Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 36

“It’s a great thing when you realize you still have the ability to surprise yourself. Makes you wonder what else you can do that you’ve forgotten about.”

I’ve always loved that quote! If your familiar with the source, Kevin Spacey’s character, Lester in American Beauty, don’t worry, I am not about to embark on a midlife crisis. I have already had enough crises for one lifetime. But it is day 36! I have written everyday. I set a goal. I stuck to it. I am digging deep, evaluating, reflecting, offering up the heart that is usually on my sleeve to loved ones and strangers in cyberspace. In doing so, I am remembering things I have forgotten about myself. Chief among these things I am rediscovering is my tenacity.

I don’t give up easily. I have a few times in life. I’ve had momentary lapses. But I certainly posses a strong ability to push on and persevere through perceived and sometimes very real barriers. I am reminded that with my familial history of anxiety and depression, it really is amazing how time and time again I have found the ability to pick up shattered pieces of myself and move on. My mom – despite her shortcomings – was an anchor in my life. When she died, only a year into that married life that is now behind me, I really wondered if I could go on. A decade after that, the divorce knocked my ass to the ground, left me feeling like Judas and Jesus at the same time. Trust was shattered on both sides. I had never felt so alone or betrayed. And I had never felt like so much of a failure, not only as a partner but as a human being. For a moment, I was left waiting with bated breath for life to destroy me. But here I am.

And there are the more positive instances of this tenacious spirit. I graduated high school with a C average. Right after high school, I was rejected from Cornerstone College when I applied for the youth ministry program. I entertained going to community college. But my mom was more overwhelmed and intimidated by the fucking paperwork for FAFSA than I was. So I spent the next 7 years, working in retail and trying to become a rock star. I probably didn’t try very hard. And I didn’t have the heart or voice for it. But people kept saying I could write.

After a long lull, I became the first in my family to go to college. At age 26, I did start at community college. Then I transferred to a small Bible college. Then I transferred to Calvin College for a more rigorous and academic study of religion. Then I went to seminary. People unfamiliar with seminary don’t always realize, it is still a freaking Master’s program. It may not be the hardest one. But difficult is still an understatement. 96 credit hours! Reading complicated Fourth Century Christian writers, Medieval mystics and often extremely dense contemporary theologians. It is not a 3 or 4 year Bible study with campfire songs. It is paper after paper and exams, while balancing an internship. And I did it in the midst of having two kids and life changing surgery. I kept on after the death of a close friend. I graduated with a high GPA.

Then I had to jump through all of the hoops of denominational examinations. You don’t just get a piece of paper and then start a church. You graduate and then still have to pass the church’s closest thing to a Bar Exam. And then you still – at least in the Reformed tradition – do not get ordained until you find your first “call” or job at a church. That took me another 2 & half years after seminary. While I am not in ministry anymore, I don’t regret any of it. While people find many ways to become many things – from ministers to co-founders and CEO’s of Fortune 500 technology giants – without a college degree, it was something I needed to do for me. I don’t give up or give in easily.

It is day 36 of Lent, day 36 of a writing series I wasn’t sure I would start, let alone finish. It is day 14,687 of my sometimes tumultuous, often nauseatingly dizzying, yet wonderfully dazzling journey. The journey is long and hard and marked by struggle and some real tragedy. But I see beauty all around me in the midst of it. I know I am not alone. And I may not necessarily be all that unique. But for any and all of us who have been able to pull off such a feat, it takes remarkable fortitude. It is day 36 of me rediscovering my voice and my ability to surprise myself while doing so… yet again.

Posted in Health

Lent 35

Holy Week has begun. Yesterday, churches around the world celebrated Palm Sunday. At many churches, children walked around sanctuaries waving palm branches. Devout believers (and people not so devout) sang songs proclaiming “Hosanna in the highest.”

I still have a few friends who are pastors and very connected to the church and the movements of the liturgical calendar. Throughout the week I saw several of them on social media asking questions and posting their reflections as they geared up to preach yet again on Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem. The collective consciousness of these faithful friends is something like this: The story is ripe with startling juxtapositions to be observed. Jesus had just descended from the Mount of Olives. At the foot of the Mount of olives is the Garden of Gethsemane. Those familiar with the story know that by the end of this week, Jesus will be betrayed by one of his own disciples in that very place. It really is startling, people shouting, “Hosanna.. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” They are laying cloaks on the ground (Matthew, Mark, Luke) or waving Palm branches (John). Meanwhile, Jesus looks about as unstately as one can get. He is riding on a colt. It is a brilliant literary device, if nothing else.

