By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
The last week or so has been 'interesting' to say the least, both from a spiritual and personal viewpoint (and sadly, despite walking with Christ since 1988, there are times when I do seem to want to keep the two paths separate!). The image shown is of two paths or roads diverging in a wood (much as my favorite poet in his poem, "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost. In this case, both from what has happened in the spiritual and 'physical' realm, both have seemed to converge and, with apologies to Mr. Frost, "...that has made all the difference."
The week long fast (from food, television, Facebook. I did post some things but did not peruse through at al. No electronic media of any kind other than that required by work...more on that in a bit; all of this combined to heighten my sense of God’s presence in my everyday (man, why not do this on a more regular basis Shook? Talk about an Urkel moment! It seemed easier this year than last, but also more challenging because of another battle that I was in danger of losing at work (and, in actuality, had already lost).
One of our clients there was rather adept at getting inside my head and maneuvering me to do favors for her; things that seemed innocent on the surface, but over time began to push further and further over the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Honestly, it was a big ego lift for this 20-something lady to be hitting on me (even if in my own mind); looking back, it is terrifying to think of how far this could have gone. My surpervisor saw what was happening and warned me (twice!) and on the observed third time, I left them little choice but to terminate me as an employee.
Shame, regret and deep remorse for the loss of what could have been a witness for Christ in that dark place. Instead, I allowed the enemy to subvert me into a trap that is all too common in and out of Scripture. Time spent with Pastor Ethan and my wife began the healing; the Friday night of worship was a catharsis that continued the healing, particularly one song, “I AM a Child of the King” (emphasis intentional)!
Today, while sitting at the bar in Breakthrough Nutrition, an impulse hit me to share with a college student sitting next to me who works some part-time helping out Nick and Blair in the store. I had some cash in my wallet and just felt that she could use it for whatever; to see the expression on her face when I gave it to her let me know that I had ‘heard’ correctly. Leaving right after that, as I walked to the car I sort of remembered hearing the phrase about doing as much good as you can while you can. I could not remember the whole thing or where it came from, so I looked it up:
“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
This idea or compulsion is, pushing me now to do so with my time, talent, as well as finances. I’m not sure why NOW. It could be the looming surgery in February or something else that only God knows about (and I like it that way), but those words seem to me to fit with not only what Ethan has been sharing, but what God has been sharing since, “In the beginning…”
Let’s see what happens.
In our ongoing study through the Gospel of Mark, the last two Sundays have dealt with what Ethan has termed, “Bold Faith.” This past Sunday, the 28th of January, his theme for Mark 11:12-14, 20-25 was “Speak to the Mountain” that dovetailed with what I have been experiencing in the last two weeks or so.
As many of you know who follow my blog, I have been on a journey since coming out of prison that has been rather ‘interesting’ at times. Part of that has been my struggle with PTS (Post Traumatic Stress) from my adventures in the Navy and since. Thankfully treatment with Harbor Reins in Cary (equine-assisted psychotherapy) did much to bring healing; really the only overt sign has been my ongoing hand tremors. I began treatment while still living in the Triangle part of North Carolina, starting several different medications and finally having a neurologist there settle on Primidone. After moving to Asheville with beaches (Wilmington), I continued this treatment, gradually increasing the dosage to the maximum allowed. There were times when with each increase the tremors did seem to subside somewhat, but never for very long. While the tremors persisted despite increasing dosages, I did begin to experience some, at times, dramatic side effects in the way of easily losing my balance. It is to the point where I am unable to ride my bicycle, and it would not be a good thing to have some officer administer a road-side sobriety test to me as I would flunk it stone cold sober.
So, what to do? The tremors were interfering with handwriting as well as typing (word-processing?) with the result that I all but stopped blogging. Additionally, much of my morning devotions and Bible study diminished greatly because I was mostly unable to work the computer based study software. I knew that God wanted me to study (big duh) and meditate on his Word, even continue to blog, but the tremors continued to make it all but impossible. As the days became weeks and months, I noticed that I was always tired and would take frequent naps each day despite having slept for 8 to 12 hours at night! It puzzled me why this was happening until one night while driving home from the USO-NC Jacksonville Center where I volunteer, I ‘happened’ to listen to the Good News Network station on Harker’s Island, specifically to a ministry called Know The Truth led by Pastor Phillip De Courcy. The lesson this particular night came from Jonah 1 and something Pastor De Courcy said was like a Gibb’s slap to the back of my head (if you don’t watch NCIS you won’t understand the reference). He said that this snoring prophet was exhausted enough to sleep through a storm because he was running from God’s will for him. I remember ‘speaking’ to God along the lines of, “Okay, that’s why I’m tired because I’ve stopped blogging and studying, but I held up my shaking hands to the ceiling as if to show God why I’d stopped.
