The Seed of Hope

A gift for tomorrow

Viewing by month: May 2011

Coming Full Circle

A few weeks ago, in a post titled A Natural Fit, I made mention of the things that I get to do in the realm of serving God and serving people. During the past few years God has opened doors for me to “get to” reach out to people through this site, our church, our business, and most recently, on the radio.

I have been, and remain, so grateful for all of those opportunities, and humbled that God would choose to use me to serve Him, in spite of who I was and what I may have done in the past. But I have to tell you that it took me a long time wrap my mind around the fact that, for whatever reason, God had decided to use me in any way to further His Kingdom.

It’s “fess-up” time.

Looking back on that period of time during late 2006 and most of 2007, I can see that I was afraid that God might wake up and realize that He had made a mistake, that He’d meant to tap Sam Smith on the shoulder, and not Sam Maniscalco! Seriously, I believed that it was something that wasn’t gonna last. In my mind, I was gonna be like a shooting star; brightly shining for a brief time, and then gone. Poof!

My fears lead me to do two things…

The first thing, and in my opinion the worst thing, was the fact that back then when I said “I get to do”, a small part of it was a prideful thing, more like a child saying “Hey guys, look at what I get to do! I’m somebody! I count!”

Kind of prideful, wouldn’t you say? Ego driven? Yes, to some degree. Oh, my intentions to help others and to share the news of what God had done in my life were sincere, but there was definitely a “me” thing going on too.

Not to defend my actions, but there was a reason behind them. You see, for years, in my mind, no one had ever listened. Not as a child, whose parents were always working. Not as a confused teenager, who was searching for direction. Not as a twenty-six year old father of two, in debt and in a very volatile relationship. Not as a thirty-seven year old man, recently remarried to an amazing lady and not-so-proud owner of a business that he neither wanted to own nor knew anything about. It seemed to me that no one had listened, that no one was listening, and that no one was going to listen; not even God.

When I had my spiritual awakening in August of 2006 I quickly recognized that God had been listening to me all along. The problem was that I’d never listened to Him. Hmm…

Not long after that I had this inexplicable feeling, almost a knowing, if you will, that God was gonna use me in some way. I didn’t have the foggiest notion of why, or better yet how, He was going to do it. I just believed that He would.

Almost immediately, I wrote a petition for humility and taped it on our bathroom mirror, right next to The Prayer of Jabez 1 Chronicles 4:10, which I had been saying every morning for several weeks. I believe that I’ve shared this petition with you before, but I’m going to do it once more. (I believe that we can never be too humble.)

                God grant me the ability to be all that I desire to be.

                God give me the humility to remain the man I am today.

Again, I began offering this petition to God every day. I guess it took a while for my petition to be answered; today, humility is my constant companion. Still, I recite it every morning because I know that pride has a way of sneaking in the back door.

Secondly, I went on a mission to do everything that I could before God woke up to His mistake!

Not long after my awakening, I began making business presentations for Redken (the hair care company) in various cities around the country. I never turned down an invitation to speak. I can’t tell you how many weekends I gave up spending time with Jackie (my wife) at our lake house to share what was on my heart with people everywhere else. When I received a call or an e-mail to be in Atlanta, or Chicago, or Los Angeles, or New Orleans, or wherever, I was gone. Anything else could wait until I got back. God might wake up.

The same could be said for my actions in our salon. Whenever I had the opportunity to share our story with one of our guests, or listen to what was on their heart, for the next fifteen or twenty minutes they became the focal point of my life. Our business was momentarily put on the back burner. God might wake up.

When Jackie and I began attending Church of The Highlands in 2009, we dove in head- first. Within the first eighteen months we had hosted a small bible study/fellowship in our home, had volunteered to host two ministry students in our home, and had become a part of a small team that was launching a new church campus nearby. I volunteered for pretty much any and everything. I even got baptized again. God might wake up.

