Thank You, Dirk

basket ball rack

Attached to this post, you will see two pictures. One is of a basketball hoop in the driveway that I have literally spent thousands of hours in, and the other is of a poster that has hung in the same place in my room for roughly 12 years. Neither of these things probably mean anything to you, but if you know me, you know that they mean a great deal to me.

Dirk Nowitzki was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks on June 24, 1998, and was traded to the Dallas Mavericks that same night. This was roughly four months before I was born. Not a second of my life has gone by where Dirk has not been a forward for the NBA team that plays its games roughly 40 minutes from my hometown. I have literally not known a life without Dirk being the centerpiece of the Mavericks.

It is now April 10, 2019. I am nearing the end of my sophomore year of college, and Dirk has officially reached the end of his NBA career. I understand that getting sentimental and emotional over sports can be real weird for some people, but just allow me to explain.

I have always been an incredibly anxious person. Growing up, just talking to people became almost like a nightmare. I was constantly in my head about the most minuscule things, and the thought of initiating any sort of conversation with people, in general, can still cause me to just freeze up. I love listening to people, but having full-length conversations has generally proven to be difficult for me.

But, there’s something about basketball that completely relinquishes every anxiety that I have. Every time I step onto that driveway, or any sort of court, all my energy is focused on getting that round ball into the hoop. Fear, doubt, stress, anxiety, all of it fades into the background. Basketball has been a safe haven for me, and I have no idea what I would do without it.

dirk poster

The poster that you see here was purchased at a book fair (I think) around the year 2007. Admittedly, I don’t really have any basketball-related memories before that point in my life, except that I loved the sport and I thought Dirk looked really cool on the poster (which is just a fact). As I got a little older, I started to gravitate more and more towards him, but not simply because he was the star player on my favorite team. He was a tall, lanky white guy with messy hair. I was/am a tall, lanky white guy with messy hair. He had a more low-key personality off the court. I had/have a more low-key personality. He wasn’t really all that athletic for the majority of his career. Lord knows I have never been that great of an athlete. He was this larger-than-life figure that I looked up to, but I saw a lot of myself in him, even as a child. Naturally, I spent hours upon hours trying to perfect his moves (to the point of getting called “Baby Dirk” in middle school, perhaps my proudest moment lol).

More than that though, I got to build some level of confidence in myself because of what I could do on the court. I still was pretty bad at holding conversations, but if we walk onto the court or start talking about hoops, there was some sort of transformation inside me. I had this newfound boldness in me that I hadn’t seen anywhere else. It’s like basketball, along with sports in general, has this language that automatically brings people together. It’s so bizarre that you could have nothing in common with an individual, but the moment you two step out onto the court, you are connected. And for someone who always felt like he had trouble connecting with people because of anxiety, this was huge for me. I started to form real relationships. Ministry opportunities started to arise. Basketball has been steadily breaking down the walls of anxiety that I have, and Dirk is the main reason for that. I had somebody to look to when it came to my game, and that opened so many doors for me.

Even more than that though, Dirk has been an incredible role model off the court. We’ve entered an age in the NBA where players are constantly looking for how their organizations can serve them. It’s an era where if a player is unhappy with the service they are receiving from their team, they are encouraged to find a team that will give them what they want. While I understand where players are coming from (as organizations may strive to take advantage of their players), I think this “me-first” mentality can build a really toxic environment around your team, your organization, and even your city. I think when you look for how you can serve your team, on and off the court, you build such a tight bond with everyone around you, regardless of team success or individual accolades.

I think when you look for how you can serve your team, on and off the court, you build such a tight bond with everyone around you, regardless of team success or individual accolades.

Dirk has been an incredible example of a player with a “team-first” mindset. He has taken far too many pay cuts in an attempt to give the Mavericks more flexibility in signing bigger stars. He has done so much for the community of Dallas, including an annual celebrity baseball game that supports charity and dozens of visits to local children’s hospitals as “Uncle Dirk.” He even gave up his starting role this season so that younger players could flourish sooner.

