Category Archives: Life

The revelations I have about growing up.

Schefflera

One of my favorites. Originally posted to MySpace on:

November 27, 2007:

In 2006, I wrote a four-part essay called “What Blows Around, Comes Around,” the epic account of my living in the path of destruction during two crazy Atlantic hurricane seasons. The essay began with a personal history of the jadedness I had felt toward the power of hurricanes, as most of the storms hitting South Florida from 1976 to 2003 (save for “Andrew”) were letdowns, but segued into a series of mini-essays that showed the respect that hurricanes deserved, according to what the 2004 season forced out of me. In one segment, called “To Shed a Tear,” I lamented the loss of my shed, a childhood relic destroyed by the crippled branch of a backyard Schefflera tree during the three-day onslaught of Hurricane Frances.

That event happened three years ago. Last week, in a surprising turn of events, God used the same tree that destroyed my shed to spare my house from catastrophe.

First of all, before I get into the story, I should mention something that has plagued my heart for years—something that I had escaped at times, but have never fully broken from. I’m in my thirties and I’m living in my mom’s house. Sucks.

I know, the first thought that comes to your mind is Failure to Launch. The first time I saw the ad for the movie, I thought, “Hey, that’s about me.” Who would’ve guessed I’d have something in common with Matthew McConaughy? Well, in real life I suppose nothing. But this nutbag of a character—there’s something.

I’ve tortured myself over this issue, because unlike the character in the movie, who lives at home because he has no ambition to leave, I find myself stuck here. Why? I’ve been out before. Several times. Why do I keep coming back? I don’t want to be here. I like my freedom—prefer it in fact. What brings me back time and time again? What holds me here indefinitely? I’m thirty-one years old; shouldn’t I have the means to escape for good?

Well, there’s the income issue, of course. Sure, I could work sixty hours a week—the standard time required to live in South Florida these days—and forsake my writer’s ambition while I’m at it. But what’s left? After another thirty years, will I be happy that I pissed away my life doing the stuff I hate? Will the extra few bucks a week really make my life worth it? Perhaps living at home and sparing a few extra hours of my time to enjoy life each week (working on the things that do matter to me) is a fair trade.

Such a thought for freedom is inspirational to the aching soul, but the reminder of elusive dreams diminish that temporary joy. What’s left is a husk of a man that claws for a means to fulfill his heart where he can afford the rent.

So, how does that man sleep at night? Well, he doesn’t. He’s writing this essay on three hours’ sleep.

For years I asked myself (and God), “What’s the point of my being here?” without really having an answer. I’d toss and turn, kick my fan, bicker over my ill fate. But it never brought me anywhere, including those places that might allow me to figure things out.

On Thanksgiving night, however, just a few evenings ago, I had a window into understanding.

The weekend before, my sister had gone to Tampa for her high school band’s state competition. My mom, who had devoted a lot of time to being a “band parent,” was determined to see her perform this year, as last year had thrown out some obstacle preventing her to go. The travel arrangements were made: a carpool of other band parents would pick her up and take her to Tampa. Nothing would stop her mission to see her daughter compete.

Except, perhaps, an allergy so intense that she couldn’t breathe.

Allergies don’t play nice with my mom’s system. For five months she’s been on a coughing fit, choking halfway through conversations, scaring people who don’t know what’s going on. Each fit often lasts a minute at a time, sounding like death every hack. My sister and I are used to it—we never worry anymore—but we understand the pain. It sucks, but it’s routine. Mom figured out how to function around it.

Well, on Friday night, just a few hours before she was supposed to leave town, my mom had the worst of her coughing fits. And it wasn’t safe this time. She couldn’t breathe.

I was calm, silently praying for her well-being, but really didn’t know what to do. She’s beyond medicinal comforts. She’s beyond the security of doctor visits. The allergy is continual and nothing this side of God’s hand can fix it. And this time she couldn’t breathe.

After a short stint of silent prayer, the choking subsided, briefly. She returned to her housework, though in slow motion, hoping to get something done. Then it came back. She had to rest again.

The conversation (and growing panic in mom’s voice) centered on possible triggers. The allergy intensified last June within fifteen minutes of her returning from a trip to Missouri. It hadn’t stopped since. Clearly, something native was causing this.

But then we considered the timing. My sister was competing in a state championship and my mom was going to support her the next day. If the fits continued in their intensity, it would’ve been near impossible for her to go. Hence, there had to be a spiritual attack. We started praying against it.

It let up slightly, enough to give her breathing room, but it was still debilitating. We tried to think of other causes. In the brainstorm, the word “Schefflera” came up—a tree we have standing in our backyard, tall, full of leaves in the shape of shoe soles—and immediately her air passages cleared up.

“That’s weird,” she said.

“No, it’s not,” I said. “We called out the source.”

Okay, so we figured it out. Then what?

During the month of November each year, the leaves have a habit of falling from the tree. It’s unstoppable, really. They fall, they clutter the yard, they turn yellow, et cetera. They form a scattered pile around the back patio (where the shed used to stand), a few feet from where my mom likes to read. And they make her sick.

When the subject of the leaves came up, and her air passages cleared, I decided I would rake them that weekend while she was in Tampa. She couldn’t do it herself; after all, she would’ve choked. If I weren’t living there, however, she’d have to do it anyway.

The weekend rolled around and I got distracted. Saturday came and gone. I still had to rake them. Then Sunday came. Time ticked.

When procrastination had reared its head long enough, I went out there, grabbed the rake and some bags, and started piling up the leaves.

There were a lot of leaves on that ground, enough to build a new tree. After nearly an hour I had raked up five bags’ worth of thick, padded vegetation. Then I lay all the bags along the curb at the foot of the unused driveway, which the city forgot to design a ramp for when they widened the road fifteen years ago. The trash site nestled next to a small garden my dad designed when he was still alive, in the area where another Schefflera used to stand.

My job, then, was done. The trash collectors would be there Tuesday to pick everything up. I could rest again.

Monday night, however, just twelve hours before the garbage trucks were schedule to arrive, something happened.

I worked late Monday, so I missed the action, but my mom recounted the story for me. A few months earlier, she had canceled the insurance on the house so she could pay the remainder of the mortgage. She went back and forth on the decision, but decided to take the chance since her income was scheduled to decrease in a year and mortgage payments would’ve been difficult. Well, that night, around nine o’clock or so, that decision almost came back to haunt her. On that normally busy street, at the southeast corner of my property, a driver lost control of his car. No one knows what happened; there was nothing in front of him, nothing to miss. He just lost control, slamming his brakes as he hopped the curb, and careened into my front yard. The way he was positioned, he would’ve come right through the living room—or if the living room didn’t stop him, my bedroom (and specifically, my computer where my life’s work is stored) certainly would have. But he didn’t. He couldn’t. His wheels, unable to stop by his own effort, got caught on the five bags of leaves, preventing him from moving forward.

So, thanks to God’s creative use of my mom’s allergy to a tree in the backyard, my childhood home still stands. What’s your Thanksgiving story?

Transparency

A few years ago, a friend wrote a blog about nakedness, specifically about her young son deciding it was no longer cool to run around naked. I don’t remember any of the details anymore, but it was one of those “growing up too fast” blogs mixed with self-reflection on her own sense of transparency, if I recall.

Sometime after she had written it, she sent me a message:

“Did you read my blog? It’s way more emotional processing than it is well-written, but I was hoping I might hear from someone as to whether or not they could relate, or do I just sound crazy?”

The following is my e-mailed response. I’m posting here for the same reason I’m posting everything else on this site; it is loaded with life lessons, understandings, and things that I think are relevant to growing up. It’s basically an interactive blog.

This was written on November 12, 2007:

Well, I don’t think I’d be quick to call it crazy—there’s too much truth in it to be crazy.

Here’s my take on it: nakedness is scary for anyone over the age of five. When we’re four and under, we don’t care about who sees us, or how. Between five and nine, we’re okay with our parents seeing us (they have, after all, seen us our whole lives, so there’s nothing weird about it), but only our parents (and other close relatives). Then from nine and up it becomes a personal thing for just us and maybe our doctors.

Which means we’re very private people come adolescence, which is fitting considering that becomes the time when we start guarding our secrets, too.

The physical shyness and the emotional shyness go hand in hand. Call it a self-awareness or shame (both are interchangeable) if you want, but it happens simultaneously.

And it happens to all of us.

If you remember the story of the Garden of Eden, it started there. We take on this other life that becomes incredibly scary, and it becomes scary because we’re afraid of people seeing who we really are—either because we have something to hide (as was the case with Adam), or because we’re afraid of what others might think (which was also the case with Adam).

It’s an inherent thing.

How this relates to your explosion of freedom—I think it’s a natural response. I remember a few months ago you wrote a blog about being more open and accepting of people in your group. You talked about how scary it was to hear about a friend’s battle with [her issue] (I think that was the struggle), and how important it was to accept her anyway, of letting her share her vulnerability in an attempt to heal or even to turn away from it, rather than to judge her. It was scary for her, and scary for you as the listener, but that was what it took to do the right thing for both of you. Bringing this to the present, I think the issue is the same: you’re afraid of what transparency will yield, even when you’re walking in a place where it’s okay to be transparent.

I’ll make this personal to show you how relatable this is:

A close friend of mine left her husband a couple of months ago.

You probably remember all the difficulties I had with trusting women after the stuff that’s been happening to me over the last three years (mostly with abandonment over frivolous and absent reasons). This was one of the few people that kept me believing in something good because she stood by her husband, despite her leanings toward unhappiness, because she knew it was the right thing to do. She reminded me that it wasn’t about “good feelings” or any of the nonsense, because to be a good woman was to stand by her man, no matter what. She said so in words, and proved it in action.

Well, that collapsed in September. Turned out there was a lot of makeup over that trusting façade. Her husband was undoubtedly devastated (still is after two months), but as a close onlooker, I was just downright shocked. Everything I came to know about this friend was make-believe. She didn’t stand by her man. She ran to someone who made her “happy.” My feeble trust in women plummeted from that. How could I know if anyone was even remotely genuine or good after that experience?

I hadn’t spoken to her since she left.

You have to understand that this was one of my closest friends, one of the few people I didn’t mind knowing me for who I really am, because I know there’s no judgment there. And I haven’t spoken to her in two months. The fact that she put up a front the last seven years is frightening to me.

