Somewhere in a truck, God showed up…

As an encourager, it is particularly hard when I get depressed. In fact, I have discovered the primary form of spiritual warfare against me is for the enemy of my soul to remind me of past failures, and whisper how stupid and worthless I am. God knows I have made some real mistakes in my life, and it appears that a real stronghold over me in particular, is to foolishly leave memories of those failures lying around on the floor for the enemy to pick up and use against me whenever he wants.

 Yesterday was one of those days. The air was so thick yesterday I could barely breathe…it was halfway through the morning before I finally realized that I had slipped into depression. I pulled into the parking lot of a Barnes and Noble under a big shade tree and just sat there…being reminded by memories and the Father of Lies what a loser I was. Ever have a day like that? A day when the clouds put their heads on the ground and the grayness seeps into your soul and makes you want to go home and pull the sheets up over your head and hide in bed? That was yesterday.

As I sat in my truck, of course, being a ENFP (extrovert, intuitive, feeling perceiver) from the Myers-Briggs studies, I just began to weep. Most men don’t act like me…they just buck up and tighten that bolt or bail that hay, but not me boy…I cry like a baby. Sitting under that shade tree, I was reminded of Jonah, the prophet who became depressed after being belched out of the mouth of the great fish and sitting in the shade of the big plant that grew up next to him. I spoke to friend on the phone and felt badly that I had just thrown up all over him. He was gracious to me and we said goodbye.

I asked the Lord, “What is going on?” in a really pathetic voice. I think the Lord kind of sat there in the passenger seat of my truck and was listening compassionately, but I sensed He had that, “You’ve been here before Doug” look on His face. He asked me “So what did you do the last time you got down like this?” I didn’t want to answer Him, cause I hated the answer. Really, I hated the answer! I looked up, and said, “I sang to you”.

My relationship with God is not a normal one I think. I sense the Lord as both a Father and a friend, and this smirk kind of comes on His face and He says…”okay…so whatcha gonna do this time?’ I hated the answer…just hated it, cause I wanted… actually WANTED a pity party, and He simply wasn’t gonna throw me one. And so…

I started singing. In times like these I want to change the words of the praise song. Instead of “In my life Lord, be glorified, be glorified” I wanted to sing, “End my life Lord, here in my truck….here in my truck”. But I didn’t… I just sang simple little ditties, and old ones…”We bring the sacrifice of praise, into the house of the Lord…” “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.” Man, let me tell you, I felt like each word weighed a thousand pounds trying to get them out of my mouth. That’s the point of depression see…to keep you in bondage to depression by focusing on yourself instead of Jesus.

About three songs in, something happened. As my pitiful praise was rising to the Throne of God, I began to raise my hands and sang louder. A tangible presence, like something coiled around my neck loosened. The blood began to flow again throughout my body…I had done spiritual warfare and the serpent couldn’t choke me…he tried but he couldn’t do it. And then…I began to laugh. I began to laugh like a fool. Listen, don’t judge me friends…depression is a spiritual attack and I felt those coils release my throat. It was so refreshing to see the world with hopeful eyes again.

I walked into the Barnes and Noble and got some coffee, because being set free from demonic oppression and getting a good caffeine buzz go hand in hand.

As I sipped my bold coffee with a shot of espresso and enough sugar to kill a small pony, I walked through the children’s book section looking at where my children’s book would soon be on the shelf and I was singing very very softly, the same praise songs I had been singing in my truck. From behind a book shelf, a young lady’s head popped up. She had been sitting on the floor in between some shelves of books and I hadn’t noticed her.

I continued to sing softly, still looking at books and she looked up again at me and again sat down. I thought she had been reading a book to a child or something, but I was wrong.

When I came around to look at the books on her side of the bookshelves, she was sitting down with her head on her knees, and with tissues in her hand. She looked at me with tear stained eyes and just put her head back down on her knees. Of course,…being me…I spoke. “Are you okay sweetie”” (Okay, any girl my daughters age or younger, I’m calling sweetie because I was old enough to be her dad.)

She raised her eyes to me and said, “I’m sorry, I just feel so empty.”  I sat down next to her, mirroring her posture. “Why do you feel that way sweetheart?” I asked. Her eyes were welling up with tears which meant I was gonna be a goner soon because I just fall to pieces when other people are crying. “I’ve had another miscarriage…and…” her words trailed off. She had come to the children’s book section to feel close to the child she had lost. She said she had wanted to be a mother ever since she was a little girl. She had so looked forward to holding her own child, reading to her or him…hearing her child laugh at funny stories.

Without fail, I teared up too. Without a moments hesitation I put my arm around her shoulders like I would my own child and hugged her. I let her cry. She leaned on my left shoulder and shook with sobs. I did too. And it was so much a God moment that He made sure we were undisturbed. I began to sing very low, the songs I had been singing in my truck…songs of hope and praise. She calmed, her breathing slowed and she sang too. It was a holy moment…and I had almost missed it. She looked at me and said, “My parents sang that song a long time ago!” I said, “Well, me too honey, me too. It’s called the “Sacrifice of Praise”. “We sing it when we don’t want to, and God shows up.” She nodded.

I stood up and so did she. She said, “My mother had miscarriages too”. I looked at her and said, “But look…here you stand a product of her prayer.” She smiled a big smile and laughed and she made me laugh too. She hugged me and said, ‘I sure didn’t expect this today…” I asked where her husband was and she told me he was at work. I asked if her mother was nearby and she nodded yes. I told her to go and to pray with her momma. To which she said “I have already, but I think I need her today.”

