I’d wish my past year onto no one. Friend or enemy.
I’ve gone through several violent interruptions. Wake up calls I never saw coming. Wake up calls I saw coming. Reflection compounded upon reflection. A lingering pause allowing for second, third, even eighth levels of thinking about what to do now.
But would I wish my past year onto me? Yes. I’d never abandon what I’ve gone through. I wouldn’t trade it in for a ‘pleasant’ year at all.
What people say with cliche verbiage is true. If I didn’t go through hell, if I didn’t go through pain, if I didn’t go through terror, I’d never become who I am today.
The key word above is through. Coming out on the other side of it all doesn’t mean I’ve arrived at the formulaic movie ending where the climactic scene ties all loose ends together as the protagonist is surely changed for the better. Going through means I made it through the terrible occurrences. I’ve made it to some sort of ‘ok, that all really happened?!’ state of being.
The climatic scene isn’t here yet.
Going through is sort of like the part of the movie Castaway where Chuck Noland is finally rescued from the island he was stranded on for years. The suffering is finally over after all that time on the island, and in real time as the audience watched a man talk to a volleyball!
But now Chuck needs to get to Kelly Frears.
Off the island, surrounded by people, but still in a profound loneliness. A pain which needs fixing.
He is, however, not at all the same Chuck prior to the plane crash.
As I see what I’ve gone through over a year’s time, I realize the habits, rituals, and reactions to how things panned out are exactly the things carrying me into the next phase. I’m prepared in a way I never planned to be prepared.
This is exactly the point of another cliche. Lean in. Yes, lean into your situation, even if it is terrible and not what the trajectory was originally. Lean into the lessons learned. Lean into the new habits. Lean into how you survived, and carry the lessons learned not only into your new life but also into the lives of others.
My past year was an apprenticeship I didn’t sign up for. My future now contains endings I didn’t want either. But these climactic scenes will be more meaningful than I ever could have imagined had I not gone through it all.
The chorus from the song Cardiff Giant by mewithoutYou contains a sentiment which has played through my mind a lot.
“I often wonder if I’ve already died.“
I keep looking back to my late twenties and wonder if I died back then. I wonder if I squandered freedom.
Subliminally, I think I died.
Superficially, I obtained multiple degrees (family cheers), I got the start of a technically skilled career (society cheers), and I even materialistically helped stimulate the economy by buying a car with said start of career (auto-makers cheer).
Prepared during my late teens and early 20’s with my arsenal of bibles, books and blogs, I knew I was entering my late 20’s (and the rest of my life?) with Jesus centered ways pinned to my chest.
I had my worn down Blue Like Jazz book. I had my copy of Irresistible Revolution. My NIV bible had my notes in the margins and underlined verses. My blog roll was a who’s who of Christian blogging at it’s finest (and worst) of the mid-2000’s. Blogging’s golden years.
I put in the work I needed to position myself to be in the world but not of it.
Vocation would eventually line up, I kept telling myself. My degrees could be justified in several ways once I started doing the tough, missional like work in my field. And I was certain I would be volunteering for key places doing incredible community development work.
But I wonder if I died somewhere before.
Which death had I died?
A death for freedom? Or a death for fear?
Death is cunning because it just sort of slinks in and sits back. It really doesn’t have to do much after a nudge.
I didn’t account for cubicle sitting. Sitting and sitting and sitting. I realize in college and for the previous 25 years in my life there were things like recess or the end of the 45 minute class. Or even the class of physical activity in and of itself. The desk job life was nothing I prepared for.
Sitting at work all day and doing a job would lead me to medicate at the fast food line carousel. Enabled, ironically, by the payment received for sitting at the desk and doing work.
An additional 60lbs later, the outward manifestation of my death was showing.
I also didn’t account for brain drain and video game indulgence. I played countless hours of video games after coming home from work. The last thing I wanted to do was think more, so why not mindlessly button mash? Quick dopamine surges to the brain in the form of taking the imaginary hockey team you manage to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the third year in a row. Besides, healthier more put together people my age play way more video games than I do.
Another outward expression I had died at some point, pacified by a fake digital world.
I hardly needed to be coached about not buying a new car. Used will always be the best bet, if I even need a car at all. Financially it would make sense. But by the time I was done test driving the newest model car it wasn’t even logic anymore. New car it was.
More outward expressions I had died along the way. Shane Claiborne would be mad.
And there were the denials.
When leaving work early on a Wednesday a co-worker asked where I was heading off to. Instead of answering plainly “I’m heading off to worship band practice at the church I attend,” I would say “oh, off to something I got to do.”
Not only did ‘something’ satisfy the curiosity of my colleague, but it satisfied my dying state.
When writing up a meet the staff blog post about me, one of the interview questions was “Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us?” I said that I have been playing the guitar since the age of seven.
But why, over two years into this job, would something so central to my core be a surprise to my co-workers? Why would this be something I need to hide from people?
What a weird surprise. I had slowly killed the musician in me the more I justified the pursuit of a career.
I don’t think I have to wonder too much if I had died.
Right now death is pissed off.
I came alive again. I woke up slowly inside safe, small community talking about several of the above items, while they were happening.
Only when you are alive do you know how dead you were.
All that preparation ahead of time in my life prior to my late 20’s didn’t go for not. All that digging into who Jesus really is and how I am to navigate this world was deeply embedded in me.
The problem was I didn’t allow any of it to release. I was letting death deal blows while life suffocated inside.
But now I am alive.
I am alive because the fast food line doesn’t control me anymore. The 60lbs put on is now 80lbs I’ve lost over the past two years.
The guitar isn’t just back in my hands, it never left, but it is truly a mark of worship to the God who gave me the ability to play in the first place.
