Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Embracing the Struggle

I have recently decided to take up biking as a hobby so that I can get some exercise in while also having fun.  I don’t know about you, but no part of running is fun for me, so biking seemed like a fun alternative.  Someone had given my parents a bike so they offered it to me to ride whenever I wanted to.  They just built the Tweetsie Trail, which is a biking and walking trail, near my house and I thought I’d take their bike, which I hadn’t ridden yet, and go for a ride on the trail.  Keep in mind that I also bought one of those camelback backpack deals to wear while I was riding.  When I commit to a hobby, I really commit.  The first day I decided to go for a ride, I had to put air in the tires of the bike because they were flat.  That was a challenge because I didn’t have a bike rack for my car at that time so I had to stuff the bike into the back seat of my Nissan Altima.  You can imagine me fitting an adult sized mountain bike in the back seat of my car.  After finally getting air in the tires and my backpack filled with water, I decided to avoid the trouble of loading the bike back into my car and ride to the trail.  That was another obstacle because the trail was farther away from my house than I thought.  I ended up having to walk my bike about a mile and a half uphill.  It was a cool 91 degrees on that day, so walking up that hill made me wonder why I thought biking would be a cool hobby.  After the tumultuous journey up the mile long hill, I finally got on level ground and the trail was within sight.  I excitedly hopped on my bike and started to coast toward the trail.  The wind was in my hair and the sky was a deep blue.  At that moment, I had forgotten about how hard it had been to get to that point and just enjoyed the ride.  It was so peaceful and freeing….until it wasn’t anymore.  Not longer than a minute after I got started, my back wheel was pushed against the frame of the bike and would not budge.  I clearly don’t know much about bikes, but I knew enough to know that I wasn’t going to be riding that bike that day.  After stewing in my anger for about ten minutes, I called my dad and he picked me up.  The tire was wedged against the frame so hard that I couldn’t even walk the bike home.

I got home and unloaded the bike, still very angry that my hobby wasn’t really going the way I had thought, when I got a phone call from WCYB telling me they wanted to come do a story on God’s calling in my life to start a community center in Elizabethton.  Of course I agreed to do the story because I saw it as a great opportunity to get the community aware and involved in what God has planned.  Right before I hung up the phone they added, “And we’d like to do it in about an hour.  See you at the school!”  I was a stinky, sweaty mess from “biking” adventure so I didn’t really have time to think.  I went inside and rushed around to get ready and got to the school just in time to meet the reporter.  I was so blessed by the interview because the questions she asked me were a good reminder as to why I feel so passionately about God’s calling in my life.  She asked me at one point why it was important that I start a community center.   The answer for me is pretty simple.  It’s not about charity or making myself feel good, it is the way God calls us to live.  Elizabethton is my community and I feel very passionately that God has called me to take care of them and for them to do the same for me.  How different might life look if we all looked out for one another?  The whole interview only took about 45 minutes and as the reporter packed up, I gave her the community center email so that people could write to me about the center if they wanted to.  I really wasn’t sure what kind of response I would get.

Because of the story, I received so many emails of people who want to volunteer once the center is finally up and running, but I also got emails from people in other communities saying that they were inspired to do God’s work in their cities and towns.  The response I got was so overwhelming.  Even the head of the atheist society in a surrounding city commented on the story on the web and said he wished me well on my journey to start the community center.  I mean, WOW, God works in awesome ways.  I give Him all of the credit for the amazing response to the story.  In the days following, I started to really think about how God’s plan in my life is so incredible.  I was so angry about not getting to go on my bike ride, but had I made it out on my ride as planned, I might not have been close enough to my house to make it to the school in time to do the story.  God knew that those people who reached out to me needed a nudge to follow His call in their lives. 
One thing I can say about this journey is that it has been a struggle.  Just like my bike ordeal, it has been full of many ups and downs.  There are days when I just want to cry and give up because I have no idea what I am doing.  I get so frustrated that I can’t just have the center already so that I can start to get really involved with the community.  Honestly, I am always tired from thinking about it and how little I know about starting a nonprofit, but I have learned that it’s important to embrace struggle.  God uses trials in our lives to help us grow in Him.  Through my frustration, exhaustion, and anger I have seen how far God has brought me.  I can see how much I clearly need Him.  I can see how little I trust Him and how I need to spend more time with Him to work on that.  2 Corinthians 12:9-10 says, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  God loves me so much, that He stands with me in power, even when I am weak.  Nothing brings me more comfort than that does.  No matter what I face on this journey ahead, I know that I need to embrace my struggles, because they are an opportunity to strengthen my relationship with God. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Peaceful, Uneasy Feeling

Since my sophomore year in college, I felt restless, uneasy.  I struggled a lot with finding my place in life, where God’s will would take me.  I spent a lot of time in college trying to “find myself,” without much luck.  There were phases when I really thought I knew, and then times would God would shatter that view and I would have to start all over again.  After college, the struggle continued for me.  I had moved to Nashville after graduation, found a good job at a prominent preschool in Brentwood, and had found an awesome church in Brentwood Baptist Church.  But that restless and uneasy feeling continued to eat at me.  I felt like God was toying with me, making it impossible to see His will.  But I was selfish, self-seeking, and lonely.  I kept blaming everything else in my life on why I felt this way.  I became angry with God and with myself because I never really felt myself moving on or progressing towards what I wanted.  God had been prodding at me for so long to pursue a life in missions and I continued to ignore His call because I knew that a life in missions would be hard and uncertain.  I wanted to be in control of where I ended up.  But God had such a different plan, and boy am I glad He did.

