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What I Learned from an Empty Freezer

For most people, even a week or two in Alaska is a pipe dream. It’s a long trip, getting there takes forever, it’s expensive, and the sun is on a completely different schedule.

Yet we lived there. We did it. We dared to move clear across the country and start over. We were quickly welcomed by the locals and fell in love with the community. But the first few days didn’t go as planned.

Lindsey stood in the grocery store and cried on the very first day. A box of Lucky Charms for $6.79 was more than double the price back home. Not to worry, though. One of the locals we connected with before arriving was going to be out of town all winter and promised to fill our deep freeze with salmon, moose, halibut, bear, and caribou. It would be hundreds of dollars worth of food and would carry us through until spring at the very least. Only, when we arrived at our new house, she had already left town and had obviously forgotten. The freezer was empty.

So we put a call out on Facebook to complete strangers to ask for food. It was humbling, to say the least, but our little seaside community came out in full force. In two days, we met approximately forty families who understood that things sometimes doesn’t go as planned. It’s the way of life in Alaska. We were given canned goods, fresh meat, veggies, jams, and homemade bread. Alaskans fish all summer to stock their freezers, so they were giving out of their own supplies.

My favorite memory from those first two days was the grandma who sent her grandchildren to our front door with a note that said “Welcome to town” and a $100 gift card to the local grocery store. A pastor from one of the local churches brought two huge boxes of non-perishables and stood around talking like we were old friends.

Our arrival was no fairy-tale, but our welcome was warm. Quickly, we were no longer friendless or without food.

It reminds me of the arrival of another stranger whose welcome wasn’t quite so warm. Joseph and his very pregnant wife took a long road trip to pay the IRS. Stargazing hippies were following something like a UFO, hoping for incredible news. When Mary and Joseph finally arrived, not only was there no food in the deep freeze, but the hotel was at capacity.

Jesus wasn’t born in a cheap motel, or a stranger’s bedroom. The Savior was born to an unwed, pregnant teenage girl in a stable, echoing with the sounds of farm animals. It must have smelled terrible. This was not the triumphant arrival the Jews hoped for. Only three people even noticed the birth of Christ. They showed up later with gold, frankincense and myrhh. I bet Mary and Joseph were hoping for moose and halibut too, but you take what you can get when your baby was just born in a barn.

Sounds pretty chaotic, right?

Christmas is nearly here and if you take a look around your own stable, you may find some chaos, maybe a few asses, too. Advent doesn’t come with a promise that Jesus will snap His fingers and erase our struggle, but rather that we have an Advocate who is intimately familiar with our earthly experience.

Here’s the most beautiful part to me: the Prince of Heaven was born into our brokenness. Our Deliverer willingly dove headlong into the dump of our deficiency. Heaven to hay bales. Mercy to the manger. Christ came into our chaos.

 
When we let go of all the preconceived notions of what life should be like and instead grab hold of the opportunities in front of us, there’s a whole world of possibilities for us. When we learn to accept life as it comes, incredible things can happen.

Isn’t that what we really long for? In the here-and-now, we all just want opportunity, friendship, and food for our freezer.

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Our Daughter’s Birth: A Lesson in Grace

Standing in the ultrasound room recently with my bride, my little boy, my mother-in-law, and our precious friends Zane and Hannah was (as Zane put it) “surreal”.
Our Daughter's Birth: A Lesson in Grace

Toes, fingers, ears, eyes, lips, so many details…Ribs were clearly seen and I was fascinated with the baby’s spine.

The anticipation was high, waiting to hear if it was pink or blue, but we were also very thankful for all the other measurements they were doing, to make sure our baby is as healthy as possible.

“See that right there?  It’s a girl!”

Total elation.  Of course I cried. I saw bows and frillies and pinks and purples and yellows and polka dots and explosions of lace and Minnie Mouse and oh my gosh I am going to have a daughter!!!

In the moment, I completely forgot about our experience with Ben’s birth. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced.  Doctors and nurses in space suits.  A big plastic mat on the floor, the size of a whitewater raft, tools and lines and needles and tears and “OH MY GOSH….you want me to do what?  Look where?  Do you KNOW what’s going on down there? No thanks, I’m fine right here.  I’m a good hand holder.”

Talk about a mess!

It was overwhelming and there was this SMELL I will never forget. The whole thing was enough to make a dude lose his appetite for days.

