Always A Way Forward

By Dan Kivett

 

So here I was minding my own business (this makes me laugh for some reason), listening to a sermon by my friend and mentor and all of a sudden God gives me the urge to start writing. I haven’t felt that urge in a long time. Perhaps though, it’s more honest to say that I haven’t followed that urge for a long time. I’m not sure why but what I want to write about is what happens when you are a new believer.

It’s a truly wonderful time in life. For me personally I was able to live life in a way that I had always wanted to but never thought was possible. I met people that I never would have let myself be around before I believed in Jesus. People that were kind of like me but had taken the opportunity to get to know God in a way that I never had and it showed.

I loved studying the Bible and couldn’t wait to finish it so that I could go back and read it all again. It seemed like I would have these amazing Revelations on an almost daily basis. I couldn’t wait to share these thoughts with my new Christian friends and see what they had to say about the same Bible verses that I was reading.

I truly felt like God was leading me in new and exciting directions, toward places that I could never reach on my own. It was fun and it was scary and it seemed like the possibilities were Limitless. I prayed often that God would show me the direction that he wanted me to go in with this new life that he’d given me. I had no idea really what God wanted but I was so eager to follow him wherever he wanted me to go even if I was scared sometimes. But this column isn’t really about all of that. It’s about what happens when you’re living your life and doing everything right and all of a sudden something comes from out of nowhere and kicks you right in the face.

I started getting sick about six months after Jesus saved me. All of the health problems I had did not come all at once, in fact they have been very slow and gradual. When I first started having trouble walking I leaned on the people around me (haha, I wrote that without realizing it) and trusted in the Lord that he would guide me toward whatever doctor would diagnose me and I naively figured it would be a pretty easy process. Every other time in my life I had gone to the doctor and every other time I had come out with the information that I needed. This time wasn’t so easy.

As the months went by my walking started to get worse. I went from just moving around awkwardly to needing a cane. One doctor appointment led to another which led to another. While I was certainly uneasy about everything, I trusted in the Lord and did my best to get by. Someone even noted to me that I was still happier at this point in my life than I had ever really been before. Most of my twenties were filled with me being angry and sometimes not even knowing why. In spite of being sick and knowing that my health was declining Without knowing the specific cause, I still was enjoying the life of learning how to follow Jesus.

When I look back now I feel like maybe it would make more sense if my big crisis of faith had happened when I first got sick but that isn’t how it was for me. It didn’t really happen until about a year later. After many attempts at getting diagnosed, I spent several days in the hospital. It really seemed like this would be the time when I would finally find out what was causing my walking problems and what could be done about them. It seemed pretty simple to me that this is what should happen but it didn’t. Instead I spent five days in the hospital and was sent home with no idea what to do next. I had so many people that were praying for me and wanting to know how things went and I had no good news to give them. For the first time since getting sick I felt like I could not see a way forward from this.

Upon traveling back home and climbing up a couple dozen stairs to my apartment I sat there alone, scared and angry. This isn’t how it was supposed to happen I thought. Why would God lead me down this path and then there’s not any answers? Everybody else gets diagnosed, why can’t I? These were dangerous thoughts and they led to me getting upset at God. I started to think that maybe everything that I thought I believed about Jesus wasn’t true. I had done everything right, or at least the best that I could and I didn’t have the answers that I so badly needed.

I stood there crying and not having any idea what I was supposed to do next. I questioned my faith and started wondering if anything that I  had learned about Jesus was even true. At that moment a thought came into my head which said “Just because I’m angry doesn’t mean that any of this isn’t true. Just because I didn’t get what I wanted, even though what I wanted absolutely seemed like the best thing for me, it doesn’t mean that anything I learned about Christ was false.” I knew as soon as I heard it that this was true. So what, I didn’t get what I wanted. Nowhere in the Bible did it ever say that would happen.

