wanderers/explorers/inquirers.

 

I’ve discovered a new level of bliss.

It started last Friday when I got to witness two of my best friends get married, and to do so, I drove out to Lancaster, about 50 minutes southwest(ish) of Lexington. I didn’t think too much of it until the day of, when I realized that I’d be taking roads I hadn’t taken in ages, seeing parts of Kentucky I haven’t seen since I was either a child, or never.

Once I got on the road, I realized how amazing it all was. The houses aren’t packed tightly together, there aren’t apartments. The roads go on without stopping (much) and as you drive along, all of the scenery makes your mind wander to the history and/or lifestyle of the area – how did people end up here in the first place? Who moves out to the country? did they happen upon the land and farming industry? How often do people who live out here go to the grocery stores? What luxuries do they enjoy that city life just doesn’t offer? Are they happy? Did some of them try the city life and decide they preferred being in a quieter area?

Something about the country makes my mind wander but also puts my soul at great ease – I’ve always felt most creative in the country, where things are quiet, where nature is supreme, where time stands still, and where people are small.

It wasn’t until this trip to Lancaster (and perhaps the abundantly joyful memories of the wedding I’ll always associate with it) that I realized my true hunger for this type of landscape, this lifestyle. I’ve always liked it, but I never saw it as a need to be fulfilled, I always saw it as a craving to sate. Maybe it’s a bit of both, I reckon.

It was this trip that made me fall back in love with Kentucky. It was this trip that convicted me of the fact that I have lived in Kentucky for my whole life (bar two short months) and haven’t seen its wonders: I’ve been once to the Gorge, never to Raven run, (plenty to the Pinnacles, though;) and I don’t know its geography: I couldn’t tell you London from Corbin, Somerset from Danville, Wilmore from Harrodsburg, Paint Lick from Bergin.

It’s strange – I was born in Canada, and for a long time, I felt a desire to return there and to find my “roots” as it were…I would cite my being from Canada because that was my go-to answer for those 7th grade-level introductory questions: “What’s your name, and what’s something interesting about you?” I made many a jaw drop when I said, “I’m Jeff, and I’m from Canada.”

But lately, Kentucky is winning me over, and hard, and in a lot of ways. I’m proud of (one of) our senators. I’m proud of our agriculture. I’m proud of our industry. I’m proud of our pride. I’m proud of “My Old Kentucky Home.” I’m proud of my old Kentucky home. I’m proud of our schools. I’m proud of our urban centers, and I’m proud of our countrysides. I just love Kentucky.

So after Lancaster, I determined that I had to go see more of it – this beautiful land that I get to call home.

Early this morning, I packed up a few bottles of water into a cooler, grabbed my dog, grabbed a cup of coffee, and drove. Today, there would be no time limit. There would be no panicking if I made a wrong turn. There would be no big hurry to get from one place to another. There would be no rush.

We drove through Nicholasville. We got lost exploring a neighborhood, got back on a road, found out that we were really close to the farm where I originally got Diego (I wonder if he knows the air?) and headed south on 27. We pulled over when it had been a while, got out, let the pup do his business, texted mom to say we may stop by later, and kept driving. We turned on to the road that would take us past the Ashley Inn where my friends got married, and I blew a kiss to the farm; I blew a kiss to the memories.

We drove straight through downtown Lancaster (all four blocks of it) onto a road charmingly named “White Oak Spur” (I love ‘spurs,’ there were a few back home growing up) and found a park called Logan Hubble Memorial Park. We’d spend a lot of time here.

IMG_0661[an off-center view of the lake.]

It seemed so far out of the way and so quiet that I wondered if anyone actually came here, but it had everything: there was a lake, a fishing dock, playgrounds, disc golf, basketball courts, and a big walking trail. We took the walking trail.

I think it was actually a horse trail.

But in the quiet, in the stillness, in the chirping and cheeping of the birds, everything got really, really calm. All of the hustle of daily obligations got hushed by the natural immersion.

IMG_0656

[I’m not actually sure we were allowed here.]