And yesterday people – some of them whom I love deeply – preached sermons, expounding upon these startling contrasts. Some probably highlighted that Jesus wept over Jerusalem on his way into town (at least according to Luke). It is explained people just didn’t get it, this kingdom that Jesus was proclaiming. They wanted an “earthly king” but Jesus’ kingdom “was not of this world.”

Nuanced readers, pastors and commentators may even express some sympathy for the crowd. Some even find some sympathy for the villain of the story, Judas who has a bigger part, later in the week. Jesus was subverting (or changing?) the expectations of faithful Jews. Folks had been waiting for the day that Isaiah and other prophets had proclaimed: “In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.” Jews had no disembodied notion of Heaven. They were waiting for the vindication of their god, their people, their beliefs. They were waiting for the day that they would be the epicenter of religion and spirituality for the whole world. But it is said that Jesus thwarted those expectations. He turned the other cheek when insulted by Pharisees and Roman soldiers and died to usher in some new sort of kingdom.

People got it all wrong! That is what some of my friends preached yesterday. Now let’s set aside for a minute minor discrepancies, history mythologized or mythology historicized. For a moment, let’s suspend any speculation or doubt. Let’s say it happened just like the best synthesis we can make of the various accounts say it did.

My pastor friends say that the hopes of faithful Jews were stretched near the breaking point for those first Jewish Christians who would proclaim that Jesus was the hope of Israel fulfilled. They had to have a “reorientation” to what god reigning upon the earth and being adored by the nations might mean. Where does that leave folks waiting for Jesus’ triumphal return?

From the earliest Christians, to the present day, faithful believers have waited for Jesus to come back with a sword in his mouth and judge the earth. From the most sectarian groups who believe very few will be accepted into Christ’s kingdom, to the universalist who hopes “all of the earth will be restored in Christ.” Everyone is waiting for the day of an earthly kingdom: some form of vindication or perhaps unification, where god reigns on earth.

Does this make the difference between yesterday’s sermons and the present hope of the many faithful the most startling juxtaposition? Whether shaming the crowds, disciples and Pharisees or finding some sympathies for them, the consensus is, “they didn’t get it… Jesus preached a different kind of kingdom!” But how different is it really if people are still waiting for “the great and terrible day of the Lord”?

Let me make it much more personal. I stood up and proclaimed for years, the return and reign of a triumphant Jesus, an earthly king. As an evangelical, it was more about warning people of the fires of hell. As a progressive pastor in the Reformed tradition, it was more about hope of god’s power and might, reigning on earth, restoring the cosmos. The means to an end – submission onto death and resurrection – may have been different than ancient Jews anticipated. But was the end result any different? What if Jesus was actually right when he said ‘the kingdom of god is among you, the kingdom is in you.’ What if we really are supposed to be the ‘his hands and his feet’? Does that make me, with my proclamations of a coming king, a present day Judas?

What if the faithful and the non-believer alike started to live like no god was ever coming back to save us? What if we lived like it was up to us to let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream? What if, rather than waging war or passively watching war and destruction on all sides, and waiting for god to clean it up, we resisted, protested, waged peace like we were earth’s only hope? I wonder if we all lived that way, and suddenly the sky did part, and the trumpet did sound, if Jesus might be a little more pleased with what he found?

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 34

I finally made it back to Spring Park in Middleville with my kids today. It wasn’t as epic as I wanted  it to be in my head. Last spring we had the park to ourselves. Today there was another family there with several kids. My two are always a little bit bashful and shy in such situations. Then after about 30 minutes, my daughter was “bored” and wanted to leave. Last year it was this whole thing! We spent a couple of hours there. Then we went to “downtown” Middleville and looked at the river, walked the boardwalk and concluded with going to Mount Hope Cemetery and visited my mother’s grave. Daddy was looking for another deep, cathartic experience today. But kids were just being kids. And they were more than a little eager to get to their Uncle’s house to have an Easter egg hunt with cousins.

