As I made my way back up I35 from Waco, I received a request in Midlothian. The pickup location was 30 minutes from my current position, just north of Czech Stop. I accepted the trip. If not, I wasn’t going to overcome the urge to turn around and head back to Czech Stop for some of their delicious kolaches or jalapeno bread.
Jake and Josh.
I headed for Midlothian. GPS put me on some dark country roads. Somehow I managed to avoid a small army of rabbits crossing the road. No gas station anywhere along my route, and I was running low on gas by the time I reached Jake’s house. Then we headed to Cedar Hill to pickup his friend Josh.
They hadn’t seen each other in 5 years. They grew up in the same neighborhood. So this little reunion of sorts was now on the way to Dallas, with one more stop for me to get gas and for Jake and Josh to get some energy drinks. Jake hopped out and immediately paid at the pump, instructing me to fill it up. Jake used his credit card to pay for my gas! When he got back to the car we took off for Dallas. Before we got to our destination, Jake had a plan. He paid me to stay near the club so I could give them a ride back home. Wow. That was great!
During the ride to Dallas, they talked about their youth, about some of their childhood adventures. It reminded me of my own younger days, playing streetball from dawn to dusk. Mrs. White’s mail box was the goal line for our football games. The streetlight by my house was the north goal line. We used tennis balls for baseball to cut down on the broken windows. Or, that was our theory, anyway. My friend Tony (we called him that) ripped one once, so hard that even being a tennis ball still punched a hole right through my next door neighbor’s window.
Tony’s actual name is Xavier. So he was called by several nicknames including Tony, T, Xavier, and X. He was standing over the manhole cover we used for home plate when he blasted that ball. We all turned to watch it go right through the window if my next door neighbor’s house. I looked back at X and all I saw was the bat on the ground still rolling across home plate. X was gone! A few minutes later he came out of his house with a surprised look on his face, asking us what happened because he heard what sounded like glass breaking.
Yep, he was a funny guy. Xavier passed away in 2014 from a heart attack. He is dearly missed. Baseball with my neighborhood pals is one of my favorite memories growing up on those long hot summer days in Texas. X has been on my mind lately. I guess it’s because of my little heart scare.
Both rides/conversations, first with Steve and Susan, and then with Jake and Josh took me on a journey down memory lane, revisiting my youth. Both trips were with very kind people.
Hey I think this kindness thing might be catching on!
I kept thinking about the past. I have also been struggling in the present. So, the past seemed like a good place to dwell for awhile. It is way too easy to get caught up in the daily stress and anxiety of life. Sometimes it takes a look back to realize how far you have come and to appreciate the journey.
Slowly, I have been moving forward. But still without a certain feeling. I was still looking for a sign, looking for a reason for my struggles and my family’s struggles. I have prayed, I have my faith. I am not feeling optimistic. Just tired. Just low.
The lights came on!
It took me awhile to focus and find it, but God’s grace has been there the whole time. Helping me. Guiding me.
I have been watching a movie on Netflix called An Interview With God. I will watch a few minutes here and there when I am waiting for a request at the airport or maybe on a lunch break. I finally finished it. It had a profound impact on me in my current funk.
In part of the film, Paul, the protagonist, is narrating, and says “Having faith isn’t worth much if you don’t truly believe. I kept praying, sure. But I stopped looking or even listening. So yeah. I see it now. Definitely a sign!” Referring to God’s presence in his life.
I realized I had not been paying attention. God took me down memory lane. He was trying to connect to me. Flying was a time when I really felt close to God without any background noise or distractions.
He brought me back to my neighborhood to remind me to live in the present. Make the most of each day, like in my youth, playing baseball in the street. Focus on the joy, not what has gone wrong.
He showed me that even when bad things happen, like the death of a friend, God is with us and good things are happening too. People come together. A friend brings you a meal. You share stories and celebrate life. I don’t know about you, but while I am sad and hurt when I lose a friend, I am also reminded that I am still alive and kicking. So kick!
More importantly, I am reminded that my life has continually been blessed. I am reminded of friendships that have lasted a lifetime. I am reminded of the joy in life. I am also reminded that flying a Beechcraft Bonanza is seriously kick ass!
My focus and balance have returned. I feel connected again. I feel God’s grace. I see the many many miracles that occur every day. Yeah, I am still tired, but incredibly thankful to be alive.
Bad things still happen. Life is still about running against the wind. But it is joyous.
Again, from the film,
“God hears our prayers. If you wonder where he is, his response is to start by looking to each other. And, that’s where he will be.”
I wrote this post below on March 4, 2019, not long after I had a heart attack and received 2 stents. I got a third a few months later. Now, as I write this update to the story, my father is in the hospital in Carson City. He and his wife live in Reno, but they chose the Carson hospital because they thought they would receive greater care for his heart issue. My dad is currently in his procedure now; Angiogram to see what is happening. I found it remarkable when Debby (my father’s wife) told me the Doc who is performing the procedure used to actually play backup guitar for Bob Seger. Well, there you have it. God’s grace through healing hands and, well, Rock-n-Roll! This will make more sense toward the end.
I am praying for good news. In the mean time, I am sharing this post again for Pop. He too, is tired and worn, but still running against the wind...
The Longest Trip.
Lord, I’m tired. I wonder, Lord, if you might give me shelter from the storm. The wind is blowing and I’m getting older. The wind is blowing and I am still running against it, as I have always done. But I’m tired and worn. I need some help. I need some hope. I just can’t shake this and I have lost a step or two…
Lately, I have been struggling. I have been questioning. I have been confused. There are days, more lately, where I find myself trying to reconcile God’s will with my own. I feel like I can’t find that balance. There is this nagging fear that I am failing, going nowhere, no matter how hard I try. There have been too many days where I forgot what it feels like, to feel good. Sometimes it feels like pushing on the ocean. Buts its just running against the wind, and I am not failing. And, I am not forsaken.
I haven’t written much lately. I haven’t found my voice again. At least until now. But this has taken me weeks to write. I have been in a bit of a fog, feeling weak, feeling like I have been knocked down and I am still coming to my senses. I feel incredibly mortal, fragile. And, that will pass. But nothing comes easy. There is a cost to everything.
We all struggle. If you look around and think about it, every person you know has struggles. That’s life. We all get knocked down. We all deal with difficult times. We are all still running against the wind. At least now that we’re older, we know we are stronger together. And, we are stronger through God’s grace.
Still, I am struggling.
Sunday, March 4th, 2019
Last night I picked up Steve and Susan from DFW airport. We hit it off before we got out of the terminal area. I am very glad too, because it was a 2 hour trip down just southwest of Waco. They live in McGregor, TX. I actually took them to the municipal airport where they have a hangar that keeps their 1961 Beechcraft Bonanza. Their car happened to be there as well.
Steve and I swapped flying stories. I have a little flight time in the same make and model as his Bonzana. Stock photo below.
They haven’t lived in Texas very long; less than a year. I asked Steve what brought him to Texas and he answered, Chip and Joanna Gaines. Seriously? I asked. Apparently, they watched the show Fixer Upper and decided Waco seemed like a nice place to live. It definitely has a lower cost of living than their previous home of 30 years, in Seattle.
Originally, they planned a retirement in the Caribbean, spending all their time on a catamaran. But their son was diagnosed with cancer. He is good now. But they say the next 5 years are the greatest risk of it returning. Steve and Susan decided to stay landside in case their son needed help. He lives in Houston.
So they came down and met the Gaineses. Joanna helped them find a house in McGregor. Their house in a Seattle suburb sold for $450 per square foot. Their new home in Texas cost $97 per sq. foot. They doubled the size for less money. Susan said they love being here and wish they had come to Texas 20 years ago.
As we continued to talk about aviation we started getting into the history of both our families. It turns out, Steve’s dad flew F4U-4 Corsairs in WWII. He was based in Guadalcanal, Henderson Field for a bit as well as the carriers, Lexington and Enterprise. While it was a completely different ship and in the 1970’s my father was an air traffic controller on the nuclear version of the Enterprise, CVN65. Besides the F4U-4 Corsair, Steve’s father also flew Wildcats and Bearcats off the deck of a carrier. My favorite aircraft of all time is the F4U corsair and it just happens to be Steve’s dad’s favorite as well. Especially since he flew them in combat, dogfighting Japanese Zeroes.
Dropping Steve and Susan off at McGregor airport was a real treat. It has been a while since I have been on an airfield. I enjoyed following the taxi lane to his hanger. It definitely brought back some memories.
Dropping them off completed the longest trip thus far in my 2 and a 1/2 years of driving Uber and Lyft. I think it was 123 miles. We had such a great time talking along the way, they offered to take me to dinner in Waco at their favorite burger place called Freddy’s. I had to gracefully decline and get back up to DFW. But it sure was a nice gesture. Steve and Susan, you guys are true kindness Warriors. Correction, Kindness Aviators!
