Years ago, I realized I have an odd habit. Perhaps you do too- intentionally or unintentionally. But it's something I do pretty much every day, without fail.
I have conversations with myself. Not just muttering under my breath. Not little remarks or "asides" to an unseen listener. I have full on conversations with myself.
Like I said- you probably do it too. And it's one of those things that, while you're doing it, you don't think anything of it! You talk, listen, respond, and everything, just as if a person were actually there. And then you realize you're in the middle of Panera and the worker is staring at you like you're crazy.
And I kind of agree.
I mean, with technology today, we can always be in contact with people! My cell phone can instantly connect me with every person I know (even some I don't know). I can, at a moment's notice, be in conversation with a live person through texting or a phone call. And if I had a smartphone- well, then NO ONE is outside my reach of contact! I could search the internet for anyone to talk to. I could message you guys, Facebook chat any one of my 900+ friends, tweet funny little lines to my besties, and so on. Yet, I still stand there, in public, talking with none other than my own self.
And I have to ask why- why would I do that? I always talk about being an extrovert. I love people- I can talk with pretty much anyone. I have little issue with conversing with a complete stranger, much less someone I know. Why am I settling for having a one-sided (maybe two sided, depends on the day) conversation with someone I usually complain about (that being myself)?
Yes, I could pull out my cell phone and talk to any person on this earth who possesses some sort of electronic communicating device. But that requires an effort. Mind you, not much effort- just some effort. A little effort. Thirty seconds if that much to select the contact and type, "What's up?" But I can't even give it that much effort. So I settle for what's more convenient. The most present. In other words, if it's around me, it's already at the top of my list. Now I could claim that it's because I am more of a physical presence person. And I would actually not be entirely wrong there. But I'd be lying if I said that were it.
Truth be told, I am horrible at long distance communication. The effort it requires is too much for me at times. It causes me issues in my relationship with my girlfriend. It's a reason I don't blog consistently. It's the reason I hardly talk with my closest friends from undergrad and high school. Even friends from grad school have been dropped due to convenience for me- I got caught up in work at the church and lost touch with several great people. Great friends. Friends who needed Jesus.
And I left them.
I've had to come to grips that I have to work on this. I can't just let this keep happening. I can't just count on always having people around or counting on conversations with myself to satisfy. I can't sharpen myself as a Christian. I can't keep myself accountable. I can't make myself my ministry. I have to reach out to others- even if they're not standing next to me.
Maybe those past relationships can be restored. Maybe not. But I won't know either way until I make an effort. And I can't make that effort until I truly believe Jesus will be the one to give me the Grace to do it.
However, I have a feeling I'll still always talk to myself...
"I'm facing probably the hardest change of my life... I'm facing temptations with everything! I constantly want to hurt myself or gorge myself with junk food and alcohol. All I wanna do is watch nonstop porn or have sex with as men as possible! I can't go to sleep at night and I can't get myself out of bed in the morning. I'm literally losing my mind over this! I don't rest at night or during the day, I want to be around people but I want to be alone as well. I can't go on any more like this- I really don't know if I'm gonna make it through this..."
I sat across from my counselor, unloading this all. Amidst all this, I had been sick for a week now with sinus crud- so I sounded a bit like a chain smoker. Probably made everything I was saying sound worse. My counselor took it all in and nodded his head. If there's one thing I love about him, it's that he has yet to ever not understand what I talk to him about. Plus he and I have similar likes in video games. After my unloading of the crap, he just asked one simple question...
"Is this a permanent change?"
My blank stare gave away that I was not sure what he just asked.
"What I mean is- will this change be for the rest of your life, or will it change again within a year or five or ten?"
"Well, I guess it could change at any time. So, no, it's not permanent."
My counselor gave his usual "exactly!" response that he knows I appreciate hearing before he started on his spiel. He reminded me that little in this life is ever permanent. Everything eventually comes to an end, one way or another. Even death is a change- life itself ends and our spirit goes somewhere else. Even marriage, though intended to be for life, doesn't "have" to be that way ("Though, as both of us our Christians, we know divorce is not a ready option," he said qualifying himself.)
My counselor was pointing out that, though this is a big change I'm facing, it's not permanent. I'm not stuck with it forever and ever. I can change it again when I want to. Or I can wait until God changes it for me. Or I'll change and the new change will be something I do hold onto for many, many years. The point it- I don't have to let it cause me so much stress that I wreck my life out of fear or worry or what not.
After another 30 minutes of talking through this all, my counselor asked if there was anything else I wanted to go over. I said no and we headed out the door.
"Now if you need to talk through this again, you know to call me," my counselor added as usual.
"Yeah, yeah, I know! Don't worry, I'll call if I need to!"
"Good, well, take it easy, calm down, and enjoy. And congrats again on the job!"
