Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
Where there is sadness, joy
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console
To be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
All But Normal: Life on the Victory Road, a Memoir Reviewed by Denise DePuy
All But Normal by Shawn Thornton is an incredible book. He tells of his life growing up with a mother who had a traumatic brain injury. What truly stands out is his response to his mother. He credits her with showing him how to live and respond to others like Jesus would. She had her problems and violent mood swings but she showed incredible compassion to those who most people would overlook. She was an inspiring example of treating everybody the same and pointing them toward Jesus. Both of her sons grew up to be pastors, and Shawn’s church has a far reaching ministry to people with special needs.
Growing up, Shawn Thornton’s life was anything but normal—but then, so was his mother. After waking from a coma following a car crash, Beverly Thornton’s once sweet and gentle disposition had been replaced by violent mood swings, profanity-laced tirades, and uncontrollable fits of rage. Inside the Thornton house, floors and countertops were piled high with dirty laundry and garbage because Bev was unable to move well enough to clean. Dinners were a Russian roulette of half-cooked meat, spoiled milk, and foods well past their expiration dates. A moment of frustration might prompt her to hurl a knife at Shawn, his brother Troy, or their dad, or to vehemently cuss them out, only to shower them with love and affection moments later as though nothing had happened. And God help the family cat!
On several occasions, Bev even tried to jump out of the car on the highway while Shawn and his brother struggled to keep her inside. Yet this same woman was also a devoted Bible reader, Sunday school teacher, and friend to the elderly, poor, and marginalized wherever she went. How the same woman could be a saint one minute and a nightmare the next was a constant source of frustration for the family. Then one day, after decades of embarrassing outbursts, a surprise discovery finally helped the Thornton family come to grips with Bev’s mysterious condition and brought Shawn to a startling realization that changed the course of his life forever.
A heartwarming coming-of-age story, All But Normal is a powerful reminder that sometimes the broken people in our lives are the ones who need fixing the least.
Choosing an Inflection Point:
-Join a small group
-Join a ministry team
-Read your Bible each day
-Attend worship services weekly
-Take a discipleship class
-Go on a short-term missions trip
-Start giving to the offering weekly
-Share the Gospel with someone
-Begin to use the Take5 devotional
-Become a member of Calvary
-Join Pastor’s Prayer Partners
-Serve someone you meet in need
-Find an accountability partner
-Post verses on your social media
-Visit the Holy Land
Dealing with life at its darkest and most difficult times
If People Magazine had been around in ancient Israel, for months the cover would have featured the face of David, the giant-slayer. Young women sang about the handsome, national hero. David was the man women adored and men admired.
God had already chosen David to follow Saul as the next King of Israel. David must have thought this fame and notoriety was all part of the plan. It all looked so perfect. God was doing something incredible!
But a few spears aimed at David by a jealous King Saul seemed to change everything! Saul’s jealous rage caused him to become obsessed with destroying David. We learn in 1 Samuel 21 that David even fled to his enemies for help. He turned up in Goliath’s hometown of Gath – the capital of the Philistines.
After asking to see Achish, the Philistine King, David realized this was a bad idea. So, he presented himself to Achish and he pretended to be insane, even drooling in his beard. Achish sent the supposed madman packing.
According to the opening sentence of 1 Samuel 22, “David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam.” Scholars believe David spent three to six months living in the muddy, dark, lonely cave. We pick up the story there with David sitting defeated — his own drool dried up in his beard. What a low point!
Most of us come to a cold, dark cave experience. We find ourselves alone, facing the shattered dreams, inexplicable pain, and desperate grief that life sometimes deals. Cold, dark, difficult caves, indeed!
David’s experience in the cave teaches us about handling life at its darkest and most difficult times. David wrote several Psalms during his months alone in the cave. Let’s look at three keys to handling a cold, dark cave experience.
#1: Tell God How You Feel (Psalm 142)
Read Psalm 142 and you will sense the overwhelming emotions David experienced after he arrived in the Cave of Adullam. While there are hints of determination and even worship of God, the predominant mood is one of deep discouragement.
Early in his time in the cave, he learns the importance of simply telling God how he feels. Notice his dejected phrases:
- “Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need” (v. 6)
- “No one is concerned for me” (v. 4)
- “No one cares for my soul” (v. 4)
- “Set me free from prison.” (v. 7)
Ever been there? Have you ever been so low that you felt like no one cared and despair wrapped its tentacles around you?
Some think it is wrong to tell God how badly life stinks. They think that being grateful means you never express your pain and emotions to God. But, for David, telling God how bad he felt, with a raw honesty, was key to the process of experiencing God in a cold, lonely cave. Whatever you are going through today, no matter how dark and difficult, tell God how you feel.
