Leaving the path… and getting stuck…

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In about 1993 (ish) I was fresh(ish) out of the Army and trying to figure out a path for my life. I had connected with Jay, an old high school friend, and often our path would lead from SouthWest Houston to Freeport Texas for surf trips (yes you can surf in Texas, you just have to be patient….really……really….patient.) We would load up my Ford Bronco II (I swear this isn’t a car blog but…I’m a guy so…) with our surfboards and a cooler and be ready for a day. We would usually head to Surfside Beach near the Freeport Harbor Channel where the waves had a good chance (well as good as any ) of building up against the long jetty that defined the north side of the channel.

On one particular day though the waves were coming from the other direction and the jetty was actually blocking the swell. We looked in the channel because when conditions were right there could be amazing waves in there. Of course, in the channel, the conditions were always right for large bullsharks (bullsharks of any size are a nuisance but the large ones are more than pesky as they won’t be happy with less than a leg) so the waves had to be really good to take a chance at putting yourself on the menu. The waves in the channel on this day were just short of being worth risking life and limb for so we decided that the best course of action would be to pick up out of Freeport, go back across the intracoastal waterway (via the tall, skinny, waiting to fall over when I’m on top of it bridge), and take the ferry to Quintanna Beach where we thought the waves should be building up on the other side of the channel. It was about a 45 minute drive and we could have paddled across the channel in about 10 minutes provided we didn’t see any fins, or about 2.5 minutes if we did (or even thought we did.) But, once again, we were young and had more time than limbs so we drove around.

We got to Quintanna Beach only to find that the most perfect and beautifully formed 6 inch waves…. (that’s a really small wave for you non-surfers.) At this point we were sitting in a 4×4 with a cooler of beer on the beach with nothing to do, a dangerous situation for men under 25 (not as dangerous as the bullsharks but still I should have felt the dark clouds building up on my future.) We finished a beer (this was about 12 years before I quit drinking and about 5 years after I should have quit drinking) and decided that donuts on the sand on a deserted beach was only fun for so long and we left the beach in search of more challenging offroad… um… challenges.

Well, the only thing flatter than the surf that day was the landscape of Quintanna Beach Texas so the offroading was almost, but not quite as exciting as watching the mosquitos bash their heads against the glass of the Bronco II as they tried to get to us. We drove down the farm road that divided the beach from the grazeland for cattle (I always loved the juxtaposition of surfers and cowboys, and sometimes surfer/cowboys being just a blacktop apart) when we saw looming ahead was a 50 ft. high  pile of earth that looked like it stretched about a mile back into the grazeland and about 5 miles down along the road. We saw a small dirt trail at the closest corner and after a small veer to the right we were happily climbing the bumpy trail to our adventure.

When we got to the top we saw that the mound of dirt was expansive, there was a ring that formed the perimeter that came up from the outside about 50 ft., had a road on top that was about 8 ft across, and then dipped back down about 8 ft. to a vast landscape of cracked and dried mud/sand. It was fun for a while just being up there, we had a great view of the beach and the new trail held our attention for a time.

*You may have noticed by now that there isn’t much dialogue between Jay and I, this isn’t because we weren’t talking but rather due to the fact that at this age our vocabulary was pretty much limited to “Dude!” or “Dude?” with a light spattering of comedic flatulence or belching. I felt it best to spare the reader of all that.

Boredom was once again setting in and we had only brought a six pack (I know I never should have been drinking and driving, that lesson was to come later) so it was time to turn around and head back. I probably could have stayed on the top of the path and done a 6 point turn (who remembers driving school? a six point turn is like a three point turn but with about twice the points, it’s used for very narrow roads) but when you have a 4×4 and some mud… well… bad decisions will be made. I decided to leave the path.