If I’m being completely honest, I could talk about Dirk for ages, but I’m not going to do that (kinda already have lol). I will just leave with this: Thank you, Dirk. Thank you for giving me confidence where I had none. Thank you for being such an amazing role model for so many young kids like me growing up in North Texas. Thank you for beating Kobe, Kevin Durant, AND LeBron all in the same playoff run; that was sick.

Thank you for 21 incredible seasons.

Thank you, Dirk.

Written by Ryan (NEW: Click on author’s name to learn more about him or her!)

Thompson, Ryan. Thank You Dirk Post. Facebook, 10 Apr. 2019, 10:02 p.m., https://www.facebook.com/superzjryan. Accessed 12 Apr. 2019.

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Handling Criticism: Five Lessons from The Great British Baking Show

Handling criticism is hard. Regardless of whether the feedback you receive is constructive or destructive, listening to someone’s honest opinion about your work is never easy. If you’re a creator of anything, from art to poetry, music to prose, photography to food, you know the courage it takes to submit your work to the inspection and judgment of others.

Last year, I personally learned how challenging it can be to receive criticism. For six months, I worked to craft a short story I believed worthy of admiration. I then entered it into a contest in which a judge would provide me with feedback and I would have the possibility of winning the grand prize: publication alongside four other contestants. Waiting for the results, I told myself repeatedly that I would not be upset by the outcome. However, no amount of positive self-talk could have prepared me for the crushing blow that was dealt: no grand prize as well as negative feedback from the judge. I even missed out on being named an honorable mention.

I brooded quietly for several months after, dejected and full of self-pity, wondering why I had even tried. Then one day, as I was watching one of my favorite TV series, The Great British Baking Show (TGBBS), I got to thinking about what it means to properly and professionally handle criticism. If you have ever seen this wonderful show, you know just how brave those twelve bakers are to submit their creations to the judgment of Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. Their often ruthless and unforgiving assessment of the contestants’ bakes can sometimes leave me cringing in my seat, but the way in which the bakers handle this feedback is always something worthy of praise.

After watching nearly every season of TGBBS, I have learned five valuable lessons about how to handle criticism.

  1. Remember that everybody has different taste buds.

Just because one person dislikes your creation doesn’t mean everyone will! There have been many times on TGBBS when bakers receive criticism from the judges on a bake that their family or co-workers adore and eat regularly. Other times, Mary and Paul disagree on the quality of a bake depending on how much alcohol the baker adds. Still other times, bakers graciously accept the judges’ criticism but share with the audience that they personally enjoy the bake. The fact is, no two persons are alike when it comes to appreciating food; similarly, no two persons are alike when it comes to appreciating art, literature, or anything else creative. Never let the criticism you receive from one person or one group of people dissuade you from sharing your creation with others.

  1. Accept when something you made is stodgy.

The ability to see your creation from another person’s point of view and accept his or her criticism is the sign of a truly confident and mature creator. It’s never easy for a Great-British-Baking-Show contestant to hear the dreaded word “stodgy,” but I have never once witnessed a baker who didn’t accept the evaluation with grace and dignity. In fact, many of the bakers are so self-aware that they approach the gingham altar knowing a poor critique is imminent and justified. Is this willingness to concede to the judge’s point of view a sign of weakness? Quite the opposite! Accepting criticism is the first step in growing to become a stronger, more experienced creator of any art form.

  1. Find your Mel and Sue!

Perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve learned from TGGBS is that you can’t make it on your own as a creator. Just as the hosts of the show, Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, encourage the twelve bakers through thick or thin, so you must find the people in your life who will lift you up when you hit rock bottom. Much like the delicately balanced flavors of a cake, making it in this world as a creator also requires balance between the criticism you receive from judges offset by the encouragement you receive from friends and family. Only then can you truly be successful as a creator.

  1. Don’t be afraid to cry.

There’s no shame in tears; they show that you care passionately about your creations. Oftentimes on TGBBS, bakers come away from a harsh critique with tears in their eyes, asking themselves why they’re so terribly upset. “It’s only a cake, after all,” they state rationally. “Am I really crying over a biscuit?” others ask themselves, laughing through the tears. But the fact is, it isn’t just a bake, or a poem, or a painting, or a song. It’s what each of those creations represent: the hard work, time, and care put into creating it. Never be afraid to mourn a failure so long as you do not lose the will to try again!

