She says something smells, and it must be me. I sniff at my clothes and she laughs saying, “Did you ever think you’d end up this way back when you were cool?”
She gives me way too much credit.
But no. I didn’t think I’d end up like this. There’s a multitude of good in it. Sometimes, something that passes as news catches my eye when I run at the gym, and I think on how grateful I am. How grateful I should be. But there’s always that bitter lining of reality that’s stitched in the seams. It’s my own foul attitude toward the things that define me whether I should be grateful for them or not.
I suppose that speaks more to who I used to be. A creator of lies I thought I’d one day live. If somebody irked me, no matter. They’d one day witness me winning the Pulitzer Prize and that would surely put them in their place. Why I imagined a nine-year-old would ever be intimidated by a fancy writing award is beyond me. I guess I thought I’d play the long game.
I am not a Pulitzer Prize winner. I did win a gold fish at a carnival once that lived for three years, so I suppose all is not lost. But I’m finding winning isn’t in the bigger things but in the small building blocks of an every day life. One foot in front of the other. One seed planted in a row. Sprinkle it with water, watch it grow.
She shoves her laundry into the open mouth of the washer, and I sniff at myself my again. This time, a little less obviously.
He was raised in a small California town where things could have been ideal but never were. He was raised by a mother who did the best she could but was married to an alcoholic, and he saw the way booze sought to destroy.
One day, he’d try to shoot this man his mother had married.
He was sexually abused by family friends while still in elementary school, a vile circumstance that bore a hole in his heart and birthed a darkness he carried for years afterwards.
Growing up, he did all the wrong things. He and his buddy, Jimmy, were best friends, connected through quiet pain and the never-ending search to silence something that never spoke out loud. Drinking, smoking weed, coke, meth, chasing girls…one thing after another like little bricks stacked inside a swaying tower. One time, he met a good girl, the preacher’s daughter. He went to her home and there was her father, the preacher, sitting on his chair in the den, smoking his cigar and drinking his whiskey. His mouth was foul. It told him all he needed to know about Christians.
If the good wasn’t so good then might as well be bad and not lie about it. At the very least, he had fun.
He was poor and didn’t have the money to do the things he shouldn’t have done, so he and Jimmy started to sell weed. Things progressed as they often do and soon he was selling coke by eighteen. He sold a lot of it but used a lot and got hooked. He robbed his mother to feed his habit. He saw a lot of things during that time that he won’t talk about. “There was no good out of it,” he says.
At this time, he was involved with Leah. He thought they were going to be married but then she got pregnant. She changed. Everything he did was wrong. He was all wrong. They had a baby girl, but things didn’t last between them.
He ended up going to prison for four years, almost as if trying to prove Leah right. He could have gotten out in two but did three and a half because he didn’t appreciate their programming. When he got out, he started coke again but turned himself in. He went to prison a second time, this time for six months. He did a year clean, a word that would look better in quotation marks. As his parole officer loosened the reigns, he started back up again.
He was working in the oil fields for most of that time. This go-round, meth was his drug of choice, and he started selling again. He was married to April, a wonderful woman that he still misses and who didn’t do a thing wrong in their relationship. But he walked away from her, and maybe that’s why he misses her so much.
It was two years before he got busted again, a sentence of twenty-five to life staring back at him through the barrel. He beat his case with a lie. He wonders now how he can contribute this to God. How God could ever redeem a situation when the dark parts were only beginning to unfold.
He had to do a year in county, and the day he got out, he started doing meth again. By this time, he had possibly fathered two children in California, but the one woman, the one after April, disappeared and her mom wouldn’t tell him where she went. He’s not really sure if it’s his or not.
He has nine children all together. That one would make ten.
He stayed in town for six months after beating his sentence and decided death or prison were no longer viable options. He decided to move out to Arkansas where his grandmother lived. Fresh start and all that.
He told Jimmy. The plan was to get on his feet, get a place, and then send for his best friend. So he did it. He moved out to a world wholly unlike California and found a place to stay. He called his mom, told her to go get Jimmy. She asked her son if he was sitting down. And then he knew.
