Sometimes I get pretty frustrated with the progress I’m making–or perhaps more accurately, with the slowness of it.  I want to be happy, edified, and healed.  I want to have a good job, a home, and a family. 

I want to be rebuilt.

It’s just taking so darn long.  But I suppose I should not be surprised.  It took a lifetime to make me the person I am today, and while God certainly could change me instantaneously into the person he made me to be, then I would miss a lot.

I would miss the journey.  I would miss learning, and impatient as I am, that is something I very much need to do.  But when I think about where I was, vs where I am today, I can see that God truly has wrought a miracle in my life.

where I was:

20 years, relatively speaking, is not that long of a time.  But 20 years ago, while I was young, I was not strong.  I think that was actually when I really began my downward spiral in earnest.  I would hole up in my small apartment, and I would literally stare at the freaking walls sometimes.  It got to the point where I didn’t want to look at just the navajo white paint anymore, so I covered them with movie posters.  Not for your everyday movies, mind you, but for what I liked to call “splatter” movies.  The gorier the better.

I had posters for zombie movies, slasher movies, vampire movies.  Some were campy looking, but many  featured a strong, supernatural element, and some were downright scary.

It was better than looking at paint.

I hardly ever left my apartment, except to go to work.  I had this one friend at the pizza place where I worked, and he would come over sometimes and we would listen to music, and talk about how much the world sucked.  I think it was Travis that first introduced me to death metal.  Bands like Cannibal Corpse, Obituary, Sepultura, and Napalm Death.

I liked listening to that stuff–it was so ridiculously graphic.  It was like watching one of the movies whose posters covered my walls.

Travis did not do drugs, and neither did I.  Never got into them, never even tried them, actually.  Instead, we would listen to metal, and with some of the CDs, would really get into the stories they depicted.  Sometimes, we would be kicking back listening, maybe having some junk food, and the next thing I knew, hours would go by.

I think that was the closest I ever came to feeling totally lost.

But God reached out to me in that place.  It would be years before I would reach out to Him in return, but he sent people to me that would lift me up, with prayer, and friendship, and love.  One or two people at a time.  Some I got to know very well, and some hardly at all.  But I began to realize I did not have to sit in darkness. 

I began to realize there was light, and people like

Annmarie (the first person to really love me as I was, though just as friend)

Holly (the first person who told me she loved me that I believed)

Teresa (literally dragged me out of my apartment on many occasions)

Johnny (would not take my “no” for an answer. I hope he’s well)

Sherry (talked to me for hours when I was at my worst.  My first real adult friend)

and Mike made me realize over time that there was hope.  It wasn’t all dark, or it didn’t have to be.  It was up to me how much light I let in. 

 Mike in particular made a big impact, and he was really just an acquaintance and coworker more than anything else.  One time he said “thank God” about something.  I remarked that God had not done a hell of a lot for me.

“He’s done more than you realize,” Mike said.  I thought about that for weeks afterward, and while it seemed like a load of crap then, I would still think about his words from time to time after we stopped working together.

More than I realize?  What did he know about anything?  I realized what God had NOT done, certainly.

What didn’t I realize?  You know the funny thing about Mike? 

He was right. 

I wonder what he’s doing now? 

And the first thing that happened was that I got rid of all the posters.  Not because they were affecting me (at least I didn’t think so), but because of how they made me think.  I did not realize how old thinking dark, violent thoughts had gotten.

And the second thing to go was the death metal.  It was not healthy–and even before I had Christ in my life, I was able to realize this.  It was maybe even worse than staring at gory posters all the time.  I had to use my imagination, and I had a lot of imagination.

Light began to creep into my life, little by little, person by person.  It took a long time after that before I found Jesus, but it’s hard to reconcile that person with all the gross posters on his walls, and all the darkness in his heart with the way I feel today.  I really had no idea what a bleak place I was in back then, right out of high school, and into my twenties.  I had no idea how depressed I really was.  I did not realize that what I was really doing was just waiting for the next thing to happen.

Waiting to die.  It was just the next thing.

