In this episode of Stranger in Rebellion, congratulations and good wishes and hope for the future of our family are in order. Things sometimes move rather quickly around here, but then again, stop rather suddenly, and it can be quite the roller coaster ride if your orbit circles the center that is our mass. If you want to find out quickly what the congratulations are all about skip ahead to the bottom at, “Final Verdict,” but be warned that what happens between here and there is my true heart and reveals to you my philosophy that I have gained here in West Plains regarding truly knowing who people are…
Over the last couple of weeks I was surprised to find a company that really pushed towards gaining me as an employee, so much so that they flew me out to Denver to interview me. More surprising was many of the reactions from our friends here in West Plains. (Actually they have become more of a family than anything else.) When announcing our transition from Salt Lake City to West Plains almost 5 years ago, there was a resigned sigh from our church family. What I mean in that, is that people accepted what we told them and, perhaps regretted that it was so, but didn’t really fight the idea that we had made. Looking back now maybe they did see the Lord’s hand in it all, and didn’t feel compelled to question our motives. I know that the whole AWANA team and the kids that were a part of it, felt bad about the whole thing, but the only real question about it all was an older boy who came up to me and said with disdain in his voice, “Okay now, where are you going and why?!” That was the biggest regret in leaving Salt Lake; those kids I knew and loved… and left behind. Sure, they’re all doing fine and dandy without me, but just the fact that I’m not in their lives now just leaves me empty somehow.
When we told some friends here in West Plains, there were a lot of questions, a lot of statements about how they felt, and a lot of reminders about how much we should be praying. The last one was like, “Duh! How can we not pray?” Prayer was constantly, continuously, perpetually, uniformly, and weightily a part of the last week’s activities. To me, it was like telling me I possibly couldn’t understand what God was trying to say, so you better listen to us. I thought that if we did stay, that particular relationship would not be the same, but in talking a bit more to them I believe part of what was happening was shock at such a surprise announcement. I apologized and told them that I should have been more forthright and let them know we have been semi-seriously looking at a transition. I didn’t realize how soon such a great opportunity would come up. I should have explained more about our belief in West Plains as temporary.
One of the most compelling things I heard in this time from a friend was, “If this move is God’s will then great, but if we believe that it isn’t God’s will then we will do everything to stop you.” I mean, what? Really? You’re going to do everything you can to stop us? I was at first a little disturbed by this; how can someone hear more from God about what is best for us, than us? Then it became more and more comforting, knowing that if someone apart from the issue sees it different or hears or knows something that we can’t or won’t, that force might become necessary in the convincing of God’s will. I’m not talking him knocking me out, tying me up and putting me under bright lights until I see the truth, but I guess it would be strong, steady persuasion. I guess at this point I’m glad I am truly convinced of God’s will in all this at this point and can share it with them, and you now.
God’s will. It can be sometimes difficult to discern. This job for example: it just happened all so… perfectly. You remember me writing about how I needed to get my resume in order and getting it out there, well as soon as I did this, I applied, was contacted and she forgone the second interview so that I could fly out for a better view of it all. I was training up in St. Louis for the week she wanted me to come out and I told her I could fly out after training was over. Getting to an appropriate airport is difficult here, but being in St. Louis at the time? How… God’s Will like. I found out that my true spiritual mother and father were going to actually be in Denver when I was there. You see, we have family in Denver and my true spiritual mother and father, (Aunt and Uncle), live in Yankton, SD right now and just happened to meet back up in Denver after she spent 2 weeks in Salt Lake City watching some of her grandkids. Before the interview I found out we were flying out on the same plane! I wanted them to do the early check in, since I was going to be at the interview, and we saw the connection. My interviewer asked me when I wanted to fly back and I gave her several options, and she just happened to pick the same flight they were on!? It was a too much of a coincidence, too much of a sign.
Another friend asked me what this decision had to do with Perspectives. You may recall we had the opportunity to take this class last year. It was a wonderful time of learning and seeing God’s work and will in the world. We gained a more global perspective and the attitude to move anywhere He would have us go. I said that since Denver was so big that it would have a cultural opportunity to serve Him in many ways. I didn’t do much research on the fact, but I can figure it to be true, right? God is at work everywhere and anywhere. It seems like a great place to be, if truly God wanted us there.
The other thing I was told by the same man who said they would stop us, was that it is a good thing that you are going. Because in the going, you can hear God better. This was told him by his brother when he was told to visit colleges. Paul was stopped when he was going in a direction he desired or believe he was led to go, and turned in another direction. It was a good thing that I go. A good thing that I go. But this company spent around $700 dollars for me to go, that is quite the engagement ring, per se. Committing to a fly-out is serious business. What if I really, truly believed God was stopping us?
The other thing is my family. Being in Denver is only a slight day drive from Salt Lake. I very much so worry about something drastic occurring in SLC that needs my immediate attention or even my whole family’s. It is just a slight jaunt up and over the mountains to get there. Coordinating an immediate geographical change from West Plains to SLC would be overwhelmingly expensive. It ain’t gonna happen without some generous horizontal funding.
