Remembering the Dead End (Flash Fiction)

I remember the damp, unlit street that lead back to my apartment. It’s been a while since I walked that road. The last time was on a particularly terrible night. It’s the night I died.

I remember the words echoing in my head. The feel of the cold steel against my hand, against my head. The words getting louder and louder in my psyche, each repetition forcing my finger to push a little bit harder on the trigger.
“DEAD END. DEAD END. DEAD END. DEAD…”

I remember a split second of searing pain as the bullet pieced through my flesh and skull. I remember flashes of lights- the ambulance that showed up 10 minutes later. I remember the faces gathered around me of people who had lived next to me for years but never thought it necessary to do so much as say hello. Of course, I didn’t either.

There was the guy that lived to my left. Kevin? Kyle? I can never remember his name. There was the elderly woman who lived to my right and always had the TV turned all the way up. Mrs. Freeman? Fremont? It doesn’t matter anymore. She is the one who called when she heard the shot. It’s a miracle she heard it at all over the sound of her Soap Operas that she watched over and over everyday. I remember their concern.

I remember the weeks of recovery. So many doctors. So much pain. Session after grueling session of “Why did you do it?” and “Do you know why you’re here?”

Silence was my response. For months. I was conscious and able to talk. I just didn’t want to. I spent hours staring at the walls without saying a word while doctors and nurses and well-meaning neighbors came by to give me an intoxicating cocktail of medicine and sickly looking flowers.

I remember the day I left. I had nowhere to go but I knew I couldn’t stay at the hospital. I couldn’t go back to the apartment where so much pain had been manifest. I had to go somewhere.

I remember living under a bridge with a guy named Jasper who talked to the shadows as if they were his children.

And people say I’m the crazy one.

I remember seeing a church with a warm light, a welcoming beacon when the world around me was frigid and Jasper wouldn’t let me near the fire. He claimed it was scared and if I came close it would run away.

I remember walking into the church and finding food. Good food. Homemade green bean casserole and honey glazed ham.

I remember the man in the blazer who called himself Reverend Mark. He offered me a cot in the sanctuary with only one request: that I stay for the service the following day. 

I remember the music and the preaching and the judgmental stares. People that called themselves Christians but treated me like garbage. Granted, I wasn’t my biggest fan either. I was the one who shot myself, after all. But I remember Mark. He showed me love. Compassion. He gave me a purpose. A Savior. A Home.

I remember the day that I died. A bullet had pierced my skull and yet somehow I lived.

I remember the day that I began to live again. A meal had filled my stomach and love had warmed my heart.

 I remember my Savior. My Salvation.

I still have doubts. Fears. Nightmares that wake me up in the middle of the night. But I have love.

I will always remember when I came to life.

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The Veil was Torn

Some 2,000 years ago, the most important death in all of history was being played out. Our Lord and Savior was being led up a hill. He had been flogged, mocked, tortured and spat on. He struggled to make it up the hill.

Once to the top, he was brutally nailed to two pieces of wood joined together to make a cross. This involved breaking his limbs, impaling his hands and feet, and forcing a crown of large, sharp thorns into his scalp. A sign was posted above his head that mocked him with the phrase
Οὗτός ἐστιν Ἰησοῦς ὁ βασιλεῦς τῶν Ἰουδαίων.
Or “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” This wasn’t meant as a commendation or title. It was another way to mock him.

As the cross was hoisted into a standing position, Jesus found himself supported by his hands- which were still nailed into the cross. Every time he wished to breathe, he would have to pull himself up by his hands- otherwise his body weight was crushing his lungs. He hung this way until he died.

At the moment that he released his spirit, a lot of odd events took place. Dead people rose and began to walk around and talk to people. An earthquake shook the area. And the veil was torn.

In this time, the temples were laid out very methodically. There were three main parts: the courtyard, the holy place, and the most holy place.

Anyone could go into the courtyard. The priests could go into the holy place. But only the high priest could go into the most holy place- which was separated by a veil or curtain- and this is where he met with God.

That’s how it was in those days. The only one that could meet with God was the high priest. The connection between God and the common man was through this fallible human. It goes without saying that God desired (and still does) a deeper, more personal relationship with everyone. So He sent His Son. To suffer and die so we could have that relationship.

