You’re Holding a Light

Read this morning that chef, author and TV personality Anthony Bourdain died by suicide. Tragic, to be sure, but also yet another indicator that success–whether it is financial, professional, or any other kind–does not necessarily equate with happiness.

There are successful people on many levels who chase their personal darkness their whole lives and never find happiness.

Because ultimately, I think, success is fleeting, and both arrives and departs on gossamer wings.

Depression has a different genesis for each person, but I don’t know anyone who hasn’t faced it.

Even people who follow Jesus with all their hearts still stumble through personal darkness at times. While I cannot speak for every Christian, I can tell you why the presence of Christ in my life has made such a difference, at least so far as my darkness is concerned.

Think of it as a little bit like navigating through a darkened room with no light source. Maybe you know where everything’s located, and most times you can get from one side to another courtesy of memory and walking pretty slowly.

But here’s the thing.

Eventually you’re going to run into something and break a toe, or cut your forehead, or trip over a stool or some toy and lay yourself out in the living room.

That’s life; navigating a dark room and trying not to run into obstacles. It’s impossible to do forever.

Not to say that Jesus in your life means the obstacles aren’t there anymore–they are. You can just see them more clearly. It doesn’t mean you’ll be happy all the time, either, because you won’t.

Just think of that same room, but you’re holding aloft your cell phone with the flash engaged. You can see the stool, or boots, or toys. Jesus is, or can be, that light held aloft.

But sometimes you still stumble, even with a light.

So what do you do when the darkness becomes profound, and the obstacles insurmountable?

While it might be easier to fall on the ground and scream, and make the decision to never get up and try walking again because Legos and trucks and those little sharp corners on dressers are just too painful to take anymore, sometimes the hard way is actually better.

Hold up your light and look at your crooked toe, broken ankle, or LEGO brick sticking out of your heel and decide intentionally that while it hurts like a bitch, it doesn’t mean you’re going to lay on the floor forever.

You can call for help if you need it. And let’s be honest–there are times when we all need it. Even when we know Jesus personally.

Toward the end of last year, things weren’t going well at work, or financially at home, or ecclesiastically at church. The hallway was dark, and the room had a lot of crap on the floor.

The result was a personal and professional breakdown culminating in a change of job, medication, and way of thinking.

It was pretty dark. And I had to call for help. I didn’t want to, because it was embarrassing to fall.

But I also didn’t want to lay on the floor forever.

And because of Jesus, I was able to light up the darkness and see the room wasn’t impassable after all, even if I’d broken a few bones and shed a few tears.

Maybe that’s you, too. Maybe you’re laying on the floor and you can’t see to walk.

Hold up your light. The pain might not go away, but knowing what’s coming makes walking a whole lot easier.

And when you know what hurts, maybe you don’t step on it as much.

And when you do step on something painful, trip, or stumble, remember that light in your hand.

If you don’t have one, it’s worth finding.

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Don’t Drown

I’ve read a ton about death and loss. Sometimes it’s been prose, sometimes poetry.

I think of Emily Dickinson, and “Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me…”

That’s pretty freaking dark. She’s talking about herself, of course, but it’s hard to say it doesn’t reflect what a person may be thinking who’s circling the drain in one way or another.

What must it be like to think of death as a kindness? I hope I don’t have to find out anytime soon.

Equally hard, I think dealing with the death or even potential death of a loved one can be just as bad.

I think the two most apt descriptions of that sort of grief come from a couple of places you wouldn’t necessarily expect: a long deceased Christian apologist and a modern heavy metal band.

Clive Staples Lewis said “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”

He’s very right, and he wrote an entire book about it–about the loss of his wife–called A Grief Observed.

He wrote a bit over a hundred pages about his personal journey through loss. It’s riveting and packed with truth. He sugarcoats nothing.

Grieving isn’t easy, it’s a bitch. The Kubler-Ross 5 stages are true enough as well. Although sometimes it seems they never end. You can look that one up on your own.

