A reluctant conversation with God

Hey God. It’s me, Mac.

I’m in your house now, one of many I suppose, sitting in the back taking a hard look at my life. I rarely look for you in a building, instead I often search for you outside these walls, in nature. As I walk this earth I am on high alert for signs of you and in the process the purpose of that which I observe.

Now, I sit elbows on knees, asking for help finding my own purpose. This is a new thing for me, praying. If you are indeed all-knowing then you know this already. I was a bit late to the party.

I reluctantly accepted your existence because, like most mere mortals, I refused to believe that the beauty which surrounds me is a mere accident or cosmic anomaly. I decided that I was not atheist because they are certain that there is nothing, while I do not possess the audacity to be sure of such a thing. Logic dictates that if you rule out nothing then there has to be something. I therefore came around to believe that there has to be a higher, driving force in the universe. But I still can’t quantify or define you.

Are you the mighty, smiting God from the Old Testament? Are you the forgiving, benevolent Grandfather type with a flowing white beard and a staff in your hand? Are you to be found in the beauty of the setting sun, the awe-inspiring power of the crashing wave, the melodic chirp of the bird or the wondrous, innocent smile of a child?

I don’t know if you are a God that cares about who wins a football game, or grants requests for promotions and lottery jackpots. That’s what I think a lot of people ask you for. I also don’t know why you allow babies to get Cancer, bad people to live long lives, good people to suffer and assholes to thrive. But I suppose that’s the essence of faith. The faithful have to believe that there is an answer to every question and a reason for everything.

One thing I know about faith is that if understood properly, it reminds you of your place in the scheme of things. The mightiest of men are no match for the raw power of the tide. Should he survive he will recognize his smallness. He may resent it, I myself embrace it. I value my smallness.

Which brings me to the point. If it was your will, a pre-ordained event, or simply a plan to prematurely remove me from a life of chasing status, personal wealth and achievement and render me the most humble me I’ve ever been, then would you enlighten me as to what I am to do next? I’ve learned so much in the last 2 years. I’ve learned the value of humility, kindness and charity in the face of crushing circumstances. I’ve been to the very bottom and clawed my way out time and time again but my victory laps (with a modicum of humility of course) were short-lived as I am hit with yet another setback. I’m a fighter and I always found motivation to push on.

Until lately. I’m not feeling the fight. I’m taking knockout punches and choosing to stay on the mat until the count of 9. I’m looking for a reason to push on and simultaneously looking for reasons to give up. If you agree that my earthly journey has been wholesome and moral, that I am doing your work then would you please give me a sign? A sign that I am indeed on the right path, that I may be infused with the light to carry out what I think is my true calling. To be an inspiration to others. Not as a bigshot, but as someone who says or does the things that helps others with their own earthly journey. Shine your light through me and illuminate my future journey.

Please.

Well God, Yahweh, Mother Nature, Supreme Architect, Big Guy, whatever you go by, I’m not sure how to wrap this up other than to say thanks for listening. Please remember that I rarely ask you for anything, if I do it’s never for me. I’m in need here and my eyes and ears are open for your answer. Take care and if it’s not too much, tell my Dad that I miss him more than anything.

Mac

Be open to the experience

I woke Sunday morning feeling compelled to go to Church. That was unusual for me because while admittedly spiritual, I’m not particularly religious. I call my faith Kayaking…

Religion is sitting in church thinking about Kayaking. Spirituality is sitting in a Kayak thinking about God.”
Author Unkown

In short, I’m an Omnitheist. I believe in multiple faiths and their version of God. I believe that a higher power is everywhere and I spend a fair amount of time looking for him. The place I spend the least time looking for him is in church. Irony?

But Sunday was different. I had someone on my mind and I stooped to the level of the opportunistic Christians that I normally detest and I went to pray for something close to me. Not entirely a selfish act, I was praying for the health and recovery of a very special lady and I was feeling helpless. I was exhausting all options.

