in repair.

When I was a senior in high school, a few of us in our youth group stumbled upon a controversial Youtube video with a young man eloquently spitting a spoken word piece about how a personal relationship with Jesus was the cure for all the pitfalls of corporate, organized religion. It reminded us all of a homegrown pastor from Chicago named, Leslie Hunter, who used to travel to Minneapolis and read his spoken word short stories to us about God’s redemption and transforming grace, so we naturally connected well with it. Bethke’s catalytic message became a conversation starter among all camps of the Internet and was the source of a lot of commentary from notable pastors in the United States. Admittedly, I never watched much more from him until he released this video….

The title grabbed me, because I’m always intrigued whenever things like depression enter the same conversation as Jesus. I feel like some Christians have a misunderstanding about mental illness and addiction – that instead of them being neurochemical imbalances and the results of extenuating circumstance or poor choices, they’re marginalized and chalked up to the result of a lack of faith. Thankfully, the perspective in this video doesn’t really take sides on this issue, but it did capture the narrative of living with depression and addiction, especially at the point where it feels like such illnesses are immune to even Jesus’s healing. I was the same way. I thought that if I confessed my sin, and began to really follow Jesus, things would finally look up and my problems would evaporate into a distant memory of desires I no longer had. But, Bethke nailed it… “Relationships broke, addictions stayed, and that pervasive feeling of loneliness kept gnawing at me.”

Before watching this, I felt like the Biblical minor prophets lived up to their nominal status. Minor, thinking to myself, “There’s only like three or four chapters in some of these… what’s the big deal?” When Bethke references Hosea in this video, I decided to unleash my inner context (#Strengthfindersreference!), investigate this book, and all my presuppositions were erased. Hosea and the collection of eleven other prophets that make up the final leg and finish line of the Old Testament are sent by God to prophecy to Israel at the pinnacle of their sinful indulgences before being overrun by the Assyrian Empire. All these prophetic writings textually depict this narrative about Israel descending into depravity, enduring exile and destruction, then returning and rebuilding the kingdom. Hosea marks a turning point for Israel. The nation had become defiant, was worshipping idols, and drifting further away from the shores of God’s comfort. Hosea is sent by God to forewarn Israel about their impending doom. To illustrate God’s intentions, Hosea is told by God to marry Gomer, a prostitute whom he has two children with and ends up cheating on him – upon which God tells Hosea to continue pursuing her anyway in the same manner that God will not stop pursuing Israel, despite it’s unfaithfulness as a nation (Ch. 1, V. 2-9). As a part of the prophecy, we arrive at Chapter 2, verse 14, “Therefore, I am now going to allure her. I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her there.” The overarching story is revealing about God’s grace, just nature, wrath, love, and ultimately marks the perfect springboard into the Gospels. My friend, Erik actually pointed out chapter 11, verse 8 where the Lord declares, “… My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender.” When you backdrop a verse like this behind the forthcoming destruction of Israel, it paints a beautifully holistic portrait of God’s nature.

The wilderness is translated from Hebrew as Mid-bawr – meaning desolate wasteland, so it’s fitting when Bethke says that the wilderness meant nothingness and was devoid of life. I found a commentary that shows a second meaning for the wilderness in Hebrew – a good place to pasture “God’s sheep.” It’s a place to be nurtured. Think about how Bethke talks about “romance” that occurs. “I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness and you will acknowledge the Lord” (Ch.2 v. 19-20). As I read through the rest of this book, I began thinking about what Bethke said where the wilderness is something where beauty shines in the darkest places. I think when we imagine wilderness (especially in Minnesota), we picture evergreens blanketed with snow, stretching in endless waves across the northern sky. It doesn’t seem so desolate, but I don’t know about you, there’s something that tickles our fear of being alone in the wilderness. We get into a place where we begin processing our hurts with God and hearing the Lord’s voice feels deafening when we turn off social media and meander through mazes of our broken relationships and bitterness. My pastor recently said something interesting in this vein when talking about Jacob wrestling God in Genesis 32…So often we frantically search for an exit out of the wilderness. “Lord deliver me FROM.” Panic.

