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.

2012 – 2013: Let The Waters Rise

This year’s song is “Let The Waters Rise” by: Mikeschair

I don’t know where to begin, feels like my worlds caving in,
And I try but I can’t control my fear… Where do I go from here?
Sometimes it’s so hard to pray, when You feel so far away,
But I am willing to go where You want me to… God I trust You.

There’s a raging sea right in front of me… Wants to pull me in, Bring me to my knees.
So let the waters rise, if you want them to… I will follow You. I will follow You.

It seems that in my two year absence from writing a new years blog, life has happened and things have changed.

I refrained from writing last year, not due to anything but the fact that every time I sat down I couldn’t seem to write it out. I couldn’t find the words to write about a new year, because I didn’t really feel like it was a new year, a new anything.
Sometimes seasons in your life really do match the changing of a year. And other times they last through the years, not changing, leaving you with the feeling that the new year is just another day to live with the way things are.
Fortunately, 2014 doesn’t feel that way to me, leaving me the freedom to write about the season I have experienced over the last two years and how I feel that season finally coming to a close. But more on that in a second. 😉

— — —

At the open of 2012, I accepted a new ministry position. I accepted this position not because it was my calling, but because there was a need. And this need was one I was able to fill, and to do well at. So after prayer and lots of debate, I figured: Why shouldn’t I? I knew I would learn great things from being in a position of leadership, but I also knew that this position would take me further from what I felt was my heartbeat at the church: Music. This new position dealt in those things in a small way, I would become the new programming director, which means I would help to plan out the services of the year in a creative way (using music and drama and other things), “making things stick” is the phrase we like to use. Also, under this role was visual ministries, which is the projection screens team, who runs, maintains, and creates graphics for every service.

So it began. And boy, has it been a learning experience. I hit the ground with two feet running, stumbling on my own shoes and fumbling through obstacles, learning as I went and feeling the immense frustration of it all. Bad things happened, good things happened, everything happened that you could possibly imagine. And in the middle of it all, I was stalled in the direction of my calling. I felt like I had taken a long scenic route off of the main road that led to my calling in ministry. Only, if you were to ask me, I couldn’t tell you what that was, I only knew that this wasn’t it. I can’t blame anyone for this feeling, I knew from the beginning that it would take me further down a path I didn’t necessarily want. But I did it because I knew I needed to do it.

Six months in, I sat down with my pastor and told him all of this. He knew I had been feeling that way, and he told me something I’ll never forget: “It would be easy for you to quit.” He said, “It would be so simple for you to stop now and continue doing what you were doing. But I don’t think you need to do that. What have you learned so far? What have been the benefits?”
I began to think. I spoke it out loud. How, while unorthodox, the method of being thrown into the deep end, I had learned so much. I’d learned more in six months than I had learned in the past few years. I owed it to myself to continue, not because everything was suddenly okay, but I knew I needed to learn more.

I finished 2012 with triumphs and losses, and knew that 2013 held nothing much different, so I glided through the new year.
During this time, I had also accepted a new photography job, and began to develop my experience in that field. While it was a great thing, it very much added to the busyness of life, which undoubtedly increased frustrations. All the while, I knew that this wasn’t where I had planned to be, but it was very much where I belonged. I felt peace in knowing that I was learning and growing, just not in the way I had expected. I resolved to put more energy, more effort into this. If I was to be here, I would do my best. I finally felt and ownership with this leadership role.
Meanwhile, due to my increasing responsibility with programming ministry, my responsibilities in music (praise-singing) were being diminished. In all of the understanding and resolve, I hated that fact. I resented walking up on stage, trying to be 100% there in the very important role of leading worship, and being distracted by what was going wrong with the screens, or making sure that everything I’d planned would happen correctly. I was doing three things at once, and I felt more and more that I could no longer give of myself completely in the ministry I truly cared about over the others. I can’t begin to describe what that feels like. While what I was doing was fulfilling at times, my heart ached for a different route.

