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Louder than Words
By Andy Stanley
Multnomah Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2004 Andy Stanley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Making of a Mountain
October 21, 1966. It was another enchanting morning in the tiny Welsh village of Aberfan. As dawn broke across the shimmering emerald valleys of South Wales, the townspeople began to stir in the slate-roofed homes that speckled the hillsides of this coal mining town. A stream of ash-coated figures flowed steadily into the colliery that had given birth to this quaint community.
Not far away, ten-year-old Dilys Powell made her way down the cobblestone streets to gather with classmates in the Pantglas Junior and Infants School on Merry Road. On a typical day, this stately red brick building was home for some two hundred and fifty children of the village.
To the weathered men and women who bore the scars of a lifetime in the coal pits, this town was not without its faults. But through the untainted eyes of a child, every scene added depth to a colorful tapestry called home. Through the dusty windowpanes along the back of the school, the verdant hills were vibrant with color. The one exception was the tall, foreboding black mountain that stood at the edge of town.
To the casual observer, it appeared as an unusually shaped monolith-a single piece of rock piercing the earth's crust and serving as the foundation for the entire region. But the people of Aberfan knew better. For them it was a monument to the years of labor that had made Aberfan home.
In the moments that followed, this same monument was to capture the attention of children and adults the world over.
Since 1870, the pile of mining debris had been rising ever so gradually from the valley floor. Huge bins, carted by overhead cables, had been dumping loads of coal waste continually for nearly a century. As the townspeople were lulled by the years of monotonous dumping, the slag heap had gradually become a natural part of the landscape. Now it stood hundreds of feet high.
October had seen abnormally heavy rains fall upon the valley, turning the coal mound and the surrounding earth into a giant sponge. On the morning of October 21, David John Evans, a maintenance worker at the local colliery, climbed the hill near the waste pile to look into reports that the giant mass was moving. Without realizing it, he had just assumed a front-row seat for one of the worst mining disasters in history.
By 9:30 A.M. Dylis Powell and her friends had taken their seats. "We were laughing and playing among ourselves, waiting for our teacher to call the register," she recalled later. "We heard a noise and the room seemed to be flying around. The desks were falling and the children were shouting and screaming."
Across the street, Mrs. Pearl Crowe heard a low rumble and glanced out her window. "I saw a black mass of moving waste pouring steadily into the school, and part of the school collapsed. I was paralyzed."
When Mrs. Gwyneth Davies heard the noise, she turned in time to see that "the mountain had covered the school."
In a matter of seconds, the face of Aberfan changed forever. Liquefied by the heavy rains, two million tons of coal, rock, and mud flowed down the mountainside and into the valley. The school, along with a cluster of homes, was crushed. More than two hundred people, mostly children, were killed. An entire generation of Aberfan had been virtually wiped out. And all because of a mountain that wasn't really a mountain at all.
For years, the people of Aberfan had worked to build a community. The giant coal mountain stood like the centerpiece of a city carved out of the Welsh landscape by years of diligent labor. It was a growing legacy left for each passing generation. But in the course of one day, all of that changed.
But this was a day that had been in the making for some time.
As a pastor, I spend a great deal of time with people who are digging themselves out from under personal catastrophes-events that were often years in the making, but which took them "by surprise." A broken marriage, an unwanted pregnancy, a financial crisis, problems at work. As I listen, two questions race through my mind: Why is it that we have such a difficult time recognizing the traps we lay for ourselves? and What could this person have done to avoid this situation?
The answers almost always seem to boil down to the same issue.
Character. Compromised convictions. Reshuffled values. Selfishness. Somewhere these individuals veered off the path of rightness. But nothing happened at first. At least nothing they were aware of. This was the beginning of their personal slag heap. And it stood within striking distance of their souls.
There is another group of people with whom I interface on a regular basis, those who are facing the inevitable storms of life that are not of their own making. Storms created by the character deficits of others. Storms that are a natural part of a fallen world.
There in the midst of unjust treatment and seemingly undeserved pain, the true character of a man or woman is revealed. Pretense is peeled away. Inherited, untested belief systems crumble. Religious and social correctness are jettisoned. What you see in such moments is what was really there all along.
And while many are broken, swept away by the winds of anger or despair, there emerges from the severest of storms a unique breed of people whose godly perspective and attitude remain intact. Like a great northern pine perched on an outcropping of rock, their foundations run deep. Clearly, there is more to them than meets the eye. These are the men and women who have invested years of their lives not in that which is seen, but in that which is unseen.
