Sunday, June 23, 2013

Scars Like Stones

A few months ago, at Wednesday night youth, Sean spoke on the parable of the man who was scattering seeds, and how some ended in weeds, some feel along the path, some fell on shallow soil, and that some fell on fertile soil.  And how all the seed grew, but the ones in the weeds got chocked out, and the ones on shallow ground grew quickly, but because of the lack of soil deep down, it withered and died.  And the moral of the story is that you should make your life the right kind of soil.  Anyway, he told a story about his yard.  That there was one spot that just would not grow grass.  And one day, after trying all sorts of fertilizers and watering,  he went out and started digging and found a big rock buried in the ground.  And how after he removed it, and added the soil and grass back, it grew like the rest of his yard.  Well, this got me thinking.  I was going to say something then, but it wasn't really the point of his lesson, so I kept it to myself, just so I wouldn't interrupt his current one.  I thought the example was good, but could also be used in other ways.  And I thought about it a lot since then, probably more than I've thought about stuff like this in a while.  This idea kept coming back at me, so I just gave in and started fleshing it out to see where it would lead me.  Sean and I worked on it a few weeks ago and it lead to an unlikely story in the Bible.  And it just happened to be one of those "all-star" verses that we've been tackling and seeing if there are maybe were deeper meanings behind some of the more popular verses.  And believe me, this fitting into that style was entirely unintentional.  

The whole thing started with the idea of having something buried deep in your life, that most people are clueless about.  But it is something so painful, we shove it way down deep so that it seems to dull the pain, if only for a little bit.  It's some sort of wound that turns into a scar.  And these scars start acting like stones; that nothing can quite take root because of it.  All the rest of our lives seem to be fine and going strong, but there are always signs and symptoms of these scars like stones in our lives.

And everyone has them.  As perfect as everyone tries to pretend and as deep as we try to bury it, every person has something like this going on.  Sometimes it's mistakes we've made ourselves that fill us with shame and guilt so much, we can't tell anyone.  Or maybe it's something external, like a toxic relationship; that they keep reminding us of our ugly nature.  Maybe it's just your own brain doing just the same.  And through the years and a thousand tiny cuts of hurtful words, it's become so much a part of your life, you can't even imagine a life outside of that.

It's in this frame of mid that we dive into the Bible, to the story of the lost son.  (Luke 15:11-32.  Paraphrase mine.)  

Now, this may be news to you, but Jesus was a Jew.  Speaking to other Jews.  In an ancient time.  I know.  Shocking.  But this story has some of those things in it that don't seem too important to us in our modern mostly non-Jewish lives.  First, we have a family, and the younger of two sons goes to his father and asks for his third of the family inheritance.  Inheritance that he should only ever come to when his father died.  So what he's saying to his father is "I don't like the life you've given me, and I wish you were dead.  I wish this so much that I want you to be like you are dead and give me what you owe me and give me your stuff."  And then, to add insult to injury, he goes out and wastes it all on prostitutes and stuff like that.  

And then things went bad, like they often do.  And he was left with nothing.  No money, no friends, no support from anyone, and a famine strikes.  In order to survive, he took a job no one wanted.  Feeding pigs.  Now, I don't know if you know this, but pigs eat anything.  Literally.  It's quite disgusting.  To make matters worse, Jews considered pigs to be unclean, and touching them would make you unclean as well.  And he fed them.  And he was so hungry, he wanted to eat what the pigs were eating.  And no one would let him.  So at this point, he snaps out of his funk and realizes that even the lowest of the low of his father's servants never went hungry.  Now remember, he's given up all claim to his family.  He had no right to return to them.  For all intents and purposes, he was dead to this family.  Yet he heads back anyway, because he has nothing left.  And on his way, he's reciting this little speech he's going to give when he gets there to let them know that he know he's not worthy to be called a son, but that he's coming back to be the lowest of the low servants.

However, while he was a long way off, his father sees him, and knows.  And he runs. He lets him get through his little speech before telling him to shut up and tells his servants to get a new robe, new sandals and a new ring for him, and to prepare a feast and to invite everyone to it.  

And this is where the story would end if 99% of the population were to tell this story.  Because this is the logical ending to the story.  There is reconciliation, and celebration, and everything ends well.  Fade to black.  Roll credits. 

