If I Can Survive
My Own Narrative,
I’m Certain I’ll
I knew I needed to change. The reasons I set out to change were clear. Noble run of the mill variety reasons.
I wasn’t as productive as I should be.
I was lethargic.
I didn’t read as much as I would like.
I needed better hobbies with my downtime.
That’s cool. Good items to turn around for sure.
But never could I have imagined the lifestyle changes I began making were all going to help me withstand what was coming. Had I not changed when I did, there is no way I see myself coming out on the other side of events which were lying in wait ready to strike later on. Debilitating events. Crippling occurrences.
These negative events were ahead. They were going to happen regardless. Whether I was going to be a changed man or not, whether I was going to be prepared or not, whether I could take it or not, these events cared not. They were coming.
But prior to these negative turns ahead in my story, and of course without me knowing they were going to happen, I was building an incredible foundation of change.
It was late 2015, and I vowed to pivot from the person I was becoming. I began a process of change at a time marked by a significant number (I turned 30).
There was a faint sense of a new year’s resolution behind it, but I always like to describe how the specific changes were starting well before January 1st. At least momentum was building so I didn’t have to make a promise or resolution I knew would be abandoned. These were changes not to wait on come new year’s day but changes I started the months prior. When new year’s day did come around I’ll admit there was a little boost added.
2016 started off witnessing these changes: eating better; actually going to the gym; becoming infatuated with daily productivity schedules from the likes of Michael Hyatt, Donald Miller and others; reading a ton more on my own time.
And I was implementing all of this. Slowly and surely, some more than others, I began finding myself putting into daily practice incredible improvements. My mind was becoming sharper. My health was improving.
I was preparing myself to be better overall at all the things I already had in my life, the minor challenges I may have faced at the time, and the manageable responsibilities I had. Manageable now in comparison to what I see in my review mirror.
Sometimes in the midst of the great personal changes we commit ourselves to, disruptions bulldoze their way in, which not only should throw us off course, but destroy us all together.
I’ve heard it phrased as attacks. Some people will view these disruptions as inevitable challenges. Whatever the perspective, they came for me, they were furious, and they would have likely ended me otherwise.
But it is precisely because I started the lifestyle changes which allowed me to take on several upcoming blows. Discovering now that, if I had not committed to change when I did, and now in light of what was ahead, an incredibly humbling tone strikes deep within my core.
None of the negative story turns were what I was training for either when I set out to change. I was training within the lens of positive turns. When the negative turns came, there is no way I could have made it through if I had not already begun a path of change.
It’s a bad practice in general to play the mental game of looking backwards, trying to figure out how different things would be in the present if you hadn’t done X, or if Y hadn’t come along unexpectedly. Mainly because you were doing X, or Y did come along.
All I know is if you know you need to make a positive change in your life, there is absolutely no better time than within the calm right now. It’s wildly beyond cliche. It’s truth is life saving.
The changes you’ll have to make reacting to negative events, which will come, are merely survival changes.
The changes you make proactively while the opportunity is at hand for you to make them are changes rooting themselves deeply into you, preparing you to handle more than you ever planned to take on. They just are. Take heart and lay the better foundation today.
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.
As I surface from depths I never anticipated, I couldn’t help but notice I finally came-to somewhere I was never before.
Your expectations for me are expectations I never placed on myself, and never could I if I ever tried.
A world breaks in filled with nonsense to everyone not me but I can relate to this alien-rationale.
Anxiety mounts to perform in ways that will break me even as I finally breath the freshest of air and taste the most nourishing fruit.
As I justify my existence by the words others speak but don’t themselves practice, I suddenly realize no one knows what is coming out of their mouths.
I lean in further to the foreign land’s ways as I wash ashore now, not to be welcomed in the way I thought but instead further burdened.
The only sense I can make of it all is we are always never listening to others and we are always ever speaking to ourselves.
My only wish I have left is to speak as confidently about myself as others wishfully do for themselves.
The alien-rationale softly grips me tighter: Love your neighbor as yourself. As yourself. As yourself.
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.
What utter horror are some of the areas in our head we allow ourselves to travel to. We can travel towards them for a while. But even a mere moment may be too long.
The problem is these areas of despair will continue to call for attention once fed. It’s the duration and distances we allow ourselves to stay there which will do all the harm.
For me, it seems like I even go a step further and find a pickaxe to help dig deeper down into the spaces of negativity. Assisting this doesn’t help at all.
We need to rush towards the narratives which lift us up. Which tell us our true value. It comes from outside of us often enough we mistake these affirmations as not us because it comes from someone else.
While I’m busy digging away with my pickaxe someone usually comes along and pays me a compliment. And I’m stubborn enough to tell them thanks but I’m kinda busy digging further into all my failings at the moment.
