As 2017 has come to a close, I can’t help but pause for a moment and reflect on all that has happened this past year. I’ve spent a great deal of time searching my spirit for what I want to say and pondering how I want to say it. My heart is to, simply, share my reflections with the sincerest hope that, perhaps, it might encourage or inspire someone. As a leader in the church, I understand that some people may be tempted to cling to certain aspects of my story and use it as a weapon against me, to discredit me, to undermine me. However, I believe strongly that transparency and vulnerability from leaders truly helps people gain renewed perspective. My sole desire is that, through sharing this, God might reignite… something in you. Hope, life, passion, faith, courage, confidence, destiny, desperation… whatever it is, I pray that you receive this as the edification I desire it to be. The Bible says, after all, that we overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony. (Revelation 12:11) So, that’s what this. This is me, sharing with you, the reflections and testimonies that came from my life in 2017. A portion, anyway.
That being said… 2017 was, perhaps, one of the most challenging, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, agonizing, darkest, and most lonely years of my life. A lot of things came to ruins in my life. A lot of things walked away or were removed. More times than I can count, I came face to face with things that seemed too big for me to handle and, in all honesty, there were times where I didn’t think I was going to make it. Looking back now, I see how good God has been through it all. In those moment, as I wept before the Lord and laid myself bare before His presence, asking, seeking, crying out, He showed up every time. No, it wasn’t always immediate – it rarely was. But looking back, I see what He was doing. He was working through those seasons and those moments, bringing me to a place where I was so broken, where everything I had constructed for myself and things that had been constructed for me were laid to ruins. And as I stare now at the shattered remnants of walls, chains, and, yes, even idols lying at my feet, I realize that some of the things that I clung to for so long were holding me back from being who God is calling me to be.
I remember moments, at the beginning of 2017, where I had allowed my heart to grow hard and my love to grow cold. I remember the things that I felt in those moments – anger, confusion, desperation. Desperation had become as much a part of me as my own blood. It coursed through my veins, beating through every fiber of my being. I remember my prayers – raw, fragmented, tangents of thoughts and emotions spilling from my lips and it felt like they were hitting a stone ceiling. I tore my soul apart, searching for answers, directions, vision, but I felt blind. Helpless. Hopeless.
There was a moment, last year, though, where I had come so completely to the end of myself. Things couldn’t possibly get any worse. I imagine my spirit looked much like a soldier on the battlefield who’d suffered a fatal blow, lying completely still on the bloodied ground, paralyzed by pain, my breaths short and few. And it was that moment where everything changed. I clung to God like my life depended on it, because I had finally realized that it did. In that moment, it seemed so insignificant. In retrospect, I look at that little moment, and all the other little moments that followed, and I see what happened. God gave me my breath back. I think in that moment, sitting on the ground completely still, silent tears pouring from my eyes, I met God like I had always wanted to. He came to me as a Father and told me He would carry me through. He would make me the man I was meant to be. And He fulfilled His promises, time after time, from glory to glory.
He gave me my breath back. Where my chest was once empty and crushed, it is now filled with new life. He gave me my confidence back. Where I once walked with my head down, I now walk in authority and confidence. He gave me my hope back. Where I once could not see past the struggle that surrounded me, He gave me vision to see the triumphs in front of me. He gave me my fire back. Where prayer, worship, and the Word had become about nothing more than tasks on my to-do list, He brought it all to new life again. He gave me my strength back. Where people, circumstances, and even my own self had fractured my strength, now I am renewed and made even stronger.
I would be lying if I said 2017 was a bad year. That season of hardship was only the beginning of the story. From that moment where I had encountered the Lord, as I continued to walk in the reality of what God had done in my life and who He has been, it was as if the night turned to day. As with the dawn, it wasn’t like a brilliant flash of light and suddenly everything had changed. Rather, it was gradual. As I made the choice each day to walk in love, faith, hope, passion, forgiveness, discipline, and holiness, it was as if those decisions caused the sun to rise just a little higher in the sky. Eventually, the last traces of night scattered and here I am, standing in the brilliant light of day.
I learned a lot last year. I learned how to live a life not controlled by circumstance, or flawed human emotion. I learned how to be confident in who God is raising me up to be, despite what people think or say. I learned to forgive and I learned how to be forgiven. Most of all, I learned so much about the nature of God. He is a Father who comes in close. He’s not afraid to get into the mess with us. And when we fail, when we wander, He chases us down so desperately. No matter what we’ve done or how far we’ve gone. Here I am now, astounded at how fiercely the Lord pursued me. How, in love, His Holy Spirit convicted me when I was in error. He convicts us, not because He’s angry at us, but because He so desperately wants us to live rightly. Because when we live rightly, we are in right relationship with Him. God doesn’t hate us when we fail, or fall, or struggle. He hates when the struggle separates us from Him.
I walked through the valley of shadow. But I did not stay there. The Lord brought me out. Most of all, He brought me out a changed man. He walked with me through ever step. Even when it seemed He was far away, He was carefully working things together, like a master painter, to fulfill His will. Each stroke of the brush, alone, may seem to be nothing, but standing back now, gazing at the finished work, the painting is beautiful. His faithfulness astounds me. His unfailing love floors me.
I would be foolish to assume that this will be the last time I ever walk through a hard season. But I believe the things that happened and the things that God has done in response to them will forever shape the way I walk through storms to come. This was a season in which I was laid low – as many of us have been during many times in our lives. But I wasn’t laid low because of defeat. On the contrary, the Lord was laying things to ruin that simply stood in the way of what He wanted to do in my life.
As the new year approaches, I carry with me the things I’ve gained this past year. I do not regret the hardship. I no longer grieve the things I’ve lost. I refuse to cling to who I once was, or the things that once held me back. I carry with me, now, divine vision – the ability to see past the storm and focus on the light that always breaks through. Nothing can deter my eyes from where I’m going. I walk with purpose in my step. I walk with my head held high. Defeat is not my name. My eyes are fixed. I know who I am because I know who He is.
I’ve been asking the Lord, what will the new year mean for me? What do You have planned? What are You going to do? And that’s when He reminded me of that season I went through at the beginning of last year. He reminded me how my life as I knew it had been leveled. He didn’t remind me to gloat, but instead He spoke to my heart, “I have reaffirmed your foundation. I have fortified it. It’s stronger than ever. You’re not who you once were. That person is gone. That life is gone. I’ve brought You back to the beginning. I’ve done away with the faulty construction. And now, I will build.”
As I enter the new year, I grasp firmly to the promise that my life is in the hands of the Master Builder. Constantly, He makes me new. Constantly, He calls me to greater things. Constantly, He builds me up to stand taller and stronger. He is ever present in every moment, never-failing in every battle, and always before me as my triumph.
“For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise master builder, and someone else is building on it.” – 1 Corinthians 3:9-10
This song has been my anthem since the first time I heard it. The love of God is the strongest force I know and this song fully expresses that. Take a listen. 🙂