Time to Resume.

I took some time away from writing. To reflect, to seek clarity, to make sure my head was on straight, and to make sure that I was writing for the right reasons.

I have always enjoyed writing, even from an early age. I have enjoyed using words to help others understand concepts, theology, structures and systems, and seeing the benefit of a product. Being a writer is something I’ve always aspired to. It’s something that I have and probably always will dream about. It’s something that helps me find solace in the midst of adversity and chaos as it is a ‘centering’ activity. As I type, or write using a pen, I am able to reflect the thoughts in my head in a clear, black and white way. I am able to see what is happening in the jumbled mess that is my brain, and I am able to sort through the things that are being processed. Writing causes a person to slow down, to think about what they are saying, to reflect on what they have said, and be contemplative about what they are going to say in the future. Writing forces me to understand the concepts that I am writing about with great clarity and precision because as I write, I know that I will eventually have to read my own writing again.

The fear of what others think and say has caused me to stop writing more times than I care to admit. Probably a far greater issue that I struggle with is the fear of others opinions in general and this bleeds over into the arena of writing. The reader is always evaluating, always searching for the heart and soul of the author, and trying to connect with the content that they are absorbing. When I read, I tend to be evaluative in the content, because I am spending valuable time reading the material that is in front of me. I know the types of books, articles, and blogs that I enjoy consuming, and when a reading doesn’t match my consumer grading, then I tend to leave that book or blog or article. I tend to read things that I disagree with because that is how I often learn, but then evaluate the actual communication within the words. I would wager that there are others that read articles, blogs, and books that are in agreement with their theological position or political affiliation, and I have met many of them. Those that only read their prerogative are generally those that are fearful of what an opposing view might do for them. I have lived a portion of my life in this world as well. Currently, whether I agree or not with the article, there is still an evaluation of communication, almost subconsciously.

So, since I don’t care to admit it, I admit it. The fear of others opinions caused me to stop writing for the past season. I quit typing, quit penning, and quit thinking about the dream that is inside of me of being able to communicate through the writing of a blog or a book. I gave up on helping others through reading and writing regarding the things that I have or am learning. I gave up on others because I couldn’t please everyone. I quit.

I was reminded this last week during a meeting that I attended that quitting is not a great way to cope with anything, and to quit something admits defeat. I have chosen to be defeated by others’ opinion. I have chosen to be frozen in fear, not knowing how to navigate the waters of turmoil and criticism. I have chosen to let others’ have control in my heart and spirit, instead of living a life of freedom and focus. This is not a character flaw that is contained within writing. It is a character flaw that inhabits most of my life and has for a very long time. It’s a character flaw that allows me to place blame on others, for actions that I take, instead of claiming for my own response to those around me and their opinions. It’s a flaw. And it’s hard to overcome. There are people that have developed a tough ‘shell’ as it relates to others opinions about them. They have figured out how to let things ‘roll of their back.’ They have understood how to make the choice to not let people control their emotions or actions. I have long envied this type of person because I desire to live a life that allows others to say and do whatever they want and it not affect my own life or emotion. There is a phrase that we say often to our kids.

“You worry about You.”

And that is what I must actively choose to do each and every day. Certainly, I worry about my family, finances, faith, and others. But I must actively choose to not worry about the opinions of those that surround me and instead be careful to listen to the truth about me, from me and God. I cannot rely on others to ‘hold me up’ or carry my weight because that often leads to let-down and disappointment. I also know myself well enough that I will let myself down. As noted in previous blogs and chapters, this is an area that I must actively work hard to allow for. I’m not perfect. You might be. But I’m not.

Recently, I’ve started to meditate on a couple of lines from the bible.

The first verse troubles me. And the second verse troubles me because of the first verse.

Matthew 5:48 – Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

2 Corinthians 12:9 – And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness ” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

It’s troubling because I know I won’t attain the first, and I really don’t want to admit the second.

I don’t know that I want to ‘boast’ in my weakness, but certainly, admission needs to be a regular part of my everyday life, or I become overly critical of myself and take myself far too seriously. It’s hard to be imperfect, as a perfectionist, or at least hard to be perfect when you want everyone else to think you are. I’m not perfect. In fact, I am pretty hard pressed to find a day when I don’t make a mistake or multiple mistakes in a row. Admitting those mistakes allows me the freedom to drown out the opinions and ever nagging judgment of others. It allows me the space to be at peace with who I am, and regard the opinions of others as just. Opinions. Everyone has them, and there are no opinions that should debilitate a person.

I’m actively choosing to move forward carefully and with consideration for honesty, consistency, and imperfection. Each day is a battle to not succumb to humanities opinion of something I did or didn’t do. Each day is a battle to admit imperfection and then own it. As I have grown up, just a bit more than I was yesterday, I have a growing sense of freedom and peace, navigating the difficult waters of life, that we all face. I’ll keep writing. And keep pursuing the things that are between my ears, and acknowledge the ostentatious missteps that I am sure to makealong the way.

