Let It Fly

A wonderful feature piece written by Grantland.com and ESPN.com writer, Jordan Conn.

In other words, my story through the lens of another…

LET IT FLY

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Fearless Failure

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline.” –2 Timothy 1:7

What is your biggest fear?

Think about it…what scares you?

Are you scared of snakes? Spiders? Heights? Are you scared you won’t be able to provide for your family? Job instability? Financial insecurity? Are you scared of the bullies that degrade you? The men that hurt you? The tears you may cry? Are you scared of injury…what about death?

Fear is defined as an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. Everyone is fearful of something. No matter if you are a 300 lb. lineman, a 3rd grade ballerina, a 57-year-old business man–or anyone in between–we all face fear. When I sit back and think about the things that have scared me over the years, I can’t help but notice a pattern. Whether directly or indirectly, all of my personal fears are linked to one topic: failure.I think the majority of our fears are rooted in the same thing–the fear of failure.  The fear that we will let down the people around us, the fear that the people around us will let us down, the fear that we will let down ourselves.  So many things are so very scary…

When I was very young, I was haunted by the fear that I would be kidnapped and hurt. Granted, I grew up in the early 90’s, an era when child abductions hit the media like a firestorm. To make matters worse, my parents went to church with John and Patsy Ramsey, the parents of JonBenet Ramsey. For those of you who don’t know, the JonBenet Ramsey murder was one of the most publicized unsolved murders of our time. JonBenet was 6 years old. I was 7 years old. When a 7 year-old hears things on the news and sees her parents so emotionally invested in the tragedy, it is hard to wrap your head around the complexity of the situation. So, my mind only went one place–I am next. The “bad guys” are coming for me. Almost nightly I would have nightmares that I would be taken and that nobody would help me or find me—that my parents would fail at protecting me.

Through my young schooling, I was fearful of getting bad grades.  I wanted to be the best that I could possibly be, and I wanted to make my parents as proud as possible.  I have always been a perfectionist, and I have always been competitive.  I was reared under a sister who was brilliant–literally, a borderline genius. (This is a girl who was kicked out of her second grade class for arguing with her teacher that negative numbers did, in fact, mathematically exist and that the teacher was incorrect in teaching the other students that 5 could not be subtracted from 3. Seriously? I was the kid that was kicked out of my second grade class for sniffing glue, getting dizzy, falling backwards out of my chair and hitting my head on the whiteboard. Haha. This is also the girl who would play “the classroom game”  with me when we were little and try desperately to teach me about exponents and exponential factors…I was 6. She couldn’t understand why all I wanted to do was dance to Spice Girls when there were derivatives to learn!) To say the least, we were very different, but growing amidst her brains and my competitive spirit, it fostered a desire in me to be better, to be smarter, to be the best. And, later in life, any time I failed and didn’t do as well as I know I could have on a school assignment—I failed myself. And, in my eyes, I failed my parents.

Fast-forward through a decade or so of fears and failures. To list all the times I’ve failed would take another decade, so I will simplify by saying that I’m a failure. Aren’t we all? And while my fears and failures molded and shaped me, the worst was yet to come. For the sake of saving time and space, I will not rewrite my testimony (you can read back in the “My Story” portion for details) but I will share with you my most epic fails.

In high school, I feared non-conformity. I feared a lack of control, and I feared judgement. I feared food. I fell into an eating disorder that crippled me, consumed me, defined me. In highschool, I failed myself.

In college, my father failed me. My hero, my best friend, my everything. He feared…he failed…and he fled. On January 3rd, he put a gun to his heart and pulled the trigger. In college, my father failed me.

That year, I feared the pain I felt. I tried everything I could to fill it. I drank, I partied, I lost myself. I feared the darkness and I feared the weakness. I failed to hold my own head high. That year, I failed my innocence.

Later on, I feared for my own life. I failed at driving. I wrapped my Jeep around a tree and feared I would never be saved. I choked on blood and hung broken and battered. On that drive, I failed myself.

Between those points and since that time, I’ve failed and failed and failed.

How do you recover from a life defined in failure? How do you emerge from a life constrained by fear?