Conversely, I was really nervous about my time with my family today. But it was a really great time! I woke up with a bit of a vulnerability hangover after yesterday’s post. This morning I was doing some self-interrogation about about sharing things that make some of my family members uncomfortable the night before I am going to spend the day with them. I had these ideas in my head about how bad conversations might go. You see, while my brother and sister know about the whole bisexual thing, my dad still has no clue. It was hard enough for him when, as a pastor, I told him I was accepting of LGBTQ people in all of their beautiful variety. That conversation went really bad. Really, really bad.

Other conversations have been difficult since I stopped pastoring, and eventually stopped going to church. He calls to tell me he is praying for me and worried about me. He says things like, “You think you’re fine now; but when you die…”

There was none of that today. He did start to talk about Trump (he is a supporter) and Syria. My brother and I (who agree on a lot of things socially if not “theologically”) just ignored it and moved on. My dad and Stepmom are really excited about a weekend trip to a log cabin resort next weekend, that we all chipped in and got them for Christmas. They are going on the one year anniversary of the car accident that my dad survived last year. So we talked about that. We watched the kids play. My brother shared some music with me that has been inspiring him. It was a nice time.

I am still working on not having those preemptive conversations in my head that make actual flesh & blood conversations more difficult. Sometimes we have to just be present in the moment, not in our heads about the way we think things could or should be.

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 33

There are certain musical artists whose music left such an indelible mark upon me in my youth, that I can only listen to them on rare occasion. The music takes me back, sometimes too far back. Besides church and my Mead Composition notebook (where I poured my heart out to Jesus and wrote poetry) music was my only other place of escape from anxiety and depression, which was was seriously exacerbated by dysfunction at home, being picked on at school and generally scared of the world. Many (but not all) of these artists who still have the ability to take me to a different time, place and state of mind are dead. Kurt Cobain is one of them. Tupac Shakur is another.

There was a time when I always turned the radio up in my car as loud as it could go if Smells Like Teen Spirit or California Love came on over the FM airwaves. Now I almost always turn the radio station. I’d rather listen to anything from Nirvana’s Unplugged or Tupac’s Me Against the World anyway. I always have been – and still am – a bit of a sucker for the softer side of “hard” artists.

By the time I was in seminary, I had already over-cultivated the practice of avoiding the music that took me back. I avoided a lot of emotions back then. After a friend of mine died, something in me snapped. I am still putting it some of those pieces back together. He took too many prescribed pills and swallowed way too much whiskey on December 27, 2009. He wore his broken heart on his sleeve, where it was colorfully represented by a tattoo rendition of Jakob von Steinle’s “Jacob Wrestles with Angel.” He struggled with anxiety and depression too. He had also struggled with his weight and body image. We both had bariatric surgery. And he didn’t like to talk about his, at least with me. In his final year or so of life, he abused copious amounts of alcohol. Being gay and feeling rejected by the church that he loved and longed to serve wasn’t his only struggle, to be sure. But it certainly fanned the flames of his depression exponentially.

After he died, something in me began a long slow and painful death. It was my internalized homophobia. I didn’t become an overnight activist. But I did slowly start to tell more and more people about my own bisexuality, my “experience” with that older boy at youth group when I was a teenager. And little by little my theology shifted from closeted and “concerned” to “open and affirming.” It would still be nearly another 6 years before I would “come out” publicly in cyberspace and on local public radio.

In retrospect, little about my slow, painful and increasingly vocal transition was “fair” to many of those around me, not least of which was my ex-wife. She had married a man who was theologically conservative, closeted and a willing participant in reparative therapy. She wasn’t the bigot it is sometime easier to believe she was. She simply didn’t recognize me anymore.

I didn’t do much to help that. I dove headlong into my shallow pool of depression. I wasn’t drinking a lot back then, in seminary. It was a weekend thing. It was an almost every weekend thing. I threw the best parties on seminary campus. But most nights, I settled to immersed myself in my adolescent place of escape. Over the shared high speed WiFi connection on campus, I went to the torrents and downloaded the complete discographies of Kurt Cobain, Andrew Wood (Mother Love Bone), the genius Shannon Hoon (Lyricist and vocalist for Blind Mellon and author of the quote across the top of my blog), Biggie and of course Tupac.