But Jesus made the point to call him the younger brother.  And if there is a younger brother, then there has to be an older brother.  And starting in verse 25 until the end of the chapter, you get a strange little epilogue.  The older brother had been out working in the field and came home to hear music and dancing and was rightfully confused.  So he calls a servant over and asks what was going on, and he tells him all about his brother's return and how they had killed the fattened calf (a really big deal) on his behalf since he was home safe and sound.  They tell him this, and he gets mad.  So mad he won't go inside.  So mad that the father goes out to him to see what's going on.  And he lays out his complaints.  They might seem a little over dramatic, but in the context of everything that has happened, his complaints are kind of justified.  I mean, his brother left, cursed his father to death, and went to live this hedonistic life, and now he's back, and the father throws him a party?  It's not right.  It's not fair!  He had spent all that time working hard and staying with the father, and not once did the father give him even a pathetic little goat that he could celebrate with his friends.

It's because of this last little section of the text that made me hate this story over the years.  Because, in all honestly, I relate to the other brother.  Or I use to.  It's complicated.  But let me share a not-so-flattering-to-me example.  When I was a kid, I was always at church.  Almost every time there was an event, I was there.  There was no question of if I was going to be there, but when.  And, for the most part, this was my own choice.  A lot of my friends were there, and my sister had the coolest friends there, so it was fun.  And I learned a whole lot from a lot of people there.  Anyway, the point is, I was never in danger of not coming back.  And sometime around the end of elementary school and the beginning of junior high, someone started a little thing in the Sunday morning program that was something like the "on fire kid of the week" or something like that.  Basically it was this little blurb about one of the kids in the church who were around my age.  And week after week, I would open it up to be disappointed that it wasn't me.  Usually it was someone who happened to show up to a random service the past week, and people were making a big deal out of how good it was they were there.  And I never was that kid.  Not once.  Now that I'm older, I know that it was someone's good meaning to esteem these kids who may or may not ever come back, and to give them a bit of encouragement, but as a kid, it killed me.  I felt like furniture.  I felt like I was invisible and didn't matter to anyone.  And people don't really know this, but I still struggle with ideas like this.  

But what I (and probably the brother in the story) didn't realize was this is all just symptoms of the scars.  That somewhere along the way, I bought the lie that I was worthless, and this was just other people confirming my fears, when in reality, it was something completely unrelated and unintentional.  And the brother had the scar of having to watch his family after the younger one left, and heard the people talking, both good and bad, and internalized all of this pain and it became part of his life until it got to the point that he couldn't imagine his life any other way.  

And the father looked at his son and said "All I have is yours.  I didn't need to celebrate you, because I knew I could depend on you.  But this brother of yours was lost, but now he's found."  And the brother was right.  It isn't fair.

Because God isn't in the business of being fair.

He's in the business of being forgiving.

And the biggest difference between the two brothers is that the younger one took the hard road back home and dug up all his scars like stones, and laid them bare at the father's feet expecting at worst to be turned away and at best, turned into a servant of his family.  And in turn was ushered into something beyond his expectations.  And the father, in his infinite wisdom, goes to the other brother to try and help him get through his own scars.

Because he's also in the business of gardening.

The problem in our own lives is that we all have these.  In some form or another, and if we're aware of them or not, we all have something.  Or multiple somethings.  But it's so hard for us to dig them up and lay them bare, because it hurts.  A lot.  And it means you have to say three of the hardest things to humanity: I was wrong, I'm sorry and I love you.  And on the other side of that, it's often more than we can bear to overcome our own scars and love as perfectly as the father does.

I wish I had a neat little way of tying this all up with pretty answers that make everyone feel good, but I don't.  And the story itself ends with the father standing in a field with his oldest son as a celebration goes on inside, so I guess leaving it like this is in pretty good form...

Saturday, October 27, 2012

5 years

Five years ago right now, I was sitting in an elevator, riding it up and down. People would look at me, generally curious as to why I was riding an elevator but never getting off. Some people knew me and knew the reason I was there, but I couldn't bear to look at them, and gratefully, they left me alone.

You see, I don't deal with grief well. I hate grieving and being at the center of attention. I really hate both of those things, and to have to do both at the same time was excruiting for me.  Eventually, i got off the elevator and found a corner to sit in. My best friend, sean, found me and sat there with me, and he knew me well enough to not have to say anything. I'm not even sure he even knew anything to say. 

Around the corner and down a small hallway sat most, if not all, of my church family. It was people I currently went to church with and people I hadn't seen in years that we had gone to church with ages ago; but every time we would get together, it would seem like we all still went to church in the same building. In that way that only old friends can do. And all of the family that was close enough to be there. 

Five years ago today was the day my mom died. 

Five years is such a long time. 

