Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What Woke Me Up At 4:14 A.M.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. 
You believe in God; believe also in me." - Jesus (John 14:1)

* * * * * * *

4:14 a.m.

Those numbers stared back at me a few nights ago after waking up from a fitful sleep. I tried to go back to sleep, but by then it was too late. My mind was racing with thoughts and feelings and frustrations from the day before. I thought sleep would chase them away, but I've learned that issues that go unsettled during the day will often follow you into the middle of the night.

Even at 4:14 a.m.

I tossed and turned, figuring eventually my exhaustion would take over and mercifully send me back to sleep. No dice. As five minutes turned to 10, and then 10 into half an hour, I was forced to acknowledge that something was wrong.

There were emotions I was letting get the best of me and worries that were spinning rotisserie-style in my mind. I knew why. I was clinging tightly to something that was beyond my control (always a bad idea, by the way). Something that was near and dear to my heart.

And so I wake up at 4:14 a.m. and soon thereafter, in a mix of frustration and exhaustion, anger sets in. I’m frustrated by a bunch of small things that didn’t go the way I thought it would and upset about not being in control the way I hoped I would be.

Eventually, I finish my internal venting and, as if He were waiting the whole time, God whispers a question that always cuts through all of the noise: Do you trust Me?

THE HEART OF THE MATTER

It’s such a simple question, one that I’ve had to wrestle with again and again during my life.

Yes. Yes, I trust You, Lord... But I say it as I clutch onto this thing I’ve been holding onto so tightly, afraid that if I let it go and leave it at His feet, I’ll lose it.

There it is again. Fear. Fear always seems to be the thing that holds me back. Fear always tricks me into thinking I can do it all on my own and take on more than I can handle.

The closer something is to your heart, the harder it is to let go. The harder it is to trust God with it. In my head, I know that everything in my life was better off in God’s hands than it was in mine. But fear can be so convincing as it screams that it's not.

I was either going to lay this down into God’s hands and trust Him with it or I was going to let fear win and tighten my grip. God always proved His faithfulness again and again when I chose to trust Him and I remember how I manage to mess things up big time when I didn’t.

In John 12:25, Jesus said, “Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.” The challenge I get from this verse is to live life with an open hand, letting God have His way in me. And that means opening up everything to Him.

LOOSENING MY GRIP

It’s easy to say God, I trust You. It’s harder to say God, I trust You with this thing that is so close to my heart. It’s much more difficult to then actually surrender it to Him.

I always wonder what will happen if I do surrender it, though. That’s just how I am; I want to know the end result of every decision I make. But that’s not how life works. That’s not how faith works. I may not know how it all ends, but if I trust God through it anyway, I know I’ll be alright.

So I start to loosen my grip, finger by finger, until my hands are open and I can place my hopes, my fears, my concerns, my everything into His hands.

Once I do that, the burden is lifted, peace returns, and -- finally -- I slip back to sleep.

When I trust God with the things that are close to my heart, they won’t wake me up at 4:14 a.m.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Minor Leaguer Who Didn't Quit

Guilder Rodriguez, a 31-year-old baseball player, is in the record books. But as far as records go, it’s not really one that most baseball players would aspire to.

14,095 plate appearances. 1,095 games. 13 years. That’s how long Guilder Rodriguez waited to fulfill his lifelong dream of playing in the major leagues. No one has ever played as many games in the minor leagues without an appearance in the majors as him.

Over those 13 long years, Rodriguez probably saw dozens if not hundreds of teammates get called up to the majors, getting their chance to live out the dream that every ballplayer dreams of since they were old enough to hold a baseball.

Rodriguez also saw many, many more of his teammates hang up their gloves and walk away from the game altogether without ever making it to “The Show.”

I wonder how many times Rodriguez stayed up late at night thinking about quitting, asking himself if the long bus rides to small towns, the low pay and playing in front of small crowds was worth it.

There must have been moments when frustration rose to the surface. When sadness crept in and doubt engulfed him. No one would have blamed him for quitting somewhere along the way. Thirteen years of toiling around in the farm system is an eternity in baseball years.

But if he had quit, he never would have gotten to experience what happened this week.

In early September, the Texas Rangers called him up and he made his MLB debut on Sept. 9. Reports say he cried for a long time after getting the news. After 13 years and 1,095 games and walking into a minor league ballpark batter’s box 14,095 times, he was finally getting his chance.

And then on Monday, he got his first major league hit. The crowd gave him a standing ovation, his family watching in the stands crying tears of joy. And then later in the same game, he hit another one -- an RBI single that ended up being the game-winner, lifting the Rangers to a 4-3 win. His teammates rewarded him with a celebratory ice-cold Gatorade dump after the game.

But the really amazing thing about Rodriguez is not only that he persevered through 13 years in the minors to realize his dream of being a Major Leaguer, but what kind of player he was during those years.

According to Adam J. Morris of Lone Star Ball: “He's been credited with having a huge influence on the careers of guys like Martin Perez and Rougned Odor, and being an 80 character guy who is the type of person you want in your organization.”