At the beginning of 2013, I went to a leadership conference in GA called “Drive”, held by Andy Stanley’s church. I went to learn from a programming director’s perspective, to make what I do more inspired and motivated. I was inspired and motivated. But I remember sitting in one of the sessions I happened to attend by myself, a session that I wasn’t really into. Immediately I felt so disappointed that I was here getting all of this great knowledge, and I wasn’t there. My heart wasn’t there. I was mad that I was sitting in a session about appealing to guests, when I really wanted to be in a session about leading worship. I hadn’t had any singing opportunities outside of my church in the last year like I’d had prior to taking this position, I felt like I wasn’t being used to my greatest potential and it was all out of my hands. I was throwing myself a silent pity party… when I get a text. An invite to one of those opportunities I hadn’t had in over a year. I know it was God in that moment letting me know that he hadn’t forgotten about me. I almost started crying, right there in the middle of a session. And can you believe it? I very nearly said no. I was so busy with everything, that I literally didn’t know if I could do it. But I said yes. If there was one thing I would say yes to, it would be this, no matter what I had to do to make it happen.  I finished out the conference actually sneaking into a session that was about music instead of attending the programming ones I was assigned to. I drank it all in, so thirsty for that motivation and inspiration to continue on.
On the last night of this conference, the leaders that were there all sat down and talked through what we’d learned. Some of the things we definitely wanted to implement had to do with what I could do to make it happen. I was asked point blank if I could do it. I answered honestly, I couldn’t. Not with everything I already had to do. I would have to let something go.
It was settled that this conversation would take place another day, but that it was definitely to be put in the works. What a relief I felt, knowing that there actually was a light at the end of this tunnel!

Sometime in the summer of 2013, I actually did have the conversation. I sat back down with my pastor and discussed letting something go. That something was visual ministries, running the screens and overseeing the screens team. It was the least fulfilling and the most time consuming and distracting from what I wanted most. We agreed, it would take place. But in turn I would take on what we discussed at Drive. Video testimonies. Collecting people’s stories to show the church, to inspire them and to draw people deeper into the meaning of why the church exists.
He also asked me, because I’d always expressed such frustration with going a different direction, what I felt the direction was that I needed to go in. What was I working towards? What was it about music ministry that made it my calling? Did I want to be a music minister? What was the goal? I told him something then that I had told few people before.

A year prior, in August 2012, I went to volunteer for a play at Tennessee Performing Arts Center (Something I LOVE to do, that continually inspires me). The play was the premier production of The Nutty Professor. If it were to make it here in Nashville, it could go on to Broadway and make it REALLY big. I lucked out with center row seats in a smaller theater. As I sat and watched this production I was taken aback at how well done it was, and it wasn’t even on Broadway yet! It was quirky and sentimental, it touched me in a way that no other play I’d seen had before. I drove home from Nashville by myself, like I always do with no one to talk to, and began exclaiming to myself at how great the play was, how it just blew me away.
And then something in my spirit said: “You could do that.”
I was silent. And then I scoffed. “Yeah, right. Me? No. That was amazing, I couldn’t pull something like that off!”
But it repeated: “You could do that.”
After a measured silence I prayed a simple prayer: “God, I don’t know if that’s you or if it’s just me. But if it’s you, please don’t let that dream die. Keep it in my mind always, don’t let me forget about it.” And then I cried all the way home. It was a joyful cry, I just knew God had given me that.
Over the year that I’d kept mostly silent, God continued to bring it up in my mind. He continued to show me that I could do it. He gave me ideas for plays and dramas, gave me direction for the logistics of it all, and slowly I began to believe that I really could do this.
This idea would combine everything I love. Music. Drama. Writing. Technology. Lighting. Set design. And all of the things I’d been learning about leadership? I would need those lessons for this. It seemed like in that mere moment God was showing me that he had a plan.

I recounted this all to my pastor in that meeting. I told him in that moment that I wasn’t sure if what God had planned for me was meant to be kept in the four walls of a church, that it was bigger. I told him I didn’t think I would ever grow tired of singing on a stage and leading people in worship, that ministry in church is very important to me, but the bigger picture was that I wanted to reach the lost with art. I wanted people that would never step foot into a church service to walk into a play that I’d created and receive that spark of a thought. What if God is real? What if there’s more? Art and creativity is a powerful thing. What if God could use me to speak to those people? To speak to the lost on a different level? That’s what I felt God was directing me to do.
My pastor smiled as I told him all of this. “Why can’t it start here?” he said.
“Well, I don’t see why it couldn’t.” I said.
“Come back to me in a year with a play written and a plan and we’ll get it started.”

I left that meeting soaring high. Things were falling away and things were coming together. The change wouldn’t be immediate, but it would be coming soon. I began to ask God to give me direction on what I needed to write. He showed me that it was something I was already writing. A story I received the idea for in May of 2010. I started writing a short story and stopped, due to various things, and hadn’t picked it up in over three years. That was the first play I was to write.

