The Balance

I’ve just finished the dishes and a cursory cleaning of the kitchen countertops. Jenn asks who the guest is on the episode of You Made It Weird I’m listening to. Roy Wood, Jr., I tell her. She looks puzzled and I explain he’s a correspondent on The Daily Show. I’ve really been enjoying the conversation between him and Pete Holmes. It makes me a little lonely, not having any real close guy friends I can hang out with and talk to the way Pete and Roy talk about life, comedy, family, philosophy and times you’ve laughed the hardest.

With about 10 minutes left in the podcast, I decide to go sit on the couch and listen to the rest while feeling the cool air of the living room fan blow on me. Jenn’s on her computer preparing for her first week of the school year when she says, “Uh-oh.”

“What’s up?” I ask.

“Do you hear that?”
I look toward the bedroom and sure enough, I hear a faint cry. I pause the podcast, put my phone in my pocket and go into the bedroom.

Stormy’s woken up and I see he’s upset and on his knees among the pillows, wondering where Jenn and I are. He sees me and stands up, arms outstretched, crying. My heart melts a little as I rush in to pick him up, quietly telling him everything’s okay.

Not a second passes and his head is already resting on my shoulder. Not sure if he’s quite asleep I still hang onto him, patting his back and doing my best to remain in the moment.

After a few minutes I’m pretty sure he’s asleep and I lay him down on the mattress and lie down next to him. His eyes are closed tightly, but he still moves. He wiggles into kind of a downward dog pose then rolls over, snuggling up into a spoon position against my chest.

My heart melts a little more and I help keep his arms still as he’s a restless sleeper and he gets into a more sound sleep when his limbs are secured.

I look at his little round face, finally at rest. His breathing is slow and deep. I begin to reflect…

SO much has happened in the last year since li’l Stormy came into the world. It’s been one of the longest and fastest years of my life.

Earlier Jenn asked me if I remembered the sleeping ritual for Stormy when he was a few months old. I honestly could (and still) not remember. That period is a hazy blur. Few memories stick out from the first handful of months – especially during the first weeks.

I remember we started alternating nights of who would stay up and sleep on the couch, keeping an eye on Stormy as he swung back and forth in the infant swing. It was the only way he’d sleep in those days. One of those nights there was a Stephen King movie marathon on TV. It was the first time I ever saw Maximum Overdrive, albeit half-awake, and the first time in many years I had seen Pet Sematary.

I remember how a lullaby version of The Imperial March was the first song to soothe him in his bassinet and how Zelda’s Lullaby would instantly calm him down when he’d start sobbing in the car during rush hour traffic.

Anyway, I digress…

I’m about to turn 37. Jenny and I are zeroing in on 40, and here we are with this brand new thing, this whole new venture in our lives – offspring. And as precious and precocious as Stormy is in this time, he’s not going to be a toddler forever. Part of me celebrates and part of me laments that fact.

It’s taken me 36 years just to get to this point: the beginning of my career in film and writing; a married man for a couple years; a father.

Now, if I want to see Stormy grow up and be there for him every step of the way…that’s going to take at least another 36 years. Well, 35 from this point.

I confess that while I look forward to many things to come, part of me shudders, wondering: do I have another 35 years in me?

By the time he’d be graduating from high school, I’ll be 52.

I don’t feel like a father. I don’t feel like a husband. And yet, there is a woman who fell in love with me and assures me I am both.

I don’t feel like I’m about to turn 37.

Oftentimes I feel like I did when I was 15-22, when I was starting to figure things out; when I was starting to figure myself out. Past 22, things become a bit of a blur unless I stop and think deliberately about certain times in my life.

Over the last five years or so, I’ve learned that life isn’t as simple as I wished or was led to believe it is.

My views and understanding of faith and objects of faith have undergone a radical metamorphosis. Things that were so fundamental to my worldview, which I thought were unmovable and immutable, I’ve experienced them to be quite movable and flexible.

