It’s OK to Not Be Ok – by Linda Augsburger Gingerich

Elisabeth Elliot, author and personal sufferer, defined suffering as “having what you don’t want and wanting what you don’t have”1.  In January of 2022 I began to experience severe anxiety and depression as I had not experienced before.  In 1989, I had received a diagnosis of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), and have been on medication for many years.  My symptoms, of which some were anxiety and depression, were drastically reduced.  I occasionally had small relapses where I needed medication adjustments, but nothing hit me so drastically as this episode of anxiety which affected my whole body.  It is hard to describe to someone what a true anxiety disorder feels like.  I felt it in my arms, my chest, my gut, my mind, my whole being. I felt as if I was in a constant adrenaline “flight or fight” mode.  This is what the body can do under severe stress. It remains in the Sympathetic Nervous System mode of flight or fight.  One can only remain in this state for so long without it eventually affecting all your body systems.

Interestingly enough, I retired from labor and delivery nursing in January 2022.  I had a major change in my routine and yes, even in my sense of worth and value.  It is amazing what such a change can create for many people.  By the end of January 2022, I had “what I didn’t want and wanted what I didn’t have.”  Peace, rest, and a sense of well-being.  I constantly felt unsettled and even depressed.  I wanted to stay away from everyone.

My first resort was to pray and ask God to bring relief and guide me into what was needed for my healing.  Since I had been on medication for OCD symptoms for many years, my next action was to determine if I needed a medication adjustment.  I sought out my psychiatric provider who prescribed a change. But that did not work.  I can’t even remember how many different medications I’ve tried over the last 2 years, to no avail.  I was not sleeping well at night which only made my days more difficult to endure.  So much activity was going on in my mind and body that resting for a nap during the day was impossible.

I was determined to do whatever I needed to do to bring relief to my mind and body.  I knew that God is the God of the impossible and that He could heal me.  But that prayer was slow in coming. I know that while on earth, Jesus did not always heal without asking the sick person to also do something.  A blind man needed to GO and wash the mud off his eyes.  A group of men with leprosy were told to GO and show themselves to the priest to verify their healing. A woman who had a bleeding issue for 12 years had to PUSH HERSELF through a crowd as an “unclean” woman who was not to be seen in public and she REACHED OUT to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe. She was instantly healed, but not without effort on her part.  Nauman, in the Old Testament, who had leprosy, was told by a prophet to GO dip in the river 7 times before he received his healing.

I began to investigate as many avenues as possible.  I made an appointment with my Gynecologist and had a panel of hormones tested to see if something was out of range.  I spent many sessions with a mental health therapist who led me through facing some of the trauma in my past and with God’s help coming to a resolve that his presence was in my life at all times, having a specific plan for me.  I adjusted my diet, eating what was good for me and avoiding the food triggers that added physical stress to my body.  I began to exercise on a more regular basis and get out in the sunlight for a few minutes each day.  I was already seeing my psychiatric provider to assess the medication effects. One of the avenues she used was to do a DNA profile to see which medications would work the best for me.  I continued to read the Bible and helpful books on anxiety, trusting God’s word that says, “whoever seeks will find.”  I felt at times it was no use, but I kept on.

It has been two years!!  Two long years!!  I am beginning to see the light at the end of a very dark tunnel.  I cannot say it has been just one of those avenues that began my healing, but I believe all of them have helped me get to where I am today.  I finally found a medication combination that is bringing relief. My body is not feeling the tingling sensations of the anxiety in my arms, and chest.  My mind is resting. My insides feel settled.  I am at peace with my past.  I can take a nap at midday.  And so very importantly, I have a husband who has prayed, out loud, for me daily and who has been in my corner, helping me set boundaries where I needed to, to protect my need for separation from busyness and people, so I could heal.  

My therapist shared three very helpful words NOT to use in my vocabulary.  WHY?” is the first word.  Instead of asking “Why is this happening to me?” I needed to ask “What can I do to change and how can I help myself in this journey?”  SHOULD is the second word because it correlates to shame and is detrimental to the nervous system.  The antidote to “I Should” is to say as possible, “I will…I can’t…I won’t or I can.”  The third word is BUT.”  For example, instead of saying, “I’m sad but I have to go to work.”  Find out the “HOW” I can take care of myself before going into work?  We need to be gentle with ourselves2.