Jimmy had passed.
The pain back-talked at him so he took the last gifts Jimmy had given him: some meth and an ounce of weed.
He stayed with his grandmother for a week then moved in with his cousin, Melinda, and her husband, Dan. They were Christians. They wanted him to go to church with them on Sundays. He refused to go and used the time to staunch his pain with the drugs his dead best friend had given him. There was a dichotomy here: his cousin went to church but then she smoked weed and cussed. It was the foul-mouthed preacher all over again.
Eventually the drugs dwindled and the boredom set in. So one Sunday, he went to church. It wasn’t until Brother Eric spoke that he felt compelled to give his life to Christ. He was twenty-five-years-old at that point.
He started serving. He participated in “Church in a Day,” and he went and built a brand new church a few towns away where the old ladies fed his hungry belly Southern delicacies.
He met a girl. Her name was May, but she was still in the world and not a slave to Christ. He married her anyways.
As quickly as he followed Jesus, he stopped walking. He made a detour to follow May instead and started doing meth and coke again. He even started drinking, something he vowed never to do so he’d never be like the man his mother married. The man he almost killed.
They were married for five years. They had one child together.
After May, he had a one night stand with a woman who claimed to be on the pill but wasn’t. Her name was Karen. They end up having a set of twins together. He named the boy after Jimmy.
He was doing electrical work at this point. Things were okay. But then he met one of the neighbors, Doug. He had been drinking and smoking weed, having kicked the harder stuff. But Doug did meth.
He started doing it again, quit working, and started selling it. Doug’s friends taught him how to make it, too.
He realized it was worse than California. In California, it was one big party. In Arkansas, he knew what darkness felt like.
He even lit an apartment on fire, making meth with another guy. A twelve-year-old neighbor claimed it was his fault, that he left a pan on the stove. Everyone knew the real reason, except the cops.
Things fizzled out with Karen, which didn’t surprise him. He never loved her anyways.
His buddy, Mike, invited him to stay with him. And that’s where he met Tina.
Tina had two kids that he now claims his own. But it wasn’t a picture-perfect family. He did drugs with Tina. She came and stayed with him off and on at Mike’s place. They did meth together and eventually moved in with another friend, Terry.
He tried working again. Terry had a moving company.
He worked hard. He trained up guys. He was shown gratitude in the form of a pay cut. He went to work for another guy, another moving company that did him the same way. He decided to start his own moving company.
He ended up having his business for twelve years. He and Tina quit doing meth. They got focused. They made money. They had two kids together. They lived in a nice house. They bought four cars. Things were relatively better, except for Tina cheating on him.
But it was par for the course and the course was exceptionally greener nowadays. He took all the jobs, even the small ones and built the business up to support five crews. Most importantly, his kids didn’t want for anything.
And then he lost everything.
It started with the pills. One of the guys who worked for him offered him a “hydrocodone without any aspirin in it” one day when his shoulder was hurting again. He felt great and was able to work pain-free the rest of the day. The next afternoon, his shoulder was hurting again, and the guy offered him another pill. He opted to buy a few, and when Tina started to complain about her shoulders, having thrown around cases of soda at the Murphy’s gas station she managed, he offered her one of his newly purchased pills.
They spent a rare weekend off together, both of them sick. Summer flu, he thought. But then another weekend rolled around and they were sick again. At this point, he’d spent thousands of dollars. He was in withdrawal and knew the only way to get off the pills was three days of pure torment. He decided they needed to start doing meth again to numb themselves from the pain of detox.
During this time, he got arrested for not paying child support and stopped taking on moving jobs. He was on and off again with Tina, splitting time between their relationship and getting arrested for various reasons. He got a tooth abscess, and the doctor put a trach in. He started coughing up blood. They had to split his chest open to get to the artery to stop the bleeding. Everything went black and then everything lit up again. The earth under his feet was rolling and pitch black. There were streams of lava all around him. He realized he was dead and in hell. He begged God not to leave him, to let him get back to his kids. As soon as he called out to God, the demons came, and he tried to fight them off. Everything went black again, and when he opened his eyes, he was back in the hospital room, his soon to be ex-wife standing over him.
