Friday, December 25, 2009

An "Alphabet" of Christmas Gifts

Like most of us, I love Christmas! If anyone ever asks me what my favorite holiday is, that is always my response. The lights, the songs, the decorations, even the snow...they all combine to make me happy. Maybe it's the child in me...or maybe it's because I love to give gifts, but Christmas is simply a wonderful time of the year.

I was thinking the other day about the "first" Christmas...the day that a child was born in a humble manger in a podunk town in the Middle East. Essential in that first Christmas was the presence of gifts.

"They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh." (Mt 2:11 NLT)

This passage of Scripture made me reflect on four "key" gifts that are present in the story and an alphabetic relationship to four "other" incredible gifts that God has given the world.

The first gift in the story is actually a "Daughter" (D). While we don't know his name, we know that Mary had a father somewhere. God probably (without doubt, actually) could have brought Christ into the world completely supernaturally, but He chose to use a young women and I think there is great significance to that. God's first daughter was also a gift...to Adam. And down through the ages, fathers have consistently given their daughters as a gift to a young man in marriage. For centuries, a financial price was attached to the bride by the father, thus enhancing the value that he placed on her.

The second gift mentioned comes from one of the wise men..."Gold" (G). We all know that gold is considered to be one of the most valuable objects on earth…and to give it away is certainly a sacrifice. We don’t really know that much about the wise men of the Christmas story. In some translations they are called Magi…in others, Kings. Nevertheless, to give away this precious mineral would be a sacrifice – perhaps even to the point of having to go without.

“Frankincense” (F) was also offered as a gift to the small child…this King of Kings and Lord of Lords. This fragrant resin was used in ancient days for several purposes. It was dried and ground and used as incense by the priests in religious ceremonies. In addition, it had medicinal qualities and has been used to treat digestive ailments.

The final gift presented to the Christ child was “Myrrh” (M) and is actually related to Frankincense. The sap of this plant was infused into oil and was used as an embalming ointment in funerals and cremations. It is believed that the spices that were in the linen wrappings that Nicodemus used to bind Jesus for his burial contained Myrrh.

All of the gifts given to Jesus by the Magi are thought to have spiritual significance. The gold is said to represent virtue, or kingship on earth. Frankincense is a symbol of prayer and of priestship. And myrrh is a representation of death and suffering. However, the gifts have allowed me to extend the passage of scripture and focus on the initial “letter” of each word, and examine four other incredible gifts that God has given the world. As I reflected on these four letters, I was amazed at the correlation of the gifts in the Christmas story…and these gifts as I see them.

It all begins with the letter “D” and the daughter it represents. In my life, the “D” is my sister Debbie. Like many people, she had her “daughterhood” stolen from her. The man that she believed was her father for most of her life was not. The picture of her Heavenly Father that was portrayed to her as little girl was skewed. As a young woman in search of redemption and acceptance from her mother, she was given the message over and over that she was unworthy and that her life choices would prevent her from ever being loved and completely forgiven by God. In discovering who her biological father was, she discovered that she was unwanted.

But fortunately for my sister…and for all of us, we have a God who is so much bigger and better than the one she had learned about. Her willingness to examine her past, explore her wounds, forgive those who wronged her, and share her story with others (notably me) has moved her along the path to healing. It has also allowed me to get to know her and love her at a depth that I had never known before. Without question, God loves His children…all of them!

My little brother Geoff is the “G” in my life. The symbolism of gold makes me chuckle a little because as we were growing up, it seemed he was the “golden child”… the youngest, and the spoiled one. From my perspective at the time, it seemed he got everything he wanted. But unlike gold, he was tarnished like all of us. Growing up in the shadow of three older siblings is not easy and comparisons were easy to make…and difficult to live up to. But Geoff had, and still has, his unique gifts. He can solve problems, create things and bring a perspective to a situation that none of the rest of us can.

But the relationship of the letter “G” with Geoff and the gift of gold to the baby Jesus can also be drawn. When he and Lynn were called to create a ministry through a coffee shop more than five years ago, after prayer and meditation he moved ahead. Over the course of these past years, he has literally given all of his wealth to that ministry. Like the wise man in the Christmas story, his gift has been a sacrifice… but a sacrifice that brings glory to the God he loves.

“F” in my life is represented by my older brother Frank. Two years older than me, he is the one that I spent most of my life looking up to. We have much in common…from our physical appearance to the universities we graduated from. Identical high school football jersey numbers, weight classes wrestled and newspaper positions held mark other similarities. But as the oldest brother, there were certain “unspoken” expectations that he was burdened with that neither Geoff nor I bore. And as the oldest son…a father that he could never seem to please.

As I follow the gifts of the Magi and correlate them to the “alphabet” of my family, I find it no coincidence that Frank is a doctor. Like the gift of frankincense which was used as a healing agent, Frank has dedicated his life to bringing healing to others. And like the gift of the Magi represented by the letter “F”, he is a specialist in digestive medicine. But like the rest of us, he carries wounds and scars from a life lived in “the world”, but through prayer and commitment to God, he has found restoration and reconciliation that is found only in a relationship to his Heavenly Father.

That brings me to the letter “M”. There’s only one of us left…and that’s me, Mark. The middle child, I learned to survive by hiding. My hiding places were my books, or my fantasies or my accomplishments. But rarely did I allow anyone to see who I was or let them know what I might be thinking. Also the bearer of many scars, they too were well concealed from even a discerning eye and eventually even invisible in my own sight.

And there is only one gift left…myrrh. It is interesting that myrrh was used as an ointment when burying the dead. Because of choices that I’ve made in my life, I believed that my life was over…at least any ability to be productive in any way. However, that is part of the miracle of the Christmas story. Jesus came to give all of us (including me) life! It is no coincidence that one of His gifts on that December morning was myrrh. And it was no coincidence that His body was anointed with that precious spice when he was placed in the tomb. And it is no coincidence that my life is not over. His love can, and will, restore all things! It certainly has in my life.

My prayer during this Christmas season is that we all continue to turn to Him and recognize and accept the love that He offers us. Without Him, we are all lost in our wounds and our circumstances…and complete healing is forever out of our reach.

“And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty”
(2 Cor 6:19 NLT)

Merry Christmas
2009
Photos from Flickr

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Man in the Mirror

As I stood in front of the polished sheet of stainless steel that served as our mirror, an overwhelming urge to smash my fist into the image staring back at me rose from deep within me. I had seen that face thousands of times before...but today, I hated and despised it. It appeared horrendously ugly to me. Not only the image itself, but all that it represented. I just wanted it gone.

I was reminded of that memory over the weekend as I talked with my sister. She had come to visit and attend a Christmas musical performance at my church and extended her visit by a day so we could spend some time together. And as we always do...we talk.

I'm not certain what prompted the conversational track that we were on, but she made a comment that really caught me off guard. She told me that of all of us kids (there were four of us), that growing up I was the cutest. She went on to say that she has most of the family albums that contain the photographs of our youth and that she goes through them on a regular basis, and sees those images of our childhood looking back at her.

I was a bit shocked by her statement because all throughout my life (at least from around age 10 and beyond), I didn't like my appearance at all. I considered myself the least attractive by far in our family. My sister is a very pretty woman, and always has been. My older brother was well dressed and attractive as a boy with perfect features...bright eyes and curly brown hair. My little brother was the baby of the family...cute with expressive eyes and a button nose. I, on the hand, had big ears that were only magnified by buzz cuts that I regularly wore compliments of dad. Perhaps the constant teasing by my little brother about my ears also served as a powerful reminder of their size.

Even as an adult, there were reminders of the "auditory sails" that were mounted on either side of my head. The comment of "I see you got your ears lowered" meant something to me that others wouldn't consider. For me, it meant my huge ears were even more pronounced. When my niece was a little girl, I remember someone making the comment that she inherited "the Lyons' ears"...and I cringed inside because I heard "your uncle Mark's ears" and understood the burden and pain that it would cause her.

