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.

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. 😉

Lie.

Lie.
A story about a guy named Leslie.
He’s caught up in a world of lies. He’s been lied to his whole life.
So he lies to get ahead in life. And He lies to get out of life.
He lies to everyone around him. And he lies to himself.
What will it take to free him from the lies? To free him from himself?

— — —

I think God has allowed me to catch on to something here. In a previous post I told you about the title of the next book I’m going to write, entitled: “Broke”, using a play on words about a girl named Brooke.
This one popped in my head today, As I was doing exactly the same thing I was doing when the last one came to me… I was sitting in church listening to a sermon.
I’m convinced that this is going to be a series of books that can be used to be enjoyed by and to help young people. They’re spiritual, yet not in a traditional way. I really want these books to make people think and help them with issues I know they’ve all faced… The same issues I’ve faced and continue to face.