Written by George A Dear Personal Friend…
To save the souls of men.
We are at the baseball game, the bases are loaded! Bottom of the 9th. Last game of the world series. The score, they are winning by 3 points. One more home run and we win the game. The stadium is at maximum capacity. The crowd is going nuts! Everyone is yelling and screaming in excitement! Then I get up to bat and what happens? A silence falls upon the stadium. The pitcher throws the first ball, Strike 1! The crowd goes crazy! How could he have missed that? Come on pitcher… Throw it right! Then…Silence… the pitcher winds up and…Strike 2! What is this? Come on keep your eye on the ball, the crowd is screaming! This is it… Final throw for the game. Then I step back, look to the sky and in my mind I say, this is it God, if I miss this one, its over. The crowd will boo me, my team is gonna hate me, my career in major league baseball is over. Please be with me, I pray. I step back into the batters box, I look out toward my fellow players on the bases. Looking towards the outfield. I see the perfect spot, it’s in between the center and left outfielders. It’s wide open. That’s where I need to hit the ball. Then, I look at the pitcher. He is winding up, he is about to release the ball. As he does, in slow motion, I’m praying, God, please let me hit this ball. The ball gets closer. God, Ill do anything you want. Just say it! Now it’s even closer. I’m your guy God. Closer! Just please let me hit this ball. About this time, I start forward with my bat. I’m in mid-swing and I screams out to God, Please God Give Me The Strength to Hit it! About that time, the ball is right over the plate, the ball comes in contact with the bat. There is a huge loud Smack! The sound resignate threw the air. I hit it God! Now, I gotta run! God please help me get to first base. I’m almost there, what are they yelling? My coach is screaming at me, what? Go to the next base? Why? Ok, I’m not stopping to ask why. So as I start to second base, I hear him yell, Go Boy Go!. I get to second base and I look down to the coach at the 3rd base. Why is he waving me on? Come on he is saying. Why? Ok, so I keep running. Harder and harder towards 3rd base. I get near third base and I hear him yelling, Keep Going Boy! Keep going!! As I head towards home plate, I see the other teams catcher and umpire looking at me! Why are they staring at me? About this time I notice the crowd is going absolutely crazy. What is going on? Why? As I near home plate, I don’t hear the coach yelling slide? Why? Am I just gonna run across the base? About that time, the other team’s catcher steps back. Oh no, he’s gonna catch the ball and tag me out! Why God? Why did you let me get this far to have me out? Why? About that time I cross home plate. I slow down and listen… What? What are they yelling? What’s on the big score board? Huh? Then I stop and look… HOME RUN? How? I’ve not hit a home run in months, no a couple years! How? Why? What??? My team is running out jumping up and down! Everyone is going absolutely crazy! Then I remembered. I had ask God for help! As they all near me, I drop to my knees, tears by now running down my face and scream out… Thank You God! As I kneel there sobbing, my mind goes back to that day when I was in high school and my Dad had been in a car wreck and he was laying on the hospital bed dying. The doctors had given us no hope that he would survive. I touched my dad’s hand and cried, Please God, Please let my Daddy live. I’ll do anything, just please let him live. I look up, Dad is jumping up and down clapping in the stands. As I stand up, sobbing, I glance to my wife, she is holding our baby girl. The same one that before she was born, the doctors said she would only live maybe a couple minutes, if not seconds. But she is alive and perfectly healthy. I begged and prayed for the last 4 months of the pregnancy, God, Ill do anything, just please let my baby girl live. God Anything! As my team is now lifting me onto their shoulders, my mind flashes to that night that I was flying with my team last week and we went threw the thunderstorm, just about that time, lightening struck our plane. As we began to descend quickly, I remembered, please God, Please don’t let me dye here. I wanna hold my baby girl one more time. About that time, the pilots regained control. As they are carrying me around now, the hero of the night. I look down, the bat I had swung was broke in two. How did that happen? The crowd was not calming down. After awhile, we all walked into the locker room. After I stopped and regained my composure, I yelled out, Hey Guys, Listen Up! As I stood there and shared what had happened and how that God had answered so many prayers in my life. I asked the team to join me in a thankful prayer. We all knelt down and I began to pray. Thank you God … I continued the prayer … Amen. Showers were over, some are walking out of the locker room headed for their cars, when one of my teammates come from behind and takes my arm. Hey Dude. I turned and looked at him. I saw tears in his eyes. I said, Hey man, whats up? So you really believe in this Jesus dude? Yes, I do man. Did he really answer your prayer about your dad back then? Yes he did buddy. Man, I remember all that stuff with your daughter. I thought the doctors just goofed up. It was really him that did it? I looked at him and said, Do you not know this man who saved us last week on the plane? That was him too? Yes, it was. No dude, I don’t. Where do I meet this Jesus Guy? I looked at him and said, Right here man. As we sat down on the bench, I had the opportunity to lead my team mate to Jesus. It turned his life around. He today is a pastor at a church in our town. It was later the next season that he and I both got to tell our stories to the new team mates. Three of them came to know the Lord that day. As I lay here an old man, I look back over my life all these times and I see the number of times that Christ saved my life and allowed me to share Him with others around me. I close my eyes and I hear a voice saying, Well done my good and faithful servant, welcome home.
