LEMONS OR CHOCOLATES

Recently, a relative of mine indicated life handed me a bunch of lemons. I needed his financial help in a situation I could not swing on my own. Funny thing, I did not look at my life as a box of lemons even though difficulty and loss seem to find me.

Looks can be deceiving. I drive a Lexus but it’s not mine. I sometimes where designer clothes, but I find them at thrift stores for a few bucks. Going out for dinner in our household means Starbucks at Target but once in a while we splurge and go to a nicer place.

I can count among my Braincodecorp clients NFL players & alumni, government agents, lawyers, and CEO’s of financial and hospitality firms you would recognize. I work with talented youth, high school, and collegiate & elite athletes in gymnastics, soccer, swimming, baseball, football, MMA, tennis, track & field, basketball, and even USA Skeleton.

Some would argue I live a dream life, and, indeed in many ways I do. Nearly nothing compares to assisting and seeing someone improve, conquer, and fulfill their goals. I work with many great people. I have the flexibility to take care of my two teenagers and work when I want or need as I don’t report to anyone.

Lemons or not though, I am struggling. It’s my reality.

I haven’t had a vacation in more than two years. I can’t afford one. I don’t buy new clothes very often. Purchasing a car is out of the question. Student loan debt exists in my future for the next eight years. To date, my savings would allow me to retire for possibly three months, so I got that going for me. I left an expensive two-bedroom apartment in March as rent jumped up another $150/month putting it beyond my budget.

God orchestrated my life this way due to my own smart, and let’s face it, dumb choices.

Did life hand me a box of lemons? God knows I prefer chocolate. Certainly, I didn’t aim for my life to be so challenging.

Throughout my life, I’ve aimed to be intentional about listening and learning from God about the choices and direction before me. I know I will miss the gains I’m in need of making during this chapter of life if I don’t keep that same mindfulness.

Lately, ‘HOPE’ is where He has commanded my attention.

Hope constitutes one of three essentials of the Christian life along with faith and love (1 Corinthians 13). It is an intangible yet necessary part of being a Christian.

Like self-esteem, hope first appeared variable to me. Hope seemed to waver, move up and down, and be active or inactive in life. Yet, as I thought about it more, hope also maintained a static and objective quality simply as a matter of choice.

For years ‘hope’ remained a word I used as a part of passwords. (Don’t even think about it as they’ve been changed!) It’s the name of the church I attend, Hope fellowship. And, recently, after being homeless, my first residence sits on Hope Drive and thus the name of this blog. There’s gotta be divine providence is all that.

As I contemplated this quality of hope, I realize my hope comes from an unquestioning purpose to what I believe the Almighty has asked me to do. And, after taking a closer look at the losses and adversity of the last six years, I realize testing of hope like faith and love comes from challenges, struggle, a wrong suffered, and many times loss.

Over the past six years, my heart has been broken in ways I had no idea existed. Loss left me vulnerable. I had a marriage, family, friends, a home, a car, and retirement, then all of it disintegrated.

My 20-year marriage ended. In this case, that also meant having to leave the friends and church body I served for 19 years. Shortly thereafter, I loved on and served my Grandmother during the last three weeks of her earthly life. She passed away the day after Christmas. In many ways Gram was Mom to me.

My Dad’s cancer returned.

I’m not sure how long I have left to build memories with him. Just a few years ago, I buried my high school best friend who lost her battle to the disease. She was barely into her 40’s. That didn’t seem right nor fair. She was athletic, a fitness competitor, healthy eater, and she had a teenage daughter. RIP Jules!

Heartache hit hard again when my relationship with my fiancé ended a year and a half ago after four years of a faith journey together. It was not what I wanted.

Shortly after our break-up, my apartment lease was up. My kids and I found ourselves without a home for four months and living with three different families while I tried to figure things out.

During the years of all of this personal stuff going on, I devoted time and effort to building my sports psychology & counseling practice. I pursued business opportunities and had them presented to me. Many times excitement and hope shot out of my soul like a lit firework electrifying the night sky. Then, for known and unknown reasons, these deals fizzled and vanished like the drifting smoke after the firework. Sometimes it left me financially bleeding and without the ‘big break’ I needed.

Loss, failure, and falling down interrupts the momentum of progress towards triumph. (Remind me to tell you my Russell Wilson story.) Yet, these experiences of loss, failure, and falling down present the need for essential hope-a supernatural optimistic outlook.

These blows to my ego and the core of my identity propels a decision to choose hope since the alternative leads to negativity, getting stuck, giving up, and quitting. Now more than ever, I am convinced hope is definitely a choice. I access it or deny it from the God source.

In reading about brokenness, one author consistently reminded me of the strong temptation to harden my heart towards God, others, and especially the ones I perceive hurt me. That seems strange to me but I know a lot of people experience this. I can’t imagine hardening my heart towards God when God Himself sees me through these defeats and struggles.

Honestly, I haven’t felt hardened against God, my circumstances, or at the people involved. I believe because of hope. I’d be lying, however, if I didn’t say pain, anger, sadness, and being overwhelmed poke and penetrate hope from time to time. But, it’s true, hope, enables me to overcome those feelings and get up every day to a joy-filled purpose.

Of course, when the break I need keeps crashing into a million pieces, I hear the temptation to settle and not venture out in case it crashes again. The naysayers and the unbelievers in what I want to achieve provide classic feedback that can fill any bucket with tears of doubt and a lack of confidence.

Disappointment put thoughts in my head of being abandoned and left defenseless in this crazy world. The agony of lost love jolted me to places I’d rather avoid. And, sure I can logically reason the only protection against such pain is to harden my heart and not need or allow anyone or anything into my vulnerable and sacred place ever again.

But, that’s not me.

I’ve not lost hope nor do I feel compelled to hate or despise anyone involved. I deeply miss my fiance. I daily think about him. I long for our nightly reading and prayer time. He was my best friend. And, when I think of him, I still feel the same excitement, respect, and favor for him.

No doubt my heart was and is still broken in some ways. I absolutely could resolve to not need anyone and close myself off to opportunity and love. The thought crossed my mind. It’s definitely safer, involves less drama, and less responsibility.

It would be ‘normal’ after all to emerge from so much loss and pain with a hard heart. No one would really blame me if I shut down and secluded myself for a while.

God shows me; however, this life isn’t about me. I can hear Him out of Hebrews 12, ‘Really, you haven’t suffered to the point of death. Stop your whining and complaining and go back to the purposes I gave you! Don’t forget the calling I gave you!’

I picture this and refuse to remove self from life. That removal leads to a trail of isolation and bitterness. It means empty evenings at home in front of the television. What a waste.

Ultimately, I contend, if I choose this path, resentment towards God builds for not giving me who and want I want. This hardening of the heart produces the equivalent of an adult temper tantrum. That life yields a dark and lonely place to be away from His grace, forgiveness, peace, and perhaps a broken yet fulfilling love.

The resolve before me is ONLY to soften my heart. It’s clearly a position to listen to the things of God and to be more aware of His presence and work around me. By softening my heart, then the more alive and driven I feel towards His purposes. I am alive to hope.

Hardening or softening, that choice is mine. It’s part of the vital Christian character that defines me as His and only His. Definitely a life like a box of chocolates no matter what lemons I’m dealt!

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