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The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Today was a completely fantastic day! God is at work in West Plains and especially through the fellowship of Township Line. I still am amazed and thrilled that He brought me into this group to see Him grow bigger and more incredible with every week. And this weekend has just begun.

Thursday we went to the West Plains Motel to hand out some flyers announcing our meeting at the park on Sunday night. The motel is almost all low-income residents and many of them need a little hope in their lives. Our family was the only ones going around and we decided that it might be prudent to ask the office if it was okay to knock on doors and hand out flyers. The lady at the desk didn’t give us approval as she wasn’t the owner, and I was able to leave some in the office. We walked around and talked to some people outside their rooms and told them about our gathering. (If you didn’t know, Township Line is gathering in several different places around the community this summer for meal and services, to get to know people and stretch out our leadership/relational skills.) Many people’s responses were positive and I hope many can come and see a people blessed and sharing the blessing of love and grace He has given us.

Today was another adventure with this group: A woman in our fellowship wanted to have block parties in differing places where some of the members live and serve and present the gospel to children. This was the first morning she had it and it was at her house. She was nervous about getting everything together and that kids would even come. There were a few kids that came and a little late at that. But she needn’t worry as God is at work in His people and what took place honored God and I believe got some of the kids thinking.

The puppet group was invited to do a song and skit that was supposed to be the majority of presentation of the gospel. The puppet group we were involved in at our former gathering, sort of dissolved after the leaders of the team started going to Township Line. (God has seasons in mind not only for His people, but also for those gathering in His name. I have no ill will towards the former fellowship we gathered with, it was just time for us to move on. I’ve never considered it a severed relationship, just a different one. I still love and see many of them and hope for growth and love to grow there.) So we have a few puppets and a new stage was built, so this was the trial run. It was a lot of fun as my wife and two youngest daughters helped out for a song. (My oldest, who started out in the puppet group with me, was taking the ACT, so she wasn’t able to make it.) My wife and I had a skit planned where she stood out front and interacted with a puppet in talking about “Whosoever” shall be saved. Well, since we had such a late start, my wife had to go pick up our oldest from The Test at the time we were going to do the skit. We had a back up plan of one of the guys replacing her. He stood in and was great. He did some ad-libbing; of which my wife was adverse too, and did a great job talking to the kids at the end.

Tonight we had a community dinner that we provide once every few months or so, that people from all over come and enjoy a free meal, and we get to meet them and find out what is going on in their lives. We got there a bit early and people were working and trying to get things prepared. Some kids were underfoot and I proposed to give them all a little walk before people started showing up. Walking down the block, we heard some loud shouting and raucous behavior down a blind alley. Three very tall, shirtless college basketball players came out and I put myself between the kids and these “boys”. As they were past us, I called to them, “Are you guys hungry?” They turned and looked at me and hesitated, then answered the obvious, “Yeah.” I told them we’re having a free meal of steak and hamburgers just down the street and they were invited to come. They said okay, but I wasn’t sure if they’d show. They did show up and brought one of their friends with them. It was great. I got all their name, although I don’t remember any of them, and found out one was from Dayton, another Pittsburgh, and another Atlanta. I wasn’t able to talk to the other one, but I find it incredible when I find out where people came from and then find themselves in little ‘ole West Plains. Some of the other guys from our group got to talk to them and it was wonderful that they came. At the time of their leaving, (with bowls of fruit cobbler and ice cream in their hands), one of them gave me a hug. It was incredible and I’m tearing up now as I type thinking about what a blessing it is to be blessed by someone you don’t even know, nay barely let them pass by as God used my voice to call out an invitation to them. What fun! I met lots of regulars who come to these community dinners and many new faces. This is such a great opportunity to meet people. There was an announcement about tomorrow’s services and some woman I was talking to asked me what denomination we were. I told her we were non-denominational and that we believe in the bible and that Jesus is our savior and died for us and we don’t have to do anything but accept His gift of mercy and forgiveness to be with Him forever, but that doesn’t mean we can do what we want, our lives should reflect the thankfulness we have and shared with those in the community and that is why we have these dinners. She was smiling and very interested, then told me she was a Catholic. I told her a little bit of my background, growing up Catholic in SLC. I told her she should come tomorrow and she said she would hope to.