  1. Live to bake another day.

Winston Churchill, a remarkable Brit much like the twelve Great-British-Baking-Show contestants, once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” While the criticism that many bakers receive from Paul and Mary is often harsh, not one of them walks away from the experience lacking the will to continue growing as a baker. This lesson, although simple, is perhaps the hardest to put into action, but it is also the most important. Criticism is hard to handle, but we must, and we shall, so that we too can live to create another day.

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Written by Meredith

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Calculating Your Way Through Life

Pre-Alegebra, Algebra, Geometry, Algebra II, Pre-Calculus, Calculus, Pre-College Math, Intermediate Algebra, Math for Liberal Arts, College Algebra, Finite Math, College Calculus, Elementary Probability and Statistics, Introduction to Linear Algebra, Analytic Geometry, Discrete Math, Math Content, Essential Geometry, Abstract Algebra, and the list goes on. Every high school and college is determined to cram as much math down our throats as possible before releasing us into the real world. As an English aficionado, I rebelled against the system as much as I could, by putting off algebra until 9th grade, squeaking out of high school without having to touch real calculus, CLEPing out of College Algebra, and selecting a major that only requires two math classes. I didn’t care how much my mother, teachers, and professors assured me that I was good at math or how many A’s were slapped on my Algebra exams. Three credit hours and a CLEP test later, I was gonna be done with math for the rest of my life… Or so I thought.

I graduated from pre-nursing here at DBU, and I had 8 months of freedom in the real world, until I would begin my two year adventure of nursing school. I decided to plan ahead and be productive, as my professors taught during their mere sixteen weeks with me each of my four semesters at DBU. I had heard from multiple sources that working during nursing school was nearly impossible, so saving up enough money with this eight months gifted to me should probably be a priority during my time of nothingness.

So, Responsible Michelle got a job; well, she got another job, technically, because she already had her marvelous job at the DBU Writing Center. She got a job as a medical scribe. But because she had two occupations, she started living like she had disposable income. She ate out with her friends several times a week, bought Starbucks whenever she wanted, frequented Sonic for her favorite Mini Reese’s Sonic Blast with M&Ms, bought Ed Sheeran tickets for her sister’s birthday, and otherwise lived like a queen, even taking her parents out to eat a couple of times. Then, one day, she decided to check on how her savings were going for nursing school, only to find they really had not grown at all. In fact, they were smaller than they had been when she graduated from DBU. Responsible Michelle learned that she was not responsible at all. Responsible Michelle then realized all of those math and finance classes she took in high school and college were not lying when they tried to teach her that if she spends more than she makes, she will not be able to save any money. Emphasis on tried.

Even as “Responsible Michelle,” she still needed a game plan. She didn’t work 40+ hours a week to enter nursing school in the same financial situation that she had when she had graduated from DBU. I needed (drum roll please)… a budget. (Insert face palm and crying emoji here.)

There were two ways I could do this. Thankfully, I had actually been paying attention in math class when budgeting was explained. I knew I could write down on paper all the needs, wants, and expenses I expected each month and assign appropriate percentages of predicted paychecks to each item on the list. However, I had a goal. I couldn’t just will-nilly buy every Starbucks, Sonic, and Ed Sheeran wanted. I had to save enough money to survive a whole semester just in these few months, no matter how much that Grande White Mocha with Peppermint was calling my name.

Seven hundred and fifty dollars per month is what I needed to save! With four of the eight months left I had to try to be responsible, the savings would total an additional $3000 dollars that could be added to the bank account. Problem: this would only leave, give or take, $250 dollars a month. (I see those raised eyebrows. I chose these jobs for the experience, not the money. If you can find a medical job that pays more than $8 an hour but does not require any certifications or medical training, let me know.) I had recently acquired a car, thanks to my parents’ moving overseas, but that now meant that I needed money for gas, oil, repairs, and insurance (none of which are cheap, when you often drive 45 minutes to get to work, believe me), in addition to all the other expenses I already had each month.

