Greetings and welcome to my blog!
Before I write on, I would like to thank my friend Nancy Ching, who gave me the encouragement and motivation to make this whole thing a reality. Thank you Nancy!
Being this is my first attempt at blogging, I appreciate your grace. Formatting a post to look decent on desktops, tablets, and cellphones all at once is an impossible task for me at this point in time. Some of you will not have the best viewing experience, but I trust you will read through the formatting to grasp the content. That being said, I pray this post finds your body, soul, and mind in good health. In the past it has been my custom to send out “a year in review/a year looking forward” email, however due to life circumstances I was unable to do so at the 2016/2017 exchange. In lieu of that, I will give you a quick snap shot of what it would have been before moving on to the meat of this post.
2016 in Review
If I had to label 2016 with one word, it would be family, for the year was sprinkled with events, both major and minor, revolving around my party of five. Before I get into that however, I share with you the words of my friend Bob Plimpton, who did not slack in his effort to write a year-in-review. In his letter, Bob wrote, “We say Happy New Year, knowing that the new year will be a mixture of good and bad. My hope for each of you is that your life will be on a solid foundation so that whatever the year brings you will be strong and secure.” Amen! That is my hope for us all…that we would build our lives on a solid foundation. In our efforts to do so, most of us would agree building anything without having a permanent living situation would be difficult.
In early 2016, thanks to a recent move to New Jersey, which was propelled by her husband Chris’ new promotion as the head football coach of Rutgers University, my sister Doreen was in this very predicament. Seeing an opportunity to help and travel, I flew out to the Garden State to spend time with Doreen and to help her house hunt. Long story short, my trip was great (as evident by the picture of us with my fresh swag) and she now lives in a house you can see featured on MTV’s cribs.
Around the same time, I flew up to San Jose to move my dad down to live with my brother Michael and me. That was a process I will touch on later.
In July of 2016, for the first time in about 15 years, my two older brothers (Gregg & Darrin), Michael, our dad, and myself were all in the same place. This was a fantastic time captured in the image below. (Michael, Darrin, The Babe, Gregg, Aaron)
In 2016 there were plenty of other really awesome things that happened, like watching Top Gun on the flight deck of the USS Midway (Thanks Matt!), but for the sake of time and space I am going to move on to the meat of this post, the elucidation of the shifting seasons in my life.
Life is full of seasons. From the various stages of aging, to the four season around the sun and everything which lies beneath, we are all in a season at all times, and to every season, turn, turn, turn.
Through the course of my father moving in, the process of father becoming son and son becoming father has commenced. Needless to say, it has been an interesting experience. In this time many have given me credit saying something along the line of, “I really admire what you are doing for you father. I could never do that with mine, but it’s great that you’re doing it for yours.” Whether they can or cannot, I normally don’t comment. All I know is, for me, I am doing the right thing. It just feels right, and yes, while it is a LOT of work, I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. That being said, there are times where I get tired…times where I get tired of being the dad and wish I could just go back to being the son again, if only for a day. But I know that ship has sailed. In those times I am able to relate to people like my sister Doreen who has two infants. Sometimes we find ourselves in a season where we have to push through the fatigue and set aside our personal ambitions for the good of others. For me, as I step into the fatherly role of care-taking for my dad, I am blessed to be able to invest in his life. I am blessed in those sweet moments where tender expressions are exchanged without words and the understanding of our mutual love for one another crowns the hour. After all, what is life if not a seeking, a journey from one moment like this to the next.
Within the past year of my life, four major chapters came to an end. The first relates to my dad and the stroke he experienced this past March. Long story short, the doctors told him his stroke was caused by his lifestyle i.e. his drinking and smoking. Much to my amazement, he quit both of them cold turkey and has been going strong ever since. THAT IS A MIRACLE because he has been an alcoholic my entire life and has smoked two packs of cigarets a day for the past 60 years! I bring this up because as men, we are both trying to figure out how to deal with him sober. In The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley, wrote, “That humanity at large will ever be able to dispense with artificial paradises seems very unlikely. Most men and women lead lives at worst so painful, at the best so monotonous, poor and limited that the urge to escape, the longing to transcend themselves if only for a few moments, is and has always been one of the principal appetites of the soul.” While I find truth in those words, I also know there are other appetites of the soul for which no chemical substance can satisfy, and it is one of those which kicked in for my dad this past year. Door one closed.
The second chapter which came to an end was the selling of my family’s house in San Jose, CA. The process of emptying, cleaning, moving, storing, selling, and decluttering/unpacking was a massive undertaking which took about one year to complete. It is amazing how many things a family can gather over the course of 30 years. While I was going through the move, I became increasingly grateful of my annual practice of decluttering, a practice I encourage you to participate in whatever application you are able…trust me, it will pay dividends one day down the line. Putting all the material stuff aside, the emotional aspect of this event has been something I’ve been working on for the past five years. Knowing the day was immanent, each time I visited home I would say goodbye in some small way. While all of that helped, nothing really prepares you for the last time you lock the door and walk away. On the eve of that fateful morning, I walked around the empty house, one room at a time, and reflected on all the events which had transpired within that space. It was an incredibly nostalgic experience I will cherish for the rest of my life. Door two closed.
