I tasted the metallic prongs on the microphone. My teeth grinded against the steel shoved to my mouth. My sighs were amplified, obnoxiously exaggerating my heavy breathing through the crackling static that came over the loud speakers. The hollow, wind-blown thuds interspersed with my parched, smacking lips, filled empty space.
The moisture varnished my face. The track lighting above burned my flesh like a magnifying glass exposed in the sun. Beads of perspiration clung to the tips of my bangs. Nobody moved. Stuck on the edges of seats, my peers morphed into wax figures and porcelain dolls with fixed expressions already chiseled into place. Their eyeballs remained locked, periscopes targeting upon a subject only to fire back comatose glances that detonated on impact.
Shifting my weight upon a defective four-legged stool, I rocked in front of a silent crowd. It was the first time I had ever been asked to share since my diagnosis. I tried controlling my feelings on a thermostat dial; dominating the environment either gave me the power to heat things up, or the ability to stuff true emotions by cooling the elements down. I had nothing to say, yet everything I wanted to scream. I had not one ounce of optimism to give. And I loathed the notion of others seeking me out simply because, according to them, I possessed some unique quality of God’s hand on my life. They sought perspective automatically assigning me to an expertise status in the field of tragic circumstances that happens to good people.
The folding chairs sat atop well-worn, matted carpeting. The plastic paneling on the walls bulged. Crumbled pieces of sheetrock periodically fell like stuck commodities hanging in vending machines. The floors creaked. Rusted pipes moaned. Splintered wood frames opened gapping holes to the outdoors. Thin-like papered panes of glass easily fractured, perforations tearing among a milieu of shattered lines.
The High Life house, as it was called, was the high school building at our church. A decrepit, condemned structure, several students called this home when all else seemed lost. Ricky matured in his faith here. Bobby has been a missionary for years. Many who are currently in vocational ministries first emerged through those rustic doors, and have since spanned the globe igniting others to faith, helping cultivate growth along the way. I never fathomed factoring into those ranks. My life was heading to nowhere, a dead-end street where graffiti, abandoned debris, and tumbleweed found company.
“Surprise testimonies” originated from 1 Peter 3:15. The high school staff in our youth group encouraged us to always be prepared to explain the reason for the hope that we have in Christ. Called upon this one particular day, supposedly at random, I wasn’t ready. No, I instantly became an exhibit in a museum as jaws dropped. Attitudes were not ones of mockery, but instead ones of curiosity that were filled with wonder, awe. This was no longer the Chris they had known. Elated they did not wake up with this disease, they did not know how to compute such a mystery. My peers had difficulty adjusting to how this muscle and nerve disease made me look, made me sound.
The only thing my peers could do was just sit. They strived to discover my life as quite possibly it imposed distaste in what that meant for their life. Sitting in front of them, given this opportunity, what would be my words? Did I dare express my anger in front of them at who this God was? Why had He done this to me? Or, would I continue to look into those blank faces allowing my tears to plummet, letting the carpet absorb my bleating heart sentiments now turned to mush? Either way, I was raw. I was real. Though, I hated being both.
No words came. I could not take the silence, the humiliation any longer. I felt like a puppet being manipulated by the marionette. My torsional dystonia was moving me in ways that I could not stop, could not change. I bolted from underneath the lights, making my escape like a frantic victim in an evacuation process. I left everything behind wanting to never return, literally running for my life in urgency. It was catastrophic. I failed miserably as if the already throbbing shame was not enough of a wound.
Those days became irreplaceable. They made their mark. In spite of the embarrassment in facing my peers, this ill-favored “surprise testimony” started the ever slow toilsome process of me standing in confidence. Most of my life, I’ve been encouraged to tell my story through a voice of familiarity. I am humbled that God has enabled me to resonate with others on a trajectory that is commonplace. It happens through obscure encounters that we reduce and summarize into what is called life. These are intersections among humanity’s path that connect all of us be it the small alleys or the many lane freeways in similarity through our experience.
I remember being that whimsical boy in that recognizable place; although deficient, filled with cracks, dilapidated. The street lights reflected off of wet pavement. The trees hovered over the perimeter. The sidewalk had uprooted sections. Weeds sprouted. Leaves flurried. The white chipped paint on the outside of the sanctuary skinned itself in layers. Men grew tired, laboring in making me a wheelchair ramp here. I became acquainted with the Bible through the kid’s program called AWANA. I confirmed my faith in Jesus Christ in a small room backstage as a high school student. A steeple hidden among the branches displayed a cross. Our humble church stood on the corner of Broadway. And, the High Life building that housed the high school ministry was located just around the bend.
It was a community that accepted, nurtured, and loved. I see why people called it home!