God is so good. I’m reeling with joy. My cup overflows. I am so thrilled to be part of this work and I am continually praying for His Spirit to move in and through His people here in West Plains. I have shared with some of those in our former group about this summer movement and invited them. Many are enthusiastic and say they will come, some worry that it will look bad to gather with those not of their group. I praise God that one day all division will be wiped away and we can come to Him under His banner and praise His Name forever and always. Amen. And please continue to pray for this time, thank you.

Even in this dark time when there is so much uncertainty, and I watch the news and feel depressed and distressed, I know God is at work in the little things, the small bits, and it grows and grows. Thank you God.

~Stranger

(Author’s Note: I won’t be writing Sunday Scrutinizations for the summer because in addition to my flyer/dissemination leadership duties, I will also be with the kids during the actual sermon time, but I will be writing about what is going on and hopefully interview the people in leadership in this movement.)

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Sunday Scrutinization: Discipleship on My Mind

If you read my post about being a cowboy, basically I was talking about discipleship. Whether or not it was about worldly knowledge or biblical, being a cowboy, in the way I was thinking, is about being a disciple. I may have always whined about not being formerly or properly discipled in my life, but that is not entirely true, which was possible the point of today’s sermon.

We started out having to personally answer three questions about discipleship:

  1. What is discipleship?
  2. Are you involved in discipleship? Why or why not?
  3. Who were the disciples of Christ?

I always think that the giver of sermons is always trying to trick us gullible congregants, so I try and look at what they are really asking. My answer to the first had to do with encouragement and teaching; you remember my post on encouragement, and the fact that disciple basically means learner. Pretty good, huh?

The second question was, I believe,  the tricky one. I basically said that no one can handle me. If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know I’m not like regular folk, whether it be the fact that I don’t think like others or that I spill it all out on this keyboard; I think it’s just not normal. I’m a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, or I like to think that I am. I’m probably plain as day to some or just not worth the effort to others. Incidentally, I’m glad of the fact that my wife felt me worth the effort. The second part of my answer to the second question was, that I just don’t know what to do. And the third part of my answer was, is that I am constantly involved in discipleship. This is the answer that will give me the golden pat on the head for thinking outside the 52 ounce mug of soda. We all, in minor ways, are involved in discipleship, because people are watching us and we are watching people. We are learning constantly. We may not be going through some formal back and forth, but we see each other and how we live life. Those who believe that they know that they don’t know everything are always on the discipleship path.

The third question was in where he was being a tricksy hobbit as well, at least I thought he was. I said that all who know Him are His disciples. It wasn’t until at the end of sermon time when someone asked all the disciples names, did I realize he may not have been as tricksy as I thought he was trying to be. Perhaps that is how I would be as a sermon giver, always trying to trick you foolish congregants, ha ha ha! Wait, no. Never mind. I’d be the straight shooter. You know, the cowboy and all is an open book; straight and true.

The verses he used as a basis for his sermon was 2 Timothy 2:2 and Matthew 28:19-20:

And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

His point was that we all need to be involved in discipleship. To me he spoke that I need to take a more conscious approach, rather than an unconscious approach. Which is what I normally do. We all have some pretty lame excuses when it comes to not being involved in discipleship: “I’m not spiritual enough.” “I can’t be discipled by someone less godly than me.” “I can’t do co-discipleship.” “I have to treat anyone I disciple the same.” He had more excuses, but I think time had gotten away from him. He was looking down, trying to decide what to eliminate, when the overdue pregnant woman got up to go somewhere, and someone behind me shouted out, “too long.” Sermon guy didn’t realize why “too long” was shouted, laughed and tried to wrap it all up. I’m approaching a deadline myself. I’d like to finish writing this as my wife and daughter are making jícama slaw in preparation for going to puppet practice and then hanging out with this beloved community tonight, and I’m still in give-up pants and socks. But, if you can read between the lines here and see the connection with what I believe a true cowboy is and the connection of discipleship and Frank Viola sending me a sample of his new book “Discipleship in Crisis” where you can still possibly get the free download here, that God is sending me a message: Step up to the plate bucky-boy and throw for that touchdown as you round up those I’ve prepared from the beginning. Great metaphor mixing, yes? Perhaps before I and my family can jump into the path he has set for us in proclaiming His kingdom, He wants me to get more… *cough* *cough* personal with others, or maybe this is the path. Whatever it is, He is speaking to me, leading me and I want to follow. Giddy-up and git cowboys and cowgirls! For the harvest is ripe and we all need to stand together.

