I recently flew to Charleston and then to Charlotte a few weeks later. All four flights were excellent. The takeoffs were thrilling surges in power that thrust us into the atmosphere. The landings were deft, skilled approaches that touched down gently and braked to a slow roll.
Honestly, isn’t that what we want when we fly? No issues, no problem, no turbulence in the middle. When you are 30,000 feet in the air, you don’t want to hear, “This is your captain speaking, we have a situation we are dealing with…” You want a flight where your most important question is, do I read, sleep, or listen to music?
Yet, that isn’t the case in our daily lives on the ground. I have noticed that we don’t do “day-to-day” life very well. As a pastor, I have witnessed some of the most incredible highs in a person’s life. I have been a part of celebrating births, weddings, anniversaries, new jobs, travel plans, and overcoming life’s challenges like cancer, sickness, and reconciling relationships. I have also been part of some tremendously tough challenges. I have been in the room for loss of jobs, opportunities, marriages, finances, relationships, and death.
Both the valley and the mountain top bring so much energy to them. When we are not in one of these extreme places, how do we do with the day-to-day? We get up, do our thing and go to sleep. If we do that enough without a spike, it becomes monotonous…life becomes boring. There is something in all of us that gets restless. We will feel like we need “to do something.” Change our routine; look for different results. We might take the next step and change it up.
Or, we break things. We purposefully destroy what is expected and acceptable by creating our own chaos. We don’t break to bring good; we break for the negative, to feel something. The question “What if I do this…” becomes a catalyst for actions you would not think of taking before. You poke the bear to see if it will wake up. You see how close you can get to the temptation or ill-advised behavior without affecting you. Eventually, you found out that you broke something good for yourself.
The key to avoiding “boredom” in daily life is to avoid getting bored. If you are continually growing and taking new ground, it is hard to feel like life is routine. Now, don’t get me wrong. I like my routines. I am a creature of habit. But, I am curious; I’m an avid learner and enjoy taking on new challenges. I hardly ever feel bored. There is always a book to read, skill to develop, language or culture to understand, and of course, there are people.
People make life exciting and challenging. In the last ten days, I have seen some stuff. I listened to someone share the keys to lifelong marriage and, not too long after, sat in tears while hearing about a failed marriage. I saw someone almost hit a hole in one while another almost hit a house with his tee shot. I watched a team of five-year-olds “play” soccer and cheered the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as they won their second Super Bowl. I watched a small group of men tearfully remember a great friend who passed away and laughed with my wife when I got caught fishing in a thunderstorm.
All “boring” stuff. My life didn’t change dramatically…but I changed. I grew, stretched, remembered, celebrated, lit up, and shed powerful tears. The “boring” stuff that makes life extraordinary.
I encourage you to take a moment to recognize how great your life is right now. Remember the blessings and the challenges. Recognize the people who make life great and test your patience. Finally, know your source. Where would you be without God who loves you and desires the very best for you?
We all feel tension no matter what age or stage of life we are in.
It’s the reality of today and hope for tomorrow, what I call the tension of the “now” and “not yet.”
Now – The role you play, the relationships you have, the job you do, the opportunities you are experiencing, or the limitations you feel.
Not yet – the dreams you have, the next season of life (maybe it’s dating, marriage, children, finding good friends), promotions, goals for the future.
When Kristin and I started our ministry career, there was the reality of now: I was working in maintenance, she was babysitting while staying home with our kids. We were volunteer leaders in the youth ministry and had no idea what the future held. We had a lot of “not yet” dreams and goals. Even though that was almost 30 years ago and we’ve come a long way, we still experience this tension to some degree.
So how do we thrive in the tension of the now and keep excitement for the not yet? As I’ve thought about this question, here are four things God invites us to do in the tension. Depending on your wiring, it’s going to look unique to you. Here’s how I approach them.
INVITE God into your day.
Once I am on my feet, I start my day in the Bible. I desperately needed it thirty years ago, and I still do. Daily, I find a verse that jumps out at me. It will often come back into play later that day or week. I also pray every day. I begin the prayer time with these two lines – “Heavenly Father, I invite the Holy Spirit into my day to lead me, give my insight to your heart, words to say, and know when to be quiet. I also ask that you give me wisdom and courage to face every person and situation that is before me today.” Since I started doing this daily a few years ago, I have seen an amazing increase in my ability to live each day knowing God is with me. He is always there, but we must invite Him to join us.