Yes, I have a new job. I am the Director of Children's Ministry at my church, a PAID staff position. No more interning for free- I'm now on salary. And, yes, this change caused me to freak out big time.
You see, this is my first "Adult" job. Everything else I've ever done has been temporary or only out of necessity. Like when I was a waiter- that was out of necessity. Working for my sister was temporary. Any kind of work study through school was also those two things. I've never had a "career" job before. You know, something I was planning to do with my life. And now I'm here. And all I could think about was: had I made the right decisions? Am I supposed to be in this job? Should I have gone somewhere else or done something else? I started going through all my big decisions over the past few years- and then I started going through the past 10 years of big decisions. I was getting deeper and deeper into my past, wondering if I had made a huge and unfixable mistake along the way. Should I have gone to different schools, studied different disciplines, dated someone else, pursued a homosexual lifestyle, pursued a celibate lifestyle, gone to a different church- everything was up for debate. And it was taking its toll on me.
I finally couldn't take it anymore and started in on those urges I told to my counselor. In one weekend, I watched about 10 hours of porn. I made myself numb from the amount images I took in- I couldn't feel emotions for most of the next day. When I finally did, I broke down crying. I felt wretched, confused, depressed, and alone. I called in for an emergency appointment with my counselor as soon as I could. Everything in me wanted to quit and run away from my job, my church, my friends, my girlfriend, and my family. I wanted to go somewhere and hide for awhile. I'd emerge again in a few years and start a new life, one without as many issues as this one. But I knew that that wasn't the answer. Still, I had no idea what to do.
Thank God for my counselor. He and I talked through all of this in that session. He was open and nonjudgmental, encouraging and firm. He shared his own struggles with this in his life and shared the wisdom that he gained. By the end, I was able to have some joy in the change and a lot less fear over it all. I took comfort in the reminder that God is in control and He can change whatever He wants, whenever He wants. As I sit in my new office, I see a note card hanging next to me left by the former director. While she didn't leave it for me specifically, I can't help but think that God had it left for me. The card has Proverbs 16:9 on it- "A person may plan his own journey, but the Lord directs his steps." I can plan all I want- but God has the final blueprint for my life. I'm just discovering it as I go along. And I can only imagine what I'll discover over the next few years...
I had been planning for weeks. Researching, looking up information online, talking with people everywhere. I was working with everything I had on this. I was praying, preparing- I was going to be ready for everything. That fateful morning, I awoke, cool and confident while eager and excited. During the drive, I had nothing but excitement bubbling over with each mile passed. As I drove up the driveway, my excitement peaked- it was happening. As I stepped out of my car, one thought immediately took over:
I was paralyzed right where I stood. Doom was approaching. It was all over now. But my brain was determined as well, screaming at me-
Get. Out. Of. There. NOW! Jump back in the car, get in gear, drive as fast as possible back home, and don't stop until then to freak out/throw up/pass out.
Still, I stayed, frozen in one spot. I was a helpless victim to the horrific evening set before me.
I'm talking about my first date with Kate of course.
Shortly after Kate and I had begun texting devotionals to each other each morning, we became best friends. I guess that's natural- there is something powerful about the bond between two souls sharing their walks with God with each other on a daily basis. While we were still hours apart, we became the closest of friends, more than her older sister and I had even been.
Then, as luck would have it, I started having more time to visit her at college. Since I had several other friends at her school, I made it a trip to see many people. Of course, Kate was the main person I would go see. We got along great! We would talk just with each for hours, coming away with more inside jokes than we could ever remember. I was glad to have a close friend- stepping into ministry from years of music school was interesting. She could relate, being a musical theatre major who had a heart for missions. It was this heart that led her to accept a position in a woman's crisis pregnancy center in the same state as Gondor, following her graduation in December 2011. She would still be hours away, but she was in a city I loved (let's call it "Rivendell") and I promised I would still visit her. My first chance came on a seemingly awkward day.
"So, guess who had a date on Valentine's day?!?"
Al looked blankly at me while BT just smirked and shook his head.
"With a girl too!" I added, just to make sure they got the joke.
"Yeah, Mitchell, not sure that counts. Just saying..."
"Well, true, but at least it was a date, even if it was just a best friend date."
Al breathed a sigh of relief- he was about to be even more depressed that the gay intern had had a date while he himself, thoroughly attracted to women, just rode his bike all day.
Yes, I had indeed been with Kate that day- Valentine's day of 2012. It was the only time I could get off from work- I promise. It wasn't intentional. I made that clear to her and she fully understood. But, we still made the most of it. We went to a park, made sandwiches, and enjoyed a lovely picnic. We then made each other big poster valentine's, thus "mocking" the holiday, and then played on a playground nearby. We followed this with a trip to a bookestore where we looked through a wedding fashion magazine.
Hindsight is 20/20 sometimes.