Joe

“Joe. My name is Joe. I’ve been here 8 days, and they want to kick me out tomorrow. I have a condition that I can’t get medicine for, and before they know it, I’ll either be dead or back in here.”

I knew I wouldn’t mind if they kicked me out the next day. I was ready to move on, move forward from this nightmare. But Joe was fearful. His voice trembled as he described his life outside his walls of this confinement. He told stories of having it all, being a contractor making hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, working construction and then owning a construction company; married with three kids, and living in a modest ½ million dollar home. “I’m 71 now.

That was a different life, 36 years ago.” Joe was 35 when he first started drinking regularly. He had hurt his arm in an accident and to ease the pain, he had found alcohol seemed to help the pain while also being socially acceptable. His wife of 12 years continued to scold him for drinking too much at times, and eventually she left him alone, in the house of his dreams.

He sold his construction business and moved to Florida. And then drank; for 36 years. His kids had graduated and gone, and this was a blur of a time for Joe. He couldn’t recall the times he had attended graduation ceremonies, weddings, or anything that was normally a landmark moment in a person’s life.

Joe had been admitted to the mental health psychiatric center because he had tried to commit suicide. Alone and in pain, he found solace in the fact that he could leave behind his pain, guilt, shame, remorse, and lonely existence. He swore that when he got out, he was going to figure out, this time for good. Clearly, Joe was not in good shape. He had long been on workman’s compensation and disability, and had been in and out of homeless shelters for years.

I’ll never forget watching midday television one afternoon with Joe. As we sat there, he gruffly asked if I was married. “Yes. I’m married.” I replied with some question in my voice, because at that particular moment I was married, but wasn’t sure how frail that reality was, moving forward. Joe leaned in, across the table with the most intense eyes an old man has given me, probably in my entire life, and said something that haunts me and motivates me all the same.

“When you get out, take advantage of a second chance. Don’t f*** this up and lose everything. You’ve only started to lose your future and you can turn that around.”

And with that, he sat back in the uncomfortable chair and took in the rest of “Judge Judy.” I was taken back. He had told me his story and it had eerily resonated with me. Similar ages, similar life situations, similar pains, and aches and emotional scarring. He had come to the crossroads and the intersection 36 years ago, and had chosen to go down the gravel road of selfishness, self-seeking, and what seemed to be an easier and softer way than living life on life’s terms. He had shut people out of his life, out of his pain, and out of his existence only to find at the end of the day, he had to live with himself. He didn’t like himself very much and so he had made it his goal to rid the world of himself.

The last day that I was at the mental health center, Joe gave me his phone number on a little piece of paper. He folded it up in a square and told me to call him, when I got out, and when I landed somewhere. I forgot about the little piece of paper until about a month after this exchange when I found it in a pocket, in the jeans that I was sporting at the hospital. Memories came flooding back to me, and I knew something had to be different. I didn’t want to end up a 71-year-old man, with a crazy story of living life in a blur, trying to end it all by any means possible. I didn’t want to look back on my life and tell a 35-year-old kid not to screw this up, like I had done. I wanted to choose a different road. One with twists and turns, bumps and valleys, mountains, and rivers. I didn’t want to live a flat life void of emotion, relationships, and joy. I could deal with the pain, as long as I could live life to its’ fullest potential.

I tried to call Joe, the day that I found his number. HIs number was disconnected and no longer in service. Joe was, and is, an angel of hope whom I encountered. I don’t know that I’ll ever see Joe again, but I think of him often. During the times when I descend into a difficult valley or peak a mountaintop, I remember him looking at me, with intensity, desire, and earnestness, and saying “Get it right the second time around, son.” And then we watched another episode of Judge Judy.

*Names in this post are not actual names of people represented to protect the anonymity of those that were involved. Joe, if you ever read this, please know that you saved one man’s life in that clinic.

Emotions. Insanity. Fight.

Insanity took over. Mind racing, heart pumping, fists swinging, and rage looming, I gave up. My mind won that day, but each day is a new battle.

Each and every day, I fight. I’m not abnormal or special in this fight, all of us, to some degree have a battle. Mine happens to be my mind; if left to its’ own vice, goes insane. Things rattle around in my head, thoughts creep up that are scattered and unfounded, and things seem to get all jumbled as I try to make sense of the present moment, past circumstance, and a future reality. I have to fight these moments. I have to fight insanity.

If I were to tell you some of my insane thoughts, you would look at me and wonder where the calm, collected gentlemen in front of you went. You would wonder whether I was a psychopath or unstable. You might wonder whether you were in any of my ‘crazy thinking.’ I have been in a psych ward after all.

