The Hattiesburg That Built Me

“If I could just come in, I swear I’ll leave. Won’t take nothin’ but a memory. From the house that built me.”Miranda Lambert 

One of my closest friends once wrote that home changes when you leave it. Not physically, not from anything observed. But it just changes. And I always fought that–because home has always been precious to me, something no one could take away. A constant get-away from even the worst days the world can throw. Until it stopped being that.

It’s intangible and impossible to partially realize the process…until the awful/beautiful realization in its entirety hits you. Running after a home that only lives on in your memories of childhood, yet in reality, is no longer a reality–along with that childhood. Things don’t say the same because we don’t stay the same. Home, at that overwhelming moment, becomes something up for grabs, something we have to reclaim as we begin to become able to separate ourselves from who we were to who we are and are still becoming. And that’s a really (REALLY) difficult and vulnerable place to be in… but it’s also a really (REALLY) defining place to be in as well, and I’m finding that so much of who we are belongs to the home we leave and the new one we choose– whenever we’re ready to do so.

To say that I’m thankful for the past year would be an insult to how much I owe to it. In review, I’ve gotten to finish out my collegiate tennis career with some of the best people this world has ever produced (my team), gotten to learn a bit more about what the business world actually looks like, and I’ve gotten to see REAL ways to help REAL people in REAL communities through the confusing and complex world of economic development. It’s been an incredible ride–but let me just say that in the process of all the good things, it has absolutely sucked in between. A struggle, yes. But the best experiences in my life up to this point have come at the cost of others, and in the midst of all the internal grunge from this past year, I stand on my already stated words: I’m incredibly thankful. Because every pothole in the road has built a freaking sturdy faith in me, one that knows far better than to trust in myself for anything, especially strength. And I realized during this portion of life that I’m ready–for the first time– to claim the rest of my story by ending the chapters behind me.

A friend sent me this timely, encouraging message the other morning that read:

“In Deut. 30, Moses’ leadership of the Israelites is coming to an end Joshua’s is about to begin. Moses gave everyone God’s guidelines for “life and prosperity, death and destruction” (27:1-30:20) and to Joshua he gave a charge that I pray we always remember and lean on in tough times: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of _____, for the Lord goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” (31:6)”

There are few times in life that I can ever claim to feel like Moses, but the moment I read this message was one of them. The end of an era is the beginning of another–both for you and those that will go after you. This simple, powerful reminder affirmed that it’s time to shift from a Moses to a Joshua in my life. Indeed, just like Miranda’s words, I got lost in this world, in the abyss of early twenties. Between leaving one home and finding the next. No matter how many times I touch the home I once knew, I won’t feel “it”. I won’t find myself there… because I’m no longer there. The person I’m looking for is not the person I am now. I’m something different, something changed, something ready to claim a newness of self that can’t be held in a memory’s frame. And with that newness of self comes a newness of place to plant “me” in.

An Airstream State of Mind— I might have changed into someone different, but that’s one part of me that has stayed the same. However, the urge and longing to leave has always been purposed with a fantasy of finding myself amidst far-away fields, highways, canyons, streams, etc. all with the light of a gypsy sunset sky setting behind me in the wind (picturesque right?). While my intentions were pure, my maturity was malnourished, only understanding so little of what I claimed so much of. Life has shown me more than I’m aware of– but so far, I’ve caught onto this: Sometimes our treasures, the parts of us we hold dearest, the parts we search so hard for, remained right under our feet at the place our journey began. Not to be dug up and found in their old form–No. But rather, to be resurrected to a new phase of life–to actively ebb and flow in stride with who God is carving us to be, not who He carved us to be. He doesn’t change, but we do.

“Ya can’t go home again”– well, Miranda was a little off on this one. You can. But you won’t find what you’re looking for if you’re trying to find yourself. The only thing that’s in the past is the memory of who you used to be, but that memory is not necessarily the person you are, the person you’ve become. Once we’ve left home for a while, we begin to realize that we have to redefine our concept and definition of home by redefining our concept and definition of self. And in a world that’s full of distractions, lies, self-gratification, etc., it’s easy to lose yourself in the hustle. And it’s even easier to run back to a memory of who you used to be (home). Hear me when I say this– the person you’ll find is not the same one you’ve become. And it’s painful to find it, but beautiful in its coming together all at once. As Oswald Chambers might say, it’s one of those mountain-top moments where we see a glimpse of what God’s doing in the light of his grace and oversight.

My home has been so many things: PCS, the tennis court, youth group, coffee shops, Southern Miss, Eagles Trail, Westgate… The list can go on. But all of these places have ultimately been housed in the great town of Hattiesburg–the same town I’ve stayed in for 23 years. And as I’m getting ready to close a chapter in this town to move to a new place, I’m realizing that I am so much a result of this town’s upbringing. How could I not be? I’ve been here for quite a while. While our same old selves can never go back “home” in the same way, a new and changed self can rise up and reclaim the same home of his past as the new home of his new present and future. Perhaps, that’s exactly what I’m doing–what all of this year has been for. What everything up to this point in my life has precisely prepared me for.

“Show me your fire. Show me your heart. No, I’ll never let you fall apart. Keep. Your. Eyes. Open, my love.”

These lyrics have meant a myriad of different things at different points in my life, but lately I’ve seen NEEDTOBREATHE’s words as a mouthpiece for God’s challenge. To show my fire. To show my heart. And to keep my eyes open to the ways in which to do just that. And though I’m sure I’ll think differently when I wake up in the morning, maybe I’m picking up what He’s puttin down for the first time in a long, long time. Maybe I’ve begun to unravel his purposes enough to act on them after a year of internal unrest and struggle.

“You leave home, ya move on, you do the best ya can. I got lost in this ole world and forgot who I am… Out here it’s like I’m someone else. I thought that maybe I could find myself.” 

Ya know, this isn’t right. I haven’t forgotten anything. I’ve just lost the old parts of me that have shifted into the new. For me, the Airstream has made it full circle to the place from which it departed only to find its greatest journey at its past one’s end. And that, friends, is a special moment to experience. Bigger than a memory, but too sweet to understand past the present.

So, no. Miranda– I won’t take nothin’ but a memory from the chapters closed behind me. But something tells me I’ve got quite a few more to write. The Hattiesburg that’s built me hasn’t done a number on me just yet. Here’s to 23 years built in the burg. And here’s to a whole bunch more construction on the way.

Closer to home,

Alex

Return.

“Now we believe. Jesus says–Do you? The time is coming when you will leave me alone. Many a Christian worker has left Jesus Christ alone and gone into work from a sense of duty, or from a sense of need arising out of intimate contact with God by leaning to its own religious understanding. There is no sin in it, and no punishment attached to it; but when the soul realizes how he has hindered his understanding of Jesus Christ, and produced for himself perplexities and sorrows and difficulties, it is with shame and contrition he has to come back.

