I have seen so many “I am thankful for _______” posts in the past month that it got me thinking: What would I put on such a list? Of course the normal things came up: my family, friends, health, home, safety, freedom, love, Jesus, faith, the World Race, America, clean shaven men, hand-holding, soft rainstorms, mountaintops, laughter, joy, hugs, kisses, smiles, frozen Greek yogurt, technology, fuzzy blankets, cold weather, bonfires, music, snuggles, accents, books, education, ASU, random acts of kindness, God-following men, letters via snail mail, and the list goes on and on.
Then, I got to really thinking and decided I was missing two important things: heartbreak and failure. Yes, at first I argued with myself. “Heartbreak? Failure? Those aren’t so pleasant. Why should I be thankful for them? I usually try to avoid them. It makes no sense at all to be thankful for having had a broken heart or having failed.” Oh, but it does!
You see, we are all naturally inclined to be thankful for the pleasant things, the things we want more of and hope to never be deprived of. I am among the world’s worst at simply trying to avoid unpleasant or uncomfortable things/situations/people. Someone breaks my heart? That’s fine, I’ll just move on and try to pretend it never happened. You know, avoid those memories like the plague. That’s totally acceptable, right? Unfortunately, no.
I believe a part of growing up is accepting that life is not always a series of pleasant, enjoyable moments that come together perfectly as long as you “do things right.” Things are going to happen. Despite perfectly executing that “next step” agenda that we are taught to strive for (college, career, marriage, kids, etc.), there will be unpleasant moments. There will be broken hearts. There will be failed attempts, plans, ideas, and relationships. That’s part of the process, and really, it’s one of the best parts if you think about it.
I happen to love the metaphor that places God as an artist and we, as people, are His masterpieces. Instead of thinking of us as paintings or sculptures, I like to think of each of us as mosaics. Each tiny piece has been broken off from somewhere, rearranged, fitted into the whole, and is an integral part of the big picture. Each time your heart has been broken, whether by a friend, a partner, a family member, boss, or even a stranger, those pieces are scooped up, rearranged, put back onto the canvas, and fitted into making the big picture beautiful. Same thing goes with every failure. Every failed test, failed relationship, failed plan, failed job, failed idea – it’s all used into making your big picture beautiful.
A song out right now by Casting Crowns that I have grown quite fond of states:
One day I’ll stand before You
And look back on the life I’ve lived
I can’t wait to enjoy the view
And see how all the pieces fit.
On that day, I do believe I will be seeing the most beautiful picture of my life – my life’s very own mosaic masterpiece crafted by God Himself. Each heart break, each failure – it’s all working together along with all of the joy, the love, the excitement, the adventure, the pleasantness of this life.
So, nestled on my list of things to be thankful for you can find “heartbreak” and “failure” somewhere amongst the others, probably hanging out somewhere between “traveling” and “men wearing ties.”
I will preface this post with a simple statement: I make no apologies for honesty, yet I have no aim to offend. That being said let me just go ahead and lay out what is irking me today.
Love. Christians and their “love” particularly, because I believe we (Christians) have been doing dangerous things to both the word, the value, and the context of love. It’s time for change. Or, maybe, it’s time someone just show me the error of my thoughts about this. Either way: something needs to give.
I am 22 years old and have been a Christian half of my life (I accepted salvation at age 11). I know God loves me to an extent that even after over a decade I still cannot fully know the depths to. I know that for Jesus, blameless and holy, to die on a cross for all of us who through our sins deserve the punishment of death, He had to have loved us more than we can really comprehend. Jesus and God both tell us over and over in scripture that we, as sinful people, are loved. God loves us. Jesus loves us.
How can we be sure? Well, God loves us so much that He created us just so we can experience His goodness and live forever with Him in glory. He loves us so much that He sacrificed His blameless, holy, and only Son on a cross through a torturous death so that we can be forgiven of our sins – that we do not have to bear the punishment of death for the sins that we commit daily. And Jesus, oh sweet Jesus! He was perfect – fully man and fully God. He never sinned. His eternal home was all ready going to be Heaven. He didn’t need to die on that cross for His own benefit. He chose to go through an insane amount of torture, ridicule, and hurt to sacrifice Himself since we could never do that ourselves. Jesus loves each of us enough that He gave Himself to pay for the wrongs that we commit because He wants to know us, He wants us to know Him, and He wants us to spend forever in the love and glory of His Father with Him in Heaven. That’s a love of love for the pure sake of love.
