As I was saying… wait… what was I saying?

I truly enjoy a good movie. I mean, you know, I can really disappear into the well told narrative of a two hour motion picture. I enjoy a good book, as well, mind you. Yet, my brain has always raced – way too fast – for me to sit in the same location for any extended period of time. I get the “gotta go’s” quite easily.

It is also difficult for me to verbally yarn an anecdote together in a cohesive, and timely, manner. You can ask me, in person, what my favorite color is and, three or more hours later, I will have explained the durability of an M16A1 rifle, the lifespan of a mosquito and an in depth description of my favorite pair of running shoes. But, I will have forgotten what you had originally asked me. Ask me again and I will enthusiastically lead us down another trail of impertinent “facts”. It happens every time.

God forbid you ask me to speak while I’m behind the wheel of a car or, even worse, while I am preparing food to be eaten. Good God … the final destinations, of such, have been “noteworthy”, to say the least. One time, I missed my highway exit seven times in a row. I kept missing it as I continued to speak while turning around to head back.

Another time, I put pimiento stuffed olives on my daughter’s pb & j sandwich.

Meldie, my wife, has adapted a gentle guidance system [to offer me] through conversations while I am “multitasking”. She has done so, I believe, out of her sheer will to survive. I compare her help to that of a seeing-eye dog leading a blind man through traffic. It is somewhat pitiful to behold yet beautiful in it’s woven partnership. Our conversing partnership, however, leans more toward the pitiful than the beautiful. She, somehow, finds amusement in my “idiosyncrasies”.

Other folks, nonetheless, don’t find any amusement in my oral chronicles. “Painful”, “distracting”, and “terrifying” are how most people describe it. Some people get the “gotta go’s”, immediately, whenever I grab the figurative “mic”. They’d rather leave the general vicinity, altogether, than have to wait, patiently, for me to eventually answer, “What time is it?”

Speaking of the time, it’s almost 5:00 pm – I gotta go. But, before I do, I took some photos, this past week, that I really like. Meldie sent me to Aldi to pick up a few things. Three hours later, I came home with these pictures… and the things that I was supposed to get (Praise God!).

On the glorious splendor of Your majesty, and on Your wondrous works, I will meditate.

Psalm 145:5 esv
Bert. Meldie doesn’t like when he eats the seeds from her birdfeeder…
So, I give him something more appetizing (that’s him in our crabapple tree)

“650 words or less”, He said

I don’t put much forethought into writing. I no longer struggle with afterthought, too much, either. God simply places something on my heart to “say”, then, depending on my distance to the keyboard, I begin typing. Most of the time, I don’t even know where the journey will take me. Sometimes, I spend a day, or so, laboring over His thoughts only to toss the final draft into the trash bin.

I find it important to point out that I don’t follow the “rules” of writing. I have examined publications that highlight literary techniques, nonetheless. I’ve also glanced at books that detail the “rules” of preparation, as well. I’ve even gone as far as to ask a few questions in online writing forums. And, once upon a time, I took a course (English 101) in college.

I “failed out” of Western Illinois University, after two full semesters of study.

Additionally, I’ve pondered if my lack of education serves more as an obstacle to the folks who have read what I’ve written. I was told as much, once, in an anonymous review of an essay I published a while back. Nevertheless, I’m training myself to “rebuke” that mindset. The island of morbid reflection isn’t a pleasant destination for me. I am seemingly incapable of naturally pulling myself up “by the bootstraps” to recover from snorkeling in that cerebral mire. Where some people may be able to objectively peek over their lives with emotional detachment, my brain intuitively locks onto the macabre ripples of doubt while enthusiastically riding them to the shoreline of self-destruction.

Meldie, my wife, “fetches me” if she notices me surfing these swells of unlit mental current too long. I’ve given her permission to do so, in case you’re skeptical of that. Being open to correction, from your spouse, should involve a mutual agreement. That’s my take on it, anyway. Being corrected – by just anyone – leaves room (in my mind) for questions of motive and sincerity. It helps, I would imagine, that we don’t have to rely on my writing in order to eat, bathe or heat our home.

The only problem with this: I can’t take Meldie with me everywhere I go (believe me, I’ve tried). Plus, she isn’t a trained writer, either. Her vocabulary includes gobs of enormous words that includes an intuition of where to place them, correctly, while communicating. Yet, she has absolutely no interest in writing. She doesn’t even care if I write – unless it interrupts our time together.

In comparison, I force feed incoherent and non applicable idiom into my everyday conversations like a samurai wielding his katana, fiercely, in the passenger basket of a hot air balloon. It’s quite uncomfortable to behold, really. I once tried to replace the word “espionage” with “expungement” while explaining my review of a Tom Clancy novel to our company Commander while I was in the Army. I reached deeply into my shallow sack of E words and came up short (or too long, depending how you look at it).

So, why would I even bother to write? I mean, really – I write, solely, about “things” pertaining to the ways of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. In today’s world, my subject line isn’t exactly topping the popularity charts of literary genres. Believers are well aware that non-believers regard us as foolish and weak. And, if I have a history of being prone to cartwheeling down the slope of healthy thinking then diving into the darkness of psychological abyss, and wallowing in it, why would I open myself like this?

Well, because that’s what He’s told me to do. Really.

I try not to question Him, too much. He rarely replies to my “why?” inquiries, directly, anyway.

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.

Hebrews 11:6 esv

Know Who You Are

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Jeremiah 31:33-34 esv

My ex-wife introduced my forever wife (Meldie) to me. Before doing so, my ex had purposely warned me, like the foreshadowing of an event, of just how beautiful she was to lay eyes upon.

“I have to warn you: Meldie is gorgeous!”

Sometimes, I have to pause and reflect on this truth like a well literized poem.

I’ve yet to fully understand poetry, though. So, let’s not pause here for too long.

Anyway, what is interesting about this, to me, is that my ex has only done this once in the twenty-plus years that I’ve known her. I met my ex wife in 1999. We married in 2001 and we divorced in 2005. We have a child together, we ran a business together and we have lived together, off and on, quite a few times along the way. It should go without saying that my ex and I know a lot of mutual people – maybe half of which are women. Regardless, Meldie, my forever wife, was the only person that came with a pre-introduction warning.

