Don’t Stop The Rockin’

He was out on bail. Employment was a joke. Small town, with front page notoriety, so no real chance to escape scrutiny. He did some landscaping and lawn mowing, but he was broke. Constantly. He was still smoking a half-ounce of pot a week, the cost of which added up real fast. He tried selling weed to select friends just so he could pinch a little. The problem was he had no money to invest, so he couldn’t buy any quantity up front. His savings were tapped out due to legal fees, and family wanted nothing to do with him. Days ran together, and he was getting increasingly anxious. Like something was about to happen. He had no idea what, but it seemed big. Maybe as big as what put him in jail in the first place.

He climbed out of bed at dawn and kicked a sneaker across the floor. His wife asked him what was wrong. I don’t know, he said. He was just miserable and bored and scared. He knew he was only out on bail, which meant he’d eventually be tried and sentenced. He and his wife were only married four months, and she was carrying his daughter. Questions ran through his head. Will my daughter remember me, he remarked? Admittedly, he was not really sure he wanted to be a dad. Not at eighteen years old. He was a bit of a wild one. A hellion. Out all night. He’d already cheated on his pregnant wife six times. This usually happened when he was bored or depressed. His wife was known for falling asleep early in the evening, while he would pace and channel-surf and get high.

This particular night, he grabbed a black back pack and started loading it. A pair of gloves, a hammer, several screwdrivers, and a glass cutter. He wasn’t sure where he was headed, but he needed money. Sadly, what he really needed was weed. He hadn’t been able to sleep for nights. He would lie on the couch, watching TV and trying not to have the voices in his head drown out the audio coming from the television set. Earlier, he’d been practically stomping around the living room, talking to himself, yelling at God, and trying to think straight. If you’re real, God, kill me now. I don’t want to go on like this!

He left the apartment, heading for the bridge over the Susquehanna River. It was really cold out, and the wind off the river was biting. He headed to Fourth Street, climbing up onto the railroad underpass. He caught his breath as he looked around. It was 1:45 a.m. Nothing was open. There were no cars on the road. Looking over to the left, he’d decided where to go. He climbed down the railroad underpass and headed to the local YMCA. He crawled behind some bushes and took out his glass cutter. Within minutes, he had the latch open and the window up. He climbed inside.

He headed down the hall, passing the main desk, and entered the snack room. He stood there staring at about fifteen vending machines. He got out his hammer and a large flat-head screwdriver and got to work. Damn, this is not easy, he thought. He was about to try a different machine when he saw headlights out front. He crept over to the windows and peeked out. Cops! Two cars. He ducked just as a spotlight lit up the window. He gathered up his tools and quickly crawled out of the snack room and down the hall toward the pool area. Maybe he could hide until they left. Spend the night. Then sneak out with the regular patrons in the morning. But that plan dissolved as he heard radio chatter and saw flashlights entering the long hall. He tried more than once to climb up on top of the huge HVAC ducts, but they were too far off the ground. Just as he was about to turn and run to another part of the building, he was lit up with flashlights.

Freeze! The first cop yelled. Suddenly, he realized he was holding a large hammer above his head. Drop the weapon! But it was just a hammer. What was all the excitement? I said drop it, now! As the hammer clashed to the floor, he said, It’s only me. You see, this was a small town, and his last arrest had put him on the front page of the town newspaper, above the fold. Full picture. Name. Alleged offense. This was going to be a long night.

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Your AHA! Moment

Jillian will be born in August. As she grows, Jillian will develop a learning disability that will prevent her from learning to read at the appropriate age. Due to this disability, she will struggle with school for the rest of her years as a student. Despite her best efforts, her grades will always be average. In high school, Jillian will become friends with a girl named Megan. They will share secrets and be nearly inseparable for much of their junior year. But Megan will be diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of cancer, and she will pass away just as the senior year begins. Jillian will mourn the loss, and her grades will suffer for it.

She will attend a local community college, working a job and taking a small course load. The two-year program will take her three-and-a-half years to complete, and just before heading to a state school, Jillian will be involved in a drunk driving accident. A drunk driver will hit her from behind, pushing her car into an intersection, where a family of three will swerve to avoid her. They skid off the road, hit a tree, and their youngest son will die.Though the fault isn’t hers, Jillian will blame herself for his death and spiral down into deep depression.

Eventually, she will make it to a state school, finish her degree and get a job working for a food distributor. She will love her job. Just as a promotion comes her way, an economic downturn will force the company to lay off much of their management, which now includes Jillian. In the devastating economic climate, Jillian will struggle to get work, and eventually she will file for bankruptcy, selling her house and moving in to a small studio apartment to make ends meet. Though she will strive to get back on her feet, the economy will make it increasingly hard to do so, and she’ll spend a few years living month-to-month.

She will eventually find another job, but due to her bankruptcy and season of unemployment, she won’t be able to retire the way she had hoped, nor will she ever make as much as she used to. She will have to work hard into her old age, piecing her life back together.