ASK God to start with You.
My life revolves around people. They are the greatest joys and sources of pain, and this tension is consistent over the years. I stand in awe of many people using their gifts, talents, and personalities. I also stand in bewilderment at some of the things people do that don’t make sense to me. I am wired to be critical and judgmental of others in those moments. The only person I am in control of is me. I must be responsible for my own words, thoughts, and actions. I spend time in my prayer time asking God to help me with those things that I struggle with regularly. I ask Him to search my heart and thoughts and show me where I lack. I ask Him to forgive me of my sins. I repent and continue to move toward words, ideas, and actions that will draw me and others closer to Him. It is a stark reminder of how fragile I am, and it brings a sense of humility when the mirror doesn’t lie. By starting with yourself, you establish yourself in a great mindset to go through your day interacting with others.
CHOOSE to let your words and actions be positive, honest, and produce growth.
If you are going to do anything with people, you will have to make a choice. The tension is making the right choice. It will bring a positive or negative impact on others. A positive choice will use that decision to move someone forward with empowerment, and a negative choice holds them back or pushes them down. Here is what I focus on daily. Let me be positive by seeing the best in people and situations. Knowing the grace God gives me, let me share that same grace as I spend time with others. Let my words and actions accentuate hope and potential in each situation. I will be honest. I do this while giving value, honor, and respect to others. One of the most significant ways we can demonstrate our love for others is, to be honest with them. Finally, I want to see growth. The only time we aren’t growing is when we quit. When others succeed, we get the benefit of that.
LOVE Others…no matter what.
I am at a stage in my life where I don’t want to hold a grudge or offense. Even thirty years later, this is a daily tension. People and situations do things that hurt and wound. I choose to love them anyway. Forgiveness is one of the most vital tools you have for longevity. Those people are still accountable for their actions, and there should be consequences. Forgiveness is an action of the heart…your heart. When you forgive, you permit yourself to move on in freedom.
The tension of “now and not yet” is just as prevalent today as thirty years ago. The “now” moments run the spectrum of exciting and challenging. The “not yet” allows us to dream while asking questions. I have grown more from the uncertainty in both than the certainty I have from each on its own. My hope is you will find the approach that will allow you to thrive in the tension of both.
You are reading this at the perfect time to be impacted by its message. As busy as you are, you took time…so really take this moment for all that it is intended to be. A moment for you. Maybe these words will be the break you needed from a hectic day. They could be a glimpse of inspiration. You may find yourself tearing up and grateful for the human connection. You may just need something to remind you how great you are.
This is your moment. Only you can determine what you get out of it.
In the movie, “Miracle,” Kurt Russell portrays the legendary hockey coach, Herb Brooks. In the locker room before his players were to take the ice against the world power Soviet Union, he started with these words, “Great moments are born from great opportunities.” I love that. Was the win of a hockey game the moment? Yes and no. Yes, it was the culmination of countless hours of hard work, preparation and execution. But the moment was more than a game. It was a group of men who came together, sacrificed their own egos, maximized their talents and invited others into their weaknesses to achieve a goal.
This is your moment. Alone or on a team…only you can determine what you get out of it.
When I think about standout memories in my life, the moments that revolved around accomplishments are lower on my list. The achievements in ministry, sports, family celebrations or individual goals are fleeting. These are a couple of moments in my life that hold deep, special meaning to me:
When Kristin stood at the end of the aisle moments before our wedding.
When Taylor auditioned for her piano part in the youth band.
When Abigail walked with me into the ocean as a small child.
When Casey stood on a pew behind me watching worship and whispered in my ear, “I want to do that.”
All of the “You may kiss the bride” at my children’s weddings.
The conversation I had with my father-in-law before everyone arrived at the hospital on his last day.
Each of my grandkids saying “Pop” to me for the first time.
My friend, Ronn, telling me, “I never turned left at mile 13.”
The most obvious thread in all of these moments is that they revolve around people. That is why they stand out. A great accomplishment in a project or goal is wonderful…but there will always be another one.
