I Need Some Whiskey
Do you know people that are just fun to be around? My first guest author, Justin, along with his wife, Trisha, are two such people to me. There is never a shortage of words, laughter and hilarious kid stories. What I love about Justin is that he looks at the world wide-eyed with possibility and believes in wonder. Even when life is hard and unkind. His hopeful edge still in tact despite the realities of living. I found a piece of myself in the story he shares here today and his thoughts make me bend towards hope.
Justin is a very accomplished and diversely skilled man, as you will soon read. It’s worth the click to check out his work, all of it, at his website. (Click Here) You’ll learn what he’s done and is doing, find his social media connections and peruse or even purchase his cool artwork there. I’m excited for you to read Justin’s story.
Everybody, meet Justin Heap.
“Well hey, after a good long cry…I need some whiskey.” These were the only words I could find. One word shy of a dozen — even the sentence had given up.
Eighteen years before that text message was sent, I was dreaming of new ways to explore spirituality as a diverse community that would embody the hopes of Jesus for the sake of the world. That dream would take many shapes over the passing months and years: from church planting to church grafting to a communal farm to an open air monastery to a fresh expression of local church to a downtown space of cocktails and community —it was as much a journey of conversations as it was of pulling on random threads to see where they lead.
My career path was equally diverse and intense: Studio Photographer and Photoshop Trainer, Freelance Photographer, Lead Designer, Pastor, Global IT Supervisor, Branding & Marketing Consultant, Artist, Creative Director, Experience Director, Freelance Writer. I even had a stint learning from one of the best Tile & Hardwood Flooring Experts in the industry.
Original Art by Justin Heap
About two years ago, sensing I was coming to the end of a creative role overseeing and crafting the weekend experience of a local church in West Michigan, I felt the spark of returning to this dream of cultivating an incredibly beautiful, restorative, mysterious, wonder-filled community.
With my wife’s peace, I resigned from my job at a megachurch to pursue a healthier rhythm of freedom, rest, and a blend of creative and non-traditional pastoral presence within our community. What that would look like was completely up in the air, totally dependent on the wind. It was terrifying.
In fact, the weeks that followed were some of the most challenging as I sought to rebuild a freelance platform after being out of the game for nearly a decade.
It was around that time I met Brooks.
Brooks was a talented designer, successful entrepreneur, and a bi-vocational pastor of a local church; he had done the impossible and married creativity with theology and his community had somehow — miraculously — managed to avoid becoming insular, uniform, and programmatic. I had so many questions.
The more we chatted, the more my dreams grew brighter. That once elusive hope became a thread I could hold. I could feel it: a thin strand of cotton held up to the light. Maybe, just maybe, now was the time. What if I could be a part of something like Brook’s community? Was the world ready for this? Was I?
You can imagine my surprise when I received a message from Brooks asking if I would pray about coming on as a Pastor within their community. Hesitant, but excited, I said I could sit with that for a while. It would mean relocating, re-establishing a bi-vocational cashflow, and more. So, we lived in a season of prayer.
And then, I received another message.
Brooks and his wife were feeling like their season of leading this local church was coming to an end — he invited us to consider stepping into the leadership role and space. You could gather the thread between your fingers it was so present.
I remember taking my wife on a date — sangria would prove important. We talked about everything.
Asked some hard questions. What about housing? What about the kids being away from grandparents? Is this real? What about jumping back into the fishbowl of a local church? How will our schedule change?
Asked some brutal questions. Why am I wanting to do this? What if we are rejected? Are we even remotely capable? What if this changes everything? Do I honestly have anything of value to share with these people?
Some time after our date, we invited some of our closest friends and wise voices to reflect truth back to us: tell us what, if anything, we were missing. Was it worth the effort, the risk, the unknown? And, we agreed, it was worth the risk of moving forward.
Meanwhile, their governing board had also been praying — and it was ultimately decided that bringing someone, anyone, in from outside the community would not be the best idea: the church would dissolve.
The brightest light casts the darkest shadow.
I was at once stuck in the shadows. If hope were a thread, then all the cotton in the world had to be missing.
What happened? They literally chose to dissolve instead of hire you, that’s what happened. They would rather not exist.
Like any of us, I sat down to process my feelings via text messages and emojis, “Well hey, after a good long cry…I need some whiskey.”
Brooks was kind. He let me know that he went to bat for me, bragged on me, supported us, that my whole story was meaningful, and “it really was about a season coming to an end” for them.
Ever the optimist, I shuffled to the cabinet — no whiskey. Classic.
It was strange, though, the next morning. Yes, there was a distinct sadness in my chest, waking up to the same reality as the night before —there would be no job. But there was also a lightness in having lived through the process, a freedom that accompanies even the saying yes to risk.
The great theologian, M. Ward, courageously sings, “What do you do with the pieces of a broken heart?” How to move toward wholeness? How to become unstuck?
I went to sleep and woke up asking those same questions many, many days. Eventually, slowly, a peculiar truth emerged: I found that heartbroken is not unlike deconstruction. The whole plan has gone to pieces: but take heart, because now the pieces are yours to examine, explore, and reinvent.
Indeed, God is making all things new, and it is precisely the making we so often try to avoid; yet it is the making, like reinvention, that literally moves us into new places, allows us to see what was previously invisible, and begs us not to give up.