Saturday, September 19, 2020

anno solus


There is much to be grasped in the silence. I think of past visits to ruined monasteries, catacombs, and cathedrals throughout central america, along with a few Mayan ruins. I often found a solitary space within them to contemplate the centuries and listen for the soft echoes of feet shuffling along what was once holy spaces. The pull of the ancients would case me to be lost in contemplation, shading and filling in the cracks and reconstructing the grandeur with images from my mind and bits of history. I'd wander those passages with mental projection and I'd wonder what it would have been like to isolate in those chambers.

My boss provided feedback at the end of my 80 day review, "Problem solving, interacting with people, and patience continue to be areas of strength that Chad demonstrates."

A year ago (technically on October 6, but... close enough) my household of nearly 25 years was split in two. Suddenly I found myself in a solitary space. The children of our marriage, the absolute gold of our relationship, were with me only every other week. The silence was both welcoming and maddening. While I was able to create myself that solitary space to try to catch and find my soul, I also was left destitute without the companionship of my son and daughters.

Add to that the isolation of COVID-19 and civil unrest.

I remember those first few months as a time of madness. My apartment was meticulously clean. I'd scrub it from ceiling to baseboard to pass the silence. Holidays were alone and Christmas was a horror. The living of my days felt like a walking death. Each breath was an effort and the air tasted foul. I took long walks. I looked out the window across the lake for hours on end. I didn't eat. And I began to explore my new-found solitude.

I never would have been described as one who possessed patience. I was impatient, impulsive, and egotistic. I remember the day when I sat in a therapy session and the therapist asked how my then wife would have described me. I immediately said, "a narcissist, fearful and controlling."

And so began months of therapy. First we ruled out Narcissistic Personality Disorder (thank God). But then came the difficult discussions. "Are you fearful?" "Have you been controlling?" "Would you say that you are the man who God created you to become?" Those questions came at the perfect time of my isolation. Assignments were given, books were consumed, and the inner wresting had to begin. I found that I answered "Yes" to nearly all of those questions. 

Don Miguel Ruiz's The Four Agreements has been a constant melody that has tempered my mind: "(1) be impeccable with your words, (2) don't take anything personally, (3) don't make assumptions, and (4) always do your best." Each of these agreements can be find in the truths of time, and yes also in the words of our scriptures.

There has been an exchange in my life. Guilt abandoned for thankfulness. Regret left behind for humility. Fear laid down for reliance on God. Control surrendered for trust. Poison rejected for life. Hell traded for Heaven. I should be clear, I don't attribute these things to divorce. Divorce is never the preferential answer. I attribute them to grace in solitude. I attribute them to this year of isolation, my anno solus.


Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Aleks' New Car and the Drug Smoking Object



August 4, 2020 at approximately 6 pm

I handed her the keys today and I couldn't concentrate on the moment because her entire life was racing across the movie screen of my mind. When Alice asked the White Rabbit, "How long is forever? The White Rabbit replied, "Sometimes, just one second."

Summer 2018 was the first time I put her behind the wheel. She was only fourteen and we hijacked the parking lot of a local park. She'd had a history of running everything she'd ever tried to ride or drive into walls. I knew that I needed to start early on driving. I thought I was so clever and that I'd gotten the jump on time... but time gets the laugh on me... I swear it was only a second ago.

The shouted curses, the laughter, the shared smiles of the moment somehow fade... into today, this moment where I photograph her all grown up in a beautiful dress, holding the keys, about to drive away without me.

She's halfway through her senior year, a full semester ahead. She'll send off her application to Anderson University this week and she's working some forty hours per week at her summer job. She is driven, she is strong, she is beautiful.

This is the girl on the pony ride, the girl who danced on the curb while she waited for her bus, the girl who took my hand and sat on my lap. Here she is with car keys in her hand.

And she is beautiful. She is smiling. I am shocked, I am thrilled, I am proud of who she has become. The keys are in her hands, and she is ready for the drive.



Aleks found my tire gauge... I also had a lighter in the console. I always have a lighter in my car, it's part of my emergency preparedness... you never know when you might need a fire. She thought it was drug paraphernalia... I've laughed so hard that I've nearly hurt my side. But hey, she's looking out for me too.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Weird Summer

August. How can it be August? This is madness. I'm not sure if we've all collectively gone insane or if I suffer a solitary affliction? Nothing is quite right. We do what we've always done but we're strangers to our lives. I don't know who all these masked familiars have become... I don't think they recognize themselves. I didn't see fear like this when we thought the Russians might nuke us. We still did the same useless, mindless sort of "safety" things though... hide under your desk, wear this mask. 

