Lost and Found.

Amazing grace

How sweet the sound

I once was lost

But now I’m found.

The thump of the bass drum interrupts my train of thought as it echoes inside my chest. I want to sing along, but at this point, I cannot help but spend this time with myself in my head. I have managed to find my place in the nosebleeds. I can’t see a damn thing, but I don’t mind. In fact, I prefer it. Back here, I am a spectator rather than a partaker; a fly on the wall, safely tucked away from the inevitable alter call. Embracing this rare opportunity, I assess my surroundings from my cozy spot in the farthest corner of the auditorium’s balcony. Below me, there is a sea of hands above heads swaying to renditions of old hymns and anthems about oceans setting people free. I am growing a sincere appreciation for my nosebleed seat as I pinpoint other outsiders with mouths closed and hands to their sides. The mix of hand wavers and non-swayers is somewhere between somber and comical from this vantage point. Before my mind can think anything of it, my heart flutters. A slight sense of anxiety begins to pulse through my nervous system. It isn’t hard for me to empathize with these outsiders quietly drowning in the ocean of believers below as they begin an odd, yet emotional chorus about losing themselves. A sharp tear threatens to pierce the space between my eyelids, but I promptly wipe it away before it can fully take form.

Amongst the throngs of seekers beneath me, one group remains unmoving as if floating in the surrounding ocean of arms reaching toward an eternity somewhere above the clouds. Compared to the others, they look like statues tossed into the stormy waters. They stand firm as the waves churn around them; it is all they can do to keep their heads above water. But these aren’t statues. They are people with functional brains and hearts and legs. They don’t have to be here. Come to think of it, I don’t have to be here either… Then why are they here?

Perhaps they- perhaps we are afraid of falling into faith without being sure that Holy arms will be ready and willing to catch us. Perhaps we are worried that any sudden change of heart might result in a futile thrashing about in the seas of our souls and will do nothing but actualize the apprehensions of our dour fates.

I often wonder… Were the worshipers once like this? Like us? This morning, they seem to be lost in the words and the music. They cannot help but thrash around in unison, as one body. In fact, they seem to enjoy it. Is it possible that they find joy in this? Does the joy seep out in heaps of tears from their souls when they are not tucked safely inside this sanctuary?

Once upon a time, did they look like me? Were their heads hanging, souls searching, bodies beaten down and tired when they first sauntered into this cross covered building? Or were they born with this faith in the invisible? Are there only some of us cursed with this heaviness, this innate awareness of the inevitable end that defines our mortality?

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I try my hardest to hold steadfast to my role as a fly on the wall, but I can no longer ignore this unique sister of fear that has taken residence in my core. Instead of observing, I have begun to project my own misgivings. Once upon a time, it was me in that sea. I was a statue, then I was a worshiper. I was empty, then I was filled. I was hurting, then I was healed. Today, I feel like I am somewhere in the middle.

Some days, I empathize with the joyful; I am one of them. With hands outstretched toward the awaiting eternity with my Savior, I sing with an immense joy in my assurance of things hoped for and my faith in what I cannot see. However, that is not always the case. Some days, like this day, I doubt. I forget how to feel. I don’t bother praying for my soul to be healed. On these days, the lump in my throat makes standing in silence much easier than singing songs about joy and faith and love. Then, the song is over. The lights turn on, chairs creak as swayers and statues alike find their seats. Someone preaches, but God’s word is what truly speaks.

As I walk back to my car, I see people. Some of them are laughing. Some of them are walking together or alone in silence. Others are wiping away tears or kneeling together with heads bowed and hands intertwined as they whisper supplications and gratitude to their Savior. Now, there is no way for me to identify the partakers from the spectators. All I see are souls. I see the lost. I see the seeking. I see the found. I was blind, but now I see.

I see that we are all the same.

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Stick Figure Savior.

This is me.

stick-figure1

This is my god.

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My god is good. My god is holy. Praise be to my god.

 

I go to church every Sunday. Every Sunday that I am not hungover, sleeping in, or tired, I go to church. Worshipping this lord of mine. My god lets me miss church sometimes because my god understands that it is hard to focus when a hangover is stomping around in my head. My god gets me that way.

 

I pray to my god every day. Every day that I remember, I pray to my god. I remind my god what I need, and I ask my god to satisfy those needs. Sometimes, I ask my god for peace on my way to work. When traffic is heavy, I ask my god to get me to work safely and on time. My god understands if I have to speed and honk my horn when a guy is driving too slow in the fast lane. It feels good when I remember to start my day with my god.

