Month: August 2013

God is Watching Over You

Just about the time I forget… He reminds me.

I was reminded this week that God is watching every moment of our lives.  

GodIsWatching-I never talk about work other than to say I love my job but after seventeen years doing my job, I had two of the most difficult days I have had to face back to back. The rest of the week didn’t look so bright either.  So I tried to take some deep breaths and have some patience. It had to get better right?

I know that everyone goes through these periods in life and it is no different for me.  However, through these difficult and trying times it is easy to get discouraged.  It is when I am discouraged is when I start to doubt a few of the decisions I have made in life.  In particular… decisions I made years ago about my career path.

Normally I am a pretty decisive person.  I have no issues in making a decision and make it quickly.  Most times, I never second guess myself on the decisions I have made.  That all changes when I go through times of discouragement.

I know God is aware of the times when I am discouraged.  He knows when I’m down and He knows when I need encouragement.  I know He sees and understands the condition I am in.  It has never been more evident than with what I experienced this week.  In the darkest times, we get a glimpse of how much He knows and how well He cares for us. 

That glimpse, for me, came this week as a result of something that happened over 20 years ago!

This week I was sitting at home staring at my computer screen, feeling discouraged and allowing my thoughts to drift off to areas where I can develop a bad attitude pretty quickly.  Thoughts of bitterness and frustration start to bubble up and I start to think about some of bad experiences I have had in my life. 

It’s funny how we can quickly we can move from being encouraged to feeling discouraged.  I think this is what the Apostle Paul talks about when he references battling the “old man” we once were.

Anyway… just about that time when I start second guessing a few decisions I have made in life as it pertains to my career choices.  I see that I received a email from one of my former students that I had not really spoken to in years.  I was stunned by what I read…

Here’s the note I received this week:

Dear Mr Lee,

I am writing to you because I have never said thank you to you.  I am taking the time to say thank-you for what you did for me at TCA and FBT.   I was the typical pain in the butt kid and you were very good to me and my family. I know that it was an attempt to reach me for God. I think back and it is amazing to me how God never lost patience, just kept sending people into my life to show me His love is real. It took plenty of them & you were one before my heart  and softened it to His truths. Thank you for letting God use you to help others – I know I am not the only one you helped this way.

Thank-You for treating me like a friend even there is a big age gap. Thank-you for treating me equal and not some nerd, worthless kid. Thank-you for taking me home from school, church and sporting events.  Thank-you for everything…..thank-you for allowing me to call you as my friend.

Do you ever get one of those notes that just makes a shiver run down your spine?  This one did it for me.  

Why?  Because if I am completely honest,  I would have to say that over the years I have questioned whether my 12 years in the ministry was worth the pain and the sacrifice that I endured.  I never knew if what I did mattered.  I always say that “Mr. Lee” died a long time ago and I am not the person I once was.  I have pushed back many thoughts and feelings about the time I spent in the ministry.  I try very hard to not “remember” that time in my life.  Maybe because it still hurts to remember but more than likely it is because I have been on “the shelf” and I have not been able to teach from God’s Word for more than 18 years.

Most days in my life these negative thoughts never cross my mind.  It is only when discouragement sets in that I struggle with having these thoughts.

When I needed to be reminded the most, God sent someone from my past to encourage me.  It could not have come at a better time in my life.  It was a gift from God in a time when I needed it.  For me… it reminded me of God’s wonderful care for us and love for us even when we are dealing with the pains that this life can give.

It’s a wonderful comfort that God is watching and caring for His children.  I’m so glad I’m one of them! 

As a result… today I’m celebrating what God allowed me to be a part of all those years ago.

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The Summer of 1979

Young love seemed pretty simple.  At least once upon a time, it seemed…simple.  

If you liked somebody, you let ‘em know.  And if you didn’t, you let ‘em know.  One way or another, you knew where you stood.

All of us have searched for someone to love when we were teenagers. Someone who would make us complete.  We would  choose partners and change partners as we started our journey to find love.  We would wake up each morning wondering if today would be the day that we would find our match.  Because you just knew that there was someone, somewhere that would be perfect… who might be searching just for you.

