Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Barriers

Guest Blogger-Written by Mike Stanton

As a kid and into my teenage years I always wanted a 1965 Mustang. I would play
with Hotwheels and Mattel cars speeding them across the carpet in my bedroom.
During the summer my Dad and I would sip milkshakes from a local dinner in my
hometown that would have monthly car shows and I would always lead him back to
whatever 60’s Mustangs were there before I could even eat enough of those shakes
for the brain freeze to set in. I had a bad case of muscle car fever and it lasted
into my adult years.


My wife later became part of that dream and caught a bit of the bug as well. She too
liked the idea of cruising in an old Mustang on the weekends. I can’t remember the
exact year now, but a few years before she turned 30 I bought her a 1965 Arcadian
Blue Ford Mustang with a 289 V8 engine as a birthday gift. Like all men I had
gotten her exactly what she wanted. At the time we both had perfectly fine cars,
and her gift became my toy and over time my daily driver. I ditched the car I had and
drove that car everywhere with a bit of a pompous smile on my face. I did burnouts,
enjoyed the comments people shared about my car, and got a sense of
accomplishment for owning it.



Now, to be honest, I bought the car in an attempt to heal a deep wound in our
marriage. The previous birthday was marked by our 3rd miscarriage and our hardest
one to go through. As a couple we had prayed for years for a child, we had seen
images on the ultrasound screen and printouts turn into dreams for parenthood and
a family slip away time after time. That 3rd miscarriage, on my wife’s birthday, of all
days, was devastating. In some way, I thought this car, this thing, this object, would
heal us, our anger, our heart break.


I prayed for 5 years. I prayed on my hands and knees. I begged God for a child.
Any child. I pleaded for my wife to be a mother. I held my wife’s hand during
devastating news of another lost baby and lost dreams by doctors acting as if you
just came in for a band aid and moving on. For a time though, our life didn’t move on.
Time was simply counted, from miscarriage, to miscarriage. Is was a dark, lonely,
and painful part of my life. At times, I thought it would be the end of our marriage. I
prayed for 5 years to make the pain stop, and to be a father, and hold a child. To see
my wife be a mother.


Eventually God blessed us with Claire Elise. Elise, meaning gift from God. She is my
smart and kind daughter that loves to read and do science. So, our little family, all
smiles, would cruise around in a little blue old mustang.



18 months later, God blessed us with Audrey Grace. Grace, meaning favored by
God. She is my shy and sweet daughter, that loves math and gymnastics.



God answered all of my prayers! I had this amazing little family. What a gift!


My life was great. I had a beautiful wife, two healthy daughters, had won awards
in my career,a home, and of course that 65 Mustang sitting in the driveway. So…. I
was in my driveway. I was waxing, cleaning, polishing, vacuuming, and tweaking the
engine to that car all of the time. My right arm was twice as big as my left I spent so
much time and energy trying to wax that car until you could literally see your
reflection in it. So, like I said. I could go do burnouts, enjoy the comments people
shared about my car, and get a sense of accomplishment for owning it.


I wasn’t with my wife. I wasn’t with my daughters. No, I was with my car. I was
putting my time, energy, money, and care into that car.


Now remember this, Where you put your time tells others your priorities. Let me
repeat that for you so you can write it down. Where you put your time tells others
your priorities.


I was prioritizing that car more than my family. I prayed for the opportunity and
blessing of fatherhood for five years and simply let it slip away into the cracks of
those seats like loose change. I would spend hours cleaning the most minute details
and worried about the rain getting it wet and where to park my car. I was not with in
my home seeing my daughters learn about the world. I was not seeing them laugh
together. I was not seeing them try new foods for the first time. I was not reading
them books. I was not sitting beside them or holding them as I prayed for them to
seek out God in their life. No, I was spending my free time with a car.


I didn’t realize any of this at first though. My wife sitting next to me one summer day
with an infant and toddler in the back seat had to say to me, “Mike, hunny, I know
you love your car, but I don’t think we should we riding in it for the rest of the
summer. I don’t think it is good for me or the girls.” I looked up in the rear view
mirror, seeing these two little ones. A baby, and a toddler, pale faced, and sweating.
No, I didn’t realize I had my wife and daughters nestled into my little world. I drove
home with these words echoing in my ears. “Mike I know you love your car.” Just
playing over and over again, “Mike I know you love your car.” That is what I had told
her, when I put all my time into that car. I had shown my wife and daughters that my
car was my priority. Where you put your time tells others your priorities.


You see, I had conformed to the patterns of the world. Loving things…. more than
people. Romans 12: 2 says, Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be
transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve
what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.


