Each year our church produces a dramatic sermon series entitled ‘The Truth about Heaven and Hell”. We have a team of writers, directors, singers, choreographers, and production crew who all pull together to create this free event for our community. This will be our 6th annual production and I had the opportunity to write the play for 2014. We will do 6 live showings – 3 hell showings and 3 heaven showings. Every year the story is different and we aim to focus on different issues that are relevant to the community. It’s a unique combination of drama and humor and most importantly – THE GOSPEL of JESUS CHRIST. Drama is an effective means of exposing people to real life issues and teaching them about the love of God.
WATCH OUR COMMERCIAL
Out of all the plays we’ve done, this one means the most to me because I personally have experienced the impact of what drugs do to a community, a family, and a life. Drugs in an urban community intensify anything that is already broken and they hinder people from maximizing their potential. I often tell young people that it doesn’t matter that they assume they can live a normal life and sell and use drugs. The fact remains there aren’t a lot of 70-year-old crack heads, or successful drug addicts who have lived a good life and fulfilled their dreams. Life is full of ups and downs already and I promise you drug trafficking and drug addiction will NOT give you a happy ending – they make mess messier. Drugs make pain more painful. It might ‘seem’ or ‘appear’ numbed, but what happens is drugs cause you to become powerless to make good decisions about your life while exponentially adding to your misery – REAL TALK!
DRUGS CREATE DRAMA, VIOLENCE, & UNWANTED HEALTH PROBLEMS among other things.
Another reason this play means a lot to me is because I know what it’s like to be bullied. I will never forget when a boy in elementary school bullied me on the playground and then he put my face in a hole in the ground and sat on my head. This was so long ago and I can’t remember how I coped with it but I know I didn’t tell anyone. I recall revisiting this memory in my twenties and admitting that it contributed to me feeling like I was nothing. Nobody knew about what happened. Speed up the clock a decade later and bullying can be broadcasted GLOBALLY. People are quick post hurtful statements and videos of fights without any consideration for this impacts others. Our teens are increasingly becoming desensitized to suicide and it has become an escape.
Many of our young people live like there’s no tomorrow but in a negative sense. Another important part of our production is the play on ‘yolo’ YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE? Our cast thought it would be a good idea to present this as a statement and a question. In this play you will see this paradigm explored and challenged.
Without giving away the story I’ll say that this year we have chosen to address some of the most frequent and devastating issues that impact communities all across this nation. The commercial posted above provides a small glimpse of the issues you will see in the live production.
The high school dropout rates for minorities has declined over the last ten years. But a higher percentage of minorities drop out than non-minorities. Research shows that the lives of many students who quit school are full of hardship. Many live in poverty, poor communities, and attend low performing schools. They might come from a single parent home or a home where neither parent has attended college. Some might have a parent with a drug or alcohol problem or be victims of domestic violence. Some students make mistakes early in life and get caught up with negative peers or drugs and alcohol themselves. This may not be the case for all students, but it is the case for many. And for those who experience these types of obstacles, staying in school can be very challenging.
Why are obstacles to academic achievement the topic of discussion today? I read a story about minority (Black & Latino) students who grew up in less than desirable conditions but still went to college, graduate school, and some pursued their doctorate. And while there are many Black and Latino students who accomplish such things, these students had experienced the adversities previously mentioned. So in order for them to achieve they had to take the road less traveled.
It is a road less traveled because no one went before them to make the path easy and said ‘follow in my footsteps’. And it is a road less traveled because multiple hardships can make purpose seem impossible to reach. Circumstances that existed before they were born made it difficult for them to accomplish what comes easy to millions of others who are born into a different set of circumstances. Did they quit? NO. They refused to use their problems as a way to escape purpose. They took the road less traveled.
What did these students have in common:
1. They had an internal locus of control.
Although the students were in some rough situations they could not control, they focused on what they could control. They believed they were responsible for their academic progress. If they succeeded or failed – it was their choice. They didn’t have a lot of money, their communities were poor, and their parents didn’t send them to private schools in rich neighborhoods. But they had been given something for free that had the potential to change their lives – their mind. I recently read that over 8,000 high school students in the United States pull the plug on their futures by dropping out of high school each DAY. But the students and graduates I read about understood the world is full of social injustice, inequality, prejudice, and struggle. BUT, they made a decision that they did not want to be a victim of their circumstances. They took responsibility for their education realizing that if they could conquer their present – they would apprehend their purpose! I believe they saw things differently than someone who drops out. Continue reading….
2. The students knew it wasn’t just about them
There was a larger purpose behind getting an education besides ‘getting a good job’. The students believed education was the vehicle for gaining the knowledge they needed to help transform their families and communities. You may ask how does ONE educated person help transform a family or a community. And I would answer that question with a question: How does ONE drug dealer help destroy a family or a community? How does ONE vote help decide who runs this country? It’s simple math (1+x=?) Let that marinate….
