20 February 2008

Breakthrough

Back in December, I wrote an entry that included this cryptic comment about coming very close to loosing my business...I reckon I ought to explain what that was about and also include some of the developments and hindsight that's come from that.

As far as the facts go, when Dec 1 rolled around it was payday at Code-Monkeys and there was no money in the till - which meant nobody got a paycheck. Needless to say that was stressful all around. Now the next important thing to note is this: from a fully earthly perspective, there really was no logical reason for such a state to have happened. We had been busy and productive the weeks and months prior, there was a bunch of money in the A/R queue and we had a totally full schedule for the upcoming weeks. In summary, the buckets were all full but no water was coming through. Long standing, reliable clients simply forgot to pay their bills - so sorry. Projects that were birds in the hand, suddenly decided to take a week break to reevaluate. So as a result we had this mysterious break with no money, AND no work. It was like tumbleweeds and crickets. Let me be as clear as I can be and hope that you'll be willing to take my word for it: nothing at all, in any way was wrong with the business. As a matter of fact when December was done, not only had we totally made up for that entire week of doing nothing, we had also had another full week of vacation between Christmas and New Years, and December STILL wound up being a record smashing month, the biggest December we've ever had by a factor of two and the second largest month we've ever had, ever.

But I don't want to get ahead of myself here, I want to focus on the immediate situation and how we all felt without the benefit of hindsight. When that day came and there was no money to pay anybody, I think it's fair to say that everybody in the shop got more than a little weirded out, including me. Since there was really no work to do, even the busy work had been taken care of, we had a lot of time to sit in our circle and pray..and we did...a lot. Of course we prayed for the immediate needs we all had: rent, bills, medicine, all the normal stuff, but we also had a lot of space to really dig into this situation as wave after alternating wave of emotion rolled over us. We were alternately wrestling with a kind of panic, and doubt as well as rising to great heights of joy and faith and confidence. One day turned into two, which rolled into three...a whole week went by when there was no bread in the cupboard and we were still wondering what the hell could be going on.

I should point out that this situation brought all of us face to face with several financial issues in our lives that were purely practical. Obvious stuff like not counting chickens, not having savings, not writing checks on money we didn't have yet. And while many of those lessons were costly and painful, they were also the kinds of things we couldn't blame on anybody but ourselves once all the frustration and anger burned off. We all had a very vivid lesson that asked if a single day of a delayed paycheck could throw most of us off so bad, then we were clearly managing our money improperly. We were living way too close to the edge. That said, the purely practical, fiscal lessons weren't at the center of the experience. That office was held by another phantom.

The primary struggle we all dealt with in that season was fear. Panic even. In hindsight I can say with confidence that some fear was probably normal enough, but this was wave after wave of highly enhanced fear - a powerful and sustained attack by the prince of this world that had all these trailing attendants of distrust and blame and division. We each fought our own battles about how this could possibly be happening when we dedicated so much of our work to God. Basically, the 'how could a good god allow' lie but with a green leotard on. We struggled with how we could break this awful news to our wives and whether they would see us as failures and on and on. We all struggled, a lot, with whether or not all of this was worth this kind of pain and disappointment and every one of us, including myself, thought about throwing in the towel.

You have to understand that in the last 2 years, Code-Monkeys has transmogrified into something that is not easily characterized or explained. We are growing into a kind of highly integrated, very close knit group of Christians who see this company as a kind of starting point on a very long-term and exciting trip toward who knows where...but the next step seems to be this Christian video game company called Soma. So when I say 'is all this worth it' I'm not talking about a job, I'm not even talking about a company I've poured every dime I have into. I'm talking about something far, far larger that is just starting to bud - and all the guys at CM sense what I'm talking about. They all know to a greater or lesser degree that they've been invited into something special. Something fragile and tenuous, but with gigantic potential, and totally committed to God. So you have to understand that this struggle in our minds wasn't about whether or not it was time to look for another job - but whether or not we believed that this thing was actually special like we'd said, and to what degree we were willing to fight for it, and what degree of hardship we were willing to endure to keep at it.

I don't want to underplay how tense that week was or how close each of us came to folding. In the end, each man had to fight that fight that is essentially an internal battle about what we really believe and what we're really willing to pay to have Jesus and the life He promises. Now I'm incredibly proud to say that everybody hung in there. Everybody toughed it out and I'm proud of all my men, as well as deeply humbled by the experience.

