I was twenty-one when I read my first book. The Godfather by Mario Puzo. I loved it. I loved the story, the characters, the violence, the mafia. For the first time in my life I was transported by words into someone else world. Unfortunately it would be quite some time before I read my second novel. As a child I was not encouraged to read. I can not remember my mom and dad reading anything other than a cookbook or daily newspaper.
I failed English I in high school twice because I refused to read the assigned books that were part of the curriculum. I stayed away from school on the days I knew the students would have to stand up and read for the class.
It wasn’t until I became a christian, joined a church and was given a bible that reading became important. King James was the only bible we were encouraged read, right from the horse’s mouth I was told. So being a slow reader to begin with, learning a new language (King James’ ), mixed with dead brain cells from years of drug abuse and you can only imagine how slow a process it was for me. I had to re-read a sentence up to three or four times before the words would register. I was so spaced out I could barely retain any information.
The bible and writings based on the bible and Christianity was all I read. This suited me just fine. Slowly but surely I was able to overcome, with God’s help my reading disabilities. As the years passed I started reading Time and Newsweek Magazines with a dictionary at the ready. I was expanding my vocabulary at a rapid pace.
When I left my church quite many years ago I started to read other books outside the God, Jesus and Christian genre. I particularly loved lawyer court room drama and murder mysteries. There was a whole new world out there I never knew existed and I devoured fictitious novels as though they would be banned at any time. Add christian writings, throw a little self-help in the mix and I had what I believed was a good balance.
Because I didn’t read when I was younger, writing was out of the question also. During a period of time when everything was free hand with a pencil or pen my writing skills were non-existent. Yuk. If you saw my handwriting you would understand why. I couldn’t even read what I had put on paper seconds after I wrote it. It was a no win situation for me.
I engrossed myself in these marvelous, well written novels by great authors. I could only envy such gifted men and women. Wait, envy is too soft a word, I was jealous of their writing abilities. If I entertained these jealous thoughts for too long a time I started to despise these writers. What did they do but write a good book. I wanted to be like them yet I wanted to keep an open mind so I could despise them at the same time.
I’m smiling now as I write this as I look back about eight years ago when I decided to write my own book. The only expertise I had on any subject I felt comfortable writing about was my me, my life. So I set out to write a novel, like the big boys and girls. I wrote every day until I finished a fictional account of my life. Over 300 pages. A first draft on my first attempt. Man, I was empowered by the whole experience. I don’t know where those 300 pages are now.
I found it was easy for me to write first drafts but I had no idea what to do after. I didn’t know anything about editing, re-writing, language structure and all that goes into the process of making a book. I was out of my league. Then I stumbled on blogging. Once I got my head around this new way to write it became my best writing friend. Through blogging I learned the basics. Write, edit, re-write, edit, hit the ABC button, correct spelling, hit the publish button, categorize, tag, read other blogs, like button, comment.
Reading blogs from writers who I knew had the education (Bachelor, Master degrees and PhD’s. Not to mention light years of writing practice under their belt and did I forget to mention that every author mentions the books they published. “I’m a published author you know” I felt like a fish out of water most of the time.
Then there are those who testify that writing has been a passion in their life since they could hold a pen. Carry a notebook or journal at all times, write stories, read them in class. Work for the school paper, learn to edit at ten. There is no doubt the passion that oozes out of these wanna be writers. These people will write until Jesus comes back no matter the outcome. Passion is passion regardless of its success.
I lacked passion for writing. It was quite obvious to me that I didn’t love writing. I kept writing hoping that someday I would fall in love with the craft. Then I would be passionate like the millions of those who make it their calling in life. Without the necessary love and passion needed to write my story how could I ever succeed.
That is why it was so easy for me to stop writing eight months ago. Not even think about writing a single line because I could live without it. Writing was not in my blood. It was not my calling.
