Saturday, January 23, 2016

From Matchbox Cars to Matchless Grace

My most treasured Matchbox car was a red 1970 Chevrolet El Camino, slightly souped up. I thought Hot Wheels didn't look real enough. Plus, the wire axles always bent and stayed bent, crippling its otherwise straight, smooth glide. But Matchbox cars were more durable, realistic, and ideal for miniature pretend play, one of my favorite activities as a kid.

Life was about play back then, and it was fun to act it out in 1/64th scale. Terrible accidents were made cool and without damage because they happened in slow motion. I tumbled the car 2" to 4" off the ground, carefully with both hands, as if I was studying the g-forces at work, perfectly choreographed to engine racing and metal crashing sound effects that spurted from my twisted, amateur trumpet player combined tongue and lip rapid vibrations, sans trumpet. I'd imagine the sidewalk creases along the edges of each concrete pad as roadways, and the expansion cracks as construction zones and potholes. The more realism, the better. But still, it was just play.

Then I started to grow up and encounter construction zones and potholes in my life. The tumbles were no longer carefully orchestrated, and there were no do-overs or getting called to dinner as a snap back into reality. "I gotta go home now," turned into, "I gotta leave home now." Only, where was I going, especially when others around me didn't know the script playing in my head, or even want to play the same game?

There was a lot of trial and error. I discovered how much I can hurt and how little I knew about love. I began to experience emotions on a deeper level, such as despairing devastation and utter delight. (I since settled on a word to summarize this common polarity: bittersweet.)

I know I hurt people during my relational experiments with them. I didn't fully appreciate just how real they were at the time, nor how permanent the scars would be. I guess I hadn't fully disconnected from the pretend play. Well, that's not entirely true. I didn't want to fully disconnect from the pool of predictability and dive head first into the vein of vulnerability. But it was the only path back to the heart.

Over time, with help of certain friends, family, books, audio tapes, videos, prayer, therapists, counselors, pastors, and support groups, I became aware that I needed to let go of what no longer served a steadying purpose in my life, and embrace the ebb and flow of change. I had to mature. But how?

When I became serious about life, I realized it was a journey. Where this journey was leading was unknown at the start. That is why it is properly called an adventure. Mostly I defaulted to just trying to fit in, wondering why I didn't. Why was I different?

Sometimes, as each step revealed itself to be a choice of love, I took it. As I surrendered more frequently and bravely to those steps, life began to make sense, its destination gained clarity, and new experiences of increasingly greater joy I discovered in its path. I did not have to be concerned with the pursuit of happiness. Rather, I wanted to be engaged in the happiness of the pursuit.

My present pursuit is not what it was. I only vaguely knew then what I really wanted in my heart, which was to know God. Sometimes I thought I wanted what the world thought I should want. Many sources --religious, philosophical, historic, humanitarian, dogmatic, spiritual but not religious, new age, law of attraction-- actually hindered my search because I thought I'd find the answer among them. I did not.

Intellects and emotionally confident folks would massage my brain with their sure words and fantastic ideas. Yet, I'd discover my soul still barren, waiting to be born. What those folks had to offer seemed like chewing gum that had long since lost its flavor and never providing any real nourishment. I gave up seeking many times, sometimes for years.

My motto became, "Take what you like and leave the rest." I took nuggets when I could. The rest was mostly mud. Some of it was muddy nuggets. They meant well, very well, and helped a lot of people. They found an answer and clung to it, studied it, put it practice, and then taught others. I don't why, but I wanted deeper, more solid answers. So I kept asking, seeking, and knocking.

No, my present pursuit is not what it used to be. My resolve to know God has grown stronger than ever now, and most rewarding, especially since I learned He wants to be known. Now the clarity of my destination, the reason for my journey, the cause of joy in my heart, and the rest promised for my soul is unbounded by His word. By choice, I humbly submit to His truth, His reality. His truth has set me free indeed. His grace is far more glorious than I could have imagined. Having experienced all kinds of ups and downs in this life, do I still wish to know God? Absolutely! More than ever!

