A Dad-To-Be Perspective

I’m going to be as brief on this as I can be. My wife and I recently discovered that we were going to be parents. And more so, we also discovered that the child was going to be a boy. I’m excited. She’s excited. I could have been happy knowing it’s a girl or a boy – that didn’t matter – but it’s really cool to know what to expect. The drama of delivery day will have its own stresses. But for now, we’re happy with having an idea of what’s to come.

And of course, what we have yet to learn. So yeah, it’s exciting.

But, as I’ve been reflecting on this awesome thing, I’m overcome by something. During our ultrasound (sorry, you’ll just have to imagine the pictures), there was a quick snapshot of our little guy facing the camera. He looked like an alien, but you could clearly see a face there. Then, as if he knew we were watching, a little smile came across his face and my wife, the nurse, and myself all laughed. What a character and he’s not even here yet.

Now, flash forward to the next day. I’m out and about. I run into an older gentleman at a food store – a guy I’d put in the ballpark around 80-85 years old. He’s walking slowly. Old age, perhaps? That’d be a good guess, but I come to see that he’s lugging around a heavy O2 tank. And since he can’t carry it under his own power, the tank is positioned inside of his cart. The tubes are feeding from his jacket up to his nose and I can hear him breathing his every breath.

Knowing this, what comes to mind? What’s your impression of this man? This guy’s a smoker, right? or maybe he’s paying the price for having smoked all these years? The list goes on. I’m sure there are many quick calls we’d make upon seeing this gentleman. But, here’s the thing: as I’m walking past this man, he looks at me and wouldn’t you know it, he smiles. And naturally, I smile back.

Sure, it’s a common courtesy – to smile when you see a a stranger. Be polite; don’t be rude – years of social conditioning may have been feeding into our interaction, but as I walked away from this man, it hit me: at some point – somewhere – maybe 80 years ago, maybe less, this gentleman didn’t have a cumbersome tank of oxygen O2. He didn’t have wrinkled skin, gray hair or weakened joints and muscles. No, there was only an anxious mother; one who was probably wondering what her little guy was up to, and God-willing, a man awaiting the day his son would come into the world. All the hope of a new life was wrapped tightly inside her and steadily being made ready for the world.

Granted, I don’t know all the facts. I don’t know if this man had a runaway dad, an absentee mother, or an abusive upbringing. I don’t know what pain he’s caused in his own life or the ones he’s harmed or suffered under. But, the fact remains: somebody cared enough to bring him into the world. And because of that care – that love that was built before he was birthed – I can’t help but be knocked by the enormity of that. I may not know this gentleman’s entire story, but a long while back, God saw him in the womb and was carefully preparing his arrival. And now, decades later, this once helpless, little baby boy, is an adult. He’s older – yes – and his body has changed over the years, but he’s still capable of smiling. Every person you’ve ever met – or anyone you will ever meet – started out in this very same way.

That sort of knowledge should change the way we see others, shouldn’t it? But, of course, it’s so easy to forget. What’s right in front of our faces often trumps these simple truths, but I’m encouraged to think that if God can see us this way, as children, then we can do the same if we try.

Truly, life is a miracle. And I can’t wait to share in the life of my son’s.

 

Persistence – That Creeping Voice

Before I finish any major project, I try to take a step back and let it simmer a while. This could be for an hour or two, maybe even a few days; any break mentally will do. It’s something I’ve learned to apply over the years; not something I put into practice right away. In fact, I used to be the type that would do whole projects in a single night, waiting till the last moment to make my move. But, that was mostly because I could. I’ve always thrived under pressure and whenever I was in a pinch, my best work would seem to come forth. It was great for a while, but I had no idea I was building some terrible habits within myself.

At first glance, it’s a familiar story: putting off the important stuff, allowing one’s self to get distracted, and then following through when it’s almost too late to wait any longer. Welcome to Procrastination 101: learning to work under deadlines when you should have started weeks ago. It’s an affliction that can be reinforced over many years without even knowing it. But, when life experience meets your own limitations, it might be a signal you need to change something.

For me, it was recognizing that creeping voice. The one that said, “You can get to this later,” but somehow managed to change its tone moments before I was near completion by stating, “You know, this isn’t going to work.” Now, I’m not claiming to have had bouts with multiple personalities, I’m merely trying to point out that common enemy we all face in the midst of something important to us: ourselves.

When the stakes are high and there is much at risk, we don’t find a friend in ourselves very often. We fight to drown out the noise of failure, albeit struggling to do so. As a Christian, I find it easy to blame everything on the devil. “The devil is after me again”; “I know the devil was in that,” but honestly, applying that type of hyper-spiritualism to everything we face is foolish. Every person does have a real counterattack coming against them and it’s not just from the father of lies – it’s coming from inside our own heads.

It doesn’t really make sense when you think about it. Why would your own mind allow negative thoughts to take precedent over positive ones? Especially when it knows (yes, we are self-aware beings) that success means a need for laser focus? Shouldn’t our brain know better? Shouldn’t it know we need a filter for those things to achieve maximum results? Of course it does, but the question is how well you’ve trained your mind to be that filter. Therein lies the difference.

