Today's my 21st birthday.
On the eve of my 17th birthday, me & my best friend Jean Carlos started a little thing called Catalyst in a couple schools across the Twin Cities.
It was a beautiful thing that came from courage, courage to believe that God could do beautiful things amid our imperfections.
But it all happened in my first few months trying to follow Jesus.
It sunk itself deep into my identity beyond what I could control. For beauty or brokenness, the ways it’s changed me are pretty hard to understate.
The stage forced the issue, too. I was up there because when I was, beautiful things happened and God used me. I didn’t know what to do with myself.
I mean, my friends admired me. Adults looked at me with wonder. I felt like an alien.
Like some sort of superhuman dropped from a Kansas sky and masked with my own Clark Kent identity.
On my 18th birthday, the movement had begun to explode into different states.
It was once just a Bible study meeting in a dusty tech room full of school computers; now it's growing out of our control in the best of ways.
By the time I turned 19, I had begun at Bethel & dropped out of the campus movement to coincide the change of seasons.
And that's when the story turned weird.
I planned on going to a community college to save money but visited Bethel a few weeks before the first day of school because I thought I'd get scholarships for the movement I'd helped launch.
I remember being under fluorescent lights with an admission counselor in front of me, asking me about my interest in Bethel. I told him I'd need lots of scholarships from my campus ministry to fund my attendance there.
What he said next has haunted me, invited me, & infuriated me 'til the present day.
He told me to think about my life in high school. I was probably a bright light among darkness. I stood out because I stepped up to lead transformationally.
Then he told me to realize that at Bethel, I was just another light among lights.
What I've been doing with that picture has been my last three years.
At first, it infuriated me.
Now, I don’t want to paint myself wrong: I genuniely loved Jesus, my friends, & my community at Bethel. But the only story I knew was my uncommon transformational leadership.
That story was nourished by the warm stage light, and that disappeared.
And the hunger couldn’t be fed like it used to. I wanted something else. I wanted more than to be a speaking phenom. I wanted more than just being able to change things to how I thought they were supposed to be. I wanted more than applause.
Thrust back to real life, I was just a college kid among a bunch of other college kids. All gifted. All imperfect. All somewhat diseased by a cold & Christianized story of individualism telling us that we've got to hang our humanitarian dreams high if we're gonna be fully human.
By 20, I wanted a new kind of humanity.
So slowly I tried to turn off my light & tried to strip away the parts of me that I felt like were feeding into an identity that was destroying me. I felt like a mechanic pent up inside my soul trying to make repairs with parts I didn’t have.
But I was always real no matter what. I refused to compromise my genuineness. I’m only now realizing how painful & depressing it is to live life as is without trying to grasp what life is becoming or even could become.
Being real was supposed to be a window into something truer and more beautiful. Well, I bought the window, but the window by itself only gave me a glimpse inside shame.
So on my 21st birthday, I’m choosing a different story.
Bethel's good friend C.S. Lewis says that God wants to craft a human such that they could be the absolute best in the world at what they do & they'd love it the way they'd love breathtaking sunsets.
In other words, there's no paradigm of pride & insecurity.
I rejoice in what I've got, not because it's better but because it's pretty damn good by itself. And-- the best part-- I can spend less time on Google analytics massaging my ego over page views & spend more time with bated breath, looking at how gifted everyone else is.
So, humans, on my 21st birthday:
May I give myself to the story where I pull the beautiful things out of you as passionately as I give the beautiful things inside of me.
May I be haunted more by what love could look like right now than I am by what would look impressive.
May I learn that terrible truth that there will always be somebody better than me.
And then laugh & shoot my arms skyward because God's dictionary doesn't have the word 'better.' It's got a billion definitions of 'very good' & we've all got a share of it inside us.