The Seed of Hope

A gift for tomorrow

We have an enemy.

My last post was on October 31. A month ago. I can’t believe that it’s been that long; not since I last wrote, but since the battle began.

 

This post was supposed to be a follow-up to the previous one, which was titled …about visions. My plan was to pick up where I’d left off and share with you the visions that I had for my life when I was younger, and why they never materialized. I was so excited about sharing this. So much so that I already pretty much knew what Part II was going to be about before I’d finished the first part, which doesn’t happen very often.

 

That was one day before it began.

 

On the very next day, November 1, 2012, the fifteen-year old daughter of some long-time friends tragically took her own life. This beautiful girl knew the Lord. Take note of what I just said. She didn’t merely know about God. She knew God, and had a relationship with Him. Huge difference. She was active in church, attended a Christian school, and was loved by all who knew her. 

 

She was, quite simply, the least likely of candidates who would choose to end her own life. What happened?

 

We have an enemy.

 

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8 NLT

 

We dohave an enemy, and he is relentless. No one is above reproach. No one gets a free pass. No one slides though unnoticed. Not Presidents, or Pastors, or doctors, or lawyers, or husbands, or wives. And obviously, not even the young.

 

And here’s the kicker: The closer you get to God, and the more you live your life “walking it out” as a Christian, and the greater your sphere of influence in leading others to Christ, or leading a nation, or leading a family, the more the enemy is gonna come at you with a vengeance.

 

Do you really think it was a coincidence that this young lady’s life “just happened” to end in the manner that it did? Neither do I.

 

Monday, November 5th

 

My wife Jackie and I attended the funeral service that day, and while driving to church I realized that I was consumed with anger. I was livid that the enemy had succeeded in claiming another victim with his lies.

 

Let me add something here. We’re all victims to some degree at some point in our lives. All of us have fallen victim to the enemy’s ways, by way of fear, anger, jealousy, lust, addiction, lying, or any other act or emotion that is not of God. Quite often it’s his manipulation of others that wreaks havoc in our lives, either through their words or actions. He’s always at work. In this instance it involved a tragic loss of life, and quite honestly, my anger was intensified because I knew this family.

 

As we walked into church, I realized that I was being consumed by what I like to call “justified anger.” Would you agree that when we’ve been offended by someone unjustly, we believe that we have the right to be angry? Well we do, but not if that angerconsumes us. When that happens we lose control of our emotions and rage takes over, and we put our Godly ways on the shelf. And when that happens the enemy wins the day.

 

During the service I was praying for our friends, their three daughters, and curiously enough, for myself. I was asking God to quell the rage that was boiling up inside of me.

 

LIFE

 

That night I was co-leading a LIFE (Living in Freedom Everyday) group involving a handful full of young men who are attending Highlands College, a ministry program at Church of The Highlands here in Birmingham, where Jackie and I are members.

 

We had just finished singing a worship song and were getting ready to dive into the curriculum when I interrupted the flow of things and told the guys that I needed to share something that was on my heart.

 

I recounted the events of the day, including the incomprehensible grief that I felt, not only in the hearts of the parents, but also in the hearts of everyone in the church. I told them of the war that was raging in me, and of my struggle to control the anger that was threatening to consume me.

 

And then I did something that many would consider to be foolish, if not insane. I waged war against the devil. I openly proclaimed that one of my purposes in life from that day forward would be to be an enemy of the enemy. I would stand against him whenever I saw oppression, or depression, or hopelessness, or anguish, or anything else that he used against an individual. I was sick and tired of his crap. I’d had it with people being robbed of their joy because of him. I called him out, and even as I was doing so I heard this little voice in the back of my mind screaming, “What are you doing? You know that you’re asking for trouble! Shut up!” Then there was another voice screaming just as loudly, “You shut up. I’m over this. I cannot just sit back and do nothing. God will protect me.” I had thrown down the gauntlet, and I wasn’t backing up.

 

The battle.

 

The last month has been a bit of a blur. To be honest with you, it’s been really hard. Oh, I’ve been blessed with so many opportunities to listen to people’s hearts, and to pray with them. Of course, I ask God for those opportunities every day. It’s as if Satan said, “Okay, you want to stand in the gap for people who are hurting? Here you go. Have at it.”

