Lessons from a ^
Good Saturday morning, everyone.
It’s 10 AM here in the highlands of Virginia, where I now reside with my daughter.
This is the second Saturday in years that I’ve woken up in my own place. The second Saturday that I sat at my kitchen table as the sun rose and sipped my coffee, from my LU coffee mug. Coffee that I made in my coffee maker (one of the very few surviving household items from when I last owned a home) and then went over my prayer list, and read the Bible, and prayed for things, and thought, and planned, and did what most everyone takes for granted.
It’s been almost two weeks since we’ve been here. It took some getting used to...this crazy idea of sleeping indoors, showering in my own bathroom, cooking real food in my kitchen, and doing the things that parents do for my daughter.
I’ve run the gamut of emotions from disbelief, to joy, to relief. I’ve felt the walls that I constructed around my heart, to hide the shame and embarrassment, begin to crumble. With each piece of those walls that fell, an accompanying river of tears fell too. I would not dare to pretend that what I have endured over these last six years is anything remotely like the dreadful terror of battle, but I do think that the way the human body handles stress is the same, regardless of the stimulus.
I’ve talked to soldiers who will unanimously say that when the bullets are flying and the bombs are exploding and the shrieks of pain and horror are mixed with the resounding thunder of artillery, you don’t have time for emotion. You are scared, and you are pumped up on adrenaline and you are in survival mode. You see the horror but you don’t have a single moment to process it, so it gets stored away someplace. It’s not when the battle is hottest that your tears come, and your hands shake, and your nightmares begin. It’s after.
It’s in the deathly silence that follows the cease fire, when the smoke is clearing, and the battlefield becomes visible again, and you can see how much this war has changed the landscape...and how much it changed you. That’s when you let out your breath and reflect on what you just lived through, and that’s when you start to feel it. That’s when the tears fall.
That has happened over the past two weeks. It happened this morning. I was sitting at my table, reading my book. A few years ago I heard Ravi Zacharias describe his morning worship time by relaying that he struggled for years getting his mind into the right frame. I was shocked, to say the least, as Ravi is my hero, and one of the greatest minds in modern Christendom, and a man devoted wholly to God. To realize that, he too wrestles with the mind being unruly at an early hour gave me hope. He shared, on his broadcast, his routine for his worship time and I began following it to great success. He reads one chapter from a Christian book, most frequently Malcolm Muggeridge or C.S. Lewis. This gets his mind in the mode of processing sacred writing. So he moves to his Bible reading. Then after that he is ready for prayer.
This morning I was reading through (for the second time) “Building Dynamic Faith” by my beloved Dr. Falwell. I moved from there to the first four chapters of Matthew and then I began working on my prayer list. Already, in the two weeks since we’ve been here, there are a couple of small items I was able to cross off. A microwave, some dishes, carpentry jobs until my position within LU opens up, success in my first interview. I’ve already received some answers for these.
I started to write down the updated requests and the tears began. I stopped and put the notebook down and I was hearing in my mind, the words of the great Zig Ziglar who said “If you fail to be thankful for what you have, before long you won’t have anything to be thankful for.” I thought about the day in July 2011 when I drove to Dallas at the invitation of Zig’s daughter Julie, and met he and his wife, and Julie and her brother Tom, and we spent time walking around the office and then went to lunch at Zig’s favorite Chinese restaurant. I thought about how many times I have played those now-worn cassettes that a friend gave me, and how much Zig’s wisdom kept me going in this darkness. I thought about him saying that we need to be thankful for everything.
So right here in my kitchen, at 6:30-ish this morning, the dam broke again and I sat here in tears, praying my thanks for everything I could think of. Thanks for my coffee and this table that sits in my kitchen, that is part of my new little townhome, where my daughter lives with me. Thanks for the opportunity I have to go to work for my alma mater. To work with the hockey program I am so proud to have been a part of. Thanks for the work I have gotten that will pay the bills until I am officially hired at Liberty. Thanks for my daughter. Thanks for God not getting tired of me when I doubted His plan. Thanks that, while my faith was frequently messy and weak and ragged...it was enduring. I failed many times along the journey. But I did not quit. This morning I remembered Zig repeating to me in his office that day, what he’d said so many thousands of times before... “Failure is an event. Not a person”
I have failed often over the last 6-plus years. But I did not quit. If you fail nine times but you succeed on the tenth...you are a success. Because you stayed in the game until you made it work. Doc always said “It’s not what it takes to knock a man down that he is measured by...it’s what it takes to keep him down.”
January of 2007 I lost my home. May of 2008 I lost my career, and could not renew my lease, and became homeless. In that time I was hired by three companies that all ended up going out of business. That’s four bankrupted companies if you include the mortgage company that folded and began this mess. I was also hired by one mortgage company who promptly rescinded the offer one week later because of Obamacare and the cost of adding another loan officer’s benefits package. But in that same period...that exact same time frame...I returned to college and completed my Bachelors degree. I wrote four books and have become – I think- a progressively better writer with each effort. I started a small carpentry business and did some very impressive work. I preached in three churches and taught a men’s conference that changed lives. Most of all...I showed my daughter that her dad loves her more than creature comfort, more than his pride, more than his reputation or his standing in the world. I was there for every single school activity and every birthday. I stood tall and refused to let her see me defeated. She saw me beaten, but she never saw me quit. I am thankful that God gave me just enough strength to endure to the end.
I believe the best is yet to come and that it’s right around the bend. I believe I have already written at least one best seller. My Christmas book The Ragamuffin’s Christmas, is a classic and one of the most unique takes on the nativity I have ever read. The only thing keeping it anonymous is word of mouth. It will happen. I believe “Remembering America...” is a joyous, fun, sweet read that also has the potential to be a best seller, because it leaves you feeling great when you are finished reading it. I believe my daughter’s best two years of high school will be these final two years. I believe I will get to tell my story –and so will she- and we’ll inspire others to simply not give up.
I realized one great truth in this. That God is always up to something. He knew, long before the mortgage industry collapsed and I lost my house, that this was all part of the plan. What felt catastrophic and permanently devastating was merely the boat pulling away from the dock and leaving the safety of the harbor. Those endless nights trying to sleep in the front seat of a Volvo, and later in the cargo area of a Yukon...those were just my years at sea. My walk through the desert. My time when God was taking one unshaped piece of metal, and beating on it until it was reshaped and then fine tuning it until it became a sculpture.
I’ve learned a lot of lessons and I guess I’ll be recounting them here over time. But the first and most important was, and is...”Never quit.”
You may fail, but you can never quit.
Someday, you will say “thanks.”