The eight months without a word written opened up other opportunities for me. I used the extra time to read, specifically memoirs. Story of people lives, experiences and memories. I taught myself to read outside genres that resonated with my thinking. I read some fantastic books and my eyes were opened to something I never saw before in relation to writing.
One of the things that came to me while reading these memoirs is that many of these authors did not have the background in creative writing nor the passion for writing. Writing was a means to an end. A way to get their story out to the world. A way overcome their past. A way to be open and honest about life, their life. What did these memoir writers have that I didn’t have. They had a love for their own life, their own stories and they would make a way to talk about it. Writing was the way they chose to do it.
Up until this time I thought my life not important enough to talk about. Not exciting enough that others would want to read. Nor honest enough to be able to bear my soul on paper. God has give me, each one of us, for that matter, a very special gift. Life. Every memory, every experience is recorded somewhere in our hearts or mind. My life is special.
Before I was blind but now I see, if not blind then very blurry. My life is becoming my passion, my stories, those hidden treasures of experience and feelings. Those deeply engrained memories that are just bursting to find their way out of the place I have buried them.
It”s about honesty, transparency. Humiliating myself by allowing others to read about my shortcomings, mistakes and the matters of the heart. Like getting undressed in front of a stranger. They see the good, the bad and the ugly.
My blog, Surviving My Son’s Suicide is a testimony to that. It is also a prelude to the bigger picture in my life.
Writing is not my passion. At least not today.
Today, writing is a means to an end.
I read an article a few years ago. A journalist was interviewing a successful author who made his living on writing horror. Many of his books were made into movies, TV Teleplays and TV shows. One of the questions the journalist asked, “why did you choose horror as a genre?” I can envision the author staring right through this journalist as he answered, “who said I had a choice?” He didn’t expound on his answer neither did the journalist ask a follow-up question.
“Who said I had a choice” as though some unseen force was on his shoulder whispering words as his hand worked furiously putting pen to paper trying not to miss a word. Whether his answer was meant to be literal or metaphorical it had quite an effect on me non the less.
A question I have been asked over the course of my christian life. Why did you choose to become a christian. That question confused me but I had my stock answer at the ready. “When I was 22….and I went on like a kookaburra”. This was a gray area for many years. I never gave serious thought to the answer.
Growing up in the Jewish faith I was sheltered from the knowledge of Jesus and Christianity. I had no idea what the the Christmas hype was all about or the billboard signs that read, repent or perish. As I got older the name of Jesus was quite popular in bars and pool halls and I could never figure why this guy Jesus was so popular with some of my girlfriends when they shouted out his name with delight.
I travelled across America from the east coast to the west coast when I 21. Stopping in Los Angeles to visit my sister I felt like I was transported into a strange new world. Charles Manson was on trial for his gruesome murders. Girls walked around in flowing dresses that almost touched the ground. Young people my age wore jeans with patches and rips in them, not the kind that the young people get in shops today. Hippies I believe they were called. To top it off I was walking down the street in short sleeves in January. Not at all like my eastern seaboard upbringing.
Meandering down Hollywood Blvd I could see two lone figures up ahead seemingly engrossed in conversation. As I walked past I heard these words. “Jesus was Jewish”. I thought, Huh, so Jesus was a real person. I continued on without breaking stride.
Some time later as my friends and I were leaving California heading back to New Jersey I was sitting in the back seat watching the sun set over the pacific ocean. I had this peacefulness that came over me. The seed was planted.
Eight months later I was hitching across Canada with my dog Sunfish. A beautiful Shetland Sheepdog that some hippies gave me while camping in the Blue Ridge mountains in New Jersey just a few months prior. She was my best friend and greatest travel companion. No problems getting rides.
Pitching our tent at a free campground I borrowed a bicycle from a fellow camper. Peddling down the country road with Sunfish jogging behind I heard a thud. Jumping off my bike and turning to see where the sound came from I saw Sunfish lying on the ground lifeless. She was hit by a car. My first and only dog was killed. I carried her back to the campgrounds and buried her in the woods. That would become the saddest day in my life.
