I’m Thankful For Toilet Paper

What comes to mind when you think of luxury? It’s different for everyone and the circumstances that surround their life, but I doubt the first thing you thought of was toilet paper (it sure wasn’t for me). This thought struck me this morning while watching a documentary on two Cuban born baseball players that defected, left everything that they new as normal, in hopes that they may realize their dream here in America. Towards the end of the documentary, there was a scene of one of the ball players enjoying a celebratory parade as his team had just won the World Series. They showed him and his family, along with the rest of his teammates, being showered with confetti and toilet paper as they slowly passed through a sea of fans. Looking back on that moment, the wife of the Cuban ball player said, “there was toilet paper streaming down and we had none in Cuba”. What?!!! My American mind can’t imagine such conditions, and even more embarrassing, too often I forget how blessed I am to have the opportunities I have because I was lucky enough to be born in this country. Instead of being thankful and cherishing what God has blessed me with, I’m ashamed to admit that I find myself asking for more at times. The ball player in this parade scene went on to realize his dream, but it didn’t come easy. He, along with seven others left Cuba on a boat that took them to an island in the Bahamas. From there, they were to picked up by a different boat and taken to America. The first boat ended up stalling out at sea, leaving them stranded until they could get it fixed. Once they reached the island where the second boat was to pick them up, they found themselves deserted there for several days because that boat never showed up. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine yourself on a deserted island, you have very little to no food, and no one knows you’re there. Just imagining this puts fear into my heart. I also imagine all you literally have in a moment like that is faith. A coast guard boat ended up finding them and took them to another island in the Bahamas where they were to be taken back to Cuba. Their dream of getting to America, crushed. Until a Cuban American stepped in and helped them all get visas. Everyone’s view is different, but all I saw was God working through every seemingly insurmountable mountain that got in the way of their journey. They went through all that in order to have a life in a country that I take for granted. I hope lessons like this don’t fade away and I lose sight of all the blessings God has given me. Also, I hope I never lose faith that God will overcome any mountain that will show up on my journey. Even though I have a new found respect for the luxury item that is toilet paper… I am thankful for so much more today. I know I wouldn’t be where I am without the freely given salvation made possible through the sacrifice of our savior Jesus Christ.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! (‭Psalm‬ ‭100‬:‭4‬ ESV)

We Smile When We Hug

I noticed something, or for the first time became aware of this, while sitting at a local coffee shop tonight. Knowing this may or may not be new to you, but the result of seeing a particular interaction among different sets of people was a light bulb type of moment for me. Before I get into what I realized, I feel obligated to come clean about something. I really enjoy watching people interact. I prefer to think of it as observing. Describing it as watching, kind of sheds a different kind of light on it. It seems more appropriate to observe rather than to watch, don’t you think!? Anyway, my intentions, I hope, are good! Well like anything, it depends on where your heart is in the midst of any behavior. But I’m sorry, we are extremely fascinating creatures, and at times I just can’t help myself. So back to my light bulb moment. I frequent this coffee shop quite a bit to get out my apartment to read, journal, or fulfill my coffee cravings. During tonight’s trip, I “observed” three people that obviously knew each other, and they seemed to arrive without any prior planning. When they realized this they gravitated towards each other and wrapped their arms around one another with a hug, and immediately began to smile as they embraced a person that you could obviously see knew them very well. Almost minutes later, in the area I was sitting, a man and a woman stumbled upon each other. They didn’t seem as close as the three amigos did, but the same result occurred, they immediately smiled in the midst of their embrace. All smiles express different things, but I believe rooted in most (minus the sarcastic variety) is a sense of connection that is crucial as we walk our earthly home. Relationship, a deep longing to be known, to love and be loved. We all crave this because this is how God made us. It warmed my heart seeing this unfold before me tonight, and I can only imagine how much more each heart was warmed during each embrace. I began to think that this must be how God feels when we embrace Him, and long for a hug from Him every chance we get. In my head I imagine him so excited, literally sitting on the edge of his seat, not able to contain himself so much that he leaps off and runs toward us. Lifting us off our feet, clutching us tightly as he spins us around, and smiling as he lets you know that you are known and that He loves you.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! (‭Psalm‬ ‭139‬:‭1‬ ESV)

The Provider

Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God for help, and wander about for lack of food? (‭Job‬ ‭38‬:‭41‬ ESV)

Thank you Father. I am not worthy, but that hasn’t stopped you from providing and relentlessly blessing me with your love. I pray that I can give as you have given to me.