You're not at danger until you are and once you are it's pointless anyway. Don't look at the flash, don't touch your face. Tuck your head between your knees, use hand sanitizer. It's the Russians, it's the Chinese. Be afraid. Just be afraid. We'll spend our way out of it while we shut down main street. You can riot and you can shop but don't you dare go to church.

History will see the worst part of this weird summer. There are those who can sit safely in their homes while Grub Hub, Freshly, and Walmart delivers everything you need for a fee. We feast behind closed doors and get fat.... while the faceless starve and die in third world countries because us, the insured, able-bodied, and healthy shut down vital supply chains so that the already impoverished can be cut off from all hope. We'll all send twenty bucks to Haiti and feel better about ourselves as we slather our chins with garlic butter sauce as it drips from our pizza.

My dog doesn't go hungry and I go to bed at night with a million faces staring at me with swollen bellies and those empty eye sockets. Oh sure, you know someone who died of COVID-19 and I should take it more seriously... blah, blah, blah. How many do we know who died of heart disease, of cancer, of pneumonia, of suicide, of car accident, of drug overdose? You're all going to die and I bet for the majority of you it won't be COVID-19, but by all means buy your toilet paper,  rub on your hand-sanitizer, and hide behind your masks.

Who knew that paper on your face could save the world? Paper... our salvation is paper. Toilet paper and surgical masks. The great answer and hope of the 21st century. We might as well wear plague masks, at least then we could appear as the monsters we've become.



Saturday, June 13, 2020

Echoes from a Country We Have Never Yet Visited


"Time is an illusion, a construct made out of human memory. There's no such thing as the past, the present, or the future. It's all happening now." -Blake Crouch

"He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past." -George Orwell

"But you can't make people listen. They have to come around in the own time, wondering why the world blew up around them. It can't last." -Ray Bradbury

"They are living in the moment. They are not ashamed of the past; they are not worried about the future. Little children express what they feel, and they are not afraid to love." -Miguel Ruiz

"Let the children come to me. Don't stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. -Jesus of Nazareth

"What has been is what will be and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun." -Qoheleth

"I am the Alpha and the Omega- the beginning and the end," says the Lord God. I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come- the Almighty One."


I have been reading lately about human concepts of time and perception. I was fascinated to learn that everything we see is nothing more than reflections of light. Since we can calculate the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) we realize that by the time our brain has processed an image, what we perceive is already in the past. While the world around us is tangible and real, our perception of it is never anything more than echoes, reflections, and interpretations.

Our concept of time exists as a way we seem to explain memory and dreams. While we will never escape this delayed present, we nonetheless insist that life is experienced in a linear format. Somewhere in our awake awareness, our nocturnal dreams, our active imagination, and our flashes of deja-vous, our mind finds a foothold to maintain sanity.

You and I agree that a tree is a tree and that the sun is the sun, but we can not know if we perceive those objects in the same form. We share a common language and agreed upon values to each word, and yet our minds form those concepts independently, based upon our own life constructs. Who is to say that your perception of the color green isn't different than my own? Although we've both agreed that that particular wavelength is green, cognitively is it possible that we process it differently?

Does anyone else wonder about these things? 

Perhaps none of us should be so opinionated (pot calling kettle black, here), when we're all struggling to perceive the most basic awareness of our existence in the universe. After all, if the universe is a real, constant, presence... then the only possible disagreements between us are perception based.

And then, enter morality. Error based on ignorance seems innocent enough, but error based on selfish pursuit must surely be evil. Personally, I apply this concept to the issues of our time: global warming, pandemics, civil unrest, immigration, perceptions of racism, etc. Is the source of conflict ignorance, or is there an attempt of manipulation? Our world turns on power and control, even though every human merely longs for happiness. It seems we surely create our own conflict. 

What would it mean to go back to our original form? To perceive the world with the untainted view of a child? I'm not sure? There is merit in the mind of a child that is based on the perspective of living in and enjoying the present. Of course, the child also has that human quality of wanting control, self-gratification, and the ability to manipulate perception to gain what is desired. I suppose it is necessary to parse out the virtue of present-mindedness, apart from the "that is mine give it to me now" mentality that seems as innate as the ability to breathe. 