Numb from my loss I packed up my belongings and headed towards the highway. I took a ride as far as the driver could take me. Dropping me off virtually in the middle of nowhere I walked aimlessly and took the first dirt path that lead off the highway. Open fields on both sides with cattle or sheep far in the distance grazing on the lush flat land. Up ahead a loan oak tree standing with its heavy branching almost touching the ground. Beyond the tree was nothing as far as the eye could see until rolling hills met with the skyline.
Dropping my pack at the base of the tree I slumped to the ground my back leaning up against the oaks trunk. My mind dull with the thoughts of not having my new best friend by my side. The last thing I remember was tears sliding down the sides of my face as I fell asleep.
Waking the next morning the sun breaking through the boughs of the old oak I realized I hadn’t moved my position. Something was noticeably different. The sadness was gone, replaced by a sensation I had never experienced before in my 22 years of living. I was overwhelmed with the an unmistakable feeling of happiness. I recognized this feeling as love and it was so overwhelming I thought I would explode.
Grabbing my pack, with a smile that was starting to hurt, I hurried down the path to the highway to catch a ride to God knows where. All I understood at the time that I had this great feeling of joy, happiness and love that I somehow had to share it with others. To this day I cannot explain what happened to me during that night as I slept under that oak tree. What I do know is this, it changed my life forever and I knew right away it was Jesus.
Much later I learned that my experience was a phenomenon known as being born again.
Now if I am asked why I chose Jesus being a Jew I can say with complete confidence, “who said I had a choice”.
In retrospect, my late forties was when it all started. I didn’t know it was a midlife crisis. I thought more along the lines that I had lost my way, I had wandered off the path that God was leading me on but somehow got lost.
I spent so much time trying to get back to the path , it felt like I was stuck in quick sand. I couldn’t have been more wrong about the way I was seeing things.
When I was twenty two I had an experience that changed my life in a big way. I later learned that it was what Christians call being born again. God took over my being, everything was God this, God that, Jesus loves you, Jesus loves me, man Jesus even loves my 8th grade teacher who gave me a failing grade.
I was so full of this new phenomenon in my life I even tried to convert my ever-loving and understanding Jewish parents. Not only did I deliver the “you will never make it into heaven unless you repent and give your life over to Jesus” followed by “you need to give up everything to follow Jesus, like the early disciples did”. But that is a story for another time.
I was on fire for God, my faith grew in leaps and bounds, I went from being a babe in Christ to trying to take over the world for God single-handed. I learned to witness, preach the gospel, read my bible, pray, spout bible verses, be a missionary in foreign lands, teach others to teach others. Got married, had kids, cloned my children in the way. I was a man on a mission. In my own eyes I was the perfect child of God.
Gradually without warning my self-made persona started to crack. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong and I felt hopeless and helpless to do anything about it. God surely abandoned me in my time of need.
From going from believing that God spoke to me at every turn, his presence ever so immediate, feeling so special that nothing could touch me. His voice became less obvious. His presence hidden from my daily life.
I felt like I was doing something wrong, surely God was mad at me to hide himself from me. I was taking this all too personally. I wasn’t seeing the forest for the trees.
Most recently I have been encouraged by one of our most revered bible characters; Moses.
Here was a man who was not only spared from death as a child but because of the foresight of his parents he not only lived but was raised in the house of the ruler of the most powerful country at the time.
The bible doesn’t really say but using our imagination Moses must have had the world at his feet. A prince being prepped for great things in his adopted fathers kingdom. He was probably full of himself too.
Driving through the cities in his fancy chariots, attending all the best parties, strutting through the streets flexing his muscles feeling the top of the world as the peons bow as he passed.
Then in one moment of insanity that all comes to an abrupt end when he kills a fellow Egyptian as they were picking on one of Jewish slaves. You know the story. He had to flee and wound up in the middle of nowhere tending cattle for a man who took him in and gave him one of his daughters to marry. A new unexpected life.
