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THIS HOLIDAY SEASON, WE’RE ALL FROM THE ISLAND OF MISFIT TOYS: PART 16

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Whether we realize it or not, the little sinking boat on the Island of Misfit Toys parallels each one of us. We all have grand places to sail to, and yet we need others to hold us up. Without the support of those around us, each of us is likely to sink at times. The concept is really very simple and thus needs no elaborate expansion here. It is Scriptural that within the Body of Christ we need to support each other, (Galatians 6:2), gather together (Hebrews 10:25), and even look out for one another by lovingly providing guidance (Proverbs 9:8). It is been said many times that no one can be an island unto his or herself. Even Jesus surrounded Himself with people who would help Him during His ministry years. These disciples performed practical tasks, supported Him, prayed with Him, and loved Him. Camaraderie is an innate need held by all of mankind, and those of us who isolate ourselves from others live an unnecessarily difficult life. This simple, sinking boat can serve to reinforce this point for all readers.

Nesting doll set with a wind-up mouse at the center

For me, the most obvious parallel for this toy is to compare it to people who keep up one appearance on the outside, but have a different identity hidden between many complex protective layers. At the onset of this topic, the reader may assume that I’m referring to people who are hypocritical or “fake.” While this could be one explanation, it’s not always as simple as this. I’ll pick on myself in this example. I, Allie Henson of Skywatch TV, often appear to others to be confident and comfortable in front of a crowd or a camera. (An image that may fade for readers of this book). Yet, many are unaware that I am an extreme introvert. When I have to talk in front of people, appear before a camera, or even do a radio interview over telephone from the comfort of my own home, I experienced extreme crowd–related anxiety. I never make any kind of an appearance without first getting completely slammed with stage fright. And, I mean, I get the works: shortness of breath, trembling throughout my body and especially in my fingers, brain fog, sometimes even lightheadedness. There’s not one interview I give that isn’t completed by the grace of God. On the outside, people take for granted that I’m used to it, and thus, I must be at ease. Inside, however, I feel every bit as awkward as a windup mouse. A silly, even stinky rodent who, under layers of the right clothing and hours spent in preparation, attempts to navigate every public appearance. And, within my mind, each interview or presentation I give is its own individual event. Many might think that each book or other written work is its own series of events which can be collectively prepared for simultaneously, but this isn’t true. For example, if I were to write a book on the subject of the Holy Spirit, I would not then be prepared to give a series of interviews on that topic, just because of the research I did writing that particular book. Even after the book is in print, the subsequent season of promotional interviews becomes a period of continued research on that particular topic. Nor could I sit down and prepare for “all the interviews about the Holy Spirit,” at the same time, because each interviewer often has different questions they want to ask, a different audience who may have different points of interest, or other reasons that each and every individual interaction must be prepared for. After each one, I’m exhausted, and must take time to rest, recuperate, and then re-study in preparation for the next one. And for me, each successful interview is its own milestone; after which I must return to my study desk and “wind up” again.

Perhaps you sometimes feel this way: under the heading of being a positive influence, a good example, or even in an effort to cast positive light on your ministerial efforts, you keep a charismatic, upbeat, energetic or magnanimous outer shell, but inside, perhaps everything you do wears you out. Maybe each milestone is taken in slices, between which you must recuperate. Perhaps you’ve grown “weary in well doing,” (Galatians 6:9). Or, perhaps you’re one who has spoken too much good-old-fashioned-truth for the itching ears around you, who have now distanced themselves from you. Could you be struggling with burnout; but for the sake of being a force for good you have continued to keep up the appearance that you are not worn out or discouraged?

If this is you (and it is all of us at some point, especially in ministry) allow me to encourage you: your inner-mouse has a windup crank for a reason. And, notice also that a windup toy doesn’t go very far before it needs cranking again. People are not battery–operated. They don’t have the ability to put an Energizer or a Duracell in their pack and continue on for five additional years with no need for rest. Any windup will need re-cranked on the same day as its use. Do not be afraid to take a break, find rest, surround yourself with encouraging people, and prioritize your own needs sometimes. Assuming that self–care is selfish is an easy trap for people to fall into, but this is false.

If you are in ministry, if you work, are raising a family, or are generally participating in life on nearly any level, there is no way around prioritizing your own needs every now and then. I’ve mentioned before that, growing up in church, one sees a lot of the “behind the scenes” troubles that occur for people within ministry, and I can say with authority that burnout is a very real threat for people in these roles. Often, under the heading of having a “servant’s heart” people push themselves past their breaking point; but nobody can operate like this forever. Even Jesus took time at different points of His ministry to withdraw somewhere and recuperate. If you are secretly tired and wishing for a break, but you fear no one will step up and carry the load you shoulder while you rest, pray about this. God will place the burden on someone else if he wants that work to continue; or he will provide another way for you to find the rest you need.

