Peering Out My Window

I spend a lot of time looking out my window. There’s not much more for me to do around here. I can see the neighbors come and go. I see kids spending their time on their bicycles and skateboards zooming up and down the street. We have a family that hits the surf every day at 2 PM, and people walking their dogs on Monday through Friday. Then there are dogs walking their people on Saturdays and dogs running unattended on Sundays. Many cars are getting filled with anxious families on their way to church with dad yelling at the kids to hurry up so they can not being late to worship God who knows nothing time in the Lord who is above time in space.

What’s frustrating to me is not what I can’t see; I feel I cannot be seen. Almost 3 years ago, when I had the stroke, I had no idea that I would get lost in the process. At first, it was a flurry of activity around my hospital beds. There were phone calls, cards, prayers, cookies, concerned old ladies who pinched my cheeks and tons of visitors. I got to be known as Pastor Perry in the hospital, and I had over 100 people come to these hospital doors for a month. The receptionist asked if I was a movie star. I replied no and told the lady, “I’ve just lived in this area for 30 years. I know a lot of people.”

But now the hype is gone, the phone doesn’t ring nearly as much. People called in the right when I post on Facebook or if I have a fall (which means I get a lot of attention at least twice a month!)  If I ping someone, tell a story, someone is touched by a  post about spirituality or something controversial and usually stirs up some discussion or if I just do something stupid, but other than that, not much more than church banter. Now that my church community has been cut off, even that will be difficult. I can deal with that. I know how to pick up the phone and call a friend. I’ve got some of the best friends in the world. Not a day goes by where I don’t talk to one of them, and I appreciate their love and support. I’m talking about when I say “I feel like I can’t be seen” is what I want to explain to you now.

Last week I was in Kaiser Hospital for a test. It has a very long parking lot which is difficult for me to maneuver, so we took our travel wheelchair, and Judy pushed me through. When we got up to the register, the attendant looked over her glasses which hung from her pearl necklace and looked directly at me, then at Judy, and said, “what is his Kaiser number?” I responded with my Kaiser number and then said “Hello!, excuse me, I’m here!” I want to stand up and scream and say I am not invisible! People in wheelchairs need to be noticed! Disabled people need to be treated with dignity! Do you not understand?

 If we walk into a fast-food restaurant, they look at me and then look at my wife and say, what would he like to order? I want to stand up and yell; I am a person; I am an adult, ask me! It is so frustrating.

It’s just not spoken discrimination. It’s attitudes, it’s physical barriers. I pulled into work to find two of our three handicapped parking spots taken by staff members in the fall. The third spot was also taken by someone who is disabled, leaving me no place to park. It was actually not safe; the church was under construction at the time. I had to drive around, find the closest spot to the office store and then try to travail my way over a curb and dirt and rock to get to the door. Since the sidewalks are not finished yet, the curb was about a foot high. I do not have a good run with curbs at this point. And I did not win the round this time either. I lost my footing, wound up falling backward and hitting my head. Brown dirt and red blood don’t look good together. They formed to have a black substance that really isn’t very attractive, but you can use it to draw things on sidewalks if you wish. I laid there for a good seven or eight minutes before someone found me.

We, as humans, have had trouble following laws. It’s a good thing that Jesus came to abolish it! I pulled into my massage place to find two handicap spots also taken by customers of Little Caesar’s pizza. I got out of the car, shut the door, and proceeded to go tell the people off who parked in those spots. The blue bumper that stops you from going too far is there for you to see, but I had to step over it, which is dangerous when you only have one leg that works. I lost my footing again and fell. This time blood and asphalt mixed; the blood actually stands out this way. I needed someone to pick me up and lo and behold, the person that came was the person who parked in my spot. I was polite and said, sir, thank you for the help, but you know it’s illegal for you to park in that place. He goes “well, I have a handicap sticker”, to which I replied “they don’t make handicap stickers in California”. He jumped in his car quickly drove away.

There are people of all sizes and shapes in all conditions and health, there are people who are rich and poor, let’s try to even the playing field. Think about your brother, think about your sister, let’s think about one another in love as he loves us.

Mario, The Fig Tree, and the Promise of New Life

When we moved into this house nearly 32 years ago, our backyard was a disaster. It was much like what I described in my latest blog post about a garden that was dead. The slope was barren. There was a single sprig or two of ice plant which later consumed the yard. There were only a few trees: a strange tree-like bush that grew on the hillside, two peach trees, and an over-productive and very messy plum tree.

