I have a few friends who maintain blogs, who like to share their voice on the internet. It’s typical of a lot, if not all of them, to write meaningful posts that would be helpful to others or as a means of expressing their opinions on certain aspects of their life and biblical approaches to a topic of their choosing. I’m not knocking them, for these guys are my brothers and we share a lot of common ground in a lot of areas. Sometimes I’m the one to post the thought-provoking post that gets peoples’ attentions and perhaps get their gears turning. The great thing about this blog is that I can and will write whatever has been pressing on my mind and how I feel. I do this not for pity but because that is who I am and what I do. I take inspiration from the people that put their heart and soul into what they do and I identify with them for being transparent and real. And that’s what I hope for in regards to myself, that I am always open, honest and real with people. And I wish that everyone could be that way. This post will be cleaning out of the mental junk drawer, I think.
These last two days I have felt like garbage. I’ve been around friends and family and that has made moments of levity in this darkness in which I find myself. This time I have my reasons and that’s actually been a good thing for me. Despite the triggers for this being very sad and somewhat painful, at least it’s not unfounded and so I can work with it. I have been praying for one of my very good friends as her father just passed away It has been on my heart to not only pray but to put myself on the list of people whom she can turn to. Knowing her as well as I do, I don’t think her family is one of believers and I can only imagine the stress and pain she and her family are going through at this point in time. I’m fighting with myself on even questioning the salvation of her father for the reason that if something like a death in the family is so painful, do we make it worse in the instance of a nonbeliever? The implications of condemnation are very weighty ones and in my friend’s case, do we really need to add that to the mix? And what about the rest of the family? How does one even begin to bring in the Gospel in this situation. It would seem to me like saying to a survivor of a drive-by, “Oh, hey, your friend’s dead but you get to live”. I know virtually nothing about her family, so that’s all speculation to be sure and I don’t want to give the wrong impression about anyone. But that question presses hard on me.
As a lot of people who know me are aware, May 6, 2007 was the day I lost a very good friend named Matt in Iraq. I’d known him since Kindergarten and we grew up together because he lived in the same house one block over from me. These past two years, I have gone out to his grave and smoked a cigarette. I know it is just his body in the ground and he is chillin’ with Jesus and the gang right now, but I do it for a reason.
The last time I saw Matt was right before Valentine’s Day. He showed up to my house to say hi as he was going to Iraq in a few days. We went outside and smoked in the freezing Nebraska winter weather. I had a Djarum Black and he was smoking Marlboro Reds, affectionately known as “Cowboy Killers”. He asked me when I started smoking and I told him. He told me that smoking was his “bullshit cure”. The explanation was that we had things like antibiotics to cure infections and cigarettes were what got him through the tougher things in his military career.
So, in turn, I go out there once a year and under the shade of the tree where he’s buried, I take one cigarette out and put it on his headstone and I smoke one myself. And, as I stand there, I remember what it was like to stand there 2 years ago with a mass of people as the pastor of our church gave the service. I remember the patriot guard with their flags, standing in a circle around the group of mourners. I had my sunglasses on because it was summer and I didn’t want anyone to see the tears in my eyes. I was standing next to one of the only other people I had known that long as she cried in the arms of our mutual friend who was also her boyfriend. I remember the pain in everyone in the family’s face as they sat graveside, saw the complete despair in the face of my friend’s father whom I’d never seen straight faced, let alone in anguish. I saw another friend from high school that day who had gone into the Marines, in full dress and he was weeping with the rest of us.
I remember that night, a couple of my good friends came over that night. We sat up all night drinking and I was so drunk that my mom and little brother had to carry me off the lawn. I don’t even know how much I drank that night but I know I have an empty bottle of Jägermeister and Meyer’s black rum in my closet that I saved from that night. We walked up the hill from my house and watched the sunrise and I had that Jäger bottle in my hand with about an inch of liquor left in the bottle. It was empty two hours later and I don’t think that bottle every left my hand. Not one of my finer moments and not something I’m proud of but I had never grieved for anyone in my entire life and the time passed so quickly. That’s the thing about time. People say that it flies when you’re having fun. Matt told me when we were in high school that the reason time flies is because everyone keeps trying to kill it. I was killing time, for sure. But I won’t take it back for anything. Life happens, God puts things in front of us for a reason. When I was graveside today, there was a red dog tag on a rusted chain hanging around a vase of flowers next to the headstone. It had the word “SHINE” embossed on it. In my curiosity, I turned it over…
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
I saw this same verse referenced on a headstone as I was walking back to my car. This has gone along with a lot of things that have been impressed upon my heart. Seeing Hugh Halter speak, talking with my friends all of them have pushed me to live in a way that people see through me, the love of Jesus. I know Matt loved Jesus and I shouldn’t be crying right now for that reason but even after two years… I still miss my friend.
Two months later, a South Dakota band fronted by an Omaha vocalist, called Nodes of Ranvier released an album entitled Defined by Struggle. This is, to this day, one of my favorite albums of all time. I remember getting to track 8 and immediately thinking of Matt. I’ll close the post with the lyrics so that you can read and reflect on them in your own way.
Withered and broken man.
So fragile, so frail, so undignified by standards
But they will never break him
He has found his place.
This hopeless hero that they patronize
is but a saint.
Can’t you feel his pain and lost love
inside this decorated soldier?
His only friend the night.
The calm and quiet cold
But you’ll never see him cry.
But they will never know, never know
know his name.
These sad old songs he sings are solid gold.
The hate we’ve shown him
he’ll carry to a lonely grave.
So, leave him in darkness. NO!
Leave him hopeless, social creation
Leave him with sickness.
But let it be said, that’s how he looks at you
Can’t you feel his pain and lost love
inside this decorated soldier?
His only friend, the night
the calm and quiet cold
but you’ll never see him cry.
And on that day he reached out.
He grabbed, he pulled me close.
He whispered to me in a voice barely audible,
He said, “This life is what you make it
don’t let it pass you by.
If you don’t care whether you live or die
you’re the most alive you’ll ever be.”