Tag Archives: love

Moving past lost while short of found

“Man is the strangest of all animals. He is the only one who runs faster after he has lost his way.” — Rollo May

I expected to arrive. I pulled a corner on the emotional road map of my life and expected to see this figurative place to pull into and get off the road. A long road trip over. I thought I’d arrive and sigh a contented sigh.

Until the truth dawned. I was not where I wanted to be. I was the opposite of arrived. Lost.

My red-rimmed eyes pinched as if somehow grief had crowded out their normal occupancy in my skull. My head felt crowded, like when visitors are sleeping on your floor with suitcases strewn about. Visitors usually arrive invited. The imposition becomes a temporary exchange for the pleasantness they bring. Instead, Grief had arrived without an RSVP.

“Just who the hell let Grief in?” I demanded, the obnoxious lump in my throat leaving skid marks on my voice box.

I needed to move around a bit. There was no room for me within me.

Fresh air. Sunshine. Sweat on the lower back. Camera poised at the ready determined to see something. Anything. Look anywhere expect in there where all the churn churned and churned. Except I didn’t really click the lens. With the menu of life all around me, my taste buds were bland and pasty filled with indifference to anything of flavor.

“Direction is so much more important than speed.”

My spiritual director posted this on social media. They have a way of pissing me off without even noticing it.

Surprise. No matter how fast you move when lost, it’s difficult to enjoy anything other than being found.

****

 

I’ve come to grips with me a bit since then. I chased Grief out with a broom. The dust motes of it remained behind.

I am a sojourner who dreams of home. It’s a discontented travel, one that misses the strides in search of the destination. My spirit wanders, while my mind talks trash. My gut clenches and wags an angry fist about how fucked up it is to be caught in the middle.

Can’t we all just get along, I wonder.

And then She speaks up.

“You have what you need. I have not deprived you. But only you can decide to see it or not see it,” God says.

I wince at a stern voice.

Well… hell, I think. That blows. Once again, I’m the fucking problem all along.

Memory plays tricks. Remember this? Remember when? Like watching an old movie, you feel something vague but sweet as you recall life’s finer moments that you want back. Instances of intense intimacy when every sentiment is shared with another, when feelings expressed are joys not burdens, when every touch is electrified not cloying, when every pain is dulled the by the light of the other’s eyes that look at you that way, the way that makes you feel immortal.

This is not false sentimentality or flaccid Rom-Com prose. No, we mock what we don’t know. This could be the glimpse across to the Other Side where our full humanity meets the aspiring divinity of another. It is rare and dangerous and wholly holy, a time of transcendent coupling when the sentimentalist in me believes he can hear the angels sing.

Life can only be lived in the present tense. Memories come along for the ride. Like unexpected emotion, they clutter up the living room of the soul. Not badly all the time. Sometimes they fall in place, but I still think it best not to leave them strewn about.

The present tense feels a bit lost. Found seems still out there under a blanket of Karl The Fog. But I’ve slowed down. I’ve tried to rediscover direction instead of pace.

I’ve given this wandering about of mine a different name than “Lost.” I’m calling it “today.”

Today is fine. And so am I.

Easter touchstones in my long road to redemption

In this seven-year work of grace and redemption in my life, God has used Easter as a powerful touchstone along the way. I spent the most significant Easter of my life running a personal half-marathon and in fasting the day before my release from prison rehab. Everything I thought God was doing my life was wrong. I could never have predicted the arc of suffering and spiritual work that lay ahead, and that too was grace. Had I known, I may have just surrendered and quit the journey, u-turning back into a bottle of ego and self. But that’s a story for another Easter. This Easter, I celebrate the one before that one. A dark day brightened by a visitation from a humble man of God who I’m blessed to call my friend. In that visitation, God visited me as well, and I re-opened my heart to what God may want from me in this life. This is an excerpt from a book I will soon be releasing on EffinArtist.com.  I wish you a blessed Easter and ears tuned to what the Spirit of God is doing in your blessed life.

*An Easter meditation

My close friend Mike is a conservative. I’m a liberal. Yet we don’t clash over our faith. We celebrate it. It’s why he’s like a brother to me, or, at least, one of a gajillian reasons and why I am like a brother to him.

