Sunday, September 23, 2012

God's Story Has No Meaningless Scenes

The first time I watched The Matrix, I saw it at my friend Ben Gamoke’s house.  The people I was watching it with had already seen the movie (some several times), and in an effort to prevent boredom and to not waste time, we skipped forward to Neo’s release from the Matrix.

Although I wouldn’t have admitted it while it was happening, I’ve spent years seeing my life much as that of the first part of The Matrix: something boring to be gotten through in order to see to the good parts; and certainly I lived it that way.

This last week I volunteered to share my testimony at the men's group I attend on Wednesday nights.  However, I was asked to share it in a different way than I had ever shared it before: as a scene in God's story where He is the protagonist instead of myself.  My life then fit into God's story as a smaller anecdote that adds depth to the overall meaning of what is happening.  

As God would have it, during my quiet time on Tuesday, the day that I wrote my testimony, I read Genesis 22:20-24 which tells of the fact that Abraham's brothers started having kids.  At first, it seemed like a rather uneventful side note to what God was doing in the world through the life of Abraham.  Then it hit me: while the passage seemed to be inconsequential to me, God put it in the story for a specific purpose, which is still unknown to me.  GOD'S STORY HAS NO MEANINGLESS SCENES: He uses all things, the good, the bad, the indifferent, for the good of those who love Him and His glory.

As I wrote about memories from my childhood and traumatic experiences from later on in life I realized there is much of my life that I'd like to forget. 

Last Saturday was 5 years to the day since I witnessed a fatal shooting in Costa Rica.  Its a memory I've tried hard to forget.  As i processed through the memory itself and the emotions it brought up I realized that for 5 years I have been blaming myself for that man's death because I had been powerless to keep him from dying.  God then showed me that if it weren’t for that night and the powerlessness I felt in that moment, I would have never started on the path that I'm on of becoming a doctor and having healing be my vocation.

I'm starting to see that God has helped me dream again.  I no longer see myself as a powerless, unlovable, little boy but as a man who has the capacity and ability to be loved and love others.  He’s taking all my memories, even the ones I’d like to forget completely and showing me how they fit into the story of Him redeeming me, my character, and the world that surrounds me to the way He intended them to be.

God's story, including life, has no meaningless scenes.

Friday, July 20, 2012

I never thought I'd end up here

“I never thought I’d end up here”, it’s a phrase spoken by recovering addicts, game-show contestants, lost drivers, and Olympic athletes.  I’ve said it myself more than a few times, and the phrase has been on my mind quite a bit lately.

So, I’m 25 and single.  I just moved into an new apartment, which I’ll be sharing with an 18 and a 19 year old.  I have a Bachelor’s Degree but am back in school.  I’ve been working at a gas station/liquor and tobacco store for 3 years.  I’m applying to Med School for 2013.  I’m overweight.  I’ve fallen in love with cycling.  I wear skinny jeans.  I’m in the middle of the fight to break free of my unhealthy manners of living.  There are many more things I could say about my current state of being and like the things listed above, some would be positive and others negative.  

I've been thinking a lot about where I’d like to be in the future: in a week, in a year, and in a decade.  I certainly don’t want to be 30 and still be single, still working at Tobacco Outlet Plus, still dealing with the same crises of life and faith, still living in Eau Claire, and still just talking about my plans for the future.  Unfortunately, the only motivation to pursue change lately has been that I don’t want things to stay the way they are.

Thoughts of the future are both exciting and intimidating.  I want to get married, have kids, be a pediatrician, serve people with my time and abilities, go on adventures, and start a revolution.  The mere thought of these things put a burning in my chest that is like no other.   They also scare the hell out of me at times when I think about they will require: time, effort, emotion, and sacrifice.

