It’s been ten days since my last post—the semi-monumental 200th. The one I hated writing; the one about the death of a mentor and friend I never had the privilege and honor to meet. It’s been a long, strange, at times storming, at times sun-drenched, ten days.
But it’s been a hellacious five years.
Here’s the thing: I don’t blog political and I don’t blog religious. In fact, I have a hard time with the latter, a human construct. But I believe in God. Not my God. Not your God. Not his God or her God or their God.
Just God. Him or Her or It.
The strange thing is I wasn’t raised in any church. My parents, salt of the earth people, rarely ever spoke of God (other than to occasionally “use His name in vain.”). And that was my Dad, rarely. I’m not sure I really ever heard my mother swear. Me? Let’s not go there.
Point is, since I can remember (what is that? Five years-old?), I have believed in God. Nothing specific in my past, just always this unrelenting, unflinching belief that there is something so much bigger than us out there, somewhere. I’ve spoken with Him all my life, even as a child (no he doesn’t answer back; I’m not a schizophrenic; I don’t hear voices—well, not God’s). I sought out the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in college. I was the elephant in the room, however; the skeptic. Devil’s advocate, if you will.
“What do you mean God is The Father, The Son, AND the Holy Ghost? Jesus was a man, but he was actually a literal piece of God, too? But He was also the Son? Shut the front door and get the hell outta town.”
I’m pretty sure I was the least popular member of the group that met every other Wednesday. Maybe not. I would not be surprised at all to discover that the questions, doubts, confusion, agnostic fear, and sometimes flat out lack of faith plagued many of the others in the room, too. I think maybe they were just too conditioned by their past to jump in or to admit it. Not me. I was the fly in the ointment and enjoyed for once being the rebel. I admit it.
So right here, right now, it should be getting out of your system. The need to rant at me about religion. This is NOT a religious posting, I swear. I don’t care what you believe (or don’t believe). It’s not my business, and frankly, it never will be, and more people should stick to that philosophy (on all faceted sides of the argument).
This is about me and my journey.
When people are down on their luck, they call it a rough patch. In sports we use terms like “slump” and “getting off the schneid”. Winning streak, losing streak. Gamblers have runs of bad luck.
I don’t believe there is a term for the last five of my years of my life. I try to hide it. Suppress it. Locked it away in dank solitary confinement, in a room like the one in my favorite movie, a Stephen King novella adaptation of Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption called, more succinctly, The Shawshank Redemption. Those who know me know that when I go senile I will speak only in movie quotes. As a writer I am proud to love great movies, because any great actor will tell you they’d be nothing without the writer putting the bone-chilling, spine-tingling, tear-jerking WORDS in their mouths.
(Apologies, by the way, for that run of clichés.)
“She was beautiful. God I loved her. I just didn’t know how to show it, that’s all. I killed her, Red. I didn’t pull the trigger, but I drove her away. And that’s why she died, because of me…I was in the path of the tornado. I just didn’t expect the storm would last as long as it has.”
Neither did I. Our son, Brody, died of SIDS in 2008, after being born on Christmas Day, 2007. Two months old. Perfect. Healthy. My wife’s father died three months later. My wife lost her job of ten year three months after that. Two days after losing her job, we had to put one of our (then) two beloved dogs down. We very nearly imploded with sadness, hate, fear, anguish, and just pure confusion.
And that was only the beginning. We still had a hundred hailstorms to face (figuratively and, actually, literally—one that nearly tore our roof off, flooded our basement, nearly broke my leg, and jammed up my back for a month to where I could hardly stand).
<Takes a deep breath>
Okay, not to trip the light non-sequitur, and even risking a bad transition, I need to change the subject a bit. Or at least the direction. I. Love. Music. I have to have it. It inspires me, gets me excited and pumped up when I need it, pities me without judgement when I am feeling sorry for myself, tells me I am right when I know I’m right. Reminds me of those moments in the past. The really good ones; the ones that slide down like the smoothest, coolest, sweetest milkshake you ever had.
Music does that for me. And so much more. But “back in the day” I could never listen to “Christian” music. Not even “Christian Rock”. Oh, god, back in the day, what an oxymoron. Awful. Representative (to me) of everything that drove me crazy about “religion” and, then, painful to the ears’ pallet.
No longer. Third Day is one of my “Top Ten Bands Ever”. Really. We’ve been front row center for two of their concerts (I put two YouTube videos up from the last one—one of Trevor Morgan, a hauntingly talented musician who played a song Jesus Rides the Subway, that I used the actual concert live track with Third Day backing him up and another of one of three songs that saved my life when my son died, Call My Name, video capture live from my iPhone, dubbed with the actual live track from our concert). We’ve also met them twice.
(And if you need a little more evidence Third Day can rock, here’s my video from their closing song, Gone.)
Where I am going with this (yes, Virginia, there IS a point), another slightly less rock and more “traditional” band, Casting Crowns, had a song on the radio at the bad time called Praise You in this Storm. One of the lyrics:
“I was sure by now
God You would have reached down
And wiped our tears away
Stepped in and saved the day
But once again, I say “Amen”, and it’s still raining
As the thunder rolls
I barely hear Your whisper through the rain
“I’m with you”
And as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away“
I clung to those words. Because it was more than raining; because it was ten times the power of an unforeseen tsunami; because it was bad. These songs were my life vest as I floated out to sea, my wife by my side, the two of us disappearing in a black, raging, unrelenting sea.
The irony is, in the worst days of my life, I clung to faith. Now, five years later, the storm perhaps somewhat lessened but still coming down hard, I’ve found myself more in an MMA cage match with God. The two of us circling each other, taunting, hands half-clutched, ready for blood.
Is that all you’ve got?
Just this past week or so, however, I have reached what feels like both a moment of clarity and the next scene in the movie where Lieutenant Dan thanks Forrest for the first time for saving his life in Vietnam and then jumps, legless, into a serene sea, calm as a swimming pool, and backstrokes effortless and contented while Forrest narrates:
“He never actually said so, but I think he made his peace with God.”
It feels like the cage match is over, me lying bloodied and broken and no equivalent whatsoever for God (who would go by a name like “THE Almighty Ass-Kicker”, since he delivers a roundhouse kick that makes Chuck Norris seem like a warbling wussy), yet God reaching down a half-gloved hand, no words, just the unconditional good sportsmanship, a look on His face that says “I’m with you.”
I don’t know if it’s over. The storm, I mean. I don’t know if they ever really end, or at least for very long. But this time it feels different. Inside. Where it matters. Where the original pain lives.
And the skies look as if they want to clear, and allow some much-needed sun through to warm our bones and the frozen part of our souls. So if you pray, or think of someone kindly once in a while, or light candles and put stones around them, or chant—I don’t care—please just have a good thought for us. I try not to be the type to ask much. Hardly ever. I can be stubborn that way. Asking for help; risking pity, which is what no one wants. But I think we might have finally turned a very, very important corner. The kind where your life actually does change for the better and the ghosts of past tragedies and damage from old storms become fewer and lessen.
And that’s when you get off the schneid.
Dedicated to our son, Brody.