How did I get here?

As I have mentioned in my previous writings, the goal of me sharing my thoughts and feelings is with an eye towards finding my vision for the path I am meant to take in my life.  Certainly there are some things which are a given at this time.  I will continue to be the best father I can for my children and the best husband that I can be for my wife.  But in searching for where or what else I am called to be or do, the future is unknown.  I don’t necessarily have any ideas of grandeur or great purpose, but rather finding where God is leading me and what plans he has laid before me.

“Study the past if you would define the future” – Confucius

So…  In order for me to understand where God is directing my life, I feel I have to know and understand some of the things from my past that have gotten me to where I am today.

Growing up in and around the city of New Orleans (which is predominantly Roman Catholic), I was of course born and raised in a family where both of my parents where brought up in the Catholic Church.  My Grandmother on my mom’s side of the family worked as a librarian at St. Maurice church and catholic school, where all 10 of her children attended.  My sister I believe went to school there for 3 years and somehow I only ended up going there for first grade.  They probably kicked me out for walking the halls of a Catholic school, singing “I’m just a sweet transvestite!  (RE: my previous post titled, Simple Things.)

Like a lot of Catholic families, we seemed to usually only attend church for Easter and Christmas services, and other sporadic times throughout the year.  We were by no means regular church goers, although I did attend CCD classes at St. Mark’s church in Chalmette and received my first communion there.  As I started to get older and question my own faith and beliefs, I never truly felt like I belonged there and truly felt like an outsider just going through the motions.  I am in no way trying to put down or bad mouth the Catholic religion, but it was very clear to me that it was not where I was meant to be.

When I was about 16 years old, my best friend Rob, invited me to an event at the small Methodist church where he and his family attended.  Twice a year, they would have a fund raiser where they sold chicken dinners in the community.  Rob would always complain about having to get up so early and how working the grill would leave him with all the hair singed from his arms.  After mocking his complaints, he dared me to come and help him out so I could see for myself.  The “grill” I spoke of was actually a pit built of cinder blocks that was about 20 foot long with these huge metal frames that were used to cook and flip the chickens.  It was a two person job just to flip the metal frames housing the cooking chicken and he and I were “the flippers.”

It was on this day that I truly believe the footpath to my relationship with God was laid before me.  The whole time he and I were slaving away over the grueling heat of the grill, inhaling smoke and sweating like pigs, I repeatedly had members of the church thanking me for my contribution, telling me how glad they were to meet me and showing me a love that I had never experienced before in a church setting.  From then on, I began attending church service regularly with him and his family and also got involved with the youth group.  For the first time in my life, I felt like God was working in my life and truly accepted Jesus Christ as my savior.

It was at youth group that God provided me an angel to guide me on my spiritual journey and help me through a difficult part of my life.  At this time, my parents had already been divorced for a few years.  My dad had remarried and moved to California and quite honestly I was a confused and scared teenager who needed a guiding hand in my life.  Mrs. Lillian, the volunteer youth group leader, was a voice of reason in all of the confusion, fear and turmoil I was experiencing.   Her compassion and care was nothing less than a mother would provide for her own child and she was almost like a 2nd mom to me.    I will forever be grateful to her for the impact that she had on my life!

In 1993 when I moved Virginia, I was too naive to understand that God was bigger than the church.  Because I didn’t think I could ever find or replace the church family that I’d left behind in Louisiana, I turned my back on all that I had learned in the years before and put a self-imposed ban on my relationship with God.  It wasn’t that I had necessarily lost my faith or changed what I believed in, but for years I didn’t attend church and was at a spiritual stand-still.  This continued until I met the 2nd person that God placed in my life to get me back on my path to him… my wife.

In the beginning of our relationship, my wife was attending college out of state and we had to endure the trials of a long distance relationship.  She attended worship regularly on Sundays at the Lutheran church on campus and on the weekends when I was there to visit, I’d go with her.  This was my foot-hole back into attending church.  Now, even from the very beginning it always amazed me how comfortable she was in her faith was and how easy it was for her.  Even during the time I was regularly involved in the church, I don’t think my faith was ever easy.  She truly inspired me, because I wanted that for myself!