It was no different for me. Young love was about sharing little inside jokes when the teacher wasn’t looking.  It was about passing notes during class.  It was about all the really YoungLoveWordstupid things you share.  It was about getting through those difficult adolescent years… together.

Once upon a time there was a girl I knew that lived on another street in some other town. She had beautiful blond hair and blue eyes. I fell in love with her the first time I laid eyes on her.  When she laughed, I laughed and when she smiled, I smiled.

She and I had been through it all. The good times… the bad times. The ups… and the downs.  She would always be the girl next door – even though she didn’t live there. 

Every single thing that happened to me in my life that mattered, in some way, had to do with her.

She was my girl.

They say you can live a lifetime and never find true love. 

I guess I was lucky.  Because true love crossed my path the first time I met her.

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Love makes you do funny things.  It can make you proud and it can make you sorry.

Over time, we weren’t the same two kids we had once been.  Some things change.  Some things last.  We were young and scared and even though we didn’t know what was going to happen to us, or where we were going, we knew that things were changing on our path to adulthood. 

Change.  At seventeen it’s not always a pretty sight. In fact, it can get pretty ugly.

One night, I think we both knew it was time to let go of what had been, and look ahead to what would be.

Other days.  New days.  Days to come.

We just had to understand that growing up is never easy. You hold on to things that were and you wonder what’s to come.

Young love doesn’t know1979 the difference between “getting older” and “growing up”. 

That one night in the summer of 1979 we talked…about life…about our times together.  We promised each other that no matter what, we would always love each other and we’d always know that we shared the best days of our young lives together. It was a promise full of passion, truth and wisdom. It was the kind of promise that could only come from the hearts of the very young.

There are things in life that matter.  Things that happened in your past which can’t be denied.  She was part of me, and I was part of her. And no matter what, for as long as I lived, I knew I would never completely let her go.

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As I reflect on the events of that summer, I would love to sit down and have long conversation to the 1979 version of me.

I want to tell that young man so many things…

I want to tell him to get help with his jealousy. I want to tell him to get help with his anger and his temper. 

I want to tell him to slow down, there was no rush, there was plenty of time for life to happen. 

I want to tell him to not miss the opportunity speak up and tell her his true feelings when he had a chance in the coming years. 

I want to convince him to wait six more months when he knew he should have.

I want to tell him to love those that struggle in life and to not be so judgmental to those who did.

I made these changes way too late in life to save people the pain and the hurt that I would cause in the coming years.

Things never turn out exactly the way you planned. I know they didn’t with me.

You go where life takes you.

I remember a time, a place and a particular summer. I remember how it was.  I remember growing up among people and places I loved. 

Most of all, I remember the girl of my dreams and how hard it was… to leave her behind.

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Twenty years later… mistakes, broken lives and broken marriages later… our paths cross once again.

Walking into that restaurant to celebrate the birthday of a co-worker on that fateful day, I was not aware that my life was about to change.  I look up and see her sitting there… the air immediately rushes out of my lungs and suddenly I am seventeen again and the warm winds of the summer of 1979 flood my memory.

Another chance to make it work.

Pam and I are now celebrating over 15 years of marriage and while it is not always the “picture perfect marriage” I thought it would have been when we were sixteen, it is indeed all I have ever hoped it would be and more.  She makes me very happy.  And I still have to catch my breath each and every time she walks into the room.

She is home to me.

She is my best friend and I am grateful for the life we share together.

Was it destiny? Was it always meant to be?  Who was right, and who was wrong?  Well, I’m 36 years older than that fateful night when we broke up, and I still can’t completely figure these questions out.

At times, late at night, near sleep, the troubles and the disagreements of a young couple in love in the summer of 1979 creep into my thoughts.  So many things I should have said… so many things I could have done differently.

Over time, I discovered that young love is the farthest thing from being simple.

It’s no different today. 

Men and women suffer alone, over the bad choices they’ve made earlier in life. 

Young girls will get their hearts broken. 

And young men, naive and full of confusion, full of fear, full of love and courage grow up stealthily in their sleep.

