Friday, April 29, 2011

A story of losing...

I think back to my freshman year of college. I think way back... almost 4 years ago to when I was moving into my dorm in the heat of summer, I was meeting new friends, I was doing new things, I was a freshman in every sense of the word. I was a freshman in college. I was a freshman in life. I was a freshman in my walk with Christ.

I'd given my life to Christ back in high school. As a sophomore at a Younglife Fall Weekend at Rockbridge I laid on the cold grass and looked up at the stars and finally believed that God loved me. However, I was a slow flame. I went to campaigners, I went to club, yet I didn't really get it. I just didn't understand the Gospel completely.

Fast forward to college.

I came to JMU with the understanding that I was going to do two things. I was going to major in Integrated Science and Technology and I was going to be a Younglife leader. Check and check. End of story.

Well, not exactly.

As I went to Younglife Beyond which then morphed into Leadership Training, I began to realize how fresh I was in my faith. I didn't really know anything about God. I didn't really know anything about faith. I didn't really know much at all. Being in a position where I was unable to help myself, I was in the position God wanted me most--I was beginning to rely on him.

You see, in high school, I was comfortable. I was in a daily routine. I was in a couple clubs with my friends. I played high school golf. And that was essentially my life. It was predictable, it was structured, it was normal... I was in control.

When I got to college, I quickly began to realize that routine wasn't quite as routine. I began to realize that my worth doesn't come from me.

Fast forward to placements. I got placed on Team Elkton. Being from Harrisonburg, I knew at least one leader on every team... except Elkton. Being involved with Beyond and Leadership Training from the beginning, I knew almost every freshman... except the one placed with me (Ellie). I was thrown on a team I didn't know, at a school I didn't know, with another freshman I didn't know at a time where I was quickly learning I didn't know how to lead Younglife!

That was kinda scary.

To make things more fun, in July between freshman and sophomore year, I got a call from Bobby (the other guy leader at Elkton). He told me that he wasn't going to be able to go to camp in August (about 3 weeks away) and that I was going to go. To be honest, my first emotion wasn't excitement. It was fear.

You mean I'm going to camp with a group of guys I hardly know? You mean I am leading a cabin of guys by myself? You mean I have to take two twin brothers who fight constantly (yes, constantly) to camp? Yeah, definitely fear.

Fast forward to camp trip. I was forced (kicking and screaming) into a position where I was completely reliant on God to get me through that week at camp. I learned more about Christ than I think my guys learned. I needed that camp trip as badly as they did. I read a chapter of Philippians each day at camp and looking back through my first attempts at journaling, it is amazing some of the things I wrote. In reference to Philippians 3:8-9, I wrote, "[These verses] have so much power and devotion in them. Paul has discarded EVERYTHING as garbage so he can become one with Christ. I want this kind of devotion in my life and this is something I want to live for and strive for."

I needed to lose my life in order to gain it. I needed to count all things as a loss. I needed to discard all my wants as rubbish. I needed to lose.

Looking back now at how much I had changed from just a year before blows my mind.

I was slowly but surely beginning to realize that life isn't about gaining and achieving and winning... it's about losing.

Fast forward to sophomore year. I decided I was going to Israel. Talk about a step outside my comfort zone. I'd never been out of the country before besides, I don't think I'd ever been away from home for more than two weeks. As I looked back through my journal from sophomore year, I found it funny that on April 9th, my twentieth birthday, I wrote down the scripture that we were memorizing for our trip... Deuteronomy 6:4-9. The funny thing is, I now have part of that tattooed on my arm.

Anyways, God really began preparing me for this trip months before our plane even left Dulles. God was using my fear of the unknown and my anxiety about traveling to bring me closer to him. He was showing me how desperate my daily need for him is. It was one thing for me to hear a leadership talk about spending time in the word, but it wasn't until I felt that need that it became a real thing to me. He was preparing me for time where it all began, he was preparing me for time in Israel where I would learn so much more about my faith.

While in Israel, I learned so much. I learned history, I learned facts, I learned information, but most importantly, I learned about myself and I learned about Christ. I learned more about how I must lose my life.

A distinct memory I have was while we were serving at Bethlehem Bible College. Some people were pouring cement, some were cleaning off roofs, some were washing windows... I was dusting book shelves. To be completely honest, when I found out that was going to be my job for the day, I wasn't happy. My thought was, "I'm a strapping young man, why should I be kept indoors all day dusting off book shelves? Why can't I go do 'fun' things outside?" Ah, my pride. My inability to make myself less. My inability to lose. As I dusted shelves for hours and hours, I got to know the people (Joanna and Ginny) I was working along side very well and it was some of the best conversation I had on that trip.

That trip will stick with me for the rest of my life and I am so happy for you all who get to go in the next month! For those of you who don't get to go, please don't see it as a missed opportunity or that you are missing out. If there's one thing I've learned in my life it's that when I think I'm missing out, I'm usually getting something so much greater... which brings me to another story from the summer between sophomore and junior year.

After a brief time at home, I got asked by Goody to program tech for him at Northbay for two weeks. I figured any time spent with Goody was going to be awesome, so I quickly said yes. About five days later, I drove up to Baltimore and then on to Northbay with Goody and Mike. While tech-ing for them, I continued to learn about losing.