But then…

Then I saw a head, then a shoulder, arms and in the blink of an eye the doctor was holding a perfect, crying, baby boy. Still messy, but perfect in my eyes.

When they laid him in my arms, I immediately knew I would run in front of a train for him. I’d never met him, but I knew I would kill or be killed for him. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for this tiny baby boy. I didn’t even realize that I had quickly and completely forgotten the mess he was and the mess he made.

Isn’t that just like Grace? Grace hears our cries of desperation, wraps comforts us, and forgets everything else. It’s as if it never happened. I pray that Grace captures you and bulldozes the walls you have built today.

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Can You Lose God?

Letter to a friend:

You lose a job.

You lose a spouse.

You might even lose a child.

You lose car keys, your wallet, and your debit card.

If you’re lucky, you lose weight.

Some folks lose hair.

You might even lose your mind.

can you lose god?

 

But lose God?  No sir.

You might lose heart.

You may lose the will to fight.

But lose God?  No.

God’s never lost.  God is constant, eternal, an ever-present Help and Hope when things seem lost. God has always been inside you, working through you, for you.  Sitting at the table of your soul, longing for communion. For community. For a community of one-ness.

God just wants to be with you.  To walk with you through triumph and tragedy.

God longs to stand by your side through success and struggle.

God is never intimidated by our faults or failures and the Spirit never falters when we lack faith.

God, the Ground of our Being, remains constant every moment of every day.

The Love of God never fails, falters, gives up, or gives out.

Deuteronomy 7:7-9:

 God wasn’t attracted to you and didn’t choose you because you were big and important—the fact is, there was almost nothing to you. He did it out of sheer love, keeping the promise he made to your ancestors. God stepped in and mightily bought you back out of that world of slavery, freed you from the iron grip of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know this: God, your God, is God indeed, a God you can depend upon. He keeps his covenant of loyal love with those who love him and observe his commandments for a thousand generations.

We lose sleep.

We lose battles.

We lose teeth.

We lose homes.

But lose God?  No way.

GOD IS NOT LOST.  And neither are you.

[clickToTweet tweet=”God is not lost. And neither are you. #graceismessy” quote=”God is not lost. And neither are you. ” theme=”style3″]


Steve Austin is a life coach, speaker, and author of Self-Care for the Wounded Soul. Steve’s goal is to help you create a lifestyle of focused emotional health and clarity. Looking for more ways to create space? Subscribe to Steve Austin’s free weekly newsletter by clicking right here.

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Be Honest or Die

Have you ever found God in an unlikely place?

i didn't plan it like this, really

I didn’t plan to be sipping on orange juice, cranberry, and vodka while smoking a Macanudo  and reading Brennan Manning’s “All is Grace”.

I didn’t plan it this way. Really.

I didn’t plan to be doing all of this while enjoying a 50-degree sunset from Lookout Mountain on the eve of New Year’s Eve.

I didn’t plan it this way. Really.

I didn’t plan to meet Jesus out here. Not this early. We just arrived. Vacation has barely begun. But she is scrapbooking and Jesus, the Macanudo, and the cocktail were calling my name.

I didn’t plan it this way. Really.

I didn’t plan to have my Granddaddy’s old “Companion Bible” out here with me. But somehow, this all fits together. This jigsaw puzzle would make some cringe, but as the right side of my face curls up into a crooked little smile, I take in a deep breath, exhale some good smellin’ smoke, and watch the clouds turn from orange to red to a blazing magenta.

I didn’t plan for my drink and the sunset to match. Really.

i didn't plan it this way, really

I didn’t plan for Jesus to meet me a few years back, in a little coffee shop inside our church. He was dressed like Benjamin Norris House, Sr. (the previous owner of that old “Companion Bible”). Jesus with skin on. Jesus, with a raggedy mustache, a three-day beard, and stains on his plaid button-down. I didn’t plan to meet Jesus that way—that day. I didn’t plan for Him to rescue me from my own religious persecution. I didn’t know He cared.

I didn’t plan it this way. Really.

