My Imaginary Friend

Sometimes, I feel like a 5 year old with an imaginary friend.
I surround myself with fake feelings of security, false promises of a selfish future.
I reject the logic of the world around me and ignore the reprimands of those with me.
Of my Father.
I walk around with a pasted smile and convince myself and others that I’m happy.

I hear God telling me to let it go.
But like a child I run and pout.
The sounds of my temper tantrum ring through the air.
My denial is stronger than my logic.

I know that to let go would be to gain so much more.
But the fake reality is so much more appealing.
There is less pain.
Less fear.

But as a child grows up and abandons his imaginary friend, so must I come back to reality.
I must realize that pasted smiles and empty laughter do not give life.
They take it away.
So I leave my imaginary friend, hoping to find something real.

Dead End (The Short Film)

Those of you who are familiar with my blog might know of my flash fiction Dead End and its sequel Remembering the Dead End. If not, you can follow the links on the titles to read them.

These two short stories have just been made into a short film, thanks to my amazing friend Jarrett. If you have read the stories (or even if you haven’t), you should check out this short film adaptation (and maybe subscribe to Jarrett’s YouTube channel…). I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Define Me

I scream “Define me.”

I feel nothing.

So I surround myself with the normal culprits. Jokes, music, “I’m fine” and “Praise God,” lies that only I and few others can see through. From all perspectives, I am doing well. I have great classes and wonderful friends and I am deeply in love with a woman who is in love with me, but introspection reveals shattered glass, held together by painter’s tape.

I look to You, for You saved me in the past. I bled my heart at the altar, one more sacrifice to You, and You reached down and picked me up. Gave me joy, took my pain. I know You suffer with me, but I can’t feel the companionship. You’re beside me but I feel alone. My anxieties and fears surround me. I’m Jacob but instead of wrestling You, I am wrestling my own demons. This is one battle that I can’t afford to lose but alone I can’t win and yet I just can’t release the control. All I have left to fight back with is paper shields and cardboard swords. I’ve painted them to fool my enemy, but the deception will only last so long.

I am Yours. You made me and called me. You equipped me. You are right here with me.

Define me before my pain and anxiety defines me once again. You took that definition. I struggled to find my worth in You for so long and once again I am finding myself with no grasp of an identity. I was pain. I was sorrow. I was anxiety. I was fear. I was inadequacy. I was self-deception. And I was strangely content.

Then You came and took away my pain, sorrow, anxiety, fear, inadequacy, and self-deception. You gave me a cure. You gave me joy. You gave me peace. You gave me courage. You gave me adequacy. You gave me security. And I was gracefully complete.

But they’re so far removed that I am lost once again.

I am searching around for the definitions that I once had, and I am liable to grab onto the closest one that will take me. The difference between the former and the latter is blurring; my sight is failing.

I know this is my own doing. I put everything else before You. I looked at everything You had given me and I thought to myself, “I can do better.”

Well, here I am, Lord. Fallen again and searching for a hand to pull me up. Pull me out again; grab me by my shattered self and remake me. Burn away my impurities; hold me at the hottest part. Don’t hold back.

This time I’m not giving up.

Define me.