If only we could use our discernment to accentuate the better angels of our nature. I'm working on reducing my weakness of granting others the power to offend me. I can imagine how much better my life would be if I could view dissenting viewpoints of my own as merely different perspectives of this same real world? Differing thoughts then wouldn't need to be taken so personally. Discernment could be used to determine if our differing perspectives are ignorance based or if one or both of us is seeking to control the other? If our differences are just based on limited knowledge, then we can continue in friendship. However, if our differences stem from something more sinister, well, even then I do not need to be offended. I can simply move on. 

We are all of us on a journey. We are moving in a universe that we cannot truly see. Everything we experience is already passed by the time we perceive it, and it seems that our perception of time as linear is a flawed view even it itself. After all, who can explain time? It is our best theory to explain how we experience this universe. Nothing more. We all know the reality of the things in the past wrecking our present state of mind, and likewise worry about the future can also have immediate effects on today. Our minds are created as image-bearers of the creator, the One who was, who is, and who is to come.

And so then what is this life other than flashes and echoes of deep knowledge inside of us while we navigate our perceptions and interactions? To my fellow humans, we are on the same journey and we are creating these echoes that come back to us from a country we have never yet visited.

"The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. 
For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. . ."- C.S. Lewis,




Monday, May 11, 2020

Tales of a Third-Grade Something




1983, you'd have found me in a room of blues, smashing hot-wheels together with an audience of Kermit, Oscar, Pooh, Eeyore, and my best buddy of all time, Tigger. I've lived the expanse of her lifetime five times over, but the tingle of imagination in the air still surrounds me. 

Down deep I know that those stuffed animals are waiting to talk to mischievous ears that can still hear magic.

Dinah the Poodle joins the gathering of fantastic creatures and provides that felt companionship that only a dog has to give. Bridgette the Mutt was my backyard once-upon-a-time canine partner in adventure. 

Together we transformed dirt piles into moonscapes and snowdrifts became the frozen expanse. She followed Rebel the German Shepherd and had a brother named banjo, but he died when the neighbor fed him antifreeze. 

I didn't share that story to nine year old Sterling. It would have been a damper on the moment. The difficulties of life come our way on their own, it's best to return to the beauty.

It really isn't so far away for this 45 year old to get back to his nine year old days. I think really we should all travel back there more often. The mind has a way of reminding us that time isn't linear and memories aren't in the past. In just a moment... we are there again. 

All it takes is a glance at a third grader among the tales and tails to remind us that this life really is something. 



Saturday, May 2, 2020

Post contains: mild language, a reference to alcohol, and misquotes Jesus


Sometimes it isn't about what you need to change. Oh sure, change is needed, but most of the time the timing just isn't up to us. I've been working lately on just living with awareness in the moment. A Jewish-carpenter-turned-Messiah once had something to say about this, something about why do you worry about whether you have a place to sleep, or if you'll be able to eat later, when even the birds of the air or the lilies of the field have a place and beauty unmatched? Do you really think that God will care less for you than He does for them?

The skeptic in me quickly thinks of drought and wildfire and flood... all things that kill the birds and lilies! And I think of all the suffering in the world. Even just this past week I was asked the question that I hate most. I thought I'd avoid this question since I'm not wearing my cleric on my shoulder these days. Nope, it found me again. "Why does God let bad things happen to good people?"

Since I'm not getting a paycheck from a church congregation, I answered honestly. "I hate that question. Why can't humanity move past that question? We've been asking it for millenniums. It's like a full grown man asking, "Are we there yet?" It was about then that I looked at the face of the person who had posed the question. Whoops. I had to laugh. "Sorry, I'm an ass sometimes."

"Ok, let me try that again. Here we go, first of all, I hate questions that begin with the word, 'Why'. Why is always the wrong question to ask. We need to ask better questions like, 'What is the reason that...?', or 'How is it that...?' When we start the question with 'Why,' it presupposes that something was done to us and we're the victim. But... in the case of this question, there is nothing farther from the truth." 

Why is there evil in the world if it was created by a just and loving God? Again, wrong question. 

Let's try again. What is the cause of evil in a world created by a just and loving God. Ah... there's a question that can be answered. 

Simple. It's because the world is inhabited by humans.

We screw things up. Quite a bit. We cause disease, we fail to adequately prepare for disaster, we are selfish, we are fearful, and... we fail to hear those words of that Jewish Carpenter turned Messiah. 

