Unanswers

Maybe I shouldn’t write about this. Maybe I should continue to hide it away from everyone, lock it up. Maybe it’s too personal for the public eye.

Maybe maybe maybe.

A few years ago, after a 6 month stint in a motel room where all I did was drink myself to sleep day in and out, I ran out of the means to keep the room or keep drinking, once again at the end of a familiar rope. I had nowhere to go, no one I could call with confidence they would help without question. In my despair I rang my youngest brother, who reluctantly said he would take me in as long as I adhered to his two rules: No drinking or drugs, and I had to get a job. I agreed, not knowing how I would do either of these things. He picked me up that day and I spent the next few months on his couch. During this time, surprisingly enough, I didn’t drink or drug, and within a couple weeks I had landed a job at the age of 46, with the same company I had began my working life with at 15 years old, McDonald’s. I had really come full circle, just not the circle I’d ever envisioned as a young man. But I threw myself headlong into the job, took on extra hours, kept myself busy. I walked to work every morning and home every afternoon, stayed sober, kept to myself, and found life was okay for the most part. I sort of fell in love with my routine solitude.

Over the years I had been in and out of numerous relationships, some lengthy, some over before they really began. I figured at this point in my life, with my age, faulty history, and general nomad existence, I’d be better off single. No falling in love, no shacking up, no one night stands. For the next few months I rolled on through the days in this mindset, planning out the time when I could move out on my own and live simply and solely. I daydreamed about it often, and felt good and confident this was to be the path for me.

One morning at work, a new female employee was in training, and I couldn’t help but notice her. I wasn’t sure why because there was nothing substantially noticeable, certainly not to someone like me who had for the most part, always been caught up in the superficial. But there was something about her I could not explain. She was very quiet, kept to her work with little interaction, came and went for her shifts like a ghost. I never thought much about her unless I saw her at work, I was still determined to live my life alone and she nor anyone could deter me from it.

Until the day I decided to speak to her and she smiled at me. That smile did it. In that moment I fell. Hard. And that was that. From that instance on, I thought only of her. Over the next few weeks I engaged her in conversation often, and the more we talked and got to know each other, the less I thought about my plans for the single life, until one day those thoughts faded into the recesses of my mind.

While there is much to tell about the progression of this love story, my thoughts today lie elsewhere. She and I married less than a year later, and less than a year after that we were expecting a child. She and I both didn’t expect either of these life changing experiences, she, like me was resigned to a life of solitude, and certainly a child was never part of the plan. Even after we married, we agreed to stay childless.

But miracles happen. And in June of 2016 our son was born, a beautiful healthy little guy who is now just over 2 years old. He is full of energy, he is smart, he is happy, and he is ornery as the day is long. The latter he comes by honestly.

But it hasn’t been an easy road for either of us as parents. This is her first child, and my only other child in 24 years. To say we were both thrown off guard when we found out the news of pregnancy would be an understatement, to say we have somehow made great strides in adjusting to this life of 3 would be a gross overstatement and untrue. Lately it has become increasingly difficult. While I love my son with a love I cannot comprehend, I have begun to resent him somewhat. My wife and I have absolutely no time together. None. I work 40+ a week, she is a stay at home Mom (and is a wonderful Mother) and at his age he requires seemingly constant attentiveness. I find myself barely able to sit down to relax for a few minutes before I am up chasing him down or telling him no or filling his drink cup or changing a diaper….and it goes on. I know those with kids understand.

I read marriage/parenting blogs, advice articles, and so on. The central theme for parents is to not allow the marriage relationship to grow stale, to make time for each other, plan a date night, steal away during the child’s nap time for some intimacy or good conversation. All well and good on paper or a screen, harder to implement in practice. One we are without a trusted babysitter, and two when nap time comes we are busy trying to catch up on chores or pay bills or errands we had to put off because our time is so enrapt with our son’s care.

And I’m frustrated. Beyond fed up. I’ve found myself wondering if I made a mistake forsaking my plan of a life of solitude. I wonder, now that I’ve found Christ, how in the world do I find time for Him much less time for my marriage and fatherhood. I think more and more lately that I am just not built for this, it is all too much. I think about taking off, disappearing (which I became very adept at over the years) and living incognito on the streets (which I’ve also done), nameless and faceless.

But I love my wife, and I love my son. I could no more leave them than I could the Lord.

