I’m the type of person who thrives off encouragement. Verbal encouragement. Words of inspiration. Motivation. Isn’t that most of us if we’re honest?
I thrive “on the push.” There’s a difference between the pushy person and the person who pushes you. Pushy people create walls and barriers between the very people they’re trying to get to conform to their ideas/thoughts/whatever. On the other hand, when someone, out of LOVE pushes you out of your comfort zone to be your best you feel the stretch now and thank them later. I can thank a number of people for this starting with my own mother, father, step-mother, step-father, Pastor, friends, wife. You can see I have a big family? It’s not ending either!
With all that said let me get to the point. I want to share this word God had given me awhile ago and it’s only been watered more since then:
The places we feel most stretched are the same ones God is growing us most. The areas we feel least competent are the SAME He is bringing us the most competence through reliance on Him. On His plan.
That’s a promise if you are His child and are in His will. Sure, you can fight it. Disagree with it. Quit. Cry. Whine. Complain. And all that in order. What do you get when you put all of it in one song? A country song, of course! Okay, back to being serious. I do like country so chill out before heating up.
You can do all of the griping you want. There will be tears through the process of growth. Ever witnessed the planting of seeds which become trees? When they’re rooted, they go down deep. They get in there! They’re forced down. If they had voices they’d be like “WOAH. GET ME OUT!” But it’s all to remain stable and have deep roots, whereas if they weren’t they’d be tossed by whichever wind comes their way. Do you want to be tossed by every wind?
“And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the UNITY of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may NO LONGER be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Ephesians 4:11-14) ESV
The areas in our work and life that stretch us most are often where we’re being planted deepest. I’ll say it again. You can disagree, cry, and complain about it. And you will feel like doing all three during the process. Or you can ride the wave and catch God at work. Watch Him work. I say this through experience. Here’s my story:
“God at Work” at my Work
My first job out of college was a great fit. Great hours. Flexible schedule! I loved my “clients”. I worked with teens and 10-12 years old mentoring them and modeling for them social skills, coping skills and what it means to be a man. I added that last piece in because I was, after all, working as unto the Lord and thought it a crucial skill that I couldn’t pass it up giving them.
Many of the youths I worked with were orphans living with their foster families. My very first case was with a young boy, who we’ll call Nate, so to respect his personal info.
I arrived at his house for the first meeting to meet his mother, a warm foster mother with a stern grip on her foster son and the gravity of his case. She told me the very same day he’d stolen an item from a store and now was going to bring her son to the police station to have a cop talk to him about the seriousness of his actions. Wanna join me? How could I turn down an offer like this.
My mind was going, I was thinking oh boy. But I still felt I had a handle on the whole situation and that I would really like to meet the boy already. We all went to the police station where the cop scared Nate straight, that’s for sure. He would straighten up after that talk.
When I arrived to her house, she called Nate in, who was playing in the sunroom with his toy dinosaurs. Dinosaurs, that would become the mark by which I’ll always remember Nate. He loved them. Out came Nate, an innocent enough looking normal, 12 year old.
I shook his hand and introduced myself. He appeared shy but friendly. Awkward, but unassuming. He had a pure heart. I saw a version of my 12 year old, shy self in him. Nate was on the autistic spectrum, only he appeared to look and function like any other 12 year old boy. Only with an overload of energy.
As I talked with Nate we immediately developed a connection. God knew all along this was the case He was going to give me, of course He did. Little did I know just how much Nate needed this relationship. Nate’s love of music, his talent in many instruments and openness to God were all things too coincidental for circumstance. God was at work. But that wouldn’t mean I wouldn’t have to be too!
The Fun Ends right When the Job Begins
In fact, before I even knew Nate’s family was Christian, I was talking in the kitchen with his mother and learning about their family. It was after I met Nate on the first day. She told me casually where one of her oldest daughter’s went to college. I thought it was a Christian one so I asked if their family was also. She told me it sure was. I was amazed in that moment and overwhelmed by the very clear hand of God in my area of work so soon. That’s what God does. Prayer works.
I was thanking God all evening. Amazed by Him. This was going to be the greatest job. I was going to enjoy being around the family and teaching Nate all that I could. How ideal. Yeah….how ideal…
Yeah, that ended the very next meeting. I was feeling crushed.
I was taking Nate to play around his yard. Nate was such a happy youth. Energetic to the core. Here’s how that played out. Wherever I took Nate, he would take off. I mean wherever. Wherever I would walk with Nate, he would walk off. No alert, no notice, and no telling where he would land. He had the oomph of Usain Bolt, the wits of Bill Nye and the sincerity of Jesus. I cannot make this stuff up.
So when we headed out to enjoy the weather in the backyard Nate wrapped himself in a round of bushes and went through them. Into a neighbors yard. Into the neighborhood. I was on the chase. Welcome to parenthood, Alex! Only he’s not your child, and you’re going to have to learn quick!
I learned quicker how tight a rope his parents had on him. They had to. He was like a fire gone lose, a wind going in whatever direction it felt. But he was a great kid. Had a great heart. And I had a heart for him. It was this reason why I believe when I’d felt like giving up, when I’d get into conflict with his parents, when Nate would make conflicts by doing what he wanted in public places that I didn’t. I was so new at this position, in the very beginning I remember a hard conversation I had with Nate’s foster father. He had a sheet of paper with him. He’d asked for a copy of my resume last week. He had a stern, menacing look on his face. No games.
He goes, “so I see you worked here and there,” pointing out my last jobs.
Yes….was this a second interview. I didn’t know what the point was. I felt right then that most people would’ve walked out right then or worse.
I wasn’t called to be like most people. Besides, the work I was doing was for a life that was very moldable. I needed to see past whatever I was interpreting in this moment. Nate has a heart that was captured by God’s love, eager to pursue it along with everything else in its grasp that looked good to him.
So I held my tongue. I answered and asked him what he was getting at. He became gentler and told me he wanted to help me out. Nate was a lot. The family wanted to give me pointers for what has worked best with him. Little did I know, they would. Little did they know I would as well. They encouraged me with helping to keep a tighter leash on him. I encouraged them with letting their young man, well, act like it. Wild at heart. That’s what all boys are, what all men feel. It’s great to let that masculine energy out in the right ways. To teach that. I know Nate allowed us all to learn many things. And often times that meant keeping a “tight leash” on him and really correcting him often and seriously.
Yeah, so much for the idea I could be like a “fun uncle.” I’d probably unknowingly and unintentionally thought my role would look like that in practice, now looking back. I wouldn’t trade working with Nate for anything.
But you know what? Through it all, I saw God work. My communication skills improved. Not just between Nate and I but between the family and I. My resilience strengthened. My faith in God deepened. And slowly, as God stretched me He began to grow me. I began to exhibit fatherly qualities that couldn’t or maybe wouldn’t have been worked out in any other way than if I’d been in the position I was in. I had to be stern with Nate, I had to also be fun. We were goofy a lot. Nate had a contagious laugh. He genuinely thought I was funny. That makes one person….only kidding. There’s a few more than that 😉
I think the thing I enjoyed most was making him laugh, the conversations we had about God, the questions he’d ask me about Him and the things I got to teach him about manhood and responsibility. Those things are still being worked out now, I don’t doubt. But the seeds have been planted. God knows I was only a vessel to do so. But God is the one who works to His great power and good pleasure in us when we are satisfied in Him!
June 4, 2018