This morning, Traci and I flew in to Phoenix, AZ from Detroit, MI, in order to celebrate our 20th anniversary by attending a week of Spring Training. It was an early flight for us with weird body-clock and weather adjustments. Like the fact that we left Detroit in rainy 30 degree weather at 7am local time, and arrived at 7:45am in Phoenix (after a 4 hour flight) and it was already 75. It feels great to be celebrating 20 years of marriage (our anniversary is in December, but obviously, Spring Training doesn't begin until March.) and to be doing that in sunshine after another cold Michigan winter.
After our flight landed, Traci headed outside with our carryon bags while I waited at the luggage carousel for our checked bag. All of us weary passengers stood for about 20 minutes before luggage started falling out of the luggage chute only to find out that the first set of bags belonged to an earlier flight than ours. Following another 15 minute delay, our bags started their trip around the carousel.
One young couple walked over to the information kiosk I was standing next to, while the first set of bags was falling, and they were visibly frustrated, trying hard to keep their calm while clearly very anxious in trying to locate their bags. Earlier that morning, their flight from Phoenix to Seattle was canceled, but they had already checked their bags on the cancelled flight. Now, out a bunch of money because they purchased last-minute one-way tickets to get home on another airline, they were in desperate need of their bags to make the flight with them.
I felt terrible for them because I know the frustration – first hand! – of feeling fairly helpless at the hands of the airlines while looking for bags or trying to figure out a way to get home (when you're snowed in to O'Hare). Yeah, been there, done that.
The airline with the canceled flight and lost bag was a discount airline, the same one we chose to fly from Detroit. I jokingly tell people that “the tickets are often dirt cheap” (we flew from Detroit to Phoenix for $110.00 per ticket; Traci and the girls flew from Detroit to Orland for $29 per ticket last December!) “but don't expect any conveniences. Like seat belts. Or seats that are comfortable.” Ha. It's the trade you make in order to experience such inexpensive travel.
As this couple was understandably upset about the service they had received, I was reminded that so often in life we want $110 tickets to cross the county in an airplane, but we expect $610 service for that money. I heard someone on our flight from Detroit lament the fact that the airline charged for all their snacks, and "they should give us something for being in our seats for nearly four hours!" They did, they gave you that seat for $110. That $3 you had to pay for your Coke still leaves you $497 ahead of the game compared to purchasing the same ticket other airlines were offering.
Believe me, I’m not casting any stones here. I totally get it, because often I prefer the amenities and convenience the other airlines offer me in my travels. Typically, given the choice, I would rather fly out of an airport closer to home (Detroit is almost 4 hours away), enjoy "free" refreshments, and know that I have a seat guaranteed before I get on the plane. But sometimes, a less expensive ticket makes more sense. For us, the cheaper flight allowed us to use the difference to pay for our hotel for the week in Phoenix; that was worth it on our end.
Life and airline travel have some uncomfortable similarities. Just like people are hoping to pay discount airline prices while demanding full fare amenities, too many of us want the best life has to offer while dedicating very little of ourselves to the process of becoming who we were made to be. We want all the benefits of personal growth, but we really try to avoid all the ways that personal growth occurs.
Hint: 99% of ALL personal growth, occurs while learning to endure hardships, walking through trials or busting through seemingly impossible obstacles. Character is formed when character is tested, and if there is no testing, there is no change. In my first book, Project Joseph I call it the Heat and Hammer principle.
You see, back in the day, swords were super useful weapons for combat. Making a sword was a high demand skill, because the price of going in to combat with a lousy weapon was literally life-threatening. But making a sword requires two key components: heat and hammers.
When the swordsmith begins preparing the metal for its combat use, he heats it up, over and over again, and between the heatings, uses a hammer to beat it into shape. The process of heating it and hitting it, allows the metal to develop the strength it needs so that the blade can be sharpened to perfection and used with precision on the field of battle. Without the heat and hammer, the sword will not protect its wielder. Likewise, to become the people God created us to be requires heat and pressure.
You know where personal growth doesn't occur? In completing a 4 day binge-watching Netflix marathon of NCIS (insert your favorite show here). Believe me, I've tried! Or, in reading about others developing awesome character. Or even reading a guy's blog about how character is formed. God didn't design us to experience growth and character by doing nothing, instead, He created a world where everything that is worth becoming requires a pathway through the furnace of affliction, through the heat and hammer of life.
Are you under the hammer right now? Are you walking through the furnace right now? Though painful, It's a good place to be, as you learn to trust the Master Swordsmith in how He shapes you for His purposes. Once you've walked through the process, you will never want to go back to the way things used to be, no matter how "easy" it was to live there.
In Isaiah 48:10, we read, “I have refined you…I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” Probably not words you’re going to find on a greeting card anytime soon, but words that speak the truth: the furnace of affliction is where God does His refining work in our lives. Fun? Not usually. Necessary? Absolutely! Do I crave the furnace of affliction? In the words of a dear friend of mine…”I do not like [the furnace of affliction], not on a boat, with a goat, not in the rain, in the dark or on a train…” but I love what the furnace produces: character that makes me more and more like Jesus.
If you’re trying to live the Overboard Life, you must learn to embrace the furnace of affliction. We must learn to endure the heat and hammer so that God can perfect us for His great purposes. The Overboard Life is forged in God’s character kiln!
Go ahead and take the plunge, life – even the hard parts! – is better on the water.