Around the age of forty Moses virtually lost everything he had lived for, Driven away you may rightly point out by his own stupid impulsive bad temper or sense of justice.
So our dear Moses spends the next forty years in virtual exile. Talk about a midlife crisis.
I would love to have been a fly on the wall or tent and take in all that Moses suffered and learned during that time. From a brash “I can do anything I please” upstart to a man so broken that when God said “OK buddy, I think your ready, your people are ready, all the pieces are in place, its time for you to do what you were born to do”, he virtually begged God to pick someone else.
The bible doesn’t say much about what Moses went through inside but now I can sort of relate and understand to some degree of what it takes to become ready for the call.
Perhaps it took Moses forty years because he was so resistant to change or there was so much to strip away of his old life. Either way God is patient as He waits for us to shed the past and prepares our hearts for the future.
The last twenty years of my life has built up to being one hell-of-a midlife crisis. For the most part I hadn’t understood God’s plan.
To be honest I still don’t. But God is giving me some semblance of understanding that He is in control. If it takes one year or forty years, God is will wait till we are ready for whatever it is He needs us for.
Now I believe I have turned a corner. I understand now that God has not been angry with me but has used the situation that I had gotten my self into so as to make me a better man by stripping me of myself.
God may not be prepping me for a higher calling in this world, or a greater mission with more meaning than what I am doing now but I do know that God doesn’t make mistakes and he doesn’t waste the life that he gives us as long as we see Him in everything that comes our way.
Have you felt that God has abandoned you? Do you feel its going on far too long? Are you at the point of giving up? Do you say “I can’t can’t take this any more” more often than you should?
Then yes, welcome to the club, you are going through a midlife crisis: God’s way.
Growing up I loved spy movies. I especially liked the ones where the Russians would send undercover agents to America to blend in with American society and wait until they are called on to spy or do some sort of dirty deeds for their mother country. Sometimes they would send single men or women to marry an American, or even couples to blend in, raise a family, become an indispensable member of the community etc.
Sometimes you could get half way through the movie until you realized that this couple or individual who you grew to like and see as the protagonist turns out to be a “traitor”.
But how did these spies stay on track as they infiltrated society and blended in so they would seem, at least outwardly that they were just like any garden variety suburbanite.
Enter the handler. There is always a handler. Another Russian spy, usually working for the Russian embassy or consulate and always has diplomatic immunity.
His job is to make sure the fake Americans stay on track, keep the motherland first and foremost in their minds and to be prepared for the day they will be called on to “spy”. Or perhaps they have already been spying and passing on information to the handler. His job is to make sure that his charges don’t get sucked into society, don’t get too comfortable. Or worse get turned and become a red white and blue American. The handler is essential to the success of the mission. The mission is to do what they are asked to do and the end result is to return to the motherland in one piece.
Being a true believer, a christian in this world is not much different. If you are truly born again, then you know how different you are to the world we live in. We should never feel as though we fit in. We should always understand that our time here on this earth is temporary. We were sent to do a job, a special mission for each of us. Though many of us may not know what that mission is until later in life, we spend our time fitting into society waiting for the call, knowing it will come.
So we pass our time trying our best to be one with our surroundings, we get secular jobs, we join churches, we go to schools and learn the ways of the world, we fit in. But we understand that this world is not our real home. We know that we are just passing through and we were sent to to fulfill a purpose.
With temptation all round us it is imperative to not allow ourselves to get sucked in. The world calls us to give in and become one, not just outwardly but inwardly too. Oh, how difficult it is at times to remain seperate in our hearts to the ways of the world knowing it is our duty to live in a world that is not ours. We can’t do this on our own.
Enter the handler.
Jesus. The perfect man for the job.
He knows us, he loves us, he understands us but most importantly he trusts us. He knows he can depend on us when the time comes. He looks past our frailties and our human weaknesses. He handles us like a pro because he has been here before. He keeps us on track, always reminding us of the bigger picture. He continues to remind us that this world is not our home, we are just passing through. He too is essential to the success of our mission.