Right now, five years later, I'm sitting in my car, not really wanting to be anywhere in particular. I'm on the verge of moving back half way across the country. It seems like nothing really ever settles down. Life just keeps moving and growing and expanding. And yet, all it takes is one ladybug to bring back all that sorrow. 

I know it's just a little reminder of her, and it generally is a positive thing and makes me smile, but every time it breaks my heart just a little bit more. Because as much as I love the reminder, you have no idea what I would give up for just ten more minutes with her. 


Because a ladybug will never see the man I will become.

A ladybug doesn't know how far I've come in five years.

A ladybug can't tell me that all this stuff will be over soon and that things will go better for me in the way she could.

Five years is such a long time to go without a mother.

But still I press on, and cherish the memories I have; even the surprise ones I didn't know I had forgotten. Or when someone walks by wearing her perfume, for a moment I can pretend she's right there with me. 

Because life keeps going and growing and changing and expanding. 

And I remember the love of all those people who sat and stood with us at the hospital while we made those hard decisions to let her go. And the fact that her memorial service had too many people and not only dd we run out of pew space, but out of folding chairs, and people were lining the back wall. And all the people who put up the chairs for us so we wouldn't have to think about it.

I hate grieving in front of people and being the center of attention, but here I am, doing both. Not because of me, but because five years ago right now, the world lost a great woman of God.  

Monday, April 9, 2012

Ladybugs

Thoughts about Easter

Today is a beautiful day.  Clear blue skies with the temperature somewhere in the 60's.  This is a seemingly rare day in Seattle it seems like these days.  It is one of those days where you want to get in your car, roll down the windows and crank up your music just a little too loud and just drive out in the country.  Which is what I was doing when I found myself stopped at a stoplight.  When all of a sudden, a ladybug flew in my window and landed on my leg.  It made me smile a bit, and I wanted to take a photo to share with my sister, but it flew away before I could get my phone out.

My sister had her first baby in August.  Emma Jane was a very very welcome surprise in her and her husband's (and, of course, my) life.  While she was pregnant, I asked her what Emma's animal was going to be, so I could be a good unca and plan out future presents for her.  She told me she would have to think about it.  When she finally realized what it was, she posted a blog about what it was and her reasons.  It was a ladybug.  And one of the big reasons for it was of how when she was going through this time of sadness and disappointment, especially in a time when she really needed a mother.  And during these times, she found that there would be ladybugs around.  Sometimes one, sometimes a swarm, sometimes where they really shouldn't be, ladybugs would find her.  It became a symbol to her, and subsequently to me, of a reminder of our mother and a gentle way of showing comfort.

My mom passed away a few years ago, have I ever mentioned that?  I was 24 years old, and to this day it is the worst experience of my life.  (And I've had quite a few.  Ask my roommate.)  I had the worst fights with her, and there is not a thing on earth I wouldn't give to have just one more day with her.  There are still days where I miss her so much, it physically hurts.  

Having moved to Seattle, away from all my family has, in some ways, exacerbated this.  In others it has been the best move I have ever made.  But there are times where I wish I could just drive a couple of minutes down the road and see my sister and her baby and spend time with my dad and my brother-in-law and my grandmother.  

Easter has always been a special holiday in my family.  And this is my first Easter away from home, and I was feeling a bit home sick.  I was missing everyone terribly, and I had to work.  And on my lunch break, on this beautiful spring day, I rolled down my windows and was listening to Jars of Clay, missing my family, but loving the day.  And that ladybug joined me, just for a brief moment, and it was just the perfect reminder that even though I'm 1600 miles away, I am still loved, and my mother is still out there watching out for me too.

And Easter is always a reminder of life after death.  This life is temporary, and we will lose people we love dearly and fight with and disagree with and would do anything and give anything along the way.  But it's not the end.  There is a beautiful spring day at the end of the rainy season.  There is closure.  There is an empty tomb.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

going

I moved to Seattle, did I ever mention that?

It's kind of a long story that involves a lot of history and details I frankly don't feel like typing up right now. Ask me again in a week or so, I'll probably do it again. Or in six months, as this blog is evidence of my distracted nature.

Anyway, where was I? Oh right. I moved to Seattle. Which was a big deal to me considering that prior to this, the farthest I had ever lived from home was approximately 216 miles away when I went to college.

I had saved up enough money to make it up there and survive on for a few months while I looked for a job. Which, who moves across the country with no job prospects? Me, apparently. And I shoved most of my possessions into my little car and drove halfway across the country, with the promise of an inflatable bed to sleep on once I made it up here.

