Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Let Us Love

I had lunch today with my ex-wife. She's a wonderful person and my goal was to become better friends with her and to help her see how much I've healed from the heartache of losing her. I have long believed she's felt terrible ever since asking me for a divorce and I wanted for her to be able to let go of any guilt she may have been feeling. 

To respect her privacy, I'll just say that our visit went very well, and we both took joy in each other's growth and progress.

Yet for some reason afterward, I felt troubled and was unsure why.

After returning home, I knelt in prayer and asked God if there was anything He wanted me to do. I received an immediate answer to take a walk down to one of my favorite spots--the local dam behind my house.

The sun was shining, the sky bright blue, and my mind was quiet. My heart grew heavy and I began to pray.

As I walked along the highway, then turned into the neighborhood, down toward the lake and its dam, the wind picked up and the water rippled. It wasn't cold, but as I looked out over the water I began to shiver. 

I sat down atop one of the many stones which dotted the lakeside and sought clarity. I wondered why I was sad. I prayed for understanding. But the beating wind and chill distracted me. 

I looked around and realized the back side of the dam was more protected from the wind. So I stood up, took a few steps into the deep green grass and stepped down into the buffering slope and sat down. I found a comfortable spot and some much needed solace. 

I sat a long time seeking understanding, at times nodding off, then awaking. I received understanding as I pondered how I've chosen to live for the last year and a half--with eyes wide open facing the wind.

Just like standing atop the dam looking out over the rippling waves, my face against the wind, I have opened myself time after time to new experiences of learning and growth. In so doing I have chosen a path of vulnerability. From sharing experiences with others through this blog, to creating a fledgling Facebook group with fear and trembling, and above all else to seeking the spirit and striving to follow wherever it leads come what may, I have left the reservation of restraint and charted a course of trusting God.

And He has given me so very much for my very imperfect efforts. 

Most recently, as I wrote about in my last post, I've learned what it means to have best friends. He has given me the gift of friendship in a profound way, something I did not expect nor could have imagined bringing me such great joy as it has.

But alas, if there's one thing this journey has taught me, it is that, like the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi taught, there is an opposition in all things. 

As I hunkered down the other side--the safe side--of the dam, where the long soft green grass held me sheltered from the wind, it reminded me of God's matchless love and protection from all things harmful. 

Indeed, He has sheltered me from all things that would do me harm. He has encircled me in the arms of His love, blessed me with courage, comfort, determination, understanding, spiritual gifts, and every good thing that I have so far sought. 

My Savior has been my shelter, my protector, my daily deliverer from things great and small, reminding me time and again that I can change, that I can overcome. He has proven that if I but trust Him by striving my best to obediently follow His will, He will heal me. 

Yet He has done so not by having me turn away from the wind and the waves. He has delivered me by standing with me, and facing them right alongside me.

So then why so sad? 

Let me not then be sad, but resolute in receiving this good thing my God is trying to give me! Let me not fear what the wind and the waves will do! Let it blow and let them come! Let me not fear the pain and the heartache that comes with all relationships. 

But let me trust in Him who is mighty to save. He has saved me every time. Healed every hurt. Dried every tear, even brought me to the great gratitude I feel for every single loss.

As with all hard things, I know there is a path to deliverance and I need only to keep trusting that the path will open before me. I know that He will open it.

So I will face the wind and the waves and whatever pain and hurt they bring. I will bear the burden of friendship and all that comes with it. The sorrow, the suffering, the grief, and the tears, and everything else that comes along with it, whether good or bad. And I will be blessed immeasurably more for having done so.

I do not know why my lunch with my friend, who happens to be my former wife, triggered the sadness I felt today. For I am healed--and so, it seems, is she. 

But then the why doesn't really matter, does it? It doesn't really matter why bad things or sad things happen to me or to you. It doesn't really matter why we must hurt or feel pain and heartbreak and loss. None of that matters. 

Because all that really matters is that we keep on loving each other, our friends and even those we don't know, in spite of the fears we face. Because in the end, if we keep going, moving forward with faith in a loving God who heals through the blood of His son, we all will be healed. And that will be enough!



Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Blessing of Friendship

It has been about three months now since this latest blessing flood has been turned on full blast. It concerns me somewhat because in my new life in the Spirit the ebb and flow of blessings then hard trials seem to alternate every three months (in fact, I just now discovered that if you look at the pattern of my posts since I've begun this blog, you can see when I'm seeing the blessings and when the mists of darkness have surrounded me). Others I know who walk the same path I am on have confirmed a similar pattern as well.