One of my children is fearful. Fearful of the dark, fearful of the closet being opened, fearful of what others will say about them or think about them, or fearful of loss and pain. She regularly expresses her fear I at bedtime, and asks how she can not be scared anymore. Regularly, I have had the conversation with her regarding fear that invites her to give her fears and her worries over to God, who ultimately is in charge of all things. While I have said these words, dozens, maybe hundreds of times, I am not a great role model of giving my life and will over to the care of God. In the daily fight, my natural inclination is to give ground. To let up and allow the thoughts to consume me, beat me, and ravage my brain. It’s easier. And frankly, I can be lazy about this issue, if I am not completely aware of myself around it. Awareness is something that I have lacked for most of my adult life. Instead of being aware of the present moment and what is happening on the inside of me, I have tried to suppress pain, guilt, shame, and instead fill it with things that repress the emotion that is inside of me. I have lived in the future, and not enjoyed the present.

Emotions suck. And especially when your mind is going insane.

To feel the present moment is to feel the complete pain of the moment, with all of the judgement, with all of the darkness, with all of the hopelessness, with all of the past behind me and the future before me. To feel is to recognize that pain and hurt is iminent and constant. To feel is scary. This is why I struggle so much to ‘make a decision to give my will and life over to the care of God’ and allow whatever happens to happen. I have always wanted to control outcomes. I have always wanted things to be within my grasp. And what I found, especially in the last few months, is that I am unable to manage life in the way that I would prefer, where I am in control of everything around me. Life is unmanageable, and becomes especially unmanageable when one is using chemicals to suppress the present emotional reality. I dare say that life may be unmanageable for most people, it’s whether we recognize that or not that influences us. 

Here’s what I had to learn.

To feel the present moment is to feel all of the things above AND it’s to feel the goodness of life, the relationships in life, the little things in life. Being grateful for even the smallest of life’s pleasures is something I have never done well. Toilet paper is something I am thankful for today, in moments when I am alone in a public restroom. Air is something that I am grateful for, as I have experienced the suffocation of my own insanity. My children being loud and obnoxious is something that I am grateful for, because I know the deep silence that I have plunged into. Feeling the present, experiencing the present, is a fight, but it’s worth it. The amazing part of the present moment is that there is always something to be grateful for. There is always a sliver of hope. The reason that we watch movies is that we love an impossible situation being solved. We love when the  main character overcomes. And I love when God overcomes my will, and in turn, my insanity.

As I have navigated the past few months, fighting each day, maybe even moment by moment to give my will and life to the care of God, I wrote down several items on a piece of paper at different times. If I were to simply take a picture, you wouldn’t be able to read it, because I have terrible handwriting. But I remember them and I review them daily. . I want to remember these, for the rest of my life, so that I might live in each moment, allowing emotion to be felt, allowing light in the darkness, and allowing God’s will to trump my insane mind.

I can’t control other people. Their thoughts or opinions of me, their actions against me or others, their response to my action, or their own acknowledgment of wrongdoing. I can only manage those things, in me.

When I am tempted to live insanity, I have to remember that no one else is living the insanity with me. Clearing my mind, heart, and experiencing grateful life is what I choose to do.

Finding solace in others, finding identity in others, is worthless and leads to a place of deep darkness. Finding my identity in who I really am, and who I am created to be, is necessary. Finding my identity in the hands of my God is ‘home.’

No one else can control me as much as they think they might be able to. I make my own decisions, am responsible for my own actions, and experience the consequences of all of the above. There is no one to blame, but me, and blame is not meant to continue on forever.

Insanity, in addiction, is often the reason we started the activity in the first place. To allow ourselves to go back to insanity is to relapse, without experiencing relief.

I am not my own. I was bought with a price. And that’s a good thing, because left to myself, I am not worthy or worth a whole lot. Even so, the price that was paid for me, was extraordinary.

Self esteem is not some mumbo jumbo that is talked about to make kids feel good. Self esteem is looking in the mirror and being able to say what Jesus said. “Love others as you love yourself.” It’s being able to look yourself in the eye and be proud of who you are, what you have done, and what you will do!

Getting out of bed each day is not special. It’s not unique. But getting out of bed requires strength, will, energy, and hope. And today, I choose to get out of bed.

Suck it up, buttercup.

The last one is something that I heard a very influential person in my life say recently. It was during a time that I was bemoaning something happening in my life that wasn’t to my liking. I had to fight through that experience. I had to feel each moment. And I’m glad that I did because what I experienced was a new lease on life. Each and every day, that I put my feet on the floor, I have new hope.

Psych Ward

Terrified, I found myself being wheeled to the psych ward. What was I doing? Did they think I was crazy? Maybe I was crazy! Maybe I should be admitted here. Maybe I should remain here. So many thoughts and a thousand question rattled around inside of me, driving me more and more insane, on the edge.

