Coffee and Existential Dread

I’m walking through the streets of Berlin on a cold spring day.

“Turn right. Now left. Keep going. Now right again.”

The voice is anything but a voice. It’s a feeling… something in my head… my heart… God.

For months I have been engaging with the Holy on this personal level, inviting Him into everything, especially a spring Saturday morning where I’m looking for a cute coffee shop to read and journal like every other basic Christian white girl. “I just love coffee and the Word.”

As crazy as it sounds, He had done it before. A few months back I was led to this coffee shop that was built into the walls of a sunken garden. The moment was so precious. A fountain. Roses. A tasty cup of coffee. All in a hidden location. The moment smelt of mystery and destiny.

Now, I was off again, trying to trust that “still small voice,” but this time, I was lost.

All around stood huge brutalist buildings, none of which had a cafe for me to shelter from the cold. Block after block, complex after complex, and nothing.

My heart began to sink and anxiety filled my chest.

Then, the haunting thought crept up from the depths of my subconscious:

“Maybe this voice is just myself. Maybe I’m making this whole thing up.”

And just like a knot in a beautifully woven sweater, in the smallest most insignificant moment, my faith began to unravel.

Surely if one lost latte was enough to make my faith crumble, we can safely assume it probably wasn’t a faith worth saving, but this wasn’t that simple.

Years of build up had come bursting forth because of one final, gentle exhale.

Pastors passionately rebuking me for sin, all while having an affair.

Leadership refusing to disciple me but happy to leverage my talents for their egos.

Missionaries boldly screaming at me to have more faith and lie about what’s in the Bible.

Starving children attending the church of a fat pastor.

An Indian women weeping in her wheelchair as I prayed for a new leg she had lost, whimpering through breaths, “Why won’t God give me my leg back?”

The latte was too much.

Maybe this was all one big manipulative scheme that had existed for thousands of years to make people obey the whims of leaders. Maybe I’ve been wrong about my faith. Maybe this was all a lie.

And it all came crashing down.

It’s been nearly eight years since that moment, and not a day goes by that I wrestle with trusting God.

The same questions that awoke over a cup of coffee continue to haunt me:

Is He there? Does He exist? Can He be trusted? Or am I utterly alone?

And, to be honest, I don’t know. At times I have felt sweet relief, a fresh warm wind that curls around my hair, caressing me with hope. Other times, I’m lost in the depths of my despondence, screaming into a cave with not even a reverberating echo, a sound-proofed studio, my please absorb into the foam of existential uncertainty.

And if He’s not there, I need to take care of myself. If He won’t look out for me, I need to remain vigilant.

I need to struggle, alone. I need to fight, by myself.

And this shows up everywhere.

I take personal inventory and find a job that will be stable and pay my bills rather than dreaming and risking. I get on dating and hookup apps in an attempt to find a partner or not feel alone for a few minutes because not having a God is only made more painful by not having a partner to walk this earth with.

I feel so alone in any attempt at walking through this life.

I miss the days of dreams. I miss the days of trust. But how does one put the sand back in a broken hourglass? And just like that hourglass, I feel like my time is running out. 20-somethings are allowed the luxury of existential dread. A 30-year-old is not. I’ve got to get my shit together, find a career I’m passionate about, know what I believe, and have a partner to journey this life together with like yesterday.

The anxiety of it all is exhausting. I miss that “still small voice.” I miss His leading. I’m tempted to trust one more time, to risk one more time. But what if there’s no coffee at the end of this spring day? Can my heart take another disappointment? Because hope deferred is more painful than hopelessness, and I’m caught in the tension.

Greetings, Fellow Wanderer

I stumbled upon an old sermon of mine.

Yes, believe it or not, I used to be a pastor in another life. Of middle schoolers. Not adults. Absolutely not. You couldn’t pay me enough.

But, yes, that’s right, someone thought it was a good idea to put 19-year-old Brandon in charge of youths.

For three years, I served at The Springs Church, working with smelly, pimple-y, and rambunctious 11-13-year-olds … and I loved every second of it like a psychopath.

But this isn’t about how I chased children around an unfinished church in camo, commanding them to renounce their faith (that’s another story, one I will probably never share) or that one time I put a kid who couldn’t swim in an inflatable pirate ship in the middle of a pond like a dumbass. Nope. None of those stories for legal reasons. This story is about a sermon. (And this is where I lost all the ADHD friends who drew during the sermons. Yes, I’m referring to myself.)

