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When God Turned My Sorrow to Joy

Written By Callie Opper, USA

In every person’s life, I believe that there is a defining moment when we suddenly come to realize how small we are compared with God, and how small we are compared with the problems that can overwhelm us. For me, that moment happened on my 14th birthday.

That was when my family received news that my mom had been diagnosed with leukemia. Almost exactly a month later, my dad was diagnosed with lymphoma. As a 14-year-old, I didn’t know how to process the news. It rocked my world. And because the seemingly perfect world that I had known was now crumbling around me, I did the only thing I could at the time—I pretended to be strong, even though I was crumbling inwardly. I truly believed that I needed to be strong to make it through something like this, and for God to heal my parents.

As a child growing up in a Christian environment, I had heard time and time again that when life gets hard, we’re supposed to trust God, and when tragedy hits, we should feel unshaken because He’s on our side. But when the storm hit me, I didn’t feel this automatic trust in God’s plan, and I started to believe that He was giving up on me because of my doubts. I had accepted Christ at the age of nine and prayed a prayer whose meaning I knew, but I didn’t understand what it really meant to follow Jesus.

Because of this trial, I found myself feeling alone, even though I was surrounded by so many people who loved me. I let this feeling of abandonment take root and became insecure about myself; I began to doubt if God was present in my world because He didn’t heal my mom. And because I craved attention and belonging, I let the world define who I was. Inwardly, I was running away from the one person who promises to never abandon us; I blocked my heart and mind from letting Him heal the hurt in me.

Over a year after my mom was diagnosed, she passed away. I had to get used to a new normal—a life without her. I kept up an external image that seemed to show a deep trust in God, but inwardly I was confused and lost. I kept asking why, and I became bitter as I watched my dad fall in love again and we moved out of my childhood home.

I believe that God does not forsake us. He pursues us and over time, slowly breaks down the walls of our hearts.

Shortly after my mother’s passing, I signed up for a mission trip to China. But it was for a selfish reason—I wanted to leave the country to escape my world and to get away from the tragedy that surrounded me and my family.

My plans, however, were drastically changed; God had plans to reveal the selfishness of my heart and to truly heal it. One day, on a mountain in China, He used a place of isolation to make me face the weight of the pain I had been feeling and my rebellion against Him, and He revealed to me the condition of my heart. For the first time in my life, I found myself vulnerable before Him. He broke me down using one verse: “In all our troubles, my joy knows no bounds” (2 Cor 7:4). While I had gone to China to escape, God brought me to a place of quiet retreat, to sit in His presence and to experience His life transformation.

I didn’t know what true joy was, but in that one moment, I knew I wanted it. I started pleading with the Lord for joy, to confidently trust in His plans, His ways, and the story He had started writing for me. And it was from that one single moment that God started to break down my walls, to refine me, and to teach me what joy means.

Over the next few years, God chiseled away at my heart to reveal emotions I had not wanted to face, grief that was unresolved, and lies that I had believed about God and myself.

He showed me that joy looks a lot like vulnerability. Joy is not a temporal happiness, but a deep-rooted contentment in God’s plan, which we know is for our good and His purposes. Joy does not mean I will wake up with a smile on my face every day; it does not mean that I will always be rejoicing in my sorrows and in the storms. Rather, it is choosing to see God’s higher purposes when everything is crumbling. Joy is a daily choice. It’s laughing and embracing the tears when they come.

God taught me that being weak is so much greater than being strong. Our weakness proclaims our need to depend on the Lord utterly. He has taught me that it’s okay to not be okay. He welcomes our doubting and invites us to wrestle with Him when we don’t understand what He is doing.

The beautiful thing that I learned about God is that He never gives up on us. He will never stop pursuing our hearts even when we try to run. He will go into the deep and dark places of our hearts to pull us out and to prove that He is good.

I have seen God turn my brokenness into beauty. He has removed the bitterness I held on to tightly for years, by giving me people to walk with me. He used the brokenness of my mom’s death to show me the reality of how short life is, to teach me what it means to value others, and to show me that every second matters. He has showed me the importance of loving and living well, and how much people and relationships matter.

God has been faithful to me in this journey. He has given me so many glimpses of His purposes for my mom’s death. He has given me complete joy and has taught me to embrace weakness, to cling to Him, and to live vulnerably. He has taught me to accept grief. He has shown me that hiding and running from the storms that He allows is useless.

