“I don’t dwell on it.”
I often find myself thinking about my grandmother’s signature phrase. Grandma went through a lot in life – the Great Depression, WWII, and all the armed conflicts in between. She outlived seven of her fifteen children. When we asked how she coped, she simply said:
“I don’t dwell on it.”
Her words became my primary coping mechanism. When pain whispered, I refused to dwell on it, ignoring my tears and the feelings that went with them. I thought I knew her secret to strength: shove things aside and keep moving. Race ahead and pretend it didn’t happen. Refuse to dwell on it.
But then life caught up with me. Traumatic memories played on an endless loop in my mind, storming my mind and heart like a mighty army.
I realized that I had not only started to dwell on them, but to dwell in them.
I finally had to deal with my pain. Healing made its way through my carefully curated collection of secret wounds, and strength surged through me.
I realized Grandma had refused to dwell on things;
I had refused to deal with them.
I am learning to allow myself to feel the hurt when it hits because I know strength does not come from arbitrary barricades but from enforcing guardianship of my heart and mind. I now see that, while pain has been trying to invade, my God, my loved ones and my own strength have stood outside too, ready to help me fight if I would only let them in.
I am now striving to be the kind of person who deals with pain but who abides under the shadow of the Almighty, and who dwells among those who are amazing enough to love me through it.
And just like that we’re twenty years into the second millennium!
A milestone like this one tempts us to look back and marvel at how things have changed. (Can you believe that we are closer to the year 2040 than to 1990?)
But a new year presents us a new challenge: looking forward. We have a relatively clear view of the past. We see where we’ve been. But the future? Sometimes it seems like we actually have 20/00 vision when we try to look forward.
But this is a special year: it’s 2020, the year of perfect vision.
So why not take this year to make those changes you’ve been wanting for so long? Instead of dwelling on a list of resolutions you’re secretly afraid you won’t be able to keep, why not cast a vision for the changes you want to make in life?
Make 2020 the year of perfecting that vision. Take that big goal and break it into manageable pieces. Work through it as you can, keeping the big picture in mind as you move forward.
If one approach doesn’t work out, realize that you’re still being faithful to your goal: you are merely perfecting your vision. This is the year to break free. Resist the urge to stay chained to yesterday’s mistakes and realize that they have simply been tools to help you calibrate where you really want to be.
It’s 2020! May this be a year of wonderful change and the clearest vision you have ever had for your life. You’ve got this!
There is something truly amazing that happens when cultures come together. Perhaps it reminds us that we are not alone in the world. Perhaps it helps us to escape our own problems for the moment. Perhaps it even does something more –
it reminds us that we are a part of something greater and grander than the boundaries of our own region.
Last Sunday, Gateway UPC was honored to host All Nations Sunday, an international event right here in our hometown. The sanctuary decorated with flags from every country around the world; translation into English, Spanish, and Portuguese; an inspiring message about our place in the global church; and a song sung in eighteen languages – a glimpse of the kind of worship we will lend our voices to in heaven –
set us up for an atmosphere of international understanding and, most of all, international worship.
After the service, we enjoyed a global tour: Around the World in 90 Minutes. In an hour and a half, we explored tables decorated with items from every region in the world, complete with a smorgasbord of international foods. It was such a treat to see Mexican tamales, Chinese chow mein, Spanish paella, Nigerian jollof rice, Tahitian po’e pudding, Jamaican jerk chicken with coconut rice, Israeli falafel, Malawian mbatatacookies, to name a small fraction of everything that was available, frolicking together on the same plates.
Thank you to everyone who made an effort to be involved in our All Nations Sunday celebration, whether you helped decorate, cook, or you simply showed up. It was our honor to host you and we hope you will make us a part of your future celebrations in October. We hope to see everyone again next year! Please keep our missionaries, churches, and people around the world in your prayers.
God can still work miracles and is not limited by race, culture, language, or borders.
It wasn’t meant to last.
When Gustave Eiffel’s team won the heated bid to construct the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair, it was meant to be temporary. Still, for two years they employed their bridge-building skills to fashion the wrought-iron lattice tower, hoping their precision would combat any destructive winds. The temporary exhibit was designed with permanence in mind and soared 81 stories high.
Critics were quick hurl insults, labeling it ugly, daring, impossible, and rebellious, even to the point of circulating an “Artists against the Eiffel Tower” petition. They must have found some solace in the fact that it was at least scheduled for demolition in 1909. No one expected it to change the Paris skyline forever.
After all, it wasn’t meant to last.
And yet it did.
In World War I, it intercepted enemy radio transmissions and dispatched troops. The next world war saw Hitler’s unsuccessful attempt to demolish it. Today, it continues to inspire us, creating moments of international solidarity when its colorful lights reflect triumphs and tragedies around the world.
It wasn’t meant to last – and yet Eiffel’s team built it as if it would stand forever.
Your season may be temporary, intended to last but a moment here, but how are you building it? How will your legacy outlive you when your critics and naysayers are long gone?
Temporary seasons in lives lived with a legendary outlook cannot help but change skylines, worlds, hearts, and lives.
The dawning of the nineteenth century brought about the birth of nations. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm chased down folk and fairy tales, realizing that it was in the telling of Germany’s stories that identity could be unearthed.
The Book of Judges opens on a contrasting landscape: the people had forgotten their stories and so they lost sight of who they were each time they were conquered.
