Monday, December 27, 2010

Plans

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

-Jeremiah 29:11

Well, I'm all moved in! :) I've got my very first apartment now and it's a lot more exciting than even I thought it would be.

Is it weird to be stoked about your first electric bill too?

I'm sure I'll hate it in a couple months. ;)

The move went pretty smoothly, however, I will make a mental note to cut down on all the miscellaneous crap that I own; when it came time to finish the move it was all the little odds and ends that were left over. Ugh.

Everything is still chaos in my room, but thats nothing new I guess...

Roommate Rob said he had a free Redbox rental and wanted to know what I was up to. I said I had no plans so we decided to have Monday movie night...pizza, chips and soda included. It was a success! We watched Knight and Day, which, if you don't know is a Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz tag team effort at making an action movie.

While parts were entertaining it left a lot to be desired...of course, what can you expect from a guy who's last interesting movie was....uh....hmmm. Yup, so anyway...

Oh! And later that night my buddy Mike stopped by to visit! So good to see him!

I feel really blessed to be where I am. I do not think it is a coincidence that everything fell into place for the Oshkosh transfer. To be honest I really don't believe in coincidence at all.


I will be honest though, I'm very nervous. This whole move is based on faith...and faith is something I've never been real good at.

I don't like the idea that my life is out of my own personal control. Have you ever felt that way?
I mean, it's kinda stupid...


Life by its very nature is unpredictable. To many variables ya know? It's not a math formula which, by plugging in the right "a" and adding it to the right "b" I will end up with "c". There is never a guarantee that it'll turn out just how I want it to.

So many people live fighting this truth and they end up frustrated and bitter. I know I've struggled in this realm in the past...

But God's words through Jeremiah always bring me back to this truth:

"Yeah, I can't control my life and my future, but God is with me. He guides my steps and wants the best for me."

And knowing this truth, while a little scary, also brings me great peace.

Why wouldn't I want to trust the Creator of the universe with my future?

No matter who you are today, or where you've come from it is my hope that you realize you too are in His hands. Even when life seems chaotic, out of control or so dark that you can't see your next step; He is holding you and guiding you through.

What better plan to be a part of?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Shades of Grey

A good friend suggested that I write, and I like writing so I thought it was a great idea. The last few weeks have been kinda rough so I'll give you the rundown. The bad, the ugly but then the good since I want to finish on a positive note.

The Bad:

I have S.A.D.

Its exactly what it sounds like. Seasonal Affected Disorder. Its a form of depression that occurs when people don't get enough sunlight and such. And, well....let's just say that Wisconsin's nickname isn't the "Sunshine State". Especially during the winter. If you haven't ever experienced it I will do my best to describe.

It is the feeling that you don't ever want to get out of bed. To me it feels like loss. I feel each and every loss deeply. First I feel as if I've lost all the passion and dreams that I've conjured during spring and summer months. I lack motivation of any kind. I also feel the loss of relationship. I long for the way things were and it cuts deep inside that things won't be the way they were ever again. Instead of embracing the future I end up lost in the past. Sometimes it feels like failure. Sometimes it feels like worthlessness.

Essentially during the winter I feel drained in every possible way. Physically, mentally and emotionally. This is a reality.

I used to have meds but right now, financially I can't afford them.

(p.s. if you are reading this and think this blog will be purely complaining, stick it through because that isn't all there is! I am merely trying to articulate, honestly, real feelings and struggles)

Work has thus been a challenge. I want to meet my goals but have difficulty doing so. I can't really focus.

I also feel lonely. I tried to share this with a friend but I don't think she really understood. Hell, I don't think I even understand. I mean, I have a great family and friends and yet around this time of the year I feel the loneliest I do all year.

Sometimes I wish I could be like other people and genuinely enjoy winter. To not have to fake a smile and just ride it out...

The Ugly:

Here's the ugly part.

If I'm not careful, I start to believe these feelings.
I begin to think that I am truly all alone.
That I will never be loved or known the way I desperately wish to be known.
That I will never find a corresponding strength who I can share life and treat like a princess.
That my existence is insignificant.
That God made a mistake.

Oh the list goes on.

This is the ugly truth. These feelings are real. They are real emotions that threaten to swallow me whole. To become my reality.

I know myself well enough by now to know this is true.

The Good:

Many people don't understand this. They say that you are having a "pity party". It seems as if they think that those who suffer from Seasonal Affected or any kind of depression for that matter enjoy being miserable.

This is not true.

I don't enjoy this.

And I also don't wish this on anyone. It needs to be talked about and it needs to be dealt with.