Understand that I’m not angry with her. I haven’t refused communication. I just don’t know what to say. I hang out with her husband every week, and every week I have to watch the heartbreak fly when he gets his two minutes to talk to his son (whom she took with her when she went on what was initially thought to be a routine visit to her parents’ house). To start talking to her again as if nothing had happened is just a surreal thought to me, and I’m afraid of what initiating a conversation might do. It’s too easy to be caught in the middle of two warring tribes, and there’s always that fear of being ripped apart in the process.

But I also understand friendship, so a few minutes ago, I bit my lip and initiated an instant message (about the The Office writers’ strike). I’ve torn myself left in right trying to decide if it’s better to stay in the background as I’ve been doing, or attempt to let a friendship continue despite the circumstances surrounding the family (and the distrust that popped back into my heart). So far I haven’t gotten a response, but at least I tried. At least I won’t be at fault, if such a thing applies in this scenario. I gave transparency a chance.

We’re always caught in situations that frighten us. The fact that [your son] was looking for his underpants proves that he’s entering into that realm (as hard as that might be for you to accept). The fact that you’re scared of transparency, despite your explosion of freedom, also proves it. I’ve known you for a little over a year, which is admittedly not long in the grand scheme of time, but in that whole time, the one thing that seemed to be constant was your fear of transparency—of people seeing who you really are and turning away because of it. You’ve been afraid of what people think of you for reasons I never really understood. And when you hold onto that, your own fears of transparency will continue.

So to answer your question (if I haven’t already), you’re not crazy. You’re about as normal as normal gets. Granted, being normal is a little crazy, but you’re not in a place that’s unique of everyone else. The fact is every one of us can relate to your blog; all too well. The “emotional tsunami” is just a dramatic way of bringing reality to light. And that’s fine, because that’s your personal take on the situation. You can compare it to the fiction market. There are thousands of writers publishing the same seven stories. People still buy it because each person has a different way of writing it, even if the idea is the same. And we all can relate to the core of those seven stories, as we can relate to the vulnerability you’re expressing.

As a small counterpoint, I will say that privacy has its place. I don’t agree with the comment made on your blog about wearing your heart on your sleeve. I can tell you from experience that that doesn’t work in your favor. It’s great to be transparent to some, but you need to decide who has that right to see you as you are. Unfortunately, ninety percent of the world is untrustworthy, and the other ten percent is risky at best. For your own growth you need to trust that remaining ten percent anyway, but even then you have to be ready for disappointment, as none of us can have open arms all the time. Walking with transparency will give you a great sense of freedom, and I think that’s important, but make sure you guard yourself from the predators—the people who get off on hurting others. They’ll just ruin your sense of acceptance if you let them.

I don’t know if this helps, or just confirms what you already know, but that’s my take on it. I used to be transparent to anyone who called me a friend, and a lot of those people don’t talk to me anymore, so there’s a clear risk. But the ones who still do, I tend to trust more than I don’t, and I can feel mostly free around them. Complete nakedness is still uncharted territory, and I don’t think I’m in a place where that’s even remotely comfortable, but walking around in just a pair of shorts, showing off those spot-hairy shoulders (:p), is comfortable around some. It’s about choosing your range of safety.

Well, that covers that. I hope that answers the question you posed from the blog. If I missed anything, let me know. A part of me feels like I’m only answering half of your question, so clarify the other half for me if that’s the case.

[The rest is unrelated to the subject.]

That Old Rusty Formula

Originally posted to MySpace on:

June 5, 2007:

Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot about this new book and movie craze called The Secret. At first I thought it was a movie starring that kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun—and I really don’t know why I thought that, random brain activity I guess—but later came to find out that it was a lesson in forcing what we want through positive thinking. Interesting.

As New Agey as it may seem, and probably is, it makes a good point: positive thinking brings positive results. Fair enough. Obviously it speaks some truth, because the entire world is biting into it the way a starving man on a desert island might bite into a Big Mac. If it didn’t work, the masses would throw the book into the fire. Right?

Well, if it weren’t any surprise, the Christian community has picked up on some of its principles and applied its meaning to its own sense of faith. Admirable, I think, considering the speed at which we condemned rock music and Harry Potter for its blatant promotions of evil. Because of this idea of viewing the “Law of Attraction,” as it’s called, as a form of faith, I have to admit that the possibility of finding out more about it “attracted” me. After all, if it really does show me how to attract what I want—to essentially step up my faith a notch—then it must be a good thing. Right? Right?

A few weeks ago, my Wednesday night Bible study decided to spend a week studying it. So now, after all the hype surrounding it, I got to see what it was all about for myself. And with all the visual stunners, like that wave of some crazy force ring shooting out like a pulsar cannon from the thoughts of those who dream of big houses and sexy wives, I have to say I was impressed with the production. With all the positive thinking that obviously went into it, all I could think was that the geniuses who made this film were certainly tapping into the “Law of Attraction” when they told themselves they would be gazillionaires someday.

Jokes aside, I could understand why the Christian community jumped on board with this phenomenon. It encourages faith—I mean, it has to—the whole point of the Law of Attraction is to see yourself with the very thing you want, which to me requires a heck of a lot of faith. If a penniless nobody can say he wants to make $100,000, actually draw (in marker) the extra zeroes onto a one dollar bill so that he can see the hundred grand as reality, and then somehow sell his $.25 concept to a tabloid and call it “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” then obviously somewhere in that equation he had more than a mustard seed’s worth of faith, because we all know what became of that little $.25 idea. A hundred grand is merely chump change now.

For those who haven’t seen the video, though, I’m not gonna spoil it for you. The bottom line is that this methodology teaches us that whatever we set our minds on, that’s what becomes reality. To some degree, I can accept this. For those who really believe in their abilities, somehow they make it work. But there has to be a line.

When the video was over, I had one nagging problem: the idea of making reality of what we think about. In the video, it talks about how a man who focuses primarily on getting out of debt is still thinking about debt, and thus he’ll never get out of it (because the “universe”—New Agey term—thinks he wants the debt because he keeps thinking about it and yada yada yada). Again, I can sort of see where this might apply. But, at the same time, from a Christian standpoint, it has one fatal flaw: our relationship with God, namely.

Here’s the thing: the Christian community can accept this thing called the Law of Attraction, because it promotes faith. But where the Christian community is completely turning the deaf ear is that this form of faith rules out relationship. In other words, if I’m asking God to help me out of debt, then, according to the Law of Attraction, I am still thinking about my debt, and thus God will keep me in debt.

What?!!

The workaround, of course, comes back to positive thinking, as the creators of this video might say. “Don’t think about debt,” they say, “but think about prosperity. If you dwell on prosperity, then you’ll have prosperity.” Fine, if you say so. I’ll have prosperity.

But why should I have to say it like that?

If this Law of Attraction is a real thing that God can use to answer our prayers, then isn’t it still possible that God has complete control over how it works? If He doesn’t, then how are we supposed to be ourselves before Him if we’re too busy nitpicking over vocabulary, trying to manipulate Him into blessing us?

My understanding of the Bible, and thus, my understanding of my own existence is to have a relationship with my Heavenly Father. Shouldn’t that mean, then, that I have freedom to tell Him exactly how I feel, and trust that He’ll hear me for my heart and not for my AOL keywords? If He doesn’t hear me for what I bring before His throne, then what is the point of trusting Him with my heart?

So that’s the thing that left me unsettled as I dwelt on this theory—which could have some truth to it, as some people do make it work. But then, that brings us to another point.

First of all, I’m not going to continue this journal pretending that I know everything. I don’t. I know some things in biblical context, though there is still plenty more that I don’t have a clue about. My memory skills suck when it comes to verses and song lyrics (though I could probably still tell you the names, identities, and allegiances to every single character from the first season of the original Transformers—how sad is that?), so I’m not the grand authority of all things spiritual. Because of this, I tend to seek counsel in these matters when I turn up clueless. Sometimes I find it in Christian “rulebooks.” Lately, I’ve just been asking people that I trust to know the Spirit better than I do. After spending the last few weeks trying to figure out how the Law of Attraction coincides with God’s will, I finally asked a mentor.

Having said that, keep in mind that most everything to follow from this point on are not my own thoughts, but a redevelopment of the conversation that a friend of mine and I had about God, faith, and the direction that ministry is heading.

There’s a reason why I had this problem with the Law of Attraction as an absolute—as the video would describe it to me. It’s because it pigeonholes God’s authority in my life. It puts control into my own hands, and more or less disregards His personal will for my life. Maybe this thing does work, for some people, but does it mean it’s the right thing?

The Secret and the Christian church’s adoption of its principles as a form of faith subscribe to a key issue that controls western thought: it’s all about the marketing.

What?!!!

Never mind that God is sovereign, free to bless people His own way and in His own time—if He chooses to bless us at all. No, according to this new marketing trend, all Christians are automatically promised prosperity (remember Jeremiah 29:11—my favorite verse to be perpetually taken out of context?), and so the positive thinking trick guarantees us the desires of our hearts.

As long as we don’t think a single ill thought against it.

What?!!! That sounds a bit limiting for God, the author of the world, doesn’t it? Also gives a little too much power to the Devil, the Force, and Jedi Master Yoda, all of who, despite our fears, can’t actually read our minds. Only God has that kind of authority.

God is creative, am I right? Does He not know the desires of our hearts before we even ask? Does He not know of the best path in which to see His will fulfilled in our lives? Of course He does. So why does the Christian church throw heaps and heaps of formulas in His way?

Years ago a friend of mine told me that he would never again read another book about relationships. Why? They seemed to be pretty harmless, certainly informative, and probably the surest bet to finding “the one,” and having the best relationship possible with “the one.” So why stop reading them?

Because they’re formulaic? Because they take the adventure out of life? Because they limit God from establishing things His own way, should He choose to even make it happen? Hmm, the truth kinda takes the thunder out of “How To” books, doesn’t it?

Why are Christians disappointed when a church promises prosperity if they “get their heart right with God” just to wind up in debt, in bad relationships, or being falsely accused of murder? Didn’t God promise the desires of my heart—of prosperity—according to Jeremiah 29:11, the most out of context verse ever? I thought I was supposed to do this and that and then my dreams would come true. If only I had read my Bible more, my dreams would come true. If only I had tithed more, my dreams would come true.

If churches told us that only some of us would prosper, while the rest of us would fight the rest of our lives for the desires of our hearts just to die poor and alone with 28 cats, then would we be interested in going back? Western culture, says “hell no,” so squeaky clean Reverend Mafia Man (apparently they exist—yikes!!!) tells us that prosperity is eminent so that we keep coming back and filling the coffers. Marketing genius. Spiritual suicide.

