Learning To Leap!

When I was a youngster, I was a nervous kid who struggled with a lot of fear. Now understand, I wasn’t afraid of things like the dark or monsters in the closet. No, my fears were far more mundane.*

For me, my fears revolved around interacting with other people. They stemmed for being very socially anxious, and even at a young age, I thought most people were better than me. I was this shy kid, that often stood back and watched kids my age do the things I wanted to do. I’d envy their gumption and abilities, while despising and hating my own hesitations and lack of courage. 

I’d try to function in public, but it was never easy. Actually, it was incredibly hard. I lived in this perpetual state of comparing myself to others and fearing how they would perceive or judge me. I didn't think I was good enough, and I suspected they all agreed.

My social anxiety held me back dreadfully. I’d wrestle relentlessly with myself, wanting to move forward or start something, but often feeling I was unable too. I’d watch from the sidelines and feel sorry for myself. I wouldn’t speak, volunteer or raise my hand, even when I really wanted to do something. I hated myself for acting this way, but I believed I couldn’t make the change. 

Deep down, I knew God was calling me to walk through certain doors into a new kind of life. But, because of these fears, I’d sadly shut these doors as tight as I could and then feel immense guilt and sadness.

Today, my job at Cornerstone Community Outreach, is all about helping people start something new in their lives. I’ve learned through my own experiences and through now working with people experiencing homelessness that starting something new can be very difficult.

At CCO, I know of countless people who, just like me, have watched their dreams and aspirations shatter before their eyes. They really and truly want to move forward, but something “big and ugly” is holding them back. 

When our lives get messy, it’s hard to know where and how to start. It’s hard to transform our present reality into the "someday" we dream about. 

As I think about my own story and the stories of the many people I've worked with over the past 15 years, I’d like to encourage everyone with 3 key things I’ve had to learn; things that have helped me and others to move forward.

Firstly, I believe it’s important to acknowledge that we have weaknesses and struggles. We must not deny how weak and fragile we truly are. We must not suppress it! We must admit that our weaknesses and fragility can be crippling. It’s imperative to admit that we have things in our lives that prevent us from doing things in many ways. 

For me, it was my crippling social anxiety, but everyone has different and unique weaknesses and struggles. We need to analyze ourselves, so we can discover what things are holding us back. 

Is it an addiction? Is it laziness? Is it PTSD? Does it have to do with trust issues? Is it pride? Is it something you’re great at? Everyone’s stories are different, to the point that sometimes the thing that’s holding us back, we may perceive as a strength. 

Unfortunately, too many people refuse to accept they have struggles and live in denial. To move forward, we need to realize that we all have things that stand in the way. In my story, I had to admit how socially anxious and awkward I truly was. Even though I didn’t want to be known as that “shy boy” that would “glow as bright as a beetroot” whenever someone would talk to me or I had to go on stage, that was my reputation and I had to admit it. 

As I work with people experiencing homelessness, I’ve repeatedly seen folk struggle to admit their weaknesses and difficulties as something holding them back from a better life. For example; If someone doesn’t admit they’re an alcoholic, when they are, the issue remains and progress doesn’t happen. 

If the first thing we need is unblinking honesty, the second is courageous hope!

Just as it is imperative for us to acknowledge our struggles, the second thing we need to do is admit that we still want, that we still hope for, something greater than our present reality. We need to believe there’s hope, even in the ashes. 

Unfortunately, many people do realize how weak they are, but they stop there. They continue to live in that reality. They “give in” to their weakness and resign to their fate. 

I know people do this, because I certainly did! I wallowed in my grief! I knew I was socially anxious and I believed there was no hope! I was consumed by my own despair. I entered the deepest, darkest period of my life.

All hope vanished. 

As a result, I was horribly depressed and suicidal; I used to spend countless hours in my room, listening to music with dark lyrics and playing with razorblades on my wrists.