“Dude?” Jay interjected, but it was too late. I went down into the muddy side to turn around and instantly got stuck. “Dude?!” he exclaimed but I calmingly stated, “Duuuude…. 4 wheel drive.” I confidently shifted to 4 wheel drive and then got out to lock the front hubs… I was a little nervous at how deep we were but figured the Ford Bronco II could handle it. I got back in, put it back in gear, and lightly applied the gas to get the best traction and absolutely nothing happened. Dude.

We got out, and our first thought was the cooler, two beers left was exactly what we needed to assess our situation. We were not exactly in the middle of nowhere but we wouldn’t have had a far walk to get there. We walked up and down the path a bit looking for something to put under the tires to get more traction. Unfortunately since nobody (almost) was stupid enough to drive up there nothing ever got left up there. From our vantage point we could see the lights of a little township/neighborhood. We left the path and walked the 50 ft. down the berm and toward the lights.

For the entire walk Jay was shaking his head and whispering various incantations of  “Dude..” As we got closer to the lights we heard the sound, I finally understood what the word raucous ment. A bar up on stilts (all the buildings are up on stilts near the Texas Coast) was the source of the light and the sound, and possible furey at two surfers barging in to ask for help. We walked up the wooden steps and we opened the screen door with a squeak and a slam when we let it go. The music and conversation ground to a halt and all eyes were on us, at least that’s what I imagined would happen. In stead, no one looked up or even gave any indication of noticing us.  We looked at each other, shrugged, and silently agreed to order a beer before asking for help.

As we walked to the bar I heard someone shouting my name, I wasn’t expecting someone to be calling me and my name is common and also sounds like someone with a cold calling for their mom. But, this one really was calling my name, in dang near the middle of nowhere someone was calling my name. Through the haze of the day and cigarette smoke I saw a familiar face. “It’s me Jed!” Jed (not his real name) was a guy who graduated with us had taken a job in dow chemical and was living in Quintanna beach. He bought us beers and asked what we were doing. After the long explanation that was frequently interrupted by his laughter he decided he could help us out. “I can’t believe you’d be so stupid as to drive on the spill way for the dredge from the channel. That is 50 deep of mud! But don’t worry my girlfriends mom has a ’76 El Dorado with a 500 cu (a really big engine for you non car folks) it’s got front wheel drive, we can get you unstuck.’

We piled into the El Dorado while I was still protesting that the thing wouldn’t go up the hill. Since my credibility was shot by driving out onto the spillway in the first place no one wanted to listen to me. Of course the Cadillac couldn’t climb the hill and we were forced to turn around. We went back to the bar and obviously word had gotten out that something exciting was happening and there were twice as many people there. Shouts and laughter were going up  along with shouts of, “I can get you unstuck, fifty bucks,” with several variations on that theme. We eventually piled into the back of a big dually Chevy (also owned by Jay’s girlfriend’s mom) and were up the hill with half the town training behind in their own vehicles. This was now an event.

At the top of the hill I got out and attached straps to my Bronco II and and looked back down to the road, there were lawn chairs and fog lights and almost as much hooting and hollaring as there was beer. With the straps hooked to both vehicles Jed gunned the Chevy and spun the wheels spraying dirt and rocks all over me Jay. The Bronco II didn’t budge. Jed looked out his window, “Wow, you are really stuck!”

Jed decided that pulling along the road was not going to work and decided to drive won the big side of the hill to get more leverage. I was worried about the angle but he was confident, the same kind of confident that I had to get stuck in the first place. Not only could he not get me out by this direction but he also couldn’t get back up. I unhooked the straps and I thought he would let his truck roll down to the road bue in true Jed form he floored it and plowed through the ditch and almost over some of the spectators as the crowd went wild. At this point I decided it was time to give up, enough spectacle and enough good intended but useless help, it was time to call on the one who could do the job. A tow truck driver. I used my AAA cared (thanks mom!) and got a wrecker out there. The first thing he said was, “Wow, you are really stuck!” he followed with commentary about how stupid it was to drive out there and how he couldn’t believe that anyone would ever even try… at any rate he got me unstuck (he also unstuck $80 from my checking account) and we were on our way home. It was nighttime, I was now more than sober, a little muddy, and really tired. I looked at Jay and he put his hands up and said the only thing that would fit the situation, “Dude.”