Some say pray, give it to the Lord. He will handle it for you. Yeah? Is He gonna drop down from heaven so my wife and I can have a date night? Is He gonna change a diaper? Is He gonna occupy our son’s time so Mom and Dad can have an actual uninterrupted conversation? So we can rekindle passion? Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that I take the prayer advice lightly, I pray all the time. But sometimes that’s the last thing I want to hear when I need practical answers.

And right now there aren’t any.

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Love Thy Neighbor

A few days ago I ran into my neighbor at my job. We’ve lived across from each other for almost 2 years, but never spoken, just the occasional head nod of greeting. He stopped in the aisle as did I and we began to chat a bit. He asked about my work, if we were hiring, said he was in factory work but it was taking a toll on him physically. I let him know we were in fact looking for good people, gave him my name and number as reference, and we parted ways.

Yesterday evening I was sitting outside my place enjoying the less humid summer air when he pulled in the lot, got out and said hello. We started talking a bit more, he asked the age of my son, said he had some brand new toddler toys he was parting with, would my little guy like more toys and of course we all know the answer to that question. I told him sure thing and expressed my appreciation for his kindness.

He asked me to give him a minute and then come on over, and I did so. I stepped inside his abode, shut the door behind me as he turned with the toys in his hands and tears in his eyes. He began telling me how he has a 3 year old son that he never gets to see. His wife left him soon after the birth for another man, got full custody, and will not permit him to visit at all. He told me he pays child support regularly and can barely make ends meet, unable to afford a lawyer to fight her decision.

I was caught off guard by his confession and show of emotion, after all, he and I had just met a few days prior. I tried as best I could to empathize and offer words of comfort, but the size of his heartache outweighed any paltry sentiments I had to offer. I took his hand, let him know he would be in my thoughts and prayers, thanked him for the toys, and within a minute or two I was out the door and back home, for a moment glad to have escaped a somewhat awkward conversation.

My little man jumped in excitement at his new toys, and as I began to unhinge them from the packaging, I noticed the safety age range in the bottom corner….6-12 months. I thought my neighbor must’ve bought these 2 or more years ago in anticipation of giving them to his boy but never got the chance. He had held on to them this long. I thought how it must have hurt him to have the toys in his place, that giving them away was not only a painful reminder of a time he can never get back, but how much it took to give them away to a neighbor boy he didn’t know, a family he didn’t know. My own tears came at this moment as my heart broke for this man and his son. I realized how undeserving of the blessing of my wife and son I am, how I selfishly take them for granted sometimes, how selfish I had been in the light of such gifts to hurry myself out his door. I asked God to forgive my self-centeredness then and there, and I knew what I had to do.

I wrote down my name, number, and email address again, walked back over to his place, knocked on the door, he answered and his tears were flowing freely. I took his hand in both of mine, gave him the paper with my info, and let him know I would be there for him if he needed a friend, asked if he’d like to go for coffee sometime. He shook his head yes, unable to speak through the sorrow in his throat. I stood a few minutes longer with a hand on his broad shoulders until the shaking subsided a bit, and we parted ways.

I didn’t plan to spend my lunch hour writing this today, or plan to write about the experience at all. But God prompted me to go back to my new friend and offer myself in comfort and support, and He knows what words He wishes for me to share. I always want to be open every moment to His leading and step out on faith, even when in my humanness I feel uncomfortable and unworthy.

In His timing, His leading, even a stranger can become a friend. I sure hope and pray my neighbor calls on me soon.

Breaking the Habit

I am going to be transparent here at the risk of judgemental wrath from the modern day Pharisee set, and make no mistake, they do exist.

Over the years I have overcome many addictions, sometimes with help, sometimes cold turkey. Whether I was in rehab or hospitals or the jail drunk tank, or locked in a seedy motel room sweating it out for weeks, somehow I was able to make it through the suffering of withdrawals and sickness and stay clean. I am going on 5 years sober. But there is one habit I cannot seem to break.

Cigarettes.

I know. I look back on all the different drugs and stages of alcoholism I wallowed in and wonder how could I beat those awful terrible addictions and have such a hard time with smoking? I have heard it said in the past that quitting cigarettes is harder than any drug or drink, and never believed it. Not sure I believe it to this day. I think any addiction is subjective to the user, and to say one overall is harder for everyone than the other is shallow and irresponsible.

