Roadblocks [ for you, Maris ]

This post is dedicated to my marvelous older sister, Marissa who is struggling with a bacterial infection resulting from her weakened immune system due to Crohn’s disease medication. Since she is fighting this infection, she cannot take her Crohn’s medication because it weakens her immune system and wouldn’t allow her to fight off the infection. To prevent the symptoms of Crohn’s without medication, she is on a strict diet where she can only have 200 calories of food per day. She also has to consume 4 Ensure nutritional shakes every day. As you can tell, those shakes would get pretty old after awhile. Unfortunately, her treatment will last for about 3 months. Love you, sister.

Maybe you’ve begun to understand that your path will not be straight and narrow. You’ve come to terms with the idea and have accepted the fact that it’s happening. How do you navigate this so-called curvy and indirect path? Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you.

Step 1)

Before you can get anywhere, you have you put complete trust in the Lord that He will provide. This is easy to say when we have good days but so much harder to carryout on our bad days. It takes tremendous courage to be able to surrender control of your plans. Even when you’re at your weakest point weak and you’re more vulnerable than you’ve been in your entire life, you have to trust. Sometimes when I’m really struggling, I remind myself of God’s love for me. He sees me as a child and protects me like a father. I am his weak and vulnerable baby lamb and He picks me up when my human limitations fail and carries me away from danger. It doesn’t matter if I make mistake after mistake he will always greet me with open arms, I need never be ashamed to approach God. He knows me better than I know myself.  His love forms a force field around me. Even when the effects of this fallen creation try to take me down, God says that He will lift us up after every trial. God doesn’t see earthly struggles as any challenge to His mighty power. God has the same love for you! When you are reminded of God’s tremendous love for you, it will bring you renewed strength.

end of the earth

Step 2)

We tend to get ideas in our minds about the general path of our life and the events that happen along the way. We have a map. Inevitably road blocks will arise. This is okay. This might not make you feel better but everyone is struggling. Everyone. Everyone you see each day even if it be but a second of interaction where you quickly make eye contact and then return to your daily life, has a story. Their story is perceived by them as vividly and intense as your story is to you. Imagine that. They have road blocks too even if it doesn’t seem like it on the outside. Dwelling on the fact that our problems are worse than other people’s problems is a poisonous thought. It might seem to be true but even if it is, this thought will not make it any easier but rather it will remove any joy from your life.

hands stars

Step 3)

Navigating these road blocks can be hard because sometimes they really suck. Something I’ve recently learned though is that sometimes you have to take your eyes away from the end point. You might not have a plan for your entire life but you do have to take action now. You have to do something right now that will at least get you closer to even a small goal that you have. You have to have a strategy. Set a goal and determine a strategy to get there. For example, I currently don’t have a major. Instead of going into panic mode about how I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life, I have to figure out  a strategy to move closer to figuring out my career goals. I worked with my adviser to create a schedule for this semester that will allow me to experience different topics. I have met with advisers in other majors, trying to determine if I might be a good fit. I still haven’t decided but I am getting closer. Your goal might be to consume 4 nutrition shakes a day. In order to achieve this goal, you have to take it day by day. Set up a specific time schedule and reward system so that you can stay on track.

Step 4)

Your struggles will never define you. This isn’t to say that you can do it alone though. You need people, You need friends and family that can encourage you and make you laugh along the way. Let them be there for you. Let them help you. Sometimes people get the idea that accepting help from others is admitting weakness. This isn’t true. We are all weak at some points in our life and we all need help.

may God

The Power of Prayer

While I was in Harlem one of the things we did was go on a prayer walk throughout the community, we made some stops and prayed for the places we stopped at, that they would be accepting of everyone, that they would only be used for good, that somehow people could connect with God when they visited each place, and that the city would continue to grow and thrive in positive ways. The stops included a church, a park, and 125th St, which was the main area of Harlem with stores and businesses. Prayer is not a new idea to me. I’ve prayed countless times in my life. What I didn’t realize is that I was often distracted from my faith. Not even in bad ways, I was distracted by things like school, work, and family. All of these aspects of my life are necessary but as I look back, even just a year ago, I found my prayers were often cries for help, a last resort when my earthly attempts to solve my problems had failed. The prayer walk allowed me to realize the power of prayer. The problems in Harlem were big. A lot of challenges that our team encountered were the feelings of not being able to do enough. Although we did our best, the community was still struggling with large populations of homelessness and poverty. We never expected to be able to go for a week and miraculously solve every problem but a feeling of sadness came over us as we realized the people we helped feed each day were still going to be hungry when we left and returned to Ohio. I learned that praying should happen when times are really good, as well as when we are in need of the most help. This seems obvious but I think it is more difficult to find the time/need to pray when we feel very happy/blessed. God deserves thanks! He is the creator of every good thing. Every good thing. I can’t even begin to think of every good thing God has placed in my life but I know it is much more than I could ever thank Him for. My goal is to try harder though.

