It's Tuesday June 19. This is going to be very confessional...
A month ago I walked with my class at Liberty University and received my Bachelors degree 28 years after my freshman year. I told that story as it unfolded so I won't revisit it here. There's no need.
But what I want to write about...what I need to write about here is the month and a week afterward.
Leaving Lynchburg that Sunday afternoon I was elated. The world held promise for the first time in years. I felt like a huge gaping hole in my heart had finally closed. It had...but it exposed one that remained open and in the 5 weeks since that day the hole that remains has grown deeper and wider and has pulled in everything around it like a vortex. I have been battling new questions and new restlessness and fighting with a sadness that lies deep inside me. The past week has been difficult as God has revealed what caused this gap. Now I have to try to devise a way to fill it somehow and reclaim as much of the lost ground as I possibly can.
Last Sunday (a week ago) morning I went to the 9 AM service at my church. I lasted maybe 3 minutes. Virtually as soon as the opening song was beginning, my heart could not stand the turbulence it was attempting to restrain even one more second. I got up and left. I walked to my truck and put the key in the ignition and felt the anger and restlessness building. For the record...it was not in the least bit directed at my church. Nothing had happened in that service. Nothing outside was making me angry. This was inside. Instead of sitting in church last week, I sat in the park near my house. The park where I walked countless miles when I was homeless. The park where I used to take Morgan on nice days when she was with me and my office grew boring for her and she wanted me to push her on the swings.
I sat there in a place where I had so many wrestling matches with God, interspersed with so many happy "Dad Moments" and I wrestled again. I yelled and punched the steering wheel and begged God to tell me what it would take for me to be happy. Where is this hole in me that keeps sucking out my joy?
Some of this is easily explained. The last 5 1/2 years have been very hard. Losing my home, then losing my career and being unable even to rent anymore. Living in my car, working an endless string of odd jobs that were enough to fend off hunger and keep gas in the tank but never enough to rise from the ashes. Watching my daughter grow up in front of me with a huge four-year gap where we could not spend our weekends together. No vacations. To be honest...I need a rest. I need a vacation. I know it's something that people throw around "Man I need a vacation" is followed by an ad from the Florida travel bureau. But I really do. I have endured over five years of the most emotionally draining, painful, disappointing, wearying, hope-destroying hardship I've ever known. and I need a break.
So Sunday a week ago I was at a nadir of sorrow and loss and depression and the horrifying feeling that even my degree didn't fill the hole I thought it would. It filled a hole...just not the hole.
I would love to piously tell you how I was crying out to "Gawd" and "pressing in" (one of those Christianese terms that make my skin crawl) but I was not. I was, by this time, crying readily and asking God between sobs "what the hell else do you want from me?!" I'd love to lie and tell you that even in my darkest despair I kept a clean tongue...but I can't. Thankfully that was the worst of it...somewhere in my soul there were far more coarse words waiting to bubble up but they were kept at bay.
Maybe it's me...but I find a pattern in times like this. There is the rage outburst...the shaking of my fist at Heaven and grinding my teeth and clawing at the ground. The time where the restraints are broken and the beast in me (Thank you Johnny Cash) comes roaring from his cave. This is followed by the emotional breakdown...tears...which for men are hard to admit to. After it's all out...comes the moment where...tired and broken and weary and hurting and desperate...we meekly ask the same questions again. Only this time we are serious about wanting the answer not our answer. Sometimes those two are the same...frequently they are not.
So after this anguish of the soul and the subsequent breakage of the dam, came the softer questioning.
"God...what do you want from me?" "What am I supposed to be doing?" "Why do I still feel like I'm lost and drifting?"
We've all been there. If we've lived on this earth long enough we have all been there...and many times at that.
God has a unique way of answering us at times like these. For me, He often does something to reveal His perspective on the matter at hand...sort of letting me know that He not only was paying attention, but there was something I had not thought of that He had. And He graciously shared this perspective with me so that I would know that whatever His actions or lack of them in this matter...it was not because of rejection or callousness. He got it.
I was sitting there in my truck, pretty wiped out from the emotion and the wrestling and He spoke one sentence to my heart. He's done this before. A sentence that, on it's own, makes little or no sense, but when seen as a key, it unlocks a sequence of deeper answers and the pictures goes from foggy to clear in one brilliant moment. The word He whispered to me..."I must be about my father's business..."
He was not saying this as a statement of His own...it was a command. And it was at once a rebuke as well. Here's where the story hits deeper water...
I grew up in church. Not the best church I could have attended (for a litany of reasons not worth exploring), but a church that did preach the Gospel and did bring you to a place where a decision needed to be made. From age 9, I was involved, active and engaged in this church. I went to the Christian High School there. When I was 16 years old I felt the undeniable calling in my soul to enter ministry of some sort. I didn't have the desire to pastor a church necessarily, but I knew I loved studying the Bible, I loved speaking, and I deeply loved sharing my faith with strangers. I also questioned the status quo more than some of my peers and it occasionally got me in trouble. I fell in love with the great writers of the Faith. At 16 I was reading Ravenhill, Tozer, Augustine, St. Thomas More.
I graduated High School in May of 1981. My burning desire was to go to college that fall. I wanted to go to Liberty Baptist College. (As LU was known back then) It was LBC or nowhere else. Now, I grew up in a house where furthering your education was far from encouraged. In fact it was viewed as something to deride on a daily basis. Who did I think I was, wanting to go to college? I have recounted bits and pieces of this over previous posts and I won't revisit it here. Simply because giving the perpetrators any additional space here is not worthy of my abilities.