As I picked up my coffee and walked toward the door to leave, I happened to glance back at the counter where she was standing in line for coffee. She glanced toward the door at me, placed her hand over her heart and nodded thank you. I did the same…thanking her.

I got into my truck, and the thought came to me how the enemy of our souls wants us to focus on ourselves so that we will miss opportunities like this. I miss being a pastor. I miss loving on people and crying with them, rejoicing with them and all that comes with it. Over the years I have gotten a little more worldly than I should have and God is correcting that without stripping me of my desire for fun…God loves fun! If you are going through a depression, let me give you the one thing I have learned. Make a sacrifice of praise to the Lord and at the very moment you want to be left alone, go find someone…anyone… and be an encouragement to them. You don’t have to be smart, know a lot of scripture or anything else that’s special. Out of our need for encouragement comes the encourager. Out of sadness comes the rejoicer, out of brokenness appears the repairer of our breach. Joy is never to be subject to despair, nor can it be. It is the sun that overpowers the darkness and that vaporizes the fog.  He meets us in a truck, and gives us His joy to spread to the world. Joy to the world…

Mess or Masterpiece?

As a young boy, Benjamin loved the Pennsylvania countryside. The wild outdoors was his playground. The tenth child of a Quaker innkeeper and tavern proprietor, Benjamin would run through the hills and woods of the untamed wilderness and, would admire the beauty of creation.

With so many siblings to compete with, he sought to make his own, unique mark on the world. One day when his mother was away from their home, Benjamin was left in charge of his little sister Sally. Finding bottles of ink and some paper, he decided to paint Sally’s portrait. As he endeavored to portray her faithfully, he did not pay attention and, his ink dripped on the floor and table making a big mess. When his mother arrived home, she saw the mess created by the ink but chose to say nothing. Looking at the table, she saw the portrait and exclaimed, “Why, this is Sally!” Proud of her son, she bent over and kissed his cheek.
“With that kiss,” said Benjamin West, “my mother made me a painter.”

Benjamin West became one of the great American artists. “In 1760, William Allen (a wealthy merchant, Chief Justice, and Mayor of Pennsylvania) and William Smith sponsored West’s travel to Italy, where he learned the painting techniques of the masterful Italian artists Titian and Raphael. While living in Italy for the next three years, he became acquainted with neo-classical influences before settling in London in 1763. In 1764, West placed his first painting done in England, Angelica and Medoro, and his Rome painting, Cymon and Iphigenia, in an exhibition in Spring Gardens, where they gained much attention. The following year, he married Elizabeth Shewell, a fellow American.

In 1768, King George III became a patron of West’s. They had discussions about how to promote the creation and appreciation of the visual arts through education, leading to the establishment of a Royal Academy of Arts in London. In 1792, West became the president of the Royal Academy, and he was also the historical painter appointed to the court as well.” 1

All this because of a single kiss from his mother. Scripture says, “What a joy to give an apt reply, and how delightful is a timely word!” Proverbs 15:23. I wonder if you understand how important encouragement is? How many children AND adults have never furthered their talent because we notice the mess they make instead of the masterpiece?

I remember as a boy, MY mother brought home an IBM Selectric typewriter and said I could use it anytime. I would write fictional stories, poetry, and private thoughts all on the onionskin paper I would buy at Cummins Bookstore. Somewhere in all my childish writings, my mother saw something and, like Benjamin West, kissed my cheek and said, “You were meant to write.” Whether you know it or not, many a legend pressed on due to the encouragement of their parents.

But there are some parents and teachers, employers and church leaders, who; instead of seeing the potential in the lives of those they influence, only see the mess, the childishness, and the raw, imperfect beginnings. The Bible teaches us, “Do not despise the day of small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.” Zechariah 4:10

God is not ashamed of you OR your imperfect beginnings. He does not criticize you when you aspire to begin something greater than yourself. God encourages us to step out into waters too deep for us to navigate ourselves. But, too often, we or those who we live and work with, are impatient for the perfect and have no time or patience for the work to be “perfected.”

I remember as a boy, sitting at that Selectric typewriter, and as I would write, my dear mother would play a recording of the New York Symphony Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy, performing “The Moldau.” The Moldau is a symphonic poem by Bohemian composer Bedřich Smetana that evokes the flow of the Vltava River—or, in German, the Moldau—from its source in the mountains of the Bohemian Forest, through the Czech countryside, to the city of Prague. If you have never heard it, it sweeps you along in its powerful current. Today, even now, as I write, I hear the strains of The Moldau in my head and remember that my mother would say to me, “You are a little brook right now Doug, but someday, God will make you a mighty river…” My goal in life is to have the force of The Moldau. With those words, my mother made me a writer.

Who has been your encourager? And, equally, I ask you, “Whom are YOU encouraging?” Our words make SUCH a powerful difference in the lives of people. The first attempts of someone trying to do something new are always going to be clumsy. Scripture says, “The lips of the righteous feed many.” Proverbs 10:21.

All of our lives should be a mighty river…a powerful force in the world. Never give up on your dream…never give up on your gifting…never abandon the hope that God has written on your soul. You are made for greatness, you are designed to forcefully move in the earth. Speak to the gift in your soul and say, “Spring forth into joy oh my soul!” and speak it into the lives of those whom you influence. There is the next great playwright, author, scientist, musician in your very sphere of influence…who’s cheek can you kiss and inspire a masterpiece?
Overlook the mess…don’t see the small brook…but look into the future and see the mighty river it will become!