It has been on my mind.
I have grown a discipline that has been taking control over my social media and part of that discipline says that I have permission over the content I present publicly. One of the more powerful tools available is the “what happened on this day” type of feature.
In it, I see cringy posts from years past about how bad politics can get a person wrapped around its fingers. I see posts about youth group meetings delayed, canceled, moved, and celebrated.
I see pictures of family, friends, and beloved pets in photos suspended in time and upon seeing them, my mind plays highlight reels surrounding events leading up to the photograph and some of them to follow.
Sometimes the memories are rich.
Sometimes they are shallow.
Today is a simple photo that I knew was coming, because today is the fifth of October and it has been a year.
We’ve definitely heard endlessly just how funny memory can be this week. And in preparation of remembering and experiencing, I’ve wondered what our memories and experiences will be in eternity. In some ways I have walked through some very dark memories this week. There were some extraordinary hurts.
But the hurt is not eternal.
Thank you, God.
So what remains?
And if that remains, perhaps that is what I should focus on now and practice eternity as if eternity starts today. In that case, there are three things that happened a year ago today.
In the Company of Heroes
I called together my team because they had to make a choice. I wondered long and hard about how to present the information to them. In the moment, I was very hurt, but more so I was worried about my students. They needed leadership and they needed leadership that would gather them together fearlessly and honestly. They needed to be dropped off by parents who trusted the team that received them. They needed to gather in the absence of the black clouds of rumors overhead raining down a toxic environment.
They needed so much that it was possible it exceeded my presence.
So I presented the situation to them and on my honor, I gave it as free of spin as I could. And I let them know what their three choices were. I made certain they knew that the needs of the community, especially those of the students that we served far exceeded my own needs and that I intended to make certain my family was cared for regardless of their choice.
I don’t know why it shocked me, but it did, how immediately this community of people chose as they did. But the shock was not just in their immediacy, but also in the embrace with which they made their choice. They reached out beyond the ministry that needed to happen for our students and embraced me, my wife, and my children. They cried with us over injustice, for sure, but they looked with us toward tomorrow and what it would need.
In heartbreak, my heart was rescued by such potent love from people who love mightily and without tiring.
In the Shadow of the Valley
As I look back, I realize that Thursdays were hard. For some reason, it was when the bad news and bad attitudes rained down the hardest. I don’t know if that was the day that some people just had really bad moods. I don’t know if it was on a weekly planner.
What I do know was that looking at conducting a Bible study with people following the events of the day was like Maximus going into his last fight with a shiv in his ribs.
I knew, as I drew bacon from the oven, that it could actually be the last Bible study I conducted on the island, and perhaps ever. When you didn’t know your last words were going to be your last words, what do you do? What do you say? What truth, for the love of goodness, needs to be the last one that people hear?
As luck would have it, we were talking about Joseph and how his life cried out for justice. That night, I taught myself the study as much as I taught the boys and it would dictate how my life would be lived from that point on.
You see, Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob Israel would spend years and years with the opportunity to become bitter. His brothers sold him into slavery. And he rose to prominence. His master’s wife accused him of an assault with only a cloak as evidence and he wore shackles of prison for it. He delivered hopeless men from the mouths of despair and they promised him favors in return.
He was forgotten.
The reason that Joseph wore the favor of God the way he wore his father’s favorite cloak was not because God plays favorites.
Well, ok, God does play favorites, but the secret is that we are all his favorites, which sounds like a total cop out, except it’s not because if you divide infinity (the numerical value of His eternal and boundless love) you still have infinity, so pardon the run on and caffeine fueled interruption.
But in this instance, God not only loved Joseph in his times of suffering, but He also honored Joseph’s way of suffering. Joseph conducted himself as if God was with him at all times. He called on God’s wisdom to interpret the dreams of other people. He rejected Potiphar’s wife because it was an offense to God even before the Ten Commandments said so. He hoped every single day of his forgotten imprisonment because God gave him the power to hope.
And as the song would go that Hillsong would release within a year, “So will I.”
Blessed be the Name of the Lord
The last thing that happened a year ago today was following the Bible study, and following the meeting of my team, I stepped into a sanctuary where I was late for worship practice. We were running late because of the meeting I was holding. They had already begun to practice. I walked into the room, hungry for my guitar around my neck, my monitors in my ears, and a microphone in my face.
