The Game of [Loss of] Life

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I do not like to play games
Sometimes it’s a distaste for the rules
Or I’m immune to feeling
The wings of levity that comes with
A round table discussion about nothing
But mostly
I don’t like to lose
And I don’t like to give up
Because to give ground to either option
Is to give ground to defeat
And the feat of that I might concede
Is more than I’m willing to allow to proceed
Beyond the guarding gates of my ribcage

But I’ve
Lost so much it feels, so many times
That I have to pretend I’m made of matter
Just to prove I exist when I look to the mirror
So I can feel like I, y’know… matter.

And I will fight until the very last note
Tangled in my vocal cords to avoid it
Like the time I showed up at a friend’s apartment
Red-eyed and tear-cheeked
Trying to imagine that he was still alive

A bottle of this and a broken blister pack of that
Double double toil and  trouble
You should never chase death
With a bottle of No-Doz
Because he calls you in your sleep
So when expelled the contents of his stomach
You could hear the reaper unhook his scythe
From under those ribs
Where it was written, the name of the girl
Who had taken his heart
On his ribs which resonated empty
When his heart kept beating.
Dark room and dim lights painted ghosts
on his high cheekbones in the wake.
Loss of the will to survive
Is to hollow out your chest
And surrender its contents to the sun.
Cursing God for your dilemmas
Son, God grieves with you when you lose at losing, too.

And there’s the piece of me I lost
The I hope I never find again
And that’s the naïveté of thinking
Everything’s gonna be alright again.

You can learn to lose, or
better phrased
Learn what it feels like to lose
So you can sense it in every movement
Of every person you’ve ever
Wrapped your heart string around like a last
Ruffled the secrets woven
In the strands of your hair for
Made copies of keys to your hopes and dreams
But when things start bursting at the seams
You will feel its clarion call
Your balance will become shifted
And you will always let the words
“It’s all my fault” rest heavy across your shoulders
Even if you’ve written fiction
And the ghost you thought had crossed over
Is merely obstructed from view
If only everyone knew
How heavy the cross
Is to lose.

Like when I lost the person
Who taught me the literal meaning of the word
LOVE
She inscribed it upon my sleeve
With my broken heart they day she was gone
And now I can’t erase the three words
She’d force me to say
In her voice
And I can’t lose them. I can never lose them.

And then there are those who are still alive
Who chose to step away into a dusty country sunset
And left me pondering loss
The meaning, the weight, and the taste of it
The iron in the blood, the grit of sand
Wind tumbling lightly against my face
In painted stone valleys that burn red in the sun
I have lost you somewhere and I don’t know
When
or
Why
But I’m trying

And if I gain nothing
I’ll still count it all as loss.

The Rare Occasion When Affect is a Noun

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He knows no one shines forever; they change with the weather.

– AFI “On the Arrow”

I can’t remember a time when the coming of the winter season didn’t bring with it the heavy weight of depression. Since I was in my early teens I have struggled with this time of year and the lows it evokes for reasons I have never been able to comprehend. This condition has an actual clinical term: Seasonal Affective Disorder, the condition with the unbelievably appropriate acronym, SAD. Those who are familiar with struggles of depression know, however, this feeling goes well beyond a simple feeling of sadness. It’s a weight that roots you to the ground, strips you of your willpower, and fills your mind with darkness. It strips away your ability to be human and to function around other people. This, at least, has been my experience. Over the years I have simply come to deal with it because, so far, it has proven to be extremely resistant to any drug I’ve been prescribed.

There was a great amount of hope this year, though. There was a glimmer on the horizon that I may have started to escape this weight I’ve carried for at least 15 years. I was working out, I was eating decently and regularly; I was taking care of myself which is key when one struggles with depression. I’ve learned to not sit in it or it will only tie more stones around my ankle and cause me to sink further into the abyss of my own thoughts. However, after a session with my therapist I discovered, these measures seemed to only be masking the symptoms rather than getting rid of them. It struck me like a brick while we were discussing my moods that I have been depressed the entire time I was doing well. My affect was flat and I had no energy. Over the years, I’ve learned to fake being in a good mood but, “fake it until you make it,” only works for so long. Especially for an introvert who bleeds energy when he’s around people like me. It only picks away at what little barrier I have left to guard my lows from the outside world.