Embrace these affirmations. Take hold of the slightest one. Grab what you brush off as something you do naturally and could do in your sleep.
The compliment is not a waste at all. It is someone outside yourself telling you how valuable you are.
Rush towards those spaces of praise and travel those distances to get there and build them up. Collect them and store them and reflect on them.
So when the despair comes, which it comes, we can hold fast to hope in the new creation we are becoming. The creation constantly redeemed.
Things change for me in September. Always have.
I even changed from not being born to existing all of a sudden.
And there have been several rebirths of mine in other Septembers. Killed off. Born again. Killed off. Born again.
And in birth, I find there is more pain than in the death. There is always pain.
But afterwords, there is life. There is always life.
As I was laying out the concept of this blog I asked myself the following questions: Who am I writing to? Who am I talking to in this vast digital ocean? Whose heart am I really trying to stir with this central message of purpose and love and self worth?
A couple weeks ago I had an aha moment.
I realized I needed to talk with the person I am very familiar with. Someone like me. The person who needed this message of value the most:
The metal-head, the goth, the emo kid, the scene kid, the speech therapy kid, the misunderstood, the mistreated, the reject, the unloved, the ignored, the beaten down, the emotionless, the awkward, the pimple faced kid, the made fun of in church youth group kid.
This space is really for anyone and everyone. But I am hopefully reaching you. The Misfit.
The Misfit? I was going with outcast and baggy pants person from the 90’s. Who are the Misfits? I mean really, I wasn’t using that term just a week ago.
But then my friend starts bumping this rap group I’ve never heard of called Social Club Misfits. Their mantra jolts me because they are basically talking about how much they are geeks, weird, boring, rejects, misunderstood, etc etc. Stuff rappers shouldn’t be saying out loud. And they are comfortable with this identity.
This short sermon song pops up. I’m tearing up a bit hearing it. He’s talking to me. I’ve never heard the embracing of being a Misfit as he defines it with such confidence. With such assurance of self.
A Misfit is one who’s uncomfortable with his or her surroundings. Oh yeah, that’s me. Raises my hand slowly out of discomfort.
and is seen to be disturbingly different than others. Always have. And if you’ve experienced this too, you can rest assured you are not different. You’ve got me at least. And all of us Misfits.
And as Misfits one of our greatest discomforts is inconsistency amongst our peers. The dare is to be comfortably, consistently yourself. Be authentic. Be who you are. Wear socks with sandals if that’s your thing. You’re a Misfit.
There is a humble confidence, if I can use that phrasing, throughout this definition of a Misfit. They have put to words and music what my aha moment was trying to grasp at.
Trying, because I was only just beginning to become (finally) as confident as they are about being Misfits. It’s kinda amazing it all happens within a couple weeks of each other.
Social Club Misfits could not clarify any better in my mind what is pressed deeply into my identity and calling:
We are Misfits here if we are taking on Christ daily. And we are further Misfit (rejects, goody-two-shoes, freaks, geeks) if we are the kid who got picked last, the only non-swearing kid at bible camp, the person painting your nails black, the parent who is in prison, or the constantly laughed at.
But. Chin up.
You are loved. You just are.
My math was off. By four.
I posted a couple weeks ago how I felt like I was 21 again. But as of today I am back to 17 year old me in high school. Back when weighing in the 180’s was the norm. For the first time since high school, I dropped back into the 180’s!
Measuring weight is one thing, and I am floored I accomplished this.
But the change in my energy and emotional well-being is the highlight. My energy level is off the charts right now. My ability to focus. My creative energy. It’s all here again.
Maybe it’s here again. I mean, it’s been so long I may have forgot what it was like to feel healthy. Or maybe the feeling is more of a rewarding sense because there was much to overcome, in contrast to 17 year old Dave just living off being young and athletic and indestructible.
See me in the before shot from 2013? I can’t see me. I provide this not as a before picture but as an in-the-middle-of picture.
Back then I was very aware I was not myself. I know a statement like that would be totally different if I had been heavy my whole life, but I hadn’t been. I had a past version of me to reflect on, a goal to get back to. My prior youthful athletic self was enough of a sample size to know I wasn’t myself.
I am closer to me right now. I want to live fully into the person Jesus wants me to be, the person He made regardless of my situation. He redeems everything. He leaves nothing to waste. He’ll even take dark seasons and turn them into the very best light.
I’m convinced telling my story so others can realize they are not alone in their pain is exactly how Jesus will be using my out of control weight years.
I’ll build bridges made of my scars to you.
“But until then all of our scars will still remain, but we’ve learned that if we’ll
Open the wounds and share them then soon they start to heal,
And as long as we live, every scar is a bridge to someone’s broken heart
And there’s no greater love, than that one shed his blood for his friends.” – Thrice, For Miles