However as time has gone by, for me, the cigarettes have become increasingly difficult to put down. No matter all the stop smoking campaigns, the horror stories of people who have developed various cancers and disease or the mounting death tolls, I keep right on lighting up. When I find myself without, I feel almost the same as I did when I was out of drugs and unable to cop that next hit, or without any money to buy a cheap bottle of alcohol to quell my shaking hands….and these feelings most of all are what really get to me.

So, for the umpteenth time, today, after the remaining smokes are gone from this pack I have, I’m going to give it another go. I’ve done some preparing, bought a box of 100 count cinnamon nicotine gum, and reached out for prayers from trusted brothers in Christ.

Do I think that smoking cigarettes in and of itself is a sin? I don’t know. I’ll leave that up to the legalists to argue over. But I will pray for myself and each of us that God will give us His strength and power to overcome those things that hurt and damage our health.

I hope you will do the same.

Brothers In Arms

Yesterday morning about 6:30, my middle brother picked me up for our first session of accountability, sharing, and prayer time. To say this was and is a monumental personal happening is an understatement. Our life paths to this moment couldn’t be more different.

As the oldest of 3 sons of a pastor father and Godly mother, I was the proverbial black sheep, leading a life of rebellion which included drug addictions, alcoholism, and general hedonistic depravity for over 25 years. I only recently accepted the gift of Jesus into my life at the ripe age of 51. My brother on the other hand, knew God’s call on his life at the tender age of 15, and if I remember correctly, preached his first sermon in our Dad’s church a year later. He went on to excel in and graduate Bible college, married, has 3 beautiful children and a grandchild, works for a Christian university, and pastors a small urban church.

I didn’t go to him right away with the news that I had truly found God because over the years I had “come to God” many times, many ways for the wrong reasons, and it never stuck. Inevitably I would fall back into the same old lifestyle, rejecting God, rejecting family, and hurting the ones I loved, including, if not most of all, this particular brother. So I was afraid to say anything, somewhat like the boy who cried wolf, for fear it would be just another “here we go again” and rightfully so. I decided to let the Lord lead in guiding me to the right time to share the news, so I prayed and waited. A couple weeks ago I asked him if he’d like to get coffee and catch up, and he accepted.

I was nervous as we sat across from each other in McDonalds, steaming cups of coffee and years of heartache but love despite between us. I began trying to explain, for I hadn’t the words to express what Christ had done for me. Quickly tears rolled down my cheeks as I made apologies long time coming and asked his forgiveness for those years we’d both rather forget. I think he was skeptical at first, or perhaps that was just my longing for him to jump up and take me in his arms in praise, but he didn’t. He quietly accepted my words and as we talked further I felt him soften in belief. I think he recognized the difference than every time before, and I relaxed. I felt I had followed the Lord’s lead, He would take care of the rest.

And He certainly did, for later that same day, less than an hour after my brother and I parted, he to work and I back home, he sent a text. He expressed his appreciation and joy at what God had done for me, and asked if we could meet again soon. that he was dealing with a few things. I accepted of course, and he further expressed desire to have an accountability partner, one who knew him closely, someone with whom he could be at ease sharing personal issues and struggles. In short, he asked me if I would be that person. I said yes, my heart overflowing at how God works.

Yesterday, we sat with steaming coffees, reconciled hearts, and Jesus beside us, the past gone, the future ahead with new familial ties, brothers in arms, brothers for the first time, in Christ.

Tombstoned.

Years ago, in the throes of drug addiction, I found myself in Woodland Cemetery, at the very top, a hill full of the dead overlooking the City. It was a cold crisp October day, and the little bit of warmth a bright sun gave from a clear blue sky could not melt the chill in my soul. On the very pinnacle of that hill sits a cement bench, no doubt a place to rest for weary mourners. I sat down with my head bowed, my last hit of dope in the pipe in my hand. I had no money left, I had conned all my family and friends, committed crimes to satisfy my habit. Weeks I had been in the same clothes, living in my car, I had nowhere to go and no one to turn to. I was broken, addicted, alone, and I stunk. With my head in my hands I sobbed as the last vestiges of dope vertigo swathed my brain in utter dependence and futility. When I finally looked up, on a tombstone not three feet from where I sat, I read these words:

And I, too, sing the song of all creation

A brave sky and a glad wind blowing by

A clear trail and an hour for meditation

A long day and the joy to make it fly

A hard task and the muscle to achieve it

A fierce noon, and a well-contented gloam

A good strife and no great regret to leave it

A still night and the far red lights of home.