For the rest of 2013, I slowly let go of visual ministries, and was able to focus more attention on music ministry. I found myself standing right back where I was in music ministry a few years back. Still learning to become the confident worship leader I had once thought was all I’d ever be. But now it’s so much more than that. I continued to receive words from God that this is the first big step, that this is the beginning. I can’t be afraid, I can’t sit back and let it slip away. I have to seize it. I am more empowered than ever to make that dream happen.
I don’t know where following this dream will lead me, but I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is God’s will that I do. All of this time, the struggles and trials and taking the long road have been for the greater good. Every frustration was a lesson, every time I felt like giving up was teaching me to never give up. I am so thankful for those times. He never left my side. God led me through it all.

At the opening of 2014, I am unemployed. My photography job ended on January the 3rd, due to a mutual understanding that I was only going to work for a year and the dissolving of the position where I worked. I am looking for another job, one that will enable me to become more independent in my own life. I am still the programming director, I still have duties to uphold and grow in. I am still learning everyday that leadership isn’t easy, but it is entirely worth it. Starting in Februrary, I will begin to capture video testimonies for a large event happening at our church, and that’s just the beginning.

I’m not sure how all of it will play out this year, but I know that the winds of change are blowing softly upon my life. And for that I am entirely grateful. Overall in 2013, I learned to take risks, to trust, and to become more confident. In all areas. My life may not seem too different from the outside looking in. It seems I’ve stayed in one place for years and years. But I know that these past few years have been an internal work. So much has changed in me. And finally, in 2014, that change can become external.

The future is still as uncertain as it’s ever been, but it’s also as bright as it’s ever been.

I will swim in the deep ’cause You’ll be next to me,
You’re in the eye of the storm and the calm of the sea… You’re never out of reach.
God, You know where I’ve been, You were there with me then,
You were faithful before, You’ll be faithful again… I’m holding Your hand.

There’s a raging sea right in front of me… Wants to pull me in, Bring me to my knees.
So let the waters rise, if You want them to… I will follow You. I will follow You.

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.

Hiatus.

 

I stare at the blank walls around me,
Vast, empty, looming.
They mock and tempt me,
Do something, they say, Do anything.
Don’t just stand there, anticipating!

I can’t stand listening to them,
wondering if I’m wrong.
I’ve waited for you to answer,
I’ve waited for much too long.

You’re a fool for trusting him, they say,
You’re a fool for believing.
Why don’t you get up and seize the day?
Why don’t you live your own life?
I know they’re wrong, but what if they’re right?

Where will the next road lead me?
What is the next lesson I’m to learn?
Why won’t you answer me?
Don’t you see me here all alone?

It all seems pointless,
This hiatus I’m in.
As if my life means nothing.
I feel like giving up,
I feel like giving in.

I’m so angry with you,
And yet I see you in these blank walls…
Your face regards my disdain and you reveal nothing.
You don’t smile, you don’t wink.

You simply gaze upon me, appraising me with gentle eyes,
I can’t hold your gaze, knowing you hear my every thought.
I hurriedly glance up again, but all I see are tears.
Yours and mine.
They slip down our faces in silence.

Your eyes say everything,
Your mouth never moves.
I know, my child, how long you’ve waited.
I’m afraid there’s nothing you can do.

But through everything that’s happened,
through every tear you’ve cried,
Your eyes become hopeful, endearing.
I’ve never left your side,
I’ve been right here every time you’ve tried.

Then why is this happening?
Why do I still fall?
Why have you just stood there and done nothing?
Why does it feel like it’s all a big stall?

Your questions will be answered one day,
I can promise you that.
I lower my eyes, feeling again all that I lack.
“Stay with me.” I plead.
You smile, I will stay as long as you need.

I began to feel peace permeating the walls,
Sifting up from the ground beneath me,
The walls bow and tremble ,
And suddenly I could see…

The cage I’ve lived in,
With walls that mock and leer,
It no longer obstructs my view.
The surfaces had become lucidly clear,
And I find my eyes resting upon you.

I feel your arms around me,
Cradling my broken spirit in your hands.
I peer weakly into the unknown
as you help me to stand.

“My child, my child,” you finally speak,
“I know you think you’re ready for this,
but I know you better than that.
I want you to be free from this,
I want you to never go back.”

