The innocence of the question did nothing to prevent me from being flabbergasted. As I stared into the almost cartoon-sized blue eyes of this 4-year-old boy, compassion filled my heart. I simply smiled and replied, “Why yes, of course!”
He nodded in understanding and continued playing with the toys that had previously occupied his attention. As I sat there watching his imagination create a world only he would understand, I wondered if this moment would be as memorable for him as I was sure it would be for me.
There’s a temptation to somehow prove my humanity, to validate my existence; especially because I live in a society that labels me a minority. The definition of “minority” is “a racial, ethnic, religious, or social subdivision of a society that is subordinate to the dominant group in political, financial, or social power without regard to the size of these groups.”
My nation, my homeland, defines me as a racial subordinate to the dominant group. It’s a label that follows me every time I check “Black/African-American” on any document. It’s a label that follows me any time I walk into a room and I’m the only one there who looks like me. I have a pre-disposition to believe that I am less than because it is what I’ve been told since I was born. It’s even printed on my birth certificate.
In indignation, I wear my hair natural. I comb through hundreds of photos on Instagram that have the “#BlackGirlMagic” marker. I recite Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” at any given opportunity. I go out of my way to compliment any black woman I meet.
I vote knowing what it cost my ancestors to grant me this right. I fight to prove that no quantifiable data could box me in and keep me from living the life I want to live.
It’s funny, all of that effort did nothing to quiet the comparison or stop the Caucasian woman from accosting me and my little cousins. It did nothing to abate the voice in my head that hurls insults every time I’m in front of a mirror. The only thing that has proven strong enough to rectify my identity is the Word of God.
I am black. I am a woman. I am southern. I am a millennial. I can come up with lots of ways to identify myself. I can make a list of a thousand superlatives. However, anything I fathom about who I am does not compare to who I am in Christ.
Society has a lot to say about who we are. In fact, we have a lot to say, ourselves, about who we are, and a lot of times we are better than anyone at putting ourselves down. Is it possible that when we say “yes” to Jesus, when we surrender our lives to Him, in doing so, we subject our idea of identity to Him as well? Identity then becomes more than a list of quantifiers.
If the Word of God created the world and all we see, how much more powerful then would it be to believe His words about us? We are children of the Most High God. We are His handiwork. In the same way He created the earth, He fashioned us together in our mothers’ womb. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We, the children of God, are His royal priesthood. We are the head and not the tail. We have every spiritual blessing made available to us through Christ. We are chosen.
We aren’t beautiful because of, or in spite of, being black. We are beautiful because we were created by Beauty Himself. My skin color becomes more than a sign of my socio-economic status; it is part of the hand-picked design as imagined by my Creator. We aren’t worthy because our society calls us worthy, but because Jesus thought us worthy enough to die for.
Our choice is this: To live subjected to societal labels or to allow this new identity to supersede what we once believed. My faith then doesn’t just inform my identity. It becomes the lens through which I’m even able to see who I really am. It doesn’t stop there.
When we are able to see ourselves through this lens, we are empowered, nay obligated, to see others the same way. It transforms a “me against the world” ideology into an understanding that it is “us under God.” The need for validation becomes obsolete and pure confidence flourishes as the love of Christ permeates the entirety of our beings.
The alarm goes off. Your eyelids crack open as your brain starts to register the piercing foreign and unwelcome sound chosen out of a list of stock options that came with the device. In that moment, you choose. You can attempt to acknowledge that another day has indeed started or you can prolong this inevitability with one of modern history’s greatest inventions: the snooze button.
Just like all other inevitabilities, it is time to face the fact that another day has come, and with it, your routine. A lot of times, you can pretty much predict or foresee what the day is going to look like. If you have a 9-to-5, you know that you need to get up to make sure you’re out the door in enough time to beat traffic and make it to work on time.
Then you work all day, come home, eat something, unwind, go to sleep, and do it all over again. Before you know it, you’re caught in this cycle and your life has become the one word childhood dreams and imaginations dread: mundane.
The Drum Major Instinct
As Christians, we believe fundamentally that we are all created for a God-given purpose. We believe that there is a reason we are on this earth, that our lives mean something. Scriptures like Jeremiah 29:11 and Ephesians 2:10 reinforce this belief. We serve a great (i.e. massive, full of grandeur) God and He made us so surely we are meant to be great, right?
