(This is the longest blog I've ever written, don't say I didn't warn you)
A lot of people have been asking how I have been doing. I've always wanted to be honest and transparent with people. So when they ask, I can't go to the default "good" when I answer. But to tell you the truth, I don't know how to answer. I'm not bad, but I'm not good.
I usually blog when I'm doing good and when I'm learning a lot from God. When all you read or see of me is when I'm in my times of triumph and discernment, it's easy for someone to start assuming that it's constant. But it's not. It's not for anyone. Your pastor, your mentor or whoever else you respect in the faith has dark nights of the soul, struggles, doubts, etc. I'm going through one of these, yet again.
Every time I've had one of these times of doubt, numbness and/or silence. I've always beat myself up over trying to get back to my most 'mountaintop experience' and I think "if I would just get my act together I can influence people again, right now I'm losing opportunities to speak Truth into people's lives" . But this is a mindset that has driven me nuts in the past and I'm glad it's not even an issue for me in this trial because I try to hurry what God is doing in my life, I try to get out of a refining process in a shorter amount of time than God sees the need. Right now, though I long for the day I get out of this, I also am content with being in this. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not happy, I'm not jumping for joy or celebrating, I'm content, I'm looking forward to getting out of this and starting to get closer to God again.
Some of you that follow me on twitter may have gotten a few updates of what has been going on in my life, but to clear up my ambiguity and to explain to everyone else what's been happening in my life, I'll explain.
In the same week that God used my friend's funeral to re-inspire me how to live my life to love God and love people and used it to bring me to Syracuse, my hometown. I was able to stay in Syracuse for a few days after the funeral. One reason I stayed an extra week, other to see friends and family, was because a good friend of mine, that I knew from the area, was going to be back in town from where she currently lives, California, to photograph a wedding. Since we both liked each other on and off in the past, I thought it would be good to take her on a date, to catch up and see if timing was better for a serious relationship than before. Long story short, we kept in closer contact since we hung out that weekend and started to like each other again. So we started calling each other after our trips back home and got to know each other more.
While I was back in Atlanta, I went to a cabin for a few days with no internet, cell-phone service and re-learned how to pray continually. This was perfect timing because things were starting to get really serious with me and my friend, in fact, at this time I've said to some of my close friends that this girl has everything I look for in a wife. Fast-forward a few months of talking long hours on the phone, I decided to move to California to clear up any last questions I might have about our marital capability.
Two and a half years ago I bought a Nissan on Craigslist for $650.00. It's taken me all over the east-coast and I was packing it full of all my stuff to drive to California. Along the way I stopped at friend's houses, got to catch up and really learned a ton, among my friends that I got to visit, one of them was my pen-pal that is a prisoner in Texas. I got to meet him for the first time after two years of writing. Along the way I got to tell everyone the story of my pursuit, all about my friend and why and how much I like her. When I got there I asked her to be my girlfriend, it was great for me, because I'm very picky and 'on paper' this girl is everything I look for in a wife. So I was excited to find out there are girls like the one I imagined for myself. I've only gotten to know 5-10 girls I've been really attracted to beyond physical beauty. I really wanted this relationship to start on a good foot, since God is a huge part of both of our lives, I wanted God to be a huge part of this relationship. So every night we hung out we'd pray for each other, I would try to go out of my way to ask questions about her doctrinal views and beliefs.
A few weeks into it, I lost romantic feelings for her. This gave me a huge knot in my stomach because I really care for her. To lose feelings for someone without knowing exactly why is very hard, especially when it's a dear friend and everything so far has been so perfect. I at first thought God was trying to teach me either commitment or sacrifice, two honorable virtues. I thought it was either the sacrifice of something I hold tight or commitment to love someone even when I don't feel the romantic emotion of love. I am very aware that married couples lose the romance from time to time and they have to find new ways to get it back, but that is a marriage, part of a marriage is to stay committed no matter what your feelings are. (It's the same way with God, right now I don't have any feelings towards God, I'm not drawn to Him, but I am committed to Him because in a better state of mind I've decided this is worth it and even now I am able to see it's worth). But I wasn't in a marriage, this was a 2 week relationship. If you lose romantic feelings this early it's way different than a three-year relationship and especially a marriage (even if it's a four day old marriage, you're still in a commitment). At this point, both commitment and sacrifice are Biblical, it came down to my decision. I've felt like God's answer was "this is your decision, I will back you up with either choice you make". I liked that because so many people blame break-ups on God, which gives no closure to the other party and that party prays to God that He would change His mind. Believe me, when someone doesn't get all the closure they need, it will hurt them in the long-run. So I prayed that God would give me the ability to break-up with her in Love. I felt like He allowed me to, and her and I are closer than we've ever been. I stayed in California another week to reestablish our friendship and end on a 'friends' note, so down the road we know we can hang out as friends and it won't be awkward. We snapped right back into friendship. Don't blame that on the short time we were official because we talked for months before being official and were very serious about the level of our relationship and it's totally God that we are as close as we are now, I want to make sure God gets the proper credit for this.
