Category Archives: Soul Searching

When life doesn’t make sense, but I want it to.

On Tragedies

In Matthew 22:36-40, when Jesus reiterates that the greatest commandments are to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” and to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” I’m beginning to think his words are less of a lesson for the good way in which to live and more of a warning about how to protect ourselves from evil, present and future, and ultimately to prevent evil from metastasizing in man in the first place.

Let me explain.

On Sunday morning, when I woke up, I decided to take advantage of the “fall back” rollback of the clock and sleep in an extra few hours. I finally got up about 11:30, made breakfast, showered, and, seeing as how it was too late to go to church, watched half a video on YouTube, then played a computer game I bought years ago but only just now installed called Railroad Tycoon 2, and did so until about 3:30 when I realized my train stations were costing me more to operate than they were paying me, and my company was basically going bankrupt, and to continue the same game was ludicrous. Once I felt like I’d had a sufficient day of rest and turned off the game, I went into the living room, checked out what was on television, and then my heart sank.

Another mass shooting. This time in Texas. This time in a church. This time with a casualty and injury rate at near 100%.

I just stood there thinking, “I can’t take this anymore.”

Never mind that this tragedy hits close to home for many, many churchgoing people, including myself (when I go), or that once again we’re talking about a soft target, or a group of Christians, or what-have-you that’s cause for us to collectively shake our heads and cry. Sunday’s tragedy speaks to a scary reality we face today, in that nothing is sacred anymore.

My mom was telling me earlier that when she was a kid, my grandmother would go into the church and pray at any hour of the day or night because the church was always open because there was no reason to ever lock it, and if someone wanted to go in and pray in the middle of the night, they could. Now we have a lady in the Sutherland Springs, Texas area explaining that until Sunday morning, November 5, 2017, her community was just as safe, so much so that she could leave her keys in the car without worry of someone taking it, except now they’re dealing with the reality that evil can strike anywhere in any way, and that no one is truly safe anymore, and that keeping one’s keys in a car without worry doesn’t mean that he or she is exempt from the horrors that seem to bleed in through all cracks in our modern society, which include mass murder that can physically destroy 8% of a town’s population and emotionally destroy the rest of it.

As of this writing, I don’t know why the gunman did this sick thing, nor do I know just how far this story will go from here. We still have Las Vegas fresh in our minds, as well as the attack on pedestrians in New York (where the assailant rented a Home Depot truck and used it to run people over). My guess is that we’ll have Big Media and Congress running through their usual talking points about gun violence, gun laws, and all of those other dead end channels that seem to always saturate the discussion without coming up with a solution that would actually work, and that a week from now, no one who has a say in what comes next will do anything that will actually prevent this problematic weed from sprouting up elsewhere. That’s how it’s been since Columbine, and here we are, yet again: same talking points, same lack of stopping it from happening again, same collective breath held for a change, and the hope that this is the last one.

I’m sad, not just about the tragedy, but about the fact that no one seems to get it anymore that the problem isn’t guns, rented trucks, or even rhetoric. I’m not even sure if the problem is entirely based on mental illness or flawed ideology. I think much of the problem today is with evil itself, and evil exists where love is absent. Tell me I’m wrong.

Actually, I think there are two sources of evil—well, one source, but because we live in an “intellectual,” “civilized” or “free-thinking” society, I’ll refrain from pointing the blame squarely at the devil, even though that’s the only true source of evil, and the one that we’re foolish to ignore time and again, but there are two subsources we can actively combat, and by proxy combat the original source that most people today don’t want to acknowledge for whatever reason, even though that source is real and scheming against humankind—and they are selfishness and lies. Both fail to show love for other human beings, and both leave us wide open to carry out destructive tendencies when given permission to fester.

I don’t know the story yet about this new shooter, nor do I know the story about the shooter in Las Vegas. I don’t know what drove them to want to commit mass murder, but I’m willing to guess that they were either lied to by someone they trusted and they let that lie grow, or they lived a life without knowing real love, and filled that empty space with hate because if love is absent, then hate has more room to grow in its place.

When Jesus told us to love our neighbors as we do ourselves, I think He was warning us how to prevent violence from overtaking our world. Perhaps not ironically, it was hate and jealousy that put Him on the cross, so it’s not just a product of our time, but a product of our human nature to move to violence if we don’t have love in our hearts or understand the good things that we want to destroy.

Likewise, if we love our God with all of our hearts, and with all of our souls, and with all of our minds, then we’ll unlikely want to break His other laws, including the one that says, “Thou shall not commit murder.”

That’s my thought today. This should all sound obvious, but the fact that we’re still poisoning the world with hate and with actions taken in hate is proof that we still don’t get it, and we need to start figuring out how to better implement methods of exercising love for one another, even if we don’t always like one another. Is that easy? No. Is it necessary? Of course.

So, before we turn this conversation back to gun violence, can we at least address the problem of the absence of love for each other first? Not trying to be a hippie here. I just think among these other issues we’ve let our isolation from each other (thanks, cellphone!) bring out the worst in us far too often these days, and we need to address that.

I have more to say about this topic from the perspective of a writer, but I wanted to address the core issue first, which is that we, as a people, need God’s help again, not political intellect or talking points, and that we’d be foolish not to seek it.

Love your God. Love your neighbor. Love yourself. If we all do these three things, we’ll see a change in our world for the better. That’s what I often think about each time somebody does the opposite of these things, opposite like what one person did on Sunday morning in Sutherland Springs, Texas to more than 20 churchgoers, including babies.

Cover image by Pixabay

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Proverbial Things

March 19, 2016:

If you’re reading this, and you’re about to do something stupid, here are some thoughts for the day:

  • There’s only one truth.
  • If you make your own truth, and somebody else makes his own truth, and you disagree with each other, then who’s right? Either one of you is wrong, or you’re both wrong. I’m sure you think you’re the one who’s right.
  • The only people who know they’re absolutely right about the wrong thing are the ignorant and the foolish.
  • Hating someone because you hate their viewpoint is ignorant and foolish.
  • Love people, not viewpoints.
  • Sin begins with selfishness.
  • Just because it feels right today doesn’t mean it won’t hurt like hell tomorrow.
  • Having wisdom also means thinking about tomorrow.
  • Do your research. Remember history.
  • You may only live once, but how will history remember you when you’re gone?
  • Once upon a time, Hitler was a sweet little kid.
  • Only God knows the whole picture. You know only some of it.
  • Even the wisest man who ever lived was ruined when he put romance ahead of God. Just ask King Solomon.
  • If you have to sin to get what you want, you’re putting that thing above God.
  • If something is meant to be, the right path will present itself at the right time and in the right way. Getting it any other way will diminish its goodness or its maximum effect, and the big meal you were promised may now just be a snack.
  • There’s a reason why we have the Ten Commandments. And there’s a reason why they’re presented in the order they were written. And there’s a reason why “Thou shall not put any other gods before Me” (“Me” referring to God) is the first.
  • There’s also a reason why Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom of God.
  • Just because you don’t think you’re doing stupid doesn’t mean you’re doing smart.

Put that gun down. Put away that hate speech. Get out of bed with that wrong person. You’re no better than the person you’re bullying. Stop being ignorant and foolish. Looking right and sounding right doesn’t make you right. It just stops you from achieving your maximum potential in life. If you want the best for your life, then get back on God’s path, and listen to what He has to say. And if you’ve never done that, then now’s the time. You can always make your money back tomorrow. You can never make back your precious time. Start making yourself better. Start fixing your heart. Stop turning a blind eye to wisdom. Stop damaging your soul.

If any part of this list bothers you, then you probably needed to read it.

If you don’t think you need God, then reread this list. If you think you’re too smart for God, then reread this list.

Consider these verses, written long before any of us had the sense to even tie our shoes, spoken by those who had understanding about things in ways that you and I still don’t:

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” – Jeremiah 17:9 (NIV)

“…32 The scribe said to Him, ‘Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that HE IS ONE, AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM; 33 AND TO LOVE HIM WITH ALL THE HEART AND WITH ALL THE UNDERSTANDING AND WITH ALL THE STRENGTH, AND TO LOVE ONE’S NEIGHBOR AS HIMSELF, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.” – Mark 12:32-34 (NIV)

“…32 ‘For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 ‘But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Matthew 6:32-34 (NIV)

Not trying to anger anyone or incite a riot with this list, but I do want to see people live better lives than they’re living. Hopefully you’ll give these ideas some thought if you’re living below your best potential.

Have a good day.

Note: Bible excerpts taken from BibleHub.com.

 

Tomorrow and Beyond

January 3, 2016:

So, now that we’re in yet another new year, it’s time to reflect on the ideas that worked in 2015, and the ones that didn’t.

Obviously, my big move in 2015 was to attempt pushing my writing hobby out into the public eye, with some possible compensation to boot. After ten releases (eleven if you count Zippywings 2015, which is just a collection of the smaller works in paperback form), over a thousand free downloads, about five dollars in royalties, and only one literally last-minute review, which was about as bad as a review can get, I feel that this experiment has been a mixed bag at best.

What I know for sure is that across ten books, I’ve gotten roughly between 1100 and 1200 downloads. Four of these downloads were for paid books. So, that breaks down to about 1:300 downloads resulting in compensation (primarily from supportive friends). My suspicion is that most of those downloads are hoard downloads, meaning they won’t get read, just stored on a computer or phone for the option of getting read. Not all, of course. But I suspect many. I don’t think this explains why no one is paying money for the $.99 – $2.99 books (though I think that has a large part of it). But I do think it explains why no one is leaving reviews anywhere. The only review I got in seven months was for the one copy of the one book that a complete stranger spent his money on. I know I tend to read books I bought sooner than I do those that I just find for free. I think this is how most readers work.

So, I think moving forward, I want to worry less about finishing all projects on my mental list, as many of them are short works that I wouldn’t want to charge anything for, and focus more on the longer works that I already have scheduled for pre-order. At least that way I can finish them. I also want to make sure I have enough time to evaluate the quality of each book in case they end up with some major problems. I still don’t think The Computer Nerd was bad at all (I do think it’s the kind of book that goes against expectations, which could be a problem on its own when it comes to proper marketing–a skill I admit is lacking). I think anyone who understands what the story actually is will appreciate it more than one who goes into thinking it’s something else. But without comprehensive feedback from a number of different types of readers, I’ll never know for sure. I just know that I like the story and think it’s pretty well-done, and I read a lot of books.

That said, I’m considering making changes to my 2016 plans. I want to do my best to get loyal readers, not just random freebie-hunters who may or may not read a word of what I’ve written, so I think I’ll be cutting down on the monthly releases this year, and even though I still plan to release short works, I may do that later. Depends on how well things go with the longer form books and how badly I need a change of pace. As of now, I don’t intend to give myself unnecessary stress over something that might not get any appreciation. I actually do take writing and storytelling seriously, even if my stories themselves like to dip into the humorous or even ridiculous from time to time.

I’d actually intended to write more on this topic, but I need a mental rest.

 

Twenty Years

Originally posted to Blogspot on:

February 13, 2014:

This one is for the ladies, the lonely hearts, the hopefuls. This is for those, like me, who have longed for relational change but couldn’t find it. This is for those who have nevertheless impacted my heart and mind in a positive way, who have, whether inadvertently or intentionally, affected my idea of what makes a woman great. This is for the good women who have called me friend and accepted me for who I am:

The heart is something we all have year round, and something we do our best to share whenever appropriate. On one day each year, we make a big deal about showing it, about nurturing it, about enlarging it, etc. We make plans to create an environment to revel in it and to exchange extravagant gifts to validate it. We can complain that Hallmark started it for its capital gain, but let’s be honest, it never hurts to tell someone who’s special to us that he or she is special, and if we’re so consumed with life that we need a designated day to remind us why we care, and remind us that we should say something about it, well, it sucks, but at least it’s something. The important thing is that we have that one person we need that reminder for. Shows that we’re doing something right in our choices. It might be the only right choices we’re making.

