When I was around the age of eight through twelve I regularly did something that I never thought strange until many years later. Whenever I came across a rock or piece of wood that either looked out of place, was abnormally beautiful, or unique in any drastic way, I would find a stump nearby, a large flat boulder, or a particularly green patch of moss and place it there. I hoped and sincerely believed that in doing this at some point I would come across a secret key that when placed in this secret place would transport me into another world, a world full of adventure and mythical creatures. I watched movies where boys my age lived incredible adventures. Why couldn’t my life be the same? I’m sure my mother remembers clearly my griping about living a boring life. In my fantasy lands I was rescuing enslaved people, battling against evil armies, finding a strength within that I never knew I had, soaring on the backs of dragons, and walking through flames.
My life certainly took a turn for the interesting and story-worthy, but not at all in the way I had hoped. God kind of made sure of that.
None of these memories really connected until just recently during a drive to Bozeman. A full hour alone to me and my thoughts has proven to sometimes end with peculiar but always interesting stories.
The morning started unlike most mornings, I didn’t have time for breakfast, I found my socks right away, and I didn’t forget anything. I get into the car only to realize that there is no auxiliary port for my iPhone, a first world problem that may cause emotional breakdowns. I try the radio, switching to my favorite radio stations only to find that the car isn’t picking any of them up. The only stations available to me were country and christian. I picked the latter, because, I’m not sure. I could have turned off the stereo and let my mind run rampant in my exhausted head.
Truth be told, I cannot stand most christian music. It’s not exactly what I’d consider an art form. My music usually falls into the category of artistic and obscure. So, listening to christian music for a trip spanning an hour was a strange switch from my usual preferences.
The entire two weeks before this I had been concentrating on training my brain to focus on what was important in my life and among the qualifications were: God, talking to God, figuring out my life, asking God for help, loving people, seeking out God, loving God, and lifting every concern and worry to Him. It’s been incredibly hard work, I have a very short attention span, everything else seems to grab me away from my better thoughts.
I must have started on track that morning because I was no longer seeking out the artistry in the music, which I can say to you was not present. (You can argue about that later.) I was listening to what the singer was saying, who he was talking about, who he was crying out to, and who he desperately wanted to love with all of his heart. It gave me an enormous sense of calm, something I haven’t experienced in months, thanks to the fact that my brain only knows one speed: 1000 miles an hour.
As the songs played a few popped up here and there from past memories, from a time when I used to listen to contemporary christian music on purpose and claimed to love it.
My dad passionately loved the music from when he was my age, 80’s rock ’n roll, which at the time was around fourteen. I didn’t want to be like Dad, plus, I really didn’t like his music. So I went the extreme opposite, christian music, especially the stuff my Dad hated. Rebellious kid, I know. I have my regrets.
This one memory I remember vividly, it’s strange how strong that memory is, and I think it’s the sheer honesty of what happened that stays with me the most.
I was driving alone in my car, an 80’s model of the Honda CRX, blaring good old christian music from the speakers, and thinking to myself. Just as I began my journey down to town I had the urge to pledge myself to God.
Now, this wasn’t a sudden realization of my need for Him or finally finding Him. I grew up with strong christian parents who raised me and my siblings with a fairly good sense of faith.
The pledge, which I do remember saying aloud, went something like this: “God, I give myself to you for the furthering of your kingdom, use me as a tool, as a light to shine over the world. Use me to make the blind see, teach the lame to walk, in whatever way you have set out for me. I am yours.”
Pretty great, right? I never really thought much on it after that except for this one fear that crept up soon after saying this.
What if He wants me to die for someone? I wasn’t sure if I could actually do it. I felt it would be a waste of what I thought I had in me, I desperately hoped that I could do something more memorable than that. I tend to forget that fact that He kind of died for all of us and is the most memorable man in history because of it.
Thinking back on this memory and how my life changed after that instance has revealed to me the words He must’ve said to me that day in that old beat up CRX blaring music I actually didn’t really care for.
“Will you endure unimaginable suffering for me?”
