The Jesus Experience?

Now that I have your attention...
A sometimes accurate portrayal of how I feel with Jenn.

Why do I continue on in traditions such as celebrating Christmas and Easter; or praying before meals, especially with Jenny?

Why do I pray for her and our son?

The fire I once possessed has long since gone out. Perhaps for longer than I realize.

My first real positive experience with Jesus was LIFE ’95 during Jacob Aranza’s sermon. I google him now and there’s some serious stuff not of a positive nature out there. I suppose that’s to be expected.

Anyway, it was toward the end, during the altar call-type thing, that I first felt forgiven. It was the first time I felt that any evil things I had done didn’t matter in terms of who I was as a human being.

Following that experience, I tried to get the most out of every time of worship. Anytime there was singing to God I tried my hardest to commune with the Almighty. Sometimes there was success, but most of the time, I suspect, it was emotional responses.

And actually, I suppose that’s what it was at the LIFE event: an intense emotional response. A response to some serious truth, but an emotional response nonetheless.

Hm.

In his book No Man Is an Island, Thomas Merton says that if one is in step with the Spirit one doesn’t feel it. Illustrating the point with a marching formation, he points out that when troops are marching in step together they don’t come into contact with each other, thus not feeling each other. It’s when you get out of step that you feel it; that is to say, how one feels is not necessarily a good indicator of one’s relationship.

One thing I can say though, is the LIFE event changed how I experienced thunderstorms. I believed (and perhaps still do (we don’t get many thunderstorms where I live nowadays)) that God is closest to our plane of existence in thunderstorms. I mean, the idea is he’s omnipresent, but maybe within the cumulonimbus formations, the membrane between realities is stretched a little thinner. Just the power and might of the rushing wind, the flashing lightning bolts and explosive thunder…

Saying all that to say, I went from having a mortal fear of thunderstorms to eagerly looking forward to them. To this day I still have what some may consider an unhealthy desire to personally witness a tornado.

That fire I spoke of earlier…

At its core I think it’s a good thing. However, I took it, in response to the aforementioned emotional response, and figured I owed God something. Like, I needed to pay Him back or something for the wonderful way He made me feel.

And then, over time, it turned into the feeling a junkie gets when he does all the drugs to try and replicate that one feeling he had, the first time he smoked a joint or shot up. No matter what I did or tried, I couldn’t get that exact feeling back.

And there was that whole issue when my first girlfriend put it on God to break us up because, I reckon, she was afraid of hurting my feelings or something. I was angry, upset, pissed off at the Almighty. After that great thing He had done at LIFE, and all I had done in those few intervening years before high school graduation, how could He pull this shit? I was a vocal witness for Christ; I got into debates and discussions about faith; I wore provocative Christian t-shirts that spurred conversations; I listened to nothing but Contemporary Christian Music, taking in the Word of Life through modern music styles to help edify my soul and remember doctrine more easily (I think I still know the full rap by DC Talk for Jesus is Just Alright).

All that – all that – and He ostensibly took away the most precious relationship to me up to that point in my life.

Of course, from what I learned at church and in books is that I was guilty of idolatry, putting my ex up on a pedestal, wanting her more than I wanted God. Close friends and family warned me about balance (which made more sense). But what was the death stroke was the shame my sexual desire was shrouded in. I didn’t give up my virginity until after that experience, but my innocence was already taken from me at a very early age. And someone who should have protected me and helped me heal, instead swept it under the rug; it was never to be spoken of; it didn’t happen. It was a shameful thing to have happened and to bring it up was to only bring on more shame…so it was never spoken of until my mid-20s, in therapy.

That shame came from a faith rooted in fear, not love. It was the faith instilled in me, even when I had that life-changing experience.

I guess therapy was when I had the next real Jesus Experience.

Not to retread, but it was there I learned that I was enough. I came to see that I am lovable as I am. That’s what Jesus – or unconditional – love is all about. And as such, it’s a love with no demands or expectations. There’s nothing to pay back, there’s nothing to do in return.

Of course, there’s reciprocity. When someone loves you, you want to love them back. The root of desiring to repay, I think, springs from a guilty conscience. That mentality doesn’t believe one is worthy of that love; and maybe one isn’t (from a certain point of view), but one has it, and it wouldn’t be so freely given if the giver didn’t think the receiver was enough.

Reciprocity is different than paying back. You don’t have the compulsion to repay, but someone makes you feel good (i.e.: loved) and you want to make them feel the same way. What’s scary is that this principle is also at the root of vengeance.