“We need to rely on the resurrection life of Jesus much deeper down than we do, to get into the habit of steadily referring everything back to Him; instead of this we make our common-sense decisions and ask God to bless them. He cannot, it is not in His domain, it is severed from reality. If we do a thing from a sense of duty, we are putting up a standard in competition with Jesus Christ. We become a “superior person” and say–“Now in this matter I must do this and that.” We have put our sense of duty on the throne instead of the resurrection life of Jesus. We are not told to walk in the light of conscience or of a sense of duty, but to walk in the light AS GOD IS IN THE LIGHT. When we do anything from a sense of duty, we can back it up by argument; when we do anything in obedience to the Lord, there is no argument possible; that is why a saint can be easily ridiculed.” -Oswald Chambers

Return. Return. Return. You literally can’t spend too much time sifting through Scripture without finding the command at least 56 times in one or two sittings (exaggerated, but close). It’s the one word that can sum up the rather one-sided love story between a God and his rebellious people, the one word that solves almost every problem we wrestle with by simply giving our eyes a 180-shift back from whence we came. And it’s a command we so easily ignore as history today, as we choose what we can know and understand in place of what we can’t and don’t.

I used to read books of the Bible like Hosea, and almost get annoyed with the amount of times Israel is told to hit the deck and run home to God (go check it out–it’s kind of impressive). I mean, at this point, God has literally saved the Israelites 8 million times, and they’re still being stupid and looking elsewhere for satisfaction, purpose, and drive. But, after 23 years of life, I’m sad to say that I’m far more like an Old Testament Israelite than I’d like to admit. I live life for the mountain peaks–the times when I at least feel on point with what God’s doing (ha funny thought right?)– and I have a bad habit of turning on my tunnel vision through the pitch black valley-times that life throws my way. I fumble. I crawl. I search everywhere except the place that has always given me direction, peace, light… And I get desperate enough to grab at things I know nothing of. Or perhaps worse, create a fix for myself that makes more sense in the moment than anything else.

“The test of spiritual life is the power to descend; if we have power to rise only, there is something wrong. We all have had times on the mount when we have seen things from God’s standpoint and we wanted to stay there; but if we are disciples of Jesus Christ, He will never allow us to stay there. Spiritual selfishness makes us want to stay on the mount; we feel so good, as if we could do anything–talk like angels and live like angels, if only we could stay there. But there must be the power to descend; the mountain is not the place for us to live, we were BUILT FOR THE VALLEYS. This is one of the hardest things to learn because spiritual selfishness always wants repeated moments on the mount.”

Obviously, I can’t get enough of Oswald Chambers lately. His wisdom on living resurrection life (inwardly and outwardly) absolutely baffles me more times than not. But, every now and again, my brain somehow latches onto what he’s trying to say– and man, on those rare occasions where that happens, it burns. If I really look at myself (beyond the kind words and birthday wishes that people have showered me with), I’m not sure that I like what I see. So far over the past few months, I’ve been living a spiritual selfishness that reeks of… well, me. Like the quote at the beginning of this post says, I’ve put a sense of duty in living this season of life at the steering wheel–what is that about? Since when does good and ripe fruit come from doing things out of duty? Spoiler Alert: it doesn’t. Yeah–there’s no doubt about it, I’ve been living life with only the mountain top in mind, despite God calling me to the valley. I’ve written off this difficult time in life as a “duty” and somehow turned this whole life-shindig into all about me. And the product is shocking. There’s no inflicted punishment necessarily–it’s worse. It’s like a mirror of the parts of me I haven’t even dealt with. A reflection of a soul that seems sick with self, a soul that has lied to itself and believed it.

We are riddled with a sickness of choosing our own way. Adam and Eve. Israel’s tragic history. The crucifixion of our Savior. The current state of this world. Over and over again, we continually think we know what we’re doing. And, consequently, we are continually reminded that we don’t… by screwing up beyond all fixes–except return. If there is any hope in the human condition, it’s that we have not lost our way back home. There is no valley dark enough, long enough, cold enough to extinguish the Light that leads us to Himself. But the unintentional tag-team of Satan and ourselves makes it pretty hard to see at times, especially when we’re too busy indirectly glorifying ourselves by living a “duty”-filled life. What a joke.

God does not place duty on anyone that knows Him. We do that to ourselves as an effect of misunderstanding who He is. If we are truly in tune with Him, referring to obedience as duty is absolutely ridiculous. His call is a privilege–His resurrection life is so far beyond anything we could insult and demean into a have-to-do. And once we have made it such, we have to throw ourselves (the source) out. We cannot return to God with spiritual selfishness lurking in our hearts, because our sinful state is devious enough to twist a return into an unintentional ego boost for ourselves. It is only through repentance, through RETURN— returning to the basics of who we are– that we can be reminded of how to live. Made from dust at the hands of a God who craves our return. Butt naked at the feet of the Father. Saved on repeat by grace. Given hope that doesn’t depend on us. Bestowed with an identity rooted in Someone far beyond sin’s ruin’s reach.

Ya know, these thoughts are not exactly coincidental to the fact that we are currently in the season of Lent. A season devoted to return. Some people give up things in efforts to try and re-route their cravings for said things with Christ. Some add on activities that might help them focus more on Jesus and His incredible feat of giving us hope and life. But somehow, I think I’ve managed to unintentionally give up God-time for me-time in this season devoted to quite the opposite. I’ve given up privilege and swapped it with duty. Annnnnd that’s a soul-problem. And I’m typically not good at soul-problem solving.

There is so much in my life to be thankful for. I’m a graduate student, student-athlete that gets to study a constantly perplexing world of economic development in between playing a sport that has taught me so much about who I am. I am surrounded by some rock-star friends and family that remind me this life is not my own. And I am constantly blessed with grace that cannot be lost because I screw it up. Yet still, this season of life is perhaps the spiritually hardest I’ve been through, and I’m sure much harder ones are on their way. But, I think the only reason it’s “so hard” for me is just because I’m looking to myself for things I’m not capable of giving. I’m trying to rationalize with a duty mindset, when rationalizing itself is the problem. If I can make it reasonable and get it to make sense and sound secure to my own liking, I’m probably on the wrong track. And the further down I go, the longer the return will be.

I don’t think I need to change where I am… but how I am. I’m not talking about a return of physical nature–that’s not it. I know God wants me “here” for now. But Lord knows, He’s calling me to get out of the way of seeing where I am from how He sees it. I’ve gotta go back to the basics–a soul returned to where it’s identity is (aka. not in me). A return that is maintained even when I leave the mountain top– a valley-awareness of what I know in the light of the mountain to still be true in the dark. Because just like Israel, I’ve made my own way too much of a habit. And I’m promised and shown where choosing my own way leads. Hence, my current state.

Here’s my prayer, stolen from C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters: “Not what to what I think Thou art, but to what Thou knowest Thyself to be.” I love this prayer simply because it puts things (even understanding God) in God’s hands and nature–not ours. There’s hope there. There’s a chance at “getting it” if we’re not the ones gettin’ the “getting”.

If anyone has taken time to read these thoughts, I’m sorry–I’m a little crazy. And by a little, I mean a lot. But I think the season of Lent is a challenge to all of us of returning to the One who life’s about. Not just giving up Coke, or chocolate, or whatever else, but giving up ourselves. Throwing ourselves out of the way and into some arms that were made to hold us. Arms that are always waiting for a return. And Lent is an incredible reminder that there’s literally nothing stopping us from doing so apart from.. well, us. As we celebrate Jesus’s once-and-for-all Passover requirement satisfaction for our sinful state, maybe we should commemorate His sacrifice by rendering one of our own. Ourselves. Our spiritual selfishness in exchange for the resurrection into a life of privileged, willing call. Let’s be children of the Light, whether we’re in the valley or on the peak. Maybe then, we’re onto a more accurate understanding of who God is.