We fail to miss our daily heavens and instead put ourselves in a daily hell. We fear, we fret, we wring our hands, we assume the thoughts of others, we're selfish, we think everything is a slight to us personally, we think of ways to get even rather than set them right. 

It's much better to take a walk. Lay down on the grass with your dog even though you didn't bring a blanket. Feel the sunlight. Watch the clouds. Are there things that need to change in my world today? Oh yeah, for sure. I want to sit at La Hacienda and be served chips & salsa and a giant margarita. I need to get back into the gym, I need to pay off my car, I need to be a kinder soul. All these things with time.

And I think part of that is learning to lay things down, feel my humanity, experience the goodness of this world, and slow down to be thankful. With all the things I can not change, there is deep enjoyment in the things that are freely given to my everyday. Just look for it. You'll see it too. 

Monday, April 27, 2020

A Good Dog, Doc Martin's, & a Cast Iron Pan

1984. The basement stairs were lined with Mason jars filled with canned green beans. The basement had an old Maytag wringer-washer, an iron coal shoot, and a gigantic gas-powered boiler that crouched like a dormant monster in the dusty shadows. I'd scurry up those stairs like the devil was after me and I'd run to sit at her feet.

Great-Grandma Elsie would tell stories about living during the Great Depression. But for her, it wasn't a historic era with a grandiose title. It was just, "When I was a little girl..." and then the stories would dance. I learned about how her family canned vegetables so they could eat when food was short. I learned about the value of a new pair of shoes, and how saved buttons became a treasure trove of discovery over the decades. She had thousands of them, every size, shape, and color imaginable. I'd sift through them for hours. 

I've been following our nation's food supply chain for the past six weeks. Our food supply is both plentiful and fragile. Some of our largest packing plants have suffered outages due to fear and illness. We are six weeks away from major meat shortages, and the average grocery store carries only a one to three day supply of perishable goods. I confess that my thinking has begun to shift.

Part of my reaction has been practical. I've loaded up on some basic shelf-stable proteins and belly fillers, and I've purchased meat in bulk, and have separated it into one pound frozen packages. And, the other part of my reaction is purely nostalgia based.

There is something primal, hearty, and safe about my newly purchased cast-iron skillet, American made. I've fried the most incredible steaks, pork-chops, and chicken in it. I hope to go camping with it at some point, it would be great with hot coals. And how can I explain my newly purchased Dr. Martins? Well, their classic working class style somehow anchors me back to those roots. 

Durable goods that have withstood the test of time... it's not quite a boiler in my basement or a washer-wringer... and yet I'm reminded of tougher times and those who made it through. There's too much uncertainty in this world, but tonight I'm comforted by: a good dog, a sturdy pair of Doc Martin shoes, and a rustic cast iron pan.

Sometimes it's about the simple things. I learned that while sitting and listening to my Great-Grandma. The stories she told weren't about fairy tales... they weren't about how poor she was and how they deserved better... they weren't even about sacrifice... they were just simple memories told with a smile on her face and a shine to her eyes. 

They were the stories that she lived. I'm just working on living these days more fully, linked to the past, grounded in the moment. One day I hope  to have stories to tell. 

Thursday, April 2, 2020

And Dogs Still Love Their Ears Scratched (So Take Your Negativity and Shove it!)





The sunlight still shines and dogs still like their ears scratched. A smile in a moment beats the anxiety of a given day. The cares of the day, heavy though they may be, somehow find perspective as my dog rests her head on my chest. Sure, our threats press towards us, and still I choose to smile.


Tonight I knelt down at the bedside like I always have. No matter how good or how messed up life has been, you'll always find me talking to God about it at night. There is no-one I admire more than David of the Old Testament. He was pretty severely flawed, but he never let that get in his way of thanking and loving and praising God. There is something to that. 


Now, I don't always feel like I connect. You know? Sometimes my prayers feel fake, shallow, and just dumb. More often than not, maybe. But tonight was one of those nights that make all the persistence worth it. Tonight I found myself just pouring out thanks for each member of my Aspire team. I went through them, name by name and thanked God for their talents, their heart, their willingness to be out there in the community serving sons, daughters, moms, dads, sisters, and brothers in our neighborhood who are dealing with severe and chronic illness. 