My eyes become wider as I see the outside world,
An invisible barrier is all that keeps me protected.
“This is the only way for you understand.
It’s not my will that you should feel rejected.”

Beyond the walls I see hurt and pain,
I also look upon triumph and gain.
“This is what’s next for you,
But first you must wait.
You must first learn how to open the gate.”

“Gate?
What gate do you mean?
I’ve known these walls for so long,
And this gate I have never seen.”

You usher me towards the gate,
“It’s been there all along,
Though I’ve just chosen to reveal it to you.
Use what I’ve given you, it won’t be long,
Soon you will have the future you are due.”

“Why couldn’t I leave before?
What was holding me back?
What was the purpose of this delay?”
I question you ruthlessly, my spirit suddenly slack.

You peer back with a loving look
in spite of my tortured glare,
“Oftentimes we are worried where we will travel next
when it’s right here that should hold our care.
What did you learn here, while waiting for an answer?”

I felt a surge of revelation course through my veins,
Our eyes met again, and I knew you knew.
I felt faith rise in my demeanor and confidence take hold of my reigns.
Your all-knowing expression held the final clue.

Instead of explaining to ease my mind,
You nod towards me, asking for my conclusion.
“Oh God, I’ve been so blind! How could I not see?
In all that has happened here,
Learning to trust you is what you were teaching me.”

You nod once more, an approving smile taking hold of your lips,
“Indeed,” you say slowly, “Indeed, it was.”
Then the gate was absolved and I faced the other side,
My nerves coming alive in an electrical buzz.

“Aren’t you coming?” I say as I turn to leave.
You stand placidly, your hands behind your back,
“I am with you always. But not always like this.”
I nod my understanding, courage filling my soul,
Bit by bit the cage fades to black.

Gazing ahead to the world before me,
a wonderful and terrible sight,
I think of the journey I had while waiting,
and recall your tender plight.

I take the first step into this unexplored terrain,
Feeling the invisible strength of a hand I already knew.
I glance over to see that I’m alone,
But in my head I hear your voice,
“Take heart, my child… I love you.”

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. 😉

Heaven: Making The Grade?

God never called us to make it into heaven.

I think sometimes we often look at the reward of heaven as making a grade. Like in school, we can just barely scoot under the radar with D’s, barely making it into the next grade. But hey, you made it, right?

That’s not the way heaven is. God doesn’t want us to look at life with our fleshly minds that want only to do the bare minimum to make a passing grade.

God calls us to strive to be our best. To be an overachiever in our spiritual life, to be a teacher’s pet if you will. Those cool kids sitting in the back row, spitting paper wads at the teacher, won’t just make it into heaven.

It’s easy for one to wonder whether God grades us on a curve or not.
(By this I mean how he judges our actions and true intentions.)

If you are not familiar with the concept of grading on a curve, it means grading one according to one’s apparent abilities, not according to an absolute standard. In school, this means identifying the smart kids from the dumb kids and grading the smart kids according to a higher standard, whilst grading the dumb kids to a lower standard. That way, a dumb kid can make an ‘A’ just as easily as a smart kid. In essence, It evens the playing field. (And no, I’m not trying to be politically correct at this point.)

Basically, does God judge us based on what we have accomplished with the hand we’ve been dealt, so to speak… or does he judge us based on one absolute standard: The Bible?
Our carnal minds would like us to think that God, being a merciful and graceful and steadfastly loving God, would understand if we didn’t get around to doing all that we wants us to do. That, like a teacher grading on a curve, he would let us slide from not doing our homework or making a terrible score on a test simply because that is our apparent ability, to just be mediocre.
Whereas, if one does do all that they are required of, they would simply be just another saint making it into heaven.

Here’s the problem with grading on a curve. It creates no motivation to strive to be better, no reward for having gone above and beyond the call of duty. If God graded on a curve, there would be no reason to try to do all he asks us to do.

It is undeniably accurate to conclude that God does not grade us on a curve.