I can feel myself going down again…

– Sage Francis “Eviction Notice”

Those who don’t live with depression have a very difficult time understanding what it’s like to have to live with the shifting winds of moods. Depression doesn’t, at least for me, exist as one feeling but more of varying degrees of lows with different temperaments. I’m used to the bottom end of the spectrum where it’s impossible for me to get out of bed and I can’t think of anything to do or any good reason to peel off the blankets and do something. It’s crucial to learn how to take care of yourself in these instances as impossible as it may seem. These are the days I don’t make it into work and I spend most of my day watching movies – if I can get out of bed to my DVD collection – or marathon-watching something on Netflix. These days I usually don’t really bother to eat and I ignore anyone and everyone. The irony of this is that, in this state of mind, having someone around to treat you as they normally would is actually really helpful. Of course, there is always the fear of letting someone too close and the fear they may later use the information they gather against you. I’ve been there. It makes trusting people with anything difficult.

Lately, I’ve been barely falling just under the surface of the water. I can feel the ache in my chest and stomach that I’m used to when I’m feeling everything full force but it’s more like background noise. It’s not bad enough that it completely affects how I function so I’m able to do everything I normally do but there’s this subtle bell in the background ringing to the tones of melancholy. It sits just below the surface and just scratches underneath my skin to let me know its there. My energy is still pretty low and it comes with sudden bursts of irritation and anger, at one point turned inward, forcing me to control or sequester myself. I have to find something to take my mind off of it. Writing is the biggest help and, while not many people understand, it helps me manage and that’s all I really care about. Some people might see it as selfish and that’s okay but, if there’s anything I’ve learned from two years of therapy and 15 years of dealing with myself, I have to take care of myself first and people who expect me to take care of them are poison to my soul. It’s one of the reasons I keep so few friends.

So, I’m continuing to fight with myself as I try to find ways to keep from losing it completely. It’s difficult sometimes to see faces of people you used to know who have now become people you knew. It’s hard to see people make connections and meet people and wonder why it’s so hard for me to do that. I’d like to think of myself as a decent person with good values and a good heart, though cracked and bandaged it may be. Yet I find more people exiting my life then entering and this just adds more weight to my shoulders. Depression makes you constantly ask yourself if there’s something wrong with you, if you’re defective. I have to believe God made me this way and he doesn’t make mistakes. I am who I am for a reason and I have to deal with things the best I can and lean on him to get me through it. I have connected with God more lately than I have in a long time which has been fantastic.

There are days I wish I didn’t feel so alone, even though there are days I thrive on my own. I wish I didn’t have to see the bottom of the barrel so often but I am thankful I can still breathe despite the weight on my chest. These lows will come and go just like people come and go.

“PLEASE. BELIEVE ME. I’M REAL. IT HURTS.” – The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Piece of My Mind

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I want to give you a piece of my mind, to tell you about how I reached inside my ear and clip the electric pathways I’ve tried to ignore and interrupt the current those wires have been firing. So, this piece of mind could have peace of mind. So I could find solace in the arms of those who still hold a piece of my heart. You know, the one stamped “FRAGILE” and “THIS END UP” but was upended and shattered like a light bulb; no light was left to shine and I waited for over a year for the bottom of my feet to heal from the pieces left over, the pieces I walked over to try to get passed the shards of shattered dreams I had for you and me, all the while thinking I somehow deserved to bleed.

And a piece of my mind registered the message from my nerves and kept it locked up tight. It said, “Keep your heart under lock, chain, and key. There’s no one to protect you from this ache except you.”

So, I did just that. I forgot what it felt like to feel and I kept my arms out at all times to measure the acceptable distance between me and the world. It’s an unhealthy practice, I know, but it keeps me from having that gnawing feeling in that piece of my my mind tell me everybody will someday leave. I learned that a long time ago like I learned how to speak and read people are going to do what’s best for them and forget I exist like my father did. So I haunt my apartment like a ghost with so much unfinished business I find the strength to grip a pen and carve the messages my hearts been trying to send for nobody to read; the page is the only one who knows how to listen sometimes.