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

My Private Prayer - An Introduction

Dear Father,

The power of Your love can save souls. The power of Your grace can transform lives. I will mediate on Your love so that my cup overflows. I will be transformed by the renewal of my mind through the study of Your word, which is the truth about who I am, whose I am, and why I'm here. Through the partnership of Your grace and my humility, with the power of Your Spirit within me, may I walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which I have been called.


Prayer journal entry May 4th and 8th (above), 2015.

I write my early morning prayers freehand, slowly and carefully. Tediously is a better descriptor. Not that I want to. It's that I suffer from 'Essential Tremor'. I think that's what it is. Nothing else seems to fit how I would describe my symptoms, which just collectively celebrated their 11th birthday. Whoopee!

I know not why it started, nor do I know how to stop it. My hand is fine when I use it to text, drive, and drink. (Gotcha!) Yes, of course, at different times. But when I write freehand, which I prefer over typing actually, I steady the forefinger and thumb of my right hand with a firm grasp of the same digits on the left.

The resulting penmanship looks pretty neat, if I don't say so myself. The pace rots, not rocks, however, at a grueling two pages per hour, estimated to be a similar rate at which cavemen chiseled environmental observations on stones ("Buffalo antelope on plain. Grunt.").

So if it's so difficult, so tedious, why do I do it? When I write freehand, I stir the words in my head and, as much as I can, my heart, like Campbell's Alphabet Soup that's too hot. Doesn't seem like much, does it. Thinking in writing is what I'd like to think I'm doing.

I noticed I think differently when I type. I like how my thoughts are less random, less trying to impress, and more concerned about what's authentic, what's moving in the moment to me. I guess I'll get used to this keyboarding stuff. I'll have to; I want to share my thoughts with you, if you'll let me.

Looking back at that prayer from May 8, 2015, I'd change a few things. For example, the ultimate thrust of "all truth" in Scripture is all about His eternal plan for the church. Not who I am and whose I am, although that's part of it. Kind of the wrong perspective, that's all. Let my focus ever be on Him!

Look a little closer and I hope you'll see my references to Scriptures dancing in my head, singing to my heart. Some of the obvious ones are the cup overflowing from Psalm 23. An abundance of meditation passages are found throughout Psalms, such as Psalm 119. Being transformed by the renewal of my mind is from one my favorite verses, Romans 12:2. The study of His word is my reference to verses like 2 Timothy 2:15 and Hebrews 4:12. The manner of my walk takes me back to Ephesians 4.

I love it all, truly I do. If only this world wasn't so darn distracting, difficult, and tedious, like my 'Essential Tremor'.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

What's In My Heart Must Come Out

I write more than I think. No, wait. That didn't sound right. I do more thinking than writing, of course. It's just that my writing is scattered among many outlets in the house and cyberspace, such as in composition notebooks, MS Word files, documents on Google Drive, Notepad texts on zip drives, one of many iPhone apps, social media post and comments, and in various blogs. The result is I have written way more than I realize, more than I think I wrote. That's what I meant. Why did I write so much? Well, for one, I'm not sheep lice!

"We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little."
-- Anne Lamott (taken from "The Writer's Devotional")

I am a specimen of this species that needs and wants to understand and know who I am. This longing is deep. This is one reason why, over the years, I have written here and there and everywhere. This is the same reason why, from now on, I want to centralize and organize those writings, and then write so much more.

Since I'm not sheep lice, I often asked as I wrote, who am I? I wanted then to understand, and I want now to express that understanding. What is the warmth in my heart? What quickens my soul to delight? What is the big picture and how do I fit in? I've cautiously shared such thoughts with a select few.

Why was I born at the time and place of my birth? Why was I here now? What did I have in common with my species? What distinguished me as a unique individual? What was in between common and unique? What was the substance of ownership that I claimed, "My body. My mind. My thoughts. My pain. My laughter. My preferences. My defaults. My heart and soul." Who was the "me" that has a "my"? What was happening to me? What has happened to me? Why was I this way, sometimes making courageous choices, and other times self-sabotaging with indecisiveness? Why did I rifle through some things, yet slug through others? What inspires me? What stifles me? What hurts me? What pleasures me? Why me? Why not me? Did you notice the shift from past to present tense? (I could go on; hope you're still with me. Should have told you skip halfway through this paragraph.)