For twenty years I’ve been praying for someone worthy of my heart to come along and do her part to alter my life for the better, and more interesting, and more exciting, and more fulfilling. For twenty years I’ve spent each 15th of February expecting next year to be different, and each following 14th of February wondering why it isn’t. Some have argued that I don’t try hard enough to invite that change. But I know that’s untrue. Maybe I don’t cast my net into the sea and try to catch as many fish as I can, or pick through the pile until I find the first one I like. But I do invite opportunities to get to know people when connections are made. I don’t make it impossible for a good woman to get close if there’s no reason to keep her at a distance. I certainly am not lost on doing my part to invite change. But it takes two people to make a relationship work, and I can’t invite change if I’m the only one who wants to see it happen. The fact is, I have plenty of good lady friends who know and understand me and, as a result, respect me; some are just right themselves, but for whatever reason aren’t looking for more; some, I’m sure, are networked well enough to know somebody, and anyone who knows me well knows the qualities my heart tends to gravitate toward, yet those introductions are rarely made (and the few that are made tend to peg me completely wrong). Sometimes I meet someone worthy of my attention, and I make it my priority to offer my time in getting to know her—the end result generally comes down to her not having the time, or her deciding we’re just friends, or her simply not looking to date. I have given Internet dating a try, much to my chagrin, and, well, let’s just say I’d rather gouge my eyes out with a screwdriver than go through that nightmare again. The things that should’ve helped, haven’t, and the things that I never should’ve bothered with, also haven’t. Twenty years of praying about it, meeting good women, meeting a few that I really liked, and doing my part to move things forward have yet to put me in that position where the 14th of February actually means something. There’s a point when I have to admit that I’ve done everything I can and the rest is between whoever is out there and God. Might be the symptom of praying that I would find one, just one, who would be all the difference to me and more than enough to put other interests out of mind. Maybe if I hadn’t asked for that, my story would’ve played out differently. Whatever the reason, I have most certainly taken my chances. I can’t make someone choose me.

I don’t know when the change will happen. I’ve given it to God a long time ago, even though I remind Him often that I’m still waiting. I get frustrated when I meet and start getting to know someone amazing and come to find out she’s already with someone, or I’m not her type, or we’re not actually out on a date in spite of it sure looking and feeling like one. I get more frustrated when God uses a friend or stranger to drop off a random comment designed to give me hope (like the time when I was sweeping the dining room floor at the restaurant I had worked at, feeling brokenhearted over something relational but stupid, and the random old lady in the corner of the room told me I’d make someone a great husband one day—that was basically like hearing God telling me that, and at that time I needed some kind of encouragement) when the better solution, in my mind, is to give me favor and put the woman I’ve prayed for in my life, now, today, with eyes and a heart ready for me. She’s out there, right? So where is she? What’s the hold up?

Waiting sucks because there is no magic formula for speeding up that first meeting, or making someone that catches my attention “the one,” or being in the right place at the right time or doing the right thing to ensure that conditions are perfect for that meeting to happen and that first impression to be the best impression in the history of time, space, and the Internet. No Christian living book, no self-help book, and no seminar on “the perfect whatever” has the answer because that assumes formulaic thinking, and God has proven throughout history, in the Bible, in history books, and in personal stories I’ve heard from friends and family that He introduces people (I don’t believe in random coincidence) in any way He chooses, that there is no “right” introduction, that there is no “right” path, and that no two couples have the same origin story or chapter-by-chapter development as the next. Basically, two people meet (I believe by God’s sovereign hand), and they decide what to do with that meeting. Most of the time when God introduces two people, they say hello, feel nothing, and move on to the next table. That’s valid. That relationship was never going to happen. Perhaps it could have; perhaps it would’ve been the best relationship they would ever have with another person. But they will never know because the connection wasn’t fast, hot, and intense. They move on, hoping to find the relationship that does burn them hot and bright (and fast). Ignorance is bliss.

But just because this usually happens, doesn’t mean it always happens.

The stories that people have shared with me have often left a mark on my viewpoint. I’ve come to understand that when we do things God’s way, He can arrange things however He wants. Sometimes they know in the first minute that they’ve found “the one” or at least the one they’re gonna actually choose, even if “the one” is just a term we give to validate our dream partner. One couple I know (who might be reading this) knew they had found their respective spouses within four hours of conversation, immediately lost touch with each other due to forgetting to exchange numbers (I think that was the story), were somehow reconnected a week later, and in that second meeting the man asked the woman to marry him, and her response was, “What took you so long?” Their fifth date (over eight months of long distance communication) was their wedding. Twenty years later, they are still together; I assume happily.

Another couple I have great respect for were just friends for well over a year before they realized that they were better off together than not, and made the decision to date (it helped that their relationship was prophesized over; though that is most certainly a rarity, and proof that no formula is “the way”), and spent another year or so in courtship, putting God first, etc., and now they are eighteen years and two kids into their highly successful marriage. They didn’t have to marry. For the first year and a half that they knew each other, they had no intention in dating the other. But they didn’t close it down as an option. Their openness led them to much bigger and better things.

Another couple I know had done things perfectly by the courtship model, going through the various steps and stages as outlined in some of the best relational books around. They looked great together. Fit the formula’s expectations perfectly. They got married; they had taken their steps and stages to the letter. This was the natural order, according to the books. They divorced five years later after spending most of the marriage engaged in battle. They followed the formula.

The successful ones had just embraced God’s wisdom, and trusted Him to keep them strong, and trusted each other to keep each other strong. No set outline required—just the one that their Heavenly Father had put before them with them in mind. They also kept an open heart. They understood that they were inviting imperfect people who look badly in the morning into their own hard lives. They were gonna make it work because God didn’t have to bring them together but chose to anyway.

Every story is worth telling. My favorite ones are those told from the unlikeliest or craziest situations. I look forward to telling mine once I’m allowed to write the first chapter.

I don’t have anyone to share this day designed by Hallmark and adopted into popular culture as the day to say three important words, and exchange shiny gifts, and enjoy all the benefits of having someone who cares in my life right now. And, really, that’s okay. I do want to experience this sentiment that pretty much everyone else gets to experience year after year, and I hope to experience it sooner than later, but I’ve been weaned heavily on patience throughout my life, so this game of patiently waiting and improving myself in the meantime is more of the same. However, being single doesn’t make me unable to express to my lady friends what each of them means to me. You ladies deserve to know that you’re important. Right?

Even though I’m structuring this like a blog, I’m writing much of it with the intention of cross-posting it to Facebook for my actual lady friends to see, and I’m writing this to you, the ladies, because I want you to know that I appreciate the place you either had or still have in my life. I realize that many of you have not gotten to know me well at all, and if we’ve spoken just once, I guess we can chalk this one up to what could have been. But for those who have given me the time to know you well, and those who have allowed me to show that I care, and those who have accepted me in all of my states, at my best and at my worst, and those who allowed me to reciprocate that unconditional acceptance, you have my utmost appreciation. You’ve taught me a lot about what good women are. I’ve tried my best to show you what a good man is. I don’t know if I’ve done my part well, but I can tell you that if I’ve ever cared about you, even a little, or if I’ve gone out of my way to be there for you, or listen to you, or just enjoy your friendship in whatever state it’s in, then you’ve probably done your part to prove your quality to me, and any quality of yours I’ve admired, I’ve probably put on my checklist of traits I hope to find in a wife. That’s all valuable, of course. I hope you can appreciate that. God has certainly used you to impact me for the better.

To those of you who are married, I learn a lot by how you speak of yourselves, your husbands, and your families. You encourage me when you speak highly of those you’re “stuck” with. You scare me when you criticize even the little things, but you remind me that forgiveness is powerful, and love can overlook just about anything. You remind me that marriage is two imperfect people doing the best they can to make this awkward decision they had made at one point actually work. You convince me that it’s not such an insane decision to carry out when you speak of those times that do work. Time and again I hear people regret the decision to marry. Many wish they could go back to being single. I get it. Your freedoms are false. The plans you make, you have to run by your spouse (a lot like a twelve-year-old has to run by his parents). Your friendships with the opposite sex are extremely limited, and most, if not all, fade to just a shadow of what it once was. Seems like a raw deal on the surface. But then you consider the companionship, the intimacy, the partnership, the wellspring of resources, and the fact that if you’re having a heart attack in the middle of the night, someone will know about it and get immediate help, and suddenly marriage sounds like something that everyone should have a right to invest in. Even if it’s all kinds of scary. Seeing some of you going through these ups and downs, these joys and difficulties with your spouses reminds me that, if I can handle a woman at her worst, then I have no reason to be afraid of this. Most women I know, who trust me, will at some point reveal her worst, and I’m usually tolerant of it. I think I’m emotionally ready.

Those of you who are a little older, I get a picture of what a good wife becomes. You display the same tendencies as the newer wives, but do so as veterans. Your previous stresses are no longer stressful. You’ve endured. You’ve figured out your game plan and stuck with it. You’ve become the perfect model for the next generation. You remind me that any woman I choose will go through her rough patches, but eventually she’ll be made better, and even in those darkest moments, she’s worth having close to me. Today may suck, today may really suck, but there’s still hope for healing tomorrow and hope for betterment the day after.

To those of you who are single, I want to say that I appreciate you a lot, too. As of today, not one of you has taken a chance on me, and that’s fine. You decide what you want. Doesn’t mean I can’t learn from you, or you can’t learn from me, and part of making friends, dating future spouses, or just speaking to acquaintances, is to better ourselves, our circumstances, and to understand what other people need and, if possible, help them to meet those needs. I think that’s the nature of real love—giving of ourselves to meet the needs or desires of someone else, whether we feel like it or not, not because we expect a return but because we have the capability and desire to give anyway. To those of you who let me be who I am, thank you. You’re the reason I don’t give up. You remind me that I’m still necessary.

Not everyone who was close to me once is still close to me today. Most, in fact, have faded from my life as the years ticked on. But those who ever were close, I still care about, and still wish the best for. To those of you who have drifted away, I appreciate the person each of you has helped craft me to become. Some of you have done your part to make me stronger. Some have led me to greater tolerance. Some have reminded me of the qualities I desire in a wife. Some have reminded me of the qualities I hope never to encounter again. Some of you have shown me the errors of my ways. Some of you have forgiven me of my stupidities. I’m still thankful for all of that. Time and circumstance may have caused a rift, but you still have your impression on me.

Life is a process, a journey, a mystery, a heartbreak, a hassle, a joy, and a roller coaster. If you and I were ever friends, or if we could’ve been close had we just had a little more time and better circumstances, or if we learned anything valuable from each other, just know that I’m glad that you are or were a part of my life, that you have your special place in my heart, and that on this coming day where we’re supposed to make a big deal, I may be walking alone, spending my evening eating a burger and watching Robocop, but I’ll be happy because I’ve been given a chance to know you. I hope this message is better than candies and flowers. I hope you have the story you’ve always wanted.

Twenty years of prayer, and here I am pretty darn blessed to have such amazing ladies cross my path and show me what I’ve been praying for. Thanks to each of you who are, in fact, amazing.

