Talents

There’s this phrase I like to use to describe myself. It’s well known by many, but also misunderstood I believe:

“Jack of all trades, master of none.”

On the surface, this phrase seems a little poignant. You’re saying to the world: “I’m not really that great at any thing.” and that thought used to make me shy away from it. I was afraid that people would think I was looking down on myself, that I lacked confidence in what I talents I have.

When you start to dig deeper into the meaning though, something beautiful happens.

You see, I used to be jealous of the people out there who were great at something. They had this one thing that drove them further, this one passion, this one desire that kept them on track. They knew what they wanted out of life and they pushed toward that everyday.

And then there was me.

I’ve felt the call of music ministry from the age of 16, “This is it!” I said to myself. But I believe God had something different in mind.
At 19, in response to my love for art, I enrolled in art college for photography.
I kept my options open, I continued to learn what I could in the realm of music (A story for another day), and I continued to pursue the arts. I painted, I taught myself some graphic design and videography, I got involved in performing arts and discovered a love for musical theater, and I started writing. I loved it all. But where was my one passion?

I believe one of the hardest parts of life is choosing what to go after.

In fact, if there is one thing I’m great at, It’s probably self-awareness. The ability to not be able to lie to myself. To be able to see the harsh reality at all times without rose colored lenses. It’s more like a curse, really. 🙂

I look at every single one of those things I love and can truthfully say that I am not great at any of them.
Why? I would ask God over and over. Life would be so much easier if I just knew what I needed to pursue!

I slowly realized that maybe I wasn’t called to be great at any one thing. God began to challenge me… What was so wrong with that?
Did he promise me that ‘my calling’ would be one thing? Why should my calling happen like everyone else’s? Why shouldn’t I have many talents?

I’ve been so caught up in finding my calling, my special talent, seeking my passion, that I missed the point.

— — —

Today, I was thinking about the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30.

A master leaves money (talents) with three servants. Each servant knows their master is a certain kind of man. He values profit. Yet, clearly he values his servants enough to entrust them with his money. He gives one 5 talents, another 2 talents, and the last servant he gives one talent. He leaves for a while and comes back to find that the servants who had the 5 and 2 talents invested them and multiplied them. The servant with the one talent was scared that he would lose his money and be punished by his master, so he buried it.
The master returns and he praises the first two servants for taking what he gave them and multiplying it. But the third servant he scolds and throws out into the darkness for not having multiplied his one talent.
I’ll admit this story has always seemed a little harsh to me. I mean, he didn’t lose the talent, he could’ve went and spent it, but he didn’t. Was it so bad that he was scared that he would fail his master?

But I realized today that that’s not the point.
Multiplication of one’s talent is a side effect of one’s view of the master. The first two servants knew their master, knew that they had been given a lot of trust, and they knew the weight of what their task was. The third servant didn’t understand that. He let his misunderstanding of the master cause him to dwell on all the wrong things. He was more worried about the talent than he was worried about his master desires.

— — —

God has been showing me lately that I’ve had that one passion all along. That one passion is, and always should be, Him. He has given me many talents, and has entrusted me to use them for his profit, his kingdom’s profit.
I’ve felt that weight from the very beginning. But it’s so easy to become the servant with one talent. To get caught up in what I have to offer, maybe even comparing what I’ve been given with others, hiding my small abilities because they didn’t measure up.

God’s message in the parable isn’t that some people have more than others for any particular reason, his message is that no matter what abilities he has given us we should love him enough to want to use them for his gain.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that having more than one ability is better than having just one thing you’re good at. It’s all the same. As in the parable, it is not the amount of talents that mattered at all.

At the end of the story, The master tells the third servant that he doesn’t deserve his one talent, takes it, and gives it to the first servant. Then he says: “To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.”

I’m finding everyday that if my passion lies in my talents, then I am doomed to fail. But if my passion is for my master, the talents I have are just a tool to please him.
It’s a beautiful thing to be a jack of all trades and master of none. God has richly blessed me with abilities, entrusted me to gain interest for his kingdom. To be a master of nothing isn’t a poignant matter. It means that I’m ever learning, ever growing my abilities. And the truth is, I’ll never become a master of my talents. For my talents are not mine to begin with, they’re his. I am merely holding onto them, using them well, striving to increase them for my master’s hand.

Don’t Stop This Train.

