This photo is not faked. It shows a real shepherd…
Truer words were never spoken:
“In this world you will have trouble,” said Jesus. (John 16:33, NIV)
But when we look at our friends’ and family members’ posts on social media, it looks more like, “In this world you will have endless good times and only good times.”
Over thirty years ago, an old and wise missionary friend of mine whispered to me, “Nobody has it made. Nobody. Everyone has their cross to bear in this life.”
My mother and my wife and I just got back from a seriously messed up trip to Tennessee, which I describe in detail further below. Despite the significant setbacks and disappointments, the hand of God was revealed, as always, and we emerged with some major, unexpected blessings.
We would all be wise to keep a realistic perspective that there’s way more to the story of our social media friends’ lives than the partying smiles, picnics, perfectly clean children, and fantastic trips abroad.
Trust me, we haven’t shared a fraction of the really tough times we’ve experienced, even in our relatively easy recent years.
The Deception of Social Media
I decided to post the not-so-glamorous realities of our Tennessee trip after being interviewed twice last week by Christian radio talk show hosts who asked me, “Why does everybody only post the good times on social media? Aren’t we deceiving each other?”
I’m not sure I answered too well in the moment, but here’s what I’ve thought since then:
- I suppose we don’t want to put all of our problems out there and depress everyone, although sometimes we see posts from our friends asking for prayers or help, which I think is appropriate.
- I suppose it feels nice to share good things that God is doing for us.
- I suppose we also want to cheer people up and make them laugh. We want to “look on the bright side.”
- I suppose some people want to boast, but I like to think it’s not all that common–at least not among our circle of family and friends.
- I’m afraid, however, that many people do fear that people will think less of them if they don’t always show that they’re living life on top of the world all the time.
Nobody is on top of the world all of the time. They just don’t show it. Everyone has their private hells sooner or later and more often than we know.
Whether we intend to depress other people with our endlessly cheerful posts or not, the research shows that the illusion of non-stop good times are piling up in people’s minds, creating feelings of, “I’m a big a loser because I’m not doing that stuff.” It’s leading to anxiety and depression, particularly among the young.
It’s easy to get disheartened and think that everyone around us is having all of the fun. FOMO (or “Fear of Missing Out”) is a real problem today as young people in particular see so many other people doing cool things while they appear to be the only ones sitting at home with a “boring life” so they keep scanning social media addictively so that they stay “in the know” or can switch to something that must be better than what they are currently doing.
Just check out this research on The Science of FOMO and What We’re Really Missing Out On and FOMO Addiction: The Fear of Missing Out, which includes links to other research at the end of the article.
Good News: With Age Comes Wisdom
The first article cited above points to a hopeful finding: As we get older, we appear to be less affected by FOMO. Perhaps we’ve been around the block enough to realize that social media depicts just a small, carefully selected slice of peoples’ lives and we’ve developed the emotional skills to handle our jealous or insecure tendencies.
But today, I’m not going to hold back the full, real deal of what really was going on behind the scenes of our last trip. This is what I would have posted had I chosen to put the blunt truth about our trip on social media.
Bad stuff happened, but as always, the hand of God is very close at hand for those who seek Him and stay humble before Him. If this topic intrigues you, don’t jump off this post until you read the last section about the “truly good stuff that happened,” because God was definitely good to us.
May this story help you smile you the next time you look at the all of the good times you see posted all over the place.
Our Tormented Tennesse Trip
The purpose of our August 2019 trip to Kentucky and Tennessee was to visit with family and for me to attend the largest Christian book show of the year, the Munce Group’s Christian Product Expo just south of Nashville, Tennesse.
All appeared to be going well during our first week in Kentucky. We use an RV (recreational vehicle) and were camping at a site—the same exact site—where my mom and I got chiggers just two years earlier.
*** Imagine a picture here of Mom and me in the doctors office
after two weeks of non-stop, insufferable itching.
The bite marks got infected and we both needed antibiotics. ***
After one week in KY, we pulled onto I-65 and I saw a warning light on our diesel truck that we had never seen before: The engine temperature had reached 250 degrees and the red lights and dinging were off the hook! I pulled over and suddenly the temperature went down back to normal. Whew.
