Monday, August 26, 2019

It is Good for Today

Growing up as a homeschool kid, I never knew my grade. Often I'd be at a different grade level in each subject (Ex: 8th grade reading and kindergarten math) so when adults asked my grade, I'd tell them my age instead, thinking they could figure it out from there. As a result, people never thought I was smart, because smart kids typically know what grade they're in.

Now, as a fully-fledged human adult, I'm faced with a similar dilemma. I don't know what to tell people when they ask where I live. I'm not sure when exactly it happened, but sometime in the last year I became an official hobo.

Most of my stuff is in Atlanta, but I'll be there a total of 20 days between September and December. I'll be in Texas quite a bit this fall because I have a number of shows closer to DFW and it's logistically easier to launch from there, but I don't technically live in Texas. In fact, I'll be in close to 30 cities and states in the next few months.

"Is that a good thing?" a family friend recently asked when I shared my current situation.

Life lately has been so crazy I hadn't stopped to wonder if this new normal was, in fact, "good." My life is uncommon, yes. But is it good?

Is a life with no roots and little consistency and different faces and locations every week good? Is a life lived in front of audiences and behind well-manicured social media updates good? Is a life lived out of a suitcase good?

"Yes," I responded. "It's good for today."

I get to support myself with creativity and goofiness. I get to bring an accordion all over the country. I get to share the stage with incredible speakers and artists I look up to and admire. I look at my life and feel immense gratitude for the gifts I've been given.

None of these things, however, ultimately make my current life good.

My situation is good for today because it's where God has me today. My circumstances are good because God uses them to gently shape me, discipline me, and move me toward holiness. I see Him using my travels to strengthen my trust in Him, build long-distance friendships, and grow my compassion for people from all walks of life. My life is only good because He is with me.

Then, I got a follow up question.

"Will you keep doing this long-term?"

Questions about the future are my least favorite questions. They stir up fear in me like nothing else. Will I still be right where I am in 5 years? 10 years? What if all the work dries up? What if I'm so focused on this I miss out on the rest of life? WHAT IF WHAT IF WHAT IF?!

When I start trying to imagine the future, I completely "what if" myself out of today's joy.

The past 18 months have brought almost every kind of hurt imaginable. Two years ago I couldn't have predicted my life would look like what I'm living today. I wasn't a full time comedian yet. I hadn't suffered grief and loss and trauma and heartbreak so intensely, so succinctly.

And yet, through this hurt--hurt I never would've chosen and, if given the choice, would completely undo--came an unexpected gift: peace for today.

Every couple years I read C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters. In the book, the demon Screwtape coaches his nephew on how to tempt and lure people away from God.

In one section, Screwtape instructs Wormwood (his nephew) to try and get his "patient" to become consumed with anxieties about the future.

"The duty of planning tomorrow's work is today's duty; though its material is borrowed from the future, the duty, like all duties, is in the Present."

I will continue planning for tomorrow, because it's wise to do so. I will hone my skills as a comic, book shows, write books, and save money for lean seasons. That is today's work. And then, I'll (do my best to) live in the present and enjoy the graces and mercies the Lord's laid out for me right now.   

God may choose to keep me doing exactly what I'm doing until I die, or He may change my circumstances at a moment's notice. For now, I will celebrate my hobo life. Because it is good for today.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Life Sucks, God is Good

A couple weeks ago someone asked me how I'd describe the past year. I think 2018 could be summed up in five words: "Life sucks, God is good." (Dibs on turning that into a bumper sticker.)

It's difficult to put into words the simultaneous feelings of hope and despair. They can't be isolated from each other. Like one artery pumping blood into the heart, and another pumping it back out. (And that's the extent of my understanding of human heart anatomy. I should probably just stick to jokes.) 

This past year was difficult for a lot of people in my circle. I've had many hard, deep, and raw conversations about life, death, and the goodness of God in the middle of tragedy.

One question that's come up continually is: "I know that I have the hope of heaven, but will things ever get better here on earth?"