Callous

Previously unpublished. Originally written on:

February 2, 2014:

When I was younger, I wrote a few bleeding heart essays about my hopes for the future in the realm of my own bleeding heart. The titles don’t really matter anymore. Many of them were speculative, ideas I had about love, the fulfillment of it, what it is, what it should’ve been, and so on. They were written during an exceptionally depressed period in my life—a time when I was supposed to know what I wanted, made cautious advances into trial and error, attached myself to pointless devotions, and never really knew which side was up. Years later I should know something by now. But I don’t. I know nothing. I’m 37 years old and I know absolute jack.

I used to write these kinds of essays to find some kind of peace, a chance to blow off the steam that pressured my heart into bursting. I had desires I couldn’t quench. Writing about it kinda helped, kinda left me with an insecure hope that maybe something will change now. And the steam would lift a bit, and I’d feel better. But it would always come back. In time, I learned how to ignore it. Pretend I don’t care. Eventually, my pretend became real life. I stopped caring. I stopped believing that the future I had wanted since I was a kid was even mine to have.

I had this belief when I was a teenager that I’d start my family at 21. My parents were 21 when they married. Both sets of grandparents were in their early twenties. My own sister, who is 16 years my junior, is now engaged; she, too, is 21. I thought that was my time. I thought the prayer I had started when I was 17 would come to fruition by then. I even had a glimmer of hope when I had gotten the opportunity to meet a woman who, after just two weeks of casual friendship, would somehow steal my heart away in a way that no one else before her ever could, and I was 21. Then a month into getting to know her, I had finally found out about her boyfriend. Even after many intense nights in prayer over the four years I had begun praying for God to put someone worthwhile in my life, I was stuck with a deep interest I could not act on. But I still had hope that circumstances would eventually change. I still had hope that I’d have a chance to say how I felt, if only I had just ridden out the waiting until the very end. I had waited four and a half years for that relationship to end, and when I finally had the opportunity to say something, I did not get the response I had hoped for. I had lived four and a half years in what we now call “the friend zone.” Back then, I had no idea that was a thing.

Why am I dwelling on a hope that had ended 12 years ago? Why should I care? Those feelings I once had are long gone. The friend that I had hoped I could grow with had since found and married another. That door was never open, but it had since closed so tightly that not even a termite could get through. Why did I, in spite the warning from many friends, hold on to something that was hopeless? Misplaced faith, perhaps? Did I think God would change her heart for me? Since when did He start infringing on His own gift of free will? I had to accept the fact that it was never meant to be, and if I had an opportunity with anyone else during those four and a half years that I was purposely ignoring (which sadly I can think of only two who were of any interest to me, and I’m not even sure they were single—the pattern in those days was if I was interested, they weren’t single), I didn’t take it. I still don’t know if I had made a bad call, or if I had simply made the only call I could. College was a hotbed of dead ends for me. Why am I dwelling on the past? The past is supposed to communicate with our future so that we can make a different, and hopefully better choice. Unfortunately, my past isn’t speaking to my future, because so much other randomly confusing crap had clogged the phone line during the years in between.

It has now been twenty years since I started asking God to provide someone special to take my side and join my life—literally, just one. I’ve never believed in random or shotgun dating. Even when I was 13 and stupid, I was still thinking of my future and the consequences of wasting my heart on someone who didn’t deserve it (aka, anyone I wasn’t going to spend my life with). Yes, I was a shy kid who was afraid to ask someone out. I had two elementary school crushes, both crushes lasting about two years, and neither crush shocking me with an ounce of courage. I was a friend to both, and that was comfortable to me. But expressing my heart—not a chance—too scary. Thanks to my deadly combination of shyness and forward-thinking, I had blown the opportunity to receive my first kiss at the age of 12 when a girl I had never met before or seen since had intercepted me in the front yard of my neighbor’s house, began to flirt, and asked me if I had wanted to kiss her. It was a thrilling question, certainly, but strange considering I was just going next door because I had forgotten my key, and I needed to get the spare from my neighbor, and I really wasn’t expecting to have someone coming onto me just fifty feet from my front door. Yet, there she was, the nameless girl, who I don’t remember being particularly cute, chatting me up, wanting me to take her to the beach, and, well, I don’t remember everything she had asked me or what I had responded to. I just thought, “I gotta get out of here before this girl steals away my first kiss.” So I left. Then I immediately blamed the episode of Full House that addressed the topic of first kisses for stealing away my first kiss. To this day I think allowing whatever was going to happen, if the girl was even serious, would’ve encouraged me more in my teenage years to take those risks that I had never actually taken, and maybe I would’ve had my partner beside me by the age of 21. All speculative, of course. I also think letting the girl take that first kiss away from me would’ve made me too comfortable in my teen years to sample the buffet line and weaken my standards, as many who start dating young seem to do.

I don’t technically regret that missed opportunity. As I said, I have no idea whether the girl was serious or just playing a game with me. Even as a 12-year-old, I didn’t understand teenagers. But, sometimes I do kinda regret it. What had I forfeited by rejecting her? What life had I closed the door to by listening to my fears rather than listening to my curiosity? What about the elementary school crushes? The second crush took place during the early dawn of my adolescence. What if I had spoken up about it before that last day of school (which I missed because I was sick, and the girl who I liked, who, on the second-to-last day of school had asked me if I was coming tomorrow, I never saw again)? Maybe I dodged promiscuity. Maybe I dodged what Lifehouse calls a “sick cycle carousel” of bad choices and callous feelings by avoiding that first kiss as a 12-year-old. I know plenty of people who have taken that curious leap early in life. Many of them have since jumped from relationship to relationship to relationship like rabbits jump from carrot to carrot. I guess they’re content. I mean, why wouldn’t they be? Culture teaches us to experiment. We’re made to satisfy our curiosities until we find something we like. Isn’t that why we’ve got ten thousand religions as opposed to one? Isn’t that why we can commit to our spouses as long as someone better doesn’t come along in time? As a culture, I think we’ve stopped caring about the baggage we carry because we no longer seem interested in guarding against the acquisition of yet another bag.

I don’t know if avoiding that risk was actually smart. Maybe I avoided all kinds of baggage, but maybe I also avoided the path that would lead me to my dreams coming true. I’ve since taken risks that I might’ve been afraid to take when I was younger. My brief stint with online dating sure helped with that. Talking to strangers does not normally fit into my comfort zone, and talking to them with the intention of maybe dating just complicates comfort even more. But online dating forced me to get comfortable with it. Sadly, however, it didn’t change my circumstances. There were very few that genuinely appealed to me. Only one of those few had actually spent time getting to know me, and she lived eleven states away. She decided she wanted to stay single just three months after we had begun talking to each other. Apparently she had never gotten over her ex, who had dumped her ten months earlier, and didn’t think a new relationship would fix it. Whether we were building a relationship or not, she didn’t want to invest any more toward it, for the sake of her spiritual or emotional healing. After waiting years and years for someone to take me seriously (after that summer day when I was twelve), I couldn’t believe my ill luck. I had truly liked her. The only one I had any real interest in, in all of Internet dating. That moment, as far as I know, was my first step onto the pirate ship plank called “the friend zone” with her. And we had met on an Internet dating site! Honestly, I don’t know that skipping that first kiss at 12 years old had actually changed anything.

Why am I dwelling on the past? Why do I care about those moments long out of reach that have no more concern for my life? Those circumstances are over. They can’t hurt me worse. I’ve since healed from each of them. Why do I care? I’m dwelling on the past because time is flying by so quickly, yet so little has changed since those days. I’ve been silently struggling with the crippling fear that soon I’m gonna be too old to enjoy the beginnings of my own family and still live long enough to watch yet a new generation begin. I have to cast that thought out of mind if I’m to prevent it from crippling me. It’s the only way I can handle it. It’s not like I’ve had much power to change it or encourage it. To make a family requires a partner, and that is not something I can just make happen. Pretty much every attempt to invite someone new into my life ends with someone else (or something else) stealing her away. Often, the thief is her own strict unbreakable rules that make no exception for me or the time that she gives to other matters that she makes more important than me. Sometimes it’s just the cold, hard truth that she prefers another man, maybe a bunch of other men, to me, and that man decides the iron is hot, so he strikes. Whatever the case, it leaves me hopeless. That sucks. I care about the moments that are long out of reach because history repeats itself all too often, and that also sucks.

I’ve grown tired of caring about this. I’ve grown tired of wanting it. Truthfully, I haven’t lost anything by rejecting that kiss when I was a kid, or ignoring the potentially good women in college because there was literally one that had my full heart and focus, or taking chances where chances shouldn’t have been taken. I think I’d still be where I am today regardless of those curious risks. Long ago I had prayed that God’s will be done in my life. Long ago I had prayed that God would find me just one to love, to grow with, and to spend my life with. I imagine God has taken those two prayers seriously. But that’s okay. I’ve invited God to help me with my choices. He is, after all, the only one with the ability to see the consequences of my choices completely. Every new friendship with a woman of quality, especially those that begin by “coincidence” (read: God’s bringing us together for a purpose), inspires me with a little more hope toward finding that one. But I don’t say anything. I don’t act. Why? Because I’m afraid of loss. Because the few times I’ve taken that deadly chance, I’ve taken the knob in hand and slammed the door in my own face. I didn’t risk that first kiss that summer of 1988. But I have risked expressing my heart to those I’ve believed in, aware of the pain that would follow if that woman rejected me and consequently decided she was finished getting to know me, and I have since taken that pain that I knew could come, multiple times. Maybe the problem is that I don’t acknowledge life for what it is: a series of choices that have positive and negative effects, where the positive effects are rewards and the negative effects merely expose a bad fit for what it is.

Maybe I shouldn’t be callous about any of it. Maybe I should care. But maybe I should also not be so afraid of making potentially catastrophic chances. Maybe I should also just be who I am, say what I have to say, and stop caring about the hurt that might follow. Maybe life doesn’t just pass us by like a freight train. Maybe life is too short to care about the pain that comes with risk and uncertainty. Maybe, for those women who did mean something to me back in the day, I should’ve just said something early on and gotten it over with. Maybe I would’ve lost them sooner, but the pain would’ve been less than what I actually experienced. Funny how too much caution can sometimes make things worse than they need to be.

Anyway, I know my thoughts on the matter are a bit scattered, but that’s just how relationships make me feel: scatterbrained. I don’t know how anyone can make any sense of them.

My Thoughts on Connections

This journal was written to clarify my viewpoint on dating to a new friend after she and I had spent an hour discussing the topic. Typically, I write better than I speak, and my verbal arguments tend to come out confused, so I thought this was necessary to write and share with her. After reading this again, I think it’s something worth sharing on WordPress, too. Maybe someone will agree with me, even if I have my doubts. 😉

Originally written on June 28, 2013:

At five o’clock this morning, I had woken up from a deep sleep, troubled in part from the reminder that I had eaten pizza a few hours earlier, but also troubled by the realization that some choices I make just don’t work out. In spite of how sure I am that what I choose is the right thing, or the choice that seems best, sometimes it doesn’t work. And it hurts. It is what it is, I often think. Safe response to the letdown. It’s my scapegoat for avoiding the fact that I don’t understand anything that steps beyond the boundaries of normalcy or logic (by what I think is normal or logical). Ego—psh. Many times I don’t understand why my choices are met with stronger opposition than what I expect going into them. Why should I? I don’t make my choices lightly, yet somehow my choices tend to leave me in neutral. And why is that? Why do I take great care in the decisions I make before I make them? Because I believe in what I stand for? Well, yes. Because I don’t like the idea of compromising who I am to fit some societal paradigm that may or may not have the correct thinking? This assumes, of course, that I have the correct thinking and that millions of others don’t, but that sounds like the definition of pompousness to me, and it’s not fair of me to assume that. Honestly, I don’t think I’m wrong, but for them, they may not be wrong, either. Maybe that’s why we have so many different types of people in the world with varying viewpoints. Maybe that’s why certain people are never destined to connect while others gravitate to their like-minded peers like bees to pollen. It’s a complete tangle of questions, understanding, acceptance, ideas, whatever. It is what it is. But is it? Sometimes what we believe in has opposition just because the world can’t be one-sided.

