As I’m writing this, I’m watching the colors of the leaves change almost daily. What a few days before was a splash of green is now mixed with yellows and reds and a few leaves that have already turned brown. Each day is a visible reminder that life has seasons, and rather than complain about the seasons, we should embrace them and ask God to teach us what He wants us to learn. Just think about all the seasons you go through if you live a long life:
- Teenage years
- Going off to college or getting your first job
- Moving away from home
- Getting married
- All the seasons around having or not having kids
- Empty nest
- Aging parents
- Changing careers
- The death of a child, spouse, or parent
- The end of your youthful idealism and the reality that life isn’t fair
- Spiritual transformation
- Times of personal revival and renewal
- Changes in your health
All these require us to embrace a new normal. Each one impacts each one of us differently. None of us are alike, and how we handle these situations will be different depending on your background, life experiences, faith, and the support of friends and family. None of these changes are easy. All of them are a reality that must be dealt with. We can whine about them or embrace them. We can grow bitter in the process or ask God to teach us to walk by faith. Often we give the social media post we want people to see so they believe the best about us. In reality, it’s what is really going on in our hearts, those thoughts and feelings that only God can know, that gives us insight into the depth or lack of depth in our faith.
This has been a hard season for me personally. We claimed a verse for this year from the book of Habakkuk that is a two-edged sword: “Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days. You would not believe if you were told…” (1:5) Habakkuk was talking to God about the terrible situation he was in. He was calling to God for help. God answered. It wasn’t a health-and-wealth, prosperity gospel response. He certainly didn’t tell Habakkuk, “Be astonished, this is your best life now.” There is no name-it-and-claim-it declaration in this verse. God said, “I’ve heard you. You need to know there is impending doom (the Chaldeans), but there is also a message of hope.” Habakkuk was dealing with the age-old problem of why God allows evil and whether God even hears us when we pray.
One of my heroes Ron Dunn often said, “Good and evil run on parallel tracks and they normally arrive about the same time.” We’ve seen this ring true in our lives this year. We’ve seen God answer prayers. We’ve learned the name and a lot of information about my birth mom. I now have pictures of the woman who gave birth to me 65 years ago. Since the age of 39, I’ve been hoping to learn something about my birth mom. This year, many questions were answered. Yes, there’s still more to learn, but I know her face, I’ve seen her handwriting, and I’ve talked to her former pastor. All in all, it’s been very, very good.
In addition, almost our entire family went to Israel together for the first time – Terri, her brother and sister, our girls, and my niece and her husband. In September, we had one of our best ReFRESH® conferences ever at Sherwood. The church has been healthy and growing and increasing in diversity. These are in and of themselves worthy of observation and wonder.
At the same time, the “bad” showed up – first in a PSA test the day before we left for Israel, then increased PSA numbers as they tried to evaluate the cause of the symptoms. Finally, in August, we heard “the C-word” and our world changed. We began to see the reality of the brevity of life, and it took our breath away. Terri and I have prayed, cried, sought wisdom from the Word, and received hundreds of text messages, prayer cards, and phone calls. In the bad we’ve seen the good – a praying church, people believing God on our behalf, people standing in the gap for us before the throne of grace. I’ve observed and wondered at how many people have stepped up to stand in the gap. I’m blessed by incredible staff and laity who know what to do and who do it well.
It’s been hard not being in the pulpit. I miss Sundays at Sherwood. I hate that I missed the release of our newest worship project. I love the daily grind. I love the staff and people I get to do ministry with. I love my church and the people who make up what is known as Sherwood. We are a family. Not perfect, but the best family I’ve ever been associated with. To have to be away when the eye of Hurricane Michael roared across Southwest Georgia and came right through our area as a Category 2 hurricane was difficult to say the least. I didn’t know what was going on. I couldn’t do anything to assist. I felt helpless. Yet a few months ago, God had spoken to my heart (before I knew I had cancer) and said, “Step back and watch what I can do.” I did. The first evidence was one night in August when over 60 people joined the church in one day. The next evidence was how God used the message of hope in ReFRESH® and how it resonated with our people. Next, I found that He has been consistently faithful in the wake of the storm. Although Albany and our entire region has taken another gut punch (the third in less than two years), our people have risen to the occasion.
At every turn in this season, when it seems winter is approaching, there are signs of life, hope, joy, and peace. The cool air refreshes my soul. The mountains are my happy place. My treatment team is amazing, and many of them are believers. They’ve asked me to write a blog and do a video for them about my experience here. My doctor has prayed with me, and we’ve had opportunities to be salt and light in a place where everyone is here for cancer treatment. I could tell you more, but “you would not believe it if you were told…”
Until the next time, keep your eyes on Jesus. Be faithful to His church. Love someone who is hurting. Pray for someone who is going through a dark valley. Show someone that Jesus loves them.