DSC03296Why does it take something dramatic, life-changing or frightening to shake our belief system? Some would even argue that the mere state of comfort in one’s own understanding or environmental surroundings is an inhibitor to growth. Simply, we only know what we think we know. Or worse, what we’ve been told.

There have been three times in my life where I have been at the altitude of 35,000 ft. I know this might be very common for people who travel across the globe on a regular basis, however it took two tours in a combat zone to the Middle East and East Asia and then finally again this year to South East Asia for me to understand its significance in my life. In the first two trips, I was a soldier in the US Army. The third time, I was a soldier of God on a missions trip with my church in Thailand. These experiences, two very contrasting perspectives, challenged everything I know.

By now you’re probably asking yourself how this has anything to do with nonprofits. If you consider the term in a different light, the way we invest ourselves with specific expectations, then “nonprofit” could bring about a whole new meaning. For instance, if I invest my time, talents, finances and an emotional sacrifice without an expectation of any return (profit), then the endeavor is more of a “mission” than it is a nonprofit venture. This means that the goal is no longer predetermined, but instead a trust in an outcome that is predestined. The focus now is about the doing vs the results. Try writing a business plan around that!

It was during these three times in my life, 35,000 ft, that my investments started with predetermined outcomes. All three instances resulted instead with something predestined. Meaning, the expected return on my investment didn’t result in the “profit” I had imagined. In this aspect, all cases turned out a “nonprofit”. And just to clarify, I’m not talking about financial gain. I’m talking about a new point of view.

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The terms “altruistic”, “philanthropic”, “humanitarian” and “charitable” all come to mind when we talk about nonprofit organizations that are designed to be unselfish and generous to a fault–all in the effort to better our world. But the actual meaning of each of these terms stems from a perspective that there exists something good that should be extolled. And, we are the ones who should initiate, control and protect it! I would like to challenge all of us to view this in a different light. That the “good” in everything was created by God. He alone initiates it, controls it and protects it. We are merely participants in his almighty plan–a predestined outcome. The fact that there exists things in our world that are opposite of good is because some of us choose not to participate in this point of view.

What if the investments we all make to better our world were rooted in a selfless action without any expectations of a profit? What if, in this perspective, we all wore the badge of a nonprofit? It would mean that the outcomes of our investments would result in the beauty of something we can’t even imagine. Something bigger than ourselves, a “good” that can only come from doing hands that expect nothing in return. I wager that the results would lead us to the next thing, then the next and so on. A predestined path to peace with ourselves, with God and with others.

Hello, my name is Bruce. And I’m a nonprofit!

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It’s officially the start of a new year and with it comes a new occasion to leave yet another year behind, especially my struggles, failures and missed opportunities. However, forgetting my successes, triumphs and personal growth shouldn’t be part of what gets left behind. The new year brings new hope and a chance for reflection. Why did I fail? How did I succeed? Can I have confidence and peace with all of it moving forward?

Human nature compels me to focus on the worst aspects of myself. Why is it so hard to leave the shame and guilt of past mistakes where they belong–in the past? Or better, how can I forget the hurt that was caused by someone else?

I was reminded of these things from a letter that was written to my wife by a dear friend. She so perfectly stated the truth and reminded me that this validity can’t come from this world. The world doesn’t offer peace, only fear of myself and of others. I must look to my creator and savior for this understanding and wisdom. She writes:

“I promise you, there will come a day when you will have peace with the past. You’ll look at, bleed, scream, shake, mourn – and you will leave what makes no sense at the cross. And there will be a day when all of the sudden, you’ll feel so light, so free that it will scare you to be free of the moorings that have suffocated you. You will find God will rush into every crevice, every dip, and the lightness will become Light. And then, my dear girl – beware!!! Everything will look different, smell different / more alive, more vibrant.

And it will scare you enough that you may want to run back and try to shove all that junk back in there, because its safe and known to you. And you will have to look it square in the eye, and walk it back to the cross, where it belongs. Each time, you have to be valiant, because once you give it over to God, you have to keep returning it. It was a long time during which I would have to say “no. You don’t belong in my head anymore. You go back to the cross” to those sick, sorry, sad memories.

The day I realized I couldn’t even TRY to be wounded by that junk anymore was the day I understood God’s love.”

When I focus on my hurt, from myself or from others, I can’t grow, I can’t love, and I can’t even use my talents and skills to their potential. Why? Because I lose confidence, ambition and I fail to take risks that allow for progress. As a creative professional, this can be destructive. As a human being, this perspective leaves me with no hope.

Here’s what Paul, an apostle of Christ, says about this dilemma in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” This means that at ANYTIME I can choose to be renewed in Christ–leaving my past failures and hurt at the foot of the cross. It, however, doesn’t mean that these things will go away, it simply means that I can have peace with it. “Here is a new heart, and a new spirit, and in them new light and life, new affections and desires, new delights and joys; here are new eyes to see with, new ears to hear with, new feet to walk, and new hands to work and act with…”–Gill’s exposition. Of course there’s some further understanding of this as it pertains to “living in Christ” and I encourage you to read about this and more. Continued readings can be found at BibleHub.com.

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Everyday I interact with students who are reinventing themselves. Many struggle with leaving who they were behind and can’t embrace who they are becoming. It is a process, it doesn’t happen overnight and you have to find some humility in the learning methodology. For some it happens quickly, for others it takes awhile. Yet sadly, I watch still others who never seem to put the effort into what it takes for this kind of growth. I teach the portfolio class for illustrators and designers during their last semester of Nossi College of Art. It is the most rewarding part of my job to see how these students overcame their fears and found confidence to start a new life as a creative professional. It reminds me of how the “student mentality” can achieve great things. We must all carry this same perspective if we are to be successful in life, in faith…in hope.

So, today I can apply this truth to my profession–my willingness to learn and teach others, my relationships, my responsibilities and obedience in Christ, and even how I value myself. I’m leaving 2013 behind and focusing on what 2014 may bring and that’s exciting and adventurous!  I’m supper pumped about starting off this new year! My hope is to embrace this truth and run, not walk, into 2014.