A bit uneasy now, we got back on I-65 southbound and made it to a cute campground south of Nashville. Really nice spot with great people! Things were looking good.
Yay! It’s time for the typical “all is well” social media picture!
The next morning, my wife, Helen, wasn’t feeling well so my mother and I decided to visit some local sights together. After about fifteen minutes on the road, however, the truck started overheating again and this time it wouldn’t recover.
*** Imagine a picture of my truck in the back of a Dollar General parking lot
with the hood up and me peering into the engine
as two kind-hearted truck enthusiasts gathered around
and we debated the possible causes. ***
One guy at the Dollar General recommended a RAM dealership just a mile away and off we went. They were so booked up they wouldn’t be able to see us for over two weeks!
I then Googled a diesel shop with great reviews (Full Force Diesel Performance) about seven miles down the road. That’s seven risky miles to drive because the truck was still overheating.
My mother and I prayed first and then drove slowly and ultimately made it . . . despite the truck nearing 220 degrees much of the way. Not good, but we made it.
We took an Uber home.
So, now we needed Uber rides to stores or anywhere we went for the rest of the week.
Oh, and did I mention that I had been unemployed for nearly five months so funds were low but that I got a new job and was required to be onsite at a large, new project in Cleveland, Ohio on the following Tuesday for my first day on the job—and that Labor Day weekend was coming up, meaning the campground was fully booked and we would have to get our camper out of there for the next guests arriving—one way or the other?
The Tick Bite
As the afternoon progressed, I started feeling a really bad headache and kind of sick. I figured it was due to stress and frustration but that night I wasn’t so sure anymore. I felt even worse.
I texted my publicist and wrote that I might not be able to make my scheduled interviews the next day, which was really depressing because that was kind of the point of the trip. I laid my phone back down, exhausted and wondered what else we might be in store for.
I’ve learned not to complain or even question God anymore. I truly trust Him and know He has His purposes but that doesn’t mean these situations aren’t stressful because there’s a lot of thinking and replanning and communicating and blah, blah, blah that you have to do to figure out what’s next.
Plus, there are the impacts to my family and their feelings. This trip made the THIRD time that my poor mother experienced a serious mechanical breakdown of some kind while she was on a road trip with us.
*** Imagine a photo of my disappointed mother sitting
on the couch, realizing there would be no more sight-seeing
and sensing the stress-levels rising in the camper. ***
The next morning, I felt an itch on my hip and suddenly felt something sticking out of it. Sure enough, it was a tick, most likely from the previous campground where we got the chiggers. Seriously? At least that explained why I was feeling sick.
The Christian Book Conference
Even though I was totally out of my groove and feeling lethargic, I took an Uber to the conference and started to set up for the book signing events with about fifty other authors. It was totally cool and I enjoyed it once it started but was exhausted afterwards.
I then did a video interview with the nicest person ever—Aimee Cabo, author of Love Is the Answer, God Is the Cure—produced by her husband who was recording our interview. (You can see the whole interview here.)
I love talking about Jesus and my book about His life so much and Aimee had such positive and kindly energy that I started to feel really into it and it was a great experience. (Thank you, Aimee!)
The Truly Good Stuff that Happened During this “Adventure”
Yes, we had trouble. But trouble made it possible for God to show His hand and tender mercies:
- Our truck made it to the TN campground over a two hour drive from KY even though it had already started overheating. (Having a truck breakdown while towing a camper is a nightmare scenario, especially when it’s 90+ degrees and you can’t run the engine and have to wait for many hours until someone can rescue you. BOTH the truck and the camper have to be towed and the expense goes through the roof!)
- I met three devotedly Christian Uber drivers who shared stories with me about how God uses them to touch people who need His love, at just the right time. These people view their Uber service as a way that God allows them to bless and help others. That’s cool! (And they all ended up with copies of my book 🙂
- My conference was within walking distance of an Urgent Care medical clinic so I was able to get my tick bite treated promptly and at minimal expense.
