Hard. Difficult. Painful. Isolating. Lonely. Beautiful. Full of light. Loving. Precious. Inspiring.
If you have ever felt any of those emotions, one thing is certain. You are alive. We tend to build walls to protect ourselves from the painful parts of life. Constantly we build those barriers, brick by brick as life wears us down.
Those barriers can also keep out the light, hide the beauty and awe of your life. If walls you must build, be sure to leave some space between the stones, maybe even a window or a door. And remember this:
We are all connected.
So don’t create your own prison. Reaching out to others in kindness is still the most powerful medicine to heal your broken heart and hurting soul.
We can’t do this alone. Reach out to someone. Connect. For you. For them.
Don’t let these walls keep you from love and joy.
Get up. Get out. Go spread kindness and beak down the walls.
“I’ve been here many times before Don’t know which road I must go My mind is full of so many thoughts My heart beats on and on All my love, all my love, oh
Have you been here many times before? Do you cut your wings so that you’ll fall? Can you break on through to the other side? Do you tell yourself things that ain’t so kind? Can you feel the worms wiggle in my mind?
And these walls, they won’t crumble And they won’t let me get out of here And these walls stand so tall The flowers they’ll all disappear And the voices surround me Again and again, creep behind me Bringing me down Bringing me down
And these walls, they won’t crumble And they won’t let me get out of here And these walls twist and turn The devil inside me returns As he smiles towards me Again and again, holds me, chokes me Burning me down Burning me down
Burning me down Down”
Be love. Be kind. We are all comnected. Life is better with a soundtrack.
What an awesome pilot whose actions saved the lives of everyone on US Airways flight 1549 when they struck multiple geese and had to land in the Hudson river. It has since been called the Miracle on the Hudson.
Miracle? Maybe. Or just incredibly well trained and experienced pilots. A pilot is trained to know the systems of his/her aircraft. A pilot uses checklists and procedures for every operation and action.
Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger used those procedures and the checklist, along with all that training and experience to save the lives of all 155 souls, passenger and crew, onboard.
Checklists are incredibly important. Early in their training, pilots learn the acronym RTFM, or RTFC, which stands for Read The F#&!’n Manual or Checklist. Those who choose not to use the checklist(s) eventually auger in.
Recently, I have drifted away from my checklists and forgotten many of the tools in my mental toolbox. I have been spiraling out of control. But a recent reminder has given me a clear path back. I had given myself a reminder through an app on my phone. I set an alarm. When it went off, I realized I needed to start regaining control again through the use of a tried and true method.
So, I firmly believe a good checklist is an invaluable tool to navigate the challenges of life. In particular, using a checklist is a powerful way to deal with the effects of depression.
Here is a simple checklist I use to help myself avoid the pitfalls of depression. Try making your own. Keep it where you can find it; the fridge, nightstand, or right here on your phone.
1. Get up and get outside. 2. How do you feel? 3. If you are tired or down, did you actually get enough sleep? Depression will attack your energy level and your ability to simply get out of bed. 4. Eat healthy. 5. Pray 6. What are you thankful for? 7. Communicate with someone positive in your life. Anyone! Reaching out the first time is the toughest, but it gets the day going in the right direction. 8. Be kind. Giving hope, peace, love, and joy to others will bring the same to your heart. 9. Read. Use a positive source. No fiction. 10. On second thought, maybe fiction is better. 11. Open your heart and soul to God. 12. Breathe. Just breathe. Slow, calm, cleansing breath. In that breath remind yourself, you are loved, you have purpose, and you are not alone.
What does your checklist look like?
I love using aviation analogies. With all the demons that have chased me in my lifelong struggle with clinical depression, flying was the one time and place I could escape it all, find peace without looking over my shoulder.
Nothing compares to floating above the clouds or watching the the incredible horizon slowly changing colors as the sun begins to rise. Ask any pilot where they want to be the most. If you can’t become a pilot or prefer to keep your feet on the ground, that’s ok. But using a checklist still works for anyone trying to keep their demons at bay and their life in order.
GET UP, GET OUT, & GO SPREAD KINDNESS!
We are all connected.
Life is better with a soundtrack.
Here are a couple of songs I love that always remind me of flying and to use my checklist!
Now some say life Will beat you down Yeah, break your heart Steal your crown
So I started out For God knows where I guess I’ll know When I get there
I’m learning to fly Around the clouds But what goes up Must come down
I’m learning to fly (I’m learning to fly) But I ain’t got wings Coming down Is the hardest thing
I’m learning to fly (I’m learning to fly) Around the clouds But what goes up (I’m learning to fly) Must come down
“Into the distance, a ribbon of black Stretched to the point of no turning back A flight of fancy on a wind swept field Standing alone my senses reeled A fatal attraction is holding me fast How can I escape this irresistible grasp?
Can’t keep my eyes from the circling sky Tongue-tied and twisted, just an earth-bound misfit, I
Ice is forming on the tips of my wings Unheeded warnings, I thought I thought of everything No navigator to find my way home Unladened, empty and turned to stone
A soul in tension that’s learning to fly Condition grounded but determined to try Can’t keep my eyes from the circling skies Tongue-tied and twisted, just an earth-bound misfit, I
Friction lock, set Mixtures, rich Propellers, fully forward Flaps, set – 10 degrees Engine gauges and suction, check
Above the planet on a wing and a prayer My grubby halo, a vapor trail in the empty air Across the clouds I see my shadow fly Out of the corner of my watering eye A dream unthreatened by the morning light Could blow this soul right through the roof of the night
There’s no sensation to compare with this Suspended animation, a state of bliss Can’t keep my mind from the circling sky Tongue-tied and twisted, just an earth-bound misfit, I”
We are all connected. We are all human. We are all imperfect. We all need love. We all need purpose. And, regardless what one might think, we all need each other. That is who we are. That is what God intended when he/she made us.