So anyway – we’ve got LIFE ’95; therapy; when would be the next Jesus experience…?

I think it would actually be…meeting Jenny.

When Jesus was on earth, He was all about upending the System, bringing new light to old wisdom and new life to old souls. I was caught up thinking that marriage – finding a mate – was supposed to be a certain way. “Equally yoked” was a buzzword concept thrown around a lot in my formative spiritual years and, as such, was ingrained in my membrain (I know that’s not how you spell it).

As my first attempt at marriage fizzled, I put myself back out there. In spite of all relationship failures up to that point (and they are legion), and in spite of that ultimate relational fail, I was bound, determined, and sure that true love was out there waiting for me.

However, as fast and hard as I tried to run from the old way of thinking, “equally yoked” still prefaced every prospect. There was a lady or two I met who met the conventional meaning of being equally yoked but many more (with whom I felt more compatible) who did not; Jenn was among them.

And this wasn’t the first time this had happened.

When I was in college I dated a young lady who wasn’t conventionally equally yoked, yet upon reflection the relationship had the potential to be one of the best I ever had. But because of that conventional belief, I ended it. At the heart of it I was a coward and didn’t know what I had. Twelve, thirteen years later I resolved that if I ever found myself in that position again to not just abandon it, but to hang on as long as I could.

Though I am a quick study, I’m a slow learner. After a few dates with Jenn I knew in my gut that she was the one, yet convention still called…as well as fear of happiness. I called it off; but she didn’t. She still liked me and when I went off to Germany for a few weeks we stayed in contact.

It was one afternoon, after traipsing through the beautiful countryside, and then seeing a picture in ein alten Frau’s living room of two horses: a mare and a stallion standing together, looking into the distance…weird, I know, but it was in that picture – let’s say the spirit of the picture – that I saw us.

As soon as I could I skyped her and told her I loved her and that I wanted to be with her.

This is what true love looks like.
True love is serious business.

And then with her, it’s just been one Jesus experience after another. We take turns in pissing each other off, or disappointing each other to varying degrees, but everything is overshadowed by our love for each other. Most of the time we’re making each other smile and/or laugh.

And inherent in love, I believe, is commitment, faithfulness, and trustworthiness (to name a few). Such things I lacked in myself for a very long time because I couldn’t ascribe them to myself; I didn’t think I was worthy or sufficient.

But then learning that I am, I’ve slowly been able to develop these traits and cultivate them more and more, and thus, love more freely. Not perfectly, mind you; and I still screw it up more times than I get it right, but I’d like to think that now the majority of my actions come from a place of love instead of fear.

Now more than ever with Stormy in the picture – managing the love streams between child and spouse.

These have been my Jesus experiences so far – experiences of unconditional, unbridled love and self-realization. I reckon it’s facilitating such experiences for others by being an honest, loving human being that Jesus is getting at when He talks about the Great Commission. Not making a sales pitch for hellfire insurance, or getting people into the “feel-good-about-yourself-club” and making them follow a bunch of rules; but rather showing love, dignity, and respect to everyone; and insofar as we’re able, to aid them toward self-realization so that they know they, too, are worthy and sufficient, and that that’s something that’s worth keeping going in this broke-up, busted-ass world.

Maranatha, and all that.

The Fountainhead (or: The Poop is Always Greener on My Hand)

Keep reading…you’ll get it. (Source: Wikipedia)

“Enjoy it!”

“Be sure to enjoy it while you can!”

“It goes by so fast; enjoy it!”

These are the admonitions my wife and I receive whenever we tell someone new of our recent delivery (alas; still no DiGiorno…). Recent…well, I reckon today it’s a month! How about that? On one hand I find myself wondering where the time went and on the other I dreadfully realize: it’s only been a month.

As you could see in previous posts, the first week or so at home was pretty rough. Up until the grandparents relieved us for an afternoon and early evening I thought Jenn and I were both going to eventually lose our minds.

And if you follow me on Facebook, you’ve seen me post stuff about home life with a baby that isn’t necessarily up to socially acceptable code. It seems as though there’s a prescription for doting on one’s child and posting pictures with captions that are all about how cuuuuuute and looooooving their little humans are, and just how precious and sweet one’s offspring is.

A night or so ago I posted a few second video of my firstborn crying incessantly in his bassinet, hungry – YET AGAIN – for a bottle of formula or pumped mudder’s milk.