I got there a bit late and I was fortunate enough to find a seat in the very back pew. My late Grandfather taught me this, in case my presence causes the plaster to crack and the ceiling to fall, I’m close to the door. That aside, there are several good reasons that I sit in back. First of all, if a person wanting to cause trouble comes in, I have my trusty 9mm and a great vantage point to stop an incident before it starts. Also, I’m not a real big “responsive reading” and hymn lover. I don’t do ritual of any kind so echoing unoriginal prayers is out for me as is singing those dreadful Hymns. I know the writers meant well but to me they are just insufferable. Finally, in the back pew, nobody is behind me to look at me in disdain because I’m not fitting in by playing along nicely. I like to sit in back and pray my own way, in a room full of positive energy and well-meaning people.

I suffered through the first 3 hymns and responsive readings and when it came time to pray, I broke from the ranks and said my own. I really don’t know how to pray. But I sometimes talk to the Universe and in this case it went something like this…

Dear big guy, you know who you are. I’ve been living a straight forward life that I think you approve of, can I ask you to watch out for my girl? She needs a little help right now and so do I. If it’s not too much trouble, while you’re at it can you tell me what you want from me? Oh yea, would you please grant the man in front of me the wisdom to trim his ear hair? And could you have the big guy in the choir tone down the “holier than though” look on his face? Take care of the meek. Punish the dicks. Save the children. Thanks big guy, has anyone asked you how you are today? Peace brotha…

When the prayer was over it was time for my favorite part of the service. The sermon. Our pastor always delivers a good one, relevant and timely. He didn’t disappoint on this day. He spoke of a young man, Jesus, walking into a village only to be shunned and ignored by the people of the village. They had been taught to be skeptical of strangers and the moral of the story was closing yourself off to that which is unfamiliar can limit your experiences in the world.

This particular sermon resonated heavily with me, for the very person that I came to pray for has caused me to open myself up to a myriad of experiences and phenomena that I previously dismissed as, in the words of Sheldon Cooper, “Hoakum.” She has made me a believer in destiny. In past lives and loves. A believer in providence and the existence of empathic connections. In the short time that I have known this magnificent lady my “horizons”, as it were have broadened exponentially. And none of it would of happened if, when asked by her “do you believe?”, I said no. I started with “I’m open to it.” Which evolved to “that can’t be a coincidence”, to “Holy Crap I can’t believe what just happened.”

I didn’t necessarily need to be reminded that an open mind is the portal to growth. I did need to be shown that it has fundamentally changed my life. Good things happen when you simply allow yourself to be open. When I joined Freemasonry I learned that I needed to believe in a higher power, any higher power no specification required, to join the sacred fraternity. At that point I was a agnostic (never an atheist, I am not arrogant enough to tell you that I know for sure that there is no higher power) I decided to open myself up to a non-denominational, outside the church approach to faith, which is essentially Spirituality. Since that time, I have found “God” in everything. The laughter of a child, the gait of a beautiful woman, the chirp of the bird and the magnificence of a sunset.

I went in to pray for a person. I left with a deeper appreciation of what she has brought to my life. All it takes is to shake off your initial reaction and say “I’m open to it.” Seems simple enough doesn’t it?

The End of Faith? — Tom Being Tom

Faith. Many of us have struggled with it our entire lives. Many of us will never truly reconcile the notion of a higher power. Unfortunately, we also fall terribly short in being able to discuss our differences on this complex and polarizing subject.

And then Tom of Tom Being Tom wrote this. Which I will now share for your reading pleasure. Do you follow Tom? If not I only have one question…why wouldn’t you?

I don’t believe in gods. Those of you who know me know that well, and those of you with even a passing sense of who I am probably understand that, too. 38 more words

via The End of Faith? — Tom Being Tom

Blogoversary

1 year ago I started my blog. I was at an incredibly low point in my life and I believed that putting it to paper, putting it out to random strangers would assist me in exorcising my demons. It did so much more than that.