After Jelise and I were married, we started looking for a church to attend in our home town.     We ended up deciding on the huge Methodist church where her mom attended.  Given that the youth group had such a large impact on my life when I was younger, I felt compelled to now return the favor by volunteering my time with youth group as well.  The church had a youth pastor on the staff and she was more than welcome to have the help.  As I look back, those were some of the best times of my life and I still keep in touch with many of those kids today.  The problem however was that I really don’t think I was secure enough or wise enough in my own faith to really be leading them.  I’ve never been much of a bible reader, so my knowledge of the written Word was poor.   I also think that too many times, I was too interested in looking “cool” in the eyes of the youth that I made some poor decisions when it came to being a mentor.

After 3 years, we moved away and started going to the Lutheran church that Jelise grew up in.  However the results were pretty much the same as before.  I was still actively involved in the youth group and loved working with the junior high kids, but don’t know that I always had my sight set on what was truly important.  My work with the youth group was more important to me than actually attending church and although I don’t regret it, I think that I was hurting myself because I wasn’t nurturing my own faith or relationship with God.  Another move, another church, but otherwise things were still pretty much the same.  Only this time, when we arrived there was no youth group and I was thrust into the role of managing the whole thing which is a role I wasn’t ready for.  I managed the best I could for a couple of years and finally felt as though I was growing again in my faith.  In addition to being the youth leader, my status as a stay-at-home dad allowed me to take on a part time job in the church’s daycare.  This however, became the downfall of my relationship with the church.  Because of a personal vendetta and the actions of one particular family I was cursed out, threatened and forced to quit my position.  All the while the church leaders stood by idly and watched the events unfold with not a single care for one of its members.  It was enough to make my wife and I walk away from the church where our twins were baptized.

Somewhere in the midst of all these years, I started to understand that the problem I had was that I was forming a relationship with the church itself and not focusing enough on nurturing my relationship with God.  That’s not to say that I think churches are a bad thing.  I think it’s important to have people who share your beliefs to help you grow and walk together with.  I think where most churches fail however is that they are too focused on the silly traditions of man-made rules in their religion and are far to exclusionary towards people of other denominations, even if their core beliefs are not that different.  One of my favorite sayings is that “Spiritual people inspire me, religious people frighten me.”

For just about over a year now, we have been attending a new church in the Winchester area, Grace Community.  Given our previous experiences in the Methodist and Lutheran churches, the first time we attended service at Grace was a little bit of a culture shock.  Could a church service really be this simple?  Gone were the traditional hymns… the rigid yet unspoken dress code… the stand up, sit down, kneel  routines… the ritualistic prayers like the apostle’s creed, the Lord’s prayer, etc…   Instead, the service consisted of a few songs by an amazing praise band, some announcements of what’s going on in the church and then a sermon from the pastor that more closely resembles a bible study of God’s word and how it applies in our lives, than the normal boring drawn out messages that I’m used to hearing.  It’s so simple, yet so profound!

We’ve started getting more involved in the church, both of us leading children’s service one a month and also forming friendships though small groups.  Once again, I feel like God is working in my life and opening my eyes to bring me back into the fold of his flock.  This was never more evident than in what took place about three weeks ago.

I had awoken very early one morning, around 4am, while the rest of the house was asleep.  Struggling with the thoughts in my head, demons that have haunted my life to far too long, I began to pray for guidance.  What happened next really shook me to the core.  I heard a voice in my head, clear as if audibly spoken, telling me “Tell him it hurts my heart when you tell me no.”  Only this wasn’t the voice of God, but something much more sinister and evil.  My words here really cannot do justice in describing the fear and terror or the magnitude of what I was experiencing.   I was trembling in fear, begging God to protect me and show me the way.   Needing someone to speak to about what had happened, I woke my wife and broke down in tears while sharing the details of my story.  Not sure if she would think I was going crazy for hearing voices I my head, she instead held me close with a gentle touch and told me that she had been praying for me a lot recently to be called to seek His guidance in the struggles that have been affecting my life and then prayed together with me.