[clickToTweet tweet=”I didn’t plan for Jesus to rescue me from my own religious persecution. I didn’t know he cared. #graceismessy” quote=”I didn’t plan for Jesus to rescue me from my own religious persecution. I didn’t know he cared. ” theme=”style3″]

I didn’t plan to be called “rebellious” and “a heretic” for being more amazed by grace than scared of a fiery Hell. I didn’t plan to be introduced to “The Shack” or “The Ragamuffin Gospel” at my lowest point, after serving the rules for so many years. I didn’t plan for my Granddad to challenge me, during that struggle, to find God on my own, outside my religious bubble—outside the box.

I didn’t plan to find God that way. But I have.

His grace is sufficient. His friendship knows no bounds. His love doesn’t have the strings I once thought. He loves me. Steve Austin. The abused, addicted, anxious perfectionist. God—Jesus—Abba—whatever you choose to call Him—He loves me. He’s wild about me. And honestly, whether you get it or not—whether you agree or not—whether you even like it or not, He is madly in love with you too.

Believe me: I couldn’t have planned it this way, but it’s true.

I’m becoming more concerned with being inwardly honest, rather than outwardly polished. The Big Man couldn’t care less about my spotless exterior. And sadly, a few of you reading this are more concerned with the fact that I started this conversation mentioning liquor and a stogie than about the unconditional love of the Savior of the World.

[clickToTweet tweet=”I’m becoming more concerned with being inwardly honest, rather than outwardly polished. #graceismessy” quote=”I’m becoming more concerned with being inwardly honest, rather than outwardly polished.” theme=”style3″]

The sun is no longer visible. Just a magenta haze, peeking over the horizon. My glass has only 1/3 remaining, and my wife is ready to chow down at the Wildflower Café.

I didn’t plan it this way, but I like it.


*To check out BeHonestorDie.com and view the original post, just click here.

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This World is Cruel but God is Love.

I learned a great lesson about messy grace in a high school classroom.

this world is cruel but god is love

I’m eavesdropping on a high school conversation.

An openly gay boy, talking to a girl who is eleven weeks pregnant.

The boy asked, “How awkward was it [telling your parents]?”

And she responded, “Daddy threw a couple of things and cussed me out.  He told me to get out of the house.”

Then they made some small talk, and when I tuned back in, she said, “I had to quit softball.  My life is over.  Now I have a new life to care about.”

A gay boy and a pregnant, unwed high school girl.

“Jesus loves the little children,

All the children of the World!

Red and yellow, black and white,

They are precious in His sight!

Jesus loves the little children of the World!”

I wanted to say something to them both.  Wanted to hug them.  Wanted to tell them “this world is a cruel place, but God is love”.

[clickToTweet tweet=”If you judge people, you have no time to love them. ” quote=”If you judge people, you have no time to love them. @potsc #potsc #graceismessy” theme=”style3″]

I wanted to tell her, Your Dad may have cussed you out and thrown things, but your Father loves you beyond measure, no questions asked, no strings attached.  Your Father is wild about you and your little baby.  And what you have is a gift.

But I have to be careful, considering my job.

So I will pray a little more.

I will try to creatively love a little more.

I will judge less.

I will listen more.

“God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.” Lamentations 3:22

[clickToTweet tweet=”This world is a cruel place, but God is love. #lovewins #graceismessy” quote=”This world is a cruel place, but God is love. ” theme=”style3″]

 

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Recovery from Sexual Abuse and Porn Addiction

molested, addicted, and forgiven

Molested

I remember it like it happened this morning, every nasty detail. His name was Jeremy and he lived across the street. He was a teenager. He seemed like a giant at the time. He was big and strong and took advantage of me. This was not just two kids experimenting, which is common. He knew what he was doing. He knew he was wrong.

But I learned from my Momma how to “fake it to make it”. She had a great deal of hurt in her life, but she was always the life of the party, the happy one. She was always on the “up” in public, even if she was falling apart inside.

So, life for the three-year-old returned to the family’s old habit of keeping up appearances. My Dad owned a mechanic shop in our tiny, rural Alabama town. I grew up in church. Dad sang in the musicals, and Momma helped with the children’s choir. There’s even a video of me singing my first solo in the Christmas program at the age of five. We were active in our little church as far back as I can remember.

Addicted

Throughout my childhood, there are multiple memories of “experimenting” with other children. Partly out of normal childhood curiosity, and partly because I had been exposed to something no adolescent (much less a preschooler) should know exists. Then, at age twelve, I discovered porn. I liked it. It looked fun. It reminded me, in a sick and twisted way, of how I made Jeremy feel good as a tiny little boy.