At the time, Meldie was mentoring my ex wife through the written Word (the Bible). They knew each other through Church. Almost immediately after being paroled from the penitentiary, my ex found a Church and was baptized by water. She informed me, by phone, that she was “born again and following Jesus”.

“Great.”, I thought. “Maybe Jesus can help you pay child support, then?”

I knew nothing about Jesus, back then. Plus, truth be told, I really didn’t need any money from her. And, I knew that my ex was starting over from scratch. Our daughter and I were living together in my parents basement, at the time, and we were well cared for. I worked, sometimes, and smoked crack, more times. Yet, my parents were carrying me through my role as a parent like an Army medic carries a wounded warrior off the battlefield.

A Judge had ordered my daughter and I to live there, with them, when she was six years old. When she turned twelve, we were still living there.

I was completely miserable, in those days. My ex wife’s newly found Path served more as a nuisance, to me, than a beacon of Light in the darkness. I projected that her future accomplishments would shine bright – highlighting my utter failure as a man and, more importantly, as a father. My parents were aware of my addiction; they knew that I needed help. Regardless, having come from the background that I experienced in my early adult life, I recoiled from “help” like flesh from the flame. I rejected any mention of it. I knew that I was beyond any human aid. Nonetheless, I did not know where to turn and I knew that a turn had to be made.

A few months after my daughter’s twelfth birthday, my parents (and daughter) had had enough. Collectively, they kicked me out. I had no money, no clean clothes and less than a quarter tank of gas in my car. Not knowing where to turn, I called my ex wife to let her know what was going on. She surprised me with her response.

“I know it isn’t the ideal situation, but, you can live here until you figure things out. I will wire you gas money to get here.”

I knew that I had no other choice.

After spending the money that she wired to me, on crack, she wired me a little bit more. A day later, after spending that money too, she drove to me, put gas in my car and I followed her home.

Five months later, after watching me sink hopelessly into the mire of addiction, my ex wife and her mother asked me to move out, too.

Regardless, God calls me by a new name today.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.

Psalm 139:1-6 esv

**********

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 16:13-17 esv

In the beginning of Matthew 16 (esv), Jesus was asked by the Sadducees and Pharisees (Jewish Religious/Political Sects) to “show them a sign”. Yet, Jesus, through a parable, explained that He was the Sign. Then, He left them and departed from there with His disciples.

You see, Jesus spoke in parables to everyone but the chosen twelve (disciples). To them only, He taught the meaning of His parables. Later on in this chapter {Matt. 16:13-17}, Jesus asked His disciples, directly, “But who do you say that I am?”. Simon Bar-Jonah answered Him correctly. Then, Jesus praised His answer and explained that upon him, Simon (now) Peter (in Aramaic = Stone), the Rock of His Church would be built. He further proclaimed that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” {Matt.16:18}. Not only did Jesus change His name (God changes the names of His people all throughout Scripture) to reflect how He sees him (the Rock of the Church), but He praises the very answer that Peter gave.

Then, a few verses later, Jesus calls Simon Peter, “Satan”, and He tells him to “get behind Me”.

Geesh… talk about a rollercoaster of events. Can you imagine being Simon Peter in that conversation? From “Rock” to “Satan” in only a few verses. He went on to deny Jesus three times, just as Jesus foretold, too {John 18:13-27}. Think about that for a minute or two.

Yet, Jesus still saw him as “the Rock”.

Now, think about how “they” beat, tortured and killed Jesus. Then, five hundred people witnessed His resurrected body. Most of His disciples (minus John) are believed to be martyred, in His name, too. Christianity, or “His Church” was outlawed, at the time, yet His Truth has spread like wildfire.

My friend, your past has no bearing on how God sees you. Even now, with the things that you currently struggle with, God sees us (believers) only through the Veil of His beloved Son.

Do you KNOW Jesus? If you can believe on Him, and toss your past/present/future onto the Cross, pick it back up as His resurrected victory, and follow Him – God will call you by a new name, as well. Here, let me skip ahead in YOUR story and give you a glimpse at what He will call you:

You are: Loved!

Do you know that?

As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Abide in My love.

John 15:9
Today, I enjoy going outdoors with Meldie in search of His handiwork. We captured this photo earlier this week.
This one, too.

Lofty Opinions

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:5 esv

Man, let me tell ya…

I am currently in the process of “retraining” my mind. I know, I know… I just lost a few folks there. And, some of you (especially the people who know me personally), are probably saying to yourselves, “Oh my. For the love of God, somebody get this boy away from his dang mind!”

I feel ya on that.

However, as “Believers”, this is exactly what our God (Abba, Father, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Daddy) tells us to do. Nevertheless, the question for some of us (namely me), is what exactly does He mean by this? Or, more specifically, how exactly do I do this?

My friend, let me plant some Seed into you. The Word of God (the Bible) is alive {Hebrews 4:12}. And, it has power. It has the power to heal, to redirect beliefs, to resurrect lives and to produce faith. Quite literally, our faith (knowing God) comes directly, and only, from Him. He gives it to us, through grace, by hearing His Word. Then, ultimately, it changes our hearts.

Yet, it does have to be heard {Romans 10:17}.

Go ahead and Google those scriptures if you don’t have a Bible nearby. I purposely refrain from typing them out, manually, to encourage you to search for yourself. I am merely a laborer in His field; God, Himself, is Lord of the harvest {Matthew 9:38}. You can’t receive His blessings by only reading my (and others) experience. He wants to talk to YOU. I will wait for you to return before I move on.

OK, cool. Welcome back.

Now, by returning to the original scripture that we started with {2 Corinthians 10:5}, let’s focus on the words that stand out, to me, the most: “destroy arguments”, “lofty opinions”, “take every thought captive”, “obey Christ”.

First, we will peer at “destroy arguments”. My flesh truly loves this idea. The concept of destroying something, like an argument, just grabs my attention like a fist fight on the side of the road as I drive on by. I can’t help but to stare at it. You see, like I’ve been telling you, I was a drug addict for most of my adult life. I know what it feels like to be judged and discounted by people. Therefore, at first glance, the ability to destroy an argument, coupled with the second idea of “lofty opinions” is extremely appealing to me. You know, imagine being cornered by someone with a lofty opinion, that differs from ours, then completely destroying it in an argument. The “old me” could fantasize about that very scenario, repeatedly – ad infinitum, for weeks at a time. I have lost plenty of sleep dancing with such visions. I’ve spent decades engaging in its endless possibilities.