 

In the past few weeks, in ways that I really can’t explain, I’ve come to truly realize just how many people are suffering in the world today. Economic issues, relationship problems, self-image distortions, baggage from the past, worry, fear, oppression, anger management, depression, guilt and unworthiness abounds in the minds and hearts of so many people. There have been days when the prayer room in our salon has virtually been a revolving door. The opportunities have been a bit overwhelming at times, and left me in a bit of a weakened state; so much so that there have been a couple of days when I just really didn’t want to talk to anyone at all.

 

To make matters worse, we had been having some computer issues and hot water problems in the hair salon that Jackie and I own. And if that wasn’t enough, I had a breakout of a rash that was preventing me from sleeping at night.

 

When you add all of the above to the responsibilities of being a husband, boss, mentor, small groups coach, and the challenge of walking it out as a Christian each day, you end up with a man completely drained. That was me. The tank was almost empty.

 

That’s exactly what the enemy was waiting for. When a lion is on the prowl, he seeks out the smallest, or the lame, or the weakest in a herd because it’s the easiest to take down. I was weak because I was drained, mentally, emotionally, and physically. I became the prey.

 

Oppression

 

One definition of oppression is “a sense of being weighed down in body or mind.” I was wearing oppression like a custom fitted suit, and despite my best efforts, through prayer, and listening to worship music, and talking to my best friend, and laying around the house doing nothing to find some energy, nothing was working. I had no desire at all to write, which strangely enough, served in adding guilt to my ever-growing list of things that added to the weight that I was carrying. I recognized the oppression because I’ve been there before.

 

During this entire process I came to realize that my periods of oppression are marked by a very short temper. Curiously enough my biggest challenge before my spiritual awakening six years ago was anger management. I had no patience for anyone or anything, and my “fuse” was as long as the tiniest crack that you can create when bringing your index finger and thumb together.

 

That’s exactly what my disposition had been for the last few weeks. I had apologized to Jackie more times during that period than I had the six months preceding it. What’s worse was that I knew when I was being short-tempered and couldn’t do a thing about it. I was praying it off of me and casting of the enemy, and I was still being a hot head.

 

The end.

 

This past Monday night we were having LIFE again, and wouldn’t you just know that the curriculum topic was “Oppression and Possession.” (I love God’s sense of timing!) I wasn’t scheduled to teach that night, so I asked one of my co-leaders if I could share something that was on my heart before he began. Not really waiting for an answer, I began to speak.

 

Actually, it was more of a blow-up, a rant, a come-apart. I told them about what I’d been through since I had called out the devil one month earlier. I told them to take a good look at me, and they’d know exactly what oppression looked and sounded like. And I cautioned them that no one, no one, NO ONE, is exempt from the attacks of the enemy.

 

And I asked them to pray for me, because there are some things that we simply cannot do alone, regardless of the level of our faith. God wants us to reach out to others for help, to draw strength from one another. It’s one of the reasons that we have “church.” And then fourteen men put me in the middle of a small circle they had formed and prayed for me. As they did, I could feel the weight being lifted. And it was broken. Just like that.

 

The battle was over, but not the war.

 

 

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 11/28/2012 at 3:18 PM | Categories: Faith - Life -

...about visions.

In the past few months I’ve been given several opportunities to give presentations to individuals from various walks in the salon industry. I guess that technically, what I’m doing is teaching a class, because everyone is given a handout that they fill out either during our time together, or afterwards when they’ve had some time to think about what they heard. I don’t know that I’m comfortable with using the term “teaching,” because what I really do is share.

 

That being said, I’ve titled this class/teaching/sharing opportunity,

 

Vision Casting.

Remembering and reclaiming the visions you once had for your life… 

 

If you’re thinking that what I’m talking about is dreaming, you’re right, or at least kind of…

 

I associate dreams with states of unconsciousness, such as sleeping or daydreaming. When you’re sleeping, you have no control (or at least I don’t) over the subject of your dreams. They just happen. When you daydream, you just kind of drift off into Lala Land, and your imagination runs wild. There’s no specificity in what you’re dreaming of.

 

Conversely, I believe that when we cast a vision for something, it is done with definition and intentionality. Out thoughts aren’t scattered, but clearly focused on the subject of that vision.

 

Let me offer you an example of what I’m talking about. 