My wife and daughter unconsciously contributed to the pain as well. One evening when we were first married we watched an episode of "The Newlywed Game" and one of the contestants commented that one of his physical features was his "Dumbo ears" (only he pronounced it "Dooombo" which gave all of us a laugh). However, the "Dooombo ears" moniker was attached to me. And while I was able to laugh about it (after all, I was married to a beautiful woman who must have found me somewhat attractive), there was still a little stab of pain when I heard those words.

It wasn't until after I was arrested and had lost everything that I was finally able to see a "clear" reflection of who I was when I stood before a mirror. It was shortly before I was to go to prison and my wife was visiting me at the condo. I had been packing my belongings to put them in storage and was carefully placing all of my suits and dress shirts and ties into the storage boxes. I told her that I wasn't sure why I was packing them away because I didn't know if I would ever have the opportunity to wear them again when I got out. She looked at me with her beautiful blue eyes and said, "you know Mark...you 'made' the clothes, they didn't make you."

As I looked back into the mirror, for the first time that I could remember, the reflection looking back wasn't an ugly man with big ears. In fact, I didn't even notice my ears. A lie that I had held on to from my youth was finally shattered. My perceptions of what made me ugly or attractive were gone in an instant. The "image" that I was created in by God had always been perfect in His eyes and I was now beginning to see beyond the flaws.

Relaxing my clenched fists, I reminded myself that the stainless steel image was not what God saw. Yes, I had made some terrible choices to be in federal prison. Yes, I had caused a great deal of pain and suffering to those that I loved...and those who loved me. And yes, the man in the reflection had aged dramatically in the past year...the stress and strain of life catching up with him. But, the man in the mirror was also a man who was healing. The ugliness wasn't from big ears, or a baby tooth that had never fallen out or the remnants of scars acquired in the process of growing up. The ugliness had been the reminder of the sin in my life...replaced now by the beauty of God within me.
Photo from Flickr


Thursday, November 19, 2009

My "Rooster Crow"

I never know what the trigger might be...but for some reason, they have been going off for the past several weeks. I think it started when I was walking through a local Fred Meyer store recently and noticed a young teenage couple furtively eying the condom display. It was readily apparent that they weren't married and too young to be engaged in sexual activities. Anxiety was written all over them as they would look around to see if anyone might be watching them. For many, the scene might have brought a smile at their attempt to be discreet. For others, perhaps a knowing nod, recalling a similar instance from their own past. For me, it brought an instant rush of guilt and a feeling of "being dirty."

The following week at group, much of our discussion was with a man who was sentenced for a crime similar to mine. The therapist was probing to try to help the man discover why he was on-line looking at the type of pictures that sent him to prison for a year. It was apparent that the man was struggling to explore to the depth necessary to find the answer to that difficult question. But it also caused me to reflect once again on my own path to destruction. Again, the word "guilt" immediately came to my mind.

It continues to amaze me (although I don't know why because I know that everything is in God's control) how God wants to talk to me...and how He does. We are reading a book called "Wild Goose Chase", by Mark Batterson in our men's group right now. The chapter this week dealt with (you guessed it) the "cage of guilt". It was an extremely difficult chapter for me and just reinforced that Someone upstairs is telling me that there are some things that I need to deal with.

As I read the chapter and completed the questions, I came to have a greater understanding of the impact of guilt in my life. The first question asked "what is the 'rooster crow' (a reference to Peter's denial of Christ) that sets off guilty feelings inside of you?" It only took a moment to realize that it was "sex". That's not to say that I don't have great feelings of guilt for my actions that led to my causing great pain and grief to the people that meant the most to me in my life. Or feelings of guilt for the impact I may have had on the lives of countless boys that I would chat with on-line. Or the feelings of guilt for contributing to an industry that destroys so many lives.

What I realized is that for my entire life, anything related to sex instantly brings feelings of guilt and shame. Even as a married man, I was unable to have comfortable conversations with my wife about our sex life or what was pleasing to me...or even pleasurable to her. Sex was dirty...period. I was unable (or unwilling) to initiate sexual intimacy most of the time and left it up to her to somehow extend an invitation. In reflection, none of that seems normal to me.

I've spent some time looking backward...not always a good thing because I don't want to live there (as none of us should), but sometimes necessary to gain understanding and healing. What I see when i reflect is an early childhood filled with abuse that led to a premature sexualization, inappropriate sexual activity at an early age, an unhealthy exposure and attraction to pornography, and a confused sexual identity. All of this coupled with a moral compass that told me everything was wrong. And if it was wrong, then I couldn't talk to anyone about it without being condemned or judged, so the best option was to hide it all in a secret place...a closet.

And so, I did. But the problem with secrets is that even though no one else may know them, you can't escape them if they are your own. You can suppress them (or at least try) as I did for more than 40 years. And you can lie about them (to yourself and others) as I did for more than 40 years. But you can't make them disappear. There is only one way to get rid of a secret that haunts you...that is make it an "unsecret", to share it. And nine years ago, I discovered a medium to do just that.

I had no intention of going into a chat room that night...and certainly no cognitive intention of finding a teenage boy who was gay. But it happened and when it did, I discovered that there were countless other individuals who had similar experiences or feelings/desires or sense of confusion. And...none of them made me feel guilty about what I had been hiding in my closet. It (the chats) was a comfortable place to be. IN fact, it became the place that I wanted to be more than anyplace else. For what may have been the first time in my life, I didn't feel so alone...or so dirty. And so, I would find every opportunity to get on-line and chat. It became a driving force in my life to the exclusion of my marriage and my wife. I found myself wanting relationship with my "chat friends" more than with my own family. And because they were all "cyber relationships", there wasn't the same kind of fear that I felt about losing the "real people" in my life. I could share things without being afraid that the person on the other keyboard would hate me...or even worse, leave me. And even though there was a sense of guilt for being there and chatting with boys, it was a different kind of guilt that I thought I was handling.

I've discovered that I'm not alone. I'm not the only man on this planet that has secrets from his past that haunt him. I'm not the only man on the planet that carries guilt that isn't his to bear. I'm not the only man on the planet that has allowed his past to drastically alter his present...and his future. There are countless men who are in the same place I was nine years ago...searching for something to relieve the pain and confusion. Sadly, too many will either continue to bury and carry guilt by themselves or turn to destructive ways to take it all away.

In reality, the solution is so simple! And actually, albeit in the wrong context, what I was doing nine years ago was on the right track. All any of us need to do is be honest and share. We have to be willing to open the door to that closet and start searching for the things that we started hiding in there years ago. And like most closets that are old and cluttered, it may take time to discover them all. But what we will find are memories that we didn't even know existed. Shame that wasn't ours to bear. Tears that should have been shed instead of being held captive. Guilt that can finally be acquitted. The key is to do it in a healthy, safe and legal way instead of the way I did it.

My journey now is to continue to look into the closet. I know there are experiences that I haven't completely dealt with...perhaps some that I haven't even discovered. Guilt and self-condemnation that haunts me when I'm confronted with the right trigger. But my reflection has helped to bring some clarity to a question that needed to be answered. Why? Why was it so comfortable for me to be in "that" place when I was allowing it to destroy my life? Knowing the answer will help prevent me from going back.

Photo from Flickr

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Crossing the Line from "Memory" to "Imagination"

Today is someone's birthday...well actually, I'm sure that there are literally millions who will use this day to mark the celebration of their birth. But today is a day to celebrate the life of someone who has a very special place in my life. Someone, who through the miraculous grace of God, that I have grown to know and love in a deep and meaningful way over these past several years.

It amazes me at times how some of our greatest treasures are right in front of us but we fail to see them. As I sit here and reflect as I write this (brushing back the tears while the music of "Coldplay" plays in the background), I recognize the brevity and frailty that is this thing that we call life. A friend asked me at breakfast the other morning how I was doing. And as is my usual casual response, I said "everything is good, thanks for asking." But this friend is a bit deeper than that. He challenged me and forced me to think about how things are "really going?"

It didn't take long for the reality of my circumstances to well up inside me. I shared with him that I find myself in a position these days of having all of the material blessings (and more) that I need. Actually, they are overflowing. I'm able to receive the joy that one feels when they can give away more to others than they spend on themselves. But the adage that "money can't buy happiness" is proven out in my life. There is an emptiness in my life that "stuff" can't fill.