He also seems to have this internal timer that goes off any time Jenny and I, or just I, sit down to eat together (or by myself), after a bout of crying, diaper changing, and feeding, to start crying again before the first bite can be taken. WITHOUT FAIL, PEOPLE.

And then a couple nights ago…he’s fussy. The indicator stripe on the Pampers diaper is blue. Time to change.

Stormy’s actually not too fussy once he’s on the table. I’m like, cool.

Undo the diaper; start to wipe down the peethenBAM!! What would normally be a benign fart was actually a piñata of poop that burst forth its fecal candy on the table, on the paper towel roll, on the diaper genie and accompanying trash can, and my freakin’ hand.

Jenn, of course, had just sat down to eat her soup and was yukkin’ it up at my turn of fortune.

Now, for the sake of full disclosure, though the explosion had spread, it was fortunately enough light on intensity. So there were little dots of green, but that was it; no chunks or lumps or anything like that. Just little specks of Stormy poop that needed wiping.

Before I can finish cleaning – one-handed, mind you, as I have his legs up to keep him from getting anything on him – this little play-doh pusher starts a right good movement of the bowels.

“OMYGOD!” I say, giving Jenn the play-by-play, who is choking on her soup for all the laughter she’s indulging in.

Thankfully there was a paper towel beneath him to mitigate the staining of the changing mat.

So, I start to clean that when suddenly Stormy fancies himself a bit of a wiz’, and has his infantile junk positioned in such a way as to bypass the paper towel pee guard and get that out on the table, too.

Jenn’s ROFL’ing by now as I’m clambering about, trying to keep this natural disaster and potential biohazard contained.

By the time I’ve replaced the paper towel beneath him and start to dry off the droplets of his biological sprinkler system he’s begun his second movement of green, oozy, babyshit.

All I can do is stop and watch.

Stormy isn’t fussy at all; it’s like we’re both just resigned to the fact that some serious shit is going down and there’s nothing we can do about it in the moment.

He finishes; I clean; he pees AGAIN. Every time it catches me by surprise and I celebrate with a punctuated colorful metaphor and Jenn follows up with breathless laughter.

Our Nightstorm lies there and I don’t even get to the paper towels when suddenly a clean, vertical shoot of clear liquid (our boy is hydrated) springs up, perfectly perpendicular to the earth, and he’s engaged in his third movement (Beethoven wishes his movements were so moving, affecting the very bowels of a newborn) of green goo and all I can do is shout profane-sounding gibberish in shock and awe at the amazing feat my son has just pulled off.

Jenn finally catches her breath and asks if I need anything.

A third hand, I say.

She laughs.

I’m fresh out of third hands, babe, I say.

Oh, heehee, she says and asks how she can help.

I take Stormy over to the sink to wash him off and she goes to swab the Poop Deck.

After four shits and three pees, Stormy’s finally in his new diaper and suckin’ on a fresh bottle before burping and going down for the count (of about 20 minutes before starting it all over again).

And he was one Fussy McFusserstein once Jenn went to bed. The moment I’d start to nod off, thinking he was sleeping, he’d start that malcontent engine revving with little nasal whimpers, cresendoing into his crying forte.

So on Facebook and in this here blog I try to keep it real.

Sometimes I think the people who say, “Enjoy it” are either sadists getting off on some sick schadenfreude knowing Jenn and I are getting 4-5 hours of sleep a night or masochists who genuinely enjoyed the incessant crying, fussing, etc. and are trying to spread the love.

And then I go and listen to Episode 99 of the RobCast and hear the heartbreaking story of a mother whose 9-yr old girl finally died after being born without a brain.

I read a Facebook post or two of friends who lost children in the womb, or shortly after birth, having experienced the thrill of hearing the heartbeat and seeing the life movements of their unborn children only to hear the sickening silence a week or so later and see the fuzzy outline motionless on the computer screen; or to have their tiny child pass to the next world, still in the hospital under the care of those who try their hardest to preserve life.

I remember that Jenn and I are still in the SIDS window and that no moment is promised to any of us, and sure, I’ve made it in this world these almost 36 years and Jenn’s almost made it to 27, but Stormy…I’ve seen the young of birds eaten by snakes on National Geographic…why should Stormy make it past one month? What unseen forces of nature may be conspiring to take him; not out of any inherent malice, but just because that’s the cold, fucking, hard reality of the world?

I think of stuff like that.