On the topic of dating, relationships, and other confusing things, I never really have a clue how to broach it in discussions because it falls in the same line of philosophy as multiple religions, politics, meat versus vegetarianism, dogs versus cats, and so on, which is to say that it’s entirely subjective and usually controversial, especially if society has one viewpoint about it and I have another. When asked of my perspective, I trust that my words are well received. However, I can see in many cases where perhaps my explanation lacks some keywords, and it often surprises me that I’m challenged on what I feel is a reasonable, logical, and trustworthy viewpoint.

Perhaps it’s a matter of semantics. So, let’s put that into perspective. Misuse of semantics is the atheist’s best weapon against the Bible. He searches for keywords that has a different meaning in ancient Hebrew or Aramaic or Greek and applies it to the modern American meaning, which is generally a corrupt shadow of the original. He isn’t right about it because a misuse of semantics does not change meaning, only the impression of meaning. But he thinks he’s right because it’s all he’s got to defend his argument, and he’s never wrong in his own mind. Doesn’t make him right. He ignores the meaning behind the word. Perhaps that’s why words are important to me: I know that words are so easily taken out of context, or given the wrong meaning. For example: The word love in our society has gone from meaning the combined verses of 1 Corinthians 13 to “My heart thumps for you, therefore I love you.” Maybe for our society, we can accept that as the new definition, but then what do we do with the original one? Nothing in 1 Corinthians 13 has changed relevance. I just think that we as a society don’t want to put forth the effort to maintain the original meaning anymore. We want what’s self-serving, not what’s in others’ best interest. As a product of this generation, I understand it. I’m human, I’m young, and I want what’s self-serving and immediate, too. Loving others is hard. It’s only fun when they love me back. But it’s not right for me to hold back because they’re not willing to reciprocate the action. Jesus never held back from me, and being Christian means to be like Christ. Why should I hold back? Why should I change the meaning of love to apply more to the “What can you do for me today?” attitude when the correct attitude, according to the summarized message of 1 Corinthians 13, is, “How can I show you you’re worth it today?”

To bring these ideas into the context of our discussion:

When I speak of the idea of growing in relationship with a friend, I don’t say that to dismiss the idea of dating, or to suggest that it shouldn’t be an early, or even an immediate part of getting to know someone. Love has to start somewhere, and dating makes that easier. I agree with that. I think where my idea of dating (or simply getting to know someone) is lost in translation with the common thinking—that dating and friendship are mutually exclusive—is that I have an extremely loose interpretation of what dating is. I don’t always know how to explain it, especially in a real-time conversation (this is why I prefer to write my viewpoints down—gives me a chance to organize my thoughts and to present them in a way that makes sense, or in a way that I hope makes sense). And real-time conversations have a knack for making me stop and rethink my viewpoint when the counterpoint is valid, so that makes it even harder to explain. But it doesn’t change the foundation of where I stand or how I view it. And it doesn’t change the fact that I don’t require a traditional dating relationship to get to know someone well enough to make a wise decision about her.

I won’t always have the answer the first day I meet her. But that’s why I talk to her. I may end up with just a friend, and I’m perfectly fine with that. But I don’t want her to think that I have to be just a friend because I choose to get to know her through means alternative to traditional Friday-night dating. I think connections are connections regardless of environment, and while I like the “dating” environment plenty well—there is a mystique about taking someone out to dance, getting her there in a limousine or something cooler than a Honda Civic, and lavishing her with flowers and compliments, for example—I don’t think it should be the only (or even necessarily the first) connection point for deciding whether someone is worth my heart. I typically know if someone’s worth my heart just from spending the time talking to her, even if I’m talking to her in the middle of a crowded bus station. It’s not the ideal environment, but I’m still getting to know her and appreciate her, so what’s the big deal? I don’t think dating is the answer for deciding my mate. I think it makes choosing her more fun, but I don’t think it’s the most important part of the relationship. I think what’s important is that she and I connect, that she and I understand each other, that she and I can work well together (which traditional dating, by the way, rarely explores), that she and I can accept each others’ faults (something else that traditional dating fails to consider early on), and that we can be comfortable with each other. I definitely think attraction separates friends from lovers, but I don’t think eventual lovers should avoid also being friends. Eventually romance will wane. I’m not blind to that reality. What’s left has to be solid. In time, physical attraction will also wane. Age trumps beauty generally, and a successful relationship will outlast that. This is no excuse for me to date or get to know a woman I’m not attracted to, because age is not a factor for me today. Women my age still have their looks, and I’m thankful for that. But, what remains when those looks finally fade? I still have to trust and love the choice I had made in case I live long enough to see her (and myself) reach that point of elderliness.

Obviously, this doesn’t contradict anything we had talked about. Friendship through dating happens, and it has to happen if the relationship moves into a marriage and that marriage is to have a chance at success. However, I think the mistake here, and the mistake in common societal thinking, is in the definition of what dating is, and in some cases, what it’s for. If it’s about taking a woman out to dinner and a movie, and then kissing her goodnight, well, that’s great and all, and I certainly have no problem with that. But, if the difference in deciding between whether she’s just a friend or a potential match becomes limited by just those dates (or lack thereof), and excludes all the other forms of connections—the times serving with her, helping her through a crisis or celebrating her victories (and vice versa), meeting her for coffee after a hard day’s work when you know her friends will be there, too, or sharing a laugh because some kid just sprayed me with a garden hose when I wasn’t paying attention—I think that’s all included in the package deal—then I don’t think we’re making a wise or an informed decision about our mates. I may not always call it dating because I don’t want to pressure her with expectations, or convince her that it’s okay to be anyone but her natural self, but all interactions with her add up in my viewpoint, and I pay attention to each one. I agree that the difference between a friend and a lover is attraction, but that’s the only difference I can agree to. The most effective thing a traditional date provides in the beginning, in my opinion, is an environment that expects romance without knowing who I’m romancing, and as I said, I’m not ready to romance a stranger. That is not who I am, nor do I think I should be required to change that in order to find what I’m looking for. If I can’t get to know her in a natural, healthy, truthful way, then she’s not someone I’m gonna trust with my heart, now or down the road. I may still like her. I may still want to make it work. But it will always feel forced to me. And I will always question what will happen when beauty and romance fades. A friend, I won’t have to question. I already know my answer. I’ll continue to stick beside her because I wouldn’t want any other. I trust her. I love her. It was my choice the moment I recognized who she was—the real her, not the photo-shopped version of her that I got to know in the beginning through all of those lavish, limousine-filled dates, or those dates that had the misfortune of starting with a Honda.

I don’t know if that confirms or clarifies what we had talked about, but that’s essentially my viewpoint. In an organic conversation, it’s inevitable that I won’t get to address certain points, and this is one of those topics that I think it’s important that I’m able to share as much as I can. I’ve had other friends question why I wouldn’t just ask a girl out the moment I meet her. They all think I’m dooming myself for wanting to build a friendship first. I could be wrong, but my impression throughout our conversation last night was that you agree with them. That saddens me in a way, because it reminds me that my viewpoints aren’t shared by the mass of that gender that I want to attract, yet, I know that forsaking a friends-first policy would mean forsaking who I am as a man who trusts and wants to be trusted. It would also mean forsaking my faith in a God who can arrange a relationship however He sees fit, formulas not included, and if He wants to grow a friendship into romance, I think it’s really unfair to all parties involved if one of the members doesn’t want to take the chance because the other is “just a friend.” That’s been the source of my relational frustrations over the years. I’ve had numbers of women tell me I’m a handsome, decent, caring guy, and yet none of them was willing to do anything about that. Those words are empty to me as a result. Why encourage me with something they won’t (not can’t) deliver on? It’s disheartening. I wrestle with God because He knows the women who would not ignore my qualities or usher me into that “friends zone” I hate so much. The fact that He hasn’t introduced me to such a woman makes me wonder if such a woman even exists. It’s no way to live, to know that what I value most about a relationship is the one thing I have to rush or discard completely if I want that relationship to become permanent. I can’t do that. It isn’t fair to me, or to the person I care about. Maybe my ego is wounded. Maybe because I know I’m worth the effort and the time, and even the romance—I’m positive I have a gear that no one has dared to discover and would be pleasantly surprised by had they given it a chance—I am perpetually disappointed by how easy it is for others to shoo the consideration under the rug because I’m just a friend. Yes, I’m a friend, a friend who has a whole lot more to offer than what they allow. And, I get that awkwardness is part of the equation. I just think the awkwardness exists because her heart refuses to see the truth, the beauty, the integrity, and the faith of what stands before her eyes. I think she refuses to see it because she thinks dating has to come first, and it’s strictly for the romance, and that it fits entirely in a stereotypical design of dinners, dancing, and whatever else invites warm feelings to foster. I’d rather not fall for that thinking. I think dating is just a cherry on an already beautiful cake that’s built with trust, hope, care, wisdom, understanding, affection, connection, and love—all the things that the best friendships are made of. Who cares if it happens immediately or in time? It shouldn’t happen before a time when it’s best, or when both people are ready to share the journey with each other and recognize the possibility that maybe they were even made for each other. If I am made by God’s design for the companionship of a friend He puts into my life, and she cannot see it because she believes that friends and lovers are mutually exclusive, then hasn’t one avenue of God’s will been squandered?

My firm opinion is that any friendship can transition to a romance (and a prosperous and faithful one, mind you) if those other ingredients (trust, hope, care, etc.) are present and accepted. Where friendship cannot transition well into romance is if one party is resistant to it (whether it’s a sense of awkwardness or straight-up fear of losing a friend), or if the attraction is missing (and I hope it’s because it was always missing and not because it went missing), or if the friendship isn’t really a friendship. It’s my belief that if a friendship dies because romance was given a chance, then that friendship was destined to die in time anyway. You said yourself that you’ve lost male friends to marriage. That is the inevitable ending to many friendships for you, for me, and for all of us. When men and men, or women and women are friends, there are no romantic boundaries to contend with (unless you have the most awkward friendship imaginable), so you don’t have to worry about losing them to other men or women, ideally. When men and women are friends, then you eventually have to contend with their boyfriends or girlfriends, their husbands or wives, and that can put a strain on the friendship and an end to the growth. It happens all the time, so that outcome is inevitable. For all the work we put into maintaining (and growing) an opposite-sex friendship, we still eventually come to a natural fade when one enters a romance with another person and the hints of jealousy and distrust (from the dating camp) begins to rise. Friendships can still exist in those conditions, but it’s a lot like trying to grow an apple out of season in the heart of a wasteland. It struggles, and probably doesn’t look so great when the season reaches its end. Romance, in my opinion, gives that friendship not only an added kick, but it keeps it in the right season all the time, and if you should marry that person, then only death can take that friendship away. I don’t understand why anyone would reject that.

It’s too much philosophy for early in the morning, and now I wish I was back in bed. But the ideas behind what we discussed really leaves me jaded about our approaches to romance, and I couldn’t really sleep thinking that I would consistently waste away my hopes for a companion, and ultimately a family, because I refuse to give in to an ideal that I don’t believe in. And it’s worse to think that the ideal I don’t believe in is driven entirely by semantics, and that most of the people I care about and would love to have as a permanent part of my life are so limited by it, and that they are so determined to keep my hands tied because they are so limited by it. It sucks, and I hate it.