 

I have a book that I like to read when I am not too busy. It is sometimes called “the good book.” It is about my god. I like to read certain parts of my good book because those are the parts that give the clearest depiction of who my god is. It helps me get to know my god. It helps me understand that my god loves me. My god loves me so much that I am allowed to be me. My god doesn’t want to change me because my god would never give me more than I can handle. I think I read that in my good book once. I love my good book.

 

My god lets me love whatever I want to love. My god helps me love myself even when I think I can’t. My god reminds me that I am lovable. My god reminds me that my god has plans for me. My god always makes sure that my god’s plans line up with my plans too. My god and I are good planners.

 

Sometimes, my god helps me love other people. Other times, I don’t want to love other people because they don’t deserve my love. My god is understanding of those times.

 

My god knows that some people might mistreat me, but my god would never let them mistreat me too much. My god takes care of those people that mistreat me too much. My god lets me mistreat them back when they really deserve it- but only if they deserve it. My god calls it justice. I agree with my god.

 

My god is aware of my predisposition toward disliking others that are not like me or my god. My god thinks it is a perfectly logical sentiment. Before I discovered my god, I tried to understand the people that are different than me, but then my god told me that they were different because they didn’t have a god like mine. They were evil. Some of them. Others were blind. My god thinks I don’t need to waste my time with others that are blind and evil and different. It is best that I stay away from the blind and the evil and the different. At least, that is what my god tells me.

 

My good book has lots of stories about my god. There is one story about when my god changed water to wine. My god says I can fill my cup with water or wine because my god likes both. I don’t have to feel bad about drinking wine or liquor or beer. In fact, I don’t have to feel bad about anything at all. My god never wants me to feel bad because bad is the opposite of good, and my god is good.

 

Another time, my god flipped over a bunch of tables in an angry fit, so my god understands that sometimes I have to punch a wall and yell when I am upset. My god says punching walls is fine. Punching people is usually wrong. So is name calling and bullying. That is what my god tells me. Unless of course the other person deserves it. That’s what my god says, and I agree.

 

My good book has this other story about sex. In fact, there are lots of stories about sex in my good book. After all, my god spent a lot of time with prostitutes. That is why my god lets me go to strip clubs when I feel like it. My god and I believe that strip clubs are not bad. My god and I also believe in sex. Sex is a good thing. My god is cool with sex because sex feels good, and my god wants me to feel good. The truth is, that my god is unlike any other god.

 

My god wants me to tell the truth because my god is a truth-teller. My god tells the truth- especially when it is hard to hear. That is why I am not afraid to tell people things that might seem rude or mean. I am not afraid to tell the truth because if it is the truth, then I shouldn’t be afraid to say it. Sometimes, when I see tears welling up and fists clenching immediately following a hearty dose of my truth telling, I almost feel bad. But then, I remember that my god agrees with truth telling. Justice. That is what my god and I like to call it. It helps me, and I don’t feel bad anymore. My god helps me like that a lot. That is why I love my god.

 

I wonder if my god would ever smoke with me. My good book doesn’t talk about smoking. Smoking relaxes me. My good book does say that I shouldn’t be anxious. Relaxed is the opposite of anxious. Yes, my god would definitely smoke with me. That makes me happy.

 

 

My god is happy when I am happy. That’s what it so great about my god. Even when I am not happy and my world is falling apart, my god takes all the blame. Nothing is my fault. My god is so nice to me.

 

I want to tell everyone about my god, but some people don’t enjoy talking about anyone’s god. It is kind of an uncomfortable conversation, but I try to explain that my god is cool. I try to explain that my god isn’t like other gods. Sometimes that helps my friends warm up to the idea of believing in my god. Sometimes not so much. But that is ok if they don’t understand my god. I don’t want to make anyone think I am pushing them into believing in my god because my god isn’t pushy.

 

Some of my friends don’t mind talking about my god. They don’t think I am being pushy. One night, my friends and I talked about my god for hours. I wanted to invite them to my church to help them learn more about my god, but I think we ran out of beer before I was able to invite them. I guess I don’t really remember much of the details. My god wants me to tell others about my god and my good book, so when the time is right, I might tell everyone about my god.

 

It would be rather difficult to tell everyone about my god. Everyone is a lot of people. Luckily, my god never makes me do anything too difficult. Change is difficult too. I am glad my god does not expect me to change overnight. My god knows that I’ll change someday. It just takes time. My god is patient with me.