Now, basically the lasting command that Jesus gave all of us before He went back to Heaven to chill with God was to love God and love one another. Okay, so He wants us to love one another? And He said that God is love so by Him we shall know what love is and how to love. Sounds simple enough, right? Apparently that just isn’t so.
We as humans complicate everything, I’ve found. You know, dogs have it figured out. They get excited when their human(s) comes home and they spend all day just trying to love those who they are around. Animals are smart — and simple. But humans, oh we are so complex. We complicate. We compare. We rationalize. We justify. We modify.
It’s come to my attention that there are two major different camps of Christians these days when it comes to “love” or “loving on people”: the Over-lookers and the Reprimanders. You may find yourself right now immediately pulling towards one and justifying yourself. Stop. Be simple. Admit, change, and find a balance. You may be sitting there and thinking “I’m more of a half-and-half kind of person.” Good! You should be. Balance is the simple essence of real love here.
First, let us take a gander at the Over-lookers. This camp of Christians is what many would consider the hippies, the hipsters, the overall “anything goes” kind-of people. They claim that to “love” others you have to overlook all the sin that bonds them, ignore it, and just accept them as is. These are the ones who are infamous about proclaiming the “judge not lest ye be judged” verse in any and all context. They also heavily rely on the “look at the speck in your own eye” scripture. You’ll know these people. The whole “oh, you abuse your children and you cheat on your spouse? That’s okay, we all sin. I love you!” bit is the same record over and over. That is, unless you disagree with them. If another Christian, perhaps, tries to talk to someone about the sin that person is struggling with, then the Over-lookers immediately deem said Christian as “judgmental” or “self-righteous.” The Over-lookers love everyone – unless you don’t agree with them. Then you’re bad and you need to change. If you aren’t like them or aren’t blindly accepting of their ways or words, you better be ready to be told that you are not a “real Christian” and you are bad for the Kingdom. Ahem. These are the same ones who will get angry at me (a Christian) for calling out something I see wrong with other Christians. Don’t get angry at me – I’m just calling it like I’ve seen it.
Let’s look at the other end of the spectrum now: the Reprimanders. This camp of Christians is often considered to be the older generations, but in fact, have many young people. These are often found hiding behind the justification of being a conservative. They claim that to “love” others you have to call them out on their sin and keep telling them what they are doing wrong so that they can repent and change. These are the ones who will be flaunting the “better an open reprimand than concealed love” verse as their lives’ mission statement. They will also claim that since they are only reprimanding out of love “and righteous judgment” then it is an act of Biblical love. The Reprimanders love to be “helpful” in showing others what needs improvement, yet often are upset if someone tries to do the same for them. Their “love” goes only as far as what they personally believe, and they will be the first ones to let you know – they always know everything about how a Christian should live. The Reprimanders are easily the ones to come off pushy. While the Over-lookers are more likely to lead Non-Believers to avoid repentance, the Reprimanders are more likely to offend Non-Believers to a point that they are off-put from Christianity as a whole. The Reprimanders will be the ones who argue that I must not know enough of the Bible to understand their ways, that I need to devote more time to studying the Bible. Oh, and I’m sure they would be telling me that I should be writing a lecture to those who are alcoholics, murderers, rapists, or those other “bad” people who need Jesus (more than they do, of course.
Maybe now you’re feeling a little convicted and instead of fuming in anger at me, you’ve decided to read on. Good for you! (Seriously, there is no sarcasm there.) If you can see how you are easily an Over-looker or without a doubt a Reprimander, don’t worry. I find myself in both camps in different situations, too. We’re imperfect people. We won’t ever be flawless at this whole love thing. But, and that is a turning point ‘but,’ we can try to be more balanced in order to have real love instead of synthetic version of Christianese love.
