Worry’s Wound…

On this coming Friday, I’ll be driving up to Portland for orientation at George Fox Evangelical Seminary. When I had my interview with George Fox back in June, August 23rd was the date they told us to remember because it’s the mandatory orientation: It’s where we get registered for our classes. So, I put it in the back of my mind and made sure I requested for that day off from work. Ever since then I had thought of it as something “down the road” and I told myself that “I haven’t crossed that bridge yet.” Well, I’m at that bridge on that part of the road.

Realizing that your life is about to dramatically change oftentimes has an overwhelming weight to it. When I moved down to Eugene for college seven years ago, the weight of the realization felt a bit lighter. I had no debt, no car pay off (insurance included), and the University had a place for me to live. None of those things happened this time around, which changed the dynamic of the weight to this realization. Instead of nothing but delighted excitement, I often have bouts with worry.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m more than excited about exploring Portland one day at a time, experiencing a new school, and studying subjects that I actually care about. But underneath that excitement is a heavy sense of anxiety trying to bind me to fear – fear of bankruptcy, disease, and endless vehicular mishaps. I fear I won’t be able to make payments on my car, that I’ll develop some type of cancer, and that I’ll never find a car that doesn’t break down within 30 days of driving it (quite a legitimate fear, given my recent experiences). And while I’m planning on how to cross bridges that aren’t even in my eye-sight, God is waiting for me to cross the bridges right before me.

As I’ve written about earlier, I have friendships to invest in while I’m still here in Eugene. And when I wrap my mind around things that may never even happen, I can’t invest in those friendships. Those are the bridges before me; how to leave my church family, friends, and coworkers that live here in Eugene in such a way that when we see each other again some days, months, or years down the road, it’ll be as though I had never left. Such a bridge requires every bit of my attention. And yet I’ve been concerned with what lies ahead.

On Monday evening, my Villages group (through Emmaus Life) got together again. Instead of doing a barbecue, we read a passage of Scripture. And of course, just as these worries about months and years from now were raging through my mind and heart, we were reading through Luke 12:22-34, where Jesus tells us to “Seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to [us].” But what does He mean here, exactly?

We touched on it on Monday, but what Jesus is really getting at here has less to do with material possessions and more to do with living with the peace of God’s provision. As Americans, we often hear a different message from Jesus’ words. When He says that God will provide for us, we start thinking of cars, houses, computers, or jet skis because, as we often say to ourselves to justify buying things, we’ve earned it. We’re entitled to it. God’s just the one making sure we get what we’re owed. Yet what we often don’t consider is that God is withholding what we are owed (death) and giving us what we could never earn on our own (life).

Here is where I’m floored. All my worries regarding my future revolve around the question “What am I going to do?” What am I going to do about my student loan debt? My car payments? My lack of health insurance? My grades? And while I begin to sweat and pull my hair out, Jesus is saying, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Touché, Jesus. Touché.

Jesus also says, after talking about “treasure in heaven,” that “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” (Luke 12:34). In the particular passage this verse is grouped in, I believe Jesus means these words in the positive sense – that He wants us to be consumed by the things of heaven; not the worries of earth. But I also think He wants us to focus so much on the positive sense because He knows the negative sense – that if our “treasure” is in the material possessions, money, and notoriety, then our hearts will sadly be there as well. We cannot have peace in God if we’re not even paying attention to Him.

Last Monday’s discussion about this passage also brought something else to light, something about God’s desire. We often treat this passage or the similar passage in Matthew as if Jesus is simply saying, “God provides.” Yet, as my pastor Scott pointed out, we don’t let the weight of verse 32 hit us: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

We often pour so much blood, sweat, and tears into our careers, families, and personal well-beings only to realize we can’t create a world in which nothing goes wrong. And every time our efforts fail we wonder where God was and why He didn’t provide. Turns out He’s waiting for us to turn around. He’s waiting to give us a robe, ring, and the fattened calf – every symbol that defines us as heirs to His kingdom. He doesn’t want to provide for us so that we flourish in this life; He wants to provide for us so that we flourish beyond this earthly stage of life.