I became a bit obsessed with dead artists who had sad stories. And while I sat alone with my headphones on, I added the new habit of swimming in articles and books about their sad lives, the sometimes mysterious circumstances and conspiracy theories that surrounded their deaths and helped form the mythologies that enshroud their legacies. In between watching Tupac Resurrection and Nick Broomfield documentaries, I was reading contradictory theories about how Tupac was killed by the Illuminati because he refused to have sex with his sometimes girlfriend’s father, Quincy Jones, how the US government had orchestrated both Tupac and Notorious B.I.G.’s deaths or how Suge Knight was behind it all (I think some of these might have more validity than others). One of the songs I listened to a lot on repeat back then was Tupac’s Runnin’ from the Police.

Tonight I listened to for the first time in a few years. On it’s own it is a sad and rightfully angry song about police brutality against the black community. But when you add to it the fact that it is the only song Pac and Biggie ever recorded together before they became bitter enemies, it makes it a tougher listen. When you start dwelling on the fact that four of the artists on the song – 2Pac, Notorious B.I.G., Yaki Kadafi (then known as Young Hollywood) and Stretch – have all since been murdered, well holy shit it is can be a really depressing listen. Start reading around the inter-webs the various theories about how all of the deaths were connected by gang members or police or the FBI or all of the above working together and it can be a recipe for a tailspin. It was for me.

But it was a headtrip that I sought out. I was doing anything I could to avoid my own thoughts. If the world and the church hated my friend for being gay, then they hated a part of me. Harder still, I hated that part of me. Also, pieces of the great mysteries and myths that had marked my whole life (and to some extent still do) were beginning to crumble: god becoming a man, the devil hiding out in the basement. It was easier to think about the sad death of a celebrity than process the death of my friend. Believe it or not it was less disconcerting at the time to think about crooked law enforcement officials and gang members in collusion to kill some antihero rap stars than it was to think that the devil was literally all around me, trying to entice me to masturbate, or drink heavy, or eat too much.

Please do not misunderstand my intentions with this series of Lenten inspired posts. I am trying to write – better and more often – and in doing so finding much healing for myself. I am doing what I was born to do, even if for now, it is just pouring myself out for a few eyes who give me 5 minutes of their time on a busy internet where every story is sensational. What I am not trying to do is co-opt Lent to convert others to some sort of agnosticism with a deep sense of wonder and deep sympathies for religious faith (in particular Christianity) and atheism alike. I have spent way too much of my life as an apologist, trying to convert everyone to believe what I believed about the the world, about the divine and about myself.

Because I was so deeply afraid I was wrong! Now, I am just trying to avoid joining Tupac and my old friend in the ether before living as long and loving as much and as deeply as I possibly can.

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 32

On my way outa work I was listening to the old people Best of 80’s, 90’s and Today station. I heard Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream followed by Rod’s Stewart’s Forever Young. I had to turn the station before I heard Jack and Diane.

What is with all of our fetishizing of youth? I can appreciate Alphaville and bob my head to the Jay-Z remake of that other Forever Young (and we still haven’t even tapped Dylan). So many songs with the same theme, same name for crying out loud!

I am sorry Bob Seger, but I’m glad I know now what I didn’t know then. I wish I could have learned a few of life’s hardest lessons by osmosis. But it simply doesn’t work that way. I want to take what I’ve learned about myself, about the world, life, trust and doubt, hate and love and wear it on my sleeve. I realize it still won’t cover my whole arm. I have so much yet to learn, so many areas in which to grow.

I was a handsome little guy. But there was no simpler time. Just simplistic understanding. I want to allow the world to continue to stretch my heart and imagination longer than Yao Ming’s wing span.

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 31

Since Lent is the season of “repentance” let’s talk about it. Religious faith that is useful, constructive towards a better life, a better world might rightly proclaim that we indeed are fragile and maybe at times even broken people. And sometimes, we do horrible things to each, to our planet and to ourselves. Sometimes we can be downright vicious and self absorbed. Other times we can be utterly blind to the way we hurt others, our surroundings, or ourselves. Church folk sometimes call these things “sins of omission.”

But I am not a monster. Neither are you. We are not refuse. We are not garbage. We are not objects of wrath. If it offends your sensibilities when I say that god does not hate us then perhaps you do not truly know anything resembling a god of love.

Unfortunately it is sometimes hard for me to hear anyone say I love you. And sometimes I have to force the words out of myself to others. Because somewhere deep inside my whole life I have believed that I am just trash. And I have so closely aligned this feeling with the plain truth that we are all imperfect. I really thought god wanted me to hate myself. I have confused the self hatred that is a product of what Christianity calls “our brokenness” with the anxiety of growing up in a broken home. I mistook the disposition of my father or mother for the disposition of a divine being towards me. This is a tragic distortion of whatever might be good or true about the world’s religious faiths.