I had no idea what was waiting for me. I’ve learned that perhaps dying would have been the easier route.
In those early teen years I thought of myself as a genius. There were no qualms or doubts about it. Incredibly attractive, artistic, talented, intelligent, and on track to win the nobel prize for amazing person. (They hand those out, right?)
My parents seemed to have all the answers, and because of that I thought I knew all I needed to know about life. I wasn’t going to go through hardships, I knew how to get out of those; I wasn’t going to deal with bad things because I could just imagine them away, ignore them for awhile and they’ll fade, right? It’s not like they can fester and grow into something even darker and fouler than what they were. I had my life planned out; I would marry young, have children of exceptional character and talents, write a few bestselling novels and sit on the piles of money my publishers would dump at the door of my four story mansion.
Throughout that time I pitied a lot of people.
I pitied them for not knowing the obvious things I knew, I pitied them for the tumbles and falls that I would never let happen to myself, I pitied them for the hardships they endured, and the bitterness that a lot of them acquired because of them.
In short I was a bit of a pretentiously pious prude.
What I didn’t know was there were a few who worried for me, they saw how blind I was, and they knew I would fall harder because of it.
That day in the car just after pledging my life to Him God must have bestowed a gift upon me. A gift so subtle yet so powerful that at times it can easily feel like a curse.
This gift was the ability to feel with immense depth. There are times when this can be one of the best senses, it can cause extreme happiness and love to wash through you. But most days it feels like your heart is being ripped out and your lungs sucked dry.
Soon after that God led me to befriend fragile and confused people, he made me watch as they dove into darkness, trying their best to cloud their eyes from the blinding light. He put a few people in my life that had been so incredibly lost but miraculously pulled out of their pits and brought into his healing arms. He showed me people who just skimmed on the surface, never taking a dive but never fully learning to fly. And he showed me people that were so incredibly a part of Him that just being around them made the sun shine a little brighter.
And somehow within me, I started to feel for these people, I started to understand a different side to the way things worked, that their are multiple answers to just one question.
None of this happened all at once, this took years.
Years of mistaken friendships that I swore would last forever. Years of expecting the best from people and being disappointed. Years of trying to shine a light that I didn’t understand—I found that instead I had misplaced that light and was shining something of my own, with its own disastrous ending.
There were years of giving up on everyone, of losing the love I had wanted to have for the lost. I ignored their stories of darkness, shaking my head and declaring that they should have done better, that they should have known. Because of this I was slowly losing my connection with my generation. This generation that so desperately wants to be understood, I was quickly misunderstanding. I strived to believe in miracles but I was slowly losing faith that they existed. I lost a lot of friends because of that, because I didn’t believe that they could come out of it. I didn’t give them the chance to prove me wrong.
Then there was three years ago.
Everything was good and getting better.
I had a girlfriend. My family loved me and I adored them. My writing was flowing smoothly, every story getting better and better. The praises hit the ceiling. Montana was beautiful, every chance I had I would go hiking into the mountains. Every morning I would go down to my parent’s restaurant and eat food among the smiles of friends and family before going off to work.
I felt successful. Somehow I had managed to get onto the train to an excellent future. My writing was going to take me to new horizons. I wanted to marry this girl. I was going to make short films, and somewhere down the road make films that you’d see in theaters across the country with big posters and my name in large font across all of them. I dreamed big. I had managed to take the steps needed, there was no way I was going to mess up now.
During that time my Mom shed a lot of tears, mainly over the extreme stress of running a restaurant that needed her and trying to set aside some time for her children who needed her more. Every one of my mother’s tears throughout the years has its own story. There’s a part of a mother’s soul that no one will ever understand.
I was a comfort to her then; I had a talent in seeing the silver linings in every situation. This was something Mom needed from me and I was glad to help. Somehow back then I was able to see the hardship in the world and turn it around to my happiness. It was a trait that I became famous for. Though looking back now, I wonder how honest that ability was, I was so easily convinced to ignore the hardness of life back then.