And the anxiety is crushing like sinking into too deep of water and I wait for the time when I crumble in on myself and lose the space in my lungs to breathe like bellows squeezed closed with the handles held too tight. It is then I realize I must force myself to breathe in and out and remember, under the stress of every day, this too will fade away like my feelings for everything else.

But let me also tell you this piece of my mind:

So much became too much, so I escaped the everything of my every day’s clutch and sped out of town to shake its chains, to break the bonds of everything I hated about my life and to try and heal the pain of a year’s only a year’s worth of reliving the funeral for lost love relived day in and day out can orchestrate on my nerve endings as they were stripped from their sheaths and exposed to the toxicity of my breath laced with the smoke of a cigarette.

My car was my home as I chased the sun to the horizon and back, sleeping in cheap hotels as I wandered the loneliest places on the map; they found me, not the other way around, believe it or not. I wandered through canyons and mountains with nothing but me and the soul of the poets playing on my stereo, praying for God to show me the piece of myself that was missing, to show me how to be close to whole again. This is something I’ve asked for a million times in a million ways with what felt like no response and every time it hurt I felt like saying GOD, WHY CAN’T YOU REACH DOWN INTO MY HEART AND FIX THIS PIECE THAT’S BROKEN?

He answered.

Not in an audible way, at least not through his voice as I made my way West through the Cajón pass, watching the rain come down and lightning dance like streamers on the tops of the foothills.

So, when I reached back into a connection almost two decades past after my tire went flat and I wanted nothing more than to leave the town I was in, after eating food that made me sick, and almost passing out from the heat I headed into uncertain territory. That is, I headed into a friend and/or family I had not seen since junior high without really knowing what I was getting into or why. I just knew I had to be there.

It’s a funny thing, family. I rang the door bell which seemed to ring forever and was greeted by the squeal of a mother and an old friend as she met me in the doorway with an embrace. My heart was suddenly full again as if I had stepped back into my own home, forgetting the past and the pain at the door. Over the span of three days I had never felt more love or so embraced since I lived in my childhood home and I realized this was what life was supposed to feel like all the time and that piece of my mind stopped.

I remember all the things I ached from radiating out of me like the water hitting the hot rocks of the desert for the first time in a long time and I breathed deep again, filling my lungs to the top and exhaling the last of the smoke I inhaled from you as you seemed to patronize me. I realized the most important thing was, on a moment’s notice, someone whom I hadn’t seen in since I was a child was willing to invited me into her home and treat me like family and the beauty of God’s grace for those moments we had; I was part of their family. I belonged.

When I left I realized that’s how things should be, how I should be. And that is something you cannot be or will not be. That’s okay. It’s your life. I have felt disrespected and patronized; I know you well enough to see it in the way you write but that’s okay. You don’t know what to do with me and that’s fine. I don’t expect anything from you but goodbyes. You can’t love like I’ve experienced and that’s something you live with and I don’t know how it doesn’t eat you up inside. You may know happiness now but I wonder if you’ll ever feel joy. It’s hard for me to fathom for myself but I’ve been there recently and I’ve got this little index card with the signatures of my California family to remind me.

And I have no way to thank them.

So, the piece of my mind I give to you is the piece of my mind that’s been agonizing over for more than a year. It’s the piece that wondered if I would ever feel wanted or cared for again because you decided I was not what you wanted. That’s fine. I understand that. I’ve realized you would not have been able to give me what I needed in the end either, what I reach for and strive for; finding joy is like trying to catch a falling star. You burned so brightly in my eyes but now I realize, like the stars in the sky, your light is an illusion, a reflection of the bright burning body of a star already in the sky. I have found that light inside myself and it radiates, burning bright white and blinding like I time I can’t remember.

So, I give you this piece of my mind
to tell you
without certainty
i have found my
peace of mind.

