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Confessions of a Battered Saint

Confessions of a battered saint

The problem with rags to riches stories is that I can identify only with the rags. And I have this nagging suspicion that someone experiencing dazzling success soon forgets what wheezing in the smog of despair is really like.
This book is different. I'm not trying to imagine or remember what it's like to have problems. I'm thrashing about in them.

I was 43 when the Lord finally began to end my frustration and give me the ministry I had been preparing for from birth. (For a brief insight into what this entails, see Testimonies.) The moment these opportunities arrived, I stopped adding to this book. So, except for these three paragraphs, the entire book was written during my dark days. There is a real sense in which this book saved my life. You would not believe how dependent I was on reading and re-reading this book day after day, year after year. It's as though God wrote it for me, rather than the other way around.

It’s a solemn fact that my only reason for living is to glorify God, and until recently the extent to which I had achieved that goal seemed utterly inconsequential. My drive to glorify God was so enormous I am amazed it didn't kill me. It came close. Since childhood it kept building and building, and mostly it's fulfilment consistently seemed impossible.

Now things are changing. Everyday, people with all sorts of problems e-mail me. Often I just paste a few appropriate paragraphs from this book and they write back detailing how God powerfully touched them. The Lord has given me a tenderness I simply wouldn’t have, had my road been easy. The number of suicidal people who have written amazes me. The fact that I have been there myself gives me the edge. I am now so thankful for my every trial and the seemingly endless preparation, and I can add my wobbly testimony to Scripture's authoritative declaration that God has answers.

When it comes to feeling useless, I'm an expert. In second year high school, my class of forty students had a popularity poll. You already know who came bottom.

It took the first eighteen years of my life to muster the courage to ask a girl - any girl - out. She refused, of course. Once, to my amazement, someone agreed. Instead of being overjoyed, I bellyflopped into a pool of pity for her, appalled that anyone could be so lonely as to consider a date with me.

That was my proud, carefree youth. I've come down many a notch since then. Depending on the country you're from, you would call me a dole bludger, a welfare bum, a beggar, or a parasite - of the heavenly variety. I live off heaven's hand-outs and do nothing in return.

I realise no one can earn their keep spiritually. We could never repay God for the blessings received on the worst day of our life. But you'd think I could at least do a few odd jobs around the place. For excitement I take off my shoes and watch my toenails grow. Every time I call heaven to offer my services the line goes dead. I'm not sure what happens. If only I could hear some celestial music I'd at least know I've been put on hold.

Some people collect stamps. I collect dust. My greatest achievements are outstanding - out standing in the rain. If you've seen the old television series Some Mothers Do Have 'Em, you'll recognise me as the Frank Spencer of the spiritual world.

Things started off so well - born to Christian parents, born again at age eight, sold-out to God, faithfully growing in spiritual knowledge, then four productive years at university in preparation for ministry. (Don't be put off by my education: the good thing about my IQ is that my only hope of being highbrow is a receding hairline.) University was followed by a year's missionary work in Asia, after which came Bible college, enhanced by six months with another missionary group, then -

Nothing. Years and years of nothing. Books written which no one reads. Teaching cassettes made which nobody hears. Failure in every conceivable colour. If you're tired of success stories, you'd find my life refreshingly different.

After years without even secular employment, I finally got a job. Hour after hour, I balanced on a step-ladder, alone in a dust-clogged shed feeding a hungry machine. Five lonely years battling the din and dust of a shredder, filling its deadly jaws with armfuls of paper peppered with broken glass, rotten food and sometimes filth too repulsive to mention. Think of me as a full-time garbo on a part-time wage.

It's outside working hours that many of us find fulfilment, gleefully chasing challenges. In my case, I'm usually flat out, up to my ears in blankets. Physical limitations confine me to lights out, up to eleven hours a night. When it comes to pursuing dreams I'm in a world of my own. I bring a whole new meaning to the term lay person as I bull-doze through problems, catnap through crises, and hibernate through triumphs. If Christian activists faced the death penalty, my greatest threat would be the electric blanket. With the drive of a V-8 and the fuel tank of a Tinker Toy, (Registered trademark) I must be the world's laziest workaholic, fast becoming the Kingdom's Rip Van Wrinkle (and that's no spelling error).

