Every once in a while one person makes a difference.
Steve Dean was my friend. Not just the “see you around town and chat a bit” friend, but the “see you for who you are and care” friend. Steve was a pastor and two of his congregants worked for me at the little consignment shop. I noticed what a huge impact he had on these two guys and how they were living far above where they would have been without Steve. I asked them about their parents and found out that their parents had also been impacted by Steve. None of these folks had a very “churchy” air about them, but they knew God deeply. That made me very curious.
The first time I really got to know Steve was on a three-day spiritual retreat. Both of us had pastoral roles and we served together as spiritual directors at the Walk to Emmaus. I tend to be a much more reserved person in public, so I often observe what’s going on around me. I watched Steve pour himself completely out for the sake of every single man at that retreat. I watched him view each one as equal to all the others. I saw him bring himself down to earth with honesty about his struggles and hope for redemption of failure. Whenever I see someone do that well, I know they have spent some time in the pit. That kind of relating to folks only comes through personal brokenness.
And then we talked. Way into the night. About issues that you only share with a very few. It was one of those talks where he felt as impacted as I and vice-versa. Mutual care, mutual love, mutual hope.
Over the course of the next months, I connected with Steve regularly and we even collaborated on some mutual projects. He even worked in the little consignment shop for a while. We walked through life together. When he came into my life he had already faced the most difficult battles in his life, but he was struggling with the backlash from those battles. After a time, he came to a point when his pastoral role ended at the very church he had started. Because I had already walked through the fire of leaving full-time ministry, I understood what he was struggling with… IDENTITY.
PERSONAL IDENTITY is the greatest struggle any of us face.
I think there are two critical pieces of this puzzle that we have to understand before we can answer that question and live into it. I think Steve worked hard to discover these pieces his entire life. Watching and walking with him has helped me walk the same road. I am not there yet, Steve probably wasn’t either. Now he sees clearly! On the other side we will know the answer to these 2 questions.
Question 1: “Who Am I?”
To answer this question requires us to do the terribly painful work of stripping us of who we’ve become. Yes, I meant that. To discover who we are, we have to overcome who we’ve become, because who we REALLY are was given to us before we entered our mothers womb. Yes, what people see and what we experience is a product of who we’ve become, but at the core of myself is something just waiting to be released. My Original Design. I’ve seen it in a lot of my friends. Before her mother abandoned her, before he got peed on in the bathroom by the class bully, before he was told he was more feminine than masculine, before her boyfriend beat the crap out of her on that Friday night, before she was told by her dad that she was a whore, before all that – was the Original Design. All the other stuff has shaped us, like a chunk of iron on the blacksmiths anvil, into someone else. Someone that misrepresents the Maker’s will for our lives. And to get back to that original design we have to come face-to-face with the brutally ugly truth of what the ruler of this world has beaten us and shaped us into. We must reach out, as if we’re falling off a cliff and reaching for a hanging branch to save ourselves from certain death, for Jesus. And for His absolute best for us and for those around us.
Question 2: “Who Do You Say I Am?” – Jesus
This answer has to be hammered out, not in sequential order to the last, but before, during, and after we answer the first. In order to continue to grow toward Original Design, we have to eat, sleep, work and play with this question pulling at our pants leg, like the little rug rat who wants nothing more than the attention of his busy dad. We have to WRESTLE with it. And we can’t really get to the heart of this question until we have a pretty clear answer to Question #1. Why? Because if we fail to answer #1, we think that we have everything we need to create our own super-human. As long as we don’t understand how poor in spirit we are, we cannot reach out desperately or with enough intensity to answer #2.
Each of us will vary in our answer to #1. That is the beauty of it. We are all created uniquely and with intimate care and design. However, there is only one answer to #2… at least if we’ve found the truth.
I watched Steve intensely wrestle with both of these questions. Sometimes it looked like he found his answers, other times it seemed as if they slid through his fingers like those little water filled rubber tubes at the toy store that you can’t seem to grip no matter what you do.
One thing I know for sure! Steve awoke this morning to the answers… All Of Them!
I will say I’m a little jealous. Not that he’s not on this side anymore. I love my journey here. But, that he sees clearly now. The identity battle, the questions about himself, the insecurity of feeling different, the struggles with his body, the constant reaching for something more, the continual battle to try to please whoever he was trying to please, the hurt of the accusations on his life, the confusion about what God wanted him to do, the frustration of trying to make ends meet, the danger of reaching out for something besides Jesus to numb the pain, (By the way, I could put myself in every single one of these descriptions), all that is gone! Blown away by the wind.
Steve is at peace now. Peace with himself and peace with “I Am.”
This was my short story when I remembered Steve’s life this morning:
Thank you Steve for teaching me how to fight well. I saw you wrestle with yourself, God, me and others. Your legacy will be that you don’t have to have it all together to know God and you don’t always have to agree with God’s ways as long as you keep trying to find Him and submit. I’m thankful for your life, brother! The fight is over and the REAL LIFE begins!