I sat there, in a wheelchair, looking at the sign in front of me, waiting for the security clearance to pass from the outside, to the inside. I wasn’t going to jail, yet, but was about to experience something that was radically different in nature than anything I had ever encountered. All because I was going to the “psych ward.”

I quickly realized once I was inside the psych ward that this is not the correct term for the place that I would call residence for 5 days. I quickly realized that there were more politically correct terms than this, and so using the term ‘behavioral health center’ seemed to be the more acceptable way to describe what was happening inside these four walls. The place was bustling with activity and what I later found out, was always that way. I walked through the front door and had to strip down to nothing so that the security folks could take everything that I had on me at the time, put it into a bag, and lock it away, for safekeeping. I was given a hospital gown, which is a sorry excuse for the front part of a shirt, and then ushered to my abode that I would be inhabiting for the next few days. The nurse met me at the room and let me know that they were doing what she called ‘intake’ and that it would be a few minutes until they came in to let me have access to some clothes, and some of my showering possessions. I had been in the hospital for a full day at this point, and thought maybe a shower would be in order. The nurse left and I was left to sit on the bed, pondering how I made it to this point in my life. As I studied the room, I realized that I was here for a very specific reason. The hospital staff had good reason to believe that I was a threat to myself and so they admitted me on the basis of ‘suicidal tendency’ and then ushered me to the “Behavioral Health Center” for safekeeping. I knew this because all of the vents were covered with a small wire mesh. The outlets were glued shut, and there were no metal sharp edges anywhere. I don’t think I was looking for any, but these things caught my attention, and for the first time in a few days, I really did want to die. I didn’t want to be here. I didn’t want to be in this situation. I didn’t want to be locked in the hospital for any longer than I had to be. And now I was stuck. The night before, when I was recovering from my experience with the Emergency Room I had asked the nurse if I could leave. I’m not sure what I was thinking (I wasn’t) and thought that if I could leave, things would simply be all better. They knew better than to let a guy who had just showed up in the position that I was in go back out into the streets. I don’t remember what they told me, but I remember thinking that it was a good reason as to why I shouldn’t be allowed to leave. Now, in the Behavioral Health Unit, all I wanted was to get home to my wife and kids, for things to return to normal, and for me to figure out how to cope with life again.

The nurse interrupted my thought process as she wheeled in the large machine that would take my blood pressure. For the next few weeks and months, I would battle significant heart issues, such as high blood pressure and an enlargement of the heart. When one doesn’t care for themselves well, the body tends to respond poorly. She pumped up my arm and then exclaimed how high my blood pressure was. She asked if I was nervous. I told her that I was a little nervous and asked what was going to happen to me. She told me that the unit would figure out the best move forward, to keep me safe and sound, in the next 24 hours. 24 hours!! I let that sink in. I wanted to be gone in the next 24 minutes. She walked me through the ‘rules’ and the schedule and let me know that I could walk around the unit and be anywhere except other patients’ bedrooms. There were books, a television, and some coloring books out in the lobby outside of my room. I sat on my bed as she brought in my clothes so that I could get into something a little more ‘comfortable.’ All I had with me were the same clothes I had arrived at the hospital with, so I put them on. They didn’t smell great, but they were a heck of a lot more comfortable than the half shirt I was wearing, moments earlier. I laid back on the bed, for the first time in several hours, disconnected from any sort of medical device or monitoring system. I did what any manipulative individual would do in this situation. I schemed on how to fool people to think that I was fine, that I would move forward with little to no consequence. And I fell asleep. Not deeply asleep but enough that an hour passed and then I heard the nurse come around and ask if I was ready for dinner. I got up out of my bed, and went out to the lobby to meet ‘the other crazy people.’ I sat at a table by myself (even in a mental health facility I was a loner) and ate my dry, chewy chicken and drank my carton of milk. I wasn’t hungry and hadn’t been for quite some time. My appetite and everything that had been enjoyable was now gone. The only thing that I wanted in this moment, was to be away from this place. I met several folks that evening as we gathered around the 6 pm scheduled TV watching. We sat in the chairs in the lobby and talked and discussed amongst ourselves why we were there. For the first time, in a very, very long time, I told someone how I felt. I told a cocaine addict and alcoholic why I was in there with them. They couldn’t get past the fact that I was an alcoholic and a Pastor. I told them that it shouldn’t be that weird, I was still human. We had many discussions the next few days about my occupation and my drug of choice. We had many discussions about their escapades of doing drugs, overdosing, and the kinds of things that they were going to do, when they ‘got out.’ You see, all of us were in the center because we really were crazy. We thought that death would be a better alternative than life itself. And because we believed that, others believed the opposite for us and thought that this was the best place we could be. There were two more intakes that evening. One was a young gentlemen that I recognized and he recognized me. He had gone to the church that I had been pastoring at and knew that I was from there. He had tried to commit suicide and was unsuccessful. The other was a man who was about six foot seven and weighed 120 pounds. He was clearly not doing well, when he came in, and was babbling nonsense and yelling obscenities. The nurses were doing their best to get him to his room and give him a tranquilizer. The little band of alcoholics and drug addicts sat in the lobby, and looked upon this sight with wide eyes. This is what we all expected, when we came into the Psych Ward, I mean, the Mental Health Center…We expected to be placed with other folks who were insane. We all knew we were insane and our minds weren’t working correctly and that was the only difference between us and the gentlemen that put up a fight. We found out later that he really didn’t function well mentally and that he had a several mental illness that cost him memory, personality, and function.