Dear friends, there is something ancient, authentic, and timeless about thanking our creator for the goodness that surrounds us. My recent separation and divorce from my wife has really been a toll. I'm sure some of you sneer and figure I deserve what I get, or paint monsters where there are none... but I am realizing that I do have permission to move past that. I am not condemned to misery.

And neither are you. Sure, there are things that we could feel miserable about. But let's choose to not even give them the courtesy of voice. No. Rather, I'll take walks with my children. I'll rub my dogs ears. I'll pray to my God and I'll give Him thanks for the good in my life. 

The sunlight still shines and dogs still like their ears scratched. 


Wednesday, March 4, 2020

And Sometimes the Giants Smash Us

Eight forty-five in the evening and I'm resting after a bath, in bed. Forty-five years old and alone. Twenty-five years of marriage has come to a quiet end. I brought myself here step by step, her and I growing farther and farther apart in tiny bits... and still, this result fills me with bewilderment. I am sure it was only yesterday when we sat at Frisch's at an ungodly 8 AM breakfast appointment with our pastor, completing a pre-marriage checklist of who would complete what daily tasks. I remember that I was in charge of garbage. At least I remained faithful to that. 

I saw her when I dropped off our youngest at her apartment two nights ago. I met her at the door. The porch light overhead cast shadows on her face. I time-traveled some 27 years to nights at Anderson University when I would wait for her on the outside of Morrison Hall. We'd take walks that lasted for hours. We'd dream of navigating the world and adopting babies. We saw those dreams fulfilled.

We conquered the world together. There was no goal too big for us to tackle. We raised up an incredible young man, adopted two baby girls from foreign nations, we abandoned jobs and security to become missionaries, we planted a church, and we allowed our faith and belief in God to  use us to change lives. Our work together is a testament that extends into eternity. And still, we lost ourselves. Ah, the enemy is a bastard. And yet, the enemy is also myself. 

I survey my constructed landscape and I see the destruction of my own neglect. I see the timeline of my mistakes and the moment that I stopped loving. I walked away from my love on a wooden dock at the happiest place in the world, Disney World. Thanksgiving 2018 was the day it finally crashed.  Years of conflict and mistrust, of unhappiness, of nights spent listening to my wife cry... and me feeling somehow both angry and guilty with the sounds of her quiet sobs and the trembling bed. Nights without end. I have no stones to cast.

And so here tonight I am alone. I sit in a swanky apartment, fourth floor overlooking a beautiful city. I don't have much but this place is clean and simple and ordered. It is fully my own. But do I feel better now that we are separated? I have no idea. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Sometimes peace, sometimes madness. Sometimes I am a sinner saved by grace and sometimes I am the thief on the cross... but which one? That is all the difference.

I fight back that I am still a child of God. I am only broken. I ask God to make something beautiful again. There can yet be redemption... and yet reconciliation is not to be. Possible, sure... with God, all things are possible. And yet fire falls, floods come, furnaces blaze, lions prowl, and sometimes the giants smash us. 

Epilogue: March the second, two-thousand and twenty. After 9,053 days, our marriage has ended. Divorce decree issued as public record, 3/2/2020.


Thursday, January 9, 2020

The Rain Falls Softly Tonight


The rain falls softly tonight and darkness slips behind the day. Billy Joel's River of Dreams album runs smooth in the atmosphere. A splash of rum and Coke complete the scene.

It's January and my sliding glass door is slightly open. The heat hasn't kicked on for days and the cool air feels fresh on my bare chest. I can smell the rain. I pull the air in deep before slowly allowing it to escape into the night.

It's a good night to contemplate my being. The falling rain somehow provides some cover, some grace, some comfort. I think of things wagered, battles won, losses taken, and scars that bear evidence of stories to tell. I see that I am not perfect and yet I am learning to love who I am.

When the rain drop falls does it enjoy the plunge? Does it regret it's time as vapor before becoming liquid? No, surely it must simply enjoy the journey.  And so I sit in my fourth floor apartment over Indianapolis and I contemplate my present. I am overwhelmed by the people in my life who I love. There is beauty in the rain.

And so what do I have to say tonight? I say that I recognize that I am here. I am content with the man my creator created that I call me. Beyond my self-judgments, beyond my own self-inflicted Hells, even beyond the scrutiny of others... I choose the falling of the rain.

This soft night I choose to be a man of thanks, of peace, of reflection, and dare I say... even a man of hope. The rain falls softly tonight and I allow it to cleanse my soul. 

"Invariably our best nights were those when it rained." -Henry David Thoreau