Thursday, July 16, 2009

God Don't Make No Junk

This is my first blog and while I wish some insanely insightful piece of wisdom would just flow from my brain through my fingertips to magically appear on the screen in front of me, it just ain't happening. So... I will regail myself (and anyone who happens to accidentally stumble across this and actually read it!) with an appropriate beginning for this auspicious beginning....

Despite all the doom and gloom I hear from news sources, I'm actually happy with my life. I'm married to a wonderfully beautiful wife and have, by far, the cutest most precious daughter in the known universe. I have a job I like and I feel very blessed to be alive and (relatively) healthy.

I haven't always felt this way, though. I have traveled many circuitous roads - literally and figuratively - to arrive where I am today. There have, of course, been challenges and obstacles - things I'd rather do over again... (the proverbial "If I knew then what I know now...") I have made some rather embarassing and foolish choices in my life that have gotten me into some serious trouble. I have struggled with issues of self-worth, shame and anger, compulsions and addictions, and have - only through God's grace - have come now to the "other side" of these things. Not that I have completely rid myself of them, but I have learned and continue to learn to place them in their proper context so their influence is no longer so absolute over my thinking and subsequent behavior.

This only happened after I became a follower of Jesus. The effect wasn't immediate. There was no "earth-shattering kaboom" that suddenly freed me self-depracating thinking or sinful behavior. Neither was there a single epiphany or vision or moment in time to which I can point and say, 'From that moment onward, I was different.'

Rather, my following Jesus can be described as being a slow turning toward the Living God, with many moments of profound insight, powerful visionary experiences and empowering decisions that propel me further along the path of discipleship.

There are, however, two moments of absolute clarity that burned themselves into my consciousness so deeply that I doubt if I'll ever be able to forget them (not that I want to!). The first is from my childhood.

One day mother brought home four refrigerator magnets, one for each person in our family: herself, my brother, father and, of course, me. Bless my mother’s heart! She lived with three me - o.k., one man and two aspiring men! - and I don't think she really considered that a refrigerator magnet would be considered by us country boys to be a really cool gift. When I look back on it, though, I realize that moment was an opportunity for God's grace to establish a foothold in my life (prevenient grace, for all you Wesleyan scholars out there!) I really don't remember what the other magnets looked like, much less what was written on them, but mine remains clear in my mind. There's a drawing of a forlorn yet thoroughly lovable puppy on it; the caption underneath reads: "I know I'm somebody, cause God don't make no junk."

The second moment happened many years later. I was being interviewed by a committee on ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church. I was only a year or two away from being fully ordained as an elder in that denomination, which would be quite an accomplishment! [Long story short: I wasn’t ordained, for reason I may or may not go into in future posts.] I was struggling with some of the same issues of self-worth and identity I had struggled with for years, but had only recently reared their ugly heads again. And I was sharing some of that with my committee. One of the ladies who sat on my committee (I don’t even remember her name!) said to me, “You know, Jim, it sounds like you’re struggling with your identity as a child of God.” She then shared with me and with the other committee members the idea of being a “C.oG.P.o.W.” A “Child of God, Person of Worth.” She then encouraged me toward a fuller realization of that reality in my life.

When I get down on myself for not making healthier choices in my diet & exercise or when I chastise myself for not being more patient with my daughter, or when I feel like a total failure because I left a patient's home and they didn't seem to receive any benefit from my having been there... I remember God don't make no junk.

When the stress of life becomes too much and those old feelings of shame and loneliness creep in that seem to scream “Medicate Us!” or when I start feeling sorry for myself because some of my dreams have not yet been fully realized, I am reminded in one way or another, that I am a Child of the Infinite God, and that makes me a Person of Infinite Worth!

Everything in my life has happened for a reason, and nothing is wasted. Every experience, whether joyful or shameful or somewhere in between; every relationship no matter how fulfilling or shallow; every achievement and failure; every challenge overcome; every trial endured; every moment of wonder, awe and introspection - all of it has contributed in some fashion to make me who I am today.

And I like me! It has taken my entire lifetime to really be sincere when I say that, but I can now say it with conviction and authority. I am certainly not content to remain as I am right now for the rest of my life; I have much more growing and learning to do, which I’m sure will happen through successes and failures!

I may momentarily feel like a failure because I may have failed! But that does not mean I am only a failure. I may feel inadequate because I find myself in a situation where my particular gifts and talents will do little if anything to help, but that does not mean I am therefore identified by my inadequacies.

At the core of my being, at the deepest place of my very identity: I am good. I am accepted. I am loved. I am a reservoir of talent, promise and blessing because God has created me and called me to be!

John writes in his first letter: "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!" And that is what we are!" (1 John 3:1a)

That is what I am. And thank God for that.

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