Lane Changes

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It’s a familiar scene.

I’m slowly crawling through the parking lot between home and office – the ‘parking lot’ officially known as Northern Virginia’s Interstate 95.

I’m following a semi. I don’t remember the markings on the truck, but let’s called it “ACME Corporation” (I was always a big Road Runner fan as a kid).

At some point I grow tired of following a truck that I can’t see around. That, plus the lure of the slightly-faster-moving traffic in the lane to my left, compels me. I make my move. I change lanes.

Five minutes later, guess where I am? I am sitting in left-center lane, staring at the “ACME” truck in the right-center lane…which is at least a half mile ahead of me. And I’m thinking If I had just stayed where I was…

And it occurs to me…isn’t that the way we live our lives sometimes? We make a decision, and then later we look back on that decision and say If only I’d have just decided differently…

But guess what? We can’t re-do those decisions any more than I could make four lanes of interstate traffic back up and allow me a do-over on my lane change.

But still, it’s easy to look back and imagine how perfect things would have been with a different choice. But imagination is not reality (profound, eh?).

So here’s a few things we can do when we catch ourselves in those moments of second-guessing.

  • Remember Hebrews 13:5 – “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” God is there. Always.
  • Be thankful for where you are in life, instead of regretful of where you might have been.
  • Pray that God will show you how this works into His plan. Because it does. Even if it was a bad choice, it still becomes part of the fabric of His plan. Because He’s sovereign that way.
  • Remember that perception is not always reality, and that the whole can’t be derived from a snapshot. It’s about the entire race, not just a few paces somewhere in the middle.

Lane changes happen.  Some of them turn out well. Some of them not so well.

Sometimes you look like you’re going nowhere, only to look up one day and realize you did get somewhere. (Case in point – I ended up ahead of the ACME truck just a few miles later.)

Sometimes you don’t get where you wanted to be, but find out where you are is pretty good.

Sometimes you don’t see any of these things, but have to trust God that you are where He wants you to be (I wish I could say that we always see the happy ending, but that’s just not true).

So keep moving forward. Trust your decisions. But most of all, trust God.

 

Leave It at the Cross

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“You were never meant to carry this beyond the cross.” – MercyMe, Dear Younger Me

This line strikes home for me every time I hear it. Because I look back at things that I know I shouldn’t have carried beyond the cross and see the pain it brought and the problems it caused.

I think to some extent all of us have things that we try to carry beyond the cross.

We talk about turning things over to Jesus. We nod confidently and agree there is nothing that He can’t carry for us.

But still there are things we try to carry ourselves.  We plant our feet firmly, heave it up on our shoulders, and trudge forward, one laborious step at a time.

Maybe it’s because we feel like it’s not something that’s worthy of turning over to God – it’s too trivial to bother Him with.

Or maybe it’s too ugly and we don’t want to expose it to our relationship with Him – like somehow revealing the thing (which He already knows about) will somehow taint His impression of us.

Or maybe someone has convinced us that God’s grace doesn’t quite cover that.

But Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

He didn’t say “all who labor and are heavy laden with big things.” Or “all who labor and are heavy laden unless your burden crosses this line.” He said “all.”

So no matter the size, shape, appearance, or form of your burden, bring it to Him. You were never meant to carry it beyond the cross.

Alcoholism? Bring it. Pornography? Bring it. Unwanted homosexual desires? Bring it. Bad temper? Bring it. Guilt from a painful past? Bring it. Hurt caused by someone else? Bring it. Drug problems, gambling addictions, trust issues, gossip, hate, lying, cheating, jealousy, judgmentalism – whatever form your flaw or your struggle takes…bring it to His cross.

And leave it there. Don’t carry it one step further.

When we try to carry it ourselves, bigger problems result. Struggles become addictions. Secrets become complex networks of deceit. Angry outbursts become abusive behavior. One more compulsive bet becomes financial ruin.

The scenarios are exhaustive (and exhausting!).

Trust me, carrying whatever it is ourselves and trying to keep it stuffed inside only leads to more (and deeper) hurt. I know. I’ve been there.

So make the commitment now to leave everything at the foot of the cross. Everything…and live free!

p.s. – since I mentioned it, take a listen to this song if you have time. It’s worth it.

What’s The Worst That Can Happen?

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Years ago, a friend helped me through a tough time in my life. There are many things that she said, and I value much of the advice she gave during our talks.

But there was one phrase she came back to repeatedly – and it always seemed to make me stop and say ‘hmm’:

“What’s the worst that can happen?”

Used properly, this ranks among the greatest questions of all time (in my humble opinion).

