Just call me Flo

Florence Rose Neal was born into a large and loving Norwegian family on Camano Island, Washington, in the Pacific Northwest, an idyllic spot encircled by Puget Sound and stately Douglas firs, and watched over by the distant snow crowned Olympic Mountains. Her hardworking parents spoke Norwegian and they all learned the hard language of living off the land.

flo's family copy
The Karo family. Florence is upper right.

While still a child, the family moved to Colorado where life was demanding and money was tight. At fourteen Florence went to work so her youngest sister, Peggy, could graduate from high school.

One day a handsome, young evangelist named John Neal drove up to the boarding house in Uravan, where Florence worked. He was ten years her senior, but his deep faith and snazzy new car won her heart. When John left town, the spunky and fair nineteen-year-old left with him as Mrs. John Neal, her name from then on.

John and Florence Neal 1939
Rev. and Mrs. John Neal

John was a warm hearted, charismatic man with black curly hair and dark Cherokee skin. He abandoned a lucrative career as a tool and die maker to follow his call to ministry, and for the next fifty years, Brother and Sister Neal became the spiritual force that would bring hundreds into the Kingdom in southern California, Oregon, and Washington. They had five children: John was first (after this dad was “John A” and son was “John R”) and the twins, Karon and Karl, arrived three years later. Peter and Rodney showed up twelve and fifteen years later, rather like a second family. Their ministry blossomed as the children grew. They built churches and potlucked their way into the lives of many who still cherish their commitment and uncommon hospitality.

john, flo, and kids copy
John R. standing up, the twins are on laps.

Those were the days when men were the breadwinners and made the decisions. Wives kept house, cooked, and raised their families. Pastor’s wives also ran the Women’s Missionary Society, the local PTA, sang in the choir, and made home make chicken and noodles for church dinners. If she could have played the piano, she probably would have done that, too.

Florence Neal (center) South L.A. Sunday school celebration 1951
Florence, center

Florence was the consummate pastor’s wife with her bubbly personality, outgoing hospitality, and overflowing love of people. Above all, she was a prayer warrior. She and John A., who also had a contagious, enthusiastic faith, saw many divine healings and marvelous salvation experiences. Many men and women credit the Neals with their call to ministry.

Change

As often happens, life became more complicated as the children grew up. John A. briefly changed careers and then moved into and out of a grueling pastorate unlike those of his early years. Karon and Karl had four different high schools. John R moved on. John A. and Florence maintained their pattern. An opportunity would come up and, although Florence prayed with him about it, John A. made the decisions and she followed. It wasn’t her place to question but to follow.

John, Mom, Karon, Dad, Karl, Pete, and Rod August 1965
Dave and Karon’s wedding day: back, l. to r: John R., Florence, Karon, John A., Karl; front, l. to r: Peter, Rodney

Lodi, California (where I met them all), Salem, Oregon, and then Seattle Washington ensued. There were rewarding milestones along the way as the older kids married and started having families, but pastoring was becoming more difficult and it was taking its toll. Peter and Rodney were growing up and in high school. In Seattle, Mom began working full time to revitalize a day care at the Seattle church. Frankly, she was magnificent! The day care flourished remarkably. With her eighth-grade education, state licensing could have been a problem. However, she so impressed the examiner with her know-how, administrative skills, and curriculum development that they approved her—and the Day Care—with flying colors. Meanwhile, Pastor Neal struggled with depression, frustration, and conflict within the church. Seemingly endless rain and the dismal gloom of sunless days weighed heavily on him and they returned to California. Brief pastorates followed there and in Nevada—with another declining day care for Flo to revitalize—but Dad’s age and fifty-three years of pastoring caught up with him, and they finally retired.

A second start

With minimal social security and an insignificant pension, they had to find an economical place to live with some way to earn additional income. Karl lived in Sierra Vista, Arizona, which was the perfect spot. They bought a few acres of land and set up a mobile home park that would support them. The freedom from pastoring, abundant sunshine, and the wide open spaces of the high desert brought healing. Florence (few people called her Sister Neal any more) worked as a nurse’s aide and did the bookkeeping for their business. Dad found derelict mobile homes in the classifieds and together they cleaned them up, and built porches. Dad clambered onto rooftops and repaired swamp coolers and Mom fumigated desperate appliances and restored them to a pristine and sparkling state. On Sundays Dad filled in as interim preacher. Life was good for the next few years.

John and Flo 1986 Dad's 75th birthday
John A. and Florence 1986, Dad’s 75th birthday

Failing health and bad knees eventually forced Dad off the roofs and they sold the mobile home park and moved to Tucson. This would be their last move together. Decreasing mobility from Parkinson’s disease and increasing dementia (Alzheimer’s was never formally diagnosed) crippled Dad. Mom barely escaped an emotional and physical breakdown caring for Dad, who no longer recognized her, referring to her as “that woman who works so hard.” She dressed him and made sure he always looked good. Weeks of little sleep and Dad’s unpredictable behavior pushed her to the breaking point, yet she soldiered on. It never occurred to her to find a facility where he could be cared for by professionals. She was the wife. It was her obligation. At the breaking point, she finally arranged for a hospice facility, but just one week after taking up residence there, he passed away. It was February 11, 1994. For the first time in her life, she was alone.

 Transition

For the next three years, Mom—like most widows—struggled to find herself. Profound loneliness descended upon her. She had always been Mrs. John A. Neal, and John A. was gone. Who was she? How would she survive? After a couple of years, she was floundering. Then, three years after Dad’s death, her granddaughter, Jodi, and her husband, Tom, invited her to live with them and help care for their two little boys.

TJ and Curtis 1997
T.J., left, and Curtis: 1997

It was a godsend; an important step in establishing her new identity. She had a family again and the little boys were a breath of fresh air each day.

Karon and Mom April 27, 2002
Karon and Florence at a welcome party in Anderson

In 2002 she moved across the country to Anderson, IN where we lived, and took an apartment at Harter House, a retirement community where two meals were provided and yet she had her independence. She established herself at South Meridian Church of God where we were pastors, and developed some strong friendships. During the next couple of years she became a vital and positive force in the Harter House community, but she began to realize that she was not ready for group housing and, when we moved to Columbus, Ohio as pastors at Meadow Park Church of God, she followed, renting an apartment overlooking a small lake and not far from the church.

