Lost on Long Island: My Life with (and without) God – Part IX

Escape from the L.I.E... by Tasayu Tasnaphun

 

In high school, I learned the Peter Principle –

“People rise to their level of incompetence.”

 

In seminary, I was taught –

“Be careful what you pray for;

You might just get it.”

 

Still, I prayed to rise –

More people, a bigger community, better pay.

 

A church on Long Island called

And offered me all this and more…

… more than I expected.

… more than I could handle.

 

From the moment I landed, I was consumed with busyness

That had no end.

The church needed a Savior.

And I wasn’t Him.

The ministry became my golden calf

Where I sacrificed my family and my sanity.

 

One night I went to bed early,

Emotionally exhausted and physically drained.

Lying in bed, I heard a voice say,

“It’s okay.”

 

But it wasn’t the voice of assurance.

It was a word of relinquishment.

 

I got up and filled my palm with psychotropic drugs.

Put them in my mouth and swallowed.

I did it again.

And again.

 

It wasn’t enough to kill me.

Only to put me in a drug-induced stupor.

I collapsed on the floor.

 

Alice found me and called my psychiatrist

He said I could sleep it off.

But I kept falling onto the floor,

My body was contorted; I kept running into walls.

Alice had to direct me to the bathroom,

And clean up after me when I missed.

 

I was angry…

… angry at myself for making such a mess of things.

… angry at Alice for cleaning up my mess.

… angry at God for messing with me.

 

Some people ask me now how someone who claims

To be in a saving relationship with Jesus Christ

Could try to kill himself.

 

I don’t have a good answer.

I only know that though I’ve wanted to give up on God.

God hasn’t given up on me.

 

Now I’ve come back to the outskirts of Nineveh,

Grateful for the shade God provides,

Hiding from the scorching sun.

 

The story begins…

Out of Nineveh: My Life with (and without) God – Part I

Sent to Serve: My Life with (and without) God – Part II

Prayer, Parenting, Pits, and Pills: My Life with (and without) God – Part III

A Clarion Call: My Life with (and without) God – Part IV

Alone in a Fog: My Life with (and without) God – Part V

On a Teeter-Totter: My Life with (and without) God – Part VI

In the Heart of the Finger Lakes: My Life with (and without) God – Part VII

Chosen to Adopt: My Life with (and without) God – Part VIII

(photo: “Escape from the L.I.E…” from Tasayu Tasnaphun, some rights reserved)

Chosen to Adopt: My Life with (and without) God – Part VIII

Mary Evelyn says "Yay" by gnuru=

 

While at Ovid,

We were blessed to be a blessing.

Inspired by a book called Expecting Adam

We chose to adopt a child with Down Syndrome.

 

Within a few months,

We got a call from an agency in Albany

For an 8-week old boy we named

Caleb Ezra Anthony.

 

The church adored Caleb,

Lavishing him with affection.

He would raise his hands in praise,

And direct the people to sing with joy.

 

In time, we chose to be chosen again.

We flew to New Orleans for our BUFA girl –

Baby Up For Adoption, who became

Hannah Elizabeth Sarai.

Our ugly duckling soon to become

A beautiful swan.

 

 

The story begins…

Out of Nineveh: My Life with (and without) God – Part I

Sent to Serve: My Life with (and without) God – Part II

Prayer, Parenting, Pits, and Pills: My Life with (and without) God – Part III

A Clarion Call: My Life with (and without) God – Part IV

Alone in a Fog: My Life with (and without) God – Part V

On a Teeter-Totter: My Life with (and without) God – Part VI

In the Heart of the Finger Lakes: My Life with (and without) God – Part VII

 

The story continues…

Lost on Long Island: My Life with (and without) God – Part IX

 

(photo –  “Mary Evelyn says ‘Yay’ from gnuru, some rights reserved)

Alone in a Fog: My Life with (and without) God – Part V

Fog

 

I woke up in a solid white room.

Alone, strapped to the bed.

 

“You have Bipolar Disorder,” they said.