Here is the good side. I want to share it to you in the Apostle Paul's own words

" I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations...At first I didn't think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, My grace is enough; it's all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness."

-2 Corinthians 7-10

God doesn't come into an individuals life to be their genie. A relationship with God is not trouble free and I think a lot of people expect this and end up very disappointed when this doesn't happen.

What he does promise is sufficiency.
He promises that I will be taken care of, even if the road isn't an easy one.

My faith is not derived from feeling. Its derived from the truth that no matter how far I fall He is there to catch me every time and to restore me.

I am weak but He is bigger than the weakness I feel.

That is what truly matters.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Complex Christmas Carols

Today I had my last math "class" which was really more of a study period. I think I'm actually going to miss it. The class I mean, not the math. This professor definitely became more and more entertaining as the semester went on.

Today in class one of the needy kids in the front row asked her if she had some tape cause she ripped a page in her portfolio, and the Prof. was like "I do not carry tape around with me." (In a voice very similar to Apu in the Simpsons). It was very funny...
I guess you had to have been there.

I had more important questions like, "How the heck to you do complex numbers?" and "Why are we using 'i' now, when we've been using 'x' like the whole damn semester?" I think I'm gunna ace this exam...which will be the first time in my life I will have passed all my math exams... oh yeah!

My car is still dead. Oh, I didn't tell you about that? Yup. Mah car died. It needs a new battery, at least I hope that's all it is... my buddy Matt has one. I just need to connect with him 'cause we run two different schedules...

Lately I have been a stress monster. And I don't like it. Really, I don't get like this too often; I'm generally a pretty chill and laid back guy, but with the move coming up (to Oshkosh), finals, the car dying, Wednesday night group and friends who want to hang out I feel stretched thin. Sadly, I have let it rob me of living with the joy that God intends for me.

For instance, I am joyful that I have had the experience of school and the knowledge that I can and will succeed. I am blessed with great friends who care about me and actually want to hang out. I have a great car that 60% of the time works every time (actually its more like 99.9%) ;) A job. A church community and family. A great family....

As I start thinking about these things I realize how much joy gets lost in sweating the small stuff. Letting the little things that are temporary win over the bigger picture. In the grander scheme of things we are loved beyond imagining. In the eternal picture each and every single person on this earth is a miracle, a testament of creation and a Creator that loves and creates. I mean, does that make it less difficult when you are running low on money to put the gas in the tank, or when you have an argument with a friend? Maybe not. But the latter do not have to warp our views on the former. We do not have to let despair, stress and anxiety run our lives.

It kind of ties back into the verse from Philippians that I wrote about in my last entry. What are you choosing to feed on?

Recently I have decided that I want to read the entire Bible this year. I missed yesterday, but started again today. Reading the book of Jonah for the second time in my life I found encouragement. (The first time I read it, not so much, but I guess second time's the charm.)

One part that stuck out to me was when Jonah was running away from God's call on his life. He wanted nothing to do with setting up a ministry in the Assyrian city of Nineveh, so he ran away from God.

Not a smart thing to do.

I mean with humans you actually have a shot of disappearing, but when you try to hide from the creator of all I imagine that he must find it comical at the least!

But anyway, if you've heard the story before you know that a great storm comes upon the boat and that Jonah gets thrown overboard by the crew. After that happens the sea immediately calms and Jonah gets swallowed by the whale. The significance I found in this story was in Jonah's interaction with the sailors on that boat. They find out that he is the one who was causing the sea to be stormy and they asked him why. He told them that he was running from God's command. His dirt caught up with him. He didn't want anything to do with God's plan for his life.

Yet when the sailors on the boat throw Jonah over the side and the sea immediately calms, it says that they all made sacrifices and chose to believe in the One True God. How cool is that? Jonah probably didn't realize that despite his cowardice, God still used it to reach the sailors on that boat who believed in various other deities.

Long story short, no matter how I manage to fall short or run away, God is right there taking the loose ends and fashioning them into something beautiful.

That's all I have for now, maybe I'll write some later. Until then adios! :)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Snowflakes and Dominos

Well, its official.



Winter is here. Its amazing to me that no matter how long I live in Wisconsin, I can never get used to the snow. It wasn't a bad storm or anything. People lose their heads whenever snow hits the ground and start driving stupidly. I don't get that.



I mean, it happens every single year...



Whatever.



My car is still a soldier though. It starts up really consistently even though it's old. :) I love my Civvy!



Yesterday I was at church for about...oh I don't know 9 hours or so. It may seem weird but I actually love it there. Service was great!