I have done many things in my life for which I am sorry, “repentant” even. But true repentance means a true effort towards different behavior. Guilt and shame and “worm” theology almost always perpetuate cycles of undesired behaviors and characteristics. It has become hard for me to hear some of the hymns and Christian songs that were my favorites growing up. Songs that were so attached to my “spiritual formation.” Amazing Grace just doesn’t sound as sweet anymore, when I hear a congregation singing in unison “a wretch like me.” I can’t listen anymore to Sufjan Stevens compare “The things under his floorboard” to John Wayne Gacy Jr.

I am not a wretch! I’m not a monster! Are you?

Posted in Health

Lent 30

I wanted to start writing by 10 tonight. It’s 11:30. I really, really wanted to write a sestina today. I will. I will write more poems. I will push myself to write more for National poetry month. I will write more in general.

But tonight I really need to cut myself some slack. My heart is heavy. My head is spinning. I am not in the emotional place I need to be to write about the day with some emotional intelligence. I need to be detached enough to pick up the feelings of fear and despair, write about them with honesty, but also be able to analyze them, with at least a little bit of distance.

I too often feel like I am drowning in a wading pool. No one is holding me down. But I am holding my breath. Laying, heavy in the bottom of the pool, with the rocks I have picked up, lining my pockets: This one is for going to school for 8 years, borrowing nearly 100 thousand dollars from the government that I’ll be paying back for the rest of my life only to give up on ministry. This one is for failing at marriage. This one is for yelling at my kids. This one is for rarely saying the things that need to be said. And this one is for too often speaking in haste, saying things out of anger or depression that I truly do not mean.

This is about not giving up. I have so many books half read. I have so many writing projects started and not finished. I said I was going to write every Monday – Saturday for the 40 days of lent, and goddammit I intend to fulfill that obligation to myself. It is a sign of change. A sign that I am learning to catch my breath, even after a day spent feeling like I was losing oxygen.

If you have ever struggled with depression and anxiety, you probably know a bit about what I mean. Even if I am being nearly as vague as possible about the specifics.

I do not believe that everything happens for a reason. But I do believe that we can dig in, inspect, and find reason, many reasons to put our head above water and empty our pockets.

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 29

I am exhausted. And I am sitting down to tackle two pieces of daily writing with an hour left in the day. Tomorrow we have an 8 am doctor’s appointment for my son. Then I have to be to work at 9:30. The kids are spending the day with Amanda. Then tomorrow night dinner, a little play time, then back to their maternal grandparents early Wednesday morning before I am off to work again. I imagine myself, roughly in this same place again tomorrow night. Though, hopefully an hour earlier.

Tonight we played the kids’ favorite game “hide the stuffed animals.” It’s just like it sounds.  When it was my son’s turn to hide things, he lost his own Pikachu (the replacement we just got him because he lost one at school on the playground). He started to freak out. Showers were delayed. We overturned couch cushions, looked in every drawer, the shower, refrigerator and oven (these are all places our plush little friends have went to hide before).

You don’t have to be the most intuitive reader to sense the cliché coming right about now. I found Pikachu when we all gave up looking, in a place we had already looked 10 times. He was behind my son’s box of Hot Wheels cars and tracks. Technically we had only looked frantically inside of the box, digging through piles of tracks and mirco-sized hot-rods, El Caminos and fire trucks.

Such is the way of life. People often find this true with possessions, with contentment, with finding the right job, with finding true love and on and on. We give up, we let go and then poof: we find what we were looking for in all of the wrong places. Such was certainly the case in my life when a only a month after my ex-wife and I split up, I asked Amanda on a date. I have known her since 1996. She is one of a very few people I have had a sustaining friendship with, throughout my whole adult life. I can count them on one hand. I thought about asking her out once in 1996. But a mutual friend at the time beat me to it an before I knew it, I was in their wedding. She came to my wedding.

