I know it’s cliche to say it, but if I could time travel back to 1993 and speak to eighteen year-old me, I’m sure my former self would be shocked at how things have turned out for me. That year, I should have walked in my high school graduation ceremony, but I didn’t. Years of not taking school seriously had led to my having to take two summer classes just to receive my high school diploma…in the mail…in August. Later that year, hoping to right the ship, I joined the Air National Guard. They were offering 100% tuition to any state school in Illinois. It sounded great. It WAS great! But I managed to mess that up too. Between struggling to meet and maintain military weight and body mass index requirements and a continued disregard for all things school-related, I lost the education benefits and ended up quitting the military before my commitment was up. It was an honorable discharge, but it didn’t feel that way. Over the next few years, I held a handful of jobs, from a department manager at a home décor store, to a stove maker on an assembly line, to a shooting sports instructor at a Boy Scout Camp. While all of those were honorable positions, they weren’t me. I knew they weren’t me, but I didn’t care. I didn’t think very much of myself and, for a time, I stopped trying to better myself.
Luckily, those who were close to me never stopped trying to help me. In the fall of 1997, after some encouragement from a friend, I began a two-year certification course in youth ministry studies. Those classes, and the contacts I gained while attending them, eventually led to a youth ministry position at St. Peter Catholic Church in Jefferson City, MO. While I didn’t know it at the time, the move to Jefferson City, two and a half hours from home, was the fresh start I needed. While there, I had the chance to put the past behind me and begin again. Within a few years of moving there I met my wife and started a family. Eighteen years after moving to Jeff City, I am married with four kids, am still working for the Church, and have a long-running music ministry.
Why tell you that story? Isn’t today’s topic supposed to be about joy? Couldn’t I have found something else to write about the week after Easter?
For me, my story is evidence of the Paschal Mystery, evidence of the Resurrection; evidence that hope triumphs over despair, that light wins over the darkness. I do not deserve the good things in my life. I have certainly put in the work to have a miserable life. Our God, though, saw fit to stick with me and to show me that death and resurrection go hand in hand. The scars I bear from my years of floundering are still there. I’m still that guy. Without those times of failure and depression, though, I would not have the life I do now. God used the path I chose to lead me closer to Godself.
When Jesus appeared after his Resurrection, he still bore the scars from his crucifixion. Just ask Thomas. The past wasn’t erased. His past became part of his transfiguration into the divine person he was created to be.
As you travel your road, know that God travels with you. Have hope and live in joy knowing that no matter what you try to do to yourself and those around you, God will find you and God will transfigure you. You just have to let God in.