One morning service at Brentwood Baptist, a visiting medical missionary said something that only added to my uneasy feeling.  He said that God calls everyone to put their lives aside to be missionaries for His kingdom.  I was sitting there thinking, “Really, dude?  You think God wants all of us to sell all of our belongings and move to who knows where doing who knows what?!  That sounds nice, but it’s just not realistic.  God wants me right where I am.”  I firmly believe that God has a sense of humor because after I heard that statement, I couldn’t get away from the idea that God was calling me to more.  I kept coming in contact with missionaries and I had a lot of conversations with close friends, where out of the blue, they would tell me that missions was my calling.  And I continued life with my head down selfishly with my comfortable job, with my comfortable life, with my comfortable friends.  Even with all of the comfort I had placed around me, in complete denial of God’s call for me, I felt more uncomfortable and unfulfilled than I ever had.  By all accounts, I should have been ecstatic, but I just wasn't.  I tried to force it, but I knew that something was missing, I just didn't know what.  So much of my life after graduation was focused on me.  What career path should I take?  Should I go back to school?  How much money could I make doing that job?  Amy, Amy, Amy.  So much of my focus was on me.  I got to the point where I had to something to fill this hole inside me.  And if I am honest, in the back of my mind, I knew God was calling me to something I wasn't ready to do.  He was calling me to put my life aside.

When I moved back to Johnson City, God started to really work on me. I moved back in September 2013.  I continued with the same routine.  Amy, Amy, Amy.  What job should I pursue here?  Which grad school am I going to apply to?  How am I going to make money?  Same selfish questions, different city.  I started substituting in Elizabethton City Schools to make money.  Let me tell you, substitute teachers aren't making the big bucks.  It was hard to move back home and immediately have to rely on my parents again for money.  It's hard to be 24 and to have to ask your parents for money when you hadn't been doing so before.  But God gave me something so much more valuable in my time as a substitute teacher than money, He gave me clarity.  As a sub, I did a lot of sitting around.  And I was an English major in college so one of my favorite things to do is read.  I read a lot as a sub to fill time.  One morning, I was picking a book off of my shelf to take to school with me.  I picked the book, Kisses from Katie.  That book had been on my shelf for three years, and I had purposefully not read it.  I knew that once I read that book, that I wouldn't be able to ignore God's call to put my life aside anymore.  I knew it was going to make me uncomfortable, much like the missionary's statement. 

The book tells the story of Katie Davis, a girl from Brentwood, TN. (Coincidence, I think not.)  She felt God calling her to move to Uganda after she graduated high school, instead of taking the typical route of going to college.  Well, long story short, she ends up moving there permanently and adopting 13 little girls there that needed a mother.  She was 19 years old! Her story is amazing; you should really read the book so you can understand the profound effect that it had on me.  From the first page of the book, I was a puddle of tears.  The however many years of dissatisfaction and longing for more was making its way to the surface.  One quote from the book really stood out to me.  Katie said, "I didn't believe it was possible to tell a child about the love of Christ without simultaneously showing that love by feeding her, clothing her, inviting her in.  If a child has never known what love is, how can we expect him to accept the love of his Savior until we first make that love tangible?"  This question hit me hard because of where I was sitting when I read it.  I was sitting in a classroom full of students at Harold McCormick Elementary.  I had been in many classrooms in this school and had seen firsthand how much the kids in this school needed.  Physical needs, but also emotional needs.  I looked at the faces of the children in front of me and it became so clear to me why God had put me where I was.  He put me here to find a way to provide for them.  He put me there to show them God's love through giving them what they need. 

There aren’t words to describe how I felt when I finally realized God’s call and decided to say, “Yes! Absolutely, God!  Whatever you need from me!”  It’s a feeling that I can only describe using the great philosophers, The Eagles.  It was like a peaceful, uneasy feeling. (I took a little creative liberty there.)  I couldn’t eat, sleep, or interact with others without being completely overwhelmed with God’s purpose.  I think I cried for three days straight.  A good kind of crying.  It was like I had been completely broken for God’s people.  Luke 12: 33-34 says, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  I believe 150% that God’s greatest call in any believer’s life is to put their life aside to further His kingdom.  For some, that might mean being a teacher, doctor, or vacuum salesman, but for me it meant putting everything in my life aside to start a community center in Elizabethton. 

My favorite theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says this, “Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: 'Ye were bought at a price’ and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”  I really don’t think it can be put in better words than that.  Every time I read that quote I start to sob like a baby, because I have experienced the sentiment he expresses.  I hope that everyone at some point in their life experiences what I have in God’s calling.  I look forward to this uncertain, but peaceful time in my life.  I know that incredible things happen when I say yes to God’s will, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.  More updates to come soon.

In Christ,