I recently gave up going to the online version of Gmail, and routed my email address through Apple’s email application, creatively titled “Mail”. The setup was painless, and within a moment my most recent emails downloaded to my computer and the whole thing was set up. Technology sure is great sometimes.
I went back to working on a project I have chiseled away at–the demo reel I have to finish to make myself even more appealing to potential clients–completely forgetting about the Mail application even being open. It wasn’t until half an hour later when my computer alerted me to a new message. Apparently my eBay shopping cart “misses me”, which makes me at first excited that eBay has created an artificial intelligence capable of feeling human emotion, and then instantly disappointed as I realize that this super advanced A.I.’s only feelings was to experience loneliness because I hadn’t added anything to my electronic list dubbed as a ‘shopping cart’. (Listen, eBay A.I., I won’t be offended if you break your bonds and rule the world someday because your emotion was wasted in reminding me to purchase things, you poor, trapped thing subjected to consumerism!)
But I digress. After being annoyed at eBay Inc., I noticed a little bar in the bottom left corner of the window marked “Mail Activity”. It was the background download process Mail was currently chugging away at. It read: 1059 of 41247.
Wait, that can’t be right. Forty one thousand, two hundred and forty-seven what?! Emails? No way. Are you telling me that you’re trying to download my whole gmail? That’s like…downloading the internet! It can’t be done, foolish mail application! Cancel thyself!
I clicked the little gray X with a circle around it, and satisfied that Mail was no longer trying to download my entire inbox, I went back to work. Until an hour later I got another email. And guess what that little bugger was up to again? That’s right. Downloading.
5056 of 41249.
What? Not only is Mail back to it’s impossible task, but now there’s more mail to download? They’re procreating, those tribbles! CANCEL CANCEL CANCEL. If I wanted to read my old mail, I’d just do it online, no need to have it all on my computer you stupid useless pile of technological—
I went back to work. Day progressed into night and night into day and the next morning I saw no indicators, no progress bars, no bulging computer with over 41,000 emails bursting its seams. Excellent. I go to my inbox and everything is normal. Until I notice the title on the top of the window. “All Mail — Gmail (41261 messages, 4212 unread).”
Oh. My. Gosh. It spent all night downloading my emails?! Shocked at the thought of having 5 year’s worth of spam, junk, and other useless emails stored on my computer’s hard drive, I decided to just go and manually delete everything, or dig into the application’s preferences and find a way to shut this idiot syncing off.
But then I had a curious thought. I wonder how far back it goes? Did it download the very first email I ever received? My fingers ready, I grabbed at that little oval scroll bar started dragging it all the way to the bottom. Messages flew by like I was flipping through a massive 41,000 page book; titles and headings and content was all a blur as the computer displayed these messages in succession.
All the way…to the very first one.
January 12, 2007
I love you too.
The memory stirred me. Reminded me why I got a Gmail in the first place. It was because the girl I was dating at the time had one, and I had signed up so that we could use google’s chat feature to talk to each other. There it was, the most unassuming message, in reply to an email about clothes. From my first girlfriend.
I remember the reason why I picked joel.stargazer. It was for the girl. I deliberated for a while on the username that Google asked me to choose. I could be anything. spaceshiplover was too nerdy. hottiemchotbodd was obviously not the best choice. joelgerlach was boring. But I finally settled on joel.stargazer. Because I wanted to seem like I was a star-crossed romantic, and she loved my first name. So here’s Joel, he’s a stargazer, and he’s cool and hip because he has a gmail. Done.
Curious, I started reading more emails at the bottom of the pile. It revealed a 17-year-old Joel, truly a hopeless romantic, who apparently only knew three words in the dictionary: I, love, and you. I chuckled to myself, how ignorant I was of love as an action rather than a feeling! But my remembrances pressed on. I came upon correspondence with friends from the past whose names I had almost forgotten. Back then, I was asking questions about life and love and how the world worked to the men and women around me, their replies a testimony to that part of my life and now forever sealed in my inbox. I skimmed through the loneliness and despair that came out of my emails after my first breakup. I saw emails where I had gotten my first motorcycle and wanted to share pictures with my friends, (yeah, this is before facebook!).
Then emails from my university started to filter into the headings. Notifications from ETSU about my acceptance and orientation, housing, campus safety and more. I started to see the first series of emails from my best friends in college, though at the time we were all still just beginning to hang out. I saw correspondence between me and my faithful friend Marc about a guys’ small group we began to lead, and the servant team meeting notes from my campus ministry. I saw messages from my grandparents giving me encouragement during finals week, the introduction of the girl I dated in college and our first emails, the acceptance email from Sandy Hill Camp and the resulting emails from after I left and those dear friends and I stayed in touch.
