Russell and Duenes

Feeling Nostalgic – Ten Years at Redwood Christian – 2004-05

with 4 comments

In many respects, this year is the hardest year of my life to write about. It was certainly the most difficult and startling year of my life. All of my life now, in some respects, gets interpreted through this year. In my heart it is often, to borrow from Winston Churchill, as the marks of a tiger’s claws upon my back; a scar that still rears its head, and like a riddle that is never finally solved. Perhaps solving it is not the objective.

At any rate, the seniors in my ’04-05 class were freshmen during my first year at Redwood, so they were the first ones to have me twice. The fatigue of my first three years, the uncertainty involved in my long distance relationship, my general propensity toward getting “all up in my head” and falling prey to anxiety (and doubtless other things) all came together in a perfect storm. It was brewing fiercely when school began, and only seemed to get worse as the weeks went on. I was losing sleep and losing my appetite. I couldn’t think very straight, and a lot of the thinking I was doing seemed less and less under my control. My greatest fear was that my faith was not real and that I was nothing but a Pharisaical hypocrite. Suddenly I could only interpret everything in my spiritual experience in a decidedly negative way. Talking me out of it seemed fruitless (though, of course, it was not, and I thank those who kept telling me the truth).

I labored on, trying to hold things together, but after about 8 weeks, I’d had enough. The short of it is, I missed the next 13 weeks of school. There’s something jolting even in writing that sentence right now, though it is a sentence that still bounces around in my head at times, reminding me of the frailty of my own existence. I’ve shared about my experience in ’04-05 with my students (quite obviously when I came back, they wanted to know what had happened) in my classes and in a chapel, and I don’t want to ever be prideful to the extent that I would disavow its happening. It was not clear to me that I would be able to come back to finish the year, or even to teach at Redwood again. One of my friends suggested I look for some other line of work; not a wholly ridiculous notion, given what had happened and given my propensity to be thinking, always thinking. I have sometimes, while driving home listening to a Giants broadcast in my car, thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have Jon Miller’s job of being a baseball broadcaster? Nothing rides on it. You don’t have to believe and hold to a certain creed to have that job. It’s kind of mindless actually, not something that has to do with the ultimate questions of our existence and meaning in life, questions which give me too much trouble sometimes.” But alas, I didn’t take my friend’s advice, thank God.

I came back to begin the second semester, and without being cliche about it, I took it a day at a time. Few Scriptures helped me more than Jesus’ words to us, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Or “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the person who seeks him.” I lean on these words to this day, in a way I never did before. I had to deal with the spiritual uncertainties in my life, without finding a resolution to all of them. I leaned on people in the Scriptures. I told myself, “King David and the apostle Paul certainly weren’t just having hallucinations and fantasies about the reality of God and Christ. These men MUST have known him. Cannot I also lean on their testimony? Are there other people’s testimonies about life and reality that I think would be better to lean on? No!” I thought, “Were the prophets just speaking and writing down gibberish, falsehood on the order of the Book or Mormon or Koran? I cannot believe they were. These men have a ring of authenticity to them, as “self-attesting truth” as the theologians put it.” So I trusted them. I also leaned on others in my life in new ways. Many walked with me through those times, especially Curt Russell, Rod Howard, Randy Magee, Dennis Tuma, and my parents (to name a few). I knew then, as I know now, there are still massive portions of my heart that are not properly submitted to the lordship of Christ. But I also know that I don’t have my own power to bring my heart into submission. God must do it. We must be, as the apostle Jude put it, “kept for Jesus Christ” by the love and power of God. I hope and pray that God continues to show His mercy to me each day, never letting me go. “Cast your burden upon the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.”

My parents were also solid rocks for me through this year. They genuinely loved me, and I wouldn’t be here writing this today without them. They have honored me far more than I have them. My father – a retired airline pilot – told me something wise and valuable back then. He said, “As a pilot, if something goes wrong with your airplane, you always keep flying it until it won’t fly any longer. You never give up on trying to bring that thing in for a safe landing. You have to deal with your life in the same manner.” Indeed. I don’t know all of the things God wanted to do in my by bringing me through such a difficult time, but I know He has good plans and purposes for it. If He did it for nothing else than to make me, like the apostle Paul, “stop trusting in myself, but in God who raises the dead,” it will have been well worth it.

I made it through the second semester, and was grateful to be able to come in each day, see the kids, and complete the year. The freshman class that year ended up being one of my most enjoyable senior classes three years later, and I have many good memories of the seniors as well. I remember that the student council did a phenomenal job, Mike Avila and Justin Burrows made me laugh too many times, and my friendship with Curt (who was still teaching next door) grew deeper. It was a pleasure recently to see Lindsay Lavassani, who was a senior that year, get married to Andrew Bicker (class of ’06).

I can’t say often enough how grateful I am to God for having brought me through that year and keeping me at Redwood. I was reminded of this again yesterday, as I spent the day with some of the juniors at Great America amusement park. I realized how much I love them, what an amazing thing it is just to see their lives, to be invited by their Creator to be a part of their lives, to have the privilege of teaching them in the gospel, and know that God in His sovereign goodness in the One who makes it all possible and brings it all together with joy. It is all undeserved. I am an unworthy servant of Christ, not worthy to be called His servant or His son. I am these things only because God has indeed been kind to me. He has allowed me the deep joys of ministering to these students, and has kept me through all the disappointments and trials, with myself and them. The Scripture is true which says, “I planted…but God gave the growth. 7Soneither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8He who plants and he who waters are one, and eachwill receive his wages according to his labor. 9For we areGod’s fellow workers. You are God’s field,God’s building.” Thank you God, for such an incomparable gift. “Our times are in Your hands.”

God, it can be scary and threatening to think back on these years, but I pray that you would help me to see them as you do. Work your redemption through them. Continue to keep me, and keep the Redwood students, in all of our doings, comings, and goings. We need  you. We need you to strip away the idols in our hearts and keep us in love with you. Banish confusion, lies, deceptions, distortions, indeed, all the schemes of the devil. Keep us for yourself. Help us to be wise. Help us to “smile at the future” as the Proverbs 31 woman does. Give us hearts that love your lordship and that want to make much of you. Break through all the dullness and deadness that still reigns in our hearts, and bring us into the unfathomable joy of fellowship with you: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May we decrease, but you increase. Be our very present help in every trouble, and lead us in the everlasting way, for your glory and honor. Amen.



Written by Michael Duenes

May 29, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Posted in Duenes, Nostalgia

4 Responses

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  1. This may or may not apply to you, and it may or not be helpful. I have suffered (to a mild degree) from “clinical depression.” A book I found very helpful is The Depression Cure by Dr. Stephen Illiardi. [The book is not hostile to religious and spiritual belief.]

    If anything seems to fit your experiences, check this book out.


    May 29, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    • Thanks for the tip. I’m always looking for good books, and good ones on this topic are especially important.


      russell and duenes

      May 29, 2011 at 4:52 pm

  2. I should add, if I have not said this to you previously, you have my permission to delete any of my comments at any time, for any reason.


    May 29, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    • Trust me, Stephen, I’ll let you know if it comes to that. We’re glad to have you.


      russell and duenes

      May 29, 2011 at 4:52 pm

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