Church. Family.

I don’t know how long this post is going to be but I thought I would share this moment because it was probably one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had in my church aside from watching friends get baptized.

I love my church, first of all. It is one of the only churches I have attended (and I’ve been to a few) where I feel like I have a family there. I feel like I belong. Since I came back from my hiatus caused by my health issues I’ve had hugs, pats on the back and all sorts of other stuff. People have expressed their sentiments about how happy they are to see me back. Most of them were aware of some of the problems but that was enough and it was like being welcomed back home.

There are a lot of people I’ve become friends with over the last few years. We don’t have a lot of what you would dub “Normal” people in our church which is entirely fine with me. I’ve made friends with a lot of the people that were like me when they were younger but due to jobs or just growing up they decided to shed their garb for more normal clothing, families, children and such.

Today we prayed for a family that have become good friends since they started attending. They’re an Air Force family and the husband is still active. He’s being deployed for a few months which I could already tell was going to be hard on his wife and I’m sure his young daughter was going to miss her father.

So, our pastor called them up and asked every one to gather around them. And the entire congregation got up and surrounded them as we prayed for them. I was able to take a spot right behind both of them. Being their friends that seemed important to me for some reason. But it was just wonderful to see our entire congregation, though small, rally around a family as they approach this difficult time.

There were so many hands on my back and on my shoulders as not everyone could lay hands on them it was incredible. When it was all over, I looked up to see my pastor and best friend and all he could say was:

“That is how you do church”

Reflections of a Church Planting Intern: Week 5

Not of first importance as far as the overall meaning of this blog but of first importance because it is in the forefront of my mind as I prepare to get this entry going, I must advise you that I did watch a lot of Jackass and related videos this week. As many of you may know, recently they suffered a major loss in their crew in Ryan Dunn. You can say what you will about the tactics and shenanigans that these guys have been up to the past decade but I feel I must show some respect to these guys since they spent a decade letting people into their weird little world of making each other laugh. This group of dudes had a huge impact on me and my friends as we entered high school and made our ways into college and so I felt some sort of respect for the loss of the Jackass crew and the people, including myself, who they’ve made laugh over the years. And I’m going to be honest about last week.

I needed a good laugh.

That isn’t to say that last week was horrible, per se. No, it was more like a slow grind and just refused to move any faster. Work was getting the best of me in some ways and a little stress started to creep in regarding the plans for A2’s Gretna Days parade plans. I haven’t really been stressed at all this summer which was a nice relief from the hell of a year that I had in school and life. So, when that old, cold feeling decided to seep it’s way into my gut I was surprised and a little unsettled, admittedly. So, having to adjust to that was something. Then it all snowballed into Thursday where I was given assurance that the things I’ve learned from this internship and school are actually sinking in.

Thursday rolled around.

If you didn’t read my previous post, I don’t know if I can recommend it for anything else except for maybe context. My grandpa died of complications from bone cancer December 31st of last year. HIs request was to be cremated and so that entailed scattering the ashes. The funeral we had for him a few days after he died wasn’t much of a comfort nor did it really give me a good sense of finality about the whole thing. So, it’s now almost 6 months after the whole ordeal and I get a call from my mom telling me that we’re going to scatter the ashes. This was Tuesday of last week. I was asked if I could go and I could so I did. But my grandma asked my mom if I’d be willing to say something and lead everyone there in the Lord’s prayer. I guess that was a big thing for my grandpa so that made it a big deal for me.

As I thought about the whole ordeal before it went down I reflected on what the Bible said about man’s time on earth and it all brought me back to Genesis 3. As we prepared to scatter the remains on the fairgrounds he spent so much time on, it seemed only appropriate to ask the small group of family there to reflect on the fact that by scattering his ashes we symbolize what God told Adam when he cast him and Eve out of Eden. He toiled all his life in the dirt of those fairgrounds among other places, and so we returned his body to the dirt in which he worked. I don’t think it was a mere accident that Adam was named for the ground from which he came from.