So, what to do? I spent some time praying and speaking with God about this, and it was as though he was waiting for something from me. As with Jonah when he wound up in a rather unconventional berth (first ever sub sailor?) as a result of his disobedience, I cried out to God in anguish. While I don’t think it was bargaining (much), I did ask God to take the tremors away. At that moment, my hands did stop trembling! My surprise (yeah, real faith prayer that) lasted for a bit, then I began dancing around and praising God for his delivering me. Another decision I came to was to discontinue the medication I’d been taking to try and get my equilibrium back (something that is not usually a good idea, going from max dose to nada). No one knew of my decision for over a week (including Kathy); there were times when the tremors would reappear, each time I would pray and ask God to once again deliver me from this barrier to what I believed he wanted of me. Then Pastor Ethan spoke his lesson, “Speak to the Mountain!” I’ve no idea how I managed to remain in my seat; perhaps I was so dumbfounded at this lesson being almost exact reiteration of my previous two weeks.
So, is the struggle with tremors now over? No, not really. They are much less noticeable now than before, and I continue sans medication. Interestingly enough, once I made this decision, my energy level returned to normal enabling me to awaken early each morning to spend time alone with my King and his Word even if I’d stayed up late the previous night. As with other areas of my life, the tremors are a reminder of my weakness and dependence on God. It is not the meds or anything other than God’s sovereignty over every aspect of my life that will enable me to honor him each day in all I say and do.
The journey continues…
Last year while attending a business meeting I had asked someone what the possibility of that company having a position with them for me. Honestly, it was more a proforma kind of request; after almost five years of either being ignored or told my services were not needed, I’d all but given up hope of ever finding meaningful work with any business or company. That this was an organization that did much to demonstrate a willingness to reach unreached populations with health care gave me a small amount of hope.
So, I asked.
Amazingly, the person I spoke with responded in a positive manner. For a moment I did not know how to respond. Over 450 times I’d either heard nothing or a polite dismissal; to have someone in a position of authority tell me that there would be a position for me bordered on the miraculous. It would put me in a position to help those who, like me, were struggling to find a way to live a purposeful life after getting out of prison. Those in the room with me who overheard my conversation were exultant at my finding this possibility; it felt as though my long, the night could be coming to an end.
So, we began plans to look into moving to the Wilmington area to take advantage of this. Over the next few days, it seemed as though one door after another opened and connections made all seemed to confirm that this was happening. In late January of this year, we did move, putting our townhome in Durham on the market. When an offer well above asking price was made less than 24 hours after listing, it seemed yet one more confirmation that we were where we needed to be.
I followed the website for this company daily, checking to see when the position that I had asked about was listed; within an hour of it’s being listed on the website, I had sent in an email to the appropriate person with my resume, cover letter and other material attached. As the weeks went by I continued to hope, but then I learned that interviews had been ongoing for some time, but I had not called. Then, one day when I checked I found the position was no longer there.
How can I understand all that has happened? At times I feel like a plaything, a toy boat tossed about on a pond by the dirt clods some boy is throwing at it. Can I be sure that it is God who is talking to me? Does it not seem presumptuous on my part that the Lord would communicate with this son of Eli? The dream or vision, could it not have been that spicy meal I had eaten or maybe some sour wine I’d drunk? I am no priest or scribe, how can I expect God to speak to me?
Lord, those who laugh at me openly don’t hurt so much, but I grieve at the sneers and whispers about my beloved Mary. Others shake their heads at me when they think I don’t see; am I a fool to believe all that I think you have told me? When she told me that she was with child, my heart stopped, Lord. She of whom I have loved and longed for had been with another! After all, that is what is needful for such to happen isn’t it, Lord? How could I marry her now, but if I publicly confront her, she’d be stoned! Lord, how can I let such happen to my Mary? I still love her, Lord, and I am trying to understand all that is happening. How can I, a simple carpenter who has become a plaything of God?
She looked so beautiful at the betrothal. My breath left me whenever our eyes met; so much promised in a look! How I worked to prepare a home for us, then the whispers began. Mary returned from visiting Elizabeth already showing her condition- and the story she told me! How can such things occur in our simple village? We are not related to the priests in Jerusalem, Lord. We are simple people!
Have I erred in keeping Mary as my wife? The dream I had, what the angel said about her – and the child within her! I would have to be mad to believe it! But when I talked with Mary, the tears in her eyes… Lord, I love her so!