~Stranger

A Wet Day In Charleston

Strange Confessions: Problems come about at work: “Ugh! I hate that I have to deal with this all the time! Why can’t work ever be easy? Please Jesus, come back now…” Problems come about while doing ministry: “Oh this is so exciting! How are we going to figure this one out? We’re going to have so much fun *squeal*! What a great time for bonding with God’s people!”

It rained yesterday in Charleston, Missouri: a lot. Two weeks ago the forecast was calling for freezing rain, snow, and low temperatures. As the days went by, outlooks became a little brighter. It was going to be warmer and final percentage for chance of rain: 80%. Nice. I am usually the one who drives the bus for the two and a half hours it takes to get to Charleston and back on the third Saturday of the month for food distribution day at the Shining Light Mission located there. Having 15 people’s lives in your hands can sometimes make you a little tense, especially when the weather turns ugly. It rained the whole way there, but just a fine to moderately heavy drizzle. Once we got to the low-lying plains of the Southeastern corner of Missouri, water was standing high in the ditches on the sides of the road, and my eyes were pealed for chances of a hydro-planing situation. This made me grip the steering wheel tighter and my shoulders try to disappear into my ears. But, we got there safely. Praise God.

We were going to be short this month for help. The only other church with major volunteers were out and most of the experienced players on our team were going to be gone. This third Saturday of the month fell harshly: four days before Christmas. I was volunteered back in November to head up recruitment for this month of trial-like small numbers. Blessedly, I had help. It ended up we scheduled 21 people to come. Hallelujah! That should be enough. We got to the church parking lot at 6:15am to get the bus all warmed up and ready to leave. Our main connection showed up and said several people weren’t showing up, but, there was some unexpected people there ready to go. It ended up being 26 people! We took the smaller bus of 15, someone else took 7 people in their van, and another family of 4  just ended up going on their own.

Once we got there, the pantry was jam-packed with donations for distribution. I told everyone that the first half-hour there was a little slow until we all found our position and our groove. It took a while to get organized because we were so crowded with extra people and donations. What a blessing. My spirit’s were starting to soar. I was getting excited about getting the problems solved that were beginning to show their face. People were looking lost. Others wanted to look around. We needed some organization, some purpose. Moving around pallets and boxes of food with so many people standing around was fun, sort of. Once my wonderful wife got pantry goods sorted for bagging, then things really got moving. I was with a new guy I recruited from my bible study, and a young, eager, local kid who usually only benefits from the distribution. We were busting open boxes of a rice mixture getting them in bags, tying them off and handing them over to be counted. The kid was all, “Slow down!” and I was all, “No way! Keep it coming, we can take it. We got strength and skill from God.” We packed 310 bags from the pantry, 306 for the USDA, and we had boxes full of mini-sausage biscuits, bags of potatoes, containers of bleach, and assorted frozen meats (including chicken feet) to organize and give away.

We broke for lunch at about 11:45 and came back before the distribution time of 1pm-4pm. The head of Shining Light told us to close the regular door we go out of to load the groceries, for he had a new plan. The fields and playground were already flooded and the front was growing; but the rain was staying at a slow drizzle, which didn’t seem much of a threat. Generally, ministers and ministered to, go in circles and arcs to keep things moving, but this rain was causing a problem we had to figure out. The only exit was the front and we had to let people in early to stay out of the rain. We had to reroute the line through another room to clear the hall and had several checkpoints so only 5 people could come back at a time. The teens are usually the grocery herders, bringing goods out to people’s cars. I wanted to do it this time, so I could talk to people and give others breaks from getting wet. It took a while to get those teens inline so we could go past each other and not cause too much chaos; because there was going to be chaos! I would yell at them every time I saw them, “To the right! To the right!” “Hold still! Wait until this group goes through!” “Move it out! Get those loaded!” “Not here! Open up the cart at the back of the line.” All in good-natured commanding, I hope. Someone gave me a full weather rain slicker, so my top stayed dry, but my jeans and shoes? They weren’t going to be dry until next year. These kids though: they were getting soaked, but their spirits stayed high! I had to yell at a couple, including my own daughter, to make someone switch with them. There was some teen boys in the food packing area I made switch out. There was even a determined girl who was having so much fun being utterly drenched, she got mad at me for caring. Can you believe that? No good deed goes unpunished, yes?