Here we are in 2022. Doesn’t it seem like we are more disconnected than ever? We are certainly more divided, angry, and sad.
It is time the pendulum began swinging back toward togetherness. It is time we begin to push back against the hate, the diminishing of our civil rights, and the false narratives that echoe across our country. It is time for love and kindness to be the headline.
But that means action. So, Kindness Warriors, it is time for us to fight even harder against the forces of hate and division.
Get up! Get out! Go spread kindness everywhere. Go change lives and change minds. Be there for each other!
This song turns 50 this year and hit #1 on the Billboard hot 100 on this day in 1972. What a great song to start a revolution of love and kindness! Plus, Bill Withers is awesome! Btw, he was born on July 4th. So I would say this is definitely his month.
Be love. Be Kind. We are all connected.
Life is better with a soundtrack!
“Sometimes in our lives We all have pain We all have sorrow
But if we are wise We know that there’s always tomorrow
Lean on me When you’re not strong And I’ll be your friend I’ll help you carry on…
For it won’t be long Till I’m gonna need somebody to lean on”
“Please swallow your pride If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill Those of your needs that you won’t let show
You just call on me brother when you need a hand We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you’ll understand We all need somebody to lean on
Lean on me When you’re not strong And I’ll be your friend I’ll help you carry on…
For it won’t be long Till I’m gonna need somebody to lean on
You just call on me brother When you need a hand We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you’ll understand We all need somebody to lean on
If there is a load you have to bear That you can’t carry
I’m right up the road I’ll share your load If you just call me”
“We like to think we are rational beings who occasionally have an emotion and flick it away,” and carry on being rational. But rather, she says: “We are emotional, feeling beings; who, on rare occasions, think.” Brené Brown
Let me start with a small introduction on Sisyphus.
“Sisyphus was a cruel Greek king who was punished to push a large rock up on a steep hill, only to find it rolling back on nearing the top. Ever since, he has been known for pushing the rock tirelessly till eternity. Honestly, when I read about his story, I didn’t quite understand what was so special about it that it is referred by so many people until I read some excerpts from Albert Camus’ book on the ‘Myth of Sisyphus’
Camus imagined Sisyphus smiling while pushing the rock and embracing his situation without thinking of the past or the future. His take on Sisyphus’ situation was unique and somehow the whole view of Sisyphus pushing the rock uphill changed for me.
Sisyphus was unstoppable, he pushed the rock unabated every time it rolled down. He refused to surrender to gravity.
Pushing the rock was Sisyphus’ purpose, and no matter how evil he was, he is still remembered for his labor towards his purpose. Without the rock, or the effort, he wouldn’t ’t have been a topic of anyone’s discussion.”
As Mindy drove me home from another neck procedure the other day, I realized a powerful truth. The universe is out of balance and can only be corrected with a cheeseburger and fries…
Those who know me well won’t be surprised by what I tell you next. When I feel lost and can’t find the answers any other way, I often turn to film for inspiration or clues to help me find a path forward. I don’t always strike gold with this process. But who can deny that a great movie can stir our emotions, give us hope, make us angry, or make us laugh. Sometimes moving to couch potato mode and turning on one of my favorite movies simply serves as a distraction from all the battles raging in my head, or the ones causing so much physical pain. Getting out of my head for 2 hours can occasionally be just what I needed to find the light switch.
While attempting to regain universal balance with my burger and fries, I began rewatching the HBO miniseries, Chernobyl. It is scary how close we came to virtually destroying the whole planet.
This time around, I zeroed in on a couple of quotes from Valery Lagasov that became a partial theme to where I believe our universe has begun to unravel. Testifying in court during the final episode, Legasov says,
“Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later, that debt is paid.”
“What is the cost of lies? It’s not that we’ll mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all.”
It occurs to me, that cost is being paid by all of us. That quote has been proundly banging around in my head all week.
When my brother and I were kids we fought all the time. One day, we were both in our room with Lego spread all over the green playroom carpet. Usually, playing with Lego was an activity that brought peace and collaboration for Kelly and I. He liked to build the Lego City and Town sets, including a gas station, “Main Street,” police station, hospital, and my brother’s personal favorite, the fire station. I preferred all the Lego Space sets.
So, we spent time together, helped each other find pieces from our giant tubs of mixed sets, and got along quite well. We had enough base plates to cover the whole floor in our bedroom. I usually even had enough to make a deep space outpost on our top bunk bed. At the end of the build day, we would take a few leftover road base plates and officially connect his earthly community with my galactic expanse. Too bad you can’t just hop on I-20 to get to the moon, or Tatooine!
But that day, not even Lego could keep the peace. After listening to us yelling at each other and hearing things being thrown across the room our mom burst into the room and instructed us to immediately get dressed and get in the car. She was unusually much more fierce and direct. Kelly and I both felt like we had finally pushed mom over the edge. She didn’t speak in the car. She wouldn’t even tell us where we were going. We began to wonder if we were ever going home again or if she was gonna just drop us off at an orphanage.
As we both looked out the car windows, wondering our fate. We didn’t speak either. But we did both realize we might be stuck together, come what may. So we had already called a truce by the time we arrived at our demise.