As I laid down that night to go to bed, I was given ambien to sleep. It knocked me out cold, and I woke up to some visitors. I was groggy and don’t remember much of anything of this encounter but know that all I wanted to do was sleep. About an hour after my visitors, the nurses came back in, turned on the lights, hooked me up to the blood pressure machine and again remarked how high my blood pressure was. One of them started down a list of questions, one of which was, “Do you want to hurt anyone right now?” I thought to myself, and wish I had only thought to myself, but ended up saying out loud, “I want to hurt all of you, you keep waking me up!” I was joking, or trying to, but in the center, you don’t joke about these things. The room came alive and the next thing I knew I was talking to a therapist who was also the psychiatrist, in the middle of the night, and talking about anger and emotion. He finally left and I was able to sleep just a bit. I fell asleep convincing myself that this was all just a bad dream and that things would come to a close soon.

When I awoke the next morning, I had no idea what time it was. I didn’t have a watch, phone, clock or any way of knowing what the hour hand said. I sat up and realized that it was sunny outside. I got up, walked out the door, and found the clock to say 5:40 am. I went back in and laid down for awhile, then got up and found a book in the lobby. It was a bible, but it was the recovery bible. I opened it and read just a few of the entries that were focused on the 12 steps to recovery. I began to resonate with what the authors had written and found myself writing furiously on my notepad. As I wrote faster, my mind raced. I was here because…and my mind went all kinds of places. I played the ‘blame game’ for awhile. I went down the path of self effacing and self beating. Then I decided I would be emotionally dulled to the point of not feeling anything. I would stuff this, and I would move on. The last entry I read in the bible was regarding step 3. The writing became blurry as my eyes filled with tears.

“Make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

I had tried this. In fact, my entire life, I had tried to turn my will over to the care of God, and look where it got me? It put me in the mental institution and cast away by most of the community that I had tried to serve for the majority of my adult life. I was done with God and decided in that moment that I would not read this jargon anymore. I’m out, I declared internally. My will didn’t get me here, God did. And in that moment, I had blamed the creator God, the God of the universe for my own perverse nature, sin, and demise. And he took it. I’m glad he did, and I’m glad he gave me a second, no, a millionth chance. Later, I would learn that this step was crucial to recover, but that is written about extensively in the book. God was there with me, and yet I felt further from him than ever.

The next several days were filled with classes about drug use, suicide and anxiety, and seeing psychiatrists to determine the readiness of the patients to get out of the center. I tried my hardest the first day to convince all that I was doing fine, that I was strong enough to leave and be in control of my emotions, etc. I wasn’t but I sure tried to show that way. At the end of my second day in the center, my wife and I had a conversation that would change the course of my recovery. It was simple and it was icy. She told me that she didn’t think it to be a good idea, or even option, to come home. For the sake of our kids, for my sake, for her sake, it would be best if I got the help that I needed. I got off the phone a much more broken man than when I started the conversation. I went into my room, sat on the bed and cried. I cried like a baby, more than I ever had in my adult life. The people that I loved so deeply, the people that I had hurt the most, were now not accessible for the time being, in my life. And I was breaking apart in these moments. A nurse walked in and sat down in the chair next to my bed. She was my favorite nurse as she had a sense of humor and was a bit motherlike. She was a tough cookie, and allowed for people to be honest, even demanded it. She looked at me, and I looked at her through blurry eyes and she asked me, “What happened on the phone?” I recounted the conversation through whimpers, tears, and sobbing and at the end of it, when I was done talking, she asked me a question. She said, “Do you love your wife and kids?” What was she asking me? Of course I did, wasn’t that obvious? I answered swiftly, absolutely. She then said something that I remember as vividly as if it were five minutes ago. She said, “If you want any part of their lives moving forward, you have to be brutally honest with yourself, with your wife, and with your alcohol problem.” Up until that point, alcohol had only been addressed by doctors and psychiatrists as a question. “How much do you drink?” or “How frequent do you drink?” She had made a statement and told me that I had a problem. But the part that I remember most vividly is that I needed to be honest with myself and with others. I assured her that I would try and she walked out. She and I would have a few more discussions related to this same statement, but they are recounted other places. She saved my life. Had I not declared myself to need honesty in all areas, I think I would probably be dead. I don’t think I would have made it to today, let alone through that day.

