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.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Seeing Through My Depression

It is 7 PM, Monday evening. I am home alone. The girls are with their mother tonight. After arriving home a half hour ago and preparing some rice for dinner I knelt beside my bed and prayed. I asked God if there was anything he would have me do right now. I do this frequently after returning home from work. I ask him all the time what He would have me do. I do this because I have very little self-confidence. I do this because if I didn't do it I would feel overwhelmed at all the things I need to do, not knowing where to begin. His response this evening was that I was to write about yesterday’s miracle. So here is yesterday’s miracle:

Yesterday was Sunday. As usual I had my girls and took them with me to church.

Because I have depression again, each morning when I wake the day ahead looks like a mountain, imposing and daunting. If I don’t bring my focus to the immediate task at hand I begin to struggle. Yesterday morning as I stole a glimpse of the day ahead I envisioned the anxiety attending church would likely cause me.

At some point in a morning prayer, a thought came into my mind. The thought was “stop thinking about yourself and focus on serving others.”

I took that thought to heart and willed myself to obey. The result taught me a great lesson—albeit the same lesson that I’ve been learning over and over during the past several months.

It is this:

Every prompting from the Holy Ghost obeyed results in blessings greater than the effort spent—oftentimes far greater.

What was the result of following the prompting? I was able to notice and address some needs of people I cared about. In responding to each need I was able to feel God’s love for each of them and in turn feel His love for me.

This is no small thing. Especially when compared to how the day would have likely gone had I disregarded the instruction.

Had I not followed the initial prompting (and each subsequent prompting) my experience would have been far different. Chances are it would have been like the countless other times I’ve gone to church and remained stuck on myself, feeling inferior, sucking the air out of every room I was in, faking a smile to every person I met, hoping my unhappy joyless self wasn’t too obvious, but thinking deep down that everyone knew I was a fraud. And this would be just the beginning of the string of negative thoughts that would take hold of my mind, leading me further into darkness, delusion, and confusion.

But not yesterday.

While leaving church yesterday it occurred to me that there was a good chance no one had known I was depressed. It was there for sure. It was there lurking just beneath the surface the whole time. It may have been watching me. But I was not watching it. 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Blessing of Exercise

A couple weeks ago while praying I felt impressed to share my burdens with Heavenly Father. I asked Him what he would have me do with each of them. One of those burdens is a rather minor one, but something that I have wanted to implement into my life, while feeling I hadn't the time to do so. 

It was to receive guidance regarding establishing an exercise regimen. 

His response was, “Do not concern yourself with this right now."

OK, I thought. No problem. I can keep ignoring it for a little while. It’s not like I really wanted to do it, anyway.

The next day while at work I felt prompted to text a friend of mine to see if he wanted to do dinner that evening. He texted back that yeah that sounded like a good idea. He then asked me do I take cash or check?

Then I remembered how he had mentioned to me recently about some stiffness or pain he'd been having and did I still perform massage?

I then realized he had probably thought I was asking regarding giving him a massage. I then felt prompted to offer him a free massage. So I texted him that I could bring my massage table and a frozen pizza over that evening if he was available.

"Tonight would be great," he said.

And it was.

After the massage and dinner and good conversation the evening was coming to a close.

As we were winding down I told my friend, chuckling, “I prayed yesterday about a variety of challenges and burdens that I needed to get resolved. One of those was implementing an exercise program. Heavenly Father’s response to me was “Don’t worry about it. You don’t have to do anything about it right now.”
I then said, “wouldn’t it be funny if the reason He told me not to worry about it was because he knew I’d be visiting you and you were going to tell me about your exercise program?”

See, I knew this friend followed an exercise regimen because he had told me about it previously.

As soon as I told him that he got a kick out of it and we had a good laugh. 

But then he went on to talk to me about his exercise routine. He told me how simple it can be as he began to demonstrate the various exercises he did every day while holding two-pound cans in his hands.

Then he told me about his running routine, how far he ran, and how often. 

In short, he provided all the details I needed in order for me to be convinced that I, too, could begin right away.