Why does the starving Christian want to put more hope in The Secret than he does in the sovereign will of God? Marketing. Is God not good if He doesn’t fulfill the desires of man’s heart? Or is He just? Would the CEO of Starbucks love God if God told him, “All right, now it’s time to try something new; go spend the next ten years getting to know the common man while running the register at Burger King.” Or would he be fighting God on the matter, arguing about how such a move would affect his God-promised prosperity? If he argues, then why would he? Is he no longer content with the will of God? If the CEO of Starbucks didn’t rate his prosperity on the size of his limo, would he be content, then, with a rusted jalopy from 1923? Probably not. Marketing strikes again.

So why then do some people make the Law of Attraction work? If it puts a limit on God’s sovereignty, then why can some people still get what they want through positive thinking? Here’s a better question: why do the wicked prosper if prosperity is meant for “those with faith?” My theory on the wicked prospering had always been that this is the best they’ll have. For them to prosper now is like God having compassion on them in light of their destructive future. But the friend I talked to about this the other night had a better theory: prosperity, like everything else, is a gift bestowed among certain people. Just as a wicked man can paint a glorious portrait through the gift of creativity (as can a Christian with the same gift), so can a wicked man turn three dollars into a million if he has the gift of business (as can a Christian with the same gift). Not everyone will have the ability to do both (I, for example, have creativity, but my business sense is atrocious), so not everyone should expect to have both (or either, if that’s the case).

The bottom line is that Secret or no Secret, God is sovereign and He can do whatever He wants. If He wants to prosper us, then good for us. If He wants to let us die in captivity, then we should probably learn to like it. In the end, it’s unfair of us to limit our relationship with Him to certain boundaries so that the formulas of prosperous Christian living can endure. Isn’t it better to live each day as it is, continue to ask for the desires of our heart, be content with the answer He gives us, whether it’s what we want or not, and let Him flourish in His ways and in His story for our lives? I might get discouraged at times for seeing opportunities I’ve desired float away far beyond my reach, but then, how would I ever be content if I got every blasted thing I ever wanted? I’d just end up wanting more anyway.

Of course, if God wanted to be the Father who gives to His prodigal son, then that’s His business. It’s not my job to grumble it. It’s my job to love Him anyway and do what I can to follow the path He’s lit for me.

Anyway, these were just some issues that came up during this processing time. After spending many sessions of positive thinking toward the things I wanted in the past, just to have them rejected anyway, kinda tells me that the “Law of Attraction” is just a thing that some people can use, but ultimately doesn’t override the sovereign will of God. If we trust Him with His will, then that’s what we’ll see come to pass. Whether or not that means pleasure for us is irrelevant. Whether or not we become an army He can use, however, is relevant. Submitting to God and letting Him do as He wills is a mark of faith, I think, and one that lets God be who He is through us. Yes, we can still ask God for the desires of our hearts—the Bible makes that clear—but true faith, I believe, accepts the answer regardless of what it might be.

If anyone would like to add a remark to this, please do, as I’d like to build a discussion here.

And you’re welcome to send this wherever you want, if you feel like it. But you don’t have to; this isn’t a chain letter. I know that you still love Jesus, even if you delete this. No accusations, hidden agendas, or condemnations here. Be who you are.

That First Taste of Creative Payoff

Originally posted to MySpace on:

April 22, 2007:

Last night I got to experience something that in times before I could only imagine: a chance to see something I wrote brought to life.

It was a beautiful thing, actually, to suffer countless hours, countless days, weeks, months and years under the same breath, hoping for a moment where it could all make sense, to have it all finally come together in one kiss of inspiration, an artist’s dream, as minimal as it may seem, sparking a sacred fire as the first taste of payoff came to light. It was beautiful, indeed.

But not that the taste missed the buds before, of course—the first true payoff hit me when my dad read my first story, called “City Walker,” out loud. The story was terrible, as one might expect from an amateurish thirteen-year-old. But to hear the characters and the lines spoken audibly—something that started from my head—was a cause for goose bumps.

Those goose bumps continued during my high school creative writing class whenever the teacher picked my short story out of the pile to read aloud. Most writers could identify with those early moments of public display, when the author was anonymous, but the story rung out like a chorus of “Jingle Bells,” getting laughs and hoots as if it were ushering in the biggest holiday of the year—or the hurt feelings that followed whenever the audience didn’t give a crap. The formidable years of writing often launched frenzies of turbulent emotion, and most writers in those early stages turned their emotion into new stories, to which he or she had another chance at wowing the class.

Such beginning regions were common fare to the growth of a writer—or any artist, for that matter—but the payoff still fell under the artist’s control, and thus the joy of sharing it became less prestigious over time.

In college, the next great “first” became reality, upping that dying level of prestige a notch: I published a poem called “Dungeon Johnny” in the college literary magazine. Again, the thrill returned, seeing the words I wrote laid out on a glossy sheet, accompanied by the drawing of a mysterious figure framed in shadow—a picture I didn’t choose, but could see how it fit with the poem, sort of. Just getting the pairing with another artist’s creation added to the bliss of seeing a project come to life. And, like the first out-loud reading of my story six years earlier, it was beautiful.

And yet, the thrill was limited: I was on the editing staff of the college literary magazine. Poems and short stories went in by vote, and I contributed one of the votes. Control was out of my hands, but not entirely. I knew it was coming. It was a first, but the wrong kind of first.

Nearly a decade later, another first hit me, another product of my own control: I printed my first collection of short stories in paperback. Up until this point, this had been the singularly best moment in my writing career, as now I could see what my name looked like on the front cover of a book. And to see my short stories in printed form—all of them from that first volume, with professional headers and everything—just felt like the coolest thing ever. For any writer, that’s like walking along the beaches of Utopia for the first time. And yet, no publisher had a say in the matter, nor did any editor. To see my name in print was cool, but the fact that I put it there myself felt like cheating. The bliss had power, but didn’t last very long.

And that was the way it had stayed for several years.

Artists often get the most satisfaction from just seeing their thoughts come to life. I have to admit that the joy I get most in the writing process is not so much in the showing it off, or doing something fancy with the design, but just getting it finished. It takes such a load off my shoulders when the project is done—and even more so when the editing process is finished, too. But there’s something special about sharing one’s thoughts with a group and having that group validate it with a laugh, or an “ooh,” or something that elicits the desired effect. My books might’ve done that, but I wasn’t there to hear it.

Last night I finally got to witness the moment I had only dreamed about in the past: I got to see a line of dialogue I wrote spoken in a movie. It wasn’t my movie, nor was it my characters, nor was it even my scene. But the writer/producer/director asked me to critique his script on three different occasions, and on the last one (the second before shooting), I gave him a handful of lines to make some scenes better, not really expecting him to use any of them.

Well, as I sat in the theatre, watching this local indie-film playing out—a story that I first read in the ‘90s, and was thrilled enough for this friend of mine to see his own vision come to life—two things happened: First, I saw a copy of my first book on the screen (which I new was coming, but still found it cool to see) and was happy just to have some contribution to the scene; and second, and more importantly, I saw my advice played out in action, which added to my satisfaction when I saw that it had worked. Perhaps the greatest satisfaction for me—and I know it sounds a bit like pride, but I felt such a weight lifted when I saw it that I’d consider it more relief than ego—was to see a line of dialogue that I wrote for the director (as a suggestion for the ending of a scene) played out by the on-screen actress (which, for the first time, was used outside of my control), and having at the end of the last word the entire theatre bursting from laughter. Though it was my friend’s movie, and though it was his scene, his character, and his production talents that brought the two to life, I still had to smile when the line I contributed received such a big response. For a moment I could feel what it was like to sit in Ben Stiller’s shoes (if one could sit in shoes) after viewing Zoolander with an audience. It was enough to get me thinking that maybe I can still do this.

Yes, there are still plenty of firsts to go in this volatile hobby of mine, but each journey, as distant as they can be, reminds me that they’re still in reach. I should’ve known that reality from the days of my living room when my dad read out loud a scene involving charred steak, putting in all the bravado that a thirty-seven-year-old man in his underwear could produce. But seeing my name in the special credits section of a movie (in the movie theatre), along with hearing the lines I’d contributed (which according to my critique, there were more than one—I just forgot about a couple of them: I thought the director’s use of a character responding to the line “k-i-s-s-i-n-g” with “k-i-s-s-off” was brilliant, until I went home to discover that it, too, was one of mine; then I just felt sick with pride) just made the future seem a heck of a lot shorter.

In the end, I realized every little moment is worth it because any of it can come back when you least expect it and make you smile. It took a lesbian character embarrassing her “friend” at the end of her poem to make me (and the audience) smile. What a strange way to get a “first.”

Maybe I should send out that novel of mine now.

Chronicles of a Second Wind

Originally posted to MySpace on:

April 10, 2007:

How does a man driven by creativity get his brain to stop nagging him? A pressing question to a philosopher, maybe, but not to me. “Finish what you started” seems like a worthier battle cry for such an occasion—stop leaving the past unresolved—don’t go to sleep on an empty stomach (okay, the last one might be overkill). The message, it seems at its most rudimentary state, is to complete a project that the creator thinks is worth his attention in the first place. If it’s not valuable, it won’t nag him. Simple philosophy…in theory.

I caught the game creation bug back in the ‘80s, found a creation engine, and thus the means to see my computer game ideas come to life in the first half of 2000, and went to work on a project (of organized chaos) called The Adventures of Powerstick Man. It starred the hero of a mock comic I had made in the early ‘90s about a tennis player turned spandex wearing crime-fighter who threw deodorant as his superpower. His story began with his birth as a superhero and ended after a short spelunking quest that earned him the coveted “Cove Ruby,” an item that didn’t really help him any because the game was over. There was so much more planned for the game, with several new towns, a deeper story line involving the kidnapping of mayors, and a slew of pop culture parodies that would make the writers of Scary Movie groan. It was my gaming opus, and my ticket into an underground world of RPG making geeks, where popularity depended on the quantity of message board posts and the clever use of “elite speak,” where “e’s” became “3’s” and “t’s” became…something. And, like so many who fell victim to the black hole of message boards, I had lost my steam after the first release. It was a fate I thought I could avoid. I was wrong.

I never learned “elite speak,” by the way, or cared to. My geekiness was intended to live in theory, not in reality. Anyway…

I tried to assimilate my identity into this indie-gaming world through various forms of writing, mainly through reviews of other people’s games. I spent nearly a year of my life critiquing these amateur projects, trying to wow readers with big ways to say little things. And I gained attention. Through my reviews, I became a valuable resource to the independent gaming community. I wrote articles on character development, fought for the appropriate use of dialogue, both in action and in presentation, and even submitted the occasional fanfic in the form of documentary radio scripts. It was a golden age for me in this secret world; I was like Roger Ebert, but younger and skinnier. And I couldn’t get back to my project.

