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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Just Leave Me Alone...

Hey everyone...
It's been a while since I've posted on any of my blogs. I miss writing. Miss it very much. But I am so busy with school, and with my business, and trying to make a living and rebuild a life...something has to give and unfortunately it's the thing I probably love most...creating with the written word.
But here I's been a most unusual day and I felt the tug of creativity and soul-bearing rising up inside me. God is...if anything...the greatest of laundry agitators.
Rich Mullins, (whose songs I quote more than anyone else except maybe my friend Rick Elias'), once wrote a  song titled "Calling out Your Name".  There is a wonderful line that says;

From the place where morning gathers
You can look sometimes forever 'til you see
What time may never know
What time may never know
How the Lord takes by its corners this old world
And shakes us forward and shakes us free
To run wild with the hope
To run wild with the hope
The hope that this thirst will not last long
That it will soon drown in the song
Not sung in vain
And I feel thunder in the sky
I see the sky about to rain
And I hear the prairies calling out Your name
There is one line in this song that is my anthem today and tonight and will be for the week ahead I suppose...maybe longer. It simply says; "How the Lord takes by its corners this old world And shakes us forward and shakes us free..."
He does...He has...He continues to do so.
This week has been a torrent of his shaking me at my foundation. I could write a lot about what He has been up to, but I think I need to make this article more generic...more universal.
Who amongst us isn't caught up in inner turmoil sometimes? Who doesn't look at the content of our lives lived until this very moment and wonder about it's's's lasting impression and legacy? Who doesn't want more and better?
I wish I could examine my life until today and simply yawn and say " far so good" but I  cannot. As I write these words, tears form because I am listening to another of Rich's songs- "Hard to Get"- sung by my dear friend Rick Elias on the posthumously released "Jesus Record" that Rich was working on when he died and that his closest friends "The Ragamuffins" released as a tribute / closure a few years later. The line Rick just sang was "I'm reeling from these voices that keep ringing in my ears...all the words of shame and doubt, blame and regret..."
That is me tonight...I am there...right there. I'm reeling. Reeling from the losses of homelessness and failure and defeat. Reeling from the collapse of an entire industry that I thought would carry me into my retirement. Reeling at the loss of a house that I considered my little 5 acre slice of heaven. Reeling from watching my little girl go from 10 year-old girl to 13 year old almost-adult without being able to spend the night with her daddy because for 3 1/2 years this economy has made it impossible for me to find a 2 bedroom apartment and rebuild our time together. I am reeling.
I am reeling from the loss of one of the two men I consider to be true father figures...Poppa John went to heaven in January and the hole he leaves is huge and palpable and I am empty because of it. I wish I could hear that distinct northern Virginia draw and silly laugh. I wish I could ask him just a few more questions.
I'm reeling because I have drifted...probably because of the pull of the hardship of these last few years...from the man I was to the man I am. Ask anyone who knew me as a kid or as a young adult or right up until I got married and then divorced. They'd tell you I was the funniest, most easy-going guy you'd ever meet. I'd choose to laugh first before I'd argue with you. In fact I was known for disarming a situation by making the other person laugh. That was before I was reeling.
"reeling from these voices that keep ringing in my ears...all the words of shame and doubt blame and regret..."
I feel a ton of shame. Daddies don't lose their homes. Daddies don't sleep in cars, or basements, or rent single rooms that render it impossible for overnight stays with their daughters. Daddies don't fail. But I have done all that and sometimes the shame is overwhelming. I can joke about it. I turn it into a funny story about hiding my car in the weeds or a heartwarming story about hearing Harry Kalas' voice coming from my radio when the Phils won the Series in '08. I can try to wash it and clean it and spin it and be inspiring to others...and I have done that. But the truth is it still is embarrassing and sometimes I still feel ashamed. I doubt. I doubt sometimes that I'll ever be back on my feet. I doubt that I'll ever tuck my daughter in again under my own roof. I doubt my ability and my strength and my resolve. I blame myself. I blame the man who owned the company I once worked for who ran it into the ground with vice and excess and flaunting of the rules. I am broke and broken and he will probably pay a fine...not from his own personal funds...and walk away into the twilight years of his life. I blame myself for not seeing this coming somehow. Because dads are wise and they take precautions. Even though I know the economy was a lot more intricate than just my little piece of it. But I am intelligent and broad shouldered and darnit I should have known. I am reeling with regret. I regret the years I've lost with my precious little girl. I regret losing our pets and our home and our time together.