I had a moment of reflection yesterday through a conversation with another friend (or provision) that God has blessed me with during this quest. My new friend asked if I have met with or talked to a guy that stepped into my life during the initial phases of this journey. I explained I haven’t met with him for some time now. Not because we don’t want to, just because we simply haven’t. When I embarked on this process of destroying the life that I built to pursue the kingdom of God, a pastor from my church obediently followed God’s call and stepped into my life. Some might say that this is what pastors do, so what’s the big deal? True, but there was nothing phony about this situation. There was never a sense that he was only carrying out his pastoral duties. It is true, our reflection of God is rooted in how we view God. The truth that was revealed, after reflecting back on our conversations, is that this guy really cared because God really cares. At that point in my life I felt I had done nothing to be worthy of receiving anything from God except condemnation. But God, His Holy Spirit through the loving sacrifice of His son Jesus Christ does not condemn. God doesn’t fail us when we seek Him. Therefore, His unconditional love will never fail us and He will always be there to provide. Even though I burned and destroyed countless gifts of relationship with others that God blessed me with in my past, there He was with another provision to help me along the way. This has continued to be true throughout my quest. God will provide when seek his kingdom first.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (‭Matthew‬ ‭6‬:‭33‬ ESV) #truth

Even if you feel you don’t deserve these blessings, you do. You are worthy and you are worth it. Condemnation is not from God. God loves, God never gives up, God will never fail you. God is here with you right now, and he will always provide.

Letting Go

A simple but powerful suggestion of a prayer was offered while gathering with a group of friends last week.

“God, I just want what you want”

A flood of emotions engulfed every part of me the moment the last syllable seemed to echo through the room as my friend shared this gift with the rest of us. I agreed, then I fought it. I wanted to embrace it, but fought it even more. I tried relentlessly repeating this offering to God throughout the week, thinking maybe this would overcome my attempts to fight it. I want this to be my only desire. But then again, do I really? If anyone was inside my head while offering these half hearted prayers, they would probably tell me to try again. Saying this now is a pretty humbling realization that I need to check where my faith really is. Do I really trust God with everything? Do I really want what he wants? I do, but… That is how my half hearted prayer sounded. “God, I just want what you want, but…”, the but being an amendment where another hope is filled in. The saying, I want my cake and eat it too, comes to mind. I know I want the cake God has prepared for me, but then there’s this other piece that I also hope makes up that cake. So where does that get me? I begin to idolize this single piece, instead of desiring the cake God has prepared for me. Or the harder pill to swallow… I don’t want to know that the piece I hope for is not part of it. I know I’m not alone, and everyone’s piece they hope for looks different. It may be material… Better salary, car, home, etc. It may be a professional or personal goal. For me, it’s losing someone I love because of who I was. My other hope is that we can be together again, and I don’t want to know we won’t. I wrestle with the “I wish” game, and it tears me up. “I wish I could’ve been who I am now while we were together”. Even though my hope is not for a return to the past but hope for something new with her. Even though I miss her and love her… I have to let her go. I don’t want to, it’s too painful. It’s hard enough not having her anymore, but to actually let her go… I don’t know, I just know I have to find a way to. I have to find a way so that God’s plan, and not my plan, can be fully realized. I have to find a way in order to truly repent. I once thought that repentance was just asking for forgiveness. But I finally realized yesterday that there’s much more to it. To repent is to completely overhaul yourself… how you think, who you are. A change of the mind, and the heart. This is exactly what the enemy does not want. The more and more I seek God and the path he has for me, the more the enemy will look for anything thing to get in the way. The more and more I hold on to a hope that I have no control over, the more opportunities I’m giving the enemy to achieve his goal. So I’m going to fight to let go, not give the enemy his opportunity. I’m going to truly believe, truly trust, and truly have faith in God. I’ve lived and in some respects I’m still living with the alternative. I know what that feels like, and I know what the ugly and painful outcomes look like. Why choose bondage over freedom? Sounds simple, right?!

God’s Truth

I was given the task to identify the lies that are used by the enemy that keep me from being me. That keep me from believing in how God made me. It took me two rounds to get a grasp on these lies because the enemy is tricky, and I got tricked. The first swing I took at this task I looked like a hitter trying to hit a five run home run. If you don’t know baseball, it’s impossible, even if you hit the ball a mile. Well I took a huge hack, and missed badly. The enemy used one his best lies (or pitches to keep with the baseball imagery), and that is, that he doesn’t exist. I took the bait. Went back to my counselor the next week and explained the situation. The idea was for me to go through about seven or eight pages of verses from the bible and find the ones that I didn’t truly believe. The next step is to identify the lie that is associated with that lack of belief. All I had to do initially was to pin point the verses that (for lack of a better way to put it) didn’t sit right with me. I did just that, and came back the next week stating I couldn’t find any. “I truly believe in every verse I read!”, I attempted to explain. As true as that is, there are still lies that I have believed above what God says is truth. At that point, I knew God was working and could feel Him transforming me, but the enemy wasn’t going to stop his efforts. The work my counselor and I were doing, with God, was working. So here comes another lie, “you don’t need this anymore, you’re good”. I took another swing, and came back with fourteen lies. Fourteen! I went from none to fourteen lies… Yeah I’m real good, huh? Now it’s time to build my ammunition when I’m in the crosshairs of the enemy, because you better believe, it will be a never ending battle. Something I can forget or allow myself to be deceived into thinking that a battle like this doesn’t exist (Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter‬ ‭5‬:‭8‬ ESV). I will eventually get to a point when I don’t see my counselor on regular basis, but the work I put into myself will never stop. But I was reminded this past weekend that it’s not for me, it’s for God and for his purpose for me. My transformation was not for me. Do I like that God has made me anew? Absolutely! I cherish the gifts of grace, peace, hope, joy, and love that have been given to me only through the redeeming power of Jesus Christ. But it’s not for me to keep for myself. This gift is given to be shared. Beautiful things develop when you remove yourself, allow for God’s Holy Spirit to guide you, and let Him work through you. And this is exactly what the devil wants to disrupt. Through tricks, lies, deception… However you want to label it, it’s not truth, and it is destructive. I’ve lived both. Believing in the deception is ugly and it’s painful. Choose beauty. Choose life. Chose love. Choose Truth. Choose to follow God, and His truth will truly set you (and others) free.

