Being a Hero and Leading Up

There is research indicating that acts of heroism could have genetic foundations and that we can cultivate our propensity to “be a hero”. Through intentional acts of selflessness and generosity, even if small and seemingly insignificant, we can posture ourselves for a moment when heroism might be displayed. There is a hero/heroine in all of us.

I certainly experienced that a few weeks ago, for our first leadership cohort called LeadUp. Gathered with seven high school students and a handful of college mentors, together we identified some systemic problem areas in our communities and developed plans of how to help. Some of these students already contained a vision of their life’s work! I was excited, humbled, and challenged throughout the weekend.

Here are some observations:

  • Vision: These students understood that we all started with the divine image of God placed upon us. This is our most basic DNA as humans. God created us in his image and it was good. We all had value and all deeply loved. Our choice that led to the greatest of sin was opposite of what makes us heroes. We choose selfishness over selflessness. But, living in God’s grace helps us overcome that brokenness created by the first sin and gives us a vision of how we help others reclaim their divine image. It is how healing and community form. These students shared many visions: a vision to end homelessness in their community, to help at-risk kids develop a passion for their education or finding a skill set (a set up for meaningful workforce development), to help kids who have been sexually abused and more. I was inspired by these young visionaries!
  • Selflessness: It appears that at the heart of every hero or heroic act is selflessness. Indeed, Jesus says that greatness is found in serving others. Heroes sacrifice and seem even willing and prepared to die. Take your average firefighter-our everyday, modern heroes. These youth all displayed a type of selflessness not normally attributed to them. Culturally, we see them as pre-occupied, self-centered, whiny, and everything in between. Heroes? Not so much. But these students embraced the heart of servant-hood and serving others. It was noticeable in their conversations, how they quickly got to know one another, and how much they wanted to support each other. It was evident in how they discussed the problem areas and why and how they each wanted to help.
  • Perseverance: People dedicate their life’s work to the types of plans and visions these students developed. Some already knew the educational route they would have to take to live into these dreams. And, the perseverance to stay the course over the weekend! We worked them hard and it was all planning and preparation! I was really amazed they hung with us. Again, they radically dispelled the popular myths about youth culture.

Lead Up puts our focus on Jesus. Leadership is about service, sacrifice, and a core value of true humility. I am excited this group of youth is ready to embrace that mantle of leadership and use it to serve others and mine the divine image of God out of each person. The only way we solve the social ills of our community, nation, and world is to gain a Godly vision of restoration, roll up our sleeves, and go to work for the good of others. Lead Up!

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Burn

Friday is almost here! The weekend. Finally. But this weekend for a handful of us, is not about rest, relaxation, and laundry. It’s about passion. Easy…not that kind of passion 😉  We are preparing to host ten youth on an experience called “Lead Up”. Lead Up is an intentional weekend where youth learn a framework for turning ideas into action. And it’s not just any idea. It’s the idea that burns inside of you, that may keep you awake at night, that inspires crazy dreams, that will not go away.

I read through several other blog posts on finding your passion. Some were pretty good with 6-7 easy steps. Sometimes when I look through a list, I ask “what is missing?” There was nothing about ministry, serving others, or a reference to using passion to right the wrongs we see in the world. It was all self- driven, self-motivated and mostly contextualized around career motives. That’s not bad. It’s just not complete.

We are helping youth find their passion regarding what is broken in the world. Nehemiah is a story nestled towards the end of the Old Testament with an incredible storyline.  Pregnant with passion, conflict, and prayer, it unfolds a story of heartache, vision, and restoration. Passion gets the movement rolling. I will not retell the story here so go check out Nehemiah. But here are a few thoughts:

  • What problems do you want to solve or believe need solving? Passion is about sensing broken relationships that emote a deep longing to see them righted. It’s always about relationship in this context. People or creation being abused in some way: human sex trafficking, lack of decent housing, child abuse, animal abuse, girls prohibited from going to school, pollution, exploitation of workers, or racism. The list goes on.
  • What is your understanding about God and His created world that helps you understand a “righted” vision? God created in perfection. God created and called it good. God created with all things in proper balance. (See Genesis 1). Fall and sin distorted relationships and perverted the balance (Genesis 3). If justification is keeping items in proper order, keeping them aligned to a standard, then when we see abuse and distortions we can find the purity of the word “justice”. Passion becomes the burning desire to make things right. To restore to the original design God intended.
  • Passion is linked to conversation with God. In many ways, whether we recognize it or not, we are working with God, co-creating with God, partnering with God to restore; to make all things new. We are supposed to do something in the waiting period of Jesus’ return. And it has to do with using our talents and not exploiting other people. (Remember the parable of the talents, the workers in the vineyard, or the teaching about the thief coming in the middle of the night?) Our prayers and conversations, if we are open, can lead us to a lifestyle brimming with work towards making our world, in our limited time, look like what God intended.

