The Caravan Outside Campus

It is the dead of winter. Normally, I would be at home with my family recovering from the holidays, but not today. I am at school—or, more accurately, at work. My on-campus job has called me in to cover a shift, just for a day or two. I am more than happy to comply, and not just because I prefer to keep my job. Since I’m only going to be at school for two days, my parents have granted me control of one of the family cars, which is a rare treat that I fully intend to enjoy.

Like a true rebel, I am going to go off-campus and pick up a nice Chipotle burrito with the hour I have off for lunch. (So edgy, I know.) I hop in my dad’s little silver Accord, adjust the hedgehog ornament hanging from the rearview mirror, and back out of the parking lot, feeling like a real grown-up. As I coast to a stop at the edge of campus, I’m singing with the radio, and all is right with the world.

I look to my left, and I see a few cars heading in my direction. Being the overly-cautious driver I am, I decide to wait for them to pass, since there’s no one behind me to scold me with a blaring horn. It isn’t until it’s too late that I realize how slowly they’re driving and how many cars there are. They’re all in the right lane, hazard lights blinking out of sync with one another.

Baffled, I look up the street to determine the source of this slow-moving party, and one car, ominously long and black, stands out from all the rest. Red, white, and blue fabric flaps from the car’s roof. Suddenly, I remember the last time I attended a DBU baseball game, when the entire stadium dropped everything and paused to quietly stand at attention as, in the near distance, a trumpet played a long, sad song. I remember the one thing I constantly forget about the Dallas Baptist University campus:

Its next-door neighbor is the Dallas/Fort Worth National Cemetery.

I freeze. Breathing too loudly no longer feels appropriate. One by one, the cars in the caravan pass by, the passengers barely giving me and my hedgehog a passing glance.

Reality crashes down on me as I realize that someone in this caravan sacrificed everything for the freedom I was relishing just a few seconds ago. Without that person, I might not have the funding to attend school. I might not have my job, which is a work-study position. Without this person, I might not be able to take off at my leisure and go as I please. Without this sacrifice, I might not be able to choose from a plethora of restaurants just a few miles down the road. I might not have a car at my disposal. I might not even have a driver’s license. Without this person’s willing and selfless sacrifice, nothing I am doing at this moment, none of these little things I rarely stop to consider, would be guaranteed.

In a daze, I realize one of the cars is coming to a stop, and I see the driver kindly wave at me. I shake my head and gesture at them to keep going, and they acknowledge me with another wave. Part of me wonders why they would risk making the drivers behind them mad for stopping, but then I remember why they’re all here. That one person is not the only one who has given up everything for my comfort. Their friends and family do that every day. Even now, as they lay their friend and family member to rest, they care for strangers more than they care for themselves.

The last of the caravan is a pair of police motorcycles, red and blue lights glaring. They wave at me as if to thank me, and I wave back as I prepare to drive away. I can see them in my rearview mirror as I turn onto the street, disappearing around the bend. My focus goes back to the road, but now I’m praying instead of singing as I go.

Thank you, Lord, for the freedom I have in you. Thank you for the freedom you give to all who ask, and for the freedom you have blessed our country with. Thank you for the men and women who defend that freedom every day. Thank you for being with them, comforting them, and loving them. Thank you for giving them the strength to keep going when everything is falling apart, when they want nothing more than to wrest control from you. Thank you for this person’s life; whoever he or she is gave everything in love, just as you did when you sent your Son. Thank you for that courage and that sacrifice. Thank you for the friends and families, and their willingness to give up something so precious to them. Continue to be with those who are grieving today; you are the only one who can truly ease that pain. Help them appreciate the freedom you have offered every one of us, and help me never to forget that again.

Based on a true story

Written by Catherine

Image credit: Carole Sampeck, used with permission in honor and memory of Adrian Sampeck

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The Unnatural Nature of Thanksgiving

At the time when the fates delegated the Thanksgiving blog to me, I wasn’t in a very thankful state of mind. That’s how I ended up writing this blog during a MRI. Of course, I wasn’t actually typing it out, because giant magnets and computers go together about as well as red wine and wedding dresses, but I had a whole lot of time to get my thoughts together.

Imagine going to a dubstep concert where the DJ has no idea what he’s doing. Now imagine that you’re attending that concert inside of a coffin. There is an IV dangling from your arm, and if you move, you have to start the whole experience over again. To top it off, suppose that you have a hatred of needles (due to a bad incident involving a venomous spider and a Daffy Duck shaped hole punch) and no one warned you about the intrusive IV. Now you’ve got a pretty good idea of where I was at.

Thankfulness doesn’t come naturally. If you don’t believe me, check out the first few chapters of Genesis. Adam and Eve didn’t verbally express their thanks to Creator God, and their actions certainly didn’t reflect any kind of thanksgiving.  A thankful heart comes only by choice. It’s wrapped up in our free will. There is always something to be thankful for, assuming you’re willing to acknowledge it. But I’ll warn you—it’s much easier to find all the things you’re not so thankful for.

That’s exactly what I did during the first half of my MRI. In order to distract myself from my misery, I started making a list of all the things I would rather do than be in my present situation: park in the freshman lot for the rest of my DBU career, only be allowed to listen to country music for the rest of my life, and other terrible things like that. Not surprisingly, my mood didn’t improve much, and the minutes until my scan was over didn’t tick by any faster. I wanted to feel the peace and joy that comes with a thankful heart, but I didn’t want to put in the effort to actually be grateful.

