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In August of 2018 I started a journey with 120 (give or take) students from over 15 countries in the City Heights area of San Diego. City Heights is known for its diversity, poverty and culture. I have worked in this area of the city for the past three years, and I have learned more than I have ever taught. This community has formed me in my faith, my understanding of people and my belief in humanity.

Now, 10 months later, the year is coming to an end. Tonight, three students will graduate from the high school I am at, the first graduating class from City Heights Prep school. Yesterday we celebrated our 8th grade promotion, pictured above, which was also an amazing accomplishment for many of these students who come from broken, and disadvantaged homes.

I have seen students rise above their circumstances and achieve greatness. I have seen students push back on the cards that were dealt them, and win in so many areas of life. There is something special that happens when people believe in you and give you the motivation and the opportunity to succeed. Students in the worst of circumstances will rise up and become great when encouraged and pushed by someone who can see the other side and that getting there is possible.

I am proud of our students, and excited to see our three seniors walk the stage tonight to receive their high school graduation diploma.

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Last week someone asked me about the ministry I am involved in, meaning the non profit that I run. I spent the next few minutes telling her everything that I do, trying to make it sound as interesting and full as possible. I found myself getting lost in what I do, and not talking about who I am.

I have been a bit haunted by this over the past three days. It has caused me to really think about who I am as a person. I know what I do, because I do it every day, but what I do is not fully who I am, its just an outward reflection of who Philip Cunningham is.

So who am I? This is what I need to dig deep into again, because when I am no longer doing what I do, I want to still be ok with who I am. The things I know about myself are the basics. I am:

  • A husband
  • A father
  • A follower of Jesus

What I do is connected to these things, but somehow takes on its own identity, an identity that I have tried to promote for the past 25 years as a staff member with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) and Steps of Justice. When I write newsletters, I write to communicate to others what is happening in our lives. I also write to seek prayer and communicate the need for continued financial support, as that is how we raise funds. I rarely write about who we are, and so I find myself focussing more on what I do, and missing who I am.

Many of you have been following me for years, and you see what I do, which matters greatly, but here is who I am, outside of all the work I do with refugees, the poor and the vulnerable.

  • I love 80’s hair bands. I don’t buy the music anymore, but when Guns N Roses or AC/DC come on the radio, I turn it up to 11. I also like worship music, specifically old hymns done in new ways.
  • I love laughter and laughing with friends. A good friend is someone who can laugh with you when you are at your worst, helping you focus on the joy of life.
  • I cry easily when someone has a victory, or is unjustly treated.
  • I like making coffee. I like the process, the art and the feeling of turning a brown bean into a tasty drink in my cup.
  • I like exercise, and feeling like I am in control of my fitness.
  • I love getting up early (not sure when this happened, but it wasn’t when I was a teenager).
  • I love road trips.
  • I am a fixer. I am a 2 on Enneagram (the helper). I love helping others and being with others when they are hurting.
  • I am empathetic, and a man of faith. I have always had an extremely strong faith in Jesus, His provision, His word and his protection.
  • I am old, 47 to be exact.
  • I like being different, and not going with the flow. It’s not that I try to be this way, it’s just that trends seem to turn me off, and always have.
  • I like a clean/orderly house. I am slightly OCD about this, sorry Amy and kids.
  • I am anxious and slightly insecure (working on this or sure).
  • I am…

I don’t want to forget who I am, because if I do, one day I will wake up not doing what I do, and not knowing who I am. I want to laugh more, rest more, live more, love more, care more and be less anxious. I want to live the way God made me, and in that, I do the things I do, but also rest in the person that I am.

Last year I read “Kill The Spider” by Carlos Whittaker. I am realizing that the spider I need to kill is the finding my identity in what I do, and not in who I am. This spider is literally taking me down, as it is growing and growing, and I am having to do more and more to find satisfaction in who Phil Cunningham is, and this is not the fullness of life that God promised.

Today is a new day, a day where I get back to who I am. I am not going to change what I do, because it comes out of who I am, but I am no longer going to find my identity in it.