Sharing The Wealth

My job is fairly unique in the fact that the environment is constantly changing. It presents multiple opportunities to be with different people throughout my workday. My office are the homes of the families that have signed up for the service the company I work for offers to all the residents of the the state I now call home. Even though I have lived here for a little over two years, I just recently have called this place my home. But I digress, this is another topic for another post. I love my job (well I do now), not necessarily for what I do, but for the opportunities that are presented with each home I go into. I wish I could tell you that I’ve been going into each day with the enthusiasm of loving what I do, but this also is new. Well, the transformation of my heart is new, so it makes sense. It took me awhile to gain this perspective however. For the longest time I attempted and longed for my job to define me. I wanted it to be something I could boast about. Basing my identity on what I thought the responsibilities of my job represented and how much it filled my bank account. I perceived the responsibilities of my work as insignificant and the amount of money I made as a failure in achieving this self guided motive. During that time I lacked any hint of motivation to start my workday. My attitude quickly took shape, and it was not pretty. There was a moment where I became aware of what was taking place and found myself frustrated because I was attempting, again, to control the situation and I didn’t know how to fix it. I remember I would start my day filled with the spirit (through prayer and my morning devotional), but I immediately checked those blessings at the door as I left to start my day. On the way out, I picked up my baggage of selfish desires and would lug that burden everywhere I went. I had to let go. I had to let go of the approach of “what can this day offer me” and humble myself to embrace “what can I offer this day”. I had to let go of that burden and give it to God. He took over and each day, every home I encounter, is an opportunity God has given me to share his love. Although the description of my job doesn’t say so, sharing His love is now my primary responsibility. I’ve been filled with the spirit like never before this week, and yesterday I was given an example of what it looks like when that is shared with others. But this gift of sharing didn’t only come from me. During one of my appointments, the presence of God was tangible and He flooded the home of an older couple that self described themselves as poor. But if you had the opportunity to talk with them for just a moment you would see that this is not even close to being an accurate portrayal of how rich they really are. They may not be rich financially, but they are wealthy in spirit, and were more than happy to share. The space was filled with laughter, with tears, and with joy as they Blessed me with the gift of sharing. They shared stories of how they met, how their love for each other continues to grow, and how God continues to bless them and their family through the perceived “good” and “bad” times. The moment unfortunately lasted just an hour and a half. A short amount of time that will likely impact me for the rest of my life. God is so good!

Awareness

It started out (or I assume so anyway) as a simple passing of a beautiful picture to share with the ones you love. Yesterday, very early in the morning, my mom sent a picture to me and my sister of the building where she works. It was lit in pink, the color that has come to symbolize breast cancer awareness. It’s a beautiful shot, looking up from the street, of two buildings that are engulfed with this beautiful color. The lighting of the building among the dark canvas of the morning that has not yet been touched by the morning sun was striking. I thought about that picture a lot throughout my day. I think it’s safe to assume that the creation of these types of images are meant to bring awareness to a movement that will potentially save the lives of the women we love in our own life. Breast cancer is an unfortunate reality that exists, along with countless others, that we will in one form another be forced to encounter. My mom is no exception. She has been forced to fight breast cancer on two separate occasions, not to mention countless other burdens of health issues. She not only fought, but she won. She is a survivor. The gift of awareness that she blessed me with was not one of the purpose of the movement, but an awareness that she is still here with us to share a moment that is captured by a picture while on a morning walk. She is still with us as symbol, an example, a witness to what faith is. I remember asking her during one of her battles with chemotherapy how she continues to have faith in God considering all the struggles with her health, and she answered simply “that’s what Faith is”. Her faith didn’t just sustain, but it grew stronger. She is still with us as a testament to what it looks like live a life where you find your strength, your identity, your purpose in God. She is still with us as a palpable visual of God’s love. She is simply still with us. Her gift to me was that awareness. Something I embarrassingly admit that I take for granted at times. Too often I lose site of how lucky and blessed I am to still have her in my life. Thank you mom, from a son that is grateful that you are my mom, and that you are still with us.