Monday, April 17, 2017

Why I left...

        I got into youth ministry because I was one of the lost children. I felt what no one ever wants to feel. After the worst things happened, I found myself covered in God. I dedicated all of myself to letting other kids like me know that they are not alone, and that even if they didn't feel it from any human...they are loved. At the very least by their maker from very far and very near.

        I did a very thankless and grueling ministry for the next 11 years. Youth ministry could be described to sports fans as college football recruiting, except, no one wants to come to your program. You come to them and plead...because you care. They almost always walk away from you laughing at you. But the real reason you stay is because some of them say yes. Usually, they are the most rejected ones. They are the ones who live invisible lives. They are looking for meaning anywhere. They are usually the ones abused for false pretenses.

        I never came to anyone with false pretenses. I told them all that living as a Christian in this world would be hard. I told them that people will reject you because of your faith. I wasn't a good youth pastor in the eyes of many. I didn't look at the implications of some of the things I did. I didn't know how to make my vision happen. I didn't know how to make a small group of kids into a successful youth group that could withstand the endless cycle of teenagers. At this time, people demanded numbers in churches and youth groups. Everyone wanted a megachurch. People were wrong, and the right churches were dying because of it. They were being swallowed by megachurches with big production.

        The church was always supposed to be about individual people, so that was my focus with these kids.

        I taught them differently. I spoke to the teenagers like I would have when I was a teenager. I told them the unpopular truth; that life was gonna suck for some of them for a good amount of time. I told them that nothing that they wanted would come from faith alone. It all would come from hard work. I didn't believe that God dealt with handing out free successes to people that weren't trying. I wanted the kids to know that their value would be placed on how God sees them and how hard they worked to earn their place in whatever part of this world they chose to dwell. I used words sometimes that the "church" wouldn't approve of to reach them. I went a long distance to reach them.

         I faced some criticism from some people in our congregation. Some of them wanted to see numbers to justify my employment. The numbers weren't bad at about 30 teenagers, but they didn't justify to them the 30 K that was being spent on me. I started at 30K and ended at 30K a decade and change later. It hurt at the time, but I can see it. People wanted to have a building they could call home and were frustrated with the transient church. They were tired. I was on the chopping block.

        Meanwhile, the church was teeming with young men and women that had come through the youth group, serving those that wished to demolish it. It was absurd. But I couldn't take the heartbreak of having my low paying and thankless job in jeopardy of being cut every year for the desire for bricks. I went back to school out of fear and some common sense insight. I was going to be terminated because I couldn't be who some of them wanted me to be. It would happen eventually. I was wildly supported for the first few years, but I could not keep myself from the thought that I was not valued as a minister to the teenagers of our community. I didn't know how to convince them otherwise.

        Then something happened that ended my hopes of keeping the career I had loved so much and hoped to keep forever. My best friend took his life. Part of the difficulties with taking on the role of trying to help troubled youth, is that you have to learn to lose them. I lost a lot of them and I had tried so hard not to. But losing my best friend to suicide; the best friend that had protected me from suicide... that broke me. I lost faith in everything. His name was Will. He always loved me unconditionally.

        Whatever drive or passion I had to continue being the youth pastor that focused on troubled kids was evaporated. I was evaporated. I wasn't the person my wife had married. I was angry and right back in the same angry place I was when I had started. I was lost. I obviously couldn't do the job anymore, so I quit because it hurt so bad to try. It was like a fake and stupid betrayal of what I was actually feeling to tell these kids that life gets better. I had forgotten that life isn't supposed to get better. Just like a stupid American would.

        I quit.

        It wasn't out of anger or resolve. I just couldn't do it anymore. This was my dream job. I can honestly tell you that I haven't been happy since. But I could not lie. I could not continue being passionate about things I didn't know if I believed anymore. It was gut wrenching to leave the service beside 2 of the most honest, kind, and intelligent pastors I could imagine. It hurt so bad that I accepted the reaffirmation of my position and had to go back and decline later. My heart was spilling over and I didn't know how to cope with feeling out of control.


