I’ve tried many a time, in these pages to describe what it was like in my previous life. Or in what you could call my life before the cross. I’ve failed every time. It is extremely difficult to document the mindset of that existence. The tendency is to ascribe a certain wicked debasement to the whole affair, and demean it to pieces. I don’t want to dismiss that either, because that was a part of it: It was shallow. But I can’t toss aside what was meaningful about it either.
Look back in your own mind: What was it like before you knew Jesus? There was at the very least, something poetically tragic about it.
There is something beautifully tragic about it today as well. I feel it really. The absence of the full presence of God. The agony at watching a world departed from God. What a horrible thing to see… one can hardly think of it fully without being overwhelmed with impenetrable agony. And a bit of hope.
I’ve often said that the reason I became a Christian is because I looked up too often. And I mean that literally. I looked up too often. I wondered. In fact I did so just recently, leaving the supermarket. It was night. And I was looking for my car, and I began walking toward it. And then I looked up to the street lights over the parking lot. Then I looked straight up into the sky. It was completely dark. I thought to myself.. my goodness. I’m some sort of being, a bipedal human entity, walking around on this globe flying through space… and then you glance down instinctively. Because I wouldn’t want someone to notice my staring into the sky. I wouldn’t want people to think I was one of those nutty people that look into the sky for extended periods. I wouldn’t want to be mocked and ridiculed as a weirdo. But another part of me wants to cry out, because there is so much more than our little tunnel vision life.
There is so much more to life. I knew that even then. I just didn’t know what it was. So far from being a depraved disease stricken junkie, I was in search of meaning in my life. Admittedly I was searching in all the wrong places. But I was searching.
I look back time and again to that mindset before the cross, and I can hardly comprehend it. And I wonder if people might think I were crazy if I tried to describe it as it actually was. But it was a momentous journey. It truly was.
Imagine this… Boards of Canada the Campfire Headphase set on repeat. And a star filled sky. The stars would burn particularly brightly. Because you were so lifted. There was something special happening. You knew it deep down. The darkness was darker, the brightness was brighter. Time, matter, air, space, and emotion seemed to join together. And there seemed to be a transcendent tune to the air, that filled it with meaning, and the presence of a supreme power guiding an orchestral rise and fall, through shadowed woods, and empty dark streets, dotted with glowing street lamps. Northern lights above, and ideas within the mind.
More so, it was Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Crows. It was Monet’s Sunset over Venice. It was the northern lights at two in the morning on a snowy night, with balls of snowflake falling so gently you’d think you’d stepped into a dream. And yes… dreams… it’s dreaming visions of lives you’ve never lived. It’s dreaming pictures you’ve never seen. It’s being a child again. It’s seeing an alien spaceport. It’s dark images that leave one terrified. It’s seeing your breath in the air, and it’s the smell of autumn. It’s the crunch of leaves beneath your feet. It’s walking, and wondering at the glory of the swaying trees. It’s wishing you could step back into that dream for just a moment, to experience that feeling again. It’s wishing you could live there forever, to be with someone in a place you no longer remember.
This was the twilight of my life. I knew it deep down. I knew I was dying. I knew I was going to lose everything. And it was true. It all happened just as I believed it would.
You struggle in reflection to make sense of what happened. Was I crazy? I wasn’t crazy. But I was in a great deal of pain. I was reeling from chaos in my life on multiple levels. I was extremely isolated. And it provoked this journey within myself. It was an introspective nightmare of sorts. And much like Eric Metaxas recalls the dream of the golden fish in the omni-ocean of meta-consciousness, God stepped into my dream. He intersected me within my own confused postulations of what life really meant. He came into my world and rescued me from it.
There was another force at work within this journey. It was a force of darkness, and evil. It would show it’s ugly face after a few days. The trips would be lovely, gorgeous flowery, smooth apparitions. Then after a few days it would get darker. It was like shadows would appear in the corners. Darkness would descend into the playful teletubby field and hungry morlocks would come up out of the ground and snatch up the frolicking bunnies. (Congratulations if you got the H.G. Wells Time Machine reference.)
One could certainly call it demonic. That’s how it works after all. The beginning is all playful, and by the end your selling your soul. Just like a scanner darkly. Or trainspotting. And yes, just so precisely like requiem for a dream. Very dark. In just a few blinks of the eye a playful dance down a blurry street becomes a hardcore soul-selling nightmare on repeat.
I can illustrate it like this: Think of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, book or the movie. Each section of the movie indicates a certain phase of drug addiction. First, you have the happy, wild car ride the explosive, euphoric introduction. Then you step into the night club, it’s a bit darker, but the colors are beautiful. Your pouring sweat, and seeing strange things, but it’s quite fascinating. And so much more interesting than everyday life! Then the situation transitions, and the transition point is best represented by Dr. Gonzo in the bathtub. He’s tripping, he’s confused, and he wants to kill himself. Yet there is something light hearted and fun about it. Pretty soon it’s like someone hung you up on a meat hook, the ugly morning after of the height of the journey. Melancholy and deep philosophical inspection ensue, encompassing Dr. Thompson’s famed “wave speech.” And later, there you go: Your at the cafe, you feel funny, still buzzed from the day before. Your right at the beginning, when an ominous feeling of future calamity is just hinting itself into the scene. You begin to feel a certain trepidation about the future. Or just about the moment.
