My Mother’s Son

When I feel invisible, my mother sees me in her mind and heart. When I experience joy, no one is happier for me than my mother. When I’m in the throes of depression, no one has more compassion for me than my mother. When I accomplish a major feat, no one celebrates more than my mother. When I’m rejected, no one stands stronger for me than my mother. When I wallow in self-pity, I can hear my mother’s voice repeating her mother’s words, exhorting me to serve others instead of feeling sorry for myself. And when I’m shivering while everyone around me is sweating, I know that somewhere my mother is experiencing the same thing.

Six years to the day since my first entry in this blog, which I have woefully neglected over the past year, I still feel many of the emotions that I did back then, albeit for different reasons. God has delivered me from the pain, bitterness, and shame of my divorce. I’m still prone to fits of depression, though. Loneliness, as well. I often feel the weariness of just existing rather than really living, trudging through the humdrum of everyday life, merely ticking off days on the calendar. I’m blessed with a career that I love, but going home to an empty house every day gets extremely old, even for an introvert like me. I feel like a phantom sometimes, or that I only show up in other people’s peripheral vision, never directly in their line of sight. All of my sharp edges have been filed down.

Three things keep me going when I’m in the valley. 1) Jesus is Lord: of the universe, of humanity, of my circumstances, of my life. No matter how off-axis the world seems, it isn’t going anywhere unless He says so. 2) Jesus will never leave or forsake me, even though I leave and forsake Him all the time. Others may be fickle toward me…and some certainly have been…but Jesus won’t even avert His eyes from me. 3) My mother is praying for me. All the time. Without ceasing. And if I need advice or encouragement, she’s always there to provide it without judgment or criticism.

I often hesitate to tell her when the bad times hit because I don’t want her to worry. I came by that instinct honestly, though, because I got it from her. She never has wanted my sister or me to worry about her. It’s a testimony to her selflessness, something that I see in my sister and saw in both of my grandmothers. God must have created mothers to be living examples of what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves.

I can never repay my mother for her love for me. But that’s kind of the way it works with parents and their children. My best present is to live my life the way that she taught me to so that I can be a positive reflection of her and my father. Even a couple of years from turning 50, I still have no greater aspiration than to please my parents. I thank God that they’re both still here. I don’t take a single minute with them for granted.

I would be remiss this year if I didn’t mention my great admiration for single mothers. People spend a lot of time decrying absentee and deadbeat fathers, and rightly so. That abdication of responsibility is the cause of so many things that are wrong with society today. But we need to spend more time praising, encouraging, and helping single mothers. These women have more on their plates than the rest of us can fathom. I’m thinking of one I know in particular. How she balances all of her responsibilities while raising a happy, successful, talented child is beyond my comprehension. God must give some people more than 24 hours in a day.

As a man not having the privilege of being a father but who has a father who has exemplified all that a responsible dad should be, seeing men turn their backs on their families is truly galling. If you’re a single mom, I salute and applaud you. May God bless you with a joyful Mother’s Day.

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All Things New

Spring wipes the sleep from its eyes

As winter takes its place in the queue

Life wakes up and begins again

Jesus makes all things new


The chill is driven from the air

And the frost is replaced by dew

The sun’s warmth makes its welcome return

Jesus makes all things new


The low slate clouds are chased away

The sky now a brilliant blue

Green replaces brown under our feet

As Jesus makes all things new


Redbuds open in glorious array

Azaleas burst in all their hues

The landscape dotted in pinks and reds

For Jesus makes all things new


The birds sing out a happier song

Their winter dirge is finally through

They adorn the wind with their melodies

Jesus makes all things new


Children finally run and play

Free from their winter cocoons

Their joy spills out in blessed chaos

Jesus makes all things new


Souls are warmed in spring’s embrace

Shedding off the winter gloom

Drudgery leavened by a twinge of hope

As Jesus makes all things new


A head bowed low in deepest mourning

Is raised to take in a brighter view

Eyes rimmed in red assume a new glow

Because Jesus makes all things new


A heart scarred by a love that was shattered and lost

And a love that was once thought through

Is healed by the touch of the Savior’s hand

Jesus makes all things new


A broken figure struggles from bed

Hoping just to see the day through

Her only strength she knows for sure

Is that Jesus makes all things new


Another day ends for a man alone

Wondering if love will ever bloom

He faces the night clinging to the hope

That Jesus makes all things new


A soul in tatters, the wages of sin

She’s tried everything a person can do

But now she knows it’s already been done

Jesus makes all things new


A heart of ice can be harder than stone

Which no human hands can break into

But the light of the Son melts the coldest of hearts

Only Jesus makes all things new

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We Build Our Defenses, a Place of Safety, and Leave the Darker Places Unexplored

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. Proverbs 18:1

I’m here to tell you that that Proverb is true. Like many people, when tough times comes, I tend to retreat (further) into my shell and cut myself off from others. I guess it’s a defense mechanism to protect myself against additional harm. The success rate of that effort hasn’t been stellar.