We are doing a series called Christmas Choices and the focus yesterday was on how emotions during the holiday season affect us. Are emotions more intensified around Christmastime? Can you choose how you feel? That sorta thing.



Pastor Guy pointed out that "feeding" and "focus" are two huge factors in determining not only how we handle the emotional rollercoaster we face during holidays, but also how we live our lives.



Essentially when it comes to feeding, you are what you eat. He even used one of my favorite verses (and translations to illustrate Paul's advice on this matter)



"Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse." -Philippians 4:8-9 (The Message)



How much life do we spend dwelling on the things that are the worst or the ugly?



When I remember the lowest point in my life I can see now the importance and wisdom of Paul's message.



I remember that I had completely lost the ability to see the good in any situation. Anything and everything was cast in a negative light. I was cynical, and skeptical about everything. I remember the despondency. The utter feelings of hopelessness. The feeling that nothing would ever be good again and that I just didn't care if it did.



I remember at one point even telling a friend that "I don't even think God can save me now."

Fortunately, God is bigger than my worries, anxieties and depression. He brought me through that dark place and I am so grateful for that. :)

If one is not careful, the thoughts we feed on can eventually consume us.

We are what we eat.

Some of NextGen went out to lunch at BW3s after church (our college group at church is called the "Next Generation" or NextGen for short). I got to watch the Packers lose. Epic.

Then we went back to church because the elementary school ministry was putting on a musical called "Back to the Manger" (which was kind of a take off on Back to the Future).

My job was to change the dates everytime the time machine went crazy! And I also got free pizza out of it. Dominos! It tasted really good cause I hadn't eaten since BW3s. It was a lot of fun.

Then I came home and collapsed with a comfy feeling inside. Even though its cold God is good and I am blessed with the people I know and this experience known as life that I am privileged to enjoy. :)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sometimes

Sometimes I just step back and think to myself...

That it's so cold outside. Even during the summer.
I think its the world.
I think its the things people do to each other, the way we hurt, manipulate and lie to each other.
The way we betray trust. The way we are selfish and self-serving.

Cold makes you draw into yourself. It makes you guarded.
You cannot have any cracks in the exterior you are presenting, or a cold gust of wind will blast into those cracks. A feeling unlike anything else. It sends icy chills like demonic fingers gliding up and down your spine.

That's how I feel sometimes.

Sometimes I think that it's warm outside. Even during the winter.
When I look around I can see the good in things. They wrap around me like a blanket.
Cozy and secure. Somedays the world isn't so bad.
People help each other. They care. They're genuine.
Their smiles light up the night.

There is a security in holding the hand of another. A certainty.
People don't leave. People don't cry or hurt.
They love. They hope. They act.

These two places are very much the same, though they are very different.

These two places live in my head.

I want so badly to give up, but I have much to do.
I want to draw in, but am continually drawn out.
I try to hold on, but people always leave and change.

Will I always walk alone, in the cold world?
Or is there a possiblity of finding something more...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Catching up...

It's been a little while since I last wrote...

School has been crazy! I enrolled at UW-Waukesha to take some Gen-Ed classes. I now know I want to pursue a degree in communications, but for what I'm still not certain.

I've recently joined the To Write Love On Her Arms street team, which is definitely a new experience. It's basically an organization that is dedicated to promoting hope and finding help for people who are struggling with self injury, suicidal tendencies and any form of addictions, which I find incredibly noble.

As I'm sure there will be plenty of blogs about that in the future I'll save that topic for later.

Lately I have been learning about trusting God quite a lot. The virtue of patience has never been a strong suit for me and so this whole process of moving and timing is really stretching me.

Oh! I didn't mention that yet! I am moving back to Oshkosh to go back to school! :) It has been something in the corner of my mind ever since I left the campus... I am very excited to get back.

Upon being back in school I realized how much I missed it. I miss the classes, the opportunity to learn something new each day, to choose your schedule, to get involved with causes (and there are so many to choose from!)

I'll be living on my own for the first time. Working part time, school part time. I still don't have a place yet and the move is happening in about a month. Yikes! Like I said, trusting that God will provide is a little bit difficult since things aren't exactly working on my ideal time table.

I also am learning to trust Him, not only with the details of my life, but with the lives of others. I have discovered that so often I try to act as a savior in the lives of my friends, when in reality I can barely save myself.

God didn't bring me to Him to convert people.

He brought me to Him to share the story He has given to me.

He brought me to Him to love people as best as I can every day, like He loved me.