And so, I had to share with my friend the lonliness that I oft times feel. The loss of deep and intimate relationship in my life is often times a heavy weight that can't be filled with "stuff" that we can purchase. And that is why I celebrate this day with my sister.

She has done something for me that most people would never be willing to do...for me or for anyone else. Through a slow (and I'm sure painful at times) process, she has slowly revealed her life to me and invited me into relationship. And through her words (written and spoken), I've come to know her in ways that few people ever get to know someone else. And one of the gifts in that is that I have the opportunity to share who she really is with others...including my own family.

Several weeks ago as I visited with my brother and his new wife, for the first time I think he finally started to "get it" about my sister and her writing. We were talking about an incident in her life when she first entered what she discovered later was a cult. Like many of us, she was at a point in her life where she was lost and searching for something with meaning. As a means to separate my sister from her past (and the evils of this world), they had her destroy some of the most meaningful "stuff" in her life. This included an extensive record collection that was in some ways priceless. It was the destruction of these records that was the initial focus of our conversation.

But I had the opportunity to share what Paul Harvey might have called "the rest of the story." Included in the "stuff" that went into the bonfire that evening were the things of her past. Her childhood diaries. Some of her early writing. Awards and recognitions from her childhood. Memorabilia that had been carefully packed and moved from place to place. No one can put a price on those things. And unlike the vinyl records, they can never be replaced. She lost the physical reminders of some of the most meaningful memories of her past.

Memory - "an organism's ability to store, retain and recall information" (Wikipedia)

As I shared that part of her story with my brother, I could see something "click" as he said, "I didn't know any of that." And it opened the door for me to share more of my sister's life with my brother. A part of her life that I never knew as it was occuring. It took him past his memories of one specific incident to see it through a different lens...the eyes that were actually there. I think that he, like I have, crossed a line that day. He moved from a "memory" to an "imagination". From a "recollection" to an "understanding.

Imagination - "the ability to form mental images, sensations and concepts, in a moment when they are perceived through sight, hearing or other senses. Imagination helps provide meaning to experience and understanding to knowledge. The basic training for imagination is the listening to storytelling" (Wikipedia)
Over the past two years, I've come to discover what is truly important in this life. It's not the "stuff" we accumulate. It's not the money we have in the bank. It's not even our acccomplishments for which we receive great acclaim. It's all about relationships. A relationship with a God who loves us beyond measure. It's the relationships that we are willing to take the time to invest in. It's the willingness to risk with those that we love. Risk sharing the truth of our lives...of revealing our pain, our failures, our demons.

So...today as I share in the celebration of my sister's birthday, I should be sending her a gift. But instead, I'm thanking her for her gift to me. The gift of love...of truth...of revelation...of her sharing...of her words. Thank you for helping me across the "line".


Happy Birthday!!

I love you!!

Photo from Flickr

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Hardest Question!

It's over!!! As I drove away from his office today, I felt like beating myself up. "Why do I let these kinds of things bother me? Why do I allow myself to get anxious when I know I have nothing to be anxious about?" It was bad enough that I didn't have the answers...but even worse that I found myself asking them in the first place.

I had just spent about 45 minutes with a very likable man. He works in a unique profession...he is a polygrapher. And at this season in my life, I find that I have spend time with him...or others like him, a couple of times each year. Today was somewhat different because I hadn't had a polygraph for nearly 16 months. I realize that that was part of the reason for my anxiety. But as I sat there with all of the wires connected to my fingers...and the blood pressure cuff causing my hand to go numb...and the two straps around my chest that there was something else going on here. And I'm surprised it didn't cause me to fail the test.

One of the questions that the polygrapher always asks (at least this particular one does) is "do you trust me when I tell you that I will not ask you any questions that we have not already gone over?" I remember the first time I sat in the chair with his equipment hooked up to me. When he asked that question, I answered it very honestly. I told him "no". And the truth is, I didn't trust him! I had never had a polygraph before and I didn't know what to expect. For all I knew, it was a trick question to cause me to let my guard down so he could "zap" me and call for the goon squad who I assumed must be in the next room to come haul me away screaming and yelling in handcuffs.

But, he was being honest. He only asked me the questions that he told me he would. So when he asked the questions for the second time, I changed my answer to "yes", I passed the polygraph and I was out the door. It was the same thing when I had my last polygraph.

When he asked me that question today, I answered "yes" because I want to trust him. As I sat there waiting for the next question to be asked, I realized that I don't think that I do trust him. That wasn't the worst thought that penetrated my mind though. It was the realization that I'm not sure that I trust anyone! And I could feel a small something in my heart crumble as that truth sunk in.

I'm not certain why I got that clarity today, but I believe it has to do with my dad. He has been on my mind a great deal recently...and not in a positive way. I find that whenever I think about him or I am asked about him, I get angry...and hurt. Maybe it's because I've found both of my brothers sharing some of their "dad" memories with me...memories that are as painful as my own.

Maybe because there have been reminders lately that have triggered my own tortured memories...or perhaps, lack of memory. I found myself sobbing like a baby just the other night as I watched the end of a movie that I love, "The Greatest Game Ever Played". It's a story about golf...but there is a subplot about the relationship between the son and his father. A father who in his own way neglects his son and tries to prevent him from following his dream. I didn't even clue into that plot until I was wiping my tears away and trying to find their cause. And it hit me...his dad was my dad. Except in the end of this movie, the dad is there...smiling and proud of his son. I never got that.

The test is over. The questions have been asked. And as he unhooked the wires, the man told me I passed and asked for his money. As I walked down the stairs after paying the bill, I reflected on the questions and my anxiety going in...but mostly, I thought about the answer that had just revealed itself to me.

Photo from Flickr

Monday, July 13, 2009

Legacy!

"This shouldn't be what [he] was all about..."

"I'm tired of people blaming [his father] for what he did to [him], it's what he did FOR [him] that made him what he was in the world..."

"[He} was no saint or no sinner, like people keep saying. He was just a man, a man with God-given...genius."

"I cried for the lost child in him and the stress it placed on this wonderful person."

"Let us not confuse talent with sainthood. Have we forgotten the other side of his notoriety?"

"[he] was...a confused adult who couldn't look at himself in the mirror and did his best to change what looked back."

A lot has happened in the past several weeks that has caused me to reflect on my past...and my future. A number of very famous, or perhaps infamous, people have passed away and the media has been quick to review their lives for all of us to see. One of those was Michael Jackson...the "king of pop".

Growing into adulthood during the 1970's and 80's, Michael Jackson was a constant fixture in pop music...and like many, I liked his music and appreciated his talent. I remembered him from his early years as a member of the Jackson 5 and was, at times, amazed at the gifts of this little boy...and later, this young man. His musical genius was apparent to all of us. And on the outside, he appeared to have it all...money, fame, acclaim, talent. But as we all learned over the next 30 years, on the inside was a severely wounded man.

A week ago, every major television station in this country broadcast the funeral of this man live around the world. I even found myself scanning it occasionally from my computer at work as it was streamed across the Internet on countless websites. As I watched the memorial service and listened to the speakers, I was struck by the way that this man was remembered. And as I read the accounts in the print media, the same thoughts occurred to me. And then, I started to reflect on my own life.

Six years ago as I was starting into a new job, I never could have imagined anything but positive acclaim at the life I have lived. I was a highly visible, highly respected member of a profession and community. I was a beloved husband, father and grandfather. And if I had died at any time prior to February 23, 2004, the things said at my memorial service would have mostly likely been full of the remembrance of my professional accomplishments and cute stories about my role as a father and grandpa.

But all that changed when the FBI walked into my office. The article in the newspapers now painted a different picture who I was...and they were not pretty. When people talked of me over the next several months, there was not only confusion about what I had done, but also a sense of loss...that the person that they thought they knew no longer existed.

One thing that I know about all people...we each leave some type of a legacy. What that legacy says about us can change in a twinkling of an eye, but nonetheless, it's what we will be remembered by. I've come to understand that I could choose to let my legacy be those words that were recorded in the countless media in the days and weeks that followed February, 2004.