I sure as heck don’t enjoy the crying and sleep deficiency, but I’m ever so grateful Jenn and I have a healthy kid that can cry and keep us awake.

An hour before writing this post...
An hour before writing this post…

My Faith Story – An overview

 

On a Sunday morning it seems appropriate to write/talk about faith.

I never really know where to start when talking about it, though. For instance, what do I have to say that hasn’t already been said?

My main inspirations for this are from a couple other blogs I read – Jamie the Very Worst Missionary and Addie Zierman’s blog. It also comes from The Liturgists Podcast and even a bit of You Made It Weird With Pete Holmes.

A really big push came when I finished reading Addie Zierman’s first book, When We Were On Fire, A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over. That was late last year and the motivation ultimately fizzled. But now I’m in the midst of reading her second book, Night Driving, and I’m finding the inner compulsion welling up again.

Her first book, When We Were On Fire, especially resonated because I felt as though I was reading my own personal history of growing up as an ON FIRE FOR CHRIST teenage crusader; that is, were I a female and had I grown up in the Midwest instead of being a dude growing up in North Carolina.

JUMP!!!
“Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog” by Caspar David Friedrich. Feelin’ this every now and then…

I grew up going to church every Sunday. Once I hit youth group age Wednesday nights were thrown into the mix. The more I started learning about God, the more I became afraid of him.

I distinctly remember in the summer of ’93, we were having a rash of thunderstorms and tornadoes tearing up the piedmont. Whenever a severe storm or tornado warning was issued for our area, I’d go outside and walk into the middle of our neighborhood circle and bargain with God to just hit me and leave my family’s home – and the neighbors’ – alone. My conscience was just so saturated with guilt and fear, and for some reason I’ve always associated weather conditions with God’s immediate presence, that I was sure in those thunderstorms he was gunning for me.

A couple years later I attended my church denomination’s tri-annual youth conference, LIFE ’95. In one of the last large meetings I felt God’s love for the first time. It was the first time I felt no judgment; only love, forgiveness, and as if an enormous weight I didn’t even know was there was suddenly lifted from my soul.

Fast-forward eleven years…I’m in therapy to try and hash out some detectable, but indiscernible emotional issues.

I had been through the height of the True Love Waits movement in which the lesson I took away from it was that my natural, budding, sexual urges were sinful – or could lead to sin. After all, just thinking about having sex was a sin (often citing, and I believe misusing Matthew 5:28).

After considering going to a Christian college I went to East Carolina University instead. I got some advice from an author I admired at the time, John Fischer (just discovered he’s still writing (of course he is!)), asking which would be wiser. He said that if I really wanted to see what my faith was made of, go to the secular school.

Within those four years I experienced a few significant firsts: disillusionment with the Church; abandoning God; sex; grace in a new way; severe self-loathing.

You see, I could have chosen to remain in a Christian bubble, similar to what I had at home, but I decided against that.

And then I moved back home.

It wasn’t long before I found myself cycling between backsliding believer and Bible-thumping asshole.

The jobs I worked at got me further into the real world with the people who I worked alongside and there was more dissonance I felt between being told I should spread God’s good news of unconditional love and yet remain separate from the sinfulness of wicked sinners – especially homosexuals. Shoot, the guy I could most relate to at my first job out of college was gay*. When I worked at a Barnes & Noble café a few years later, one of the shift leads was gay and we’d always, well (heh, heh) have a gay** old time singing showtunes and such toward the ends of our shifts.

As a young adult, the deeper I’d get into the Western Church Machine, the more I found myself despondent, despairing, and ultimately depressed. I couldn’t do anything right. Anything I would do right wouldn’t be me, because God gets all the glory. The only thing I could take credit for was everything I did wrong, and everything I’d do wrong would keep me from knowing God, so just try/pray/read your Bible harder, harder, harder.

Not exactly grace.

So yeah, therapy. First time I was ever told all that was bullshit and that I’m enough as I am. The kernel was planted in my spirit, and has been budding more and more in the last few years, that I will never arrive and be who I was meant to be. I arrived in July of 1980, in all my perfectly flawed glory, and the Darkness got to work (as is wont to happen to all of us who breathe, eat, and shit). But the Light – the Light has always been there, too. And always will be.

I was in therapy for three years, read a bunch of books (I recommend The Ragamuffin Gospel and No Man Is An Island), and went on to make the same damn mistakes…but this time with tools and strategies – a humble way of saying, “the beginning of wisdom” – to augment the ever-present Light and deal with the never-leaving Darkness.