Now, here outside this ….CAVE! Dear God, I would expect such a child to be born in a palace with many attending to Mary. But this filthy place! How can I but wonder where this child came from when we are forced to a hovel such as this to bring a child into the world. God of Israel, help me to understand! Help me to see your hand in all this. How can Messiah be born in such a place?
There! I said it! The Messiah! After all these years of waiting is it really the time we've yearned for, or am I the victim of a hoax? Help me, Adonai to see you in all this. Calm my heart that I may comfort Mary and protect her son. Her son! Is it pride, God, that has me so worked up? Am I jealous of the father of this child? But who is he? What the angel said. How is that possible? Am I, like our father Jacob, wrestling against God? Help me to know what is true, Lord. Calm my heart.
If this child is indeed Messiah, how can I teach him? How does a carpenter raise God’s Son, the King of kings? Lord, every time I accept this, more questions come. What do I do, Lord, to provide for all that will be needed? My shop and my customers are all in Nazareth. How can I hope to begin all over again here when I can’t even find a clean home – such a provider to birth a baby in a cave?
A baby, your Son? Incredible! The Son of God coming to visit us by being born to my Mary? Here? In a stable? Insanity! Dare I really believe this? Dare I not?
This was originally written while I was incarcerated; in it I sought to imagine myself in Joseph's place, how would I react to the events surrounding the birth of the Christ-child? How this man must have wrestled; how many of us still do with the idea of Immanuel entering His creation in such a manner. A blessed and wondrous Christ-mas to all.
In a recent lesson at the Chapel Hill Bible Church, James Abrahamson while teaching on ethics used a quote from the movie, Saving Private Ryan, where the central character asks his wife this question, “Did I live a good life?” A very poignant question in light of how just previously in the movie (a flashback to events in which Ryan was rescued by a platoon led by an officer played by Tom Hanks, of whom most had been killed during the effort to find Ryan) Captain Miller (played by Tom Hanks) lay dying of his wounds, he grabs Ryan and tells him, “Earn it!” referring to the sacrifices of his men who were killed ensuring he would return home.
This hammered me as few things could; I've seen the movie and did not recall either quote, but looking back online saw that these two quotes did indeed occur, the turmoil they have caused within my own heart is beyond description. These two brief sentences seemed to highlight a struggle I've had recently; on one part I recognize that nothing I can do can earn the grace God has given me in Christ, but how to answer the question that the older Ryan asks his wife? Dare I ask that of anyone, even myself?
I did serve in the military; both in the Navy as a nuclear-trained electrician mainly on board a ballistic missile submarine and in the Army Reserve as a field medic while going to school at UNC. My career as a nurse and paramedic were abbreviated by an egregious decision which led to my being incarcerated following my causing a patient’s death in ICU. To many (most it seems considering how I have remained unemployed since my release) that one decision erases all the ‘good’ that I've ever done. As I related this once to a friend, it seems the feeling among the vast majority of folks is “…once convicted, always condemned!”
So, how would I answer the question Ryan asked his wife? How would those who know me answer it? Dare I ask it?
For some time I have served with Our Children’s Place; at times I wonder at the value of that service when surrounded by so many who are successful in their own fields while all that I’ve managed to accomplish is to survive almost 24 years in prison and discover that my professional life is over. One thing keeps me involved with these incredible folks, I have seen first-hand during those 23+years the impact of prison on a family, particularly the children that are bereft of a normal family life.
In some instances the men I met ‘inside’ sired children from several different women, being little more than sperm donors; mostly though there were men struggling with the unforeseen circumstances of how to be a father to their sons and daughters when their interaction with them is limited to the weekly visitation if they are fortunate to be housed in a prison close enough to make this possible. Since becoming involved with Our Children’s Place, my reading on the subject has revealed factors I’d not thought about before; how these children are worse than orphans in many ways.
Society’s response to the orphan is often automatically one of concern and support; go to any civic or religious group and ask for them to support the orphaned child and there is an outpouring of sympathy and care for those children whose parent or parents have died. Their classmates in school, while not really understanding perhaps the loss that has impacted their friends lives, support them and continue to be friendly toward them. It is as if all of society rushes to the side of such children; we want to comfort them, even to the point of adoption as I have seen over and over in many of those I know at the Chapel Hill Bible Church.
The response to a child of a prisoner is almost always very different.