Never been one to believe in signs, and I still don’t. But I found a piece of paper and a pen amidst the tears and the chaos of my torn up car interior, kneeled before the tombstone, and wrote down the words. The next morning I walked into rehab.

I have kept that piece of paper to this day.

Mikey

Another post from the past, unedited, in remembrance of an old friend.

First day I walked into the garage to load up the machines, there he stood, hunched over a rolled cigarette cradled in his fist, arm bent at a ninety degree angle just an inch or two from his chapped lips, sunken hollow cheeks almost touching inside his toothless mouth with every deep drag, his unkempt grey beard and mustache orange brown nicotine stained, glassy eyes squinting empty, thinning grey white hair tied back in a long ponytail, fingernails gypsy long and filthy underneath, weathered silver rings almost every digit, his sallow skin sun baked leather, belt-cinched work pants wrinkled and crusty, t-shirt pit stained and bleached of color, hanging on his anorexic frame like poorly made curtains. I remember being surprised he smelled clean.

I introduced myself. He offered a bony hand, gaze quick like his shake, there and gone. “Names Mikey” he said.

We were two men on a three man glorified landscaping crew, working for a subsidiary company of a clinic where we were clients. Every day mowing miles of grass under the lava sun, driven like mules, no mercy for the wicked addict. Sweat out the poisons, let work take the place of apathy, use up the time we once spent trying to score. Right.

In the beginning Mikey didn’t talk much, seemed caught up in his own head, but when he ventured to speak, he did so with intelligence, humor, insight, passion, his laugh was infectious. Each day we’d take our lunch break in a cool shade or inside the air-conditioned work truck if we were lucky, often I noticed he ate very little, usually some half-opened remnant dug out of the bulging backpack he carried on his shoulders. Despite his skin and bone frame, his frail back bent stoop, Mikey was a tireless worker, never complaining, always on time.

I rode the bus to and from work, Mikey did as well, so at the end of the day we’d sit beaten and worn waiting on the next downtown ride, smoking cigs and talking about the day. We’d hit downtown and pal around, where he seemed to know everyone and everything, especially the transients around the bus hub, and the homeless who frequented the library. Whomever we ran into he knew, and he’d always introduce me and say “He’s cool, he’s with me” as if letting a secret society member know I was to be treated with respect among strangers, and I always was. From that day on, through the year and a half Mikey and I worked and hung out together, not once did I incur any trouble, and if downtown, wherever I went, with or without Mikey strolling bent beside me, people I barely knew would shout hello and offer a handshake.

Mikey didn’t have a home, he slept every night at a local homeless shelter which provided him with a hot shower, laundry facilities and one evening meal, until spitting forth their hordes into the streets by 7am daily to wander the city at will. Most hung out at the bus hub or library, dozing behind books or tapping away on the public PCs trying to stay in contact with the outside world. The park behind the library with its lush green carpet lawn and tall thick shady oak trees provided a haven from the hot sun and a quiet broken only by the singsong of birds. Mikey and I would often join others in copping a squat, passing around hand-rolled smokes and the occasional joint, talking shit and laughing, bitching about the Man, or debating the finer points of dumpster diving.

At the time I had a place to stay, and food plenty, so I began fixing two lunches each day, one for me, one for Mikey. He was always bashfully grateful, never complained except once, and that was to ask me to stop with the hard crunchy items, as his toothless gums couldn’t take it. We shared cigarettes, if I had extra I always offered, he’d take it and tear the filter off before lighting. If I was low, he’d roll me one of his, and we’d laugh every time as I’d cough my fool head off trying to drag it like a filtered.

Each morning we drank black motor oil coffee, if one of us was light in the wallet, the other bought. Mikey always shared whatever he had, be it smokes, snacks, and best of all stories. I eventually learned he’d grown up in a small Ohio college town in the 60s, a town known for its anti-war stance and hippie culture, where he’d experienced a childhood free of tension, with loving, easy going parents, in a home where individuality was encouraged. He’d never married, no children, had been a nomad most of his life, relationship to relationship, town to town, shelter to shelter. He’d done a stint in prison in Texas in the 70s, small time drug charges, and he was quick to point out with a laugh he’d never even really tried to reform his ways and at the age of 57, wasn’t about to start now.

