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Archive for the ‘Friendship’ Category

For the second time in just twelve hours, I got rescued this weekend.

First there was last evening. I had been attending an intense conference on Friday and Saturday and was in need of some decompression. Right as it was wrapping, I get a call from my college friend, Rachel, who’s in town this weekend for Disney’s Princess Half-Marathon.

Though they’ve been few and far between, I’ve always appreciated our times of connecting over the years, with some common themes running through our respective paths. A enjoyable evening unfolded of sharing stories old and new, where I discovered some things about Rachel that changes the way I look at her and some of those stories. It was the gift of the unexpected—a place where God loves to show up—as the veil of the mundane parted for a little while.

It is a gift to be able to see, and be seen by another. We all want it like anything, but then we dread it like nothing else, so few are the times it seems that it goes over well. I felt blessed by my friend that evening, and as we parted ways, I experienced a settled peace, hope, and goodness about my life.

… Then came the morning, with a beckoning sense to take a walk at break of dawn. Even favorite routines can become too familiar, so this morning I listened to an inner prompting to choose another route, setting off on a path I’d not yet trod.

In a word, it was magic. I’ll not bore you with the details of the sunrise through the trees and over the lake, or the mists, wildlife, or sliver moon. But I would like to say a couple things about magic.

What is it? Magic is a world of the senses. It is sensuality—in the best sense possible—seeing, smelling, touching, tasting, and hearing a world that is alive with mystery and wonder.

But it is not merely seeing, smelling, touching, tasting, and hearing either. It is enchantment, where feeling—or thinking with the heart—transforms sensory functions to bring forth something new. An experience where how I see, how I smell, how I touch, how I taste, and how I hear make all the difference. In one, I may be a passive recipient, oblivious to what is there, disconnected, lost in some personal funk or distraction; in the other, I am present to the moment—body, soul, and spirit.

Of course, no one really has to be taught this, at least early on. As children, we intuitively cultivate imagination and play as twin companions. But given life’s effectiveness in beating these sensibilities out of us as we get older, we often have to relearn these basics.

So magic. What is it? It is finding ourselves again: in a world that is at once ageless and new. It is rescue from the routine—not necessarily with different data—but a different perspective. It is enjoyment of ourselves and the world around us. Free to love, laugh, and listen.

I’ve lived in some very beautiful places, places that can touch the spirit as few things can. I’m sure there are many days that my years of what some have called “filling the well”—building a vast treasure house of images and moments that can sustain me when the world around me appears anything but inspiring—have made the difference in getting through. However, I still find myself regularly succumbing to unbelief just as much as the next guy, and badly in need of rescue.

That’s why I’m grateful for magic, and a world that despite all messages to the contrary, is full of the stuff.

 


Sunrise Over Bartlett Cove, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska, Summer 2005

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I’ve been meaning to post here for awhile. But things got busy. And of course, there’s the holidays. Etc. Etc.

It was a year ago that I began this blog. My intent was to try to post twice weekly. I had some success with it at first, but it wasn’t easy, as final drafts take more work to pull off than the initial scribbles that birth them. Perhaps it was the perfectionist in me taking over, rechecking several times when I knew there would be other eyes involved, though this may go against the grain of blog style and sense. Then I whittled my appearances here down to weekly, before eventually showing up sporadically or not at all for lengthy spells.

But there have been some writing successes this past year. Perhaps the biggest: I wrote my first book.

It’s a book I coauthored with a dear friend of many years, and with whom I’d often dreamed of collaborating together since we first met in Fort Worth in 1995. A chaplain in the Air Force, my friend, James, sought to turn his doctoral dissertation into something suitable for a wider audience. So in July of 2009 while visiting Orlando with his family, James invited me to help him with his project. And about a year and some cumulative 250 hours later, I finished my contributions to the work. It’s a book geared for helping pastors and laypeople who desire to walk with people on their journeys toward God, especially those who are spiritual but may not be particularly inclined toward church.

I’ve also recently been working on some pieces for possible inclusion in a new magazine devoted to the intersection of art, creativity, and the spiritual life. I’m pretty excited as it gives me opportunity to dig into an area I’m pretty passionate about, a place where God met me eight years ago and brought me great joy, particularly after picking up a book by Julia Cameron called The Artist’s Way, which helped me to cultivate a sensibility that our creative impulses aren’t just something that makes for a nice pastime. They often are the doorway to weighty matters, meant to be nurtured and developed, like a calling, and a place where God loves to show up, as all true creativity hails from the mind and heart of God.