Kate had her own conversations following that non-date of Valentine's 2012. Her best friend, Beth, was possibly a little tired of hearing about me. She hadn't ever met me, but she knew one thing: I was the man Kate loved.
After I left Rivendell that 14th of February, Kate called up Beth to hash out her frustrations with her feelings.
"I like him, oh my gosh, I like him! But he's so not attracted to me and he's so not going to ever want to marry me, much less date me, much less every try to romanticize me! And yet I feel like he is flirting with me- but I know he doesn't realize it! He doesn't even have to try sometimes- Beth, he started talking about his dream to be a father one day and I about melted right there and kissed him! I wanna tell him so bad how I feel!"
"Well, why don't you?" Beth was getting a little sick of the "I love Mitchell" talks after a year or so.
"Because I know he doesn't like me. I know it. And I'd rather be friends at least than open my big mouth and ruin our friendship with my stupid feelings."
All the while they were talking, I was driving to Gondor, a good four hour drive. And my thoughts over that drive?
"I think I like her..."
Conversation after conversation after conversation. First BT, then my counselor, then- well no one. I only told those two about my feelings for Kate. I was confused. I mean, I had liked girls before, but never like this. I had been on some dates, tried pursuing girls- but nothing ever worked out. And it never really hurt me that much. But now- well, I wasn't sure what I felt. It was leaving me frustrated and depressed to be honest.
Both guys had the same advice- don't overthink it. Just let it be what it is and see what happens. If the feelings go away, then fine. If not, then do something about them. Also...
"Do you know if she feels the same about you?"
"No, she doesn't. I know she doesn't. And I don't want to ruin our friendship over friendship with my stupid feelings."
Who knew, though, it would only take two conversations to change both our minds.
Working in a church, you get used to problem solving. "We need more volunteers!" Talk to people, offer them food, done. "We need a creative plan for tomorrow night!" Clear out furniture, put up black lights, done. "We need 5 singers on stage leading worship but we only have 3 mics!" Only use 3 people, done. Pretty straightforward right?
You get used to someone telling you what's wrong and you go fix it- especially as an intern. In fact, that feels like all I do- come in and fix whatever problems may have arisen. I don't know how many times I've moved couches and chairs around the office, climbed on a ladder to adjust and readjust the projectors, and rewired our entire sound system. Each week presents more things to fix and correct.
I get stuck in this mindset and even start to forget that I can't fix everything. I mean, so far I've done pretty well. There isn't really anything that can't be fixed right?
And then, one of your volunteers breaks down at church because she and her husband can't have kids while 9 or more other couples at your church are expecting.
One of your students tells you that she just found out her biological father raped her when she was 3- but it's ok cause she "doesn't care".
Your girlfriend wrestles with past abuse in her own life as she goes through counseling required by her job.
Your brother and his second wife are expecting a baby, but he won't tell the rest of your family because they aren't on speaking terms with each other.
I literally had all four of these conversations this week- three of them last night. What did I say? What could I say? What quick solutions are there to these problems? What do you do when these people come to you, broken and battered, and they look at you, the "ministry person", for an answer? What do I say? "God's gonna work this out for your good!" I really don't feel like that'll help. I mean, it's true- but in that moment of brokenness, is that really going to help? For someone who's stuck in a ditch, telling them about a rope that could get them out of a ditch doesn't do much. It also doesn't help to just jump in there if you have no way to get yourself out.
I stood there, each time, praying, "God, please help me! Jesus, I am clueless!" I then said what I could, though I don't know if it helped. How do you comfort someone angry at God or their father or their family? How do you encourage someone who literally has lost hope in anything ever changing? What do you do?
The only thing I've done each time that I feel liks has helped has been this: I've loved them. I've been honest, telling them I don't understand it at all. But I tell them that I care about them and am here for them however they need me. And I always reminded them that, no matter how it seems, Jesus loves them too. Did that help? I really don't know. Maybe, maybe not.
But I do know one thing that will help for sure- prayer. And maybe that's my only needed role in all of this. If so, praise Jesus that I can do anything for these people.
And praise Jesus that He is truly able to work in their lives.
So, last time I posted was quiiiiite awhile ago it seems. My apologies. The past month or so has been quite hectic and emotional and- well, let's just recap.
First topic- Breaking Lent
It happened, I'm sorry to say. It didn't happen as quickly as I thought it might, but I did fall into porn a few times during the 40 days. The first fall was on the 29th day. I was down south of Gondor judging for a competition. Since I was going to be splitting a hotel suite with the parents, I thought it would be ok to my take my nook. Also, it had been 28 days since my last fall- the length of time that "supposedly" it takes to break a habit or something like that. I figured I would be in the clear. But it's amazing how one little thought can grow so massively or how one innocent picture can spawn something much most disturbing. Basically, while looking up random stuff about a game I love playing, I found some x-rated material some people had created with said game. And that was it. My parents tucked away in bed early, I ran to the bathroom and did what I do all too well.