So far as the heavy metal band I mentioned goes, I was talking about the band Parkway Drive. I’ve not read the complete lyrics to their song “Wishing Wells,” and don’t even know if it’s about grieving or death, but one single sentence practically leaps out at me:

You ask me how I’m coping, and I smile and tell you I’m just fine. But down inside I’m drowning in the f-ing rain…

I get that, and I wish I didn’t. But it is very much what the pain of loss feels like, or it can. It doesn’t have to. It may sound cliche, but talking about things instead of burying them inside does help. It’s ok to not be fine.

You don’t have to drown. I wish I’d realized that sooner, but that wasn’t how my personal journey played out.

Singer Matisyahu puts it like this: ask Ha-Shem for mercy and he’ll throw you a rope.

He might not have been talking about Jesus but the principle is the same. My period of grieving was like the clenched fist of a decades-long heart attack.

I was drowning, and I didn’t realize it.

Yet over those decades, the sometimes subtle and sometimes not subtle hand of Christ reached out for me, just like he reached out for Peter when he stepped out of the boat.

I’m so glad that he touched the lives of so many people so they could touch mine.

I’m so blessed.

And once I reached out for that saving hand–that life preserver–nothing was ever the same.

This is not to say that I stopped struggling to swim. I haven’t. Struggles happen, and always will.

It’s just that now, when I reach for a hand, there’s one to grasp. When I reach for a rope, there’s someone to haul me back in.

This is something you need to realize. You can reach out for that hand or that rope as well.

You don’t have to drown, even when it feels inevitable.

Ask Ha-Shem (messiah) for mercy and he’ll throw you a rope.

Reach out your hand and grasp it. Wrap it around your arm, your whole body.

Don’t drown.

Do You Want to See?

This morning I read the above in “Our Daily Bread,” which is part of…my daily bread I guess. Verses 41 and 42 in particular struck a chord with me.

Isn’t v41 something Jesus asks of us all?

What do you want me to do for you?

What did I want him to do for me?

It makes me think of the below scene from “The Matrix,” when Neo has to choose between real knowledge and intentional ignorance.

I think that’s what I wanted. I wanted to see, and I wanted to know.

The world and my part in it never made a lot of sense to me before coming to faith.

Could life really be that random?

Lord, I want to see.

My gift of sight came at the edge of the Colorado river, looking across to Arizona.

It’s not really as simple as taking a big red DayQuil of course.

But our faith does grant us sight, and helps us to discover the intentionality to life that was always there.

Do you want that?

Do you want to see?

Because once you take the red pill, you can’t be blind again.

Reality

Right now I’m sitting in my truck at work and looking across the desert toward the low mountains I see to the south. I’d take a picture, but there’s a large tactical object blocking my view, so that’s out.

Anyway, my sister posted something on social media today that reminded me today was my mom’s birthday and I’d completely forgotten.

Granted, she’s been gone since the late 80’s, but still…

I guess what I’m getting at is that it’s surprising to think about the fact that I had a life beyond my present one. That’s weird, right? Of course I did.

I was born in San Diego, California. I spent most of my life there in the East county. 92071, to be more precise.

My dad had a work bench in the garage that was all beaten up, but still had a vise on the end of it. He was a pretty tough old bastard–I once saw him unload a washer or dryer or something from a truck by himself. On the day he had a heart attack, he drove himself to the hospital. I wish I had more of his toughness.

My mom loved country music, and dancing, and her kids and grandkids. They loved her too. One of my few regrets is that she didn’t get to meet my two monkeys, or see me get either of my degrees. I’m grateful that we’ll have eternity to recap things. Still, I wish I had more of her heart, and love for people.

I once lived less than a mile from Patrick Henry High school, and hung out with the most amazing group of people who changed my life utterly–I just saw one of them for my 50th, along with my sister and niece.

So life is different now, but still amazing. Every day, I take inventory of the blessings in my life before I leave for work.

The beautiful shield-maiden I sleep next to, and the talented young men down the hall who bear my blood, my heart, and my name.

So what if a few details slip through my old Swiss cheese brain.

If I checked out today, I can’t imagine being any more grateful for what God and the fine state of Arizona has brought into my life.

My reality may be different than it was in California, but it’s good. Better, even.