Talking about our experience flying brought back so many memories. Thinking back on those days, I was so confident, so ambitious. I didn’t play by anyone elses rules. I thought I could do anything. But I was always running. I was running to or from something. Heartache, depression, loneliness, who knows exactly. But when I flew, I was at peace. Up there with the deep blue sky and the lofty clouds, I had no fears. My demons were left on the ground below. Up there it was just me and God.
Now, here I am, ragged and worn, still trying to re-engage. Still trying to find that place of grace that seems lost. I am running on fumes with no end in sight. But, I am still running.
Bob Seger was in town Saturday at the Ford Center in Frisco. I think his song, Against the Wind represents it best.
I know I am not alone. We are all struggling. We all keep running against the wind. It’s what we do. Sometimes, it’s all we can do.
Lately, there have been many sleepless nights. My family has endured some very difficult times over the last two years. As we try to process the heartache and sadness we have endured, it has left us anxious, angry, and at times, totally confused as to which is up and which is down. The streetlights have all gone out and our path is dark, full of terror.
I am right back where I started when I began this series, All My Empty Spaces. I am completely lost. And now, I will try to find what goes in the biggest empty space I have. No, not my brain. I can feel several of you making that sarcastic quip as you read this. Lovingly, of course. And I do appreciate it, more than any of you will ever know.
Nevertheless, it is love that has left me empty now; love that has crushed my spirit. It is love that has created the vacuum and the void which sucks in all this despair and pain. It is love of life that I have lost. It is love for each other that is all used up. So many other things, negative shit, have begun to fill that space. It becomes difficult to keep the demons from asserting control.
Stress is major contributor to heart attacks. It can increase your blood pressure and damage your arterial walls. Love lost or betrayed is stressful. So, the absence of that one ingredient, the most important ingredient of life, is deadly. A shortage of love can harm us all because we are all connected. I still don’t think everyone gets that.
Behold, there are only three things that will last: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love. —1 Corinthians 13:13
“Love alone is sufficient unto itself. It is its own end, its own merit, its own satisfaction. It seeks no cause beyond itself and needs no fruit outside of itself. Its fruit is its use. Love is our deepest identity and what we are created in and for. -Richard Rhor
January 15th, 2022
As I observe our society, I do see love. I see the goodness in people. But that has become less and less dominant. We have traded empathy for risk mitigation and policy. But we can’t even get that right. This world has become heartbreaking. Mostly because humans suck. The love is gone and we are comfortably numb.
We have made the message far more more important than the meaning, money more important than wealth of health or spirit. We try to impress people with loving words, meaningful words, like “love thy neighbor,” “reconcilliation,” and “be love.” But many of those who preach love are often nowhere to be found when love is actually needed. I am talking about the love that exists when we are uncomfortable, inconvenienced, or lied to. I am referring to the kind of love you give when it hasn’t been given to you. Love ain’t easy. It sure isn’t simple. But love is worth it, everytime.
So, so you think you can tell Heaven from hell? Blue skies from pain? Can you tell a green field From a cold steel rail? A smile from a veil? Do you think you can tell?
Did they get you to trade Your heroes for ghosts? Hot ashes for trees? Hot air for a cool breeze? Cold comfort for change? Did you exchange A walk-on part in the war For a leading role in a cage?
We are all connected!! We were designed to help each other. We have intelligence and empathy. We were given a great and powerful abililty to think, rationalize, invent, innovate, and…
January 29th, 2022
The razor’s edge.
It happened again today. I was driving to the store and it came upon me suddenly. It hasn’t occurred in some time. But when it does, it always seems to be when I am driving, alone, with the music cranked up.
I stood on the razor’s edge and was one with the world. The experience always starts the same. My emotions begin to stir. The hair on my arms and neck begin to stand up. Goose bumps ensue. I start to see flashes of memories, good and bad, but almost always thoughts that I could never tap into otherwise. It all begins to coalesce into what I can only describe as energy streaming through me.
Its the million little memories, experiences, smells, sounds, and visual snapshots of places I have been that come crashing through me with little or no control of what or how fast. I see all the people who have been in my life. I see everyone and everything. It’s like tapping into a water main or touching an electric cable. In silence, it becomes painful and self destructive. Play the right song and it feels more like a superpower. After the intial impact of the everything energy stream, I can even hone in on certain events or people, or places I want to remember.
The first time I remember having one of these overwhelming rush experiences, I happened to be listening to Clair de Lune, by Debussy. I suppose it feels similar to a drug. But I have never taken a drug as powerful as the adrenaline and endorphin kick, maybe with a dopamine chaser for the memory access, that just seems to come from my own body. In that moment I can feel all the beauty and all the despair in the world, simultaneously.
My doctor seems to think it is an anxiety attack. I suppose that might be true. It does tend to happen when I am in a deeper state of depression but coming up. It has also occured a few times going down. Either way, I have come to embrace it because it really does open my memories in deep deep storage. It never lasts more than about 5 minutes. The intensity can often leave me exhausted and in tears immediately after the occurrence. Then, all the deep memories, save two or three, leave my consciousness and return to their memory archives.
I find it truly amazing how the brain works. There are some people who can tap into deep or long-term memories on command. Not me. My access comes at random times and not focused, in the sense that the experience is more like an avalanche, whatever the way or reason for these events. I love it. I love it because it is a powerful life affirming experience. It’s like my brain is trying to counter the effects of my depression. But instead of a modest gain you might get from an anti-depressant medication, you get an effect similar to when an old oil rig would strike oil and it comes spewing out. Yep, this is how you rationalize a chemical imbalance which causes a mental disease or disorder. You call it a superpower.
This little superpower of mine clears the fog and darkness. It brings in the light and shows me the beauty of life. It shows me exactly what connects us all. It reveals to me the essential building blocks of any life, of all life.
And that’s how you find joy in depression.
Monday February 14, 2022. Just before midnight. Another near death experience.
I woke up because my tonsils were swollen and began blocking my airway. I was congested, so nose breathing was difficult too. I woke my wife, Mindy, and she drove me to the hospital. I felt like any second I would lose the ability to breathe and die. I couldn’t speak.
I found myself in that little ER space, an open ended 8′ by 8′ triage area with barely enough room for the bed and the monitor. I sat, focusing almost all my efforts on just trying to breath and not choke on my tonsils. One cough would blow them out and over my tongue completely closing off my airway. At one point in the chaos, I looked around and counted 10 people. 10 people in scrubs or doctor’s coats, all in or very close to that tiny little space where I sat, just trying to breathe. I began to disassociate with reality. The whole situation became surreal.
The ER Doc who was quarterbacking this event was pointing to various people and confirming things. At one point he completed his prelaunch check around the room, Go Flight! He then announced “I have the Propofol in my pocket!” He then turned to the intubation team and asked if they were ready with the ketamine. They had already hit me twice with epinephrine injections. No help. The anesthesiologist standing immediately to my right, really more like directly over me, looked at me and said “everything is gonna be alright.” But, she told me that I will be sedated for awhile as they try to get the swelling down and determine the cause. I could think of nothing but this Bob Marley song until the lights went out.
I had already been briefed on possible outcomes, including a tracheotomy. I was thinking in that moment, as the ER Doctor explained how that would work, about my oldest son, Jacob. He went through that after a rodeo event that caused facial injuries. He had to be trached for the surgical repair. I remember watching as he woke up and seeing this fear and panic start to set in as he became aware of his new temporary condition. He was so brave. He fought through the fear and discomfort to immediately begin learning how to breath from a tube in his throat.
As I thought about how scared I was, watching my son wake to this, I suddenly found peace. My son’s love brought it to me. I watched the 10 people around me, standing by to execute their mission and intubate me. In that moment, I found a calm place knowing, everything’s gonna be alright. There was a packed room of people ready to make sure of it and I am eternally thankful.
My next memory was waking up (a day and a half later) and being updated on my situation. Thanks for going first and shining the light, Jake. Your courage saved me in that moment.
Friday morning, February 18th, 2022
I sat outside on the porch, just in the shadow of the eave but close enough to feel the warmth of the sun on my toes. I didn’t have enough energy to move or do anything. Even the slightest position change spiked the already overwhelming pain and nausea. My body was trying to die. I felt like it was on strike and ready to burn down the house; ready to permanently foreclose on my soul. My head was hot and hurting everywhere. I had this unrelenting tremor that was playing prestissimo to my heart’s presto fortè.
I was weary. I was ready to let it all just go if that was about to happen. Too tired. Too many of these traumatic experiences. I can’t go any further. I gave it my best shot. Or maybe it wasn’t even near my best. Maybe I have been coming up short all my life and it was time I realized that will always be the case, so long as I keep taking up oxygen.
