Thursday, January 7, 2016

San Francisco

Step outside
The fog
Refracts and magnifies
The sonlight
These are the most beautiful days.

Sunday, January 3, 2016


The fired burned damned fiercely. Up until that moment, it had been a standard night at camp. We all sat and stood on cue in the fellowship hall. We laughed riotously as our counselors sprayed whipped cream in various orifices while echoing the refrain “smooth and creamy.” We sang “Pharaoh, Pharaoh” with much delight and “Our God is an awesome God” with all the reverence that preteens can muster.

Now, the air was different. We sat outside while the fire whipped our faces and we told stories bearing a greater gravity than the collective experience of our lives. We spoke of heaven and hell. We considered the decrepit state of our young lives and how we were certainly bound for hell barring redemption through Christ.

At once, I felt a weight greater than any I had ever felt. I was caught up in a moment rife with emotion and drama. I rose to meet it. I searched my mind for the the most significant and terrible moments of my life. I did my best to view myself in the worst light possible. I also tried desperately to view life as fleeting and under constant threat.

I settled on a memory of a story that my father once told me. When I was two years old, he had taken me home and left me with my mother one day. As he left our apartment, his car was broadsided right where my car seat sat. Nevermind the fact that there was no scenario in which I could have been in the car, all I could think about is that I could have been in it. I thought to myself and shared with others around the circle that I could have been dead and bound for hell that day

This perilous vision of life paired with the enormous amount of sin I felt I had committed put me in a terrified place. Eternity felt horrific. I had no idea what I was signing up for by becoming “born again,” but I knew that no matter what it was, what it wasn’t was burning in hell for all of eternity.

I grabbed my camp counselor and tearfully told him of my near-death experience, my hopelessly terrible behavior as a human, and my need to be saved immediately. Jimmy prayed the prayer with me, asking God to live in my heart.

The next morning, everything felt different. I was happier, absolved. Still, something felt thin and flimsy about this new state of being. I went to breakfast where I was met with hugs and high fives. Our camp director let me know that my parents had already been informed that I had become a believer and they were proud. It struck me as odd that an event and relationship that felt very personal was being broadcast for me.

The high of becoming a believer probably lasted about as long as I remained at camp. I arrived home with the pressure of feeling that now I had to be different. My new life had to be a testimony to my parents and younger brothers. I needed to be changed, I needed to be “born again.” Apart from following the ten commandments, I had no blueprint for what this looked like. Additionally, I didn’t have an immediate motivation to behave differently, I had really asked God into my life to avoid the terrifying thought of hell.

A couple of years later, I would sit on the shore of a lake of that very same camp, watching my parents and one of my brothers get baptized while I refused to do the same. It wasn’t a moment of rebellion or bitterness. It was a rare clarity in the heart and mind of a teenager. I had spent enough time with the questionable commitment I made to be unsure as to whether I really meant it. I felt joy as I watched my family take a step I was yet unsure of.

I’m still not sure of what happened the intense evening I asked God to save me from hell. It’s possible I became a believer and it’s possible that was the moment I was indwelt by the Holy Spirit. I do know that it began years of a divided heart. Adolescence and young adulthood were a struggle of feeling I should follow a doctrine I didn’t really understand or necessarily want.

I’m still thankful to the people who brought me to that place. I’m thankful to Jimmy, who prayed with me. I’m thankful to our amazing camp director, Chet, who exuded the love of Christ to a bunch of clueless kids. I’m thankful to Josh, my Young Life leader who always stuck with me and held up a mirror showing me the best version of myself.

These men spent years fertilizing the soil of my soul for the day that I would finally meet Jesus face to face. After meeting Him, I have come away with a many truths, a few of which I would like to share:

First, following Him is about Him and now, it’s not about me and the future. Jesus says the kingdom is at hand. As his followers, we are called to spread little bits of shalom in every step we take after him. For all intents and purposes, a future heaven and hell have become irrelevant in my life.

Second, it is critical that we know what we are signing up for when we decided to follow Christ. Following Christ is about self-forgetfulness, not about ensuring our eternal well-being. What he calls us to is simultaneously much easier and much harder than following God’s law.

Third, we are incredibly broken and not only are we allowed to be, but we are expected to be. Jesus made me to be exactly who I am and he loves me exactly as he made me. I still feel that using massive amounts of profanity is the best way to express myself at times. I still let two drinks become six. I constantly think of myself more than others. This does not mean I should sin more so that grace can increase, but I believe that there is space for me to be a flawed me, that’s actually why I need Jesus in the first place.

I certainly need to work to align my heart closer and closer with God’s. However, increasing that alignment has absolutely no bearing on Jesus’ love for me. If I went on a tear of drug use, womanizing and hateful behavior, Jesus would love me no less. If I spent all my days in quiet reverence of Him, seeking unity, He would love me no more. So much internal conflict in my life over the years has been caused by the deep crevasse between who I am and who I think He expects me to be. All He expects me to be is me. The depth of His love for me is unfathomable and greater than any other love in the world. The same is true of His love for you.