Here’s the deal – the things that we dread thrive in the darkness. When ideas are half-formed and fears are nebulous, they seem very overwhelming.

But when we start to take a closer look and actually think through them, we realize that they are not nearly so disastrous.

It’s the nature of the unknown. Unknowns often seem larger than they are.

Have you ever noticed that when you travel somewhere new, the trip there seems to take much longer than the return trip? Or if you go back again to the same place it doesn’t take nearly as long as you remembered it taking the first time?

That’s the nature of the unknown.

So, the key to conquering fear, dread, and anxiety is to tackle and expose the unknown element(s). When you start to feel these emotions forming, step back and consciously think through whatever is causing the angst.

Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen.”

And then slowly, calmly and purposefully – with lots of deep breathing, if necessary – answer the question.

If circumstances permit, take the time to sit down and write out all the things that could happen.  Map out the possible paths and consequences. Think through all the alternatives. Literally find the worst possible scenario.

Then think about the probabilities of each path coming to reality. Realistic probabilities. If it helps, use a numbering or a high-medium-low scale to grade the likeliness of each one happening.

When you go through this exercise, the monsters that panicked you will usually prove to be toothless and ineffective in the light of clear thought.

I’m not saying that there will never be scary possibilities. There may be things that are terrifying! But I can almost guarantee they won’t be as terrifying as they were before you put them into words.

They may be hard, but they are things you are perfectly capable of handling – especially when you have a God who said “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5).

Three Keys to “Being There”

People - General 194All our differences aside, there is one great equalizer among us – we all make some pretty lousy decisions once in a while. The nature and gravity of those decisions vary, of course, but the act of making poor choices is pretty much universal.

And subsequently there are times when we have to face up to our choices and the consequences.

That this is a universal phenomenon means we see it from both sides as we travel through life.  There are times when I must face my choices and consequences, and times when someone else in my life is facing their choices and consequences.

Particularly for those of us who have been there, we often find ourselves driven to be present for the next person.  It’s something I refer to as ‘paying grace forward,’ and I think it’s a natural response/drive (Jesus Himself talked about this principle in Luke 7 while He was hanging out at Simon the Pharisee’s house).

So how do we encourage someone going through a rough patch?

Really being there for someone is more than just showing up, isn’t it?

Well, actually, it does kind of boil down to simply that.  Kind of.

Often we think we need to have some profound advice or witty contribution. When we don’t have something wondrous to say, we feel like we’re a huge let-down. The truth is: just being there is comfort enough.

But of course, there are moments when having something to say is important also. It’s about balance.

Based on my own experiences on both sides of this coin, I think there are three things to keep in mind. I’ve seen (and felt the effects of) positive and negative applications of these principles. And I think all three of them are key to helping us find what to say and what not to say.

Don’t judge.  I know that one sounds obvious, but it’s worth mentioning. Sometimes it’s hard to resist that knee-jerk reaction of saying “What in the world were you thinking?!?” Or to make sure they understand all the consequences of their actions.

But in reality, if they’re grappling with this, they’ve probably already thought about that ad nausea. The last thing they need is someone reinforcing their negative self-talk. What they need is understanding, encouragement, and help developing a plan to get through this and make things right.

Save your judgment and indignation for the ones who are actively and blatantly bringing hurt to others. Don’t kick the wounded.

Don’t assume you know. If you’ve never been there, don’t assume you know what they’re going through. You don’t. Maybe you’ve been in something remotely similar. Maybe your Aunt Sally has been there. Maybe you’ve been associated with numerous people who have been there. It doesn’t matter. None of that makes you qualified to say “I know exactly what you’re going through.”

Even if you have personally been there, don’t assume you know what’s going on inside them. You may have first-hand experience of their pain, but you are not them. One thing I’ve learned from my own journey, and from helping others through theirs, is: we all process differently. A mentor of mine once told me that, and I’ve found it to be consistently true.

That doesn’t mean it’s not helpful to say “I can relate.” Just don’t think you have them all figured out.

Don’t try to solve it. Listen intently, pray fervently, be the shoulder to lean on, help them talk through it, even throw in a few suggestions on what they can do.

But know that coming up with a complete solution is not your purpose.

It can be tough, being there in the right way.  There are judgment calls involved, and you will miss a few. But if you keep love and grace at the forefront you’ll be a good friend and the right kind of supporter.

And they’ll appreciate it.

The Perils of Time Travel

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Who doesn’t have some point in the past they wish to go back to?

To make a different decision, right some wrong, take a different path, avoid a situation where you were hurt, or avoid hurting someone else. The reasons to want to change the event can seem as numerous as the moments that have passed since the event took place.