But many years later, an eight-year-old king discovered some forgotten scrolls and sought out a storyteller. Although Judah was later conquered by many empires, in the telling of their stories, they remembered who they were even though it would be centuries until they had a land to call their own.
In telling our stories, we tap into an incredible source of strength and power, not only for us but for those around us as well. Revelation 12:11 tells us that when the enemy attacks, we overcome “by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of [our] testimony.”
In telling our stories, we have the power to overcome.
Although our stories are filled with twists and turns, we have the bright hope and blessed assurance that one day He will call us into yet another new story – one that He has been preparing for years.
Rather than reaching the point of happily ever after, we will realize that our once upon a time is really only just beginning.
A story is not a story without a plot and a plot is not a plot without conflict. Because of a central conflict, we cheer for the hero and boo the villain. A story’s conflict gives the plot its structure.
The conflict that governs so many of our stories predates us by many, many years – one that played out on a balcony of heaven where Satan rebelled against God. This same conflict, in different manifestations, continues to play out in the lives of humanity.
Our own personal plots play out as we encounter conflicts with nature and mortality. When illness strikes, this conflict often takes center stage. The difficulties we encounter in relationships with others elaborate on our personal conflict plots.
Still, perhaps the darkest battles we fight are the ones located deep within us – as we find ourselves at war within ourselves. These are the conflicts that are hard to explain because they are so intensely personal.
Our conflicts are what make up our stories.
The basic structure of beginning, middle, and end are set up around the conflict that we hope will be resolved. The beauty of our stories is that God always has a plan for resolution and restoration.
No matter how conflicts have defined us or continue to govern our stories, there is always hope when we stop trying to solve and explain every conflict on our own and invite Him into the process of writing our stories.
If nature hates a vacuum, then no story exists without a setting to provide context. Entire genres of literature are formed around settings and how people react to them. Stories set in small towns might have quirky characters. Stories set in jungles might be adventurous. Stories set in urban locations might be edgy.
Your story, then, has a setting – a backdrop against which everything plays out. As our Author writes, He calls us out of the setting where our story has unfolded, leading us into something new. In every great story, the protagonist leaves a familiar setting, perhaps a location, a relationship, or even a mindset.
The greatest stories of our lives are painted on the backdrop of the unknown.
It can be frightening to leave one setting for another – to answer the call of the wild, even when we are unhappy in our current setting – but it is only by doing so that we allow our story to unfold.
Stories that play out forever in the same setting are stories that linger at the threshold between the dynamic and the stagnant. That threshold becomes a place of quicksand where untold stories collect and are held captive.
If our stories are to unfold, we must have the confidence to walk into the setting that our Author has prepared for us, resting in the confidence that the pen never leaves His hand and He knows exactly what He is doing.
A great story often has at least one of two things: a great plot or great characters.
Your story has both. But it features you as its primary character. You, with all of your strengths and weaknesses, attributes and flaws, are the central character of your narrative. The fact that it is your story makes it special and different from every other story on the planet.
You are an individual – completely unique – which means your story is completely unique.
The Population Reference Bureau estimates that roughly 108 billion people have lived since God first created man in His own image. And the amazing thing about that is that there has never been anyone like you. No one has ever had your exact DNA structure. No one has ever had your exact personality. No one has ever had your exact experiences.
The brilliant Dr. Seuss once wrote: “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.”
There never has been and never will be another you. Sometimes we can look at others’ lives and stories and wish we could trade. However, Your purpose is completely unique – only you can fulfill it. Your Author has tailor made your story for you. No other character can fill your role. You are the hero around which the plot revolves. What will you do with your story?
After Hebrews 11, a series of stories of the heroes of faith, comes Hebrews 12. The second verse gives a beautiful description of Jesus. He is called “the author and finisher of our faith.” This tells us something vitally important about our stories:
they not only have an author but they also have a finisher.
An author often starts out with a basic plot in mind for his characters. He has a general idea of who they are and how their story will unfold. However, as pretty much any fictional author will tell you, characters seem to develop minds of their own throughout the writing process, taking the story in a direction the author did not intend.
When this happens, some authors force their characters to abide by the original plan, resulting in a forced story.
Other authors cannot figure out what to do with their characters and so they abandon the story altogether.
And then there are the other authors – the authors who recognize that their characters have done something different with the plot but who are gifted enough to keep writing the story from where the characters are in the moment. They do not give up on the story or the characters.
We have an Author like this.
You see, He is not just an Author – He is also a finisher. No matter how your life has unfolded, He will not give up on your story. An author may start a story but a finisher sees it through until the end.
How fortunate our stories are to have both.
Human beings are wired for stories.
We relive and express our memories through story. After death, we live on in the stories of our loved ones. We think in stories because they provide a context for facts. When you get the magical alchemy of the living writer sharing the story, there is potential for transformation. Lives can be changed by storytelling.
There is a reason we hear fairy tales as children. They teach us values and morals. It is through story that we learn about our own identity. Neil Gaiman once said,
“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
The stories we listen to are the stories that write our lives. If we want to change our lives, it begins with changing the stories we listen to.
Hebrews 11 presents us with the lives of some of the greatest heroes of faith who have ever lived. It is an anthology – a collection of stories. Alongside the expected stories (like Abraham, Moses, Joseph, and David), are the seemingly unheroic ones (like Rahab, Barak, and Gideon).
Still, the great Author saw their value. And He has never set the pen aside.
He continues to write our stories with the same dedication and care that He put into theirs. Join us in this series of articles as we explore the importance of our stories and of the One who continues to write them.