Now, I don’t know about God’s will and Mustangs. I am pretty sure He appreciates
the beauty of Lee Iacocca’s 65 Mustang as much as I do. However, he does call us
not to conform to this world. I am not saying that owning certain type or brand of car
or any car for that matter is conforming to the world. But!  When we place a
priority on material things like cars we are conforming to the world. We should “love
people, and use things, because the opposite never works.” -Joshua Fields
Millburn @JFM


We are not called to assimilate to what others of the world do. We are called to be
closer to Christ. When we conform, we put up a barrier between our ourselves and
the relationships we seek. Relationships with our spouse, family, community, and
God.

What barrier are you putting up between your family, your children, your spouse,
your relationship with God? Are you like me with a car or is it your phone, the
internet, social media likes, TV, work, your classroom, impressing your boss,
food, drink. I’ll say it again, truthfully I showed my family that I loved that car
through my actions more than the actions I shared with my wife and children.
Now, I could care less about a car compared to my family. I know all of you
do as well. None of us would rank possessions, job titles, opportunities above
our loved ones or even ourselves. However, we are not necessarily showing that.


I spent years begging and pleading God for a child. However, I conformed to the
pattern of the world, and failed to seek God…. to test and approve of owning that
particular car was part of God’s will for me. His perfect and pleasing will.


How do you know if it is God’s will though? Going back to Romans 12:2 Do not
conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your
mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good,
pleasing and perfect will. Are you and your mind being transformed by the world,
your greed, your drive, or by God? That transformation will guide us to His will.


Remember this,  We are perfectly useless as Christians if we transform to the the
world around us. So we transform our minds through prayer, study, and action to
help align our actions with God’s will.


God’s will is not for us to love things like I did and put your energy into material
things. Now, we all need material possessions and deserve some down time and
enjoyment in our lives. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t own a Mustang or any other
thing of the world. However, you need to put an approval process in your life to see
if your actions are aligning with God’s will for you personally. I did not put in a
approval process when I owned that Mustang. I failed to simply enjoy that car on a
basic level. I turned that need of a car into a necessity of my time and a priority in
my life.


We need to look and pray deeply for that approval process based on God’s will.
Let's look deeper into what God's will is. First, there is the sovereign will of God, that
always comes to pass, without fail. Second, there is the revealed will of God in the
Bible — do not steal, do not lie, do not kill, do not covet — and this will of God often
does not come to pass. And third, there is the path of wisdom and spontaneous
godliness — wisdom where we consciously apply the word of God with our renewed
minds to complex moral circumstances, and spontaneous godliness where we live
most of our lives without conscious reflection on the hundreds of things we say and
do all day.


That is were we often get stuck. This third place, the wisdom piece. Obviously, I
failed to apply wisdom.  Where do you need to apply wisdom in your life? We need
to apply wisdom to our choices before, during, and after we make them. A wiser
version of myself would have asked myself questions like, “Is this a good use of my
time?” “Is this a good use of my money?“Does this action positively impact my
family?” “Does this action negatively impact my morals?” “Would I be willing to share
this purchase/event/ action with others?” Or do I want to keep and hide this all to
myself? We need to look at all of these decisions more deeply and reflect on
whether or not they are putting up barriers between our prayer, study, and actions
with our family or do we need to put up barriers around certain purchases, tv shows,
apps on our phones, hours spent at work, time on social media, sites on the internet,
foods, drinks?


I sold that car, that Mustang, and got a little family car. I rarely wash it, could care
less if it gets stained, and enjoy it now for what it truly is. A car, nothing more,
nothing less. It doesn’t have a hold on me. But, other things from time to time will
grab that hold on me. So-Now, I continuously ask questions about my purchases,
my commitments, my hours at work, my apps on my phone, my internet browsing
history, my stuff from the world that I bring into my life. I pray about my actions each
morning and night. I ask God to let me see where I have been putting my time and
attention. I ask Him to reveal what I am putting too much time and attention in and
not enough. I pray that my actions, my decisions, what I bring into my life from the
world is part of His will for me as His Son.


God has helped me put barriers in place. My alarm goes off at work and I leave.
Right then, right there. I stop work, conversations, and leave. God revealed a lack of
one on one time with my wife. Every Wednesday I take my bag with me and follow
my students out the door and pass the buses to go on a date with my wife. So
successfully that my boss has asked me if it was my “date day” before asking me to
do things. He revealed an addiction I was having to checking emails and looking up
college football scores. So, I deleted GMAIL and CHROME from my phone. What
barriers do you need to put up in your life?

I leave you with this. You see we must stop allowing the world to put up barriers
between the ones we were called to lead and love and start putting up barriers to
the world so we can actually start leading and loving.


Guest Blogger-Written by Mike Stanton

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Winning Isn't Everything

Years ago I had the honor to be a swim coach for the Hebron Hurricanes.