The most remarkable thing about this? Somehow I pulled it off. Don't ask me how, my mind is still boggled. I got a job (and promoted!) and made some friends, and essentially accomplished all the tasks I set out to do. And recently I have found myself in a precarious position.

What's next?

I get this strange anxiety in the pit of my stomach when I think about it. Because I really don't know. I knew what I had to do to survive (get a job) and I knew what I had to do to thrive (make friends) and I knew that this was an opportunity for me to grow into whoever it was I am suppose to be (which is happening, but not finished yet). But I don't know where this leads. It seems that there is this vast and infinite space in front of me, and yet I don't know how to traverse it.

This past week I was reminded of a verse.

Actually, stick a pin in that, I need to tell this story first, because I really kind of like it.

So, this whole idea has been in my brain for a few weeks now, ever since going home for Christmas in January. And twice in one week I came across this same idea about this same verse but from two radically different places. The first was from a sermon/conference/presentation thing I was showing my roommate. Granted I had seen it before, but it had been a while, and it was more of a rabbit trail he went down before getting back to his main point. And honestly, I had forgotten that part. The second was in a collection of semi-terrible short stories for some reason I found myself continuing to read. Now, I'm not one to force connections where there are none, but, if nothing else, it sure got me thinking about this pretty hard. And I'm not one to think this is just a coincidence.

So the verse happens just over halfway through the book of Exodus. Which is a book of leaving one place to get to another. And wandering. There is a whole lot of wandering. So in chapter 24, God calls Moses up to the mountain to receive the confirmation of the covenant (the 10 commandments, basically. I mean, there's more to it than that, but it's really not relevant to the story at hand.) And this is how the NIV translates this verse: "The LORD said to Moses, 'Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.'"

And the Moses climbs up the mountain to go chill with God for 40 days and 40 nights.

But that phrase "stay here" trips people up. Because it really doesn't make sense. Especially when you start looking at other translations. Some translate it to "wait for me". Which is slightly confusing. Why send someone somewhere to wait for you to arrive? Why not just have them arrive precisely when you intend to be there? And some translate this to be "be there". So essentially God says to Moses, "go on top of the mountain, and when you get to the top of the mountain, be on top of the mountain."

Remarkably redundant.

Except it isn't.

In the midst of the most important thing in a very strange time in the people's lives, God tells their leader to climb a mountain and just be there. Don't worry about what's going on at the foot of the mountain. Don't worry about how you're going to get down. Don't start planning the safest and quickest journey down, just be on top of the mountain.

Don't worry about the people waiting for you down below. Don't worry about where you have to go after this or how you'll get there. Don't worry that there's still a lot of rough terrain in front of you that you'll have to wander through. Don't worry that you won't even get to where you're going.

Just... Be on top of the mountain.

I think it's too easy for us to get caught up in the plans, some of which are absolutely God's design, that we get overburdened with them, and we need to sometimes just be on top of the mountain.

It seems simple enough, but how often do we actually take time to do this? And time and time again we make excuses or rationalize that we'll make time when things slow down. But things never slow down. We are a people of remarkable busy-ness. We are busy all the time. And when we find ourselves not busy, we bring things along to keep us occupied.

Sometimes we like to pride ourselves in all we've accomplished and how many programs our churches run and how often we're at church doing churchy things. And there's nothing inherently wrong with that. But I think that sometimes we confuse movement with productivity. And then we sometimes look down on people who aren't as active as us. Or maybe it's just a tinge of jealousy that somehow they've plugged into something we haven't found for ourselves. I'm not too sure.

For the future, I'll keep my eyes open for where God will lead me, but for right now, I'm on top of my mountain, waiting. And when the time is right, I'll start going again.


Friday, July 15, 2011

There won't be blood

I believe I need to clarify.

First of all, thank you to everyone who read my last blog. It was the most people to read a post of mine by almost double. And thank you everyone who commented (on my facebook, because as of now, no one has posted on it here...)

But having gone back with fresh eyes after having slept, there are parts of the story that may have come across differently than I had intended. And being that I am trying to be as honest as possible, I feel it necessary to explain, and possibly edit, certain parts from last night's post.

First of all, the youth group that I moved to when we changed churches was not at all The People. Initially, when I started going, I assumed they were, because I assumed that all churches functioned like the one I had left. But I was wrong. The group was probably the most accepting group of people I had ever met. And it was probably my first exposure to real church. Because we were there to learn.