Then things fell apart for us both around the same time. We started hanging out more to commiserate about our common experiences of heartbreak and failed marriages. Then the unthinkable happened. She took me to See “Inside Out.” She took me because she knew how much it meant to me on so many levels. I had seen it just a few months earlier on opening weekend. It was the last movie I ever saw with my children and there mother, the four of us together. I was crying – like snot running down my nose crying – throughout. This was not the first date! That was yet to come. This was a friend who decisively does not love all things Disney-Pixar the same way I do, going to see an animated film with me on a Saturday night, at the cheap theater, right before it hit Blu-ray and digital release. We could have waited a couple days and rented it. But she took me just because she deeply cared about me. People don’t just do that kind of shit. They really don’t. It is a lucky person who can count more than one friend that is so willing to forgo their own interests on a Saturday night to watch you blubber during a children’s film. It’s the same kind of person that a year or so later, gives up their Saturdays off in exchange for Tuesday to pick up your kids from school, so you can continue to have one night with them each week. She’s a keeper for sure!

But there is a danger when we take these amazing, life changing kind of experiences, moralize them and couple them up with a phrase from Jesus or Buddha: “He who loses his life will find it” or “He who envies others does not find peace of mind.”

Sometime you don’t find Pikachu. Sometimes you can give up, let go, be as relaxed as possible about the job interview and still not receive the call back. Sometimes you can give up on looking for love, friendship, happiness and still find yourself lonely and depressed. There is a danger in making moral lessons out of our good fortune. Because it is just that. I don’t use the word blessing often anymore because of a lifetime of negative connotation. But I am hard-pressed to find a better word to explain the way I feel about the second chance at life and love and fatherhood, all with this amazing partner I have by my side. I no longer want to tout my good fortune/luck/blessings to others like ‘If you’d only _________ everything would be okay.’ I lived that way most of my life and still found myself in what seemed like a bottomless pit.

I am thankful we found Pikachu. I am thankful Amanda and I found each other. But I never want to stop looking. Not for another Pikachu. Not for another partner. But for all of the many ways I can be a better father, better partner, better friend, a better human being.

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 28

Because I love poetry, or because I am a masochist or simply because I am absurd, I am seriously contemplating taking up a second and overlapping, 30 day writing challenge for April, which is poetry month! 30 days. 30 different poetic forms. Not sure yet if I want to just do this in a private writer’s group where less people will notice if I miss a day, or take it here to the blog as well.

This could be very good for me. I have a problem with the substance of my poetry that I want to tackle. Too much of my poetry exemplifies a broader problem in my life. It is a problem that affects my mental and emotional health as well as my relationship to others. I have a much easier time expressing disappointment, disillusionment, depression, sadness and anger than I do expressing comfort, contentedness, contentment, happiness and joy.

Throughout my life I have rarely written about those I love in poetic form. The most noted exception has long been, if they have hurt me or I have hurt them in some way, then they show up in a poem. The other exception has been if I am expressing love in the form of anxiety. These poems have mostly been romantic in nature. From adolescence through my former life as a husband, the substance of my romantic poetry has largely been, ‘I love you, please don’t leave me.’ Or, ‘I love you! Thank you for saving me.’ In high school I wrote a poem for a girl who had just broken up with me about how I was just watching the clock waiting to die. The first poem I wrote for my ex-wife was – in retrospect – as ugly as it was beautiful. The setting was a surreal nightmare in which my whole life I had been prisoner of “black on bone grey devil” and a “dragon.” In the poem, she “woke me from my slumber” and “cut the head off the dragon.”

That is a lot for one person to bear. Too much! I am sorry in so many ways and to so many people that it took me so long to realize that I am responsible for my happiness: my mental, emotional, and physical salvation.

If I take up this additional writing challenge, I want at least 1/3 of the poems to be about love: love for someone or something or love for life. The one I wrote today wasn’t. Alas, I’ll write another day.

Maybe I am truly a glutton for punishment. This Lenten writing series has already ripped me open, raw, and found me writing at my most vulnerable and exposed. Now I am contemplating a 30 day challenge with two rules and adding an additional rule of my own. It sounds like I’ve talked myself into it!

I have been trying to write a poem about my sister since I was about 15. I have started it at least 100 times. I have a book she gave me for Christmas when I was about 13, Charles M. Sheldon’s In His Steps (the book that coined the phrase “What would Jesus do?). Tucked away in the middle of the book is a letter that my sister wrote to anyone who would read it: “Hi my name is Brenda. Not every day is good for me. Sometimes my parents fight. Sometimes my dad leaves.” I snatched it up. I have longed to answer her letter in a poetic form, find some way to say, ‘Here is the happy life I would give you. I love you. Don’t give up.’