Turning home,

Alex

Choosing Him in the Nonsense

Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up. Expect God to get here soon. -Psalm 31:24

And I will cause hostility between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” Genesis 3:15—it’s the first sign of Israel’s waiting game for a Messiah’s rescue. God sets the stage with a promise of a Satan-crushing Savior, a descendent of man to smush the serpent’s head in retaliation for the stain of sin that has plagued the Earth and its inhabitants since. In the same moment that hope was lost for humanity with the fall of man, God matches failure with promise—the hope of Jesus, a Messiah King to do what we couldn’t: rid the world of sin and the deadly punishment it brings. And the promises kept on coming.

I swear—God’s sure word!—because you have gone through with this, and have not refused to give me your son, your dear, dear son, I’ll bless you—oh, how I’ll bless you! And I’ll make sure that your children flourish—like stars in the sky! Like sand on the beaches! And your descendants will defeat their enemies. All nations on Earth will find themselves blessed through your descendants because you obeyed me.” Genesis 22:15-18

The promise of inheritance and descendants continues through God’s covenant with Abraham, and the waiting game for the Messiah continues. A descendant that ALL of the Earth will be blessed through—how huge is that! As the verse above mentioned, God calls Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, but stops Abraham before the deed is done, thankfully. The willingness of both the father (Abraham) and the son (Isaac) is astounding—willingly and obediently, they were willing to kill/die for God’s will, even when it made zero sense to them. When they did not understand, they chose God. Do you see the foreshadowing here? Abraham and Isaac are representative of God, the Father, and Jesus, the Son of God, in the sacrificing process of sending Jesus the Messiah to Earth to save sinners (us) who would reject Him as a hoax. Though they perhaps did not know it, God was demonstrating what was to come through Abraham and Isaac’s willingness to sacrifice and through providing a scapegoat for that sacrifice. The promise of the Savior continued.

Then, we have Jacob, who, let’s be real, doesn’t always get the best rep. for basically stealing his father’s blessing and birthright away from his brother Esau (aka—the hairy hunter man from the Bible that sold his birthright to Jacob for some soup. I know, hunger can do crazy things. Read the full story in Genesis 25-28). But later in his life, Jacob’s faith becomes something noteworthy (if you’re interested in Jacob, check out Hebrews 11:21 and John 1:51). His role in the Messiah’s coming is seen most clearly through his prophecy of the Kingdom of Judah:

Judah, your brothers shall praise you; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father’s sons shall bow down to you. Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, as a lion who dares rouse him up? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” –Genesis 49:10-12

Pretty powerful words, right? The Cliff Notes version of that passage is essentially that Judah (God’s people) is going to reign over all people, which, as you can imagine, is a pretty big deal. And it was good timing for Israel to be reminded of God’s provisions, because 400 years of exodus in Egypt were on the horizon for God’s people, and it would not be a time where hope was abundantly obvious. But, in usual God-fashion, God delivered the Israelites from Egyptian captivity through the vessel of Moses, whom he also gave “the Law” to (i.e. the ten commandments). Although the Law was received with excitement and good intentions, the Israelites could not uphold the Law perfectly, and soon needed a sacrificial system to be put into place to deal with their sin before God. Once again, the need of a scapegoat, the need of something to satisfy the punishment for sin is clearly echoed again throughout the Israelites journey and heritage. The wait went on, but not without more promise reminders.

A man named Balaam, who was considered to be a pagan prophet and a practice of sorcery even prophesied Jesus’s coming. Take a look:

The oracle of him who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered. I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; a star shall come forth from Jacob, and a scepter shall rise from Israel, and crush the through the forehead of Moab, tear down all the sons of Sheth. And Edom shall be a possession, Seir, it enemies, also shall be a possession, while Israel performs valiantly. One from Jacob shall have dominion, and shall destroy the remnant from the city.”Numbers 24:16-19

YEUH. How awesome is that? If you were Israel, would you not be pumped!? I definitely would. Even through pagan lips, God is channeling hope into his people that He has not forgotten them and the promise he made to Adam, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Even Moses refers to himself as somewhat of an early version of the later-to-come Messiah in Deuteronomy 18:15: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.” And so, the hope is extended. The wait for Jesus, continued.

Later on down the road, though (and I’m skipping a huge chunk of the Bible btw), Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah King did come, just as God promised at each step of the way.  God delivered. He came through and was coming through even when nothing made sense–perhaps more so, when nothing made sense.   Jesus, himself, didn’t even make sense to most–he wasn’t a strong military leader ready to rip the heads off the Romans and redeem the Jews history of oppression. He definitely didn’t sit pretty at the Pharisee socials, and he wasn’t exactly from an uppity family (carpenter–aka, lower working class–aka, not Messiah material).  The Jews never really made sense of Him, as, in their eyes, he didn’t do Messiah-fulfilling duties: 1) Be a strong military leader 2) Raise up an army and 3) Establish God’s Kingdom forever. Jesus didn’t exactly make much sense to the people he came for–and yet, God’s hand was most powerfully in place on humanity through the “nonsense” of Jesus, His own son, His own entity. The ones that accepted Christ were the very ones that didn’t snuggle up so closely to their “religious” agendas and molds of who Jesus was supposed to be, and simply entered into relationship with who Jesus actually was. Crazy idea, right? To let go of our sensical perceptions and to embrace reality that doesn’t always make sense… Who would do that? Well, my name is Alex, and I’ll be the first one in line to the “Nothing Makes Sense” Club sign up. Furthermore, I sometimes think the less we know, the closer to Him we are. Maybe “knowledge” and “sense” are replaced with a more powerful measurement: relationship. Relationship with someone that doesn’t belong to our sensical thoughts and models, yet makes enough sense to convince us to throw our lives into Him.

Where am I going with this–not sure that I know. But, lately, I’ve been painfully reminded that the places God is most expected to be seen are the same places that are, more often than not, showing cloudy skies.  And with Christmas and the ridiculous distractions the season throws at us directing us away from God (sad, right?), I think it’s important to be reminded of God’s history of deliverance— deliverance from what seems like nonsense. When our country’s leadership is embarrassingly corrupt, when religion is our futile attempt at organizing a box-less God, when people forget they’re makeup and purpose, when there is no desire for more: God delivers.  He hasn’t just delivered–He delivers. Christmas is a celebration of the historical past, yes–but I would argue that it’s more so a celebration of the spiritual present. God’s promises are not over. Jesus did not fail to achieve the same Messianic duties Jews accuse Him of shirking.

1) Military Leader:  Jesus might not have been a military leader of the physical sort, but did He not fight a spiritual battle that we are all incapable of fighting? Did he not kick sin in the nuts and smush Satan’s serpent head by sacrificing His perfect self for his murderers salvation? Christ fought a battle that we are incapable of fighting and earned his badge as military leader through victory of spiritual war–a victory we get to partake in now btw.