I believe that God weaves unique stories for everyone. He creates masterpieces out of our lives and weaves the deepest pain into something far more beautiful than we could ever imagine. Life is a gift, and the story of our lives, no matter what it looks like, paints a radiant picture of the gospel. Our stories are all about Him and His glory alone.

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen, and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to tread on the heights. For the director of music, on my stringed instruments.”—Habakkuk 3

Last year I got a tattoo in my mother’s hand writing to remind me of the faithfulness of God, to keep me grounded in Him, and in the meaning of joy.

Propaganda: Music is an Outpouring of My Heart

Written By Callie Opper, USA

For American Christian hip hop and spoken word artist, Propaganda (or Prop), who is in his 30s, his rap music journey began way back in the neighborhood he grew up—a largely Mexican American neighborhood. At a young age, he realized he was different.

“I was this one black kid in a white neighborhood,” Prop says. “I felt like I didn’t belong, the wrong color, in the wrong neighborhood.” Besides the color of his skin, there was another reason that made Prop stick out: he loved to draw. This was unusual in a community where most boys found it more beneficial for their safety and well-being to dabble in gang life.

This feeling of not belonging eventually helped him to find his identity in God; his love for drawing subsequently spawned his love for hip hop, rap, and graffiti.

Today, Prop, whose real name is Jason Emmanuel Petty, is known and respected not just for his talent and creativity as an artist, but also for his deep love for God and others, and his passion for race and justice.

These passions are clearly seen in his four albums released through Humble Beast Records, a non-profit organization that describes itself as “a family of creatives, pastors, writers, theologians, and musicians who leverage their talents to see the Gospel go out into the community and transform lives”. Besides Prop, it is also home to other Christian artists like Beautiful Eulogy, Sho Baraka, Jackie Hill Perry and Alert312.

On June 30, Prop released his most recent album, Crooked, which is available for download.

Humble beginnings

“I became a Christian really through good youth ministry,” Prop tells YMI in an email interview. “Somewhere in middle school, via a combination of my parents’ conversion and impact from my youth leaders, I was able to see really great examples of real people having real-life change that made me start to believe.”

In high school, he was given the name of Propaganda by his cousin due to his love of visual arts, history, poetry, and evangelism. “I was so fascinated with the culture of hip-hop and its musical expression,” Prop says. “It sat in the same street of black music I grew up with—being narrative, emotional and uplifting.”

But ask Prop what made him decide to venture into “gospel rap” and he quickly says that he doesn’t think there needs to be a distinction between hip hop and Christian hip hop. “I made no conscious effort to make ‘Gospel Rap’ because as far as I was concerned, there was no such thing,” Prop says. “All rappers had a worldview, I just rapped what I knew and believed.”

In 2002, he was discovered by an underground hip-hop collective and has been going strong ever since. In 2011, Prop signed with Humble Beast Record Label; he is described as a poet, rapper, artist and political activist. Prop released Art Ambidextrous in 2011, Excellent a year later, Crimson Cord in 2014.

As his journey as a rapper began, Prop made sure that he did not rap for the acceptance of others; he never felt the need to respond to those who had harsh opinions about the rap industry. Instead, he rapped simply because it was an outpouring of his heart.

Interestingly, he shares that his biggest critics are not non-believers but believers. “Most backlash I get is from other Christians—mostly very conservative Christian would say I’m too preoccupied with race and justice. My heart actually breaks for those that can’t see that both are Gospel issues,” he says.

Hopes for his latest album

 On his recently released album, Prop says, “Crooked is about all of us.”

“The record is about a crooked person, with crooked desires, inside a crooked system, hoping for the day the crooked is made straight.”

In it, Prop weaves together his own personal struggle over the past few years with all the idols Christians and non-Christians experience daily. He is honest about his own failings, revealing that he struggles with the same challenges other Christians face. “Pride, lust, comparison, self-righteousness. I can’t say I’ve overcome them. I’m constantly confessing my weakness and dependency.

The songs on Crooked tell the story of the world we live in, the people we truly are, and how much grace God freely gives us. Prop raps about issues that many young Christians face today while living in a crooked world.