In my case, I did not receive an instant healing.  God led me to many different avenues that all have been helpful in coming back to a homeostatic level.  But God has been with me and I thank my thoughtful, concerned and loving husband who has walked with me through this long journey. 

Some lessons along the way:

  • I am not a superhero – I’m human.
  • It takes time to process grief and loss, anger and pain.
  • I need to continuously take care of my mental and emotional health.
  • I need to sleep, and I need to heal.

And I know God promises to use all things we experience to bring about good…at some point in His time.  

I finally am having what I have been wanting!!!

 1 Elisabeth Elliot, Suffering Is Never for Nothing  (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2019), p. 9.

2 Brene’ Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

At our weekly staff meeting today, one of our next-generation leaders (less than half my age) spoke on one of our 12 Codes that we continuously cover, one at a time, week to week.  His specific assignment code was “We are Faith-Filled, Big ThinkersWe dream big, celebrate big, and take big risks because we serve a big God.”  He took us to Numbers 13 and the story of Moses sending a representative of each of the twelve tribes of Israel on a six-week covert mission to put real eyes on what this long-time promised land looked like.  They were given a lengthy checklist of things to report back to Moses. 

When the twelve returned, it was show and tell time. Everyone gathered around.  Affirmation was given that Canaan really was as promised, “a land flowing with milk and honey.”  And then verse 28 is the pivot.  A list of all the reasons why it was too hard, too expensive, too big a task, and too impossible.  But two people out of the twelve, whose names we most likely remember if we have heard the story more than a few times, disagreed: Caleb and Joshua.  The other 10, well, we don’t even remember their names. The majority said, “we can’t.”  The minority said, “we can.”

Pastor Brandon Holmes then spoke briefly about the majority of the 10 “we can’t” naysayers and how the rest of their lives must have been disappointing and unfulfilling.  They were not faith-filled, big thinkers.  They had nothing big to celebrate because they weren’t willing to take a big risk and they invested all of their time and energy in spreading discord and trying to convince everyone else why the risk was too great and the task was too tall. What a short-sighted and miserable way to exist.

I listened to the challenge of Pastor Brandon to our staff not to become comfortable with the amazing victories we see every week: radically transformed lives, five thousand people gathering weekly for worship, and thousands more who congregate at our family park and other types of events we host.  Yet, there are still tens of thousands in our city and beyond who haven’t been reached.  And, as I listened, I was ready to sign up… again!

This Easter weekend, 37 years ago, is when my wife and I publicly launched the church where I still serve on staff, Cape Christian.  And now, with the leadership successfully handed off to the generations behind me, I absolutely love to hear the same heart and vision birthed nearly four decades ago being boldly proclaimed to our team.  “We are Faith-Filled, Big Thinkers.”  In the middle of 10 scouts who are now only a footnote in the story, I am so encouraged to see a new generation of Caleb and Joshua’s who will stand up to the mediocre majority and declare “we can.”  While we were easily prepared for the 100 who showed up at that first Easter service in 1987, we are now enthusiastically primed for the possible 10,000 who may attend the seven services this Easter weekend.

Sign me up!  While I am partially retired and only a half-time pastoral staff member these days, I can’t wait to see the lives that will be eternally changed this weekend.  And, best of all, the next generation of leaders are incredible.  Our Lead Pastor, Cory Demmel and other executive leaders like Brandon are not only talented leaders and passionate about loving God and loving people, they are faith-filled, big thinkers.  They too are willing to be the minority who cast a vision that “we can” rather than make excuses for why “we can’t.”  And the reason I’m right behind them, supporting them, following them, and cheering them on, is because they have zero desire to settle for the fact that “we did it” for the last 37 years and should now rest on our many successes.  

Instead, they will not be satisfied with mediocre, middling, run-of-the-mill, average effort or results.  There is vision.  Our city continues to grow.  When we began the church, there were less than 50,000.  Now our city is over four times larger at 210,000.  And since we are faith-filled, big thinkers, we just might have an opportunity, in the next 37 years, to forever impact one more person, one more couple, one more family, one more generation. Sign me up…again!

QUESTION: Where in your life have you been the minority and stood up with a “We Can” posture while the minority said, “We Can’t”? I’d love to hear about it.

