Sunday, July 14, 2013

To the Place Where it All Began...

It's good to be back in DC again.

The last time I was here, I attended SERVE with my youth group, serving the DC Metro area in various capacities, whether working on sustainable farms providing food to homeless shelters, sorting baby clothes in a pregnancy center on Capitol Hill, distributing water to the homeless in the summer heat, or spending time with the homeless in a daytime drop-in shelter. Sure, we spent time on the National Mall and saw the monuments, but there's no doubt that our trip here was not your typical DC experience. In a city that inspires awe, we saw the pieces that would break your heart and bring you to tears.

This time's a little different, of course. I'm here for work, interning on Capitol Hill. Much like my first experience, I know this will not be something that I will forget. I'm also reminded why I loved this place so much when I first came out here. The sights, the tangible history and powerful memory of so many great American citizens are incredible to behold and sometimes, hard to process. You are truly inundated by history here, and being a lover of history, I'm loving every second of it. Every statue, every artifact, every quote on every grand, marbled building.

Especially the quotes. There's an incredible eloquence to seeing the words spoken by our most beloved and acknowledged leaders and the resonating permanence they carry from the past into the years to come. The words are etched into the marble and granite next to the statues of the men and women who spoke them, but even if those stones were destroyed, the words would remain. 

They will never be silenced, and the wisdom and passion of those words will never fade, either.

All of this was hammered home experiencing places like the US Holocaust Museum, a display of the horrors of one of the world's darkest moments and the greatest ally to genocide: silence. It's been decided: staying silent is just not an option for me.

I don't know what it is about the District, but it always brings me back to this blog, a place where I have vowed and will vow to share my faith and my experiences with others, hoping that I can be a light to someone else in this world and shed some light in my own life. I took a huge leap of faith to get out here a second time, and regardless of what my work experience will be like here (it'll be great), I know God brought me here for a reason.

Out of my DC SERVE experience came Living a Reckless Faith, and living a reckless faith brought me to DC once again. I can only pray that God will continue to speak to my heart and through my words with even a portion of Jefferson's, Lincoln's, FDR's, Eleanor's, Washington's, MLK's eloquence, beauty, and power.

"I have sworn on the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." - Thomas Jefferson (inscribed on the rotunda of the Jefferson Memorial)

"Only guard yourself and guard your soul carefully, lest you forget the things your eyes saw, and lest these things depart from your heart all the days of your life, and you shall make them known to your children, and your children's children." - Deuteronomy 4:9 (found in the Hall of Remembrance in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Tribute

He responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Luke 10:27

Last week and the week before was a time of reflection for myself and a good portion of my family. You see, it was my Grandpa Red’s birthday on May 16, and last week, I returned to HOBY South Dakota for another year at Dakota State University, a place where he had spoke the year before and arduously supported for many years before that.

By now, his death no longer has the same sting it had when I first heard it in the phone call I received the morning he passed away. Losing someone you love is always hard, but he was much more than just my grandfather. He was one of my biggest fans, constantly supporting me, mentoring me, and filling my inbox with letters of encouragement and forwards. Lots and lots of forwards. Some inspirational, and some that made me just say “OK, Grandpa, you know that we’re really not going to murdered in our sleep if we don’t send this on to 20 people, right?”

I lost a constant presence in my life, as my family can understand just as well. He was truly a man of God, and as a man of God should, he loved the Lord with all of his heart, with all of his soul, with all of his strength, and with all of his mind. He was a guide for our family. Losing him was hard, needless to say, and the fact that I’m writing this now rather than in January should tell you something – I didn’t take the proper time to grieve and reflect. Not to say that I never got closure, because I did. But with a campaign for SGA going full steam ahead and plenty of other obligations to follow (e.g., school!), I didn’t allow myself much time to heal.
But it all comes to pass in some way, shape, or form, I’m convinced. Grandpa definitely came to visit during HOBY last weekend. It was almost a little eerie how much I felt his presence when I was on campus. The signs were all there. Let’s use the three strike system, shall we?