Yet so often I lose sight of these things. I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders as I try to make everything ok for everyone.

Everything won't be ok all the time. It's a part of life... and to try to be preventative is to hinder His work. It's basically like I am saying "Yeah, I believe you are sovereign...but you really don't know this person. Why don't you let me handle this one?"

Which really isn't trust at all, is it?

Hmmm...

In church we started the Christmas themed series. Each Christmas they emphasize sponsoring a child in Kenya or Nicaragua (where the church has partnerships). As far as I know there are two very good organizations that are primary catalysts in this field of work.

One is called Manna Worldwide, the other is called World Vision.

I chose to actually sponsor a child for a year this Christmas. :) I'm very stoked about it! That's really what Christmas should be about in my humble opinion.

I mean, really...how much more stuff do we need on Christmas day?

I think the better question is; How many people could we bless this Christmas day?

That's about all I have right now..I'll try to be more creative and interesting later. :P

Monday, August 9, 2010

Forgive Me Knots

As I write this there is a scene from Batman: The Dark Knight that is resonating in my head...

(If you haven't seen the movie please do yourself a favor and rent it because it is phenomenal! )

If you have seen it do you remember the scene when the Joker says;

"You see, in their last moments, people show you who they really are. So in a way, I know your friends better than you ever did..."

Do you remember that moment? It stands out to me right now because there are so many times in this life when everything you believe is called into question and your convictions are put to the test. In fact the trials we often face in this life are the litmus paper, the counterfeit marker that expose "faith" for what it truly is.

Sadly we live in a society where words are becoming cheaper and cheaper everyday. Think about the words "I love you." or even the word "love" what does it mean anymore? Years and years ago when a man would give someone his word it was as binding as a contract, reputations would be at stake when someone would give their word on a subject. What does it mean when someone says "I promise" now?



Or how about the idea of commitment, when someone is committed to another in our current society does it really carry as much weight as it once did? I'm inclined to say no.


Basically what I am saying is that the old adage that "talk is cheap" is really quite true in our current society.


The truth of the matter is that many days when I think about how those who choose to follow Jesus are commanded to demonstrate his love to this world it is pretty daunting. One of the biggest struggles that I face as a human being is the concept of not only loving my friends and family as much if not more than I love myself, but also showing that same love and kindness to my enemies.


Yes, that's right I did say enemies.


A particular passage that stuck out to me on this subject is when Jesus was speaking to His followers in Luke chapter 6;


“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you.
Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you.

“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.

“Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are un-thankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate."

Luke 6:27-36 (NLT)


Sometimes I just can't understand why this is such a big deal to Jesus. He doesn't just suggest this idea to His followers but rather commands it! And this isn't the first time He says something of this nature.


In Matthew Chapter 18 the subject comes up again;


"Then Peter came to him and asked, 'Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?'

'No, not seven times,'
Jesus replied, 'but seventy times seven!'" (v.21-22)


Doesn't this just fly in the face of our culture?


Early on in my life there were times when I tried to be a "good Christian" but this was something that I never ever played by the rules on. I just couldn't. How can you forgive (much less love) someone who has mistreated you? Perhaps they have caused you some sort of physical pain or perhaps the pain is purely emotional. Maybe they have stolen from you or perhaps they have spread some sort of rumor behind your back that was nasty. People like this are cruel, they really shouldn't be loved or forgiven. This was the reason I just couldn't follow God's words when it came to this...



As I understand more about faith and trusting God I have come to understand that when God commands something it is not to modify our behaviors or to "keep us in line". God doesn't want people to be on his leash. He doesn't want us to behave because we have some big religious shock collar on us. So often people view God as the cosmological enforcer who places an unbearable amount of rules upon us and when we fail, (which is often) there is nothing God likes better than to smack us down and to make us feel guilty right?


Wrong.


I cannot tell you how much I am realizing that this is far from the God I know. I'm learning more and more that the reason that God has set boundaries for those that believe in Him is because God alone knows the best way to live and He wants that for us!


Is there someone in your life right now that you love with all your heart?


Imagine they were taking some sort of deadly substance in small doses, something that you knew would eventually lead to a heart failure or a fatal stroke, but they continue to do it because it feels good to them. It gives them a rush. Suppose you tried time and time again to tell that person that you love with all your heart that they should stop because what they are doing is destroying them. Are you doing it to keep them from having a "life" or are you doing it because you want them to have life to the fullest?


God feels the same way for us! The reason that He has commanded these things in the Bible is because He knows that pursuing things like anger and holding onto bad feelings steal our joy from life. They tie us up rather than free us. God doesn't want us to be imprisoned but rather to be free.