Ego, a scoop of self-pity, another scoop of self-loathing, all with a bit of loveless whip cream topped with an angry little cherry. I quit. I will just sit here and have my little loser sadness sunday and wait for my ticket to be punched. Come get me God. I am ready to go. Please bring napkins.
Ruts are difficult to get your wagon out of on a good day. The longer you travel in that rut, the deeper it gets. Add dark and stormy weather, and that is it. Yer done!
I have come to greatly dislike the phrase “God never gives you more than you can handle.” What a complete load of bullshit! I have had more than I can handle for awhile now. If this is God only giving me what I can handle, perhaps God needs an anger management class or maybe some angels doing an intervention.
God walks with us. God is love. But God doesn’t give us bad stuff to deal with. God doesn’t control our every move. People are quite often stupid and sinful. God doesn’t direct or inspire us to be stupid and sinful. That’s totally on us. So when bad things happen, it isn’t because God is allowing it to happen. It isnt because God will limit the amount of pain and destruction that might fall upon us to “what we can handle.” God also gave us a brain, a soul and a heart of love. One other thing, he gives us his amazing grace, everyday, every minute. No, grace doesn’t mean God will save you from disease or violence. What it does mean is God gives us love. Love that sparks life within each of us and for all of us. Love inspires us. Love compels us to live, to get up. Love is how we are all connected. Love is why, when our wagon is stuck in a rut, in a rainstorm, at night, we help each other get out of that rut.
Sitting on my porch in misery, In that tiny little moment, I found myself, again, in a surreal state. I became dissociated with my body. I began to notice the different birds. I saw a cardinal in the tree farthest from me. Eight turkey vultures flew high overhead circling and looking for their next meal. Two sparrows would land in a high branch and then jet off. This happened several times while I silently sat in my chair. They were clearly building a nest.
I could hear the distinct sound of a Big Wheel, the next street over, being ridden by a child while his grandmother and father conversed. The grandmother would occasionally warn the new racer to be careful and slow down. A couple of squirrels debated which neighboring roof was better to bask in the sun. I could hear a radio filtering music between the houses and over my fence, perhaps from an open garage.
There was an occasional motorcycle or sport car zooming down through traffic on 303 just south of my subdivision. I saw planes overhead. There was a Cessna 172 and much higher, a Boeing 777 turning final into DFW Airport. We must be in north flow, I thought. As miserable as I was, that brought me peace. It gave me a brief moment to appreciate the simplest blessing there is, to be alive.
It’s a wonderful life.
So long as we can be loving to each other and ourselves, it’s a wonderful life. Being present and focused on the now is so very important for all of us. Too often, we get wrapped up in the past, or what is to come, and we fail to be present. Pause for a moment. Hey, take an hour. It doesn’t matter so long as you pause and notice the life and love all around you. There is no guarantee of tomorrow, so share that love while you can.
You can only control so much. What do you do with the empty space where you would otherwise assert control? The common phrase is leave it in God’s hands. Or leave it up to the universe. Or, for some of you, just say to heck with it. Whatever happens, happens.
Having gone through the experience of standing at the precipice more than a few times now, I can firmly say this,
There is always potential, as in electricity. It can be in life altering moments, death, love, joy, pain, or it can simply be deciding what to watch on Netflix. There is always, always that potential for your will to meet God’s will. When the connection is made, well, that’s grace. It is always there. We just need to open our hearts to it. It will always be given. Not almost or too much. Just enough. Don’t overthink it. You will blow a gasket.
Just know, if you want or need God’s grace, it is always there. Just allow it. Just close the circuit. That doesn’t mean God will take away your disease, or end the violence, or bring justice. But it does mean he is with you no matter what. So keep living. Keep getting up. And if one day, your ticket is punched, God will be right there with you offering the comfort of his grace. And, if needed, napkins. Same goes for L.O.V.E. because that is what we are made of.
Be love. Be kind. We are all connected. Life is better with a soundtrack.
O.k. What’s next?
Here is a link to the Spotify playlist created for this final post in my series, All My Empty Spaces. Peace be with you.
Hi welcome to Chic-fil-A. Can I have a name for the order?
The sun is setting here in Arlington, TX. A sunny but chilly day has melted away most of the ice and snow from our biggest winter event of the season. That’s just another weekday for northerners. Our landscape has lost the bright white in favor of our usual pale yellows, greys and dull January landscapes. Texas weather changes so much, many of the live oaks only lose about half their leaves trying to figure out if its winter or summer. The Pin Oaks seem to know what time of year it is. But the Live Oaks each have their own fall schedule, it seems.
Welcome to Taco Bueno, one moment please.
Not much light left now. Just the yellow and orange Western horizon. There is a feeling of peace and, perhaps a little introspective melancholia in the car as the three of us listen to the music and wait for food orders in the drive thru. Katie is at a retreat. Ben home. Mindy, Leia, and I are collecting the food. It’s Saturday night. Everyone gets what they want.
What is it about Saturday night that always brings out the 80s?
Our trip to Taco Bueno was for Ben, my son. He always orders the same thing, a cheese quesadilla and a bean burrito, with plenty of hot sauce. We recognized the voice of the man who took our order because he never gets our order right. Seriously, never. Tonight was no different. I guess you could say it worked out. This time we ended up with 2 extra tacos. Bonus for me.
My wife, Mindy, and I have been feeling an enormous amount of stress and mental fatigue lately. Neither of us have slept well. We have both been anxious all day. Somehow, taking a little drive with our daughter, Leia, to get food helped us. Just being together in the car, going to a few familiar places and listening to music as the sun went down helped take some of the stress away. Nothing grand. But simple and peaceful, together.
After the food run, we settled in to watch the latest Ghostbusters movie. It was wonderful. There were some brilliant lines and nods to the original from the 80s. The music, effects, and general feel of the movie were like the original as well. I felt transported away from 2022. We laughed, alot. We shared a few hours together. It was good.
The upside of dealing with a shitty world is it makes you truly appreciate some of the most basic but definitely blessed parts of life. It reminds me how very important it is to really be in the now. It reminds me that no matter how much people can be hurtful and cruel, there are always others who are kind and loving. Spend less time with the former and more time with the latter.
There are many battles ahead. There are people who continue to do harm. And we will fight those battles. But tonight, tonight we have let it all go, even if just for a little while. That little drive took us to a better place. It allowed us to travel on a safer, kinder, more peaceful path. There was a light, several really, that shined down on us to say, we are together and so much better for it.
Don’t let the darkness take over. Remember you are not alone. Open your heart to the grace we receive each day and the loving reminders all along your path that life is beautiful. Keep going, even when you are weary, and you will find little bits of hope and joy along your journey. Just as, one by one, you pass under streetlights on a Saturday night.
Be love. Be kind. We are all connected. Life is better with a soundtrack. And, Saturday night that soundtrack is all about the 80s!.
Thinking about those important little moments, I am reminded of a woman I met from my Uber experiences that showed me the importance of now. Here is a #peopleprofiles edition of StreetLights On A Saturday Night from August 26th, 2019.
StreetLights On A Saturday Night
And, with her permission…
Janet was 22 when she met Chris. She was a senior at UCLA; While Chris was a first year law student at Loyola. Janet described it as love at first site. She said Chris swept her off her feet. They moved in together just 3 months after they met. They were officially engaged a month later. The engagement last a couple of years because they wanted to wait until Chris was finished with law school. Janet is a California native who grew up in San Diego. Chris is from the Houston, Texas area. They both felt like they were in one of those happily ever after stories, Janet described with a smile. “He was this tall Texan, quick witted, and very charming.” She said.
Chris was welcomed into Janet’s family immediately and he found an attorney position in San Diego. Janet had been working as a waitress while in school back in L.A. But by the time they moved to San Diego, She was pregnant with their first of two daughters, Hannah. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the name of their other daughter. There is only so much I can learn about someone in a 30 minute car ride!
Janet elected not to work but to spend as much time as she could as a full time mom. Chris was making a good salary, and they were fortunate because Chris’s parents paid off his student loans (contingent upon his finishing law school ). “We were living perfect lives.” Janet stated in a melancholy tone. Chris began working long hours. He also began to drink alcohol more frequently and spent many nights out with some of his colleagues. Things really started to change when Chris got a DUI. His attitude and temperament began to change. He was under more stress at work and became distant to Janet. When she tried to address it with him, he became defensive and hostile, insisting he was working very hard to support their family, so he was entitled to blow off steam. Things get really bad when Janet discovered Chris had also been using cocaine. Ultimately, she had reached her limit and upon confronting Chris, He again became angry. This time with abuse language directed at Janet, and the kids. Janet described the scene as heartbreaking and horrific. Both the girls were crying and Janet was overwhelmed. She immediately told Chris to leave that night, to move out. And, so he did. He first moved to a hotel, then to a friend’s from work, and finally into a small apartment. Chris continued to spiral down. His work declined and he was unable to reliably do anything. Janet made the decision to file for divorce six months after he left. He had only spent a limited time with the girls during that period; and when he showed up one day to pick them up, Janet could easily tell he had been drinking and refused to let them go.