Our backyard is now teeming with life, natural, living, organic, and human, social, and loud. A fig tree planted itself right in the middle of our slope, and we have literally given away thousands of figs over the last 20 years. We have probably eaten less than 100. We barbecue them with feta cheese and balsamic vinegar, eat them raw, given them to friends, neighbors, and especially to our Arabic friends. I’ve put them on the Next-door app, and literally, they were gone within minutes. One day I gave away over 300 in less than two hours.

I’ve mentioned Mario many times before here in this blog and on Facebook. Mario is an interesting case study, and I would love to tell his story one day, but it is his story to tell, and it is a tragic one. What happened to him should never happen to any kid. His father abandoned him. His mother did not show up for his high school graduation. Still, every teacher and aid did, and so did every youth leader from our church, Orange County First Assembly. His youth leaders, along with some students, were there with balloons and whistles. We cheered him on. If I had placed a bet on any kid that would have graduated from high school, it would not have been Mario. Not for lack of trying, this kid is smart, much smarter than his own good, but the circumstances surrounding this kid were not in his favor. If you wanna argue about white privilege in need of specific affirmative action, I will do so fiercely. I will do so passionately because I know immigrants.

Mario would never ever admit to being apprehensive. It is not his way. But I look at that tree every late winter and notice the leaves as they begin to emerge. As they grow and eventually shape my backyard, I think of how God has promised new life tomorrow.

I know plenty of pro-life people who change their minds when their daughters got pregnant.

I have read the story of many people who believe in capital punishment until someone they knew was wrongly accused.

The cries for the borders to be shut because we “cannot afford to help” changes when you meet an immigrant.

Gun violence changes Second Amendment rights proponent’s minds quickly when someone who is mentally ill legally gets ahold of a gun and kills their son.

I personally changed my mind about illegal immigration when I went to the Shalimar Learning Center in Costa Mesa and a neighborhood filled with drug abuse when I saw kids flip off their parents and say I was born here legally, and you weren’t. I can do whatever I want and if you don’t let me I will report you! Gang problems flourish in that neighborhood because no one wants to address the issue until they meet the likes of a Mario.

For me, everything changed when I met Mario. I did not understand that slumlords pack apartments with multiple families and don’t try to alleviate the situation because it might threaten their bottom line.

There are legal businesses that are allowed to take up to 50% of hardworking immigrants’ paychecks because they have nowhere to cash their checks. That exacerbates crime in those same municipalities.

We have had Mario come to our house numerous times to work, and then spend the night to give him a sense of belonging. We even had family discussion about adopting him even though he is now 22. A recent incident over money made me question that, but never made me question the relationship. He calls us mom and dad. He was here in late winter, just as buds began to sprout from the fig tree. Before he left that weekend, the first leaf emerged. Small, but green. It had wick (reference to The Secret Garden). I pointed it out to him. Now, every winter, when the leaves begin to emerge, I think of Mario and the new life in him. I had the opportunity last year to baptize him. Now that was a story!

As a pastor, we were only given four Sundays a year to take off at my church. I didn’t want to give up one of my Sundays, so we drove up quickly after church to attend the 11 AM service in Santa Ana. We arrived just as the baptisms were beginning. It had been arranged that I would be conducting Mario’s. I moved as quickly as I could to the backstage area and asked someone to put a 5 pound weight on my left leg so it wouldn’t float (stroke legs are light!). I didn’t even have time to change clothes so I went straight into the water. I have to admit that up until this point, I don’t believe he completely understood the Jesus of history or the New Testament’s Messiah.

When he first visited the church, he immediately friended me on Facebook and went home and then wrote on the youth group page that he effing loved tonight! Pastor Dave that and told me to take it down and probably asked me not to let the kid return to church. I refused. That was perhaps the beginning of my insubordinate behavior. The pastor relented and Mario stayed and caused huge problems every so often. Eventually, he called one of the adults a whore and was asked to leave the church, under protest by the leaders and me. I said that I would continue meeting with him on my own time, meet with him weekly, and help him study the Bible. He still didn’t get it, but he loved the Kings Hawaiian rolls I brought him.