I have been privileged to see both sides to this idea.


There have been times in my life where I have felt that I have been completely wronged and have chosen not to forgive but to hang onto anger and bitterness in my life. I can't tell you how much life in those periods that I have wasted. Do you think that the people I held anger against cared that I was not forgiving towards them? Nope. They continued living and pursuing their lives and I was left with nothing but empty feelings and a lack of joy.


But let me pose this question to you; what if Jesus Christ had acted like we do in these moments?


I have to confess that quite often in many of the situations that I am facing the choice of whether or not to forgive I personally have had some part in creating that hardship. In other words, more often than not I am partially to blame for the conflict; please understand that this is not always the case mind you; in fact sometimes people are taken advantage of for no reason at all other than that there are people in this world who prey upon others. It is a sad fact but true nonetheless.


When you read Jesus' story what strikes me is that He was wronged and hurt for no legitimate reason at all. Can you imagine? Think about all those angry religious leaders twisting His words in any way they could, slandering Him to satisfy their agenda. (It drives me crazy watching news reports that only tell one side of the story, I'm quite sure that this was way worse!)


Think about how terrible it must have been when Jesus was beaten beyond recognition, and yet it still wasn't enough for his accusers! He needed to be crucified, put to death in the most awful way conceivable at that time. Can you imagine how you would feel toward those people who demonstrated such hate toward you?


I don't imagine I would ever forgive them, much less love them. I couldn't I would feel vengeance in my heart, I would wish horrible things upon them and wish them to suffer as I had to suffer. This is precisely why I need a savior. This is precisely why Jesus inspires me.


Jesus never told others to do what He himself wouldn't do. Look at Luke chapter 23;


"Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.'" (v. 34)


I pray desperately that you may hear his words with every ounce of weight they carry because as He said these powerful words he was nearing His death on the cross. He was in agony and He forgave the ones who not only physically hurt Him but slandered Him and delighted in the fact that He was being put to death.


See the thing that gives me the strength to forgive others who have done wrong to me is because my God did just that for me and everyone else like me. That is the kind of love I want to have toward others.



Just today I was text messaging with a close friend of mine who has been going through some rough stuff. One of these things was that a one time trusted "friend" had taken advantage of her for a large sum of money. This was something my friend didn't deserve in the least and to be honest just hearing about how this person had taken advantage of my friend made my blood boil.


She had taken him to court for either the car or payment and he said he had junked the car, long story short we found out today that he lied about junking the car so he could keep it and she still doesn't have her money back.


But here is the cool part of this story... my friend chose not only to forgive this person today, but she is taking Jesus at His word and praying for this person who has wronged her. I am sure that this is not an easy thing to do and to be honest I think I would struggle very hard with forgiveness if I was in the same situation, but words can't even begin to express how proud I am to know this woman. I truly believe that it is because of people like her, people who have right hearts and take Jesus at His word, that this world will become a better place.


May you and I both take this example to heart and do our best to love and forgive those who wrong us and persecute us. May we always strive to be the light and hope to others, that Jesus is to us!

You no longer have to carry the weight of anger and bitterness. And while pain will still remain in many situations I have come to see that pain is a natural part of healing in humanity. Sometimes it is the only way to acquire wisdom from a particular situation so that when you are faced with it again in the future you will know how to show others the love you have been shown.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Realization

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I will warn you in advance, this is a long post but one that I felt necessary to write. I hope that you will stick with it till the end and I pray that it will cause you to think and wrestle with what this means or could mean in your life...

Most sincerely yours,
Josh

***************************************************************************************************



Faith shouldn't have happened to me.





Faith was just a crutch used by religious people to bring some solace into a troubled world. A world full of pain and disappointment.



I mean, I couldn't really blame them. The disappointments of life are truly devastating to a human soul, anyone who has had a family torn by cancer or suicide can tell you that. Faith in God was what seemed the only thing that kept some of my friends going amidst the trials they faced.




Despite being raised in a non-denominational "church" home and being well-versed in Bible stories by middle school I had had it. The stuff that I heard on Sundays seemed more the stuff of fairy tales than reality; it would've made a really good movie or video game if a producer had the budget to do so.



And speaking of church, we had the routine down to a science! All throughout elementary school Sunday was as predictable as Old Faithful in Yellowstone.



We would all pile into the car Sunday morning to attempt to make the 9:00 am service (this was before coffee shops got put into churches, so there was little if no caffeine consumption). We would generally always be annoyed with whoever took the longest to get ready.