Again, it’s less about things that fade away and more about things that last. And what lasts is His life – it defeated our death. He wants us to have His life so that we need not worry about death. And if we don’t need to worry about that, then what good are we doing by worrying about money, possessions, and how long we live?

No, I’m not saying we should neglect our finances, possessions, and health; God wants us to take responsibility for what we’re given. But He does not want us to worry about it. After all, He gave it to us, so He most certainly could take it away. And if we’re wrapped up with His Life and filled with the peace that comes with it, then why should we ever be bothered if or when He takes back what He’s given? It’s His already; we’re just caretakers.

Worry’s wound is a belief in a lie; that we’re able to make our own heavens and be our own gods. Yet none of us can live longer by anything we do. We might be the healthiest person in the world one day and die of an aneurism the next. So, what we actually should be focused on is stewarding what we’ve been given until we’re asked to give it back. And if what we treasure in what we’ve been given is the Life God freely and richly supplies, then we should have no problem in giving it back.

When Jesus tells us “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” He’s not just teaching His followers to have treasures in heaven; He’s telling us about where God’s treasure and heart are: us. Jesus is telling us that God risked everything for us because He loves us that much.

God bless.

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Sharing My Baggage: Reflections After Three Years of Blogging…

Entering into my fourth year in college back in the fall of 2009, I thought I should do something different. I had been writing Facebook notes for a number of years prior to that year, but felt the need to take my writing elsewhere. After some mechanical mishaps with Blogger.com, I posted my first blog on WordPress.com, thus beginning Cushman’s Chronicles.

Of course, though, I was alive for 22 years before this day in 2009, so this blog hasn’t really been a chronicle of my life in the strictest sense. But it has been a place where the public has been able to see my past being processed as I move forward with God and with life. It has been a place where I’ve shared my fears and failures, tears and heartaches, but also my laughter and joy. Reflecting back on this journey I’ve had with God, blogging has been a major part of it all.

Writing, in general, has been a major element to my walk with the Lord, but blogging has added something to it. Ever since the spring term of my freshman year, I’ve kept a digital journal on my laptop. Set at 9 point font, single-spaced, with half-inch margins in Times New Roman, I’ve accumulated over 700 pages of events (big and small), emotions, and downright boredom. And with the exception of a handful of people, no one has ever read any of that stuff.

What blogging does is force me to share my thoughts in a way that might be understandable to someone who doesn’t know me. Of course this means I’ve had plenty of conversations with myself as I sound out my words a little more carefully so that I minimize the amount of confusion (keyword: minimize). What’s also included – in fact, required – in a journal-esque blogging style is vulnerability.

In my non-fiction creative writing class in the spring of ’09, we were taught to ask ourselves “What does this piece cost me?” In other words, what do I share with my audience of roughly 900 people or more (between Facebook & Twitter) that is rather private information – or at least information that surrenders a large part of my pride? Of course, this is also honesty, but sometimes you can be honest with people and never show any sense of vulnerability. And if there’s no vulnerability, there will never be humility.

In a way, blogging has been a tangible practice of keeping me accountable – to God and to the people who read my words. If I write in here about how I constantly live a perfect Christian life, but then go from WordPress to a porn site, I would not be honest with my readers. And if a practice like this kept going for some time, I’d start to lose all sense of God’s presence. As far as I’m concerned, a life without God is no life at all.

No, it doesn’t mean that I’m supposed to share every failure I’ve ever committed – I think I’d have twice as many blog posts if it did. But what it does mean is that when I’m sharing my thoughts on God and how we’re supposed to walk with Him, I’m very much aware of my own humanity and my own tendencies to mess things up. It’s taken some time to develop – much longer than it should – but it’s there. It isn’t complete by any means, either, but it’s there.

What this has looked like in actual practice – this being vulnerable thing – is that when I talk about desiring marriage through what feels like a long season of solitude, I’m more than aware of those who’ve had longer seasons of being single. Or when I talk about more controversial subjects such as inerrancy and reveal how it’s not a major doctrine in my walk with God (not even a little), I’m more than aware of those who value inerrancy – who have a stronger faith in God because of it. In a way, writing for this blog has enabled me to see another’s perspective – much more than before.