But with nothing else to do and nowhere else to go, I figured I might as well swallow my self-pity and find some things to thank God for. I started with the easy stuff.

“Thank you God for not letting me pass out when they put that stupid needle in my arm.”

“Thank you for parents who love me and pay for my medical bills instead of making me take a second job at Taco Bell.”

But as I progressed, it became easier and easier for me to lay claim to my bountiful blessings.

“Thank you for giving me a little brother who is bright, funny, and a joy to watch grow up.”

“Thank you for bringing me to a university that puts your glory above everything else.”

“Thank you for my sweet boyfriend waiting for me in the lobby.”

“Thank you for a job that allows me to minister through my talents.”

I thanked the Lord for everything from cute nail polish to the gift of salvation. My situation didn’t change a bit, but I was no longer drowning in self-pity and negativity. The idea that thankfulness can transform the outlook of a grim situation is not a feel-good lie from the big wigs of Christianity; it works.

Everybody likes to pretend like they actually use the Thanksgiving holiday to count their blessings. But if we’re honest, other than saying grace at the family meal, few of us take the time to list the scores of people and things we are thankful for because gratitude is not voluntary. Thankfulness won’t come to you on its own; you must intentionally go out and get it.  Whether this holiday season is the best you’ve ever had or the worst you can possibly imagine, I urge you to find the positives in your life and thank the One who gave them to you.

If you find it difficult to get started, don’t sweat it. You’re going up against your natural tendency toward ingratitude. Thanklessness is natural; thankfulness is hard.  Push on anyway. I promise you’ll thank me later.

Written by Savanna

Image credit

Door Number Three

For the longest time, my favorite part of the movie National Treasure[1] was the beautiful moment when Riley hugs the bluish green man with the strange goatee. I’ve always found that gesture to be pretty relatable because I’d like to think that if I were in that situation, I’d react the exact same way. A few months ago, though, a different scene became my favorite because, of all things, it drastically rocked my prayer life. It’s not a big moment, so if you weren’t paying attention, you might have missed it. In this scene, Ben Gates has just been arrested for stealing the Declaration of Independence (among other treasonous crimes) but the document, and the real bad guy, Ian, are still at large. He and FBI agent, Sadusky, are having a little chat.

Agent Sadusky: So, here are your options: Door number one—you go to prison for a very long time. Door number two—we’re going to get back the Declaration of Independence; you help us find it, and you still go to prison for a very long time. But you’ll feel better inside.

Ben Gates: Is there a door that doesn’t lead to prison?

Agent Sadusky: [Laughing.] Someone’s got to go to prison, Ben.

This is a perfect illustration of my former prayer life. Thankfully, none of my doors have ever led to prison, but with the kind of attitude I had towards prayer, I might as well have put myself in a spiritual penitentiary.  When I brought things before the Lord, I presented Him with choices, my choices. For example, if I was faced with a difficult decision I would assess the situation, develop different strategies, and then ask God to help me chose the right one. If I or someone else in my life was facing a trial, I would ask the Lord for a resolution to the situation or strength to survive until the end. I never asked Him to show me His direction for my decisions; I just acted surprised and amazed when things ultimately worked out better than I had anticipated. I never considered that trials might need to carry on or that there might be blessings within the storm; I just asked God to take me to the other side. Like Agent Sadusky, I saw minimal choices with even fewer end results.

Don’t misinterpret my point—God wants us to ask Him for things, it’s a biblical concept (Matt. 7:7, Jn. 16:24, Phil 4:6). But chances are, if you’re like me and you have a tendency to pray only for the things you can see, the dreams you can envision, or the plans you can create, you’re limiting your understanding of who God is. His thoughts are not our thoughts, which means His ways are not our ways; He promises to go above and beyond anything that we could ever imagine (Is. 55:8-9, Eph. 3:20). He invites—no, commands us—to pray like we believe these things to be true about His character.

God is not a God of two doors. He is not a God of three doors either, but even then, National Treasure still has a thing or two to remind us about prayer. “Sadusky,” Ben says later in the movie, looking out from the deck of the U.S.S. Intrepid, preparing to jump, “I found door number three, and I’m taking it.” Spoiler alert (I told you to go watch it): Ben’s door didn’t lead to prison. It led to fame, new discoveries about American history, money, and a cute wife. If you take that metaphor too seriously, it becomes the prosperity Gospel, but if you look at the big picture, it should encourage you to pray with faith. God doesn’t need our suggestions or solutions; He already has eternity under control, and it’s going to be a lot more awesome than if you and I planned it out. What He wants is for us to honestly pour out our hearts in prayer and surrender them completely to His will. So even if you can’t see it, the next time you pray, no matter what’s on your heart, pray for door number three.

“Behold, I am about to do something new; even now it has begun. Can you not see it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the wasteland” (Is. 43:19).

[1] If you haven’t seen the movie National Treasure I’m going to have to politely ask you to stop reading my blog and go take care of that real quick. It’s on Netflix, so you have no excuse. I’ll be here when you get done in two hours and eleven minutes.

Written by Savanna

Image credit: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/95/d6/92/95d69258e8edd909a53b11db3ba7a8de.jpg

Quote credit: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0368891/quotes