I met Mario when he was 12; he’s now 22. He was a kid then; he’s a man now. He was irresponsible then; he’s a responsible man now. He’s got a job at Whole Foods. He skateboards or walks to work to save bus money. He was thrilled to find out that he’s eligible for Covid relief. His mother was here illegally, but he is not.

When he was 14, we were driving down 17th St. in Santa Ana, and he looked at me and told me that one day he was going to speak in church and say these words, “Pastor Perry took a chance on me when I was a kid. I’m going to take a chance on another [teenager]. I love Jesus.

I pray Mario’s family is raised outside of of the inner city, and that they have a big yard with a fig tree in the backyard that blossoms In late February, showing the promise of a new life.

Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.
~Colossians 3:3

New Life From Old Vines

“This garden is dead. It is the most forgotten place I’ve ever seen. With loose gray branches, roots and leaves all tangled up on the ground.” The caretaker responds, “Mary, did you take a real good look at everything? The strongest roses thrive on being neglected if the soil is rich enough. I can tell if a thing is wick. When the thing is wick, it has a life about it. Now maybe not like her life, like you and me, but somewhere there’s a single streak of green inside it.” ~Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Spring 2021, new life is breaking forth everywhere. Our old fig tree that literally takes up 3/4 of our backyard is beginning to leaf. The orange tree that hangs over our fence has delicate white flowers that emit a sweet aroma that wafts through the air every time we open our windows. The grapevines that hang from our wooden fence that last year only produced one small batch of champagne grapes that were too sour to eat. We are hoping for a better harvest this summer.

At times my faith feels much like those dry old vines. There is wick in them somewhere. Life does flow through the vines; I just can’t see it. I grew up in a Christian household. I made a conscious decision to follow Jesus when I was twelve; that was a long time ago.

My faith became truly my own at 17. In the ensuing 42 years, I have pursued educational endeavors, traveled the world, preached the gospel, served in six different churches, ministered to thousands of students, and sometimes felt joy unspeakable and sometimes felt dead. At other times the Holy Spirit has shown up, and I have felt his presence, but more often than not, I have gone through the motions. Sometimes faking the emotion but always believing in my heart completely that God is real.

I’ve allowed my own pain and hurt to shut out his presence. My fear of hurt and separation has kept me at times, alone. CS Lewis said it best:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

A few weeks ago, I ventured alone into our backyard—a tricky endeavor in my condition. I went to the side of the house where grapevines are growing. They have been bare all winter long. The fact that they’re up against our old wooden fence made them look that much older. They looked dry and brittle and lacking life at first glance, but upon closer inspection, you could see a glimpse, a glimmer of what was to come.

Spring sunshine is back, and I once again went to the backyard this morning. I was delighted to see the side yard beginning to team with new life. Those dry, brittle vines are starting to sprout fresh leaves that will, in turn, produce small Champagne grapes for us to share with each other and our neighbors. There’s no surprise that Jesus used wine, to symbolize his blood that was shed for us. Those vines are a delightful gift in the height of the summer bringing flavor and sunshine to our otherwise drab side yard.

I had a pastor friend once tell me that he believed that what we saw on the outside mirrors what is happening in the spiritual realm. It certainly seems true in my case. It feels as if God has been doing something truly remarkable in my life in the last five months. There has been a lot of digging, ripping up, clearing out, and planting. If you’ve ever read the book, The Shack, a book of Christian fiction. In that case, there’s a scene where Sarayru, the embodiment of the Holy Spirit, takes Mack by the hand into what used to be a garden. It is unkempt and shameful.

“This garden is your soul. This mess is you, Mackenzie, together, you and I, we have been working with a purpose in your heart. And it is wild and beautiful and perfectly in process.” ~ William P. Young, The Shack

In the past four months, God has been doing something significant in my being. My life has felt like the Garden that Sarayu showed Mack. I am further along in the process. I cannot wait to see what God is birthing, but in the end, that means something must die.

When the garden that Sarayru and Mack worked on together was completed, Jesus, Papa, Sarayu, and Mack buried Missy’s casket in the garden of Mack’s soul. The symbolism here is unmistakable. He is burying the great sorrow. The thing that has held him back from embracing the one who loved him from the beginning and will love him forever.

My garden is a mess, but it is in process. There is a casket waiting to be buried there as well. I know my 21 years at Mission Hills will be inside that casket, as well as 37 years of youth ministry. There will be other things, some that I will be proud of and others that I am ashamed of and will be glad they will be hidden forever, at least from public view. The Holy Spirit is doing a work, a beautiful, complicated, painful work. The song in my head and the one I have woken up to every day this past week has the line “my heart needs a surgeon, my soul needs a friend”. Jesus is both.