And the veil was torn. The temple veil that had for so long separated man from God was torn in two at the moment of Jesus’ death. That gap was forever bridged by the death of the Greatest Man who ever lived. Who died because of His love for the common man. His death tore the veil and bridged the gap. But that isn’t the end.

In the moment, the grief was overwhelming. Everyone had been hoping this man was different. Someone that even the Romans couldn’t control. Someone to save them from tyranny. But he was killed just like everyone else. Maybe he wasn’t anything special. Just a man with some smooth words.

But like I said- the story isn’t over. Three days later, our Lord and Savior- the Messiah- the man that had suffered the most painful death the Romans could throw at him- rose from the dead. Three days after the veil was torn, Jesus came back to life. He walked among the living and told them of the amazing power of the last three days. He looked forward to the future- to the new relationship that had been forged between God and man by his death. The new life that isn’t reliant on another fallible human. A new life that is based on the perfection and love of that man. Our Savior.

And the veil was torn.

Miracle or Reprieve?

For the last 10 days, I have enjoyed life. Experienced joy. For the first time in years, I was 100% depression free. God has blessed me in ways that I could never comprehend. Because of this miraculous gift, some questions began to form. One in particular stood out.

Miracle or reprieve?

I have endured this depression for so long that I didn’t know what life was like without it. It had become a part of me. A shadow that was always around.

Because of this, I found it that much more amazing when it was gone. I was finally able to see my life for what it really is- a gift from God. A blessing.

All of my doubts, my fears, my hesitations- they were all gone. The clouds that followed me had given way to sunshine.

So, naturally, I wanted to know.

Miracle or reprieve?

For the past 24-48 hours, however, the clouds have begun to lurk. It’s like they’re on the edge of the horizon- just close enough to hear the distant thunder.

And now they have begun to roll in. Once again, shadows have returned to my life. Not to the extent to which they were. But they’re there.

So that answers the question- it was a reprieve.

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a miracle. These past 10 days have been amazing. Even though I may suffer with depression for the rest of my life, I know that God is with me. He watches over me. He blesses me.

He gave me this 10 day reprieve when I needed it most. And for that I am extremely grateful. God has done the most amazing thing for me- He has given me perspective.

So thank you, Lord. Thank you for this gift. And for those that you will continue to give.

Don’t feel bad for me- pity is useless. I am thankful for the gifts and the trials- because it is through both of these that God is preparing me for His work. I am blessed beyond words.

Thank you, God, for the miracle reprieve. 

 

Revival

You may have seen my last post. It was an admission of defeat. I was overcome. Numb. Tired of fighting. It’s funny how quickly things can change.

As a student at a Christian University, I have the opportunity to attend Revival at the Nazarene church on campus every semester. I’ve gone to most of the revival services since I started here, and have attended revival services my entire life. During my first semester last year, a professor told me something that I had never heard before: Revival is for the Church.

I mean, sure, it is an extremely powerful time for saints and sinners alike, but the entire purpose of revival is to revive our relationship with Christ. And man, did God come through this week.

I didn’t want to go to the service tonight. I was defeated, my head was pounding, I was exhausted, and I had tons of homework to do. Basically everyday for college students.

However, I had committed over the weekend to greet at every evening revival service- no matter how I was feeling. So I went.

I am so amazingly glad I did.

At the beginning of today, when I posted my previous blog entitled Numb, I had given up. Not on life. But on feeling anything. I had resigned myself to being a desert- because to allow any feelings into my life was to allow the possibility of depression to drag me down once again. I couldn’t face that possibility. So I chose apathy.

Then God revived me.

From the very beginning of Dr. David Busic’s message, I knew God was going to speak to me. The text used was Psalm 22. It’s a Psalm of lament. It’s not everyday that you hear a sermon preached on lament. Every word that Dr. Busic spoke as he read the psalm tore deep through my apathy into the emotion that I had tried so hard to abandon.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Oh my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer.

I am a worm and not a man.

Be not far from me, for trouble is near; for there is none to help.