People are what make moments hold meaning to us. I cannot tell you what I wore to church last week but I can remember vividly what Kristin looked like on our wedding day almost 33 years ago. Moments connected to people hold deep value to us.
What are your stand-out memories? What memories are you creating today? Don’t focus on creating the Norman Rockwell moment. Focus on the person you are with. How do they make you feel? What is unique about them that brings meaning to you? Why do they matter to you? What can you do to invite them into a deeper relationship?
“This is your time. Now, go out there and take it.” Those are the words Herb Brooks sent his players to ice to take on their giant. It requires courage, action and decision. You must do the same.
That phrase brings a smile to my face. Most everyone will know this is from the movie “Dumb and Dumber” and the actor, Jim Carey, nailed it. When told that his chances are one in a million, the guy ponders it for a moment and then delivers the line that would be repeated into eternity.
“If there is no hope for relief or success or victory, the will cannot endure. Without hope, there will be surrender.” – Jocko Willink, Leadership Strategy and Tactics: Field Manual
Hope is what makes a new year special. When we look at the year before in hindsight, we think of the victories and savor what it felt like to win the moment. We face the past failures and challenges and look for nuggets of wisdom and growth. Maybe we strategize in order to not go down that road again. There is a clean slate of hours and days, projects and opportunities… hope that we will make a difference in our own lives and the lives of others.
The quote by Jocko Willink is foundational. I encourage you to make it personal. “If I have no hope for relief or success or victory, my will cannot endure. Without hope, I will surrender.” Here is the good news! There is hope!
Many people put their hope in their own abilities and talents. It is understandable. We live at a time where the physical, intellectual and emotional opportunities for people are very high. People can maximize all of their gifts and talents and tap into more information at their finger tips then any time in history. It is an exciting time to be alive! Yet, with all that is at our disposal, we will reach a capacity. Anything we generate is limited to our ability to develop, grow and maintain it. In other words, we have a lid…and the lid is us.
When we invite God into our lives and situations, we have a different type of hope. It is unlimited, unhindered and knows no boundaries. God can do anything. Unlike you and I, He has not capacity or limits. Job 42:2 NIV says, “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of your can be thwarted.”God can do whatever He wants to do and it will line up with His purpose for you and I. So when you think that something is hopeless, God says it isn’t. And when you believe that, you will be the one saying, “So you are saying there’s a chance.”
I have been on both sides of the win/loss column when it comes to putting my hope in God. There have been times when I saw the definite victory that comes from God’s timing and plan. Kristin and I moved into our dream home after ten years of praying for the right house. Even with all the frustrations and challenges, the house we live in today is perfect for us and we are grateful we didn’t get other ones. That was a big win that we look back on and see God’s timing. We put our trust and hope in Him. There have been many things I prayed for and didn’t see the win… where I felt the defeat. To this day, I still wonder why Casey wasn’t healed when I was believing God to do a miracle in his physical body. Or why special loved ones passed away like they did. But God continues His plan with those affected by it and I see His hand in it. There have definitely been surprises and sudden changes that come through hours of prayer hoping that God will intervene. Hope in God is not a formula, it makes my relationship with Him stronger.
Final thought takes us back to the quote at the top. It ends with this line, “Without hope, there will be surrender.” This is true in the most sobering sense. When we lose hope, we surrender…we quit. It is a new year. You feel invincible now because there are a lot of unwritten pages for 2021 in your book. As we begin to fill in those lines, I encourage you to examine your source of hope. Life is tough. You need to know where your strength, courage and grit comes from. When you go through your day with a foundation of hope in God, you begin to see the difference it makes in your attitude and performance.
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
There is a myriad of thoughts, stories, and memories going through my mind as I reflect on this past year. I could talk about the impact of Covid, racial tension, political election, or even how closing and reopening the church rocked all of us. Or, I could take the direction of emotional weariness brought on by fear and uncertainty in facing unprecedented events and circumstances. Another path could be the questions with no answers, how we all learned overnight how to work remotely, and the need for a connection online being the future of the church. A lot happened in 2020.
Instead, I am going to focus on one simple thought.
“Take me to a place I have never been to before.”