Though we both were clients of the same addiction/mental health clinic, it was obvious neither one of us were really serious, taking advantage of the system for the sleep drugs and chance to kill an hour off work with a counselor once a week. When payday Friday came around, on the prowl for a dime of weed and a few caps, we’d smoke through the weekends and save enough to get high before work every day. We’d blow our small paychecks in one day, snort boy in the library bathroom and hang out until my last bus home left downtown, Mikey to the shelter and a bed for the night.

We spent much of our time swapping tales past and present, we shared things with each other no one else knew, we watched out for one another, we sacrificed our own comfort for the good of the friendship, like brothers. If the downtown gang saw one, they would always ask about the other.

We worked together through Winter that year, switching from mowers to shovels and snow blowers, 10 to 15 hour days in the sub-zero temps, chugging our coffee, burning cigs as if trying to warm our hands by the cherry. And on into Spring and Summer we went, shedding our layers for the sun, late afternoons in the library park, dozing on and off between sheaves of conversation and the haze of the drug induced, kings of our streets, princes in this domain so many without a home shared.

One weekend he and I took a bus to his small hometown to visit the cemetery where his parents were interred. Walking some distance down the lanes, passing and toking a fat one, Mikey was unusually quiet, until we came upon side by side headstones bearing his family name. Without a word we both knelt down and began clearing the weeds from around the granite base, swiping the dust off the carved stones with our bare hands, until Mikey, his voice cracking with emotion, began to talk about his family memories, and once the dam broke, the tales flooded the ground around us, swirling into the cool Spring air over our heads, softly coming to rest on our shoulders in comfort and the solace of remembrance. That same day we hiked our way into the woods outside of town to the springs, where, after sharing our third spliff of the day we passed out in exhaustion on the ground to the sound of gurgling waters and the solitude of nature. We awoke to dusk coming over the rise, and sleepily made our way to town and the bus ride home.

One day, not a month later, he didn’t show for work, unusual and completely out of character. I took off early to scan the downtown streets, from the library to the bus hub to the alleyways to the hideouts of dealers and local shelters. Nothing. I asked everyone I came in contact with who might have seen him, but no luck, no one had seen or heard from him, and he’d been missing from his usual nightly lineup spot for a bed.

I never saw Mikey again. Since then I’ve looked for his stooped slight frame and fast clipped walk limp each time I’m in the city, hoping to catch him in the park behind the library, lying in the grass, his head against one of the oak trees, snoring away without a care in the world, or at the bus hub among the huddled lost ones, sipping black sludge from a paper cup, rolled smoke between his gnarled fingers cupped to his face, fingernails like daggers, eyes like midnight blue torches waning in strength, but so full to overflowing in character. I hope to look in those eyes again, but time and distance and the unknown tells me it will never be.

If by chance I do spot him one day, I’ll just sidle up without fanfare, pull out a smoke and ask him for a light. Knowing him like I do, he won’t bat an eye or say a word. It might take him a minute to remember me.

But he’ll light my smoke, ask to bum one, tear the filter off, and we’ll smoke in silence like the first time, like he’d never gone.

Ticket to Ride

I share this unedited as a reminder of where I’ve been and what God has brought me through.

From a hastily scrawled piece, July 2010:

So here I am in the downtown Greyhound station with a three hour wait before my bus departs. My ticket in hand, I’m afraid if I lay it down out of sight it will disappear. Seven months today I’ve been in this city, one year and many months since I’ve been home.

When I arrived here in January of this year, it was a gamble on the shoulders of an old acquaintance from teenage years, I was searching for a safe place where addiction and I, four months on the wagon, would continue a sober journey and allow some room to breathe, soil to grow, repose for my weary mind. It wasn’t to be. A month into my stay with a familiar stranger and broken promises, caught up in his own web of addictions, I fell hard from the wagon and drank death from cheap 100 proof pints from the corner party store. And soon I was in the vicious cycle I know so well, within a matter of weeks sick and shaking, drinking to quell nerves and pass out night after night, losing weight, no appetite, poisoning my flesh until I spun out of control in liquid vertigo, staggering mindless into a hospital, where I landed face first on the thin carpeted hallways of the ER.

