I was reflecting the other day on my animal keeping career that spanned almost 2 decades. These are the photos from that life. It truly was, "Life on stage"; on display for all the world to see. I am reminded of a quote from one of my favorite movies, Gladiator. "The time for honoring yourself is coming to and end." There is no doubt that my love for animals drew me to places like Sea World, but I think it was my love for the attention that the stage affords a person that kept me there. For 6 years I planned my exit from Sea World, but the thought of leaving that "stage" was too much to contemplate at times. I knew that God was calling me to honor him and submit my life, my need for attention and all the rest to Him. God has given me some great gifts over the last 15 years. They haven't come without hard work, but for sure they would have never worked out without God's divine orchestration. As I look back over my life, the pictures above represent times in my life where I was "in the groove" and/or grossly underprepared and about as inept as those wahoos in Washington, D.C. Looking back I can say I was a Christian the whole time, but I think my agenda was sharing "stage time" with the dreams and goals that God had prepared for me long ago. It took me a long time to get here. Mistrust was involved for sure.
I grew up in a house where fear was instilled around every corner. It was as much as part of my day as breathing. One doesn't simply stop being fearful, even though the bible says "Fear Not" 365 times. LOL. I didn't stop being afraid, I just hid from it for many years. I also became somebody else. I was tired of getting hurt at every turn so I became someone who could defend, rather aggressively at times, himself. I let pain, hurt and anger keep me bound and shape my future. I was desperate for a place to belong; a place where I didn't hurt every freakin' moment. A therapist asked me once, "What do you do with your pain?" The reason he asked me is because every time I would bring up a painful memory, I would laugh and dismiss it as if it were nothing. I had developed an awful habit of deflecting pain away from my heart by attacking it like the body attacks a virus. I would grab the pain and wrap it up in "nice little white boxes with red bows and then put it on a shelf to be experienced later." That is what I told him. The only problem was that I had built up a reserve of pain spanning years. The memories of hurt could be accessed faster than any super computer known to man. I wasn't dealing with my pain and allowing healing to come. I was using it as a weapon against myself and those who tried to get close to me. I was managing my pain like a zookeeper manages wild animals, having to always be on guard around them. That same therapist shared this with me of my homosexuality. He proposed that I had "invented an entirely different life to manage my pain." He couldn't have been more right. I became a snarky bitch as a gay man, because it kept people away from my heart. It also kept them from hurting those close to me. I have seen that same attitude from many men in the gay community. I believe it's a protection mechanism.
God recently showed me that during the last few years at Sea World, I began taking more of an interest in training people than animals. There was also an admission that God helped me make, that I was reticent to talk about. I had been unhappy at work for awhile and in my drive to set things right, for myself, I had become a beacon of negativity to my fellow co-workers. Here's what I learned, "Leaders are leading people whether they are speaking positively or negatively." I was a leader at Sea World and yet I was depleting the enjoyment of others around me, because I was unhappy. If you call yourself a Christian or a minister of the gospel, you don't get to tell people when they can and cannot look watch your life. As a Christian, you are always "on stage". You get forgiveness for bad behavior, but you are responsible for every bad seed you sow that takes root. Why was I, a man who called himself a Christian, sowing bad seeds? Mistrust again. Misunderstanding of who God is and who I am as a Christian. The misbelief that because I was a Christian that everything was supposed to go my way. To put it simply: Hurt, pain, betrayal. The big three that will throw anyone off course. I let my pain sidetrack me from the goal once again. Our daily bible reading this morning was so good. It was like standing under Niagara Falls with your mouth open. Matthew 7:12 "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." I was not following the golden rule during my daily routine at Sea World. I was too focused on my needs to be any good to anyone else.
"I am responsible for every word that comes out of my mouth." It's a tough realization looking over my past and realizing that I am responsible for the spiritual and emotional weeds in my life and the lives of those around me. Another quote I heard recently from Rick Warren was that Gossips are emotional terrorists. They wage war on an opponent without letting the opponent know they are even in a battle. I remember the day at work that my attitude changed. I heard from my own co-workers that they wished that the people with all the negativity would keep it to themselves or just get over it. When we replay an argument or an offense over and over in our mind or daily in conversation with others, we are giving ancient pain, new life and new authority to hurt us. At the end of the day, I had a Sunday Come to Jesus meeting with Jesus...of course. God was telling me that my mission field wasn't just those people in the gay community. My mission field is every person that says "Hello" to me today, tomorrow and every day from now on.
Rebuke. Look it up. It's a word that Christians are real familiar with when they have their weapons pointed at offenders, but one they staunchly avoid when the tables are turned. I'll admit it. When you think you are really doing well and God brings up something you did wrong, or someone you hurt, your first reaction is to rationalize like a champ. IT SUCKS, but rebuke is not an option for Christians. It's part of our refining process. Matthew 5:48 "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." My bible notes say this, "Not necessarily without sin, but mature and complete in the likeness of God." I won't be perfect this side of heaven, but I must make every effort to keep the pathway between me and God clear. Understand? A tortured and bogged down Christian will find it difficult to share a victorious life in Christ if they aren't living it.
"It's a new season." This song is playing in the background as I type. "To make all things new. To make me come alive." How crazy awesome is God, to allow that song to play as I tell you about a new season in my life. As I trust in God, He creates a new reality for me. Many people have asked me over and over again if I miss the animals at Sea World and the answer is an unequivocal "YES". But I know God has called me on to greater things. There is nothing better in this life than sharing Jesus with others and seeing them "Come alive". The pictures above represent a different life, a different time and a different me. The ones below? Well, this is my life now. There were years I thought I would never have any friends. God has opened up the storehouses of heaven and now they just won't stop coming. My prayer in this new season is that God allows me to "See every face, Hear every broken heart and be the man to others that He created me to be." That includes a rebuke every now and then and a constant sweeping of the pathway so that new guests can find their way to Jesus just like I did so long ago. God bless you and those you have chosen to do life with. We are glad you are here!