Speaking of Ms. Cameron, of everything she preaches, the most important is a practice she calls Morning Pages. The idea is to spend 30 minutes at the beginning of the day writing freehand for about three pages. She contends that nothing will kickstart your creativity like this practice (along with taking time at least once a week for “Artist’s Dates”—time you set aside just for yourself doing whatever activity it is that is fun, brings you joy, and releases the heart of the child within). Moreover, you’ll see the payoff not just in showing up to the pages, but in your daily routine and relationships as it enhances these, whether artist or attorney by trade.

In short, I agree, as I became a disciple of the practice myself, awkwardly beginning one day on a bus ride from Christchurch, New Zealand over the Southern Alps en route to the west coast community of Greymouth, while passing through Lord of the Rings country (These doses of beauty—great stuff for Artist’s Dates—really do help the process). In about three weeks time, I began to notice a shift taking place, where my morning musings did not have to be coddled to come forth; rather, they began to burst forth onto the page. And the quality of the work reflected this over the course of the next year.

So while you’d think I know how to follow my own advice on this, I realized over the past few years that though I journaled frequently, and usually early in the morning, I had long since stopped making my handwritten work the locus of activity, choosing to type it out on my laptop instead. I’m not saying one always trumps the other; do whatever works for you. But having a conversation about this with my writing coach, Jamie Morris, about a year ago, I realized that it may do me good to return to “Old School” Morning Pages again. So that is exactly what I’ve been doing now for about two months. Some days, it feels like routine. But on the whole, it is helping me return to a creative center.

Another creative endeavor of note: It looks like the short film I wrote and directed in a summer class out in LA over two years ago may see the light of day, going from a hard drive in storage to an upload on Vimeo or YouTube. That may not seem like much given how multimedia savvy we are nowadays, where your neighbor’s kid may have put out a better production than Steven Speilberg’s first piece in film school. However, I’m deeply grateful for that experience, facilitated by my writer/director/producer friend, Jim Lindsay (Jim’s spent many good years creating primetime programming for NBC and the History Channel among others.).

Anyway, the principle acting role in the film was by a young woman who is beginning to make some great connections in Hollywood, as she just worked with the writer/director of an up-and-coming A-lister filmmaker on his latest project. So it will help her in getting more exposure as she pursues her dreams. And if I can get another published credit out there myself, so much the better.

That’s all for now. I will return in the New Year.

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The last few weeks have brought a number of changes: new job, new place to live, and some welcome new routines. But they have not all been good.

One of the most abrupt changes came a few days ago when I learned that, Fiji, one of the calico cats belonging to a recent roommate had become ill. And a once-playful, funny spirit was now suffering anemia, largely confined to lying down in the same area, too weak to eat or drink on her own.

I remember when I first got acquainted with Fiji a little more than a year ago. I teased her much at first with her unabashed attention seeking manner whenever she would come to descend upon my morning breakfast or whatever activity I happened to be involved in at the time. But this did not seem to dissuade her. And it was not long before I relented to her friendly self-promotion and we became buddies. Fiji would rarely miss an opportunity to be shown affection, as she would jump up onto a stool or counter top when you were nearby, fully expecting you to come over and pet her, her purr box already in action.

And I never minded it. I just loved loving on her, with her blissful response as such opportunities came. She just gave back so much more in return; I experienced more simple joy in her presence than from anyplace else in a very long time.

Yet, no matter how much she may ham it up for you, Fiji was very coy too. We had this ritual where in the mornings I’d pass her in the hallway, or in the evenings she’d slink back toward my room—and reaching over to pet her—she’d dart past me with the sound of a scaredy cat, as though she’d never known me. Once warmed up, though, she’d come back around to bask in my attention. And we always laughed when she took off in a run, this otherwise skinny kitty’s belly paunch swinging from side to side.