But I believe that God has a different legacy in store for me...a story that He wrote for me before time even existed. Some of my life experiences were not good...and should not have been experienced by anyone. And certainly, some of my choices were worse than bad...and should never have been made. But life cannot be undone. I am called to use those experiences and how they shaped me...and God's work in my life to help other people. To share a hope for those who find themselves in a similar closet of darkness that my own life had become.

I found a final comment in the media that spoke of the legacy of Michael Jackson that I hope will never be written of me...

"I wish [he] could have met the real Jesus, not the rule mongering, anti-holiday, party pooper Jesus of The Watchtower. I'm talking about the Jesus of the New Testament...Jesus would have quenched his thirst, healed his hurts and changed the color of his soul, not his skin. ...happiness cannot be bought, it can only be received from the hands of our Creator, our Savior, our friend, Jesus Christ."

Instead, if I were to write my own legacy, it would be this -

Mark was a tortured man for much of his life. He bore scars that were buried beneath the surface that no one else ever saw. And for many years, he refused to treat the wound, choosing instead to keep it covered (even from himself). But then he met the Great Healer at a time in his life when everything seemed to be lost...out of control...and life didn't seem worth living any more. Through the grace of God, Mark received the gift of salvation and restoration. And then, he freely shared that gift with anyone who would receive it, much the same way that Jesus offers that gift to everyone today.

Mark was not a perfect man...far from it, and he would be the first one to admit that. And he finally recognized that he was not alone in the struggles that he faced and that he could not win the battle on his own. After his fall from grace (in society's eyes at least), he spent the rest of his life working to help others win the their battles with the help of God, a warrior who will stand beside you and go before you in the battles of this life. He would not want to be remembered as a hero or a saint. Instead, he would want his legacy to simply be that he was a man who was willing to be used of God...and he was.


Photo from Flickr

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Celebration!

Chaos seemingly surrounds me as I stand in the dining nook, a cold soda in one hand and a styrofoam plate in the other loaded with the goodies that have been set out on the counter. So many faces…few familiar. Every few minutes, the rumble of noise is magnified as Lou or one of the ladies here releases a roar of laughter.

A man walks over beside me and asks what my relationship is to the Shucka’s. Several possible answers roll around in my mind.

“I’m a former educator and have known both Walt and Debbie for years as a member of that remarkable profession”, was one thought.

“I saw the pretty pink balloons as I was out yard-saleing today and thought I’d see if they had any free cake”, was another quirky possibility.

“I got out of prison recently, and they were both so thoughtful that they invited me in”, was another.

I extended my hand and simply said, “Debbie’s my sister and I’m here to celebrate with her today.”

At times, I felt a little awkward amongst so many strangers, but the fact that we all shared something in common today made each of us a little less “strange”. Many of the people I was meeting finally put a face to a name that Debbie had shared with me over the past 22 months as we’ve visited and gotten to know each other after too many years between us.

I glanced at the clock on my cell phone...wondering…waiting, tempted to make a call, but hesitating. The celebration was already 45 minutes into its scheduled duration. But I knew I needed to relax…after all, I knew they were never early and rarely on time.

I saw the vehicle out of the corner of my eye as it pulled in and parked beside the other 20+ cars in the yard. A few moments later, the door bell rang and I saw Walt go to answer.

“Debbie!”, the voice called out. “Would you come here a minute?”

My sister made her way through the crowd of well-wishers, weaving her way from the laundry room through the kitchen to the front room. Suddenly, the dull roar was pierced by a scream that might have been frightening had I not known the source…and the reason.

As I stepped around the corner into the living room, my sister was in the arms of my little brother…joy clearly radiating from her entire being. Geoff, too, was displaying his joy in knowing that his desire to keep his arrival a secret had been kept. As Debbie released my brother to give his wife Lynn a love, I walked across and embraced my brother…thanking him for being here. He may not have understood, but I did. Today was important to our sister and I was glad that we were here to celebrate.

As I move through this season of my life, I am reminded of the value and importance of family, friends and relationship. Unfortunately… all of our family didn’t make it to this celebration of flight, but I’m glad that I did.
Photo from Flickr

Friday, June 12, 2009

Affirmations



I finished putting away the DVD and manual and began to walk to the door. As I approached the exit, one of the class members stopped me.

“Class was so good today”, he said. “You should really think about doing this full time.”

“It was so awesome how you were responsive to the Holy Spirit”, his wife added.

The regular teacher of the class was nearby and remarked how much he enjoyed the class this morning and that it could probably be worked out if I wanted to take on this class on a more permanent basis. I thanked them all for their kind comments and left the classroom.

As I walked back across the parking lot to the sanctuary, I reflected on what had just happened. It had been awhile since I actually stood in a classroom full of students…and it felt good. I had led a few Bible studies in prison, but this was different. Here, there was preparation, and well conceived questions. Here, there were men and women who knew the Bible, but were still engage. Here, I was in a “real” classroom, not a room with thick concrete walls that were designed to keep me in.

It continues to amaze me how God brings affirmation into my life in so many ways. I know that He has placed a calling in my life, and I am continuously seeking to determine His will. All of my life has been spent preparing for “something”…but only He fully knows what that is.

He gave me additional affirmation just the other day. At times, the enemy continues to try to undermine who I am…and the voice penetrates. As I sat in prayer the other night, I asked my Father who I was…and His voice brought tears to my eyes that I couldn't’t stop. The answer was simple.

“You are My son!”


As I continue to move through each uncertain day after the next, it is reassuring in my heart that God continues to see me…to hear me…and to love me.
Photo from Flickr

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Choosing to be Who I Am...

I came across a poem the other day that grabbed me in an unexpected way. I found myself crying. The words seem to be words that would have one day in my past smoldered within my own heart.


I am who I choose to be, random and weird.
There are times when I want to fade into my dreams and feel as though I belong.
I see myself in a place where I can always be me, and not be criticized for my actions.
I want to be young forever and not have to worry about life coming to a conclusion
I wish life could be like a VCR, fast forwarding the pain, or rewinding and relishing the moments of happiness.
I am who I choose to be, random and weird.
Awesome Ramsey!



I don't know who "Awesome Ramsey" is, but this person put words to the feelings that I struggled with for so many years. A person who felt on the outside...longing to feel like I belonged in the story. A longing to fit in...a longing to be happy with who I was...who I am. A man who wished he could stay in the happy moments of his past forever and skip over the eons of pain and frustration at failures in his life.



I pretend that I have this amazing power and with it I might one day rule the world.
But power is for the weak minded, so I say.
I see and hear things that I believe no one can ever see or hear.
And yet I cry because I know no one will ever believe me.
When I see the rain fall from the sky, I can imagine and feel my sorrows slowly lifting...
But I am who I choose to be, random and weird.
Awesome Ramsey!



Like most of us, I once believed that within myself, I could fix everything... that I could make everything OK. There was no need to seek help elsewhere... to ask for help was revealing that I had some kind of flaw, some kind of weakness. And in my mind, any form of weakness was unacceptable. So I created a persona of strength that was convincing to all the world. I set myself on a pedestal so high, that to fall would surely mean death. But inside, I knew my own weakness...my own failures...my own inability to "fix" it this time. So I silently wept untold gallons of tears, knowing that no one would be able to believe my story...my demons...my weakness.


I understand life is full of mysterious wonders.
They could be things that you wouldn't even expect to be real.
So I try not to think of the negativity around and focus on the positive aspect of life.
And one could only hope that in the end of the tale, there really is a happy ending.
I am who I choose to be, random and weird


This "Amazing Ramsey" may not have understood when he wrote these words how his story ends...or how any of our stories end. But through his words, it helps me to recognize that all of life is a mystery and we don't need to try to understand it all. Some of it is simply to unreal. My past is my past...I can't undo it...I can't change. But, I can use it and allow it to be used.



Our pastor spoke an incredible sermon this morning about accepting how God has created each of us so uniquely...and how He desires to use that uniqueness to do His work. He closed with a short phrase that spoke deeply to me on a day I needed to hear Him speak directly to me.