Our mother calmly got us out of the car, walked us into the theater, and sat us down to watch E.T.
Kelly and I didn’t fight the rest of the weekend. More importantly, we were shown an alternative to the endless arguing. We were all inspired by that movie. Kelly and I spent a considerable amount of time riding our bikes together trying to fly after that. We also managed to keep the peace on Lego build days after that. One more thing, even though Kelly and I had plenty more fights, I believe that day gave us one more lesson and gift. We began to respect each other just a little bit more. We started seeing each other as brothers and not just two kids stuck with each other. It gave us a small but important brick in the foundation of our relationship, in our moral development, and in how to treat other people, even brothers.
On another day, many years after that, I was unknowingly suffering from one of the darkest depressions of my life. I turned to a movie for an escape. I sat in the apartment I shared with my best friend, Rusty, and watched An Officer And A Gentleman. I joined the Navy the next morning.
That is another story altogether. And, it was not a well thought out decision that was highly influenced by my undiagnosed depression, not so much the movie. But my point is I have continually found solace and hope in film, and music.
These days, as I turn inward for answers, I am immediately hit with pain, chronic and debilitating pain. I believed there would be an end to it. But the slow and steady revealing of the truth tells me it is going to be there for the rest of my life. All I can do is manage it, medicate it, and pray it doesn’t blind me to everything good in my life. But, it’s my pain. It’s my giant ball to keep pushing up that mountain every day. I own it. As strange as it sounds, I take comfort in knowing that.
“In my dream I was drowning sorrows When my sorrows, they learned to swim” -U2
So I turn outward, looking for hope. Lately, it seems easier to deal with my personal struggle with pain than it is to deal with the pain of a broken and divided society. We are all connected. That is how God created us. Yet, many of us seem hell bent on denying that. Too many who claim themselves as believers of a loving and just God have chosen to oppose or even deny their brothers and sisters the very thing that, at least in my core beliefs, proves God exists, love. There are wolves among us.
That brings me to a question, or maybe more of a paradox. So riddle me this…
If God is love, then are christians who villainize a christian for providing another christian christ-like love and support, actually christian?
My dark place and the demons who dwell there…
I have witnessed so called christians, leaders of our former church, completely betray and abandon my own family because one of us chose to extend love and support to a youth member who desperately needed love and support. People who I thought of as friends, even family at that church lied, made horrible accusations and ultimately forced us out because they didn’t like the optics. Why? Because the mother of the youth involved made a completely false allegation. And why did she do that? Because she found out her daughter was seeking help elsewhere for her depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies.
Lives shattered without anyone asking about the truth or looking for some context to the allegation that clearly refutes it. Moreover it proves that a member of my family was helping, providing love and support, being a trusted and dependable friend to a troubled teenager in need. That youth was absolutely not getting any support from her own family, especially her mother.
Apparently, if you extend and express love, as God would have us do, it must be done with very specific language and be accompanied by several disclaimers in the event anyone who should happen to read those words, does so with ZERO context or understanding. And then they decide to make horrible and disgusting assumptions that the select few words they read were just the opposite of their meaning and intent. Where do these fucking people get off?
What gives anyone the right to decide the intent of someone else’s love and kindness is inappropriate and not geniune? Why is it so easy for a faithful servant of God to be crushed for trying to do the right thing? I have never been more heartbroken, betrayed, or angered by anyone in my life.
We have received love and support from those true friends who know all the details, including the ones church leadership has chosen to ignore because they would have to then acknowledge they were wrong, so very wrong. What a bunch of hypocrites who speak of togetherness, honesty, love, and justice, but don’t practice it. Again, why? Because those people care more about optics than the truth.
When we joined Broadway Baptist Church in 2016, my wife and I thought we had finally found a place to call home. And for six years, that is exactly what we did. We raised our children there. We built our lives around our church.
We are no longer members there. We fought this horrible accusation and resulting church action as best we could. But we couldn’t control the narrative. People will believe the sky is red if that makes them more comfortable. I guess it is easier to keep calling it red, even when everyone knows its blue. That way you can never be wrong.
Having our dearest friends and allies within the church support us just wasn’t enough. So, now we are gone, like we were never even there.
Nothing changed and everyone went back to business as usual. Proving that no matter how much you might believe in God, no matter how righteous your actions, YOUR WORDS, and your sacrifices to do “God’s work,” every church is ultimately only as truly committed to the tenets of Christianity as the people in it, especially the leadership. And how could the mother of this desperate girl behave so selfishly and cruelly? Yet, no one has asked for any accountability from her or the folks who lied and judged. I reached out to so many people for help at that place, including the deacons.
By the way, if ANYONE has a problem with what I am saying, then reach out to me. Defend the actions and assumptions of the Sr. Pastor, Family and Youth Minister, Church Business Administrator, and the mother if you think they deserve it. Explain to me why I am wrong if you think so. Tell me! What am I missing here? I really want to know how anyone can justify what they did because so far, not a single person has even tried. Cowards.
I am at the crossroads. My core belief system has been turned upside-down by the betrayal of people I thought were honest, loving, and kind. I would rather be focusing on the larger societal issues we have right now, but I am still trying to get past the failures of those I once called friends.
As I said, we have been given love and support from many people. But besides expressing their own frustrations to the leadership with how this was handled, nothing else came of it.
Yes, I am still very angry and yes this hurts. Not because I care about what people might think of my attitude or my increasing usage of profanity. 🤬 It hurts every day because of the pain it caused and continues to cause my wife and kids.