I am changed. And I am changing. It is wonderful and wonderfully frightening. A few months ago I wrote a love poem for Amanda called “Hearts in Calloused Hands.” It wasn’t about hurting me. It wasn’t a plea for her to save me. It was all about how love, real love requires of us to hold our own fragile, broken hearts in our own calloused hands and be able to say “I love you!” Before we can really reach into another’s chest-cage and hold their heart high, giving thanks, giving praise for the joy they bring, we must first do the same with our own fragile hearts.

In the days to come, you can expect two post each day until Lent is over. To be sure, some of them will be dealing with my depression and my fight for mental and emotional health. But hopefully some of them will be silly, funny, irreverent, short (*gasp!*) and some of them will be about love! Challenge accepted!

Posted in Health, Poetry

Lent 27

I’ve been sharing a lot lately about some of the pain that cut me deeply while I was growing up. Please don’t misunderstand me. I love my family immensely!

I may have inherited my depression from my mom and my avoidance of conflict and difficult conversations from my dad. But my mom also passed to me her faith. I haven’t come to all of the same conclusions she did about god and life. Still, despite messing my head up with shame and guilt and magical thinking, I cannot possibly overstate how monumental and elemental that formation was on who I am today. My mom also had a burning thirst for justice that could never be quenched. Despite dogma, she was deeply inquisitive. She was once thrown out of a Bible study for asking if anyone else had ever wondered if the Jews were right about the Messiah and if Jesus could have been some sort of Antichrist. I never want to grow blind or numb to the injustice that rages all around me. And I never want to let go of that wild sense of wonder at the world around. I never want to quit questioning, evaluating, evolving. Thank you mom!

My father – even in his worst years of alcoholism – has always been the hardest worker I have ever witnessed in my life. A lot of the times that he was absent when I was a youth, he was working his fingers to the bone laying sod and guardrail, doing road construction all over the state Michigan. Even retired, at age 71, he still works his ass off. He does odd jobs for my uncle. He is always at my brother’s house cutting and stacking wood, tinkering with vehicles, boats, or helping my brother work on his barn. I have had mostly sedentary jobs throughout my life: retail, sales and a short time in ministry. But I did inherit (at least some) of my dad’s work ethic and a double portion of his fighting spirit. Besides the time when I was a full time student, working at part time internships, I have only been jobless a few weeks of my adult life. In fact I hung on so long, fought so hard to find my place in ministry that my heart was broke a thousand times over and I nearly lost my sanity. I haven’t become the hunter and gatherer that my dad is; and I always seem to have jobs where I am not the primary bread winner (with my ex-wife and with Amanda). But I don’t give up. I punch that damn clock everyday to support my loved ones.

I often wonder what my mom would say if she could see me now. I often worry about what my dad thinks of me. Will he ever be as proud of me as that day I graduated from seminary? I know he worries about me not going to church. He worries about my “soul.” I wonder if he will ever say he is proud of me for not giving up on life and work after a soul crushing 4 years candidating at churches, receiving one rejection letter after another. Will he ever say he is as proud of me for swallowing my pride and taking an entry level job and going to work everyday, after earning a Masters degree that is useless in almost any other field?

We almost lost my dad a year ago. All of those years when I was young and he drove drunk behind the wheel, he never received so much as a scratch. Last April, after a day of working around my brothers house all day he was ran off the road on a sunny Saturday afternoon by someone who was either drinking or texting or changing the radio station. We’ll never know. The hit and run cracked his head open and broke his jaw. A few weeks in the hospital and a year later, he is back to fishing and working any odd job he can.

It scared the hell out of me. When my mom passed, there had been so many words left unsaid. I had to do a couple of years of deep soul searching to integrate my negative feelings and love for her. I don’t want to make the same mistake with my dad. I want to tell him how proud I am of him for sobering up, for never being to old to learn from his mistakes. I want to tell him I adore the way he interacts tenderly with my step-mom. I want to learn to express my love and admiration for him while he is here. I want to have those difficult conversations. I want to stand my ground about my decision to leave ministry before it killed me, agree to disagree, and still tell him I love him.

I am a work in progress. Don’t give up on me dad. Once upon a time you put us through a lot of hell. I have never given up on you. I hope. And again, I want to turn my hope into action.