I grimaced as I opened the calculator on my phone. Why, oh why, had it come down to this? Enough complaining; I needed to get it done. So I got down to business. I added up the hours I would work in each paycheck, which differed every day because I rarely worked the same hours each week. I then remembered it was not as simple as taking that number and multiplying it by the number of dollars I made for each of those hours. Oh, no, the government had to take its chunk out of that hard-earned money first. Since I was paid hourly, I used an online website to do that part of the calculation for me. I did this for both paychecks for the month. Too much math to recount later, I had the amount of money I would earn that month.

Somewhere along this journey, I found the Dave Ramsey app EveryDollar (which I highly recommend, btw). I inputted my income information for September into this app, and I then started the process of subtracting out the things I knew would be charged to my account that month (sigh). There was a bunch of math required surrounding my car, from having to calculate the mileage of my car to calculating the number of miles I drove to and from work every day. Then I had to add in the periodic oil changes, insurance payments, and unexpected maintenance. The monthly payments for my child sponsorship and Spotify membership, and the yearly payments for Amazon Prime were also subtracted from this amount. I had so much math to do, but I did it all!

I finally breathed a sigh of relief. I had spent hours doing all of these initial calculations, but it was done. That first month, I could not go out to eat, buy another Starbucks, or really do anything that I wanted to do. But the next month, I was able to do a little more, and, the next, even more. I started catching up. Budgeting seemed horrible to me at first, like a grumpy parent that wouldn’t let me do anything. But I no longer second guessed my buying choices, and my heart didn’t sink when I had an unexpected expense. A plan was in place, and I put what I wanted and needed into that plan. My life was a little less stressful, as I knew I would now have plenty of extra money for nursing school, while still having enough for gas and groceries. I knew at the very beginning of the month how much money I needed to make when arranging babysitting jobs or extra shifts. My life had the structure it needed to make it easier now and more rewarding by achieving future goals.

Goodbye, oh beautiful Pumpkin Spice Latte with those crunchy orange sprinkles and frothy whipped cream. Goodbye, my sweet, savory PeiWei Original with Chicken and noodles, my love. My dear Ed, while I adore your perfect skill and sessions of thinking out loud together, there is a higher calling for those numbers in my savings account. I am on to better things, to higher things, things that, sadly, outweigh my love for all of you. My bank account requires more of me, a better me, and a version of me that understands what is really a priority in this life. I need to again become and further aspire to be Responsible Michelle.

Written by Michelle

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DBU is Home: A Godly Experience

“I don’t want to just pick a school, I want something more… an experience.” I’d been saying that since I first made my list of colleges to tour, but it was important to say it once more while flipping through the list of colleges on my ‘to tour’ list.

“It’s only the first tour, let’s just see what they have to offer,’ my mother chirped as we chapeldrove to the Dallas Baptist University campus of Dallas.

“Wow! Look at this campus. It’s beautiful,” my mother said, facing the chapel with its steeple reaching the Heavens and the view of crisp blue waters engulfing its backside. Astonished by the beauty and calmness of the campus, I found myself easily distracted from the patriot preview guide; I could barely manage to keep up with the group. Throughout the course of the tour, campus wanderers offered big smiles and courtesy like I had not seen in quite some time. When inquiring about my aspirations and interests, faculty and staff seemed genuinely intrigued. Enveloped in amazement after only a couple of hours, I’d felt a sense of community exceeding that which I’d known my whole life. By now, I was already pretty excited about the possibility of being surrounded by a community of caring and loving people, but what came next sealed the deal with DBU.

After touring all the hangout hubs, study spots, and intimate classrooms, we attended a chapel session. Inside the beautiful building, inspired by the First Baptist Church of America, were the ceiling and walls decorated with encouraging verses. An elegant stained glass image of Jesus praying to God stood above the pulpit and adorned the gigantic sanctuary, and near it stood a student praise team that sang with conviction. After the songs, a prophetic message was given by a faculty member that moved the crowd to their feet.

It is easy to see that God is present on this campus, and He has filled the hearts of those He called to be at DBU. I realized that here, I have been given the freedom to praise God openly and granted the opportunity to do so with a community of other Believers who like me, not only sought a college degree but an experience- a Godly experience. Overwhelmed and amazed by the Holy Spirit and with joy in my heart, I claimed Dallas Baptist University as my home.