As I drove to my new home for the next few months, riding silently in the cab of the truck of a good friend, being released from the Behavioral Health Center and leaving my drug friends behind, I pondered what was next for me. How would I live out the honesty that I had been so quick to agree to? How was I going to rebuild my life, with or without my family involved? How was I going to engage my problem with alcohol. How would I live life, when life seemed so chaotic? The answer for me was complex and to a degree, difficult to explain, which is why I am writing. There was no answer that I could come up with, and that proved to be the answer. I needed others. I needed God. I needed honesty and a belief in myself again. I needed to dream again, to be excited about life again, and to find joy in the present moment. And through these things, I lived to see another day, another week, and another month. And by God’s grace, I’ll make it through today.

Calling. The Great Mystery.

God has not given up on his church. But sometimes, he has to tear the temple down, only to rebuild it in his timing, and for his glory.

Wasting away for a year and a half, and maybe longer, and finding myself wasted (literally, emotionally, physically, mentally) at the end of it all was one of the hardest moments in my life. I had given it my all, I had lost it all, and for what? So that the organization of the church might succeed moving forward in it’s quest to have more people in the seats? Make more kingdom impact? Have a bigger budget? No. I did it because I believed that I was called. I had an experience years ago at a church camp that will always have wonderful memories for me where I was walking on a gravel road early one hot summer morning. I was doing my morning devotions as any good Christian camp counselor would when I looked up at the sunrise and distinctly (it was distinct then, it feels so distant now) heard deeply in my soul that God would use me to help the church. He didn’t say that I was to be a ‘professional pastor’ or that I would lead in big churches across the United States or that many people would come to faith because of me or the church I was in. He told me to serve the church. I remember questioning this experience for many weeks, maybe even months. I had never had any spiritual encounter like it before or since this day. I was reeling from trying to make sense of what it even meant. With this encounter in mind, I made a choice to major in something at college that would direct the course of my life, so far, and take me down paths I never intended to go down.

Calling is an interesting idea when it comes to spirituality. In Christian and non-Christian circles alike, we equate calling to something that we understand about ourselves to be true. Some people have the calling of being a missionary (whether for Christianity or against) while others have the call to help people by being a doctor, a construction worker, or a fire fighter. My call was not so specific. God wanted me to ‘serve the church.’ And so I did what any 18 year old would do at the time, I began my crusade to change the church. In college, I had everything figured out. If the church would just understand and implement the idea of honesty, authenticity, and then gracious care of those that were honest and authentic, I naively believed that it would change the entire course of the church in America. I had grown up watching church dysfunction, and somehow, I was going to save that dysfunction from happening to others in the future. I dove in headlong and took every opportunity to be bold about my opinions and my hypothesis. I made claims that the church would only be the church when we were willing to confront one another, approach sin, be gracious, and move forward. I chastised churches for simply doing a Sunday morning gathering and all the ‘programs.’ If only churches would just choose a simple path to programming, they might find themselves in a much better place, a growing place. Maybe then churches would grow with people that had come to Christ for the very first time. Maybe then churches would have the momentum and influence in this world to be able to actually make a difference in their communities. Maybe then, the church would no longer be considered a slow dying organization in the United States and instead we would see the likes of ‘google success’ or ‘apple success.’ We needed simple programming and better systems, within the context of relationships. I really did know it all.

And then one day I lost my understanding and knowledge. We had planted several churches at the church that I was serving at and I was pushing for more to be planted. One of my dear friends, a church planter that was part of our network, was slated to meet with me for breakfast. I went through my morning ritual and met him to eat bagels, drink coffee, and talk life. Over this meal, he let me know that he thought it would be best to close the church that he had founded and was leading. Clearly, the church that he planted was one of the more successful church plants that I had been a part of. It was growing, there seemed to be people coming to faith, and those that were a part of the core team still seemed fairly excited about what was happening. But as this church planter looked at the financial reality, he understood that the church was on a very quick and very painful trajectory toward failure. They didn’t have enough money, enough people, enough time to really make it happen. In my own selfish like way, I tried to save the church. I campaigned for fundraising money. I tried to help the church down a different path and plan. I schemed and came up with ways that it could succeed moving forward. And then, one day, it closed. There was no more organization that I had ‘prayed for’, that I had ‘invested in’, that I had ‘promoted.’ It was just gone. The people were gone, the location was gone, my friend was gone. And all that was left was a distant memory of having great hope that this church, yes, maybe this church would ‘get it right’ and be the gamechanger for other churches in America. How wrong was I?