The hospital refused admittance, so I was shuttled to a detox facility where I spent five days drying out, and a subsequent forty-five days in a criminal-riddled county run rehab, where I learned absolutely nothing but how to get away with more than my already endless lists of lies, deceits, and sins.

The day I walked out the door, after checking into a hole in the wall motel across the street, I hit the store for a fifth of scotch, case of beer, cigarettes, and proceeded to get plastered and stay plastered, once again in that front car roller coaster ride going down down down. I never left the shithole room except for more liquor and smokes. I didn’t eat, I didn’t bathe, I didn’t care. I stayed on the ride for a month or so, and then in a fit of pique at my squalid circumstances, I quit cold turkey. As of this writing I am about two months sober. Again.

These three months in motel hell have been, for the most part just that. Hell. I’ve wanted to go home numerous times, many and high were the hopes to do so, only to have plans crumble at the last moment, a gut wrenching twist of unrequited anticipation. I hit the highest peaks and depths of despair emotionally and mentally a number of times within the confines of a day, too many to count in too short of time, thinking I’d lose my mind.

I contemplated the familiar route of attempted death by my own hands, but just like the utter life failure I am, I can’t succeed at this either. After suffering so much, most of it self-inflicted, I wished for the opportunity more than once. Forty-two years on this earth and quite frankly I’ve just had enough. If there ‘s no hope for anything more to existence than what it’s been thus far, I really don’t care to be around for the next forty and two.

In rehab the counselors ask….Are you depressed? Bi-polar? Manic?

Nope. I’m just tired. Bone weary exhausted. No fight left. It’s the fourth decade round on the ropes, pummeled continuously, flailing disconnected, no god or referee to whistle a TKO, and now the gloves are off, it’s bare knuckles cut and bleeding splintered bones gleaming marrow white against liver-spotted skin, stinging sweat labored breath and slits of eyes squinting furrowed wrinkles on the brow.

Still death refrains its gnarled grip and sickle sharp and blackened cape and hollow hood.

The prick.

Golden Years

When I was first asked to write a letter for my parents 50th anniversary, I thought no problem. I’m a writer, I can put something together relatively quick and heartfelt. But like many other things in my life, I procrastinated. As the deadline approached and I began to walk through the past 49 years, I realized I was in big trouble. I couldn’t for the life of me grasp the thousands of memories flooding my mind, some clear, some fleeting with age. I was stumped. How does one share in words the depth of feeling and history when it seems no words will suffice? Well, I’m not sure I’ve figured that part out yet, but here we are, gathered together on a beautiful Sunday in July to celebrate this long standing union, this milestone of commitment, this journey of James and Linda Brannon, or as I am privileged and blessed to call them, Mom and Dad.

As many of you can attest, no marriage is perfect. It isn’t supposed to be. The term “wedded bliss” may sound good, but is not rooted in reality. In conversations with my Mother and Father these many years later, I realize “wedded bliss” is something that grows over time and through troubles, through joys and sorrows, through “for better for worse” as time flies by. Marriage is about two people sticking it out TOGETHER when the “feelings” aren’t there, when things are much less than blissful, when times are hard, when it seems God is a million miles away. I daresay both of my parents would tell you this today, that they have a love that far surpasses any semblance of “wedded bliss” present in the beginning.

There’s a famous quote which reads: ” It is not enough for two people to meet. They must be united in love by love’s creator, God above. A marriage that follow’s God’s plan takes more than frail human loyalty and effort. It needs a Oneness that can only come from Christ. Marriage doesn’t take two, it takes three.”

I’ve heard numerous times the stories of how Mom and Dad met, where they were in their lives at the time, and while God wasn’t present per say in the beginning, He was behind the scenes with a plan for these two souls. And while they knew nothing of this plan, He did. I’m sure by now you’ve heard, as the beloved church family you have all become, the story of their conversions, the wonderful awakening that took place to a new life of forgiven pasts and hope for the future. I never tire of hearing these stories, and I never will. They are the cornerstone of how it all began. I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt I would not be sharing this with you today had they not found God and given their lives to Him, not only individually, but as partners in His service. Why? Because it takes more than two fallible human beings to rise above and keep true to such a commitment, the greatest of all earthly commitments, it takes that third presence as the foundation, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

When I was a boy we did everything as a family. Most of our time was spent in church services 3 times a week, 7 times a week during revivals, and if the Spirit came, which He often did, I’m not sure we ever went home. But my memory of those younger days are fading as time goes by, so I’m sure we did go home if only to eat, sleep, and bathe. Our lives centered around God and the church.

