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What Do You do in Times of Trouble?

What life events will transpire from the time of the first twist of the toothpaste cap to the last squeeze? The mundane, often monotonous, the surprising, spontaneous, joyful, sad, and sometimes hurtful things of life. Our stories are diverse but similar because of our common thread, the thread of human emotions. My story is your story. We’re in this together. Whether spoken or written, our stories are meant to be shared. It takes courage and vulnerability to do so. Like love, sharing involves risk. But also, like love, the risk is always worth it. I share my stories with you in mind.

You may not be old enough to remember one of the catchiest songs in the great broadway musical ‘The Music Man’. The song was ‘Ya Got Trouble’. The first line goes like this, “Well, ya got trouble, my friend, right here, I say, trouble right here in River City.” …a few lyrics later Robert Preston sings, “Trouble with a capital “T” and that rhymes with “P” and that stands for pool!” I can’t explain why, given my lousy memory, (as my brother, what’s his name, can attest) that line has stuck with me. Perhaps it’s because I’ve found myself in my life’s version of River City a lot.

Unlike the residents of the imaginary River City, billiards is probably not on your top ten list of concerns as you read this. Nonetheless, we’ve got trouble, and it seems to be everywhere we look today. Even the casual onlooker must admit, the time we live in is very unique. I mean even more so than your average unique times. There is not much argument that major networks slant the news to their particular leaning, practice selective reporting and magnify stories that make them proportionately ‘bigger’ and more prevalent than what they are in reality….but still, these times are different, I believe, and especially for our country.

It doesn’t take much of a prophet to say that you’ve likely been impacted to some degree by COVID 19. And even if you don’t reside in close proximity to one of a number of cities which are experiencing civil unrest and not-so-peaceful protests, even the staunchest minds have been impacted emotionally and psychologically by the seemingly never-ending turmoil. The months leading up to any presidential election are historically more partisan than any other time, but this time around this land that I love is more divided than ever (at least that’s what they tell us; I happen to be among those who believe that the vast majority of Americans are decent people). But even I admit we live in troubled times. So, as the title reads….what do YOU do in times of trouble?

One thing I am certain of (and I sincerely hope you are also)….God’s plan is never thrown off by chaos.

In fact, the purposes of God are often advanced during times of trial and distress. The very first two verses of the Bible read, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” (Genesis 1:1-2) From the very beginning, in the midst of disorder, God’s Spirit was here (and He’s never left!).

In the middle of chaos and confusion – sadness, hopelessness, pain, and sorrow – God’s Spirit is there. So the question is often, “what’s the purpose of it all?”, or “Why does God allow such pain?” There’s no easy answer to those and other similar questions……especially at a time when someone has just endured a recent emotional wound. Quoting Scripture and spouting cliches, especially when the pain is still fresh, ring hollow at times like that.

We see the here and the now. God has eternity in mind. Try as we might, some things we simply will never understand this side of heaven. During the time I spent as a chaplain I had to break the news of the loss of a loved one on many occasions. At those times I’ve practiced the ‘ministry of presence’; just being there, coming alongside. I know that God is with us in our pain. He may not save us from the furnace, but He is there with us. Psalm 34:18 tells us, “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart…” (no denomination required).

Acts Chapter 8 records Steven (a leader in the early Christian church) being stoned to death by the religious leaders of the time as a result of his unapologetic testimony about Jesus Christ. The early church came under great persecution afterwards. Many who claimed to follow Jesus were tempted to give up (many did), to become discouraged; their lives were shaken as never before. That may be you right now, or someone you know. Maybe you’ve suffered the loss of a job or reduced income…. your marriage is being tested like never before or a relationship is strained. Take the normal pressures of everyday life, combine the unusual concerns of the day and it’s not surprising that many are on the brink of despair.

Christian or not, it’s a challenge to stay positive today. We all react to stress differently. No one is immune from its impact. The rain falls on the just and the unjust.

Reports of an increase in rates of depression, drug abuse, divorce, and suicide all speak to the natural result of increased stress levels. Left unabated, there can be serious and sometimes permanent impact.

We Americans in particular have an independent, roll up your sleeves and take care of business kinda attitude. That’s not a bad thing, except when we aren’t willing to admit that we have our limits.

We are not without options. Most would agree that giving up and sticking your head in the sand is not the best choice, but if we’re brainstorming options, it would be on the list. Denial is another not so great choice – simply remaining in a rut of discouragement. It’s not the best rut, but it’s a comfortable rut once you get used to it. Another plus – it doesn’t require you to make any changes. However, most of us cannot shut out the reality that surrounds us for a sustained period of time. Another option is the “I got this” approach. In my estimation, this is by far the most popular. We Americans in particular have an independent, roll up your sleeves and take care of business kinda attitude. That’s not a bad thing, except when we aren’t willing to admit that we have our limits. We men especially like to think there ain’t much that can’t be fixed with a hammer and, if need be, a reciprocating saw! That’s fine when dealing with your every day, garden variety stressors but, as much as we hate to admit it, sometimes we’re in over our heads — things are sometimes too overwhelming. It is then — that point when we come to the end of ‘self’ that (hopefully) we look to a power greater than our own. God is always there. If there’s distance between you and Him, I’ll let you guess who wandered.

The option I have found, and heartily recommend if you have not already done so, is to take heart and know that God is at work in the middle of the mess. A title of a book that was part of a series written some years ago by Hal Lindsey is ‘Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth”. It’s true. Our spiritual enemy is hard at work. It requires an active faith to resist his efforts. If we remain complacent we will be swept downstream by the flow of a society that continues to wander from its’ foundation.

Mike Pitocco
Mike Pitocco
​Following a stint in the USAF Mike worked in retail management on Long Island, New York prior to relocating and beginning a new career with the California Department of Corrections, from which he retired after 33 years of service. Retiring as a Program Coordinator with the Division of Addiction and Recovery Services. He continued his involvement with the drug treatment initiative for several years as a consultant with the University of California, San Diego, Center for Criminality & Addiction Research. While working at the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi, CA, Mike activated Celebrate Recovery (CR), a faith-based ministry, at the prison. Mike and his wife Sharron also activated CR at a number of other correctional facilities in the state. Mike volunteered and eventually was hired as a full-time Chaplain at the Lerdo Detention Facility (Kern County jail) in Bakersfield, CA; eventually becoming Supervising Chaplain, and earning his certificate of ordination from Prison Ministry of America. Mike was also the Ministry Director of CR at Canyon Hills Church in Bakersfield along with co-founding the Kern County Prison Ministry Alliance, the goal of which was is to reduce recidivism one life at a time. Mike considers himself truly blessed to be Sharron’s husband, the proud father of Christina, Daniel, and Sean and grandfather (aka, ‘Papa’) of Lawson, Harper, and Savvy. For Sharron - God’s instrument in knocking off some very rough edges - for family, for life and love, and whatever he may be privileged to share through writing, Mike gives glory to God alone…. Soli Deo Gloria. He is a contributing author to the inspiring book Crappy to Happy: Sacred Stories of Transformational Joy

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