I remember when our first intern came, long before we had our first youth minister, and he asked us what we wanted to do with our summer. Later, he told us, he was expecting us to say something like we wanted to go to amusement parks and play games and such, but was shocked when we told him that we were studying Ephesians and how we were confused by parts of it, and were wondering if he could work with us on that. We ourselves had decided to study and to be in the word with no real prompting from anyone one else. He was surprised, but very very happy.

And I learned a ton of stuff about God and his nature and what it means to surrender your life. And through studying and conversations with good friends, it was during this time that I got baptized. And I would never trade these times for anything in the world.

However. Certain people (and I swear I cannot remember who said it, or in what context) but people did start using those phrases. And while I would never and will never doubt someone's sincerity, what had me vexed was that I was not being included in all the special revelations.

The song "Smell the Color 9" by Chris Rice was my high school theme song.

Now on to the demise of my church. Since I've now brought it up a thousand million times. Or, you know, three. Anyway. Obviously this is something that affected me deeply as it saw the end of something that I loved very deeply. And in the process, many hurtful things were said, and the whole group split. Now, obviously, I was not in the group of people that stayed. And, of course, no one was faultless.

However, it may seem that I'm bitter with the people who stayed. And I am not. What I am bitter about is that it happened. And I cannot comment on the status of that church now, because I haven't really talked with anyone about it. (Partially, because it still hurts me to think that it isn't my church anymore) Last I heard, they got a new preacher (who was a good Church of Christ boy and went to ACU, or so I heard) and were actually doing pretty well. And I wish nothing but the best for them.

However. I meant what I said when I said for better or for worse, no one involved was ever the same. Because there is no way we couldn't be. Emotions where high, and things were said, and things were not handled very well by either party. And what breaks my heart the most is not the people that stayed, but the fact that we, as a church were on the path to greatness, and we let it all fall apart. And the people that I called a family were now scattered all over the place. And while some were moving forward with their lives and their relationships with God, some were in fact reverting back to old habits.

And truth be told, no one was really in the right. Both sides were responsible for the demise. And the fact of the matter is, we probably could have all stuck around and worked through it. But that's not what happened. And it breaks my heart.

Speaking of hearts...

I am a man, afflicted. I have the disease of depression and anxiety. It is in my blood. It runs through my veins. And for years I have fought with it, and wrestled with it, and occasionally overcame it. Sometimes I did not. But the good times far outweigh the bad.

And I have come to learn that this might be something genetic. That the same disease may run through the veins of my parents. And through their family tree. The same blood runs through both our veins.

But even during the good times, I could still feel the sickness inside me. And I would wonder sometimes, not if, but when it would come back.

But then I also realize that I have another sickness running through my blood. And so do you. It is something that everyone has carried since the fall of man. It's in our genetic code. Our nature to seek out doing things our own way. Since that is the inherent nature of sin; to leave God and figure out our own path. From the first taste of fruit to things in our everyday lives, our blood and our brains are battling. Some people don't fight very hard.

Back in ancient Jewish history, in order to rectify the sinful nature, they were required to shed the blood of an animal. Shed the blood of an innocent and unblemished animal in order to purify the blood of man.

In that world, in the end of all things, all our blood will have to be shed to cover the magnitude of our sins.

However.

This is what makes the crucifixion so unique. Because one man, with the blood of all the ancestors, who was also God, with all the perfection that goes with that, sacrificed himself for all people. His blood covers all the disease that runs through my veins and your veins and everyone who has lived and will live and is living, their veins too.

In that world, in the end of all things, there won't be blood. Because there already has been blood. For me and you and the crazy people that I don't get along with and the people who outright reject the notion that this Jesus dude was who he says he was. The blood is for them too, if they so choose.

And while I have been hurt by people and situations, there is blood and grace for that.

And while I have disappointed and failed people miserably, there is blood and grace for that.

And while people live their lives and claim to be Christians, but refuse to live like they are commanded and are perpetuating the negativity surrounding our religion, there is blood and grace for that too.

And something that's very hard for me (and I'm sure other people too) is realizing that this gift of blood isn't just for us. It's for all people. But while we are still here, floating on our chunk of rock, bound by time, the disease still rages in our blood, trying to convince us that we still need to shed blood. And make other people shed their own blood for their own sins and struggles. I do it. I want the satisfaction of watching people who look down on me for living my life how I am called to live it realize just how wrong THEY are living. And that is wrong of me. And there is blood and grace for that too.

