I woke up this morning with food trucks on my mind. Sarah and I were talking the other day and we agree we are tired of all this preparation. We are ready to have the truck and start taking it out. We have planned and prayed and worked so hard these past months. The truck will be completed relatively quickly now and then the real fun begins! And I do mean fun, because I think we are embarking on the adventure of a lifetime with this endeavor. Yet, as I was thinking about it all this morning, I feel a sense of great responsibility as well. Many people have donated money and time to help us get this project off the ground. Many people are praying for us and encouraging us with their messages.
We want to do amazing things with the resources we have so everyone sees a huge return on his/her investment. What will those returns look like? I daresay they won’t be material possessions or money, which are the usual returns people seek. They won’t be rewards or honors, either. Those are temporary and we are investing in the eternal. These returns will be spiritual. Our prayer is we see lives changed because of the consistent ministry of The Torch. We desire to see people change their lives and way of thinking - to replace hopelessness with hope. If we can overcome great adversity and deeply painful experiences, they can too. We will share our stories and our lives with those we reach out to, showing them what can be done if you persevere.
There are going to be times and seasons in life when it feels like no matter which way you turn there is no right way to go. It seems like quite often when one stress-producing problem occurs, it is followed rapidly by several more. It can start to feel like you are drowning in your personal sea of problems and you cannot see any possible way out. The hurt and fear and stress you feel absorb and overcome you. When I was homeless I was overwhelmed with feelings of worthlessness and concerns for my daughter Maddy. My mind would constantly dart from problem to problem, issue to issue. I hate conflict and fighting and yet I found myself drawn into one battle after another, some of which had to do with my divorce; but I also had to deal with “Church” people judging, criticizing, kicking me, and forgetting I had been their friend. In addition, I was searching for a new job which would pay me a living wage at least and allow me to see a reason for having a Masters degree. I thought that was how life was going to be forever and the bleakness of that threatened to sink me. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't think straight. I couldn't pray.
I learned a lot from that time in my life. One lesson I took away is: I can’t fix everyone. It doesn't matter how good my intentions are or even how much I pray - I cannot fix broken people. Much of the stress and pressure I was under was brought on by my mistaken belief I could fix people. Then, to top that off, people would call me or text me or send me a message on Facebook and unload their problems on me. And I would try to help and be supportive, but really, there was nothing in me for them. I was at a point where every emotional resource I had I was using for myself and Maddy. Some “friends” were angered by that. I let them go from my life, which was hard. I hate to let people go, especially when I don’t know if they have seen God’s hand in my life. But I learned I can’t fix them all.
Another lesson I learned is: sometimes you have to walk away from a fight. That was hard on so many levels. For one thing, the people who were attacking me were wrong and I really wanted them to see that. For another, some of them owed me something in one way or another. Walking away was like giving up on what was rightfully mine - and giving them what they wanted. But I came to understand being sane is more important than being right. And, even though I was struggling mightily, I asked God to help me forgive them and I stepped out of the arena.
I also learned not to try to look at the big picture. It really doesn’t help when pressures crush in from all sides. I had started applying and interviewing for jobs when I graduated with my Masters Degree and nine months later, when I was homeless, emotionally a wreck, physically beat down and mentally overwhelmed, I was still applying and interviewing for jobs. Years later, I found myself still applying and interviewing for jobs. Had I known how long the job search was going to take, I might have totally despaired. It is truly important to only look at the day you are in, the moment you are experiencing, and to focus on only that moment. Worrying about and fearing a bleak future will drag you down even more and I found life doesn't stay pressure-filled forever.
Have you heard the verse Philippians 4:13? I think it is likely you have, it says: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Sarah and I had an interesting discussion about that verse one day. We came to the conclusion it is an overused, misunderstood verse. I think we sometimes gravitate to verses like that because of wishful thinking. If I could quote that verse just as it stands alone, out of the context of Philippians 4 - WOW - would I have a charmed life!
Just think about it. Every time I prayed to do something hard, I would be able to do it. Every time I wanted something impossible, just figure out how to do it “through Christ” - I’m guessing prayer - and VOILA! It’s done. I’m pretty sure if Paul meant for that concept to be the coins we use in our God Vending Machine, he wouldn’t have bothered to put the rest of the verses around it. The thing is, Philippians 4 is filled with advice from Paul about how to find the ultimate life - and sometimes we misinterpret that to mean we can achieve whatever we want because we are Christians.