Janet was heartbroken and confused. She just couldn’t understand how he would be willing to throw it all away, their marriage, their children, a great career. Janet made a phone call to Chris’s mother in Houston telling them she was concerned Chris might end up dead. She said she made one more call that night, to Chris. She had to leave a voicemail saying she was begging him to go back to Texas, go back to his parents, and get help. In the meantime, Janet had to start working. Fortunately, Janet had the support of her family. “My family saved us.” She said graciously. Chris was able to somehow avoid being fired and managed to take an unpaid leave of absence on the condition that he seek help with his addictions and get clean. He did as Janet asked and moved back in with his parents in Texas.
Janet continued to move forward with the divorce but she would occasionally call Chris to check on him. If nothing else, He was still the father of her two daughters and she hoped he would eventually take a more active role in their lives once he got clean. Chris did get the help he needed. He slowly began to face his demons. At some point, Janet was talking with him and began to hear a familiar voice, the voice of the man she fell in love with. This changed nothing. She was still firm on divorce. One day, few months ago, Chris called her. This call was an apology. This call was Chris realizing their relationship was over and he knows it was his fault. Janet said he accepted her request and would be staying in Houston for awhile longer. He then, according to Janet, began joking around on the phone, making fun of himself. He ended the call with talking to both of his daughters. He told them he would be back in San Diego to visit them but would be living Houston near Mammaw and Papaw (guessing on the spelling)
Janet said that phone called put a crack, “a very small crack” in her current expectations of what the future looked like for she and her daughters. So, she started talking with Chris more on the phone. She had not discussed with him the anger and disappointment she had. She did not ask him why he did what he did. But, she began feeling the smallest amount of hope. She began to think that maybe, just maybe, there was a chance this could have a happy ending. Still, when she started thinking of all the painful things he said, his behavior, his addictions, she knew if there ever was a chance they would get back together, it would take a long time. Last month, Chris was killed in a car accident. He was sober. The girl who crashed into him was not.
When I picked Janet up from Terminal C at the airport, she was standing alone and at the end of the curb. She had texted me through the Uber app to let me know she was in a blue coat. When I pulled up and got out to greet her; to put her bag in the back of my car, she had this melancholy look about her. Janet has long flowing dark red hair and very fair skin. She is about the same height as me, 5 foot 8”. I mention this only because she did not appear to want a picture for this story and I didn’t ask. As I introduced myself, she said Christopher is her husband’s name too. I told her he must be an awesome guy to have a name like that. She just gave me a tiny smile with surprising sadness. Once I confirmed our destination, we began talking as if we knew each other; as if we were longtime friends.
Upon hearing this heartbreaking story, I was surprised to hear Janet speak of hope. Well, maybe not that surprised. She spoke of being at peace. She spoke of letting go. She spoke of the incredible resilience both of her daughters have expressed. She was meeting her sister-in-law in Dallas to drive down to Houston together for the final service for Chris. The girls were already down there at their grandparent’s house. She told me that she believed in God and she believed he has plans for her, and her daughters, but He had called Chris home.
We sat for a few moments outside her sister-in-law’s house as we finished our conversation. When I told her I write about some of the people I meet in my travels as an Uber/Lyft driver, and that I would like to share her story, she seemed surprised. “I don’t know. This doesn’t seem like a happy story. I think your readers will be disappointed.” She quipped. I told her that her story offers hope. It offers a small bit of light in a very dark place. She told me she would let me write about her, with one condition; she wanted to pass along some wisdom.
“Live for today. Make each day count. We are not promised there is a tomorrow.”
Very wise words, indeed.
Be kind to all you know. Be kind to all you see. Be loving. Be accepting. Be joyful. Be hopeful. Be at peace, my friends.
Thank you Janet
This next song, while not from the 80s, was the selection for the original post.
For Janet and Chris
Here is more 80s on the StreetLights On A Saturday Night Spotify playlist.
It was just after midnight when Ricardo brought the snacks consisting graham crackers, peanut butter, diet shasta, and a plastic sealed turkey and cheese on white (made by Goodyear). It was remarkably delicious, given it was the first thing I had to eat since breakfast; which comprised of powedered eggs, 1 slice of bread with butter and oatmeal (made by Elmer’s). Ricardo also brought pain meds, dilaudid to be specific. Before he arrived, I had spent 4 hours lying in my bed, helpless and hurting.
This was night 3 of what would end up as 7 nights, 9 days at the luxurious Baylor All Saints Hospital in Fort Worth. I think I managed to count every hole in the ceiling tiles and memorized every scratch in the floor. Your mind really starts to conspire against you when you are stuck in a 120 sq. ft. bare grey cold dark room with only the small light from beneath the door and muffled sounds of people passing by in the hallway outside to connect you to anyone or anything. I might as well have been in space, stuck in a capsule all by myself, but with HBO.
Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare “This is Major Tom to Ground Control I’m stepping through the door And I’m floating in a most peculiar way And the stars look very different today For here Am I sitting in a tin can Far above the world Planet Earth is blue And there’s nothing I can do”
During the worst of it, I would count down the minutes and seconds until I could hit that button and request more pain meds.
Dexamethasone, cipro, levaquin, vancomicin, Zofran, robaxin, lovenox, dilaudid, and norco were among the littany of drugs that passed through my veins during that horrific experience. I should own stock in pharmaceuticals. When you have become as familiar with hospitals as I have, you have to laugh at some of the operational policies or obstacles. For instance, Harris Methodist ER is dilaudid free. Upstairs in the hospital they are fentanyl free. I am allergic to morphine. It was a fun time educating the doctors on chronic pain management, especially when coupled with other serious health conditions that only exacerbate the pain while in hell (any hospital visit after the first 30 seconds).
If you want to know what moderate to severe chronic pain feels like, I always tell people to take their left hand and using your thumb and pointer finger, gently squeeze your neck just below the base of your skull. Good, now put just enough pressure on that grip so that your neck is depressed about 3/4 of an inch. Ok, next take your other hand and using the same fingers put roughly the same pressure on the front of your neck just below your jaw. Don’t squeeze so hard you choke yourself, stupid. Great! Now hold that position and amount of pressure for 6 years. During that time, you will need to once a day poke yourself in random places all over your body with a thumb tack. After the 3rd year, please increase that poke to at least 3 times a day with each episode lasting anywhere from 5 minutes to 5 hours. Remember, you must maintain the pressure on your neck. Yes, I know. Now your arms are burning and your hands are cramped and swollen. You begin developing trigger finger in every finger on both hands; surprisingly, not your thumbs. But now, both hands become unable to fully close or fully open. Sometimes you have to use one hand to pop open the fingers of your other hand because it is too painful to simply open your hand on its own.
Sometimes I wonder which came first, the depressed chicken or the chronically painful egg.
My body and mind have waged war against me for decades now. But in that darkest moment of isolation and pain, in that tiny cold and dark space, confined to my brick hospital bed, I began to think the only peace would be simply opening the IVs in my hands. I had one in each hand so I began considering which side would be more effective.
Ricardo may have saved my life that night. It wasn’t the pain meds or the rubber turkey sandwich. It was simply when he opened the door and let the light of the hallway into the room. It was simply Ricardo greeting me. I was nowhere near reality in that moment, just a surreal flight of agony, feeling the darkness overtaking the smallest little pixel of hope, of life. Hell, I wasn’t even the room.
It was the winter solstice of my soul and it was the moment I went numb. Then the door opened and a kind man came in to check on me, to help me. The following nights got progressively easier. They became more bearable. The overwhelming pain finally began to subside like a retreating tide. We weren’t meant to be alone. Isolation is the biggest threat to peace of body and soul. Take care of yourselves. Make your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being the absolute priority. If you don’t, you won’t be of much help to others. Peace in any form starts from within.
Peace is surprisingly difficult and dangerous to achieve. Perhaps that is why we have all developed a tolerance to the lack of it. That word, peace, means something unique for each of us. What does peace look like for you? How can you find it in your own life?
Portions of this post were written a year ago. Other portions, like this paragraph were/are being written tonight, Christmas eve, while I am sitting in the front balcony row of Broadway Baptist Church letting the music and the soothing energy wash away all the conflict within me. Right here, right now, I am at peace. I wasn’t looking forward to service. Too much anxiety and frustration dominated my mind. But this moment of peace is just enough to keep my emotional fits from hitting the proverbial shan. It wasn’t the Christmas miracle I have been waiting for, been hoping for. But, it was just enough grace to get me through the night. Not too much, not to little.