There is wick in the old vines.

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Balance

I have taken falling to a new level; in fact, I believe I have perfected it. Luckily, over the past few years, I have always fallen to the left. If I had fallen to the right, I’m sure I would’ve broken my arm more than once. I am sure that most of you have attributed the falls to the stroke, and that would be true. The reality is, at times, I cannot put my left foot firmly and flatly on the ground. The more stressed I become, the more exaggerated the curvature becomes.

I am off balance.

If you disregard my ugly toenails, you can see that my foot naturally wants to land on the left edge of my foot. I once had a 5’2” petite woman, Sandra Price, catch me as I began to fall, only to find myself struggling to stand afterward because I could not put my foot down. It is more than frustrating; it is dangerous.

Muscle relaxants or a glass of wine (never together, I tried that once and wound up in an ambulance) can ease some of the tension. It is challenging to live life under the influence of those drugs (although people try). There are many stroke patients and people who face chronic pain who simply give up. I am not courageous. I am just too stubborn.

I have used the sermon illustration many times in speaking with students of a person who is walking the fence between the things that are tempting and the things of God. Most of us would consider walking that fence a very good thing. But I  proposed that the kids should be firmly on the side of Jesus and not trying to walk the fence. Spiritually, that is true. But we need to have balance in our lives. We can’t let the physical outweigh the other aspects that God has given to us. If we do, we are out of balance.

For nearly 3 years now, I have been out of balance. I’ve been frustrated, upset, non-visibly mad, and sad. I’ve had people ask me why God I hasn’t healed me? I wish I had a great answer, but I don’t. My response is always, bodies break down, but I still feel somewhat abandoned at times in my soul. In my human self I want to shake my fist and ask, “why, after all this time of serving you, is this continuing? Do I deserve this? How is this fair?” No answers come, just an embrace. I often want to cry over the situation, but really haven’t since the first night in the hospital, unless I make myself.

This second round in the hospital, I watched the movie The Shack (it may have replaced It’s a Wonderful Life and Field of Dreams as my go-to cry movie.) I started bawling at the very beginning and did not stop until the credits. Everything Mac was going through was dealing with forgiveness. I felt I was doing that as well, not only to God but also to those I perceive have wronged me in the last month. It was cleansing.

In the last month, I have lashed out in many ways, and have cried out to God. This is not how I perceived the end of my ministerial career to be, but just like my current condition and the one who allowed it, I will try to trust in him. Will I be successful? Sometimes. Will I fail? At times. Will I try? Yes. Will I frustrate those who love me along the way? No doubt, (sorry about that!).  Successful or not, I will attempt to stay on the balance beam and keep everything in line. 

The cross brings balance to creation.

That Damned Fruit

The Jewish scriptures open with a story of the origin of the earth and its first human residents, a man and woman who ultimately would choose to deliberately disobey their Creator. When he was confronted with his choice, the man turns around and blames one who made him “The woman you gave me!” The man directly puts the blame on God. Ultimately, the transgression was pride. They wanted to answer to no one but themselves.

Nothing much is changed in the course of history. We still want to steer our own ship. I’m sure that has got you in more trouble than anything else in your life. I know it has in mine. I do what I want to do. Sometimes it’s for good, but other times it’s simply for my own benefit or for spite. It still boils down to pride. We still have a desire to eat from the tree of that damned fruit.

I have worked in churches for nearly 40 years. I have volunteered in churches much longer. I have never lost a church job until now. I have lost plenty of other jobs due to poor choices, mainly my choice of words. Still, I thought that my calling was untouchable, especially as I approached my retirement years. Once again, that tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (note that it was both good and evil), was also tempting. I made choices, some of the poor. And now, I must live with the consequences. Those consequences do not just affect me.

We have been in the same gathering of believers for 21 years now. It has become our support system and our most significant local friend group. Our life group has been together for at least 19 years. We’ve watched our kids go through junior high, high school, college, marriages, some divorces, grandchildren, tragedy, and triumph. We will definitely stay a part of that small group. As for the church, that’s up in the air at the moment. It is definitely a difficult time in the Hamilton household.