It is true. My birth certificate, passport and driver’s license all agree.  I’ve lived 7 decades.  Most of the time, I don’t feel like what I imagined 70 to feel like back when I was in my 50’s.  But, it is true. I’m there.  I could write 70 things I’ve learned in 70 years.  But you wouldn’t take the time to read them.  So, maybe you will read just these seven.

Live Authentically – The easiest thing to be in the world is yourself.  The hardest thing to be is what others want you to be or to try to mimic someone else. Your fingerprints are uniquely different from the other 8 billion people on this earth. Just be yourself.  Be in tune with your values and passions.  Learn what fulfills you.  Prioritize what brings you peace.  Self-awareness is one of the keys to living authentically.  

Live with Intentionality – Purposeless living is meaningless living.  I’ve spent at least the last 50 years being very intentional about my relationship to my wife, Linda.  Linda and I were intentional with parenting our three children.  We were purposeful about starting a church that had a clear mission and focus.  We’ve been deliberate about our health.  I’ve been specific as to how I would grow my photography skills.  I’ve embraced aging and planning for the legacy that I want to leave behind.  And by the way, intentionality should never be confused with intentions.  As Henry Ford said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.”   

Listening is a Key to Success – There are many aspects and measurements for success.  I could list a dozen  reasons that success follows some and not others.  But the top one is listening.  David Augsburger, my wife’s late uncle, wrote it this way: “Being heard is so close to being loved that, for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”  Leaders, parents, marriage partners, politicians and friends are successful when they learn how to carefully listen.  Listening to those different than you in age, views, values and beliefs. Listening matters. It really matters.

Love Unconditionally – This is how I’m loved by God. It is a life-long process of learning to accept and give that kind of love.  Love without strings attached is special.  Not based on what someone does for you in return, this love is selfless.  It’s the key to good mental, emotional and spiritual health.  Receiving and giving unconditional love provides a sense of security in both childhood and adulthood.  No human relationship is perfect.  So, accepting and giving unconditional love involves acceptance and forgiveness.  I’ve discovered that only God can ultimately give us the strength and inner resources to love this way.

Letting Go Can Be Better Than Hanging On – This can be counter intuitive.  We naturally want to hang on to the familiar and comfortable.  It takes courage and self-awareness that something is not serving us anymore.  For me, it started with a decision to either stay at home in Oregon and go to a local college or move across the country and attend college and seminary in Virginia.  While pastoring my first church in upstate New York, there was a decision to be made.  Do I persevere beyond the seven years of a difficult and toxic environment or let go of the familiar to move 1,300 miles away to an unfamiliar setting to live out a life-long dream of starting a new church with no guarantee of success?  Again, after more than two decades of unprecedented growth and success, should I let go of my lead role in the organization I started to let an untested younger leader lead?  No matter if it is parenting children into adulthood, leaving the younger years behind to embrace the unknown of middle or mature years, letting go has ultimately proven to be better than hanging on.  There is power in letting go.

Learn How to Grow Your Fruit On the Trees of Others – This is one of my greatest joys at this stage of my journey.  Tasting the fruit growing on the trees of my successors and younger leaders is the best.  Recently, I was awed to witness 20 of our top city leaders (city manager, fire chief, police chief, finance director, etc.) all listening to my successor teach on servant leadership at our monthly business leaders’ luncheon. For nearly three decades, I have planted seeds, watered them and tended to relationships with many of those leaders and their predecessors. Yet it was the growing connection of my successor with the current city manager that led him to bring his entire executive team to grow their leadership skills at our church.  To know that I planted seeds that have grown into productive fruit-bearing nourishment for our top city leaders and thousands of others every weekend is so much better than the limits of keeping it all for myelf and doing it all myself.

Live With the End in Mind – Not just now at age 70, but for several decades, I’ve been asking this question of myself and many others at funerals I lead: “What do you want to be remembered for as a spouse, parent, grandparent, neighbor, leader?”  You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you could make decisions today that may very well change the ending.  If you only live out of your default mode, you may not be remembered for what you wish. Forward-thinking legacy-leaving individuals and leaders plan for both their future and the future of things and people they value.  As a labor/delivery nurse for 33 years, my wife Linda, always encouraged her new parents upon discharge from the birth center to remember “the future is in your hands.”  What outcomes do I want for this child, this family, this job, this role?  Habit number two of Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” is to begin with the end in mind.  This learning is pivotal for your physical, mental, emotional, relational and spiritual health.  It may sound obvious, but if you don’t have an end goal in mind, how on earth are you going to get there?