I couldn’t stop tearing up singing hymns in the Methodist Church where he was a longtime member and his funeral was held. Still have no clue why, but there something about it that reminded me of him.

Strike one.

The sermon that morning happened to be based on the verse from Luke 10:27, also happening to be the verse from his funeral (if my memory is correct).

Strike two.

Being the only 21 year old involved with the Junior Staff at HOBY, which is entirely composed of 17-20 year olds, I was affectionately given the nickname “Grandpa Muckey.”

Strike three.

Every mistake, every triumph, every moment, every part of the weekend at HOBY had me thinking about one quote he said the year before when he spoke about personal leadership: “Keep stumbling forward.”

Strike infinity.

This post has been a long time coming. As much as I miss my grandpa, I know how much he’s enjoying Heaven today and how much of a presence he still is in my life, even if he isn’t physically present. He was my inspiration as I ran for SGA President at USD, and now, he’s my inspiration for getting back into regularly writing for Living a Reckless Faith.

It’s about time I returned full-time to the blog. The importance of sharing what we believe and what faith looks like in everyday life with each other is paramount. I hope this blog contributes to that discussion and that you, the reader, will join me in this ride. Living a reckless faith is never meant to be done alone, after all. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Your Attitude Determines Your Altitude

"Tell us how you've handled a stressful situation in your life."

Give me a nickel for every time I've been asked that question in an interview, and I'd be a wealthy man! Of course, give me a nickel for how many times I've been asked "how are things going?" and responded with "busy, but good," I'd be far wealthier.

I can honestly say that in the past few months, I have been blessed beyond imagination. If you were to explain to me what kind of opportunities I would have just a year ago, I would laugh, and just sit there, smiling like a fool. And yet, in that time frame, it was so easy to see the stress and forget about how blessed I really was. I was simultaneously loving and hating life—slight conflict, if I might say so myself!

I'm sure I'm not the only person that's been there. It's much easier for us to drag our heels through the day, seeing a life that is only filled with our problems and not with the multitude of blessings around us. Even when our life could not possibly get any better, a poor perspective on life could instantly derail any hope of being the joyful person we were called to be.

That's not to detract from legitimately being stressed out or dealing with the pain that life tends to bring. But at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, "am I letting my view on life affect the way I live my life?" My grandpa would remind me that "your attitude affects your altitude," and he was right. We can't always choose how life moves, but we can certainly choose our approach to life.

It's a little undervalued, especially in a world that loves sarcasm, but being able to see the good in any situation is a skill well worth developing. Part of that skill comes from recognizing that bitterness never accomplishes anything, but there's something to be said about understanding that God is good all the time, not just when things are going right.

Do me a favor, and put on a smile today. Lord knows we could use one more of those in this world, and a few more positive attitudes. Allow yourself to see the blessings in your life! And if you need help doing so, you always know Who you can ask.

"Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." - Proverbs 4:23

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Taking Care of Business

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, love your neighbor as yourself." - Luke 10:27 (emphasis mine)

There is much to be said about making time for yourself on a daily basis. It seems like a bit of a lost art these days, taking an hour or so to remove yourself from the world (a.k.a. your iPhone) and sit in silence, write or pray, or just go do something on your own. Considering our generation is called the "Most Stressed" generation of all time, it's probably something we should look into.

I know I could use it. In fact, I got schooled in it these last 3 months away from the blog. The fact that I've not actually written on here in the past 3 months was the first red flag, then the increasing tendency to want to scream like my goat friends. But when my friends and family begin to take notice that I'm beginning to unravel from stress, it's time to look in the mirror.

I took some time yesterday to reflect on the craziness that has been the start of my spring semester, and I noticed something. Despite all of the blessings that have come in the past few weeks, I find that I've neglected to take care of myself and do the little things right. Life will change considerably after the SGA campaign and the mid-term push, but I can't help but ask: what kind of life am I living if I never stop to smell the roses? I wouldn't change these last few months for anything, but I do see the toll it has taken on my physical, emotional, and spiritual health, let alone my friendships and my relationship with God.

