Who Am I? Pt 3

See Part 2 here.

This new reality and routine continued on in my life until the fall of that year when I was again summoned to another office, but this time it was the Chaplain’s office. I vividly recall sitting in that chair and listening to the chaplain explain that my mother had finally lost her battle with cancer. He offered to pray with me as he explained that our God who is rich in compassion and cared for me dearly, who would not forsake or leave me during this time.

With this news and through my floodgate of tears I lashed out verbally at him telling him of what I thought of his God. No longer could I contain my anger, fears, and outrage at life and what it had given me. I was sure going to let him, and everybody I ran across, know what I thought of this fictitious deity.  Soon after I stopped going to classes, began masking my pain with alcohol and marijuana use, and was given a hardship discharge from the military. Being an only child and having the rest of my family succumb to death I decided to stay in the area. Instead of looking at the new reality that I found myself in, I focused on the past and the entirety of what my life had become. I was angry, hateful, full of resentment—overall mad at the world. Words alone cannot express the depth of the emotions that seeped from every pore of my body.

I continued to deal with all of these emotions and pains by abusing substances that would allow me not to feel anything beside the sadness that dwelt within me. It was not long before I had yet again fallen into the “wrong crowd” and surrounded myself with people who were of the same ilk. I became good friends with the pot dealer who lived across the hall from me and we would spend every night, for the better part of a year, partying and selling marijuana to others. One night that all changed though— through a tip to the police we were raided and arrested in my apartment for possession, burglary and theft.

I spent the next nine months of my life in the county jail where my anger and frustration with life only seemed to grow more deeply and manifest in more ways. Eventually I was sentenced to fourteen years in the state prison. Now these feelings of anger, hatred, and embroiled passion manifested themselves toward any of those hypocritical, Bible-thumping Christians. I spent the next ten years of my life confined in numerous prisons throughout the state. I made sure that everyone I encountered knew how angry I was with their make-believe God.

Through my penal tour I became known and feared as a “bible basher” who would do some pretty deplorable things to anyone who professed a faith in Christ. Child molesters, woman abusers and rapists were often the target of my anger as they so desperately sought to go to these church services where God gave them such a false comfort and security.  Not one time in this ten year span did I ever enter a chapel, attend a service, or accept any amount of help from a religious community or group.

While I was released from the confines that I had so desperately wanted flee, I was still filled with anger and hatred. The new reality that I now faced was one of fear as I stood before the world a free man, but a free man who had no place within society. Ironically, the only places, people, and organizations that would help someone in my situation were those Christian groups that I despised so much. Not wanting to join the ranks of the hypocrites, I began my journey of new found freedom not by accepting any help from them, but by continuing on in my obstinate anger, and hence my own self-made prison.

Living in a shelter and endlessly searching for work proved to be quite challenging for an ex-convict with little work history and obvious anger issues. This routine continued for a month or so until I ran into some friends of mine from prison who offered me a place to stay as they too could relate to the difficulties in transitioning back into society.

Eager to escape the shelter I jumped at the opportunity for this new found freedom, but it did not take long before, yet again, reality kicked in. My friends, plain and simple, were up to no good as they were already back into the lifestyle that had led them to prison in the first place. While in one breath they would praise the freedom they had on the “outside,” in the next breath they would talk about how they could get their next fix or how they could rob and rip off people to support themselves.

Now my prison had no visible walls, but my prison was just as real.

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Who Am I? Pt 1

I have invited a friend to share his life story of the “lonely, broken, and forgotten” and The Hurting and Christmas. It will be five parts. Be sure to read all five.

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I begin with a reassurance of understanding of Nouwen’s words in which he rightfully calls the reader‘s attention to this point:

Making one’s own wounds a source of healing, therefore, does not call for a sharing of superficial personal pains but for a constant willingness to see one’s own pain and suffering as rising from the depth of the human condition which all me share (Wounded Healer, 88).

The intent of this section is not to boast of myself or to talk solely about the miraculous work and blessings that God has done in my life. The intent of this section is to recognize the sufferings of my own heart and to make that recognition the starting point of service for ministry

Both of my parents were police officers who had a passion for their jobs. As a young man growing up and due to the nature of my parents’ work, my weekends were mainly spent with my mother’s parents where I would often find myself ripped from the confines of a comfortable bed and drug to church every Sunday morning. I would go, attending Sunday school and church with them, and hearing Biblical stories that told of a caring, kind and compassionate God that desired happiness and peace for His sheep. After church we would go out to eat; then I would be dropped off at home where I lived a far different reality than what I heard talked about in church.

Returning to my home it was not uncommon to find my father intoxicated and my mother crying. My father was often very physically abusive toward my mother and me; he would take out his anger and rage from his stress-filled job on us. Most of my early childhood memories involve beatings, trips to the hospital, and numerous occasions of my mother packing and both of us leaving only to have us return hours or days later to endure the same abuse in some sort of insane cyclical pattern.

My thoughts would often wander to the message that was spoken at my grandparent’s church, and even as a young man I could not help but feel that the message of a kind, caring and compassionate God was something for other people, not me. This was simply the norm for me growing up, through elementary school and junior high. I lived in a household where I held my breath coming home, entering the door to see what I would find. “Be seen and not heard” was my imposed mantra as any words or mistimed actions would often lead to physical punishment for me or my mother.

This pattern continued for many years but one day something happened to break the cycle. When I was in eighth grade I can clearly remember getting a call to go to the principal’s office. This was not uncommon, lest the reader think too compassionately upon me, as I often found myself getting into trouble as a younger man. Through my rebellion of my home circumstances I would regularly skip school or classes, get involved with the “wrong crowd,” and experiment in drinking and marijuana use – you name it, I probably got caught doing it.