When our mission is complete he will then say to us, great job guys, you did good, you can come home to the Mother Land. Heaven.
Seven years ago this month our 28-year-old son, Aaron, took his life by walking in front of a truck on a busy highway. He was killed instantly.
For six and a half years I was in no man’s land trying to make sense of what seemed to me a selfish act. We were blindsided and I was faced with emotions, anger, guilt and grief I never knew existed.
Then one day, about six months ago, I decided enough was enough. I had to do something to make sense of what had been the most difficult time in my life. There had to be an end to the suffering or was there. Was it simply something I would have to contend with for the rest of my life. Either way I knew I had to start putting the past behind me and find a way to move forward.
I decided to tell my story, hence Surviving My Son’s Suicide was born.
I invite you to visit ‘My Other Blog’.
It’s a story I wish I didn’t have to tell but God’s ways are not necessarily our ways.
“Let the redeemed of the Lord say so whom He hath redeemed out of the hand of the enemy…then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them out of their distresses.” Psalm 107:2-7
When we come to the Lord we are bought with a price. Jesus paid the ultimate price for us. He owns us and we don’t mind. Right? Good, we are on the same page so far.
And he bought us ‘as is’, just the way we were, warts and all. We are washed, cleansed, remade, renewed and rewired but still not perfect.
Now why is that? Some of us come with handicaps. Handicaps God could heal us of if he wanted to but decided not to and I am not talking about the obvious physical handicaps either.
No the ones I talk about are those that are embedded in our natural human side of things, our mind, our emotions our physical attributes and idiosyncrasies.
I have been trying to overcome some of my own handicaps for years and have never been able to master the ‘how to’ on this. Day after day, year after year I wind up with the weaknesses, personality and character flaws I just can’t seem to master no matter how hard I try.
In retrospect these handicaps have held me back from being the man God wanted me to be. Or so I thought. That I realized is a whole lot of crap.
My sister-in-law, Lynn, my wife’s sister who is just a year or two older than her, has been handicapped since birth. Born without feet and without the use of her legs, this woman now in her late fifties puts me to shame.
For one she doesn’t look at her self as being handicapped. The stories she tells of her exploits since the time she could use crutches to get her around never ceases to amaze me. I am humbled when I am around her. She is always cheerful, fun, down to earth and has a great sense of humor. She even had a child and raised him on her own.
She is an advocate in her local community and now nation wide helping to better community facilities and programs for the handicapped. In a word, she puts me to shame when I think about all the internal handicaps I have that hold me back even from the simplest tasks.
Lynn, knows that she will never be healed while on this earth. She will never have feet, she will never have the use of her legs. She doesn’t sit around and wait for God to make things easier for her. She sucks it up and lives with her handicap. That is the way she has always been and the way she always will be.
She learned to not only live with her handicap but learned overcome it by not allowing her physical restraints to get in the way of what she wanted to do.
I am not even sure she believes in God or in Jesus the way we do, we’ve never discussed it but I know she is Godly.
We as Christians, if we are honest with ourselves, sometimes hide behind our spiritual or emotional handicaps by trying to make ourselves perfect. We always seem to be waiting on God for one thing or another but in actual fact we use “waiting on God” as an excuse not to get out of the boat and walk on water.
We just have to accept that there are certain things in our lives that we just have to live with and that being said, lets suck it up and accept that we are not perfect, some of us may very well be handicapped in certain areas of our life but lets not allow it to stop us from living life to the full.
Lynn told my wife that when she dreams she always sees herself with feet, walking, running, jumping skipping and whole.
That will be one of her rewards in heaven.
So let us in our dreams see ourselves whole, free from our own personal handicaps.
That will be our reward in heaven.
If you are anything like me you may have questioned the Lord from time to time and said, “Lord when you were passing out the gifts and talents what happened to me”?