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to this feeling of being meant for something greater in his sermon “The Drum Major Instinct.” He states, “We will discover that we too have those same basic desires for recognition, for importance. That same desire for attention, that same desire to be first… It’s a kind of drum major instinct—a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first. And it is something that runs the whole gamut of life.”
It is a natural inclination to want to be significant.
When we consider purpose, we must consider that which we were commanded. We’ve all heard them before: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Then, Jesus’ last instructions before He ascended to Heaven were, “Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
This is our purpose.
Love God, love people, make disciples. In everything we do, we can point back to these three things. It’s vague and specific at the same time. How can we do these things when we are just normal people?
A word on Purpose from the late Dr. Myles Monroe
Most people will never know Lyle Gash. He was a boy with Downs Syndrome in a rural town in the foothills of North Carolina.
When he was born, his mother and father were told he would not make it through the night. Then, when he did, they were told he wouldn’t make it through the week. Then, when he did, they were told he wouldn’t see a year. And so on, and so forth for his 24 years of life.
Lyle survived multiple open heart surgeries, kidney failure, and various other health complications. He finally went home to heaven at 24.
One might ask, “What was the point of his life? He struggled for 24 years then died. Where’s the purpose?”
Well, one year, Lyle’s mother had an idea. Watching her baby boy suffer in pain, she wanted to do something to make him feel at least a little better.
She noticed whenever he received “get well soon” cards his mood was significantly better. She wrote a simple Facebook appeal to all who would read it: “Let’s collect 10,000 cards for Lyle.”
It seemed like an insurmountable feat. However, once word got out, cards came zooming in from all over the world. Lyle even got a special card from President Barak Obama and his family. All of a sudden, the story of a boy with Downs Syndrome in small-town North Carolina was impacting the lives of thousands of people that he never would’ve dreamed of meeting.
Lyle’s story serves as a very important lesson: as long as there is breath in your body, you have purpose. It’s up to us to seek out that purpose in our everyday lives.
It’s up to us to never lose our wonder. Whether we realize it or not, in our seemingly mundane lives, we have the opportunity to dream, to encourage others, to delight in creation, and to take advantage of every second of every day.
We can search out beauty and joy. We can take pause and acknowledge the miracle of every breath we take in. We can help others. Life becomes so much more meaningful when it becomes about more than just you. Don’t let the mundane steal your purpose.
I’d garner a wage that if you’ve ever stepped into a church, you’re familiar with the “Offering” moment. It’s generally a time in the service where someone will get up and give a brief message about the importance of tithing.
It is almost comical how quickly the energy in the room changes in this moment. People revert back to high school tendencies and hide their faces for fear of eye contact and looming shame.
At the church I currently attend, they pass buckets down rows and I, as discreetly as possible, glance at how much my neighbor has contributed while simultaneously feeling the need to defend why I have nothing tangible to place in the bucket because I give online. All of this, of course, happens in seconds. Then, the moment passes and everyone seems to release a collective breath, almost as if to say, “OK, we’re done talking about money.”
A lot of times when we hear sermons on giving, we hear it from the perspective of “Give because God’s going to give it back to you.” Another perspective is “Give because God will punish you if you don’t.”
I’m not going to argue against those perspectives. I want to offer a new one, perhaps, a deeper one.
This Giving Thing is Nothing New
2 Corinthians 8 and 9 are basically an offering message nestled in the middle of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. Without getting too much into the historical context of this passage, let’s establish a little background to set the scene.
It’s important to read the letter as a whole. Paul was attempting to re-establish his authority with the Corinthian church. There were “false prophets” trying to usurp his relationship with the church; there were questions around hierarchy within the church as it pertains to spiritual gifts, etc., etc.
Needless to say, the church at Corinth needed a stern talking to. While this was going on in Corinth, according to Colin Kruse’s The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, the Jewish Christians of Judea had been hit hard by outbreaks of famine during the reign of Claudius (emperor of Rome AD 41-54).
