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I was talking to a really good friend today, a mom of teenagers.  She shared something awful they’ve discovered happened to one of her kids when they were really little that probably influenced some of the not-so-good choices made by her child as a teen.  It’s a heavy burden on all of them right now – there’s anger, hurt, and weariness.  You see, this young person just weathered a lot of hard times and made tremendous growth.  He may have thought, “Whew!  That was rough.  Glad that’s over.  Glad God is with me and I’m closer to Him.”  Then this memory surfaced and the pieces of past abuse by a relative fall into place.  It feels like a set-back.  It might even feel to him like he’s back to square one.

As my friend and I talked about her son, I had a thought:  growing as a Christian and following Jesus is like Super Mario Bros.  Bear with me here.  Have you ever played that game?  You play as a cute little Italian plumber named Mario or his brother Luigi, traveling through various imaginative worlds like snowy wonderlands, deserts, undersea kingdoms, etc., leaping over obstacles, stomping on enemies or blasting them with fire balls, finding coins, special treasures, using special talents and abilities to make it through.  The object is to reach the final flag at the end of the level before losing all your lives.  After we got Super Mario Bros. for the Wii  at Christmas time, Krissy and I became Mario Bros. maniacs.  She was Mario and I was Luigi.  We played every night for an hour or two together, battling out each level, trying to keep each other alive, working as a team.  It was a blast!  It was also immensely frustrating at times.  Sometimes my jump timing was way off and I’d jump right INTO an enemy or right off a cliff unto my death.  One less life.  Sometimes a “hammer brother” turtle would throw little hammers at us out of the blue.  There goes another life.  Sometimes we just weren’t paying attention or goofing around and uh oh…lost life.  One time we even jumped into each other by mistake, knocking each other off the ledge.  Lost life.  If you lose them all before reaching the end of the level you have to start over!  This is especially frustrating when it happens about 325 times.  How long can we persevere here?  How many times are we going to keep trying??  It depended on how much we wanted to finish that level so we could move on in the game.

There is one element of the game that helps keep the frustration from reaching nervous-breakdown, pounding-fists-in-walls levels:  the checkpoint.  Halfway through each level there is a beautiful, helpful, little flag.  When Mario or Luigi run by the flag it turns red.  From that point on if you lose all your lives, when you start again you start at the checkpoint, not way back at the beginning.  Reaching that checkpoint is always a moment of joy.  There’s a chance we will make it now!

As my friend told me about her boy, I thought at least he’s reached a checkpoint!  He’s learned so much already, so much about honesty and trust, about being real and not pretending to be someone else or pretending to be perfect.  This new development for him and his family feels like a set-back (actually like they’ve been knocked back with brute force), but he’s got a big head start compared to where he was a few years ago.  He’s not going way back to the beginning of his journey with Jesus, just to the checkpoint.  He can make it from here!

The devil would like for you and me to believe that there’s no checkpoint; that each mistake we make or hurt dealt to us by someone else is a fatal blow and we may as well give up.  Game over.  Just quit.  It’s too hard.

Don’t listen to him.  He’s terrible at this game.  He doesn’t even know all the rules!  Besides that, his hand-eye coordination stinks.  Everyone knows that Mario and Luigi always make it somehow, rescuing Princess Peach (who manages to get kidnapped more than anyone I’ve ever heard of).  Every child of God should remember that with Jesus’ help, they will make it, too.

My friend and her son have come a long way!  They can keep walking ahead with hope even in the face of obstacles and this challenging world.   Each lesson learned can be a checkpoint.

Now, if you’ll excuse me.  I never did finish beating that undersea level.

We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.  Colossians 1:9

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