I’m not saying that he doesn’t offer forgiveness or extend his grace, mercy, and undying love to us when we fail. But God isn’t okay with failure. God isn’t okay with mediocrity. Yes, he placed you in the life that you have now, he set you in these surrounding circumstances. The trials before you and temptations you face are all a part of his plan. God doesn’t want you to merely go about your life, using your circumstances as an excuse to whether or not you will be great. Sure, it seems that others have it made a bit easier for them to succeed than most. But they, too, will face trials not unlike the ones you are facing. Their time will come where they are put to tests of equal importance and severity.
By not grading us according to our apparent abilities but according to our potential abilities, God is setting a high standard for all of us to follow. As I stated earlier, that standard is the bible. Unlike the ways of America, and our very own constitution, There are no amendments to the bible.
God didn’t say, “Love your enemies, bless those that curse you… unless that enemy happens to molest you for most of your childhood, then it is acceptable for you to hold hate and bitterness in your heart for the rest of your life.”
Or, “You are in the world, but not of the world… unless you’ve faced brutal persecution for not dressing, acting, or talking like the world, then it is okay to be an undercover agent for me.”

If life was a class offered in your school, and the grading scale was heaven or hell… There would be no D’s, C’s, B’s, or A’s. There would only be pass or fail. When you step up on the day of judgment and look God in the face, he won’t give you a grade somewhere in between.
He will either smile with gladness and gush,
“Well done, My good and faithful servant.”
Or he will hang his head in disappointment and utter, “Depart from me, you worker of iniquity, I never knew you.”

Bottom line: Being rewarded with the ultimate prize of heaven isn’t about doing just enough to make it there.

God calls us to live a live worthy of heaven. He wants so bad for us to succeed that he offers his hand wherever and whenever you will take it. His grace, mercy, forgiveness and love is there for you to be made strong by it, for you to be able to get back up after you fall and fail time after time.
But ultimately, if you have not taken these endless chances he willingly gives you, and have not stood up to his expectations of the person you can be… In the end, you are the greatest disappointment God will ever feel. Your life is his greatest accomplishment, and your are his greatest prize. He wants only for you to succeed.

It is now time for you to prove yourself worthy of the prize of heaven. But to prove yourself worthy is impossible while living a life you control with your own fleshly desires of mediocrity. For it is not your accomplishments, but the God that you have allowed to work within you, that makes you worthy.

So when you stand before God, he will not consider what you have done with your own hands, but whether or not you let him use your hands and your feet, your entire being, to the greatest degree possible.
What God is looking for on that final day of judgment is not you standing before him, but a reflection of himself.

– – –

I encourage you to read a book that is very close to my heart, a book my father wrote that has been newly published this year. It is called, The Greatest Revolution. It is about unleashing God in your life, and coming together with those around you to create the largest campaign for Christ this world has ever known. If you went to N.A.Y.C. this year, or have heard since of the message preached: We Are Giants… then this book would be a great follow up.
Click here to learn more about The Greatest Revolution and the ministry behind it.
Click here to purchase The Greatest Revolution via Amazon.

Truth Goggles.

God has a wonderful way of speaking to me when he speaks through me to someone else.

It’s weird hearing truth come out of your own mouth sometimes.
It’s like, ‘Woah… Where did that come from? I really needed to hear that.’

— — —

Maybe it’s because we’re so tangled in our own situations that our inward truth goggles get fogged. But when someone else comes along with a similar problem, we see clearly through our outward truth goggles by the spirit to offer a helping hand.
Then by doing so, the fog is lifted from our inward goggles and we receive truth as it were a third party speaking into us.
Only instead of receiving advice from a person, we receive it directly from God.

Consider this the next time you feel the nudge of the holy spirit to reach out with a bit of counsel. God might just be trying to speak to you as well.

The Dance With Death.

“Keep your vision all-inclusive, never allowing it to lock on any one thing…look everywhere at once, see nothing to the exclusion of all else—don’t allow the enemy to direct your vision, or you will see what he wishes you to see. He will then come at you as you become bewildered, looking for his attack, and you will lose.
Instead, your vision must open to all there is, never settling, even when cutting. Know your enemy’s moves by instinct, not waiting to see them. To dance with death meant to know the enemy’s sword and its speed without waiting to see it. Dancing with death meant being one with the enemy, without looking fixedly, so that you could kill him. Dancing with death meant being committed to killing, committed with your heart and soul.”

– Terry Goodkind, Temple of the Winds

This passage comes in the context of a warrior in battle. A warrior whose only objective is to eliminate the threat. To obliterate the enemy at all costs.

As my life unfolds, I find that I possess the power to read into things way too much. This is sometimes detrimental, but other times is useful for seeing symbolism and metaphor where there is only normality. To find minute distinction in the hopelessly ordinary. Revealing the nuance in the prose if you will. 😉

Once again, I find myself sucked into another one of Terry Goodkind’s genius stories involving Richard Cypher and the Sword of Truth. And, once again, I recognize the spiritual undertones of it all.

