For many 2016 has been a year of incredible anger, sadness and loss. I’ve seen more posts about how people are happy to have 2016 over than any year I’ve seen before.
The election was a horrendous mess.
We lost many amazing people who contributed to our society in so many ways through science, government or the arts. The hardest one for me was the beautifully talented Carrie Fisher who was an important part of my childhood.
Yet for me personally, 2016 has been the most redemptive year to date.
Now before you continue reading this, please note that this is long. Please also note that I do not see myself as some high and mighty holy person. God has done A LOT for my family and I this year. My writing/posting this is done in gratitude for what He has done. It is my hope that it is a seen as an example of what He can do, and that potentially someone finds some inspiration or strength from this.
So 2016…it started off in the worst possible way…
I began the year unemployed for the first time in 16 years. Despite applying for well over 100 positions I had heard nothing, from anyone, except for one. Even then it was looking like a long shot.
My wife, kids and I entered 2016 not sure what lay ahead, and didn’t have a lot of confidence.
Then it got worse.
Satan took advantage of my pride, anxiety, depression and attacked me relentlessly. I kept reaching out to God, but my mental illness made it 100 times harder. I could not see the forest through the trees and I couldn’t believe that the tunnel had an end.
I was praying. I was diving into the Bible every day but nothing seemed to be working.
Then it got even worse.
I hit absolute rock bottom.
So rock bottom that my wife didn’t have the strength to be around me and needed to get away. So she did what was best for her and left. So not only did I not have a job, but my wife was gone and nothing was looking up.
I couldn’t understand what was going on, or why God was allowing this to all happen. I still had faith in Him. I still believed in Him but I couldn’t understand why He would allow so much pain to come to me.
The reality is that God was doing His work. He was working in ways that I could not even comprehend.
During that time…
I had to genuinely search myself while connecting with God. No more surface level prayers. This was constant soaking in His word ALL DAY long through devotionals, books and my Pastor’s Daily Hope podcasts. It was the deepest I had gone since I had committed my life to Him.
I was forced to work out so many issues I thought I had long dealt with through almost daily therapy. I also finally connected with a wonderful psychiatrist who got me on the right medication.
My wife and I worked together on our marriage through therapy and an amazing book called “Beyond Ordinary” by Justin and Trisha Davis. My wife came back home a few weeks later and our marriage got re-built on the solid ground of God’s word. Our relationship is now better than when it first started 5 years ago, and connected on a level we never thought possible.
God surrounded us with family and friends (some thousands of miles away) who not once told us to throw in the towel, they encouraged us to keep going, to keep fighting for our marriage and our family. They had the rough conversations they had to have with us. They prayed for us. They loved on us. They built us up. They helped make us stronger.
God made sure our finances were covered. Every bill got paid. Every meal was taken care of. All of our needs were met. Some of it was Him moving others to provide me with piece meal work. Some of it He moved others to secretly send us gift cards. There are still expenses that got covered that if you looked at the numbers on paper they shouldn’t have been. The numbers wouldn’t balance out. The only way to explain it is God. PERIOD.
Then He decided that I was ready to begin work at Saddleback Church. The ONE and ONLY job prospect I had, finally worked out. Shortly after Easter weekend I signed on as a contractor and got back to work.
There I found my new work home and family. I was not only appreciated for my talents, but my heart and personality. Even better the work I was doing was an important part of bringing people to Him. Helping them connect with Him and tap into the incredible love, power and strength that only HE could provide. So not only am I able to provide for my family, I’m able to do so through helping others.
On a side note, I have to mention that a large part of me getting into this position was because of my step-daughter’s father Rommel recommending me. Not only that but saying that he’s okay with working with me. Yes, that’s right I work with my wife’s ex-husband. That is ABSOLUTELY GOD IN ACTION.
On November 8th (yes, election day) I officially became a member of the Saddleback Staff.
On Thanksgiving I got to enjoy my first paid vacation time in over a year.
Last week I got to serve at Christmas services as Saddleback Staff. I welcomed as many people as I could wanting them to have a great Christmas service experience, with the belief that every “Welcome”, “Merry Christmas” and “Hello” mattered. Then I had the privilege of getting to pray with someone who came to service after attending Celebrate Recovery. I was blessed to be able to help someone who was going into their own year of recovery.
So when I look back on 2016 I see a different story than others do. I am reminded of two pieces of scripture that God made sure I saw quite a few times.
The first was while reading “Beyond Ordinary”.
He ground my face into the gravel.
He pounded me into the mud.
I gave up on life altogether.
I’ve forgotten what the good life is like.
I said to myself, “This is it. I’m finished.
God is a lost cause.”
I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,
the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—
the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there’s one other thing I remember,
and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:
– Lamentations 3:16-21 MSG
It forced me to let go. It forced me to acknowledge that I had hit rock bottom and that God needed me to hit it. It’s not that He wanted me there, it’s through my choices and/or lack of choosing that led me to that point. It was the only way I was going to let Him do his work. It was a reset button on how I looked at and lived my life in every way shape and form. The beauty of that verse is the last line “But there’s one other thing I remember,
and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:”.
That hope is God and His promises, which leads me to what has become one of my life verses.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
– Jeremiah 29:11 NIV
He very much fulfilled that promise through all of 2016. Now some might say, but He let you go through those rough times. My reply to that is “No, I put myself in that situation through the many decisions I made or didn’t make in life. I got myself there. He got me out.”
God is like any parent. He’ll keep letting you know in various ways that you’re going down the wrong path. You choose to listen or not. He wants you to willingly listen to Him or come to Him. He’ll never force you to be in a relationship with Him, but He will always be there for you when He ask for Him. Keep in mind that He’s not a magic genie to summon and magically make everything better. You have to work for it, but His strength and love is greater than anyone or anything will ever be able to provide and IT WILL GET YOU THROUGH.
If you listen to Him, He will teach you things that you never thought you needed to know. There are lessons He’ll give you that will help you avoid making the same mistakes over and over. As our Pastor Rick Warren tells us…if you don’t learn the lesson the first time, you’ll keep going through it until you get it. 2016 forced me to listen really well.
2017 will have its ups and downs. I don’t expect it, or the rest of my life to be perfect. He never once promises that. I still have a lot of growth to do as an individual, husband, father, friend, employee and co-worker.
That’s where my second life verse comes into to play..
For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
-Philippians 4:13 NLT