The quest for a rich life

I talked to my friend today. He said that while he was in Africa a few weeks ago, he and his family went to a game reserve. He said that it was breathtaking. As he looked out the SUV’s window, while the convoy weaved down a dirt path, he had this desire to throw the door open and run out and be IN the reserve; grabbing clumps of grass with his bare hands.

But he couldn’t do that because lions roamed the reserve. He felt like there was all this beauty in front of him and he could only experience it from a distance.

We started talking. Man, isn’t that just life?

We all know that it could be so much better. We can see something great on the horizon, but no matter how far we run, it still seems farther away. All the ingredients are there for an amazing experience. An exciting color-filled-richness is just out of reach, a place where all our senses are overwhelmed by vibrance and wonder.

We get something else, don’t we? Something tame. Something, boring even. Something frustrating and exhausting instead.

Vibrant is replaced with bland.
Wonder is replaced with mundane.
Excitement is replaced with commitments and time constraints and bills and meetings and progress reports and paperwork.

It’s all available:

Vast oceans – check
Deep forests – check
Fragrant flowers – check
Mysterious wildlife – check
Whistling wind – check
Tall mountains – check
A body to climb – check
Lungs to breathe – check
Eyes that see beauty – check
Ears that hear – check
A nose that smells – check

It’s all there, yet we are stuck in little drywalled boxes – staring at computer screens.

It’s not just beauty were missing, we miss purpose and meaning and depth in our relationships.

Quality time is such a big deal for me. I want to spend every waking moment (almost) with the people I love. Heck, I want to spend moments with people I don’t know too, as long as they are interesting and challenging.

But I don’t get half the quality time that I would like. I sit in my room a lot and rifle through my contact list and call almost everybody. Mostly, people are spending time with their kids or going on double dates or having a night in or are working late. I get it. We are all busy. But that doesn’t change the fact that my heart wants to experience community so badly.

Meeting new people is challenging.

I play guitar at open mic nights and I meet other musicians. After I’ve waited the “appropriate” amount of time, I ask for their number and say we should hang out. I feel like I really connect with some folks, but I set up a date to hang out a week later and get completely blown off.

It’s like people are unwilling to expand their little circles. Circles that make them feel safe and like they’re in control. I heard a joke one time that said, “People talk about Jesus and his miracles. Walking on water. Turning water into wine. But they never talk about his most impressive miracle, having twelve close friends in his early 30s.” That joke got even more real as everyone in my ENTIRE life got married.

I have a desire to always be in community. This is not being fulfilled.
I have a desire to experience the beauty of nature everyday. This has not been fulfilled.
I have a desire to make music with cool people. Stuff gets in the way.
I have a desire to make a living off my writing. I’ve made about $50 so far.

It sounds like a lot of complaining and it may well be, but it’s also true. And it’s true for every single person that I meet. I have said this so many times. I walk around and I see no one who is content. I don’t see a single person who experiences the kind of peace that reverberates throughout a whole life.

I do see people who experience glimpses. I even see people who experience way more glimpses than the average.

I have to wonder, is contentment something that can truly be felt in this life? Or is life just a struggle to try and find tiny moments of clarity and peace.

How do we move forward?

I wish I had the most profound answer to this, but I might have to turn to a well known “Eastern” philosopher: Alan Watts.

He says that man only suffers when he takes seriously what is meant for fun.

He says that we don’t experience the present.

He says the meaning of life is to be alive, but what we do instead is try and achieve something beyond ourselves.

He says if you live for money, you waste your time.

He says faith is letting go.

He says Jesus Christ knew he was God so, wake up and know who you are.

He says If you are writing, then you are a writer.

He says take a deep breath and tell us something that will save us from ourselves.

He says tell us your deepest darkest secret.

He says plunge into change.

He says never pretend to love something you don’t feel.

*                *                 *

He says a whole lot of things on a whole lot of subjects and I’m glad for people like him. Reading those quotes actually really helped me. My take away from all of them is:

You are enough.

Just you. That’s it.

The quest is to find the richness in life:

  • Don’t take yourself or anyone else too seriously
  • The present is more powerful than your dark past or anxious future
  • You are enough; do what comes naturally
  • Waste money, not time
  • There is force bigger than you (call it what you like – God, reality, momentum, force, energy) understand the scale of that larger entity
  • Be the thing that you already know you are
  • Titles don’t just belong to the masters
  • What will the world lose without your voice?
  • Set someone free because of your vulnerability, we all seem to believe we are completely alone and you can look straight into someone’s eyes and say, “I am right here with you”
  • Change is inevitable, jump in with both feet
  • Do not follow false loves

I hope for a day when everything that is wrong will be made right. I hope for a day when all the sad things will come untrue. I hope we can experience the fullness we all know is out there but cannot seem to reach. I hope for complete contentment and peace. The kind of peace that surpasses all understanding.

I hope for a day when my friend and I can go to that reserve in Africa, jump out of the land rover and dig our hands into the beauty of that countryside and laugh about when all of it was out of our reach.

