So this is it. The end of my retelling of my life’s story (so far). What started as an exploration of my struggles with mental illness turned into six months of composing, drafting, editing, and sharing what is basically a loosely constructed memoir.
As I’m concluding things now, I’m not sure how to feel or what to think. The years have worn me down and left their fair share of scars and calluses. This whole process has required a lot of mental self-mutilation as I’ve torn open the old wounds and toughened places in order to relay as much emotional and situational truth as I could mine and describe. I’ve missed people that I shouldn’t miss, I’ve felt emotions that I shouldn’t feel, and there were some days and weeks where the work I was doing in recounting these stories made me difficult to live with and be around. While some of my motivation has, truthfully, been to fulfill my all-too-human yearning to be known by others while also striving to become a better writer, I’ve mostly written all of this with the hope that maybe the things I’ve faced and fought and bowed to and overcome might find purpose and meaning by helping someone else in their journey. The responses I have received have been both positive and encouraging, and I am eternally gratefully to everyone who has invested in me and my story.
As I’m writing this, I’m propped up in my bed in a t-shirt and pajama pants on the eve of what will be a year since Katie and I closed on our Home. And that’s what this place is: Home. I’ve lived in 11 different places between the house that was Home to me as a little boy and this one. It’s been over 20 years since I last stepped foot in that house. That’s 20 years of wandering, surviving, waiting, hoping….You’ve read about those 20 years between Homes. I don’t need to explain what that’s been like. It’s all here. You’ve read it for yourself. What I haven’t talked about is where I am now, what Home is for me as I’ve written all of this.
Mostly Home has given me the peace and mental space I needed to truly look at my life and put all of the pieces together to see what the common threads have been and where they’ve all been leading me.
This is the past year of my life.
In the last weeks leading up to our closing, Katie and I were at a friend’s birthday party and an idea was born. As several friends and I stood in the driveway, drinks in hand, discussing different theological ideas, Katie was talking to a woman who, completely wasted and total befuddled by the subject of my conversation, slurred, “Wait… We’re drinking…. And they’re talking about God?! You can’t do that!” Katie pushed back. “Why not?” she asked. Their conversation went on and veered onto other things, but Katie told me about their conversation.
I completely agreed with her! “Why not?”
I’d been ministering in bars and at parties for years. I’d tried to lead a few “theology on tap” beer and theology groups before, and all of them had failed shortly after their inception. But the conversations I’d had that night were the first theological discussions I’d had in a really long time, and, because of what that lady had said, I was determined to prove that having drinks with friends and talking about God shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. A dream was reborn that night, a dream that I called Tall Boy Theology. A year later, what started as three friends standing in a cluster in a driveway while two attentive women eves-dropped from a safe distance has grown to as many as 20 theologically diverse people sharing drinks, snacks, and discussion on our back porch every other Friday night from 7:00 until about 2:00 or 3:00 Saturday morning.
What was initially meant to be a safe place for a few friends to share and learn from their theological understandings has grown to the point that I have to actually lead these people. In the event that you don’t already know this about me, I am painfully introverted. I have never been seen as a leader by anyone but Katie, so this has been a real learning process. We’ve introduced vision and structure to the group, and it has become a safe place for the people who come. Many of them have found a place and connection that they’ve been missing for a long time in other places. It is essentially a home church at this point. While I’ve still got a lot to learn and a few bad habits to break, I enjoy the role I’ve been given with this group, and walking this whole thing out has raised a lot of questions and given a lot of answers for me as an individual and for Katie and me as a couple.
As 2016 turned into 2017, I had what I genuinely believe to be a revelation from God: “Calvin, you are too smart to be pursuing the things you have been pursuing. I’ve gifted you with a voice and a mind. Use them to help My people.”
I had no idea what to do. I have a good, safe job working for a good, safe company. I have a family that depends on my going to that job and doing well at that job to survive. What am I supposed to do?
I racked my brain and I prayed.
All I came up with were guesses. I’ve always felt like I’d make a good teacher, so I found a school I wanted to go to to finish my undergraduate degree to pursue a path to becoming a professor of theology and apologetics. I met with my pastor to discuss my plans. I called my wife’s old pastor to discuss my plans. I met with my therapist to discuss my plans. They all encouraged me to start taking steps in that direction and to follow the path wherever it went. if it was meant to be, door would open. If not, they would close.
Just days before I was supposed to submit my application for my college of choice, I received another nudge from God: “I call all types, all the way from fishermen to philosophers. You shouldn’t watch your daughter grow up from the backside of a book. I called fishermen.” It was a kick to the gut. It was an insult to all of my bookish pretensions. I wondered over and over again, “I’m too smart to be doing what I’m doing, but you want me to be like those simple Galilean fishermen? Shouldn’t I be more like Paul and Augustine? Why can’t I be called to the towers of academia? That’s my vision for this, and I’m the one who has to walk this out!”