What really helped put things in perspective was my first marriage. Yeah, Jenn’s my second marriage.

That first time out was my last time trying to do things by the book. At the expense of my identity and who I am, I tried following the teachings put out by modern evangelicals instead of trusting my gut. The result was one week of attempted happiness followed quickly by about five months of agony.

Granted, I probably shouldn’t have rushed into it the way I did, but I was sure that if I followed the modern teachings rooted in ancient wisdom everything would turn out okay.

And this is a very generalized telling of the story in extremely broad strokes, but it’s the essence of my experience and how I processed it. It was enough to get me to abandon the system and just go after some freakin’ happiness.

And here I am. Maybe you’ve seen the previous posts in this blog, maybe you haven’t (I’d recommend it for context), but I’m happier and more content with this life than I ever have been.

I still believe in God and Jesus, but I’m finding a need for some serious rethinking on concepts and doctrine; the true depths of mercy, grace, sin, and love.

So, I don’t know what follow-ups to this post will look like, but the door is opened now.

And does any of this resonate with you? Just curious…

Credit: Door Kickers on Facebook
Credit: Door Kickers on Facebook

*adjective, gayer, gayest.

1.

of, relating to, or exhibiting sexual desire or behavior directed towarda person or persons of one’s own sex; homosexual:

a gay couple.

 

**5.

Older Use. having or showing a merry, lively mood:

gay spirits; gay music.

6.

Older Use. bright or showy:

gay colors; gay ornaments.

7.

Older Use. given to or abounding in social or other pleasures:

a gay social season.

 

 

Dang Lucky (or: “Hashbrown: Blessed”)

Let’s see…

This is the tipping point, usually, where I’ve started a blog, pump out a handful of decent posts, then futz out.

Well, it’s about telling stories.

Love
Hasn’t even been a month, but already feels like a lifetime ago.

The last post is the video story of Jenny’s and my trip to the Big Island last summer. It was a lot of fun and I tried to convey that in the editing of the footage. If you haven’t already, check it out.

And then the preceding posts have been stories about our son, Nightstorm. I don’t feel like there’s much to say there in the way of interesting blog posts, suffice to say we’re still battling the wretched rash of his poor heinous anus (and I think we’re winning), and that he’s freaking huge compared to the size he was when he was born. I mean, geez. He eats, sleeps, poops/pees, repeat.

I think he’s starting to make eye contact now, though, and each day we’re learning a little more of his personality.

Jenn and I are trying to figure out how to make him join our program and not make everything all about him.

I mean, he’s a helpless little squirt, but he’s almost a month old now. Regardless of whether we’re starting to train him in certain behaviors, I think it’s good for us to start communicating with him now as we will when he’s a year old, two years, seven years, 18, and on and on and on. Sometimes it seems as though he’s testing us with little cries to see how fast one of us responds.

From the previous Storm-centric posts there has been much improvement. For me, in the aforementioned attitude shift, and we’ve had a few more visitors which I think has improved Jenn’s morale; not to mention that we’re learning ol’ Stormy better, too.

It would seem that every time something new surfaces which alarms either, if not both, of us, it’s something completely normal for newborns and infants. I’m also convinced that a significant amount of pediatrician visits are more for the parents’ state of mind than anything having physiologically to do with the baby.

So now, when something happens, we don’t immediately freak out; we google it, check multiple sources, and go from there. It’s a real mind over matter thing. Watching your progeny experience apparent distress and possible trauma only to find out its gas and all newborns deal with it for a while as their intestines figure out how to work. He may scream and wail, but unless other indicators are present, all you have to do is try and soothe him. Could be gas relief drops do the trick, or the sound of a running faucet, or holding him in a different position.

And to learn that the heinous anus isn’t uncommon was something of a relief, too.

Really, a lot of it is learning that we’re not the only ones who’ve gone through this stuff. I mean, humanity has teemed with staggering numbers for millennia before now, so of course we’re not the only ones; but it’s the specifics of the challenges we face, hearing from a friend how they went through the same thing; or reading an article or messages in a mommy forum, seeing them describe, word-for-word, how you’ve described your own child’s situation. Were it not comforting it’d be freakin’ eerie.

When you feel like you’re the only one facing something, when you feel isolated and all alone, that’s when despair and depression can set in. Whether you’re one of two new parents (or a single one for that matter), recovering from a drug addiction, or just trying to make it through the workday in a toxic environment.