When The Seed of Hope was launched in November of 2008, I made a commitment to send a post out every week. Not just every week, but by 7:00 every Monday morning. The first time that I missed a deadline, not through any fault of my own, but computer issues, I broke out in a cold sweat! It was two years before I actually missed a week, and that was because I was spiritually depleted from spending a lot of time listening to the hearts of people in the prayer room in our salon. I had to have time to heal my own heart, and I took a week to do so. No more than that; God might wake up.

This trend, of pushing and pushing and pushing continued until one evening just a couple of months ago. Brooke, a second year ministry student from Minneapolis, had been living in our home since last August. Brooke would push herself as a leader, as a minister to others, and as an example of God’s shining light. Her desire is to be the hands and feet of Jesus here on earth. I love that girl and her heart for Jesus.

I was constantly encouraging Brooke to slow down, to take time to rest, and to take what seemed to be the weight of the world off of her shoulders. I urged her that she didn’t have to prove anything to anyone, and especially not to God. He knew what was in her heart.    

It was during one of those admonishments to Brooke that it hit me like a lead balloon; I was as bad as Brooke, if not worse. I realized, for the first time in several years, that I don’t have to prove anything to anyone, and especially not to God. He knows what’s in my heart; that I love Him above all else, that I dedicate my life to Him daily, and that I live to serve Him. And I don’t have to worry that He’s gonna wake up because He never went to sleep.

I didn’t write a post for three weeks; not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because I didn’t have to say it.

Full circle

God presence in my heart has changed me so much in the last couple years. Now, when I say that I “get to” do something, it is born, not from ego or the pride of what I get to do, but from an overwhelming humility that God allows me to do it.

I “get to” write about Him. I “get to” serve in our church. I “get to” lead small groups, and I “get to” listen to hearts of others, and I “get to” pray for people. I “get to” be a servant of an amazing God. I “get to.” At times, it’s still hard for me to believe.

I’m going to offer you a brief excerpt from A Natural Fit…

I’m reminded of a message that was given by Joshua Canizaro, yet another pastor at Church of Highlands. The gist of his message was this:

There are things in life that we’ve got to do. We’ve got to have a job. We’ve got to pay the bills. We’ve got to pay taxes, and buy groceries, and pay tuition. You get the message, right? These are things that we’ve got to do.

Then there are those things that we get to do. They’re things that we volunteer to do, because they’re in our hearts, and because doing them brings us joy.

This is where, in an odd twist, everything comes full circle…

Those things I mentioned that I “get to do” for God and for people, because I choose to? Well, when you get right down to it, there’s really no choice at all.

I’ve got to do them. All those things…writing, listening, sharing, praying, leading, and mentoring, fill me with God’s presence. They complete the circle of my life that includes my wife, my family, my business, and my church.

One morning a couple of weeks ago, just before Brooke went back home for the summer, she, Jackie, and I were having a conversation about this very subject.

Why do we feel as though we’ve “got to do” the things that we “get to do”?

After several futile attempts by Brooke and me to come up with an answer that felt “right”, Jackie looked at both of and said, “That’s easy. It’s in your DNA!”

Enough said.

 

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 05/31/2011 at 12:55 PM | Categories: Life - Faith -

and into the Light.

Once in every life there comes a time

We walk out all alone and into the light

 

Two weeks I had the absolute honor and blessing of being an Anointer at a LIFE (Living in Freedom Everyday) retreat that was being held at Church of The Highlands here in Birmingham. The two day retreat was the culmination of a twelve week small group program that was designed to help people rid themselves of emotional “baggage” that they’d being carrying around for months, years, and in some instances, lifetimes.

 

The retreat was divided into four sessions, with two specific target areas within each of the four sessions. The “affairs of the heart and mind” in these areas included, among others, forgiving, being forgiven, greed, and shame. Again, my role in the retreat was that of an Anointer. I was one of a team of sixty or seventy people whose purpose was to pray for an individual to be released from his particular burden, or as the case may be, burdens.

 

It was the first session of the second day…

The focus was on being released from the emotional scarring that was the result of being abused (mentally and physically), molested, raped, etc.  Quite obviously, this retreat is not for the faint of heart, but then again, if you want real freedom, you have to face these types of issues to get it.