The third closure was my seminary education, which culminated in my ordination and graduation (See picture of me and my mom). After four years of hard work and countless hours of study, I now have a Master of Divinity degree as well as a certificate of ordination through Flood church. After the excitement of celebrating the accomplishment wore off however, my life was thrown into a bit of a funk. For four years I had a routine and my life was full, but once I graduated, all of a sudden there was a massive vacuum to fill. I don’t know if this is a saying or not, but “give a man enough free time and he’ll go back to what he used to do” rang true for me in July. As the days rolled on I found myself being constantly busy, but felt as if I was getting nothing done at the end of the day. To make matters worse, I was making scheduling decisions which were compromising my ministry obligations down at the prison. In discussing this funk with another pastor who was experiencing the same phenomenon due to other situations, we discovered we felt this way when we were not doing what we know we are called and made to do. Door three closed.
The final closure I will write about today occurred on April 29th, when my brother Michael married his wife Emma. While their wedding was a tremendous amount of fun, and while I am very happy for the two of them, the two of them moved out of the house we were living in, so now it is just me and my dad. At first I was excited for this transition because I was looking forward to having a decluttered house. However, what I had failed to realize was, for the first time in my life, I would be “living alone.” I put living alone in quotations because, in the technical sense I am not living alone since my dad is with me, but in the practical sense I am very much alone. That being said, I had no idea of the bouts of loneliness I would experience and how much I would miss living with people. Now, I know there are hundreds of people I can call at any given moment to ease this, but it is not the same as being able to come home, walk into someone’s room, and have a face to face. Through all of this, two issues have surfaced. The first is my growing conviction to try to have more conversations of substance with my dad (that has been an interesting endeavor which will probably find its way to a blog post sometime soon). The second has been a hyperawareness of my singleness. In recent efforts to address this, I have been making poor choices which have not been working well (shocker). Door four closed.
For each door that closes a new one opens. With my dad, I am excited to see what this new season of sobriety will bring. Through all the work and the frustrations I am continuously seeking new ways to grow in my patience and love for him, which has been great for all parties involved. With my master’s degree and my career moving forward, recent developments have stirred down at the prison which are very promising and encouraging. While absolutely none of that has happened on my anticipated timeline, in hindsight it is all turning out to be a blessing and working out for the best for various reasons. With respect to my new living situation, I have already touched upon how it has drawn me closer to my dad. Now however, I will share the personal and spiritual breakthrough it has brought me to.
Seek Ye First
Two weeks ago I went on a run to try to make some sense of my life which was feeling very disoriented at the time. This is one of the things I love about running. For me, it’s my blacksmith’s workshop because it allows me to hammer, mold, refine, and polish ideas and issues in addition to being a liberating escape and great workout. On said run, as I was analyzing why I was feeling discombobulated, out of nowhere the hymn Seek Ye First played on loop in my mind, becoming the soundtrack to my run. As soon as this happened, an alarm of immediate curiosity and attention triggered because this hymn has been my life philosophy for the past four years. Seek Ye First is a hymn based off of Matthew 6:33 which says, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Four years ago, as I was entering seminary I was struggling with the same loneliness as today. At that time I was praying to God, pouring out my heart and my frustrations with my dating life and everything else. Now, I can count on one hand the number of times God has answered my prayers on the spot. That time happens to be one of them. I knew the answer came from God because it came out of nowhere, it resinated as right and true to the core of my being, and it was NOT what I wanted to hear. The answer he gave me was Matthew 6:33…to seek him first and his ways and he would add everything unto me in his time. That being said, I received his response as being direction for me to focus on my studies, to get the most out of my seminary experience, and to trust that he has the best plan for my life…that he desires to fulfill the desires of my heart because he was the one who gave me those desires to begin with. Okay, so back to the run. As I was reflecting on all of this and as I was doing a deep personal inventory of what my true desires for life really are, I came to a shocking conclusion…that my desire to be the best servant of God I can possibly be supersedes my desire for a wife, and Lord knows how long and how deeply I’ve longed for her to enter my life. When I realized this I sat with it for awhile before I shared it with anyone because I was a little afraid to speak it into existence because then it would only make it that much more real, but real it is and that’s as real as it gets. : )
So what does all of this mean? Well, for now it means I have made a commitment to be the best yard pastor I can be to the men in the prison I serve. Tangibly, this means I have committed to go down to the prison a fourth day of the week solely for the purpose of doing rounds, house calls, check ins, call it what you want, it’s all the same thing. In making myself available to be used by God during that time I cannot tell you the impact it has already had in such a short amount of time in the lives of so many. At the end of the day I find myself back in the Blacksmith’s workshop, however this time I am not the Blacksmith. I am simply a faulty tool which is available to be used to hammer, mold, refine, and polish the lives of men who are in a season of rebuilding, and in one sense or another, that is all of us.
Well, that’s it for my first post. I know I missed many things I wanted to write about, and didn’t go as deep as I wanted to on some of the issues, but that’s what I get for taking so long to write. Moving forward I plan to post on a more regular schedule which hopefully, will allow me to discuss every topic I desire at a depth I am able. I am not sure if this post connected with you in any way, but be sure of my love, of my gratitude, and of my prayers for you.
Unmasked and Unfiltered,
p.s. Totally unrelated, but here is a good quote I recently came across. Given our current global situation, I found it quite appropriate.
“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” – Isaac Asimov