I told a friend--a dear human specimen who has patiently sound boarded my unfiltered thoughts and heightened dark sense of humor this past year--when she asked if I was hopeful about 2019: 

"I'm hopeful that a lot of good things will happen," I said. "But I'm also aware that sometimes things just keep getting worse and then you die."

Mic drop? 

The only confidence I have going into 2019 is that God will sustain me through anything. He will hold on to me when I don't have the strength to hold on to Him. I wish I could promise myself and my hurting friends and loved ones that our trials were over. The reality, however, is that none of us know what's ahead. 

With that said, I'm entering 2019 with a peaceful confidence. Hope for the future has managed to sprout up in a bed of sadness and pain. Turns out, manure creates rich soil. (That's the extent of my gardening knowledge. And also probably why our lettuce keeps getting e. coli.)

I know God loves giving good gifts to His children, and as I look back at the horror that was 2018, I see the unmistakable markers of God's presence. He kept me healthy during times of utter exhaustion, brought me more work than I've ever had before, and put incredible people into my path that I wouldn't have known if not for our common experience with tragedy.   

So, I'll continue making resolutions and goals. I'll vow to never eat sugar again and have ice cream before sundown January 1st. I'll promise to wake up at 6am every day and go jogging, even though running is my sworn arch nemesis. I'll succeed in some ways and fail in others. 

I'll make plans and believe God will prosper them, but at the end of the day I will say, "Your will, not mine, be done."

A few glimpses of 2018 in pictures: 

Hiking in Albuquerque after a show.

This urinal garden. When I do women's events they often turn the men's bathrooms into women's facilities for the night and the creativity always makes me smile.

               Having lunch with my brother and trying to wrap my mind around this new reality

Going through old shoe boxes and discovering priceless memories of simpler times, when we thought shoving gummies up our noses was a hilarious past time. (That's the extent of what we put up our noses.)

Visiting my sweet friend Amelia, who went to be with Jesus in July. Her faith continues inspiring me.

Eating lunch with my 91-year-old grandmother, whose dementia brings with it bittersweet hilarity. (I didn't realize she recently went skydiving with Hillary Clinton!)

Diving in Costa Rica. This was a few days before someone on the street tried to stab me. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

Life on the edge: getting out of a knifepoint mugging

So, yesterday I had a unique and terrifying experience. Someone tried to rob me at knifepoint in a suburb of San Jose, Costa Rica. I got away unharmed, and he didn’t take anything. (I wasn’t carrying much anyway. My ATM Card and driver’s license cause I had to go to the bank later, and the US equivalent of $15 in local currency. And also some fresh lychee fruit that took me forever to find.) 

Because of the craziness of this year I decided I wanted a little vacation and decompression time before starting the new semester. So, I cashed in some airline miles and decided to head to Costa Rica for a couple weeks of pacific coast scuba diving and Spanish lessons—two things on my bucket list. I’ve been to south/central America many times and love it there. Usually I travel with other people, but I couldn’t find anyone who could come during the time I had off, so I proceeded with the trip solo. Solo travel is actually pretty relaxing and enjoyable, and you meet plenty of people along the way. For much of this trip I’ve been with groups or new friends. 

Okay, now on to the knifepoint story. I’m decently travel-savvy and fairly street smart, so on the occasions where I walk alone I check my surroundings consistently and stay in crowded areas. While walking the .8 miles to my Spanish school this morning, I reached a point on the typically-crowded road where there was a lull in people and cars. An older-looking man crossed over to my side of the street. Rather than walk past me, he stepped right in front of me and started speaking quietly and intensely in Spanish. 

My spidey-senses immediately went off. Something was not right. And that’s when he pulled the knife from under his shirt. 

When someone wields a knife on you and you can’t understand what they’re saying, a few things run through your head rapid fire.

Why did this guy step in front of me? What is he saying? Are these Spanish lessons even working at all? What is he pointing to? Why is he pointing with a knife? A KNIFE?! Okay so this is not friendly chatter. Why is the knife so obnoxiously big? Is this his first day as a bad guy? Okay, so he either wants me to come with him to that empty field (no gracias) or give him my tiny bag (also no gracias—getting a stab wound stitched up would be less painful than filing paperwork with the DMV to replace a stolen driver’s license. Also it took me forever to find a market that had lychees and I was really looking forward to eating them for  my snack.) 