 I had been on a swim team in high school, watched them operate as a lifeguard, and taught swim lessons throughout college. In the summer of 2002 I was asked to be a co coach for a summer swim league, while I was thrilled to accept the challenge, I was also extremely nervous to lead a whole team of swimmers. At the time I didn't realize what a challenge it would be and the many gifts I would receive from the experience.

My first day as a coach I walked into the pool area to meet the swim team manager, Marjorie and my co coach, Colin. She walked us through the basic steps in getting the team ready for practice and the weekly swim meets. A few days later on swim registration I got to meet all of the swimmers. They ranged from 4 years old to 18. I could tell that all the swimmers knew each other very well almost like they were family. The kids were full of smiles and very playful with each other, but many of them seemed very nervous around the water.  I also noticed many of the swimmers were speaking together in Russian.

At the end of registration Marjorie explained to Colin and I that most of the swimmers were from Russia and many swimmers did NOT know how to swim.

Immediately I thought, "Wait a minute...a swim team where many of the kids can't swim? How am I suppose to get these kids to learn to swim and then learn to compete?"I knew this was going to be a challenge, but Colin and I assured each other we could do it. 

Swim team started that next week and we divided the kids by skill level. My job was to teach the swimmers who couldn't swim and any kids working at the beginning levels. My swimmers were all different ages including a 16 year old girl who was very nervous about just entering the pool. Her proud smile melted my heart when she finally put her face bravely all the way into the water.

As the summer went on, I got to know each of the swimmers better and learn about their families.  One of the girls, Nastasia shared her story of how her family adopted her from Russia. 

It was an unbelievable story...but it was true.

Nastasia's family had adopted her from Russia a few years ago. Her parents already had two children of their own. When they picked her up from the orphanage she was very excited to be going home with her new family, but when she got home to the states she cried every single night. Her parents talked to her, asking what was making her cry? She explained that she missed her sister, Alla who was still back at the orphanage. Her parents knew they couldn't allow their little girl to miss out on the blessings of her sister, so they went back to Russia to get Alla. When they met her she was very happy to learn she would have a home with her little sister, but she started crying and hugging her best friend, Anichka. Anichka and Alla slept together every night in the orphanage to feel safe and Alla was beside herself to think of leaving her best friend alone at night. 

So the parents decided to take both girls! When they got back to the states after awhile Anichka opened up about her older brother Sasha. He was still in Russia. Their parents did some research and he too came home to the states to be with Anichka. Much later the parents found out there were four other cousins that existed between their newly adopted children. They went back multiple times to bring each child into their home bringing their home to a total of 10 children!

As Nastasia told her story, I was in disbelief, but each of the seven other siblings would stop in for their part in the story and then dive back into the pool. Hearing this story, brought out the other stories of adoption from the team. More than half the team was adopted from Russia because of the inspiration of Nastasia's family. 

Nastasia's family attended church in the area and after members of the church witnessed this beautiful story of love, they too wanted to adopt children from Russia. Many families adopted children from the same orphanage, making this swim team one big happy family.

We became a very close group that summer, our swimmers giving it their all EVERY single swim meet and us giving it our all to teach them how to be their best. They each swam their hearts out and by the end of the summer I couldn't be more proud of them.

I'll never forget when we had to have our four year old swim a 100 Meter Freestyle, (four full laps) it took him a whole two minutes after the other racers finished their time. The entire team ended up coming down to his lane, chanting his name. He never stopped swimming, he finished it, and his dad's face was priceless.

I will never forget when my 16 year old swimmer, who in the beginning of the summer barley got in the water swam her first race. She was beside herself with giggles and pride getting out of the pool. After the race I wrapped my arms around her, her hard work and endurance floored all of us.

Lastly, I will never forget the last night of swim team. We had one last party with the team and their families. Our swimmers were all playing in the water and they decided they wanted Colin and I to join them, so with our clothes still on they pulled Colin and I into the water. We resisted, but not that much as we then played a huge game of sharks and minnows until it was time to go home.

We never won ONE swim meet that summer, but it didn't matter. We won more than a medal. I won the gift of learning about each and every one of my swimmers and their stories. Their stories of love for each other and their perseverance to give it their all.

Thank you my little swimmers for modeling what life is all about and thank you for teaching me this through your example.

I was gifted by my swimmers that it isn't always about winning, sometimes it's more than that. It's also about hard work, perseverance, family, laughter, and heart. Something I now model my life after.

Take a moment to ask yourself some questions this summer that I now ask myself as I visit the pool.

  • How have you taught others how to persevere? (Don't do it for the medal.)
  • What challenge have you accepted? (Get your face wet when your scared.)
  • What have you celebrated in someone else's life? (Get pulled into the water.)

That summer was an extreme challenge, but it was also an extreme honor to take part in. I will always keep those swimmers in my heart as they have a small piece of it.


Note: *Swimmers names have been changed*