 Just call me Flo

Columbus was a new place and Flo emerged from the ten years of becoming. It isn’t that being Mrs. John A. Neal was bad. It’s that she discovered a whole new person inside that was not tied to a profession or another person. As we introduced her to everyone at church, she responded with, “Just call me Flo!” She had been learning many things along that path. We watched in amazement as she taught us what she was learning.

It’s okay to be yourself. It’s all right to have an opinion and to voice your preferences. It’s okay to set boundaries. In fact, it’s critical to mental health. She learned to say “no” to those who would abuse her generous spirit, leaving her broke on more than one occasion. After so many years of squeezing into the role of pastor’s wife and putting the expectations of others ahead of her own needs, she chose to minister where she wanted, and not in the places others said she should. She was more than Mrs. John A. Neal now; she was Flo, pure and simple.

Not setting boundaries had almost destroyed her. Caregiving is exhausting and can be perilous. Mom’s generation grew up with a profound sense of duty, sometimes to the point of self destruction. There’s much to celebrate in this attitude, and many of us have benefited from those who have served us so faithfully. However, setting boundaries is crucial to mental and physical health, especially with loved ones. If we don’t take care of ourselves, no one will.

Mom discovered that certain things she had always done could now be done without the encumbrances of being the pastor’s wife. Her gift of teaching evolved into being an active participant in an adult Sunday school class. (She said she was too nervous to teach any more.) There she shared the spiritual lessons she had learned in a lifetime rich with experiences and wisdom. Many in the congregation benefited and grew to love her.

Always a prayer warrior, she enlarged her focus, keeping a three-ring binder jammed with handwritten requests that she jotted on bulletins and that people slipped into her purse. She especially focused on three areas: her apartment building, the youth in our congregation, and those who were discouraged or ill that could use a visit. She and a friend from church regularly visited those on the church prayer list. People began to come by her apartment for prayer, or bring others for encouragement. Over Scrabble, she counseled young mothers and new Christians. (That didn’t mean she would cut you any slack if you misspelled a word!)

Flo heard that the youth group needed counselors. She was the oldest person to volunteer! Of course, all-night lock-ins and paintball excursions were beyond her. She couldn’t sit on the floor anymore. But she could attend meetings and activities where she ate pizza and kept notes in her prayer journal. She invited some of the youth to her apartment on Sunday after church, where she had prepared special treats and introduced them to Scrabble (no doubt beating them soundly).

Her deep passion to win others to Christ was evidenced in her supreme joy of living, whether riding a roller coaster

Flo on ferris wheel Columbus, OH 2007
Flo at the Ohio State Fair

or greeting all of the employees by name at the local Kroger store. And at the bank.  And at the filling station. She felt that God was inviting her out of her comfort zone and she began to reach out to the many Asians moving into her apartment. Her unique introduction to a new resident was to take them a dish of Jell-o along with a big smile. Her bubbly personality and that Christ-filled smile overcame many a language barrier. Two young Korean men in Columbus enrolled at the Ohio State University became her adopted sons. She brought them to church and, when they graduated, was invited to the celebration dinner with their parents, who flew over from Korea (the only non-family present)! She took books to an elderly Indian neighbor who she was delighted to discover was not only a Christian but also an avid reader. All day long he had sat alone while his adult children were away at work—until Flo showed up, God’s sunshine to a stranger in a foreign land. She hosted a Bible study in her apartment and became friends with a young Japanese woman hungry for friendship. That young woman accepted Christ and later drove all the way from Cincinnati for her memorial service.

Flo, John, Karl, Karon, Pete, & Rodney 2004 60th b-day K&K 001
Flo and her five kids at Karon and Karl’s 60th birthday party; l. to r: Karl, John R., Flo, Karon, Peter, Rodney in 2004

In short, Flo, an eighth-grade graduate, a pastor’s wife with five children, a day care and preschool director who brought in educational curriculum that was the best in Seattle, a nurses’ aide in Veteran’s Hospitals, the local Florence Nightingale in her Arizona community, a beloved prayer partner to scores of people, a beloved grandma and great grandma (known simply as “Great”)—that Flo—became more passionate, effective, and loved in her eighties than most of us become in our entire lives.

December 20, 2007, was going to be a full day. She had attended two Christmas parties that week and was going to meet Karon to attend a third. But she never arrived. On the way she had a heart attack that allowed her to slow down, steer off the road, miss fire hydrants, cars, and telephone poles, and come to a stop on the grass across from the church where she stepped into heaven at the age of 86. At her memorial service, just three years after arriving in Columbus, over 250 stayed after the service for a potluck dinner (several brought Jell-o in her honor) where they took two hours at the open mike telling what she had meant to them. One gentleman concluded by saying, “Life is best when you ‘go with the Flo!”

“The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to him” is attributed to the great evangelist Dwight L. Moody, who lived his life with the goal of seeing what God could do if he were totally committed to him. Some of us were blessed to witness God’s light shining through another committed person: a woman named Flo, who wanted nothing more than to be a witness for Christ. And to win at Scrabble.

Flo Christmas 2006
Flo  at Christmas 2006

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Becoming Ageless, or the Purpose of Aging

Are you fascinated with how people age? I am. A popular Internet feature called, “Where Are They Now?” features photos of show business legends when we knew them and as they look now. Usually the changes are dramatic. After fifty years, some people are unrecognizable. Others look almost the same. Why is that?

Henry Winkler before and after
Henry Winkler as “the Fonze” on “Happy Days” and in 2015

Well, there’s genetics, skin tone, and, with the complexity of the human body, multitudes of reasons for this. Ultimately, does it matter? Some say yes. They feel that their looks are too important to allow nature to take its course, which explains the surging worldwide phenomenon of cosmetic surgery and why Hollywood stars seem almost ageless.

But only for a while. Clearly, growing old is inevitable. Our bodies were never intended to live forever. Have you noticed that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead once, but not twice? Lazarus died like the rest of us will. It’s inescapable.

The question is not “How can you look good as long as you live?” but “What can you learn about being truly ageless?” Being ageless is a matter of the spirit, not the body.