More than anything I regret the loss of the man I used to be. Before the pressures of adulthood and career and loss and embarrassment and failure and relentless hopelessness took their toll. The guy who made everyone else laugh and who did so because he was truly, deeply, happy and funny at his very core.The guy who came up with the name "Doe, Fluffy, L." for the "toe tag" on his Cat specimen in Anatomy and Physiology lab. The guy who once had Dr. Falwell booming in laughter with his commentary / jibes at the opposition during a hard fought battle against N.C. State. The guy who wept when his daughter was born and told her about 1000 times during her first 3 hours that her daddy loved her. Those were the only words I could form and the only phrase I wanted to say.
The years haven't been kind. Not entirely. But God is good.
This especially...God was shaking me forward and free. Maybe to run wild with some new found hope again after 3 plus years of desert. I sure hope so. I miss the guy I was and lament that I likely will never be exactly that man again.
But I rejoice that God refused to just "leave me alone!" when I demanded He do so.
I am thankful that He never left me nor forsook me even when I thought he had...even when I told Him to.
I tried...God knows I tried to run Him off. I have had my moments of bile-spitting and angry screaming matches with The Almighty. He has always seemed to endure my tirades and then whisper; "I know...I know it hurts. I'm here..." Sometimes I hated Him for that. Why was He so patient? Why couldn't He have just sent a bolt of lightning, or a random semi truck, or a tidal wave, or a gnat that lodged itself in my windpipe? Why does He have to be so long suffering during my worst? I guess it's because when He says "I love you" and "I will never leave you or abandon you"...He means it.
I've wounded some people over the years with this hurting heart of mine. I've bitten and retreated to the darkness of my doghouse with the taste of blood on my tongue and sorrow in my eyes. The growl hid the tears and the hair-on-end was just a disguise for the brokenness and shame I was feeling. This has not been a fun ride. I've asked to get off many times but God in his infinite wisdom decided it wasn't time yet...there was still something to learn. If you're on that list of those whose flesh has broken in a tangle with a "biter"...please forgive me.
I wrote this to encourage...and to tell the truth about the hurts we all carry. Sometimes just one person saying it out loud makes it okay for others to think about it too. If that's you...and if that is what is happening as you read these goal has been accomplished. In the coming days I hope to explore some of the good that has come from this dark path I've journeyed. Because honestly I need to encourage myself as much as I want to encourage someone else.
God will not let us rest where we are and being who we are. I realize that and I am being shaken by my corners. I hope when this is done that I will run wild with the hope once again...because I still have some wild running left to do. I love you all, my dearest friends.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


I’m in the process of filling out my schedule for what will be my final semester at Liberty University as an undergrad. I am graduating in May, 27 years and ten months after first arriving on campus as a 20 year old freshman.
I can hardly believe it’s happening. Since August 3rd, when I did my degree audit and realized I was entering my last two semesters I have been excited, overjoyed, hopeful, and ecstatic. I have shed tears of joy and relief probably a dozen times since that night at FedEx Office.
28 years is a long time to wait for something. It’s more than half my lifetime. It’s hard to comprehend.
But this morning as I was planning out my final semester, I got a little sad. It’s finished. I’m done. The focal point of my life for the past two years is concluding. Since the day in 2007 when I lost my home do to the mortgage crisis, to the day in 2008 when my branch was closed in a downsizing and I couldn’t renew my lease and I became homeless, right up to today, it has been my return to school that has been the lone consistent good thing.  That day in August 2009 when I was sitting in the parking lot of Panera Bread Company and I hung up with my academic adviser and I looked at the schedule I had just scrawled on an envelope is when the journey resumed. 15 credit hours. New Testament Survey, History of Life (A Creation class) Survey of American History, Theology survey, Philosophy and Contemporary Ideas. I sat in my car and cried for about 5 minutes. I guess I had forgotten how much this all meant to me. I had always longed to return to LU and finish what I’d started, but life got in the way and I stored that desire in a file cabinet somewhere next to my dream of hoisting the Stanley Cup and owning a Corvette.
But that stifling hot August afternoon, the events of the previous 2 years coupled with the lifelong desire to graduate from college came bursting out in tears of joy. I’m sure that having recently lost everything I owned and everything that identified me as a dad and as a man added to the emotional response to my fall semester schedule. It was the first good thing that I could point to in over a year. Maybe this would be the first step on the road back.