The next morning when I woke up I was prompted to go for a run and to do those same exercises. What a blessing to be provided an answer to a prayer in a manner which the Lord knew I would actually follow through with. And it came as a result of my desire to provide some small simple service.

Two weeks later as I edit and post this, I am still exercising daily, having missed just one day of intended exercise.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Touched By An Angel

I believe in angels, those seen and unseen.

Tonight I was touched by an angel. I saw her. I was in a grocery store. Eggs in hand, I just entered the checkout line. As I entered the line, I glanced to my right. Someone I thought I recognized was in my line of sight. So I looked harder, squinting. She was walking toward me and then I recognized her. It was a friend Elisa and I have known for a few years. I hadn’t seen her for at least a year. She kept approaching until there was mutual recognition. We said hi and we hugged.

I asked her about her life. What she was doing? How was she doing? There was concern in her eyes for me. Almost a longing to understand. I sensed in her a desire to know that I was okay. I don’t think she asked me how I was doing. But it was there in her eyes. I sensed that she wanted badly to know that I was doing well. At least that’s what I interpreted from her body language. And I wanted to reassure her that despite my trials I was doing well. So I gave her a brief update, hoping that she would see the hope that was in me. I told her I had moved back to the area to be closer to my girls. And that I was doing fine. Because really, I am.

I remember telling her that I have learned two things recently. The first was that life is hard.

The cashier had overheard our exchange and hastily asked what was the second one.

I said that we have a choice how we respond to the hard things.

We then said goodbye and I walked out of the store feeling about ten pounds lighter. I couldn’t recall if she asked how I was doing. But it was in her eyes. And it was in her smile.

She was cheering me on. I could see it through all her body language. Her hope for me was that I was hanging in there, that I was looking up with hope and faith. Her concern and love was genuine. Everything about her showed me that she was cheering me on. I wasn’t even feeling sad or down, really. Not that I was aware, at least. But the love and concern she showed me lifted a burden I didn’t even realize I was carrying. How is it we can be touched so deeply when someone expresses love and concern for us? I don’t know. Maybe love is the universal language of the spirit. Whatever the case may be, tonight I thank God for sending me an angel.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

People Can Change

I am grateful for Rory Feek. Have you heard of him? A year or two ago I was looking to download a good book or two into my Amazon Audible account and came across a title that looked inspiring. It was called This Life I Live. So I bought it. Then as often happens, I let it slip away and forgot about the book until maybe a couple months ago.

Because I am going through a divorce and life is very hard right now I have been a magnet to all things inspirational. I was in my car with a two-hour drive ahead of me and in the mood for some inspiration. So when I came across this book again I decided to give it a try. I am so glad I did.

Rory Feek is apparently a famous singer-songwriter of country music. I say apparently because I had never heard of him before buying his book. In the first chapter, “Famous For Love”, he says,

“I am famous. Not for what most people think I’m famous for though--which is music. Yes, I’ve written some songs which you’ve probably heard on the radio, and my wife and I have had a very successful career in the music business. And we’ve made a half dozen albums, toured the country and halfway around the world and performed on television. We even had our tv show for a couple of years. But that’s not what I’m really famous for. Not anymore, anyway. I am famous for loving my wife.”

So begins the amazing love story of a man whose journey led him through a maze of broken childhood dreams into an adulthood of bad decisions and broken relationships until, with God’s help, he learned how to live a life filled with love to the point that that truly is what he is most famous for--loving his wife.

What a legacy.

What is so resonating about Rory’s life to me is that it embodies so well the concept that people can change.

I used to not really believe that. Or at least, change is what happened to other people. Other people could change, but not me. It’s like the good version of the belief that bad things happen to other people.

I don’t know why we believe these things. That bad things cannot happen to us or that we cannot change. Maybe it’s because it’s too easy to be complacent. But the only thing complacency is good for is keeping us in a rut.

Change is hard. Whether it’s good or bad change. At least for me, it is. I like my comfort zone. But when I look back throughout my life at all the most joyful moments, they were usually times when I was enduring some hardship.

And hardship equals change.

Enduring this divorce is forcing me to change. One of the main challenges is that I am the only adult in my household now. Sure, some things are easier. I have always had a hard time living with other people. Relationships have never come easy for me. At least functional ones. So I’d be lying if I said it was all bad.