So, beyond frustrated and totally let down, I tried going back to what I knew. I tried to lean into drawing and painting. As my plans started to come together and I shared my intentions to pursue my art again with Katie, she’s broke down. My time away from art had given me and my mind back to her and Florence. If I went back to art again, it would mean sacrificing our weekends and valuable time together again. I was furious! I had been an artist before we even started dating! She knew this was who she married! She knew the cost! Who did she think she was? Something had to give.
God spoke again: “You can continue to chase your dream of being an artist, but that dream will lead to the end of your marriage and your family. I’ve given you the gifts of a good wife and a beautiful, smart daughter, and you’ve consistently chosen other things. It’s time you make a choice. What you want or the good things I’ve given you.”
Guess after exhausting guess at what I was supposed to be doing since has, time after time, landed me flat on my ass, looking back to God for answers. One of those answers led to the birth of this blog. And since I leaned into working on this blog, more answers have fallen into place.
I could go into a lot of circumstantial specifics, but the basic beginning came when I heard God quote Jesus’s question and response to Peter in the Gospel of John: “Do you love me?” “Take care of my sheep.”
God was calling me to be a shepherd? Seriously? Me? An awkward, typically unapproachable introvert with a pretentious streak and a horribly broken past? No way! I had to be imagining things. But the more I questioned that call, the more I flirted with its validity. I shared it with Katie, and she affirmed it. She was feeling called to use her story to help shepherd others herself. We made an appointment with our pastor. We made an appointment with my therapist. Each meeting went well, and they each encouraged us to pursue Tall Boy as an opportunity to practice shepherding until we received more answers.
It’s hard to be objective about yourself, but I think its going well.
Since those meetings, I’ve taken a good hard look back at my life to see what shepherding looks like for me, if maybe I’ve missed something along the way and I’ve been ignoring and avoiding a specific calling for the majority of my life. I have been blatantly ignoring. I have been avoiding.
I believe wholeheartedly that Katie and I are called to a vocation of full-time ministry.
I was in high school the first time I heard the call. I was at Mass with my mom and brother, and, as the priest did the weekly homily, I saw the priests that I knew and the monks I wished I knew in my mind’s eye, and something inside me that, as an avowed atheist, couldn’t have been anything but God spoke to me and told me that I was called to a life like theirs in service and teaching the magnetic mystery of Jesus, but not like theirs in that I was called to have a wife and children.
As my atheism deepened, the call got louder and louder with intermittent periods of powerful faith experiences that always brought me to my knees next to my bed, worshipping with complete abandon a God I didn’t think I could or should believe in, and infinitely perplexed and drawn to the mysteries of the cross of Jesus the so-called Christ. Finally, following experience after humiliating experience, I met with a pastor I didn’t know but that I found truthful and trustworthy enough to ask about this bizarre calling. I don’t remember what was said, but I eventually shrugged it off.
That wasn’t the end of it though. In the midst of the most toxic relationship I’ve ever been in, that same gentle voice in my mind came back to tell me that I was supposed to lead God’s people, and that I would lead them alongside my future wife. The idea drove me mad with obsession for the girl I was with at the time. I knew it just had to be her. But it wasn’t.
When I did find that wife and recognize her for what she was, I jumped on the opportunity to marry the woman God had clearly created just for me. I still couldn’t admit there was a God, but I made a deal with her mom that I would go to church if I could marry her daughter. So we went. As the good theology of our pastor convinced me of the reasonableness of the Christian religion, a path was being made. It wasn’t long before I had recommitted my life, heard and received the calling again, was rebaptized, and began a path to full-time religious higher education. Then my life and mind fell apart, and I spent five years wandering in the wilderness, doubting my sanity and my calling and my moral fitness for anything but the lowest and worst. The call got louder and louder. I usually reacted hard against it, but with every failed detour, it was there, beckoning me.
Now I’m out of other options.
God has stripped me of every other idea of myself that I’ve ever had. Now I’m just a lowly fisherman-shepherd wondering about where and in what capacity my wife and I will minister. I don’t have any answers beyond that. I do know that since I’ve leaned into this, more and more doors have opened. So I guess I’ll keep on leaning and walking and reading and listen and seeking counsel and praying. That’s really all I can do.
God brought me home out of exile. God gave me a family. God showed me my calling. I’ve found meaning through all of this madness. It’s time to begin a new story. Please pray for us.