The worst thing is when you think you are lacking any ill will toward others

The worst thing is when you think you are lacking any ill will toward others, and in fact you are in an incredible mood, but the faces you encounter beg to differ with you. The react to you as if you are scowling at them, and you guess that you must be. The worst thing is when you want to be a friend to others and they aren’t interested in your overtures of friendship.

There are things in this life that sweeten this, though. There is the undying hope, the great hope that comes from hanging on to faith. There is family and nature and art. There are dogs. There are the seasons that finally give you breath and light again when you thought that all of the oxygen or light was evaporating. There is a sense of the friend that is Jesus, a man and a deity who yearns to give his perfect love to those who would walk with him.

The best things are often clumped together in little islands called memories amid the vast oceans of despair and forgetfulness. But sometimes those islands become nothing more than mirages and are not places of refuge.

I am struggling with a question of whether the world is getting worse or my perspective is simply changing as I learn more about the world. I don’t think that everything is worse–clearly, there were plenty of things in the thirties and forties and long before then that were things that brought fear to the heart. People today seem to be less human in their destruction of one another. All of our killing and torture prior to the 20th Century was very human, but so was our love. The digital age seems to have dehumanized us in some way that is even a step beyond how the nuclear age and the age of the automobile, telephone and airplane dehumanized us. We are joyfully submitting to the notion that being a caricature or one-dimensional being is perfectly acceptable. And once someone is publicly shamed, all of the good they did is gone and they are to be forever remembered for the bad that they did. Maybe this will make us better humans in the long run, but right now, the world feels very sinister and out of whack with a man like Donald Trump leading the polls.

I know that much of this is likely the birth pains of a race that is evolving to be ultimately members of one kingdom or another. But, a lot of the aspects of my culture, as it is expressed on television or through major media outlets online, seems to have taken a nosedive straight into an alternate universe.

To be for sure, I’ve felt like I was part of some kind of alternate universe ever since H died and then 9/11 happened and my own life took a tailspin. But, I also thought I could depend upon things going a certain way, if not necessarily a good way. I thought that music would recover and produce more talent, but it seems to produce more shallow individuals each year who just want attention so they can make their millions to get out of music and start their own clothing line or whatever. The trend toward celebrating people simply because they are mouthy and rich seems to be an ever downward one with no upturns in sight. As much as I think a lot of things do cycle in this world, this trend appears to be a contradiction of that rule.

Part of the problem is that I am still too caught up in allowing myself to be affected by whatever is happening around me. I need to snap out of this and begin a real, (virtuous) habit-forming routine. I think about how little I’ve been reading and writing recently, and how much less I’ve been exercising, and I know that I just can’t blame it on the baby. I am letting him be a convenient excuse to avoid doing the things that would take me to a new place of existence–a new way of being–because it is comfortable to stay in this little rut of drinking beer and watching TV through most of the evening and sleeping until A has to go to work.

I can clearly see that in addition to 7 hours of sleep and taking care of L during the day, I have an easy 8 hours worth of time where I could be reading/writing/praying/doing physical exercise. That is more than enough time to finish most of my books, get my thoughts together, pray for others and get back in excellent shape. And this is for weekdays when L’s grandparents don’t visit. I clearly have more time than this on the weekend–and I could also be getting the house and my stuff in better order.

It’s not that I’ve grown completely lazy and content–I think that’s part of the problem. When I land in a state of utter laziness or gluttony, I can see quickly just how much I need to change. The problem is that I’ve gotten into a comfortable groove where I am not consuming enough to worry about causing us to fall deeply into debt, and I’m performing a minimal set of duties and obligations as a father and husband so that I am not perceived as being a deadbeat freeloader around the house. Nevertheless, there is still plenty to be done even in the arena of practical things, but also I am sorely lacking at performing very many activities that will ever see me become a significantly better man than the one that I currently am.