Becoming ageless

Becoming ageless is the exact opposite of looking as young as you can for as long as you can. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take care of yourself or that you should dress sloppily. Rather, we must change our focus from the physical to spiritual. Dr. Paul Brand, trail-blazing hand surgeon who did groundbreaking work with lepers in India, was son of missionaries. Long after most people would have retired, his parents stayed on in India. And, after his father died, his mother flatly refused to move back to England and take up residence in “one of those graveyards for old people,” remaining until her death in a remote village in India where she continued her loving work among those to whom she had given her life. In later years, she disliked how she looked as she grew older and so she removed all the mirrors from her house so she could concentrate on her beloved villagers. They never saw an “old person,” but only a woman alight with Christ’s love and the Holy Spirit who lived with them until she was finally carried out on a stretcher. She clearly was ageless.

How vastly different from those around the world today who are obsessed with appearance: looks, and above all, a carefully crafted public image. Was there ever a time when more people spent more time creating a facade that they think will impress people but which is, in fact, far from reality? Besides the political and entertainment personalities who do this, don’t many of us put pictures and information on Facebook and Twitter that we think will impress people? Not to mention dating sites, where 10% of dating profiles have been determined as fake, particularly from men.[1]

I am trying to pay less attention to the way I am aging, but I confess that I am way too aware of my wrinkles and loss of muscle tone. It’s vanity, plain and simple, and I’m working to shift my focus. This is what God is telling me: He chisels away our mortality so we can reveal his image. This has to do with aging, healing, sickness—everything. The purpose of aging is to abandon the physical. When we expend Herculean effort to look young and vibrant, we miss the purpose of aging, which is spiritual vitality. Have you considered that feebleness is really a gift?  We are given youth only long enough to learn that our bodies are not the place to invest.  The death rate is 100%.

As a pastor I was sometimes given a window into the true nature of the physical. I watched a beautiful young woman in her late twenties decline shockingly from aggressive cancer. As her abdomen swelled with the virulent malignancy, her muscle tone and body fat elsewhere was cannibalized by the awful disease until she became skeletal and almost unrecognizable. Just as extraordinary, however, was the spiritual growth that blossomed within her ravaged body. When I saw her just before her death, I could not hide my immediate dismay at her awful appearance. She smiled and said, “It’s okay, Pastor. I’m abandoning this house very soon for one that is both perfect and eternal.” She glowed with an inner light that moves me even now as I recall that sacred moment. I could almost see the exchange taking place as her spirit outgrew and displaced her body.  I have never forgotten this moment when the true nature of physical life was laid bare before me.

God makes everything new.

In the film The Passion of the Christ Jesus says to his mother on his way to Golgotha, “I am making everything new.” These words of Christ actually come from Revelation 21:5, although I found them deeply moving and fitting during this scene. It is the risen, glorified, and resplendent Christ who explains heaven in John’s vision.   This is not just an overhaul, or a sprucing up of things that need repair. No, this is absolutely new, never before witnessed creation, just like at the beginning of time. In this way Time Works Backwards.[2] All the way back to Genesis before the fall. Unspoiled. Unpolluted. Untouched by sin. Forever beyond the ravages of time, because time will be gone. Forgiveness, grace, acceptance, and healing will have finally and completely accomplished their purpose. And we will have a new body, not a clumsy remake!

“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20).

“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven….Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.  For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3).

[1] https://blog.siftscience.com/2016/what-percentage-of-dating-profiles-are-fake/

[2]  Phrase from The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis

You Matter to God

Does God really care about all of the details of your life? After all, our world’s population is increasing at 80 million per year! The headlines scream about refugees, wars, terrorism, hunger, and that we’re running out of clean water. With so many big things for God to take care of, how can he possibly care about my MRI or your granddaughter’s college tuition? Well, he can.

God is up for it.

  • collage for DNA copyWhen you think for a moment about our world, it’s quickly apparent that the world’s Creator has no trouble with details. In fact, He obviously has a passion for details! (Stay with me for a moment!) Our world’s vast and impossibly complicated ecosystems function in scientific and biological precision to support life in millions of ways. For example, the earth is exactly the ideal distance from the sun to support life. Think of all of the details that have to be just right for life to exist, whether it’s gravity, sunlight, the salinity in the oceans or composition of the soil, it all works perfectly together. Supporting this whirling planet overflowing with vibrant life forms is the mathematics of God. When we tap into the tiniest part of it, we find things like this. (There are endless examples.)Plants almost seem to perform mathematical calculations, allowing them to use up their starch reserves at a constant rate so that they run out almost precisely at dawn when photosynthesis can begin again.
  • Ram's hornsRam’s horns grow in a precise spiral and geometrical alignment to the animal’s head so that, even though they can weigh thirty pounds (more than all of the animals bones weigh together), the animal is never unbalanced.
  • fibonacci1The centers of sunflowers and daisies grow in opposing spirals. They are not only beautiful to look at, but mathematically perfect, allowing the maximum number of seeds to grow in the least possible amount of space. Some sunflowers have 55 different spirals going left and 21 going right.
  • DNA is the genetic code that makes every living thing either an animal or plant. The arrangement of DNA in that meticulous double helix determines whether a plant will be a geranium or soybean and whether an animal will be a fish or an amoeba. I’ve added an endnote with a layman’s explanation of this[1], but let’s just say that God creates and arranges these unbelievably complex cells so that we, every person, animal and plant, is unique. 7.4 billion people—and counting—and none of us will ever be like another, each of us has unique fingerprints, tongue prints, toe prints, and capillary patterns in our retinas, among hundreds of other unique features.
  • starsGod has named every star. “He determines the number of the stars: he gives to all of them their names.” Psalm 147:4 (Science’s best guess of how many stars are in the “observable” universe: 10 trillion galaxies times 100 billion stars in each galaxy…and no one knows how large the universe is…)
  • God catalogs every single creature. “I know every bird on the mountains,and all the animals of the field are mine.” Psalm 50:11 (8.7 million species and counting. Again…an estimate)
  • hair“And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” Luke 12:7 (NLT) (The most recent estimate I could find is that each of us has about 37.2 trillion cells in our body)

 

Not only can God do it, He loves to do it…

God is crazy about us

God misses nothing and has planned every detail of our present and future. He takes supreme delight in doing this and has been doing it since before the dawn of time.

