Alone with the Alone

Alone

I’ve spent a lot of time on my own lately.

The completion of my bachelor’s degree was not the victory I felt like it would be. You would think I would feel different about everything now that I’ve completed that four year stint of my life which consisted of nothing but homework, work and running mostly on fumes. At most I thought I’d be happy with the accomplishment. But when they handed me that folder with my diploma inside I gave it a glance and put it in the bag of goodies the Alumni association gave to all the graduates. Now I just feel like I’ve lost purpose and all I’m doing with myself is working, exercising when I can and trying to get some sleep. I’ve resorted to escapism in watching TV shows like ER and playing video games on my Nintendo DS.

I used to think I was an island. I didn’t need anyone to get me through the day. I’m finding more and more in the last few weeks that it was just the stress and preoccupation with homework that kept me from really feeling the gravity of what it feels like to be truly alone. It hasn’t helped that one of the only people I talk to on a regular basis has been off driving around enjoying herself. I don’t blame her. I just notice the difference in my life with the absence of communication we typically have on a daily basis.

God created us to be social and relational. I’m learning when you remove those elements from life it becomes lackluster and depressing, as if it’s not worth getting out of bed because I don’t know what to do with myself if I did. This became extremely obvious to me last Sunday when I woke up feeling this great weight on my heart, as if all the sadness and pain I’ve been containing was loaded into the barrel of the cannon in my chest and I just didn’t have the spark within me to light the fuse, to eject all the negativity that I had been swallowing that past week. But I sat up with a shot, got dressed and promptly exited my house and got in my car. This is an old coping mechanism that I haven’t had to utilize for a long time but I could think of nothing else to do to resolve the hell that was burning inside me.

So, I drove.

I-80 West is a lovely stretch of road. It doesn’t pass through many populated areas and the speed limit is 75 MPH most of the time. I cranked up some tunes and tried to catch up with my racing mind that’s been plaguing me for quite some time, keeping me awake and sending my anxiety levels through the roof. The purpose of this drive is not to have a destination. For someone like me who relies on planning and knowing where I’m going, the prospect of traveling without a destination is somehow liberating. The speed mixed with cigarettes and good music is soothing and helps me sort out the mess in my head most of the time. But I just couldn’t shake it.

And so I drove some more.

Anger, depression and anxiety are some of the hardest emotional states for me to outrun. They are poison to the soul; they latch on and it’s difficult to shake them loose. But as the drive continued I started communicating with her about what I was going through. The greatest people in the world are the ones that are the ones who care about you regardless of how crazy you are. Four and a half hours later I was in North Platte, NE. I stopped to use the bathroom and pick up something to drink. I got back in the car and decided to head back home. I had a realization when I was nearing the end of my journey West. I was listening to Killswitch Engage’s album “Alive or Just Breathing” and the song “The Element of One” came on. I’ve been listening to this album for years but it’s amazing how old songs can hit you in new ways. It was when I heard the following lines that my heart broke open and I was able to breathe a little easier. Yes, I even cried a little:

I will return to you
I am with you always
I will never turn away from you

Breathe me in
I am forever
Deep within.
I am eternal

It felt like God was speaking to me in that moment. No matter how lonely I was feeling, how dejected, how alone and isolated I was feeling that he is with me always and will never turn away from me. This is the most amazing thing to someone like me who, thanks to a number of painful experiences, has severe abandonment issues. And it was a good reminder for me as I have been feeling completely burnt out on church after 4 years of attending chapel services twice a week where God seemed more like a source of entertainment than someone to be honored and worshipped. But perhaps I’m just cynical.

I still haven’t figured out what to do with all of this yet. I still have my moments, especially at night when I can’t sleep. But I am never alone. I remember at the beginning of my first year at Bible college I wrote that I wasn’t alone anywhere. Sometimes, I need a reminder of that and I am happy when, in his providence, God shows me that I am not alone no matter where I am.

So, now the point is living life without a destination. To remember no matter how many friends I had that have since forgotten me and left me to my own devices, I have to remember what is here and now. No matter how tempted I am to dwell on the future and my ever-persistent fear that the Pulley song “Second Best” does not become my anthem:

I don’t care too much about anything anymore
There’s no difference between wrong and right
I’m tired of living life out of spite.
I don’t care too much about anything anymore.
Been here too long
It’s a change I can’t go through
You’re better off without me aren’t you?