Suppose you’ve never read the Chronicles of Narnia. In that case, I will not give away the secret that you will discover in The Magicians Nephew, but suffice it to say you learn something significant about how the wardrobe came into existence wood it was carved from. In the same way, I would not at all be surprised to find that the cross of history was hewn from the wood of the tree that Jesus was murdered on. The very thing that produced that dammed fruit is what God uses to give us life.

The Descent

March 8, 2021

In this story, hell is set in a CNN newsroom. The funny thing is, I always thought the underworld was being produced on Tucker Carlson’s show on the Fox News network.

For the past number of months, my wife, friends, and colleagues have said my behavior has been erratic. To me, everything seemed normal. I always had a reason to do the things I was doing, but something seemed to be off to them.

The past three years have been rough on the Hamilton family. Judy was released from her job of 34 years. I was fired from my job (although technically, I was forced to resign) after eight years. My father passed away; I had a significant stroke. In other words, life became complicated, my job was reduced in hours due to the stroke… you get the picture. We were under a wee bit of stress.

On the day of “The Descent,” I woke up feeling refreshed. I felt like it was a new day, a fresh start. I had the creative idea of breaking things. My youngest sister puts stuff in a barrel and shoots things when she is frustrated. I was not frustrated but wanted to express starting over. I took a few photographs and dropped them to the ground, and knocked over a statuette or two and a candle which made a lot of noise for such an early hour in the morning. My wife walked out, groggy, then panic set in. Panic gave way to fear, all out unadulterated fear.

We had my sister-in-law and her husband over for lunch whenI began to get belligerent and started saying crazy things. It was decided to go ahead and take me to urgent care. Judy called our son Josh was in town to go with us. I became more and more agitated as they tried to get me to the car. Josh said this whole event was scarier than when I had the stroke. I put up a valiant effort in the struggle, but in the end, they won out. Apparently, I did pretty strange things in the waiting room that only convinced everyone that I needed to be there. They did an EEG that confirmed I was having brain seizures.

The scene that ensued was such a far cry from my personality that anyone that knows me well will have a hard time believing what followed. The hospital staff wound up putting me in soft restraints because I was spitting everything I could get in my mouth at the nurses and doctors. Apparently, applesauce reached as far as the television. I was claiming thirst to get water in my mouth so I could spit and drool, believing that where water would touch, the cameras would pick up what looks like blood for the news broadcast that would be filmed as more and more people came into the room. At this point, I was completely lucid. I believed what I was seeing was real. I was on CNN and broadcasting what seemed to be an exorcism of the demon of child molestation inhabiting the two nurses in the room. I was using every possible combination of the F word and leading the song 10,000 Reasons to basically the entire believing world.

I was calling out every hypocritical Pastor, college presidents (including Jerry Falwell, Jr.), and Donald Trump. No one dared step out onto the judgment platform.

Then everything changed. I’m not sure when it happened or that it happened the same night. I was in the presence of Jesus, although I did not see him. I felt comfort, love, and peace. He spoke to my troubled heart and soul and spirit. Although this was a dream, it has produced authentic action in me. Things I’ve struggled with for years seem to have disappeared. It’s very unusual, but I believe God is doing something concrete in my life. I am entirely open to talking about this with anyone over Messenger, a cup of coffee, or better yet, sitting in a 104° Jacuzzi. Let’s chat.

Here I am, Lord.

Use me.

The Problem of Pain

January 26, 2021

The pain was so intense that I took the risk of falling through our glass shower door my lifting my foot off the ground. Because of the way I am forced to walk, the fourth toe on my left foot has developed calluses That are beginning to wear off. The pain is intense at times. I actually called in sick one day at church because it would be too difficult to walk. Why does God allow pain? Why would one risk a greater calamity to keep from feeling that pain?

One of the things that I’ve learned since suffering my stroke back in the summer of 2018 is that my pain tolerance has become very, very low. Simple touches at times feel like daggers. When my wife helps me put on my socks, I can barely refrain from screaming (although I have learned not to kick). It’s not nearly as intense as it was the first year, but it still hurts.

I find it astonishing how much we do to avoid discomfort. Maybe that is the result of creation’s fall. For me, I will do just about anything to prevent physical or mental pain. As a part of the human race, we are irrational in the pursuit of happiness and normalcy.

We are creatures who desire comfort. That longing can cause us to ignore even the basics of life. We act as if we were in control of our lives only to find out that we are also very wrong. Time to allow healing.

