Made for More
"You've encountered many struggles in life, so I can only think that God must have big plans for you."
My father said this to me after I suffered the initial shock of receiving unexpected divorce papers in the mail. My first challenge in life was surviving a birth defect similar to cerebral palsy. My dad believed, despite all my many trials and disappointments, discouragements and traumas, that I was made for more―more good, more fulfillment, more meaning and purpose. So much more.
He knew that just because I'd known tragedy I wasn't a tragic figure, that just because I had a marriage that failed I wasn't a failure, that even though I'd suffered loss I wasn't a loser. He knew the things that happened to me didn't define me by their harshness or ugliness, their disappointment and despair. No, he knew I was more than all that and, if anything, my circumstances made more clear my resilience and tenac- ity, my promise and hope―all I was made for and all I am becoming.
My Heavenly Father knows that about you, too.
No matter what you are going through, he sees so much more than the circumstances. He sees that you are made for more goodness and hope, a promise of more than what you are now or how others would limit you to be, because he made you for more, for his pleasure and his good. He made you not only to be more, but to find more: more security beyond the mounting bills and empty bank accounts, more purpose and meaning beyond jobs lost or work that seems unappreciated and pure drudgery, more friendship than what you experience when someone you love isn't there when you need them most, more love than the betrayal or unrequited affection or hurt and disappointment you have now. God waits to love you like no other and give you love that is sure and everlasting, stronger than even death,1 because he is all about more and designed you to be more, too.
Of course, if you're like me, you may not see that right now. You may need some sign, some big flash of lightning or writing in the sky to show you what more there is, why it's not only okay but good to not be sat- isfied with enough. You may be waiting for some hidden message that reassures.
I've been there. I've been weighed down till I've had enough of discouragement and despair, but I realized that God didn't expect me to stay in despair because I was made for more than that.
I was made for victory.
And so are you.
Finding More When Things Explode
Because You're Made to Hope
Some days you never forget, though they just might begin typically enough. January 30, 1990, was one of those days for me. Getting ready for work, I had second thoughts about the cotton skirt and blouse I'd chosen to wear. That was strange enough. I'm one of those people who likes to pick out their outfit the night before. I like to be prepared. So why I changed my mind, I still don't know. But that impulse to go back to the closet and change into my black leather skirt and jacket would make a difference for the rest of my life.
At the office, I began to sort through what seemed the usual stack of mail. This was one of my responsibilities in 1990 as director of ministries at my parents' church, Lakewood. I'd been working for my parents since 1983 and always opened their personal mail. Sometimes people poured out their hearts in letters to my parents, requesting prayer. Many people sent encour- aging letters, thanking my parents for their ministry. Inmates often wrote, requesting Bibles and other helps. It was not out of the ordinary for my par- ents to receive speaking invitations and gifts: sermon tapes, books.
That morning, one small package, smaller than a shoe box, caught my eye. A package itself wasn't unusual. I was used to opening packages. But the address stood out a little, typed as if on an old-fashioned typewriter.
To "J.O.", it said.
Oh, I thought. A gift for my dad. My father, Pastor John Osteen, often received gifts. He was beloved. So I couldn't resist, because boxes are more fun to open than a letter. I lifted the box, which was heavy, as if full of rocks, and shook it like a kid trying to guess what was inside.
Rattle. Rattle, rattle.
"Hmm," I said to myself. "Maybe some cassette tapes from a preacher or singer wanting Daddy to give a listen and his approval."
Then I hesitated. I put down the little box. I didn't have much time because I was getting ready to meet with one of our volunteer leaders.
A few moments later, however, I picked up the package again. Then put it down.
Then picked it up again.
Three times that morning the package was in and out of my hands. The box seemed interesting to me because of its heaviness. But there were people I needed to meet with, to-dos to get done, business to tend and finish. The clock kept ticking.
Still, I was like that proverbial cat, curious, and I kept circling the desk, coming back to the package one more time. Finally I gave the box a good shake, and irresistibly tore at the brown wrapping paper.
The last thing I remember was tugging on one little piece of tape that held down the flap of the lid . . .