They gave me a diagnostic code to replace

My points per game, GPA, and SAT score.

DSM 296.4×4.

I would need treatment the rest of my life.

 

I spent most of the next year heavily medicated.

I prayed to God, but couldn’t hear a response.

I read the Bible, but the message escaped me.

I tried to write, but the words wouldn’t come.

Mostly I slept, and ate, and took pills.

 

My mind was a thick fog.

 

One day Alice was taking a nap with the children.

A friend stopped by to take me for coffee

I left a note which read –

“Dear sugar bear,

Gone to the mountains to pick blueberries.

Be back by Spring.”

 

The church was wondrously generous.

They provided me paid leave.

They stopped by with meals.

They watched Sarah and Grace

When Alice and I had appointments.

 

Eventually, I went back to work full time.

But I had nothing left for home (or so I thought).

 

Alice was fed up.

She decided to get a job,

Then a divorce.

We went for counseling as a last resort.

 

In counseling, the fog started to lift.

Not overnight, but gradually, and steadily.

I asked Alice to stay

And she agreed, thank God.

the story begins…

Out of Nineveh: My Life with (and without) God – Part I

Sent to Serve: My Life with (and without) God – Part II

Prayer, Parenting, Pits, and Pills: My Life with (and without) God – Part III

A Clarion Call: My Life with (and without) God – Part IV

the story continues…

On a Teeter-Totter: My Life with (and without) God – Part VI

In the Heart of the Finger Lakes: My Life with (and without) God – Part VII

Chosen to Adopt: My Life with (and without) God – Part VIII

Lost on Long Island: My Life with (and without) God – Part IX

image “Fog” from Suasion Boutique in { f a l l & w i n t e r l o v e }

In the Heart of the Finger Lakes: My Life with (and without) God – Part VII

Seneca Lake by Pak Gwei

 

I heard of a church in New York

Searching for a pastor.

It was just two towns over from Alice’s parents.

I wasn’t looking to leave, but the location seemed perfect.

We went through the process and a call was confirmed.

 

Ovid rests between the two largest fingers of the Finger Lakes.

If you climb the church steeple, you can see

Cayuga Lake to the north and

Seneca Lake to the west.

 

I was the only pastor in town,

So I became the village vicar.

We ran a Thrift Shop where you could get any item of clothing

For less than a buck.

We housed the Food Pantry where you could get a week’s worth of groceries

For free.

 

People came for prayer and stayed for service.

I led a 12-step Bible study group at a local addiction treatment center.

I cheered on the basketball teams,

And went to the school plays.

 

My devotion to ministry fueled

My commitment as a father.

We homeschooled Sarah and Grace.

I kept the shelves stocked

With the best books I could find.

We wrote our own stories, went camping,

Danced in the park, attended plays.

 

My journals from our Ovid years show shortcomings,

Spiritual and relational struggles that kept it from being

Paradise on Earth.

But when God created the earth, He didn’t call it great.

He called it good.  And then He rested.

 

 

The story begins…

Out of Nineveh: My Life with (and without) God – Part I

Sent to Serve: My Life with (and without) God – Part II

Prayer, Parenting, Pits, and Pills: My Life with (and without) God – Part III

A Clarion Call: My Life with (and without) God – Part IV

Alone in a Fog: My Life with (and without) God – Part V

On a Teeter-Totter: My Life with (and without) God – Part VI

The story continues…

Chosen to Adopt: My Life with (and without) God – Part VIII

Lost on Long Island: My Life with (and without) God – Part IX

 

(image “Seneca Lake” from Pak Gwei, some rights reserved.)

Out of Nineveh: My Life with (and without) God – Part I

St. Jonah

 

When I was born, Nineveh was no longer the capital of an evil Assyrian empire.

It was a small town in the Midwest, straight out of Hoosiers

With a mother seeking comfort, finding passing victory in valium

And a father consumed by work and entangled by emotions unexpressed.

Their friends put beer in my bottle and laughed

At the toddler toddling tipsy to the turf.