No, the situation isn't nearly as bad as it may sound, but the lessons to be taken from this experience are very much for real. The biggest? Take time for yourself. I'll reiterate that over and over until I'm blue in the face (hands?), but I really can't say it enough. Why?

You can't give what you don't have. If you're not able (or willing) to take time for yourself, odds are you're not going to give much time to those who need you, whether it be family, friends, your co-workers, what have you. At least, it won't be much for quality time, anyway. It's a wonderful thing to do well in your work, and work hard, no matter what you do. Sometimes, however, you have to remember first your call to be a son, daughter, brother, sister, mother, father, husband, wife, or just simply a friend. There's more to serving others than doing things for them; sometimes, that just means being present with them, giving someone your time and your energy. To be present can be the best thing you can do, and you can't be present for someone if you aren't present within yourself, without distraction or hair-pulling stress.

That's why it's so necessary to make time for yourself each day. No matter how busy you are, do it. It should be non-negotiable! Need more reasons? Check out Luke 10:27. If you wish to love God or others well, you have to love yourself, too. Take care of yourself before the stress takes care of you, and you'll be taking care of business like none other.

And if you wish to take me out for the cheesiness and repetition of that last comment, take care of your rain check!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

God With(in) Us

After reading Harry Potter as a kid, I wondered why schools didn't have the same grading system as Hogwarts. It was foolproof! O = Outstanding, E= Exceeds Expectations, A = Acceptable, P = Poor, D = Dreadful, and last but certainly not least, T = Troll. Getting a T would suck, obviously, but it seemed way more awesome than our normal grading scale. It did always make me curious, though, when you got an E. It could get pretty subjective, depending on the expectations you were trying to meet. Seems like it could be it's own grading system, if you ask me.

Of course, isn't that life in general? Everyone has different expectations, high and low. You have expectations for yourself, others have expectations for you, and it seems that most of the time, they're all completely different. We live in a world of expectations, for better or for worse, and we tend to live on what the world expects of us. Maybe not in every aspect of life, but in some way, shape, or form, we all do.

Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. I think that's why community is so important to us -- it's not good for us to be on our own, handling the world on our own terms (see: Adam and Eve). We need each other, that's for sure. The balance in dealing with others' expectations, however, revolves around a certain fact: no one else can live our lives. No one person's expectations can determine how you live your life, unless it's on your terms. Your life, regardless of any person's expectations or even your own, is your responsibility.

That's a very profound truth. No one else can live your life. No one else has your heart, your soul, your mind, and no one else has your choices. There's a problem, however; if you reach a point in life where you don't know what to do with yourself, where do you go and whose expectations do you follow? You can go to others and listen to what they would do, but obviously, they don't have the final say on what you say, do, or think. If their opinion isn't final, then do you rely on your own heart? Well, yes, but trusting yourself alone is not necessarily best (Proverbs 28:26). 

"Why in the world wouldn't you follow your heart?" you say. In life, I always believe you can, and you should follow your heart. But try this on for size: Jesus was also called Immanuel, or "God with us," and just before Jesus returned to Heaven, we received a wonderful parting gift called the Holy Spirit, something we don't always understand but know is God at work within us. I could go on talking about the fruits of the Spirit and tell you about how you can tell if the Spirit is working within you, but I think the important thing here to note is that the Holy Spirit is within you. God is in you (and no, that doesn't mean you are God, for those of you getting technical here)! We can follow our own devices or the advice of others, but whether you choose to ignore it or not, God is present and has planned your life from day one. It makes much more sense to trust that, does it not?

In the midst of the difficult points in life, it's easy to accept others' accounts and expectations as your solution (as I have a habit of) or to simply "follow your heart." Try something different the next time you are saddled with something particularly troublesome: look for the Holy Spirit within you. Go to God before you go to the masses, and learn to pay attention to your own thoughts and feelings. A friend can help you sort out what's going through your heart, but there's no better authority on your heart than the One made it. Regardless of any one's expectations, even your own, I can assure you that following the Holy Spirit, that piece of God within us, will put you on a path that will exceed expectations.

"For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose." -- Philippians 2:13

Thursday, November 22, 2012

"Give us this day our daily bread..."