Its all connected. Love, hope, joy, peace, faith. Just like the little trains made of wooden letter blocks. It all goes together. I write these words often. I say them often. It’s a little practice in the power of positive affirmation. And, it works. Take a ride on the peace train and find all the warm and fuzzies as you gaze out at the changing scenery of life from your train window. Choo choo!
Now I’ve been happy lately Thinking about the good things to come And I believe it could be Something good has begun Oh, I’ve been smiling lately Dreaming about the world as one And I believe it could be Someday it’s going to come’Cause I’m on the edge of darkness There ride the Peace Train Oh, Peace Train take this country Come take me home again
I have a confession. I cry less than I used to. I have started filling the open spaces in me with anger, resentment, and even vengence. Crying has always been for sorrow or joy. I have had little room for either in an anger driven state of mind. I am trying so hard to change that. I am desperate to change that. It may be working. I am crying right now. For sorrow and for joy. I have tears today for peace. Peace for you. Peace for me. Peace for us. Peace for eternity.
As I sit here in the darkened sanctuary on this Christmas eve, I am finally talking to God. I am finally listening to God again. I am finally seeing his amazing grace again.
I am a pllot. Or at least I once was. I took my first flight lesson when I was 16. I had my commerical pilot’s license by the time I was 18. That experience gave me a few skills that have been very useful in all aspects of my life, including and especially managing my depression.
Aviation is loaded with acronyms. One of the most familiar to pilots is RTFM, which stands for read the fuckin’ manual. In other words, know your airplane and know the procedures.
Flying taught me how to proceduralize and troubleshoot my life. Needless to say, I have lots of lists. Flying taught me to remain cool under pressure. Flying brought me peace. It brought me closer to God and a much better view of this beautiful planet we share. It took me away from all the chaos and conflict down below. That’s a true realization. We desire peace but actively harm each other and destoy it.
Flying was one of the only times in my life where I found peace, both within and without, but always up high.
I sat upon the clouds watching the world, finding peace only where my demons could not reach.
Gods beautiful creation. Being up there, in the sky was the only time I ever felt I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
I felt complete and all my troubles were lost in the tiny objects below me.
Even after long and difficult flights when I was so tired my eyes burned, taxiing in after landing was always bittersweet.
Let me dance about the sky. Let me burst in and out of the clouds and rest ever so gently above them.
I still occasionally catch a scent that reminds me of the cockpit; the smell of electric devices in a small space, the combo of fuel, oil, carb heat and leather seats with wool covers.
These days you can’t ask to stick your head in the cockpit without getting someone nervous about your intentions. But if any pilot ever catches you taking in a deep breathe through the nose while even close to the controls, they won’t think it strange. Because they know, we know, it smells like home. That is, unless your copilot had Whataburger for lunch.
Flying never failed me, never let me down, ever. Not even that time I flew Robert J. in his Piper Archer to Cleveland, Tennessee, with him picking his nose the whole 7 hours and 52 minutes of flight time, breaking only for fuel in Pine Bluff. Rob was in the Christian music industry and going to Tennessee for a few months for work. He wanted to fly his own plane there but invited me to drop him and return his plane to Fort Worth. He wasn’t sure when or from where he would be heading home. I was solo for the flight back and loved every second of it.
Life is better with a soundtrack.
J.J. Abrams’ movies often have a trademark characteristic or style. He uses an emotional yet calm and soothing piece of music to score actions and images that are chaotic, even violent. While the imagery can hurt, and the intensity becomes almost unbearable to all senses but sound, its the music that carries us though. That is how I might define my life on certain days. The music carried me through the pain and destruction until, yes, finally, morning has truly broken and God has recreated the day. We are reborn each day. Maybe this day will be better. Maybe this day, those who wish harm to me and mine will relent, repent, and fucking relax. Maybe this day my hands won’t just hurt. Maybe this day my hands will hurt from healing.
“Say it’s here where our pieces fall in place Any rain softly kisses us on the face Anywhere means we’re running We can sleep and see ’em coming Where we drift and call it dreaming We can weep and call it singingWhere we pray when our hearts are strong enough We can bow, ’cause our music’s warmer than blood Where we see enough to follow We can hear when we are hollow Where we keep the light we’re given We can lose and call it livingWhere the sun isn’t only sinking fast Every night knows how long it’s supposed to last Where the time of our lives is all we have And we get a chance to say Before we ease away For all the love you’ve left behind You can have mine…“
December 25, 2021
I think it should be said that while those of us who believe in and follow Christ are celebrating these glorious pillars of God, hope, love, joy, and definitely peace on earth, it should be said that we must include everyone in that dream, not just, ESPECIALLY not just Christians. Otherwise peace truly is impossible.
Peace also means loving thy neighbor, even if they make false accusations against you. Even if they purposely hurt you. Even if they do harm to those you love. Even if they are booger eating morons with the IQ of an empty can of bean dip. Yep, I said it. Stupid hateful people need peace too. They need it especially. We don’t hurt each other instinctively. We just don’t. We are all completely connected. So, hurting each other only hurts us too. We must show kindness and sue for peace. Yes, we must be angry at times. We must fight harmful elements of this life. But the fight is always and only for the dream of peace.
So, kindness warriors. Walk softly, but carry a big stick. Practice a little kindness kung fu. And when your enemy is stopped, they are your enemy no more. They are your brother and sister, your mother, your daughter, your best friend. Just like that. Put down the staff and open your arms with love. It really can be that easy. Seriously. Stop the hate. Share. The. Love. Make. The. Peace. Fill the empty spaces not with those things I seem to be struggling with, but with warm and fuzzy, gooey, sappy, funny, extraordinary, love.
Let it fill you up. Let it drip onto your shoes. Its ok. I love the scene in Ghostbusters 2 when the guys convert their packs to spray that love stuff, positively charged emotional slime. Everybody at the end (spoiler alert) is hugging and saying I love you. Doesn’t that seem like a great plan? Doesn’t that seem like the right kind of Christmas miracle?
We can do better for each other.
I want thank you for all the lessons, love, and daily grace you have given me. I want to thank you for the incredible people you have put in my life; My friends, my family, my children and my wife.
You showed me how to fight depression. You gave me a clear mission to help others, to be a light in the darkness.
Lord, from that moment under the streetlight across from my house, so many years ago, when I was just 12 years old but filled with so much curiosity, but also so much darkness and pain, from that moment you have continued to flicker that light to let me know you are there. I have never doubted your existence since then.
Perhaps I have questioned your motives from time to time. But to be fair, tell me one person who hasn’t. You are the boss, so what you say goes. You don’t have to explain yourself to me. I get that loud and clear, Dude. Is it ok if I call you Dude? It’s totally out of love and R.E.S.P.E.C.T.
Man, Aretha sure could drive home a message, don’t you think?
My soul is weary, Lord. I have no peace and my hope of finding it is waning.
“Speak, O Lord. Your servant is listening.”
Whether you are working toward world peace or the peace of reconcilliation, whether you are coming to terms with your past or looking for peace in your present, remember the peace process always and forever starts by making peace with yourself. So go easy, my friends. Breathe deeply and let it go. Be at peace within and you will come to peace without.
Be love. Be kind. We are all connected.
Life is better with a soundtrack
For a playlist of the music found in this post along with a few other songs I listened to while working on the writing, checkout this link to Spotify.
I have a messy mind and my writing is a process of cleaning up the mess. -Judy Blume
I know I have used that quote before but I love it. And, it truly describes my own mind and process. Actually thinking of putting it in everything I write.
When I was twelve or possibly thirteen, I asked God to prove he was real. I wanted to know if God actually existed. And if he did, I had a whole lot of questions and gripes, or as my twelve-year-old self would describe it, a buttload of questions.
Yeah, I know everyone questions the existence of God and we all have our own idea of what the answer is. For me, the answer was simply, yes. Yes, God does exist. And that night under a flickering streetlight across from my house, that hot summer night in Texas, God responded to my plea for attention and my need to verify his existence. Right when I cried out was when that streetlight flickered, went out, and came back on constant.
That moment in my early adolescence was also the first time I believe I suffered a significant depressive episode. I certainly didn’t know it at the time. In fact, I didn’t have a true understanding and awareness of my lifelong pattern of depression, tracing back to that time, until I was 46 and suffering what was by far the darkest and most destructive depression of my life. God answered me and revealed his presence when I was young, and he saved me again in 2017. In fact, I now have an awareness and understanding of my wiring because God cleared the fog and revealed not only the lifelong destructive patterns but also his presence, His grace through every moment of it.
I have depression. I have been challenged with disease and physical pain. I have been close enough to death through my own despair, to have accepted it. I have cried as I knew I was seconds away from death only to find a moment, a flash of joy that turned into an avalanche of love washing over me. In that instant, I could see joy in the pain, because one cannot exist without the other.
