The past few years of my life have been a whirlwind of craziness, adventure, challenge, and growth. I’ve done so many things in such a small window of time it’s hard to keep it all straight. Just two years ago I was finishing up school and looking forward to finding a teaching gig. I landed a few interviews but with the economy struggling there weren’t many teaching jobs to go around. That led me to consider other options, one of which was teaching abroad. Looking back it’s quite obvious to me that God put this all in motion a long time ago. And here we are, nearing the end of 2014, and I’ve since spent almost two full years in Chile. Like I said, those years have provided me with a smattering of life experiences and moments that have been both challenging and unforgettable. Without a doubt these years have left their mark on me, in the best way possible, and I’m coming out a better man for it. This year God has taught me so many things, and most of them fall into these four categories: perseverance, prayer, humility, and trust.
Most of my time here in Chile has flown by. And I’m not exaggerating. It feels like I’ve blinked maybe three times since February and it’s almost October. Both this year and last have been filled with amazing experiences, but they’ve had their share of struggles as well. There were days I didn’t feel like getting out of bed, days I didn’t want to go to work, days I felt overwhelmed, and days I felt misunderstood or alone. But boy was I wrong. God has been with me the entire time. Those moments where I felt a certain weight on my shoulders were due to any number of factors. Homesickness, eternal winter, isolation, exhaustion, and even illness at one point. In each of these situations, among others, there were instances where I took my eyes off the Lord, the result of which left me feeling alone in whatever I was facing. The weight grew infinitely heavier when I tried to go it alone. But when I focused myself on the help and the hope that were always within reach, the problems I was facing slowly grew smaller and I gradually gained more faith that I would overcome them. Moments like these are bound to come, regardless of whether or not we lose sight of the Lord. Frustration, loneliness, and exhaustion are things that happen in life. What matters is how we react under such circumstances. God has taught me again and again the value of persevering. This was the first year in my life that I worked full time and lived on my own. Complicating things even more were visa issues, language barriers, and the fact that I worked independently the whole year. For the first time I had to pay all the bills on my own: rent, food, internet, cell phone, transportation, and the like. There were numerous moments where I barely managed to scrape enough together to pay all the bills. Private English classes were my main source of income but they were hardly reliable as my students could cancel at their own will. It was no loss to them, yet to me it made all the difference. Moments like these were tough for me. But pressing on in these moments develops character, and it prepares us for future challenges. It also helps us to get through the hard times quicker. I now know never to give up because I have it within me to press on. I have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside me and I have God on my side. In no moment was I going it alone, and never will I have to. With the Lord’s help I know I will overcome.
I’ve also been taught a lesson or two about prayer. And let me be up front here; I’m not simply talking about asking God to do things in your life. That’s a vital piece of prayer, but a piece nonetheless. God genuinely cares about what’s going on in our lives. He wants us to succeed and he wants to help us. He also wants us to come running to him, whatever the situation calls for. Be it for help, a shoulder to cry on, to celebrate, or to ask for forgiveness. God is our Heavenly Father and he wants us to seek him out. I admit that there were stretches during these past two years where I fell away from devoting time to prayer. And those stretches were most likely when the lowest moments occurred. It wasn’t that God had stopped being faithful, or that I had hit a stroke of bad luck. It was my own lack of faithfulness to God. My own laziness, or whatever excuse you’d like to plug, prevented me from feeling close to God when I needed him. And that’s on me. Prayer is sometimes made out to be a chore. It’s like a checklist item that we feel obligated to complete at some point during the day. And while it should be done daily, it shouldn’t be a burden. From all of the examples of prayer in my life, too many of them have been in moments of hurt or need or desperation. It’s like we only resort to prayer if nothing else is working out. I am really bothered by this. God has been helping me and showing me how to restore joy to my prayer life. I look forward to speaking to him. Even if it’s at night before I fall asleep, I love telling him about my day. I love praising him and telling him how much I appreciate him. Sure, I ask him for help as well. I’m always going to need it and frankly he’s the one I most want to receive it from. But God is so gracious, and so good, that prayer should be joyous. It’s a privilege that we can speak to him freely and a massive blessing that he listens. And he truly cares! So pray faithfully and do so joyfully. You won’t regret it.
