Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What I'm Thankful For...

I love revisiting my old elementary school essays. It's always fun to try and remember what little Paul was thinking of when he sat down to write (with a pencil and paper!) those incredibly superfluous essays on summer vacation, Christmas, and of course Thanksgiving.

The question was always posed: what are you thankful for? And the answer was always as unsatisfying as the question: my mom and dad, my siblings, going to Grandma's house. The things we were drilled to be thankful for since the beginning. The essays we wrote were drier than cardboard cereal and more vague than a politician's lie. It wasn't our fault, the truth is a child's life experience boils down to those things. The true measure of that question, drilled into our minds, is how thankfulness plays out in our lives today. 

My life cannot by any stretch of the imagination be considered hard. I grew up in a stable household, I always went to the best schools, and returned home to a square meal and the luxuries many kids around the world only can dream about. Life growing up wasn't fancy, but it was more than enough to be thankful for. The challenges I faced and the problems I had to solve were mainly self-inflicted (here's looking at your last semester of undergrad). So while part of me feels absolutely like I shouldn't write this for the sake of feeling self-righteous and bloated, another part of me really wants to let this next paragraph out. 

It wasn't until last year I began to truly believe in God's plan for my life. There really is a plan. All throughout my schooling I relied on talent to get by and deep down I really felt God was my safety blanket, someone who was there for me when I fell but who I really never needed. He had blessed me with intelligence and charisma. I saw not graduating on time as a hiccup in my world, a nudge in the right direction. But then I was put in a situation I had no control over. In Braithwaite I was completely helpless, a rookie thrown into the deep end of an assignment I dreaded at first. Rumors about my job security swirled while the hours grew longer and I didn't know where to turn. 

That's when it hit me. 

This wasn't a roadblock. This was a test. A test to see if I really did believe in God. God isn't a safety blanket in your life. He's the car and He's driving, but sometimes He lets us steer like a proud father does with his children. One night before I went to bed after finishing a twelve-hour shift I asked God for forgiveness. To let me see His plan. To let me steer. Carrie Underwood knew what she was talking about in "Jesus, Take The Wheel." A day later the storms began to clear. I was excited about my job again, excited about my future again. I found WinForever and began to apply those lessons to my life. I left Braithwaite ecstatically, with a plan and a future. I resolved three things to God when I returned to Baton Rouge: 

It was never about the money. Nothing is ever about the money. 
I had never been living up to my potential. It's time to change that. 
It's the hardest things in life you should be the most thankful for. When everything is taken away, only then can you begin to appreciate the things that mean the most to you. 

A year later I'm the happiest I've ever been since I sat down to write that first essay all those years ago. My childlike joy and faith has been restored and it is that for which I am most thankful. From that I can continue to change the world the way God intends me to do so. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Outside My Own Little World...

*Author's note: I wrote this in 2008. 

I met a homeless guy on Sunday. Big deal, right? Well, it was...for me anyway. I was going to church for play practice when he stops me and asks for some change saying he was down on his luck and from New Orleans. I was already going to give him the money but when he said he was from New Orleans the conversation shifted from have/have nots to "Where you from?" and "Who Dat?" Ten minutes later, I had a new friend if you could believe it. Don't know his name but I know he sleeps on the steps of the Baptist church downtown and is getting his life back together slowly. 

You see, he used to race on the Eastbank. 5K, 10K, and by the sound of it he was pretty damn good. He had a guy on the Westbank who I probably saw at the mall or the movie theatre and thought was a thug or something and he used to race too. I don't know what drove him to Baton Rouge (probably begins with a K and ends with a rina) but he had been trying to get his life back together. He has a job interview for the night shift at a factory across town and already has applied for food stamps and has an apartment complex lined up. The biggest perk? The landlord was giving him a 32-inch TV to help him get back on his feet. Flat screen and all. I guess sometimes you only need the Saints to cheer you up. 

Of course all the good can't outweigh the bad. He had just finished one job for a contractor, putting a tile floor down in an office. The contractor remarked that it was the best work he had ever seen, then his buddy stole the glory and the paycheck. "It was messed up man, messed up," he told me. So there he was, skilled no doubt, athletic no doubt, smart no doubt. Yet he was just another bum we steer clear of and force our kids to look the other way when we pass them on the street. We only see the present: the dirtiness, the tattered clothes, and the lost hope. We don't see a former 5K champion, a guy with real drive who'd do just about anything for a shot at a good life, frills be damned. That's where it's truly messed up. When I saw this guy, I didn't see a homeless guy begging for my change. I saw a fellow New Orleanian, and if you know anything about us (or me for that matter) you know we'd do anything to help each other out, in any city that wasn't ours from Berlin to Baton Rouge. That's the pride I have in New Orleans; in our city, our people, and our culture. That's why I don't want to leave, because I'd never fit in anywhere else. I'm quirky like that, a catfish out of his filthy, dirty Mississippi River water...but I wouldn't want it any other way. 

I'll be downtown on Friday, with some McDonald's and an open ear. I just feel bad right now. It's 45 degrees out and I have three comforters I'm currently not using. Suddenly, having all these luxuries and amenities is trivial. I'm grateful for everything I have: a loving family, a steady income, and an education but it just doesn't feel right going to a boutique and spending that extra cash when it could be spent brightening someone else's day. I won't miss that six dollars I gave to him. Heck, I didn't want nothing in return. Well, maybe one thing: thirty minutes or so of his life story because when you take away every comfort, every frill, and every material possession you're left with hope and faith. Hope that one day you'll live without the constant worries of life and faith in God knowing that whatever you believe in and pray for He will deliver. I left him with a "God bless you" and a "take care of yourself." Something tells me his life is about to make that turn and I'll be blessed if I was only just a minute part of it. 

I chose to post this because of Matthew West, more specifically his song "My Own Little World." The song, and specifically the lyrics below, struck a chord with me that brought me back to this piece. The lyrics below are a prayer I try to say everyday.

Father, break my heart for what breaks Yours
Give me open hands and open doors
Put Your light in my eyes and let me see
That my own little world is not about me