The Psalmist- presumably David- is crying out to God. Asking him why. Why did you abandon me? Why do I not feel you? Why am I alone?

Dr. Busic made a point of saying that 70% of Psalms are of pain and not praise. Lamenting is a good thing. Being honest with God is a good thing.

And you know what?

The Psalms of Pain always come before the Psalms of Praise.

I could feel my sorrows come rushing back to me. Everything that had weighed me down over the last 7 years came to the surface at once. I had to lament. I had to ask God why.

Why? Why was lamenting to the God that for some reason I blamed for my pain a good idea?

Because lament is a result of a faith in a God that is present in the darkness- in the pain- in the sorrow.

God listened. He loves.

The desert of numbess that I had created for myself was suddenly inundated with refreshing, painful, amazing, scary, and wonderful water.

I am relying on Him. I am choosing life. I am choosing revival.

I am choosing to feel again.

Praise God.

Numb

I feel nothing.

It’s not that I can’t feel love or hate or anything in between. I can. I know I’m loved and I love in return.

But I can’t feel anything. It’s like all of my pain has hollowed me out. Like there is nothing left.

And you know what?

It’s not terrible.

I mean, yeah, feeling happy and joyful would be great, but that always ends up with me once again buried in a pit of depression.

You know, I hate that word.

I only use it because there are no words to describe what it’s like. But I hate it. It’s become such a large part of my vocabulary since I opened up, and every time I hear it, read it, or say it, I flinch.

I’m so tired of hearing it.

But now… I’m not depressed. I am just here. Emotionless.

Numb.

It’s like I’m in a desert. Water is life. Emotion. Pain. Sorrow. But there is no water. Just sand. Just openness. Solitude.

I don’t know how long I will stay here. On this comfortable island of numbness. I will miss feeling happy- but I am protected from depression. I know that as long as I’m numb, I will not fall into depression. I will be free from it.

To open my mind and my heart to feelings once again is to make myself vulnerable to the issues that have for so long plagued me. I’m just not ready for that.

So I wait. Not for anything specific. Not for any specific time. Just for clarity of where to go from here.

Do I move forward?

Do I stay numb?

I am pretty sure I put myself here.

As a defense.

So why leave?

For now, I’m content.

I’m okay with being numb.

Definitions- A Self Evaluation

Who am I?

I have been asking myself this question for a long time. Over this past semester, I have been examining myself on a level that I have either ignored my entire life, or recently discovered existed- I haven’t figured out which yet. This has been, understandably, a very long and hard process. The weirdest part is that I didn’t even know I was doing it until now.
You would think that with having been working on this for so long, I would have some idea of who I am. Some modicum of what makes me the way I am. The truth? I am farther from knowing myself than I have ever been before.
My best friend once told me that self evaluation is extremely important. I never really understood why. I knew who I was. I’m Thomas. Except at school, that is, where everyone calls me Tom. I mainly have two personas- Thomas and Tom. I act different at home than I do at school. One isn’t better or worse than the other; they’re just different. But who am I?
I was having a conversation with someone close to me. I was talking about how I was feeling that depression was what had come to define me. Ever since I opened up in a very public way, I feel that the only thing people ever see is my depression. I have come to hate the word. I am beginning to think this is due to the fact that I have given them a reason to see this. I told this person that I am so tired of being defined by my problems- my pain. That I wanted people to see me as ME, not as that depressed guy who may or may not be off his meds.
But then I thought about it. What am I without it? Who am I? It’s easy enough to say, “Oh, I’m a child of the One True King! I can find my definition in Christ!” While that’s true, and I am very thankful for the grace and love of my Savior, I still find it difficult to comprehend who I am. Without the labels.
There are just so many labels- Son, Friend, Brother, Christian, Theology Student, College Student, Preaching Ambassador, Depressed 20 year old, Star Wars fan (I mean, seriously, The Force Awakens. SO GOOD.), and so many more. I’m not saying labels are bad. In fact, I rather prefer them. It’s nice to know where I stand and where others stand with me. They aren’t the issue- except when I am trying to figure out who I am. I know my identity lies in every one of these aspects- especially Christian. But who am I really?
I have started to make 2 lists. One is entitled “Struggles/Concerns.” The other is entitled “Things I am Passionate About.”Unfortunately, the latter is quite a bit shorter. The current score is 23-2. I am not going to write arbitrary items. I’m not going to lie to myself. I am only putting on the lists what I have come to realize deserves to be on the lists. I hope that, at some point, my struggles can leave that list and be put on the passions list. Maybe it’s good to have a short passion list. Otherwise, would I spread myself too thin?
I have struggled for so long with this. I have endured a lot of pain- and I think it was because I was ignoring this. Have I had an epiphany? A Eureka moment? I don’t know. As soon as I think I’m coming close to an answer, 500 more questions surface.

