Miracles out of messes

January 15, 2020

They say hindsight is 20/20. Well, right now it is 2020, and I’ve begun to do a little reflecting. A little over ten years ago, we lost my father-in-law to suicide. It was awful – there’s no other way to say it. It was a complete shock to our family, and rocked our entire world. It was the result of brokenness and hurt – and I don’t for ONE SECOND believe it was God’s fault, or His plan. In fact, I think it was directly opposed to it. My father-in-law was a wonderful father, a loving husband, and an all around amazing guy. He just made a bad choice, and one that there was no coming back from. But that choice left us with a mess – a giant, trauma and grief clouded, mess – and frankly our lives we’re kind of a mess for a while. 

I’ve written more about that whole experience in this forum before, so please, if this is your first time, feel free to go back and check those posts out. But for our purposes today, I wanted to write about what happened after, what has happened since, and how I believe God has worked in it and through it. 

When Neil died, I was working at a big church in the Twin Cities (Minnesota). I spoke to hundreds of students every week, and my face was simulcast all over the metro area, as I preached the message of Jesus to kids who came probably more for the pizza and play than to listen to the pastor. It was a great job, and I learned SO much from being there. The organization was top notch, and the personal development and growth I experienced as a part of my working there has set me up for success for the rest of my professional life. But if I’m being honest, I felt a little stuck. I was a Junior High Youth Pastor, who knew he didn’t want to work with students for the rest of his life, but had no real path to doing anything else at the place I was at. Despite being told I was an amazing speaker and getting to work with the Senior Pastor himself, the truth is I probably wasn’t going to be speaking to anyone other than kids for a very long time, if at all. 

Also true, was that I had grown up in a small town, and a much smaller church. While I was working in a church of thousands, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that church I grew up in was a church of hundred, no s. Everyone knew everyone, and their business, which is both a blessing and a curse – but it definitely fostered a sense of community. Church felt like a family, or at least an extension of it. This larger church didn’t have that same “vibe” – which is understandable, but also left both my wife and I feeling like we didn’t belong and wanting something more. 

Eventually, because of a plethora of reasons, including my own mental health and staff restructuring, I left my job at the “mega-church” and made the decision to go back to school to pursue my Masters in Theology. I figured if I ever didn’t want to be a pastor, I could at the very least teach. As I attended school (mostly online), I found a part-time job at another small church as an Associate Pastor, doing both youth and adult ministry. It was very much a stepping stone, in the sense that I was afforded the opportunity to do things I was good at, and things that stretched me. As it was a much smaller church, there was again a sense of family, but with it came some “family drama” which I got to help navigate and wade through. I didn’t do it perfectly by ANY stretch, but the experience helped me grow as both a pastor and a person, and I was and am eternally grateful for it. I also made some really good friends, and a few meaningful connections. 

Somewhere along the way, soon after I graduated (for the 3rd time), I began to run into more and more people I knew from my hometown (which I never left) who were looking for more in life, and from a family of faith. I think I had four or five conversations around the subject in a matter of a few months. One night, I was hanging out with a friend I rarely saw, and almost never spoke to about much anything of consequence. I told him about the conversations I’d been having, and the need I was beginning to feel for there to be a place where people could come to; believe, belong, be challenged, and become better followers of Jesus. I’ll never forget what happened next. This usually quiet and reserved man, who really didn’t know me all that well – looked right at me and said “you should start a church.” Five words from a friend, that changed the course of my future. 

In the moment when he spoke them to me, I have to admit those words struck me as rather silly and far-fetched. I didn’t know much about running an organization, I wasn’t really looking to fundraise or align myself with some other organization, and I definitely didn’t have a throng of people waiting just to hear me say “let’s do this.” Also, my hometown already had 14 or 15 churches, and I wasn’t really sure ANOTHER one, was something that it needed or could support. It seemed like a scenario that just wasn’t going to amount to anything. Just a passing conversation between friends.

But if I’m being honest, they also piqued my curiosity. What if? What if there were enough people who wanted what we wanted? What if we could band together to create a place where people felt like a family but didn’t have to fight like one? What if we could focus on what was important and forget what wasn’t? What if….? 

Eventually the what if’s got the best of me. A small group of 12 met in my basement, then a larger group met on Sunday nights for a few years. Then a group larger still started having regular Sunday services for a non-denominational church in a Catholic School gymnasium. It didn’t pay like the big church job, heck it didn’t pay at all, so I had to supplement my income by teaching part time at a private Christian school in Maplewood. Three years and many good friends later, the youth group I grew up in (a co-op of 5 local churches) asked me to take over as their director. Through all of it, and more accurately BECAUSE of all of it, our church grew and people started finding a place they wanted to be a part of. Today, HILLCITY has well over 150 adults (some of them my closest family and others I barely know), 30 middle and high school students, and 50 young kids. They all call our church home, and me their pastor. We worship together, we serve one another, we try and grow in our faith and obedience to Christ, and we support one another when we fall. It’s a completely organic and beautiful thing. Something I am SO blessed and honored to be a part of. It’s nothing short of a miracle, really. 

And that’s why I’m writing about it. You see, 10 years ago, I was a mess. My life was a mess. Anyone who knew me or saw me would’ve been lying if they told you they saw all this coming. I was an anxiety ridden, jobless pastor, who was back in school basically just for something to do. A huge, horrible, terrible, no good mess. And then God got a hold of it. He took the mess, and started to make something of it. Little by little, day by day, piece by piece; He put me back together, He brought people into my life, He gave me opportunities, and He made something beautiful, miraculous and new out of my mess. He did miracles in the midst of my mess. I was there, for all of it, and I can promise you the *I* didn’t do it on my own. Did I do some of it? You bet your bippy I did, but only with the strength and grace He gave me. Did I do all of it? ABSOLUTELY not. There are MANY other people’s stories that have intersected with mine to make all of these things come to fruition, and I’m willing to bet that they’ve seen some miracles too. God performed supernatural acts in the lives of hundreds of people, to bring us together so that we could do good for Him. Pretty awesome if you ask me. 

Hindsight IS 20/20. As I look back I can see all of the amazing stuff God has done to change my mess into the miracle that is is. But not everyone feels like life is a miracle. Some of you still feel like you’re in the mess. That’s because you are. And you know what? So am I. Life is often still a mess. I fight with my wife. I get upset with my kids. I over-commit, I under-perform, I say things I shouldn’t and I let people down. Just to name a few. There is still more than the occasional day that I want to just roll over and go back to sleep; to never get out of bed at all. But that’s the mess talking. The miracle is still there, you just have to know where to look. True, God made miracles happen in the midst of my father-in-law’s messy suicide. But before that, He made one happen through my awful relationship decisions as a teen, when He brought Emily and I together. And before that, He made others happen throughout the mess of my parents divorce. Miracle after miracle; just because He loves me. 

So if your life feels like a lot of mess and no miracles right now, I understand. Really, I do. The reason it feels that way, is because it is. But what I want you to know, is that even if it doesn’t feel like it right now, even if you can’t see them or comprehend that they’re going on – if we are walking with God – He is busy making miracles out of our messes. He is capable of taking what is broken and beaten down, and making it beautiful beyond compare. It’s not usually a blink and you’re there kind of process, but rather one that takes a period of time. But when it comes to fruition, when you see the results and it all comes together – you’ll start to feel like a real life, walking, talking miracle. 

Some people say miracles don’t happen. They’re wrong. I would know. After all, I am one. 

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1 Comment
    1. Every time I read your blog I feel so refreshed and a step closer to God thank you Aaron
      Love you Karen

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