In fact, spending much of her time with me, the joke had become that Fiji was my cat. She would take over the comfy spots in my room: making my desk chair her perch until I would move her to sit down; then later the old family chair my folks gave me last Christmas; or sometimes launching on top of my bed—calculatingly within eyeshot—jonesing for my attention while I was focused on some project. Then there was the new box springs last month, as she discovered a rip in the fabric underneath where she would climb up inside and hang out for hours before reemerging.

On this last count, she went inside her new hideaway Friday afternoon a week ago, the weekend that I was moving, and did not come out for almost 24 hours, until I crawled underneath and flushed her out. Noticeably more distant, we all kidded that she was having withdrawal symptoms, giving me the cold shoulder as she could sense my imminent move. I would try to console her, but she remained distant.

Yet noticing her continued sullenness, Yannick, my roommate, took her to the vet on the following Monday, and got the diagnosis. A round of intensive antibiotics immediately followed. But it yielded no fruit. Must be some sort of cancer, or leukemia, said the vet. A transfusion might help, but only for a short while. Even at 12 years old, though, as a housecat in good health till now, we had expected her to be around for some time to come.

But it turns out I wasn’t the one leaving her world; she was leaving ours. And two days ago on a return trip to the vet, Fiji was put down. Afterwards, Yannick buried her in a spot in the back yard.

They say that grief is good. And grown men do cry. I have known this truth from time to time, when in the middle of raw pain, I’m cracked open to receive a strange comfort in the midst of surrendered defenses. I don’t much seek it out, but here and there the times that I have experienced it, I somehow feel more alive, more present, than most other waking moments. It doesn’t fill the ache, but it does heal.

In the Sink

Under Cover

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“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” — Philo of Alexandria

It appeared I was in for a rough landing as I arrived into the new weekend last Friday morning. Not feeling so well, I almost canned my trip to the gym. But while a release of endorphins in a yoga class set me in a better frame than before arriving, it would not last.

Back home, I knew I must have some sort of stomach bug. So I found myself doing the best thing I could do: I rested. Sinking into the sanctuary of my mattress, I spent most of the day there, occasionally falling into slumber, all the while watched over by a playful, gentle spirit inhabiting the body of a calico cat named “Fiji,” and periodically getting up to take nourishment with my new diet of chicken noodle soup, toast, and Gatorade.

It was a space for grace.

Illness is the body’s call for us to surrender, and allow it to work its own recovery as we rest. I remember how the surprise of this hit me when over five years ago I suddenly found myself hit with pneumonia. While this illness was no picnic, paradoxically, lying in my hospital bed at that time, I found myself experiencing a rest and peace that I had not had in months.

And following a day of rest Friday, the next day I arose in a better place.

Logging into Facebook, I was surprised by the drop-in live chat by a newly added friend. It was someone I’d not spoken to in years, that is, until a few weeks earlier when he sent a friend request. But my last memories of this person were not so fond. Casual friends for several years, we’d enjoyed some really good moments together in the company of a larger social circle when we both lived in another city and state.

And then recently reunited a few years ago under new circumstances, it was not long afterward when in a time of need my friend invited me to speak with him about possible employment leads for which he was well-connected. We had an initial exploratory discussion which went well, and I left with a sense of renewed hope as he invited me to continue the conversation.

But it never happened. While calling and emailing multiple times, all attempts to connect went unacknowledged. I felt feelings of dismissal, like I’d been played the fool. And some measure of self contempt for having hoped. While clearly, these were deeper issues that went much further back than this experience—and served to trigger such feelings—regardless, I had no problem justifying my anger in this situation. And I invested some energy in what I might say (none of it pretty) were we to cross paths again, as my original expectations had been upended. That was then.

But flash forward more than four years. And now this. What to do? Go off?

Accept or decline friend request?

Or take it, fake it, and act like nothing had happened?

Or run, and risk stirring up an old pot anyway?

Or use those rehearsed but now tired old lines which seemed a bit out of place?

Ugh. I hate such quandaries—even more when I risk seeing something of the prison I’ve put myself in by accepting them as my only options.

Forgiveness, with no exceptions, ensures peace.

What’s that?

Accept; don’t expect.

Oh yeah. The words of a former teacher were coming back to me. And then another line:

Don’t react. Respond.