The moral? I didn’t even know it then but this wouldn’t be the last time I’d leave the path and get stuck. Everyone leaves the path and walk toward sin, most of us even look to several methods of getting unstuck. We try everything from our friend’s girlfriend’s mom’s El Dorado to our friend’s girlfriend’s mom’s Chevy Dually… all these things just get us more stuck and more desperate. It’s not until we call the one Man that we can always count on that we can be saved. I left the path and was really stuck, when I finally called Jesus for help he was there for me and he said, “I can get you unstuck” and he did.

When I have trouble finding the path I remember that I am not in charge and I pray…

Proverbs 16:9  “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

 

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Head in the Clouds!

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So…. Honestly I haven’t been feeling very funny lately (ok some of you might argue that I haven’t been feeling funny ever…)  I’ve even been feeling like maybe I shouldn’t use humor in some of these posts….

But, what if humor is part of how I express myself (I know you’re wondering why I’m asking you but y’all are my friends so… I know sad right?)

Anywho… I put the cloud picture up there because ever since I was a kid and I would see beams of sunlight coming through the clouds I thought it was God looking specifically at someone and providing His blessing. This cloud picture shows blessing going out all over the place, and I think It’s pretty accurate. I’m sad, I was broke down but, dang it, I am blessed! I have so much and really, I have it pretty good.

I have work to do, God has work to do on me, but I’m on track and maybe it’s time to remember the good that God has done through me and that God gave me a sense of humor for a reason. (Wow pressure’s on now because you are all gonna expect some gut splitters now with that set up)

So I also put that cloud picture up there to remind myself to keep my head in the clouds, a little anyway, God gave me whimsy (I don’t get to use the word whimsy much, I never knew it had an H in it…) so I should use it.

Now… about great to good… What the heck was I thinking? Great? I was an a hole, I’m so glad that the guy I was died and that a new man was reborn. Of course God uses a holes also, so there was some good done through me it’s like the old joke where a Priest, a Minister, and a Rabbi were all driving together to a religious conference (it’s all about unity folks) when a bright red convertible sports car comes skidding around the corner and hits the car full of men of God, the last thing the three men see as they plunge off a cliff into the ocean (did I mention this was on an ocean cliff road?) is the surprised eyes of the brassy blonde who had been over driving her red sports car….

All four come before St. Peter (I know the Rabbi wouldn’t see St. Peter but bear with my Catholic upbringing please) and he tells the Priest, Rabbi, and Minister that they had all done so much good and had served God faithfully, but they would have to wait and enter Heaven after the Blond lady. Of course all three religious leaders were upset (they should have been more humble I know but crashing into the ocean had them stressed) and the Priest (who was more familiar with the Saints) asked, “What the heck St. Pete, we are all religious leaders and little blondie here is barely dressed and caused us all to die? For Pete’s sake (right?) why does she get to go through first?”

St. Peter took on a patient tone and explained, “It’s true you three have done great works like I said, but the little blondie with her sports car and crazy driving has scared the devil out of more people than all three of you combined!”

I want to thank you for continuing to read after that horrible joke, I guess I’m still not that good if I’m willing to punish my readers with onslaughts like that but…. I know you are hanging with me for the funny pay off or the cute tie in at the end and honestly sometimes I just don’t feel it. I am still sad, I have a lot, and God has shown me some perspective so I know that I am blessed, but I still struggle with the guilt for hurting folks who trusted me (I also still struggle with sentence structure obviously.) I still feel sad sometimes and I can’t force the funny, but I promise I won’t hold it back anymore either. I will get out of God’s way and let him work and if I feel the spirit’s mirthfulness I’ll let it come through. And hopefully when my head is in the clouds I have a closer look at God’s blessings….