God, I thank you for my friends and family. I thank you that you have answered so many prayers in my life. You have protected me beyond what anyone can imagine. You are such an awesome God. I pray that my life can be like this man in the story. A testimony of your love, grace and power. Thank you again God for loving and protecting me. In Your Holy Name I Pray, Amen.
Then you took my hand. Transformation began. Commotion where it once was still. Fireworks explode. Front row tickets to the show. This hand I will never let it go.
True transformation. What a concept. Fireworks…Wow!
In our family, we affectionately call this “love bursts.” My husband and I refer to experiences with God—the little every day moments and the big hard to ignore events—as places that are “opening up my heart space.” We try to stop and just be aware of these things. We use “being present” as a guide: holding onto what is reflecting our true nature and letting go of what is not.
The first time I heard the above song, in a movie, it opened up my heart space. I immediately connected it to the most beautiful parts of life—intimacy with God. True transformation, that feels like “front row tickets” to what God is doing in the world, first starts in me.
I also refer to this as going to wide open places. I think we all know what it’s like to be in a closed place on the inside. It could be due to secrets, grief, or bitterness; but we feel small, alone, and closed off. We also have experienced those places of freedom, where we somehow let go of all the “extras” and were just present in experiencing the pure joy of the moment. Something big like a child being born or something small like a great song at a concert that makes us get up and dance.
The journey of life often includes some of the dry, dead stuff which turns into a fireworks show: front row tickets to what the Divine is doing and the Trinity’s ever present invitation for me to participate.
However true, this does not mean everything in my life is sweet sailing.
This past year has been one of mountain top highs (first child and only daughter getting married) and deep valley lows (my parents, married 50 years, navigating betrayal and separation). I am acquainted with feeling overwhelmed with the grief or anxiety due to unfulfilled expectations, an empty nest, disappointing others, and a variety of other things.
My friend described this once as holding joy and sorrow at the same time. I surely know this to be true.
Transformation is about what is going on inside of us much more than what is going on around us. It is embracing what is real. It is often letting go of the old to grab onto something new that God is showing us.
And in the dark places, when life feels hard or chaotic, and I question what is real, it means holding on to the “deeper yeses” I read about in a recent meditation:
Transformation usually includes a disconcerting reorientation. Change can either help people to find a new meaning, or it can cause people to close down and turn bitter. The difference is determined by the quality of our inner life, or what we call “spirituality.” Change of itself just happens; spiritual transformation is an active process of letting go, living in the confusing dark space for a while, and allowing yourself to be spit up on a new and unexpected shore. You can see why Jonah in the belly of the whale is such an important symbol for many Jews and Christians.
In the moments of insecurity and crisis, “shoulds” and “oughts” don’t really help; they just increase the shame, guilt, pressure, and likelihood of backsliding. It’s the deep “yeses” that carry you through. Focusing on something you absolutely believe in, that you’re committed to, will help you wait it out.
Bigger and Better
Have you ever played the bigger and better game? It’s a kids game where you start with something small, and you go from door to door exchanging it for something bigger. You have to let go of what is smaller to grab onto the next, bigger and better thing. I think transformation always involves letting go of something smaller for something “bigger and better” that God has for me in my understanding, emotions, and behavior.
I like to call this living spirituality. I know what dead spirituality is and this doesn’t just mean boring (although that is a thing). It can be a spirituality that looks very much alive and demonstrative but lacks the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). In fact, at times I see evidence of this around me and often in me.