For the most part, physical pain does pass. Mental and soul pain is a different story. We will lie and hide rather than face whoever has wronged us than to confront the painful truth. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, trying to hide from a God who sees all, we hide behind a veil of illusions, so we don’t have to ever confront ourselves. But, God does not leave us alone. He is the hound of Heaven and will seek us out, wherever we are and bring us into the light. Many try to run from God but in the end say to ourselves, “thy will be done,” or hear God speak to us, “thy will be done.” We cannot hide.

I finally was able to see a podiatrist who prescribed basically gave me a toe pillow. It cushions the toe and lifts it off of the ground, so the pressure is not so heavy such a simple remedy.

Our Father in Heaven would like to be that cushion for you. To lift you out of despair and into His glorious light. All it takes is surrender. Are you willing to do that?

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2020, A Retrospective

Since 1979, I have taken the first week of September and January 1 to reflect on my life, goals, and feelings. September seems to natural time since school always started in that month. January 1, of course, was always set aside for New Year’s resolutions. It seemed appropriate that I look back on the year that had passed and look forward to the coming new year.

2020 has been a challenging year. Of course, COVID-19 D railed most people’s plans and dreams, those, added with my stroke, just seemed to complicate everything. 

I began to chronicle my recovery experience back in 2018. I had no idea of the response I would get from writing. Many of you have encouraged me to continue to develop my skills. In 2020, I launched my own business, Past and Present Life Stories, and couldn’t be more proud. Writing has given me solace in this unprecedented time. If you are interested in telling your story, please contact me, and we’ll get started.

If anyone would’ve told me on August 25, 2018, that I would be fully recovered from the stroke I had that day, I would, of course, agreed. This year I found myself realizing that although God can heal me, he is chosen 

not to do so.

My bouts with depression seemed to have lessened this year. I have grown stronger physically, but I also have severe episodes of pain that are difficult to deal with. I can walk without the cane but realized that it is foolish for me to do so. I was driving my and my colleagues crazy as they nervously watched me move around.

2020 also marked our second round of “pre-retirement training” for Judy and me. We both have been working at home since March. The pandemic didn’t seem to touch us for a long time, but in the past month or so, we have seen it take the lives of relatives and acquaintances. It is a cruel disease.

We all learned to “zoom” with each other. I quickly discovered that 10 and 11-year-old kids do not do well participating in an online format. Our Life Group adapted just fine. That is probably due to the fact we have been together for nearly 20 years.

What does the future hold? Honestly, I cannot begin to fathom how challenging this will be as my body continues to age. I have learned to get dressed, get out of bed, and get around with a bit of effort.  I know that Judy will be unable to help at some point, and I am unable to do those things on my own.

As we have done since the beginning, we will continue to trust that God has us in his hands and will continue to direct our steps.

May God bring peace, healing, comfort, and love for one another in 2021.

I Own It

December 17, 2020

After nearly a month in the hospital and rehabilitation I was able to finally come home. It felt great to be home, but I couldn’t even step over the threshold of the door. I was excited to gain my freedom, but frustrated that I could not do many of the things I had missed doing. I managed to leave scuff marks on the walls as I tried to maneuver my wheelchair around tight quarters. I just wasn’t expecting to feel the way I felt, but this was my new normal.

People were so encouraging. Friends made dinner for us and we didn’t have to cook for nearly a month.  Guys from the church took on various projects around the house that I couldn’t have even thought about doing even before the stroke. Not only were we the beneficiaries of God’s perfect love, but also from our church family. The Helping Hands team from the church accomplished many other tasks that I have left unfinished or simply would not of been able to do with my less than handy self.

My first night home I had extreme difficulty getting into our bed. It is really high up and I just couldn’t maneuver it easily. The stroke seemed to have magnified my clumsiness and I wound up knocking everything off the bedroom nightstand waking Judy up and basically frustrating both of us. I am a very restless sleeper and found myself ultra-frustrated with the fact that I simply couldn’t roll over. I laid there with my eyes open for a long time wishing I could go to sleep. Something had to change.

It was decided that I would sleep in Josh’s old room. We had redone it as a guest room a few years earlier and the bed there is incredibly comfortable. The doctor prescribed Ambien for my sleep disorder and I slept like a baby. Anytime that Judy would refer to that room as “my room” I grew more and more frustrated. “It is not my room! It is the guest room!”; I still do not want it to be “my room” today, 2 1/2 years later, but I am going to own it now, it is my room.  It meets my needs and we both sleep better with this arrangement.