Humility. Man, are these fun lessons to learn. I’ll be flat out honest and say that I’ve always thought myself a pretty humble guy. I can’t stand showing off or bragging. I don’t revel in the spotlight. I try to never come across as arrogant or ungrateful. But sometimes I am way off base, and I know it. These lessons are the kind that sting at first, but for me it feels so good afterward. I’m thankful for the episodes over these past few years where I’ve been put in my place, so to speak. There were various moments in which I was shown what true humility looks like. I’m talking about the kind of humility where you submit yourself before others, even when they don’t deserve your time or respect or help. It reminds me of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. He’s the King of Kings and he had no reason to be washing the dirty feet of men that would later betray him. But he did wash their feet. This is the kind of humility that very few people are good at. I am trying to get better at it. I think our modern-day society possesses a very subconscious but firmly set idea of elitism. We are always comparing ourselves to the rest, aiming to stay above some meaningless standard we set for ourselves and others. As long as we stay above that line, we’re better than the rest. I have very gratefully come to realize that I am only the best at one thing, and there is no reason to compare myself with anyone else. Care to guess what it is? I’m not the best at soccer or hockey. I’m not the best at Spanish. I’m not the best writer. I’m not the best teacher. But I am the best at being me, and that’s precisely what God created me for. He didn’t make me to be any other way but the way I am, and that is perfectly good with me. I am made in God’s perfect image. I am made to glorify the Lord, to serve men, and to love them both with a humble heart. So in humility, I will ever attempt to do these things to the best of my humble ability.
Lastly comes trust. In today’s world trust is quite a rare commodity. There are very few people that we entirely trust. Be it with our belongings, our secrets, our past, or our lives. In order to give out trust we require others to earn it. Sadly, we hold God to this same standard. We don’t fully trust in him until he proves himself. We’re all about the proof. And even when he does, we sometimes rescind that trust because he didn’t come through in the way we wanted him to. Well, shame on us. God doesn’t need to earn our trust. He should always have it. God has provided for us in so many ways it’s absurd. He put us on this earth. He put breath in our lungs. He gives us free will. And he gave up his one and only Son to save us because we screw up all the time. So yeah, God deserves our trust. But what God has done this year is show me again and again, time after time, that he wants me to trust in him one hundred percent, all of the time. God has opened so many doors, just at the right time, that I can’t even count. He has also closed doors that needed to be closed, exactly at the right moment. And even when there were no doors to be opened, but he wanted me to get somewhere, he opened a timely window. I can’t even fathom or come close to explaining how incredible everything has been. God has guided me right to this very moment. What I’ve learned is to lean on God through everything, and to never doubt. If he wants something to happen, it’s going to happen. He always finds a way. And if not, no worries. It wasn’t meant to be and he’s got something even better in store. And that’s the fun part. If we trust in him, let him take charge, and team up with him, we’re in for one wild and fun ride. It may bring tough times and obstacles. In fact, it most certainly will. But when we trust in him there’s nothing to worry about. Trust in him, even when you have no idea what’s going on. Because he does.
As you can see, I’ve done a lot of reflecting on all the growing I’ve been doing. Maybe you got bored and skipped ahead or maybe you spent the whole time nodding in agreement. Maybe you’ve already learned all these lessons or maybe they’re on their way to you right now. Whatever boat you’re in, I challenge you to take a step back from life for a moment. Life is so crazy and we get so busy that we forget to consider this stuff. Hopefully you haven’t forgotten to consider God. But even if you have, it’s okay. He’s right there, waiting for you with open arms. And if you have been relying on him, take a moment to think about all he’s done for you lately. Reflect upon what you’ve learned. Sometimes we forget that the lessons that God sends our way are meant to help us grow into better people. And if we forget to work on these things, his lessons just go to waste. So again, I challenge you! What has God done for you lately? What have you learned from him, or from others? And finally, I encourage you, to never stop trusting in him. Never stop asking him for help or celebrating with him. And never ever stop learning from him. He’s a pretty awesome teacher to have.