- One of the Uber drivers, Veronica, said to us, “God has been really good to me. You’re in a tough spot. I want to help you so if you need a ride to your conference, it’s on me. Just let me know when and I’ll be here. No charge.” How’s that for a lovely spirit of gratitude and service?
- I had a chance to testifiy to another Uber driver about the importance of Christ and the blessings that came to me as I studied His life. He has two young children and he was very interested. Perhaps I reignited his flame of belief in some way. I gave him a link to a free version of my ebook. (Hint)
- The business where we dropped off the truck (on a Saturday with nobody to talk to) was able to start working on the truck on Monday. By Thursday, they were booked through September 11, nearly two weeks out. Getting us in so fast was no small miracle and a great tender mercy of God.
- As I was explaining our situation in our campgound office, a man walked in who started a Christian non-profit (Warrior180.org) to help veterans and first-responders learn about and prevent suicides and mental health issues. This was a truly heaven-sent meeting because we share so many interests, including our upcoming book Happy After All, which helps the “healthy” spouses of those who suffer from PTSD and other mental/emotional health disorders! We ended up talking with them the night before we left and learned a lot about their mission. Jeff and his wife sold their home and travel full time to spread the message and provide training. Jeff is an ordained minister and former military chaplain. (Visit https://warrior180.org/ to learn more.)
- The doggie’s name is Pumpkin, by the way, and yes she is mega-adorable.
- One of the most helpful people in resolving our breakdown issues at the campground was ex-convict, Don Benson, whom I’m sure I would not have gotten to know so well had we not had the truck breakdown situation. Don served twenty-seven years in prison and has told his story—including his faith and devotion to Christ—in a remarkable book that I’m still reading and I pick it up with enthusiasm every morning. You likely recall that I have started a prison ministry called Christ on the Inside, which donates the easy-to-read book about Christ to inmates like Don. Don’s picture is the second one further below and his book is called The Don Benson Story. I plan to do a whole post about Don’s story soon. It’s very uplifting to know that God is at work within all of us and he will help all of us if we simply respond to his loving tugs.
Some Fun Stuff Too
Because we had no vehicle, my mother decided to spend more time with my sister in Kentucky, leaving my wife and I alone, which wasn’t a bad thing under the kind of stressful circumstances and occasional tension in the air (hint-hint).
My wife and I discovered there was a grocery store about 1 mile away, which we decided to walk together. We did it twice altogether and it was a fun adventure with Helen on her scooter and me in my sandals in the 90+ degree weather. No biggie. We went through jungles . . . you wouldn’t believe it (Weeping Willows along the suburban roads)! The scooter made a handy shopping cart to haul our stuff home.
In this World, You Will Have Trouble . . . But Wait!
Yes, truer words were never spoken:
“In this world you will have trouble,” said Jesus. (John 16:33, NIV)
*** Imagine a picture of me on the phone with the guy from
Full Force Diesel telling me the estimate of many thousands of dollars
to fix a blown head gasket and all that goes with that to fix it right. ****
But if we look at the whole verse in scripture, it goes like this:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)
Jesus has taught us so much that will help us find peace in spite of the inevitable troubles we face.
Throughout the truck breakdown, tick bite, stress over getting our truck done in time, sickness, worry about how to get our camper out and get me to my new job on time . . . throughout ALL of it we kept seeing the Lord’s tender mercies.
“The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.” (Psalm 145:8-9, NKJV)
- We got the truck back within thirty minutes of the time that the next guests arrived to take our campsite.
- We had the park’s permission to store our camper in case the truck didn’t get fixed on time.
- We made it back to PA in time for me to start my new job and some to spare.
- The final price tag for the repair was hundreds lower than the estimate.
- We found that this diesel shop has some of the best reviews I’ve ever seen and are truly considered experts with diesel mechanics. They knew everthing about this particular engine and this issue and how to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. They were consummate professionals and made the experience as reassuring as possible.
Most of all, my mother, my wife and I all emerged with our faith in God validated and not diminished in the least. He has his purposes.
Considering all of the people we would NOT have met without this situation, is it any wonder that it’s always wisest to trust His ways?
A man’s heart plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps. (Proverbs 16:9, BSB)
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