        Before I realized my lowest point in my entire life: I laid on some train tracks. Miracles happened to save me. I had spent so much time trying to figure out what and why I was alive. I had to finally admit that God loved me. It was hard to do that because I was born with 2 strikes against me it seemed. I never caught a break. Then out of no where, I got everything I had ever wanted. I got this wife who has laughed with me in every joy, and held my head up in all of these sorrows. She is an angel. I got these kids that are perfect to me, no matter what they do. It gives me a better picture of the grace of God.

        I tried to recover. I couldn't. A few years later, after so much turmoil, Joe would kill himself too. Another brother. Another reason to believe that life is a cruel joke that gives you your dreams, then strips them from you like some prank where everyone is laughing but you.

        So I stayed away.

        I tried to work on Sundays. I tried to make any plans I could on Sundays, so I wouldn't have to go. Sometimes I would just lay in bed staring at the ceiling. But every once in a while, I would go to church on Sunday. Every single time, I felt joy in my heart. I felt the desire to let it go and fall into wherever God is taking me. I wanted so badly to embrace what I let go. I miss them. I cannot seem to fix the things that have been broken in me. In my heart, there was resentment, unforgiveness, and anger. I didn't want to go because I didn't want anything to do with God. Because He was disassembling me again, when I was happy. I felt as though God had hurt me.

        I guess this throws a wrench in my understanding of God and who He is related to who I am. To put it frankly, He is a perfect God and I am an idiot who doesn't understand what's even happening to me; because I cannot find a way to be perfect. This is sin. This is the very reason I sought to help those kids. I wanted to take profoundly imperfect kids and let them see a God that sees them perfectly. Like I once did.


Thanks for reading...Z

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Running Westward

        A modern day anti-depressant deals with the amount of serotonin that is sent and received from the brain. This chemical controls different emotions that rule a person's life. Those with an imbalance in this chemical will have a difficult time being human here, with or without the medicine.

        I'll go quietly in the night, unlike when I came screaming in the day, I'll go remaining who I am. I'll go because the entirety of my life has been torture with this hope of getting better that has faded out like a light shining in the night, devoid of power. I'll go to sleep and it will all be over soon.

        The medication stops the brain from telling you that you are sad. But it doesn't tell you that you are happy either. It just makes you look at things for too long without any reason for watching. So I stopped taking them. I stopped everything because things don't get better just because people tell you they will. "The drugs don't work, they just make you worse, but I know I'll see your face again." These are lyrics from the last song I remember remembering the words to. Then everyone I loved died in the fire, and it was only me and my thoughts. In a lonely hotel. Alone.

        This was the last entry into my journal before I started running. I had been an avid runner before, but nothing serious. I found that running would solve some anxieties I had in life. I had a lot. Now I need to do it to save my life.


        I started running west. I had brought only a cell phone and a small bag. I needed so badly to see humanity again. I ran from Michigan through Ohio and Indiana. I ran straight through the middle of America. I carried no money with me. I only asked for assistance with lodging and food from the internet forums. I really needed to see that there was still beauty in the world, and that someone could love someone they didn't know just because they were human. The news started following me in vans at one point. I guess I was looked at as a charity case or a mad man...I don't know. I had met so many people that took me into their houses at night. They were so nice and I shared everything with them. There was not reason to hold back. Might as well be completely honest with them. I got some advice from wise old women and I got some help from athletes about my pains. My legs hurt so badly. But everything else hurt worse, so I could take it.

        I spoke to a single woman who took me in...a man. She gave me a bed to sleep in because of my letter that I posted. I had posted a call for help before I left running to every city that I would be stopping in on my run to the Grand Canyon. This woman sat on the porch with me and shared a bottle of wine with me. She told me about her failure in marriage and her fears about loving again. I just listened and stared into the beautiful sky that hovers above everyone everywhere. She was soft spoken and gentle and careful about her words. She reminded me of my wife, who is dead. She was a real person in a world full of data people.