I actually use this phrase quite a lot. If I am approaching my life as a growth journey, then every yesterday is the new foundation for taking new ground. The victories, challenges, conversations, thoughts, and decisions – no matter how painful or wonderful – are the building blocks for where I could possibly go today. I can look at them as liabilities or assets. Let me break down some of the critical components of this phrase.
“Take” To take something is to apprehend or lay hold of something. It is an active motion of moving toward something and trying to attain it. There were so many lessons and tools that I grew in this past year. I want to take even more ground in 2021. With so many new challenges and situations, I grew exponentially in my relationship with God, family, and church. I can’t sit back and let 2021 come to me. I need to be in the posture and mindset that I grow forward based on all that attained in 2020.
“Me” All of me! Not just physically or mentally – every aspect of me. I have found if I surrender all of me to the Lord and His leading every day, I can engage all of me. I lost 25 pounds in 2020, and I feel amazing. I have more energy, clarity, and tenacity in my workouts and daily activities. I read through the Bible in one year. There were days of reaffirming my love of His word and still days where I wondered, “Where did that verse come from?” I wrestled with challenges that took me to my core beliefs and relationships. I came away scarred but not defeated. I found new passions and things that energize me. I move into 2021 with great confidence in the gifts and talents that God has given me…as long as I stay surrendered.
“To a Place” Let me clearly say that “place” does not mean a destination or a resting spot—just the contrary. I want to explore new realms of experiences, relationships, and ministry. I don’t want to be in the same place with the ones I love or the paths ahead of me at the end of next year. I want to try new things, see it the usual from a different lens, and enjoy life at all levels. I want to use my “yes” to be open to something that will create new memories and “no” to the moments that can be stopped with love, respect, and good boundaries.
“I have Never,” I love that God has gifted me with curiosity and a “pioneer” spirit. I am not quick to run towards the newest, latest gadget, or moment. Yet, I am learning to invite the Holy Spirit to lead my day. I am seeing that He will give me new insights and desires for my family and my church. I must be strong and courageous to move forward when He prompts me to take a step. One of the big lessons I learned in 2021 is to “Be comfortable in the uncomfortable.” In embracing His nudge, that is where fear and faith will have their most significant battle. I have already decided that faith will beat fear. Now, I must act on it.
“Been Before” Translated into a different phrase – “Occupy the past.” This speaks to ownership and possession. I don’t want to live in the past and own it as my security blanket. I want to live in freedom, security, and confidence that I am tuned in with God because I seek Him daily. In those times, I prepare for my day. I leave my house to encounter a world that is uncertain, scary, and unknown. I bring everything that God has put into me to be His vessel of love, wisdom, and peace. Sometimes, I will need to forgive, put behind me, and believe the best moving forward. I can only control myself. I will choose to positively impact my relationships and events with the very best I can offer. If I do that well, new doors will open up, connections will be formed, and experiences will far exceed my expectations.
I share this phrase with a number of our GFC teams as we talked about 2021. I want us to take new ground in reaching people with God’s love. I shared it with loved ones because I want them to live abundantly in all they encounter in the new year. I keep it before me to challenge me to charge forward.
I share it with you…If you do it this upcoming year, what a difference this world will see in you!
“Why would anyone do services on Christmas Eve, especially at 11pm?” I asked. We were in a meeting, and Pastor Mark Quattrochi was asking the team about midnight services. I thought it was silly. Even so, it got approved, and he started our first late Christmas Eve service. It was great.
The midnight services grew as the church grew. When Mark started his own church, we had to decide whether to continue it or not. The answer was, “yes!” But who would speak and run it? There are a LOT of Christmas Eve services at GFC, and for the lucky volunteer, it would be an “extra mile” commitment. I said, “I will do it.”
The pastor who goes to bed early and gets up at 4:30am every morning just became the new midnight service pastor.
Over the years, I have found I really love the late Christmas services! It has become one of my favorite parts of Christmas. I have enjoyed watching it continue to grow into a unique experience.