I have lost my faith in finding humanity
For every girl that ever broke my heart
For every fucked up friend that played that part
I have lost my faith in finding humanity
Compassion isn’t enough for all I’ve been through
You’re better off without me aren’t you?

Of the Southern Spirit

I realize it has been quite some time since I have posted any thoughts on this blog of mine.  For some reason, a lot of my other activities got pushed into the background.  My mind has been racing in veins that didn’t really bring forth any kind of usefulness.  But, I’ve found out the hard way, if I don’t write, it’s much more difficult to get back up and do it again.  I just recently got back from my vacation to Nashville & Clarksville, TN.  I suppose I should share some of my thoughts with you.

As is my personal preference, I drove myself down there.  It’s about a 12-14 hour drive depending on how frequently you stop and such.  Once I was out of Nebraska I was gone.  I listened to music for a while and then some Driscoll and Chandler sermons I had burned to CD for myself.  It’s a great way to pass time and sort of redeem the ride there in a way.  The ride itself was very chill and relaxed and I only had a little stress getting through the hell that is St. Louis, MO.  There was a lot of open country on the way out  too which was also a nice change from the urban sprawl I’m normally accustomed to.  I made a few observations along the way:

  • The more you listen to Mark Driscoll the more you notice the more his growing up in one of the northern states reflected in his speech.
  • Matt Chandler on medium volume still rattles my speakers when he gets amped up.
  • I stopped at two rest stops within a few hundred miles of each other and saw the same two guys
  • I passed the same semi with a trailer full of cars more than once.  I guess I would stop somewhere then catch up with him.

With the road rolling underneath me I had time to think and reflect and to listen more so than I normally would sitting at my desk at work or at home.  It did me some good to get that almost full absorption of whatever it was I was listening to or thinking about.  I feel really comfortable on the road unlike anywhere else that I could go.  I guess it’s the constant state of motion and everything is always passing me by.  Driving is therapy for me in a lot of ways.

After 14 hours, and some bad directions, I made it to a bar called Dougie Rays where I met up with my cousin Nikki.  She and I grew up pretty close and still remain there despite the fact that she lives as far away as she does.  It is here my journey really began.  I got out of my car from driving all day and directly to a local show.  A band called Last Breath was playing.  They were a bunch of Nikki’s friends and they were exactly what I needed after being cramped up in a car for that long.  It was heavy music, brimming with breakdowns and parts to which I found myself headbanging.  It felt good.  I hadn’t been to a show in a long time back home so being there with good company and seeing good music was a blessing.  That and a pint of Guinness.

I would continue to hang out with Nikki and her boyfriend Paul for the next few days.  They made me feel right at home like family should and I met some wonderful people along the way.  Upon reflection, I think that is what I had longed for more than anything and have been.  To be outside the group of churched people that I hang out with [and whom I love dearly] and amongst a group of people who don’t necessarily believe what I do but knew what I was about.  These were the people I wanted to love and be around but not as a departure from myself but to be myself and perhaps show them what it’s like to walk the path I still waver from time to time.  It woke me up to the fact that, though I always feel so underprepared regarding questions about what I believe, I’ll never perfect myself so I might as well be me.  And through that, show them a small glimpse of how God works.

Speaking of the work of God, I was very honored to be named as best man for my cousin, Dustin’s, wedding.  Bitterness used to root itself so deep in my heart at weddings so much that I avoided them at all cost.  But this time it was different.  First off, I got to talk to him about his calling to the ministry which was just so amazing.  He truly has a great story and my prayer has been that he goes back to revisit that some day.  The wedding itself felt pretty miserable, physically.  The humidity drove the heat index to a wonderful 105º F and I was in my best man getup from 2-8 PM that day.  But we got through it and we all rejoiced and hooted and hollered as only our family knows how.  We piled into a limo, picked up some cold ones and headed off to the reception.  I gave my toast, vocalizing my happiness in seeing Dustin move on to that next phase of his life having grown up with him as well.  My only gripe was the use of 1 Corinthians 13 during the ceremony but I’ll leave those decisions up to the pros, I suppose.