No Ordinary Day
As I tore off that last piece of tape, all the lights went out, at least mine. What seemed the beginning of an ordinary day at work suddenly went dramatically awry.
One minute I was sitting at my desk, opening on my lap what I thought was a gift. The next, I was waking from a numbing, then searing, blackness, standing across the room, about six feet from my desk. I have no recollection of leaving my chair, but I was sprawled against the wall.
From head to toe, my body shook violently. I thought: Have I been electrocuted? God, am I dying? I suddenly came to my senses and realized I was very much alive. Black smoke smoldered from my clothes, as if I'd been lit on fire. A chemical smell filled my nostrils, and the metallic taste of blood coated the inside of my mouth.
Tucked back in an office off the hallway, with the door still closed, I felt far from everyone at the church that day.
In fact, I was. My fellow coworkers heard a boom, but couldn't pin- point the source of the noise. No wonder. Our building was large, with offices around the perimeter. In the foyer, some thirty feet from my office, our receptionist Lois was answering phones and helping a half dozen people waiting to chat with different staff members. She heard the blast and thought, How did someone get a gun in here? And yet, she would tell investigators later, she somehow knew the loud bang wasn't a firearm.
Other staff members felt the same confusion. They, too, heard a blast but couldn't figure out what might have caused it, or even where it came from within the building. Renee, my father's executive assistant, remem- bers hearing what sounded like an eighteen-wheel truck, going seventy miles per hour, slamming into the side of our office building. But there was no truck, no scene of a vehicle crash. As staff members sensed some- thing wasn't right, but didn't know what, they began to comb the offices and sanctuary.
Lois ran down a long hallway from the reception desk toward the noise she'd heard. By the time she made it to my office, I was already across the hall, about fifteen feet away in the office of our accountant, Phyllis.
I had first stumbled to the office next to mine, screaming, "A bomb! It's a bomb!"
My office neighbor stared at me. I'll never forget the look on her face. She sat motionless with her mouth agape, almost catatonic.
I remember thinking, Okay, I'll try someone else--something we've joked about since, that she never said a word nor lifted a finger to help me and I was quite a sight to see. (Later, we both realized she was in complete shock.)
At the time, no one thought the noise they heard was a joke. Lois frantically tried to focus through the smoke that was billowing into the hallway. She found me standing with smoldering pieces of paper in my hair, and Phyllis pulling off my jacket and leather skirt, the ones I'd changed into as a second choice that morning. Tiny embers covered the skirt, threatening to ignite into flames. If I'd been wearing the cotton out- fit I first had on that morning, I'd surely have been on fire already.
I remember screaming, "It's a bomb! A bomb exploded in my lap!" And then, "Did anything get on my face?"
It's a question any woman would ask. I laugh, thinking, Yes, things can be going up in smoke and we still want to make sure we look good.
TO HELP YOU MORE
Develop a Strong Spirit
I'm so grateful that I didn't panic when that mail bomb exploded in my lap. I remained calm during and after the explosion. How did that happen?
I believe over the years, from work on my spirit, God poured his strength into me for my time of need. The Bible tells us that a healthy spirit conquers adversity (Proverbs 18:14), and helps us build our spirits so we can be strong in trials. Proverbs 4:20–23 guides us these three ways:
- Guard your ears. Drown out the negative voices in your life.
Listen to the teaching of the Word of God; meditate upon God's thoughts about you, think what they mean in your life. Fill your atmosphere with uplifting music.
- Guard your eyes. Take time every day to read a portion of the Bible, which will set the pace for your day. As you read, you will receive encouragement, strength, and wisdom-and it is always there for you.
- Guard your heart. As the proverb says, "Everything you do flows from your spirit." What you put into your spirit, mind, and life is what will come out in the time of trouble. Ask yourself, "Am I allowing negative input into my life?" Replace anything negative with something positive. Be sure to spend time with people pursuing goodness. Find a good local church where you can grow spiritually. If you can walk, do so, even around the block or down the hall; you'll reap the energizing benefits of endorphins. Get into nature and witness God's handiwork-see what fresh air and the beauty of creation will do for your ideas and sense of gratitude.
