I’ve been through more in my life than my 13-year-old self ever thought possible. Even now, in a place of a retrospective pondering, I am in wonder of the places I’ve been.
I’ve been through the desert. I’ve climbed mountains. I’ve wandered the woods. I’ve journeyed to the jagged edges of the stormy sea.
There were times I thought I was lost. But it turns out God had me right where He needed me for that season. Never has J.R.R. Tokien’s famous quote rung so true.
Not all those who wander are lost.
I’ve wandered through worlds of emotion and experiences that gnaw at the scars on my heart even still. Some of these trials were my Mt. Everest, my Titanic. Others were like a detour on my way to wherever it is I’m going.
But all of them mattered.
Recently, a dear friend of mine made periodical posts about her own journey up the side of Everest; largely, it had to do with relationships. This reignited in me both pain and reexamination.
If you know me, you know I’m a relational man. I live for deep, meaningful relationships. Shallow, stagnant relationships are not my thing. But I’m also a very withdrawn person. Meaning, it’s very difficult for me to let people in, especially because of the things I’ve been through.
These two attributes do not work in my favor.
Some of you are aware I did a short stint at a Bible college last Fall-Spring. None of you know the things that life threw at me while I was there.
But I’m ready to tell my story.
I carried a lot of baggage with me to school. I’m already an introvert, but with my added baggage and the pressure of living in a new place, I was especially withdrawn.
Then there was a man who noticed. We’ll call him J.J.
This guy took a special interest in me and after a while, he managed to break down some of the walls I put up. I’d grown to trust him and look up to him. As our relationship grew, he began to refer to me as a mentee or a spiritual son. And so that’s how I began to see him too. He was my mentor. He was a spiritual father.* He was my hero.
But I was still insecure. And I was still broken and hurting. I struggled with depression and self-harm. And because I’m an introvert (ISFJ according to the Myers-Briggs Personality Test) my mind is my worst enemy. I question a lot of things if I’m left to my own devices. And so I would often question whether J.J. was okay with me coming to him about certain things. I would feel like I was a burden and when I would talk to him about that, he would reassure me that I was not a burden. And I began to feel secure in my relationship with him.
Until one day, months later, when I was going through the darkest season of my life, he sat me down and said these words to me: “You drain me.”
And in that instant, it felt like the very ground fell out from underneath me.
Everything fell apart… again.
I felt hopeless, lost, alone, abandoned, rejected, defeated… shattered.
The school was small. Only about 30 on-campus students. J.J. lived just a few rooms away from me. My heart ached whenever I saw him. And so I spent a lot of time alone in my dorm, my roommate floating in and out. I could feel all my friends drifting away, but I didn’t care. I hated myself. I blamed myself. I felt like I wasn’t worthy of anyone’s love.
My relationship with God felt nonexistent.
I lived like this for the rest of my time at school. I didn’t know what to do. I kept silent. I kept it locked away in the shadows of a broken heart. I’d come so far in my months at school only to have it all fall apart. I’d become even more withdrawn than when I’d started. I carried more baggage than when I started. I’d gathered a small handful of mental illnesses to myself, some of which I’d had before, but never recognized. Bipolar disorder, Borderline Personality disorder, PTSD.
A week later, on Monday, I returned to school to find that the Dean wanted to meet with me. Due to another devastating incident beyond my control between another student and I, I was suspended.
Since then, very few of my so-called “friends” have attempted to remain in contact with me. After leaving the school, I felt like I’d lost my faith, my self-worth. I was lost. I was suicidal. I felt hopeless, withdrawn, and distant. I felt numb.
But I got through it.
I had wandered to the edge of the distant sea, accosted by wave after wave on every side. But I got through it. And I’m stronger than ever. Thanks to God. Thanks to the people He put in my life to replace the people who’d abandoned me to my demons.
Now, five months later, my faith is better than ever. I’m a stronger youth pastor. I’m getting ready to attend online classes at Northwest University this fall to attain my Ministerial License. I’m closer to my family now than I’ve ever been. I can talk about what happened without bursting old wounds open again. I’ve discovered who my true friends are; the ones who stuck by me and never made me feel like I wasn’t worth their love.
For the most part, I’ve learned to forgive the people who hurt me. It’s hard. Everyday I wake up, I make a conscious choice to forgive. To let go of what happened. To not let my past become me. I no longer blame myself for what happened. For what J.J. did. For what my roommate did. I realize now that deep wells cannot be filled by shallow streams. There is a depth to some people that certain people can’t always fill. And that’s okay. Some people just don’t fit together. But, no, that does not excuse depraved behavior. All people should strive to deepen themselves; to learn how to be compassionate, empathetic, kind, understanding, how to listen, how to love.
I’ve learned how to take what I’ve been through and trust God to “work all things together for the good.” And He has in so many unexpected ways. Because I know what it’s like to be alone with my demons, I’ve learned to never give up on the students God has placed in my youth group. I’ve learned how to be there for them because of the people who weren’t there for me. I’ve recognized the call of God on my life to be not only a spiritual father to the spiritually fatherless, but also to be an adoptive/foster parent to the fatherless in this world. Everything I’ve been through has equipped me for my calling.
Through the storm, I discovered what I’m made of. I’m built to be a friend. I’m built to be a lover. I’m built to be a father. I’m built to be a mentor. I’m built to be a leader. I’m built to be like Christ.
I have journeyed to the edge of the sea. I have felt the broken waves. And I have seen the sunlight shine through the shadows.
So, yes. I’m broken. And there is still stuff I deal with daily, that I have to lay down at the foot of the cross. But I am stronger. I am not what happened to me.
I am who I choose to be.
And I choose to be who God has called me to be.
I choose to be brave.
*At that time, I’d never really encountered the term spiritual father. In retrospect, I realize J.J. was never my spiritual father. He never could be. Happily, I now see that my own father is also my spiritual father. However, this doesn’t take away from the fact that J.J. knew what a spiritual father was and claimed to be that for me. Nor does this remove from the fact that we connected deeply and the pain to follow was very real.