And sometimes it's easy to get lost in the long lists of sins we've committed and are going to commit. To drown in the sorrow of how often we fall and how far we are from where we should be. To be shackled to our past selves, our past lives, our childish ways.

But that's just the disease talking.

And in the end, it's all been taken care of.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

There was a boy...

Once upon a time there was a boy.

And this boy was raised in a fairly strict Church of Christ environment. And from a very early age, wanted to fit in with The People.

Now, The People were the group of his peers who were the most important group at his church.
And he wondered why year after year of attending everything and living a good life and not being too disobedient that he was never accepted into The People. Especially when he knew for a fact that some of The People were being falsely pious so they could maintain their status as The People.

But still he went. And sat. And listened. And prayed. And wondered why God seemed to not have the time for him.

And then the boy's parents decided to change churches. At first, the boy was apprehensive; he had always hated meeting new people. But after a short while, he began to feel more comfortable with this new group.

And because the group was so small, The People included everyone. And they didn't act like The People. They acted like people. And for a while, the boy was happy.

But then he noticed something odd.

He noticed that some of them started using phrases like "God revealed to me..." and "I had a revelation from God about..." and other equally unnerving phrases.

Because God had never revealed anything like that to the boy. I mean, he still led a good life, didn't do bad things on purpose, did nice things for people. But still nothing.

But still he went. And sat. And listened. And prayed. And wondered why God seemed to not have the time for him.

And then it came time for the boy to grow up and move on to college. And like any good Church of Christ boy in Texas, he went to Abilene Christian University.

At first, after the initial anxiety of being alone in a whole new place wore off, he began to be excited. He had heard stories about college. About how much growth and learning went on there. And how, being a Church of Christ school, everything was super focused and super geared towards getting you closer to God.

And he tried a lot of things: large church gatherings, small church gatherings, impromptu bible studies. But for some reason, everything continued to ring false.

And they boy very quickly found himself on the outskirts of The People at ACU.

And he listened to the phrases being batted around by The People held in highest esteem. And he quickly realized it was the same form of speech from The People at his first church and some of the people from the second church, only updated for the obviously grown up world of college.

And the boy became very angry with everything religious. Because the boy could not comprehend a God who would choose to consistently reveal himself to people who would just as constantly trample the very words given them.

But then something strange and unexpected happened.

The boy, still on the outskirts of The People, took a look around. And he realized that there were quite a few people who had been shoved to the margins just as he had. Some were bitterly trying to get in, but others were just happy to NOT be included in The People. And so he went to talk to them. And he found out something magical. He discovered that you didn't have to be part of The People in order to be important to God.

And the boy was happy. Because he was tired of trying to be something he could never be to people he never wanted to be around in the first place

But then, as things often do, it ended. The boy graduated college and moved back to his hometown, eager to share the things he had learned, not because of college, but because of who he happened to meet during his time there.

And the boy returned to his church, not because of any sense of obligation, but because it's where he felt most like home. But the boy was still afraid. Afraid of passing on his knowledge because he didn't know how the people would take it. He was afraid that people would get angry and be mad at his parents. And then his parents would be disappointed in him. And that was the worst possible thing that could happen.

Bit still he went. And sat. And listened. And prayed. And wondered why God seemed to not have the time for him.

And then tragedy struck. The boy's mother passed away.

And the boy was very very sad for a very very long time. He still showed up to church and smiled and convinced everyone that everything was fine, but on the inside, it felt like there was a fire destroying him, but was too numb to put it out. He had barely had 24 years with her; how is that even fair? But no one seemed to notice the boy, except to ask how the rest of his family was doing. And if they did ask about him, he could barely hold it together. So he kept smiling, just the same.

And the boy's career wasn't turning out well. And he wasn't changing the world like he had wanted to, and had been lead to believe he should be. And the boy was absolutely miserable. But still the boy smiled, and swept the broken fragments of what was suppose to be his life out of sight.

And then something strange happened.

His church was going through a massive, and sometimes very uncomfortable shift.
And in the midst of this shift, the boy was given the opportunity to speak to the whole group. And he realized that this might be his only chance to. And something deep inside him convinced him that he needed to do this. And so he and another gentleman lead the adults in a study on Sunday mornings.

And the boy was absolutely terrified.

Who was he to lead a group? Especially the main adult class! He was still a boy in his own mind, and was sure that's how everyone still viewed him.

But he was signed up, and as prepared as he could be. And so the boy embarked on the journey. And for the most part, it went well. He felt that people were beginning to ask good questions of themselves and of their routines and their worship and of how they were living their lives.
They boy had also grown. He learned from the passing of his mother that he couldn't be worried about disappointing people. And his father told him flat out once that the boy could never do anything ever that would disappoint him. And that took a great weight off the boy's shoulders.