This man might’ve had a knife, but he grossly underestimated the number of Jason Bourne movies I’ve seen. So, I went into a mindset I didn’t know I possessed: action mode. 

I very quickly gauged the situation—and I mean, this thought process took place within milliseconds—this man was older (so probably not too fast or agile), had a knife the size of Texas (he was trying too hard to look intimidating so probably he’s in the Kindergarten Criminal program), he seemed a little nervous and didn’t want to attract attention (see previous comment), there’s a crowded intersection just around this corner so if I can get to there I’ll be okay.

Also, in that moment, I got incredibly angry. I just buried my brother. One of my dearest friends is dead. I was up all night because I’d had a bad batch of fried plantains. There was no way I was going to let this man take anything from me. I’m aware I look like a grown American Girl Doll and reek of tourist, but I have two things on my side: healthy lungs and long legs. So I used the element of surprise and, pardon my expression, I raised hell. 

I immediately dodged him and began running toward the bend in the road. He was just far enough away that I knew he’d have to try really hard to stab me or grab me, and I instinctively knew he didn’t possess that kind of reaction time. However, he started to run after me, so I began yelling at him so loudly and in English and what I could muster in Spanish. I think I said something along the lines of “GET AWAY! NO THEY WILL PLEASE NOT ROB ME TODAY!” (Nonsense, but it worked.) 

Just as I thought, around the corner were a lot of people. I ran to a group of men who were talking to each other and looked back to see my assailant turn around, put the knife away, and walk in the other direction. Fortunately one of the men in the group spoke some English. I told him what happened and he asked if I was carrying anything valuable, which also struck me as a suspicious question. Probably he was asking if they took anything valuable in his broken English, but I was on level 7,000 alert, so just in case they were working as a group with knife-man, I said no and kept walking, grabbed a cab, and went the remaining .3 miles to school that way.  

As the adrenaline rush wore off, the reality of what had happened, and what potentially could have happened hit me. I was incredibly proud of myself for how quickly I reacted. I also knew I’d be taking cabs and Ubers the rest of my time here. (Which, fortunately I leave Sunday. I’m definitely ready to go home.) 

Lastly, and I’ve debated whether to write anything about this at all, but after thinking about it, I think it may be helpful to address. As I’ve told people what happened, on more than one occasion the initial response has been, “well, you shouldn’t have been walking alone.” You might’ve even thought that as you read this blog. 

Here’s the thing: I walk in groups as much as possible. But, when you travel alone, it’s not always possible to be with someone. Even when you travel with people it’s not always possible to be with someone. Sometimes you have to get from point A to point B by yourself. I take cabs or Ubers if I’m not sure about an area. Should I have taken a bus or cab sooner? Maybe. I’d walked this same path several times with other people before walking it on my own. It was safe. I’d been told by several locals, including my Spanish teacher, that it was safe and good path for tourists, even when walking alone. The only difference between this and other times was I was coming to class late because I’d not been feeling well, so the typical morning bustle was less than usual. 

Still, this didn’t happen at 3am in some abandoned back alley. This happened in a busy, middle class neighborhood in broad daylight. It was close to schools, churches, and police stations. (In fact, this all happened about 50 meters from a police station.) Is traveling in a group ideal? Sure. Realistic? Not always. Also, unfortunately, I've heard stories of groups getting attacked. 

I used common sense. I knew my surroundings and I was even aware that there was a strange lacking of people on that part of path. I’ve walked plenty of sketchier places both in the United States and foreign countries alone and been fine. 

When something like this happens it’s natural to try and find what the victim did “wrong” so we can avoid that same situation. But here’s the unfortunate and harsh truth: these things happen anywhere: in North America, in Central America, in “safe” places, and even to people who are careful. We like to believe that we can completely prevent these things if we do all the right things. I fully believe you can take wise precautions to avoid them, but sometimes they happen anyway, and you need to be ready and vigilant. That’s the reality of the terrible, fallen world we live in.