It’s this incalculable value in community I’ve seen demonstrated time and again, moreso ever since leaving North Carolina, my home, six years ago. Cary will always hold  special place in my heart, but now Hawaii is my home. It’s not just where Jenn and I hang our hats; it’s the friendships we’ve established here and the family she has that I’m a part of now.

Before I met Jenn, I never imagined I’d want to call Oahu home. It’s too crowded, traffic sucks, and everything is so freakin’ expensive (especially real estate). But then we met, we fell in love, and I’ve found that I miss this place whenever I travel elsewhere. We are considering relocation in the next few years, but we’ll see where we are as a family by then.

Huh – look at that. A blog post did manage to come out.

A couple other things I want to touch on…pursuing my dream of being a content creator; last summer I started up my production company and gave it a real go. Had a paying client and everything.

As you might imagine, though it worked, it wasn’t smooth at all. Many times I considered throwing in the towel. However, do you know that thing about when people tell you that if you quit something you wanted and the desire keeps coming back then it’s probably something you should pursue anyway? That’s what keeps happening here.

I keep coming back to producing videos, to writing, to filmmaking. I can now, truly say from experience, that failure is good – failure is great!

I delineated a ton of lessons from the experiences of my initial venture and am applying them now to PHAZON MEDIA! I did a lot of things right with The Bailey Adventure, but a lot of things wrong, too; things I wouldn’t have thought of had I not even tried it. So I tried it, succeeded on a level, failed on another, picked up the pieces and here we go again, a little wiser, a little braver, a little more daring.

Shucks, if it weren’t for all failures in my life I never would have moved to Ohio, gotten dumped, enlisted in the Navy*, wound up in Hawaii, and three years later be in a happy marriage with an adorable baby!

And each day still has a healthy amount of failures! Sometimes I cuss and fuss, but I always take time afterward to reflect and learn. I learn how to better communicate with Jenn; I learn how thoughtless I can be and then how I can be more thoughtful. I learn the veracity of the saying: “Bees are attracted to honey, not vinegar.” I learn to let love guide my actions more often than fear and suddenly the world seems a little less nasty; always broken and busted, but less nasty and a wee bit more beautiful.

So, in addition to learning how to husband and dad, I’m learning how to get my business going; I’m learning more about the creative process, about the daily life process. I learn to value and love my wife more as she believes I can handle all of this and I’m blown away when she lets me sleep through the night so I can be better prepared for my physical fitness test, or go off on some Saturday afternoon (today) not just to get the car looked at, but also to catch up on my writing. Not only that, but her willingness to go along with my decision to leave a secure job in the Navy to go back to school to pursue my lifelong dream of writing and filmmaking.

Okay – I’m rambling here, but I can never run out of ways to express how I love my wife. She ain’t perfect, far from a paragon of any kind, but dadgum, she’s perfect for me; somehow she thinks I’m perfect for her, too.

Dang.

*still not an official spokesperson for the U.S. Navy, Dept. of the Navy, Dept. of the Defense, and all opinions and such don’t reflect them, etc.

Reflections on Imminent Fatherhood (or: Holy Shit, I’m About to be a Dad) #3

[I don’t even know if I’m using proper capitalizAtion in the post titles…]

A night storm...
A night storm…

At the end of a long day you’re ready to just crash; but you really ought to take that shower…just one more thing and then – oh, wait. After the shower you have to still floss and brush.

Okay.

Shower. Floss. Brush.

Pajamas.

Pillow.

Sleep.

KA-BANG

During the quiet, peaceful tones of night and sleep wind currents, air pressures, moisture levels and the like have all been conspiring, colluding, and colliding to create a thunderstorm.

With the rapid expansion of super-heated air, you’re jolted awake.

=================================

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but somewhere early on in my life I got it in my head that I’m not worthy of good things. Anything I’ve ever wanted, loved, enjoyed, appreciated is always taken away from me long before I’ve had a chance to really experience it.

At some point later I learned that if I do enough, that if I work hard enough I will be able to earn the right to possess good things. However, with the ability to earn comes the propensity to lose. And so, I would, at times, earn these good things. Not too long after, I would ultimately slip up and then lose that which I understood I had earned.

Entering my 30s, a few years back, I started to finally really get it.

Shit just happens. Good and bad.

The only thing we have even a measure of control over is how we respond to shit, great and small, good and bad, wonderful and terrible.

