Reflection on the Last Thirteen Years
With each year, another challenge presents itself. As I enter the year 2020, I find myself entering a familiar scenario; one that I have written about in the past and lessons I have learned. So, as I move forward in 2020, I would like to update my post entitled “Reflection on the Last Twelve Years” and add one more lesson that I have learned.
As I prepare to have surgery #15 on February 18, 2020, I begin to reflect over the last thirteen years of my life. It has been a time filled with surgeries, recovery, life changes, and transformation. During this time, I have learned many valuable life lessons. Many of those lessons were cliché’s that I heard before, but now they take on a new meaning. Here are 13 things that I have come to realize over my last 13 years.
1. God IS in control.
This is a common response to many people who are going through troubled times, and trials of life. I never really had a full understanding of it until I entered my own suffering. I have found that it is not just enough to believe that God’s in control, but to trust God is in control. In order to trust, we must be willing to fully surrender ALL aspects of our life to Him. As humans, we have a tendency to surrender 99%, but we want to hold on to that remaining 1%. It is in releasing that 1% that we step over the threshold of the believing to trusting. In order to understand this, I use the analogy that all human beings have the same genetic makeup in 99% of their body; the remaining 1% is what makes us unique and different. If that 1% is what makes each of us an individual, then how important is that 1% of our life which we hold onto instead of surrendering to Christ. In surrendering that final 1%, we are handing over to Christ, all things that make us unique and individual. We must understand how important it is to surrender 100% of who we are to Christ in order to learn how to trust. During my past 13 years, I have moved from the believing to trusting, and knowing that God is in control of my life, no matter what I am going through or will go through. “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
2. We MUST live in God’s will.
In order to understand this point, I will use the phrase “we were born on purpose, with a purpose.” Until you believe in this phrase and understand it in relation to God’s Word, you will not be able to live in God’s will. I have found that until we study His Word, in order to understand who, He is, and what our role is as followers of Christ, it is impossible to live in His will. I had always lived with the understanding that I controlled my own destiny. This is one of the many lies that our world teaches us. We do not control our destiny; God controls it when we live in His will. When we live out of His will, we pursue the treasures of this world instead of storing our treasures in heaven. When we are living out of His will, we are living in the ways of the world which lead to death. When we are living in His will, our life becomes more manageable, clearer, and fruitful. It does not become easier nor free of suffering/trials. Under His will, we find our purpose in life and understand that our destiny is not of this world, but of the afterlife when we reach heaven. “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:17)
3. Your IDENTITY is in Christ – not your job. Out of the many things I have learned, this is the one that hit me the hardest. I had fallen into the trap that your job and prestige is how you define yourself. It worked well for many years, but when I lost my job of 27 years, I found myself questioning who I was. Only when we tie our identity to Christ are we able to live life to the fullest, and understand what our true potential is. When our identity is tied to Christ, He will never leave us nor forsake us. Our life continues regardless of what happens. It is in our identity in Christ where we find comfort, direction, stability, and freedom. We will never find fulfillment when our identity is tied to things of this world. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
4. You ARE God’s masterpiece. This is another lesson which was difficult for me. Many people that I work with deal with low self-esteem or self-worth. Once we understand that we are God’s masterpiece, we are able to look upon ourselves through a different lens. Upon our acceptance of Christ and repentance of sins, God cleaned our old canvas of life, and begin to create a new painting. At times, He will let his brush rest and not attend to his masterpiece, but that does not mean He has forgotten us. He may also use dark colors to represent the dark times in our life and use bright colors representing the good times. But we must remember He is not done with us yet. It is not until we join him in heaven that our masterpiece is complete. We must be patient as God works on this wonderful painting that is us. “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10)
5. You CAN’T take it with, but you can store treasures in heaven. I think we’ve all heard throughout our lives the expression “you can’t take it with you.” Another expression I think of is “it is the simple things of life that have the most meaning.” A lesson I learned was both of these phrases are correct. When we buy into the worldview that we need more “stuff”, we are rejecting what is important and not contributing to the Kingdom of God. Our money is spent to buy pleasure in order to find peace and relaxation while dealing with the stresses of this world. I found that this does not bring you the peace and relaxation you desire, but often brings more trouble. When we take our focus off of what we can attain in this world, and change it to building our treasures in heaven, our life becomes more meaningful and purpose filled. We will not be able to take anything from this world when we step in to heaven, but we can contribute to our treasures while living in this world so when we step into the afterlife we will have the many treasures we earned through our earthly life. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
