A personal reflection on what has transpired in my life. Both good and bad. Did I ever think this would be the story of my life? This also briefly considers the challenge of long term suffering, and how there isn’t always an answer for everything. This post came about because of a chance listening to a song called “Glorious Unfolding” by Steven Curtis Chapman. Thank my Youtube recommendation feed for today’s post.
“You need to spend time crawling alone through shadows to truly appreciate what it is to stand in the sun.”
“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.”
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 ESV
I read and listen to a lot of stuff and I have a lot of recommendations that are made to me. In my Youtube feed I’ll be recommended videos from both The Thinking Atheist and Francis Chan. On Twitter as I read through it I get tweets from Richard Dawkins to Tim Keller. Looking at them together gives me a bigger strategic picture of both theology and culture. You see how both sides feed each other. On the flip side is that I see things that I would not otherwise look at. Today’s post came about due to this experience. Prior to my faith crisis I was all over the Christian music scene, today not so much. Why? There’s some stuff out there that make me cringe, I think is cheap and in the long run not good. I’m not out to tear everything down as there is some good stuff that I discovered as well. Recently in my Youtube feed I was recommended a video from Steven Curtis Chapman. Like I said I don’t keep up with Christian music much these days, but I did give it a listen and three lines in it grabbed and its led to what I want to journal about today.
In a video to a song called “Glorious Unfolding” (You can read the background here) I had three lines that jarred me and got me thinking about things. The three lines I heard are the following:
Cause I Know This is not
Anything Like You Thought
The Story of Your Life was Gonna Be…
How many people reading this honestly thought that some of what they endured in life, or things they have gone through they never expected or imagined they would experience? Its like you are in the midst of something difficult, a crisis or fog and you’re privately asking yourself, “How did this happen? How did I get here?” Plus you also have surprises or moments of joy or pleasure that are equally stunning. These are some of the thoughts in my life that I never thought would be a part of my story.
- While I was slightly infatuated with Mormonism I never thought I would have the brush I did with Mormonism in college. I never thought I would come to the edge and then walk away. I sometimes wonder how would my life be different had I taken the plunge and agreed to baptism. What would have happened had I submitted that application to Brigham Young University? Where would I be today? Would I be living in Utah under the influence of Kool-Aid? Or would I be burned out, detached and an angry person who in leaving Mormonism lost everything?
- I never thought part of my story would be living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin or the Washington, D.C. area for that matter. It just wasn’t planned…it happened to fall into my lap. When it came to grad school I applied to a number of places in Nebraska, Oklahoma, and back to Montana and I didn’t get in. Call me crazy but I never thought I would be living where I have lived.
- I never thought my story would include a close call with my life in the ER with sepsis and a bacterial infection. With the infection I was dealing with I came within hours of organ failure. Who would have thought that some bacteria that I picked up at the gym while working out would result in that happening? After all I can also say with authority that going to the gym is hazardous to your health.
- I never would have imagined that a loved one in my life would deal with schizophrenia. I still remember that episode, the phone call, my family responding and me being in shock. My birthday in 1996 was traumatic in that I never expected to see someone I loved and cared about have a mental health crisis.
- I never would have imagined how amazing my first snow storm in Montana was, seeing my first fire flies in Madison, Wisconsin, or seeing nature in Door County, Wisconsin blew my mind. I never imagined that I would get to drive past places like the Lincoln Memorial or the Pentagon on my way to and from work or some other life event. How many people living in the DC area take the local monuments and museums for granted? Too many….
- I never imagined that I would have had a faith crisis like I did. It wasn’t planned, it was something that happened to people who weren’t “real Christians” as I once thought. People who walk away or lose faith were never Christians to begin with. God was I humbled…
- As I am typing this I just checked my Facebook and I see someone who I played football with in high school who says if the rapture happens he wants to stay here instead of being with all those “buttholes who think they are riding with the almighty.” In his words he states “Its better to be alone than in bad company.” I can’t imagine that at one point I actually thought the rapture was legitimate. This is one of the many things that leads me to plan on writing a post about things I respect about reformed theology. There are a few things that I think are worth discussing.
- I never imagined that my Mom would have pancreatic cancer and survive.