As one of my former supervisors once pointed out, I was ‘dead wrong.’ To have hope and to have excitement about something that would have the global effect that I was hoping for was not helpful and created more turmoil within a system that is built on slow change and anti-adaptation (at least the churches that I knew and were a part of). It was wrong. I could only change what was in front of me, and that was something that I didn’t spend a lot of time on. After this experience with the church plant, my drive to plant churches and see a ‘new wineskin’ (pardon the reference to alcohol, but the bible does say something about it…) churches birthed that would radically shift the global environment, that drive ended. I knew that planting churches would never cease to exist because church folks that are American are also franchise wired. We want to take what works and ‘capitalize’ on the market that exists. I had become a mere franchise builder, taking what was already and shifting it just ever so slightly to look, feel, sound, just a little bit better, a little bit cooler. But at the heard of the matter, God wasn’t speaking. He wasn’t meeting with me on any gravel road and giving me direction of how I needed to serve the church. I think of Abraham when he took matters into his own hands in Genesis 12 and 13, and resonate. We needed to change the church, the organization, and actually produce what I believed God wanted us to produce. I retired from planting of churches and having that be my outlet for ‘serving the local church.’

As I ponder these days of my life, where church planting consumed my every waking moment and activity, I know just a few things to be true. I know that God did call me to serve His church. I am currently serving the church by staying away from it (at least from the inner workings of it) and focusing on being healthy. I cannot and will not offer anything to anyone, if I am not healthy. I also know that, maybe for the first time every in my life, being a pastor isn’t synonymous with serving the church. It is anti biblical in fact, to say that it is. Paul points out that there were ‘some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be shepherds and teachers and some to be evangelists.’ They were made that way, not knighted into some conditioned occupation. Those ‘pastors’ in the early church worked hard, alongside each of the members of the church, to maintain their life, for the sake of the one that they served. Some sacrificed everything, but you know what they didn’t do? They didn’t try to ‘change’ the nature of the church. They just were. They found solace in the fact that they were growing slowly in some cases and some cases literally dying off. It’s why Paul writes ‘I give everything up for the sake of Christ.’ A dear friend of mine, who desired reform in the local church for years, probably even before I went on the crusade, told me once that the only way that things will change is if God chooses to work in the same powerful mantra that he employed at the beginning, the genesis of the early church. Only then will things be different in the United States, he would tell me. I tend to agree. There is not one person that can change a church, an organization, or correct a misguided ship. But there is a God who can, and, as they say, may you find him now.

I know that churches do amazing things. You may be sitting here thinking that I hate the church or that the church is something that I am criticizing. The opposite may be true. To criticize the church would be to be a complete and utter hypocrite, of which I have been for many years. I called the church to certain action, and privately and inside, didn’t engage the practices that I believed that the church, my employer should engage. I love God and am falling more in love with him daily.  I loved (and to some degree, still do) God’s church. I love people that were part of the churches I had the opportunity to work for. The disappointment in God that I have experienced because of ‘calling’ is something I am still grappling with and processing. I may continue to do so, until I meet my maker, post this human life. I don’t have all the answers anymore. I know less now in this subject than I have ever known before. And certainly a collective group of people that are thinking about these issues daily together can navigate reform further than even I can in my head.

I’m reminded again of what one of my atheist friends posed as an answer to the question, “What is the will of God?” He said to the group sitting in front of him, “I believe that if God’s will was a reality, it would simply be to ‘do the next right thing.’” And I still think he’s right. I also believe can and will save, redeem, restore, remake, and renew his church in his timing and in his way. Before Jesus died, he said, “I will destroy the temple in three days and then rebuild it.” It would be foolish for me or others to say the same thing about his ‘temple’ today. I personally lack the power, the authority, and the influence to do what only Jesus can do. And that is probably for the best.

Introvert

I realized that I wanted to do something that involved people, and, because I was ‘spiritual’ and ‘curious’ I decided that the church was full of people and that I should get involved

I have a confession to make. I don’t trust people. I don’t know that I ever really trusted anyone. Before the last few months, I’m not even sure I knew what trust was.

I’ve spent most of my adult life (and even most of my adolescent and early adult years) mingling with people. I have always enjoyed people and getting to know them. They fascinate me, provide me with friendship, companionship, and fun. Groups of people are fun to be with, especially when they are doing things that I really enjoy doing. As a small child, I can remember organizing football games in the front yard of our house, each game further destroying the green grass that my father had worked so hard to cultivate. I was ecstatic when I could gather a crowd and orchestrate us ‘accomplishing’ something together. This translated into my adult life. I realized that I wanted to do something that involved people, and, because I was ‘spiritual’ and ‘curious’ I decided that the church was full of people and that I should get involved there. I could ‘help’ people, do God’s work, and orchestrate groups of people that would fulfill a mission. I started where most green pastors right out of bible college start. In Youth Ministry.