How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. [Italics mine] (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son (Ephesians 4:1 The Message). 

That lavish gift-giving culminated in our glorious and incomparable Christ.

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:16 NLT).

God’s fabulous purpose in all of this was to remake Eden, i.e. heaven, where humankind would dwell with him in a perfect world at last. Jesus explained this to his disciples in John 14:1-3:

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am (NLT).

So what does this mean to you?

  • You are not alone and you never will be alone.
  • You never need to wonder whether your tiniest thoughts, desires, or hurts—seemingly unimportant to anyone else—are too insignificant for God. If He even keeps track of the hairs on your head don’t you think that he wants to know everything about you?
  • God longs for your most intimate friendship. He looks forward to every word you tell him. In other words, when you spend time with him, you make his day. So few people, even Christians, care about God as a friend. Millions of Christians seldom think of him except on Sunday. Millions more only think of him when they are in crisis. Even so, He welcomes every thought of him and daily sends his Spirit and His angels to and fro throughout the world to bless, encourage, and open the hearts of children, men, and women because He doesn’t want anyone to perish apart from Him.
  • God’s intense longing for intimacy with us is fueled by his keen knowledge of the unspeakably agonizing and lonely eternity for those who refuse his love. If everyone were going to be saved, God never would have bothered sending Jesus Christ to die for our sins.
  • Your friendship and relationship with God is capable of endless enrichment, but only if you consciously cultivate it. Your peace in life is in direct correlation to the amount of time you spend with God.

Don’t wait another moment. Start the conversation. You don’t even have to tell him your name. He already knows everything about you.

___________________________________________________________father hugging child

[1]  Deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA is a molecule that contains the instructions an organism needs to develop, live, and reproduce. These instructions are found inside every cell, and are passed down from parents to their children.

 

DNA STRUCTURE: DNA is made up of molecules called nucleotides. Each nucleotide contains a phosphate group, a sugar group and a nitrogen base. The four types of nitrogen bases are adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G) and cytosine (C). The order of these bases is what determines DNA’s instructions, or genetic code. Similar to the way the order of letters in the alphabet can be used to form a word, the order of nitrogen bases in a DNA sequence forms genes, which in the language of the cell, tells cells how to make proteins. Another type of nucleic acid, ribonucleic acid, or RNA, translates genetic information from DNA into proteins.

The entire human genome contains about 3 billion bases and about 20,000 genes. http://www.livescience.com/37247-dna.html

 

Manage Your Self-Talk

What is self-talk? Everybody does it, consciously or unconsciously. Unconscious self-talk is often destructive; but conscious self-talk can lift your faith, keep you on an exercise program, and help you overcome bad habits and even lighten depression.

Positive or negative?

I was a first-grader. It was the Big Day, Field Day: Races, pennants outlining the race venues, prizes, and, of course, parents. Two images stand out in my mind about my race:

Image #1: my Dad on the sidelines, yelling “Come on! Come on!”

Image #2: myself as I ran, hearing an inner voice urging caution, telling me to be careful not to fall, and that I couldn’t win anyway. That inner voice was self-talk. Unfortunately, it easily beat out my Dad’s encouragement.

He and I were both disappointed in me that day. Maybe that was the beginning of my lifelong dread of sports and competition. Did someone threaten me? Had I fallen or failed at previous races? I don’t know where that voice came from, but that same self-talk dragged me down for years.

Positive self-talk, however, can win the day. Remember the Little Engine that Could? As he faced a huge hill, he kept telling himself “I think I can, I think I can.” Then, when he succeeded and he was racing down the other side, he said, “I thought I could! I thought I could!”

I told myself I couldn’t, and I didn’t. The Little Engine told himself he could, and he did. Yes, it’s just a kid’s story, but time after time real life people have told themselves they were winners in spite of others telling them they couldn’t. But they did! Wilma Rudolph had little hope of becoming a runner after developing polio, among other things. But she went on to break Olympic records. [1]

Self-talk in the Bible

From the very beginning people have engaged in self-talk. Satan influenced Eve to sin by telling her that she would become as wise as God. That temptation became her self-talk. “The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it” (Genesis 3:6, italics mine).

 

The words “self-talk” do not appear in Scripture, but the phrase “say in his heart” does. Observe Abraham’s self-talk surfacing after God promises him and Sarah a child in their old age.  “Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?” (Genesis 17:17, kjv, italics mine). Abraham’s past experience almost overrode his faith in what God could do. A common problem for all of us!

 

And the psalmist wrote, “Only fools say in their hearts,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their actions are evil” (Psalm 14:1, nlt, italics mine).

We don’t know what in these fools’ experience prompted this self-talk, but it does sound familiar, doesn’t it?

 

These examples describe people who are unconsciously “counseling themselves.” Likely they were unaware of how self-talk was controlling them, but the biblical writer interpreted it as the motive for sin and the reason behind difficulty in maintaining faith. The Bible, especially the Old Testament prophets, did their utmost to motivate their people to consciously change their self-talk, advising God’s people to consider their motives and actions and live their lives according to faith in God. The New Testament writers clearly understood this issue—that self-talk must become conscious and positive–and we, in our mind’s eye, can see them grabbing the lapels of new Christians and practically shouting in their faces, Wake up! What are you doing? Listen to what you’re saying! Remember what God is saying!

Your self-talk: its origin

Cartoon man - who is that talking in my head copy

Your self-talk probably originates from your past life experience. Key creators of self-talk ./are our parents and other influential people, including teachers, peers, and those you want to be like. Positive, uplifting parent figures repeat their words unconsciously in our minds the rest of our lives: “You’re a winner!” “You’re a good girl!” “I love you!” “You can do it.” Negative, bullying, and abusive parent figures also repeat their putdowns over and over again: “Loser!” “Crybaby!” and “You’ll never amount to anything!”

Few of us will be victims of the heartless abuse of bullies, but don’t we unconsciously play the insults and slights of others over and over again in our minds, amplifying the damage until it’s all we hear? I’m convinced that negative and destructive self-talk fuels much of the depression we experience; perhaps even leading to suicide. Suicide has many and complex causes, but rates among all age groups continue to rise.[2] Surely negative self-talk gets some of the blame.