Healing is a slow process and I doubt any of us will ever want to join another church again. We don’t need to show up on Sundays and listen to a disingenuous man tell us to come together and be love, always be love, with his fingers crossed under his robe or an asterisk and footnote in the worship guide. I just wish I knew how empty his words were when compared to his actions before we put so much faith and trust in him as well as the other leaders who have betrayed God in this way. Ugh, I feel the bitterness oozing out of my pores. Yet, I can’t seem to be done with it. Everyone else is though.
Organized Religion Anonymous. Hi, my name is Christopher and I am a recovering Baptist.
I struggle now with every relationship I have. I love the dear friends we made from Broadway who remain close. But I struggle with accepting that anyone who would continue to go there, tolerate what has been done with absolutely no accountability. They go there and listen to those hypocrites lead Sunday worship, knowing full well what they have done to my family.
I struggle with my conscience because I know it isn’t that simple. I hurt and become consumed with guilt for even thinking like that. I love them, all of them. This happened to us, not them. They have their own lives, their own very important reasons for not pushing harder to force the leadership into accountability, or show them the door. How can that be fair of me? How can I possibly be frustrated with anyone except those few who did this to us? Because it hurts.
In moments of clarity, I blame and feel angry toward the appropriate people. I am forever thankful for our loving friends who continue to help us get through this. But my mind is anything but clear these days. This boulder keeps rolling me down. I simply cannot accept and live with this. I cannot let this go.
Lord, I am trying. Lord, perhaps I am failing you? Oh Lord, I need your guidance. It is too dark and I am too tired. Let the wind carry us. Let the wind carry this pain away. Let the wind prevail.
I am not sure if anyone has noticed, but our society, our country, our world is falling apart and receiving injections of hate everyday. I suppose I have succumbed to it as well. I have been unable to maintain focus on kindness. I feel like God has tested me and I have failed.
I look to myself to fight the demons of my depression and the physical health issues that have gone on for years now, but only gotten worse, not better. I have been unable to work since February and finally was forced to file for Social Security Disability a few weeks ago. I am praying that is approved and the process doesn’t take years to complete. Still, I am alive. I hurt all the time and feel like puking mutiple times a day but I am still here.
I look outward for inspiration and find myself angry with the world, especially the folks who hurt my family. The heartbreak of living among humans is still by far more difficult than my health issues. I can’t even be happy among my friends anymore. I love them. I appreciate them, especially with all the love and support we have received in the last year. But the pain is just so overwhelming. I am losing the ability to keep it all separated and I hate myself for that.
Every post, every story I write is an opportunity to express a simple truth.
We are all connected.
Yet, I have never been so conflicted with this mantra as I am right now. The meaning is lost at the moment. Have I been wrong all this time? Maybe the sky truly is red. Maybe blue is my own lifelong delusion.
There is a silver lining. There always is, but only when the light is trapped behind the dark clouds. I suppose that is also the grace God gives us each and every day. Not alot. Not too little. Just enough to see us make it til’ dawn.
Throughout this exhausting and horrible experience, we, our family, have remained together and our love has only been strengthened. So that is where I put my faith these days.
Back to it now. Back to pushing that giant boulder up the mountain. I know it will come crashing down again if and when I get close to the peak.
The little hope that is left in me would say this:
None of us can push that thing all the way to the top on our own. We all seem to be pushing our own boulders. Until we finally realize that we ARE all connected and that is how God made us, we are all doomed to the same fate as Sisyphus.
So I will say it, even if I don’t fully believe it right now…
Be love. Be kind. We are all connected.
I have been watching movies and listening to all kinds of music lately, looking for that hope and redemption. I am still looking for answers to heal my broken heart and ripped soul. Plus, I’m all out of duct tape.
I haven’t been able to write in months but last weekend I found some of that inspiration in, well, a movie about music. I finally found just enough light to see a path forward, like driving under streetlights on a Saturday night to find clarity and peace. I should have known Elvis could get the job done. TCB. We went to see the film as a family and what do ya know… I am finally writing again.
Now I must find a way to believe what I write. It used to be automatic. Maybe that has been the reason for not writing in these last few months. How can I write about love and kindness when I can’t believe my own words? Oh wait. Is that fiction? Am I now a fiction writer?
Love and kindness rocks! But, they are also both very big and heavy rocks!
“We must learn to embrace our purpose(the rock) in life. And once we accept it as the objective of our being, we should give it everything it takes to achieve it. Sisyphus teaches us to never give in to circumstantial disappointments or try to escape from the failures, rather accept failures the same way we accept our achievements.
And most importantly, no matter how much we lose in our quest, we must never back down till we fulfill our potential.”
I promise to keep trying. I promise to keep looking for the grace. But friends, I just don’t know it to be true anymore. Regardless, I am not gonna shutup because what I have to say might make some of you uncomfortable. That isn’t who I am. If you made it this far in the story, you already know that.
We need to try harder. We need to come together. We need to take our hands off the 3rd rail and reach out to each other instead. I think Elvis might agree. I know God does.
Be love. Be kind. We are all connected. Aren’t we?
Life is better with a soundtrack.
The following playlist includes the music that helped inspire the words of this post.
The sun came up today, as it did yesterday and will again tomorrow. We have faith in that. It is a reliable constant that has never failed us. It’s Sunday in DFW. It is getting hot. As I sit here in my car, I notice the life around me. Lots of cars on the road. A nearly full city bus just drove by. There are several cars in the drive thru at Jack in the Box and Panda Express. Bees are circling the trash can in the parking lot where I am waiting. I am enjoying the bright sun, the blue sky and the scattered clouds, always a beautiful palette. There is something captivating about the sky and clouds. I bet I have taken a thousand pictures or more of the sky. The sky is both a constant and ever changing at the same time.