Soy como las nubes que flotan arriba,
sin peso, e intocable.
Soy como las brisas que provienen del mar,
presente, pero invisible.
Vacías son las palabras que me dicen,
falsas las sonrisas.
Huecas son las almas que me enfrentan,
blancas las páginas.
Los ojos que me miran no me ven,
sino pasan a través de mi.
Las palabras se dirigen en mi dirección,
pero no me llegan a mi.
Siento que son sinceras,
que sus palabras son genuinas.
Quiero creer en sus promesas,
que su apoyo llegará en algún momento.
Les miro a los ojos y pienso,
me ven a mi también.
Les cuento mi historia y confío,
me escuchan y recordarán.
Pero miles de miradas he compartido,
y muy pocas perduran.
Miles de veces he compartido mi corazón,
y muy pocos se acuerdan.
Sé que el mundo les llama,
y que sus días deben estar llenos.
Sé que la vida es complicada,
y que hay un montón de cosas que hacer.
Sé que lo que pido puede ser difícil,
pero no pensaba que era tanto.
Sé que lo que quiero puede ser mucho,
pero no sabía que sería para tanto.
Pero después de todos mis intentos,
parece que es así.
Después de todos mis esfuerzos,
realmente es así.
Nunca me creí egoista,
de hecho me creo humilde.
Nunca me tomé por exigente,
de hecho pido súper poco.
Lo que pido en el fondo es simple,
es algo realmente básico.
Lo que busco no debe ser tan raro,
debe ser dado por hecho.
Lo que pido debe ser algo común,
No lo es.
Cuando me miran con sus ojos,
sólo pido que me vean…
Cuando me oyen con sus oídos,
sólo pido que me escuchen…
Cuando prometen ayudarme,
sólo pido que cumplan…
Cuando me dicen palabras,
sólo pido que sean sinceras…
Y cuando les cuento mi historia,
sólo pido que la recuerden…
Así soñamos las brisas del mar,
y las nubes del cielo como yo.
The world spins at the same pace, day after day after day. It never speeds up. It neither slows down. It remains constant, ever steady. I, on the other hand, am not constant. I can sit still no longer than a moment. I may run quickly but surely I will tire. I am fast and I am slow, but I am not steady.
The world and I are not alike.
The world is neatly divided. It has its Northern and Southern Hemispheres. It has its North and South Poles. It has an equator and lines of latitude and longitude that clearly separate and define. I, on the other hand, am not neatly divided. I am part boy and part man. I am one part strong and the other part weak. I am both proud and humble. I am one moment serious and the other giddy. But while the world is black and white, I am grey.
The world and I are not alike.
The world is dominated by the fittest. The weak are brushed aside to the fringes and stepped on while the strong succeed and survive. The world has no mercy on the lesser man. The world is unrelenting. I, on the other hand, am unfit. I would prefer not to step on the weak but rather to give them a hand. I would rather not be first, but actually last. Greed is something I try to avoid, and not collect. I am in favor of mercy, of forgiveness.
The world and I are not alike.
The world is a created place, a landscape. It is also a canvas, so to speak. The world is lived on by many people, and those creatures paint the earth, sometimes beautifully and sometimes with ugliness. I, on the other hand, am a created being, a person. I am also an artist, so to speak. Both the world and I are creations, but I am made in the image of the Creator. Therefore, I can also create. I am not painted on but I do the painting. I leave my mark on this world, in whichever way I choose to do so. It may be beautiful, and uplifting, and meaningful. Or it may not be. That is up to me.
The world and I are not alike.