We were both athletic in our heyday. We’re both driven. We both work with a passion to succeed. I trash talk. I can’t bait him to return the fodder, even though it’s far more his culture as a black man than it is mine. Every time I jab at him he says, “Oh man,” Eyes rolling as a huge smile lights across his face. “Oh man. We’ll see about that. Yes, we will.”

He just won’t take the bait.

A couple of times in the years I’ve known him, I heard him gently suggest I should take a look at my pride. It can trip you up, he’d say.

I’d shirk it off. Pride to me was thinking you’re better than you are. That’s not exactly my thorn of the flesh. I felt confident in my skills and comfortable when others had skills different or better than mine. Ambition shouldn’t be confused with pride, I thought. And it shouldn’t. But he was talking about pride, not ambition, not confidence, not esteem. I should have listened.

Because the next time we talked about it was when Mike came to see me through a visitation window behind bars.

For eight months I had been smashing my head against those walls that hemmed me in. Every ounce of the make-up that is me fired furiously against my powerlessness. A born problem-solver couldn’t solve anything. Anything. And in that conflicted state I grew weary. In the weariness, I opened my ears to the spiritual truths I’d long ignored. In my ears, I heard Mike’s voice. “Be careful brother. Be careful.”

 

As he came to see me we sat across from each other, a glass wall dividing us. He smiled that huge smile. We picked up our phones.

“How did you know it was my pride?” I asked before we even said hello.

He was speechless. Then he laughed. Then he said, “God is good.”

“Yes,” I said “He is he’s pretty tough too. Believe that.”

Mike just shook his head and then looked in my eyes.

“You’re doing good. I can see it.”

“I am. Barely”

Before he left, he vowed to do anything I needed to get on my feet when I get out.

“What is your goal?” he asked. “What do you want to do? I’ll help you.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Let me think about it.”

And I did. Back locked in my cell, I meditated on the question. I breathed it in and out during yoga over and over. I sifted my thoughts. I’ve always just wanted to write books. I wanted to be a daily person of calm for my children. I wanted to be with my wife every single night when my head hit the pillow. This was still what I wanted.

Then I tried to listen. “What is my goal?” I asked.

I recalled a memory verse I learned at 16 years old. It had a tune to it that I recalled. I couldn’t, at first, recall the verse. I took a guess and flipped to Micah. It was right there, where I had left it so many years ago. I picked it up and breathed it in and out the rest of the week.

Mike came back to see me the very next day. Easter Sunday.

“What are you doing here?” I asked. “Why aren’t you in church with your family?”

He spread his hands wide.

“This is church,” he said into the receiver, looking at me through glass. “You are my family.”

I felt my throat grow tight. He noticed and tried to make easy conversation. I cut him off.

“I know my goal,” I said.

He nodded, go on.

“Micah 6:8, ‘He has shown thee, oh man, what is good and what the Lord requires of thee. But to love Mercy, and to do justly, and to walk humbly with thy God.’”

I could hear that faint crackley, echoey sound that makes visits like these difficult and distant. But this silence transcended the thick glass and the circumstance. This silence allowed God to join our visit, to celebrate Easter Sunday with us.

We didn’t know it, but a lot was born that Easter Sunday. I began my rise from the dead. That alignment of priorities opened the way for God to begin a new, terrible, necessary, painful refinement in my life. Exactly one Easter later I fasted for 24 hours, preparing to leave prison. I thought a new day was about to be born, and I guess it was. But it wasn’t what I had in mind. I was banned from seeing my wife on my release. I was put in a difficult trans-leave program with the odds of success stacked against me. Little did I know it, but I’d return to prison, I’d do the entire sentence all over again without having committed any new crimes, still paying a long, difficult, extreme price for my pride.

But it took all that to learn something of humility that Mike suggested I learn years ago. It took all that to learn fully you have to confront your pride. It took all that for me to align my life with God’s plan, to learn to walk humbly. It took all that for me to accept this new phase, to break through my unwillingness to serve, to let the vision of Criminal U, of service, of reconciliation and reform, to emerge. It took all that for me to find this path.

Finally, Mike broke the silence.

“Yes,” he said “Yes. That’s a good goal.”

It was, one I once believed in. If only I hadn’t left it behind so many years ago. Thank God for a brother like Mike that helped me find it.

Dream big. Live well. Be a success. But always, always, check yourself. Confront your pride. It truly does go before a fall.