Two years later and I am in the homestretch. I don’t know the date yet for graduation but I know I’ll be there. I have an idea what message I want to write on my mortarboard and I know who will be there when I walk. I know whose smiling faces I will look out on and who will be beaming at me in pride. The people who’ve loved me and who always believed I could do this. Momma Jewell, Bob and Cathy, and of course my precious daughter Morgan, for whom I endured all I have so that she would still and always have her daddy nearby. I will see friends who still live in Lynchburg and who are still involved in events on LU campus.
The image I have in my mind is different from the one that would have taken place had I graduated on time in 1988. The school is bigger; the campus is so different now that you’d hardly recognize it from the “old days”. The online program has exploded so much that LU has moved into the top ten ranking nationally for all schools, public and private.
The changes haven’t been immediately welcomed by us “old guard” alumni. We balked at the thoughts that our school was “going digital” and becoming an online school. As it turns out…it’s not. The growth of one does not mean the sacrifice of the other. In fact residency at LU is going to be stronger than ever.
I was going to write a long expose about the changes on campus. I even approached Chancellor Falwell about it and we’d talked a few times about the content of what I wanted to write. (I’d reached out to him in an effort to be factual and fair) But I decided today that none of that matters now. Most of the bluster about the changes going on at LU has died down. The alumni feel very comfortable about the direction of the school. There isn’t a point in writing about it anymore. So I decided to focus on what this degree means to me. How it represents something more than a 28 year pursuit of a dream and more than a nicely framed piece of paper.
What this degree gave me…especially the last 2 years finishing up at LU Online during the hardest, most difficult phase of my life…was pride. It gives me self respect. It gave me hope. Each semester was a chance to do the only thing I had any sort of control over. I couldn’t find a job, I was sleeping in my car, and I missed my daughter because I could only see her for a few hours at a time. I shivered in the dark of winter as I studied by flashlight in that aged Volvo 850. I got an A, a B and two C’s that first semester. More than that I got a boost. I achieved something in the midst of a string of failure. I learned about the Faith I have entrusted my soul to. I accomplished a deeper understanding of the Bible and the elements of the Church body I am a member of. In the 24 months since that first semester began, I have been homeless for about 20 of them. To be honest I was homeless for all of them. Having a “place to crash” isn’t a home. Not remotely. I put out over 300 resumes in that time and found one job…in Houston Texas. I built chicken coops and roofed a house and detailed cars and painted a friends porch. I wrote four books and four blogs and made nothing on any of them. I ate Ramen noodles in Panera and laughed about it when in reality it was humiliating and made me want to cry. And I did a lot of that too. Being a dad who used to have a home and used to have pets and used to have a workshop and used to go on vacations with his precious little girl and used to look in the mirror with a sense of pride, is a crushing weight. I cried a lot. I missed my daughter so much some nights that I cried myself to sleep. I hid the truth from her as best I could but she knew. Being in school at LU was the one thing I could show her that was consistent and was progressing. It was the one promise I was able to keep. It was the only source of pride in my otherwise humiliating world.
This degree means more to me than simply an educational achievement. It was how I showed the world that I was still alive over the last two years. It was the thing that set me apart from an otherwise utterly devastated man. It sustained me.
I am blinking back tears even as I write this. I am thinking about the things I have endured until today. The losses that heaped upon themselves and bent my back until I thought I would break. The tears and the sadness and the shame and embarrassment. Completing a degree is hard enough without doing it without a home. But I am almost done and it is a feeling I have heretofore not experienced.
The one face that will be missing on that Saturday next May will be Dr. Falwell. He would have loved this story. I think he would be as teary-eyed as I will be, had he been alive to hand me that diploma. Doc loved stories like mine. He loved people who refused to quit. He loved the God who gives the strength it takes to endure the seemingly endless defeats that found their demise on the road to my graduation. He spent his life proclaiming the truth that faith in the God he served could truly move mountains. And…as that campus proves…faith can build mountains too. My life proves this. That degree…my degree…proves it too.
The pursuit has been what kept me alive over these last two years. The degree represents something more than simply an education. The pursuit was a lifeline to me.
All of this is only coming true because the school I love is in able hands. The vision that Doc had in his heart from day one, back in 1971, is alive and vital and it’s probably expanded beyond what even that man of gigantic vision could have ever imagined.
Liberty University is doing just fine. In fact it’s better than ever. Liberty University is alive and well, and because of that, so am I.
And next May, one very appreciative member of the Class of 2012 will walk across that platform, receive that long overdue diploma, and stand taller than he has in a few years. My diploma will have cost exactly the same as those of all of my classmates.
But maybe nobody in that stadium that day will value theirs more.