It didn’t change much. He ended up living with his buddy, Billy, after leaving Tina. Everyone did drugs there, himself included now. He started selling again and firmly planted his feet on the path of self-destruction. He told Billy, “I’m standing here, looking at the abyss, and I just want to fall in.” And Billy would say, “Let’s just do some more dope.” The “so you forget about that” was implied.
One of the guys he sold to was working with the cops. He got put in jail and had drugs sent to him in the paperwork the cops gave him. The paperwork was fake unbeknownst to them but the high was real. For the first three months, he got high all the time.
They ended up sending him down to a rehab program in a Texarkana prison. The volunteers came in sometimes to share the word of God. He never went. After dinner, they made the church call, but still he wouldn’t go. Until one day, he decided to.
He went to one of the volunteers, Emmitt, the Jehovah’s Witness. They had a lot of discussions about Emmitt’s beliefs, about what the Bible said. He was always the last one to leave, and one night he was sitting alone in one of the pews. He looked at the picture of Jesus on the wall, and said, “Okay, now we can talk.” He gave His life back to Christ.
He ended up working for the chaplain. The other prisoners came in sometimes, and he saw it on their faces – the way he used to feel on the inside. He talked to each one, told them where he was in his walk with Christ, where he had come from. Some of the guys started going to church, looking for Jesus.
One of his prayers was that he would find a place to stay after his parole date. He prayed and prayed and soon, it was two months after that date. He wanted to stay at the New Life Recovery House, a halfway house that was near his kids. He put in application after application. He had his mom call them but no answer.
God firmly shut the door on that option. But then he thought of Mary.
Mary owned the sister company to the moving company he used to own before he lost it. He was close to her husband, another Emmitt, before he passed. So close that they would loan him money to pay his guys between jobs. The last time he saw Mary was during the dark place when the pills had a hold of him. He had called Mary and Emmitt up to borrow a substantial amount of money, this time to get high, not pay his guys. He never paid her back.
That was four years ago. What if she didn’t pick up?
His mom called Mary. She said she’d help.
Two weeks later he left the rehab program at the prison.
He looked at it from all angles: he had prayed to God and God gave him a house, a room he didn’t have to share with anyone else, no ankle monitor to wear, access to a vehicle. He had a job because Mary hired him on as one of her movers, and he was even closer to his two youngest than he would have been at the New Life Recovery House. And across the street? A church. He started going every Sunday.
He was grateful beyond measure.
He looks back sometimes, on everyone and everything that played a part: the guy his mother was married to and his drunken heart; the pastor with his glass of whiskey; his best friend, Jimmy, and the destructive blood running in both their veins; April who a part of him still loves and Karen who he never truly loved in the first place; how he got out of California on a lie and what it’s like to go from rags to the riches he traded for pills. His children who he loves immensely and the God he loves the most.
He thinks about all of it, not shutting the door on any of it but quietly wearing it all like the young boy he used to be.
The above is the testimony of a friend of mine that he asked me to write. He wanted to share it but would like to remain anonymous. Our prayer is that it gives others hope that God will redeem even when we turn our backs on him. There’s no such thing as a perfect Christian, but there definitely is a perfect God who is always available to hold our repentant hearts.
You don’t only live once, you live a lifetime times seventy-seven and will walk eternal. And the dark quiet void of the universe isn’t talking to you, but God is certainly beating His fist against your breastbone. And you can “self-care” all you want, putting your oxygen mask on first, but a hot bath and a candle can never replace the Holy Spirit.
And I can be absorbed within the realms of American culture, but here’s the thing: I won’t.
I’ve always been an odd duck. I remember one time staging a slight coup where I made my two best friends sit with me at another table while I looked Stacey McStevens hard in the eye. I was tired of being on the fringe of the popular group. I was tired with the idea of popular. I wanted to slice through the cord that still tethered me to the divisive ways of middle school social constructs.