Throughout the before and after the event there was a lot of family members calling me “Rev” and “Pastor” alluding to my upcoming enrollment in Bible college.  I was okay with it, I guess.  They asked me to “say Grace” over the rehearsal dinner and I was happy to oblige.  It’s hard to say “no” to my Grandma.  I got to talk God with one of the friends I made in Clarksville last year and Paul, Nikki’s boyfriend.  It was good times and, no matter where I went, there always happened to be an ample supply of beer.  I’m not complaining, but different from being back home.

One thing that’s happened to me a few times not only when I was in TN but since I’ve been back home.  People who know me and know the path I’ve chosen have said, “Dude, I’d go to your church.”  I suppose I should take that as a compliment but I don’t know what’s triggering that response.  Is my sin drawing them in and they get a false impression or am I just that cool Christian dude.  Something to ponder, I suppose.

And, because I had my laptop with me with no internet connection for most of the trip, here’s a piece I drummed up while watching the changes in the sky from Nikki’s apartment.  We stayed up until about 6 AM the night I got there and just sort of observed the next day while we chilled.  It’s a nice healthy departure from my usual stuff which may or may not be a good thing.

Yellowbrick sky,
let me tread the debris
of your lightningcracked surface
as I stare at you from
the tenement’s third deck
Here where
our days don’t start until
after noon and get measured
by the hash marks engraved
in our skulls from the
hammer and chisel hangovers,
forever fading and changing
ceiling I can see
out the window.
I can hear the cryptic
grumblings of diesel engines
and the whine of interstate tires
with ever-rotating,
changing license plate tag
county number letter mixing,
Spawning from there and
sometimes there.
Every now and,
introducing, here…
Again.
Against
Your black face or hand or
whichever you cloak the after-hours with
I see the ember glow from
the tip of my cigarette as
we mingle words and
smoke signals from our oratory.
Family fingers,
floating high fives and
beersmiles.
Talkin’ about that time
and the other time and this time
all the time
we are constantly killing time
with alcohol, talk and nicotine
under the eyes of you,
fading sky.
I can feel you drifting away
as my eyes ache with sleeplessness.
From 3 feet from where I sit and write this
I talked with what feels like countless
minds
Inumerable cigarettes stubbed out
and cans of beer emptied.
Managing to suspend my sleep patterns
I see you gain your color again.
And so smiles around as we pile
back through the sliding glass passage.
And through the highway noise,
the barking dogs and car alarms incessant,
I curl up tight
with your color slipping through the blinds,
dear sky.
Give me time…
give me time.
I’ll walk again.

Yellowbrick sky,
let me tread the debris
of your lightningcracked surface
as I stare at you from
the tenement’s third deck
Here where
our days don’t start until
after noon and get measured
by the hash marks engraved
in our skulls from the
hammer and chisel hangovers,
forever fading and changing
ceiling I can see
out the window.
I can hear the cryptic
grumblings of diesel engines
and the whine of interstate tires
with ever-rotating,
changing license plate tag
county number letter mixing,
Spawning from there and
sometimes there.
Every now and,
ntroducing, here…
Again.
Against
Your black face or hand or
whichever you cloak the after-hours with
I see the ember glow from
the tip of my cigarette as
we mingle words and
smoke signals from our oratory.
Family fingers,
floating high fives with
beersmiles.
Talkin’ about that time
and the other time and this time
all the time
>we are constantly killing time
with alcohol, talk and nicotine
under the eyes of you,
fading sky.
I can feel you drifting away
as my eyes ache with sleeplessness.
From 3 feet from where I sit and write this
I talked with what feels like countless
minds
Inumerable cigarettes stubbed out
and cans of beer emptied.
Managing to suspend my sleep patterns
I see you gain your color again.
And so smiles around as we pile
back through the sliding glass passage.
And through the highway noise,
the barking dogs and car alarms incessant,
I curl up tight
with your color slipping through the blinds,
dear sky.
Give me time…
give me time.
I’ll walk again.