 

Would you agree that most, if not all of us, are encouraged to cast visions at a very young age? Not sure about that? Check this out…

 

Think back as far as you can to recall the very first time that you were asked,

 

“What do you want Santa Claus to bring you for Christmas this year?”

 

So what did you do? You thought about what you wanted! You cast a vision, with definition, about that bicycle, or that doll, or that BB gun. You could see it, and feel it, and if you weren’t careful, be filled with the excitement of having it even though you didn’t have it yet!

 

This “vision casting” was repeated every year for Christmas, and perhaps even for birthdays, wasn’t it? You thought about, wished for, and dreamed of that thing, whatever it was, that you really wanted.

 

The beginning…

 

Casting those visions as a child “set the table,” so to speak, for years to come. At some point, you were asked, “So, what are you going to be when you grow up?” And you began to cast a vision for what you were going to be.

 

That was the beginning, wasn’t it?

 

You began to cast visions for everything in your life, and especially the big things. In addition to your career, you may have cast a vision for what your spouse would look like, what kind of home you’d live in, what kind of car you’d drive, how many kids you'd have, and even how you’d look when you reached a certain age.

 

In essence, you cast a vision for your life, didn’t you? I know that I did, and I remember that with each passing year, I was giving up on,  letting go of, or trying to bury the memories of all the visions that I’d had when I was younger, because it hurt too much to accept that for a variety or reasons they weren’t coming to fruition, which only served in making me feel worse.

 

WAIT.

 

Today is October 31, 2012. Today marks the Fourth Anniversary of The Seed of Hope, and on this day I’m going to do something that I’ve rarely, if ever done, in the one hundred and eighty-three posts that preceded today's:

 

I’m going to stop in the middle of this one.

 

I want to give you some time to think. Between now and the time that I make another post, which hopefully will be no more than one week, I’m going to ask you to do something for me…

 

I’d like for you to set aside an hour or so in your schedule to find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed (if that is at all possible). I’d like for you to think about the visions that you cast for your life years ago. Then I’d like for you to take a real look at your life today, at the way that your life turned out. Do the two align with one another? If not, would you like to do something about it? Really? Even if it took a bit of effort and hurt a little to do so?

 

Next week I’ll share the visions that I cast for my life with you, tell you which ones (almost all) never became a reality, why they didn’t, and what I did to do something about it.

 

Hopefully, my humble offerings will help you to remember and reclaim the visions you once had for your life, and you’ll be willing to take some steps to make them a reality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 10/31/2012 at 3:57 PM | Categories: Life -

ONE thing.

Ever feel as if you’re being crushed by the weight of your world, by the responsibilities that you have, and by issues pressing on your mind so heavily that if you added one more thing you’d be completely overwhelmed, because you already feel like you’re one step away from dropping everything and being flat on your face? Perhaps you’re there right now…

 

Years ago, when I was a teenager, I was at a neighbor’s house lifting weights. Actually we were on the second floor of a two story wooden garage. My friend’s parents had finished out the space for their sons to have a room of their own. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it was theirs. It was like the Cadillac of clubhouses!

 

I had just successfully completed a set of presses (where one stands and “presses” the bar holding the weights above his head) when my friend suggested that I do another set with a little more weight. Actually, he dared me to try, and back then I’d never been one to walk away from a dare. Realizing that I was already close to my weight limit, I consented, but under the condition that we only add a one-pound weight to each end of the bar.

 

I lifted the bar up to chest level, and readied myself to press the weights above my head. With a sudden burst, I exhaled, pushing the air from my lungs and tightening my stomach muscles as I called on whatever strength I had to thrust the bar above my head, “locking out” my arms to keep the bar there.

 

I did it!

 

I stood there in triumph, with a huge grin on my face, as I my now trembling arms held the weights above my head!

 

For about five seconds. What happened next was a blur. I couldn’t hold the bar up for another second, and somehow I had gone a bit past vertical with it, and it was falling and pulling me with it, not in front of me but behind me. Feeling as if I were about to snap, I let go of the weights, flushed with embarrassment even before they crashed to the floor.

 

To my utter dismay and horror, when I spun around to pick up the weights I discovered that one end of the bar had actually punctured the wooden floor, which only served to make me feel even worse.

 

Adding a seemingly insignificant two pounds to that bar was more than I could handle. Two pounds. Thirty-two ounces. I can lift that with one finger. Two pounds. I was completely overwhelmed. I couldn’t take the load.

