I’ve been fairly transparent about my criminal childhood in these blog posts, possibly to a fault. I understand I’m taking a risk by sharing my delinquent behavior in one breath and then attempting to share spiritual gleanings in the next. Especially when I exaggerate my tomfoolery into criminality. Suffice all that to say, I think we’ve got a good thing going here, so let’s continue on that path.
Trespassing has no meaning to people under the age of, like, 14. I spent the better years of my childhood amok in a culdesac of which very little was off limits. Much of it was supposed to be, but to an adventurous young boy whose role model was a spiky-haired child who toted around a stuffed tiger, fences seemed much more like suggestions than barriers and the only permission I felt I needed to play in someone’s yard was the fact that the yard was there. But on the days when my friends and I needed more structure, more of an objective to pursue, mischief would set in and we’d resort to the time-honored game of ding dong ditch.
Chances are, if you are now or ever were a child, you’ve participated in ding dong ditch. We can’t explain it totally, but there’s something exhilarating about approaching a target, provoking a response, and then forcing it to react to a situation it didn’t expect. I think that’s also why we love humor that centers on someone being awkward, but find our own fight of flight impulses kicking into high gear when we find ourselves in the midst of an awkward situation. Something just screams “get me out of here!” and in ding dong ditch, not only can you act on that, it’s the whole point. So we’d scope out houses without cumbersome porches and patios. We’d weigh the density and proximity of hedges and shrubs around the house against how willing the homeowner might be to search them. We’d take a hard pass on doors without bells or knockers, and feel the extra tension at houses with windows near the front door. Ding dong ditch was an art, and if your brush strokes weren’t up to par, the canvas would quickly turn into a globby, abstract (and not in the good way) mess.
I’ve been in a strange season of life since the last time I posted (and probably before then, too). It’s probably best summarized by something I half-jokingly told one of my pals last week: “Being Kevin Bain and being successful haven’t been particularly synonymous lately.” Some samples from my laundry list of woes include the loss of a film my friends and I worked very hard on, my disqualification for an officer position in my club because I’ll be graduating early, and a cold that perforated three weeks of activities. Through all this, I’ve been grappling with the sacrifice of my naps for Lent (making a handful of exceptions throughout the cold) and with feeling like I have nothing to share on here because life is just moving too dang fast for me to draw a whole lot of meaning out, let alone sit down to try and articulate it in order to possibly relate to/bless others. Along with that, I haven’t written any fiction in a very long time, and photoshop has inexplicably crashed and I can’t seem to retrieve it, making the little, inconsequential title art tiles that go with each post more difficult to make, discouraging me from posting at all.
Life moves pretty fast and despite what Ferris Bueller asserts, I’ve found that sometimes when I try and stop to look around, it just keeps pushing me from behind until my back is bruised enough to get me to step on the gas again.
In all this fastness of life, I’ve found that, though I was intentional in carving out more free time for myself, I haven’t been able to capitalize on it in the ways I’d expected to. I haven’t been answering the question, “What are you hoping to achieve by spending your time doing what you’re doing?” very well, or at least not as well as I’d hoped.
To be more specific, I have not been seeking God in ways that set myself up for success.
There are a handful of ways I feel that I most closely encounter God. One is through writing, another is in reading about God, another in hearing others’ words and stories, specifically through spoken word. And yet, I haven’t been using my time to immerse myself in these things. I’ve kept up with my pocket journal pretty well, but that, while it was once a huge component in keeping me receptive to God around me, has taken on a slightly more minor role.
I want to pause for a second to celebrate that fact. A dear friend of mine recently blogged about progress and how we are too hard on ourselves when seeking to grow and become better. While I could lament the fact that my journal isn’t as great a staple as it was when I started, I think it’s indicative that I’ve moved on to a depth that requires more than just a little leather booklet in my back pocket. So even though I’m at a bit of a standstill right now, there it is: progress.
The point is, I’ve been looking at a lot of suck recently, and even though I’m hopeful for what lies beyond the suck, it’s still hard to live in the suck. Luckily, along with words and theology and rhythm and story, I find that God makes Godself profoundly visible in teens. That’s why I want to devote my life to working with them, after all. And if there’s any population of people who know a thing or two about staring suck in the face, it’s teens.
Last weekend I got to go with the group I’ll be spending the summer with on a high school “mystery trip.” I got up early, drove down a one lane highway for 4 hours and met them in College Station, meeting up with them at the A&M Bonfire Memorial for a rootin’ tootin’ time of somber reflection on mortality and the precious fragility of life. From there, torrential rain made us switch from our plan of trapeze-doing (trapezing?) to the plan of going to Rodeo Houston 2 hours away. Soaked to the bone, we walked around the rodeo grounds before the events started, leaving trails of squishy soles and muddy Houston rain water behind us. As the day went on, one thought kept coming back to us every time we shifted in our seats and felt our drenched clothes rub against and chill us: this is a lot of suck. But I kept reassuring the youth minister I was with that, no, this trip was pretty great. And it was.
There’s something interesting that happens when a lot of people enter into a lot of suck together, and that is that even though the suck doesn’t disappear, it’s not what we focus on. There’s something amazing and indescribable that lies beyond the suck, enabling us to embrace the suck. Maybe it comes in being able to just put your hood down and realize your head was going to get soaked anyway. Maybe it’s trudging through that puddle because your shoes are already just wet rags. Individually, I and any one of those teens would have been miserable alone, and probably just called it a day to sit in the van or go home and get dry socks as soon as possible. Instead, whether we stated it or not, we declared together that God is present in the suck. And God is.
Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened unto you. When you encounter a lot of suck, it can be hard to do any of those three things. Whether it’s out of fear or cynicism or just fatigue, something’s been keeping me from knocking, from boldly and bravely seeking God and asking God to show up.
I haven’t been knocking lately. I’ve just been playing ding dong ditch.
I’ll put up the illusion of knocking, of asking God into my life, but really I’m just doing so to say I did.
Maybe it’s time to knock and stay. Maybe it’s time to knock with the expectation there’s a loving God behind the door. Maybe it’s time to expect encounter.