Why Am I Like This?

I sometimes wish I could slow down. I wish I could just live a "normal" life, where I work my job, go home, relax, hang out with friends and family when time allows, relax some more and start the cycle again. But that's not my life. My life is running, or maybe rambling is a more appropriate word. At least, that's what it is right now. I work my full-time day job. I take care of my twin sons half the time. I take classes full-time in the Masters of Divinity program at Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul. And I do music. In the spare moments, the spaces between actually doing one of those four things, I'm hustling. I'm trying to be better as a musician. I'm trying to find time to be with friends and family. I'm trying to help when I can. And I'm talking with people, both face-to-face and through other forms of communication, so that I can continue to do music. Because, as this site might suggest, and as you probably know by now, I love music. I love writing songs. I love sharing them with people. I love hitting the road and trying to win over a new audience. I love music. I just wish there was more time. 

Chris Stapleton sings a song called "The Devil Named Music," in which he talks about how much he love what he does, but how it takes him away from other things he loves, like his family. My life is a bit of a bittersweet life. Like I said, I have my sons half of the time, not all of the time, which I wish was the case. Don't misunderstand me. Their mother and I aren't together for very specific reasons, and it'll stay that way. But I miss my sons when they're away. But because of that huge bit of brokenness, I am able to make a part-time living, playing my songs for people. For the most part - with a few exceptions, which I want to do away with completely - I only play out during the times when I don't have my sons. There have been a few shows scheduled on dates when I have them, and they'll stay with their grandparents. But again, I'm not scheduling those anymore. I know that the day will come - because it's already here in that I wish I had them all of the time - when I wish I would have spent more time with them, and so I'm not going to book shows anymore on those dates. And please don't misunderstand - there is nothing that has blessed me more than being a father. I love it. But it is hard work. It's the hardest work, actually, being a parent. Those of you who are parents know this fact. But my sons are my heart. They make me a better person, and they're one of two reasons that I'm still alive today. Music, on the other hand, is not that difficult. Sure, loading equipment in and out stinks. But even then, there's something to that process, because you know what's going to happen in between those moments. Music is also tiring. Playing four nights in a row can be exhausting. But as far as a job - and it is a legitimate job for me - it's the best job I've ever had in my life. I love my day job, helping people incarcerated in prisons work toward a better life, but comparatively speaking, music is better. It's the best. 

Perhaps someday, I'll sell some songs, or figure out a way to make it my full-time work. But there's this other thing, too, that I'm trying to figure out, and it's this: I have been called by God to ministry. I have been actually called by the Creator of this universe to be a pastor. And, while my actions will sometimes speak to the contrary, I take it very seriously. In fact - I was just telling a friend about this the other day - I take it seriously to the point that if God appeared in front of me and said, "Justin... I know you love music, but I need you to do this. And for you to do this, you're going to have to give up music," I would give it up. It would be extremely depressing for me, but I would do it if that was what was requested of me. But that's not what God has done in my life. In fact, it seems like the opposite is happening. And as I've wrestled with how these two passions will eventually come together in my life, the picture has started to clear up in some ways. My fellow seminarians have helped me, as have my friends and family. 

And here is where I want to share something more, something related to the mention of Chris Stapleton's "The Devil Named Music." In the past, at shows, and in interviews, I've shared the story behind a song of mine called, "Guitar or the Gun." The story goes like this: Back in December of 2016, I was at a very low point in my life, probably the lowest point I've ever been at - to the point where I didn't even realize how depressed I was at the time. Christmas time was close, and I was broke. Not only was I financially broke, but I was going through a divorce, and it was destroying me. I went to a pawn shop to sell a guitar, and the worker was going to give me $30 for the guitar. I told him that wasn't enough and asked if they bought guns. He said yes, and I went out to my van to unload my pistol so that I could sell it to the shop. He gave me about $150, I believe, for the gun and still offered to buy the guitar. I said that was fine, and that I would keep the guitar because it had actually saved my life, whereas I had never used the gun outside of the range. I went home, set the guitar on my bed and put the bullets back in my safe. As I turned back around from the safe, the weight of my depression hit me and knocked me down to my floor. I cried uncontrollably. You see, what I haven't mentioned thus far is this: I had a plan. It was a basic plan in which I would walk down to the Chippewa River, stand alongside the riverbank, pull the trigger and fall into the water. But now, that wasn't an option, because I had no gun. The darkness was still there, though. And it pushed me to my knees. It was then, as I was crying uncontrollably, that it happened. I felt an overwhelming sense of love flowing through my body, pouring out like lava almost, starting in my heart, moving downward throughout my body, before I heard the voice say, "I love you. Get up, son. You are not finished yet, because I am not finished with you. I have plans in store for you, so get up, grab that guitar and write a song about how I just saved your life." And so, I did what It told me to do - I got up, grabbed my guitar, and wrote "Guitar or the Gun" in about 20 minutes. 

What is the point of all of this? I think the point of me writing this was probably for me to remember that story. Not that I could ever forget... But I have drifted away from listening to that voice enough to where I've questioned my calling. I've questioned how these two passions go together. I've questioned whether the work is worth it in the end. And so, today at least, I remember. I remember that in all this hustle, in all this work, in all of the thinking, "Oh, man... I wish I could slow down for a while and just chill," God loves me and has me, and I am a child of The Most High. God loves me so much that God came to earth 2,020 years ago as a man named Jesus Christ to show humanity exactly what that love looks like in action. And it was so revolutionary, so unheard of, so challenging to the status quo of politics and religion, that He was executed. But death couldn't contain Him. And in a much smaller version of that story, death couldn't keep its grips on me, either. Because when I was dead emotionally, and ready to pull the trigger, He saved me. And He saved me because He loves me. I love Jesus Christ because He loved me first. 

So... this is why I am the way I am. Yes, I struggle daily. I struggle to do the right thing. I struggle in setting my priorities. But on this day, I remember why I'm here in the first place. I am here because Jesus Christ saved my life, and I'm going to sing about that fact for the rest of eternity. Peace.

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