The health of your spirit directly affects your mind, emotions, and physical body. Taking these practical steps daily will strengthen every area of your life and help you through times of trouble.
Phyllis helped me stretch out on the floor, then tried calming me and maybe herself, too. "You're going to be all right," she said. "We are going to take care of you." Between reassurances, she told a staff member to call 911 and my parents. Everything seemed like a dream, a nightmare, as faces appeared and receded from the smoke still wafting through the offices.
Though my ears were ringing from that deafening sound Renee described, I heard Lois telling my parents, "Lisa is all right, but she's been in an explosion. She does have some injuries on her leg and abdomen."
Miraculously, in all the chaos, the only pain I remember was my left thumb, burned, bloodied from a one-inch-long split, and throbbing. With all the other injuries, the only one I really felt was my thumb.
No Ordinary Events
Meanwhile, the commotion continued. The building was being evacu- ated. People were rushing, running out of the building. About sixty staff members and visitors poured from Lakewood Church as groups of others swarmed in: Houston police and firefighters, emergency medical teams, even postal inspectors. An ambulance arrived within ten minutes, yet the chaos played out as if in slow motion. The minutes seemed almost hours.
Paramedics lifted me onto a gurney, then into the ambulance, and one leaned close.
"Lisa," he said, "as soon as we close the door, I am going to pray for you."
God knew exactly who and what I needed. This man and his prayers brought such peace and calmness to me. I believe in divine appoint-
ments and this surely was one.
The paramedic and I prayed together-and I continued to pray the rest of the way to Memorial Hermann Hospital. Even though I was in shock, and the ambulance was racing, bumping along, I prayed quietly the entire ride.
At the hospital, I was lifted out of the ambulance and wheeled on a gur- ney into Emergency. Within seconds, nurses and doctors clustered round me, cutting off my remaining clothes, asking all sorts of questions, pouring cold fluids over my wounds. I was being pricked and prodded all over.
"Her injuries are not nearly as bad as the paramedics described," I heard one man say. I was covered with a blanket as he added, "She may be out of here today."
The paramedic who had prayed for me in the ambulance was nearby when a nurse momentarily removed the blanket. He gasped and looked at his fellow medic, both of whom were the first to tend to my wounds in Phyllis's office and then call in the list of my injuries.
A change had occurred as we prayed together during that twenty- minute ride to the hospital. My wounds--terrible, serious tears and burns on my abdomen and legs-had already begun to heal.
Still the physicians were taking no chances. They prepared to have me transported with a team to Methodist Hospital for treatment. By this time, only my family was allowed to see me, and Kevin, now my hus- band, whom I was seriously dating at the time. I didn't know it, but media had begun to descend upon and swirl round the hospital, which quickly became tightly guarded.
My close friend Debra barely got in by sheer determination. The secu- rity guard had stopped her but she insisted until one of the nurses said, "She looks like the Osteens. Let her in!"
Kevin, who had listened to radio reports already being broadcast as I was on my way to the hospital, was shaken upon seeing me in Emer- gency. I'll never forget how he turned away and wept.
Back on a gurney and on my way into another ambulance, I could see clusters of people, journalists and newscasters, gathering to ask me ques- tions as I was wheeled into the second hospital that day. Reporters from the Houston Chronicle, and radio, even CNN, were there for what would be their lead story, nationwide and around the world, over the next few days: BOMB HURTS PASTOR'S DAUGHTER. LAKEWOOD CHURCH TARGET OF EXPLOSIVE.
No Ordinary Calm
Looking back, I'm grateful that I didn't panic but instead remained calm during all the chaos. How did that happen? you may wonder. How can any- one find their wits and remain calm in the midst of trauma?
The Bible says that it is the spirit of a man that sustains him in trouble. This is one of the promises of God: to strengthen us when we feel weak. You may be in the middle of something that has exploded or im- ploded in your life. But even now you can remain grounded, calm, and stable in spite of your circumstances.
God will help you through the dark, hard, low places, and one of the most beautiful psalms in the Bible tells us this.