An example of this from my life involves following rules. I know what it is to follow the rules. I grew up as a pretty good rule-follower. This goes all the way back to my first memories: “I have to be good. I have to be loving to others. I have to love God. I have to read my Bible, pray, tithe, go to church…”
It looked like the rules I needed to follow were sometimes more important than experiencing a relationship with God and the unconditional love of Christ. At best, it was some transformation. At worst, it was something false but I didn’t see it. Nevertheless, I don’t want to live with partial transformation anymore. I try to curiously observe and let go of anything that looks, talks, or smells like conformity, for something better. If it quacks like a duck, I ain’t doin’ it!
Life sometimes throws us curveballs, and there’s nothing quite like the betrayal of a spouse to blow up your “God box” into a million scattered pieces.
My construct—my belief in God, myself, my spouse, every pastor, person, and maybe stranger—was suddenly up for debate. Everything became suspect.
The day I took my wedding pictures off the wall (let’s say they were getting outdated anyway because, you know, the 80s), in my mind I saw them shattered on the ground. Okay, more like blown up by a bomb. This was a clear time my God-box was blown up. Although it was difficult, it helped me start over and let go of many things I did because I thought I was supposed to.
When this happened, I didn’t sweep up the pieces and throw them away in the trash. Instead, I kept all the pieces. Over time, I looked at them carefully and slowly chose what I would keep and what didn’t serve a purpose in my life anymore.
I’m the kind of person who gets a little (or a lot) angry at God and has those really strong conversations with Him, so that’s exactly what I did. At the time, I lacked understanding of sexual addiction and where to find support. So much of it didn’t make sense: my marriage, my relationship, and my understanding of God. And when my life felt shattered, I wanted to only pick back up the things that were real, that I truly believe in, and that are essential to my faith.
I believe I have been sifting through this brokenness continually over the past 20 years, since the beginning of my adult life and throughout my recovery journey. All of this has taken me to a much more healed and grateful place.
Throughout this process, what I picked back up included some of the same things but with a completely different motivation. On the outside, my life might not look a whole lot different (remember I am good at following “the rules”). But on the inside, it’s lived more often from a place of transformation rather than conformity.
Here’s another thing that helped me with this process. One morning when my husband was speaking, he used the term “faith community” when referring to our church. This changed my perspective. For me, attending a local church is a part of a faith community, but so is my Betrayal & Beyond group, grief class, family and extended family, conversation with a friend, a 12-step group—really, any time I get together with another person or a group of people (where two or more are gathered, Matthew 18:20).
True transformation comes from relationship: being open and honest in the context of community. If you are going to Sunday morning service once a week and you don’t have a way of opening up your heart to others (and multiple ways is even better), then I believe you are missing a key part of transformation.
I’ve now seen enough of what doesn’t work in my life to recognize that I only really want what does work. I want true transformation. I believe most of us do. We just don’t always know how to get there, or we don’t have the support or tools to take the sometimes really, really hard next step. In recovery, this is often referred to as doing “the next right thing.”
Not behavior modification but repentance (metanoia): changing the way you think—about yourself, God, and others. Really, it’s a response to love.
I can try to transform; in fact, I have surely done this in many ways.
Do you want to know why I can truly see the gifts that walking through betrayal in my marriage brought me? Experiencing true transformation? The aftermath of suddenly having my whole world explode—not in the beautiful fireworks kind of way but more like the “roadkill” kind of way—gave me a new perspective; seeing the path that led toward transformation and my own recovery.
We are all in recovery because we are all human. And we’re not only in recovery for 2-5 years. Best case scenario is that we are in recovery for a lifetime. What else is this journey about? Restoring us to our true self, to the very image of God that is stamped inside each one of us.
And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.
2 Corinthians 5:18 NLT
This is now a regular part of my relationship with God—the Divine just keeps breaking out of the box I put the Father, Son, and Spirit into! It helps me to imagine something bigger than myself, so amazing that I can’t fully understand it.
What can I say, I’m a work in progress. I know you are too. We are all human, and…
…we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
2 Corinthians 3:18 NKJV
This is such a beautiful picture of true transformation.
To transform is to become more and more changed into the very character and nature of God. It is the process of becoming who we were designed to be.
It is where we find lasting freedom.
By Trevor Winsor of Pure Desire Ministries
I yelled at my son.
Not like a, “I raised my voice at him,” type of yell. I’m talking, “At the top of my lungs, spit coming out of my mouth, he has a terrified look on his face” type of yell.