 

My god knows that I need time. Even if I may not deserve it, my god will give me more time if I need it. My god is merciful like that. I am grateful that I have a merciful god. My god would never make me do anything I do not want to do. My god wants me to feel good about myself and my beliefs.

 

I learn more about my god and my beliefs every time I remember to go to church, but sometimes, my church makes me feel bad about myself. I think it is because my church doesn’t realize how forgiving my god really is. Other times I think my church is wrong about my god, so I find a new church that understands my god a little better. My new church understands me a little better too. That makes me smile.

 

I smile knowing that my god would never make it too difficult for me to be good to my god. My god is good to me because I am good to my god.

Birthdays. 

Today is my birthday. It is the anniversary of the commencement of my life. From the age of seventeen, I have chosen to spend this day in solitude carrying out my own traditions. The first thing I do every birthday is pray. It is not a long or drawn out plea. It is a simple question. I ask God for one thing once a year. “Lord, please take these memories away.” Every year, I pray and wait for the big man upstairs to do something.

I give him a solid thirty minutes to respond to my birthday wish and make up for his failure to intervene whenever I may have needed him in the past. Then, after about half an hour of sitting patiently, I notice that nothing changes. The recollections continue to haunt me, and I am forced to continue this quest to forgetfulness alone. I decide once again that for the next three hundred and sixty-five days I must take matters into my own hands. I pop open a bottle of whiskey, point it toward the sky, and mutter a few last words, “Until next year, my friend. You cannot seem to help me, so I might as well help myself.” Then, I bring the bottle to my lips, and I drink. 

When I am not praying or drinking, I try to distract myself with work or other people in an attempt to push these flashbacks into the darkest, deepest corridors of my mind. Everything will be fine as long as I manage to keep the memories of those nights at bay. Alcohol is the glue that keeps my sanity together as I shove the past away from my present state of being. Every birthday, I remind myself that my brain is a vault. It is a vault that carries no emotion. It will only carry the fact that the events occurred. This vault inside my head is the only safe place to hide those heart racing, gut wrenching moments from my past. It is the only place that can take feelings of regret and bitterness out of the picture long enough to let alcohol replace their emptied seats.

Don’t get me wrong. I know there are other methods for moving on from the past. I have tried almost all them too. Yet time after time, drinking has proven to be the most efficient way to reach at least a temporary version of the kind of amnesia I crave. Despite the amazing track record alcohol has when it comes to helping me forget, I cannot help but remain acutely aware of the bitterness that often accompanies excessive consumption of this sweet nectar.  With that being said, although I keep a bottle of Maker’s Mark on deck, I will always keep prayer a birthday priority. 

After all, you never know when God might decide to show up. Maybe one of these times I will be there waiting on God and out of the blue, I will be thrown from my chair as the Earth quakes under the resounding trumpets announcing Heaven’s acknowledgement of my cry! Perhaps God will reach down, scoop me up, and plop me on his shoulder as we travel back in time together. In stunned silence, I might one day gaze at his majesty as he takes a skyscraper-sized eraser and eliminates every single hideous memory from my childhood! Or not. I know that is a bit far fetched, but deep down I would like to think that everyone will get at least one teeny tiny miracle in his or her lifetime. I feel like now more than ever, a lot of us our especially in need of divine intervention.

I have not always been the jaded cynic I am today. It was not until I started teetering into adulthood that I began to realize those emotions I tried so hard to avoid were present in every single decision, situation, and person I encountered day in and day out. I am not sure when I started waking up to the stale stench of my meth head of a mother, Stacey. Perhaps it is all in my imagination. Or maybe it has always been there, and its constant presence has made the disgusting aroma impossible to ignore any longer. I am afraid that it has become a part of me. 

Stacey was not your conventional mother-type. I never really had a father either. Of course, Stacey would disagree to both of those accusations wholeheartedly. We did not talk much, but when we did, the dialogue had a habit of escalating at an alarming rate. Our brief conversations usually consisted of demands and dismissals followed by harsh words and ridicule. I yelled at her about using, and she made her boy-toy of the week teach me a lesson. Then, I avoided speaking to either of them for days, sometimes weeks at a time until she apologized or I forgot why I was angry to begin with.