Without hope, our lives go to very dark places, regardless of the specific ways we live that out. Without hope, we resign to a hopeless fate and lose the ability to dream fresh dreams. It’s sad to see people function in this phase. It’s awful to see people give up on their potential. 

Although I work with folks experiencing homelessness, the reality is that people at every level of society have lost hope and have resorted to settling. It's as common for the person with the lovely suburban home, as it is for the man sleeping on the park bench.

At CCO, because of countless shattered dreams, rejection and endless struggles, I’ve encountered many people who’ve lost hope; they may not have been sucked into a depressive vortex like I was, but they’ve been trapped by many other addictions and vices. The common thread for them, for me, and for the person in the middle-class suburb, is this; they don’t want to fight, they don’t want to lose another battle, so they have settled for the mundane or “whatever seems easiest”

In the Bible, and in our lives, God often calls His people to move; to leave familiar terrain behind and journey into a land that He will show them. But instead, we often settle for the ease of normalcy, comfort and safety. Change is hard, that’s why so many of us get sucked in by the addictive and comforting reality of the bottle, TV, technology or our own misery. I know this to be true, because I have gripped them all when God has said “move” and fear has grasped me.   

The third thing I have learned is this: in spite of your feelings, you must take a leap of faith. And, if you are unsure how to do that, you must begin by learning to leap!

After several years of living in a suicidal mess, I needed to find hope. I was scared. It was a risk, I needed to move out of this depressive phase and find hope. I had to get out of my funk and move forward; start something fresh. I needed to leap; I needed to take a leap of faith into... I didn't know what. I needed to leap into the unknown. I needed to leap across the gap. I needed to take a leap of faith.

Throughout those torturous years, Jesus continued to whisper to me, calling me back to Him. He never gave up on me. I could feel the pull of His Spirit within me. He was telling me that there was hope in Him. 

I was in a dark tunnel and I couldn’t see any light, but Jesus would give me glimpses of His light. He kept saying “leap into My arms, I’ll carry you, trust Me!”  I kept pushing him aside and sometimes I even straight-up cussed Him out. I didn’t want to take that leap, but He kept saying “come to Me”. Finally I relented. I took that risk. I governed all the courage I could and leapt into His loving arms. I didn’t know where it would lead or what the journey would be like, all I knew was, I believed the promises and leapt into utter darkness, trusting my Lord and Savior would catch me; 

...and He did! 

That leap into the unknown, ignited an exciting new journey for me.

Leaping in faith takes courage and strength. Leaping in faith takes risk and sacrifice. Leaping in faith involves prayer and listening to the Holy Spirit. Moving forward involves surrendering what is trapping us to the “One who sets us free.”

I love seeing those in the battle surrender to what the Holy Spirit has been whispering to them. I love seeing a gambler take a risk and refuse to return to the boats. I love seeing an alcoholic sacrifice the comfort of the bottle and risk dealing with fresh raw emotions. I love seeing someone addicted to screens say “no” to them and venture into new personal relationships. I love seeing socially anxious people risk embarrassment and venture out into the public. 

I love seeing change happen, because it is beautiful. When people are willing to take a leap into a wild and scary unknown world, trusting Jesus will catch them; this is a picture of the Kingdom of God moving in our midst!

When Joshua took the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land, they were terrified. Even though God had promised them victory and a gorgeous land “flowing with milk and honey”, the desert had become comfortable and addictive to them. Even though God had their back and had proved it to them time and time again, the Israelites were scared and didn’t want to venture out of their seemingly mundane comfort and security and into an exciting, yet daunting, future God had promised them. Knowing this, Joshua cried out to them, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

We've talked about acknowledging our weaknesses. We've continued by looking at embracing and acting upon the hope Jesus offers us. But our journey doesn't stop there; it grows into maturity as we recognize that fearless self-assessment and wild "hope-in-action" needs to continue for the rest of our lives.

Taking that leap of faith was only the start of my journey. We all must continually recognize and battle against our weaknesses and struggles, find hope in the ashes and leap into the arms of the One who provides that hope. 