But Jesus reached down into the dark well of my life and pulled me out of it.  He did it by his might, but also through the Grace and love of people on earth, that were able to show me his love in a practical and real way.  He did it by introducing people into my life that had been where I was.  People I could relate to.

People who could feel my pain.

And that made all the difference.  I hope to do that for someone, someday.

The main thing that’s different now from then is that I have hope running through me, and it seems as if a new blessing is introduced into my life nearly every day.  It’s so strange to have hope when all you grew up with was despair. 

Hope.  4 letters. H-O-P-E.

A small word, but so huge with resonance and meaning.  Because I have God in my life, and Jesus in my heart, I no longer am subject to that despair that once owned me.  I don’t need to withdraw into a dark place when I feel the world weighing on me.  And actually, for the most part, it doesn’t anymore. 

The world, after all, is not what is important.  Like the song says, the things of earth grow strangely dim.

I am being rebuilt, and it is a process.  A lifelong process, from what I’m told, and what I’ve been made to know by God.  And that’s OK.

I have time.

Many things have happened in my life since God entered it–since I asked him to.  I have found wonderful friends, and a great church.  A good job, and a healthy family.  And I have found love, or perhaps more accurately, it found me.

But hope was first. 

I needed to know it was out there.  I needed to know that God was out there, and had plans to prosper me, and not to harm me.  Plans to give me hope, and a future….

2 Corinthians 5:17

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

I got stuck on this verse.  Well, maybe not stuck, but I could not stop thinking about it. Most days, I don’t feel like a new creation.  Most days I feel all crudded up by life.  By sin.

For me, part of becoming a Christian, maybe even the largest part, was being made aware of my sin.  Prior to that awareness–that awakening, I thought I was golden because I was a pretty good guy.  I was nice to old people and animals.  I didn’t do any drugs, I didn’t fool around.  I hadn’t had the same kind of big, dramatic experiences I heard people talk about over the years, no twelve step programs, no prison, never been to war.  I should be good, shouldn’t I?  Nothing to worry about?

I went for years thinking along those lines….years.

But when I had that experience at the river, when I became aware that I had in fact been (and remained) a sinner, when I asked Jesus to take that burden from me, I was still aware of the person I had been afterward, even though I wasn’t entirely him anymore.

So even though I knew in my head that I was made new, I did not necessarily feel that way.  I still don’t.

But here’s the thing I’ve been trying to think about, and remember.

6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5: 6-8

So even before I knew him, even while I was still wallowing in my filth, even while I consoled myself with huge quantities of food, or alcohol, or empty relationships, God loved me just as much in that state of disgrace as he does now in a state of grace.

Before I existed, He died for me.  And whether I like it or not, whether I accept it or not, I am a new creation.

The old has gone, the new has come.

I was listening to this Brennan Manning sermon the other day, and he had a really good point.  He said that until we can accept acceptance, we aren’t really a believer.  I think part of my problem is that very thing: it’s hard for me to be accepted.  I would convince myself that either my friends did not really accept me as I was, or if they did, once they found out the real me, they would bail like everyone else did.

It was much the same with God.  I have always had difficulty accepting His acceptance, and His love.  No, I don’t deserve it. 

The wages of sin is death.

But I have it anyway–I have his acceptance.  And even if I had not ever seen Him as he desires to be seen, and accepted Him as abba, I would still have his love.

8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

He died for us.

He died for us.

He died for me.

I am not worthy of Him, nor would anything I could do on earth make me worthier.

Yet I am loved, and because of Jesus, have a place in his kingdom.

Imagine that.

Anyway, I plan to work on being a new creation….and trying to see myself the way God sees me.

I think of a pearl, lying in a freshly opened oyster, or whatever mollusk pearls come from.  All crudded up with sediment, and filth, and layers of built up….junk.

Jesus removes the impure jewel from its shell, resplendent in its rough beauty, dripping with water, tendrils of slime leading back to the shell. He holds it in his hand, ignoring the slime, and layer by layer, peels away the filth, grime, and sediment, until the thing in his hand is no longer rough, but shining. 

A pearl of great price.