Let me share a bit of my day so far…

My beloved Macbook Pro turns three years old on Monday. This means my 3-year Apple Care plan expires and I’ve never had to use it. So I decide it’s a good idea to take it up to the closest Apple service center here in Nashville to get it checked for anything that might be wrong that could be covered.
Turns out, nothing is wrong with it that can be covered, which is good news that I’ve had my Mac for 3 years and it’s still running strong, and bad news because I used my last bit of gas money to make the trip for nothing.
Traffic is insane in Nashville on this blistering Saturday afternoon, and to make it worse they’re doing major inter-state closings all over the city. The car I’m driving has this weird thing where it likes to die randomly without warning and the hot afternoon is making it worse while idling in traffic.
This leaves me sitting on the side of the road, not being able to use my a/c, with a ‘feels like’ temp of 110.

All of this hits me as sweat rolls down my brow and thousands of cars pass in ignorance. I start thinking about my life. How this is just ironic that I make a trip for nothing to end up on the side of the road. How my life isn’t going at all how I planned it to be. How I don’t have a job. How I don’t have money. How I’ve never been able to afford a reliable car in my entire lifetime. How God has placed me on a path in ministry I hadn’t expected and truthfully don’t really want at this moment.
I suddenly prayed a prayer, not for my car to make it to the next exit,  but for my path in ministry to change to the place it was well on the path to going but can’t because I accepted a position that takes me further into a ministry that isn’t my exact calling. God, PLEASE send someone to take over this. I don’t know why you gave this job to me, but I don’t want it anymore.

After I shed a few tears and get ahold of my brother, who is a mechanic, and he advises me to try to make it to the next exit, I hobble into the parking lot of Panera Bread. Trying to mask the fact that I’ve sweated ten pounds off, I head straight into the air conditioned bathroom and lock the door.

A familiar song plays over the speakers in the quiet; John Mayer’s “Stop This Train”. I hear the lyrics:

“Don’t stop this train, don’t for one minute judge the place you’re in. Don’t think I couldn’t ever understand, I’ve tried my hand. Honestly, we’ll never stop this train.”

Not only have I known these words for a very long time, but I’ve also heard this song at the times when I most needed to hear it. It’s just like God to put a small, quiet moment into a day of disaster. It’s just like him to use a pointless trip and an outburst of a prayer to speak to me when I was least likely to hear his voice.

I walked out of the bathroom with a determination to write this thought down. To share with you the journey I’ve made in a single day. To find a still, small voice play over the speakers in a restaurant bathroom.
I know I can’t stop this train. I know things can’t be perfect right now. I know I can’t judge this place I’m in according the place I thought I would be. I can’t know the thoughts of an Almighty God who knows exactly where he’s leading me and exactly what I need. How could I have thought that he couldn’t understand this place I’m in. He did, after all, try his hand in life as I am trying right now.

Honestly, We’ll never stop this train.

2011: What If?

As I’ve done for the last couple of years, I will give you a song that sums up the last year for me.
My song for 2011 is: ‘What If?’ – Coldplay.
I picked this song because I actually discovered this song this year (6 years late) and spent many late nights with Coldplay playing over me as I stared at the ceiling, lost in the music beyond any anxiety or worry. If I could sum up the entire year of 2011 in one character it would be a big fat ‘?‘. And it was songs like this one that kept me going. In fact, the entire X&Y album became this year’s anthem.

The song asks the question in everyone’s heart: What If?. A question I’ve asked myself too many times to count this year.

After all the questions expressed, the song concludes: “Let’s take a breath, Jump over the side… How can you know it if you don’t even try?”
And that’s what I decided to do. This year I jumped over the side of a lot of cliffs. I didn’t know what would happen, but I knew something would happen. That was all I could cling to.

I’ve heard a quote that says: “IF is the center of LIFE.”

Last year, after a bit of struggle on my part, I made peace with my looming future and put it into higher hands. I walked into 2011 with the strongest notion that promotions were coming. But I also felt that these promotions wouldn’t come through natural veins of life. In fact, I felt an understanding that I wouldn’t get a good job, wouldn’t start my career, but instead I would be tried financially, emotionally, and mentally. It was a year of self-denial. But the payoff was that the promotions I’d receive would be spiritually. That 2011’s growth would set me up for the beginning of the future I so desired.

Sure, okay. Was my response to that urging. But I had no idea that everything I felt was going to happen so blatantly and without wavering. Without going into a long, drawn-out spill, the first couple of months I did everything in my power to get what I wanted. It wouldn’t happen. Throughout the year, I casually applied to jobs… jobs I should’ve had in the bag… I didn’t get them. But somehow each month, I managed to pay my bills through odd jobs here and there. Until August.