I think of the second album by Jars of Clay entitled, Much Afraid, an album I listened to heavily during my freshman year of college. I think specifically of the second track: Fade to Grey.

I need something familiar, but with new meaning to walk me into this new world. I love how non-specific and open to interpretation the lyrics of the song are. The band caught a lot of flack from the church for that on their first album. But that’s how life is: open to interpretation, rarely so easy to understand.

 

I Was Certain…

Woo, dog – going on four months since the last post; my apologies, but, it turns out I needed that unplanned sabbatical.

Last night I finally started reading the book, The Sin of Certainty by Peter Enns. I’ve heard it recommended – at least the author – many times on a couple of my favorite podcasts: Ask Science Mike and The Liturgists. Maybe one or two others, I’m not sure…

Highly Recommended

Anyway, I only got through 3-4 of the first chapters (they’re very short, so far) and already I feel more capable of articulating my faith journey because what Enns describes is similar to my own experience.

Namely, growing up and cultivating a faith of absolute certainty, having a crisis or two of faith over the years, and watching that certainty erode, allowing for a more fluid, robust faith. Not a faith that hinges on arguments or apologetics – just a faith that is.

In so doing, I’ve found I’ve also increased my capacity to practice the greatest of these: love.

Instead of condemning others for perceived sins because I was so certain they were committing them, I can be more patient, compassionate, and understanding.

Instead of having to be right about my beliefs of certainty – and thus, building walls between myself and others – I can be more open and hear more of what people have to say, thus enriching my own life with these new perspectives and experiences.

It’s also easier to spot and stop self-righteousness when I saddle up my high horse and turn a potentially contentious situation into one of vibrant personal growth.

I’ve heard it said that the antithesis of faith isn’t disbelief, but rather certainty. And as I write this, I know that certainty has its place in the human experience, but I think I’m talking more about certainty without humility; certainty that is right and correct beyond a shadow of a doubt with no room for change. A static state. One that can’t grow because it can’t change.

And I guess it’s really more of an attitude than anything. On one hand we need to be able to change, grow, and adapt; but on the other we also need structure, boundaries, and limits. I believe that we need to be able to grow within any given structure, but always with the understanding that the structure itself can change – or that we can grow differently than what the structure prescribes, perhaps needing to restructure it at a certain point, or move on to another altogether.

Of course, this begs the ultimate question about God. Certainty? Faith? Where the hell does that come into play? Well, in the Bible, certainty is never commanded – only faith. There is Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Maybe it’s more about the target, or object of faith. Because you can put your faith in a certain thing, like levitation by snapping your fingers, but if you were to try it, you would fail; thus, the faith failed because it was placed in the wrong thing.

That’s the thing – realizing we’re living lives of faith. We can’t know any given thing is true. We can act on a certain thing, and if it works out, in that experience, it proves the hypothesis. Then we can try it again, if it works, huzzah. But then at some point maybe it won’t. Then maybe it will again, or maybe it will never again. And that’s when we can either just dismiss it and move on to the next big thing, or we can stay with it; question it, look deeper into it and try to see what’s up.

I think scientists do this kind of thing, too; some kind of method or something of testing principles, looking for certain results, etc. But then again what do I know?

Bottom line is, humility. Faith without it is presumption. We have to be willing to be wrong – about everything – which is why we can’t hold too tightly to anything. But we do this trusting that it’s going to be okay.

After all, what’s the absolute worst that can happen?

ANCHORS AWEIGH PART 12

Hey! So it’s been awhile. Holidays happened, life happened, and I’m finding myself overcome with projects, some going on a year old now. However, I didn’t want to abandon this. Thank you to the few who take some time to read my ramblings and I’m so glad to hear from some of you that this stuff actually helps encourage you! That’s the whole point, why I write, create, blahblahblah – to try and make the world a better place if only a little bit at a time. So, I’m going to try and get this back into weekly mode and maybe get into more stuff as time goes on and I get this time management magic worked out.

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

So here’s where it starts getting weird.