There really are not any easy steps. I left out a few here of discerning passion to keep this relatively short as there volumes of books lining our shelves on this very topic. But let me condense one more time:

  1. What do you see wrong or unjust in the world, that you believe should be changed? What keeps you awake at night, makes you angry, or makes you hurt for someone or something else?
  2. What is your vision of what “right” looks like? What is the God vision that corrects that injustice and distortion?
  3. What prayers and conversations do you have with God and others who you can partner with that together can restore the injustice? The Holy Spirit will open our eyes and our heart if we listen.

Nehemiah heard about the wall of Jerusalem that had laid in ruin for 152 years after the exile of the Israelite nations. It made him weep, pray, and fast- as in not eat for several days. It eventually led him to travel to Jerusalem and through God’s help, establish a vision to repair and restore the protective wall around the city and rebuild the community. But it was that passion, a burning desire to restore, that became the launching pad for action and movement.

We have 10 juniors and seniors in high school coming to discern their passion and act this weekend. It will be a weekend burning with passion and a desire to restore. I hope you might do the same!

And just for fun, here is a little quiz I found about passion. Very easy and some fun perspectives:

http://clarityonfire.com/take-the-quiz/

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Calm Down!

Feeling pretty puny today. I only get sick about once every two years, which is pretty remarkable. But, I have been hit with the “cold” that so many others are dealing with and just out of of gas. So, I thought I would share a little story with you. It reminds me to pray in the normalcy but also in the crisis!

It was a typical Tuesday in mid November. We were in Tuskegee and had been loading left over wood from a wheel chair ramp for over half an hour. We had been on the road back and forth from three worksites most of the morning. As we were getting ready to load up and head back to Auburn, a man came running up in a frenzied panic. We could barely make out what he was saying but then he pointed behind him and yelled “there’s a man on the side of the road, I think he had a seizure”. Sydney and I sprinted over and laying perpendicular to the road, with his head just on the pavement, lay an elderly man.

His eyes were blood shot and glazed over with cataracts. His right hand was clenched in a fist and his left hand lay limp beside him. He breathed in gasping pants and lay speechless. I asked him if he was ok but no response. Looking at the man who called us over for help I asked him if he had called 911. He exclaimed he did not have a phone so I turned to Sydney and told her to make the call. As she ran to go get her phone, I paused, not quite sure what to do next. The man was breathing, although sporadic. There was no blood or seemingly other injury. Was he in shock? Was he having a stroke? During the fall, did he injure his neck? So many questions. All I knew was that his breathing was short, rapid, and sporadic. He was in danger of aspirating. The only thing I knew to do at that point was pray, and not to myself or quietly, but out loud where he and the man who called us for help could hear.

I placed my hand on the back of his shoulder and began to pray aloud. I prayed for Jesus to be with this man, to give him assurance that help was on the way and that he was ok and going to be ok. I prayed for God to calm his spirit and allow him to relax. Silently, I asked God to calm my spirit as well. As I continued to pray, the man’s breathing slowed and his tense body slowly relaxed. Although he still did not speak, it seemed for now he was stable. In fact, it seemed he was just taking a rest on the side of the road at this point.

Several people drove by, a sheriff arrived and even someone who thought I should turn the man on his side since he at one point had a seizure. Because he was stable and calm, I did not think this was a good idea. I was fearful of moving him in the event he had a head or neck injury. I asked this lady if she was a nurse and she said she used to be at which point I asked if she wanted to take over. She declined and left the site. (Maybe that is why she “used” to be a nurse). Finally, the fire department and paramedics arrived. We learned the man’s name was George and it seemed he was well known and had a history of seizures. After about fifteen more minutes, George began to move around a bit more. We sat him up and shortly after he was walking around. At that point, it seemed our time there was done, the professionals were now in charge. I continued to silently pray for George. During the entire time, I kept one hand on George just to let him know I was there and offered words of encouragement with short requests to God.

As we drove back to Auburn, my head was swimming. The “what ifs” hit me. What if he was having a stroke? What if he had still been in a seizure when we ran up on him? What if he was having a heart attack? It could have been so much worse! It took nearly fifteen minutes for the fire department to arrive and another five for the paramedics but it seemed like hours. What stood out in my mind more than anything else is what happened when I prayed. That was the pinnacle moment, the moment when he responded the best, when it seemed that God was right there with him and instantaneously calmed his breathing to a resting state. It was when I also physically felt and experienced the power of God.

First responders deal with this all the time and my appreciation for them has been deeply heightened. But, the lesson I learned that day, no matter what the situation, pray. Pray because God is active and moving. This world is NOT static, the plans are not SET IN STONE, and we can be the conduit of God’s active spirit and movements. And in this instance, it was important that George KNEW I was praying for him. He heard my prayer and for sure, God did. With Paul we exclaim, in all things pray!  What a day and what a small opportunity to minister and extend the love of Jesus.