So feel free to lecture me on walking alone, but do it in your head. 

Overall, it’s been a wonderful trip with wonderful diving, people, and experiences. This was a fluke thing that could’ve been way worse, but fortunately is now a crazy story I get to share at dinner parties and maybe even gives me enough street cred to become a rapper. All that said, I’m ready to come home and have Chipotle. 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Humor and the art of inappropriate grief

It’s been a little over three weeks since I got the phone call telling me that my younger brother had been killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq. Almost a month has passed since my family earned our lifetime membership into the bereavement club. (Definition aside, bereavement is a terrible word.) It feels like it’s been both a minute and a lifetime since hearing the news. When you’re grieving, the minutes, hours, days and weeks get put into a time blender. There’s now a date on the calendar where life permanently changed.

Tomorrow I head back to Atlanta to get back to “new normal.” I have several comedy shows and speaking gigs this week, and today I spent most of the day distracting myself by writing an accordion parody about IKEA. You know, typical grief coping stuff. (I did have a line about being found shriveled up in a living room display three years after following the wrong arrows, but I came to my senses and replaced it with a less gruesome jab at Swedish Meatballs.)

As a comedian, laughter—and what causes it—has always fascinated me. Some of the best comics I know have trauma and loss in their past. As I’ve learned in recent days, death and tragedy alter your perspective on life and change the lenses you use to observe the rest of the world.

Before experiencing it on a personal level, I had a vague idea of how grief would look and feel. One thing I believed about tragedy and sudden loss was that laughter would be very slow to return. I was absolutely wrong. Everyone processes tragedy and loss differently, but for our family, laughter happened pretty much immediately.

Here’s what I’ve discovered about grief humor: it’s wildly inappropriate, morbid, and was--and continues to be--absolutely necessary for us to process Mark’s sudden and tragic death. We laughed at the strangest, darkest things in those first few days. 

Grief and lack of sleep absolutely destroyed my filters for the first week (and I admittedly don’t have the best filters to begin with), and some very blunt and dark observational humor regarding our circumstances escaped my mouth unchecked. (A/N: My deepest condolences to anyone outside my immediate family who was on the receiving end of my dark sense of humor during this time. I don’t remember a lot of what I said, but from what people have told me, much of it was intense. I’ve been told there’s no wrong way to grieve, but I may have pushed the limits on that belief, and someday may write a book for people who “inappropriately” process grief through sarcasm and dark humor.)

However “inappropriate” this form of grief, I know laughter helped us survive our tragedy. Anyone on the outside probably thought my family needed to be sent immediately to the nearest asylum, but our closest friends and family bonded and processed our sadness through the random thoughts, memories, and ironies about our situation we collectively found hilarious.

A couple days after the crash I began thinking ahead to the comedy shows I have on my calendar. Despite sarcasm and humor being my grief-handling buddies, I knew telling jokes on a stage in front of strangers would be different, especially since I have several jokes in my act about Mark. My opening joke right now is about moving to the south and getting matched with my brother on E-harmony.

I’m not sure yet what I’ll do with those jokes. Mark was always lobbying to have more jokes about him in my act. He came to a show last October—the last he’d attend before his deployment—and his one criticism was that I didn’t have enough material about him in my set. He had a very absurd, goofy, and random sense of humor and I know he’d love it if I made large groups of people slightly uncomfortable joking about him posthumously. Long term I’ll probably keep the jokes that include him (and who knows, maybe add more, but not to the point of making audiences feel weird about laughing) but right now I may shelve them. Most likely I’ll decide once I’m on stage.

I’ve heard people say randomly over the years how much they needed to laugh. How they were glad for a chance to take their mind off of the trials of life. I know what they mean now. I’ve consumed a LOT of comedy these past few weeks and I have a new appreciation for laughter as medicine. I’m a fan of comedy anyway, but I watched and listened to more comedy in the past three weeks than I typically do in two years.