The child whose mother or father is taken from them in such a fashion (in a few cases it may be both parents) is not the focus of society’s support and concern. While perhaps not intending such, we look askance at the child of a prisoner; it is as if we tar them with the same brush we have painted their parent(s) and turn away from them instead of turning toward them. The shame and stigma of having a parent in prison is very real, the cruelty of these children’s classmates toward them is also a reality that they have to deal with on a daily basis and so often those who would want to help do not understand how to do so.
Recently Sesame Street has stepped into the picture to help us understand the plight of these children through a teaching package they have entitled, Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration. In this we meet Alex whose father is in prison and seeks to avoid his friends who talk of having their dads help them with building toy cars to play with each other. In this and the accompanying material, the writers and producers seek to educate us about the challenges that such children face daily; in the case of parents who have been sentenced to life in prison, they are orphans in all but fact as they never again will have a normal life with that parent in their lives.
What can we do to help? I challenge you to go to your local library and ask for the Sesame Street video; watch it to begin to gain an understanding of how the child of the prisoner is an orphan and needs the same support that we provide others in crisis. Contact Our Children’s Place and ask how to become involved in financially supporting their efforts to not only raise awareness of the plight of these orphans, but to bring community resource to bear in providing as normal a life as possible for them.
Not a topic that is comfortable in any context, but especially within the church today. So many teach and/or believe that once you have surrendered your life to Christ that life will be sunshine, lollipops and rainbows everywhere. As with Job’s friends, when someone does not fit that mold, many question the individual’s walk with Christ; accusations flow and fingers point, but how many harbor their own pain, hiding it to prevent others from treating them in the same way?
Thankfully I am in a fellowship whose members do “…come alongside…” the person who is hurting, from whatever source. Still, it is hard to ask for help; when I see others in the body at the Chapel Hill Bible Church who are wrestling with much worse, how can I ask for help when they seem so much more in need of that help? Indeed, one of the men I would go to for counselling is himself struggling with a battle with cancer; what is depression when compared with something that could take his life?
As I related in an earlier blog, with Job I can state categorically that I do know that my Redeemer lives; that He holds onto me is a solace and comfort that is beyond measure particularly now that my strength is all but gone.
A day is coming for all of us in Christ when such pain and confusion will be forever banished; for now, we do struggle and wander in a dark world. I have no answers or expectation of when (if?) this greyness will end, but I do know that I am loved and, as Elisabeth Elliot quoted so many times, “…underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 32:27)
In John Bunyan’s allegorical work, The Pilgrim’s Progress, we follow the trials and ultimate triumph of the main character Christian as he goes from his initial state in the slough of despond to the celestial city. Throughout his adventures (misadventures at times) there are times when those who seem to teach that once saved all your troubles are behind you are firmly repudiated. Indeed, looking at the life of early church fathers such as Paul also seem to deny the nonsense of life as a believer being one of sunshine, lollipops and rainbows.
In recent weeks this thought has been greatly reassuring; to refer to Bunyan’s Christian, there are times when it seems that I still wallow within my own slough of despond despite having many times seeing real evidence in my life of God’s amazing work of grace. Part of my struggle has been a result of my struggle to find meaningful work as well as being able to fit within the body of believers in a way that will benefit the kingdom and enable me to grow as a disciple of our Savior.
At present I seem to have reached a nadir in my walk with Christ; it seems more and more difficult for me to do more than put one foot in front of another, to take the next breath seems all that I can do. My daily reading of Scripture has all but stopped and my prayer life is pretty much nonexistent but for the inarticulate groan of a soul in torment.
Today was a new low; while sitting in the auditorium, listening to the worship team rehearse before the start of the first service, they began going over a song that declares that in Christ we can change the world. Something in me seemed to wither; I could not believe that it was possible for me to do anything to change the world. It seems that the world has left me standing outside with little or nothing for me to do other than keep out of the way. What previously had been a source of joy and refreshment now felt grating and dry, so I left and drove home.
As Job once stated, “…I know that my Redeemer lives…” (Job 19:25 ESV); that is a truth that I can still grasp and am thankful that it is His hand that holds me, not the other way around.
There are many around me that seem in some kind of rush to get somewhere; there have been far too many times when I too have fallen to the lie that a frenetic pace is mandatory in life today. Modern technology regarding transportation, communication and just enabling us to “multi-task” seem to push us to do more in less time than ever thought possible. Hurry, hurry, get it done and move on to the next task or duty; never stopping until we lie in a casket, cold and dead, no longer in a rush to do anything, but far too late to enjoy everything.