Marriage and family help soothe the gnawing ache; or so I assume. You guessed it. Never married. They say I'm quite a catch. (Not that that's necessarily bad - most good offers have a catch.) I can't understand it. I reckon I look better than Casanova. He's dead. With a few weeks' exception here and there, ever since childhood I've been convinced that no sane woman would want me and/or I'd be such an inadequate husband that I dare not spoil someone's life. But I'm still vain enough to think I've made a lot of women happy - everyone who has married someone else.

I see the achievements of people I grew up with and I cringe. At church a stranger introduces himself. I steel myself for the inevitable 'And what do you do for a living?' At the door stands a pastor who knows how little I do. I slink out another way. I drive home alone. And agonise.

Envy me if you must, but drop pity. Though the truth keeps hiding from me, with God writing the punch lines, trials are hilarious. I often wish he preferred one-liners, but everything God does is big. Year after year he keeps building the tension until finally all of heaven explodes in rapturous laughter, rejoicing in God's stunning resolution of the problem. Let's slip in a few giggles before the big one.

Anyone can miss the boat. I've missed the ocean. I'm lucky I found the planet.

I have a passion for a teaching ministry. The only word I've ever received from the Lord about it is, 'Let not many of you become teachers.' (James 3:1) I offered myself to the Lord for full-time service more than three decades ago. My ever-growing longing for it has been as productive as a desert in a drought.

Then, after most of this book was written, I turned a corner. And hit a wall. I was thrust into a new job, making my former 'purgatory' seem like paradise. Previously, my body was enslaved in degrading work, but my mind was almost free. Now they've got my mind as well. My ability to write has been mauled. Though writing to a non-existent audience is more therapy than ministry it seemed the one twig in my hand buoying my head above the fierce, grey waves of utter despair.

A young woman, attractive and popular, lit a match and plunged into lifelong darkness. Gas had been seeping into the room. The explosion ripped through her, searing and pulverising a once-normal body. It hurt to see her plight. My greatest battle, however, was not fighting tears of compassion, but envy. Had I suffered like her I would probably receive a small pension and so, despite enormous restrictions, I might have more time to write.

I get a little negative at times. I once applied for a job at a local Psychiatric Hospital. The interviewers wanted someone with the ability to relate well with depressed, psychotic patients. As they showed me the door they mumbled something about me being over-qualified . . .

Then, while swirling in the vat of squashed hopes and crushed dreams, it slowly dawned that I'm not floating with the scum of humanity, but with its cream. I peeked at heaven's unemployment records. You wouldn't believe the big names they've had on their files. Scripture and the tomes of church history bulge with stories of spectacularly successful people who spent years languishing in heaven's job line. I've uncovered facts that affirm the light at the end of my tunnel isn't a freight train - it's sparkling success, glorious fulfilment. After years of prayerful seeking I've received answers with the power to revolutionise both your life and mine.

God is making a smart cookie. If I'm covered with spilt milk, that's marvellous. If there's egg on my face, it's a bonus. If I'm mixed up, I'm delighted. If I'm beaten, I'm making progress. If the heat is on, I'll warm to my task. If I'm half-baked, something good is cooking. When I feel I could crumble, I'm nearing perfection. Everything is going my way.

I haven't been feeling myself lately. Everyone's noticed the improvement. If the secrets I'll share fill me with joyous expectancy, imagine what they'll do for someone as normal as you.

Read the e-book here! : :)

Look Where You Are Going!

Look Where You Are Going

I’ve been thinking about training for a marathon. I thought about it this morning as I reached for a second Krispy Kreme donut. I like to think about crossing the finish line. I just don’t like thinking about what it would take to cross the finish line. I do know a friend who ran a marathon. I asked her what went through her mind the moment she finished. Did she feel euphoric? Did she feel like she could do anything? Did she feel like Wonder Woman without the outfit? She said her main thought at that very moment was that she needed to use the bathroom.
Then she told me the euphoria really set in the next morning. As did muscle fatigue. I’m calling it “fatigue,” however she would call it total muscle shut down. She said she could barely walk … until she accidentally discovered that walking backwards was much easier than walking forwards. I pictured her hobbling backwards in the grocery store and wondered what people must have thought. She told me that walking backwards must have used different muscles, because it wasn’t as painful as going forwards.