The world is a temporary residence. It is finite. It will have an end. I, on the other hand, am not temporary. I have a soul, and that soul does not have an end. It is everlasting in its being. When the earth has long been dissolved, I will still be, in some other place. I will be alive and well, not because I deserve to be, but because it has been offered to me and I´ve accepted. The world ultimately ends in destruction, as will all who choose the world over their souls. The world, at its core, is wicked. But in my core, should you pry open my soul, dwells one we call the Holy Spirit. And he is the stamp of everlasting life, the seal of the Almighty God, and by his word I will not perish but have eternal life.
As 2013 comes to a close I’ve decided to take a moment to look back on it. While most people focus mainly on setting resolutions and new goals, I believe it greatly beneficial to reflect back and see what’s been learned along the previous year’s journey. When one looks at others it is often easier to spot change. We see them less often, certain things stand out, and changes are more apparent, more obvious. When we look at ourselves, however, we see a constant reflection. And as change is gradual (most change anyway), we sometimes struggle to notice it, whether it be in habit, in personality, or even in size. But, there are many ways that we grow and evolve over the course of a year. We learn in various arenas, and that’s what I’ve tried to hone in on, if at all possible. One area we learn about is the grand arena called life. We learn about the world, the way it works, how to maneuver ourselves through it. We take things away from our experiences and we draw from the people that cross our paths. As a Christian, I’ve also tried to determine what else I’ve learned about God this year. Our infinite Creator is boundless and unknowable, but He does reveal Himself to us. While it’s impossible to comprehend Him completely, we get glimpses, and those glimpses are priceless. Lastly, I’ve tried as best as I could to see what I’ve learned about myself this year. Like the people and places around us, we also change. To know oneself better is a powerful tool, and if we can spot our own weaknesses, it allows us to improve in those areas, or at least to attempt to. This is why reflection is so necessary.
I think that overall this was a huge learning year for me. I stepped out of my comfort zone and that allowed me to grow and learn in a lot more ways than had I stayed in my box. I encourage all of you to do just that: step outside of your box. For those of you who don’t know, I left comfy Southern California last March and headed to the Southern Hemisphere to teach English in Chile. What awaited me there was a whole new environment: different language, different climate, different culture, different everything. Right there you have a recipe for change. At first, it took me a while to open up, to relax. I was almost always uptight; about teaching, about missing stuff back home, you name it. But as the weeks passed I began to realize that I wasn’t going to learn anything that way. I was subconsciously clutching to my old ways, and anyone who clutches to old ways will not grow because they aren’t allowing themselves to be stretched or challenged. Once I let my walls down a little bit, I began to grow. I met new people, witnessed new wonders, and lived new things, and I think that should always be a goal, no matter who you are or where you live. If you do the same thing every day or have the same routine every week, you’re not really living. You’re repeating. Even if your circumstances require you to be in the same places at the same times, try to shake it up. Meet new people, see new sights, wonder new things, read new books, whatever it may be. You’ll learn things you never knew before.
One huge thing that I learned this year is to be content with whatever I have, be it much or little. Like Paul wrote about to the Philippians, we should learn to be content with what we have. Many people know and cite the verse, “I can do all things through him who gives me strength,” but they often forget what comes right before it. “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” That’s Philippians 4:11-13. It wasn’t that I was “in need” while in Chile, but compared to the fortunate and cushy life I live in the States, I had less. One of my favorite bands, Downhere, sings the lyric, “Little is much, when God’s in it,” and that couldn’t be more true. When we learn to trust God wherever we’re at in life, we’re in a good spot. Whether wealthy or poor, monetarily speaking, true riches lie in knowing Christ. And if we entrust our lives to Him, He will take care of us. All things are possible with Him.
That leads into the second big thing I learned this year. I guess I wouldn’t say it’s a new thing, but rather a relearning of sorts. At the beginning of my time in Chile I dealt with the whiplash, if you will, of being so swiftly removed from everything I knew. The lack of friends and family to lean on led to a new type of loneliness that I hadn’t experienced before. It wasn’t a depressed kind of loneliness; it was just different. And in that time I realized that God is always there for me. He’s like the good friend that never abandons you. He’s always there when you need Him. And though it takes some time and practice, one really can learn to converse with God, even when He doesn’t audibly speak back. Pressing into Him is best thing we can do. He truly is a refuge and He really does make our paths straight. He comforts and guides, and there’s no need to freak out if you’re in uncharted waters. And that’s exactly what I learned this year. Take a step back, take a deep breath, and step back in again. You’re not drowning or dying, and you’re certainly not alone. Lean into God like you’ve never done before and find a peace that you’ve never known before.
