Thursday, November 20, 2014

God Wants Your Mess

“In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help… my cry to him reached his ears.” - Psalm 18:6

* * * * * * *

There is something intimidating about opening a blank Word document and staring at that cursor sitting on that first line. That blasted cursor... just blinking away. Waiting for me to get started. I initially set out to write something for this blog, something I’ve struggled to do lately. As I kept staring at that blasted cursor, I knew that what was on my heart wouldn’t be for this blog. It would be messy and raw. It wouldn’t be for anyone else besides God. He knew the words that I was holding onto in my heart and was simply waiting for me say them. So I began to type and that cursor began to move. And the words that were being contained in my heart poured out onto the page, like a frustrated painter hurling the contents of a bucket of paint onto a white canvas. 

Lord, here I am -- mess and all. I don't have it all together, I am broken, but I'm showing up anyway. Only You can restore me and put me back together again. Only You can support me and strengthen me. So before I take another step, here's my mess.

God doesn’t want or expect the edited, final draft of what you're feeling. He wants the raw, unedited, unfiltered version. He wants your mess. He wants to meet you where you’re at and then help you begin putting everything back together again. 

But we have to willingly participate in the process. He will mold us, shape us and guide us through the messy situations we face, but in order to do that we have to come before Him as we are -- mess and all.

Getting all those words and emotions all out on paper didn’t fix everything, but that step -- simply bringing my mess before Him -- is the first step.  
Maybe you’ve got something in your heart, feelings and emotions and words you’ve tried to keep locked up and hidden. Let them out. Lay them out before God. Healing starts when we lay it all out there in front of Him.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Coach's List: Lessons Learned From Rejection

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle.” - Psalm 56:8

* * * * * * *

I looked over the list that was taped outside my high school baseball coach’s classroom.

Then I looked over it again. And then once more. Each time, my heart sank a little deeper until the reality sunk in: my name wasn’t on the list.

I was a freshman in high school, and I had made it my mission in life from Day One to make sure my name was on that list, which held the names of every player who made the school's baseball team.

I trained with the team during the fall and winter months, went to every practice, played in several exhibition games, had a decent tryout and did everything that was asked of me.

Now it was spring, and I was sure I would make the cut. Baseball season was right around the corner and I expected my name to show up on that list. It wasn’t. Many of my friends were on it, but not me.

I went home utterly feeling defeated and deflated, alternating between red-hot anger and deep-blue sadness, wondering what I had done wrong and what I could have done differently.

It was the first time I really, truly felt the sting of rejection. It wouldn’t be the last. And it never gets easier.

There’s no sugarcoating it — rejection stinks. It hurts. It feels like you got sucker-punched in the stomach and brings you down to your knees. It feels like you’ve failed. And because you failed, you feel like a complete and utter failure. In your head, everything you did leading up to whatever kind of rejection you received was for nothing.

Sometimes our dreams die. Sometimes our prayers don’t get answered — or don’t get answered the way we would have wanted them to. Sometimes we give it our all, we give it everything we’ve got, but it just doesn’t work out.

I’m not going to minimize the pain, anger and sadness that comes with rejection. It’s okay to feel hurt and angry and sad. It’s okay to mourn a loss. In the midst of your rejection and loss, God is still there. You might be angry with Him. You might be asking Him why He allowed it to happen. He might not answer right away. He might not answer at all. But God is there in the midst of your pain and mine.

Here are some things I've learned about God in the midst of rejection:

HE IS WITH YOU

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” - Psalm 34:18

You don’t have to go through rejection alone. Even though we might feel alone, God is still with us in our pain and in our rejection. He wants to comfort you while you’re still in pain. He wants to give you peace even as your mind struggles to understand why. He wants to provide healing for your wounds. We only need to cry out to Him.

HE CARES ABOUT YOU AND YOUR SITUATION

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” - 1 Peter 5:8

God is not indifferent to what you’re going through. He cares about your heart. He cares about your situation. He cares about you. And because He cares about you, you don’t have to try and hide what you’re going through from Him.

I love how the verse above says that we should cast all our anxiety on Him. It's tempting to internalize the pain and struggle that comes with rejection, but instead God wants us to cast all of that on Him.

God is not surprised by your emotions, and there a many examples in the Bible of people being raw before God in the midst of their pain. King David brought his emotions to the Lord in a raw and real way throughout Psalms. Job unleashed his feelings to God after he had lost everything. God can handle your emotions.  

Whatever you are feeling, cast it to God. He can handle your tears. Your pain. Your sadness. You don’t have to have it all together to come to Him.

HE UNDERSTANDS WHAT YOU'RE GOING THROUGH

“The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Suddenly, the Lord’s words flashed through Peter’s mind: ‘Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.’ And Peter left the courtyard, weeping bitterly.” - Luke 22:61-62

No one understands what it means to be rejected like Jesus did. He can sympathize and empathize with us when we’ve been rejected because He was rejected Himself — often by the people who were closest to Him. Peter, one of His disciples, denied Him not once but three times during Jesus’s greatest hour of need, even though just hours before he swore he would never deny Him.

