The most important words I've heard

It’s minutes to midnight in Harbor City. I shut the car door and carry my bags into the house where I’d be staying for the next few weeks.

My arrival at the Liberty House seemed to officially bring the summer to a close. A whirlwind summer of light and dark, hope and uncertainty, changes and changes. Having finished school, it may very well have been my last distinctly defined summer vacation. If it is my last, I’m okay with it. It was a full enough experience.

The summer began on UCSB’s lagoon lawn- a formal ceremony of caps and gowns to let us know it was all over. A few weeks prior, I started to realize what this would mean. The past four years were good to me. Faithful to the end. So, so good. They were a gift, but I realized my allegiance would soon be tested. What did I value more, the gifts or their giver? In one of the hardest prayers ever, I listed what I’d be willing to surrender to God. A job, my house, my community, a valued friendship… nothing was off limits.

The day of that ceremony, he had practically taken me up on that offer. I had moved houses. The Autism Center let me go. Most of my community had moved away from town. That valued friendship had changed… into a relationship.

For things to grow, old things must go, but that is rarely easy.

Summer was on-the-go from the get-go. Thousand Oaks for a Tea Time field trip. Pomona for Warped Tour tabling with the non-profit my friends had started. In between, I got lunch with my pastor, who congratulated me on the next chapter of my life. Then he corrected himself- it’s a whole new book. He asked me to share my story thus far at an upcoming Sunday.

With no job, no income, came no certainty. Even more reminders flew by of how uncertain life could be, and in so many ways. Like Pastor Jim says, there’s never 100% certainty, and that’s why there’s faith. But he never said that sort of life was easy. But God is faithful. Faithful to the end.

I did have interviews going on. Namely with LiNK- Liberty in North Korea. I wanted to spend the opening chapters of this new book in my life on the road with this non-profit, telling audiences about the horrors and hope for North Korea. I interviewed once on Skype. The next one would be in Chicago. Before I could hit the town, take photos of the Bean, and eat some deep-dish, I had to go through a second round of questions. My big hope was to hear back by the time I returned to California- it would determine whether I’d apply for a more serious job around Santa Barbara, or ride out the summer in a support-raising flurry.

I drove across the great state of Illinois in brilliant thunderstorms and hopped between the border to Iowa. Vanessa got married. That same weekend, the family also saw a birth and a death. It was striking. Time was in motion. It never stopped. Life happens fast, and it’s now my turn to be at the age of jobs, families, marriages, and big decisions.

My hope to have heard back from LiNK by my return seemed futile. I boarded the plane in Chicago without having heard a word. It was on the layover, though, in Las Vegas, when the email appeared in my inbox. The road lay ahead.

There were still plenty of other journeys to take before the tour. My return reunited me with Deanna, fresh from Alaska with an iditarod cap for me. At the end of summer would lie an endurance test. I’d be on the road, she’d be in Bakersfield. But we had a month. And it would be an important one. Not only that, but it would be a wonderful one.

French Festivals and Danish villages. Failed attempts to see Katy Perry and successful visits to LA. Late nights. Planes taking off. Up. Tar on our feet. Every moment mattered, as every moment always does.

Not a thing would’ve been changed.

Support started coming in. It was uncertain (once more) where the money would come from. Good friends met with me, letting me tell them about North Korea, letting them get involved through their support. It came. A lot was still to be raised, but support was coming in. Meetings, Open Mic Nights, soon enough, the remainder got smaller.

He who began a good work in you would see it to completion in Jesus’ day, I was reminded. Faithful to the end, he would finish what he started.

I spoke at Hope. Talked about my depression. Talked about my loneliness. Talked about the joy that comes from the only one’s who’s been able to trump the two of those. People connected. I was humbled by the personal stories people shared with me, echoing similar struggles. I felt so underqualified, but awed to be trusted with their vulnerability.

Many also heard of my hopes for North Korea. Suddenly, my support goal seemed no longer distant. It was dollars away to completion.

Faithful to the end.

Challenge began on the road to Bakersfield. Time seems long and distance seems far, but supposedly, those are relative. We can do this. I’m motivated.

It’s worth it.

Things that are worth it are never easy. Nor are they certain.

Uncertainty struck once again with a third death, and I was on my way too and from LA for a funeral in an awful mood. Just two months ago, I had heard similar news at an airport. A month ago, I sat by my friend as he mourned the unexpected death of a friend of his while they were separated by an ocean.

It was the first funeral I had attended in nearly ten years. It was dawning on me that this luxury was over. I had outgrown that stage. These would only get more frequent, and I don’t like funerals. The curtain between this life and the next seemed only more opaque.

I pined for anything to convince me I wasn’t crazy. The lines between hope and faith became blurred. I had hoped for many things… a healthy relationship, an internship, the funding for the internship, and the promise that our relationships made here were eternal. I had never been let down in the past, ultimately, but I still doubted. Yet again. I don’t know how this can happen, I thought it was past.

And I realized my need for God was so immense. There was no other way. Without that hope, life isn’t worth lingering over.

I wanted to hear something. Anything. Anything to make God seem less distant, less dormant. Miracles happen shortly after God seems to go dark. Lazarus rises. I wanted to hear something.

I heard.

I Love you, Philippe.

If that’s all I hear, it’ll be enough. Faithful to the end, there will be moments to live for.

There are spontaneous road trips to San Francisco, where you see a number of your best friends along the way, and visit towns for no real reason. Listening to archaic episodes of Father Knows Best, and God only knows why it’s on Spotify. There’s the moment the last of your support comes in. There are those moments when your girlfriend comes back to town from Philly, and your time together is wonderful, at train stops, in bakeries and on piers. There’s that moment when you see your roommate watch his bride walk down the aisle in the presence of all your friends reunited, and you get the feeling that its just a glimpse of things to come.

It’s time to say see you once again. The “last day” theory holds true. My last day in Santa
Barbara is always a good one. I look at the faces of Hope in the Elephant Bar. This life is a wonderful story, I’m ready to take it to Torrance.

Faithful to the end, you will finish what you started.

Philippe Lazaro2012