But however long my current high shall last, I only want to testify. I want to testify that God's love is real. It heals. It turns everything--even every past hurt--into the tenderest of mercies. Just a couple days ago I awoke wailing with joy. I had never done this before. This came about because of the blessing of friendship. I wrote briefly about how this came about in my journal a couple days ago:

"Have you ever been asked to do something by the Lord so very hard that it required all the courage you had? Something that you had never done before, something that you had no idea you could do, but you did it anyway because you knew it was the right thing to do? And then you received great joy at having done the thing because the accomplishment of having done it forced you to see yourself in a whole new wonderful way? And it blew your mind?

I have just arrived home from a large Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints singles event in Nauvoo, Illinois. I had the time of my life as I followed the voice of the Lord to me when, prior to the event in one of His temples, He directed me to boldly follow the Spirit and to be a friend to everyone near me. I was blessed with being able to follow His instructions and feel that I have made deep friendships quickly with a handful of very good people whom I now love dearly.

As I neared my home after the five+ hour car ride I began to become sad at the sudden “friend withdrawal” I was feeling. As I further reflected upon the miracle God worked through me to the obtaining of these new friendships, I began to feel a new burden settle in. It has to do with commitment. Now that I have new friendships with people who are very dear to me, I feel tremendously vulnerable and at risk and the natural man in me wants to run into a corner, hide, and never come out and play again. I believe I have just realized that maintaining true friendships require a whole lot more than a single weekend of risking vulnerability. And the terrifying thing for me is that rejection is a very real possibility at any time in the future of these new friendships.

I graduated from high school 27 years ago. I have maintained not one of the friends I made during those school years. I returned from my mission 24 years ago. Again, not one of the special friendships I developed on my mission--whether with companion or convert--has carried forward to the present. I have also lived in some six or seven different locations around the country and world during the last 23 years of my life. I can recall again not one single person who I’ve maintained regular contact with.

Why is this? It is because I have always been ashamed of who I am.

Now, however, because I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior and follow Him daily, I have no more shame. Indeed, I glory in His ability to erase such evil from my life. I believe that with His name I can overcome all.

Nevertheless, despite the wiping away of all my shame, the structure it built remains. These are the fears, doubts, and false beliefs I have surrounded myself with in order to create false senses of security and safety.

One of these is the fear of rejection. And while I am very fearful of being rejected, I know that by continuing to follow my Savior’s footsteps as He brings me closer to facing that fear, I will be freed of it.

So I will not retreat into the corner and hide. I will come out and play again with my new dear friends. For above all else, I love them and want them to know they are worth it. It is the desire to keep this, the second commandment, and especially the great first one (Matthew 22: 37-40) that will set me free at last of this fear of rejection."

(end of journal entry)

I cannot remember ever really knowing the blessing of friendship. It is no one's fault. It has simply been my path, caused by my shame. That shame is gone now and as I seek to please God every day in my walk of faith, He has blessed me with friends. It is not easy to convey my gratitude for this. 

I have been a loner all my life. An outcast. A wallflower. A silent insecure observer who never fit in. Oh how I have wanted to fit in!

I fit in now. I fit in now because my personal Savior has believed in me. How one so great can believe in one so lowly as me I cannot explain. To explain it would be to explain the atonement and who can do this? 

I am 45 years old. I have been a nobody all my life. Born the middle child to good but struggling parents. Not a day went by when I did not feel alone, isolated, confused about who I was. Mental illnesses. Three hospital stays in three different hospitals for those mental illness. Lost relationships with my first two beautiful children who still remain distant. I could go on and on.

This is not to say others have not had it worse than me. My Lord has been so merciful to me, even from the beginning. As I look back upon every hard thing I have ever endured I am truly grateful for every cross I have carried, every load I have lifted, every tear I have cried, every confused thought thought. These hard things in my life have become the tenderest of mercies and I would not give one of them back. I so love every loss. I so love every heartbreak. My heart is full from the deep suffering I have endured because of what my Lord has given me in return. He has filled my cup to overflowing that I cannot contain the joy. 

My prayer now is that I may tie the blessings I am receiving to which laws of Heaven I have kept so that I may help all my friends--even every brother and every sister of mine--in their journey back to their Savior. I hope in coming days, months, and years to not just share my story of deliverance, but to share what I did to unlock these blessings. God grant me the light I seek that I may help in His glorious work. 