If Only I Had Enough Talent

When I was a kid, the thing I wished for most was to be talented. No. Not just talented. I wanted to be special. I wanted to stand out from the crowd. I wanted to change the world with something I could do. I wanted to be remembered in my hometown.  I wanted to be someone who “made it” in whatever I would choose to do and make my mark on the world that would be remembered for years after I was gone.

And I believed I could…

If only I had enough talent.

That longing lead me down paths that almost all of us have journeyed. Drawn to sports, art, and a short-lived stint in the choir in search of my place to belong.

FootballLike most boys growing up, I dreamt of being a professional athlete.  Playing a sport I loved and getting paid for it was just the ticket for the dreams of a young skinny kid from Oak Harbor, Ohio.

If I only had enough talent.

When you are 5’4″ as a sophomore and weighed a solid 95 lbs dressed in your footbbaseballall uniform with full pads and helmet… it was painfully obvious that football was not going to be in my future.  The fact that I grew 9 inches during the summer between my 10th and 11th grade years did not make the prospect of being a professional athlete any clearer.  Yes, I was 6′ 2″, but I also only weighed 130 lbs.  A strong wind could and would knock me over.

While I was not the worst player on any of the sports teams I played on.  The evidence was clear that I was not going to take Hank Aaron’s place in the Major Leagues, nor was I going to play for the Cleveland Brown’s at any time in my life.

I had always thought of myself to be artistic.  Why I thought that I have not a clue.  I have always loved to draw and be creative.  I tried to be artistic and there was a time I thought I was pretty good at it. Maybe I thought that because when I was in the fifth grade I won a first place    riLigerbbon at the Ottawa County Fair for a pencil drawing. I guess it gave me enough confidence that I convinced myself that I was talented.  That was until I compared my ability to those around me when I took art classes at Oak Harbor High SchoolI was suddenly made aware that my artistic ability was somewhere along the lines of Napoleon Dynamite’s when he drew a picture of a Liger.  Not so good.

If only I had enough talent.

Then there was the period in my life when I dreamed of what it would be like to be the lead singer of a band.  I mean I could sing all the notes of my favorite songmicrophone1s and bands when the music was blasting through the cheap speakers of my 1976 Ford Pinto.  It’s funny how we convince ourselves that we are as talented as our favorite singer we hear on our radio.  I mean who of us have never sang their heart out using a hair brush as a microphone?  The sad truth is that I found out how lacking of talent I truly was when I tried out to sing a solo for our choir concert. It was not pretty.

If I only had enough talent.

I have written numerous times about my search to find what my talent was in life and I have to admit, when I reflect back at my life, I am hard pressed to state exactly what my talent ever was.  I have had to come to terms that I will not be remembered.  Not even in the small town I was raised in.  I have not changed the world and for the most part the only true mark that I will ever make will be the slab of stone that my family puts up to mark my burial plot.

That being said… I think I have figured out why my mark on this earth is not what I thought it would be when I was Talent-Overrated-titledreaming of it as a child.  I think that talent is over-rated.  Yes…I said it.  Talent is over-rated.  Talent doesn’t matter that much in the real world. It’s a prerequisite to being average. It may open some doors, but it won’t keep them open for long. I’ve discovered in the real world, there’s something that’s far more important. Want to know what trumps talent every time?

Hard Work and Discipline.

I know, I know. They are ugly words! Even typing them makes me feel a pit in my stomach much like I feel when I have to pay my taxes each April. 

If we’re honest, we’ll all admit we should “be more disciplined”.  And it turns out that hard work is, well…hard.

Easier things are easier and usually more fun. So we put off the hard stuff for another day. And we busy ourselves with things we can argue are important, in an effort to avoid what we should actually be doing.

Relying soleHArd Workly on talent to get you through life can often lead to failure.  Why?  Because those that rely on their talent alone often fail to work hard enough to accomplish what they feel should have come easily.  They tend to avoid the discipline needed to overcome those areas in their life that are lacking.

It’s not our talent that sets us apart and opens the door to our future.  It’s our willingness and resolve to face the hard work, again and again – to get busy, not just with doing stuff, but with doing the stuff that moves us forward in our most important dreams and goals.