Afterwards, I just laid on my bed in a daze. What went wrong? What did I do wrong? I had been so strong, so confident, I had been doing everything right! Where did I mess up? I begged forgiveness of Jesus Who gave me some insight- that I'll never be free of anything I do on my own. It didn't matter if I went porn free for 28 years- I can't keep my self sinless by any power of my own. It was humbling. I thought that would be it- a final lesson learned from a final fall. Wrong.
Move forward two weeks to Easter week! That's right- guess who looked at porn during Easter week? And not just any two days- but Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Yeah, I'm a winner. Gold star Christian right here, guys.
In my attempt to rid my apartment of all access to internet, I passed over one portal- my Xbox 360. The stupid thing has an app for Internet Explorer. And there's not a way to block it securely from what I've found. I originally thought that, since my profile is public always, I would have accountability. But my lovely porn hungry brain found the way to alter my privacy settings. After these falls, I again felt completely dazed and worthless. On Easter, the day we celebrate Jesus' Resurrection which gave us freedom from sin, I'm FALLING INTO SIN!!
F--- my life.
But really, how messed up can you get? I sat on my floor, debating on how to hurt myself. Cutting my wrists, slamming my head into the wall repeatedly, self tattooing with a knife a Cross onto my forearm- nothing seemed to satisfy the shame and self hatred I felt inside. I sat there for over an hour before laying down on my stomach and bowing before God. I didn't cry, I didn't beg- I just laid there. I deserved death, separation. I deserved to be thrown back into the pit He brought me out of- it seemed that's where my flesh wants to be anyway.
But Jesus didn't do any of that. He didn't speak or act or anything. He was silent. I was silent. That's when I remembered that this- this sin- is why He died. It's why He suffered. And it's why He rose again.
I unhooked my Xbox and put it aside to take somewhere else, anywhere other than my apartment. I then just got in bed and trusted that tomorrow would be a better day.
Second Topic- Holy Hangovers
I was supposed to be at work at 10 this morning. I woke up at 9 and immediately hit snooze. Five minutes later, as my alarm went off again, I reset it to 9:45. I'll just be late to work, I figured. I hit snooze at 9:45 promptly and then texted Han, my pastor, at 9:50, asking to come in late do to feeling like crap (I just said sick actually). He said don't come in at all and I graciously accepted the chance to sleep for another 2 hours. By noon today, I was able to get out of bed without feeling like I was going to barf- good progress. Immediately, I ate a small bite of food and opened my Bible.
I had decided the night prior to increase my Bible reading time. It had been a little lacking the past few months- I was still reading, just not as much I used to. I usually like to read for 30+ minutes each day. Lately, I was lucky to get 5. I went to First Corinthians, a book I've been meaning to study. And Jesus worked it out wonderfully.
Two passages slapped me in the face and caused me to journal today like I haven't done in awhile. The first passage, 1:4-9, tells us that we have everything we need. "I know I do." You don't know what I mean, what Paul is actually saying. He says that, from the very moment of salvation, when He wipes away our sins and the Holy Spirit comes inside of us, we have EVERYTHING. Paul says we have all knowledge and understanding, we have the Spirit of Christ in us. We have been given everything we will ever need at that exact moment.
That means, I have the strength I need to overcome temptation. It means I have the Grace to stand against porn. It means I have the wisdom to avoid certain situations that would cause me to fall. It means that there is no longer anything in this life that can destroy me or take me down. Jesus has provided EVERYTHING- He gave it to me the moment I was saved on September 1st, 2006 and I have had it since. I'm not saying we're perfected right then and there- good heavens no! Just like if you give a kid an instrument, we have to learn how to use the power that Christ has offered us. Truly the only person who can use the power of Christ to its fullest it Christ Himself- so He makes us more like Him so that we can take part of His Spirit better.
And that was just one passage.
the other one was 1:26-31. Simply put, Paul points out that we are not called because of any greatness of our own. In fact, Jesus called us because of our worst and weakest parts. In other words, Jesus called me because I was a lustful, arrogant, impure bastard. Yeah, not what you usually hear in church. We're always told we're loved "despite our sins". But really, form what Paul says, it's this sin that is the reason Christ calls us to Him! Not so we can stay in it, of course- but to bring Him glory by leaving it. If someone good just does something better, then it's not that impressive. But when someone horrible does something great, it's astounding and often not due to their own ability or power. See what I mean?
Conclusion- Believing It All The question I wrote in my journal in the midst of all this was simple: Do I really believe it? My one word for this year is "Believe". My goal is to actually believe the promises of God, to believe what He says, to believe that all things are possible according to His will. I'm guessing the first place to start is with me- do I believe that God can save even me.
That's my life. Minus family drama. But that's another series all together...