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.

 

 

TWO WEEKS AND LIFE TO GO

Lic. from Adobe Stock
Lic. from Adobe Stock

Today (Tuesday) we hit the two week mark and we still have a baby.

I realize that may sound silly, but really, this whole ordeal is still quite surreal. We were basically sequestered in small rooms at the hospital those first few days then released to our home with a new roommate. The only thing is, this roommate doesn’t do (anything but) shit [and] take, take, take and really, that’s okay because Jenn and I just want to give, give, give…until we don’t.

Don’t misunderstand: we love our li’l Nightstorm to the moons of Uranus and back. It’s just the sudden inclusion of someone else to love as intensely as we love each other continues to throw us for a loop.

And what it takes to make sure this li’l adorable snugglebug has everything he needs…

…for example: after I typed the word “needs” just then, Stormy started crying and needed tending to. Now it’s the morning after.

Anyway, what I was getting around to saying is that giving love to a newborn is a vastly different dynamic than giving love to another adult. Sounds like a given, I know, but you don’t really know until you’re in it eyeballs deep.

This whole experience is really making us define new limits of what we’re capable of. For example:

Your whole day can go off the rails because maybe the baby*starts fussing for no determinable reason. All your methods of soothing fail and then at the next diaper change you discover a crucial bit of diaper rash that seemingly sprang up out of nowhere (because you make damn sure to take every single precaution to prevent diaper rash) and then start noticing your kid really seems to hate pooping because of the pain involved and you start getting anxiety because pooping is an essential function for daily living and if you train your kid (inadvertently or otherwise) from week 2 out of a possible 70 years that pooping is something to be afraid of, you realize you’ve really screwed your kid over.

Or maybe you get worried about overfeeding the kid because the doctor made such and such recommendation at the last appointment but the baby keeps wailing and eating his mittens and apparently contradicting the recommendation there’s always the mandate to “feed on demand” and googling every 5 minutes about overfeeding a newborn brings a little comfort until he has to poop again and you see the face scrunch up, the skin go purple, and the wails go nuclear and you’re back to the aforementioned problem.

So yeah; it takes a lot.

One of the more frustrating aspects is the inability to communicate efficiently. Jenn and I say all kinds of things to him in all manner of voices and tones, and he doesn’t really respond.

He can’t tell us what he wants or needs except through a very primitive system of body language and sounds based not on clearly defined thoughts but only exclusively motive and instinct.

And again – another 30-40 minutes just went by for diapers, feeding, and burping.

Saying all that to say in terms of defining new limits for ourselves: we’re learning the value of sleep in a whole new way and we’re not superhumans. Sleep/rest is what fuels the patience reserves. Shoots, sleep is what fuels the energy reserves. It’s real easy to get caught up in trying to do stuff, and once Stormy’s down for a nap, not even considering napping ourselves. Rather, the idea is, “He’s down! Quick – to the activity list!!” And when you’re giving 110% to your kid for any amount of time, it’s difficult to switch gears and redirect whatever energy is left from that expenditure to something else.

Bleh…I’ve lost where exactly I was going with this…

20% staged/posed; 100% flummoxed.
20% staged/posed; 100% flummoxed.

Anywho, we’ve made it to the two-week mark and crises still turn out to be common issues easily dealt with (when of sound body and mind). In the midst of all this, Jenn and I are miraculously somehow rekindling our romance. I reckon it has to do with us being united by a common challenge: raising our son. It could slip into an us vs. him situation, but I think that’s why God makes babies so goshdarn adorable, to make it more difficult to get/stay mad at them. And Stormy is a freakin’ cutie pie.

Rather than us vs. him, it’s us for him vs. the challenges of life and forces of evil that conspire against life.

And I guess that’s about it for now.

L’chaim!!

THINGS I’VE LEARNED ABOUT STORMY SO FAR:

– he loves his mother’s touch
– he gets the hiccups a lot
– he seems to like the ambient works of Aphex Twin
– he can pound a 2oz milk like a thirsty man pounds a pint
– he has about an 80% complicit response rate to my Dr. Claw voice

*speaking in general terms to try and make it universally applicable

Reflections on Immediate Fatherhood (or: “By Golly, I’m a Dad!”)

 

100% posed/staged. Still freakin' precious.
100% posed/staged. Still freakin’ precious.

Conrad Nightstorm Won Bailey was born last Tuesday just before noon.

We call him Stormy.

His projected due date was May 10.

The docs decided it would be best to induce May 3 due to some health concerns for mother and baby.

The morning of the 25th, my wife, Jenny, and I went in for her weekly morning appointment to measure her amniotic fluids, Stormy’s heartbeat, etc. Ever since she had the flu a few weeks back her blood pressure had been slightly elevated. Her baseline is ridiculously low (compared to mine, anyway) so “slightly elevated” actually means “normal” for others. My dear wife is extraordinary in so many ways.