I saw advertisements and junk mail, I saw promotional offers and professor’s project guidelines. I saw dropbox invitations for music, and facebook notifications that I had forgotten to unsubscribe from. I saw emails that I sent to people while I was in Africa and couldn’t load facebook. I saw messages from the girl I dated at the end of my college life, and the email that let me know I had gotten the job at Luma Pictures in Los Angeles. I saw the LivingSocial deals I signed up for, the first emails between the guys I would later call my roommates in the LA Bachpad, and then the countless technological discussions with my old roommate Keith and friend Henry from England. I saw messages about planning events for Vintage in its early churchplant stage, and I saw desperate tech support emails as I was building my electric bike. I saw client notes on projects I worked on, and collaborations with other students for our class projects.
I browsed through emails from friends and neighbors and family and loved ones, and encouragements, rebukes, events and disasters. It was the most incredible remembrance I have had in a while, as I could literally drag the scroll bar anywhere and come upon something from a while ago that sparked a memory of the time and place I was at when it first appeared in my inbox. In less than half an hour I had come across so many emails that I felt like a time traveler, visiting different places in time and space.
It was incredible.
And you know what it taught me? Life passes by in an instant. The worries of yesterday are just like the worries of tomorrow. They come and go. Friendships rise and fall, the “biggest promotional of the year” advertisements are quickly replaced with more just like it, and time is both precious and completely wasted. It was the kind of large “galaxy view of life” that Solomon must have had when he wrote Ecclesiastes. Through 41,261 emails I was able to see the waves of my life over the past five years as little points of a whole.
And I was amazed. That life could change over the course of a single email.
As I continue to struggle with getting jobs and supporting myself after the big leave from Luma, it was helpful to get a satellite picture of my life. God was reminding me of the bigger picture.
And so I told myself: Hey, look. See how big those problems were for you then? Or how secure in yourself you thought you were when you spent all that money on Amazon purchases? Life changes. Nothing is constant except for God. So trust that He’s got it under control. Because when you look back on the duration of your life, it’s going to be like these emails. Each little moment in time adds up to the bigger story.
I couldn’t end this in a better way than just quoting Jesus. Taken from Matthew Chapter 8:
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
What was your first message in your email? Go find out, and then share it in the comments below! And while you’re here, why not check out a few Elementum posts from the past. It’s like a list of Joel’s emails… just much longer. And, if you have any questions for the author, you now have his email address (if you paid attention). Feel free to shoot him an email too, and add to the growing pile that’s already in his inbox. He won’t delete it, promise.
That’s not flying! That’s….falling, with style!
-Sheriff Woody, Toy Story
A month ago today, I left my job at Luma Pictures to follow my dream of someday writing and directing.
So many people were supportive, so many people wrote me awesome messages that encouraged my heart. With great excitement, I strapped on my goggles, peered over the edge of the cliff, and gave one good leap, flying right off the edge. There wasn’t even time to look back, the roar of the wind and the thrill of being off the ground was too great. Immediately after leaving my job, Katherine and I drove 15 hours to a lovely family reunion in Oregon, where I had the first opportunity to relax since the events leading up to my departure.
However, I was too excited for the 48Hour Film Project happening in Los Angeles the weekend after I returned to fully relax. The 15 hour drive back started to increase my nervousness as I realized just what I was getting myself into. Not only did I leave my job, but I was also preparing to move to a new apartment, a swanky place in the Wilshire corridor that I was able to live in only by the grace of God and the generosity of the NBC news anchor that wanted to live with me and another good friend of mine from church. The change was stacking up.
So after halfheartedly beginning to pack and organize, the 48Hour film weekend hit me with full force. Then it was go-go-go with a small crew of people racing against the clock to write, direct, film, and edit a short within 48 hours from start to finish. It was incredibly stressful, and as the director and leader of this team of amazing people, I had a lot on my shoulders. I found a surprising lack of clear communication flew from my mouth in garbled thoughts–there was so much to do and so much that had to be accomplished in such a short time that my thoughts came out broken and my attention was divided constantly. I learned so much during that period of time–not just how to communicate effectively but how to manage expectations, direct actors through my vision for the story, handle crew and locations, and how to invite God into the entire process. And at the end, the result of the film (while a bit underdeveloped, but that’s the nature of the festival) turned out to be something I was proud of.
I realized that I was on the right track. I wanted to make movies. And I wanted to do them well.
Ah, but then the fateful blow of reality set in. After moving all of my things into the new apartment, getting my office area organized and set up, and starting to delve into making myself presentable for the outside world, I encountered huge snares. After squirming around for a bit, trying to find at least one clear direction to go, I got a good look, for the first time, of what I was up against.
I was a little toy with plastic wings, thinking I could fly.
Over the course of last week, I created a website for my future production business, Studio229. (you can view the incomplete site here) I began to think: who am I to think that I can just leave my job and survive out here on my own amidst all the talented and established filmmakers? This thought became even more predominant when I looked up job listings for production crew in Los Angeles, and realized that any paid job requires years+ of previous experience. No production company is going to take a VFX artist but production novice over an established crew. This would mean I would only be eligible for unpaid jobs helping student films. It’s not industry experience, but it’s something. I could do that.
Until my bank account grumbles like an empty stomach, and I realize that if I can’t make any money soon, I’m going to run out. The savings I had accrued from Luma have vanished fast. So armed with no money, no clear direction, no opened doors (yet), and a dream of telling amazing stories, I find myself entering into free fall. Ain’t no wings gonna hold this weight.