- I never imagined that I would think the world of John Piper and actually respect him like I once did. In the ESV (Eagle Standard Version) Philippians 4:13 says “with Kool Aid all things are possible”
- I never imagined I would know some of the people who are deeply involved in my life. I never would have imagined that I would watch a sunrise in Kansas on a farm and be asked to hold a friends daughter. I never would have imagined that putting boundaries on someone in Milwaukee’s Applebees when I was in Crusade led to a deep and loving friendship years later. My life is so rich to know so many people. I never imagined I would have gotten to know Dee Parsons or her family so well, or think of some of the friends that came about because of my faith crisis.
- I never imagined that I would endure a false accusation by someone who boasted of his faith when they attended Redeemer Arlington. While it wasn’t intentional I don’t believe I never imagined such a thing happening in my life. I often stop and ask myself “Why isn’t my life destroyed?” or “Why am I not an atheist?” Today I believe some of the greatest arguments for atheism are people in the Neo-Reformed movement or other like minded fundamentalists.
- I never thought I would clash like I did with Andrew White. He has no idea how much I still pray for him and I am puzzled as to why he is so afraid of me? I still can’t figure that out, and it still puzzles me.
- I never thought I would be having so many conversations with people behind the scenes of this blog. I’ve had a number of people email me saying they like what I write or they have to tell me something, or how they disagree with something I have written. From the differing conversations with varying atheists to the person who was involved in SGM who told me she was done with church for the rest of her life. I love and care for each person…why has my life crossed paths with so many people who have been broken by fundamentalism? Each email I read weighs on me and I chew on it, and there were several that I read where I wished I could take away their pain. Why do I empathize so much with so many people?
- Why did my life story include going to the largest atheist rally in US history and clapping and cheering at so many differing atheists. Its a couple of years out and I still am amazed. I noticed in Twitter the other day that they are planning another one next year…I would like to attend that and process it again. Yes you read that…I am a guy who is open and loves to talk with people. So anyhow I tweeted that I would like to go, and the Reason Rally for 2016 tweeted back for me to come. I’m probably one of the only “evangelicals” (I put that in loose terms) that can enjoy the company of atheists, agnostics and others over evangelicals at times. Don’t get me wrong…there are some evangelicals I love and some who amaze me with their love and grace; but I also feel a bond still to the atheist/agnostic community. I feel like I understand them more than other people do.
- I never would have imagined that my Dad would have a brain tumor in his life. What irony…a neurosurgeon who spent a career treating and dealing with illnesses and diseases of the brain being afflicted by one. That’s not supposed to happen. Its kind of like a Cardiologist that develops heart disease. It just isn’t supposed to happen.
- I never imagined that I would be back in Christianity again in some loose form. I honestly thought I was done with Christian faith. It just didn’t make sense. All that made sense to me are the problems and difficulty, plus it was all I could see. Someone would explain something to me and I would pick it apart and dissect it in a way that frustrated and angered other people. Today I am perplexed…why am I in this camp? I honestly don’t know?
- I never imagined I would have a brush with Sovereign Grace like I did. I never imagined I would be under all this pressure to attend Redeemer Arlington. I never thought I would clash and fight so much with a 2005 graduate from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs who kept asking and even begged me to come. I never thought that I would later approach Sovereign Grace and ask for forgiveness for hate. Likewise I never would have imagined I would interact with the leadership of Redeemer Arlington in trying to resolve the mess with Andrew White.
- I never imagined I would be baptized. When I told a couple of people about baptism in my faith crisis I honestly thought I would never get baptized. In some ways I thought I could will myself into faith, but it didn’t work. It leads me back to the question that haunts me…why am I in a Christian faith system? Some people never leave a faith crisis of come back?
- I never imagined that I would have a friendship with a friend and train nerd from Kansas City, Missouri. The only way I think I could say that our paths were orchestrated to clash like we did was through the Lord.
- I thought most of my cars would be Honda’s in my life. I am sold on Honda. So how was I converted to buy Nissan? LOL!
- I never thought I would own property in the DC area. That perplexed me, and gives me a lot to think about. I also never realized how much politics can exist in a condo association. Good God!
- I never thought I would have weight loss surgery in my life. That just perplexes me. Its given me a lot to reflect upon after losing 140 lbs.