The best way I know how to put into words the balance between the anything-goes Overlookers and the everything is black and white Reprimanders is to take the words straight out of the Bible. Is that okay with you? Good, I hoped it would be. I had it feeling it might, but I thought I’d ask just in case. (Note: if you answered “no,” please stop reading in order to save your time.)
Okay, so we know that God is love. That’s a given. He is the source of love, the Creator, and the Teacher. That being said, let’s take a gander at:
Acts 17:30-31a (HCSB): “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent because He has set a day when He is going to judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has appointed.” Mark 12:30 (HCSB): “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” John 15:13 (HCSB): “No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (HCSB): “Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not conceited, does not act improperly, is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
The verse from Acts shows us something VERY important: the judge is God and no one else. In Mark we see that we are to love God first and foremost with all of our being and through that we can love others as much as ourselves. Would you sit and berate yourself for lying or would you repent to God and make every effort to not do so? Would you tell yourself that killing one person is okay because it was in the past? Would you convince yourself that despite no effort on your part to make amend or be sincerely repentant, your constant bitterness and jealousy towards so-and-so is okay? Treat your neighbor (who is everyone) like you would treat yourself. (Unless you treat yourself badly. If you treat yourself badly, we need to talk about something completely different.) In John Jesus not only calls us His friends (how cool!), but He tells us that sacrificing our lives for our friends is the greatest love. Chances are your sacrifice isn’t going to be death on a cross for your friends and neighbors. But if you are unwilling to sacrifice something as simple as your comfort zone for your friend, how can you say you love him/her? Finally in 1 Corinthians we see a full on description of how love is, what it does not do, and what it does. Replace “love” with your name. That should be your approach to each sinner, saved or not. You are to be patient. You are to be kind. You are not to be jealous, boastful, conceited, improper, or selfish. You are not to be provoked or to provoke. You are not to keep a list of wrong things that others do. You are to be joyful in the truth and not in unrighteousness. You are to bear all things. You are to believe all things. You are to hope all things. You are to endure all things.
So find that balance. Tell others the commands of Jesus, what God says the fruits of the Spirit should look like, and what the Bible says. Stating knowledge is not the same as trying to produce judgment based upon that knowledge. Make sure you know where the line should be drawn. You should always spread the knowledge of God and His commands, but you should never try to take His position as the Judge. Accept one each other as the sinners that we all are, knowing that we are each going to mess up, make mistakes, and ultimately disappoint at some point. At the same time, accept one another as the son or daughter that God made. Be patient with one another and gentle. Be careful to not fall into the snares of hypocrisy. It’s taken enough testimonies and degraded them – don’t be a victim (i.e. a hypocrite).
And finally, love. Just love. Seek God and ask Him to show you how to love His people. He will.
All of you – Over-lookers, Reprimanders, and everything in between – I love you, merely because Jesus loves you. And let me tell you, oh how Jesus loves YOU!
It is an honor to be accepted into a good law school.
It is an even bigger honor to be given a scholarship to law school.
I have been honored, but more so blessed.
I finished 1L Orientation week last Friday, which means a week spent at the law school 9am-4(ish) being “broken in.” Mock classes, real classes (just Legal Research and Writing), lots of networking, case briefing, listening to speaker after speaker, being given a ton of new things (mailbox, locker, passcodes for material, class lists, etc.), and anything else you can imagine to go along with an orientation for law school. It was a good week, sort-of like “law camp.”
I learned that law school isn’t as scary as people try to make it sound, or at least it doesn’t seem like it. I found that going through orientation I am even more confident that I could succeed in law school. (Please don’t mistake this confidence for arrogance.) I learned that as pretentious as a lot of law students are, there are still the good ones in every class. I think I found those “good ones”, too. I now can say without a shadow of a doubt that I know I am capable to get through law school, and probably even enjoy almost all of it.