Not only did I realize the power in giving God thanks but also in asking for help. As humans, we are hesitant to ask for help, from anyone. Society and maybe even people in our own lives lead us to believe that we are weak if we can’t do something on our own. For me, it wasn’t so much that I thought I didn’t need help, but that I didn’t ask for it enough. Praying should be the first thing I do in attempting to solve a problem/struggle, not the last. I am trying harder to pray before things I know will be challenging. Overall, I am trying harder to pray MORE. The truth is that the world has really big problems and although we can make a difference, we can’t solve them by ourselves.

The scope of things we can pray for is infinite. God wants to hear our voice, He knows we live in a fallen creation and He knows that we can’t do it alone. That was another thing Harlem taught me, I never thought to pray over building for the future that lies ahead. I never though to pray in a park that it would not be known as a dangerous place but that people would see God in the beautiful nature. Sometimes we need reminded of that, that we can pray about everything, there is no aspect of life that God doesn’t want to be a part of.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4 : 6-7

Harlem Post #1

I could write for days about my experiences in Harlem, NY, but one of the most unexpected events was something so simple. It isn’t bound to the streets of Harlem, it can happen anywhere. I take it for granted everyday. It’s listening. Listening and actually hearing. Hearing the stories from the people of Harlem. Stories in their rawest form, unaltered from actuality. Stories that have been silenced from others who don’t have time to hear them or hushed by people in disbelief of their truth.

We hear all the time that speaking is what makes a good leader. No one is ever reminded that the ability to listen is what makes a good human being. Listening is difficult because we spend our focus on what we say. We think that what we say will make a difference in someone’s life. We have the focus always on ourselves. Listening allows us to focus completely on someone else, trying to understand their experiences. What I’ve found is that the troubles in some people’s lives arise from not being heard. I didn’t realize is how hopeless it makes someone feel when they have no one to listen to them.. It makes people feel like no one has time to hear about their problems, much less want to help them. I am not above this. I too need people in my life to listen to me, even if they can’t do anything to help me, it feels better when I talk about whatever it is that’s bothering me.

On my last day in Harlem,  I was handing out water for people who were eating lunch at a soup kitchen. I started talking to a man sitting at one of the tables who told me people called him King George. He was very thankful and appreciative with what our group was doing for him and his community. He asked me where I was from and what my interests were. He told me he was very interested in music and he even sang to me a song he had written himself. He told me about how God was always present in his life, even if he didn’t see it at first. He then told me his addiction to alcohol and his battle with cancer. He made sure to tell me that he always maintained his sense of joy and trust in God, even when situations weren’t good. He told me that having money and fame creates more problems than the problems caused by not having any money and that life’s real treasures were joy and helping others. He talked about so much, I wish I could remember each word. We talked for close to an hour even after the chairs were being put away and the tables were being cleaned. At that moment, I wasn’t thinking about what time it was or what else I could be doing that would be more productive. God needed me right where I was. Maybe George needed someone to listen to him, but I needed to hear everything he said. He was a man of admirable faith even in situations where I know I would’ve been uncomfortable, worried, and hopeless. He reminded me that even though we were completely different, he was close to 70 and I am 20, he was from the nation’s largest city and I am from a small rural town, we were able to relate and learn from each other. It wasn’t the typical feeling you get on a mission trip when you know you’ve helped someone in need or you give money to the poor, this connection was two-sided. It wasn’t just a free handout, it was something more. Even though most of my responses were just a simple nod or a few words, his face lit up with the joy of being heard.

I think a lot of times we want to come in and give people exactly what we think they need whether it be food, money, or shelter. In those instances, I find myself focused on the materials we’re supplying instead of the people we’re giving the supplies to. Listening to others and finding out more about who they are removes the barrier between those giving and those receiving. It turns it into a connection between two human beings instead of a free handout.