With the exception of a select few talented and dare I say lucky space travelers, we can always count on the sky over us, along with the sun and moon and the stars.
As I sit here appreciating the clouds and the bees and all these other little details around me that seem normal, peaceful, and ordinary, I see a man on the bridge that crosses the highway. He seems ancient, just skin and bone. His skin is darkened by all the sun his face has seen. His back is bowed and he moves ever so slowly but seemingly so deliberate, as if he had a mission that has taken his whole life and he was nearing the end. This man, the man on the bridge, the bridge man is wearing a paper surgical mask and holding a sign that says Peace and God Bless You on a torn piece of cardboard.
I wonder what Bridge Man sees when he looks around. I wonder if he appreciates the sky and the bees and the seemingly normal things around both of us. I wonder how different his perspective is from my own about the same surroundings. I wonder what he thinks about the troubled times we live in. He obviously knows about the pandemic. Does he know about the civil unrest? Does he care? He appears homeless and destitute. I think if I was in his shoes the world wouldn’t matter so much as what I would do for my next meal and where I might sleep tonight.
Does Bridge Man have any family or friends? How did he get here? Does he have a mental health issue? Is he struggling with alcohol or drug abuse? I watched as bridge man slowly disappeared beyond the apex of the bridge.
The man I was waiting for finally made it out to the car. His name is John. I met John recently at a new job and got to know him a bit. It turns out, John is a two-time felon who has only been out of his 2nd prison term for a few months. He lives in a sort of halfway house for men. I have been there and it is really quite nice. It is a two-story house with lots of shade and a pool in the back. So, John has a place to stay as he tries to get his life together. But he doesn’t have a car and he has a limited education. John is taking courses to become a HVAC technician. A few weeks after I met him, the new company I work for let him go because he didn’t clear the background check. He is now working at Jack in the Box. John is a little rough around the edges. He has had a hard life. He has even been shot twice in the face so he has a few mangled teeth. I give John a ride to class on Mondays and occasionally a ride home from work. It seemed like the least I could do. Once you are down, it’s very hard to get back up. John is trying.
With all the protests, I was reminded of an interaction with one of my riders last fall. I think it was shortly after Atatiana Jefferson was killed. It was raining, late on a Saturday night and I was picking up someone named Henry. All of the sudden the back door of my car opened and in flew someone from the rain with his hoody tightly pulled around his head. The second he got the door closed he ripped the hoody back, threw his hands up, and with a big disarming smile said “Hands up. Don’t shoot.” There was nothing remarkable enough about the trip for me to write about Henry at the time. At least I didn’t think so then. But I remembered him because of the way he made his entrance to the car and we did have a short conversation about race, white privilege, and both wondered if it would ever get better. I remember asking him that question. His answer was, “Only if we keep the conversation going and not the bullets.”
I miss those little interactions with my passengers. No matter how terrible the world seemed on the news, I could always get in my car, flip on the Uber/Lyft apps and meet new people who never failed to restore my faith in humanity.
What do these stories say about our society? How many homeless before we change the way we provide for our citizenry? How can someone truly get a second chance in a society that is already almost impossible for poor people who haven’t committed any crimes? How many black lives must be lost before we truly address police brutality and systemic racism? Could we finally be ALL in to address the racial injustices of our beloved America
I certainly don’t have the answers. In my life journey, I have learned this much:
There is Grace in everything.
Each of those men reminded me about what matters in life and how I wish to live it. We are all connected in this world. Many of us fall through the cracks of society, become invisible. But those lost to the shadows have needs, feel love and sorrow.
We turn away from them daily, often without even thinking about it. Those of us who make mistakes and pay for those mistakes according to our justice system never stop paying for them in our society.
Maybe now, with this perfect storm of a pandemic, a racist and corrupt president exacerbating societal fault lines, and finally knowing just how many black lives needed to end through police brutality, maybe now we can truly change. Maybe now is the time we have all been waiting for. I am not foolish enough to think we will achieve world peace and equality tomorrow but maybe we can finally move our country toward a more perfect union.
As dark and frightening as the world may seem, it is easy to lose sight of God’s loving hands. We see less clearly with so much darkness in the world. I see way too many fellow Christians supporting and defending, vehemently defending rhetoric and actions that are anything but Christlike. When in truth, we should be setting a higher example and lighting the path to peace and justice and belonging; like Streetlights on a Saturday night guiding us home. This battle for what many are calling the soul of our nation often pushes my anger in the direction of hate. Thinking of those 3 stories of men, how could I be so vain and self-righteous?
And that is what reminded me once again, that there is grace in everything, everywhere. And through God’s grace we shall prevail.
Grace is all around us. It becomes harder to see and feel, to witness, when we carry hate and anger and fear in our hearts. But, nevertheless, it is there, Grace. When you open your heart and your eyes to see it, to feel it, to witness it you will know God’s love.
This is a daily gift from God. Imagine a set of rose colored eye glasses that have a unique power to see beautiful surroundings that are otherwise invisible. The surroundings are always there but without those glasses you cannot see how incredibly beautiful your surroundings truly are. Faith, love, and kindness are the filters through which we can truly see, feel, and witness the beauty of God’s Grace.