I need definitions.

Thick Skin?

Someone once told me that being a pastor- or in the ministry in general- requires a thick skin. While they were probably intending this to mean a defense against criticism and conflict, it really got me thinking.

Galatians 6:2 says this:
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

This verse reminds me of a book I read in one of my ministry classes last year. Compassion by Henri Nouwen is one of the most powerful books I have ever read. In this book, Nouwen outlines the true meaning of compassion. The literal translation is to suffer with. This is the very life that God is calling us to– especially those in ministry. For us to develop a thick skin is to close ourselves off from the suffering of others.

Let me emphasize something: I understand self preservation for the sake of avoiding burnout. Unfortunately, burnout is something that can quite easily and rather quickly hinder or even destroy a ministry and a minister. But what happened to faith in God’s grace and empowerment? If God intends for us to suffer with those that are suffering, will He not give us the endurance and ability to do so?

In my own life, that endurance has come at a price. With all that I have struggled with and continue to struggle with, I have built a surprising amount of compassion and empathy. I have been the lowest of the low. I have felt pain so deep in my being that nothing could make it stop. I now see that in others. In a weird way, I’m thankful for the trials I have endured. They have prepared me for God’s purposes for my life.
So should we have a thick skin? Or should we let ourselves feel the pain of others? Show compassion? Suffer with them?

Oh, and by the way: if you thought this message was directed towards pastors and other members of the clergy, you are mistaken. We are all called to ministry- to compassion. So get ready to love people when they’re at their lowest- by getting down next to them.

Understanding Me

I wonder… Am I understood?

I mean, obviously my words are read, and my meanings are interpreted- at least by my English speaking friends.

But do they understand? I wonder this because- to be honest- I don’t even understand myself. I know what it means to be inside my own mind- something that nobody aside from God Himself could ever know- and yet I struggle to understand myself. I have thoughts that come and go, some good- some not.

Is this normal? This perpetual fight inside my mind to know what my mind is thinking? It’s like a battle between myself and… Well myself.

I can maintain composure. I can smile on the outside, act like I have it all together. But if I can’t even understand my own psyche, how am I supposed to understand anything or anyone else?

Am I the only one?

Most of the time I think I have it under control. I think I can maintain at least some semblance of understanding within myself. But then something- anything happens and I lose all confidence.

Does this happen to anyone else? Am I crazy?

Maybe I should just stop thinking. Turn off my brain- stop the over-analyzing in its tracks.

But I can’t. That’s the problem. I like to think. My thoughts are my only comfort sometimes- even though they are often the very knives that destroy me. It’s like a sweet torture. But I hate it.

Why must my thoughts go on like this?

It’s like Twenty One Pilots says:

 I have these thoughts, so often I ought to replace that slot with what I once bought. Cause somebody stole my car radio and now I just sit in silence. Sometimes, quiet is violent.

I try to escape my thoughts. Go for a walk. Listen to music. Watch unhealthy amounts of Netflix. But it’s those moments between the songs- the buffering of the next episode of Malcolm in the Middle– the quiet- that my thoughts like to overtake me.

Even as I type this, I wonder if anyone will know what I’m talking about. I wonder if I know what I’m talking about. I’m not crazy- I promise. Just a little frazzled.

Try to understand me. This is me being raw. Open. For the sake of helping others who struggle in similar ways. I’m still me. But maybe now you can understand who I am a little bit better. I have struggles- like everyone else. I have just come to realize that being open and vulnerable with mine- often helps someone be open and vulnerable with theirs. Let’s avoid the quiet that is so violent. And please- don’t create it.