It was the summer of 2009 when I decided that our youth ministry needed to grow. I was going to single handedly arm this group with the ‘weapons’ and ‘tools’ to simply go out and ‘win people to Jesus.’ I thought about this activity as one might think about winning a basketball game or overtaking the enemy in a war. It worked. We gathered teenager after teenager and our little group grew. It grew a little at first, and then, to my dismay, we outgrew the room we were in. In those moments, my pride and ego was so far through the roof that every decision that I made was about growth. It was about my own self worth, my own worth to the church, and about making some name for myself. No one told me at that point that Youth Pastors have a hard time making a name for themselves. I did it all under the guise of spirituality and evangelism. Not all of it was ‘fake’ however. I truly did believe that what I was organizing impacted families and teenagers. I believed that I would somehow create a new way to do youth ministry and that all would be solved in the suburbs of Wichita, KS. To this day, I have great relationships with the kids and families that were a part of those early youth ministry days. The best thing that has happened is that those students became adults, and figured out faith for themselves. There was a ‘crisis of faith moment’ that some of them describe and they found God (or didn’t depending on the student). I’m sure some of them look back and see youth group as a great time to get together, hear some funny stories, open the bible, eat and play games. But as I look back on those times, I don’t know that I was focused on truly helping as much as I was focused on orchestrating some sort of action that the group could take. In the end, I could somehow tell myself that I deserved the destructive pattern of selfishness that I would participate in.

While I was doing youth ministry, I somehow got connected with a publishing agency in Kansas City who were writing a curriculum that would go out to Youth Pastors far and wide. And I was invited to do some writing and then some speaking and filming. This was probably at the height of my ‘youth ministry arrogance.’ I remember getting done with the video shoot, the writing, and the publishing part of the curriculum and thinking to myself that I had arrived as a youth pastor and that I would be doing this for the rest of my life. So, I did what any normal 20 something idiot youth pastor does. I started writing a book. I thought, “I know so much and have so much to offer the youth ministry world. I have the right philosophy, theology, education, and experience. And now, others will be able to somehow learn from me.” I got about 4 chapters into the book and was stopped in my tracks. I encountered significant pain, probably the most pain in ministry up to that point that I had absorbed, and it cut my ‘brilliant’ book writing short. Why was I even doing what I did, as a vocation? Did it even matter?

It was one of the most discouraging events that has happened in my life. I won’t go into detail, here in the blog, but have written extensively about the situation in the book I am currently working through (By the way, any brilliance in the book that I am writing has NOTHING to do with me, and everything to do with the pain that my own poor selfishly immorale choices caused). It rocked me. For months, I didn’t move forward. I went through the motions. I collected a church paycheck. I wasn’t sure how I could do youth ministry, if this is how things ended when I invested my life into someone. And it was through that experience that I recognized my inclination to introversion, and then, isolation.

People far smarter than me have done extensive writing about the introvert phenomena. They have determined that it is not that introverts ‘hate everyone’ or ‘cannot be around people.’ It’s simply that introverts become drained when with people for periods of time and are re energized when alone. The opposite is true of extroverts. For those of you who are either (which is all of us, exactly), you know exactly what I am describing to be true. I had not really focused on refueling up to the point of my major disappointment. I took a trip to counseling and the gentlemen that I met with told me that I should probably take some time to really focus on me. I had no idea what that even meant. He told me that I needed a hobby. What? What was a hobby? Work was a hobby. Family was a hobby. I had no hobby. So, I delved into my introversion, and instead of simply refueling by myself for periods of time, I began the destructive pattern of isolation. I didn’t let people in, didn’t invite people to be a part of my life, and rarely offered much of any substance when discussing life on life’s terms with folks from church. I have recently learned that the behavioral mechanism that I was exhibiting is actually a protective vice that people who have been wounded at war often exhibit physically. If someone has their leg mangled in a battle, they will favor that leg and protect it, even when simply playing with their kids at home. Emotionally, I protected my heart, my mind, my behavior, and my patterns. I attempted to be perfect for people, and not give too much that they would know about me, or find out that I wasn’t a perfect pastor.

Isolation is a terrible place. The depths of being alone only grow and become far worse than the day before, and before long, isolation takes over the heart. Introverted and isolated, I began to ‘self care’ which was actually selfish obsession. I wanted me to be happy and that is what mattered. The destructive pattern of Isolation overtook me, and I forgot to dream. I forgot how. I forgot about the future, and even the present and instead, lived solely in the past, in the mistakes I had made, but more importantly all that I had accomplished. It was my way of somehow ‘deserving’ something.

I’m still an introvert today. I’ll never stop being an introvert. But I’ve learned, in a severe and profound way, that I need to let folks in on the emotion I feel. I need to speak out when someone is doing something that bothers me, and I need to be honest and forthright with every answer I give. There is no plan to go back to isolation. There is no plan to return to the hell that is despair and loneliness. Sure, I have lonely moments, as anyone does. But the overwhelming nature of isolation will not, should not, overtake me again. I will share what is happening in my head and heart, with others that I am learning to trust, maybe for the first time ever.