If life is a file drawer and each year a file marked by bad haircuts, first kisses, diplomas, and good decisions, I would have a file from 1996 marked “the year things started to get better” and a file from 1999 marked “the year things started to get worse.” One more from 2006 marked, “the year things started to get better” and another, from 2010, marked “the year things started getting really bad.”

Tonight a song comes on my car stereo and I am thrown back to 1996 when I first heard the album and where things seemed to start to get better. But first you should know that I made life a living hell for my family pre-1996. I have a mouth that will send any sane person running and a caustic sneer that deserved every length of discipline directed toward me. I honestly don’t know how my parents ever let me out of my room, let alone let me interact with people outside our immediate family.

If I thought about it, I could probably come up with some seemingly legitimate excuses for my behavior, but I’m prepared to take full responsibility for the wretchedness of my heart and its impending actions.

Something changed in 1996 though. A few things changed. One, I met a family with a son several years older than me who took a vested interest in my writing, encouraged me, emailed me, corrected me, challenged me. Two, I attended a conference meant to stir lukewarm kids into radical, faith-filled obedience—though unfortunately resulted in a hardened legalism for most of us. Three, I discovered that my quick mind worked toward better causes when I kept my mouth shut and my fingers penning.

I remember coming home from that conference determined to make things different in my heart. I apologized to my parents for my despicable behavior, I cut ties with friendships that led me away from anything wholesome, I secreted my bible by my bedside and began to journal religiously. I made lists of everything bad I wanted to do and lists for how I would counter every bad behavior. Where sinful thoughts reigned, I memorized counter verses. Where selfish behavior manifested, I self-disciplined myself into modification. Where doubts arose, I squashed them down with a furrowed brow and a stalwart heart.

I did right things. I did.

I read the right books. I said the right things. I dreamed right dreams. I asked for right things. I intended toward right behavior.

I collected my righteousness, watching it pile up like sand in an hourglass, waiting for the right time for God to turn over that hourglass and start pouring his blessings like sand in my direction.

I was sure this would happen.

I had dreams, folks, big dreams. I was going to do things with my life and accomplish things and I was going to change the world with my words and my right acts. People were going to pass me on the street and smell righteousness on me. God would stand back, fold his arms, nod and say, “Well, done. Good, faithful servant. Very well done.” And then He would answer the list of prayers that were piling up in my prayer notebook. Prayers, dreams, whatever you want to call them. They were my bribe. I would do this, and do it well, and He would give me everything I could imagine.

My genie God.

I rubbed that genie God for five years. I dressed modestly, meticulously. I kept my thoughts pure. I didn’t date around. I monitored my friendships. I invested in my family first. I kept my mouth shut for the most part. I had cache of memorized scripture. Friends called me a walking concordance, the speed at which I could recall Bible verses was brilliant. I was a leader among my peers. I gave 200% at everything I did. Horse-back riding, lifeguarding, camp counselor, friend, confidant.

I rubbed that genie lamp until I shined. 

And then God started the file of 1999.

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