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The First Rule of Holes

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It was the best of calls. It was the worst of calls.

A recent 24 hour shift day is reminiscent of that similar opening of Charles Dickens’ famous novel A Tale Of Two Cities

An early morning residential fire came in at shift change. My crew and I were first on scene and were fortunate to have been notified early enough to arrive in time to effect a rescue (a liberal use of the term ‘rescue’ for those who are reading this who have fire service experience). We assisted a person from the residence, partially under her own power. But at the end of the day, it’s hard to look back on that particular incident and not have a little pride in my colleagues’ performance that morning…knowing that everyone on scene that morning came together in such a way that we changed the immediate course of life for one individual. The best possible outcome.

Fast forward about seventeen hours. The initial call out was for breathing problems. Within the hour, she died right in front of us, despite our best efforts to revive her. The result of an apparent and alleged overdose…with young kids in the next room. The worst possible outcome.

I’ve often said, “if you only knew ten percent of the sins I commit just in my head, you’d be ashamed to call me friend.” In the aftermath of a recent poor choice I made to be willfully disobedient to God’s law and will for my life, I’ve been wrestling with the ensuing guilt. In my confession and prayer time since then, He has revealed three things to me:

1. I have been internally judgmental of the people whose lives touch mine daily through my job. Not so much outwardly judgmental, though some statements I tend to make now and then are indeed judgmental…but the conversations I have in my head that are just between me and God…those alone separate me from a true fellowship with Him.

When I open the doors of some stranger’s house who’s called me and my colleagues for assistance, it’s not for me to judge their ability and choice to live ankle deep in a house covered wall to wall in empty liquor bottles and bags filled with remnants of fast food leftovers, all covered in urine and feces. Nor is it for me to question how someone reached the point in their life where doing crack cocaine in front of kids as young as 4 years old becomes acceptable to them. It’s certainly not okay for me to openly make these observations around my colleagues or support their similar observations, but equally important, it’s not okay for these thoughts to remain in my own thoughts. It’s for me to do my job…and to do it through the lens of a disciple of Christ. To approach every situation looking through His eyes and finding ways to shed His light into the darkness.

2. The recently ‘single’ poor choice that finally brought me to this point of confession and repentance was not a singular choice at all…rather it was a choice made in a long succession of a similarly small choices I’ve made daily over time to not make Him the center of my life.

I have not been walking with God for a couple weeks now…not been in the Word daily like I’ve grown accustomed to in recents months. And it has affected how I act and the lens through which I see those around me. You see, when I’m in His Word daily, praying in faith regularly and fellowshipping with other believers, I fully recognize the truth found in John 15:5…that without the power of Christ living in the center of my life, I can do nothing. When I’m walking as a disciple of Christ, hiding the Word in my heart and mind, I am fully aware that I can do NOTHING of my own power…that I am completely reliant on God to get me through days like this. That I alone cannot win the fight against the devil’s temptations to pull me away from a real relationship with my LORD, Jesus. And I see the world and those around me differently, through the lens of Christ’s eyes, not my own.

3. I am no different from many of the individuals that I meet in any given day at work. I’m not going to go into details about what that means, to be respectful of any privacy issues that shouldn’t be brought to light here…but I’ll say this.

I didn’t wake up on this side of my addiction to pornography one day and look back over 30 years to find one singular incident that brought me here. It was a lifetime of daily choices to make my addiction a priority.

It’s easy to stand on the outside of someone’s life and look in with some level of objectivity and ask the question, “how can someone live like this?” It’s easier when the person into whose life we’re looking is a stranger to us. It’s much different to look into our own life with that same set of eyes and sense of objectivity.

You see, we don’t get to the bottom of the hole we find ourselves in by simply jumping in the hole with both feet and the knowledge that the hole is so deep we won’t be able to crawl out on our own. No, we get there one scoop at a time. We shovel some dirt out from under our feet and stay put. We look at our situation and say to ourselves “It’s just one time.” Then we take another scoop out from underneath ourselves and say, “I got this.” Scoop. “It’s just this one last time.” Scoop. “I’m in control still.” Scoop. “That was the last one, I promise.” Scoop. “This doesn’t control me.” Scoop. “I’m okay.” Scoop. “It’s not that bad.” Scoop.