I would probably not get along with sheep lice since we do not share this longing. What would we talk about? Have they even attempted to record their thoughts? Or are they already consumed by habit?

Even among my own species it seems I shared the most with those who I know ponder what I'm pondering, hurt where I'm hurting, or rejoice where I'm rejoicing . It took me a while to get used to being alone in my thoughts [grin] before I found those friends. I'm okay with that. If I wasn't, I'd still be people-pleasing.

Yet, I know I'm not alone. Deep friendships, which took time and circumstances to develop, offer glimpses of such conversational depth like a tour of precious and rare gems at Tiffany's. I treasure them immensely, both my friends and those moments. In them, I love and feel loved, in human terms. As a human soul, that is.

Ah! But through writing, I can dig even deeper. I can return to those conversational and soulful depths and go deeper still. And through selected reading, I can share the pain and joy of others who have done likewise and know myself better. I can quietly agree, disagree, contemplate, be moved and shaken, or take in juicy morsels of fresh perspectives.

My goal is not to stretch a thought beyond its shape, but to discover its boundaries and interactions. I also know there will be readers of my musings who are touched that someone understands. I have been there. There's that connection again, like an umbilical cord between beating hearts. Perhaps, we will interact one day.

Is this inquiry into lofty questions an endless pursuit into curious matters that drive philosophers mad? With the demands of daily life are these questions irresponsible? Wouldn't it be more entertaining to watch videos, or more relaxing to listen to classical music? Shouldn't I be balancing the family budget, paying bills, working in or on my day-to-day career, or planning my next vacation? What about fighting an environmental hazard, helping neighbors recover from natural disasters or man-made trauma, or the aiding in the tragedy of human plight? Are those not better contemplated so I can be of value to politics and society?

Yes and no.

Yes, those are significant worldly ideals and itching fleshly desires. They cry to me, "Get real! You have urgent responsibilities! Others are depending on you! There are expectations for proper and acceptable behavior, you know. Mind your morals then come join the cause (or the fun)!"

They scream! They shout! They turn about! Shouldn't I skip the headiness of existential philosophy, the fantasy of religious spirituality, and rather pick at the scab of income tax until I bleed, hike worn mountain trails against a smooth orange and purple sunset, or hug my child? Isn't that the stuff life is made of?

But, wait! Shhh! Listen! Hear that? Do you hear what I hear? Arising amidst the clamor of chaos that yearns for forgotten simplicity is the low frequency earthquake of a thunderous, "No!" Such examination is not a waste of breath or the flow of lifeblood. Such immortal information is indeed second to none that is but vapor by comparison.

The answers to those life-defining questions are becoming clearer to me. Increased diligence describes how I seek my primary agenda. Hidden treasure is found! Knowing love that surpasses knowledge becomes real, like the Velveteen Rabbit only far better. Yes, there are responsibilities in my earthly roles. But, there are responsibilities in my blessings, too.

Those deeply profound questions I agonized over, sometimes patiently, for many years, are neither an endless journey toward madness nor meaningless for daily life. Rays of eternal clarity burn away the heavy fog of desperate vanity. What I do has everything to do with who I am, and with mounting joy. Another way to phrase that is, I know what to do, and I'm mighty glad to do it, even as I learn who I am.

I thought everyone would hear these questions sizzling in their eardrums. Yet, these questions of identity do not cry out like the squeaky wheel that gets more grease. They would not even resist being buried alive under the dirt of negligence, the compost of busy-ness, or the paperwork of irrelevance. It is a quiet identity crisis.

On the contrary, only through humble consideration and investigation is there revelation, wisdom, insight, purpose, understanding, and true knowledge about life itself. The whispered beckoning deserves full attention, and does not demand it. It is ever so gentle and responds to any sincere approach.

Some people get really good at playing the parts of life they've been given, observed, or have invented themselves, on this stage of life, or backstage, as it were. We deem them successful by all appearances, and strive to mimic their patterns.