Anyway, there’s been a running fear of preeclampsia. Jenn never exhibited any other symptoms except for her slightly elevated BP, so we never worried. However, there was something different about that morning.

After the appointment, we drove home and I was getting ready to suit up for work. Jenn got a call from her OBGYN and then another from the lady who helps her at her weekly appointments. It was recommended she go into the hospital for observation. We were told it could only be a couple hours or much more, depending on what they’d find.

One pee and one blood test later, findings urged the docs to decide to proceed with induction.

Stormy was coming a week earlier than planned and two full weeks earlier than initially projected – I’ve since learned that’s fairly common among mothers in my varying social circles.

We were moved from the triage level to the maternity ward. Jenn and I each texted our respective friends and families that we should be expecting a new Bailey within 24 hours or so.

Now, not trying to get too far into the weeds here, but pregnancy, birth, etc – holy shit, it’s a messy, traumatic business.

A woman’s body goes through many, many changes as it prepares to deliver a baby. Over the millennia, as women have given birth to propagate our species, the smarties in scrubs have been able to document and analyze birth activity so well that they basically know what’s going to be happening each week leading up to term.

So, since Jenny wasn’t experiencing anything but Higgs-Boson contractions up to that point, her cervix had only dilated a little bit. The docs were going to need to try and manually jimmy that hatch open so the fetal soul who would be our son could escape his amniotic prison.

They used a, uh…balloon. Not the kind you get at a circus or the State Fair, but you know; one of those medical balloon thingies. Maybe it had a smiley face on it, I’ll never know.

The experts predicted it’d take all night for it to do its job. It took only a few hours, well before midnight Monday.

And so the IV drip of…not Percocet…whatever the induction drug is; that began. And then the REAL contractions started coming and it was killing me watching Jenn in such pain.

She’s also had a lingering cough since her bout with the flu a while back and during the last few weeks of pregnancy had developed this crazy itch which the nurses said would be cured by delivery (not DiGiorno, sadly (pregnancy pizza party with pizzazz!).

Close to midnight she called in the epidural and before too long she was sitting pretty as ever, with a ghastly needle deftly jammed into her spine dripping in sweet, sweet painkilling medication. She and I both were finally able to get a little bit of sleep when the faulty epi-alarm wasn’t going off.

Before we knew it morning had broken and so had her water, some time during the night.

At 0900 it was decided it was time to start pushing, and it actually started about 5 after.

Dawn, our nurse, assigned me the task of counting Jenn through the contractions. Since she was numb from the waist down, they needed to monitor the contractions on some birth computer thing. Not too long into the process Jenn could begin to feel the pressure of the contraptions (ed. note: Contractions…there were no contraptions to speak of.) – not the pain, but the pressure, which, ironically, could be painful to a point in and of itself.

With each contraction I held on tightly to Jenn’s hand and counted like a motherfucker. We had music playing from her phone – a Mozart-inspired list she had found. After looping a few times I recommended The Piano Guys. She had forgotten about them – she wanted soothing music…so I pulled up a couple of their albums on my phone and started playing them.

Before we knew it, Stormy’s hairy little head was visible just within the…uh…flaps? He wasn’t crowning quite yet, but the docs would part something down there and say, “He’s a hairy little guy!” or something to that effect.

More pushing, more counting and breathing, more Piano Guys starting to loop, and then Dawn suggested the Rocky soundtrack. Jenn said it’d be fine (she had more important things to worry about than the soundtrack of her delivery (again, not DiGiorno; sigh)) and so I quickly spun up The Rocky Story album and Eye of the Tiger kicked in.

Stormy didn’t.

After coursing through that song, There’s No Easy Way Out and Hearts On Fire, I was hoping he’d come out to the tune of Gonna Fly Now.

Li’l sucker took his sweet time getting out though.

One or two album loops later, though, he finally emerged to the tune of motherfuckin’ EYE OF THE TIGER. Damn straight! Winning!

But damn…oh my Jesus…first seeing his hoary cranium crown…THAT was weird…and it slowly, slowly emerging…I was back by Jenn’s side so I didn’t get…everything (and I’m okay with that). But wow. With every push session, with every sequence of counting that eventually turned into just, “Holy cow, babe! You got this! You got this! Holy shit, he’s coming! YOU’VE GOT THISSSSSS!!!”

And then…out he came, into this broken, sad, but still functioning world. As hairy as a model and as loud as a banshee. I seriously thought I was watching an alien autopsy, first impression.

But no…it was our son.

Stormy had arrived.

And I’m tearing up like a little baby myself as I type these very words.

He’s our little miracle.

Why, with all the other couples out there, should we have a fully functioning human baby with no grave or ill concerns?

And yet his breathing was a little labored and grunty, as one of the nurses put it. His air sacs were having a little trouble developing, but dang, he could wail.