For me, streetlights represent hope. A metaphor. And occasionally when one flickers as I go by, its God reminding me He is with me, always. So, when I began to recover from my worst depressive period in late 2017, I also found this new purpose in life. I found a different path. I was driving Uber and Lyft full time then. My driving and interactions with so many people became a conduit for my writing and for me to find ways to reach out to people in need of a safe space. I became someone to actually see them behind their mask to let them know that while depression is a lonely battle, they are not alone. Someone else has seen and felt the way they do and can give them validation, courage, and hope.
This adventure of mine became a way to renew my faith in God and people daily. I still had plenty of my own battles to fight but that faith in people kept me fighting. Becoming fully aware of my disease and learning how to control it didn’t just make it go away. I still and forever will, battle depression. But now I have power over it. Now I can help others do the same.
One of my empty spaces is where my faith used to be, or at least how I defined my faith. The last few years, even after this incredible journey of grace, I found myself questioning my faith. I have finally realized, I wasn’t questioning my faith in God, I just stopped talking to God. Instead, my faith in people is really what has taken a big hit. Humans, what a bunch of fucking idiots. I wonder how we got this far. Will we find redemption? Can we stop putting it off until tomorrow? Driving used to restore my faith in humanity. All it usually took was just one rider who I could connect with to get the lights back on.
My Driving experience came to an end on March 18, 2020. Covid dominated everything we did. I am someone who has chronic health issues meaning I was a high risk individual. I simply risked dying if I continued to drive at that time. Coincidentally, that is when my faith began to crumbIe.
I have spent years trying to cultivate a life of kindness and service. There has always been this inner conflict, this battle in my soul to live a life of love and kindness while constantly mitigating anger and frustration with hateful stupid people. That’s kinda hilarious, don’t you think? It’s like I want to beat someone for being a bully while screaming “be kind” in their face. That isn’t what I was going for when I chose to focus on kindness in my life. Nevertheless, I have finally come to terms with who I am in this regard.
I believe in love and kindness as the way we should all treat each other. I also believe sometimes, in order to bring love to one, you must fight another. I am not a cynic. I am a realist. It is hard to imagine a kind and joyful life when there are monsters roaming the land. So, be kind. Be love. And when absolutely necessary, be a tough ruthless motherfucker. I don’t think that’s hypocritical.
I prefer to think of it as kindness Kung Fu.
Letting my anger out used to be a practice in failure. Now I realize I can be kind, find joy, and be seriously combative at the same time (when the situation calls for it). My faith in God is as strong as it has ever been. My faith in people is what has caused one of the empty spaces in me. It has created this void. When I try to fill it with joy, it’s like water pouring into and through a colander. It never holds the joy. It never restores my faith, in people. It just flows through the empty space.
I am not ok. Filled with anxiety, depression, self-pity and self-loathing. I am angry and disappointed. I am tired. I have spent the last 3 years fighting one health issue after another. Staph infections, heart attack, surgery, and 6 hospitalizations in 2019 alone. Here is the real kicker, in the middle of Covid, I became ill with West Nile Virus. that was another 9 days in the hospital. West Nile has left mr with a few lingering symptoms including enormous chronic fatigue and chronic stomach issues. But I have continued to find a way to live and be of service in this life. I realized I cannot remain silent, even if I am not feeling the warm and fuzzies.
So, here we are. How is your faith these days? Are you like me, struggling to hold that faith in other people? I have spent way too much time thinking about this stuff, which is why I finally decided to start writing about it. I need to find a way to start filling those empty spaces with the right ingredients again. Will you help me? Here are some of my rants and ramblings as I work to restore my faith.
Do things happen for a reason? I don’t mean like the reason the chicken got ran over by a car. I mean fate. Do you believe in God? If so, is everything part of his plan? Did God know I would be here hammering these words out with thumbs rata tat tapping on the tiny keboard of my trusty Samsung Galaxy on a late Saturday night? (I finished this post on the laptop in case you were wondering.)
Has God commanded everything? each breath we take? If so, then…. Perhaps we need not bother to take out the trash. It was God’s plan for me to sit my ass down on the couch and watch Criminal Minds instead.
Active or passive? Do prayers work? Do more prayers garner more support from the almighty? Better yet, maybe there is a reward system. Like those little tkckets that pour out of the skeeball machine at Chuck’s house when you score the middle hole, you can rack up prayer points. Careful though. If you don’t have enough proper prayers when you try to cash in, you get the Godly intervention equivalent of one glow stick, a plastic spider, and a couple of tootsie rolls. If you want God to let you have the lava lamp answer to prayer, you are gonna need A TON of prayer power.
A good example of a beneficiary — George Bailey. He got over $10 grand, and his own personal angel for the night.
So yeah, prayers do work. And as far as my faith in people? That is a work in progress. But I am trying.
Next up. I need to find some hope to fill another empty space. In the mean time…
Try not to be imprisoned by the way it could have been.
I hope you are feelin’ alright. I’m not feelin’ too good myself. But I am getting there.
Be love. Be kind. We are all connected. Life is better with a soundtrack.
Seems I’ve got to have a change of scene Every night I have the strangest dreams Imprisoned by the way it could have been Left here on my own or so it seems I’ve got to leave before I start to scream For someone’s locked the door and took the key
Feeling alright I’m not feeling too good myself Feeling alright I’m not feeling that good myself
Boy you sure took me for one big ride And even now I sit and I wonder why That when I think of you I stop myself from crying I just can’t waste my time I must keep trying I’ve got to stop believing in all your lies ‘Cause there’s too much to do before I die
Feeling alright I’m not feeling too good myself Feeling alright I’m not feeling that good myself
Don’t you get too lost in all I say But at the time you know, I really felt that way But that was then and now you know it’s today I can’t get set so I guess I’m here to stay Till someone comes along and takes my place With a different name oh and a different face
Feeling alright I’m not feeling that good myself Feeling alright I’m not feeling that good myself
From his Daily Meditation, April 4, 2021, Easter Sunday…
Today we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which allows faithful Christians to trust that, indeed, all will be well. I like to think of the resurrection as God’s way of telling us that God can take the worst thing in the world—the killing of the God-Human Jesus—and change it into the best thing: the redemption of the world.
To believe that Jesus was raised from the dead is actually not a leap of faith. Resurrection and renewal are, in fact, the universal and observable pattern of everything. We might just as well use non-religious terms like “springtime,” “regeneration,” “healing,” “forgiveness,” “life cycles,” “darkness,” and “light.” If incarnation is real, if material creation is inspirited, then resurrection in multitudinous forms is to be fully expected. Or to paraphrase a statement attributed to Albert Einstein, it is not that one thing is a miracle, but that the whole thing is a miracle!
If divine incarnation has any truth to it, then resurrection is a foregone conclusion, not a one-time anomaly in the body of Jesus, as our Western understanding of the resurrection felt it needed to prove—and then it couldn’t. The Risen Christ is not a one-time miracle but the revelation of a universal pattern that is hard to see in the short run.
– Fr. Richard Rohr
Facebook Memories is a great feature. I am constantly reminded of the many wonderful people I have met and posted about, through Uber and Lyft. Yesterday, that reminder was about a man I met 3 years ago, named Winston.
As I drove Winston to his destination, a church in South Dallas, he told me an extraordinary story.
In 2005, Winston Norton suffered a burst aneurysm of the brain. He was taken to the hospital but was expected to die within 24 hours. The aneurysm caused a severe stroke. When the doctors went in to try and fix the aneurysm, they found over 40 more.
The chance Winston would live was becoming smaller and smaller. In fact, he coded (heart stopped) more than once. In other words, he died 3 times that night and once again, the next.
Winston had lost much of his bodily function and control. He couldn’t move half his body. He spent 9 months at Baylor University Medical Center. 9 months!
Winston is a man of faith and determination. You can see the trauma he suffered in his walk, but you couldn’t tell from his outlook on life. He lives to serve now, thanking God for every precious beautiful day.
He knows God still has a purpose for him so he works everyday to fulfill that purpose. His recovery/survival is nothing short of a miracle.
He believes it is important to tell his story. He and I both agreed we didn’t cross paths by chance. Winston reminded me how important it is to live in the present, to be humble, and to be thankful for every day.
There are days when we feel lost in life and wonder what our purpose is. Here is the answer. You wouldn’t exist if God didn’t have a purpose for you. You may feel your calling in life very clearly. That purpose can and will change. The important part is to get up and live each day in service and thanks, with love and kindness in your heart and every action. One way or another, God will reveal his purpose for you.
Winston, rise again my friend. Keep inspiring people through your story and your dedicaton to spreading kindness and love.