For one, it had more traditional music. We found out that people actually like singing traditional Christmas music, and they know more of the words than they think. We took communion together. There is such a beautiful relationship in remembering Christ’s sacrifice on the cross while you welcome the birth of Christ. We lit candles. A lot of candles. This is the “power moment.” At the end of the message, the pastor lights a candle and takes the flame to someone in the crowd. That person would light another, and so on. To see a 2,200-seat auditorium progressively lit up by only candlelight is truly a beautiful moment. There is such a connection with the people in the audience – the lighting brings them together as one. (Such a great picture of the body of Christ.) Lastly, I have enjoyed the people who have come to call the midnight services their own. For many, it has become a regular part of their family’s Christmas, and seeing their faces year after year puts a smile on my face. A lot of our volunteers get the opportunity to settle in and enjoy a service of their own. I am grateful that so many who serve so unselfishly can have time with the Lord.
Over the years, Christmas Eve and the midnight service has impacted me personally. I got to hold my first grandson, Jaxon, six days after he was born and talk about how a baby changes everything. One year, I had the honor of having my dad be the first candle I lit, and the following year, it was Pastor Ralph. Two men who I love and respect greatly. For a few years, I was blessed to have Taylor, Casey, and their spouses leading the service in worship. Those years of serving together and watching them use their gifts are some of my favorite. Walking on stage after the music had quieted, and seeing Kristin and Abby on the front row brought such joy to my heart. It was personal. This was our family’s service.
And when the candles had all been lit, and the clock hit 12:00am, we would stand together in peace. There was something so special about wishing people “Merry Christmas” literally seconds after it has arrived. It wasn’t about lights or presents in those moments…it was about The Light and His Presence—a very tender, rich moment.
As GFC has grown, we now incorporate many of the midnight service elements into all of our Christmas Eve services. It is still incredibly powerful. The songs, candles, and messages are amazing! It is wonderful that everyone gets to experience those unique elements of Christmas. Each service is special to me, and this year, I will be at all of them. And speaking this year at the 9:00pm at our Van Dyke campus.
I will be there at the 11:00pm service too…holding my candle with tears running down my face. If there ever was a year to have a moment with The Light and be in His Presence, it is this one.
I am gasping for air. Hands are on my knees; I’m bent over with sweat pouring off my forehead. Once again, I have gotten on my bike for an exciting time of “exercise.” It was amazing, challenging, and tiring. But here I am now – stronger, confident, and fulfilled.
I am amazed by how my time on the bike mirrors my daily journey with God. There are times where I could ride forever with no pain or tension, and then there are days where the most straightforward levels are challenging. The mind kicks in and begins to send thoughts into overdrive. “WHY AM I DOING THIS!? “You aren’t strong enough.” “This is a good day to take a break. You deserve a break, you work so hard” And then the other side kicks in. “Don’t quit.” “You’ve got this.” “You will feel so much better on the other side.” Finally, the last part is the toughest. How much do I want to push myself? Do I set challenging levels, or do I do enough to say, “I did it?” All this happens in real-time on the bike.
And in life.
Holidays are the same as a bike. Certain aspects are so fun and enjoyable. I love people during the holidays. The creativity, joy, and ability to celebrate is fantastic. I enjoy the corny Hallmark Christmas movies. I do. I am willing to risk my “man card” and admit it. (Where else can you eat whatever you want, hot cocoa is always handy, snow is falling, and everyone is happy? Plus, it always ends in a hug.) I love seeing the season through the eyes of my kids and grandkids. The wonder and newness of it all is so refreshing.
For some, the holidays are hard. Relationships, finances, and life situations can be challenging. Our thoughts can be our most prominent foe. Instead of celebration, we find ourselves questioning who we are, why things happen, or even the path we are on at the moment. None of us live in a Hallmark Christmas movie. What is wrapped into a beautiful picture of joy on our television screens does not materialize in real life. People, schedules, and expectations can take such a special time of year and make it a time of turmoil.
Take a breath. Let me share some items that keep me from getting overwhelmed in the holidays. (And they work in daily challenges too!)
Know Who I Am.I know who I am and, more importantly, who I am not. I appreciate the personality, wiring, gifts, and talents that I have in my life. I respect those things I don’t have that others possess in their lives. I truly believe that God created me with my unique design and purpose. The more I focus on that and using it to accomplish that purpose, the more self-worth, fulfillment, and confidence I enjoy.
Know What Energizes Me. You and I can be busy all day long. There is not a shortage of things to do on any given day. During my sabbatical a few years ago, I learned what I need to do each day that energizes me. For me, I need to spend time with God, exercise, read, and get a solid night’s sleep. I try to incorporate that into every day. It is different for each of us. I encourage you to find the things that give you the best foundation for your day.
