Monday, January 30, 2012

American Exile

“You think you know the way you’re going, but I promise, I’ll show you the way.  I know what’s best.” –Proverbs 16:9 (RSV)

This past weekend I had the opportunity to be in Atlanta for the wedding of two very good friends of mine.  While it was so great to be there to support them and be a part of their nuptials, I was also there for a selfish reason.

Because my friends met in Charlotte, a good number of both the wedding party and the invitees were members of the same community as I was back in North Carolina.  When I left back in November it wasn’t so much that I really wanted to, it was more that is was just time for me to move on.

This was in many ways a reunion for me.

I had the opportunity to catch up, laugh, exchange stories, dance, eat, celebrate, and many other things with an incredible group of people for a few days.  It was fantastic.  For a brief moment, I had really regretted my decision to leave Charlotte.  But as the weekend when on, I remembered why I had to leave.

I didn’t have a real job.

I wasn’t married.

I didn’t know what the future held for me here.

In many ways, for being 26 years old with a college degree, I find myself living in exile.  I know the word isn’t used a whole lot in American sub cultures in 2012, but I think for myself and maybe some of you that read this it’s an appropriate term.

Don’t hear me wrong; it’s not a spiritual exile.  I don’t see myself living directly opposed to godly living or running away from Nineveh.  But I still feel like I find myself in a state of being barred from.  Maybe it’s simply socially.  There’s a good chance it’s in my head.  But I don’t feel crazy saying I feel like I am in an American Exile of sorts. 

I have come to believe that often God’s timing is a lot more difficult than our own. 

How often in the Scriptures do we see the people of God planning ahead only to see God hold them back; for their own protection?

We see Israel constantly asking for things, suggesting that if they were to just have it: land, an earthly king, a prophet, etc, they would be the people God desired. 

We see the “sons of Thunder” asking to sit at the left and right of Jesus in his glory. 

Characters have been making plans only to see God alter them since the beginning of time!

Yet throughout that we are called to be faithful to God and what He is doing in our lives; no matter where we are.  But we can be rest assured God wouldn’t ask of us what He hasn’t already done himself.

He has been nothing but faithful to me; always. 

We might see what we perceive as God’s faithfulness in moments of success; not unlike my friends' matrimony.  But it cannot be limited to times as these.

During the ceremony, the pastor looked at me and asked, “May I have the rings?”

I reached with my right hand into my left chest pocket to grab my friends' wedding rings.  As I pulled them out and handed them to the pastor, I noticed the reflection off of the ring on my right middle finger.

It’s a silver ring my parents got for me last summer in Israel.  Engraved in Hebrew, the ring reads, "one ring, to rule them all."  No, I'm kidding, it actually says, 

“I know the plans I have for you”

You know the verse.  It’s a graduation classic in Christian education.  It’s the uplifting verse after a breakup or pink slip.  We love to throw it around and encourage fellow believers in times of trouble.

Here’s the thing: do we know the context of that verse?  As Jeremiah is telling this to the Israelites, they are in the midst of their own literal exile!  What kind of prospering is this?! What kind of life notes this as a good future?!

Yet as we break down the words, we hear a gentle voice calm us…

“I know the plans for you.  I know that I know, that I know the plans I have for you.”

“They are good plans.  I can’t tell you what they all entail, but I promise you, they are good.”

“I have been faithful since day 1, and I have brought you this far.  I'm not going anywhere now.”

And so as I extended my hand to offer the rings I was overjoyed with what was taking place.  I was certainly seeing God in the best earthly example of his relationship with the church.  I was looking at my teary eyed friends with ear-to-ear smiles on their faces as they committed their lives to each other.  But I was equally reminded that God is in control.  Despite feeling like I’m in exile, I have to believe he knows, he cares, and he has a plan. 

And I can assure you that as I am not the only person to feel this way, I am not by any means the only person God is waiting to reveal his plan to. 

Maybe I should start selling rings with Hebrew inscriptions.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My ONE Question for Donald Miller

As I write this, I am sitting back at home.  Like, my parent’s home.  As you can imagine there are several negatives that come from this; none higher than personal guilt and frustration.  Oh, and that all of my friends around this part of town are married and have kids.

On the other hand, getting free rent, my own room, almost no food expenses, and great roommates (see also: parents) who are so awesome and know when to leave me alone, make this a very, very easy decision.

Additionally, I am immensely close to my alma mater.  Anyone who knows me, know that I love Wheaton College.  I absolutely loved my time there and continue to appreciate the lives Wheaton impacts and the things that go on at the campus.

This past Sunday night I was excited to learn that Donald Miller would be speaking in Edman Chapel.  I called up a good friend from my class that lives in the area and we headed over.  There was a good size crowd of students and I couldn’t help but feel like they all looked to young.  Am I seriously thinking that? 

Miller, an incredibly talented writer and communicator, is also a fantastic politician.  He was up and walking around; all smiles shaking hands and saying hello.  I was amazed.  How many of these has he done?  How many people has he talked to?  How many hours of sleep is he even working on?  I stopped and talked to him for a second.  I thanked him for coming, then proceeded to ask him about snow.  Yeah, I’m a moron.  I was a bit star-struck.

When he began speaking he was far funnier than I imagined.  As I read Miller’s books I picture a pensive man smoking a pipe and drinking scotch as he types away at the computer.  I wasn’t disappointed at all, just surprised.  A good portion of what he addressed was from his latest book, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.”  I highly, highly, highly recommend the book. 

His thesis is seemingly that we were meant to live great stories.  As someone who loves great stories in all facets (telling, listening, watching, reading) I deeply resonated with what Miller had to say.  As he spoke that night more specifically about what a great story might look like, he answered the question so many of my peers struggle to engage let alone answer:

So what exactly am I supposed to do?

His response was great.  Not un thought of before, but very original to the majority of students who sat in the seats because their parents wanted them to look at Wheaton and because a career choice has already been made for them.

He told the crowd, “I think you should do whatever you want.” 

The ideal is remarkable, right?  God just wants to do things with us.  If we want to be a teacher, awesome.  Go do it!  A lawyer?  Fantastic!  You name it, Git R Done!

Unfortunately that leaves me with a HUGE question.  One that has been more or less ripping me apart for a little while now:

What if you aren’t ‘good’ enough to do what you want?

Since I have been about 4, the idea of being able to play a sport for a job is all I have wanted to do.  Never wanted to go to the moon.  Didn’t want to put out fires.  Thought big trucks and trains were kinda stupid. 

For those of you that know me, you know I have chased this desire heavily since graduating college.  Now, I was able to have some success in that area, but not the kind that really pays the bills.

Not the kind that quenches dreams.

So there’s my question, Donald Miller.  Now what?  And I don’t mean it in an arrogant, “You got me into this” kind of way.  I mean it in true sincerity, because I don’t think I am the only one.  I have friends unable to get into med school.  Still others unable to get pregnant.  Too many genuine, healthy desires go left anything but realized or satisfied.

The reality is, maybe I don’t even know my own dream (Psalm 37:4).

Maybe real, actual dreams aren’t realized this side of Heaven.

Maybe it’s supposed to be that way.

To be honest, I just don’t know.  So Donald, if you do read this, what do ya think?  And you, causal reader, if you’ve gotten this far, what do you think?