Winston’s story got me thinking about the mythical bird, Phoenix. Like the Phoenix, Winston rose from the ashes. That led me to a Dan Fogelberg song of the same name that I listened to often in my youth. When I listened to it again today I found a particularly powerful line in the lyrics, “Like a Phoenix, I have risen from the flames Like a Phoenix, I have risen from the flames No more living Someone else’s dreams.”
Someone else’s dreams…
In his book, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz describes our lives as dreams. “What you are seeing and hearing right now is nothing but a dream. You are dreaming right now in this moment. You are dreaming with the brain awake.”
We make many agreements with life, with God, with ourselves. In doing so, we submit to the dreams, or the influence of others, in the way we think, we perceive, we act. We live someone else’s dreams.
Agreement 1: Be Impeccable With Your Word
Agreement 2: Don’t Take Anything Personally
Agreement 3: Don’t Make Assumptions
Agreement 4: Always Do Your Best
His book, The Four Agreements, teaches us how to break old agreements and make four agreements with ourselves to create our own dream, free of influence from others. In doing so, we are filled with love and peace.
Our lives are like the life of the Phoenix. There are periods throughout our lives when we die and are reborn. As Christians, we attach this life experience to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each day is a renewal. Each day is an opportunity to become a better person, to give and receive love, to enjoy God’s creation and grace. Each day we rise like the Phoenix.
So RISE! Get up, get out, and feel God’s love. Share that love, so that others may find their way out of the dark, out of someone else’s dream.
Thanks again for the book recommendation Mindy Lee Carlson.
In reposting Winston’s story this year, I am grateful to have met him on the day before Easter. The timing, then and now, is not lost on me. He is risen! Be safe in this extraordinary moment in time. Be love. Be kind. We are all connected.
For the full meditation from last week or more of Fr. Richard Rohr’s writing click the link below.
StreetLights On A Saturday Night: Rerun from 2019. The Uber Machine is still garaged due to Covid19.
When Oscar was 11 years old, he suffered a traumatic accident. Oscar was leaning on a shotgun when it suddenly went off, destroying his left arm below the elbow. He lost his left hand and part of his forearm.
Oscar grew up in South Texas. He lives in Fort Worth now, but Harlingen was his childhood home. He laughed a little and said the two major pastimes where he grew up were drinking beer and working on cars. He and his friends also spent a considerable amount of time shooting beer cans, junk cars, and occasionally a pesky bird or two.
When I picked Oscar up, he had one of his 4 prosthetic arms on, with a metal pincher on the end. Oscar said he also has one with controllable fingers and thumb. He wasn’t shy about telling me all about his experience missing one hand.
I told him about a friend of mine named Allen, who had the same thing happen to him when he was nine. That didn’t slow Allen down either. In fact, Allen became a pilot; a pretty good pilot. I flew with him once. He was more proficient than most of my other flying buddies. Oscar thought that was “outstanding!”
We talked about when bad things happen, like his shotgun accident. Oscar was quick to tell me when things happen, “you adapt and overcome! Ain’t nobody gonna feel sorry for you a week later, so you better figure it out.” Oscar said most days he actually is glad it happened. I was caught off guard with that one. But, He said he gained an appreciation for many things two handed people take for granted. And, that humble sense of gratitude has dominated his extremely positive outlook on life.
I wondered how many of us, including myself, spend way too much time focused on what we don’t have, rather than celebrating what we do. Oscar also told me he always uses the pinchers, rather than the full prosthetic hand when he coaches boys soccer, because he can flip off the ref and get away with it after a bad call.😉.
As he was telling me about his team, a song called Easy As It Seems, by The Mavericks played from my Spotify playlist. Oscar stopped talking for a second and just listened. “Dude! You like The Mavericks? I love these guys.” He said with a big smile on his face. He saw the band in Austin once.
Oscar had such a positive outlook and attitude toward life. It was infectious. I am always amazed by how influential positive people can be. And, Oscar reminded me how important it is to find joy in the moment. Bad things happen. But grace is always there too. Don’t spend too much time worrying about stuff you can’t control. Take a deep breathe. Look around. Find the joy of life around and within you. And there you will find grace.
Keep the faith. Be kind. Be loving. Be in the present.
A few years ago, my next-door neighbor, Mark, decided to buy another house and rent the one by us. After a few months of living next to an empty house, Mark finally found a renter, Tom. From day one, Tom was a great neighbor and we became friends. We would watch his two little dogs when he was out of town. He would drop stuff off for the kids from time to time. We had some great talks in one garage or another. The only thing my wife and I worried about was when Tom would someday move, since he was just renting. That day came 3 weeks ago and now the house next door is empty again except for the visits from Mark’s handy man Lonnie, who can’t fix a fence to save his life. Just sayin’.
Tom moved over to Fort Worth near 7th and University. He loves that part of town so even though he had a falling out with Mark (because Mark is a tightwad, but that is a story for another time) he was ecstatic about making the move to his favorite area. We will still keep in touch and maybe grab a meal or a drink from time to time but I will miss him as a neighbor.
Tom used to live in Houston many years ago. He led successful but very busy life. He was married and had 3 kids; 2 boys and a girl. All his kids are adults now and Tom is single. He is really enjoying his single life. But 20 years ago, Tom was a regional manager for a national athletic store. He also spent an enormous time as an umpire for AAA baseball. When he wasn’t umpiring, he helped develop and run competitive youth baseball leagues. Tom knew everyone in the baseball world in Houston and he loved what he did. He went to church Sundays with his family and had a great life, almost. You see, Tom was over-committed. He didn’t have enough time for all the components of his life. He was out of balance. Tom started to develop anxiety and depression which slowed him down in an already taxing life schedule. He started to drink alcohol more and offset that with energy drinks and coffee. As things started to get tense at home, Tom started unravel even more from the mounting pressure. One night, he was out for drinks and a friend (drinking friend) offered to let Tom try meth. Tom was feeling desperate and suffering depression so he thought, how could it hurt?
In an extremely short period of time, Tom became addicted and as he put it, “I lived for meth and nothing else.” He lost his job, his standing in baseball, and he lost his marriage. After that, he became homeless and wound up in prison on drug related felonies. His life was over. Tom attempted suicide 3 times in prison. Once he got out, he was still homeless and he returned to drugs. He ate from a dumpster behind the Four Seasons hotel in Houston. Conveniently, that is also where he slept. Tom had no future, no present, and the past was nothing but shame. Meth had taken everything away. He remembers many days just walking around thinking of ways to end his life. He said he was arrested again and from there, he somehow managed to get into a drug rehab center.
Tom finally got clean and started learning how to stay clean. He lived in a halfway house for awhile until he could find work. Slowly, he started building his life back from the ruins and learned how to maintain balance. Tom is now self-employed for the last 10 years. He remains clean, keeps himself healthy and minimized any activity that would put him at risk. If he goes out, he is always home before dark. His business is thriving and so he can afford to do some getaways. He likes going to Vegas and Miami. I was surprised thinking he might have extra temptations in both of those cities. He told me that he does still like to have a drink or two but never never anything else. Tom has managed to repair his damaged relationships with both his adult sons. He reaches out to his daughter on a regular basis but she still won’t return emails or calls. Nevertheless, Tom keeps sending her updates and greetings. Tom is somewhat selective about who he shares his story with. He does have a kind and giving heart. He has helped many people who have dealt with setbacks in their lives, including addiction. But he is cautious about who and where he shares his story because he now has contractors and employees to think about and would never allow his personal story to compromise the company. Not all customers will see his story as one of redemption but rather they would just see a felon. That is not the kind of thing that looks good on a Google review. This is also why I am not giving to many details.
I can tell you that once every month or two, Tom goes to the Four Seasons in Houston and always books a room that looks down on the alley where he ate and slept by that dumpster. It helps remind him of all that he lost when meth took over his life. He said it also reminds him how far he has come and to remember that there were people along his path that helped get him back. Looking down at that dumpster reminds Tom that his success now isn’t of any real value in life unless he can help others. Tom is a Kindness Warrior now. He has a mindset that keeps him looking for ways to help anyone and everyone. He jokingly said that this approach hasn’t always worked well in his dating life. He has met a few women that really took advantage of his generosity and willingness to help. He is trying not to use “fix you” as dating criteria moving forward. He says he doesn’t want to remarry and that he does really enjoy his bachelor life. He also knows that he blew a marriage to a woman he truly loved and cared for, and he never wants to be in that situation again. She remarried a few years after she and Tom were divorced, while Tom was in prison, I think.
I met John at Lowe’s, where I currently work. He had just been hired on as a part-time stocker. John is about 6 ft 2, and has a kind of rough look about him. But when he talks, he can be pretty friendly. John and I hit it off pretty well and he was well liked as a hard worker by his supervisor. Unfortunately, after only 2 and a half weeks, John was terminated because he failed the background check. See, John is a felon. He has been in prison twice. And he had only been out about 2 months when he started working at Lowe’s. Before that he was working at Jack-n-the-Box making minimum wage.
