Lessons Learned

While culturally time appropriate, this post originally had nothing to do with New Years or resolutions. I actually drafted most of the ideas back in October but I’m just now getting around to finishing it up. I suppose because the calendar is such a pivotal part of our world, its somewhat natural to use the first of the year to decide on some changes or goals, but honestly, change should be happening throughout the year – whenever it’s necessity is recognized. Life is a process of growing.

With that said, last December, in looking ahead to 2013, I wrote this:

What an amazing year full of great memories & learning experiences. The past couple months have been rough but God has done and shown me such amazing things in this time. He’s answered prayers that I didn’t even know to pray. So that’s why I am hopeful and excited for 2013. I have no “resolutions” other than to continue to serve and be available to whatever other crazy stuff He puts in my path. Constant courage in unchangeable circumstances with an unwavering faith in an unchanging God.

I had no idea what was in store

2013 has been an interesting year to say the least. I’ve done things I never would have believed I’d do. I have desires I never thought I’d have. I’ve met and built relationships with strangers who I never imagined meeting.

Before I get so used to how I live now, and as things just naturally come to me, I want to remind myself of what I’ve learned – where I’ve come from. I think it’s important to look back and recognize where, why, and how change occurred – what things have transpired – in hopes that you take that reflection and awareness of change and continue to build on it as you move forward in growth.

These may not be earth shattering revelations to you, but recognizing or following these things (some new and some with just a renewed focus) changed my life this past year.

Get uncomfortable and say ‘YES’

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had the opportunity to do more and more things. With that freedom, I’ve had to the ability to say “no” to things that I didn’t feel 100% comfortable doing. Being part-introvert and exceptionally comfortable “doing my own thing”, if I didn’t feel like doing something or if I wasn’t sure it would go relatively smoothly, I would just not do it.

Then I started to say ‘yes’…

To pretty much everything.

This was not always the best approach. Sometimes it became overwhelming. Sometimes it was wrong. BUT, often times it opened up new opportunities to meet new people, hear their stories, share my experiences, eat new things, visit new places, experience different ideas, and see how God’s plan is much bigger and better than mine.

I’ve discovered the joy, excitement, terror, heartache, and adventure of stepping out of what’s comfortable – of what’s safe – of what is tolerable – and into the unknown.

You may find yourself in the middle of the country at a missions conference with thousands of people from all over the world. Or at a bar in Hampden for the 26th straight week with a bunch of strangers who have become friends. Or on yet another date that you can’t believe you landed. Or sharing your testimony in front of your church. Or being interviewed for a leadership position in your church. Or planning a trip to Africa to serve on a floating hospital ship. Or taking a homeless lady out for dinner. Or nervously answering questions at the Canadian/US border at 4AM. Or realizing you don’t want to settle for the ‘American dream’.

There’s no place for fear in the life of someone who truly wants an adventure and a story worth telling. Get. out. there.

Every ‘season’ of life is valuable

There may not be any more “Christianese” phrase than “seasons of life”. Oh my goodness, sometimes I shudder at that phrase. The trouble with trying to criticize that phrase is that it’s biblical. See Ecclesiastes 3:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Wow does that passage speak to me. At the time I may not have felt it, but looking back at all of those times I can see God’s hand right there in it. When I thought it was me… it was actually Him. When I gave it up to Him He gave it back to me and showed me the gifts He gave me to use for His glory.

The low season – while you count making it through each day a victory, the high season – where things are happening left and right, the dry season – where you’re just maintaining- nothing incredible is happening – it’s just kind of mediocre. All the seasons have something to teach you. It’s up to you to dig your heels in and look for what that is. That “season of singleness” isn’t a time to wallow. It’s a blessing. If you have any intentions of ever being in a serious relationship and eventually pursuing marriage, that single season is the blessing of having time to yourself – to work on yourself, work on your relationship with God, and work on your relationships with others.

Serving is the ultimate satisfaction

It sort of sounds selfish, but the more you serve others, the better you feel. I think that’s ok – so long as the primary purpose of serving isn’t to get that warm fuzzy feeling. I think it’s just a natural by-product of doing something for someone else – we were made to feel good about it. When I do something that has a positive impact on someone else, I’m happy that they’re happy. I’ve learned that there is more joy in pouring into someone else than there is in seeking your own pleasure. When you open up to serve someone else be prepared to be changed yourself.

I know who I am

With my identity rooted in Christ, and Him as the ultimate judge of character and person, I’m free to be who He created me to be – even if I am a bunch of contradictions. I know who I am and I’m not trying to be anybody that I’m not. I’m not trying to live someone elses dreams. I’m not trying to do things I’m not made to do.