At around 3pm, God opened up the heavens to pour the rain down in sheets. Even the raindrops were shedding rain. By this time we had finished most of the line, for our numbers were lower than usual: I wonder why… Anyway, from 3pm-4pm is my favorite time: we’re not too busy, for the line is shorter and not as urgent, I can talk with all the other workers and especially the teens, there is just more time for great fellowship and fun. I was singing carols and cracking jokes, (I am always my best audience) just enjoying myself. My wife told others I have two types of natural highs: the 2am highs and the “just served a ministry” high. It was a tough day for a lot of us, but I felt like I was on both. Santa was there giving out candy canes, and we had this little routine. “Merry Christmas Santa,” I’d yell as I went along on my errands. “Merry Christmas Mark!” he’d yell back. I would turn in shock, surprise, and utter joy in my face saying, “How do you know my name?” He’d laugh and others would giggle. It was a lot of fun. I heard someone say that a group of teenagers could really sing. I searched them out and asked them to sing some Christmas carols. Much to my disappointment, they wouldn’t agree. Hey, I was having fun. Some didn’t like my singing, but they had a smile on their face.

Getting ready to go, I had discovered that the front lot was covered with at least 8 inches of water. It was a shock: how was I to cross the street to get the bus. One of the other drivers and I were scouting out the path of least resistance, or perhaps it was most resistance we were looking for: strong, sure footing. I glanced across the lot and saw the last driver striving purposefully across, wading in water past his ankles. He was unknowingly heading directly toward the now hidden ditch carrying a large bag of clothes, when suddenly he pitched forward into the ditch throwing the bag in the road in front of a moving truck. The truck squealed to a stop and I ran across the water, soaking my shoes to get to him. He went up to his chest in water and pulled himself up, out and to his truck before I was even half-way there. I know if I was in his position, I would have wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. I don’t know him that well or I would have called him today to see if he ever got dry. Hopefully he got to some store for some dry clothes before trekking the 3 hours back. I successfully got the bus across the pond and everyone piled inside when we were off. The roads in town were flooded and I was thankful to get to the freeway. Water was higher in the valley than when we came, but the road didn’t have any standing water. Thank God. With the slower speeds we got home a bit later than usual, but with our hearts filled at working together with great purpose at working for God.

I discovered that I just love serving when there is some problem that needs to be solved. We talked about it later, how there was always some obstacle we had to overcome to get the job done, and that is what makes it enjoyable to me. Yesterday was the most difficult day we’ve had there since starting there this year on a regular basis. I cherish these moments of purpose, fellowship, serving, and mission. Yet I wonder why I don’t feel that sense of good, that sense of right, when I do my daily duty of supporting my family, trying to help and guide the companies I work for, giving the employees a good sense of caring and doing a job well. Then I consider the minister in the field; every day filling such a great sense of purpose. Do they look at the problems that arise the same way? Do they groan under the same pressure, under the same issues that need to be dealt with? Our bible study met for supper and a summary of what God has/is doing in our lives this year the other night. We have a few students in our group who shared that they were frustrated that they can’t just go out and start serving God or that they don’t really know what they should be doing or that their sense of purpose is out of whack. I didn’t really want to tell them that that is the way I feel almost every day I have to go to work, because after all, shouldn’t we imagine that this sense of meaninglessness will eventually go away? I was just amazed and humbled that we had such a thoughtful group of youth, wanting to really get on with their lives. When I was their age, I would stay young and irresponsible as long as I could. It is hard to know that there is a purpose out there for you to face and having to wait and wait and wait. But God teaches us patience, yes He does. He has taught me much here in West Plains, and I’m so thankful to be able to see it all and examine it all and write about it all here. Incidentally, God has given us a great and terrible gift here with this technology. I pray that someday I would have the privilege of finding out if I could maintain my sense of joy in the regular problems that would arise in serving Him or at least see that joy in the day-to-day of the work I find such trouble enjoying one single day of the week.

Stranger

(By the way, do you like my new signature? Also, see my logo and icon below. I like the picture of the single, lonely tree in the desert.)

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SiR logo

My Life, My Testimony: Part 2

Matthew 9:36 “But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.”