But it doesn’t take away the fact that I am all I have to hold me up right now. Of course God is there. But man (and woman) was not meant to be alone. So when the laundry needs washed, folded, and put away, it will continue to need washed folded and put away until I do it.

When the dishes are dirty, same thing. They will stay dirty--actually that’s not entirely true. I have been relying on my oldest daughter, Mia, somewhat here. And she’s been great about not complaining, too.

But the point is life is not easy. This divorce has forced me to adjust. It has forced me to use muscles I haven’t been used to using. It has forced me to change. There’s that word again.

The greatest gift I’ve received from the divorce, though, is the knowledge that I cannot do it on my own. Whereas before I just relied on my wife.

Forced to confront the reality that I had to accomplish stuff--keep the electric on, stay healthy, etc., etc--I soon realized I had to do it all on my own or enlist God’s help.

And since becoming separated it didn’t take me long to realize I was in over my head, it was relatively easy to turn to Him.

And that is what has saved me.

And I don’t mean I’m now ‘saved’ as in the one and done version of being saved.

I mean that I am being saved every day. Taken care of, helped to accomplish things that I wouldn’t be able to do on my own.

Take for example earlier today. So I go to church. Usually one Sunday a month I teach a men’s class. A few days ago I was asked by one of my leaders if I would teach today.

I said, “Sure. What do you want me to teach?”

“You decide,” came the reply.

Now I’m not too keen on teaching. I’m not a very confident teacher. I don’t think I’m very good at it. In fact, I have taught classes in the past that, once finished, I felt like crying because I had done so badly. Many times over the years this has happened.  

Here’s what happened today—though I need to back up a couple days to when I began preparing the lesson.

I was taking a walk out by the lake behind my house when I received the text that told me to choose my own topic.

This is something I wanted to have Heavenly Father’s help with. Truth be told, I want His help with just about everything I do these days. My penchant for messing up things when I try to do stuff on my own is so great, I’m always asking Him for help.

So I sat down in the grass on the dam overlooking the lake and bowed my head and said a prayer—a simple one. Something like, “Heavenly Father please let me know what lesson you want me to teach on Sunday. I want to do what you want, so please direct me.

And so as I searched the different options it came to my mind which lesson He wanted me to share.

As I studied the lesson right then—I had access to it on my phone—and again later on, I took notes and felt only somewhat prepared. Early this morning I actually printed it out and jotted questions I wanted to ask the class and outlined the parts that I wanted to read in class. I was nonetheless feeling less than confident.

A short while later while heading to church I realized that I had forgotten the marked-up lesson at home. Immediately after realizing I’d left it at home and knowing it was too late to turn around, the thought that I would have to trust in God even more came to my mind. This actually made me feel better, I think, then had I not forgotten it.

Church services where I attend consists of three one-hour-long meetings/classes. The class I was to teach occurred during the final hour, so I listened attentively during my first two meetings, hoping to feel inspired by something I heard.

I was. While I cannot remember much of the content of what was spoken during those meetings, I do remember the main feeling. It was the same thought I’d had in the car: trust me.

I knew it was from God and I knew that I would be blessed if I did so.

During the second hour, at least one other thought came to my mind: You are being prepared for when you facilitate the teacher training meeting next month in April. This revelation came shortly after I felt prompted by the Holy Ghost to remain silent during the lesson and to listen and observe.

When my turn came to teach I wasn’t really sure at the beginning what to say or what to read or really how to begin. But I allowed myself a moment of silence as I listened for the whisperings of the spirit to help me know how to lead the class. My only agenda was to let the spirit guide our meeting.

What followed was a spirit-filled lesson. As I trusted in the Lord to lead the lesson, or rather, to lead me as I lead the discussion, I could tell that those who were ready were enlightened and spiritually fed.

This experience has led to an increase in confidence that I can teach by the Spirit. So long as I allow my heart to be open to the whisperings of the Spirit as I prepare and as I teach, then really it is I who learn, along with the rest of the class. For we are being taught by the Holy Ghost. He is the real teacher. He is the one who changes us.