The Dragon

June 4, 2021

“Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself… ~CS Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

It didn’t happen overnight. It was a slow process of becoming something other than what God had created me to be. I was unaware that things were amiss. My mind was quick to go places that it should not, but I just tucked it away like many good Christians and didn’t admit a thing. 

The horde I was protecting was in my own dark cave. The me most of you know would never publicly curse at someone. I would not admit to lustful thoughts or behaviors unless I was saying that I had repented of them and they were in the past. I wouldn’t call someone up just to berate them because of their poor decisions or about how they treated me. I may have thought about such things, but I would never have acted upon those impulses. I buried those Dragonish thoughts in a cave, and only I knew how to get to them, but that great lizard knew precisely how to give life to them.

To the casual onlooker, the transformation to dragon was subtle. Still, to those close to me and others who experienced my disruptive behavior, the truth was obvious. My wife said she had been concerned for months. Something was wrong. I was not capable of seeing the reality of my condition; I could not see what I had become. Then I broke down.

The dragon came out of the cave, and all inhibitions that had been stashed away with the horde of forbidden thoughts and actions were there for all to see. I was angry. I was unreasonable. I was prideful. I was the dragon unleashed. I pushed my son up against a wall. If my wife would have been alone, she said that she would’ve been fearful of me physically hurting her. A few nurses were subject to a profane rant directed at them. I called a former employer and told him exactly what I thought about him. I disparaged old coworkers who I love. I actually spat at a doctor. I was breathing fire. 

Who was this person? It all felt reasonable and necessary at the time. At times I was confident and then I was scared. Why was this happening to me? I was embarrassed. I did not want to be this creature. I prayed to God to make me whole, to make me right again.

I was scared. I was embarrassed. I did not want to be this creature. I prayed to God to make me whole, to make me right again.

“Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.”

It was a horrible process. I was humiliated. I was out of control, and I did not have any way to fix this. I had to surrender my complete self, not just my dragon self, to those who were trying to make me me again.

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt.”

The process of being un-dragoned has been painful. A cadre of psychiatrists and doctors have examined me. I have been in the hospital five different times over the last three months. The professionals who have seen and studied my case were baffled. At one point, I heard the word “bipolar. I quickly realized that I was prejudiced against those with mental illness. I did not want to be identified with that label. I breathed a sigh of relief when that was ruled out, and pharmaceutical interactions were believed to be causing my behavior. Then I felt shame for my attitude.

Each stint in the hospital felt like I was being torn apart as another layer of dragon skin was removed. During those un-dragoning months, I slowly confessed to things I have kept hidden. It has felt good to come clean, tell others, especially my wife, that it was time for me to be honest with them and myself. Yes, it hurt, but being free of the dragon and my secret hoard has released a more authentic me, a man humbled because everything was laid bare and his friends and family still accept and love him.

“It would be nice, and fairly nearly true, to say that “from that time forth Eustace was a different boy.” To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.”

Transparency

May 24, 2021

I had a severe stroke in August 2018. What has happened to me in the last three months has been far worse. I have learned to deal with the physical ramifications, but I cannot comprehend losing my mind.

For three years, I’ve tried to express my feelings, anxieties, wins, and losses. I’ve shared the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sometimes things were pretty funny, and other times, bleak. The past three months have been, I can only explain, as dark. And I have not shared what’s going on.

Saturday, February 22, 2021, I woke up feeling great. It felt like a new day and a new future. I had lost my job only days before and had been feeling quite discouraged. Being the creative type, I decided to take up performance art and express that thought. If you’ve ever seen a demonstration of that type of artistic expression, you realize it can be pretty dramatic. It was 6:30 in the morning, and I began to knock things off the walls and flat surfaces in the Living Room and bathroom. Photos fell to the ground, small Wisteria statues were felled. I’m not sure what item made the loudest noise, but Judy came out and had a look of horror in her eyes. To me, it seemed utterly rational, which should’ve been a warning sign of what was to come later in the day. I was trying to explain myself, and Judy was telling me that I was not being rational. I could not hear her because I had already explained it all the way inside my mind, and it made perfect sense to me. A new start, new things.

Things only degraded from there. We had friends over for lunch, and apparently, I began to say and do strange things. I only remember part of that time. The next thing I know, my son is trying to wrestle me into the car to take me to the hospital. They kept me for four days, and my experience there is chronicled in my article I’ve called” The Descent.” Besides the dream, I don’t remember anything about that first night. The next day I woke up feeling normal. After all the tests were run, it was decided that I had had a seizure (a diagnosis which was later called into question.)

I would like to say that was the end of the story, but the cycle repeated itself five additional times over the next three months. Five of those times, I wound up staying in the hospital. Following a panic attack-type episode that lasted longer than six hours, I felt somewhat normal (but I was still off). I say somewhat because many of you have been around me and described me as “not being myself” and are now glad to have the old Perry back.

Everything seemed rational to me. I got into profound political arguments and deep conversations about faith with people I didn’t know. I was passionate, but I also was combative with my wife, children, and others (some of which I made very unusual phone calls too, but I have no remembrance of). I could only think about my lack of freedom. My driver’s license was taken away for three months, so I felt completely isolated. I just wanted to leave and go anywhere.

During the months leading up to the February 22 incident, Judy began keeping a journal of my odd behavior. She noted months of peculiar actions and she was growing more and more alarmed. I, too, was wondering what was happening. I had been having spasms in my right (my unaffected) hand and was hearing laser-like sounds in my ears. I described it sounding like the bionic man versus the bionic woman having a laser fight. The last couple of days before that fateful morning, my eyes began fluttering, and the other symptoms became more prominent.

