Archives For gratitude


December 6, 2012 — 3 Comments




Tomorrow is my birthday! Yep, December 7th – a date which will live in infamy. I’m pretty excited about it actually – I like cake and presents very much!

Unless something really bad happens, I will be 47 years old tomorrow. Much, much older than my youth ministers ever thought I would be. One guy, every time he sees me, he says, “Nifong? You still alive?” And I say, “Yeah, Steve, still kicking. Thanks!”

I have the day off, Cheryl is off 1/2 day and we are going to lunch (Pappadeaux’s) and a movie (Skyfall?) and she will give me a present and then we’ll pick up the kids and they’ll sing happy birthday to me. I love my birthday!

It has not always been so. December birthdays are tough. When I was a kid, I’d either get something really good for my birthday, and socks/underwear for Christmas, or sometimes my parents switched it up and did it the other way around.

Sometimes I didn’t even want to be home or have a birthday at all. 30 was tough for me. I had just gone through something pretty terrible and honestly I didn’t see a way out – I didn’t care so much how old I was, just that I was eating at Taco Bell by myself, and was headed back to a broken down roach motel where I lived at the time. No cards, no phone calls, no presents at all. 30 really kinda stunk.

It got better though – the next 10 years were filled with friends, family, a beautiful wife, and successful ministry. Not that the years before 30 weren’t. I’d already done a lot by then, it’s just that it all fell apart for a while and I didn’t see a way back.

40 was awesome. Cheryl had a surprise party for me at Putt Putt – there was about 50 people there. People from churches I’d served in, people I’d ministered to, great friends, pastors. And we all tried to kill each other on the race track all night long!

Then – believe it or not – everything fell apart again!

It’s kinda funny how life tends to do that. We all have ups and downs. My ups tend to be VERY UP and my downs tend to scrape the bottom. Life’s a roller coaster most of the time. What I’ve learned is, regardless of if you’re up or down, you can still live in freedom and victory!

About 3 years ago, life was tough, our family was in trouble, I was depressed, I think Cheryl was angry about a lot of things. All I could think was, “God, I’m 45 and it just seems like life for me is over.” I was wrong, just like I’d been 15 years prior to that when I’d been thinking the same thing.

I remember most of my birthdays – who came, what we did, even some of the gifts I got.

I remember my 10th birthday. We lived in Tulsa, and I wanted to see “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (an R rated movie about a mental institution). What I got was “Against a Crooked Sky (a G rated movie about some girl kidnapped by indians). My friends thought it was lame. 

I remember going to Skateland with David Byers when I turned 16. There was one cute girl in the whole place and he ended up getting her number. On my birthday.

I remember 21. Kinda. I was a mess back then.

I remember 25, thinking, “I’m a quarter of a century old and I’m on top of the world!”

And now I’m 47. Which is pretty old compared to 10, 16, and 21. But I don’t look old, mostly don’t feel old, and most of all, I feel hope. I feel peace. I feel alive! And I’m so very thankful for all the birthdays I’ve ever had, and all the birthdays still to come!

Crazy Ideas

August 5, 2012 — Leave a comment

ace site idea 1

I have a fairly active imagination. In other words, I’m a dreamer. It’s not a bad thing, except for that whole “loser” component that so often accompanies dreaming. Don’t get me wrong – I have a great job, and we don’t live in a van down by the river or anything. But I’m often up late at night just thinking stuff up. Most of it is rubbish, but every once in a while I come up with something that could be helpful.

Take a look at the pic above. I just got an idea while eating breakfast this morning and spent a few minutes sketching out what it might look like.

I got this idea because of my current job. I’m a claims adjuster. About 95% of what I handle are smaller water damage claims – pipe burst, water heater leak, toilet overflow. Generally losses that will cost less than $10k to repair.

What I hear every day is, “who can help me with these repairs?” If there is a covered loss that exceeds deductible, I can assign one of our approved vendors. If there’s no coverage, or the loss doesn’t exceed deductible (which is typically 1% or more in Texas!), that means your insurance company can’t help – but your house still needs to be fixed, right? What can you do then?

I can’t recommend anyone at that point. You have to find your own people and pay out of pocket, which kinda sucks. But what if there was a referal network that anyone could access – not just for home repairs, but for just about anything you could imagine? What if there was a network that existed simply to get people in touch with people who are willing to help?

I’m not talking for free, but maybe at a reduced cost, depending on what a person can or is willing to pay, compared to what a person is willing to do or provide.

Maybe this isn’t even all that original. Maybe I’m just dreaming. But maybe people who can help and who are willing to do so – sacrificially – actually exist. Maybe there are people in this world who just want to help, but don’t know who or how.

Maybe there’s something to this. It doesn’t have to be my idea, and I know others are doing similar things, and this isn’t even all that well thought out yet.

