Memos from the Middle

Smack-Dab in the Middle of Living

Say What You Want about Ye

I don’t know Ye. When he rose to prominence and popularity as a rapper, I was halfway through my first year as a teacher and virtually done with new secular music shaping my self-concept. I know about Ye, though, because a) I’m from Chicago, b) a few of his songs were so popular and catchy I just couldn’t miss them, and c) I haven’t been in a coma. The glut of prying headlines, spurred no doubt by gratuitous oversharing and fairly unimpeded voyeurism of modern-day man, seem to provide a certain level of “knowledge” and “access” into Ye’s life, and although I can honestly (and proudly) say that I have only read a handful of articles about him in the nearly 20 years of his rap career, my love of documentaries led me to Jeen-Yuhs. I’m not exactly sure what I expected, but I can tell you with certainty that I was surprised by the spiritual confirmation I had upon finishing it.

But let’s backtrack for a moment…

There comes a time in every Christian’s life when she realizes that saying “yes” to someone else necessarily means denying herself. And if she is really serious about holding up Christ as her example and standard, she finds herself sacrificing more and more. I prayerfully decided to allow a teacher who wanted to transfer to another school to do so before the year ended even though I knew that my work life would get harder. I knew the likelihood of finding a high-quality teacher at this time of year would be slim to none. I knew that this would mean that I would have to not only do my job as principal, but I would also have to assume responsibility for planning for and executing lessons to keep students progressing, not because anyone expected that of me, but because it would be the right thing to do, the thing I would want someone to do if one of my children were in that class. And I knew that my family would once again draw the short straw.

So I got down on my knees, Friend, and I told God that I needed Him to help me be the wife and mother my family needs me to be while I embark on this new reality. I told Him that I was going to trust the Holy Spirit’s counsel and remember Jesus’ faithfulness as I accepted added responsibility. I told Him how grateful I was for whatever He was doing in my life and equipping me for, and I told Him that I was going to continue in steadfast service to Him, communing with Him at our early morning meeting time, writing pieces to glorify Him, participating in Bible Study, teaching Sunday school, and attending church services because He is still my first and most important priority. And the Holy Spirit responded, “When you make room for Me, I will make room for you.”

I spent the two weeks I had prior to the teacher’s departure planning feverishly, perceiving that this was the calm before the storm. I reminded myself of a truth all great educators come to know: Proper planning prevents poor performance. But I left work last Friday, the Friday before taking over the class, feeling woefully unprepared for the next week. So imagine my surprise when God told me, “Rest now. Take a break.”

I stretched out on the couch, turned on the television, still a little reluctant knowing I had a ton of work to do, and chose to watch Jeen-Yuhs, a film I had little interest in prior to that moment. There I met Kanye West. Not the stage rushing, microphone stealing Kanye, but the retainer wearing, hopeful Kanye with a measure of success, but nothing like that he knew he should and would achieve.

I stared transfixed watching a seeming peon in the music industry assert his gap-bridging, game-elevating artistic genius, when those around him saw just another kid with a pipe dream who should just stick to what paid the rent. I lauded his mother for her ability to ground him and boost him up simultaneously, being his original and biggest fan, as she rapped lyrics to songs he’d forgotten he’d written, wearing a wide, beaming smile every child should see on the faces of his parents when he shares his life’s aspiration. I considered the difference faithful assurance, self-confidence, and boundless courage could make in our world if Christians had a bit more of what that young Kanye possessed.

What struck me most was Kanye’s faith. He believed in himself, his talent, and his art so much that he was not only humble enough to pay his dues, but he also, with determined confidence, pounded the pavement despite obstacles and a lack of validation from those he saw as his peers until the world realized what he knew all along–that he was great. He believed the hype about Kanye before there was hype about Kanye.

I ended Jeen-Yuhs feeling closer to God. I understood that He can use anyone and anything to make the truth of Him clearer in the hearts of his children. What I heard was God telling me, “If Kanye can achieve so much with faith in himself, imagine the fruit you can produce for the kingdom with faith in Me, the faithful God!”

Friend, let me tell you about our God: Every day this week, without fail, God has shown me how His faithfulness and concept of time surpasses my understanding. I am dog tired when I get home. More often than not, I pass out within minutes of eating dinner. But when God taps me and beckons me to the couch for our appointed time, I look back over the previous day and marvel at how much I was able to do. I know it is by His power because there is no way I can design and revise lesson plans, teach, grade papers, confer with students, communicate with parents, and do the job I actually get paid to do in the same number of hours each day. On top of that, I spent quality time with each of my family members, and I even was able to keep date night as the valued tradition it has grown to be. God did exactly what He said He would do: make room.

In the second chapter of James, we learn that faith is demonstrated by our actions. We do not merely sit back and believe our way into productivity and promise. Instead, we act out our faith by doing the things that God has called us to do. Far too many of us assume that our belief is enough, but God is clear in His expectation that His chosen work for the kingdom by faith (James 2: 21-22). We don’t have to be enough all by ourselves. God told us about His sufficiency (2 Corinthians 12: 9). We need not be discouraged by our fleshly perceptions. Only what God thinks matters (Isaiah 55: 8). We don’t have to rely on the power we possess. On the contrary, the power of the Holy Spirit flows in us (Romans 8: 11). In short, we would accomplish so much more if we acted like we believe a faithful God!

Friend, you can say what you want about Ye, but I had a lightbulb moment as his story reminded me of what it takes to faithfully pursue promise. Start by making room for God as you tackle each leg of the race. Jesus is the Real Deal, even if the world doesn’t see it yet. Like Ye knew his worth, let’s make sure God sees that His children know His!

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