However, let’s look at this through the eyes of Christ. What was the purpose of Jesus’ ministry {John 10:10} and what did He come to destroy{1 John 3:8}? Did He come (to Earth) to win the arguments of those who disagreed with Him personally? Well, not according to His Word. He knew that His Father’s will included letting them – who disagreed – kill Him {Luke 13:33}, {Matthew 16:21}, {Matthew 17:22}, {Mark 8:31}. His victory laid solely upon His foretold death and resurrection. He died, specifically, so you and I could claim His victory for ourselves {1 Corinthians 15:57}, {John 16:33}.

Here, once we eat of the Bread given to us through His Word, we can see that God intends for us to hold each argument of our mind (hold our thoughts as slaves – captured thoughts), even our own “lofty opinions” (the beliefs we hold that determine how we see ourselves) and compare it directly to what He says. For instance, I received an “Honorable Discharge” from the United States Army after serving for eight years (5 years active duty – 3 years inactive duty). That little piece of paper holds no monetary value. I can’t eat it for nourishment. It doesn’t provide me with heat to keep me warm. Yet, I do, still to this day, have some lofty opinions about it (for another time, my friend).

Finally, the last stand-out wording in our original scripture {2 Corinthians 10:5} is to “obey Christ”. It is a commandment. He doesn’t say, “It’s a good idea” or “when you find the time”. He commands us to obey. So, what is it that Christ commands us to do; what exactly are we to obey? Ahem, I mean -really(?), how can we know that without talking to Him? How can we talk to Him without going to where He is? As a beginner, it seems most appealing to head to Church in search of God. And, please hear me on this: I AM NOT TELLING YOU TO NOT GO TO CHURCH! But, what I am saying is: God wants to have an intimate relationship with you (yes YOU). How can we have intimacy with Him if we see/speak to/hear Him only once a week? Jesus, compares intimacy with Him as being deeply rooted as a husband (Him) and wife (His Church – believers) {Ephesians 5:25-27}, {2 Corinthians 11:2}, {Revelation 21:9}.

Now, I can’t speak over your marriage to your spouse. However, let me tell ya, Meldie, my wife, would find some choice verbiage for me if I only showed up on Sundays. And, I’d have some for her, too, if I only saw her one day per week. Lord (sorry Lord), I can’t even imagine how those conversations would go. Eeks.

Anyway, God gives us everything that we need in His Word – even the “how” in the retraining of our minds. Let us recap this scripture through the warmth of a new Light. God doesn’t want us to be tortured by the untrue thoughts produced from ourselves {Ephesians 6:12}. Remember, in the garden, when Adam and Eve hid from Him because they were naked? What did God say first? He asked, “Who told you that you were naked?”{Genesis 3:11}, right? So, under that same Light: who told you that (lie)?

Grab onto the retraining of your mind, my friend, and imagine God, Himself, sitting with you. You can be exactly where you are, right now, as He gently instructs you how to speak to each thought that enslaves you.

Because, in fact, He is.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things

Philippians 4:8 esv

Speak that last verse {Philippians 4:8}, outloud, several times a day. Don’t think about what use that can or can not do for you. Remember, The Word is alive {Hebrews 4:12} and we aren’t fully capable of understanding God {Isaiah 55:8-9}.

Instead, think about how true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise God is. He created an entire world just for you. He did so because He wants to spend time with you here. He saw the horrible time you were having upon it so He sent His only Son here to encourage you. He, Himself, withstood the brutal beating and humiliating death so you could spend eternity with Him. Through His resurrection, He offers you His victory. Claim it – don’t wait.

In love & fellowship,

RLG

Trusting the Seasons

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

I decided, back in May of 2019, to confess the truth to my daughter: I am not her biological father. At the time, she was fifteen years old. She was completely unaware that she was not born of my seed. The entire conversation took less than an hour in it’s entirety.

She received the information and left our home, immediately. Her mother texted me a short time thereafter, telling me that our daughter was safe and that she had asked to stay with her for the night. “She’s really upset. I’m not sure what she plans to do but I will keep you posted about what she decides.”, my ex wife communicated to me.

My daughter hasn’t been back since.

**********

My friend, I can spend endless hours talking about what God has done for me. I do that very thing all the time, actually. However, God hasn’t put on my heart to share with you the “play by play” happenings of my life. I do find it interesting, mind you. But, mostly because it happened to me. Nonetheless, in reality, it is just another story, in an endless amount of similar stories, told since the beginning of our HIStory. You see, God simply wants us to walk with Him. And, when we do… He lets us know that He is there.

Instead, I will reiterate what I have already shared with you: I was a severely broken human being. Then, at the lowest point of my life’s journey (late 2016), I (reluctantly) turned to God. And, in that instant, He came rushing to me. His presence, in that moment of repentance, completely overwhelmed me. I reacted to it by sobbing. Uncontrollably. My entire face ached, horribly, for days afterward. My eyes, still, are excessively dry upon awakening in the mornings. This moment took place over three years ago.

Next, He blessed every area of my life. First, He gave me Meldie – my wife. Then, He gave us a house to live in (remember I was homeless). He gave it to us at a reduced rent, with no security deposit, and partially furnished as well. It even has a white picketed fence in the backyard. Eventually, He reduced the rent for us even further.

He also gave me a job. Nonetheless, a little over a year later, I was fired from that job. So, He gave me another job. I didn’t like that job too much so I quit and asked Him for another job. And, He gave me a new job making more money than I did at the previous one. I was fired from there, too. Then, He gave me another job making more money than I did at the previous one. I didn’t like that job too much, either. This time, I didn’t quit before asking Him for another one. Soon thereafter, I got a call from a man offering me a job making four times the pay I was currently making. So, I took that job and quit the other one.

He even sent me a check, from my previous life, that was larger than any check I had ever deposited. It was almost eighty times larger, as a matter of fact. Meldie and I paid off most of our (my) debt with that check. I even bought her a HUGE diamond ring, paid for our small wedding ceremony and bought myself a new (used) car with it. We still have some of that money saved, wouldn’t ya know, and we gave God what was His (more on that later).