I see it all the time now. Although, it took me more than forty years to find my rose-colored glasses and I still misplace them from time to time. Lately, I seem to forget them more often. We are in challenging times that can leave us all in a state of anger, hopelessness, fear, and despair. Lately I seem to get sidetracked and off message.
There are definitely things to be angry about. There is nothing wrong with anger. There are many wrongs that need to be righted. With all that this nation and the world is dealing with, it is easy to become the very thing we are fighting against, hate.
I have been listening to songs from the sixties and early seventies. I have been listening to the lyrics of songs like Blowin’ In The Wind, For What It’s Worth, and Change Is Gonna Come; songs written 50 and 60 years ago but seem like they could have been written yesterday. One of my favorite songwriters is Neil Young. I have always loved his song Heart Of Gold. I read the lyrics again, like one might read the Bible, searching for a deeper meaning, a lesson. I found one. It is this,
On this often difficult and sometimes painful journey of life, we all find ourselves searching for a heart of gold. I think what those lyrics mean for me is an internal quest. Perhaps that is what Young meant. Of my attempts and my own failings, I am constantly looking for that heart of gold within me. Life continues to challenge that quest. Life can make me cynical and angry, sad and hopeless. But If I keep searching for goodness and purpose within my own heart, God will take care of the rest.
I wonder if Bridge Man, John, and Henry are looking for their heart of gold. How about you?
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.
Slippery little devil. It has taken some time to write this one. Joy keeps getting away. Last year on the 6th of January, I sat down on the couch in front of the TV. Joy slipped under the couch and was gone for months. It showed up again later, playing cards with my kids. But was gone again the next day.
If you see it trying to slip off the side of your screen, stay focused on it. If you can keep an eye on just one of its 3 little letters, it can’t get away. It cant get out of your grasp. Take your eye off it though, and it’s gone.
Anyway, I couldnt very well finish this post without it, so please excuse the delay.
Sunday, January 16th, 2022
Like I mentioned, it has taken some time to finish this post. In fact, I started writing this part of my current series, All My Empty Spaces, before all the others. This perhaps has been the most difficult post for me to write in a long time. Given all that is happening and all that weighs heavy on my heart and soul, I began to suspect I might never finish it.
Joy. A small word. Just 3 little letters. J. O. Y. And yet, so difficult to discuss. Maybe joy should have been a longer word. Something like Hakuna Matata. Oh wait, that one is taken. My point is 3 letters doesn’t seem sufficient for a word that is so complex, so important. It may seem simple. But anyone who hasn’t been stuck on an island for the last 20 years knows that joy is becoming more and more difficult to find and hold on to. These days my personal search for joy has led me to speak more 4 letter words than anything else.
I am not a theologian, pastor, or even all that well versed on the bible. I am just a humble servant of God, follower of Christ. Again, I try to follow the simple code, the example that Christ has given, be love, be kind.
I claim no moral high ground, but I stand my ground. I claim no intellectual superiority, but I continually learn, continually teach, and I have little patience or compassion for stupidity and dishonesty.
So, it finally happened today. I suppose I reached a point of despair that gave me the push I needed to complete my thoughts on joy. Ironic, isn’t it. The last 2 days have been extraordinarily difficult. My body has been fighting my mind. I have tried to get up, get out, and get going. But my body has made it very clear, it is on strike. “Hey pal, where do you think you are going? Lay your ass back down!” Every movement requires everything in the tank. This morning in the shower I could barely even stay upright. My continued physical health obstacles don’t make my mental health any better. My depressive brothers and sisters will understand this easily, but I already start the day out with a deficit. Meaning it takes more work, more effort to reach the same state of mental awareness and mental ability as everyone else on any given day. Oh, I don’t want or need any pity. I have come to accept and appreciate my wiring for what it is. Believe it or not, I think chronic depressives have some unique qualities, powers if you will, if they can learn to control them. Empathy is one of those powers.
But here is the rub, I have recently begun to realize that my struggle with joy isn’t just directly linked to my depression or my chronic fatigue. It isn’t completely tied to the pain I endure or the guilt that comes with constantly feeling like a burden. See I can overcome all of that. I can find joy in depression. I can find joy in the most extreme physical challenges. And, I have. Just last night, I sat on the couch and played a game with my family. Have any of you played the online games through Jackbox.TV? The game is played through your computer or a gaming system like the PS4. So you watch the TV and it prompts you through a series of questions or challenges you must answer or complete via your personal device like your phone or tablet. Occasionally you get to choose which answer you like the best from the other players which makes for some hilarious moments. My children are all well versed and talented in the art of sarcasm, so this game never fails to entertain.
In that moment, I felt joy. It was wonderful. In the middle of the game, my body started going nuts like it often does. I was simply sitting on the couch with this very laptop in front of me, playing this game, and I began to sweat. I broke into an all out sweatfest. My head and face started dripping of the stuff. It was soaking through my shirt. My pain level started to spike and my head became hot, achy, and dizzy. I knew I needed to head to bed, get some meds in me. But it didn’t take away the joy I felt by sharing some precious moments with my loved ones. I wouldn’t let it.
Do you ever wonder if the tiniest moments of joy, perhaps from a memory of a loved one that passed away are the most valuable, the most precious? Does joy that is derived from great pain become more precious than the joy one might find on an average day? I mean, I have had some of the most profound moments of joy during or just after some of the most painful or challenging moments of life. Its like that little bit of joy just became priceless. Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting a joy barter system where you get incredible, powerful joy simply by enduring great pain. Yeah, that’s not a thing, at all. But I am saying that when you endure pain or loss, or life challenges, you develop a greater appreciation for the joyous experiences.