 

A picture in my uncle’s yearbook shows me at 3.

In the crowd at a basketball game,

Eyes riveted on the action; not reacting like the others.

Serious, searching for substance in the orange globe of a ball.

As if God had put it there.

 

Sports gave structure to my days.

Something to do to escape.

Countless hours at the school playground,

I was Pistol Pete Maravich.

Each shot a last-second buzzer beater,

A ticket to immortality.

 

When my parents divorced,

I was made to choose where to live.

I chose to live with Dad where I could be free

To eat Braunsweiger and Nacho Cheese Doritoes

Until I made myself sick.

 

Dad’s buddies came over to drink Budweiser,

One asked, “Do you like to play with yourself?”

I said, “Sure.”

He burst out laughing: spewed beer through his nose.

 

I moved in with Mom and Dan, my step-father.

He was an EMT and liked to carry guns.

We watched “Emergency” during dinner.

Dan would yell at the TV, shouting instructions.

 

They argued a lot – Mom and Dan.

One day Dan pulled out his gun and started waving it ar0und.

I felt a sharp stab in my gut and yelled out.

Mom got Dan to look at me.

He decided my appendix had burst, so he called the ambulance,

They called it gastritous.

I think it was the finger of God.

 

I was driven to succeed in high school

In sports and studies.

My senior year I discovered girls

Pam Murray, in particular –

Her dad was a missionary.

To date her, I had to go to church,

Which I gladly did.

She was looking for more than kisses and cuddles.

I wanted more than her body had to offer.

 

At 18, I was on top of the world

But it was not such a steady place to stand.

I had mono when I gave the graduation speech.

I talked about the need for faith,

With a runny nose.

 

I recited the poem “Richard Cory” – which begins,

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And ends…

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

 

the story continues…

Sent to Serve: My Life with (and without) God – Part II

Prayer, Parenting, Pits, and Pills: My Life with (and without) God – Part III

A Clarion Call: My Life with (and without) God – Part IV

Alone in a Fog: My Life with (and without) God – Part V

On a Teeter-Totter: My Life with (and without) God – Part VI

In the Heart of the Finger Lakes: My Life with (and without) God – Part VII

Chosen to Adopt: My Life with (and without) God – Part VIII

Lost on Long Island: My Life with (and without) God – Part IX

(image “St. Jonah” from Mauricio Alfonso Naya in Art / Illustration / Etc.)

Sent to Serve: My Life with (and without) God – Part II

Photo is loading

College was a time for experiments.

Mixing songs with sex, ideas with drugs.

The God I had come to know went up in smoke.

I replaced the living Word with words from lives

That thirsted for truths to absorb the Truth

And hungered for rights without Righteousness.

 

I wrote a book my senior year called,

Life (in obvious places)

Filled with family stories and ones I’d conceived.

At the end, a coquettish Claudia Matson asks the narrator –

“Why don’t you write any love stories?”

“I don’t know any,” he replies.

 

I took a job at a plastics factory.

And started going to a country church.

Grammar Presbyterian.

Filled with farmers and grandmothers

Who made room for me in my stained Salvation Army clothes.

Smelling of smoke, looking for a God of substance.

 

Easter Sunday, on my way to church.

I saw a grey-haired woman in a tattered coat wandering.

I pulled over and tried to help.

She didn’t know where she was and I didn’t know where to take her.

We were both lost.

 

I drove her to a downtown church.

Dressed in his Easter best, a usher gave her a donut and some coffee.

He sat with her and helped her find her way home.

I left the church in tears.

Finding strength to be weak in a community of grace.

 

I went to seminary to serve God with my mind,

Hoping my body and soul would follow.

In class we looked at the language of Scripture

And discussed how not to talk about God.

 

In my pastoral work, I found God…

… in the joy of boy who would never speak.

… in the songs of prisoners longing for freedom.

… in the tears of a man praying beside his dying wife’s bed.

 

I say I found God, but really God found me, and I didn’t run away.

 

I met Alice in the office of a friend.