Our perception of what others think can be just as destructive as actual words—even if we’re wrong. The world has for years idolized slender women with Barbie doll proportions. As a result, the self-talk of countless females undermines their self-image and makes them feel ugly and worthless because they don’t measure up.

Satan plants negative and defeating self-talk in your minds constantly. Satan’s constant goal is to destroy you. He diverts your attention away from Bible study and tells you the Bible is full of contradictions. He reminds you of your weaknesses over and over again, tempting you to sin and then hammering you with guilt when you give in. Nighttime is his playground when you are drifting to sleep or sitting at the computer ready to shut it off. His temptations seem overwhelming. He resurrects the past and dangles before you all of your failures and mistakes. He megaphones the insults and putdowns of others into your soul and tells you that you’ll never be better, only worse. If you only sit or lie there and let the waves of damaging disapproval wash over you, you are a sitting duck.

What are you telling yourself about yourself each day? What are its sources?

Managing your self-talk

You turn a major corner when you take the reins of self talk and consciously counter the negative memories and pessimism. It isn’t enough to enjoy a sunny day now and then. You must deliberately program yourself to turn off the old tapes and create new ones, instead. Jesus was a master at this (of course).[3]

 

Try these things:

  • Ask God to help you. Only God, our Creator, understands us spiritually, emotionally, and physically. He wants to help you. He is willing to help you. He is waiting to help you! What’s more, He promises to help you.
  • Figure out what your self-talk is. What is its source? Whose voices are you listening to? Your peers? Your parents? The Holy Spirit’s? Satan’s? Ask someone close to you who you trust to help you if you’re not getting anywhere. I have benefited greatly from the insight of a couple of professional counselors who helped me unravel my guilt, fear, and anger. It’s important to have a Christian counselor.
  • Ask yourself if the discouraging things you are telling yourself about yourself agree with what Scripture says about you. Many Christians live defeated lives because they totally overlook what God says about us. (1) God loves the world. He did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world (John 3:16-17). (2) God forgives you no matter what. Stop dredging up the past that God has already forgiven. (3) God will never leave you because you are valuable to him (John 14:16). (4) God is the source of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3). Perhaps it will help if you rephrase these and place them where you will see them every day. For example, “God loves me as I am.” “God forgives everything I have done and will forgive more if necessary.”
  • Substitute negative self-talk with positive. Paul outlines this strategy: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).

One last thing

Try not to criticize others. Everyone is fighting a battle. Instead, make it a point to constantly encourage others. Help them believe in themselves. And start with that person in the mirror.

[1] (http://www.tnhistoryforkids.org/people/wilma_rudolph)

[2] http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/22/health/suicide-rates-rise/ ).

[3] When the Pharisees belittled Jesus’ work and accused him of working miracles by Satan’s power, he immediately countered with the truth. “If I am empowered by Satan, what about your own exorcists? They cast out demons, too, so they will condemn you for what you have said. But if I am casting out demons by the power of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you” (Luke 11:19-21 NLT). Remember, also, Jesus’ use of scripture in countering Satan’s temptations (Matthew 4:1-11). Note that Satan was also using scripture, but twisting it. This is why we must know scripture.

 

Why Silence Will Heal Your Soul

I had a few hours between flights and the airport was almost deserted. A quiet spot and comfortable chair beckoned me. There was even a bonus: a plug-in to charge my cell phone! Dropping my backpack into the adjoining chair, I unzipped it and pulled out my yellow pad and pen, preparing to write a bit.

As I started to gather my thoughts, music from overhead speakers butted in. Voices, drums, and guitars assaulted the quiet, making thinking impossible. “Till your world burns and crashes, Till you’re at the end, the end of your rope, Till you’re standing in my shoes, I don’t wanna hear nothing from you From you, from you, cause you don’t know.” One singer after the next wailed on and on about lost love and unfaithfulness. “I put your picture away ‘cause I’m lying next to him.” “I can’t go on.” “You just have to wait.” The depressing lyrics pumped into my brain. The relentless strumming was an angry child throwing a tantrum between my ears. Ironically, every other song was interspersed with a recording reminding the listener that this was the blessing of ad-free music! (The repetitive announcement was worse than the ads.) I remembered sitting in the Las Vegas airport some years ago with a ruckus that made this music positively saintly. The halls and waiting rooms of that Nevada airport were crammed with slot machines and other gambling games, creating a cacophony of beeping and chiming that occasionally was interrupted by sultry female voices inviting anyone within listening distance to a sure-to-win gaming experience. In that airport—as well as another—I wished for ear plugs.

It’s one thing to be held hostage to unwelcome music in a public place. It’s another to willingly submit to constant noise and music day after day and month after month. The TV is always on. Music is always playing. Newscasts drone their unremitting opinions. Computers chirp. Cell phones ding. IPad games talk and beep. Have we grown so used to constant audio and visual stimulation that we no longer remember how to or want to carry on a conversation in a quiet room? It’s as though real people—or even God—are boring and so we prefer digital companionship. I think that some people never experience silence. It seems that silence scares us with its unwelcome invitation to think or experience nature without musical accompaniment.

It takes silence to learn who you are.

When you are silent you can get in touch with your inner self. If you are always listening to other people’s ideas, how will you know what you believe? Lyrics of songs are life philosophies and outlooks. Play them often and long enough and they become your philosophy and outlook. Consistent reading of newsbytes and listening to info-bits suspends your own thought processes with predigested information. (But that’s another tempting subject I will not pursue at the moment.)

It can be intimidating to unplug, turn off, and think. However, unless we have silence, we often do not ask the big, important questions which, left unanswered, keep us from personal peace and emotional homeostasis. Who are you? What kind of personality do you have? What do you believe and why? How does God figure into your life? How connected are you to your family and why? Do you like your work? Why do you choose the things you choose? What thoughts run through your mind? What attitudes color your choices? Which experiences hold you hostage and still poison your hope?

It takes silence to get in tune with our world.

Contemplating the natural world opens our minds and hearts to incredible insight and discovery. Quiet observation and reflection reveal God’s genius and the innumerable patterns of the sky and sea. Those who discovered gravity—and a thousand other things–spent long hours quietly paying attention to nature. But even those of us with no scientific intention can benefit from learning the gentle come and go of the seasons and the ways of the butterfly and dolphin.