I don’t know that I have anything entirely insightful to say about this week other than that. It was another one of those times where the things I did outside of the hours of my internship that really had a bigger effect and tell a much bigger story than what I do while I’m in the building. I have to think that’s the point of all of it. I few pieces of news, I suppose. I have been asked to participate in a 30 day writing project by a friend and some of her other writing friends coming up in about a week. That’s pretty exciting. There have also been some rumblings of possibly preaching again soon. I hesitate to give any details right now, though.

If I could ask anything it would be to see God continue to move in my life and in others. As the weeks go on I continue to think of ways to creatively breaching the walls of the people of Gretna.

On a completely unrelated note: I had the unfortunate assignment of reading The Great Omission by Dallas Willard. I won’t post a review on it or anything because it’s been out for a while. I’ll just say that he did a poor job of supporting his arguments and I couldn’t finish the book. I do not recommend it.

This song has ruled my world this week. I highly suggest you give it a listen:


City & Colour – “Little Hell”

Music
Grieves – “Together/Apart”
P.O.S. – “Never Better”
B. Dolan – “Fallen House, Sunken City”
30 Seconds to Mars – S/T
Scatter the Ashes – “Devout/The Modern Hymn”
Blaqk Audio – “CexCells”
AFI – “DECEMBERUNDERGROUND”
City & Colour – “Little Hell”

Movies
CKY: Landspeed
CKY2K
CKY3
CKY4
Jackass 3D
Jackass 3.5

Books
The Great Omission by Dallas Willard
Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggeman

Ashes to Dust

I tried to climb the steps
only to discover there were
no steps to climb.
I guess the gravity of it all
wanted to pull me through
the floor
And down to the dirt your ashes
scattered are now a part of
as of yesterday.

I rewound my mind
to the leadfoot steps of
my feet dressed in their argyle socks,
my boots discarded at the entry way,
crossing the spotless tile and
pristine white carpet of your dining area
into the brown, rough carpet
of your sun room
where you once sat in your chair
king of the manor,
man of the house,
Proper-dressed patriarch of our
Oddly mixed, loud and loving clan
or
Grandpa.
That’s how I knew you best.

You were the chairman of the board,
the company owner,
the man with pull and money to burn
but you were never proud
never flaunted the bills
you kept clutched together on your
money clip.
Perhaps I exaggerate the extent of your wealth
but I never knew how much you had
and so I still guess and
in my head
I play it up like you always had
rolls of freshly pressed and printed dough
in your pocket that you’d used to
spoil your wife and your grandchildren
And I had a lot respect for the work that you did
Owning business since you were
fresh out of high school
Always humbly and diligently making sure
your family was always provided for
through divorce and remarriage
And life, love,
madness, sadness, happiness
This was what you were best at.

You spread the love of golf like
it was in our genes
We used to go all the time
and I’d always here stories like
how you went out in the rain
or when you were sick and
should be in bed, when you
were running a fever and
when you were more than half dead
That’s where you were calm
… Usually.

So, in all that active movement
and in all that business transacting
It caught us all by the nape of the neck
and a slap in the face
when the cancer got you.
And slowly wrung you dry
Until the links were a distant memory
and even a walker was not enough assistance
to keep you ambulatory
And your castle
become a hospital,
your throne,
a bed
and as time wore on your paperskin
clung tight to your cancerriddenbones
until one night I knew it was
soon to be goodbye

When you asked me to serve communion
I humbly took up the task
With a bottle of wine and
some boxed-up crackers
My hands shaking from the nerves
I poured out glasses
Read scripture to set the tone
about the resurrection we all
long for
In the deepest recesses I guess
I knew that your timer was ticking down
This was the last supper I would serve you
And somehow I knew you were
proud of me, somehow I knew
You needed to go

And I could feel the sand
bury this moment in the hourglass, tipped
Lifting you up like a little baby
turning you over with the help
of your oldest grandchild
Trying to get you into a
form-fitting position so you could finally
rest.

Rest.

