"For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it."
— Matthew 16:25
For a while now, I've been sensing this desire in my life for more. Not more stuff. Not more money. Not even more relationships. But more life. More meaning. More purpose.
It was something I've found difficult to describe. I've talked to a few close friends and family members about it, but a recent experience provided some perspective.
Earlier this month I visited Guatemala for one week with a group of about 50 people, the majority of whom live in East Texas.
Local Christian radio station KVNE put together the trip with Orphan Outreach, a Plano-based nonprofit that ministers to orphans and at-risk children in seven countries.
During the trip, we spent two days working at a privately run orphanage and playing with the kids.
Another day we visited an amusement park with the kids, and the last day of service, we traveled to a community garbage dump to provide food and clothing to families who work there. We also visited a Christian school that serves the children of many of those families.
In the short time we were there, we became part of a much larger and long-term effort that involves hundreds, if not thousands, of people — in-country and out-of-country staff, full-time missionaries, donors and many short-term mission teams.
What the trip reinforced for me was the value of living beyond yourself — beyond your comfort zones, beyond your needs and wants and beyond your social circle. The Bible says, "Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
I'm the first to say that verse is hard for me to swallow. I am naturally selfish, very much want to be served and really have no desire to lay down my life for others.
Any moment of servant living in my life is evidence of God's spirit in me, nothing more, nothing less.
One of my fellow mission trip members shared about her desire to bring her kids on the trip to show them that a life well lived is a life poured out, and a life lived for one's self is an anxious life, because you are always concerned about what you could lose.
That struck me, because I tend to be a very anxious person, and the image that came to mind when she said that was one of someone fiercely protecting everything they hold dear. Yet, in my gut, I want to be the opposite, to live life well and pour it out. In practice, I'm not there yet.
On this trip, I watched as these 40-plus team members served God by loving others. And it inspired me to do the same.
We hugged children with abandon. We danced without shame — well, maybe a little shame. We painted walls and railings. We pushed kids on swings. We rode rides at amusement parks. We prayed. We laughed. We hugged. And we said goodbye.
The funny thing is the trip's end didn't feel like a loss to me. It felt more like the start of something new.
When I got off the plane at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, I felt more inspired and more ready to love and serve my fellow man because I was home.
I was in a place where I felt comfortable, where I know the language well and where I get the culture.
I think some people are called to be long-term missionaries to foreign countries. At this point in my life, I'm not one of them.
But I think all followers of God are called to be local missionaries to love and serve people wherever they are, or as one local church puts it, "where you live, work and play."
The reality is we don't have to leave the country to serve people. We have opportunities right where we are.
There are great needs in East Texas just as there are around the world, and the act of loving people by serving them is just as meaningful.
For me it may be my loving and serving my roommates, my coworkers or the people I encounter at the grocery store.
At times it may be more intentional — a decision to volunteer regularly at church or with a local nonprofit organization.
Whatever the opportunity, the choice is the same: Make a decision to live a life focused on God and poured out for others and not for self.
For many, if not all of us, I would say that is unnatural. But it's a choice and I believe one God empowers us to make and one in which we find much fulfillment.
On Monday, while interviewing Anne Pattullo, one of about 600 East Texans who participated in the local Methodist Mission Week, she shared why serving makes her heart full.
"I just feel like I'm doing what the Lord wants me to do (when) I'm serving others."
Amen, sister. I think she's right, and I think I'm learning, slowly but surely, that a life lived in love and service is a very meaningful life.