I think everyone can visually picture what it would be like to wander some kind of meta-physical wilderness, but the experience of dealing with the difficulties of life in that kind of wilderness is subjective. I can say as someone who is someone who is in recovery for addiction, recurring issues with anxiety, and now navigating the transitions after college, that the wilderness is an unavoidable reality of entering a life with Jesus, let alone the human experience. We should expect to walk in it and through it at at least one point. In fact, at times I think we should embrace the wilderness and allow us to be as John Mayer puts it, “in repair.” It’s kind of like how Bethke says, “There are some things that we can only see in the dark… and maybe instead of cursing the wilderness or the dry season, or thinking something is wrong with us, we look up and see His glow, maybe He has a special display for us at night. Maybe He shines even brighter when everything is going crazy.” Having to take a few long walks in the dark have been the times where God has taught me the most about myself and about His people – the messiness of recovery, the undertaking of being an adult, the continuation of sorting past wrongs. But, in that, I still see the beauty of life, and sometimes in the smallest of ways in the same sense of looking at the night sky – packing my house with friends and watching Interstellar on a Saturday night, roommates coming home after an encouraging week of travel, hearing stories from friends about their lives I haven’t before. I think we should take those small tokens and pack them on our next excursion…

“I’m in repair, I’m not together, but I’m getting there.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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where I belong(?)

I was in line, walking past a sea of families, distant relatives, and close friends with the shuffling of cameras, flashes, and catcalling splicing every ounce of excitement hanging in the gym’s atmosphere. I handed my card over to the provost and walked across stage with the gargantuan Winona State symbol to my left, the dean of the college of liberal arts and president of the university in front of me. For a moment as my name was called and my family cheered, everything mentally went blank as I accepted my diploma and sat back down in my row after a regimen of handshakes. Graduation had finally shined down on myself and 369 others on a balmy December morning after years of dedication. After the ceremony, meeting professors, congratulating friends, and lunch, I went home thinking about how those few seconds were going to feel for months before. I pictured it, put everyone there in the scene I knew would be present, and tried to preemptively capture the feeling of it all ending. It didn’t work. Because for me, there was nothing like it. Four and a half years of capital built up in academic audits, friends made, things learned, and capital lost in sickness and the sacrifices made in pursuit of the former amalgamated into a few hours of something I hadn’t really felt before. I crawled across the finish line of an academic ultra marathon of final exams, papers, and projects with the course behind me stained with cheap coffee, clothes that hadn’t been washed in a dog’s age, and Slim Jims bought at Kiwk Trip across from campus. By far the most stressful finals week I ever had in my academic career (thus far). In fact, I remember the line from an old song by Lazlo Bane replaying in my head after the dust settled where Chad Fischer sings…

“You’ve crossed the finish line, won the race but lost your mind… was it worth it after all?”

I’ve been through a lot of transitions in nearly 23 years between moving homes, friends coming and leaving, changing schools, moving to another city for college, jobs, and family leaving Minnesota. Being the introspective person I am, I’ve spent time thinking back to all of those things and sifting through costs counted from relationships and time wasted at the feet of addiction and among other things. Part of reaching the finish line came with costs that amounted to mistakes made in leadership positions, with friends, and roommates. I’d normally say that the latter is a collection of minority reports in the shadow of the bigger picture that I’d rather forget about . The truth is that there may be some regret in decisions made within those contexts, but would I have really lived if I hadn’t experienced those? No. It made my journey through college feel more organic and worth telling about. Graduating is the first time that I’ve been able to look back on a period of life without regretting anything, good or bad. Everything caught in the nooks and crannies of every triumph and defeat was worth every cent spent in tuition, victory Chipotle runs, coffee from Mugby Junction, late night conversations, study groups, and toil. So yeah, there were points where I lost my mind, but the grace of God led me back to sanity through a system of social support and family. It was worth it after all. Then I asked myself a question that simultaneously terrified, excited, and bewildered me…

 

What now?