On the morning before the
start of the new year
I woke to a hand on my chest
telling me, gently, that I needed to
wakeup.
I opened my eyes to see my Dad’s face
and I knew before he opened his mouth again
You were gone.
Quiet
Calm
Sleeping

I shed no tears
though they tried their best
to crawl out from the corners of my eyes
Drawing strength from the arrhythmia in my chest
Attempting to punch holes
where my tear ducts could have simply let go
But I stayed strong for you
and for my family
because I know you grasped eternity
and held tight through the slipping away
of your life
until you met the King of Kings
sat upon his throne
smiling at the childlike wonder in your face
and welcoming you
home.

It was really hard to look at that shell kept in that box
No life, no breath, no smile, no soul.
No. Soul.
Just a droopy, made-up wax facsimile
eyes closed and arms crossed
with glasses perfectly placed,
suit perfectly pressed
But we all knew that wasn’t you.

So, now.
Six months after we had to say goodbye
We took your ashes to the
one place that made sense
and that was the fairgrounds you
loved for a long time, your baby
when all your kids got gone
And I wondered about the story of Adam
Man created from the dust
And so you were
And he toiled in the dust
and so did you.
And when you finally took your final breath
you were reduced to dust
And to the dust your body returned.
As the rest of us yearn
for resurrection.

The Journey: The People

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My morning broke wide open at 6:30 AM to the alarm clock blasting an assault on the ears. “Caution, Dangerous Curves Ahead” by Maylene & the Sons of Disaster became the rooster crowing and I rolled lethargically to a sitting position at the foot of my bed. I don’t know about the routines of other people but this is usually how my morning starts when I have to get up early. I wake up to my alarm and then I sit at the foot of my bed hating my life for about 10 minutes while simultaneously trying to muster the will to get off my bed and into the day’s activities. This morning was particularly important because I was to get in a van by 8 AM to leave for a week long missions trip in Rapid City, SD. In my head I was telling myself to stand up and start getting myself put together for the week that was to come. I didn’t even have to put forth that much effort, I told myself. I was already packed and everything was sitting there waiting for me to load it into the car and leave. But at 6:30 AM my brain hasn’t acquired enough strength and momentum to instantly override my body’s many protests.

I took a deep breath, let out a deep sigh and finally stood up.

My things all packed, assembled and loaded, I took off for the college campus where the team would be meeting and loading into a van. Load time was 7:30 AM and, thankfully, I wasn’t the only one who was on time. Slowly, the students started congregating near the van and loading their luggage in. I had managed to get all my things into one bag/suitcase and my trusty grey messenger bag. I was in awe in the amount of stuff other people brought with them and not just the girls who were on the trip. I guess not everyone likes to travel light like me. More of the team began to show up as we got closer to 8 AM, their things being loaded as they appeared. The sponsors started to get nervous when the clock started reaching for 8 AM and two people hadn’t shown up yet. One of them we were able to get in touch with. He had gotten the times confused and didn’t think we were leaving until 8 PM. We got him straightened out and he came down with his luggage and got in the van. The last one pulled into the parking lot minutes later.

This would be a recurring theme for the rest of the trip.

A test for those of us, myself included, who like to be punctual.

Not a whole lot occurred on the trip there. We took I-29 North which took me past all the towns where my former youth group kids live when I was a sponsor in Whiting and Sloan, IA. It was far too early for reminiscing. I had picked the most comfortable spot in the van which was the way back with all the luggage. There was enough room for about 1.5 people so I got a little room to stretch out and I didn’t have to worry about bumping into someone else. So, I did what I always did on long trips: I put in my headphones and cranked up some music that fit my mood.

On the road I can live in my own little world if I so choose. My music is loud enough to drown out jabber and whatever else and it creates a whole other atmosphere in which my mind is free to explore ideas, worlds and memories that were currently pressing themselves into the crevices of my brain. It’s really helpful when I’m feeling my introversion because I can temporarily shut out everyone on the trip. That’s not to say that I wanted to ignore the team but we’ll get to them. The drive there was boring the whole way north and most of the way West on I-90. I saw some strange billboards heading west and I got some good pictures of random stuff I saw outside my window. I hadn’t been this way for quite some time but do you want to know what my biggest question was?