When August rolled around, I had been without any sort of income for a month or so and had still managed to scrape together bill money and pledge money for the church. But I couldn’t do it anymore. I had ZERO income coming in. So when it came time to pay these things, I had no choice. I couldn’t pay them. So I increased my crying-over-the-phone skills and asked for extremely decreased payments and deferments, and God allowed that that could happen for me.
Thankfully, I’m still living at home and have a gracious family that would give me gas money and other things to help me along. No, they didn’t fully understand what what going on, and told me increasingly as the year went along that I needed to do SOMETHING for income… even if that meant getting a job at McDonald’s. I couldn’t. I refused.
See, another thing I promised myself, my pastor, and God when I graduated college  in late 2010 was that I would not settle for just any job. I would hold out for a job that dealt with photography and I wouldn’t be selling my talents short. I meant it when I promised it.  I knew what I felt at the beginning of the year to be true. This wasn’t the year for my career. I could wait.

So I existed for a year, mooching off the charity of others, living in a state of limbo, not knowing what or when something good was going to actually happen. But the thing is, I’ve learned more about managing my finances and charity when I didn’t have money to manage or give.
I’ve been so humbled by this situation. I’ve learned that it’s okay to ask for help, that there is no shame in being poor, and that in this state of ‘relative poverty’ I had more than I needed. Even when I didn’t have money to put gas in my car, I had more than 75% of the world. I learned that I am an extremely blessed individual, to have a roof, a family, my health, and a free country to live in.

Now… like I said before, this year was meant for spiritual growth. Including what I just spoke of happening in my spirit through financial hardship, many MANY wonderful things have happened to me this year.

I accepted a position on the Evangelism team at church. Not because I wanted to, but because I didn’t want to. I know it sounds crazy, but because my spirit reeled back in fear from the idea, I knew I had to accept it. I am so glad I did. Through this ministry I gained a deeper love for people that I cannot begin to describe. I faced my fears of social situations, and grew bolder and more radical in the topic of evangelism.

I lost all fear associated with singing on stage. My love for Music Ministry has been set in stone this year. There was one Sunday in the old church building (We finally transitioned to our new location this year!) when I was singing a solo in the service. I went to the prayer room and started to pray the same prayer of anxiety I always did: “Lord, use me tonight, anoint my voice and keep it strong…” but something caught me. Why am I making this about me? so I changed my prayer that night to something like: “I don’t care what my voice sounds like when it comes out, but I pray that you would work through my voice to bless someone, that I could have the privilege of bridging the gap between you and the person whom my voice falls upon. This about you, not me.” — Needless to say, something broke loose in me that service. My voice was laughably the worst I’ve ever heard myself sing. But somewhere during my singing, I found myself not thinking about the song or my voice or what it sounded like. I was completely lost in this moment with God, with no fear or anxiety. It was the most liberating experience. As it turns out, the person I had prayed to bless that night was myself. I was finally free of self-consciousness and self-doubt. God used me to get over myself.

Leadership. At the beginning of 2011 I was invited to attend a monthly meeting that had once been reserved for ‘young ministers’ but became the ALT: Aspiring Leadership Team. Basically it’s a time where my pastor, Tim Zuniga, can pour into us anything and everything he can about what it means to be a successful leader, both in the world and in ministry. This class has been like a feast of meat and meat and more meat. It has taught me volumes of principles and techniques that I can implement practically in day-to-day life. It has changed my entire perspective of the Kingdom of God and how it works. Without going into major specifics, I was elevated to higher positions in multiple ministries I am involved in. And while it’s been trying and overwhelming, I can’t begin to relay all that I have learned from these experiences in leadership. It has been incredible.

One night, around September, I lay in bed thinking about all that had occurred (past and present)… and it was like a wave hit me, and suddenly I could see the hand of God in everything that had happened to me in the last couple of years. I lay awake, literally prostrate before God, until around 4am, sobbing uncontrollably. And afterwards, I felt the most amazing peace. All of those What If’s had disappeared. I could only feel confirmed in everything that had passed, even if I had no answers as to why any of it happened.

Already, it being the first week of 2012, change is happening rapidly around me. I feel released from all that was in 2011, and that this year I will finally be able to see the fruition of the future I have dreamt about since I was 15.
But that’s another blog post. 😉