Written by Ashley

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The Burial of Jesus

By the time Joseph made his way from Pilate’s palace to Golgotha, the crowds had dispersed. Most of the throngs of violent protesters and adoring followers left when the sky went dark earlier in the afternoon; those who had endured that bizarre experience scattered when the earthquake came.

Now there just seemed to be Romans milling around the crosses. Even the group of men and women who had followed Jesus so closely for the past two years were nowhere to be seen. Rumor had it that it was one of those 12 men who had betrayed their leader to the mob. Not that Joseph had any judgment to pass. After all, nobody knew he, too, was a disciple. At least, not yet; after what he was about to do, there would be no doubting his loyalties.

The mercenaries had already removed the bodies of the other criminals from their crosses; they would be thrown in mass graves and left to rot. Unless somebody intervened, Jesus’ body would meet the same fate. Even if the disciples hadn’t abandoned their Rabbi, Joseph knew the poor fishermen lacked the means to pay for a proper Jewish burial. Even Joseph, one of the wealthiest members of the Sanhedrin, could not pull together that kind of money on short notice. His personal tomb would have to suffice for his Master.

At the right cross, Joseph was startled to discover a familiar figure kneeling cautiously over the broken body of Jesus.

“Nicodemus?”

The Sanhedrin councilman looked up. He smiled. “Hello, Joseph. Have you come to do the same thing I’m here to do?”

Joseph scrambled to produce Pilate’s sealed letter releasing the body to him. “I have permission to lay him in my own tomb. It’s just across the garden. Roman guards have been ordered to help seal the cave and ensure nothing… happens.”

Nicodemus smiled again. “My friend, I’m not here to stop you.”

For the first time, Joseph noticed the loaded cart behind Nicodemus. Even over the stench of death he thought he could smell a hint of myrrh and aloe—spices used for Jewish burial.

A forgotten memory suddenly flashed to mind: one of the first times the Jewish council had attempted to arrest Jesus. When the Sanhedrin ridiculed the temple police for marveling at Jesus instead of putting him to death, only one member had risen to his defense. “Our law doesn’t judge a man before it hears from him and knows what he’s doing, does it?” Nicodemus had asked. Joseph felt shame to also remember that at the time he had been among those who mocked Nicodemus for his boldness and support of the Nazarene.

“I would appreciate your help,” Joseph admitted. Wordlessly, the two men began to adorn Jesus’ body in Joseph’s burial cloths and Nicodemus’ fragrances. Both men were rich, powerful scholars who could recite the Law from memory, but their hands fumbled with the material and clumsily spilled the expensive spices.

When they appeared to be finished, Joseph stepped back to evaluate their work. “Is it good enough?” he asked.

Nicodemus arched his brow. “Do you imagine that anything we do for him could ever be good enough?”

Together, the men gingerly laid Jesus on Nicodemus’ cart, and Joseph led the way to the tomb. “Nicodemus,” he inquired, “Did you ever speak to him personally? I never did myself…I was too afraid.”

“Once,” Nicodemus answered. “I went to him at night, in secret. I, too, was afraid.”

Joseph was impressed. “You had a private audience with Jesus?”

“An audience!” Nicodemus scoffed. “I got a strong personal lecturing from the Rabbi. I came to him a prideful fool, and I left still a fool, but a humble one for sure. He told me that I had to be born again—not of the flesh but of the Spirit—that because Yahweh so dearly loves the world, he gave his son, and those who believe in the son will live forever.” He shook his head. “I was a fool, I tell you.”

Live forever? Joseph glanced down at the lifeless form in the cart. If only Jesus had lived forever! “You must have thought he was crazy,” he said to Nicodemus.

The man plucked a purple iris from along the path and tucked it in his cloak. “That’s what I wanted to believe. I wanted him to be crazy so that I might be sane, so that the fabric of my life would not unravel at the seams. Everything he taught runs against the current of the Sanhedrin’s teachings, yet it was in being swept up by his river of truth that I really was born of the Spirit. No, Joseph, I knew from the day I spoke with him that Jesus was not crazy, and it terrified me more than the fear of others.”