Being a sheep can be very wearisome. And, in the second half of my youth I had discovered new ways to stray as far as I could from my future, true shepherd. I had found many wolves to follow, to be a part of, to give my life over to. I had no purpose, no path lit up guiding me, showing me the way. My parents never forced me to finish anything. I failed at school, sports, music. Whatever was attempted was never important enough to see through. So those things never became important, never became purpose. Yet because of what I learned growing up Catholic, I knew there was a God. Perhaps He wasn’t impressed by the ceremony of Mass. Maybe, He wanted us to find out for ourselves the way we should go. I had heard many things about how drugs opened up parts of our mind we never even use. This was the way for me to go, to figure out a prime purpose. I had always believed myself to be destined for some amazing purpose. I had narrowed them down to two choices: to be abducted by aliens, or be in prison my whole life. Some picks, eh? But, drugs offered me so much more.

I started in with the cool kid in elementary school: smoking weed before baseball practice in 6th grade. Moving on to hanging out at the mall, carrying paraphernalia, getting busted. High school was well met with more divergent groups, leading me further astray from school, from family, from what was decent and right of my moral learning in the private schools I’d attended. They were all seeking some way to escape from lameness or to be badder or it was just who they were. I was seeking a purpose, seeking solutions, trying to expand my knowledge, in very many ways to escape from what I saw as a hopeless life leading to abduction, imprisonment, death, or worse: priesthood.

Failing out of Judge Memorial High was a conundrum of the highest proportions. I had failed where everyone else in my immediate and extended family had succeeded. The connection with this Catholicism was broken. My God was gone from me. He no longer had this hold on me that kept the slightest check on my behavior. Yet, where was He, why had He allowed myself to go this deep, this far away from Him? Maybe I needed it. My parents were definitely upset, but it didn’t seem as earth shattering as I thought it was supposed to be. It was some sort of release. I had more freedom. To go where no one else in my family had gone: public school. (I believe part of my parents attitude was relief: JMCH was expensive, and sending four children there was quite a drain on their meager finances.)

I began at Brighton High School meeting a friend from St. Vincent: Kenneth F. He was a slight outsider at St. Vincent; people thought he was dirty and shaggy. He was called the Bushman. I don’t know why he left, I liked him, but forgot about him when he was gone. He only went to school there to about the 6th grade. It’s strange how people disappear in our lives. I didn’t think about him for years, and now here he was, needing a friend as much as I did. The experiment in expanding understanding continued in new and unusual ways. This was soon a part of who I was, my identity. We’d get high before, during and after school. His mother had rented a room to someone who turned out to be a drug dealer. We’d break into his room and steal stuff. He’d have weed and mushrooms. Getting high and staying high was my main goal this year, this single year I had with Kenneth. It was marked with drinking, with wandering the neighborhood at night, with climbing the nearby mountains in the frozeness of night, but we didn’t care. We had no feeling. We were getting rid of feeling. No discussions, no learning, no building, or growing occurred this year. All memories fade from this time. It was all a frenzy of acquiring and consuming. Then Kenneth moved to Maine.

In this time I soon started perfecting the art of my depression. All depression is, is the art of self gratifying inwardness. At least it was for me. With Kenneth gone and not much drugs to be had, all I had, was myself. I had no God. He had deserted me. I went from full awareness of filling my time with a friend in need of me as much as I was of him, and the drugs and alcohol that kept us laughing, ignoring what I sought through the beginnings of drugs, to complete awareness of what a failure and how lost I truly was. My time in high school continued, with a friend here or there that provided me what I needed, never continuing the pursuit of meaning, of purpose. I got drugs or alcohol from them or my brother. My brother saw what was going on inside me, at least I think he might have gotten a glimpse, but he had his own life to lead.

Going to Utah State University, entering into the Forestry department, didn’t help matters much. When I was in high school, the mountains were my true escape. I would go up there with the intention of getting high, then feeling all paranoid and getting depressed, I’d go home and seek solace with food. It was the times that I went hiking, without any drugs, that I truly felt something fit, that I belonged there. I filed it away in the lock-box of my selfish brain, not really knowing what to do with it. What could I do with it? What purpose did it fulfill? Besides solitude, it gave me some exercise, some challenge. But, to fulfill what? It wasn’t until the college choices came up that I thought, I like hiking, I like the mountains. Maybe Forestry is what I ought to get into. Besides, USU was some distance from Salt Lake City, but not too far. So, I went. Deeper in to self I dived. I needed people, yet no one needed me. I was disillusioned by the Forestry department, I was depressed and isolated in the dorms. I went to the place where I could find people: the Fraternity my brother was a part of. It was a brotherhood, right? So, I did what I knew. I took drugs when I could find them, drank whenever it was offered and isolated myself in my room. Here all sense of purpose was gone. My main focus was finding something to eat, someplace to sleep, and get away from all the failure in my mind that I knew this was headed toward.