These seven learnings above, have brought me to a place of great contentment, inner peace, and satisfaction at this point of my journey.  Whether I have two years or two decades left in my journey, I’m filled with confidence that I’ve lived out God’s purpose for me well, I’ve left a significant contribution to those around me, and I have no regrets. So, on to the next decade of purposeful living!

QUESTIONS or COMMENTS? Take a moment and let me know if you have any learnings to add or any questions about the seven I’ve included.

On this day, 37 years ago, our family arrived in Cape Coral, Florida on a dream and a prayer.  The dream was to fulfill a calling that had started more than a decade before.  The dream was to start and build a church whose mission was to lead people to Jesus Christ and help them discover who God created them to be. The dream was targeted toward reaching young unchurched families through using contemporary worship, relevant down-to-earth messages in welcoming and engaging, age-appropriate environments.

May 1986 move to Florida

Our prayer on this day nearly four decades ago was from Ephesians 3:14-21: 14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

A dream and a prayer.  Both have been critically important to the successes of the last 37 years. And, we have lived long enough to learn that dreams take time and dreams take work.  We totally understand that it’s complex, challenging and requires large doses of grit to see a dream come true.  But that is where the second and more important half of the equation comes in.  An ongoing daily prayer of humble awareness that a dream is lived out in the power of God’s strength, His love, and His fullness.  And we are most grateful that He has done immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine.  

We are so blessed.  Thirty-seven years later, our young children have young children of their own.  Cape Christian is now led by extraordinary leaders that were young children or only a dream of their parents when the church was launched.  We now have six services every weekend that gather over four thousand people from across Southwest Florida to worship and grow in their love of God and love of people.  The fourteen-acre campus is open 365 days a year as a place the families of our community can gather in the park to play together and connect with each other.  And the best part:  every week, we hear powerful stories of life transformation, family restorations, acts of service for our community, and generosity of time, talent and treasure for the world.

 The dream is still alive.  There are still future dreams and prayers in the hearts of the young leaders.  The potential is bright.  A larger worship center to serve our growing community.  More campuses in surrounding cities.  Greater generosity to bless others as we have been blessed.  The dream of God is still being revealed and lived out.

Thank you for your prayers.  As they were needed decades ago, they are still needed today.  And tomorrow.  We appreciate all of those who have partnered with us in prayer and in rolling up your sleeves to help us live out the dream over the last several decades.  While my wife Linda and I embodied and led the dream into reality, we certainly didn’t do it alone.  With the help of so many of you and with the strength, wisdom and power of God, we are living out a God-given dream.  We are grateful and blessed. 

Nearly 20 years ago, I made a decision.  I chose to create a leadership succession plan for the organization I founded. Very close to committing myself to follow Jesus, marrying my wife and starting Cape Christian, this decision is one of my very best!  I recently passed the 14-year mark since I implemented that succession plan. Here are some reflections.

Intentional Legacy-Leaving is Rewarding – Tom Mullins, author of Passing the Leadership Baton wrote, “A transition will be one of the greatest tests of your leadership, but it will also serve as one of the greatest rewards and testimonies of your legacy.”  That is truth.  Real. Truth.  There have been a few tests along the path.  But so many more rewards than tests.

Level-Five Leadership is the Pinnacle – Jim Collins, John Maxwell and others speak and write about the pyramid of leadership that peaks at level 5 where you serve others, empower those under you, give away leadership, hand credit to the team, take responsibility for failures and demonstrate deep humility. I’ve diligently pursued the quest to climb to the top.  Planning and executing a succession plan has been so fulfilling and fruitful because the organization I founded has excelled in ways I had only dreamed of.  Level 5 leadership is worth chasing.

Long-Term Success is Superior to Short-Term Wins – Twenty years into starting and leading a church, I dreamed of building an organization that would outlive me.  I dreamed of a church that would go faster and further after I was out of the driver’s seat than when I was in it. Now, 14 years and three successors later, I can attest to the fact that those first two decades of many small wins have been far surpassed by the long-term success of an organization that is now ready for the long-haul.  

The Mission is Bigger Than Me – I said and meant it early in my leadership journey.  But it’s different to fully grasp it.  To start something and lead something that is much bigger than me and won’t end with me brings such a sense of contentment and significance to me.  There’s nothing more humbling and fulfilling.