John had started going to school to become an HVAC technician. He lived in a two-story house off Brentwood Stair and Sandy lane in Fort Worth. This was a halfway house for men. He didn’t have a car when I met him, so he walked, caught the bus, and occasionally got a ride from a coworker. My shift ended the same time his did so I took him home a few times. I continued to be friends with him after Lowe’s let him go and would give him rides to school as well. I figured this guy was really trying to better himself, so who am I to say no to a ride request.
First, let me say that John didn’t lie on his application. He filled out everything properly and as he was told to do. He was given the idea that he could be hired with his record. Apparently, there are some specific stipulations that disqualified him. He went back to work at Jack-in-the-Box. John was disappointed but undeterred. He knew he had an uphill battle. But he felt like he was doing quite well compared to his previous life. And so, for a couple of months he went to school and worked at JITB.
John is 41. As I said earlier, he has a kind of rough look about him. Sometimes when he is animated, he gets this kinda crazy eye look. We laugh about it but if you didn’t know him, yeah, it could be kinda scary. He has some teeth missing on the right side of his mouth because he got shot. He still has some bullet fragments in his head. John keeps the x-ray images on his phone like a war wound. He doesn’t have an education beyond high school and his home life was kinda rough. His parents fought all the time and both liked to drink. So, he spent a lot of time outside with other kids who had similar homes. John had a temper, no real foundation, and became influenced by the wrong people (my words, not his). John assumes responsibility for all aspects of his life. But back then, he didn’t and he became a criminal. He was a thief and a robber. In his words, “I didn’t care who you were. I would hold a gun to your head and take your money. And if you looked at me the wrong way, I might beat you. I didn’t give a fuck. And I was usually drunk or high when I did it.”
John was in his mid-twenties when he finally got caught on something bad enough to put him away for years. He continued to have an angry heart in prison and got into many fights. Before he was arrested, John had amassed a number of misdemeanors and fathered 2 girls who he had no real relationship with. It was in prison where he started learning how to control his anger and start taking responsibility for his actions. He began to communicate with his baby’s momma and his daughters. When he got out of prison, he visited his daughters but didn’t quite step into the dad role. There were still some wicked turns coming that John didn’t see.
After getting out of prison, John was surprised when his father asked him to come live with him. His parents got divorced while John was away. So, John took him up on it. He said he thought maybe his father was different now that his parents had split up. John laughed when he was telling me about his parent splitting up because they were living just down the street from each other. But he hadn’t really changed and he and John began arguing all the time. John was working at a place in Marshall, TX close enough to his Dad’s place, he could walk home at night. He developed a little routine so he could delay getting back to his dad’s place and minimize any interaction. After work he would stop by a nearby convenience store and buy some beer and cigarettes. He said he would enjoy walking down the dark road by himself, drinking his beer and smoking his cigarettes. It was the only time in his day he didn’t feel hassled by someone else.
John’s mother would often drop by his dad’s place to check on him (dad) but they always bickered about something. One night, right after john got home and had argued with his father, his mother dropped by like she does and she got into a really bad fight with Dad. John decided to intervene and his father immediately threw John out telling him he wasn’t welcome there anymore. His mother let John come stay with her. Now about this time, John lost his job. So, while he was with his mom, he spent some time looking for work and occasionally did some things on the side to make some cash, which he promptly spent on beer and cigarettes. He was growing desperate and hopeless. John didn’t have any real plans or ideas for the future and he had little to no resources. One night, a guy he used to work with but now would drink with, offered a very drunk and depressed John some meth. John had never tried it before but knew that it was a dangerous drug. But the state he was in, he just wanted to escape, even for a little bit. John said it was like nothing he had ever experienced. He said his mom found him on the back porch surrounded by empty beer cans and cigarette butts. She threw John out. It was a short trip to addiction to meth after that for John. Which meant, he needed money for drugs. He didn’t really get a chance to steal any because he failed his drug screening at his parole officer check in. And guess what, he went back to prison.
Once again, John got clean and prepared to have another go at life. This time when he got out, He chose to go to the halfway house and not depend on his parents or anyone else. John had turned the corner and began to feel like things were finally going his way. He even got engaged! John made a few visits out to Marshall to see his daughters. One of those times was to see his oldest daughter graduate high school. Things seemed to be getting better.
John didn’t much care for working at JITB. He worked with a bunch of kids who would goof off, call in sick all the time, quit with no notice, etc. John had developed a work ethic of getting the job done and being reliable, which he was while he worked there. He also worked several day-labor gigs through various agencies. That paid better than Jack but it wasn’t as reliable.
When he finally got some grant money for school, he was able to finally get a car. I remember how proud he was of that accomplishment. But his joy was short-lived. John was getting more work through day labor and made the decision to leave Jack-in-the-Box. Shortly thereafter, he got kicked out of his halfway house due to a miscommunication about days away from the house. They have rules set that all living there must abide by and if there is an issue, you can be voted out of the house by the members. John was voted out.
His fiancé lives in Red Oak and he would go there on weekends. Upon hearing that John needed a place, she allowed him to come live with her. She was reluctant as first but realized she wanted him to stay. John was careful not to push her. He had respect for her comfort and didn’t want to make things uncomfortable. Well, the “honeymoon period” ended rather quickly. John had stopped getting day labor work. His fiancé almost immediately when he moved in began to complain and belittle John. He was getting pretty stressed. John and I met the day he got kicked out of the halfway house. He was surprisingly optimistic. He told me not to feel sorry for him. He pointed to his car and said, “Chris man, I got a car! I even have insurance on the mother fucker. I got a fiancé; I got my girls! ME! I got this stuff. Man, I ain’t never had a car, that I didn’t steal. Most people take that shit for granted. Not me man. This is a big goal I have accomplished! Nobody knows how that feels. Ain’t nobody walked in my shoes. I’m gonna be just fine!
About 3 weeks after John moved in with his fiancé in Red Oak, I got a call from him. He said he got a job working for a cabinet maker and would be working 6 days a week. He said he was really happy about it because his fiancé was getting kind of abusive because he wasn’t bringing any money in. He asked if he could borrow some money until he got his first paycheck the next week. I didn’t have much to lend but I met him last Friday and gave him $40. He was in sad shape when I saw him. He also told me that he and his girl had been fighting. Then he proceeded to tell me he lost the job with the cabinet maker and he had fallen behind on his insurance. John explained that the cabinet maker position promised 6 full days but he was hired as a temp and temps get cut every day first, before the permanent employees, so he wasn’t getting nearly the hours he was promised. He also missed one day because he ended up in the ER. This cost him 2 points with the temp company. They only give 3. He lost the 3rd point for being 10 minutes late the day I met up with him. His positive attitude was gone. He seemed rattled and beat down.
Two days later, John was arrested on a misdemeanor assault charge after he and his fiancé got into a heated argument. She hit him and he pushed her down causing her to hit her head. I didn’t know about it but I started getting collect calls from the Desoto jail, and then from Dallas County Jail. I finally realized it had to be John so I took the call. John cried when he told me about the story. He said the worst part was he started using again. He said he was on meth when they got into the fight. John began to say how bad he fucked everything up. “I was weak, Chris. Things got tough and I messed it all up!” John said as he chocked back tears. “Are you disappointed in me, Chris?” he asked. I told him I was. I told him he broke his trust with me and he did the one thing that truly hurt himself by using meth again. The assault charge was of the lowest kind. John’s mother bailed him out and has allowed him to stay with her for a few days. But his fiancé now has a restraining order. John said the one bit of good news is that he got a job at a car wash in Waxahachie.
Tom and John have both gone through some troubles in life. So many factors play into how an individual does after they get out of a prison term. One thing I know to be true, it ain’t easy. The other thing, Methamphetamines WILL absolutely ruin or end your life. These two men both attested to that fact saying meth was the only thing they had experienced that had them needing it more than they need food and water.
Prison is tough, life after prison for many is tougher. Ask John. He tried to work hard, go to school, and be good. He also began to question his faith. He knew he would have a tough time getting out of prison and felt that now that he was clean and living his life according to Christ, he would make it. He still might. But the odds are clearly against him. He paid his debt to society with his prison time. But you never really stop paying. Everything in his life is harder than someone who hasn’t been to prison. Has must check that felon box every time he applies for a job, a bank loan, a rental agreement. One big difference between Tom and John, Tom knew what it was like to be successful. John has never had that and so he has never had a chance to really develop the life skills needed to succeed.
God bless Tom and John. And God bless all the kindness warriors out there who make life just the tiniest bit easier for others. There are certainly many people out there who could use even the smallest break.