When I start thinking about what I’m thankful for, it all gets garbled with the normal things: God, family…oatmeal with peanut butter. The things I’ve been given, which I deeply appreciate.
Today, I’m thinking about a few things that God, in His tender and kind grace, didn’t allow to happen, when by all means they should have:
1. I am exceedingly thankful He didn’t allow me to throw my life away -
I grew up loving my life. I was the student body president, all-state pitcher, and boyfriend of the homecoming queen. Then she broke up with me in college and the all-American kid couldn’t handle the rejection, pain and sense of inadequacy. So I dropped out, and began a five-year run of every kind of drug I could find, and every wrong, hidden romantic relationship I could finagle. I was semi-content to just stay in that wasted, stoned, broken-hearted state for the rest of my life. I actually thought I was free. I was not looking for Him. But God had seen enough. And in His mercy He rescued me. If He were in any way vindictive, vengeful or spiteful, I would have been left in a haze of arrogant hopelessness. For He was the brunt of my most wicked and biting jokes. “But even while we were yet sinners, He loved us…” And He brought me into a world I never knew existed. In truth, that scenario is true for all of us. I just was more flamboyant than some in my depravity.How do I thank God for that without becoming almost undone in awe and gratefulness?
2. I am exceedingly thankful He didn’t allow me to compromise my life, while waiting for my wife –
So, I’m 30. I’m in seminary. A new believer, I’d given up everything I own to leave my teaching career and pursue wherever seminary would take me. And now, in the middle of it, I’m lonely. Really lonely. I can’t see my future. I can’t see anything. My heroic decision to go to seminary now just seems silly and presumptuous. I’m working in a Christian elementary school in their afternoon program to make enough money to live on. And every day I talk to this woman as she comes to pick up her child. She’s divorced, has a mean ex-husband and several children. Two things are clear:
1: She doesn’t believe in Jesus 2: She digs me
I can remember rehearsing that to marry her I would have to throw away seminary and immediately find another career. Honestly, I was becoming willing to do it. It wasn’t the life I’d hoped for; but, I was now willing to compromise everything for a woman’s attention and affection. All my life I’d made these kinds of foolish decisions for immediate gratification; but, this time God would not let me. His precious, wooing grace kept me from allowing my passion and loneliness derail my world. It was less than a year later that He revealed my wife to me. That would be Stacey. And she’s the bomb times three. God has given me a family beyond my wildest, wildest dreams. This is not a story about me faithfully waiting on God. I would have ditched His plans in a heartbeat just to fix my loneliness. This is a story about God protecting me because He adores me. How do I thank God for that without becoming almost undone in awe and gratefulness?
3. I am exceedingly thankful He didn’t allow me to run from my world when hurt and broken dreams left me devastated – Less than 8 years ago, it all came falling down. This incredible community of grace I thought would always prevail and never come undone, was unraveling. And I got hurt. My prayers to make it stop seemed to go unanswered and my dreams of how God would use this place to influence the world began to fade. I was sure this was just one of those seasons great people write about later in life where their faith got tested. So I hung in there, hoping I would become one of those great people if I just got by this season. But the season didn’t end. It got worse. And I got revealed in all of my immaturity and sin. Soon my shame and hurt caused me to want to run, far away. I said at the time that I just wanted to quit, move and become a mailman in the hills of Grass Valley. Any inquiry that came to me for a pastor position, I privately answered. How crazy: I was willing to give up everything God had formed in the previous fifteen years of incredible life and ministry together. All these incredible friendships, all this amazing life, all the potential influence, all that had been poured into me, all the friendships my kids had made, I was now eager to abandon. I just wanted the pain to stop. But God knew I would just take the pain with me wherever I would go. He also knew what He had waiting if I could just stay and let Him resolve and heal in His timing. So, He used my kid’s delight of where we were to keep me there. I was trapped; and, in that trap, I learned humility…or something not far from it. I am not a great man; but, I sure have been allowed to do things beyond my wildest dreams because God, in His grace, wouldn’t let me run. How do I thank God for that without becoming almost undone in awe and gratefulness?
There are many times where God has let me fail and choose wrongly. They too fall under His sovereign grace. But I am especially grateful for the ones where He protected me from harming others and myself irreparably. I am thankful beyond any expression for the goodness my Lord has shown me. I love you my God and Savior.
Happy Thanksgiving my friends.