Then upon arrival we would shuffle off to our own things; the parents would go to "big church" as we called it and us kids would hit up Sunday school. Occasionally I would attend big church services but none of it ever made sense so I would use the time to try to nap on my parents. However I often found myself wishing for a pillow and blanket...



Then after our hour of church time was served for the week us kids would wait around in the church gym (yes our church had a gym for youth ministry events or congregation breakfasts, etc.), or in the church bookstore. But eventually we'd head home and I was free for another week.



It's not that my old church was a bad one, or that nothing good ever came out of it's programs, but nothing about the message I would get every Sunday would ever really stick out to me. I didn't care about the idea of Jesus dying for my "sins" or God creating the heavens and the earth... I mean what did all that stuff have to do with determining what I would get for my birthday? Or if I could have a sleepover with my friends and play video games and eat junk food all night? God just didn't fit into MY picture.



I went to a couple summer camps through the church during elementary school. Those were fun. There was excitement, singing, activities, cute girls... yep it was good.



I think every single summer I went I ended up accepting Jesus as my savior by the end of the week. It was such an emotional experience, such a rush each time... and then a week later with school starting I had forgotten all about this "life changing" moment and began to focus on grades and homework and the new year's friends.



See, this is why I find that committing one's life to God is more often than not a disappointment for so many "born-again" Christians. We believe that our life will be frozen in permanent joy and ecstasy after the conversion, that when all our struggles creep back into the picture and we realize that we are facing the same hardships as we had before.



More on that later...



Middle school is a difficult time for all teenagers, of this I have no doubt. My relationship and feelings toward God and church plummeted drastically around this time of life. I attended a public school at the time which presented a difficulty for creating a church social life. Virtually all of the kids in my age group all went to the same private Christian school. They all knew each other and had their own jokes and social lives. If that didn't make it difficult enough I was very shy and socially awkward at the time.


Now I'm just awkward.


I've come to learn that in life there will always be a clique of some kind. At your job, your weekly study group, the bar...wherever it may be. Humans have this need for acceptance and to feel as though they are loved, its just a fact of life.


And with any clique there are outsiders.


This is how church came to feel for me in middle school. The Christian school kids probably did not intend this, but intentions do not change perceptions of one who feels like an outsider. It didn't help that they all liked top 40 hits on the radio and that I listened to heavy metal. Nor did it help that I didn't wear the trendy favored American Eagle and other "prep" dress, but that I instead preferred the color of choice in most of the wardrobes of the bands that I admired. Black.


I didn't even mention that at the time I hit puberty and was already super freaked out about my voice. My self image in church was lower than low. I felt unwanted and unloved. I started to view God as someone who only loved the "pretty" people. The popular ones with the nice smiles and who seemed to have no problems in their lives. In my perception God was just as I perceived those who surrounded me at church; shallow.


In hindsight I know now that no one has an easy time in middle school, no matter how together they look. But why was it that going to church (the place that is described as the "body" of Christ, and the people who are brothers and sisters and children of God's "family") made me feel so completely alone?


It was during middle school that I realized I knew nothing about God. Nothing about my "relationship" with Him was personal or intimate. When I prayed I felt like I was talking to walls, when I read that Bible nothing made sense. It seemed so dry. So lame.



By early high school I had come to believe that Christianity was just another product being sold to the gullible. That it was purely a religion of hypocrites and the insincere. At that point I denounced my faith and donned the term agnostic.



I wouldn't have told you that God for sure didn't exist. I mean, who really has knowledge of the entire universe after all? Maybe Bill Gates does...or the founder of Facebook...but I definitely couldn't say with any certainty that He didn't exist. However it was the Christians to me who were very narrow minded and self- centered people and for the first time in my life I felt free. Free of the guilt that I felt burdened down with every single Sunday for not "following the rules", free from a religious system that only produced surface level people. I was free.



In high school I found my niche' in the music program. I made some of my best friends in the four years I was involved in it. My self image had begun to get better with dating (what guy or girl's image doesn't right?) and so I began to build this new sense of security for myself. I still struggled with the difficulty of clinical depression which I found out about my sophomore year, but that's nothing that pills can't cure. We are a self made society after all.



Life was pretty good. I had a supportive family, my own clique and while I never did super great with school I managed to have a fairly good relationship with my teachers so they at least liked me for the most part. I'll never forget how much I took all those things for granted. You see living a life apart from God meant I had to go to whatever lengths it took to please myself, it brought about an extreme selfishness that was the core of me. I was a parasite. I leeched off others and when they didn't make me happy anymore I'd move on to the next one. I still am sad to write these things for anyone to read, but it is important to note that living purely for yourself and your pleasure will never fill up our needs to be loved and accepted. It will never bring about healthy relationships with others.