To some of us the talents the Lord has available are not always so obviously apparent. Some seem to have them ready-made as a child. Many have had to work hard to make them usable and for some it seems that we wouldn’t recognize a talent if it was to smack us upside our head.
I will go out on a limb and state that the gifts and talents are different, they are given to us to enhance our calling.
In I Corinthians 7:20 & 24 Paul says Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he is called. & repeats his point 4 verses later. Brethren let every man, where in he is called, therein abide with God.
If we can see look back at the beginning of our walk with the Lord, our calling was probably staring us in the face. I believe mine was.
To go into all the world to preach the gospel to every creature, and to be like the man (Jesus) who went everywhere doing good. That was mine in a nutshell and in retrospect, that has never ever changed.
And in a quick review of my life I realize I have been the happiest and most content when yielded to that call. The most miserable times in my life were when I put that call on hold, tried to give it away, throw it off a bridge or hide it in the cupboard.
I am one of those whose gifts and talents were discovered mostly by trial and error.
Let me tell a story.
While hitchhiking through Canada, (23 years old) not long after finding Jesus and telling anything that moved and had life that Jesus was now my best friend and I wanted everyone to meet him .
My money had run out and I needed to get some work to get me to help me along. I found myself in this little town somewhere north that was hiring in the constructing industry.
I got a job right way. My first hour on my first day I was up on a roof with the boss nailing beams. I was there no more than fifteen minutes into it when the boss put down his hammer and says to me. Sammy, you seem like a nice kid, you need to find yourself another way to make a living because you have no future in this trade. He showed me the ladder. I lasted fifteen minutes and have barely lifted a hammer since.
My attempt to follow in Jesus steps of becoming a carpenter was just not going to happen.
As a teenager I can remember one morning while having breakfast with my dad, my mom comes in and says “Al (my dads nickname), you need to find the hammer and nail up a few picture frames for me.”
My dad looked at me like she was speaking a foreign language. Those picture frames to my recollection never got hung up. I never had a chance.
Music was also never in my families DNA. We never sang, played music or watched musicals. It was not something I learned to love or become a part of as a child.
But when I became a christian and saw others playing a guitar and singing about the Lord and his love I thought it was a great way to get out the message. I had to again go into my memory bank to see if there was any latent talent waiting to bust out.
I again took a trip down memory lane.I clearly remember my foray into the music world as if it happened yesterday. I was in elementary school we were told that we each had to pick an instrument that we wanted to learn. Our parents were responsible for buying it for us and we were to practice at home and bring the instrument to school to learn its craft.
I wanted to play the drums. An emphatic no from mom. AS a backup I chose the trumpet. Mom reluctantly agreed. My parents bought me a brand new trumpet. I was so proud of it. I took it to school a few times a week to learn to play and practiced at home. I was a slow learner and If nothing else came of it the stray cats which were a nuisance in our neighborhood found more peaceful surroundings.
One day my mom told me that someone had broken into the house and stole my trumpet. I was devastated, I cried and my budding musical career came to an abrupt end.
Over time I amused my self when thinking of those days and wondered if somehow my parents played any part in the sudden disappearance of my trumpet. Perhaps a neighborhood conspiracy to bring peace and quiet back to the four block radius? I will never know what really happened and as far as I know there were no written confessions from my dear parents when they passed on.
But my second attempt was much more successful. Fast forward twenty years I learn to play the guitar, self-taught. I was never going to be Crosby Stills Nash and Young material but God gave me enough talent to use as a vehicle for my calling, for a time. It brought many a tear to the eyes of those I witnessed to. Hmm.
But I have learned that we have to use what ever gift or talent, big or small no matter how insignificant it may seem at the time to further the calling that the Lord gives to us.
It is God who passes out the talents and he not only knows who to give them to, he knows when to give them to us. We may need them for a short period of time to use as a way to enhance our calling or these talents could blend so well with our calling we could have a hard time telling the difference between the two.
But in my humble opinion I will say this;
Gifts and talents can come and go…but our calling remains forever.