Prop hopes everyone can relate to his album. In one of his songs, Olympian, he illustrates the heartbreaking realities of this life—that hard things will happen in this crooked world, but we have a perfect God who is constantly perfecting our purpose. Through his lyrics, he urges listeners to not lose heart while fighting against injustice, fighting for peace, and standing up for Jesus.

For Prop, rapping is so much more than just a creative expression. His overall goal is to preach the gospel and remind Christians that we are all image bearers of Christ. “I make music out of an outpouring of my heart. And evangelism is again a part of my life.”

 

Click here to download Prop’s latest album Crooked.

Our Generation’s Biggest Struggle: Stillness

Written By Callie Opper, USA

For most of my life, I struggled with being still. Being an extrovert made it hard to say no to people. I would push myself to do anything and everything for others, and failed to make time to simply be silent. In college, I surrounded myself with the busyness of life and let it get in the way of my silence before the Lord and a deep intimacy with a Savior that heals, restores and makes everything new.

But God has this painful yet beautiful way of stopping me dead in my tracks when I least expect it, and that’s what He has been doing in my heart over the past six months. Towards the end of my time in college, I hit a wall. I couldn’t give to others as well anymore as my energy was spent. Everything around me seemed to become a hurdle to jump over—ministry, school, and work. I had lost touch with who I was and who God made me to be. When I realized how emotionally and physically drained I had become, God started revealing to me that that it’s not selfish to say no. And that when I don’t give myself breathing room to just sit in His presence, I lose sight of what matters.

I think stillness is a foreign word for many in my generation. We are consumed with being busy—we try to push ourselves past our limits because we fear missing out, or we are immersed in our phones, social media, and everyday distractions. We so often let the chaos of life surround us that we fail to see the value of resting in God’s presence by spending time in prayer and gaining strength and wisdom through His Word.

Sometimes I think we get comfortable in that noise because we’re scared of what God can do through the silence. It’s precisely in the places of stillness that God remakes us, leads us to do things we might not want to do, rewires our hearts and passions, and ultimately changes us. Sometimes that process is painful, so we avoid it all together. But it’s often in those places that we find God.

When I prioritize spending time in His Word, I deepen my understanding of how to live. He reveals Himself to me through the wisdom, encouragement, and strength found in His truth. Through quiet time, He shows me how to live well, love others the way He loves them, and become a true servant. The more time I spend in prayer and saturate myself in His Word, the more the distractions of everyday life seem to fade.

God wants to be the loudest voice we hear. He longs to be with us and for us to meet with Him in the places where we experience Him most fully. He wants us to find contentment in sitting in His presence alone. God longs to comfort and restore the broken pieces of our lives as we rest in Him. God longs for us to depend on Him. God desires His children to listen to Him, to soak up His endless love for them, to rest in His peace, and to seek His radiant glory.

That’s when we can marvel at His glory surrounding us—His strong but gentle Spirit demonstrated in the wind, His beauty and power radically revealed in all of creation, His grace and faithfulness seen through the abundance of His blessings, and His creativity displayed in the canvas of the colors He paints in the sky. When I first started to truly marvel at who God is and His creation, I was reminded that the Creator of the Universe knows my name, sees me, and pursues me intimately. If the God of all of Creation chooses to see and know the most inward parts of my being, then He deserves nothing less than my time and affection.

So, find your place—find where you encounter God most fully. Create that space, savor those silent moments, and regularly meet Him in that place. I found my space of silence in the wilderness. Protect it, schedule that time, and don’t compromise it for anything or anyone. Prioritize those moments so that He can fill you. Let Him show up. Let Him change you.

Every day, God is teaching me that there is beauty in silence—when we let go of the chaos in this world and create the space for Him to show up and fill our hearts with His Spirit. He is not finished with us, He never stops remaking us, He never stops developing our passions, never stops directing us where to go, and will never stop making everything new.

The more I have sat in His presence, studied His Word and sought Him out in prayer, the more He has changed the direction of my life—by taking things from me that I wouldn’t let go of and allowing tragedy and hardships into my world. But the more I wrestled with Him through those things and in those storms, the more I realized that He was rearranging my heart to see Him even more clearly and to teach me that beauty can be birthed out of anything ugly. Through my stillness with God, He continues to define what my purpose is.

The more we depend and rest in the stillness of His presence, the more we see Him and the more we hear from Him.

Be silent, for He will show up.

“The Lord will fight for you, you need only be still.” (Exodus 14:14)