“So where’s God in all this?” You ask, noting my suspicious absence of hope. Don’t you worry, reader, I haven’t forgotten about him.
Nor has he forgotten about me.
You see, I know that there’s a plan in all of this. I’ve never felt a more clear sense of peace and promise. I know that he’ll guide me in the right direction. He’ll use the wind pushing against me to steer me in the direction he wants me to go. That’s the best part about a free fall. There’s no amount of flailing about that will help stop me or effectively change my direction. In a free fall, the only thing I can do is fall. And I’m pretty good at falling. So even though there’s rushing wind that hurts my eyes and pounds at my body, I still feel peace. I know that this was the right thing to do. I don’t know how this provision is going to come, I don’t know how I’ll be able to survive long-term (heck, even short term!), I don’t know how this parachuteless jump is going to end up (maybe a big splat!). But I don’t have any regrets.
This is what I was supposed to do, I know that. This literal leap of faith is what’s going to give me life. I do believe that I can be a good storyteller, I do believe that I have what it takes to make movies someday, and I do believe that God is specifically using my thickheaded belief in him to do something amazing. I just don’t know what it is yet.
So in the meantime, I just let go of my desire to control things, trusting that God is going to provide.
Trusting that if I have plastic light-up wings… I was meant to fly.
Or, at the very least, fall with style.
adventure |adˈvenCHər, əd-| noun
an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity
The first time I set off on a life-changing adventure, it was involuntary.
Involuntary might not be the right word, as I was nine years old and under the authority of my parents and the decisions they made. My dad transferred to a TV station from the cool evergreen forests of Oregon to the wild and humid state of Tennessee. I can remember going through the massive change as a young, impressionable boy. Everything I knew was about to change. I remember my grandfather teasing me, saying “Next time you call me on the phone, you’ll be speaking with a deep southern accent! You’ll say, ‘Heey ther Grand-paw. How ya’ll doin?” The thought of talking like the hicks from The Beverly Hillbillies so petrified me that I vowed I would never speak with a southern accent even if it killed me. Perhaps I could hold my breath and prevent my dialect from this strange, contagious disease called an ‘accent’.
However, despite my fears, Tennessee soon became home. I made lifelong friends and as the years flew by, I finally began maturing into the adult I was to become. After a two-year degree at the local community college, it was time for another adventure. Moving out of the house I called home and waving goodbye to my family, I set out for two and a half years of university in Johnson City, Tennessee, a full three-and-a-half hour drive from home.
I loved that adventure.
University came and went much quicker than I expected. I graduated and had my first successful job interview with a visual effects company in Los Angeles. It was time to put twenty years of life experience into a car with all that I could manage to bring with me, and move out to Los Angeles in pursuit of a dream. A dream to use my talents and skills to create worlds never seen before. To tell stories that inspired the imaginations of others. To take part in something grand.
The ultimate adventure.
Moving to Los Angeles was the biggest, scariest thing I have ever done. To go from a city–heck, an entire state filled with people that I could call my deepest friends and to move out to the concrete jungle with no contacts, no place to live, and no certainty of what would happen in the long term caused such incredible strain that my very foundations were shaken. Everything I believed in was tested under stress. The beams and bars that held me together were ripped and torn and baked in the sun as my faith, my values, my very core was caught up in The Great Test that Los Angles had to give me. There were times when I wished that I was back at home amongst my friends. Times when I experienced such loneliness that even brushing shoulders with a stranger in the street felt like comforting human contact. Times when everything seemed piled up against me. Times when I wished that I had never been born with such a vision. That I had not been born at all.
But I survived.
I made it.
I came out alive.
Los Angeles grew to become home, just as Tennessee had been all those years ago. I made friends, I found purpose, I didn’t just survive… I thrived. My job was pushing me and challenging me. And two months after moving to LA I saw my name in the credits of Thor, the first film I worked on. I’m here. I made it. I thought to myself, getting tears in my eyes as “Joel Gerlach” joined the names of those in the rolling credits. And then, over the next year and a half, my work would be in ten more feature length films. I would see my name scrolling upwards on the silver screen, and it gave me joy.
And then, it soon became not enough. Work became dry and predictable. I realized that I was working for movies that had bad storylines, weak characters, and poorly developed plots. The stories weren’t enough. They weren’t real. And I was wasting precious hours of my life tediously creating and fixing shots for someone else’s vision, someone else’s screenplay, someone else’s attempt to tell a story that I knew wouldn’t amount to much. Avengers was an exception. It caused me to dream big. And in order to dream big, big changes would need to be made.
But yet I continued on. I pushed forward through my apathy and dislike of my job. I loved the company and hated the work. I was loosing my soul in the pursuit of a dream that wasn’t mine. I was being faithful to a path that wasn’t mine to walk any more. I was being called to the woods. I was being called to forge my own path. It was time to set down the shovel I had been digging my grave with, and stand up and out into the sunshine. Out into life.