So this guy, (whom I’ll call Frank) probably in his early forties, comes up to me for prayer. In an attempt to “loosen things up,” I shook his hand, told him my name, and with a smile on my face asked, “So brother, what’s on your heart?”

His answer, and his matter-of-fact demeanor in giving it, momentarily sent my mind reeling…

“All of it. I was abused. I was molested. I was taken advantage of. All of this happened when I was a child.”

As he was telling me this, he never looked away. Not once. Even as he was groping for just the right words, he never looked away. This poor man had been carrying this terrible burden all of those years, and his boldness in sharing the hurt with me, a total stranger, let me know that he was ready for freedom.

As I looked into Frank’s eyes and listened to the outpouring of his heart, I felt his pain. But I felt something else than was equal to, and perhaps an even greater burden than the painful memories of what he had endured.

Guilt and Shame

Somehow and at some time, probably when he was still in his youth, Frank had claimed not only the guilt for what happened to him but the shame that accompanied that guilt.

Even as I was talking to Frank, I was reflecting on the guilt and shame that I had carried around for years. No, I wasn’t abused, molested, or anything of that nature. My baggage was the result of things that I’d willfully done to myself and to others throughout the years; the years before I had my spiritual awakening in 2006.

If you’re a new visitor, and if you’re curious, I’ll go ahead and tell you that I wasn’t an evil person before I was born again. But then, I was no saint. At some time in my life, I had either literally or biblically broken every one of the Ten Commandments. (According to God’s Word, if you’ve committed murder in your mind, you’ve committed murder. The same can be said for lustful thoughts, envy, etc. You get what I’m saying, right?) And with every one of those broken Commandments, large and small, the pile began to grow, and with it came even more shame and guilt.

In Frank’s case, I really believe that he’d gotten beyond the majority of the pain from his experiences long ago. It’s my belief that either he’d never been aware of his shame and misplaced guilt, or no one had ever confronted him with it as openly as I had.  

Forgiveness

I want to share with you what I told Frank that day before I prayed with him, and it was drawn, not from what he had shared with me, but from my own experience…

Several months had passed since my awakening, and I found myself drawing closer and closer to God. I had a desire to know and experience Him, and that desire quickly gave way to hunger, which ultimately became a passion. To be honest with you, “along the way” I was addicted to cigarettes for thirty years and cocaine for a year and a half, and I’ll tell you here and now that neither of them came close to the addiction that I have for God and His presence in my life.

As I was growing “in Him” I knew that there was a problem; one that had to be addressed. You see, I had apologized to God for the things that I had done wrong in my life. I had asked Him for forgiveness, and I believed that I had indeed been forgiven. The next step, which I believe to be an obstacle for many of us, was to forgive myself for all the things that I’d done. That was a big one. I thought that I was home free…

Shadows

Do you remember reading or hearing the story of Adam and Eve, and how they hid from God after they’d eaten the forbidden fruit? Or maybe there was a time when you had done something wrong, and you’d hid from your parents? Perhaps there a time when you got caught in a lie, or in an embarrassing situation, and you just wanted to go hide under a rock? You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? You wanted to remain unseen and unnoticed, in the shadows.

That’s what happened to me with God! I believed with all that was in me that He had forgiven me and that I had for the most part, if not completely, forgiven myself. But I was still hiding in the shadows.

I remember the first time that I stepped out of the shadows and into God’s light. I’d been praying about it for days, asking the Holy Spirit to fill me with enough courage. Looking back on it now, I don’t know that it was fear that I was trying to overcome as much as it was simply believing that I was worthy of standing in God’s light. I just couldn’t get past myself.

And maybe, just maybe, my old adversary Satan didn’t want me stepping out into the light. I believe he knew that when I finally did, my relationship with God would reach another level. He wasn’t wrong.

Unbelievable

I’m telling you, just like I told my new friend Frank, that God knows what’s in your heart. If you’re truly sorry, and you ask Him for forgiveness, it’s done. Just like that. You’re forgiven. The slate is wiped clean. Jesus already paid the price for your transgressions. All that you have to do is ask.