Of course, I can’t continue if I am still angry with people from my past

Of course, I can’t continue if I am still angry with people from my past. I actually have to begin praying to God to help them find it in their hearts to forgive me, because I am sure that the people I am angry with, along with many others, still hold some grudges against me–even grudges I am completely unaware of.

It isn’t enough just to stop being mad at so-and-so for what they did, I have to find it in my heart to actually experience some of God’s love for them.

I suppose I could start writing down their names, but maybe I can just practice switching to “love mode” every time I start to feel some old resentment. I should be praying to God fervently to be merciful with our nation. While we probably do deserve a Ted Cruz or Donald Trump to be our president, I really hope God has someone else in mind (and hope it’s not Hillary, either). Although, I would probably take Hillary over a lot of the Republican guys.

How do I experience love in my heart for ISIS? I guess maybe I should be praying that God puts more tenderness and mercy into the hearts of those ISIS members who haven’t gone completely over to the dark side.

Really, I should just be praying for Jesus to be among us, and forgive us for being such awful sinners, and to put the light of Love back inside of those of us who are not beyond saving yet. I do think that the power of prayer has kept the world from sliding into complete darkness, and that the disappearance of praying Christians who die due to old age or martyrdom is leaving us vulnerable to another kind of evil collection of dictators.

In my quieter moments of truly desiring to be free of my ego and full of Jesus’ Love, I start to experience in glimpses his tenderness and mercy, his kindness and compassion and forgiveness. Our own hearts and minds are the cracks through which we let his light into the world. The power of the Church was not to be found in the grandeur of Rome or in the staunch rigidity of reformers who were all too happy to burn heretics at the stake as well. The power was in the little people of the world, and it still is.

The praying, faithful souls who never once doubted that Jesus would protect them. These are the little ones who never left His arms. As more of them are called home and they are replaced by younger generations who turn their backs on Him, these little cracks of light are extinguished and not replaced.

For me, it always comes back to the response of my heart. No matter how far away I get from God, when I see or hear something that tears my heart apart, I feel the deep need to renew my relationship with Jesus. I groan inwardly at the horrors taking place in the world. It is a much more profound cry than the many cries of forgiveness for my own sins. Maybe I am not being completely honest with myself, but there are stories of others being harmed that tear me apart more than my own contrition. Perhaps it should be reversed, and I should learn to let my own contrition tear me apart like nothing else, in order to let Jesus in to completely heal me once and for all.

I do believe that more of Jesus is present in those places of the impossible–where all rational and scientific explanations fall short and hope could be extinguished. The wider and larger the chasm of hopelessness, the greater the triumph of the Spirit. So, while the horror and terror pervades a given time and place, it will be met with new faith like spring seedlings after a previously terrible summer of wildfires. Those innocent souls who lost their lives in the melee of it all will find comfort in the arms of the Spirit. He will not forget about them.

This is the beauty and the glory of God. When a Warrior is needed to slay enemies, He provides. When a Savior is needed to bring compassion and mercy to lost people, He provides. When a Comforter is needed for those who are running on their last fumes of hope and faith, He provides.

When I am exhibiting what others perceive to be goodness, I am, of course, not good. They are seeing what little of God’s goodness I’ve permitted to come into my heart and then leave as a gift for others.

Mornings, weekends, early fall, early spring

Mornings, weekends, early fall, early spring–these are the times when the air changes and no amount of distraction from the outside or attempts to focus the brain can change the fact that the mind will be bombarded with a million ways to become distracted again. Memories of things I did awake or in dreams–memories of things I wanted to do and only did in fantasies–memories of others that were communicated to me at some point. They are mostly pleasant distractions, not like the hard edges and annoying chirping of the people on TV. They don’t understand time.

Time means nothing to me when I become caught up in a sense-filled, rich memory from twenty years ago. So many times I rebooted myself in an attempt to become somebody better than the boy or man I was. Each time, the air was filled with promise, and usually the air was morning, weekend, early fall or early spring air. This time, I was going to get things right, and stay on the correct path to greatness. This time, I would find the magic thing to do that would please everyone in my life and God.