Rangers interim manager Tim Bogar told MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan: “He's just a true professional. He is basically a player-coach … He has been a big brother to Rougned and [Luis] Sardinas their whole careers. We see him in the clubhouse perking them up and having influence to get them to do the right thing.”

While he was waiting for his turn, he wasn’t just concerned with himself and his own dream. He was also building up those around him.

Now, he gets to play in the majors for three weeks as the regular season winds down. He might get to stay in the majors beyond that. He might not. But either way, I guarantee that these three weeks will be a time that Rodriguez cherishes forever -- a dream come true that he gets to enjoy with teammates he helped along the way.

Stories like this are reminders that most dreams take time -- a lot of it. They don’t happen all at once, so we need to develop patience and perseverance for the long road ahead. But they also remind me that I’m not the only one dreaming -- and there are people around me that I could be encouraging, investing in and guiding as I pursue my own dreams. 

If you are wondering whether or not to give up on your dream, keep going. It might take one year. Or 13 years. Maybe longer. Stick with it. But more importantly, don’t forget to look around and build up those that are around. Help someone else realize their own dreams while you chase yours. 

You just might get your turn someday, too. But you'll never get there if you quit along the way. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Why I'm Glad That Jesus Flips Tables

"Jesus told those who were selling doves, 'Get these things out of here! Stop turning My Father’s house into a marketplace!'" - John 2:16  

* * * * * * *

A married couple, two very good good friends of mine, asked me to take care of their house for a couple of days over Labor Day weekend and I happily agreed to do it. 

They asked me to stay over, watch over their dogs and make sure the house was safe. They left me the keys and the house was now my responsibility while they were out of town.

I watched some college football, fed the dogs and didn’t burn the house down -- mission accomplished.

But what if my friends had returned and opened the door to find that I had opened up a mini flea market inside of their house, filthy animals being traded on tables where they normally ate, furniture in disarray and people coming in and out to make a deal or two?

Luckily, my friends didn’t have to find their house in that condition. Jesus, however, wasn’t as fortunate.

There’s an event in John 2 that is always a bit jarring whenever I read it. Jesus went up to Jerusalem to visit the temple complex in and found a chaotic scene. What was supposed to be a house of worship had been turned into a makeshift commerce center by the Jewish leaders, with people selling oxen, sheep, doves and probably other animals. The place was probably a wreck and smelled more like a barn than a sanctuary when Jesus entered.

So Jesus, in defense of His Father’s house, did what a lot of upset homeowners would do -- he told everybody to get out and cleared the place. He flipped tables. He poured the money changers’ coins all over the floor.

Why? Not only were they using God's house and resources for their own benefit, but they were disrupting worship. Instead of glorifying God and attempting to reach out to those far from Him, they were concerned with their own business transactions. These Jewish leaders in charge of the temple had lost sight of the temple's true purpose. 

The story jarring because we often don't think about Jesus in this way -- He was angry and he was stern, chasing these people and their animals out of the temple. Aren't you being a little bit harsh, Jesus? I initially think. 

Then I start to think about the times when Jesus needed to flip tables and scatter coins in my own life. The times when I was using the blessings God had given me with and using it for my own benefit. Or neglecting to make His house, the church, a priority in my life.
He could have let me continue go about doing life my own way, but I thank God that He didn’t. I thank God that He stepped in and flipped all the tables I set up in my life that were being used for my own gain instead of His glory

Jesus flipped those tables out of love -- tough love -- for the purpose of bringing us closer to Him. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

What To Do When Dealing With Change

The relaxed routines, slower pace and calmer environment that I had become so used to during those summer months are gone, fleeing faster than a baseball crushed by Giancarlo Stanton. And I’m still struggling to catch up.

I feel like that one kid during P.E. class in elementary school that always struggles to keep up with the rest of the group on that one-mile run, falling further and further behind and desperately trying to catch up and keep pace. 

I’ll be honest: Lately I haven’t been “feeling it.” I get to Friday evenings feeling like a boxer getting pummeled by Mike Tyson and then saved graciously by the bell. As I head back to my corner, bruised and confused, I’ll lose sight of who I am and why I do what I do.

Something about changes in schedules and routines, even minor ones, always throws me into a flux. And then I do what most stubborn men usually do -- I'll rely on my own strength and ability to stick it out and weather the storm. And about 100 times out of 100, I’ll wind up in a ditch feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. 

And then God nudges me on the shoulder: I’m still here, you know. 

He always is. When I reach the end of myself, God is always there to remind me that He is able. Able to intervene on my behalf. Able to give me the strength I need to carry on. Able to give me rest when I’m exhausted from trying to run the race on my own. He is able.

And even when I make the same mistakes over and over, He is still willing to pick me up, dust me off and help me start over again. That’s grace and faithfulness I’ll never be able to fully understand and I’ll never be able to thank God enough for. 

As I try to realign my life to my new circumstances, routines and schedules, here are some things I’ve been training my thoughts on:

1. REFOCUS ON GOD 

“Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” - Hebrews 12:1-2

One of my favorite interactions between Jesus and the apostle Peter came when the apostles were out on a boat in the middle of a storm as Jesus was walking towards them -- on the water (See Matthew 14).