Quiet Isn’t Always Violent

Sometimes, quiet is violent.
This lyric from twenty øne piløt’s song Car Radio has been my motto ever since I heard it. You see, I used to battle with major depressive disorder- for years. When I discovered twenty øne piløts, and Car Radio in particular, I finally felt as if somebody understood. Despite the fact that I may never meet Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun to tell them exactly how much they’ve helped me, I felt as if I had a deep connection to them and all of the other few, proud, and emotional.
Notice I talk about my depression in the past tense. This is because, for those of you who are new to my blog, God healed me of my depression this past winter. I know this may sound odd or overly charismatic, and I’ll never truly be able to prove it, but God came down to me when I was at my literal worst, numb to everything but the pain that consistently gnawed away at my mind, while I kneeled at an altar and cursed Him for letting me get this low. He flooded me with love, peace, and assurance that I hadn’t felt in years. This isn’t the type of youth conference spiritual high that goes away after a week or two; it was a real, honest miracle in which God cured me of a disease that was honestly and truly killing me (by causing me to almost finish the job myself). It’s gone, with the exception of some occasional situational depression that is much easier to fend off, but the walls and mannerisms that I developed as a defense might be more difficult to get rid of.
I’ve come to notice something about myself in the past couple weeks- mainly because I’ve started driving by myself a lot and therefore have a lot of time for thinking. When I was deep in the pit of depression, I would never allow myself to be in silence.
Sometimes, quiet is violent.
It was during the silence that I would begin to think about everything that was wrong with me. Everything I was doing wrong. Everything that life was throwing at me and everything that I couldn’t do to fix everything. I tried to cover it up by never allowing silence, and I filled every waking moment with music, Netflix, or conversation.
I’m forced to deal with what I feel, there is no distraction to mask what is real.
Even though my depression is gone and the violence but a memory, I still do everything I can to avoid the silence. When I’m driving by myself or walking to class with nothing but my thoughts, I find myself unable to stand the silence. I listen to music, I talk to myself, I call my parents or grandparents. In short, I do most anything I can to avoid the silence.
Sometimes, quiet is violent.
This is the mindset that I had for so long taken as truth. Because, at the time, it was. But due to the grace of God and the miracles of love He performed, it’s no longer my reality. Not anymore, anyways. I still overthink my assignments and freak out about bills, but there is no need to tie a noose around my mind, loose enough to breathe fine and tie it to a tree and tell it “you belong to me.” 
Sometimes, quiet is violent.
But here’s the thing. “Sometimes” means that there are times that aren’t included in the statement. Silence is what allows me to meditate on God and spend time in prayer with Him, pondering His call of my life and the reason for my past. I need the silence to bring me closer to Him.
Sometimes, quiet is violent.
And sometimes it’s not.

Tithing: The Dreaded Topic

“Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” 2 Corinthians 9:6 NASB

Oh no, not another person telling me to tithe! Why can’t I get away from it?

Ummm… maybe God is telling you something. Just saying.

This past Sunday, my Pastor preached on the importance of tithing. This message is not one that is often well received. In fact, there have been multiple occasions when a congregation member has taken it upon themselves to ask the Pastor to never preach that sermon again (not necessarily at my church- just in general). Who wants to hear that the grace we so often preach on comes from a God that wants to take away at least 10% of the money we worked so hard to get?

It’s hard to come to terms with this at first. Isn’t grace free and unconditional?

Well, yes.

But God is asking that we give Him credit where credit is due. After all, this is the same God that sacrificed His Only Son for generation after generation of selfish, rebellious, and ungrateful humans who consistently abuse His grace and essentially spit in His face. He let His Son die- at our hands- and all He is asking is that we give something back to Him for His work on Earth. That 10% isn’t going to break the bank. I know that for sure.

Stay with me- it gets better.

There are a couple of aspects of tithing that I would like to address. So let’s break this up into some cool heading things.

The Misconceptions: The Prosperity Gospel

The verse I put at the beginning of the post is so often misused to present an argument for the “Prosperity Gospel.” The main theme of this incorrect theology is that if we give our 10% and do what God wants us to do, then He will bless us with prosperity- money, big houses, expensive cars, and even affluence. God is going to ensure we are well liked by everyone, right?

Wrong. So very very wrong.

In fact, there are many verses in the Bible that contradict every one of those claims. First of all, Jesus Himself, the very Model of Christianity we are called to follow, had “no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). So if Jesus didn’t have a fancy mansion with the best vineyard in all of Jerusalem, then why should we expect to?

According to Scripture, we are not going to be living the high life. We are not going to be loved by everyone. In fact, Scripture makes it clear that the result of our complete obedience to God’s leading and calling on our lives will result in us being hated by the world (Matthew 10:22). His plan is counter cultural and radical to everything we are being conditioned to think.

But what about that verse? If I sow generously by following God’s calling and giving over and above 10%, won’t I reap generously?

Yes. But not in the way that has become so popular.

Sidebar: It’s so much better.

The Much Better Harvest

What do you consider a blessing in your life?

Your house?

Your car?

Your mobility?

Your freedom?

All of these are blessings. All of these are gifts from God that we so often claim as our own. We don’t often realize it, but the very breath in our lungs is a gift from God. We are alive because He allows us to be. Because He has work for us. So what blessings are we sowing?