It soon became obvious that I didn’t know anything about Him. He has doted over me, continuously, like a loving Father yet I didn’t understand what He expected of me. I knew that I hadn’t done anything to deserve His affection. However, that didn’t seem to matter to Him. At all, actually. It was as if He had been waiting for me – patiently – my whole life.

He had my undivided attention now. At the time, He appeared to use “shock and awe” tactics to accomplish the things that I was incapable of doing. As a result, I began talking to Him regularly. Every day, I devoted time to reading His Word (the Bible).

Every time I went looking for Him, He revealed more of Himself to me. I hadn’t experienced anything like it in all my life.

Resultantly, my daughter surprised Meldie and I by asking to move into our new home with us. There was plenty of room for her. You see, God knows our heart {Jeremiah 17:10}. After the first few hours of her life, I stopped caring about who her real father was. She was mine and that was all there was to it. I didn’t even have to explain that to God.

At the beginning of her freshman year of high school, she moved in.

Ironically, I was never overwhelmed with my new life. Now, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t make some mistakes; I’ve made many, actually. I began this journey with a deep rooted, entirely wrong view of myself and the world, to be honest. I also had a fantasy idea of who He is. It was of utmost importance that I learn some things about Him, immediately. Specifically, I had to find out who He really is versus who He is not. I also had to learn how He saw me.

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not fulfill it?

Numbers 23:19 esv

God is who He is no matter where we are.

Let me tell ya, I’ve been fired, laid-off and rightfully passed over since I began walking with Him. I’ve been arrested, spent time in jail, gotten high on crack and threatened the life of a co-worker, too. To say that I’ve not walked perfectly would be a severe injustice to reality. To say that I’m not worthy (of Him) would be too obvious.

Nevertheless, I had to start seeing Him as a Father; One who corrects, disciplines and guides His kids. Then, I had to find out who His kids are; not all of us belong to Him. He loves all His creation, favoring us humans the most {Romans 5:8}. Yet, only His children can hear His voice {John 10:27-28}.

So, who are God’s kids? Well, He tells us specifically in His Word {Galatians 3:26-29}, {Proverbs 8:17} that whoever loves Him and believes that His Son died as payment for sin, then was resurrected to His glory, is His child {John 3:16}.

He has given me an indescribable peace and I have been undeniably set free from the bondage of my previous life. I wanted my daughter to experience that, first hand, too. Be that as it may, she was cautious of me and my new Way to walk. God showed me that forcing Him down her throat wasn’t what He wanted. He didn’t force Himself on me; I had no right to force Him on anyone else.

She asked to be baptized with me on Easter. A little over a month later, after I told her the truth about not being her “father”, she moved out. I gave her the news the night after her final day of school, freshman year.

A picture of my daughter and I when she was a few months old.
Me and my daughter circa early summer 2016
The house that God gave us. We don’t own it, but it is our home.
That there is the white picket fence, my friend. I own the grill. Meldie bought it for me on my birthday.

A picture of my Bible. Meldie gave it to me during the summer of 2016, along with a plate of food – five months before He came rushing into my life. I have never experienced freedom to the level I experience it today. This tiny, camouflaged, soft covered Book is alive {Hebrews 4:12}

You Have An Enemy

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

{Genesis 3:6 esv}

I am not an ordained Minister, nor am I an accredited Pastor, Priest or elder statesman of any congregation. I view myself, quite simply, as a “believer”.

I feel it is important to clarify these things before talking about Scripture. I strongly believe that the enemy uses misinformation, doubt and confusion like an expert marksman skillfully hunting his prey. In my experience, navigating The Word (the Bible) can be unnerving. When you look at The Word as a literal and historical Truth, reading it alone – with an untrained eye – can easily become a daunting task.

The Bible says to “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” {1 Peter 5:8 esv}. “Sober-minded” is key here. So is being “watchful”. Yes, here God is directly telling us to not be drunk or high so we can be “watchful”. Yet, He is also telling us to not be drunk on anger, intoxicated with pride and to not find pleasure with tearing ourselves down as we reflect over the landscape of our lives – among other things. God wants us to learn how to view ourselves only as He sees us. Then, it is equally important to speak those things over ourselves – until His Truth becomes our Truth. That Truth, and knowing it, becomes evident in later Scripture. Yet, for now, let’s stay focused on our beginning. So, from the beginning, it is of the utmost importance to know exactly what He says about who you are, who the enemy is and, ultimately, who He is.

In our life, Meldie and I call this “adversary”: the enemy. We are mindful not to give him authority, yet we are watchful for him. He seems to creep into our thoughts, attacking our beliefs, like an invisible gas patiently lurking in the atmosphere. Although, sometimes he takes a form.

The enemy has done this since the beginning of our history, or more aptly named: His (meaning God’s) Story. In the book of Genesis, God offered all of His Creation to be under man’s dominion, or control. His creation was His gift to us. In {Genesis 1:26}, it is written: “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” Think about that for a moment. He purposely creates something that He says was “good” {Gen. 1:21} – then – He lovingly hands over that creation to us. Take a few moments; I’ll wait for you to catch up.

Good, welcome back.

Soon thereafter, in Scripture, the enemy shows up. Eve (Eve meaning in Hebrew = to give life), God’s gift to Adam (Adam meaning in Hebrew = man), is approached by “the serpent” in the Garden of Eden after God has commanded Adam not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil {Genesis 2:15-17}. Now, there is so much nourishment in this Scripture. Nevertheless, we have to stay focused on the meal at hand, marking the “things” that jump out to us for later, lest we divert down a rabbit trail. Let’s hunt a little farther for this fare.

For this purpose, the feast lies in {Genesis 3:1-5 esv} which states: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say’, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden? And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'”

Again, there is a full buffet of nourishment here. Yet, again, let’s stay focused on the sustenance set aside for us in this moment. I’d like to point out how, back in {Gen. 2:15}, God commanded Adam not to eat of the fruit of that tree. The Word makes no mention of commanding Eve, as well. So, for this purpose, let us assume that Adam had clued her in.