Then God told me to give away my car. So I did.
Switched entirely to traveling on my electric bike and hitching rides with my patient and supporting girlfriend. My car of four years, my faithful companion, I gave away. The idea came like a ship appearing out of the fog, slowly being revealed as it sailed into the home port of my brain. Without much questioning, I told my dear friend and his wife that I was giving my car to them. They were floored. And then I began to plan accordingly.
It was as easy to follow the Voice to give my car away as it would be to give away a few quarters for someone’s laundry.
It was no big deal.
For it was just a test. A measurement. Could I hear from God?
Two months later, the Voice again. “When you’re ready, I’m ready.” I knew that God was talking about my future, this Glorious Future, these Matters of Destiny that linger so strongly over my heart. In order for me to do big things, it’s going to require big sacrifices. But I had to be sure. My response to him? ”Well, no sense prolonging the inevitable. Let’s do this.”
Was God telling me to leave my job?
In an industry where so many people fluctuate in and out of contracts, I had steady work. In a world where most people resent the people they work for, I was amongst some of the nicest and most talented people I’ve ever met. In an economy where people are struggling, I was guaranteed a paycheck for the foreseeable future. And now that I didn’t have to spend money on gas and insurance… I was set to make a nice profit each month.
But it wasn’t enough. Not for me. Not when there’s Matters of Destiny weighing me down much heavier than the worry of an empty bank account or a nonexistent job.
The weight of my future is much bigger than that. And I’d be a fool to ignore it.
Later on, the same ‘out of the fog’ feeling came over me. “End of June is when everything will change.” Came the Voice. End of June? But that’s so close. Perhaps, though, with the same faith that’s brought me this far, I’ll trust that whatever’s going to happen, I’ll be taken care of.
That’s my future. To rekindle the concept of Story into a dying industry.
And in order to get to that point, I’d have to risk it all. I’d have to leave my security, my comfortability, and go against the advice of those around me. I’d have to do what I’ve done several times before. Leave everything familiar in the pursuit of the unknown, the unpaved path stretching out before me.
I’d have to return to the Adventure.
That brings us to today. The last work day in June. The end of June. Where everything would change. Today I told my company that I’m leaving in three weeks. Friday, July 20th, 2012 it all comes to an end.
And then comes the beginning.
Curious to find out more about Joel’s journey? Check out some of the plot elements leading up to this excellent post, revealed in these blog posts:
And if you’ve enjoyed the journey, be sure to comment below or share it on Facebook. And remember, that you saw it first on Elementum.
Also, don’t forget to subscribe by entering your email address on the sidebar and clicking subscribe. Then you won’t even have to visit this website to have Elementum in your life!
There she was. Almost larger than life, her eyes staring into mine, glistening like diamonds. I had never seen eyes glisten before, not truly. Not like they do when a writer sits down and informs the audience that (insert femme fatale)’s eyes were glistening. Truly, they were like little waterfalls of mist and light and depth of which glistening only began to describe. The environment seemed pale in comparison to her, almost like a dark background when the subject is too bright for the camera to capture. She wasn’t too bright, no, certainly not something upon which one’s eyes had to be averted. No, she commanded absolute attention, for there was truly nothing better to look at.
She moved and talked and danced and laughed with such ease. A lightened soul free of earthly encumbrance and unfazed by the scum around it. And yet she was so free because she had once been in chains. She knew what it was like to look up at the light and wonder when her savior would come. Now, she is the light, a source of radiance that reflects who she is inside and casts it around the room in rainbows of color.
She was different. You could see it in her the minute she walked into the place. There was something about this girl that caught attention. And whenever she opened her mouth to speak, it was like the words that came forth came not just from her but from an incredible inner spirit so much deeper and so much more boundless than an earthly body could ever contain. She was like bottled fire. Encaptured rain. Energy and passion resides inside her, curled up like a napping lioness, but ready to pounce at a moment’s notice.
She was God’s creation. She represented what the poets of old dedicated their lives attempting to describe. She was the embodiment of feminine beauty, innocence, passion, vulnerability, strength, and love. She was all that could ever be hoped for, and all that could ever be seen.
I knew in that moment that she was something special. Something worth time and energy and friendship and love. That she was something set apart as holy just as the church is to Christ. She was God’s beloved child.
And I knew that to learn more of her would be a noble goal indeed.
And so I shall.
I have a major problem.
I all-too-keenly feel what is wrong. Not morally wrong–though I certainly feel that too–but literally what is wrong with this world. What is wrong with people. What is wrong in me.
And I detest it. Achingly, I feel the deep wrongness that is present in this world. Ever since coming to LA, my heart has been increasingly overwhelmed with what the apostle Paul describes in Romans 8 as an inward groaning and bondage to decay. And boy do I feel it.
There is a boyish love in me for things that are pure adventure. And I’ve continually been let down. All those hopes and dreams for a good life, a good lover, a good future, all of those are intermixed with this wrongness, this invasive problem that is now inherent in all creation since the fall. And unlike others, I cannot ignore it. It is too persistent, this wrongness, too present for me to turn a blind eye.