I wanted out. And God has always known that about me.
Jesus culture is an upside down place, a kingdom where up is down and down is up. You humble yourself to be elevated. You bend a knee to save a heart. It is not “me first,” but you before me always, and it is so counter to American culture, it makes my soul sing.
I am tired of this place on so many levels. And the idea of swallowing a new wayward, misleading catchphrase of the week like popping a pill is akin to digging out a bad tooth with a spoon.
I’m good, you guys.
What’s more heartbreaking is seeing people I love and respect fall prey to the outside world. But there’s always something about their faces. Their eyes that are looking out at me like a scared child planting their face against a window. That look, the “I’m okay with this because they tell me I should be okay with this.”
But friend, you don’t have to be okay with this.
Stand up, stare hard, and go sit where God wants you.
I have this knack for missing the everything that’s still here.
Like when I was younger, I’d write my father’s obituary in my head. He’s a lovely guy, and really, it was a lovely obituary. Or obituaries? I’ve written several and have stacked them within the soft recesses of my brain.
The now is always the thing I’ll miss most.
Like last night, that dream. There my husband and I were meandering in a place I’ve never been before. He had the zippable, fold-up picnic blanket in his hand that I bought a few years ago from Wal-Mart. I bought the gray and black and red checkered one, the only one available. And then the following year they came out with the cutest blue and white pattern as if somebody in corporate was trying to stick it to me. Regardless, there it was in his dream hand, patting the side of his dream leg as we were trying to find a place to sit and hold each other.
We never found a place to sit down. Instead, I had sharp snippets of memory during this dream where I remembered our dead dog. And it was almost like we were on a grief walk, passing a concrete drainage ditch where two young hikers, mere boys, were trying to enter through a steel door, and one of them looked up, clueless as to where they were. And I had that all knowing feeling in my chest, “This is So-And-So-Ville” as if I knew it so well, I owned a piece of it and carried it in my left ventricle. We continued on, and the snippets sharpened, and there my dog was in my dream’s dream hands and she was almost the same as when the real me knew every inch of the real her. I think that’s what I learned. That I don’t really remember her so well anymore.
As we walked on, and the sharp snippets dulled a bit, there was a portion of the walk where we caught up with some children. My daughter was one of them. I looked back over my shoulder, and she was meandering and looping through the crowd, trying to find the group she originally came with. She ended up with another group because she had friends in this one, too. One of the neighbor girls walked with her. I smiled and turned back because her path was different than mine. A loose balloon, that one. Sometimes I grab the string and tug, and then other times I realize my hand is empty.
My husband and I kept walking as I imagine my daughter had floated off with her friends. I remember we kept looking around, trying to find the best spot to sit down and sit still together. We couldn’t find a spot. So we agreed to go back to the starting place, home base, which happened to be built on top of a tree.
I’m not good at dreams, deciphering them I mean. I’m hardly good at fully understanding consciousness. I had this great calling once to follow Jesus, and here I am on this path looking as clueless as that dream hiker kid. I look around, and just like in my subconscious mind, my dog is still dead. And my daughter has gone off with the neighbor kids, racing their bikes and picking onion grass from the lawns of the homeowners up and down our street. She has this grand plan to sell it right back to them. And my husband? He’s in his office, and sometimes he comes out and grabs my hand, and we walk around the stamped outline of seventeen hundred and thirty-nine square feet, just trying to find a place to rest.
And Jesus? He still loves me, at least that’s what I’ve been told.
There’s a lot of layers of this going on in my own life. I’ve started to shear back even the amount of supplements I take.
Less is more and more is a heart attack.
Have you ever thought about our daily consumption? Christ gives us our daily bread and yet, there’s so much on the daily for us to consume through our eyes, ears, and mouths. Houses are cluttered and messy. The kids are watching YouTube videos they shouldn’t. Obesity is at an all time high.
And yet we’re an evolved species, no? I’m sorry I wasn’t laughing. Okay, I’m sorry again because I totally was.