My encouragement to anyone reading this is to consider what areas you struggle to have confidence in or struggle to find the proper initiative. It could be work. It could be a relationship. Or, if you’re me, it could be fighting to churn out 3,000+ words a day for that next book; all the while remembering the passion you had when you first started the journey.

So be encouraged; stay persistent, but also stay focused.

 

Courage – under whose authority?

Today’s world has trouble defining courage, but it has just as hard a time defining authority.

Mine was defined at home. When I was growing up, I learned to have a respect / fear of my father. He was the man in charge; the king of the household; the last line of defense at home. Essentially, he was the disciplinarian. His word was law and if I abided by his law, then I could live peacefully under his roof. That sounds fair enough, right? My mother had authority too, but it was a different kind of authority. She was more the hand to hold; the warm embrace; the ear to lend your voice to – she was the lifeline. And if I came to her with an issue that needed comforting, I could live more peacefully under her roof. Once again, sounds like a fair enough arrangement, right? Yes, it does – when things are running like they’re supposed to.

But, what if they’re not? The result looks much different. If my father’s law is skewed and his discipline unjust, then I feel the ramifications. If my mother’s lifeline is damaged or absent, then I feel the ramifications there too. And the consequences look like this: my idea of authority has been crushed. Moreover, my idea of a loving authority has been shattered. For if the people who made me – the ones who watch over me daily – can’t handle their own business, then what right do they have to govern mine?

And this is where it starts. That disillusionment with authority; that break from looking up to people and the conscious/unconscious decision to look elsewhere for guidance. Because let’s be honest, everybody’s parents mess up at some point – there are no “perfect parents” in the world; as good as mine were and are, they still had their bad days. So depending on how “bad” a parent messes up, the more work it’ll be for the child later. The more work it’ll be to fix the now disjointed views of a child who, after years of soaking in the brokenness of a broken home, has fractured more than than their view of parental-child relationships – they’ve fractured the very nature of how the world was meant to operate.

Whoa – back up, right? That sounds like a lot of pressure for a parent. But hey, let’s not forget – it’s a human life we are talking about; not a truck or a vacuum sweeper. These things, when fractured, can be easily replaced. The same cannot be said for a human life.

But, here’s the good news: fractures are mendable things. A fractured bone, for example, doesn’t have to stay that way. In fact, a broken bone will do whatever it can to get back to its original state. The only thing it requires is time; time to heal and time to mend. However, if the bone is disturbed too early, then it may become further disjointed and take even more time to heal – a more painful experience than the first.

This becomes even more delicate when dealing with authority. Bad experiences with authority figures can leave a person severely jaded; stricken with little desire to trust authority ever again. And the thought of ever being “ruled” by another is seen as detestable; to be avoided at all costs. So, in order to cope with this, a peer-to-peer kind of authority is established. “You don’t tell me how to live and I won’t tell you either” is the new mantra. And if we abide by these rules, we can all live peacefully under the same roof.

Yet again, this sounds reasonable and fair, doesn’t it? It does and yet, this concept breaks down rather quickly. For if there is no one to lead, no one to establish what is best practice, then the roof ceases to exist. What’s more, one person’s idea of best practice will inevitably collide with someone else’s. And another with another. And another with another and so on. The result being the exact opposite of the original intent; the individual’s desire to be more important than the whole splits everything into pieces, which will leave people feeling isolated rather than unified.

So what to do? Well, it takes courage. Not just courage to lead, but courage not to follow. And the “not to follow” does not mean to reject authority – it merely means to reject the notion of authority being a bad thing and to reject your own perceptions as being the ultimate reality. Children reject authority because they want to have their way all the time. As adults, this concept should be understood as not practical. Or better yet, not fulfilling. But, by today’s standards, embracing this understanding has been forgotten. God’s governing hand is only relative and as long as I can Google an answer, I’m better off. No, Googling answers does not require courage. Neither do blanket comments or fact-dumping. Courage is carving in stone, not writing in sand.

Imagine a home where your stay is just and your stay is kind. It’d be a joyous home, would it not? Not the kind of place you’d want to leave. But, you can’t get to that place without first having a response – to recognize there is more to be courageous about than your own agendas.

Sounds reasonable and fair, does it not?

Courage – what does it look like?

Last month I focused in on joy. What brings someone joy? What doesn’t? People will spend a good deal of their day – and life – trying to attach themselves to what makes them happy, but never really get to that point of joy. I wanted to examine that further and for the most part, I did. But, I was also a bit distracted last month. In a good way though – I got married.

You might say that I have plenty to be joyous about. Wedding, honeymoon, beginning life with a best friend – yes, these are all awesome things. Daunting, but exciting and a great transition into the topic this month: courage.