These are people of character. Men and women whose actions and attitudes speak for them. Louder than words, their lives speak of that which is within them.
The Real You
Your character is who you truly are.
It will impact how much you accomplish in this life.
It will determine whether or not you are worth knowing.
It will make or break every one of your relationships.
Your character is instrumental in establishing how long you will be able to hold on to the fortune afforded you by hard work and good luck. Your character is the internal script that will determine your response to failure, success, mistreatment, and pain. It reaches into every single facet of your life. It is more far-reaching than your talent, your education, your background, or your network of friends. Those things can open doors for you, but your character will determine what happens once you pass through those doors.
Your good looks and net worth may get you married; your character will keep you married. Your God-given reproductive system may enable you to produce children; your character will determine your ability to relate to and communicate with those children.
This is a book about change. It's about a lifelong process of taking raw materials and molding, shaping, and refining them into a finished product. Whether you like it or not, that process is already happening inside you. It began the day you were born, and it will continue right up until the day you die.
Along the way, change is always taking place. Much of the time it goes unnoticed. Many of us planted trees as children, trees that appeared to be the same size the day we left home as they were when we planted them. Not until years later, when we returned to the old homestead, were we able to detect noticeable growth. Nevertheless, something was happening during those childhood days. A process was underway that eventually produced a mature tree. And years later we stand and marvel at the change.
What is true of every living thing is true of your character. Your character is not stagnant, but is either developing or deteriorating. You are not the same person you were yesterday. True, you may not sense any change right now. You may not be aware of any difference. But I assure you, if you were to leave and return ten years from now, you would be amazed, shocked, perhaps overjoyed, perhaps saddened at the difference.
You have changed and you are changing. And just as your outer self slowly reflects the unavoidable changes brought on by time, so your inner self takes on similar, yet not so unavoidable, changes.
Where Are You Going?
Who will you be in five years? Ten years? I'm not referring to your role or job title. For just a moment, lay aside the dreams that involve your career or net worth. I'm talking about what you hope to find on the inside. What kind of person do you hope to become?
Today, you took a step. You either moved closer to or further away from what you hope to be. Most people moved further away. A handful overcame the negative inertia of this fallen world and moved forward. But nobody-nobody-stood still.
Conducting funerals is certainly not the most pleasant aspect of my job, but one thing is unmistakably clear: There are good funerals, and there are bad funerals. At a good funeral you celebrate a life-you hear stories about love, kindness, putting others first, faithfulness, mentoring, sharing. At a bad funeral you hear stories about golf and decorating. There's certainly nothing wrong with golf or decorating. But when your assignment is to take three minutes and share with friends and family members what you remember most about Ol' So-'n'-So, and to fill the time you have to tell a golf story ... Come on.
My point? Your character, not accomplishments or acquisitions, determines your legacy. Is that important? Yes, it's very important. And the older you get, the more important it will become. The problem is, character is like a tree-it doesn't develop overnight. Real character is developed over a lifetime. You can't wait until the last minute, pull an all-nighter, and expect to earn a passing grade. The measure of a man or woman's character is not determined by a fill-in-the-blank or true-or-false exam.
This is an essay test.
An essay that takes a lifetime to write.
Today you wrote a section.
It wasn't a long section. By itself it probably wasn't even a significant section. Today's section was likely only a slight variation on yesterday's. But look back in ten years-or twenty years-and you will be surprised. Whether it is a pleasant or unpleasant surprise is completely up to you.
"Hold on," you say. "Completely up to me? I don't think so. There are a lot of things that impact my character that I have no control over!"
You're right if you're talking about your starting point-where you began and who you began with. Certainly there are events, experiences, abuses that can put you at a disadvantage in the starting blocks of life. You do not choose your starting point. But you do have the opportunity-and responsibility-to choose where you end up. Because character is not as much about what you are as it is what you are becoming. It is not so much an issue of where you are as it is where you are headed.
One more thing. This is not a solo flight. This is not a "be all you can be" kind of thing. The truth is, most of us are being all we can be. And that's the problem. Being all we can be isn't enough. We need to be what we aren't, and, left to our own devices, we cannot become anything other than what we are.
And so our merciful heavenly Father smiles (and, in some cases, shakes His head) and offers a hand. A very large hand.
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.... If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8 :29,31, NIV
Excerpted from Louder than Words by Andy Stanley Copyright © 2004 by Andy Stanley. Excerpted by permission.
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