230 posts, not including many discarded, later I find myself in a caring, supportive community that has embraced me at best and at the very least allowed me to share my unusual, unique and perhaps inappropriate take on life, love, family, work, relationships and chronic illness.

My blog, and consequently you, have become part of me.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your encouragement, support, friendship and feedback. And of course, thank you for reading…

Sunshine Blogger award

I was nominated by All about life for the Sunshine blogger award.

And the award goes to…….those who are creative, positive, and inspiring, while spreading sunshine to the blogging community and, apparently, that includes me! While not much for awards (I really don’t feel worthy), out of respect for her nominating me and with a desire to draw attention to her blog I want to answer the questions posed in the nomination. Lisa pens a really wonderful blog, written in a very down-to-earth manner and it just reeks of positivity.  She engages her readers and offers sincere, useful feedback. Oh yeah, she’s funny. Check that out here. I personally am thrilled to have found her blog.

  1. What’s the thing that you like most about yourself?
    I would like to think that if nothing else, I am genuine. I can’t and won’t pretend I’m something I’m not. Some people are like playing cards. From the front they look solid, turn them to the side and there’s just nothing there.
  2. Do you have any little oddities?
    I have a lot of little oddities. Let’s see if I can come up with a non-embarrassing one. I have a nervous tick, when I tell a joke that I am uncertain about (due to appropriateness or for fear of offending a snowflake) I slap my leg at the punchline. My son makes fun of me all of the time for it.
  3. A million dollars or a 1000 hours of bliss? Which would you prefer?
    I would take the million dollars and then create some bliss. I would do as many meaningful gestures as possible with the money. Anything from buying new cars for my kids to helping a military family or a family with a terminally ill child. Something that would better someone’s life.
  4. Which animal do you most identify with?
    The dog. I have the potential to love unconditionally. I am loyal. I may have teeth and am capable of doing harm but at the end of the day if you rub my head just right I will be truly happy. 
  5. Do you believe in fate or think we create our own destinies?
    I’ve always struggled with the notion that our destinies are pre-determined. That it’s all a master plan that we have to wait and see how it plays out. So I guess I believe that we, to the best of our abilities create our own destinies. In the end it is a combination of our willingness to take risks, our drive to succeed, the ability to make good decisions and our ability to get up after we get our asses kicked.
  6. Which of your blog posts are you most proud of (feel free to add link)
    I tend to avoid the word “proud”. But I would have to say that I am happy with my few attempts at fiction and poetry but I am most rewarded by the response I have gotten from those posts that I really put my bare ass out there and shared my life. Many who read me find my “brutal honesty” (not my words but a reader’s) refreshing. It helped me also by putting it out there, it is liberating.
  7. It’s your last day on Earth – what will you do?
    I’ve been chronically ill for a long time. I am probably the worst I have ever been as I type this. I tend to treat each day as if it is my last in that I make sure that all of the people in my life know how I feel about them; that I free myself from anger and bitterness; not waste my time with negative people and thoughts; and I make it a point to enjoy every sunset, gust of breeze, conversation, and opportunity to laugh knowing that if I were not to wake tomorrow I left nothing on the table.
  8. What’s your favorite quote and why?
    Pine
    I don’t care how much shit you have, how many instagram followers you have, how much you make or how big your house is. Do you have character? That is how you will be remembered.
  9. If you had to give up one forever would it be reading or writing?
    I’d eat a bullet before I would give up either. Books are an eternal wellspring of knowledge, fantasy and learning. A life without these is no life. Writing is my only therapy, I like to think I do it well and I would also like to think that I have helped or inspired someone by my writing.
  10. What’s your happiest memory?
    I have so many. All of them involved when my kids were young. Footie pajamas, silly movies, shoulder rides, bedtime stories and belly laughs. Wishing they would never grow up. 
  11. Who are you?
    I am Bill. I will never put fruit in my beer. I like what I like and I don’t ask you to change for me, just accept me for what I am. Opinionated as hell but accepting to a fault.  I am a philanthropist with no money, I still want to save the world. I am a guy with no job, no money living with his mother that still believes that life is good and will only get better.