We will FAIL constantly. Others will constantly fail us. We will fail others, and we will fail ourselves.  The people around us will fail, circumstances will fail, expectations will fail. You will fail at reaching goals, your friend will fail at supporting you when you need it most. Marriages will fail. Job opportunities will fall through and fail. The stock market will fail, the government will fail. Your boyfriend/girlfriend will fail to provide you with the love you need. You will fail at filling your emptiness with drugs and sex. You will fail tests, fail deadlines, fail budgets. We will slip, and we will fail.

BUT GOD NEVER FAILS.

In the days of my youth, God comforted my worries.  He worked through my parents and protected my heart. God Never Failed.

He calmed my worries over grades and school. He blessed me with the desire to persist and to learn. God Never Failed.

As I battled with bulimia, He clung tight to my body. He protected my health, and nourished my soul. God Never Failed.

As I stared at my daddy’s lifeless body, He wept alongside me and lifted me up. God Never Failed.

As I battled depression in a drunken stupor,  I gave pieces of myself away to boys. But God fought for my purity like a relentless warrior, and though I was battered and broken, He held my virginity with poise. God Never Failed.

As I hung upside down and choked on my blood, He appeared to my heart and found His way in. God Never Failed.

I tell you all this to inspire your hearts! Life is hard. So hard. And we’re really bad at it. We are fallible humans and we mess up constantly. We fail and we fear. We fear and we fail. But as it says in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Jesus Christ DID IT! He came and He lived so perfectly. He never failed. And He never will fail. He died for you. He died so that you can ALWAYS be given new life! So that you can ALWAYS start fresh, clean the slate, and turn a new page.  As he hung on the cross, your fears and your failures were nailed to the cross alongside Him! When we accept Jesus Christ into our hearts, we accept a spirit of POWER and LOVE and SELF-DISCIPLINE! We welcome a spirit of forgiveness and grace and second chances!

We serve a God of second chances…we serve a God of LIFE! Alone, we are nothing. We are failures and we are bound by fear. But in CHRIST, we are infinitely strong! We are indestructible! We are SAVED!

What is there to fear?!

At the end of my days, I don’t want people to say that I lived a fearful, timid life. I want them to say that my spirit was POWERFUL in Christ, that I LOVED like Christ, and that I was SELF-DISCIPLINED through Christ.

How will you be remembered…?

What Does It Look Like?: Godly Men (part 4)

(Hey there! Sorry i’s been a minute, had some internet issues. But here we go!…Again, picking up where we left off. If you are just joining, it might help to read part 1, 2, and 3 of this series before reading this portion. A continuation of 1 Timothy 3:1-7…detailing what it looks like to be a Godly man. Women, start making a checklist 🙂 )

“Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to but one wife,…

…temperate…

Temperate. What exactly does that mean? Well a dictionary would define it as exercising moderation or self-restraint.  But the term really takes shape when you look at more detailed definitions: with restraint, without extravagance, in a sparing manner, without overindulgence.  Umm…is it just me or do these terms go against everything our culture conditions in us? We live in a country that encourages us, from day one, to have more, more, more! It goes back to our discussion about the “American Dream”. Our society is structured around obtaining excess. Excessive money, excessive gadgets, excessive entertainment, excessive stimulation, excessive praise, excessive drink, excessive food. We glorify overindulgence. The more people have, the more they flaunt. It defines our social status. And we, as a culture, feed off of this materialism. *Sigh* It’s really twisted because it’s what we have always seen and known, which makes it even harder to break from the cycle. But, for the sake of specific example, I want to talk about food. How, you might ask, does what you eat have anything to do with how well you can lead? Well bare with me for a second, let out your annoyed groan, and hear me out.

Take a look out our nation. We are fat. Really fat–it’s no secret. A portion of that equation is due to the TYPES of foods that are produced and consumed, but an even larger portion of that is due to the AMOUNT we consume. We are flooded with advertisements, commercials, excessive fast food spots, restaurants on every corner, vending machines down every hall, jam-packed grocery stores. Wow, we have so much access to so much food.  We are a food culture.  Now think about the flip-side of things. We are encouraged to eat, eat, eat. Then we take a look around and all we see are advertisement and magazine covers with sculpted men and photo-shopped women. You’re not good enough if you’re not thin enough, or jacked enough, or lean enough. Wait a second, what? We are surrounded by this temptation to indulge and eat, but then we are flooded with this pressure to be thin and cut up. Huh? We are pulled from one extreme to the next and all we are ever left with is a feeling of discontent. Where does that conflict lead us? Into sin. How? Because all of  sudden we become fixated on the number on the scale and the hours in the gym. We become obsessed with calories and we become utterly consumed by guilt, envy, and self-obsession.