Final Verdict: Everything seemed to be screaming, “Move!” but in walking out of the interview and sitting in front of the shop until my ride came, God was slowly and reassuringly convincing me that this move was not His will. He wanted to show me that even in the midst of everything seemingly being a sign, that the sign in itself is not always what is revealing His will. I called my wife and told her my initial belief, but I had to see her face-to-face and talk before we could be certain. I have a long letter to write to the company regarding my decision, for in this decision I believe I have something to share with them in order for them to make a better decision in whom to hire. I haven’t even received an offer yet, but I know what my, no, our, no, God’s decision is. He showed me that what I was committing to there would not be Him, but would be a company. He showed me that what He has prepared me for all my life was not to be completely turned over and changed to suit a need and desire for myself and more so even my family in the immediate. I’ve made more of a commitment to Him over the last few years that I ever realized could be ten years ago, when I would have taken this job, no questions asked. The people in my life here have made me appreciate so much, I love them all and am more committed than ever to involve myself and my family in what God is doing here through His church and through us. That is not to say I won’t stop looking at opportunities in other geographical locations, but the examinations will now be more solid, more in line to understanding a greater need and purpose therein, and that is His ultimate will, is it not? Yes, I know we have disappointed many a family member, but it is not the end of all hope. Congratulations are in order because we heard what was to be. The future is and always will still be bright because He is there, He is here and He is.
Strange Confessions: I once chanted snottily a girl’s last name from a tree house at Wheeler Farm. I felt a firm hand on my shoulder from a larger, older boy who turned me around and told me, “Don’t make fun of people’s names.” I said sorry and squeaked meekly away.
I remembered this story after reading a chapter from “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” to my girls tonight. I stopped reading this to my oldest several years ago because I absolutely hate books or movies about prejudice and its many faces of hate, jealousy and fear. There is a scene where Mama brings her children to see a man burned by a store owner. Mama had been telling them not to go and had to take a different tack when circumstances brought them there. I slowly read the description of his wheezing and noseless face, burnt skin and the reason why Mama brought them there. I paused and my girls asked, “Why would someone do something like that?” I explained that we, as Christians, have the only answer to what is wrong with this world. We were watching the debate between Nye and Ham earlier and it seemed that Nye did not understand the fundamental purpose that Ham was coming from a different point of view. Creation is the only viable answer to the problems that this world has and the answer to the problems as well. I am not going to go into all the details of why, as many others do so much better, but I will say that if you are not a Christian, you will not understand. The prejudice that arises from jealousy, hatred and fear are a result of sin, and it makes me sick. Explaining this to my children in their terms is a difficult thing. We have to relate it things they may see, or things I have done. I once explained to you about how I sneered “No!” to a girl who asked me to skate with her. I didn’t know her. I didn’t ever participate in making fun of her with the exception of the skate incident.
Telling my kids I did nothing to stop injustice or jealousy or hatred going on around me is hard. We have a purpose in this world, many purposes in fact. But one unifying purpose: to glorify God. Part of glorifying God is proclaiming His kingdom, declaring the gospel, the good news that there is a new King in this world and He brings love and mercy and grace and hope and, what I’m talking about here: justice. There is so much injustice going on in this world and us standing by doing nothing, does nothing to glorify our God. Even if it is just someone making fun of someone else. We are to bring justice to this world as part of proclaiming His kingdom. It is a just and right kingdom. We have to do what’s right even if we are to be maligned, mocked, disdained, hated, hurt or even killed. We are so focused on this short time we have, on being comfortable, on taking care of the stuff we’ve acquired, that we forget our purpose. We forget what is right and what is true. A good friend sent me this video of Francis Chan explaining our life and the perspective we should have about it.
I love my children and want to raise them to recognize the complete and utter privilege we have to serve our God in the places He puts us. We see doing His will as such a burden, that we sometimes discourage our children from following His will, or so I’ve heard from many people lately. I hope that if and when my daughter comes and tells me that they are moving my grandchildren to the remotest place on the planet, I will thank God that I raised them right and not regret seeing my grandkids on a regular basis. Reading a book like this affords the opportunity to show the absolute depravity of the human race, but gives us a chance to again tell them there is hope that all will be made right, and we have an awesome privilege to do something of purpose here and now. Don’t let it slip away. This time of learning for me has been an eye-opener for me. May I not waste it.
Matthew 9:36 “But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.”
Being a sheep can be very wearisome. And, in the second half of my youth I had discovered new ways to stray as far as I could from my future, true shepherd. I had found many wolves to follow, to be a part of, to give my life over to. I had no purpose, no path lit up guiding me, showing me the way. My parents never forced me to finish anything. I failed at school, sports, music. Whatever was attempted was never important enough to see through. So those things never became important, never became purpose. Yet because of what I learned growing up Catholic, I knew there was a God. Perhaps He wasn’t impressed by the ceremony of Mass. Maybe, He wanted us to find out for ourselves the way we should go. I had heard many things about how drugs opened up parts of our mind we never even use. This was the way for me to go, to figure out a prime purpose. I had always believed myself to be destined for some amazing purpose. I had narrowed them down to two choices: to be abducted by aliens, or be in prison my whole life. Some picks, eh? But, drugs offered me so much more.