To all of the beautiful friends I made in that one week: I barely know you but I know you have a BIG future to walk into. Each one of you is going to go on to do great things, either as a lawyer or as something else. You hold a place in my heart and I will be praying for you all as you go through this law school journey. You have a good community in the U of A Law School Class of 2016 – take care of one another (especially of my dear friend and roommate, “T”). Friendships are never by chance, so know that God above put each of you in one another’s path for a reason.
I asked my Heavenly Father to let my law applications find favor. He did. I asked Him to provide – He did. But then I asked for something else: I asked for Him to give me complete and total surrender to Him and His plans for me. I asked Him for direction. I asked Him to use me right now where He knew I could shine brightest for Him.
It’s true what they say: “Don’t ask for something if you don’t want it.”
I wanted God to give me what I asked for: a surrendered life, obedience, direction, guidance, which all comes down to: a calling, His calling for me. Right now. In this moment at this exact second in life. Every single day. Every minute. Every moment. That’s what I wanted and that’s what I continue to ask for.
The thing is, after I started asking God for that which is listed above and truly meaning it, something changed. My carefully laid out plans didn’t seem quite as significant as they once had. In fact, I couldn’t help but think there was something BIGGER planned for me, if only I let Him do the planning.
That’s when I realized: law school isn’t the biggest plan for my life right now. Read those last two words again. Right now. I have no doubt that God gave me a passion and capabilities for the law. I have no doubt that God set everything up for me from my inquisitive nature and natural inclination to persuade to placing me in undergraduate classes that taught me basic skills needed for law school success like how to read court cases and brief them (thank-you, Dr. Hacker). I sincerely do not doubt that at some point in my life I will go to law school and become a lawyer.
However, the question is when. I have been struggling for weeks with the decision to go ahead and attend law school or not. It’s hard when you have an amazing opportunity and confidence in yourself to fulfill the responsibilities therein, but yet you don’t feel at peace with going through with it. It’s hard to willingly exile myself from this community of beautiful, big-hearted, wonderful people I just barely became a part of. It’s hard to leave something I enjoy and am capable of doing. But guess what?
Faith is hard.
If I truly have the trust and faith in my God that I claim to have, I will trust in His plans for me and confidently hand over my own. Yes, I have a lease that I signed for a year in Fayetteville that I either have to pay or get someone to take over (if you or someone you know is interested in an awesome apartment, let me know — please!). Yes, I have no job lined up, especially here. Yes, my savings are getting smaller and smaller since I haven’t been employed since May. Yes, it’s scary to give up your careful and well-made plans for uncertainty. But that’s what faith is. I can’t see the future, but I have faith in God to provide for me to follow the path He has laid out for me. I don’t know what is going to come my way, but I trust that God does and I have faith He will carry me through it.
Now, let’s talk about what faith does. Faith moves mountains. Faith heals the sick. Faith overcomes death. Faith makes change. That’s who I want to be: a world changer, with the most literal definition possible.
I wear a ring every day that says, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Pretty simple, right? The change I wish to see is people treating one another with love and respect and genuine care for their neighbor. I wish for people to look for justice in the right places and lavish mercy on one another. I wish for people to know that there are second chances. I wish for people to know that it doesn’t matter what you “can” do – it matters what you are called to do. I wish for people to know that there is a mighty God who loves them more than anyone or anything ever can. I wish for each person to know that they are important. I wish for people to know how precious each one of them is, a preciousness that is not contingent upon their past, what they have or have not done. If I embody those wishes every day and spread that to the lives I meet, I think the world would change – at least for some people.
I’ve been thinking long and hard for months now about this thing called the World Race. Some of you, if you know me well, know about The World Race. I mentioned it several times between last winter (or late fall) and now. For those of you not acquainted with The World Race, it is a mission trip in which you go to 11 countries in 11 months spreading the love of Jesus. This can be seen in a lot of different ways – prison ministry, helping build or rebuild homes/churches/schools, playing with kids who often feel unimportant and unloved, caring for and helping widows, teaching English, etc. It’s an all-together amazing ministry. If you have time and would like to, check out the website: www.worldrace.org
I know that following God’s plans for our lives and living like He wants us to is not always found in mission trips. I know that ministry is found everywhere: in an orphanage in Romania, at a church in Turkey, in the slums in Thailand, or even somewhere like the classroom of a law school. There are no parameters to where you can minister to people in action. I mean, we see from the Bible that Paul even made prison a place of ministry. I want you to be clear that I’m not saying that I could not spread the love of God in law school or that doing so there is less of a ministry than on the World Race or any other mission trip. It’s not.