Winged bear

 For many, this nonsensical combination of animals (bear and bird) is silly and would certainly render an outcast toy. Yet, consider the implications of this combination. First of all, we see a bear: a mighty, formidable image of strength and hardiness who is not easily intimidated. Bears are guardians, and they are resilient. Yet these also symbolize a type of gentleness framed within this unmovable power. That, on its own, is worthy of respect on behalf of those who can match this parallel in their lives. But I’d like to take the metaphor a step further. And, while many of the comparisons to misfit toys have potentially leaned more toward messages to women, I want to utilize this opportunity to talk more directly to men.I’ve known many “gentle giant” types in church who provided loving, male mentorship for both children and peers with no other such iconic individual in their lives.

Often, these individuals do not hold the official title of minister, per sey, but their presence enriches the lives of those around them in ways they cannot imagine. In particular, I can recall many men who work full-time in secular realms, and juggle many responsibilities which keep them from being involved in church full-time, but these make it a point to do what they can: sacrificing evenings, weekends, and other luxuries to ensure that a generation of fatherless children get to see a model of godly men in action. (Statistics range from 19-24 million children presently are growing up without a father figure in the home).

In an era where young men are being raised to believe that masculinity is toxic, their own gender-emergent attributes fall under attack near the same age that the absence of such a paternal leader leaves them most vulnerable: the pre-teen to teenaged years. The societal pressure to deny the masculine traits innate to them leaves an entire generation of young men conflicted at their very core; and many of them desperately need strong but gentle models of what being a man is truly all about. The men who prioritize making time to reach out, working with children and teens who desperately need this influence in their lives, make a difference that can scarcely be put into words—and certainly one which cannot be calculated at this point in time.

If you are a man who has been contributing, please understand that your impact cannot be measured. You are so desperately needed right now, to stand and be a solid role-model.

If you have beaten yourself up because other responsibilities keep you from being more involved in ministry, I urge you to give yourself grace and keep trying to be as active as you are able. As providers, you truly carry a large load of responsibilities. Every moment you are able to give is a mentor to these causes is a gift that will impact the Kingdom in ways we will never be able to count in this lifetime.

Perhaps you have taken your influence on the lives of those around you for granted. Underestimating one’s value in the lives of those who look up to them is an easy thing to do. After all, most people who successfully gain clout in the eyes of others do not set out with this mission in mind—it simply happens as one’s character is revealed over time. On the other hand, those who do intentionally attempt to accomplish such ends often have ulterior motives lurking in their peripheral, which is usually detected by some and thus fosters a sense of mistrust. In this way, it is often the pure at heart who, without even meaning to, land in the position of preferred role-model and mentor.

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DO YOU FEEL LIKE A MISFIT? PERFECT! GOD HAS BIG PLANS FOR YOU!

Because of this, some of the most profound influencers are often people who are completely unaware of the depth of their esteem in the eyes of others. These “teddy bear types” are often mild–mannered, gentle, yet tough and resilient. My point is that it could be you who has become this icon for many younger men who are looking to you for an example of tender but firm, non-toxic masculinity. And, if you are one of the last people that you may have suspected would land in such a role—or you were never looking for such esteem—it may be for this very reason that you are the first person that these influential young ones look to.

So what of the wings? The last physical attribute person would imagine on a big, burly bear would be a set of wings. Surely, there is some mistake?

No, not at all! For every strong individual who has put the needs of others first; who has stood and modeled kind and caring power for a generation of fatherless children; who has wiped the tears of a child with strong, calloused, and work-worn hands: you may think that your role is small. Perhaps you don’t “preach,” “teach,” or in some other way stand in front of the crowd and address the masses, but understand that you will soar with the eagles and that you are meant for great heights because you have practiced what God Himself calls pure, undefiled religion (James 1:27). It is you who is impacting an entire future generation for the Kingdom of Heaven! You may see yourself—in your own finite mind’s system of ministerial hierarchy—as the guy at the bottom of the totem pole, but you achieve a higher level of purity in your service to God than you can ever imagine, and the fruits of your labors cannot be measured in this lifetime.

Yukon Cornelius

An interesting fact about prospector Cornelius in the Rudolph movie that has been mentioned already is the fact that the man continually licks his pickax. For many viewers, his motives were unknown. We will not linger long on this point, as it ties into the things that will be said next regarding the abominable snowman, but we will take a minute to point out that sometimes people do things for reasons we do not understand. At times, the underlying motivations for other people’s behaviors are not only enigmatic to us, but sometimes their behavior is so off-putting that we struggle to even care what makes these people tick. And yet, if we understood what drove people’s actions, it’s very likely we would view their conduct much differently—and perhaps with more grace—than we do. Prospector Cornelius’ compulsive pickax-licking habit makes perfect sense once we realize that he is mining for peppermint. In the same way, the behaviors of those around us can become clearer when we take the time to understand their motivation.

