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 2

 

There were a lot of heavy conversations today. I spent the afternoon with my mom discussing things that would be helpful to her given that she is confined to her house. We talked about setting up a cleaning service. We talked about getting help mowing the lawn. We talked about getting groceries delivered. All of these things being a part of the new normal.

I have felt ashamed many times that I cannot due more for my mom as her son. I want to do the cleaning that needs done. I want to mulch and mow the lawn and weed the grass. I want to get the groceries.

I can’t do all those things and help my mom get to her appointments and be her confidant through all of this and keep my sanity. When my family is not in town, it’s just me. I am the first and last line of defense. There’s a part of me that really wants to help, but there’s a bigger part of me that wants to be seen by my community as “the great helper.”

This part is a matter of pride.

I don’t necessarily want to do what it takes to be a good person, I just want the glory that comes with being seen that way. I want people to think so, so highly of me. It is a toxic situation that I know a lot of people can relate with. I’m working on it, that’s what I’ll say for now.

My mom has been devastated by the neglect that my father has shown her since they got divorced. He doesn’t return her calls, or emails, or texts and that crushes her. She has struggled to understand why the man that married her has abandoned her. She feels that he doesn’t care whether she lives or dies.

She has said that line many times in the last 6 years, but now the “or dies” part seems more real as she stares down death with her chemo treatments and radiation as a result of her diagnosis of stage 4 cancer.

I understand that my mom is hurting. She is hurting more than I’ve ever seen a person hurt, but sometimes I can’t handle the conversations about my dad. I am my parent’s son. I have their blood coursing through my veins and hearing about my dad’s shortcomings drudges up a lot of pain for me.

Those were hard conversations today between my mother and I.

When I came home, I went to dinner with my best friends, Stephen and Michaelah. We talked and we laughed and watched SNL clips after we got back home. But then the conversation got heavy when we started talking about my mom. Sometimes I don’t want to make conversations heavy, but there always seems to be heavy things happening to me so, I guess it just kinda comes out. I talked about how I didn’t want to have to go through the things I was dealing with. I talked about how, if I could choose, I would wish for just about any other situation.

I am selfish.

I want the easy way, the way that affords me the most comfort and relaxation and joy. I think most people, given the choice, would choose the easy way too most of the time. I don’t want these things to be happening to my mom. I don’t want to live in a world filled with cancer and brokenness and pain and suffering.

But here I am. And here we all are.

Stephen told me to stop viewing myself as a victim in this whole situation, which was a hard pill to swallow. I am a victim, but I understand what he is getting at. I have to choose hard things to help my mom because I love her even when I want to just relax. I have to fight for her even when we argue about my dad because we are both tremendously hurt by the divorce.

I have to. There is no other choice in my mind.

Even though I want the easy way so bad, that’s not what I have in front of me. Instead I have a road that twists and turns and might be dangerous just around the bend.

Every single day so far, in my entire life, I have gotten out of bed. I am going to continue this trend even when I want to curl up and die. I say all this because we are all going through a lot and sometimes we need to know someone else has been there. Keep Pressing On!

Mental Illness Happy Hour: Volume 1

I feel alright for the first time in a couple months. There is an ease to my mind currently and the big things that bother me all the time, don’t feel so big right in this moment.

My mom is going through brain cancer treatments. It is hard to watch her on her bad days and in her growing weakness and uneasiness, because I don’t want her to hurt or feel depressed because of the loss of independence.

My aunt and uncle and my sister came to town last week and helped take my mom to her appointments and cook food for her and tend to the dogs and the house. It was a huge help for my mom and it was a huge help for me.

During the last week, I have had time to spend by myself and not feel guilty about doing so. I went to guitar shops and played open mics, it has been really nice.

I had a dream a few nights ago where I felt, what I believe to be, the presence of God. I felt close to God and like his spirit was wrapped around me. In the dream, I saw the kingdom of God – which was every kind of person together – and I got a sense of what each person’s significance is in the kingdom.

If you are like me, you want to be famous. You want to be known for that thing that you are good at. You want to be well received by everyone you meet. I think I want fame more than I realize sometimes.

Well, in the dream, I got this sense of being famous, but I also got the sense that everyone in God’s Kingdom shared that fame with me. It wasn’t so much like I was idolized for who I am or what I can do, but that I was well known by everyone around me and ultimately, well known by God.

I want to be important. I want to feel that my life has a great significance and matters a lot. In the dream, where I felt God close to me, I felt important and felt respected for who I was and I also felt a deep respect for everyone around me in the dream.

This all seems great, right?

But I always get worried when I start to “feel” the presence of God and my mood shifts dramatically. I struggle with mental illness and my disorder comes with periods of dangerous euphoria. I fear that period might be coming once again like it has so many times in the past 7 years.

I write all this to say, I really wish that feeling a sudden uptick in my mood wasn’t cause for alarm or concern. I will have to “ride the wave” and hopefully it will level out before it gets out of hand.

I also write this in case anyone reading deals with similar fears and unpredictable emotions. I can’t say much other than you are not alone and to lean on people that you trust and who build you up. Keep pressing on!

For John and Maya

For John and Maya
At the Royal Palms Resort
In Phoenix, Arizona
On May 27th 2018

Patience is waiting before you climb to the top.
It is reaching that point together.
It’s looking down at the tree line with a complete perspective.

Kindness is as gentle as spring’s first flower.
It is as soft as morning rain.
It’s a leaf holding up a clear raindrop with impossible strength.

Perseverance is a will that does not bend.
It is a quiet resolve in the middle of a heavy breath.
It’s pushing against the easy anger and relying on present hope.

Trust might not be on time, but it is never too late.
It might be surprised, but it will rise to the occasion.
It may make mistakes, but it won’t let you down.

Hope springs forth.
It comes in waves that ring life.
It is the joy of a new marriage.

Protection is sacrificing self.
It is putting your safety between a bullet and a target.
It’s a call to service and a lifetime pursuit.

Love never fails.
It never gives up.
Remember that Love brought us all here for this ceremony.

May we, your friends and family,
stand with you and be for you.
May we be a testament to the life you start together today.

Congratulations!

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.