She was arguing with the phone company about a deposit.

She won.

I said to myself, “I want her on my side.”

Within 6 months, we were engaged.

 

We moved to a 3-room row house in South St. Louis.

The heat was unbearable,

Steam rising from the asphalt.

We passionately loved and more passionately fought.

From this conjugal clash, a child was conceived.

 

We moved to the countryside,

And I became a pastor,

A shepherd of a frozen flock.

I preached sermons on Sunday,

And took out the trash on Tuesdays.

 

Sarah was born in early Spring.

There was a chill in the air and ice on the roads,

But we barely noticed.

We brought her home to balloons and signs

A Noah’s Ark nursery.

 

We made her first week a music video

with Sandy Patty singing –

You are a masterpiece
A new creation He has formed
And you’re as soft  and fresh as a snowy winter morn.
And I’m so glad that God has given you to me

 

After a week, I was spent (or so I thought).

I retreated to my office and didn’t come out

Even when I came home.

 

the story begins…

Out of Nineveh: My Life with (and without) God – Part I

the story continues….

Prayer, Parenting, Pits, and Pills: My Life with (and without) God – Part III

A Clarion Call: My Life with (and without) God – Part IV

Alone in a Fog: My Life with (and without) God – Part V

On a Teeter-Totter: My Life with (and without) God – Part VI

In the Heart of the Finger Lakes: My Life with (and without) God – Part VII

Chosen to Adopt: My Life with (and without) God – Part VIII

Lost on Long Island: My Life with (and without) God – Part IX

An Abomination to the Lord

day ten--oración by ohmyGaly

He was always late, but tonight he arrived early.  He shuffled into a back pew, not noticing Rev. Johnston lighting the candles.  He knelt down and placed his head on the pew in front of him.

Rev. Johnston heard the sounds of moaning in the pew.  He lowered the candlelighter and turned around, noticing the figure of a boy, hands grasping his head.  Rev. Johnston cautiously approached the boy.

“Can I help you?” he asked.

The boy looked up.  It was Philip Sackman, one of the teenagers in the church.

“Rev. Johnston,” he said, somewhat surprised.

“Philip, are you okay?”

Philip started to speak, but fumbled with his words.  He started to shake his head.

Rev. Johnston knelt beside him.  “Dear Lord, something is wrong.”

“I,….”  Philip began, looking down, “I have sinned.”

Rev. Johnston l0oked at Philip.  He placed his hand on Philip’s shoulder.  “It’s okay, Philip.  Tell me what’s wrong.”

Philip looked directly at Rev. Johnston.  “I have committed an abomination.”

Rev. Johnston removed his hand and spoke uncertainly, “Look, Philip, I think you’re being too hard on yourself.  What is this about?”

Philip looked up to the heavens.  He spoke,  “.. and they did according to all the abominations of the nations which the Lord cast out before the children of Israel.”

Rev. Johnston rose to his feet.  “Philip, I really think you need to talk somebody.  A professional.  I’ll go call someone.  Will you be okay here?”

Philip sp0ke with conviction, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord: but the prayer of the upright is his delight.”   He covered his face with his hands leaned forward.

“You pray, Philip.  I’ll be right back.”

Rev. Johnston scurried away to his office.

A gust of wind blew out the candles on the altar.

Philip leaned back against the pew.  Slowly, he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a knife.

Philip raised the blade, looked up to heaven, and spoke as if reciting a decree –

“And if thine eye offend thee,  pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.”

***

Rev. Johnston returned to find Philip slumped on the floor beside the pew, surrounded by a pool of blood.  He wore a smile on his face.

“It is better…” said the boy.

“My God, my God,” said the pastor, “What have I done?”