Next is the phase of disphoria, the beginning of the trail moving from uphill to downhill. You start to realize your addicted. But you can’t muster enough care to try to fight it. After all your still having a certain amount of fun. So you try to slow it down, and enjoy the calamity unfolding in slow motion. As Brandon Summers (The Helio Sequence) wrote: It was like a trainwreck in slow motion.
Following this is the phase when the memory itself begins to crack. Days fold into weeks, which fold into months and even years. The memory is befuddled, and time itself seems an abstract concept, far away, unnecessary. And that is when terrible, dark things are seen. The eyes can’t unsee them. But any real drug addict will tell you that there is something uncharacteristically dark about it. It’s become something entirely disturbing and ugly. But it’s not just disturbing and ugly, there is a malevolent personality at work. A redness in the eyes, that lives within and works without. It’s in you and it’s a disturbance outside you. There is personality to darkness, and the most fitting descriptive word is “evil.” There is something downright “evil” and excessive taking place. One can sense it in fullness. In fact many drug addicts I work with today, in my work in the Salvation Army have referred to methamphetamine as “demon.” As a sort of slang term for it. They describe a particular evil at work within that scene. And I believe it too. There is something particularly wicked about meth, and what it does to people. My goodness, it stole my best friend from me. Terribly dark.
During those years of my life, set between the rampant trips and drug addicted tirades there was a spiritual journey beginning to unfold. Today I can look back and understand God was orchestrating the introduction of hope into my life. Back then I didn’t really understand what was taking place.
But I wrote a lot. I wrote thousands of pages in fact. I wrote books. I wrote short stories. I wrote sagas which I weaved together from dreams I had over those years. I’ve always had particularly clear dreams. I’ve also always had particularly prescient dreams.
Picture this… you dream of being in jail. And you know that you’ve had premonitions before. For the next few weeks your terrified, and a building foreboding settles in over your life. And sixty days later your in jail. There is something awfully terrifying about that. But then again, maybe the entire situation was a self-fulfilling prophecy. That’s what psychologists used to say to me. Justin, your creating your own nightmare. Your doing this to yourself. Maybe so friend, maybe so.
Dark images. And brokeness in relationships. Lost friendships. Mistreating others. Also a growing sense of impending calamity. Twenty five beautiful albums, playing one after another. Something dark is coming… yet seeing such beauty on night walks at three in the morning.. during such deep thoughts, that I would literally tear up. Because it was just so beautiful, the landscape, the quietness of the moment, the snow falling, the houses, and the stars above. Wow, awe.
The apprehension of beauty drove me forward in knowing, through and through that the naturalists and atheists were incorrect. It was a self-evident conclusion. The mysteries of life were too complex, too magnificent, and too expansive. Those ideologies paled in comparison with reality. Those ideologies failed flatly, objectively before my eyes to describe the world around me. They were empty, shallow ideologies that were philosophically bankrupt, so much so, any first year college student like myself ought be able to toss them out as patently false.
I began writing a story that would come to symbolize everything I was going through, in this desperate search for the truth. And it was a search on a rapidly depleting stop watch. Time was running out, and I knew it. My body was beginning to give way. I was becoming more and more sick.
The story told of a boy lost in a dark field, a sort of fable, a fantasy story with a bit of an Alice in Wonderland feel. The boy eventually finds himself in total darkness. In this darkness he suddenly notices a brown owl. He feels incensed to follow this creature, and he follows it through the dark brush until he finds himself in a golden, glowing forest. The owl represented my own search for truth, and the forest represented the spiritual journey I was beginning to take.
There was something beautiful happening. I was beginning to realize that spiritual affairs were not pointless, but that there was real substance there. I began searching.
It was kind of like Donnie Darko… coming to realize over the course of your journey that you’ve found yourself trapped in a tangent universe destined for destruction and the only way you can escape is to come to believe in God. It was also like being caught up in The Matrix… Hacking the matrix, trying to escape, and trying to make contact with Morpheus. It was like Dark City, searching for seal beach, but never finding it. It was like the Never Ending Story. It was like The Fountain, searching for the tree of life.
It was like a dark, dark nightmare. One in which an enemy has a plan for you, and a friend has a plan for you. Good vs. evil, wrong vs. right playing out in your life on a daily basis. What higher stakes could there be? What a greater journey to take? And so many other things. So many indescribably beautiful moments. Watching sunsets with friends… staring at the moon at parties at four AM. Climbing rocks at midnight under star-filled skies. Road trips! Snowy roads through endless white snow offset by an orange glow that would never seem to disappear through the whole night.