Now, I am married to Meldie. She is extremely intelligent and thoroughly pleasant to look at physically. She uses the correct words, at the correct times, and she rarely speaks without thought. She tells me that she loves me, all the time, and she follows those words up with loving actions intended for me and my well being. However, I mishear her sometimes. Sometimes, I hear words and hidden meanings that were never spoken by her. I have learned to gently proclaim my confusion, ask for her explanation, and listen intently to her reply.

Yet, I still muff up “listening”, sometimes. For my personal safety, I believe it is imperative to point out that my wife and I do not speak commands to each other. We do, however, correct each others views of ourselves, and each other, when they don’t align with God’s views. More on that later.

As we can see in {Gen. 3:3}, Eve recalled something that God did not say. He never commanded, “neither shall you touch it”, when referring to the fruit of the forbidden tree. Scripture doesn’t go on to explain this to us; it just is. It’s simply what she recalled. There is no further reference to it. It stands, buried in the conversation between Eve and the serpent.

This statement just happens to be a golden nugget of information. She didn’t know, firsthand and for herself, what God had said. You see, God had regularly showed up in the Garden to “walk with” Adam and Eve. We know this by their reaction to Him after they had eaten the forbidden fruit. In {Genesis 3:8}, we know: “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden”. We further learn why they had hidden themselves. It wasn’t because His presence made them afraid. Nor was it because they didn’t know Who was walking in the Garden. Instead, the Truth was that they knew God, intimately. They also knew that He would show up. He always did. Instead, they hid because of their shame (being naked).

In the next two verses {Gen. 3:9-10 esv}, we see evidence of their knowlgege: “But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” You see, if we go all the way back to when God said eating the fruit would surely mean “death” {Gen. 2:17 esv}, He was speaking of a spiritual death – or – separation from Him.

This principle, is the cornerstone of a life built upon Him. Our death, or sin, is a separation from the God who created us. We were created purposely to walk with Him. Whenever we produce a thought of ourselves, we are to use our discernment and hold God’s authoritative question directly up to it. God’s authority is displayed in the very next verse:

{Genesis 3:11 esv} “He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?'”

We can never fully understand God {Job 38:31-36}, {Isaiah 40:28}, {Psalm 147:5}. How can I understand the way a human body was formed, how the stars exist or how The Word has survived from man’s beginning? Who am I to create, from my imagination, a new God – with new commandments – that applies to my current wants and desires. No, God is God and He alone created me, and you, along with the earth and everything that lives on it. So, you know, we should probably get busy finding out who He is and how He sees us. After all, He wants to walk, in the coolness of the day, with me (and YOU).

My friend, God offers to us a clear view of how He sees us. It is written, by Him using human hands, all over The Word. Let me offer some helpful tools to begin (or refresh) your walk with Him. Meanwhile, please know that He is FOR you; He is NOT against you. When the enemy tells you you’re useless, you’re ugly, you’re fat, you aren’t good enough, you will always be alone, etc. ad nauseam, hold that thought against what God says about you.

Wouldn’t God say: “Who told you that you were…” followed by “Who do I say that you are?”.

Then, throw some of God’s Truth at that thought (the enemy) and watch it flee.

In love,

R.L. Gabriel

p.s. Just in case you weren’t aware:

*** YOU are the apple of His eye ***

{Zechariah 2:8 esv} For thus said the Lord of hosts, after His glory sent me to the nations who plundered you, for he who touches you touches the apple of his eye

Some of today’s happenings in our dominion of a backyard:

“Stubby” (notice his tail) being seed greedy

 

Last summer, our dominion was visited by a Downy Woodpecker. We, both Meldie and I, witnessed his arrival and quick departure. Yesterday, after a several month “no show”, I asked God to send him back for a visit. Today, he showed up for this picture.

But, God… (Part III)

Soldiering 101, in a nut shell, is about completing the mission at hand. The Army vigorously indoctrinates the idiom “Intestinal Fortitude” into soldiers facing chaos-induced internal conflict during these missions. “Finding courage” is the common terminology.

What they fail to teach, however, is how to find that courage. Their instruction repetitively drills the proper use of weapons and equipment along with tactical techniques of application. This breeds a natural comfort and reliance upon using those weapons and equipment. They also teach military dress and ceremony, branch specific history, survival basics, hand to hand combat skills and an introduction to land navigation. All of their introductory level instruction (Basic Training) is done under a “combat reality” which includes constant movement, sleep deprivation, eliminating weakness – all under the setting of physical exhaustion. Then, they teach you a military occupational specialty (M.O.S.); aka a job.

At eighteen years of age, finding that place of internal bravery – by one’s self – is inconceivable for the most part. Yet, young American soldiers are capable of producing acts of “uncommon valor” almost as frequently as Leghorn Hens lay eggs.

I had learned, early on in my instruction, not to ask specific questions – or reply to the rhetorical one’s. “How do I find courage?”, without doubt, was a set up question that would be painful in its learning. It resembled the question my Drill Sergeant asked me, during week two of Basic Training. DS Darling (what an ironic name for this particular DS) directly inquired where I had learned how to fold clothes after inspecting my foot locker. He dumped all of it’s contents onto the floor before quizzing me. “What the f*ck is wrong with you, Private? Does your mama have square nipples and eat grass with her coffee?”

My response, ironically, is what attracted his true wrath. Spoken softly, to show a sincere reflection, I returned, “I’ve not seen Mama’s nipples, Drill Sergeant…”.

I wasn’t allowed time to finish my answer.

The rest of that day was spent doing push ups, flutter kicks and holding an M16A1 rifle over my head.

Gallantry/grit/guts; courage, or lack there of, was purposely left out of our training. It was highlighted in the soldiers we learned about during our history lessons, and pointed out as absent when we moved cautiously through a schooling objective, but it was never shown how to specifically obtain it. Its elusiveness is what hung eerily over our entire ten week re-education into becoming soldiers. I graduated and brought that same question with me to Combat Medic School in Ft. Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas.

They failed to cover “Obtaining Courage” there, too.

It was the very question that “we” – me along with all of my friends – brought with us on our deployment, almost two years later, as well.

And, it was there that we finally found our answer.