That’s, of course, the full uncut version of my thoughts on the matter. I think some things you’d agree with. Many, I’m pretty sure, you won’t agree with. And that’s fine. I think what works for you works for you, and what works for me works for me. Granted, it appears to me that dating philosophy is actually a joke wrapped in an onion, considering we’re both still single in spite of our die-hard relational beliefs. In the end, I think knowing whether something is truly working really comes down to whether or not we trust God to provide the right man or woman for us, and whether we have the eyes, ears, nose (in my case), and heart to realize it.

In regard to application:

If God introduces me to a woman and I grow to love her and believe in her over time, for whatever reason I’m inspired to do so, then I will grow to love her and believe in her and not apologize for wanting to be her friend first, because she’s loved and believed in, and that means she’s important, cared for, appreciated, and absolutely beautiful in my eyes. Why should she feel awkward about being loved by someone decent and kind, especially if she and I would never know each other, or even about each other, if God had not been loving and creative enough to put us in the same room with each other in the first place? God puts people together; it’s up to us to decide what to do with it. We don’t always move in wisdom. But sometimes we do. We’re human. We’re stupid. We don’t have it all figured out. God does. Can we trust Him to do what He knows is best for us? Most of us can, but don’t. Sometimes we take days, weeks, months, or years to catch up to the realization of what great things He has put before us. I’ve struggled with that for years. So have you. So have so many of us. It’s a running theme of our own inability to see the truth for what it is. We see only what we’re comfortable with seeing. And that is severely limiting. I don’t give a crap about what makes me feel awkward. I have my lines (I told you about one of them), and I won’t cross those. But to deny an entire body of possibilities because the definition of a hundred-year-old word isn’t perfectly fulfilled seems limiting, and maybe even destructive, to me, and I don’t know why so many people are in favor of following it with such conviction, or that so few reject the limitation it causes. A great woman is a great woman. Friend or lover, she’s a great woman, and if I grow to love her in time (doesn’t usually take me long if she’s that great, but I have had my late discoveries, so it’s not terribly unusual), I don’t want to be denied her love because we didn’t get to know each other through official, notarized, signed and copied dates in the first week. Discovering that she has a sick sense of humor when that neighbor’s kid splashes me in the pants with a garden hose is a good enough addition to the layers and layers of connection I discover in her, to know her for who she really is, and to love her for who she is. That’s far more valuable to me than either of us dressing to impress the other, or putting on that dating face that may or may not be true. For me, traditional dating is nothing more than an additional way to get to know her. I am not limited to it, nor do I think it’s best to limit myself to it, nor do I feel it’s necessary to make dating the jumping off point of a relationship. If anything, it gives her an avenue to hide her true self, and that makes me uncomfortable. So, that’s the value of building a friendship first in my eyes. It isn’t me rejecting the dating lifestyle. It’s me including her into my life in the most natural way available. If I can’t do that, then she’s not worth going after. It hurts my feelings that that ends up applying to pretty much every unattached woman I meet.

Oh, and just because we’re friends, it doesn’t mean she can’t kiss me if she wants. What single man doesn’t want to be kissed by a pretty girl? Just saying. Friendship is a word. Dating is a word. What matters to me is the connection. If it’s there, then she’s got a great chance. She just has to want it, and she has to believe it can work. I’m saying it can work. I don’t give up on anyone I believe in easily, and I’ve already promised God that whomever He does bring my way, I’ll love her unconditionally, and I’ll love her well, and I will never throw her back into the sea. She’ll have to throw herself back out there if that’s what she wants. I think I’m a gracious and romantic enough person to make heading back out there undesirable. And let’s be honest, I’ve waited far too long to discover that great woman to want to throw her back. I thank God for any woman who can see that and trust Him about me. It’s certainly the evidence that He sees my heart and cares about my desire for the best there is.

Here I am still waiting to find out if a nice girl out there will give my love a chance. I’m still waiting. One day I hope the wait pays off. I care too much about making a marriage work in a society filled with broken marriages to waste any valuable resource available to get me and the woman of my dreams to that place of understanding and acceptance. Isn’t that ultimately why we want to grow connections with the opposite sex in the first place? To fulfill the hope that maybe we can make the present and the future work beautifully? Why bother if our goal is simply to have fun and feel good for a season? There will always be plenty of men and women who are readily available for shallow, aimless, purposeless connection. I could go out and date any one of those ladies today if I had wanted to.

Okay, I’m done. Any questions? Just kidding. I think I’ve said plenty. So, there you go. Next time the topic comes up, you’ll have a better understanding of my foundational viewpoint. I know there were so many topics and details thrown around last night that it was difficult to sense any grounding on the matter. I hope this grounds it better.

Enjoy your day.

When It’s Over

Originally posted to Facebook on:

December 31, 2012:

Most of you might be tempted to skip reading this based on the chunk of text that’s about to follow, but I’m gonna ask that you don’t because what I’m writing is not some frilly dissertation about what I want for lunch, but something that’s really been eating at me (no pun intended) for a long time that this weekend has fueled, and I’m tired of losing sleep over it. I feel it’s important enough to write, so I hope you’ll give it a fair chance. I don’t know how else to get this point across. If by the end you don’t agree with the points I’ve made, then I at least appreciate your taking the time to read it. For those who do agree, I appreciate hearing about why.

This weekend put reality back in my head, with the finding of the journal entries I had written following my dad’s passing 17 years ago, and discovering, on Facebook, that two other people I knew had died in the last couple of days. These discoveries, of course, cap what has been a dark December with the massacre in Sandy Hook taking place, and a really dark year in general with mass shootings at the movie theater in Aurora, another attempted shooting at a theater in San Antonio, mall shootings, hurricane, flooding, and tornado disasters, the war that never ends, and so on, and it’s a continuous somber cycle, and I don’t know how CNN deals with it, and it doesn’t end. Closer to home I’ve read about other news of deaths from you guys – of one of your late-20-early-30-something friends who unexpectedly dropped dead when he was healthy and playing racquetball the day before; of one of your 17-year-old sons who lost a close friend of the same age to something unexpected. Of the two people I know who passed this weekend, one was in his late 70s and was suffering from a long-term illness; the other was in his early 40s and collapsed on his way to pick up some lunch for his family. One was expecting it, as was his family; the other had no idea his time was up. And the one thing that everyone who died this year has in common is that they can no longer get this life right. Their time for fixing things is over.

I’ve been thinking about it longer than usual this week. Sandy Hook actually broke me – I still can’t comprehend that one. Hearing about these deaths closer to home just made it more relevant to me. These are people who were expecting tomorrow to come. Their idea of tomorrow anyway. They had hopes and dreams like the rest of us still do. And yet, they had to give those up because death doesn’t wait for us to get our acts together.

I usually choose not to talk about life, death, and spiritual matters on Facebook because I know some of you share my beliefs already and understand where I’m coming from, and some of you don’t and don’t want to hear it, and the topic is usually too deep for social media anyway. I get it. But in the fight to preserve everyone’s feelings, I would like permission for you all to respect mine and let me share what’s on my mind. If it gets under your skin, I’m sorry. But, believe it or not, I care about you guys, and I care about the decisions you make whether they affect you positively or negatively. Not to dismiss the billions that I’ll never know as unimportant – but wherever I can place a name and a face, that person becomes an identity to me, and it becomes hard to desensitize myself to his or her well-being. Sometimes I wish I could be cold to it because reality brings forth a crapload of heartbreak. But even if I try, the empathy eventually comes back. As a writer it’s my job to get into characters’ heads, and I confess that sometimes I take that job into my friendships because, quite honestly, I don’t know what any of you are thinking, but sometimes I want to know because I really don’t know how else to understand you or empathize effectively.

In talking about this, I do wish to be sensitive to what people think on these matters of life, death, and spirituality. Everyone faces the subject differently, and for some the dealing with it is a hotbed issue. I also know it’s a somber topic for many of you and this is not what you want to think about going into 2013. I understand. But I also want to understand.

When it comes to life, death, and spiritual things, I find it most difficult to understand how you’ve come to your ideologies because you’ve understood life and circumstances differently than I and approached them from angles that I have not. Of course, I can really only understand how I’ve come to mine, and, well, truthfully, there have been so many factors to bring me where I am today that I actually don’t understand how I’ve gotten here, either. I just know that I’m happy with the ideologies I’ve chosen. A choice that started at a young age, but has been fired and purified and tested throughout the years and has had plenty of backup that would take far too many pages to outline for what I hope is a short journal. My feeling is that you’re happy with your choice, too.

But is that enough to go on? Happiness? A feeling? How much weight does a limited perspective hold? Is there room for wisdom in how we come to where we are? How does that affect our thoughts on life?

Here’s the deal: I don’t care what we believe, don’t believe, if we’re Agnostic, Atheist, Christian, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Socialist, Capitalist, Democrat, Republican, Hollywood, if we support creationism, Darwinism, abortion rights, gay rights, free speech, Chick-fil-A, gun control, birth control, remote control, or fiscal cliffs, or whatever – we cannot deny that simple fact that our clocks have unspecified timers that will one day finally reach zero, and whatever social matters, economic standings, or most everything else that mattered to us in life will inevitably meet its end. At that point it’s too late to change things for the better.

That’s the one thing that all the above groups can agree on. Right?

When it comes to matters of life cycle, I know some of you believe in life after death, while others of you don’t. Some of you think about that. Some of you don’t. There’s not a night that goes by that I go to bed and wonder if I’ll wake up the next morning. Then I ask the question: am I ready if I don’t wake up? I’ve got so much left to write, a desire to start a family, not to mention my mom’s still alive and there needs to be at least one mother in this family who doesn’t have to watch a son die. Circumstantially speaking, I’m not the least bit ready. But a hundred years from now, who’s really going to care? Spiritually, presently, eternally, I’m already taken care of. A hundred years from now, that’s what will matter to me.

For those of you who don’t believe in life after death, what are you living for today? Help me to understand. I mean, we all have that desire for life, right? What do we have to look forward to if death is the end? Even Darwin, in his 200 years of wisdom, talks about the fight for survival. Why would he care if his efforts to survive didn’t matter in a hundred years? For those of you who do believe in life after death, what are you expecting to happen when that time comes? God, in His eternity of wisdom, fought for our humanity’s survival. Yet, so many want to debate that very issue, even fight wars over it. Maybe we can’t see how He’s helped us survive because we’ve spent so many millennia trying to forget, but if there is life after death, and if God’s the one who created it, then wouldn’t He care what we’re doing a hundred years from now? Wouldn’t He care about the survival of our souls?