If you've program tech'ed before, you know that typically, nothing ever goes according to plan. If you haven't program tech'ed before I will tell you now: nothing ever goes according to plan. It is stressful but it pushed me into a deeper relationship with Christ. It forced me to surrender my plans to God and trust that his will was and is much higher than mine.

While teching, I was approached by Dave at Rockbridge and he told me to consider interning the next summer.

Fast forward to the next summer. I applied, and that flopped. I prayed hard about it, I pursued it, I jumped through all the hoops but... I didn't get the job. What seemed like the exact door the Lord wanted me to go through just slammed in my face. Granted... Dam got the job and I know he is way more qualified than me, so I guess I'll let it slide. Instead of interning at Rockbridge, I had the awesome opportunity to intern with a non-profit in Charlottesville called Least of These International.

It was super spur-of-the-moment but it ended up being wonderful. Once again, I found myself in a position where I needed to rely on the Lord. I all the sudden had a job in a city an hour from home. Amazingly, God provided me a place to stay (for free!) in Charlottesville with some Younglife guys in exchange for cleaning. It was during my stay there that I learned a lot about serving. A lot about making myself less. A lot about losing.

Once again, I was in a place where I was uncomfortable. It was in this, that I learned so much about the bond we share in Christ. I was able to connect with my new roommates on such deep levels because of the work Christ is doing in us. However, the biggest thing I learned was humility. When I agreed to clean their house in exchange for a free place to stay, I didn't know what I'd gotten myself into. Little did I know how messy this house really was.

At first I resented it. I was frustrated. I was angry that I could be so easily duped into agreeing to clean such a mess. In fact, in one room in the basement, as I was moving some boxes, I saw a rat run up the wall and into a hole. However... while I was cleaning and sweating and coughing up dust, I learned humility. I realized I was in a wonderful position to share Christ with the guys I lived with and so I took on a new attitude. Instead of being prideful (like I so badly wanted to be) I tried to be humble. I made it my goal to leave their house better than before I came. I learned that I needed to lose my life. I needed to lose my pride. I needed to take up my cross.

Fast forward to senior year. It's been a whirl-wind of a year. I encourage everyone to take it all in while you can. It's funny to joke about how fast the time goes by, but it really is true. The time has flown by.

To continue the theme of being thrown into situations where I had to rely on the Lord... I became team leader at Elkton. It was the logical progression. Ellie is the busiest person I know and to try to make her team leader would just be too much, thus, being the only other senior... ta-da. I didn't feel qualified to lead my team. I still don't. But, in it all, I've learned that to lead, you must serve. I've learned that the best leaders are the ones most deeply rooted in Christ.

Fast-forward to today. I am learning more and more about being uncomfortable. I'm about to move two hours away and start a real-life job. Not a fun summer job. A real life job. A job I will likely spend the next several years of my life at. I'm excited to see the way God continues to bring me to himself. I'm excited to continue surrendering my life to him.

I am excited to keep losing.

I have an index card taped to my ceiling right above my head that reads, "Win yourself to Christ today!" Every morning I try to remember to do that. I try to remember that I need to die to myself, take up my cross, and follow Christ. I need to lose my life... daily.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Life is not a check list...

I find it interesting how natural it is for me to unconsciously organize my day into a list of tasks to be completed and checked off.

6:30 AM - Wake up
7:15 AM - Go to middle school
9:05 AM - Environmental Hydrology
11:30 AM - Lunch
1:25 PM - Remote Sensing and GPS
2:30 PM - Ecological Sustainability
6:00 PM - Dinner

It's almost sad how easy it is for me to think through my day when I wake up, develop the list I need to do, and then begin working--one item at a time--until the list is done.

I don't think this is how it's supposed to be. I don't think life should be a check list.

I had a conversation recently about using a planner. As my friend mentioned that she couldn't live without a planner, I pridefully thought to myself, "I don't need a planner, I got all that up in my head."

I don't think there's anything wrong with using a planner. As a matter of fact, I don't think there's anything wrong with having a list of daily tasks. The problem enters when we no longer see individual tasks or events as what they really are--we instead see them as the next thing to do, the next thing to check off.

This is what I really struggle with. On my busiest days, I lie in bed just before getting on with the day and think through each event that is going to happen. I give myself time-frames to work in and I begin my day not focused on what I'm currently doing, but on what is next. How quickly can I finish what I'm on to get to what is next?

This, to me, is the tragedy.

I think it's good to have a vision of the future. Running blindly leads us into walls (figuratively and literally). I think it's good to have a plan. I think it's smart to be organized. Failing to plan is planning to fail as I've often heard. However, the key is this: how do I view my plan?

Do I view it as concrete? Do I view it as absolute? Do I view the individual tasks as check boxes? Do I focus more on the "next" than on the "current"?

I am trying to make a point of not viewing the things I have to do as things I have to do but as things I get to do. Every day is a gift, a new opportunity to serve the Lord. If this is the case, shouldn't I view everything I do as just that--a gift, an opportunity?


I've been praying to focus more on where I am rather than where I am going. I don't want to miss this. I recently had the opportunity to hear a friend share about her four years of school. She shared (paraphrased), "I was so caught up in feeling like I was missing out that I was missing out on what I was doing."

I don't have a lot of time left here at JMU. I want everything I do to be as special as if it were a gift... because, that's what it really is.