Generally Relevant Experience.

Today was GRE day, and it was a day full of being mindful of God’s hand in my life. From the get go, I woke up with a slightly stuffed nose and a cough, but soon after I finished brushing my teeth, breathing deeply cleared my nasal passages – thank You, Lord.  I checked my phone and had received a few text messages from my friends with prayers and well wishes – thank You, Lord.  I went downstairs to make myself breakfast, but found that my mom had already made breakfast for me – thank You, Lord.  I checked how long the commute would take after using Google a few days ago to predict the commute time, and I found that the prediction was way off mark; it would only take me twenty-two minutes as opposed to the predicted forty-five to fifty minutes – thank You, Lord.  After arriving at the testing center, I was able to find the testing center without too much hassle, and I ventured into the room at 8:15 a.m.  After locking up all my belongings and entering the exam room, I found myself confronted with the computer screen I’d be looking at for the next few hours.  Taking a moment to pray, I was overcome by the thought of all the people who had been praying for me with regards to the exam – thank You, Lord.  I began the test, and found the first essay topic fairly accessible, finishing with ten seconds left – thank You, Lord.  In each of the one-minute periods following the sections, I took time to quickly pray and ask that I be more focused on His glory than on my results, thanking Him for surrounding me with family who would be praying for me and standing with me as I took the test.  The next essay was also fairly straightforward, and I finished with an extra two minutes – thank You, Lord.

The rest of the test was filled with prayer before and during each section, and at times of frustration or confusion, I felt encouraged when I thought about the blessing that existed in having a praying family.  Eventually, I finished the test, got my scores, and walked out.  I was really satisfied with my scores, and I found that my heart was full of praise; as I started my car, the song that was playing on the radio was “10,000 Reasons,” and I thought it couldn’t have been more fitting.  However, as I listened to the song and sang along, I began to realize that so much of the day had been in God’s hands from the beginning.  I also realized how much bargaining I had done with God prior to the test, and felt deeply that I was, once again, not given what I deserved.  I didn’t deserve the scores I had gotten because I really hadn’t worked that hard.  I didn’t deserve the mercy that was evident – and that I was mindful of – throughout the day.  And yet, God was pleased to guide me along the path He had for me.  In the depth of my embarrassed acceptance of God’s mercy, I found myself making new promises that I wouldn’t keep, and I realized that God had mercy not because of what I had done, but because His love was and is for who I am.  Thank You, Lord, for loving me despite myself and for being faithful in every season of my life.

I Mean.

It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for heartfelt messages and thoughtful gestures, and I think my friends have picked up on that over the years.  Then again, who isn’t?  I have been blessed with amazing friends over the years, and I’m constantly amazed that I ever have an impact on anyone.  More often than not, I think deeply about how the things I do have little to no impact on the lives of others, and why should they?  Talk is cheap, and indeed, that seems to be all I’m good at.  Nevertheless, I’m occasionally reminded as I am on this day, the day my daughter is to be married (whoops, wrong movie – go watch the Godfather!), that somehow, I’ve meandered far enough into people’s hearts to find myself meaning something.

Perhaps it’s ego-stroking, but perhaps it’s waking up from a dream of false identity.  Most likely, it’s a mix of the two.  Growing up in a culture of perseverance begetting further expectation, verbal expression of appreciation was nigh unheard of.  Passing through the valleys of depression led to a lack of weightiness to this life; the side effect was believing myself to be barely existing, just a breeze that was pleasant enough to take note of but for a moment.  And so, when I’m met with so much appreciation and shows of kindness, it becomes rather confusing to sift through.  On one hand, I ought not enjoy it so much because I’ve really done nothing worthy of the attention that I’m receiving, but on the other hand, it’s nice to find reason not to listen to the silent acceptance of meaning very little.

As it rains outside and as my eyelids begin to wage war against my wide-open consciousness, gratitude sinks heavy in my heart.  I am nobody, but Christ in me is more than enough to find an identity in.  Thank you all for seeing past the shortcomings and pointing me to where Christ has redeemed my wretched life.  As we usher in the new year, I hope some of us can continue to encourage one another on this crazy journey of life to understand just how deeply Christ is involved in shaping and sanctifying who we are.  You all didn’t have to remind me of the memories that we made together, but I’m really glad that you did.  It’s been a humbling day just thinking about all of you and seeing that I have no reason to continue on in insecurity about my friendships, which has been a bit of a struggle for me from time to time. If I have any boast in this world, it’s that God has granted me the most precious of friendships with all of you and with Himself, and that means more than enough to me.  I mean something, but that’s founded on God and God alone.

20.

So today is the day that I finally abandon my teenage years. I’ve seen two decades come and go, and what a fascinating, formative two decades it has been.  One of the most important takeaways from the time I’ve meandered around during my time here has been that the gifts I got each year were found in the people who were present (no pun intended).  It’s these people that I’ve come to adore more than any material objects I receive.  Sure, it’s nice getting something unexpected, but at the end of the day, the person is what’s going to last; gifts come and go, but people surprise me far more than anything I’ve ever received.