Thankfully, I learned something about myself this year that I didn’t like. I found an area to improve on. It was quite humbling, and I’m so glad it happened, even though it stung at first. I’m finding it a little difficult to explain in words, but I’ll give it a go… In having an argument with a friend I realized that I sometimes put my own pride first. I admit that I like to be right, like anyone does, but I’m also a soft-spoken guy. I won’t go into an argument unless I really believe I’m right. But when you argue about something trivial it’s not so important the issue but rather how you handle the argument. I was very humbled in realizing the size of my own pride. And as ironic as it sounds, I’ve always prided myself on being humble. I don’t like to boast or brag. I don’t like to be the center of attention. I like to be modest and gracious. But I realized a great defect of mine, and that is this: if I feel hurt or attacked in an argument, I subconsciously retaliate. If I feel wounded by words, I make sure my words hurt back. And this is not a good thing. Even if I’m in the wrong, I realized that I was trying to make the other person feel what I was feeling, be it humiliation, pain, or simple defeat. Arguing with the sole aim of winning the argument is not what arguing is about. If you do this, you argue wrong. The aim of arguing is supposed to be finding the right answer, or the truth. The goal isn’t winning, or hurting the other person. And though it never occurred to me before, I realized my own pride was preventing me from being a polite arguer. This was a deflating feeling, and very humbling as well. It’s changed the way I interact with others, and I’ve tried to allow it to change the way I speak in general. It’s reminded me of the verse James wrote, 1:19, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” I always try to remind myself to listen first. I also attempt to think carefully before speaking, and if I know I’m angry or even a little testy, to be extra slow to speak, because it’s then that the hurtful words come out. I’m so glad I learned this about myself, even though it stung to admit it at first, as it’s allowed me to change and to grow.
There’s one more thing I learned about life and myself this year and it didn’t come full circle until I got home. The opportunity has arisen for me to go back to Chile for one more year. It’s a unique assignment; different from the one I took last year. I’ll be able to teach English and some elementary subjects at schoolhouses out in the Chilean farmland. On top of that, it’s a Christian organization. The pay is not great, but I’m not in it for the money. I’d love the opportunity to continue learning and strengthening my Spanish. It’s a great tool that would help me when I come back. I’d also like to do some more travelling and visit new places. In addition, I’m still young and I still have the freedom to make a choice like this. I’ve always been a thinker. My brain is always ticking, observing, analyzing, processing. Type A, I know. But I’m also a dreamer. Dreaming is fun as it allows us to imagine things that we might not normally do. But here’s the thing. Dreaming for the purpose of dreaming isn’t what I’m about. That’s like setting goals and not going after them. So here’s what I learned: I don’t want to be just a dreamer; I want to live my dreams. I don’t want to one day realize that I’m old and I never did what I wanted to do. I never want to ask myself the question, “What if I had done that?” That’s a preventable type of regret. Although these thoughts were floating in my head, some of them admittedly formed into words after going to see Ben Stiller’s movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (highly recommend it, by the way). So let me say this: don’t be just a dreamer. Go for it.
All in all, I’ve learned a great deal this year. My 2013 journey has better prepared me for the 2014 one. I’ve learned to be content and joyful wherever I’m at in life. Why? Because I’ve got the Lord on my side. As long as I press into Him, and yield to Him those dreams that I dream, He’ll guide and protect me. I’m now reminding myself to be slower to speak and slower to anger, and ever quick to listen. There’s no need getting riled over trivial things. There’s no use blurting out hurtful words just so I’m not the only one who feels bad. Take a breath, keep your head up, and be humble. God first, others second, myself third. And lastly, don’t dream and die. Dream and do. The expression “dare to dream” exists for a reason. Don’t just dream the dreams; live them. These are some of the things I’ve learned this year. Maybe you learned something similar or maybe some completely different stuff. We can always learn from each other, so hopefully my words and lessons reached or helped you in some way. Feel free to share what you’ve learned below, and whatever you do, make 2014 even better than 2013. Happy New Year, and God Bless!!!
