Beneath The Surface

Like a single point on the earth
Turning away from the sun
It becomes colder and darker
Until it rotates back to face the light

The dark is not to be ignored
Daily waves of life remind me of the present death
From within the dank and musty smell of hopelessness
They are waiting for a hand to be lent

Temporary discomfort is a given
Temptation all too likely
Because the night distracts
Clarity quivers and weakens

Like a diver sunk too deep
Panic sets in amidst the poison of neon
Returning to the surface becomes critical
To face the light again

Lessons Learned In The Dark

When I’m having a conversation with somebody I often preface my comments by stating something to the effect that I am basically a journeyman with a prodigal background and that, while my intentions are good, my consistency of focus is more fallible than not. The main reason that I make this disclaimer is because I don’t want my reliably poor decisions and character faults to distract from whatever truth God may choose to reflect off of my twitching countenance for someone else to see. While my soul is at peace, my body, brain, and nerves are often not.

My life experiences, so far, have taught me a little about humilty and a good deal about perspective. One of the greatest lessons that I’ve learned can be summed up in a quote from Marcus Aurelius: “The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make of it.” Very little in this life is permanent. So, how can I deal with it?

I was born in March of 1976 and put up for adoption. By June of 1976 I was in the home that I would grow up in under the care and supervision of my adpotive parents. In 1994, however, my parents began a long and difficult divorce process that wouldn’t be resolved until several years later. Through a combination of that process and my older brother’s runaway exit from home and family nearly a decade before I learned that having a cohesive and whole family to cling to throughout life is not guaranteed for everyone.

In January of 1996 I learned that a person’s home and belongings can disappear in an instant. It was -6 degrees farenheight in upstate New York at about one in the morning when I returned home from work to find my house engulfed in flames, though, fortunately, with my dad standing safely outside along with members of six local fire departments. It was so cold that night that the pumps on the tanker trunks were freezing up and hindering their efforts to control the blaze. We were very fortunate to have homeowner’s insurance and a lot of generous friends and family help us to get through, but, again, it was an eye-opening time in which I learned that material things that we put so much effort into acquiring and keeping really are temporary and fleeting.

Probably the most significant lesson in my life began to unfold in October of 1998 when an previously unknown tumor in the pineal gland of my brain ruptured and I had to be hospitalized in the intensive care unit for several days. The subsequent VP shunt insertion surgery, radiation treatments, biopsy, and eventual surgery to remove the apparently and fortunately benign tumor made a stark impression on me and my appreciation for the more subtle, yet frequent, moments of beauty that are available to us each day.

Through these experiences and others I have learned and experienced what it means to be truly alone. I’ve also learned how weak I can be in such moments. Life, indeed, takes on a different perspective when your belongings have gone up in smoke, your home is gone, your family has disolved, and you’re not optimistic that this next Christmas won’t be your last.

As a result of these lessons I have a much greater appreciation, than I might have had otherwise, for the true stability and peace that comes from placing one’s hopes on something that is endless and invincible. Events written about here that I realize could be interpreted by a random reader as ‘Woe is me’ complaints, instead, had a very real and longstanding impact on the worldview, hope, and peace that I now have.

For me, the loss, pain, loneliness, and what I interpreted as betrayal, was a critical step in the learning process of finding out there really is joy, peace, and love to be gained and experienced in this life and beyond.

Now, as a husband and father of two, I am certain that the great appreciation and fondness that I have for my life is more than it would have been had I not experienced what I have in the past. I needed to be left in the dark so that I could realize that there was a light.


“If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know that it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.”
-C.S. Lewis

Tactile Faith

The scripture passage that has intrigued me the most lately is John’s account of Jesus resurrecting Lazarus in the eleventh chapter of his gospel. Instead of asking His Father to revive Lazarus, Jesus thanked God for having already done so.

This detail struck a chord with me because of the manner in which I know that I pray most often. During a typical prayer, I will ask God to help this, protect that, forgive me, bless her, etc. But, how often have I actually thanked God in advance, in faith, as if my prayer had already been answered?

One of the few circumstances in which I have definitely felt the assurance of sincere faith involves the prayer that my family and I pray together when we are preparing to depart on a long road trip. During such times I, most often, will pray for God’s protection to keep the driver awake, alert, and the family safe as we travel. Then, I follow up with the sincere statement that we trust in his protection.

At the moment that my proclamation of our trust exits my mouth, I feel, with all sincerity, that we will be protected.

Now, I need to kneel and sincerely seek his guidance and direction in the same manner and trust that he will provide what I need to live for him in all circumstances.

“So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” – John 11:41-42

Take Off Your Clothes

…Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” John 11:43

In the eleventh chapter of the book of John, Jesus had just been “deeply moved in spirit and troubled,” when he met Mary and the Jews who had followed her from her home Judea where Lazarus lay dead. After reminding the onlookers that their faith would lead to their sight of the glory of God, Jesus ordered that the stone covering the tomb of Lazarus be removed. He then proceeded to look up and pray to God. After He thanked His Father for listening he ordered, “Lazarus, come out!” So, he did. Lazarus emerged from the tomb with his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen and a cloth around his face.

I can’t seem to let go of the deep, personal implications of this selection of scripture. As a man who is, in a very real way, chained to death itself by my own selfishness, anger, hunger, and fear, I realize that I am no better, and possibly far worse, off than Lazarus was laying dead and cold in the tomb for four days. The emotional ebb and flow of this shell, these grave clothes, that I live in acts as a dead-weight straight jacket on my soul.