God, I need you. Every minute. Send your wisdom and please- clear my thoughts. Focus them on you.

Amen.

Prayer

As I sit here working on my very first sermon coming up in the next month or so, I am beginning to realize how important of a theme prayer is in the Bible. I mean, everything good that happened to the followers of God in the Bible seemed to come after someone prayed.

Solomon prayed for wisdom. He got it.

Adam and God had a conversation, the very first prayer mentioned in the Bible, by the way, right after he sinned and the Fall of Man happened. God forgave him.

You know what prayer seems to stick out to me the most, though? Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Here he was, facing the most painful torture that was known to man, with death an unavoidable ending, begging God for another way. He knew there wasn’t another way, He went through with it. His prayer to God gave him strength. God heard his prayer. He knew that in order to save the rest of humanity from our stupidity and sinfulness that His only Son had to die in the most terrible way possible. Jesus prayed, and God said no.

That happens. God sometimes says no. But you know what?

He says no because, even though at the moment we are facing storms and drowning in life’s problems, He knows that our endurance will lead to a better and closer relationship with Him.

Jesus didn’t want to be crucified. But he trusted God and did it anyways.

And Easter came.

Pray. Just pray.

Dead End (Flash Fiction)

As I wondered down the damp, unlit street that led back to my apartment, I began to think. I know, thinking can be dangerous. Especially for someone with a brain like mine. Anyways, as I was walking, I began to let those ever dangerous thoughts into my head. What was I doing with my life? Here I am, 34 years old, with a gut that would make an overdue pregnant woman look thin, living by myself in a tiny apartment with the salary of an entry level McDonalds employee. Which would be okay, since I work at McDonalds, but I have worked here since I was 16 years old, and I have yet to be promoted.
“I am at a dead end.” I loudly pronounced to myself, though it was loud enough that the rats on the edges of the street scurried away.
This realization hit me really hard. I had no real future. I was useless. I walked over to my answering machine (yet another statement on how depressing my life is– I mean, who still has an answering machine?). I noticed there was 1 message. I felt a little glimmer of hope swell in my chest. Was I finally going to get a phone call?
“Congratulations! You have been selected to receive a cash prize! Visit www.cashprizesforyou.com to claim it now!”
A telemarketer. That’s what I had gotten so excited about. A good for nothing telemarketer that thinks I am so pitiful that I will fall for his stupid tricks. Well, I guess this was no different from any other night. No calls, no messages.
That brings me to now. Here I am, sitting in my dimly lit apartment, slowly picking at the remnants of a TV dinner. What a sight I must be. I almost giggle to myself as I think of what the caption would be if a picture of me at this exact moment were to ever appear in a newspaper.
“LONELY MAN MAKING THE REST OF US FEEL AWESOME BECAUSE HE IS SO PITIFUL.”
I know, it’s too long and most likely unrealistic, but I do feel like that lonely man. There is nothing here for me. I now realize how useless I am.
As I flip through the channels on TV, my eyes drift over to the coffee table. Many times I have looked at the drawer in the middle of the coffee table. I know what’s in it, but I haven’t been able to open it in months. I’m afraid of what I would do next. At least, I was. Tonight I begin to think about opening it again. This time, I know I have no other choice. I have to open it. I have to remove what was in it, and I have to use it. Its time.
I take one more bite of the crusty yet runny macaroni and cheese that was left in my TV dinner. I guess this is it. I slowly lumber off the couch and over to the coffee table.
“Dead end. Dead end. Dead. End.”
My words from earlier echoed in my ears like a sick, teasing child. I take out what was laying in the drawer. I feel the cold metal against my hand. After all this time, I finally built up the courage to open that drawer. A little bit of pride passes through me, but I don’t let it last. There is nothing about this that should make me proud.
“Dead end. Dead end.”
There is nothing else to do. It’s not like a band is going to come out of the hall and play a sweet song to serenade me into it. Now is the time. The voices are getting even louder now. I guess there is no escaping them now. Only one thing to do.
“Dead end. Dead…