Despite being horribly sad about my brother, I do not have the market cornered on grief, loss, and tragedy. Many of you reading this have known incredible loss, and many out there are suffering similarly. I know comedy and laughter heals. I took it for granted before, but I’ve experienced deeply the power laughter has to give us hope. Hope that death doesn’t win in the end. Grief is such a heaven burden, laughter lifts the weight temporarily so we don't get crushed. At the very least, venting emotion through laughter provides a nice break from crying.

I will never stop missing my brother. Grief will always be here, but Lord willing, so will laughter.

So now, I move forward and use the gifts and time God has given me to provide a little bit of healing to an increasingly hurting world.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Surviving your 20s in the 21st Century.

Recently, after a show, I spoke to a young woman in her early 20s. She was in school, working, and on a forward trajectory in life...she was also lonely, depressed, and feeling completely hopeless about everything.

"I'm sorry you're going through that," I said. "But just so you know, it does get much better. I don't know if this is encouraging or not, but what you're going through is totally normal for your age."

"It is?" she said. "I feel like I'm the only one."

"Not at all," I assured her. "I went through it, and almost everyone I talk to in their 20s seems to be dealing with some sort of quarter-life crisis."

"How come nobody talks about it?" she asked. "Everyone just acts like they have it all together and I feel like I'm the only one who can't figure life out."

So, in case there are other 20-somethings out there struggling to get their footing, please allow me to lay before you what is "normal" at this stage of life and share some survival tips. I'm not sure how helpful it will be, but at the very least perhaps you'll feel a little less alone as you figure things out.

First, it's normal for life to be hard.

Surviving this norm: I'm not sure the particulars of your childhood, but many of us grew up in homes where a lot was done for us. Things like making appointments, bringing cars in for repairs, arranging insurance, paying bills, etc. were all done through our teenage (and even sometimes through college) years by adults who loved us and had our best interest at heart. However, at a certain point we have to take over the daily operation of our own lives, and in our culture this seems to be happening in our early-to-mid 20s. It feels overwhelming to suddenly "adult" and figure out insurance plans, find honest car mechanics, dentists, jobs, loan payment schedules, and whatever else comes with being a fully-fledged grown up.

So, you need to recognize that this is a normal, good, and healthy transition to independence. To put it simply, you're now living in the "real" world. You learn by trial and error, and sometimes you lose money by making a poor choice on where to get your car tuned up. You're toughening up and wising up, and learning how to live with the consequences of your decisions and actions. The alternative to this transition is living a sugarcoated existence where your parents continue doing everything for you. So, while it may be a hard thing, keep in mind that it is a good thing and a normal thing. "Hard" does not necessarily mean "bad."

Second, it's normal to feel like you made all the wrong decisions.

Surviving this norm: Everyone second guesses whether they made the right choices. Roads look smoother from a distance; it's only when you get up close that you see the potholes. If you'd gone down a different path you'd be second guessing that one because you'd see the potholes. You may need to do some course-correcting if you made a really bad decision, but don't waste time and energy wishing you could undo the past. Focus forward and know that every class, menial job, and decision played a role in getting you where you are now, even if it was teaching you how to be a kinder or giving you a better idea of what you're good at.

Third, it's normal to feel lonely and depressed.

Surviving this norm: I'm so sad this has become the norm, but most people I've spoken with experience this on some level. Many of us experienced depression and loneliness in high school and had high hopes of this changing in college and beyond. Or, perhaps you were fortunate to have had wonderful community in high school and college, but now marriage, parenthood, work, relocation, or all of the above have made you feel isolated.

Making good friends and feeling like you're a valued part of a community can be difficult in our constantly changing, online-driven society. Friends are a gift we often don't appreciate until we don't have them. So, be proactive about making new face-to-face friends. Try new meet up groups or a new small group at church. Introduce yourself. Say hello to your neighbors. Bring them cookies. Look for ways to serve those around you. Keep your eyes open for others who may be lonely and without community. Think of friendship as something to give rather than something to get. By giving, you will automatically get, but this mindset will keep you from a place where you constantly feel slighted by other people. Also, keep in mind that you don't have to "click" with everyone you meet in order to be their friend. Lastly, pray that God will bring you some good friends. I'm not sure why we go through seasons where the friendship well runs dry, but keep praying and seeking, and you'll find some!