It was hard to think that I felt like we did 'everything right' in this relationship, to praying for each other, to setting proper boundaries, I called her father to tell him my intentions with going out with her, I pursued her, we talked about deep stuff and really tried to do everything right. So when it started to fall apart, I can't speak for her, but it tore me up. But one thing I learned from this is the difference between Religion and Relationship, I prayed for her every night, I did this, I did that, I didn't do that, etc. Instead of just praying for her because I love her, I prayed for her because I thought it might give us some God points, so He might help our relationship. But after it all fell apart, I learned something from God that is changing my life. "Life is like a chess game, you can have all your pieces in the right spot, but if you don't have a King, you've already lost". We both had all our pieces in the right spots, but I lost track of why we needed of have them there, it's all for the King. (I want to get the king chess piece tattooed on me somewhere. To remind me and others of this truth).
My job is freelance film/video production, so location has very little, if any, affect on my location. That's how I was able to move to California, because either my work is sent to me or I'm sent to my work. So at this point, I have everything I own, my car and I already mentally moved away from Atlanta, so I was able to seriously consider where I want to move. After a lot of thought I wanted to move back to Atlanta, which was good because I've always been 80% committed to Atlanta, now I've made the decision for myself to be fully committed. I felt like my next step in life is a film/living project called "The Crucible House". Where I have Christian filmmakers all living under the same roof, challenging each other's craft and Christianity. If you are a Christian filmmaker please email me if this is something you might consider (firstname.lastname@example.org).
So I packed my car again and headed back to Atlanta on the "tail-between-my-legs" trip home. I call it that because I stayed at all the houses I visited on the way to California, so I had to explain why a month before I was pursuing a wife and now coming back without even a girlfriend. But my friends love me and it was good for my soul to see them again and have the discussions we did.
One of the discussions I had was with my friends from Syracuse that now live in Phoenix. We talked about having a "why that makes you cry", something that drives you to do what you want to do so much that it makes you do whatever you have to to accomplish the solution to what makes you cry. Some of the best businesses or people have had a driving force that made them cry, that's what was the fuel to drive them. Like Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, was driven by seeing his family and friends oppressed and his why was that he didn't want his "children to be judged by the color of their skin". I'm sure that thought made him cry, that drove him to make a better tomorrow for them, for the owner of Toms shoes was he saw kids without shoes, so he started Toms, that why drove him to a multi-million dollar business that has also given shoes to poor kids all over the world. So I had to think of my "why", why am I doing this? If I do film because I enjoy it, then what happens when it's boring on a particular day? What if I get invited to something more fun for the day, I'll put editing off until there is nothing more fun to do. This is a horrible reason, I needed to find a reason that trumped other 'fun' opportunities. I wanted to bring God glory, I thought that might be my why, but I can do that in a million other ways, why film? So this idea was going through my head especially trying to get the Crucible House started.
So that occupied a lot of my thoughts while driving back to Atlanta. So next stop was Albuquerque, I got to visit a good friend of mine and even got a tattoo from his girlfriend, who is a professional tattoo artist, of a image from "It's A Wonderful Life". After that was Texas and there was no way to drive through Texas and not stop and visit my pen-pal in prison. So I planned my trip around his visiting hours and stayed at a friends house near the prison so I can avoid driving at night and be well rested for the visit and the drive ahead of me.
Since I've started touring at 17 and staying at people's houses all over the world I've learned to walk around the neighborhood and find a certain place to pray. So after 6-7 years I have special places all over the world that I like to walk to when I'm staying the night. This trip was no exception. The night I was staying at this new friend's house I went walking to find a new spot. That night I found a good one and laid underneath the stars and prayed, "God no matter what happens don't let me forget how much you love me, when the storms come let me know that you love me through them no matter what". I went back to my bed, got dressed, got covered up and started going to sleep and I felt God say "get up, walk and pray". So after 20 minutes of debating getting out of my comfort to pray, I did. I've done this many times before, argued with God, I've also felt God tell me to do something when I didn't want to but I need to practice listening to Him even if I don't want to, usually it's after a while of debating/arguing, but it's always been worth it. This time I didn't feel anything, I thought He was going to teach me something profound, but nothing. So after a while I headed back to the bed, got dressed again, got covered again, and start to fall asleep, then I hear it again "get up and pray", after a shorter time of debating (because I knew I couldn't win) I pulled the covers off of me, and I felt God say "you need to be willing to serve me and follow me, even when it gets uncomfortable" and I felt peace to cover back up and sleep.