6. LOVE your neighbor as yourself. As our world continues to become one of divisiveness and violence, it becomes more difficult to follow this command. When we look at our neighbor and feel hatred, envy, contempt, and indifference; we lose sight that all of us were created by God to become children of God. Emotions such as hatred, envy, contempt, and indifference can consume our souls to the point there is no love to share for others. When we learn to look at our neighbors as children of God, created by God, and fallen sinners in need of grace, only then are we able to love them as the creation they are. The inability to love our neighbor as ourselves leads to an unhappy life that will never be fulfilled. This is so important that Jesus made it the second greatest command behind loving God with all of our mind, body and soul as the greatest command. When you love your neighbor as yourself, you will gain the compassion that Jesus had when he walked among the sinners and was able to share the gospel with each one of them. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
7. HOME is where your heart is; not a physical place. This lesson was probably the easiest for me. I have moved 20 times during the 56 years of my life. I learned early in my life that it is not the house that makes home, but the people who live in it. I am often questioned by those who have not moved during their life how it has affected me. I believe the effects have been the understanding that our home on earth is a temporary one. As Christians, our true home is in heaven. If we look to build our life to be “heaven on earth,” then the prospects of the true heaven are not as inviting. I long for the day when I reach heaven and will no longer be the rolling stone that I am. As Christians we are told that we are strangers and exiles in this world and as such should not feel at home. It is our longing for heaven that helps to put our lives in perspective, what is important, and why we should feel like strangers in this world in which we live. “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:13-16)
8. You CANNOT put a price on peace of mind. Many people are constantly searching for something that will give them peace of mind. They will go to the extent of spending large amounts of money on the quick fixes of life, the get rich quick schemes, taking lavish vacations, and filling their lives with material possessions which they feel will help them find relaxation and peace. I have been guilty of all of the above, but was never able to find my inner peace. There was always something else that was available through the world promising me peace that I was willing to spend money to get. I came to the realization once I found my identity in Christ, that I was God’s masterpiece; that it was futile to store treasures on earth, because my home was in heaven. This allowed me to be able to find peace while living in this world. When the focus of our life is on God, and the decisions we make are based on God’s Word, He will bring a peace to our soul to help us accommodate the trials/sufferings of this world in order for us to make it to the next. It is only with God that one can bring true peace with in one’s soul. I have found such a godly peace and no longer desire many tempting things of this world that promise peace. With this peace comes a freedom from the worldly pressures and demands because we know that God is in control and any suffering in this life will be put to rest in our afterlife. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)
9. Your children need YOU, not stuff. In the busyness of our world there has been a shift of what parents think children need. In an effort to keep them busy, many parents have bought into the lie that children need the latest gadgets, the trendiest clothes, and the coolest car. In my work with children and adolescents, I have found the exact opposite. When speaking with children and adolescents, the number one thing they desire is for their parents to spend time with them. This time is not as the old adage stated which was “quality was better than quantity.” It is actually quantity that children desire over quality. When quality is our goal, we tend to fill the time with much activity that takes away from the ability to form a strong relational bond with the child. When we focus on quantity, we are able to establish that relational bond without filling their lives to the point they have no downtime to learn how to reflect on life, occupy themselves when bored, and be creative in their thinking. This lesson hit me when my youngest son offered to sell his ATV which was given as a birthday gift just a few weeks before I found out that my health conditions would inhibit my ability to work. His comment was that he would much rather spend time with me then have is ATV. In his mind, the money spent on the ATV could go to the impending bills we would have, to treat my condition while allowing me to spend quantity time with him; which was worth more to him than the new ATV. I knew then that I had neglected my older children with the time they needed to build a solid relationship with me. I cannot change the past, but I can commit to the future to where I’m available when needed, and will spend quantity of time I can with my grandchildren. Money does not buy a solid relationship with your children; it only contributes to entitlement. Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)
10. DO NOT raise good children; raise good adults. This is another issue that has become prevalent in our world today. As society looks to change the age of adulthood from 18 to anywhere from 21 to 28, we have created a generation of children who have not experienced the difficulties of life, the consequences of life, and how to work through the challenges of life. As parents, we have jumped in every time our child struggled and made it right by them. We are so intent on protecting our children, that we are not doing as God called by teaching them how to protect themselves. Many parents will define themselves by saying “my child is my entire life.” When we have this attitude, we are doing our children a disservice. When our children are our entire life, we inhibit their ability to grow into an adult and be responsible for themselves. The other issue with children being our “whole life” is we deny them the ability to find their purpose in life and God’s intent for their life. I have worked with many parents who have lost their identity once the children have left the home for good. In some cases this often leads to divorce because the mother and father have lost their