During those bouts of silence in my teenage years, I spent most of my days thinking and drawing. Oftentimes, school counselors and teachers tried to peak at my drawings, but I always kept my sketchbook close. It was for my eyes only. I knew deep down that the violent drawings of the dark spirits from my head were not normal. I knew better than to show them off and end up in the guidance counselor’s office or worse. I floated through elementary and middle school staying just below the radar of teachers and counselors. I was smart enough to know that I had to keep up some sort of social life during my time at school. I had seen too many peers taken away due to their lack of social skills and exposure of drama from home. I made it a point to get myself to school every day for a long time. I knew school was my only shot at growing up better than the empty woman who gave birth to me. Outside of school, I usually kept to myself.

It was around my tenth birthday when things began to change. Stacey’s new boyfriend, Ray, was spending a lot of time at our apartment. Him and Stacey would sometimes take needles and inject themselves with what I now know was heroin. Usually when this happened I would go on a walk or draw in my room. I knew that on average, I would have a few hours of peace and quiet while they just laid there somehow enjoying their latest poison. I had to time everything perfectly if I wanted to stay out of trouble. Once they made the switch to dope, it did not take long for me to realize the dangers of getting caught in the crossfire while they were coming down. 

Usually I made sure to leave the apartment at that time. If not, Stacey would usually hurl insults and objects at me for just looking at her the wrong way. That was par for the course until she started seeing Ray. All she had to do was raise her voice a notch or two for him to come stomping into my room. She liked to think he was her loyal pit bull terror, ready to pounce at her beck and call, but I knew it was because he just wanted to take any and all action necessary to cut off her annoying squeals of anger. Usually they were harmless, but one night, Ray’s anger reached a new level that even Stacey couldn’t stop. 

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It was the day after my tenth birthday. I was turning a new page in my sketchbook. Technically it was my art teacher, Mr. Green’s sketchbook before I swiped it from him the week before as a birthday gift to myself. I was in a good mood that evening, so instead of the usual drawings of goblins and demons, I doodled a couple cartoons of Ray and Stacey falling over and laying on top of each other passed out. I also tried imagining what angels would look like if they were real. I never could get the wings to look like they did in my head. Sometimes I told myself that if I could draw an angel that was close enough to the real thing, God would send one as a token of gratitude for keeping my cool through all the shit I put up with.

After I got tired of the cartoons, I tried drawing an angel named Gabriel. One of my religious friends at school told me that he was the most powerful angel in God’s army. I didn’t believe in her God, let alone his rockstar angel, but I tried to create him on paper anyways. I wanted to see if he would be able to save me. While I was fixing Gabriel’s wings, I guess I lost track of time. I heard Ray yelling about cash missing from the freezer. He was scary when he got like that. He had a tendency of using his former college football skills to destroy everything around him in hopes that whatever he needed might reveal itself within the wake of his destruction. Usually he took his anger out on Stacey. She never protested from what I could hear.

I was rushing to pack an overnight bag when I heard an uncharacteristic yelp from Stacey. Suddenly, I felt a sense of uneasiness sounding an alarm in my body. For a moment, I was paralyzed. I wanted to scream. I wanted to leave my things and sneak out my second floor window, but I couldn’t. I quickly realized that something was different. He was angrier than usual. He was louder than usual. Then, Stacey was quieter than usual. I was concerned for her, but my nerves had me glued to the floor. I was not going anywhere.

I looked at my feet, but all I noticed was my heart pounding against the walls of my ribcage like a prisoner trying to break free. Just when my fight or flight response convinced me to start flying out of there, I saw Ray storm into my room accompanied by an extension cord in his hands and a darkness in his eyes. He was grinning. That grin and those eyes made him seem almost identical to one of the spirits in my sketchbook. I couldn’t help but marvel at the similarities, so I continued staring.

I am not sure how long he was standing there, probably shouting at me before I felt the sting of power cord on skin for the first time. The pain was so foreign to me at first. I remember trying to run out of my bedroom when I felt the prongs sting my back as a sharp pain shot up my spine. I fell to my knees.

Quite sure that I was going to die that night, I went limp and closed my eyes as he dragged me. With all my heart and soul, I begged for God to send Gabriel soaring through my bedroom window to save me. In a round about way, God answered my prayers that night. Maybe you could call it a miracle. I kept pleading as he threw me onto the bed. Suddenly, before I was able to fully realize Ray’s twisted intentions, an army of soldiers dressed in black stormed through the front door. It may not have been Gabriel and his legions that saved me that night. The important thing is that I was saved. Instead of an angel, God sent scary men in black with three big yellow letters written on their backs.