Maximizing Your Impact Means Minimizing Your Ego – The greater you hope your impact to be, the more you will have to fight against your ego.  Those two are mutually exclusive. You can have great impact and a great ego.  But I would contend, your impact will soar upward in almost direct proportion to your ego going downward.  Humility is the doorway to maximum impact.

It’s Harder Than It Looks – So many people have told me, “I couldn’t do what you’ve done.  I’m just not wired that way” when they’ve heard our succession story.  Is it easy?  No.  Is it possible?  Yes.  There is a bigger vision and there are daily choices to make.  In spite of the way I’m wired, I can choose to be rewired by the Holy Spirit and have the same mindset as Jesus (see Philippians 2:5-8).  I can choose to humble myself.  I can choose to be a servant.  I can choose to not be offended if I’m not honored in the way I would prefer.  I can choose to kneel and wash someone one else’s feet as Jesus did (John 13).  I can choose to leave a legacy.  

My Fruit Tastes Better on the Trees of Others – I have always loved Bob Buford’s desire to have his “fruit to grow on other people’s trees.”  Seeing the results of leadership development and the establishment of a culture of an intentional mission and purpose doesn’t just look nice on the trees of others, it even tastes better.  I especially love the fruit of what I’ve planted when I see it coming off the trees of my successors and bringing nourishment and joy to thousands.  That is even more satisfying than when they used to feast on what I produced.   

Forward-thinking legacy-leaving leaders plan for both their future and for the future of the business, non-profit or church they lead.  

QUESTION: Which one of the 7 do you find the hardest and which one do you find the easiest? (Leave a comment.)

The Above Topic Will be Shared on this “Daily Faith” TV Show

Nearly 20 years ago, I made a decision.  I chose to create a leadership succession plan for the organization I founded. Very close to committing myself to follow Jesus, marrying my wife and starting Cape Christian, this decision is one of my very best!  I recently passed the 14-year mark since I implemented that succession plan. Here are some reflections.

Intentional Legacy-Leaving is Rewarding – Tom Mullins, author of Passing the Leadership Baton wrote, “A transition will be one of the greatest tests of your leadership, but it will also serve as one of the greatest rewards and testimonies of your legacy.”  That is truth.  Real. Truth.  There have been a few tests along the path.  But so many more rewards than tests.

Level-Five Leadership is the Pinnacle – Jim Collins, John Maxwell and others speak and write about the pyramid of leadership that peaks at level 5 where you serve others, empower those under you, give away leadership, hand credit to the team, take responsibility for failures and demonstrate deep humility. I’ve diligently pursued the quest to climb to the top.  Planning and executing a succession plan has been so fulfilling and fruitful because the organization I founded has excelled in ways I had only dreamed of.  Level 5 leadership is worth chasing.

Long-Term Success is Superior to Short-Term Wins – Twenty years into starting and leading a church, I dreamed of building an organization that would outlive me.  I dreamed of a church that would go faster and further after I was out of the driver’s seat than when I was in it. Now, 14 years and three successors later, I can attest to the fact that those first two decades of many small wins have been far surpassed by the long-term success of an organization that is now ready for the long-haul.  

The Mission is Bigger Than Me – I said and meant it early in my leadership journey.  But it’s different to fully grasp it.  To start something and lead something that is much bigger than me and won’t end with me brings such a sense of contentment and significance to me.  There’s nothing more humbling and fulfilling.

Maximizing Your Impact Means Minimizing Your Ego – The greater you hope your impact to be, the more you will have to fight against your ego.  Those two are mutually exclusive. You can have great impact and a great ego.  But I would contend, your impact will soar upward in almost direct proportion to your ego going downward.  Humility is the doorway to maximum impact.

It’s Harder Than It Looks – So many people have told me, “I couldn’t do what you’ve done.  I’m just not wired that way” when they’ve heard our succession story.  Is it easy?  No.  Is it possible?  Yes.  There is a bigger vision and there are daily choices to make.  In spite of the way I’m wired, I can choose to be rewired by the Holy Spirit and have the same mindset as Jesus (see Philippians 2:5-8).  I can choose to humble myself.  I can choose to be a servant.  I can choose to not be offended if I’m not honored in the way I would prefer.  I can choose to kneel and wash someone one else’s feet as Jesus did (John 13).  I can choose to leave a legacy.  