The sounds of nature will enchant you. Ocean waves sweep up the shore scattering pebbles and foaming upon the sand. A dancing campfire crackles and hisses as it casts flickering orange light across your face. Great trees bend before the wind, their leaves whispering of autumn. A mockingbird’s silver song echoes through the clear morning air.

The beauty of our world will mesmerize you. Warm turquoise waters shelter brilliant tropical fish among the undulating sea fans. Sunflower seeds grow in intricate precision and design even if no one sees them. The tiny feathers of hummingbirds and the minute scales of butterfly wings glitter neon colors in the sunlight. The moon pulls vast oceans as they ebb and flow in ageless rhythms. From the fireflies twinkling over the soybean fields of Indiana to the aurora borealis swirling fantastic colors over Alaska and Finland, our world spills over with exquisiteness and wonder.

Can’t you feel the frantic pace of life disappear just thinking about it? Only those who commit themselves to observe without interruption will learn the calming serenities of nature.

It takes silence to hear God’s voice.

Meditation and contemplation are time-honored ways to still your soul and discern God’s voice. We pay an enormous price for the never-ending, frenetic lifestyles we lead. Today’s social media are hypnotizing and addicting. Just try to find a crowd in which at least 90% are not glued to their cell phones. Everywhere you go, in every household, school, and event, cell phones rule. Now I choose to have a cell phone and I truly love the way I can connect with my children and grandchildren who never use e-mail anymore and don’t even know what a letter is. Minutes after it’s happened I can see my grandson, Caleb, hit a line drive, courtesy of the wizardry of cyberspace. I played computer games for a while until, thankfully, dry eyes put a stop to watching a screen for more than a few minutes. Only then did I realize how much time of every day had been consumed by trivia. Suddenly I had time for for reading, observing, writing, and contemplation. When we choose to be in touch with everything and everyone we choose to abandon God. We might deny it, even be shocked by the idea of it, but the truth is that you cannot be in touch with God without silence.

I’m thankful that there are an increasing number of people demanding that their kids not use cell phones at home, period. Family survival depends on real conversation, not texting that dinner is ready.

How much more must be unplug ourselves and spend time with God.

If anyone needed to hear God, it was the prophet Elijah. Jezebel was intent on killing him and he was emotionally distraught and running for his life. In fact, he was begging to die when a huge storm swept in. “…but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper….‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”[1] It was God.

Put down your cell phone or tablet. Walk outside and look up, not down at your screen. Begin looking and listening for the divine. If this is new to you, be prepared to wait. We will have to train ourselves to recognize His voice. It is not surprising that heartbreak often sharpens our receptiveness to the divine. Cancer, job loss, divorce, and the death of those nearest to us stop the clock of routine. We are suddenly all ears and eyes, wondering what will happen, who will take care of us, or what course of action we should take. Calamity abruptly jerks us awake and we see life’s true priorities in high relief. The good news is that we don’t have to wait for tragedy to do this. We can learn to lay aside the superficial and become conversant with the eternal. This quest is quite possibly the most important you will ever take.

[1] 1 Kings 19 (NLT)

People-Watching

The other day I was at Tucson Orthopedic Institute waiting to get two spinal injections. Karon had a concurrent dental appointment and I was alone in the lobby with my cane to steady me. It was a perfect time for people-watching.

At the hospital

Chartreuse phone-croppedA lady in black with a chubby little dog named Yoda talks on her chartreuse phone. (The little dog looks just like Yoda!) A star tattoo embellishes her shoulder.

A hollow-eyed man seems to be with her. A red lanyard circles his neck dangling some kind of badge. His crutches lie beside him. He tries to talk with Yoda’s mommy, but is cut off with her curt, “Shhhsss! I’m calling Mother.”

A gravelly voiced gentleman with silvery bed hair wheels into the discharge area. Although the aide who brought him leaves, he carries on a conversation about predicted thunderstorms and parking meters.

A harried, olive-skinned young man in faded green scrubs hurries by in squeaking tennis shoes as a well-dressed matron makes appointments on her cell phone.Lady on cell phone

A lady recently treated with spinal injections tries to stand up. She waves off the nurse who offers to steady her and promptly collapses on the floor. Some men rush to hoist her up and settle her into a chair. Twenty minutes later she tries to stand again. Again she declines assistance. Again her legs crumple like wet spaghetti! Two different men lift her into a chair. I left before she tried a third time. (Usually such reactions are temporary in case you’re worried about her.)

Two men opposite me (I’m guessing navy vets) chat while waiting for their wives. I overhear them assigning a type of ship to each lady as she arrives. “Yep. She’s a battleship.” “Destroyer.” One slow-moving gal wobbles by. They look at each other and smile. At the same moment they say in unison, “Aircraft carrier!” and break into chortles. Funny stuff to pass the time.

I suddenly remembered another time I watched people and wrote about them. I was in my 30s at a lunch counter in Wisconsin…

At the lunch counter

She sat, stretched to the full height of her six years. Her fragile fingers, smeared with too-pink dime store polish, clutched a fork and partially-demolished piece of cherry pie which gradually spread from the plate to the counter top.

Her mother chain-smoked the time away, nodding periodically to her bright-eyed magpie’s chatter. Behind the almond-shaped, black framed glasses her eyes reflected some other place. Her mind seemed to be far away. Perhaps she was tired.

A young man whose face was cratered with acne perched opposite me like a robin come back too soon. His eyes were full of winter, and his bony hands huddled around the empty cup which had long ceased to give warmth.

An old man in a green sweater had been cornered by a balloon-cheeked woman whose false teeth clacked like castanets.

A frail creature with soda straw hair peered through ashtray glasses at the menu in studied ritual before ordering a small coke. She alternated princess-sized sips with puffs of cigarette smoke aimed through wrinkled lips at some unseen target on the ceiling.

The teen-aged waitress bustled about with ice cubes and napkins, making excuses for dirty spoons. A hair net clung like a refrigerator magnet to her head, her once-white uniform apologizing for being a size too small.

I caught sight of myself in a mirror, hunched over some cherry cheesecake I didn’t need.  I noticed with embarrassment the frayed tee-shirt I was wearing.

