Saturday, April 11, 2009
Even as I was working on last Monday’s post about coincidences I was formulating ideas for this week’s topic. And I have to tell you, I was really excited about it! It was going to be about a men’s retreat, given by one of our local churches, that I attended a couple of weeks ago.
My intention was to share some of my retreat “experience” with you, and perhaps more importantly, tell you how I have felt the presence of the Holy Spirit with me since that weekend. I thought, “This is Holy Week. With all the focus in the Bible on Christ’s promise of the Holy Spirit during His last days, what better time to share the amazing amount of comfort, strength, and empowerment that I have been blessed with during the past two weeks.”
One of my favorite sayings is that “Life often gets in the way of our best intentions.” Think about that one for a minute……How many times have you meant to do something, like going to see a friend that is sick, or sitting down to write a thank you note? How about something that would improve the quality of your own life, like going to the gym, or sticking to that diet, or going to church regularly? You really meant to do those things, didn’t you? It may have been your intention to do those things, but for some reason or another, they never got done. And look, I’m not throwing stones at you; I’ve been guilty of all of the above at some time. Like I said, sometimes life just gets in the way….
From gladness to gloom.
This week, my week, which began with so much promise, so much joy, so much passion for God, and so much gratefulness for Jackie and for my family and my friends and my business and who I am and my purpose in life, and EVERYTHING turned out to be one of the most difficult weeks that I’ve had in a long time.
Every time I sat down to work on this post there was a distraction. There were computer problems in the salon, and a seemingly endless stream of people that work for us with some gripe to tell me about. Time management, usually one of my assets, mysteriously disappeared. I received some amazing, humbling, inspiring e-mails and couldn’t find time to respond to them, which made matters worse. I lost my temper at a team meeting. I lost my temper at home; Jackie and I got into a couple of disagreements over nothing. Life was everything but normal.
What made matters worse is that I was aware that I was in a funk, a downward spiral, a deep hole….during those moments when I was losing my temper, I was aware of it. I knew that I was overreacting to situations, taking things personally, and showing my derriere. I was aware of what I was doing, knew that I shouldn’t be doing it, but did it anyway. I seemingly had no control over my actions.
I think that this is a perfect time to tell you about one of my morning rituals.
Each day I get up at least 30 minutes before Jackie and head to my sanctuary, our kitchen. I take a seat in my favorite chair, my “prayer chair”, and spend those 30 minutes in prayer and reflection. I’ve followed this routine, sat in my prayer chair, since November of 2006. I’d like to spend more time talking about my chair, but I believe that it deserves a post of its own, so for now I’ll simply say that I found my salvation sitting in this chair! (I’m sitting in it at this very moment.) But this week, not even time in my prayer chair was able to turn things around for me.
Last night I lay in bed reflecting on the past few days, and came to the startling realization that I, Sam Maniscalco, Mr. Awesome Everyday, soldier of Christ, messenger of God, was without that which I try to convey to you through this site: Hope. I drifted off to sleep in prayer, asking God to help me find me.
As soon as I woke up this morning, before I even had time to thank God for giving me another day, I knew what had been wrong with me this week. Before I give you the answer, I’ll ask you to step outside the box of conventional ways of thinking for a minute…
In Life’s Energy, a post dated February 23rd, I offered my belief that the closer we get to doing God’s work and to doing His will, the more Satan does to stop us dead in our tracks. I believe that witnessing to others about God and His goodness makes Satan, well, it makes him mad as hell. Be it through the bible, or church, or pastors, priests, preachers, ministers, deacons, and just plain folks like me…..every time a person takes a step towards the light of God he is taking a step away from the darkness. You think that sits well with Satan? Do you think that he is gonna sit there and watch me or anyone else try to thin his ranks? Do I have to answer either of those questions for you?
Satan came after me this week. During what it is the most important time of the year for me, as a Christian….during a time when my eyes should have been fixed firmly upon Christ on the Cross…..when I have been filled by the Holy Spirit, more ready than ever to proclaim the wonders of Christ and the miracles He has worked in my life…..when I had numerous opportunities daily to let His light shine through me, to be His soldier….I was distracted by Satan. He came after me this week, and he took me off course. But it was short lived.
Okay, this is the part where you’re going to think that I’ve lost it, but like I’ve said before, I’m not here to win a popularity contest; I just tell you what is in my heart and mind, what I believe to be true…..
This morning, I was so aware of Satan’s presence that I said a quick prayer asking God to protect Jackie and me from evil, then got out of bed, went straight to the bathroom, and spit the taste of the devil out of my mouth. Then I got back in the bed and continued with my gratitude list.
You can laugh or shake your head in disbelief if you want to; I probably would’ve done either or both a few years ago. But I’ll tell you this: almost immediately, I could feel that calmness and peace that I’ve become accustomed to replace the feelings of anxiety and darkness that have been with me this week.
Today has been an awesome day. Jackie has been in her sanctuary, our back yard, doing what she enjoys the most; landscaping. I have been doing one of the things that I enjoy most, which is writing for The Seed of Hope. We’ll go out to dinner tonight, and then return home to watch a movie, which just happens to be Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. We’ve had the DVD since it was released, but for some reason have never watched it. Actually, I know the reason….I wasn’t supposed to watch this movie until my eyes and heart were ready to truly see and feel what Christ endured for you and me.
We’ll go to church tomorrow morning celebrating the glory of the Risen Christ!
Have a Blessed and Joyful Easter!