identity once their child moves out on his own. They often find they no longer know each other because for the past 20 years they dedicated their life to their child. When a child is raised with responsibilities, and allowed to suffer the consequences of poor decisions, they will mature more quickly and understand that life is difficult and that difficulty depends on the decisions they make. There are many in the age range of 21 to 28 that still show the actions and maturity of a child. In those cases, when I look at the parents I can see where the problem lies. As long as we continue to treat our adult children as children, the longer they will behave as children. In order to be an effective parent, we must grow our children with responsibility and consequences so that when they turned the age of 18, they will understand what being an adult means and welcome being treated as an adult by their parents. It is a wonderful relationship when you learn to adjust from being the adult of a child to be an adult of your responsible child who is now an adult. My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights. (Proverbs 3:11-12)
11. My problems are MINE, not yours. As I began dealing with issues of my health, I learned that many people attempt to transfer their issues/problems on to someone else. In the psychological world, it is called transference or projection when a client attempts to draw the counselor into feeling sorry for them. I have met many people over the years who will automatically share all their problems with a stranger in order to justify their lack of ability. They have formed their identity in their illness which inhibits their ability to live a purpose filled life as we are called to do. When it comes to our purpose in life, God did not put disqualifiers in that description. God does not change our call in life even though we may have encountered difficulties or barricades. The calling/purpose that was given to us by God remains the same until we enter into heaven. When we allow difficulties to persuade us that we can no longer follow his purpose/will, then we have bought into the lies of this world, that our self-worth is based on our ability to succeed in wealth and prestige. God’s will/purpose for our life never changes nor should our drive to fulfill that mission. I have learned that regardless of the amount of pain I deal with or the ability to physically function, I am still called by God to fulfill the purpose that He brought me into the world to do. It is my responsibility to find a new way of fulfilling that purpose if I am physically limited due to conditions I incur. Even with disabilities, we can find new ways to fulfill the purpose of God’s calling. This is not a time to throw up the surrender flag and hide ourselves away from the rest of the world. It is a time of reflection and self-evaluation in order to strengthen our desire, to maintain our identity in Christ, and to fulfill the purpose that we were created to do. God will always create a way for us to live within his will. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.
(2 Corinthians 5:15)
12. Your past does not define you; your actions today do. We all have a past. A past where we have made good decisions and bad decisions. The life we are living today is a reflection of those decisions. There are people who will continue to look back at their past and try to pull it along with them as a reason for why they do what they do. But when we hang on to the past as justification for our actions, it is not the past – it is the present. One of the most important things I have learned over this past year is when God blesses us with another day of life, we have two choices. We can continue to drag our past around with us, playing the victim to life circumstances, or we can realize the blessing of new day, change our course of direction and become a victor over our past. With each new day, we have the opportunity to choose a path that will lead us to a better life, but we cannot do that as long as our focus in on our past and who we were. Our focus is forward looking, and our focal point should be on Christ. As a man plows a field, he will have a focal point to keep his rows straight. If he does not, his field will be in disarray, and the upkeep and harvest will be a mess. The same happens with our life. When our focus is not on Christ, when we continually look back, and we create more havoc for our life. One of my favorite Scriptures is Luke 9:62 because it reminds us where our focus should be. Appreciate the opportunity for another day of life, and choose to change your course from focusing on the past to focusing the future, which is Christ. But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)
13. We AREN’T What We Appear to Be. If we are honest, we all have things about ourselves that we don’t share to the world. I refer to them as “facades” or “blinds” because they inhibit the world from seeing the real person. In the Christian Counseling world, they are often referred to as “pseudo-Christians.” They have the outward appearance of living a godly life while on the inside, they follow the beliefs of the worldly culture. Jesus reference these when speaking about the Pharisees, “You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and wickedness!” (Luke 11:39). People are not always what they seem, but that doesn’t mean they are all bad or wicked. Their intent maybe meant for good, but the means evil. We must accept that humans have been fallen from the beginning of time, accept this as fact, so we can accept them as they are; facades and all. If we don’t, we take the chance of not fulfilling our purpose God has put us here for. As far as ourselves, we need to be open with others, but cautious. We need to allow ourselves to reveal our true heart, the heart of Jesus, as we interact with others; even those who seem not to have our best interest at heart.
"The LORD doesn't see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearances, but the LORD looks at the heart"
1 Samuel 16:7
I can only hope and pray that the next 13 years will be as transformational as the past. As I draw closer to God, and learn more about his plans for me, I find reassurance that no matter what happens to my physical body, God will always be there directing the path for me to go until the day I see Him in heaven.