I cut the cord, they cleaned him up and gave him to Jenny.

I’ll never forget how that precious little soul cried from the shock of transitioning from somewhere so safe, warm, and secure as my wife’s womb to this cruel, yet wonderful realm of existence we call earth.

His chin quivered with the intensity of each declaration of, “I’M HERE AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON, BUT LET’S GET ON WITH IT ALREADY!!”

A week and some change later he still quivers that chin when he’s getting real.

He…that seven pound little human…he has changed everything.

The first couple of nights were the worst.

The whole feeding thing; why is he crying?; oh my god, did I just kill him? All this and much, much more was running through our heads – still is to a point.

They – whoever they are (some who know, some who don’t) – said everything would change.

But geez. I mean, wow.

Sleep? Yeah, when you can – when he is and when you’re not paranoid about whether or not SIDS will take him.

Did you read my last post? How it’s all poignant and trying to sound enlightened and whatnot? Bruh – it’s…it contains truth, but when you defenestrate the textbook – so to speak – and are suddenly hands-on with a precious little fussy, waily, dude who farts like a man and pees like a sprinkler at all hours…it’s different.

I don’t want to say it all goes out the window, per se. A lot of it does, but not everything.

The core knowings versus the pervasive feelings.

The main thing that keeps us alive is that we know neither of us are in this alone. Stormy is both our responsibility.

And what helps cement that is putting each other’s needs above that of our newborn.

That’s not to say I’m advocating any kind of neglect or anything; but let the kid wail just a second longer so you can give your spouse an extra squeeze or kiss and let her know everything will be fine.

A few weeks back, I can’t remember who the guest was, but whoever he was on Pete Holmes’ You Made It Weird podcast (I think it was Tom Papa or Adam Conover), when Pete asks him the greatest lesson you’ve learned from family, the guest’s answer is:

“Kiss your wife before you kiss your kids.”

I’ve taken that to ever-lovin’ heart.

I think I’ve missed it only once, but otherwise whenever I return from running errands, I make it a point to hug and kiss my good lovin’ mama before acknowledging our firstborn. He can’t comprehend anything yet; it’s fine and once he can I’ll adapt accordingly to help him preserve his own self-worth. Just don’t mess with mom and dad, kid. We’re your secure relationship. Mess with that you’re only screwing yourself.

…geez…they’re all blending together.

After the weekend, I think, one night I was about 20 hours deep with only 2-3 hours of sleep powering me and I found myself thinking nefarious things when Stormy was fussing during his myriad diaper changes: kicking the bandage off his recovering weenie; squirming away from the diaper; pulling himself away from the diaper; just being a real grade-A a-hole.

Now, don’t get me wrong: rationally I know the poor little guy is just acting on instinct and I have little clue as to how I’m affecting him, what he’s feeling on the inside (turns out a fair amount of gas pain, poor kid), and how that all mishmashes up within causing him such apparent turmoil.

But when you’re running on fumes and your emotions are raw, rationality has no place in such circumstances.

Thing is, I’m blessed/cursed with such self-awareness that I knew exactly what was happening, but I didn’t have the energy to act on it, save from actually acting on the frustration and annoyance consuming me.

Bless her dear sweet heart, Jenn could see I was cranky and told me to take five…hours. I crashed and she watched dear li’l Nightstorm.

Shoot…even now, I can still feel his wee li’l head snuggling up under my chin when I’m burping him and my crusty heart goes all aflutter. I can feel him grasping, hear him crying, me trying to reassure and soothe him with words and noises that the paste I’m dabbing on his wee heinie is for his own good; that alcohol wipes around his wormwoody umbilical cord remnant are to help him and that it really isn’t a big deal, but like I said…he can literally barely comprehend shit itself.

And then my graceful, gracious wife nearly lost her cool with our precious bundle of potential menace today. I told her to take five and she finally did.

And like, this is great; we’re both really seeing each other pull through for each other in what feels like impossible binds. When she allows me some extra sleep or vice versa, upon waking from that sleep we’re so grateful that we express it in such a way we’re reduced to tears.

I like to think that such visceral reactions to what should be common displays of affection and love mean we’re all three going to make it; and how.

Then again, with love, displays are never common; if it’s true.

At this point we’re just starting to find our groove.

Tonight a handful of her closest friends who happen to also be mothers are visiting.

I drove out to my dayjob office to pick up a couple things and to take the time to catch up on my writing/blogging.

Ha! Silly me thought that while I’m on paternity leave I’d have time to work on The Golem’s Curse. Turns out, it’s looking like I’m not going to make the deadline for the contest for MyRodeReel2016.

This year I’m transitioning out of the Navy, into the Air Guard, into school with the post-9/11 GI Bill, editing a film I shot in February, trying to kickstart my local commercial production business, and support my wife and now-child.

Doable, but not easy at all.

But definitely worth it.

 

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.