My down time isn’t spent playing video games to decompress, but to continue self educating myself with books I’ve always wanted to read.
And death hates this so much.
I often wonder if I’ve already died.
Well, I did die.
But now. Now. I am alive.
I leave you with what the singer of mewithoutYou has to say about this song, not only what I took from it. It’s a song off an album about a circus train derailing in 1878. Hence why he mentions the animals in the following interview responding to Cardiff Giant:
“That song is a dialogue between the tiger and the peacock, both of whom stayed in captivity for different reasons. The tiger was very deliberate in remaining because of his sense of internal freedom regardless of external circumstances, but the peacock just feels kind of stuck. And the first time it’s the peacock saying “I often wonder if I’ve already died,” meaning a sense of having squandered her freedom—she missed the opportunity to escape and she’s stuck in this life that has no purpose or growth. And then the tiger responds in the second chorus saying the same thing, but it means almost the exact opposite—the tiger is wondering if the ego has been annihilated, if the self has been totally surrendered, and the tiger has been taken to some new, higher level of consciousness or reality. So it’s taking the same exact sentence and flipping it on its head.“
I was the peacock certainly. Death had me trapped and was convincing me I squandered my freedom. Give up. You’re dead.
But I’m the tiger now. Death got me for sure. But it never got me internally. Death can’t trap me anymore. I am surrounded by too much life, life abundant.
In between obtaining my bachelors degree and my masters degree, starting in the fall of 2007, I took a ‘year off.’ I graduated in four years and was only 21 and realized there was no rush just to keep going to school.
What followed was a year I didn’t exactly map out on my own but a time where I had one guiding principle:
Say yes to things you normally don’t say yes to.
Now of course, not things I should obviously say no to for the sake of self preservation, or against societal morality.
Instead, I am talking about things I was scared of doing, or used the lame excuse of “I’m busy with school,” or whatever other excuse I would use back then. Truly it was personality reasons down deep as I was timid about sticking my neck out.
Right away, my first curveball. In September our church gets a new youth pastor.
Me and him hit it off immediately. We are reading the same theologians. We have the same dry humor. We have the same sense of self deprivation. We both are sports nerds. We both are nerds.
And because of this bond that forms on month one of my year off, my cynicism for most things in the organized church starts to diminish.
My own personal hang ups about youth group growing up are greatly challenged when the youth pastor keeps asking me to volunteer. Actually I don’t think I have to be asked, I just simply start showing up on Wednesday nights to youth group (something I didn’t do when I was in the age range!) just to hang out since I have time on my hands and how much of a bond I was forming with the youth pastor.
Next thing you know I have a guitar in my hand helping lead worship at youth group…
…Next thing you know I am leading a small group bible study of college and career age folk, people my age or older, because our church didn’t have anything extra curricular for this age group. We start meeting in parks and our youth pastor and his wife’s apartment, forming bonds that never existed outside of church, bonds that didn’t exactly exist in church.
All because I said yes to filling a void I knew needed filled, even though I was pulling the classic ‘not me Lord, I am no preacher/leader/talker/etc.’ Classic. Because I said yes to something I told myself I wasn’t, our group of less than 20 twenty-somethings grew closer together spiritually and friendship wise.
Another thing I said yes to: I played guitar for the AA style recovery group at our church Monday evenings.
At those meetings is where I realized, perhaps, deeper and more profound church occurred. No slight to the rest of our church or any church. But people would get up and talk about their hurts, hang-ups, addictions, and all together sins. In front of other people! What a wild idea.
But in that setting was a trusting intimacy knowing everyone had each other’s back. As I was part of the worship band that kinda hung out in the corner as the main meeting would end and the small groups would break off, I often wondered why I didn’t go into the small groups. I was challenged to wonder why the whole church didn’t participate because the truth is we all could break down into this setting.
And I realized all the more by saying yes to helping other’s worship on a Monday night in a converted garage, they were helping instill in me a taste of what vulnerability really looks like, what coming together and confessing sins to one another means, and what healing and helping each other can do in each other’s lives.
And there was the cross country road-trip to San Diego from Detroit.
Well, as cross country as you can get by starting in Detroit (sorry east coast!).
Me and two friends packed a Pontiac Sunfire to the brim and set off for San Diego in February. A great time to go when you live in Michigan. Not only had I not taken a road-trip like that before, I had never been west of the Mississippi.
By saying yes to a road-trip I’d otherwise say no to because of ‘studies’ or ‘homework’ or other lame but important things, I got to experience travel and logistics and conflict resolution (tons of that with three guys in a Sunfire!).
All while seeing America the slow way. No fly over and jump to the heavenly beaches of San Diego. First we had to see Des Moines and Tulsa and Indianapolis in all their winter glory.
By saying yes to this trip my friend prodded me to go on (who was in college himself and simply took a week off), I saw the country instead of seeing pictures online of the country in the undergrad library.
And things I could have never planned for myself were molded into my heart at an incredibly impressionable time in my life.
Stepping up and serving a church body not out of fear but out of love to get people together.
Witnessing vulnerability first hand, which set the early stages for me becoming vulnerable myself in safe community later on.
Bonding with friends and problems solving their way across the open roads of America.
I said yes to not being afraid. And my dreams finally enlarge themselves.
That is why we never give up.
Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.
For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long.
Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!
So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now;
Rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen.
For the things we see now will soon be gone,
But the things we cannot see will last forever. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NLT
There’s a Not Yet firmly planted in a place so far away.
Drag it to you now, and strain yourself with all your wasted effort.
The Not Yet will clear a way.
Run towards it instead, it’s already with you.