It reminded me of a recent sermon I heard at church. In it, my pastor, Kelly Williams, said there are some people in life who walk backwards into the future. They’re more focused on the past—what they did wrong, who failed them and how they’ve been hurt—he said, than on where they’re headed and where God wants to take them through it all.
I wondered if these people thought that turning around to face the future would be too painful. That because they’ve been disappointed in the past, they fear having hope for the future.

In my own life, I think about the hurts I’ve experienced in the past and have come to believe it’s more painful to walk backwards into the future than to face it. My father was—and still is—an alcoholic. It has caused a lot of pain for my family and has wounded me in many ways. But it’s amazing how God can heal. A psychologist would label me as an adult child of an alcoholic, but I simply call myself a child of God. I learned that an important part of my healing included facing those hurts, but it was equally important to turn away from them at the right time with God’s help. It’s not that I am ignoring my wounds. Just the opposite: I am acknowledging my brokenness. Through it, I have realized how God wants to use those wounds for redemptive purposes in my life.

All of us have experienced disappointments, hurts and pain. Some of it was out of our control. But what about the pain we’ve experienced that was in our control? What do we do with past sins that we can’t seem to let go of? When we’ve asked for forgiveness but can’t seem to accept it and move forward?
Again, my pastor answers this question powerfully. He says,

“Most of us live in regret. But regret is not brokenness—it’s just another form of pride. It’s saying ‘I wish I hadn’t done it.’ God doesn’t care what you’ve done if you’re only going to live the rest of your life in regret. He cares that you let what you’ve done in your life break you. Because until you realize you are broken, you can’t experience redemption.” I know there are times when I’ve asked for forgiveness for a sin ... but I’ve held on to a little self-loathing about the matter, just for good measure. You know, just in case Christ’s death wasn’t good enough. Just in case His blood didn’t cover all of my sin. But true repentance is not just regretting what we’ve done. Or hating yourself for it. And it doesn’t end at having your heart broken with remorse over sin. It requires turning from the sin and handing over our broken hearts to Christ. It means turning around, walking forward and looking ahead to where God wants to take you.

But it’s easy to look away. I think about the time when the disciples were in the boat with Jesus and how the storm came after He fell asleep. As the storm raged, the disciples took their eyes off Christ and fear instantly filled their hearts. Can you blame them? I picture angry waves smashing into the sides of the boat. Lightning bolting into the water. Dark clouds thundering and making their hearts pound even faster.
And I wonder, How could Jesus sleep through something like that? It’s as puzzling to me as how my husband could sleep through our colicky baby’s waking fits. I imagine many of us have wondered this at some point. When storms come into our lives, when we’re standing in the boat, and the waves are crashing all around, it’s easy for us say to Jesus, “Do you see what I’m going through? Don’t you care? Help me Lord! I am scared.”
And Jesus always says, “Turn and face me.” He’s not panicked about the storm. He’s not panicked that you don’t have a clue what you’re going to do after you graduate. He’s not worried that you’re struggling financially. He is not alarmed that you are feeling alone and wonder if you’ll ever get married. He is saying, “Turn, and face me. Trust in me and have faith that I will calm the storm and make a way.”

For some of us, looking backwards is all we know. It’s like man in the Bible who was lying next to the Bethesda pool waiting for healing. He had been invalid for 38 years. When Jesus saw him, He asked him, “Do you want to get well?” Part of me wonders if the man really wanted to reply, “Uh … duh. Hello? I’ve been ill for 38 years. Do you think I’m lying next this a pool for the fun of it?” Yet, Jesus knew exactly how long the man had been sick. He knew how long he had been waiting to be healed. And still, Jesus still asked the man, “Do you want to get well?” For those of you who are focused on your past and are hurting, Christ is also asking you, “Do you want to get well?” Turn and face Him. He will begin a healing in you if you pick up your mat and walk toward Him.

When we’re walking backwards into the future—when we’re focused on the stormy circumstances of our lives—we miss all that God has for us in the present. The Christian life isn’t about getting beamed to heaven. It’s about living, struggling and learning to love God more every day. He wants to show us His redemption and His goodness in the midst of the journey—in the midst of a storm. He wants to give us joy for the present and hope for the future.

The good news is God can help us turn around. We just need look where we’re going. But that doesn’t mean focusing on our circumstances or putting our hope in our future success. We’ve got to remember that where we’re “going” is toward Christ. That means putting our hope in the Lord Himself. And that kind of hope does not disappoint.

by Kara Schwab

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