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. And no, not just because I get the chance to gorge myself and watch football (although that is a plus). Thanksgiving for me usually means a full serving of family (and travel) and an equally large dose of rest and mentally taking count of what I've been blessed with. Of course, the last part tends to take a backseat to the rest unfortunately, but I know I'm extremely thankful for what I have and who I have in my life, without any doubt in my mind. Today is really the day when it's most important to remember our blessings, hence the reason why we've set a day aside to do so.

But in the midst of the delicious food and copious amounts of family, sleep, and football, I can't help but ask something that's always been on my mind (and possibly, yours): why don't we have Thanksgiving every day? Well, perhaps it has something to do with the fact that if we did, we definitely would be getting sick of turkey, pumpkin pie, stuffing, and all the fixings in a hurry. The party can't go on forever, or else there'd be nothing special about celebrating a holiday.

What I'm really asking, though, is why don't we make a point to give thanks everyday? Why just one day? With more and more Thanksgivings under my belt, I'm left looking at a certain line from the Lord's prayer: "give us this day our daily bread." Seems like a simple line, and it is; "Lord, give us what we need each day." But what it means is not necessarily physical needs, but spiritual needs -- the need for daily relationship, daily Scripture, daily prayer, daily giving thanks. Why gorge yourself in one day, when you can have your fill every day? We have the opportunity each day, but we don't always take it.

This Thanksgiving, go ahead and have that extra turkey and pie. Watch football, sleep, sleep more, eat more, sleep again, enjoy your time with your family members, and travel safely. When you get home, do yourself a favor and give thanks that all of this was possible. And even more, give thanks that every day, you can have your fill of spiritual food. No need for a grand celebration to have that -- come as you are!

"Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare." - Isaiah 55:2

"Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever." - Psalm 106:1

Sunday, October 14, 2012

What Really Matters

Well, I'm back after another very long absence. By now, those of you who read this probably know that this is a pretty good barometer for how busy I am. The fewer the posts, the less time I have. Or, just that this loses in terms of priorities. Sad, but unfortunately, the truth the last few months.

It's not that I don't enjoy writing -- actually, this might be one of my favorite things to do. I love hearing the conversation that comes from writing and helping others see Scripture and living out the Christian faith in a new way. It keeps me coming back for more, and yet, I so often put it to the backburner.

Why? School. Organizations. Family and friends. Taking time for myself and for God (or at least, attempting to). I have an extremely busy life, much more than I sometimes even think I do. I tend not to spend huge chunks of time looking at my schedule for the sake of my sanity, much less for the sake of time itself.

One day, however, I did take a step back and take a look at what was going on. What I saw really didn't appeal to me. I'm the type of person who tends to look at a busy schedule and see how productive I can really be. It's great, yes, but it makes you wonder after a while why you do what you do, when all you are is busy on a constant basis. To be truthful, I enjoy very much what I do, but when I looked at why I do what I do, I stopped.

I'm known for only committing to doing things that make an impact, but just recently, I saw the underlying motive for why I am so busy. Perhaps I'm slightly off, but I think it seems to make sense -- it's the desire to be loved for what I do. To be respected, honored, quoted, impactful, important. Sounds weird, but if you think about it, it all points to one thing that all mankind wants (and needs): to be loved.

I won't stop doing what I do (although I do plan to slow down a little bit), but I am reexamining what is really important -- and no, it's not doing more work. Serving God with our gifts is one of the greatest parts of being human, but it's not where we are fulfilled. What really matters is that we are loved by God, whatever we do, say, or think; no matter who we are, where we've been, where we're going, no matter what. We are loved by a God who listens to every prayer, will never leave us nor forsake us, and will forgive us of our sins, just if we are asked.

As I've attempted to cut down on my heavy load and learn to live a balanced life, this truth finally has hit me. I've been a lifelong Christian, but that truth is a game changer. I'm learning quite a bit about life in general right now, but when everything seems to be crashing down on me, I know I can rely on that truth. I hope you can, too.

"I urge then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for all people - for kings and those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:1-4, emphasis mine)