Esta semana yo vi algo tan hermoso, y una fuerte analogía se encontró en mi mente. Se me ocurrió mientras me sentaba atrás en un pequeñito auto rojo cuando íbamos manejando en un camino de tierra, rodeados por el campo. Los neumáticos hicieron que las piedras se levantaran y constantemente chocaban con el fondo del vehículo. Lo sentía en mis pies. El auto no era bien equipado para manejar ese camino, pero nos transportó de todas maneras a salvo.
La belleza que nos rodeaba no fue algo a lo que estoy acostumbrado. Ese tipo de naturaleza no existe de donde soy. Los campos se extendieron más allá de lo que alcancé a ver con mis ojos. Fue una densidad de verde que no he visto mucho y hubo un contraste claro y lindo entre ese verde, el cielo azul, y sus nubes blancas. Había ríos y arroyos a cada rato, y troncos que brotaban como torres en medio del campo, a veces en parejas, a veces solitos. Viajamos por harto rato y no había nada aparte de la naturaleza. Fue pura tranquilidad.
Fue entonces que llegó ese momento en que apareció una imagen que aún se queda en mi mente. Desde el momento en que lo vi hasta el instante en que todo se había procesado en mi cerebro, pasaron menos de unos segundos. Para mi, fue algo pensativo y muy poderoso.
Allí íbamos por ese camino de tierra, como ya dije, y por mi ventana hubo una larga fila de arboles señalando el borde entre el camino y el campo. No eran arbolitos sino troncos tremendos y gruesos. Y en la distancia estaba la naturaleza, más bella que nunca: campo sin fin, cielos puros, remolinos de nubes, y varios colores mezclados entre todo. Cuando me enfoqué en la fila de arboles todo lo del fondo se quedó borroso. Cuando me fijé en lo del fondo, los arboles se pasaban borrosamente sin poder distinguirlos. Fue entonces que algo me llamó la atención.
Justo al otro lado de los arboles volaba un pajarito, delicado pero fuerte. Cuando me fijé en este pajarito me di cuenta de que él iba volando exactamente a la misma velocidad del auto. Ni avanzó adelante, ni quedó atrás. Fue constante e inquebrantable. Y cuando lo miré fijadamente, la fila de arboles y todo el paisaje del fondo se volvieron borrosos. Los arboles pasaban rápidamente y el campo un poco más lento, pero el pajarito estaba completamente quieto.
Ese pajarito representa a todas las personas en mi vida a quien amo, y que me aman a mí. Siempre están conmigo, resueltos e inquebrantables. Aún cuando miro hacía otro lado, o cuando me quedo distraído, están allí. Son leales y siempre confiables. Siempre estarán allí a mi lado, pase lo que pase.
Los arboles del primer plano son las personas y los lugares o aun las cosas que entran en mi vida por un tiempo breve. Pero muy pronto, sin embargo, se van. Son siempre borrosos. Los paisajes del fondo son esas personas, lugares, o cosas que se quedan por más tiempo. No desaparecen al tiro pero tampoco duran para siempre. Hasta pueden ser lindos por un tiempo, pero ellos también se van.
En la vida somos propensos a las distracciones. A veces nos fijamos tanto en estas distracciones que se nos olvida apreciar y amar a las personas más queridas en nuestras vidas. Lo bueno es que siempre estarán allí. No se marchan como los arboles que pasan borrosos. Tampoco son los paisajes que eventualmente quedan en el pasado. Las personas a quienes verdaderamente amamos, y que también nos aman, son como este pajarito: constante e inquebrantable.