Uncategorized

Death and Resurrection (of a Dream)

8660196586_906e9ba732_k

This is a week about death and life.

It’s about the grave and resurrection.

It’s about re-animating what we had believed to be cold corpses.

This idea of resurrection has particular meaning for me this year.

A few years ago, I died.

I don’t mean that my heart stopped pumping blood through my arteries and veins or that the pathways in my brain shut down.

No, I died a different kind of death, a death out of the public eye. No one was there to mourn. No services. No flowers. The closest thing to an obituary was something I wrote down in my journal one night as I reflected on what my life had come to:

I don’t want to feel anymore. I don’t want to be disappointed anymore. I don’t want to want or to yearn anymore. I want to be dead inside.

People who haven known me for a while know how significant those words are. How so far removed they are from who I am and have been since I was little. My whole life, I had dreamed of a great love. My heart has always been geared to burst out of my chest and spill over into everything I did, everyone I knew. I dreamed about it, thought about it, wrote about it, talked about it, sought after it and fought for it. I wanted passion and adventure in every aspect of my life.

But we’re led down strange roads sometimes. Rather than walking a path that led up the mountain toward the blue sky and clouds and breathless heights, I found myself wading through the lowland swamps of what would become the deepest, darkest valley I would ever encounter.

I was suddenly years into a relationship that turned everything I believed about love and life upside down.

Lower your expectations is what I heard over and over and over again. And so I did.

I lowered my aim from having a great love to having a good love.

But that wasn’t happening, either. Those expectations were still too high.

So I lowered it again from a good love to an okay love.

Still too high.

Over and over, my expectations dropped down the rungs until they were rock-bottom: I will survive this love. Even if this person doesn’t want to work on it, even if this person doesn’t want me, even if this person rejects me over and over and over again…I can survive it.

I went from fiercely declaring that I wanted a great love, a revolutionary love, to not wanting anything anymore. To put to death all of my desires. How far I had fallen. How shattered my dreams had become.

The only way I felt I could survive was to lay that dreamer in the grave and pour earth and rock over him until his cold body was completely covered.

That part of me died, and I left that dream for a great love and a great life to rot with me. I patted down the earth, I dusted off my hands, and I walked away feeling cold, like iron or ice.

Days passed. Months. Years.

The sun has passed over it hundreds of times. The moon has peeked at it with its pale gaze. Rain has come down and seeped past it. Snow has fallen and rested on top of it. Long grass has grown over it.

This week, though, something began to stir in the earth.

It was such a minute movement at first—a twitch, a tremble of the dirt.

But soon, the earth opened up, the grass parted, and light and air and hope rushed into the space only darkness had occupied.

God is resurrecting dreams for me this week.

It's been such a long night. It’s been such a deep grave. But I believe in a Jesus who destroys death.

I believe in a Jesus who reaches his hand into the earth, rips me from the mouth of darkness, and breathes air into my lungs.

I believe in a Jesus who resurrects dreams.

I believe he died and rose again.

I believe it because I’ve seen him do it with me once again.

***

Feature photo ©2013 Richard Browne | Flickr

Why I Have Obnoxious Stickers on My Car

Shortly after I got my back from my road trip this past summer, my car, Old Red, underwent some cosmetic changes. First of all, I washed off the small nation of bugs I had accumulated from the front of the car.

Secondly, I added a butt-load of stickers to the rear window:

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

I know, I know. It looks pretty obnoxious. Ugly, even. My friend Jen has already expressed her hatred for the asymmetry that's going on. I would agree, and I apologize for assaulting your eyes and your fung shui.

I never thought I'd be a car sticker kind of guy. Here's why I have them displayed so obnoxiously on my car:

It's not for you. It's for me.

I have a goal to get to every national park in the United States. It's a goal that lodged itself in my gut a few years ago, and I've become pretty serious about making it happen.

Those stickers are a visible (even if unattractive) reminder every single morning when I walk out to my car that I have a goal that I'm working toward. When I look in my rearview mirror, those reminders are there. When I get out of my car, those reminders are there. I even see them when I check my rear view mirror. The asymmetry only adds fuel to the fire to start putting more stickers on to even it out. And the stickers don't just remind me that I have a goal; they remind me that I'm making progress. I need that.