Over the years, as the wayward son of the three, there were times I cursed God, times I cursed He was a presence in our lives at all, times I loathed my parents for bringing me up in a Christ-centered home. It took a long time and many dark roads to find my way, but now that I’m older and God is an integral part of my day to day, I realize what a wonderful gift I was given and continue to be blessed with: That my Mother and Father gave their lives to the Lord and raised me in such an environment. I’ve seen my Father on his knees crying out to God, I’ve heard my Mother sing and hum hymns as she did the days home chores, I’ve witnessed them reach out with empathy and compassion to the needy even when they had little to give. But more than any of this, I know first-hand their Christ-like love, for they’ve spent years loving me like none ever could, even when that love meant tough love, praying for me unceasingly, when I was most unworthy of their love and prayers. They have endured beyond measure because of Him. I have no doubt they will tell you the same over and over.

So today, on this special Sunday, while I wish I were there in person, I am more than thrilled to know they are celebrating this milestone with you, their church family. Each of you have no idea how much you are loved and appreciated by these two servants of Christ. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support and love for them over the years.

Lastly I will leave you with this quote: “Grace has a face. It is the face of compassion, of comfort and safety, of forgiveness and acceptance. It is the face of unconditional love. It is the face of a Godly parent. Grace has a face, it is yours.”

Mom and Dad, I love both of you more than meager words can ever say. I can’t wait to see you in a couple weeks and put my arms around you and kiss your faces. Enjoy this special day and bask in the love and warmth of our God and his children. I will see you soon.

Children of Mercy

Caught the early train into the city after a long night of little sleep, dawn was just peaking over the horizon as I made my way through the chilly morning air, chuffing on a cig. I had an afternoon appointment with the doc, still more tests trying to determine what is going on with my health. I always anticipate these appointments with a strange mixture of revelatory fear and desire for knowledge, so on top of my usual insomniac nature I find slumber even more elusive. Throw onto the compost pile a few days of mental and emotional relational drainage, and spontaneous combustion lurks like a harbinger of imminent doom in the corners of my already fragile psyche.

After exiting the train and purchasing my usual two newspapers for crossword purposes from the station bodega, I hit my favorite coffee/pastry shoppe, where I relax among the local artists displays on the walls, enjoy a Big Lebowski capp, and work my brain amidst the light sounds of Beat era jazz piped through the ceiling. It’s a place I frequent enough I am known by name, so there’s always a nice exchange of pleasantries and good-natured ribbing between myself and the staff.

By the time a couple hours had gone by, hopped on caffeine and fresh cinnamon roll sweets and copious amounts of step-outside-for-a-smoke breaks, I hoofed it down to the local clinic a bit early, kicked back in the comfy waiting room lounge chairs and stole some electricity to charge my cell. Thankfully on this particular day the reception area was virtually empty and I could enjoy a brief respite from the usual din of well…..other people.

Escaping from the clutches of an otherwise kind and gentle medical personnel, I had a couple late afternoon hours to kill before the last train out. I strolled the eight blocks into the heart of the city to a bar/restaurant I frequented many many a night in younger days, back then a gathering of good friends and co-workers after late night closing shifts at our respective joints, we’d drink until last call and beyond, locking the doors and swapping stories until finally we’d stagger out into the wee hours of the morning, uncaring of the inevitable hangovers which would plague us the following day.

I sidled up to the bar, the place was fairly quiet, not quite happy hour, and ordered a bite to eat. I sat playing with my phone, of course I was on the T, where else? Near the end of my meal I was startled with a hearty slap on my shoulder and a loud “HEY WASSUP MY MAN!!” turned to an outstretched hand from a man I didn’t recognize, yet he seemed to know me, speaking my name and rolling right into “how ya been…whatcha been up to….how’s the family” and all the while my brain is thinking, “who is this guy?” But knowing my mind like I do, and the loss of memory caused by years of soaking my core in one substance or another, I went with it, replying as if I recognized him as well, playing off the conversation, coming down off the stool to grip his hand and the familiar dude half hug deal. While he jabbered away it was hard to miss the two little girls standing off and to his side, acting a bit shy and embarrassed at his public display, the wont of children of all younger generations.