I got that initial paperwork regarding the treatment of my kidney stone in as quick as I could. A day or two later I learned that it was not sufficient. There needed to be something stating that I was treated, released from care and that there were no subsequent occurrences. So, I figured I needed to do a little more footwork. I thought and thought and thought…and HUZZAH!

I remembered when after I passed the stone I visited a urologist for follow-up. So I tracked down the doctor who did all that, called up the office and was able to get the records sent relatively quickly.

However, in conjunction with that, Navy Personnel Command required I get tested locally to show a recent record of my clean bill of urological health. It would be a doctor’s visit requiring a pee test and a CAT scan.

Uh-oh.

At the time I was working in a call center department for a natural gas company through a temp agency. Because money was kind of tight I used their 0$ group health insurance. I had no idea how much a CAT scan would cost, but I was convinced my meager health insurance wouldn’t cover it, so I googled out-of-pocket costs for CAT scans. Holy Cheerios, the lowest was about $1,500 and highest around $4K. There was no way I could cover that at the time.

All that time I had been praying, seeking God’s will. I was sure he wanted me to pursue enlistment, but with the setbacks I wasn’t so sure he wanted me to succeed. I was seeing it more as a “are you willing to go this far?” kind of faith test, perhaps preparing me for something greater.

Well, I called up people back home in North Carolina and was encouraged to not give up quite yet. Just go into a doctor’s office and see what would happen. Bear in mind, I didn’t have a primary care physician at that time, so I had to go to a Minute Clinic. Before leaving the house that morning I said to God, “Hey man, you want this to happen, I’m gonna need to get this procedure for a song.”

On my lunchbreak, I went to the nearest Minute Clinic location. Handing over my paperwork to the lady at the desk, my heart skipped a beat as her brow furrowed.

“I’m sorry, we can’t help you with this.”

I asked her why not.

“Well, we’re in a Kroger grocery store, so we couldn’t really fit a CAT scan machine in here. But our location on the other side of the parking lot has one! You can try there,” she said with a smile.

So I booked it on over to the location on the other side of the parking lot.

I handed the lady there my materials, she had me sign in, and I asked how much it would cost.

“Oh, well, technically this is just a visit, so that’s $29.95.”

“What about the CAT scan?” I asked.

“We can just put that here under the ‘visit’,” she smiled.

“Wait,” I said, “so the whole thing is just $29.95?”

“With your insurance, yup.”

I swear I could hear the Divine humming Rooster In the Straw.

Sunrise in the early morning hours of Chanthaburi Thailand. (from Adobe Stock)

TO BE CONTINUED

 

2016 Reflections

It’s been quite a year.

A lot of folks think it’s been a terrible year. The world has lost many worldwide famous entertainers as well as close, personal loved ones. Even now, as the clock ticks down to midnight on the east coast, I’m seeing new Facebook posts pop up from folks whose relatives or family members have passed on to the next life.

I’m not going to say how people should grieve or handle loss, but for me 2016 wasn’t a terrible year, though it certainly hasn’t been without its fair share of new challenges and hard lessons.

I’d say the most significant event for me was Stormy’s birth back in April. He came a couple weeks ahead of schedule and has changed everything, and I’d change nothing back.

The second most significant event for me was transitioning out of the military and back into being a full-time student, this time in my dream major: filmmaking.

Losing that job security has had its share of stressors, but Jenn, Stormy and I are doing okay so far, and the future’s looking good so long as we’ve got each other.

I’ve learned that there’s a difference between knowing the world isn’t black and white and viewing it as such and acting accordingly.

I’ve learned that if I truly believe I am as worthy of respect as the next guy, I need to stand up for myself and understand that sometimes people will be upset when I do that.

I’ve also learned that standing up for myself doesn’t mean I get to or have to be a dick about it ( – baby steps – ).

I’ve learned and experienced a newer, deeper level of selfless love since Jenn and I became parents.

I’ve learned that though I may have missed out on friendships available over 18 years ago, under the right circumstances it’s never too late to reconnect and enjoy the good old time now rather than lamenting the previously missed opportunities.