But if you read the rest of the chapter, you realize Paul is teaching how to reach spiritual achievements, not necessarily material or physical achievements. As I see it, if material blessings are the highest level of encouragement and love God brings into our lives, then here in America we have reached the pinnacle! We are on the receiving end of everything God has to give! And we are all at peace and satisfied, right? Because that is the end result of walking with God. Hmmmm. I certainly don’t see that. I see a frenzied grab to have more, to have the latest and greatest and to grant our kids' every desire. None of this is leading to peace and rest and satisfaction. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” does not mean I claim that verse every time I want a promotion at work - or to acquire more things.
In the first section of the chapter, Paul gives admonitions for how to live. I think we miss them. And by missing them, we miss out on God. First he tells the people to rejoice in God always! Not just on Christmas or Easter or Sunday. ALWAYS! I used capital letters because always is an important word for what follows in the chapter. Paul also cautions the Philippians to be known for their gentleness. I guess I don’t know too many people, either Christians or not, who I think of as gentle. We don’t value that in our society. We appreciate the go-getters and achievers, those who fight for what is theirs. But Paul says to “be known for your gentleness”. I want to be known for my gentleness. I have to work on that. A lot.
Have you stopped recently to think about how amazing you are? Have you looked in the mirror and seen the face God gave you? Do you ever take time to realize your infinite value and worth? Do you realize when you put yourself down you are criticizing a being created by God? Do you understand you can change the world? You have a combination of intelligence, strength, abilities and talents which nobody else on Earth has. Do you take time to reflect on that? Do you think about your potential? Do you dream and try to figure out what you can do to reach the stars?
Or are you stuck in your role? Do you look in the mirror and see the same old aging face you see everyday? Do you get ready to go to the same old boring job with the same old boring people everyday? Do you think often about how stuck you are? How you can never seem to get ahead? How depressing life can be? How you really dislike some people? How long your drive is? How bad your health is? Do you focus on the mistakes you have made and feel guilty for those? Or maybe you dwell on how much you have been hurt in the past - and who did what when?
When you stop and think about your life - and you should do that - do your thoughts settle on the negative? Maybe your life has been really bad and painful, so it is understandable how negative thoughts and hurtful feelings can dominate your reflections. It is important to face the bad things. We should admit they hurt and how much they hurt. But then we need to find a source of comfort and peace so they don’t make us bitter, nasty people nobody wants to be around. And to stop the constant replaying in our heads. If you feel guilty about something you have done - figure out how to fix it the best you can, then let it go. Hate your job? Hate your life? Why? Go back in your mind to where those feelings began and figure it out. A lot of times we get stuck because we have so much debt we can never see a way out. I think the “American dream” often causes us to want what we don’t have and so our goals and dreams begin to center on the “next” house in the better neighborhood or the “next” car with more luxuries and conveniences or the “next” vacation...and on and on and on. Before we know it we are over our heads in debt and still find we have precious little feelings of self-worth.
I do not like math with a book, I do not like math with a crook, I do not like them math in a van, I do not like math when counting cans. I do not like math Sam I am. I do not like math, it is just who I am.
I do not know when my love affair with math ended. In grade school I used to really enjoy playing the math game “around the world” with my classmates…but now that I think about it, I think I only enjoyed it because it was a competition and I had to win at all costs, even if it meant doing math. I vividly remember having a conversation with a teacher in high school about how 2+2 does not always equal four. This did not go over well with him, but I, being the stubborn person I am, stuck to my guns and tried to explain myself. I remember arguing, what if there are four women and two of them are pregnant, and this would then mean there are actually six people and not four, thereby in this case 2+2 = 6. This has always been my math logic…I understand the basic concepts but wanted room to play with the numbers and try to get new results. I have always been a “what if” kind of person.
I recently had to take three math classes for my undergraduate degree and went into those classes dreading them, knowing full well not only do I loathe math, but it is one subject I just do not excel at. Lucky for me, my friend and co-founder of The Torch, Rhonda, thinks in numbers and is somewhat of a math genius and I was able to get some tutoring from her. So, as I begrudgingly dove(and by dove I mean forcible pushed) into these math classes I soon discovered a few things; 1) TI-84 calculators are among the best inventions of all time 2) I am not as bad as math as I thought 3) math can actually be fun 4) I really hate odd numbers so was re-affirmed I have a tendency towards OCD.