I walked up to stand in the company of my praise team ready to praise my God.
I often wonder about certain ideas God drives home through scripture. Up until that moment, the biggest wonder and doubt I carried was, “How is it possible to praise God when your heart seems to fail from grief.”
We prayed and I pressed “Play” on our track.
Alone in my sorrow and dead in my sin
Lost without hope with no place to begin
Your love made a way to let mercy come in
When death was arrested and my life began
As we sang, the simple strum of the guitar, and the slow build toward the revelation that God sees us where we are and has a plan for right now and an even more glorious one to reveal for tomorrow… hope began to arise.
Ash was redeemed only beauty remained
My orphan heart was given a name
My mourning grew quiet, my feet rose to dance
When death was arrested and my life began
From the day’s events that began as a cool morning and moved toward the devastation of the betrayal of a friend, to the shade of an awning, eating bacon and studying God’s word, to the devotion of friends and warriors of Christ, I saw the broken down house of the mission of my life as the rubble it was, only to be revealed next to the house of God, which is never destroyed by the hand of man.
Oh, Your grace, so free
Washes over me
You have made me new now
Life begins with You
With the rising sound of celebration and the call to freedom, my heart began to rise with hope. God did not give me a vision of anything He was going to bring to pass. It was bigger than that. What He told me was that He was not going anywhere that He was not going to bring me with Him.
Free from my chains, I’m a prisoner no more
My shame was a ransom He faithfully bore
He canceled my debt and He called me His friend
When death was arrested and my life began
The celebration in my heart that began to arise because of how well the song was written, and how well timed Nick’s selection of it for us to use to praise God arose in the crescendo to make me smile in the midnight of my broken heart and to know that there was nothing more amazing than the opportunity to love God and be loved by Him.
It’s Your endless love
Pouring down on us
You have made us new now
Life begins with You
Such a corporate praise that not only am I redeemed, but I am redeemed into a family of people who have all discovered God and His love in different walks and times in life. But here we are and how exciting it is that we all are loved by Him! And we get to love Him! Why not sing?
Our Savior displayed on a criminal’s cross
Darkness rejoiced as though Heaven had lost
But then Jesus arose with our freedom in hand
That’s when death was arrested and my life began
Freedom is not just a word meaning nothing left to lose, with all respect to Janis and Bobby. Freedom, real freedom, is knowing that you have a lot to lose and if it goes down it will not bring you with it. Freedom, finding freedom, living freedom, embracing freedom, and then trying to infect other people with a passion for it, means that your life may become so utterly focused away from anything that doesn’t matter onto one thing that does. When up from the grave, Christ arose, free from the chains of death, with the key to the chains of our own death in His hands, the freedom He brought to us to find was that which empowers us to be His voices, His hands, His feet, His ears, His.
He makes us more His the more freedom we embrace.
Forever we’re free!
Come join the song, of all the redeemed!
Yes we’re free!
When death was arrested and my life began!
On This Day
When I look back now with my eyes of dust that will pass to nothing, I see the hurt and betrayal.
When I look back with the eyes of Heaven, I see friends, closer than family, a company of boys growing into men, and I see the chance to truly praise God in freedom, because of freedom, in hopes of sharing that freedom with everyone I know.
When I look back one year, I see the strength of my bride and the joy with which she bore our son through nine months of hard times. He is the happiest baby I have ever seen, and maybe that has a little to do with the heart that beat so closely to his growing ears. Maybe it has something to do with the infection of joy and hope that was his lifeblood before his birth. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that his mother gave him and his safety over to the One who knows him and loves him more potently than anyone else could.
When I look back, I see men and women drawing up along side of us to continue our mission to its conclusion back in May. Some of you who came alongside of us did so to our utter amazement and astonishment. Some of you were my boys and girls in youth group rooms for whom much of my life in those days was poured out. And suddenly your lives poured out for us.
When I look back, I see the grace of God abounding for His people and the rich opportunity to end well with the work we began.
When I look back, I see death truly arrested, and the machinery of death shamed. I see life lifted up in the hearts of people.
I see worship truly empowering people to grieve and to joy at the same time.
I see the good things of God, and all else pales and falls to the background, lost as dust and chaff, for the wheat of the feast is all that remains in the threshing work of God’s timing.