The fire of participation died by 2002, and with it, several false starts on other games. The Adventures of Powerstick Man lingered in limbo, waiting for the day that its story would be completed. But that day never came. I tried to revive it a year later with a new presentation, calling it “Version 2,” but again the fire died as soon as it had flickered. My passion for game-making hit a dead end, as did my creativity in all forms. I searched for other methods to keep myself plugged in with the fans (the few that called themselves fans), but my taste for the subculture faltered. Nothing ever got done with this group. Nothing ever got done on my hard drive. With personal crises taking over, I had nothing left to give to my creations. I burned out.

Several projects ate space on my hard drive by 2003, most of them with nothing more than a title screen and a couple of graphics. I still dabbled with my perpetually labored project called Tightfloss Maiden, which to this day remains close to release, as it was in 2001, but not close enough to actually unveil it. In the end, unfortunately, my desire to work on anything creative subsided in favor of personal misery. The golden age became a rusted age, and I couldn’t take it.

By the end of 2003, however, something remarkable happened: I went back to school. I was refreshed. And with the refreshed journey, I went back to my writing. I started revamping my old collections of short stories, releasing two self-published books by early 2005. In the last quarter of 2005, I wrote the first draft of my novel. Throughout all of 2006, I wrote and released my third collection of short stories to the public. And now, as I write this, I’m back to the editing stage of my novel, with a second novel in the drafting stage. Add these to the screenplay floating around various agencies for the Scriptapalooza contest, and it seems I pulled out of a major dive. But alas, something still lingers.

During a brief creative spell in 2005, I decided to return to the original version of Powerstick Man and add some features for an Extended Edition. My intention was to re-release the game as it used to be, but with more options for the player. It was a means to draw its fans back to the character and back to the charm that made it a cult classic (and also to spur interest in the graphically enhanced Version 2 that I had hoped to also release someday). But again, after a slight addition to the character roster, I went on to something else—my novel. And there it sat untouched for another year.

And throughout that year, the unfinished project nagged at me. Six years had passed without a fair attempt to finish it, or even to progress it, and it haunted me. I couldn’t stand it. But I kept putting it off, favoring the work on my prose over it. It was the annoying guest that refused to leave. It spilled over into my other unfinished gaming projects. One project became nine, all of them waiting for their turn to see the light of day. It was madness.

Finally, I reached the point that I couldn’t take it anymore. After spending a weekend dabbling with another creation engine that specializes in point-and-click adventures, I thought, “I could do this again.”

I’m writing this journal, in March of 2007, because the second wind is blowing, and I’m curious to see what becomes of it. Certainly, it could be a short breeze, destined to die in two weeks’ time. Or it could be a strong gale, lasting until the project sees an end. Either could happen, and I’m curious to see which becomes reality. My novel still demands my attention, as does my economic freedom—both of which are threatened by the idea of revisiting these old projects. But that marks the creator’s heart. A creator without passion isn’t a creator but a do-boy. He has to give his attention to these things anyway.

Having said this, I’ve put The Adventures of Powerstick Man on a new train, and I’ll record its journey in some form as it unfolds.

The Great Frustration

Note: In an effort to bring my blog up-to-date, I’ve been reading old journals and looking into old issues, investigations, and funny stories I once had. Rereading this journal reminds me that I don’t always see the bigger picture. Having said that, I don’t know how much of this I still agree with. When I wrote it, I was hurt because someone accused me of not being “close enough to God” and used it as a weapon to tear down my heart when that person had no knowledge of my spiritual journey and just assumed the accusation was correct. Like all things that frustrate me, I had to write down my thoughts in an effort to make sense of them. I don’t necessarily agree with everything I once wrote here because I can see where I’m basically making similarly misunderstood assumptions about people. But writing under the influence of pain can blight our ability to think with love and wisdom. So, the following is another example of what happens when my heart is broken.

Originally posted to MySpace on:

March 6, 2007:

I’m tired of letting this control me: this issue of who I am, and how I’m perceived. Since when was it anyone’s business to define my identity for me?

I still find myself asking God to heal my heart. And I think that’s a given for any of us—we all have something that breaks it. But I’m tired of asking for the healing when the things that keep breaking it are out of my control. Just a few minutes ago I caught myself asking for this—for this healing—and realized I’m asking because I haven’t let go of my hurt.

And why not?

I don’t know if my relationship with God is exactly what it’s meant to be, or if I’m missing something. Frankly, I don’t think God is keeping score. I have a relationship with Him—He knows it, I know it, what more is there to say about it? As far as I know, I’m where I’m supposed to be.

I know my relationships with people falter, though. Today, for example, I had one of the worse days at work that I’ve had in awhile. There wasn’t any one defining thing that made it horrible, it was just a medley of sour feelings, great frustration, and all around chaos that made being there awful. And I found myself getting angry. Over what? Over picky people? Over low pay? Over my own exhaustion? Frankly, there was nothing worth getting angry about. And yet, I still had to ask God for the strength to love others.

Such a strange thing to ask for at 2:30 in the afternoon, isn’t it?

Truth was, I found myself resenting the people around me: the strangers, the friends, the whole bloody circumstance. And it was torturing me. It was just another Tuesday in Boynton Beach, but I wanted so badly to run away and never look back. Much like I’ve felt about my place here for the last, say, decade or more.

It comes back to my broken heart—that lonely thing that has hope, but little outlet; the thing that allows me to appreciate my family and the few good friends that stuck by me for years and years, despite my bursts of intensity and self-reflection, but recognizes that they can only give so much; the thing that relies on God for fulfillment, and yet becomes seduced by the holes that He leaves open for others to fill. That broken heart—a device weakened by misunderstanding, unfairly shaped by frustration—that thing I offer to God for healing but can’t seem to free from the things that broke it.

The wounds have festered. They’ve mounted on top of each other. Simple joys have been compromised by stupid things. And I’m tired of it.

It’s time to get honest here: my wounds are relational. There are several things I’m unhappy with, but only one seems never-ending. Lately, I’ve found myself resenting women—that frail gender that wants to be more like men every day. And it makes no sense. My mom faced trial after trial just to make sure I had a decent upbringing. As my first example of what a woman was supposed to be, she did one of the best jobs a mom could do, enduring all sorts of crap from my dad, from demanding employers, and even the church (the ‘80s / no grace version) just to make sure her family had provision. That character should’ve engrained a firm understanding of what a good woman looks like in me. It was a true testament of strength.

To have that as my base, my respect for women should currently be through the roof (as it once was). But then, that might be part of the problem. Maybe she’s one of the few women in my life to ever understand what it means to be a good woman. And maybe as a kid, it blinded me from the reality that I’d face as I grew older, when that gender would come to mean more to me—that women, for the most part, just don’t get it anymore. And maybe it’s the realization that a good woman is such a rare thing to find that brought my heart into this accelerated descent that I can’t pull out of. In the end, it’s a scary thought. What do I do with that?

Not to say I think all women have missed the mark, granted. But I do wonder why, out of more than a thousand examples to shape my view, only fifty or so seemed to get the point.

In the end, I’m just frustrated. If not for the media blitz of Bennifer, Brangelina, Ronald (Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump—one can hope for such a pairing), Maybelline, Victoria Secret, and Budweiser, then I probably wouldn’t care that there are so few good women out there who might respect me. But add that to the endless words buzzing my ears at work, the endless surveys poking my chest on MySpace (which I usually don’t read, but you get the point), and pretty much 95 percent of the things and the people I encounter each day telling me it’s so bleeding important, and I can’t help but to kind of care. So the frustration mounts when good women chase after dirty guys, when bad women creep around in their shadows, and all women think I’m a nice guy and therefore must run for the hills.

Of course, I’m probably responsible for most of my broken state. And that’s the point here: I’m tired of letting these creatures with their psychological imbalances (not the fifty or so good ones that actually take sensible risks and demonstrate a fair amount of strength in the face of chaos) shape my identity. And more so, I’m tired of dwelling on the ones who broke my heart.

I hope by writing this journal, I can start releasing the hurt, to claim that I won’t be beaten by unfairness or disrespect. Though, I know I’m taking a great risk in posting it, since it might consequently leave me branded as a jerk (or at least a misguided soul). But then, that assumes the people labeling me in such a way think they know me, when the truth is, they don’t, and I’m far from this.

Of course, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that we guys aren’t screwed up, too. (My father didn’t get the point, and it often pissed me off that a careless guy like him still ended up with a good woman. And maybe that lessened my mom’s quality—she herself would admit that she can’t choose a good man worth crap, probably because there are fewer good men in this world than there are good women—and, to be honest, that’s part of my gripe with women—that they can sit here telling me I’m a great guy, and then go run off with some complete A-hole who doesn’t give a flying flip about them (my dad cared, granted, he just had a LOT of baggage that he couldn’t shake and it wrecked the family).) But, as a man, I know where I’m weak and I know where I’m strong, and I’m at least trying to improve on those areas where I’m not the latter. Therefore, for a girl to tell me I need greater intimacy with God because I admitted I was interested in her (and was hurt that she didn’t reciprocate) is just disrespectful—it attempts to invalidate my relationship with God to get her off the hook, which frankly, I don’t need—and I don’t need such a wound infecting my identity. Like all men, I have my issues, too, but I’m still a good man as far as I know; unless there’s something I fail to see. But if everyone who’s taken the time to know me can agree to this, then it’s probably true.

The women to come and go in my life, friends and family alike, I care for. I still believe in Chivalry, even if everyone else thinks it’s dead, I still believe in kind words, and I still believe in that dangerous little word called “love.” To let resentment creep in about these same people just sickens me. That is my issue, and it’s something I’m giving to God, even as I type this. But to let go of the resentment, I have to accept the fact that the people I care about will continue with their issues, and I have to be man enough to deal with it. To let a few misguided souls try to make me into something I’m not so they can feel better—so they can feel less challenged (accepting that I have a deep nature), or conversely, let themselves continue with their own destructive habits (choose a jerk over a good man)—I just can’t accept that. I am who God made me, and I’m not going to apologize for that. My family accepts me, my close friends accept me, and most importantly, God accepts me. So why should I start becoming the A-hole? Why should I lower myself into the shallows so a girl won’t feel “crowded”? I won’t resent women anymore—why bother?—but I won’t lower myself to their standards, either. If they don’t want a good man, then that’s their problem. I’ve gone thirty years without a girl by my side—I think I’m getting pretty good at it.