Highs and lows of historic SF pride

By Montana Yaley
aka The Youngest One

On June 26, 2015, gay marriage was legalized in all 50 states. I read the news and expected a joyous occasion for all. That was not the case. A long, wonderful, emotional, anxious, weekend ensued.

My parents have raised me to be accepting of all people. I am so thankful to have been taught to love and not to hate. I guess many others were not taught these lessons. On June 27, I noticed all the hate toward gay marriage and to the LGBT movement in general, especially after we posted this celebratory picture of me and my dog. It didn’t take long for people to express their discontent.

Montana

The hate was not directed toward to me. Still, it haunted me. And surprised me, but not in one of those good “yayy, cool” surprises, but in the “ugh, crap, ouch,” surprises. People I knew who I thought were accepting of others were, in fact, not. The message I kept reading on social media was “hard times are coming.” What?! I thought hard times were finally coming to an end.

The stress from reading all the hate caused me sorrow on what should have been a happy day. I don’t understand how LGBTQIA (or anyone different from the so-call “norm”) could handle all this intense, persistent bullying.

The next day–June 28– was Gay Pride Parade in downtown San Francisco. My anxiety grew to the point I had panic attacks. I was sure there would be some sort of hateful protest relating to religious beliefs that God says marriage is only for a man and a woman, which honestly I think is a load of crap because the Jesus I love and admire loves us all! Anyway, the parade started off with the Dykes on Bikes. As it proceeded I took a break from thinking about all those horrible words swirling on social media and looked around me.

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I opened my eyes to what seemed to be a whole new world, a world that is filled with nothing but love and happiness and acceptance.

People were proud to be weird and gay and different. Laughter filled my ears and joy spilled into my heart as people screamed “love wins” and “love conqueering” (a clever play on words).

Gay Pride is a celebration that allows everyone to be whoever they really are or whomever they want to be.

I wish that people who don’t agree with the LGBTQ or any minority would attend a pride parade because I truly think it would open their eyes to a love they have never seen before. Pride rooted out all the anger in me.

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And I won’t stop fighting until equality is not just legal but accepted. I guess what they say is really true… Love Wins… Always.

eds. note: In respect for their privacy, the Bride and I don’t often write about the four people who are our best friends, our pride and joy and the foundation for most of what we think and do with this crazy life of ours: our kids. Our oldest–we call her The Mayor– is a frequent commentator and participant of this site. Recently, The Youngest One, the author of this post, has joined us in acts of volunteerism like planting trees for the urban forest, which led to her being dragged onto this blogosphere. Today’s post represents her own contribution of her own volition, to chronicle a moment of history.

“I don’t know why this is affecting me so much,” she told us.

“Because you’re human,” we said. “And, God uses our emotions to stir us into action.”

We hope you enjoy this post as much as did.

Bent against the wind: seize the moment of love

This world is a difficult place. A constant complaint against God, the prosecutorial argument made, is “how can a benevolent God allow _____ to occur.” The list that fills the blank is long and gruesome and sad. We can’t dismiss the suffering. We can’t dismiss the winds of hate, violence, intolerance and cruelty (often done in the name of our various gods) that bends us inward set against the world in a grim lifelong slog.

But we also can’t dismiss the sun that peaks in and warms us, the random acts of kindness, the way the love of another fills our hearts with the power of possibility and hope.

I have no idea why suffering is part of our experience (a necessary part, according to most religious traditions) because God’s means exceed my human limitations. I only know I’ve seen the love of God in the most unlikely places to know that amid the suffering, God is there too.

That’s the point. God with us. Not a genie in the bottle who makes the world perfect, but a God with us, expressing love amid the hate and peace amid the storm.

If I have two complaints against the Evangelicalism of our day (and I do… more than two, without a doubt) they are these: Evangelicals turn the process of spiritual awakening into an event that can be quantified and counted that often results in an us-against-them ugliness; after that event, the focus often comes down to a set of beliefs that too often leads to self-absortion over selfless love. Like the song from the play If/Then, I hear so much “I, I, I, me, me, me” in Evangelical Christianity I wonder what happened to a suffering Christ who calls us come die to our self right along with him.

We come to God not for what we can get but because we have no choice but to respond to the love She shows us.