Theologian Tom Wright goes on to explain the sensitivity of Paul’s ask. Wright states, “[Paul] knows that at every stage the project is a tricky one: persuading the Gentile churches to hand over money, especially the Corinthian church that had seemed to rebel against him; taking the money safely, and with proper accounting, to Jerusalem; and delivering it acceptably to the church there.”
There’s one passage in particular that I’d like to highlight. 2 Corinthians 8:4 says, “… they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of
sharing in this service to the Lord’speople” (emphasis mine).
We could all learn a thing or two about giving
The summer after I finished university, I moved in with a family from the church I was attending. It was a pretty new experience for me, living with a family I barely knew and having to get used to their customs. For example, every day at 6 p.m., dinner was on the table and we had family dinner. I was expected to be home for dinner every night, something I’d never experienced before.
One night, I was running a bit late. I didn’t think it necessary to call because I figured they wouldn’t miss me, or they wouldn’t notice or care that I wasn’t there. So, imagine my surprise when I walked in and everyone was at the table waiting on me to get there.
I was floored and embarrassed at the same time. I was lovingly, yet sternly, reminded that dinner is at 6 p.m. and I should kindly let them know when I’ll be late in the future. It was a shift in worldview for me. Because I was now seen as a part of their family, I was expected to act like a part of their family.
In the same way, since we, as Christians, have now been welcomed into God’s family, we are expected to act differently. We are expected to be generous.
God so loved the world that he gave … generosity is a character trait of being the Lord’s people. Our capacity to give exists only because God first gave. We give because, through Jesus Christ, it’s in our DNA to give.
It isn’t by force or threat that we should approach generosity. It is with full conviction of who we are in Christ that we live generous lives. It goes far beyond one moment one day a week. It should bleed into our everyday lives. Urgently search out ways to give.
I’ve challenged myself to carry dollar bills and bottles of water and fruit in my car because I know I’m going to pass homeless people on the street. It’s a simple way to purpose to be generous. It’s our privilege as the Lord’s people to do so.
The first memory I have of watching pornography is when I was 11 years old. It’s amazing that I didn’t even have the vocabulary to describe what I was witnessing, yet the innocence of my brain and body were gone in an instant.
I didn’t know it then, but my body and mind were awakened to a world of sexual stimulants that I was never made to endure. According to an article by the New York Times, 93% of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to online pornography during their adolescence. This is an issue that goes beyond the church walls.
Porn addiction is more than mere videos or online seductions. Pornography is defined as the “printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings.”
It can be easy to say, “Well, since I don’t watch these videos or go to these websites, I don’t have a problem.” Wrong. How many times have I written off the absurdly graphic sexual encounters described in various books as pure literature or even worse, entertainment? They are stimulants that create a very real reaction.
My sexual education came from an awkward 5th grade class, an even more awkward 8th grade health class, pornography, and friends who were sexually active. The only times I can remember hearing about sex in church were once in a Sunday School class where the teacher said she could tell just by looking who has had sex, and a few relationship/marriage talks.
As the good Christian girl, I pledged to stay abstinent until marriage. However, my seemingly perfect chastity was made murky by the secret I kept.
When I was 19, I had an encounter with God that changed my life. Long story short, I decided enough was enough and I had to give my life to Jesus—my entire life. I knew I would be different from that moment on. I mean, Jesus had my heart so all of my bad habits left immediately, right? Wrong.
A few months after that, I found myself in a room by myself watching porn. Although something had changed… I realized there was a pattern for why and when I watched porn.
Shame. Fear. Control.
There’s an amazing ministry called Restoring the Foundations. They are trained to identify and help mend different hurts one collects as a byproduct of being a human.
One of the things they examine is the cycle of shame, fear, and control. The cycle goes something like this: A person feels shame for something they’ve done, they’re afraid of being discovered, so they try to control the situation themselves.
The clearest example of this is Adam and Eve in Genesis. They ate the fruit they were told not to eat, they were ashamed, they were fearful of being discovered, so they tried to control the situation by fashioning for themselves makeshift clothes to cover their nakedness.
Shame, as opposed to guilt, attaches itself to a person’s identity. It’s the difference between saying “I made a mistake” and saying “I am a mistake.” This is how I approached pornography.