I made one fatal flaw. I neglected God through most of this. Why would I need him then? Everything was good, I didn’t need to pray for anything. What use was he? I had everything figured out. I had done this all by myself.
I didn’t consciously think that way, but it was certainly the way I acted.
After that year things went from bad, to really bad, to the worst. I never could’ve seen it coming, even if my eyes were open at the time—which I can tell you they definitely were not.
I broke up with my girlfriend, a choice that resulted in long nights wide awake with a throbbing ache.
My family moved 3800 miles away, my parents and five of my siblings. The realization came later that I wouldn’t be able to ask for a hug from one of them, that I wouldn’t have a shoulder to cry on, and I wouldn’t be able to sit around a table laughing at the stories we would tell for a long time. There was even one night when I realized that there is something so much more to the phrase ‘goodnight’ when said by the people you wish were around to say it.
That winter I reached the deepest and darkest place I have ever reached. I fully realized my sick obsession with causing myself emotional pain. It took months for me to realize how similar emotional scarring was to physical scarring. The hardest thing for me that time was trying to erase the dark lies I believed about myself. That I was worthless, to be hated and despised, entrapped in my own emotions, and selfish.
Selfishness is an interesting thing, most of the time it’s associated with a person wanting things for themselves. There’s another side to it. Selfishness can be when you are so self absorbed in your problems, in your many issues, that you constantly think about how horrible you are, how many times you don’t deserve what people are giving you, and how you’d be better off not associating yourself with people. It’s the selfishness of crouching in a corner, licking your festering wounds, and snapping at any hand offered.
My writing wasn’t going anywhere, which just added to my own depression. A writer who can’t write anything is nothing. There were times that I tried writing, but the only paragraphs I wrote just fueled my own self pity. Writing was no longer an escape but a chance to submerge myself in the foul liquid I was drowning in.
When I was around friends I acted as if all was well, only giving small hints to the depression I was dealing with. Somedays were better than others, somehow I managed to rise out of the depths to smile again, but in my head, in some inner compartment, the sadness was ready to break through again.
I didn’t call out for help. I didn’t ask God to save me from my own destruction. I suppose that’s why this lasted so long.
It was during another car ride that I began thinking over everything I had been through and why I was so heartbroken over what happened. I came to this understanding: all my life I have depended solely on the company I keep to give me some measure of comfort and success. I depended on my ability to make people happy to grant me my own happiness. I fueled off of the people I loved like a leech. When I was with my family, with good friends, with my church family, I easily forgot the one that I should have been focusing on.
On that drive with tears freely flowing I felt the words that God had been speaking to me all this time.
“I’m here. Look at me. Talk to me. I want to help you but you have to let me in.”
I had been ignoring Him for so long.
“I’ve taken away your family, your friends. I’ve made it harder for you to reach people, to open up to them. I’ve made life harder and harder for you. I only did this because you needed to grow, I want you to experience true love, to experience the incredible calm that comes with letting go of everything. How could I make you understand if I just kept handing you everything?”
“I gave you everything but you weren’t able to see how important those things were until I took them all away. Do you see now? Listen to me, speak to me. Say what you are holding back. I need you to trust that I know what’s best for you. Trust me.”
I had to stop the car because of my sobbing.
“I have caused you to be alone so that you would realize that you are never alone. You need to understand that all you need is me by your side. Stop turning away from my hand and take it this time. I will show you how great the world can be.”
This was only the start, it took a long time to expel all that I had told myself that winter. I was slowly healing. But mankind has it’s addictions and I fell back to them again and again, it was habit. It was easier to just forget and ignore.
All the while God would poke my shoulder, “No, you need to figure this out. Ignoring it will only allow it to live inside of you, a place that we both know needs to be healed before it can take anymore of this.”
I shook him off and went about my life.
I struggled with alcoholism for awhile. Newly twenty-one with alcohol readily available I quickly fell into the habit. Most of my friends noticed this and gave me concerned looks, but they never said anything because they knew what I knew, I would just deny it. I knew what I was doing. There was still the bitter aftertaste of not having dealt with my depression. Alcohol has the unique ability to numb that taste.