While this revelation wasn’t the most comforting or peaceful thing that I had ever felt, it was enough for me to keep moving forward and believing in Jesus. Just because my circumstances change it doesn’t mean that Christ does. Jesus still loved me and while I didn’t feel that love as clearly as I would have liked to at that moment, I still felt it. I felt it through my friends that did their best to console me through this bad doctor visit and the many others that would follow. I felt it as the Lord continued to take care of me no matter how bad my health would get. The cane I used would eventually be met with a wheelchair and a walker and throughout that I still felt God’s love in so many different ways. Eventually I wouldn’t be able to push the wheelchair very well anymore so the Lord would get me a motor for it. God enabled me Keep On Moving and he kept on loving me regardless of how I felt.

I guess the message that I’m trying to say is that no matter what has happened to me in my life or how badly I feel like life has hit me sometimes, God has shown me a Way Forward. I may not see it right away or I may not be thrilled about what it looks like at first but God has shown me the way and has taken care of me every single step and every single day. If he’s done it for me then I have no problem believing that he will do it for anybody else too. I’m not saying that it’s easy. I’m just saying that God shows the way to those who look.

If you’re new to believing in Christ I just want to say congratulations. You have stumbled into the most amazing ride that you will ever go on. The Lord will bless you and take care of you and show you things that you never thought were possible. There will likely be a day though, where you will feel like life has hit you as hard as it can. When that happens just remember that God has been preparing you for this and he will show you the way forward.

That time God talked to me in the Mexican restaurant

By Dan Kivett

 

2012 was a pretty eventful year for me. That’s probably the biggest understatement I could ever make. At the beginning of the year, I was a hopeless drunk who didn’t know what he was going to do. I had no money and, much more importantly, I had no hope. God was looking out for me and arranged for me to stay at a rescue mission in York, Nebraska. It was there that not only did I get back on my feet, but that I took Jesus as my Savior and began a new life.

At the mission it seemed like every day I learned something new about God and my relationship with Him. People would tell me that I was growing by leaps and bounds. I tried very hard to learn as much as I could because I felt like God was preparing me for something. I didn’t know what it was but I wanted to be as ready for it as I could be.

I started showing symptoms of some sort of illness in August, and by December I was using a cane because I had trouble walking. Several trips to different doctors didn’t produce the kind of concrete diagnosis that I had been hoping for. With that on my mind, one evening I went to dinner try to blow off some steam and just relax for a while.

Mexico Lindo was a restaurant right across from where I would go swimming so I would often stop by there afterward to put back on any calories that might have escaped from me. It was usually pretty quiet and it was a good place to go escape from the world for a bit. On this particular night as I was waiting for my meal (probably huevos con chorizo) I started to sense that God had something he wanted to tell me. Now for me to just sit there obediently and graciously accept a message from my Creator, I guess, would be just be a little too easy. In my arrogance I turned up the headphones I was wearing and tried to drown God out.

Looking back it seems pretty absurd and disrespectful but I guess that’s just where my mindset was that night. I was very stressed out and frankly was very tired of hearing about and thinking about my health problems. It had started to consume my life. This night I just wanted to eat my Mexican food and for a half hour, just be somewhere where no one would want to talk about my health.

As I sat there I felt the same feeling as before, that God had a message for me. This feeling grew over several minutes and eventually I realized that I was being immature. There have been many times in my life that I cried out to God and wanted a response so badly and here I was arrogantly thinking that I could ignore Him. So I turned off the music and these were the words that he put in my head:  “I already know what’s going to happen and at no point will I leave you.”

When I heard those words I felt something that had been very rare in the weeks and months leading up to that moment; I felt peace. And I don’t think I realized at the time what a gift God had just given me. It’s been over four years since that night and I still think of those words on a regular basis. Those words have come to mind during some of the most difficult and trying periods of my life.

There’ve been many times that I have struggled to understand why I am sick and why I can’t get well. There have been times when I am in so much pain that all I can do is lay in bed and pray that I fall asleep so that I won’t hurt anymore. There have been times when I have lost relationships because the people involved were unable to come to terms with my illness and decided to walk away. And there have even been times I have doubted that God really loved me because I couldn’t understand why this illness had to happen to me. During these times and so many others, the gift that the Lord gave me was always there. These simple words were always there: “I already know what’s going to happen and at no point will I leave you.”

