February 2018. Through the encouragement and financial backing of a close friend, I landed at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport in Texas. I had hoped the getaway would mean at least seventies and sunshine like I visualized a winter in Texas to be. But instead, the forecast stayed in the forties and freezing rain. Not the ideal mini-vacation.
A slow two-hour commute by public transit allowed me to take in my first adult Texas experience before arriving at the international hostel. Years ago my family and I had trekked somewhere across Texas when we moved to Southern California. But now my thirty-three year old mind could not recall any specific Texas memories from our trip out west. Faded memories of Cracker Barrel breakfast and picnic lunches at rest stops was all I could recall.
Not the ideal mini-vacation.
Drenched by the rain, I walked inside to a twenty-something entrepreneur welcoming me to the Lone Star State. My wet running shoes laid next to the door as I was led through the kitchen to a tiny room near the back pantry and the door to the backyard. A single twin-sized bed, space heater, and a 60 gallon water heater filled the room. I had four feet in which to place my belongings and get situated. For twenty dollars a night, I thought the accommodations were worth the price.
Throughout my twenties and into my thirties, friends (especially those in steady relationships or married), have often asked what my hobbies are as a single man.
A comment I often heard, “You seem to be okay at it.”
“At what?” I often questioned for clarity.
“Oh, you know, being single. You really do need a hobby though.” They would clarify as we awkwardly exchanged glances until the topic changed.
I would try my best to be polite and mention different activities I enjoyed. Exercising. Not totally true. Eating. A little too true. Filling my time with side jobs to avoid loneliness. But none of these fueled my life.
To the surprise of many, I could spend days in a prayer room.
To the surprise of many, I could spend days in a prayer room. Worshipping with praise or sitting in silence. This particular trip to Dallas filled this passion. Five days to spend time with Jesus in a space away from any distractions.
Each day, I sat in a gray cushioned chair in a makeshift warehouse turned into a church named UPPERROOM. The worship leaders each led two hour sets with Scripture reading laced throughout their sets. Jesus’ presence would always be my home.
Wednesday and Thursday, I sat and cried in the prayer room. Not out of desperation or an unrestrained emotional meltdown. I cried because of the deep realization of the Father’s love for me. The depth and width of which could never be discovered because His love had no bounds. In my tears, I felt His presence close like my friend placing her hand on me on Mount Tabor. Each hour I spent with Him I felt years of pain lifted off. A new clarity of thoughts and emotions I thought I had lost in my late teen years. This was love.
Each hour I spent with Him I felt years of pain lifted off.
On Friday evening, I arrived to the prayer room with anticipation of something new. A weight effortlessly lifted due to learning how to gaze at Jesus. There would always be life events to work through, but tonight I knew it would be about Him and me. In most church services, I tend to be the person who stands in the back looking at what the spiritual climate is and maybe someone to pray for. To be honest, hiding in the back may have stifled my own spiritual growth and prevented a spiritual breakthrough in those services.
Tonight would be different.
I pushed my rain-soaked shoes underneath one of the chairs. I confidently walked onto the carpet laying in front of the stage as the worship leaders played out their songs. In confidence, I flung my arms up and down, spinning in circles and shouting Jesus’ name at the top of my lungs. If the cynical side of myself could look at me in third person, I would question my motivations. But, in this moment, I could not deny the joy coming out from my soul.
I could not deny the joy coming out from my soul.
During a less energetic moment, a complete stranger with dirty blonde hair walked up to me and leaning close to my ear to tell me something.
“I just keep seeing the joy of the Lord all over you. It is like gold shining over your face. Your presence changes the atmosphere because of Christ in you,” the male voice stated. My eyes opened to smile at the young man giving me the prophetic word. Without permission, I pulled him in for a hug and we went back to our dancing.
The Lord whispered to me, “Remember what weekend this was.”
I pulled out my cell phone to check the date. Five years ago, on this exact weekend, I almost went to the emergency department to get back on antipsychotic medication. Five years ago, I drove to Wilmore, Kentucky to have Travis and twenty strangers pray over me and chant “Clean Slate, Nate,” when the night was over. Five years from that weekend, the Lord reminded me I was not the man recovering from suicide and depression anymore. Joy. Deep joy. Neverending joy had come. No one could take that away from me.
Full freedom had arrived.
It did not have to last forever.
My spirit jumped back into full praise mode until my entire outfit dripped in sweat. I spontaneously laughed because of the joy of the Lord. I cried because of His goodness. I sang out of adoration, not pain. I could never deny where I had overcome. A decade of pain completely gone. There was no turning back now.
The Father gave me a simple picture to capture the entire weekend.
Full freedom had arrived.
A burnt red 1960’s Chevy pickup truck hidden underneath two oaks trees. Leaves had fallen on its hood as if it had not been driven in a few weeks. Still, the mint condition made me realize the owner took great care of the vehicle. My fingers traced the outside of the truck as I wondered if I could take it for a ride. The Spirit whispered for me to get in and take it for a spin.
With excitement, I jumped into the driver’s seat and slammed the door. Jesus patiently waited in the passenger seat for something to happen. I looked at Him waiting for verbal instructions from His lips as to what to do. I raised my eyebrows at Jesus as he humored me and did the same. I leaned in close waiting for some type of response until I could hear His spirit say, “You know my voice. You know my heart. Just step on the gas and listen to Me guide you.”
Jesus winked at me and without using words gave me permission to do what I heard from Him. I grabbed the steering wheel with both hands and slowly pushed down the gas pedal. The pickup truck crept forward enough to cause a slight breeze to brush off the fallen leaves exposing the shiny paint job.
“Turn right,’ I looked over at Jesus, who kept His face forward and smiled. Losing all self-control, I yanked the steering wheel down to veer right til Jesus took one hand redirecting the truck from slamming into a tree.
“Turn right, Nate. Not sharp right, just right.”
Jesus and I made eye contact. Without moving his lips, His eyes reminded me how deeply I knew Him and how much I wanted to know him even deeper. Confidently, I turned my head forward stirring the truck to the Spirit’s directions out of the woods, through the valley and onto coastal highway. Jagged rock formations broke the powerful waves as a gust of wind covered us in its chilly salt water air.
I turned on my left blinker and pulled over to the scenic overlook. Jesus and I watched the sunset over the Pacific. He squeezed my hand as the sky changed from one color to the next, all the while mixing with hundreds of others I had never seen. Jesus looked over at me to remind me of His great love for me. More importantly, the adventure He and I would go on together.
The following day, I packed my mustard colored backpack and made my way back to the Bluegrass State. On this trip I learned I did not have to hide away in the back of the church service anymore. I shedded off fake humility for a passionate heart towards a Savior. Jesus affirmed I could confidently listen to His voice. More importantly, I finally learned not to be fearful of the spiritual battles ahead. After years of fighting, I understood what it meant to have complete joy.