I’m no high and mighty preacher here. I was caught up in this sticky web of  this sin once, too. If you recall from the  “My Story” portion of the blog, my high school years were defined by an eating disorder. They were defined by self-obsession, self-centered focus, fatigue, and fixation. My body became my idol, rather than God. Are we not living in a culture that fosters that same distraction? If we are focused on ourselves, constantly, how can we lead effectively and glorify God in our friendships, our relationships, our jobs? If we are focused on our appearance and our confidence is defined by our personal feelings of self-worth, how can we be convicted that our worth is limitless through Christ? In snagging ourselves in this web, overindulging in so much temptation, and operating in such excess, we are not focused on God, we are focused on getting our fix.

While leading a missions trip to the Ninth Ward last year, I had the opportunity to sit down with the group of girls who had come to New Orleans with the missions team to serve. We chatted about a handful of topics, but the conversation quickly and overwhelming turned to the topic of self-esteem and self-worth. As I was listening to the girls talk and complain and nit-pick about their bodies and their appearance, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of utter shame. Not a block down the street, there were homes that STILL, years after Katrina, were stained with water lines and wasting away in their own rubble.  There were kids who were running around homeless, without guidance or discipline, vandalizing and stealing so that they could simply eat a single meal that day.  There was a stench that loomed through the air and a thick hum of insects and rodents that blanketed people’s yards and homes. There was a COMMUNITY that needed GOD more than any neighborhood I have ever seen, yet we, the missionaries who were there to serve and disciple and spread His love, were distracted by OURSELVES. The only topic the conversation kept pulling back towards was the topic of our own self-obsessions and feelings of inadequacy.

I sat up and interrupted the girls speaking to spill out a message that God laid so heavily on my heart that I thought I might burst:  Every single time we look in the mirror and complain about what we see, what we don’t have, and what we desire, we are standing at the foot of the cross, staring up at Jesus Christ–blood pouring from his beaten and battered body, tears flowing down his scarred cheeks–and we’re staring Him in the eyes and telling Him that what He did isn’t good enough for us. In fact, we’ve got more important things to worry about. We are staring this King in the eyes and telling Him that what he has provided for us isn’t quite sufficient enough. And His sacrifices aren’t totally worth our constant and humbled praise. That WE are more important.

What? That makes me want to fall on my face in shame. I’ve done it. I do it all the time.  We get SO caught up in living lives of indulgence and excess, that we distract ourselves from the simple, pure, beautiful point of it all. HIS GRACE IS SUFFICIENT FOR US.  HIS SACRIFICE WAS ENOUGH.

Don’t you see? I am using the specific example of food, but this can be applied to countless components of our lives and our culture. In NOT practicing temperate behavior, we kick-start a snowball effect and we become utterly consumed in everything BUT God’s love and unyielding grace.  Our consumptions and our over indulgences become our focus, albeit consciously or subconsciously. They create a ripple effect and the shock waves impact so many components of our lives. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO LEAD EFFECTIVELY IF WE ARE FOCUSED ON OURSELVES RATHER THAN BEING FOCUSED ON GOD. Men, you are called to live temperate lives for this very reason. You are called to live moderately and with restraint and without overindulgence so that you can lead others, your wife, your family, to Christ. If you live a life of excess and indulgence, it’s like putting on a blindfold and trying to lead your family along the edge of the Grand Canyon. It’s so incredibly difficult, if not entirely impossible.

Jesus Christ lived a temperate life. There was nothing indulgent about His walk, there was nothing excessive. He wore humble clothes, He ate simple, pure food, and He defined His worth by the guidance and love of God.  He never allowed great distraction in His life. By living temperately, He lived abundantly. We are called to live that way, as well. We have the power to live temperate lives–even in the midst of this bizarre society–because we are filled with the Holy Spirit. Men, in order to lead, you are called to live temperate lives. Do you have unshakable faith that His grace is sufficient? Would you be willing to run from excess? To fully trust that God will provide for you? Would you be willing to shy away from overindulgence simply to set a model for your family that simplicity is sufficient? Challenge yourself! It’s easy to read through this and “check off” that, “Phew! At least I’m not the worst at this–at least I fall somewhere in the middle. I’m safe there.” But do you? And are you? How can you minimize in your life? How can you live more temperately? What excess is distracting you from God? How can you train yourself to utilize this simple principle to become a better leader?

