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Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20, emphasis added)
Life is hard. This book could end right now because, frankly, that's one of life's great secrets, and now that you know it, there might not be a whole lot left to say. It is seriously tough out there in the world. I don't want to depress anybody right off the bat, but if you pay any attention at all, you know what I'm talking about. I guess we have to consider the very real possibility that these are simply the last days referred to by the apostle Paul in one of his letters to his friend Timothy-you can read his words for yourself in 2 Timothy 3:1-5. But I have to warn you, it's not encouraging news.
I don't know what your hardship is, but I'm willing to go out on a limb and say you have known trouble in your life. If not, I probably need to take your pulse. Here are some statistics to consider: Nearly 20 percent of Americans report having experienced some form of sexual abuse in their childhood years (Advocates for Youth). 60 percent of Americans are overweight, and 34 percent are considered obese (ANRED). Studies reveal that almost 40 percent of marriages end in divorce (Americans for Divorce Reform). With numbers like these, chances are very good that, like me, you grew up as a statistic of some sort.
My statistic is one of fatherlessness. Did you know that nearly one-third of young Americans have moved into adulthood without a father present (fathersforlife.org)? If you are fatherless too, the statistics say something about your "likelihoods." They say you are 6.6 times more likely than other kids to become a teenage parent. They say you are also 6.6 times more likely to drop out of school, and 15 times more likely to end up in prison while still a teenager. They say you are five times more likely to take your own life (fathersforlife.org). There are other statistics about rape, running away, and behavioral disorders, but none of them are happy.
This is not a book intended to depress anyone. No, this is a book about hope. So let's begin with a big statistic rejection party. Now, I'm not stupid enough to think that statistics have no validity. I understand that most of them have been gathered and weighed in some scientific manner that I don't totally understand. I do understand statistics represent a version of reality. But I believe the reality they represent is one-sided. They show us a reality without hope, without possibility, without Christ.
The statistics are one voice. But God's voice is something else entirely. And the kind of life you have depends on which of those two voices you listen to. From the beginning God has been about beating the odds. Are you ready for my awesome literary device? The first words in this chapter are from Matthew 28:20, "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." These are the last words spoken by Jesus before he ascended into heaven to begin his reign at the right hand of God. See? The first words are the last words. Clever, right? This actually has a greater significance than my own literary cleverness, though.
Before Jesus' death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, people believed God's presence dwelled in a part of the tabernacle called the Holy of Holies. They believed only the holiest of people-a High Priest-could come into the presence of God. And even the High Priest was terrified at the prospect. It was believed that no one could look upon God and live. This belief created some strange problems. For instance, if for any reason the priest were struck dead while in the Holy of Holies, no one else could come in to retrieve his body. So he would enter the room with a rope tied about his ankle. Then if he committed a deadly faux pas, his buddies could simply pull his body out of there.
As Jesus was completing his years of ministry on earth, he was clear that he was God made flesh. People went to ridiculous extremes to be near him-cutting holes in the roofs of homes, climbing trees, diving for the hem of his robe. He was the original rock star.
Scene change. It's late afternoon, and the sun beats down upon three men cruelly hung on Roman crosses. Blood and sweat mingle on the bodies of the crucified men as their strength wanes with each passing second. Suddenly the man in the middle, who moments ago seemed lifeless, cries out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)" A sudden darkness blankets the land as if the sun has been snuffed out by the very hand of God. A quake shakes the foundations of the earth. And then in the Holy of Holies, the curtain that, for hundreds of years, was a sign of the separation between humans and God is cleanly ripped in two. It falls heavily to the floor and-no one dies. The separation is no more. "It is finished," Jesus cried. Humanity is reconciled to its Creator.
This book tells the story of my relationship with my dad, whom I didn't even meet until I was 14 years old. Go figure that one out. I know firsthand how important a dad is to a girl because I grew up with a huge, gaping hole in my world, and our relationship needed some serious reconciliation.
I sometimes joke around with my friends that I'm the little bird from P.D. Eastman's Are You My Mother? (I actually just like to make the face of that confused little birdie.) But growing up without a dad, I often felt just as discombobulated as that little guy. In the story the bird has no idea what a mother is-he was separated from her before he could grow any mom associations. He ends up asking random things-a cow, an airplane, and a steam shovel-if they are his mother.
In the same way I really didn't know what a dad was. I had invented a fairy-tale guy in my head, but beyond the basics that I wanted to know-did I look like him? laugh like him?-I had never grown any dad associations. I had watched my friends with their dads, but none of them could adequately answer the question of what my dad would have meant to me. Could he have convinced me I was beautiful? Would I have been more involved in school if he were around? Would he have made me feel protected? Would I trust men more if he had been there to show me how an honorable man acts? Like that little bird, I had no idea what to look for.
I was on my way to fulfilling a number of those other "fatherless" statistics several times. I'll tell those stories in this book. But I want these first words to reveal who I am today. I don't want to make you wait, and I don't want to leave you guessing.
