My whole life there have been particularly two areas of struggle: 1) how to fit in well with others
2) how to be who I am – in this case, an introvert in an extrovert world.
Perhaps these are two sides to the same relationship coin. Basically this amounted to an agonizing journey of being true to myself, the way God designed me, yet navigating life according to the expectations of others.
This struggle cemented itself in me as I grew up in a Christian fundamentalist environment where I needed to perform according to arbitrary yet hard-core rules of belief and conduct on which the salvation of my soul rested. This was a heavy responsibility for an 8-year old kid who simply wanted to play baseball and to be popular at school. I learned quickly how to compete to prove myself better than others, how to hide my indiscretions from the appropriate authority, and how to work diligently to meet the expectations of the so-called “important” people in my life.
Living this way protected me from some negative moral influences (for which I’m thankful) but messed up some inner core issues including my understanding of God and His ways. Outwardly, I was an ordinary kid. Inwardly, I was confused and adrift.
Competing became judgmentalism, hiding my wrongs became deception, and meeting expectations became a craving for acceptance and success. This was a formula for life-long neurosis and spiritual insanity. If you’d been able to draw back the curtain of my life (something I never let happen), you’d see a graveyard of failed attempts to be somebody.
Of course, God wanted none of my performing “excellence,” smarts, or striving. He wanted only me; even the messed-up me.
And then, without giving any of this serious consideration, I went into ministry.
Having had a “conversion” experience as a young boy, I rode the spiritual coat tails of my God-devoted parents for 10 years. Cruising along with Jesus was disturbed when, as a 16-year-old kid sitting on a veranda overlooking the Caribbean ocean, spending some time alone with God, I felt God tugging at my heart. It had been a tumultuous family journey getting us to Jamaica as my missionary-teacher parents began a new ministry.
On this day, I was alone at home enjoying the spectacular view of the Caribbean when I experienced a strong sense of God’s presence. I didn’t quite understand what God was doing in me at that moment. So, I interpreted the encounter as a call to ministry and ran with it.
Eight years of ministry, pastoral, and theological training set me on a course of 26-year pastorates in Iowa and Southern California. These were good years filled with meaningful relationships and experiences, struggles and heartaches. It was only by God’s mercy that my blunders and confusion were used for good.
During the second half of my 22-year pastorate in Anaheim, God clearly directed my heart back to His original, misinterpreted calling upon my life – to Him alone. Through a series of setbacks, retreats, accidents, failures, out-of-my-comfort-zone experiences and educational opportunities, I slowly began turning my heart to God alone. Ministry began to flow more simply and more clearly though not without its challenges.
One of the challenges was trying to reconcile my personal journey in God with the expectations of my church family. To be honest, I didn’t do this very well. My initial enthusiasm about “spiritual formation” was met with confusion and resistance by some. Many church members supported my efforts. However, the dissonance with official and unofficial church leaders created problems that never found resolution.
Having earned a PhD in Christian spirituality, I wondered what God might have for me down the road. It was then that I discovered a group of missionaries who did spiritual formation work with church leaders, I resigned the church and, in fear and trembling, began a six-year ministry focused on ministry leaders.
God seems to do His best work in me when I’m alone. So, He finally took me to a lonely place. In 2010 Rhonda and I moved from heavily populated and noisy Anaheim to quiet, middle-of-nowhere Ooltewah, Tennessee.
I don’t really fit here. In the land of country music, I prefer classical. I don’t hunt, fish, or worship at the shrine of SEC football. I’m very uncomfortable at any Southern-cultured church.
Yet, I’ve slowly accepted this gift of solitude and embraced the spiritual benefits it brings. Though I struggle with my ego’s desire for attention and notoriety, hiddenness allows me the wonderful opportunity to experientially know God in stillness. However, it also gives room for my inner messed-up-ness to surface.
Eventually, Homestead House, Inc. was established and became a viable nonprofit. It is now the banner under which we do our ministry of hospitality, blogging, and mentoring. Our aim is, out of our own experience of communion with God, to help people commune with God in a way that transforms their lives.
Looking back to the Jamaica experience, I now know God was wooing me to Himself. Anything after that was secondary, even ministry. Though I spent the next 40 years doing ministry I felt like a square peg in a round hole. My deepest longing to know God, not just about Him, lay dormant with occasional stirrings.
But now, my experience of knowing God is radically different. For reasons beyond my understanding, this thing called “a relationship with God” is morphing in mystery. As I pause to reflect, I see that very little is as it was. My life in Christ is becoming oddly simple.
In moments of stillness and clarifying mind-heart unity, I realize the goodness and mercy of the Triune God. In my aloneness, He is there. I am never alone. In my introversion, He is there. I am accepted and loved.
Among other things, I still struggle with people who think they know better than I how I should live my life. But, I have found rich consolation and relief from this pressure by being received into the Eastern Christian Orthodox Church. I am discovering the life of the Church which is both mysteriously freeing and lovingly demanding. And, I no longer have to try to figure out how to fit in or deal with my aloneness. I simply need to learn to participate in what’s already been going on for a couple thousand years.
Who am I?
I am a rascally semi-monastic, frustrated handyman-groundskeeper, and indebted PhD with a ferocious appetite for communion with God.
What do I do?
I help spiritually hurting and hungry people, like myself, commune with God in everyday life so that their lives transform and their relationships flourish. I am a recovering pastor and spiritual formation missionary who loves to challenge the superficiality and status quo of contemporary Christianity.
I write/blog, direct Homestead House Ministries (nonprofit), coach/mentor open hearts, and serve at Homestead Hospitality House.
For over 40 years, I’ve been married to Rhonda who is practically a saint for enduring all that I’ve put her through. She is employed by Bryan College in Dayton, TN, a small, non-denominational Christian school. She is a powerful influencer of others and keeps me in line as best she can.
I have two wonderful adult children, one son-in-law and four grand-dogs all of whom constantly teach me how to love. They all live close by allowing us to see them often.
I used to have a bunch of hobbies. But now, my time is devoted to our Airbnb “busnistry,” reinventing myself as an online creative-entrepreneur, keeping spiritually and physically fit, directing, administrating and fundraising for Homestead House Ministries, and maintaining a large house. It seems the work never ends. However, in the work is a joyous struggle to commune with the Trinity. I am content in that quest.
Thanks be to God for all things!