I cleaned my room, cleaned my apartment, cleaned my house. I made schedules to follow for each hour of the day. When I wasn’t in school or at work, and I wasn’t eating or sleeping, I would be up and exercising, reading books, writing things, drawing, learning piano or guitar, painting, contemplating, meditating–all of this great activity and industry would be carried out with a great sense of purpose and focus. One day, I would wake up and be a great man of some kind or another.

I often found myself completely disparaging this side of myself later, after a quick backslide into my old, unproductive habits took over and my dwelling became messy along with my own daily non-schedule.

It really is unfortunate that I never learned to love and cherish the crisp, structured side of me in such a way that I could see him has a little sapling or baby trying to take root and grow and become the main part of me, rich and full of worthy endeavors and righteous living. I always saw him as a foolish gym teacher of sorts, or a pesky father figure who had intruded on my pursuit of the Truth–a true way of being that was clearly supposed to be free of any rules whatsoever.

But, maybe this side of me was like a little mustard seed planted by God. Yes, He would still continue to love and nurture me even as I swerved off into pursuits of pure idolatry, forgetting almost entirely about the higher Good. And, perhaps because I always chose to devise schedules and plans and schemes that glorified me, God was more than happy to let them fall away into disuse without providing me any assistance.

Nowadays, the urgency of Time tends to keep me busy with at least some modicum of purpose-filled living. The running thread has been one of needing to at bare minimum pass on my DNA and tiny scraps of wisdom to a descendant, but also to find someone I can spend the rest of my life with so that I don’t die a young/old bitter man. Hence, the urge to stay in shape during my early thirties, and the surprisingly consistent way in which I would run, lift weights, ride a bike, do crunches, etc. throughout the year. Of course, following marriage all of this stopped, and I kind of lost the thread.

The flip side to the coin is that when I am seized by the mania of wanting to regiment my life and keep myself and dwelling clean, I tend to viciously criticize the more abundant and obvious side of myself–the sloth and procrastinator who does very little and eats and drinks and sleeps a lot in the name of being creative and “listening for the calling of the Lord.” Somewhere buried in the fat and bloat of this self is a legitimate person who needn’t be completely dismissed, but whose actual good needs to be recognized. It is, of course, a razor thin line between sitting quietly and listening for the Lord, and reclining into a daydream about the past or some impossible future that quickly turns into a nap.

In some ways, writing is the antidote to crossing that line, but even within writing, it is possible to become caught up in a detour into self loathing for past mistakes and futile wrath toward someone who slighted me ages ago.

In all of this, the missing ingredient has been, of course, a clear and steady focus on Love (ie, the universal Love that is God) and the even less relied upon focus on the Cross and all that it means for me. But, I have to continually thank God for being infinitely more patient with me than I am with Him or with myself and others.

In all of my college fantasies about wandering through the campus and crossing the quad and stumbling upon someone who would bring me infinite joy, I of course never once turned my focus to Jesus. In my awful state of being completely opposed to the idea of even setting foot inside a church it was understood by me that only The One, the mystical, magical girl who was at once a radiant, ravishing beauty and a complete and utter virgin would be the only One who could pull me out of my melodramatic, post-adolescent, sophomoric malaise.

Thank God I never found her. No doubt, she would have been the daughter of the devil himself, sent to completely and utterly keep me from ever knowing, loving and caring about the ways of Jesus and his Church again.

There were those nights I thought I could access a kind of Universal Love through some kind of automatic writing/meditation on Love itself, and become an enlightened being just like the Buddha. But, the ultimate goal was to achieve a quick fix to all the things about me that were less than perfect in the world’s eyes, so that I would be most attractive and agreeable to this hopelessly impossible girl.

I think most people resolve these kinds of issues by becoming more sociable. Eventually, they meet enough of the opposite sex and have their hearts broken and their disappointments increased that they abolish all foolishness altogether. And, that is more or less what I did, except I dragged it out over the course of fifteen years.