 

What’s the point?

 

Why did I go through the trouble of telling you something that happened to me years ago? Well, it ties in neatly with what’s on my heart today…

 

Last week my friend Whitney stopped by to hang out with me in the prayer room that my wife Jackie and I have in our hair salon. The moment that Whit walked in the door I knew that something was wrong. She looked as if she had the weight of the world on her shoulders, and the heaviness that was on her heart was palpable.

 

Knowing that I was going to ask what was going on, Whit matter-of-factly said, “I’m tired and I’m frustrated. I don’t seem to have any time for me anymore. I’m just not happy. I’m miserable, and I don’t know what to do about it. Prayer isn’t even working. Nothing is.”

 

We spent a few minutes reflecting on Whit’s life. She has a job that she really doesn’t like, a shallow relationship with her dad, a relationship with a man that’s on slippery footing at best, a commitment that requires her to spend all of every Sunday serving at church, some hurts from the past that she’s still carrying around on her heart, and she’s enrolled in an evening ministry program, where she is leading a small group of other students!

 

Tears spilling from her eyes, Whit looked at me, and in what seemed to be more of a plea than a question, blurted out “What’s wrong with me? Why do I feel this way? Why am I always on the bottom? What can I do about this?”

 

“Take one thing off your plate,” was my reply to Whit. Not missing a beat, I continued, “Take a look at your life Whitney. You have an obligation, or a source of hurt, or strife, or disappointment, or strained relationships for every day of the week. You stopped at seven and there’s probably more. You don’t feel like you have enough time for you because you don’t. Truth be told, you don’t want to slow down because if you did, you’d have time to take a good look at the sources of hurt in your life, past and present, and you don’t want to do that either. You’ve reaching the tipping point, and consequently, everything in your life is out of balance. Your plate is too full, and the remedy for that is to take something off of it. Just one thing.”

 

We talked for a bit longer, finished up in prayer, and I encouraged Whit to stay in touch, assuring her that I’d be praying for her to let go of at least one thing.

 

I never cease to be amazed by the power of prayer.

 

I talked to Whit yesterday afternoon. Since we met last week she has begun looking for a new job, had a conversation with some people at church to share some things that have been on her heart, changed the dynamics of the relationship, and has had some major revelations from her past. She sounded like a new woman. She also confided that she’s been walking with a confidence and boldness that’s been missing for some time. All of this change in one week. I couldn’t be more proud for her and of her.

 

So what do my childhood memories and a friend’s full plate have to do with you?

 

Well, take a look at your own life. Can you relate to the overflow of Whitney’s heart, not necessarily in the particulars but in the sum of all the parts? I’ll be honest with you in telling you that there have been times when I was right where Whitney was, and not necessarily years ago. In fact, the most recent time was just over a year ago.

 

And here’s the funny thing: My marriage to Jackie was rock solid, my family was healthy, our business was prospering, and God was giving me more and more opportunities to connect with people and to serve Him. My life had, in fact, never been better.

 

So what happened? Quite simply, I had too much on my plate. I hadn’t learned that it’s okay to say “no” to some invitations, even if they were to do worthwhile things. I was “yessing” myself to the point of exhaustion. That sad thing was that being stretched so thin robbed me of the joy of doing things that I loved to do, both in my life and in my ministry. Everything suffered.

 

I backed away from a couple of things and created some “space,” and the difference was amazing.

 

Change one thing.

 

I once heard that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing the same way every day and expecting different results.” What a simple and yet profound statement. It’s so easy to fall into that trap, isn’t it? You wake up one morning and much like Whitney, you feel like you’re on the bottom of everything gasping for air.

 

What’s the solution? Change one thing. Take something off your plate. Take a step in a different direction. Do something that will lighten your load.

 

What’s that? You say that you can’t take anything away? Then add something. Find a window of time to spend with God every day. Carve out some time somewhere, some way, somehow, to be still and reflect, not on the things that you can’t change, but on the things that you can. Pray for doors of change, in your world and in your heart, to be opened. And be ready to move when they do.

 

Perhaps, as in Whit’s case, the simple of act of stepping back to take a look at your life to find one thing that you can change in it will cause a chain reaction that will change not only your walk in life, but your heart as well.

 

Perhaps…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 10/18/2012 at 10:29 AM | Categories: Life -

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