I want to say, “I never thought I’d end up here” on the heels of success, fulfillment, victory, peace, and accomplishment.  To do that I need to dream bigger, catch a vision of my future that will enthrall me, consume my thoughts, set my soul on fire, and inspire my actions.  Dreaming itself is an act of faith: daring to envision the man I am meant to be and the things I'm able to accomplish.

Pursuing those dreams is an even riskier endeavor.  It will be a journey out of my current state of comfort and confidence into great unknown.  It will be fraught with failure and opportunities to give up, settle, and deny the dreams ever existed in the first place.  It’s a ultra-marathon, not a sprint.  It will at times feel like it’s killing me, and in fact it might.

Will I dream big enough to make the struggle worth fighting, the journey worth taking?

Will pursue my dreams with unrelenting passion and commitment, regardless of personal cost? 

Will success and getting “what I want” ultimately be what matters or will it be that I committed to striving for something better instead of resigning to the current state of things? 

This conversation came to mind while I was writing this:

Gandalf:   You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you get back.
Bilbo:        Can you promise that I will come back?
Gandalf:   No.  But if you do, you will not be the same.
--Trailer for the upcoming movie The Hobbit

Monday, July 2, 2012


During my recent trip to Honduras I encountered different dialects of the two languages I speak: English and Spanish.  My difficulties, frustrations, and amusements in dealing with linguistic dialects paralleled my experience with the differences how faith in Christ was expressed by the people I met, lived with, and worked alongside of.

Linguistic differences were more entertaining than anything.  To be honest, it took me about a week to acclimate to the Spanish dialect of the area where I worked, and even then there were a few people I couldn’t understand at all.  Not understanding the slang used by locals led another interpreter to believe that there was someone going around one of the villages punching people in the head (“me pega la cabeza” is how they say that they have a headache).  Being from the Midwest adrift in a sea of Southern twang and parlance I felt the need to defend the way I said certain words in English, especially “bag”, “roof”, and “ice”.

The dialects of Christianity that existed in the locals and volunteers I met during my trip were as diverse as the dialects of English one would encounter in the International Terminal of Atlanta Airport.  I spent time with people who I would consider to be “ultra-conservative” (there was a point where I thought my head was going to explode if I had to sit through one more conversation about politics) and others who would be labeled “very liberal” (on one occasion the legalization of marijuana was being discussed over dinner).  While I am certainly more comfortable with the latter dialect of Christianity, as its closer to my own, I was able to understand and respect both ends of the spectrum.  

I need to remind myself that differences in faith, despite some of the frustrations they cause, don’t render others unintelligible or non-functional.  One of the many beauties of Christianity is the fact that we don’t have to vote the same way, read the same translation of the Bible, or agree on which substances are ok to use and which ones are not.  These are minor and unimportant issues that we devote too much of our time and emotions to.

What makes dialects mutually intelligible (and not separate languages) is that they share what’s ultimately important: not lexicons, grammar, or pronunciation, but an appreciation of the common ground shared and a commitment to understand one another.  The differences add variety, beauty, humor, and excitement.

As Christians we share the most important thing ever: Christ Himself.  Despite the differences in faith that I saw during my trip I saw God work in and through the volunteers uniting them in the common purpose of redeeming the world to what He intended it to be.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

I’ll Always Be Leaving Somewhere Behind

I’ll always be leaving somewhere behind.  It’s a fact of life that I've yet to come to terms with despite my frequent travels both at home and abroad.

It’s been over two weeks since I’ve returned from a 20-day trip Honduras and I haven’t written a single word about it. 

It’s probably because the transition of returning “home” is always more difficult than leaving it.  It’s more exciting to leave the familiar than to come back to it.  While I can show people pictures and tell them stories of my time away, they can never really understand the experiences I had while we were apart.

In the same manner it’s hard to explain to people where I come from both geographically and historically, especially if there is a great disparity in location and experience.  How can a Sconnie really explain to a Southerner or a Honduran how when the weather is perfect all you need is a sweatshirt and jeans make you feel cozy, or the excitement of Friday night fish-fries, or what the experience of deer camp in the Northwoods is really about.

