29 November 2021
I’ve been thinking about you and wanted to sit down and write you a letter. I get too many thoughts bumping around in my head and, if I don’t get them on paper, they either vanish or just come out like confused, incoherent word vomit.
I was thinking about how you might be feeling given a few factors in your life lately. You bought land and were making plans to build on it...and then Jason lost his job (surprise!). You got a tummy tuck and (I can only assume) thought you were done with having kids...and then you found out you were six months pregnant (surprise!). You might have been planning your life out for the foreseeable future...and then your plans got drug through a minefield. I know when that has happened to me in the past, I have had some emotional wrestling with the Lord and had to really consider (and re-consider) many things. I just wanted to share some of those wrestlings and lessons with you. If anything here is helpful for you, then hallelujah. If not, then fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la.
When I was praying for you and thinking about everything that has happened to you and your plans recently (and how that might make you feel) it all reminded me of two quotes I reference often. The first is a saying we have in the Army about plans. There are only two kinds of plans: a plan that never works, and a plan that sometimes works. There is never a plan that always works. I have found that to be true of not only tactics and strategy, but life, too. The second is a famous quote from John Steinbeck: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” What the heck do you do when life happens and plans go awry?
Last year, I wrote out 10 “DuBose Family Values” for the kids that hang above our dining room table. They are just important things that I want to talk about with them as they grow up. My hope is that they understand them and internalize them before they hit their own storms later in life. Number 10 is “Hold everything in an open hand”. The whole idea behind it comes from the story of Job where he says, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” The picture I try to paint for them is that of a tightly-closed fist clenching around everything and clutching onto it for dear life. I have learned that God can and will put new things into my hand (like a baby, or an unexpected change) or take certain things out of my hand (like a job, or my own plans for my future). This is precisely what He did with Job. He has every right to. He is Almighty, Sovereign God, after all! But if I am clutching too tightly to my stuff, it won’t keep Him from giving and taking away. It will only result in Him breaking my fingers to get to my stuff. Besides, He knows what is good for me and what I truly need, so I am only further blessed by the giving and taking he does...whether that be something wanted or unwanted, expected or unexpected, planned or unplanned. All of these things to me are Proverbs 16:9 in action: We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.
I have come to believe that much more important than my plans is my attitude when my plans do get blown up. There’s an ancient African proverb that says, “When you are bumped, what you are full of spills out.” It’s really just a rephrasing of Jesus’ words in Matthew 15 where He said “those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.” Ever since the first time I heard that proverb, it has been convicting to me. And, of course, the harder you are bumped, even more of what you are full of spills out of you. What comes out of me is of far more concern than what bumped into me.
I have also learned that the more trust I have in the gracious goodness of God to “give and take away”, the purer is the stuff that comes out of me. Conversely, the less trust and faith I have in God the more likely it is that the bumps of life knock some really nasty stuff out of me. I was reading back through a journal I kept back in 2015 and came across this instance. It’s just an example of a small “bump” knocking some scary stuff out of me.
Not too long ago, I had an instance where what came out of me frightened me. I had, just a few months prior, received the gracious gift of an ipad from my congregation, which was quickly employed in most every arena of my life. One day, without thinking, I set it down on the driver’s seat of our van. Then, like children do, my kids began barreling out of the car like an angry herd of rhinos. One child performed a high-quality knee drop right on the screen, immediately and irreversibly sending a crack from one end to the other. I became almost enraged for some reason, and instantly sought to discipline my child. Suddenly, the Spirit spoke to me in that moment. “Why are you so angry about that material possession that you didn’t even purchase to begin with? Aren’t you the one that thoughtlessly and carelessly placed it in the chair?” My reaction frightened me because it caused a light to shine in this dark place in my heart. Luckily, rather than immediately discipline my child out of anger, I repented before the Lord of this “evil treasure” in my heart.
I said all of that to say this: The Lord has taught me that the bumps of life are a consequence of living, and that the most important thing is not how the plans affect my life but what they reveal about me. I’m sure that you have mixed feelings about everything going on right now. I know I would. When I was thinking about you and praying for you this morning, I felt compelled to write you this letter. I just felt led to share it with you because I have seen people do one of two things when they hit bumps: they either clinch their fist and grit their teeth harder, or they loosen their grip and trust God more with the unexpected. In general, I have seen that those who clinch their fist harder only get angrier and bitter about the bumps while those who loosen their grip smile more and enjoy the ride, knowing that more bumps will come and God is still in control. I still pray that God keeps a smile on my face and a soft heart in my chest, allowing me to stay joyful, hopeful, and faithful through the bumps. I have seen too many unhappy, bitter, closed-off older people who let life’s bumps harden them and I don’t want to be that way...and I don’t want you to be that way either. I’m praying you will see these bumps like Joseph saw his bumps: something that God used for good, regardless of how he saw them initially.
Sometimes I think that we are so hard-headed that the only way God can get our attention is to “give and take away” those things that we build our lives around. I know that I am a better person for having learned a great deal about God and myself in life’s “bumps” and it has helped to lessen the blow of future bumps. If I hadn’t learned that lesson (or what of it that I have learned so far), then even small bumps would still be huge to me.
I love you and I’m praying for you. I can’t wait to see you guys at Christmas. Whether it’s hallelujah or fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la, thanks for listening :)
Just a man trying to save his thoughts and correspondence