How does Wall Drug market to someone with oppositional defiance disorder?

Answer: They can’t.

They’ve got billboards everywhere telling people to go to Wall Drug which I was told by quite a few native South Dakotans is not all it hypes itself up to be.

Good thing we didn’t stop there then.

The drive in was beautiful but I won’t try and describe it. You can look at the pictures that I took and draw your own inclusions. What matters is that 8 hours later we made it. The house we pulled up to was in a new development but this was nothing like the ones we have here where the houses are all based off one or two different floor plans. No, this development was full of some very nice houses with all sorts of insane accoutrements like basketball hoops, batting cages and just insane architecture.

But as with so many other things this is not about buildings and houses. Well, maybe a little about houses.

I think the house we stopped at was far superior. I say that because when I walked from the van to the front door I saw the street light ignited cityscape of Rapid City. By day it’s alright but by night it’s breath taking. I wish I could walk out my front door to that kind of view. We got inside and got to meet one of the two host families that would be putting our team up for the week. The owners of the house, Mary and Larry, were just the first set of people who would prove to be such a huge blessing to us. Their house was big and open with a lot of artwork. They were fond of Terry Redlin which always reminds me of my mom. She’s always been a big fan of his work and, while I would never buy his artwork for myself, I always feel like I’m being warmed by a campfire when I see his paintings. They were very into family and, through the duration of the trip, we’d get to know Mary & Larry’s kids and grandkids.

Mary decided they would house the girls. The guys were taken to the other host family’s house.

All we were told about them was that he was a state senator and that they had a hot tub at their house. We rolled up to their house long after the sun had gone down so we didn’t get to see much of the house from the outside. We did get a view of the inside and it was amazing. The best part was, of course, was that we each got our own bed. That was just nuts to me that they had beds for 6 people outside of their own bedroom. But I soon realized that it was so they would have room for their now grown children and grandchildren when they came over and stayed there. The whole place gave me the feeling of being at home even though I’d never been there before which, I’m certain, can only be created by people who have spent their lives devoted to a loving and giving family environment. There was a lifetime of love in that house which was flooring to think about. And that was just their house.

I don’t know if I’m strange or if I was just raised differently. But I think there’s a lot of wisdom and knowledge to be taken from people who have lived a life devoted to serving and glorifying God. And so, on the first night we were there, we were able to sit and listen to Bruce and Sandee talk about their lives and what they do and stories about their kids I was all ears. They asked us all what we were studying and they gave their full attention which is something I feel like doesn’t happen often with such a generational distance like that. But they were gracious enough to get to know us while we were in their home and to share everything of theirs with us.

I must pause here and issue a verbal medal of bravery to Cari. She’s probably one of the nicest and sweetest people I’ve ever met. She got the pleasure of getting to chaperone the guys on this trip and keeping the rest of them in line while I tried to do my best to stay calm and patient. She put up with a lot and with much grace.

However, I would be remiss if I failed to mention Leslie who did a great job of laying out everything for the trip. I don’t know much about her personally since she deals primarily with the girls on campus too but I do know she’s very schedule and detail oriented. She kept us all on track no matter the conditions without being dictatorial or overly neurotic.

Our team was a bunch of college students. The team was interesting to say the least. The team was completely even as far as men and women goes. There were 5 guys and 5 girls which, for you math-challenged folk like me, makes a team of 10 with two female sponsors. The age range went from college freshman to a dude in his 30’s who had a wife and kids of his own. The girls were all roommates back at the college which means we were subject to every loud and obnoxious inside joke and favorite movie quote they were able to dish out. I can’t fault people for being friends and I can’t say anything bad about the women who were on the trip in the end. They did their share and sometimes more. I got to know them as more than just a face I passed in the hallways and in the cafeteria which was pretty cool.