When at times we seem powerless, it is prayer that is our best source of power. Pray without ceasing.

Grace and peace,

 

Lisa

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March 4th Service Day

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” Galatians 5:13

Join the ARM@AU group on Saturday March 4th at 8:00am. We will meet at Pepperell UMC 200N. 26th Street Opelika. To register, go to our home page or contact Joseph Farris at joseph@arm-al.org and check out the ARM@AU facebook page.

John David Parker - IMG_1853 IMG_20170204_104459803IMG_20170204_111513896

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Defeat…

Hands trembling, I carefully tore open the letter. My mouth felt like someone had shoved the cotton wad from the top of the pill bottle inside. The outside cover of the letter read, “Auburn University School of Veterinary Medicine”. What would it say? Did I get in? I was preparing myself for disappointment. Funny how we start to scan letters for the parts. You start to look for key words like “sorry”, “regret”, and “cannot”. Where were those words? What I read was “happy”, “inform”, and “accepted”. My knees buckled and I fell to them in partial prayer and euphoric disbelief. “I was going to Auburn’s School of Veterinary Medicine! I was going to Auburn’s School of Veterinary Medicine”!!! (repeat several times) Shock and awe.

Funny how things change. Or maybe not. What was also in the letter was a contingency clause. My responsibility now was to finish out the current set of classes and maintain a “C”. Pretty easy. I had been making A’s and B’s for quite some time in some grueling classes. My strategy had worked and there was only one pesky class to get through, Organic Chemistry 2. Not my strong suit, I had saved it for the final term so that a C would not hurt my GPA.

Everything was falling into place except for Organic Chemistry. I simply did not understand it and could not memorize it. Labs went well but the class work was beyond tough. I was also in a few extracurricular leadership roles and could not dedicate full attention to my class. Hindsight says I should have made a shift when I realized my predicament.

The quarter was turning into a disaster. We only had two tests and a final in the class. One test I had failed, the other I scored a “D”. The class average was a “D”. It seemed only the Chemical Engineering students were grasping the concepts. As the quarter loomed on, I became panicky and desperate. My prayer life increased for sure and I found myself pleading for God to rescue me from this chemical nightmare. As the days before our final exam solemnly approached our professor threw us a life line. If our grades were not good, whatever we made on the final could serve as our final grade! This was like divine magic. I studied, crammed, prayed, hoped, and everything in between. I reminded God of all the great missionary work I was going to do as a veterinarian and the very vision He had placed upon my heart.

After taking the test, I was hopefully optimistic. I felt like I had actually done ok. At least “C” level work and maybe just pulled it out. The thing about these Chemistry tests is that they contained complex structures; like complicated quadratic equations on steroids. Meaning that you received credit for how you worked out the problem and showed your work. One question could be worth 15-20 points.

My optimism was shattered. The disappointment of defeat tasted like acid reflux. There had been one question that really stumped me. And that one question was my demise. It was one question that if answered correctly would have resulted in a “C” on my final exam. I went to the professor and laid out my situation, pleaded with him with tears leaking down my face. He even admitted that very few got the question correct. He would not throw it out.

My advisor was distraught. He was angry. Partially because there was competition for Chemical Engineering students in the Pre-Vet major to get slots in vet school. I was in the Animal Science Pre-Vet. My losing a slot might potentially open for someone else. My advisor was advocating for me at other levels. A summer class was not available for me to try to retake the class. When the reality sunk in, that I was losing the slot in Auburn’s School of Veterinarian Medicine, it was one of the worst feelings of shame, defeat, and embarrassment I had ever felt. I had to tell my family, my friends, my colleagues…and then the confusion and betrayal. Had God tricked me? Had He set me on this grueling path only to not help me see it through? Had I not heard correctly? These thoughts, fears, insecurities and anger coursed through me. But alas, I had no time to process. Although losing my slot at vet school, I had been awarded a slot to attend Officer Candidate School (OCS) and was to start that June.

What do we do with defeat? What do we do with disappointment especially when we feel we have been called to something; when the plan and path seem so clear? How does failure move us forward?

I’ll share with you those next steps next week but for now, I invite you to just sit with the emotions we feel when defeat and failure come. Most of us have experienced this in some way. A relationship that went sour, a career opportunity like mine that disappeared, a business going bust, an accident or illness that steals the dream away. Maybe you have a friend or loved one in a difficult situation that just may need your listening ear and support.

So, I leave you with this, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire you will not be burned, the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior”. Isaiah 43:2-3. God is with us. There is new light in the morning.

Grace and peace,

Lisa

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