I thought I was supposed to go this way. Some who knew me said I should, that I'd be good at it. Unwritten laws of society seemed to agree. Frankly speaking, however, I'm not that good at it. I don't really want to be. It feels fake. That's not where my heart is. I know of something more valuable.

Others, however, see through the act and despise the game of life, sometimes hating the players. They would never be nominated, in a normal world, for best supporting role. It's the ol' "chicken or the egg" regarding who cast out who first? For there are no ballots in jailhouses of shame. Unless, of course, the public cameras, popular opinion, local tradition, or the newest craze, break in and thrust a stage beneath their feet and knees. That can happen even where the prison cells and barred doors are of one's own making, not even visible.

I was there for years. Getting out took more than a successful interview with a stern parole board of worldly authorities. Freedom required an occupational therapy program called "recovery," which I discovered is very unique to each parolee. If I failed that program they wouldn't need to arrest me. I'd trudge back inside the cell myself, close the door, and throw away the key. Or, I'd just consider throwing away the key. Let someone else clean up the mess I'd leave behind.

The point is, neither of those groups gets it. That is, I didn't get it from the perspective of being in either group. The play or game of life is a class system and "class" only applies where there are different levels of interaction. Life is not a play, not from from any angle, because perspective is not its substance. The purpose of my existence is not defined by society. Nor is the real gritty answer simply the rejection of life being a play or game.

Life has to be something; I'm here! There is no acting out or assigned role, just as there are none actually outcast from anything. This is it! This is life! If I'm alive, there's really only one thing to be outcast from, and that's not a class or society. Instead, this messy chaos called life is about the individual. It is deeply personal. Understanding who I am is more fundamental than performance, perception, and preferences.

Who am I, really? Why am I here? Why was I even born? Anyone can ask those questions. I used to think everyone did and wanted to discuss some possible answers, from any leg of their journey. No. Then I thought at least the journeys themselves were similar. Not quite. Now I know most people would say, "What journey?" or "I haven't really thought about it. See Star Wars yet?"

I'm left sad, yet with a taste of sweetness on my tongue. Sad because of the sweetness, really. I have discovered a sweetness in my journey I yearn to share. And sad that I can only share this joy with so few, so very few. Why am I not in the large, glad company of others who have tasted and now long for this same sweetness? If you know me, you know the sweetness of which I speak. But, if I announce it all at once to those who have become curious of me (and curiously patient with me), I may as well vomit on them.

On that note...

Writing didn't always come easy to me. In fact, you may be observing my struggle with it right now. (It's okay to laugh. I can't hear you.) Like everyone, I get busy or distracted, many times out of necessity. Even then, I often get needs and wants confused. Especially in thinking the latter are the former.

But, writing is becoming easier to me, or at least more necessary. When marketing, it is critical for a successful campaign to create a sense of urgency. I guess I'm successfully marketing writing to myself, whether it comes easy or not. I have something to say, and I need to say it, before time runs out, yours or mine.

I found notes about my desire to write from decades ago. I can see now the sense of urgency was really quite shallow back then, even though I may have used bold and/or underlined text at the time. In the midst of pouring out feelings and capturing experiences comes the thread of repetitious refrain that is, "I want to write. I want to write right now."

The truth is I was writing, just like I'm writing now. I just didn't have an overall plan. I wanted a big book contract before my big novel even went beyond a few synapses firing. I wanted my plethora of creative ideas to land on white pages with the ease birds migrating over a brand new red car parked under a nesting tree squirt relief. I've gone from planning to write to writing a plan.

From these largely stretched-out haphazardly recorded words of unexpected experiences and developing thoughts of yesterdays and yesteryears, I now look forward with the understanding that nothing is certain, but I am this one thing. Yet, I aim not to release the arrow before the target paint is dry.

Lastly, I can intentionally focus my vision into the future, absolutely! But, my actual eyesight is limited to the here and now. I'm coming to terms, realistic terms, tangible and applicable terms, with what I need to do. Maybe I can't do all the writing I've dreamed of, but I can do some writing.

To paraphrase Beethoven, "What I have in my heart must come out; that is the reason why I write." I only wish it were more elegant than this steaming, crappy second draft.