Christian writer Frederick Buechner in his book Wishful Thinking said two things about faith in God that would be well to remembered. He said when we act in love, we are seeing what God can do. He also said knowing God is “a process, not an event.”

You can make yourself moral. You can make yourself religious. But you can’t make yourself love.

“We love,” John says, “because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Who knows how the awareness of God’s love first hits people. We all have our own tales to tell, including those of us who wouldn’t believe in God if you paid us. Some moment happens in your life that you say yes to right up to the roots of your hair, that makes it worth having been born just to have happen. Laughing with somebody till the tears run down your cheeks. Waking up to the first snow. Being in bed with somebody you love.

Whether you thank God for such a moment or thank your lucky stars, it is a moment that is trying to open up your whole life. If you turn your back on such a moment and hurry along to business as usual, it may lose you the ball game. If you throw your arms around such a moment and bless it, it may save your soul.

How about the person you know who as far as you can possibly tell has never had such a moment—one of those soreheads and slobs of the world, the ones the world has hopelessly crippled? Maybe for that person the moment that has to happen is you.

It is a process, not an event.

We aren’t supposed to pass the test on the first day. We are supposed to grow in love. “We love because we are loved.” But what if we don’t love?

As people of faith we open ourselves up to our whole human condition and allow a space for God to enter there. Rather than narrow down to a set of beliefs, we are supposed to open up to a vast expression of love, so vast that our thinking changes, our priorities change, our compassion grows, and whole host of other things occur from within that flows out in… love.

When we see that love, wherever it can be found, rather than scrutinize it, can we just applaud it? When we see love expressed, as the Apostle John said, we see God.

A spiritual person is one who doesn’t just unlock the door, but rips the whole thing off the hinges with the biggest welcome mat that can be found set out. Come in out of the wind, we say.

The winds of this life are cruel and those that blame God get no guff from me. I can’t explain it. But, having been loved by God I can do my level best to love in return. Beyond that, I can only say, “I do not know,” confident that the process continues.

Is God a thinker?

When my eyes open each morning its like my brain hears a starters pistol fire. My mind is off to the races.

At times throughout a given day I will find myself stalled, like this slow computer I work on, frozen, eyes staring out at some sort of nothing and my mind does its work without me noticing for a moment a too. I feel in those times how fast my mind races beyond me.

I have often been criticized for “thinking” too much. Yet I often let it fall away, convinced my thinking is part of the best of me.

So it’s little wonder that the most difficult and most necessary part of my spiritual discipline is to slow my mind down and simply try to not think. Mediation is hard, really hard. Yet the more I think the more I realize I need to think less to think better and be better.

For some reason one of my greatest strengths as a person, my ability to think critically and thoroughly about all that which interests me, is a powerful obstacle to my relationship with the Divine.

So as I continue to sift through the detritus of my recent spiritual slump, I return to one of the fundamental parts of who I am. If I am made in God’s image, it seems fair to ask, is a God a thinker too?

On hand it sounds absurd. Of course God’s a thinker right? It’s the one trait more than any other that makes us fully and uniquely human, crafted in God’s image. He had to think all this up in the first place, right?

But on the other… what the hell does God have to think about anyway? She already knows all the answers, right? Wouldn’t thinking for God be sort of like doing the same crossword puzzle over and over and over and never getting a new one?

My identity is fiercely tied to my thinking. So it serves to reason that my ego is also closely tied to the power of my mind. Where the ego goes, I have learned to be wary.

So I have to pause, reset and think some more. Have I made an idol of my brain in a way that blocks God off from my heart?

God is fiercely jealous. Idolatry seems to be the central focus of scriptural laws in the Old Testament. When Saul tries to “out think” God, Samuel calls it witchcraft and forever removes God’s anointing. Jesus seems comfortable with prostitutes, boozers, course talking men, and swindlers, but he has nothing but harsh words for the religious “thinkers” of his day.

So what do I do with these thoughts? Why, of course, I think some more. I think about how I’ve seen truly intelligent, brilliant, wonderful people bereft of the human connection and ability to connect heart-to-heart with another person. I’ve seen dedicated followers of God who have so little love for others. I’ve seen people blessed with beautiful minds have nothing but scorn and elitism for others less fortunate.