All these questions are for perspective, of course. What I really want to know is why settle for death as final? Are we not born? We know that we came from the womb, but we don’t remember anything about it, do we? How can we be sure we were ever born if we’ve got no memory of it? Besides the multitudes of evidence, that is. When we’re in the womb, do we believe in life after womb? Some of us fail to believe that there’s life in the womb, and yet, here we are now, alive, forming beliefs about what happens in and out of the womb, forming beliefs about what happens in and out of this skin. Did we think during those first 40 weeks about the same things we do today? Did we have the right perspective of what life on earth would really be like when we already had so much else to think about, like feeding on the umbilical cord, having that weird disembodied yet pleasant voice singing to us, on whether or not we think this space is getting a little too cramped and how can we get more of it? The evidence that there was more to life than just the womb was always there, but we were too ignorant to care because we were plenty comfortable knowing what we already knew. (I’m assuming this, of course. I don’t remember the womb, either, and I suppose it’s possible that I was anticipating life after womb. I sure did leave mine in a hurry at any rate.) Isn’t it possible, then, that maybe if we know the difference between womb and earth is a flash of light and a quick passage out of one place and into another, and if the transition from earth to death is another flash of light (plenty of people who died and came back testify to something of this nature) and a quick passage out, that maybe we should assume that there’s still yet another phase of life beyond this one? Yes, in womb and on earth we have the same basic chemical makeup, where one is a bunch of cells forming, and the other is a bunch of cells decaying, but we do have multiple things that make us up – body, mind, soul, and spirit (physicality, thoughts, conscience, intuition). We’ve been told that soul and spirit move on to heaven or hell when the body and mind die. Do we have evidence in which that is not true?

Let me bring this back to my viewpoint. We can go back and forth all day about what actually happens if we choose to debate it. But why bother? If I believe Jesus saved me and gave me access to heaven, and if I’m wrong and Act II of life really is the final curtain, then what have I really lost by believing in His salvation? Answer me that. Especially when you consider that in a hundred years, this life will no longer matter to me. I don’t see why believing in someone who gives me eternal hope is a bad thing. Some people, of course – some of you even – don’t agree. And if that’s what you want, then so be it. But honestly, no matter how much I try to see things through your viewpoint, I still can’t figure out why you don’t have the same attitude. If there is an Act III, and if you’ve been making spiritual decisions that are ignorant of that, who do you expect to answer to if it turns out you’re the one who’s wrong? It won’t matter if I’m wrong because in the end I won’t know it. But it would matter a great deal to you if you’re wrong, and you’ll know it plenty well.

And here’s the kicker: It would matter a great deal to me, too, if you’re wrong.

Here’s a thought that haunts me frequently: I think back to two specific moments when two separate friends cried (with real tears) because something either went against them or didn’t go their way. It was hard to see that because I didn’t want to see them so upset, so broken. But we’ve all been there. We’ve all had those moments of breakdown. It hurts. We know how it feels to be so upset over something, so we know how to empathize. Eventually they’ll get over it, and these friends got over it. They were temporal problems that sucked, but they had an end. Now I think about how salvation is not a concern of at least one of those friends (maybe both). Suddenly it’s no longer an issue of sadness. Now I’m terrified. If it takes one sin to lose heaven, and if it takes one Jesus to gain it back, and if this one sin is more important to these friends than this one Jesus (again, I have trouble fathoming the logic – it’s like choosing a penny over a lifetime of freedom, but that’s not my decision to make), then that moment when the clock expires will become an extremely dark day. No amount of tears can quench the pain – mine or theirs. It keeps me awake at night thinking how much worse that eternal cry would be.

Makes me wonder why running straight to God isn’t a given for those who choose instead to do things (often badly) their own way.

To be fair, it isn’t necessarily your beliefs that has me up so late writing this. What you believe is between you and God (I do, however, think that there are many lies and one truth, so I say this carefully). It’s your Act III that has me losing sleep at night. One of two things will happen to me: I’ll either spend eternity in heaven, or I’ll vaporize into nothing. I don’t honestly believe in option #2, and nothing anyone can say will convince me of that end being true. It’s a hopeless viewpoint, life’s hard enough without that yoke around my neck, and I want no part of that, and anyway, I’ve experienced God enough to know that option #2 isn’t valid, so it’s not even a question for me. But it’s deeply important to me that if heaven’s real, that you also get there. I care about you and want to hang out with you a hundred years from now because that is one of the things today that will still matter to me then. So, if you still want to do things your own way, or believe in whatever you feel like believing, then that’s your business. But I hope that if you’re as moved about the frailty of this life as I am now, and if you have even the slightest question about an Act III life, even if it’s casual curiosity, then do the research. Don’t assume God is imaginary because humans don’t know how to properly show His grace and love, or because you’re not able to comprehend His ways in the way that you’d want to understand or because you can’t change Him to fit your ideals. Don’t forget: God is God and you are not. If you ask Him to reveal Himself to you in a way that you’d understand (sincerely, not spitefully), He will. He’s not going to ignore someone who’s trying to seek or connect with Him.

Please don’t pretend this is the journal of a Christian who is marking tallies on his wall. It’s not about that for me, and it’s not about that for anyone who takes life and soul seriously. This is about me ensuring that people I care about understand that life is inevitable and we don’t make our own rules when it comes to death and eternity. God is the author, and it’s His rules we play by. We don’t have to like it – it’s just the way it is. If you have a problem with it, take it up with Him, but He doesn’t make rules based on trends and fads, and He doesn’t change them because a few of us may not like how He does things. I’m sure He’d rather not sacrifice His only Son to pay for our rebellion, but that’s what He had to do to save us from our one to many sins and to give us that better life after this one (and that more fulfilled life during this one). I think we can agree by now that this Act II will reach its end. Why in the world would we disregard the grave importance of Act III when it can spring on us at any moment? Our ignorance and arrogance won’t hold up when that last breath fades and we’re standing before God with our thumbs twiddling by our sides wondering why things are suddenly awkward. Our excuses will no longer support us. We had our chance to fix things in our hearts, our minds, and our spirits while we were here. Instead we focused too much on our bodies and our politics. Sadly, neither body nor politics can add an inch to our Act III journeys, and our presidents and physical therapists can’t save us. The constant rebellion against wisdom just isn’t worth it.

That’s all I’m going to write here. If you want to talk about this personally, let me know. If you don’t, I won’t press the issue. I just want to make sure you each have a fair chance at making the most of this life and avoid blowing the next one, and I’d like to know that you guys will be a permanent part of my future and the futures of other people who care who are making their Act III preparations now. I know this can be an extremely sensitive subject, but I hope it’s been worth your while. Thanks for reading.

This journal is dedicated to my dad, who passed in late December 1995 but has never left my thoughts, my friends’ dad, who now shares my dad’s anniversary, a friend from my teen years, who passed the day before, the teachers and students of Sandy Hook Elementary, who passed in cold blood two weeks ago, the two friends of friends I don’t know but may still get the chance to meet one day, and the countless others who moved on from this life in 2012. You guys won’t have to debate the questions about God or Act III any longer.

Safe Guy Manifesto

Originally posted to Blogspot on:

February 17, 2012

For the ladies, and for any guy who’s just as confused about women as I am.

Two nights ago I lost a friendship that mattered to me. I don’t fully understand the reasons for this ending, nor, with the exception of a growing lack of response, did I sense the warning signs coming. But it had everything to do with me (a man) trying to maintain a friendship with a woman I cared about, and not realizing how uncomfortable my words were making her when my intentions were honorable. It’s not the first time I’ve lost a friendship for caring more than I probably should have (and showing it). But hopefully it’ll be the last. Below is a compiled list of realizations I’ve gained over the years about the opposite sex friend I’m expected to be, realizations that came to me after having made silly assumptions about the stability of certain friendships, including, but not exclusive to this current failure. I should note that not all friendships (including this) were ruined by breaking all of these rules, but each rule has been a source of trouble to someone at some point when I accidentally violated it, and I think it’s time that I make new assurances to my lady friends to keep them happy and give the guys something to think about for the future. After all, I know that the lady friends who matter most to me are the same ones who want safe guy friends (that’s been my experience at least). So, ladies, if I (or any other man you deem safe) start following these simple rules, then I (or we) should make you, the lady, content, and you won’t feel so compelled to walk away forever. So please accept this safe guy manifesto as your ticket to friends zone harmony:

1. I will no longer compliment your appearance. Maybe deep down I think you look beautiful today (and in general), and I want to tell you so. Maybe you’ve chosen to wear a shirt I really like, or a fragrance that really gets my attention. Perhaps your jeans even make you look thin. But you’ll never know, because I’ll never tell you. Heaven forbid you should think I’m coming on to you.

2. I will no longer tell you that you’re important to me. You probably are important to me, and I would love to tell you so because I think you deserve to know that. But doing so may make you feel uncomfortable, because that risks creating an emotional connection, and I have no desire to make you uncomfortable. So for all you know, you mean nothing to me.

3. I will not invite you to dinner. Maybe a lunch is okay. Lunches are safe and I know you want safe. Dinners are associated with dates and business deals, and you probably don’t want to believe you’re on either. Even if you’re hungry. I know I’m not an option for you, even if you think I’m a better guy than the ones you’d normally date. I won’t pretend that I am by inviting you to dinner. I know that dinner with me will weird you out.

4. If I call once, I will wait for you to respond. It may take you weeks or even months to realize you haven’t heard from me for awhile, and you may begin to wonder what happened to me. But that’s your cue to remember that I’m still waiting for your response. I will not call you or write you a second time until I’ve heard back from you first. I don’t want you to think I’m pushy or “needy” or have an unhealthy attachment to you. I hope that in knowing this, you will also know how rude I think it is to make someone wait for a response to a simple hello, and how much I’d rather call or write again just to wake you up. But I won’t because you’ll think I’m needy, and I know it wouldn’t have occurred to you that maybe I think you’ve forgotten that we’re friends, or that I think you’re becoming careless with me, and that if you don’t respond within a reasonable timeframe, then we’re not actually friends.

5. Anything you tell me as truth, I will believe you. You may one day show me that you never meant what you said, but I will give you the benefit of the doubt because I care enough about you to trust you. I will never question what you believe is true. But you’re welcome to doubt me if you’d like. I know that if I violate any of these rules, even by accident, I’ll have given you ammunition to distrust me.

6. I will forgive you of all of your mistakes. Even if you burn my house down on accident, it may hurt me severely, but I’ll forgive you. I believe in dealing with problems and resolving them properly. I know that giving up on you or your friendship for any reason is unfair to you, and I will not subject you to the worry that you’ve lost my friendship. I will also do my best to avoid making a mistake around you, because I know you’re not as forgiving, and I don’t want to give you an excuse to end our connection.

7. I will work extra hard to conform to your rules. I realize that I don’t have a voice in this relationship, so I will make sure that I don’t step on your toes by telling you what I might want. I realize that you won’t give my interests or values much consideration anyway. Doing so might cause you discomfort. And discomfort leads to your back swung in my direction. I don’t want that. (Oops, I just told you my want. Sorry. Won’t happen again.)

8. If I develop a warm interest in you at any point, I’ll be sure to keep it to myself. I know that’ll also make you run for the hills if you ever found out. On a related note, even if I decide I’d like to pursue you for romance because I see a wife-like quality in you that I don’t see in anyone else – and I’d like a wife someday because I’m not dead – I won’t act on that. I know that a good safe guy doesn’t try to improve his friendships or pursue his dreams with a decision so dangerous. I know that you don’t really want a good man to love you for who you are – you only say that you do – and you could never believe that the good guy who actually wants to give you his heart is the same man who should have yours. So I won’t even talk about romance with you. No need for me to be the guy who puts such a wicked thought in your sensitive head.

9. If for any reason a problem should arise, I’ll be sure to work with you as much as I can to fix it. It may take some time, and I may not know all the trouble areas right away, but I’ll work on them as you show me what’s bothering you. I know that my chances are limited, so I’ll do my best not to waste those three chances that you allot me before you decide that our friendship is unhealthy and that we should call it quits.

10. I will do my best to read your mind. I know that if I can’t figure out what you want when you yourself have no idea what you want, then I’ll eventually pay for it with your frustration and become discouraged because now you won’t call me back.