It took me a long time to understand that God already knows the outcome of every problem and situation that I face. None of this is a surprise to Him. If He tells me that He won’t leave me it means that He has seen the end and knows that He didn’t leave me. These are the words that allow me to keep going no matter how much pain I’m in or how much frustration I face because my arms and legs don’t work the way I would like them to. I can keep going because I know that God goes with me. He gave me the gift of letting me know that He will never abandon me and I take that with me everywhere I go.

Now I understand that this whole talking to God thing might sound a little crazy to some people and I definitely used to think that way too. But there are a few things that I have learned during my walk with the Lord and one of them that is that just because things don’t make sense doesn’t mean they’re not real. I don’t have to understand everything even though I might want to. Frankly, I’m not going to understand everything about God. My brain just can’t do it, and that’s okay.

I’m not someone who pretends that it’s easy to have faith. It’s not, at least for me anyway. It’s not an instinct for me, it’s a choice. Sometimes it’s a very difficult choice but I know that what God wants from me is faith.  He wants me to trust Him. He never told me that my life would be easy but He did say that he would never leave me.
And He never has.

EVERYTHING MEANS EVERYTHING

Written by Dan Kivett

 

       I didn’t really know much about praying growing up. I knew that it was a good thing to do, but wasn’t really sure when to do it. I thought that prayer was only for really important occasions, usually emergencies or when I did something I shouldn’t have and didn’t know what to do. It seemed like I shouldn’t bother God with the small stuff, like somehow maybe He didn’t have time to help me unless it was a life or death situation. Or maybe He didn’t want to.
       Later on in my life I prayed more often but wasn’t really sure who or what I was supposed to be praying to.  I had a very vague concept of what it seemed God might be like and Jesus wasn’t anywhere on my radar. Praying seemed like a good thing to do so I did it. Eventually though I stopped when my life fell apart because of bad decisions I had made. Little did I know that soon I would learn more about prayer than I could imagine.
       I spent a year of my life at a rescue mission where I took Jesus as my savior and prayer became an important part of my life. It was there that I was introduced to Philippians 4:6 which says, “Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all He has done.” Pray about everything. At first I didn’t understand. Really, everything? Even stuff that doesn’t seem all that important or things that I think I can probably handle on my own just fine or even things that I might find annoying if someone bothered me with it? Yes, everything.
       This verse changed my perspective on prayer. It didn’t say that I could only tell about God the really serious stuff or that there was a limit on how much I could pray. It just said “everything.” So I put this verse to the test. Life at the mission was generally great but there was one thing that I really hated to do and of course I went out of my way to let everybody know it: cooking.
       When I arrived at the mission I knew basically nothing about preparing food that didn’t involve a microwave and before I knew it I was in charge of preparing meals for anywhere between six and eighteen people. To say that I wasn’t good at it would be kind but I was willing to learn, slow as that process was. I worried so much about having to cook and agonized over it until one day someone suggested that I pray about it. I didn’t really know that you could pray about things like that. There was a refrigerator magnet at the mission that had the Philippians 4:6 verse on it so I used it to pin the meal prep schedule to the fridge.
       I started praying and talking with God about how I didn’t like cooking but that I wanted to serve and fulfill my responsibilities. What happened next surprised me. I didn’t magically become a great chef and I didn’t get switched to a different set of duties. No, I was given something better than that. I was given peace. The idea of cooking didn’t cause me anxiety anymore. I was able to slowly get better at it and gain an appreciation for what I was doing.
       I learned that if God cared about helping me with cooking meals in a homeless shelter, then he must care about everything. So that’s when I started praying about all kinds of things in my life no matter how small, mundane, or unimportant they might seem. Everything means everything. Eventually I began to worry a bit less in general and trust God more. Prayer gave me more freedom than I had ever known before and I try to let God know that I’m grateful for all He does for me. I feel like I can’t ever thank Him enough.
So the next time you’re at work and you get stumped on a project or have to do something you’d rather not, try praying. Or if you find that despite your best efforts you’ve booked yourself to be in two places at the same time, pray. And of course when you get into an argument about which is better, PC or Mac, pray. After all, the verse does say everything.