It’s a hard term to define nowadays. What is courage? What does courage even look like? Ask someone 80 – 100 years ago and courage may look like defending one’s country or feeding the mouths of the hungry; a black and white concept with immediate results. Ask someone from 50-60 years ago and courage takes a new form: inaction becomes mistaken for action and calls to war separate people rather than bringing them together. Flash forward to the present and the image of courage is even more skewed; less clear and murkier than ever. In fact, courage now looks like this: sitting at home, “knowing what’s wrong with the world”, yet possessing neither the fortitude nor the incentive to act on the wrongness we feel. This new courage is all about hiding – the complete opposite of what the word means. The 21st century “warrior” builds barriers around one’s self, makes more money than his neighbor, and leads as comfortable an existence as possible.

Don’t believe me? Consider the protagonists of today’s popular stories and movies. And like it or not, the stories we are willing to indulge ourselves in – the stories we pay attention to – help define what is worthy of being called, courageous. On one side, there is the unattainable image: the perfect mate who never wrongs you or the impossibly-shaped supermodel made only for you. Neither persona exists as a whole – sorry. But then, you have the other extreme: the slacker; the privileged fool; the self-entitled comedian. All of which can exist, but share none of the qualities with being “courageous.” And with such opposite ideals flying around, people may find themselves struggling to achieve one of the two; thinking if one cannot be attained, then the other must be what he or she is meant for.

For example:

“If I can’t be the hero, then I can definitely be the slacker who will eventually get his day.”

“If I can’t be funny or land that awesome job, then I’ll work hard to get that perfect soul mate to make my life complete.”

These may not sound like actual statements, but through a person’s actions, we can observe where these unconscious agreements have become conscious reality.

I find myself severely convicted by this growing trend. More than in recent years. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, maybe it’s because I just got married, or maybe it’s just because it’s always ticked me off – for whatever the reason, I burn with the foreboding sense that courage is a trait most men – and women – will never understand. Not until we make the effort to reevaluate courage will we see the difference. And courage is not always about getting recognized; it’s about the willingness to face and fight battles we’d normally run away from. Confronting an abusive relationship, not giving into despair and depression, acting on a civil injustice rather than standing idly by, etc. The list goes on…. Courage isn’t about having a grand stage; it’s about growth.

My most recent of reads, Killing Lions, by John and Sam Eldredge, strives to showcase the lack of courage our society faces and honestly, I agree with them. Not because I’m a crotchety old soul who hates fun – it’s because the epidemic is true. The world is in need of more courageous men and women. And that doesn’t mean more rich people, more ultra-successful entrepreneurs or people who get elevated to a top management position. It’s about daily living that isn’t racked by fear, but moved with a sense that the world is messy and in need of those willing to get their hands dirty and clean it up.

The Worst of Enemies

I wanted to share an epiphany I had this week. One that has to do with the battles we face. Trouble is (ironically), I’ve been fighting my own battle as to find the proper medium to share it. Mostly, because I wanted it to be short and sweet. A quick dose of pick-me-up and then gone. But Twitter only allows 160 characters and Facebook is chock full of random quizzes, shared videos, and daily updates about bad drivers so I didn’t want it to get lost in cyberspace. So back to the blog we go.

My moment of clarity came whilst I was standing on familiar terrain: warring over a crucial decision. And doing so with myself. There’s such a tendency to point fingers in life – to make it appear that we, ourselves, are without fault and the world is against us. In many ways, the world can be cruel, but the more I travel through this thing called ‘life’, I find the greatest enemy isn’t necessarily the Devil or any one person or circumstance: it’s me. If you’re a Type-A, insanely-driven perfectionist, you can relate. If you’re a Type-B, oftentimes procrastinator, you can also relate. And if you’re someone who isn’t sure of either, you too can relate. Basically, I feel like any one person can relate to being one’s own worst enemy.

This conclusion doesn’t sound practical. I feel we’d prefer not to believe we have an evil doppleganger somewhere inside of us. After all, that sounds crazy. However, I’d argue that we do. I’ve experienced it and I’m willing to bet that so many others have too. And he’s bigger and more in control than you think. The reason? He’s all about survival; reaction to situation. Not about living life, not about conquering new heights, and certainly not about victory.

There are several major projects I’m working towards – a novel, a short story compilation, a new website – so at times, I find myself becoming easily overwhelmed. And something inside me says, “Hey, it’s too much. Take a break.” And I do. And then a day, maybe two days later, I resent myself for taking that breather. So I gear up. I get going. And a week later, I’m further along. Then the voice returns and I’m back to being comfortable. Then, almost immediately after, I am defeated again. Ugh.

I’ve tried overcoming this internal enemy many times in my life, but only now – some 30 years later – am I getting a better handle on how to press through his advances. The secrets aren’t necessarily buried in well-written self-help books; no, I’ve found silent time to be the most life-giving. Quieting the mind is of utmost importance. It keeps distractions from becoming the focus and it keeps you from focusing on those distractions. I cringe when I hear people say they’re “so busy” all the time. Are you really? Or are you just really, really distracted? There is a difference. Consider if this applies to your life and take action against that.