 

(This post is dedicated to Bevan Binder – a man filled with hope and wonder) 

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Hold it in

 

Peace, for me, is this fleeting thing. Most of the time, it seems just out of my grasp, like a favorite something dangling right above where I can reach. There are times when I even hate the thought of it because it seems to mock me. I can see it on passerbys’ faces when they hold their significant others close and laugh about these universe secrets that I’ll never know about. ‘Why not me?’ I ask God or whoever is holding down the fort. He is usually pretty quiet and unassuming.

It’s funny though, because I seem to have caught a bit of it right now; peace that is. It feels so nice to wear peace like a christmas sweater – with all the dangling fuzzies rubbing up against my neck. It kind of tickles even. My whole body is missing this swirling, frantic feeling that I have normally – like I’m late to a very important appointment that will determine next year’s salary or something.

I don’t know how peace strikes you. My guess is that it is quite different for everybody. The way I experience it happens first in my chest. Normally, there is this big pretzel knot that squeezes and constricts my heart and other surrounding organs, but then peace comes like this massive set of hands and kneads the dough back to its original state – into a fine pasty, putty that could be molded into whatever I suppose.

That’s always the first step and right after, I can breathe better and more fully. Then peace does something to my eyes. There’s a cloudiness that covers my sight most of the time and after a while it grows thick and hazy – until I can hardly see anything at all. But peace comes and spritzes something like windex into them – only its organic, I think, because it only stings a little – and I can see farther and clearer. I can almost see the future and when you can see that far, you start to realize that, mostly, everything will be alright, and if it’s not going to be alright, then there’s something else in control that’s pulling the strings. Maybe that’s when I realize, whoever this stringpuller is, He or She or both, is more subtle than I thought and I kind of like the delicate nature of it all.

Lastly, Peace grabs a hold of my mind and massages it like when Bugs Bunny opened up Elmer Fudd’s head and played with his brain. Peace kind of rubs the creases and all this tension gets released.

Basically, once Peace has done what it wants, I realize the “big” worries in my life aren’t so big and there are only a few things that are important and I know their first names and get dinner with them a bunch. Oh, and my shoulders relax too, which is nice.

Mental Illness Happy Hour: Volume 3

3

All I want to be known for is: being honest. There are other things too, but that one seems to stick out a lot. I want people to look at me as say, “man, that guy is brutally honest.” I want that because it’s my way of living counter-culturally; against the grain.

How do I become more honest?

Well, for one, I think I’m well on my way. Honesty is something I seem to embody. It seems to come a little easier for me than some other folks, but I wasn’t always this way. When I was in middle school, I lied all the time. I lied to girls that I had a crush on, saying I was a guitarist in a touring band. I lied and said that I knew famous people. I lied that I had sex when I was in 7th grade.

I did all this because I didn’t think my actual life was interesting enough.

There was too much normal in my life when I was young and I wanted people to see “off the wall” and “exciting” and “dangerous.” I don’t lie like that anymore because, for one, my life became a little more interesting, filled with difficult challenges and funny stories and the like.

I struggle with self-confidence a ton, but I like to think the decrease in lies means I’m growing a bit in that regard. But, I want to grow more and become the most honest I can.

To be honest, you have to be transparent about how you feel.

You have to explain hard things that could hurt a loved one’s feelings or make a friend feel uncomfortable. Let’s take this moment to talk about some things that are uncomfortable for me, in the name of honesty.

  • I don’t like the way I look: I don’t want my weight to fluctuate so much. When I have to go to a mental hospital, I always gain a bunch of weight. I feel like I cannot attract the kind of girl I want because I look “too big” and honestly, it floods my brain all the time.
  • I am trying to wait until I’m married to have sex: The older I get, the tougher this decision seems. I feel like a loser who can’t get laid, even though I’m the one who makes that decision everyday to wait for my future wife. I have had to tell girls that I’ve been dating that “kissing is as far as I’ll go” and remove myself from situations that are getting too physical. I want to look my wife in the eyes and say, “It was hard, but I did this for you and for the safety of out relationship.”
  • My disorder is really hard: It’s like I get three disorders in one: Mania (which is a dangerous high), Depression (which I deal with everyday) and Anxiety (which is like a crushing sensation in your chest and feeling like everything is permanently stuck in a bad place)
  • I think about suicide: The depression I feel, compounded with the feelings of no self worth and feelings of being a loser who might become a 40 year old virgin because of a decision I make to honor God and my future wife, lead me to ruminate on suicide a lot. Sometimes, I want all the hard things to go away along with all the pain I feel daily and it seems like the only option at times. I will point out however, that I’m still here.
  • I’m not sure where I stand on faith issues: I’m angry at God a lot. I don’t understand why he wants to teach us things through so much pain. I want him to intercede a little more or something. In general, I don’t believe anyone can be certain of anything. I believe that everything is up for debate. I get kind of sick of people who walk around acting like they know everything for certain. There are a lot of “church people” like that.