Joseph could relate. He recalled the moment he first felt a stirring within his soul, a flicker of light and hope that told him without a doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was not a blasphemer. And as beautiful as it was, it had terrified him, too.

“This must be your tomb,” Nicodemus observed, “unless Pilate sends his personal guard to pay respects to all the dead.”

Snapping out of his thoughts, Joseph realized his most personal experience with Jesus had already come to an end. They had arrived at the tomb, and the Romans were waiting to seal the entrance.

He and Nicodemus lifted their Rabbi from the cart and took him inside. Laying the body on the cold stone gave Joseph an indescribable feeling in the pit of his stomach. He was grateful to have a fellow disciple at his side. “Do you really believe he was God?” Joseph intended the question to be personal but found himself speaking the words aloud.

Nicodemus removed the iris from his cloak and laid it down—not on Jesus’ body as would be proper tribute—but next to his hand, as if he thought the Rabbi might like to pick it up and smell it. “Do I believe he was God?” Nicodemus smiled for the third time that night, and even in the dimly lit tomb, the joy on his face was radiant. “Jesus is God.”

Written by Savanna

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Take Care of Your Characters

Have you ever been writing a story and get the worst writer’s block? Maybe you simply can’t figure out where the plot should go or why your characters are even in the situation in the first place. If you’ve had this experience, don’t worry. You are not alone. (If you haven’t, then I am jealous of your talent.) A good method to use when you get writer’s block is to focus on your characters. The plot is definitely the main element of a story, but the characters have a huge impact on where the plot is going.

If you’re like me, then you can get caught up in all the plot details like how Person A and Person B will finally fall in love and be together or how the hero will climb out of the hopeless situation he’s been thrown into. These, along with many other types of plot details, rely on characters. If you can figure out what you want your character’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations to be, then you can figure out where your story is going.

One thing I like to do in order to keep everything organized in my brain and give me a visual aid is make character sheets. I compile a list of all the things I would want to know about my character. And this isn’t limited to a simple description like eye color, hair style, body type, and clothing. Although appearances can give certain clues to the identities of people, they do not tell the entire story. You can also list personality traits. What mood are they in most of the time? Give both the good and bad side of their character. Also, list some other random facts about them. What annoys your character to the nth degree? What can they simply not resist? What is their sense of humor like? What are their greatest fears? Do they have any deep, dark secrets? All of these attributes can affect your characters’ actions and therefore guide the plot of your story in a specific direction.

If you’ve got all this stuff down already, then maybe it’s time for a plot twist of some sort; you may need something unexpected to happen. Well, this may sound harsh, but to do this, you’ll probably need to put your character through a little (or a lot) of turmoil. But don’t be afraid to be mean to your characters. A lot of the time, the most influential moment in a novel or short story is when something negatively impacts the characters, especially the main protagonist. If they take something for granted, take it away, whether it be an object or a person. It will cause them to either change routes or test their commitment to a certain path. Maybe they have a belief or a certain someone or something they believe in. Make them doubt it. Make them confused. They may choose to seek out another truth or maybe they will overcome it and have a new, stronger faith. Remember their worst fears? Use them. They could fall in defeat or overcome it.

I used a couple of these methods when I was in one of my creative slumps as I was writing one of my fantasy stories. I specifically turned to my protagonist’s loved ones. My young, orphaned heroine had recently begun to form a positive and growing relationship with her newfound father figure and mentor, and she couldn’t have felt happier or safer with him. The plot grew to a standstill because the protagonist felt too safe and had no reason to move forward in her quest, so I decided that this was the time the villain should strike and take away this new safety from my heroine. I didn’t exactly kill the beloved mentor off, but I left barely enough hope for the heroine to hold onto so that she would have the motivation to continue her quest and fulfill her destiny in my story. Saving him and the goal of her quest became the same, so if she believed that she could save her mentor, then she would have the motivation to fulfill her destiny in completing her quest.

You can use these concepts and techniques to both develop your characters’ identities and push the story forward. Thinking about your characters, their actions, their beliefs, their fears will help aim the plot of your story in a certain direction. Without your characters, there would be no story.