We eventually finished up at Logan Hubble Memorial (but it took me a while, pretty incredible scenes,) drove back to Berea to see my mom, and then out to Danville, where we walked around Millennium Park. I threw the tennis ball for my dog for a little while and that’s when I knew he was tuckered out, and we should probably head home.

IMG_0674

In this week, I’ve done a lot of reflecting on my life. I’ve been able to take stock of where I am, and where I want to be. I’d like to share it with you.

 

I’m at a place in my life where I can say that I genuinely enjoy everything that I get to do. I like walking my dog, I like taking him to the park, and I like when he climbs up in my bed for morning cuddles, when neither of us want to wake up. I like my job – where I get to be challenged in new ways, learn new things, try new things, where I know the customer base, where I’m good friends with my co-workers, and where we see the company grow. I like being a buyer and I like being a barista. I like living in my house, where I have a nice backyard I can play with the dog in, a barn I can kick soccer balls against, and a fire pit where I can make fires and sometimes write or eat or drink or just think as things burn. I like driving around Kentucky. I like reading books, when I give myself time to do so. I like writing, even when I feel as though I’m spinning my wheels, when I feel I’m getting less and less articulate, when I feel I’m getting more and more concise and I worry about not being fun to read. I like my church a lot – it’s engaging my faith in a whole new way, and I’m finding people my age who think like I do. I like cooking food; I like cleaning my house, I like the podcasts I subscribe to…I actually feel like I enjoy everything that I do, the only problem being that I don’t have enough time for all of it, or else I don’t have the stamina. My job is the perfect microcosm – I love being a barista and I always have. You get to interact with people, make them yummy drinks, keep yourself busy, and provide a great place for people to hang out. I also love being a buyer – I get to look into new products, evaluate the ones we have, learn a lot of things (because there’s a TON I don’t know) relate with new vendors, work really closely with a lot of different numbers that help the company – and I LOVE that sort of stuff. Unfortunately, if I spent as much time doing one as I do the other, I’d be at work 60-some-odd hours a week. And if I did that, then I wouldn’t have time to keep a dog, or go out with my friends, or sleep, or go to church, etc. So, it’s kind of a great problem to have – I’m never bored and I haven’t been in ages. I feel so full, so content, so absolutely blissful.

 

And here’s the question that I can’t shake coming out of that: why? What’s it for? More specifically, what’s next?

Because I’m positive that my purpose in life is not just to be happy. If I’m happy while fulfilling my purpose, that’s great, but I’m not supposed to only be looking out for me. No, Jesus demands that I look out for my neighbors, my brothers and sisters, those above me, those below me, those beside me. Jesus demands that I am not my own top priority. So I’m glad I’m happy, but I also never want to assume that just because I’m happy, that I’m in all of the right places.

My biggest challenge in life lately is keeping the Kingdom’s agenda on my own radar. I’ve been asking God the questions lately, “what are You doing? What are you seeking to accomplish? How can I help?” Now, I want to be careful because I never want to let off air of piety and self-righteousness, so let me be honest: I ask those questions almost every day and I’m not sure I know the answer. It was a lot easier for me to know those things (or at least think that I knew) when I was involved in church more closely, when I was more connected and seeing the numerous ways that God was interacting with the pain and pleasure of the people. Now, it’s less clear. Now, there’s lots of noise. But I want to keep that question, because I hope that I never only care about my own happiness.

losing dignity.

I like theology.

Allow me to address a few semantics, at least as I see them – to me, there is theology on a broad scale, which is simply the study of God. That’s what, as some people preach, every Christian is. If you are a Christian, it means you’re interested in God, you read the Bible, you worship Him, and you want to know Him – meaning you’re a God-student.

But then there’s theology as, shall we say, a construct. Theology as a construct is what I’ll use to say things like seminary, doctorates in divinity, the academic side of God-study. This is the type of theologian that most people are not. This is not usually what I mean by theology.