But, and that word is such a “changer” in and of itself, I believe God calls us to our ministry wherever it is and it’s high time I start listening to that calling. To illustrate, there is a fantastic woman that I worked for all through college named Linda. She not only became like a second mom to me, but she was (and still is) a spiritual rock for me. I have no doubt she is for others as well. Linda isn’t a preacher. She isn’t in some forgotten, impoverished community sitting down with people who never heard of a man named Jesus and telling them the Gospel for the first time. Linda works on a college campus at a science research facility. She lives the Gospel everyday by loving those she works with, works for, and those who work for her (like me). She prays diligently for those that intersect her life. Her calling is there. She knows that. She lives that. And trust me when I say, it’s a beautiful thing to see and be a part of. (Thank-you, Linda!)
I want to be like that. I want to live according to my calling. I want to be able to act with love and patience daily to those I encounter. I want to feel the divine calling of God with each person He places in my life and each step I take, whoever and wherever that is. For me, I think my calling is the World Race. Right now – not five years from now.
Now, the World Race is a process: you have to apply and be accepted into a Route. Then, you have to be properly vaccinated, get a passport if one is not already had, acquire the necessary gear, and the big thing – come up with the funds. The World Race is not free. The monetary cost is $15,500, without figuring in travel insurance or any “spending money” during those 11 months for things like shampoo, soap, socks when what you bring wear out, and other things. That’s a lot of money for a just-graduated-college twenty-two year old like me. The government will give you loans to go to law school, but not to fund an 11 month mission trip.
So here we are: I have withdrawn from law school to pursue my calling to go on the World Race. I have no job (I’ve applied places, I promise), I live 4+ hours away from my family and all the people who love me, and I am stuck with this lease until July 31, 2014. I want to leave on a World Race route in this upcoming year – 2014. I’m going to try to be that change I wish for in 12 countries – starting with this beautiful place I call home, the United States of America. But until I embark on the World Race, you will find me not in law school.
Ending note: I sincerely apologize to all of you who may feel disappointed in my choice. To every classmate, friend, family member, and past professor – I can only hope that you can support my calling as you have my plans that I had made for myself. I can only pray that each of you who may feel some sense of betrayal (trust me, I almost feel like I’m betraying myself) can realize that God has bigger plans for me than either you or I could dream up – and I want those bigger plans. Also, don’t give up on me being a member of the law community. Just because I am not starting my law career (which begins as a 1L, per the words of orientation speakers) this year does NOT mean I won’t in a future year. I hope as much as many of you do that my future will include law school. If any of you want to hear a more detailed account of things, just let me know and we can discuss it all. For all of you who have been generously supportive of law school, thank-you. It means a lot to have so many people believe in you. Truly, it does.
I never knew growing up would be so…..hard.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done a lot of growing up in my 22 years of life — many of it at a young age.
I guess I always imagined that it would get easier as I got older.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
It gets harder. And harder.
In less than two weeks I graduate college and leave all of the friends I have come to love as family, co-workers and employers I don’t know how I’ll live without, and the place I’ve called home for the last four years — ASU.
In less than four months I start law school, officially become in debt for the first time in my life (student loans to pay for law school, of course), and move away from my family.
Growing up sure can be sad.
But it’s necessary. There’s no point in life if we never change or grow.
Growing up sure is scary.
I’m terrified to have debt, to commit to law school, to move on from people I love and who love me.
It scares me to know that at 22, I am really choosing my entire future’s path. At 22 years old.
But it’s motivating. Fear is a powerful force, after all.
Ah, I tip my metaphoric hat at the “grown up” world.
It’s a whole new scene out there.