We all have at least one moment in time like that.  I personally have a whole laundry list.

But God, in His divine wisdom, doesn’t allow us to have do-overs, or even a momentary time-jump to make minor adjustments.

Why?

Here are my thoughts:

He knows that we are likely to just screw up all over again.  Maybe when we got there we would decide that we didn’t want to change things after all. Or we might get caught up in the moment and make the same choice – or a worse one.

How many times have we said “I’ll never do that again” and then when the opportunity came to “do that” we fell right into it? What makes us think that “I wouldn’t do that again” would hold up if we went back in time?

Yes, you can say you’ve seen years of consequences. You’d know better than to make the same mistake again. But often when we make a repeat mistake in real time, we’ve seen the consequences it brought last time we did it. Yet in the moment we think that doing it again will yield a different result…or, we just don’t think, period.

Real-time repeat-mistake-maker, meet time-traveling repeat-mistake-maker.

I am convinced that even with perfect knowledge – knowing what we know today while being in the moment yesterday – we would still be vulnerable to making the same mistakes.

He knows we would try to fix it in our way. We are human, with human reasoning, and human emotions.  How do we know that the way we would change that one moment would make everything better?  Even assuming we can know for sure the exact moment to change to make things different (a big assumption), how do we know that righting one wrong wouldn’t lead to wronging three rights in the process?

Or how do we know that instead of doing the right thing, we wouldn’t just do the wrong thing differently to try to avoid the aftereffects? In our humanness, we are just as likely to try to do the wrong thing again, but in such a way so as to outmaneuver the consequences. Which, of course, would just lead to different consequences.

—–

None of this is profound, is it? We’ve seen enough sci-fi movies to know that when you time travel, you don’t interfere with history. Yet we still would like to try. We think, “Oh no, it would be different if *I* could go back in time. I’d be able to make all the right changes and the result would be a much better life for all.”  Guess what – you wouldn’t, and it wouldn’t.

So where does that leave us? I’m out of time and space (no pun intended) to go any further right now. So I’ll leave that for next time. Until then, leave some comments with your own thoughts below.

You Are Not Alone

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It’s a simple statement which I have found incredibly encouraging: “You are not alone”.

Poor decisions have led me down some lonely paths. One of the most enslaving things over most of my adult years was the thought that I was the only one experiencing the things that plagued me. Of course I wasn’t the only one in a universal sense, I knew. Others were dealing similar things. But I was convinced that I was the only one in my circles. Other people like me were ‘out there’. Where that was, I don’t really know. I couldn’t point to it on a map, or name a particular socioeconomic group where they were concentrated. But they were certainly not among the people that I was among.

Certainly not in the church. The church was full of people who had it together, people who didn’t have big struggles. Everybody in the church was quick to admit that they were far from perfect. But the offenses they confessed were often superficial: things that many commonly confessed to, or that were generalized to the point of non-descriptiveness. In the end, the ledge these believers stepped out on wasn’t really too far off the ground. And after all, who could blame them? Not me, I’m just as guilty! And, past mistakes aside, certainly nobody in the church was currently struggling with anything really heavy.  (Allow me to interject here that this is not intended as a judgment against anyone in the church…it describes my impression as an observer/receiver, completely removed from any presumption as to the intent of the actor/sender).

In my mind, I was the only twisted and broken and hopeless one in my world. The only one who had done something in my past that would cause people to step back and gasp if they ever knew. The only one who was still plagued with weighty struggles.

But at least, thankfully, I was keeping it hidden.

And then, through a series of events, it surfaced. And, long story short, since I could no longer maintain the mask of the have-it-together-Christian, and it was now obvious that I was broken beyond what it seemed anybody else in my church was, I found myself spiritually ‘on the street’.

Being in that place, though, turned out to be an amazing blessing. Because finding myself forced to seek help elsewhere led me down paths I may never have traveled otherwise, and led to the discover that freeing truth: I was not alone.

The reality was, the assumption that I was uniquely broken was completely off the mark. There were people with shared experiences all around, ready and willing to show grace and testify to freedom. People who were where they were because circumstances had exposed them as broken people, and who had thought they were the only ones.

So, here’s the takeaway: No matter where you are, you can rest assured that someone has already been there. You are not the only one. I promise.

I heard that last thought, and you are right – I don’t know what your story is. I don’t know what mistakes you agonize over or what struggles you wrestle with. But I do know what it’s like to think that if people see what’s inside they would never be able to love you again. And I also know that people will love you. And people will come alongside you and help you. Because you are not alone!