#2: Praise God for Who He is (Psalm 57)
As you read through the second Psalm David wrote while in the cave of Adullam, you sense a subtle shift in tone. Many people discover the value of telling God how they feel when they are stuck in a cave experience. But too few turn the corner to praise God even in the cave.
David declares, “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth” (57:5). Boldly he commits to God, “I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples” (57:9).
Proactive praise does something transformative in us. When we choose to praise God based on Who He is, instead of what our circumstances are, good things happen. We see the eternal God in Whom we have put our trust.
True worship is not based on what our circumstances are but on Who our God is! Our circumstances will change, but our God never changes.
#3: Serve God by Helping others (Psalm 34)
God does a work in David’s heart at one of the lowest points in David’s entire life. God listens as David tells God how he feels. He refocuses David’s heart as David chooses to praise his God for Who He is. Back in 1 Samuel 22 we learn that some of David’s friends and relatives choose to join David in the cave. Samuel tells us that “all those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him there” (1 Samuel 22:2). Few of us want people with problems showing up while we are still dealing with our own issues. But God knew what David needed next.
The most practical way we serve God is by helping others. David did that.
God expects us to use our dark, difficult experiences to help others. We may not even be fully free from the cave when He brings a bunch of broken people to our doorstep. So, look around. Maybe God has planted some hurting people near your cave. You don’t have to have it all together for God to use you.
Maybe you are at one of the lowest points of your life… a dark cave with spit on your face. Learn from David.
Tell God how you feel, praise God for Who He is, and serve God by helping others. Watch what God does to transform you and use you to impact others!
Throughout the last month, I have been humbled by the messages folks are sending me after they read my memoir. I am still stunned that this story I have shared for the first time at nearly 50 years of age has made such an impact on others!
All But Normal: Life on Victory Road tells my story of growing up in a Christian home that was deeply affected by my mother’s traumatic brain injury. People are telling me in person, via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and email how much my story brought hope and healing to their lives. The details of their stories are not the same as mine. But, their emotional journey through their challenging circumstances echoes with mine!
Our stories do matter. They matter because our God is not only the redeemer of our souls for eternity, but he is redeeming our brokenness now! God redeems our stories for our good, the good of others, and His glory. Even our deepest wounds can be redeemed. Don’t get me wrong. It is not an easy process. Ask Joseph of the Old Testament. His brothers betrayed him by selling him into Egyptian slavery. Twenty-two years later and all kinds of deep, horrible wounds later, Joseph tells them God meant it for good.
I always knew that God used my challenging childhood to shape a caring (and even pastor’s) heart in me. But, I did not think my story itself mattered to anyone. Boy was I wrong. Thanks to all who have been used by God to make that clear to me. Thank you for sharing your stories with me. Thank you for relating to me how God has used my story to bring hope and healing to yours!
Since the launch of the book, I have done over a dozen interviews about All But Normal on radio stations across the country. I have been asked by most interviewers how my brother, Troy, and I survived all our childhood experiences without turning our backs on God. My answer: “Only God!”
Only God could point the attention of two boys to the trajectory of our parents’ lives. Most assume our attention was on the difficult moments or collection of moments in our home. They assume those moments and experiences would cause anyone to turn their backs on Christ. And maybe we should have from a purely human perspective. But, God helped us see that in their brokenness our Dad and Mom each pursued knowing, loving, and serving Christ! Within the chaos of our home, they each aimed their lives at living and loving like Jesus!
My brother, Troy, and I caught the trajectory of our parents’ lives. How? Only God!
May I encourage you to aim the trajectory of your life at knowing, loving, and serving Jesus! Don’t let the hurdles, barriers, and challenges of life convince you that your family and others will only see your brokenness. How will they see the trajectory of your heart in the middle of all the chaos and noise? Only God!
All But Normal: Life on Victory Road is available wherever books are sold. For links to book sellers, to view family photos, to download the All But Normal Reader’s Guide for personal or small group reflection, or to find other links and resources related to All But Normal, go to AllButNormal.com.
The first 50 pages of my memoir include The Publisher’s Note, The Author’s Note, The Forward by Joni Eareckson Tada, the Prologue, and the entire First Chapter. This gives you a taste of the book and my story of growing up in a home deeply impacted by the physical, emotional, and mental challenges of my Mom. Let me know on Facebook or Twitter what you think of the first 50 pages!
To preorder online or for more information about All But Normal: Life on Victory Road, go to AllButNormal.com.
This weekend we continued our “Set Free” series from the New Testament letter of Galatians. We looked at Galatians chapter 2 and Paul’s confrontation of Peter regarding Peter’s hypocrisy. To live and love like Jesus authentically in today’s image-conscious culture, we too need to remove any masks of hypocrisy!