One of the reasons Rhonda loves math is because things “always add up.” She can look at the problem, see the way to quickly calculate and solve the problem, and get the answer in no time. I on the other hand, see the math problem, start thinking about Detroit Tigers baseball or drinking an ice cold chocolate malt, and then start trying to solve the problem. There were numerous occasions when I would work through the math problem and get the correct answer, but in a very roundabout way. It sure was not the “correct” method being taught to me in class, but I somehow was managing to get the correct answers – so it became my method – and I ended up getting A’s in my dreaded math classes. Don’t get me wrong, I still do not really like math, but the days of loathing it are gone.
I was cleaning the kitchen early in the morning and I noticed a tea stain on the white countertop. I drink a lot of tea: hot tea, iced tea, sometimes lukewarm tea. You name it. I love my tea. The thing I don’t like about tea is the way it stains things. I know as soon as I spill it down the front of my white blouse that blouse is ruined for good. So when I saw the tea stain on the counter-top, I was not happy. I sprayed the stain with cleaner and let it soak while I put dishes away, then went back to scrub it. It was not coming off and I started thinking about purchasing something to place under the iced-tea maker to catch any leakage and prevent future stains. Then I remembered I had some Magic Erasers under the sink! I quickly retrieved one and in an instant the stain was removed.
The ease of removing that stain got me wondering what on Earth they make Magic Erasers out of? So, I looked it up and I discovered when you get down to a microscopic examination of Magic Erasers, they are made of melamine resin which has been cured into foam. The result is a “sponge” that acts like very fine sandpaper. When you combine the scraping properties of fine sandpaper with the holes in sponges (which absorb dirt) - you get a Magic Eraser! If you haven’t tried one, I highly recommend you do. They clean the toughest stains.
All of that stain removal got me thinking about being clean. I have done a lot of things in my life which left me feeling dirty and unclean. Before I was a Christian I drank, smoked, experimented with drugs and abused my body in so many ways. Now don't get me wrong here, I have messed up a lot after I became a Christ-follower as well. The thing with me is, even when I had no spiritual reason that I was aware of to prevent me from doing the things I was doing - I always felt pretty worthless and dirty and often scared when that was my lifestyle.
Then I got involved at a church - and thank God it was filled with accepting people because I needed to see what unconditional love and acceptance was. One night, as a twenty-year old mother of two I found myself face down on the floor of my bedroom sobbing my eyes out. From the outside, I looked like I had cleaned up pretty well, but inside I felt utterly worthless and alone and filthy. And I cried for what felt like hours. When there were no more tears left, I laid on the floor and examined my life. I thought about all the things I had done in the past and hated myself for them. Then I thought about the ladies I knew at the church. I realized they had something I lacked. There was a foreign calm about them. They smiled when life was difficult and didn’t resort to swearing and anger when things went wrong. They were positive in the worst circumstances and so gentle and kind to me. I didn’t think I could ever be like them but I realized I desperately wanted whatever it was they had.
A funny situation at work the other day charmed and amused me. I was in the foyer of the building, cleaning the glass doors. There are two which lead to the foyer and two more which lead into the store from the foyer. I was inside the foyer and was approaching one of the doors customers enter from outside, when a father and his daughters startled me by opening the door and coming into the store just as I raised the bottle of Windex. They were surprised, too, and the girls scurried past me. Their dad, however, thought I was trying to exit the store. He immediately apologized, turned around, stepped outside, and opened the door for me. I raised my bottle of Windex and we both started to laugh. But I thanked him and thought how utterly charming it was that his first concern was to open the door for me. I assume it is a part of his nature, because it happened very quickly so he reacted by instinct. It was refreshing to see such a display of courtesy in a society in which I see an incredible amount of rudeness and apathy.
An example is leaving a mess for other people to clean up. We have a gumball machine at work. One of my pet peeves is how often I find chewed gum on the floor, or the shelves with the videos. It is incredibly inconsiderate to leave chewed gum around for someone else to deal with. There is simply no excuse and I think most people would agree with me, yet it happens all the time. I was talking to a friend who worked at a retail store.One of her duties was to straighten the dressing rooms. She told me she went in there one day and discovered somebody had gone to the bathroom on the floor. Really? In no reality is that acceptable behavior.