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 own 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 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 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 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 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. was the one that had most recently defined me.


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 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!