I started in with the cool kid in elementary school: smoking weed before baseball practice in 6th grade. Moving on to hanging out at the mall, carrying paraphernalia, getting busted. High school was well met with more divergent groups, leading me further astray from school, from family, from what was decent and right of my moral learning in the private schools I’d attended. They were all seeking some way to escape from lameness or to be badder or it was just who they were. I was seeking a purpose, seeking solutions, trying to expand my knowledge, in very many ways to escape from what I saw as a hopeless life leading to abduction, imprisonment, death, or worse: priesthood.
Failing out of Judge Memorial High was a conundrum of the highest proportions. I had failed where everyone else in my immediate and extended family had succeeded. The connection with this Catholicism was broken. My God was gone from me. He no longer had this hold on me that kept the slightest check on my behavior. Yet, where was He, why had He allowed myself to go this deep, this far away from Him? Maybe I needed it. My parents were definitely upset, but it didn’t seem as earth shattering as I thought it was supposed to be. It was some sort of release. I had more freedom. To go where no one else in my family had gone: public school. (I believe part of my parents attitude was relief: JMCH was expensive, and sending four children there was quite a drain on their meager finances.)
I began at Brighton High School meeting a friend from St. Vincent: Kenneth F. He was a slight outsider at St. Vincent; people thought he was dirty and shaggy. He was called the Bushman. I don’t know why he left, I liked him, but forgot about him when he was gone. He only went to school there to about the 6th grade. It’s strange how people disappear in our lives. I didn’t think about him for years, and now here he was, needing a friend as much as I did. The experiment in expanding understanding continued in new and unusual ways. This was soon a part of who I was, my identity. We’d get high before, during and after school. His mother had rented a room to someone who turned out to be a drug dealer. We’d break into his room and steal stuff. He’d have weed and mushrooms. Getting high and staying high was my main goal this year, this single year I had with Kenneth. It was marked with drinking, with wandering the neighborhood at night, with climbing the nearby mountains in the frozeness of night, but we didn’t care. We had no feeling. We were getting rid of feeling. No discussions, no learning, no building, or growing occurred this year. All memories fade from this time. It was all a frenzy of acquiring and consuming. Then Kenneth moved to Maine.
In this time I soon started perfecting the art of my depression. All depression is, is the art of self gratifying inwardness. At least it was for me. With Kenneth gone and not much drugs to be had, all I had, was myself. I had no God. He had deserted me. I went from full awareness of filling my time with a friend in need of me as much as I was of him, and the drugs and alcohol that kept us laughing, ignoring what I sought through the beginnings of drugs, to complete awareness of what a failure and how lost I truly was. My time in high school continued, with a friend here or there that provided me what I needed, never continuing the pursuit of meaning, of purpose. I got drugs or alcohol from them or my brother. My brother saw what was going on inside me, at least I think he might have gotten a glimpse, but he had his own life to lead.
Going to Utah State University, entering into the Forestry department, didn’t help matters much. When I was in high school, the mountains were my true escape. I would go up there with the intention of getting high, then feeling all paranoid and getting depressed, I’d go home and seek solace with food. It was the times that I went hiking, without any drugs, that I truly felt something fit, that I belonged there. I filed it away in the lock-box of my selfish brain, not really knowing what to do with it. What could I do with it? What purpose did it fulfill? Besides solitude, it gave me some exercise, some challenge. But, to fulfill what? It wasn’t until the college choices came up that I thought, I like hiking, I like the mountains. Maybe Forestry is what I ought to get into. Besides, USU was some distance from Salt Lake City, but not too far. So, I went. Deeper in to self I dived. I needed people, yet no one needed me. I was disillusioned by the Forestry department, I was depressed and isolated in the dorms. I went to the place where I could find people: the Fraternity my brother was a part of. It was a brotherhood, right? So, I did what I knew. I took drugs when I could find them, drank whenever it was offered and isolated myself in my room. Here all sense of purpose was gone. My main focus was finding something to eat, someplace to sleep, and get away from all the failure in my mind that I knew this was headed toward.
No part of this University experience was right. It was the wrong time, the wrong place, the wrong people, the wrong me. College was not a gateway to a brighter future for me. It was a confused place of darkness and mockery. Where people pretended like they cared, then they left you lost, alone, depressed, directionless.
From the 6th grade to a few years after losing my grant at Utah State University, I was so deeply involved in who I was, I had forgotten there was a world outside. Year after year grew more wearisome then the past one. My mind was scattered and I needed guidance. I needed purpose. I needed God in my life. And this is where Part 3 will take up. Hope comes home at last.
Luke 15:4-7 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lay sit on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.”
- My Life, My Testimony: Part 1 (strangerinrebellion.wordpress.com)