I am not going to nominate anyone. If you feel encouraged to play along, I would love to hear your answers to the same (great) questions.

the Lake Walk…conclusion A Mike Valentine tale

this is the third and final installment in a series. I hope you enjoyed it. To catch up, you can here and here.

As he got closer he could see that it was a boy, maybe 8 years old standing near his car. He must have seen Mike approaching yet he made no move to retreat or even acknowledge his approach for that matter. He could feel the hair on the back of his neck standing up, something seemed off about this kid.

“Hey kid”, he called out when he was less than 20 feet away, “can I help you?”
The boy was gazing intently at the sky. Without looking down or away he replied, “no Mike, I’m just fine thank you.”

Shocked, Mike Valentine could only respond,” how do you know my name?”

“It’s not important”, the little boy replied, still not moving his gaze from the sky. Mike looked in the direction of the boy’s gaze and all he could see was the setting sun.

“What are you looking at like that, kid. You’re kinda creeping me out.”

The boy, without shifting his gaze, said, “I’m looking at the sky. Do you ever just look up at the sky? It’s quite beautiful actually. The clouds, the birds. The sun, the moon. Did you ever look at the top a tall tree and just wonder what it’s like to be a bird looking down?”

“That’s a lot of questions kid. And yes, I suppose I have. Well, I know that I used to.” Mike was reminded that he was talking to a stranger, an unaccompanied minor at that. “Are you lost? It is getting dark.”

“No, I’m right where I’m supposed to be.”

Stunned and at a loss for his next move, Mike leaned against his car to stretch his legs and assess the situation. It was more than just a little odd. He studied the boy. His clothes looked like they were from another generation. His hair looked like the “bowl cuts” his mom used to give him. It then occurred that the boy must have parents looking for him. But he sure didn’t seem scared or lost, he looked oddly comfortable.

He decided to play the quiet game and see who made the next move. He continued to stretch his tired body. Minutes passed and the boy said nothing. Mike was tempted to leave but his curiosity instincts were piqued and instead walked over and stood next to the boy. ‘Ok”, he said, “I give, what are you looking at?”

“Í told you, I’m looking at the sky. It’s quite beautiful isn’t it?”

“Yes”, Mike replied. “We’ve established that. But you haven’t looked away once. Aren’t you bored looking at the same thing?”

Without hesitation, the boy shot back. “Bored? That’s what kids today are. Always need to be occupied and entertained. Not me.”

Kids today! The statement resonated with Mike. Did he just say that!

“Aren’t you part of ‘kid’s today’?” There was something really strange about this kid. He was tempted to end this and take off. His phone had rung two more times since he got to his car and he knew that every ignored call was throwing logs on the shit bonfire that awaited him at home. In spite of this, he remained glued to his spot.

“Let’s just say that I’m here, but I don’t belong here” the boy deftly replied.

“Then where do you belong?” Mike replied, despite feeling that he was better off not asking.

“A different time”, the boy exclaimed as he lowered his fixed gaze for the first time, turned his head and stared directly at Mike. Mike felt as if he was staring directly through him. Spooked but insanely curious, Mike pressed further.

“OK, what time do you mean?”

“I asked you if you ever looked up at the sky a few minutes ago. I asked because I wonder if you looked up once during your walk. Did you even  notice what a beautiful evening it is?.” He studied Mike’s face.

He then continued, “I asked you if you ever wondered what it was like to look down from a high tree. You had no answer. Why is that?”

“Because I don’t know who you are, where you’re from and how you know my damn name!” Mike Valentine was getting angry. He almost felt bad about raising his voice to the young, albeit creepy kid.