Know What I Need to Do. The keyword there is “Need.” I have come to a place where I am pretty fluid with “what has to be done.” In an ever-changing world, I am learning to be “ever-changing.” I have to steward “me” to determine what is most important. Let me give you the golden ticket in this area. It is ok to say, “No.” Someone else’s need or pain is not my need or pain. It sounds selfish, but it is actually healthy boundaries. Here is the kicker – you engage in that person’s situation when you choose to be a part of it. I ask God to help me determine those times every day. I allow myself to steward the time and talent God has given me to be most effective.
Know What is Important. In my life, here is my priority list: God, Kristin, my family, and the church. I will stop meetings to text/call if Kristin or family members are trying to reach me. I will miss some things at church because of family events. It balances out. I haven’t celebrated a lot of birthdays or anniversaries on the actual days because of the church. You will have those types of challenges and decisions. Know what is important to you and work to find balance in it.
Know it Matters. Everything you think, say, and do everyday matters. You are a growing, vibrant expression of your life. Each day is an opportunity to take new ground, learn something new, make a new relationship, and swing the bat. It all depends on you. Either you are going to take a step forward, backward, or standstill. All have merit. The one thing you can’t do – nothing. You don’t win by quitting.
Know Whose You Are. God loves you. Suppose you didn’t change a thing with all your challenges, problems, inabilities, fears, concerns, and defeats; he would love you. We are all broken. The people who look like they have it all together actually don’t. My prayer is that you would see yourself through God’s glasses. He sincerely loves you. In that relationship, He wants to step into your life and allow Him to bring the wins, answers, empowerment, peace, fulfillment, and confidence to continue on your journey. In that love comes one of the greatest gifts – Hope. What is happening in your life today has the hope of changing for the better when Christ is a part of it.
Take a breath. We celebrate the birth of Christ this Christmas season. Jesus left heaven and came to earth as a baby. He left royalty to take his first breath as a human. Thankfully, that changed everything.
The floor was covered with shoes, toys and books. The counter had spills, crumbs and empty cups. The table had on it glasses, markers, paper, stickers, a computer and notepads. The phone charging area was…oh, you get it.
Thanksgiving was awesome. With Taylor’s family coming in for five days, our house became a constant motion of play and food. Add in Casey’s family coming over daily bringing bikes and scooters, we had the full effect of vacation. With day visits from the Taylors and Abby, the time was complete with stories and catching up. The backyard was in full effect every day! We even got to home from church in time to enjoy the Lake Magdalene Boat parade. (Great job on those lights, everyone!). We all went to church and enjoyed Casey and Taylor as part of the front-line leading worship…still humbling to watch.
I love watching my kids and grandkids relate to each other. As a dad and Pop, it is so fulfilling to see them intersect in their passions, thoughts and personalities. Some are gregarious and energetic while others are contemplative and reserved. We had our moments of discipline, bumps, boo boos, naps, art, drawing and quiet times. We are quite the collection of differences when we get together
At this stage in my life, I find myself praying for my family to be empowered in who God created and called them to be. We have definitely had our challenges. However, our faith that God has a purpose is stronger than ever before. I see each life impacting others. This is an exciting time to see what is next for each of us. Each of us are on different paths and have unique circles of influence.
Thanksgiving has a different feel this year. 2020 has been challenging in so many ways. Emotions and feelings are real and raw. Many are even now facing difficulties they didn’t see coming.
Typically, in this season, I sit down and reflect on the events, circumstances and people who have impacted my life. This is what I’m thankful for this year.
My relationship with God. When all is turned upside down in your life, who do you turn to? I turn to God. I believe that He has my best in His plans. I read His Word and gain wisdom, strength and comfort. I pray and I feel His presence and leading. I worship Him to recognize that I am not the center of everything and He is bigger than everything I face. I invite Him into each day, knowing I cannot do it alone. I am a better human because of my relationship with Him.
My relationship with Kristin. I love my wife. There are truly amazing people in this world that fascinate and enrich my life. She beats them all. I am thankful for her wisdom, passion and visionary leadership. Many people get to see her lead publicly. I get to see her love on her kids/grandkids, smile in the sunshine and listen to her laugh. She is my gift from God. I am a better man because of her.