So heading to the principal’s office that day my only thoughts were of how severely punished I would be for getting caught in whatever I had done. Approaching the office that day and seeing the two guidance counselors, my grandparent’s pastor, a few police officers, my mom and the principal my heart sunk—I knew I was really in for it. Desperately searching my mind for what I had done, for what possible thing that I did that would warrant such an gathering of people, I was in for a surprise. They began to explain to me that earlier in the day my father had been shot and killed in a drug raid.

I can remember sitting in that chair and looking at my mom with a smile beginning to creep across my lips as this new reality began to set in. To others the reaction might have seemed strange, but to me through this death was newfound freedom that had been granted to my mother and me. We no longer had to face the reality of abuse and torture that we endured. Even in this time where God and church seemed to be a place of make believe and fantasy I could not help but join in with prayer that the pastor offered, one of a new reality and the promise of God not to leave or forsake us. In my childlike mind I truly believed that God had taken my father’s life to spare us the hurt and suffering that we endured for so many years.

I was free, or so I thought…

Have you hugged your porcupine today?

Odd title, huh? Actually it is appropriate for today’s blog: the two sides of living with depression. One side involves the person who is depressed, the other side involves the people who live with the person who is depressed. And the porcupine imagery catches some of the tension and difficulty in living on either side of depression.

English: Photograph of two North American porc...
Hugged a porcupine lately?

One who struggles with depression is acutely aware of pain, suffering, woundedness, etc. When some one close wants to help, through words, or hugs, or just listening, the quills of the porcupine make it painful even for the helper. Often unknowingly the one helping may trigger some reaction (see Depression and Triggers) in the depressed person. It may bring back memories (see Depression and Memory) that cause further pain. The quills are getting sharper.

At the same time, for the depressed person, the quills pointing inward feel much larger, much sharper, and much more focused on the areas of pain. Thus, the helper is reaching out and getting stuck with quills, and may withdraw. Meanwhile, the depressed person is hurting more, and tends to withdraw. It is a catch-22, the depressed person needs more companionship in the best sense of that word, yet the encounter can be painful and self-defeating.

It doesn’t take long for the porcupine effect to close doors rather than open them. Thus, for the depressed person every event becomes intensified. Rejection is more acute, a sense of abandonment lurks behind every relationship. Not a winning combination.

For the person who is depressed, it really comes down to having a few people who will faithfully walk with you, not pressuring, not demanding, but to be there for you. In the darkest days, God was drawing me, even when I wasn’t aware of it. In the flesh, I was blessed with my wife, our son and daughter-in-law, and three elders and their wives. They stuck by me in the very worst of times. I marvel at their patience, their willingness to “put up with me.” And they did so for several years. Always supportive, always listening, always loving.

As I look back, I can see how difficult I was to live with. In the worst days they needed to direct me to do things, every day things that we most often take for granted. If someone has not been down that dark road of depression, it might seem silly to need help with simple tasks. My close circle of family and friends never once gave that impression. They demonstrated Christian fellowship in the best way possible.

Another aspect of companionship is to realize that I as the depressed person wanted to be around some people, but not necessarily participating in their discussion. It sounds odd, but for me I wanted to be a wall flower, listening and seeing others respond, but I didn’t want to speak or interact. It was almost as if I had to learn how to interact with people all over. And I didn’t trust myself on what or how I said things.

I have found that dialog was hard for me. In the slide down and coming out the other side of the depression valley (for me a 4-5 year process for the actual diagnosed depression), I sometimes would speak, but not appropriately. I don’t mean vulgar or filthy talk, but it was if I couldn’t see how my remarks affected others. Even now when the depression battle rages, I have to be careful on what I say; when I forget about that, it can have negative repercussions. Of course, that plunges me further into the recrimination of despair.

There were always two questions people would ask me: 1. Are you okay? 2.What can I do to help? I couldn’t tell whether I was okay, because I had been out of kilter for so many years. And I didn’t know enough about myself to ask for help, or even what kind of help I needed or wanted. The questions showed concern, but as a depressed person I wasn’t capable of providing even an intelligible response. That made me feel bad for a long time. As years have passed, I realize that neither I nor the other person knew what to say… And I am okay with not really answering. Those who care also can accept the lack of answers. Their love and presence spoke more than their questions, and more than any answer I could give.

For me the ultimate place to be with people and yet not be part of it was in worship. The liturgical worship service provides the environment to welcome, embrace, and lead people who are hurting. Confession: I was good at internally… I could beat myself up quite well, thank you. But confession before God exposed the shallowness of my beating myself up. It wasn’t only words and attitude towards others, but towards God that I needed to hear, to face, to confess—most often in my heart, the words not actually forming on my lips. But it was confession nevertheless. I could never tire of hearing that my sins were forgiven for Jesus’ sake.

For me some Sundays I couldn’t sing the hymn of praise (“This is the feast…”). But inwardly I liked being around people who could. The creeds brought me reassurance that not even this congregation was my world; they drew me into the “cloud of witnesses” throughout the ages. The Lord’s Supper likewise reaffirmed the eternity of this reality, being in God’s presence, receiving His gifts. Once again the body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

The beauty of family, close friends, and worship comes together to bring about God’s work of pulling a person through even the deepest valleys.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort. (2 Cor. 1:3-7)

Ten times “comfort” is used in the passage. Speaks volumes, doesn’t it? And now God has given me the grace and comfort to embrace other porcupines… Been there, done that, and yes, porcupines can be loved. And God wins!