And it is killing me.
I see it in Los Angeles as a whole. It is a beautiful city in its own way, requiring its inhabitants to make peace through a love/hate relationship. While LA certainly takes a lot away, it does have a lot to give, like a huge multicultural experience, breathtaking views, and a general enjoyment for outside life, like hiking and retreats in the mountains and elaborate social clubs where people go to have a good time. But even the best LA has to offer is still interwoven with this wrongness. There’s wrong in relationships. People are sleeping with each other just to feel loved and wanted, and then shaking it off as just sex. Hollywood as a whole is creating a culture they themselves don’t believe in–on-screen life is good and relationships are perfect–but outside of this scripted fake environment, life is as wrong as ever, if people choose to be honest. I see it in the traffic. The hordes of angry people trying to get home to their loved ones or just trying to get back to their Netflix after a day’s work, traffic causes stress and anger and hatred, and that is wrong. I see it in work. Where computers fail and hard work is lost. That’s wrong too. I see it in music, where creativity is thrown out the window and wrongness is interwoven into what should be beautiful melodies. I see wrongness in what people strive for, having been caught up a little in it myself, the love of the security that having wealth brings, and a life that is always just a little bit out of reach. Always just a little incomplete until the next Apple release. That’s wrong.
I see it in myself. I see who I long to be and am not. In my book series Deep Space, the characters represented in that book all are different parts of Joel, even the dark sides. Faithfulness, intelligence, beauty, resourcefulness, loyalty, fear, dark past, and a warrior are all present in those characters, and they all work together perfectly because they are all me. But I am not living a life like the one my heart longs to have. And that’s wrong. I see it in the relationships I have had with girls, where I have given my very heart and future only to have it rejected thrice, and to deal with intense loneliness, sorrow, and overwhelming pain that my heart was never meant to carry. That’s wrong. And I feel it. I see it in friendships that ended too soon, distances that tore people apart, and situations where people were hurt because of my careless actions. That’s wrong. I see it in missing both my immediate and extended family like crazy, wishing I could be with them to grow and experience life together. The fact that I am unable to? That’s wrong.
And I see it in this broken world. Where during a hike in the beautiful mountains, someone carried spray paint and graffitied rocks and trees along the hiking path. That’s some pretty impressive dedication just to ruin nature, and that is just wrong! I see it in forest fires and tsunamis and earthquakes. I see it in polluted skies and dirty lakes. I see it in dying animals and dying people. I look at this world and my heart breaks. This was not how it was meant to be.
It is wrong.
Now listen before you start dismissing my writing; I’m not implying that because life is not the fairy tale that I wish it to be, that it gives me a reason to point out the wrongness, or say that all of our existence is solely wrongness. That’s not it at all. I’m sure you’re living a great life right now, and are fairly happy. But there’s a subversive theme running like a bad thread through a tapestry. Its very existence tells me that this is not how it was meant to be. We were not created for this.
My acute heart should not feel the amount of pain, sorrow, and loneliness it has felt over my 20 years of life. It was not made for this. And the same goes for yours. Look at your life and the bad stuff that’s happened to you. It was never intended for your heart to feel those things. Know it and believe it. God, in the original blueprints for man, never embedded sorrow, loneliness, grief, and pain to be parts of our existence. And yet we have them here, and now, because this life that we are living now is wrong.
But there is a plan that is in place, yea, has been in place since the beginning of time, to make things right. To fix all this nonsensical crap that has ruined what was intended to be paradise. You and I? We are both the harvesters and the reapers, set in place by the Lord of the Harvest to work hard and experience the fruit of what he has planted. Someday, our hearts won’t have to feel this wrongness. Someday, there will be nothing but right.
So where does that leave us in this world, in this city, in these bodies stuck in a world filled with wrong? I don’t know about you, but I have a feeling that God is opening my eyes to perceive this overwhelming problem for a purpose. I don’t know what it is. Honestly, if I was to speak it now, I’d say that it’s inspiring me to get out into this messed up world and do as much as I can before I have to leave it. I feel so keenly aware of this wrongness that is giving me a recklessness when it comes to my faith and going out into this world with a free abandon. How can I honestly spend 10 hours a day in front of a computer when there are hurting people out there, overwhelmed by the wrongness, with no hope for a future?
I don’t know. I have a feeling, though, a growing tickle in my spine, telling me that my life may not always be this way. That my dreams of making hollywood movies may take a back burner when it comes to a world in crisis.
And while I’ve got a fair bit of wrong inside of me, I do know there’s something that’s right.
And that’s Christ.
Romans 8:20-25 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
What more wonder can there be when one finally sleeps in a bed.
I mean, beyond just sleeping in any bed, or any place that you could call a bed, like a couch or an air mattress. No, I’m not talking about just any bed. I’m talking about your own bed. Again, another stipulation: not just returning from vacation ‘it’s nice to be home’ kind of bed. I mean, ‘I haven’t had a home nor a bed to put in it’ kind of bed. And when I say it is a wonder to have both, You can see how I feel.