Sometimes Wait

People often say when you ask God a question, or make a request for his provision there are a few possible answers you receive: yes, no, or sometimes wait.

Let me just say that is absolutely true. Allow me to explain why.

I met a person 18 years ago that came complete with a whole bunch of luggage. Over a year or so, I became convinced she was the person for me. I interceded daily on her behalf, and the thought I had in mind was that my romantic life had thus far been a disaster, and I was due for something to work.

I made plenty of petitions before God, but I never asked if the situation at hand was what the Lord wanted for my life. I imagine if I had he would have given me a straight no and my life would have been a lot easier in the years ahead.

I think I knew this on some level, and that was why I didn’t ask.

The result was what you would expect; things worked for a little while and then they crashed like a plane with an empty fuel tank.

It would have been a great time to lay the situation before the throne, but I didn’t do that, and tried to work things out on my own, which, as before, was a disaster. The result was that I retreated from God, and ceased to stick my neck out in any real way that had even the potential for romantic entanglements.

That lasted for about 5 years, until I began to realize I did want that for my life, and God did too.

This time I went about things a little differently, and consulted a few dating sites geared toward Christian singles. I hoped for a quick success story since I felt I was getting at things properly this time.

And the answer, as you might expect, was not yet.

And then one day I said the heck with it and decided to take a vacation with a couple friends. Just before we left I received a brief message from a woman I didn’t know courtesy of MySpace, but I disregarded it after a cursory glance, because she lived in Arizona.

On the vacation I journaled quite a bit, and one day just told God that love was something I wanted for my life, but if he wanted it for my life, he’d have to make it really clear to me, because I didn’t have it in me to try anymore. Whatever his will for my life turned out to be was going to be ok with me.

I went home a day or two later and checked my email and social media again. The message from the girl in Arizona was still there, and I read it and answered it.

That was 10 years ago this August. By the grace of God, I married that girl 9 years ago tomorrow, and I’m sitting on an aluminum bench in Arizona as I write this on my phone. I’m grateful for God’s provision over my life, and I thank him daily for his blessings, which finally began to bloom in my life when his will became paramount over mine.

I’ve learned that seeking his will in the first place is usually the best thing in the end.

But sometimes the answer is wait, even if it takes years. And it is absolutely worth it.

Allow me to explain why.

This is Me

I took this selfie about a minute ago.

Just woke up after a week of nights at work. I’m still a little groggy, and I have more bags than a Samsonite store. That’s ok.

I’m a few short days away from 50 and I’m not at my best. Certainly not the person I could or should be. That’s ok, too.

Want to know why?

Because the maker of heaven and earth loves me that way, wrinkles, bags, imperfections, doubts, fears and all.

He loves me as I am, and not as I should be.

It’s the same for you, or it can be.

He doesn’t say come to me with your act together. He doesn’t say come to me without wrinkles and bags.

He doesn’t say come healthy, without addiction and free of sin.

He just says come to me.

It sounds pretty specific to me. Won’t you just drop every heavy thing and come?

Fortunate Son

As my birthday nears for the 50th time, I think more and more that I’ve been very lucky and very blessed over the course of my life.

Of course, there have been times that were difficult and a scattered handful of regrets, but time has also brought me the realization that changing even a single part of it would likely mean I wouldn’t be here this morning.

I wouldn’t be sitting in this chair and watching my dogs run around in the backyard of my own home. My lovely wife wouldn’t be sleeping in my bedroom, and my two boys wouldn’t even be a thought.

So even though I haven’t seen my parents in more than 30 years, I’m grateful for the little parts of them that live on in me. It’s true that life chews up the years–or at least has in my life.

It’s worth it, though.

One of my favorite bible verses of all time is a relatively obscure sentence from Joel, chapter 2.

“I will repay the years the locust has eaten.” (Joel 2:25)

Every hard second of my life has been worth it.

They collectively brought me to a patio in Arizona, a few short days from 50.

I love my life, and once again the thought crosses my mind that God is good. If you never read another word I write or have written in the past read that one:

God is good.

And he will repay the years the locust has eaten.