Through no merit of his own, but by diving mercy, he has been called out of darkness into wondrous light. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (Eph. 2:8). Unnecessary emotional suffering – depression, anxiety, guilt fear, and sadness – is vanquished by the transforming power of the love of Jesus Christ. (from DEVOTIONS FOR RAGAMUFFINS, by Brennan Manning, Pp.105)

Hope is graciously found in Jesus Christ’s promise to return life to the dead, like me, regardless of the sin-tarnished costume that I wear so well. By inviting me to turn to Him, He refilled my lungs so that I can carry on for His purpose despite my own continued flaws and shortcomings.

Until that day when I am fully free, I recognize that any good that may come from me is, in fact, in spite of me. Instead of originating in me, any good that seems to come from me is only an appreciative and restrained, yet, poor reflection of the unmerited favor and goodness of God.

His grace urges me forward each day in anticipation of the day when He will finally remove my grave clothes for good.

Unravelled

If self is sin and other is life
Then I swallow the dank air of the former daily
All the while knowing the score
Yet still motionless
On the floor

Occasionally the mind flutters
The flickering flame bellows hope
And in doing so
Drys up my energy
Before I ever get out the door

Light is wrapped in grace
It shines seemingly out of reach
While my brain channels Dickinson
Sequence unravelling
Like balls upon a floor

Sin As Self

I can’t remember where I heard it (possibly something that somebody said and attributed to C.S. Lewis), but, recently I heard somebody suggest that sin is primarily a form of selfishness. To some, this may seem completely logical and possibly even obvious, but, I had never really framed the concept of sin this way. Now, however, I have to say that selfishness really does seem to be a major contributing factor to just about every sin I’ve ever committed.

Some of my biggest struggles of late are related to the manner in which I spend my time, the ways that I treat people that I interact with on a daily basis, and my own lack of self-discipline.

Lately, I’ve been spending a fairly unhealthy amount of time on this computer, almost every night, right up until the time that I go to bed. I wish that I could say that such time was spent learning about something worthwhile, or at least writing a blog entry and, by doing so, spending some time sincerely reflecting on my life. But, that hasn’t been the case. Instead, I’ve squandered countless hours on websites like Facebook and MySpace. Sure, both sites have helped me to maintain some worthwhile long-distance friendships, but, in general both boil down to being vehicles for directing others’ attention to me for no greater purpose than to be affirmed by the perceived idea that somebody else is interested, for some reason, in me.

Too often, my personal convenience and self-interests determine the decisions that I make and the ways that I interact with and react to people around me. As a father, a husband, a son, a brother, a teacher, a neighbor, and a friend, I consistently fail to follow one of God’s two most important directives: love others as you would like to be loved. If others dealt with me with the same self-focused intentions that often direct me, I would be a pretty lonely person.

Then there’s the issue of my own lack of discipline. A hearty appreciation for stout beer, chocolate, and most varieties of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream doesn’t exactly make it easier for me to achieve my goal of losing weight and shrinking my gut a bit. I have been going to the gym somewhat consistently lately (consistently being two or three times a week – maybe), but, my typically wavering dedication to going more than one day in a row, in combination with my inconsistent ability to sidestep the temptation to sit down with a half-pint of Ben & Jerry’s Dublin Mudslide, for the most part, keeps any weight loss I might otherwise achieve, in check.

Some might say that I’m being too hard on myself, but, I can’t buy that explanation because that excuse itself is self-centered. The real consequences can affect others. As a teacher, there is always more that could be done or something that could be done better. Every lesson that I plan, every interaction that I have with a student, and every moment that I choose to devote either to myself or to a student has a consequence for that student. If I truly enacted God’s desire to love others as myself, my students, their parents, and my colleagues would all benefit.

Time spent searching for new applications that I can add to my Facebook profile, just to add a more sophisticated, intelligent, humorous, or entertaining appeal to my profile (the online representation of “me”) is time that could have better been spent writing to my great Aunt Norma, talking to my parents on the phone, or talking with my wife. Even worse is the fact that I will never that wasted time investment back.

I don’t have a magic bullet answer that is going to pull me out of this, but, hopefully, now that I’ve jotted some thoughts down, and have come to some level of realization with regards to the current direction of my life, I can start taking some steps on a daily basis to learn from time wasted and turn the corner.

The first step will come right now as I spend a few minutes with God, my Abba, and ask for His assistance so that I can lift my head, steady my gaze on the world around me, and center my focus on Him.

Despaired Even Of Life

I’m taking comfort, tonight, in a verse I read in 2 Corinthians, the first chapter where Paul discusses the fact that he had experienced a great deal of trouble to the point where he, “despaired even of life.” But, in retrospect he viewed the experience as a means of coming to realize that we are not to rely on ourselves while experiencing dark times (or anytime for that matter), but, that we should rely on God instead.

As I’ve walked, one foot in front of the other lately, I have been asking myself at various points throughout each day, what am I not doing that I should be doing so that I can get this whole living for Christ thing right? Or, what is it that I’m doing wrong that keeps me feeling like I’m locked outside during a winter rain storm?

Deep down, I know that my eternal fate is not in my own hands, but, in His hands. I can’t help, it seems, but to be paranoid about it, though. A faint voice in the back of my head keeps poking and telling me that I need to watch myself or I’ll end up not having earned my way to heaven.

The truth is that I’ll never earn my way. I’ll never get it all right. Instead, I need to rely, like Paul declared, on God’s grace. It is my only hope.