As hard as it is relating places and customs to those who haven’t experienced them it is even more difficult to explain other people to other people, translating one community to another.  I find myself constantly having to explain the characters in my anecdotes in order to have others understand why a bowl of raisin bran may bring me to tears or why a random movie quote causes minutes uncontrollable laughter.

I don’t know what I’m try to say but I guess I can sum things with quote a wise man who told a friend of mine, “Wherever you go, there you’ll be.”. 

I guess we need to the best we can with that.

Monday, April 30, 2012

A Letter To My Imposter

The inspiration for this comes from Brennan Manning's Sermon Jam entitled “Imposter”. Its worth a listen and will probably make the rest of this make a lot more sense


To: The Court Jester

From: The Healer Prince

Subject: Termination of Employment As Ship Captain


Upon the drafting of this letter, all of your privileges, rights, and responsibilities as acting Captain of a Royal Vessel have been revoked: YOU NO LONGER RUN THE SHOW.  This means an end sailing in circles to your heart’s content and putting holes in the bottom of the very vessel that carries you.

Your antics have been entertaining, that’s for sure.  While you were in charge liquor and laughter were never in short supply.  You looked good at the helm too.  Every man wanted to be you, every woman wanted to be your lover, AND they all were laughing with you.


You hate yourself.  You distrust and resent every single one of them.

Your humor is a grotesque and inhumane weapon.  You wield it maliciously against them, giving free reign to your anger and hatred.  You dismember them with the words from your smiling face, which doesn’t even attempt to hide the fangs drenched in their blood.  You hurl verbal bombs into their midst that explode sending out beautiful flames and brightly colored pieces of shrapnel that kill and destroy.  You feed them poison that smells of roses, and convince them that its medicine while it slowly brings about their demise.  As you lay waste to the objects of your hatred, you rise above the fray unscathed and victorious. 

Unfortunately, you’re the most frequent victim of that very weapon.  You have maimed yourself through cheerful self-deprecation: like a glittered razor blade carving smiley faces into your flesh.  What’s even sicker is you’ve used a weapon to try to heal yourself, dismiss your wounds, and carry on.  You’ve put cartoon-covered bandages over gaping, infected wounds that you reopen at every opportunity.

You are a WHORE.  You’ve devalued yourself, you’ve pawned your giftings, you’ve dismissed your integrity, and you’ve suffocated your passions in order to feed your constant and growing need for the approval of people you hate.

What appeared to be disheveled, unorganized, and sporadic maneuvers in the harbor actually was your way of avoiding your greatest fear: the open sea.  By hiding within the safety of not being taken seriously you’ve lost your identity and purpose.  You refuse to take risks in order to achieve great things.  You’ve crippled yourself with the fear of the unknown.

I, The Healer Prince, HAVE REPLACED YOU as Master and Commander.  The vessel you’ve commanded has become a contradiction and a joke.  It was designed to be mighty and powerful, a force to be reckoned with, AND IT WILL BE.

This is not to say that everything will run smoothly from this point forward: it won’t.  Certain parts of this ship have become accustomed to your wanton ways while others have atrophied from lying unused for so long.  They will strain, bend, and moan when used for their intended purposes; they will even break, but not beyond repair.  That will be perfectly all right, because this ship is headed out into the wild and dangerous sea to join the fleet.  There it will be strengthened by those that surround it and it will lend its strength to others. 

Out there it will finally become what it was meant to be.

Truly Truly,
The Healer Prince

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Facing The Necrosis Of My Soul

            Necrosis: the death of most or all of the cells in an organ or tissue due to 
            disease, injury, or failure of the blood supply
            --The New Oxford American Dictionary

In the second chapter of his book Redemption, Mike Wilkerson recounts the story of a man he calls Peter.  Peter married his high school sweetheart and eventually they had a little boy who Peter cherished.  3 days after being taken home from the hospital Peter’s son’s lips turned blue and he died from a rare defect.  The death of his son shattered Peter’s world.  It led to a divorce with an unfaithful wife, a meth addiction, the loss of his home, and disillusionment with all of his friends and family.  Wilkerson states that, “Peter never really faced the loss of his first son” and that seems to be the cause of all the loss and sorrow that ensued.