Psalm 23 has always brought me great comfort. Especially during and immediately after the mail bomb exploded in my lap, the words of this psalm helped me. They comforted me in that very real valley of the shadow of death because they acknowledged five promises from God:
1. You don't have to be afraid, because God is with you
It may seem like you are in a valley of death, but that valley is just a shadow. God is walking with you, guiding your steps out of the valley. Keep following him and he will bring you to a mountaintop, where you can see beauty again and breathe freely.
2. God's rod and staff will comfort you
It's not just for pretty imagery that a rod and staff are mentioned in Psalm
23. A rod is a symbol of authority and a staff is an instrument of support. God offers you both. He has authority over you, and that means no one, nor any thing or situation, can snatch you from his hands.2 He will sup- port you and hold you up in the valley.
3. God causes you to triumph
Did you know that you can have a triumphant attitude in the valley? You can because the valley is temporary and God is working on your behalf, even preparing a table for you in the presence of your enemies. How beautiful is that-to feast your spirit in the places of emotional famine!
4. God strengthens you to make it
He anoints your head with oil. That means God chooses to be with you, in you, filling you with his strength. Oil represents the Holy Spirit-God's presence in you. The Holy Spirit is your helper, who em- powers you to go through the valley and get to the mountaintop. You don't have to walk alone, or do everything in your own strength, which is limited anyway. You can rely upon God's limitless power at work in you, for you.
5. Goodness and mercy will follow you
No matter what you face today, you cannot get away from God's great goodness and mercy. You may be in a dark valley, but the blessings of God follow you wherever you go. You may not think so. For example, you may need a new job, and you pray for God's favor when you inter- view for one, but you don't get the job. God may have spared you from something that was less than what he designed for you. Believe in his goodness, and rely on his grace, for he is always for you. He is the shep- herd who cares for and loves his sheep through every valley, and even when things around you go up in smoke.
TO HELP YOU MORE
You're Safe with the Shepherd
When things around me got crazy and I couldn't understand what was happening or why, Jesus, the good shepherd, led me away from the chaos to a place of peace. He is there to help you through whatever falls apart in your life. He will walk with you through every dark valley.
Psalm 23 shows that you can always count on him to . . .
- care for you. He will go in search of the littlest lamb and give total care to the entire flock. I love how the Bible describes that he gathers the lambs and carries them close to his heart (Isaiah 40:11), does not let the flock want, and watches closely over your life.
- lead you to where you need to be. He goes ahead of us to find the green pastures. If you are in a place of confusion or chaos, look to the shepherd to guide you to the right place at the right time.
- give you peace. The shepherd knows he must find quiet pools of water because sheep will not drink from a fast- flowing river. They fear water too much. If they fell in, their wool would soak up the water and the river would carry them away like a sponge and cause them to drown. Jesus promises: "Come to me, all you who are weary and bur- dened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). He wants to give you a balanced, peaceful life, not one soaked with hurry, not frantic or freaked out.
- calm your soul. The shepherd is always on the lookout for the wolves that prowl, the storms that brew. He prom- ises to stand by you when both creep upon you. He promises to steady you with his strong hand. He will keep your soul.
- keep you clean and healthy. Sometimes the shepherd has to apply ointments and other medicines to his sheep to ward off flying pests and parasites. Jesus, our shepherd, anoints our heads with oil-his oil of healing-everywhere it hurts: mind, body, or spirit.
- never leave you. Jesus will never forsake us. He promises to dwell with us forever. The shepherd never left his sheep. He will never leave you.
- call you by name. You are his sheep and recognize his voice, just as he recognizes yours. He listens for you. He speaks to you (John 10:1–20). He recognizes you. Isn't that powerful? To many people, sheep are sheep. But the good shepherd knows what sets each one apart, makes each one special. He knows every detail of your life, when you rise and when you sleep, what you love and what you loathe. He knows where the black spots are, when an ear is torn, if you're missing any wool. He longs for your company and wants to give you his as he brings you to the place he's prepared for you.