And then, in your mind’s eye, you step out from the shadows and into the brightest light that you’ve ever seen. It’s God’s love. It’s His Grace, and His Forgiveness, and I promise you that it’s unlike anything that you ever have, or ever will experience. Ever. I promise. Get past yourself, and Satan’s tricks, and step out into the light. God’s light.

Because we believe.

I leave you today with a few verses from Because We Believe, a song recorded by Andrea Bocelli. I cry every time I listen to it, not only because of what it says, but because it was God’s plan for me to hear it for the first time the day that I stepped out into the light.

                Once in every life there comes a time

                We walk out all alone and into the light

                The feeling won’t last but then

                We remember it again

                When we close our eyes

 

                Like stars across the sky

                We were born to shine

                All of us here because we believe

 

Go ahead. Say a prayer, take a deep breath, and step out into God’s light. It’s where you belong. You’ll be glad that you did.

 

  

 

 

 

 

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 05/25/2011 at 5:24 PM | Categories: Life - Faith -

A Natural Fit

Last month, and at the last minute, I decided to attend an ARC (Association of Related Churches) Conference in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For weeks leading up to the conference I had been asking God for some clarity on a decision that my wife Jackie and I needed to make, and for some reason I believed that He was gonna give me that clarity in Baton Rouge…

TSPA

A few months ago Jackie and I were offered an opportunity to partner with a Birmingham businesswoman and fellow church member in opening a TSPA (The Salon Professional Academy), a school of cosmetology, just a couple of miles from our hair salon.

Conservative by nature, especially when it comes to making business decisions, I carefully weighed the pros and cons of moving forward with the potentially life-altering investment.

There were many reasons on the positive side of the ledger.

·         First and foremost in my mind was the potential for creating a healthy source of revenue for Jackie and me that would extend well into our retirement years.

·         We’d have an established business to pass along to our sons when, well, when it was time.

·         Jackie, who has been a stylist working “behind the chair” for decades, would be able to scale back her work load and share her many years of experience with our students, which is something that she’s always wanted to do.

·         I would bring my twenty-two years of business in the salon industry to the table. I’d also have the opportunity to share my core beliefs about business, life, and of course my faith, with the students.

·         We would have the opportunity and blessing of helping grow careers.

·         Oh, and did I mention the money? I think that, above all else, I saw the TSPA and the income that it would generate as a safety net for me to go out and serve the Lord, whenever and wherever I was called to do so.

We were, according to many in our industry, a “natural fit” to be TSPA owners.

The list of reasons on the negative side of the ledger was a short one. In fact, the list consisted of two items.

·         The initial investment was huge, and at fifty-eight, neither Jackie nor I felt really comfortable about it. I won’t say that we were stricken with fear. After all, we’d taken another huge risk when we relocated our business in 2005. Still, I felt that while the business acumen between Jackie, me, and our business partner wouldn’t guarantee success, it would certainly increase the odds of it happening. Again, we’d be a natural fit.

·         It would be, simply put, another business to run. (For those of you who have never owned a business, this is where I tell you that they don’t come with “easy” buttons or “auto-pilot” switches.)

On Monday, the day before I left for Baton Rouge, I received an e-mail confirming that a reservation in my name had been made in a New York City hotel a week after my return from the conference. (Jackie had a previous commitment to attend a retreat in California that she didn’t want to miss.) I was scheduled to be in New York to finalize plans for the TSPA, to sign a letter of commitment, and to put a security deposit on the deal. The time to make a decision was at hand, and we weren’t ready.

Riding to Baton Rouge the next morning with my friend Rusty, I remember thinking, “God, if You’re gonna give me some clarity on this TSPA thing, it needs to be soon. This is cuttin’ it kinda close.”

Wednesday night

We’d been at the conference for two days, and in that time I’d had a lot of revelations about a lot of things. Of course, I gotten nothing (nada, zero, zilch, goose eggs) regarding the decision that I would have to make upon my return to Birmingham on Thursday night.