When I was in the wheelchair, I adamantly said “this is not my wheelchair”. When I progressed to the cane, my sister-in-law decided that it would be called the WAD for walking assistance device. She was being funny and I’m quite sure she meant the double entendre. I, with a raised voice, said this is not my WAD, it is a cane, and it is not my cane! As you can see, I was a bit sensitive about the whole thing.  I was snapping at people who love me and who were pointing out the truth. I hated it.

Here we are 28 months later. I no longer claim those things and have resigned myself to say this is my cane or this is my wheelchair. I have come to the realization that I probably will not get better. I worked really hard to be able to walk on my own without a cane but at some point I realized that was simply stupid. I since have adopted it to use whenever I leave the house. It was a difficult decision to accept where I currently am. It was not taken lightly.

The denomination in which I grew up has a doctrinal statement indicating that healing is part of the atonement. I no longer believe that. If that were true, everyone would be healed because the atonement is perfect. I believe in prayer, I believe in healing, I just do not believe that God is required to do something on my behalf because I want Him to. We live in a broken world where bodies breakdown. Mine just happened to do so early.

So today, I acknowledge that I have devices to help me walk. They are mine. I sleep in a separate bedroom. It is necessary at this time. I have not been completely healed and probably will not be. I am OK with that. I have not lost my faith; I have not lost my belief in prayer, I am not a dreamer, at least in the way of my physical situation, I believe that God does heal but just not as often as people claim. I can live with that.

God chose to spare my life and I am thankful for that.  I will rest in the knowledge in my bed that is in my room. When I leave the office, I will use the cane to go there. God is good, all the time.

This is my cane.

This is my bedroom.

I own it.

A Clenched Fist

On our 34th wedding anniversary, August 25, 2018, I had a debilitating stroke. This is how I’m feeling today.

My fist is clenched. At times it is so hard that my fingernails cut into my skin and leave marks. The angrier that I get, the harder the tension. There have been times that I would love to shake my fist at God saying, “I’ve served you all my life! Why? Why am I not healed?” I hear a whisper of it says “you have hold on so tightly to something that is not yours. You have been grasping for air to save yourself from sinking as you see the lifeguard swimming feverishly to you.

My chest has been clenched for so long. My knuckles white, fingers stiff, It is painful to try to pry my stiff fingers away from my palm. The more I struggle, the harder the grip.

Gentle touch, the stroke of the hand, seem to only drive the feeling of defeat even deeper. I cannot think straight. In my hands I grasp the remnants of my dignity. Pride holes on tightly to my soul, the prey it seeks to devour.  I want to raise my fist and hurt it, but I cannot raise my horn and use that hand so, I acquiesce.

I am afraid of surrender.

By nature, I am defensive.

With my fist I can express my frustration, but I also can fight back, but I’m tired, I am weary, I feel burdened by the pain I am feeling. I cannot change the events of August 25, 2018. If I knew then how I would struggle over these past 2 1/2 years, I’m not sure I would’ve wanted to walk this road. But I have not walked alone. My wife has been constantly at my side, sacrificing her comfort and her desires. Friends and the family have surrounded us and lifted both Judy and I up in prayer, and have provided strength through this tempest.

This yoke is too heavy. I do not want to take another step. I feel like I cannot walk further with no end in sight. I come upon the switch back and realize there is so much further to climb. I fall 2008 round, hang my head, and cry. “God, I want to give up. I thought that I could regain the control of my destiny,

That is a mirage, a fantasy that I have created and crafted.

The tighter I clinch my fist, the more I cannot use my senses to see the good that I still can do, I avert my eyes to the truth. My ears are closed to the voices of those trying to offer help. There is only one thing I can do.

Surrender. This life is not in my own. Another has bought it. He sees what I cannot and here’s my hearts cry. He knows his purposes for me, and formed these hands that I hold so tightly to. His arms outstretched to hold me, but I must open my hands to receive his warm embrace. He calls me beloved. I slowly and clinch and let go of the pride I have held so tightly.

With open hands I can receive his grace, his purpose in me. As I learn to stop fighting and trust my savior. I am no longer fighting against the lifeguard who came to me when I was about to be devoured by the waves.

I am at peace.