**********

I walked through the dread of flying home on leave by looking forward to sitting in the Airport bar, with Papa, enjoying a beer. I was not old enough, legally, to be served alcohol in the United States yet I was only four months shy of being twenty-one. I anticipated no real problems with being served spirits even though I refused to fly home in uniform. I purposely dressed more like a returning American college student, studying abroad in Europe, than a soldier returning from war. The airport was filled with traveling soldiers in uniform; they sat congregated in the airport bars in both Europe and the United States. I traveled completely unnoticed.

I imagined sitting with my father, drinking an iced cold American draft, while relishing in his palpable pride over me. Surely, this separation and what I had just lived through would be enough to set our relationship on track. I wondered how he would greet me, how I would reciprocate his approval and how this would grow into a relationship between two men with equal adoration for each other.

His obvious disgust, when I offered to buy him a beer at the bar, cut through to my core. He hastily explained, displaying the disapproving look that some folks offer to panhandlers on the street, how Mama was waiting for us near the airport’s exit. Then, he went to grab my duffel bag. I prevented him from touching it with a swipe of my arm. “I got it, man. Let’s just go.”

I was completely devastated, in addition to the deep shame for feeling that way. How could I have set myself up like this? How stupid could I be?

A bubbling rage emanated from deep inside my psyche. Like a pressure cooker, I needed to release it somehow. Fear, of exploding, consumed me. The three minute journey through the airport was the absolute longest walk of my entire life. It took every ounce of courage that I had left not to turn around and return to Germany with my round trip ticket. I longed for an alcoholic, or chemically, produced numbing of my emotions – no matter the cost. I wanted to hurt someone.

At the airport’s exit, Mama had organized a mid-sized “Welcome Home” party that included custom made t-shirts, hand held signs and the frantic cheering from two dozen of my high school friends and my little sister. How I faced them, without running away and never returning, I will never fully understand. Nevertheless, the thirty day’s leave that I spent with those friends turned into an alcohol/drug fueled binge of violence that ruined most of those relationships for good.

Thirty days later, I returned to my unit in Germany.

What I had failed to realize, until many years later, was the possibility that Mama had done only what she thought would mean a lot to me. And, that Papa’s real role was to serve his wife by escorting me promptly to her surprise at the airport’s exit.

**********

Just as men had been figuring out since the first time soldiers went to war against each other, the soldiers that I served with learned that courage comes mostly from the collective whole; we absorbed it from each other. The principal of “You go – We go” or wherever you are sent – I will be beside you, is the answer we had been searching for. Soldiers live together, sometimes die together and always find courage because of each other. It, quite simply is their faith; faith in one another.

Six months after my leave had ended and I returned to my unit, The United States Army disbanded the 12th Evacuation Hospital – the oldest deployable Army Hospital in its history and the first fully operational Evacuation Hospital of Operations Desert Shield/Storm. Over the course of a single week, we received orders assigning us to new duty stations back in “the States” or releasing us from active duty.

My final two and a half years of active duty were spent as a (front)line medic in an infantry Brigade, assigned under the rapid deployment umbrella of the notorious 18th Airborne Corp., while stationed at Ft. Benning, Georgia. We trained, feverishly, to return to the middle eastern theater of operations, however I never deployed to combat again.

I was honorably discharged yet barred from re-enlistment due to “fighting” and “violent tendencies”.

Twenty-three years later, after struggling with addiction that entire time, I found myself living in a homeless shelter two and a half hours outside of Chicago. I was alone, having destroyed everything that I had laid my hands upon, and without hope.

One Sunday morning, in search of a hot meal and some fresh coffee, I made my way to a Church service – less than forty-eight hours after a crack binge. There, right in the middle of the congregation and for no explainable reason in that moment, I began to hysterically sob. Uncontrollably. It was humiliating compounded by the fact that little old ladies kept handing me their tissues to wipe my face with. I had the overwhelming urge to run out of there and keep going until my body gave out.

But, God had other plans for me.

But, God… (Part Two)

(TWO YEARS LATER)

12th Evacuation Hospital

Saudi Arabian/Iraqi border to Weisbaden Army Air Base, Germany

May, 1991

An excerpt, via Chapter 4; Operation Desert Shield/Storm, from the Borden Institute novel titled Skilled and Resolute: A History of the 12th Evacuation Hospital and 212th Mash, 1917 – 2006

“In 101 days of hospital operations, the 12th Evac saw 10,309 outpatients and 1,299 inpatients; the average exceeded 100 per day, but the intensity of operations fluctuated. At final tally, 22 Iraqi prisoners, 130 civilians (both Kuwaiti and Iraqi), and 10 Coalition military personnel had been treated; the rest were Americans.”

I volunteered for duty on the “rear detachment”, at the end of the war; I simply did not want to go home. Rear detachment meant that I would stay with our supplies and equipment until it passed final customs checks allowing its return to our garrison base in south western Germany. It also meant that I had no idea of when I would ship out: re-entry into Europe, via the strenuous military customs process, was extremely challenging. It entailed an immeasurable amount of meticulous cleaning only to be nullified by painstaking inspections. Then, unavoidably, it would be followed by even more cleaning and more inspections.

The tedious process suited me just fine. Anything, other than treating casualties and answering questions about my experience, seemed extremely appealing to me.

I had no idea how to process what had just happened. “Processing” wasn’t a part of soldiering. It was a nightmare, plain and simple, that finally ended. I didn’t want to relive it – ever. I naively visualized myself anonymously slipping back into the world, as a civilian, and merrily going about living the rest of my life – unnoticed.

Torturing women and children, brutally, was standard operating procedure for an invading Iraqi military.

I had a problem. It hung heavy around my neck like an over sized, tarnished steel prison shackle. I had close to three years of active duty left to fulfill. I couldn’t even muster the fortitude to go “home”, let alone complete three more years of this. I couldn’t sleep, I had no appetite and I barely had enough energy to report for duty each day. I felt like an eighty year old man trapped in a twenty year old’s body. My spirit was exhausted but my flesh reflected its youth.

Two weeks later, rear detachment passed our final inspections allowing us to fly back to Germany. The following night, approximately four hours after the duty day had ended (2100 hrs – 9:00 pm), “Sgt. Rob” – my beloved squad leader who encouraged me throughout our deployment – drank over half a bottle of Jack Daniels and slit both of his wrists, the long way, on his rack in the barracks.