Obviously, Jillian is not born yet, but she would soon be. This scenario was presented to a group of people by psychologist Johnathan Haidt. The exercise is laid out in a book by Kyle Idleman called AHA. Awakening. Honesty. Action. The question for the participants was what hardship would you erase first from Jillian’s life? Most chose to eliminate the learning disability and the car accident and the financial hardships. We love our children and would want them to live a life without hardships, pains, and setbacks. We would all prefer our children’s lives to be free from pain and anguish.

But ask yourself: Is that really best?

Do we really think a privileged life of smooth sailing is going to make our kids happy? What if you erase a hardship that’s going to show them how to be joyful in spite of any circumstance? What if you erase some pain and suffering that ends up being the catalyst God uses in their lifetime to cause them to cry out to Him? What if you erase a difficult circumstance that wakes them up to God’s purpose for their life?

Did you know that the number one contributor to spiritual growth is not sermons, books, blog posts, or study groups? The number one contributor to spiritual growth is difficult circumstances. I can tell you this from personal experience spending thirty-seven years as an active drug addict and alcoholic, struggling constantly with difficult circumstances caused by my own actions and decisions. My addiction took me to three years in a state prison. I can point also to hundreds of other alcoholics and addicts who did the exact same thing.

Your AHA!  moment comes out of the sufferings, setbacks and challenges of life. Many people could point to those moments as their greatest moments of spiritual awakening.

Sometimes it takes cancer to awaken us to things of eternal value.

Sometimes it takes unemployment to awaken us to a deeper prayer life.

Sometimes it takes a broken heart to finally let Jesus in.

Difficult circumstances don’t always wake us up; some times they cause us to turn over, cover our heads with a pillow, and go back to sleep. Disappointment in life will often bring about one of two very different responses: We will either cry out to God in desperation, or we will distance ourselves from God.

Right now someone is reading this excerpt from Johnathan Haidt who is experiencing difficult circumstances. In your pain and disappointment, there is a part of you that wants to turn from God and walk away. But don’t waste the pain. In 2 Corinthians 7:10, we read, “For God sometimes uses sorrow in our lives to help us turn away from sin and seek eternal life.” It doesn’t say “God causes,” rather it says “God uses.”He wants us to use rough circumstances to draw closer to Him.

I have, from time to time, participated in Bible study groups at two local county prisons. They would file in to the room, one after another, accompanied by a guard. This is a minimum security county jail, so they are not shackled and handcuffed. You can tell there’s not much pretense or pride, however. It’s hard to get caught up in impressing people when everyone wears the same outfit — an outfit that claims they are bad or guilty or outcast.

The inmates could teach the church a thing or two about authenticity and transparency. Over the few years I’ve been visiting with these men, I’ve noticed something. They say, “Well, now I’ve really hit rock bottom haven’t I?” I have never understood this mentality that we have to hit rock bottom before reaching out for help. This is also evident in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. It seems a man has to be stripped of everything and have no prospects before he is willing to admit that his way simply is not working.

Listen to me, I don’t know what it’s going to take, but I know you don’t have to hit rock bottom. You can wake up now. You can come to your senses today. This can be your AHA! moment.

Consider this: A paraphrase of the return of the Prodigal Son.

A young man walks down a long road. We can see he wears torn clothes. His sleeves are caked with mud. The young man crests the horizon, plodding along. But suddenly, the weary figure is blocked from view. Another figure is running toward him. This older man runs full tilt toward the worn and filthy figure. The two reach one another and embrace. The younger man, solemn and holding back tears, tries to speak. The older man doesn’t even seem to hear him — he kisses the young man, and tears of joy stream down his face. He looks back and calls to someone.

We see a courtyard full of people. Tables are set up everywhere, covered with a full spread of food. The guests aren’t eating yet. Every eye is on a larger table in the corner of the courtyard. The young man now wears a resplendent robe, and some color has returned to his cheeks. He smiles, watching as the older man, standing at the head of this table, addresses the crowd. He raises his cup. Everybody in attendance raises their cups and toasts along with the old man, applauding after they drink.

Redemption is indeed a mighty thing. When you suddenly realize that you can not go another minute without God in your life, without his guidance and love and strength and power and faith and grace and wisdom, you have hit your AHA! moment. There truly is nothing sweeter.

Dear Friends: A Poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Dear friends, reproach me not for what I do,
Nor counsel me, nor pity me; nor say
That I am wearing half my life away
For bubble-work that only fools pursue.
And if my bubbles be too small for you,
Blow bigger than your own: the games we play
To fill the frittered minutes of a day,
Good glasses are to read the spirit through.

And whoso reads may get him some shrewd skill;
And some unprofitable scorn resign,
To praise the very thing that he deplores;
So, friends (dear friends), remember, if you will,
The shame I win for singing is all mine,
The gold I miss for dreaming is all yours.

Just a poem in your pocket in celebration of National Poetry Month Poem In Your Pocket Day April 30, 2015