Back to the rub. The biggest challenge to find and keep joy is people. Because people suck.
⚠️ CONTENT WARNING ⚠️
CONTAINS anger, frustration, judgy mcjudgerson, some explicit language, occasional bad grammar… well probably more than occasional, if I am being honest. Oh, truthiness, pessimism and optimism in the same sentence, bad humor, and more anger.
There is a war on. It’s a war on truth. It’s a war on civility and mutual respect. Those waging it have no ability or inclination to give any of it. Have you noticed how widespread the phenomenon of never being wrong is? Well, I guess that means it isn’t so much a phenomenon as it is just a nom. Or would it be nomenon? I should maybe look that up but I am in complete free style rant mode write now (get it?) and don’t want to stop. It doesn’t matter anyway because I am probably not using the word correctly in the first place. My word skills aren’t very phenomenal. Maybe I should have used the plural participle in the first sentence?
Well, see? We are already off the tracks. So, hold onto your butts. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride from here on. But seriously, trying to talk sense into those “never wrong” folks is like feeding my dog her allergy med hidden in peanut butter and then she sneezes, leaving tiny little globs of peanut butter truthiness and little bits of medicine in the carpet, on the walls, my fresh clean shirt, and my incredibly handsome face. Her words, not mine…
Yes, the dog.
Ok. Time to change the mood lighting from bright and colorful crazy Christopher rant disco ball lazer show to a little more serious and focused. Let’s say a darkened room with a tactical red or green underlight, like in the cockpit of an airplane, or the bridge of a warship.
This war on truth, civility, and mutual respect is becoming more brutal everyday. It continues to spread and mutate just as Covid 19 has. And like the January 6th, 2021 attack and insurrection on the Capitol, it is championed by the most extreme idiology of hate, but it sucks in mobs of people who wouldn’t otherwise cross a certain line. Those people, at first, are innocent (kind of). They are very misguided and naive, but now they have succumbed to those darker forces. Now they are culpable. And now because they couldn’t possibly be wrong, they are no different than the ones who were telling the lies and calling the shots in the first place.
That leaves us with noone in the middle to hold onto both sides of our torn society. It squashes peace and hope. It conditions love. And it leaves no oxygen for joy. Kindness and “love thy neighbor” become weaponized or signs of weakness. Christianity has been usurped. Much the same in other religions but as a Christian myself I am focusing my concerns within that demographic. The never wrong effect has found its way into more than just our politics or ideology. It has begun to affect our basic sense of care for each other regardless of our beliefs. We are just meaner and less willing to see each other as good people. If someone does something we don’t like, now we just go for the nuclear option instead of trying to work it out. It’s crazy!
I became naive enough to believe there were places, organizations, and churches that could rise above this. I felt like my own church was saying and doing the true work of a loving, inclusive, kind, and just God. I still do. But like any other church or body of organized religion, it is comprised of people. People are messy, self-serving creatures. And that truth has yielded its ugly head where I have lived, prayed, communed, and connected with God for the last 6 years.
Besides being disappointed by a few folks at my church, there is also a crisis in this country that kills joy.
Patriotic Depression and the search for joy in a deplorable world.
This Christian nationalism bullshit has truly broken me. I care deeply about the health of our nation. And it has never been more in peril. January 6th, 2021 was a day many of us watched in horror as the mob attacked the Capitol. Sadly, I wasn’t surprised. In fact, I knew something like that was inevitable, but horrifying nonetheless.
Saturday, January 22nd, 2022
The anniversary of the insurrection was just a few weeks ago. Since then, I have been having the strangest dreams. Last night, for example, I dreamt I was at Willie Nelson’s funeral and it came under attack by the Captiol mob. That idiot with the horns on his head, waving a confederate flag was leading it.
First of all, the idea Willie Nelson’s death is scary and sad enough. So, long live Willie! But seriously, don’t you Trump loving idiots go after Willie! And stay out of my dreams!This is what can suck the joy right out of the day before the day even starts.
“You have a republic, if you can keep it.”
That has been a popular Ben Franklin quote as our nation struggles to find a path forward. But in full context, Franklin then said, “All it might take is a man on a fast horse (no, not that man) perpetuating a lie to lose it. Ok, I am going to France until the Constitutional ink is dry. Peace out.”
I might be paraphrasing…
We still feel the need to be better off than others. We still have have this burning desire to punish freeloaders, to hurt, imprison and starve other human beings for simply crossing a border without permission in an attempt to reach safety. We let greed and power rule our morality. Christianity has been infected, poisoned with that greed. And, we are never ever wrong or obligated to apologize to each other.
In the United States in particular, Jesus carries a cross in one hand and an assault rifle in the other. We apparently all get to choose which version of Christ we want. Yeah, I’ll take the 3rd Jesus on the right; the white one with the MAGA hat and lots of contempt for anyone who doesn’t look like me.
Stay angry, good people.
I am reading “If God Is Love, Don’t Be A Jerk by John Pavlovitz. He speaks very well about the current crisis of the Christian faith and of the troubled state of our nation. His words resonate with me and have helped me through this dark period. He has given me the focus I need to keep finding joy. I still lose it all the time anyway.
So about joy…
I am trying to fill these empty spaces with those connected heart and soul fillers of peace, hope, love, and joy. But more than my own demons, fellow Christians seem intent on keeping those empty spaces from being filled with anything that might give voice to my questioning their actions, or more importantly the motives behind their actions.