Still unable to recognize an old friend, but noticing his unkempt appearance, we made small talk for a few minutes, and he asked if I could step outside for a more private chat. A bit intrigued, I called the bartender over and quickly took care of my bill, tossed my jacket on and out into the waning afternoon we walked, the little girls in tow. Once outside we stopped a few feet from the entrance where he bummed a smoke, we both lit up and he began to tell me a sad plight, one my instinct told me was coming. He had been out of work for awhile, the girls were his granddaughters, and they had come into the city with him while he filled out apps for employment, their mother was cracked out somewhere….I stole a glance at the two young girls as they pretended not to hear, but I knew by the way they hung their heads and looked at the ground, they not only heard every word, but were used to it. My heart broke a thousand times in that moment, for it was then I recalled where I knew the man from.

Fifteen years earlier he and I were bunkmates in the ARC, a Salvation Army drug rehab center, he a heroin addict, while I was on my second attempt trying to kick a cocaine/crack habit. We spent three months in this solitary environment, day and night, meals, meetings, madness, melancholy, mercy. His name? Percy.

Percy continued to weave his tale, and as it is with most recovering addicts like myself, an unseen radar switch flips on, wary of the conversational direction. Percy said he had brought the girls into the bar to use the restroom, but they had no money to eat and were hungry, could I spare a few bucks and they would share something. Without their notice, I looked quickly at the girls, now playing with each other, laughing, as if they hadn’t a care in the world. I looked back at Percy, his watering pleading eyes, and I saw a reflection of myself one day not so long ago, when I, hungry on the streets down and out, approached strangers at the train depot for spare change. I also knew I was a little light in the pocket, my card was about maxed out, but I clapped his thin shoulder and guided he and the girls back inside, told the server to set them up with whatever they wished from the menu, and handed him my card. As the girls ordered, Percy, fighting to hold back the tears from his weather beaten cheeks, asked if I could spare a few extra bucks for some smokes. My heart wrenched within me, fighting against all instinct, something told me this wasn’t such a good idea, but I was loathe to leave it rest. I told him to order some food and have a bite with his granddaughters, I’d slide down to the bodega and get him a couple packs, and I sidled away before he could reply.

I returned a few minutes later to the girls jabbering away over baskets of chicken wings and fries, their fingers stained with sauce, heedless of napkins, tall tumblers of cokes with pink bendy straws creeping over the brim. They smiled at me with mouthfuls, I am unable to express the emotion of that moment. Percy was digging into a burger, a steaming coffee at plateside, but when I approached with a bag which contained his smokes and some snacks and treats for the girls later, his old addict heart cracked as he stood from the table, and looking in the bag and then at me, his arms took me in and we embraced like long lost brothers home from a lifelong war.

And in truth, we were.

He asked me to join them and I did for a few moments before my train departed, and he kept thanking me over and over, promising to pay me back, although I knew, and in some measure I know he did as well, such a day of payback would never come. I told him I didn’t care, I told him next time someone down on their luck approached him for help, and if he was able, to do the same and lend a hand. His dark afro shook as he bobbed his head and repeated yes he certainly would, he certainly would. As I stood to go, he leapt up from his meal, almost teetering the table over, and grabbed me again in a hug, his ripe smell enveloping my senses, but I held him close for a few seconds, my hand on the back of his weary head, both of us saying I love you’s. I could hear the break in his voice, and in truth I was fighting tears of my own.

As I turned to go I heard a high pitched yelp, and before I could see what was happening, two little barbecue-sauced faced girls wrapped their arms around my thighs for a bashful squeeze before speeding quickly back to the table, laughing in that way only innocence can, with unbridled joy of simplicity. Percy’s broad grin at their antics brought a deep laugh from within my own heart, I was still smiling as I turned to go, waving goodbyes.

But a block from the bar, in a shadowed doorway, I stole aside and crumbled apart, sobbing like a lost boy, for the tattered soul of my old friend, for the innocent souls of two children who I knew were growing up in a world they never asked for or imagined or deserved. My hand clamped my mouth to stifle weeping, my person twisted into the corner of the doorway so as not to be seen before composing myself and making my way swiftly to my connection before it was too late.

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