The next day I wake up pretty early, visit my pen-pal friend, drive away in the Texas heat of 110°, without air-conditioning in my beloved Nissan, I started getting pretty exhausted in the heat. It was five miles away from the next exit so I decided to stop, relax, cool down and drink some water. Then I woke up off road going 75 MPH in cruise control, I slept through the rumble strip, all four tires falling off the street into the grass and who knows how much longer, I passed out in a combination from the heat and lack of sleep and lack of food. So I turn the wheel thinking that I would be able to get onto the road no problem as if nothing happened and with all the weight in my car it over-turned past two lanes of traffic into the guardrail in the median. I crashed and I totaled my car. I wasn't hurt at all and my film equipment wasn't either. So I was stuck in Texas.
I ended up junking the car and I got 300 bucks for it, that's almost half of what I paid for the car 2 1/2 years ago. This car went to 22 states with me and well paid itself back. I remember several times praying "Lord if this car turns to dust right now I have no other response but to be thankful for how far this car has gotten me". I am thankful, but that doesn't make my situation in Texas any less inconvenient.
I was in a hotel in a small town for 3 days with no car and in a hotel with just a Sonic near by to eat at. So what a good night to watch "It's a Wonderful Life" one of my two favorite movies. I'm known to tear up at that movie at the end, because I love seeing all his friends in the same room, that is stuff I dream Heaven to be like. But this time, I watched and just wept. I never noticed it before but the only reason he made such an impact on his town is because he served them. I realized I just wanted to be people's friend, I need to do more, I learned I need to serve them if I want to impact their lives. I felt God teaching me so much and I felt totally in love with God and excited to follow His will of serving Him and others. I woke up, not feeling anything. This is when all this silence between God and I started. Just in time for my life to start getting complicated...
I ended up renting a car and loading it with all my stuff and driving the Atlanta. Soon after I went car shopping on Craigslist, where I bought my other car for a Nissan since I have so much trust in Craigslist and Nissans. I buy a newer Nissan a few hours later I drove it on the highway to find out it shakes at 50+ MPH. I wasn't alarmed because it's a used car and I set aside money to prepare for the initial repairs. That night I stayed at a friends house for the night to hang out and we go out to eat some burgers. After a great night of laughs and talks we arrive back at his house and find out his house has been broken into. The robbers stole my laptop along with 3 others, my ipod and some other miscellaneous things. My laptop, my livelihood, 80% of my income depends on me having a laptop. So I ended up buying a laptop with my extra money I set aside for repairs. Luckily I got a great deal on a laptop on Craigslist and the guy was super honest. But while I was learning how honest that guy was I was learning how dishonest the previous owner of my car was, because at the 60 mile mark of my car the engine light went on, which means he had it cleared to make a better sale. When I go to repair what he said the shaking was, I learned it's not only the engine mount but the tires, alignment, tie-rod, one wheel and also an oil leak, which he probably knew about but just filled the oil before I got there.
Mind you this last bit has all happened in the past week.
It wasn't the driving to California only to drive back a month later than bothered me, it wasn't all the money I spent on the trip to California I missed, it wasn't the disappointment of a girl situation not working out the way I wanted to that bothered me, it wasn't the crashing a great reliable car, spending money on a rental to get home, buying another car that wasn't as reliable or getting my laptop stolen that made my week bad. It was the not talking to God that bothered me. I missed God. Those material things were just annoying things that happened at a very bad time. My hope isn't in those things, it's in God, but what happens when you lose all the things you depended on in a time where you aren't feeling close to God?
Don't assume that it was my fault, that I didn't want to talk to God, that I committed some sin that made me walk away from God. It just was literally one night of crying to 'It's a Wonderful Life" because I felt so loved by God, to the next morning He was just gone.