There’s so much good out there

My biggest area of realization of this is not where I’d imagine it would come from. In dating, I’ve met a lot of different people with a lot of storied backgrounds. I’ve listened to their stories. I’ve heard their dreams. I’ve been encouraged. I’ve learned from nurses who love what they do – even in their double 12 hour shifts – who see people at their weakest and offer them dignity with compassionate and judgement free care. I’ve learned from teachers who spend hours upon hours of their own time at home developing the best ways to reach “their children” right where they are – to give them every possible chance to rise above the status quo of societies standards. I’ve learned from social workers who put themselves through endless schooling and accept such little pay in order to be the listening ear to people who are emotionally and mentally drained. I’ve learned from people who give up their cushy lives in the US to travel abroad and offer medical care, teaching, farming, and the Gospel to impoverished nations. I’ve served along side of those who spend their lives helping the poor… those working to end human trafficking and sex trafficking.

We hear over and over of all the evil that is in the world. We know it. It’s time to seek out, encourage, and celebrate those who don’t accept what’s happening and instead spend their lives and themselves in pursuit of creating a better world the best they can.

There’s life beyond Baltimore, MD

All this learning has opened up doors and thoughts and dreams outside of my own little world. Growing up, I was never really aware of possibilities of life outside the area. It sounds ridiculous now, I know. As open as I am, now,  to packing up a U-Haul and moving to wherever-USA (or beyond, to some extent), I’m encountering ways everyday, here, in Baltimore to serve and grow. While I’m here I’m committed, but I can’t say that my head isn’t peaking out the door for where God may be leading.

Get rid of stuff

As I’ve encountered other people, I realize I have too much stuff. Literally, more physical stuff than I need and stuff that’s just a hindrance to daily life. When you’re tripping over things or you can’t find an empty shelf in your apartment because there’s a stack of clothes you haven’t worn in 2 years or gadgets you don’t use anymore – maybe it’s time to let it go. But on deeper level, there were things I’ve held too tightly – control, ideas, the past, apathy, doubt, comfort.

I’m both better & worse than I thought

By God’s grace, I’ve been able to do some things well beyond what I thought I could. For those experiences, I’m eternally grateful. In discovering who I am (and who I’m not) I’ve realized how messed up I am. Not in the “Breaking Bad Walter White cooking meth without his family knowing” sort of way – but in the day-to-day grind of life – actions, words, and thoughts sort of things. Romans 7:15 pretty much sums it up:

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

Sometimes it’s not even in things I do or think – but simply a lack of caring – being apathetic towards things that I, as a man, as a Christian, as human, should care about – and stand up for or against. But the redeeming part of this realization is that I believe in a God whose specialty is calling, healing, and sanctifying for His glory. I believe in a God who says as long as you’re still alive, it’s never too late to make a change and live for Him.

I don’t know what I’m doing or where I’m going.. & I’m ok with that.. Sort of

There is certainly nothing wrong with planning – to an extent. There are many stories in the Bible that point to the importance of planning – farmers planning their crop – Noah planning the ark – warriors preparing for battle, etc.. But what I’ve found, is that within the planning, there’s also praying – there’s seeking wise counsel and there’s daily steps towards the calling God has for you – without necessarily seeing the end. Faith is primary – but faith without doing – is useless. I really had no idea what God was doing late last year – but I had enough faith to be terrifyingly ok and excited for the unknown. Now, I understand it much much better. I’m not “there” yet – and I’m glad. I don’t want to be “there” – because there means it’s over. I want to continue living the life God has for me and seeing what else He can do.

You have 1 life. Don’t waste it.

This whole year has been about experiences – experiences that were about me discovering more of myself and God but almost always involving someone else. If you’re living purely for yourself – seeing how far you can “climb” up in this world – than you’re wasting your life. In John Pipers book “Don’t Waste Your Life”, he says:

Desire that your life count for something great! Long for your life to have eternal significance. Want this! Don’t coast through life without a passion.

If you claim to be a born-again Christian, but yield no lasting fruit and show no evidence of a changed heart in how you live, than you’re wasting God’s gift of life. But, beyond, that extreme, I think “waste” is pretty relative. What is it that you believe God is calling you to that you aren’t doing – perhaps that’s ‘wasting your life’.

 

I don’t want to waste my time here.

I want adventure.

I want fun.

I want to serve others.

I want to serve God.

I’ve come to realize those are not mutually exclusive.

 

Standing on this mountaintop
Looking just how far we’ve come
Knowing that for every step
You were with us

Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much You’ve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much You’ve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone
Carried by Your constant grace
Held within Your perfect peace
Never once, no, we never walk alone

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Every step we are breathing in Your grace
Evermore we’ll be breathing out Your praise
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

You are faithful, God, You are faithful
You are faithful, God, You are faithfu

‘Never Once’ by Matt Redman