It was the last session of a very long, inspiring, impactful day. I’m quite sure that it was God’s plan for me that my Pastor (Chris Hodges), of my church (Church of The Highlands) was on the stage giving the last message of the day. Pastor Chris’ focus was on putting down “mental baggage” that many of us manage to accumulate during the years. At some point he extended an invitation (an altar call) to all who were burdened to approach the stage for prayer.

Feeling no burdens on my heart, I opted to remain where I was, and to pray for the hearts and minds of those crowded at the front of the auditorium. Eyes closed, while listening to Pastor Chris, and praying, and singing (yes, God allowed me to do all of those at the same time), my thoughts turned to the TSPA.

I’ll relate what happened next to the best of my ability…

My prayer: Dear God, I seek only to do Your will, and to follow the path of the perfect plan that I know you have for me. I want to love You, and to serve You. I offer my life to You today, as I do every day. Please help me with this decision. Please give me clarity. Please allow me to see, without question, the choice that I should make.”

I believe that there have been three times in my life when I have clearly heard God’s voice, and this was one of them.

“Now is not the time to open the school. You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be, doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. Be patient. Wait for me.”

That was all the answer that I needed. I returned to Birmingham the next day and told Jackie about what had happened. Our decision was made. I sent an e-mail to all of the parties involved informing them of our decision to back out. I informed them that it just wasn’t in our hearts to open a school, and hoped that they would understand.

End of story?

Not hardly.

When I sat down to write the e-mail, I quickly scanned my incoming e-mails and noticed that I had received one from the church. Curious, I opened it to read that I had been invited to be an Anointer (I get to pray for people) at a retreat this coming weekend. What an honor. What a blessing. Of course, I accepted the invitation.

Two days later I received an invitation to portray a missionary in Ethiopia during a missions training program for a large group of young people being held at our church. I would get to share my heart and God’s real calling in my life as I wove it into the fabric of this missionary’s story.

The next day I was extended an invitation by a close friend to participate in a live “Call to Prayer” on a Christian radio station here in Birmingham. I, along with a Pastor and Worship Leader from two other churches in the area would accept prayer requests from callers, and would get to pray for them on air.

One week later our state would be slammed by the worst outbreak of tornadoes ever recorded in a single day. The devastation was incomprehensible, and tragically, the death count in Alabama alone stands at two hundred and thirty-six, with hundreds of people still unaccounted for.

In the aftermath of the storms, our church set up distribution centers in Birmingham and nearby Tuscaloosa for tornado victims who had lost much, if not all, of their possessions. Heart aching for these people, and wanting to help, I volunteered to work at two of the distribution centers, handing out supplies to those in need.

I also made a commitment to offer to pray for each and every victim of the storms that I came into contact with. I’d offer nourishment for their bodies, but more importantly I would get to offer nourishment for their spirits. During a four day period, I did indeed offer to pray for more people than I can remember, and none, not one (Nada. Zero. Zilch. Goose eggs) refused my offer for prayer. I got to pray for all of ‘em.

Pastor Josh

Why am I sharing all of this with you?

I’m reminded of a message that was given by Joshua Canizaro, yet another pastor at Church of Highlands. The gist of his message was this:

There are things in life that we’ve got to do. We’ve got to have a job. We’ve got to pay the bills. We’ve got to pay taxes, and buy groceries, and pay tuition. You get the message, right? These are things that we’ve got to do.

Then there are those things that we get to do. They’re things that we volunteer to do, because they’re in our hearts, and because doing them brings us joy.

Yes, I closed the door of opportunity to open a TSPA because God told me to do so. And what did I receive in return?

Opportunities

…I get to pray for people. ….I would get to share my heart….and would get to pray for them on air…I would get to offer nourishment for their spirits.

Do you get it?

There’s no doubt that I’d be a natural fit for owning a school.

From where I’m standing, it’s more important for me to be a natural fit for serving God. It’s what is in my heart. It’s what I get to do.

 

  

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 05/10/2011 at 4:06 PM | Categories: Life - Faith -

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