A week ago my pastor was talking about one of his dark nights of the soul and he said when we are lost, sometimes we need to just stay put. Like a kid that gets lost in Wal-Mart, it's easier to find them if they stay still so the parents can find them. So I did just that, I stayed still, it was good, cause normally I try to think myself out of the situation which makes it worse because when I'm lost that's the time I shouldn't depend on my thinking and discernment. So I didn't run from God which I have done in the past, by seeking comfort in sin and other things. But I didn't dive into the Bible or prayer either. I just stayed still. (Though, I'm not sure that my pastor meant it like that). I was at the point that when I read the Bible it frustrated me and when I prayed it made me more mad because I didn't feel like anyone was listening. So I just stopped, to wait for the Holy Spirit to allow me to understand things again.
I'm a verbal processor, that is one of the reasons I want to get married. I work out my faith by talking about it and I'm sick of the culture saying that I shouldn't be wanting marriage at my age, but I've already done everything I wanted to, I've seen the world, I have a career in what I want to do and I'm lonely. I'm not desperate, I'm just ready to get married. (I'm sick of people saying that "If you desire a girlfriend/wife it's bad then your relationship with God isn't good" that is a lie, when Adam was in constant communication with God, God Himself said "it's not good for man to be alone" God gave us each other for companionship and peer support. Someone that is on our level to help us make sense of things. So I thought it would be really good if I had a girl to walk with me, now guys are good for this too, but sometimes you just need that estrogen that has a bit more compassion or sympathy. Guys naturally try to figure things out or tell you what you are doing wrong, which I wasn't doing anything wrong, I just need some womanly comfort.
Anyway, I didn't get that. So at the peak of this numbness I started writing this blog. I started writing to let people know that struggles, doubts, pains, dark nights of the soul are all part of our sanctification and refining. When you don't feel God it doesn't make you a bad Christian. So I started writing my longest blog to date, this one. After writing for a while I got to the point in this blog where I prayed "God no matter what happens don't let me forget how much you love me, when the storms come let me know that you love me through them no matter what" and through this very blog, I remembered that God loves me. That how I react to this trial doesn't affect God's love for me. Now this is cliché. But it's really hard to remember when your life is falling apart, you think God's love has left you, that's what starts getting scary about trials. God uses these trials so we can practice our knowledge of His love for us. It's easy to believe God loves you when things are going good. But God has used this time of my life to detach bad things that happen to me with His love. I need to stop thinking that just because things are going great doesn't mean He loves me any less.
So through this blog I remembered in a dark night of my soul that God loves me. Which gave me back hope and we are talking again. But if it kept up for longer, knowing that He still loves me helps me get through the really hard times and not worry about how to get back in His love, which I've done many times before.
So I watched Inception last night with some friends after writing this blog, one point of the movie they explain (this won't wreck the movie for you, this is in the trailer) that a belief or thought is started by a seed thought that's planted deep in someone's mind. If I told you to think something or believe something, you wouldn't think or believe that for yourself, because you can trace it back to where that idea came from. The way to become an idea of your own is thinking that you came up with the conclusion on your own. So I watched that and thought about how movies impact culture in a subtle way, they plant seeds of thought that make people come up with conclusions that they assume is their own. I always thought as a filmmaker I didn't have the ability to impact people as much as music because music you can say your ideas in a song and people start thinking that. But with movies, you can impact a culture and nobody can trace it back to your movie, which sucks because I won't get the credit and it's cool because I won't get the credit.
So I thought. What seed would I want to plant in someone's mind? If I was to perform an inception in someone's mind, what would that be? This thought came up after writing the majority of this blog and being reminded and changed by that prayer. So it didn't take me long to realize that my purpose in life is to let people know that they are loved. They are loved by God. That's it, I have fourteen more paragraphs I could write on this and what I mean by that, but that's it. You are loved, whatever you are going through has nothing to do with God not loving you, you are having a hard time with whatever you are going through because you don't realize that God loves you, you have forgotten or haven't been told that. It still might be a hard time and it's alright to grieve, but knowing this will give you hope that you are in this for a reason.
I've seen in my life people being healed from social awkwardness, stuttering, depression, pain and a lot more just by learning how much they are loved. I've seen so many people have hard lives, have lives ruined and been abused, raped, molested, or have performed abuse, molest and rape and let their past destroy them. When I have seen this I've always wanted to hug them and just let them know they are loved, no matter what side of sin they are on. Through this, I've found my "why that makes me cry". Which is that people all over the world don't realize how much they are loved and my solution that bleeds into film, comedy, friendship and any other things I feel called to do is to let people know they are loved.
"My life is full, because I know that I am loved" -Joseph Merrick (The Elephant Man, great movie, watch it)