Right at 12 AM of today, I was on my computer watching It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia when I hear my phone vibrate.  I ignore it because I could probably respond after the episode and no one would be the wiser.  However, it begins to vibrate more and more consistently and I begin to get nervous. Being an instinctive pessimist, I had begun to think up outlandish scenarios in which one of my close friends had gotten kidnapped and was texting all the information I might need to find him or her. I picked up my phone, double-tapped the screen to wake it up, and slid my thumb down from the top of the screen only to reveal seven new text messages, all echoing one sentiment: happy birthday.

I went through each one and read it before responding to the person in kind, hopefully personalizing it enough to the point where it didn’t seem like I sent a mass “thank you” out to everyone.  And as the Facebook posts slowly started rolling in, perhaps because people remembered or perhaps because Facebook is the most diligent companion to us all in terms of remembering birth dates, I began thinking about the pleasure that would be responding to all the wall posts.

I like Facebook – this is a well-established fact.  However, I think my favorite thing to do is respond to the wall posts that make their way in.  Something about birthday Facebook posts makes them especially fun to respond to; you never know what is going to be said to you.  From the social obligation to the heartfelt post from someone close to heart, I appreciate each one, some obviously more than most, but the fact that someone I barely know wished me a happy birthday does give me some hope for the cordiality of humanity.

Anyhow, my birthday is over, and the last thing that’s pulsing through my mind like the neon sign of a late night shop is that I love the people God puts in my life, and this next year, I hope to show these people even more love than I have this past year.  And not just these people, because the Word says that it’s easy to love people who love you, but may this upcoming year be one in which I may love the unfamiliar, unsavory, and misunderstood.  Twenty years on Earth and it’s taken me this long to realize God’s love for us all, but hey – at least He revealed it to me finally.  I’m determined to try and show those around me how deep His love is.

On Gratitude.

He was just the weird kid that sat with the group during lunches, always a little to the left of you – far enough where he wasn’t sitting next to you, but close enough for it to be obvious where he wanted to be.  No one really spoke to him, and people always whispered about how weird he was, how he never said a word, and they wondered why he even bothered sitting there.  You always wondered about him, but you never felt like he was doing anything out of place, so you left him alone.  You sometimes wondered about his expression, often catching him looking at you as well, but he would glance away just as your eyes fell upon his face.  It was difficult to discern what went on behind his long hair, but any time you did catch a glimpse into his soul, it seemed familiar. Somehow, you knew what you saw; you both walked through the same trials, but you chose instead to put on a different mask.  You smiled through the abuse, the tears, the screaming fear.  You deflected invitations to lounge at your place, choosing instead the guise of mock humility in hopes that flattery would divert attention away from your broken household.  You almost wanted to ask him how he was doing, but you feared that the resulting empathy would weaken your defense.

And so you went on living.

All through high school, he just sat there.  Every lunch period, he would wordlessly sidle over to your general left, letting the backpack strap slip off his right shoulder to the ground, and sit.  People stopped whispering about him eventually, sharing the belief that he wasn’t hurting anyone, so why bother?  Yet you knew how much he hurt himself – you saw a scar that peeked out from underneath his long sleeves, and you could only imagine how much it hurt to be so near to friendship but never partake.  You understood. And you never tried to change it.

And so you went on living.

You walked home everyday from school, opting to take the scenic route so that you could prolong the time spent away from home.  You’d see him get picked up every day, looking straight ahead wordlessly as his mother drove off.  You felt the silence in the car, and grimaced.  Even if it was a forty minute walk, it was definitely preferable to the suffocation of that disapproving, insatiable silence.  You exhaled as you found yourself at your own doorstep, apprehensive of the conditions that lay behind the slightly dented door.  It stuck if you didn’t push down on it as it was opening, but it wasn’t too bad.  Sometimes you’d be home alone, and you could actually do your homework in quiet.  You’d make yourself a sandwich, and fiddle with your guitar, playing things mindlessly until you heard footsteps at the door.  Putting away the guitar, you’d sigh and spread out on your bed, praying that the door to your room would stay closed.

There was no such luck today as you opened the door to the cries of your mother screaming at your father. Rushing forward to hold him back from killing her, you bit your lip as blow after blow rained on you.  You crumpled.  As you fell on your knees, hunched over, you felt your spine give out from the beating.  With your eyes shut tight, all you could see was black and red, clenching your jaw so tight your teeth groaned under the pressure.  Your breath leaves you and you fall forward onto the musty carpet, unable to respond to fading calls of your name.

You’re dying.

As you come to, you realize immediately that you’d been taken to the emergency room.  You sigh grimly, wondering when your life came to the point when you worried first about the medical bills that couldn’t be paid before you worried about your own health.  You look over at the small table beside you, and you see a card with your name roughly scrawled on the cover.  Curious, you open it, and begin to read.

