look on up.

I would sit to write this one over and over again in the last couple of months, only to run face first into a brick wall of writer’s block every time I tried. I think it’s because I recoiled at the thought of coming across as a hypocrite and had trouble scaling the scope of this down to a readable length. Besides that, I’ve had time to digest some life circumstances that I’ve been chewing on as of late, especially in a week that couldn’t have been more appropriate to reflect on it all.

Last week, the church I intern at observed a media fast – taking a break from online social platforms and the digital universes we live in for a couple of days to reflect, pray, spend quality time with people and God in observance of Jesus’ last days before the crucifixion and resurrection. Taking a break from Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram has been something on my mind, but admittedly, I made the excuse that I live parts of my life on social media that sustain communication with my internship, family, and friends. How else would I maintain them? I kept shelving this personal project, knowing deep down that it was necessary and needed, but I eventually let it slip between the traffic of ministry projects and theology papers to write… until this last week.

Two Sundays ago, a breaker switch flipped. I can remember mentally freezing in the sanctuary after second service in the buzz of people shuffling out, saying hello, and talking about lunch plans, thinking to myself that I need to go home. Go home, rest, and unplug. I scratched my head over this notion, because it came out of nowhere. With minimal notification, I packed a few belongings and essentials in my Saturn and drove to Minneapolis with the intention of spending some quality time with God away from the noise. It was the perfect time to unplug. In addition, I was seeking a change in scenery in the hopes that it would be part of the antidote for a set of nebulous symptoms that were pointing to some kind of renal condition. Two rounds of antibiotics and a physician’s visit in Lacrosse throughout the last two months have been giving few answers and at this point, I figured it was only a matter of time when it all came to a head when the symptoms began to collectively get worse. The first day and a half at home was spent not on my phone, without my laptop, and spending some time absorbing scripture (more specifically the Gospel of Matthew), prayer, and brainstorming. It was well lived until Monday afternoon when (long story short) I doubled over in pain in a Target parking lot and was taken to United Hospital in Saint Paul. Kidney stones.

Laying in an emergency room in downtown Saint Paul, pumped with enough Morphine to put a fully-grown gorilla to bed, and weathering excruciating pain led me into a profound spiritual time. The video below is front man and worship leader for Bethel Church in Redding, California providing context for Bethel Music’s newest album, Have It All. In this video he talks abut a cull of circumstances that led to a mental breakdown and having to medicate panic attacks. The first line in this clip is… “True worship happens when there’s nothing else. When there’s no other options.”

I had no other options in that hospital bed, because I was emptied. No social media, no physical strength left, and emotionally drained. The only viable option was surrender to God. Surrendering the most acute, excruciating pain I’ve felt. I only had the breath that the Lord sustained and in that moment, it was weirdly enough – and in a good way. It’s kind of hard to explain, but to have experienced a dependence on God that could have only come through circumstances like that was a significant experience for me.

Upon my release later that evening and returning to Winona, I was in a time of prayer with a few other ministry leaders this weekend, leafing through some old notes scratched from a couple years ago in a worn journal and came across a great passage of scripture in 1st Thessalonians. The Apostle Paul spent three Sabbath’s in Thessalonica – an area of Greece that was a crucial Italian crossroad and port city with a church made up of primarily, Gentiles. Because of the amount of persecution he and the church endured, Paul didn’t stay too long, but a few commentaries I found about the Thessalonian epistles (letters) talk about how the themes of endurance and giving thanks in everything help reinforce the circumstances in the letter. It gives context for verses such as this that made me think of Brian Johnson’s thoughts and my experiences in the week…

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1st Thessalonians 5:16-18

It’s like Brian Johnson says later on in the video, surrender is a process that comes with giving up the smallest of things, the biggest of events, and all the subtleties in between. Being hospitalized gave me the shot to learn dependence and that was huge. So did taking a break from social media – the smaller of details. Like I said in the beginning, the words never quite materialized when I tried to write this last fall and even on break before coming back to Winona. My inspiration is drawn from the well of a pastor from Oklahoma City, a class presentation I gave last semester, my roommates, and of course – the forthcoming Relient K record. Part of my recovery process is sifting through the 30,000-foot issues and the smallest crevices of my present routine, every relationship, habit, attitude, and unsaid thing in between. Admittedly, this has been an area of my life that I’ve altogether ignored for all of high school and most of college. I assimilated to a platform that is so commonplace and widely used, that I never even saw how much of my idle time is spent chained at the ankles and wrists to my devices until I took a break from them. Relient K’s new song, Look on Up, touches on how the beauty of things like sunsets, the face of a mountain or hillside, and even ourselves get lost in the trimming of every minute detail we don’t like. We filter and crop it until its very essence is basically gone and we lose appreciation for anything natural and unscathed by scant editing. I know. I’ve been there. It’s actually a very poignant song for the age we live in that calls us to appreciate the simple things in life. But doesn’t that feel hard when it seems like everyone has it better than us?

Craig Groeschel of Life Church in Oklahoma City quoted pastor Steven Furtick in his new book called, #Struggles when he said, “We compare our behind the scenes to other people’s highlight reels.” At this point in my life, a lot of friendships are looking very different. Many of my friends are getting engaged, married, beginning careers, moving, and starting families – most of them are my age or not that much older and admittedly it makes me think, “I’m missing out or doing something wrong.” And it doesn’t even stop there. I sometimes go to the simplest of photos or Snapchats of our friends hanging out with people, doing things on the weekends, taking trips, etc. and we wonder why I’m not doing the same thing. I’m sure we all share these same sentiments to a certain degree.