"Learn to love you"

When I think about my life, the word "love" is not a word that quickly comes to mind...a life that has been responsible for so much pain and heartache. The words "despise" and "hate" seem to be so much more appropriate. But I have come to learn that God wastes nothing, not even the failures of a man's life...the failures of my life. For Ramsey, he may choose to be random and wierd. Sometimes, I believe I choose to be that same way. But for the always in my life, I am learning to simply choose to be me...the way that God created me, and learn to love who that man is.


Poem by "Amazing Ramsey"

Photo from Flickr

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The OTHER Victims

Something has been on my mind a lot lately that I have been trying to process...sadly, not too well. At my therapy session last week, one of the men shared some of his writing concerning his victims...and the extent of the breadth of pain that he had caused. I've thought often on that myself, and only recently as I visited with a close friend whose husband was involved in on-line pornography, I was once again reminded of the pain that a woman feels when her husband betrays her in that way.

But in the past week, another group of my victims has settled itself in my gray matter, and it won't seem to let go. I know that there were a lot of different victims in the life that I was leading...most notably the young men or boys that were pictured in the pornography that I viewed. I believe I've reconciled myself to that group. I've prayed for them...I've prayed for the destruction of the international pornography industry. I don't know what more I can do, other than never support them in any way again in the future. When I was viewing those materials, I never thought about those individuals or the fact that they were most likely sold into that profession or so drugged that they didn't know what they were doing.

The group haunting my nights these days are the young men that I chatted with. Not all of them. I know that many were just like me...a man pretending to be someone else. A man living a fantasy life...in search of something, but not quite certain what. But some were exactly what they claimed to be. Teenage boys uncertain of their sexuality looking for a friend...a confidante...to share questions and struggles. I sat across the Blue Nowhere from these teens convincing them that I was just as they were...confused, searching, a boy in search of friends. Each night, I continued with my deceit and listened and shared my own inner self with them.

And then suddenly one night, I simply disappeared. To at least two young men, I had become someone important in their lives...at least my cyber-self had. Suddenly, a friend was ripped from their life with no explanation, no good-bye, no closure. The boy in Florida (me) who was trying to lift the spirits of a boy who had recently contemplated suicide because a friend from school that he was attracted to had rebuffed him was no longer there to offer support. I often wonder about that boy...and if he is OK.

I know that I can't find any of them now. I no longer remember their computer names. And I have no way of contacting them. I can't tell them that I was a fraud...and the worst kind of friend. I can't tell them that the most intimate aspects of their lives that they shared with me were shared with a deceiver and a liar.

I hope that they have simply forgotten me...I think. A part of me wants them to remember who I pretended to be...a boy like them who cared for them. And a part of me also simply wants them to forget a betrayal...but I know from my own life experience how difficult that is.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Seeing Pink!

Even though I knew it was coming, I still wasn’t as prepared as I had hoped to be. Just this morning, he still thought that there were some options…a way out of this situation…a new hope. I could tell as he returned from the attorney’s office that it had not gone well. His shoulders seemed to sag a bit lower and there was no energy in his eyes.

I went in and sat across from him when he returned from lunch. The sign of defeat was etched in his 75 year old face as he realized the dream was over. There were no more options, and I could tell it broke his heart as he sat there with folded hands.

“We’re going to close the doors. We just can’t make it in this economic climate,” he said in a barely audible voice. “I wish that we had another chance…I really thought that we would be able to close this down and open a new LLC. It’s just not going to happen.”

And just like that, my career here was over. The economy had caught up with us and we were out of money. I would soon be joining the millions of other men and women amongst the ranks of the unemployed. I had been here before, but never as a result of a company going out of business. And the feeling in the pit of my stomach as I walked out the office was not a pleasant one.

I have had the opportunity for the past eighteen months to work for an incredible man…and his wife. They gave me a chance when no one else would. I owe them so much more than they have ever given me…which has been substantial. I have been compensated very well in my tenure here and I was given a severance which was more than generous. This has been an experience that I will not easily forget.

As I move forward, I do so with very little anxiety. I have been blessed, not only with a chance, but also with a memory of God’s faithfulness to me. While others may be losing sleep at night, I can rest assured that in some way, God will provide for me. He has in the past…and I am assured that He will in the future. His grace and mercy are the same today and tomorrow as they were in the past.

It is with a little bit of excitement and a lift in my step that I will leave this place for the last time. I don’t know exactly when that will be yet…I have agreed to continue to come in and help Lee as he closes up the business. It gives me an opportunity to stay busy and him some much needed help and support. But when the day comes that I don’t make the 30 minute commute over here each morning, I am excited for what door will have opened and that I will have walked through.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Trophy

The frigid, winter rain pelted the large window overlooking the golf course as I sat in front of the empty fireplace with the box in front of me. It was another cold, wet March winter day alone in this beautiful condo my wife and I had purchased only six months earlier. The ninth fairway outside our window was still covered in grayish, spring snow...the remnants of the cross country ski trail still visible in the slowly receding winter blanket.

I had brought the last of the boxes up out of my Jeep and had sorted and filed. A few things, I threw away. I had only one box left. And it had my "stuff" in it. The plaques and awards and trophies that I had accumulated over the course of working 24 years as a public educator.

There was a plaque of appreciation from the local community college where I had supervised their local education extension program. The completion award for my superintendent's program. A trophy from a golf tournament. And numerous other awards and recognitions. But today, they were all meaningless.

As I sat there, looking at each one...slowly reading the words engraved on the soft metal, I could hear a voice telling me that this was not who I was any more. I tried to push the voice away...but it wouldn't leave me. Each of these pieces identified who I was. But that was it....who I "was", not who I "am" now. I could feel the tears well up as I knew what I needed to do. I fruitlessly tried to argue with the voice in my heart, but I knew deep down this was an argument that I couldn't win.

Reluctantly, I slowly began to peel the glued on metal with the words of recognition and acclaim from their wooded backs. As each one came off in my hands, I would bend it and mangle it before I tossed it haphazardly into the box. Piece after piece, the box slowly filling. These things that had identified who I was for the last quarter of a century, now nothing but a box of trash.

The last item was the last item I had received. And...it was the one that had most recently defined me.

Superintendent

The solid piece of oak that bore that inscription was too solid for me to break. The engraving in the wood, so I couldn't peel it off. The sting of the the tears as the rolled down my cheeks caused me to hesitate for just a moment. I held the award in my hand as I rubbed my shirt sleeve across my cheeks, clearing away the tears. And then it too, went into the box.

I carried the collection in the cardboard container to the door as I slipped my shoes on and slowly walked down the stairs to the dumpster. Setting the box on the ground, I flipped the top up on the garbage container and then slowly dumped the reminders of my last 24 years in with the rest of the waste. Numbness filled my body as I walked back up the stairs and into the emptiness of my home.

It has been over five years since that cold, March day. I had often wondered "why" I had been asked by throw it all away. Couldn't I have simply stored it away in a box, as a reminder? Something that I could one day put back on a shelf for everyone to see...to remember...to admire? I was given the answer last week.

I was listening to the testimony of a man who had been one of the best paid make-up artists for New York models in the 1990's. But a life of drugs and hard living had caused him to lose it all...and to ultimately end up on the streets of New York City...homeless, destitute, slowly dying. But through the prayers of a friend and the merciful love of God, he found salvation and a new lease on life.

As he shared his testimony, he used the analogy of a trophy. We spend our entire lives in this world creating an image of ourselves through our work and our behaviors. In our frail state of humanity, we make choices where our lives end up mangled and tarnished and bent. But when we allow it, God will take that broken life and restore it. The trophy will be reformed. The bent parts straightened. The scratches buffed out. The tarnish polished away. And the engraving...changed.

As I listened to his story, the voice and the memory in my condo living room five years ago came flooding back to me. And at that moment, I realized the "why" that I had asked my self so many times since that frigid, winter day. I am destined to be a trophy for God!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Other Closet

As I sign into this blog every time I post a new entry, I type in the url..."thedarkestcloset". It got me to thinking about the title and why I selected it. It was over a year and a half ago that I began this blog and when I created it, I had no idea what it would hold or in all actuality, why I was evening writing it. When the box appeared asking for a title, I didn't sit and ponder for very long. The concept of "closet" popped into my mind and I simply went with it.