One thing I do know about myself – I love people and I love helping and most days after work I just come home and sit here. And think. I’d rather be doing – doing energizes us, it frees us to do even more. It changes other people’s lives and it changes us. I gives significance to the ones giving and receiving.

Yes – we all have our own laundry to do and yards to mow and kids to raise. But you could mow an elderly man’s lawn for free in no time. You could change the oil in a single mom’s car at very little expense to yourself – in time or money.

I think it’s time to take responsibility for those around us – to start meeting the needs of the people we drive right past 30 times a week. More than anything, I think it has to do with gratitude for the blessings I have been given, and wanting to be a good steward of those thing. It doesn’t have to be this idea, but I do think it has to be me -  I want to help! How about you?

water balloon

My daughter Trinity just got back from Crazy MixUp Camp 2012. Looks like she had a great time! This was her first camp experience, except for those years when I was a Youth pastor – I think she was 6 months old, 1 1/2 and 2 1/2 during those years, so I’m sure she doesn’t remember.

I saw a pic or two that the camp posted on their Facebook page. Seriously – I’ve said this for years – the thing I miss most about ministry is summer camp! I never missed a year between 1979 and 2003.

Trinity came home with all kinds of ideas for games that we all had to experience as a family. As a former rec guy, I saw a spark in her – creativity, fun, organization skills. It all kinda falls apart when you take a game built for 500 and try it with a family of 4 though. Still, we had a great time tonight just playing!

The culmination though was when Trinity nailed me in the head with a water balloon. She threw, I dodged, it was a fake, she really threw and it got me good – one of the only ones tonight that actually popped on contact. The look on her face was priceless, then I pretended like I was mad and about to throw her over the back fence – even more family fun!

While Trinity was at camp, I went into her room every night and prayed for her – just like I have every night since the day she was born. She wasn’t in her room, obviously, but I still prayed – that God would speak to her, that the Holy Spirit would teach her, that Jesus would walk beside her. I know people always think great things about their kids – but Trinity is very special. God shows her things, she speaks the things she is shown, and they come to life.

I don’t know what God is going to do with my little girl, but I pray it’s big things! I pray that she won’t be weighed down by worldly things. I pray that her sense of curiosity is never satisfied. I pray that God would inhabit her praises and that no matter what, she will walk with him her whole life.

My Grandmother used to pray for those things for me. Looking back, it was just around the time she died that I lost my way. I know she prayed for me daily, and I prayed for her, too. She was an exceptional woman – loving, kind, gracious, forgiving. Even when I was the opposite, she still loved me, and in that she showed me that God still loved me, too.

While Trinity was away at camp, I had the opportunity to go to a special service at my church called Habitation. Many people have been healed physically and spiritually during this time, many people have heard powerful words from God.

When we got to the church last night, I immediately felt tension – like I was being pulled apart on the inside. I went into the worship center and there were already close to 1000 people there – and I was an hour early! They do a prayer service right before Habitation, and all during that portion more and more people poured in. By the time the actual service started, the place was full! They had printed 1500 handouts and were not even close to having enough. I mean the place was full! At least 3000 people, all with one thing in mind – growing closer to God!

Back to my feeling of tension – All of a sudden I didn’t want to be there. People talked to me and I was grouchy. I was really being attacked I think – and I generally don’t think that way to be honest. I wanted to go home. I wanted to watch reruns of House. Anything except for be at church.

They prayed, they sang, people testified, and then I knew what it was – the whole night was revolving around gratitude – to God for the wonderful things he has done and for the things he has given us. And it dawned on me that I am so ungrateful!

My expecation was that God would provide, that I would be successful, that if I did what he wanted, nothing would ever stand in my way. And when it didn’t happen the way I wanted I shut God out – I stopped praising because the blessings stopped coming. Or maybe it was the other way around, now that I have some perspective.

I stopped praising because I got full of myself. I stopped praising because I was in charge of my life. I stopped praising because I became my own god. And when I put myself on the throne, God stopped blessing. Oh, he still loved me, he still gave me a good job, he still gave me life and breath. But the rest was all me and under my reign it all fell to pieces.

I was reminded last night that every good thing comes from God and that there is so much good in my life, so much to be grateful for! My beautiful wife Cheryl, my beautiful daughters Trinity and Zoey, my house, my job, my truck – and beyond that, my health, the health of my family, that God loves me in spite of me being me, that he loved me enough to forgive me, that he called me to do great things!

I often wonder if it’s too late – if I’m too old, if anyone even cares – then I remember that it’s not about who cares or my age or how much I have failed in the past. It’s about my willingness to praise God and show him that I am thankful for the little things. When I can praise him, from deep within, when I can meet with him, spirit to Spirit – that’s like getting busted in the head with a water balloon! It comes out of nowhere and changes your perspective on everything! When God invades your space, there’s no telling what might happen – he might even renew your calling, let you know you’re not a has been, you’re not too old or too broken – he might just give you hope!