There have been tight moments before at Code-Monkeys and in those moments I'll often pray that God provides and He almost always does. I say 'almost always' not because of His provision, but because I know I've screwed those moments up form time to time in my own panic and His provision gets mismanaged. That's part of my own learning process. But as I prayed the day before payday He told me 'My grace is sufficient'...which meant He wasn't going to provide a sudden rush of money. And He also made it very clear that I was in way to interfere with the test that each of these men had to go through. I knew I just had to let them all walk through it, which was incredibly hard. In the past, I've borrowed money to cover those bills, or foregone a paycheck for myself to pay somebody else, but I was totally disallowed to do that in this case, and totally unable anyway - like I said, there was no money - period.

As we prayed that week, baring our souls and pouring out our fears, we seemed to come to a general consensus that what we were experiencing was an honest to goodness test - a trial that was not (at it's root) a matter of spiritual warfare or mismanagement of funds, or a downturning economy, but a kind of 'put your money where your mouth is' trial. In the previous two months or so, a very common theme that we continued to pray on was this notion that God was our true provision. Not this job, not ANY job, but God. And we prayed a lot about an attitude toward money that was in synch with Jesus and not beholden to the world. Well here we were being asked, 'So, who is your provision again?'

I know each of the guys had to work that question out for themselves. For me, I had my question about who my provision was, but I had the additional question of who THEIR provision was. It was one thing to trust God to feed my family. It was quite another thing to trust God to look after the families that I feel deeply responsible to, the men He's brought to me for employees and friends. I was a mess! But this sense that we were in the middle of something with a larger point helped a lot. I am convinced that one of the central aspects of the test was to prove (either to God or ourselves) that we couldn't be bought - that it really wasn't about the money. And in that regard, I think we all learned that there was a lot more spiritual reserve in each of us than we thought.

When we'd gone a week without any pay and we were sitting around praying again (still). It seemed to me that all of sudden something broke and I had this sense that it was over. Whatever that was all about, it had just ended and within two hours we had two separate people call us, totally out of the blue, and give us new work that we had never bid one, never solicited, and they both wanted to pay the entire balance up front, that day. People, in seven years, that has never happened, NEVER. It's just one more point of indication to me that in the final analysis, God had the whole thing in His hand all along, but we all needed to learn a certain lesson that can't be taught in the classroom...and we passed.

******************

Moving forward a bit, we (BCNW) recently got back from our second Advanced camp - four days on the Oregon coast in one of the most peaceful places I've seen and certainly the most spiritually protected place we've held any event. It was awesome. (Thanks for coming Sluss and #1) I think we still need some work on how we organize the advanced camp, we can be a little scattered, but it was a big improvement from last year's advanced and I think far, far closer to what we really want that event to be about. But enough about that - it wouldn't be a boot camp if God didn't kick me in the head.

One of the things we talk about at some length is what we call the stages of manhood. It's a broad look at the phases a man typically goes through in his life and what the point and challenge of the various phases are. For the sake of context they go in this order (if you're interested, read Way of the Wild Heart):
• Beloved Son
• Cowboy / Ranger
• Warrior
• Lover
• King
• Sage

Keeping in mind the fact that these stages are not discreet, and stages typically overlap, I find myself in a blend of the Warrior, Lover and King stages - which is pretty typical for my age by the way, minus the king part...and that's what God was talking to me about. No doubt there are places in my life where authority and leadership has come to me from outside sources - being asked to be an elder for example. But other places have grown out of my own ambition - Code-Monkeys to be precise. Before, I go much farther, I want to make clear that God wasn't eating my lunch in this conversation. He wasn't giving me grief or convicting me about out-of-balance ambition. He was pointing out the seeds of error - elements in my heart that left unchecked, could lead me into some dark places and all riding on great intentions.

One of the speakers tells a pretty compelling story about how he became a king way too early in his life, running a multi-million dollar company when he was barely 33. Of course, in most contexts that's a story of great achievement and something to be proud of, but David tells how the simple fact was that he was in no way ready for that kind of responsibility and as a result - he was a bad king. Now David would never have seen it that way at the time, it's only something that he has come to understand in hindsight, now that he's sold the company and has had some time to reflect. In some ways, but of course at a lower level, I see a little of what drove David in myself and when I hear his story I can really see what he's talking about. What's unfortunate is that until God pointed it out, I had been harboring this secret attitude that went something like this, 'Wow. David's experience has cost him dearly and I see a lot of parallels...of course I would never do that.'

David's message is one of the rare, sober accounts of a man saying 'Don't make the mistakes I made.' A little like Jacob Marley to be honest. But in my heart I've been hearing the wrong message. Instead of hearing what he has said very explicitly - that he became a king too young and it was bad for him, his family, and his employees - I've heard only a message to do it differently. In essence, I still wanted to be a young king, the ruler of a growing business empire, and I sort of figured I could handle it where he didn't, even though I never really thought about it in those terms.