We are the same people we were when Adam and Eve walked this earth, heads held high to the heavens. We’re bent on the same thing: our personal gain. The only problem is that we’re a flawed species, ruinous and caustic from the taste of sin. So our issue isn’t owning five toasters still in their boxes.
Our issue is our hearts.
My newsletter readers know I’m taking a novel-writing break and writing a non-fiction book about this very thing. Home (and life) organization can’t happen (or at least can’t be sustained) without first searching ourselves and knowing where we stand with God.
From that, all other things flow.
Are you spending time with God? Is it in the form of a rote prayer you’ve said for ages, yet you feel just as stale as the first time you muttered it? Is this time the thirty seconds before you scroll through your Instagram feed?
We’re our own worst enemies, you guys. I can’t even claim that role for Satan since we all know what will happen to him in the end. But us? We have the power through Christ to claim what God has promised to us, if only we listen. But how can we listen if we won’t even sit with Him for a moment?
Look around you. What’s cluttering your head and heart right now? I can guarantee no matter what the problem is, the solution always comes back to whether or not you’re standing beneath God’s wing for protection. Joy isn’t happiness. Joy is the solace of knowing you are God’s even when it’s storming around you. If you don’t know that, it’s no wonder there’s a million dirty socks on your couch right now.
The good news? You already know the way to reverse the course.
I’m typically a wound up top – let me go, and I spin until I crash into the wall. And not one glorious bang but several awkward thumps that make you want to squint and look away.
I changed that this week.
I’m always perplexed at the idea of not changing. Old dog, new tricks and all that. There are some people who throw up their hands and go, “I am who I am,” and I’ve never related to that.
I am who I am…this week.
I used to think maybe I was roughly two percent sociopath. I mean, if everyone else is so uniquely and utterly themselves, why do I play into these different parts of myself like trying on wigs? But I don’t hate the thought so much anymore. Being restrained to one thing forever? Now that’s what scares me.
God sometimes is the ultimate conductor. I imagine Him watching, perfectly timing my crescendo at the ultimate point so there’s nothing for me to do but to swallow down my own reverbrations and think hard on whether or not I ever want to hear my own noise again.
What I’m saying is this: I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve let stress own me. I’m an all or nothing human being. My all? Homeschooling an ADHD child, morphing into a gym rat, OCD organizing my home, living at Wal-Mart (why? nobody knows), being involved in forty-two ministries at church (most of them I don’t think I officially signed up for, they just sort of bloomed like a well meaning but exhausting flower), and seeking out people I can pour into on the daily.
My bucket was empty, you guys.
And God sent it clanging down the well.
So, I’ve changed things this week. Did you know you can do that? You can just go, “Yeah, no more,” and make life worth living again.
I’m just working out three times a week now, not five, and reduced my exercises. I’ve come to the realization there’s no possible way my house could be more organized and refuse to freak out if I see a lone sock on the living room floor (deep breaths and all that). I’m loving and learning the ways of my child (thank you, podcasts) and getting more in tune with her needs as she gets older. I’ve broken up with Wal-Mart (we still see each other on grocery days, akward but necessary). I’m putting more intention into my church duties now that my overall plate is a little lighter and this has seeped into my personal relationships with those I’m spending time with.
You are not just the way you are. You are the way you choose to be. With God’s grace, we get do-overs every twenty-four hours. Heck, every second of the day, really. When I remember that, I don’t beat myself up. I just keep true to the “p” word (perseverance…let’s just go ahead and clear that up), and walk in step with my Lord who’s always waiting with living water.
There was a time when I became very, very afraid. Like when I first became a Christian and it was that scene from The Stepford Wives all over again. I’d look around, and I’d see nothing but blind people more concerned for their caramel macchiato orders than the truth happening all around them.
I used to be one of those people. Hardcore.
In the beginning, it’s scary. You lose everything you know. You lose yourself, or at least the person you thought was yourself. You lose friends or people you thought were your friends. You look up, and you’re alone.
But then you remember, you’re never really alone.