How we respond to it on one level corresponds to how we respond on a different one. Usually good to great and bad to worse.

It’s taken some monumental disillusionment to destroy that way of thinking – that is, that one must earn the gifts life brings.

And yet, such ways of thinking are so scorched and enmeshed within my soul, scarred into my spirit, wrinkled into my brain that as the clock of life clicks ever closer to the birth of my first son, an irrational yet palpable fear, at times, consumes me.

Some complication will arise claiming the life of my wife, my son, or both.

What have I done to warrant having such a joyful relationship these last two years? What labor have I performed to earn such a great marriage this last year and a quarter? And now a child? And now a son??

Surely every terrible lapse in judgment I’ve committed will catch up with me in mere moments…no, me suddenly dying would be too merciful.

There’s a place in my heart from which a voice declares, “You must live long and in misery for the crimes against reality you’ve committed!” That voice reverberates in my head and I have daymares; it echoes in my lungs and my chest grows tight; it resonates in my gut and everything is awful.

But in the smile of my wife, in the kindness of a stranger, in the misfortune of a colleague, in the wetness of the rain I am reminded for the umpteenth time that there are forces much greater than my will at work in the world.

In the grand scheme of things I’ve not done a damn thing to earn a damned – or blessed – thing.

Jenny loves me freely. Regardless of what I do, li’l ol’ what’s-his-name continues to grow within her body.

God is just and merciful; the universe is fair and gracious; petty things have no place in the dispensation of circumstance.

=================================

With the rapid expansion of super-heated air, I’m jolted awake.

History is but a vivid dream.

In the waking world, life is what I make of it, depending on how I play the hands I’m dealt.

I’m grateful for the night storm, waking me from my nightmares.

 

April Fool’s Day 1988

Back in the late ’80s the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was the thing to have if you were a kid or kid at heart. My earliest memories of video games are of the Atari we had at home and occasionally going to the mall arcade to play Pole Position and Pac-Man (and being traumatized, yet fascinated with Splatterhouse). When the NES was released, it was a literal game-changer.

I recall mom and dad not being super-stoked about it at first, but as its ubiquity increased so did my desire to have one. Not long after its release, our local video stores started renting out consoles. This was pre-Blockbuster in our town and the choice was between Videorama and Video Plaza; the latter won out.

Every week as Friday approached, I’d begin pestering whichever parent was closest about renting a Nintendo for the weekend. Even during our vacation to Hawaii one summer, a condominium complex we stayed in for a few nights had the consoles available and we rented one there. The only available titles were Gyromite and Jaws so I still wound up spending more time outside, but if I needed my fix, it was there.

This cycle went on for the better part of a year and it was okay. I accepted this arrangement of temporary possession as a way of life.

One week in March I began my usual weekly ritual. I noticed dad having some covert conversation with mom before answering. Instead of the usual, “Make sure your homework is done on Thursday” the answer was, “We’ll see.” The problem with that response was there was usually a greater chance it would not work out to my favor.

Friday rolled around and as soon as I got home from school I asked, “Can we please go rent a Nintendo?”

“Wait until your dad gets home,” was mom’s answer. My spirits sank; dad didn’t usually get home until later in the evening. That wasn’t necessarily a problem as the store was open until 10, but there was no way I’d be able to stay up late and get in any good gaming time.

Dad got home about 6 or 7 and I didn’t even give him time to get in the door before I assaulted him with my earnest request. He stifled a bemused laugh, tried to maintain a stoic demeanor, and said to let him come in and rest a bit first. I knew time was of the essence but decided it was best to not come at him with too strongly, so I disappeared to my room and tried to distract myself with Encyclopedia Brown and Calvin and Hobbes.

When it was time to sit down to dinner I was on my best behavior: I was generous with my “please & thank you’s” and was even polite to my sister. When the opportunity presented itself I asked, “May we please rent a Nintendo tonight?”

Dad looked at mom. Mom looked at dad. Something was going on and I had no idea what. Dad responded with, “I’ll entertain the possibility.” That was dad’s go-to answer when he didn’t want to say “YES” too quickly, but still allowed for an unfavorable outcome. I wasn’t thrilled, but I was a little encouraged.

After dinner I asked again.

“It’s a little late son. How about we go first thing tomorrow morning?”

It wasn’t ideal, but hey, at least I’d have Saturday and Sunday after church to play. I agreed and went to watch TV or to my room or something.

