When Yes Means No
This post has almost nothing to do with the title, or it’s only tangentially connected. I warn you now, it’s going to be an intensely long read.
On August 1 of this year, I uprooted my family and moved to the east coast, just outside DC.
I can’t and won’t discuss details with you of my job other than to say that I worked to protect our democratic institutions from hostile threats. And I succeeded. Which is sort of crazy for me, because I’m not known for succeeding.
The things I did were incredibly important, and required constant vigilance. Some days I began work at five and ended around midnight. Some days I faced down hurt feelings, both mine and others, and some days I faced real danger.
Was it a job? At its core, no. It was a mission. And I use that in both the Christian and militaristic sense of the word. I was sent into a mission field. I had clear directives. And it cost me, and my family, most everything.
We have spent the last four months living in what we refer to as “The Crappy Hotel.”
So let’s begin this story just before we left for here.
The Crappy Hotel Picked Up the Phone
The day I went and retrieved our moving truck to take us from Nashville, we got news that the only rental we could find in our new area that was willing to take us on, was barred from doing so by their insurance.
We were set to leave everything and everyone in two days and there was no place for us to go. It was daunting to say the least. I remember my wife greeting me in the driveway as I rolled up with the moving truck, crying, because we suddenly had no place to live.
And so the rest of the day, while we began loading junk into the truck and packing box after box, I did a frantic search for a new place. I texted every available property I could, asking if anyone would be open to a four month lease.
I think in the end I texted something north of three dozen different places, called about half that many, and emailed a smaller percentage still. No one wanted to do a short-term lease. No one.
Finally I get a response. They won’t do four months, but they would do five. And it would be an extra three hundred a month, doubling what our previous mortgage payment was.
It was a dark relief. We had a place. We had never seen it. Sitting here, four months later, I still have never met the landlord.
I send him rent money. He, for his part, does literally nothing to fix anything in his home that he rents to us. We have a warped kitchen floor. We have a leaky skylight. We have a very lackluster A/C system. We have no storage really.
Everything about this “home” is more like a crappy hotel. There is no maid service. The kitchen smells bad because of plumbing leaks. All of us are stacked in here like sardines. And in 29 days, we have to leave.
Learning What Hard Means
For those just joining this peculiar chapter of our lives, let me give you a little history.
I used to pastor. I have done IT Management. I have done multimedia design, freelancing, and Marketing.
All of those things helped direct some of my path to where I am. I used to say pastoring was the hardest thing I had ever done. I was so wrong about that. I was wrong because in pastoring, there is a strange little facet that doesn’t show itself off much: most folks are okay with what you do, they can just choose to ignore it/you.
They look at you and just say, “No thanks.” In the world of politics, they will straight up threaten you, if they don’t like your side. They will revile you and call you things that you can’t imagine ever being called. The world suddenly has more than a passing opinion of you. It has a strong one.
When I began my work, I realized that so many people in our world create and maintain tribes beyond anything I ever theorized. The church? The church has its own tribes deeper and more granular than anything I understood until the very moment I did something that the evangelical movement considered “off limits.”
Did I renounce my faith? One person suggested I had. I haven’t. Did I diminish it or hide it or compromise it? No. Not even a little. Did I share the gospel with people? As many as I possibly could. And more so than in the year prior, in fact.
I want to show you two images:
The first image, the shirt, I saw in my training. I remember it so vividly because it was stark and it was intentional. No one is coming to save us. This thought carried with me and still sort of pings around in the back of my head even now.
And the second sign, well, that’s been the way of it.
- God sent us on a mission.
- We were absolutely 100% alone.
- Not only was it a daily cross, it hurt the whole time we have been dying.
You might argue all the Christian axioms, “You weren’t really alone,” and “Don’t waste your suffering.” And those are true, in their way, but I want you to feel it as I have felt it. I want you to understand what it meant when on election night, I felt like someone had just stabbed my soul. I was happy, I was glad for what had been done, but the effort and energy I had devoted over four months started running out of me like blood from an open wound.
That’s a pain I have never felt. The closest approximation to it was when the church I was pastoring shut down, but even that hadn’t been full of the risks and challenges this had been.
See, God doesn’t send us into warm vacation spots where our wants are accounted for, met, and happy feelings abound. No, He sends us into the darkness. Not the safe. Not the warm. Not the cozy. The Crappy Hotel has never, not for one single day, ever felt like home.
God sent us into the dark. He sent us into the alone. He sent us into the pain. And He’s not sorry.
God on the Hook
I remember a wonderful book I read years ago went to great lengths to show us how dangerous it is to “get God off the hook.” Western, Cultural “Christianity” for years taught us to put God in the category of nice, above all things. It’s a subtle, terrible heresy to turn God into Santa Claus. But we do.
And I can assure you, God will ring your bell if it accomplishes what He sets out to do. He will hurt you. Not gleefully or cruelly, but He will not consider your pain or lack of it, as His primary motivation.
He doesn’t even want to get off the hook. He doesn’t want you to place Him in this category of super happy sky fairy with sparkles and whatnot. No.
God is on the hook for sending us into the dark and into the cold and into the pain. He is totally fine with being on the hook, too. He doesn’t mind the fact that He’s choosing your discomfort and pain and loneliness.
He wanted to do something, in and through me, and He wanted to talk to folks who are far from Him. That’s what being a missionary is. And.
I. Said. Yes.
I Got to Be Light
Christians often don’t think about what being a light really is. A flashlight in the daytime is irrelevant. It’s background. It’s nothing.
But we’re okay with that. We’re okay being a dim light among other lights. Why? Because we’re okay not really doing anything. We’re okay with blending in. To a community, to the world around us, to all of it. We’re okay with the mediocrity of “making a difference” in a place where we’re not really making any difference at all.
But when we’re put in the darkness? Oh my. It’s a terrible, beautiful adventure.
I got to be a light. Sure, there were some oddly celebrity-esque moments like meeting senators, and congress members, and a former head of the FBI, and a former president. But those weren’t the moments of light.
The moments of light were sitting with people no one else saw suffering and encouraging them. It was in saying sorry for the hurts others had caused people. It was in helping untangle some of their hearts’ knots. It was in just loving people who were so separated from love that they could scarcely recognize it.
When you finish an election cycle, the question every person asks is, “What’s next for you?” It’s not a question you get asked in many other professions. But everybody sort of moves on. And we are too. But I couldn’t tell you a single thing about where. I can tell you it will happen in the next thirty days. I can tell you it will involve miracles.
It might be that we’re headed to more darkness. It might be that we’re headed into someplace colder.
And it might not be either of those things.
I titled this “When Yes Means No.” The reason is that if I had known what being a light in the darkness would cost me, I would have said no. But having gone through it, I am glad I gave my yes. I am glad that God took me where He did. And whatever is next, being that light is more important than whatever else it’s going to cost.