One night I found myself shirtless and lying on a lawn in my own vomit without the strength to move. It hurt to think about how far I had fallen from the pinnacle I had built for myself in my youth.
That night I had been having fun, drinking with friends, giddy with a buzz, music blaring in my ears, black lights making my drink glow. The world slowly began to rotate, my feet unsure in this large boat adrift at sea. And suddenly every light happy feeling and faint blissful tingling turned into a spinning sloshing dive. My stomach dislodged and my head lolled on a neck that was no longer able to hold it up.
They dragged me from the lawn and into my bed. I remember thinking that I’d rather stay on the lawn, it was cool and damp, but I couldn’t even manage a slurred word. All I could do was watch from the background of my mind as I dissolved into drunken slumber, all the while begging to know the answer of why I kept falling.
I knew God had the answer. But I didn’t want to talk to him.
Somewhere in the middle of all of this I started to get to know an old friend I had lost touch with long ago. If I’m being completely honest I gave up on him years back. He grew up in a Christian household but when he came of age he rebelled and left the faith. When that happened I didn’t believe he could come back. It would take a miracle, and I didn’t believe in those.
But here he was, very much the same guy I had known since childhood, but something was different about him, there was a light about him. He was no longer lashing out at a world that frowned on his lifestyle.
We ended up in a car together for two days on the way to my brother’s wedding then another two days on the ride back home, which allowed a lot of hours of talk between us. The thing that bonded us from the beginning is that the both of us don’t waste our time with small talk, we like to get deep and controversial with our discussions. Naturally the subject swayed towards religion and beliefs a few times. He was curious, as was I.
Slowly, as I got to know him again I realized that he himself had been through some pretty dark times as well, considerably darker than mine, and yet he managed to come out and have a strong conviction to be kind to others; kindness being one of the most important fruits we can give.
His kindness I think is what drew me in.
As time went on I noticed a shift in his life that was gradual but steadily picking up speed. He told me he was talking to God again. That he began setting aside prayer time. He said that he finally understood what was missing in his faith all those years back. His prayers from before were always filled with what he wanted from God, what he wanted to see done, what he wanted healed. Now he prays with the fervent trust that God will do these things according to what is best for him, and not what he thinks he needs.
Hearing this inspired me but also made me look hard at myself. Here was my friend, revealing so much light from his new faith in Christ, so much strength and trust; and I was still struggling.
This friend told me that I was what started him thinking again about God.
At first I thought I had been the blessing to him, maybe I was. But it turned out in the end that God had it set to be a dual blessing, the both of us helping each other in our walk towards God.
Then came along my best friend of many years, the plan was that she’d stay the summer with me. If there’s one annoying trait of hers it’s her capacity to make you dig deep into yourself to find the things that have been infecting your soul and bring them up into the light. Through that I have come to learn how strong my stubbornness can be. All my life I had been fashioning my life the way I thought was the best way to live, when all the while I was suffocating my unique soul that needed almost the opposite. She had seen how much I was oppressing myself for years, but was never able to reach me until then.
Her shoulder has been subject to my wet tears on a regular basis. I’ll be doing fine then she’ll ask a question and it’ll all be over.
I don’t know where I’d be if God hadn’t decided to bring these two people into my life. Maybe that’s not what I should think about, I’ve done that too many times in the past. What ifs are possibly more destructive than what actually happens.
I suppose this all came to a close with my plans to go to Europe. A large ambition for someone of my current history. It was no longer an impossibility and I was drunk on the hope. This was the main reason why my best friend came for the summer. The entire summer we fought hard to keep the possibility there. The ticket was affordable. But the plans had to keep changing as we discovered new restrictions. As the days ticked close to the date when we planned to leave the stress built up stronger and stronger. We were stubborn, but we knew that we needed more money than we had saved. I even wrote up a calendar of rough estimates on the money we’d make before leaving. We’d barely make it if we were extremely strict. But that was okay, at least we’d still be able to go to Europe.
