The familiar sound of my Facebook Messenger app squirrel-diverted my attention away from my attempt to write. A video appeared on the screen from a trusted friend and so I pressed the play arrow. The view was clearly from the passenger window and the first house that I saw looked deeply familiar. Could it be? I saw the old fencepost go by and a smile exploded on my face as my childhood home appeared on my iPhone.
My Dad and Grandpa Harry built that fenceline that still stands on the back lot of the property. My Dad, my Grandpa Carmel and I built that front room that extends from the front of the house. My Dad and I once ripped down a portion of that chain-link to the left of the garage when we'd forgotten to detach a chain before slipping the transmission of that step-side truck into Drive. I'd backed my Dodge Horizon into the house one day while my Dad sat inside... hearing the collision and knowing immediately what had happened.
I'd taken a thousand three point shots on a basketball goal that was no longer there, hugged some amazing dogs, sat in a treehouse, and imagined tragedy and heroic comebacks a million times in that backyard. This was the home of my childhood, the geography of my greatest imaginations and memories of all my best friends. All of my grandparents who are now gone... embraced me on that plot of land.
Time stood still as my heart swelled and broke with thanksgiving and loss all rolled into a single powerful gut punch. I want to go home.
Several of you who know me best and perhaps love me most have recently reached out with a sincere, "Chad, how are you really doing?" If you were here to ask me this in person, you would all be met with an uncomfortably long and blank stare.
I could tell you the tough things, but at the same time I'd be internally chastising myself for focusing on the whiney negative things of my life that are either self-imposed natural consequences, or positive things in my life that I tirelessly work to reframe as negative.
How am I? I'm freaking insane. I'm better than I've been in years. I'm studying and praying again. I'm writing again. I'm investing into my church and into my work with the non-profit. I'm this inexplicable mixture of saint and sinner. I'm blessing lives and uttering curses. I'm beating myself with heat and pressure into a better person and I'm enjoying a stiff drink before falling asleep.
How's that? And really, how are you?
Now... to those who asked that question... please don't take offense. Any writer worth her or his salt knows how to write for dramatic effect. You and I are quite good, and please do not stop asking. I do need you. This is just a late night purge and attempt to bleed a little on this cyberpage.
Life for me follows one of two patterns: (1) drought and (2) flood. I have been in a 7 year drought. It was like everything I touched died. Ministry... lost. Marriage... lost. Identity... lost. And like a dying man in a desert, I just kept walking. No excuses here. I have no-one to blame but myself. I had an overwhelming wave that consumed me that just drowned me in an inexplicable feeling of unease.
The past two years have been about healing. A return. A reclamation.
I'll recount this incorrectly, but the recollection I'm recording is how it felt in my soul. The sequence of events and facts are assuredly incorrect. My memory exaggerates things and my psyche adores the exaggeration. I mean, come on, any good story is worth a little color.
While living and working in Guatemala, one of the pastor's who'd been a part of my ordination (bless his kind heart), was Tim Kufeldt. I absolutely adore that man. He brought a team from his church to work alongside us there. Together we built homes and giant chicken coups. His team was extraordinary. They were absolutely kick-ass.
Nancy Hulshult was on that team. She was a clown. I mean... for real, she was the real deal. And on the same team was a man from another Central American country (I cannot remember which). His name though, was Felix Escobar. Tim, Nancy, and Felix were life and breath to my soul. The three of them knew no obstacle. They were absolutely a force and their combined work was evidence of the miraculous nature of the God named as "I AM."
After my family left Guatemala expectantly, I lost all contact with them as my life fell apart.
But the story does not end there. There was a word being whispered yet... "reclamation."
Thanksgiving of last year found me in isolation with Caleb, my the 20 year old son. He'd been sent home from his university with an active case of COVID-19. I invited him in and together we braved that virus and burned through Star Wars and every Avengers movie. It was a feverishly wonderful time!
And that is when I received a book in the mail from Nancy. She had written a chapter of me and my family in Guatemala. She spoke of the impact and character of our children. I read those words... I and wept. I cried Biblically for days. All I could see is what I had lost. We had everything. We had family. We had faith. We had guts. We were out there and we were doing it. We freaking pushed back the gates of Hell and reclaimed lives.
And we lost ourselves in the process. Our sacrifice was too great.
How does one recover from that? When you win countless battles and then lose the war of what matters most?
I had to breath deep in those days and take account of the blessings that still surrounded me. God had been good and blessed my ex with a good man. Caleb was strong and graceful and faithful, finding a path of ministry. Aleks was tenacious and determined and was clearly finding her way with beauty and power. Sterling was growing up, possessing humor and intelligence. God was still faithful!
Meanwhile the missions in Guatemala were still thriving. The Christian American School, Catalyst Resources International, and the fledgling Ministerios Iglesia de Dios Guatemala all were being used and blessed by God. His mission and story continued. Our work there was not in vain. We planted. God harvested. The enemy attacked. We fell. God's plan continued.
We now rebuild. We are not finished.
Nancy, the same Nancy, reached out to me via Facebook messenger and we began a dialogue of what would it look like to co-author a book. What if we together told God's story of restoration. How He rebuilds broken and dead things. How He can bring new life where there is no hope. How He can take the clear defeat from our enemy... decimation and undeniable destruction... and somehow from that rubble grow something beautiful and new and even powerful.
I agreed to engage in the conversation. I said yes to exchanging stories and began laughing and even crying as I read her stories and saw my own truth reflected in God's interactions with her.
I do not miss the irony that I am reflecting on God's reclamation... and He is restoring me in the process.
6088 West Elkton Gifford Road, that was my home address growing up. It is about a mile from a retreat center where I've been invited to take my family this Christmas. That was the first convergence. And then there was a chance to share there with a group that I've accepted. And then... my parents decided to move from their home in South Carolina, returning to this very same town that houses the retreat center, and that same town that held me as a wondering, imaginative, and untested young boy.
I want to go home.
And perhaps I can. I'm exploring those options now. God may very well be making a way where there was no way. He is, after all, the God of reclamation, and I am learning that it is never too late to go home.