I guess I’ve learned that redemption is divine and the mundane is sacredly profound.

I’ve learned that I have a whole lot more to learn before it’s my time to go.

Here’s to another 365ish days hurtling through the frigid vacuum of space in solar orbit on our homey pale blue dot.

END OF TOUR

Five years.

In retrospect it all just flew by; things always seem to have gone faster once you’re on the other side of them. Yet, I feel like getting to where I am now has been in the works for many more years than just the last five.

Part of me thinks I should have enlisted right out of high school or college. Of course, had I done that, I wouldn’t have had the experiences I’ve had; I wouldn’t be who I am today. While I’m not 100% proud of the choices the who-I-am-today makes, I’m on pretty good terms with him and we get shit done.

So yeah, it couldn’t have happened any other way. My experience in the Navy wouldn’t have been the same, I think. I wouldn’t have the same appreciation for life and the gifts it brings that I have today. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have the same worldview, either. Maybe close…the more time that passes, the more I’m convinced I was on the right track when I was 17, 18, but for whatever reason I lacked that inner core of confidence to just freakin’ go for it.

Shucks, I am 100% positive I wouldn’t have gotten this assignment to Hawaii with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (neé JPAC) 18 or so years ago had I enlisted then and I would have missed the incredible experiences and interesting people I’ve met and worked with.

From Laos to Greenland it’s been one hell of a ride and a privilege of which to be a part.

First time ever in Laos - last day of the mission surrounded by such incredibly lovely people.
First time ever in Laos – last day of the mission surrounded by such incredibly lovely people.
Greenland - amazing mission with quality people. No one makes 'em quite like the Coasties.
Greenland – amazing mission with quality people. No one makes ’em quite like the Coasties.

Now it wasn’t all sunshine and daisies, but the ups sure outnumber the downs and in the end I’ve learned to stand up for myself and for others – not perfectly, and hardly ever gracefully, but everything is a work-in-progress. I only hope I can pass what I’ve learned on to my son, as my father hoped to pass certain things on to me.

So what’s the next step? Who the heck knows?!

I’m about halfway through my first semester at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, in the Digital Cinema track (modern filmmaking); working on a couple novels; working on my filmmaking portfolio; raising a baby with my wife; loving the crap out of my wife (we keep each other regular); and meeting each challenge as it comes. We started working on our plan more than a year ago and continue to work on it. Life changes things. Plans change.

Adapt and overcome.

So yeah, I feel like I’ve been waiting for this my whole life and blam-o, here I am in the thick of it already.

Zing.

What living on a glacier for six weeks can do to a man. Desperately trying to get this look back...
What living on a glacier for six weeks can do to a man. Desperately trying to get this look back…

Anchors Aweigh Part 7 – Considering Options

PREVIOUSLY…

Sometimes you have to ignore the signs...
Sometimes you have to ignore the signs…

My initial reaction was one of disbelief, but deeper within that, within the guts of my soul, I knew this was the answer I was looking for. I didn’t say that right off the bat, no, I said I’d consider it, pray about it and look into it. As soon as I got off the phone, though, I had a mild rush of excitement as I knew this was the avenue I was to pursue, even if it didn’t end as I thought it might, which at that point, I had no clue as to how such a pursuit might end.

I had no point of reference to compare to the military, so I couldn’t even begin to imagine what it might be like.

One thought flashed in my head: BAND CAMP. I quickly dismissed it, though, thinking there was no way high school band camp could at all compare to boot camp or the military experience in general.

I started checking out the different websites for the services – Army.com, Navy.com, AirForce.com, Marines.com – and settled on the Navy. Something about the romance of seafaring grabbed my gut.

I started looking through the different job possibilities, I even took a survey to see which one I might be suited for. The result was: photojournalist. The page said something about how I’d be good at telling the Navy’s story through word and image. I scoffed at that; after all, that’s kind of what I majored in at ECU many moons ago. I felt as though I had already blown my chance at making something of myself in the world of media. Whatever karmic energy there is that gives a brother a shot at doing something he loves, I figured I had used mine up in the media department.