The shame I felt right after…wow.
It only took three and a half years. I finally did it.
Nine months into 2020, arguably the hardest year we’ve had in a long time. Personally, this has been an extremely challenging year for me and my family. But not just for the reasons you might think.
We got debt free, moved out of my in-laws, had our second son, all around the time COVID-19 started impacting the world.
These things are stressful enough, but recently, Oregon had significant fires that were putting many people in danger, polluting the air quality, and scaring me more than I’d like to admit.
Due to the fires being only a few miles away, my wife, boys, and I had to evacuate our home. We grabbed all the things we thought were most “essential,” whatever that means, and stayed with friends in a safe zone.
It was not an easy time for me. My wife was emotional (understandably), my three and a half year old knew something was wrong but couldn’t explain why, and my 4-month-old son started regressing in his sleep. The stress was simmering below the surface.
I felt like my job was to be the stable one. The one who doesn’t freak out. The one who completely trusted God and stood firm as the rock of our family.
Does this mean that under the surface it wasn’t a volcanic eruption of emotions? Absolutely not. My inner world was wild and hectic.
But I was keeping a lid on it. Keeping the emotions in, trying to protect my family and those around me from my negative emotions.
And I thought I was doing a good job.
At least, until I yelled at my son so loudly and forcefully that he started screaming and crying.
We had been living with friends, evacuated, for almost a week at this point. Brady, my three and a half year old, had been struggling for a couple of days with his emotions. Super high highs and super low lows. That morning, he was in a very low low.
He wouldn’t listen, couldn’t control his body—flailing about, couldn’t calm down or sit still—and I basically drug him into the car so we could just get out of the house.
I knew he was struggling with what was going on. Even though we didn’t tell him that we could lose our house to fires, he still could sense something was wrong. Whether it was Amy and I being uptight or if he heard us talk about all the smoke, he knew something was wrong and he didn’t know how to process it.
He was yelling at me, crying he didn’t have his shoes, and wouldn’t let me think. That’s when I hit my limit.
I turned around and yelled at the top of my lungs. This was now a few weeks ago and I still can’t remember what I yelled at him. But I do know what I was trying to communicate, “Don’t you get it? I’m stressed too. This sucks for me too! Just give me a break!”
When we blow up and do the things we don’t want to do (in my case, blow up at my kid), it’s not just a decision we make in one moment. I didn’t just decide calmly and non-limbically that yelling at my kid was the best idea. No. These responses are the result of a string of events–emotional experiences and directional thoughts–that take us to the places we don’t want to go and to actions we don’t want to do.
That morning, in the car, the events of evacuating, the fear of losing our home, and the thoughts of “I can’t protect my family from losing our home,” all led me to responding in uncontrollable anger toward my son. The irony of this is, I felt like I was taking back control by responding in anger. So much was out of control and anger would give me a sense of getting some of it back.
But like all of my unwanted behavior, I felt immense shame immediately following. I knew I messed up. I knew I scared him and hurt him. I knew immediately that I had to restore our relationship.
You see, I’ve realized over these past few weeks that Brady and I were experiencing very similar things. Life is out of our control. I don’t really understand what’s going on inside of me. I don’t know how to regulate my emotions. I want to take control back any way that I can.
Brady chose to act out and lose control of his body. I chose to yell in anger.
Oddly, we were in the same situation, responding to the same emotions, and revealing the brokenness inside both of us.
So, how do we stop from reacting in anger or going to pornography or emotionally eating before bed or any other unwanted behavior?
Well, I’ve come to start asking the question, “Why am I so angry?”
Doing some internal searching, I now see that I was stressed, sad, afraid, and felt completely powerless. But instead of expressing this and being honest about my feelings with trusted people around me, I kept it inside, letting it fester and then eventually blowing up. That blow up hurt my relationship with my son.
If you have unwanted behavior in your life right now, why not ask it questions?
- “Why are you here?”
- “What emotion are you helping me avoid?”
- “What memory are you keeping me from revisiting?”
- “Why do I run to you when I feel this way?”
The cool thing is, if you start to ask yourself these questions, you’ll realize that you have some really good and revealing answers. You’ll start to see how our unwanted behavior is connected by a string of events, emotions, and thoughts that bring us back to the same old numbing agents we’ve used. Whether it’s food, social media, sex, or anything else, we all use them for the same reasons.
Ask some questions, face what’s really going on under the surface, and make the changes in your life that you’ve always wanted.