11. I will never express my discouragement over the things that bother me because you don’t want my negativity. If it’s not full of butterflies and rainbows, then you don’t want to hear about it, and I respect that. I know that a real friendship doesn’t include sharing the difficulties of life with each other. In fact, I’m pretty sure you’re already turned off by my honesty as you read this. You probably won’t have trouble unloading your troubles on me, though.

12. Despite the pain that will inevitably follow, I will be sure to protect your heart by lying down on that bed of nails and take my emotional scarring for you because I don’t want you to get scared by the slightest hint of appreciation and turn around and punch me through my heart with that bed of nails.

This list may be incomplete, but by following these twelve rules, I’m pretty sure I can offer you what you want. I realize that in doing so, I will have denied my own heart and sense of being, and perhaps violated my own sense of manhood, but I will do it anyway because it will make you happy, and because I value you and think you’re worth more than you give yourself credit for. Sure, in the end, most of the elements of this plan may leave me feeling inadequate, lonely, severely unhappy, and eventually resentful of you, but that’s okay because, while a good friendship is two-sided, a safe friendship is one-sided, and math teaches us that one side is better than none. So, from this day forward, as I enact this “safe guy manifesto,” you may now refer to me by my proper name:

“A lump.”

Is this adequate for you?

If for any reason the safe guy should depress you, though, and he will, then maybe instead of abusing him and kicking him to the curb when he doesn’t perfectly fit your rules all the time, you should lighten up, give him his room to breathe, and if his words or actions crosses your comfort zone, tell him so, tell him why, and give him the time he needs to correct his mistakes (and correct him again if he screws up again because he will; I promise you that). A good friend will work with you. But you have to work with him. Only kick him to the curb if he’s a sleaze bag or narcissist who doesn’t give a crap about you. Sadly, you seem to be slower at placing that kick, and I don’t really get that. Truthfully, I wish you’d stop acting so unreasonably because I, and other decent men like me, have got far more to offer you in friendship than you give me, or us, credit for. You’ve just got to lighten up and allow us to be men, and forgive us if we step on your toes, and inform us if we’re causing you trouble somehow, and, if you can stand it, show some appreciation once in awhile. I don’t think you realize what you’re missing here by limiting our hearts or running away so easily. We really are trying to consider and support your best interests. You just fail to see that because you’re too busy ignoring ours.

The Christmas Reaper

More than five years later, the subject matter behind this one still kinda haunts me.

Originally posted to MySpace on:

December 21, 2008:

Three weeks ago, I was told to start leaving my cat, Sniffy, inside the house at night. Raccoons had built a nest somewhere near the backyard Schefflera tree and they’ve been sleeping only during the day. Not that I’d consider that a problem, of course, because they’re just raccoons and don’t really bother anyone. But someone had told my mom that raccoons are overgrown rodents, and natural enemies of cats, and can kill cats. So my cat, Sniffy, the backyard prowler, has to stay in at night despite his whining.

I left him inside overnight maybe three times since.

He can take care of himself. He always does.

Two weeks ago, I went for a walk to clear my head. My creative life had hit one disappointment after another, and I just had to re-collect myself, so I put on my flip-flops and headed for the sidewalk. It was pushing eleven o’clock at night. It was also chilly. And I had no jacket. And my incentive to walk was replaced by a thirst (for an actual beverage, not a metaphor for anything else), and not strong enough to warrant continuing, though I continued anyway because I was still discouraged over creative problems. So I walked about a block or so, contemplated whether to keep walking; then I stopped. I saw something furry in the street.

It was small, lumpy, lying in a puddle of liquid or some kind of grease spot, and clearly road-kill. Cars were coming—it’s a busy street after all, not some quiet residential road—and probably destined to do what other vehicles had already done, which was to run it over some more. And since road-kill wasn’t my problem, I kept walking.

Until it moved.

I looked back. It was the size of a kitten. And lumpy. Not squished.

Traffic had drawn closer; though, being that it was eleven o’clock on a Sunday night, it wasn’t coming in volume, or particularly quickly, so I had time to investigate this moving object.

And it was definitely a kitten. And it was still alive.

I thought it was dying—maybe three inches from death—so I wasn’t sure it was worth going into the street for (a girl from high school had died over something similar years ago). But it still moved, and traffic had yet to run me over, so I took the chance and scooped the creature off the pavement, uncertain if it would even come up in one piece. And it was shaking.

Then I had to figure out what to do with it. It was, after all, eleven o’clock at night in a not-so-upscale neighborhood, and the closest neighbor it could’ve belonged to had a “Beware of Dog” sign on his front door.

I took it home.

My sister is something of a pet nurse (not officially; she’s just good at taking care of animals), so I told her she had a “project.” She immediately took the kitten and started cleaning it up when she noticed its mouth was bleeding. The kitten had bitten through its tongue.

We kept it overnight, gave it water (which it didn’t drink), and waited to see what would happen over the course of the next couple of days before deciding whether to take it to the shelter or chance contacting neighbors about it. Because I found it in the middle of the street at one hour to midnight, however, I decided that taking it to the neighbors—if it had in fact belonged to anyone at all—would’ve meant dooming it to another night spent underneath passing cars, so I decided that if it lived for the next couple of days, we’d take it to the shelter.

“How’s she doing?” I asked my mom the next day, when I was heading off to work.

“She’s dying. Or still in shock. But she hasn’t been drinking anything.”

I prayed, of course. I didn’t rescue a kitten from the street just to have it die on me. It was supposed to go to the shelter and bless some kid. Or best case scenario, Barack Obama would hear about the kitten, request to adopt it, and the kitten’s story would become a feature in Time magazine and tickle the world. Either way, it wasn’t supposed to die.

Well, it recovered, we didn’t take it to the shelter after all that, and now she—my sister called her Nami—thinks she owns the house.

Now I have a third cat.

My other cat, Nova, has this tendency to get nervous around new felines, regardless of their age. Nami is the third rescued kitten to come into this house since the summer of 2007, and the third one to put Nova’s whiskers in a bunch. To show her contempt of the situation, she has spent the last two weeks running outside at any chance she could get.

A couple of nights ago, I heard a really aggressive cat fight take place out back. I went out to break it up, but all participants had already scattered. With my socks now covered in grass, I went back inside.

The following evening, or last night if you’re keeping score, my family told me to start covering the furniture with blankets. Apparently, Nova was the one in that fight, and was still bleeding from it (a day later). She didn’t seem off-kilter initially, but then I took a closer look and realized just how bloody she had gotten.

Turned out, though, it was just her mouth that was bleeding, and all that red fur had to do with her cleaning and biting herself.

That was last night.

This morning, I heard a knock on my bedroom door. Well, not a knock—a pounding. I got up, opened the door, and saw my sister standing there with a somber look on her face.

“Really bad news,” she said.

Oh no, I thought. What happened to the cat now?

“Uncle Lee died this morning.”

* * *

It was just before 9:30 when she woke me. My alarm was about a minute from going off anyway, but 9:30…it wasn’t the first time that had happened. I just stood there, as anyone would from receiving such news first thing in the morning, and didn’t really know what to say. What was I supposed to do with that?

He was 44.

I didn’t know what to do with it, so I turned around and closed the bedroom door.

Everyone deals with this kind of thing eventually. These surprises, in essence, aren’t surprises at all but inevitabilities with undetermined clocks. Sooner or later the alarm goes off.

But then, after considering this moment, I have to wonder just how undetermined that clock can be. When you’re fast asleep, you have no idea the end of dreams is coming. Or you might, but you’re not aware of the time. Then it comes and snatches you away from your vision of purple monkeys dancing in a tree. And it’s over.

Always. It always ends.

Freaking alarm clock.

I suppose the news itself isn’t what bothered me, though. Well, it did, but I had known for several weeks that the possibility was coming (though I refused to believe it—he had to be the one man in my family to break the fifty barrier by more than two years)—just like I knew that when my head hit the pillow last night, my alarm clock would buzz soon enough. No, the thing that weirded me out most about this was the patterning. And the timing. The fact that maybe the clock had already been set.

First of all, Christmas is coming. In just four days. Four days. Never a good time to lose a family member. The holidays are brutal enough without that cherry on top.

But I suppose it’s not unusual that someone, somewhere, has to lose a family member so close to the holidays. The peer group for such an occasion, I imagine, is larger than I realize.

But as I said, there’s more to this than timing. There’s the patterning. The fact that my alarm clock goes off at roughly the same time every morning, regardless of my dream state.

Thirteen years ago, at just a few minutes before 9:30, my mom burst into my room and woke me. It was on December 29th, 1995. Four days after Christmas.

“The hospital called,” she said. I was still groggy. “It’s more serious than we thought. It wasn’t a heart problem. Dad had an aneurysm and he’s in a coma. They don’t think he’ll make it through the day.”

And they were right. He didn’t make it through the day. In less than twelve hours he was gone.

Four days after Christmas.

Christmas. Four days.

I suppose that peer group is a bit smaller now.

My uncle was beside him when that alarm clock finally buzzed thirteen years ago. I doubt that, as he saw his brother pass away before his eyes, however, he knew his own Christmas alarm clock was about to set.

Now, I’m not gonna pretend I understand any of this. It could just be weirdness through and through. But then I think of a New Year’s invitation I have this year and wonder how many different clocks are running. There’s a woman my mom had worked for back in the eighties and early nineties that I’m sure I haven’t seen since my dad’s funeral, which happened ten days after his death. This year, that same woman is throwing a New Year’s Eve party and we’re all invited. That’s ten days from now. I haven’t seen her since January 8, 1996, if memory serves me.

How many clocks are really running here?

That said, I’m now officially the oldest male in my family. And I’m only thirty-two. And I’m reeling. And while my biggest question in all of this still remains, “Why the hell am I sleeping in the same room after thirteen years—is the economy really that bad?” I still have to wonder, do I have a chance at breaking fifty? Only one man in four generations has done it, and he made it only to fifty-two. Will I be the first to see fifty-three? Sixty? Or will I have to hear that blasted alarm clock at a few minutes to 9:30 again?

This has nagged me since I was nineteen. And I’ve tried to make the most of my life since. And while I’m not particularly afraid of death, I am afraid of dying without having anything to show for my life. As of now, despite my bloody, sweaty, tear-filled efforts, I’ve yet to achieve my dreams or create a legacy. I’ve written a couple of novels, yes, but I have close to twenty ideas still on my plate, and I have to complete each one if I’m to feel like I’ve done my job. And none of them are published yet. And none of them have been made into a movie. And ten of them belong to the same story arc. I have to finish them. Sometime between now and the next twelve to twenty years. And then there’s the legacy. I’ve had zero luck with women. My whole life. Zero. And I’ve never gathered why. And while those same women I’ve had zero luck with have tried to convince me in subtle ways that I don’t need romance, relationships, or whatever, and that to expect it from anyone, especially them, is to lessen my need of God—easy way out for them, I suppose, though I never figured out why they even wanted the escape clause—they somehow conveniently forgot to understand that the whole point of seeking out marriage and intimacy, and those little dates that lead to marriage and intimacy, is to ensure that I can leave a legacy behind once my clock finally expires, which I’m certain now, is coming, and probably sooner than I’d like.

People used to ask me when regarding the affairs of my life (like the career, marriage, and all of that), “What’s the hurry? You have your whole life ahead of you.”

My answer, though never in so many words, has generally boiled down to this: “Isn’t it obvious?”

Now, after the events of today, I can add a secondary response that states, plainly: “You’re delusional if you really think that,” in case they still don’t get it.