And then the boy was given another opportunity. The church had been without a preacher for a while, and the church was still struggling within itself to figure out exactly what we were suppose to be doing as a church. And as such, the boy, for some strange reason, had volunteered to preach one Sunday.

And the boy was terrified.

Because the boy knew which words he had to speak. They had been gnawing away at him since college. And they were not popular. And they were not pretty.

But they were necessary.

And so the boy gave his sermon, hands shaking, forehead sweaty, and a knot in his stomach that never seemed to go away. The boy said things like "the greatest commandment is love" and "we, as a church, fail at this basic command almost daily" and "while people are fleeing the church in epic proportions, the gay community is growing by leaps and bounds. By doing the very thing we are commanded to do, but at which we fail". And the boy was afraid that the people were going to throw chairs at him, but at least he had spoken truth.

But in the end, it didn't matter. Because the church he knew and loved died. They are still around as a name, but the people aren't the same. And the hearts aren't the same. For better or for worse, no one involved was ever the same. And some people the boy had greatly respected stayed and others had left to be parts of other bodies. And some grew stronger and some reverted right back to the ways they had fought so hard to leave behind. And it broke the boy's heart. And the boy was once again left to examine the pieces of a broken existence.

But the boy remembered something.

He remembered a weekend.

While he was at the church, long before the thought of teaching ever crossed his mind, he had befriended the summer youth intern. They had both gone to the same college, being the good Church of Christ boys they were. And, at the time, the boy had been in a tiny bit of a rut, not knowing how to deal with what he knew from college and how to apply it to his real world life. But the youth intern had asked the boy if he would help chaperone the youth retreat. The boy said yes. At least it would give him a weekend away. And he could fake it long enough for a weekend. And, the boy figured, he knew how to say the right words to someone without actually feeling them in his heart.

What the boy hadn't counted on, though, was who else was going on this trip. While the youth had free time and meal time, the boy found himself in the company of the other chaperones, who turned out to be an amazing man and two amazing women. And the four of them couldn't have been more different. But, the boy thought, maybe that's what made it work. And during their time together, they got in each other's lives. They shared things they never thought anyone but them would see. And it was real. And it was church.

They sat together. The listened to each other. They prayed with each other. And wondered why God wasn't revealing himself to other like he was to them.

But soon it was time for the weekend to be over, as all things must end. And the boy found himself, one week later, already discouraged by the world around him, and the church in general. And the Saturday before service, the boy was taking a shower and lamenting the fact that this Sunday wasn't going to be like last weekend, a little voice in the back of his head told him that that was the point. That that was to be his goal; getting back to that real church. While the boy was shocked at this sudden shower revelation, he was uncertain of what exactly that meant. And the boy knew that he was far underqualified to pray the kind of prayer that he needed. Plus, the boy knew he needed discernment. And so he decided to test the spirits and ask a very specific woman at church to pray for him. But he wasn't going to tell her what for and see what God revealed to her.

As luck would have it, the boy woke up late for church the next morning.

But he got ready in a hurry and rushed out and almost made it on time. Or so he thought. As it sometimes happens, even though he was late, he was exactly right on time. Because who was walking in right in front of him? The woman who he was going to ask to pray for him. His heart jumped a bit, but realized that they were both technically late, and decided that he would wait after church to ask her. But as he held the door open for her (because his mama taught him well) she paused, looked at the floor, and then turned to him and said, "I got home late last night from helping my daughter with her new baby, and I was completely exhausted. And I didn't think I was going to be at church today, but I woke up with you on my heart and a verse to give you. But I don't know if that means anything to you, but sometimes I feel like these verses are a curse to people. But seeing you now, I felt I should tell you."

And the boy wept.

In the middle of the church foyer, he cried. And through his tears, he told her the story. And she got teary eyes as well, and she told him that she would find him after church and they could pray together.

And true to her word she did. And for weeks a group of them, including the amazing man and the two amazing women, would pray together. It was loud and fast and at times chaotic, but other times silent and powerful. It was real church after church. And the boy was happy.

And the boy wondered where had that gone? In the demise of all things, why couldn't he have held on to this one amazing thing?

Some people then told the boy of another church. It was huge, and the people were real, they told him. Excited, he went.

And while he never had been particularly fond of large churches, he saw nothing inherently wrong with them. At first, he was excited to see what everyone was raving about. How God was revealing things to them. How they were having revelations from God. And the boy was excited to see what God was revealing.