A week (or so) later, “Sgt. Johnson”, an O.R. Technician and close friend of mine, purposely OD’d on pharmaceuticals that he stole from the supply room.

I had had enough of blood, burns, human suffering, death and carnage to last me a life time.

We were able to save both men, yet I never saw either of them again. The Army has it’s own special way of making “weakness” disappear. Three days after Sgt. Johnson’s “event”, the entire personnel roster of the 12th Evacuation Hospital received orders to go our “homes of record” on leave. Leave was normally requested by the soldier – it was never a direct order. Thirty-days “mandatory leave” for everyone; whether we had it accrued or not. They were giving us credit on paid time off? This was unheard of.

The Army has vast understanding of statistics, numbers and propaganda. Driven by its political backbone of government agencies, it had been spoon feeding the American public an onslaught of media based hogwash since the start of this middle east “crisis”. Americans were eating it up, like a malnourished third world baby, too. It didn’t take much to understand the reality of this “mission accomplished”, however. This was only the beginning. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990, and the impeding death of Communism in eastern Europe, the American military-industrial complex would soon be in need of a new foe.

Back “home”, Americans were watching ticker tape parades, celebrating our “victory” and listening to national heroes being interviewed on the morning talk shows. The Army was even “strongly encouraging” us to fly back to the States, on leave, proudly wearing our uniforms through the airports . Local politicians encouraged Vietnam Veterans to come out of “hiding”, so they could be welcomed home, finally, and stand right along side of us.

America loves to overeat its bloated, albeit comforting, force-fed media chow.

I hadn’t been “home”, to Mama and Papa’s house, for over two years. My life there – my childhood and all that went with it – felt more like a daydream I experienced while deployed to the desert; it wasn’t real. It felt like I was being sent to a stranger’s house, for a month. All that I craved was to stay put, safely tucked away in the barracks, with the men that I served with. They were my family now. We were brothers. We had just spent the last two years training, building/tearing down/rebuilding an Evacuation Hospital, retraining, deploying and surviving.

I didn’t want to go back to my life of yesterday. There wasn’t anything there for me, I imagined. Plus, I knew that I had nothing to give.

Regardless, I had no real choice in the matter. In Army life, orders are orders. Defiance was possible, yet, the consequences for such were laborious and painful.

**********

I purchased my round trip flight tickets from the Hauptflughafen (main airport) in Frankfurt, Germany for just under $1200.00. That’s about one months take home pay for an E-3 (Private First Class). I flew, with one hold over at LaGuardia airport, New York City to Midway Airport, Chicago. I had made this ten hour flight once before holding paperwork ordering me to the US Army’s 21st Replacement Battalion in Germany. Now, I was holding paperwork ordering me home.

When I stepped off the plane, mid-May 1991, Papa, alone, waited at the gate for me.

“…Security plans involved more than “bugging out.” {Iraq} had international
support from Libya and the Palestine Liberation Organization, both of which
sponsored terrorism. The 12th was protected from car-bombers by the sand
berm, and enough guard posts were scattered around the perimeter to sound
an alarm. The posts, plus roving guards, employed 45 enlisted personnel every
night. Guards were located on military vans (MILVANs) positioned around the
perimeter to see over the berm, and other MILVANs were used to dampen noise
from generators, keeping noise levels lower at night. Inside the compound, tents
were partly protected with sandbags. Chemical defense training included practicing donning gas masks and chemical defense suits. Soldiers took the training seriously, especially after the nearby crash of an F-16 jet, which sounded like a missile exploding …

Excerpt from “Skilled and Resolute” – {} inserted by RL Gabriel

******************************************************************************

*** stay tuned for “But, God… (Part III)” finale next week ***

But, God… (Part One)

The glaring disparity between today’s all-volunteer American military versus my reasons for serving in uniform is painstakingly obvious to me – thirty years later. My motive for enlisting in the United States Army had nothing, at all, to do with patriotism. I wasn’t looking for something greater than myself to serve, back then. I was simply looking for a way out of the predicament that I had found myself in, at that moment; a predicament that I, unassisted, created by myself.

As a teenager, my life was guided, mostly, by reactionary, self made, knee jerk decisions that always appeared to be made last minute. I was comparable to a dried up, late autumn leaf blowing aimlessly in the cool breeze. I was the sole arbitrator in a young life run amok; a rookie fireman dousing the flames of a smoldering life set ablaze by poor choices.

I had spent my four years of high school as a student-athlete… minus the student and (true) athlete part. I showed up for wrestling practice, religiously, for the four years that I attended school there. However, because of my poor grades and horrible attendance record I was not allowed to compete. The Illinois High School Association had strict rules concerning grade point averages and athletic competition. So, as a result, I was not “officially” on our high school wrestling team. I simply went to the practices, grappled, ran laps and worked out.

I was also a small time crook, womanizer, lover of violence and low level marijuana dealer.

By the ripe old age of seventeen, I had been arrested a half dozen times, already, for petty little crimes which included smuggling wine into a high school football game, fighting on and off of school property as well as various motor vehicle operation “mishaps”. Within my first year of obtaining a legal drivers license, I was issued six traffic violations forcing me to repeat driver’s education class via orders of a circuit court judge. I had also crashed Papa’s car, twice – once into a single mother’s automobile (with her four year old child on board) while she was stopped at a traffic light and once into a stationary speed limit sign. Both times, my younger sister was in the car with me. Both times, I was stoned on reefer.

It came as no surprise, to Papa, when it looked like I wouldn't graduate from public high school, on time, with my senior class. I was failing Accounting and, unless I could pull a D out of a low F, that would mean I'd have to move out of the house at the end of the school year. I would be forced to stand on my own. I had sensed Papa's bittersweet pleasure at the mere thought of me on my own, for some time. He had been warning me of such a future since I had turned thirteen. "You take nothing in this life seriously, son. One day, the weight of your choices will come crashing down on you like a ton of bricks. It will be painful to watch. Your mother doesn't deserve it. It is unavoidable unless you pull it together. I hope you can, pull it together, but I'm not betting on it."

We had an odd relationship, Papa and I. The fact that he had no father left him with limited parenting experiences, or resources, to pull from. And, I hadn’t the foggiest idea of how to ask for help from him. Self propulsion – as doomed as it obviously was – was all that I had.