I thought perhaps I could be some kind of welder or work in construction. I didn’t know, just something new, something different. As much as anything I saw this as a way to reinvent myself, to learn something new about myself, to make something better of myself.

Anchors, Aweigh! [Part 6 of my story of making the best decision of my adult life]

PREVIOUSLY…

The company of friends is a great thing, and when you’re at your lowest, nice strangers are good stand-ins until they become friends which is what happened for me. I was connected with a small group Bible study from another church. Being near about the oldest person in the group – by a margin of a few years – was a bit strange for me at first, but they were just cool, nice people who accepted me as I was.

I’m pretty sure they didn’t know of the recent emotional devastation I was coming out of, and that was okay.

These new friends helped me smile again. With make-up.
These new friends helped me smile again. With make-up.

They were younger so their faith was younger, more fresh – zesty, I daresay; and by faith, I guess I just mean their outlook on life. In addition to just being younger in age, some of them were younger in the faith, and I needed newness, freshness, different perspectives to help me heal and move on.

Things were starting to look up. I wasn’t going to the bathroom at work to cry as much, I was generally feeling better, and since I wasn’t dwelling so much on the past I was able to start thinking about my future.

That was when I realized, I had no freakin’ clue what to do about it.

At that point I was qualified to be a schoolteacher, work in middle management, or just management in retail. But I had no drive, no real motivation.

Over the years I had considered becoming a pastor, but that would require more school.

I briefly considered returning to video/filmmaking, but I felt grossly underqualified and clueless about the whole thing.

So while I was feeling better about things in general, I was rudderless, directionless, feeling no push or pull in any given direction, and that got me feeling antsy.

During another phone conversation with my surrogate mom, I expressed all this to her. She said to pray about it, so I did. A few days later during another conversation she said she had been talking to her husband, who among other things is a Marine who served in Vietnam during the war. He suggested I look into the military, the Air Force or something.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Anchors, Aweigh! [Part 5 of my story of making the best decision of my adult life]

PREVIOUSLY…

The second time – could’ve been another day, could’ve been later that day – I revisited the notion after a long day at work. For a good month or so I’d spend at least 15 minutes in a stall in the men’s room crying softly. The feeling would just come on all of a sudden; I’d have to log off the phone, hold it in while I walked quickly to the restroom, hope no one else was in there, and just let it out as quietly as possible, sometimes stuffing toilet paper in my mouth to help keep it muffled.

...but you already know what I'm thinking...
…but you already know what I’m thinking…

Following one of those many days I had a similar mental exchange. Except when I got to the accomplishing part it seemed a little easier; I was already in my car and there was a highway right over the hill I could have a fantastic wreck on. But then I thought of the other people who might be possibly involved. And then the third voice barged in again, asking what the fuck I was thinking.

You know what I’m thinking, I responded.

RIGHT – BEFORE YOU DO YOU ANYTHING YOU’LL REGRET, MAKE A FUCKING PHONE CALL!!

And then, I don’t know, I just came to my senses and called back home to North Carolina and talked to my surrogate mom – I was ashamed and scared to tell her what I had been considering. Ashamed for the stigma surrounding people possessing such thoughts and scared to admit it because that somehow makes it more real.

She wasn’t mad, she wasn’t ashamed, but she was scared for me and suggested I call my former therapist. I called her right away and we talked for a few minutes. I called her again a few days later; no more thoughts along those lines, and by that time more people were coming into my life.

The all caps, bold and italic lettering voice I think was the voice of God; or my guardian angel if you think God is above using the f-bomb.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Anchors, Aweigh! [Part 4 of my story of making the best decision of my adult life]

PREVIOUSLY…

Have you ever seen a dog chasing a car? Ever wonder what a dog would do if it actually caught the car? That’s kind of what it was like when I moved to Ohio. I didn’t really know what to do once I caught the woman I had been pursuing for going on three years. So, I just made her my life.