Peter’s story gripped my mind and my heart after I finished reading it.  It stirred something deep within me because I, like Peter, have failed to deal with the existence and extent of loss in my past.  Not dealing with loss leaves an open and gaping wound in my soul that became infected and spread necrosis to the rest of my life.

Infection: it’s an metaphor that I’ve used recently to explain what sin is to myself and others.  Infection is what I imagine it was the demise of the Black Knight in Monty Python’s The Holy Grail; which happens to be another reflection of myself in media that has come from processing through this issue.  Even in his dismemberment the Black Knight refused to acknowledge that he was affected by the loss of his limbs and maintained the illusion of his invincibility.

I feel like I haven’t dealt with the majority of my recent loss nor that of my past.  I have chosen, have been told, or was forced to believe that life after loss continues on in the same fashion: that I was unaffected.  Through Wilkerson’s book and being in the community that I am in, I’ve been forced to face the necrosis that exists within my own soul: giant swaths of deadness that has been spreading and deepening my entire life.

I don’t know the extent of the damage done to my soul by loss, originally or subsequently.  Regardless, the path to recovery will force me to face every loss I’ve refused to acknowledge.  Fortunately or unfortunately it’s the only way to heal and become alive.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Why the Women of Fellowship Church Won’t Let Me Settle

A little over a week ago, I spent the afternoon with a woman who I refer to as “My Adoptive Church Mother”.  We spent hours talking catching up on one another’s lives and enjoying each other.  At one point in the conversation, after telling her about some of my more recent and painful “romantic failures” she looked me in the eye and asked:

“Patrick, have you been settling when you’ve pursued this women?”

I don't think her question sank in until today. For some crazy reason today during my 9½ minutes of morning prayer I uttered the request: “God, please show me what you want for me in a wife”.  I had no idea that my request would be answered as quickly and loudly as it was.

I went to church this morning, MY church, Fellowship in Chippewa Falls Wisconsin.  It is the only body of believers where I have ever felt that I truly belong as myself without even a hint of pretense. The members of the Fellowship Community help me live more and more like Jesus every day.

Soon after arriving at the movie theater where our services take place, I was elated to see my Church Mother by the coffee cart, as she has been absent from services for about the past month for a very good reason.  After a heart-felt hug and a brief conversation, we both were herded, along with the rest of the attendees, into Theater 3 because we always have the intention of starting on time.  While I was walking to my seat I couldn’t help but think how much this woman inspires me.  She is devoted and passionate about bringing grace to graceless spaces, she’s always been honest with her wounds and her mistakes, she’s strong, kind and compassionate, this woman is a warrior in every sense of the term, and I love her for it (and love the fact that she’s vocal about spiritually adopting me).

After getting to my seat I watched a brief intro video and then woman from our church stood up and talked about her ministry in Liberia, West Africa and her recent trip to that country.  Through passion and obedience this woman has joined God in accomplishing amazing things.  In less then a year, schools have been built, wells have been dug, pastors have been trained, and relationships have been formed that will positively influence generations of rural Liberians.  While she was talking I penned in my journal that my prayer had been answered: that God wants (and has designed) my wife to be extremely passionate about serving people in need and obedient to Him, even when it doesn’t make any logical or emotional sense.

Then, as if my prayer hadn't been answered enough, after the service I joined some friends at Culver’s for lunch.  During our time there my Church Mother, one of my friends, and the wife of another friend led a discussion about what it would look like to create a group for women that would promote further community and integrity among them.  While listening to these three women talk I realized that I was witnessing something that was simply otherworldly: from the Kingdom.