MY YEAR LONG BIBLE ADVENTURE

By Dan Kivett

 

About a year ago I got the sudden urge to read the Bible cover to cover. It had been a few years since I’d read the whole thing and I knew that there was plenty of it that I didn’t really remember that well anymore. I did the math and figured out that if I read 3.25 chapters a day I could get it read in about a year.  Well, the other day I finally finished and my main takeaway was the same as it had been the first time:  I’m gonna need to read it again.

       There is so much to take in that I know I’ll never get it all. To be honest, it can be pretty intimidating to attempt to read the whole thing. I know of several lifelong Christians that have told me they have never read it all and that actually compelled me to do it. As Christians we believe that the Bible is the word of God. I look at it as a gift that God gave me to help me understand Him better. It would be pretty rude to get a gift from the CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE and not try to get as much use out of it as I can.
       I’m not saying that everyone should read it the way I did, especially if you are very new to the faith (the Gospels are your friend, trust me). There are probably hundreds of ways to read the Bible and I’ve seen year long plans that make it much more manageable but I guess that’s just not my style. I suppose that I get some odd sort of satisfaction form plowing my way through some of the more difficult to read books like Leviticus or finishing the six week marathon that was Psalms.
       And let me tell you, the joy that I experienced when Jesus finally showed up in my reading after nine months when I started Matthew was very real. I felt… like I was going back home. There was a true feeling of comfort when I started reading the Gospels. Not that I hadn’t seen plenty of Bible verses on Facebook and other things like that throughout the year and of course Jesus is mentioned many times in the Old Testament (it’s fun to try to find Him, sort of like Where’s Waldo but a billion times better).
        Now that I’ve finished it’s time to go back and read the passages that I’ve underlined and examine them a little closer. One of the really neat things about the Bible is that different verses will stand out that never really did before as you read through it. It’s called the Living Word and it’s really cool to see what stands out as time goes by.
        It won’t be long and we’ll be hearing about people making New Year’s resolutions. My suggestion is that you take the time to read the Bible next year. The whole thing. Do it in whatever way makes sense for you. As long as your heart is set on loving God and trying the understand His Word, I don’t know that there’s really a wrong way to do it.

 

A Chance To Grow

      A few minutes ago I was lying in bed getting ready to read a novel when I got the sudden idea to read something out of the Bible instead. I brushed the thought aside and continued messing around on my phone for a minute and then I opened up the app where the novel is (and let me tell you that as someone whose arms and hands don’t work as well as they used to, I love the fact that my phone can hold books because it’s so much easier for me that way).
       Once again the thought of reading the Bible popped into my mind and I said aloud “OK I’ll do it but I don’t know what I’m going to read.” I’d just finished up reading 1st and 2nd John yesterday and hadn’t decided what to read next. When I opened the Bible app it was on James chapter 1 which is what we were looking at in Sunday school this morning.
      And there it was, the thing that I was supposed to read and unbeknownst to me the column that I was supposed to write. That’s often how these things work for me.
     There are some pretty challenging verses in the Bible and several verses out of James 1 have been difficult for me. Verse 2 reads “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy” (NLT).
      Often when I read that verse, my sarcastic side comes out and I think “Well I should be a pretty happy dude then.” I don’t know about anyone else, but rarely do I feel any joy when I have trouble. Frustration, confusion, and anger maybe, but probably not joy.
     Verse 3 goes on to say “For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow” (NLT). One word in particular sticks out to me in that verse and it’s the word chance.
      My faith seems to be tested on a pretty regular basis. I’m sick, and my health is not good. I’ve had to make rapid changes to my lifestyle that I didn’t want to including moving into handicapped accessible housing, using mobility equipment, scaling back daily activities and much more. I’m not complaining, that’s just how life goes sometimes.
     Making life changes, dealing with disappointing doctor visits and having to deal with unfortunate relationship dynamics caused by my disability have definitely tested my faith on several occasions.
     Doubt is something that people often don’t feel comfortable talking about but I feel like it’s something I need to do. I’ve doubted. A lot.
     I’ve had doubts at one time or another about seemingly everything I thought that I’d learned about God. I can recall a couple of different times where I felt absolutely destroyed after yet another doctor visit where I went away without a diagnosis. I felt empty.
     I didn’t understand why things had to be this way and I was so angry.
     What I have learned is that God is there with me through the doubt. No matter how angry I might be or how lonely I might feel, He is still there with me. And He always will be.
      Feelings come and go, but God never leaves.
     Lately I’ve taken to looking at my life as a boat traveling the waves of the ocean. No matter what highs or lows may come my way, as long as my ship stays afloat it will always keep moving closer to where it’s supposed to go. God has control of the ship and the best thing I can do is to let go of the wheel and embrace that.
     Is it easy? Of course not, and sometimes I will struggle but God will still be there.
     Verse 5 says “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking” (NLT).  I hate asking for help as much as the next person but there’s no one better to ask than the one who has all of the answers.
     So do I feel full of joy about my troubles?  Certainly not at first and that’s where I think the word chance comes into play. If I ask for and accept God’s help, then my endurance WILL grow. If I don’t, then in my experience that’s when bitterness grows and my pain will have been for nothing. It’s all about how willing I am to humble myself and trust my creator.
     It’s hard to see the bright side in difficult situations but rest assured that the next time it might feel like life is kicking you when you’re down, you have a loving God just waiting for you to ask Him for His help and wisdom.
      And yes, your endurance will grow as He guides you through your struggles, enabling you to more effectively do His will. If you ask me, that is something to be joyous about.