With this blog I really wanted to share my journey for others who may be new to Christ or may not yet know Christ and may be ready to hear about him. I can’t really share without a little humor and I guess I need to remember Proverbs 16:3…

“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.”

and I will commit all of me, whimsy and all….

I Finally Give up…

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I saw this while finishing a 6 mile run when I really wanted to quit… I decided to finish rather than let the grass grow up around me also. But sometimes it is time to give up…

That title oughta scare the heck outta those that are worrying about me for my “dark” posts. But I do, I give up, I finally just give up.

I remember one of the first times I gave up (actually it was my bladder that gave up) when I was about 7 years old.  It was my first little league game and I had drank about 5 grape sodas (we got free grape sodas during the game) and back then porta poties were all really tall and leafy and not at all private. By about the second inning I was not only feeling the pressure of the game but also the pressure of the grape sodas and there was no time to fix the second problem. When it came up to my turn at bat it took me about 3 minutes to get hit by a pitch so I could take 1st base (this was really all I was ever good at in baseball.) Then it was about another 15 minutes for my teammates to get walked or (if they were good like me) get hit to move me to third base. The whole time I was on base I was concentrating on two things: controlling my bladder and my coach because I was always worried that I would miss the super-secret signal to steal; he would take his hat off and run his hand through his hair. I was hopping on third out of equal parts nervous excitement and p.p. dance as I watched a few balls and strikes go past the batter out of the corner of my eye. Then it happened, the coach took off his hat, ran his hand through his hair, and looked right at me. Time to steal home! (I’m guessing that there must have been a runner at 1st to complete the squeeze play but at the time I just knew it was time to steel) The pitcher started his windup, I started to run, and my bladder gave up, in exactly that order. I was fast but not fast enough and the catcher saw me and caught the ball with plenty of time to tag me out. He looked at me confused and was prepping for the easy out when he looked down and noticed that was getting a dark spot in my baseball pants. His face distorted as the corners of his mouth turned down and his tongue stuck out as he got out of the way, I stepped on the plate and ran straight past my team trying to congratulate me and past the stands and the fans out into a forest of porta potties to finish the job that my running had started. Then of course I stayed out there the woods to hide embarrassment. I don’t even know if we won the game or not.

I also gave up trying to beat my sister in ping pong (once she beat me using a fork for a paddle.) I gave up trying to be a pro surfer. I painfully gave up my dreams of becoming Spider-Man (o.k. I still harbor that dream a little.)

I gave up drinking….

About 15 years ago I was faced with the fact that if I kept drinking I would never see my kid, or that if I did I would be the worst kind of dad. I got myself in control and squeezed my knuckles together and just quit. I was in control of my drinking and I am still sober 15 years later.

My control was just an illusion though, self-discipline and squeezing each sober day like it was a lifeline while I dangled dangerously over other issues in my life.

I was making horrible choices but thought I could control things by hiding, deceiving, and outright bold faced-right-in-the-face of my loved ones lying. (oh and lying to myself like a pro)  I began to feel an inward shame and hatred that could only be quieted by more actions that required more lies, and I stacked up the broken hearts. Finally I knew it was time to give up. When you try to hang on too tight to control without changing anything you are destined to fail, just like my poor bladder on that inaugural little league game so long ago. I was tired of hanging on, tired of trying to control everything, and mostly just plain tired.

It was then I decided I had to give up my life.

So I did, I gave up my life to God and recognized that Jesus was and is my savior, I gave up trying to make up for the broken hearts and the damage (what could I ever do that could compare to God giving up His Son for me?) I gave up my shame and my self-hatred (that one is hard and I still struggle) and… most importantly, I gave up control. Like it reads I Psalm 100, “It is He who made us, and we are His…,” Knowing that I am his creature I give up my will to His, and so I do give up, I give up everything to Him.

 

Psalm 100  “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.  Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.  Know that the Lord is God.  It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.  Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.  For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

And while the King was looking down…

…the jester stole his thorny crown….