When I first started this blog, I didn’t have much of a goal. I knew I wanted people to read my thoughts on a lot of different things, but I didn’t really have any agenda with it all. I just wrote. Over the years, though, it’s been my goal to write a message with each post. Like a sermon? Kind of. I think it’s more like a sermon that is publicly shared, but intended for myself. It’s a public window into my more personal moments with God.

Obviously, this can’t be done very effectively if I’m not out living a normal life – gathering with the church, praying with fellow brothers and sisters, and serving in other ways apart from writing. But like each of those things (prayer, fellowship, ministry), blogging requires commitment. Not only do I have to sit down and write out the post, but I have to edit it. Sometimes I may even have to rewrite it. As a byproduct, though, it’s caused me to become more diligent and disciplined in my private studies of Scripture and prayers with God.

Blogging hasn’t saved my life. I wasn’t on a dark and lonely road heading directly into depression when I typed up my first post. But there have been quite a few moments where blogging – sitting down to publicly share a personal part of my life – has kept me moving forward, toward God. There have been moments where I felt so guilty and ashamed of the things I had done that I wanted to give up entirely and walk away – from God, from church, from everything. And then I sat down, started typing some words in my journal, and received a blog idea as I typed. From there, once I started blogging, I was back on track.

Writing for this blog – and by extension anyone who reads this – has challenged me in ways I had never dreamed of. And I imagine and hope that it will for many more years to come. God knows that a lot of my emotions and fears and thoughts would still be pent up inside of me if I hadn’t started sharing them with the world. So on this blog’s third birthday, I’d like to thank all those who have read and/or continue to read the stuff I write. Sharing what’s in my baggage with you all has been, in many ways, therapeutic.

Thank you and God bless.

Ceaseless, Sleepless Prayer…

“In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.” – Luke 6:12

I was roughly five minutes late for work on Monday. I wish I could say that it was for a good reason – like getting my coworkers donuts or walking a family of ducks across the street. But I was late because I was getting coffee. I have coffee at home and had plenty of time to make some, even though I had slept through my alarm by an hour and fifteen minutes. Instead I thought I’d be lazy and get a mocha from Dutch Bros.

As it turned out, there was a bit of a line at the Dutch Bros I decided to swing by. After waiting fifteen minutes and spending nearly $5, I got my mocha and drove to work. Fortunately enough, there weren’t any consequences for showing up a little late. But I point it out because I was a minute late Tuesday morning – and for a completely different reason.

I woke up at my usual time, ate breakfast at my usual time, and hopped in the shower at my usual time. And while I was in the shower, I started off a simple prayer for the day. Knowing that day was going to be busy – as well as the rest of the week – I thought it’d be best to set my mind in the right place. Shortly after praying, I turned off the shower and stepped out. Even though I normally take 5-10 minute showers, Tuesday morning’s rinse was nearly 20 minutes long.

I don’t really remember what I was praying about, either. I just know that at the time it was necessary and I wouldn’t have handled the day’s stress and frustration very well without having prayed. And as I was pulling into work one minute behind schedule, I thought of Luke 6:12 talking about Jesus praying all night in spite of His job. Moments before this verse, Luke records a couple encounters with the religious elite over someone whom Jesus had healed on the Sabbath. Moments after this verse, Luke records the naming of Jesus’ apostles and further healings after that. In spite of what Jesus had to do, He still sacrificed sleep to pray.

All-nighter prayers are very infrequent in my life. I’ve maybe pulled off a couple here and there. In recent days, praying has become rare in general. Work has been busier and busier with the football season in full throttle and my day to day tasks have multiplied as well. Praying on a regular basis isn’t very convenient.

Even if I do find the time to pray, they aren’t always the most focused of prayers. I start rambling about different things going on that day, which quickly turns into me reciting my to-do list out loud to myself. Next thing I know, I’m off to start my to-do list all the while I haven’t finished my talk with God. It’s like making a phone call, but walking away just as the other end picks up.