It just won't.


As I look to fallout from shattered relationships I had experienced those years I can attribute it to one thing and that was my personal demanding selfishness.


Some of the friends I have to this day from high school are, in my view, saints for loving me despite my intense love of myself.


Maybe you have experienced this realization maybe you haven't. I pray you never do.



Throughout my years in high school I felt it my duty to show my Christian friends how foolish their beliefs were. I completely devoted my spare time to asking the unanswerable questions about the Christian faith to my friends (but only the ones who I felt were truly sincere in their beliefs). I knew they couldn't answer some things and so this questioning served a dual purpose; it made me feel good about not caring about God or Jesus or heaven or hell, and it made me feel like I was helping them to see how their faith never really challenged their worldviews or perspective but rather that it was a little bubble. A sunday "social club" rather than reality.


What I didn't know was that those people whose beliefs I was calling crazy were some of the most influential people in my life. I know some who were praying for me to find God since freshman year. One who had prayed for me since 7th grade!


These people weren't the hypocrites I was used to, they were genuinely concerned about if I was going to heaven or hell. All this I know in hindsight but never knew at the time.


Like I said earlier faith shouldn't have happened to me. I was fine.




Until my first year of college.


I was living life like I wanted with little repercussions to my selfishness. Things were going ok, until several things happened all at once.


I had ended up attending UW-Oshkosh for my first year of college and my girlfirend of the time was going to a different university. I was head over heals in love and already had grand plans in my mind for the future, of course I mentioned selfishness earlier and it ended up rearing its ugly head into that relationship. After spending a wonderful summer together I suddenly didn't have the security of seeing her everyday. In fact we were quite a distance away. This relationship had become my main source of feeling love and having that taken away from me was devastating. I couldn't function, couldn't eat or be content, couldn't focus on my school and studies.


Even as I write this I still remember how horrible I acted as a result of not being able to have what I wanted when I wanted it.


I can't even imagine the stress I put on her. The way I would use words to mask the barbs of guilt that I would shoot her way trying to say that she was responsible for my being miserable.
As I understand love now and look back on how I handled a relationship that I thought I was truly loving in the contrast is almost sickening.


She ended the relationship and I don't blame her in the least.


However this was devastating to me at the time. I couldn't understand. I had this all planned out and it was going to work out...


Shortly after I received a call from my parents who had been married at this point over 20 some years. They had begun to undergo some serious marital issues that nearly tore our family apart for the next few years following the initial clash.


Suddenly my family wasn't a rock I could fall back on. How could they do this to me?
I began to see this facade of happiness and security falling apart before my very eyes. I began to party a lot at this time and watched my grades (which weren't the best to begin with) crumble.


My solution?


Drinking more. Separating myself from all reality and numbing the pain.


I'm sure that anyone can imagine how well that worked. I remember being on the computer for hours upon hours. Typing to people on chat while drinking a cold (and cheap I might add) Coors Light. I remember looking for those Christian friends online and asking them what the point was. Why would God allow this crap to happen to me. And eventually when I didn't get the answers I was satisfied with I gave up. I was done. Alone in my dorm I posted a last Facebook message and went to end my life.


I don't say any of this to be morbid, please understand that in order for me to write to you of hope and the miracle that I have found, I first had to go through the pain of losing that which I thought would sustain me. The reality is we live in a broken world with broken people, disappointments will happen, plans will be shattered. And this is why I understand that God is really the only rock a person can turn to.


That night I swear an angel was with me because my life didn't end. In fact I would submit to you that it had just begun.


Shortly after I got out of the hospital I attended a Campus Crusade meeting. Its really amazing how God works because in my "secure and enlightened" life I described prior I would've never given this sort of thing the time of the day, however after being in the hospital and realizing how out of control my life was I thought it was about time to start swallowing whatever pride I had left in myself and to reach for something outside that might be a better way to live.


At that meeting I remember one of their handouts was advertising a retreat to Florida for a week and oddly enough I had just enough money to cover it. I definitely needed a retreat so I kept it. Upon returning to Oshkosh I found out that they had their own branch of Crusade so it was through them that I signed up to take the trip. I figured I could deal with the religious people if it meant a week to get away to warmer weather and to try to sort out my thoughts. I told the project leader right out that I didn't agree with telling people about God because I didn't believe in him and given that fact I asked him if he would like me to still come on the trip. It kind of shocked me that he welcomed me on with open arms.


