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Category — Character Traits

Faith for an Army

My husband and best friend — the man who led me to the Lord and who chased fearlessly after Jesus — died on July 6, 2018. His death was the culmination of a decades-long battle with depression. Contrary to popular opinion, depression is not a matter of “wrong thinking,” but rather a mental illness that attacks organs of the body — in this case the brain — in much the same way that cancer does. And, like cancer, depression is a treatable disease that often can be managed with medication, changes in diet, counseling, and other methods. Craig fought depression with every fiber of his being, and he recorded a very powerful message about the battle in early June 2018, which he posted on Facebook here

Sadly, just like with cancer, depression can come out of remission and render the person helpless. Despite all their efforts and all the treatments, sometimes the disease wins. But, that is no more a reflection of a person’s character than if they were to succumb to any other illness. It is time we removed the stigma and talked candidly about depression and suicide. Pastor Ryan Rainey did a brilliant job of addressing the issue at the opening of Craig’s memorial service. You can view the full memorial service on Vimeo here. The video below is an excerpt of my portion, when Holy Spirit gave me the words and strength to share the message of love that God wants us to hear. The text version below omits a few parts that God threw in for good measure while I was speaking, so I hope you will watch the video, as well.

 

Eulogy for Craig Bennett Thompson
By Leslie J. Thompson

In Psalm 139:13 – 14, the Psalmist King David writes:

For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Craig Thompson was custom made for me in every way.

We met in 2003, when he was already 38 years into his life’s journey. It had not been an easy one. From the very beginning of our marriage, Craig was transparent with me about his struggles. He never hid his war wounds. But all I saw was an amazing man of God.

Craig was born in San Angelo, Texas and moved to Dallas as a child after his parents divorced. His father was an alcoholic, and his home environment was chaotic at best, traumatic at worst. Craig attended 12 different schools in 11 years, and dropped out of high school in the 11th grade after a guidance counselor told him that he didn’t have enough credits to graduate on time. Three decades later, that judgment still weighed heavy on him

Which is incredibly ironic, because Craig is the most accomplished man I have ever met. After serving for six years in the United States Navy – which included three and a half years as a sumo wrestler to help build a cultural bridge between the U.S. and Japan – Craig worked as a private investigator and a hotel security manager, then ventured into the food & beverage industry before transitioning into software sales.

He left his last corporate job to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a big band singer – because, you know, that’s normal and all. And it was as Big T of Big T and the Bada-Bings that I first met him. Those of you who haven’t heard the story of how God brought us together, catch me another time. It will rock your world, but it takes about ten minutes and we’re on the clock.

Being married to Craig was the most thrilling adventure you could imagine. He was a consummate entrepreneur and we brought to life numerous business ventures he had conceived. We ran a retail store, started an insurance agency, launched two online television networks, then got into website design and mobile app development before diving head first into the drone world five years ago. Craig Thompson was a true Renaissance man.

But the most exhilarating part of all our many exploits was that Craig never met a stranger. He collected friendships every step of the way, and years later still remembered the details of peoples’ lives. He was also a natural-born encourager. For all his antics and sometimes off-color sense of humor, Craig loved to make people feel valued. He loved to help people overcome life’s challenges and know that they were worth the fight.

And the more Craig matured in his faith, the more he was able to minister to others. The more he walked with God, the more he showed humility – he was able to touch people deep in their heart and soul because he was transparent about the pain of his own journey. People are hungry for authenticity, and Craig loved going deep.

Of course, being married to him, I was there behind the scenes during that process, and let me tell you, it was messy. We went through a very dark season in our marriage, with brutal verbal battles that created a whole fresh set of war wounds for both of us. It got really, really bad. But we didn’t quit. In the darkest hour of our relationship, Craig made a beautiful video for our 10th anniversary and threw a surprise party for me with about 80 of our closest friends. We renewed our wedding vows, and from that point forward, Craig set the pace for healing in our hearts and our home.

He went on a five-day retreat called Quest to go deeper into his relationship with God, and he came back a changed man. I went on the women’s version of the retreat three weeks later, because I wanted what he had. Peace and humility and the ability to listen without judgment. He was loving me so much better – doing the act of love through self-sacrifice – and that just made me want to love him better, too.

He went on more retreats and started nurturing relationships with other amazing men of God who became brothers to him. Four years ago, Craig also discovered prison ministry, and found a whole new set of brothers at the Powledge Unit that he would go to visit every single week.

Through all of this, I saw my husband – the man I already adored – become a mighty man of valor and, like the psalmist David, a man after God’s own heart.

Craig LOVED people like no one else. He was raw and authentic – he was funny and goofy and also unafraid to tackle hard issues head-on. He loved ME like no one else. I never could have dreamed of such an amazing husband. But, of course, God knew that. Ephesians 3:20 tells us that He gives us exceedingly, abundantly more than we can ask or think.

Craig had struggled with depression on and off for years, and I was blessed that we were coming off a really good run. The last four years of our marriage were amazing. I have the BEST husband. So, when the depression came back in the spring, I was committed to walking through the season together. It’s like a cancer that comes back out of remission. It’s not the person’s fault that they have cancer, it’s something that happens to them.

But depression is more like an autoimmune disease. The body is an amazing machine, and it has systems in place to fight off intruders and keep itself healthy. But, if you have a disease like lupus or fibromyalgia or Type 1 diabetes, those systems turn on themselves. The body starts to attack itself. Depression does that to the brain. It is literally a malfunction – wrong thought patterns that can be exacerbated by a chemical and biological condition in which things are out of order, so that the mind turns on itself.