No part of this University experience was right. It was the wrong time, the wrong place, the wrong people, the wrong me. College was not a gateway to a brighter future for me. It was a confused place of darkness and mockery. Where people pretended like they cared, then they left you lost, alone, depressed, directionless.

From the 6th grade to a few years after losing my grant at Utah State University, I was so deeply involved in who I was, I had forgotten there was a world outside. Year after year grew more wearisome then the past one. My mind was scattered and I needed guidance. I needed purpose. I needed God in my life. And this is where Part 3 will take up. Hope comes home at last.

Luke 15:4-7 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lay sit on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.”

~Stranger

Some Minor Updates

I’ve started writing several post entries in the last few days to no avail. I have so much I want to say and it is all coming to my head like vomit: forceful and not pretty. I know, vivid simile, right? Anyway, I feel like I need to get some stuff cleared off my head before I can figure out what I am wanting to write again.

My Testimony: Well, I gave my testimony at church a couple of weeks ago and I believed there was something lacking. I remember the last time I gave it, a very long time ago. Someone told me it lacked “the Gospel”. I understand that. I need to add a little more of what changed me, what made me realize I needed a savior, some verses. Something that would lead a person to understand that what I am speaking about is not logic and circumstances and coincidences, but a life transformed through the supernatural being that is God: Creator and Sustainer of Life! So I started writing “My Life, My Testimony: Part 2” only to hit a wall. I want to express that the second half of my youth was marked by being a sheep. I followed the crowd where it led me: the road of failure, of drugs, of thievery, of a life completely self-involved, yet the wolves led me, and to a lot of places I didn’t want to go. Why did I go there? Jesus says that His sheep recognize His voice, and follow Him. That is the verses I want to get to in “Part 2”, it’s just a matter of getting rid of all this other “stuff” in my head.

Gallbladder surgery: Yes, I had gallbladder surgery on Monday, and I am still recovering. I’m glad they finally might have discovered what was ailing me back in June when I went to the emergency room then. There is something spiritual in the suffering I put myself through on the Friday night prior to the surgery. I still had some hydrocodone from back in June. I took the last 2, yet suffered through another hour or more, before it brought any sort of relief. How long can we bare the suffering we create? How long will we suffer ourselves through it, believing that we, in our own power, can make it to the end? The suffering of life, the hardships we go through, how long will think we can make it through until the end. As I sit here typing, I am listening to Pandora and U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” comes on. It is a live version and Bono belts out at the beginning that, “So many people have misinterpreted the meaning of this song.” I guess what he might be saying is wrapped up in the last lyric: “The real battle just begun: To claim the victory Jesus won.” But the whole thing is built up in this one: “The trench is dug within our hearts.” So, How Long? How long will we sing the song of just seeing this world as just rebellion and violence and wars, and give in to what Jesus has offered us? True life, a life with meaning. Perhaps this may be where I want to go with my testimony…

Drugs and the meaning of life: I have taken some fairly strong drugs in the last few days. Friday night, I had the last of the prescription of hydrocodone from the last emergency room trip in June. Once the pain started going away, I started having great, enlightening moments of true spiritual vision. I was a bit delirious from the pain, the weariness, and the drugs, that I saw deep spiritual meaning in all my wife would say or I would think. I’d tell my wife the vision I had and she would laugh that I could see so much in what was so insignificant. Ask me what the connections were now, and I would not be able to tell you. My wife asked me if this is what I was like when I took drugs in high school and college. I told her that, oh yeah, it definitely was. A lot of people I hung out with couldn’t stand being with me. They’d tell me to shut up or politely laugh and say I was just high. I knew the concepts I was coming across were littered with deep significance. I might not have been able express the thoughts I had, but being mocked, humored or scorned did not sit well with me: I would either push on in drugged determination, or huff and puff away from the derisive character to find someone who would listen. There are some “Strange Confessions” still to come from a few of these experiences, but I’ll be derned if I could recall any of these dreamlike conversations that solved all my concerns. I’d snatch at ideas slightly remembered only to have it dissolve like smoke in my fingertips like dreams.