I shared porn with friends, I told boys at school about it. I had become the “porn expert” by seventh grade. When your first conscious memory is of sexual abuse, an over-sexualized childhood makes perfect sense. Every conversation was a chance for sexual innuendos and every moment alone was an opportunity for secrets.

[clickToTweet tweet=”When your first memory is sexual abuse, an over-sexualized childhood is common. #recovery #graceismessy” quote=”When your first memory is sexual abuse, an over-sexualized childhood is common. ” theme=”style3″]

Did I fail to mention that I was still a good little church boy during this entire time?

I was a youth leader, in all sorts of choirs and ensembles, and people constantly remarked to my parents, “With his personality, he will either be a preacher or a politician”. Sunday morning and evening, Wednesday nights, Children’s camp, youth camp. I went to all of it. I was doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons. I knew plenty about God, but I had no true relationship with God.

Then it happened. I was a part of “Youth Leadership: Shelby County,” a forum created by several governmental departments, and we were on a field trip to the Department of Human Resources. After our tour, the director of DHR came in to tell us about the process of investigating child molestation cases. My heart sank, my palms grew sweaty, and there’s no word for the knot I felt in the back of my throat. But I was in “fake it to make it” mode.

I was determined no one would know.

It had been fourteen years, but the memory was still fresh. She brought out dolls they use to identify what has happened to children, and I lost it. I barely made it out of the room, running, before I fell apart in the hallway. I remember sliding down the sheet rock wall and crumbling into a pile of tears and anxiety. I was humiliated.

I had worked hard to get here. I was on a leadership trip with other students my age from all over the county. These people weren’t my church friends. They were complete strangers and I was crying in the hallway, acting like a fool! I couldn’t mask my anxiety and humiliation. I wanted to crawl under the carpet.

Back to the church boy. By the age of twenty, my feet had touched the soil of three foreign countries to share the Gospel with lost souls, not even realizing that I was just as lost as every barefoot foreigner I had witnessed to. I thought I knew it all, but I had no relationship with God.

 Recovery from childhood sexual abuse is a long and often difficult journey, but I am free and forgiven.

Instead, I filled the void. I tried to cover the wounds with sex and porn and experimentation, along with church mixed in for good measure. Sexual sin carries a lie that says, “With this adventure, you can be taken away for a while. Come away with me. Let’s have fun. Let’s get away from it all.” I wanted the escape.

Forgiven

It wasn’t until I was 25 that I started a process of truly learning who my Heavenly Father is. My Abba. Learning that He loved me first, with a love that is pure and holy. A love that is untainted and seeks to give, not take. I didn’t ask to be abused and there is nothing I can do to go back and change it. Much like the victim of sexual assault in Judges 19, I had no voice. For years, I lived like a victim. But now I am a man with a voice and a new perspective. I refuse to let my brokenness be a cause or an excuse for further addiction.

[clickToTweet tweet=”I refuse to let my brokenness be a cause or an excuse for further addiction. #graceismessy #recovery” quote=”I refuse to let my brokenness be a cause or an excuse for further addiction.” theme=”style3″]

I am learning that there are two battles in life: the first is a breaking free and the second is a staying free. The first battle is strictly spiritual: a matter of being born again. The second battle is also spiritual, but without practical steps along the way, it’s a losing fight. Recovery from childhood sexual abuse and addiction is a long and often difficult journey, but my desire to remain free means I must have clear boundaries and be honest about my struggles.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Recovery has two battles. Click here to learn more. #graceismessy #recovery” quote=”Recovery has two battles.” theme=”style3″]

For so many years, I got it all wrong: I thought that I had to win a battle right now and for good. I was wrong. I am going to fight whatever battle lies immediately before me, today, in this moment. The partial truth is that there will be new struggles tomorrow, but the rest of the story is that tomorrow will come with new strength. God meets me there, in the midst of my vulnerability and says, “I am strongest when you are willing to admit your weakness”.

I finally realized, that, like Jeremy, I had been given grace that I didn’t deserve. No more performing for others. Now, I am learning the freedom that comes from being real before a God who loves me as I am. I don’t have to “fake it to make it” anymore. Setting aside the mask of religion and regulations, I am now free to love others. I am Steve Austin: molested, addicted, and forgiven. By God’s grace, I’m learning even to love myself.