As a writer, it’s so incredibly easy to get distracted. A new idea comes along and *ping*, it’s off to the races. But if the idea fizzles out and nothing gets done, then that feels like a failure. Then that voice comes back again. “You’ll never finish”; “Your ideas aren’t that good, try something else” – this is what can go through your head as a writer. More so than I’ve given credit to in the past, but I’m learning how to quiet that noise. How it’s me I’m fighting; not my next publication. A freeing and liberating feeling; one I’m slowly becoming more familiar with.

Staring Down Train Tracks

That's a long way....

That’s a long way….

The view is daunting; overwhelming, to a degree. Staring down train tracks – specifically the ones in this picture – can be as intimidating as they are miraculous. The long rows of steel and iron have sat where they are for decades, giving the impression that whatever has passed through here has done so without fail and without interruption for quite a while. Longer than many people’s lives, no doubt. It’s a fascinating realization, at least to me; one I claim due to my heritage. My grandfather worked on trains, my father made a living in steel, and now my youngest brother wishes to make trains some day. There’s definitely some “steam and iron” in our bloodline. And that’s a really cool thing.

My family’s path hasn’t always been as clear as these train tracks though. In hindsight, sure – we can look back and see the patterns of chosen vocations – but human foresight is not always so resolute. Physical train tracks, however, can be planned out, laid down, and carried forward so that we may see the entire journey. And if there are trees, rocks, a small crevasse blocking the path – well, we simply remove them. Obstacles are no longer obstacles; only the track remains. The distance between Point A and Point B is bridged.

I’d love to get super-philosophical with this concept. Straight roads; man’s desire for clarity; man’s need for land domination; man’s inner struggle for authority – there’s a plethora of ones I could go into. But I’d rather not go down that route. None of those topics apply to why I took the picture. Rather, I snapped it for quite the opposite: to remind myself of how I should not be thinking.

Men, in general, have an innate yearning to be visionaries. To claim what’s been set before them and make it their own. I feel that pressure daily and at times, it can be utterly maddening. But in some sense, I enjoy the challenge. After all, it’s freeing when a plan comes together. And equally frustrating when it does not, but it’s even more frustrating when the plan is hidden from your sight. I used to think that the last option was the most difficult one to deal with – to work around; to navigate. But I have since come to understand that there is a fourth road, one that’s not as easily discernible unless you find yourself in the midst of that road: it’s when a vision is cast ahead of you, the road is open for the taking, and all that need be done is begin. But once you start, and you see the path is without deviation, you begin to wonder to yourself – is this a trap? Am I seeing the big picture so that I can be trapped by it?

Alright, so I’m getting a tiny bit philosophical here.

I say this only because I know so many who are staring down train tracks, wondering if where they are headed is some sort of a trap. They see the finish line, but for some reason, that’s the problem. Is my career going to fulfill me? I’m a single parent, what does that mean for my dating life? Some external force seems to be dictating the path. Point A to Point B appears to be set in place and the journey doesn’t look to be a “enjoyably-manageable” one. “What will I do if I get stuck halfway?! I won’t be able to go anywhere!”

Don’t be discouraged by this. External pressure should not dictate internal longing. Using my own life as an example, I didn’t want to be controlled by external forces. So I asked if He (God) could help me out with that. That seemed like a good place to start. What’s funny, in retrospect, is that when I asked God how to do this; asked Him to set a vision before me – He actually did it. He gave me a clear path – devoid of those external pressures – showing me where to go. But here’s the strange part: I buckled. For when I saw the enormity of that vision in its entirety, I got frightened. Whoa. “What if I get stuck on these tracks? Is this all you have for me?!” The clear path was there, but now it looked like a one-way ticket to a trap. And I hated feeling that way, especially since I asked for it in the first place!

So what gives in this scenario? Why did I suddenly feel this way? The answer is actually very simple: I still wanted to trust in my own devices, which in turn, made the destination appear impossible to get to. And that sort of thinking can lead to immobility; it can also lead to “trap-mindedness”. It’s an invitation for external forces to once again play a factor – the very thing you asked to be guarded against. “If I get stuck though,” you may say. “I can only go backwards, right?” Well, and this will sound cliche’, you have to trust that the obstacles will be removed – just as they had been when you first asked for help. You see, God hasn’t changed; only our perception of where we are on the tracks has changed. Getting “stuck” can merely be a matter of losing faith, disabling ourselves based on an experience we had. The key is – and by no means is it an easy one – reengaging the original vision. Reminding ourselves of who brought us there, who cast the die, and who set the path for trotting. It wasn’t a family member who told you aren’t good enough; it wasn’t an article you read about the impossible nature of dating;  and it wasn’t a bad experience that you believe should define you. None of these things bring life. And none of these things take you further down the tracks.

If that much is true, then do not lose heart wherever you are on the path. I’m forever learning this myself. Slowly, it’s becoming clearer to me how God desires us to have faith in His foresight, not our own. Getting caught up in the vision, its size and scale, invites too many factors that shouldn’t matter. So do not entertain what lies in the woods. Instead, be encouraged by the path that’s calling you forward. Whatever that may be.