As mentioned in my previous post, I have been spending less time focused on trivial things which have little meaning in my life.  Although not every night, most nights I have been taking 45 minutes or so after getting the kids in bed and spending that time in my bible instead of immediately turning on the television and slipping into a vegetative state of numbness.  For no reason known to me other than coincidence, I have been reading the book of Job, when last night I stumbled across these verses:

“But I tell you; in this you are not right, for God is greater than any mortal.  Why do you complain to him that he responds to no one’s words?  For God does speak – now one way, now another- though no one perceives it.  In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on people as they slumber in their beds, he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to turn them from wrongdoing and keep them from pride, to preserve them from the pit , their lives from perishing by the sword.”

Job 33:  13-18 

Ever since that morning, I have so many questions floating around in my head about what happened.  Was it really the voice of God that I heard but choose to believe it was otherwise due to my own moral feelings of inadequacy?  Or was God allowing Satan to speak to me directly to stir my soul and show me the error of my ways?  Reading that passage last night, it was clear to me that my choice of bible stories was no coincidence.  God was giving me a not so subtle reminder, to keep on the path that he has set before me.  The last thing I told my wife after we prayed that morning, is that I had lyric from a song stuck in my head, that kept repeating over and over…  “Where do I go from here Lord?”

“Just Follow Me!”

Simple Things

Let me first say that this is actually the third installment that I have written in my journey of self-discovery.  However, the 2nd writing delved into a topic that was too personal to share on a public blog, so it was kept confidential with the exception of two of the most influential people in my life.

So, onto the 3rd:

“There’s so much that lies in store and simple things make life worth living.”

-Tedeschi Trucks Band

 

It often amazes me how a small trigger of one of our main senses can instantly take you back in time to a distant place in your life.  Something as simple the smell of a certain scent, the feel of a gentle touch or the taste of a familiar, comforting food can set your mind wandering in search of long forgotten memories.  For me, this usually ends up opening a flood gate of feelings and emotions tied to the remembrance of those treasured times.  Some of these triggers are done intentionally.  For instance, I have a bottle of Brut aftershave that I occasionally wear because it brings back memories of my Grandpa Al.  It was the only cologne that he would ever wear.  More often than not, however, these triggers are completely random and unexpected.

I was working on a project recently to restore some music from a vinyl record and transform it to today’s digital medium.  With the help of a co-worker I was able to find a nice older model turntable, which needed to be cleaned up a bit.  With a little elbow grease and $10 for a new belt, the unit brought back to life and worked flawlessly.  I bought a decent record cleaner to restore the vinyl to its best possible condition and then hooked everything up to my laptop to start recording.

Sitting at a makeshift workspace in my basement, with head phones on, the notes of the music sprang forth with the small pops and crackles that only vinyl records can produce.  Those pops of the vinyl as the needle glided across the album, not the music itself, immediately brought back many memories of one of my favorite times from my childhood.   For much of my childhood, my father worked the night shift, which often left my mom at home with my sister and me in the evenings.  One of our favorite family activities was to turn out all the lights in the house, burn every candle we could find in the house and put an album on the record player and just enjoy the music and togetherness of family.  There were frequent nights spent singing along to the tunes of Heart’s Dog and Butterfly, Sweet Charity the musical, Queen or my favorite…  The Rocky Horror Picture Show!  (That’s another story, for another day).

I think the thing that struck me the most as I reminisced about those times, is the overall simplicity of those nights.  Yet the impact on me was so profound.  We didn’t have to have an HD flat panel TV, blu-ray, laptops or Iphones to entertain ourselves!  All we needed was just the joy of some good music and sharing time with those who were most important in our lives.  In the small group that Jelise and I have been attending lately, we have been talking about how God has intended us to have margins in our lives, but how our society has become one where we are continually pushed to live outside those margins.  As I began to sit back and look at the things that demand time in my life, I have been finding that a lot of the things that consume the precious hours of my days are quite meaningless and vastly unimportant.