Living on an island is acceptable, even effective, in certain situations. We sometimes have to get alone to really hear from God and heal from our spiritual and emotional wounds. That said, I’ve found that isolation is way too easy to grow accustomed to, primarily out of fear and laziness. The Proverbs have a lot to say about both of those things. None of them are positive.

I went into full hermit mode exactly 4 years ago as the date of my divorce hearing approached. But thanks to a recommendation from family friends, God rousted me out of my isolation just enough to teach me a valuable lesson about Himself and how He works through His people. I began attending sessions of a biblically based course called DivorceCare at a local church. That course proved valuable to me on a variety of levels. The most important benefit for me was that I realized I wasn’t losing my mind. The storm of confusion and erratic emotions I was feeling at the time made me think I was destined to be fitted for a jacket that buttons in the back. But the testimonies of other born-again believers who had gone through divorces demonstrated that my confusion and emotions were nothing new. In fact, they were quite common.

I cannot accurately express the relief I felt in knowing that what I was going through was not an anomaly. What scares me is wondering how I would have ended up if I hadn’t dragged myself out the door and made the effort to seek that help.

I found an additional benefit of being around people in my situation: God can actually use me to help others like He did to help me. It wasn’t something I had to make a concerted effort to do, either. He just made obvious when I should speak up in a way to build up and encourage someone who needed it. It felt like the most natural thing in the world, even though for an introvert like me, speaking up at all absolutely does not come naturally.

Perhaps you think no one else is going through what you are when you’re facing a major trial. I grant that it’s conceivable. For instance, my father would have a tough time meeting other survivors of ventricular fibrillations because, basically, none of them exist. He’s an outlier in that way, however. Others are going through what you are. They can help you, and vice versa. Finding them takes only a tiny bit of courage. I know, because I certainly don’t have more than a tiny bit of it.

A word of caution: use discernment in whom you open up to. I’ve known people who never meet a stranger, the classic trait of an extrovert. That ended up coming back to bite some of them, however. Their vulnerability in trials made them easily influenced by people who didn’t have their best interests in mind. In more than one case, the results were devastating.

I can’t completely endorse that there’s strength in numbers, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there’s weakness in isolation. Build yourself a raft and get off that island. The safety of the mainland is waiting.

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We Break the Surface Tension with Our Wild Kinetic Dreams

Peace on Earth. It seems like a pipe dream now. So much of our world and even our country is in turmoil. Terrorism and asymmetric warfare represent the new normal. Seemingly more people than ever in the United States are making civil disobedience a full-time job. Peace can only come out of this chaos and mayhem from a supernatural source, the very Prince of Peace Himself. Any human effort is futile.

I think many of us would be content with peace within our own homes. Our minds. Our souls. That’s my Christmas wish for myself: peace within. Too bad you can’t check that off in the Sears catalog like when I was a kid.

This has been a long year, one in which peace most often seemed like a distant memory. 2014 started with family members defending against attacks from the flesh. It’s ending with the remaining shock of my father coming within a hair’s breadth of dying in the ditch by the street I grew up on. In between, I’ve been haunted by regret, self-doubt, second guessing, and loneliness. My old companion depression keeps making return visits, as well. I may actually celebrate New Year’s for a change. I’d love to see this year in my rear-view mirror while I haul freight into 2015.

In part, the blame for this absence of peace goes to the guy looking at me in the mirror. It’s awfully easy to focus on what’s wrong instead of Jesus and His eagerness to carry my burdens. Like many, I often feel the perverse need to hang onto my pain like it’s a treasured possession. At the same time, I desperately want to know why I’ve gone through the things I have this year. I know that God has a reason for it all. I just want to know what it is so I can learn from it and grow as a man and a Christian.

A good thing about spending time in the valley is that it can provide clarity of thought about what and who are really important in this life. You don’t have to live a lot of years to know that people who can be trusted and relied upon are at a premium. Get let down frequently or violently enough and you learn to appreciate those who stay true and cling to them like grim death. I’ve been let down like that over recent years. However, amazingly to me, and only by the grace of God, I haven’t become cynical or bitter. On the contrary, I desire more than ever to place my trust in someone again, to be vulnerable, to share my secrets and dreams, to grow with someone emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. I want to be a man who can be depended on for protection, friendship, and tenderness. To love and be loved.

I have to believe this is not a war unique to me. I see and hear about people all the time who have scars from previous relationships, or the absence of them, and are seeking peace in their hearts so that they can offer them to another. It’s not a particularly manly thing to admit, but deep down, men and women alike know that it’s a strong desire. I admit it here in hopes that someone will read this and find a reason to get up and shake the dust off of his or her feet and look toward the Prince of Peace to bring victory in their wars.

