Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.
Sadly, my most intimate encounters with God have not transformed me, as they should very well have. It is not for lack of the transforming grace of God, but for lack of want in my own life. Some time ago I sat quietly in the early morning before God. I could sense His presence near and I simply asked, "Speak Lord, thy servant is listening. Reveal to me the sin that exists within my own heart that I might leave it at the cross." While yet uttering the last of my words the Lord spoke to me as clear as day. He revealed to me John 10:27, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." In an instant I was confronted with my lack of intimate Trust in the Lord. Brought before my eyes was my inability to recognize my Savior's voice. How often do I question if He is speaking. How often do I find myself faintly whispering, "Tis Thee O Lord? Tis Thee?" Before my eyes flashed the many times that God had spoken to me in the quietness of the hour and I had questioned His very voice. How many times I have pleaded with Him, "Speak Lord, Thy servant is listening!" And yet, how often He has beckoned near and I have ignored His still small voice. Not out of a malicious heart, but out of an inability to recognize His voice.
"Why Lord?!", I pleaded, "Why have I not been able to recognize your voice?" And He answered. It was a very painful answer. A very sobering one at that. One which took the very breath from my lungs. "You do not know me intimately as you should." My heart dropped. Everything that I had assumed myself to be crumbled around me in one instance. In the answer to one question I found myself realizing that I am not who I thought I was. More so, I am not who everyone perceives me to be. "O wretched man that I am," I whispered, "Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?" (Romans 7:24-25) The very thought of this revelation even until today takes my breath away. It breaks my spirit. It causes me to wonder who I am. What is the true me? Not what people perceive of me, not who I perceive myself to be, but who am I in all honesty and truth?
I am not a fool. I realize that the majority of people who will read this, if any, will not have an understanding of what is grieving my heart. In fact, most will stop at my description of the presence of God and write me off. I humbly accept that. I have always lived my life in the shadow of common man. I have always lived in contrast to what is right or pleasing, to what man deems to be acceptable. I have always veered from that which is popular, that which is acceptable, that which is known. I have never wanted to be that person that receives any acceptance, any praise. I have never wanted to know those that are known. In fact, I have naturally, from the time I can remember, despised those who search out popularity, those that deem themselves to be part of something that seemingly makes them something.
And thus, it was quite an anomaly when I was approached some time ago by a small group of people from a fashion magazine. In the middle of the Pomona Swap Meet, having been up since 3:30 am, as the day was coming to a close I was approached by two women who themselves appeared to be someone who I would easily identify as fashion-industry bred. It was evident that they were in search of something, what that something was I had no idea.
As they approached me I realized that I was a specimen to behold. "Excuse me!" the blonde with the white moon boots cried out, "Excuse me!" I paid no mind to them as I realized they were not alone. There were two men trailing along. "Surely," I thought, "They are not calling to me." As they approached I realized that it was, in fact me, that they were calling after. The other half of the duo, Shay, introduced herself to me and quickly began sharing her agenda with me. As she spoke my thoughts quickly raced in my head. In and out of the conversation, I can recall hearing words coming from Shay's mouth like chola, iconic, neighborhood. All I could think of as Shay spoke was that yet again another mainstream fashion magazine was on a crusade to popularize the way of life that has remained sacred to the barrios for so many decades. "Another movement by the mainstream media to pervert the beauty of the barrio, the beauty of the women who have graced the neighborhoods for so long. The beauty of the las reynas del barrio, our neighborhood queens. She asked if her photographer could take my picture, explaining that they were looking for the iconic chola, that which you would find in the neighborhoods and porches of any well-respected barrio. I agreed, knowing that I in fact was not who they assumed I was. "Why did I agree?" The thought quickly raced through my head. "I agreed," I reflected, "because I did not want any of them to mistake our encounter as something trifle. I did not want to appear to be rude, pretentious, or arrogant. I wanted them to realize that the exterior is a representation of something much deeper." There is a beauty that exists in the ways of the barrio and it has not been lost. Moreover, I wanted them, most of all, to see the love of Christ within me. To not give waste to any opportunity to be an example of Christ. My life is an open book, and the pages I write can be for His glory or to the detriment of myself and others, if it is for my glory. I want my book to have the hand prints of God all over it. So much so that when you read it you simply say, "This is a book about the steps of God, not of man."
I never intended it to go past that day of taking impromptu photos of me in the middle of the Pomona Swap Meet. Never would I have ever agreed to anything more for fear of extorting that which has never been for sale. That which the media has perverted and twisted to its own demise. That which I know, deep down inside, I am only a representation of, but do not have the scars to be the real thing. I walked away that day purposing in my own heart not to be a part of any of it.
But God had a greater plan...
Days later Shay emailed me. And called me. And called me repeatedly until I finally responded. Intermittently, unbenounced to Shay, I had already taken this matter to prayer. In the midst of this I had been learning, and continue to learn, what it means to give God my all. To submit myself wholly and completely to Him. To empty myself in such a way that He fills me and uses me as a vessel for His honor. A person of low-estate, humble, learning to answer quickly to His beckoning call. To truly say with a pure heart, "Not my will Lord, but Thy will be done." This then is how I learned what Proverbs 3:5-6 truly meant. For so long this had been a verse that simply graced the bottom of In-N-Out cups, imprinted on sympathy cards, and gracing plaques in Christian homes across this nation and abroad. It was the type of passage that had become so familiar to me that it had no meaning left.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
God had been speaking to my heart. He was telling me to learn to trust Him, even when there are great uncertainties. When things make no sense whatsoever, I needed to learn how to trust Him without trying to reason through the situation. To understand that there is always a bigger picture in mind. That never do events exist in isolation but that there is always more than the eye can behold, "For now we see in a mirror dimly," 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, "but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known." In most instances I will never see the greater outcome nor understand the reasoning behind what is occurring when I am in the midst of the event. I am learning that often times it is far beyond the occurrence that God, in His infinite wisdom and grace, shows me small parts of the puzzle and begins to piece them together small bits at a time. It is a way in which I have learned to know Him intimately and to recognize and respond to His voice at the initial beckoning.
Nonetheless, I agreed to do a photo shoot for this magazine because God had made it very clear that this was His plan. In the midst of this, I encountered someone who I did not know but that immediately was recognizable as a kindred spirit. It was a person who exonerated the beauty of the barrio and the breathtaking presence of humility in a world that deems humility as something to be abhorred. It was as if I knew this person my whole life. It was one of those rare moments in life where you share a quiet resolve with another human being, a laugh, a smile, and you feel for an instance the joy of the innocent days of your youth so very near. A snapshot in life that left a lasting impression in my heart. One that I look back at now and realize it was the very hand of God in the stillness of that hour. It was His presence, His sweet aroma.
I feel like I met a friend for life that day. I am not sure if I will ever see her again. But in the small instance of the hour I met someone at a God-appointed time and it was breathtaking to behold, the very presence of God. It was as if the love of Christ was poured out in that moment and I will forever have the sweet smelling aroma of that moment in my lungs. It almost seems strange, even to me. It was the beauty of the neighborhood, the joy of our younger days, the place where Heaven and earth met and God was seen but for a moment in that place.
I look at this specimen of a person that God put before me and I crave that innocence in my own life. I crave the humility that I saw in her. I crave that sweet spirit. In hearing from God that morning, in the stillness of the hour, I realized I am none of those things and yet He has been so gracious to place people in my life from which I can learn to be those things. The Word of God became very real that day and I am forever grateful for what God revealed to me.
God knows you by name
You have not been forgotten