My relationship with my family. My family is quite diverse in our personalities, gifts and talents. I wouldn’t change any of them. We laugh, cry and disagree with the same degree of intensity. But we fight for each other. We pray and intercede when one of us needs it. We believe the best in each other and we forgive when needed. From the oldest to the youngest, they are my treasure. I am a better person because of my family.
My church. We moved to Tampa almost twenty-seven years ago to work at Grace Family Church. We left all of our family behind in Orlando. Who knew God gave and continues to give me a “family” with those I work with and have the honor of leading? This year more than ever, I am truly am grateful for these relationships. I missed so many of our staff and congregation when our doors were closed for a time. Zoom is great, but seeing someone in person is much better. This is my “Tampa Family.” I understand life better because of them.
After these, the list can get pretty extensive. So, let me give one more thing I am thankful for in 2020…
My Fishing Pole. This year I began fishing regularly. It was outside, alone and it gave me something to do. I learned how to tie knots, hold a fish by the mouth and move through the gills to extract the hook. It was a great time with my kids, grandkids and good friends. I have fished all my life sporadically. This year it became my retreat. Either in the Gulf of Mexico or on my lake, I fished. I caught some good ones and lost more than I wish.
I am thankful for the time. This year, I needed to get away and listen to God. I faced some of the biggest moments and challenges of my life. I shouted, cried and sat silent many of those times while holding the fishing pole. I needed to pour out my frustration, questions and anger. I needed to repent, forgive and release. I needed to know I wasn’t alone when things felt like it was all on me. Fishing gave me the space in my own journey to figure it out. I lost a lot of baggage this year and gained a new level of peace and strength.
My prayer for all of us this Thanksgiving is that you have those things in your life that make you better. I also hope you have those moments in your life that give you the margin to take the next step.
(Excerpt from the book I am writing, “What Pop Believes”)
‘We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.’ Romans 5:3-5
Character…wow, this is a loaded one. I am a firm believer in developing your character daily. If you look at the verse above, it will give you a snapshot of what you will face every day. You are either in one of those stages or in transition as you move to a different one. There will be days of great rejoicing, and you feel like you are on top of everything. You are hitting home runs, and everybody in your life is fine. Then, without much provocation, something changes, and an aspect of your life “springs a leak.” As our body does naturally, you begin to move resources (time, energy, money) to make things better. Sometimes it stops the leak, and you can ride on the wave again. Sometimes, it goes for a long time. When it does, you are going to find out a lot about yourself on the inside. You will find out if you really have what it takes to run a race. Anyone can sprint, but can you run for a long time? It is in that time of endurance you will find out what your character is. The good news is that character leads to hope and love. You have to make it through the perseverance and character part to get to the good stuff and get back on top of the wave.
In 2003, I decided that I wanted to run a marathon. To do this, I needed to get myself in the best physical shape. I decided that I would run the Disney Marathon in 2004. In getting ready, I got to know Ronn and Joyce Kelly. What a fantastic couple. At the time, their twins, Grant and Sydney, were three years old. Ronn passed away in January 2019 of colon cancer. I lost a great friend and brother…I miss him. He always started our conversations with “Dude.” Sydney and Grant are amazing, both recently married and doing great things. Joyce is a rock star ministering to ladies in the strip clubs and powerfully teaching the Bible. She is a great leader! It just goes to show how a small decision can lead to lifetime relationships.
We began training in May, and I found a strong program. In the end, I ran over 500 miles to prepare for the race. I followed a diet and rest program. By the time we arrived at the race, I was ready and gearing for a sub-four-hour marathon. The plan was to be at the corrals early at 4:00 am for a 6:00 am start time. Kristin would have all the kids meet us out on the course. It was 42 degrees when we got to the corrals, and it was cold. We spent the time resting, walking, stretching. Finally, we made it to the starting area. We started the race with 16,000 other runners, and it was mass chaos for the first three miles. I remember running, jogging, walking just to get around people and find some space. After that, it picked up, and by the time I hit the 13-mile mark, I was at 2 hours even, right on my target.