2) Raise Up an Army: No, Jesus was not out in Jerusalem trying to sign Jews up for a Messianic draft. In fact, he was somewhat of a pacifist right? The whole turn the other cheek bit doesn’t exactly echo war cries for Jewish freedom.  But did he not establish an army? Because I’m pretty sure Christ started a worldwide Navy Seals program through the utilization of His Spirit via his disciples.  Yeah, Christianity was started by His example, and His army grew over the entire Earth.  And while we pretty much suck and doing what He told us to nowadays, we are still here. And called to the same cause.

3) Establish God’s Kingdom Forever: Soooo, where is it? Jesus even talked about this kingdom all the time during his ministry, but it never really was obvious what exactly He was talking about. Until He left. And then sheesh… things started happening. This weird Spirit made its home in the hearts of those who opened the door to Him, and the power of God became available for the entire Earth. His Kingdom became available on Earth–His presence became something accessible. Something that we could live in and through at ALL points of life. And nothing can take it away from us. We can’t ever screw up bad enough to lose Him… There is no forbidden fruit that separates us from Life. We have a way to live according to how God has called us via His Spirit: He lives through us so we don’t have to rely on our screw-up historical trends. His Kingdom. His presence. It’s available.

He freaking brought it with Jesus. What an incredible celebration! Go dance and jump up and down! Because a Savior walked this Earth and died for us. But there’s still more–His life goes on. His promise lives on through His Spirit and through His Kingdom. And when we lose sight of the fact that He is still delivering– we misunderstand Him. We cannot settle for an image of God. We cannot settle for any limitations we set for Him. He doesn’t belong in the confines of our minds. He doesn’t belong in the hot seat of our pathetic, limited logic, as if we know anything anyway.  And tonight, I’m praying that… after 2000 plus years…. we choose relationship over our control-freak need to box in the ways God works. Because I’m tired, tired of participating in pretending to have a grip of what’s on God’s horizon. The closer we get to God, the further away everything else becomes.  The more relationship we have, the more assurance of deliverance we have… and yet the confines of our minds become less and less of a home for our God’s to-do list.

I think about Israel’s waiting game for the Messiah–and at times, I feel like we are all in a similar waiting game, despite the fact that the Messiah has already come and done His thing.  It’s my impression that we are waiting for God to fit our expectations… and, quite frankly, our expectations are not qualified housing for God to take up residence in. There is no expectation that’s big enough for Him. There is no idea, or lofty concept that will give you access to the details of God. I don’t think we’ll even fathom those details when we stand at His face.  The only hope we have for understanding more of God and what He does for us (and thus, ourselves) is entering into a relationship with Him.  After all, is that not the difference between Christianity and Judaism–the opportunity for direct relationship with our God? When we miss that, when we choose to keep God at an arm’s length with our thought processes, we reject His borderless relationship parameters and embrace our high and mighty ideas as God himself.

I hate all this silly religion–but you, God, I trust.” There it is. I hope this excerpt from The Message‘s Psalm 31 is all of our prayer. It’s less about how we explain God and how we set up this religion of Christianity… and more about who God actually is, a concept we will never wrap our fingers around. As Christmas approaches, my prayer is that His ongoing deliverance (affirmed through Jesus’s incredible resurrection life) gives all of us hope for God to work in the nonsense of this place we live in.  We have NO HOPE (yeah, say it 87462874 times until it sinks in) apart from that deliverance– because nonsense is what we make of God when we limit Him with history, religion, politics, our lives, etc.  Growing closer to God means shedding the concept that we know anything apart from Him, because let’s be real– we’re only fooling ourselves by thinking we’ve got a hold on things. The world makes no sense 99% of the time. It’s not a secret. But in relationship, nonsense is made clear through God’s characteristics and intricate nature, of which I don’t have the slightest idea of… even when I think I do.

The promise of Messiah is the only thing that gave the Israelites hope of deliverance from a pretty oppressed and murky history.  And when nothing except that promise made sense, God still delivered according to what He promised His people.  This Christmas season, I’m praying for an uprising of God’s people to embrace the promise He gives today through His Spirit–the promise of relationship, the promise of kingdom entrance NOW into the presence of Himself. And, I guess in a weird kind of way, the waiting game is one that we still have to participate in, although not passively.  If we become livers of God’s presence, this world will look differently. And why not the Christmas season as a starting point? Let’s all be pawns of God’s deliverance by living out its ongoing nature through engaged relationship with Him.

Maybe I’m the most confused human on Earth. Maybe I’ve had entirely too much coffee (valid argument). Maybe I’m just a weirdo that really likes Airstreams and questioning the way things are.  All are valid statements to make. But, across the board, I don’t feel like we’re doing the whole following Christ thing the way the apostles and disciples showed us in Scripture.  I think it’s time we take a gypsy ride into the unknown of relationship with God. I’m down for pointing the Airstream straight into the arms of our Savior who invites us in as children. Forward on? I think yes. Because He dang delivered. And He hasn’t stopped. Our hope continues with His promises.

Changing course,

Alex

Airstream Alchemy: A Lost Language Lived

“Here I am, between my flock and my treasure, the boy thought. He had to choose between something he had become accustomed to and something he wanted to have.”The Alchemist

I used to have a reoccurring vision when I was in high school, a mental image that I held onto for years. It was me driving off into a sunset, jamming to Miranda Lambert’s “New Strings,” headed to Nasvhille, TN en route to a college career at Vanderbilt University where I would experience a new chapter of my life in a correspondingly new place.  I had everything down to the playlist that I planned on listening to as I drove out of Hattiesburg planned to a T. And I was ready, ready to chase a dream that I was so certain was mine for the taking. As time trickled by, a decision to chase my dream of playing college tennis accompanied my striving towards becoming a Commodore.  But little did I know, my end goal would never be achieved in the manner I had planned and even wanted.  Rather, my decision to chase that dream never to be caught brought me down a road that birthed a new dream, a dream to experience a new chapter of life in a town that I became proud to be a representative and resident of.  Yes, I became a Golden Eagle student athlete, an end destination I would never had planned on and a past roadmap I wouldn’t change for the world.  My planned 7 hour jam session to Miranda en route to Vandy ended up being a 15 minute jam sesh.

At that point in my life, I think I had talked myself into believing that not all dreams have purpose in coming true.  In fact, we learn to give up on dreams that seem unrealistic and stupid when the world tells us they are as such. Though my dreams shifted and changed, they only did so after I made a decision to go after something I wanted: college tennis. And from that point on, the pathway that got me there showed me a new dream while simultaneously going after the original dream.  In other words, it took a decision to go after something for me to begin a journey to a destination I would have never known if I had never made that decision in the first place.  Although the dream changed during the journey, it took having a dream and going after it to get me to where I truly wanted to be. And as a recent college graduate with little grasp on this strange season of life, I think I’ve forgotten how to dream outside of compromise–how to want something that makes little sense and plunge headfirst into it.  Although it has only been a few short years, I’ve lost touch with an 18 year-old me who realized the power of going after something you want and the lack of planning ability necessary for one to do so.  And it makes me sad to think that it takes reading a fiction book (The Alchemist) to remind me of what the past four years have taught me.  I had forgotten a language of life that believed in crushing the expectations of others, an alchemy of believing in outrageous outcomes because of an outrageous God.