- I never thought I would one day lose my job. It was in Fresno in 2000, I led in sales, soared with performance and did well. Then HR approached me and I was let go. I was told to collect my final paycheck and be off the property in 2 hours or they would call the police. I was stunned. I went home that day and cried so hard in my bed. Being laid off hurt deeply, I still remember those feelings.
- I never thought the hoops I would go through to reconcile with differing people in my life. Today when I get a text or phone call from a large number of those people it melts me. It was hard but was it worth it…yes. Not only that but it was the right thing to do.
- I never thought the guy who was terrified in math would excel in the banking industry and work for three national banks, plus the bank that went down in US history as the largest bank failure.
- I never imagined that I would picket a church, Calvary Temple in Sterling from time to time to show my support for those wounded by that place.
- I never imagined that the problem of evil would crush me and break me for half my thirties. Where did it come from? How did it overwhelm me?
Those are some of the things that I never thought would be a part of my story. What is yours if you are reading this? Did you imagine any of the following being a part of your story? Did you imagine suffering like this occurring?
- You’re a proud father and mother with one daughter who is a couple of years old and you want to have a second child. Your wife gets pregnant and you are elated. Then in the course of time the pregnancy fails and ends as a miscarriage. You find yourself dealing with immense pain…did you ever think this would happen?
- You have a son that plays football in high school, and all around a great guy. One day at a party he experiments with drugs and it gives birth to more experimentation and eventually a full fledged addiction. It causes deep division in the family as to how to respond and you come home and discover that precious jewelry, and electronics are gone….sold for drugs. It becomes so bad that you have locks on every door and cupboards. Did you think something like this would happen?
- Your friend who you are close to who is deeply involved in your life is either maimed or killed by a drunk driver. He was too young, had too much potential, and a long and promising life ahead of him. Did you ever imagine that such a thing could happen to someone so young?
- You have been a newly married couple who have moved around the country for work. You are dealing with doubt and faith issues and have a prolonged faith crisis and lose your faith. This wasn’t supposed to happen? You’re not supposed to be in your early 30’s and lose your faith, after all you did everything you were supposed to do? You read the scriptures, did Bible studies, prayed, did devotions, and attended church. Did you ever think that would be a part of your story?
- You’re in a healthy marriage, or so you thought and you discover text messages and realize your husband is sexually involved with someone under age and engaged in sexual abuse. It turns out he’s sexually abused a number of young people and was into child pornography. Did you ever think your marriage would end in a divorce with your husband becoming entangled with the legal system?
- That after a number of months you would bury your infant daughter due to a sudden illness. No parent should have to bury a child, in reality it should be the other way around. Did you think this would happen in your life?
- You walk into work and have a meeting with the boss. You are caught up in RIF and you have a last day in the near future. You are shell shocked because of your sales and production quota are outstanding. Did you ever think you would be laid off like this?
- Did you ever think that your son would be dealing with a disease like Leukemia and you would have this long drawn out battle that keeps going on?
- Did you ever think you would be in the thick of a church scandal where a pastor covered up sexual abuse or financial misconduct? After all that always happened in other churches, never the one you called home.
- When you were a fundamentalist did you ever imagine that your child who you raised would one day approach you and tell you they are gay? Did you ever think the church would react against you and you would lose friends in the process and told you failed to raise him properly?
- Did you ever imagine that as a child you would watch one of your parents in the later stages of life deal with Alzheimer’s disease and not know who you were or could not recognize you? Is that a chapter in your life that you foresaw?
- Did you ever imagine that someone you were close to in your family would attempt suicide?
- Did you ever imagine that your husband who professed love for you when dating would turn out to be a domestic abuser in the course of time.
- You are parent and a child you are raising is dealing with a severe eating disorder…is that something you thought you would be struggling with?
- You look at your demons and are struggling. Whether it be alcohol, drugs, pornography, anger, greed, workaholism, or something else you just wonder…why are you dealing with this issue?