I used to never feel alone growing up. Even without submitting to God, I could feel Him even though I denied it. Sure, I had horrible phases of anxiety and depression and the loneliness that seeps in came with the whole shebang. But I almost felt like someone was watching me, reading me like a character in a book.
What’s happening now all around us doesn’t surprise me. There’s no fear in my heart.
If anything, it gives further evidence of what the Bible has said all along: we are losing ourselves and taking each other with us.
It’s easy to do when you refuse to bend your knee.
I wrote a poem once called “When We go to the Butcher.” It’s about being taken and sitting in the back of a horse-drawn wagon and silently writing an apology letter to my daughter in my head. In the poem, I watch her face, her hands, the everything she’ll never get to be because the enemy’s won, and I’m helpless to save her from her fate. Here’s that poem:
WHEN WE GO TO THE BUTCHER
When we go to the butcher,
I’ll hold your hand so hard
my memory will seep
through your pores
and you’ll be looking
down on your little eyes
and little nose
and two lips glued
tight into a cherub’s smile
and you will hear my heart
at your ear
and the way it says “I’m sorry.”
When we go to the butcher
your father will be sitting
at my right and at my left,
an empty place where fear
resides, and if I could
be a something better.
we’d never be riding
in the first place.
When we go to the butcher
remember all those times,
but not just the good.
Remember me, a little
a fly off the handle,
hellish time of a girl
turned and pickled
with fear’s empty space.
But when we go to the butcher
also know about my brave
How courage is what lights
And alights yours, too,
with my hopelessly
But isn’t that every day though? The idea that we really have no control over anything?
Our children are not ours. WE are not ours. Ownership belongs to God alone and we are merely here to enact His will, one that trumps anything we could ever plan to do.
There’s no fear when somebody else is in charge. There’s just constant observation and a heart struggling with the reality of seeking light in the darkness.
And really, you can’t even hear the “I’m sorry” that plays on my lips anymore.
I know there are people who think praying for “trivial” things is silly, but I pray when I get a paper cut. And I messy-pray. I mean I sound like an over-exhausted toddler God has to constantly carry around on His hip.
I’m thirty-six. I should be invested in the lives of celebrities I’ll never meet and airfrying the blinds on our windows, but I’m at the point in life where I only have one question on my mind 99% of the time:
God, what is it you want me to do?
I’m a writer by trade. Okay, maybe not by trade because that would insinuate I actually make a living at this gig. I don’t. I do it because my heart loves it, and everything in my DNA tells me this is what He wants from me. I used to not think that way. I used to be an atheist who thought I was randomly born with a genius hardly anybody understood, which in my mind, naturally made me better than pretty much anyone.
Obviously, I was never really good at math.
I’m the current day Paul of Tarsus, scales at my feet and my eyes wide open. And I’m looking around and want to shake everyone and go, “KIM KARDASHIAN DOESN’T CARE IF YOU GET EXTENSIONS TO LOOK LIKE HER!” but I feel like my noise would fall on deaf ears.
And yet? Jesus has written a message within me, and I know I’m tasked to put it on (digital) paper. Okay, and real paper, too. So my prayer, the answered portion of the “What should I do?” question is this:
What I made you to do.
My newsletter peeps already know how I shut down my social media and my blog. All that social stuff is gone for good for me (I enjoy quiet and living life without captioning it in my head for Insta way too much). But I missed blogging. It’s going to look different. All my past posts (I’ve started to add them to “Essays” at the bottom of this page if you want to check them out) served their purpose. Now, I think I’m just supposed to show you who I am without a smidge of pretense. I am a woman child who still likes Hanson and wonders why nobody smiles anymore. I’m a woman child who’s loved by Jesus and wants to show that love to others. Not to convert them. I can do no such thing. But to remind them whose they are, and to pray deeply that they return to a Father who’s never stopped loving them.
Also? I’m back to writing a book. It’s a small and secret project that I might talk little about or everything about. Who knows with me.
I’m grateful to be walking on the right path. Funny how many twists and turns there always are but I suppose that’s half the fun of it.
In the meantime, I hope God’s limbered up that hip of His. I feel another prayer coming on.