It was dying in a hotel room in Milwaukee, on too many drugs. Far, far too many. It was several suicide attempts. It was standing in a highway trying to get hit by a car. It was laying on the road in front of my house. And a car refused to come…
It was a different world. It was a different mindset. But more than that! It wasn’t just a different mood or mindset, in fact I was an entirely different person. As I’ve said before, about this introspection, what is true is this: I was right about my prediction of impending death. I did die. I even knew the age: 27. I died in November of 2012. Just like I believed I would. The part I didn’t know about was this: I was reborn.
And as my mother told me recently, with tears in her eyes: “It was like you were gone for a while. And now your back. You were always such a thoughtful child. You didn’t run around and rough-house with the other boys. You were gentle and you wanted to know about everything. You had so many questions.”
In fact she told me something interesting. At one point early on in the pregnancy, my pregnancy, the doctor told her to stop preparing for the child, because I would most certainly be a miscarriage. All the indications seemed like I would not survive. But I did. I was a C-section, crushed my head on the way out, and crushed my chest leaving a concave that made shirts vs. skins hell at basketball practice. But I survived. Left handed. Introspective. Thoughtful. Joyful. Peaceful. Then darkness came. Then I died. Then I was reborn, and reborn into the truth!
Isn’t that interesting? God does have a sense of humor. But that doesn’t quite fit. No, God is truly an extraordinary poet. He is a master of story and narrative. My goodness, so much so I can hardly stand it. I might just burst into joy at any moment when considering his glory.
Twilight was the fading light in my years of disaster, as I fondly recalled: the years of no-light. Full darkness, and total depravity. Yet a meaningful spiritual journey was unfolding. In 2011, watching humming birds buzz about from the front window of my home I realized that there is a God. I realized there must in fact be a God. Many were praying for me, in Zion perhaps, the lost city? They were on the other side of the cross fighting to get me through the eye of the needle. They were standing guard over my disaster. And in the 40 days and 40 nights of my disaster, then angels came and cared for me. They heard the calls from on high for mercy on this young man. God heard the call. And he directed me to Jesus Christ his son.
I had never believed any of it. But then I did believe. I knew I had done so much wrong, and evil in my life. I knew I needed redemption, a new life, a new hope, one that I had long given up on. I knew I needed freedom from the shackles of drug addiction, but I had long past given up on such a freedom ever coming. Then something impossible happened in my life: I was reborn, at the moment when I called out to one man for help, his name was Jesus Christ.
And then my life changed. The table flipped. The whole game changed. The whole mission changed. The whole spiritual journey completely changed. I was no longer in the dark forest, but on the road to the summit, on the trail, to the kingdom. Everything had changed. Hope became the basis of a new life, a new life not centered around self-destruction and hedonism, but a life centered around faith in God, hope for the future, and moral transformation. What a wonderful thing! What a beautiful journey, especially today. It gave me a clear insight: God is a God of the underdogs and the addicted. More so: God is a God of unspeakable beauties. He is an artist, a poetic, a sculptor, a architect of human souls. He is the driver of the spiritual journey that was born out of my drug addiction. He had foreordained my redemption in Jesus Christ, but he met me exactly where I was, and guided me along a knife-edge. I hung over disaster, teetered near the edge, and he kept me safe until the moment of Christ Jesus, repeating to me a million plus times: This moment is not your last, your sin right now is not the final, I will patiently await you, I will be your salvation, I will make you new, I will redeem you in my eyes, and I am not willing for you to perish in darkness. Now I belong to him, because he saved me. And even more so, because dear friends, because once you meet Him you are never the same. All your empty pits are filled, and you are filled with a desperate zeal for his gospel because at that moment you burst forth with the realization that every human being ought to know their Maker. Yet even more so, it is good to know God, it is amazing to be saved by him, yet at the very tip top: God is good because of who he is. His character, personality, plan, beauty, and attention are so wonderful and so unspeakable it urges one to burst into joyful tears. God is good because of who He is.
If you are going through hell, keep going. I hope and pray that God will find you within your nightmare, and reveal himself to you on terms that you can understand, so that you may know the answer to the meaning of existence itself: To realize you are an entity created for eternity, beset by darkness, yet able to reach out to God, shimmering through the twilight, to be led by Him, for all glory, to his son Jesus Christ, who can and will restore you to the perfection of the knowledge of the being who created your race and your soul, who has planted within you the inexhaustible urge for eternity and the desperate desire for a transcendent holiness, a perfection found only in God Almighty. Amen.
I looked down through the lattice.
I noticed among the young men,
a youth who had no sense.
walking along in the direction of her house
as the dark of night set in. -Proverbs 7:6-9
- Journey of the Christian through the Forest called Earth
- What is the matrix?
- Living in the Suburban Sprawl (Mountains beyond Mountains)
- Ancient Doorways in the Brickhouse: Fields of Green in your Dreams
- Depression & Meaninglessness: Where is God in the depths of sorrow?
- The Awe of Dreams & the Surreal
- Big Picture: The Solution to all the Problems of Earth
- What is the meaning of Life?
- You Oh Lord are my Strength: The Manifold Provision of God
- Daybreak: Examining the Problem of Pain