Today, I caught a glimpse of my future wife’s character through the women of Fellowship Church in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.  The majority of the women I just wrote about are already married.  However, that fact doesn’t make me despondent: thinking that “All The Good Ones” are already taken.  It actually makes me really hopeful because I know that as I continue in community with these women, women like them, and Fellowship as a whole I simply won’t be able to settle for anything less than amazing, passionate, captivating woman of integrity: the women of Fellowship won’t allow it.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Freedom and Hope: God Speaking Through Johnny Cash

Today has exhausted me: emotionally, mentally, and physically.  If I were to take the time to explain all the conflict that has culminated in my life today it would take me hours to write it all out.  

My heart has heard from several sources that I’m not good enough and I’ll never find love.  I’ve found victory from my demons only to give into them hours later.  I’ve been excited about who God is and what He is doing in my life and the lives of those around me only to call Him an implacable prick before the day’s end.  I’ve cried my eyes out, cursed, praised, ranted, raved, and prayed. 

Through the din of it all God’s still, small voice has repeated, “Pat, I love you.”.

This afternoon with the scent of sin still on my collar I sat down with Johnny Cash’s autobiography.  He writes the first chapter from the porch of his vacation home in Jamaica and gives a short overview of his life.  At the end of the chapter he gives a list of the things he is thankful for.  It includes a comfortable pair of shoes, a loving wife and family, the song of birds, and his musical talent.  The last thing he listed was the most encouraging to me.  It is as follows:

Finally, I’m thankful, very thankful, that at this moment I have absolutely no craving for any kind of drug.  I’ve been up almost three hours today and this is the first time I’ve though about it, and even then it’s in the spirit of gratitude.  So my disease isn’t active.  Last night I saw a bottle of wine passed around the table, and I never once thought about taking even a sip of it, (So why am I thinking about it now? Watch it Cash! Gotta never be complacent.  Never take anything for granted.  Don’t forget, great prices have been paid and will be paid again if you get too smug, too egotistical and self-assured.)            Cash pp 9-10

Porn, lust, gorgeous women, brandy, cigarettes and violence will always exist during my lifetime.  My sinful desires and actions don’t have to.  I want to know the freedom Johnny Cash felt at his dinner table in Jamaica; when a full and open bottle of an old demon passed in front of him and his only response was a resounding “No”.

I can be free if I commit to walking the long and often lonely road to recovery. Hearing my brothers, men I love and respect, share their struggles and commit to stand beside me in my fight is what keeps me going.  They’re teaching me how to hope.

So, for all of you who have put a dog in my fight: Thank You.  I Encourage You To Join Me In Staying The Course and Keeping Our Eyes Fixed On Him Who Loves Us.

“But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through [Jesus] who loved us.”
-Romans 8:37 NASB

Friday, January 13, 2012

Here's To Today

Here's to today...
          a day lived on too little sleep and even less motivation to put x's in the blanks next to my
          to-do list

Here's to today...
          a day with expectations looming overhead like dark rain clouds yet only the desire to
          read, write,  hear, and speak poetry

Here's to today...
          one lived in the knowledge of grace; not from the ever-widening and rising volume of
          theology, but rather from having fallen face first and trying to get up again

Here's to today...
          the good, the bad; the monotony, the excitement; and everything in between

Here's to today...
          because it is today and
          it is all we'll ever have

Monday, January 2, 2012

Staying In The Fight

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything substantial enough to post. 

When I think about why this is, I give myself (and others who ask) excuses.  I’ve been busy with school and work, it’s been hunting season and then the holidays, I’ve been tired, and so on and so on.  If I’m honest I have to say that I’ve been avoiding my keyboard. Avoiding the emotional landslide that will inevitably come when I sit down and try to articulate how I feel about what’s been going on in my life recently.