I've been listening to Chuck Swindoll in his series on the life of Abraham and over and over again the theme of quietness and being still comes through the teachings and the Scripture cited. God tells us to “…be still and know that I am God..” (Psalm 46:10); there are 26 admonitions of this nature within the ESV, many referring to the same injunction in Psalm 46:10, that we are to cease from striving (the meaning in the Hebrew) and just know, that is revel and rest in the knowledge that we are not in charge, God is.
Since my release in May of 2012, I have at times felt an almost impossible to resist urge to go on to my next application; to rush from one job fair or help meeting to another in the hopes that somebody would give me a chance at full-time, meaningful work and (dare I hope) a career. Why this madness; why do I believe that such would be fulfilling in and of itself? Yes, additional income would be wonderful and much appreciated by our budget (from the French word meaning to have more month than money), but is it necessary?
During this time of enforced idleness I have wasted many hours in frivolous pursuits (the trap of the watching and re-watching of episodes of different programs I like [such as NCIS] or even ‘educational’ programs on National Geographic), all the while just sitting there like a bump on the proverbial log (or tuning into the log). I have sought to justify this inactivity by pointing out my volunteer work with the USO-NC, Our Children’s Place, as well as searching for new venues to put my hours into in the area. All these are great in and of themselves and I will continue in them at some level, but all were causing me to face outward from the One who loves me more than I could understand in this life. Facing away from Him, even for a ‘good’ reason or cause, had me looking into darkness, but His gently persistent manner in speaking to me through such venues as Chuck Swindoll, different programs I’d catch on BBN and especially the teaching I receive on a weekly basis at the Chapel Hill Bible Church has helped me to realize that I can do these volunteer activities without facing away from God. These can and should become a type of ministry and with that outlook I have found a new energy in that work that previously had been little more than a drudgery that I plodded through.
Additionally, with this and other forms of ministry that may be opening to me, I have also begun considering starting a business that will allow me to use my skills as a photographer (novice as they are in comparison to some that have been teaching me) to not only be a help to many of the above cited organizations, but also as a source of income for our family. It’s exciting to see and feel how God is opening my heart and mind to these and other possibilities; I look forward to each day now with a joy that is hard to describe and I especially enjoy sharing my journey with others via this blog and other media.
Thanks for sharing in this and for coming back to this blog; stay tuned, this could really start to get exciting!
Amazing, really, how God can use some of his critters (even humankind!) to teach lessons to His children. Once again I venture into the vaguely disturbing and uncertain area of Cat Theology, or to put it differently, what our cats have once again taught me about my relationship with God.
We have three owners, excuse me, I meant to say pets who are all cats and all female; I seem to be the token male in our household, but that’s a story for another time. They each definitely have their own specific characteristics, but one in particular is the class clown for our family. Spanky. As the image shows, she is a black and white mix with an insatiable appetite for all manner of moist cat food, cheese, tuna, eggs (yeah, that was a surprise to us as well) and many other items (she draws the line at some things, but they are few and far between). We jokingly refer to her as a dat (dog-cat) or other admixture because unlike so many other felines, Spanky will rear up on her hind legs and beg as only a dog can do. She also slobbers (a lot!) when petted, so perhaps there is some boxer in her somehow?
Anyway, I arrived home from the USO-NC Center at the airport ready for a nap (I've been up since 4:50 and arrived at the Center at 6:00, just minutes ahead of 110 British Paratroopers on their way home from Ft. Bragg. The next four hours were, to put it mildly, somewhat hectic, but incredibly rewarding to see the faces of these troops respond to our providing for them not only food, but a place to relax while waiting for their rides home. So, yeah, I was tired when I got home and ready for a nap. Then Spanky jumps on the bed and proceeds to let me know that it is time for me to pay attention to her NOW!
There are many ways a cat has to show affection; purring, head-bumping the object of their affection, rubbing their whiskers on you (‘marking’ you as theirs) as well as others I’ve read about but cannot remember now. Spanky was exhibiting all of the above and more as I lay on the bed trying to sleep. Why all this affection; why was she so adamant about getting my attention? She wants something, pure and simple. Her little mind is so focused upon me as the giver of ‘goodies’ that it is all she cares about and all she is focused upon.
I remember wondering about my relation to God; do I love Him because of His presents or His presence. Yeah, the last few years have been ‘interesting’, but even in the darkest period, the way God continues to provide and bless Kathy and I is astounding. So, what if I was still in prison; what if I was unable to do so many of the things that bring me joy, would I still love Him? Do I pursue Him solely because He can provide or would I love Him if He left me bereft of friends and family.
The answer comes easy to my mind, but part of me hesitates as I struggle to be more honest with Him, with myself and others. All part of growing toward Home, I guess. All part of Cat Theology.