        I met a man who had a hook-up with a bed in the basement of a bolt factory. He worked there during the day and slept to the hum of the machines at night. There was this exhaust fan that blew hot air out of the back of the building. They let him put a mattress on the ground in front of it outside to sleep and keep warm at night. At first, I thought what you may be thinking; that it isn't much good. But when this man invited me to stay with him there, I laid down in front of it and felt it's heat and spent the night looking up at the stars with an overwhelming wonder and joy of being alive. I got the knowledge that everywhere is home to someone.

        I met so many wonderful people. I got up every morning and put on my shoes and my pack and started running again. I ran thinking about all that I had seen.


        When I was a kid, I had an ingrown toe nail. I went to the doctor and he snapped a rubber band on my other toe right before he pulled out the piece of the ingrown toenail. It was to distract me from the pain of pulling out a nail. It worked then. It didn't work now. The distractions didn't work because the original pain is permanent. There isn't a distraction big enough, but I'll try still...because of them. I learned to live with all of the pain on my trip pounding against the surface of the very earth I was born on. The inside of my legs were worn bloody, despite my use of lubricant. My feet were deformed and agonizing. My shoulders felt heavy. Everything felt too heavy and I always felt that I couldn't bear the weight. But I did. I kept standing. I want to see humanity again desperately. I want to suffer one last time. I want my suffering to become a witness to my family. My wife. My  two daughters. My two sons; they all left this world screaming in agony.
        So that's why I run. I had been sitting on my porch without anything to do with my hands. I didn't much care for anything else, so I started running to the Grand Canyon, because that was the place I most found myself in wonder. The carving of the rocks and the depth of the fall. These were the things that drew me there. I just knew that I had to release their ashes to the abyss and move on.


        I was an orphan. I was raised by everyone, good and bad. When I met her at the dance I knew she was my entire future. I felt it. I just knew. She did too. We married and we had 4 kids, two boys, two girls. I made life long bonds with all of them. They became the reason I got up for work every day. My girls and my boys. My two boys were just about to go away to college. They were twins. We had just had their graduation party with the slideshow and the food and everything. We were all sleeping and a blazing fireball from the sky struck the roof. The blaze didn't set in until we were sleeping. I got out only because my wife told me the kids were with her on the way out. I got to the curb and found myself alone. They wouldn't let me go back in. What a coward I was to believe her. I think I wanted to.

        The house burnt down in front of me. I didn't hear them scream. I didn't hear anything from them. I watched the fire burn until it was coals. The news told me that my home had been struck by a small plane that had lost control during a wind storm. "The midwest is known for it's windstorms," the guy told me while I was waiting to be released from their emergency services. It was a moment in a series of moments that don't feel real to me now.


        By the time I reached Missouri, I had become famous. My past was known to everyone. They knew my criminal record, my medical history, and my personal struggles. Everyone spoke to me as if they knew me when I reached their city. A lot of people offered me shelter, but I always asked the people that aren't offering. During my journey, I met the best and worst of America. There were the genuine lovers of humans and there were the documentarians who filmed my every move for films that will never be produced.

        I was sitting in a public library watching television in the lobby when the pictures of my family reached the screen. They were telling a story that didn't belong to them. People I had never met spoke with authority about me. Everyone seemed to be so excited that I was still on my feet. One guy said that I was what America needed right inspiration. I got up and pushed the door open harder than I should have and ran through the night in anger. I didn't want to be their inspiration. I didn't want their pity or their martyr songs. I just wanted to let my family go from me.

        I reached Arizona broken. The climate got too hot and I found myself doing more walking than running. I felt weak and run down. People were scattered along the route shaking my hand and cheering me on. As I got closer to the canyon, the crowds got more dense and the road became a spectacle. I could hear the loud speaker near the base of the rim of the canyon. The guy was announcing my arrival. Reporters were running next to me with microphones in my face. More were waiting at the lip for me.

       I reached the lip and took a walk away from everyone who were congratulating me. I went into the restroom to grab my journal. I sat in front of the door so no one could follow me. This was my account of my journey: I ran alone. I would face the abyss alone. I would jump off alone. The world is full of both God and the devil. I'm also full of both. God is with me, even if He doesn't agree.

        I will go to the lip of the Grand Canyon and dump my box of family into the the place no one can return. I will not look at the crowd. I will jump.


Thanks for reading...Z