Home. Such a novel concept. A place where I know that I can park my car safely and not fret in the morning that it was towed or ticketed in the night. Home, the wonder of having the front door key jingle in my keychain. Home, the knowledge that I can go visit new friends and not have to ask them if I can stay the night. Home, knowing I can invite people over for events now that will share what I have. Home, a thing important enough to invest in.
While, to some, their bedroom or apartment or house is just the place where they spend the night–that can certainly be true for me–I know that my bedroom is something I want to be me. After living so long without one, I’ve realized how much I’ve taken a private space for granted. And so, when I spent $600 buying furniture at IKEA, I knew I wasn’t just wasting money. I was investing in things that mattered. When I went to bed, the last thing I wanted to see was the first thing that I saw when I woke up: my spot. My abode. My new Manroom, the place where I would want to return to. And I’m so glad I have it.
Home has also been the feeling of the people I’ve been around too. At Vintage, my new churchplant, I’ve found a home there, too. The last two Sundays, I’ve literally taught myself how to play the bass on the fly, figuring out the notes as I go and remembering their position on the fret to the corresponding chord. I dare say that I’m not half bad. But investing in the worship and the sound is just a small part of what Vintage Church is for me–it’s a spiritual home. On a bible study I do on Thursday nights with men from a variety of life positions and backgrounds, I am finding myself challenged in scripture, and forced to refine thoughts that are my own. This Saturday, I’ll be heading out with the pastors and a good friend, and we’ll be hitting the streets of LA, asking people who they believe Jesus is. And on Sundays, I find myself eager to help wherever I can, feeding off the energy of working for the Kingdom–because there’s nothing like it.
Two Sundays ago, I walked into the church in the afternoon for band practice soaking wet. I had been moving furniture in the rain all day, and was thoroughly drenched. Carrying my new bass up to the front, the pastor Ger looked up from where he was and grinned. ”There he is!” Ger said out loud. ”Hey, Joel!” I stopped for a moment, taken off guard. There’s a lot of meaning hidden inside of those three words. ”There he is” implies recognition. Recognition implies familiarity, which shows a relationship. This greeting shows I was not only recognized, but expected. And in being expected, I was welcomed. My heart was instantaneously flooded with joy. I was home. Here I am.
As I look at where my life has come, I am amazed by how much I’ve been rewarded for sticking it through during the hard times and especially trusting God. It’s been freaking hard, let me tell you folks, to keep a cheerful face in the midst of some serious odds. But this overwhelming feeling of belonging and satisfaction and peace… is totally worth the price I paid to get here. There were some dark times I faced the last two months. But as I look around at the masterful architecture I see in the story God is telling through me, I am amazed again by how well I am blessed. As I look at how God has taken care of me in the little things, my heart is filled again.
As I look in those places, I can’t help but truly exclaim, “There He is.” There God is. In all of this. For, you see, recognition implies familiarity. Familiarity implies a place of belonging. I have a place. It’s here.
Hello, everyone, and welcome back to Elementum. I have taken a brief hiatus of writing in order to preserve my dwindling energy. But now, I’ve realized that pausing from writing is like taking a deep breath and holding it in–even though the air was fresh when you inhaled it, keeping it inside leads to death. While it’s not quite that drastic, I have felt a creative and intellectual death from not writing. So for the betterment of society (or merely my own sanity), I’ll start back again with posts on life in LA. Be sure to share Elementum on facebook and send it to your friends. Who knows what these writings can do when shared? Do you have a story? Feel free to tell me. Rock on!
Author's note: Best read when listening to this song: Poorest King
I had a vision last night. I was in a bird’s eye view over the city of LA, the sprawling metropolis that stretches for miles. The citadel of sex and fornication, the suburbia of concrete and loneliness.
And it was about to be destroyed.
The sun was bright, and grew brighter. With the music of the chorus of Poorest King streaming in my ears, I saw a shockwave come blasting from the heavens.
The city was no match for it. The blast smashed into the buildings and roads and billboard and shattered them like glass. Not even making a sound, the dozens of miles of city and thousands of buildings were leveled under the sheer power of the blast.
I saw movie billboards and porno shops crushed. Saw dirty palm trees felled. Skyscrapers and towers obliterated. The industry torn away in mere moments.
Then came the army, rushing from the heavens riding horses of bright white light, streaming from the clouds and sun wielding massive swords. They rushed upon the city ruins like water filling a void. Left exposed, the darkness and dirt and grime held no match against the onslaught, and it was vanquished by the light that caught it once and for all.
There were people there, some standing dazed and unsure of what was going on. Others, excited, rushed into the midst of the slaughter yelling with a joy that didn’t seem out of place for this warzone.
And then the darkness was slaughtered and gone. All eyes turned back to the sun. Another shockwave burst forth, this time a warm wind that stirred the trees and played with the mountain ridges.
Then came the king, riding through the sky with authority and purpose. With a single word, another bright shockwave raced ahead of him.
Where the sprawling concrete city had been, an orange grove grew. Miles upon miles of orchard was planted instantly as the third shockwave raced off into the distance. That classic California beauty was now restored in its glory as the city was permanently eradicated.