God is not a detached deity. He understands what you're dealing with and experiencing.

HE STILL ACCEPTS YOU

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." - Romans 5:8

No matter what kind of rejection you might have experienced in the past, present or future, God still accepts you. He still loves you. He still wants you. When we realize this truth and live it out in our daily lives, we can overcome any rejection we may encounter in this life. When we know that God accepts us, we don’t have to worry about rejection.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Cost Of Every Answered Prayer

I used to think that if God answered all my prayers and gave me everything I wanted, life would be a whole lot easier. Key words: “used to.”

Here’s the thing I’ve learned: we often forget that every answered prayer comes with a cost. Every answered prayer requires work. They make life more complicated instead of simpler.

Don’t get me wrong: obviously, every answered prayer comes with awesome blessings and is a blessing in and of itself. It's okay, and actually very important, to celebrate them as if your team just won the World Series.

But there is another side to the coin of an answered prayer. On one side are all those blessings -- and on the other are the challenges. The bigger the blessings, the bigger the challenges that come along with it.

Every answered prayer doesn’t make life easier. Each one makes life a little (or a lot) harder and a little (or, again, a lot) more complicated.

Coming to this realization was kind of frightening for me. It still is, especially since I’m at a point in my life where I feel like every answered prayer from here on out will mean a more complicated life.

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN

We like to think that if we just got that new job, started dating that girl, bought that new house or got that raise, the story will end, the credits start to roll and everything will be “happily ever after.”

Not so fast, Prince Charming/Sleeping Beauty. 

The truth is that once God gives us what we desire according to His will, the story is just getting revved up.

You get that new job with a nice paycheck and benefits and a retirement plan. But a new job means you might have to learn the ropes of the business and put in the hours and the work to be successful.

You start dating somebody and it's fun and exciting and thrilling. But dating also means investing time into the relationship and managing all the emotional complexities that come with it (and boy, are there many of those).

You buy that house you’ve been hunting down, and it's great because now you have a home that is yours. But becoming a homeowner also means dealing with the occasional broken air conditioner in July or termite infestation.

To quote the great philosopher and thinker Rocky Balboa, "life ain't all butterflies and rainbows." Every answered prayer comes with more responsibility, more work, and more complications. The bigger the prayer, the greater the challenge. But greater challenges lead to fulfilling rewards.

ON THE PRECIPICE

Many of us are standing on the precipice of some big prayers and blessings in life, but we’re afraid to take the leap because of that queasy feeling we look down and see all of the hard work, the challenges, the complications and the responsibilities that lie at the bottom.

It would be easier and safer to not pray. To not take a leap (or even just a step) of faith.

But easy is not the goal. Safe is not the goal. The goal is to make an impact. The goal is to love God and love others. And that's not easy. That's hard. That takes work. That takes sacrifice.

The only way I can achieve those goals is to pray bold prayers and dream big dreams. We have to be willing to take righteous risks and leaps of faith in order to reach the goals we set for ourselves. I have to do the math and count the cost of every answered prayer – and realize that it’s all worth it. 

THANK GOD FOR COMPLICATIONS  

The bottom line is this: the blessings that come with every answered prayer teach me to praise God, while the challenges that come with those answered prayers teach me depend on God.

I thank God for the hard work, responsibilities, challenges and complications of every answered prayer, because they drive me towards a daily dependence on Him.

I’ve had to ask myself: What am I doing that would require God to show up in a huge way? What am I praying for that scares the living daylights out of me because I know I couldn’t handle it unless I trusted God with it?

The only way we grow is through stretched faith. And the only way our faith is stretched is by taking some leaps and embracing the complications and work that come with every answered prayer. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What Woke Me Up At 4:14 A.M.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. 
You believe in God; believe also in me." - Jesus (John 14:1)

* * * * * * *

4:14 a.m.

Those numbers stared back at me a few nights ago after waking up from a fitful sleep. I tried to go back to sleep, but by then it was too late. My mind was racing with thoughts and feelings and frustrations from the day before. I thought sleep would chase them away, but I've learned that issues that go unsettled during the day will often follow you into the middle of the night.

Even at 4:14 a.m.

I tossed and turned, figuring eventually my exhaustion would take over and mercifully send me back to sleep. No dice. As five minutes turned to 10, and then 10 into half an hour, I was forced to acknowledge that something was wrong.

There were emotions I was letting get the best of me and worries that were spinning rotisserie-style in my mind. I knew why. I was clinging tightly to something that was beyond my control (always a bad idea, by the way). Something that was near and dear to my heart.

And so I wake up at 4:14 a.m. and soon thereafter, in a mix of frustration and exhaustion, anger sets in. I’m frustrated by a bunch of small things that didn’t go the way I thought it would and upset about not being in control the way I hoped I would be.

Eventually, I finish my internal venting and, as if He were waiting the whole time, God whispers a question that always cuts through all of the noise: Do you trust Me?