Never one to let a good thought lie idle, I think so more. Like Tevye I say, “on the other hand…” I’ve seen far too many believers with their heads checked at the door. All that happy clappy Christianity lacks what Alan Jones in Soul Making called spiritual maturity. And it’s often not harmless. I’ve spoken to too many religiously intolerant who unthinking barf up Bible verses as excuses for abuse, hate, racism, excess and any number of things I think to be wrong.

Clearly God has some thoughts about all of that right? And round my thoughts go, both a sprint and marathon, a restless always of thought that makes me tired just thinking about it.

I often ask The Bride what she’s thinking. She’ll say, “nothing.” I call bullshit. “You can’t think nothing,” I’ll say. She’ll smile and say, “you can’t think nothing, but I do it just fine.”

See when I set out to write this post I set a goal of 400 words. It’s far longer now… typical…

 

Perhaps, just perhaps, I’ve been thinking about this all wrong for a long, long time. For example: go back to St. Paul, one of the truly great thinkers of the Christian faith, who ironically doesn’t list thinking as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit: (Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control). In the great Romans crescendo of Chapters 12 and 13, Paul doesn’t hail his mind, but : “love, joy and peace… and the greatest of these is love.”  The great song of love that follows comes from a most unlikely source, a zealous celibate with vastly limited appreciation of women.

Old Testament prophets usually use emotional metaphors for God’s love, like that of a lover, mother, shepherd and passionate protector. Rarely is our relationship with God defined by how we think about God.

In short, that which makes me most Godlike is also that which so often keeps me from God.

In someways its simple: Too often my relationship with God is in my head while his heart goes untouched by mine for far too long. I become the old adage of the farmer who tells his wife, “I said I loved you when I married you. If I change my mind, I’ll let you know.”

Too often I become the loveless, passion-less, heat-less lover of God who thinks of Her often but embraces her never.

Have you ever been in love? Have you experienced the all-consuming enrapture of that falling off a cliff love for someone? Does it last? Not often, but do we want it to? Always.

And I think God wants it too as well. I think the other side of this life will be a place where love endures with all its thrilling, all-consuming intensity. I know there will be plenty of time for my brain to do its best work in heaven too, but as I pursue the idea of Jesus prayer here “on Earth as it is in heaven,” I realize that this slump is not one I can think my way out of.

Foods — like people — I don’t like turn up just fine

One of my favorite food moments was in Kauai when the personal chef for Ben Stiller came  to our rented house to cook a dinner for us. My only condition was that he couldn’t serve us. He had to teach me. I became his sous chef for the night, still one of the best culinary experiences of my life.

He told me “food is love.”

He also said, there were no bad foods. Nobody should dislike any foods. It’s all about the way the food is prepared and with what combination. Find something to celebrate the food, he said, rather than dismiss it.

I took it to heart. I still cook to say “I love you.” And I still vow to like every food I try, which simply wants to please me and say “I love you back.”

Which leads me to Rhubarb. It was stubbornly on the “dislike” side of the ledger. I couldn’t really find a way to use the stringy, weird tasting stalks in a way I liked. Chunks of rhubarb in pie didn’t appeal to me either. There was no love lost here.

But the color appealed to me. I was determined to find a use. I simply pulverized it. Using a juicer I extracted the flavor with none of the stubborn stringiness. Then I used a remaining stalk for a stir stick. It turned out great. Love flowed.

I am reminded of this challenge whenever I start to dismiss a food. I give it a second chance now. I try to find new combinations to extract its creative beauty. Maybe it’s not a solo act, but can it blend in four-part harmony? Often it takes a different type of preparation to truly embrace the distinctive flavor.

Cinnamon is one such example. I’ve liked it just fine, but never used it beyond a combination with sugar, mostly on pumpkin-type recipes. But it’s health benefits as a true super food appealed to me. I played with it. I discovered what Latinos have known for ages: it goes perfect with chili powder in savory dishes to give a robust flavor that is anything but sweet. Now I LOVE cinnamon. It’s a go-to-spice.

The obvious comparison here is to how we experience people. Those first experiences often set a course of judgement. That one bad taste, one bad circumstance can spoil the flavor of the friendship forever. We move it to from the “love” column to the “hate” with no room for a middle, evolving, creative view.

There are no “bad” foods. What, just what if, there were no “bad” people either?

Find something to celebrate the person, I say to myself, rather than dismiss it.