DAWN OF A NEW DAY

The next morning I woke up super early, ready to go. I downed a bowl of Cocoa Puffs, watched a cartoon and then dad was finally up.

“I don’t think the store’s even open, yet,” dad observed. “But I have to run some errands first, anyway.”

I said that was fine and headed for the door; dad headed for the kitchen. My sigh must have been audible as he told me to be patient. Mercifully he skipped breakfast and only made himself his usual ginormous cup of coffee. Of course he had to sip it down a bit to mitigate spillage, but after an interminable five minutes we were on the road.

“I need to go by my office and then the post office,” he told me.

“Okay,” I said.

The video store was a 10 minute drive from our house to the shopping center on the corner of Kildaire and Cary Parkway. Dad’s office was a 30 minute drive toward north Raleigh. But it was okay, because it was early and I always enjoyed that drive.

We pulled into the parking lot and I thought maybe I’d go in, but he told me to wait in the car. Dad went in for not even a full minute and then came back out. What was so important yet so brief that we had to really come here? I wondered, but in the terms of a 7-year old.

From there we headed not back toward Cary, but toward Crabtree Valley Mall. When I asked about this, dad said he needed to go to that particular post office. I was trying not to go nuts.

We pulled into the mall parking lot, drove around to the post office and didn’t even stop.

“Huh, looks like it’s closed,” dad observed. “Maybe what I need is in the mall.” So we parked, entered the mall, and somehow ended up at the toy store. I stopped at the video game counter and just gazed longingly at the games locked up in the glass cabinet.

“Can I help you?” the clerk asked. Dad told me to go see if there was a Ninja Turtle I might want. With a sigh I left and halfheartedly surveyed the action figures. Donatello was the only turtle I cared about; completion was not an issue with me at the time; I hadn’t quite leveled up to that particular nerdset. But there was a Shredder figure I hadn’t been able to find yet – – “Cliff! Time to go.”

As I rejoined dad he thanked the clerk, the clerk said no problem, looked at me and winked. I thought it odd, but didn’t give it more thought than that.

“Do you still want to rent a Nintendo?” dad asked me in the car.

“Yes, please,” I said, my fervor rapidly diminishing.

“Well don’t sound too excited,” he said with a chuckle. “We have to make one more stop before going to the store.” This restored a measure of hope.

Going back down the beltline I noticed us approaching Cary Village Mall. What’s with the malls? I wondered, again in 7-year old terms.

Again, we entered the toy store, again I briefly lusted after the 8-bit entertainment and again I was dismissed to the action figure aisle; but this time I kept an eye on dad and his apparent clandestine dealings.

He was engaged in deep conversation with the clerk at the video game counter. I feigned interest in some Duplo sets to get within earshot and overheard him asking about what games might be included…what in the world? The clerk then held up the box for the NES Power Pad.

“This would be good exercise?” dad asked.

“Well, it’s kind of a gimmick, really,” the clerk said. “I’d wait for it to come down in price.”

Dad shot a sideways glance my way and I was immediately engrossed in…a Barbie. I course-corrected to the cap gun section, doing the fastest about-face in recorded history; dad must have bought it because he didn’t say anything.

“Okay,” I heard him say. “We’ll go without that.”

“Good choice,” the clerk said.

“But it does come with two games?”

“Yep; Mario and Duck Hunt.”

My heart raced.

A pause.

“Son, come here, please.”

I slowly approached my dad, wondering what in the world was going on.

“This nice man here is going to help you out. If you could pick any game, which would you choose?”

I was dumbfounded. I turned to the clerk and he laughed.

“Any of these blow your hair back?” he asked. I was temporarily puzzled as I sported a buzzcut in those days, but then understood.

I looked closer. Some titles I recognized, most I didn’t. But there was a gold box – Zelda? But the lettering on Zelda was red; this was blue…no, it was Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.

“There’s a second one?!” I said.

“You talking about Zelda? Yep! It’s way different, but I think it’s alright,” the clerk said.

“That one,” I said, pointing at it and looking at dad.

The clerk unlocked the cabinet and pulled out a copy, laying it on the counter next to a black box I hadn’t noticed earlier. It had a picture of a Nintendo, two controllers, and a Light Zapper on it.

I…I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.

All the words, all the noises inside me exited so fast all I could do was breathe.

Dad knelt down, put his hand on my shoulder and with a smile said, “I’m sorry son, we’re not going to rent a Nintendo today.”