[WARNING: The following text contains extreme nerdiness.]

In order to understand it fully, you must understand the way the sword works in the story. The Sword of Truth is a sword of magic. It’s used in it’s ideal purpose only by the noble and true of heart, warriors who are not corrupt, not selfish. It possesses the knowledge, feelings, and abilities the previous owners sustained. When the sword is used, the person gripping the hilt at once becomes one with the ancestors of the sword, using the same power those before him used. That power is his for the taking.
Richard calls this summoning of power, this art of war, ‘The dance with death’ … as it mimics dancing in footwork, and results in the impending reaping of life.

So it is in the spiritual realm.

As disciples of Christ, we already own this ‘sword’. In a previous blog, “I Just Want to be a Woods Guide.”, I explained that the sword is a symbol of the word of God, the bible (Hebrews 4:12). I also mentioned how accepting the title of ‘disciple’ opened the gateway into the power that the sword gives. Richard gains power through the sword itself, as we do with the words of God to guide us through life. He also gains power through the ancestors before him, who wielded this very sword. Those ancestors to us are not only the prophets and disciples accounted in the bible, but also those generations before us, who blazed a trail into the world we know today. We are given power by their heritage, by their strength. (Acts 1:8)

By this we know that we are fully equipped to fight the enemy. We have the power necessary to obliterate any obstacle and overcome any trial.
With power comes skill. Skills that we learn on the battle field, skills we learn through heritage.

That’s what the quote is all about. It’s advice for the warrior on how to kill.
I’ll break it down for ya.

“Keep your vision all-inclusive, never allowing it to lock on any one thing…look everywhere at once, see nothing to the exclusion of all else.”
When fighting the enemy, our first instinct is to focus on them. But when we focus too hard on the enemy we get tunnel vision, and can miss more foes on either side or even solutions to the problem. One of Richard’s favorite quotes is: “Don’t focus on the problem, focus on the solution.”

“Don’t allow the enemy to direct your vision, or you will see what he wishes you to see. He will then come at you as you become bewildered, looking for his attack, and you will lose.”
When we are focused so much on the enemy and the problem at hand, we are focusing on the exact thing Satan wants us to focus on: Him. And when we’re focused on him, we aren’t focused on God. We lose sight and direction from who we’re fighting for. Before we know it, we’re so lost in Satan’s will that we become confused and disoriented, primed and ready for yet another attack.

“Instead, your vision must open to all there is, never settling, even when cutting.”
Even when we gain ground against the enemy, it’s easy to have ourselves a little victory march and forget what’s going on. This line means to never stop anticipating the next move. If you allow yourself to freeze on even the smallest gain, it could be detrimental to yourself and those around you (Nehemiah 4). To never settle is to never become desensitized.

“Know your enemy’s moves by instinct, not waiting to see them. To dance with death meant to know the enemy’s sword and its speed without waiting to see it. Dancing with death meant being one with the enemy, without looking fixedly, so that you could kill him.”
To fight the adversary is to know the adversary. In battle we are to move by instinct, and that instinct is based in knowledge received from past experiences and by what the word of God tells us. Because we are equipped with the knowledge of the enemy, we shouldn’t have to wait for his attack in order to fight back. We know which route sin could take to get to us, and what level of attack it will be. It is up to us to be ready for the attack we know will undoubtedly come. The quote calls it ‘being one with the enemy, without looking fixedly’ … This reiterates the previous advice to not put your focus where the enemy wants it, but to keep enough focus about the enemy in order to predict his next move.

“Dancing with death meant being committed to killing, committed with your heart and soul.”
Bottom line: If you aren’t fully committed to fighting against, and ultimately destroying, the sin in your life, you will succumb to the the wiles of fleshly desire and find yourself defeated. You must be committed to the fight with your heart and soul. (Mark 12:30)

— — —

Are you ready for the dance with death?

Week Twenty/Twenty-One.