Like you, I lead a busy life; I can find an excuse when I need one. I can justify my bad choices and procrastination if I want to. But the deeper I get into life, the more I see and feel the price I paid avoiding the important things before me.  I am convinced that ata secret this point the reason no one will remember a skinny kid from Oak Harbor, Ohio is the fact that I never worked hard enough and disciplined myself to achieve all that I should have achieved.

Far too many times in my life, I have used excuses that would keep me from doing what I probably should have done.  I would say that I didn’t know what to do.  The truth is that I would choose to avoid the hard work and discipline it would take for me to overcome the obstacles that were placed in my way.

Yes, there are times in our life when we legitimately don’t know what to do. But too often, too many of us set up camp there when we were meant to just pass through. In time, we accept our excuses as truth and trade our energy for apathy. Eventually, we give up and settle in – far short of our potential, far less happy and fulfilled than we could be. And when we do, we tell ourselves we just didn’t have the talent, or the skill, or the knowledge to move forward. When the truth is… we simply did not want to work hard and discipline our lives enough to reach the goals we should have had in life.

So as I reflect on the fifty plus years of this life, I am drawn to challenge myself fopossibilityr what can be accomplished in this phase of my life. There is still time and there is still opportunity. More and more, I’m coming to realize that hard work and discipline isn’t an enemy out to shame me. It’s a friend with a key.

If you want to be special, If you want to stand out from the crowd and change the world by something that you do.

You can. All you need is enough… discipline and hard work in your life.

No, more than likely, I won’t ever be remembered in my hometown and the world will make little note of my passing.  But I believe that there is still more for me to do.  There are things I still want to accomplish in life.  Things I believe I can make the difference in.  These goals can be attained by instilling an attitude of hard work and discipline in my life.

The same can be said for you and the things left for you to accomplish.

And yet, there is a small part of me that still thinks that maybe this will be the year that I will get drafted by the Cleveland Brown’s…

If only I had enough talent.

When God Says No

This past week I have been praying for something very specific.  It didn’t happen.

noNow comes the normal response that of all of us ask as we question what God is doing. 

I prayed, why didn’t He answer?  I mean, this was really important to me, how could He not answer my prayer and do what I wanted?

Have you found yourself questioning God when He doesn’t answer your prayers? Have you found yourself questioning how  you can trust Him when He knew how important it was to you? Or find yourself saying, “Why pray at all if He doesn’t answer anyway?”

I’m sure you could add a dozen other questions to this list that you have asked as the plans and prayers you hoped for didn’t come true and didn’t materialize.

What is God doing?  What’s His plans for us?  How do we navigate this topic of prayer when often the things we ask for are very important to us?  Now what?  Can we trust Him?  Should I even pray for things again since He didn’t answer this prayer?  Doesn’t He know how important this was to me?

The emotions of unanswered prayer are intense.  The hoped for expectations that are crushed by a prayer unanswered are confusing.  Now what? Where do we go from here?

There are often no words for the emotions that follow an unanswered prayer.  Unanswered prayers make us ask questions…especially when He has invited us to ask!

For me, after many years of knowing God, I realized that often my dreams and visions are not the best thing for me…and so I trust God for his plans, his directions….but it’s hard, isn’t it?  It’s hard when we asked, we wanted, we hoped…and He replied with silence. God's No

But I have found that some of the greatest gifts that God has ever given me is NOT answering all of my prayers.  When He has said NO or simply did not give me a clear answer to my prayers, I have found that in those unanswered prayers, I have witnessed things working out better than I ever imagined.  God’s “No” is not a rejection, but rather a redirection.

I shudder to think what would have happened to me if God would have answered and gave me all that I have prayed for.  

The bottom line for all of this is simply this:  God loves us.  God is sovereign and His love, His plans, and His wisdom direct our lives for His glory and our good.  

It doesn’t mean we always get what we want.

Solomon wrote these words,

“The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.”

When God says “No” I rely on these truths:

God loves me.  He has my best interest in mind.  He has a plan for my life.  He’s sovereign.  I can trust Him to accomplish the best for me…..even when He says “No”.

In moments like this, when I don’t understand His “No” I go back to the verses that direct me when I don’t have answers…the verses that calm my confused and disheartened mind,

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.”