 

The Difference a Year Makes

It’s been a year since I spoke to inner city youth on pursuing dreams; a whole year. I’ve been fortunate to mentor and inspire young adults in one-on-one environments but a whole year since I’ve been granted an audience larger than a mere handful. I’ve grown much in that frame of time – as a person and as a writer – just like any other person can or does. And recently, I was granted the opportunity to repeat what I did a year ago: speak in a classroom about what I do.

This wouldn’t be like what I did before though. This time, it would be pre-teens and new teenagers; a whole other animal to work with in a classroom setting. Last time, it was 9th and 10th graders, but this time, it would be middle school students. To any teacher who knowingly takes on the task of teaching 7th and 6th graders, I applaud you. Better yet, I say ‘you’re amazing’; you deserve a ton of credit. When it comes to these ages, the interactions can be as tender as they are hostile. The differences between a 12-year old and a 13-year old are vast; vast like an ocean, I’d say. Becoming a teenager can be like sailing off to a new continent, not knowing what to expect, but you have to go because you don’t have any other option. And that’s a maddening concept. You’re on a boat and there’s no way you can get off. The land behind you is dead or dying and your only escape is somewhere across the open ocean. But it’s not an escape so much as it’s a predetermined destination. And when you land, you find a place that’s nothing like what you left behind. It’s frightening to many, and for good reason.

I say this because I knew what I was getting into – a land full of angry inhabitants who want to be heard as much as they want to left alone. Quite the hypocrisy, but you tread lightly regardless. It was “Career Day” at one of our local city schools; a day I recall as being one filled with weird guests who had something called “jobs” and one day I would have a to choose a “job” myself. The usual suspects would come year after year to my school – police officers, nurses, firefighters, and sometimes other teachers. But never was there an author, I remember. There was never a professional wordsmith; a person like Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, or R.L. Stine walking through the archways of my alma mater. Not that I claim to be on their level – I just don’t remember one being at my school’s “Career Day”. So this was exciting. For me, it was, but to the kids? Well, who is to say that they had any interest in listening to me or what I had to give them.

Teenagers are complicated organisms; more so than their earlier forms, the pre-teens. Having this knowledge, I wanted to speak in a way that would be engaging, intriguing, and somehow “fun” for the class. How does a one go into a school full of hormone-raged adolescents and keep them interested though? I understand their need for visual stimulation, but hey, I’m a writer. Putting words up on a board would be business as usual to these kids. How was I going to do this and what was I going to talk about and show? Well, the immediate answer I came to was this: I have no freaking idea. That’s when I decided to rely on some divine intervention from God to help me out because alone, there’s no way I could do it effectively. That’s not to say that I didn’t prepare ahead of time. I gathered a couple visual aids, specifically on stories I’m working on, and brought those along with me. That was for starters, but only after asking what might be a good idea to bring along.

So I went to school and encountered the 7th graders first. And truth be told, it was rough. Students could scarcely pay attention for more than a few minutes. But I trudged through on how and why I tell stories, my educational background, and all other things that may help paint a picture of how I got where I was. But all that broke down when I asked the kids one simple question – “do you any of you know what ‘passion’ means? Or do you have one?” The teens didn’t have much to speak on the word, which was surprising to me. Some said it was “something that’s fun to do”; another said, “singing”; and one kid said, “you mean like lobsters or something?” (this boy loved lobsters). I went on to explain that some of their responses were on the right track – save the lobsters comment – but there was one crucial piece missing. “What’s that?” one of them asked and I replied with, “the willingness to suffer for something better, namely a reward”. That’s when I got a ton of confused faces. And unfortunately, my time was up in the classroom.

I walked out of there feeling defeated; like, I’d done a poor job of explaining my work or what drove me to become a writer. The class was hard enough wrangling up to stay attentive, but the reception I received on that final remark really shook me. Not that every teenager should have a clear understand of passion is, but to think that wanting to suffer so as to gain a reward was a foreign concept was disheartening to me. I knew many of these students, if not all, came from difficult backgrounds so suffering or struggling is not unfamiliar. But that was the issue altogether. The reward, the possible gain; the hope was missing. If any one of those kids had the insight or the ability to do so, they may have jumped up and said something like, “well, we already know suffering, but what’s this reward business you’re talking about?” That’s when I sunk inside myself and immediately became angry. Suffering for the sake of something good did not make sense. What reward? What goal? There was none, it seemed. The blank stares made sense and I felt compelled to go back into the classroom and elaborate on what I meant. But there was no time for that – I had another classroom to share with.

