Thursday, January 24, 2013

Young Man, Do You Want My Advice?

Lots of people who used to be boys have turned into bonafide grownups. These guys have degrees, and growing families, and professional accomplishments. And they still have all their hair!

Its inspiring to see the enthusiasm and dedication of the younger generation. Its a great thing, this energy. I remember the nexus of youthful energy and budding maturity. This is a great time of life.

Thank God for this life, young man. Spend it well, engage reality, build up the good. Be full of gratitude for each day, each moment, for your wife and your little children. Be engaged, but don't get lost in mere activism. Lift up your heart to God in prayer and ask Him to shape you into the person He wills you to be.

So you are turning 27, 28, 29 or even 30, and you think you are "old"? Ah well, you have reached an important mark in your maturity, but the coming years promise to be great and constructive steps in the formation of your own personality, and your development into someone who helps to form others, to pass on the experience of your own life to your children and their generation.

The next twenty-some years, God willing, will be constructive. But that does not mean they will be successful in the sense you may now imagine. I say this not to discourage you, but to assure you that you can live and endure many difficult things and still be enriched, and remain young at heart.

I don't know if I can give you "advice," my young friend. I hope you have your aspirations, love for your wife and family, and a strong commitment to your work. Make sure to be there for your kids as they grow up. And get ready to have some twists and turns--some adventures--over the next twenty-some years.

You have to test your strength, because that's how you learn its limits. I hope you will achieve some things, but I know that you will discover that the horizon of your own life is greater than anything you can reach.

Above all, be faithful to God. Things may get downright crazy. That's one thing that I know from the last  twenty-some years that are now behind me.

My experience shows that pieces may fall into place...and then fall apart! And then come together in a different way, and then there are new challenges.... It's God's plan for your life: follow it, or hang on to it, or crawl in the dark through it, or even get frustrated and say (pray) to God: "What kind of a plan is this? What's the deal here?" Just keep going. Stay with Him. Don't give up.

I hope you enjoy the fruits of your labor, but the seasons will vary, and there will be storms. My wife and I are both academics; we got married later than you (but going on 17 years ago) and still had five kids. I prayed, worked hard and established my career as a college professor, a writer, and an editor. I accomplished many goals. And I loved my work.

Then I got sick.

No matter how we may feel in advance, none of us are ready for a train wreck. We must trust in God, and that can be difficult. Trusting in God is a life-long learning process.

Sometimes you lose the career you love most. Its humiliating. Period. You've been flattened, and its not your fault. But its gonna be along time before you stop blaming. yourself. every. single. day.

And even if, like me, you get to keep your nice fancy professorial title, it doesn't help much, because you're disabled. That's that. You can't do what you want. You have to depend on other people. Humbling.

But God really is at work in you. Even if that brings ZERO consolation, its a fact. Never give up.

And you can't go through this alone. If you suffer, she suffers. But your marriage and family can be (and are meant to be) strengthened by these difficulties. New dimensions of marriage open up, and you both need to work hard, make sacrifices and forgive each other every day for a lot. But if you are faithful, you will discover that the sacramental bond is real, it is inter-personal, it is the grace of Christ's Spirit and it keeps you together, and it is a very tough thing. The sacrament of marriage is strong; it is built to last. You have to depend on it.

Spousal love means so many things that have never even entered your dreams. It will humble you. You will find that there is no place to be selfish in marriage, and this too is a life-long learning process.

Of course, when doors close, windows can open. My wife became a Montessori teacher, she loves it, and (of course) she's really good at it. The "death" of my "established career" ended up being the "birth" of hers. Our kids go to (or have been through) the school. I am well enough right now that I go to the office and help with the students and also do my own work (I refer to myself sometimes as "writer-in-residence" and other times as "interactive media consultant").

You may even surprise yourself by what you do, and where it leads you.

When I got sick, I did was was "natural" for me; I wrote about it. Some friends circulated some of what I wrote, and it eventually landed at a publisher who said, "can you give us more of this?" It ended up being a popular book, published in 2010, that continues to sell and seems to help a lot of people.

I had written academic things, and I had (still have) projects in the works. But I never planned to write a book like Never Give Up, and I almost didn't. It was slow, one step at a time, and "not my idea." I just had the sense that it was God's will, and I just took a step and then another and then another.

The irony is that the book is perhaps the most important work I have done in my life thus far. It turns out that God doesn't believe in "disability." But we have to do things His way.

And we don't know much about that "way". We don't know what's coming. We may all get dumped off the fiscal cliff. We may be washed away by a hurricane, or caught up in a war, or just pushed in new directions by the dramas of children and adolescents becoming young adults. We still have to "plan ahead" as best we can (that's human nature and human responsibility), but the grain is never safe in the bins.

The way this plays out in our circumstances is how God teaches us to trust in Him. But my words about this are not worth much. Trust is a relationship with God that must be lived. It is a relationship that you are able to live.

So live it. Trust God in everything that comes.