The important thing here is that I let it go, that I stop letting the arrows of discontent pierce me.

My prayer: “Lord Jesus, spare me the burden of becoming something I’m not. Give me the grace to be who I am without accepting misguided influence, or to offer it back for the sake of pleasing others. Let truth speak through my lips, even when it’s hard to hear it. Put people in my life who will help me grow, but let me love those, still, who have been like weeds to me, and let me know which is which, that I might recognize life-giving words from the poisonous ones. Most of all, be enough in my life that these things, for better or worse, will be merely a side trip, where You are the Great Adventure. Let nothing, no woman, no circumstance, no hurtful thing steal my joy. Don’t let me slip into despair from a broken heart—what’s done is done, and it’s up to You to heal me now. Help me to let go of the things that have damaged me, but transform me with Your Spirit that they may not strike another successful blow. Shield me from Satan’s onslaught, as he will do whatever he can to destroy me. You alone are good, though I thank You for the blessings you give, and for seeing the good in me. Be who You are through me, and let not my identity or my faith be damaged. Give me Your grace that I might reflect it back to others, especially to those who’ve injured me. Give me the grace to forgive myself when I still fail in spite of these things. I love You and thank You for helping me through all things. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

7-11, Cherry Coke, and Judging My Identity

Originally posted to MySpace on:

February 25, 2007:

An Opening Narration:

It’s Sunday evening, the sky is overcast, a little damp, and the sun is a half-hour from retreating for the night. I got a late start this morning—4pm to exact—so I thought I’d make up some lost time by doing, well, nothing. Sunday is my first-priority chill day: a day that I prefer quiet, instead of rock bands on the radio; a day involving the adequate consumption of Starbucks and lemon-flavored pound cakes (usually at the same time); and a day spent reading a book or visiting another three hours in dreamland. Sunday, is what I like to call my “leave me alone” day.

But since life isn’t perfect, I decided to work on my novel editing today.

I started my revisions of Chapter 4 a week ago, and so far I’ve cut five pages. Not bad, considering the page count went from thirty-eight to thirty-three, but that’s still too much for one chapter. It’s also too much for my ADD, so after about twenty minutes of work today, I decided to walk down to 7-11 for a soft drink—for a recharge.

A Brief Description of Me:

Being a resident of upscale Palm Beach County, I like to dress presentably whenever I go out in public, you know, to fit in with society. Usually that means a pair of jeans, some kind of shirt, and flip-flops—sometimes because the beach will find its way into my itinerary, but mainly because I hate wearing socks. It’s what I do to blend in with the shallowness of this town.

It doesn’t change who I am, mind you, just what I look like.

But if the public means 7-11, I’ll usually go as I am. Today, that means lazing around in my blue-checkered shorts and a dark blue shirt with a pink bleach stain across the bottom, and, of course, my flip-flops. I’m also unshaven, which is a chronic habit of mine since I just hate shaving.

A Setup in Story Form:

To satisfy my ADD, I threw on my sandals, grabbed my wallet, and headed down the street toward the convenience store. A few minutes later, after passing through the ghettos of unincorporated Lake Worth, dodging a guy with a dog and another guy with a plastic bag, I reached my destination. It was there that I found my treasure: a bottle of Cherry Coke.

When I left the store with drink in hand, I passed a woman who might’ve been homeless, or just down on her luck, or up on her luck but chiseled with a tobacco problem; I couldn’t tell. She didn’t seem to notice me, so I kept walking. Further down the street, I passed a couple of guys riding their bikes to some unknown destination (a staple in this neighborhood as common as an airplane flying into an airport). Again, they had their place to go, and I kept walking. A couple of minutes later, I was home.

That’s when I started writing this blog—not my Chapter 4 rewrite, but this blog. What caused my derailment?

A Discussion of Identity:

I know who I am. I’m a laid-back guy in his early thirties who reads books, watches movies, writes fiction, drives a Honda, eats pepperoni pizzas, wears flip-flops, and likes to escape. In fact, if one were to put the sum of my superficial parts together, the escape theory is already defined. In the eyes of man, these things are often acceptable.

I’m also a man who waits until the absolute right time to make moves into the direction of his desires, ensuring that it’s the right thing and the right moment. Sometimes that means staying where he’s at, despite his angst, until the hour comes that a better opportunity arises. Sometimes that means having the ability to love someone fiercely for who they are, but backing off if that friendship isn’t flying or wanted. Sometimes that means fighting for contentment with situations, even when everyone else around him has what he wants. In the eyes of man, these things are risky.

I’m also a Christian who knows the freedom of Christ, but often forgets what that means, blaming myself for when things go wrong. I’m a struggling “journey” man who rarely takes things for face value, as face value often turns reality awry, but somehow accepts matters with naivete. I’m an explorer who has to pray everything on his heart until he finds something that fits God’s will, but gets discouraged when answers aren’t given. I’m an analytical mind that has to make sense out of every situation, when sometimes the answer is faith alone. In the eyes of man, these things are dangerous.

Anyone who might’ve seen me walking down the street this afternoon—in my scrubbed out clothes and unshaven face—would never pick this out about me. They wouldn’t know about the Honda or the freedom in Christ. They would just see some goofball in flip-flops walking through a ghetto. And this is assuming they would take notice at all.

And why should they notice me? Why am I any of their concern?

With that in mind, whom would they choose to notice? The rich man in the Mercedes? The model in the bikini? The celebrity in the tabloid? These people are regarded at levels most of us would never know. But who are they? Do they even know themselves?

I’m not rich, stellar in looks, or famous. Should I be jealous of the ones who are? What if I put on my nicer clothes, shaved my face, and walked through the ritzy district of Palm Beach? Would I be respected then? Maybe. Would I change who I am? No. What if I became any or all of the three (a rich and modelesque celebrity)? Would I be any less laid-back?

On my walk home, a father pulled out of a side street leading into a disheveled neighborhood. The first thing I thought about was what he did for a living. Was he a tradesman, a shop owner, or a civil servant? How much did he pay a month to live in his crappy neighborhood? Was his income high enough that he could buy a nice house in Alabama, but not enough to go above renting a roach-infested shack in South Florida? Did the difference even bother him?

The fact remains, God expects us all to make do with what we’re given. If we’re given a lot, we’re to take care of a lot. If we’re given little, then we don’t have much to concern us. Our wealth on earth isn’t an issue if we have contentment. The problem is with pride.

I’m sure a restaurant like the Rainforest Café has great food and great atmosphere. The rich can eat there and look good doing it as much as they want. But would it satisfy their stomachs any better than Applebee’s would satisfy the stomachs of the ghetto residents?

And what of Donald Trump? Can we honestly believe that he doesn’t spend the occasional Sunday sitting in his living room in just his underwear while drinking a beer?

Rich men look down on poor men, while poor men envy rich men, but why? Who’s the better of the two when all things pass away? Doesn’t Jesus promise riches in Heaven to all that believe in Him? Should the fact that I sleep in a garage bother me when this same garage kept the rain off my head an hour ago? Don’t mansions and wooden shacks provide the same primary amenity: shelter? Why should status get in the way of respect?

I’m not writing this out of any particular emotion. It was just something I thought about while I took my walk, and thought it was worth sharing. Pride and envy, evidently, have their place in the Seven Deadly Sins for a reason. When all that’s stripped away, we still have our identities and our love of others to discover, two things that are glossed over when societal corruption gets in the way.

A Digression into My Heart:

Having said all of this, I find it’s still hard to accept that reality, especially when circumstances test its mettle.

After a season of peace, I started getting antsy about my life’s place again. I’m a struggling writer with this beast of a project I can’t seem to finish (I have twenty of these chapters to edit). I wait tables for a living, which, quite frankly, I hate doing. I no longer appreciate living in South Florida. I’ve pushed people I cared deeply about out of my life. I’ve been waiting for God to heal my broken heart. I’ve felt, in a sense, disoriented.

Last Monday, a friend of mine in Washington (the state) used a phrase that encouraged my rediscovery of joy in the Lord. He said, as a prayer, “Lord, be who You are through me.” He wasn’t saying, “let me emulate You.” He was saying, “Live through me. Let who I am be who You are through me.” It brought the essence of identity back into perspective. He also told me about a change that he had made in his own prayer life. For years he prayed that God might take away the things that caused him to stumble, but the Spirit told him recently that there was a better thing to ask for. Instead of asking for things to be taken away, the prayer should’ve been, “Transform my heart so that these things no longer sway me.” Perhaps that was asking for things to no longer define us, but letting God alone define us, making our hearts pure and un-butchered. That was the way I understood it anyway, that taking things away was merely a plea for escape, whereas transformation invites strength in character.

I’ve spent the last week dwelling on these prayers, allowing God to reshape who I am. Not that anything of the sort would happen overnight, but I certainly felt more peace over my circumstances lately: accepting my place in South Florida, but waiting on an opportunity to go somewhere else; accepting my position as a server, but trusting that the season will end soon; accepting the abandonment of trusted friends, but believing that God will eventually send someone into my life who understands who I am and can accept it. Allowing God’s peace into my life allowed me to have a great week, too.

Of course, being that I’m human, those feelings of contentment have the ability to waver. This weekend proved that.

With me knowing my weakness, the walk, therefore, put me into a moment of reflection. Why am I so eager to bolt out of here? Perhaps the fact that I escaped my moderately quiet bedroom to hear loud rock music blasting through the house influenced my relapse into ill-content. Why am I so hell-bent on getting a solid career? Perhaps the looming debt I can’t penetrate because my income is so poor from serving cheapskates entered my mind for a moment. Why am I so torn asunder from weak-hearted women? Perhaps thinking about the friends who always had the right thing to say, but didn’t want my friendship anymore sent me into a moment of despair. Trying to find contentment in the things that tested my will for years was a battle in of itself.

But it’s one I’ll always have to fight.

A Conclusion of Points:

As I said earlier, I’m not writing this with any particular emotion. I just think I’ve learned some great lessons this week and I wanted to share them with whoever might listen. I’m not perfect, never will be, and this blog isn’t trying to convince others that I am. But I am more valuable than I might appear (in a spiritual sense; I’m still pretty broke financially), and I think I deserve to respect who I am. It’s no one else’s place to judge my heart or my character, and God, quite frankly, has me where He wants me. My job is to remember that and to take joy in it and to keep inviting His healing when things go wrong.

