlast the enduring, constant goodness of God. 

This realization, the understanding of this His inherent goodness, will set you free. In the end, nothing ever has or will ever defeat Him. He is unmatched in every way. 

Looking back, I can see how unmoved God has been by any apparent crisis of mine. By comparison, all that has happened is so much smaller than His capacity to meet my need.

He’s not standing outside of your present circumstance, He’s in it with you. Jesus is not waiting to meet you on the other side of whatever you’re going through. No, He’s by your side, walking with you at this very moment. He is more than able to meet your need (Phillippians 4:19-20; Romans 8:28). He is gracious, considerate, and able.

If you would acknowledge His presence, and turn to Him, He will restore you.

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
— Hebrews 11:6
 

Dear Reader, 

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. If this has somehow encouraged you, then I would ask that you please take a moment to share it with someone else. 


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Let's Try Honesty

Honesty. Let’s try honesty. 

I’m lazy. 

Actually, no. I struggle with laziness. And yes, there is a difference. 

I get up and read my Bible every morning, but even still, look for excuses to look at my phone. I’m just making my coffee. I’ll look at my phone. 

Gah, I’m still not quite awake. I’ll look at my phone. 

KC Window

I can sense Him coming if I know what to look for. I hear the leaves rustling, I feel the breeze, and He calls. I see the sun rise and the colors change and He draws. 

I don’t deserve it. His patience or His mercy and yet, because it is who He is, I will always find Him faithful. Even when I am not. 

Doesn’t He know every thought in my head? How sometimes I go down roads I know I shouldn’t? Secret paths, dimly lit and forgotten. He does, and He waits. 

He waits until I take those thoughts captive because He’s given me the responsibility and authority to do so. He waits until I’m ready to listen, but He’s not One to be manipulated. And when I’m ready to listen He speaks truth–love-soaked truth that cuts me to the quick and exposes my need for Him. 

And yet there are times that I persist like a belligerent child who insists that she knows best and she knows what she wants right now but cannot conceive of more and can’t imagine better. 

Pride is ugly. It doesn’t look good on anyone. And it comes in secret forms. Forms we don’t recognize at first. 

Pride looks like my frustration when things aren’t going my way. It looks like when I’ve worked all day, dinner still has to be made, children still have to be cared for, and I feel the load resting on my shoulders rather than letting Him carry it. It looks like when I choose anger over love and I don’t invite Him in. 

There is a kind of death that must happen for us to move forward. A death to that old self. You know, the one with all the demands. Can you see it? Demanding that I reach for the phone. Demanding that I think those thoughts. Demanding that I speak my mind or hold a grudge when things don’t go my way. Demanding that I carry the load.

Why does it take so long to decide we are no longer slaves to who we once were? 

Because it’s a choice. A choice that I will have to make time and time again. I will have to tell that old part of me, the part that is selfish, lazy, insecure and unloving to get back in the grave. And with every ounce of grace at my disposal I’ll let her know, “You’re not welcome here anymore."

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
— Colossians 3:3-10 ESV 
 

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State of Mind: Managing the Madness in Your Head

"In the beginning God created..."

It's a familiar story. But what I want to know is if there was no one else around to hear God as He was creating the Earth, then who was He talking to?

My best, educated guess is that He was talking to Himself. The way I see it, if God can talk to Himself then you and I can too. 

State of Mind - Image Post.jpg

I'll be the first to admit, I talk to myself all of the time. In the car, in the shower, when I'm working, mowing the lawn, etc. I live a healthy portion of every day in my head. And as someone who has struggled with social anxieties and even depression, I can tell you that learning to manage the madness in your head is a skill worth mastering. 

Chances are, you talk to yourself too. Come on, now...you know it's true. I'm willing to bet that your brain is always turning. And there's a few of you reading this who never stop. The conversations in your head are constant. 

(Alright, before we get weird on each other, let's dig a little deeper.)

It's a healthy personal practice to make declarations over yourself. I'd venture to say that you, like most people, have an "inner coach" who is constantly scanning, reasoning, encouraging, and criticizing what you do. 

But at what point do you draw the line on your internal dialogue? 

Can you take it too far? And if so, how can you make your way back?