Not easy to hear, but they brought badly needed perspective. And I realized that I had a choice, when after several weeks of doing nothing, I shot out a message to my friend from long ago. Having prayed about it beforehand, I felt that it was legitimate to respond with some super brief acknowledgement of my previous anger, but only if in doing so I was ready to risk opening the door to relationship again, and not trying to make it an issue and then disappear.

And now a few days following my message, he was contacting me.

I don’t want to discount the sting of the earlier offense, nor minimize what I’d done with it in the time since. But I’m glad I listened to a different voice of wisdom the day I responded to the friend request. As it turned out, years earlier when I’d tried reconnecting, my friend’s world was crumbling around him in that season of his life, of necessity diverting his energies with issues which had nothing to do with me. And he has been in a long journey of recovery since. Of course, how could I have known this? I didn’t. Humbled, my heart began to move out of darkness into light as over the next hour I was invited into my friend’s story.

The Scriptures counsel us to “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another” (Romans 13:8). How often I have failed at this. But I am grateful for the act of faith that led to my having an alternative experience bearing much fruit that I would have missed had I acted on my initial feelings. All I can say is—thank you, God.

And a day that started well ended well, too, as stories of redemption continued into the evening.

On Saturday night, I had the privilege of helping out with a fundraiser event for a most worthy organization here in Orlando called Samaritan Village—for women caught in cycles of addiction and prostitution. It was born out of one woman, Rhonda Stapleton’s, vision to offer a safe transitional space for women coming out of jail or off the streets, as in her work she found they often had nowhere else to go except back to cycles of violence, death, and shame they’d been living in. She wanted to offer a refuge that would help them to unlearn old patterns, which takes time. And moreover, not just to help leave behind an old life, but to offer a chance at learning a new one.

The catering was top-notch. But the best feasting took place as some of the women of Samaritan’s Village shared stories of changed lives, bringing the face of a vision and organization to life. At close, you could feel an energy in the room palpably greater than before.

It was another space for grace.


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“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

– Hebrews 11:1

The other night I received a call from an old friend whom I’d not talked with in a couple of years. Over the course of the next hour, we played cross country catch up on the intervening period since our paths last crossed.

Then Josh, my friend, asked me a question that caught me off guard: “Are you still doing anything with film?”

Two summers ago, not long before the last time we’d spoken, I’d flown out to Los Angeles to study for a few weeks under a modestly successful filmmaker there who was offering takers the chance to make their own short films while soaking up an industry insider’s perspective, and for dirt cheap. People from all walks of life showed up: some already working in the industry; others wanting to break in; some already enrolled in good film schools; and even one socially active senior who wanted to raise awareness on a neglected population living within his community by making a documentary.

The philosophy of our instructor: “Just do it.” Start making film, as nowadays you shouldn’t have to go to an expensive film school in order to enter the industry and do good work.

A few years earlier, I couldn’t have imagined such a wild lark. And even when going, the idea of the LA Dream Factory was not all that appealing to me. On paper, as a recent graduate from a counseling program, it almost didn’t make sense. Yet having time in my schedule as I was unemployed, and offered an invitation that spoke to something deep inside, I headed to LA.

But to my friend’s question—with the brief exception of beginning a screenplay turned novel last year—I answered with a quiet “No.” That that part of my life is on the shelf for now.

On one hand, it wasn’t easy to hear Josh’s words because they elicited an ache. An ache underscored by feeling called to live a certain way over the last eight-plus years which for the most part has been hard and had relatively few outward signs of success, where there have been many brick walls, disappointments, distractions, and temptations while seeking to honor this sense of call.

But this isn’t a story about film; it’s a story about desire. And being invited into my story by a friend who knows me—who sees me, and gets me—was a great kindness. Though recognizing my difficulty, Josh was glad that I have not deadened myself to desire. That I still live with it.

As I put it to him, I’m at a place in my life where there are certain things that I have no other possible way to reckon them now but by faith. They just seem too impossible, and out of reach. Foolish.

To live by faith is to live with the ache of desire. It is the calling to live as an artist—seeing into being those things which do not yet exist, carried by what William Blake called a “firm persuasion.”

When drawn into territory where there are no clear road maps, can you be a fool? Will you be a fool?

I’ve often been tempted to be too practical for my own good, and at some of the worst possible times. But due to the apparent foolishness I’ve succumbed to in recent years, why begin now?

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