Even in Heaven, I’ll be who I am, even if my Cherry Coke won’t follow me. There’s no reason to start compromising my identity over stupid stuff now.

A New Bloody Year

Note: I’m not sure if I ever posted this. I think it may actually be a series of letters that I had planned to tack together in one blog, or maybe a series of MySpace bulletins that I strung together into one file. I’m not sure, and looking at the original document, I can see that I never finished it. Probably decided there was no point. Obviously, the mood behind it was one of great frustration. I remember the time period, and it was a troubled one. I was a week away from losing two important friendships (which thankfully both have been repaired since then) that I felt was coming. I had questions spinning around in my head about purpose, fulfillment, and whatnot. It was a season when I was trying to gain some equilibrium in my heart, mind, body, and spirit. It was also a time when I felt like I was losing people’s respect and didn’t understand why. It was just a mess of a time.

This isn’t a blog made for enjoyment. It gets harsh at points, proof that I am not perfect or always chill. But I think it also gets to a few important points that are still worth sharing, so I’m back-posting anyway. I’m posting it in its complete form, including the subject tabs that I never filled in, just because I think it should be unaltered. Not everything is bleach clean with me.

Introduction (Date: Jan. 29, 2007 / Mood: Frustrated):

I rarely journal, and when I do, it’s usually about heartbreaking stuff that I can hardly bring myself to read again. And in most cases it’s a waste of time. But I do think it’s worth it to journal when I have something to share, and I think, for this one moment in time, I have something to share.

This is partly because there’s a whole slew of you out there who have no idea what’s going on with me these days. You might’ve gotten my endless run of promotional stories when I was hyping the arrival of my third book a few months ago, which is out now, by the way—seeing as how no one has yet to buy a copy, it’s hard for me to know if the word is out—but that’s only part of the story—a very small part.

There are three pursuits that define me these days: the spiritual (the Christian journey), the economical (the freedom from the dead end market), and the relational (the quest for heterosexual courtship). I suppose you could tack on the hobbyist pursuit in there, too (the hope to become a better writer), but I think that loosely ties into all three categories in some mish-mashed kind of way.

Now, before I go on, I realize that some of you probably don’t like to get mass emails. Chances are that you get about a hundred junk letters a day, and that getting one more mass email might be enough to send you over the edge, sending you into that horrible frenzy of delete, delete. At least one of you has asked me to stop sending those stories back when I was trying to share my works with all of you, but clarified that you were okay with receiving updates about MY LIFE. Okay, well, just to clarify, this is an update on MY LIFE. If you (and I mean this to all of you, not just the one person who thought he/she had too much to read already) feel as though this is a violation against your mailbox space, then please let me know and I will promptly take you off my “People I’m Happy to Know” List. Since you’re mailbox space is clearly more important than MY LIFE, I’ll say my goodbye to you here and now, as I don’t want heartless strangers on my contacts list.

Also know that I’ll be sending this both through my email and through MySpace mail, since many of you are on one but not the other; and others still are on both, but only check your email once a month, where conversely you’re on MySpace every freakin’ day, which, quite frankly, doesn’t make any sense to me. So if you get this twice, well then that means I love you twice as much (or that I don’t think you’ll get one of them, which is more likely), and that should make you proud.

Now, having gotten the bureaucratic element out of the way, I will now give you the January 2007 update on things, which will probably sum up the last three years of my life (or thirty, I don’t know). I’ll start by discussing the spiritual things.

The Spiritual Things (Date: Jan. 30, 2007 / Mood: Solemn):

The spiritual side of life has been up and down, mostly, which is probably evident given my tone of voice—that mild dash of sarcasm that only comes out when I feel like nothing else is going on at a time when I need something else to go on. I think the heart of my struggles these days, and probably, quite honestly, for the last many years, is that I’m burned out with all the waiting I have to do to see fulfillment. Since childhood, there have been specific needs I wanted met (the first greatest need involving a personal issue that I don’t want to get into), that took far too long to reach an answer—a length that might’ve been responsible for making me into a better man, but not without also making me into a humiliated man. The challenges to follow those days of patience have been wrought with endless days of waiting for answers, some of which have been answered favorably, while others, I’m disappointed to say, have been answered with tragedy. So now, in my thirtieth year of life, I’ve learned quite well what it means to be patient, but have also learned what it means to lose strength and be shaken.

One of the greatest side-books I read in recent years, aside from the Bible, an inspirational book called Waking the Dead, reminded me that there is a spiritual war going on. Specifically, in one example, the author brings to light a tale (which he borrowed from a passage in the Bible, I seem to recall, but I don’t remember where exactly) about a man (Paul, maybe?) who prayed fervently for an answer to his dilemma, something of which he demanded come immediately, which was a big thing considering the people of those days didn’t have microwaves, and thus weren’t quite as swayed by the temptations of instant gratification, but did not receive that fulfillment for two straight weeks. When the angel delivering “the package” finally arrived, he had to apologize to Paul for being so late (I don’t know that it was Paul, but for the sake of this message, we’ll pretend it was him). The prayer was supposed to be carried out immediately, but the angel was stuck fighting demonic opposition for two straight weeks, so the answer was delayed until the smoke cleared. Pretty crazy stuff, in retrospect. So I guess the moral of this story is that as burnt-out as I am with all this waiting for answered prayers, I’m not going unheard.

And that’s something I keep failing to remember, because I’ve been falling hard into that bad habit of blaming God for ignoring me. He’s not ignoring me; it’s just that Satan and his agents are busy at work trying to thwart the delivery of those blessings I need.

Some of you may or may not know, I’ve been going to an evening study group on Wednesday nights. A few weeks ago, the current group facilitator told us about a book he was reading about prayer. In this book, the author talks about praying with specifics—like really deep specifics. For example, instead of a person who walks everywhere praying for just a car, that person should pray for specific details, like a car that runs, one that’s fuel efficient, one that can fit four people, one that doesn’t rust easily, etc. The logic here is that praying for just a car, while is technically enough, is still allowing room for Satan to intercept the basics to throw in his own twisted details, like a car that breaks down every other week (and I can tell you with experience that this is no helpful detail) for example. Keeping that in mind, I’ve been paying more attention to what I actually ask for, trying to decide if what I’m asking for is really what I want (or need), and then sealing the prayer with a request for the Spirit to “close any window and seal any crack” that I might’ve missed in my prayer that the enemy might try using against me. This is still a new thing for me, granted, and one I’m trusting will shape the way I pray, but others in the group have been praying that way and seeing positive results through it.

Of course, it would be naïve of me to think that everything I ask for is the right thing. My other great struggle is trying to understand God’s will for my life, which I’ve allowed to be the base direction of my future, whether it fits my desires or not. And that’s a tricky thing because I’m not entirely sure that my desires are in line with God’s will. It may be a case for the seemingly eternal waiting session I have to endure for certain prayers (two chief prayers of which I’ll discuss as this journal segues into other topics soon). But then I keep thinking that I wouldn’t have these desires so deep rooted if there wasn’t purpose for their fulfillment, and thus I keep waiting for the pieces to come together. So, that’s an area of my heart that still struggles. I’m sure I’m in good company with that one.

I think the greatest casualty to come from the waiting game, and the uncertainty game, and even the “spiritual battle” game, which is that thing I alluded to earlier about the angel getting tangled up with opposition, is that my trust in God to answer specific things continues to teeter. I trust His capability, mind you. He’s God, the Creator of the world, the Maker of me, and is, certainly, the One able to shape me however He wishes. But having a biological father who stole from me more than he gave, I haven’t quite gotten the hang of believing, without doubt, in God’s provision for the things I ask for. My ability to trust, while sparked, still comes peppered with little flecks of doubt. And again, it’s not in God’s ability that I struggle with—it’s His willingness. Yes, I can trust Him for the things He’s already proven Himself with (food, water, shelter, even income when poverty is looming). But the stuff that satisfies my heart (a job I’d actually like, a good woman to stand beside me, even a clearly defined purpose—like writing an essay that would change the world, or God help me, a childhood desire to rescue a maiden from a maniacal terrorist—yeah, I’m a dork), those are the areas that come with potholes. Does He have the ability to satisfy such desires? Absolutely. Will He? I’m still waiting to find out. This brings about my brooding question: if I was named after the “Weeping Prophet” (which I was, by the way), does that mean I have to share in his severe frustration, in his same place of futility? It sure feels like it sometimes. His calling was to preach to a nation who didn’t listen, and I often feel like I’m stuck doing the same stinking thing. For those of you who are familiar with my opinions about busyness drowning out relationship, you’ll know this struggle, for most of you (and America for that matter) still put busyness ahead of the people you love. And the fact that you’ll still procrastinate returning a phone call so that you can finish that client report (or whatever you do for the sake of being busy) proves it. So yeah, I put myself out there, try to be heard, and yet no one listens. That adds yet another hurtle to my quest to trust God with my prayers, for sometimes I feel like He’s not listening, or is, but doesn’t care—which brings me back to the top of this discussion, and incidentally, brings me back to that place of spiritual frustration.

I suspect those of you still reading are ready for a break, so I’ll give you this moment to pause and maybe get a drink. But please come back. I promise, it won’t take as long to read this as it’s taking me to write it; and I’m only writing because I want to be heard, not because I want to purposelessly hack away at my keyboard. I’m putting my novel (my busyness) on hold for this (my relationships). Sorry if that’s a foreign concept to you, of course, but I want to let you know what’s going on, and maybe, in some way I’ll never know, help you through your own issues.

Okay, are you well nourished now? Good, let’s continue.

The more important matter to the spiritual side of my life is not the problems with futility, but with the whole acceptance of grace.