Unfazed, the boy continued. “I asked you about the trees because from the height of the tall tree you must look small. We all do. Minor. Insignificant. Yet all you are focusing on right now is how big your problems are.” He paused.

“See, the world is bigger than the size of the screen of your phone or laptop. If you looked around you would see that. But you need the phone and the computer to make money. To buy stuff, stuff that you will put in your house. The one you don’t want to go home to. That stuff will further take your attention away from a beautiful day. It’s just stuff, but it’s ruining you.”

Mike was beside himself. What the hell is this kid talking about? “How do you know this?!”

The boy sat down in the grass Indian style. “Did you ever sit just like this?  Playing with Matchbox cars in the dirt until your mother called you? You hated to go home, right? Just like now. But then it was because you were having fun. That’s not why you don’t want to go home now, is it Mike?” His tone was less inquisitive and slightly sarcastic.

The matter-of-fact look on this kids friggin’ face was killing Mike. He was looking right through him again. Yet he had no reply.

The boy continued. He was on his back now. “Did you ever lie on your back like this for hours looking at the sky? Wondering about the clouds, the stars at night. The possibility of a Heaven. About God. Do you think about God Mike?”

“Not as much as I should.” Mike was powerless to question the utterly bizarre nature of this conversation.

The boy was standing now. “You used to be a happy kid, right? Lots of friends. You knew where they were without Facebook. You would look for the yard with all the bikes in the yard. Your mom knew where you were because you called from a phone in that house, a phone mounted to a wall, right? A phone that you didn’t feel the need to have in your hand all the time. The streetlight was your curfew, or maybe you were close enough to home to hear your mother call you.” He paused and looked at his feet.

“It’s not too late, Mike”, He continued. “There’s still time to be that happy kid again. Look up, look around. Chase butterflies, smell the flowers. Find happiness like you used to. Remember the view of the bird, to him you are small. Look down on your problems as the bird looks down at you. Small, insignificant. It will work out.” With that the boy turned and began to walk away.

Mike Valentine, who had been at a complete loss for words for what seemed like forever, finally blurted out what he had wanted to ask all along.

“Kid, How do you know this? I mean me. I mean, this is impossible! How can you possibly know all of these things about my childhood? Is this mere speculation or a theory of yours? Do you think or do you know all of this!”

The boy, turning as he walked, said, “I know it. Think about where we’ve met before”. He then winked at Mike and continued walking. For the first time, Mike Valentine noticed that the boy had an old-fashioned Slingshot in his back pocket.

He used to have one just like it!

He looked down at the ground, he then gazed to the night sky. It really was a beautiful evening. I’m going to get into a brawl when I get home. I may be out of a job tomorrow. I’d have to get two promotions just to be a broke asshole. But I do have this beautiful evening.

The kid was right about that much.

He got in his car and turned the engine on. He bathed in the AC and observed that he felt a little better. Despite the Episode of the Twilight Zone he just starred in. The conversation played out over and over in his head. The kid was weird, but in a non-threatening way. And he looked vaguely familiar. Shaking his head in disbelief, or to make sure he was indeed awake and conscious, he put the car in gear.

It suddenly occurred to him that he had some old school pictures to go home and look at.

He pulled out of the parking lot and headed home.

My favorite place

FB memories, the well-intentioned feature that shows you posts from years ago “on this day”, has been my Lex Luthor of late. They have been a source of great anxiety and annoyance as they remind me of the dreaded “used-to’s“. All of the memories that pop up are of better, healthier days. Days that I miss so badly.  Today, one popped up that I wrote in 2015 about my beloved hobby of Mountain Biking.

Post-Transplant in 2011, I needed a means to get my body healthy and I chose biking. Initially, I bought a street bike. I was a newbie so I rode mostly alone. Once I was able to ride 20 miles or more I began to ride with organized groups. I became strong enough to ride 55 miles in one day, while never the fastest, I took great pride in just being part of it. It was my recovery. But it created a new problem, immunosuppressant medications increase your odds of skin cancer and after 2 years of riding, I had 3 Squamous Cell Carcinoma’s removed from my face. I was told to stay out of the sun.