People Are People

Every now and then I like to read through the gospels again.

It usually starts with me thinking I’m only going to read one and invariably I end up reading all of them. The book of Matthew was the first book of the Bible that I ever read in it’s entirety and it’s still my favorite. But as I was continuing to read through the others recently, a few verses stood out to me in a way that they never had before (which of course is an amazing feeling and one of the many reasons I read daily).

Verses 1-2 of John chapter 9 say,

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” (NLT)

The first thought that popped into my head was “Man, peoples’ attitudes haven’t changed much in 2000 years have they?”

Now I feel the need to amend that thought here immediately: I have met many people since I’ve become sick that have been respectful, loving, caring, and above all else just treat me like they would any other person, and I love them with all my heart. Because in a world where you look different from almost everyone, it is literally a life-saver to have people who love you no matter what.

Unfortunately as we all know, the world at large isn’t usually so understanding. Looking noticeably different from everyone else is something that I struggle with on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s the worst part of my day. I just don’t get to be like everyone else anymore, no matter how much I might want to.

I don’t get to turn off my health problems.

When I was just using a cane it wasn’t really that bad. Yes, I’d get irritated when people would stare at me when I was walking around but at least I could hide it when I was sitting. These days when you see me out in public (which isn’t all that often anymore), I’m probably in a wheelchair. I love my scooter, but in a lot of situations the wheelchair is just more functional.

I don’t get to blend in anymore. When I’m out shopping, I’m not a 33-year-old guy who’s buying beef jerky, salsa and a can of ravioli that’s on sale but will likely never get eaten; I’m Wheelchair Guy (buying those same things of course).

And I’ll be the first one to admit, I suck at being Wheelchair Guy.

I’m not comfortable with it at all, on any level really. Add to that the fact that my arms don’t work like they’re supposed to anymore, so I’m just not able to push the chair very well and I‘m probably in a lot of pain trying to do it.

The point of all of this is that I’m very aware of any slights (real and occasionally imagined) that are thrown my way because of the health problems that I have.

When I read that verse, it stuck a chord with me in a way that it hadn’t before. I’ve had people speak to me about my disability in a way that suggested that there was something fundamentally wrong with me. In a way that quite frankly, felt dehumanizing. I felt like I no longer count on the same level that everyone else does because my body doesn’t operate as well as most of the population.

And it happens more often than I ever would have thought.

I’ve learned that there are right and wrong ways to deal with this kind of thing. Considering the source is usually a pretty good first step. Before I actually became a person with a disability, I’d never really had much experience being around someone who had one and I get the impression that most people haven’t either.

Really, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to be mad at someone for not knowing something that they probably haven’t had a chance to learn. So when the disciples asked Jesus this question, I don’t imagine that it was out of malice but possibly just out of inexperience.

They probably just really wanted to know.

Verse 3 says,

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.”