Expectations are some of the most cruelly confining things you can place on a person. Good or bad, they assume something set in your brain is going to happen a certain way or in a certain manner. They create disappointment, short-lived fulfillment, and a co-mingling with the future that we have no business meddling with. They are fasteners of time, which in itself only seems like a made-up measurement used to deal with life and all that’s in it, set upon persons or situations in order to predict, confine, and prepare for what is to come. As a recent college graduate that has no grip on his life or its direction, I can speak from experience that expectations choke the ability to embrace things not expected, to live life in the moment, and to let go of the silly thought of having it all together.  My life has never looked like the blueprints I create for it. It didn’t when I was in high school and it doesn’t when I’m in young adulthood (term used loosely).

I think that the organization of things kills something about them. Religion, education, time… We immediately seek to organize aspects of our life that are not already clearly defined. Lack of definition, a lack of clarity in understanding is an immediate red flag to us, because it insinuates that we have no freaking clue what we’re talking about, and heaven forbid admitting an inability to control something important. People claiming to have everything exactly correct or together bring a confused smile to my face… two reasons 1) I kind of wish I felt that way but 2) I realize that such a claim is never really an honest one, no matter how smart, wise or experienced one is. At this point in my life, I feel a certain expectation to have a projected path, some sort of occupational success-trail mapped in every decision and intention I make and possess. The pressures of falling inside the lines of this organized phase of life where it seems the majority of people around me are getting married, getting jobs, moving to new cities, and carrying on a sort of script that seems par for the course of one’s early-mid twenties are a bit overwhelming at times. Don’t get me wrong–there’s nothing wrong with any of the above mentioned activities, but the thought of being organized, in control, and expectant of anything outside the current moment seems a silly concept to me.  Because it has always been the current moment that changed whatever I had “organized” for my future.

When we box in life, we box in who controls and gives that life. We do it because it makes us feel like we understand something that isn’t and can’t be understood perfectly. Sometimes, I wonder how pissed God gets when Christians bicker about things of Scripture, for example, to the point that people claim “ultimate truth” over someone else’s “wrong” opinion… when that ultimate truth is simply their passionately demonstrated opinion. You can read Scripture all day long and will probably have some starkly contrasting insight with the majority of people who read the same text. Perhaps instead of being right on an opinion or insight from Scripture, God wants us to embrace an ambiguity of some things in this life, a certain ambiguity that stems from Himself, a God that we cannot possibly grasp and understand…a God who yet still remains unchanging… a God we will never have “all together” in our minds. Yet, we treat Him like a pie to be pieced section by section when we take what He gives us as something that fits into manmade cookie-cutter compartments. Maybe the organization we and religion like to associate with God is simply our inherent desire to get a grip on our crap. Maybe that organization/programming has less to do with an infinite God and more to do with a finite way of thinking, a containable outlook on life and it’s Maker purposed to give us an “easier-to-understand” set of norms and expectations to adhere to during our lifetime.

I think it’s safe to say that I am a dreamer. I yearn for things that make absolutely no sense. Seriously. Short list of things I love: photography, art, traveling the world, old buildings, writing, decaying pieces of wood, the beach, coffee, Christmas lights, and Louisiana Hot Sauce Pork Skins. If you want to make sense of that, be my guest. If there is anybody that is too comfortable not fitting the early-twenties American male college graduate mold… it’s me. I think the inability to compromise what I love and want in this life for what I feel I should want and love in this life is precisely the guilt-trip that makes this season such a murky one. When to sacrifice dreams for more realistic ventures… When to make yourself prepare for marriage and family… When to shut up the yearnings of what you want in exchange for what you are accustomed to. And I’m tired of that struggle of guilt, and even more unsure that it merits a presence in the first place.

When we give up on the dreams or yearnings of what we want to do, we are giving into expectation and organization of life. We are afraid of losing what we have. Afraid to not take what is already accustomed to us because of its availability, afraid to believe in a God bigger than the man-made lot restrictions our “organizings” and expectations have portrayed Him as. The more life-seasons that pass, the more affirmation I receive that deciding to go get what you want is the first step in the journey there. But, to our usual surprise, actually getting what you originally decided you wanted is perhaps less important than the path that takes you there. It takes a leap of faith, a “dreamer’s” logic, and new spin on an ancient language to go against what is expected and organized for you and embrace what it is God’s given you desire and passion for. I believe in a language that everyone can understand, an understanding, an alchemy of all peoples. A language that doesn’t confine one’s wants and dreams into a pre-made box, an understanding that we are able to do things outside of expectation because we are fueled by a God outside of expectation. And somehow, between Jesus’ time and now, we’ve plum forgotten how to speak even the basics. As a society at large, we have forgotten what it’s like to truly believe in that kind of life-understanding. And I think we have talked ourselves into liking it that way, liking planned compromises over unknown and risky dreams because they “make more sense.” But passion can’t be created in compromise. It can’t always be distributed amongst the most comfortable activities. It can only be placed where it is given, and not following it where it is given is an acceptance of its lack in everything else you do. Believing in the dreams you’ve held for so long, believing in this language of old, means believing in the God that gave them to you. A compromised view of what you can do in this world is a compromised perception of who God can be/what God can do. But an Airstream’s alchemy is one that doesn’t get set-in-stone.  An Airstream alchemy has no expectations or organization of roots in any place because it realizes that planting such roots would be compromising what it wants and therefore choosing a route without passion. This language is a common understanding in us all that enables us to see more of who God is through believing we can do more through Him. That’s the language we are so sucking at.  We are too quick to choose what’s immediately accessible and available to us rather than a far-off dream that holds our highest concentration of passion and desire, when that might be the precise leap of faith we are purposed to take.

I’m not saying that all dreams come true. I’m not saying that all dreams should come true. Life happens, responsibilities kick in, and living out dreams becomes a foreign concept solely alienated to children’s books and Disney movies. But I am saying that there is no organization or expectation that we can put on our lives if we truly believe an infinite God is calling the shots. The only thing we can expect is for God to show up, blow our minds, and break everything we take such pride in knowing to pieces. And if we are given a desire and passion to do something that sounds absolutely crazy, maybe we should live a language that shouts confidence in a mind-blowing God capable of taking us there.

Here’s the skinny: don’t fit the mold. When it comes down to it, the mold isn’t even real. We make it up so we feel better about ourselves and can gauge success with a mass-produced measurement. We organize in resistance to what tells us we can’t (God, life, etc.). When we experience what cannot be contained, we don’t understand that. But instead of stopping there, we create something we can understand and proceed to cling to it in exchange for what we can’t.

There might not be another person on Earth that understands/makes any sense of what I’m saying, but if there is, don’t be afraid to want something. Even more so, don’t be afraid to want something AND go get it. And don’t be afraid to piss off the social norms and expectations in the process. I’m pretty sure Jesus made a nice little habit of doing that exact thing… Be like Him. If we claim to be Christians, we are supposed to point others to the fullness of our God, not the abridged version. Our lives are our ministries–if we live them adhering to man-made expectations and organizations of a God who adheres to neither, what does that say about both Christians and the God we are misrepresenting? Live a language that shows people the inability of words (and any other organization we can think of) to depict God’s fullness and the fullness of life He has to offer.