Written by Taylor Hayes

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Under the Stars and City Lights

The first time I drove myself to college at night, I was shoved off the interstate onto the wrong exit and got lost in downtown Dallas. As a somewhat inexperienced driver who had been downtown only once in fourth grade, to say I was terrified is an understatement of massive proportions.

The scene that greeted me only heightened my fear. The buildings were old and run-down, nothing like the glittering skyscrapers I had seen from the highway. It seemed like the lanes were two sizes too small and were always going the wrong way. And the nearby pedestrians… well, I could tell they weren’t exactly hitting up the Myerson Symphony Center anytime soon.

I pulled into a gas station and drew a deep breath (after making double-sure my car doors were locked). There were only a couple of other cars in the station, but the empty parking lot next door was practically paved with glittery glass shards. I could only imagine what had transpired over there—where those glass shards came from and how they got there—and I couldn’t help but feel vulnerable. My hands were shaking, not from the January chill as much as from fright, as I pulled out my phone to Google Map my way to campus.

I passed that parking lot on my way back to the interstate and didn’t think about it again.

About a year later, in the following December, I found myself burned out on the service project I had been doing for the last two and a half years. Despite the project being similar to what I had grown up doing (working with children), I never felt that invested, and I knew I was wasting valuable time (which is a whole other blog). I was growing miserable; I dreaded service every week, and I hated that such was the case. Service was supposed to be fulfilling and rife with opportunities to see God at work, not stressful.

Hearing about my struggle, a friend suggested I join him for his service project. He had been serving in a homeless ministry ever since I had known him, but I didn’t know much about it. I was curious, and I knew it would be safer if I went in a group, so I agreed.

We carpooled with some other DBU students and made our way to the city. I wasn’t driving this time, but I recognized the dark parts of town, and the nerves began to take over again. However, with my friend in the seat next to me and my pride to maintain, I forced my anxiety to stay in my head.

We parked in front of a bakery, and the whole group convened in an empty parking lot—one I recognized as the one I had seen on my little expedition back in January. Before I could fully process that realization, the leader of our group started explaining what was happening. This wasn’t just a ministry or some offshoot of a bigger church—it was a whole, independent church that met outside and served the streets of downtown Dallas. We, as volunteers, were to walk the streets and ask anyone we came across if they had any prayer requests or were interested in free Chik-Fil-A.

Every alarm bell I had went off. For twenty years, I was told to never speak to strangers and to avoid compromising situations of all types, and I was being asked to break both of those principles at the same time. And there were no children in sight to hide behind.

The friend I had come with, of course, was a nonplussed pro, only shooting me a quizzical look at my expression before someone started to pray.

Pray I did—and with my eyes open, too. (I know, so rebellious.) I had no idea what to expect as I trotted behind my group for the rest of the night.

One year after that fateful Wednesday night, I have been attending West End Church almost every week. I’ve been able to serve actively in ways I never was able to serve in my home church, and I’ve found fulfillment in a place I never thought I would. I have never feared for my own safety; instead, I have grown more comfortable with and more aware of my surroundings. And, most significantly, I have learned so much about how people relate to each other and to God.

I’ll be frank: I grew up in what most people would call a rich-kid town. Even though my family wasn’t particularly well-off compared to some of our neighbors, I was still raised with certain expectations for everyday life. Even though I knew these expectations were unrealistic for most of the world, it never really changed the way I thought or behaved. It took some time hanging out downtown twice a week with people who live such a different life from my own to really make that knowledge real and relatable.

Just driving through that scene wasn’t enough. I actually had to leave my comfort zone—get out of the car—and interact with the things that frightened me to discover what life in the city streets was really like. Most of the things I was scared of turned out to be much less scary when I obeyed God’s leading, and I’ve grown tremendously as a result. I’ve learned that the places that look the least God-like are the places where He wants to send us, to mold us and shape us all into kingdom-minded followers.

And you know what? I still don’t know what to expect each time I cross that parking lot and venture onto the streets. I’ve learned to face the unexpected with grace—or at least more grace than I had the first time I was down there. My comfort zone stretches just a little bit more every week, and even when the weather is cold or wet and I just want to go inside, I love it.

Written by Catherine

Image credit: Charles Guo, a member of the church. The friend who first invited me is mysteriously missing from this picture, but there are plenty of other friends here!