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That night was the closest thing to a miracle that I have ever seen. My prayers were answered, and I have been sailing in smooth waters ever since. I am using an isolated nightmare from my past to justify my alcoholic tendencies. Maybe I am. Or maybe that is not the end of the story. Maybe it is the beginning of a far more horrific tale. Maybe the Drug Enforcement Administration was followed by Child Protective Services. Maybe I never saw Stacey again. Maybe I celebrate my birthday the way that I do because despite the noble efforts of my federally funded social workers, there were more versions of Ray and Stacey with every foster home I stayed in. Maybe all of my nightmarish foster family experiences led to this tradition that I began at the ripe age of seventeen.

As much as I hate to admit it, there will never be a valid excuse for my excessive drinking habits. With that being said, I have a couple of parting thoughts while I earnestly wait for God to take action and respond to this morning’s prayer. According to our tradition, God has four more minutes before his time runs out this year, and we are forced to part ways once more. 

Maybe all this time God has been trying to tell me something in his silence. After all these years, I can feel that my resolve is weakening as I feel my self becoming more and more like Stacey and less and less like the ten year old girl drawing angels in her room. Perhaps this one time, I might try be more like that ten year old girl who with all her strength, listened to God a little longer, prayed a little harder, and believed that he could save even me as a his daughter.

Tainted.

Psalm 23, A Psalm of David: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

Tainted.

I am tainted:
Used over and over again,
to the point that I am utterly useless.

I am contaminated:
Tarnished.
Blemished.

My heart has been misused.
I am not just blemished.
I am stained.
Stained with heartbreak.

Every day this stain sets in, wounding me.
It has now become a scar.

This makes no sense.
The only sensible statement
that I can stutter is that

I am slowly s-s-slipping.
Slipping into nothingness,
no one around me except
the nonsense in my head.

Anyone with
the audacity,
the nerve, or
the sheer courage

to tiptoe toward me is
one step away from a
slap in the face.

I didn’t intend to hurt you too.
So for now, I will simply
step on your toes as you
teeter toward the edge.

You don’t want to come into
this valley that has enveloped me.

This is
the valley
of the shadow
of death.

Death is lurking around

every corner

with every

step forward.

Sometimes I start walking,
hiking up this undefeatable mountain,
but every time,

EVERY.
DAMN.
TIME.

I slip.

When I slip,
I not only fall,
I roll over myself
until I am stopped.

Again.

Suicide is so tempting.
There is no one here.

I am a wounded animal,
lost in the wild.
Everyone is the enemy.

Yet slowly,
in my loneliness,
with my crippled soul,

I become my worst enemy.

Instead of attempting to
creep further from Death,
I turn toward her.

Once, I saw her face and
looked into her eyes, and
I managed to get out alive.

I was not as ready as I thought,
but I am afraid that someday,
I will not be so cautious when
Death creeps closer.

I am afraid
that someday
I will fall into
her embrace
and be trapped.
No turning back.

Her arms will engulf me.
I will ask for more time,
but she will not hear as
my muffled cries get lost
in the fabric of her gown.

“I have been waiting, my love,”
she will whisper to me softly
as I shudder in silence.

She will slowly take in my soul.

I will scream.

In my mind,
that is,
as I forget
the common
truth that…

…Death feeds off fear.

The only thing scarier than Death
is the thought of

continuing life

the way it is.

Why, then, am I scared?
Everyone is the enemy to me.

I survive by surrounding myself with silence.
To allow someone else into my solitude
means to release the key to my demise.

Another imperfect being will use it and
discover my deepest fear
with the click of a figurative lock
and the turn of a metaphorical doorknob
“Never again will I let another in,”
I promised myself.
Yet here I am.

Alone. I am alone,
yet the feeling of
loneliness evades me.

There is someone
approaching slowly.

“Evil is near.”
He whispers,
taking my hand.

My fickle, sorry self
cannot understand this
restoration of the soul
that begins to unfold.

I stop to ponder the mystery
of where I was and where I am.

Where is he taking me?

Despite the depths of sorrow
contained in this valley’s deep,
I cannot help but overflow
as heaps of fear fall at my feet.

Where has he taken me?

Suddenly the path is not so steep.
We stop. I have been here before.

He takes my hand again,
kissing my tainted skin.
“Rest near the water, love, in peace.”
Recognizing this river, I fall to my knees.

I see myself in the water,
not as I am, but as I was.

The reflection reveals
the darkest of nights.
Nights spent releasing
streams of sadness
from my eyes.

He wipes the latest tear away.
Trickling into this lake of sorrows
the smallest drop finds her place.

My skin softens under his caress.
“I have been waiting, my love.”
He whispers as I whimper,
cherishing every breath.