by Tom Jasinski
Nehemiah 8:10-“And Nehemiah continued, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!”
I had the last phrase of this verse first spoken over me by a prophet when I was in my teens. The real meaning of it eluded me well into adulthood. I sort of felt like my life could be summed up in the term “carpet jerked out from under me”. My childhood had been violently interrupted by my parents’ divorce when I was 9. I mean, from my young perspective, my parents went from “Leave it the Beaver” perfect to yelling and throwing plates at each other in a single day. Then I was bounced around from one dysfunctional stepparent to the next until I finally moved out on my own at 16. It seemed like every time I would get settled into a situation, the carpet would get jerked and I would be thrown into the next tumultuous life circumstance.
I started attending church regularly at 13, but I cycled in and out of confusion about sin and repentance, and I even quit attending church altogether for a short time in my late teens because I just didn’t feel worthy of God’s love. How could He love someone who was always messing up?
That phrase, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” became a recurring enigma, popping up in the oddest places and at the strangest times. I had some great experiences in my life, no doubt, and my relationship with God and my church kept me out of most of the trouble my friends got in. I ended up pastoring the youth group in my early twenties. I met and married a beautiful girl who was an absolute blast to date. Within six months of marriage, she had completely shut down emotionally. I was devastated. The carpet had been jerked out from under me again. A close friend of ours from church who was well aware of the breakdown in our intimacy called one fateful day and offered herself to me. The affair that ensued just about broke that church completely in half.
I ended up divorcing my first wife and marrying that woman. What followed was a long, hard 17 year journey. I was determined not to mess this marriage up like I had the first. Over time, my desire to please my wife, my business success, and a thousand other distractions eroded away any vestiges of “the joy of the Lord” that I had before all this mess. Toward the end, I spent about six years drunk, trying to numb out from the intense pain of failed expectations and failed relationships. When I would get “good and buzzed”, it seemed like I would always end up preaching to someone about God and His goodness. The truth was, I didn’t even know if He would have me back, but when the alcohol would no longer numb the pain, I had nowhere else to go. It was the final straw for my wife, and she ran off with someone else.
This left me in quite the predicament. The carpet had been jerked once again, but this time I was determined to put God first in my life. I had done it wrong for so many years, and I knew it had to be different now. As it turned out, this was an elaborate setup by the Creator of the Universe to show His unfailing love for me. The man who ran off with my wife left a wife of his own behind. The four of us had all been friends, so she and I knew each other socially. We spent a week talking about our plans for the future and sharing our spiritual beliefs. I led her to the Lord, and that same evening, we made a decision to spend the rest of our lives together.
The past seven years have shed a lot clearer light on that old familiar phrase, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” This time has not been without challenges, for sure. But each challenge proves to be a foundation upon which God builds my faith and understanding of Him. The carpet still gets jerked out from under me from time to time (though never by my wife, praise God). I have been kicked out of religion…twice! (Best and worst thing that ever happened to me.) I have started a ministry called The Cross Culture that is a strange, undefinable relational community of broken people who are learning how to love God and love people, inextricably. I am currently in the process of adopting my four stepchildren. We just survived an EF5 tornado in May and have been living in a storefront on Main Street in the transient area of town ever since. God just blessed us with a beautiful new home, and our drywall business has loads of work for years to come.
In all the crazy, unexpected twists and turns of life, I can honestly say that my current approach to life is accurately summed up in Nehemiah’s words: “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!”
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