(to be continued…)

My Story (part 1)

Understand, first and foremost, that I do not share my story so that ‘Mo Isom’ can be known.  I share my story so that God’s grace can be seen. I am a witness. I am a vessel. I am just one of His many tools–and proudly so. My explanations may seem vague and brief, but throughout the year and throughout my journey, details will be revealed and elaborated upon. For my trials are the stepping stones that guide my path.

My entire life has been a battle for control with our King. I was raised in a Christian household, attending church every Sunday (which, for most of my childhood, consisted of doodling on the prayer cards and fighting the urge to fall asleep during long sermons).  Nevertheless, I was reared in a happy home…a peaceful home…a humble home.  Being a “Christian” was what I knew and what was comfortable. But, like many young kids, that is where the pursuit of the faith rested stationary.

My parents were all that a young girl’s parents should be–supportive, passionate, encouraging, humble, patient, strict, loving, proud.  (the list could continue on to fill the pages of this blog, but more will be touched on throughout the year)  They sacrificed so much to see me succeed, whether it be in the classroom, my relationships, or my athletics.

Going into highschool, I wanted control.  I wanted to be in the driver’s seat for this new, exciting phase of my life–I wanted to call the shots.  I had ambition the size of a mountain and an ego to match.  But with personal pride, comes corruption, and as I tried so desperately to steer my speeding course, I lost control along the way.  The demands of my academics, the pressure of my growing soccer career, and the overwhelming expectations I felt to succeed pushed me down a slippery slope. And once I hit the bottom, I fell into an illness of obsession and control.

I developed an eating disorder that overwhelmed every aspect of my life.  What started as bulimia evolved into a combination of anorexia and bulimia, some days eating so little as a piece of fruit and purging it shortly after.  My illness grew to the point where I was forcing myself to throw up close to 10 times a day. When my fingers could no longer stimulate my gag reflexes, I started using objects. Toothbrushes, the base of hair brushes, anything that would cause me to vomit.  Eventually, my body became so accustomed to pushing the food back up, I found that I couldn’t even keep food down.

The calories that my brain convinced me were still inside of me had to be burnt somehow.  With my soccer career progressing and the pressure to be the best riding heavy on my shoulders, exercise became my absolute obsession.  In the summer of my freshman year, I began exercising close to 6 hours a day. Religiously, obsessively. Running constantly, lifting weights, sprinting stadiums, then repeating it all over again.  With no fuel in my body to engage my energy stores,  I turned to pills. Any dietary pill I could possibly take that would provide me with energy, I took. I was weak, broken, hurting on the side, strained, tired, empty.

I’ve come to learn that our popular society today is Satan’s biggest cheerleader.  Throughout all of the pain, the abuse of my body, the neglect and obsession, I found myself succeeding by society’s norms.  I was finally selected onto the Regional Olympic team, began traveling the world playing soccer, won beauty pageants, fielded new compliments of “how beautiful” I looked, was signed with a prestigious modeling agency, and eventually signed a Division I scholarship.  But at what cost?

I am not trying to take away from the successes and the character, discipline, and perseverance it took to achieve them, but my disorder did play a part.  It defined my highschool years. It was a secret I hid so carefully, so methodically, that it would have most certainly ruined me had it gone on.  Satan has a funny way of deceiving us…of blinding us to what’s True by cloaking our pain in success.  But I was empty, I was broken, and I was thirsty for the Love I once knew…

So 6 months before I was set to enroll at LSU, I came clean to my mom. I spilled the darkness I had endured for 4 years and I pleaded for help. I entered therapy and consulted with a nutritionist, worked diligently to overcome my disease, and worked relentlessly to rebuild my relationship with Christ. After a great deal of learning and rebuilding, I made a very serious promise to my mom before leaving for LSU. I promised her that I would not fall back into the hands of my old demons. I promised her that I would not digress.

Through our gracious, unfailing, forgiving King–my strength was renewed.  I gave control back to Christ and made my way to the Bayou…..