This time, it would be the 6th graders. Not as old as the last group and some of them still teetering between pre-teen and teenager. I focused up and decided to stick with my original game plan but this time, get with the program and explain what ‘passion’ means as a whole. Or at the very least, touch on what that may look like for them. I got through the first part of my talk and then came back to that critical inquiry: “Do you any of you know what passion is? Or what that means?” The same responses came through. So I opened up and said, “It actually means that you’re willing to suffer for something so you can hopefully achieve something later.” Again, the blank stares. So I got with it and shared how I’d once wrote a story for a girl I liked when I was 10. I penned a short horror story for her and gave it over to her. My hope was that she’d love it and I’d win her over with my amazing writing talents. And as I told the tale, several of the girls laughed, wondering why I’d resort to something like that.

“Why do you think?” I asked.
“Because you like to tell stories?”
“Yeah. That’s it. And what do you think she said when she read it?”

The classroom went silent until one girl burst out, “She hated it, didn’t she?” To which I replied, “Yes, she didn’t exactly like it that much, at all.”

Every student in the class had a good laugh at that, but when I went on to say how I still wanted to write stories, despite that crushing blow, something clicked for a few of them.

“So, you kept going?”
“Yes. I did.”

It’s been a year since I got to speak in front of a classroom, talking on my life as an author/writer, but more importantly, it’s been a year since I got to speak in front of a classroom on why there’s hope despite any current circumstances. For me, it’s years of sticking with something, committing myself to a craft and not giving in to the doubts that try and intercede. For the students, it could be graver situations like abusive homes, drugs, alcohol, gangs, etc. and that’s frightening to be within. Passion doesn’t exist; survival is the name of the game. So to these students and so many like them, a “guest speaker” is just another adult with an agenda; one they’re not interested in hearing about. But if anyone can bring a story that speaks of triumph – not mindless struggle or silver-spooned entitlement – ears open and heads perk up. All because there’s a hope that something will change for the better.

The storm of adolescence is hard enough, but if there’s a hope that the storm will subside someday, somehow – then that’s much more significant. And worth speaking about.

We Are All Like Stones On A Hillside

In a literal sense, this isn’t an accurate statement. None of us are actual stones on a hillside. That’s a given, but even so, I feel like it’s a great analogy for any one person’s life as you begin to unpack the idea.

A close friend of mine, who shall remain anonymous, recently overcame some major trauma in his life. And it wasn’t any current trauma. We’re talking years upon years of dealing with a very serious issue that has been holding him back, specifically in the area of having and forming solid relationships. The issue being abuse; abuse that was committed against him when he was a child for several years. I can’t sit here and say that I relate to the events of his early years – as difficult as they were – so it breaks my heart to even hear about it. The type of abuse caused him to make life choices that were hazardous and downright toxic in his later years. And over and over, he returned to a place where he knew he was suffering, but since it was all he knew – or thought he knew – he would go there, hating and sulking in the futility of familiarity. I can’t imagine what it was like, but I can see and relate to the hardship. His hardship was unique to him, just as I have my own to contend with like so many others. That is a truth.

Many of us, including myself, were blessed with a safer, more secure upbringing. I am forever grateful for that. Conversely, many of us are not so fortunate. My friend was not in that regard, but in the midst of this trial, he’s endured and something really amazing happened over the past couple weeks. He made a major breakthrough – a concept that sounds out of date and “pie in the sky” but honestly, he did. How do you know? Or better yet, how does he know? Well, for the first time – and I’ll paraphrase his own words – he legitimately felt an absence or longing when he made amends with the party who failed to protect him from the abuse of so many others. His failed protector being his own father; the one person we, as children, look to as our guardian when we are younger. Now, even his father will admit that saying goodbye to his son is no longer an awkward task – it’s a difficult one instead. There’s a new desire to enjoy one other’s company; something that was previously offset by conflicted feelings via years of assumed passivity, denial, or abandonment.

That’s how my friend knows. That’s how his father knows. And the distance between them, be it physical, emotional or spiritual, is no longer filled with that violent static. The grieving has been shared fully and the accountability brought forth. That means there can be movement now; no longer are they inhibited by past chains dragging behind. And that’s powerful.

Many a time, we may feel like we aren’t getting anywhere. Past problems hold us down, keeping us from progressing forward. And we feel stuck in a place that outwardly may look like progression, but inside, we are more than aware of the unhealed wounds. Think of how long it takes people to “get over” a break up or separation. The void left is never equal, it would seem. One person gets a chunk of themselves sucked out and the rest of their existence crumples without warning. This leaves their internal builder – aka themselves – with the job of putting things back in order. But since it happened without warning, the builder is plenty angry with his situation. And however long he chooses to moan, resent, or refuse to rebuild, will determine how long it’ll take to fortify the structure once again.

But relationships are one thing in comparison to a forced encounter; one that was completely out of the person’s control, specifically speaking of my dear friend. Time will march on regardless and we will be asked to “move forward” despite what may lie behind us. That’s the most difficult thing of all – struggling with how to break an age-old struggle before it permanently becomes a part of us.