The students understood the value behind hard work and effort. One of the students said he never really considered himself a high achiever. He said it was watching his family persevere through homelessness that made him believe he could persevere in school. What could have destroyed him strengthened him. He took that skill – the ability to keep going and he applied it to learning and eventually it paid off. The only difference between the students I read about and the thousands who drop out EVERY DAY is their perspective. When you cannot change what you see, change how you see it. Learn how to find strength in suffering – that is how we overcome. Your circumstances are not why you CANNOT succeed, but they are the reason why you MUST succeed.
3. The students had a supportive parent or other adult in their lives to encourage them.
Parents, guardians, teachers, community leaders – if you are sick and tired of seeing the young people in your sphere of influence throw away their dreams and potential – what are you going to do about it? Sit back, complain, remind them of what they are not achieving OR will you take the road less traveled. Death and life are in the power of the tongue. It is easy to call something what it is, but faith is required to see beyond the present moment to speak life. Parents, you can shape a life by what you say. Too many parents are reproducing the same hurt in their own children that someone produced in their lives. If it didn’t feel good when your mamma said it to you – then why say it to your child? If you need help learning how to communicate with your child locate someone (a local church, community organization, or someone you know who is strong where you are weak).
My final thoughts: Jeremiah 10:23 says that a man’s life is not his own and he is not to direct his own steps. God knows our purpose and he sees our struggles. Some of the strongest people I know are people who overcame major obstacles in life. I once saw a church message board that read ‘smooth seas don’t make skillful sailors’. My struggles are what have helped equip me for the path that God has for my life. I can use my story and my pain to help others who need someone to encourage them.
But what if I had given up? Dear friend, take a moment to consider all the people you will let down if you give up. How do you find strength in suffering? By trusting in God to lead you each day and believing that he is wise enough to navigate you around every obstacle. Follow the GPS (God’s purpose & strategy) for your life. Find and stay on the road less traveled because someone else is waiting for you to reach your destiny so you can pass the baton of hope to them! Be blessed.
I am pretending that I have the privilege to stand before an audience of young people who have one thing in common – they are afraid to be who they really are. How uncomfortable it must feel to go through the motions of figuring out who people expect you be. I wonder if I can put myself in their shoes. Let’s see, first I would have to tell myself that who God created me to be doesn’t matter.
Then I would have to convince myself that who other people want me to be is more important. But wait, there are a few things I like about myself so I’ll try to hold on to those – maybe, maybe not. Then I’ll take what he likes and add it to what she likes and then I’ll have my very own ‘HODGE PODGE ME’.
This might work for one group of friends and then I’ll have another hodge podge me for the other group of friends. If I had a closet and they were garments, I could fill it up with an assortment of different types and then it would be easier to switch back and forth.
But then one day I would probably hear the real me in the back of the closet. She would probably ask me why I took her and hung her up on an old rusty hanger in the back of a filthy closet. She would remind me that none of the other hodge podge me’s are real and that I’m not being a good friend if I won’t show people who I really am. I might listen, but then again I might not. She would remind me that I am a child of God and that when I hide who he made me to be, I’m hiding who he saved me to be. Wow, this would have been quite an experience if I had lived it…but wait a minute – I have.
So what would I say to this pretend audience of young people who have this one thing in common? I would tell them that the world isn’t the same without them and that’s why God created them. I would make sure they know that it’s hard to keep trying to be what other people expect. I would also say to them that the only expectations of others that we should be concerned about is the need to treat people with respect and kindness. I would add to that by saying when we work on being our ‘best selves’ we place ourselves on the path God intended for us. This exposes us to the right opportunities and relationships. I would let them know that we compromise by being fake and we expose ourselves to the wrong opportunities and bad relationships. I hope that they would listen and learn from my mistakes. That’s what I would say if I had the chance……
What is fortitude? Fortitude is the ability to continue towards a goal in the face of adverse circumstances. Fortitude is the willingness to push past the pain in order to accomplish the unimaginable. Fortitude is the process or becoming more than what others have said of you and greater than what your background might limit you to.
Fortitude is the drive to pursue, to embrace the challenge to do, the push to become, to acquire what’s higher, to achieve and believe, to finish the race.
It is failing, but not quitting.
It is losing and still winning.
It is crying but still trying.
It is grieving, but still achieving.
Fortitude is never letting go of the dream.
What is the dream? The dream is that thing that leaps inside you when you think about what you could become if there were no limits. Which takes us back to fortitude.
Fortitude is the progression of stretching yourself beyond the limitations.
Fortitude is moving forward in spite of the reservations. Fortitude is a tenacious desperate thrust to lay hold of the manifestation. The manifestation of the dream. The dream is that thing that motivates you and irritates you because you think you can’t have it. Fortitude is when you turn that irritation into motivation. Then the dream becomes your inspiration provoking you to dedication. And where there is dedication, there is fortitude. And where there is fortitude the dream will be achieved because you will have believed and then all things are possible. What is fortitude? Fortitude is what leads to purpose, and purpose is a dream fulfilled through faith.
My future is limited without education
Education stimulates ideation
Ideation manifested is innovation
And innovation realized is origination
But without education there is limitation
And limitation can lead to subjugation
Subjugation hinders motivation
The motivation to acquire education
This leads to the duplication of the limitation
The limitation of realization
The limitation of innovation
The limitation of a generation
The limitation of a nation