I am not defined by my past, yet it has shaped my future. My experiences, both good and bad, have shaped my life. I would never be who I am today without all that has become part of my history.
I was on the phone the other night speaking with a friend I have known for over three decades. At one point in the conversation he said, “I’ve never had any major problems in my life that I did not bring on myself.” I have believed this to be true in my own life for many years, but I had not heard anyone say it out loud before.
It is a simple answer to the question that many of us have asked. Why is this happening to me?
In my case, I knew deep down that I was the cause of all my problems, but I didn’t want to vocalize them at the time.
It was only when I decided to start writing down my life that I could trace every single situation in my life that had taken place back to previous actions I had taken.
In my early years when I was alone facing the repercussions of my choices, it was easy for me to dismiss my predicament. It went something like this, “If only I had not trusted…” or “If I had just left when I knew trouble was coming..”
The pattern is simple to decipher with the luxury of time. I alone was responsible for the situation that I found myself involved in. The first step was to be honest with myself, admit it and accept it.
The silver lining in all of this revelation was that I could use the lesson I had learned to help guide my life today. I began to think more about the longterm effects of my choices.
My friend and I went over our past for a few minutes and then he said, “I am very happy now.”
I agreed with him, referring to myself. Part of growing up for us was realizing that happiness is not our circumstances – it is a decision to remain in a positive mindset regardless of the things that have happened to you or are happening around you. Often I hear people say, “I want a job that makes me happy,” or maybe it’s a relationship, or more money, or a better family that you think would make you happy. Happiness has nothing to do with your circumstances and everything to do with your mindset and your decision to be happy.
Together my friend and I chose not to go to school unlike most of the people we were around. I felt that my career path was laid out in front of me in the criminal world. He was not interested in what I was pursuing because he was on his own path. We stayed close over the years, but he had a couple of lost years before every action he took left him with only one option: joining the US Army. He joined, and it changed his life. It gave him structure and purpose – things he had been missing.
This was how he ended up in a blown up Humvee on the road between Iraq and Kuwait. It is how he ended up in the mountains of Afghanistan getting hit by shrapnel from an RPG. It was also how he was blown off a building in Afghanistan by yet another RPG. Those were his tragedies, but not only negative results came from his choices.
Two decades ago, when he was on leave from boot camp he came to visit me in Orange County, California. We had a great time and he stayed longer than he should have. He ended up missing a number of busses and I could not book him a plane flight out of Orange County in time. He found a way to take a bus down to San Diego and then another long bus ride across the country to his base. He met his future wife on a bus on that cross-country journey. They have two wonderful daughters and have been married for 18 years.
Life could have been much easier for both of us, much less pain, if we had chosen different paths. Yet, God gave each of us free will. The ability to make our own choices and live with the consequences. In his sovereignty, he can use any of our life choices, good or bad, for the ultimate good of his people and for his plan.
God wants to be close to each of us, but our sin separates us from him. He does not force us to ask for forgiveness, but he did give us his son as a sacrifice, so that we have a way to him through forgiveness.
We cannot tell people how to act, can not make them change. We cannot force them to believe that God has a plan for good in their lives. What we can do is show them with our actions. They will have to recognize God’s hand in our lives and seek him out on their own. The choice to be Christian is mine, just as that choice is yours. This is one choice that I look back on now and ask myself, why did I wait so long?
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.