Wednesday, July 19, 2017

To The Dreamers

This summer, I’ve been working a job as a construction laborer. It’s hard, hot and sweaty work, and often leaves me feeling exhausted. However, one of the best things about the work is getting to hear my coworker’s stories. 

The men I work with could be described as having colorful language, being a bit rough around the edges, or just straight up crude. That’s what I saw at first. Cussing, smoking, and inappropriate humor are the norm, it seems. But as hour after sweaty hour goes by and I spend more time working alongside of them, I really begin to understand just how strong some of them are.

One of my coworkers shows up every day on time and stays the whole day (not all of the men do!) because he’s working to provide for his family. He gave up his dream of pursuing basketball so that he could see his son more. He wishes he had more time to focus on going to church, and reading the Bible, but it’s difficult for him to go 100% into faith with a family to provide for and an exhausting job. He dreams of a career where he works on car transmissions — something he loves to do.

Another one of my coworkers consistently works 10 hours a day. That’s ten hours in a field of dirt and mud in 90, sometimes 100 degree heat. He does this so that he can provide safety for his family. He’s served time as a police officer in the past. He loves his wife and his twins, whom he is separated from currently while he makes money to provide for them. He dreams of a better life, spent with his family.

It makes me feel a little guilty knowing that I’m only working this job for the summer. I have full control over my hours — I can choose when I go into work, since no one is dependent on my money to live. I’m free to be there, and I’m free to go. My pay is good for being a summer laborer, and I’m doing the some of the same work that the career guys are. A lot of the guys I work with don’t have that kind of freedom. Many of them can’t or didn’t go to school like I am now.

And yet, they all have dreams. Many of these men work to provide for their families; there isn’t much else they know to do or that they could go to. So they work the jobs that many people look down on or think less of, and build the beautiful structures that we get to use and enjoy. Their language and humor is roughened by the frustration that comes from spending hours in the sun every day. But they are still human — they like to laugh, to smile, and to enjoy the benefits of the hard work that they do. In those ways, they reflect the image of the God that they unknowingly bear.

It seems their dreams fuel their desire to get up in the morning. You can tell how much the men have to live for based on how they treat their job — when they stay late, when they show up on time every day; those are the committed ones. The dreamers.

Here’s to those who are overlooked and undervalued. Those striving to make ends meet while dreaming of so much more. Here’s to the ones who hold onto hope by the thinnest of threads, and wake up every morning with a determination that can sometimes seem inhuman. Whether it’s illness, the hardships of life, grief, depression, or anything else — here’s to you waking up every morning and simply drawing another breath. You’re an example of strength. A reflection of perseverance.  A model of long-suffering.

Thank you for showing the rest of us what it means to dream.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Gravel Path

My school’s prayer chapel sits near the exact middle of campus. This is great for the times when I’ve been having a stressful day, and have a little bit of time between classes — I’m able to walk right to it without going too far out of my way.

In addition to it’s location, it also has a beauty that draws me in. It has four small prayer rooms that can comfortably seat up to four people, though I usually snag one when I’m alone. It also has a quaint little sanctuary with a piano and cross. I love to sit in one of the little prayer rooms while others play the piano. Unbeknownst to them, their praise and worship blesses me as I listen to the simple acoustic melodies. The small building is surrounded by benches, fountains, rock gardens, and flowers. They smell awesome this time of year, and it’s a blessing to sit on one of these benches and watch the sun set as the warm evening air seems to sigh over such a beautifully painted sky. The prayer chapel is arguably the second most beautiful place on campus.

The most beautiful place on campus is the trail that leads to the chapel. There are some paved sidewalks that lead to it, but the path I’m talking about is simply gravel. It leads under some trees, winds it’s way between a myriad of different colored flowers, over a quiet creek, and up a small incline on which the prayer chapel rests on top of. Best yet, you can count on a red-winged blackbird to be singing and flying above these flowers. I haven’t walked down this path yet this spring during the day when he wasn’t out. I watched him dance in the air for about fifteen minutes one time.

I love that the path leads through the most beautiful spot on campus, but the path itself is just gravel. It practically begs you to turn your eyes from it and to the gorgeous scenery you are surrounded by. It’s the one place that I find it difficult to look down at my feet when I walk, especially when I’m processing some hard things. My worries are forgotten for a few blissful moments as I slow my pace down to enjoy this sacred space.

