Embracing the Chaos

I'm writing this as a personal reflection about some of the ways I've been challenged or some of the things I've learned in the past year. 

I've just gone through a season where it seems everything is confusing, chaotic and crazy. This craziness is exemplified because I’ve dedicated my life to living in a community and working with and around those experiencing homelessness.

The cries of desperation and pleas for survival over the cold months has been my experience every single year I’ve lived in Chicago. This insanity and chaos embraces Christmas, the month of December and goes well into the new year! Yet, I’m happy to say, this season has also always been a great time of blessing and being uplifted. But, it's not for the usual reasons.

During this past year, I have been challenged to embrace some attitudes in new and different ways. I’ve often heaped unnecessary guilt and shame upon myself because I tend to find fulfillment or meaning in things that make others question my sanity. Embracing these attitudes have helped me thoroughly enjoy this season, despite all the confusion, chaos and craziness that may befall me and those around me. 

Here is my brief reflection: 3 ways I've been challenged to use my gifts and embrace my flawed messed-up self. It's my challenge to not end up withering in self-pity, but rather to keep moving forward in a healthy and beneficial way. I hope they inspire you too...
  • Embrace what you enjoy, not what others tell you to enjoy! 
I've had to learn to be more and more real with myself. This is actually not easy, because we often get told what we should enjoy and accept, but we are also told what is mundane and what we should despise! There are expectations on us to accept the cultural norms of fun or our “pursuits of happiness”. 

When we embrace what we enjoy, there will always be people who won't believe us, tell us we’re being self-righteous, even ridicule us, thinking we’re insane because we do what we do with satisfaction. Societal prods, peer pressure, and the constant media feed cause too many of us to end up sadly enduring what is perceived as fun (even though we may hate it), instead of embracing the things that give us life, energy, and meaning. 

I don’t see working with those experiencing homelessness as an obligation! I don't feel going to jail as some tiresome spiritual mandate! I love doing the things I am privileged to do! The reality is, even though I work where things can be highly stressful, very depressing and quite frustrating at times, I thoroughly enjoy it. Overall, these things give me life, energy, and meaning. I feel this deep longing to see equality and justice realized in this world. I believe as followers of Jesus, He calls us to bring Heaven to earth, announcing and proclaiming his new Kingdom. I long to see God's way actualized, where the weak and marginalized are not oppressed, judged and brutalized, but are elevated, respected and honored by all those to claim to follow Jesus!

I know I'm viewed strangely, and I'm learning not to care or do something because others tell me too! God made me with specific drives, gifts, and longings, so I have absolutely no desire to read a trashy pointless novel to relax, in fact, it is more likely to stress me out. I feel rejuvenated when I’m able to go share the good news in Cook County Jail or I’m able to walk around the neighborhood and fellowship with my friends on the street. 

Everyone is different, everyone is unique, and I’m getting to know me and more fully embrace the “strange” things I enjoy; despite what others think! 
  • Embrace your anxiety, use it for good and benefit from it! 
As a follower of Jesus, the word “anxiety” has always had this negative and guilt-ridden connotation. This comes from those verses that tell us to "not be anxious" or "do not fear", thinking that God is angry at me and judging me for being anxious. This also stems from Christians who have inadvertently piled anxiety upon my anxiety with phrases like “stop being anxious” and "such feelings are sinful". I find that when I try to blast these emotions into utter oblivion, my anxieties and fears only rapidly intensify with increased guilt. It's a vicious cycle!

I've often felt that in not being able to squash it, I don't believe Jesus, Paul or any of the other biblical authors who penned such words. Yet I don't feel they ever intended their readers to rack up so much crippling guilt. I believe they intended their words to help people grow in the life, freedom, and love God calls us to live. 

I know if I hid from my anxiety, I'd never live-out what I mentioned in my first point (embrace what I enjoy), which would no-doubt send me into a downward spiral and, would ironically result in crippling anxiety and depression. I have been there before (as a "scared-to-come-out-of-my-room" suicidal teenager) and therefore have absolutely no desire to return!