One of the keys to moving from hypocrisy to authenticity is discovering your identity in Christ. The links below provide you resources in understanding and embracing the identity we have in Him as His followers.
John Piper’s Desiring God Blog – List of resources on indentity in Christ Great articles, interviews, etc on this subject.
Great List of Verses About our Identity in Christ on the Mercy Me Blog Good verses to memorize or to meditate on.
GotQuestions.org answer to “How should we live our lives in light of our identity in Christ?” Simple, but a biblical and compreshensive article.
FREE “Who I Am in Christ” eChart from Rose Publishing You have to sign up for their email list, but this chart is well worth it.
A Minute and a Half Video that Asks “Who am I?”
A Simple One Page Sheet Listing Identity Markers Easy to print and keep handy as you seek to remember who you are in Jesus.
Who Am I?: Identity in Christ by Jerry Bridges A great book providing a comprehensive look at who we are as followers of Jesus.
Today as we launched our new sermon series from the Book of Galatians, we compared the true gospel with false gospels. The true gospel is Jesus plus nothing. A false gospel is Jesus plus something. Sometimes the something is a requirement to be forgiven by God. Sometimes it is a promise added to the person and work of Jesus. Other times it is an emphasis on something other than Christ. No matter what, a false gospel is man-centered while the true gospel is Christ-centered!
A great resource for being aware of the errant gospels and rediscovering the true gospel is Trevin Wax’s book, “Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope.” You can see a good summary of his book at his Gospel Coalition blog by CLICKING HERE.
11 False Gospels
Below are the 11 False Gospels I shared during this weekend’s message from Galatians chapter 1.
11 False Gospels
Each false gospel is man-centered, not Christ-centered.
The Good Works Gospel – We have to stack up more good deeds than bad deeds to be accepted by God. Jesus showed us the way. Now, we have to do enough to measure up.
The Legalistic Gospel – Once we are truly a follower of Christ we will live up to certain standards set out by religious influencers. The church helps us know what those standards are by giving us the religious rituals to keep, the moral codes to follow, and the divine expectations to fulfill.
The Universal Gospel – We don’t have any personal responsibility in terms of responding to the finished work of Jesus. We will all ultimately be saved because of Jesus. So, just do the best you can in life to be kind to others and leave this planet a better place than when you arrived. God will reward all and judge no one – except maybe the Adolf Hitlers, Charles Mansons, and Bernie Madoffs.
The Spirituality Gospel – As long as we have a sincere faith in something and follow a spiritual path of some kind, God will accept us. All spiritual paths lead to God and heaven. It’s just better if we make Jesus a part of the path since He is such a good example and heroic martyr.
The Historical Gospel – We find solace in our connection to the centuries-old Christian tradition as opposed to other faith systems. Christianity makes sense. We know its tenets and can express them logically and defend them heartily.
The Fire Escape Gospel – As long as we prayed the “sinner’s prayer” at some point to be saved, we won’t go to hell. Being saved may or may not impact how we live life today, but we are safe from eternal damnation.
The Prosperity Gospel – We will always live a life of health and wealth if we truly have faith in Jesus. When we really believe we are then untouched by the brokenness of this world. God wants us to be successful, rich, powerful, and experience his special favor compared to others.
The Poverty Gospel – As followers of Christ, we can never possess or enjoy anything in this world. A true faith relationship with Jesus results in choosing to be poor in terms of material things, but rich in terms of the spiritual. You cannot be a Christian and enjoy material things.
The Moral Society Gospel – We strive to make others in our culture follow the righteous standards of the Bible so they and all in society will be blessed by God. Usually, this involves a great emphasis on legislating morality about the sanctity of life and standards of human sexuality through political engagement. Whether or not people come to Jesus as their personal Savior, they at least live like Christians in a “Christian” culture.
The Social Justice Gospel – We seek an end to systemic injustice. We believe God calls us to resolve social issues like poverty, racism, income inequality, human trafficking and all of its effects on individuals, families, and people groups. Individuals hearing about the person and work of Jesus Christ is not as important as our efforts to bring social justice and peace to a society.
The Self-Help Gospel – We are our own worst problem and our negativity about ourselves hinders us from fully achieving all that we are and can be. Jesus wants us to see how great we really are and then pursue letting that greatness out. The solution to our problems is already within us and He is there to cheer us on.
Today I shared the words of the old hymn, When We See Christ. May these words bless you in your journey for Jesus!When We See Christ Sometimes the day seems long,
Our trials hard to bear.
We´re tempted to complain,
to murmur and despair.
But Christ will soon appear
to catch his bride away!
All tears forever over
in God’s eternal day!
It will be worth it all
when we see Jesus!
Life’s trials will seem so small
when we see Christ.
One glimpse of his dear face,
all sorrow will erase.
So, bravely run the race
till we see Christ.