Then Montana experienced the worst smoke season in years. Which in the case of our window washing job means almost no work. This smoke lasted nearly a month.
So we cut down on the time we’d spend in Europe. All the while grinding our teeth at the slow understanding that we wouldn’t be able to make it. We started saving too late.
Mom had called a little before this asking if we could instead come down to the islands on account that they needed us down there. At that time I was beginning to feel a strong pull to go down there.
My family needed me.
Europe would be so much fun!
I was getting weaker everyday and there were things I felt could only be healed by my mother’s healing hands.
But we had promised ourselves that we would go to Europe.
We were going to Europe. Even if we stayed three days.
The amount of stress we had built up over those last few months was effecting our sleep, our mood, our ability to process anything.
Then I began to pray about it.
And as I did I remembered the way that my friend said he prays. Instead of praying for the things you want to happen, pray instead for what God has planned for us, and pray that he will give you the ability to let go of those things that you desperately hold onto.
In doing this Europe started to fade. The rush and thrill of that adventure started to recede. Without knowing it God had made my decision, and I knew I was going to see my family. It made me really happy when I realized this.
So I got the tickets, I planned the trip. But I didn’t tell anyone.
Mainly it was my fear of what they’d say.
“He was never going to go to Europe.”
“I knew you weren’t good enough at saving to go.”
“You just can’t have big dreams like that and expect them to happen.”
“Welcome to the real world.”
It depresses me to think of it. Sure, I didn’t know all of what was required to go on a trip like that. But really, is it really that impossible?
I’ve struggled with depending on what others say about me all my life. What if they’re right? What if I’ll never amount to anything? What if I don’t make them proud? What if I fall and they use me as an example?
When really what happened was a success. I had stopped fighting the path God had set for me. I had given my choices up to God and He had answered. That’s incredible! I was on the right path, headed to the place God wanted me.
Then came the question of what was this journey for? Was it just to help my family? I was pretty troubled myself, maybe my parents would be able to fix me. My dad was there for me when I broke my arm. My mom cleaned my skinned knee when I crashed my bike. There were a few very important moments where she dried my tears from the emotional pain the world had inflicted on me. Maybe that’s what I needed!
Notice how quickly this selfless trip of helping my family became a selfish trip about helping myself. I was falling into my old ways again.
And God seemed to just step back and ruefully gaze at my stumbling saunter into old habits.
The things I was going to work out. The emotions I would unload to Mom. The logic I would drink from Dad’s wise council. The questions that I would have answered.
Then God flipped the switch.
And just when I thought I had it figured out.
He did it again.
And I tried.
So He did it again.
I hugged my family and quickly began to realize that they needed me a whole lot more than I did.
Mom’s emotion meter was reading at dangerous numbers. Dad’s wise council was few and far between. He was busy keeping the family standing, so he worked day and night. I rarely saw him at the house when he wasn’t asleep from exhaustion, even on his rare day off.
Seven months later, I realized what happened. I grew up down there.
As a child, we go to our parents when we see blood on our arms. We go to our mothers when we need nurtured and our fathers when we need guidance. This is all so that in time we can learn to bandage our own wounds and lean on the guidance of our Father in heaven. I have siblings that still need their mother and father, but I have grown old enough to take on my own burden, and to stop loading it onto the breaking backs of those who love me.
God had set me free from the idea that I needed my parents to always be there. When in reality, they can’t.
Every parent has tried. Every time their child falls out of a tree, trips on some steps, or feels the pain of a broken heart they chide themselves for not being there to stop it.
All have failed, because thats not the way things are meant to be. We need to fall so that we can build up the strength to stand up again.
How many times have you witnessed a baby’s first steps? How many times did they fall before then? How many times will they fall again? Who is there to hold them as they practice their steps? Who has to let go eventually?
If you answered ‘parents’ to that last question you forgot a third member.
That child has to let go of their hands. That child has to believe that this time he can make it, even though all those other times ended in failure.
This is because one day, he will walk across that room, and he will have an adventure all his own.
God is always waiting with open arms from across the room.