I’m still trying to figure out exactly what that means and it wouldn’t surprise me if I never truly understand.

But if I had to guess I would say that it means that God loves every single one of us, regardless of where we start out at.

God will take care of every single one of us, and in some cases it’s more noticeable than it is in others, and that’s good because we need to see the work that God does around us every day.

My situation is different from the blind man in the story in many ways, but the main one that matters at the moment is that he was born with his disability and mine showed up after I turned 30.

But if God allows me to get a wheelchair or a scooter at the exact time that I need one despite the fact that I don’t have the money for it or whatever the case may be, then the power of God can be seen in my situation too.

My arms are burning with pain as I write this column, and for my own good I need to wrap it up soon. But I truly believe that God is giving me the desire and ability to write it even though I know there’s a very good chance that I will be in so much pain tomorrow from doing it that I’ll likely wish I wouldn’t have.

God is showing His power through me.

I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant because–believe me–I feel like I’m the least qualified or worthy person to say something like that.

What I’m really trying to say is this: I’ve been called an inspiration by people for simply trying to do whatever it is I have to do to just keep living a halfway normal life. The strange thing about not being “normal” anymore is that when I actually do manage to do “normal” things, it’s considered inspirational to others.

I’m okay with that, because to me the word “inspirational” really just means that the power of God is being seen in me.

God is giving me the ability to do things in spite of the fact that they are much harder than they used to be. God is giving me the ability to keep going, no matter how rocky, winding and foggy the road might be.

That’s the power of God. I feel blessed that occasionally people might see it in me.

So I encourage everyone to let their light shine. I know it’s not easy to do and often we don’t really know how to do it. I believe, though, that if we truly strive to follow God and love others, that no matter what we end up doing it will truly be “inspirational.” When the power of God can be seen in your family, friends, someone you’ve never even met or–once in a great while–maybe even in yourself, how can that be anything less than an inspiration?

Everything Has Changed and Nothing Has Changed

It’s been right about three years since I started getting sick.

I don’t know the exact date, but it was in the summer of 2012. Knee pain turned into limping, which gave way to falling down. After two years of using a cane, a wheelchair was added into the mix followed by a mobility scooter. Leg problems persisted and issues with my arms popped up too. Life is very different than it used to be for me. Everything has changed, except for the most important thing.

God is still there.

The length and severity of my health issues has not changed my standing with God. I’m His. He made me. Nothing that has happened to me has come as a surprise to Him. God didn’t forget about me for a while and then one day look over and say “Dan, what happened to you? Why are you in a wheelchair?”

It doesn’t work that way. I know this because he takes care of me on a daily basis, giving me everything I need. I’m unable to work very much at the moment, but I have a place to live and food to eat. I get discouraged, but God has given me people to encourage me and love me even when I’m so frustrated that I would rather push them away. There are days where I feel like the pain is unbearable but God always sees me through to the next day.

Looking in the mirror can be a tricky proposition sometimes.

Physically I’m not the same. I’ve gained about 65 pounds in the last two years. I’m either leaning on a cane or sitting in a wheelchair. I don’t look like the person that I picture in my mind when I think about myself.

But if I look past all that, I can start to see what God sees. I can see a person that He loved enough to save. Someone He loved enough to redeem. God sacrificed His son Jesus so that I wouldn’t be condemned for my sins. When He looks at me He sees someone made in His image. Nothing I did made Him see me this way. In fact, I did everything I could to NOT believe in Christ. He loved me enough that He found a way that I could believe in spite of myself.

Just in time too. I first believed in Jesus Christ in early 2012, about six months before my health would start to falter. I firmly believe that if He would not have led me to believe before I got sick that it probably wouldn’t have ever happened.

I was an angry, bitter man who was convinced that God didn’t love him. Adding life-changing health problems on top of that would have been disastrous. I believe that God loved me so much that he rescued me just before I would have shut Him out forever.

That’s how much He loves me and that hasn’t changed. It never will.

Seeing ourselves as God does is something that I think can be difficult sometimes for many of us. Life changes, our appearance changes, but God’s love for us does not change.

If you’re looking in the mirror and you don’t like what you see, try to think about what God sees. It’s pretty hard to not like that.