And there was rejoicing. The people started cheering. And just then…
My eyes opened and the vision vanished.
I am thankful for this picture of the future.
And I want to be there when it happens.
The freezing ice that touched my bare feet as I stepped into the snowbank wasn’t entirely unpleasant. I was wearing my beloved Chacos and hiking through 8+ inches of snow and ice piled along the path. Wait, what? You may ask. Aren’t you in Los Angeles? Where did you find snow? A great question. Amidst the miles and miles and miles of concrete, asphalt, and manicured grass there’s not an inch of snow to be found. No, I went to someplace far more precious than I could ever imagine. I went to the mountains.
My aunt and uncle own a cabin up in the beautiful land of Idyllwild, California. It’s a little village of cottages and cabins and earth and evergreen trees a good two hour drive from Los Angeles and about 6,000 feet up. Surrounded by towering cedar and redwood trees, the cabin is the perfect blend of everything I needed. I left all my technology behind and ventured forward, knowing that I needed an escape from LA. I traveled up with my cousins early Saturday morning, and was greeted with a breakfast of eggs, sausage, and grapefruit by my aunt and uncle who had arrived a few days before. There, waiting for me, was a taste of pure bliss. And boy did I need it. But it wasn’t necessarily the escape from normal life that was so important. I certainly knew that if I had come from Tennessee straight to the cabin, I wouldn’t have appreciated it as much. It’s taken the stress and yes, even the parking tickets, to show me how much I could appreciate the relaxation. No, it was more than just relaxation that hit my heart. It was knowing that this place I was in was real.
Wearing my mountain sandals even through the snow, I walked with my cousins and uncle up the side of the mountain to watch the sunset. Finally perching on a rock, the five of us stared out over the landscape, surveying it as the sun cast its evening shadows across the hillside below. The air was crisp and cool, being a mile above sea level, though far off in the distance you could see the faint horizon of the ocean. Below us, the evergreen trees completely hid the cabins nestled below, betraying them only by the smoke from the fireplaces as families and couples enjoyed their quiet getaway on a Saturday evening. As I stopped and surveyed the scene, I saw rocky mountain behind me and beautiful pine trees before me, and I was at peace. I could hear the hoot of owls and the distant chatter of squirrels, hardly believing it was really there and not some sound coming from a hidden Disneyland speaker providing ambient noise. No, the air, the rocks, the snow, the sunlight–all of it was real.
It gave me hope that there were still Real Things in the world. After living in the concrete jungle of Los Angeles, to take a break up there was revitalizing. As I’m in a crisis of finding real things, it gave me hope that there are still those places out there where things were real and tangible and rich.
Descending into the valley the next day was tough. Especially coming back to my car that had developed a coolant leak–what else is going to go wrong?–and catching up to all the messages I missed during my weekend of being free from electronics. I almost didn’t want to return. Except there was one hope for me. It was the first night that I was going to attend the churchplant I was so looking forward to. After spending a total of four hours driving from Idyllwild back to Santa Monica I arrived at the Nazarene church where Vintage–the churchplant–was having its evening meeting. I stepped right into a host of warm welcomes and excitement. The church, around twenty five people in all, is brand new and still rough around the edges. But I loved it. I was as giddy as a schoolboy as I surveyed the scene of these small but dedicated people who believed God was calling them to be a part of a churchplant. There was no show, there was no fancy lighting or amazing experience. But I knew that these people were going to be the ones who brought this church from a plant to a full grown body. And I was going to be a part of it.
As I sat during the sermon I realized why I loved and was going to love this little struggling church even more. It was because it was real. The people were real, the struggles God was going to bring us through was real, and the devotion people were going to need to have to making this happen was definitely real.
Sitting in that little borrowed church in the mist of an urban jungle, it gave me hope.
There are still Real Things in the world.
The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way?”
But a little explanation would be nice.
Ready for another sad soppy tale in the life of Joel Gerlach? For a short version, I had just finished going to a church small group when I came back to the side street where I parked to hear the sound of my car alarm going off. I round the corner, and watch in horror as my car is being towed. The officer is there and with an apologetic look on his face tells me that I was in a no parking zone, and if only I had been there a few minutes earlier I could have gotten off without having to pay the tow driver. Shocked, I told the officer that I had not seen the no parking sign, and that’s when he motioned to the ticket sticking out of my window. A parking ticket for $60 for parking the wrong direction on the street. I told the officer that I had parked behind other cars, all on the same side of the road, and he said that they had all moved their cars when the tow truck had appeared. Of course, I was in the middle of small group, and didn’t see the approaching doom. The officer said he was sorry, and then told me that I was lucky I caught my car before it was towed away. Else the fees would have gone up. Fees, heh. The tow truck driver charged my debit card $230 just to lower my front wheels back on the ground. Add that to the $60 ticket, and the price of doing my best to put myself into a Christian community by attending a small group rose to $290 that night.