(inspired by a “Write Now” prompt from Today’s Author)

(image above, “day ten–oración” from ohmyGaly, some rights reserved)

Going Home (inspired by John Prine’s “He Was In Heaven Before He Died”)

I got the call late at night that Grandpa George had died.  He had lived a hard life.  He didn’t have the opportunity to get a good education.  He was only 11 when his mother died and he had to quit school to help in the fields and to help care for the other children.  He worked hard to get by and managed to scrape together a living.  He met a woman – Maize – at the tomato factory where he worked.  She says he was throwing tomatoes at her, so she knew he liked her.   They were married in less than 3 months.  They stayed together “until death did they part” almost 60 years later.

*  *  *

I drove alongside the cemetery in a rented Ford Focus, admiring the tombstones in the early morning sun.  My mind wandered to Grandpa’s last days.  He was able to die at home, thanks to Hospice and the care of family, especially his son Geoff (since Grandma was limited in what she could do).  Geoff fed him when he was hungry, bathed him to keep him clean, and sought to bring comfort to this man who had rarely tried to comfort others.

Grandpa George had not lived a perfect life, perhaps not even a good one.   He was quick to become angry and had been accused of being abusive. He was known to challenge his supervisors to fights.  He bullied Grandma and Geoff, who could never seem to please him.  He certainly had skills – building his house from the ground up.  He could be generous with his time, helping neighbors with necessary fix-up projects.  Yet he had a temper that could flare up at the least misunderstanding.

But he could also be playful and gentle with children, rocking them on his knees or playing “Peep – Eye” (his version of “peek-a-boo”).  He had pet names for all the grandchildren which were both endearing and practical (as I’m not sure he could remember what our real names were).

I thought of his faith.  He went to church regularly for most of his married life.  He drove the church bus and took great pride in rounding up children from homes where the parents were just happy to have them off their hands for a few hours.  He had a simple faith: child-like even.  I wondered if it brought him peace and comfort especially in his last days.

*  *  *

The sun was full in the sky as I pulled onto the gravel road that led to family plot.  I looked at the simple white crosses to the side – the graves of soldiers who died before they could marry, have children, and raise a family.  I saw the graves of infants, who escaped suffering as well as joy in their lives.  I said a prayer of thanksgiving for the life my Grandpa George got to live, the good and the bad, and prayed that he might be received into a new and better life to come.  Later that day, driving the rental Ford Focus back to the airport, I looked out on the Wabash river and I smiled.  They say when you die you go “home to God”.  I have this hope for Grandpa.   At least, I am glad that he was home when he died.  I’m glad he got a little taste of heaven before he died.

*  *  *

father and son

(image “Day 07.02 Family” from Frerieke, some rights reserved)

(To hear a very nice cover of John Prine’s “He Was In Heaven Before He Died”, click here)

What’s In a Name?

Tony - Note

 

It’s official.  “Will Write for Food (and maybe dental)” is now “A Way with Words”.  Why, you ask?

Well, it happened like this…

I was in church this morning (a different church than I usually attend), standing and swaying to some contemporary Christian music I didn’t know.  At my usual church, I really enjoy the music.  They have stringed instruments for accompaniment (no drums – there will be no drums in heaven) and though the melodies are often upbeat, the lyrics have deep meaning.  Sometimes the lyrics are new, but they almost always have a depth of theological meaning and are aesthetically pleasing.

The songs we sang today, however, were different.  They are within a genre known as “Praise and Worship” songs.  They are meant, I believe, to foster reflection and meditation on particular words and phrases that repeat a lot.

Some time ago, I went to a “Worship Music” conference (that was actually promoting “Praise and Worship” music) and they jokingly shared what a “Praise and Worship” song would be like if you substituted secular words.  It would go something like this…

The cow.

The cow is in the corn.

The cow is in the corn.

The corn.

The corn.

The cow is in the corn.

Corn.

Cow.

Cow.

Cow.

You get the point.

So, I was standing there, listening and swaying to the music and I found my mind wandering a bit to my blog.  I’m not really using it to look for work anymore (my search for work is leading me to other avenues).  Instead, I am using it to hone my abilities as a wordsmith (and encourage others to do the same).  I like the original blog title, but it is more self-deprecating (and desperate) than I really want to be.

I’m not a great writer, but I do have “A Way With Words”.