Prayer, in my experience, gets treated as a highly-formal religious rite or a simple, short-lived part of an every day routine (i.e. praying before going to bed). What I find challenging, though, is how Jesus uses prayer. Sometimes He’s praying alone (Matthew 14:23); other times He prays for what seems like hours when a major shift is about to take place (consider the garden of Gethsemane; Mark 14:32-40); and yet all the while, it is an intimate and special practice in our walks with God – something to be kept behind closed doors (Matthew 6:6). As Jesus teaches, God does not want our pretense; He wants our communion with Him.

Despite how we may treat it, prayer is not a fee; it is not something we have to do as part of being good Christians. Instead, it is total surrender of whatever we have going on to engage and embrace whatever God wants to have going on within us. It is not a small snack here and there, supplementing our main-course meals; it is all the meals combined (however many we may receive) because it is the very thing that sustains and drives our spiritual lives. To try and be Christian without prayer is like trying to drive a car without an engine: You’ll stay in one place without it.

“Pray,” as Paul says, “without ceasing,” (1st Thessalonians 5:17). Pray – even if it means being late to work, skipping breakfast, sacrificing a few hours of sleep, or whatever else. Jesus utilized prayer not because it was merely the most effective tool to continue His ministerial work, but because it was the only tool with which He could bring about His Father’s kingdom. It kept Him focused. It kept Him nourished. And it kept Him moving.

Days will only get busier. Maybe you take on more classes in school; maybe you gain more responsibility at work which requires more of your time; or maybe you start dating someone or raising a family. Life’s many stages will only cause us to work harder and retain a stronger focus. Prayer not only helps in these two areas, but causes us to look beyond the temporal circumstances (i.e. this life) toward the life that is to come. Isn’t that worth the 15-20 minutes here and there?

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit,” – 1st Thessalonians 5:16-19

God bless.

“Livin’ the Dream”? A Memo to Myself…

What I’m about to say might sound contradictory: Life outside of school is boring.

I’ve been an Oregon grad for merely seven months and I’m already itching to get back into reading, writing, and class discussions. Comment threads on YouTube videos or Facebook posts simply do not cut it. So many people with nothing better to do than write mean things to each other without ever having met. It’s really annoying.

But seriously, with my constant routine of wake up, go to work, come home, and go to sleep, I’m starting to feel like a mindless drone. I know I’m not a mindless drone, though; “I think, therefore I am,” as that famous guy once said a long time ago (5 points if you know who that was). But with nothing more than a job and a few household responsibilities to consume my day, I’m getting rather bored.

I felt ambitious in college. Sure, I work hard at both my jobs because I feel ambitious about making a living, but that’s the extent of it: making a living. Eight months ago, I felt ambitious about changing things like peoples’ lives or societal influences. Yeah, I know they’re big things to tackle, but it seems like I had the energy and will power to at least take it on. Nowadays I feel good about myself if I put the dish soap in the right slot.

In all honesty, though, I have been reading and writing. But this morning I browsed through previous entries in my journal and noticed a more vibrant voice and a lot more words. It means only one thing: I read and wrote a lot more back in college because I was extremely ambitious and knew those things I was reading or writing were going to help. And yet here I am sitting in my sweats and drinking a little Gentleman Jack mixed with Arizona raspberry iced tea.

“Livin’ the dream.” That’s the phrase I often hear back from other college graduates who are doing exactly what I’m doing: working a couple part time jobs to pay rent and buy food until something bigger comes along. Of course, I know for a fact everyone who’s answered that has done so sarcastically. At least I hope so. I know I wouldn’t want to be stuck working a part time job after graduating college; kind of the opposite of what I had in mind when I first went to school.

I guess what I’m really pointing out right here is the fact that dreams and ambitions and aspirations aren’t just going to fall into your lap. And they certainly aren’t going to be achieved by constantly having the inspiration; that’s only temporal. But what, then, can sustain one’s dream(s) through the phase of routine and ritual? Discipline’s a good word and so is commitment, but there’s something else much simpler and yet much more profound.

Do it.

Stop making excuses. Stop saying there’s not enough time in your schedule. Stop saying you need inspiration. Write out what your dream is and do it.