Making a decision to go after something you want is the beginning of a learning process that can only be absorbed through experience. You can’t expect anything, you can’t map out the way to get there– you only get this moment. Then, the next. Then, the next. Only the present is relative to being obedient to Christ, but we do have to do something with/in it. Whether going after the passions of your heart leads you across the world or back to where you are accustomed, go after them. Because not doing so shows a lack of faith in yourself and your Maker, and an unhealthy confidence in a made-up ladder of “standard” life. Your destination might be more a journey than you think, regardless of whether you get what you set out for or not. Have the guts to have a dream. Let it kickstart you on a journey that leads you into a brand new understanding of a God that cannot be organized into our pretty little boxes.

Climbing in the Airstream. No maps. No plans. No expectations. No organization. Just a whole bunch of passions that don’t make sense, enough crazy to pull out of the driveway, and a Spirit that has no boundaries. Let’s rewrite a language that believes in things that don’t make sense.

Unorganized,

Alex

P.s.- Go read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Extremely, extremely inspiring.

An Airstreamer’s Heart

“He said He’d meet us on the other side.” 

The other side–it’s always greener isn’t it? The what’s next, the “new,” the unknown.  There’s a thrill in it, an unspoken promise of something greater in store for us, simply because it isn’t where we currently are.  The what or where we don’t know somehow takes on the image of something more fertile, something or somewhere we will be more apt to make profit, be successful, or gain safety, as in the case of the above video.  If we can just wait, If we can just get to that other side, we’ll be ready… And it’s that kind of bull crap that sways the Christ-follower into a stagnant waiting game that never really existed in the first place.

Sucky things happen. Friends and family die unexpectedly. School takes over your life. People hate you. Cancer strikes at the worst moment. It’s no newsflash–sucky things happen and they are never welcomed with open arms. But it seems to me that when we waste so much time getting through suffering or difficulties that we forget our current location is not unable to be used for the purpose we are intricately designed for: glorifying God.  When we are in the storms of these sucky situations, we put our hard hats on and make the trudge through the storm as if God himself told us to do so. And don’t get me wrong… that’s not always a poor decision. But the fact that our focus shifts to the bad so easily based on our surroundings shows a severe lack of focus on the God we say gives us the life-juice we live on.  We spend so much time “getting-through,” that we forsake the hard times for any hope of producing something God has designed FOR THAT SUCKY TIME. It’s never until after the fact that we realize there was purpose in the struggle. And while that’s a beautiful thing to realize in retrospect, I am sick and tired of being the stupid Christian who has spent roughly 10 years with a Savior that I don’t even know well enough to see His handiwork as it’s performed.  And yet, like a reflex, when we are thrown into a storm, we run through it with arms flailing wildly, nothing except the goal of getting through it on our minds. To me… that is so incredibly disappointing. And even so, I feel more and more certain I disappoint my God in the process. So, there’s that. Way to go, A. Props.

Look at the disciples in the boat.  They take off on their journey with an expectation and goal of getting across the sea where they are to meet Jesus on the other side. But what happens? Do they get there? Where do they find Jesus? Because I’m pretty sure it ain’t on the other side. No, it’s right smack dab in the middle of a raging storm at sea–that’s where Jesus is, standing atop of huge waves with lightning bolts threatening above. He’s in the storm, not the other side. And for dense people like myself who focus so much on getting through the sucky to find Him, here’s a nice newsflash: He’s just as present in the sucky as He is on the “other side.” If we were as close to His heart as we ought to be, the sucky wouldn’t even be considered such because it would render His majesty and glory just as powerfully as any other time in life.  And if that’s our true purpose, shouldn’t we be just as “productive” in that purpose on top of stormy seas as on calm ones?

Not only does Jesus show up on the storm-tossed waves, He also provides safe passage for Peter to walk on the freaking water. I mean, put that on your bucket list: walk on water. Seriously though, Jesus shows up in the middle of a storm and invites Peter to come walk on some pretty ominous looking water with Him. And Peter does! For a few seconds at least, until he doubts his safety amidst the wind, rain, and lightning. And He falls into the water to be rescued from a potentially watery grave AFTER the fact. And there ya go–story of our lives. Strong start, doubts, a fall, and a rescue. That ring a bell for you?

I don’t know about you, but I’m so over living like that. I’m so done thinking God has something better in store for me in a few years, a few months, a few days. No! That is the same poisonous thought that makes God-followers settle for man-made Christianity and sub-par expectations of a Spirit that raises dead people to life. Right. Now. RIGHT NOW. If you are on your death bed, if you are President of the United States, if you are a tired and weary Southern Miss senior with a deep-seated hate for school… No matter where you are, your location is irrelevant to the fact that it’s a ripe season to worship and bring our Father some glory. Every sucky situation… really isn’t that sucky if we are holding onto Christ so much that we acknowledge and see Him in the suckiness.  If our purpose in life is to bring God glory and that purpose is made possible even amidst the hurricane of life, what more could we really ask for? Calm or storm-tossed, the path Jesus invites us down is one of unconditional safety, transcendent of whatever storm you’re in. Walking on water faith isn’t reserved for still waters. It’s available in the biggest tidal waves the world can throw. The problem is we don’t really believe that.

Ya know, I used to think I could change the world. Seriously, I thought I could legitimately change the way things are in the world: feed the hungry, rescue the orphans, and somehow give every human a roof with four walls under it. And then I grew up a little and realized that was not necessarily the case. I can’t change the world. I can’t even change a city, a college campus, an organization. But… I have something that can. If my life truly lived off the overflow of a Spirit present in my relationship with God, He can change the world. And for some reason (jury is still out on what that reason is), he uses the poorest vehicles such as ourselves to do it. To live a life of Spirit-overflow: Imagine a world that was full of people with that goal. How bout a state? A town? A college? A household? One person? It all starts with trust without border. It all starts with a disciple that is willing to forget about the other side and embrace the stormy waters as his/her firm foundation. Made firm only by a Savior’s promise. Made solid by a Spirit’s assurance. Made pleasant by a Father’s love. And made possible by a willing heart.

So, here’s the whole point: let’s stop staying in our boats when the thunder rolls. Let’s stop holding onto this unknown “other side.” Let’s stop waiting. Let’s actually believe Jesus for who He says He is. Because whether or not we realize it, Jesus is right in front of us. No matter how terrible your storm is, how terrible can the waters be when Jesus stands on top of them? His hand is extended. We just have to trust enough to walk out and take it. The next time you think of how terrible your current situation is, or how you cannot wait to get through whatever your dealing with, slap yourself in the face and get it together. We should be done “getting through” perfectly good opportunities to perform the tasks and purposes given to us by our Father. It’s time we actually acted like Christians and trusted the Savior we know too much about and not enough of. Walk. On. Water.

Sometimes I feel like we forget about the kingdom Jesus spoke so mysteriously about in the gospels. We immediately think of heaven: God’s throne with throngs of angels singing repeatedly, streets of gold, all the saints, etc. But that kingdom was there long before Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. The Kingdom He made possible is a kingdom that makes its home in the hearts of His people–aka, the Holy Spirit in us. That’s the Kingdom the Messiah came to establish through a Holy Spirit–the power of God for ALL THE EARTH. And it’s up to us to let that Spirit take over our life so that the rest of the world can see this Kingdom for themselves. And I’m going to be bold enough to say that it takes walking on water faith to do that.