Those are some things that weigh heavy on my chest. This was a little exercise for me in the attempt to become as honest as I can. Maybe you could try and write down some things you want to be honest about. Or maybe you could communicate with a loved about hard things that would make your relationship better. Follow my lead, if ya want to. Keep Pressing On!

My mother and I went down to the river

It was the warmest day in early fall. Faint, wispy clouds above, water running slowly over fragments of glacial rock beneath.

There I am standing, ankle high in the water, and I’m thinking about just how perfect this feels. Some folks gather at the rocky banks. My mother joins me in the water along with my friend, Stephen.

We wade out into the center of the Little Miami River and I trudge through the water trying to find a deep pocket to stand. Stephen and I hold my mother’s hands. I ask her if she is ready to be washed clean of her sins.

I say that as she is submerged beneath the water, it is a symbol of being buried in the grave with Christ, and that as she comes to the surface, she will be a new creation, a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus. She says she is ready to be made new. She never learned to swim and is glad the water is not too deep.

We lower her body down into the water and the slow current courses over her. We raise her up and she exhales and smiles. Then, my friend and my mother grab my hands. They tell me that what I am about to do is a response to how much God loves me. My mother tells a story of me proclaiming my love for God when I was a boy. They dip me into the water and raise me up. There is cheering for my mother and I from the banks.

Make us new, Lord. We are thankful for this baptism day and hold it as a reminder that while our clothes will become soiled again, you can wash us clean and that you delight in redeeming us. Your desire to bring us back to you never fades. Your resolve is unending. I pray Lord, that not one would be lost, for even if one is lost, then our sum in none. I pray that we would be a complete body when we are returned to our former glory. I pray that we would forgive one and other like you forgive us. Lord, this season has been difficult for my mother and I. I pray that we would not give up loving each other well. I confess that I think I know what’s best, even now. There are things in this life that seem so unnecessarily painful. I want them to go away. Make them go away, Lord. Please. From a man full of doubt. A man whose faith is as strong as a dead leaf in autumn. Tossed and turned by a slight wind. One day I hope to be like that river, Lord. That made up its mind when it will bend. Amen.

Epiphanies

I had an up and down week. There have been some real down, dark moments. In the middle of that, I sat outside at the end of the day, today with a glass of whiskey and a cigar and enjoyed the nice weather. I came to a couple epiphanies. 1: My religion is basically this – Just do your best. And 2: I’m not sure what the Bible means a lot of the time, but if a guy named Jesus came down to earth and died and took our place so we could have a relationship with God; I think that’s beautiful. Maybe I’ve been overcomplicating things. Maybe it’s way more simple that I thought.

Better Story

At this moment, at 1:54 am on a Saturday, I wish God was telling a different story. I wish he would have called me into his office before he gave this life the green light; I would have shut the whole series down before the pilot episode.

I’m tired. Just tired. Of the pain and pulling and tugging and tearing and weeping and wishing and caving and crying.

Struggle. I’m tired of struggle.

Perhaps wanting things to be easier sounds like a cop-out. Maybe it sounds like I don’t want to work hard. That I think good things should just be handed to me. Well, it is a little of that, truth be told, but it’s also that I just want more moments of peace and clarity and contentment and they don’t seem to come.

I know it’s not just me. I see every person wrapped in self doubt and insecurity. People that have dreams and can’t make them happen. People who are abused. Rejected. Run-down.

There is a thought that flashes through my mind when I hop on this train. It usually hits me about now … what if this is hell? What if this is eternal separation from God?

God feels like something we all want, but can’t reach. We want things to be better, but we know this is as good as it gets. I call out to God, but the phone is disconnected or I forgot to pay my bill or something.

Don’t get me wrong, we, the human race, we are resilient. We laugh when all we have is taken from us. We sing through the loss of life. We create. We adapt. We love.

But the struggle is still there.

Every night, I ask God for a new tomorrow. For an event that will change my life in a radical way. A peace that transcends all understanding. A paradigm shift.

But so far, it hasn’t happened.

Then, I think of stories of a New Heaven coming down and resting here on earth. I think of God wiping away every tear and abolishing death from every grave. I think of an end to every sadness. An end to hate. An end to struggle.

I want you to make sense of my struggle, because it has cost me my joy almost every day and my life almost every night.

I am upset with you, God, that you knew how bad this life would hurt me and you pushed me in without my consent anyway.

You expect so many things from me everyday. I’m just letting you know, that now, I expect some things from you.

-TS

Neither – Tyler Strittmatter

I deal with a mental illness of extremes. An illness of war and peace. I wrote this poem about the sinner and saint living in me. I am in a period now where I don’t really know what faith means anymore. I feel it is neither bad nor good. Wrong nor right. I still love this poem even where I am at now. I am proud of what I write and I always will be.

Tyler Strittmatter: Neither Jesus nor the Devil from Christine Shrum on Vimeo.