I’m not confident in many things, and I’m definitely not confident in many people. However, I’m 100% confident that Jesus can bring peace to those entrenched in battles in their souls. What better time for peace to come than during the celebration of the Advent of His birth? May it come quickly and decidedly.

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Hope Is Like an Endless River…the Time Is Now Again

How do you thank someone for saving the life of a loved one? How do you thank God for miraculously intervening and giving a loved one a second (or even third) chance to live? How do you live your own life while trying to find the answers for the first two questions? That’s where I am now.

Three weeks ago tomorrow, my father stared death in the face during the simple act of going for a walk in the neighborhood. After getting home from work and making a lap around the block, he collapsed at the end of his street when he suffered a ventricular fibrillation, the worst possible type of disruption of normal cardiac rhythm. When this fibrillation occurs, the two lower chambers of the heart quiver instead of contract normally and thus do not pump any blood. The effect is sudden cardiac arrest. Without immediate performance of CPR or use of an external defibrillator, the effect is death.

This is where God stepped in. More accurately, He had already stepped in by placing four men on site who are well versed in the performance of CPR and did not falter in applying it to my father. The first was a man visiting his parents who saw Dad fall when he was leaving their house. The second was a sheriff’s deputy who heard the 9-1-1 call and, having developed a friendship with my father over the past couple of years, sped to his aid. The third was a former member of the military and law enforcement who merely saw the emergency vehicles’ lights and drove into the neighborhood to see if he could assist in any way. The fourth was a neighbor who recently moved onto my parents’ street and has a wealth of experience with life-saving techniques from his time as a Marine fighting in Iraq.

These four angels in human flesh teamed up to keep Dad alive until the ambulance arrived, which took at least 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes of hard physical work on their knees on an asphalt street. None of them hesitated. If they had in even the slightest, that could have been the difference between life and death.

For the rest of our family, the next couple of hours were nothing short of terrifying. My mother arrived home just after the ambulance got there. When she called to let me know what happened, she had no idea whether my father would live or die. I could tell by her voice that it would be the latter barring a miracle. While I waited for her and my sister to get to the hospital and find out his condition, the first thing I did was hit my knees in prayer. And frankly, the second thing I did was think about what I would write for his eulogy and how I would help support my newly widowed mother. When I heard back what had happened and that he would simply have to undergo installation of a defibrillator, the relief was indescribable.

As I spent the remainder of the week in the hospital in Beaumont keeping Dad company and providing what little help I could to Mom, I learned an awful lot about my heavenly Father, my earthly father, life, and relationships. The most obvious thing I learned was that God still has business for Dad to attend to on this Earth. Given the circumstances, it must be some pretty important business. The survival rate for ventricular fibrillation is breathtakingly low, and the majority of those precious few who survive do so with a miserable quality of life. Someone who denies God’s existence would say that Dad beat some absurdly high odds. The rest of us know that he is the recipient of God’s limitless grace and mercy.

I know that Dad is still awestruck about all of this, wondering why God chose him to live when so many in his situation don’t make it. I am, as well. I’m excited about seeing what kind of purpose God has for my father to fulfill. But at the same time, I’m wondering about God’s purpose for myself and how much time I’ve wasted when I could have been making a positive difference in other people’s lives. Over his week in the hospital, the influence Dad has had in other people’s lives became quite obvious. Visitors went in and out of his room constantly, and many others who couldn’t get there contacted us in other ways. The number of people who expressed their concern for him and love and consideration for our family spoke volumes about the quality of my father’s character. It was incredibly encouraging. It was also convicting with regard to my own life.

I look back on my life and see countless opportunities to let God work through me to bless others that I piddled away. I’ve used my introversion as a crutch to justify not stepping out of my comfort zone. I’ve let fear of embarrassment gag and handcuff me. I’ve just been lazy and selfish.

We always hear that we should live our lives without regrets because we aren’t promised tomorrow. That has always been lip service to me. Not anymore. Even this year, I’ve been in situations in which I hesitated to tell someone how I felt or kept to myself when I should have left my cocoon of comfort. I was already convicted of that before my father’s illness. It’s now tattooed on my psyche. I continue to thank and praise God for saving my father’s life. I now pray that God uses this to change my life into one that matters.

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If I could wave my magic wand, I’d make everything all right

Regrets. I’ve had a few. I’d guess that most people have about a 50:50 ratio of things they did and didn’t do that they regret. Mine leans much more toward the latter.

The things I failed to do and ended up regretting range from the mundane to the tragic. I regret not continuing piano lessons when I started junior high. I regret rushing into a marriage that was always against the odds of ending well. Regrets of inaction litter the space between.