I am discovering that anxiety is not something to run away from, hide from or squash, it is something to embrace. My anxious thoughts are becoming something that empowers me, not cripples me. By not running from them, I feel strengthened in my weakness. It helps me rely on God, take risks and leap into the unknown. Embracing our anxiety and fears takes faith and courage, and this is what I believe the biblical authors intended by these verses. They knew that when we take such leaps of faith, we don't let our anxieties consume us, and God's Kingdom and power will move in our midst and bring about change. 

It's a journey, a long complicated journey, but I can say that if I had let my fears and anxiety control me, there's no way I'd be going into Jail regularly, preaching at The Bridge, doing outreach or even working with those experiencing homelessness. I have chickened out of many things countless times, but I'm thankful for the risks I've taken and I'm excited about where embracing my anxiety will lead me next!
  • Embrace your gifts and realize you’re not an intruder or imposter! 
I’ve lived a lot of my life thinking I’m not worthy or good enough, especially when I compare myself to others. These feelings are no joke; ask people who knew me in my childhood, I was a shy kid who'd nervously follow others, quiver in my anxieties and believe I was an imposter. I believed everyone else had the gifts and talents, so I would shrink into the background and hope to be ignored. I believed I had nothing to offer. Looking back, these thoughts of inferiority and invisibility really helped push me into a depression that truly knocked me down for quite a while.

These feelings are hard to shake. I still often struggle with the thoughts that I am simply an imposter or intruder, and therefore I should get out of the way so the really gifted and talented folks can come in and work their magic. 

Just as I have had to embrace my anxieties, I'm learning to embrace my gifts and talents. I'm learning that I do have something to offer! I'm learning that I have as much right to be in a room as anyone else and that my opinions do matter. I'm learning to trust in the One who created me and endowed me with unique talents and desires to do certain things, and therefore I'm not an imposter, but a guy just trying to "be human".

I know Jesus turned it all upside down by bringing his Kingdom where all his children are loved and can use their gifts and thrive. Jesus didn't come to us so the rich, talented and powerful can continue to dominate, but rather His Kingdom is where the poor, sick and weak can rise up and be used by Him. His Church shouldn't be segregated and exclusive, but rather where the "first shall be last and the last, first" is realized and lived out. The beautiful thing about the Kingdom of God is "power is perfected in weakness", giving us all worth and the opportunity to be used to help bring "heaven to earth". 

When I case-work, I feel I'm incapable of helping who needs to be helped! When I do outreach, I feel there are those more talented and gifted. When I preach at the Bridge, I know I'm surrounded by better and more eloquent preachers! When I go to Jail, I don't feel worthy and worry about what I'm going to say. When I put on my activist hat, my experience is small compared to those around me and I often feel worthless. When I look at others, see the obstacles, and focus on my weaknesses, I want to run away, but this is where faith comes in, as I'm learning to embrace my gifts and I've seen God use me. 

As someone who struggles with a social anxiety disorder, it's a miracle I wander around the neighborhood doing outreach, it's a miracle I preach at The Bridge and it's a miracle I have the privilege to do what I do!  

I'm writing this is to encourage us all to embrace what we enjoy, our anxieties and gifts. We don't have to be perfect, have the "right" education or be "as good" as the person next to us. We all have something to offer! We all have gifts and the Spirit moves in ways we'll never know, bringing about change and His Kingdom in our midst. 

My belief is that we limit ourselves and Jesus longs to empower us and make us “more than conquerors.” My belief is that Jesus wants to use us for His Kingdom and take us on a journey that we often doubt we could ever travel on. My belief is that the love God has for each of us takes us into a world where the seemingly impossible becomes possible! 

I doubt too, so I pray with the distressed father who approached Jesus and begged him, “I do believe; help my unbelief!” 

Take the risk! Embrace courage, embrace faith and embrace the One who uses our weaknesses and uses them to bring His glory, His justice, His compassion and His Love into this messed up world. 
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