I do not have a problem with the way God handles salvation. For a man to come to the Father, he must first go through the Son. It’s a straightforward cause, backed up with prophesy and witnesses (most of which can be read in Isaiah and the Gospels, for those of you who are completely lost on this concept). And though I have difficulty trusting Him for certain prayers (let’s call it what it is, I have a problem thinking I’m worthy of these blessings—which is more of a psychological problem wrought with qualifiers than a spiritual one, which is honestly only disrupted by demonic opposition and maybe the occasional misalignment with God’s will), I don’t have a problem trusting Him with salvation. If God didn’t love me, He wouldn’t have made me, or given me this earth to walk upon. If He didn’t want me crossing the eternal divide for that blessed chance to hang with Him on His own turf, He wouldn’t have placed all His cards on the table with the sacrifice of His perfect Son for my sake (or yours, or your mom’s, or anyone else you can think of who has two feet and a brain, or one foot and half a brain should the case apply). Sacrifice like that doesn’t come cheaply, so for me to discredit it as myth or “a nice idea” would be pretty frickin’ inconsiderate. If God told me I had to sacrifice my son (which I don’t have yet, I’m just making a point) to let him save some yahoos (strangers and friends alike) from a burning building (or a terrorist bomb, or whatever would kill them), I’d be pretty insulted if they turned around and said “screw you” at his picture in the obituaries. Likewise, I’d consider them thick in the head if they denied that he ever saved them. So, because such a sacrifice can only be attributed to love—and because there were witnesses at the cross, and later at the tomb, despite what “visual proof seekers” like to doubt—I’m inclined to trust His sacrifice, and also His ability to save me. If God didn’t love the world, we never would’ve heard the name of Jesus (a vagabond carpenter who never traveled more than fifty miles from his hometown), or continue to talk about Him two thousand years later—consecutively. Thousands of kings have walked this world, and I could only name you a handful, and that’s only after looking them up in history books. But a homeless guy? Only God could come up with that one.

Of course, I could always regard Jesus as myth, and the Bible as nothing but a collection of stories, and thus nullify the value of salvation (which would be quite depressing in the long run, because where would any of us go from here?). But then, I could also regard George Washington as myth. After all, I never met the man, nor have I met anyone who’s met him, so who’s to say he was ever here, or did what the books say he did? And what of my high school history books? How do I know they weren’t fabricated by some bored storyteller who came up with these crazy stories of American Revolution one summer afternoon in 1904—as some cruel joke to make me waste an hour of my day sitting in a classroom? Certainly, they were written under the same fundamentals as biblical history. Why shouldn’t I regard Washington as a mere myth? Oh, right—because there were witnesses of his actions. Oh, yeah—I forgot about those historical relics in all those Washington museums from his time. Just like I forgot about all those historical elements that proved the Bible as a history book, and not merely a book of myth, elements like the miracle stones that were plucked from the Red Sea and stacked on the shoreline after Moses parted it; just like the very existence of Jesus was proven through various accounts that detailed the specific elements of His day, like dated scrolls that talk about Him in the moment, or of his great miracles, the most telling one being the fact that His tomb is still empty. Yeah, I can’t regard Him as myth, nor can I accept His salvation as “a nice idea.” As much as I struggle with the fulfillment of specific joys for my emotional well being, the core of my faith still holds strong.

I got off on a tangent there, but I was trying to work my way into talking about grace. The other important lesson I’ve been absorbing this year is the principle behind grace, which is to accept the fact that Jesus came for me, died for me, and saved me out of love, not out of loan. I haven’t earned it; I received it.

Okay, that’s the foundation of the Christian faith. I can’t sit here telling you about my twenty-four years of Christianity, and somehow leave you with the idea that I’m just now getting it. No, this fundamental has been engrained in me since childhood. The trip up, and the same trip up that has snared most of us throughout our entire relational experience with God, is the very thing that has cheapened out relationship with God. And that’s the idea that works sustain our salvation.

They don’t. Even the most wretched of us can be saved. Even that pedophile that we want to shoot, as much as we disapprove of his past (or his present if the case applies), can still receive salvation if he wants it. The thing most of us struggle with, and I’ve been guilty of it for years, is thinking that one little slip-up, like saying the F-word for example, is the gateway to losing God’s love. We think to be Christian means being good. But, on the contrary, being good comes from loving God, not the other way around. There are plenty of good people who are peddling hard against the wind; likewise, there are plenty of sinners who are riding Jesus’ motorcycle into the horizon. Our actions only compliment our identity in Christ; they don’t define it. That’s essentially, the lesson I’ve been taking to heart lately. That I can say the word “damn” in anger—not that I want to, mind you—but still be saved, and still be loved. In the end, it’s my heart that matters to God, not my “perfection.” If I cut someone off in traffic deliberately, that person will want my head on a stick, but God will still keep His arms wide open, waiting for me to talk to Him, waiting for me to understand that He hasn’t condemned me for my reckless action. That’s what we Christians have spent many tireless nights forgetting, and I’m glad that some ministries are starting to step up and address that—instead of trying to convince me that I’m out of God’s will if I don’t go on a mission trip or give my ten-percent tithe that week.

Whew. That’s a lot to share.

Well, that covers to some degree the spiritual side of me lately. It’s not everything (and you’re probably glad I’m not choosing to go into everything), but it covers the more important things that I wanted to write down (and share, subsequently).

The next three areas, as I explained earlier, have been greatly affected by my trust issues regarding prayer and action, so I wanted to get the spiritual side of things written first so that the remaining areas would have a foundation to stand on, and would also open up the floor (for those interested in responding) for encouraging words that might help me figure out what I’m looking for, or if I’m on the right track in finding what I’ve been pursuing—or pointing out anything that I might’ve missed.

I also want to give you a chance to take another breather if you need it.

The Economical Things:

(talk about graduating college, going straight to Olive Garden, ping-ponging with job interests, the teaching exam and subsequent substitute nonsense, the move, the post office)

The Relational Things:

(the various heartbreaks, the various stand ups including lack of response, the loss of heart, the bad positioning, and whatever else comes to mind)

The Tacked-On Hobbyist Things:

(self-explanatory)

The Summation:

(end the stinking letter)

(talk about “Go Fish,” the battle with trust, the small group, the poor church attendance, and whatever else comes to mind)

Long Distance Strangers

Originally posted to MySpace on:

September 29, 2006

A guy you know sees a friend he knows sitting on a park bench in March. The air is cool, the lake smells of algae, and the birds chirp some rhythmic beat that you swear sounds like “She Will Be Loved” by Maroon 5, but it all seems trivial to the fact that the guy you know hasn’t seen the friend he knows in several years. Even on a nice spring morning, where Frisbees have the right of way, the guy you know (who we’ll call Billy from this point forward) breaks through the norm to say hi to his long lost friend.

As we ponder this scene for a moment, we can deduce a number of outcomes that dear old Billy will face:

1. Billy walks up to the friend and smiles as the friend immediately recognizes him. The two bond like the days had never passed, and wind up fishing in the algae-covered lake just moments later.

2. Billy feels hesitant at first—it’s been a long time since he’s seen this friend and doesn’t know if the friend will remember him—but takes the chance anyway because the friend is sitting in a reachable place, and Billy recognizes that no place is better than the one that’s accessible. When he approaches the friend, his fears are alleviated. The friend, of course, pats Billy on the back, because no friend of Billy’s would ever forget him. The two celebrate the reunion by stopping at McDonald’s for lunch.

3. The seasons have drifted uncontrollably throughout the years, yet Billy feels responsible for losing contact with this friend, so he makes the effort to say hello—whether through guilt or curiosity, only God and Billy know. Turns out, the friend admits to that same feeling of responsibility, and the two, therefore, reconnect through the laughter about how crazy the world has gotten since the ‘90s.

And many other happy outcomes are possible from such a joyous reunion.

But, that’s not what happens. The story that really happens follows:

Billy knows it’s been a long time—the last time he saw this friend, he was moving away. But, he tried his best to stay in contact. Phone calls, emails, letters—he did his part to keep the connection alive. But somehow, his efforts had failed. After numerous attempts to keep this friend in his circle, he gave up. Long distance claimed another victim, and Billy was left dangling the phone cord.

After all these years, he, by no surprise, feels nervous to approach this friend, but confident that lost time will vanish in an instant.

Because, that’s the way friendships work.

Boldly, he approaches his friend, ready to bridge the edges of time, hoping he still knows what makes the friend laugh. But, the friend, in some twisted act of fate, throws him a curveball.

“Hey, remember me?” says Billy.

He waits for an answer, but the friend stares at the lake.

“It’s me, Billy. We hung out a few years back. Remember?”

The friend yawns; then pulls out a book.

“How’s life been?” Billy continues. “I’ve been doing well. I invented a backpack for Rollerbladers that prevents them from falling forward, though I’m still working on the stomach pack. How about you?”

The friend starts reading the book, but sets it down to answer a ringing cellphone.

“Hello?” says the friend, to the cellphone. “Nothing, just reading. How are you?”

Billy stands at the park bench for a few minutes while he waits for the preoccupied stranger to finish the phone conversation. When he realizes there’s no end in sight, he calmly waves goodbye and returns to the life he knew ten minutes before.

And that’s the last he sees or thinks about the stranger that he once called “friend.”

Now,

I know what you’re thinking:

“This is farfetched. What friend would be so rude?”

Excuse me?

Why is this rude? Billy clearly had no place in this friend’s life. The past might have told a different tale, but it isn’t the past that defines him now, is it? Just because he was a friend back in the day, doesn’t mean he is a human being today, does it?

Here’s what you should be thinking:

“What kind of genius did he think he was, approaching the stranger like that? Didn’t he see that the person was busy? Too busy, in fact, to acknowledge him? If he had looked in the mirror that day, he would’ve seen, quite plainly, that he was a moron, thinking he might be important to an old friend. Complete tomfoolery.”

What? You’re not thinking that? But, aren’t you the one that ignores me in the same way? Aren’t you the one that lets my voicemail and email greetings sit in your inbox for years without response? How could you not be thinking that?

Here’s the thing:

I understand that distance creates rifts in friendships. I’m not going to argue that it doesn’t. The problem I have is that rifts do not equate total abandonment. Sure, any of my friends (or distant family members, as the case may be) can go weeks, months, or even years without initiation, and I’ll accept that as the way life is. People drift, just as the planks of a shipwreck drift—there’s no stopping it. That’s not my issue.

The issue I have deals exclusively with rudeness. If someone sends a message—voicemail, email, or some other form of communication—that elicits a response, then by all means say something. It doesn’t have to be the next great epic. It doesn’t even have to be a paragraph. Just answer the bloody question. If it’s a generic, “How are you?” then pretend that my initiative question is a sign that I still care, and that a simple answer such as, “I’m fine,” even if you’re not, is a sign that you still care.

Last I checked, that’s called “common courtesy.”

As much as I like writing, I don’t like writing complete garbage that I know will fall on deaf ears, so assume that this message has been eating away at my soul for years. Also assume that I wouldn’t write this if I didn’t think it important enough for you to see that truth.

And don’t assume this is geared toward any one particular person. This is geared toward most of the people I know, and anyone else who might happen across this journal who thinks he or she is too important to pay attention to the lives around him. Just because we all have our own private worlds doesn’t make us the center of the one Big World—the one that everyone else lives in. As busy as you are, pretend, at least, that you still have the time to not be a jerk. It’ll make the rest of us happier, and possibly more productive.