This reason is why I use the analogy: stones on a hillside. All of us are like stones on the edge of a hill, looking around; wondering if we’ll ever go anywhere other than where we are. We can see the horizon ahead of us, and that gives us a sense of vision or possibly clarity, but the distance is so wide that we’d rather stay where we are – perched on the hilltop and out of the potential mess that could be waiting below. We don’t know what’s there, we just know that it’s unknown and that’s a frightening thought. And it’s these thoughts, coupled by our experiences, that shape us in such a way we can’t move to begin with. Life’s experiences can harden someone to the point of immobility if he isn’t mindful. This leads to inactivity, allowing all manner of weeds (problems) to ensnare the person and further cripple what could eventually start a path towards regeneration. All the while keeping one eye on the sky ahead, thinking and believing it’s either too far away or it’ll just never come to us.

This sounds like something we’d all want to avoid if we could. So how does one do that? Or what’s more, how does any one person stop this from becoming a reality in his own life? The same can happen to people who have little suffering to cope with – they are instead stagnate, immobile on life’s journey. To me, that sounds like a nightmare. I’ll speak honestly when I say that I am someone who has difficulty sitting still. It’s not that I have ADHD (perhaps to some degree but who doesn’t) but I don’t like getting caught or stuck on problems I know can be overcome. If there’s a vision or path to take, then I want to take it. No doubt about that. But everyone has blind spots. And what’s comfortable or familiar may be an attractive option versus something new that demands a serious undertaking. That’s when stagnation can set in, subtly and without warning. And as before, that’s when the weeds will gather and choke the life out of you.

So once again, what does a person do to keep this from happening? Well, a good first step is asking God what to do with your life. No apologies here – it’s a legit thing to ask. It’s what my friend did and it brought him to a place that’s been incredibly freeing. As for me, when I first asked God what He wanted for my life, He gave me some quick instructions: get rid of your clothes. Not all of them, just some of the ones you don’t need anymore. That appears to be rather insignificant, but hear my story. I keep clothes. For a long time. As in what seems like forever to some people. And God knew that I needed to get rid of them if I was to make some changes – good changes – and start rolling forward.

So I did. And a piece of the stone slab that was ‘me’ got chiseled away. That was the first answer I received. A remnant of the old had to be no more. I removed the unnecessary weight; a part of me that wanted to keep my room cluttered and full of junk that really just needed to be gone. Period.

What was next then? Well, I asked again and this time I got told that I needed to coach. Coach what though? That was question three. Then I was told a youth program. I once dreamed of being a school teacher – it’s something I saw on the horizon but was so unsure on how to get there. And since I had chosen a different career path, I thought it was beyond me now. But after I asked this question again, I got a response rather quickly. A coworker of mine asked me to help him coach his son’s ball club. So I took the opportunity and found myself renewed by the experience. Indeed, the vision I had really could be a reality. How exciting, right?

And so, another piece got chiseled away.

Another question, another answer. Another question, another answer. The process seemed to be getting faster. I was still me, but the form I had before all the asking-and-questioning was disappearing. That’s when I started rolling. That’s when things got really interesting. You know that feeling you get when you feel unstoppable? Not the unstoppable like when you’re a teenager. That’s just blind ignorance due to youth and vigor. I’m talking when you know that you can’t be stopped in your endeavors because something is backing you – even if you’re unsure what that something backing you is. That’s the kind of unstoppable I was feeling; rolling full steam down a hillside, gaining speed, and enjoying the ride.

Naturally, that’s when I hit a major snag. What kind of real life story would this be if there weren’t more obstacles? Pieces of myself, still being worked on, staggered my roll and I came to a standstill. Ever feel that way? That’s what happens when you start breaking those outer layers off. It’s fascinating how being honest with God about ourselves has such a powerful effect in our waking life. I really began to see the parts of myself that were truly ugly and I was exposed with issues that I didn’t even know were there! Wounds, lies, broken promises, character flaws – all are fair game when you start rolling. It shouldn’t be a surprise to us, if we’re outside-looking-in, but it’s the blind spots we all have and don’t ever see coming. So when we hit a snag, we get frustrated.

Don’t be alarmed though. My only advice is to not dwell in frustration once you hit that initial snag. Most people end the journey here, too afraid to pull out more of the junk that inhibits their movement. Instead of growing moss on the hilltop, they grow it here; somewhere in between the top and the bottom. But here’s a question – aren’t the plethora of previously answered and kept promises enough to keep going? This is crucial to maintain momentum. And if you do, you’ll be amazed at what you find – more people rolling like you. Just as flawed, but moving just as fast. Just as quickly as you.

These people aren’t like the ones on the hilltop. They’re embracing life’s call, but they are doing so out of a discomfort to become who they were called to be. They’re uprooting the bad parts of themselves, giving it to God, and soldiering onward. Why? Because there are more people flying faster and the thrill of flying faster is far more exhilarating than standing still. Is that not an agreeable statement? Sounds like a lot more fun too. Why position your eyes on the burdens the world wants when you can ask God what freedoms he wants to give you? That may seem like a loaded statement; vague, to a point. But consider starting small and going from there. Mine was clothes, after all. It can be as simple as that.

