Wouldn’t Change a Thing

Like anyone, there have been times in my life where I sometimes think I would wish for a different outcome, given the chance for a redo. Times have existed where pain was real and agonizing, in a literal and figurative way.

Times where loss undid me, and I just wanted things to go black, though I never thought of taking drastic measures myself.

When thoughts of these times or circumstances come (and intrude on my outlook today) it occurs to me that as difficult as the hard times were, they had their part in shaping the person I was into the person I’m in the process of becoming.

And if I changed even one part of my past, it’s very likely none of the pictures below would have happened.

I guess God knows what he’s doing.

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Early Morning Clarity

Someone I know had a social media post yesterday asking about plans people had for the weekend. Mine was to stay cool, and sleep past 0400 for a change.

I’ve been mostly able to accomplish that so far, but God being God, today he woke me up at 430 with a thought, and a series of memories regarding a period in my teens.

Most people who know me and I call friends also know that my parents died many years ago, during my middle high school years and just after.

Some of these people also know that I have three sisters and a brother, and that my relationship with my brother varied from bad to abusive to oddly kind on his part.

I don’t know many exact specifics, but after my dad passed away we had accrued quite a few medical bills in the course of trying to prevent his death and when we combined that with the fact that my mom was starting to speed up her own process of dying and was very sick, plus there was no income into our little house it became clear we’d have to move out of the house and sell it, to pay for some things and leave a little left over.

My older brother didn’t want to go, however, and made things very difficult for everyone else. Mom and I ultimately moved into an apartment for a while, and thanks to the situation with my brother she got to spend a great deal of the time she had left with her kids being kind of crappy to each other.

It took a while, but eventually mom was gone, along with my childhood home and we had to go on with things.

I was 19 by that time and from what I remember, most of what was left from the house after some bills were paid went to me.

It wasn’t much, but I was able to get by ok with the help of my sisters. I imagine they tried to help my brother as well, but he made that super tough, too, and still does.

What God woke me up with today was the realization that much of this was not his fault because his life was tough too. Yes, the path he often chose involved meanness, recrimination and abuse. Regarding myself, God showed me this morning that even though my brother may have been a jerk, he was still loved as much as me.

I tried to argue with God that I’d always been nice and had never done anything wrong to anyone.

Today snapshots flickered by of my brother. One after another. The times he’d reached out (albeit in a very passive/aggressive way) and I’d turned him away, sometimes literally. I felt very justified in my behavior because of how my brother had been to me all my childhood. But I also saw anew the odd and seemingly out of character kindnesses he’d shown me.

And my realization was that my brother had truly been one of the least of these, and I’d shown him the door.

And my realization was also that no unkindness to another person can be justified by how they’ve treated us.

We weren’t made to be unkind. We were made to love others, and love God.

I haven’t always done that, and that’s wrong.

Lord, forgive me for the unkindness I’ve so often shown other people, whom you also love. Who you also took the whip and the cross for. Make me more like you, and less like me. Create opportunities for me to share with people what you’ve done in my life. To share with my kids and my wife what a changed life looks like.

Help me to realize that my heart of stone has been removed and replaced. Help me to better show you to my kids, so that when they’ve wandered off, they can find you again.

I’m yours, Lord. Help me to live that out.

As a sort of epilogue, let me say that time, healing, and Christ have repaired my relationship with my brother as much as one can do such a thing with a completely unrepentant person. I will trust God to create and facilitate more change there if that’s his will.

I guess I just needed to realize what I said before: no unkindness to another can ever be justified. We weren’t made for unkindness.

We were made to be a reflection of Jesus for others to find him by.

We were made love the lovable and the unlovable.

The Better Part of the Deal

My wife is sleeping, but I’m awake. We’re laying here in bed. I’m on my back with my head propped up a little. She’s on her side and her left hand is over my heart.

It occurs to me to thank God yet again for getting me here, and keeping me here. With this wonderful woman literally and figuratively at my side.

It’s not always easy, but like Jack Nicholson said in that movie, she makes me want to be a better man.

I don’t feel like a good man most of the time–I feel like a hypocrite and a fraud.

Yet.

God led me to this place, right here. With this bold and beautiful (and snoring) shield maiden and these two young maniacs across the short hall.

I think I got the better part of the deal.

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.

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.