I do think, however, that I had missed a great opportunity to suddenly see Jesus for who he truly is–he alone is a perfect human. No other human who has walked this earth is without sin, and no other human is divine and perfectly full of that Universal Love. Of course, Jesus as an object of adoration would have required some amount of amendment to my overall scheme of how I would live my life once I found the true Perfect Being, but this is quite the exceptional and preferred sort of way of being.

The perfect lady, were she to have been there for me and NOT have been the devil’s own daughter, would have still led me astray by keeping me dependent upon her for my happiness. She would have eventually exposed some flaws, since there is no such thing as a perfect person, but even if they were minor, I in my immaturity and ingratitude would have magnified those flaws and in turn caused her to become a dreadful monster. I would no doubt have divorced her before the age of 30. Also, no amount of me imagining could possibly do justice to describing exactly what life with a so-called perfect person should be like. No doubt, that at the very least, after I had gotten done sighing with joy and floating around on clouds, I would have discovered life to be very boring, having had all of my simple demands met.

Of course, the imperfect people I care about and the perfect Jesus all continue to delight and surprise me. My faith in Jesus delights and surprises me because he reveals new and great things in life I never would have dreamed into existence. He continually refreshes and nurtures my soul in a way that other people and their creations cannot refresh the soul. But also, the imperfect people, my wife included–all delight me in their imperfections and prevent life from becoming boring and routine.

So, where am I trying to go with all of this? Is this meant to be advice for a young man much like myself who is fearful of actually getting messy in life and following his own heart into a church instead of listening to small friends who tell him church isn’t cool? Or, is this meant to be some means of constructing a forward-moving way of being for myself in which I am able to consistently participate in some kind of schedule while remaining flexible enough to accommodate the will of the Lord and the demands of my small child?

Maybe it’s both.

I am beginning to reach a place, with some admitted help from an SSRI, where I no longer feel quite as compelled to need sleeping drugs like Doxalamine Succinate or Melatonin to put me to sleep, or alcohol to take the edge off in the evening, and I also no longer require nearly as much caffeine as I used to in order to be a bright, cheery-eyed kind of soul during the day.

I’ve also done away with a lot of the old cravings and lusts. I still get sad occasionally thinking about all of the places I will never visit, but I am so much more keenly in tune with the importance of moving closer to enacting a life that realizes God’s calling–in short, I have enough faith now in God to make the future on this earth and in heaven a great future for me, that I no longer become anxious for the lack of money to travel to places.

I don’t think I appreciated how much my parents loved H until L was born

I don’t think I appreciated how much my parents loved H until L was born. The absolute devastation to lose a son at the age of 16…at any age…and I felt a lot of their pain back then. I felt it even more after L was born. The thought of L going before I do is too much to bear. Stories like the one of the boy losing his life at the waterpark are incredibly hard to take. It is utterly imperative for God to give me more insight into what happens when we die, and what to say to grieving parents that isn’t empty or cliched. I want to believe with all my heart that it will all be okay, and we will all be reunited, but I don’t know this. I’ve never been given anything other than a glimpse or two in a dream that H is okay, and H will meet up with me again some day. The Bible is full of angry words in both the Old and the New Testament, anger about what God will do to those who sinned too much, didn’t believe in Jesus enough, etc. I can’t bear the thought of spending hell in eternity–not for me or anyone else. No one I’ve ever met has been so awful as to deserve that kind of punishment for all of eternity. I like to say that maybe it’s a different kind of Time with God, and eternity could mean something like the Buddhists mean eternity, in the ceaseless wheel of birth and death. But, I don’t know for sure.

I do know that things will have to change radically with me and my perception of reality in order for me to be even remotely successful as a pastor. And by successful, I don’t mean any sort of recognition at all, but having the means to help others in sustaining and meaningful ways. I get that it all comes from God, but I am still delivering the message, and the message has to be pitch perfect for every person and occasion, or it will just sound like mere platitudes.