Here’s a reprieve:

Obviously, there’s a point where dialogue has to end. I’m not making an issue over who gets last rites over the conversation. I’m simply saying, if someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time says, “hello,” then say hello back. If he or she asks you about your favorite color, either tell him, or tell him that it’s against your religion to speak of such matters—just tell him something. Sooner or later, there will be a breather. Just ride it out. It’s hard enough to wait on the blessings of life; we don’t need it coming in additional doses of old friends ignoring our hellos, too.

What human being does that, by the way? That’s the equivalent of asking your friend to hold a lit stick of dynamite for you while you search for a foxhole. Makes me wonder why any of us bother.

If this is harsh, then suck it up, because that’s your conscience telling you to get with the program. No one’s asking you to a movie. I’m just asking you to show some courtesy.

And if you truly don’t have time to respond, then leave a polite message saying so. For all I care, you can send a copy/pasted default message saying you’re busy right now—anything to prove that you’re still alive and functional.

Let’s pretend our parents did a good job making us into ladies and gentlemen, okay? Is that too much to ask?

All right, I’m done now.

A Case for Beauty

Originally posted to MySpace on:

April 2, 2006:

Referring to points made in the book, Captivating, by John and Stasi Eldredge:

I’m the first to admit that I don’t read as much as I’d like. It’s a shame too because there’s a lot to learn from reading. I suppose there’s a lot to learn from watching the Discovery Channel too, but the point still applies. I just don’t do enough of it. Not that I need more knowledge or anything—I barely use the knowledge I have. But it’s a shame to waste away the knowledge that I do have, or avoid the knowledge that I could have.

I think the area of advice might come into play here for a moment. “Ironic” by Alanis Morrisette has a line in the chorus (in the midst of a list of ironic things) that states, “it’s the good advice that you just didn’t take, and who would’ve thought it figured? Isn’t it ironic?” My response, of course is yes, yes it is. What almost seems miniscule in the sight of lines and stories that include spending an entire life being afraid to fly, just to have the plane crashing on the first flight, or sitting down after a hard day to drink an elegant glass of Chardonnay, just to find a freakin’ fly swimming in it (I guess wine drinkers are picky about that sort of thing), or meeting the person of your dreams and then meeting the spouse; a line about good advice seems almost cheesy. But, if that good advice can change a life, and it’s not taken, what then? Well, it sucks actually.

Good advice can come out of reading a book. Strange but true. If you read a book about finances, it’ll probably offer tips about how to invest wisely. Chances are the book wouldn’t have gotten published if the author didn’t know what he was talking about. Researchers and experts in the field typically research that stuff before it hits the shelves, so odds are high that the methods described are sound (maybe not the best—there are after all a number of books on the same subject, but still reasonable). And that would be a fine indicator that the advice given would be advice worth following. And for someone to deny the advice, and ultimately end up in the poor house, might be a good indicator that the advice should’ve been followed.

Okay, so what does all this have to do with beauty? Well, I think it has more to do with reading at the moment. Last night I read a chapter of the latest book by John Eldredge (co-authored with his wife), to which it talks about the beauty that God made into woman. It points out the subtle fact that most art down the ages portrays woman as a work of beauty, but doesn’t do the same for a man. If I were to thumb through an art book right now, I’d probably have to agree with them. For every portrait of a man out there, there are probably at least twenty-five to a hundred portraits of a woman. If I were slow on the draw, I might fail to see the truth in this.

According to the Book of Genesis (that’s in the Bible for those who are unaware), woman was created last, as the pinnacle of creation. That’s actually quite impressive, now that I think about it. This book I’m reading describes it as the crescendo to a great symphony. But it also does more—it describes woman as the image of the beauty of God. Where we (men) are supposed to be the warriors of God (and boy do I feel like I’ve fallen off the wagon in that department), women are supposed to be the romance of God—the part of God that says, “take me with you, get to know me, etc.” By the time I got to the end of this chapter (after having to stop many times to meditate on how much truth I’ve overlooked most of my life), I realized exactly what it was that I’ve missed with God. I’m so busy expecting him to be the father I no longer have, that I forget that he just wants me to investigate his glory, explore it, and take it with me. That he wants to be recognized as the source of healing beauty, and as all the other attributes that define beauty. I don’t want to go into too many details about the other points made because that would basically ruin the beauty of the words written (summaries tend to do that), but it got me to realize what I’ve been missing.

I suppose that’s one reason why I like to visit the beach so much (or rather why I go there when I really need my heart back, after wasting it on stupid things). It’s a place where I feel refreshed—where God’s natural beauty restores me. If not for that, I’d be a mental case. Thanks to work, and pettiness, and stupid gossip, and all the other things that surround me or pick at me, my will to walk into the next day steadily decreases. But, thanks to the beauty God has allowed to step before me (in this case the beach and sometimes the park), I have a chance to recharge.

So far I might not be saying anything particularly impacting. So far I’m hyping up the beauty of God without really making it real. I suppose anyone and everyone has his place, but I know there’s so much mud in the world that it’s often hard to see true beauty. I’d like to hang out in that rolling field in a mid-summer’s evening, but a train wrecked nearby, and I can see it from the hill. I’d love to sail off the coast of Hawaii, but the frequent shark attacks have turned the water red. I’d love to spend an evening hanging out with this physically attractive woman, but her chain smoking makes me sick (and her boyfriend probably wouldn’t appreciate it anyway). It seems wherever I’d like to find beauty, something’s out there trying to ruin it. Even when the burden of my heart becomes so weighted that I can’t even bring myself to the beach (because this time it just isn’t strong enough), it becomes overwhelming. In those times I have to force myself to let go of the baggage. If I can’t let go, I can’t really appreciate what I have around me. And how am I supposed to think about the beauty of God when I can’t really see God, just his creation?

That was the point in my reading when I had to stop for awhile and think about this. The beauty of God—what is that really? I’ve never seen God face-to-face, so how can I know what true beauty is, if everything in my world is only an image? Only an image? The ocean, the sunrise, the rainforest, the tiger, the zebra, the desert, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand? Only an image? Woman? Only an image? What the heck have I been ignoring? If these are only the images, then how beautiful, pray tell, is the source? If an Elven forest like Lothlorien (in the Lord of the Rings movies) is merely an image of a mind created by God (in the same way that a political cartoon is only an image), then what level of amazement comes from the source?

The thing I realized here was that everyone at the end of his or her life will see this beauty, experience this healing, be overwhelmed by this joy. And some will be invited to enter in and share with it forever. Lying down next to a crystal waterfall, the woman you love in her best sundress next to you, God smiling down at you from all around, and no one bugging you to pay your bills, or your taxes. The freedom of flying without a plane, or the freedom of racing without a speed limit. And those are just appetizers. And yet, many others won’t get that far. Many others will catch that glimpse of God for only a moment before finding out that he never knew them, and that they missed their chance—that they ignored the good advice.

In the case for salvation, I’ll admit that I’m not the best warrior in town. I’ve let friends and family come and go without ever sharing the glory of God. When I’m too busy complaining about how much I hate my job, or too busy hyping up my own works (an offshoot of pride if I’m not careful), or too busy judging someone wrongly, I fail to see the avenue in which to speak up and say, “hey, your constant partying and empty promiscuity really won’t add to your life—and you’re better than that. Why don’t you explore the true source of your joy and beauty instead?” Nope, it’s a lot easier to talk about Spider-Man (another creation from a mind created by God—beautiful and adventurous and heroic and unique).

And it’s no wonder that people are afraid to warm up to this. God is often seen as the “man upstairs” (i.e. the man who sees, but isn’t with you; the man who observes, but looks down on you). No one thinks of him as the “being who shares,” or the “being who pursues,” or if we’re referring to the feminine characteristics, the “being who captivates,” or the “being who heals,” and the list goes on. And why shouldn’t we be afraid? It’s a frightening thing to experience true beauty. On a personal note, I finally realized the reality of this last night when I thought back to a moment a year ago when I couldn’t contain the beauty in front of me. At first I saw the beauty (yes, we’re talking about a girl here, not a waterfall or anything) as something unique, but not necessarily “pretty.” Even though the prettiness was there, it wasn’t safe. It’s actually kind of hard to explain, but think of it as a lioness. Lionesses are beautiful creatures, but they scare the hell out of you when you see them face-to-face (assuming there’s no cage between you). I had the same reaction when I really stared this beauty in the eye. It was like the beauty was there and evident, but my eyes were so allured and ultimately made dizzy from the reality of beauty that I could no longer look this beauty in the eye. It actually became too much for me to handle. Sometimes it’s like that with majestic things like mountains and oceans. Sooner or later it becomes too much. I often fear God in the same way. It’s no wonder that in our sinless state, we are physically unable to behold God in our sight, and that to do so would mean death. And yet, when this life is over and we enter into the next one, we’re able to see exactly what true beauty is (and can handle it, and embrace it), and want nothing more but to experience that forever.

So, it sucks when those of us who rejected that beauty in life for the safe pleasures of money and other temporary things face this reality, because what can they do then? Beauty becomes reality for a moment, but is promptly taken away, as a thief steals away one’s priceless possessions, and can never be reclaimed. Life thereafter is a life of mud, maggots, and complete darkness. Beauty may be dangerous, but it’s nurturing. Maggots may be easy to behold, but they’ll eat your eyes out.

People will always make excuses, but deep down we all want beauty. Sooner or later we’ll be able to behold true beauty, but we have to decide on that now. Beauty wants to come with us, but we have to invite it. Beauty wants to heal us, but we have to accept it. There’s no time for screwing around—that’s something that I can see clearly. Too much time has been spent in misery. Not enough has been spent in beauty. Even if I can’t see beauty’s source at the moment, I can still see beauty’s many images, and I think that’s motivation enough to pursue beauty’s source as a prince would pursue his tower-bound maiden.

What would I really have to lose?

Anyway, there’s still more to explore and more to read. But, so far this question of beauty has inspired me to stay persistent. I might have my days where I’m just not hanging in there very well, but fortunately, beauty is also a fierce warrior that doesn’t give up or let go. If somewhere along the line I should fall (and I will because I’m just so good at it), that heroic beauty will pick me up, and say, “here, brush yourself off and get back on the horse. There’s an adventure out there waiting for you.”

Something about that comforts like being under the covers in the middle of a rainfall with a cup of hot coffee by the bed. It’s the kind of thing that increases my desire to keep moving and to be a “man in motion”—the area of art where men are best portrayed.

God, help me embrace this and move with it. I’m tired of taking this stuff for granted.