My Fruit Tastes Better on the Trees of Others – I have always loved Bob Buford’s desire to have his “fruit to grow on other people’s trees.”  Seeing the results of leadership development and the establishment of a culture of an intentional mission and purpose doesn’t just look nice on the trees of others, it even tastes better.  I especially love the fruit of what I’ve planted when I see it coming off the trees of my successors and bringing nourishment and joy to thousands.  That is even more satisfying than when they used to feast on what I produced.   

Forward-thinking legacy-leaving leaders plan for both their future and for the future of the business, non-profit or church they lead.  

QUESTION: Which one of the 7 do you find the hardest and which one do you find the easiest? (Leave a comment.)

The Above Topic Will be Shared on this “Daily Faith” TV Show

It matters.  It really matters.  I was in a place of business this morning where I’ve been going every three to four weeks for over seven years now.  While there, I even debated in my mind about ever returning.  So the jury in my mind is still out.  Will I return or will I find another similar business with a different culture?  I like the quality of the service I get at this business, but I hated the environment I was trapped in for twenty minutes.

Here’s the deal.  I had an appointment at the above referenced business to get a necessary service.  Normally, in and out in less than a half hour.  But, I didn’t go there to hear an employee walk in and immediately start to complain about another employee calling off and cancelling all of her appointments for the day.  I didn’t go there to hear one employee gripe about the manager who doesn’t do her job to this employee’s standard.  I didn’t go there to hear this same employee tell another employee to just let the phone ring because they were too busy already without the missing employee and the absent manager.  I just went to get a needed service.

Culture matters.  The tone of your business or organization matters.  Achievers.com defines culture as “the collection of values, expectations, and practices that guide and inform the actions of all team members.”  And we shouldn’t confuse culture with a mission statement or goals.  Culture is created through consistent and authentic behaviors, not slogans on the wall or statements on a website.

Our Staff Code On My Office Wall

Speak life.  It matters.  While it is one of our ten codes for our team at the organization I founded, it’s not just a wall plague. From what I hear and observe, we actually live it.  It is a part of our culture.  We are encouragers, truth speakers, grace givers and gossip intolerant in a “help me to understand” community.  We work hard at giving the benefit of the doubt. We speak life. 

Words matter.  Words are not simply the sounds caused by our mouths shaping air passing through our larynx.  Words are not just letters on a piece of paper or shapes on a screen.  I believe words matter, in private and in public.  I am convinced that words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble. Of all the creatures on this planet, only humans have the ability to communicate through spoken or written words.  Then to use words, is a unique and powerful gift from God.

The Writer of Proverbs tells us that words have the power to destroy and the power to build up (Proverbs 12:6). “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat it’s fruit” (Proverbs 18:21). In other words, our words do so much more than just convey information.  They can burden one’s spirit, stir up hatred and violence, exacerbate or inflict wounds.  Or they can build up, soothe, heal, comfort and bring life.  

How are you using your words today?  At work?  On social media?  To your family? Are you using words to build up people or destroy them?  Are they filled with hate or love, bitterness or blessing, complaining or compliments, lust or love, victory or defeat?  Jesus reminds us that the words we speak are actually the overflow of our hearts (Matthew 12:33-37).  That’s sobering.  Especially when Jesus says I’ll be judged by the words that come out of my mouth. Ouch! And, because I’m an imperfect person and believe in giving the “benefit of the doubt,” I actually decided while writing this blog that I will go back to the business in the future.

Speak life.  It matters.

One of the greatest things about my vocation is that I get a front-row seat to witness life change and transformation. As a pastor, I frequently get to see and hear first-hand stories of the before and after. Once I was that… Now I am this. In the quiet of my office, I’ve heard sordid confessions of an all sorts of decadence. I’m grateful for a measure of grace-filled forgetfulness that allows me to unremember a lot of things and not to hang on to all the sleazy details.  But the very best is to see those same individuals or couples walking a whole new path of integrity, honor and uprightness.