The gravel path reminds me of the people in my life who exemplify Christ-like character. They always seem to draw my eyes off of themselves because they contrast themselves - in incredible humility - with a beautiful God. They direct honor and praise away from themselves and towards Christ. For a few blissful moments, I catch a glimpse of what is most important — something that supersedes the hard road I walk on.

Our culture teaches us to bring attention to ourselves. Consumerism feeds this by demanding that we choose what we want at a price that is convenient for us. Media demands portraying characters that succeed when they seek self-gain, and demeaning characters that are meek and humble. Our careers only seem to progress when we ask for that promotion, or work hard for that raise. Sometimes even our churches try to sell us a faith that is focused on individual salvation, not communal sanctification. The kind of faith that says, “Individual salvation is all that matters; and if you have that, you’re gold. The Body of Christ and spiritual disciplines don’t hold much weight.”

Instead, I think the Lord calls us to honor others above ourselves. To point others in a heavenward direction when they approach us with their worries and anxieties. In fact, even that may be too selfish a stance. James 1:27 says: 

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world,” (ESV). 

This verse calls us to seek out those who are afflicted, not wait for them to come to us. Jesus wants us to meet people in their sorrows, and to immediately begin pointing them to the One who can give them peace and rest. Just like the gravel path that I’ve come to love dearly, I don’t love those encouragers around me because of what they do; I love them because they allow me to stand on their shoulders for a while to give me a glimpse of what can truly save me. In this way, they are exemplifying how we are to #LiveItLikeJesus.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Success is Finishing

A marathon runner doesn’t count his success as the number of people he finished ahead of; simply completing the race means that he has done an incredible job.

I was watching my RA and his fiancé stuff wedding invitations into envelopes the other day, and I pointed out that they were using different methods to achieve the same goal: he was grabbing 10 or so envelopes at a time, and then sealing them one by one until his small stack was gone, then reaching for another set. She, however, was sealing the letters one by one. I challenged them to a race, to see who’s method was better… soon after the letters were being sealed as quickly as possible, sometimes at the expense of a bent envelope being stuffed in the box wrong.

Afterwards, this moment got me thinking about how we compare ourselves to others. I think in American careers, we are taught that getting things done faster is often better — that’s why we live 100 mph lives. While we drive to work, we talk on the phone; while we watch football, we also send out emails. Everything we do is geared towards efficiency, because we know that if we slowed down, someone else would take our place and we would become irrelevant.

Our lives are lived with this race mentality, and it never seems to slow down. We get things done faster, yes, but it’s often at the expense of quality — not necessarily the things we produce, but the lives we live. We are lessening the quality of our lives by racing; and our envelopes are becoming bent and creased along the way.

I think this race mentality ultimately stems from a misinformed view of success: our successes seem to lie in accomplishing a goal faster or better than those around us. A bigger paycheck, another raise… these are how we gauge our successes. Our constant comparison steals our joy as we push each other farther and farther into this cycle of striving to be the best.

However, what if we changed our view of success to not mean getting things done faster or better, but simply just getting them done? In the case of my RA and his fiancé, this would mean that they could both work at whatever pace they desired — regardless of who was faster — to work towards a common goal, and BOTH would succeed fully when the letters were finished. The race mentality seems to be uniquely Western; there are many many places in the world where work is something to be done; not something to be done quickly.

By giving ourselves time and grace to finish what we start, I feel that we can begin to live much more full lives — we may not get as much done in a day, but maybe God isn’t calling us to a constant cycle of racing busyness. Matthew 20:1-16* has a beautiful example of this; the laborers who worked one hour received as much as the laborers did who worked the whole day. Their success wasn’t based upon how much each individual accomplished, but whether the job was done or not. Thus, everyone got the same pay.

I would encourage you to start to view your successes based on what you finish, and not worry about how others have finished the same work, whether faster or slower, better or worse. Instead, give God thanks for the opportunity to glorify Him through the work that you do. Be able to look on what you did, and be able to say that it is good, just as He looked on you and saw that you were good. This is one way that we are able to #LiveItLikeJesus.

*This passage is taken out of context; Jesus is talking to His disciples about the kingdom of heaven. This parable lets the disciples know that those who come to salvation, whether in their youth or in their old age, will be accepted into God's kingdom. However, I still believe it can tell us something about work ethic as well.

