A Whole New World

different-races1So we went on vacation last week with the kids. Took our first for-real family vacation to Saint Simons Island. Rented a little house. Kicked it on the beach. Enjoyed walking around the Village at Saint Simons Pier, getting lemonade at Zuzu’s, and just taking a break from everything that’s been going on in my head for the past 15 years.

The kids loved it too; they got to share a room with twin beds and a television, complete with VCR (remember those) and DVD player. They watched movies to their hearts’ content, and the last movie they watched was Disney’s Aladdin. You know, the one with the hysterical blue genie and the sappy magic carpet ride across the world. In fact, the song during that sappy magic carpet ride got stuck in my head, and I’ve not been able to remove it.

Yesterday at church, it got stuck permanently, I fear.

The pastor who spoke was teaching on Jesus’ habit of eating with unseemly people. How Christ, God made flesh, came eating and drinking with sinners and the lowest of the low. The point of the message was about modifying the frequent religious expectation of people (to behave the right way, believe the right things, and then belong to the right group) in favor of the way Jesus brought people along (by letting them belong with him, then believe in him, then changing their behaviors). We learned that Jesus shared meals with people who weren’t like him so they could know how much God loved them.

But the thing that turned my head around was the following quote:

“When you are uncomfortable with people who are different than you, that says more about your insecurity than it does your spirituality.”

Can I tell you how much this rang true with me?

I spent years trying to teach people that uniformity mattered. That everyone walked the same line, thought the same thoughts, watched the same shows, sang the same songs. I was wrong. It’s not uniformity that Christ called us to, it’s unity. And there’s a difference.

Lately, I’ve been feeling the pull to be around people who aren’t like me. To be around people who don’t think like me, or believe like me, or watch the same kind of shows as me. I want to be around people who will stretch me, challenge me, make me laugh, and remind me that people aren’t horrible all the time. I want to go places I’ve not gone for fear of being judged and meet people I’ve not met for fear of being scolded. I want to be like Jesus, so secure in my own self that I can make others around me feel secure too.

My struggle lies in letting God accomplish this on His timetable. I’ve got this internal clock in my head that keeps sounding off about how I don’t have the luxury of time to wait for God. I can’t afford to give Him my complete trust because He might work so slow that I’ll have to sacrifice something like my house or my car just to stay afloat. I’m at war within because I am hungry for the deeper things that God is doing in my life, but I’m anchored to the security I’ve created outside of God.

Everything feels like a battle for my soul because I’m secured myself to insecure things, and God is calling me into a whole new world where I find my security solely in Him.

Not in my religion. Not in my self-righteousness. Not in my works. Not in my finances.

In Christ alone.

It’s scary, but it’s the only thing that offers peace these days. I will trust in Him, even as the battle inside rages on. I will be with him, and trust him to change what I believe and how I behave. That’s walking with Christ.

And that’s the life I want.

Do What You Do

ImageI had coffee this past Sunday with a friend of mine who happens to help writers/creative people transition into new careers. We met at a local coffee shop and chatted briefly about the changes going on in my life, and I asked her for advice.

She gave it to me. Straight, no chaser.

“You don’t need to change fields,” she said. “You need to do what you’re good at, which is write about and talk about God in a way that young people, and people who maybe aren’t so into God, feel like they have a friend.”

Well dang, then.

What does this mean moving forward? I don’t know. I have suddenly surged upwards with the number of folks subscribed to this blog (I’m almost to 400, 225 of which have come within the last month or so) and my freelance career is coming along nicely. Not enough to make a boatload of cash, but enough to give me hope that more work is out there if I’m willing to hustle for it (and I am). And I know that people have been interested lately in having me out to speak to their church’s youth group or weekend retreat (and I would love to do even more of those).

I don’t want to make any kind of declarations, but I’m satisfied that God is showing things to me, if only I’ll have eyes to see. And it’s all new territory. New sights. New sounds. New smells.

It’s scary stuff. But as someone wise once said, “The trick is to figure out what you’re good at, what you’re passionate about, and get someone to pay you for doing both.”

Do what you do, bruh. Do what you do, and trust Him to do what He does.


Journal of a Tripping Fool

I am off on assignment this week: deep in the heart of coastal Georgia, I’m leading a group of teenagers and adults on a mission trip. I am a mission trippin’ fool.

I am also currently sweating. It’s hot down here.

Because of the time factor involved with the trip, and because I promised to blog about the experiences for those parents not in attendance, I will not be posting much (if at all) on the Jason Muses blog this week. Instead, I’ll be keeping a daily diary on my student ministry’s blog and I encourage you to read along. Especially Day One’s entry.

I’ll be back to regular blogging next week if I live through it.

Children Need A Legacy Of Dreams

Give your kid the power of dreams. It's even better than an Xbox...