Joyful Wailing

Two days ago I woke up crying. Not weeping. Not softly shuddering. But full on full blown crying. You could call it wailing. You know, the kind with ugly noises coming from somewhere down below deep inside. Gosh, this is personal stuff. But yeah, I want to write about it. 

I want to write about it so that others may know that it exists. This is called joyful, cup running over wailing. 

So my cup has been running over with blessings since sometime last year. I've cried many tears because of the blessings I've been receiving. Many, many tears, many many times. 

The tears of gratitude have been catching up, slowly, to the tears of grief I've cried over the years. Though really it's not like that. All the good happening to me now has already made all the bad so worth it. 

Just like C.S. Lewis said:

“[Mortals] say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. … The Blessed will say, ‘We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven.’”

I know what he means. And I want every other person in this world to know the truth of this, too. The joy is really real. I have waited so long. But it is worth it. 

As I was heading into work yesterday Heavenly Father revealed to me that certain other blessings related to my mission were coming. There are some specific things that I want--no need--in order for me to do His work. I know they are coming. I see them, barely, out in the distant horizon. They are coming. And I know it because it is His work. And I only want to do His work. To share this great joy that I have in my heart with others is all I want to do. 

And I know that the same joy I feel can be felt by the lowliest of people. I am one of these. Have been for all my life. 

He is turning my path into gold. Has been doing it for over a year now. It is gold where I stand. And as I turn and look behind me, at the path from where I have come, my personal trail of tears, all I see is gold. For those hard times--those very hard times--I now see as the tenderest of mercies. He loved me enough to refine me with the severest of trials. How merciful He was to let me sink so low, so that now He could lift so high. 

I know hard times are coming. Perhaps more severe than I have ever experienced. I say this because we all must be tried in all things. 

But as I was headed into work yesterday He revealed to me one more thing. The blessings I feel now are but a scratch on the surface of all that awaits. And I know this is true. I know it. 

My Heavenly Father loves me. And He loves you. And He is doing all He can to shower each of us with His divine healing love at all times. Even right now. Will you receive it? 

Ask Him what you need to do in order to receive it. It is worth every sacrifice. Oh so worth it!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

An Empty Chair

My house sits at the end of a long driveway and every night well after dark, except for an occasional passing car and the hum of the garage spotlight, all is quiet. I like to come out here, wander up the driveway toward the dark road and back a few times or more in contemplation and prayer.

Tonight was such a night. Moments before stepping outside something had happened that caused me to think about the level of vulnerability my children face every day and I was afraid for my daughter. It was weighing me down and I sought comfort. So I did my usual thing up and down the driveway. At one point, because I thought it would be more comfortable, I grabbed my comfy porch chair, moved it to the driveway, and sat down.

But not for long. With a mosquito buzzing in my ear and a bat or two darting nearby, I was unsettled, so got up and began to walk again.

At some point I was midway up the driveway and turned around and saw the silhouette of the chair in front of the bright spotlight. It struck me as profound in some way that I could not understand, so I took a picture.

Empty chair
I thought about how I try to assign a meaning to everything that happens in life. How there is really nothing that happens to me that I don’t try to make sense of. And then it occurred to me that everything really does have meaning. That there are no accidents or coincidences in life.

I received comfort regarding my daughter as I remembered that God loves my children and wants them to return Home far more than I want them to. Then I gave thanks for the guidance I’d been receiving since I’d submitted to His will over a year ago.

Then I said, "But you really have allowed me to suffer a lot, haven’t you?" It was not a complaint, just an observation.

He said, “It’s taken you a long time to let my love in.”

I tearfully expressed to Him how long I had been trying, reaching for Him, before the crisis had forced me to turn completely to Him.

But in my lack of faith, I stopped just short of putting it in question form as I realized maybe I wasn’t ready for that truth yet--the truth of whether or not I had, in fact, been trying my best to reach for Him prior to the crisis.

At this point I had made it all the way back to the chair and placed my hand on it. I looked up the driveway, then back to where I stood behind the chair.

Then I saw with His eyes.

The empty chair represented for Him my absence from His presence. Just as I longed for my daughter to always remain clean and worthy to receive God’s love, He too had suffered every day because I had separated myself from His love. And He too had longed for when I would be ready to receive more of that love, and suffers still to the degree that I shut Him out daily.

I looked back up the driveway from where I had walked. Though I had seen earlier some dead leaves, twigs, and stones that littered the driveway, when I looked again, standing in the light, I saw for the first time how brightly lit all the debris was.