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I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe that everything happens for a reason, because everything that happens is part of God’s plan for us. I’ll give you an example:
The weeks and months following my “epiphany” (see The Epiphany 11/17/08) were a bit unsettling. After all, I had asked God to take my hand and lead me to wherever it was that He wanted me to go, and to help me to be what he wanted me to be. And I meant it. But let me tell you….at 53 I was settled into my ways, and even though I wasn’t really happy with who I was, it rattled me a bit when God accepted my offer and started changing me!
Did you notice that I didn’t say that I was AFRAID? That’s because I wasn’t; for the first time in my life I had really given it up to Him. It was the uncertainty of what I was becoming that was getting to me.
This is gonna be one of those times that the words aren’t going to come easily, so bear with me as I reach for the right ones…..
God started working on me the very day that I asked for His help! For the first time in my life I was filled with something that I’d never experienced before; it actually took me about a half a day to realize what it was: HOPE. I don’t mean that hope crept into my life gradually….I mean, the moment I reached out to take His hand he started lifting me up. I don’t know if it was the Holy Spirit, or His presence, or my state of mind, or all of the above, but I wanted to change. Better yet, I knew that I was going to change.
So each day, from that point on, I examined every facet of my life; my relationship with Jackie, the way I dealt with people, the manner in which I reacted to certain situations, my outlook towards our business, my outlook towards myself…..everything was under close scrutiny. If I was going to change who I was, I had to look “inside”, in every dark corner, in all the mental closets in which I had hidden so many fears for so many years. I figured that the only way for me to find my good qualities was to dig through all the bad ones, right? So I dug, and dug, and dug….relentlessly….every day. Sleep didn’t come easy, and when it did come, it was only for a couple of hours at a time.
You will not believe how quickly the self-discoveries came, how much enlightenment I received, and how quickly I was able to identify and shed the “old layers” of my past. It was like having a Bloomin’ Onion at Outback Steakhouse every day! Amazing. Humbling. Weird.
Think about scraping layers of paint off of a very old home; you know, one of those antique things that you see on the television series This Old House. When those guys start taking away the old layers I always find myself wondering “What’s really under there?”
In this instance, I was the old house. I was the painter doing the scraping. I was the viewer waiting to see what would be revealed. When shedding every vestige of your former self, you have to wonder what would be left. I knew that God was changing me, but what was He changing me into? What would be left of “Sam”? Would I know him? Would Jackie love him? Would I like him? What talents would he have? So many questions….so few answers.
In case you don’t know it, I’m a big college football fan, and I’m a HUGE fan of The University of Alabama Crimson Tide! I started “following” them as a kid, became a rabid fan during my teen years, and attended “Bama” after graduating from high school.
College football is a big deal in the South, and in the state of Alabama, the rivalry between Bama, and that “other” school, Auburn University, has caused broken friendships, divided families, and sad but true, divorces. I only wish that I was kidding about that one. You get the idea, right? Intense rivalry.
After years of winning seasons and national championships, Alabama was found guilty of some recruiting violations and was placed on probation for several years. Wins didn’t come as easily or as often. As they say in the South, the “natives were gettin’ restless”, and I was one of them.
When things are going good in football, you always look at the team and its star players. When things are going badly, you always look at the coach! Let’s just say that going into the Auburn game, a lot of eyes were fixed on Alabama’s head coach, Mike Shula.
November 17, 2006
Okay, I know you’re not here to read about football, but be patient; I’m getting there!
Auburn was the visiting team, and going in, I was pretty much fed up with Coach Shula’s conservative approach. I passed up an opportunity to attend the game and opted for watching on television at home.
Alabama took control of the game early, and definitely had the momentum as they were in a position to score a touchdown early in the game. The crowd was going nuts! The players were pumped up. I was beside myself! But true to form, Coach Shula’s conservatism showed its ugly face.
I looked at my watch, turned to my wife Jackie and said “If we settle for a field goal instead of going for the touchdown, we’re going to church!” (Catholics may satisfy their Sunday obligation on Saturday). Jackie looked at me and replied “You are kidding me, aren’t you?” You see, I had never walked out on an Alabama-Auburn game….never would’ve dreamed of it!
You can imagine what happened next: Alabama kicked the field goal, and I bolted for the door with Jackie in close pursuit. We hopped in the car, covered the distance from our house in minutes, and walked into a less-than-half full church as Mass (the Catholic term for a service) began.
I hate to admit this, but for the first half of Mass my mind was on the game. Well, it wasn’t really on the game….I was really marveling over the fact that I was sitting in church instead of at home on the edge of my seat. I remember thinking that “God must really want me here for a reason.”
The congregation sat down for the Homily (Sermon), and as soon as Fr. Joe (the Pastor) began speaking, I knew why God wanted me to be in church.
Father Joe’s message was about having “purpose” in our lives, or more specifically, God's purpose for each one of us. Some of us recognize God’s plan for us early on, while others spend a lifetime searching for their reason for existence. We’re so obsessed with the questions that we often overlook the answers that God will readily give to us if we will only ……Be Still.
Jackie and I looked at each other, tears welling up in our eyes, amazed yet again at God’s sense of timing.
At a point in my life when my mind was filled with question and doubt, when I was searching for my identity and my reason for being, you could call it a coincidence that my team was having a bad game, during a bad year. And during that game, against all odds, against football “man-law”, I would get up and go to church, only to receive a message that I desperately needed to hear.
God put me in that church, on that day, to hear that particular message. That night, for the first time in weeks, sleep wasn’t so elusive. And that was no coincidence, either.
God is good!
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