What comes to your mind when you hear the word surrender? Do you equate surrender with weakness, giving up, capitulation, or renunciation? Maybe you envision white flags raised high by weary arms calling for peace. Perhaps you recall a historic surrender like that fateful day, April 9th, 1865, Robert E. Lee met face to face with opposing leader General Grant accepting his call for surrender ending the bloodshed of the Civil War. Or maybe you see surrender as a tender notion, expressed below by the gentle words of author Marianne Williamson,
“Something amazing happens when we surrender and just love. We melt into another world, a realm of power already with us. The world changes when we change, the world softens when we soften. The world loves us when we choose to love the world.”
There is beauty in surrender. In a world that urges us to believe we control every outcome, convinces us to try harder to accomplish every goal, I surrender to the belief that what we need most is to lay our burdens down. What relief is found when we give up control, willingly, and lay our troubles, our uncertainties, our pain and grief, and our quest for clarity at the foot of the Cross.
When I think of surrender, I think of an inimitable spiritual warrior named Dennis Robinson, with whom I shared a cup of coffee and conversation in the small Crossroads Church kitchen one Sunday morning while serving on a Samaritan’s Purse deployment last month. Imagine a remarkably tall, lean and mean Santa Claus type machine in his 60’s riding a Harley instead of driving a sleigh, donning a black, sleeveless t-shirt with a Harley Davidson logo that reads live to serve in lieu of live to ride. Snow-white beard and mustache hiding his broad smile, eyes that draw you inside the depths of his soul, arms outstretched wide, Dennis is an undeniable master of embrace.
Now a 9-year Samaritan’s Purse volunteer veteran serving as team leader, Dennis’s journey to surrender didn’t come without a fight. As record-breaking hurricanes Dennis, Floyd, and Irene hit the East Coast in September 1999 causing unprecedented damage, Dennis was enduring an inundation of a mental kind. Struggling with an 8-year depression, a time period that included daily alcohol and substance abuse, withdrawal, and stonewalling, Dennis recalled what he described as, “being completely checked out emotionally. ”
In 2006, four years after leaving his full-time contracting career and well into the depths of his depression, he recalled receiving a postcard invitation to a local church in his hometown of Durham, North Carolina, a place he called home since 1989. Struggling in his marriage with all the turmoil at the time, they decided to give it a try.
“Going to church made me feel worse.” Dennis said, ” I felt I didn’t belong at all and didn’t want to go back.” Dennis told me he was far from God and reminisced about his parochial school upbringing in the Bronx. I asked Dennis what kind of work he was involved in from 2002-2007 for work, to which he replied:
“Beer drinker, pot smoker, and occasional handyman.“
On August 1st of 2007, after hitting rock bottom, Dennis unloaded his personal items from his pick-up truck and headed towards a tree he had premeditated would end his seemingly purposeless life of pain and suffering.
“I knew I could get up to 100 mph before hitting that tree head on.“
As he drove down that familiar North Carolinian road prepared to end his life, a voice broke through the antagonizing noise of his disempowered, completely discouraged mind prompting him, “Go past the tree! Go past the tree!”
Dennis drove past the tree, past the luring temptation to end his life, and steered his pick-up truck by the grace of God into a nearby rehabilitation center. On the second night of a six-day stay in the psych ward, Dennis wandered the hallways at 2 am while others were sedated into deep sleep.
“What are you doing here?… what are you doing here?”
……. questioned a voice he said he could hear clearly. That night after hours of tiresome contemplation, Dennis enjoyed what he called, “ the best night of sleep in years”. The following morning, the 3rd day, he woke up and called pastor Benji Kelly of New Hope Church in Durham, North Carolina and asked him to come with his Bible and pray with him. It was time to surrender, or in Dennis’ words, “When you are that low, where do you have to go but to your knees?”
On the other side of surrender
Dennis celebrates his surrender annually, on August 3rd, or ,”Call Day”, as he refers to it, commemorating his call to his pastor, his call to a Higher Power begging for a new beginning. Approximately 4 months later on November 17th, 2007, Dennis decided it was time to surrender a life of brokenness and uncertainty, a life of mistakes, and a life that deserved a second chance, by inviting Christ into his life forever. By August 10, 2010, nearly 3 years after accepting God into his life, Dennis deepened his surrender, accepting a calling to full-time volunteer ministry with Samaritan’s Purse . This work takes his gift of surrender, combines it with his spiritual gifts of encouragement and service and impacts the lives of those suffering from the devastating effects of natural disasters around the US.
I asked Dennis how surrender impacted his life. His response,
“The greatest thing in my life about TOTAL surrender is the overwhelming sense of freedom! Knowing that God is in total control of my life, as long as I listen to and submit to His will, what more can one ask for in this life?”
Like this gorgeous song from Casting Crowns reminds us, Dennis traded in his old chains and took up his new name.
I am so thankful he did, because I cannot imagine a world without Dennis’ formidable helping hands or that incredible embrace. Dennis has survived personal turmoil and disaster, making him a compassionate servant in his relief work, connecting easily to the broken hearted vicitims. “I DO understand your pain,” he says to the broken-hearted upon arriving at their homes in complete disarray.
Disasters into designs. Like Dennis, we are created on purpose, with a purpose, for a purpose. Surrender to that call. What beauty is found in a new identity. You don’t have to be your old self. There is power and redemption in a new name. I received mine in 1999.
Are there areas in your life you think you may need to surrender, counter-intuitively trusting the notion that letting go is better than holding on?
Please enjoy some photos of my friend Dennis and please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!
Thank you Dennis, for Standing in Love daily as Ephesians 6:10-20 reminds us! What a blessing you are to so many!
4 thoughts on “Strength in Surrender”
I know Dennis as well, like many others. A true servant of God, as many others. One statement that we all need to be careful with, particularly as I has experienced on numerous SP deployments and also as a Search For Jesus chat coach, is to say ‘ I understand your pain’. We can never truly understand someone else’s pain, even if we experience the same event. We all react differently, not good or bad. Need to be careful.
That is a great point Dave, thank you for sharing!
Dave, you are 100% correct! We can never, and should never, tell someone we understand their pain. For clarification, when a homeowner tells me “you don’t know what it’s like to lose everything” then my response is “yes, I do”, because I have! I also know the deep, dark depression and despair that so many experience after a disaster. That, I think you will agree, is different from knowing the pain another is dealing with.
Dennis, you are such an inspiration to me and others!! I am so blessed to have met you!! Glad you missed the tree!