THE HEART OF THE MATTER

It’s such a simple question, one that I’ve had to wrestle with again and again during my life.

Yes. Yes, I trust You, Lord... But I say it as I clutch onto this thing I’ve been holding onto so tightly, afraid that if I let it go and leave it at His feet, I’ll lose it.

There it is again. Fear. Fear always seems to be the thing that holds me back. Fear always tricks me into thinking I can do it all on my own and take on more than I can handle.

The closer something is to your heart, the harder it is to let go. The harder it is to trust God with it. In my head, I know that everything in my life was better off in God’s hands than it was in mine. But fear can be so convincing as it screams that it's not.

I was either going to lay this down into God’s hands and trust Him with it or I was going to let fear win and tighten my grip. God always proved His faithfulness again and again when I chose to trust Him and I remember how I manage to mess things up big time when I didn’t.

In John 12:25, Jesus said, “Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.” The challenge I get from this verse is to live life with an open hand, letting God have His way in me. And that means opening up everything to Him.

LOOSENING MY GRIP

It’s easy to say God, I trust You. It’s harder to say God, I trust You with this thing that is so close to my heart. It’s much more difficult to then actually surrender it to Him.

I always wonder what will happen if I do surrender it, though. That’s just how I am; I want to know the end result of every decision I make. But that’s not how life works. That’s not how faith works. I may not know how it all ends, but if I trust God through it anyway, I know I’ll be alright.

So I start to loosen my grip, finger by finger, until my hands are open and I can place my hopes, my fears, my concerns, my everything into His hands.

Once I do that, the burden is lifted, peace returns, and -- finally -- I slip back to sleep.

When I trust God with the things that are close to my heart, they won’t wake me up at 4:14 a.m.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Minor Leaguer Who Didn't Quit

Guilder Rodriguez, a 31-year-old baseball player, is in the record books. But as far as records go, it’s not really one that most baseball players would aspire to.

14,095 plate appearances. 1,095 games. 13 years. That’s how long Guilder Rodriguez waited to fulfill his lifelong dream of playing in the major leagues. No one has ever played as many games in the minor leagues without an appearance in the majors as him.

Over those 13 long years, Rodriguez probably saw dozens if not hundreds of teammates get called up to the majors, getting their chance to live out the dream that every ballplayer dreams of since they were old enough to hold a baseball.

Rodriguez also saw many, many more of his teammates hang up their gloves and walk away from the game altogether without ever making it to “The Show.”

I wonder how many times Rodriguez stayed up late at night thinking about quitting, asking himself if the long bus rides to small towns, the low pay and playing in front of small crowds was worth it.

There must have been moments when frustration rose to the surface. When sadness crept in and doubt engulfed him. No one would have blamed him for quitting somewhere along the way. Thirteen years of toiling around in the farm system is an eternity in baseball years.

But if he had quit, he never would have gotten to experience what happened this week.

In early September, the Texas Rangers called him up and he made his MLB debut on Sept. 9. Reports say he cried for a long time after getting the news. After 13 years and 1,095 games and walking into a minor league ballpark batter’s box 14,095 times, he was finally getting his chance.

And then on Monday, he got his first major league hit. The crowd gave him a standing ovation, his family watching in the stands crying tears of joy. And then later in the same game, he hit another one -- an RBI single that ended up being the game-winner, lifting the Rangers to a 4-3 win. His teammates rewarded him with a celebratory ice-cold Gatorade dump after the game.

But the really amazing thing about Rodriguez is not only that he persevered through 13 years in the minors to realize his dream of being a Major Leaguer, but what kind of player he was during those years.

According to Adam J. Morris of Lone Star Ball: “He's been credited with having a huge influence on the careers of guys like Martin Perez and Rougned Odor, and being an 80 character guy who is the type of person you want in your organization.”

Rangers interim manager Tim Bogar told MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan: “He's just a true professional. He is basically a player-coach … He has been a big brother to Rougned and [Luis] Sardinas their whole careers. We see him in the clubhouse perking them up and having influence to get them to do the right thing.”

While he was waiting for his turn, he wasn’t just concerned with himself and his own dream. He was also building up those around him.

Now, he gets to play in the majors for three weeks as the regular season winds down. He might get to stay in the majors beyond that. He might not. But either way, I guarantee that these three weeks will be a time that Rodriguez cherishes forever -- a dream come true that he gets to enjoy with teammates he helped along the way.

Stories like this are reminders that most dreams take time -- a lot of it. They don’t happen all at once, so we need to develop patience and perseverance for the long road ahead. But they also remind me that I’m not the only one dreaming -- and there are people around me that I could be encouraging, investing in and guiding as I pursue my own dreams. 

If you are wondering whether or not to give up on your dream, keep going. It might take one year. Or 13 years. Maybe longer. Stick with it. But more importantly, don’t forget to look around and build up those that are around. Help someone else realize their own dreams while you chase yours. 

You just might get your turn someday, too. But you'll never get there if you quit along the way.