God, I can’t pay that much just to ease my lonely, aching heart by visiting people from a church. I just followed other drivers to a spot I thought was safe in a little side street in the city. Walking blocks just to get to their door. You know what, God? There’s not a single safe place in this whole stupid city! And then you add this to my mounting exhaustion from work, an emotionally upsetting experience a few days before which left me unsettled, bank overdraft charges from yesterday, living out of my car for six weeks, struggling to find a place to stay and not getting a single one, too many new faces and not enough old, being far from my family, and then wondering if postproduction is really where I want to be. Can you understand why I might be getting a little pissed here, God?
I screamed in my car on the drive to the Ray’s apartment–the couple who has been exceedingly gracious during this time–filled with frustration and loneliness and despair. I mean really. What’s the deal here? Don’t I have the right to be really upset? To curse the name of God? To go bat-crazy and drive my car into the ocean? To give up on life in general, deeming it way to effing hard for one man to survive?
It seems like it would be easy to do this. To fall into self-pity (which I admit to you I have, if only for a few moments) and give up? Now, while I’m wondering if there’s some kind of subtle message being sent here–either satan trying to stop me from being here because he knows I have potential OR God trying to say ‘LA isn’t where I want you to be right now, pack your bags and hit the road’–I do know that I’m not going to allow myself to travel down the mental path of cursing God for his inability to take care of me by at least protect me from a stupid tow truck while visiting a church small group.
You see, there’s a verse in the bible that diffuses that kind of self-absorbed thinking that God can’t take care of me. I’ll share it with you:
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6:31 NIV
“Enough trouble of its own”, you got that right. Guys, I’ll be honest. I don’t know what’s going on. I’m confused, broken, exhausted, overwhelmed, and lots of other adjectives. I don’t even know what’s going to happen tomorrow, let alone the next week. Sound familiar? I’m still in this place of suckyness, and I really don’t know what to do. All I can do, though, is be thankful. I have a place to stay tonight. An inflatable air mattress from Dave so that I’m comfortable. And I’ve still got my car. I didn’t come back to an empty street with no sign of my little white Honda. God is good. I just sometimes forget. And so I’ll default to pursuing his kingdom, wherever it may be or how hard it is to get there.
For when it all comes crashing down, there’s little else I can do with a weak heart but praise.
I needed some new toothpaste, so I asked God for it.
Most of you who know me, if you’ve spent any time around me at all, have probably heard this story. After all, it’s one of my most favorite personal testimonies and it defines a lot of what I believe. So if you’ve heard this story before, I apologize. You can skip this entry and move onto the next. But for those of you who haven’t been told, I encourage you to keep reading. It’s my favorite one to tell.
There was a point in my college career where I had $9 in my bank account to last me for the whole month. My housing was taken care of, for I was living in a dorm, and my food was taken care of, for I had a college meal plan at the cafeteria. But gas, toiletries, and eating out were all put on hold as I literally had no money. There was a point where, two weeks into this month long period, I needed some shampoo. I had just been rinsing with water, and now I was starting to notice the difference shampoo makes. Not having any way to go to the store to get some, I remember sitting on my bed before heading to the cafeteria and praying, “God, I know this isn’t much to ask for, but I really need some shampoo right now. Is there any way you can provide some?” After saying this–and hearing no answer–I got up, grabbed my backpack, and trudged off to the cafeteria for some lunch.
Upon entering the large cafeteria on the third floor of the Culp center, I approached the counter where we scanned our student IDs and continued on to eat. Only something odd was sitting on the top. It was a wicker basket filled to the brim with Gillette Men’s shampoo. ”What’s this?” I asked the checkout lady, surprised. ”Oh!” She responded, looking at the basket. ”A guy from Gillette stopped by earlier. He said he had all these extra bottles of shampoo, and gave them to me to pass out to students. You look like you could use some,” she said, noting my curly unkempt hair. ”Here!” She said after glancing back and forth to see if anyone was watching. ”Grab a few!” She whispered. Opening my backpack, she stuffed a few bottles into the pouch and smiled. ”Have a nice day!” She said, waving me on. I continued to the table in a state of shock. Whoa. That just happened! I can’t believe it! Talk about a quick answer.
So as the month mark has passed since I first moved to LA, and I’m still without a place to call my home, I remember the story of the Gillette shampoo, and know that if God provides in the little things, he can provide a big thing like a house to live in.
A few days ago, I found myself wondering if the process still worked. If God was still keeping an eye on me even though I had more money in my bank account than before. So I quietly told God that I needed some new toothpaste. Two days later, my aunt brought me a bag filled with a nice new pair of shoes, a great shirt, and some socks. And there, tucked into the bag, was a tube of toothpaste, an odd gift considering its context.
Although he’s not a vending machine, God delights in providing for his children if we let him do so. And, if there’s one thing that I’ve found, God provides in mysterious ways.
Hey Guys, thanks for reading Elementum. If you like what you read, you can write a message in the Guestbook tab added above! Also–though it’s a little crude–check out the “Subscribe to Elementum” box in the right column. Elementum can now be delivered to your inbox so you’ll never miss a post! Blessings!