I didn't get to college that year. This broke my heart in ways I am only beginning to grasp. It took three more years before I went to school. In August of 1984 I entered LU as a freshman at 21 years old. At Christmas Break, my mother let me in on the secret that everyone in the world knew except me...that my father was not the man I thought he was and in fact, was someone else altogether. I can't even begin to explain the mix of emotions that ran through my soul. I was relieved on the one hand, because this explained the total lack of anything remotely resembling a bond between her husband and myself. It explained why my endless, desperate, tragic attempts at winning the love of the man I thought was my father were always met with ever-deepening frustrations and disappointments. On the other hand it plunged me into a spiral of questioning and confusion that tore my heart in pieces. If all this was a lie...what else was a lie? And what is the truth? Imagine the hard drive being yanked out of your computer as you are busily working away...that's as good an analogy as I can give. At the completion of that year, I was again faced with not returning. The money had been provided...but it never made it to Liberty University. It never touched my hands either so draw what conclusions you may. I was already spinning wildly from the revelations about my heritage and lineage and now I wasn't going back in the fall for my sophomore year, and it was because the people who were supposed to have my best interests at heart had their own ahead of mine. They enjoyed the camcorder and the TV...I missed going back to school.
Last Sunday God showed me how these things were interlocking pieces of the puzzle I had been desperately trying to solve. When the sudden discovery of my parentage was thrust upon me, and then followed up by a total abandonment and betrayal of the most cherished dream I had it burrowed itself in my heart and became became a seed. What grew up was an orphan.
I've recounted this previously so I won't do it here. But what God spoke to me 9 days ago when He said "I must be about my Father's business" unlocked the tangled mess in my heart.
The fall of 1985, when it became obvious that I was not returning to LU my heart broke. I was beyond disappointed. I was crushed. And it was the people I thought I was supposed to trust who did the crushing. The hole in my heart grew to a canyon and I began a subconscious search to fill it. I was not at all who I thought I was...and now I was not going to become who I thought I would become...who I desperately wanted to become. Who I was meant to become. I spent the next 27 years trying to coax my father into a relationship by being "about his business". When I didn't go back to Liberty that August of 1985, I found a job at a local roofing and siding supply company. Within 8 months I had quit that job and started a roofing company with two friends. I pursued construction as a career for the next 18 years. I never loved it but I liked the work. I love the craft and the feeling of making something. I desperately wanted so succeed in this career because my father...and all of the men in my family...worked in this industry in some capacity. I was trying desperately to make myself a Daliessio. So I threw myself into it. But I hated the business and never really poured myself into it as a life. Because deep in my heart I was called to something else. I was supposed to be about my Father's business...a life of ministry and using the gifts and talents I was given. Instead I was about my father's business in a vain attempt to gain his attention...and eventually his fatherhood. Something that to this day remains unrealized.
The bottom line is...I messed up. I lost sight of the one thing that God had put me here for and tried to fill that hole with many things. I missed my calling. I blew it.
I am 48 years old now. I have a Bachelors in Religion from the predominant Evangelical University in the country. I am starting my Masters in the fall. I am longing to maybe regain what I lost. I yearn for my calling again. Years ago..when I was still in High School I prayed a prayer one night. I asked God to be sure about this call. I told Him I'd rather be a good businessman than a bad minister. I asked him to bless the thing I was supposed to do...not the thing I wanted to do if those two didn't line up. He has been answering that prayer for over 30 years. But it wasn't until 9 days ago that I realized it.
He has prevented me from ever becoming a successful businessman, because He always had in mind for me to be doing the work he called me to. I have battled a headwind all these years. Where I thought He had abandoned me, He was simply granting my request...sort of in reverse. Instead of making me a success in business because I was never meant to be in ministry, He never gave me any enduring success in business because I was never meant to be doing that.
Last Sunday he showed me in great detail. I had forgotten about that prayer. Forgotten about that oath I took when I was maybe 16 years old...the oath to do His work well or not at all. He has been holding me to it all this time.
Now I am 48, divorced, broken, tired, needing a rest. Beyond that I am sad. I am sad that I missed my chance and that there will always be a hole in my heart now. That there will never quite be a filling of the gap that lives where my calling took root but never grew. Divorce precludes me from certain areas of ministry and that breaks my heart.
I am writing this for those of you who are in ministry right now...or those who feel a call to it. Those young men and women who feel like God has a wild ride of service in your future and you aren't sure. Those men who take to the pulpit every week and who are battling with something secret that threatens to ruin the work God has done. I am begging you not to quit. Do what you have to do but never give up on your calling or your vision. Because the empty life of second best will never be good enough. The midnight whispers of what was and what might have been will never fall silent. The disappointment will never diminish.
I can say honestly that I fought my divorce with everything I had. I was wronged and I chose forgiveness anyway. I wasn't perfect and I contributed to the problems, but there were no scriptural grounds for the divorce and I was powerless to stop it. To be honest I feel its a bit unfair that I can't do certain things because of someone elses decision, but I understand it and respect it. But it goes deeper. I missed. I am entrapped by the great what-if. I have enough courage to be open about it and beg you once again...if God has a calling on your life...don't quit on it. Don't make a momentary decision, whether it's about a wrong relationship or a missing father or a lifetime of poverty because ministry doesn't pay or any of the thousand things that drive a man to relinquish his position in the ministry. Don't settle. Because in the end, there is nothing there to settle on. I wake up some nights with a sermon in my heart that burns to be preached. I get ideas for a book and the desire to write is so strong that I break down in tears. I see myself speaking to kids like I was and I remember that I am not doing this and it is the single most hollow feeling I know. I long to minister...to function in the gifts God gave me. Gifts that never went away and in fact, are more polished and prepared for use than ever before. And I am daily frustrated with no opportunity. It hurts in ways I can't describe. It sucks the flavor and texture out of everything I try to put in it's place. Trust me...stay true to your call...you don't want to be here.