Let's not beat around the bush, there's a point where you can fixate over your issues so much that eventually, you are all you care about. 

When you glorify your condition to the degree of leaving God out along with anyone else it turns into idolatry (and by idolatry, we're talking "self worship").

But before things drift to this extreme, there's a few ways you can safeguard your heart in hopes to maintain a healthier internal dialogue. 

 

1.) Me-Against-the-World

Remember those moments where you looked at yourself and thought, "It's just me. I'm the only one. No one else feels this way and no one else has ever been here before." 

Feeling separated and isolated is hard to combat. Culture advocates for self sufficiency. We pride ourselves in doing it on our own. But is this really a good thing? 

You're wired to be social. As you're reading this, I guarantee you have at least 1-3 social media accounts. Your need for others is inherent. It's built in; designed by God. 

When you isolate yourself, you are pulling away from the fabric of love and encouragement meant to be found through others. The conduit for God's love is people. People are part of His design in how He chooses to express His love.  

Community is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.     [ <– Read that again, bruh. ]

You need other people in your life to remain emotionally, mentally, & spiritually stable. God has given the local church to build this familial element into your life. (Small groups are great too, as they provide community on even a more intimate scale).  

The closeness is good. It helps to vent and to stay transparent and honest with yourself. But most importantly, it will help you to give and receive love.

A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; He rages against all wise judgment.
— King Solomon [Proverrbs 18:1]

Action Step 1 -

Don't divide or separate yourself. Instead, plug in. Meet with friends. Invite people over. Join a small group (if possible) or grab friends for coffee. You need people and people need you. Whatever you choose, commit to making these connections on a weekly basis. 

 

 

2.) No Good for Nuthin'

Your internal boss is all over you. You're critical of yourself in a way that you should not be. 

When you reach this state of mind, it’s time to pull the plug. You need to fire your internal boss and restructure how you speak to yourself. 

Self-speak is a very real thing. If you’re not speaking to yourself in the manner like God’s word does, then your words are out of place. 

So, how should you talk to yourself? 

 Here’s what God’s Word says about you... 

God Says You are:

 

[Side Note: Yes, more than encourage, God also corrects. In His word, God makes many declarations about the state of man to correct his steps and ultimately lead those living in a fallen, sinful state back to Him (Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23; John 14:6, Romans 10:8-10). But please understand, that even when God rebukes, it's because His desire to correct is charged by His love. Even in discipline, God shows us mercy and grace.]

 

Action Step 2 -

Be extra vigilant to re-calibrate your heart each and every day. Time alone with God is crucial. Use His word to declare His value over your life. Scripture is good medicine (Proverbs 16:24), for all moments, not just in the down times.  Dig into the scriptures when and before you feel yourself starting to drift. 

 

 

3.) The Bleak Numbness

It’s not that you feel too much, but that you don’t feel anything at all. 

The numbness has set in and you’re not sure what to feel. Apathy is a sure sign that you’re overwhelmed. Too much stimuli or maybe it’s been a lack of intentionally pursuing the relationships in your life. Either way, you have to battle back. As hard as it is to admit, this is a place that I have been far too familiar with. I can tell you first hand that If you choose to live here, then you're going down with the ship. 

It's sad to see people in this state because it quickly becomes such a lonely place. There's no room for anyone else here. Your friends, spouse, kids...no one else can stay here because it's all about you. You're stuck in an emotionally-pressed state. The challenge with emotions is that they are quickly subject to change, so while they can enhance an experience, you should never allow them to become the framework for making decisions. Emotions will stop your motion if you let them. 

 

Action Step 3 -

Stop what you're doing (even this very moment). Pray. Repent. And run as hard as you can in the opposite direction. Mentally and emotionally, look to insert yourself right back into the last place where you had peace and were able to hear God's voice clearly (Isaiah 26:3). When you reconnect with that state-of-mind, start moving forward. But as you push forward, keep your focus on the needs around you rather than your own. The purpose here is to build healthy habits over poor ones. Instead of fixating on self, focus on serving others. The more intently you focus on meeting the needs of others, the less you will be consumed with your own (Hebrews 10:24). 

 

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