When Jesus called for Peter to walk towards Him, the apostle -- with his eyes on Jesus -- took a step off the boat. And then another step and another and miraculously enough, he was doing the impossible -- he was walking on water. But then Peter did what most of us would probably do: he started to look around and saw the strong gusts of wind, the raging waves, the dark clouds overhead and he freaked out. The moment that Peter took his eyes off of Jesus, he sank like a rock (kudos if you get the pun there) because he let his fear overshadow his faith.

When our focus is on Jesus, when our lives revolve around Him and His plan for our lives and we step out in faith, amazing things happen. But the second we lose sight of our Savior and dwell on our surrounding circumstances, we sink -- just like Peter did.

Jesus gives us the strength, the confidence, the purpose, and everything we need to accomplish what He wants to do in us, for us and through us. Whether the seas of your life and mine are calm or stormy, our eyes need to stay fixed on Him. Feed your faith instead of your fears.

2. REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE

“To all who did receive Him, He gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.” - John 1:12-13

When we let our schedules dominate our lives, our identity will undoubtedly become muddled. Some days, I start to wonder Who am I, really? It’s a temporary identity-memory lapse; I become so consumed by my daily schedule and getting everything done that I forget who I am. But then it comes back to me. 

I am still a child of God, so I must seek Him out daily. I am a writer, so I must make time to write. I am still a son, a brother and a friend, so I must make an intentional effort to spend time with friends and build those relationships that matter. 

Things become a lot more clear when we remember who we really are. Our identity should determine our schedule, not the other way around. 

3. REFRESH YOUR PURPOSE AND MISSION

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” - Matthew 22:37-39

That’s what it’s all about. Four words, two commands: Love God. Love people. No matter what my Google Calendar looks like or what projects I need to complete or what errands I need to run, those two objectives should serve as the motivation for all that I do. 

Will I be perfect in doing so? Absolutely not. But we should strive to love others the same way God loves us and to live a life of worship, a life completely sold out to God and His kingdom. 

Don’t get so lost in the craziness of now that you lose sight of the big picture of eternity. 

4. READJUST ACCORDING TO YOUR NEW SCHEDULE 

“He gives strength to the weary and strengthens the powerless. Youths may faint and grow weary, and young men stumble and fall, but those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength…” - Isaiah 40:29-31

More often than not, the changes that happen around us are out of our control. That’s life. But we do have a choice when it comes to our response to change. Will I try to do things my own way and complain about it? Or will I trust God and make the sacrifices and decisions necessary to move forward?

We all have to fight to make time for what is really important and make sure we are taking care of ourselves by developing healthy habits, including getting enough sleep, eating right and exercising regularly. Know your schedule and make the proper adjustments.

When our eyes are fixed on Jesus, when we remember who we are in Him, and when we remember the big picture and our mission and purpose in life, we can face any challenges we face and any changes we encounter.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Why It's Time To Share Your Story

Since taking my first class on journalism when I was in middle school, I’ve been told that everyone has a story. That every person I’ve met has something to say, a battle to fight, a mountain to climb and a dream to chase.

And it’s true. Everyone has a story to tell. Which means you have a story to tell.

From being a terrible high school newspaper sports reporter to where I am now as a staff writer for FIU, I’ve talked with hundreds if not thousands of people for many different stories. And every single person I’ve talked to, from Martha Stewart to the custodian who made sure the student center at the university I studied at and now work for stayed clean for 33 years, had their own story in the form of the lives they’ve lived.

In my own life, I’ve had the privilege of knowing people who have amazing stories -- stories that have inspired me, motivated me, and humbled me. But some of those awesome stories have never been told. The ones who hold those stories have kept them locked up for one reason or another. Sometimes it's fear, or embarrassment, or they just don't think their story is worth telling.

But it is definitely worth sharing because you’ve been through things that I’ve never been through. You’ve been to places I have never traveled to. You know people that I don’t know and met with people I don’t know exist. You know things I know nothing about. Oh yes, you have a heckuva story to tell.

Not only do you have a story to tell, you are the story. You are filled to the brim with triumphs and defeats, mountain peaks and valley lows, laughter and tears, joy and pain. And the really cool part is that your story is still not finished. It's still a work in progress.

I'm not going to lie to you: it is scary to put yourself out there for the world to see. It’s already difficult to share a part of your soul with close friends, let alone complete strangers. I still struggle with it. There will be haters and critics and people who won't understand. But if and when you decide to share your story, you won't be doing it for them.

Your story could change lives. Your story could make someone laugh, think and reflect. It could help a teenage kid somewhere know they are not alone in their struggles. It could teach all of us a thing or two about having compassion for one another, help us see the world in a new way and maybe even help somebody understand something they didn't fully grasp before.    

There are a bunch of ways you can share your story. Maybe it’s that blog you haven’t posted in since 2011. Or maybe it's through videos on YouTube. It could be conversations with the friends you’ve been keeping at arm’s length away. It could be that small group at church you sit at every week but don’t say anything. Or maybe it’s just beginning to be open with God, who you’ve been trying to run away from.

Whatever it looks like in your life, share your story. We need to hear your voice. You have a story to tell. So what are you waiting for? Let’s hear it.