I then walked away from the chair, toward the road and all the debris and realized that I was now looking away from the light. It was a challenge not to focus on the debris that was scattered all over. I then placed a few more stones on the pavement and stepped back, my back still against the light. Those stones were lit by the light and it was impossible to not see them, even when looking up toward the road.

I then walked beyond the stones and turned around, looking back into the light and at the empty chair. I looked down at the stones and other debris, but could barely see them. They were drowned out by the light. If I focused, it was there. But as I looked toward the light, it was as though much of the twigs and stones vanished.

I have found this to be analogous to my life. When I turn away from Jesus Christ, stepping stones turn into stumbling blocks and they are all I see. But when I return my gaze back to my Savior, those same stumbling blocks become stepping stones, inching me forward, closer to His presence.

Just as I placed the stones in the driveway, sometimes I place stones in my own path through disobedience. And sometimes the debris I must pass through has been placed there by others or is the result of the fallen world I live in and is part of God’s divinely orchestrated plan for me.

But the way through all the debris is the same. Only by following the Light of the world--which is Jesus Christ--can we return to His presence and receive a fullness of His love. 
His plan for you and for me is perfect. Every part of the plan is driven by love. That's what amazes me the most about Him. All that He does is because of His love. When we turn from Him, in His divine mercy, He allows us to be humbled by the twigs, stones, and other debris on our path that loom large. And when we turn back to Him those same stumbling blocks become stepping stones we pass through with more ease that bless us with opportunities to grow so we can become more like Him, so we can return to Him.

More than we can possibly know He wants us to return to the empty chair we left behind when we left His presence. He wants us back far more than we want to go back. May our hearts ever be broken for Him so that He can heal us with His pure love as He so infinitely yearns to do.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Where'd My Blessings Go?

So what do you do when your blog is titled "Bursting With Blessings" but you're just not seeing many blessings?

Sure I know I have blessings. I spent time with each of my girls today after not seeing them for a week and a half. That's a big blessing.

I had lunch today with both girls, my ex-wife--thank gosh the title is now official--and her boyfriend, and it actually went well. Blessing. Check.

I have friends who check in with me on occasion at just the time when I need them to. Check.

I receive guidance from God in the form of answers to my prayers. What's the percentage of people in all the world who can confidently say this? (And I'm not bragging here. Just recognizing a huge reason for gratitude that's impossible to overstate.)

I could go on. I have blessings. I do see them. Some of them amaze me, really. To the point that I think--Wow, really? What have I done to deserve this?

So yeah, I have them. They keep coming. Some are just amazing. Many are miracles. And I believe I do acknowledge them and give thanks. I believe I try to.

But I see so much more than blessings. I see what I don't have. Things I want that seem perfectly reasonable, yet are incompatible with me :

  • A stable, intact family for my daughters. Nope. They have to have two homes. In this case, two is not better than one. And I'll not even mention my first set of kids--or did I just?
  • A steady income. Nope. Mine is a job that is not paying enough to pay the bills. Gonna have to rectify that before long.
  • Doubts. I darn sure don't want them. But how many answers to my prayers are from me, not God? I have evidence enough to know that my voice has supplanted His in some of those answers to prior prayers.
  • Self confidence. What's that? Yeah, uh-uh. Move along. Nothing to see here. Do you have extra? I'll pay you. Do you take credit?
  • Lack of depression. In other words, I have depression. Again. It's like the evil twin brother of no self-confidence. Executive function? Heard of that once a long, long, time ago--for eight great weeks. Then poof! Yeah, no.

I remember walking into my new home in Evansville, IN some 15 months ago, freshly separated from my wife. Here were my thoughts:

"This is bottom. I am up $#!^ creek without a paddle. I. Have. No. Clue."

Over the next several months miracles worked their way into my life and I found more than a clue. I found God who became my rock and who lifted me up from rock bottom. He helped me hit reset and lifted me up into a new orbit with new eyes and new habits and helped me begin to build a new life.

Some of those new habits have turned pale and sloughed off like a pair of work pants fallen to the floor after a hard day's work. Two steps forward, now back one.

And yesterday's bright clear eyes have begun to film over, scales forming anew. A little less sunshine, sometimes a lot.

Today on the phone I told my 2nd rock--my mom--I was gonna have to change the title of my story from "How God Saved Me From the Wreckage of Divorce," to "God's Dragging His Feet And Needs to Hurry the Hell Up and Help!"