Hiatus

It’s been 55 days since I’ve sat down to write for my blog. That’s easily the longest period of time since starting this page that I’ve been away.

College, well, it’s been busy. But more than that, it’s been filled with people, experiences, and new realizations. It’s been laughter and disappointment, frustration and triumph. It’s been some of the greatest months of my life, and it’s hard to believe that freshmen year is nearly over.

During the most recent weeks, I’ve struggled to balance time spent with friends, homework, time with myself, and time spent with God in a healthy and meaningful way. Last week, I started making moves towards self-health and treating myself better — and it’s done much already. It’s incredible to me how waking up and going to bed one hour earlier every day can make me so much more productive, since now I have an extra hour every day to spend in silence and read my Bible. Enjoying the mornings are a rediscovered blessing for me.

To be honest, I’m not sure where this blog is going to go — whether God will continue to give me things to write, or if I’m to just leave it be and move on to something else. There have been times where I have wanted to write something, but had nothing to write about; and other times when I just wanted to give it up and put it to rest. I want this blog to reflect the words that my good friend used to remind me of all the time: “Soli Deo Gloria,” no matter what that means. If continuing to write honors God most, so be it. If honoring God means walking away, well, I’ll definitely miss it, but will look ahead to what He will do in the future.

As I sit here and reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m going, I want to thank those of you who have read thus far for your support, encouragement, and intentionality. Y’all have blessed me so much. To the Lord be all of the glory! Amen.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Miracle in Our Lungs

“Every breath that you take is a miracle.” - Switchfoot, Live It Well

I wish everyone could understand this incredible truth. Somehow, this message needs to be spread.

No matter how busy, burnt out, or low you are, I’m thankful for the breath in your lungs. I hope that you grow to be thankful for it too.

I know this world is waging war against us every day. It can be so difficult to find a way to get ahead; to stay on top of the waves that only seek to drown us. Sometimes, it can feel like nothing is going right. And yet, there is hope. Jeremiah writes in Lamentations that he has hope every day since God’s mercies are new.

But what exactly does this mean? Words can sound nice, but sometimes, they can lack power. Trip Lee, in one of his most vulnerable songs, says:

“Bro, I'm twenty-six, I should feel better by a mile!
Keep all your anecdotes and cute quotes;
I'll pass on clichés for true hopes, it too dope.” - Trip Lee, Sweet Victory

The true hope that Trip Lee talks about gives him strength to face every new day, even though he struggles with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

This rapper-pastor continues to serve others in his community, church, and worldwide through his ministry and music. I’m sure a lot of the days he faces are long and hard-fought. After all, CFS is an incurable and untreatable disease. And yet, it seems that with every breath that he breathes, Trip Barefield is being used by God to reconcile the world.

God has given each of us breath in our lungs to serve Him. While this can seem selfish on His part, when we examine His nature, we find that all He does is give. He is constantly pouring out His love, grace, and mercy onto us, even when it doesn’t seem like it. The breath in your lungs is proof of that.

Sometimes, I think that God puts us in situations that are too difficult for us. He helps to see that we are dependent on Him for our strength. What’s amazing is that as we begin to trust Him to provide for our needs, He always pulls through.

One thing that gives me a lot of hope on days where I feel like I cannot go on is that God gives us enough strength for each day. Some days, we are given more strength than others. However, I know that when my strength runs out, the day is over. I can trust God to provide for the things that are left unfinished, and just go to bed. When we seek to serve Him in all that we do, the other things fall into place.

That kind of trust can be scary, especially when we give ourselves too much power and decide that we have control over everything that happens in our lives. When we take the steering wheel back from God, I think that we find more exhaustion or pain because we start living outside of His will. Surrender is scary, but needed.

“For the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said:
‘You will be delivered by returning and resting;
your strength will lie in quiet confidence.’” - Isaiah 30:15 HCSB

Surrender isn’t giving up and letting trouble sweep over us. It’s handing over the responsibility over to Someone Who is far more capable. We don’t need to try harder; we need to trust more. The breath in our lungs doesn’t just keep us alive; it’s there to bring praise to the God Who cares so deeply for us.