Gradually. Slowly. Over time. Often most of our lives. This process repeats itself until one day we wake up to find ourselves looking up from the bottom of a hole we can no longer climb out of alone. It’s too deep now. And we wonder, “how’d I get here? How’d it get this bad?” For some, that realization never comes, and they’ll live the rest of their lives in their own personal hole of self destruction. The end of their days on earth will come at the bottom of that hole.

For others, the realization will hit them, but they’ll either be too proud to ask for help or have exhausted their relationships over the years to the point that they have no one to turn to for help. For others, they’ll realize the situation they’re in before it’s too late and ask for help. Not a handout, but a hand up.

The small choices we make daily are what put us where we are. For a believer such as me, it may be a swear word here. A laugh at an inappropriate joke there. Stealing a glance at that pretty woman. Not removing ourselves from a conversation that becomes gossip. Not standing up for someone who’s not there to defend himself. A few words snipped in anger. A white lie to a colleague on the job. A prideful thought or comment at the breakfast table. Not waking up to start the day in prayer and the reading of Scripture. Missing worship service when we’re tired. Skipping a Bible study when there’s a conflict in our schedule.

The seemingly small and minuscule decisions we make daily not only reflect the level of our integrity, but can gradually and slowly accumulate over time to the point that we find ourselves in too deep…wondering how we got here at all. The priorities we choose, while in the moment may seem like decisions that won’t have long-lasting affects, do indeed begin to change who we are and how we live.

I’m fortunate enough to be blessed with a group of Godly men as friends. Men I can turn to and share my failures with. Men who will not say to me “it’s okay…you’re doing the best you can.” Men who will instead say, “I know where you’re at. I’ve been there.” And then ask the tough questions, “What are you going to do to fix it? How can I help hold you accountable?”

I’m fortunate to be loved by a woman who seeks God with all her heart and who extends to me a level of grace and love that is beyond what I deserve. A woman who holds me accountable and keeps me in check in more ways than I can count.

I’m fortunate to serve a God who knows my failures and accepts me for who I am. He is just and does not allow me to continue living in my sin. He extends forgiveness and grace to me when I humbly and fervently fall at His feet in repentance, turning from my sin toward Him. He strengthens me when I am weak. He guides me when I follow Him. He lifts me when I’ve fallen. He carries me when I need Him. He fills me when I am empty. He humbles me when I am prideful. He awakens me when I am asleep at the wheel. He renews me when I am weary. He feeds me when I am hungry. He is an endless fountain of living water when I am thirsty. He heals me when I am broken. He empowers me when I connect with Him. He reveals himself to me when I seek Him. He befriends me when I talk to Him. He defends me when I am attacked. He saves me when I am lost. He lights a path for me in the dark. He provides a stable foundation when I am shaken. He blesses me when I humbly serve Him. He is constant and unchanging when I waver. He is always present, even when I am absent. He seeks me when I turn from Him. He waits for me when I run from Him. He is there when I return. He is faithful to me when I am unfaithful. He loves me when I am unlovable.

It’s my prayer today, that if you’ve found yourself reading this note and are in your own personal hole of self destruction, that you are filled with a godly discernment to see it and a godly strength and endurance to overcome it. If you’ve crawled your way out of your hole, I encourage you to look around you. Someone within your circle of influence is in their own hole. You may just be the one single person who can pull them up.

Love,

Dad

P.S. Your mom would add this gem of wisdom…and thus the title of this note was born. Remember the first rule of holes? When you’re in one, stop digging.

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Awoken by a Whisper

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Have you ever been sleeping so soundly that it seems a loud noise like the slamming of a door wouldn’t have awoken you, yet been awakened from that deep sleep anyway…with only a whisper? A whisper so soft you might not hear it while you’re awake? A whisper so gentle and quiet that the noise of your daily, fast-paced, non-stop, hectic life would drown it out? Yet in the deepest, most restful slumber you’ve had in months…maybe even years…this soft, peaceful whisper courses through your innermost being and startles you into complete consciousness…so alert to your surroundings, you feel like you were never asleep? I have.