“He said He’d meet us on the other side.” Waiting for the other side is dumb when what I’m waiting for is right in front of me. His grace abounds in deepest waters, so why wait until land to experience it? Just like Peter, we have to have the faith to get out of our boats in the midst of our terrible storms. And once we are willing to get there, we must let the assurance of Christ’s Holy Spirit walk us over the waters we find so dangerous. Unlike Peter at this time, we have a Spirit within us that enables us to live a Christ-like life. And while walking on water might not be a literal task for you, it’s an add-on to the Christians spiritual to-do list in following a Spirit-driven life. The storm is where Jesus invites us into grace. The storm is still a place we serve our truest purpose.

It’s been a while, so I’m trying something a bit different on this trip. The Airstream door is locked up, lights turned off, and electricity shut off. I think it’s time I took a little trip on foot for a change. You’ve heard the rantings of an Airstreamer’s heart, but now it’s time to see the acts of it. I guess Airstreams aren’t made for the water. But I’ve got a heart and two feet that sure are.

Gettin’ out of the boat,

Alex

A New Captive Israel

Make safe the way that leads to Thee.

It’s not hard to notice the onset of Christmas in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  In fact, I’d argue that it’s uncomfortably obvious when the season is in full swing:  traffic on every piece of pavement in town, worn out faces forcefully smiling at checkout lines, painfully packed Wal-Marts, frantic last minute Christmas shoppers on the edge of insanity (i.e. me)… Some dude earlier about gnawed off a man’s head for accidentally bumping into him in a department store line. A girl working in a coffee shop passive aggressively got onto a family for “blocking” the stairway with a booster seat roughly the size of my big toe (exaggerated… but no rude words were needed).  A little girl threw a fit because her Mom wouldn’t buy her 12-year-old self a MacBook Pro. I mean… what is this? I can’t help but ask the frightening question… What have we done?

Fun fact: I love most things built. I love old buildings, abandoned barns, burnt down school buildings, and architecture as a whole.  But what I don’t love is what we have built on this 23rd of December in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. It’s like we’ve taken the barn and feeding trough that Scripture tells us housed our Savior and turned them into a mansion and a king size bed.  We have remodeled an event in history to be something…well something grossly glamorous. Something it’s not. Something that has us written all over it. I saw on the news the other day that somebody ran a poll of random people asking if Christmas was more of a cultural or religious holiday. Almost half answered with the first option. I guess you can argue that religion might be part of that culture, but if we are honest with ourselves, that argument is a feeble attempt to cover up a frightening answer. Has culture built its Christmas walls so high that no one sees the kid who, ya know, brought salvation to the world (nbd)? Whatever structure we’ve crafted, whatever building we’ve formed, seems to me to be absolutely nothing like what Christmas actually was. We are not Israel, and yet… we are still.  A new captive Israel– culturally captive, bound by the hands we use to raise worldly walls and structures distracting from a promise fulfilled, a baby born where animals eat.

What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. -Luke 1:46-55  

Mary spoke these words after the angel told her she would give birth to Jesus. She promised never to forget what God had done for her, never to forget the significance of what she had been chosen for.  And as I read her words, I envy them. Because no matter how many church services we go to on Christmas Eve, no matter how many presents we buy one another, no matter how many meals we prepare… it seems we’ve forgotten. No, not forgotten in memory.. Forgotten in deed. We know the story and live another. Rubbed numb to what Christmas is. Distracted by this “cultural” holiday.

I legitimately feel like Satan fist pumps a little bit when he sees this mansion of Christmas we’ve made. And I’ve been more and more convicted of it the past few days. We don’t get it. I don’t get it. You don’t get it. We don’t get it.  If we did, we wouldn’t be living a captivity that has already been taken away from us. We’ve taken Scripture, sifted through the cute parts, and built what we want around it. And if we do this with Christmas, don’t you think that pattern carries over into other areas of our lives? Church? Family? Relationships?

 “O come, O come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel.” That Christmas carol has proven to be a favorite this holiday season, mainly because of the true desperation in its author’s words. It’s the song of a slave, the song of a longing soul waiting to be unshackled from exile by a Savior. And if you step back and watch the world turn for a second, you might forget he already came. But he did. Emmanuel came. He ransomed. We do not have to be captive Israel anymore. And yet we still live like it. Worse still, we are captive by the work of our own hands–culturally captive even when freedom is available to us.

I think I am perhaps the most guilty of everything I’ve mentioned above. Missing the whole point. Building walls around the soul of Christmas, building distractions around a God who embraced the status of a man to save mankind. Isn’t it funny how busy Christmas break becomes? This religious holiday that marked the start of a prophecy coming to fulfillment that began with the fall of Adam somehow separates me from the God it’s about… And so here I am, “mourning in lonely exile here,” like the song says. Living like nothing has changed since Jesus’s kicking captivity in the face.

Stop building. Stop making Christmas into tradition. Stop making Christmas a cultural holiday and let it be about the birth of a Savior that provided safe passage to relationship with the One who made you. Read God’s words and only those words. That’s Christmas–that’s the holiday we have so forgotten. That’s the reason for the season we’ve run over a million times on Hardy and 98.

Make safe the way that leads to Thee–that is my prayer tonight. And it should be my prayer every night. Remembering the way to Him– remembering Jesus, the only way to our Father that we no longer have to be exiled from. John Eldredge always says, “To be fully alive, we must be fully aware.” I urge you this Christmas to be fully aware that Jesus has come. Emmanuel has already come and gone, leaving with us an incredible invitation to a life of relationship. Stop living like Christmas happens every year and remember that it already did–once and for all. Live a life of freedom and fight the urge to be the new captive Israel held captive by the culture we live in.

Airstream or no airstream–it’s time to go offroad. Jesus ain’t the mainstream (cue in hipster comments). Kick it into four-wheel and live a life death can’t even tarnish.

Rockin’ around the Airstream,

Alex

Disarmed..

“Wisdom is wide-ranging, collecting under its umbrella diverse and unlikely fellow travelers. What keeps the feet of these faith-travelers on common ground is Wisdom’s unrelenting insistence that nothing in human experience can be omitted or slighted if we decide to take God seriously and respond to him believingly.” -Eugene Peterson 

When I started this blog, I did so on a silly, but deep, desire to be on an Airstream, to live an Airstream way of life that fit this Airstream state of mind that I’ve somehow adopted. I wanted the gypsies, the tacky curtains, the rootless lifestyle… all of it. And though I make analogies to Airstream rides through the events that I go through on a day-to-day basis here in Southern Mississippi, the truth of the matter is that I am as rooted in this town as the pine trees around me.  I’ve never known another, never experienced the newness of a physical home. And I’ve always wanted that for as long as I was old enough to craft dreams and reach out for them. Seriously–I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but… I used to dream about posting a status on some social media outlet that quoted Miranda Lambert’s “New Strings” as I left town to go play college tennis at Vanderbilt University in Nashville: “I bet this road’ll take me outta here… I’ll drive until I find the missing piece… I guess if you don’t jump, you’ll never know if you can fly…” I can still remember the mental picture I held onto so firmly the tail-end years of my high school career. And, much to my surprise, the road that I traveled only took me 15 minutes down the road.