Three months ago, I had eight stickers on my car. Now? I have eighteen. That feels pretty good.

I also know that I still have forty parks to go. Every day, because of that window, I'm thinking about how to get my next sticker.

Yeah, Paul, I still think that's pretty stupid.

Okay. That's fine. I understand. But sometimes you have to get weird or obnoxious or a little crazy to make your goals happen.

Your goal is probably not the same as mine. Your strategy to accomplish your goal doesn't need to involve an annoyingly asymmetrical arrangement of stickers on your car window.

But you might need to get weird about it if you really want to see it happen.

Do whatever it takes. Write messages to yourself on the wall. Have friends call/text/email you reminders at certain times of the week. Eat a bowl of ice cream every time you take a step closer. (That one I will not apologize for.)

In any case, I know I can't fit forty-eight stickers on my window. It's physically impossible, I probably (hopefully) will have ditched Old Red by then, I think it would be illegal, and it will definitely be unsafe. At some point, I'll have to find a new way to motivate myself to check the rest of the parks off my list.

You can bet it will be a bit crazy and a bit weird. You've been warned.

How a Heart Comes Back Together

10011881004_d5ab6d7cd9_z

For some of us, heartbreak comes like a summer thunderstorm. It pounces on us, hammers down heavy drops for a furious few minutes, and passes, leaving us stunned.

For some of us, heartbreak comes like heavy snow on a winter night. It coats everything in white and convinces us for a short while that all is beautiful and tranquil until the weight becomes too heavy for the limbs and lines, and there is breaking and collapsing and crashing.

For some of us, heartbreak comes like drought. We soak in the sun, and...

slowly...

slowly...

slowly...

...our lakes and rivers recede, our throats feel like sand, and we shrivel, and shrink, and crawl to a stop.

For me?

For me, heartbreak was like hurricane season. I came to expect it, anticipate it, brace for it. I lived in constant fear of it. Before I had even finished the repairing and remodeling from the previous season, the winds were upon me (again). The roof was ripped off (again), the basement took on water (again), and I began the work of recovery (again).

Year, after year, after year, after year.

After one too many storms, my home, my heart, lay strewn about in pieces amongst a haphazard scattering of cracked mementos, splintered trust, collapsed vows, and water-logged years.

If you've experienced heartbreak, you've experienced it in your own way, I'm sure. How long we stay in it, how we cope with it, how we recover from it all varies. Mine honestly feels like ages ago. Another life, almost. Somehow, my heart came back together. Here's how it happened, for me:

It was a lot of angry questions and, "God, why have you forsaken me?"

It was a white-knuckle grip on any strands of hope I could find.

It was listening to people who didn't know me well say, "You haven't done enough. Fight harder." It was listening to those who know me best say, "You have done enough."

It was knowing my friends were shedding tears when I had sworn to stop shedding them.

It was drowning in a flood of emails and text messages that said, "I will wade with you," "We believe in you," "We will hurt and heal with you," and "We love you dearly."

It was the extra few foot-pounds of pressure in the hugs people gave me.

It was putting my head down and throwing myself into work and grad school.

It was reaching out for help when I became paralyzed with indecision about work and grad school.

It was choosing to celebrate my friends as they got married and adopting their joy when I felt like I had none of my own.

It was a thousand other little celebrations, mine and others'.

It was sitting in a counselor's office and hearing him say, "Looks like the dreamer in you hasn't died after all these years."

It was lines from songs, like "Nothing is wasted..." and "A better life is waiting..." and "You've held your head up / you've fought the fight / you bear the scars / you've done your time..."

It was distracting myself with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Netflix, Feedly, and everything else bright and blinking.

It was turning everything off and listening to the sound of my heart coming back together.

It was giving up the security of relationship. It was agreeing to the possibility of being single forever, deciding to not settle out of fear of being alone, committing to live the fullest life possible.