I’m a naturally deep sleeper…such a deep sleeper in fact that as a teenager, the house next door to ours literally exploded from a gas leak inside, and while sleeping only 50 feet away, I slept through it…only awakened by my dad as he ran through the room yelling for mom to call 911 because the neighbor’s house had exploded and was now on fire. Even as I stumbled from bed, I was groggy and not alert for quite awhile…which is how I usually am in the mornings. I’m not fully awake and alert for an hour or more most mornings…certainly not before the coffee hits my lips.

Yet, it was just that…a whisper…that jolted me awake this morning. I remember my dream beforehand very vividly, which for me is not normal either. It was an evil, perverted, twisted and not-God-honoring dream at all. I’m not going to be sharing any more than that, except to say this…addiction sucks. My addiction invades even my dreams, leaving me little hope for a reprieve, except for when I am drawing near to God through prayer and the Word…and even then it’s often still there in the back of my thoughts. Yet in the midst of my dream, in a place where God’s holiness would never reside, it was just that…a soft whisper that coursed through my veins…literally gave me chill bumps from head to toe…and jolted me out of slumber into complete and total alertness. It literally felt like someone was standing right next to me, watching me sleep, as they leaned into my ear and whispered one word. My name. I get chill bumps even reliving it now to share it here.

Over my morning coffee, before reading His Word, my prayer was this…Lord, please take these desires from me. I cannot fight this addiction alone. I no longer desire for this to so greatly invade my thoughts. I do not long for this anymore, Lord. To win this battle for my mind, heart and soul, I acknowledge that You must take this from me. Please. Please Lord. Please take this from me.

In my readings after that prayer, I find this:

“My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, listening closely to wisdom and directing your heart to understanding: furthermore, if you call out to insight and lift your voice to understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it like hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He stores up success for the upright; he is a shield to those who live with integrity so that He may guard the paths of justice and protect the ways of His loyal followers. Then you will understand righteousness, justice and integrity – every good path. For wisdom will enter your mind, and knowledge will delight your heart. Discretion will watch over you, and understanding will guard you, rescuing you from the way of evil – from the one who says perverse things, from those who abandon the right paths to walk in ways of darkness, from those who enjoy doing evil and celebrate perversion, whose paths are crooked, and whose ways are devious.” – Proverbs 2:1-15

“She [wisdom and understanding] is more precious than jewels; nothing you desire compares with her.” – Proverbs 3:15

“Maintain your competence and discretion. My son, don’t lose sight of them. They will be life for you and adornment for your neck. Then you will go safely on your way; your foot will not stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid; you will lie down, and your sleep will be pleasant. Don’t fear sudden danger or the ruin of the wicked when it comes, for The Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from a snare.” – Proverbs 3:21-26

A whisper. God is in the whisper. Nothing more than a soft, gentle whisper is all He needs to jolt reality into us. To bring us up from the depths of evil and despair. To heal us. To turn us toward Him. He awoke me from my slumber this morning with nothing more than His whispering my name…as if He was standing right beside me. Indeed He was…and is.

When the noise of daily life drowns out the whisper that calls us to draw near to Him, He grabs our attention by any means necessary to turn us toward Him. It can be as much as a slap in the face with a 2×4, or as little as a soft, gentle whisper in our ears while we sleep. Either way, it’s done so that we will “Be still, and know that [He is] God.” – Psalm 46:10

Love,

Dad

Lord, I believe this morning Your whisper is what coursed through every fiber of my being and startled me awake. I do not claim to know with certainty what the true purpose of that whisper is, and I am choosing right now to believe You are calling me to a life of integrity. If you have another purpose for it, please reveal it to me in Your will. I implore you, gracious Father, I cannot live that life of discretion and integrity without You. Without You removing these wicked desires from me. Without You residing within me. I will do my part and draw near to You through the reading of Your Word and through prayer. And I cling to the promise that you will fill me with Your wisdom, knowledge, discernment and understanding. Thank you for continually offering grace and forgiveness to me, though I do not deserve either. Though I fail you miserably over and over again, you have never failed me…and for that I know nothing else to say, except thank you.

Amen