No Ordinary Aftermath
As more and more reporters clamored to report the mail bombing events, I was given a private room on a secure floor in the hospital. Our Lakewood Church security volunteers began to take turns in shifts, guarding my door. They protected me from the media storm and strangers, as did my brother Joel, who stepped in to coordinate all the media questions and interview requests.
They couldn't stop the calls, letters, and flowers that began to flood my room from around the world. The city of Houston and local churches reached out in such a loving way. I will never forget the kind words and prayers from people I'd never even met. Even President George H. W. Bush called. His office made arrangements with Joel to speak to my parents at the hospital. The leader of the free world called to offer his condolences, express concern, and assure us that investigators would do everything possible to find who committed the crime at Lakewood. There was so much excitement over the president's call, and the press was there for the story to make headlines the next day. I always won- dered why I didn't get to talk to the president myself, since I was the one injured!
Meanwhile, a series of doctors began to explain the intensity of my wounds. I needed surgery to repair three holes in my abdomen and a larger hole in my right leg that destroyed a portion of muscle tissue. I was expected to be in the hospital for weeks.
Officials from the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Department and the FBI filed to my bedside as early as the morning after the incident. The seriousness of the crime began to sink in. I was questioned on the explo- sion itself, the nature of the package, even potential suspects. The clothes I'd worn that day, though burned and torn, were saved by police, and they remain in custody of the FBI today.
Every member of my family was questioned, as were people at our church. Broadcasters and journalists were looking for any new details to report. The attention felt intrusive in all the wrong ways, about my per- sonal health and silly things like office operations.
Over the next thirteen days I underwent surgery and postrecovery. The rapidness of my healing for such serious injuries surprised even the doctors. I will always have reminders: a ten-inch scar, resembling a shep- herd's staff, across my stomach, and a five-inch scar and slight indention on my right leg.
Investigators said it was a miracle I survived with just two scars, a miracle that I hadn't been killed. The mail bomb actually malfunctioned. Instead of exploding all over my body as intended, it blew out both ends. That rattle I'd heard when I shook that little brown package at least three times that morning was the rubbing of shrapnel against ten-inch nails- metals that upon explosion drove into my office desk, blasting a signifi- cant hole in one drawer, and pocking the walls with gashes, slashes, and holes.
"It was as if someone was standing between Lisa and the bomb," one of the authorities at the scene was quoted as saying.
I knew exactly who that someone was.
No Ordinary God
I got the chance to tell about that someone, beginning with one day in particular. Just after my surgery, Victoria, Joel's wife, showed up to visit me at the hospital. She pulled out some makeup and began to fuss with my hair.
I must have been looking pretty bad, I thought, as she went to work, brushing and styling. After all, my hair hadn't been washed for days. It was long and puffy―big, as we Texas girls like to say―but also full of tiny particles of debris and matter from the explosion. Carefully, pa- tiently, Victoria picked out the pieces of stuff, fixed me up, and made me feel pampered and loved.
Finally she finished. "Ta da," she announced.
I felt better, and it was a good thing, because right then Joel walked in with a video camera.
"Lisa," he said, "the people in the church and city want to know you are all right."
Oh my goodness, I thought. Sneaky! But smart, too. Joel knew I wouldn't have agreed to a filmed interview without sending in Victoria first. I was still shaken from everything that happened.
But there was no time for that. Joel and Victoria took me in a wheel- chair to a small press conference in the hospital. I wondered what to say. My father was there to help. I felt instant relief when he stepped up to talk, even though it was my picture on the front page of the Houston Chronicle the next morning. (Thank goodness for Victoria's skills!)
That press conference was just one of many to come, and a great number of people kept trying to provoke gloom and doom from the bomb explosion. There was all this speculation that I should have been killed by the events that day, that I never should have survived.
"Your daughter is so lucky to be alive," one journalist after another told my father.
"No," he replied. "She is blessed because we serve a good God." We do.
God has more goodness in mind for us than we can imagine. He designed each of us with a great plan. He made us to do good and to live greatly. He picks up the pieces of our lives. He takes what was shattered and lovingly, patiently, puts things back together. He leads us to the green pastures, beside the quiet waters, because he has great things in mind for us-more than moments of chaos, more than trauma.