 

Now that that’s out of the way…

 

I like theology a lot. I like theology as a construct. I don’t study it that way, but there’s something about when people devote their lives to studying it for an intellectual understanding that attracts me a lot. Theology is uniquely emotional and intellectual for me – there is nothing else I can think of that engages both aspects of my being quite like theology. Music engages my emotions, but not so much my intellect. I’ve tried to approach it intellectually, but to no avail.

Literature and film engage my intellect, but rarely my emotions.

But theology – it has a way of doing that.

I guess by theology, I mean the Bible in general.

I get caught up on phrases like this…

 

“When He ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.”

 

He (Jesus) led captivity captive.

Captivity was His captive.

On one hand, that blows my mind – captivity, as a concept, is Jesus’ captive. Captivity, which is defined as “the state or period of being held, imprisoned, enslaved, or confined.” Its synonyms include slavery, imprisonment, confinement, etc.

It’s antonym?

Freedom.

Jesus enslaved slavery.

Jesus confined confinement.

Jesus imprisoned imprisonment.

With Jesus, death died.

And Jesus released freedom.

It’s one thing for my intellect to (attempt to) grasp those concepts, but it’s another for my heart to taste that.

When my heart tastes that, it leaps with joy and sings.

Grace means that it can take us a very long time to grasp the truth – because no matter how long it takes us to grasp it, we are covered in the interim. Grace means that we are forgiven, whether we know it or not. It means our forgiveness isn’t contingent upon our understanding.

I rejoice in this because lately, my job has been just that: understanding I’m forgiven [and isn’t it all of our jobs, as children? this wrestling match between me and my forgiveness hasn’t stopped since day one, really.]

Lately I’ve found myself thinking about the year 2015, or what I refer to (indefinitely, as you’ll soon see) as The Year Without God. I attended church in spurts, yes – but it was largely a year without God.

It was a year of anger, selfishness, passion, fear, anxiety, depression, loneliness, high highs and low lows, dependency, abandonment, losing my temper, living excessively, etc. And in the midst of that, I made memories and mistakes that seem hard to forget. It’s hard to forget losing my temper when I got stressed out, because I can so easily be stressed again. The voice of condemnation always seems to pop up in such moments and say, “you are an angry person – you are not like Jesus. You are not a Christian.” It’s hard to forget self-indulgence in a relationship which leads to dependency, which leads to anxiety, which leads to fear and trepidation, which leads to stress, which leads to fracture, abandonment, and depression. It’s hard to forget how all of that feels.

And as hard as it is to forget, it is hard to remember some of the good.

It is hard to remember who I am. It is hard to remember my days of preaching, when I read and proclaimed the Bible confidently, regularly, and joyfully. It is hard to remember my days of godly community, when everyone had the same goal, the same means, and the same love for Jesus.

But what I’ve found is this: He gives more grace (see: Ephesians 4:7, James 4:6.)

 

He gives grace like water on a hot summer day – when you take one gulp of water and you’re not satisfied, then another, then another, then another, then another, then another, until your thirst is finally quenched, and whether or not we realize it, temporarily so.

My heart and flesh – your heart and flesh, Christian – cries out for the living God (see: psalm 84:2, etc)

He gives grace in every mention of His name, in every (albeit rare) thought that we have of Him. He gives grace in every opening of the Word, He gives grace in every prayer whispered with anywhere from a gram to a metric ton of doubt infused.

 

He gives grace.

That’s the whole point.

Because, you see – that very captivity that we think hinders us from the presence of God, that very jail cell we think ourselves in which we believe keeps our prayers from reaching His ears – that captivity is Jesus’ captive. That prison is imprisoned by Christ Himself.

 

It’s a dichotomy that I fail to fully grasp, it is like a panorama that I am trying to take in frame by frame – that somehow even in the grasp of the Father’s hand, we are able to suffer, and yet in the midst of our suffering, we are under His tender grace. We suffer and are kept at the same time. We abandon Him and we are not ourselves abandoned, we curse Him and yet we ourselves are not cursed, we suffer consequences but oh, friends – we do not suffer punishment. The second-to-last word of God is judgement, but the last word of God is

 

G

R

A

C

E.