One of my favorite YouTube videos is the blue minivan on a narrow treacherous mountain road that makes a 23-point turn to go the opposite way.  Take a look… https://youtu.be/YECeEGBe-kY .  Incredible.  Breath-taking. Scary.  Terrifying.  Death-defying.  Whatever word or phrase you choose, would be accurate.  The point is, he lived to tell about it.  And, it was a complete turnaround

In Apostle Paul’s first-century writings to the followers of Jesus who lived in the city of Corinth, he wrote about some very gnarly and bizarre situations that had happened in their past, including a son having an incestuous relationship with his dad’s wife.  The lengthy list of negative and egregious behaviors in 1 Corinthians 5 and 6 also include swindling, adultery, idol worship, deceit, greed, slander, drunkenness and more.  Yet I love these words at the before and after junction as described in 1 Corinthians 6:11, “And that is what some of you were.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Turn around. It can happen. And it isn’t because you have amazing driving skills or no fear of falling off the cliff.  And yes, I’ve seen a few course corrections due to the hard efforts of disciplined and focused people.  I’ve witnessed individuals adjusting the direction of their lives to improve themselves and avoid disastrous consequences.  But the biggest turn arounds?  They happen because of a much higher power.  God Himself displays His supernatural power to cleanse, set apart as holy, purify, transform, redeem, and justify the once very unholy person who asks for help.  I’ve witnessed it over and over again.  I never get tired of seeing it.  The truth is, I’m addicted to seeing lives change.  Yet, the transformational power of God’s grace is always awe-inspiring to me.  I never want to take it for granted even though I get to be an onlooker on a regular basis.

And by the way, if you are heading in a wrong direction or a dangerous and treacherous road and you need to turn around?  It’s never too late.  It won’t depend on your skill at the wheel.  Let God do what only God can do.  He’s the one who can transform and make new.  The Creator of the world can make you a new creation.  In his second letter to the community of Corinth in southern Greece, Apostle Paul wrote this truth:  “…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT). 

QUESTION: What stories of transformation have you seen in others or in your own life?  I’d love to hear more in the comments below.

Comments Off on Never Too Late

Since this is the next-to-the-top viewed (over 3,000 times) of all my nearly 300 posts over the last decade, I thought it might be good for a rerun. Happy Valentine’s Day 2023!

According to Hallmark’s research department, 145 million cards will be exchanged, making Valentine’s Day the second-most popular greeting-card-giving occasion. This total excludes packaged kids valentines for classroom exchanges which, when included, goes up to 1 billion cards.  I can’t find the numbers now but way back in 2010, an additional estimated 15 million e-cards were sent. An interesting tidbit is that Valentine’s Day is a procrastinator’s delight. Over 50% of all Valentine’s Day cards are purchased in the six days prior to the observance.

Valentine's Day

And while we are on fun facts about Valentines, did you know there are more than 40,000 Americans employed at chocolate companies. Why so many? Because we will buy 58 million pounds of chocolate for Valentine’s Day according to sweet-tooth researchers. That doesn’t include the unknown amount of chocolate consumed in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia—because they also celebrate Valentine’s Day.

There’s quite a bit of mystery surrounding the history of Valentine’s Day and the story of its patron saint. We know that February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that St. Valentine’s Day contains both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. The holiday began as a liturgical celebration of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus. The most popular legend is that Saint Valentine was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. Related to this legendary account of St. Valentine, during his imprisonment he is said to have healed the daughter of the jailer and before his execution in AD 269, he wrote a note “from your Valentine” as a farewell to her.

The association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love grew in the Middle Ages and on through the 15th century when the tradition of courtly love flourished and Geoffrey Chaucer wrote romantic poetry and linked it to February 14 when St. Valentine was being honored in the Catholic Church.  The day evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, candy or sending greetings cards, known as “valentines.” Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards. And, over the centuries as Valentine’s Day was celebrated in various countries and traditions, hearts, roses, love birds, and cupids were woven into the symbolism and traditions.

As a pastor, I’ve had the privilege of doing two Valentine weddings on the same day, and many other weddings and vow renewals on this special day. Let’s certainly not lose this tradition of romance and expressing love to each other.

Praying Hands Couple

But let me suggest that we consider investing in our relationships with our significant others throughout the entire year and not just one day. Express love daily to your spouse, your children, your grandchildren, family members and friends. Acts of sacrificial love like St. Valentine demonstrated are just as powerful the other 364 days of the year. Cards, flowers and chocolate will be welcomed by most people any day of the year—especially when it is unexpected and for no particular “reason.” And let me give you guys a couple hints:  roses are significantly cheaper outside the week of Valentine’s Day and one rose each month is often more appreciated than a dozen on Valentine’s Day. Happy Valentine’s Day!