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It’s been a little while since I’ve written for a couple reasons; 1 I’m lazy…. That’s the main reason but there’s also 2, I have a tendency to try to feel glory with my bolgging. I’ve been really guilty of coming back to my posts often to check my stats and see how many people like me….

Um, I mean how many people like my post….

So, I’m admittedly a glory grabber, I have been the jester that stole His thorny crown and let me tell you, it can be fun for a time and feel good, but the thorns are gonna tear you up and then tear you down. There was only ever one Man (the Son of Man) who was worthy of the crown or who could even bear the pain of those thorns and I absolutely know this now. But, for a time I found myself reaching for that crown and placing it on my head to do my jester’s dance for a time, and for a time it’s great, I fixed problems, I made people laugh, and I felt loved and admired…. but it was only a short period before I stumbled in the steps and crashed to the floor in pain and humiliation.  Laughter always turned to tears, and the tears usually weren’t mine.

There is a an entire class of videos on the Youtubes dedicated to exactly what I do, they call them “Fails,” they usually start with, “hey watch this,” and end somewhere in an emergency room. I used to watch these and laugh at the idiots trying to jump fires on motorcycles or motorcycles on fire, but all the while I was racing my own burning motorcycle toward a big pile of more motorcycles (which were also on fire.)

Why do we do this? I can’t speak for y’all (trust me that’s a good thing) but for me I think it comes from a feeling of ownership of His gifts, I have to remember that I’m not the owner, only the operator of the gifts. A church friend of mine told me that she prays that she can “get out of God’s way” so that she can be used to do His work. This is a great prayer but I also realized something, even when I think I’m in charge and I’m glorifying myself, God is still working through me. He’s still using the gifts he’s given me even though I’m trying to stand in the spotlight.

I know also for me this glory grabbing started because of my issue of thinking that I could balance out my sin (well childhood issues also but…), I really needed my good deeds to have a spotlight on them, but that spotlight was just casting a huge shadow on my sin, keeping it hidden even from myself.  “Pay no attention to the sinner behind the shadow” (Wizard of Oz reference? Too dated, not applicable? Crickets?)

So, how do you fix it? Really good question and I’m glad you asked. I just let go, like the lady from paragraph 4 said, “I pray to get out of God’s way.” (I know you’re counting paragraphs now and some may argue that this quotation is from paragraph 5 but that one liner doesn’t count as a paragraph) I pray that God will give me the wisdom to see into my own heart and I ask for brutal honesty about my motivations. For instance, I noticed that I got more readership when I used the tag ‘sin’ (shame on y’all) and so I started doing that, perfectly legit, in all my posts I try to unpack my sin to keep myself a little more accountable but, I also know it will get attention.

Here’s the crazy part though, (not tinfoil hat crazy, just sort of ironic I guess) the other day when I was looking through Netflix (I’ll be blogging about the experience later… trust me) and I noticed that Netflix suggested group of videos that was based on something I watched before I gave myself to Jesus. It was list of sexy type shows and I admit I was curious and browsed the list (I still have moments of weakness.) But the video I found on this dirty little list was somehow a documentary on poverty that I watched and it really moved me (more on that later.) So, guess if He will use your sin to guide you where he needs you (if you guessed yes you’re at the top of the class today.)

In other words even though I tag sin to get more people to read my blog, the very people who are attracted because of sin are those who could benefit from reading about  a redeemed (most days) sinner. Not only that but when I was praying about blogging and trying to really beware of my self-servitude a voice spoke up in my head, “Do it for them.”  I give up that thorny crown and I know He forgives me for thinking it would fit.

My visitors are usually anonymous right? And out of the tens of people who visit maybe there’s one out there who is like I was, who needs to know that Jesus died for us because not only are we not perfect but because we have no chance of being perfect, ever. I am staying out of God’s way in my life, I am choosing to let go of control of any of His gifts that may reside in my flesh and pray to be guided by Him. I neither want, nor could I bear the responsibility of His crown, and I much prefer the crown of love and compassion he offers in Psalm 103: 1-5.

“Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.  Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”