Total Weight Lost: 39lbs

Measurements:
Hip: 43.5″ (-.5″)
Abdomen/Belly: 37.5″ (-1.5″)
Waist: 33″ (+.5″)
Bust: 38″ (+.5″)
Upper Arm: 13.5″
Thigh: 25″ (-.5″)

Inches Lost This Week(s): 1.5″
Total Inches Lost: 35″

February 1st — February 15th

So here we are again. =)
I think more than noticing myself, others are noticing the changes I’m going through. I’m not sure which is more encouraging, really.
I’ve been a little down lately about weight loss and trudging through the ruts of junk food. But I know that God is watching out for me. It sounds so odd to say that God is helping me lose weight, but I find it’s exactly true. Not only does God know how much happier life will be for me when I reach my goal, but through all of this he is teaching me life lessons. Lessons like perseverance and patience, strength and commitment, and most of all: Discipline. I’ve learned more about myself spiritually through this health journey than I think of in a five minute period. I know God also honors those who respect their temple enough not to defile it with foods he never meant for us to eat. We think that verse in the bible only refers to drinking, drugs, piercings, and tattoos. Wrong. We can use most anything to defile the temple of our bodies. Food is, and always will be, spiritual.
So with that said… This past Sunday I received a blessing from God. A dear friend gifted me with the money to buy the ankle and wrist weights I have been wanting to purchase. I teared up when I read the note they wrote to me. It’s means much more than someone caring about my journey enough to help out (which would be more than enough in itself). It means God knows my journey and sees to my needs getting filled. It makes me feel so loved and encouraged to have the support of those around me and the support of God joining together in my life.

The Faucet Romantic.

Valentines Day… Single’s Awareness Day… Whatever you want to call it. It’s coming up, in case you haven’t noticed.

Every year, no matter how hard I try, I get sucked into the greeting card section like a fat kid to the smell of brownies cooking in the oven. I can’t stay away. Why? First of all, I love greeting cards. Second, I love cheesiness. Third, I always imagine buying this card for my future someone or imagine it’s being said to me in order to make myself feel better.
It feels so good to read them and yet so depressing at the same time. The idea that the other people in the aisle are thinking the same thing I am about them… “I wonder who she has to love? Look at how happy she is.” makes me get a tad gushy and turn on the faucet of romanticism I keep carefully tucked away in my brain. Before I know it, it’s flooded every rational thought I’ve ever had and all I can feel is bitter and angry because it’s better than feeling isolated on such a day as this.

I stopped beating myself up about not having a valentine probably back in high school. That was when I made my first rebellious move on V-Day. I made a gigantic heart and colored it black, with scratched inky letters that spelled ‘ANTI’ (emo much?). But there’s still that little twinge of loneliness that tugs at your heartstrings when you see a couple holding hands, whispering sweet nothings. (What does that phrase even mean? If you’re saying something sweet, it can’t very well be nothing too can it?)

So what can one do?
If you read my blogs regularly, which I know you don’t, you’d know that this year I made a covenant to not ask for anything in the subject of intimate relationships (Christianly intimate for what it’s worth 😉 ). Let me tell you, I’ve never been so tested about the subject until I promised not to ask. So V-Day is an automatic no-go when it comes to swooning and drowning and all that nonsense.
I’ve never put too much emphasis on this day anyhow, considering how ridiculously commercialized it’s become. It’s still a nice thing though.

The truth is… This year I don’t feel depressed about it. I don’t feel like I have to make a big deal and go out of my way to be bitter or obnoxious to those who have someone. I don’t want people to tell me that it’ll be me next year.
Instead, I feel peace about it. I’m looking forward to the 99¢ box of chocolates (5 to be exact) my mom buys me every year. I’m even looking forward to seeing couples be happy in their coupledom. How grown-up of me, eh?

I think it’s because I’ve finally started to understand where I truly am when it comes to the subject of love. I know I’ve never felt it on this earth and wouldn’t know the extent until I’m there… but I do know the steadfast love that Christ bestows upon me. This past year or so has taught me so much about God’s love. You hear that everywhere, about how God is love and he will love you no matter what… I think we’ve heard it so much that we become desensitized to it. Have we forgotten what it’s like to truly be loved?

I haven’t. In fact, I feel it more now than ever. It’s his love that’s changed my attitude about V-Day and all it’s affiliates this year. I don’t know when his love will be extended through someone here on earth… If ever. It would be great to have that, but I know it’s not what’s most important in life.

So if you’re out there, single for another year like me, I encourage you to not wallow in self-pity and enjoy being single while you can. Don’t be bitter towards a love you don’t fully understand, instead make it a point to discover what love really is. Beyond a day out of the year that makes you feel like crap, beyond a friend who makes it a point to exclaim his/her excitement for their established coupledom. Beyond that empty tug at your heartstrings.
Look beyond and soon enough you’ll find the love you’ve always wanted.

Cheers