This past week I did something I hadn’t done in a long time: I ran. For four days straight (would have been five if I hadn’t worked a double on Friday) I went for a run around the neighborhood. What was interesting about it all was how easy it actually was. I remember that as I put on my running shorts and laced up my shoes, my mind would go crazy thinking about how miserable I was about to feel. And yet, as soon as I got outside, I leaned forward and took off jogging.

I did it.

No excuses. No delays. No “but I’m going to have an asthma attack”s. I put my head down and started running. If there is ever a memo I’d like to leave myself for this upcoming week and for the rest of my life it’s this: Know your dream and go do it. You are the only one stopping yourself.

Weddings: God’s Parties…

It’s only been a couple days since Mohan and Christa got hitched, but I really want to re-do their wedding. I know they probably don’t want to since it’d cost a lot and they’ve already signed the marriage license. But still, I had so much fun this past weekend that it’s difficult to get back into the normal routine of life.

It doesn’t help that my job only requires 15-18 hours of my week and my internship maybe another 10. Even so, I think I’d feel the same way if I had to work 60 hours this week. As I discovered this last weekend, weddings are completely different when you’re a part of them. I didn’t just show up for the ceremony and reception; I was there to set up and clean up both the rehearsal and main ceremony. Seeing the event being pieced together with all the small details was an amazing and exciting experience.

I want to do it again.

Why is that? Well, along with the wedding itself, I got to meet a ton of new people: Many from the groom’s side, the bride’s side, and plenty of mutual friends. Hearing how they were related to the bride or groom or how they shared a season of life with both was a mesmerizing experience. It was like reading a novel of Mohan and Christa’s past; how they met each other and how their friendship grew over the years. And much like a good novel, it’s hard to put down.

Quite honestly, I think weddings like that one – weddings guided by pure and innocent hearts rather than routine and ritual – give a vivid glimpse of heaven. I know that sounds cheesy and rather cliché, but honestly, I believe it. I believe God’s home is going to be one where work is joyfully done so the parties can be perfect. And I believe there will definitely be parties with dancing and wine… lots of wine 🙂

I don’t mean to sound like I’m about to crash a bunch of weddings, but I really had a good time at this one. When the ceremony was all over and dinner consumed, I felt the joy begin to consummate when I gave a toast. Normally, I’m terribly nervous speaking in front of people. Anyone who took Principles of Advertising with me can attest to that. But when it came time to talk about Mo and Christa, I had fun with it.

Moments later is when the dancing began. I saw Mohan going crazy and figured it was safe for me as well. And it’s not a characteristic unique to just Mo, either; his brothers, sisters, and cousins display this fearlessness as well. It really changed the whole wedding, I think – these relatives, both new and old, letting all their energy go that night. The ones who normally sit back and watch (i.e. people like me) were suddenly out there rockin’ away. It wasn’t until hours had passed before the dancers started filtering away. When I decided to call it quits, it was nearly 2 in the morning and my feet were throbbing. A small sacrifice for the fun I had.

Like I said, after an experience like that, it’s hard to go back to normal. But that’s just it; I don’t think God wants us to go back to normal. In my toast to Mohan and Christa, I talked about Mo as someone who redefines “normal.” He borrows your stuff, watches a ridiculous amount of TV while studying (and yes, it proves effective for him), and – most importantly – makes all the necessary sacrifices in order to be with the woman he loves. Likewise, I think God wants us to work through our jobs; our duties as children, siblings, and parents; and our painful moments of life because the celebration at the end of it all is totally worth it.

Not but an hour or so before the ceremony began, I had cut the bottom of my foot open on a stone step getting Mohan’s ring from his car. It only took 20 minutes or so to clean up and wrap up, but for this entire week (and possibly next week as well), I have to hobble around like a pirate. In an odd way, though, the painful steps send shockwaves of joyful memories from this weekend. I think this is why we experience pain, trials, and tribulations; because each one – if dealt with through a pursuit of God – reminds us that with as deep as our pain goes, God dives deeper. His joy, love, and pursuit of us overcome everything because He has made the only necessary sacrifice to be with the ones He loves.

Life doesn’t seem so difficult with the end party in sight. Sure, we’ll have our rough days and momentarily think otherwise. But if the party is like Mohan and Christa’s wedding, it’ll be well worth it.