This is of course, no major revelation, but in my opinion, as advances in technology continue to grow, we keep inventing more and more things that demand our time and attention.  How much time during my day is spent reading and posting on internet sites like Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest?  How many countless hours have I wasted playing pointless games like Madden NFL or Guitar Hero on the Xbox or Wii?  Even worse, how much of my life have I wasted watching mind-numbing episodes of whatever sitcom, reality-show or other crap programming being streamed into my home via TV?  The sad reality that all of these things have in common, is that they force us to deviate from the thing that should demand the most of our attention in life…  Relationships!  I don’t just mean romantic relationships either, but all of them.  Our friends, family, kids, spouses and most importantly God!

(Yes, I realize that it’s somewhat hypocritical and ironic that I am using a blog and Facebook to criticize the unimportance of sites like FB!)

If I can cut back on even half the time that I spend wasted on these things and instead applied it to cultivating the relationships in my life, how much of an impact would it have on me and those important to me?   Well, I plan to find out!   I recently unplugged my laptop at home and put it away in the office.   I am going to cut back considerably on the amount of time that I spend online each day.  By the time I get home from work this evening, I’m planning on disconnecting the Xbox and Wii and storing them away for some undetermined amount of time.  While I know I won’t give up watching TV completely, I am planning on cutting back on my viewing time and devoting that time to reading my bible and spending more time with my wife!

I’m also planning on finding more productive and satisfying ways to spend my time, while looking to create more margins in my life!  I have always been fascinated by wood-working and people who have the ability to build things with their hands.  I have a couple of projects in planning that I am hoping to start working on soon.  I’m also looking forward to my mom moving back up to Virginia and the ability to spend more time with her.

It’s time to get back to the simple things!

 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires;  to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Ephesians 4:22-24

A Vision?!?

A Vision?!?  For the purpose of this writing, this is both a statement and also a question.

First, the question:

While at a Casting Crowns concert this past weekend, I heard reference made to the following bible verse:

“Where there is no vision, the people perish”   Proverbs 29:18

As it was presented to me, which I feel is often done in our society, it was actually only a partial quote and having now read the full verse, chapter and other translations, I feel it was used out of context.  However, before realizing this it still put a thought into my head.  My life lacks vision!  It’s not as if it was some new profound thought, I’ve kind of known this for a while now.  But it was enough to get the wheels turning and give me pause.

During the car ride back to Winchester on Sunday morning, I’m sure my wife was wondering why I was being quiet.  Truth was I just had a lot on my mind.  What is the vision that I have for my life?  It’s kind of like that dreaded question everyone is inevitably asked during a job interview, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?  10 years?”  For the record, I have always hated that question, because deep down, I lacked that vision.  I’m not just talking about professionally either.  I mean professionally, personally, emotionally and spiritually.

As far back as I can remember I have pretty much always had the personality where I am just content to “Be”.  I see people in my life, most notably my mom and my wife, who always seem to have a plan for the things they want to achieve in life.   In short, they have a vision!  When they do finally reach that goal, they then set their sights on bigger and better things and continually drive themselves to be the best they can be.  I admire that type of drive and dedication so much, but it’s just not within my nature.  At least, not when looking at the bigger grand scheme of life.

This doesn’t mean that I am unhappy with my life in its current status or that I’m looking for some profound, mid-life crisis type of change.  Rather, I feel like my life needs direction.  As I sat there as a passenger in the car, riding along I-66 thinking about everything that’s happened in my life that’s led me to this point today, I had a vision!

The statement:

Well, maybe “vision” is a little too strong of a word.  As I stared out the windows at the passing trees and mountains along the country-side, I felt what is probably more aptly described as a calling.  I had this strange, almost urgent desire to put my thoughts down in written (or typed as the case may be) words and share them with others.  Let’s call it a transparent exercise of self-examination, if you will.  Not that this in itself is the vision that my life needs, but more so a tool to help me find and define what this vision is to be.

This of course, is what has led me to create this blog and share it with others.  I’m not sure how long this desire to write and share my thoughts will stay with me.  If any of you know me very well, you know that this is rather far outside of my normal comfort zone.  I’m not sure who or how many people I think will actually have any interest in what I have to say, outside of a couple of close friends and family, if anyone at all.  But I think that this will be a good exercise in learning how to better share the emotions and feelings that I normally keep hidden away in confines of my unspoken thoughts.

Thanks,

David

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