On July 5, 2016 my memoir “All But Normal: Life on Victory Road” will be released by Tyndale Publishers. It’s my story of growing up in a home with a mother greatly effected by a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and how her struggles impacted our family. My childhood had some incredible challenges due to Mom’s condition. At times, I wished that God had put me in a different family.
Many of us know the difficulties of facing tough circumstances during our coming-of-age years. For some it was a home affected by drugs or alcohol, for some it was the trauma of divorce, for some it was being raised as a first generation immigrant, for others it was natural challenges of living in a world full of disaster, disease, and death, and still for others it was being abused verbally, physically or sexually as a child or teen. Psychologists say that when a minor is forced to process something they are not developmentally ready to handle they experience the “adultification of childhood.” Many who experience the “adultification of childhood” actually take on certain aspects of the parental role for one or both parents because of some challenge the parent faces.
For years I thought my story was important because it shaped who I am as a man, a husband, a father, a pastor, but that the stories of my childhood themselves had no benefit for others. Three years ago I shared my story in a setting where both Joni Eareckson Tada and Max Lucado heard it. Both suggested I write a book telling my story. They told me God would use my story to help others. So, I embarked on a three year journey to write what it was like to be raised with a mother with significant physical, emotional, and mental challenges. “All But Normal” is the product of my efforts. While I am pleased with the book, it has not been easy sharing my childhood journey in written form. It has been rewarding. I have seen God use it already in so many great ways!
Throughout the journey I have learned so much about letting God redeem my childhood. Actually, I have learned much about God redeeming any wound from the past. After teaching through the life of Joseph in our church a year ago, I began to look at Joseph’s childhood in a different light. He had a home full of dysfunction. Jealousy, favoritism, distrust, immorality, competition, and animosity all marked the home of his father Jacob. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery when he was seventeen years of age. He was taken to a foreign country, enslaved, falsely accused, imprisoned, and forgotten. God raised him up from prison and made him second in command of ancient Egypt. Only Pharaoh was greater.
Twenty-two years after the betrayal of his brothers, Joseph saw God do something great as his brothers came to Egypt for help during a great famine. Joseph forgave his brothers. He wept many times over them and the brokenness of the past. The wounds still hurt him. But, he watched as God redeemed his childhood.
How do you position yourself so that God can redeem the wounds of the past – even those from your childhood? Let me suggest five things Joseph did that you can do as well.
#1: Identify the Abnormalities – Even though you want to overlook them
I love how Joseph clearly points out how his brothers wounded him when he meets them twenty-two year later. Sometimes we want to act like nothing happened. We want to pretend there are no wounds. Joseph teaches us that it is important to be honest with yourself and others about the abnormalities of your past. We all have them to one extent or another.
#2: Acknowledge the Pain – Even though you want to forget it
When Joseph is reunited with his father after more than two decades of his father believing he is dead, he cries for a very long time. The puss of the wound comes out in tears. I am sure there were tears of joy at seeing his father, but it had been a long time and a lot of pain had occurred. One of the beautiful blessings about the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament is that we learn from them that it is okay to tell God how you feel. Let him know it hurts. Acknowledge the pain. As some of us sort through the pain, we may even need to seek out some counseling to process it.
#3: Release the Bitterness – Even though you want to hold on to it
Genesis 45:5 & 50:15-17
Someone once said, “To hold a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Joseph refuses to drink the poison. He extends to his brothers a grace they have never extended to him. Two decades after they wound him deeply, he rejects any notion of revenge and shows them grace. Prayer is one of the best antidotes to bitterness. It’s important to let God hear your frustration and pain while at the same time asking him to refresh and renew your spirit. Release the bitterness that can only cause you trouble.
#4: Embrace the Sovereignty of God – Even though you want to explain it away
Genesis 45:7-8; 50:20
There are two extremes when it comes to God’s sovereign control over our lives. One is a form of fatalism. The fatalism approach says it does not matter what I do or say because God will do what he wants. So, why even try. The other extreme is to say that God has nothing to do with the bad stuff that comes into our lives. He has no responsibility for it. Anything bad or difficult in life is Satan’s responsibility. Both are an oversimplification of the sovereignty of God. God is weaving something much more grand. In His sovereign plan, even the evil intentions of others can be used for our good and His glory. Joseph tells His brothers that what they did was wrong, but that God had used it for good. As you process the wounds of the past, remember that God can use the worst events over a period of time to mold you and shape you into the image of Christ!
#5: Celebrate the Blessings – Even though you want to downplay them
Genesis 45:6-8; 50:20
While I was thankful for the challenges of my childhood and how they had formed a pastor’s heart in me, I did not celebrate those challenges. Joseph is able to celebrate with his father and brothers the incredible grace of God on His life. Many of us want to downplay our blessings because we don’t want to brag. But, when our praise is focused on our Lord, then the celebration of our blessings brings Him praise, rather than brings us pride. Even with the struggles of my years growing up on Victory Road, I can now call them a blessing. To move toward the stage of being able to celebrate the wounds of your past as blessings, you begin by simply thanking Him for those challenges. Thank Him for the purpose He is working – even when you can’t see it. Celebration begins with gratitude!
Let me encourage you to process the wounds of your past the way Joseph did. Let God redeem your childhood or your past. Let Him work in and through you according to His grace. That is what Joseph did and that is why he was able to embrace all that God was doing even through some very difficult stuff!
Don’t let Satan get the advantage with your past. Let God use it for your good, the good of others, and ultimately His glory!
CLICK HERE to preorder “All But Normal: Life on Victory Road” by Shawn Thornton with Joel Kilpatrick