The men did what men do and that’s make jokes at each others’ expense in good fun and have conversations about sports or video games. It was interesting to watch from the outside because I don’t do a lot of any of that. I tried my best to lead by example when we were working and try to keep things from getting out of hand when it came to the poking fun. I sound like a kill joy and maybe I am but that’s what I felt like I needed to do. It’s not like we didn’t all have fun but I tried to make sure we were representatives of our school and of Christ because that’s what was most important to me on that trip since we did mostly manual labor. Our actions said a lot about us. I was happy to work with those guys and get to know them despite our differences. The men stuck together well and worked hard like I had hoped we would, in the end.

Our first task was a basement but I don’t want to talk about the basement right now. We were brought to a house the Monday of that week but I don’t really want to talk about the house either. First, we met Jared who is a Chaplain in the Army National Guard and owner of the construction company we were partnering with to work on this house. He was a youth minister before working in construction which was more than apparent. He was really extroverted, loved to crack jokes and had an infinite amount of patience (as did his crew) with those of us who had little to no experience in working with drywall. He unfolded what I thought to be an extraordinary vision for his company. By and large their purpose was to make money off construction jobs but he told us he wanted to be like Paul in regards to his trade. That the Apostle Paul was a tentmaker while he was doing his work for the kingdom. Jared wanted to give back in some way and so he would devote some time and money to giving back to people who need it.

Jared introduced us to the wife and mother of the family we were helping.

Her name was Jess.

Jess’ personality just radiated off her. She was wrangling 3 young children while her husband was serving his country overseas. While she was always smiling and constantly expressing her gratitude to us in one way or another you could tell she was tired. Understandably so. She had the face of a saint who had been running the race and it was wearing her out but that didn’t matter so much. In fact, she dove in to help us when she had a chance despite what Jared told her. She’d carry the sheetrock with us and whatever else when she could. But what really stood out to all of us was something we were not expecting and, actually, it would be better to bring it all together to show you what I saw from the trip.

Words cannot begin to express the amount of gratitude I felt that week. Included in the cost of the trip was food money because we were expecting to have to buy food and cook for ourselves. You can imagine my surprise when we got up in the morning and there was breakfast food already laid out for us that we didn’t buy for ourselves. The girls had the same experience at the house they were staying at. Then when we got to Jess’ she said she’d have lunch ready for us around noon. Then to get back to Mary & Larry’s, our rendezvous point for the trip, and they’d have dinner all cooked and ready for us. Then when we, the guys and Cari, got back to our lodging there would be Soda in the fridge and a hot tub out back for us to chill in for a while. This became the rhythm of the trip.

It was a rhythm of grace.

My experience with grace is that it is often contagious or even addicting. I can only speak from my own personal experience, but from the grace our sponsors showed us as we tried to be punctual, to the grace that was poured out in our hard work, to being served awesome food day after day there was almost

this cycle

this repetition

this unexpected cadence of God’s grace

as it flowed and moved in the lives of everyone involved.

So, when the day came where we were done working we were able to use some of the money we had saved to get gifts for everyone who had provided us meals or places to stay and of course, the most popular response was, “You didn’t have to do that!”

No we didn’t.

That leaves me. I have a love/hate relationship with personal application because of its bent towards subjectivity. Because I think it will close this out nicely. I wrote in an earlier post that I am addicted to grace. The more I see it, feel it, taste it or otherwise experience it the more I want it. For me, the amount of grace I saw on this trip was what allowed me to have the patience I did with the people I was with. That is not to say that they were all intentionally difficult or constantly making me angry because it wasn’t like that. A lot of it was me and my slightly tilted way of looking at things and my introversion. Grace and a lot of good people got me through this trip even if those people don’t see it or may never realize it. I just hope they saw the grace that I did.

Grace is a free place to stay.

Grace is having the patience to teach those totally unskilled.

Grace is cooking food for 12 extra people every night.

Grace is almost a week of working with all your strength and asking for nothing.

Grace is a gift that someone didn’t have to get you

but they did. Not for notoriety or for praise.

It is because of grace that we glorify God in all those seemingly nonsensical ways. The world asks the question “Why?” every time and the most rational of people will tell you they don’t deserve it. How confusing it must be to the world to answer them by saying,

“I do this because no one deserves grace

and I want to show you what that looks like.”