Though, in fairness, they don’t ask the question much anymore. In fact, they don’t ask me much about anything. I suppose they think thirty-two is kinda late for one to be getting his life in motion. Even when he’s spent every day since high school trying to make life happen.

What’s the hurry?

In case it isn’t obvious, my head is still spinning.

The Walls of the Skeptics: Understanding the De-Converted Part 3

Originally posted to MySpace on:

July 9, 2007

As I’ve made clear in my last couple of journals, I’ve been trying to understand why certain Christians can justify abandoning their faith, especially after they’ve spent many years growing in it. I’ve already learned that Jesus prophesied of an end time apostasy, meaning that before the Anti-Christ can come to power (ushering in the end of time), a large percentage of Christians have to fall away so that faithful opposition against him is minimal. I’ve also come to realize that for such an event to happen, Satan has to work in overdrive to deceive the faithful, and that his range is broad—even the elect (the ministers, apologists, theologians, etc.) can fall into disbelief (through Satan’s deceit). In other words, I shouldn’t be surprised that I’ve lost good friends to Satan’s slithery messages, for any who go seeking unprepared can be caught, like a mouse sniffing for cheese on a mouse trap. In the process, however, I’ve also learned (or have been reminded) that Jesus never stops in His quest to retrieve the fallen (the parable of the Lost Sheep), and that even though many may fall away, any one of them still has a chance to return to truth.

Deceit is such a powerful weapon, and most people understand how to use it; even toddlers find ways to manipulate truth to get what they want. Words spun the right way can knock a foundation of belief right to the ground. It’s Satan’s specialty, a device that’s been in action since his Fall from Grace (he took a third of the angels with him), and perfected in his seduction of man (tempting Eve with knowledge). And for him to achieve such a massive apostasy, he must first use deceitful tactics to attack the very credibility of the thing that can expose him: the Word of God.

Since he knows the Bible’s teachings intimately, he knows how to spin a massive web of lies to trap the faithful.

The areas that manipulate Christians into apostasy (and keep skeptics lingering in doubt) are too numerous to address, but I thought I’d spend the last part of this mini-series addressing at least the issues that brought one friend down and incidentally the same issues that keep many others hanging onto skepticism.

1. Perhaps the biggest charge against the Word of God is its infallibility. Christians are taught that the Bible is error-free. Skeptics stand on the fleshly errors plaguing the humans who wrote it. Both camps lie in total contrast of the other. Both groups think the other is crazy.

Yes, the Bible is written by human hands. But it’s inspired by the Holy Spirit. That alone should be enough to convince Christians of its truth (though skeptics may still remain unconvinced). Anyone who believes in God will understand His perfection and understand that any passage His Spirit confirmed as valid was appropriate for the Bible.

But skeptics need more. Often times they are so consumed by the “contradictions” of the Bible, that they can’t accept its infallibility. Unfortunately, deceived Christians who forget that the Word of God is inspired by God (obviously) are tripped by the same issues. Most of the time they forget that God isn’t human and therefore cannot be compared to by human standards. If the Bible had any passage that was truly in error (despite who physically wrote it), then it wouldn’t have made it into the canon. Simple as that. There are many “Gospels” that never made it into the Bible for this very reason.

And yet, human minds are easily deceived, and therefore can find “contradiction,” even in the Bible.

How is this possible? Easily: problems with perspective.

Most people, skeptics and Christians alike, think that the Bible was written in the same way that most literature and history is written today: immediately, as it happens. However, that’s not how the Bible, or any work of the First Century for that matter was written. The culture of the First Century was an oral one, with stories, historical accounts, and theories passed down as word of mouth for several decades before ever being written down. In today’s culture that might be suicide for a work’s meaning since the world today doesn’t have the attention span to remember anything, much less details, without having something on paper to refer to. But the ancient world didn’t have the distractions that we have today, so the minds of people were more easily focused on words spoken to them, and thus, didn’t need everything written down right away.

As the decades passed, the messages became wider spread, with more people confirming the same story with the same details to each other, thus making the stories impossible to fabricate as they became written. By the time the Gospels were finally etched into parchment, so many people already knew them by heart, and that to misplace even a single idea in those days would’ve been caught and corrected. Thus, by 60 AD, the time that the Gospels were finally written, the Word of God was incorruptible, as too many people could’ve exposed it if something had changed.

And even through the generations, the familiarity of the Word was so great (and the documents so well guarded, just like our Constitution and Declaration of Independence today), that for any man (or church) to change it without someone noticing was impossible.

So how does that brief historical account affect the alleged contradictions found in the Word of God? Well, the answer goes back to the oral tradition. Each writer of the Gospel shared the same story about Christ, but presented it from a different perspective. And each perspective became passed down as another branch to the great story of Christ. Again, the people, though primarily uneducated in math, science, English, etc., were still very attentive, and very keen to notice when four accounts of the same thing taught something different. Since the argument was never raised in those days, then it’s safe to assume that maybe these four writers were telling the same story.

We can look at it another way. Imagine Jesus is standing in the center of a living room preaching the Word of God to a group. You have Matthew standing by the window, Mark standing by the television, Luke somewhere in the kitchen, and John sitting comfortably on the couch. All four hear the same message (even Luke, who doesn’t see a thing, but hears every word), so each presents his story with the same message. But each describes a different detail based on what he sees. For example, Matthew can see the couch clearly (and the facial expressions of everyone sitting on it), but John can’t see it because he’s already sitting on it. John, however, can see the rest of the room from his perspective, where Matthew just sees the couch. Mark can see much of the room, but can’t see the painting on the wall because a large tree blocks it. John can see the painting, and thus has the detail in mind for his account of the event. Mark, on the other hand, may write only about the tree, since his vision is blocked beyond that. Luke doesn’t see any of it, because he’s in the kitchen, but can deduce what’s going on by the responses in people’s voices; plus he can ask the group later for those details he missed personally. And so on and so on.

Anyone with a sense of wisdom can figure out that the message in all four Gospels is exactly the same, as each person heard the same thing, thus proving its infallibility. However, the skeptics are so hell-bent on discrediting it (and why shouldn’t they; it forces them to evaluate who they are and whether their moral fiber is sound enough), that they’ll treat even the slightest differences in perspective (one may see green, while another may be color blind) as the thing that de-threads the validity of the Bible as truth. And it’s a dangerous trick, especially for those who fall for it, but it’s realistically the only thing the devil has in his arsenal. The Word of God can disprove any lie he throws at humanity, and he knows it. His only chance is to attack man’s petty nature. Unfortunately, man doesn’t exercise the sense to resist it.

The petty nature continues into the issues of translation, with original words meaning something different than what words in the same position mean today. But because the translations don’t affect the meanings of the messages (only the details), this shouldn’t even be an argument. There is one specific example that gets most skeptics “a-ha”ing, so I will address it as a separate account in a couple minutes, but for the most part, the translation issues bear no change in meaning, and thus have no cause for argument.

Another criticism brought up by some skeptics deals with the authorship of the Gospels. Some believe that the texts were written by men other than those to whom they’re credited. Again, this is a petty argument, as the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit, so it doesn’t matter by whose hand it’s actually transcribed. But some may find it misleading, so here’s a link to a page that describes the issues of authorship in great detail:

http://www.tektonics.org/ntdocdef/gospdefhub.html

I should warn all readers (especially skeptics) that the dissertation about Gospel authorship on the above page requires the reader to exercise common sense as he or she processes the information. Any attempt to over-analyze or to embrace pettiness, based on the reader’s own limited perspective, may warrant additional doubt in the validity of the text.

2. Now, as I stated a moment ago, there is one specific argument that skeptics raise whenever dealing with the translation issues of the Bible: the word “virgin.”

People today understand what the English word “virgin” means. I hardly have to define it here. So, whenever readers see it used to describe the mother of Jesus, the automatic assumption is that she was “untouched” at the time of conception. And honestly, according to the events in the text, there’s no reason to dispute that.

But skeptics pitch a fit whenever the truth is revealed that the original Greek word first used in the Gospel didn’t mean “virgin,” according to our definition, but “maiden.” All of a sudden there’s this great mob standing at the church gate demanding retribution against the great deception, as this puts the very identity of Jesus in question.

Whoa! Hold your horses there, petty critical types.

First of all, the meaning of the original word isn’t hidden. Anyone who bothers to look will find that the Bible (and its translators) makes no secret to this meaning. My New American Standard Bible footnotes the verse that mentions “virgin” (in the Book of Isaiah) with the words: or maiden right there in plain sight.

No secret here.

Which means, the problem isn’t with the meaning, or its availability to understanding, but with the pettiness of semantics. Anyone who uses common sense will realize that the two differing words don’t actually affect the events or details that define our faith.

Let me break it down further. We know what virgin means. But do we know what maiden means? Traditionally, it refers to an unmarried woman (or girl). In First Century Jewish culture, girls who had sex outside of marriage weren’t brushed aside as inconsequential (or harmless) as they are today. They were stoned to death. Thus, for a girl to even risk such a thing was absurd. Since we know that Mary was a maiden, we have to assume, based on the extreme nature of her culture, that she was also a virgin.

But even if we can’t separate ourselves from the frivolity of our own promiscuous culture, and thus remain tempted to believe that Mary had the nature of a rabbit, we still have to understand one thing: the New Testament makes it clear that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, not by Joseph. There’s no other way to describe or clarify that. It’s right there.

On a similar note, an argument came up that the Jews believed their Messiah would be born of man (like everyone else). Well, yeah: Jesus was born of man, rather than falling out of the sky like Superman. It doesn’t affect his deity any—he was still conceived by the Holy Spirit. All the truths, prophesies, etc. line up.

As I said earlier, there are many ways in which a skeptic can fall into doubt. I cannot possibly address everything. I’m only addressing the specific things that came up in the arguments of those friends who fell away (and the things that most truth-seekers claim as the evidence that drove them from their faith). Obviously, Christians can turn for a number of reasons, as many skeptics can remain in their states of denial for the same reasons, be it human perspective, desire for ungodly living, laziness, etc. But I suppose that also proves Satan’s deep well of resources for snagging our hearts away from the One who loves us.

I’d like for these journals to serve as a source for understanding for those who are teetering on the edge, and for those I care for who have already turned that I desperately want to come back to Jesus, that they may keep their inheritance in Heaven. I understand that it takes more than just my words to convince anyone of such a thing. It takes the Spirit of God to break down the walls of the skeptics, and to retrieve the lost hearts of those who’ve been deceived. I don’t have all the answers, certainly, but then, I’m human so I shouldn’t have to. What matters is that God and His big picture are much greater than I, and much greater than explanation, and that the key to faith is to understand that He’s bigger than us, and to live each day trusting that God has the truth and is able to lead us His way.

Lastly, I don’t want to discourage others from researching the truth, if they feel they should. I just want truth-seekers to be aware of the traps that lie at their feet. The search for truth is a minefield if one embarks without the Holy Spirit or the understanding that Satan has doctrines waiting that are designed to deceive and to kill. In other words, anyone who goes out there without being properly equipped goes with a target on his forehead. Satan is smarter than all of us, understands the workings and the history of this world better than any of us, and is very clever in deceiving us. His hold on the world cannot be complete and his agent of lawlessness (the Anti-Christ) cannot step up until enough Christians have fallen away, so be certain that he’s trying to confuse and destroy us all, that he may finally have his time to rule. I don’t recommend treading those dangerous waters, certainly, as the Bible is truth enough; likewise, good friends of mine were sucked under during their own “quests,” which makes me even more against such an embarking. But for those who think they need to discover more, don’t get caught with your pants down. Forfeiting your soul over a vocabulary word is insane.

–July 9, 2007