My Hospital Partner: When I came into the emergency room on Sunday night, I would have done anything to get an immediate fix of pain-killing drugs that I’d received last time. I wormed and squirmed in emergency room 1, for what seemed like hours before the orders came through for the dilaudid. I moaned, “Oh God, make it stop, it hurts so bad, I hate it, why me, I’ve been so good…” or many other euphemisms of the desperate. So Monday night I received a roommate. He was a 68 year old man that claimed he broke his back. They wheeled him in from the emergency room at about 10:30pm, and for about a half an hour two men struggled with him, trying to get him in the bed. I heard all this from behind my curtain. He was moaning all night about how much it hurt, how he wanted someone to make it stop and moaning “Oh God!” the whole time. His nurse was very impatient and short with him. I was rolling my eyes and thinking about how horrible it was for them to put him in with me: a guy who really needed some sleep after surgery. I was listening every time the nurse or someone else came in, and found out a lot about him. His name was Gary, his wife Helen, and he had somehow injured his back, and was on a lot of drugs and very confused. He’d pull out his IV, and I’d call the nurse. He start sounding like he was getting up again, I’d call the nurse. Then he started to remind me of what I was like when I came in. He also reminded me of my Nana: she had an operation before her son died. She had found his bloated, overdosed body in the basement the morning after he’d died. She’d look at her wrists and with confusion ask what had happened. She was so confused, and she’d sit there, head in her hand, looking so lost. It really scared me. This man, Gary, was confused, hurt and lost. So, I decided it was time for me to talk to him. I’m sure it was extra confusing for him to hear a voice from the other side of a curtain, but I think it helped a lot. I’d hear him start to move around, and I’d call out his name, and tell him it’d be best if he just stayed where he was. He asked me to help him, and I told him I couldn’t: I was just another patient. I told him I knew his name, his wife’s name, why he was here, and that is was best to just relax and wait until morning, when his wife could come and they could figure out things better then. It was a fairly sleepless night for me, but I felt much better being able to help him, than to just think on him with animosity. I hope he is doing all right.

So as I sit here writing these entries, listening to Pandora playing some 60s, 70s and 80s stuff there is a song I am reminded of, and I think I haven’t heard it in a while, and it was one of my favorite songs. Although the philosophy behind it left a little to be desired. It was a time that The Police wore rags and such, looking like futuristic dregs with colorful style. Anyway, to continue the journey through the decade of music that greatly influenced me, here they are live, The Police with “Synchronicity”.

Here is to hoping I can get focused again!

~Stranger

My Life, My Testimony: Part 1

I was born July 22, 1969 in Salt Lake City, Utah, two days after Neil Armstong took his first steps on the moon. We like that: to be born around the time of a great day in history. Just think of it: the beginnings of our journey into the universe began with those steps. Look how far we’ve come now… Well, we really haven’t gone out into the universe. In fact, all we’ve really accomplished is a deeper, more relentless journey into self. Technology comes full circle. Small televisions the whole family gathered around to squint into, trying to glean the information of the day, to huge screens that filled every part of our vision, with enormous sound and crystal clarity, back to everyone gathering around small screens to glean the infor… scratch that, to see the cute kitties all gathered in a row, meowing their way into our hearts. But, that day in 1969 filled people with hope for a future of peace for mankind. And my birthday was pretty spectacular in my parents eyes too.

I had a sister three years older than me, a brother born a little over a year before me, and another sister, not to be born for a few years after I made my momentous journey outward. We were born into a Catholic family. My Dad was fully Italian, His father emigrated from Italy with two of his brothers, and his mother was the oldest of 13 brothers and sisters. My Dad was an only child. My grandfather died a couple of years after my oldest sister was born. My grandmother lived at the top floor of an old folks apartment complex. We’d go over there every other Sunday or so, opening up the basement entrance into the complex, to the delightful smells of her Italian cooking. I use to think how jealous everyone probably was, smelling that on those days we came over. Oh it was wonderful. But, my grandma, she was a bit of a cold one. We were forced to give her a kiss on the cheek every time we visited. She never hugged us, or kissed us back, she just laugh uncomfortably until the whole ceremony was done. Then we go into her closet, pull out one of the couple of games she had for us, go into the extra bedroom, and play and watch TV on a little black & white, until it was time to eat.

The rest of the clan, on my father’s side, I didn’t know very well, nor did I really want to. We’d see them once a year for a family reunion. They were loud, and off-putting, never let us kids play in the softball. Us kids would go off to play bocce ball, or frisbee, or steal some cold fried chicken or a cake my oldest sister called chocolate mess. It wasn’t bad, it was just weird. We didn’t know these people, and they didn’t seem to know us. Nor did they want to get to know us, at least it seemed to me. Even at a young age, I knew that I wanted to be a part of the group, the team, and share goals, accomplishments, our lives.