A last minute favor, asked by my friend “Lucy” – an all-area defensive lineman on our varsity football team – was what changed my Accounting I “F” into a “D”. My Accounting teacher, Mr. O’Neil, was also the head varsity football coach. The changed grade, coupled with an unusually high score on my A.C.T. college placement exam, is what awarded me an acceptance letter into Western Illinois University. It was, I admit, an odd turn of events that appeared to change the direction of my life. Especially concerning that, all in all, these events took place over the last few weeks of high school. One minute, a potential high-school drop out – the next – a Freshman at an institution for higher learning. I viewed it as a “miracle”.

Mama never suspected that I cheated on the exam. Papa, on the other hand, saw right through it’s charade. “I have no idea how you pulled that off, son. I suspect, without doubt, there was foul play involved. Regardless, it is what it is and I will pay for you to go to school for a year. If you do well, I will find a way to pay for year two.”

His congratulatory speech of love, praise and acceptance was short lived, however.

“But, and I can not stress this enough: if you f*ck this up, son, you are on your own. There will be no more hand outs from me.”

Mama rode passenger as Papa drove us to Macomb, Illinois, home of Western Illinois University. He brought up my clothes, kissed me good-bye and came to visit a few times during my stay as a student there. True to his word, he paid for my classes, my dormitory rent, my food and even gave me some spending money. He paid for me to pledge a fraternity, there, and he paid for my initiation fee, as well. When I came home for Christmas break, he proudly showed me off to some men that he worked with. “This is my son: the first one in our family to attend college. We’re hoping good things of him.”

**********

At the end of two semesters, I had a 0.0 grade point average – having failed every single course on the curriculum that I had registered to study. Subsequently, I was forbidden from registering for a second year as a student at the University.

**********

Three days before the end of the second semester, and without consulting anyone, I walked to the Army recruiter’s office, right off campus, and enlisted for five years of active duty/three years inactive reserve duty – eight years total.

A month later, Papa drove me to the airport where I would fly to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, for basic training. Mama was too upset to drive with us.

I was eighteen years old.

Jeremiah 29:11

Meldie was mentoring my ex-wife through bible scripture when I first met her. “Gus”, my ex, gave me fair warning before I first laid my eyes upon her.

“I have to tell you: Meldie is GORGEOUS! Her and I go to Church together. She will be with me when you and Emma get here.”, Gus explained.

Her words went directly through one of my ears and straight out of the other. I had no interest in Gus’ warnings, gorgeous church women or biblical mentors. I had been through far too much with this woman to give serious heed to any such words. I didn’t believe Gus was going to Church for righteous motives anyway. Gus was a street hustler, in my opinion; a survivor whom rarely spoke the truth, as far as I was concerned. This meeting between Emma, her and I had been years in the making. And, I figured she was searching for some way to get out of it.

“That’s fine. I have no problem with gorgeous women.”, I responded. “See you at noon?”

I was expecting the hammer to fall now. I had no idea how I would explain her avoidance to Emma.

“Yes sir! I can’t wait!”

**********

Gus and I first met at an Alcoholic’s Anonymous meeting, held at St.Bede’s Parish on Chicago’s south side, sometime in early 2000. She had been sober for almost four continuous years, at that point. I was sober barely over one full year, myself. I thought she was funny and cute even though she seemed a bit confrontational and somewhat stand offish. Her length of sobriety was what sparked my real interest, however. Most women who cleaned up that young were married by the end of their second full year of being sober. It seemed that was the real motivation for females to stop drinking and getting high. Gus got sober at eighteen and she was still single. Either she didn’t get sober just to find a man, which was how I viewed most younger females, or she was far too crazy to appropriately land one and keep one.

I decided I would attempt to find out who she was and decided to ask her out on a date the following weekend. Her response caught me off guard, completely.

“I’d be honored to go out with you.”, she responded.

Our first date was to the “old timers meeting” at the International Conference of Alcoholic’s Anonymous held in St. Paul, Minnesota. We were both heading there, anyway, with our AA sponsors. I assumed it would be a great place to start.

We were married in November of 2001. Emma, our daughter, was born in January of 2004. We were divorced in May of 2005.

Both Gus and I returned to active drug addiction shortly after our divorce. As they say inside the rooms of recovery, “Addiction gets worse over time – never better.”

My return to addiction cost me a business and my standing in the community – along with revolving door visits to Cook County Jail and multiple drug treatment centers. Gus’ return introduced her to heroin addiction and a four year “bit” in an Illinois state penitentiary. I was awarded “custodial guardianship” of Emma while Gus was away. The judge, reluctant to do so yet without any real alternative, remanded Emma and I to stay at Mama and Papa’s house. She constantly referred to me as “the cocaine dad” in open court.

**********

Emma couldn’t hide her excitement over seeing Gus – her mama – on the three hour drive to go visit. Attempting to contain it would have been like preventing a C4 plastic explosion from happening; it was best to just stay out of the way. She was singing and dancing while explaining – in great detail – what we were about to embark on. This was the happiest that I had seen her in quite some time. I felt it best to restrain my anxiety and swallow any apprehension I had about the immediate future. Emma deserved this moment; she had been through enough between her mama’s addiction and mine. She was twelve, now, and she had seen her mama only twice since she was six.

I was watching a celebration of her Spirit and it had nothing, at all, to do with me or my fears. I was simply a courier who had to deliver a package. And, deliver her I would – come hell or high water … or gorgeous Church mentor.

I had spent the better part of the six years that Emma and I lived with Mama and Papa in isolation. I got high, fairly regularly, and I worked whenever I was sober. However, the times in between I stayed to myself. I was dying, I knew it, and the least I could do was give my daughter some happiness.

I had prayed, from time to time, but I gave up on most things relating to God a long time ago. God, I had felt, was for folks who went to Church and dressed nice. The folks who didn’t rob drug dealers, or spend their full paychecks on crack cocaine, were the folks that held God’s attention. I was sure that He wanted nothing to do with me. In return, and totally out of spite, I wanted nothing at all to do with Him, either.

I. Couldn’t. Have. Been. More. Wrong.

{Jeremiah 29:11 esv For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.}