 

Jesus doesn’t even dignify our captors, He doesn’t respect our detractors, He doesn’t acknowledge our nay-sayers (namely guilt, shame, failure.) He doesn’t dignify them in that He doesn’t view us through them – God’s opinion of us does not remain at the lens of sin, but it goes through the lens of grace which is powerful enough to acknowledge the power of sin only long enough to positively obliterate it.

 

That’s what grace is.

That’s who God is.

That’s what He’s like.

He’s the Captor of captivity.

The Shamer of shame.

The Destroyer of destructor.

The Judge of judgement.

The Jailor of imprisonment.

The Exiler of exile.

The Releaser of release.

The Freer of freedom.

Rejoice.

 

what really matters.

I thought about writing tonight about something dangerous (at least for me) – I was inspired when I found out a piece of news about my ex on Facebook, and I got to thinking about the things that usually go wrong when I try dating. It wasn’t going to be an angsty post – actually it was meant to be a warning against my own angst, because it’s a habit of mine. I tend to like to throw people under the bus when they hurt me – it’s my way of hurting them back. I remember a guy who said I was “missionary dating” the last girl I dated – and I responded by freezing him out and not talking to him anymore. But I also dissed him to my friends, telling everyone how he hurt my feelings and how wrong he was.

 

So I thought about writing an honest post – a confession about insecurities, a confession about anger, about how my emotions are amplified about 100x when I date someone – but I decided not to.

 

Instead, I got to thinking about a guy who posted on his birthday about how he enjoyed hearing from everyone, thanking God for everyone, and spun the birthday wishes back to everyone else. It sounded a lot like Paul – like Paul who said things like “I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers” (Philemon 1:4) or “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ when we pray for you” (Colossians 1:3) or “we give thanks for you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers” (1 Thessalonians 1:2.)

 

For some reason, in that space, it hit me all over again how life isn’t about me. I’ve realized that my energy is meant to be spread among a lot of different people, in a lot of different ways.

 

The only thing that really matters is people. And, whether or not I realize it (or act like it) the only thing that matters to me is having a lot of different people I call friends, a lot of people that I know and know well, a lot of people I can call at any given time and not be strangers. I realize that my friends back home in Berea are just as valuable as my co-workers, and vice versa.

 

I’ve realized that whether or not I write good songs won’t matter. Whether or not I make a lot of money won’t matter. Whether or not I get to see the world won’t matter. If I succeed doesn’t matter (or it depends on my definition of success.) How many people know my name (for the sake of knowing my name) doesn’t matter. The number of books I’ve read won’t matter (even though I love books!) The house I own won’t matter. The thoughts I captured in a blog won’t matter.

 

The only thing that will matter to me in the end will be the relationships I had – the pastors who taught me, the boss who mentored me, the co-workers I shared drinks with, the people I shared meals with, the friends I played soccer with, the people I catch up with, the memories I share with them, the people I saw get married, the kids I got to see in a play, the friend whose band I got to watch, the heartbroken friend I got to cry with, the people I get to support and watch succeed – those are the only things will matter to me.

 

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that a lot of people’s money, time, and energy tend to go to one of two things:

Stuff, or experiences.

 

Lots of people like to have cool things (and I tend to fall in this category) like all of the movies they like, gear for their favorite hobbies, a nice place to live, a good car, plenty of things that are useful or entertaining.

Other people like to experience things – they like to eat out and have good food, travel, see cool, exciting, exotic things, and want to say that they lived with no regrets, etc.

 

But I can’t help but think that one day I’ll be on my deathbed and I won’t be thinking about whether or not I ended up seeing every musical that Stephen Sondheim had a hand in (my current goal) nor will I be regretting not seeing the beaches of Cancun. I won’t regret it if I never get married (at least, I’m saying that right now.)

 

But I would regret living life alone. I would regret if my friends didn’t know how much I love and appreciate them. I would regret if I turned down invitation after invitation to spend time with people (and I don’t think that’s just because I’m an extrovert.)

 

I want to know people, and be known by people – I can’t help but think that’s the only thing that really matters.