 

When I was a sophomore in college, I came up with this plan that would get me out of my hometown after 20 years. Working part time at a fifties restaurant and keeping up with the Jones’ of my life in the Twin Cities was getting me nowhere – especially because it fueled the growing fire of an addiction that burned my personal life and galvanized my issues with severe anxiety. I guess you could say I was planning an escape route down highway 52. I had a rough outline of what would happen in Winona. Take my classes, find a group of friends, get involved in a ministry, and maybe meet a girl. Whatever else happened was “up to God.” I left my hometown in search of healing, meaning, and belonging and I found those here. The blueprints never went into the tenor of what happens when it’s all over. But it is. I had done what I set out to do.

Anyone reading this who has gone to college and tried to go back to your hometown probably understands what Thomas Wolfe wrote when he penned, “You can’t go home again.” Being in the Twin Cities for a time of rest and relaxation never proved that phrase to ring more true. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and have amazing friends back home… but a lot has changed. Hardly any of it seems familiar to me now. I go back to church and don’t recognize many people there anymore outside of my good friends and acquaintances that I’ve known for years. Some of my family has moved across the country. Friends of mine are now engaged, married, having children, beginning careers, getting jobs, traveling for internships, getting involved in full time ministries and embarking on their own journeys that take us away from what we once had. Though those friendships continue to be strong, there’s still a sense of loss after nearly three years of intermittent separation. Maybe, I expected the good parts of my life to be on pause ‘til I came home. It’s like I was watching a DVD, pressed the remote and walked out of the room, figuring I could sit down, and pick it up where I left off when I transferred. I’m figuring out that I can’t. As I have been told by so many before me whom have gone through something similar, there is no escaping the changes in the tides of friendships (or family for that matter) after college. Despite the mystique of sorting through the changes back home, I find myself in a unique position of staying in the city I went to college in post graduation. I’m surrounded by so many good people that I have known throughout my time here so far and will have the chance to maintain some of them, begin knew ones, and root myself further into the church that I have called home for two and a half years. It means that I don’t have to scrap every blueprint I originally drew, start from scratch, and try to cobble something together in a new city or job environment. This time, I’m deciding to let God be the architect, take the pencil, and sketch out a new plan. The layout may seem unfamiliar to me at points, I may become puzzled or even frustrated about what I begin to see on paper, but I know in time that what the Lord has for me in the next year of life will be memorable, worthwhile, and better than anything that I could imagine on paper.

While I was home, my buddy Andrew and I came to the conclusion that there’s a Relient K song/playlist for every emotion and situation. I wish I could have found one for this post, but I found more resonance through Switchfoot in this case. In their live performances during the previous two album cycles, they have ended with the ending track from 2011’s Vice Verses, Where I Belong. Inspired by the writings of C.S. Lewis, lead singer, John Foreman, wrote this song about arriving in heaven after a life of meaning lived on Earth. The song bids an emotionally tailored farewell at the bridge when Jon Foreman sings, “On the final day I die, I want to hold my head up high, and tell you that I tried to live it like a song. And when I reach the other side, I want to look you in the eye and know that I’ve arrived in a world where I belong.” I find that part to be poignant, especially when he sings, “I tried to live it like a song.” In the context of a guy like Foreman, music is his form of worship, his way of grappling with the tribulations of life, ask the difficult questions, and express the emotional spectrum in whole. In essence, the line brings the deepest sense of meaning to Foreman. I’m beginning a new chapter of life that will be a few pages in the book that (hopefully) God writes the epilogue of when I reach the other side. Though eternity holds what is promised as paradise, I’m still finding where I belong in a time of transition and change. Right now, that’s Winona.

So, am I where I belong? I’d like to think so, and I’m sure that answer will change in the years to come, but for the time being, it will do.

 

And I’m quite content with that.