Finally, if you find yourself struggling with depression and anxiety, try to establish some good habits to help you with life. Exercise, eat well, get outside, volunteer somewhere, read new books, join a recreational whiffle ball league, etc. All these things will help your mind cope with the the stresses of life. It takes some action to get moving in the right direction, and the hardest thing is to take the first step out of a rut. However, if depression is a chronic problem that these things don't significantly help fix, or your thoughts turn very dark all the time, there is absolutely no shame in seeing a counselor or professional to help you heal your mind.

Fourth, it's normal not to feel fulfilled one hundred percent of the time.

Surviving this norm: We're fed this idea that our work and life are only worth something if we feel fulfilled, but that's simply not reality. No one can feel fulfilled 100% of the time. I've certainly never felt overwhelmed with fulfillment while teaching students scales and making sure their technique is correct, but I do it because it's how you create great musicians and singers. However, I do feel fulfillment when my students perform, land parts, and grow as artists and humans. The knowledge that I'm laying the foundation for this keeps me going when the fulfillment isn't there.

Fulfillment is something that is earned through commitment and hard work. It will come, but right now you're laying the foundation for a fulfilling life. No one likes watching cement dry, but it's needed in order to create a strong foundation for the rest of the home. Ultimately, sometimes the fulfillment of a job or task is in knowing you're being a responsible adult.

Fifth, it's normal to have your expectations challenged.

Surviving this norm: I've often joked that adulthood is 80 percent managing expectations, 20 percent looking for a pen, and 100 percent finding a pen and realizing it's out of ink and having to search all over again. Life isn't going to go as expected. Sometimes it will be better than you expect, sometimes it will be worse. You're learning how to "go with the flow" and appreciate today for what it is, not what it might lead to tomorrow. No matter how many inspirational memes you may read each day on Instagram, these are lessons that can only be learned by living.

Some final thoughts...

First, don't compare your life with others. You've probably heard this one before, but it's worth mentioning again because it's such an easy trap to fall into. Life will be hard for different people in different ways and it will be easy for people in different ways. Some people will be born with the ability to sing four octaves, some will barely be able to hold a tune. Some people can handle huge amounts of stress, while others need a significant amount of calm to function. Remember, social media only shows you one part of the story. You're not in a competition with the rest of the world to see who can have the best life. It's not a race, there is no prize. Take a breath. Put down the phone. (After you finish reading this blog, of course.) Eat a cookie. Carry on.

Second, train yourself to focus on eternal things, not immediate things. It's so easy to lose sight of why we're doing what we're doing. I don't care if you're parenting, working, or just pursuing hobbies, you need to remember why any of it matters. Ultimately, what you're doing brings glory to God. You are made in His image, and you were created to love and serve Him. One way you do that is by cultivating the earth and make it an organized, functional, and beautiful place. We serve a God of order and creativity and by doing anything that contributes to those two things we're reflecting His image. Unloading the dishwasher? Order. Writing a novel? Creativity. Changing a diaper? Order. (And sometimes creativity if you're on a plane.)

Third, it will not always be this hard. Sometimes it will be, but not always. Right now you're setting a track record. You're plowing the field and planting the seeds for your life. You're figuring out an education, job, relationships, friendships, marriage, babies, and whatever else comes with being a new adult. Things will be difficult, but you'll pull through and then the next time you go through something difficult you'll remember that you've done it before, and that'll give you the confidence that you can do it again. (Even if you really don't want to.)

In my 20s I had about $48,000 in debt, numerous low-paying part-time jobs that I didn't enjoy, no clear picture of what I wanted from a career, no discernible natural talent, and my personal trend was to quit or ghost when things got hard or uncomfortable. But, it was in my 20s that I learned how to work hard, develop skills, fall and get back up, navigate insurance deals, (That never stops being frustrating. You're welcome.) eat cheaply, shop at thrift stores, make friends, let things go, forgive, and stay in touch with people. I learned many of these lessons the hard way, through gut wrenching humiliation and sleepless nights. I survived, and I'm stronger and wiser for it.