I don’t exactly know how I’m going to continue with this social media fast, because I don’t want to blanketly bash social media behind a keyboard without lending anything good to it, because there are some indisputably good things about social media. I just know that after an eventful week, I know I can’t really go back to the way I used it before. It’s just not the same. I see the difference when I sit down with people and don’t feel like I need to whip my phone out upon feeling the buzz of it going off for mundane notifications. The conversations feel more real and authentic. I care more about the people I’m around and what’s going on in their lives rather than comparing it to the events on a news feed. I like that I can feel like life is actually going okay and that my circumstances are fine when I disengage from it.

I think Holy Week was the best time to experience all of this, because I had the chance to back drop all these recent circumstances against the events of Jesus suffering a barbaric execution as an innocent man and Son of the Living God to be resurrected three days later, conquering death. Through that event we have the freedom to surrender and crucify our insecurities, blemishes, social standings, and need for approval into his wrists in the way of Galatians 5:24 – Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” It’s a gentle reminder to me to look on up to the cross when I feel like life isn’t really how I want it to be, because when I am weary from painful illnesses or from finding myself comparing my behind the scenes to everyone else, His yoke is easy and His burden, light (Matthew 11:28-30). Live it in the moment and know that Jesus Himself said in Matthew 6:34 – “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring troubles of its own.”

 

kintsugi.

Once I sat down and started writing this, I began to feel it flesh out like a part two for a previous post I did about a passage in Hosea that Jefferson Bethke commented on, so that’s how I’m going to treat this – as a follow up that gives some absolution to our walks in the wilderness. What happens when we return from those excursions? What do we do with those conversations with God when the darkness of the wilderness sets behind a new day for us to live? What purpose do those scars have now that we’ve come back to the real world? I think the overarching question transitions from how do we allow the Lord to point out and process them, to how we allow people in on the stories behind them. Who do they impact?

Keeping with the theme of commentary from Jefferson Bethke, I recently watched an online sermon of him speaking at Pastor Craig Groeschel’s church in Oklahoma City about the concept of Biblical healing. Bethke spoke about how scars are our open books that leaf through chapters of screw-ups, pitfalls, and ultimately end in Jesus’ redemption. He made this brilliant analogy for how God illuminates those scars that caught me hook, line, and sinker, but I’ll return to that soon.

 

At this point I’m waist deep in this recovery process wading through our Friday night Ceebrate Recovery curriculum. In the closing chapters of our material, Rick Warren of Saddleback Church calls this process of paying it forward, Recycling Pain. Think about the process of recycling – you take what’s considered a “waste product” and somehow make it into a useful resource. The catch is that Jesus doesn’t consider us wasted products, even though we consider our character defects as undesirable. Romans 5:8 says, “When we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” For example, some of the relationships in my life that I severed have been the result of wanting to leave parts of my life behind me, thinking that time and separation will heal those wounds. While the separation was healthy, the clocks have ticked too long for me to ignore many of them anymore. I grew weary from running from my problems, because every exit door led me deeper into isolation from the people I cared about most. Facing the fact that I had become calloused is part of the harsh reality of allowing myself to be in God’s repair. In fact, Paul says in Romans 12, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” That’s an imperative, not a second or third string play option. While I won’t get into details, I’ve recently had some therapeutic conversations with people about my shortcomings as my way of being at peace with people in situations that are laced with a lot of unnamed tension. I used to think that those relationships were wasted. Unable to salvage any of its raw materials. I began to wonder for a while…

“Can I really be whole again after all I’ve done?”

 

In this sermon, Jefferson Bethke talked about an ancient Japanese art form, called Kintsugi – literally translated as “gold joinery” that is also namesake for the latest album from famed indie rock outfit, Death Cab For Cutie (maybe I’ll review that, soon ;)). As I began to research, Japanese culture has high esteem for the things that are broken and put back together. To them, things like furniture with cracks, splits, and rot in the wood are seen to have character and experience. Every person that has sat and conversations that have taken place on them are intricate parts of a story these objects tell. It seems kind of funny when we contrast that to a westernized culture that places a consumerist value in the newest gadget. The old is left to waste with the memories latched to it. As Bethke began to explain, Kintsugi is when someone would mix gold and silver dust with a strong adhesive and put pottery back together, kind of like this…

th

“The actual places where it broke is exactly where you’re eye’s drawn. It’s this place of beauty and glory. I think that’s an interesting way of thinking about Jesus…. might Jesus be the one who says, I not only want to heal you, but sometimes the very place that you’re broken and I’ve healed you, become the most glorious parts about you.”

You feel those goosebumps, too?

 

Those wounds that God exposes to us in those journeys through the wilderness are usually the very things that tell the best stories about where we are, now. We may night realize it immediately and it may even take years to finally arrive at a point of realization. 2nd Corinthians 12:9 says, But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” I actually used to have zero desire to work with those who had addictions. Somehow I figured I could “get over this,” leave my addiction behind me, and move on with something new – as if this piece of me would be trashed, never to be recycled, and left to rot. As it turns out, my chinks in the armor have become the places that can only be protected by Jesus. When I began to look in the rearview mirror and allow the Lord to mend those relationships I was so afraid to face, they’ve actually become vignettes that fit into this personal meta narrative of the Lord’s redemption in my life. They’re joys I get to celebrate and know that reconciliation is the result of God healing those third degree burns with gauze and grace – the gold laced within our brokenness.

The brokenness in our life experiences are not in vain. They didn’t go to waste. Our stories are unique. They give us an angle that no one else can fully understand, but people can relate to. People can relate when they see God in the cracks of our broken pots, plates, relationships, job situations, and spiritual lives. “Me too” are two of the most powerful words we can say to someone else. What are those things that you can allow God to use as the gold and silver lining? Though they may feel like salt in a wound to say or confess, you may be surprised what happens when the Lord uses those scars to illustrate the best stories of His work.