“Sometimes I hear your voice, over all the noise and you bleed through and I hear you.”
Jon Mclaughlin’s playing through the jeep stereo speakers and today the wind is so heavy I can feel it pull on the vehicle. My hair is all over the place but this seems to be the norm in an SUV that lacks car doors and windows. I love it because this car is so freeing to drive and yet I hate it on Sunday mornings, the one day of the week that I attempt to look decent for church. It just doesn’t happen.
God has been highlighting to me over and over recently that we get one chance, we get one shot at this thing called life. That there are no re-writes, no rough drafts and that every decision counts that we make. We are either making the world more selfish and more destructive or we are making it a place that lives for love. There is a burning in my heart that longs to change the world. That longs to inspire others to want to change the world. For good, for a world that is better than the previous state it’s in, for redemption, for Jesus.
I feel the cultural pull on me that says I need to go to college and complete it in 4 years, then I need to get married and get a house, then I need to have my family, go to my job, raise my kids, then retire and then die. I’m glad I am one that never followed the trends set by others, that I decided I wasn’t going to do what everyone else thought might be a good idea or just get caught up in the mindset of “this is what we are suppose to do because society says its correct.” No thank you. God is bigger than cultural norms. He has established a kingdom mindset in my heart and that is the only thing I will live for whatever the cost, whatever the country, whatever timeline that may be.
God gave me his heart and many opportunities today to wrestle with this idea that life is fleeting and to never take a single moment nor a single breath for granted, that everything is a gift from Him and that He is always good. Here’s the timeline of the afternoon:
As I was driving through downtown Fort Myers I was reminded that this old city has some of the same architecture but has been remodeled over time. In most downtown areas you have the post office, the courthouse, several government buildings and a few coffee shops. I’m downtown sending in my visa application that has been a process in itself to get through. I have had people be so patient and gracious with the time and energy that it has required. I am not the sort of person that gets all my affairs in order and then will tell people that a placement has opened up again. I like to enable people to be a part of this process with me. I’m moving back to England, to a place called Bloxham and hope to be back just shortly before the new year. I am excited and I am humbled more than ever this time around. I have a calmness and a peace in spirit. The whole point for this trip out today was to end up at the post office and put all this hard work into the mail and to get excited about the next moves to make the transition back to the UK a good one.
On one side of the street here sits a 4 story jail and on the other sits the court house. Today in front of the court house there are tents all camped out in front with people like local news anchors and the elected sheriff for the town showing interest in all the hype. People are camped out trying to explain some cause.
I see these protesters and I approach them and talk with a guy called Matthew and he explains to me that they are standing up for something to do with the government and unemployment rates. I really don’t have clue what the heart of it was but what I admired is that this group of people were standing up for a cause, for a change,
much larger then themselves. They are fighting for change. They don’t just exist on this planet, they are living. “If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.”
Then I can’t help but think wrestle with the idea of this jail, this cement block, broken down into little compartments, a few square feet long and wide, that people endure their existence on this earth in that space. There are no windows, no sunlight. I know this only a temporary place until they get moved out to more of a long term facility but it still breaks my heart. It’s almost like you can hear the cries of sadness and despair and regret. I know this isn’t the case with some inmates but I do think it is for the majority of them. I can only compare it to what a caged animal might feel and then what freedom they might feel when they finally get released. I can speak on such a subject because the subject of jails and prisons is close to my heart. It’s devastating to say but no matter how sad, it’s the truth. I receive letters from my older brother in prison often and that is how we have gotten to know each other over these past years. I know his heartache, his pain, his regret and the consequences that he has to live with for the next 20 years or so. He reflects a lot about his life, the life that he is missing, the life that he feels like is at a standstill until his release date.
I wonder though if we all are missing our very own lives. I ask the question because I see people working jobs in a trade that they hate to be in. I know people that just barely want to exist rather than to fully live. I see people ask the question of is this all there is to life? To live and then to die. Or is there more to it?
And then I am reminded of a woman that I met in Big Al’s this week who has been given a life sentence of 6 months to live because the cancer that took four operations to remove has come back in a giant mass on her liver and will eventually kill her. With tears in her eyes all I could do was hug her. She knows that her time is limited and all she wants to do is live. Really live. Or the friend of mine that I hadn’t seen in nine years. She came into the restaurant and longs for more in her life. She doesn’t just want to settle with retail, even though she enjoys it, but the cry of her heart is to help people through counseling. The fear that grips her with the unknown stops her from stepping into all that she desires to be.
Tonight I sat with a homeless man on a park bench. He said he was looking for a place to sleep. I wanted to just cry. I went to the nearby starbucks and got him a coffee thinking to myself, there are opportunities presented to us daily to be a change, to reach out, to offer a listening an ear, to look after and care for, to hug. To be the hands and feet of Jesus to. When I looked into this man’s face, I could see the eyes of Jesus. We sat there together silently and I was
humbled and convicted. Suddenly you have this awareness of how small your problems are in the grand scheme of things.
On the drive home I saw sirens in my rearview mirror. An ambulance needed to get somewhere and when I looked ahead, it was clear that the accident wasn’t too far from the intersection of where I pulled over. Driving past the accident there was an older couple driving a car with the front smashed in and they had stretchers out trying to pull the people from the car. I drove past at what felt like 2 mph in a complete daze. It was if life went into slow motion and a truth became so clear to me.
From my brother who sits in a prison cell, to Matthew protesting on the streets of the old town, to this woman dying of cancer, to my friend who longs more for herself, to the homeless man on the bench, to the couple in the car crash: it’s written on human hearts. Our lives are but a midst, we are here and then we are gone. Life is the most precious thing that we have been given. Don’t waste it. But a question that I was asked for the Bloxham interview starting ringing in my ears: What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind? Are you in living in such a way that you will even leave one? What kind of world are you leaving behind and what trails are you blazing that people will want to walk into after you are gone?
The singer Aaliyah writes: “It’s hard to say what I want my legacy to be when I’m long gone.” I am encouraged that even though she couldn’t answer the question, it’s a thought that she considered at one point. I think that’s the starting place for all of us. For us to answer this question, the question itself must first be asked. Therefore, I am asking it. What is the legacy we are leaving behind?
“When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.”