For figuring that Christians were clique-ish this sure was different...

So I went.

I was bound and determined to be a hermit the whole trip. Minimal contact with people was good. I didn't really care about them anyway, I was there for me and myself.


I'll never forget the first morning after arrival I grabbed my Ipod and slipped out the door to take a walk before anyone else woke up. I needed to think. And wouldn't you know it I ran into Mark (the project leader). He asked if I wanted to grab a Starbucks and being an avid drinker of such a product I felt inclined to accept, guess I wasn't going to be anti-social just yet...damn.


As we sat down he asked me a little bit more about my story and what brought me down to Panama City Beach. I was blown away by how he listened to my story. I didn't feel judged at all or looked down on this trip was definitely weirding me out already.


During that week I scrounged up a Bible cause I decided that if I read it again it would, in fact, confirm that all my prior notions were true and that God really wasn't there. I remember reading some of the apostle Paul's writings. He talked a lot about peace through God and peace in all circumstances. That stuff touched me and brought me comfort at the time (I now realize what people mean when they say that God "speaks" to us, it isn't necessarily audible spoken word but there is revelation in reading the Bible if you let him speak to you).


But the thing I couldn't shake at all was Jesus. I realized that virtually all my understanding of this man was completely wrong. It is not surprising to me in a culture where Jesus is made to look like a pious self-righteous wimp... but this wasn't the guy I found in the Bible. Jesus was the type of guy who befriended the "not-good-enoughs" he cared about people's lives, he commanded those that followed him to care about those in need and the best part to me, I kid you not, was the parts in the Bible where he took the self-righteous "religious" people to task. Jesus wasn't a fan of what the "church" scene had become. It really wasn't about pleasing God it was about pleasing people.


I'm not going to lie I had no idea at all that this was who Jesus was, it was appealing to me. But then I read something that I just couldn't get my mind around and that was his death. I couldn't understand by looking at myself and my life why any person would die for me so that I could have a better life.


I'm not kidding. I could not wrap my head around this.


At best I lived my life in fear of growing old and death, I hate hospitals and nursing homes because I don't like being close to my mortality and the reality that death is our ultimate destination on earth.


But here was a guy I didn't even know who was willing to give away that which was so precious to me so that lousy people like myself and the people who wrongly accused him could live. Not only that but in the midst of the pain and suffering he endured he prayed to God to forgive these people! My selfishness and mentality of self preservation and God's message of love collided violently at that point and I was conflicted for the rest of the week.


I would take long walks with my Ipod in and listen to a c.d. by the band Red called "Innocence v. Instinct. The lyrics sank deep in me and my conflicted emotions of the time. If you don't own the c.d. I'd highly recommend it...


Every night the 400 some students on the trip would get together and share their stories of meeting drunken partiers on the beaches and sharing this "good news of Jesus" with them. They would also pray and sing and listen to a message from the Bible. I attended these throughout the week.


Thursday night I believe was our last nightly meeting before the drive back to Wisconsin and as I sat there during the stories of people who had made the choice to follow Jesus or the people who had rejected it I had a revelation. I realized that Jesus did offer all the answers. I realized that God loved me more than anything and hated to see my pain. I realized the choice lay on me whether to accept or reject.


I will tell you now that this is the most basic tenant of Christian faith, but never in all my years of attending church had it been so real to me as it had that night. Without even thinking I went up to the stage and got in line to share my "story" of the day. As the line went down I remember feeling nervous, knowing that this was one of the biggest decisions of my life.


Walking up on that stage in front of 400 other believers in Christ was one of the most scary moments of my life. As I talked into the microphone about how I had walked away from God, and how even this whole week I had been fighting the idea that God could love me when I had no love for myself, I found myself saying the words "I'm done fighting. I don't want to fight anymore." And right there I prayed to ask Jesus if he would come and take my broken life and make it into the life he wanted me to live.


I'll never forget the sound of the brothers and sisters I had gained at that moment.


But more importantly I'll never forget the fact that in that moment faith became real to me, for the first time. Life hasn't been easy since then. I promise you that, but I have never regretted making that decision that night.


I know this is a long post, and I hope that you have stuck through it because this is the whole point. God loves you. God wants you to be in relationship with him. He wants to wipe your tears away and he wants you to know you are never alone...


I pray whoever (if anyone) reads this that you will find the peace that I now write with. That you will have the certainty and realization that hope and joy are possible for you no matter where you are!


Like I said, faith shouldn't have happened to me.... but I am so grateful it did.