We were a semi-circle of strangers from different worlds, careful not to look each other eye to eye, pretending interest in the backs of menus instead.

Now, as then, my thoughts were interrupted by God’s gentle voice, “I love these people.”

God’s interruption

How quickly we judge and criticize those different from us: “Too fat!” “Anorexic!” “Filthy!” “Snobbish!” “No taste whatsoever!” “How can they appear in public like that?” We can be merciless and unrelenting unless someone—or God—stops the flow of our criticism to remind us that we fit right into this group of oddballs.

People sitting in waiting room
People sitting in waiting room

From God’s perspective, everyone is a masterpiece of his loving creation. Each face windows his divergent touch. Every flaw to him is inexpressibly precious.

In our world where so many loud people are building walls and we are encouraged to divide people into groups I need to remember that we all are God’s handiwork. He knows every detail of every single life in every single country in the world and yet he loves each of us completely and unconditionally. When the prophet Samuel was selecting a king for Israel, he had a hard time finding the one God had chosen. That’s when God told him, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height….The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”[1]

What does God see in my heart? It is not my place to label and divide but to accept and love. When God is so hugely gracious to me can I not be gracious to those he loves?

[1] 1 Samuel 16:7

Learning to Live without All the Answers

girl-backpack-thinking-sunset-field-fence-moment-field-reeds-hd-fullscreen 2Learning to Live without All the Answers

 I was a young pastor officiating at a funeral for an elderly man I didn’t know. I had met his wife of fifty-plus years once at the baptism of her granddaughter. Although a church member elsewhere, she asked me to do the service and her family pressed me to do so. I agreed.

I had performed maybe three funerals and was inexperienced with people, dying, and grief. At the viewing before the service the widow collapsed onto the open casket and began wailing. Her shrieking made everyone uncomfortable, especially me. I stood nearby without the least idea of who should do something and fearing I was the one. Family members hugged her and encouraged her to move on, but the ear-splitting howling continued unabated. Then I heard the dreaded words, “Where is the pastor?” as unfamiliar people looked around, no one imagining that the timid twenty-something in the corner was a clergyman.

You know, I don’t even remember what happened. Later the emotionally spent widow with streaking mascara reached for my hand and said, “Why, Pastor, why? He was a good man. How could God do this to me? I stammered something inane and looked for an exit. Somehow we got through the service and I went home, sobered and wondering what I had gotten myself into.

I think what baffled me was being the answer man with no answer. Why did her husband die? He was suddenly gone leaving a gaping hole in her life. I hadn’t been to seminary yet, but even when I went I don’t remember any classes on dealing with hysterical people. Or any kind of people. Too bad.

Why do we use clichés?

It’s at times like these, when we don’t know what else to say, that Christians blurt out those clichés that help no one: “God has a reason,” for example. Or when a child has died, somebody says the inevitable and embarrassing “God needed another angel.” Nowhere in the Bible are we told that God kidnaps children to make angels. We are quick to quote this well-intentioned but inaccurate bomb: “The Lord never gives you more than you can handle.” We might even share this non-biblical quote by Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music” with “When God closes a door, He opens a window.”

So why do we use clichés? Christian Piatt, a minister in Portland, Oregon, writes about this. “Christians hate loose ends. We want to end every conversation with everyone smiling and assured that everything will be just fine. But that’s not always reality, and sometimes, what people need is to grieve, wrestle or reflect rather than feel better and move on. Being a Christian is not about having all the answers at the ready.”[1]

Just like I felt I had to do something at the funeral with the distressed widow, we find ourselves ill equipped at times of grief or trouble. Yet we feel we have to provide answers. Not knowing what else to say, we share those time worn phrases that help no one and sometimes aren’t even biblical.

Another discerning writer says we feel obligated to have an answer, but, “Sometimes there simply are no appropriate words, and we just need to listen.”[2] Over the years I am learning that silence more often than not is golden. People in crisis usually are not asking for answers. What they need is from us is presence. It’s okay to be silent, cry with someone, or simply hug them.

Developing a Mature Faith

When we are insecure in what we believe we are easily challenged by crisis. Unsure of what the Bible says, we exist on maxims and a cursory understanding of God and our faith. Such childish faith collapses quickly when difficulties come: tragedies like incurable illness, family breakup, or mental illness. And they will come to everyone.

Does God allow suffering? Yes. Why? We cannot know his reasons. Does He love us? Without question! Then what do I do with this seeming ambiguity? I must learn to live with it. I must consider the life experiences of those who suffer. I must faithfully study the Bible and learn how God interacted with people throughout history and also study how He interacts with me. Faith is not easy. Faith is not a formula: so much prayer equals so many blessings. We all must grapple with tough times so that our faith will grow strong enough to sustain us and our families.

The Upside of Failed Faith

I have shared in an earlier blog about my depression and its drastic effect in my life and my family’s life. One monumental trigger more than any other pulled the rug out from under me: I lost confidence in my Christian experience. Life events swerved me off the road and I crashed. You could say it this way: the maxims and clichés that were part of my faith—not all of my faith, mind you—were revealed as stunningly inadequate

Now, years later, I say that this was the best thing that ever happened to me. My dark night of the soul has helped me come to a healthier and more balanced understanding of God and faith. I will not quote this to someone in crisis but I do believe in the truth of Romans 8:28 “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” God does work in mysterious ways. After all, He is God and light years beyond any capacity on our part to understand Him. Yet He daily reveals Himself to me and reminds me that I—and you—are precious to Him and worth far more than many sparrows (Matthew 10:31).

[1] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christianpiatt/2012/07/ten-antidotes-to-christian-cliches

[2] Mary Fairchild @http://christianity.about.com/od/faithinaction/qt/Christian-Phrases.htm

Are You Good Enough?

.Seattle, 1958. Sunset Junior High School. Ninth grade gym class. Fresh from the West Indies and with a heavy British accent, I dragged myself to the locker room one more time for the usual embarrassment. I was 5’ 4’’ tall and weighed almost 170 pounds. My thick glasses helped me see but nothing had helped me understand American sports. My sister was sent away to school when I was seven, leaving me the only child of busy missionary parents who were always at their desks or their work. I played the piano, ate (some afternoons I consumed an entire can of Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk), and read. It was not only American sports that confused me. It was all sports. I had witnessed perhaps one basketball game, no football games, and not even a cricket match, which would have been more likely in Trinidad.