Spend enough time with small children and you’ll learn an awful lot about the power of the imagination. My daughter has dual citizenship in the real world and her dream world, and she’s not alone: watch most kids who are younger than second or third grade and you’ll see that the worlds they inhabit aren’t necessarily our own.

That changes around the time we begin preparing kids for the teenage years. Somewhere around fourth or fifth grade we begin telling the kids that it’s time to “get serious” about school, homework, life. We begin the subtle indoctrination of the Great Adult Lie: that the world functions in a highly specific way that requires stringent obedience to certain hierarchical rules in order for a person to survive. The programming requires the limiting of the imagination to be successful, and we’ve developed quite the toolbox of pruning shears:

“It’s great that you love playing baseball, Kevin, but honestly – there aren’t that many people who can realistically say they have a shot at the major leagues. Just enjoy the game for what it is.”

“That’s a nice painting, Emma, but you need to think about what you really want to do with your life. You can’t make a living as a painter.”

“I’m proud of the work you’re doing with these underprivileged kids, Stuart, and I think you’re making a real difference in their lives. This will look great on your college applications and resume.”

“You can always minor in theater, Sandra, but you need to get your degree in a field where you can earn a real living.”

Looking back, I can understand how every person who ever said anything like this to me was only looking out for a child they believed to be a hopeless dreamer. And they were right to do so, not because I was a dreamer, but because I was undisciplined.

But now, as a grown man and as a father, I can see how their efforts to teach me also robbed me of a great gift. I can also see which people weren’t trying to help me at all, but were merely projecting their own fears of failure, their own lack of confidence, onto me. I can honestly say that the people most invested in me wanted big things from my future; the people who saw me only as a number or a challenge wanted me to just go away.

And unfortunately, I went away. I don’t blame anyone other than myself; I never really wanted to fight for my dreams, believing that my life would be better served by my pursuing a safer route. Never one for confrontation, I took the path of least resistance and have spent many nights wondering “what if?”.

The biggest “what if?” goes back to college: in one of my final semesters at UGA, I took a class on writing for publication. The course grade was based solely on producing a portfolio of writings that would be suitable for publication in any major commercial or trade magazine, literary journal, or newspaper. We spent the semester honing critical essays, reviews, personal essays, investigative reports and op-ed pieces, and when it was all said and done, the professor pulled me to the side, held up my portfolio, and said, “You need to submit these.”

“I will someday,” I replied.

“No. You need to submit these now,” he pressed. “I know someone at The New Yorker who would print you in the next issue if you submitted.”

You can guess how much I believed him. Or, more accurately, how much I believed in myself.

My story is not unique. Almost anyone reading this has traded on a dream at some point in their life, has taken the security or comfort or convenience of the known over the unknown. It’s part of human experience.

What’s telling, however, is that not many of us ever rise above those decisions. How many of us continue to believe that dreams are things to be held lightly, while security is pursued with reckless abandon? How many of us choose a life of small successes in the hopes that they might equal one or two big dreams come true?

Perhaps, for some, there is wisdom in that – to be continuously successful in small things. But there are those out there whose hearts burn for that big dream, that one massive imagination stirring event that makes the soul sing at the thought of it. And for those people, the successful small life will never satisfy. They will always wonder “what if?”, even in the middle of a good life.

I spoke on the phone to my brother this morning. He has been offered an opportunity to sing tenor for a southern gospel quartet. It’s a legit offer, and something he’s been dreaming about his entire life: the chance to sing, on stage, for the glory of God. To sing on records for the glory of God. To live his life as music for the glory of God.

Basically, his dream called him on the phone and said, “Come chase me.”

Now, here’s where this little diatribe must address the rules of dream-chasing. Remember up above I said something about not being disciplined enough to chase my dream? That must be addressed, because dream-chasing is not living a reckless life and chasing after every changing breeze. Dream-chasing requires intelligence, discipline, confidence, and situational awareness; in short, you have to know who you are as a person, what your dream is as an ideal, and the ways that dream can might come to fruition.

You also have to know if it’s a dream worth chasing. A true dream, a God-given dream, is a dream that does something for others. That’s what separates dream-chasing from materialistic hedonism – accomplishing something another person will be blessed or inspired by. Hedonism is pursuing only what satisfies yourself.

Here’s what I told my brother, and it’s advice that holds true for me, you, or anyone else: as a human being, you only get so many opportunities. When they come, you owe it to yourself, your family, and future generations, to evaluate the circumstances and decide whether or not the time is right to pursue your dream. If you have kids, this doubly applies; how can we ever expect our children to try anything if they’ve never seen us try ourselves? Children need a legacy of dreams to inspire them to dream for themselves. The world will do it’s own work to beat their imagination out of them; we, as parents, need to do what we can to build that imagination back up, and part of that means chasing after our own dreams when the time is right.