My mother’s family was much different. My Mom’s dad, my Papa, was half Navajo, and the rest, some German and other ethnicities thrown in. My Nana, my Mom’s mom, was of North American Indian descent, with Portuguese and other stuff mixed in the pot. My Mom was the second of five children. She was the oldest daughter and I believe took on a motherly role in the household as her and her siblings were growing up. The oldest of my mother’s siblings ended up being my Godfather. This is a role not taken lightly in the Catholic church, and I believe he felt it was an honor, but I never remember any guidance or counseling they, him and his wife, gave me as I grew up. I remember an old picture bible they gave me, it just had some bible stories retold with pictures and summaries. He was an extremely quiet man who I admired greatly. He took us out on his dune-buggy, taught us how to shoot a bow and arrow, and had a smile, that when revealed, would light up the room. When I was really young, probably about 4 or 5, they moved to Casper, Wyoming. We spent time with them, it seemed every year. I remember they first lived in a trailer home, off the side of a busy highway. To this day, I still love to go to sleep to the sounds of large trucks traveling by on the freeway.

Sundays at my Nana and Papa’s home were glorious. All my cousins would show up and it’d be a raucous time of running through the house, out the backyard, into Papa’s junkyard behind the garage, and out on the golf course behind their house. We’d have room to play, people who loved us, and were interested in our lives, and gave us hugs and kisses. They joked, laughed, had household projects everyone joined in, football games to watch, games to play. It was so much different than my Grandmas.

We went to a private, Catholic school, K-8, called St. Vincent de Paul. I thought everyone there was just Catholic, and since I was Italian, I was a Roman Catholic. Being a Roman Catholic was a special privilege and honor for me. We had to be altar boys, say extra confessions, and, I always believed that one of us, my brother or I, had to grow up to be a priest. I, being the more pious, or more quiet one, was most likely destined to follow this path. I had an Uncle, (my Dad’s cousin) who was a priest, and I didn’t like him very much. He was always poking me in the gut, saying I had to lose weight. Saying, I didn’t like him very much, is a little light: I actually hated him. I really didn’t want to grow up to be like this man, always with the fake grin, presenting himself to us with a self-assured holier-than-thou attitude, then seeing him in public with other people, holding a quiet solemnity and wisdom, made me want to smack him, call him a faker. His father, was of a reserved type, he didn’t hide who he was, he was just quiet about it. He smiled, gave us claps on the back, welcomed us into his home. Much more agreeable than his son. He was the assistant deacon to the bishop of Utah. Our family name was known in Utah in Catholic circles, and when I occasionally met people who knew the name, they’d bring up my obnoxious Uncle, and have glowing praise for him and what he had done for their family. It was all I could do not to grimace over this devotion to him. I could not be a priest. Now, just so you know, I was never told I was to be a priest, it was all something I had made up in my head. And when I decided I couldn’t be a priest, I wandered my life with a small guilt in my gut knowing how disappointed my parents, my extended family, would be that day they turn to me and ask, “How come you never became a priest?”

My whole young life revolved around this Catholicism and I understood and knew that there was a God in this universe and that He could hear me. I just couldn’t comprehend how He related to us through all this ceremony. Mass was uncomfortable and confusing, confession was annoying and fake, and all those prayers we had to repeat over and over again for penance made not a lick of sense to me. I never ventured to know this God further than what I was told He was like. For I was completely and utterly involved in myself. I remember the times I truly prayed to God. On several occasions I made true confession to Him, based on what some travelling nun told me about God. One specific time I was so angry that I had to wear glasses, I wailed and moaned and threw them across the room, pleading with God that I needed to have perfect vision. This prayer was completely based on faith and an understanding that God will provide, if He wants to. I’d occasionally wake up, with sleep in my eyes and see clearly across the room. I’d praise God and then blink a couple of times, making my vision come back to its normally poor performance, and then morn over lost sight. I saw God as a careless deity, who may or may not look down on us from above, with love or impatience or anger, all based on the slight whims He may feel at the moment; much like my father. He didn’t really care, but He could do what He wanted, all for His amusement at the time. My vision, He liked to tease me with. “Here you go!” He’d say giving me perfect vision, then take it all away, all with a knowing little grin.

~Stranger

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