I’m going to be honest. I have never really been a good tither (is that a word?). I have a job with at least some sort of income every month. It’s not much, but so far I’ve been able to survive. Going into this summer break, I had big plans to work all the time and make lots of money that would carry me through the school year and pay for my mission trip to Burkina Faso next summer. With these plans in mind, I made the decision that I would consistently tithe at least 10%. I knew that as a Local Minister at my church, I was further obligated to do so.

Unfortunately (or was it?), I was not able to secure a steady job for the summer. It has been a really rough summer financially. My bills haven’t gone down at all (do they ever?) but my income has gone down to about a third of what it once was (life of a tutor during the summer). I have certainly struggled to make ends meet this summer- even with the blessing of my parents giving me a place to sleep and some good food. So I strongly considered not tithing.

But I knew that God would take care of me. The Bible says so, and I know that the Bible never lies.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t expect God to drop some money in my lap with no effort on my part. In fact, I worked really hard to get the money that I did. However, I gave God that 10% and He provided. Every time I prayed for God’s help, I was given the opportunity to work. I was given a job.

Have you ever considered your job to be a blessing? Because it definitely is.

I worked with a guy that has a tree removal business, I cleaned my church, I mowed lawns,I sold crochet orders, etc. Most importantly? I learned the nature of God’s blessings. I know it’s cliché, but God is not going to do something for us that we can do ourselves. We need to pray for His leading and His provision, but as my Mamaw says, we have to put feet to our prayers. We can’t just ask for money to fall into our laps. We have to be willing to work for it.

And the opportunities that God is giving us to work for it are the blessings that we are promised.

I’m not trying to sound self-righteous or promote my spirituality. Let me tell you: I am so far from where I should be. But God is working on me.

There are obviously more blessings than just the opportunity to work. If I were to list every blessing we have ever received, I would probably break the internet. Not to mention, this post would never be done and nobody would ever see it.

So it would be pointless.

But I know that if we think really hard, we can name some blessings in our lives. For me?

God has blessed me with parents who are a wonderful model for marriage- 25 years and still going strong.
God had blessed me with the opportunity to attend the greatest university ever. Go ONU Tigers!
God has blessed me with a roof over my head and food on my plate.
God has blessed me with the most amazing friends both at home and at school.
God has blessed me with a calling to full time ministry.
God has blessed me with purpose.

So the abundant harvest that we will reap as a result of our abundant sowing isn’t necessarily earthly riches.

But we will certainly be rich in another way.

One More Thing: Be a Good Steward

I for one struggle the most with this. The Bible is clear on the need for us to be wise with that which God has given us. If God is trusting us with our finances, isn’t it important for us to use them wisely? If we are struggling to make our bills, it would not be wise to eat at a fancy restaurant every night. If we have an abundance of funds, it would not be wise to waste it on worldly pleasures.

There are those that are blessed with monetary wealth. Did you know this is a spiritual gift? If God has given you the means to offer up resources for those that are suffering, then He expects you to use those means to do so. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should live under a bridge so you can donate your entire paycheck to a homeless shelter, but God definitely deserves enough dedication for us to live beneath our means. Instead of buying a third car, why not give the money to the homeless so they can afford a third meal? It’s interesting when we realize that the people with the least are often the most generous (Mark 12:41-44).

Leave a large tip for your waiter or waitress so they can afford to feed their children.

Give that beggar you see all the time some money so he can afford food or maybe even a room for the night.

Be generous. Be Christ.

In Conclusion…

The Bible is very clear about the need to tithe. It’s not a fun topic and it’s certainly not a popular one. But it is so very important for us to do. It allows God to work through our churches, our para-church ministries, our food pantries, our missionaries, and so much more. Our tithe doesn’t just bless us. It blesses our community. Our world. My shrimpy paycheck does not result in a big, beefy tithe check. But I know that God will use that money in ways that I never thought imaginable. If we give 10%, we know that God will multiply it to the Kingdom. If we give more, we are just praising God all that much more.

 

Remembering the Dead End (Flash Fiction)

I remember the damp, unlit street that lead back to my apartment. It’s been a while since I walked that road. The last time was on a particularly terrible night. It’s the night I died.

I remember the words echoing in my head. The feel of the cold steel against my hand, against my head. The words getting louder and louder in my psyche, each repetition forcing my finger to push a little bit harder on the trigger.
“DEAD END. DEAD END. DEAD END. DEAD…”

I remember a split second of searing pain as the bullet pieced through my flesh and skull. I remember flashes of lights- the ambulance that showed up 10 minutes later. I remember the faces gathered around me of people who had lived next to me for years but never thought it necessary to do so much as say hello. Of course, I didn’t either.

