We’re almost two weeks into 2015 and there’s just something about the beginning of a new year that puts me in a very reflective mood. As I’m sitting here looking back over 2014 and the years before it, I can’t help but thank God that I am not who I used to be.
You see, I’ve never had problems making friends. At least not until the sixth grade. That’s when my family and I moved to the country of Honduras to be missionaries there, leaving behind everything and everyone we knew in the Dominican Republic after 8 years of living there. When classes started, I was the new kid and that was ok. Then I realized that not only was I the new kid, I was the weird foreigner. Not cool. My classmates weren’t very interested in talking to me and even fewer in being my friend. As if a lonely sixth grade school year wasn’t bad enough, the seventh grade brought relentless bullying and I began to suffer both physical and verbal abuse by my schoolmates.
At first, I just braced myself and hung on for the ride and kept telling myself that it would get better. But it didn’t Nothing about it got better. Halfway through the school year there was no improvement. I started to crack under the pressure. I couldn’t take it any more. Every word, every shove in the hall started hurting worse and worse. Sure, there were people who were still nice to me, but even they slowly started falling into line with the rest of the jeering crowd. It seemed that the list of people who liked me shrank almost daily.
Life still only seemed to find ways to become more miserable instead of more bearable.
Then, I did exactly the opposite of what I should have done. I clammed up. I shut down. I hated school, my classmates, my teachers and blamed God for all of it. Why did He move my family? Why was all of this happening to me? What I hated most, though, was myself. I was acting just like the people who were bullying me.
For every swear word shot my way, I shot back three more. I was angry all the time. If someone pushed me, I pushed back. If someone hit me, I hit back. I was trying to act tough and not seem like a pushover by lashing out in the hopes that they’d just leave me alone. Lashing out and fighting back worked sometimes, but life still only seemed to find ways to become more miserable instead of more bearable.
After two more years of this cycle, I hit what was probably the lowest point of my life: suicidal thoughts. I never attempted it but there were so many days where I just wished that life would end so that it would all stop. By the 9th grade, I wasn’t just angry while at school, I was just angry anywhere and everywhere. I fought with my parents, my brother and my sister constantly. I didn’t want to go to church anymore with them and I especially didn’t want to “do ministry” with them. I was sick of living that way. I was sick of myself and wanted to escape it all but I didn’t know how to.
It was during this time that I ended up at a summer youth camp and I finally opened up to the youth pastor who was the camp speaker that week and he said something I’ll never forget. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Milo, you don’t have to be who you’ve always been.”
He looked me in the eyes and said, “Milo, you don’t have to be who you’ve always been.”
You see, I wanted to change. I wasn’t happy with myself and who I had let myself become. I knew it was wrong. I didn’t enjoy being angry, lying, cheating, fighting and hurting others. I just didn’t know how tostop. I became the mask I had worn for so long: an over-aggressive jerk who respected no one. And I knew all about Jesus but somewhere along the line I let the enemy fool me into thinking that His promises weren’t for me, that I couldn’t change anymore, I just was who I was. I let him fool me into thinking that Jesus couldn’t change me anymore because I had let Jesus down. But that camp speaker helped me see that no one has to be who they’ve always been. Jesus can always change me!
That night I prayed harder than I ever had and I begged Jesus to change my life. I told Him I was sorry for ever doubting Him and that I believed that every word in the Bible I had read about Him was true and that I just really needed Him to take control of my life because, quite frankly, I was doing a lousy job. In those moments I felt an overwhelming love and joy that I’ll never forget. It’s like God, through His spirit, was opening my eyes to the fact that with Jesus in control I can have:
- Hope instead of hopelessness.
- A defender instead of being defenseless.
- Joy instead of anger.
- Healthy relationships instead of broken ones.
I realize that all of this might sound so simple but hey, as a teenager, it was exactly what I needed. Jesus became so much more real to me.
Things in my life didn’t magically improve overnight, but even in just a few weeks of resuming spiritual disciplines that had been severely neglected (reading my Bible, praying, etc.) I was amazed at how much less anger I had. Things between me and the rest of my family improved, I switched schools, made a lot of great new friends and life simply got better. I stopped being who I had been and became a new person.
Not because I did anything. But because Jesus did everything.
As we move into the new year, maybe you feel kind of like how I felt. There’s something you want to change or be better about but you’re not sure you can because it’s been going on for so long. Or maybe you don’t feel that way and you’re good but you know someone who’s going through that. Whatever the case, my prayer is that you will know and make it known that Jesus can change anyone.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation: the old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV)¹
- THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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