And if you do yell at your kids at the top of your lungs, with spit coming out of your mouth, and he’s screaming and crying…be quick to apologize and vulnerably explain what’s going on in your inner world. It’s always nice to know you’re not the only one dealing with negative emotions.
As I prepare to write my annual Christmas letter, I realize I’ve started several of our family letters with that phrase. And this year is no exception! While our world-wide communal experience with COVID certainly underlines this statement, it’s not the only “crazy” you or I may have experienced this year.
Perhaps you’ve overcome an addiction, survived a betrayal, added a new child to your home, or become empty nesters. Maybe you’re in a new house, a new apartment, a new city, or a new country. You may have lost a loved one this year, ended a relationship, or gained a new love. Hopefully, throughout it all, you’ve gained a new appreciation for the person God created you to be.
The only constant in this life is change—especially in 2020.
In light of this, it might be time to look at our holiday traditions. I don’t know about you, but my holiday situation this year is definitely looking different than years past—which can be a good thing! Shaking things up can be healthy and even fun.
Although my husband and I have been “empty nesters” for the past two years, our oldest daughter has been able to make the trek from southern Oregon to our home in northern Oregon during her school break to spend her Christmas vacations with us; while our younger daughter has been “Making Magic” for Disney World guests in Orlando, Florida. We were able to connect as family via FaceTime and open presents together—it almost felt like we were still together. My mother-in-law was also able to come over and enjoy time with our family.
This year, however, will be different. For our family, this will be the first year that I won’t be having Christmas in my home, with at least one of my kids.
Hazel graduated from her Master’s Program last spring, and now works as a mental health therapist for children and adolescents—a job that comes with a lot of responsibility and a schedule that doesn’t allow for two weeks off at Christmas. Emma continues to work at Walt Disney World and Christmas season is an especially busy time in the hospitality industry. My mother-in-law moved into a senior community last February and we aren’t sure right now whether she’ll be able to leave the community due to COVID concerns.
Here’s to our new normal!
Just like us, your old traditions may not be appropriate or possible this year. Things change and although our heart-strings may tug a little, wanting us to continue those tried-and-true traditions we’ve developed over the years, embracing change with a positive mindset can be a healthy thing.
Let’s look at ten ways to shake up your holiday season and embrace this new normal:
Write a holiday letter! Yes, we’re bringing back an oldie but a goodie. Part of the fun of this experience is getting the whole family involved. Have everyone write their own paragraph, from their perspective, about how this year has been. Even your littles can dictate their thoughts to you. What have been the successes, the concerns, the hopes, the dreams of each family member. As your family grows, these annual letters can become a diary of your years together.
Decorate! We all “need a little Christmas—right this very minute!” There’s something about twinkling lights and bringing out the ornaments you’ve collected over the years that brightens the home. Turn on the Christmas music, put some cinnamon, cloves, and orange peels to simmer on the stove or in the crockpot, and enjoy the beauty of your home.
Bake some cookies—and have a cookie decorating day with the family. You’re home anyway and what better way to enjoy time together than creating a delicious snack that’s a work of art, too!
Speaking of works of art: go to the craft store and have each child choose a porcelain ornament to paint. Over the years, you’ll have a great collection that stirs memories and warms hearts every year.
Watch movies together or maybe bring out the old family movies. Pop some popcorn, brew up some spiced cider or hot cocoa, and snuggle on the couch together.
Play board games or cards (unless you have a couple of highly competitive family members, like I do!), or maybe work on a 1,000 piece puzzle together!
Take a drive to look at the neighborhood light show. Bring along a thermos of hot chocolate and crank up the Christmas music!
Read the Nativity Story. Go to a candlelight service or find an online church service to attend. Don’t pass by the reason for the season.
Fill a need. Do you know someone who might need a little extra help this year? Maybe an anonymous gift left on their doorstep, or a bill paid for them, or a basket of holiday goodies would give hope to a person or a family who is struggling in this season.
Honor yourself: recognize possible triggers during this season and take proactive steps to address them. Reach out for support from family, friends, or a counselor who can help. Identify healthy self-care, and take time out for yourself so you can be there for others without burning out.
Whatever your holiday season looks like this year, whatever your new normal looks like, take the time to be present in all you do. Embrace the beauty you find in this season, connect with those around you, and give thanks for God’s amazing gift of his Son, Jesus. May your holiday season be blessed!