Time and time again, my social anxiety and depression will raise its ugly head and try to pull me under. There are times when I feel like giving in to my weaknesses and not taking that leap. The battle never ends and there will always be new opportunities, but we must be willing to step out of what’s easiest and take the risk and leap. We must be willing to pray, listen to the Holy Spirit and sometimes make mistakes. 

Many years after my tumultuous internal battle and eventual leap, I found myself in another vicious battle. Over the years, of course, I’d had a few battles and made a few leaps, and to be honest, I’d also surrendered to my fears and weaknesses at times and settled for my own selfish comfort, rather than obeying God’s gentle call. 

In late 2004, I’d been running a men’s homeless shelter for 3 years. Personally, it was a time of incredible growth for me. Many of my weaknesses, struggles and hurdles had been tackled during that time and I was able to use my God-given gifts for His Kingdom. I felt alive and fulfilled in new and incredible ways.

Men experiencing homelessness packed into our place every night, and we all blessed each other. God’s Kingdom was seen and experienced, and then, out of the blue, my world came crashing down. Due to local well-connected bullies who dislike homeless people, we had to close the men’s portion of our shelter down. 

Just like that; it was all gone!

I couldn’t believe it; the normally bustling cafeteria was empty! Just days before, this barren space had sheltered over 100 fellas laughing, joking and having loving conversations! Now, it had an airy ghastly silence that sent chills down my spine. 

I was confused. I cried. I was angry and desperately prayed to God. Once again I found myself standing in the middle of a battlefield, having to challenge myself and make another decision. 

I’d seen those last 3 years as crucial to my journey. I’d stepped out of my comfort zone, outside of things that were safe and easy, and I'd watched God bring incredible fruit out of those decisions. I'd pictured myself climbing a ladder, and I knew that, if I went back to something safe and comfortable, it would have been like me sliding back down that ladder. 

Part of me wanted something safe and easy. After such a crushing disappointment, how could I not? Somewhere inside, I knew that wasn't the right choice. I felt God didn’t want me to retreat and I heard His still small voice say; “keep climbing”. 

I knew He wanted me to climb this imaginary ladder where I couldn’t see where it went, and that’s a very risky climb. In other words, I could play it safe by stepping off that ladder or I could leap into an unknown territory that would challenge my social anxiety and many other fears. 

Again, Jesus said “come with Me, trust Me!”

So I did!

I leapt! I took the risk and went out into the community, doing what I believed God wanted me to do! I was nervous. My heart was pounding. And to be honest, that first mission was an utter failure! But I kept at it, leaping time and time again and God used my weaknesses and struggles for His Kingdom. 

The journey didn’t stop with my flawed attempts, because a few years later, God opened another door and we’re now running another men’s shelter, this time more holistically. I look back and see God moving and weaving through every step of my journey; loving and supporting me and using my weaknesses as a part of His plan.

Every day at CCO I am inspired, because I see homeless men, women and children leaping in faith. They know they’re in a battle and they need to face their weaknesses. They know they need to choose hope when all they see is despair, and they know they need to leap into the unknown. They also know this leap isn’t a one day thing, but it’s ongoing. I see this every day, I see them leap and I see God catch them, and I am inspired by them. 

Leap and keep on leaping. God uses broken vessels like you and me to advance His Kingdom. He just calls us to keep taking risks and leaping in faith. 

I want to close by encouraging everyone with these words from Romans 1:17; “For in it (The Gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. As it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’”

* this was written for an organization called Mission USA: Their main focus is reaching out to men and women behind bars, and they have a Church service called The Bridge on Chicago's westside every Tuesday, a ministry which I've been blessed to be part of for about 2 years now. They have many ministries, but this devotion was specifically written for their August BridgeBox - it's an online Church service, where every month they focus on a particular subject, where they challenge and bless us with music, bible studies, devotionals and sermons. I encourage anyone reading this to check out their website, and if you can afford $8.00 a month, sign up for these encouraging and challenging services. Thanks.
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