I knew this before the explosion. I had read many times God's promise to take even the worst of situations and turn it around for our good and the good of others.
After the explosion, I could count so many ways God did this for me: Was it any coincidence that I felt the impulse to change clothes that fate- ful morning of the bomb, from a cotton outfit to a leather one? Or that the bomb malfunctioned, causing lesser injuries than might have been possible? Or that the paramedic by my side in the ambulance offered to pray for me? Or that instead of spending weeks in the hospital, my heal- ing was beyond what the doctors expected and I was released in thirteen days?
None of these things were coincidence. These are instances of how God was there when things in my life exploded. They are personal re- minders, just like that shepherd's hook-shaped scar that I bear, that for every extraordinary act that man might intend for evil, we have an ex- traordinary God ready to be right by our side. He's ready to pick up the pieces. He saves what is broken. He makes all things new because he has a plan, a purpose. He is the shepherd with more in mind for his sheep than dark valleys.
God watches over our lives and never slumbers nor sleeps. That means he even works the night shift! No matter what things explode in your life, God is going to be there. He's going to make a way through the debris for you, just as he did for me. That means he is going to hold you in the dark, even when you don't know that he is there.
God has more goodness in mind for each of us than we can imagine.
Our longtime family friend Gerald Hilley reminds me of this. Many years ago he had heart surgery and during recovery told how he had an unforgettable dream.
In utter despair, he cried out to God in anguish, "God, where are you?"
In answer to his question, a gigantic figure appeared. The figure was holding someone. Gerald moved closer to see who. As he did, he rec- ognized that the tiny figure in the lap of this gigantic figure was himself being held by God. Gerald then heard a voice: Son, it's not where I am that matters. It's where you are.
We are in the embrace of God. He always has a hold on us.
I am in the hold of my creator.
So many things in this life will threaten to undo us, but when every- thing seems to be crashing around you, remember that you, too, are in God's embrace.
That doesn't mean there will never be another struggle or there will never be more strife or that things won't explode or implode in your lap. I struggled after that bomb explosion to go back to a normal schedule and lifestyle. Though my physical recovery amazed even the doctors, it took a little while to feel completely secure again in my own office. For a season I also feared the person who meant my family harm in the first place was still out there, preparing to harm us again.
That was one reason I was delighted when I was contacted by the tele- vision show Unsolved Mysteries. I was asked to reenact the crime for a mass audience, and I hoped doing so would help investigators with tips to finding the bomber. The program used a documentary-style format to profile real-life mysteries and unsolved crimes, and was hosted by the handsome Robert Stack for fifteen years. Stack's gruff and unmistakable voice became synonymous with the show and made it all the more eerie. Viewers were invited to telephone or e-mail any information that might help solve the crimes.
While 47 percent of the program's cases concerning fugitives led to arrests and mysteries solved, my episode didn't. My short acting debut led to more than five hundred responses with clues and leads, and the episode on the explosion aired numerous times over the next few years, but the crime remains unsolved to this day.
Does that mean God isn't in control?
No. He has opened the door to more for me even through chaos and trauma. He's unfolded a plan for me, just like he will for you, despite awful events and dark valleys. In fact, it is there that he shows up more than ever-and God is always present, always caring.
When that bomb threatened to shatter my faith in the goodness of people, God brought me the well wishes and prayers of those I'd never met. When my hopes of doing good work in ministry threatened to go up in smoke that day, God used the aftermath to give me a larger audi- ence and a taller platform for sharing his love.
Just six weeks after I was released from the hospital, I was speaking at Lakewood. I chose Psalm 23 to focus upon: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil."
I had walked that valley, and God walked with me. Our extraordinary God was there. Wherever we go, he is there.6 He has his hand upon us, and under us, and out to us. He picks up not just the pieces of our lives when they fall apart around us.
He picks us up, too.
Today, when I say, "The bomb could have destroyed my life, if it were not for the grace of God," I add jokingly, "Instead, I am the bomb."
So are you.
My father was right. We're not lucky to be alive. We're blessed, be- cause we serve a good God.