We both got a good laugh because there is some truth there. Though spoken with tongue in cheek, in my human frailty I really do wish He would hurry up and get my painful lessons over with. I do not enjoy these deprivations. I long for when this time in my life ends. And it may also be that this present level of ingratitude prolongs the trial.

For it is ingratitude, is it not?

Maybe this is the point at which, like the woman who reached out and touched the hem of the Savior's robe, all I can do is to reach. And hope. And pray that my reaching is enough to activate His grace.

For if I ask of myself the question--would I rather have my will or His prevail, assuming they are different, I can still answer "His". I am gratefully too fearful to go my own way.

Yet do I not go my own way still when I am unwilling to reach, unwilling to go a step further and sincerely ask Him what more would He have me change or give up?

In other words, I can reach up toward Him, whose grace is always sufficient, or begin to descend again, to a new rock bottom.

That's perspective.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Gift of Grief

I just took a walk down to the local beach – 10 minutes away from my house. While there, a woman who is a long-distance friend of mine, messaged me and I messaged her back. I got to thinking how I usually only respond to her texts. I have only rarely initiated. And I never provide her any details of my life. This is unusual for me. I have historically been prone to share with others the details of my life. But I have not shared with her even the fact that I’ve been divorced now for a week. And I have no inkling to share that with her, nor really any other detail about my life.

As I walked up the road toward home I wondered why this has been so with this particular friend. The answer came quickly. After all, this isn't something I haven't pondered before. I have known the answer to this question. But it seemed to sink in to me more deeply than ever before. The reason I don’t share intimate details of my life with the opposite sex is because my heart has been demolished.

This sounds hyperbolic and maybe it is. But I wonder if the reason I am unwilling to share the inmost parts of my heart, or what remains of it, is because there seems to be nothing left of it. I think there has been so much devastation and shock to my heart that there is nothing that would make me want to expose it to the elements again. I cannot even imagine when it may be ready again.

Someday I believe it will be. But I believe it will be years – maybe many years. For I am still reeling in shock. The blow I took was mighty. I think that I am unable to comprehend the greatness of it. It feels surreal.

The only evidence I can see arises from my behaviors. Such is my complete and utter lack of interest in establishing relationships with the opposite sex. There is simply zero – maybe even negative – interest in giving my heart away.

For where Is my heart? I'm not even sure.

I try to understand what happened. I try to put my arms--the arms of my understanding--around the idea that I am no longer with her. I am no longer with my wife--who is not now my wife. All I get back is an error message. There is no computation. It's well beyond me. I think I have only once before been at such a complete loss from my world heaving and hoing. It was when I denied God and actually doubted His literal existence.

Bad move.

That rocked my world so much that I admitted myself into the psychiatric unit of the local hospital. I was 12 years into working my way back from that devastation when my wife who is not my wife handed me this one. I still had not recovered fully from the tumult and upheaval denying God had caused my inner world. I was changed in a profound and unfriendly way from the loss of that reality back in 2005.

Ironically, this new devastation got me right with God real quick and He and I have never been better. That’s why I believe this was all according to His plan for me.

Because He’s a healer.

And because He’s a healer I know there will come a day when I will be healed. Even a day when I will rejoice at what I now see only as devastation. And in that day I will have a pure heart of gold.

But for now all I see is fool’s gold. And I am the fool.

I never knew foolishness could hurt so bad.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

A Walk Around the Temple

I went for a walk today on the temple grounds. I was led to the flowers. Father wanted me to see the perfection of the flowers, yet how they were mottled and imperfect because of this fallen world. He said, “You are like these flowers. Except you are far more beautiful. But you are perfect like these flowers, and mottled, too.“

I expressed my sadness and being so weak and having to carry this mortal frame within the walls of the temple. I expressed dismay because of my weakness and not feeling as close to him as I would like. He expressed to me that I have endured much. That I have been through it and am doing far better than I realize.

I expressed sadness and sorrow that I am so easily overwhelmed by the cares of the world and by all the things I must do every day that are just a part of my activities and chores that I must accomplish. And how they overwhelm me and cause my focus to be taken off Him.

He reassured me that He is still the only way. He has overcome everything. He reminded me to look to the past year and all that I have overcome through Him. And that if I continue to look to him in every thought, I will find joy and feel of His love.

It was then that he said to me, "let me show you something," and that was when he led me to the beautiful array of flowers and gave me a glimpse of myself.

I laid out to him my grief, sorrow, and sadness during my short stroll around the temple. He gave me encouragement, love, good cheer and a mirror for me to look into and reflect back at me a glimpse of the perfection he sees in me.