QUESTION: What suggestions do you have to add to the significance of Valentine’s Day? Share them in the Comment section below.

Survivor’s Guilt is Real. I’ve never survived a severe trauma such as a major accident where others died. But as a pastor and a police chaplain for many decades, I have spent time listening to survivors of incredible trauma (Holocaust survivors, war veterans, air-plane crash survivors, natural disaster survivors) describe the guilt they feel and the many questions they have about why they are still alive.  My story isn’t dramatic.  But none the less, I felt a few of the same emotions that I’ve heard expressed.

I Survived Hurricane Ian. Actually. I was out of the country during the hurricane.  I was on a one month sabbatical.  I was enjoying the beauty of traveling across Italy.  On top of it all, I came back to a nearly perfect unshuttered house and yard.  No trees down.  No storm surge.  Screened lanai undamaged. No roof leaks.  Only beat-up shrubs and one roof tile cap missing but even that was found unbroken in the front yard.  I was utterly amazed at how unscathed our home was.  Even our two melodious wind chimes hanging off our lanai, were safely nestled in the rain gutter above the lanai.

But Our Neighbors and Friends? Badly damaged roofs.  Trees uprooted.  Homes flooded.  Boats sunk. Cars underwater. Businesses demolished.  All their earthly belongings destroyed.  Homes unlivable.  Some were traumatized by nine hours of hiding in a closet.  Others watched neighbors die.  One friend I visited in the hospital was trapped under heavy furniture for four days and then had his toes, foot, and ankle amputated. And finally, after the fifth surgery in 10 days, he showed me the stub of his leg… amputated just below his knee. 

Why Me, I Asked? There are many possible answers.  Some are so-so.  Some are very bad views of the way God works.  Some make others feel inferior and devalued.  So I choose not to try to figure out the “whys” of the situation.  Instead, a month post-hurricane, I daily choose the “what” of the situation.

Here are four things I’ve found to be helpful:

  • ACKNOWLEDGEMENT – I just call it what it is.  I have felt a level of survivor’s guilt.  And then I make a choice to shift my perspective.  I move from guilt to the reality of the situation.  I need not have any shame for choosing nine months earlier to be gone on September 28, 2022.  I do not need to feel guilty for having no damage.  It was what it was.  It is what it is.  And it will be what it will be.  
  • GRATITUDE – I daily choose to be grateful that I didn’t return home to find a heap of debris.  I’m grateful that I have the physical energy and emotional reserves to serve others who have been devastated by the storm. I don’t have my own problems of fatigue and depression to deal with.  I’m grateful that I don’t have to spend hours on the phone daily trying to schedule adjusters, contractors and more to clean up and fix a mess.  I choose gratitude that all my landscape trees and plants are budding and on their way to thriving again.  I choose to give thanks when I see a butterfly flitting by or when I hear the twitter of migrating birds arriving to their winter sanctuary.
  • COMPASSION – I choose to find to find ways to show compassion to those who have had extreme loss.  I choose to carefully listen to their stories of trauma.  I choose to try to identify with the depths of their fatigue and stress.  I choose to intentionally value the things that are more important than my stuff.  I choose to do my best to be patient on the road with all of the hurried work trucks trying to get to the next hurricane clean-up job.  I choose to not join the gripers who complain daily about the debris not being cleaned up in front of our homes.  
  • GENEROSITY – I choose to give my time, my talent and my treasure to those who have greater needs than I do right now.  It’s my choice to refuse to allow my neighbor to refill my gas cans that he borrowed to keep his generator running.  I’m grateful that I had an unused generator in my garage that my neighbor could use when his generator died a couple days post-hurricane.  I choose to give to disaster relief efforts.  I choose to give an extra-large tip to the server who missed several days of work due to the power outages.  I choose to pay the extra dental bill of a monthly-sponsored teenager in a Bolivian orphanage because I have no large insurance deductibles to pay.  I choose generosity because I’ve been given the gift of survival.

So there you go. I can attest that Survivor’s Guilt is real, even though my case is a mild one compared to what some others have had to deal with.  And, so much of life is about choices.  In this case, choices to deal with the negative and bad in life and choices to respond to positive and good things in our lives.  I’m grateful for choices.  At all times.  Concerning all things. 

QUESTION: Have you ever had Survivor’s Guilt and what additional things could you add in dealing with it?  (Please a comment below).  Thanks.