There was the guy that lived to my left. Kevin? Kyle? I can never remember his name. There was the elderly woman who lived to my right and always had the TV turned all the way up. Mrs. Freeman? Fremont? It doesn’t matter anymore. She is the one who called when she heard the shot. It’s a miracle she heard it at all over the sound of her Soap Operas that she watched over and over everyday. I remember their concern.

I remember the weeks of recovery. So many doctors. So much pain. Session after grueling session of “Why did you do it?” and “Do you know why you’re here?”

Silence was my response. For months. I was conscious and able to talk. I just didn’t want to. I spent hours staring at the walls without saying a word while doctors and nurses and well-meaning neighbors came by to give me an intoxicating cocktail of medicine and sickly looking flowers.

I remember the day I left. I had nowhere to go but I knew I couldn’t stay at the hospital. I couldn’t go back to the apartment where so much pain had been manifest. I had to go somewhere.

I remember living under a bridge with a guy named Jasper who talked to the shadows as if they were his children.

And people say I’m the crazy one.

I remember seeing a church with a warm light, a welcoming beacon when the world around me was frigid and Jasper wouldn’t let me near the fire. He claimed it was scared and if I came close it would run away.

I remember walking into the church and finding food. Good food. Homemade green bean casserole and honey glazed ham.

I remember the man in the blazer who called himself Reverend Mark. He offered me a cot in the sanctuary with only one request: that I stay for the service the following day. 

I remember the music and the preaching and the judgmental stares. People that called themselves Christians but treated me like garbage. Granted, I wasn’t my biggest fan either. I was the one who shot myself, after all. But I remember Mark. He showed me love. Compassion. He gave me a purpose. A Savior. A Home.

I remember the day that I died. A bullet had pierced my skull and yet somehow I lived.

I remember the day that I began to live again. A meal had filled my stomach and love had warmed my heart.

 I remember my Savior. My Salvation.

I still have doubts. Fears. Nightmares that wake me up in the middle of the night. But I have love.

I will always remember when I came to life.

The Veil was Torn

Some 2,000 years ago, the most important death in all of history was being played out. Our Lord and Savior was being led up a hill. He had been flogged, mocked, tortured and spat on. He struggled to make it up the hill.

Once to the top, he was brutally nailed to two pieces of wood joined together to make a cross. This involved breaking his limbs, impaling his hands and feet, and forcing a crown of large, sharp thorns into his scalp. A sign was posted above his head that mocked him with the phrase
Οὗτός ἐστιν Ἰησοῦς ὁ βασιλεῦς τῶν Ἰουδαίων.
Or “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” This wasn’t meant as a commendation or title. It was another way to mock him.

As the cross was hoisted into a standing position, Jesus found himself supported by his hands- which were still nailed into the cross. Every time he wished to breathe, he would have to pull himself up by his hands- otherwise his body weight was crushing his lungs. He hung this way until he died.

At the moment that he released his spirit, a lot of odd events took place. Dead people rose and began to walk around and talk to people. An earthquake shook the area. And the veil was torn.

In this time, the temples were laid out very methodically. There were three main parts: the courtyard, the holy place, and the most holy place.

Anyone could go into the courtyard. The priests could go into the holy place. But only the high priest could go into the most holy place- which was separated by a veil or curtain- and this is where he met with God.

That’s how it was in those days. The only one that could meet with God was the high priest. The connection between God and the common man was through this fallible human. It goes without saying that God desired (and still does) a deeper, more personal relationship with everyone. So He sent His Son. To suffer and die so we could have that relationship.

And the veil was torn. The temple veil that had for so long separated man from God was torn in two at the moment of Jesus’ death. That gap was forever bridged by the death of the Greatest Man who ever lived. Who died because of His love for the common man. His death tore the veil and bridged the gap. But that isn’t the end.

In the moment, the grief was overwhelming. Everyone had been hoping this man was different. Someone that even the Romans couldn’t control. Someone to save them from tyranny. But he was killed just like everyone else. Maybe he wasn’t anything special. Just a man with some smooth words.