Let me say this as I pen these words in cyber space. It bothers me that there is so much pain and suffering in the world. I wish I could take it away, I really do but the reality is I can’t. I don’t know why God is silent. In my faith crisis I yelled and screamed obscenities to God in the middle of my condo late at night one evening. I wondered what my neighbors thought of a 36 year old man yelling and screaming profanities at the top of his lungs on a week night on a third floor of a condo complex. One thing I will say is value your loved ones and friends today…you don’t know what could happen to them tomorrow. Live a life with peace in all those around you. I think that’s why I get so angry about fundamentalism…it robs people of that peace and unity. It divides and destroys families and friendships. The way to respond to pain and suffering is by love and walking through it with someone. But part of the problem in evangelicalism is that many people don’t want to do that as many are stuck on this quick fix mentality. Life is not a quick fix or easy…it’s hard. It’s messy and difficult. I have a loved one that has dealt with schizophrenia for 20 years. My Mom has dealt with the scars and pain from pancreatic cancer for 10 years. I hate to be the one to break this…but your suffering is going to get worse. If you haven’t suffered be prepared…your time is coming. Mine has begun and will continue until death. What is ahead of me…anything and everything. From employment problems which can come out of the blue, to facing my parents mortality. Some time in the next decade or two I am going to have to bury my parents as they die. That scares me immensely. I’m terrified of being alone. Then I also can have medical issues as well that come along with aging. Plus according to my Mom I am at risk for pancreatic cancer past a certain age. That frightens me. When I walk through this valley of upcoming pain and suffering did I ever think this would be a part of my story? No….there is no way to prepare for pain and suffering. Everyone’s time is coming. All I can do is hope that someone is there to prop me up, hug me, and walk with me through the grief. The other challenge is long term suffering….or suffering that drags out over a prolonged amount of time. This kind of suffering terrifies people deep down and hangs over them. Some suffering can be quick or sudden. But the hardest suffering I would suggest is the suffering that is gradual and drags out over months or years.
One other thing I feel compelled to write about is the following. Avoid Christians or preachers who have all the answers. There is no way a person can know all the answers. Its impossible, that is one of the reasons why John Piper pisses me off so much. He knows God better than God knows himself. He pines about tornadoes in Ohio, Missouri, and Minnesota and is more predictable than Pat Robertson. In the process he knows the reasons and why disasters occur. I’m baffled because there are 24 legal brothels in the state of Nevada alone and yet there has been no calamity, or disaster that has struck Nevada. The same could be said about open drug use in the Netherlands. What calamity or natural disasters has befallen the Netherlands because pot is legal and easily available there? But I would advise people to avoid a pastor, or preacher that knows all the answers. Why can’t more people say, “I don’t know.” Why is it so hard to find people who can say that? Its like the other thing that honestly baffles me….why I can find atheists and those outside the Christian faith who can be more humble, loving and kind than many evangelicals. It troubles me. I honestly don’t get at times.
Now I am not trying to be a pessimist, I am just trying to be a realist. I would venture to suggest that many evangelicals use evangelicalism as an escape. Just like some use alcohol or pornography, there are evangelicals who use church in the same manner….an escape from the world. Perhaps this is why many evangelical churches don’t talk about suffering or are focused on the youth. If you’re hearing this for the first time let me state that I am sorry. While I like those 3 lines in Chapman’s song what also weighs on me are other parts of it. I think its presumptuous to say things can go well. Not only that but I think that it can add to person’s pain. Where is the God who loves, walks and comes by your side in difficulty? And I am not speaking of the Joyce Meyer or Joel Osteen BS that some people consume. I think one thing that helps with suffering is to keep it in perspective. That’s what I like about Ecclesiastes 3, and why I put that up top in this journal entry. Just as there are bad times they can be followed by good. Plus there are times in life when good and amazing things do happen. But I don’t know why they do when they are do….I know some people who have needed a break for years. Yet I think of my mother surviving pancreatic cancer, though they caught it at the right time. I also learned this during my false accusation as well, though that doesn’t justify it. A lot of good did come out of that mess with Andrew White. That said there is a lot of pain that causes so much emotional trauma.
It would be easy to tell you what you want to hear. But the reality is I don’t know why some people suffer more than others. I don’t know why some people lose their faith and others do not. I don’t know why disease strikes one person but not the next. There are many things in life that I do not know. But I want to leave you with this hope. There will be a time when all pain and suffering no longer exists. No phone calls about a death in the family. No learning about evil happening in the world. No it will be all gone. There is also a lot that can happen in your life. New jobs, perhaps a new marriage, perhaps a grand child, perhaps a reconciliation with someone who you love. There’s a lot that can still happen…it’s not over. Its with that note that I want to leave you with Glorious Unfolding, which a chance recommendation in my Youtube feed led to this post. I love you guys!