There would be a trigger, mainly an emotional trigger, something that made me feel lonely or afraid. Then, I would engage with porn. Afterwards, I was ashamed.
I wasn’t the good girl everyone thought I was. I tried to control the situation myself. I tried so hard to be perfect on the outside to veil the mess that was inside. I could only control the situation until another emotional trigger set the cycle off over and over again. This pattern also illuminated that porn was just the symptom of a bigger problem.
Where do we go from here?
Learn your triggers. After I recognized the triggers that sent me running to the counterfeit embrace pornography offers, I could preempt my reaction to run to porn. Instead, I ran to God.
Ask for help. This will never get old. The thing about shame is, it breeds in darkness. It festers in your deepest thoughts. It feeds off of the lies you believe about yourself. Identify safe people you can ask for help. You weren’t made to live life alone. Above all, ask God for help. The same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in you. That’s a pretty stacked deck.
Accept the fact that you are loved. I elevated the shame I felt over the truth of God. According to Him, nothing can separate me from His love that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8). According to Him, I am chosen. According to Him, I am forgiven.
As an American, it is very difficult for me to understand the conflict in Syria; the depth of which encompasses hundreds of years of political and religious battle lines.
Modern technology brings international attention to the plight of the citizens there. Images surface and are reposted thousands of times over and are difficult to avoid. We carry the world in our pockets, while somehow being ill-equipped to handle the knowledge that it brings.
It’s almost easier to ignore the news altogether for being crippled by an inability to immediately do something about what we see and hear. However, chosen ignorance can lead to apathy, and that we must not give in to.
FACTS AND FIGURES
Syria is a land rich with cultural and historical influence. It is one of the oldest inhabited regions in the world with archaeological finds.
Professor Joshua Mark writes, “Syria was an important trade region with ports on the Mediterranean, prized by a succession of Mesopotamian empires.”
It has six world heritage sites, but unfortunately, its current conflict has brought unimaginable damage to this historically rich land.
The Free Syrian Army formed in 2011 against President Bashar al-Assad, who has international supporters such as Russia. There has been ongoing violence against citizens that has been condemned by the UN and other countries.
I don’t know what it’s like to become accustomed to hearing bombs. I don’t know what it’s like to live in a perpetual state of grief. I don’t know what it’s like to hide under rubble and wait for death to come.
However, I do know that there are people in this world who experience these things and more as a part of their ‘normal’ life. I’m not o.k. with being knowledgeable of what’s going on and doing nothing about it.
We lose a sense of our humanity when we’re not moved by the plight of others. To quote a pastor I know, “we can not do everything, but we must do something.”
While everyday people like me may not have any say on what decisions are made by governments involved in this conflict, there are certainly ways to play my part. Our response: get educated and get involved.
As stated earlier, we have access to the entire world through our phones. Do a little research, don’t just take a Facebook user’s opinion on the matter. Research viable news outlets. Look at sources outside of America.
I’m thankful for tools, such as this timeline crafted by BBC News, that help give an overview of the history of the conflict.
A quick way to get involved is to donate money. Preemptive Love is an organization that is dedicated to “Loving the People No One Else Will Love.” They are on the ground in war-infested places that were otherwise unreached by any kind of aid.
Matthew Willingham, Preemptive Love’s Senior Field Editor, writes, “When families in Aleppo ran for their lives, they didn’t have time to pack a lunch. When bombs are falling, you don’t stop to raid the fridge or whip up a sandwich — you run.”
Since December 2016, donations made it possible to make 790,540 hot meals, 2,000 sleeping bags, and 2,000 food packages. The beautiful thing is refugees, serving refugees, run the hot meal kitchen.
Preemptive Love is passionate about restoring dignity to the person by empowering them to be the change in their community.
It’s hard to imagine leaving my comfortable home, my steady job, my family and friends, and going to a country so ridden with war. It’s easy to leave that job to the missionaries who risk martyrdom. However, all of us have a responsibility to fight on behalf of humanity. We are the answer. Don’t become paralyzed by apathy. Preemptive Love states, “Every day, you make choices that either sustain conflict or transform it.”
For more information on Preemptive Love and ways to get involved, click here.
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