Dear John,

By this point, I’m fairly sure you still don’t know my name.  But that’s okay.  I’m happy to be known as the quiet kid who sits on your left hand side at lunch.  It always felt like we had a connection.  It must be some kind of inescapable fate that led me to writing this card.  I know you don’t know much about my life – I’m not even sure if you care, but I feel like I need to tell you this because maybe you do.  Here goes nothing.

Every day at school, I walk around and try to keep a low profile. I stay quiet, and I try not to do anything weird, other than stay really quiet.  At lunch, I go over to where you and the other people sit.  If you’ve ever wondered why I’ve been drawn to your group, it’s mainly because of you.  There was a moment, I think it was sophomore year, when you put your mask down, and I recognized myself in your eyes.  I was walking in the hall, and caught sight of you opening the door to the bathroom.  But what I saw wasn’t typical you.  Your eyes gave it away; I saw the hurt you kept inside.  I didn’t know what to do.  At first, I just hung out with your group because you were the only one who would let me sit there and not ask questions or tell me to leave.  I think your friends caught on, and so I sat there with you guys all through high school.  Something about watching how you talked to your friends and how you paid close attention to what they said was really admirable.  It’s like you held onto every word they said as if it was the last thing you’d hear them say.  You rarely talked much about yourself, and I wondered why your friends never noticed that you would always dance around their questions about you – especially the questions about your home and your family.  I wanted to talk to you, to have you listen to what I had to say, but I couldn’t even hold eye contact with you longer than an instant.  And so I just watched.

I never would have guessed that you’d be going through something like this.  Even though my parents are divorced, they’ve never laid a hand on me physically.  It’s the emotional abuse that did me in.  Feelings of worthlessness, abandonment, the desire to just be accepted for who I am and not what I do, I’ve thought it all.  Eventually, I started cutting, and the peace that filled me in those moments was the only thing I looked forward to at home.  My mom stopped talking to me since my dad left us, and she either works or sleeps.  She never knew about my hobby.  My dad, well, who knows where he is?  I try not to think about him because I don’t want to run the risk of becoming anything like him.  One day, my mom overslept, and so I had to walk home.  It’s about a thirty minute walk, and along the way, I stopped by the ER.  I don’t even know why.  I stayed to see patients being rushed in, usually unconscious, and as I went in more and more after school, the staff grew to recognize me.  They would let me in the back sometimes to see the people being taken care of, and I wondered what it’d be like if I was the one laying in the bed.  Would anyone come see me?  So, I began staying longer and longer, hoping for people to wake up so that I could hear their story.  These people became my daily friends.

Still, I cut.  Some days, I could go without it, but some days, I would spend as long as I could in the bathroom, watching my anxieties flow away in a crimson calm.  Today, I avoided cutting, and went to the ER instead.  I met Henry, who was paralyzed from the neck down, and Mary, who suffered third degree burns all along the left side of her body.  And then, I met you.  At first, I couldn’t even recognize you because you were swollen.  Your mom was crying about how your dad beat you, but once she saw that you were being taken care of, she left.  The nurses said that you needed a blood transfusion, and went to look for your mom, but she was nowhere to be found.  I wondered out loud if  I was a match, and the doctor searched for your records.  We’re both O-negative.  They set me up and drew blood, and the blood transfusion was under way.  Guess it was a good thing I didn’t cut today, huh? 

Anyhow, they drew enough blood and sent me on my way.  I stayed in the lobby to write this card, hopefully my story didn’t annoy you too much.  I just wanted to say thank you for not pushing me away, and just letting me be who I am comfortable with being.  My mom was often silent at home, and it killed me; it seemed like she never forgave me for my dad abandoning us.  But when you were quiet, I understood it as an invitation to do as I pleased, and I’ll never forget that.  Hope you get better soon.

Joshua

Stunned, you put the card down.  You never realized that this was how he felt, and you began to regret not asking him how he was.  It might have cracked your defenses, but you now understood that you needed one another more than you expected to help each other get through the circumstances you were both in.  You lay in bed with your left hand still holding the card by your side, and you felt like reaching for the remote.  As you turned on the television, the first thing that was on was a news report about a vehicular homicide.  You tried your best to sit up, but froze as you heard the identification of the victim.  It was Joshua.  Apparently, he felt faint as he walked up the hill from the emergency room, and fell into the street, where a car, unable to see past the crest of the hill, unknowingly ran over his limp body, killing him.  You broke down.  You tried your best to yell, but your body denied you the capacity to.  You covered your face with your hands, clutching desperately at your hair, not understanding why this happened.  Each breath you drew brought you more pain as anguish racked your body.  You cried quietly until the tears no longer frequented your face.  When the last staggered breaths were drawn, you realized that Joshua, this complete stranger to you, gave his life that you might live.  With that knowledge, you fought to find closure through it all.  You found disbelief, you found anger, you found humiliation, and you found guilt.  But finally, after everything, you found gratefulness.

And so you went on living.