There’s no secret formula here, but there are definitely easy places to start. One word of caution though: the common confusion after we begin is wondering what God may tell us. When we ask God, “What can I do to help people?” we expect the answer to be something like, “be a pop star.” You know, something that appears to be far-reaching and full of genuine impact. Don’t be disappointed though when God says, “No”. Instead, His plan could be something equally or much more significant than the pop star dream. Something like a school teacher, a cashier at a retail store, or a landscaper. All are important trades. And they are important because they all tread in a very specific, very important field of expertise – they all deal with people.

It doesn’t matter where people are working or what titles they possess. We all mold and shape one other because we come into contact with each other daily. So if we’re asking the right questions, we can be chiseled down to have more of that; the more of that being the surprising journey. I used to think that I wanted everything in my life planned and plotted out according to what I thought was best, but honestly, I find that way to be quite boring. I thought I wanted to know everything – and truthfully, I sometimes do – but my confusion was more about security and comfort. There is certainly security and comfort to be had in God’s plans, but there is also the grander opportunity to be grafted into something better than what you are presently. I’d rather be constantly chiseling away pieces of myself – in keeping with this analogy – than be a square block on the hillside not doing much. That sort of life is predictable and ironically, it isn’t necessarily safe either. Weeds choke out whatever sits for too long. The same can be said for our own lives. How many people do you know that still harbor resentment for something that happened decades ago? There’s a burden there that’s deeply rooted and in serious need of being uprooted. Much like what transpired with my friend. Imagine the kind of freedom he can have now that he’s dealt with this issue. He and his father both. And what’s even more amazing, is how he can share his story with others to encourage people with similar pasts or struggles. My friend is rolling again, but that’s not all – he’s now a beacon to others still on the hillside. And when someone sees that on him – the piece that’s been made new – something cool may happen and another stone will rush down to join him. Thus, igniting their own journey from the hillside.

Asking God what to do with our pain isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s merely a fair start. One that can lead to more life, something so many people have forgotten about and what life is supposed to look like. And if that isn’t convincing enough, consider the alternative to not asking. Nothing can change and nothing has the chance to improve. So be encouraged to start rolling in whatever direction God asks you to, but also consider asking first. It’s certainly worth more than a quick look or a passing glance.

The chasm is wide, but we’re all looking out across the horizon anyway, wondering what it may be like on the other side, provided we are brave enough to ask.

One more point on “Spirit Run” – part 4

Forgive the double post today, but I didn’t want to neglect the “Newborn” that comes to life in this section. It’s the first appearance of the spirit taking form; “growing up”, if you will. Having survived the onslaught of the Rogue, the orb matures into a new body – something that resembles a human. And it’s about time, I figure. It’s a promising sign to the Trio that things are progressing well. The Rogue was the first character to cause any strife in this story so there’s a real moment of relief in this section. And due to that relief, the orb can finally take on a new shape.

I really enjoyed this, specifically the image of the others angels harmonizing with one another. Everything plays off of one another with perfect precision – choirs singing, melodies chanting, wings interlocking, etc. It’s some familiar imagery with a little of my own interpretation thrown in there for good measure. As I said before though, I’m not a fan of how I edited this part. That’ll have to change.

The next part should reveal more of the next big conflict. It can’t be all smooth sailing for this group, right? Yes, there are worse things than a Rogue spirit trying to suck the life out of you. Really, there are. As fun (or eerie) as that sounds.

Till next time.

A Few Things

Just a few things.

Although it’s been more like me to present some thoughts and opinions on here, I’ve decided to share some actual work I’ve been doing. Sometime later today, I’ll begin posting bits and parts of a short story I’ve recently finished. Considering the work I do now, I’ve been fortunate to be in what writers might call “hyper creative season” (many thanks to my friend, Immanuel, for crafting that phrase). It’s a fancy way of saying, “I’ve had more free time to write.” The extra time is great, but the discipline required to use that time effectively can be very hard.

Over the past few months, I’ve been experimenting with new ways to manage all my added time. Do I write in the morning? Do I write at night? Do I only read this week? Do I not read at all? These seem like simple questions – and let’s be honest, they are – but to someone who is bubbling with thoughts and ideas, it can be daunting. Focus and direction are key. And they’re concepts I’ve been studying, honing in on, and desperately trying to wrangle to the ground. That way I can stop living in the clouds and start running on solid ground.

Which is, coincidentally, a great image and part of what inspired me to write this short story, appropriately named Spirit Run. To preface this, Spirit Run is the tale of three angels who have been tasked with guarding a spark of life as it “runs” towards its human vessel. Their conversations, the enemies they face, and their interactions with other angelic beings are all weaved into this story; eventually culminating with the breach of the physical realm and an encounter with their intended destination.

This is a major break from what I’ve done in the past. The primary reason being that it’s fiction. I’m telling a story rather than presenting an essay. That is something I’ve really enjoyed, but have also found to be quite challenging.

And that’s all I’d like to give away at the moment. I look forward to sharing this soon and look forward to feedback and comments.

Till later,
J.C.L.