Over the past several weeks, I've been giving the word "closet" some thought and realized that it is a very apt title for this blog...and my life. It probably came to my mind while I was talking to my men's Bible study two weeks ago and I told them that when I think about my life five years ago and the following three years in prison, my natural self wants to put that memory in the deepest closet in the house, lock the door and then double padlock it and then cover that door with a six inch solid steel door so that no one (myself included) could ever get to it. But God has other plans for my life and my story, but that is for another time.

As I think about "closet" and my own life, a number of similarities have emerged for me. The first is that closets are often times hiding places. When we are children and we play "hide and seek", one of the common places that we like to hide in is the closet. We try to squish ourselves into the deepest recesses behind the long fur coat so we can't be seen.

That was my life. At every opportunity, I tried to hide. Often times it was in plain sight, but nonetheless, I was hiding. It might have been in a book or inside of a football uniform. At other times, it was behind a drunken haze. But in each case, I was hiding. I think in my own mind, if I didn't have to look at the real me...if I could hide it, then my demons weren't real. My sadness belonged to someone else.

Closets also bring to mind the concept of fantasy and make believe. One of my favorite movies is "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe". In the story, the children find an old wardrobe (a precursor to the closet) and it takes them to a different world...to Narnia. I remember the closet in my mom and dad's bedroom. Tucked away in the corner were my dad's Army uniforms. I remember as a young boy looking at them and putting on his jacket (I don't think he knew I was doing this). I would pretend to be a soldier...a hero of some type.

Five years ago, my life was full of fantasy. I was living a secret life where I was pretending to be someone I wasn't...and never could be. A young teenage boy. And in this fantasy life, I was creating fantasy relationships with other teenage boys. The fantasy would become so real at times that I would wake up in the middle of the night and realize that I was actually 48 years old and wish with all of my heart that I was actually that 14-15 year old boy. It wasn't that my life was bad and I needed to escape it...it was more that the fantasy was a life that I didn't get to have and that in some way I was trying to relive.

Closets are also dark places...and my life was so dark that it was nearly impossible for true light to penetrate it. It was full of deceit and lies...and immorality and lust. And because I knew that everything that I was doing was wrong, I tried with all my skills to keep them out of the light. And I was pretty successful for nearly three and a half years. But as God tells us in His Word, the light will always reveal what happens in the dark...and it definitely did in my life.

The last correlation that I made between my life and closets were the secrets. Because closets are small, closed spaces, they are an easy place for secrets. My dad hid some of his pornography in his closet. I'm not sure if it was there to keep it a secret from mom...or from us boys. My folks kept all of their private papers in their closet as well...including the papers that would reveal that my sister actually had a different father than my brothers and I did. I've heard stories where people will sneak into a closet at a party for a quick kiss...or more...because they don't want to be seen by their spouses.

For me, I think this last relationship is the most powerful. My life was so full of secrets! Some of them, I didn't even recognize for a long time. Things that happened to me as a boy that I was too ashamed (or afraid) to tell anyone. My feelings about trust that I simply didn't understand. My confusion over sexuality and my struggle with appropriate feelings of affection for other males. So many secrets that were so easy to keep hidden in my own little closet.

But through my writing, the closet is getting broken down. The door has been opened and taken off its hinges so that pure light can enter. It is still working to penetrate some of the deepest corners of my closet, but it is slowly getting there. And for me, the darkness is passing away to reveal a life of hope...and purpose...and truth.

Photos from Flickr

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Cherished Moments!

It seems every trip, it happens! I'm never sure when it will occur. It might be early in the morning...just the two of us with everyone else asleep. Or sometimes, it will be in the evening when Walt is upstairs watching football or a Blazer's game. But the one thing that I can always count on is that it WILL happen.

Five years ago, I would have hated it. Probably done most anything to try to avoid it. I would have slept in late until everyone else was up. Or I'd feign tiredness and rush off to bed. Or, and sadly this is the most likely...I'd sit there and listen, and simply lie through my teeth, silently praying that it would be over soon. This event that might be so terrible? Simply talking.

I visited my sister and her husband this weekend and had a wonderful time. As always, I was spoiled rotten with great food and an abundance of love. Usually, I even get to win at cards, but that didn't happen this trip. But the talk my sister and I had that has become a tradition of sorts. Walt was out mowing the lawn and Toby was out resting after a long walk and swim down to the river. That left Debbie and me about an hour and half to sit around the kitchen table to just talk.

I've come to cherish these conversations. Both of us simply seem to be able to talk about nearly everything and anything. Personal things that I don't share with many people...and that I never shared with my wife when I was married. Fears. Dreams. Anxieties. Advise. Sometimes...perhaps even a rebuke (I know I've received them, I'm not sure I've given one yet). For some, this wouldn't seem like such a big deal, but for me it's a major milestone. I simply am no longer afraid to have "real" conversations with the people that I love.

One of the benefits of travelling the 120+ miles each way to my sister's is the time I have alone to think and contemplate and reflect on my way home. My sister has revealed her heart to me over the past year and half, and during that process...has revealed her vulnerabilities. I know how hard that is to do. You only do that with those that you have genuine relationship with and trust completely.

As I drove home, getting off the freeway and travelling the back highways as much as possible, I thought a lot about our family today. And it saddened me as I thought about the relationships...or lack thereof...that we have with each other. I had to start by looking at myself in the mirror. For most of my married life, I had detached myself from most of my family...especially my sister and my younger brother. I really didn't have any good reason and I don't believe it was intentional in an attempt to hurt either of them, but I didn't work at building or maintaining a relationship with either of them. And I know that they were both hurt by my insensitivity.

My life has changed dramatically in the past five years and I have been touched and amazed at the way each of my siblings have reached out to me to give me love and support. I have to honestly say that at first, I wasn't very receptive, but none of them gave up. And now, by the grace of God, my heart has been softened to the point where I cherish the relationships that I now have. They are so unlike any that I have had in the past.

The most significant difference is that I understand that I don't need the relationships to be whole, but they help to make me whole. I don't need the relationships to know that I am loved, but they help me to feel loved. I don't need the relationships as my only way through a tough time, but they help me to make it through. I don't need the relationship, but I'm so glad that I have them.

I don't really know if I truly understand why at this point in my life, I've decided to reach out and re-establish these relationships that I had been so careless about for so many years. There are things about each of my siblings that I struggle with...things that I wish were different somehow. But call it maturity (or simply the wisdom that comes with old age), but the differences aren't that important any more. I no longer try to expend my energies trying to change any of them...because it would be a fruitless exercise, and who's to say I'm right in the first place. I simply want each of them to know that I love them and want them to know that I'm here for them when they need me.

As I drove up the wooded highway through Bucota and Tenino and Rainier, my heart had a longing and a hope. It sounds simple, but I know the difficulty below the surface. That hope? That all of my family would find restoration in the relationships between each of us. To put the hurts and the anger and the sense of betrayal and the lack of understanding behind us, and do what God created us to do and commanded us to do...love one another. Not in words, but in the way we interact with one another...the way that we relate with one another.

I know that for me, it has to start with me. I know I've taken a few steps in the right direction and I'm learning to believe that when one of my siblings "hurt" me in some way, that it wasn't intentional. I'm learning that one of the best ways that I can show my love for each of them and work at building my relationship with them is to listen...and talk...and be gently honest in everything.

I don't know where the next one will occur. They can't be planned, because it will never be as good. But, I know it's coming...and I look forward to what I'll hear, and what I'll say...and the strength that it will bring to our relationship.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

On the Brink of the Abyss

I find myself thinking about those days...and nights...


Tap...tap...tap. Tap...tap...tap...tap...tap

The sound of my fingers flying across the keyboard of my laptop. Too many times, Paula hadn't been out of the house more than five minutes before I had hooked the computer up, plugged it into the phone jack, hooked up the box that would alert me to any incoming calls and settled onto the bed for a full night spent in the chat rooms. And I mean FULL night. On many occasions, it would be 5:00 AM by the time I closed the computer so I could get an hour of sleep before I head back to work.