My brother’s specific circumstances might, at first blush, seem to dictate that he should say “No, thank you” and quietly go about his life as scheduled. But “No” is an easy word, a cheap word. “No” is a coward’s word when said by someone with a God-given dream.

And cowards don’t inspire. Cowards don’t create.

I told my brother to pursue his dream, but to do so with the intelligence and savvy that his years of experience have given him. I told him to not say “No,” but to say “Yes, with God’s help.”

Our world is in desperate need of people who dream big dreams and pursue them, wait for the moment, and then seize them like a conquering hero. We need people dreaming big dreams for the hungry, the sick, the forgotten, the abused, the poor, the homeless, the oppressed; we need people dreaming big dreams for the frightened, the ones who gave dreams up as the dominion of a child. We need people dreaming big dreams to show us that the world as we know it is not the world as it should be, and while some may content themselves with rationalizing this world away, we don’t have to settle for what is.

Not when we have the power to create what can be.

It’s a life and a legacy the world, and especially our children, need and deserve.

To My Daughter Upon Her Preschool Graduation

My beautiful daughter, Ella.

Dear Ella –

Last night we celebrated your graduation from preschool in grand style. You were fantastic during the graduation ceremony, so cute beneath your tiny mortarboard cap as you reservedly sang the scheduled songs. I almost made it through the ceremony without crying (a true feat for your dad), until the slideshow with your pictures; they played Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up”, a song that holds special meaning for me and your mom (it has to do with your sister, but we’ll talk about that later). Once I heard the opening strains of that song, and watched as this past year of your life flashed before my eyes – literally – I lost it like Paula Abdul during her Idol heyday.

And when the ceremony was over, and we did in fact drive to Bruster’s for ice cream with both sets of grandparents, I watched as you hung out with your friends and chased boys. It was like seeing your high school graduation thirteen years too early.

Then, this morning, as you laid on the couch snacking on frozen waffles, uninspired to move or think or do much of anything beyond passively watch PBS, I felt like we’d skipped ahead to your college graduation. I had to really fight the urge to tell you to go get a job.

Even though you still have a week of school left (a strange quirk of the schedule, but one for which mommy and daddy are grateful), you have officially moved into a new phase of your life: elementary school. The quantum leaps you’ve made in your education this year will be trumped by your growth in the year to come. You will soon be reading on your own, and given your already sophisticated vocabulary, it won’t be long before you’re using words like “quotidian” in casual conversation. I can’t quite believe that; it won’t be long before you’ll be in high school, and I’m not sure I’m prepared for your growing up.

See, I want you to be my little girl forever. I love you where you’re at – you’re independent but still need a good cuddle; conversant, but still get quiet when I read a story; active, but still in need of an afternoon “rest.” I find that, of the five years that God has given you on this earth, my favorite one has been this year.

And I don’t mean this calendar year, I mean this moment, this current passage of time. When you were two, it was my favorite year. But so was four. And year one was memorable as well. Year five, however, has risen to a special place in my heart, for so many different reasons.

I’ve mentioned your leap forward in school, but it has also been wonderful (if a bit challenging) to see you make a huge jump in embracing your own personality. Heretofore you were an interesting mix of me, your mom, your Nonna and your JimPaw (which is a suicide-drink of genetics, let me tell you…). But this year you became distinctly Ella. It seems like the minute you learned to read and write your own name, you took complete ownership of yourself. You asserted yourself in so many ways: food choices (challenging but not bad), shoe preference (you will not be allowed to have more than five pairs from here on), clothing preference (a bullet to the head would be less painful than helping you pick out an outfit), and even music tastes.

You like disco. Go figure.

It was Whitman who sang a song of himself, and this year you learned the tune for the Ella version. Even today, as we were driving home from school – you holding a dart gun I told you emphatically NOT to shoot in the car – you aimed said gun at your window and the dart thwacked against the glass and I turned four shades of red at your disobedience, and you giggled because it was one more new line in your song that you’d discovered.

I hope you continue to grow unchecked, as wild as the flowers that seem to spring up when the sun is at its warmest. I hope you continue to have a confidence that pushes you to try new things and give them your best effort. I hope you never learn to fade in the face of fear, or to be shy because you’re a girl. I hope you shatter every stereotype known to womankind and become a wonderful example for future girls to follow. I hope you blaze trails, discover cures, sing new songs, dance unseen dances, and bake a cake that makes Julia Child look like a chump by way of comparison. I hope you do it all.

If that’s what you want. And if it’s not, I’ll still have your back, still believe in you, still love you without borders or conditions. Not because I have to, because I want to.

I love you, Ella, and I hope that you enjoy your last summer as my little girl. Please don’t give daddy any crap if he cries through most of it. One day, you’ll understand.

With all my love,