So I explored Mountain Biking. I bought a bike, researched trails and hit the woods. I was immediately hooked. It was challenging, the rough terrain and obstacles required skill and technique, yet I was compelled to rise to the challenge. The atmosphere was amazing, miles into the woods you weren’t observing nature, you were immersed in it. I began to take my camera to photograph the Deer, Bears and even Fisher Cats that I would encounter (from a safe distance of course). I would head out early in the AM in the hopes of seeing my favorite sights, crashing through a clearing to see a pond, the mist coming off it in the early morning heat; the owls that would buzz me as it headed to its tree to sleep the day off after a busy night of hunting; and of course the wonderful sight of nothing but me and trees. It was my Nirvana. And I was out of direct sunlight so no skin cancer.

Through FB I found a group to ride with and I made an instant group of wonderful friends. Riding with them made me happier than I had been in years. They weren’t just riding buddies, they were real friends. By 2015, I was a regular part of the group. Crazy Bill they called me. I took risks, I fell a lot, but I gave it hell and went home every day feeling accomplished and euphoric. Then I got sick in the spring of 2016 and I suppose you know the rest.

Why am I telling you this? Because despite how much today’s FB “Reminder” saddened me, I was reminded of my Buddy Tom of Tom Being Tom Fame had written a post about his favorite place and challenged his readers to write of theirs. So I turned a negative into a positive because I’m sick of being down.

Here is the FB post from 2015 that started all of this if you would care to read it:
This past fall I made a decision that I was only about 80% sure of. My new activity for the last few years is biking. It was my chosen rehab tool after my surgery to get into some semblance of shape. I got 2 bikes, a street, and a mountain bike. I upgraded once on both but I couldn’t decide which one I liked better. But last fall I traded in both bikes on a new, nicer full suspension Mtn bike. I picked one and went with it. Well, I am now 100% sure that I made the right decision. Many of my family and friends have questioned both the commitment and the hazards I have put upon myself and to be fair I have hurt myself badly a couple of times. People have questioned the wisdom of a person my age with my medical history taking such risks. They don’t understand it, and a lot of the risks I can avoid but I want to push myself, to experience adrenaline and accomplishment and I don’t give a shit about pain..it goes away a lot faster than regret over doing nothing. I love the trails, the woods, mother nature and the comradery of the new friends I have made. But it is even more than that now. Mtn biking has become a metaphor for my life. Let me explain.
When we first start the ride it is easy, you are fresh like when you wake in the morning. But you know the hills and the obstacles are coming, you either prepare for them or let them blindside you. 
When the trails are smooth and flowing it is the equivalent of your life going smoothly. Enjoy it but be in the right gear when you round that corner and see the hill.
The hill is adversity and the obstacles; exposed roots, jagged rocks, and logs are the people telling you that you can’t do it. 
When you make the decision to try that hill, to power over that rock, to push yourself you have made the decision to at least try to prove them wrong. And make it or not, at least you tried. 
Then you come to a downhill. But it’s not a smooth path it’s a steep, rocky and rooty obstacle that can send you over the handlebars if you are not careful. This is the downward spiral that we can fall into. We can plummet and crash, we can stand there and look at it, or you can carefully navigate it to safely reach the bottom with as little damage as possible. 
And if you are able to climb the next hill, stand upon it and look down at all of the obstacles that didn’t stop you. And if you do it once, you can do it again. And sometimes it is the climb that you never made, until today.
Nothing pleases me more than getting up a hill that I never thought I could; to make it through a rock garden that sent me flying a week before; to race through an opening to find the parking lot waiting for you. Knowing that the end of the ride is like the end of the day. I got through this one and I am not afraid of the next one.

I wish I still had that attitude…but at least I took a shot at retrieving it today.