and

We’ll talk again

The Bitter roots

Window cracked
midnight driving
I feel the wind moving through
my hair.  I can feel it
brush my neck, getting longer
like the days of this season
as it reaches through
spring into summer
and I’m back there again.
I can taste the words
on the tip of my tongue,
bitter.
I can feel my heart in my
hands,
eating it once again
and all it takes is a
flash photographic blast back
into my memory to recall
the whole reason I wrenched it out
and I tell myself,
“Son, you should be over this.”
And the truth is I want
nothing more than to forgive
and forget
you.
But, truth is, I’m not wired that way
never gonna be, so it’s back
to that slow healing process
I know so well
where I try to will myself into
a sort of apathy towards
whatever broken connection we had
and I’m sorry to even be feeling
this mixed up and bothered
But if nothing else, I’m trying
blinded by the oncoming headlights,
I swear…
If life hadn’t been a battle
I’d never have had the strength
to keep fighting through it.
If my heart wasn’t continually broken
I wouldn’t be so good at
picking up the pieces
And if I hadn’t spent so much time
talking and running my mouth
and if I hadn’t been myself
I wouldn’t be
screaming these words
in my head right now.
So, I will be thankful for this feeling
and I will swallow this awful taste.
And when my tires hit the asphalt
late, late at night
I breathe in the starlight air, cool and sweet
And sing along with my heart
turned upward,
one-by-one ripping out the roots
that held me there,
the bitter roots.

 

Of the great many things I still struggle with, bitterness still likes to rear its ugly head.  The problem with bitterness is that it mingles far too many of my least favorite emotions and I can’t control it.  It stems from something I suppose is unresolved between me and this girl I sort of dated for a short while.  The problem was that i got all my hopes built up into this person, really set them up for failure and then she dropped me hard.  And I had to deal with that to the best of my ability.  We exchanged pleasantries, she said she’d still talk to me, etc.  That didn’t happen and I thought I was okay with it.  It’s probably a year or two since this happened but without resolution, these types of things leave me alone until provoked. 

The worst part of any kind of bitterness is that it just erupts without warning and I can’t do anything about it.  When it hit me tonight, I drove around listening to music for two hours.  While that was extremely calming and I do feel a lot better, I would like to just get rid of this garbage that doesn’t seem to want to leave.

I did some searching.  I didn’t go real in-depth but I was able to, as always, find some good things regarding bitterness:

Deuteronomy 29:18 & 20

Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit… 

20 The Lord will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the Lord and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven. 

And…

Hebrews 12:12-15

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees,13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 

I quickly got the point.  God does not like bitterness.  I don’t like bitterness either but it’s almost like a knee-jerk reaction, something that drags out the dead bodies of past failures and bad memories.  And when they bring out their dead it is as if someone has put fire to the fuse and the sparks fly and in trying to get away from it I run into this brick wall and there I stand tasting it.  The anger wells up and the depression keeps me rooted and, for a moment, I am a man on fire and I have to get away.  So, I put myself in motion.  I have to keep my mind on something while I try and clean up the mess, so I do what I did last night and I drive.  I don’t go anywhere in particular but, for some reason, seeing things pass and putting them behind me helps me clear my head and heart.  I put on music to sing and scream away the anger inside me and the roots of bitterness are pulled up and out and I can think clearly again.  And now I pray for the calm to fight this and the strength to work past it all and remove it.

Paul says this:

Ephesians 4:31,32

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

The idea is to put all the negativity away and be genuinely nice, to love each other and, above all, forgiving one another because Christ died for us.  Paul is exhorting the church in Ephesus to stop butting heads and to get along and so I could see how this could be used with a pointed finger saying, “You need to quit being a jerk and forgive your brother.”  But I think the hardest thing to do sometimes is to turn that on yourself.  I read that verse and my heart just aches in knowing that the issue, especially in this case, is with me and not towards the one to whom I am bitter.  This failure I feel is not anyone else’s fault but myself and, just like learning someone as yourself goes both ways, I think forgiveness can go both ways too.  You can forgive your brother but how easy is it to forgive yourself for what you consider a grievous failure.  It’s hard to deal with ourselves because we don’t want to look in the mirror.  On a personal level, I haven’t mastered this either so my hope is not that anyone takes this as anything but mere contemplation.

But it’s the truth.  In this case, I set my expectations to an impossible level for this person and when they failed to meet them I became angry and disheartened.  So, realizing that, I have to forgive myself for setting the whole situation up for failure.  And with that, perhaps my bitterness will dissolve.  They say that time heals all wounds, but I think we have to rework that.  Time may allow the wounds to scab over and stop the bleeding.  But with God and the work of Christ on the cross, in which our sins are forgiven, the wound will heal.