It reminds of the fact that Jesus reserves some of his harshest words for the rich, mentioning wealth as perhaps the one place where we might actually loose our souls, and yet we are all quite eager to take that risk and we seek wealth with reckless abandon. Another aspect of this is that I'm a pretty independent guy and while I've told many men that life is better when it's not done alone, I've been sort of unconsciously disregarding my own advice, stubbornly insisting on cutting my own path - insisting that men who are clearly wiser and more experienced than myself, treat me as a peer...when I'm clearly not their peer.

Let me add one more log to this fire. For as often as I've told the story of Soma Games, I've always said that the whole thing has been God's idea from the get go. That I couldn't take any credit at all for the concepts or even the game designs. It all basically came to me as a download and I've been carrying it. But still in the three years since the download, I've grown sort of possessive of the whole thing. Acting as if I were the guardian of a sacred trust or something. I've had this attitude that other people could help - by donating $1M say - but they would have to play by my rules, because only I heard the vision from on high. You get the picture. Now of course I never would have said it that way, not even to myself, and I'm aware of the things that spooked me early on and made me somewhat cautious of unscrupulous investors, but it had grown out of balance, and God was kind enough to point the error out before I strangled to the thing like Lennie.

I really can only think of one other place in my life where I had a sort of sudden moment of clarity where I was able to make a sharp 90° turn but not need a more vivid crisis to kick me into gear. The realization of these things was like that though. I was able to very clearly see how I'd started down a bad path with my possessive attitude toward Soma and also to clearly recognize my need to seek and submit to some people who really have a lot to teach me. More to the point, I don't want to be a king right now, at least I don't want to grasp at that role - I'm not SUPPOSED to be a king right now. I think this time in my life is more about being the warrior (read the book if that doesn't make any sense) and the price I've seen paid by men who've become kings when they weren't ready is a price I'm unwilling to pay.

In short, I need to let some things go, take a deep breath - Ahhhhh.

****************

Now the really exciting part and the cause for this post's title. And I should point out that yes - I do se a very direct connection between what I've been talking about and this new development.

Soma has taken a very important step forward this week. Three separate men, men who have already succeeded in business and really know what they're doing, have all made commitments to see Soma move forward. They all get it. They all like the business plan. And they all want to see this thing be for real. Now any one of these guys could write us a check and fund our first round out of their pocket books but that's really not the coolest part. The cool part is the commitment of time, energy and expertise when none of those things are lightly given by any of them. One, for sure, has agreed to sit on the advisory board and the other two have had very positive responses and asked for a little time to pray just to be sure about what role they feel lead to play.

This is huge.

This is the day where Soma went from a cool idea to where it is now basically a matter of time before we start writing Arc. If these guys decide to invest themselves, great. If not, they have all the contacts in the world and will make it their business to find us a match for an investor or two.

And yet, as great as that is, I'm in a totally different place than I was four weeks ago. And as cool as it is that funding now seems to be over the next hill, I'm far more excited about working with a group of solid Christian men, men who are genuine and appropriate kings, and learning how to be a good king myself.

That...is breakthrough.

3 comments:

Michael Slusser said...

Rock on, brother. Would that we all learn what God is teaching us in the moment, to His glory.

Anonymous said...

http://WhyWontGodHealAmputees.com/

Silverback said...

The comment above was recently posted (a little after this post was fresh, so many folks might not have seen it) and I thought it was at least responding briefly to.

It seems this question is part of a wide marketing push for a book of the same title. It's worth looking at even if just to see how the other half sees this question of healing.

But there are critical aspects that I wanted to quickly note.
1. We have at least one scriptural story of an amputee being healed - the poor fellow who lost his ear to Peter's sword and was immediately restored by Christ.
I doubt, however that the proponents of the book would accept that case. I suspect they would say, in essence, an ear isn't big enough - show me an arm.

2. I see a lot of discussion out there among Christians that essentially boils down to "God CAN heal amputees...he just doesn't for his own inscrutable reasons."
No doubt there is some truth to that, but it's not really the best answer is it? The whole question rests on an a priori argument that God has never, ever healed an amputee and you darn Christians have some explaining to do. But the truth is, I just don't believe the premise. That's not a statement of faith but rather one where I'm almost positive I have heard of such a case.
Anyway, my advice to concerned bothers and sisters is this - be wise. Recognize a false argument when you hear one and don't take the bait.