My Senior Message…

When you’ve been in one place for a long time, you tend to have flashbacks every now and then. Most of mine in the past couple of days have been from freshman year – a time when I didn’t have the slightest worry in the world and had nothing figured out. I miss those days. No, I still don’t have much figured out for my life and I’m not really worrying too much about my future (key words: “too much”), but what I miss from those days is the constant presence of other people in my life.

There are still quite a few people in my life these days, but we’re mostly all busy and have our own schedules. Back in those days our schedules were wide open and often intertwined. Whether it was a dorm-hall hangout, CCF soccer pick-up game, or a trip to the movies with a few from both crowds, there was always something to do and people to hang out with. Of all my five years of college, I’m going to miss hanging out the most.

Ever since last Thursday night, I’ve been thinking of what I’d like to tell the people who are still in college. Back in the eighth grade we left our “wills” to various people in the grades behind us, which entailed dumb things like “To So-and-So I leave my locker and all my dirty gym socks,” or “To So-and-So I leave my unparalleled swagger.” But this isn’t what I had in mind here (although, if I had to leave something, I’d leave Brian Teague my enthusiasm for proper grammar – you need it buddy ;)).

No, what’s been on my mind since last week is a message. It’s been difficult to put to words and has several aspects to it, but one that I want to give to all those coming back to U of O, NCU, or LCC next year. It’s simple, easy to remember, and aligns perfectly with the words of Jesus: Invest in each other.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:34-35

What has gotten me through the difficult emotions in life, what has deepened my walk with the Lord, and what has propelled me to the point I’m at now has been not only the presence of other people, but the intentional love these people have shown and shared with me. Had Cross Training’s men’s group not discussed Blue Like Jazz in a relatable way, I may not have become so passionate about writing. Had my roommates in The Revolution not been so interested in my story, I might never have felt inclined to share it. And if the generations before me had not been so honest with me, I might never have been so honest with them – or even with myself.

In my doubting days, I wondered why a good God would let bad things happen to good people. I wondered where He was and what He was doing when thousands upon thousands were dying around the world. But then a couple friends would call me up just to see how I was doing, a pastor would text me about coffee the next day, and a roommate would walk in my room asking how things with God were going. As I sought a definite answer to the world’s pain, God was working on my own healing through the people around me. No, they weren’t perfect – none of us are – but that’s just it; they were so relentless in sharing this selfless love with me that I could see something within them propelling them forward when everything else seemed to be falling behind.

“Ekklesia” (ek-clay-see-uh) does not mean a church building or sanctuary; it means a gathering, an assembly, a congregation of people. Originally it was used to describe political gatherings or assemblies watching the great orators of ancient Greek culture. But the earliest Christians began to use it to describe their own meetings; gatherings of a Kingdom much greater than the world’s. In some cases risking their lives, they met up to pray with each other, learn about the Lord from each other, and share a meal with each other. They saw each other’s smiles and felt each other’s tears. Living out Christ’s commandment to love, they invested in each other.

And this is what I wish the groups behind me will do. No amount of private devotionals will bring you as close to God as the prayers and presence of others around you. You can’t operate as a full body if you’re just a hand or foot; you need the other parts attached to you if you want to function well. You need others to keep you sane.

There’s another aspect, though, to being an “Ekklesia.” A little over a year ago I described the church as a fleet of ships at sea – each ship representing the smaller congregations. The people on these ships, the crews, are needed in order to make the ship move forward. But yet they aren’t traveling in any random direction; there’s a purpose within each crew, an objective to carry out. Invest in each other, yes, but do something with each other.

Get outside, go places, meet new people, talk about life, talk about faith, talk about Jesus. My five years of college, despite my procrastination, have seen a lot of productivity. And yet, there was so much time wasted in front of the TV, on Facebook, and just lounging around being bored.

A parable in Matthew’s Gospel contains a tidbit of detail that I’ve always found indirectly convicting; “And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too,’” 20:6-7. When I first considered that word “idle,” I felt as though Jesus was asking me that question: “Why are you wasting your life on Facebook, Twitter, watching TV, or just lounging around? There is work to be done!”