Abominable snowman

Some may argue that the abominable snowman was not a misfit toy, but was rather a villain-type individual in the Rudolph story. We will not create a big debate on that point here other than to remind people that when Hermey the elf pulled the monster’s teeth, the foe became nice. Essentially, disarming the creature began a transformation whereupon he became a gentle giant. To us, this deserves a parallel within our profile here. It is no secret that many people are vastly misunderstood, or even intentionally mean. Sometimes these are carrying so much responsibility that they don’t feel they have time for “niceties,” or they have such hidden pain that they have learned to pre-emptively go on the attack before others have had the chance to target them. They may be grumpy, angry, hurtful, etc., but often these people are in great amounts of discomfort, and finding a way to disarm the situation can give them an opportunity to reinvent themselves. For most people, combat is a means of survival but not a preferred state of interaction. Often, if an individual can find a way of defusing a person’s conflict-mode, these folks are capable of becoming friendly. (And, once this transformation has been seen through, these are some of the most loyal and defensive allies a person can have!) This can occur under multitudes of situations in church, but one particular setting comes to mind with more profoundness than others.

I will call this little boy Michael. He was probably about eight years old when he began riding the church bus occasionally to our services. He didn’t come very often, and for some of the teachers, this was a confessed relief. You know the type of kid I’m referring to: hyper, doesn’t follow directions, loud, picks on the other kids, won’t listen to the Bible stories, and insists on sprinting in the hallway despite being continually told not to run in church. For a while, we knew him as a random visitor who came every now and then. Usually, when he did attend, he made trouble. One year, in the fall, we decided to begin planning a Christmas program with our children’s church program. The kids were given several songs to sing as a group. Early on in our rehearsals, their voices were shy, quiet, and unenthusiastic.

One thing I will say of my mom—as will anyone who has known her very long—is that she has a way of seeing the best in people. When she looked at Michael, she didn’t see a constantly–in–trouble kid, from whom it was a relief on days he did not attend. Instead, she saw hurting child who had been sold short by most of the world. She saw his antics as outcries for love and attention. And, in her typical form, she bypassed any temptation to be hard on him, instead channeling her energy into building him up. “Michael,” she would say “you sing beautifully. I had no idea you were so talented!” Then she would address the kids around by saying things like “Hey everybody, try to be really smiley and energetic the way Michael is when he sings.” This and many other compliments spilled from my mom’s lips the entire time she was in the room with him.

And by the way, don’t think for a second that he didn’t test her, because he did. (At one point, this boy became so out of control that he jumped on my brother Joe’s back and physically attacked him, and biting him one the shoulder!) Needless to say, there were times that it became necessary for her to reprimand him. But these always sounded something like this: “Now, Michael, I know you’re capable of doing better than this. You’re such a good kid! I’ve seen it in your eyes and in your heart. I know that you’re here because you want to make Jesus proud and you want to do a good job. And, you are doing a good job, except I need you to make this one adjustment to your behavior…”

She would then briefly identify the conduct in question and outline the specific change that she needed to see. He responded positively every time. It was interesting to watch, because many in the church had tried a firmer, more intimidating approach, which never seemed to phase Michael at all. Her loving, respectful and literal communication sandwiched reinforcement, acceptance, and forgiveness into a message that this boy responded to. By the time the night of the Christmas program took place, no child was singing more loudly or beaming more brightly than Michael.

And guess what else?

Somewhere along the way during preparation for the play, Michael had started bringing his siblings with him to church. On the night of the actual presentation, his mom came. A few weeks later, she came again. And then again. And then again. Five years later, his entire family was in church, including his dad!

While I am not single–handily crediting my mother for a transformation involving an entire family, I will state that she was instrumental in sowing seeds of change within the boy, which later extended to the household. The revolution began by one person exercising patience to a person who had the very real the capability of rubbing people wrong. This was someone who had stretched the tolerance of many of those whom he interacted with. He was an individual whose very appearance caused many within leadership to brace themselves. And yet, as each of his family members not only began to attend a church, but—more importantly—gave their lives to Christ, a single generation changed directions for this entire family tree. This is the fruit that comes alongside being able to recognize an individual who has a type of pain which makes them abrasive or difficult to get along with, and the willingness to work beyond that barricade.

It goes without saying that many people who come to church and do so because they are experiencing pain and seeking relief. If believers really mean it when we say we want to reach people for the kingdom of heaven and we want to see our churches grow, then we have to be willing to step outside our comfort zones and look for the deeper motivations toward why people act the way they do. And, when God gives us wisdom regarding how to react, we must be willing to take the high road and respond in a way that heals.

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