It was experiencing God's goodness in it, through it, and because of it.

All that to say, it was some combination of incredibly hard work and overwhelming grace. Gritty determination and utter helplessness. Intentional steps and blind wandering. Daydreams and harsh reality. Company and solitude. Joy and grief.

It all worked together, we all worked together, to rebuild my heart.

We built it bigger this time. More square footage. On higher ground. Instead of reinforcing it with more concrete, instead of erecting walls and barbed-wire fences, we put in floor-to-ceiling windows. We built it to be open.

It took a community. It took everything, all I had, and it took all of you.

Thanks for that, friends.

From deep within my reconstructed heart, thank you.

***

Feature photo ©2012 Nicolas Raymond

When We Don't Have the Words

4576273943_d835099370_z

"I wish I knew what to tell you." I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone say this, or something like this, to me. It's usually happened during times I was with a friend and carrying a heavy burden.

These friends would sit across the table from me, or next to me on the couch or in the car, or over the phone. They'd say different versions of the same sentiment:

"I don't have any great advice for you."

"I'm sorry I don't have anything better to say to you."

"I don't have any answers for you."

"I don't think there's anything I can tell you to make this better."

Every time, I'd look at them, smile, and say, "I know. And I didn't expect you to."

When I look back on those times, it's not some sage advice, some powerful maxim, some quotable proverb that I remember or appreciate.

It was simply that friend's presence.

It was that they were there with me, they had taken the time to hear me and see my pain. That made all the difference in the world. I didn't need anything more from them. I didn't need them to bear the responsibility of shining a bright light with the perfect words. Simply sitting with me kept the darkness at bay.

So don't feel bad when you're sitting there with a friend who's going through stuff and you don't have all the right words to say.

The fact that you're sitting there is already enough.

 

Flickr photo ©2010 ...storrao...

Grief Demands an Answer

"Grief demands an answer, but sometimes there isn't one." I was watching House of Cards when a character said those words. It was Friday night, February 14th. The new season of the show released that day, and I had decided to enjoy my VD--uh, Valentine's Day--by marathoning some of Frank Underwood's devious dealings with a French press of Dominican coffee, chocolate chip cookies, and a pint of Ben and Jerry's Half Baked. Living on the edge.

Grief demands an answer.

The words made me pause; they landed not too far from some truth in my life. Not because it was Valentine's Day, and there I was by myself. Ironically, despite the saturation of red-themed everything or the flood of romantic tributes on social media, I've felt no ill will toward the holiday at any point. It doesn't matter to me what the origin of the day is or how commercialized or overplayed it is--I like it. I like what it can mean and can be for people who make the most of the opportunities it presents to love each other.

Even if I have little to no role to play in it these days.

99% of the time, I walk around in a pretty good mood for your average guy. But there have been moments, flashes, in which my jaw tightens. I may have been in the middle of humming to some happy tune, or reading an article about people going to live on Mars, and suddenly, grief is there with me.

It wants to know why. Always why. Not how. I know how; I've studied it. I have a phd in how. Grief grips me, desperate and confused, and demands its answers.

Sometimes I entertain grief. I wonder aloud with it. I draft up long, complicated conspiracy theories, and everyone is a suspect. I concoct interpretations that would take Peter Jackson more than a trilogy to tell on film. I write epic tales that skip with a scarecrow, tin man, and lion down the road to a happy ending.

No matter how fanciful or rational an explanation I develop, no matter how scared I am or how hopeful I am of the real answer, I always sober up and face this reality:

Grief demands an answer, but sometimes there isn't one.

Or, at least, there's no way of knowing for sure.

How do you satisfy the burning queries of grief, then? How do you learn to walk after loss cripples you? How do you get back what was stolen from you? How do your eyes adjust to the light after you've been held captive in a dark cell for years?

For me, three things:

Time.

Forgiveness.

Trust.

Sometimes one feels more important than the other. Sometimes I hate one or all three. But I need them all. More importantly, there are no easy answers found there.

They may not be enough to keep grief at bay once and for all, but they are enough, for now.