As the saying goes, you’re only young once. These college years of your life could be some of the most exciting and most memorable. Life was given to us not for the purpose of suffering and then dying; it was given to us to enjoy. Such joy, though, comes from the Lord, which is amplified in Christ-committed communities, which are sharpened and strengthened when focused on a goal – when seeking to work in Christ’s vineyard. Then and only then “work” loses its dread and instead grows intertwined with joy.

Paul’s Christian life was spent in prisons and under house arrest. As the Scriptures say, he was beaten and bruised regularly, but he always had someone with him investing in him and was always investing in others. And he was always focused on the prize at the finish line.

Write songs, sing songs, dance, write stories, share stories, live stories, and love each other through it all. Life is more than degrees, jobs, and careers. Life is Jesus. And Jesus is within you.

God bless.

Love Is All That Matters…

It’s not every day a man gets shot at your work place. But it happened tonight and it just so happened to be my work. Usually these sorts of events happen elsewhere; usually the scary events happen elsewhere and to other people. Like when the Towers fell on 9/11; I was scared, but not as scared as the citizens of New York City or Washington D.C. Tonight, however, I was shaken up because it was so terribly close to being me lying on the ground with bullet holes through my body.

I’m fine; I was in the kitchen making food when the man was shot outside in the parking lot. And from the details gathered by the police, the shooter seemed to have been targeting this man and no one else. So no, it’s not like the bullets barely escaped me. But still; I’ve never been so close to a shooting before. I’ve also never seen a wounded man before. I’m used to the blood being fake and no one ever really being concerned for the wounded men because they always seem to survive beyond the end of the movie. But the blood was real. The worry for this man’s life was real. And the reality check for what actually matters in this life was real, too.

As my readers are probably well aware, what happens next in my life has been the prominent question on my mind lately. Oftentimes it’s driven me to worry and even anxiety. I know I shouldn’t worry about this stuff and that God will take care of me, but there is so much uncertainty with where I might be going that the things I should be doing and focusing on become blurred. An event like tonight, though, brings me back down to earth – refreshes what matters most in my life.

No, God did not intend for this man to get shot just so that I’d have a much-needed reality check; it just happened to be the way it all went down. A man tried to kill another man and all the innocent bystanders were left to reflect over what it all meant. When I started thinking of how it could have been me, I thought of my grandpa. I thought of my brothers and sisters. I thought of my mom. I thought of all my friends past and present. And I thought about how I spend most of my time focused on my life instead of theirs.

I’m not trying to guilt-trip myself and beat myself up with shame; I’m just pointing out an area I desperately need to work on. At any moment our lives could be taken from us; be it a shooting, a car accident, cancer, or something else entirely. According to John’s Gospel, Jesus’ most important commandment was that we love each other – not our money, our cars, our fame, our deeds, our images. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. … This is my command: Love each other,” (John 15:12-13, 17).

As we were closing up Putters early tonight, I overheard a little girl crying. Don’t know if this little girl was the daughter of the man who was shot or what, but I imagined what that man’s kids were thinking now. I wondered if they’d ever get to see him again. I wondered what their adult lives were going to be like with this in their memory bank. I wondered if they’d learn to love properly or be so scarred from this event that they’d turn away from people – learn not to love so deeply in order not to be let down later.

It changes things, this knowledge. Realizing that at any moment I or a loved one could be gone. It changes the way you approach them. It changes the way you go about your day to day lives. It changes the way you meet new people. It changes how you love.

Tonight I will most likely lay my head down to a good night’s rest only to wake up and do this whole life thing again tomorrow. What I hope will be different, though, is how I treat the people around me. Even if they’re the most annoying person on the face of the earth, someone in this world loves them deeply – even if it’s just God who loves them; someone loves them! And since I’ve made up my mind to follow Jesus, I must love as He did. I must carry the heart of compassion He did. I must open my eyes to the precious things; the lives around me.

I must love… Plain and simple…

God bless!

P.S. Please pray for this man’s health and his family and friends’ emotional well-being. They were pretty distraught tonight.