I'm 33 now. I have no debt, too many wonderful friendships to count, and I not only love my job teaching music, but I'm good at it, it pays fairly, and it's work I find meaningful. On top of that, I frequently get to travel the country telling jokes and speaking. I couldn't have planned this life in my 20s when I was , but everything I did in my 20s prepared me for it without my knowing what it was going toward. Life isn't perfect, but it's nowhere near the anxiety and pressure I felt in my 20s. I wouldn't trade the wisdom I gained in my 20s for any amount of youth, no matter how much our society worships it.

If I have to leave you with one final piece of encouragement, it's this: God is already in the future, and things will be much less scarier when you're actually there. You is smart, you is kind, you is important. Now, get out there and live.

Monday, July 10, 2017

God's Will Is...

     Yesterday I returned from almost two weeks in Lima, Peru with Big World Ventures. (Next year they're going to Guatemala. Right now my plan is to be there, and you should definitely consider sending your teen or coming as a family. It is truly an incredible ministry that changes the lives of teens, and brings a lot of encouragement to the communities in the countries they visit.)

     While in Peru I spoke about the will of God to our group. I've noticed most high school and college students stress about whether or not the choices they're making at this stage are "God's will" for their life. 

     The evening before I gave my talk our group attended a church outside of Lima. I sat in the back of the church (I'm a back row sitter in every culture) with my bilingual friend Dave, asking occasionally for a translation of what they were saying, and reviewing my notes for the talk. In this warehouse in the middle of Villa el Salvador, where rows of plastic red chairs were set up, motorcycles parked behind seats, and cats roamed freely among the congregants, I watched cultures collide and kneel before the God that created them both. It was loud and chaotic and occasionally a wad of toilet paper would be passed down a row to someone who hadn't brought any. (Most bathrooms in Peru don't have toilet paper so people supply it themselves.) Worship lasted almost an hour, sermons and testimonies were given both in Spanish and English, friends were made through short conversations of remembered high-school Spanish, Facebook requests sent, and the whole 3-hour service ended with a clean-up dance party.

During the service I wrote this short reflection on God's will and shared it at the end of my talk.

What is God's Will? 

           God’s will is every act of mercy you show, every chore you do obediently, every kind word you say.

            God’s will is walking away from gossip, sitting in silence with a hurting friend, putting your head on your pillow at night and thanking God for the day.

            God’s will is getting up at 5am to make it to your job on time. It is loving your spouse through good times and bad. It is saying, “I’m hurting and I don’t understand,” and continuing to serve anyway, trusting your Heavenly Father will work even this for your good.

            God’s will is opening orphanages and bringing clean water to impoverished countries. It is handing out bulletins and greeting new faces at the church you’ve attended since you were a small child. It is organizing the church potluck and making sure the best casseroles aren’t all brought out at once, so that everyone gets some and not just those whose spiritual gift is being first in line.

            God’s will is writing a best selling novel. It is being president of a company and leading it with integrity. It is bringing people their food and tipping out when you go home at the end of the day.

            God’s will is celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and graduations. It is mourning the death of a spouse, child, or friend. It is saying, “Lord, I don’t know how I can get through this,” and waking up every day to God’s new mercies. It is realizing that when you weren’t strong enough to hold on to God, He held on to you.

            God’s will is being single and childless. It is taking what the world tells you is a deficiency and watching God turn it into a beautiful story. It is going when called, witnessing miracle after miracle, and living each day knowing Christ is enough.

            God’s will is repentance, humility, and obedience. It is feasting on His word and praying prayers both short and long. It is casting your burdens on Him because sometimes they’re too big for us and our backs get tired. It is reaching the end of the days He’s numbered for you and hearing God say, “Well done my good and faithful servant. Enter in to the joy of your master.”