In the sermon, I talked about Peter. I know. Super original. And about him walking on water. Even more original. And about him denying Jesus. Again … super … original …

But when I stumbling upon the CD this sermon of Peter was recorded on, my first reaction was to throw it away, thinking who the hell keeps CD’s. But for some weird reason, I felt a strong caution in my gut. Maybe Jesus? Maybe the Taco Bell. But I’ve come to a place in my life where if there’s a chance it might be divine, I just go for it and hope for the best. Maybe that’s a good strategy. Maybe it’s not. I don’t know. I’m trying as best I can to try and hear Jesus again. Back to the story.

So I kept the CD and tried to recollect the sermon because, again, I don’t have a CD player.

From what I remember, I started with Peter claiming he’s the best disciple. He had zeal and passion. He threw himself out of the boat and walked on water to prove himself. To prove he was worthy. To prove he would have faith that could shake mountains like the Teacher said.

Nearly got him killed.

But then we fast forward to another moment in a boat. Another time Peter sees Jesus. And this time, he has nothing to prove. He’s been found faulty, found broken. His faith, his love, is fractured. And he knows it. In fact, when Jesus asks him if he “agapes” Him (loves Him unconditionally), Peter says, “Jesus you know I ‘phileo’ you (I’m probably fucking up the Greek. It’s been a while. And even then, I didn’t have an education. I used the internet like every other evangelical mega-church pastor).”

He knows that in the depths of his being his love is not perfect.

But when He sees Jesus cooking up some fish on the shore, he no longer has anything to prove. He knows his condition.

He throws himself out of the boat.

Peter, the one who denied Jesus’ existence, puts on his clothes (it makes me wonder if he thought he would walk on water), throws himself into the water, doesn’t float this time, sinks, isn’t deterred, doesn’t question the reasons as to why not this time and why last time, and he starts swimming.

And there, by the coals, eating fish with the one he loved, smiling and savoring his final moments with his best friend, soaked, I think he remembered Jesus’ words before this whole shitshow began.

“You will betray me. You will fail. You need to. You need to turn away. So that you can lead those who have left me or back. Back to the love. Because you, above everyone else, will know that your love is broken and sloppy and very conditional. But I love it still. I love. It. Still. And I promise my love will be unconditional and perfect. You’ll know it in the depths of your being. Because the only way my love can be unconditional is if it is loved by a love of conditions. At times my love will be confusing and off. Sometimes you walk on water and other times your swimming your ass to shore. But it’s good. I promise it’s good. And you’ll know that because you’ll walk away.”

I walked away.

After being a missionary abroad, after getting on a mic, shouting to Germans that Jesus saves and that He made me straight (Newsflash: he didn’t), after I saw miracles and not miracles, after I spent my soul on Jesus, I came back and denied Him. Hated Him. Loathed Him. And above all, I did not trust Him.

It was in that space, that space of denial by the fires of the High Priest in shadows of confusion and contempt, that my sexuality could finally dare to surface from the depths, gasping for starved air.

I think people would look at this and say that my sexuality is definitely sinful because it came to the light in a time of rebellion. I thought that too. But talking about it with Jesus, I know that’s not the case.

Just like Peter, that time needed to happen. Otherwise, my sexuality would not have broken from the bonds I put it in. It would be begging for breath in the depths of who I am, thrashing and heaving.

But unchained, on the surface, face cleared of seaweed, and skin kissed with the sun of the day, I can bring that piece of me to Jesus, and Jesus can kiss him with delight. Pure, unconditional delight.

“You will betray me, Brandon. I’m not scared. It has to happen. Otherwise, you would never let me love this piece of you. Sure, you have questions and doubts and your love is sloppy and soggy and broken. But I love it. I love you, and this would have never happened if you didn’t walk away.”

I don’t know where you are in your faith journey. I don’t know if you are the eager believer who shouts “Jesus loves you” at a coffee shop full of worship pastors and their moleskins or the cynical saint sitting at the bar, full of doubt and short on faith. But if you’re the latter, I want to say you’re not lost. You’re on a journey.

If there really is a God who is Love, which I truly and firmly believe with an untrue and unfirm heart, He sees you; He’s not scared or concerned like that one family member. He’s patient. He is kind. And this part of your journey is important, critical even.

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, sit not down first, and count the cost, whether you have sufficient supplies to finish it? Lest haply, after you have laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all who behold it will mock you, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’”

You’re just making sure this is something you want to finish, counting and running estimates, wondering if this whole circus is for real. Maybe part of it is real. And that part is good and right. Maybe it’s all a wash and poppycock.

Regardless, He sees you. He’s not done with you. And He’s not going anywhere.

And when you’re ready, with your pathetic faith and skeptical heart, He’ll be ready. And you’ll be better for it. I know I am … Most days.

Much love, my fellow wonderer. Safe travels. Better yet, important travels.