Here we go.

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In two days we will enter 2019, uhhhh, where did the year go? This year, I am not running into the new year with resolutions and start overs, but walking into it with the goal of continuing to be a better husband, dad, friend and follower.

Don’t get me wrong, I have goals, just not ones that are starting January 1st. Instead, I am going to continue being more faithful to the goals I currently have in my life. Goals like being more patient with my children, more kind to my wife, more committed to exercise and diet, and more faithful in my work.

I have noticed over the years that when I set goals that begin January 1, they usually fizzle out quickly. But, when I set goals to stay faithful to a good rhythm of life I usually hit those goals and stay true to them. Why, because I am not adding something that is not already there, but refining something that is already in my life.

I read, but I want to read more. I work out, but I want to be more consistent. I have kids, but I want to be a better dad, I have a wife, but I want to be a more loving husband, etc. I’m not saying that big, new goals are bad, I’m just pointing out that they do not work well for me.

See you in 2019.

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This week I am in Norway, teaching at the Youth With A Mission (YWAM) community. I am teaching on issues of Justice, specifically why, as followers of Jesus, it is necessary for us to care for and live our lives on behalf of the poor and vulnerable. I am asking five questions this week, questions that I heard from Don Millers interview with Andy Stanley. 

The five questions that I am bringing are:

  1. What do the students and staff need to know?
  2. Why do they need to know it?
  3. What do they need to do (application)?
  4. Why do they need to do it? 
  5. How can I help them remember?

I am excited and humbled to guide this community through the above questions, and I am excited to learn myself. My answers are hopefully simple:

  • We need to know why its important and necessary to practice justice as a part of our regular rhythm of life. 
  • We need to know it, because it is crucial to our human flourishing, neccesary as humanity and commanded by God. 
  • We need to open our eyes, stop living in fear and isolation and respond in love and practice to the needs around us, both local and global.
  • We need to do it, because we are a shared humanity, and we need each other. It is the most fulfilling way to live, to love all. 
  • I hope that through stories, media, statistics, and emotion I can help people remember why this is all worth remembering. 

I would appreciate your prayers this week, as I serve and learn from this amazing community. It’s an honor to be invited into this communities journey, and I pray I bring truth, conviction and life. 

Youth With A Mission

Don Miller with Andy Stanley

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It is October 10, 2018, day 18. I am writing a bit each day about my thoughts, motivations, ideas and dreams. Last night I was roller skating with my girls, some friends and the Syrian youth group that I help run. At one point in the night, as I was practicing my crossovers that I learned in the 1980’s, I thought to myself “your old, you have grayish hair, and your rollerskating to pop music with a bunch of teenagers, you don’t belong here.” Thanks self for that deposit into my mind.

This wasn’t the first time I had this thought, it has been happening a lot over the past few weeks. Before this, I had never had these thoughts, so it is all new to me. I remember hearing old telling people telling young people to act their age when they were messing around, or being immature. So, If a teenager is being immature, they are told to act their age. Does this saying apply to those who are old too?

I was just talking to my family about this over the breakfast table. I asked the question, “am I supposed to act my age (46) or my hair color (old man gray)? This really is the thought that has been coming into my head lately, “Phil, act your hair color.” I don’t think 46 is old, but I guess Im getting a bit insecure about feeling and acting young than I ever have.

Do I fight this feeling, or do I give into it?

I know I have to fight it because it is just culture talking, but as we all know, culture talks loud. Culture can dictate what we buy, what music we listen to, who is in, who is out and where and how we shop. Culture is a voice that has the control of many. Jesus tells me to come as a child. Jesus tells me not to worry. Jesus tells me to have fullness of life. Hmmm, that sounds a lot better than what culture is telling me.

I guess the answer is to be yourself, do what you love and be thankful for it. The older I get the more I will have to fight this voice, but the more I fight the more victor I will have over it. I don’t want to be the old dude, who has no fun, hangs with people his own age and eats at Marie Calendars, I want to be me.

Peace

 

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