I try to convince myself that I’m fine, or at least I’m doing the best that I can given the circumstances.  But a dwindling supply of pipe tobacco and a recycling bin full of empty beer and whisky bottles tell a different story.

The past few months have been a roller coaster of experiences and emotions.  First off, I started being a full-time student again, back at UW-Eau Claire taking the classes I need to in order to apply to Medical School.  This act alone has brought me an excess of new but oddly familiar experiences.  While I still go to the same campus and do homework at the same coffee shop that I have been for 6 years almost everything else is different.  I’ve switched the focus of my study from the humanities to hard science, I’ve had to learn to pick out a whole new set of faces from the crowds in the student union, and I have to constantly explain that I’m 24, already have a degree, and am hoping to get into medical school by 2013, graduate when I'm 30, and be employable a decade from now.

In the personal arena, the recent months have brought just as much excitement and hardship.  I’ve discovered and cultivated a new community here in Eau Claire, I’ve organized a cigar and steak fundraiser to help Healing Hands Global in Honduras, camped out for Bon Iver tickets (not to mention actually going to that amazing concert), gone on random adventures, and had countless meaningful conversations with close friends and relative strangers.

By far the hardest thing that has happened to me recently is the illness and death of my Grandpa.  He was hospitalized in October with pneumonia 5 days before what was supposed to be one last trip to what we call “The Duck Farm”.  Instead of spending 4 days together with him, my dad, and my brother eating pancake breakfasts, hunting, playing cards, and listening to Grandpa’s stories we spent our time there packing up the cabin and preparing it to be sold.  The Duck Farm simply wasn’t the same without Grandpa there.   

Grandpa died on December 9th after 3 bouts with pneumonia, a blood infection, and other complications that simply come with being 86 years old.  His funeral was an amazing time of closure for me.  For the first time I can remember, I saw pictures of him in the Navy during WWII, the one thing he never talked about.  Other pictures were from times I did hear about: his childhood, his career as an industrial arts teacher, and even him smoking his pipe.  The funeral was also a clarifying moment.  I didn’t cry until I saw my friend Renee Wurzer (who I often call my adopted church mother) at the back of the church.  She drove from Chippewa Falls to the Twin Cities with my friends Carl and Curt to come and support me through my time of need.  Even now, 3 weeks later, the memory of their support is bringing me to tears.

I’ve been avoiding writing because I’ve been avoiding my emotions, stuffing them down by whatever means necessary (social events, drinks, and television are the main tools).  Truly feeling, truly giving my emotions free reign to be would cause me to fall apart.  In my mind I simply cannot do that right now, or ever really.

Sunday morning, Perry challenged our church as a whole to commit to truly believing that God is good for the entirety of 2012.  That challenge is haunting in light of what I’ve just written about.  God is asking me to come alive and be an active collaborator with Him in the world that surrounds me.  Facing my emotions and what lies underneath them is the starting point to coming alive.  Falling apart under the weight of what has happened recently will force me to trust His goodness, something I haven’t done fully ever before in my life.

I’ve also being reading through the end of Luke’s account of Jesus’ life.  The most recent passages have been talking about what will happen before “the Kingdom comes”, things like wars, turmoil, plagues, natural disasters, and famines.  What God’s been teaching me through these Scriptures  has nothing to do with the Apocalypse or His second coming, but rather the coming of His Kingdom into my life for the first time in a meaningful way.

And it’s not going to be an easy process, full of puppies, in-flight movies, and tasty treats.  It has already a knock-down-drag-out, no-holds-barred, brawl and it has just begun.  This fight will either end in my spiritual death or my spiritual freedom, either way I’m going to end up bloodied and exhausted.

I’m a weakling, in no way capable of putting up a fight against the evil that I must face.  Luckily, I’m not the only one fighting on my side.  The Great Enabler is in my corner and He’s promised He will give me the strength and the wisdom necessary to continue on. I just need to stay in the fight.