As I reflect back on those days, I can still remember the pull toward that place...a place that ended up being darker than the blackness of a deep cave. It was like I could hear the voices calling me.

"Josh...come chat with me."

"Danny, where are you? I thought you'd be online tonight."

"Dammit Conner...come on. Get your butt online so we can talk."

I had so many names, I couldn't keep them all straight. So many friends, I would get confused about who I was chatting with and say something that simply didn't make sense. So many lies!!! At times, I wish I could tell everyone of the people that I chatted with what a fake I was. How sorry I am if I hurt them in any way. How dangerous it is to pretend to be someone you're not. How probable it is that if you get too close to the edge of the abyss, you will fall in.
That's what I did...I fell in. And like a blind man walking along a narrow path, I never saw what was coming. In fact, I was so confident in myself and how well I was hiding what I was doing from everyone who cared about me, it never occurred to me that the FBI might be the one that caught me. In my blindness, I never thought that was even a remote possibility.

But I'm slowly discovering why I was so blind. I was in need of a relationship that I couldn't find any where else. They say that if you isolate a person (such as solitary confinement), he will eventually go insane. And if possible, he will do anything to find a relationship, even create an imaginary one.

In the year 2000, Tom Hanks made a movie called "Castaway",that was a box-office hit. In it, he plays a character whose plane crashes on an isolated island. He finds himself there all alone for four long years. Eventually, not able to tolerate day after day alone, he creates a friend to talk to. A volleyball named "Wilson" (after the brand name stamped on the ball). He becomes so attached to his "friend", that when it gets lost, he becomes exceedingly distressed. In the natural, it doesn't make sense to make friends with a volleyball, and believe that it is human and that it can actually carry on a conversation with you. But one of the reasons I think the movie was so popular was because many of us can identify with that kind of lonliness.

Thankfully, I was never that alone. But I'm coming to recognize that at times, I felt extremely alone...even when surrounded by other people. Even when people that I cared for talked to me and spent time with me. I would find myself looking for something more, and when I discovered the chat room, I found myself like a piece of iron being drawn to a powerful magnet.

Tap...tap...tap.

Tap... tap....tap.

All night long, my fingers cramping. My eyes red and bloodshot. A chat over....searching for the next person. It didn't matter who they were...as long as they would talk to me. As long as I could believe they were who they said they were. No matter that I was lying through my teeth to each of them. If I got any indication at all that they weren't a teenage boy, they were history! And I wasn't too kind about telling them how I felt about them lying to me and deceiving me. How blind could I be! I hated them for being exactly what I was!


There were times when I was on the edge of that abyss and my foot slipped. I could feel my stomach up in my throat as the fear overwhelmed me. But I would always catch myself. Get my feet back underneath me. Tell another lie to explain away why I was home late from work. Another lie about why I didn't answer the phone. Another lie about how great the football game was when in fact I was on my computer in my office chatting. I always caught myself. I never got too close. I was like Boris in the James Bond movie "GoldenEye", whose famous last line was "I am invincible!" He thought he had made it...but ends up frozen stiff when a vat of liquid nitrogen explodes on him.

But like Boris, I wasn't invincible. I got too close to the edge of the abyss too many times and eventually fell so deep I couldn't lie my way out of it. Sometimes, I wonder if I'll ever go looking for that abyss again. I know how dangerous it can be...and I know how tempting it can be.

But the truth is, I don't think it has the same attraction any longer. I am so much more alone now than I ever was during that season of my life. I have literally no intimacy. And I'd be a liar if I said I never got lonely. But that need for a relationship isn't as strong as it once was. Probably because I've found relationship with One who is always with me, no matter what. He will always listen when I talk to Him...and if I am willing to listen, He will talk to me. Sometimes, just simply talk. He's led me away from the edge of that abyss onto much more solid ground. My prayer is that I remain there in His presence.


Photo from Flickr

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Quest!

Why is it that when you're in the middle of something, it's always so hard to see, but when you gain some distance...and actually look, it is so obvious? I had that kind of "aha!" moment this week and I wasn't even really looking all that hard.

It really all started when I was just a little kid. It's naturally, really. We all look for it. Some find it, but sadly I believe many don't. I'm talking about validation. Even before we can talk, we learn that if we make enough noise, someone will notice and give us approval. It's usually mom, but at least we get a response. In a simple sense, that's all validation is. But I've discovered this past week that I spent nearly my entire life looking for it in all the wrong places.

I read a book recently (for about the 5th time) that brought some real clarity to me. The author states that validation (at least for boys) needs to come from their father. And that validation really needs to come before the age of 12. I grew up in a house where that validation was never given. Not to me. Not to my sister. Not to my brothers. It simply wasn't offered. I'm not blaming my dad...I'm not sure he was ever validated himself, or if he even knew how. The simple truth is that it never happened for me. So I sought it elsewhere.

At first, it was from my brothers and sister. I wanted to be noticed in a good way. But the reality is, they were simply kids just like I was. I didn't validate them and they didn't validate me. In fact, the opposite more than likely occurred. I felt different...a lisp, big ears, so ticklish I'd cry (Geoff loved that), unattractive...so I found ways to hide instead. So I sought it elsewhere.

As I entered school, I looked for validation from new friends. That seemed to last for a while, but it seemed that the friends would always end up leaving. Not necessarily because of me. Most of them simply moved away. But it impacted my self confidence and I found it more and more difficult to try to make friends...at least really close friends. I always had people that I called friends and my drinking exploits made me fun to be around I guess (it's always fun to watch a guy "shotgun" a can of beer under 3 seconds). But it didn't take long to become apparent, even to me, that I was being noticed for the wrong reasons. So I sought it elsewhere.

The next stop was sex. It didn't really matter what kind it was. Pornography. Masturbation. Intercourse. It didn't even really matter who it was with. There was always a genuine "high" that came with the sex and the relationships, but it never seemed to last. Like a drug, I would want to find something a little more exciting...move it to a new level. So I sought it elsewhere.

Like too many men, I became a workaholic. I tend to be a perfectionist by nature and I found myself always ending up in a position of responsibility. And as I worked hard there, I would move up to a higher position. Then a higher position. It seemed no matter what job I had, my eyes seemed to begin looking at "what might be next". Although I loved my job(s), I was always lured to the next level. It wasn't giving me the validation that I was so deeply craving, though I didn't realize it. So I sought it elsewhere.

Midway through my life, I met the most incredible woman I've ever known. She was beautiful, gentle, giving, loving...everything that I had ever imagined in a woman. And deep down, I believe she was out of my league! She had way too much going for her to be interested in a guy like me. But I was wrong. She was totally, deeply in love with me. And we got married and spent 15 wonderful years of marriage.

But then something happened...and I don't know what it was because it wasn't a "real" thing that happened. In every way, it seemed that she validated me. She encouraged and praised. She treated me so much better than I ever thought I deserved. She loved and nurtured. But for unfathomable reason, it wasn't enough. So I sought it elsewhere.

I found myself alone in a motel room, surfing the internet...looking at pornography. I made a choice that I still can't explain to go into a chat room (I'd never been in one before) and started to chat with a 15 year old teenager in Georgia. As it turned out, it was curious about boys...and something in me changed. It was like after nearly 30 years of sometimes confused sexuality, there was someone else who shared those feelings. And we talked. And then I discovered there were hundreds of guys in chat rooms who were willing to talk about things I'd never shared with anyone before. And I believe that maybe I felt somewhat validated for the first time in my life...in a different way than ever before.

And then it happened. My life collapsed. The chat rooms ultimately included illegal pornography and it led to my arrest. And during the dark months after my arrest before prison, it became so clear what a fantasy I had been living. I was seeking validation from "invisible" people who mostly likely weren't who they claimed to be. And they never really, truly validated me. So I sought it elsewhere.

It seemed there was no where else to turn for what I was needing so desperately. I had searched everywhere to be noticed for who I am but in the process, I tried to be someone that I wasn't. I tried to be whoever I needed to be with whoever I was seeking validation from. And then He found me. Ironically, He had been there all the time. I had simply never looked to Him for my validation. I won't necessarily blame myself for that...I didn't really know Him and I'd never tried to get to know Him. I didn't know I was supposed to.

