Saturday, August 6, 2011

I Dreamed a Dream of Comfort

My first week working in the KCMSD has been a difficult week. We are being trained to teach in a way that is going to require, to quote a TFA teacher about to begin her second year, "A TON of work." Without going into a bunch of details, I'm going to be overseeing the academic growth of about 100 students and spending crazy amounts of hours developing projects and recording student performance in various tracking devices while writing my lesson plans from nearly scratch. Just one of those three challenges would be difficult, but all three will be... Well, I'm still in denial.
Add to that a salary that will barely allow me to pay our mortgage and a 50 minute commute to and from work. Well, it's going to be a VERY difficult year.

This rather stark reality reminded me of some daydreaming I was doing about 3 or 4 years ago. I can vividly remember taking a first-time guest coffee mug to a family who lived in a large house just south of town. Their house and the others around, were nestled into some clearings in a beautiful wooded area. At that time, Erin and I were a DINKS couple (Dual Income No Kids). And while neither of us were earning a very large salary, we were being very intentional about saving and investing every possible dollar. While visiting that house, I remember thinking, "if Erin and I continue on our current financial path (at that time we were both working full time - not making a lot but being very careful with our money and making some serious financial headway) we could eventually buy a house like this." Pre-parenthood vacations and Dave Ramsey-inspired attempts to pay extra on our house was getting me in the mindset of "live like on one else now, so that later you can live like no one else." A Dave Ramsey line that basically means scrimp now and live-it-up later. At that time, we were definitely on the "like no one else" path toward the American Dream. Honestly, I was quite blinded by that dream.

But while I was busy dreaming about the future, God was using our "years of plenty" to prepare us (like Joseph and Egypt in Genesis) for "years of want."

In the book Crazy Love, a book which has impacted me greatly, author Francis Chan observed that when travelling, Christians often pray for a "safe travel." And while Chan didn't write that there is anything wrong with a safe journey, he did point out that many Christians are concerned with taking the safe path. But if you look at Jesus' teaching, his examples and the examples of the early Christians - a life of following Jesus is to be anything but safe. I was getting too focused on safe and comfortable and God needed to bluntly remind me of the type of life he's called me to. A life that will do the crazy, risky, outside-the-comfort-zone type of things that will reach the people no one else is reaching. Things like starting a new church with no money and no people because I knew it was the best way to reach those not yet in a church.

The reality I need to continue to accept is that God never intended for my life to be simple and comfortable. I am to be living in such a way that I can sense his guidance toward the next Kingdom adventure. I am to be sensitive enough that when he re-directs me, a re-direction like this teaching gig, I obey. I am to be selfless enough that I follow his guidance, no matter the personal cost.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."

In Matthew 16:24 we read Jesus' statement, "If anyone wants to be my disciple, he must deny himself, pick up his cross and follow me."

These thoughts had been going on in my head but it all became clear for me last night while watching the Les Mis 25th anniversary concert, I had a bit of an epiphany. I had a bit of an epiphany while watching "I Dreamed a Dream." This song is sung by Fantine, one of the many tragic characters in Victor Hugo's novel.

To say that Fantine's life was neither easy nor comfortable would be an understatement. And while Fantine was a fictional person, her character is based upon many of Miserable Ones who lived in extreme poverty during the European revolutions of 1848. I've been reading the book 1848: Year of Revolutions about this time period and it's hard to imagine the gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots" and the desperate poverty that caused the Miserable Ones (English for Les Miserables) to revolt.

Not only was a I reminded that my life is not to be comfortable. I was also reminded that even with our current financial situation, I am still among the "haves" of the world. I am tempted to feel sorry for myself only when I compare myself to the few in our world who are more comfortable than myself.

I didn't have to fight for survival in a 19th century Parisian slum. I don't have to eek out a miserable existence as one of the underclass in modern-day India. Most relevant to my current situation, I wasn't born into the inner cities that are forgotten by (at best) and oppressed (at worst) by the "haves" of our society. I wasn't born into the financial, educational and social situations into which most of my soon-to-be students were born. I wasn't born as the subset social group of the richest nation in the world destined to be ignored and trampled on by the rest of society. I've heard it said that if the gap continues to widen, our nation is headed toward an apartheid existence. No matter what my paycheck may read, I was born into privilege.

I was also born again into the Kingdom of God. And for that reason, I must continually reject comfort and move toward the cross. The life of following Jesus is not a life turned in on itself. Rather, it is a life lived with an outward-focus. A life lived in the footsteps of the crucified Savior.

I'm glad God woke me up from that dream before it was too late. I'm glad to move out of my comfort zone and into a life that matters.

Just for kicks, here is the
Glee version of "I Dreamed a Dream."

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