I know the calendar says we just started a new year. As a follower of Christ I have always felt more like Easter marks the start of a new chapter. Spring comes along with the resurrection so it just seems like a more natural transition. Not like January 1st in the dead of winter. Plus these days, January feels more like insurrection, not resurrection.
I have always been skeptical of organized religion. I have always believed in God and have reaffirmed my faith in Christ many times throughout my life. But Christianity is a huge let down, even in places I thought were immune to the hypocrisy and hate. Maybe its just me. Maybe I have given people way too much credit for doing the right thing. Because even now and even a place I have truly loved has offered more of the same hypocritical betrayal. Godly words on a wall inside what is supposed to be a place of love are only worth the actions of those who walk those halls. These days, people fail the tenets of Christianity and do so in the name of Christianity. Proving yet again, organized religion is a joke.
We no longer care enough about each other to standby and support each other in truly difficult times. We are hollow shells walking around hollowed hallowed halls with banners of hope peace love and joy but when tested, those are just slogans on a shirt, written on a wall and not in our hearts. We have become a society championed by hate. And, hate infects us all.
“Fools” said I, “You do not know Silence like a cancer grows Hear my words that I might teach you Take my arms that I might reach you” But my words, like silent raindrops fell And echoed in the wells of silenceAnd the people bowed and prayed To the neon god they made And the sign flashed out its warning In the words that it was forming Then the sign said, “The words on the prophets are written on the subway walls In tenement halls” And whispered in the sound of silence
Think of our shared belief in God and in each other as a large 4 engine aircraft. The engines are named hope, peace, love and joy. The fuel comes from a mixture of kindness, compassion, truthfulness, respect, civility, and the simple understanding that we are ALL connected. We are ALL on this big plane together. But if we can’t produce enough fuel to feed those engines, one by one they start losing power and shutting down. That also means the other engines have to work even harder to keep us flying. It doesn’t matter which engines you wish to use for this analogy because whether you have lost hope, or joy, you, we, are still losing altitude.
Tuesday January 25th, 2022
I have continued to struggle with joy. I have continued to fill those empty spaces with anger, sorrow, disappointment, and confusion. I used to get those booster shots of faith in humanity by driving Uber and Lyft. Meeting people and hearing their stories was always a reminder that people are inherently good. The last two years have been a true struggle trying to find and hold joy. That, as it turns out, isn’t from my personal challenges. It certainly isn’t because I have lost faith in God. It is because I keep getting disappointed by people. Now, more than ever, I am forced to deal with lies, hatefulness, and incredibly selfish people. I am forced to confront those “never wrong” folks.
Oh, how I desperately long for a society that acts like the family it claims to value so much.
And yet, once again, God has seen fit to remind me that not all people are bad. Every time I fall down, doubt myself, or doubt the goodness in people, God smacks me on the back of the head and says, ‘Stop doing that!” He just did it again.
I have seen something I guess I didn’t expect. With the enormous stress and pain my family has endured recently, my negativity has peaked. I have felt bitter and wounded. I have watched people I love struggle with unecessary pain inflicted by others, the never wrongers. But my focus has shifted from anger and negativity. In the midst of all this drama, I have been shown a better path. I see good people rising up and trying harder to spread love and kindness in the face of those who have become misled by hate and fear, and self-serving actions. I see good people, stronger than me, practicing a little Kindness Kung-Fu, you might say. And that gives me hope. It brings peace. It amplifies love. And I am joyous again. Just like that. Have you ever noticed God gives us grace every day? He gives us just enough to make it through, so long as we open our hearts to it.
645pm, Wednesday January 26th, 2022.
As I sit in my car outside my church, waiting for my daughter to finish her Wednesday night youth meeting, I am finally listening to a song my friend, John shared earlier today. He is quite good at finding the right song for the moment. Today’s troubles are more significant than most by an order of magnitude. Yet, I am strangely at peace in this moment. I am hopeful. I love my friends and family. And I am experiencing a rare kind of joy. I am overwhelmed, not in the pain and frustration my family has gone through recently, but in the response of others. I am reminded we are all connected and kindness is important, even when we work through conflict with others. I, myself have been a self-serving knucklehead at times and someone kind stood before me and showed me I can be better than that. I can DO better than that. I don’t think people are totally bad. In fact, most are good but still capable of doing bad things, making bad decisions. I know I have.
I sat with friends this week. I was given comfort. It felt like rain in the desert. And, even in the midst of all the “people made” pain I have been in, I have once again found joy.
All this to say I have been letting the wrong voices fill my head and heart. In case any of you didn’t know this, I write as a form of therapy. I write to find understanding and wisdom in the universe that I couldn’t otherwise tap into. When I have my most success in this theraputic process, the light comes on and my own inner voice says, duh!
Find your joy. Better yet, create joy. If people steal that joy, take it right back and leave those negative influences behind. I know that seems simple. But my struggle is proof that it’s a challenge. Look at it this way, if you are passionate about anything that involves people, count on being let down, repeatedly. It turns out, I am passionate about everything, so I am constantly challenged. But, oh man, when the joy kicks in, its that supercharged warm and fuzzy stuff. The occasional disappointments are worth it. Because as it turns out, God made all of us. So we are all very connected. Better to get along and stay engaged, as families are supposed to do.
Be love. Be kind. We are all connected. Life is better with a soundtrack.
One last bit of music that has brought me joy lately. Below that is a link to a playlist I used as I developed this post. Peace be with you, my friends. Joy too.