“It's Your breath in our lungs,
So we pour out our praise!
We pour out our praise!
It's Your breath in our lungs,
So we pour out our praise to You only.” - All Sons & Daughters, Great Are You Lord

Monday, January 23, 2017

Wilderness

A return to the wilderness.

There's nothing here.
Just you, the wind, and the grit that covers the ground.
It brushes against your ankles as the breeze sweeps it across the barren terrain. 
You listen closely, yet hear no sound.

This peace is what you searched for;
the quiet is not.
For this quiet is loud with the screams of your heart;
the thoughts that endlessly loop in your head.

But you let the thoughts come, and with them, pain.
The memories of the past come rushing back,
and there is nothing to stop the torrent.

But as soon as it came, it passes, and the quiet isn't loud.
The quiet is still, and calm, and broken only by the moan of the wind.

And then, a voice. A still, small whisper far off in the distance. At first, it cannot be understood what the whisper says, but suddenly, the understanding comes in a rush.

"Be still, My child. Lay down your burdens. Let Me be the one to offer you strength; to restore your weary soul; to give you new life. For I am the one who created you, and I love you so deeply, you cannot know. As tall as the mountains are high; as low as the oceans are deep, I love you more."

Peace and love, warm and sweet, rush over you in waves. Washed in this grace, the warmth spreads and fills; replacing the void just before filled with chaotic, violent thoughts. The quiet is not loud, nor is it silent; and the wilderness around you becomes an oasis. 

Set a stone in the ground, young one; remember this day forever. For today is the day the Lord has led His Bride from the wilderness, and back into His merciful presence. May He be praised forever and ever!

"Therefore, I am going to persuade her, lead her to the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. Then I will give her vineyards back to her and turn the Valley of Achor into a gateway of hope." - Hosea 2:14-15

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Locusts

“I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust ate… You will know that I am present in Israel and that I am Yahweh your God, and there is no other. My people will never again be put to shame.” - Joel 2:25a; 27 (HCSB)

Today in church our pastor spoke on this verse. I personally had never heard it before, but it is, I’m told, a common verse to hear as an encouragement. And an encouragement it is! When I think of the devastation left by locusts, I see fields upon fields entirely empty during harvest time. There was a lot of hard work put into that crop, and the fruit of it wasn’t enjoyed by the one who planted it; instead, it was stolen away on a whim. That would be incredibly frustrating.

What’s more is that the verse says that God will repay for the years that the locusts destroyed. This wasn’t a bad circumstance that happened once. This happened again, and again, and again. Hard work had gone to waste, and empty stomachs had to endure another difficult winter. This didn’t just impact the Israelites physically, but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. The helplessness of consistently losing all that you’ve strived for can take a huge toll on someone.

I can’t help but think of the years stolen away from orphans around the world. I’ve held the hand of the orphan, and I’ve seen the hardship they encounter. Yesterday, Dressember ended, and I think of all the years that have been stolen away from little girls and young women as they are subjected again and again to torture and rape. I look at the news, and I think of the years stolen away from families as they live out a nightmare of running from home because it is no longer safe, to a location far away and unknown — and often hostile to them.

I think of the years stolen away from my friends. Some of them have gone through trouble time and time again, and it just doesn’t seem like life ever gives them a break. The arguments at home, the pain of the past, the death of loved ones, and the addictions that demand more of them… these things and more steal away from the abundant life God desires us to have in Christ.

And yet, God tells us that if we return to Him with a broken and contrite heart, He will restore us. He will restore our lives and our homes and our marriages to what He originally intended them to be: beautiful and abundant. We just have to wait on Him.

During our worship in service today, we sang the song, “Days of Elijah,” and it took on a brand new light for me. It’s a song of celebration during the hard times. It’s a song of rejoicing in the storm. I anxiously cry out to God for those who I see are in trouble, and I want them to be saved from the locusts, because the trouble comes in wave after wave. And this song today gave me great hope and joy, reminding me that Jesus is going to come back and set our world to rights again.

“And though these are days of great trials,
of famine and darkness and sword,
still we are the voice in the desert, crying,
‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord!’
Behold He comes! riding on the clouds,
shining like the sun, at the trumpet's call!
So lift your voice, it's the year of Jubilee,
and out of Zion's hill, salvation comes!” - Donnie McClurkin

May God restore the years stolen by the locusts in your own life as you seek Him in this new year. As always, remember to #LiveItLikeJesus.