During the latest episode, they decided to keep me in the hospital for four days to work together. Another EEG was ordered, and it came back normal. A flurry of diagnoses came from the team of doctors, each working individually, who were caring for me. Everyone had their own opinion. I heard the words schizophrenia, epilepsy, bipolar disorder, and the list went on. Still, my symptoms did not seem to match with any of those ideas. I protested having to stay, especially since I didn’t feel they were treating me for anything. Hopefully, their conclusion would provide a step back into normalcy if there ever was such a thing for me.

The working theory is that the plethora of medication that I have been on was working against me. In other words, a harmful drug interaction. That coupled with the fact that I had been unable to sleep well for weeks, at one point staying awake for nearly 55 hours, and was dehydrated. I had started a couple of new prescriptions recently, so that is where they started. I have been weaned off three different drugs at this point. I have not exhibited any abnormal behavior (I know that is a relative term, especially when it comes to me.)

We are meeting with a neurologist on Wednesday, and hopefully, he will have more answers. He has studied the images of my brain and may be able to clarify what is actually going on. Since the reduction of pharmaceuticals, I have had no bionic fights and my spasms have stopped. I take that as a good sign.

Those of you who I have offended, called in the middle of the night, argued with, or said something inappropriate to you or about someone else to you, I apologize. It sounds like a copout to say it wasn’t me because it was, but in many ways, it really wasn’t! It was me magnified and without filters. I have been told I had conversations with people that I have absolutely no recollection of. I cannot bring myself to look at my phone records to try to piece it all together.

Thank you for the understanding and grace you have shown me over these past few months.

The Descent Part 2; Unable to Scream

My arms look like a junkie. I can easily hang out on skid Row and not look at a place. Between losing nearly 40 pounds in a month and the needle marks on my arm, which covered by Band-Aids, I would fit in and be able to talk about how Jesus would have been there as well. I am thankful that God has not placed me there, at least today. It’s cold outside!

To a communicator, the most terrifying thing in the world would be to lose your ability to communicate.

Thursday, I struggled to speak. I couldn’t form words, nor can I even think of making an individual syllable or individual words themselves.

The harder I tried, the more frustrated I became. With terror, I found it impossible to even open my mouth other than to cry. I was pretty sure that I was going to die. I have been thankful that I had few days making things suitable with people I had offended.

Speaking of which, I had a political conversation with a 75-year-old woman in our church that I decided I wanted to continue to help her see things “my way.” She had told me that “all Democrats were Communists”. If she would use absurdity to get her point across, hey Siri, give me a synonym of energy like I’m going to get my position across. I would use something similar as a tactic to prove my point.

Many of you will think of what I’m about to say as anathema. I chose to vote for Joe Biden in the 2020 election. One of my most important positions is that that I am vote on has been abortion. But do you realize that Roe v. Wade was put in place by Republican judges and has been upheld throughout the last 40 years by Republican justices? No guarantee putting more Republican justice on the Court will do anything other than perpetuate Roe versus Wade.

Democratic environmental policies and many of their social policies are in alignment with scripture, and I have chosen to align myself with the God of scripture. The immigrant has always been championed by the Holy Jewish writings, enough so that God can mail them to leave the margins of the fields available for them to eat if they should need food. So, it seemed a natural fit. Up until this point since today’s Reagan, I have voted as a Republican. But the conservatives of this date for our far cry from the conservative nature of the Reagan years. So I registered as an independent.

I chose not to speak about politics this day but to allow Jesus to do so. We watched the movie the shack, or better yet, we attempted to protect the shed. I began to cry almost immediately. As the film progressed, I found myself more and more emotional. Soon I found myself unable to speak coherently. Jan started the movie and said, we need to go home. She drove me home, where the symptoms only became worse. Although I do know the s warning signs of a stroke, this did not occur to me at the time. Not sure if you mentioned it here, but as soon as it was noted, I realized how dangerous this was. I said, please take me to the nearest hospital. I was a little perturbed when we didn’t just go to the closest hospital, which was Mission but headed on to Irvine. Since I didn’t die, it was okay.

The symptoms headset on, but too early for me to have the clot-busting drug. That only made me continue to live in fear, knowing that the client could cause my demise at any moment. Thankfully, it did not. There was no official diagnosis of what made these symptoms so pronounced or why they dissipated so quickly. I am just thankful that I am not dead.

I was kept in the hospital for observation. Once again, God arranged numerous divine appointments. I was able to share the gospel with at least three different people, and they were receptive. I invited them to message church that is an opportunity for them to find Jesus and find a place of healing and relationship. Isn’t that what we all need during this pandemic?

So, I have left once again with the question of what was the purpose? Not quite sure why God doesn’t shout out answers like that. Maybe it’s for us to ponder, perhaps for us to pray about. All I know is that it’s frustrating and that we’re gonna have a little talk when I get to heaven exclamation.

Once again, thank you for praying. Thank you for being there for my family and me. Judy has been incredible throughout this process. Josh and Katie and their spouses have been amazing, and they are taking a lot of grief from me for the last 2 1/2 years. One day we ever have enough money to take them on a trip. I would love to do so before they have kids to celebrate what God has done. One guy will continue to do as we strive to serve him but to do so joyfully.

I took the last Band-Aid off today.

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.