Sometimes I manage to scrape together enough determination to act and avoid a regretful choice. I know for a fact that I would have regretted not taking a chance of getting hurt again to train for yesterday’s Houston Marathon. After 4 years of injuries and fear of more of them, I competed and finished in a time far better than I expected. I thank God for keeping me healthy and showing me that I can live this life with fewer regrets by laying down the burden of fear at the feet of His Son.

Unfortunately, that’s a lesson I’m still learning. I’ve once again given in to fear of the unknown, leading to a period of mental and emotional vapor lock that I failed to snap out of in time. It’s a failure that has owned my thoughts over the past 3 days and likely will continue to do so for quite a while, mainly because I’m surrounded by reminders of what could have been. Frankly, it has troubled my sleep and left me nearly inconsolable.

This is one of those situations in which we hear others say and and tell ourselves that God has something better for us. But what if He doesn’t? What if this was His absolute best for me, but I just threw it away? God definitely provides for and blesses us, but He doesn’t inoculate us against making stupid choices. How I wish He did.

With a lot of the regrets I’ve had, I’ve more often that not told myself that I would do things differently next time only to forget and start the cycle all over again. I find it nearly impossible to forget it this time. The reminders almost certainly will make sure of that. I already experienced it over the weekend in seeing complete strangers who had no idea that they were living reminders of a foolish choice. I was reminded of it by a completely innocuous object in my home and how it evoked a response that amused me then but stings now. I was even reminded by, of all things, a Toto song I heard on the radio when I was trying to fall asleep last night. These reminders are tormenting me right now.

We all want second chances to make up for our regrets. I certainly want that now, and I will pray for it until God says no. I don’t even know what a second chance would look like in this circumstance, though. It may appear to be a blessed chance at a do-over, or it may look completely new and different. However it looks, I beg my Lord and Savior for that chance and for the gumption to step out and take action.

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If the future’s looking dark, we’re the ones who have to shine

Advent is always a time when the needy are a focus of attention, as they should be. They should be all year long, obviously, but preparing for this season always brings to mind those whose Christmases may be bleak at best. The charities we can contribute to, combined with the benevolence programs of our churches, give us no shortage of avenues to help those who are in need financially. But what are we doing for those in need emotionally?

Thanksgiving and Christmas can be excruciating for those already suffering mentally or emotionally. They are especially attuned to their own happy memories of holidays past that seem to not only be ancient history but, in some instances, like they are someone else’s memories entirely. When most of us see the Christmas specials on television and lights on our neighbors’ houses and hear the seasonal music piped into seemingly every retail franchise we enter, it tends to warm our hearts. For those in emotional pain, these things only twist the knife.

We must help the poor and homeless in their times of dire financial straits. But we must also help the poor in spirit whose holiday season is a source of agony rather than joy.

I’ve seen both sides of this. I remember well closing on my house 4 weeks before Christmas with a wife who had just been laid off. We knew our relatives weren’t going to be getting much in the way of Christmas presents from us. In fact, we wondered how we were going to simply pay our mortgage and other bills. We were most assuredly not a one-income family. All we could do was pray, pray, and pray some more. And we did. And God answered those prayers just in time. But we sweated out the wait with more than a little fear and trembling.

That Christmas was not fun for me. But it was no match with my past 3 Christmases, when I was afflicted with anger, confusion, and depression over the end of my marriage. It seemed like everything about the season that once brought happiness to me had become mental torture. I felt like was being emotionally waterboarded, suffocating from the weight of my pain. I purposefully avoided the music and other aspects of Christmas to the extent that I could just to keep from remembering the happy times in my past that were gone for good. Certainly there was more than a little self-pity going on, particularly last year. But the origin of my suffering was very real.

By the grace of God, I feel completely relieved—healed, even—from my emotional pain. The Savior whose birth we celebrate reached down and yanked me out of the swamp of my circumstances and placed me on a mountaintop free of emotional turmoil. But I now find myself hypersensitive to others close to me who may be trying to climb out of their own emotional wreckage.

God doesn’t get us through our pain merely for our own benefit. He does so for others, as well, in that we are to be used by Him to minister to them. We can’t just sit back and think, “Well, I’m glad that’s over.” Rather, we have to look for opportunities to use the pain we went through to help people get through theirs. Our suffering can be turned around and used as a salve for fresh wounds if only we seek to be used by God as instruments of healing.

I vividly recall the times when other people helped me in this way. God seemed to inspire them to offer a kind word to me exactly when I needed it most. It’s no coincidence that those people are some of the most faithful followers of Christ I know. I aspire to that kind of faithfulness, because I want to be a source of encouragement to the people I know who are enduring rather than enjoying this Advent. Unlike the ridiculous faux empathy of a certain former politician, I really do feel their pain. I also know the blessed relief from that pain. I want them to be relieved, too.

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