The disease of depression does not diminish Craig’s legacy of LOVE or his lust for life. Craig loved with passion and authenticity. He fought the depression with everything he had – he knew the battle he was facing, and he was absolutely determined to win. But just like with cancer, sometimes we lose.

Craig was the BEST husband, and he loved me SO WELL. He loved me and loved others well because he loved God. If you don’t know Jesus – know Him in the way that Craig knew Him and I know Him – I pray that you start today.

One of Craig’s last journal entries was Philippians 1:6, in which the apostle Paul writes:

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

Jesus is coming back, and He is coming soon, before the great battle begins. I hope you will be with Him in the fight. But until He returns, God will continue to see through the GREAT WORK that He began in Craig Thompson. He will see it through in me and in each one of you.

Jesus gave us two commandments:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and, Love your neighbor as yourself.

Craig loved me, and he loves you. Go love better.

July 30, 2018   3 Comments

Light, Love and Lifesavers Candy

When I was four years old, I stole a pack of Lifesavers from the grocery store. I didn’t know at the time that it was stealing. I was shopping with my dad and processing the experience through a four-year-old’s eyes. We went into the store and filled our cart with things we liked to eat. At the checkout, a young man put the food into paper bags while my father spoke with the nice woman behind the conveyor belt. And then we left.

I knew nothing about the exchange of cash for merchandise, and with my short stature, I didn’t see the transaction. So, on this particular trip, I put a roll of Lifesavers in my pocket. That’s what I liked to eat. My father discovered the trespass when we got home and gave me a sound spanking before driving me back to the store so I could return the candy and apologize. The lesson was clear—taking something without paying for it is stealing, and stealing is bad.

I learned right from wrong that day, but I also experienced two profound emotions: fear and shame.

When I was 13, I stole a brooch from a small boutique. Did I know stealing was wrong? Absolutely. Was I afraid of the consequences if I got caught? Yes. But I was more afraid of losing face in the eyes of my friend, Tanya, who had dared me to swipe the jewelry. She reveled in my bravery and rebellion when I showed her the prize. I had won her admiration, but there was no joy. I felt only shame.

My freshman year in college, I stole a candy bar from the student union. Again, the deed was done on a dare. Here I was, entering adulthood and venturing out into the world on my own, yet still doing stupid things because of peer pressure. Five years had passed, but nothing had changed. I was still operating in the same paradigm. I was driven not by the desire to do right, but by the desire to be accepted and avoid the mockery of my peers. The fear and shame that I experienced at four years old colored my thinking far more than the knowledge of the law.

Fear and shame do not inspire change. Love does.

My Facebook feed is filled with the vitriol of friends and acquaintances pointing fingers of judgment at people they have never met but who hold positions of authority and power. They post angry rants about the trespasses of politicians and actors and journalists whose moral failings have been made public. I suppose their finger-wagging gives them a sense of control and bolsters feelings of moral superiority. But it’s all a distraction. I know these people—we have done life together, and they have failings of their own. I know about the binge drinking, the sexual abuse, and those trips to the strip club. I know about the decision to sleep with a married man to stave off the loneliness and self-doubt. I have heard these friends say utterly hateful things about people they care for; witnessed addictions to food, wine and pornography; and mourned their broken relationships and broken homes and broken hearts. I know their stories. I have mine, too. We all do.

Judgment does not inspire change. Love does.

A few years ago, I began doing prison ministry with my husband. Every Wednesday, we drive two hours to a unit in Palestine, Texas, to meet with the 200 men attending a program called Alpha. After a time of praise and worship, someone from our ministry team gives a short teaching related to the current book study. Then, the men circle up in groups for an hour of small group discussion. And things get real.

They talk about their families. They talk about their failings. They talk about knowing right from wrong and making bad decisions anyway—the same bad decisions over and over, that continued to put them back behind bars. And they talk about learning to trust, learning to be authentic, and learning to take accountability. Most importantly, they talk about learning to walk in their identity of who God created them to be, and accepting the love of a Father who is perfect beyond all measure. Through teaching and prayer and fellowship, they discover who they are in Christ. And that changes everything.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us,
that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3:1a)

I have seen hardened felons become kind and compassionate men as they experience God’s love for them. I have witnessed men who committed unspeakable crimes become gifted leaders and teachers, encouraging and edifying their brothers in Christ as they walk out their journey of faith. These are no jailhouse conversions, where the men drop their Bibles at the door as they head home. No, this is lasting change—powerful, soul-quenching change born solely out of love. The majority of men we met behind bars who since have been released are gainfully employed, in committed relationships, reconciled with their families, and actively involved in their local church. They are thriving.

For we are God’s handiwork,
created in Christ Jesus to do good works, 
which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

These men stay on the straight and narrow not out of fear of shame or judgment or consequences, but out of gratitude. Like the prodigal son, they chose to live a life of debauchery, finding only fleeting joy in the sex and drugs and approval of their peers. Feeding their fleshly desires ultimately led to greater despair, but no matter how depraved their actions, God loved them anyway. He loved them so much that He sent His Son to bear the punishment for their sins and welcomed His lost children home with open arms. He did it for me, too.

I have seen broken men transformed through God’s love. I have seen women once cloaked in shame discover their true worth through God’s love. I have seen my own heart transformed and experienced inexplicable peace through God’s love.

We can point the finger of judgment. We can spend our days attending rallies and posting rants about the unspeakable acts of others. Or, we can be the light.

Share happiness. Applaud the peacemakers. Bring encouragement and laughter. And soak in God’s love. When you discover how precious you are in His sight, and how deeply He longs to provide for you, comfort you, protect you and raise you up to great heights, you will know your true identity. You will find your purpose and can guide others to healing. You will be a true changemaker, because you walk in love.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

January 5, 2018   1 Comment