But something wasn't right. Never mind the fact that he found it odd that they had to have perfect mood lighting and candles put in the right spots on stage in order to maintain a meaningful praise time. Never mind the fact that he sat by the same guy three months in a row, yet every Sunday was asked by the guy if this was his first time visiting. The thing that bothered the boy the most was that in spite of the news of revelations, the people didn't seem to live their lives any differently.
And then the boy realized what it was. This church had become The People. Only this time they had gotten married and had started reproducing. And had 401ks and six figure salaries so they could buy the best things for their families and buy the best materials for a new auditorium. But couldn't be bothered by the injustice around them or hatred they were perpetrating in the name of God.

Sadly, the boy realized this, and had to leave.

The boy tried other churches, but nothing felt right. They all had echoes of The People in them. Sometimes cleverly disguised, but most of the time it was blatant plagiarism. Either way, these terribly destructive words pervaded the culture.

But this time, the boy stopped going. The boy didn't sit. He didn't listen. And he stopped praying. But he no longer wondered why God didn't have the time. He realized that while God had revealed himself to a few people, the vast majority of people were only hearing what they wanted to hear.
And the boy realized that he wasn't alone in not receiving revelations from God, he just hadn't lied about it.

And the boy had a friend. And this friend questioned a lot of the same questions the boy had. But she had gone further with her questioning, and it scared her. And the boy had words for her, and encouraged her, but secretly, he wished he could tell her all of the things he questioned. And how they feared much the same things. And how he had grown to hate the association with people who could only sometimes mask their hate of the very people they were called to love.

But the boy could still remember the retreat. And the voice in his head in the shower. And the preemptive strike he had gotten with the woman at church. And how real everything had been, even for a short while.

But the boy didn't know how to tell her all of that, so he wrote her a story.

The End.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

On an Evening Such as This

Today started out so well.

I got to see some friends, meet some people in person that I only knew digitally, and be outside. And then things kinda started to go sour. The biggest catalyst of this would be my tire exploding on the highway. For those that know me (or know my car) this was a long time coming. And I probably shouldn't have driven across the country on the tires I had. But, I couldn't really afford to buy new ones, so there I went. And also, my current sleeping situation is an air mattress that has a hole in it. And until tonight, it would take roughly seven hours to deflate enough for me to be uncomfortable. Not the worst thing, but not ideal either. However. Tonight it decided to make the hole bigger. And now it completely deflates in two hours. So now, every two hours, I get to inflate my bed again. And I do have a little pump thing, but it's noisy, and at 3 a.m. I'm pretty sure my downstairs neighbor wouldn't appreciate me using it. And there are a bunch of other little things that happened that really really stuck on me today that mentioning them seems really petty.

The hardest part about today (besides changing a tire on the side of a busy highway) was coming home alone. And I really don't know why today it bothered me more so than any other time. I just wanted to be out with friends, doing the fun things that I was imagining them doing. (no one is having more fun than the fun you are having right now. In my head) But I was stuck at home with a blown out tire and a slightly sunburned scalp.

And there is nothing more dangerous for me than actually being alone when I feel lonely.

Because I start thinking. And little voices creep up from deep inside and tell me things I know are lies, but for some reason, they all just start making sense. And the truths I've told myself a thousand times somehow seem less true.

And it's dangerous for me to blog about them, because then they're out there for everyone to see and to judge and to scoff. But that is kind of the point of this blog; delving into everything in my life and showing you what it is to be me. Well, this is a part of being me. Welcome. You're not going to want to stay for long, trust me.

And I know I should be focusing on the positive things about today, seeing people and my tire guardian angel who helped me with his power tools, but I keep coming back to these other things going on and can't leave them alone. Like picking at a scab.

I have a metaphor for my life, in general, that isn't too pretty. I feel like I'm floating in water next to rocks. And I try to climb up on the rocks to keep from drowning, but every time it seems like I have a foothold, I slip and fall back down into the waters to be bashed against the rocks. And then I look up and look around and see all my friends, successfully standing on the rocks, looking at me, wondering why it is I'm still drowning.

Not that I'm at all condemning them, I love that they're succeeding and doing well for themselves, I just wish that I could join them and leave this mucky water behind.


So what do I do? How do I pull myself up by my bootstraps? How do I knock the lies out of my head and replace them with truth? I'm ill equipped for dealing with these kinds of situations. And that is why nights like tonight are dangerous for me.