But like I said- the story isn’t over. Three days later, our Lord and Savior- the Messiah- the man that had suffered the most painful death the Romans could throw at him- rose from the dead. Three days after the veil was torn, Jesus came back to life. He walked among the living and told them of the amazing power of the last three days. He looked forward to the future- to the new relationship that had been forged between God and man by his death. The new life that isn’t reliant on another fallible human. A new life that is based on the perfection and love of that man. Our Savior.

And the veil was torn.

Miracle or Reprieve?

For the last 10 days, I have enjoyed life. Experienced joy. For the first time in years, I was 100% depression free. God has blessed me in ways that I could never comprehend. Because of this miraculous gift, some questions began to form. One in particular stood out.

Miracle or reprieve?

I have endured this depression for so long that I didn’t know what life was like without it. It had become a part of me. A shadow that was always around.

Because of this, I found it that much more amazing when it was gone. I was finally able to see my life for what it really is- a gift from God. A blessing.

All of my doubts, my fears, my hesitations- they were all gone. The clouds that followed me had given way to sunshine.

So, naturally, I wanted to know.

Miracle or reprieve?

For the past 24-48 hours, however, the clouds have begun to lurk. It’s like they’re on the edge of the horizon- just close enough to hear the distant thunder.

And now they have begun to roll in. Once again, shadows have returned to my life. Not to the extent to which they were. But they’re there.

So that answers the question- it was a reprieve.

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a miracle. These past 10 days have been amazing. Even though I may suffer with depression for the rest of my life, I know that God is with me. He watches over me. He blesses me.

He gave me this 10 day reprieve when I needed it most. And for that I am extremely grateful. God has done the most amazing thing for me- He has given me perspective.

So thank you, Lord. Thank you for this gift. And for those that you will continue to give.

Don’t feel bad for me- pity is useless. I am thankful for the gifts and the trials- because it is through both of these that God is preparing me for His work. I am blessed beyond words.

Thank you, God, for the miracle reprieve. 

 

Revival

You may have seen my last post. It was an admission of defeat. I was overcome. Numb. Tired of fighting. It’s funny how quickly things can change.

As a student at a Christian University, I have the opportunity to attend Revival at the Nazarene church on campus every semester. I’ve gone to most of the revival services since I started here, and have attended revival services my entire life. During my first semester last year, a professor told me something that I had never heard before: Revival is for the Church.

I mean, sure, it is an extremely powerful time for saints and sinners alike, but the entire purpose of revival is to revive our relationship with Christ. And man, did God come through this week.

I didn’t want to go to the service tonight. I was defeated, my head was pounding, I was exhausted, and I had tons of homework to do. Basically everyday for college students.

However, I had committed over the weekend to greet at every evening revival service- no matter how I was feeling. So I went.

I am so amazingly glad I did.

At the beginning of today, when I posted my previous blog entitled Numb, I had given up. Not on life. But on feeling anything. I had resigned myself to being a desert- because to allow any feelings into my life was to allow the possibility of depression to drag me down once again. I couldn’t face that possibility. So I chose apathy.

Then God revived me.

From the very beginning of Dr. David Busic’s message, I knew God was going to speak to me. The text used was Psalm 22. It’s a Psalm of lament. It’s not everyday that you hear a sermon preached on lament. Every word that Dr. Busic spoke as he read the psalm tore deep through my apathy into the emotion that I had tried so hard to abandon.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Oh my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer.

I am a worm and not a man.

Be not far from me, for trouble is near; for there is none to help.

The Psalmist- presumably David- is crying out to God. Asking him why. Why did you abandon me? Why do I not feel you? Why am I alone?

Dr. Busic made a point of saying that 70% of Psalms are of pain and not praise. Lamenting is a good thing. Being honest with God is a good thing.

And you know what?

The Psalms of Pain always come before the Psalms of Praise.

I could feel my sorrows come rushing back to me. Everything that had weighed me down over the last 7 years came to the surface at once. I had to lament. I had to ask God why.

Why? Why was lamenting to the God that for some reason I blamed for my pain a good idea?

Because lament is a result of a faith in a God that is present in the darkness- in the pain- in the sorrow.

God listened. He loves.

The desert of numbess that I had created for myself was suddenly inundated with refreshing, painful, amazing, scary, and wonderful water.

I am relying on Him. I am choosing life. I am choosing revival.

I am choosing to feel again.

Praise God.