We suited up and filed into the gym. Our ruddy-faced PE teacher hauled in a large bag of balls and shouted, “Basketball this week, fellas!” All but one of the boys were excited and were soon shouting, joking, and shooting baskets. I, the foreigner, stood against the wall trying to make myself invisible. We lined up. Two of my classmates were named captains and chose their teams—I was always last—and the game began. Of course, everyone had his turn and my inevitable moment arrived. I had watched carefully to try to learn what to do. Suddenly someone threw me the ball. By this time I had figured out that I should get the ball and shoot a basket, and so I shoved the ball under my arm and ran to the end of the court. The coach’s whistle shrilled and everybody stared. “Schlitz!” (He never got my name right.) “Don’t you know you are supposed to dribble the ball?!“ Dribble? My face crimsoned to uproarious, hooting laughter.

A Childhood Experience Grows into Dysfunction.

By my senior year things were much better. I was losing the accent and understood most idioms of American life. But the feeling of not being good enough was still lodged in my mind. Years later and in my forties with a beautiful wife and three great kids, the feeling roared back. It had nothing to do with sports now. It was my Christian faith that was the bugaboo. By this time I had a graduate degree from seminary and had been both a pastor and associate pastor in several congregations. I was supposed to have the answers, to understand theology, how prayer works, and just what to say to the parents of the dying child in the emergency room. But I didn’t have all of the answers. Some days I wondered if I had any answers.

My flawed theology led me to label some vocations as more valuable than others. To my way of thinking, missionaries were number one and pastors were number two. Others were three or lower. I’m sure my parents made mistakes but they never shared them with me. Ours was a proud denomination certain of ourselves and our right doctrine. Everything was right or wrong. No minister or pastor that I knew ever slipped up. In fact, Every Christian was supposed to be perfect and live above sin, period. We were a well-intentioned but graceless group who defined ourselves by the things we didn’t do. We didn’t drink. We didn’t smoke. We didn’t dance. We didn’t play cards. We didn’t swear. We didn’t go to movies. You get the picture. When Christians we knew did these things, they were labeled a failure.

And now I didn’t have the answers. I struggled at times with temptation. For the first time I recognized my deep-seated anger against my parents for sending me away to school and against the denomination that sent them to the mission field. I was trapped. I was angry and Christians don’t get angry. I doubted my beliefs and Christians should have strong faith. I could no longer do the job and had never been taught it was okay to fail. I felt that I was not good enough. Especially was I not good enough to be a pastor, and way below my falsely created pedestal of missionary perfection. And so I left pastoral ministry.

When we’re not good enough.

So what happens in this environment? People pretend. We hide. We hide our true selves and display what everyone thinks we should be. People do this everywhere. We pretend we’re someone else (posting flattering photos on Facebook or dating web sites). We adopt an attitude of superiority to hide our feeling of inferiority (swaggering around in front of our friends to impress them). This is usually an unconscious response to not feeling good enough. In today’s mean-spirited society, we are particularly susceptible to bullying. We’ve all read the tragic accounts of teenagers who have killed themselves because of being labeled as losers. Our culture praises beautiful bodies and the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Who can compete? The Business world demands being super productive and twelve-hour days. It’s no wonder so many of us feel inadequate, marginalized, and useless. “I’m not good enough” becomes a lifelong personality disorder that torpedoes relationships and fractures marriages and families. It leads to depression—and even suicide.

What now?

  1. Examine your negative self-image. Where does it come from? Peers and parents are two powerful forces and either or both can make you feel wonderful or horrible. Who is telling you that you are not good enough? Is it you or someone else? If it’s you, why do you feel inadequate? What event, experience, or relationship is fueling your pain?
  2. Ask a trusted friend about your perceptions. How do they understand the triggers that launch your self-doubt? What good things do they see in you? What do they believe about you?
  3. Are you transparent? Are you real or do you put up a front that you imagine others want you to be? No one can live a lie. It’s okay to be who you really are. Jettison friends who require you to pretend.
  4. Failure is temporary. Life is a learning process and you are very resilient. Thousands of people we think of as big successes failed countless times in the pursuit of their vision. It’s okay to fail. How you respond to failure is a key to succeeding in life.
  5. Failure is not a sin. Everyone fails at some point. It’s the nature of life. Only God is perfect but He is also gracious, understanding, and loving.
  6. Comparison is corrosive. Comparing yourself to others breeds dissatisfaction, jealousy, envy, and depression. In truth, we often don’t even know the people to whom we compare ourselves!
  7. God has made you a marvelous and creative person. You are created in His image. He loves you as you are. He gave up Heaven to walk this earth in human form to teach us that He understands. He died for your sins and, if you accept him, He will live in you now and give you Heaven forever.

Epilogue

By God’s grace, my story did not end with my departure from pastoral ministry. In the months and years that followed, God revealed Himself to me with remarkable and uplifting encouragement. He immediately gave me three scriptures verses which extinguished my burning sense of ministerial failure.

  • The first was from Mark 1:11, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.” I foolishly reacted with some statement about this verse being for Jesus. God said, “It is my Word and today it is about you.”
  • The second was from Haggai 2:23: “I will make you like a signet ring on my finger, says theLord, for I have chosen you.”
  • The third was from Luke 22:31-32 “Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat.But I have pleaded in prayer for you, [David] that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.”

I have learned that God was neither surprised nor disappointed by my struggle. It made no difference to Him that I felt that I had failed. He didn’t mind that I was angry at the church or wanted nothing to do with further ministry. Nothing I was feeling disqualified me in His eyes from His original call upon my life to be his boy.

The grace that I was never taught but experienced from gracious people like my adopted parents, L. T.  and Helen Flynt, my parents-in-law, John and Florence Neal and, of course, my wife and children, has become a permanent and healing part of my life. They from the beginning have loved me as I am and their love is unconditional and forever. Thank you!

God graciously used me in other ministry positions, including two wonderful pastorates and now in retirement. He continues to heal me from my need to be perfect and reminds me not to compare myself with others.

I pray that you, too, will find His grace and peace.