But during the darkest time in my life, my true Father revealed Himself to me and gave me what I had been searching my entire life for. He has shown me who I am as He created me...including my imperfections. What I wanted to hide my entire life, I can accept now as a beautiful part of who I am. I know who I am...and I'm OK with that. I finally feel complete. So I no longer need to seek...I've found my validation. And now, I can hopefully begin to restore the relationships that I left shattered in my wake as I journeyed through my life on this quest.

Photo from Flickr

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I Would Have Been a Dad!

I never know where my triggers may come from or what might spur a memory. But they seem to come nevertheless. I had such an occasion during with my treatment group this week. One of the men in the group shared how he was coming to grips with the anger he had for his wife who had three abortions before they were married. He went on to share that he had been close to several women as he was growing up who had abortions themselves (not of his child) and how it had changed his relationship with them. He admitted that part of it all had to do with jealousy...both with his girl friends from his youth as well as with his wife.

As he shared, it brought a memory back that had receded deeply within the creases of my consciousness. It took me back to 1983 and the memory wasn't a good one. I was dating a woman that I had pretty serious feeling about...at least serious for me. She wasn't my "first love", but I figured she was a woman I could spend the rest of my life with. My family liked her and she seemed to like them and fit in with them well. We dated for well over a year and spent a lot of time together and had become sexually intimate early in our relationship.

By the summer of '83, we had become pretty "comfortable" in our relationship, and as I reflect, I really wasn't a very good boyfriend. I know that I took her cooking and nurturing for granted and never really did anything very special for her. I guess she realized that too. And is often the case in life, she met someone who knew how to treat a woman and swept her off her feet.

I remember the conversation (now) like it was just the other day. We were sitting on the couch in her apartment and we were talking about her getting ready to travel to Australia to visit her dad. I'm not sure how, or why, she brought it up but out of the blue, she told me that earlier that spring, she had an abortion...and I had been the father.

I was totally speechless! It took me a few moments to grasp what it was she had just told me. I had gotten her pregnant and she never told me...and I was totally clueless. And instead of telling me and allowing me to be a part of the decision about our child, she thought the best decision was to abort the baby and move on with her life.

After simply sitting there on the couch for what seemed like an eternity, I reached over and held her, and told her how sorry I was that she had to go through that by herself. She told me that she hadn't been alone...that a "friend" had been there with her. I didn't ask her why she didn't tell me or why she didn't allow me to be a part of the decision. I didn't ask her who the "friend" was or why she didn't consider me a good enough of a friend since we had been sleeping together for over a year by now. I simply apologized...and cried...and held her.

Our relationship was essentially over at that point. When she got back from Australia, everything had changed. As school started again in the fall, we spent less time together and she was soon receiving flowers at school from a new "friend". We remained friends, but we never talked about the abortion again.

As I sat in the small room with my treatment group, I reflected on how I had reacted to the news of the abortion more than 25 years earlier. I had done what I had done my entire life. I had accepted that it was OK for others not to tell me the truth about things that were important in my life. I had accepted that it was OK for others to make decisions about my life without asking for my input. I had accepted that it was OK to be less than honest if it meant that truth might be hurtful.

And then I thought about what had really happened. Someone else had murdered my baby and I hadn't been asked if it was OK! I had conceived a life that was snuffed out and never given a chance to breath fresh air into his or her lungs. I was going to be a father and I was never going to get a chance to hold my own baby in my arms. And as I thought about what I had allowed to happen without explanation, I got angry. I was angry with myself for not being a man enough to confront the situation 25 years ago. And I was angry that something had happened to me during my life that I had believed that it was more important to bury my feelings instead of speaking honestly from my heart. Strangely, I was never angry with her. And that makes me angry.

My wife Paula and I never had children of our own. I was 30 and she was 35 when we got married, and I know enough about biology to know that the risk of genetic defects in the baby and risk to the life of the mother with older pregnancies was great. She had three beautiful kids that came to love me as their own dad. We now have four beautiful grandbabies that I got to hold in my arms within minutes of their births. I know first hand what I lost when that baby was thrown away 25 years ago.

And the pain in my heart is real...and feels fresh. I'm sure part of the reason is the fact that I can't hold my grandbabies any more and won't be able to be around them for I don't know how long. My niece is having a baby in two weeks and I'm not sure I will ever hold him in my arms.
I'm not sure how exactly, but I know my life would be different today if the baby would have been born. One thing I do know for certain though is that I would have been a dad.

Photo from Flickr

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Hanging on by a Thread

I don't often get visions, so no one was more surprised than I was as I was resting this afternoon that a picture continued to come to my mind. It was the image of a spider, hanging from a single thread. There was no web in the vision, just the solitary spider and the gossamer thread of silk that it clung to. And in my spirit, I knew it was more than just a simple picture or thought...it was something from God.

God has been speaking to me a lot in this past week. And the message has been a consistent one. I know there are some who would say that we find what we're looking for when we feel that God is talking to us, to the continuity of the message resounded clearly, day after day, and it was culminated today with the vision. His words..."don't fear" and "have faith".

I know from experience that it is easier to say that I have faith and that I'm not afraid than it is to actually live it. Three years in prison will test any man's faith. And no matter how "minimum" the security is at a prison, they are still not safe places. There is a reason to be afraid in that dark place. But when you have received a promise from God, and you believe that promise...and God fulfills that promise, faith is strengthened. That's where I am.


Through devotional after devotional this past week...through messages on the radio and in church...through the words of song and article, God has told me not to be afraid. He is in control of all things. "Trust me", He says. "Remember", He reminds me. "Have faith", He challenges me. And then in His love, He sends me a vision to reinforce His promise to me.

As a former biology teacher, I know a little bit about spiders...and other creepy/crawly things. Unlike many people, spiders don't bother me. In fact, I had a pet tarantula spider for more than five years that I kept in my classroom. At times, I would take the big, hairy creature and allow him to walk up my arm and across my back and back down my other arm. It got quite a reaction out of the kids as they watched this spider that invokes fear in so many simply walk on my bare, susceptible skin. They would also watch in amazement as Gladys (the spider) would catch crickets that I had placed in her cage and paralyze them with her venom and then "tie" the cricket up with her silk. (Every time I watch "Lord of the Rings - Return of the King" and watch the giant spider wrap up Frodo with her silk threads, it reminds me of Gladys and the crickets).


Different kinds of spiders use there silk in different ways. Some, like Gladys, simply tie their prey up with the silk. Others, like Charlotte (from "Charlotte's Web") spin intricate webs that unwary creatures fly or fall into. But other spiders use a single of strand of their silk (called a gossamer) to float from place to place. Some spiders have been know to travel more than 50 miles this way. But the silk of all spiders have one thing in common...it is incredibly strong. In fact, it is stronger than steel itself.

The picture God gave me was of that spider, hanging onto their single strand of silk, floating on the wind. It doesn't matter where the wind takes the gossamer...and its passenger the spider. What is critical is that the spider hangs on to the thread. For me, the thread is the promise...the faith, that I have in God that I can trust Him through difficult times. And it is stronger than any problem that I might face.



There is a lot of uncertainty in my life right now. The business that I work for is on the brink of collapse...looking to reorganize through bankruptcy. I really don't know right now whether I will have a job next week...or even tomorrow. And in an economy with literally hundreds of thousands out of work, the probability of a convicted felon easily getting a job is not high. But, I'm not anxious. I'm not fearful. In truth...I'm prepared. Not financially, but spiritually and emotionally for whatever happens.

God has spent considerable time leading me through the wilderness and strengthening me every step of the way. He has allowed me to fail and He has lifted me up when I've fallen. He has never asked me to be perfect...because He knows that I can't be. He's never asked me to give more than I'm capable of giving Him...because He accepts all that I give Him from my heart. He only asks one thing from me...to continue to hang onto that thread of faith that He has given me. Like the spider, it's enough to take me where ever the wind of the Holy Spirit carries it.


Photo from Flickr