I remember watching the people who turned left to go to the finish line for the half marathon. It was one of the loneliest feelings I remember. You work so hard to get there, and then they get to finish, and you have to do it all over again. (We will come back to this.) I pressed into the next mile, and at mile 14, something happened that changed my whole race. I developed a cramp in my calf. Now, here is the crazy part. I never experienced one cramp in all of my training. Not once. I stopped, stretched, and ran on, and it got worse. I tried all the things I read about to relieve the cramp, and nothing changed. I would run a while and then have to walk to ease the pressure. After a few miles, the other calf began to cramp. I would never run without walking a distance for the rest of the race. I was mad, angry, discouraged, and worn out.
That is where I saw Kristin and the kids at mile 21. It was a pretty remote part of the course, so they were the only ones out there. I wanted to run as best I could to them, and by the time I got to her, I was done. The kids all hugged me, and she yelled, “You are doing great! Five miles to go!” I lost it. Tearing up, I said, “I can’t do this. My calves are all cramped up. I cannot run without walking.” This was a God moment. Kristin stepped back and looked at me. She stepped back in, and she yelled, “Don’t quit! Don’t quit! Don’t quit! You worked too hard to quit. You will never forgive yourself if you quit!” I looked at her and wanted to say, “You don’t know how bad it feels.” Yet, I didn’t. So, I gave everyone another hug and chugged off. It wasn’t lovely, but I finished.
When I got across the line, I got my stuff and was engulfed in a family hug. I was completely dehydrated and wracked in pain. My brother, Jon, helped me get in the van, and I went back to the hotel and slept in a hot bath. I paid the price, but I finished. I was a marathoner! I will not do another one in my life, but I did that one! (No one ever asks, but my time was 4:35…not too bad.)
Such a great story to unpack some truths about character. Here are my takeaways.
Character comes from core beliefs and values. You have to know what is central to your life to develop character. My relationship with Christ is the foundation of my character. The principles of the Bible for a relationship with Him, others, wisdom, honor, and finances are the basis for my character. The question that you will have to answer is, “What do I want to be known for when people mention my name?” Let me state it clearly: Chris Bonham loves God, loves others, walks in wisdom, values others with honor, and is generous.” That is pretty basic, but that is the character that I want to personify every day.
Character is developed, not given. You will have to work to build character. If you want your life to reflect those beliefs and values, then you will have to use those “muscles” to get stronger in them. Like lifting weights, you start with small weights then move to heavier. You will encounter life decisions that are “small.” Are you going to spend time with God, love others, cheat when you can, cut corners on projects, lie, or disrespect others? You may have done this when you were a child, but you can’t do this as an adult. The little decisions of childhood begin to show you your character for adulthood. You must choose your character and develop those traits daily. Choose wisely. It is a fight.
You will want to quit. Remember the 13-mile mark of my marathon? It was lonely. Ironically, when I sat with Ronn in the hospital before he passed, we talked about mile 13. He did five marathons in his life, and he said something very powerful. He said, “You know, I never turned left and quit the marathon to finish the half. I always turned right and finished.” Character is hard. Remember the verse above. Character is the result of endurance. Endurance is long, hard, tiring, stressful, and appears unending. That is where character is forged. You will want to quit. You will feel like you are alone in your endeavor because others will take the easy route and give in. You will wonder if anyone will notice. You will ask yourself about “just this time.” I will be honest. I didn’t choose character every time. Those times I regret today. Yet, I got back in the race and chose it more times than I didn’t. Enough choices that the character became my foundation.
Have the right people encouraging you. I will never forget the moment Kristin told me not to quit. I have many other people who have spoken into my life when it comes to moments of character. You cannot make it on your own. Invest in people who love you enough to challenge you when you are tempted to quit or take the easy way out. Surround yourself with people who will cheer you on when you do it right. Build a relationship with people who will help you see beneath the surface and who you truly are.
Character leads to hope and love. I have never been the most talented person in any area. I am not the best speaker, strategist, athlete, administrator, husband, father, or pastor. There are always others who seem to be light years ahead of me. BUT…I am the best me I can be. My character reflects my life long journey (marathon) to be everything that God created me to be. My character leads me to hope in all situations that God has it under control and that I can love Him and others with no judgment or condemnation. I can’t do that without a foundation that is rooted in Him.