I had no other friends except those I met through the church I started attending because she was already attending. I wouldn’t spend any time with those friends unless she was at work or otherwise occupied. I basically felt as though I was nothing without her.

2011...I seriously had no idea what I was doing, but denial played a strong part. Good thing I hadn't really started drinking yet.
2011…I seriously had no idea what I was doing, but denial played a strong part. Good thing I hadn’t really started drinking yet.

That’s too much of a burden for anyone to bear, the burden of another’s existence, of another’s value. And it proved too much for her. Ultimately that relationship failed and because I had invested so much of my life into it, when it was gone and she was absent from my life all of a sudden, I felt like I had nothing. What was the point of waking up each morning only to feel the worst I had ever felt in all my life? Day after day, each hour of each day, each minute of each hour.

There were two distinct occasions – shucks, it might have even been the same day, time was just slushing along, all mixed up – but I distinctly remember two separate times at which I seriously considered ending it all.

One of those times was one morning as I woke up. My internal dialogue went something like as what follows:

What’s the point?

We have to go to work.

But why?

Because, we have to. Responsibility.

But why? What’s beyond that? Why keep on doing this?

Because we’re here.

What if we weren’t?

I imagine we’d feel a lot better.

We wouldn’t feel anything.

That’d feel better than this…

And then I started thinking about how I could accomplish it and I guess as I woke up something else woke up and barged into the conversation:
WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU THINKING??!

That was enough to scare me back from the proverbial edge.

…the first time…

TO BE CONTINUED…

Connecting With the Past

We shouldn’t live in the past, but by all means we should be connected with it.

Tuesday morning I went into the gym for my daily Fit By First workout. It involved jumping jacks, situps/crunches, planks, and other things.

I took my place in front of the mirror.

I jiggled.

I wiggled.

I shook and shimmied involuntarily as I put my body through the paces.

And I watched.

Never have I seen me in such a state.

I’ve weighed this amount before, but I’ve never put myself in front of a full-body mirror and tried doing full-body exercises.

A few years ago that would have been mortifying. Now it’s…well, while I’m not satisfied with my metabolic status quo I realize it’s not going to change overnight and I’m not going to lose anything of value while I’m in it.

According to the Navy, for my height I’m about 30 pounds out of regulations. I think it’s fair to say it’s not all muscle; it’s not even 50% muscle, I think. I’d say it’s probably more significant than I think, but nowhere near what I’d want it to be. Well, maybe near; I’m not obese, but I am rambling, so to the point:

A lot of change has been going on in my life.

IMG_2295

I became a father this year. I went back to school. I’m getting out of the Navy after five years of service. Jenn and I moved and she went back to work. I have to drive Stormy to his grandparents at 0530 every morning (If we leave on time) and be back at Manoa in time for my 0730 class on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I’m writing a book and getting coached in how to publicize it and sell pre-orders to get it published by Inkshares. I’m working on a prospective project for my side business. I get 4-6 hours of sleep most nights.

And while I don’t want to stay 30 lbs out of regs – even after I separate – I’m not super-ashamed because look at my life.

Crazy? Frenetic? Hectic? Abso-toot-ly.

But then tonight, after Jenn finished feeding Stormy – his last before bed – I was carrying him, gently burping him, and he had his head on my shoulder, facing toward me, but eyes shut tight, breathing deep, falling deeper into sleep.

Skinny Cliff would kill for such moments.

I thought back to when Jenn first told me her pee test popped positive; when we got our first ultrasound of him; the first time we saw his little body developing and he had limbs and as soon as the camera was on him he stretched out all the way, all of a sudden – a real live critter, just starting out; strong heartbeat, good vitals, our future son.

And that connection, that memory of the not too distant past (though it feels like a world away) flooded me with appreciation and emotion for this moment tonight.

I thanked God for this life, portly though I may currently be, and I’m just…happy. I’m content. I prefer the abilities of skinny Cliff and am working to get back to that, but to keep my spirit. Same body, a little leaner; same spirit, always growing.

Living the dream, baby.

 

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