My hope is that people know that what they see is what they get with me. I value realness as much as anybody else in my generation. I am sometimes needy, sometimes profound, sometimes silly, sometimes deep and sensitive, and sometimes in need of a stern reality check from people who love me. I don't want you to think I've arrived yet. In the big picture it all comes back to those last words. While the world often seems to have little room for anything other than bitterness and division, I see God leading me-and you-in another direction.
To stay bitter is too easy, and there's a part of me that resents "too easy." How about you? I'm not one of those people who want a head start in a race. I don't want my opponent to let me win. And I'm in if God says, "I'm going to do this great thing for you, but it's not going to be easy. It might take a while."
In all of our trials, in all of our tribulations, in our heartaches and our brokenness, God is there. We have a choice: We can walk with God, or we can walk away from him. We have been given authority. We have been assigned purpose. We were slaves, but now we are free.
Too often we bow to statistics, standards, and norms as if they are the only way the pendulum of our lives can swing. I want you to know the truth. Jesus said it: "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). At every crossroads you have a choice. Some people choose to take heart and believe the promise that Jesus has won. Others choose a life of futility, always trying to script the end of a story that has already been written.
Which way will you go at that crossroads? This book is rich with stories-some are mine; some belong to other people. All of them point the way to the promises of God. They are sometimes raw stories, written by broken and vulnerable people just like you and me. These are the stories of my rock star friends. Most play no instruments. Most have no national stage. They are simply people who have decided to let love be loud and to rock whatever circumstances God has given them. I hope that in these stories you, too, will find the courage to win.
SO YOU WANT TO BE A ROCK STAR?
When Life Hands You a Loss by Leah Coll
I had a nice life: two-parent family, raised in the church, accepted Christ at age 11, dated and then married my high school sweetheart. I became a nurse, bought a first home with my hubby, and became pregnant. Just the way life is supposed to go.
I'll slow down enough to say that even though most people would have called me a nice person, the person nobody knew was selfish and shallow. Selfish-girl burst to the surface big-time when I got pregnant. My husband, Jeff, and I were happy together, but I was not happy about having a child-not yet. I had things to do. Money to make. A career to have.
Because I was a good Christian girl, abortion was unthinkable; so slowly, I began to accept the new life in me.
Enter whammy number one.
Jeff was killed in a car accident while returning home from a high school football game. I gave birth to "little Jeff" three weeks later. It is typical of a grieving person to bargain with God-I did. I remember praying something like this: "Okay, God. I thought I had it all figured out. I had the husband, the job, and now a baby. It was supposed to be a two-parent family, right?" Then I boldly declared, "Well, I guess I'll trust you, but you better have a better plan than mine."
The next two years devastated me. I described it once as feeling as though my skin were off. Emotionally I was raw. Young and immature in my faith and in general, I did a lot of crying and wailing over my circumstances. "Why me, God?" I wanted to know. "This isn't fair."
Time and the prayers and support of those who loved me began a healing process. I became a little less selfish and a little more thankful. A little more concerned about my son and not only about myself.
In time I began to date. Rob, a doctor at the hospital where I worked, became hubby number two, and he adopted my son, Jeff. And so I began the rest of my now happy life with a doctor husband. I had rededicated my life to the Lord, but I think when I married Rob I might have thought something like, Hey, thanks a bunch, God! Really appreciate the help the last couple of years. You can go. We'll be okay now.
Enter whammy number two.
Rob and I had been married six years when we had a daughter, Emily. Three years later, nine-year-old Jeff experienced a ruptured brain aneurysm that should have killed him. It didn't. Instead, it caused a stroke that led to severe physical damage. After months in the hospital, Jeff was able to come home where he began slowly-very, very slowly-to recover.
My reaction to whammy number two was different. I believed God could bring good out of this difficult situation and I needed to look for that good. That was easy to do in my head, but I didn't realize how much work the Lord had yet to do in my heart.
On many days I questioned why Jeff had to struggle so much. But other times-and it's hard to admit this-much of my frustration and anger and prayer that Jeff would be healed had nothing to do with him. I wanted him to get better because I wanted things to be easier for me.
One day I was running late for an appointment, as usual. Jeff sat on the steps waiting patiently for me to tie his shoes and move him to his wheelchair. As I knelt to tie his shoes, resentment and anger welled up in me. Inwardly I yelled at God, I shouldn't have to be doing this. He's 10 years old. I shouldn't have to tie his shoes anymore. I screamed inside my head as I roughly pulled the laces, I hate this.
Unexpectedly I heard the Lord's voice quietly reply, I didn't enjoy going to the cross either, Leah. But I did it gladly for you. I suddenly saw my anger for what it was: selfishness and pride. Weeping, I confessed, "Lord Jesus, if I have to tie Jeff's shoes for the rest of his life and mine, let me do it gladly for you."
That was 12 years ago. Today Jeff uses a power wheelchair. He has no use of his left hand, but God gave him the strength and patience to work hard on his recovery. He now attends a Christian college and is preparing for full-time ministry. Most of the time he's able to wear shoes with a nifty Velcro strap, but there are still days when I have the privilege of tying his shoes.
Excerpted from Crossroads by Stephanie Smith Suzy Weibel
Copyright © 2008 by Stephanie Smith and Suzy Weibel. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted October 9, 2010
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