What I Learned at the Orange Conference

Creative people are the worst, aren’t they? They never focus, they’re temperamental, they write blog posts all the time.

Okay so…I might be one of those “creatives” as they’re called. I’m a bane to society and I know it. I’m also hard to work with…at least I think…I would ask the people I work with if I am, but they don’t talk to me.

Okay so creative people also delve into hyperbolic factiousness. (I earned my vocabulary badge!)

Here’s my point. The worst part about being labeled a “creative” person is that sometimes creativity is sort of a fickle friend. Like when you need it, it’s nowhere to be found. So with that said, what I’ve found to work well for this blog so far is that when I feel creative…

Maybe more aptly described as: when I schedule time to be creative: I write blocks of content.

Rarely, do I do a “one and done” type scenario where I write one blog post and then walk away. I try to write 3 or 4 and then walk away and come back and edit it to completion. So for instance, a few weeks back I posted a blog post about some of my struggles with insecurity and where and how I’ve dealt with that. I wrote it, sat on it, edited it, then scheduled it to be posted a month out because I had other content scheduled before it.

So for this blog post. The blog post about what I learned at the Orange Conference. It’s a little harder to write in advance.

With that being said, currently I’m writing this post in a big metal tube somewhere over the great state of Georgia after being at a conference that sort of feels like you got hit with a knowledge truck on an emotional highway and were whisked off by an entertainment ambulance.

Okay so that’s not the greatest simile in the world but cut me some slack due to the alluded fatigue.

So, as I’m a little tired, and, honestly, still processing so much of what I heard from speakers and from great conversations I had with leaders I hope, in my OCD, ADD, way I don’t lose you. Here’s my big takeaway that I’m wrestling with and would like to, if you permit me, unpack in this post.

The theme this year at Orange Conference was “For Our Neighbor”. The theming’s thesis, I would say, was this central idea that the church is characterized all too often for what we are against, and not what we are for. That while the church is meant to spread the Gospel, most often that should not start with speaking or teaching but with championing the communities we are a part of, just as Christ championed our need for a savior.

Okay, so great intro for the sleep-deprived state that I’m in. Most likely if you’re a nuts and bolts person you have skipped to here: This is my take away from Orange 2017:

I DON’T SEE PEOPLE.

I put it in caps because it helps with the dramatic-ness of the take-away. Read it again, but this time in a  weird Haley Joel Osment-esque way of declaring a shocking truth.

Powerful right?

Okay, maybe not, but if you’ll permit me to unpack this, the truth is:

I am laser-focused on myself. My story. My world. So often, I walk by people and don’t realize the truth about who they are.

You know what the Bible says about you?

You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

You know what the Bible says about you?

Jesus Christ, who was also the Son of God, died for you

You know what I say about you when I walk by you without seeing you?

Your value hasn’t risen to the level of my time or attention.

That’s super cold and harsh and maybe even a little bitter sounding, but again, give me some slack, I’m processing this. But as I process I’m struck by the disparity between what I believe and how I behave. I believe that people are fearfully and wonderfully made and I behave as if they are in the way.

There was an amazing speaker at this conference named, Danielle Strickland. She does some amazing things and I’m very excited to continue to follow her story

Here’s what she said that completely wrecked me.

Danielle told this amazing story about what Jesus Christ had done in her life and how this has led her to a place where she is working with organizations to help women who are victims of sex trafficking. She said in one particular instance she found herself in the back of a brothel talking to the very woman who ran it. She said she looked around and quite honestly was impressed with the amount of pride the woman took in her place of “business”, in making and managing it. Confused and broken hearted she asks this woman, “You are this beautiful, brave, strong, independent woman, why are you here? Why are you doing this?”

I’m listening to this story. I’m hearing her describe this woman: beautiful, brave, strong, independent. Danielle used words that were eerily familiar to me. Brave, beautiful, independent. These are my hopes, dreams, aspirations for my daughter. These are the things I tell her, intentionally, so she knows how I and more importantly, how God sees her. In fact, I wrote a blog post just a few weeks ago about this very subject.

As Danielle described how this woman responded, it completely “wrecked” me, (or in normal, non-Christian terms, surprised, shocked, awed, and sucker-punch-to-the-gut) me.

It was a story of abuse and rejection. A story of no way out and a young 12 year old girl turning to a man that could give her a “job”. A story of a girl who, at 12, broke, in this deep, dark, terrible, heart-breaking way. That’s when Danielle described the words that this strong woman said to her that hit me so hard. With tears in her eyes the woman look at Danielle and asked “Where were you when I was 12?”.

I couldn’t breathe.

I couldn’t move.

I wanted to, I wanted to walk out of the room or sit down and start sobbing. I wanted to do something. I wanted to go find that woman and hug her and turn back the clock to her as a 12 year old and put my arms around her and protect her and fight for her. I saw my little 3 year old daughter as a 12 year old woman. I knew I would do anything, anything to be there for my 12 year old daughter.

I heard in my head. “Where were you, Jesse, when I was 12?”

It really hurt.

So that’s what I’m am wrestling with. I don’t know what that means for me today but I know I think about that sentence and my eyes well up, and my head goes down, and my thoughts explode into a hundred directions.

Here’s what I’m working through at this moment.

I love ministry. Ministry is one of the best things (after Jesus, my wife, and my kids) that has happened to me in my life. But there’s this weird coping mechanism that pastors (that I) do in ministry. We start to see people to love as problems to solve. Or we miss the people that need love because the need for solutions to problems. It’s not like these two have to be mutually exclusive.

I want to solve problems, I think the church should solve problems, and in ministry there is sometimes the honest, simple problems of, someone needs to mop the floor, someone needs to set up chairs, someone needs to plan for the weekend.

Here’s what I know though. There are SO many problems. There are SO many people. Sometimes we take this and turn to focus on the next thing. We focus on the next step. We get so into focusing on details, and dates, and data that we miss it. Sometimes we need to be broken in the big mess.

Sometimes I should feel overwhelmed with ministry.

Cause if I’m not overwhelmed with ministry, I might not realize that I need Jesus for ministry.

Where were you when I was 12? Should break my heart.

I also have to realize that I can’t be there for every girl. Jesus can. (That’s a stained-glass, incomplete, church answer, I know, not very good—blame the metal tube— we’re landing)

Here’s the thing though. Here’s my prayer. Here’s my takeaway. There are hundreds of people I pass by every day. Just like hundreds of people passed by this little 12 year old girl that was broken and whose brokenness, breaks God’s heart.

But they missed her.

Missed her until Danielle saw a strong, brave, beautiful, broken, lost woman that was also running a brothel.

I don’t want to miss people.

I can’t be there for everyone but what if I opened my eyes to someone.

I tried this in the Atlanta airport.

I tried smiling at people.

I don’t smile a lot.

It hurts my face.

This is what I tried doing. I trying smiling at people. Then I tried imagining they were my kid.

What?

That’s weird and creepy.

Yes it is.

But it worked.

I felt like I engaged more in the people around me when I imagined what it would be like if they were my son or my daughter. Which is weird, because when you’re looking at a guy 20 years your senior and imagining them as your son it does some weird Benjamin Button things to your mind. But I also think when I imagined them as my kids, that I love like crazy, I got a small glimpse as to how their Creator feels about them.

The point is, I’m trying to see people more. See the people God has put around me. See them as people not problems. (Hold on the guy in front me is doing that thing where he leans his seat back way too far, which is ridiculous—did I say I was working on this still, again, cut me some slack, it’s a process) My takeaway right now that I’ll continue to wrestle with is this: I want to see people.

I want to see people so I can be there for people.

 

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