My body hasn’t moved much in 21 years.  Well, I take that back. My body goes 90 to nothin’ on a daily basis, scurrying around, tending to my to-do list for the day. But that to-do list has existed inside the city limits of one town for my entire life. Trips and vacations– yes. But a life outside of Hattiesburg is something unknown to me. And as a senior in college not-so-willingly embracing the questions and concerns of my lack of post-graduation plans, I want to do one thing and one thing only: Run. Head for the hills. ABANDON SHIP. Get. Out. And this is, perhaps, where I need to grow up a little more. But even though my body has remained in its hometown, I’m finding an Airstream ride to be more related than ever to my life. I feel like I’m looking out the passenger seat window as the trees go whizzing by, so fast that I can’t even get a bearing of where I am or where I’m going. And I think it’s safe to say that “me”, the real parts that make up my weird self, are a little lost in some ways. It seems I’m everywhere but where I am.

For all of you who want to ask me what my plans are after May for the 48539385th time, let me give you what I have to offer as an answer: I have absolutely no clue what my life is supposed to look at past this exact moment. My faith in my own plans dwindles on a pretty regular basis. Somehow I think fretting and staring at the stars will give me some miraculous answer to life’s biggest questions. I sometimes lose my sanity for hours at a time and drive around/trespass on other people’s land. I creatively avoid reality by looking through a camera lens instead of just my two eyes. And I’m tired. Tired of meaningless tasks, assignments, projects, papers, classes, etc., that seem to do nothing except get in the way of the important things of life.

“You’re going to get through this.” “God’s got a purpose behind this.” “Whatever you do, you’re going to be great at it.” Those of you in the same shoes that I’m in know that these responses are somewhat generic when I explain my dilemma to people. And please do not misunderstand me, I believe these statements are true and the promise inherent in them is a powerful one (well, minus the last one). But what is this way of thinking? Get through this? A purpose behind this? I am so quick to sift through the events that I don’t necessarily enjoy and throw them out as some insignificant piece of life’s ongoing puzzle, as if whether or not I like them determines whether or not God really cares about them either. A get-through-this mindset is a mindset that misses the realities of a present God, alive in the mundane, alive in the exciting, alive in all present things.  And disregarding the events we go through on a daily basis, no matter how mundane or miserable they may be, means disregarding who God is and what He’s doing. Oh wait. I just did that. Crap.

Wisdom–is it safe to say we all want it? I’m unsure, at least in my own life. I say I want all of this knowledge about what I’m supposed to do with my life, yet consciously choose to NOT use such knowledge whenever the opportunities surface. Taking God seriously means taking the “little” things seriously, as if we have any right to label what’s big or little in God’s plan (ha- we’re pretty dumb like that).  And while I’m battling an extreme case of senioritis right now, I’m realizing how little I truly understand of God by the lack of believing response I’m issuing. “Getting through my day” is exactly what Satan wants me to do. That way of thinking is poisonous, a shrink-ray that we shoot at God in allowing ourselves to think of His plans as our plans.  So, if I really want wisdom, why don’t I just live like it? Why don’t I finally learn that knowing God more is what I’m looking for and disguising it with the term wisdom… Looking for it in the stars, or from other people, or from GRE scores or graduate school applications. A scattered me– it’s exactly how it sounds:  incomplete, partial, insufficient.  I can’t perform to the best of my ability if “me” isn’t all on board. And this dubious “me” figure can only be found at the sandal straps of the same guy who gave me my “me-ness.” And his name is Jesus, the anchor of my soul, the only source of identity I hold onto that won’t let me go.

There’s no point in trying to deny it–I’m a mess. I’ve always been one, but now especially, there are pieces of me all over the place, worried about this and that. I have no grasp of what my occupation will be. I have no hold on what graduate school I will go to or, much less, if I will go at all. And I don’t want to continue doing these tasks that seem so pointless just to get a piece of paper with my name and degree on it. But the road to wisdom is not so much a destination, but the road itself. Looking down the road is irrelevant. The ground beneath my feet is perhaps precisely where God wants me. And whether or not I want that statement to be true, it is. And it’s time to put the big boy pants on and deal with where my Savior wants me, while I pray for an insistent willingness to want only His wants. Because if I can isolate myself from the allusion of control, if I can remove myself from the picture as anything other than a vessel for something greater, then perhaps wisdom will show up. Empty of vain attempts of accomplishing anything by my own merit. Void of my fragile weapons that I bring to the battlefield. Disarmed.

Disarming my heart: ya know, it’s not easy for me. And I don’t think it’s easy for most people either. I’ve always felt the need to kick and scream in less-than-valiant hopes of protecting myself from whatever may come my way that is uncomfortable or unsure. But what I’m learning is that victory can’t be mine as long as I’m authoring it. I can’t craft it. Man has never been able to create this idea of spiritual victory– we fail, we fail, we fail. It’s the tragedy of Jewish history, and so many of us still live in that same tragedy today by pretending we can be our own saviors.  We do what we want, when we want it in an attempt to bring about success that we see fit.  And some people are quite successful in a materialistic sense this way. But when we apply it to our spiritual state, when we go our own way of spiritual redemption and victory, who are we really following? This is simply an opinion, but we can’t expect our own selfish desires and selfish wills to be the same as God’s will for our lives. If we are pursuing success with ourselves at the center, red flags should be waving pretty heavily. Learning to de-armor yourself of your own weapons of effort in front of God and the victory that HE owns and allows us to claim through Jesus is the only way to put back on HIS armor, HIS victory.  And when we learn to claim that win in the mundane, in the miserable, in the worst times, I believe that wisdom is knocking at our doorstep.

God is always calling us further. He’s always calling us deeper. Whether you’re a senior with no clue about your life or a man in your 60s, there are depths that you haven’t reached yet. If you think you’ve gotten to the plateau of your life, friend you are so mistaken. Plateauing your call is plateauing your Caller, and no matter how much you tell yourself you’ve reached your spiritual roof, that roof simply doesn’t exist. Live in the power of the Holy Spirit and limits become silly and comical.  You may would never imagine your current position to be your dwelling place right now–I’m in that mindset right now too.  But our challenge as faith-travelers, our challenge as wisdom seekers is to not look past the present as something unwanted and insignificant. Understand God for who He is and take where you are seriously, as a vital part of where God wants you RIGHT NOW. Opportunity exists whether we are looking for it or not–so let’s open our eyes and embrace the present as confidently and boldly as we embrace our ever-present God.

So what–I’m not really a gypsy that’s lived in a bunch of different places. I’m not an owner of an Airstream. I don’t really travel the world on the weekends. But I’m learning the importance of traveling isn’t where you’re going; rather, it’s where you are. And for me, that’s Hattiesburg, MS as a senior in college that hasn’t the slightest clue of what the next step looks like. And if I’m going to take God seriously, I’m going to take this period of my life seriously, too. Getting through this stage of life is rushing through the reality of how important the present is to a present God. Moreso than just a stepping stone to my future, moreso than just a stop on the proverbial journey of life. This is where God wants me, and I’ll hold to His Anchor, willingly disarmed.

Takin off the ammo,

Alex